Category: Answers With Joe

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.

We Can Now Predict Disease With Smell

In 2015, Joy Milne made waves when it was revealed that she had an amazing talent – she could smell Parkinson’s Disease. And now she’s helping develop tests that could diagnose Parkinson’s long before symptoms begin to show.


Maybe start with some details about how accurate dogs’ sense of smell can be. And then segue into the fact that some people have a similar ability – and now that ability could save lives.

Zoe Sketch?

In a recent video, I talked about some superhuman senses that some animals have, and in it, I talked about the fairly well-known fact that dogs can actually smell some kinds of cancers.

So now you have a new anxiety when a dog buries its nose in your crotch.

The problem is dogs can’t talk, so it’s hard to figure out exactly what chemicals they’re smelling. And even the most accurate dogs were still in the 80% range.

But imagine if a person could have that ability, and could talk and could help discern exactly what chemicals they were smelling. That is exactly what’s happened in the case of Joy Milne, and thanks to her super smeller, we could be on the verge of a whole new suite of diagnostics tools that could save millions of lives.

Joy Milne is a retired nurse from Perth, Australia, who has kind-of had a superpower her whole life. And she had no idea.

Joy has something called hyperosmia, basically a superhuman sense of smell, her nose has more olfactory receptors than the rest of us.

Which kinda makes me think of tetrachromacy, where some people are born with 4 types of cones in their retinas instead of 3, so they have the ability to see colors a little more clearly than the rest of us.

So you could say Joy could smell in colors the rest of us can’t smell.
And this is something she never really thought about, you know, we all just assume that others perceive the world the same way we do.

Which is why it probably drove her crazy when about 10 years into her marriage, she started to notice a smell coming off her husband.

His name was Les, he was a doctor, and yeah, she started noticing a musky, yeasty smell coming off of him, and she assumed it was from something at work.

He of course couldn’t smell it, which isn’t unusual, we tend to go nose blind to our own smells, but to her it was just pungent, especially on his neck and upper back.

So she started telling him he needed to wash himself better. He did his best to oblige her but she kept complaining about it. I can only imagine the fun little arguments that that created.


She eventually just learned to live with it and tried to let it go because it was driving him crazy and besides, nobody else could smell it so… what can you do.

But a few years after that, she noticed his personality began to change.

As Joy told NPR in 2020:

“He was more moody. He wasn’t as tolerant.”

They began to fight more. All the good qualities she admired in him – patience and thoughtfulness – began to slip away.

By his early 40s, she saw her husband as a completely different person.

And then one night, she woke up to Les attacking her.

She told NPR:

“He was sort of screaming and shaking me… but he was totally oblivious of it.”

He was clearly just having a nightmare, but this was the breaking point. I’m sure getting attacked in the middle of the night could do that.

So Joy demanded he visit a doctor. She thought he might have a brain tumor.

Turns out, 45-year-old Les Milne had Parkinson’s disease.
Most of us know Parkinson’s disease as a brain disorder that can cause uncontrollable or unintended movements like shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination.

But people with Parkinson’s may also develop behavioral and mental changes, depression, and memory problems. And that was the case with Les.

The disease occurs when nerve cells in the basal ganglia are damaged or die. But scientists don’t know exactly what causes that.
Joy and Les made the best of things over the next 20 years, but as his condition deteriorated, it put a strain on their marriage, so they decided to join a Parkinson’s support group.

So they show up to this meeting, they actually got there kinda late. But when Joy walked in the room, a wave of that familiar smell came over her.

It took her a minute to realize that that smell was coming from the other people in the room.

Joy told NPR:

“And then I realized for some people it smelled stronger and for other people it didn’t smell so strong.”

She realized that maybe this thing that she’d been smelling this whole time was Parkinson’s disease.

And she’d been smelling it way before Les started showing any symptoms.

Both being healthcare workers, she and Les realized the implications of this. Because if you could start treating Parkinson’s before the nerve damage starts, you could save a lot of lives.
This was an amazing revelation. But what exactly are you supposed to do with that?

Well Joy reached out to a Parkinson’s researcher at the University of Edinburgh named Tilo Kunath.
And his initial reaction was probably exactly what you’d expect.
Wow, that is weird… Yeah… Well, I hate to cut this short but I’ve got a guy on the other line that can hear diabetes so thanks for calling, bye bye then.

Needless to say, it sounded a little crackpot to him at first but then he thought about the research that had shown that dogs could smell cancer – and he figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a look.

So he had her visit his lab for a special test. What he did was he took two groups of people, one group that had Parkinson’s and one that didn’t, and he had them wear white T-shirts for a night and seal them in boxes.

He then had Joy smell the shirts to see if she could identify the people who had Parkinson’s.

And the results were pretty mind-blowing. She got all of them right except for one – she had a false positive, she thought someone had Parkinson’s who didn’t.

But still, like 95/98% accurate, it was crazy.

Except that actually wasn’t true. Because a few months later that guy, that false positive guy… was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She smelled it before he had any symptoms, and before it showed up on medical tests.

100% accurate. More accurate than established diagnostic tests.

So yeah, Dr. Kunath was on board at this point and continued to work with Joy. Unfortunately it was right about this time that Les’s health started to go downhill.

Les passed away in 2015. Before he died, he made Joy promise to continue researching and find a way to help others.

Joy and Dr. Kunath published their findings in ACS Central Science in March 2019. This spawned a lot of articles and specifically got the attention of a researcher named Perdita Barran.

Barran is a researcher from the University of Manchester Department of Chemistry and she wanted to see if they could figure out exactly which chemicals Joy was smelling.

So she and Joy started working together and they found several chemicals in the sebum, which is an oily discharge that we all have in our skin.

It’s often overproduced in people with Parkinson’s disease.

The research showed elevated levels of compounds like eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal.

Using that info, Joy and a team of scientists from the University of Manchester developed a new skin swab test.

It works by swabbing the back of a person’s neck and back to collect sebum. Then a mass spectrometer analyzes it.

It can detect Parkinson’s disease with 95 percent accuracy under lab conditions.

The scientists sampled 79 people who had the disease and 71 healthy people.

They identified 500 compounds that were different between people with Parkinson’s and those without it.

Barran told the Hull Daily Mail:

“What we are now doing is seeing if (hospital laboratories) can do what we’ve done in a research lab in a hospital lab. Once that’s happened then we want to see if we can make this a confirmatory diagnostic that could be used along with the referral process from a GP to a consultant.”

The testing is still in the early stages, with a lot of refining still to be done.

Joy is also working with other scientists around the world to see if she can smell other diseases like cancer and tuberculosis.

By the way, Joy describes her super smell as a gift and a curse because, well for one thing a lot of perfumes and candles are overwhelming to her, I can imagine that’s annoying but also… it creates some ethical issues.

Because sometimes when she’s walking down the street or shopping in the supermarket, she’ll walk past somebody… And she can smell Parkinson’s on them.

So what do you do in that situation? Do you say something? How would that go?

“Excuse me, ma’am, can you hand me that box of Corn Pops? Thanks. Oh, you probably have an undiagnosed terminal illness, okay bye…”

Like seriously, what are you supposed to do?

Joy consulted with medical ethicists and said she probably shouldn’t say anything. For now anyway.

Because the research is still new, it’s not in laboratory conditions and there are also privacy issues involved.

Besides, what are they supposed to do, go to their doctor and demand a test because some random lady at the store said they smell like Parkinson’s?

But maybe in the future the smell test will pass the… smell test. We’ve known that different diseases have different smells for a long time.
The ancient Indian medical text Sushruta Samhita even includes the line:

“By the sense of smell we can recognize the peculiar perspiration of many diseases, which has an important bearing on their identification.”


In Chinese medicine, there’s a practice called Listening and Smelling, or Auscultation and Olfaction.

They basically assign sounds and smells to the different organs in the body. And changes in those smells could indicate problems in those organs.
And the same is true to a lesser extent in Western medicine. Smells have often been a diagnostic tool.

For example, if a patient had a fruity aroma of decomposing apples, an experienced diagnostician would know they probably have diabetic ketosis.

Back in the day the smell of baked bread coming off a person was a sign of typhoid fever.

hyperaminoaciduria – dried malt or hops
scrofula – stale beer

And Yellow Fever apparently smells like a butcher shop. So good luck getting a date when you smell like that! And you know, the yellow fever.

Now at this point you might be asking me,  “Why Joe? How exactly do diseases make different smells?” To which I would respond by saying why are you talking like that?

To put it simply, our bodies are basically chemical factories, and diseases alter those factories, and the chemicals it creates.

For example, a pathogen could alter the level or types of microbes, which expirate different chemicals that we can pick up through smell.

Or, the activation of our immune system could change the excretion of metabolic byproducts from our hormonal system.

And there is one smell test that has made its way into the clinic, it’s a test for asthma.

When the airways in our lungs are infected, they release nitric oxide in a person’s breath. And those levels are higher in people with asthma.

Well, after two decades of development, the FDA approved a handheld device that doctors now use to help make a diagnosis.

This is a cool first step, but now they’re working on similar technology for personal use that could let you monitor medication effects and or even give advance warnings of asthma attacks.

It could even plug into a mobile phone, with an app reporting on nitric oxide levels.

As Raed Dweik, a physician and professor at the Cleveland Clinic, told Scientific American in 2016:

“Your phone would become the device. That’s the future.”

So it is possible in the not too distant future that you could take a scent sample as part of your yearly physical exam.

And that sample could be analyzed to find everything from Parkinson’s to cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, you name it.

And with those early warnings you could start treating and fending off the disease long before they actually become a problem.

And along with that, devices that work with your phone to give you early warnings of problems in your daily life.

It really could be the beginning of a whole new way to see disease, far earlier than our eyes could detect.

All because of one woman and her superhuman sense of smell. Really cool stuff.

Was The Universe Designed For Life? (And Other Questions)

Today’s Lightning Round video features questions about the fine structure constant, the future of the internet, and a mystery around the Titanic. Enjoy!


This week is Thanksgiving week here in the States so it’ll be a bit of a light week here because you know, we wanna spend time with families and what not, but there should be something special dropping on Thanksgiving day. Keep an eye out for that.

But today, we have a lightning round video featuring questions from my lovely supporters on Patreon so without further ado, it’s question time.

Thomas Lovse
Did a senior officer actually commit suicide on the Titanic? Like when Officer Murdoch shot himself in the movie. Or was it just for the aforementioned movie.

Okay, so before I get into the specific question, I want to point everyone to this awesome video by the channel Oceanliner Designs.

Oceanliner Designs video

Basically, he wanted an answer to the question of why some people saw the ship break in half and some didn’t.

Like the way it’s depicted in the movie is this dramatic crash, it seems impossible that anybody wouldn’t see that, but literally half of the accounts after the fact claimed that this didn’t happen.

So he decided to do an animation of what the ship actually looked like that night, because the fact of the matter is, we always see the event depicted like this: (clip from the video 3:16), which is clearly dark, but you can still see everything from this blue light source, now that’s obviously because the audience needs to be able to see what’s going on, but it also just looks like the ship is lit by a full moon.

The thing is… there was no moon out that night. We know this, we know the date, you can look and see.
So once the lights flickered off on the ship, there were no sources of light. At all. They were in the middle of the ocean. Meaning the ship looked a lot less like this (11:19) and a lot more like this (13:24). So that really the only shape you can make out is the negative space where it blocks the stars.
By the way, that was true of the iceberg too, they didn’t see the iceberg with light reflecting off of it, they just noticed that the stars… weren’t there.

But again, James Cameron had to light it in some way because the concept of shooting without any lights at all wasn’t pioneered until House of the Dragon.

The point is, there is a lot of room for confusion in a situation like that, and the darkness is only part of it, there were literally thousands of panicked people scared for their lives, it was utter chaos.

So the question of whether First Officer Murdoch shot himself like it’s portrayed in the movie, is probably not 100% answerable. But it does look like an event like that did occur.

Maybe the first question to answer is whether or not Murdoch would have even had a gun, well to answer that, I’ll refer to a blog post by author Tim Maltin, who has written several books and TV series on Titanic.

In this blog post, linked below, he recounts the testimony of Second Officer Charles Lightoller, who said… (read from blog)

So yeah, he had a shiny new gun.
I’ll get back to Murdoch in a minute but that guy Charles Lightoller? That dude had a life.
First of all, he survived the Titanic. I’m sure he did things before that but he survived the Titanic.

Then he fought in the British Navy in World War 1. Survived that.

In World War II, he was retired from the Navy but used his own personal ship to evacuate 127 soldiers from Dunkirk. Survived that.

Eventually died at the age of 78 in London in 1952. What killed him? The Great Smog of 1952.

It was this unusual weather event in December of that year that basically trapped all the pollution from cars and factories and power plants over the town for an entire week.
A lot of people with respiratory conditions died because of this, some put the number as high as 12,000.

Lightoller had chronic heart disease so yeah… he was one of them.

Survived the Titanic. Survived World War 1. Survived World War 2. Died from smog.

Anyway, they had guns, and there were multiple reports of using their guns to try to bring order to the situation. Lightoller said he used his to stop a group of guys from swarming a lifeboat but he said his gun wasn’t loaded.

There are reports that 5th Officer Lowe actually fired some warning shots at a group of people for the same reason.

As for Murdoch, it’s believed at at about 2:15 as the water was rising above the forward deck, he was trying to load the last of the lifeboats called Collapsable A. And being the last lifeboat, a lot of people were swarming it.

There is one contradictory account that claims that Murdoch did shoot himself, but he was on the bridge. This came from a crew member named Jack Williams. (read)

The only thing about that story is that there is no Jack Williams on the White Star Line crew list. So… yeah.

There is also one other account that disputes this and that’s our old friend Charles Lightoller who wrote in a letter to Murdoch’s widow, (read)

Now this may have been an attempt to conceal the suicide and paint him as a hero to his wife, but that’s the version that many people prefer, especially from his hometown of Dalbeattie, Scotland, he’s a bit of a town hero there.

Yeah, they kinda demanded an apology from the producers for that, which they never got, but James Cameron would later say that he kinda regretted that choice, that he didn’t like that it painted him in a negative light.

So yeah… Thanks for that rabbit hole.

Earthbound Martian
The internet has been a sea change in the way humans communicate. This is not unheard of. Movies, the telephone, radio, the printing press, even writing itself have been disruptive. What are the possible outcomes good or bad for our culture in this newest disruptive event?

So I don’t think I’ve ever done a specific video on this but I do talk about it a lot. It just seems to pop up in a lot of the subjects that I cover.

To put it bluntly, I think the internet could be a Great Filter. Like the reason we don’t see any alien species in the universe is they get to the internet stage and just annihilate themselves.

I didn’t come up with this but I like to say we’re a tribal species trying to be a global species. That we’re not evolved to be connected in this way.

There is this number, it’s called Dunbar’s Number, it suggests that humans are only capable of maintaining 150 relationships.
This came from studying other primates and apparently there’s a correlation between brain size and group size, and looking back in anthropology, groups and tribes tend to splinter around 150.

Others dispute it and have put that number up to 290, but it seems to be agreed that there is a number beyond which groups become unsustainable.

And I imagine that was the optimal group size back when we were just hunter gatherers for the first, you know, ninety five percent of our existence.

And now, we’re all being connected, which itself is unnatural but add to that the fact that it’s all being guided by algorithms that are designed to boost information that activates emotional response over anything else and it doesn’t look good.

Let’s just add a little extra kerosene to that bonfire.

I mean you watching me right now, this is weird. This is unnatural. If there was no internet, you wouldn’t be seeing me right now.

But on the flipside… If there was no internet, you wouldn’t be seeing me right now.

We do get to sort-of find and make our own tribes now, and be a part of multiple tribes, and that’s amazing.

One of my favorite things is watching people in this channel’s community start to interact with each other and make friends with each other, that’s just so cool.

But I think eventually we’ll get the balance right. But even the optimist in me thinks it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Every communication revolution is followed by a period of unrest and this is the biggest one of them all, by far. So we’ll see.

What’s your take on remote viewing and other trippy CIA psychic tactics?

There are schools for this

So I did a video this summer about secret military drug experiments with psychedelics and I thought about doing one on this topic because yeah, it’s pretty kooky.

But then that drugs in the military video didn’t do that great so it didn’t happen but yeah… I think I wanna do a full video on that. Let me know if that’s something you guys want to see.

Brian Beswick
Joe, how do you think Twitter might change with Elon owning it?

I miss the old days…



Refer to the golden ratio video:
Arvin Ash’s video

So he shares a link to the video over at PBS Spacetime where Matt talks about the fine structure constant, which is a universal constant that seems to come up a lot in physics and it kinda gives off “Golden Ratio” vibes.

To the point that a lot of people apply almost spiritual significance to it.

In fact, Wolfgang Pauli, a famous Austrian physicist, was quoted as saying, “When I die, my first question to the devil will be, what is the meaning of the fine structure constant?”

Which I think was his way of telling everybody that he was a naughty boy.

So, I do have some thoughts on it, but I won’t spend a lot of time explaining it here because Matt does a great job on that video, Arvin Ash has a great video about it as well, I’ll put both of them in the description, but here’s the abridged version.

Okay, the fine structure constant is also called Alpha and is signified in physics by this character. (α) And the numerical value of Alpha is 1/137.

Or much more specifically, 1/137.035999206

Dimensionless, not measurable, like pi

It refers to the ratio of the speed of an electron to the speed of light, again, go see the other videos for details but it kinda makes it possible for atomic particles to interact with each other and form atoms.

No atoms, you don’t have much of a universe.

But yeah, basically if the fine structure constant were just a little stronger or a little weaker, we wouldn’t exist. Matter wouldn’t form, it would just be a universe of particles flying around.

So that’s why some people look at it in almost a spiritual way because it kinda suggests that the universe was fine-tuned for life.

Like because of this constant, particles would form atoms and atoms would be able to combine into molecules, chemistry happens and hoocha hoocha hoocha… Florida.

So if the universe is literally designed to create life… Who designed it? (bink-bink)

I mean even if you go with simulation theory, someone created the simulation; anytime you start talking about the universe being designed in any way, you’re talking about some kind of higher power.

Which, let’s face it, when you get to this scale of cosmology, it’s not out of the question.

Because the other option is that when the Big Bang happened – whatever that was – that out of the infinity of possible fine structure constants, in the most amazing coincidence imaginable, it just happened create the right one for life.

That is a coincidence so improbable that it is the science version of a miracle.

Or our universe isn’t special, there’s actually infinite universes constantly popping up all the time in a kind of multiverse foam, each of them with different physical constants and this one just happened to get the number right so that matter and life can form.

Yes, I just said “multiverse foam.” You’re welcome.

Any of those options are mind-blowing. So yeah, it’s an interesting topic.




The Full Plan For Artemis Part 3: The Moon Base And Beyond

The third and final installment of the Artemis series looks at what happens after we land on the moon again. What are the next steps and how does the Artemis program set us up for further exploration of the solar system?


Humans have always been fascinated by the moon. And why wouldn’t we be? It’s always been up there, cycling through our sky. Influencing our beliefs and superstitions, shaping our perception of time. Guiding us on our journeys.

Our fate as a species has always depended on the moon. Quite literally. If not for the stabilizing effect of the moon, it’s thought the Earth’s tilt could have swung wildly over billions of years, making the formation of advanced life impossible.

That’s how much the moon has shaped our past. We literally might not be here without it. But if NASA has their way, it could be just as important to our future.

This is the third and final installment of my series on the Artemis program. The first episode was about the early robotic missions, the second was about the planned crewed missions. Today we’re going to go beyond.

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this video – the rocks and the regolith if you will – I should start by acknowledging that a lot of this is speculative. Aspirational even.

Because as I say in the previous video, so far the Artemis program is only funded through Artemis 5, which would be only the 2nd crewed moon landing, around 2028. Fingers crossed.

So as of right now, anything beyond the 2nd moon landing is kinda up in the air…
Actually, I say that… As far as I know it’s still true, but just last month, NASA ordered three more Orion capsules from Lockheed Martin for Artemis 6, 7, and 8.
So that’s pretty cool.
But still, future funding for this program will have to be decided by a future government, who will likely be dealing with an even higher level of dystopia than we are experiencing right now, so…

On the other hand, there are reasons to think it absolutely could continue, China and Russia are showing interest in their own moon bases so if that competition crops up, money could magically appear.

Also the continuing growth of private space companies could drastically reduce the price of the missions and add more opportunities around moon bases.

Especially if we are able to successfully mine and utilize resources on the moon and provide that economic incentive. More on that later.

All of this is to say that the further into the future we go, the more speculative it all becomes. The point of this video is to just kinda look at the possibilities, based on known plans but also the overall program objectives.

Artemis VI-X, what we know

So let’s pick up where we left off with Artemis 6.

If you do a search for Artemis 6, literally the only thing that comes up is a link to the wikipedia page containing a list of Artemis missions. It’s just mentioned in there, it doesn’t even have its own page.

And it’s mentioned as “Proposed”

So I can’t really talk about specific Artemis 6 plans plans because they super don’t exist yet. Or any of those proposed missions.

But in general if Artemis 1-5 were about getting boots back on the moon and establishing the Gateway, 6-10 will be about setting up a base camp. And learning how to access and use moon resources.

It’s not going to look like much at first, it’s going to be a while before we have a cool sci-fi looking moon base, but according to NASA associate administrator for human spaceflight Kathy Leuders,
“On each new trip, astronauts are going to have an increasing level of comfort with the capabilities to explore and study more of the Moon than ever before,”

Details are still sketchy but what we can discern can be found in NASA’s Lunar Surface Sustainability Concept.

The first few missions, maybe even up to Artemis 8 will have astronauts living in the lunar lander for increasingly longer periods of time, with rovers giving them wider access to the moon. I’ll get to those in a second because they’re pretty cool.

Scattered about the area of the basecamp will be various experiments, communication equipment, robotic rovers, and power modules with solar panels and whatnot.

A lot of this will be provided by the CLPS program and private partners.

Eventually the plan is to land what they’re calling the Foundation Surface Habitat, which is kinda like a space station module that stands vertically.

The design is still in the works so any images here are just concepts, some show it with a solid metal hull, some look inflatable but it’s designed to house a crew of 2-4 people for up to 60 days.

The design should feature space for crew quarters, exercise, a medical station, and storage, along with an airlock for EVAs.

This would be the home base from which the crew would work, explore, experiment, and build.

And they would get around with the use of those rovers I was talking about a second ago.

There’s two designs that NASA is working on, the first is called the Lunar Terrain Vehicle, or LTV, because acronym.

The LTV is a lot like the Apollo rover, it’s an open-air – or open space – platform with space for 2-3 astronauts with cargo.

Except like everything in the Artemis program, this is light-years beyond the Apollo rover because not just will it be able to go way further, it can also function autonomously.

Using some of what we figured out on the Mars Rovers I’m sure.

Right now NASA is soliciting designs for this rover so it’s still being pitched but it’s supposed to go up on Artemis 5, the second moon landing.

So it’ll be up there long before the Foundation Surface Habitat, in fact by the time it gets there, there might be a few of them but along with the surface habitat comes another rover – a far more advanced rover.

This one is called the Habitable Mobility Platform. The key word here is habitable, meaning astronauts can live inside of it. It’s a pressurized moon car.

The whole point of the HMP is that Astronauts can just climb inside it and go for a ride, no suiting up and all the preparation that’s involved with that.

Ideally the HMP would dock with the Foundation Surface Habitat so crew members could just climb inside the HMP, undock and start exploring.

This will greatly expand the ability for astronauts to travel around the moon, make quick excursions, or take days-long trips to distant places.

So that takes care of the base camp, again, nothing more than a habitat with rovers shuttling astronauts to and from various experiments and study sites.

But those sites and experiments will be testing out the viability of using the water resources on the moon. So a lot of what we plan for this era of Artemis depends on how those early water hunts go.

I mean in a best case scenario, a robotic mission like VIPER finds water ice, Artemis 3 lands close enough to sample it and bring it back, and Artemis 5 is able to do in situ experiments with it.

If that’s the case – and we would be incredibly lucky if that happened – you might see actually stockpiling the ice and using it for habitation or fuel production on Artemis 6.

Then 7, 8, and 9 could be increasingly longer missions, setting up the foundations for a base – maybe two missions could be simultaneous or have larger crews, and by 10 we’re actually constructing a base.

Or… Artemis 3 and 5 don’t find the water. Or they find it but can’t access it. Or they hit some other technical hurdle that we can’t think of yet.

In that case, Artemis 6 – maybe even 7 and 8 – will still be working on that problem. It might be Artemis 10 before we get to actually use the water in any way.

And honestly, by Artemis 10, we would have landed on the moon 7 times, if we still didn’t have the water and resources thing figured out, I imagine the program will be in trouble.

By that point the novelty of being on the moon will have worn off and the cost of this program will be setting in, with still no real pathway to a permanent settlement.

In other words it would kind-of follow the same pattern as Apollo. International competition notwithstanding.

So, when it comes to Artemis 6 through 10, that is one option, total failure, or we successfully learn how to access and use the moon’s water in situ and we’re laying the foundations for the moon base.

Since there’s really nowhere to go with the first option, let’s keep playing with the second option.

Artemis X and Beyond

All right, so it’s 2033 and Artemis 11 is being prepped to start a new phase in the program. A permanently inhabited moon base.

By the way, it is entirely possible that at this point there are private companies regularly flying around and even landing on the moon, but we’re here to talk about Artemis so I’m gonna stick with that.

It’s also entirely possible that the SLS could be retired at this point. Maybe Starship becomes the ride, maybe it’s something else but I feel like that whole paradigm of how the SLS is built is on the way out. But I could be wrong.

The Moonbase

I really see the moon base as just the International Space Station… sitting on the moon.

So much of what we learned in the last 20 years of the ISS will be applicable to living on a moon base. That system of running the ISS will just drag and drop onto the moon.

What that moon base will look like, and how it will be built is a wide open question.

Sticking with the ISS theme, we could see modules delivered to the surface via something like the Dynetics lander, where the modules can be removed and connected together on the surface, basically an interconnected series of canisters.
Some have suggested we could even take one of the SpaceX Starships and turn it on its side for a permanent habitat. Basically you would just tip it over, remove the fuel tanks to turn the entire ship into habitable volume, and build out the interior, then cover it up with regolith.

It’s an interesting idea. Feels a little janky to me, personally, but it’s a good reuse of existing hardware. I feel like it would require a lot of construction on site that would be a lot more challenging than some of the other ideas but… it’s an idea.

The bit about covering it with regolith though, that’s definitely an idea that’s being explored across several moon base designs.

As you probably already know, people spending a lot of time on the moon are going to be subject to a lot more radiation and cosmic rays than we’re exposed to here on Earth.

Even on the ISS, they’re underneath that protective magnetic shield that we have here on Earth, the moon inhabitants won’t have that.

We’re going to need some kind of thick barrier if we’re going to be up there for long periods, and the regolith is the best solution for that.

Some of the moon base ideas involve inflatable habitats that then get covered up with regolith, or 3D printing on top of them with a mix of regolith and some bonding agents.

ESA is actually working on this with the famous architecture firm Fosters + Partners.
In their own promotional video, they say that the dome will house four people and it will take three months to fully cover the building using autonomous robots.

The robots both scoop regolith but also print it in a design similar to a bird’s bone to ensure strength and lightweight qualities.
There’s even an idea of taking human waste and bonding it together with fungi to make essentially space poop bricks.

I mean, I guess that’s better than running a sewer line all the way back to Earth.

These methods are being tested at an ESA-built facility named LUNA that just broke ground last year.
Yet another option that might be further down the line is lava tubes.

The moon, way back in the past, had volcanic activity, this is why there are various patches of darker colored rock across the surface.

Or, “mare” as they’re called.

This volcanic activity left hundreds of lava tubes under the surface that could protect astronauts from space nasties. Might be a lot easier than 3D printing entire buildings.

Currently, in Hawaii, NASA scientists are analyzing the tubes there to see if they would work as homes.

Also the lava tubes on the moon are frickin’ huge, getting up to 3,000 feet (900m) in diameter. That’s nearly a kilometer wide.

Some of them have the same surface area as all of Dallas. Not as much barbecue though.

You have to appreciate that ancient man once took shelter in caves and thousands of years later we are back at it. Makes sense though, we’d be using them for the same reason they did back then. Easy shelter.


One other piece of infrastructure worth mentioning is a communication network around the moon, and for that, NASA is developing LunaNet.

LunaNet is described as an extensible and scalable lunar communication and navigation architecture.

With a LunaNet architecture in place, robotic landers, rovers, and astronauts on the Moon will have network access similar to networks on Earth.

It will be able to store and forward data to provide a Delay/Disruption Tolerant Network (DTN). The objective is to avoid needing to pre-schedule data communications back to Earth.

LunaNet will also offer navigation services, like a lunar GPS.
Or maybe LPS? Lunar Positioning System?

NASA tested this system in the most moon-like place they could find on Earth – Cleveland.

I’ve never been to Cleveland, I don’t know how many craters they have.

NASA’s Compass Lab at Glenn, which usually specializes in abstract spacecraft and mission design, used the lamppost infrastructure around Cleveland to kind of test what a moon network could look like.

The study found that attaching Wi-Fi routers to approximately 20,000 lampposts or other utility poles would help solve Cleveland’s connectivity issues.

By spacing routers no more than 100 yards apart, this approach would provide around 7.5 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed in a four-person home.

They’re applying this data to build a network of nodes in orbit around the moon and on the surface with 4 main objectives:

  • networking
  • navigation
  • detection and information
  • radio/optical science services.

Now, at this point I could go on and speculate about all kinds of details involving a potential moon base but ultimately, as you can see in pretty much any of NASA’s literature around Artemis, the ultimate goal is Mars.

Everything in the Artemis program is just a test bed for technologies that we can use to get to Mars, including using the moon as a refueling station.

My question is would it still be the Artemis program at that point? Like would Mars missions be like Artemis 30 or something? It would probably be a whole new program I imagine.

What I could see happening is NASA handing off moon industry to private companies and then focusing its efforts on a new program to Mars, kinda like they’ve handed off low Earth orbit to private companies now.

NASA kinda forges the new path and then private industries follow.

Especially if moon mining matures into a profitable industry, I think we’ll see a new gold rush to the moon. I did a whole video on that a while back.

And I still think it would be really cool if people and supplies could be launched from the Moon to Mars using an electromagnetic lunar mass driver.

The moon orbits the earth at 2288 miles per hour, so you’ve already got that speed working for you – a railgun could propel cargo up to speeds that you just can’t reach here on Earth because of our atmosphere, and then you could launch using only a fraction of the fuel you’d need to travel direct from Earth.

Once the infrastructure is in place to get parts to the moon and manufacture it there, which might be less energy intensive because of the 1/6 gravity… I don’t know, there’s something interesting there.

Anyway, I think we’ve reached the end of what can be called the Artemis program at this point.

How much of this will actually happen? Who knows. Like I said at the beginning, a lot of it comes down to whether or not we’re able to access and use the water ice, what kind of international competition we have, and the overall economics of the thing.

There are also questions about the sustainability of a moon presence, I mean, yes there’s a lot of water ice there but it is a finite amount. And humans gonna human.

There’s also the concern that all the landings and activity could form a dust cloud around the moon because that stuff just doesn’t behave the same up there as it does here.

But this thing does seem to be happening. And that’s exciting. I’m recording this video ahead of time but it’s scheduled to go out the same day as the new Artemis 1 launch window. On the 14th. We’ll see how that goes. I did the same thing with the last Artemis video so… yeah.

So you’re either watching this right now all pumped full of adrenaline and excited to see this future that’s happening right in front of us. Or you’re laughing at me. Again.

But I’ll just say what I’ve always said about space travel, it pushes our boundaries as a species and the spinoff technologies that are created from it benefit us here on Earth in a myriad ways.


Weirdest Senses Animals Have That You Don’t

Animals have senses that give them an entirely different experience of this world. Some of them are basically superpowers. Here’s some of the weirdest ones that are almost impossible to imagine.


The Marvel superhero Daredevil is the story of a mild-mannered lawyer named Matt Murdoch who is blind, but can see through the power of echolocation.The Marvel superhero Daredevil is the story of a mild-mannered lawyer named Matt Murdoch who is blind, but can see through the power of echolocation.
I’m sorry, shouldn’t this be Batman’s thing?

Anyway, in the comics and TV shows it gives him a superhuman ability to perceive the world around him, to the point that he uses it to fight crime. And hook up with She-Hulk. Well done sir.

Well it might sound impossible to believe but this is an actual thing that some blind people can do.
Maybe not the fighting crime and She-Hulk stuff but the echolocation, yes.
One great example is Daniel Kish, who makes clicking sounds with his mouth or a cane and then can interpret the space around him.
He can even ride a bike and navigate through his neighborhood.
And this isn’t just a superhuman ability only he can do, he teaches this to blind children all over the world through the organization World Access for the Blind.
This is of course a method of seeing that many animal species use like the aforementioned bat.

Animals definitely have a different way of perceiving the world. And we’ve learned to use their abilities to heighten our own perception.
So let’s look at some of the weirdest animal senses that you just don’t have.


You know, sometimes I get why some people hate science. I get it. Because it’s constantly revealing things that we can’t see. And reminding us of how incredibly narrow our perception is.
From small things like bacteria and viruses and atoms to gigantic things like dark matter, distant galaxies, and your mom.
The fact is, we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell only a fraction of the world around us.  Visible light might be the most obvious answer, we know now that the light we can see is just a small piece of the electromagnetic spectrum.

But the narrowness of that spectrum gets more amazing the more you think about it because technically the size of the wavelengths range from infinitely small to infinitely huge.
And out of that infinity, the range of what we can see is only 320-nanometers wide.

Luckily we got this here gelatinous blob that can brainificate real good and we’ve been able to construct instruments that go beyond our sense of sight, as well as our other senses, to give us a more complete picture of the world.


Let’s start with one we’ve all probably heard of, echolocation.

Bats are famous for it, as well as dolphins and other toothed whales, who produce sounds to help them navigate.
And these sounds are loud. They have to travel long distances and carry enough energy to bounce back to the animal and still be heard.
Heard by a sense of hearing that is obviously very, very sensitive. So that raises a pretty interesting question – how can they create such loud sounds mere centimeters or even millimeters away from their sensitive ears without hurting them?

Well bats, it turns out actually have a mute button in their middle ear.
It’s a muscle that pushes against one of the inner ear bones to keep it from vibrating when it chirps. Thus protected, they’re able to pinpoint prey from a distance of up to 10 meters.
Sperm whales do the same thing but their echolocation range is closer to 500 meters.
Narwhals, which is basically a toothed whale with one really, really long tooth, can use vertical echolocation to find open water in regions that are 98% covered with ice.
This is important, since narwhals have to surface for air.

Echolocation can provide a kind of x-ray vision as well. Especially underwater.
As you’ve heard your whole life, we are 60-something percent water so if a dolphin’s echolocation signals are traveling through water, they can travel through you… sort-of.
Dolphins use this trick to hunt fish hiding in loose sand.  But maybe the craziest thing about dolphins and their echolocation ability is it might… MIGHT… kinda make them telepathic.

There’s a longstanding theory that dolphins can recreate the images they “see” with echolocation using their own mouth clicks and pulses.
If that’s true, they might be able to transmit images to another dolphin.  At this point, the theory is highly speculative, as it’s hard to brain-scan one dolphin, let alone two.
But they have been observed communicating with each other using the same vocalizations they echolocate with. So, maybe?

But seriously how cool is that? Instead of having to describe something you saw with words or trying to draw it, you could just blast sounds at someone and they’d just see it.
And who knows, maybe one day we’ll be able to brainificate a device that could decipher their clicks into a hologram that we could see.
That’d be cool.


If echolocation is seeing with sound, Tremor Sense might be hearing with touch.
I’ve mentioned the ability of elephants to communicate with low-frequency vibrations before.  The more high-brow listeners among you may recall my video about The Brown Note.
What I didn’t catch in my research back then is that elephants can hear these vibrations… through their feet.

As we all know, sound travels faster through solids than air, so while elephant calls can travel great distances over the air, they can travel even further and faster through the ground.
So elephants developed extremely sensitive feet that can hear through the ground.

Elephants have been seen striking poses that allow for better tactile listening.  They’ll pause, sometimes raising a leg, or touching a toe to the ground.
This gives them a little extra time to prepare for a threat. For example, if they hear another elephant warn of a predator with their ears, they’ll just flee and get out of there.
But if the warning comes from the dirt, they’ll figure they’ve got time, and huddle close, instead.

The tremor sense works through clusters of specialized nerves around the feet.  These are processed in the same parts of the brain that process touch.  But some vibrations are also carried through the skeletal system to the inner ear, which processes it as sound.

This is kinda how bone-conducting headphones work.  Except it’s conducting all the way from your feet.
There are some correlations that can be found in the brains of deaf and deaf-blind people.
Deaf-blind people have the ability to “hear” finger movements because their brains have moved that processing into the auditory module of the brain.
And because you and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals, elephants also use this form of communication to find mates. Sort-of an underground tremor-based Tinder.
Trembler? That sounds like a serial killer dating app.


Next up is heat sense.
So obviously we can all sense heat, one of the first things a parent teaches a little kid is not to touch the hot stove. Or in my case, it’s a lesson you just learn on your own.  Once.
Well the reason we can feel heat is because of the signals that travel through ion channels in our nerves.  We have different channels for different sensations and one important heat-sensing channel is called TRPV1.

By the way, the reason we feel heat from spices like chili peppers is because the capsaicin in the peppers activates those same TRPV1 channels in our mouths.
And if you’ve ever wondered why mint feels cool, it’s because it activates a different channel called TRPM8. TRPM8, as you’ve might have guessed, detects cold. So there you go.

These ion channels do more than send temperature signals though, TRPV1 can affect the immune system.
In fact, some studies suggest that activating TRPV1 with capsaicin can prime the immune system to fight some cancers.
It’s complicated, and not all studies agree, but it hints at potential health benefits of spicy foods.

Anyway, when it comes to sensing heat, human TRPV1 channels have a threshold of 43 degrees Celsius, or 109 Fahrenheit.
That’s useful for preventing burns.  But animals with a more precise heat sense find it even more useful.

Like vampire bats, for instance. They have extra sensitive TRPV1 receptors in their noses that activate at 30 degrees Celcius.  This is cooler than the temperature of blood.
This allows them to literally see blood vessels through the skin.
It’s like a natural stud finder Or… blood finder?
Certain snakes also use heat-sensing to find food.

Vipers, pythons, and boas have pits in their faces equipped with ion channels to map thermal radiation, allowing them to basically see in the dark.
And their TRPV1 ion channels can detect temperatures of 28 Celsius and higher.
They basically have Predator vision. Which is appropriate, they are predators, but hey, now you know how to become invisible to a snake. Mud bath!

Now a really cool one, electrosensing.
Electric shocks are a nuisance to human beings.  But some animals use electricity to “see” in ways we can’t.  Sharks are a famous example.

In 1935, a scientist observed a shark reacting negatively to a rusty wire.  The reaction happened even when the shark was blindfolded.  Which, by the way, apparently you can blindfold a shark.
Anyway, a biologist and physicist named Adrianus Kalmijn worked out that sharks and other fish can sense electromagnetic fields.
This sense was eventually pinned down to organs in their snout called ampullae of Lorenzini.
These are basically pores filled with a sort of jelly.  Nerves in the pores respond to changes in electrical potential, which helps them find prey in murky water.

The Olm salamander does this in a similar way.  Olms are basically blind, so they may use electrosensing to locate obstacles in their environment.
Another animal that uses electrosensing is the duck-billed platypus, because of course it does, just throw that on the massive pile of weirdness around the platypus.
Finally, bees are thought to be able to sense the electrical fields of flowers.

Bees can tell real flowers from fakes by electrical charge.  They can also make a flower more positively charged, which works as a sort of dinner bell to other bees.
happened and what it meant; this suggests the bee adds to the charge, and indicates bees are drawn to more positive charges
Bees by the way are the first animals scientists have observed using electrosense in dry air.  All the other animals are underwater, or in areas of high humidity.
Some think this opens the door to other non-bee insects to have a similar sense, but research is ongoing.


While we’re talking about bees, another cool thing they can do is they have a built-in natural compass.

Bees can orient themselves to the earth’s magnetic field thanks to granules of iron in their abdomens.  This gives them the ability to accurately navigate up to 12 kilometers from the hive.

The blind salamander I mentioned earlier can also orient itself to earth’s magnetic field.  Some bacteria can, too.  And then there’s the birds.
Some bird species migrate thousands of miles every year.  The bar-tailed godwit, for instance, covers 30,000 kilometers in a trip that takes it from Alaska to New Zealand and back.  How do they navigate?

This… gets weird.

There are some studies that suggest they actually do it using quantum entanglement.

Okay so there’s a type of protein called cryptochrome is known to create pairs of entangled particles when it interacts with light.
Well, when they create these particles, the spin state of the pairs is affected by magnetic fields.
And they’ve found several types of cryptochrome in bird eyes.  So in theory – IN THEORY – the Earth’s electromagnetic fields could impact the spin state of these entangled pairs and those changes could be detected by retinal nerves.
Which would allow the birds to effectively  see the Earth’s magnetic fields.

I imagine it would be like seeing superhighways in the sky made up of auroras all the time.
What’s even crazier is that human eyes contain more than enough cryptochrome to make this happen.
What we lack is the neural hardware to interpret the magnetic effects.  And possibly a chemical that activates the cryptochrome.
But it’s thought that birds do have that. This is a bit speculative but it’s an interesting answer to a big nature mystery.


Okay, so we know that dogs have a great sense of smell, but it turns out dogs can actually diagnose disease.
This is amazing.

Dogs have five times as many olfactory receptors as we do.  And their brains have 40 times the smell-processing power.
Because of this, dogs can be trained to sniff out scent trails, bombs materials, and a bag of weed stuffed way down in your backpack.
…Or so I’m told.

Since 1989, doctors have been studying the ability of dogs to smell cancer.  Dogs have been able to correctly detect skin, lung, and other cancers from urine samples.  They can even smell cancer on a patient’s breath.
The rates of detection vary from study to study, but are routinely above the 50% you’d expect if it was random chance.
An August 2021 study reported lung cancer detection rates of 78% from breath and 87.8% from urine.  When breath and urine samples were used together, the sniffer dogs had a 97.6% detection rate.

According to a research group working on this called In Situ, Training dogs to detect cancer is actually really complicated because the smells are made up of around 4000 volatile organic compounds, compared to one or two that a bomb-sniffing dog has to pick up.
Studies are still ongoing, dogs aren’t used as diagnostic tools in hospitals just yet. CT scans are more accurate and… well there’s more money to be made with it.
In Situ recommends teams of five, highly-trained dogs to detect cancer.  I’m not sure if hiring a whole team of highly trained dogs would cost less than a CT scan, but maybe…

I find this really interesting but I’m not sure how it would work in practice, I mean if you’re at the point that you’re worried you have cancer, you’re probably going to want a definite answer more than the word of a dog.

But, if we can isolate and detect some of the chemicals that the dogs are responding to, we might be able to include smell samples as part of regular physicals and increase the chance of catching diseases before the symptoms show up.
There’s actually a video on the way about that exact topic. That’s a thing that’s in the works and it’s incredibly cool.
So yeah, the fact that dogs can detect cancer is super interesting.


Last on our list, we come to the animal with the best sense of taste in the entire animal kingdom.
And the reason it has such an amazing sense of taste is because it basically tastes with its entire body.
The answer? The catfish. I honestly didn’t expect that one when I started this.

A catfish is basically a giant tongue with fins. Its body is covered with up to 175,000 chemoreceptors, which are basically taste buds.
For comparison, we humans have about 10,000 on our tongues.

What it doesn’t have all over its body are scales, which is kinda weird for a fish but the catfish is a weird animal.
The chemoreceptors are especially packed into those whiskers that gave it its name – those whiskers are technically called barbells by the way.
Which makes a lot less sense to me than “whiskers” but whatever.
It uses these barbells and the chemoreceptors all over its body to navigate and hunt down live prey in murky water where there’s not much light.

Catfish have a reputation as carrion eaters.  But they actually mostly eat live prey, like insects and small fish.
And sometimes… maybe… Humans.

From 1998 to 2008, there were reports out of India about a man-eating catfish.
Legend has it the fish got a craving for human flesh after it ate remains from a seaside funeral pyre.  But who knows, it may have just picked up the taste from someone who had waded through the water.
Either way, there were three known cases with eyewitnesses of people getting dragged into the water by a giant catfish and their remains were never found. That is a thing that happened.

Siri, cancel my noodling trip.


All this is cool, but what does that mean to us? How can we use these super senses to our advantage?
Well I talked about the cancer sniffing dogs, but there other things like scientists are using echolocation to find cracks in structural beams.
Finding hairline cracks in supports of an oil rig is especially challenging.  Not only are the cracks underwater, they’re often buried in sand.
So using the example of the dolphin hunting fish buried in sand, they are using echolocation to find fractures they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. 

The elephant’s ability to hear tremors has possible applications to hearing aids.
Remember how the elephants hear partially by bone conduction?  Modeling elephant ear bones could help improve the clarity of hearing aids that work in a similar way.

Heat-sensing ion channels are being studied for use in pain relief.  We’re figuring out how to chemically block those signals, thanks to studying the heat pits on snakes.

Finally, the tasting powers of catfish have been studied for their insight into animal behavior, especially regarding food.  
Kinda sounds strange but studying catfish has led to a greater understanding of how different tastes encourage animals, and humans, to eat a healthy diet.
So in a way, we’re using animal supersenses to amplify our own senses, just like all the instruments we’ve created over the years.

I also love this story because it shows how you never know where a breakthrough could come from.
Like you always hear about these studies where people are trying to figure out if snails prefer mountain dew or sprite or something random and you’re always like, “why is this being studied?”
This is why. Because there’s something to learn in it and you never know what problem that thing could fix.
And I for one think that’s pretty cool.

Any I missed?

Why Did This Woman’s Blood Produce A Toxic Nerve Gas?

On February 19, 1994, Gloria Ramirez was wheeled into the emergency room at Riverside Hospital in California. Within minutes, the staff began collapsing to the floor and the hospital was evacuated. What turned this woman’s blood into a chemical weapon? It’s one of the weirdest medical mysteries of all time.


It’s Halloween, and chances are many of you have indulged in some scary movies over the last few weeks, maybe you have plans to do it tonight. Maybe you’ll be in bed by 8:00, I’m not here to judge.

A popular subgenre of horror films is known as body horror, which plays off our fears of losing control of our own bodies. Either to aliens like invasion of the body snatchers, or to technology like The Fly.

Or to The Thing in… The Thing.

Or The Stuff in… The Stuff.

Or The Blob in… You get the idea.

The idea that our own bodies, or the bodies of those around us could be weaponized is a deep instinctual fear. There’s a reason why the trope of “patient gets wheeled into the emergency room and infects the entire staff with a mystery illness” gets used so much.

And yet in February of 1994, this actually happened. A woman was wheeled into an ER, and as soon as a needle pierced her skin, she emitted a mysterious toxin that poisoned dozens of people.

She became known as The Toxic Lady. And scientists and doctors have been struggling to explain it ever since.

February 19th, 1994 was just like any other day for the staff of Riverside General Hospital. A car accident or two, a drug overdose. An old guy complaining of chest pains. Nothing out of the ordinary for an LA suburb.

And then, at 8:15 in the evening, paramedics wheeled in a 31 year old hispanic woman who was breathing shallow and barely conscious. They moved her into a space marked Trauma Room One and began trying to stabilize her.

They assessed what they knew so far. Her name was Gloria Ramirez, she was 31 years old, and she was being treated for cervical cancer. And now, for whatever reason, her vital signs were crashing.

Along with the shallow breathing, her blood pressure was dropping fast. Her heart was beating too quickly for its chambers to fill with blood.

So they gave her lidocaine and Bretylium to help control her rapid heartbeat, as well as Ativan, Valium, and Versed to help sedate her.

At this point, hospital staff were pouring into the room to get her situation under control, including RN Susan Kane, Resident Julie Gorchynski, and Head of Emergency Humberto Ochoa

Respiratory therapist Maureen Welch used an Ambu Bag on her to help her breathe.

But nothing they did seem to work. Ramirez’s vital signs continued to plummet to the point that they had to use a defibrillator to reset her heart.

When they cut off her shirt to apply the paddles, they all noticed an oily sheen covering her body that seemed to give off a fruity, garlicky odor.

Susan Kane, the RN, took a blood sample for analysis and noticed that the blood smelled… strange.

This actually isn’t that uncommon for chemotherapy patients.
But a chemo scent usually smells a bit putrid. This had a weird ammonia flavor to it.

Even weirder, she noticed that there were small manila-colored particles floating around in the blood sample. And this is where things start to get really weird.

Because she barely had a chance to say anything about it before she literally fell to the floor, saying her face felt like it was burning.

Unable to even stand, the staff had to put her on a gurney and whisk her out of the room, but as she was being wheeled out, Gochynski starts to feel light-headed.

She left the room to sit down at the nurse’s station to get her head together, and when one of the nurses asked if she was okay, she fell to the floor and began to shake uncontrollably, barely able to breathe.

At about the same time, Maureen Welch fell to the floor back in the trauma room, her arms and legs stiff and uncontrollable.

This prompted Humberto Ochoa, the Head of Emergency to order the ER evacuated. Nurses and doctors immediately scrambled to wheel their patients outside into the parking lot where they attempted to set up a temporary outdoor trauma center.

Ochoa and a few others stayed behind to work on Ramirez, trying to save her life. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at 8:50pm. Just 35 minutes after she had arrived.

But now, they had to figure out what just happened. To be safe, they moved her body to an isolation room. Along the way, one of the two orderlies began to vomit and complained that her skin was burning.

In the end, 23 of the 37 people on staff that night experienced some kind of symptom, and five were hospitalized.

Julie Gorchynski got it the worst. She would eventually spend two weeks in intensive care, suffering from hepatitis, pancreatitis, and avascular necrosis, a condition where bone tissue is deprived of blood and begins to die.

What the hell happened to Gloria Ramirez that caused her to secrete this mystery toxic substance that affected two dozen people? Was it the chemo medicine? Was she poisoned? Was this like an act of terrorism that used her as some kind of human chemical weapon?

There’s been no shortage of theories around this event, and for good reason, this is one of the craziest medical mysteries ever documented. One that would have Gloria Ramirez go down in history, unfortunately, as The Toxic Lady.

Here’s what we know about what happened. And the best theory that has been put forth so far.

All right, so back on the night of February 19th, as the ER staff was busy treating their patients in the parking lot – some of those patients being the staff themselves – a team of investigators arrived in hazmat suits to search the ER.

They were looking for any kind of volatile toxicant that could still be in the emergency room’s air. One of which was hydrogen sulfide.

Hydrogen sulfide is a poison that can kill someone after one or two whiffs if it’s at high concentrations. It also tends to smell like rotten eggs – that’s the sulfide bit.

And that was also a bit of a problem because nobody reported smelling rotten eggs when the incident occurred. Doesn’t really matter because the investigators didn’t find anything.

They also looked for phosgene, a gas that’s used in the preparation of several organic chemicals but has also been used in chemical warfare.

It’s pretty brutal, what it does is it rips open the capillaries in the lungs, and its victims basically just drown in their own blood. So, that’s fun.

Luckily for everybody on staff that night, that’s not what they experienced and it also wasn’t found in the air by the investgators. That or anything else that could explain it.

So then they examined the body, still in their moon suits to be safe.

They took blood and tissue samples and then sealed her body in an airtight aluminum crate. Again, just to be safe.

These samples were sent to the Riverside coroner, and he couldn’t find anything that stood out to him, so he sent it on for more advanced testing.

Using a computer-guided combined gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, they found codeine, lidocaine, Tylenol, and Tigan, an antinausea medication. None of which is unexpected for someone going through chemo.

There were however, a few things that were unexpected.

One of which was amine, which is a derivative of ammonia. This may have contributed to the ammonia-like smell that Susan Kane noticed in her blood.

The second standout result was nicotinamide.

Nicotinamide is a B vitamin that’s crucial to our health. You can find it in a lot of multivitamins, I’ve taken it myself at times.

So that might mean nothing but… It can also be mixed into drugs like methamphetamines. Which could be a whole different thing.

And last but not least was dimethyl sulfone; and this one was interesting because it’s usually used as an industrial solvent.

But it can be produced naturally in our bodies from amino acids that contain sulphur. It usually breaks down in the liver in three days so it’s rarely detectable. But there was a lot of it in Gloria Ramirez’ blood.

This was weird… but regardless, it wasn’t at a high enough level to kill her, much less poison the rest of the ER.

So, yeah…

With still no answers, the California Department of Health and Human Services stepped in to investigate.

They assigned doctors Ana Maria Osorio and Kirsten Waller to the case, and they interviewed 34 people who were on staff that night, compiled all the data and eventually concluded that… wait for it… It was an outbreak of mass sociogenic illness.

Mass hysteria. Like the Dancing Plague.

Their theory is that whatever that smell was in the blood triggered a panic attack that just kinda traveled around the room.

They cited the lack of any evidence for poison and the fact that the women on staff suffered the most severe symptoms. Which sounds really sexist, but the authors of the report were both women so do with that what you will.

They also found that the people who were most affected by the fumes had skipped dinner that evening, not to mention the fact that the paramedics who were in the ambulance with Ramirez suffered no symptoms, even after being in close contact with her blood and skin. In a small, enclosed area.

That… is weird actually but still, so much of this theory just doesn’t make sense.

First of all, these weren’t a bunch of shrinking violets, these were experienced ER doctors and nurses. They saw car accident victims and gunshots on a daily basis, there’s no way a bad smell would be enough to make them faint.

And by the way, it wasn’t just fainting, they had real, diagnosed physiological problems from this. Julie Gorchynski lost so much bone density, she had to be on crutches for 6 months.

6 months that she wasn’t able to work and because of this report now she couldn’t collect any kind of workers’ comp. So I think it’s pretty understandable why she filed a lawsuit.

This is when Gorchynski and her lawyer reached out to Brian Andresen at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – he’s the guy who ran the gas chromatograph tests back in March.

They felt that there must have been something to those anomalies that were found, that I talked about a minute ago.

He was still pretty stumped by the whole thing so he enlisted the help of the lab’s deputy director, a guy named Pat Grant.
Let me stop for just a second and acknowledge that I know I’m throwing a lot of names at you and it’s probably starting to feel like we’re getting a bit in the weeds here. And we are. And we’re going to go deeper into these weeds but just hang with me. This is about to get super technical but it’s worth it.

All right so we’ve got this new guy Pat Grant, he’s looking at this file while flying to a business meeting in Washington D.C. New pair of eyes and all that, and he notices something.

He speculated that the lab’s detection of dimethyl sulfone might have actually been the product of a slightly different chemical, dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO. What the hell is DMSO?

DMSO is a heavy-duty degreaser; it’s often sold in gel form at hardware stores. But it has a really interesting history.

It turns out Grant used to work in a kinesthetics lab with athletes and back in the day, it was a bit of a folk remedy for achy muscles and joints.

It used to actually be sold for that purpose but it was kinda banned in the 1970’s after some lab tests showed that it could alter the lens of the eye.

But still a lot of people swore by it, and let’s face it, when you’re in pain, you’ll do pretty much anything to make it go away.

So it wasn’t uncommon for people to just get the industrial gel form of it at the hardware store and use it to treat all kinds of painful ailments like arthritis, muscle strains, and, yes, cancer pain.

This could also explain the oily sheen they saw all over her in the ER. As well as the garlicky smell.

AND… DMSO can combine with oxygen to create dimethyl sulfone, which would explain why that was so high in her blood.

Plus the paramedics had put her on oxygen on the way to the hospital, so her blood was flush with it.

Ah, see, the pieces are coming together now, it’s all making sense. Ah-ha!Except this still doesn’t explain the incident at all, none of these chemicals are toxic in any way.

But, this started Grant thinking, if adding oxygen to DMSO creates dimethyl sulfone, what other chemicals could one create with that combination?

Especially considering how high her oxygen level was.

So he hit up the Merck Index, basically a bible of more than 10,000 biological, chemical, and drug substances.

It turns out that if you add two more oxygen atoms to dimethyl sulfone, written as (CH3)2SO2, you get dimethyl sulfate, (CH3)2SO4.

And yes, we’ve gone from dimethyl sulfoxide to dimethyl sufone to dimethyl sulfate. Thanks science.

All right, so there’s a chance she made dimethyl sulfate, what is that… Oh… It’s a poison gas.

And not just a little poisonous either, tests have shown that a 10-minute exposure to half a gram dispersed over a cubic meter of air can be fatal.

In fact it was tested as a nerve agent but never used in war.

It basically kills cells in exposed tissues like eyes, lungs, and mouth. And its symptoms include convulsions, delirium, paralysis and coma.

All of which is lining up perfectly with the symptoms from the hospital staff.

So… Here’s where things stand.

Gloria Ramirez was suffering from cancer and used DSMO as a folk remedy to help with the pain.

She collapsed – possibly from cancer-related kidney failure and the paramedics put an oxygen mask on her in the ambulance.

Her blood became oversaturated with oxygen, which mixed with the DMSO to form dimethyl sulfone, which mixed with more oxygen to create dimethyl sulfate dissolved in her blood.

The guys at Lawrence Livermore tested this theory using a substance called Ringer’s solution as a stand-in for blood.

Not only were they able to get it to work at normal body temperature, when the solution cooled to room temperature, the dimethyl sulfone began to crystalize.

This explains the white particulates that they found in the sample of Ramirez’ blood.

All of which leaves only one mystery, which is how did this dissolved dimethyl sulfate become gaseous?

Dimethyl sulfate has a pretty high vapor point, around 148 degrees celsius (300F), which is maybe one of the reasons why it was never used in combat.

But that high vapor point is at one atmosphere of pressure. The lower the pressure, the lower the vapor point.

Put water in a vacuum chamber and start lowering the pressure, it will eventually boil at room temperature. Which is why if you were ever exposed to the vacuum of space, the last thing you would experience would be the water on the surface of your eyes boiling.

Sleep tight kids.

With that in mind, when you get your blood drawn by a nurse or a phlebotomist, they use one of these. This is called a vacutainer. Which is a container… filled with a vacuum.
So when they take your blood, they stick the needle into the vein, then pop the vacutainer on there and that vacuum pulls the blood into the tube. It’s pretty brilliant.

But in this… Incredibly specific and unique case, that vacuum caused a tiny amount of the dimethyl sulfate to vaporize, and poison 23 people. Because say it with me folks… PRESSURE CHANGES EVERYTHING.

And this provides the last ribbon and bow to wrap up the mystery of Gloria Ramirez, the Toxic Lady.

Of course, this theory has its detractors.

Those who disagree with this theory point out the fact that dimethyl sulfate doesn’t hit people like it did the staff. It’s more like tear gas.

So, while the staff didn’t start to cry from the vapors, they did report a burning sensation.

And its effects take hours to materialize, but the staff experienced it immediately.
Rameriz’s family wasn’t buying the theory, either. They insist that she never used DMSO and requested an independent autopsy two months after she died.

But by that point the body was extremely decomposed, and her heart and other organs were missing. Also, apparently what was left was contaminated with fecal matter. Yikes.

This of course, has led to a lot of suspicion that the hospital is involved in some kind of cover-up.

Maybe the wildest theory that has been floated was the hospital was manufacturing methamphetamine and smuggling it into IV bags, one of which was accidentally used on Rameriz.

In the end, the Livermore Lab’s theory is the most accepted so far. And it’s got plenty of tests and experiments to back it up.

But still it is just a theory. We’ll likely never know exactly what happened on that weird night in 1994. Luckily nothing like that has happened since that we know of.

Which actually leads me to believe the DMSO theory, it was just such a unique set of circumstances, everything had to be just right for it to happen.

And I should probably close by recognizing that at the heart of this mystery is an actual person, who was tragically taken far too soon, and is sadly remembered for the single weirdest thing about her life, that thing being how it ended. Rest in peace.

The One Where I Get Slightly Political And Lose Half My Subscribers

Elections are coming up in the United States, so I thought it was a good opportunity to talk about the best and worst voting systems in the world. Why are US elections so weird? And how can it be fixed?


Sorry, hold on one second, just deleting all these texts asking for campaign contributions…Sorry, hold on one second, just deleting all these texts asking for campaign contributions…
All right, sorry about that, so if you’re in the US, you probably know the midterms are upon us, a–
And according to about 50 of the texts I just deleted, it’s possibly the most substantial midterm election in our lifetimes. This isn’t untrue.
This is an important election, there’s a lot on the line, but doesn’t it feel like every election is THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION EVER lately?
Why do we seem to just bounce from one crisis point to another when it comes to our elections in the United States?

I mean, as we all learned in school, this country is the last great bastion of democracy in the world. Also, the first bastion of democracy. The beginning and the end of everything. Also the only free country in the world, the richest country in the world, the strongest military in the world, the smartest country in the world, the shimmering city on a hill…

Maybe the reason we bounce from one election crisis to another is  because when it comes to elections anyway, we’re none of those things. In fact, compared to a lot of other countries… we kinda suck at it.
All right before I lose all the flag-waving Americans in my audience, let’s start by acknowledging something here… the founding of the United States was a pivotal moment in the history of democracy in the world.

No, we didn’t invent democracy, in fact we gained our independence from a country with a parliamentary system, though with an unelected head of state.
And there were democracies in ancient Greece, that’s where the term comes from, plus many indigenous tribes had forms of democracy.
But the United States, according to many historians, is the oldest continuous democracy in the world. And you know what? We should be proud of that.
The problem is… We’re the oldest democracy in the world.

You know how the original iPhone was like a total game changer and launched us into the era of smartphones and now every other company is doing the same thing, arguably better in some ways?

Yeah, the original iPhone was amazing, it literally changed the world. But would you want to use the original iPhone now?
The election system in the United States is the original iPhone of election systems.
Although to be fair, it has evolved some over the years, so maybe it’s closer to an iPhone 6?
Also, in the interest of accuracy, the US isn’t one election system, it’s more of a patchwork of election systems because every state kinda has its own take on it but that’s my metaphor and I’m sticking to it.

The way the US runs elections made perfect sense 230 years ago. But the world has changed a lot since then and a lot of the newer democracies were able to jump in with newer systems that make a lot more sense today.
This is why, as much as we love to pride ourselves on being a free and democratic country, many international freedom watchdogs don’t have us at the top of the list. In fact we’re nowhere near the top.

We can start with Freedom House, which doesn’t have rankings per se, just lists countries as “Free, Partly Free, and Not Free”

Gotta love the simplicity.

Well they have the US listed as Free, which is a good start, and they give us a grade of 83 out of 100. Not great not terrible.
Then you’ve got the Democracy Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit, which has been keeping track of democracy trends since 1946.

They rank countries in 4 categories, Full Democracy, Flawed Democracy, Hybrid Regime, and Authoritarian.

They rank the US at 26th in the world, and in fact, we don’t even make the top category, coming in as a Flawed Democracy.
And one more I’ll point out is the Democracy Matrix from the German Research Foundation. They rank countries as Working Democracies, Deficient Democracies, Hybrid Regime, Moderate Autocracy, and Hard Autocracy.
And, again, we don’t crack the top category in this one, we come in as a Deficient Democracy, and ranked 36th in the world.
The countries that performed the best in these studies were:
(US is 36th

Democracy Matrix (German Research Foundation)

  1. Demark
  2. Norway
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Germany
  6. Switzerland
  7. Netherlands
  8. New Zealand
  9. Belgium
  10. Costa Rica

Democracy Index
(Economic Intelligence Unit)

  1. Norway
  2. Finland
  3. New Zealand
  4. Sweden
  5. Iceland
  6. Denmark
  7. Ireland
  8. Taiwan
  9. Australia
  10. Switzerland

Common ones:

  • Norway
  • Finland
  • Denmark
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • New Zealand

And in case you’re wondering , there wasn’t quite as much agreement on the bottom 10 in each of these studies, but two that did make the worst of the worst were North Korea and Syria.

Bottom 10s

Democracy Matrix:

  1. Eritrea
  2. North Korea
  3. Yemen
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. China
  6. South Sudan
  7. Syria
  8. Qatar
  9. Palestine/Gaza
  10. Sudan

Democracy Index:

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Myanmar
  3. North Korea
  4. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  5. Central African Republic
  6. Syria
  7. Turkmenistan
  8. Chad
  9. Laos
  10. Equatorial Guinea

So I mean… At least we’re not them.

If you want to go into the details of how they made these rankings, what were the criteria and all that, I’ll put the links down in the description, feel free to take a look for yourselves. But the point is, we’ve got room to improve. And a lot.

There’s a long list of problems with our voting system in the US, from the outsized influence of money in politics, to rampant gerrymandering, to the electoral college system, all of which have led to an apathetic electorate that feels like their vote doesn’t matter, so they stay home.
Leading to the US having one of the lowest voter participation rates in the Western world.

Gerrymandering rant – dying on this hill

But the argument has been made, and I find it very compelling, that at the heart of all these issues is the voting system itself; the way we count the votes.
That’s right kids, we’re gonna talk about First Past The Post voting.
First Past The Post is basically “winner take all.” In other words, you count the votes and who ever gets the most votes wins. Which… sounds like it makes sense. I mean that’s democracy right?
And yeah, that does make sense – in a strictly 2-party system.

If you only have two people running, then whoever wins will by definition get more than 50% of the vote.
But add just one more person to it, whether it’s a third party or if you’re voting for multiple people in say a primary, then things start to not work so well.
If that third person gets any significant number of votes, you end up with someone winning the election without getting 50% of the vote.
In other words they win a plurality but not a majority.

So you could wind up with a representative that 60% of people voted against. And the more candidates in the race, the smaller the percentage of the vote the winner receives, and the less democratic the whole thing becomes.
This sounds like a little thing. But it’s not. It leads to some pretty bad results over time.
For example, the spoiler effect.

Let’s say you create a third party because you don’t feel either party really represents you clearly. In a First Past The Post system, you are basically ensuring that you will siphon votes away from the party you most align with and hand the election to the guy from the party you least align with.
In 2000, Ralph Nader ran as a strong Green party candidate on a progressive platform and wound up pulling just enough votes away from Al Gore to swing the election to George W. Bush.

Which, by the way, he did not win the popular vote or get more than 50%.
And hey, if you’re on the right side of the aisle and don’t like that I’m pointing that out, let me direct your attention to the election of 1992 when Ross Perot ran as a conservative Independent and basically handed the election to Bill Clinton.

Perot got almost 20 million votes, but didn’t win a single state, got zero electoral college votes, and Clinton won with only 43% of the popular vote.
I actually walked past Ross Perot at the mall here in Dallas one time…  It’s not much of a story but it happened.
But the point is, he was able to get 20 million votes because there’s a lot of Republicans that are fiscally conservative but don’t care about the social wedge issues that the Republican party gets involved in.
Or from the other side, maybe you’re a big environmentalist but you think the Democrats are too corrupt so you want to vote for the Green party, but in our current system you know that’s just going to help out the Republican, who wants to do away with the EPA.

Voters in this system are constantly having to vote strategically and play 4D chess and support the least bad candidate rather than actually vote for the person or cause they believe in.
It’s like every time you step in the ballot box you have to hold your nose and vote for someone you don’t like so the other guy doesn’t win. Or as South Park said, you’re always choosing between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.
So yeah. People don’t really get excited about voting.
To go even further, in our winner-take-all system, the party that has control of the house or senate, even if it’s just by one seat, gets to control all the committees.
So there’s no incentive to work together.
Candidates also have no incentive to move to the middle as they will always get primaried by the political extremes. All of which just moves the parties further and further apart. Leading to the polarization we see today.

All of this comes down to the way we count the votes. It’s not a left or right issue, it’s a systems issue. So let’s look at some different – arguably better – ways of doing it.
There are essentially three types of voting systems: Plurality/Majority, Proportional Representation, and Mixed System.
And every country has their own variations of these systems, there’s no way to cover all of them but here’s a few examples.
So under the Plurality/Majority category, you have First Past The Post, then there’s the Two-Round system, block voting, and party block voting.
First Past The Post we talked about earlier, the Two Round System is a way to prevent someone from winning the election without a majority.
Basically you have a first round of elections and if nobody gets more than 50% of the vote, you have a second round of voting with the top two candidates, that way nobody wins without getting a majority.

Block voting has voters use as many votes as there are seats to fill in their district. They’re often free to vote for candidates regardless of party affiliation.
One advantage is that this system helps retain a voter’s ability to vote for individual candidates while increasing the role of parties at the same time.

Party Block voting is kinda like Block Voting but you vote for a party and not for an individual candidate.
It’s a simple-to-use system, but it suffers from some of the same disadvantages found in FPTP.

So those are all examples of Majority/Plurality systems, the next major system of voting is Proportional Representation, often just shortened to PR.
It takes the percentage of total votes a political party receives and assigns the number of seats that party will have in a legislature.

So let’s say you have a legislature with 100 seats for easy math, and the Orange party gets 40% of the vote, the Green party gets 30%, the Red party gets 20% and the Blue Party gets 10%.
Those parties would be given 40, 30, 20, and 10 seats respectively.
This way the overall proportion of people’s interest is reflected in the representation.
An advantage of a PR system is that it often reflects accurately how a population has voted. Plus there are few wasted votes.
It also encourages the development of multiple parties. And, it incentivizes those parties to work together to form coalitions. Thus, moving parties more to the center rather than the extremes.
One disadvantage is that this system may weaken constituencies. In other words, local districts and county representation is less prioritized than the overall mix of public sentiment.

Mixed Systems

And then you’ve got Mixed Systems which are exactly what they sound like, they’re a combination of First Past The Post and Proportional Representation.
So a voter would have two ballots when they vote, one that’s a party vote for a proportional house chamber and one that’s for a candidate for a representative house chamber.
This way the overall will of the people is reflected but also local constituencies are also represented.

Ranked Choice, Single Transferable Vote, Alternative Vote

But no talk of different voting systems is complete without talking about Ranked Choice Voting. Also known as Single Transferable Vote… And Alternative Voting… And Instant Runoff Voting… Multiple names are fun.

I’ll stick with Ranked Choice voting for the purposes of this video because with Ranked Choice voting, you – wait for it – rank your choices.
So instead of just casting one vote for one candidate, you rank the candidates based on your preference.
For example if you’re a Libertarian and feel like the Republicans have gotten a little too brownshirty for your taste, you can actually vote Libertarian as your first choice, Republican your second choice and on down the line.

And then if your top choice doesn’t get a majority, your vote will go to your second choice. If that doesn’t get a majority, it’ll go to your third choice and so on.
This way you can actually vote your conscience and know that you’re not wasting your vote or actually leaning the table toward the party you least agree with.
In this system, third party candidates actually have a chance, voters can actually vote their conscience, and parties are incentivized to move to the center because if they get too extreme, their base can always vote for another party.

So let’s go back and take a look at those 6 countries that keep showing up in the top 10 democracy rankings, what do they do?

As I said before, there’s a million different ways of doing these things, and every country has their own twist on it but most international election observers agree some form of proportional representation is the most fair and democratic election system going.
People in these countries feel more represented, they have more say in their government, and their quality of living and happiness levels are higher.
Look at that, something that actually trickles down.


A Bicameral legislature

Instead of a House of Commons/House of Lords situation based on land districts…A proportional house and a district house.

In the Proportional House, people vote statewide for the party of their choosing and the seats are filled according to the proportion of votes each party receives. Seats are filled by votes within the party.The District House, people vote directly for candidates that represent their districts, but it’s done by ranked-choice voting so people can vote their true beliefsThis way the overall will of the people can be represented proportionally but the interest of regional communities is preserved.

Maybe you want to adopt a voting system like this, are there any politicians currently advocating for it.
How do we change this when the people in charge benefit from the current system?
Until we can get that done, we have to operate in the system we have, so here are some resources to get out and vote. Find the best online resources for people to learn about their candidates, find their polling places and make a plan.


It might sound impossible to get something like this done in the United States. Things just feel too stuck.
But to be fair to ourselves, we have evolved our voting systems before.
Originally only white, land-owning males were allowed to vote. In other words, the elite. Those rights were expanded over time, in fact, to be fair, one could make the argument that the history of the United States is one of regular expansion of voting rights – with irregular periods of backsliding.
Just to hammer this point home a little more, women’s suffrage happened just over 100 years ago. There are people alive right now who were born at a time when literally half the country wasn’t allowed to vote.

Alaska recently started using Ranked Choice voting and elected their first indigenous person to congress.
Many states joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, where they pledge to vote along with the winner of the popular vote to prevent electoral college upsets.
Things are slowly changing, and they can change. But the only way to do that is to vote for politicians who want to open access to voting rights, not restrict it.
I can’t tell you who or what to vote for. But if a better, more representative and less extreme democracy is important to you, you have to get out and vote in the next couple of weeks. Here are some resources to help you:


First is Vote, this is run by the League of Women Voters, and this is a pretty great website, just enter your street address and they’ll tell you when the election is, where your polling place is located, you can even pull up a sample ballot so you can see who’s running for what and in many cases what their positions are on various issues. You can also register to vote from here, depending on where you’re from, and they show upcoming debates and forums so you can get involved.
Then there’s, where you can check your registration and do it online if you need to, find your polling place, get election reminders, and find specific rules and info about your individual state.
And remember Rock The Vote? It’s still a thing! At, you can check your registration status, request an absentee ballot, click on your state on a map and find out all the rules for your state, and find a sample ballot, plus a lot of other information.
I’ll put links to all those in the description, of course there’s always the option of just Googling this information but hey, somebody else has already done this work for you, you might as well take them up on it.

But that’s really the main takeaway from this video. Yes, our election system is frustrating and ancient and it makes you want to give up on it altogether.
But that’s all the more reason that you should vote. The only way to move anything is to show up in massive numbers.
Right now we are in a bit of a crisis point. Polarization is about as bad as it’s ever been and faith in our elections is under attack. Again, I’m not here to tell you who to vote for. But I do encourage you to make a plan and do it. As the meme says, if your vote didn’t count, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep you from doing it.
And I hope this has been interesting enough to get you to look into other election systems and advocate for things like proportional representation and ranked choice voting. It’s time to upgrade the iPhone.
Or get the new Samsung whatever if you don’t like Apple– look, the metaphor’s hanging on by a thread but I’m sticking with it.


The Healing Power Of Wonder – Damian Skinner Episode 19

Damian Skinner is the founder of Camp Wonderment, a unique approach towards children’s mental health. By walking kids through a fantasy narrative, they learn how to identify and minimize the impact of traumatic events in their lives. Here we talk about the power of narrative, the importance of the feeling of wonder, and the inspirations that led him to this idea.

Find out more about Camp Wonderment on their website:

The Archeological Find That Broke History

In the mountains of Turkey lies a series of buried monoliths going back nearly a dozen millennia. It’s an archeological site known as Göbekli Tepe, and it’s changed everything we knew about the rise of human civilizations.


This is a piece of a brick from a 2,000 year old Roman fort that I visited in England maybe 20 years ago or so. I just saw it laying there on the ground and… took it.

I know, it was wrong, if everybody took one there wouldn’t be anything left, but it was my first time overseas and I’d just never seen anything that old… and it blew my mind.

Some actual human being who was walking around at the same time as Jesus picked up this brick and placed it on wall and smeared it with mortar and created a dwelling for someone else to live in.

Before that, a different person transported it there on a horse and cart probably, and before that, another person sold the brick to that guy, and before that a different guy altogether formed the brick and put it in a kiln.

Because that’s how a civilization works, lots of different people doing lots of different specialized jobs, working together in a system that provides for everyone.

It took a long time for human beings to advance to this point, to go from bands of hunter-gatherers – generalists, basically – to specialists. And the conventional wisdom has always been that it had to do with agriculture.

It took the agricultural revolution to not only provide a more stable food source but also it forced humanity to specialize and congregate and create systems to produce it and distribute it and trade with it. And it was out of that necessity that the first cities sprang up.

Most of these early cities were centered around the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The city-state of Uruk has always been considered the first city going back to 6000 years ago.

This is how civilization began as we understand it. It works. It makes sense. The pieces all fit together perfectly…
And then we found Göbekli Tepe.

For hundreds of years, the locals of the Anatolia region of Turkey knew of a unique hill in the Germuş mountains that rose slowly over the surrounding landscape to a moderate height of about 50 meters.

They called this hill “Potbelly Hill” and used it for sheep pasturing and agriculture.

Göbekli Tepe means “potbelly hill” in Turkish.
And that’s just what it was, a random hill with sheep on it until the 1960s, when it was first examined by a team of anthropologists from the University of Chicago and Istanbul University.

They found limestone and flint artifacts and assumed it was an abandoned medieval cemetery.

And that theory held until 1994 when German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt got ahold of the researchers’ reports, and he saw something different.

He had been was working on a survey of prehistoric sites in that region and something about the reports just didn’t read right to him. So he went to check it out for himself.

When he got there, he immediately knew he found something special, saying,
“In one minute – in one second – it was clear.”

What was clear to him was that this was no mere cemetery, and certainly nothing as recent as the middle ages. This was something much bigger, that probably went back to the stone ages.

He returned the next year with five colleagues, and that’s when they they discovered a series of megaliths, buried just below the ground.

Some were buried so close to the surface that plows scarred them.

These megaliths would become Schmidt’s life work for the next 20 years. But at the time, his team didn’t find any signs of a settlement. Things like houses, trash pits, or cooking hearths.

They did discover evidence of tool use, like blades and stone hammers, which actually matched artifacts in nearby sites that had been dated to around 9000 BCE. So they assumed this site was roughly that age as well.

Carbon dating on the structures later on would confirm that assumption. Making Göbekli Tepe twice as old as Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.
Like Stonehenge, Göbekli Tepe’s structure includes circles of T-shaped limestone pillars, many of them featuring etchings of animals on them, like birds, foxes, lions, and scorpions.

The site’s pillars are arranged in circles of up to 20 meters (65 feet) in diameter.

And since there’s no evidence that it was used for animal domestication or farming, archaeologists believe hunter-gathers may have built it.
Thing is, the site features some architectural complexity that could’ve been too advanced for hunter-gathers.

A study published in the Cambridge Archeological Journal in 2020 explored the question of whether the site’s round enclosures were a cohesive scheme or built without reference to each other.
As study co-author and archaeologist Gil Haklay told Haaretz at the time:

“There is a lot of speculation that the structures were built successively, possibly by different groups of people, and that one was covered up while the next one was being built. But there is no evidence that they are not contemporaneous.”

The researchers used a computer algorithm based on standard deviation mapping to analyze the underlying architecture.

What they found was that three of the enclosures look like they were designed together in a triangular, geometric pattern.

So, the site comprises two, main layers.

Layer III is the oldest, made up of large, curvilinear enclosures, and it’s from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period around 8300 to 7500 BCE.

Layer II is from the early and middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B periods around 7500-6000 BCE.

It features smaller, rectangular structures with lime-plaster floors all crowded together with shared walls.
Layer III’s enclosures experienced a series of backfilling events indicating like they were intentionally buried. This is has been a major component of the study’s theories around the history of Göbekli Tepe.
Because the structure’s center points formed an almost-perfect triangle with sides measuring 19 meters (63 feet) in length.

So the question becomes, did the original builders build one enclosure first and then planned the other two based on it to create a triangle? Or did different groups build them over time?

According to archaeologist Anna Belfer-Cohen, who, full disclosure, was not a part of the study, quote:

“[I]t is more likely that there were many different groups that considered this entire area sacred and converged on it to erect the enclosures, rather than a single group that went crazy and just constructed these complexes day and night.”
So, who were these people? And what were they doing there?

Was it a settlement or a city of some kind? Schmidt didn’t think so, mostly because there’s so few residential buildings and not much evidence of cultivation in the surrounding land.

Instead, he believed the site was a sanctuary and regional pilgrimage center where people gathered to perform religious rites.

The site does contain a lot of butchered animal bones, which may be evidence of feeding large numbers of people or for sacrifices.

But recent evidence shows that Schmidt may have been wrong about that. In fact, the site may have supported a semi-sedentary population from the beginning.
And it was kinda found by accident.

After Schmidt died in 2014 the site became a bit of a tourist attraction, so they decided to put up a giant fabric canopy to provide shade.

To do so they had to dig deep into the earth to build a foundation for the canopy, way deeper than they’d ever dug before down to the bedrock.

And it was way down there that they found evidence of houses and a year-round settlement. So, it may have been a thriving village with large buildings at its center for special events.

They also found a large cistern, channels for collecting rainwater, and thousands of grinding tools for processing grain.

As Schmidt’s successor Lee Clare told BBC in August 2021:

“Göbekli Tepe is still a unique, special site, but the new insights fit better with what we know from other sites. It was a fully-fledged settlement with permanent occupation. It’s changed our whole understanding of the site.”
So, cool, Göbekli Tepe was a fully-fledged civilization. Except not cool. Because that kinda breaks history.

As I said before, our understanding has always been that places like this were only possible after the advent of farming. Stonehenge, the pyramids, even the astronomical site of Nabta Playa that goes back 7,000 years, all of these coincide with the earliest use of agriculture.

Göbekli Tepe may even go back as far as 15,000 years ago. Not only way earlier than agriculture, but way before there were domesticated pack animals or metal tools. This whole thing was done by human hands.

This required massive amounts of effort and coordination. Which leads to maybe the biggest mystery of all – why? Why was it built in the first place?

A pair of chemical engineers made headlines in 2017 when they suggested that the animal carvings on the site’s pillars lined up with the positions of stars thousands of years ago.

They argued in a paper published in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry that the vulture stone carved on Pillar 43 is a “date stamp” for a comet strike 13,000 years ago.
As the study’s lead author Martin Sweatman said in a press release:

“It appears Göbekli Tepe was, among other things, an observatory for monitoring the night sky. One of its pillars seems to have served as a memorial to this devastating event — probably the worst day in history since the end of the Ice Age.”

This idea… isn’t shared by everyone. The archaeologists on the ground weren’t buying it, saying quote:

“It is highly unlikely that early Neolithic hunters in Upper Mesopotamia recognized the exact same celestial constellations as described by ancient Egyptian, Arabian, and Greek scholars, which still populate our imagination today.”
To be clear, I don’t think they’re suggesting that the positions of the stars would have changed in that time, just that when they looked at those stars, it’s unlikely they would have seen the same symbols that future civilizations would have seen.

Keep in mind, the Greeks thought this was a bear. So, you know… interpretations change.

Maybe even more mind-blowing is that Göbekli Tepe was just the beginning. Turkish archaeologists working in the countryside around the site have found dozens of similar hilltop sites, all of them with T-shaped pillars and dating from around the same time period.

And in fact, some of these other sites show evidence that people were experimenting with domesticated animals and plants. So some believe the Göbekli Tepe site may have been a last-ditch effort by a hunter-gatherer society to hang on to their vanishing lifestyle as the world was transitioning to farming.

A society struggling to adapt as a new technology takes hold? What must that be like?

One piece of evidence supporting that theory is that Göbekli Tepe’s stone carvings feature animals that you wouldn’t have seen every day in that area.

As Clare said:

“They’re more than just pictures, they’re narratives, which are very important in keeping groups together and creating a shared identity.”
So we know that Göbekli Tepe wasn’t alone. But now we know that it may not have even been the oldest.

Boncuklu Tarla in southeastern Turkey resembles the discoveries found at Göbekli Tepe but could be 1,000 years older than Göbekli.

Located 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Göbekli, Boncuklu Tarla’s excavations have unearthed houses, private and public buildings, 130 skeletons, and more than 100,000 beads.
Karahan Tepe is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Göbekli Tepe and is considered its sister site.

Findings suggest it was active during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, and has a lot of similarities with Göbekli’s Layer II.

These include 266 T-shaped pillars and animal reliefs depicting birds, gazelles, insects, rabbits, and snakes.

The site also includes circular homes and ceremonial structures, like one chamber that contains 11 giant phalluses watched over by a bearded head with a serpent’s body.

Like you do.

Unlike Göbekli Tepe, there are more depictions of humans at Karahan Tepe. This could mean people then began to see themselves as distinct from the animal world.

The site was intentionally buried and abandoned over time. Which seems to be the fate for most of these Turkish sites. For reasons that we may never know.
But before I close this thing out, I feel like if we’re going to talk about ancient cities, we probably should talk about Jericho.

Göbekli Tepe gets a lot of attention because it’s sexy and mysterious, but Jericho is almost as old, and it’s been continuously inhabited this whole time.

Jericho is, in fact, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city.

The famous Tower of Jericho is one of the first indications that hunter-gathers stayed and built a community in the area, and it was built around 12,000 years ago.

The exact purpose of the tower has long been debated. It was built to be seen, and it could have been a gathering place for the community.

Jericho likely transitioned completely to farming around 7,000 years ago.

There’s evidence that people there grew barley, chickpeas, lentils, and wheat. They also domesticated goats and sheep.

The city was also located next to a huge spring, making it an ideal place to live for many years.
So Jericho was able to adapt with the times and transition to new technologies, new societies, new religions even… But they are the exception to the rule. Most ancient cities eventually fall and crumble under the weight of time.

And I’m sure there are many other ancient cities to be found. Fully-fledged civilizations confidently sure of their superiority and place at the center of a universe that was created just for them. People who couldn’t possibly imagine their great cities and ceremonial places could ever be forgotten to history. And yet, here we are.

I guess you could say, feeling timeless is timeless.

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