Month: February, 2022

The Next Internet Could Be A Dystopian Nightmare

We’ve heard a lot lately about the Metaverse; the next evolution of the internet which we will experience in fully immersive 3D virtual worlds as well as mixed and augmented reality on top of our own world. Facebook has zeroed in on this idea so much they changed their name to Meta to reflect it. So let’s look at the potential for this future, the promises that it holds… And the dystopian nightmare it could become if we get it wrong.


Hi, and welcome to… this. Whatever this is.
I’m coming to you from a place that doesn’t exist, at least not in reality but it does exist in virtual reality. And of course what you’re seeing is a virtual version of me interacting in this space.
Even though I’m really at home, right where you always see me.

VR technology has been around for a while, obviously, most of you have probably had some experience in a virtual world at some point, there have been VR experiences in theme parks and malls, there were even VR gaming headsets going back to the 90s.

But it never quite caught on. Not in the way its early proponents expected. Sorry, Lawnmower Man.
I really wanted to be Lawnmower Man.
So why now is there all this talk about “the metaverse?” What even is the metaverse, and is it really going to be the next big evolution in the internet?
And maybe the biggest question… Do you have to strap a brick to your face to use it?


At the end of October last year during their annual Connect presentation, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was changing its name to Meta. And I, along with the whole of humanity, briefly lost my eyes as they rolled back in my head.
I even came up with this killer meme that I’m fairly proud of, one of the better things I’ve ever come up with.
This whole announcement was coming hot off the heels of a list of scandals longer than the t-shirt aisle of Zuck’s walk-in closet.
Everything from election shenanigans to conducting psychological experiments on unconsenting users to literally enabling religious genocide in Myanmar.

High profile whistleblowers came forward testifying to their pursuit of profits at the expense of society, their buying up of other properties reeks of monopoly, and their apps, especially Instagram, has been linked to depression and even self-harm in young girls.
The name Facebook has become synonymous with data mining and loss of privacy, misinformation, and holy lord the social polarization.

In fact, it seems the only thing everybody in the world does seem to agree on is that Facebook is the worst thing that’s ever happened ever.
They claim their mission is to bring people together, and in that sense anyway, they have been successful.

So hey, name change! That’ll fix it!

That’s how it came across. And how it was covered by people in the media. Including myself. And I stand by my baseless mockery.
But that announcement came at the very end of the presentation, it was their “one more thing.” In fact, he totally stole from Steve Jobs when he announced it.(1:10:30 in presentation below) copying his wardrobe wasn’t enough.
No, this came at the end of an almost an hour and a half presentation on the metaverse, where he laid out in stark detail what the metaverse is, what challenges there are to overcome, and how it’s going to transform the world as we know it.
All delivered through totally natural human conversations that sound nothing at all like the sponsored segments on your local news.
I watched the whole thing.


But if you didn’t have time to watch the whole thing, here were some of the highlights…
Zuckerberg talked about Horizon Home, their virtual space that users will own in the metaverse.
By the way, that word ownership will come up again later.
It’s a little virtual home that you can design however you like, keep and organize apps, entertainment, virtual assets and avatars.
And, as it was announced in the video, you can now invite other people over to your virtual home.
You can sit in a virtual home theater with your friends and watch movies or TV shows together in this 3D space.

A lot of it centered around how interacting in virtual spaces like this is more immersive and engaging than the video calls we’ve gotten used to – just a bunch of faces on a flat screen.
Which is why they’re also pushing Horizon Workspaces, which lets people work together in a virtual 3D office.
And if you just find it hard to believe that interacting through digital avatars can be better than a zoom call, he talked about the headset they’re developing called Cambria that will be able to read and mimic facial expressions, and the next generation of avatars that aren’t quite out of uncanny valley, but are much more photorealistic.
And he talked about augmented and mixed realities where virtual objects and art interact with the real world, basically creating a digital layer  on top of our reality, and setting up virtual commerce so developers and creators can make money building out this world.

Basically the point of the presentation was to establish a vision for the metaverse and promote the tools they are building that will push things in that direction.
And, much more importantly, to get out front in the minds of the public as THE company behind the metaverse.
And let’s face it, it worked.
For a lot of people, this was the first time they had ever heard of a metaverse, and it was coming from robot supervillain Mark Zuckerberg, who changed the name of his company around it… This is clearly their baby, no thank you.

Is it not enough you screwed up the world, you’ve gotta create a whole new virtual world and screw that up too?

A lot of people see a company that has plateaued. They’ve reached the saturation point, in fact, their numbers shrank in January for the first time, which caused their stock to plummet on February 3rd. They lost $230 billion in one day.
All of that was after the name change but still, the writing’s on the wall. They’re  not the cool social media anymore, and with Apple’s new privacy features and various new government regulations around the world, they’re grasping at straws.

Add on top of that all these public scandals and the timing is just right to, you know, kinda change the narrative.
All of which is true, and a fair thing to say. But Facebook has been working toward this for a while. They bought Oculus in 2014, so 8 years now, way before the scandals started to hit.

Was Zuckerberg on to something? Have they been quietly laying the groundwork for the biggest thing to ever happen to the internet this whole time?
Or is this just a company nobody likes offering a product nobody wants to solve problems nobody has?

So here’s the thing… Meta is not the Metaverse.

The idea of the metaverse has been around for a while now, and there’s a lot of different people with their own ideas of what it can be and how it will work. And they say in their video that they’re building FOR the metaverse, not that they’re building the metaverse itself.
Zuckerberg just co-opted the name. Like he co-opted his outfit.


The term “Metaverse” was first coined in the Neal Stephenson book Snow Crash in 1992.
In the book, the metaverse took the form of a city street, longer than the circumference of the Earth with virtual real estate branching out from the street, creating whole neighborhoods.


And this idea of a virtual, online second world is nothing new either, in fact massively multiplayer online games have been around since 2003 when Second Life went online.
Second Life, Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, all of these allow people to inhabit avatars of their choosing, be social, throw parties, have relationships, and buy and sell virtual goods for actual money.
You could probably go as far as to call each of these “protometaverses” and for sure they feature a lot of the fundamentals that describe the metaverse… But the metaverse takes it further.

Metaverse expert Matthew Ball sums it up by saying:
“The metaverse is a massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds which can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence, and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications, and payments.”
He has a nine-part series about the metaverse on his website that I’ll link down below if you want a deeper dive, it’s worth checking out if you really want to get your head around all this.
But to keep things simple here, let’s bullet point some of that quote and take a closer look.

According to Matthew Ball, the necessary features of the metaverse are:
Massively scaled Interoperable Real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds Synchronous Persistent Unlimited number of users Individual sense of presence Continuity of data
Most of these are self-explanatory so let me focus on the ones that aren’t.

Like interoperable, what does that mean, well it means basically that all the parts of the Metaverse have to work together.
For example, you can go run around in Second Life and you can shoot things up in Fortnite, but those are two different platforms run by two different companies, they don’t work together in any way.
In a metaverse situation, you might have doors in your virtual home that if you walk through one door, you’re in the Fortnite world, walk through the other door and you’re in Second Life.
Or the two could work together, or the metaverse world itself would be fully encompassing of both. Assets that are bought in one room can be used in the other one.

In the metaverse, any store, game, or experience online will have to appear by default, there can’t be silos created by different companies.  It’s like imagine if some websites only appeared on Google Chrome, some on Microsoft Edge, some on Firefox?
The metaverse has to have that same interoperability but in a virtual 3D space.

SYNCHRONOUS is another feature worth commenting on
Meta’s Chief Technology Officer Andrew Bosworth describes the metaverse as “a largely synchronous experience,” meaning most of what happens there will be produced and consumed in real-time, by everybody.
Like what I’m doing right now is asynchronous. You’re not hearing me say this right now, you’re hearing me say this days and weeks later. We are not experiencing this at the same time.
Even if I was doing a livestream there would be a 30-second delay. A very annoying 30-second delay.
Multiplayer games and social media are synchronous, so that’s closer to what the metaverse will be, it’s a virtual world that we all experience at the same time.


Sounds boring but it’s actually super important.
When we say “data” what we mean is personal identity. Your identity has to be the same in all of the places.
Like one thing that’s always been different between real life and online life is we often take on different names and pseudonyms in various places online. But imagine if it worked that way in real life, and every time you went into a different store you had to use a different identity. That just totally wouldn’t work, and it wouldn’t work in the metaverse either.

There have to be systems in place that make proving your identity in the metaverse as easy as showing your drivers’ license in the real world – and safeguards to make sure it can’t be stolen.
So yeah, just like the internet isn’t run by one company, the metaverse can’t be either. Despite how much Facebook wants to own it.
And while you don’t HAVE to experience the metaverse in VR, it is kinda the best way to get the potential across.

Just a personal note here, I got this Quest headset toward the beginning of the pandemic as kind-of an experiment, I was wondering if since I was holed up in my house if there was any psychological benefit to VR, like is it immersive enough to actually virtually get me out of the house.
And I don’t think I actually used it enough to tell but I will say what sold me on the potential of VR was a Star Wars game.
There’s a few Star Wars games called Vader Immortal and long story short, there’s a scene where Vader walks up to you and threatens you and guys… I almost crapped myself.
Like I’m old enough to remember when Darth Vader was scary, and then we saw him as a whiny kid in the prequels and then Disney bought it out and now he’s dancing to You Can’t Touch This at Disneyworld.
Anyway, he stopped being scary.

But in this game he walks up to you and he’s like 7 feet tall and this wide and he’s just like towering over you and I was like Oh MY GOD.
VR made Darth Vader scary again for me. So yeah… It’s got some potential.
The question is… will people want to strap a device like this on their faces for hours at a time? I’ll be honest, it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world. But there’s a lot of work going on in this department.


At the time of this recording, the biggest names in VR today are Meta, Sony, and HTC.
Sony has new VR headset in the works for the Playstation 5. HTC released its latest offerings, Vive Pro 2 and Vive Focus 3, last year
These are refinements on earlier headsets which obviously move the needle a bit but probably won’t draw VR newbies in on their own.
I mentioned earlier that Meta’s working on a new headset called Cambria that will track facial features better. It also promises to have a better passthrough mode.
Passthrough is when the headset uses the cameras on the front to let you see the room around you, which I have to say is very well done on the Quest 2.
I can step outside the guardian and walk around the room without taking off the headset, and the depth perception is almost perfect. I can grab a drink or move an object like I’m just using my eyes.
And this actually sold me on the idea of augmented reality or mixed reality.

Like, with the Quest, you build a guardian barrier, this is to make sure you don’t walk into any walls or anything, and as you approach the barrier, you see lines appear to let you know that it’s there.
But when you step outside of it, you see this curtain interacting with the real world. Imagine if that was a TV display or digital art or a virtual bookshelf that holds all your favorite books or a virtual jukebox where you could play music.


These are the promises of AR and MR, to enable a digital layer on top of real life.
This is actually something Apple has heavily invested in over the last few years, embedding AR functionality into their iPhones, including a LIDAR sensor, which helps with facial recognition, but also makes it possible to map out spaces.
And over the last 5 years or so, they’ve quietly bought a handful of companies that are working on AR tech, like VRvana, Polar Rose, and Akonia Holographics.
And you can see some development on synchronous avatar tech with their animojis.

But they still haven’t really come out with any VR or AR gear… yet.
And that might be because, if you want to operate in a mixed or augmented reality space, a VR headset with high-res passthrough might do the job, but it’s doubtful that people will want to spend a majority of their day with this brick attached to their face.

As long as you have to wear a big clunky device on your head, the metaverse will just be a place you step into from time to time. It’s like the internet before smartphones. You could access it… if you were sitting at a computer.
Smartphones allowed us to take the internet with us, to integrate it into our lives, and the apps gave us the ability to never get lost, to find food, information… and Pokemon.
Ah yes, Pokemon Go, the OG of AR.

For the metaverse to become a part of our daily lives, we’ll need something more sleek and streamlined than a VR helmet. For that… we’re gonna need smartglasses.


Smartglasses have passthrough built-in. Since, you know, they’re see through.
You can use them to transport you to fully immersive virtual worlds or present a virtual digital layer on top of reality.
So far smartglasses have been… less than impressive?

Google Glass came out in 2013 to mixed reviews, some people called it ugly while other people hailed it as remarkably stupid.
And this is still kind-of what comes to mind when people think of smart glasses, it’s just this dorky thing that only tech bros wore and didn’t really do much except make people stare at you.
It was basically just a tiny little screen that would show you images and information with minimal user interface, they’ve gotten more functional over the years but this is more like a different implementation of a smartphone than VR glasses.

Snapchat released Spectacles in 2016, which was basically glasses with built-in cameras to take images and post on the app.
These didn’t exactly take off with consumers, I don’t remember hearing much excitement around them and honestly, I’d kind-of totally forgotten about them… Until I was researching for this video.
Turns out they’ve made some giant leaps with this product. Last year, they debuted a new version of Spectacles that have AR functionality.

I don’t think they’re actually selling these to the public yet, it’s really for developers, but the glasses work along with the Snapchat app to add AR graphics in real-time.
And Snap is pretty well positioned for this because they pioneered real-time filters and lenses that are, essentially a kind of augmented reality. This just puts them in glasses that you wear.
There’s still a long way to go, the battery life is apparently terrible and it only has a narrow field of view, but it’s pretty major progress.

Last year, Ray-Ban collaborated with Facebook, now Meta, on Ray-Ban stories, which allow you to record videos and live chat with people on Facebook.
They’re still in the “extension of your phone” phase, but it’s a start.
At CES 2022, just a month ago or so, a company named Vuzix announced the Vuzix Shield, promising a real AR experience but this is not really for consumers, these are for professional use cases, and will be priced as such.
But this is the closest that we’ve gotten to real AR smartglasses.

So there’s still a way to go on this.

I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of other contenders in this field and that’s the Microsoft Hololens and the Magic Leap One.
These aren’t smart glasses as much as AR headsets and both were making some big splashes back around 2018, but Magic Leap unfortunately kinda folded and the Hololens…
Well the biggest purchaser of HoloLens to date has been the US Army.
They issued a second generation in 2019 and there were plans for a HoloLens 3 but those seem to be cancelled….

Or is it…?
The point is, there is progress here. Hell up until just a couple years ago, most quality VR headsets were tethered, you had to be connected to a computer.
It really won’t be long until someone cracks the code and produces a high-quality, easy to use and relatively inexpensive pair of glasses that will make the ultimate vision of the metaverse a reality.
And when this happens I truly think it will be the most transformative tech gadget since the iPhone, something that will fundamentally change how we interact with the world.  And that company is going to bank. Hard.
Imagine it, a pair of glasses that when you put them on shows you a whole level of reality that you couldn’t see before
Computers and TVs might become irrelevant because you can put a screen up anywhere you want in the house.
Imagine navigation showing up as arrows floating in space ahead of you, pointing you in the right direction.
Imagine billboards and ads that interact with you as you walk past them. Walking into stores and buying real life items sitting on a shelf right next to virtual items, which by the way, NFTs kinda make sense in a virtual world like this because if you buy something you want to know that it’s authenticated in some way.

Or… you could teleport from your home as an avatar to a store and buy virtual goods, and purchase real goods to be delivered to your home.
Imagine virtual paramedics that can be on the scene of an emergency instantly as an avatar to assess the situation and walk you through any triage that’s possible before the ambulance arrives.
Imagine going back in time and visiting virtual recreations of ancient Rome or New York when it was still New Amsterdam, or ride on the Titanic.
Imagine a friend calling you and when you accept the call, they just appear, either as an avatar or in 3D, right in front of you.

Like, holograms in the future is just like a trope in science fiction, we’ve always imagined we would have that someday. This is pretty much that. It just requires glasses.
Imagine a world like the one in Free Guy, where once you put on the glasses, the world becomes a first person video game where you can interact with virtual players from all around the world, virtual bullets flying everywhere, virtual cars flying off of virtual bridges while a virtual volcano explodes on the horizon, the only limit to reality will the the limits of our own imagination… Yeah, does anybody really want this?

I mean, could this essentially take all the worst parts of the internet and bring them into living reality?
We’re already so immersed in our online presence that it’s damaging us, mentally.
Like you don’t hear a lot of mental health experts saying we need MORE internet these days.

I mean a lot of these future visions with the holograms everywhere are pretty dystopian.
Think of all the websites where 90% of the screen space is just ads and popups and imagine what it would be like walking through a store with those glasses on.
As you try to walk out of the store a popup comes up saying, “Wait, before you go! Shoes half off!”
The world could be chaos, filled with digital panhandlers crawling over each other for your last shred of attention. This is what reality could be in the future if the tech companies have their way. Which is why many believe that if the metaverse if going to happen, it’s going to have to be a new kind of technology. A whole new kind of internet. Something that goes by the name of Web3.


The Internet as we use it right now is called Web2. Or Web 2.0 but that’s a pretty outdated term, Web2 is dominated by social media and user-generated content.
Web1 was the early days of the internet where people put up pages and other people read those pages. It was mostly text and sometimes called the “read-only internet.”

So Web2 was all about engagement and interactivity. Web3 will be more about ownership; I mentioned that earlier. And this is where blockchain technology comes in.
Blockchain allows the metaverse to be decentralized, not owned by any one entity. And digital assets will need to be singular items that can’t be copied. Or… Non-fungible.
Like I said before, NFTs kinda make sense in a metaverse environment.

The thought is that in Web3, blockchain technology will be used to enhance creator rights, so that posting digital assets will grant you a stake in how the asset is distributed.
And your identity wouldn’t be wrapped up in a Facebook or Google account, you would own a secure, personal identity that you can share however you see fit.
If you want to buy something on credit, you can show your financial records to the creditor, no need for a bank or a credit agency.
Instead of countless logins and passwords, you can visit a website or virtual store and they’ll know it’s you.

A virtual contract signing will become a handshake.
Like the metaverse itself, Web3 is still an amorphous, ever-evolving thing and an entire video could be made on that alone, in fact, I’m going to link to some great videos and podcasts about it down below.
But that’s an example of how there are several different types of technologies that are maturing at the same time that could make the metaverse happen – whatever it turns out to be.
And Facebook – or Meta – is just one of dozens of companies who are trying to get in there first. It’s literally a virtual land grab.
Think about all the companies and even industries that went kaput when the internet came around. Well if the metaverse really is the next internet, if it really is Web3, nobody wants to be caught on their heels when that happens.

So there’s that fear of not being able to adapt fast enough, and then there’s fear of missing out, FOMO.
Add in the greed and speculation that accompanies any gold rush, and it’s easy to see how all this hype got built up around it.
But this really isn’t going to be happening any time soon, these technologies are coming together fast, but there’s still a pretty long way to go. Or, as Zuck himself said…(Play the Connect clip from 1:10:13 and slowly zoom in on his awkward hands. Then cut to Ricky Bobby saying, “I’m not sure what to do with my hands”)’ll be interesting to watch and as a content creator, I definitely have my eye on it, it could really shake up the creator economy, in probably good and bad ways.

But it’s not something I really worry about because I mean… you can always take the glasses off.
And just one more contrarian point before I go… I think it’s possible that this entire conceit, that people want a more immersive, synchronous social experience through the internet… might be flawed.
I think we might actually be moving in the opposite direction.

As our communication technology has evolved, we’ve gone from having to answer the phone when it’s ringing or we’d miss it entirely to someone can leave a message on the answering machine and we call them back when we want, to not calling at all and just sending a text message, which is the most popular form of communication today.
Hell you could say we’ve moved from text messages to just sending emojis and gifs.
We’re reverting back to hieroglyphics!

I mean I don’t know about you but I barely even answer the phone anymore because I’m always in the middle of something and I hardly ever answer the door, even though I have a smart doorbell that allows me to talk to them through my phone, instead I’m hiding behind the couch so I don’t have to deal with the scary Girl Scouts outside. Like a man.
Technology has given us the gift of connection but it’s also given us the gift of control over our own time. And we seem to be valuing that more.
So the idea of being always plugged in to a virtual world… I don’t know. It might not be as popular as the tech bros think.
But what do you think? I know this was kind-of a high-level overview and there’s a lot that isn’t included here that adds a lot of nuance, feel free to chime in with anything I missed down below.



Could The Tonga Blast Lower Global Temperatures? (And Other Questions)

In today’s Lightning Round video, we cover such subjects as cosmic spiders, shrimp with guns for hands, the Tonga blast (Hunga-Tonga actually), and new energy sources. Thanks to the Patreon supporters who submitted questions!


Once a month, I take questions from Patreon supporters who support above a certain level and I answer those questions.Once a month, I take questions from Patreon supporters who support above a certain level and I answer those questions.

There are many questions in this world to be answered. Most people do so privately, on their own time, in their own way…
Unless they run a YouTube channel where they take questions from supporters and then you get a lightning round video like this.

Wow, what an intro!

As always, lightning round questions are submitted by Patreon supporters at the Solar System level and above, so if you think you’ve got a better question, get in there and prove it.
And if you want to see a full video on any of these topics, let me know in the comments.

Mark Hoffman – Feb – Patreon

Wouldn’t it make more sense if we used a base 12 numerical system?

Sounds like someone didn’t do well in math class.
“It’s not me, it’s base 10!”
Actually I would have used that as an excuse if I was clever enough.
Would it make more sense? I mean, I guess depends on what you’re using it for.
We do have a bit of a base 12 system in how we keep time, with 12-hour day and night cycles so I guess you could argue that a civilization that was more time-based would stick with base 12.
It’s actually an interesting question, you know, we landed on base 10 because we have 10 fingers and I’ve always wondered what things would be like if we had more or less fingers…

Like if canines became an intelligent species, would there be a base 8 system?
The Mayans actually had a base 20 system, and it’s thought – I really don’t know if it’s true, but its thought that since they were in a warm climate they didn’t have to cover their feet so they had 20 digits to work with.
That sounds a little crazy but I read that somewhere.

The Babylonians had a base-60 system, they were also the first to divide the hour into 60 minutes and minutes into 60 seconds. I don’t think those two facts are unrelated.
There are also 360 degrees in a circle, which is divisible by 60, so there’s a base 60 of sorts used in navigation.
But Base-60 is also kinda base 12 because 60 is divisible by 12.
And one of the arguments that a base 12 system is more useful is that 12 is divisible by more numbers. For example, you can divide 12 by 2, 3, 4, and 6, but you can only divide 10 by 2 and 5 – without getting into decimals and fractions.

The Egyptians are the most well-known civilization that did actually use a base-12 system.
So, yeah, Base-12 has its uses but if you ask me, base-10 stuck because of the whole 10-finger thing, which made it easier for non-mathematicians, just normal people like farmers and craftsmen to trade with each other and conduct transactions.
In other words, commerce. Money.  It’s always the money.

Thomas Lovse – Feb – Patreon

Can you please, more in depth, explain quantum superposition? I still don’t get it.

Mmmmm no.
The nature of a lightning round video is that I don’t go in-depth on things and I have covered quantum theory in other videos about as in-depth as I a capable of, I’ll link those down below.
But really, don’t sweat it, most people don’t get quantum mechanics, or as Richard Feynman once said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”
And he was kinda paraphrasing Neils Bohr, who said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not fully understood it.”
So if those two heavyweights struggled with it, I think it’s okay for us to as well.

Cole Parker – Feb – Patreon

What new hybrid or advanced energy sources are out there? You covered micro nuclear, what about tech that is solar hot water and photovoltaic, or hydroelectric that pumps water uphill for later release or other creative clean energy.

Okay so… I’m sorry, I’m gonna be really pedantic for a second because you’re asking about energy sources and then you describe pumped hydro, which is energy storage and those are two different things.
I know, I’m that guy right now.

But it does matter because there’s a LOT of different energy storage options and ideas out there but energy sources… there’s not really anything new on the horizon… until we can make fusion happen.
Like there’s a lot of different ways to collect solar energy and transform it and use it but the source of that energy is still the sun.
But you mention solar hot water, I wouldn’t call that new, necessarily, but that’s a type of solar thermal energy.
Interestingly, I was reading something about this, about how for a long time most solar energy was solar thermal energy, either the concentrated solar that heats oil in a tube that then boils water – steam – turbine, that whole bit, or the molten salt solar thermal that focuses a bunch or mirrors on a tower and then, you know… water/steam/turbine…

It was more popular because it was cheaper but now photovoltaic panels have gone down in price so much, that’s more popular and is producing the the majority of solar energy.
But yeah there are systems that use solar water panels to heat up water that you can then use as hot water in your house, or you can store that hot water and later draw energy out of it using a heat exchanger.

It’s not a bad option, especially if you have a large place or you’re out in the country off the grid kind of thing, but as the price of battery storage comes down, it’s becoming cheaper and easier to go that route.
But yeah I’m going to be a stickler on the use of the word “source” in this question and just say that I’m not aware of any new energy sources outside of solar, wind, combustion, geothermal, nuclear… Again, unless I missed something, let me know.

Joe Scotts Beautiful Hairline – Feb – Patreon

How does the pistol shrimp claw work, does it really reach temperatures close to the sun?

Yeah… the pistol shrimp is pretty cool.
To those who might not be wise in the ways of the pistol shrimp, it’s a type of shrimp that can basically snap its claw so fast that it causes a cavitation bubble in the water that creates a shock wave that stuns its prey. And then it gobbles it up.
And when the vacuum of the cavitation bubble collapses, it does produce a tiny flash of light which itself is crazy AF because it’s a very, very rare case of sonoluminescence, which is light that’s created by sound waves.

Yeah, light created by sound waves. Just sit with that for a second.
But that tiny flash of light is created by a plasma that for a very, very… very… tiny amount of time, is as hot as the surface of the sun.
Sounds like clickbait. But it’s totally true.

As for how it does it, it’s a combination of the type of joint in the claw and the shape of the claw.
So there’s two types of joints in shrimp claws, they’re both called slip joints but the pistol shrimp has a cocking slip joint. (Nature video above)
The basic gist of a cocking slip joint is when the claw muscle is pulled, it holds open until it reaches a certain level of resistance before it gives, and that’s what makes it snap shut instead of just opening and closing.

And as you can see, the sort-of forearm area of the claw on these shrimp is huge because the muscle that operates that claw is crazy strong.
So that’s the type of joint, but then there’s the shape of the claw.

Inside the stationary part of the claw is an indention, a little cavity that holds water, and when the claw snaps shut, it forces this water out at an extremely high velocity.
And you might know this but the higher a fluid’s velocity, the lower its pressure. This is how airfoils work on airplane wings, it forces the air going over the top to go faster than the air below, higher velocity means lower pressure, so the air below the wing has higher pressure than the air above it, and that pushes the wing up.
Well in the case of the pistol shrimp, that velocity is so high that it makes the pressure go so low that it’s actually lower than the vapor pressure of water.
As you may know, water boils in a vacuum. Which is why if you were doing a spacewalk and your helmet sprung a leak, the last thing you would experience before you lost consciousness would be the fluid on your eyes getting all fizzy. Fun!

So yeah, the speed of the water coming out of this snap kinda boils the water and creates a cavitation bubble that’s filled with nothing, just a straight-up vacuum, when this vacuum collapses is when all that energy is released.
Energy that creates a tiny bit of light and for a very brief moment, a temperature of about 8,000 degrees. (4427 degrees Celsius)
And… it creates one of the loudest sounds in nature, at 218 decibels.
So yeah, pistol shrimp are insane but I think my favorite thing about the pistol shrimp is… They don’t know any of that.
They don’t know velocity and pressure and cavitation and all that, they just know that if they snap their finger, the other guy goes down. Like they’re just walking around with a superpower like what are you gonna do about it?

Joe Scott’s Beautiful Hairline – Feb – Discord

Will you make anymore history topic videos in the future


Fishtail – Feb – Discord

With your “Conversations with Joe” podcast, what do you look for in guests? Are they interesting people apart from their field of study? Do they need a certain amount of visibility?

Chase E – Feb – Patreon

Hi Joe! With the recent explosion in tonga, is it true the blast was larger than the largest bomb tested? What was the scale and extent of the blast? Could it have possible positive changes on our climate or was it just not large enough?

First of all, it’s actually Hunga-Tonga, which is the most fun-to-say name I’ve ever heard so I’m never gonna stop saying it.
(Technically guy walks up in the room)Technically, it’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai

To answer your question, NASA said that Hunga-Tonga equalled between 4-18 megatons, which would make it hundreds of times stronger than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.

But Hiroshima, despite all the deaths it caused, was actually a very small atomic bomb, especially compared to some of the ones that were tested later on, which I believe is what you were asking about when you mention the largest bomb ever made, which if you are talking about the largest bomb ever made, you are talking about the Tsar Bomba.
By the way, the only thing more fun than saying Hunga Tonga is saying Tsar Bomba vs Hunga Tonga.
The Tsar Bomba by the way, was ridiculous. It created a pressure wave that circled the world 3 times and shattered windows 480 miles (780km) away. It’s just so much bigger than most people realize.
That would be like a bomb going off in New York City and breaking windows in Raleigh North Carolina.
Or a bomb in Chicago breaking windows in Nashville.
Or one in LA breaking windows in Tuscon.
Or one in Houston breaking windows in Oklahoma City.

Yeah the Tsar Bomba was estimated to be between 50-58 megatons, so much bigger than Hunga Tonga.
…If you’re going by megatons. There is another metric that makes it more complicated. And that’s the strength of its shockwave.
Okay, so in 1996, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed and part of that treaty was it set up an organization to monitor nuclear weapons tests around the world and that organization created by the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was cleverly named, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization.
Anyway, they operate a global array of stations that measure atmospheric pressure, and according to them, Hunga-Tonga was stronger than the Tsar Bomba.
When Tsar Bomba went off, it measured .5 to .7 hectopascals at their station in New Zealand, about 10,000 miles away.
But Hunga Tonga measured at around 2 hectopascals in Austria, which is roughly the same distance away.

That would make Hunga Tonga nearly 4x stronger than Tsar Bomba.

Now, I don’t know, maybe those are two totally different measurements, megatons vs. hectopascals but yeah… I don’t know. Depends on how you measure it I guess.
But your question about how it would impact the climate, that has nothing to do with how strong a blast it was, that has to do with what got blasted out.
And Hunga-Tonga definitely put a lot of ejecta very high into the atmosphere, in fact Oxford University research fellow Simon Proud said on Twitter
“Based on analysis of data from global weather satellites, our preliminary data for the Tonga volcanic cloud suggests that it reached an altitude of 39km [24 miles],” Proud said. “We’ll refine the accuracy of that in the coming days, but if correct, that’s the highest cloud we’ve ever seen.”

But… scientists don’t think it’s strong enough to lower the global temperature.
Because Hunga-Tonga released a lot of ash but not a lot of sulfur dioxide, and it turns out that’s what actually produces most of the cooling effect.
For example, Mount Pinatubo in 1991 was the last volcano to affect the global temperature and it was way heavier on the sulfur dioxide.
Hunga-Tonga released about 400,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, that’s about 2% of what came out of Pinatubo.
And Pinatubo’s effect only lasted for a couple of days anyway.
So, yeah. Maybe bigger than Tsar Bomba, but not going to cool off the globe.

Chase E – Feb – Patreon

With SpaceX’s star link those satellites surely will deorbit within a few years due to atmospheric drag. But is there any risk if they happened to have any collisions while still in orbit that debris can hang around causing the feared Kessler syndrome?

I feel like I… JUST talked about that.
No, this is clearly a response to my recent video on satellite internet, and this is actually something I was going to put in there but it was running long and this just didn’t make it in.
But yeah, Kessler syndrome, I’m very worried about that – when I see these governments testing anti-satellite missiles and creating debris fields it infuriates me, it’s just so irresponsible.

But… someone might say that SpaceX is being just as irresponsible for putting tens of thousands of satellites in orbit for Starlink. I mean, what’s the difference between 40,000 pieces of debris from a collision and 40,000 satellites?
And that’s a fair question. And here’s how I think about it.
There are 19,500 incorporated cities in the United States. Imagine if each city had only one car. What’s the chance that one of them would hit another car? Pretty low, right? These cars are all tens, maybe hundreds of miles away from each other.
Now, spread that out around the entire planet. The US only makes up 1.87% of the Earth’s surface, so these cars are all thousands of miles away from each other now. The chance of any of them hitting each other are exceedingly low.
Then keep in mind that satellites don’t all orbit on the same plane, you’ve got a third dimension to play with now, and there are hundreds of orbital levels going up thousands of miles.

The point is, there’s a lot more room up there than our brains probably think. And just to put that 19,500 number in perspective, it’s 4x more than the number of active satellites in orbit (4500), and a bit less than the pieces of orbital debris that we’re aware of and tracking (27,000). And, about half of what Starlink is eventually planning to be (40,000).
So I think as long as the majority of these are in a very low Earth orbit that will decay pretty quickly and they’re all managed by the same company that can keep track of them on the same system, that’s about as safe as you can hope for.

Brian Beswick – Feb – Patreon

How scary is the title of this article?! #AstrophysicsClickBait

All right, let’s see, what are we looking at here, Cosmic Spider Found To Be the Source of powerful gamma rays. Cosmic Spider! (playfully fall out of chair)
This is just proof that the universe was produced by Jon Peters.

If you don’t get that reference, Kevin Smith tells this amazing story of working on a Superman script with a producer named Jon Peters who was obsessed with giant spiders.
All right, let’s see about these giant space spiders.
“A bright, mysterious source of gamma rays has been found to be a rapidly spinning neutron star — dubbed a millisecond pulsar — that is orbiting a star in the process of evolving into an extremely-low-mass white dwarf. These types of binary systems are referred to by astronomers as “spiders” because the pulsar tends to “eat” the outer parts of the companion star as it turns into a white dwarf.” Yeah, that’s some serious clickbait.

Brian also asked:

Also, with what seems to be an exponentially growing mountain of scientific discoveries, what things from science fiction do you think might become science fact within our lifetime?

Okay, so I swear I’m not just trying to promote the podcast here but I do actually have an episode on the way with a sci-fi writer and we talk about that very thing. So… wait for that.


Could Regenerative Agriculture Save Us?

The world’s population is exploding, and food production is being pushed to the limit to support it. But some are practicing a new, more sustainable system of farming, one that combine ancient farming practices with space-age technology. The question is, is it enough?


A couple of years ago, my wife and I planted a small garden in our backyard to grow veggies like squash and bell peppers. Wanna see it? Let’s go take a look!
Yeah, we’re not good at this.
Luckily, that was just a project for fun, we don’t rely on that for our food, much less other people relying on it.

No, we can just go down the street to the store and take our pick from the cornucopia of produce from all around the world, ready and waiting whenever we want it.

This is a convenience that most people didn’t have throughout all of human history, but it comes with a cost.

According to the EPA, tractors burn 5.3 billion gallons of fuel a year in the US alone, and agriculture accounts for 10% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Not to mention water use and the knock-on effects of fertilizer and pesticides.

Oh, and half of all food that gets produced gets thrown away.

So much about how we grow our food right now is inherently unsustainable. And with our population continuing to grow, these resources are going to be even further strained in the future.

In fact some researchers have estimated that from now to 2060 we are going to have to produce as much food as we produced in the last 500 years.

But there are some who see a different way forward. A more sustainable way, one that combines ancient practices with modern technology. It’s called Regenerative Agriculture, and it promises to revolutionize food production… If it works.


Scientists and archeologists may not agree on exactly when agriculture began, but there’s no question how important it was to our development as a species. For the first time, we were adapting the environment to fit our needs and not the other way around.

A development that will in no way ever come back to bite us in the ass.

The general consensus is that this started around 10,000 years ago, but this date keeps getting pushed back.

Take a recent archeological discovery called Ohalo II in the Sea of Galilee, which, when I say in the Sea of Galilee, I mean IN the Sea of Galilee. It was only found when a drought lowered water levels enough to reveal it.

There they found evidence of small-scale agriculture. Things like sickles and grindstones as well as fruit and cereal grain residue. And this dates back to 23,000 years ago.

By the way, if you’d like to see a video about the oldest cities ever found… I might be up for that.

The first depictions of a plow were by the ancient Sumerian people in the late neolithic period around 7,000 years ago.

Rice cultivation thrived in the Indus Valley Civilization at about the same time, which would spread to other parts of Asia.

In Europe, grains like barley, wheat, oats and rye were popular, and as the feudal system developed, they kinda landed on a two step crop rotation system.

Basically you farm it, then let it go fallow and have the animals eat grasses or hay for a season and then plant your crop again. The benefit of this is it lets the crop rest and the animals help nourish the soil with their manure.

The downside of this method though is that you’re kinda without food for parts of the year which requires you make bigger crops, which means cutting down more forests… It wasn’t that sustainable.

A new pattern emerged in the late Middle Ages where they used three fields, this allowed them to plant year-round and still give the crops time to rest.

Around the 1400’s it became more popular to plant cover crops in the off season instead of letting the fields go fallow. These were non-edible plants that helped hold water in the soil and prevent erosion – I’ll get into that later.

But the biggest change in agriculture took place along with the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. As roads and transportation infrastructure improved, and farms became mechanized, the productivity of farms went off the charts, and populations grew accordingly. This is often called the Second Agricultural Revolution.


Enter the Dust Bowl. As if the Great Depression wasn’t bad enough, we also experienced an unprecedented ecological disaster on top of it.

Overproduction of crops combined with a 10-year drought led to a massive loss of topsoil across Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. Massive blizzards of sand darkened the skies as farmers went bankrupt in record numbers and the nation experienced food insecurity.

The prevailing wisdom at the time was that America was the land of plenty. In fact according to the Bureau of soils in 1909:

“The soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the nation possesses. It is the one resource that cannot be exhausted; that cannot be used up.”

Turns out that was wrong.

Through a combination of factors like the creation of the Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resources Conservation Service), farm subsidies, and a new level of mechanization spurred on by World War 2, we eventually pulled ourselves out of the dirt.

Once again we were able to innovate our way out of a problem and found a way to make…

One of the innovations by the way was the Haber-Bosch method for synthesizing ammonium nitrate, this made fertilizers cheap and abundant.

It also made bombs back in World War 1, so… slightly better use.

Pesticides came into wide use during this time as well and some of the earliest ones had arsenic in it. Because we learned nothing from the Victorians apparently.


And we’ve essentially been pounding the ground for more food ever since.

This modern style of agriculture has led to issues from dangerous run off, toxic chemicals, soil erosion, and 700 million tons of CO2 every year in the US alone.

We’ve become so reliant on industrial agriculture that we’ve kind-of forgotten the old tried and true methods that sustained our species for thousands of years. Of course the flipside to that argument is that those tried and true methods couldn’t sustain the population we currently have… Which was only possible because of our industrialized food production… We’re kinda stuck in a loop here.

And this is where regenerative agriculture comes in.

Dear lord. Did I just spend 5 minutes going all the way back to the very beginning of human agriculture just to make this one point?
You know what, let me save you some time, I’ll do this for you.
(on screen, a comment window slides up and the words “GET TO THE POINT JACKASS” type on there)


The term “Regenerative Agriculture” is a fairly amorphous one, there is no one agreed upon definition of what is and isn’t regenerative agriculture, it basically encompasses various practices that aim to make farming a less extractive process. With a large focus on mimicking nature.

It often involves planting mutually beneficial crops like the three sisters method practiced by Native American tribes in the Northeast, or planting tomatoes and basil together and now I want a Caprese salad.

It also focuses on maintaining a healthy fungal and bacterial microbiome in the soil for greater productivity as well as maintaining healthy root systems that lock in the topsoil and prevent erosion.

But one of the largest selling points especially considering our current climate situation is that regenerative farming produces far less CO2 and in fact can act as a carbon sink, locking carbon in the ground over time.

So, with all of that in mind, here are some of the various practices that make up regenerative agriculture.


First let’s talk about cover crops.

Cover crops are basically magic. They can sequester carbon during the winter fallow season while also controlling weeds, protecting soil, and capturing excess nutrients not used by the main season crop.

On top of that, the residue left by the cover crops can provide slow-release nutrients during the growing season as it decomposes.

They firm up the soil, preventing it from drying out into dirt and flying away Dust Bowl Style.

Any farmer that’s not using cover crops in some form is missing out, and yet… only
12% of farmers use cover crops. Only 3% here in Texas.

Okay if it has so many benefits then why are 88% of farmers NOT doing it? Well, the simplest answer is that a cover crop is still a crop.

They cost money to buy the seeds, they take energy and time to plant and cultivate the seeds, and water… It’s literally double the work.

Plus most farmers operate on someone else land, so you’re spending all this money and energy on improving land that you don’t own planting a crop that doesn’t make you any money.

Rental contracts are often short term and cover crops are a long term strategy. You’re basically doing really good work improving the land for the next guy that comes along.

And if you are a farmer and barely getting by because soybeans have cratered in price, you aren’t going to use cover crops or let your land go wild just to make the “hippies” happy.

This is going to require political support but farmers only represent 2% of the voting population, so good luck with that.

But if you’re a farmer and you own the land, it’s a reasonable long-term investment in the health of your farm. Unfortunately in our current big Ag situation, these are usually relegated to small family farms.

This is an effort that needs to be supported with government incentives, which was part of the Green New Deal that never got passed.

But the way things are going it may be inevitable. Our topsoil is in danger. Iowa for example is losing topsoil at 16x the natural rate and some are concerned that we’re on the verge of a new Dust Bowl without some kind of intervention.


Next on the list is Intensive Rotational Grazing.

This one is a great idea. Until it’s not.

This basically involves strategic grazing of livestock in the fields. The livestock eats the crop – maybe even a cover crop – and then poops it back out onto the ground filled with microbes and nutrients.

The trick is keeping these organic lawn mowers moving around from one plot to the next without letting them eat too much of the crop and damaging the roots.

One way to do this is with mobile electric fences that corral the cows into the next area, the trouble with this, as you may have already figured out, is it only really works on small areas.

The larger the plot, the more cows you need to graze it, the more fences required to move them around – it doesn’t really scale up.

Proponents might argue that this is a good thing, keep farms small, instead of having hundreds of giant industrial farms, we should have thousands of smaller, more sustainable farms.

Which does sound great, but the reality is there just aren’t that many farmers out there, or people who really want to farm.

So while this practice can greatly help small farms that already exist, it’s not something that’s going to take the place of the current system we have in place. So it’s more of a niche thing.


Another practice is No-Till Farming

Tillage is when you basically dig into and tear up the soil and there are some good reasons for this, to aerate the soil, to break up stalks and roots from the last season and to expose new seeds to as much soil as possible. But there are some good reasons not to.

Soil erosion being a big one, plus it can dry out the soil and kill beneficial microbes and fungi and earthworms, which by the way, release carbon into the atmosphere when they decompose.

Depending on the type of soil you’re working with, you can either implant the seeds into the ground like giant hypodermic needles, or they can simply fold the soil back, implant a seed and fold it back up again, which is kinda mesmerizing.

This uses far less fuel than traditional farming, which usually uses 6 gallons of diesel per acre, no-till uses 2.

Assuming the cost of diesel is around $3/gallon, a 1000 acre farm could save $18,000.

Plus no-till farms also retain a lot more moisture, which is better in drought conditions.

For every 1% of organic matter in an acre of soil can hold 16,500 gallons of water.
Conventional ag soil has 0.5% of organic matter.

Regen farms can have up to 5% organic matter per acre.~ 82,500 gallons per acre

And yet, only 21% of farms use no-till practices. The reason? Big surprise, it’s money.

In order to convert from traditional tilled farming to no-till, you have to buy new equipment and farming equipment is expensive. Like, really expensive.

Many farmers who have made the switch said that it was difficult at first, but over time increases in crop production made up for the cost.

So, no-till is gaining in popularity lately. Even though only 21% of farms do it, there are big players like General Mills that are promoting no-till farming. So hopefully this becomes more the norm soon.


Then you’ve got composting.

Composting is nothing new, and it’s pretty well known – you might even do it yourself either with a composting pile in your backyard or with a rotating composter like I have.

Composting is basically just decomposition of organic material that gets cycled back into the soil. If you do no-till farming you kinda naturally get a kind of composing as layers of soil get added on.

Think about lasagna with a layer of dead plants, cow poop, fresh plants cut down, and plants actively growing. Give this a couple of seasons and you got a stew going, baby.

So where with rotational grazing, the cows wander the fields and deposit the manure naturally, with composting often farmers will create a central area where the cows are kept and the manure is then harvested and sprayed on crops.

Although, like rotational grazing there are scaling issues. Most farmers can go about 5 miles before the spraying of the manure becomes cost prohibitive.

Composting is super important in smaller farms though because it recycles the nutrients and reduces the amount of inputs.

That’s a recurring theme with Regen farming, is reducing the inputs, meaning fertilizers and pesticides being added to the fields. Nutrients are precious and it’s all about recovering and reusing as much as possible.

Nutrients on a regenerative farm are like water on Arakkis. Every drop counts.

By the way, if you have a home and a yard, there’s nothing stopping you from composting.

It kinda drives me nuts when I see people bag up their cut grass or leaves and throw them away, it’s like what are you doing? You’re taking something natural and wrapping it in plastic and then spreading chemicals on your yard to do the same thing that natural stuff would have done, it’s insanity.


And last but not least we’ve got Agroforestry.

Agroforestry is basically using trees and shrubs in mutually beneficial ways to protect and nourish crops.

They can do this by providing windbreaks around the perimeter of fields to prevent wind erosion,

Serving as buffers along rivers and streams to filter farm runoff and stabilize stream banks.

A technique called Silvopasture combines trees with livestock and their forages on one piece of land.

Alley cropping means planting crops between rows of trees to provide income while the trees mature.

And forest farming where you can grow food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under the protection of a managed forest canopy. This is also called multi-story cropping.

The whole Silvopasture thing sounds especially cool because you’ve got cows grazing under trees, the trees produce food and attract pollinators that pollinate the crops, which are nourished by the cows and the leaves falling off the trees.

It’s this whole symbiotic thing where plants and animals coexist and benefit each other. (Circle of Life clip?)

The problem… As you’ve heard many times in this video… is scale.

What works great for small and medium-sized farms just isn’t practical for the big industrial farms that make up the vast majority of food production in the United States. And the vast majority of CO2 emissions.

So, is regenerative agriculture the solution? The blunt answer is no. Not at the level of food production required to keep up with current demand.

For regenerative agriculture to truly make an impact, we would have to completely transform our system of farming from one of giant industrial farms to smaller farms managed by thousands and thousands of new farmers. And, we would have to completely change our standard of living to one with less food variety, which… that’s not something people are going to be okay with.

And as I said before, there’s not a whole lot of people in this day and age aching to do farm work.

It’s grueling, sunup to sundown physical labor with razor-thin financial margins that so much of the time depends on the whims of the weather that year and market fluctuations that are completely out of your control.

We’re actually in a bit of a farming crisis right now. Farm debt has reached the highest levels since 1980, and bankruptcies on the rise. Farm bankruptcies in the Midwest jumped 19 percent in 2018, reaching their highest level in a decade.

And sadly, if not unsurprisingly, the suicide rate amongst farmers is 3.5 times higher than the rest of the population.

Which, and this may sound counterintuitive, is actually a good reason for small farmers to embrace regenerative agriculture.

Regen farmers report higher levels of happiness and fulfillment; it’s still hard work, but it’s more purposeful and meaningful and maybe part of that is because over time they see better crop production out of it.

Fewer inputs, less tilling means less money for fertilizers and fuel, which cuts down on overhead, and healthier soil over time means higher yields and more income.

And there’s a lot of farms that could benefit from this. The average farm size in the United States is 100 acres. So it’s not all Big Ag out there.

The biggest hurdle is just the cost of new equipment so it will take some subsidies and incentives, along with some education and training to help farmers make the switch.

This is of course a bit of a political football because this is seen as a “green, climate-change” thing, which it is… But it also could help a lot of small farmers get out of dire financial positions.


Especially once you combine these practices with technology.

Farming is a lot more than just throwing some seeds on the ground and adding water. Crops are not chia pets.

They have to be carefully managed and with as little human effort as possible. This has been the struggle since the Sumerians made the first plow. But a new wave of agricultural technology might superpower those old, more sustainable farming practices.

For instance, satellite technology makes it possible for farmers to get up-to-the-minute reports on moisture retention in their fields.

Autonomous farm equipment allows one or two people to work an entire crop far more efficiently than a team of people.

New discoveries in fungi science boost nutrient distribution in the fields.

And transgenic plants who are genetically altered to resist drought, pesticides, and able to fight disease.

Think of it as a human who can go two weeks without water and can make their own penicillin.

All of these will help small farmers operate at a profit, and while many of the practices I mentioned do have scaling issues, burgeoning technologies are going to make at least some of these practices common in industrial agriculture as well.

Like I said at the beginning of this video, we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we made in the last 500 years. Every step we can take toward doing that more sustainably will make a huge difference.d by the way, shout out to all the small farmers out there leading the way on these practices and helping to educate others. Farmers… may be the most under-appreciated group of people in the world.

And if you’re not a farmer but want to make a difference, make it a priority in elections, vote for politicians that support subsidies for sustainable farming. And yes, that includes the Green New Deal, there was a lot of it in there.

Some elements of the Green New Deal:
– Reward farmers for undertaking practices that enhance ecological functions
– Transform training for existing US soil health experts
– Increase funding to the USDA Conservation Programs
– Establish a joint incentive and education program through the USDA Agricultural Research Center (ARS)
– Grow the R&D budget for carbon sequestration practices

And if you know any farmers, or meet a farmer, shake their hand and tell them thanks. It’s literally the hand that feeds you.



Chasing Tornadoes With Pecos Hank

Pecos Hank is a musician and YouTuber who makes a living chasing and photographing severe storms, especially tornadoes. Over the years he has captured some amazing tornado footage and he’s had a front row seat to some devastating natural disasters. I’ve been fascinated by what he does since I first found his YouTube channel and was thrilled to have him come on the podcast and talk about some of his experiences. Here he tells some amazing stories and gets into the science of why tornadoes form. And we just talk about the importance of science in general.


You can find Hank on his YouTube channel:



Why Are There No Tornadoes In Europe?

Anybody who grew up in the Midwest is familiar with the threat of tornadoes, but why are tornadoes so prevalent in the American Midwest and not other places in the world? Today we talk with Pecos Hank to learn what causes tornadoes to form and why the United States gets way more of them than anywhere else in the world.

A few months back, I did a video on supervolcanoes and how there’s actually several of them around the world that could really mess things up if they decide to go boom. Luckily they don’t go boom that often. A few months back, I did a video on supervolcanoes and how there’s actually several of them around the world that could really mess things up if they decide to go boom. Luckily they don’t go boom that often.

But when they do go boom, they’re a lot more likely to go boom here in North America.
Because yeah for some reason, half of the active supervolcanoes that we know of are in North America. (react) What’s that about?
It might be because of how the Pacific plate is colliding with the North American plate, it might be a convergence of large igneous masses deep down underneath the plate… Maybe it’s just bad luck.
Or maybe… planet Earth has it out for us.

The last option is probably unlikely since we’re so small and the planet is so not a conscious being but if the Earth did have it out for us, the supervolcanoes probably wouldn’t be the best proof of that.

Because like I said before, they don’t go boom that often, but something that does happen often, hundreds of times a year actually – is tornadoes.
They too are a destructive force, and they, too, happen more often in North America. And not by a little bit either, like, a LOT more often.
So yeah… What’s that about?


Maybe make a comparison to the supervolcanoes video where a surprising number of them are in North America
Growing up in Texas, tornadoes are just part of life. We had tornado drills in school, the local weather guy was a freakin hero, and we all know the panic in your chest when you hear that tornado siren go off.

And we all grew up hearing stories about… The Big One.

Where I grew up, the Big One was Terrible Tuesday.
Also known as the Red River Valley Tornado Outbreak, this was a storm system that formed on April 10th 1979 that spawned 59 tornadoes over the next two days, including two F4 tornadoes, one of which cut a mile and a half mile wide swath through the center of Wichita Falls Texas that killed 42 people and caused $400 million in damage.

This event left a giant scar on the psyche of that whole area for decades. Growing up around there, you always knew that nature was in control, and every storm had the potential to go sideways and ruin your life.

And if you grew up in Texas or the Midwest, you probably grew up with a similar “Big One” story that scared the bejeezus out of you.
I actually think it’s funny when I hear Texas friends say they wouldn’t want to live in California because of the earthquakes. And I’m like, “Okay but here the sky might eat your house.”
Anyway, I kinda realized at some point that all the major tornadoes I’ve ever heard of were in the United States. Like I’ve never heard of a tornado in Europe in my entire life.
And any European friends I’ve asked about it kinda just shrug their shoulders, like, “I guess it happens sometimes.”

So that’s kinda what led to this video, what is it about the United States that seems to just attract tornadoes like sailors to your mom?
Turns out it’s all about geography, which to be clear there are tornadoes all around the world but they do happen much more often and are much stronger here in the US. In general, it is a US-specific problem.

So, put on your ruby slippers and click them three times as we get caught up in a whirlwind of tornado knowledge. So, put on your ruby slippers and click them three times as we get caught up in a whirlwind of tornado knowledge.

How They Form

But first, we have to understand how tornadoes form and what conditions make them possible.

(over text screen and tornado footage)Every tornado is different, but generally there are some common factors that lead to them forming.

These include:- Abundant low-level moisture, which contributes to thunderstorm development- A “trigger,” such as a cold front or low-level zone of converging winds, to help lift the moist air up .

This rising moist air can create spinning vortices at the back of the updraft.


And from there, it does get a little tricky so I enlisted the help of Hank Schyma, also known as Pecos Hank here on YouTube. He’s a tornado chaser and photographer who has been studying tornadoes for decades

Basically these vortices get strengthened by the rising and falling of hot and cold air, and as it speeds up, it’s drawn inward toward its axis of rotation.

This is similar to how figure skaters spin faster by drawing in their arms. It’s called conservation of angular momentum.

So you’ve got this spinning horizontal column of air low to the ground, and all it takes is a strong gust of wind to tilt it vertically in the storm. Now you’ve got a funnel cloud.

If this funnel cloud touches the ground, it becomes a tornado.

While most tornadoes form from supercell thunderstorms, not all supercells produce them.


If the spinning air near the ground is cold, it will instead spread away from the storm along the ground, like a figure skater with extended arms, and no tornado will form.

But even if a tornado does form, they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, eventually we needed a way to measure them. Enter the Fujita Scale.

The F Scale(over pic)Dr. Tetsuya Theodore Fujita at the University of Chicago developed a scale with Alen Pearson from the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in 1971 to help measure a tornado’s wind speeds and the damage it may leave behind.
But the Fujita Scale, or F Scale, it was very limited, and was mostly about how much damage the storm inflicted. But it lacked three things – No account for construction quality and variability- No definitive correlation between damage and wind speed- A lack of damage indicators

A group of meteorologists and wind engineers got together in 2007 and came up with a new scale, the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

It has 28 damage indicators, like building types, structures, and trees.
Each damage indicator has eight degrees of damage, from barely visible damage to complete destruction.

And they changed the wind speed ranges, for example, an EF-3 tornado’s windspeed  is between 218 and 266 kilometers per hour (136 and 165 miles per hour). An F3 tornado would’ve been between 254 and 332 kph (158-206 mph).

The EF Scale ranges from EF-0 (light damage) to EF-5 (incredible damage), and by the way, all EF-5 tornadoes recorded to date were in the United States. With one exception, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But that brings us back to the original question, why here? Why does the sky have it out for North America?

I mean there’s an area in the flat plains of the Midwest that’s actually called Tornado Alley.

Well, remember how I said the updraft of warm air into a supercell and the downdraft of cool air create vortices in the clouds that eventually spiral into tornadoes?

Well right here in the heartland, there’s geologically nothing between here and the tundra up in Canada. So you get cold air coming down from that direction and from below, you have warm moist air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico. 

It’s just this perfect spot with mountain ranges on both sides, funneling warm and cold air together on a flat plain, mixing and swirling it up, causing a rumble.

But interestingly, tornado alley seems to be shifting. Don’t get me wrong, Oklahoma and Texas are still the place you wanna be if you want to get impaled on a roadsign, but there seems to be an interesting trend toward the southern states.

According to Victor Gensini, an associate professor in the department of geographic and atmospheric science at Northern Illinois University, “Basically, over the last 50 years, if you live in a place like Dallas, your chance of a tornado there has gradually gone down,” But if you’re in a place like Birmingham, Alabama, or Memphis, Tennessee, your threat has gone way up.”

Part of it could just be chalked up to better reporting, but it’s possible that rising temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico is causing weather patterns to shift.

While it might be too soon to blame climate change, there are some climate models that predicted this, and the they will start forming earlier and later than they used to.

Tornadoes Around the World

But yeah, this particular geography is why, according to the Storm Prediction Center the US has around 1200 tornadoes each year.
In Europe, it’s more like 200 and 400 tornadoes every year, with Greece and Italy getting the most. Both have dry air coming down over the mountains and mixing with warm moist air from the Mediterranean.

The U.K. also sees between 30 and 50 tornadoes each year, which interestingly is more tornadoes across an average land area than anywhere else in the world.

South America gets its share of tornadoes, in fact they have their own tornado alley that stretches across parts of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Once again, flat land between mountains and sea where their air masses meet.

And last but not least is Bangladesh, sandwiched between the Bay of Bengal and the Himalayan Mountains.

Remember earlier when I said that almost all F5 tornadoes were recorded in the United States, with one big exception? That exception just happened to be the deadliest tornado of all time. And it happened here.

It’s called the Daulatpur-Saturia Tornado, and it took place on April 26, 1989. It was a massive F5 tornado that tore through a densely populated area and killed 1,300 people, more than twice as much as the second deadliest tornado.

That was the infamous Tri-State Tornado from March 18, 1925, that went 219 miles (352 kilometer) across Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri, making it the longest in world history.
It killed 695 people, injured more than 2,000, and 15,000 homes were destroyed.

Tornadoes have occurred in the Middle East, but that’s rare.
Big countries like Australia, China, and Russia have more land for tornadoes to touch down. These places also have regions like the U.S. midwest where tornadoes happen more frequently.

And you might have heard that tornadoes rotate in a different direction in the Southern Hemisphere, and  that’s actually true.

Generally tornadoes spin counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. Though, not always, sometimes they do spin in the opposite direction, those are called anticyclonic tornadoes.

Tornadoes on Other Planets and Moons

So tornadoes do happen all over the world. But what about other worlds?
Like we’ve seen dust devils on Mars, which are kinda like the desert tornadoes that we have on Earth, but with only 1% of our atmosphere, they don’t pack much of a punch.

But Jupiter, that’s just covered with storms and swirling eddies that might qualify as a tornado. then of course there’s the big red eye on Jupiter which is similar to a hurricane here on Earth. It measures around 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) across. 

It does seem to be shrinking though. But still. Easily the biggest cyclonic storm in the solar system.
Saturn also has massive storms that extend more than 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles) and wrap around almost the entire planet.
And then there’s that strange, permanent hexagon of clouds at the poles so… Hexagonal tornado?

Other Types of Tornadoes and Weird Tales

Speaking of dust tornadoes, there are also fire tornadoes and waterspouts.
Fire tornadoes, or fire whirls to be more accurate, often occur during large-scale wildfires.
They’re not true tornadoes, though. They’re vortices that suck up combustible materials and gases.
Waterspouts are similar to land-based tornadoes. They can suck fish, frogs, and other small marine life out of the water and carry them up to a cloud that will then deposit them onto land. 

This happened just recently in Texarkana when residents noticed a bunch of small fish in their yards and streets after a storm.

Strange events and tall tales emerge after tornadoes pass through. Some of these include

A house was destroyed but a cake on the counter was left unmoved along with stacked dishes in the cupboard over the sink (true).

– A house was picked up and placed in the middle of a street (true).

– Photographs were carried more than 100 miles.

A piece of straw was embedded into a tree trunk (likely false). 

Staying Safe

If you’re ever in a tornado situation, there are some things to do to keep you safe.

First, a tornado watch means a tornado is possible. A tornado warning means they’ve identified that rotational motion so a tornado is already happening or is about to occur. This is when you should go to a safe place immediately.

The worst thing you can do is get in your car and try to drive away from it. You will not outrun it and it can toss your car around like it’s nothing.

The best thing you can do is find a place in your home, if you have a basement or storm cellar, those are the best options, if you don’t have that, you want to find an interior room with no windows, preferably on the lowest floor.

If you can quickly grab a mattress to cover yourselves, that can help protect against flying debris.

If you’re in a high-rise building, choose a hallway in the building’s center on the lowest floor you can get to.

If you’re in a mobile home… Go anywhere else.

Find a nearby sturdy building or even a culvert and get as low to the ground as possible. Mobile homes are like the worst possible place to be in a tornado.

Most importantly if you live in Tornado Alley, make a plan, be ready for when the time comes, and if you need a little motivation for that… just listen to the story from this lady who survived the 1979 Terrible Tuesday tornado:

So yeah… Stay safe out there.

But I’ll put this to you guys, have any of you survived a tornado? Have any crazy tornado stories to share? Let’s hear it in the comments.


Starlink Is Getting Some Company | Answers With Joe

Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite internet service that everybody is excited about. But… Satellite internet has been around for a long time. And now, there are several competitors working on similar projects. So let’s look at what’s so attractive about LEO satellite internet and how Starlink’s competitors stack up.


You know, sometimes I think we’re a little too hard on ourselves.You know, sometimes I think we’re a little too hard on ourselves.
Yes, the world is garbage right now, fascism is on the rise, nobody can agree on anything, we clearly are not very good at being an internet species.
But really… Why would we be?

This level of connectivity has never been experienced before in the 200,000 year history of our species.
I mean up until just a couple hundred years ago most people rarely even traveled one town over because the only way to get around was on a horse, and most people didn’t even have those.
Things had always been this way. They had never not been this way. Most people didn’t even know how to read because everything they needed to learn came from the hundred or so people they knew in the village around them.

And every technological leap in access to information has been followed by a period of social and political upheaval.
I mean, the printing press was invented in 1440 and 7 decades later the Christian church split in to protestants and catholics. And they’re still fighting about it.(on screen:Guttenberg’s printing press – 1440Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses – 1517)

Today, we have these things in our pockets with the compendium of all human knowledge and the ability to connect with literally anybody in the world at the tap of a finger. And this is literally like 15 years old. And the internet that powers it is barely 30 years old.
I mean, of course we’re going to be really bad at this.

True story, I have been skiing once in my entire life. And it was a nightmare.
I was falling over left and right, literally couldn’t go more than 10 feet without beefing it, it was super embarrassing but the worst part about is was that for some reason… I thought I would be good at this.

I’d seen skiing on TV and in the movies, it looked like a lot of fun, and I’d played sports, I had good reaction speed, I rode a skateboard back in the day, I got this.
Turns out sliding down a mountain covered in snow, when you have spent your entire life in the flattest place on Earth, which almost never gets any snow… is terrifying.
It was like I was driving through San Francisco on black ice and bald tires.
And I kinda melted down at the whole thing. Because I had this expectation – a ridiculous one in hindsight – that I should be good at this.

I feel like that’s the whole world with the internet right now.

We’re really beating ourselves up for how badly we’re bungling this, I’ve done plenty of it myself. But… We are literally learning how to share the world with a digital superorganism.  One that we created.
So maybe the expectation that we would be good at this is as ridiculous as me thinking I could ski.
And yet, we continue to lean into it. Because that’s what we’ve always done, and despite the initial disruptions to the fabric of society, over the long run our quality of life has gone up because of it.
And soon, if SpaceX has their way, the entire planet will be covered with fast, cheap satellite internet. That’s the Starlink project that we all know about but SpaceX isn’t the only company working on a satellite internet swarm.

There are several in the works actually. So let’s take a look at why this is such an attractive idea to these companies, which ones are likely to succeed, and what this means for the world as we know it.

History of Satellites

So, everybody’s pumped for satellite internet with Starlink.  But here’s the thing — satellite internet has been around for a while.
In fact, Telstar 1, the first US communication satellite was launched in 1962, just 4 years after Explorer 1, which I talked about in my video about the Van Allen Belts last month.

It was designed at Bell Labs for AT&T, and it was the first satellite that beamed live TV to the US and Europe. It also carried the first satellite phone call.

And… it made the first satellite data transmission between two computers. In 1962.
So technically there was satellite internet… before there was an internet.

Unfortunately, Telstar 1 was functional for less than a year. And the reason for that can also be found in my Van Allen Belts video. I was talking about a nuclear test called Starfish Prime that was aimed at the Van Allen Belts: Yeah, this was one of those satellites.

Eighteen months later, a satellite named Syncom 3 became the first to launch into geostationary orbit.It provided live coverage of the Tokyo Olympic Games
And this was a big deal because geostationary orbit means that the satellite is in the same relative position over Earth at all times. It does this because it’s far enough away that the orbital speed matches the speed of the Earth’s rotation.
It’s really far away, like 35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles) far away, but it allows you to send and receive signals 24/7.

Whereas a satellite in low Earth orbit would be whizzing by overhead and could only send and receive signals in short windows.

Geostationary Earth Orbit

Plus you can cover a massive area from Geostationary orbit, in fact, it only takes 3 satellites to cover the entire planet.

So yeah, the communications industry has used Geostationary orbit ever since, increasing the power of their satellites over the years to accommodate the increased traffic.

Just a quick side story here, my grandparents when I was growing up lived on a ranch out in the middle of nowhere and they didn’t have access to cable so their only option was satellite TV.
But this was way before the direcTV dishes you see on the side of people’s houses, no their dish was like out in a field and it was like 8 feet wide.
I could have recreated the Contact poster with that thing, I’m not kidding.

And every time you changed the channel, you could look out the window and see it… turning…
It was a lot of work just to watch Tales From The Crypt, I gotta say.
So yeah, these satellites provided live events, and phone calls and movies young boys shouldn’t be watching, but as soon as the internet became a thing, that was on there too.

DirecPC to HughesNet

In 1996 Hughes Network Systems launched the first satellite internet service called DirecPC. I mentioned DirecTV a second ago, well that was Hughes Network systems, they created DirecTV in 1994, that streamed TV, DirecPC carried internet. You get it.

Hughes Network Systems by the way, they were a real pioneer in early satellite communication – that SynCom 3 satellite I just talked about, the first one in geostationary orbit, that was them. Or… it was their parent company, Hughes Aircraft Company. And if that name sounds familiar, that’s because it was founded by Howard Hughes. Yes. THE Howard Hughes. Who Leonardo DiCaprio played in The Aviator, the guy from the Rocketeer, the Spruce Goose guy.

You did not think this was gonna go all the way back to Howard Hughes, did you?
Anyway, DirecPC launched to mixed reviews, but it was faster than dial-up internet in those days.

But as terrestrial services like cable and DSL caught on, satellite fell behind. For two main reasons.

The first is that satellite systems are super expensive to upgrade.

Case in point, HughesNet — which is what Hughes Network Systems goes by now — they have satellites capable of over 100 Megabits per second download speed. But, they only advertise up to 25 Mbps.
That’s because they don’t have enough satellites to give every customer full-speed, so they have to restrict the amount each customer can get.– has a breakdown on bandwidth vs speed
They hope to fix this with a launch this year, but this single satellite cost the company $400 million. And that doesn’t include launch costs.

Launch Costs to GEO

Another company, Viasat, is planning two new satellite launches for the same reason, they’re expecting to pay between 1.2 and 1.4 billion dollars for the two of them.  
That’s a lot of money for these companies to invest, and keep in mind that will only get their download speeds up to 100Mbps. Which is way better, yes, but doesn’t really blow your hair back compared to cable and fiber internet services.

The Latency Problem

So the expense of it all is the first problem, the second big problem is latency.
And this is simply not something that can be fixed from geostationary orbit. Not without breaking the laws of physics.
Latency refers how long it takes for a user to make a request from an internet provider’s network and get a response
You can think of it as the time between clicking a link and loading a web page

When the nearest node in a provider’s network is 35,786 kilometers above your head, getting a response will take some time
One way of looking at this is if you want to send a message to someone just a mile away via GEO satellite, the distance that signal has to travel to get there and back is basically the same as sending the message all the way around the planet. Just to go one mile.

The absolute minimum latency for a GEO round trip is about 240 milliseconds. HughesNet and Viasat average over 600 milliseconds. In more real-life terms that means a little more than half a second.
For comparison, terrestrial internet can go as low as 10 milliseconds. In practice, anything under 100 is considered fine for everything except gaming.
LEO in the 1990s

Half a second may not sound like a big deal, but satellite internet customers have been complaining about latency since the early days of HughesNet.
It’s just clunkier, and especially as more work has gone online, more communication has gone online, this starts to matter even more, and by the way, in some financial applications it can actually be a detriment.

And yeah, the only way to fix this problem is to bring the satellites closer to Earth. But to do the same thing in LEO, you need a lot of satellites.

Where GEO satellites can hit 1/3 of the planet from 36,000 kilometers up (22,000 miles), something from lower than 2000 km in LEO can only hit a small area, plus there’s the fact that in order to stay in orbit in LEO, that small area is moving across the surface of the Earth at 25,000 kilometers per hour. So the only way to cover the entire circumference of the Earth is to have a bunch of satellites that can relay back and forth with each other.

Passing the signal from one spot on the ground to the other like a game of hot potato. This drastically reduces the distance the signal has to travel, but again, it takes a LOT of satellites to do this, especially considering the Earth is a sphere.

In the interest of overcommunication, there are some orbits in between GEO and LEO like the Molinya (mole-nya) and Tundra orbits that can provide full coverage with just a handful of satellites, these are mostly used for things like GPS though.
But the idea of an LEO constellation of satellites to provide internet service goes all the way back to the 90s.

Teledesic was formed in 1994, backed by Bill Gates and they planned to build a constellation of 840 satellites. This later got scaled back to 288, and then to none. The company folded in 2002.
Several other companies have tried this as well and they all failed. The cost of launching that many satellites is just too high. The idea is solid, most people agree that it would work and probably be better than geostationary satellites. If anybody can afford to get them up there.

Enter Starlink

Which brings us to Starlink.
SpaceX, with their reusable rockets have brought the cost of launches down low enough that this crazy idea is actually kinda possible.
Especially combined with the fact that satellite technology is smaller than ever before with cubesats becoming popular, you can launch hundreds of these things at a time.

So yeah, if you’re SpaceX, it’s kind-of a no-brainer.

Assuming it’s that much better than traditional satellite internet.
Right now, Starlink has around 2000 Starlink satellites at 550-570 kilometers up and over 145,000 customers so far. And according to Ookla, they’re averaging at around  97.23 megabits per second download speeds. For context, HughesNet’s Geostationary satellites are averaging 19.3 Mbps.(Disclaimer: 1468 of the satellites are currently active, others were prototypes, have gone offline, or been deorbited)

As for latency, a camper on Pikes Peak recently recorded between 34 and 36 milliseconds. But… he was on a mountain.
SpaceX is promising speeds will eventually reach 300Mbps, but as more customers use it, it’s actually starting to slow down. But considering they still have like 40,000 satellites to go, it looks promising.

No wonder Viasat has tried to get their FCC license revoked.
Last year they were part of a group that filed papers saying the Starlink launches would be bad for the environment. No conflict of interest there. Actually, it gets funnier because those two super expensive satellites they’re scheduled to launch? They’re going up on a Falcon Heavy.

Kiss the Sky Goodbye

Conflict of interest, maybe… But are they wrong?

42,000 satellites is a LOT of satellites. It’s actually eight times more than all the satellites in orbit when they started launching Starlink satellites in May 2019.
The reason for so many is because they want to create multiple shells of coverage, with constellations at different altitudes.
Current plans call for 5 shells, all with 20 vertical miles between them.

All right, now might be time to talk about the elephant in the room.

From almost the very first Starlink launch, concerns have been floated around about the effect Starlink would have on ground-based astronomy.
Especially in some of the earliest prototypes, they reflected a lot of sunlight and had a lot of people worried about what that would look like with a sky full of them.
They have made some progress since then to add less reflective coatings and “visors” that help reduce the glare, but it’s not perfect.

Honestly I never knew how to feel about that argument because anything Elon Musk related is going to face a ton of criticism because he’s so polarizing, sometimes it’s hard to separate the signal from the noise.

Like I know these telescopes have powerful algorithms to account for atmospheric disturbances, I just assumed they would be able to account for satellites as well, I mean those are nothing new, they’ve been up there for a long time.

So how much of a problem is this really? I decided to ask someone who knows far more about this than myself, so recently, I had Dr. Becky Smethurst on my podcast where we spent most of the time talking about the James Webb Space Telescope, but while she was there, I asked her about the Starlink problem. Here’s what she had to say:
So it’s not an insurmountable problem. But it is a problem.
And while it might feel satisfying to point fingers at SpaceX and Elon, the fact of the matter is, it might be an inevitable problem.
Because people have been wanting to do this for a long time, since before SpaceX even existed. And there are multiple companies working on similar constellations right now. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Project Kuiper was first announced in April 2019, with the goal of launching 3,236 satellites to an orbit of between 590 to 630 kilometers (370 to 390 miles), slightly higher than Starlink.
But they’ll be using more robust satellites that can support up to 400 Mbps download speed, which would be faster than Starlink.
So far, Amazon has invested more than $10 billion in Project Kuiper, and there have been some speed bumps along the way, but they plan on launching two prototype satellites in the 4th quarter of this year.

As for who will launch these satellites, for now they’re using ULA’s Atlas V and the ABL Space Systems new RS1 rocket but you know once Blue Origin gets the New Glenn off the ground – at this rate sometime in 2040 – they’ll be using that to get them up there. 

Regardless of what they launch on, their license with the FCC requires them to launch half the constellation by 2026, so expect to hear a lot about this in the next few years. 


Another company working on a satellite constellation is OneWeb.
OneWeb is based out of the UK and at one point, they were planning on a constellation of nearly 50,000 satellites.

Then they went through funding issues, reportedly due to the pandemic, this led to a bankruptcy, and once they came out of bankruptcy, their plans slimmed down to 6372 satellites.
Of which so far, they’ve launched 394.
These are in a much higher orbit than Starlink and Kuiper, at 1200 kilometers (745 miles), but so far they seem to be doing really well. A test in 2019 showed download speeds of 400 Mbps with a 32 millisecond latency.

A more recent test in 2021 got 165 Mbps and 45 ms latency, so it’s clearly fluctuating but it’s competitive.
Now one thing that differentiates OneWeb from Starlink and Kuiper is they’re targeting commercial uses instead of residential consumers.
Hughes Network Systems, which I mentioned before, is an investor in OneWeb and according to their press release, they’re targeting “enterprise, government, commercial aviation and maritime, cellular backhaul, and community Wi-Fi hotspots” to quote the press release.

Man, Hughes really wants to do this constellation internet thing.
One more quick thing, because they’re targeting commercial customers, they can charge more for their terminals, so their terminals are going to be between 1000 and 1500 dollars, as opposed to Starlink’s terminals which go for $500.
It should be noted however that SpaceX is selling Starlink terminals at a loss for now, they apparently cost $1300 to make. But that’s their gamble to get early adopters on board.


Last, but not least, we come to the Canadian company Telesat.
Telesat has been in satellite communications since 1969, and they were founded as a crown-owned company, meaning the government of Canada holds a significant interest.
A deal in 2021 injected 1.44 billion Canadian dollars into the company. Canadian dollars are just like American dollars, except they’re all stuck together from the maple syrup.

Most of that investment was to fund Telesat’s “Lightspeed” satellite constellation
Much like some others on this list, they’ve changed the proposed size of their constellation multiple times.
In 2016 they announced plans for 117 satellites in LEO, this was later raised to 209, then 298, which is the current plan, BUT… They applied to launch a total of 1671 satellites, just to ensure they can meet future demand.

78 were slated to go up this year in 2022, but dates have slipped to 2023. The reason for that… Is because they’re supposed to go up on the New Glenn. (shrug)
But that’s okay, they may need the extra time, they’ve apparently had trouble getting satellites built because of global supply chain issues.

Like OneWeb, Lightspeed satellites will orbit at a higher altitude, around 1000 kilometers, and they’re expected to have latencies in the 30-50 millisecond range
Also like OneWeb, Telesat plans to target businesses and governments, as well as existing satellite customers like airlines and cruise ships.

But here’s the twist: One of the conditions of the government funding is that they also provide services to indigenous communities. Which they will do a better job of because they’ll be flying in a hybrid orbit that sweeps over the poles, so they’ll cover areas that Starlink won’t.

A Thousand Points of Light

So that’s what we can expect in the coming years but before we wrap this up, there is one more concern regarding these satellite swarms that’s worth talking about.
We already talked about the astronomy problem. But there’s also the problem of… what happens when there’s that much stuff in space?

I’ve talked on here before about the possibility of Kessler syndrome, which is when collisions in space create space debris which cause more collisions and on and on until the planet is trapped inside a shell of metal debris circling the Earth 15 times faster than a speeding bullet that will shred anything that tries to go through it.
That’s fun.

Not only would it trap us here on Earth, it would remove our ability to use satellites at all, which would be a massive setback for our species.
There’s a lot we totally take for granted that are only made possible by the satellites circling overhead.
And obviously doubling or quadrupling or octupling the number of satellites in orbit only increases the potential of something like that happening. So is this a bad idea?

It’s something to be concerned about for sure but one could make the argument that these Low Earth Orbit swarms might be safer in the long run than launching stuff up to geostationary orbits.
Because satellites in low Earth orbits decay really quickly. There’s actually tiny amounts of atmosphere going up hundreds of miles that creates minute drag forces on LEO satellites that over time slow them down enough that they do eventually burn up in the atmosphere.

Satellites in the general orbit of Starlink would come down in a few years, maybe even less than a year.
Whereas satellites in geostationary orbit are essentially there forever, like thousands of years.

And for that, there is a company worth mentioning and that’s Privateer Space.
Just launched last year and back by Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, Privateer Space aims to be focused on “space environmentalism”
Their plan is to monetize the removal and recycling of space junk – how exactly they plan to do this has not been fully announced but if you want to know more about it, their chief scientific adviser Moriba Jah talked about it on Startalk, I’ll put a link to that down below. 

It’s probably way too soon to tell if their plan is the ultimate fix for space junk, but it’ll be interesting to see how that comes along.
So, what’s the verdict on these satellite internet swarms? I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t been that bullish on Starlink personally, I don’t think it’s a replacement for terrestrial internet, and like I said before, satellite internet has been around for a long time, is it really worth clouding our skies for a split-second less latency?

It just always seemed like more of a niche application to me but that’s really easy for me to say sitting where I am in the middle of a city with gigabit internet service, if I lived out in the middle of nowhere or was in an underserved indigenous community, something like this might be a godsend.
Having access to cheap, fast internet anywhere in the world is probably a good thing. And with the workforce becoming more mobile these days, which has been completely accelerated by Covid, yeah, something like this might be a game changer.

I’ve become kinda fascinated by the whole van life movement lately and the fact that you can live and work effortlessly anywhere you want. I have friends that are living like that and they send pictures of their “office” that day and it’s like working in a freaking postcard, it’s crazy.
But I’m interested to hear what you think, is this a service you could get some use out of? Are you a Starlink beta tester, and if so what has been your experience with that? Or, do you think it’s a dangerously ill-conceived idea that’s going to ruin astronomy and clutter up the skies? Discuss.

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