Numlock News: October 19, 2023 • Wilma, Sawfish, Thames
By Walt Hickey
We’re now just one week away from my book release! The final stretch! Next week is going to be a lot of fun. Soon my daily asks to order the book will end, but for now, get a preorder in if you haven’t, and if you have preordered be sure to claim that free print! Preorders convince retailers what kind of books to feature and your support by buying a preorder right now would be so, so helpful.
Three men from California have pleaded guilty to their part of what authorities say is a $600 million criminal syndicate that handled stolen catalytic converters, a network that spanned California to New Jersey and which was responsible for much of a nationwide theft spree of the devices. All told, 21 people have been charged. The three who have pleaded guilty are all from a Sacramento family, and copped to conspiring to transport the stolen car parts between California and New Jersey in return for $38 million. California sees about 1,600 reports of stolen catalytic converters per month, 37 percent of claims nationwide, with the black market price reaching north of $1,000 each owing to the valuable metals contained within.
Sawfish are a type of funky-looking sea animal of which there are five species, all endangered. There’s only one aquarium in the United States that has smalltooth sawfish, SeaWorld Orlando, and a pair of them are part of the Shark Encounter aquarium. These two have made news following the nearly unprecedented birth of three pups this summer, making the site only the second zoo or aquarium in the world where sawfish have bred in captivity. The whole thing came as a surprise, and officials are trying to figure out what changed — LEDs, tank filtration, the increase of the water temperature a few years ago — that may have gotten the fish in the mood. Full-grown sawfish grow up to be 11 to 12 feet long, and experts are mixed on what the right age is to tell your sawfish pup that they may be doomed to spend the rest of their life in SeaWorld.
Small, nimble companies that have cut deals with the MLB Players Association have been able to flex their logistical muscle during this year’s baseball postseason, often turning around new merch within hours of an event. Take, for instance, a taunt reported last Tuesday where an Atlanta Braves player said “Atta boy, Harper” after Phillies player Bryce Harper was tagged out to end Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series. As we all know, Philadelphia sports fans are a unique set, so when Harper responded in Wednesday’s Game 3 of the series with a three-run home run, the company BreakingT immediately whipped up a design of an “Atta Boy Harper” shirt. They got it approved by the MLB Players Association by 9:55 p.m. that night, within 29 minutes of the Phillies winning Game 3. That meant they could have it on their website by 10:15 p.m. that night, produced by 11 a.m. Thursday morning, and on Phillies players themselves by Thursday night’s ALDS victory celebration. The devil works hard, but Philly sports fans with a chip on their shoulder work harder.
Workers are repairing the Millennium Bridge over the Thames River in London over the next several weeks after parts of the pedestrian bridge have shown signs of degrading. Doing so has triggered an obscure element of the Port of London Thames Byelaws, specifically clause 36.2, an ancient provision that requires any bridge over the Thames that has its headroom reduced from usual limits to dangle from the center of the arch a bundle of straw, and at night have a white light visible. While the bridge itself opened in June 2000 — after which it swiftly closed until February 2002 due to unsafe amounts of wobbling — the City Bridge Foundation that maintains it and four other crossings is 900 years old.
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A new poll finds that the vast majority of Americans do not trust companies to use AI responsibly, with 70 percent of those who have heard of artificial intelligence saying they have very little or no trust at all in companies’ use of it, and only 24 percent having some or a great deal of trust. Indeed, 81 percent of people who have heard of artificial intelligence think that information collected by companies will be used in ways that people are not comfortable with, and 80 percent say that it’d be used in ways not originally intended. I mean, come on, what do you expect; I bet that Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the Cyberdyne Systems corporation and Caprica-based Graystone Industries all saw similar polling, and look at how well it all turned out for them.
Of the 1,700 U.S. species that are listed as threatened or endangered, about 14 percent of them have had living tissue samples cryopreserved. A new initiative by the Fish and Wildlife Service has picked the tissues of 24 endangered species to preserve in one of the two DNA lending libraries — the San Diego Frozen Zoo and the National Animal Germplasm Program — where those cells will be kept at -196 C. It’s a pilot for what could be a larger program to obtain and preserve tissue samples of animals to facilitate the availability of genetic diversity in future recovery efforts.
United Airlines is attempting to cut up to two minutes off boarding times by switching back to the “WILMA” boarding strategy for economy passengers, first boarding all window seated passengers, then all middles, and then all aisle seats, while accommodating passengers traveling as a group. The optimization problem of how to most efficiently board an aircraft is a puzzler — listen we’re all trying to find the guys who decided to create several different levels of status that govern priority of boarding in different and often competing ways — and who among us can say in all honesty that they have not at least once been radicalized by at least one airline boarding that required us to gate check a bag? The WILMA strategy was the case at United until 2017, when it made Basic Economy into a thing, and more than five boarding groups was more than they could manage, so middles and aisles were condensed into one boarding group. However, boarding times are up two minutes since 2019, and tech has since advanced so the airline can handle six boarding groups, and now once again WILMA is back.
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