Numlock News: November 8, 2019 • Fossils, Silica, Asbestos

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!


“Animal, vegetable or mineral?” will be put to the test by the Montana Supreme Court, who on Thursday heard arguments from parties contending over whether dinosaur skeletons are — legally speaking — a mineral that would be covered under mineral rights. In 2005, an amateur paleontologist discovered a 22-foot long therapod fossil intertwined with a 28-foot-long ceretopsian that are believed to have died 66 million years ago. The landowners hoped to sell the dinosaurs for $6 million, but were sued by the previous landowners who still owned two-thirds of the mineral rights. The case has wound through the court system since 2013: one judge ruled fossils are not minerals because not all fossils are worth the same like gold or oil is, but then an appeals court ruled that the dinosaur fossils were minerals scientifically, and thus were minerals. Such paleontological pedantry is how these people ended up with what is basically the kind of argument high people have for the sake of it in front of the Montana Supreme Court. Were the bones ruled minerals, the previous owners would be in for a cut of another dinosaur sale, suggested to be $15 million, of a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus.

Amy Beth Hanson, The Associated Press


The federal government is suing Gilead Sciences, the company that sells the HIV-prevention drug regimen called PrEP. The suit claims that the company infringed on patents owned by the Department of Health and Human Services and its enormous cost is hampering public health advances. PrEP was developed based on work by the CDC and with substantial taxpayer investment, and yet Gilead makes $3 billion a year on Truvada, and costs patients up to $20,000 per year despite generic Truvada available in Africa costing just $60 per year. In the U.S., 270,000 people take the pills despite 1 million Americans at risk for infection.

Daniel Victor, The New York Times

Foreign Film

The Academy, which awards the Oscars, has tweaked the way that the international feature film prize is awarded. Previously, the shortlist of possible nominees were determined by Academy members who volunteered to watch dozens of entrants at L.A. screenings, and that shortlist was narrowed down to the eventual nominees only by members who had seen the entire shortlist at screenings in L.A., San Francisco, New York and London. That was basically madness, and made it so that only members with way too much time available, many of whom are not active in the industry, decided the eventual winner. You know, like America. But the new changes open it up: all Academy members can vote in the shortlist selection as long as they stream 15 of the contenders, and now all members can vote on the nominees if they stream the whole 10-entrant shortlist. Increasing asset to the ballot box for workers, what a concept!

Peter Debruge, Variety


Southeast Asia is lousy with asbestos, as major producer Russia pushes economies like India and Indonesia to use the carcinogen in all sorts of construction. Fully 10 percent of Indonesian homes have roofs made of white asbestos, despite the fact that the country — it’s the fourth most population in the world — is tectonically active and regularly has earthquakes and mudslides. Many of the workers at the nation’s 27 asbestos factories are unaware of the danger, as importers claim the carcinogenic white asbestos dissolves, which is does not. Indonesia imports 115,000 tonnes of asbestos per year, making it the second-largest importer after India.

Anne Barker and Phil Hemingway, ABC News


Some 3.5 percent to 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from the shipping industry, and the business is eyeing a former tempestuous ally — the wind — as a way of decreasing energy use. Sails have been argued for use in fishing vessels, as dragging a net behind a boat requires an enormous amount of energy, but the bigger opportunity is in wind turbines. Ships are constantly exposed to wind, and the installation of mounted turbines on fishing vessels could supplement bunker oil engines and add efficiency without sacrificing the ability to navigate. A wind-aided ship is calculated to cut fuel use and emissions by 30 percent.

James MacDonald, JSTOR Daily


Microsoft announced a proof of concept on a new data storage device by encoding a 75.6 gigabyte copy of the 1978 film Superman into a piece of glass, and that stunt underscores a creative solution to a difficult problem plaguing preservationists. Essentially, there’s no effective way to store data on a disk for a long period of time, as after a while it’ll degrade or break. Currently, Warner Bros. transfers all of its digital stock in storage every three years from server to server. The Silica project wants to find a permanent solution for digital storage, and glass is pretty compelling. They use femtosecond lasers to write voxels (3D pixels) into glass, 100 layers deep in a 2 millimeter piece of high-purity glass. The read and write speed is rough — it took a week to etch the film’s data into the glass and it’d take three days to read it out — but long-term archival data is a thorny problem and etching into crystal means serious longevity.

Jim Salter, Ars Technica


The efficacy of online advertising is called into question by a pretty simple idea: how many people click on ads when in actually they were just trying to get to the place to begin with? This is called selection effect, and the classic example is a kid giving out 20 percent off coupons to a pizzeria right outside the pizzeria. Sure, it looks like he’s driving foot traffic, but actually they’re just wasting a bunch of money. One study conducted for a large retailer found that their assumption — an ad has to be shown 1,490 times before one person buys a thing — found after experimentation it was actually one in 14,300 found the web store because of the ad, meaning the selection effect was 10 times as significant as the advertising effect. In seven out of 15 such experiments regarding Facebook ads, the advertising effect without the selection effect was statistically indistinguishable from zero.

Jesse Frederik and Maurits Martijn, The Correspondent

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