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#17: Sleep, Payphones, V'Ger, Solid State Battery, Cancer-killing Virus, Poo Transplants, and more!

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Hi everyone!

In this newsletter edition, I want to take a moment and talk about sleep. Last week I reviewed my notes from the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Even though the book has received a lot of criticism (some of which the author addressed here), it changed the way I think about sleep. After the reading the book I did three things:

  • Limiting my caffeine intake to 1 cup of coffee in the morning. Caffeine has a half-life of 5-8 hours. Even with my limited caffeine intake, there's still some caffeine left in my system by the time I go to bed.
  • I started viewing sleep as necessary and very important for my health. I aim to always get 8 hours of sleep, regardless of what's going on in my life.
  • I practice the saying "sleep on it". Research has shown that sleep is essential for learning & problem solving. Rather than staying up late to work on a problem, I trust that my brain will figure it out while sleeping. And sometimes that's exactly what happens!

Sleep is vital for us (otherwise evolution would've gotten rid of it), and I think everyone should read this book (or a summary of it).

But enough about my obsession with sleep. Let's get to the juicy stuff: random bits I found on the internet 😉.


🤓 Cool Stuff I Found on the Internet

Here before a million

Want to discover new and upcoming artists? This website is a "streaming service" for songs with less than a million views on YouTube. Once they exceed a million views, they get removed from the list. Cool idea!

Algae powers tiny computer for a year

A question we often hear is: "can I borrow your phone charger?". Well, in the future that might become: "could you feed my algae?". Researchers made a battery from blue-green algae that harvest energy from the sun via photosynthesis, and can even produce energy at night. So far, the algae has powered a tiny microprocessor for over a year. This could be great news for low-power IoT devices that currently rely on lithium-ion batteries.

Installing a payphone in my house

Engineer Bertrand Fan bought an old payphone and connected it to another phone in his house with a phone line simulator. Whenever you pick up a phone, the other rings and you can have a conversation. And it looks great as well!

Spurious correlations

When analysing datasets, we can find correlations between multiple variables that seem to indicate that one influences the other. But statistics are hard and correlations aren't always causal. This website lists things that are correlated, but without causation. For example: there's a correlation between pool drownings and films with Nicolas Cage. Keep this in mind when analysing some data.

👽 Space

Debris from 1972 still orbiting Earth (but not for long)

In 1972, the Soviet Union launched Venera 8, a probe meant to fly to Venus but got stuck in Earth’s orbit after a failure. Fast forward 50 years, and it’s still in orbit today! The author of this article believes it’s not the probe itself, but the decent vehicle. And that could be bad news. It’s designed to enter the dense atmosphere of Venus, so it probably won’t burn up when it comes crashing down to Earth (likely between 2023 and 2025).

Voyager 1 is behaving erratically

Voyager 1 is currently 23 billion kilometers away from the Earth, the furthest any space probe ever travelled. It has been operating fine for the last 44 years, however, its attitude control system is now acting up. The system points Voyager’s antenna to Earth, and while it works correctly, its telemetry data is invalid and appears to be random. The team is now looking into solutions (which must be difficult given how old the hardware and software are).

Chinese Mars rover surprise discovery

We think Mars held liquid water until 3 billion years ago. However, the Chinese Zhurong rover has collected soil samples which show water was present just 700 million years ago. Why is that important? Well, understanding how Mars lost its water can help us predict how much water might be left. Which is useful for crewed missions to the red planet.

⚡️ Energy & Environment

Lithium metal solid state battery

QuantumScape has announced a battery that uses a solid electrolyte instead of a liquid solution, as is common today. The battery can charge from zero to 80% in 15 minutes and it retains 80% of its capacity after 800 cycles. It also features an impressive energy density, almost doubling the density of batteries found in Tesla’s Model 3.

A bridge made from wind turbine blades

Old wind turbines are hard to recycle because they’re made from composite materials. They often end up on landfills when decommissioned. In Ireland, they found a creative solution: use them as a support structure for a bridge! However, this isn’t a sustainable solution, and the wind industry knows it. They're pushing the EU to ban turbine blades from ending up in landfills. This would accelerate the development of new and better recycling techniques.

🏥 Health & Medicine

First patients injected with cancer-killing virus

Clinical trials have started for a genetically modified virus, called Vaxinia, that spreads between cancer cells. It’s a Pox virus that replicates within cancer cells until they burst open and release thousands of new viruses, ready to infect even more cancer cells. So far, the FDA has approved only 1 virus for cancer treatment: T-VEC. It’s a modified herpes virus that is used for melanoma treatment.

Poo transplants to reverse ageing

This newsletter doesn't shy away from nasty topics (see pooplog in edition #4). New research suggests that faecal transplants reverse the effect of ageing in the gut, eyes, and brain. At least in mice... These findings suggest that gut microbes play a role in regulating ageing.

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