Numlock News: May 13, 2019 • Pikachu, Helium, AI vs. Bugs
By Walt Hickey
Despite a stated objective to be the very best like no one ever was, Detective Pikachu was reportedly unable to catch Endgame. It made $58 million at the domestic box office to Endgame’s $61.3 million. It’s not all bad news; early returns indicate that it will travel across the land, searching far and wide fairly easily, scooping up $103 million at the international box office, which does beat Endgame and is making each box office analyst understand the power that’s inside.
Robot Forest Guardians
Swedish forest companies are using AI to do all the tedious tasks associated with maintaining, harvesting and using wood products. BillerudKorsnas AB is using artificial intelligence tech to find out optimal wood chip cook time to get the best pulp, a task that is super boring. Most interestingly, the largest forest owner in Sweden is developing algorithms to track satellite imagery of forests to detect spruce bark beetle attacks. Normally this would involve sending scouts into the forest to detect for damage, but this saves the manual labor and could become one of the most efficient defenses against the bug, which threatens $622 million worth of wood this year. Sending AI to fight an army of bugs is basically setting two classic sci-fi antagonists against one another, and people I am here for it.
There are lots of people who are trying to be the Democratic nominee for president, and thus even more people trying to shake those people down for money. While the GOP gives candidates sophisticated voter data files for free in exchange for data sharing, the four early-state Democratic parties and the DNC charge a lot of money for those detailed files, and it’s forcing campaigns to consider how interested in paying-to-play they really are. It costs $120,000 to get the Iowa voter file, $100,000 to get the New Hampshire one, $100,000 each in Nevada and South Carolina and $175,000 plus some additional commitments to get the DNC file for the rest of the country. This requires campaigns that want to seriously compete to drop $595,000 just to get the voter outreach data their Republican counterparts get for free.
A new suit against Teva Pharmaceuticals and 19 other pharmaceutical companies from 44 U.S. states alleges that the companies colluded to significantly raise prices on 86 medicines between 2013 and 2015. Teva produces generic versions of the pharmaceuticals, which are intended to be cheaper than the branded version, but instead the suit alleges that Teva coordinated price hike in some cases more than 1,000 percent. Teva says the company has not engaged in any conduct that would lead to liability.
Thus far only 23 percent of U.S. corn acres are planted at a time when over the past five years and an average of 46 percent of acres were planted. The delays are due to heavy rains in the area, and some places are in a particularly dire situation: for instance, Illinois has only 10 percent of acres planted compared to a 66 percent five-year average at this time and Minnesota has only 6 percent of acres planted compared to 42 percent typically. One complication for farmers is that they can’t just switch to soybean as they could in previous years due to low prices stemming from the trade disputes with China.
The shortage of helium isn’t just affecting balloon sales. Sure, Party City is closing 45 locations, but I’m not really getting the feeling that a brick-and-mortar store enduring financial difficulties is entirely the result of helium shortages. The bigger issues are in pharmaceuticals and MRI machines. Scientific research requires helium to operate Nuclear Magnetic Resonance devices to identify substances in chemical mixtures, and MRI magnets require helium reserves to work. There are 13,000 MRI machines in the U.S. and 50,000 worldwide, and the global growth is projected to be 4 percent through 2023, which is probably more important than, like, party balloons.
Flying has devolved into an experience where you’re made abundantly aware how valuable you are as a person to the airline. This is largely because more people are carrying-on their luggage while air lines have reduced the amount of space to hold those bags, leading to distinct advantages in boarding ordering. While boarding from back-to-front used to be the norm, that’s more inefficient than even random boarding, which cuts 30 percent of the boarding time, mainly because people loading into separate parts of the plane is faster than everyone in one part scrambling to sit down. That’s one reason for the multiple tiered boarding groups, and their number has only risen: United has six groups, American has 10, and Delta has 10 too.
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