Numlock News: September 17, 2021 • Loopholes, Laser Internet, Christopher Nolan

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Last week I did a Q&A with my friend Daniel Levitt over at his newsletter Inside the Newsroom all about the creation and past couple years of Numlock, his newsletter is generally an outstanding follow, particularly if you work in journalism.

The New Brunswick Shuffle

The U.S. Jones Act requires that cargo shipped between U.S. ports must be transported on an American-built and flagged vessel, but there’s an exception if it travels on Canadian rail lines. That exception is actually pretty critical for how wild Alaskan Pollock gets into the lower 48, but not how you think. For decades, fish caught in Alaska were packed into ships that sailed from Alaskan ports through the Panama Canal and then over to Bayside, New Brunswick in Canada. At that point, the fish are loaded on to trucks and then on to a flatbed railcar. The railcar then rolls 100 feet forward, and then 100 feet back in order to satisfy the Jones Act exemption. Then the fish is trucked into Maine and then the Eastern Seaboard. In August, U.S. officials levied $350 million in fines on the companies that use that route, and that’s stranded 26 million pounds of frozen fish in Canada.

Jesse Newman, The Wall Street Journal

The Decision

In the closest thing that cinephiles will get to LeBron James’ prime time televised decision to take his talents to South Beach, filmmaker Christopher Nolan will produce his next film at Universal, departing from his longtime home of Warner Bros. The decision followed Warner’s bungled and fraught release of Tenet last year and increased focus on HBO Max, and Nolan had his desires figured out: $100 million in budget, 20 percent of first-dollar gross, a three-week blackout period before and after the release of the film where the studio can’t release another movie, and a 100-day theatrical window. Paramount bowed out of the contest early, Apple wanted a smaller theatrical window, Sony Pictures was in contention until the very end, but Universal ended up scoring the auteur.

Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter


An experiment by X Lab, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, has been able to provide a substantial volume of internet traffic over a laser beam over the Congo River. Essentially, Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo has pretty good internet, and 5 kilometers away Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has worse, more expensive internet. The reason is the Congo River is between them, and it’s not feasible to run a fiber line across the river, so Kinshasa is on a fiber line that runs 400 kilometers around the river. X Lab rigged up an experimental point-to-point optical communication system, essentially a fiber cable without the cable, and for the past 20 days, Alphabet’s provided 20Gbps commercial internet that serves 700 terabytes of data so far with 99.9 percent uptime.

Ron Amadeo, Ars Technica


A 2018 study found 35.6 percent of Americans reported inadequate sleep, which was up from 30.9 percent in 2010. The pandemic exacerbated an already bad problem. In one study conducted across 49 countries in March and April of last year, 40 percent of people said their sleep was worse compared to the pre-pandemic period and the usage of sleeping pills across participants was up 20 percent. In 2020, American spending on over-the-counter melatonin was up 42.6 percent, and a study specifically of parents last year found substantially higher levels of sleep deprivation than seen pre-pandemic.

Anna North, Vox

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Plankton

A new study published in Nature estimates that the devastating bushfires that struck Australia between 2019 and 2020 released 715 million tonnes of carbon dioxide after burning 74,000 square kilometers of eucalyptus forest, which would be double the emissions previously estimated. Another paper published in Nature shows a bit of a silver lining, or rather a dull green one: the emissions may have been largely offset by an enormous phytoplankton bloom in the Southern Ocean that was booming over the same period of 2019-2020, evidence that wildfires can have a direct impact on the ecology of the ocean. The researchers estimated 95 percent of the emissions of the fires were sucked up by the bloom. It would appear the enemy of Smokey the Bear is, in fact, Phlamey the Pyro Phytoplankton.

Smriti Mallapaty, Nature


New York City kills between 90,000 and 230,000 migratory birds annually when they collide with building glass according to NYC Audubon, which has been pressuring large skyscrapers to dim their lights at night. The light pollution from cities confuses and attracts the birds, which is a serious problem twice a year when the avians are on the move and have to make it past New York. The Wild Bird Fund, a rehabilitation center for injured birds, is urging buildings to turn off unnecessary lighting from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. through mid-November.

Becky Sullivan, NPR


Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is projected to make $17 million domestically this weekend, which would likely mean it’ll hold its position of number one at the domestic box office for a third weekend. It’s facing competition predominantly from Clint Eastwood’s Cry Macho. With $146 million in the United States and Canada, Shang-Chi appears to be on a glide path to being the first film of the pandemic era to make $200 million domestically.

Rebecca Rubin, Variety

Last week in the Sunday edition I spoke to Katherine Ellen Foley, who wrote “FDA nears day of reckoning on e-cigarettes” for POLITICO. Katherine covers the FDA and has had a front row seat to the roiling, years-long fight over the future of electronic cigarettes. Last week FDA dropped the hammer on a lot of vapes, and it’s one of the most fascinating regulatory fights in years. Katherine can be found at POLITICO where she covers the FDA and on Twitter.

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