← Back to newsletters

#15: OpenAI breaks game, Disney Nuclear Power, Surgery, Sewer Data, and more!

Sent on

Hi everyone!

In the past few months, I've been experimenting with different note-taking apps. I come across many interesting things while -working- procrastinating, but I don't do a good job of capturing it all. Now, I'm using Obsidian as my "second brain" and it's been amazing!

For example, whenever I come across an article that could make it into this newsletter, I simply add it to my daily note with the tag "newsletter-queue". Then, when the time comes to write the next issue, I look through all the items with that tag and make a selection. Easy!

Anyway, that's enough about my "productivity system". I'm curious to know what neat hacks you have to help you get things done. Reply to this email and let me know ;)

Enjoy your monthly dose of weird things on the Internet!

🤓 Cool Stuff I Found on the Internet

The iPhone Thought Experiment

Let's imagine all man-made objects would disappear and we'd need to build an iPhone from scratch. How long would that take? Could we even pull it off?

It’s a thought experiment written by Tim Urban, and I’m not sure what the answer could be. How can you make a device as complex as an iPhone without mines, factories, machines, and even without communication?

AI breaks a game of hide and seek

This video shows how two teams of AI bots played against each other in a game of hide-and-seek. The bots quickly learned that in order to win, they have to cooperate. They also learned to exploit flaws in the game's logic. Hiders could use walls to trap the seekers, while seekers learned to stand on boxes to look over walls. Then, the AI discovered flaws in the physics engine of the game: they could move around while standing on objects, because the game's logic didn't check if the player was on the ground while trying to move. Very cool! Also: Skynet?

How Disney Became a Nuclear Power

In 1957, Walt Disney said "the atom is our future" in an episode of the TV series "Disneyland". Disney even had a Chief Nuclear Scientist! But here's where the story becomes weird. When the company was building Disney World in Florida, it got the right to build its own nuclear power plant! They never built a nuclear reactor, but they could with no approval needed.

👽 Space

Ingenuity completes 22nd flight

Remember that tiny helicopter we send to Mars in 2021 (issue #4 and issue #5)? It has now made its 22nd flight and has been operating on the red planet for almost a year, 12 times longer than what it was designed for!

Ingenuity was a technical test to see if powered flight was possible in the thin martian atmosphere. So far, it has flown a total distance of 4,65km and has spent a total of 39 minutes in the air... On another planet! If that doesn't blow your mind, I don't know what will ;)

First images from James Webb exceed all expectations

In issue #13, I wrote about the successful deployment of the James Webb Telescope, and to test it, NASA pointed it towards a regular star. What came back was a good picture of a boring star, but in the background there are many distant galaxies visible. NASA says the telescope is performing as well as their most optimistic predictions!

🏥 Health & Medicine

In-flight surgery

There's an episode of House in which he performs a medical procedure during a flight. But how realistic was that? Well, turns out that it's very much possible! Doctors Angus Wallace and Tom Wong performed a surgery mid-air to save a woman suffering from pneumothorax. They used cognac to sterilise equipment, a coat-hanger to reinforce a chest tube, a plastic bottle with holes in the cap as valve, and they held open an incision with knife and fork. The surgery lasted only 10 minutes, and the patient spent the rest of the flight eating and watching movies.

Sewer Data 💩 + COVID = 📈

It surprised me that the CDC has wastewater sample sites across the US to detect pathogens in wastewater. Sick people shed viral particles in their stool, and while it can’t tell you how many people are sick, it can pick up on trends before actual test results show it!

A contagious vaccine

Since 1980, scientists have been developing vaccines that are as contagious as the disease it fights. Why? Many diseases have animal origins, but vaccinating wild animals is tricky. A contagious vaccine would solve this problem and, by extension, prevent humans from getting sick. There are experimental vaccines against Ebola, and Lassa fever, and we could expand it to Rabies, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease. Some vaccines even have a “genetic safeguard” which controls how many times the vaccine can multiply.

While we’re still a long time away from actually deploying these vaccines, but it brings up interesting questions. Could these vaccines jump to other species and have deadly effects? Could it jump to humans like diseases do? And the boldest question of all: should we ever use these vaccines on humans? If so, you could “contract” immunity against your will by being near vaccinated people. Food for thought!

Subscribe to my newsletter

Monthly newsletter with cool stuff I found on the internet (related to science, technology, biology, and other nerdy things)! Check out past editions.