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Issue #6: YouTube Spam, Spying, Satoshi Nakamoto, energy crisis, and more!

Hi there!

Another month has passed, so it's time for another Simply Explained newsletter. This might be the longest one yet, filled with cool things I found on the internet.

Before you dive in, I want to tell you why I write this newsletter. I'm a curious person, and I'm interested in a lot of areas. My life's slogan is "while alive, keep learning.""

Through this newsletter, I want to share my excitement and curiosity with you. I hope I can "infect" you (poor choice of words right now?) with the same passion for science, technology, and anything else that's even remotely interesting.

I hope you'll enjoy this newsletter, and if you did, feel free to share it with friends and family. You can also reply to this email if you have feedback or suggestions.

Enjoy the week, keep it safe, and stay curious,
Xavier


👨‍🏫 Simply Explained

My YouTube channel has been attracting a lot of spammers. They try to trick people into investing money with them or claim to recover lost Bitcoin wallet keys.

I've been marking these as spam, but YouTube's spam filter doesn't seem to update itself. So time to take matters into my own hands and build a spam filter myself (with TensorFlow and the YouTube Data API).

I also wrote a detailed blog post about it and published the source code to GitHub so everyone can roll their own spam filter!

Building a killer NAS with an old Rackable Server

I'm generating a lot of digital data. Constantly taking photos, making videos, coding projects, etc. I'm storing all these files on Google Drive, which has been very reliable but also a bit risky. What if Google closes my account? Or loses my files?

To back up my files, I built a NAS (Network Attached Storage) from an old enterprise server. The ultimate Synology-killer!


🤓 Cool Stuff I Found on the Internet

Spies Can Eavesdrop by Watching a Light Bulb's Vibrations

Want to spy on your neighbors? Just look at their light bulbs and observe the tiny vibrations that sound creates on the glass surface. That's it! All you need is a clear line of sight. Wow!

This article made me think about a video from Smarter Every Day where they used a laser to trigger the microphone on Google Assistant and Alexa devices. By pulsating the laser, they could give it commands such as "open the front door."

24,000-year-old organisms found frozen in Siberia can still reproduce

A frozen microscopic worm found in Siberian permafrost has woken up after being thawed in a lab. It was perfectly fine and able to reproduce after all these years.

Why is this important? These creatures are very resistant to radiation and can withstand very harsh conditions (drying, starvation, and low oxygen). Understanding how they do this can help us with deep-space travel, cryo-preservation of cells and organs, and much more.

Also, it makes me think: how many other (unknown) organisms are frozen in the Arctic and waiting to be revived by global warming?

Hayflick limit

Can we live forever? And if not, why not? Is there a definite limit on how long we can live? It turns out there is a limit on many times our cells can divide, called the Hayflick limit. This limits our lifespan to around 120 years. But maybe we can re-engineer our cells to extend the Hayflick limit?

It also reminded me of a great Vsauce video: "Should I Die?"

Will Apple Mail threaten the newsletter boom?

During their Developer Conference, Apple announced "Mail Privacy Protection." This feature will block invisible tracking pixels that keep track of how many times you open an email.

Why is this a big topic? Apple's Mail app is used by millions of people on macOS and iOS devices. This has a massive impact on newsletters that rely on these statistics for sponsorships.

As for this newsletter: I don't care too much about opening rates. My mail provider (Revue) does keep track of this, but I don't look at these metrics. This newsletter is tiny, and the goal is not to make money but to share my excitement and curiosity with others.

Code stylometry

Code stylometry tries to train a computer to recognize the coding style of an individual. I came across this during Lex Fridman's interview with Charles Hoskinson. Charles suggested using code stylometry to identify Satoshi Nakamoto. Take the original Bitcoin code, and compare the coding style to public GitHub repositories.

The Document Culture of Amazon

Interesting piece about how meetings are conducted at Amazon. Most meetings start with participants reading a short document containing an idea or a problem to be solved (including numbers, charts, …)

Not only has this many positive effects on the meeting itself, but it also creates a written track record of ideas, decisions, and problems.

The Day the Dinosaurs Died – Minute by Minute

One of my favorite YouTube channels posted a video about how the reign of the dinosaurs ended. It also puts the reign of the human race into perspective. We haven't been around for very long (certainly not compared to the dinosaurs), and yet we've completely transformed our world.

Lego Microscope

A friend of mine suggested this: a microscope built out of Lego and old iPhone camera parts! It aims to get kids interested in science, and it actually works incredibly well.


⚡️ Energy

The price of batteries has declined by 97% in the last three decades

To reduce our carbon footprint, we're massively switching to renewable energy sources. The problem with those is that they're not always available. The sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow.

Storing energy is going to be crucial, and batteries are playing a role in that. This article looks at the price evolution of batteries since 1991.

The humble water heater could be the savior of our energy infrastructure woes

This article proposes that we don't need batteries to store energy. Instead, we have to shift our electricity consumption to reduce the load on the grid.

For instance: instead of running water heaters on a dumb timer, connect them to a "smart grid" to signal them when there is an excess of electricity. They can then consume that electricity, heat your water and prevent the heater from using power during peak hours.

I would like to see power companies build APIs that we can integrate with systems like Home Assistant. That way, I could trigger my "dumb" water heater with a "smart" switch.

Polestar 2: Life Cycle Assessment Report

Electric cars seem to be the way forward. As a result, many governments are pushing the adoption. But how eco-friendly is an electric car anyway?

Polestar has published a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in which they look at the lifetime carbon footprint of their car.

In a nutshell: when only using clean energy, you need to drive 50,000km to offset the carbon footprint of the car (production costs, transportation, batteries, etc.) After this mileage, you're saving the environment. It's not a small amount, but it's doable.


🦠 SARS-CoV-2

I'm still very fascinated by the pandemic and everything around it. I still have many questions. How did the coronavirus come to be? How do the vaccines work? What practical measures can we take? etc.

I realize that not everyone shares this curiosity, so feel free to skip this section if you're tired of all the corona-related news.

Corona Game

Governments have taken a lot of (unpopular) measures to stop the pandemic. Could you do any better?

This "Corona Game" is a simulator that puts you in the driving seat. You're in charge of the Czech Republic, and you can take any action you'd like to prevent COVID19 from spreading. For example, close schools, close the border, limit events, mandate masks, etc.

Try to limit infections and deaths, limit government debt, and keep your population happy at the same time.

At the end of the game, you can see how well you did compared to other players and compared to the actual Czech government. There's also a page explaining the models and methodology behind this simulation.

This article shines a light on how coronaviruses are being studied. To my surprise, laboratories routinely create new viruses, called "chimeras." Researchers take certain parts of one virus (such as the Spike protein), fuse it together with another virus, and see if it could replicate in human cells.

This type of research aims to find out how likely it is that a virus could jump species and to create a universal vaccine against the family of coronaviruses.

We still don't know where COVID19 originated, but it's fascinating to see the kinds of research we're doing to try to predict and prevent pandemics.

The Covid Lab Leak Theory: Why a Natural Origin Story Is More Likely

While the previous article suggests that a lab leak could be real, this article pushes the opposite idea. The coronavirus grew in bats and made the jump to humans.

Why haven't we then found the source yet? Well, it took us 15 years to trace SARS back to bats. Same thing for Ebola: we're pretty confident that it came from bats, but we have yet to find carrying with the virus.

The article also says that we don't know where the virus first started spreading. The media often calls out Wuhan, but there had been earlier cases hundreds of kilometers away.

Deleted coronavirus genome sequences trigger scientific intrigue

By rooting through files stored on Google Cloud, a researcher says he recovered 13 early coronavirus sequences that had disappeared from a database last year.

It's believed that the coronavirus jumped from bats to humans at Wuhan's Seafood Market. However, these sequences turned out to be more distantly related to the bat variant. This indicates that Wuhan might not have been the origin but rather the first super-spreading event.


Wow, you've made it all the way to the end. Thank you so much!

Have any feedback about this newsletter? Let me know by replying to this email.

Have a good week!
Xavier

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