Numlock News: November 12, 2021 • Shipwrecks, Wilson, Robots

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!


A water-damaged piece of athletic gear that co-starred with Tom Hanks in Castaway has sold for $308,000 at auction. Wilson the Volleyball, which was heavily distressed during filming and also was Tom Hanks’ best friend for a solid chunk of the early 2000s, was one of 1,100 bits of memorabilia sold by Prop Store. Another highlight of the auction was the suit worn by Will Ferrell in the 2003 film Elf, which sold for $235,000.

BBC News


Once ruled out as biologically dead in 1957, London’s Thames River has bounced back as a biological hot spot after decades of rehabilitation and pollution removal. According to the Zoological Society of London, there are 115 different species of animals in the river along its 215 miles. Among the inhabitants are three different species of shark, including the critically endangered tope shark, the smooth-hound shark and the spurdog.

Norah Mulinda, Bloomberg


In June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association designated a 962 square mile chunk of Lake Michigan as a national marine sanctuary. It’s known to be home to a bunch of shipwrecks, including that of the S.S. Wisconsin, and the discovery of some 41 shipwrecks nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s now expected that the designation of the acreage may yet turn up even more wrecks along the bottom, especially with new digital three-dimensional modeling of the sites poised to come online thanks to federal funding that comes with the designation.

Jennifer Nalewicki, Scientific American

Super Sack

It’s very hard for some exporters and farmers to get their hands on an empty shipping container, and some are turning to tech from 1974 to move their wares around. A wholesale bag for coffee or rice might hold 50 pounds of product, but the uniform Super Sack, or Flexible Intermediate Bag Container, is 45 inches tall and three feet by three feet, with the ability to hold 2,000 pounds of product. Sales of FIBCs are up 50 percent in the past six months, and the Super Sacks have seen a surge of use in foods. A standard container can hold 44 Super Sacks, and they can be shipped in bulk. Coca-Cola moved some 60,000 tons of material in the bags owing to supply chain issues.

Clarisa Diaz, Quartz


Industrial buyers purchased 29,000 robots in the first nine months of 2021, spending $1.48 billion on bots. That’s an increase of 37 percent over last year and the highest amount spent on automation in a given period since 2017. With labor being a key issue for a lot of companies in the wake of the global pandemic, adding some pneumatic muscle to the assembly line continues to look appealing. Automobile-building robots have long made up the bulk of orders, but this year, non-Autobots, better known by experts as Decepticons, surpassed auto-related orders, accounting for 16,355 robots or 53 percent of orders.

Timothy Aeppel, Reuters


The nation is in the grips of a school bus driver shortage, albeit one that has easily gone on for more than a decade. In 2019, 88 percent of school districts reported having a shortage of school bus drivers, on par with the 91 percent who had a bus driver shortage in 2018, the 92 percent who had a shortage in 2015, the 71 percent which had a shortage in 2010 and the 86 percent who had a shortage in 2006. There simply have never been enough people adequately trained in the art of school bus driving and willing to put up with dozens of children on a daily basis. The starting pay has increased from $15.15 per hour on average in 2015 to $18.82 in 2021, and still it’s not enough to get people lining up to pilot a Blue Bird.

Maggie Koerth, FiveThirtyEight


The dead speak! Helios and Matheson, the company that rode Moviepass like they stole Moviepass and crashed and burned with a company that charged $10 per month to see unlimited movies, attempted to sell the assets around MoviePass last year in a bankruptcy auction. With a minimum bid set by a trustee of $250,000, they absolutely failed to get any competitive bids at the time, despite a homegrown work of fanfiction that argued their assets were worth $1 million to $10 million, a ridiculous fantasy built on what I must assume was a projection of Weimar-era inflation. News emerged this week that an original founder of MoviePass, one who was there when the Old Magic was written, cobbled together some scratch — less than the $250,000 once sought for the MoviePass IP — and bought it back, with hopes for a relaunch.

Jason Guerrasio, Insider

Last Sunday, I spoke to Stacey Vanek Smith, the host of The Indicator from Planet Money on NPR and the author of the new book Machiavelli for Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace. Machiavelli wrote the book not for the inheriting prince but for the conquering prince, the new entrant, and Smith argues that as a result it’s full of really great advice for women and people of color and LGBT folks in the workforce. She blends this angle with some really compelling economic and sociological research about how workplaces operate. Machiavelli for Women is available wherever books are sold, and Stacey Vanek Smith can be found at The Indicator and on Twitter.

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