#24: Toilets and Lasers, Energy from Potholes, Self-healing Concrete, ISS Leak, Fusion Energy, Niagara Falls, and more!
Happy New Year! I hope you’re starting the year off well. I wanted to wish you all the best for the year ahead. Good health, happiness, and everything else you need to make your dreams come true.
In other news: I had to migrate the newsletter to Substack because Elon Musk killed Revue. Hopefully everything works correctly, and if not, hit reply and let me know.
I appreciate your support and can't wait to see what 2023 has in store!
🤓 Cool Stuff I Found on the Internet
Hey Siri, turn off Niagara Falls
Two interesting facts about Niagara Falls. First up: the flow rate over the waterfalls is determined by law. At least 2.8 million liters of water must flow over the edge every second (except at night, then the flow rate can be halved). The law prevents power companies from diverting too much water to generate electricity. And the second cool fact is that the Falls can be turned off completely. This happened in 1969 so engineers could determine if the boulders at the base could be removed.
What did we get stuck in our rectums last year?
Once again, this newsletter isn't afraid of nasty topics. After pooplog, and poop transplants, comes this article. A list of all the things people got stuck inside of them in 2022. It's compiled from a database of US emergency room visits and categorized per orifice.
Watch how a toilet flush showers you in crap
Researchers used a laser to visualize the plume coming out of your toilet when flushing. Some aerosol plumes travel as fast as 2 meters per second! Why do I mention such a gross fact? Well, these aerosols can contain pathogens. So close the lid before flushing or wait for a company to design a better toilet bowl.
Digital books wear out faster than physical books
Physical books age very well. Keep them away from fire and water, and they'll be readable for hundreds of years. Digital books require much more work. First up: they're stored on digital media, which is fragile (hard drives) and change every few years. Second, data formats such as ePub and PDF are changing, so the books need to be upgraded. And finally, scanned books need to be reprocessed from time to time to benefit from advances in OCR technology.
Elon Musk and Twitter
Musk has owned Twitter for less than three months and has faced one controversy after the other. This article highlights some of his decisions. Here are my favorites:
- He suspended ElonJet. The account tweeted the location of his private plane. It has since been restored, but is required to delay tweets a few hours.
- He blocked links to competing social media platforms, especially towards Mastodon.
- He created a poll to ask if he should remain the CEO of Twitter, and lost.
Netflix dynamically adds film grain
Most movies and shows have a somewhat noise image, which is called film grain. It used to come from analog cameras, but is now artificially created. Nothing wrong with that, except if you run a streaming service. This noise doesn't compress well, which means the likes of Netflix need to push more bits around, which cost money. Their solution? Profile the noise of each title, remove it, compress the video, and re-add the noise on the viewer's device. This technique reduces Netflix's bandwidth consumption by 30%!
NASA looks to SpaceX for potential ISS rescue mission
On December 15th, a Soyuz capsule docked to the International Space Station suffered from a coolant leak. There’s no immediate danger for the crew, but it’s unknown how badly damaged the Soyuz is, and whether it can still be used as a lifeboat in case of emergency. NASA and Roscosmos are looking at various solutions. One is using SpaceX’s Dragon capsule as a lifeboat or sending the next Soyuz mission early.
Water found in asteroid dust
This article isn’t new, but it’s still noteworthy. The Hayabusa-2 spacecraft returned samples of an asteroid to Earth. In September, analysis showed the samples contained carbonated water with salt and organic matter. This strengthens the theory that Earth’s water (and perhaps even organic matter) was provided by asteroids.
⚡️ Energy & Environment
Harvesting energy from speed bumps and potholes
BMW filed a patent for a new type of suspension that can generate electricity from bumps in the road. It converts the kinetic energy of the car moving up and down into electricity, which can be stored in a battery and used later on. Right now, the energy absorbed by a car’s suspension is wasted as heat energy. Perhaps one day we will enjoy driving bumpy roads or potholes, knowing they recharge our batteries.
One step closer to fusion energy, but what does it mean?
Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of clean energy, but it’s difficult to achieve it on Earth because of the extremely high temperatures. Now, the US National Ignition Facility reported it started a nuclear fusion reaction which generated more energy that it consumes! However, we still have a long way to go before commercial fusion reactors come online. This articles walks you through what happened at NIF, the impact it has, and the challenges that lie ahead.
Secret ingredient made Roman concrete "self-healing"
Modern concrete might look tough, but it’s surprisingly brittle. It starts to crumble in about 50 years. Yet, Roman concrete structures are still standing after 2000+ years. How did they do it? By adding quicklime to their cement mixture. This gives the material self-healing properties. The lime doesn’t fully dissolve and creates lumps inside the concrete. When the concrete cracks, rain water infiltrates and dissolves the lime lumps, effectively sealing the crack. Using similar materials in modern concrete would mean less maintenance and fewer emissions (cement accounts for 8% of all emissions). Man, those Romans really knew what they were doing!
Using waste heat from datacenters
The internet runs on millions of servers, switches, and various other equipment that generate heat inside a datacenter. The most efficient datacenters only use outside air to cool their servers, but that means the excess heat is just lost. In recent years, more and more datacenters are looking at selling their excess heat and dump it into surrounding homes and offices using a district heating grid. A Microsoft datacenter in Finland, for instance, can provide heat for 100,000 homes!