Numlock News: September 13, 2021 • Roomba, Fusion, Mad Max Fury Road

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

The Ones Who Walk Away From OmelAWS

On Thursday iRobot announced that the new Roomba j7+ would be able to use a machine learning model to identify and avoid dog poop, ending a pervasive bug where the robotic vacuum would run over dog poop and basically destroy a floor. And while this is a remarkable achievement, I have to point out this miracle, this paradise comes at a cost. For in a basement, under one of the beautiful office buildings of iRobot, there is a room. It has one locked door and no window. In one corner of the little room, a couple of filthy, foul smelling Braava® mops stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, the room is a few paces wide, and, next to the Braava® mops, in the room a server is sitting. It could run Apache or Centos. It is miserable. They all know the server is there, the people of iRobot. Some come to see it, others are simply content to know the server is there. They know it has to be there, the server that runs the ML model that was built exclusively to identify poop. They know that the cleanness of their carpets, the sparkling of their tile, the sheen of their floorboards, the tidiness of their vinyl, the dapperness of their dens, the immaculateness of their laminate, it all depends wholly on this server’s abominable misery. Anyway, the j7+ sells for $849.

Angela Moscaritolo, PC Magazine, with apologies to Ursula K. Le Guin.


Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings had a strong domestic second weekend, bringing in $35.8 million. That’s a drop compared to its first week of just 53 percent, which is generally the kind of dip sustained by Marvel movies pre-pandemic, an encouraging sign for exhibitors and studios given that Shang-Chi launched exclusive to cinemas. Globally the film’s brought in $257.6 million. That could be one reason that last week Disney announced the remainder of its 2021 slate — Eternals and West Side Story among them — would screen exclusively in theaters.

Rebecca Rubin, Variety

Witness Me

Lloyd’s Auctioneers and Valuers is coordinating the sale of 13 vehicles from the 2015 film Mad Max: Fury Road, including the War Rig tanker, the Giga Horse, Nux’s car, the Pole Car, the Fire Car, and the Buick Heavy Artillery with Hummer Weapon Mount. The pièce de résistance of the auction is, naturally, the Doof Wagon, upon which the Doof Warrior played a guitar-slash-flamethrower to goad the forces of Immortan Joe into vehicular combat. Bidders will have to submit sealed bids for each entry on September 25 and 26, and whoever bids the highest will win the item. But don’t worry, presumably the losers can build spiky, convoluted, and dangerous improvised combat vehicles and take the loot by force if need be.

Sebastian Blanco, Car and Driver

How Do They Work

Researchers at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France took delivery of a 60-foot tall, 14 foot diameter magnet for use in their experiments to produce a working fusion reactor. The magnet can reportedly lift an aircraft carrier, per its manufacturer, and will help one of two major dueling projects gunning for fusion. The other, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said last week they had a successful test of their own superconducting magnet. The ITER team said their work is 75 percent complete and they hope to kick off the reactor in 2026.

Frank Jordans, Seth Borenstein and Daniel Cole, The Associated Press

Hi Ho Copper

Right now, copper trades for about $9,000 per ton and silver trades for about $770,000 per ton. Solar panels need silver so that they can pull the electric current from the cell, and that’s a major contributor to the cost of the panels. Silver alone can account for something like 15 percent of the cost of the solar panel, so experimental products from a company called SunDrive that attempt to replace the silver with copper are of huge interest. Last week the company got some good news: an analysis from the Institute for Solar Energy Research Hamelin found their efficiency figure came to 25.54 percent, which would beat the previous top score of 25.26 percent from Longi Green Energy Technology Co. out of China.

Ashlee Vance, Bloomberg


A new law in California would end a confusing labeling practice that took the established recycling symbol — three arrows chasing each other in a triangle — and turned it into an internal plastics manufacturing label that confuses consumers. Essentially, lots of plastic things that have the “recycling symbol” on them aren’t actually recycled in most places. That’s because in the ’80s and ’90s, oil and plastic companies lobbied to make resin identification codes — which are a number indicating a variety of plastic inside the three arrows — mandatory on all plastics. As a result, consumers got confused and assumed that anything with three arrows — you know, the recycling symbol — was recyclable. As a result, only 9 percent of plastics in the U.S. are recycled per year. The bill, Senate Bill 343, would require CalRecycle to collect data about what is actually recycled in California, and only plastic types that are recycled at a rate of 75 percent or higher get to keep the arrows. This likely would mean only the two most popular types of plastic would keep the arrows, and all the others would be forced to move to a triangle for their resin identification code.

Tim De Chant, Ars Technica


A new study published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution attempted to track approximately 30 species across a number of periods of time to determine how they’ve adapted or evolved to deal with rising temperatures in their habitats. Drawing from about 100 previous studies, they found that parts of animals that tend to dissipate heat — ears, tails, beaks — got larger over the course of the study period. Australian parrots’ bills have gotten bigger, Chinese roundleaf bats have seen their wings grow larger compared to their recent ancestors, rabbits grew longer ears and mice have longer tails. Since 1871, parrots’ beak surface area is up 4 percent to 10 percent, while roundleaf bat wings are more than 1 percent larger since the 1950s.

Lina Zeldovich, Smithsonian Magazine

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