Month: December, 2022

Does The Fusion Breakthrough Live Up To The Clickbait?

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Lab for the first time produced more energy from a fusion reactor than was put into it. Sort-of. It’s a big deal… Just not THAT big of a deal.



You might have heard the news earlier this month about the new big fusion breakthrough. I know a lot of you heard about it because I got about a million requests to talk about this.You might have heard the news earlier this month about the new big fusion breakthrough. I know a lot of you heard about it because I got about a million requests to talk about this.
My favorite is the one that says, “Your silence is deafening.” Like it’s some kind of hate crime. That was sent literally like 6 hours after it was announced by the way. But hey the people have spoken so I actually pushed a video into January to talk about this – seems like a good way to end the year.

Because it is an interesting topic, and there’s been a lot of exaggeration and misinformation out there like always so let’s get to the bottom of this. Was this a big deal? What does it mean? And how close are we to cars that run on Mr. Fusion. Which should have been around 7 years ago. Let’s talk about it.
So when I make videos on topics like this, I tend to operate on the assumption that some people in the audience might have no previous understanding of the topic when they come into it. I try to present as high level view as possible.
But for this video I’m going to assume you have at least some understanding of what fusion energy is all about because I’ve done a video on fusion that covered all those basics, I’ll link it all around here, there’s no need for me to repeat it.
Plus, it’s got one of my favorite little funny bits where I said that the terms Tokamak and Stellerator would be great names for metal bands.

Let’s start with why fusion is a big deal Plentiful fuel, massive energy, no harmful waste

Every energy source has some kind of drawback

Fossil fuels

– global warming


– radioactive waste

Solar and wind

– intermittency

Fusion would be a steady, baseload solution with no downside.

The only downside is… it doesn’t exist.
So there’s a lot of institutions working on fusion and now commercial entities.

I’ve done a video on many of these guys that you can watch but they approach them from different angles:

Tokamak/Stellerator plasma confinement designs

The one with the syringe looking things in the sphere around Laser confinement like the Lawrence Livermore labs did

Inertial fusion vs Magnetic confinement

It’s basically various ways to force hydrogen atoms to smash together and turn into hydrogen.
This last type was the kind being done at Lawrence Livermore. Which brings us to the big news that came out recently.

Inertial Confinement Fusion Experiment

Took place on December 5th at 1am at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore Labs
Blasted a small pellet of hydrogen encased in a diamond shell with 192 lasers. These lasers bounced off the walls creating a shock wave of X-rays that crushed the pellet down and created a plasma. For literally like a billionth of a second.
The big breakthrough is that in that chamber, those 192 lasers contained 2 megajoules of energy and the plasma created 3 megajoules. To be more specific, it was 2.05MJ goes in – 3.15MJ comes out
This is a first. Nobody has ever produced more energy in that chamber than was put into it. So, yes, this was a big deal.
Here comes the asterisk.

The NIF laser that was used in this experiment actually requires around 300 megajoules of energy. It was then split over and over and bounced through dozens of mirrors, producing losses along the way before it entered the chamber.
So, technically they used 300 megajoules of energy to create 3 megajoules of energy.
The stats around this laser are insane by the way.

According to Jean-Michel Di Nicola, Chief Engineer for NIF Laser System, the NIF laser is the most powerful laser in the world.
Size of 3 football fieldsproduces 2 million joules500 trillion watts For that billionth of a second, it uses more power than the entire U.S. power grid.
So… I talked about this in a recent OLF podcast, anything can be a first if you put enough qualifiers on it.
This is the first time I’ve recorded this video. This is the first second coffee I’ve had today. (That’s a lie, this is my third coffee)
So technically this is the first time they produced more energy than went into it, but when you account for the entire system…  they only got out 1% what they put in.

So is this all overhyped?

Look, it’s something to celebrate. I don’t know about you but I need all the good news I can get these days. It’s a breakthrough. But it’s one of about a million breakthroughs that need to happen before the promise of fusion energy is fulfilled.
But that’s not a headline that’s going to get people to click is it?
I think it’s also worth mentioning that renewables are getting so much cheaper that even if we do manage to crack fusion energy, the cost will be so high that it won’t be able to compete with solar and wind.

This 80-Year Old Shipwreck Could Explode At Any Minute | Lightning Round

For the last Lighting Round video of the year, I tackle topics that I missed earlier this year like eye color, fusion stuff, and an 80-year old shipwreck that could wipe out a city.


Hey everyone, we’re kinda settling in here at AWJHQ, which is a phrase I’ve never uttered before and being it’s the end of the year, I dug through the Lightning Round questions that have been submitted and found some of the questions I never quite got to, so I’m going to tackle them here today. Enjoy.Hey everyone, we’re kinda settling in here at AWJHQ, which is a phrase I’ve never uttered before and being it’s the end of the year, I dug through the Lightning Round questions that have been submitted and found some of the questions I never quite got to, so I’m going to tackle them here today. Enjoy.

Thales of Miletus – November – Patreon

Your Ikea bookshelf behind you has many objects. And we imagine there’s a story that goes along with each.  Pick any one of the questions below:

Actually they all kinda have the same story. These were a way for me to honor long-term Patreon supporters. These are the superanswerphiles. I kinda stopped adding people because it was getting too crowded. Good problem to have but I had to stop doing that. But this whole background may change soon. Might be changing up the set in the next year
1. How many destinations have you visited from your Atlas Obscura? What was the most memorable?

2. Does your Tron Identity Disc light up and where did you get it? It does. I probably bought it off Amazon, because I’m lazy.

3. We see you have a Tardis. Who’s your favorite Dr. Who? and why? Again, the Tardis was to reflect someone else’s interest. I was into Doctor Who for a while, it had already been rebooted for a while and I went back and started from 2005 when Christopher Eccleston took over.  I followed it until Peter Capaldi became the Doctor and then I just kinda lost interest. Not because of Peter Capaldi, I just kinda moved on. But in the limited time that I did follow, I liked David Tennant the most. That’s not a unique take or anything. And did I see that he’s coming back? What’s that about?

4. Is that a Professor Proton action figure? Who’a Professor Proton? 5. Where’d you get your Mjölnir? Amazon!

Oh, someone thinks they’re the best. Psht.

Thomas F Boulden – Patreon – November

What is the percentage of people working in the visual media who have blue eyes compared to the general population? I suspect it’s much larger.

…Why? I can only assume that you’re suggesting people with blue eyes might see better, and that’s why they go into visual media? Because as someone with blue eyes, I can assure you that’s not true. It got me curious so I looked around and everything I saw said that eye color doesn’t really affect the quality of eyesight.  I saw that darker pigments that absorb more light might reduce night glare but a lighter eye color might have more sensitivity at night.

So yeah, I don’t think eye color would have anything to do with it… Now if you want to talk about the ethnicities associated with different eye colors and the socioeconomic conditions that would cause one group or the other to be drawn to or have opportunities in visual media, that’s a whole different conversation.

Brian Beswick – Discord – November

Science Mom and Dad are heading towards a divorce, who do you want to live with? And your crazy Uncle Science is also an option.

Brian likes to make me read things. Ugh.
About Pantheon+ largest dataset of its kind, featuring over 1500 Supernova Type 1A explosions Given that the supernovae blaze with nearly uniform intrinsic brightnesses, scientists can use the explosions’ apparent brightness, which diminishes with distance, along with redshift measurements as markers of time and space. The discovery that the universe’s expansion is accelerating was in 1998 using the same technique.

This has been expanded on ever since and Pantheon+ is the largest collection ever. Taking the data as a whole, the new analysis holds that 66.2 percent of the universe manifests as dark energy, with the remaining 33.8 percent being a combination of dark matter and matter. Pantheon+ and SH0ES together find a Hubble constant of 73.4 kilometers per second per megaparsec with only 1.3% uncertainty. Stated another way, for every megaparsec, or 3.26 million light years, the analysis estimates that in the nearby universe, space itself is expanding at more than 160,000 miles per hour. However, measurements of the cosmic microwave background, when combined with the current Standard Model of Cosmology, consistently peg the Hubble constant at a rate that is significantly less. This discrepancy has been termed the Hubble tension. In fact, the tension has now passed the important 5-sigma threshold (about one-in-a-million odds of arising due to random chance), so there’s definitely something weird going on here. The paper talks about an inflection point where the force of gravity, especially from Dark Matter, controlled and constrained the universe, flipped over to Dark Energy taking over and pushing everything apart. They’re now working to understand why that happened.

Talks about how some astronomers think that cosmic inflation might not have been a thing Cosmic inflation is really what we think of when we talk about the big bang While most people see Planck images of the CMB and see proof of the big bang, they see potentially the opposite. They propose a similar Cosmic Graviton Background image would show the opposite because the force of gravity was formed in the first instant of the big bang This technology doesn’t exist, it’s a theoretical argument. Still haven’t proven gravitons exist.

From earlier in the year:

Robin – October – Patreon (I am just “Robin”). The SS Richard Montgomery (the Doomsday shipwreck at the mouth of the Thames) is, according to a number of experts, a precarious situation,  whereas the UK government is downplaying the risk. If the government  is wrong, YIKES?  And isn’t it an attractive opportunity for terrorists?  

Okay, I knew nothing about this story and it has officially blown my mind. Maybe people in the UK are well familiar with this but holy hell man.
Okay, so the SS Richard Montgomery was a Liberty Ship built by the US in World War II. Liberty ships were these quickly constructed cargo ships that ran supplies to troops and battle areas.
Anyway, in August of 1944, this ship was loaded up with cargo and sent over to the UK where it was going to join a convoy to Cherbourg France, where the Allies had just established control after D-Day.

And once it got there, right at the mouth of the Thames near the town of Sheerness, it got accidentally steered into a shallow area and it ran aground on a sandbank. And uh… It’s still there.
The ship kinda just broke and couldn’t be repaired so it stayed there. The only problem is that cargo I was talking about? Included over 6,000 tons of munitions.
Those have never been removed.

Apparently they tried to unload the cargo for about a month but the ship started cracking apart, literally splitting in half and became unstable, so it wasn’t safe to go down there anymore.
So they decided to just deal with it later. Later has still not happened yet.
It has had an exclusion zone around the wreck since 1973 when the Protection of Wrecks Act was passed. (Wrexx-n-Effect joke)
That might have been because a BBC News report in 1970 estimated that if the wreck were to explode,  “it would throw a 300 metre (1,000 feet)-wide column of water and debris nearly 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) into the air and generate a wave 5 metres (16 feet) high. Almost every window in Sheerness (population circa 20,000) would be broken and buildings would be damaged by the blast.”

Estimations have come down a little since then but still it would be bad. According to an article from New Scientist, it has the potential to be one of the largest non-nuclear manmade explosions ever – made even worse by the fact that there’s a liquified natural gas terminal nearby.
And there have been plans made to build a few airports in the area and they’re being stalled because obviously right next to a ticking time bomb is not a great location.

Again, according to New Scientist:In 1999, the UK government asked consultants to carry out a risk assessment. The consultants said the wreck would start to collapse in 10 to 20 years and the explosion of one bomb could start a chain reaction. Doing nothing was no longer an option, they said. In 2001, senior officials met to discuss this report and agreed the time for procrastination was over. That was 21 years ago.

So yeah the worry is that this thing has continued to deteriorate and if it something were to shift or collapse, all it has to do is set off one unstable bomb and the whole thing goes up.
For this reason they trimmed the masts that have been sticking out of the water this whole time to reduce the weight on top in hopes of preventing a collapse.
By the way there was a similar scenario that happened in July 1967, they were trying to dismantle a Polish ship called the Kielce that had sunk in the English Channel in 1946, and wound up setting off its explosives.
It exploded with a force equal to a magnitude 4.5 earthquake, and it was a lot further from land, sunk a lot deeper, and only had a fraction the explosives that the Richard Montgomery does.
So yeah… I don’t know how they’re gonna fix that but I’m not going down there.

Brian Beswick – Discord – September

Is NASA going to able to launch the SLS or is this going to end up as the billion dollar blunder that ends the organization?

I’m gonna bet that they launch it. (smirk) Whether it ends the organization I guess we’ll see. But I doubt it.

Mark Hoffman – March – Patreon

The ITER project seems to be making decent strides, yet how plausible can incorporating nuclear fusion be, given the complex infrastructure of energy distribution even in developed nations?

I’m not an expert in this but I don’t know what would be different between a fusion plant going online or any other electricity generation going online…
I feel like when it comes to fusion there are a lot bigger problems to solve than that. Even ITER won’t be generating energy if I’m not mistaken, it’s still a test plant. Correct me if I’m wrong though.

Mark Hoffman – March – Patreon

Also, aren’t magnets fun?!?


Thomas Lovse – March – Patreon

Can you talk about feudalism and the feudal system?

Can we talk about how we’re kinda headed back into a feudal system of sorts?

John Regel – March – Discord

Skippy or JIF, crunchy or smooth?

Are we talking about peanut butter or a graphics interchange format that’s pronounced GIF?

Joe Scott’s Beautiful Hairline – Feb – Discord

Will you make anymore history topic videos in the future?

Of course! I love history topics. Lots of Forgotten Atrocities on the way too.
So hey, that concludes the Lightning Round videos for 2022. And with the exception of one video next week, that kinda brings this whole year to a close.
I wanna say thanks to all the Patreons who submitted questions for lightning round videos, any Patreons or members in general who have supported this channel, and any of you who have stuck around and watched me try to make sense of things this year.

But as the great philosopher Smash Mouth once said, “The years start coming and they don’t stop coming.” So I’m gonna keep this train going in 2023. I’ll probably change some things up, try some new stuff – I may have to take it easy for a couple of months in the spring to implement some of these changes but I think it’ll be worth it.

But ultimately I just want to say from the bottom of my heart how much I appreciate you guys for making it possible for me to do this. I am just so grateful and so lucky.
So if you celebrate it, have a wonderful Christmas, if you celebrate something else, I wish you all the joy in that as well. And if you celebrate knowledge, well you might like today’s sponsor, Brilliant.

Somebody Is FINALLY Doing Something About Space Junk

We all know space junk is a problem. Well meet the solution. Privateer Space is creating the tools necessary to clean up space debris and avoid collisions in space. If you’d like to see my full interview with co-founder Moriba Jah, check it out here on my Conversations With Joe channel:


Think about the speed of a bullet. It’s so fast we can’t see it. Whenever we visualize it in movies or stock footage like this, we have to slow it down. Way, way down.

The fastest bullets travel at about 2200 feet per second, that’s about 1500 miles per hour. If you fired a round across an American football field, which is 300 feet, it would go from end to end in .136 seconds. At 30 frames per second on video, that would take up about 4 frames. Like this.

Blink and you’ll miss it. What about something bigger though, like say the International Space Station…
It’s easier to see. But that’s still crazy fast. From the perspective of someone on the field, though…

That would definitely get your attention – but you might not even know what it was.

But here’s the thing… the space station is actually traveling much, much faster than that. More than 10 times faster than that. So fast that if it flew across this football field at actual speed…

It would just vaporize in the air. And the whole stadium while it’s at it.

But let’s say you could get above all that air and float in one spot in space. Keeping in mind everything I just talked about, if the International Space Station flew past you at 17,000 miles per hour, it would look like this…

Did you miss it? I think we missed it.

Turns out that it’s impossible to even catch it at 30 frames a second. In other words…

If the ISS flew past you in space, you wouldn’t see it, you wouldn’t hear it, you wouldn’t feel a gust of wind coming off of it, an object the size of a football stadium would pass right in front of you, and you would have no idea it happened.

Orbital speeds are ridiculous, and there are tens of thousands of objects flying around at that speed. Tracking these objects has become vital for the continued functioning of our modern world.

Luckily there’s a company that’s doing just that. And today, we’re going to talk about them.

Space Junk History

Space junk has existed for as long as we’ve been launching satellites. Like I did this compilation of cool space footage recently and this shot was from 1959 and look at that… Space junk!

Actually, if that manhole cover thing is true, I guess that would be the first space junk. Operation Plumbbob. Did a video about it. Hey, did I mention I’ve done other videos?

Operation Plumbbob

Anyway, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, has been tracking orbital debris since 1957. More than 32,000 of the 54,000-plus objects they track are considered debris.
Some of the earliest debris pieces came from SPUTNIK 4. The Russian satellite carried a mannequin and a dog named Chernushka to orbit in 1961.

Don’t worry, they both came home safe. They’re not still floating up there, but bits of SPUTNIK 4 stayed in space for years.
In 1962, a 20-pound chunk fell in front of the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The museum still celebrates with an event called Sputnikfest.
I could go down a long list of space junk incidents but I’ve already covered that… In another video…

Suffice it to say that hundreds of accidents and intentional explosions have littered Earth’s orbit. And this does cause problems, especially for the ISS crew.

ISS Headaches

For instance, there was the 2007 test of a Chinese anti-missile system that created 3500 pieces of debris. 14 years later in November 2021, the ISS had to make an emergency maneuver to avoid hitting one.

Less than a week later, the ISS crew had to shelter in landing capsules after a Russian missile test resulted in 1500 pieces of debris.

The fragments the ISS dodges are usually smaller than a softball. That sounds like no big deal. But a direct hit could have a combined speed of over 54,000 kilometers per hour (34,000 mph).
Even specks of dust at that speed can do major damage. Past, minor impacts have cracked windows in the ISS and poked holes in its robotic parts.

Other spacecraft, like Hubble, have been cratered by impacts with man-made junk.

Kessler Syndrome

I could go on, but you get the point. And some governments do, too – finally.

A recent change at the FCC limits communication satellites serving the U. S. market to lifespans of 5 years after their mission’s end, down from the previous 25.
That’s a good start. But reliable estimates say that if no new spacecraft are launched, collisions will continue to rise through the year 2200.

And scientists have been warning for years that if enough collisions happen, it will become impossible to safely launch anything to space.
This is the so-called Kessler syndrome, named for Donald Kessler, a NASA scientist and advocate for cleaning up our orbit.

In an extreme case, a domino effect of orbital collisions could destroy every object in orbit and stop them from being replaced. This would be devastating to the economy.

Worse, in my book, would be the chilling effect on human space exploration. We could forget about trips to the Moon or Mars for years, if not decades. The spaceflight programs of today might never recover.

Privateer’s Moriba Jah

But there is a company working to prevent that.

That company is Privateer Space. I’ve talked about Privateer before. And this summer, I got a chance to interview the company’s co-founder and chief scientist, Moriba Jah.

Moriba is an amazing guy who’s made a career as an aerospace engineer and space environmentalist (recently received the MacArthur Genius Grant). How he got into that career is a fascinating story.

The Platform Approach

As you heard, Privateer’s product is a dataset. Privateer is a platform company that wants to enable other companies, agencies, and individuals with space ideas to do their thing. You can see an application of their platform at

At least the time of this video, the Privateer homepage shows Wayfinder, a visualization tool based on Doctor Jah’s work. Under the hood, Wayfinder compiles data from multiple sources to predict the flight of orbital objects.

The platform approach means companies can access the data in different ways.

Orbital Predictions

And, they’re making that data available for free. You may have noticed the buttons next to that sexy, OMEGA watch on the homepage. You can use those to pause, play, or fast-forward the Wayfinder’s visualization.

Privateer allows free predictions of where objects will be up to 24-hours in advance. Clients who want to look further can pay for what CEO Alex Fielding has called “bespoke” information. As in, tailored to fit the client’s needs.

In addition to Wayfinder, Privateer has started a BETA program for a service called Crow’s Nest.

It predicts collisions between orbital objects, putting a number to the chance of an impact . You can access Crow’s Nest through an icon on Wayfinder’s display that looks like the emoji for frowning cyclops.

 Future Satellite Sources

In my interview with Moriba, I asked if Privateer has any space launch ambitions. He mentioned that the company would like to have its own sources of data. To that end, they’ve designed a constellation of small satellites.

Two of these, called Pono-1 and Pono-2, were supposed to go to orbit in 2022. Last I looked, the launch of Pono-1 was still TBD. Pono, by the way, “stands for righteousness and balance” according to a tee-shirt shop I found online.
The name is Hawaiian and Privateer is based in Hawaii. I think the name does a good job reflecting the company’s values. We should all be “righteous” in taking stewardship of Spaceship Earth.

Privateer’s Partnerships

To that end, Privateer has announced several partnerships with companies of like mind. One is Astroscale, a Japanese company that wants to provide End-of-Life-Service for satellites.

They sent two test satellites to orbit in 2021. One of these was a servicer satellite. The other was a client, standing in for test debris. The servicer was able to grab the client with a magnet, then release it and navigate autonomously.
Privateer has also partnered with SCOUT, another company in the space data sector.

The details of the partnership are technical, not to say vague, but SCOUT is known for machine vision and cubesat technology. So make of that what you will.

Last year, Privateer announced a partnership with the U. S. Space Force, but I haven’t been able to find updated details.

Cleaning Up Orbit

So we’ve established that they’re building the platform for others to use, here are some companies that might be using it.

I mentioned Astroscale’s magnet already. Since 2019, ESA has making plans to de-orbit debris using multi-armed satellite ClearSpace-1.

Going back even further, there have long been proposals to fit the ISS with a laser cannon, or use a ground-based “laser broom” to sweep debris away.

Sadly, I don’t know of any space laser prototypes being tested at the moment, but the concept is being studied.

Also in the design phase are methods for recycling objects in orbit. A company called WidgetBlender LLC recently won a NASA challenge by adapting concepts they developed for asteroid mining.

So, there are people working on this, and Privateer’s platform is going to make it possible. That’s the idea.

More on Moriba Jah

Which is why this September Moriba was picked to receive funding from NASA for orbital debris mitigation research.

Then, in October, he was named a MacArthur Fellow, and given the MacArthur Genius Grant, and by the way, a big public congratulations for that.

Orbital mechanics is hard. It’s just as hard as rocket science. Because that’s what it is. It’s rocket science.

I mean as I was saying at the beginning, the physics of objects moving at that speed is just insane.

That’s why it’s a good thing we’ve got people like Privateer making sure things in that environment operate as smoothly and cleanly as possible. Can’t have any potholes on this highway.

Anyway, if you want to know more about this topic, I’ve got my full interview with Moriba over on my Conversations With Joe channel. I do have a podcast, it’s a whole other thing. But yeah if you found this interesting at all, we cover all kinds of stuff over there. I’ve got links all over this thing.

They Thought It Was Hail. It Was Something WAY Weirder.

Over a period of 6 weeks in 1994, the small town of Oakville, Washington was hit with a bizarre string of storms that rained weird gelatinous blobs all over the town. It was all just a funny sidenote – and then people started getting sick. This is the weird and still unsolved mystery of the Oakville Blobs.



CIA operative Todd Delmonaco drove his ’53 Buick to meet Kieth Kincaid. It had rained that day. But was it normal rain… Or was it Chubby Rain?
If you get that reference, awesome, if you don’t, it’s from a movie called Bowfinger, it has Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy in it – one of my favorite movies, it’s about a down and out movie director who cheats his way into the business by just following around a big movie star who doesn’t know he’s in a movie, just suddenly all this weird stuff starts happening around him.
I honestly think it’s one of Eddie Murphy’s best performances, he plays the big movie star, Kit Ramsey but also his brother who’s super nerdy and awkward, anyway, it’s a great movie if you haven’t seen it.

But the movie that they make in the movie is called Chubby Rain, and it’s about aliens that invade Earth by falling from the sky in rain drops, making the rain “chubby”. Chubby rain.
This is a ridiculous premise, obviously, that’s what makes it funny, nothing like that could ever happen in real life…

A Strange Rain

In 1994, the small town of Oakville, Washington (pop. 600) was hit by a rainstorm.  Nothing unusual in the Pacific Northwest.  It rains there most of the year.Only this rain was different.  It looked like hail, but when people touched it, it was squishy. Gooey. One might even say… Blobby.
Yeah, this was 1994… The Toxic Lady story that I just covered last month, that was in 1994. 1994… Weird year.

Anyway one person who experienced this was a police officer named David Lacey.
His story, which was actually featured in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, was that he was out on patrol on the morning of August 7th, and this rain started coming down. But when he ran his wipers, all it did was just smear it all over the windshield.
So he pulled over into a gas station to clean his windshield and put on some latex gloves just to be safe.

They Thought It Was Hail. It Was Something WAY Weirder.
Unfortunately that extra caution didn’t seem to help because within 24 hours, Officer Lacey would stumble into the emergency room, barely able to breathe.  And he wasn’t the only one.
In 1994, the small town of Oakville, Washington  was hit by a rainstorm. Nothing unusual in the Pacific Northwest, it rains most of the year there. But this rain was different.
It looked like hail but when the residents touched it, it was a gelatinous substance.
There’s the story of the police officer who talks about how it smeared across his windshield.
And Dottie Hearn noticed it on her porch.
Nobody could figure out what it was. And this would have just been another case of weird things falling with rain… Raining frogs has been a thing The Red Rain of India phenomenon
Except then people started getting sick.

Mysterious Illnesses

Worse off was a woman named Dotty Hearn, who passed out at home.  She was found on her bathroom floor an hour later by her daughter, Sunny, and her son, Donnie
Dotty was admitted to hospital.  Initially, she was treated for Meniere’s Disease, which is an inner ear condition that can cause dizziness and confusion.  But after four days in the hospital, Dotty’s doctor said a virus had been responsible.

She did recover over time.  So did Officer Lacey and the other sick humans, thankfully no people died, but there were a lot of reported deaths of animals that were out in the rain. In fact, Dotty had several barn cats that died.
Luckily larger animals seem to have fared better; Dotty had 2 dogs that got sick, but they recovered.
Dotty seems like quite the animal lover.
Sadly, more animals would die in the 5 different rains that happened over three weeks in August.

Bacterial Growth

Sunny was understandably alarmed by all this.  She had a background in occupational safety, so knew some people at the Washington Department of Health and sent some samples to them.
And the DOH found two types of bacteria in the sample:
Pseudomonas fluorescens, which is a common bacteria that can be harmful to humans, but usually only those with compromised immune systems.
And the other was enterobacter collacae, is also found all over, but it’s known to contribute to infections of the lungs, blood, and urinary tract.

Missing Samples

So these were fairly common bacteria, nothing too weird, but the blobs themselves… that’s a whole other story.
The opinion of the epidemiologist who studied the sample was that it was man-made. Which is a pretty bold conclusion that would require more testing to be done on the sample.

So did they do more testing on the sample? Well put your tin foil hat on people because here’s where things get even weirder.
The sample disappeared. They suddenly couldn’t find it. (a beat – X-files riff) And here come the theories!
The police officer (Officer Lacey) got to where he could barely breathe and had to go to the hospital.
Dottie Hearn was found on the floor of her house with extreme vertigo and confusion. She was diagnosed with Melier’s (sp) disease, which is a chronic condition but she never experienced it again.

There were dozens of other flu-like cases around the town that apparently went on for several weeks and even months. Also many animals died.
A sample of it was brought to a microbiologist (Mike McDowell) who found white blood cells in it (though I’ve seen in other places it was more like a white blood cell).
He also found two bacteria, Pseudomonas fluorescens and Enterobacter cloacae.

Mike Osweiler of the Department of Ecology tested the cells and found the samples contained “a number of cells of various sizes” and that they came from a once-living creature.  He didn’t find any human white blood cells though. The cells he found had no nuclei.
The blobs fell at least 6 different times over 3 weeks and then stopped.

Star Jelly

Star jelly is sort of a catch-all term for jelly-like substances that are occasionally found on the ground.  These days, they’re sometimes pollution.
One famous case that happened in Texas involved bunches of purple goop that looked like whipped cream.  A lady found three on her front lawn.  They were probably a chemical used to clean batteries that fell off a truck.

A more ancient explanation for star jelly is slime molds.
Slime mold tends to get frothy and congeal when they multiply.  Clusters of frog or toad eggs have also been called star jelly, even certain types of bird puke.
Nature’s ah… kinda gross.

Problem is you might  have noticed none of that stuff falls from the sky.  Even birds tend to puke when they’re on the ground.

Jelly Fish

Which brings us to another theory, jellyfish.  Which also don’t typically fall from the sky.
But, many local residents reported an increase in military air traffic around the time of the blob rain.  Turns out, there were bombing exercises going on relatively close by.
So the theory is that the U. S. Navy jets blasted a bunch of jellyfish out of the ocean.  And all those jellyfish bits got swept up into the clouds and rode the jet stream.
That would explain what the blobs felt like, I guess, but almost nothing else.  They would have had to fly fifty miles and rain down sporadically for 21 days.

Human Waste

Something that does fall out of the sky is human waste. Sometimes.
One Washington ecologist suggested that the blobs were waste from an airplane.  Airplanes do sometimes release the contents of their toilets over unpopulated places. But the main piece of evidence for this was something that I actually didn’t mention before.
So I mentioned Sunny sent samples to the Washington Department of Health well she also sent some to the hospital where her mom was admitted.

And a lab tech claimed to have found a human white blood cell mixed in with the blob.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, that sample has also disappeared. (X-Files riff)
Nobody else found human cells, but the ecologist I mentioned did see evidence of something biological in the gel.  Human waste is biological, obviously.
The problem with that theory is that everything that goes into a plane’s septic tank is dyed blue from antiseptic. And the Oakville blobs were colorless.
Plus we kinda know what septic tank stuff looks and… smells like. Pretty sure that would have been solved fairly quickly.

Not to mention, again, this happened over 21 days. So, if it was an airplane… What were they serving on that thing?

Secret Military Experiments

Yeah, now we’re getting into the good stuff.
As I said before, there were some military exercises that were happening right around the time of the blobs, waging war against jellyfish apparently.
So the rumors are that these jets might have seeded the atmosphere with… something?

Like whatever made up the blobs was a kind of microorganism medium designed to hold the bacteria or virus or whatever it is that made so many people sick.
This is very tin-foil hat-y but it has actually happened before.
In 1950, the U.S. Navy conducted a test over San Francisco called Operation Sea Spray where they sprayed Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii bacteria over the city to see how it would fare in the event of a biological attack.

Those are fairly harmless bacteria – that’s why they were chosen – but there was a rash of extremely rare urinary tract infections reported just after.
Similar tests were done in New York, Key West, Panama City, Washington DC, and along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
In fact, a lot of this was revealed in a Senate Subcommittee hearing in 1977, where the Army admitted to doing open air tests of biological agents 239 times between 1949 and 1969.
So… It’s not the craziest idea? In fact Sunny Barclift, who I keep quoting for this story, she thinks this is the answer.
Not to mention if it’s some secret military thing, that would explain why the samples went missing.

Here come the theories

The first assumption was jellyfish The military had been doing air training exercises in the ocean and it was thought they had blasted some jellyfish so much they got obliterated and swept up into the clouds. The town even proposed a jellyfish festival But none of the blobs seemed to have jellyfish material, plus the ocean was 50 miles away, which seems too far away to travel.

Another theory was airplane waste material This would explain the white blood cells in the sample but airplane toilets use blue antifreeze so it would have been blue-tinted. There are stories of this happening though, maybe we could point to one of those here. Another thought was that it might be beads of sodium polyacralate Sodium polyacralate is a substance that absorbs water and is used in all kinds of things like ice packs (think orbeez), but it can also be used in agriculture to spray onto fields and help retain water. The theory is that maybe a storm swept up a stockpile of this stuff and then it absorbed water in the clouds and rained down on Oakville. Apparently something like this actually happened in Great Britain a little while back?

Then there’s Star Jelly. WHAT? Star Jelly is a blanket term applied to all kinds of organic blobs from slime molds to amphibian reproductive goo to undigested bird puke.  It’s a natural phenomenon but unlikely that much star jelly got swept up into clouds.

Last but not least, the military experiments theory Some suggest that the blobs were like a microorganism medium meant to contain biological weapons and the military dropped it over the town to test it on the unsuspecting population. First of all, this is absolutely something that has happened before. They dropped spores and bacteria over San Francisco and the UK tested on their own citizens as well. There’s a surprising number of times this has happened. Also, residents reported military planes flying over their town quite a bit around the time this happened. The question is, would the bacteria that were found on the goop be good candidates for it?
One last little detail that might support the government testing thing – the sample in Mike McDowell’s lab disappeared.

Fact vs Fiction

Of course another explanation for why they went missing is because… They just went missing. Things get misplaced all the time. Especially if it goes into my wife’s purse.
The people that tested the samples probably didn’t know they were sitting on a mystery that would still be debated nearly 30 years later. They probably didn’t have a post-it note on there saying, “Mystery sky shit, don’t throw away.”
The cooler may have needed to be cleaned, maybe they had a bunch of life-saving medicine they needed room for, maybe Kevin didn’t have anywhere else to put his leftover pork sandwich.

Dammit Kevin!
Maybe it was a secret experiment, maybe some gelatin dust from a factory or a farm or something got swept up in the clouds and soaked up the condensation and gathered some cooties along the way.
There could be a totally natural and rational explanation for this. Nature be crazy sometimes. It just hasn’t been decisively proven. And it probably never will be, unless it happens again.

But as always with stories like this, they tend to become embellished over time until it’s hard to sort truth from legend. Which honestly made writing this kinda challenging, when most of the details came from Unsolved Mysteries.
I did try to use info from various places as much as possible, in fact, my writer Ryan found an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer earlier that month puts an interesting twist on everything.
It reported that the National Weather Service took a phone call from a concerned father who complained of “hot, metallic particles from the sky that burned holes in his children’s trampoline.

Maybe… that was the remnants of an alien spaceship that exploded in the upper atmosphere and then the aliens scattered into the clouds and fell down to the Earth in the rain… In the Chubby Rain…
In the end, we’ll probably never know exactly what happened nearly 30 years ago in Oakville. It’s never happened since. Also, since it was featured on Unsolved Mysteries, a lot of what we know about it has been kinda hyped up and made into legend. So it’s actually hard to distinguish fact from fiction in a lot of this.

Somehow Every Computer Chip In The World Is Built By One Company

It might seem impossible to believe but all the most advanced semiconductors are made by machines built by one company, named ASML.


It’s probably not something you think about much, but computer chips are in everything these days.

Which is why when a semiconductor shortage hit this last year, we saw delays in products of all kinds all around the world.

You would think that given the importance of computer chips in this day and age, there would be companies all over the world making chips, and you would be right.

But the machines these companies use to make these chips pretty much all come from one single company.

It’s a company called ASML. And you might not have heard of them, but they are not only pushing the boundaries of chip technology, they’re becoming a major player in geopolitics.

The one company that makes the machines that makes modern life possible. Let’s talk about it.

Maybe something about the semiconductor shortage recently.

Here are all great info graphics that could inform the shortage and ASML’s importance to the market. Probably would be good for shorts too.
We are officially in the age of the “internet of things.” Everything is connected now, which means pretty much everything you can think of has a computer chip in it.

From your electric toothbrush, tractors, washing machine, car, cellphone, watch, and even some shoes… oh and Furby’s. Which are somehow still a thing.

It’s to the point that “e-waste” has become a problem. I covered that in a different video.

So, it’s not just computers. These things are everywhere, which is why it was such a big deal when the pandemic created a semiconductor shortage.

In response to this, both The E.U. and The United States to shore up their semiconductor manufacturing so they don’t have to rely on foreign powers.

Of course it wasn’t enough to just produce more chips, we had to prevent our adversaries from doing the same. This is where the geopolitics thing comes in.

Because in a move that didn’t make a lot of headlines, Biden banned a company from selling chip making machines to China. That company was ASML.

Okay so before we get to nanometer lasers, faraday cups, tin generated plasma which yes all sounds more like techbabble from a Star Trek episode, let’s step back and go over some fundamentals.

Yes, it is time to have “The Talk” on where do baby microchips come from.

And if you want to start at the VERY beginning… It’s sand.

Yeah, I know it gets everywhere but you know what gets in it? Silicon.

Before anything remotely starts looking like a microchip it starts at locating and refining sand abundant with silicon.

If you’ve always wondered why we use silicon for these things, it’s because it’s both an insulator and conductor with an almost 50/50 distribution.

And it’s also easily “doped” with other elements like boron and phosphorus, which allows for the controlling of electrical signals.

This lets you create positive and negative states, which translates to ones and zeroes. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.

So you take this silicon rich sand and subject it to extreme temperatures with a little carbon thrown in. that carbon bonds to oxygen creating carbon monoxide, which isn’t great, along with 99% pure silicon. Which is awesome.

By the way, we’re kinda lucky because silicon is the 2nd most abundant element in Earth’s crust, making up 28.2%. So that’s a thing you know now.
The real trick is to get this molten silicon into a crystalline form. To do that, they add a crystal to the molten silicon and this serves as a kind of nucleation point.

Once it cools and crystalizes, you get what they call a boule of silicon. Just a big ol’ cylinder of silicon.

And it’s this cylinder that gets sliced up and creates that circular shape that you always see chips printed on. That’s why they’re like that.

The last step is to add some final deposition layers on the wafer, these are coatings of light resistant and photosensitive materials.

And the chips are created by blasting those layers with an electron beam laser. This process among others is called lithography.

Lithography is like building with light but on the nanoscopic scale.

So you can think of ASML’s machines as a kind of 3D printer, but one that operates with an accuracy of one thousandth width of a human hair.

For reference, a human hair is 50 microns.

And it’s this ever smaller nanoscale printing that has allowed ASML to keep up with Moore’s Law. The doubling of transistors every year onto the same space.

Which, as I’ve talked about on here before, is getting to the point that weird quantum effects like quantum tunneling are starting to become an issue.

Right now they’re dealing with it by raising the resistance at the gates, or make the gates more complex so rogue electrons don’t ruin the processing.

This is making it possible for their machines to print at 5 NANOMETERS with 2 NANOMETERS coming very soon. Like 2025 soon.

Now, you may want more details on that statement, and I don’t have them, all I can say is ASML is very confident that they can do 2NM. And go even smaller.

Keep in mind the EUV tech that they use now took 30 years to perfect. So they’re working on the microchips of 2060 right now.

Think picometers not nanometers. A Picometer is 1/trillionth of a meter.

Now obviously there are a lot of details I’m leaving out here, this is a high-level view and frankly some of their technology is proprietary but I’m just getting you the broad strokes.

And again, to be clear, ASML doesn’t design the chips. That’s done by the various chip manufacturers, but ASML makes it possible for them to make the chips.

You might say that ASML builds the oven and the chip manufacturers are the bakers. If that makes sense.

ASML stands for Advanced Semiconductor Materials Lithography, and it was originally a spin off from Phillips, and they struggled at first but eventually found success with their PAS 2000 step and scanner.

Then ASML came out with PAS 5500 which is still used today, so safe to say that stepper really let them…step up their game.

They then continued their winning streak with their TWINSCAN tech and Immersion Lithography.

And shortly thereafter in 2010 Extreme UltraViolet tech was born. Which is still state of the art to this day.

In as brief detail as possible, how does this machine work?

How does a $300 million dollar machine print nanoscopic details into a silicon wafer… well buckle up.

Molten tin droplets measuring 25 microns in diameter are ejected from a generator at 70 meters per second.

As they are shot out, the droplets are hit first by a low-intensity laser pulse that flattens them into an ellipsoidal pancake shape.

Then a more powerful laser pulse vaporizes the flattened droplet to create a plasma that emits EUV light. And it does this 50,000 times per second.

I’m sorry, just in case your mind wasn’t sufficiently blown, it’s a 25 micron tin ball traveling 70 M/S. Getting blasted by a laser 50,000 times a second. And that’s just to create the light source.

And this machine works 24/7/365 there are 86,400 seconds in a day so 4,320,000,000 times this machine is vaporizing tin into extreme ultra violet light in ONE day.

But then, it gets even crazier because then that EUV has to be bounced off a series of Zeiss made mirrors which are so perfectly made that if the mirrors were the size of the United States there would be only little 0.4 micron bump on the mirror.

The mirrors have to be this accurate to make the light print with such extreme precision. And each of them costs $100k.

These mirrors bounce finally into a reticle, this reticle is like the “cookie cutter” in the process. It shapes the light into the pattern needed for the transistor to be printed.

What all these optics DON’T do is move the laser around on the wafer. Just far too delicate for that. What does move is the wafer itself, using the wafer robot stepper.

Just in case you were wondering if this is any less impressive, it keeps the wafer moving at a rate of 700 millimeters per second.

That is faster than an accelerating fighter jet. 50,000 times a second.

And it just prints this same pattern over and over again until the wafer is full.

At that point, they put a new wafer and reticle in and the process starts all over again.

ASMLs machine also makes things like DRAM (performance media), and Storage Memory.

You too could have one of these humble machines for the low, low cost of $160 million dollars. Or if you are INTEL you can say I don’t want the machine of today I want the machine of tomorrow!

And then proceed to spend $340 million. Casual.

Of course you could just buy from a competitor… But there are none.

The CEO of ASML said the reason they don’t have competitors is well…it is hard. EUV took over 30 years to make work.

The CEO also said that they have to spend $60 million a year just on security to continually repel spies (text: mostly from China) and cyber attacks.

And the fact that CHINA, a country with massive resources is having to try and steal their tech rather than just make their own kinda speaks to just how hard this science is.

And where is this company located that secretly kinda runs the world? Who is behind this? (look at paper) Veldhoven, The Netherlands. (a beat) Of course it’s the Dutch.

Computer chips are just 21st century spice. Go watch my video on the spice trade if you haven’t, it’s… illuminating.

Although, to be fair to the Dutch, the company is headquartered there but the extreme ultraviolet technology that makes their dominance possible… isn’t theirs.

I mentioned earlier that ASML was spun off of Phillips, well Phillips, which is headquartered in the United States, holds the patent to that technology.

This was why when the United States told ASML not to sell their chips to China they sorta had to listen.

Granted, ASML does have competitors for making other kinds of chips but nothing for the highest-end EUV chips.

For example there’s DUV printing or Deep Ultra Violet, these are less complicated and actually Nikon and Canon are strong competitors there.

And here you thought they just made cameras. And… printers.

So the China thing, turns out it’s kinda a big deal?

Before things get too political, understand this was initiated by the Trump administration but Biden has continued this policy.

What this means for China is if they want to compete technologically with the rest of the world they either need to figure out how to compress 30 years of EUV development down to… well, nothing… Or find another source of chips.

And you know who manufactures 90% of the world’s most advanced computer chips? Taiwan. Yeah.
(Source: Boston Consulting Group, 2021)

But the US is desperate to boost chip production as well.

The pandemic exposed that our American supply chain was highly dependent on semiconductors from abroad. And not even the super advanced chips but the basic ten cents a pop chips.

And this is why back in October Congress passed and President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act, which allocates $280 billion to chip manufacturing and research.

As well as build a more inclusive STEM workforce. Hence the “science” part of the act.

The hope is that the CHIPS act will make the United States more of a player in the semiconductor space. Today we make 12 percent of the world’s semiconductors – we made 37 percent in the 1990s.

Also, the semiconductor industry is poised to become a $1 trillion industry by the end of the decade. So the US wants a piece of that.

And at the moment, that just means more machine sales for ASML.

ASML in 2022 sold 55 of their machines and are expecting to sell 60 machines in 2023 as well as improve on their most advanced commercially available machine, the NEX:3600D.

The NEX:3600D will boast being able to process 20% more wafers. At the same time ASML has to sell more DUV machines as that’s where the greatest competition exists and are at risk of losing market share.

At the same time ASML will be pushing out their newest and greatest machine the High Numerical Aperture EUV machine (High NA EUV).

But as I said before, they are already working on the next 30 year technology, who even can imagine what that will be like.

ASML is a company in a race with Moore’s Law. I mean, they have no other competitors to race against.

Which is kinda interesting, it sorta makes Moore’s Law a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like the only reason we’re keeping up with Moore’s Law is so that we can keep up with Moore’s Law.

But hey if all that processing power makes it more possible for us to see to the edge of the universe and peer further inside the atom and cure all kids of diseases… I’d say it’s worth it.

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