Numlock News: October 4, 2023 • Tasmanian Devils, 6G, Space Junk
Plus, a huge announcement!
By Walt Hickey
Tour dates have been announced for my book!
If you’re in New York, Chapel Hill, Austin or D.C., you should absolutely come out to one of these events! I’m so excited for them, and it would mean a ton if you came out for them. You can reserve your space for Chapel Hill and the Washington, D.C. events today. The DC event will also be virtual too, if you’d like to tune in.
From 2015 to 2016, the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program released 49 captivity-bred devils into the Forestier Peninsula to bolster the declining population of 30 devils in the area. The species is being killed by a contagious facial tumor disease. There are only three known contagious cancers in the wild that affect vertebrates, and Tasmanian devils have two of them, and it’s causing serious problems for genetic diversity as the species declines. The hope is to eventually produce a vaccine — tests on an experimental vaccine begin next year — but the goal now is to keep enough of the animals alive with enough genetic diversity so that when the disease is addressed, there will still be a species to save. Since that first release of captive-bred devils, STDP has done 11 more releases of Tasmanian devils, but now do so with wild-born offspring of a disease-free population from an island off the coast of Tasmania, as the captive-bred ones were far more likely to be killed by vehicles.
Accessibility tech can have wide-reaching positive impacts well beyond the group they’re originally designed for, and perhaps no technology better illustrates that than the vast amounts of interest in subtitles, which are used far more by young adults than they are by the older populations originally intended as a primary user group of subtitles. According to a Morning Consult survey, 61 percent of Gen Z adults use subtitles when watching television and movies, compared to just 27 percent of baby boomers. Subs have all kinds of uses, according to their fans, with 53 percent saying it helps them keep focused on the show or movie that’s playing, 31 percent saying it helps them better understand dialogue, while only 7 percent specifically cited they are deaf or have serious difficulty hearing.
Even still as 5G cellular networks only cover 10 percent of the earth’s surface right now, already R&D is being done on the next standard, the 6G network, which has theoretical speeds 10 to 1,000 times faster than current 5G networks through the use of higher frequency radio waves. Granted, this is all a bit theoretical; whatever 6G ends up being, it’ll be defined by the International Telecommunications Union. But still, the possibilities when it comes to getting rural and disadvantaged communities access to broadband-speed internet is tantalizing indeed: About 4.4 percent of Americans have download speeds lower than 25 megabits per second, a figure that is 17 percent in rural area and 21 percent on tribal land.
Canada’s version of the White House or 10 Downing Street is 24 Sussex, which has been home to the prime minister of Canada since 1951. A leaked report shows that the Ottawa structure is dilapidated and in desperate need of repairs and upgrades, that it’s full of asbestos and rodents, and that the electrical system of the property is a fire hazard. On one hand, there is nothing quite so Canadian as a concerning reliance on troubling minerals, interesting mammalian life and a frustrating risk of fires, but then again at some point you need to set aside the brand. The estimate to restore the structure to “a safe and habitable position” would cost C$36.6 million ($27 million south of Toronto) to implement, while doing this beaver style and simply abandoning the dilapidated home for a new build a little bit away would cost C$40 million ($29.6 million USD).
Geolitica is a company that sells police departments what it calls predictive policing, and was previously known as PredPol. The company will cease operations next year, as SoundThinking — the company that previously was known as ShotSpotter, which also sells information to police forces — has hired out the entire Geolitica engineering team, and is buying up some of its intellectual property to fold into its own patrolling platform. The issue is, there isn’t a lot of evidence that this tech can actually “predict” crime. An investigation into 23,631 predictions made by Geolitica for the Plainfield Police Department from February 25 to December 18, 2018, found that less than 100 of those predictions actually lined up with an actual crime that was reported to the police. Specifically looking at burglaries, the system had a success rate of 0.1 percent.
Space Junk Coast To Coast
The Federal Communications Commission has hit Dish Network with a $150,000 fine after they didn’t move the EchoStar-7 satellite into a sufficiently safe orbit before it ran out of fuel. It’s the first fine of its kind, and could spook the companies who own and operate satellites into being a little more conscientious about how they manage their inventory of equipment in orbit. The satellite, first launched in 2002, was in geostationary orbit 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth, and at the end of its useful life it was supposed to be pushed another 186 miles further away from Earth so as to not clog up geostationary orbit with dead metal. As of the end of its life in 2022, there was only enough fuel to push it 76 miles out.
Films that have lead roles starring women and actors from underrepresented groups often suffer from the perception that those films won’t do as well at the box office, a self-perpetuating cycle that undermines the case for investing in larger-budget works that feature diverse casts. A new study that analyzed the financial performance of 135 films released between 2021 and 2022 found that films starring men got significantly more marketing dollars than those led by women, which the study argues is money that largely modulates the box office performance of the film rather than the identity of the lead. That is to say, after controlling for the production cost, marketing spend and release pattern for films, there was no significant correlation between the box office performance of films led by actors who were women or from underrepresented groups.
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