Numlock News: March 15, 2021 • Pirates, Dragons, Avengers

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

Avatar

Last Friday a re-release of Avatar grossed $3.5 million at cinemas in China, pushing its global lifetime box office to $2.7926 billion and finishing the weekend at $2.802 billion. In doing so it has beaten Avengers: Endgame, which made $2.7902 billion globally, only narrowly beating out Avatar’s record in 2019. This has been a great weekend for the cast and crew of Avatar, a gigantic bummer for the team behind Endgame and meant absolutely nothing whatsoever to Zoe Saldana.

Rebecca Rubin, Variety

Treasure Planet 2

The James Webb space telescope will at some point this summer be transported from the United States to its launch site in French Guiana, traveling through the Panama Canal. The reason for the ambiguity is that the telescope is worth over $10 billion, and they don’t want to tip off pirates about the haul of the century. The telescope is the result of decades of work, and is poised to be the successor to the Hubble, with 18 gold-plated mirrors in a honeycomb shape. The Gulf of Mexico will hardly be the most perilous part of the journey, which will hopefully end 1 million miles from Earth at the second Lagrange point.

Marina Koren, The Atlantic

Antikythera

Researchers claim to have solved the Antikythera Mechanism, which was discovered in an ancient Greek shipwreck in 1901. Scientists at University College London used 3D modeling to recreate the front panel of the device, of which only about a third of the mechanism remained, a total of 82 fragments. The back cover was solved by earlier studies, but the new research is the first to describe the front, which shows the movements of the Sun, Moon and five known planets at the time. It indicates the ancient Greeks had unlocked ways to create beautiful, elaborate gadgets, even though it would be centuries until the discovery that you could just release a slightly updated version — say, Antikythera X or Antikythera XS — every couple of years and make way more money.

BBC, Tony Freeth, David Higgon, Aris Dacanalis, Lindsay MacDonald, Myrto Georgakopoulou and Adam Wojcik, Nature

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Rubber

The global supply of rubber amounts to about 20 million tonnes per year, coaxed out of rubber trees by stripping the bark and extracting the milky sap that comes out. It comes mostly from tiny smallholders operating plantations in Thailand, Indonesia, China and West Africa, with millions of workers who collectively supply 85 percent of natural rubber to the global economy. However, South American leaf blight poses a serious threat; Hevea brasiliensis is no longer grown in Brazil because leaf blight killed off Brazil’s rubber industry in the ‘30s. Quarantines have kept it in South America, but were it to arrive in Asia the results would be catastrophic.

Frank Swain, BBC

Charmed Persons

Dungeons & Dragons exploded in popularity this year, with sales up 33 percent during the quarantine period, driving a six-year growth streak. Overall revenue at Wizards of the Coast, the division of Hasbro that cranks out Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, was up 24 percent in 2020 at $816 million. This has percolated down to local shops as well, who have seen a brisk business in dice, books and other accessories. In 2020, Wizards was operating at a 46 percent profit margin, a figure that prompts hideous laughter in the accounting department as it’s unspeakably good for the toy business; by comparison, the consumer products division of Hasbro was operating at an 8 percent profit margin last year.

Sarah Whitten, CNBC

Adaptive Cruise Control

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety carried out a study of the adaptive cruise control systems that can be found in new cars, which use radar to determine the distance between the car and the vehicle ahead of it and manage cruise control actively with that information. The study recruited 40 Boston-area drivers and lent them a car with ACC function and also a monitoring system. Unfortunately, turns out adaptive cruise control made speeding way easier: drivers were 24 percent more likely to speed when using adaptive cruise control than when they were not.

Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica

Password

For years, there was a social contract in society that was downright immutable, a fundamental unspoken compact between consumer and provider, a foundational civic arrangement that facilitated rampant gains for all involved: Netflix was cool with sharing passwords. Now, this ironclad norm, this definitional accord, the very covenant of the streaming era, this understanding is in peril. An estimated 14 to 31 percent of Netflix users don’t personally pay for the service, with one survey last year finding half of subscribers share their password with someone else. That’s why Netflix is determining how hard they can push, prompting some television users that don’t live with the account’s owner that they must start their own account to keep watching. Looks like NASA isn’t the only one worried about pirates then.

Jeva Lange, The Week

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