Numlock News: January 31, 2023 • Salamanders, Robot Music, Mayans
By Walt Hickey
An analysis of 90 government audits into overpayments made to Medicare Advantage health plans covering billings from 2011 to 2013 revealed a combined $12 million in overpayments for the care of a sample of 18,090 patients. In 71 out of the 90 audits, auditors found overpayments, with 23 occasions over $1,000 a patient. This is important, because by February 1 the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services will release a final regulation that based on the results of those intense audits may order health plans to cough up hundreds of millions, possibly billions, of dollars’ worth of such overcharges back to the U.S. Treasury.
North America is the home to the widest biodiversity of salamanders, including 190 species of salamander in the U.S. and 137 species in Mexico out of 676 species known worldwide. In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service banned the import of 201 species of salamander in an attempt to stave off a pair of fungi — Batrachochtryium dendronbatidis, also know as Bd, and Batrachochtryium salamandrivorans, or Bsal — that have infected over 1,300 species of amphibian, causing the disease chytridiomycosis, which kills salamanders as quickly as within a week. A large survey in 2020 didn’t detect Bsal across 11,000 samples in 35 states, and the hope is that the import ban and the efforts to keep it out will continue to hold it at bay.
A new Maya settlement has been found using lidar laser mapping technology, according to a paper published last month in Ancient Mesoamerica. The scientists spent several years mapping a 700-square-mile area in the Mirador-Calakmul Karst Basin, finding networks of canals, dams, quarries and ceremonial complexes as well as ball courts that had previously not been known. Over the area they tracked down 110 miles of raised roads, evidence of a sophisticated state in the early era of Maya history.
Drone warfare, as exemplified in the war in Ukraine, has taken combat into wholly new directions. In the early 2010s, the Turkish military wanted to buy U.S. drones, but the sale was prevented because of concerns they might be used to violate human rights. Turkey then spun up its own domestic drone industry, the flagship product of which is the Bayraktar TB2 aircraft, which is cheap and widely available and for sale to many countries the U.S. didn’t want to sell Predators and Reapers to. It goes for about $5 million a pop — a Reaper goes for $28 million — and can communicate at a range of about 186 miles, traveling 80 miles per hour to 138 miles per hour for over 24 hours.
Production of the cardboard boxes used in shopping fell 8.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2022, the steepest drop since the 2009 financial crisis. Overall, the Fibre Box Association said that the U.S. box operating rate — which measures how much of the capacity to produce boxes is in use — was down to 80.9 percent. Demand for boxes generally increases 1 percent to 2 percent per year, but the events of 2020 and 2021 were huge boosts to demand for shipping boxes, which saw prices rise as much as 55 percent. The industry is now bracing for the hangover from that growth spurt.
Google engineers have produced a music generation AI system, MusicLM, with a preprint posted to arXiv. The research group claimed that the new system outperforms previous systems, creating music from a text prompt, from things as quick as a single guitar riff or a longer full-length song, as well as “vocal sounds” that admittedly sound a bit more like a robot choir that forgot the lyrics and is just basically going along with it, drunken karaoke style. It was trained on 28,000 hours of songs played by humans. Most importantly, Google has said categorically it will not be released for general use, and it stands to reason that given that AI apps tend to be plagiarism engines and the notoriously litigious nature of the music industry and robust protection for artist copyrights built into bedrock law, the fact that about 1 percent of the music generated by the system is just a direct copy of a human artist is probably a bit of a problem.
In 2021, 2.4 million tonnes of bioplastics were produced globally, a catch-all term for plastics that are derived from plants or organic matter that isn’t oil, as well as biodegradable plastics derived from any source. That number is expected to triple to 7.5 million tonnes by 2026, which would be less than 2 percent of global plastic production. While they’re often touted as an appealing alternative to conventional plastics environmentally, the idea that anything that is biological is inherently better than anything synthetic isn’t perfect. Degradable plastics are designed to break down and convert 90 percent of their material into carbon dioxide under extremely specific laboratory conditions, not just on the ocean floor, and realistically the rate of degradation is dependent on the thickness of the bioplastic anyway.
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