Numlock News: August 27, 2020 • Napster, Exoplanet, Turbines

By Walt Hickey


Former pirate empire and current streaming service Napster was sold to a U.K. technology company called MelodyVR, which streams concerts, in a deal valued at $70 million. Most of that is just taking on debt, though: the purchase from RealNetworks is $15 million in cash, $11 million in stock shares, and $44 million in assuming payment obligations to record labels and publishers. The current iteration of Napster is a streaming service with 90 million pieces of music and 3 million users, and I can only assume it was all immediately uploaded to an illegal filesharing service after the purchase.

Nic Fildes, The Financial Times


This Wednesday saw the global release of the Christopher Nolan film Tenet, with the film opening in roughly 40 offshore territories. It’ll come out in China and the domestic movie market in the first weekend of September. Even normally, box office forecasting is arithmetic Calvinball, a loose and fun improvisational art form, where a studio attempting to manage expectations throws out fanciful figures that both impress their bosses on Friday and won’t lead them to be summarily sacked on Monday. Naturally, a global pandemic ups the horseshoes-and-hand-grenades nature of the profession, and analysts and rivals are looking at anywhere from a $25 million to $40 million global debut for the $200 million Tenet through Sunday. In the interest of spreading false rumors about the plot of Tenet because I don’t want to get spoiled, I loved the audacious choice to include the gigantic mechanical tarantula in the third act, I thought the podrace set piece dragged a bit, Nicolas Cage is nearly unrecognizable under the all the prosthetics but the accent choice was excellent, and I can’t wait to rewatch The Prestige: Tokyo Drift so I can understand the ending.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter


A group of bacteria known as Bdellovibrio and like organisms — or BALOs — are the bacteria that make other bacteria have nightmares, hunting them down and killing them by entering the host, replicating, and popping their prey to hunt again. They subsist on live prey and are of great interest to medical researchers because the bacterial enemy of my bacterial enemy can presumably be genetically modified to my advantage, as the ancient saying goes verbatim. Bacteriophages — viruses that infect bacteria — and antibiotics prey on specific parts of their targets, which allows bacteria to evolve resistance to those angles of attack. The BALOs are more direct: they can swim 100 times their body length in a second to “run” down their foe, which they then assail physically and invariably kill. All the better, they don’t appear to attack non-microbial cells.

Katherine J. Wu, The New York Times

Acetic Anhydride

To make heroin, you need extracts of poppy plants and the chemical acetic anhydride. It takes about 1 liter of acetic anhydride to make a kilogram of low-grade heroin, and 2 to 2.5 liters to make a kilogram of high-grade “China white” heroin. As a result of its critical role in heroin manufacture, acetic anhydride has been the target of drug interdiction for a while, but U.S. publicly-traded companies are directly selling the chemicals in Mexico, and cartel busts have turned up supplies of the chemical reliably in name-brand packaging. It took about 1.2 million liters of acetic anhydride to produce all the heroin consumed in the United States from 2011 to 2018, a volume that can only come from large-scale chemical operations, and its use in meth is even more considerable at something like 1 million liters in 2011 alone.

Cam Simpson, Michael Smith and Nacha Cattan, Bloomberg


According to a new paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a group of researchers who pored over the nine years of observations of the Kepler Space Telescope with a machine learning algorithm trained on identifying exoplanets have turned up a previously undiscovered 50 such planets orbiting other stars. Generally, researchers find evidence of a planet like a recurring dip in light as the planet passes between their star and our telescope. The new AI purports to identify previously unrecognized patterns and verify planets found through other means.

Jessie Yeung, CNN Business



Turns out the kind of bugs that live on sea mammals are rather durable, a new study found: a team of researchers took sea lice and put them in chambers the size of flash drives, then cranked up the pressure to 200 times as much as those observed on the surface, the equivalent of depths of 980 to 6,500 feet. After 10 minutes under the pressure, still 69 of 75 lice emerged alive.

Priyanka Runwal, The New York Times


Painting one blade of a wind turbine black had significantly positive outcomes in terms of saving the lives of birds, who can find it difficult to discern spinning blades at offshore installations. At the Smøla wind farm in Norway, a research study sought to find out if there was a way to make the generators safer. From 2006 to 2013, four turbines saw 18 bird strikes over the course of six years, of which six were white-tailed eagles. In 2013, one blade was painted black, and in the ensuing period, just six birds were found dead due to a blade strike, which compared to a control group was a 71.9 percent decline in the annual bird fatality rate. It’s a small sample size, but given the increased transition to wind generation, it’s a possible solution worthy of broader study.

Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica

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