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Solving The Mystery Of The Somerton Man With Professor Derek Abbott – Episode 22

Derek Abbott is a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Adelaide in Australia who, along with genetic researcher Colleen Fitzpatrick, finally solved the mystery of the Somerton Man, an unidentified man found dead on a beach in Australia in 1948. He joins me to talk about his decades-long quest to find this man’s identity, how the discovery was finally made, and the stunning advancement in DNA technology that has happened only in the last few years.

If “The Universe Isn’t Real…” Then What Is It?

The Nobel Prize for Physics in 2022 made for some pretty big headlines because it acknowledged that the universe is not “locally real.” But that phrase doesn’t necessarily mean what a lot of people think it does. Here’s what it actually means, and why it is worthy of the biggest prize in physics.


A few months back in October of 2022, the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to John Clauser, Alain (Ah-lawn) Aspect, and Anton Zeilinger (Zigh-ling-er). And you probably saw some headlines about it.

A few months back in October of 2022, the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to John Clauser, Alain (Ah-lawn) Aspect, and Anton Zeilinger (Zigh-ling-er). And you probably saw some headlines about it.
Nobel Prizes usually make headlines but these were a bit more bombastic than most. Claiming that they won it for proving that the universe… isn’t real.
And you thought this channel gives you an existential crisis.
But in this case, we’ve got a rare switcheroo, where the news headlines will make you question the nature of reality and I’m here to say… Eh.
When did I become a debunking channel?
The fact that this was awarded the Nobel Prize is really more of a confirmation of theories that have already been widely accepted by the science community – I’ve even talked about it here before.

But, it is interesting stuff. And it does reinforce that the universe is way weirder than we can possibly imagine. On the smallest scales anyway.
So let me do my amateur best at breaking this down. No, the universe is not locally real. But here’s what that actually means.
So on this channel, I get corrected a lot. Like… A lot. I’m sure many of you are warming up your fingers to straighten me out in the comments already.

One thing and this is super pedantic but hey, we’re talking about internet comments here, is whenever I use the word “theory” in the casual, general audience way.
Like if I said I have a theory about why butts have cracks, people will be quick to point out that it’s not actually a theory… it’s a hypothesis. And then ask if I’m okay.
And yes, in a scientific sense, my buttcrack idea is a hypothesis to be tested and not a theory to serve as a basis for knowledge.

But the word “theory” does have a more casual use that laypeople use in the everyday world that doesn’t mean the exact same thing as a research scientist would use it.
And this is kind-of the same thing, when physicists say, “The universe is not locally real,” there’s a different scientific meaning to those words than the layperson might hear.

Luckily for science communicators and nerdy websites, that layperson meaning is pretty clickbaity.

So let’s break this down, what does it mean that the “universe is not locally real?”

Also keep in mind I’m not an actual scientist. But I’ll do my best. Now… let’s go back in time.

Whoa… too far. Let’s jump ahead a little.

All right this works. So ever since scientists and philosophers existed, they have pondered the nature of light. Because some experiments seemed to show it behaving like a wave, some like a particle.
This was a problem that vexed the greatest thinkers of their day like Thomas Young and Sir Isaac Newton.
Flash forward to 1905, Albert Einstein built on the work of Max Planck to show light can be divided into discrete quantities, called photons. In other words, he showed that light was a particle. And there was much rejoicing.

The problem is… they only acted like particles when they were emitted and absorbed. When they were moving through space, they acted like waves. Which was an annoying thing that all quantum objects seemed to do.

Or, according to Max Born, the German-Polish mathematician and grandfather to Olivia-Newton John… No, really. As he said about his work with quantum collisions,  “One does not get an answer to the question, ‘What is the state after collision?’ but only to the question, ‘How probable is a given effect of the collision?’  From the standpoint of our quantum mechanics, there is no quantity which causally fixes the effect of a collision in an individual event.”

The Realist Debate

What Born was advocating for, here, is called the statistical approach to quantum mechanics, or QM.
And to translate that for all us non-grandfathers of Olivia Newton John, it basically means that until a quantum particle is measured, it has no definite values. It only exists as a statistical probability.
It’s like saying that when an archer fires an arrow, from the moment it leaves the bow until it hits the target, it only exists as a cloud of probabilities.

Obviously with a macro object like an arrow or a baseball or a cow (Monty Python), that’s totally absurd, but in the quantum world, that’s how things work. And that was proven true in experiment after experiment after experiment.

And that’s QM, quantum mechanics, many of you already know about this, but it was a radical new science at the time, promoted by Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Max Born, they’re considered the founding fathers of QM.
Does that make quantum mechanics Olivia Newton-John’s father…? I’ll stop now.

One person who wasn’t on board with statistical QM was Einstein. Einstein HATED this idea. In fact, he wrote in a letter to Max Born in 1947: “I cannot seriously believe in it because the theory cannot be reconciled with the idea that physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky action at a distance.”
Stick a pin in “spooky action at a distance.”

We’ll get back to that.

Einstein and those like him became known as “realists” because they believed that a particle was a particle was a particle was a particle, it was a real thing from start to finish. The whole idea that a tiny piece of physical matter could become a math equation was ridiculous.(meme of Einstein with caption, “Get Real”)

Likewise, statistical thinkers like Born, Heisenberg, are Bohr became known as non-realists. Because they believed that’s exactly what happens.
I should point out that individual theories vary, and there are probably as many nuances as there are people who take each side.

So, to go back to our original statement, “The universe is not locally real,” the “real” part of that refers to that argument, whether or not unmeasured particles exist as a physical particle or a statistical probability.
In other words… Einstein was wrong. But he didn’t go down without a fight.

There was a famous conference that happened right in the middle of this melee called the Fifth Solvay Conference where Einstein and Bohr had it out in a big debate, and Einstein challenged other realists to prove the non-realists wrong, which led to a whole slew of thought experiments, the most famous of which is Schrödinger’s cat.

Schrödinger’s Cat 

Apparently Erwin Schrödinger had a great aunt who was a crazy cat lady, so it was only natural that he imagined shutting one of them in a box.
Most of you are probably familiar with Schrödinger’s Cat, the idea being that you put a cat in a box with a vial of poison that would break or not break according to the behavior of a quantum particle, the argument being that if unmeasured particles are just probabilities, then until you look in the box, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time, which is obviously ridiculous.
Which…  I always thought that Schrödinger’s Cat was meant to explain quantum mechanics, like it was an educational tool, but he was actually arguing against it.

I think a lot of people get that confused, I know I did.
Something else that a lot of people don’t know is that in that same paper where he outlined this thought experiment, he also first coined the term “entanglement.”
This was actually inspired by another paper that year from Einstein and two other physicists, Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen.
In this paper, they tried to prove the realist case using the concept of entanglement, but it was so new, it didn’t have a name yet.  It was actually Schrödinger who named it in his cat paper.

Quantum Entanglement

So, entanglement, what is that exactly? Simply put, it’s when the value of a property in one quantum object implies the value of the matching property in another.  (beat) Simpler put, it’s when the properties of two particles are linked.

Electrons, for example, have a property called spin.  It’s possible to entangle two electrons so their spin will measure as opposites. So if you measure the spin of one electron as clockwise, you know the entangled electron spins counter-clockwise.
Although… electron spin is not the same as like the spin of a basketball, it’s a different thing based on angular momentum but for both our sanities, let’s save that for another time.
But still, even if particles are entangled, you only know that after measurement. Before that, values of both particles only exist as statistical probabilities.

The EPR Paradox

So Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen asked what happens when entangled objects are separated, and you measure the values of one of them. Does the other one snap out of statistical probability? And if so, how does it know to do that?
This is the “spooky action at a distance” that I was talking about earlier, also known as the EPR Paradox. Named after Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen.

In the paper, they argued that there must be something else going on here, you can’t just have two particles communicate with each other across space and time, that just makes no sense.
They suggested that if you can predict a quantum object’s properties, something has to make those predictions come true.  They named that “something” hidden variables.

Non-realists say hidden variables don’t exist.  Physics is pure statistics.  There’s nothing but math all the way down. Which is the most hellish version of reality I can think of…
In the years after the EPR paper was published, there were several different hypotheses put forth with different takes on hidden variables, the problem was the technology hadn’t progressed to the point that this could actually be tested.
Einstein spent the last years of his life trying to solve this problem, and never quite got there. In fact it would be nine years after he died before someone figured out a way to test if the universe is real.

Locality and Realism

That test had to do with the “local” part of the headline.
In physics, locality means no two objects can influence each other faster than the speed of light.  Einstein believed in locality.  It was a big part of his special theory of relativity.
So “local” doesn’t necessarily mean close to each other – light from Alpha Centauri is “local” – it just takes 4.3 years to get here.
So to Einstein, a complete theory of physics would explain particles as real and their influences as local.  In other words, “locally real.”
But some in the realist camp aren’t so picky.

Bohm’s EPR and the Universe According to Bell

Take Pilot Wave Theory. I did a video about this a while back, it was proposed by David Bohm, anyway, with pilot wave theory, the  universe is real, but not local.

And in the paper where he proposed Pilot Wave, Bohm and his academic advisor Yakir Aharonov outlined a theoretical experiment to test the paradox using our old friend particle spin.
“Theoretical” is the key word here. They didn’t actually know how to pull it off.

Aharonov is still alive, and his niece is a quantum computer scientist mentions different ways of changing axes, which is why I gloss over the detail

But in 1964, the Irish physicist John Bell read the paper and was inspired to figure out the spin experiment.

Yes, so far in this video, I have talked about Born, Bohr, Bohm, and Bell.

Anyway, what Bell did was he came up with two formulas, one that would reflect a universe with locally-real hidden variables, and one that reflected non-realist QM.
And long explanation mercifully truncated, when Bell ran the formulas, he found they disagreed. The outcomes were fundamentally different in the universe with hidden variables from in the one without.

And his big takeaway from all that razzmatazz is that local hidden variables and quantum mechanics don’t mix, an idea now called Bell’s Theorem. Or, Bell’s Inequality.
In mathematics, an inequality is any formula where the two sides are not equal so like 1 + 2 = 3 is an equality but 2 + 2 > 3 is an inequality. In Bell’s example, QM does not equal hidden variables. So there you go.

But to prove this theorem requires more than fancy math, you’ve gotta do an experiment, which he proposed and called it the Bell Test, because he liked putting his name on things.
But once again, the technology to perform the test didn’t exist yet.
Coming up with runnable Bell tests, and using the results to shed light on physics is how John Clauser, Alain Aspect, and Anton Zeilinger won the Nobel Prize.  And I mean “shed light” literally.

John Clauser

Because they used photons to test the Bell inequality.  Photons act differently than the particles Bohm and Aharonov proposed checking for spin.
In 1969, John Clauser teamed up with physicists Abner Shimony and Michael Horne, and physics student Richard Holt, to work out how to use them in a Bell test.

By the way, I know I’m throwing a LOT of names out there right now, you don’t need to know exactly who all these people are, but I’m saying their names because they are reflected in some terms that you might have heard before, so it’s just context, bear with me.

Anyway, they broke from the initial idea that Bell had because Bell imagined measuring the spin of particles as perfectly up or perfectly down. Which is incredibly hard with photons.
So Clauser and his colleagues just… relaxed that rule

The result was an experimental setup that uses light to test the Bell inequality while accounting for imperfect results. And in 1969, it was named the CHSH Inequality. And now you know why I said all those names earlier.
And you’re going to have to forgive me for being intentionally vague for the purposes of this video, this is literally stuff that Einstein couldn’t come up with. I know my limits.
But simply put, any experiment that violates the CHSH inequality disproves hidden variables and is considered proof of statistical quantum mechanics.

Still with me? All right.

Three years later (1972), Clauser and his colleague, Stuart Freedman, ran the first successful Bell test.  And their results violated the CHSH inequality.
And somewhere in the afterlife, Einstein cried.

Actually Clauser was also disappointed.  He later admitted he wanted to “shake the world” with a hidden variable win.  But he’ll just have to settle for a Nobel Prize.
But, he shared this prize with two other people, because there were still some loopholes in the theory and they helped close them.
So let’s talk about Alain Aspect real quick.

Alain Aspect

First of all, the year after Clauser’s big experiment, so 1973, Richard Holt ran a separate test.
Holt if you remember was one of the H’s in CHSH. I… don’t know which one.
But his test actually satisfied the CHSH inequality.  So maybe hidden variables were a thing!

But his hidden variable acted like a ghost in the machine.  It was kinda determined by how the measurement was done.
But Alain Aspect broke the tie by introducing a random element to his measurements so that the measuring devices couldn’t influence each other.
Specifically, he changed the polarization of photons while they were on the way to a filter.  The filter would either block photons or let them through, depending on the polarization.

This randomness let Aspect prove his measuring devices weren’t pre-determining the outcome.  Anyway, this was a big hit in the physics community, and it continually violated the CHSH inequality in multiple runs in labs all over the world.
This was another nail in the coffin to the hidden variables theory, and a big win for the non-realists.

Anton Zeilinger

But the theory still wasn’t 100%. There were still a couple objections and loopholes that the realists would point out, and that’s when Anton Zeilinger stepped in and said, “Hold my Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.” Apparently he’s a huge Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan.
So Zeilinger did his test in 1998, but long before that, he had worked with entangled particles.  There’s actually a type of entanglement called the GHZ state.  The Z stands for Zeilinger.

His experiment addressed one of the objections to Aspect’s test, which was that his method of polarization was “predictable into the future.”  In other words, his randomization wasn’t random enough.(on screen: In collaboration with Gregor Weihs, Thomas Jennewein, Christoph Simon, and Harald Weinfurte) — dated 2008 on the PDF; I think this is a revision, as the submission date to arxiv is in 1998

So what they did was they used a “physical random number generator” that took the form of a light-emitting diode and a beam-splitter.
The light from the diode was nonpolarized, so the chance of its exiting the splitter in one of two directions was as random as anything science can get.

They also placed their measuring devices so far apart, they could  eliminate any chance of communication.
And, as you may have guessed, it worked. It closed the last loopholes and objections to the Bell test and to date anyway, no result has seriously challenged the completeness of statistical quantum mechanics.

In other words… the “non-realists” were right. Einstein and the realists were wrong. Quantum mechanics is super weird.

You Still Gotta Work

So, none of this is anything you haven’t already heard. We all know the quantum world is weird, hell, it’s a major plot point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This year’s Nobel Prize simply honors the physicists whose work proved this theory beyond a shadow of a doubt. And rightfully so.
But because of the language used in the announcement, there were all these headlines saying “the universe isn’t real” like they proved simulation theory or something, which… No.

Frankly, I take offense to this because it’s MY job to give people existential dread, buddy.
So no, this doesn’t change anything about the world you live in, you still have to go to work tomorrow. Sorry.

Quantum Computing

On the upside, the more we understand about quantum mechanics, the better our future quantum computers can be.
Anton Zeilinger in particular has built a career on using entanglement to push the boundaries of quantum computing.
Maybe someday there will be a Nobel Prize for quantum computing and the headlines will say, “God is found in cheese.” Somehow.

So listen, when it comes to quantum physics.. I’m a filmmaker.
There’s some details that I totally left out in this video because as I said before, I know my limits, but I’m putting links to everything in the description. Lots of links.
I just thought I’d talk about this because I did get a lot of requests about it. It took me a while to get this out so hopefully it maybe filled some gaps in what you’ve already seen. Because I know a lot of other people have covered it.

The Harpe Brothers: America’s First Serial Killers

In the chaos following the American Revolutionary War, a pair of bandits known as the Harpe Brothers went on a vicious killing spree across the frontier. They are now considered the first serial killers in America.


Now, the Mason gang could be ruthless, but even they were shocked by the Harpes’ actions. The gang asked them to leave after they got into a habit of taking travelers to the top of the bluff, stripping them naked, and then throwing them off.

Legend says that after his head was placed in the tree, a witch removed the skull, ground it into powder, and used it as a healing potion for a relative. When travelers retold the story, they swore they could hear laughter coming from the nearby bushes and trees.

Near Dixon, Kentucky is a junction in the road where US Highway 41 meets State Highway 56. It’s labeled on the map at Harpe’s Head Road State Historic Site.

It’s name hints at one of the most notorious crime sprees in US history, bred from the very war that created the country as we know it.

This is the story of the Harpe Brothers, America’s first serial killers.

Before we begin, I want to give a quick warning that we’re going to talk about some pretty nasty stuff in this video. In fact, it’ll be a miracle if this video doesn’t get demonetized.

Don’t think just because we’re talking about historical events that it’s somehow tamer or more sanitized because it was a “simpler time”. If anything, it’s the opposite.

This may be one of those episodes where you send the kids to the other room. Put a different video on for them – here, I’ll link to a video about smart animals. That’s cute.

They gone? Okay, let’s begin.

First let’s set the scene. It’s the late 1700s. The United States as we know it didn’t exist yet. Tensions between the colonies and the British empire were at an all-time high.

Protests broke out in multiples cities. In 1770, British troops fired on a group of protesters in Boston, killing three on the spot, with two more dying later from their wounds. This came to be known as the Boston Massacre.

Although like most things in history, the word “massacre” is an embellishment. The “peaceful protesters” were more like a drunken mob descending on 9 redcoats who panicked and fired into the crowd.

But still… tension.

Three years later, The Boston Tea Party happened when protestors dumped more than 300 chests of British tea into the harbor to protest the Tea Act.

Which led to the most caffeinated fish of all time.

All of this came to a head when fighting began in Lexington and Concord, setting off the American Revolutionary War in 1775.
But just like the Boston Massacre isn’t quite as one-sided as we were brought up to believe, not everyone in the colonies were on board with the revolution. There were a lot of people who were doing kinda good with the British and wanted to stay with them.

Like think about how divided we are today, they were just as divided but they were actually at war. Acts of violence broke out between neighbors on the the different sides all the time.

This was especially true on the frontier, which at the time was territories like Kentucky and Tennessee.

The idea of “the frontier” is almost more of an abstract concept these days, there’s nothing really like it today to compare it to.

The frontier wasn’t just unsettled, wild land, it was kind-of lawless; every man for himself, there was no authority to turn to if you got in trouble.

And there were plenty of ways to get in trouble. Roads were little more than well-worn Indian trails through overgrown forests where around every corner and behind every tree there could be a gang of bandits waiting to rob you. Or hostile natives ready to protect their land with violence.
And it’s in this violent, divided world that the Harpe Brothers emerged.

So, another thing about this time period is it was a time of myths and legends like Johnny Appleseed and Daniel Boone. Bigger than life heroes who tamed the wilderness and created a path for manifest destiny.

But where you have bigger than life heroes, you’ll also find bigger than life villains. And that was the Harpe Brothers.

So it’s a challenge to discern what is fact and legend with their story. These are events that took place over 200 years ago involving some seriously shady dudes.

The story is that they grew up in a family of loyalists who sided with the Crown, and things escalated to the point that one day a mob of revolutionaries attacked their family and lynched their parents.

The Harpe brothers fled into the wilderness where they were taken in by an Indian tribe. The tribe taught them how to survive in the bush and even more importantly, how to fight and kill like warriors.

And after that, they spent the rest of their lives using those skills to take revenge against the entire human race, murdering anybody they came across and displaying cruelty beyond all human comprehension. That’s the story.

There are a few problems with this story, for one thing the Harpe Brothers weren’t brothers at all. They were actually cousins.

Both of their fathers were Scottish immigrants who settled in North Carolina and they grew up together.

Their names were Micajah and Wiley, but they took on the nicknames “Big” and “Little” Harpe. Because, you know, one was bigger than the other.

Not the most creative nicknames I’ve ever heard but they got the job done.

Micajah “Big” Harpe was slightly older and, obviously, bigger. Contemporary accounts described him as the more impulsive and violent of the two and he often used his size to get his way.

Wiley “Little” Harpe was the brains of the duo, much more strategic and conniving, but just as ruthless.

As for the rest of their origin story, it’s not known for sure whether their parents were really murdered by revolutionaries, but as Loyalists they definitely had targets on their backs. And this tension and ostracism definitely would have shaped their attitudes toward the world as they grew up.

And the bit about being taken in by Indian tribes, again, it’s hard to say if that really happened to them but white settlers intermingled with Indian tribes all the time, especially on the frontier.
In fact, I was just reading a book where they were talking about how some of the earliest settlers actually abandoned their European communities to join the Indians because they preferred their way of life.

Especially in the Northeast, the Haudenosaunee tribes, the Five Nations were far more egalitarian and democratic than the Europeans that were obsessed with social classes.

In fact, the argument has been made that those values rubbed off on the colonists and set them on a course for independence and democracy. Like I mentioned the Boston Tea Party earlier, they dressed as Mohawk Indians when they did that as a symbol of the type of democracy that they wanted.
But, as I mentioned, some were loyal to the British, and that’s the side that the Harpe Brothers were part of.

And as the Revolutionary War took hold, they joined a Tory gang in North Carolina that waged guerrilla warfare against patriot colonists.

That’s one way of putting it, the other way is the war gave them a good excuse to assault, steal, and murder people.

They did actually join the British in a couple of battles including the Battle of Blackstock in 1780 and Cowpens in 1781.

And then the Americans defeated the British at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 and the war ended, meaning those colonial patriots they had been terrorizing and fighting against were now in charge.

So they got the hell out of North Carolina and went west into Tennessee, which was just a territory at the time, mostly Indian country.

By the way, that’s another thing that the story of the Harpe Brothers teaches us, you know, the way we learn about history is that the United States won the war, and everything was good, all was right with the world.

But the truth is a lot messier than that, like I said before there were major fractures over the Revolutionary War and those fractures didn’t just disappear once the war was over. In fact the violence of the war years only intensified hostilities and reprisals.

So yeah, they moved to Tennessee where they were out of the jurisdiction of state authorities.

And they took with them a trio of women, named Maria Davidson, Susan Wood, and Sarah Rice. Again, details are fuzzy here but some say they were wives and accomplices of the Harpe brothers, others say they were kidnapped.

There is a record of Wiley Harpe marrying Sarah Rice, but apparently they kinda “shared” the women.

So either a polyamorous Bonnie and Clyde situation, or two monsters with a harem of kidnapped victims.

Either way, they hid out in the Cherokee-Chickamauga village of Nickajack, near modern-day Chattanooga, for 12-13 years.

They ran a pig farm and earned a reputation as men you did not mess with because they would not hesitate to murder you.

I mean, the frontier was chock full of rogues and bandits hiding from authorities and preying on travelers and new settlers, but even amongst the bad guys, the Harpe Brothers stood out.

In fact, they weren’t alone, they had a band of other outlaws with them, one of whom was a guy named Moses Doss.

And maybe this gives some kind of clue to their relationship with the women, but at some point Moses became concerned for them. Perhaps he expressed his concern to the brothers, or maybe he threatened to go to authorities, but either way, they uh… killed him.

This is going to be a recurring theme.

By the spring of 1797, they were living in a cabin on Beaver’s Creek near Knoxville, Tennessee. And this is when something changed. And the Harpe Brothers went on the move.

One story is that people started noticing that their pig farm had run out of pigs but they still seemed to come to market to sell pigs all the time. And also a lot of other people’s pigs were going missing. So, they did the math.

And they’d probably been stealing pigs for a long time but in 1796, Tennessee became a state, meaning there was now some kind of law and order in the area. So it was time to hit the road.

And it started with a man named Johnson whom they met at a bar, or “rowdy groggery”.

The story goes that they met the man and noticed he had a bit of a full coinpurse. And they convinced him to travel with them.

This wasn’t unusual back then, like I said, the roads were dangerous, so people tended to travel in groups. The Harpes convinced him that they could keep him safe. Instead, they killed him and took his money.

A passerby found his body floating in the Holston River a few days later. It was ripped open and filled with stones, which kinda became a trademark of the Harpe Brothers, they would fill the body with stones and dump it in a river to make it sink to the bottom.

Which is kinda horrifying because even with all the killings that we know they committed, there are probably tons more we don’t know about because the bodies were never found.

The Harpes then moved east toward the Cumberland Gap to meet up with their wives.

They killed twice more while on the Wilderness Road. The first time was a pair of travelers named Paca and Bates.

The second time was a young man named Langford. But like their other victims, they didn’t dispose of the body very well.

Langford’s body was found and a nearby innkeeper recognized it, figuring out the Harpes committed the crime.

With their rate of violence escalating, a posse formed and chased the Harpes, who were caught on Christmas day in 1799. They were imprisoned in Stanford, Kentucky.

Enough evidence was found for a trial in the district court in Danville, Kentucky. But just before the trial date in March, the Harpes escaped.

In April, the Kentucky governor placed a $300 reward on each of their heads. That’s about $7000 in today’s money.

Now one might think that they would consider that too close for comfort and lay low for a while. They didn’t. They kept on killing people.
They headed west where they killed two more men on the trail, then near the mouth of Saline Creek, they came across three men who were camping and joined them for some s’mores.

I’m kidding, they killed them.

They eventually found themselves at an area called Cave-In-Rock in southern Illinois, which was a stronghold of the river pirate Samuel Mason.

The Mason gang used the cave as a hideout and from there would attack supply boats heading up the Ohio river. And this seemed like as good a place as any for the Harpes to settle down for a while with their wives and three children. Oh yeah, they had some kids at this point.

And this was a good fit for a while. But eventually the Harpes found a way to cause trouble.

Keep in mind, the Mason gang was one of the most ruthless bands of pirates around, but even they saw the Harpes’ brutality and were like, dude, chill.

Because the Harpes got a kick out of taking travelers to the top of the bluff, stripping them naked, and then throwing them off the cliff. Like you do.

So yeah, the Mason gang kicked them out. And this really speaks to what made the Harpes stand out. There were tons of thieves who would kill to protect themselves or serve their own interests, but the Harpes… they killed for sport. They got off on it.

Once they were dismissed from the Mason gang, they headed back into eastern Tennessee and continued their killing spree.
In July 1798, they killed a farmer named Bradbury, a man named Hardin, and a boy named Coffey.

More bodies were soon discovered:

  • William Ballard – disemboweled and thrown into the Holston River
  • James Brassel – his throat slashed and found on Brassel’s Knob
  • John Graves and his teenage son – their heads axed in south-central Kentucky

And in Logan County, Kentucky, they killed a little girl, a young slave, and an entire family who were sleeping at a campsite.

They also killed and disemboweled a man named Trowbridge in August.

With the violence escalating and a bounty on their heads, they found themselves being chased by various posses. In one close call, with a posse bearing down on them, Big Harpe’s infant daughter was crying and threatened to give them away. So he bashed her head against a tree.

Later he would confess genuine remorse for this. It’s the only murder he claimed to feel bad about.

But it was in the summer of 1799 when it all finally caught up to the Harpe Brothers.

They came upon the home of Moses Stegall in Webster County, Kentucky, and purchased a room for the night.

While there, they killed an overnight guest named Major William Love.

They then entered the kitchen and demanded Mrs. Stegall make them some food. She obliged, but when her four-month old boy started crying… well, we know how Big Harpe dealt with crying babies.

And when Mrs. Stegall screamed at the sight of Big Harpe cutting her son’s throat, they killed her as well. Then burned the cabin down.
This event would be the Harpes’ undoing. When Moses Stegall came home and saw what happened, he quickly formed a posse.
Vigilante justice was about to take hold.

By the time Stegall’s posse caught up with them, they had already murdered two more men named Hudgens and Gilmore.
As the posse closed in around their camp, Little escaped, but Big was chased down. They managed to shoot him once in the leg and once in the back.

And the legend has it that as he lay there bleeding out, he confessed his killings to the men who stood over him, waiting for him to die.

That’s when Moses Stegall took Big’s own butcher knife… and cut off his head.
According to the story, he did it while Big was still alive, and he did it as slowly as possible to extend the agony. Micajah’s last words were, “You’re a Goddamned rough butcher, but cut on and be damned.”

Once it was over, Moses took Big’s head and impaled it on the limb of a tree near the intersection of a local road to serve as a warning for other would-be bandits.

That spot is the infamous Harpe’s Head Road that I mentioned at the beginning of this video.
But Little got away. He headed west again with the women and returned to the Mason Gang at Cave-In-Rock under the alias of John Setton.

He managed to stay alive for 4 years before his insatiable greed got the best of it.

Turns out, Mason had a $2,000 bounty on his head. That’s equivalent to almost $50,000 today.

So, Little and another pirate turned on Mason and decapitated him.

They took the head in for the reward money. As he began to leave with the money, a victim from an earlier riverboat attack recognized him.

Authorities immediately arrested him, but he escaped…. again. Maybe his nickname should’ve been Willy and not Little.

A posse caught up with him and he was finally brought to justice. Tried, sentenced, and hung.

And just to make sure he was dead, they cut off his head and placed it on a spike along the Natchez Trace as a warning to other outlaws.
This was February of 1804, and their bloody spree of violence finally came to an end.

The three women were arrested and tried, but the community took pity on them. Again, there’s still debate around whether they were willing accomplices or kidnap victims, but in this case they were seen as victims. Or they were able to convince people they were anyway.

Perhaps a piece of evidence that swayed the jury was the fact that – that whole thing where Micajah murdered his own child? Apparently that happened several times.

There were three children – between the five of them – that survived. But apparently they had several more children. All of which were dispatched in the interest of expediency.

It’s hard to imagine a mother willingly staying with someone who does that to their children, or actively participating in it. But of course… there are female psychopaths too.

Regardless, the three of them went on to marry, raise families, and live in peace.
In the end, the Harpes claim to have killed 39 people. But that number may be closer to 50 or higher. Like I said before, the way they disposed of bodies means there could be a lot that went uncounted.

The Harpe name became synonymous with violence, lawlessness, and unspeakable evil. And many family members changed their last names to hide the fact that they were related to them.

Some just dropped the “e,” while others changed their names significantly. In fact, the rumor is that Wyatt Earp was a descendant of the Harpe Brothers.

But in a way… and bear with me because this could get pretentious for a second… Aren’t we all descendants of the Harpe Brothers?

The United States, for all it’s positives, has always had a dark underbelly to it.

Those tensions that were created in the fire of the revolution, the tensions that created the Harpes… they’re still around. They don’t take the same form they used to, they’ve evolved over time. But they’re still there – woven into the fabric our history.

We celebrate great heroes from the revolution but forget that revolution is messy and created fractures that led to unspeakable violence.

There are similar fractures in society today. Fractures that manifest in evil and violent acts with relentless, overwhelming regularity.

Am I working too hard on this? I’m just saying that there are lessons to be learned from the Harpe brothers. This isn’t just a salacious story about a couple of serial killers, they were serial killers formed by the very birth of this nation. Every rose has its thorn.

This Company Wants To Build Offices In Space

Orbital Reef is a collaboration between Blue Origin, Sierra Space, Boeing and several other companies and organizations, and their plan is to build a private space station featuring zero-gravity work space for others to lease, just like an office building. Featuring modules for science research, manufacturing, and media production. But how likely is it to succeed?


Since the birth of science fiction, filmmakers have had to get creative with their depictions of weightlessness in space travel.
From the early days of Destination Moon in the 1950s up through Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, wires were the method of choice.
Today wires can be digitally removed but in the old days great pains were made to make the wires disappear into the background. Such as painting the wires the same color as the void behind it or lighting specifically to avoid the wires.
Kubrick came up with the idea of hanging the actors on a wire and shooting from below, using the actors’ bodies to hide the wires.
Kubrick of course also came up with the famous rotating set to simulate artificial gravity.
And Star Wars used the ingenious method of… just ignoring it.
But nothing sells zero gravity like the real thing, which is why Ron Howard famously shot scenes for Apollo 13 on the NASA KC-135, affectionately known as the “Vomit Comet” which flies in steep parabolas to create a weightless experience for roughly 30 seconds at a time. This created some groundbreaking footage that edited seamlessly with the rest of the scenes shot on soundstages.
But even that pales in comparison to the Russian film Vyzov (The Challenge), in which a doctor has to fly to the International Space Station to perform surgery on a cosmonaut in space. And they did this… by actually flying up to the ISS
In October of 2021, Director Klim Shipenko and actor Yulia Peresild spent 12 days on the ISS shooting scenes for the film, which should take up about 35 minutes of the film’s run time. Keep an eye out for that to come out in March of this year.
At the same time, you’ve probably heard that NASA will be flying Tom Cruise and director Doug Liman to the ISS to shoot scenes on an unnamed $200 million film, where it’s expected he’ll actually do a space walk. Because, you know… Tom Cruise.
All of this is interesting, maybe even exciting but the fact is, pretty soon shooting films in space might become commonplace. Because there’s a company that’s developing a permanent entertainment studio in space. And a hell of a lot more.
The company is called Orbital Reef, and if you haven’t heard of it, it involves Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Space, and several other companies and institutions.

Their goal is to become one of the first in a new generation of commercial space stations after the ISS shuts down around 2030.

They were awarded $130 million back in December 2021 through NASA’s Commercial Low-Earth Orbit Development program. And in August 2022, they passed a critical system definition review with NASA.
This basically affirmed that its planned architecture was sound and the project could proceed further in the design phase.

So yeah, with Artemis kicking into gear and the ISS on its way out, NASA’s basically handing Low-Earth Orbit over to the private sector while it focuses on deep space. So there’s actually several private space stations in the works, I’ll get to some of those later in this video but first let’s talk about Orbital Reef.

According to its website, Orbital Reef will orbit at about 402 kilometers (250 miles) above Earth. And the general idea is for it to be an orbital business park.

So just like today a company might rent office or warehouse space, with Orbital Reef, you could lease access to pre-formulated spaces… in space.

Modules where companies can do microgravity research, technology development, manufacturing products, as well as space tourism and, yes, media and film production.

Hence the company’s slogan: Your address in orbit.
From space flight to seeing the Earth from outer space to floating free and weightless, the company will offer flight plans, training, and activities for short or long visits.

As CEO of Sierra Space Tom Vice said,

“We are on the doorstep of the most profound industrial revolution in human history. An industrial revolution marked by the transition from the last 60 years of space exploration to a future where humanity extends our factories and cities into space. It isn’t solely about tourism – it is about unlocking the next great discoveries using the microgravity factories that we will build just 250 miles above the Earth’s surface.”

Sierra Space claims that these microgravity factories and services could revolutionize every industry and be a major growth contributor to the U.S. and world economies.

And this isn’t really hyperbole, there’s a lot of things we’ve discovered over the years that can be manufactured much better in microgravity, like biological tissue for example.

We all love the idea of being able to 3D print organs for people who need transplants, well a big hurdle to overcome is that if you start laying down cells in regular Earth gravity, they just kinda pool together and can’t take the form they need to take. This actually works much, much better in microgravity.

So someday you might be able to get a new liver 3D printed using your own stem cells in space. And that’s just one example, there are dozens of other applications.

So, another company that’s part of Orbital Reef is everybody’s favorite space punching bag, Blue Origin. And look, I’ve been spicy about Blue Origin in the past, but I’ll be nice today, I promise.

Space is hard…

But Blue Origin has a big role to play here because if you’re going to build a business park in space, you need a heavy lift vehicle to put all that payload up there, and exactly what the New Glenn is designed to do.

And it does tie in to Blue Origin’s overall mission of moving industry off Earth and into space.

The question becomes how close are we to seeing the New Glenn get off the ground? (struggle – regroup) It has been delayed. It was originally scheduled for launch in 2020, that got pushed to early 2021, then late 2022, and now… Yeah, it’s delayed.

Blue Origin is a lot more secretive than say SpaceX, so we really don’t know how far along they are – we’ve seen pathfinder prototypes, we’ve seen a drone ship to land in the ocean that has now been scrapped…
The most recent thing we’ve seen is them testing the fairings in the water at Kennedy Space Center in December 2022.

They may be testing to see if they can recover and reuse the fairings, like SpaceX does with the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.

New Glenn’s payload fairings are made from a pricey carbon composite, and it is designed to be as reusable as possible so it’s not out of the question that they’d want to reuse them.

But it seems like the main holdup with New Glenn is the development of their BE-4 engines, which the first stage will have 7 of them.

The BE-4 is a massive and powerful engine that will run on methane and oxygen just like the SpaceX Raptor engine, and they’re designed to be reusable.

But they’ve run into multiple issues with the engine development, in testing it wasn’t burning as long as it should, there were issues with the turbopump, some high-level team leads left the company, it’s been a clusterf–

There have been issues.

The hope is that the engines will be ready to get New Glenn off the ground some time this year but as of this recording, the BE-4s are still not flight-qualified.

In the meantime, Blue Origin has continued launching New Shepherd missions using their smaller BE-3 engine, except they’ve actually put a hold on those for a while because of… well… engine issues.

Space is hard.

Anyway, the other major partner in Orbital Reef is Sierra Space, who do have some exciting things happening.

Sierra Space is the company behind the Dream Chaser space plane, which I did a video on space planes a while back, linkie-poo around here somewhere but the long and short of it is it’s kind-of a miniature Space Shuttle.

And I am a fan.

Its first vehicle named Tenacity is set to start running a series of NASA missions to the International Space Station in 2023.
In August, Sierra Space announced that the Dream Chaser would be used for a 2024 cargo mission to transport several life science experiments to the space station for Yuri, a German space biotech company.

Sierra Space will send at least six cargo missions to the space station using Dream Chaser. These are all uncrewed missions but the plan is to eventually launch crew up to the ISS and of course, Orbital Reef.

It was actually in the running for the Commercial Crew contract that went to the Crew Dragon and Starliner but it did get picked for cargo missions.

The ship will lift off from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and it’ll be able to land on conventional runways.
One argument for the Dream Chaser that I found interesting was that if a crew member on the ISS became severely injured or ill, coming back in a vehicle that can land on a runway anywhere in the world would make it a lot easier to get them to a hospital on the ground than, say, landing in the ocean and everything that goes along with that.

But yeah, the hope is to see Tenacity make its first flights this year, but it’s being delayed because they’re going to launch on the new Vulcan Centaur rocket from ULA, and that’s been delayed, also because of engine issues.
Yeah, they’re using a new engine that’s still in development, it’s called the… BE-4 engine.  It’s Blue Origin that’s holding it up.  Excuse me…
Okay, to be fair, Blue Origin did just deliver the first 2 BE-4 engines to ULA a few months back in October so maybe we’ll see something happen in 2023. (a beat) Is it mean to point out that the original deadline was 2017? And I guess COVID didn’t help.

Space is hard, space is hard, space is hard…

There are some other partners working on Orbital Reef, and they include Arizona State University, Boeing, Genesis Engineering, and Redwire Space.

  • Arizona State University is leading the University Advisory Group, a global consortium of universities for research advisory services and public outreach.
  • Boeing is leading the development of Orbital Reef’s operations and maintenance and science module, and Starliner crew capsule.
  • Genesis Engineering Solutions is developing the Single Person Spacecraft for routine operations and tourist excursions.
  • Redwire Space is leading microgravity research payload development and operations, large deployable structures, and the Orbital Reef digital twin.

The long and short of it is Orbital Reef is working on an “if you build it, they will come” model. They’re building the facilities and leasing them out to anybody who can use it, basically giving people a microgravity platform for whatever use case they may have.

Other companies are taking different approaches.

Remember that $130 million grant that NASA awarded Orbital Reef? Well, NASA also awarded two other companies developing space stations.

They awarded $160 million to Houston-based Nanoracks for its Starlab project.

Nanoracks previously worked with NASA to build the Bishop Airlock which is currently on the ISS, but Starlab would be an all-in-one, continuously crewed, commercial space station for research and commercial industrial work.
Nanoracks plans to launch Starlab in 2027 on a single flight, in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin.

This station is designed for four astronauts. It’ll have power, volume, and payload capability equal to the ISS.

Starlab will also include the George Washington Carver Science Park, which has four operational departments:

  • A biology lab
  • A plant habitation lab
  • A physical science and materials research lab
  • An open workbench area for researchers and commercial customers

The hotel company Hilton is also collaborating on Starlab by helping make crew suites less utilitarian and more like extended stay accommodations.

This isn’t the first time Hilton has worked with Nanoracks. In 2020, DoubleTree hotel brand cookies were baked in special ovens on the ISS, marking what Hilton said were the first cookies baked in space.
Another group that received a NASA grant was Northrop Grumman, who received $125.6 million for a project described as a design that

“… leverages flight-proven elements, such as the Cygnus spacecraft that provides cargo delivery to the International Space Station, to provide a base module for extended capabilities including science, tourism, industrial experimentation, and the building of infrastructure beyond initial design.”

There will be multiple docking ports allowing for future expansion to support crew habitats, labs, airlocks, and artificial gravity facilities to support various customers.

Northrop’s space station will support four permanent crew members at the beginning, expanding to an eight-person crew over time, with an operating lifetime of about 15 years.

And then of course there’s Axiom space, they’re working on a private space station that will build on top of the ISS and then detach itself and become its own thing.

But before they get to that point, they’re the ones who are going to build the set for that Tom Cruise movie I was talking about at the beginning.

They’re doing it in partnership with a British company called Space Entertainment Enterprise (SEE) said in January 2022 that it’s building an inflatable module called the SEE-1 specifically for film and video production.

It’ll be six meters across when fully expanded and have facilities for film, music, and sporting events.

Which sounds to me like someone’s gonna have to come up with a zero gravity sport. Pickleball eat your heart out.

As president and chief executive of Axiom Space Michael Suffredini said,

“Adding a dedicated entertainment venue to Axiom Station’s commercial capabilities in the form of SEE-1 will expand the station’s utility as a platform for a global user base and highlight the range of opportunities the new space economy offers.”

Which is a very corporate way of saying they want to shoot the first Hollywood movie in space.
Not to be outdone, Orbital Reef announced this last September at the International Astronautical Congress that they have signed a deal with Centerboro Productions to portray the space station in a film titled HELIOS.

The film will be set in 2030 and tells the story of the spaceship HELIOS and its crew on an urgent mission to the ISS.

A solar flare hits the station, and its up to an astronomer and Air Force general to team up and save humanity.

Orbital Reef will be featured as a critical resource by the HELIOS crew.

Principle photography for the film is planned to begin in 2023. Assuming it doesn’t get delayed by Blue Origin somehow.
I tried.

One final thought, for me personally, the real value is spaceflight is is serves as a cauldron for innovation that filters down to the rest of us here on the ground. Because in case I didn’t mention it… Space is hard.

So much of what we take for granted in our daily lives are only possible because of some innovation that was developed in space.

So I’m hopeful in the coming decade with multiple stations providing research and manufacturing to dozens of companies, we could see a flood of spinoff technologies on a level that we’ve never seen before.


Does The Fusion Breakthrough Live Up To The Clickbait?

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



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

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

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

Every energy source has some kind of drawback

Fossil fuels

– global warming


– radioactive waste

Solar and wind

– intermittency

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

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

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

Tokamak/Stellerator plasma confinement designs

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

Inertial fusion vs Magnetic confinement

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

Inertial Confinement Fusion Experiment

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

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

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

So is this all overhyped?

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

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

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


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

Thales of Miletus – November – Patreon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas F Boulden – Patreon – November

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

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

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

Brian Beswick – Discord – November

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

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

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

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

From earlier in the year:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Beswick – Discord – September

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

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

Mark Hoffman – March – Patreon

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

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

Mark Hoffman – March – Patreon

Also, aren’t magnets fun?!?


Thomas Lovse – March – Patreon

Can you talk about feudalism and the feudal system?

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

John Regel – March – Discord

Skippy or JIF, crunchy or smooth?

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

Joe Scott’s Beautiful Hairline – Feb – Discord

Will you make anymore history topic videos in the future?

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

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

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

Somebody Is FINALLY Doing Something About Space Junk

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you miss it? I think we missed it.

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

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

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

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

Space Junk History

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

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

Operation Plumbbob

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

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

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

ISS Headaches

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

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

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

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

Kessler Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

Privateer’s Moriba Jah

But there is a company working to prevent that.

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

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

The Platform Approach

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

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

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

Orbital Predictions

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

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

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

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

 Future Satellite Sources

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

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

Privateer’s Partnerships

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

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

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

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

Cleaning Up Orbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on Moriba Jah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

A Strange Rain

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

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

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

Mysterious Illnesses

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

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

Bacterial Growth

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

Missing Samples

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

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

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

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

Star Jelly

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

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

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

Jelly Fish

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

Human Waste

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

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

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

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

Secret Military Experiments

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

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

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

Here come the theories

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

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

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

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

Fact vs Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe something about the semiconductor shortage recently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For reference, a human hair is 50 microns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then proceed to spend $340 million. Casual.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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