Numlock News: September 10, 2020 • Lidar, Bones, Gold

By Walt Hickey

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Dice

A Roman gaming piece has been found by archaeologists working with a developer in Chester in England, found alongside other Roman knick-knacks like a comb and a brooch. The gaming piece comes from an era when a gambler would roll the bones, quite literally, with the 29 millimeter highly polished piece made out of actual bone. Chester was founded by the Romans as the fort Deva Victrix in AD70. The specific game it belongs to is believed to be Ludus Latrunculorum, or Game of Mercenaries, a two-player military strategy game that I am going to need explained to me in intricate detail because it definitely sounds like something I would pay $29.99 for at a local game shop over a game about developing a train system on the European continent.

BBC

The Walking Dead

The television show The Walking Dead will end after its eleventh season consisting of 24 episodes coming out in late 2021. The comic that the show is based upon came to a surprising conclusion last summer, and the zombie show is, true to form, not going to die entirely: like all good intellectual property, its spirit will live on in a film spin-off featuring once protagonist Rick Grimes, and a new spin-off featuring two characters that got the greenlight yesterday called Tales of the Walking Dead, and I can only imagine like a dozen post-episode discussion shows.

Cameron Faulkner, The Verge

Youths

The fraction of high school and middle school kids who vaped fell significantly this year, according to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey conducted from January to March. In 2019, 27.5 percent of high school students and 10.5 percent of middle school students copped to using electronic cigarettes. The most recent round of the survey earlier this year saw just 20 percent of high school students and 5 percent of middle school aged kids vaping, a significant and pre-pandemic falloff that is encouraging for public health officials, who had spent decades stamping out youth tobacco use only to see a bunch of jerks attach a battery to a USB stick full of nicotine flavored like candy and made available to literally anyone. About 83 percent of high schoolers who used e-cigarettes used the flavored ones.

Nicole Wetsman, The Verge

Easy Breezy

In 2009, Danish Oil and Natural Gas was a fossil fuel juggernaut, with fossil fuels supplying 85 percent of its energy and only the global financial crisis standing between it and a promising IPO. Then, based on new science emerging and a consensus in Denmark that significant structural change was necessary, DONG adapted. They renamed to Ørsted (after the physicist who discovered electromagnetism), scrapped their coal-fueled plans, folded fossil fuel plants, sold off the oil and gas business, and are now the biggest developer of wind energy on the planet, accounting for 29 percent of global installed capacity and getting 88 percent of their energy from renewable sources, with a projection of net-zero generation by 2025 and no emissions by 2040. The company is also worth double what it was worth in 2016. In the U.S., 27 utilities have promised to get carbon free by 2050, so the playbook Ørsted invented is in high demand.

Benjamin Storrow, E&E News

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Gold

Gold prices are up 37 percent this year, a fact which is logistically annoying for people who own a lot of gold. When you have a large amount of gold you want to keep it somewhere, and those vaults are heavily insured. As part of the arrangement with the insurance backers, the value of gold someone can keep in a single vault has a maximum cap. This becomes a problem if, in January, you filled the vault to near that cap, and then the value rose 37 percent, and now you have to literally remove gold bars and find a new home for them in order to remain under the cap. The maximum amount of gold you can keep in a given room depends: one Lloyd’s underwriter won’t insure any single client for more than $150 million in gold, and if one were to combine every underwriter on Lloyd’s you’d max out at about $2.5 billion of coverage per vault. Anything north of that and you’re probably in need of something a little tougher than an insurance policy to keep it locked down.

Eddie Space, Bloomberg

Lidar

Lidar is a type of technology that lets computers develop complex spatial understanding of where they are in space, combining lasers and sensors that measure those lasers into a complex instrument that has a number of promising commercial uses. One of those is self-driving cars: the way that self-driving prototypes see the fast-moving spatial world around them is through lidar tech, so for those to go mainstream, mass-market commercial, the lidar sensors themselves will have to get much cheaper. As it stands, one company — Velodyne — has dominated the space, charging its 300 specialized customers up to $75,000 for a single sensor, which is fine for a prototype but not great for an off-the-rack automobile, where they’ll need to get south of $1,000 to be viable. Two new entrants into the space — Ouster, which has a $12,000, 64-channel spinner, and Luminar, which is aiming even less expensive — are well-funded and could push prices down, as several international rivals could.

Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica

Mobile Payments

Despite the fact that the staples of the payment platform Venmo — friends settling up split checks, reconciling ticket purchases, the like — have been distinctly out of style lately, the app managed to fuel owner PayPal’s best quarter ever, with Venmo processing $37 billion in payments, up 52 percent in the quarter. In the second quarter of 2020, PayPal added 19 million accounts, vastly higher than the 9 million added in the second quarter of 2019.

Byrne Hobart, Marker

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