The Electrifying Robert Llewellyn – Episode 16

Robert Llewellyn is the host of the YouTube channel Fully Charged thought he might be better known by some as the actor who plays Kryten in the British sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf. He joined me today for a causal chat about all things electric vehicles and sustainability along with a bunch of other random stuff. Enjoy!

When New England Had A Vampire Problem

Vampires have been a part of folklore for hundreds of years, but in parts of New England in the 18th and 19th centuries, they were a very real. Let’s talk about the New England Vampire Panic.


This is Salem Massachusetts, which famously got caught up in a witch craze in 1692 that led to the executions of 19 people. It was a society gone mad, overcome by fear and superstition. And it’s not the last time this happened.This is Salem Massachusetts, which famously got caught up in a witch craze in 1692 that led to the executions of 19 people. It was a society gone mad, overcome by fear and superstition. And it’s not the last time this happened.
In fact, 200 years later in 1892, you get the story of Mercy Brown.

Mercy Brown was the unassuming daughter of George Brown, a Rhode Island farmer whose life had just been through a series of tragedies.
Tuberculosis had been ravaging the area, they called it “consumption” at the time and in this outbreak George lost his wife Mary, his daughter, Mary Olive Brown, and in the same year Mercy Brown herself died of the illness.
And even as he was burying Mercy, his son Edwin became sick.
But if Mercy’s life had been unassuming, her death would be nothing of the sort.
Because two months later, a mob of people from the town of Exeter dug up Mercy’s body, pulled out her heart and set it on fire.
Mercy unfortunately got caught up in a Salem Witch style mass hysteria event that took place in New England in the late 1800s. Only they didn’t think Mercy was a witch… They thought she was a vampire.

Just to put that time period into perspective, this was the 1890s, the Gilded Age, we had lightbulbs and telephones, transatlantic steamships… Mercedes had its first car on the road at this point.
We even had the germ theory of medicine, though it was still in its early days and hadn’t been universally adopted. In a lot of areas the old folk remedies and superstitions held sway.
And rural New England was one of those places.

By the way, Mercy Brown was not an isolated event, another story involves Rachel Harris of Manchester, Vermont.
This was about 100 years earlier in 1790, but Rachel died from tuberculosis. Her husband then married her stepsister, Hulda, who also started to show signs of TB.
And yeah, the local townspeople thought that it was Rachel’s fault. That she was escaping her grave at night and enacting revenge on her stepsister.
So they exhumed Rachel’s corpse in February 1793. They removed her heart, liver, and lungs and burned them on a blacksmith’s forge.

This was a big event by the way, 500 people showed up to take part in this. In fairness, there probably wasn’t a whole lot else to do in 1793 Vermont.
Regardless, despite their valiant efforts, it didn’t stop Hulda from dying in September of that year. 
So, this was a real thing, people were really convinced that vampires existed and preyed on the living.
But these aren’t exactly the vampires we think of today. Today we’ve seen vampires imagined in just about every way possible, from Count Dracula, to Edward Cullen from Twilight, and Grandpa Munster from The Munsters.

But all vampires in fiction have a few core characteristics in common:

  • They drink human blood
  • They can turn their victims into vampires
  • They prey on their victims at night because the sun kills them
  • They have hypnotic powers
  • And they can’t see their images in mirrors and have no shadows.

Of course a lot of what we now think of as a vampire was first popularized by Bram Stoker when he wrote Dracula in 1897.

He was the first person to take all these folk stories about vampires and codify them in a way.
It’s thought that he named the character Dracula after Vlad III, who ruled an area of modern day Romania called Wallachia from 1456-1462.
His father was Vlad the second, who went by Vlad Dracul, meaning Vlad the Dragon. So Vlad the third was called Dracula.

He was also called Vlad the Impaler, because he got a kick out of impaling his enemies on wooden stakes.
And it was also said he enjoyed dining among his dying victims and would dip his bread in their blood. Which is horrifying… And really unsanitary.
Another historical figure that may have inspired Bram Stoker is a Hungarian countess named Elizabeth Báthory.

If you’ve never heard of Elizabeth Báthory, it’s probably because she KILLED EVERYONE WHO MET HER.
It’s rumored that she tortured and murdered more than 600 young women during the 16th and 17th centuries. And she would even bathe in the victim’s blood.
It should be noted that these accusations may have been politically motivated and completely untrue, but they tied into beliefs that people already had about monsters drinking the blood of others.

These stories go back to the middle ages as plagues began to spread throughout Europe. People didn’t know what was going on, and often turned to folk takes and the supernatural to explain it.
For example, some of the victims of the plague had mouth lesions that bled, and some thought that their mouths were bloody because they were drinking other people’s blood.

The point is there are a few diseases that historians think were related to vampire stories.
The first one isRabies
In 1998, neurologist Juan Gomez-Alonso published a paper in Neurology that argued the symptoms of rabies might explain vampire myths.
Rabies lyssavirus causes rabies in animals. It’s transmitted through direct contact with saliva or brain/nervous tissue from an infected animal.
Rabies infects the central nervous system. Once it reaches the brain, it can cause things like agitation, anxiety, confusion, and hallucinations before killing the victim.

Yeah, have you ever really looked into rabies? Rabies SUCKS.
People with rabies… go rabid. They bite and scratch and claw at people like a wild animal.
Seeing a person do that might put some ideas in your head.
The article also mentions that people who die from rabies often die from suffocation or cardiorespiratory arrest.
This can make the blood less likely to coagulate and slow the decomposition, which to some people might look like the dead person is more undead than dead.
He also pointed out correlations in rabies outbreaks and the birth of vampire tales in the 1720s in Eastern Europe.

In fact, one physician in 1733 got closer than he thought when he described vampirism as, “a contagious illness more or less of the same nature as that which comes from the bite of a rabid dog.”

But another contender is Porphyria
So, rabies may explain the biting and scratching parts of vampire lore, but other characteristics could be explained by a blood condition called porphyria.
For people with porphyria, their bodies don’t make heme, which is an essential part of hemoglobin, that’s what carries oxygen in our blood.
There are two, broad types of porphyria:- Acute porphyrias which affect the nervous system- Cutaneous porphyrias that affect the skin

The most common type of acute porphyria is acute intermittent porphyria, which causes sudden and painful attacks.
These attacks may include seizures, breathing problems, and red or brown urine. (which one might expect one’s urine to look like if one were drinking a lot of blood)
And these attacks are often set off by triggers, including stress, medications, and sunlight.

Similarly the skin porphyria is set off by sunlight and can cause blisters or excessive hair growth
Porphyria cutanea tarda (PET) is the most common form of cutaneous porphyrias. It is characterized by extreme sensitivity to sunlight.
If exposed to sunlight, people with PET might experience skin blisters, excessive hair growth, and red or brown urine.

So… They’re burned by sunlight, so they only come out at night, and they have red pee. Like they’ve guzzled so much blood, their urine is red.
And actually one of the treatments for porphyria was to drink animal blood.
People have even speculated that repeated porphyria attacks may cause facial disfigurement and gums to recede, leading to the teeth having a “fanged” look.
Oh, and believe it or not, garlic has a high sulfur content, and thus can make it a potential trigger for a porphyria attack.
So there’s a lot of interesting connections there, and I definitely could see people mistaking that disease for vampirism, but I don’t think that’s where it all came from.
Porphyria is a very rare disease so it’s unlikely that all the vampire myths came from the very few people walking around with that. However, seeing someone like that back in the day may have reinforced any belief they had.

But the disease that’s most associated with vampires is Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is especially associated with the New England vampire beliefs in the 18th and 19th centuries.
A bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes TB, which destroys lung tissue and can be fatal if not treated properly.
People who experience untreated TB lose weight, become weak, have fevers, and can cough up blood.
It basically makes a person look like blood is being slowly drained out of their bodies, like they wake up every morning a little bit paler than the day before. Like something it taking it from them in the middle of the night.
TB can also spread from person to person through the air, but most people back then didn’t know how that worked.

So, it’s no wonder they may have thought a supernatural creature was sucking the life out of those dying from TB. And usually that creature was someone who had recently died.
By the way, while we’re at it, there are other supernatural myths that may have a disease to thank.


Werewolves may have also been inspired by rabies for all the reasons I listed before, there’s also a a condition called lycanthropy that makes people hallucinate that they are a four-legged animal.
There is also hypertrichosis, which in some types causes hair to grow all over a person’s body, giving them a little Teen Wolf flavor.


Witches are sometimes associated with ergot poisoning, which is a wheat fungus that can cause manic episodes and hallucinations.
But in the case of the vampire craze in 18th and 19th century New England… It was TB.
A disease that so appears to consume the body that they actually called it Consumption. It’s easy to see why one might suspect it’s something else consuming the body. Maybe someone who had just died. Someone like Mercy Brown.

As tuberculosis ravaged nearby Exeter, the townspeople began to suspect things, maybe out of desperation. They started looking around for patterns.
And while everybody had suffered in this outbreak, maybe none more so than George Brown, who had lost is wife, his two daughters, and now his only son was sick as well.
I can only imagine that when some of the townspeople came to visit, shovels in hand, insisting on digging up his family, George was just too exhausted to object.
They dug up his wife Mary and older daughter Mary-Olive, but they had deteriorated to the point it wasn’t possibly them. But Mercy, who had only been in the ground for 2 months in the winter… looked remarkably fresh. In fact, her hair and nails seem to have grown a little and blood still pooled in her body.

So they did the thing the folk tales say to do… they took out her heart, burned it and mixed the ashes into a potion for Edwin to drink. This would hopefully cure him of the vampire curse.
It didn’t. He died a few months later.
The Mercy Brown story did make some headlines and in fact, clippings of these articles were found in Bram Stoker’s files after he died, so he did know about it and may have even been inspired by
The vampire panics started to die down in the 20th century when medical knowledge improved and tuberculosis became treatable with antibiotics. In fact Mercy Brown was one of the very last “confirmed” vampires in America.

The vampire panics started to die down in the 20th century when medical knowledge improved and tuberculosis became treatable with antibiotics. In fact Mercy Brown was one of the very last “confirmed” vampires in America.  

Today, her gravesite is a tourist attraction. Visitors to her grave may see gifts left behind, like jewelry and flowers.
Or in one case, a note that just said, “You go, girl.”

Analyzing Webb’s First Images with Christian Ready – Episode 15

Christian Ready is an astronomer and professor at Towson University in Maryland, he worked previously at the Space Telescope Science Institute and NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, and he shares his expertise and excitement for all things space on his YouTube channel, Launch Pad Astronomy. Today, he joins me to take a deeper look at the first images to come out of the James Webb Space Telescope, talk about what a big deal this is, and basically nerd out about the cosmos for a while.

Go check out his YouTube channel at

Is Monkeypox A Real Problem Or Just Clickbait?

The headlines have been breathlessly warning of a new outbreak of the Monkeypox virus, and the WHO just declared it an international emergency. Are we really on the verge of yet another pandemic? Is monkeypox something you should be worried about? Or is it just clickbait? Let’s take a look.


A pox upon ye.

That’s right everyone, COVID-19 is so last season, the new hotness on the plague scene is Monkeypox.
So do you want to be on-trend with the latest and greatest disease outbreak in town, then stick around because we’ve got the ins and outs on Really? Another pandemic? Really?

Here We Go Again

Well, we had a good run. There were a few weeks there where it looked like Covid was finally starting to wane, or at least become manageable. Things started feeling kinda normal again. (a beat) I remember normal.
But no… We can’t have that can we?

Not only are there new variants, Covid cases are on the rise again, but now we got a whole new pandemic. Or do we?
Yeah, Monkeypox has been all over the news lately but is it really a concern, or is this just a new thing the news shows are using to get you to stick around for the next commercial break?
Cynicism aside, Monkeypox does exist. And it’s been popping up all over the place so let’s take a look and see if we can get to the bottom of this.

Outbreak 2022

As of this recording, there are around 15,300 cases of monkeypox around the world. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot after what we’ve just been through with Covid but there’s a few things to keep in mind here.

First of all, that number is rising quickly. To give you an idea of how quickly, when my writer, Ryan, researched this video, his script said 5300 cases. So it’s 3 times higher now than it was when he submitted this script a couple weeks ago.
And it’s probably up quite a bit by the time you see this. I’ll put a link below that you can click to see where things are right now.

The other thing that’s notable is this map. Here you can see the most cases are in the US and Europe but you see these blue dots down here in Africa? That’s where Monkeypox has historically been seen. All this orange… That’s never really been seen before.

In fact, out of the 71 countries with monkeypox cases right now, 65 of them are seeing cases for the first time ever. So… yeah, this is a thing.
As for what’s happening in the US, again, at the time of recording this, New York has the most cases at 581, followed by California at 365, and then Illinois, Florida, basically the urban centers of the US.
The total number in the US is 2,323, but keep in mind that’s up from 19 cases at the beginning of June.
And yeah, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all a little shellshocked from Covid-19, because we all remember when we were all like, “oh, it’s just a few cases in Washington” and then suddenly there were thousands and then… well. Yeah. Here we are.

Monkeypox in Africa

Now I mentioned earlier those countries in Africa where monkeypox is normally found, the Democratic Republic of Congo has by far the most cases, with 1356 reported between January 1st and May 22, 2022.  Monkeypox had killed more than 70 people in Africa this year. According to the sources we found.

Why Monkeypox?

Now the fact that it’s been historically seen in Africa and it’s called monkeypox, you probably put 2 and 2 together and assume it got its name because there are monkeys in Africa and it jumped from monkeys to humans there. You would be wrong.
It actually came from Denmark.
It was first seen in monkeys kept at Denmark’s Statens Serum Institute, in 1958. It was first seen in humans 12 years later.

Monkeypox is a type of orthopoxvirus, this is the same genus that includes cowpox, camelpox, and skunkpox. Didn’t know skunkpox was a thing did you?
It doesn’t include chickenpox, though, that’s a different type of virus but it does include – yikes – smallpox.

And the symptoms are similar to that of smallpox, including fever, exhaustion, headaches and swollen lymphnodes, and a rash of bumps that look like blisters or pimples.
Thankfully, what they don’t share is mortality rate. Before it was eradicated, smallpox had a mortality rate of 30%.  Monkeypox has a 1–10% mortality rate.

The Variants

Why “1-10%”? Because, just like coronavirus, there are a couple of variants. The variant from Central Africa is severe, the one from West Africa less so.
And it’s the milder variant that’s making its way around the world right now, so it’s unlikely monkeypox will become a deadly pandemic like COVID-19.
Unless, of course, it mutates.

Monkeypox, or MPV uses DNA to encode its genes. And that’s good because DNA is more stable and less prone to mutation than RNA viruses like say influenza and COVID-19.
But MPV has mutated in the past. And not for the better. That deadly version I talked about earlier was a mutation of the milder version.
And the more a virus spreads, the more chances it has to mutate. In fact a recent study suggests the exported variant has experienced “accelerated evolution”.

They studied samples collected in 2022 and compared them to samples from 2018 and 2019 and found about fifty DNA changes
hat’s at least six times the mutations researchers expected to find.  These mutations don’t appear to have made monkeypox deadlier.  But they may have made it more transmissible, in an unexpected way.

Past Outbreaks

In 2003, we saw monkeypox for the first time in the US and it was traced to pet prairie dogs. Because apparently that’s a thing.
Pet prairie dogs that were housed near pet exotic African rodents. Which gave it to the prairie dogs, which bit their owners and gave it to their owners. Just… so many bad decisions there.

You know, I used to think exotic pets were really cool, I liked the idea of having a pet that nobody else had, thought that made me interesting… I’m not sure I’m a fan anymore.
It seems like a lot of these pandemics and outbreaks are zoonotic viruses that jump from animals to people, often exotic animals of some kind.
It just seems like a vector that triggers a lot of other vectors, if that makes any sense.
So I get it, prairie dogs are cute but no… Just… no…

In fact, one of the fears about monkeypox being a zoonotic virus is that this can become a cycle of zoonotic transmission. We got it from prairie dogs, maybe it could jump to our cats and then bounce back to us, each time mutating it a little more. 
One interesting thing about this current outbreak is that back when it was only in Africa, cases were more common in rural areas, amongst hunters. But in this outbreak, you see it mostly in urban areas.
And that’s because though it’s not a sexually transmitted disease, it has mostly been spread through knocking the boots.

Is Monkeypox an STD?

This is actually where things do get a little prickly because it has been prevalent in gay communities, which of course some people have used to smear LGBT people.
Which outside of being gross and horrible is also dangerous because people generally don’t get tested or treated for stigmatized diseases, which only serves to spread it further.
Needs to be said again, just because it’s being spread by sexual contact does not make it a sexually transmitted disease.

And being called a “gay disease” brings up parallels to the early days of the AIDS crisis in the 80s.
Stigmatizing and moralizing it  led to it not being taken seriously and let it take a foothold that it otherwise might not have.

Official Status

And there are signs that that might be happening again. On June 25th, the WHO declined to declare monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Setting aside the fact that P-H-E-I-C, pronounced FAKE, is the worst acronym ever, the decision is controversial.
There are concerns that lack of a PHEIC will discourage less-affected countries from fighting monkeypox now, instead of later.  Some may hoard vaccines.  Or they may simply wait so long, their outbreaks become critical, and they won’t have resources to help their neighbors.

Now, Monkeypox is not HIV. Not even close. But the best way to keep it that way is to prevent it from spreading and mutating.


One of the best ways to do that is with a vaccine. And we have one, a company called Bavarian Nordic makes it, and it’s approved for Monkeypox, but only like a million doses have ever been made.
Apparently people have tested using smallpox vaccinations, since they’re similar types of virus and they’ve been effective, but can be dangerous for people with compromised immune systems.


So, is monkeypox the next Covid? Not likely, not in its current state. But that doesn’t mean it’s harmless.
Maybe the bigger question is, is this our future?  Are we doomed to bounce from one pandemic to another?  Will we ever be able to shake somebody’s hand without a creepy-crawly feeling again?

Pandemic History

The fact is, we evolved as isolated tribes of people who are now attempting to be a global species. And while there’s a lot of good that comes from our cultures mixing together, the downside is that yeah, our bugs get around.
In the past, this could lead to entire civilizations being wiped out – as we saw happen to the indigenous Americans.

Now all our cultures are colliding all the time. And if the grand story of humans is that we started as fragmented and isolated tribes that eventually became a global species, we’re in those awkward pre-teen years. The years when we haven’t fully stirred but we did just get thrown in the pot.
We’ve mixed enough to share our bugs but not enough to become immune to them.
Throw on top of that the encroaching of our habitats into nature, and the potential for a zoonotic virus to spillover goes through the roof as well.

Maybe we eventually get immune to all of them. Maybe new ones never stop coming and we’ll always be fighting something off. That’s probably a lot more likely.
The real story of the world is one of countless cells, all vying for supremacy. We’re just the only clumps of cells that became aware enough to know what’s going on.
Maybe that’s the way it’s been and that’s the way it always will be. Just whack-a-mole forever. Luckily most of them, like Monkeypox, are survivable. So maybe we should consider ourselves lucky.

So is Monkeypox something to be concerned about? Or is it just an overhyped clickbait? It’s a little bit of both.
Of course media companies are going to hype this to its clickiest level to get as many eyeballs as possible. Of course this is going to become pandemic porn.
And of course we’re all way more on edge about outbreaks of disease after what we’ve all been through. Or, the opposite, maybe crisis fatigue takes over and we just stop paying attention to it.
The best thing you can do right now is just be aware of the outbreak and take basic precautions. Monkeypox is only transmissible through close skin-to-skin contact. So you don’t have to worry about breathing it in. That’s good.

The CDC recommends avoiding close skin-to-skin contact with anybody that might have a rash that looks like blisters or bumps, don’t eat after or use utensils from someone who has monkeypox or looks like they might, don’t handle clothes or bedding used by anybody with monkeypox, and to wash your hands often with soap and sanitizer if you’ve come into contact with anybody with monkeypox.

And if you do have monkeypox, obviously they want you to isolate yourself until “all lesions have resolved, the scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of intact skin has formed.”
So if you’re scabby, stay inside. And if you meet someone who’s scabby, maybe knock somebody else’s boots.
Basically when it all comes down to it, some awareness and basic prevention is all that’s required here, but we can’t freak out over every outbreak that happens because well… we’re going to be seeing more of these.


The Somerton Man FINALLY Has A Name

This is a re-upload of my previous Somerton Man video with new information that has just broken in the case. Professor Derek Abbott announced that he and Colleen Fitzpatrick (I mistakenly call her “Fitzgerald” an embarrassing number of times in this video) have found the identity of the Somerton Man, an unidentified man found dead on an Australian beach in 1948.


On Tuesday of this week, July 26th, headlines around the world declared that the Somerton Man, the unidentified man found dead on an Australian beach in 1948, had finally been identified through DNA evidence.

And my inbox exploded; I literally got more links sent my way than I could count. And thank you to everyone who reached out and asked me to revisit this.

So here’s the deal – I was thinking of reuploading that video anyway because guess what… It got demonetized.

Yeah, YouTube’s been pretty bad about that lately.

Apparently one image we used of the body on the beach was a bridge too far for YouTube, the irony is that it wasn’t even a real photo, it was a photoshopped recreation, but anyway, I was thinking about taking that photo out and reuploading it, and now there’s new information, and a reason to do a new video.

So this video is an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, I’m going to include the original video in its entirety – with the exception of that one image – and then add the new information to the end of it.

So if you’ve already seen my Somerton Man video and just want to hear the new stuff, feel free to jump ahead, it won’t hurt my feelings, I’ll put time stamps so you can find it on the timeline here, or you can go to here… Just skip over to here… I don’t know as I’m recording this where here  is so…

But if you have the time I would encourage you to watch the original because I’ve always been proud of this video, it’s a real roller-coaster of a story, and I do think it provides some interesting context to the new info at the end.

So, without further ado, let’s roll that title sequence again and pick up where we left off.
Which brings us to the next darn thing.

All right, so as I said at the beginning, on Tuesday the 26th, Derek Abbott announced that they have an identity for the Somerton Man, and the name is… drum roll please…  Actually, we’re talking about a dead man, a drum roll doesn’t feel right – turn it off.  His name was Carl Webb.

Actually his name was Carl but he went by Charles, thus affirming that he’s Australian.

He was born in 1905 outside of Melbourne, actually, the youngest of 6 kids, and not much is known about his early life but he grew up to be an electrical engineer and instrument maker, and would have been 43 when he died, assuming he was the Somerton Man.

He married a woman named Dorothy Robinson, who went by “Doff” Webb – because Australia – and she filed for divorce from him in 1947, claiming he had disappeared. And in fact there are no public records of him after this point, including no death certificate.

The next record they could find of Dorothy was in 1951, showing that she lived in Bute, South Australia, which is about 144km from Adelaide.

So it’s possible that he was in Adelaide trying to track her down. But that is just speculation.

There is one other thing that ties him to the Somerton Man case, as I mentioned the name T. Keane that was found on some of the Somerton Man’s clothes, apparently Carl Webb had a brother in law named Thomas Keane, and those clothes could have just been hand me downs.

But, before we go too far, you’re probably wondering how they landed on Carl Webb, well Professor Abbott was working with an American forensic genealogist named Colleen Fitzpatrick of the group Identifinders International – her name pops up a lot on these cases because she’s like a badass at this.

And they used the DNA that Abbott had extracted from the hair follicles from the plaster cast, specifically focusing on the halogroup H1a1a1a.

Yeah, it’s important to note, they did exhume the body, but as far as I could tell from the articles I’ve read, this has nothing to do with any tests that might have been done on the body, this is only from the hair follicles, so I’m going to assume further tests on the body will be needed to verify all this.

ANYWAY, they ran these DNA results against a genealogical database and found a living descendant that would have been Webb’s first cousin three times removed on his mother’s side.

From there they constructed a family tree that started with 4000 names, and were able to painstakingly trace it back and triangulate it to Webb, a man who disappeared right around that same time.

And though Fitzgerald and Abbott claim that they’re 99.999% sure Webb is their guy, this has yet to be corroborated by the South Australian police, and like I just said, this needs to match up with the tests being conducted on the body.

And by the way in case you’re wondering, so far they’ve been unable to find any photos of Carl Webb to verify his identity.

But like any good mystery, this kinda just raises a lot more questions.

Like what happened when he disappeared in 1947? Where was he for those 18 months between the divorce and his death? Why and how did he die? If he was from just one state over in Australia, why did nobody come forth to identify him when his picture was being shared all over the place for nearly 75 years? Why was Jo Thompson’s number in his book? What was that code all about?

This is where we enter speculation time.

As for the code, they claim to have evidence that Carl bet on horse races regularly, so they may have just been him keeping track of horses.

As for why he disappeared, you know, they found stencils in his bag and one theory was that he may have worked on a merchant ship because they often used those to label crates – maybe he had been out to sea during that time, maybe that explains why he had some items from America that weren’t available in Australia.

Perhaps he and “Doff” had had a falling out so he took a job like that to get some space, and then when he came back he found out she had divorced him and moved and he went to Adelaide to track her down.

As for Jo Thomson… Maybe Dorothy knew Jo, maybe they’d met in their past and she turned to Jo for help after her divorce, maybe moved in with her briefly. And in the course of tracking her down, he found Jo’s number and wrote it down in his book.

By the way, I didn’t mention this in the previous episode, a lot of people focus on how coincidental it is that there are multiple copies of this obscure book of ancient Persian poetry in this case, it was actually fairly popular back then, it had experienced a bit of a resurgence of interest in literary circles so it wasn’t that random.

To go deeper into speculation territory, and this is just the storyteller in me taking over… I can’t help but wonder if his relationship with Dorothy was toxic… Maybe even abusive. Maybe she took the first opportunity to divorce him and then moved away trying to escape him and turned to Jo for help.

Jo claimed to not know who the person was, but her reaction to his death mask suggested otherwise. Now that could have just been her being uncomfortable looking at a dead man’s face, but she did later tell her daughter she knew him but couldn’t say anything. Maybe she was protecting her friend.

And if he was someone unstable enough to pose a danger to her, then maybe he was also a danger to himself. And took himself out.

Like I said… more questions than answers.

Abbott and Fitzgerald haven’t found any living relatives that ever knew Carl Webb, and after all this time it’s unlikely they will but with 5 siblings, I find it hard to believe that there’s no photo of him out there somewhere. That’s what I want to see, I want to see a photo.

Maybe with this new exposure, someone in that lineage has an old photo album laying around that will come forward. That would be cool.

But what this new evidence does seem to prove is that Robin Thomson and his daughter Rachel Egan are definitely not descended from the Somerton Man. Which Abbott says is actually a relief to finally know the answer for her.

And I will say, you know, Derek Abbott had a theory that he had been working on for decades, and when the evidence pointed in a different direction, to his credit, he didn’t try to change the evidence to fit the theory, he changed his theory to fit the evidence. That’s admirable.

But the South Australian police have not made a statement on this yet – it’s only been a couple of days but as far as I know they’re still doing tests on the body, it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with. And like I said, there could still be some photo evidence out there that would help tie this up with a bow.

So, it’s not 100% over. There’s still many questions to answer and a lot of investigations taking place. It’ll be interesting to see what darn thing happens next.

And when it does, I’m sure I’ll get a million emails about it.

All right, thanks for watching – again – we’ll see if YouTube buries this one as well, but I’ll put links in the description to some articles so you can go check it out for yourself. And I’ll see you next time. Love you guys, take care.


Millions Could Starve Because Of The Ukraine War | Answers With Joe

The war in Ukraine is terrible for a lot of reasons, but maybe the biggest is the disruption the war is causing on food production around the world. Ukraine has often been called “The Breadbasket of Europe” because of its fertile soil that produces massive amounts of wheat, corn, and other grains. In this video, we take a look at why Ukraine’s geology makes them the breadbasket they are, and how the current war will impact the millions of people who rely on that food.


This is the Ukrainian Flag. You’ve seen it in a lot of places lately. A very simple design, a blue field over a yellow field, the colors taken from the coat of arms of the city of Lviv. (le-view)

But it used to be quite different. It used to look like this…

Okay, maybe it’s not all that different, but this was the original national flag adopted by Ukraine in 1848 when they wanted independence from Austro-Hungarian rule. But in 1918, they flipped it to its current orientation. And they did it for one specific reason. Because they wanted it to emulate the blue sky over a field of yellow wheat.

This is how important wheat is to the economy of Ukraine, it’s literally emblazoned into their national symbol.

Ukraine has often been called the Breadbasket of Europe, and for good reason, they’re one of the largest agricultural producers in the world, exporting food to dozens of countries.

So the sight of Russian tanks driving through these wheat fields is more than just darkly symbolic. It’s potentially crippling a food producer that hundreds of millions of people rely on.

All of which begs several questions. Like, why is Ukraine such a huge food producer in the first place? Is this increasing the price of food and leading to food shortages? And how will this affect geopolitics around the world?

You know, the geopolitical thing shouldn’t have been the final question there, that’s not really what matters, what matters is are people going to starve because of this?

Priorities people.

So let’s start with a short primer on the war and where things are right now, obviously this is a fluid situation so it’s possible things have changed by the time this comes out.

Also, there’s mountains of videos on YouTube following this story so I’m just going to hit the highlights.

Let’s start in 2014.

That’s when Russian troops invaded and took control of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used the pretense that he was protecting the rights of Russian citizens and speakers in Crimea and southeast Ukraine.

Two months later, pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk (don-etsk)and Luhansk (loo-hansk) regions in eastern Ukraine held a referendum to declare independence from Ukraine.

This led to armed conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian military, that eventually fizzled into an ongoing stalemate. That is, until February of this year.
That’s when the fighting escalated between separatists and Ukrainian forces in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Putin used that as an excuse to invade, claiming that genocide was taking place in the Dombas region, and Russian forces began building up along Ukraine’s border.

And the Russians finally launched their assault on Ukrainian territory on February 24.
This was followed by a series of sanctions from Western nations against Russia, with Russian oil and gas being restricted from European nations like Germany, and new European nations like Sweden and Finland showing interest in joining NATO.

It has not exactly been the rout that Putin was expecting and has turned into a long, protracted conflict.
More than 6.9 million people have fled the country, according to the UN refugee agency’s data portal.

The country’s estimated population before the war was 44 million, making it the seventh-largest country in Europe.

In terms of size, it’s the second-largest country in Europe at 603,550 square kilometers (233,031 square miles).

For comparison, it’s slightly smaller than Texas, half the size of South Africa, and two-and-a-half times the size of the United Kingdom.

And with all that land, as I was saying before, they export more than one-quarter of the world’s wheat.

Wheat, by the way, is the world’s second most-produced grain after corn, which they are also major exporters of.

Corn, also spring barley, potatoes, sugar beets, fruits, and sunflowers.

Ukraine is actually the world’s largest producer of sunflower oil, which goes into a lot of foods. Like, SO many foods.

Okay, so… why? Why is Ukraine such a prolific producer of produce? How did they become this basket of bread?

Well part of it is just the sheer size. I mentioned how big Ukraine is earlier, but they make good use of it – 71% of the land in Ukraine is used for agriculture.
Ukraine farmers grow wheat throughout the country, but central and south-central are the main production zones.

The other part is the climate. Ukraine’s climate is similar to Kansas in the US, but it’s a little drier and cooler during the summer and wetter during the winter.

So it’s like Kansas on steroids. Carry on my wayward son. Carry on.

But there is one more secret weapon in Ukraine’s agricultural arsenal… Chernozem. (a beat) What the hell is Chernozem?

Chernozem is basically a type of soil that is packed with insane amounts of nutrients.

It’s a Russian word that means “black earth” or “black soil.” Because it’s black.

And it’s black because it’s rich with humus (hue-mis). Not hummus (pic of hummus)… Humus (pic of humus)
Humus consists of complex molecules and organic acids that formed after plant parts decomposed and were digested by organisms in the soil.

Humic acids are great at retaining water and nutrients, like calcium, phosphorus, and zinc. And can help bridge dry seasons.

Soils that aren’t humus-rich lose nutrients when rain or irrigation water sinks them down deep below a plant’s roots. Humus keeps it in the topsoil.
There are several theories about how this soil was formed.

Swedish mineralogist Johan Wallerius introduced the first theory in 1761, saying that plant decomposition was responsible for chernozems.

Russian scientist Mikhail Vasil-yevich expanded on this theory in 1763 by adding that animal decomposition also helps form the black soil.

German botanist Peter Pallas offered another theory in the late 18th century in which he believed the soil was formed by reed marshes.

In the 19th century, British geologist Roderick Murchison suggested that Jurassic marine shales formed the soil.

Russian geologist Vasily Dokuchaev (duck-oo-cha-ev) published a book that same century that stated he believed various factors like a region’s climate, its topography, and its vegetation formed chernozems.
However it was formed, chernozem accounts for 1.8 percent of Earth’s total continental land area, and it’s focused in two large concentrations called the Chernozem Belts.
One belt is located in the Eurasian Steppe and includes several countries like Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine.

The other belt is in North America. It encompasses the Great Plains, stretching from Kansas to Manitoba, Canada.

Combined they add up to 2,299,998 square kilometers (888,034 square miles) of land, but Ukraine is just lousy with chernozem, it makes up 68 percent of the country’s soil.

So yeah, combine that with the favorable weather conditions and now you know why Ukraine is so rich in agricultural exports.

It’s a valuable resource. And it’s made them a target for a long time. Which brings us back to the current conflict.

In May, Ukraine reported a decrease in grain exports, while wheat prices reached record highs.

According to Ukraine’s agriculture ministry, its exports were down 64 percent that month compared to the same timeframe last year.

The U.N. estimates that about 20 million tons of harvested grain are stuck in Ukrainian ports due to Russian blockades.

Executive Director for the U.N. World Food Programme David Beasley didn’t parse words when he tweeted in May:

“Failure to open the ports in Ukraine will be a declaration of war on global food security, resulting in famine, destabilization of nations, as well as mass migration by necessity. It is absolutely essential that we allow these ports to open because this is not just about Ukraine; this is about the poorest of the poor around the world who are on the brink of starvation.”

To make it all worse, Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of shipping stolen grain from Crimea to destinations like Turkey.

And Ukraine Grain Association Chief Mykola Gorbachov has said that if exports are unable to resume from the country’s ports, the July harvest will be severely impacted.

He said Ukraine’s grain exports could be limited to 20 million tons next year, down from 44.7 million last year.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a warning in June during a Time 100 Gala, saying:

“We cannot export our wheat, corn, vegetable oil and other products that have played a stabilizing role in the global market. This means that, unfortunately, dozens of countries may face a physical shortage of food. Millions of people may starve if Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea continues.”

The U.N. World Food Programme issued a report in June stating that this could cause a population of 323 million to fall into famine.

It’s worth mentioning that they rely on Ukrainian food to help with relief efforts in famine stricken areas.
But anyway, back to modern day, one last thing to cover is the geopolitical consequences of all this…

Because one country’s loss is another country’s gain. And which country is out to exploit th– I mean stands to benefit from this?
That’s right, Bob. China.

China has actually been really good about storing food reserves for a long time. Currently they have enough to feed the whole country for a year and a half, even if the rest of the world stopped producing food.

So they could fill the gap with their reserves, in exchange for various resources and clout with the countries they help.

But China may actually have its own wheat problems right now.

Strict Covid lockdowns and floods have disrupted its winter wheat harvest. So they may need to use these reserves.

Now, China can buy as much wheat as it needs, but this could increase wheat prices, making it unaffordable for poorer countries.
But if China’s not in a position to take advantage of it, India just might.

They’ve had a series of bumper harvests which led to a surplus of wheat, which they have offered to fill the demand if necessary.

So maybe there’s a safety net of some kind, but prices are likely to go up.

We are kinda going through a perfect storm of problems right now. Like I said, China’s still feeling the effects of the pandemic, combine that with a major conflict in an agricultural center, and we don’t even need to go into the nuclear sabre rattling Putin’s been doing (laugh manically) Wouldn’t a nuclear war be perfect right now!

The point is… will people starve? And that’s an actual possibility. It looks like the gap will be made up by other countries eventually, the systems will adjust. But adjustments are not always easy.

I feel like the same could be said about society in many ways right now. We are adjusting as we transition from one technological era to another. This isn’t going to be easy.

All we can really do is just hold on. And take care of each other.

The Full Plan For Artemis Part 1: The Robotic Missions

Artemis is NASA’s plan to return to the moon, and this time to stay. That’s something you probably already know. But there’s a lot more to it than picking a lander. This video is the first of 3 videos to explore the full plan for Artemis, starting with the uncrewed and robotic missions that will set the stage for a sustainable, long-term base on the south pole of the moon.


In 1609, the first image of the moon was drawn based on observations through a telescope. It showed the major craters and mare, with the termination line passing through them. That man, of course… was not Galileo.

It was actually a British guy named Thomas Harriot. He beat Galileo by 6 months.
Fast forward though 353 years of dreaming about going to the moon and all it took was one cold war, $24 billion dollars and hoocha hoocha hoocha – moonwalk.

650 million enraptured people watched in awe as human beings walked on the moon for the first time, and only 3 and a half years later the public was so disinterested, the entire program was cancelled.

But let’s talk some more about how TikTok is ruining our attention spans.

I mean, it is… But also people are just kinda shite.

In fairness, we were also dealing with proxy wars, runaway inflation and over-the-top gas prices at the time. Can’t imagine what that would be like.

So we didn’t stay. But that’s all right, we got what we came for, we took the W and went home. Besides, we didn’t even know if we could stay, not without any water on the moon.

And we really didn’t know how to reclaim water, grow food, or a million other little things one would need for long-term space travel.

So NASA focused on that, first with Skylab, then the Shuttle, and the ISS. And our moon ambitions kinda waned.

Get it? Like a waning moon?

But on July 31st, 1999, almost exactly 30 years after Apollo 11, something interesting happened.

NASA’s Lunar Orbiter called Prospector reached the end of its mission, and the plan was to go out with a literal bang.

They wanted to crash it in to the lunar surface, both to prevent a buildup of space debris but also, they were hoping the crash would create a plume that could be analyzed to determine what was under the surface.

That plume turned out to be smaller than they were hoping, but they did detect hydrogen. Which got NASA thinking…

And they decided to go bigger.

NASA had a companion mission for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission and that was LCROSS (The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite ).

They decided to do the same thing with LCROSS only this time they would crash the entire upper stage Centaur rocket into the surface and fly LCROSS through the plume.

And this time it worked. LCROSS’ spectrometers picked up water ice.

Just like that, the idea of returning to the Moon got a lot more interesting. Water ice meant lunar colonies, it meant fuel could be made from the water. And by this time we’d learned a lot more about long-term space habitation.

It was time to go back.
Okay so we found some water, but the question is how much?

Well, the estimates start at 108,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools to 240,000 Olympic swimming pools.
How big is an Olympic sized swimming pool? It’s this big.

And how much is 108,000? It’s a lot. Like… It’s a lot.

Fine, if you need something easier to visualize, it’s about the same as Lake Winnibigoshish in Minnesota.
And we could find more, missions like the LRO and LROC are still actively mapping the moon in greater and greater detail.
Of course it’s not just water, we’ve also found helium-3, which would be huge if we ever crack fusion as well as iron and thorium… I’ve done a whole video on moon mining, you can go check it out.

We are, of course, not the only country interested in getting a monopoly on those sweet sweet moon resources. Several private companies are investing in it but also China.

So if the only reason Apollo happened was because we were in a competition with another superpower, well… As OK Go once said…

All of which brings us to Artemis, which is super close to popping off, maybe in the next few months.

Actually as I record this, SLS is on the launch pad so it may have happened by the time this comes out.

So I decided to really do a deep dive into the Artemis program with a 3-part series. This is the first in the series, which will focus on uncrewed and robotic missions, Part 2 will focus on the scheduled crew missions, and Part 3 will explore the future of the program and where we go from there.

So strap yourselves in because it’s about to get lunar up in here.

he first thing we need to do before we put boots on the regolith is to find that sweet, sweet moon juice. I should just call it water, this is ridiculous.


So the first planned robotic mission is called Prime-1. No relation to Amazon.

Prime-1 is going to probe the lunar surface with its drill and will be able to accomplish depths of three feet!

Considering that Bruce Willis isn’t helping that is an impressive feat.

For perspective, the Mars rovers are some of the most advanced robots ever created and they can only drill a couple of inches.

Prime’s drill will hunt primarily for water ice, for all the reasons we’ve already talked about.

By the way, four astronauts on the moon require 12 gallons of water. Not to mention propellant use and growing food. So it’s important.

Prime-1 should be landing in December of this year. 2022.


Following Prime-1 is VIPER, which stands for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover.

Just so you know, there’s going to be some major acronym game in this video.

VIPER will also be seeking water ice, but this one will be exploring sunless craters.

Just in case you don’t know what that means, there are craters around the poles where the angle the sunlight hits it means that there are spots at the bottom of the crater where the sunlight never hits, and it’s thought that there could be water ice down there. Like, a lot of it.

Think about what a cool job that is. Someone’s going to be piloting a remote control robot through a crater that hasn’t seen sunlight for billions of years.

And because it’s going to be shielded from the sun, it can’t power itself with solar panels, so it will only have 100 days of power.

VIPER will have a top speed of 0.45 mph, so not a speed demon, but that’s not what we’re there for. Ultimately VIPER will cover 12 miles and in that time hopefully find some great spots for astronauts to explore.

Another interesting fact, working in the shadows means VIPER will be the first rover sporting headlights.

VIPER should be landing in November of 2023 via Astrobiotics Griffin Lander carried by SpaceX Falcon Heavy.


But perhaps the biggest uncrewed mission won’t even land on the moon, it’s going into lunar orbit. A very weird lunar orbit.

What I’m talking about is the Lunar Operation Platform-Gateway, which sometimes goes by LOP-G, though these days it usually just goes by Gateway.

This is a space station, fifth space station ever built and the first space station in orbit around the moon.

Think of it as part space station, part laboratory, part fuel depot, part spacecraft launcher… It’s basically a swiss army knife in the sky, but for science.

So while I call it an uncrewed mission, I’m talking about the launch to the moon, later on it will definitely house a crew that will remain in orbit. And there will be a few launches because much like the ISS, Gateway will be put together in segments.

The first two modules to go up will be the power & propulsion element and the habitation and logistics outpost or the PPE & HALO.

Right now both modules are scheduled to launch on a Falcon Heavy in November 2024 and reach lunar orbit in 9-10 months.
And this orbit is wild.
It’s called a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit, or NRHO, and it’s a wildly elliptical polar orbit that swings as close as 3,000km from the surface all the way out to 70,000 miles. It’s an orbit that takes an entire week to complete.

This ensures that the station never goes behind the moon and lose radio contact with Earth but it’s also more efficient because it takes advantage of lagrange points.

In 2025 the first crew should arrive on Artemis III and new modules will be added – the Orion command module that got the crew there, and the European Service Module, made by ESA.

Following that is the I-HAB module and the ESPIRIT module. The I-HAB will extend the LOP-G’s communication capabilities and will feature a science airlock which can be used to release things like cube sats.

The ESPIRIT module will do many things. It will provide refueling, additional comms equipment, more habitation space, and an airlock.

In 2027 the Gateway will receive the CanadaArm3 made in, obviously… Croatia.

I hate that I have to do this… It’s actually Canada. That was a joke.

JAXA will also assist by providing habitation components and logistics resupply.

Russia was supposed to be helping down the line but uh… Let’s just say that’s iffy now.

Altogether the Gateway will provide 125 cubic meters of space or 4,400 cubic feet.

The idea of the Gateway is to serve as a way station, a hub of sorts between the lunar system and the Earth system, and it’s a pretty old idea.

I did a video a while back on the original plans that NASA had to follow the Apollo missions, and it did involve multiple stations in low and high Earth orbit and in lunar orbit. And it does kinda make sense.

But it’s not without its detractors. An ex-NASA director George Abby said, “…we should go directly there (moon) not build a space station around it.”

For many, it’s just an unnecessary extra step that only adds to the cost and complicates things as opposed to a moon direct approach.

And just as I was about to record this, an article was posted on Ars Technica that really throws a lot of cold water on the Gateway.

It talks about a recent NASA report that shows some delays on the Gateway, which is to be expected, but it reports that quote, “NASA’s revised schedules, will require most or all of the capability of the SLS rocket during that time frame, and they could preclude the agency from developing a greater focus on lunar surface activities.”

In other words, the Gateway is kinda taking up all the oxygen in the Artemis mission and could eventually be deemed unsustainable and scrapped.

But for now anyway it is still part of the plan. A very big part of the plan.

When Astronauts do finally return to the Moon it will be anything but a barren wasteland. They will have supplies sent before their landing so they can be fully equipped from the start.

NASA will make it rain supplies by partnering with private companies through their CLPS program, which stands for Commercial Lunar Payload Services.

They’re basically just creating a platform for commercial partners to fulfill orders for the cargo they need. They call this PRISM, the Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon.

Seriously with the acronyms in this program. It almost makes the whole thing worth it.

So basically NASA puts a call out for whatever type of cargo they need for the crew on PRISM, and their commercial partners can vie for the job and line up with a launch provider. It’s kinda like but for aeronautics!

If you don’t want a metaphor then according to NASA, PRISM is a solicitation for new PI-led investigations through individual suits of instruments that are either destination agnostic or uniquely adopted for certain lunar geologic terrains. Featuring a catalog of instrument and technology demonstrations that are available from the science community.

Or… for space projects.

The PRISM program is expected to fulfill contracts till 2028 and will help supply astronauts after they land and before they arrive.

Some notable supply drops that are coming go as follows:

  • A solar cell demonstration platform that will enable long-term solar solutions for the Moon Missions to come. This will be in the first batch.
  • Stereo cameras to better study how engine plumes affect lunar dust, which is a major concern, so very important.
  • Ranger, an autonomous rover the size of a briefcase that will travel the moon and create a highly detailed 3D map.
  • Then there’s PlanetVac, from Honeybee Robotics, this will land and then take a sample which will then take off into space to be collected.
  • Coming a little bit later will be the LUNAR VERTEX, which will investigate the mysterious lunar swirl at Reiner Gamma which has been drawing speculation since the Renaissance.
  • And last but not least is the Farside Seismic Suite, which will place two seismometers on the far side of the moon.

Is is not, as the name suggests, going to drop off cartoons featuring overweight cows.

Other payloads to the Moon will be various supply drops for the crew once they get there, like any faraway operation, its success hinges on the ability to keep them supplied with necessities, and the PRISM program will facilitate that.

Forget Heat Pumps – This House Cools Itself With NO Electricity!

Heat pumps are all the rage these days, and for good reason, but it turns out that ancient Persians had ways of making and storing ice, long before refrigeration existed. Today, engineers are taking from that ancient knowledge to design homes that cool without the need for electricity. And it could be the future of building design.


It didn’t look like this when we moved in. It had insulation, but just a few inches of it, so being in Texas and my office where I usually shoot my videos is on the 2nd floor, it would get unbearable real quick.

So a while back we got the attic re-done with new insulation and a radiant barrier on the roof. And it helped… some. We still eventually had to replace our HVAC system to something that could pump out a lot more …heat like this unit is doing right now. That’s a lot of heat.

So even with all that attic work and – oh, I also replaced all my windows with new energy efficient bad boys, and the new, more efficient HVAC system, it still takes a lot of electricity just to keep this house comfortable.

That’s kind-of amazing when you think about it. People have been living in houses and dwellings for thousands of years, and electricity is only 100 years old. How did they make all this happen? And what could we learn from it?

So I recently traveled to Ireland, home of green fields, cloudy skies, pasty skin, and very, very old buildings.

From neolithic tombs called Dolmen, like this one named Poulnabrone that dates back over 6,000 years, to tower houses that would display the wealth and opulence of Celtic chieftains, everywhere you look are reminders that as long as there have been humans, we have been building dwellings.

And it’s only in the last 100 or so years that we have used electricity to heat and cool these buildings.

So there’s only two options, one, that humans were miserably uncomfortable for thousands of years up until very, very recently in our history, or they found ways to build their homes so they could be comfortable without electricity.

I don’t think the first one is true, yes, we have a lot more comforts now than we used to, but I think the human desire for comfort probably existed before electricity.

So how did they do it? How did they build for comfort without using any electrical or mechanical means? And in a day and age when temperatures are higher than ever, and our grids are stressed to the breaking point, what can we learn from that?

I spent the intro to this video primarily talking about keeping heat out of my house, that’s because it’s summer in Texas right now but keeping the cold out is just as important, as we found out last February.

That was when we had that epic cold snap that pushed the Texas power grid past the breaking point, which led to blackouts that lasted for days for some people, and at least 246 people died.
By the way, the worst power outage in U.S. history was the Northeast Blackout in 1965. It prompted new, federal regulations to ensure that the nation’s power grid would be reliable.

ERCOT stands for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Not to be confused with EPCOT, a totally different type of beast.

ERCOT was formed in 1970, and it manages the Texas power grid beyond the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s jurisdiction.

Not all of Texas is under ERCOT’s management. There are some parts that belong to the national grid. But for the most part, if you live in Texas, you live with ERCOT’s grid.

And as we enter the second summer after that incident, we’re still dealing with the threat of rolling blackouts, shutdowns, and failures. Why? Because the equipment is old.

And there’s a bunch of politics and money exchanging hands that’s too much to get into for this one video.

But Texas isn’t alone when it comes to concerns about the power grid, that’s because the use of electricity across the country is on the rise.

The more we turn away from fossil fuels and toward electricity, the more power grids will be pushed to the limit.

One thing a lot of people are talking about right now is a heat pump, which moves heat from a cool space to a warm space.

The pump makes the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer. Basically, it transfers heat instead of generating it.

The Netherlands government is on board, banning fossil fuel heating by 2026 and mandating the use of hybrid heat pumps.

The government said this could lead to a savings average of 60 percent on natural gas consumption.
No, they weren’t miserable. They were clever. And they devised some really simple ways to live comfortably. And these are pretty cool.

Let’s start with wind catchers.

The city of Yazd in central Iran has the most wind catchers in the world.

The city also includes other heat-beating structures, like an underground refrigeration structure called yakhchāl and an underground irrigation system called qanats.

Wind catchers are often rectangular but can be circular, octagonal, square, or other shapes.
Here’s how they work: Two, main forces drive air through and down into the housing structure. These are the incoming wind and the change in air’s buoyancy, depending on the temperature.

The wind catcher catches the air, funnels it down to the dwelling below, and deposits any debris or sand at the tower’s foot.

Air then flows throughout the structure’s interior, sometimes over subterranean water pools for further cooling.

Warmed air eventually rises and leaves the structure through another tower or opening, aided by pressure in the structure.
According to researchers, using wind to cool structures goes back all the way to Egypt about 3,300 years ago.

There, the structures had thick walls, few windows that faced the Sun, and openings to let the wind in and out.
In desert regions of North America, Native Americans would either live in caves or build homes with thick adobe walls against the sides of mountains to help stay cool.
On the flip side, the Inuit people used to construct igloos to stay warm in the Arctic regions.

Igloos stay warm because their snow walls are good insulators that help keep in body heat and heat generated by oil lamps that the Inuit use for cooking and socializing.

Traditional igloos were made out of snow since solid ice doesn’t retain heat as well as compressed snow.

The Inuit would also keep on their fur-lined clothes while inside the igloo during the day and would sleep at night wrapped in heavy furs to stay warm.

So, for thousands of years, people figured out how to stay cool and warm without the need for electricity.

I know, I know, electricity is great and all, but what if you could slash your home’s use of it by up to 90 percent and still remain comfortable?

That’s the idea behind passive housing.

Now, while the word housing is in the phrase, this concept can apply to a variety of structures like apartment blocks, industrial facilities, retail stores, schools, etc.

In fact, passive housing is great for larger structures because they have more efficient geometries.

As the structure gets bigger, the ratio of its surface area to its volume decreases. And this increases its efficiency.

There are two different and independent passive house certifications and standards. The German-based Passivehaus Institut administers one, and the U.S.-based Passive House Institute US administers the other.

Despite the similar names, they are not affiliated with one another.

Each group offers basic certifications, net-zero options, and a retrofit certification.

Both also have standards that are grounded in building science and physics, require practitioners to use a common suite of design principles to achieve targets, and focus on three performance metrics.
Those metrics are building airtightness, thermal energy demand, and total energy demand.
The main difference between the two standards comes down to performance targets based on the climate of a project’s site.
For example, PHI has the same cooling and heating load/demand criteria for all climates around the world, except for a dehumidification demand that is dependent on climate.
But PHIUS has “climate-specific” targets that are tailored to their locales.

There are five fundamental design principles behind passive housing, including:

  • Airtight construction
  • Continuous insulation
  • Filtered fresh air with heat recovery
  • High-performance doors and windows
  • Thermal bridge-free design

These principles are joined by other principles:

  • Building orientation
  • Daylighting and solar gain
  • Efficient water heating and distribution
  • Moisture management
  • Shading
  • Passive housing offers several benefits.

Saving electricity isn’t the only benefit to all this, a lot of it is about filtered airflow.

They do this through balanced ventilation systems, which don’t just keep the house cool, it also prevents mold and mildew from arising.

Passive housing structures are also quiet, have no dust, keep bugs outside, eliminate moisture and odors, are durable, and are more affordable in the long run.
Here in Dallas, the first passive house went on the market in 2018.

It was a 300-square-meter (3,230 square feet) home with two levels.

It also had a water harvesting system and 4.8 kilometers (three miles) of buried tubes in its yard that acted as an irrigation soaker system with no roll-off.

The house was pre-wired for solar panels, and it made use of smart technology to control household functions.

While there are plenty of advantages to passive housing, there are some disadvantages, too.

For one, the upfront cost can be 10 to 30 percent higher than traditional construction. Ideally, you’d be able to make that up with all the savings in electrical bills over a few years.

Passive house construction can also be challenging in places with hot summers or cold winters.

In fact, it may be necessary to have backup cooling and heating systems. Builders may also need lots of insulation to stay below the limit of 15 kWh a year.

Window areas may be limited because of the required energy performance standards. Also, those windows used must have a Low-E coating and triple glazing.
Another thing to consider is if a passive house will retain its value. Local property values and politics need to be thought about.

Some locations are more open to houses built to help protect the environment, while other locations may be indifferent or show contempt for these types of houses.

To recap, passive housing includes the following elements:

  • Proper insulation
  • No air leakages
  • No thermal bridges
  • Proper windows
  • Proper shading and orientation
  • Uses heat recovery ventilation

Biomimicry is another way we can design structures that are naturally cool or warm. Take Eastgate Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe, for example.

Designed by architect Mick Pearce, the country’s largest office and shopping complex has no conventional air-conditioning or heating.

But it stays a consistent temperature year-round. That’s because its design was inspired by termite mounds.
Termite mounds have tiny holes in them that allow air to be pulled through freely. It basically operates like a lung that inhales and exhales throughout the day as the temperatures rise and fall.

The Eastgate Centre is similar. Outside air is drawn in via low-powered fans and is cooled or warmed by the building’s mass, depending on the temperature of either the concrete or the air.

Its air is then vented through the building’s floors and offices before leaving through chimneys at the top.
Pearce included jagged stone on the building’s facade that is meant to emulate cactus prickles.

Since pointy surfaces have a greater surface area than flat ones, they absorb less heat. They also bleed off heat more easily, helping keep Eastgate Center cooler.
Because of all this, the building stays between 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahreinheit) during the day and 14 degrees Celsius (57 degrees Fahreinheit) at night.

And it does so using less than 35 percent of the energy of similar buildings in the country.

It literally doesn’t have an air conditioning system. And because of that, the building’s owners have saved at least $3.5 million and the tenants’ rents are 20 percent lower than other buildings in the area.
Another building taking its cue from nature to help stay naturally cool or warm is the “Gherkin” in London.

This was designed by Norman Foster based on sea anemones and sponges.
The building’s cylindrical shape allows wind to flow quickly around it and drive wind through the structure’s center to help keep it cool.

Then you have the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Headquarters in Nevada.

The structure uses several biomimetic elements in its design, like highly efficient radiant heating tubes that move cool and warm liquid to different areas in the building.

This is similar to the ears of a Black-tailed Jackrabbit.

Jackrabbits use their huge ears to pump blood through to help cool them off, this works on the same principle.
So, I get into this because I think it’s really cool, you know, using nature to find simple solutions.

But it’s also really important. According to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, we might be running into some problems pretty soon.

They released their Summer Reliability Assessment for 2022 in May, and it warned of a high risk of failure throughout the midwest, while Texas and the western US is at an “elevate risk”

According to NERC director John Moura, “It’s a sobering report, “It’s clear the risks are spreading … and the pace of our grid transformation is a bit out of sync with the underlying realities and the physics of the system.”

It’s a warning we should pay some attention to. Because the problem’s only going to get worse.

Humans lived for thousands of years without electricity by being clever. Let’s face it, we’ve gotten lazy over the last 100 years.

But we seem to be finding our way back to clever. Heat pumps are all the rage now, and they’re pretty clever.

It’ll be interesting to see how far our cleverness can take us.





Nothing is Random with Moriba Jah – Episode 14

Moriba Jah is a world-renowned astrodynamicist who specializes in tracking the thousands of pieces of space debris currently orbiting our planet and possibly threatening to disrupt our satellite networks if nothing is done to fix it. He is a professor at the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas in Austin and recently co-founded Privateer Space with Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple. Their goal is to create a platform that will allow for the tracking, avoidance, and removal of space debris.

Find out more at their site,

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