The Australian Coastline Is Apparently The Most Complex Thing In Existence
In what is honestly a fantastic launch of a new newsletter, Anthony takes on the pressing question we've all been asking - does Australia's ACT (capital territory) have a coastline?
I'm not going to spoil the answer, other than to say that no matter how much you know about Australia, it is not the answer you expect for the reasons you think. Borders and geography are difficult today, and were even more fragmented and strange in previous centuries, where this particular set of decisions seems to herald from - that said, I don't put it past any present government to continue to screw it up.
Finally, Robot Cargo Ships. What Could Go Wrong?
There's a new kid on the container ship block, and it's autonomous and fully electric. Plying the waters around Norway's coasts, it's going to be replacing a lot of trucks shuttling back and forth along Norway's (technically impressive, but quite winding) road network.
It's not super big - only carrying 120 TEU's worth of cargo (that's 60 "normal containers") - but if it works well, it could be a really nice way to help move traffic off roads in coastal countries.
That said, apparently it still has a bridge and is not yet "fully autonomous", so we'll see how quickly they get to true full autonomy. There's a nasty trend recently of "autonomous" machines that are actually just driven remotely by people in foreign countries with much lower costs of labour.
This Isn't Just Any Cargo Ship. This Is an... Oh, It's Asda?
In another sign of the supply chain crunch that's hitting everyone, Asda is the most recent supermarket to start chartering its own cargo ships to ensure it can meet Christmas demands. They're joining John Lewis, Costco and Walmart, among others.
It's not a terribly big charter - they're only going for about 350 containers, compared to the 5000 or more you can cram onto the truly big container ships - but I imagine 350 containers is still a good amount of the presumably non-perishable goods they'll want to sell over Christmas.
That said, the problems facing UK supermarkets this Christmas might be more on the Brexit-related food importing side, so we'll see. US supermarkets, on the other hand, get to deal with the shortage of truckers to offload cargo at ports. Fun.
When Paint Goes Bad
Paint is a rather underappreciated part of modern aircraft - keeping it lightweight enough that it shields the aircraft and reflects heat while not weighing it down too much and costing more fuel is a tricky balance.
One that, in the case of the relatively-new A350, appears to not be going well. Complaints from several carriers about the paint are cropping up, with reports of it cracking and exposing the anti-lightning mesh below the surface (and in some cases, causing gaps in that mesh). It's not even the brand of paint, either - it seems to instead be something about the (carbon-fibre) chassis.
While it's not going to bring a plane down by itself, premature wear and tear is not great, so it does need fixing. Much legal wrangling will ensue, I'm sure, especially as airlines no longer want all those big planes they ordered pre-pandemic and this could be a handy way out of the contract.
Uh, Yes, There's Been An... Incident. Definitely Not A Drop.
The James Webb Space Telescope continues to have a pretty rough time of things, after it had an "incident" while being prepped and mounted to the rocket booster that's going to launch it later in the year.
A spokesperson described it as "a sudden, unplanned release of a clamp band" which caused "a vibration throughout the observatory". That sure does sound a bit like they dropped it, doesn't it? Maybe only a little bit, but that's the sort of phrase I would use.
Fortunately, they've checked it all over and declared it still ready for launch, so things are proceeding for a launch before the end of the year - currently scheduled for the 22nd December. I really hope there's no more incidents, because this mission ending in a launch or deployment failure would be absolutely crushing for the teams who have spent 25 years working on it.
The Wolf, The New Mascot Of Road Safety
Wolves have, sadly, been driven from a lot of human-inhabited areas over the years - primarily over concerns over the safety of children, pets, and especially livestock. Programs to re-introduce them to their native habitats - where they perform a lot of useful functions - are often met by these concerns, among others.
A new study, though, has revealed a previously unseen benefit of wolves - road safety. OK, so they're not out there putting down warning signs and helping clear traffic, but they are preying on deer, and deer collisions are one of the major causes of injury in the rural areas where wolves would roam.
The study is framed as "economic benefits", which is a bit dry considering it's also having considerable human health benefits, but it does put it in a good place to counter economic arguments made by farmers of wolves killing cattle.
We'd Really Really Like Some Of That Aluminium
Imagine there was a giant, lucrative pile of metal sitting somewhere, worth several billion US dollars. Enough to satisfy entire countries for a full year. You'd probably want it to get used, no?
Well, that's the situation in Vietnam, where a giant, kilometre-long pile of seized aluminium, worth US$5 billion, is just... sitting. It's been there since 2019, when it was taken as part of an anti-dumping investigation, and due to the resource crunch in recent years, it's now worth 50% more than it was when this whole thing started.
In the same way wheat can be seen as "virtual water", aluminium is often known as "virtual energy", since its production is so incredibly energy-intensive that shipping it around can save a country a significant portion of its energy usage. That means this isn't even just about the metal, as the European energy crisis keeps on going, impacting production there. Hopefully it actually gets used at some point soon rather than just sitting around.
Finally, They've Tapped The Reserve
If you have been around the infrastructure corners of the internet for even a modicum of time, chances are you've heard rumours about the Canadian National Maple Syrup Reserve, spoken about only in whispers, like it's a joke that somehow permeated the public conciousness.
Well, it's real, and for the first time in a while, they're actually going to use it - half of it, in fact. Supply was down due to a warm spring, and demand worldwide is up, and as any economics student will tell you, that means prices are soaring. In order to keep them reasonable, the Reserve has been deployed to even things out a little.
And, in order to make sure they don't run into this again next year, they're ramping up how many maple trees they're tapping - to have enough to meet demand and to refill the reserve, before it's sealed away behind a big maple-leaf vault door, presumably.
Maybe Sirens Aren't So Great After All
Sirens are a common part of the audio fabric that surrounds us in urban environments, but new research has looked into their use and found that - in the US at least - they might actually be doing more harm than good overall.
Not only does it encourage riskier driving from the emergency drivers and other road users, they also don't even save that much time - often less than a minute. In addition, target response times for ambulances, especially, are based on outdated data that predates things like automatic defibrillators - where first-aiders on the scene can do a lot more to help before the paramedics turn up.
Not to mention that, well, if you're a volunteer firefighter, EMT or paramedic, you really want to use the sirens. It's part of the thrill. Still, it seems like it might be good to revisit exactly where they are useful and gain a lot of improvement in response time - for example, getting through slow-moving traffic - versus where they might just be better left off.
All You Ever Needed To Know About Ski Lifts
Ski lifts are under-appreciated infrastructure - they're located in challenging conditions, have to work very reliably, and have to deal with some very odd geography. That's one of the reasons I find them super interesting - genuinely, seeing ski lifts is one of the fun parts of going to a new resort for me - and why this week's And Finally is an eight-minute video about weird ski lifts.
Is it current news? No. Is it even relevant to your life? Almost certainly not. But is it weird and interesting? Absolutely.