SGU Episode 911

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SGU Episode 911
December 24th 2022
911 cuttlefish.jpg

A cuttlefish. Click this line for a detailed caption, from the NatGeo page, Cuttlefish.

"Despite their name, cuttlefish are not fish but intelligent invertebrates related to the octopus, squid, and nautilus."

"These fascinating creatures can count, exert self-control, and have numerous wily tactics to evade predators, including creating their own body double from a cloud of ink. Despite being colorblind, cuttlefish also have highly sophisticated color-changing abilities.

"The more than 120 different species of cuttlefish are usually solitary animals and can be found in oceans all over the world. While most live in shallow waters, some species can be found at depths of more than 3,000 feet."

SGU 910                      SGU 912

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

C: Cara Santa Maria

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein

Quote of the Week

The boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.

Charles Dickens, English writer

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Show Notes
Forum Discussion

Introduction, Live from Phoenix, humans skulls, Meteor Crater[edit]

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. (applause) Today is Thursday, December 15th,2022, and this is your host, Steven Novella. (applause) Joining me this week are Bob Novella...

B: Hey, everybody! (applause)

S: Cara Santa Maria...

C: Howdy. (applause)

S: Jay Novella...

J: Hey guys. (applause)

S: Evan Bernstein...

E: Hello Phoenix! (applause)

S: ...and George Hrab.

GH: Arizona! (applause) Hello.

S: As you can hear, we are recording in front of a live audience. Most of them are live anyway. We are in Phoenix. Evan always steals my thunder by saying the name of the city that we're in.

E: You don't tell me to not steal your thunder.

S: I'm just wondering if you're ever going to figure it out on your own. You haven't so far.

E: You have yet to detect my pattern that when we do these live audiences in a town, in a new city, that I will acknowledge the city.

J: That's Evan's thing.

S: I know.

E: So how is that stealing your thunder?

S: So I've been to Arizona a few times before. Guys who, Jay, I know Jay had a close friend, Michael Warticelli, who lived in Arizona. So you've been here quite a bit.

J: I've been here many times.

S: Many times. And any of the rest of you have been here before?

B: No.

C: Yeah.

E: Grand Canyon. We visited the Grand Canyon in 2014 when we were in Las Vegas for TAM that year. But that's it. That's my only Arizona experience.

GH: I did a percussion convention in Phoenix probably 20 years ago or so. The PASIC, the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. It's a great time. It's a room probably four times the size of this, all filled with drums. And you're in there for about nine seconds and you just want to eat your own face. It's like every drummer in the United States banging away. Yeah, it was awful and awesome at the same time. But it was lovely. It was lovely. It was in October-ish. So shade was perfect, 72. And as soon as you stepped into the sun, your skin disappeared. It was amazing, the disparity between the shade and the non-shade.

S: Did they have breakout sessions for bongos or things like that?

GH: Steve, you wouldn't believe the breakout sessions. Like triangle repertoire. Like, oh, there's these new triangle mallets. You've got to try them out. There's going to be a 45-minute demonstration with Shostakovich excerpts for triangle. Yeah, it's like the hardest core, deepest dive kind of stuff. Yeah, it's insane.

J: Tell me, just be straight up honest with me.

GH: Yeah.

J: Is there really a skill in playing the triangle?

GH: Oh, no question. Yes yes yes. Yeah. I mean, it's-

J: What? Like what? Angle of attack?

GH: Well, there's timbre, there's tone to begin with. But when you're playing something like, let's say the Shostakovich, I think Shostakovich 7 has this great [immitates the sound].

J: Okay, so you're drumming on a triangle.

GH: Do a triangle roll. How do you make a triangle sustain a note over as long as you want it to? Well, you have to roll. So you get in the corner and you go, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, but you've got to make it sound like, aaaaah. Not to be all percussy about the whole thing.

S:' Yeah, Jay was thinking just what it hit it. Yeah, ding.

GH: Yeah, yeah. It's not Ed Grimley. Yeah, it's not quite that.

J: There's more to it than that. So I have a Phoenix story. I don't remember if I ever talked about it on the show.

S: Hit me.

J: So it was in the 90s. I was here visiting my friend Michael, and one of his friends found a human skull out in the desert.

GH: Whoa.

C: What?

J: Yep. And oddly-

S: You turned it into the local coroner.

J: No.

S: Or they turned it.

J: No. So oddly, it had numbers written on the back of it, on the back of the skull right here.

S: 666? (laughter)

J: No, but that would have been pretty freaky. (laughter) So immediately I'm like, shit, I want to take it home and give it to Bob, because Bob has one of the biggest skull collections in the freaking world.

C: That does not seem legal.

J: Now, we're going back to the 90s. And this is everything I'm saying is-

S: Everything is legal in the 90s. (laughter)

C: I was like what it has to do with anything?

J: So I call the airport up, and I'm like, can I bring, I'm like trying to couch it, can I bring a bone sample on the airplane? Like, yeah, you could. Sure. You could put it, you know.

C: He's like, I don't want to tell the authorities, so I call the airport.

GH: What to do when you find a skull? Call the airport!

J: We put it in a box, tape it up.

S: You had a skull in the box?

J: I had a skull in the box.

B: What's in the box?

E: Jack.

J: So then I get out curbside check-in, and I tell the guy, I'm like, hey, I'm just triple checking here. I have a skull in this box, and I want to know if I could take it on the airplane. The guy goes, you can take it on the airplane, you just can't talk to it. (laughter)

E: As if you're going to break into Hamlet or something with the skull.

J: So now, just play this through with me. I'm going through security, and there's an x-ray machine. And I'm kind of like, what's going to happen? You know, like, I have no idea what's going to happen. So thing goes, so for some reason, I get picked a lot to be the guy that they pat down and whatever. It happens to me like one out of ten times, I'm the guy for some reason.

S: For everyone else, it's only 10%.

J: Yeah. So I happen to be, the guy's got the wand on me, and I am like totally snake eyes looking at the woman that's got the x-ray machine. And she goes like this, I'm you, they're patting me down. And she goes like this.

GH: The slow burn.

J: So as I see her head start turning, I just start going. So I just start nodding at her. And it was one of the best moments I've had in this state. It was really cool. I had a skull on the airplane. It was in the thing. And it made me realize you never know what people have in the luggage compartment above your head. It could be two feet away from your head.

GH: It's good to have extra head room, Jay. (laughter)

B: And now it's in my collection. Thank you.

S: Have you ever solved the mystery of where the skull comes from?

C: This was a medical specimen? That's why it had a number on the back.

B: Probably.

J: The guy found it in the desert, and I just assumed it was from a dig of some kind. But who knows? I mean, who was this person?

S: It's a human skull.

J: It's a human skull.

C: You thought it was from an archaeological dig, and you just stole it.

E: Basically.

S: Yeah. That's basically what he's saying.

J: I didn't sell it or steal it. I transported it across state lines and gave it to Bob. All I did was transport it.

GH: They only moved the stones. They only moved the stones.

J: Back then in the 90s, I did not give a shit.

C: It was the 90s. I get it. It was the 90s.

E: Wacky 90s.

S: How many statute of limitations on that?

GH: How many real bones do you have, Bob? Actual human bones? Do you have human bones?

B: I've got a human skull from Steve many years ago. I've got another human skull from Jay, which you just heard about.

S: Mine was obtained legally.

C: Yeah, you can't legally own one. Was yours geriatric, or does it have full dentition?

B: It's... which one?

C: The one with Steve.

B: Steve's has teeth. He's got a lot of teeth, but not all of them.

S: It's grade B.

C: Okay.

S: So there's... when you buy a human skull, which you can do if you want for medical, educational purposes. I have one, too. But there's-

B: And his is a lot better than mine.

S: Yeah, so there's-

C: Yours is grade A.

S: There are different grades. Yeah. Yeah, mine's the top one. It's all about the dentition. You can get perfect teeth, or there might be a couple teeth missing.

GH: What's the range here we're talking price-wise? Like, kind of-

C: Big range. A geriatric skull with no teeth is a few hundred bucks.

S: Yeah, $150, $200.

GH: Okay.

S: And you can spend like $2,000 on a really good quality skull. But they've gotten-

GH: I have teeth. I have all my teeth.

S: They've gotten more rare recently because most of them were sourced from India. And India, like five years ago, six years ago, decided, we're not doing this anymore. I think they were mainly from criminals, people who were incarcerated. And there was a lot of questions about whether or not they were ethically sourcing their human body parts. So they basically just shut it down. So now, I don't know where they're coming from now.

B: I think now it's all like, they make really good artificial ones. And so I think that's, I haven't done research, though. I'm just talking out of my butt at this point. But I think that, so you can get the artificial ones, and they're heavy, and they got really great detail. If you wanted a real full skeleton or skull, I think you're going to pay a shell.

S: A full skeleton would be thousands of dollars.

C: Tens of thousands. Yeah. Oh, you were asking about Arizona. I can't, I mean, I've been to Arizona a bunch because I'm from Texas, and I live in California. Lived, live, live. I live in California, just not temporarily. We did a road trip here with a bunch of friends of mine to Meteor Crater somewhat recently. I mean, I don't know. COVID made things weird, so it was probably a really long time ago now. But she is a moon crater researcher. She did her PhD from Caltech, and that's her focus of her research. So she had done a bunch of field work at Meteor Crater, so they gave us access to do the full hike around the whole rim of the, it was so cool.

S: It's big.

C: It's huge. It's like a weird old kind of town where they were doing a bunch of research in the back, and you can find their hand-forged nails still in the dirt, and the little structures where they were doing research.

GH: It's amazing. The meteor-

C: Yeah, some human skulls.

GH: The meteor just missed the gift shop. (laughter) It's amazing. It was right on the edge. It was amazing. I was so lucky.

J: It totally has a Cthulhu vibe to it. You know?

E: Cthulhu is a character.

C: I don't know.

J: You don't even know who Cthulhu is?

C: No, it's Cthulhu.

J: Oh, forget it. We'll talk about it later.

C: I mean, I feel like I know the word. I've heard it used in-

J: You ever hear of Lovecraft?

C: -common parlance.

GH: HP Lovecraft.

C: HP Lovecraft, yeah.

J: So he came up with... He came up with the...

C: It's like a monster or something?

J: Yeah.

C: Okay.

B: THE monster.

GH: Octopussy kind of.

S: It's so scary that you literally go insane if you see it.

J: You can't rationally understand what you're seeing.

C: So what does the crater have to do with Cthulhu?

J: Well, just like the old abandoned town, and then there's a crater. Because Cthulhu is supposed to be from outer space.

C: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I can see that. It's haunting them.

B: Outer space?

C: Yeah.

B: I guess.

C: It's fair.

J: Yeah. He's from Pluto or something.

C: I feel like there was a plane. Am I misremembering? Somebody was nodding like they know a lot about the crater back here. Is there a plane that crashed into it? A small prop? I feel like somebody was doing something and they crashed it, and it was too much effort for them to take it back out. But you could barely see it. The crater's so big, but it was like, you know that dot there? Yeah. Anyway, it's cool. You should go if you haven't been.

S: All right. So we're going to move on with some news items.

C: All right.

News Items[edit]

Fusion Breakthrough (11:02)[edit]

S: We're going to start with what I think is definitely the biggest news item of the week.

C: Yes.

S: And that is the fusion breakthrough, scare quotes. Bob, what is going on here?

B: You know, a couple of things. You want more detail, Steve?

S: Always.

B: All right. So major, no matter what he says, this is a major milestone in fusion. The National Ignition Center, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, announced, first they leaked and then they announced that they achieved ignition. And that's big. It's really big. There's a lot of caveats I'm going to throw at you, but this is big. Jill Ruby, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said: "Monday, December 5th, 2022, was an important day in science, reaching ignition in a controlled fusion experiment is an achievement that has come after more than 60 years of global research, development, engineering, and experimentation." So in this context, fusion is star power. I'm sure most of you, probably all of you, know about fusion. That's how stars power themselves. It's essentially atoms of hydrogen smashing together to form helium. And helium's a little bit lighter. And what happened, some of the mass is converted directly into energy, E=mc2. It could be a lot of energy, a tremendous amount. And it's clean energy. And ever since we discovered that stars are doing this, we were like, we want this. We want to do this ourselves. We want to have controlled fusion on the Earth.

S: But Bob, remember, remember that bit of trivia, most of the energy, it doesn't come from hydrogen combining into helium. It comes from hydrogen combining into other forms of hydrogen.

C: Oh yeah.

B: I know.

S: That's a little detail. There's multiple steps along the way. They all release energy. And that last step to helium isn't most of the energy.

B: I know. Most of what I say is going to be just very high level. And it gets, there's 40 layers of onion underneath it.

S: That's my new favorite trivia about this stuff.

B: Yes, yes. And you're so proud of that. That's awesome. (laughter) So, all right. So what kind of fusion, what kind of fusion is there? There's gravitational fusion. That's what the star does. It's all based on gravity. You get hydrogen and gravity and you're going to get, enough of that, you're going to get fusion. That's gravitational confinement. Then there's magnetic confinement. That uses a torus, that's a donut shaped magnetic field and that confines the plasma and the plasma gets hot enough to fuse. You've heard of Tokamak and ITER and all that stuff. So that's magnetic confinement. Lots of research, millions of dollars is being poured into that. Then there is inertial confinement. And that is essentially rapid compression of hydrogen. And it's called, do you know who knows why it's called inertial confinement? Because that compression of hydrogen is imploding at 400 kilometers per second. It's going so fast that the fuel, it tries to dissipate, but it can't because it's going so fast. It can't get out of its own way. So they call it, it can't get out of its own inertia. So it's called inertial confinement, which is interesting.

GH: What do you mean going? What do you mean going so fast?

B: It's compressing.

GH: It's compressing.

S: It's moving inward at that pressure.

J: How are they compressing it?

GH: Oh my gosh.

B: In this example, it's lasers and I'll get into those details today. So the National Ignition Facility has been tweaking inertial confinement for years and years and years. They make the lasers more powerful. They make the implosion more symmetrical and that was just so key. Tweaking, tweaking. And last year they came 70% of the way to where they came last week. And so what, having my notes here, what the hell happened at 1.03 a.m. December 5th? All right, they've got 192 UV ultraviolet lasers and they hit a cylinder and then that creates x-rays from the ultraviolet lasers and that implodes and compresses a little tiny nugget of hydrogen or they're actually, it's isotopes. It's deuterium and tritium. And in 100 trillionths of a second, all of this stuff happens. It reaches temperatures and densities hotter than the center of the sun and it's got to be even worse than the center of the sun because of reasons that I forget right now exactly why.

S: I'll tell you why, very quickly.

B: Why?

S: So if you look at the temperature of the core of the sun, it's not hot or dense enough to fuse hydrogen. But that's because that's the average density and temperature. If you take the curve of temperature and pressure at the high end, that's where all the fusion's happening.

J: So there's areas in the sun that are more hot than others.

S: Yeah.

C: So it's like marbling.

E: And fusion is not occurring at those.

S: Yeah, yeah. So it's only occurring where at the right side of the curve where you have, it's like how fast are the hydrogen atoms moving? Well, they have an average speed but it's the fastest ones that are causing the fusion. But of course we don't have that when we have a tiny little pellet of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium. We don't have a sun's worth of it. So we have to get the temperature up hotter than the average temperature of the core of the sun.

B: Right. So when this compressed last week, they hit ignition. What exactly is ignition? It's essentially sustained fusion such that the energy that's put in is exceeded by the energy that came out. So fusion was happening. It's always trying to cool itself, cool itself. And that's why a lot of the experiments in the past have failed because it's cooling too fast and it's not sustaining itself. What they were able to do was to do it long enough and symmetrical enough and everything else just perfect so that the energy that went in was exceeded by the energy that came out. They put two megajoules of energy into that little nugget and three megajoules came out. That's basically the bottom line of what happened here.

C: How long?

B: Oh a hundred trillionth of a second. I mean, it just happened incredibly fast. And I love how the scientists said, and we knew something special happened because man, it never happened like that before.

J: But when you say sustained, the event lasted for less than a second.

S: Yeah, that's because that's how much fuel they had. The fuel got used up.

C: So it burnt itself out.

S: Yeah, it burnt itself out.

J: So how would they get more fuel inside the laser confinement area?

S: Yeah, that's a good question. So-

C: Make it bigger.

B: And what they would have to do was they'd have to have the facility set up so that they could do that. What they did, they have to do it multiple times a minute, three or four times a minute. It'd be like a putt type of thing. So but, I mean, two megajoules, that's like a pound of TNT. So it's not this major explosion. But the interesting thing about that though, is that a pound of TNT went off in a hundred trillionth of a second.

S: Right.

C: So, sorry, you said two went in and three came out?

B: Two megajoules went in and three came out.

S: Yeah, so last year they were at 70% and now they're at 150%.

C: That's enough.

B: So that's-

S:No, it isn't, and we'll tell you why. (laughter)

C: Okay.

GH: Because there's no way that could be some kind of mistake or some kind of weird mechanism.

B: It's always possible, but they were, people said to the scientists, it's been a week. Why come you're doing a news item, a news press release a week later? They're like, because we vetted the crap out of this. Because they brought all of their scientists in and they looked at all the data and they said, yup, this is what happened. Then they brought an outside group of experts and said, look at our data and let you tell us what you think happened. And they're like, yup, that's what happened. So they vetted the crap out of it because the last thing they want to do is to go out and say, we had ignition and then later on like, oh, crap, sorry, we really didn't have ignition. That's the last thing.

S: They don't want a Pons and Fleischmann.

B: Oh my God, that would have been bad. So I got to say that, got to give major kudos. This has been decades, 60, 70 years trying to figure this out. It's been, these scientists were truly standing on the shoulders of giants because this has been looked at and researched by scientists all over the world. It's really, it's engineering porn too because this is just like, this thing that they created is such an amazingly complex machine that they've been tweaking for so long. Let's see.

S: Now tell us why this is never going to work.

B: Right. So I have my notes here. Bring it down to earth, Bob. So I'm going to bring it down to earth, but I'll end with a quote. U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said at a Washington, D.C. media briefing: "Simply put, this is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century." And I don't necessarily disagree with that. I mean, the century is not that old. But it's still an amazing feat and not because, oh, this is going to directly lead to clean energy for the whole world. Not necessarily. But in terms of figuring out such a, something that's so complex as fusion, I mean, now they can study fusion. And don't forget, this is a government lab and their goal was not to create clean energy. Their goal was to study fusion because they've got a lot of nukes hanging out and they want to know how to manage the stockpile of nuclear weapons safely. And so they wanted to learn about fusion. And it's really just a happy accident. Oh, yeah, we're studying fusion. And this also could lead to clean energy for the entire world for millennia. So it's kind of like a happy accident. But that's not their goal. Their goal was not to create fusion for everybody. It was to learn about fusion. All right, bringing it down to earth. Think about the word break-even. Technically, they hit a break, they hit a break-even state called scientific break-even. They created as much or more energy that they put in. They created that. So that's scientific break-even. But that's not really break-even because there's engineering break-even, which they didn't do. There's economic break-even. They didn't do that. And there's even extrapolated break-even. They didn't do that either. They've got way, they're not even close to having more energy than they put into it. The lasers that did this, 192 lasers, that was 300 megajoules. That 300 megajoules then was able to put 2 megajoules onto the hydrogen. So they went from 300 to 2. These lasers are obviously not efficient. And don't think, though, that that's a major screw-up because they don't care about efficiency. Like I said, they're not trying to be efficient. They're trying to dump as much laser power energy onto this hydrogen as they can. They don't care about efficiency. But they have 300 megajoules, they put 2 into play, and 3 came out. Is that break-even? No, it's not even close to real economic break-even. So there's a lot of work to be done before this is something that you're going to be plugging in stuff in your house using fusion energy.

S: Yeah, two orders of magnitude. Just to get to actual break-even. And even that's not really commercial break-even. That's break-even for that one event.

B: The question is, can this scale? Can they take this event and can they scale it to make commercial reactors? I don't know. That's a tough call, and maybe not. They're using 1980s lasers. They're using old technology. It's still good. It still can dump a lot of energy out there, but it's not efficient, like I said. They think that if they use new lasers, they can make it 20% more efficient. All right, 20% is okay, but it's not a game-changer. But those new lasers could fire more regularly. They can maybe do one or two a day type of thing. The lasers they have now, I don't think they can do that. So the scientists said that there's a pathway. If they make everything efficient as they can, there's a pathway to hundreds of megajoules. So maybe they can get up to hundreds, but the laser power is going to get down to what? Even if it could be 100, it could be the best. The scientists were then asked about commercialization. She said three decades. Three decades to turn this discovery, this event, into something that would be a commercial reactor. Three decades. Over 30 years, and that's a little bit optimistic.

J: But that's just this technique. There's other, like you said in the beginning, there's other techniques for fusion.

B: Exactly, exactly. Because if you look now to the magnetic environment with the tokamak, with the magnetic field and the plasma, that technology is ready to scale. You just need bigger lasers and bigger magnetic fields, which you can do if you just put enough money into it. They're ready to scale. I wish that magnetic confinement research, which still has millions of dollars, like ITER in Europe, and there's the Z-Pinch, and there's the Stellarator, there's a lot of these things. I wish they had ignition, because those technologies are much, they're ready to scale up to a commercial reactor. I think that we may see a commercial reactor using magnetic confinement with those big tokamak. Maybe we could see a good testbed reactor in 15 years, 20 years. I think we're going to get it sooner than inertial confinement.

S: Oh, sooner than inertial confinement, sure. Not 20 years. The thing about the 30 years is that's the joke with fusion. Commercial fusion is 30 years away, and it always will be. So that 30 years is basically saying we have no idea. It's basically, it's like it's beyond any current pathway that we're on.

B: Right. I don't have a lot of hope, unfortunately, for the inertial confinement.

S: I neither do I. I think this-

B: Because they've got to break away from the national lab, because this lab, they care about studying fusion. They don't care about clean energy.

S: This is not even on a path to energy.

B: That's not their goal. Yeah. Now, they may say, the government might say, all right, we're going to now break you off, and you've got to turn inertial confinement, and you've got to make this efficient and really run with this. And they have to say, we don't care about fusion anymore in terms of studying it for you guys. Maybe we'll do this over here. But you guys, I don't know if the government's going to do that.

S: We need a separate effort. We need to essentially, yeah, because the National Ignition Facility, they're not on a path to commercial fusion. We need a completely separate endeavor if we're going to do that. And this pathway might not be it. And I don't, I think this makes me less confident that we're going to get there with inertial confinement because even we achieve ignition, and we're still, that's 1% of the way to break even, even just considering the lasers. Forget about the energy. You think about the total, total energy. How much energy does it take to make the deuterium and the tritium? That's not easy to make the heavy hydrogen, the isotopes. And then just running the whole thing and the efficiency of, again, you have to heat a liquid and turn a turbine and do all that stuff. And you can't just get to like 301 joules. You know what I mean? You've got to produce a significant excess energy in order to make it all worthwhile. And the other thing is, so that's one threshold is getting more energy out of the whole process than what was put in. Then you have to ask, what's the cost of that electricity going to be? If we could do it, but it's going to cost $1,000 a kilowatt, it's worthless commercially.

J: So you're saying that even though they achieved ignition, it's not good news?

S: It just shows you how far away we are from actually having commercial fusion with this method. It's so far away. Saying 30 years is like, that's wishful thinking. That is not, in my opinion, any extrapolation of what we're doing now. Now, I do think the magnetic confinement, I've always thought that was a better approach, even though they haven't achieved ignition yet. But the problem with magnetic confinement, it does scale easier. The thing is, it's really expensive energy-wise and cost-wise to make those really powerful magnetic fields. It's only, we're only getting, most of the advancement is actually just in better magnets. That's where we're getting those advances. And that's because of high-temperature superconductors. That's it. That's why it's the, that's all the efficiency.

B: Well, one of the problems with ITER, I believe, was the fact that they, when they locked in their design for their tokamak and their magnetic fields, they were using old tech. And then new tech came around where you can have a stronger, smaller-

S: Like 10 times stronger.

B: -magnetic field. And MIT has a method that's going that direction. I actually have more hope with the MIT technique than, so it's just-

S: Yeah, but that's at least on a, that's on a path to, better, more powerful magnets. Also we need the physical stuff that it's made out of needs to get better. It needs to get stronger.

J: Bob and Steve, we're in a hotel. You guys can just go get a room with each other. (laughter)

B: Quickies are hot.

S: But here's the, something you didn't even mention, by the way, with the inertial confinement is that to produce that split second of energy destroyed the mechanism, right? It's, you can't just keep doing it because it destroyed the containment, the hull ROM, right? The thing where they have the – right?

B: I just assumed they'd have just another hull ROM.

S: Yeah, but what's that cost to make one of those?

B: I don't know.

S: It's not designed for sustainable energy production.

B: It's designed to study fusion.

S: It's a one-off experiment.

B: And they succeeded.

S: Yes.

B: They can now, they're going to have breakthroughs in studying fusion, like they can never have had unless they did this. So it's still an amazing achievement.

S: Absolutely. It's just not a design that's useful for commercial fusion. Now, we recently, like, months ago talked about yet another form of fusion using cavitation as the, it's inertial confinement, I think.

B: It is. It's inertial, it's acoustic inertial confinement.

S: Cavitation. Yeah.

B: Acoustic–

S: Acoustic inertial confinement.

B: And maybe that technique is the one that's the most practical. I don't know. But I can guarantee you this. We will at some point – I don't know when – we will have fusion because it's just too compelling. It's too much of an amazing power source. And if you read our book, Skeptics Guide to the Future, we talk about how we think that fusion technology – we will have a fusion economy. We will have – we will be using and tweaking fusion power sources for centuries–

S: Thousands of years.

B: If not millennia. We're going to be tweaking that for many centuries.

S: Once we do get it, it is an incredible source of energy.

B: Once we do get it. We're going to – it's not going to be one of those technologies where, like, we don't really need it because other technologies – I mean, we're not going to have any other–

E: It will supersede everything else?

B: In terms of generating power for the economy, it's-

J: It would be nice to have it on the moon.

S: There are locations where it's going to be more practical than any other form of energy. Solar on the moon is not great because because the day is so long. Why don't you get – go 30 days with me?

B: Fusion is doing some good stuff with remote power generation.

S: Yeah, but it's still, it's not and then you go to Mars, the solar power is 50% than on Earth. And if you go up to Jupiter, it's 5%. So when you get away from a sun, your solar power becomes immediately very, very inefficient. So there's going to be lots of contexts where fusion is just going to be necessary if you need a lot of reliable power. So – but where fusion is really going to be indispensable is in space travel. Because there's basically going to be two space travel technologies that are going to be the most important long-term, especially for long distances. Light sails and fusion power. Those are the two that we're going to explore the universe. Those are the two. You can't do it on on chemical rockets. You can't, fission is pretty good, but it's not as good as fusion. So fusion is going to be it. We have to perfect fusion.

B: It's going to be it for a long time, until you get to crazy, black hole drives in energy matter.

GH: Are there any commercial companies that are working on fusion, or is it all just research?

S: I think there are, but the real cutting-edge research is at multiple nations kind of level.


S: It's just a huge, it's just, it's too big. Billions of dollars for decades. You can't do that as a private company.

E: It's not a business model.

S: Yeah.

GH: Right, right.

S: So, yeah, I'm very optimistic about fusion, just not anytime soon, is the bottom line. I think it's a technology for, at best, the second half of the 21st century, not the first half of the 21st century. At best.

Artemis I Mission Complete (30:46)[edit]

S: We're going to go to Jay, who's going to give us an update on Artemis.

J: So we've got Artemis I. Artemis I, as everybody knows, we had a launch recently, and I was curious to know, like, how well did things go? Well, it went really, really good. So first off, Artemis I was created to demonstrate Orion systems in a spaceflight environment, and ensure that everything worked. Did reentry work? Did descent, splashdown, recovery? All of these things were absolutely necessary to go right in order for us to move on to Artemis II. So when you think about Artemis I, Artemis I was, let's try out all these new workflows and gear and technology and everything that we've created, and will it work? And the fact is that it worked really well. In fact, it worked so well that Artemis II is 100% greenlit, and they're working at a very, very heavy and fast pace to get Artemis II on its feet.

S: So there will be a sequel?

J: There will be a sequel. I mean, at this point, we know there's going to be Artemis I, II, and III. We know, unless something horrible happens with Artemis II.

B: Have you laid out exactly what II is? Is that part of what you're doing? Yeah, well, I mean, I could talk about it. I know, I know. But Artemis II is getting humans in orbit around the moon, right? So they're going to test out everything with astronauts, but there isn't going to be anything beyond just orbiting the moon. It'll be exactly what Artemis I did with live astronauts in the second version of the spacesuits, which we don't have yet. So the current timeline that we're seeing, we have a 2024 date, maybe into 2025. But a lot of people are saying that the timeline is loose. We're probably not going to hit the early dates. So we're probably not going to do Artemis III in 2025. It's probably going to be more like six or seven. So the good news is that the Space Launch System did a great job.

B: Amazing.

J: It had some hiccups, which we know about. It had the hydrogen issues.

S: Yeah, apparently that's the, well, one or two previous attempts at launching had to be scrubbed because of a hydrogen fuel leak. And they had it again. They had to send a team out there at the last minute to plug it. That's just a chronic problem.

J: Well, it's hydrogen though. They really didn't have engineering problems. Hydrogen is just really finicky to work with. And it's dangerous.

S: Liquid hydrogen.

J: Liquid hydrogen.

S: You got to keep it super cold.

S: But even with those hiccups, they got past it and the rocket did what it was, it did everything it was supposed to do. And that is a really big statement. So the rocket's performance was off by less than 0.3% in all ways that it's measured. And that's really significant. So we're talking about everything that they could measure was only off by 0.3. That means that the engineers did an absolute remarkable job. Now I know they had a long time. They went way over budget and they went way over time on this. But when we look at the numbers and we see that they're 0.3% in line with what they predicted that they were going to do, that is freaking miraculous engineering. I want to get to my favorite thing that I learned about the launch. The SLS is so powerful.

S: How powerful is it?

J: It damaged the launch pad in a way that the launch pad hadn't been damaged before. And it's all cool damage. Let me go through this.

E: Did they anticipate that?

J: I did not read that they anticipated it. You'd think that they would be able to predict these things, but I didn't see it. Nobody said, we knew it was going to happen. Like, I don't think they knew it was going to happen. So they scorched the shit out of the launch pad. It ripped paint off of parts. It cooked a bunch of cameras. Hoses that carry fuel got severely damaged during liftoff. There was a massive shockwave. Check this out. I love this. There was a shockwave. So as the rocket lifted off, it created a shockwave and it tore the elevator doors off the elevator that takes the astronauts up to the top. Just blew the doors right off the thing.

S: What's the death radius of that launch?

J: Holy shit. It's got to be pretty big.

S: I remember when I was down there, I was visiting, watching a launch of a much smaller rocket at NASA. They were telling, I think for the Apollo, if you were within a mile, it would kill you. That shockwave is deadly.

B: Whoa, a mile?

S: Yeah.

C: A mile?

S: The viewing stand for an Apollo launch was five miles away.

B: Wow.

S: Yeah. You can't get closer than that.

J: Now you think about the Saturn V rocket that they used for that. SLS kicks its ass.

S: Yeah, it's stronger.

J: In all ways that you can measure it. It's just so much more powerful. So yeah, the shockwave-

GH: Did they do the water dump thing still?

S: Yeah.

J: Oh yeah.

GH: They still do that, right?

J: If they didn't do that, there would be-

GH: Still the damage happened with the-

J: Oh yeah. If they didn't do the water thing, there would be nothing left on the ground. That water like dampens everything.

GH: Explain the water thing, because I never knew that they did that.

S: Oh yeah.

GH: It's amazing.

J: Yeah, so the water-

GH: People don't know what happens.

J: The water thing, one huge thing that it does is it keeps sound in. It dampens the sound. That sound, it can be so intense that it can do damage.

GH: It's a million gallons or some crazy number?

S: Yeah, they open the floodgates, they just pour water. It's basically underneath the rocket. And so that absorbs a lot of that heat, a lot of that energy.

J: So when you see this giant plume come out when the rocket takes off, that's all steam.

GH: That's all steam.

B: That's all water vapor.

J: Yeah, water vapor.

GH: That's the coolest thing in the world. I used to think that was some kind of exhaust smoke fuel thing.

J: The downside to the SLS is that these rockets are not reusable. Some components of the Orion capsule-

GH: Like a fusion sample.

J: -are reusable. I couldn't find out exactly what, but there are some-

S: So they cannibalize.

J: Yeah, they do. They'll cannibalize the old one and pull some stuff off of there.

B: I think they made the right decision though, not making them reusable. Because this is a launch a year, and for them to engineer in reusability just didn't make economic sense.

J: The downside to this is that we're talking about an amazing amount of money here. I mean, each rocket is going to cost, and these are the low numbers. Each one of them is going to cost over $4 billion to produce.

B: That's crazy.

J: With inflation and with just the creep of cost, those dollars can go up. It's funny, we talk about billions of dollars today, and it kind of doesn't feel like a lot of money anymore. It's a load of money. A billion dollars is so much freaking money.

E: That was weird compared to the overall budget of NASA. That's a huge chunk of their money.

J: Four billion per disposable rocket to get stuff into space in that one shot. That's an amazing bill.

GH: Is that total cost in terms of design, implementation, construction, or is that material?

J: I think that when they say, let's build Artemis II, $4 billion. That's what it cost.

GH: So it's the whole-

S: I do think they amortize some of the cost of the system though when they talk about that.

J: I don't know.

S: That's what I read.

C: They amortize, but they work it in. It's still part of the calculation.

GH: It's still part of the overall. Because that's crazy.

J: I love that the United States spends this kind of money. It's great that we're back in space. It's great. I love what SpaceX is doing. I love it. It's awesome. I think this project is freaking awesome. Sending people back to the moon, I'm not putting it down at all. I just marvel at how much money it costs to do these things. There was a non-mission critical objective called, they launched 10 CubeSats. These are cube satellites. We put 10 of them out there in deep space and four of them failed.

S: Yeah, so six of them are out there.

J: Six of them survived. Four of them failed for different reasons. These were satellites that were made by different companies. They weren't all like NASA built. I'm sure NASA helped them, but one of them had a battery problem. That's it. A $300 million satellite just-

S: Bad thing.

J: Bad battery.

S: Didn't change the batteries.

J: I question whether or not the delays had anything to do with some of these problems. If they delay long enough, if the SLS launch gets delayed long enough, they have to bring the whole thing back in and swap out these batteries that aren't like, hey, let me just put in a AAA here. It's like a big freaking deal. The crew module did a remarkably well job on its mission. The Orion crew module used less fuel than they predicted. It was more efficient.

S: Good.

J: Yeah, which is unbelievably critical when you're maneuvering out in outer space. Think about it. Which was it? The first time we landed? Not the first time, but when Armstrong went on the moon. He had seven seconds of fuel left, seven or nine seconds of fuel left.

S: Something like that, yeah, very little.

J: I mean, that's you don't want to be on those razor thin margins. There was also an issue with communications on November 23rd. That was one week into the mission. They lost contact with the Orion module for 47 minutes and they still don't know why. It wasn't because it was behind the moon. They just lost contact and they don't have an answer yet.

S: Maybe their system had to reboot or something?

J: No, I mean, there was like some of the external components like a radio array, it got more damage than they expected it to in outer space, but it was still functioning. It was still good enough to use. It just wouldn't have lasted much longer than it did. But no, we had something major happened for 47 minutes. Imagine you're in mission control and you lose contact with the Orion module and 47 minutes, you're like, it's gone.

S: It could have blown up hit by a meteor.

J: They must have been totally losing it. But luckily they reconnected. And the last thing I'll talk about here is the mannequins. They had the first generation of the crew spacesuits that had sensors all over them. I searched like crazy and I couldn't find anything that talked about how well the mannequins-

S: They weren't all mangled when they got back?

J: No, they didn't.

E: They did horror expressions on their face.

J: I think we would have heard if there was something that was really bad about it. But so right now we have two things that are troublesome. It's version two of the spacesuits and it's the lunar lander. Those are the two big things that they're saying these are the things that if anything's going to stop us, it's those things.

S: Because we don't have them yet.

J: Yeah.

S: Yeah, exactly. I liked the fact that when they brought the Orion capsule back, it skipped off the atmosphere on purpose. I mean, the reentry trajectory brought it in. So normally the capsules have to come in at a specific angle so that they don't skip off the atmosphere that they come in. But they built in one skip and then coming back down because it helped slow it down and also helped them control better where they came down. The interesting thing is the Orion capsule isn't just a big capsule. It's rated for deep space. And I think we talked previously about that. What does that mean it's rated for deep space? They come in a lot faster than the capsules that go up into low-Earth orbit. With the Dragon capsule, you can't send that to the moon and back. It would burn up and it could never survive reentry. So the Orion capsule is completely different and differently engineered to survive reentry from deep space, from the moon.

J: It came in at 24,500 miles per hour. That's Mach 32. And that is the fastest reentry we've ever had. So the mission was 25 days, 10 hours, and 53 minutes. It traveled 1.3 million miles. Again, like that's a number. Like, oh, yeah, like how do you wrap your head around 1.3 million miles? The maximum distance from the Earth, 268,554 miles or 432,194 kilometers. So that's a record.

C: But can people do Mach 32?

S: Yeah.

J: Sure.

S: There's no limit on speed. It's only acceleration.

C: Right. But when it hit the atmosphere at that?

S: Well, that's why they had the mannequins in there with the sensors on them, right?

C: Right. But do we know what happened inside of the mannequins?

S: So well, apparently it was fine. But that's why you had to slow down slowly. You can't just barrel into the atmosphere. That's why they did the skip.

C: But the one skip was slow enough?

S: I guess. I guess they know what they're doing.

E: And this is the first time they've done that.

C: The mannequins can't tell us how it felt.

J: I've got to be honest with you. I'm a little, why isn't there data on all this? Because they kept saying, we've got all these sensors on the mannequins. And they're like-

S: I wonder how many G-forces did they have?

J: What happened? What re-entry is like?

E: All those little impact bubbles burst.

B: Can you imagine? It's like, this all works and it's great, but no human can survive re-entry.

C: But your head has to be perfectly straight because you've been twisted just a little bit your brain all snap.

S: The number you want to know is what were the G-forces.

C: Right. Exactly.

J: So I've got one more stat for you guys.

B: So for how long?

J: The SLS did 8.8 million pounds of thrust on liftoff, and that is 1.3 million pounds more powerful than Saturn V. So that's a huge increase.

S: Yeah.

C: Wow.

B: That's one of the great things about chemical rockets, the thrust is off the hook.

S: The thrust is the best.

B: I mean, even nuclear rockets aren't doing that. It's amazing. It's just too bad you can't thrust that long for longer.

J: Bob, do you have a problem thrusting for a long time?

C: I just, you guys are so... that thrust. Yeah. I can't thrust for longer. (laughter) It's just too much. You guys are so weird.

J: Cara, you love every second of it. Just cut the crap.

E: Oh man. I can tell.

[commercial brake]

Cuttlefish Pass Marshmallow Test (45:37)[edit]

S: All right, Cara, well, you're going to tell us about cuttlefish.

C: Yes, I'm going to talk about cuttlefish and cuttlefish are cephalopods. I don't know if you guys know. This is the tiniest picture. It's a podcast. They can't see it anyway. So we-

GH: Cephalopodcast.

C: Cephalopodcast. There probably is one called a cephalopodcast. There has to be, right?

S: There's a cephalopodcast?

E: I'm sure that's out there.

GH: There's a horror podcast that was called pseudopod.

S: Yes, pseudopod.

C: No.

GH: Cephalopod, I think.

C: A horror podcast with all those names?

GH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

C: Just like the geologic...

B: Pseudopod. Pseudopod, yes. Pseudopod, and escape pod.

J: Escape pod.

GH: Escape pod, that's right.

E: Pod damn it, all of those.

GH: Yeah, those are early, early ones.

C: Why is a podcast called a podcast? Because of the iPod?

GH: iPod.

C: Why is the iPod called an iPod?

GH: That's just...

J: That's Apple marketing.

GH: That's Jobs.

C: Right, but they were just thinking of the word pod, not like the, when we think of pod in the Latin root for animals, pod.

GH: Foot.

C: Foot, yeah. Cephalopod is a head foot.

GH: Right.

C: Yeah, yeah. A pseudopod is a false foot. So yeah, cuttlefish is one of the cephalopods. You probably know about squids and octopuses?

E: Octopi.

S: It's all good.

C: Octopuses.

S: It's all good.

C: And squids, or are they just many squids?

E: He's not gonna correct you.

C: Is it one squid, two squid? Or is it one squid, three squid, four squid?

E: Red squid, blue squid, thank you.

C: I don't know.

S: I think it's squid is plural, but for octopus it's octopuses, octopi. It's all it's all acceptable.

C: There's no octopod.

S: No.

C: That's wrong. What I want to say squids.

B: Cara one squid is a Squidward. (laughter)

C: Is it cuttlefish?

S: Yes.

C: It's probably not cuttlefishes.

GH: Well, it depends if there's different different types.

C: More cuttlefishes in the-

GH: Yeah, if you have yeah cuttlefish is many of one kind but cuttlefishes is as many of different kinds.

C: And by the way, it's cuttle not cuddle, right?

E: How are you spelling this?

S: So you don't cuddle with them?

C: You could.

GH: You could. They're very cute.

C: They're very smart, and that's what we're going to talk about.

G: Very smart.

After discussing related words... (47:41)[edit]

C: So we've talked on the show about different ways to test intelligence, cognition, different components of int--because we know intelligence is not one thing. We also know that we don't really like intelligence as a construct is not well-defined. What is intelligence? It's measured a lot of different ways. Historically intelligence testing among human beings is very fraught. And so even the word intelligence is not a very meaningful word .But you know, you'll often hear psychologists and neurologists and individuals within kind of clinical sciences saying cognitive as opposed to intellectual, but sometimes we still use that term. Anyway, there are different ways to test it. We've talked a lot about the mirror test in here. But we're gonna talk about the marshmallow test today and we've talked about that a lot on the show before. We know that the marshmallow test was originally the Stanford marshmallow test was originally designed for children and it's a measure of delayed gratification. Really the question when it was first designed was at what age are children capable of delaying their gratification. So the whole setup is very simple put a marshmallow down say we're gonna leave the room we're gonna come back in 15 minutes. And if there's still one marshmallow there, we'll give you another one and you can eat them. But if you eat the marshmallow, you don't get another one later. And we've learned a lot of things like sociocultural things. We know that it's not a pure test because obviously if somebody's very food insecure depending on how they're raised they may have different reactions on that.

S: They may not trust that the adult will be back. With the second marshmallow. So it makes sense in their world to take what you can get when you can get it.

C: Totally. And so the question then is like can animals pass the marshmallow test and we have shown that certain corvids can pass the marshmallow test. Certain primates can pass the marshmallow test.

J: Are they always using a marshmallow or is that just like?

C: That's just the term that we use. They almost never use marshmallows.

S: With animals it's a treat.

C: They're not going to do a marshmallow test with cuttlefish they could give a shit about a marshmallow.

S: Some treat that they would want.

C: So the cuttlefish-

B: They'd like it if they tried it.

C: They well they actually use two different because their version of the marshmallow test was not you can't say like I'm gonna come back later, you know they don't they're not gonna know. So their version was to give them a treat that was kind of crap but good not disgusting. Something they like kind of versus something they love. So there's something they liked. I love how they defined it too. They described it in here as a piece of a raw king prawn as if it would have been cooked. So it's a I don't they didn't need the word raw. So it's a piece of king prawn so a dead piece of king prawn and then versus a living shrimp. And the shrimp that's like yummy to them. They want the living shrimp, I guess. And so they they devised a cool box with these acrylic things inside of them. So the cuttlefish is hanging out and there's these two boxes and they put symbols on them and this is all arbitrary. There's like a circle and a square and a triangle, but I want to get it. So, let me see here it is. So within the chambers they had the circle if there was a circle on the-

J: I think they know what a circle is.

C: Right. If there was a circle. A visual. And auditory. If there's a circle on the door, the door would open immediately. If there was a triangle on the door it would open either 10 is like somewhere between 10 and 130 seconds and they tried a bunch of different trials. So basically that was the delay. So immediately with the circle. Delay with the triangle. And then the square was the control. It would never open. So the yummy yummy was behind there but no matter what they did they weren't gonna be able to get to it. And the cuttlefish figured this out really quickly and so they found that if they would wait even though the circle door which opens immediately if it had like the crap treat they wouldn't go for it if they knew that the later door would open later. So they learned it pretty quickly, which is fascinating.

GH: That's so clever. You think there's no way to test it.

B: Right?

C: Right.

GH: Well, you would delay gratification with a with a squid Like how are you gonna and they freaking figure it out?

C: So not only do they recognize these shapes.

GH: So cool.

C: Right. They can recognize the objects and what they represent.

S: They learn their behavior.

C: Learn the behavior of the doors, but they know that this triangle door is that door?

S: So they also they know they only get one treat. So if they take the crappy tree out of the circle box.

C: That's it.

S: They will not get the good treat.

C: They will not get the good treat later.

S: When they don't take it-

C: Then the next-

S: They'll get the good treat.

C: But in the control group no matter what they do, they never get it. And so that's like a they need that right to show I'm waiting, I'm waiting I'm still not gonna get the really good thing that's behind there. But here's something else that's really interesting. They decided later to do kind of a version of the Template:W"Wisconsin Card Sort and so I don't know like this is like a classic test that's given in neuropsychology and neurology for executive functions. A frontal lobe. If you're looking at frontal lobe dysfunction, and it's an interesting paradigm but basically it's about pattern recognition and then we switch it up on the patient and a patient who has a certain type of dysfunction is gonna perseverate and keep going back to the old pattern. It's going to be hard for them to switch into a new pattern. They did something similar with these cuttlefish where they use different shapes again and they would learn that like this shape means you get this treat. And then they would switch it up on them and the cuttlefish that were the best this was a by the way, this was a small sample size. It was only six cuttlefish that they worked with but whatever. You only need one to show that they have capacity. And so they showed that of the of the six cuttlefish the ones that performed the best on the card sort version were also the ones that picked up the marshmallow test the fastest. So clearly you also saw a range of cognitive capability of intellectual functioning within the cuttlefish. But the question has been why? So with primates with corvids researchers think that the reason that they need delayed gratification has to do with tool making. If I want to get to, if I want to be able to eat something or to be able to have some sort of reward but I need to create a tool in order to get it. Or make a, use a found tool in order to get it. I need to be able to see multiple steps ahead and I have to delay my gratification. But cuttlefish have never been observed to use tools. There was another one another reason, they also don't like cash food. They don't hide food around and then find it later. So they were like that's another reason that delayed gratification would make sense. You need to be able to see that. But they think it has to something to do with how they fork, how they look for food. So cuttlefish use camouflage. But they can only on camouflage or they have to uncamouflage when they're moving. And so they have to be really smart about when they go out to actually search for food.

S: They have to be patient.

C: Patient. They're protected when they're camouflaged but when they're going out to get their food that it has to almost be premeditated. They have to really planned it.

S: So they wait for a good food opportunity.

C: Exactly.

S: It's worth it to go-

C: Yes, instead of going out for poorer nutritional quality or food opportunities that they're not likely to catch they wait until they have a better opportunity and they think that that's why they would have developed delayed gratification.

S: My understanding is that chimps don't do well on the marshmallow test and the interpretation of that is because because chimps exhibit a behavior that researchers called greedy. They cannot forego what's in front of them. Even though they learn that if they wait they'll get more. Even knowing it like I don't care I have to take this thing. It's right in front of me. I want it right now.

C: It's really interesting. Yeah, cuz chimps also I bet you and I bet you bonobos do well on the marshmallow test probably for similar reasons.

J: I don't think I do well on that test. I'm not good with delayed gratification.

C: I wonder how you would have done as a kid.

J: Probably terrible.

C: You think? Yeah. And marshmallow whatever, we don't have to use marshmallows because that's like a weird paradigm.

S: Jay's the meatball test.

C: The meatball test. Yeah.

E: Meatball test. Forget it. Fail.

C: I'm awesome at delayed gratification, I'm too good at it though. I almost punish myself sometimes.

B: Jay how do you do with the mirror test?

J: The mirror test? It took me a few years to figure out it was me. (laughter)

GH: You've all seen My Octopus Teacher, right? Have you talked about that?

C: Have you seen? Have you seen the parody of My Octopus Teacher?

GH: No.

C: Okay.

GH: Oh wait.

C: So you've seen the trailer for My Octopus Teacher he's like, oh I fell in love with it, and I saw it and and so somebody did scene for scene line by line a parody with like a pool cleaner. It's so good. I have problems with My Octopus Teacher.

GH: Yeah.

C: Yeah ethically. Yeah he personified the shit out of that octopus.

GH: Oh, yeah.

C: And he invaded its territory and was like he loves me and it's like no [inaudible]. Like you couldn't get away, she couldn't get away from you.

Jibber Jabber (56:40)[edit]

S: All right, George.

GH: Yes, sir.

S: Yes. You're gonna jibber-jabber about jibber-jabber.

C: What.

GH: I'm always fascinated with weird linguistic little rules and things that we just sort of inherently know and that aren't necessarily taught but that make complete sense. And there's these rules in English and I think every language has it but English is pretty good at having these implied rules that you never quite sit down and learn but they become obvious. If I say pong ping or splash-splish it feels weird, right?

S: Yeah.

GH: Or if you say zag-zig.

S: That's just wrong.

GH: It's just wrong.

C: I thought also just because we're so trained.

GH: Well, that's the question. That's the question. Talk-tick. Talk-tick just weird. Well, there's this thing called a blout reduplication. The ablout reduplication rule. The unwritten ablout reduplication rule. Reduplication is a thing that happens linguistically and there's five other examples of reduplication which we'll get to in a minute, but this rule they don't know why. There's theories. There's some ideas about why when we do tend to pair words that sound similar in that way the short vowel is first followed by the long vowel. So it's zig-zag. It's teeter-totter. So it's always the I then an A or an O.

J: Oh wow.

GH: You don't even know you're doing it, but you're totally doing it. Flim-flam. Kitty-cat. Knick-knack. You don't say knack knick. It just feels weird right? Feel so weird. Sing song. I A. I A. They think it might have something to do with original language was easier to sort of the because it sits high on the palate. The first part that short I and then A is like a release and it's more like breathing. So you have this, it's tick-tock or splish-splash as opposed to a splash-splish because you can't have a yeah, but it's this they call it the ablout reduplication rule, which I think it's so weird. Kong King. Kong King should make sense, but it doesn't.

C: Because a lot of words end in -ing.

GH: Yeah, it's King Kong, right? There's other reduplication and these just floored me. Five other types. There's rhyming reduplication. Okay, boogie-woogie, easy-peasy, hoity-toity. Obvious. Those just feel good. They're funny sounding to us in a weird way. They reinforce the linguistic curiosity of the initial word gets reinforced with the rhyming of it. So that's a rhyming reduplication. There's exact reduplication. Things like bye-bye or choo-choo or night-night or no-no, okay just like it somehow reinforces that initial thing in and it it makes the first term. It reinforces the first term. No-no is a very vehement. No-no, which is strange because there's also a thing called contrastive focus reduplication where you say I'm hot, but I'm not hot-hot. Which is the total opposite, right? I'm awake, I'm not awake-awake, but I'm awake.

S: Do you like her or do you like-like her?

GH: Do you like-like? You know, it's it's fascinating

B: That's cool.

GH: We all do it and we all but you never sat in class and said this is how you emphasize if you really want to make?

E: It's not taught in a classic setting.

J: George. This must be in all languages, right?

GH: It's apparently in a many, it's an all English-speaking languages all culture English-speaking cultures. And there isn't that direct a similar thing apparently from what I could sort of glean from this article that I found. There's the shim reduplication which is like baby shmaby or cancer shmancer. By adding this silly sound you again-

C: Minimize it.

GH: -you minimize the impact of the initial plosive word by adding this silly thing. Yeah, you wouldn't say schmancer-cancer, right? You'd say cancer-schmancer. It's so interesting and then comparative reduplication which isn't that big of a deal? It's something it's higher and higher. So like the spaceship went higher and higher. The lasers were hotter and hotter. But that we understand is an increase as opposed to again the contrastive focus reduplication. I'm not awake I'm not awake-awake. It's so interesting I think I'd like the idea of the breathing sort of entering into it that it's this rhythmic up and down. So I wonder what it is. There must be more to the languages.

S: If it's something that fundamental you would think, then you would think it would be universal among other languages versus if it is something that's more in English, then it has to be something with the way English forms. Something about English.

C: You think that would be from the PIE which would, the proto-indo-european. So like basically the root of most languages would have come from that.

GH: Yeah, they were saying something about the caucus languages.

C: Oh, okay. So maybe just the European part.

GH: So it says we don't really know why this will hold and it's followed all over the world. It's believed it might have something to do with the movement of your tongue or the ancient language of the caucuses. Also, it might be related to the physics of sound. Also that tends to be a, many rhythms are sort of set up in this weak strong weak strong weak strong. It's supposed to strong weak.

C: It opens a fundamental question about what is innate. How do we even define innateness? Especially when it comes to linguistics, which is so heavily learned.

S: Well, I've read one very interesting theory about one way to look at what is the innate grammar? What would that be? And so what how could we get at that? So one way is to look at creoles. Because creoles are any language where children basically speak a conglomeration of their two different parent languages.

C: Oh, really?

S: Yeah, that's any Creole.

C: I thought Creole was specifically like an English.

S: But we think of it as-

C: That's our creole.

S: -that's our creole but it's a generic term for any phenomenon like that. That was English French Creole. But there's any combination.

C: Spanglish. That's creol.

S: All of the creoles have common grammatical changes that they mean.

J: Oh cool.

S: Right?

C: So you wouldn't blend, you're saying you wouldn't blend two languages that are so grammatically different.

S: No. What I'm saying is that the children who spontaneously speak the creole revert to innate grammar. Even no matter what the parent languages are that they are starting with. And that's the theory anyway. So the whole like how y'all are like using that orders the sequence of words and using one form of the verb for everything. That's the default. So the Creoles kind of default to some kind of rules that seem to be more universal.

C: That aren't necessarily part of.

S: That are independent of the modern languages.

J: That is really cool.

GH: Something about this they say that if an alien were to come down and were to look at earth languages, that the grammar rules in the larger sphere are so generic.

C: Like Western languages.

GH: No, no.

C: Really?

GH: I think I was reading this thing about languages and it was it was saying that in essence when you break everything down an alien probably would think it's all one language with many creoles or maybe just variations. Because again take out the conjugation take it to the clenches take out the even the sort of-

C: The order. The grammatical order.

GH: -the order. There is still that there is a certain thing about grammar that is inherently human. And that's what separates. That's why Coco wasn't talking. For as much as that breaks everyone's heart. Coco couldn't talk.

C: Do you know my favorite version of this thing that you're, this kind of thing that feels like it's a rule but we were never taught the right we just don't know how to do it is the infix. Do you know the infix?

GH: No.

C: So it's like if you were to say like fan-fucking-tastic. You always put it in the same place.

GH: Yes.

C: And nobody taught you how to do that, correct? But anytime you break up a word and put another word in between-

GH: Yeah you wouldn't say fan-fucking-stick. (laughter)

C: Yeah, exactly. Everyone does it the same way.

GH: It's totally wrong.

C: It's like almost it feels innate.

GH: Because there's like a rhythmic thing it probably was the grammar cadence.

C: Just feels right.

GH: You emphasize strong enough and so interesting.

J: That's cool. I like that.

S: I love learning about those in other languages though. There are some of those common rules that are formal. They're informal cultural things.

GH: Oh, yeah, which is the challenge when you're teaching like yeah to because you're not conscious of these things and yet someone will say that building is very high. It's like no, it's very tall. It's a tall building people are, it's a high height, but it's a tall building. You don't learn all that's the difference of that.

S: My favorite one is when I have a lot of patients who speak Spanish and they maybe they speak a little bit of English. And when they speak a little bit of english they always drink their medicine.

C: Oh interesting. Instead of taking their medicine.

S: I don't take they drink the pill. Because in Spanish it's beber. Beber la medicina. So they just translate it directly.

C: I have a friend who's a linguist and I remember we asked him about this very American thing that we say here which apparently they don't stay in Australia, it's an Australian friend. It's like what is wrong with you people. In America we say a whole nother. Which is really odd and makes me nuts. And I usually will say a whole other but yeah a whole nother and I was asking my linguist friend where did it come from and he was saying there are two camps. It could have been an infix. Like another and we put whole in the middle a whole nother. Just like fan-fucking-tastic, but it also could have been this one linguistic thing that happened a while ago and I can't remember the name for it, but like orange didn't used to be called an orange the fruit was norange. It was a norange and it got turned into an orange and there are a lot of words like that that start with vowel. Where when because the a before it we move the end over to the a but the word used to be norange.

J: That's so weird.

C: May have been that another one was always, but we don't know. We don't really fully know.

GH: There's all these linguistic fossils like peas used to be singular.

C: Oh interesting.

GH: So like peas was you would have a peas. So the so the rhyme peas porridge hot. Pea porridge hot but it's peas was singular until it became confusing and it was like well no, you have peas would be many so pea is one but pea wasn't a thing. Yeah, so cool.

C: Yeah. Agree.

Closed Loop Pumped Hydro (1:07:51)[edit]

S: George what do you know about closed loop pumped hydro?

B: Don't take the bait George.

GH: Remind me of college? I don't know.

C: Don't take the bait.

GH: Closed loop...

S: ...pumped hydro.

GH: Pumped hydro. Is that some kind of propulsion system for a submarine?

S: Very close guess.

GH: Very close? Okay.

B: Good guess, George, good guess.

GH: If you could see Steve smile. (laughter) So proud. I love it. I love it.

S: All right, so this-

GH: Tell me tell me tell me.

S: -is cool. It's very very cool This is something I learned about not too long ago.

GH: (Russian accent) engage caterpillar drive. Is it this?

S: It's to test it with energy. Grid storage.

C: My favorite topic.

S: It's a form of grid store. I'm talking about energy recently because of COP27 and the world's gonna be destroyed and all that stuff. (laughter) So I'm very interested in what is the path between here and net zero. How are we gonna get to the point where we at least with our energy infrastructure we are not putting out CO2. And it's a very controversial complicated question. I've tried to really wrap my head around it. And so I learned about this like now a new technology which actually changed my opinion about that pathway. And it's this this closed loop pump hydro. So we all know that grid storage is going to be critical to get off of fossil fuels. Mainly because the cleanest cheapest source of energy is wind and solar but wind and solar are intermittent. They're not on demand. The wind blows when it's going to blow and the sun shines when it's going to shine and we can't control that. So there's a limit to how much wind and solar we can have in the energy infrastructure. It's not an absolute limit. There's an inflection point where as you get beyond like 30-40% or so the amount of efficiency and cost. Everything it's just crazy bad and it just becomes really hard to manage the grid with intermittent sources and you end up you need. There's also something called capacity efficiency where how much backup capacity can you get rid of when you add new wind and solar to the grid and beyond a certain point it becomes zero. So basically you have to keep all of the natural gas and coal plants open because you need them for backup power when the wind is blowing and the sun isn't shining. But the solution to that is grid storage. The more grid storage you have the more wind and solar you can have in this system. There are those who think you could have a 100% wind and solar. Will say a 100% renewable because there's going to be some hydroelectric and tidal and geothermal there, but if you have enough grid storage, but the question is it feasible to have that much grid storage. And of course the other opinion is no, it's not feasible to have that much grid.

J: What kind of grid storage are you talking about?

S: It has to be a massive. So first of all when you talk about grid storage, we're talking about shifting the energy production and energy usage by at least hours. So the sun is shining during the day. You need to use electricity at night. So you need to store that energy for several hours. But what if you have a week of cloudy days or a week of no wind? You might need to shift that energy for days. And then what are you going to do over the winter when you have essentially no solar power? You may have to store that energy for months.

C: Or can't you just move it around?

S: Move what around?

C: The energy?

E: Storage?

C: Storage?

S: But you're still storing it though.

C: True, but I'm saying like you might not have the sun shining where you are for a whole month but somebody else does.

S: So yeah, so that is you need that's grid sharing. So that's part of the solution too is the broader the more you can share energy across a grid that's also allows you to have more sources.

C: Because the idea I'm assuming is we take like the mean, median, and mode and figure out what's peak.

S: But that's but that only gets you so far. You still need grid storage. Because you can have a lot you can have a long period with little wind and or little sun.

J: So you're saying like store the energy when?

S: When it's made.

J: Yeah, like when there's a lot of sun and a lot of wind store that energy because we're not using all of it and then use it for a later time.

S: And then you take that energy when you have more demand than production. So right now even with the current low level of wind and solar in the system there are times when like they shut off wind turbines because we can't have nothing we can do with the energy. It's making more energy than the grid can take.

C: Oh, interesting.

S: Right? So that's massively inefficient.

C: Does it take energy to shut them down?

S: Yeah a little bit but it's that's the the point is that that reduces the efficiency of that wind turbine because you're not using it. And so that means that the price is fixed for building it. You're getting less energy out of it. So the cost amortized right of the energies goes up. That's why it gets really inefficient.

C: Does that happen? I'm, just curious if we like obviously we're talking about cities. We're talking about large infrastructure. But if you were to look at an individual person who's off grid. Who has their own solar and their own powerwalls, their own batteries. Does that happen? Do they get so flooded that their battery storage can't hold on to it?

S: Yeah, if you're off the grid it's really hard. That's why most systems, you're on the grid and the grid is basically your battery. So you just send the extra power to the grid and then you take it off the grid when you need it. If you want and the other thing is have you ever priced out a home battery? It's ridiculous. $20,000 for three hours of power. I mean, that's that's what we're talking about. It's really really expensive. Imagine having days of power, it would be, you can't do it. So we've talked about many different kinds of grid storage before. The best is probably lithium lithium-ion batteries. The round trip efficiencies really build like 92% low 90. Problem is we only have so much, lithium and cobalt and nickel and stuff and we want those batteries for our cars. We can't divert at all for grid storage.

C: But we can also use our cars as home storage.

S: To some extent. There's going to be some battery grid storage and that's going to help with that shifting of hours, getting that peak shaving. Getting some of that peak demand from energy that you stored up earlier in the day. But it's not going to fix the problem. It's not going to get us to high penetration of wind and solar. So then the question is then well, what's the rest of the energy going to be? I think it's going to be even optimistically 10-15% hydroelectric and geothermal that's optimistically 10-15%. Which means you probably you're going to need 20-30% nuclear.

C: If we want to get away from natural gas.

S: Right, otherwise it's going to be fossil fuel. But again, there are still the proponents who are saying no we can get to 100% wind and solar. We just need massive amounts of grid storage. So my response has always been that we don't have the technology to do that. Where's all that grid storage going to come from? Months of grid storage. Where's that going to come from?

"Enter pumped hydro" (1:15:00)[edit]

S: Well enter closed loop pumped hydro. Which might be the solution that we're looking for.

B: So range of the solution what?

S: So this is what it is. So first of all pumped hydro just pumped hydro it's already an established and probably the best form of grid energy storage. If you have a hydroelectric plant, you dam a river, you use the flow of that water to, you control the flow of that water, so you run it past turbines which turn and make electricity. All electricity is you turn turbines. But in order for a hydroelectric plant to work you need a source of water. That's why you dam a river. But it's hugely impactful on the local environment and there's only so many locations we can put them. They're really limited. Right now in the United States hydroelectric is 6% of our energy production and we only have the capacity for about 50% more than we currently have. That's it. That's all the low if we developed every location we can develop we get up to 9% but actually by the time we did that it would probably still be about 6% because demand is going to increase by 50%.

C: Well, not just that like we're literally losing our water.

S: Well, that's the other issue. They've actually shut down some hydroelectric plants because there was no water. So that's it a problem as well. So that might further limit that. And so that also limits those a pumped hydro means that when you have excess energy you run the turbines backwards. You basically pump the water up to the top. You could some some designs you could actually use the same turbines to just reverse.

J: So make sure you explain this. So you have a body of water-

S: Yes.

J: -at one altitude and another body of water at a higher altitude. So when you have excess energy you pump the water.

S: Use the energy to pump the water to a higher reservoir.

J: And then when you need energy you use that.

S: You run it down across the turbines.

C: It's funny. This is almost like the liquid version. Do you remember that weird thing?

S: Yeah, they build the tower.

C: With the crane.

J: I like that thing.

C: I like it too. This the water version of that.

S: Which is much better.

C: Yeah (laughs).

S: So again, but the problem is there's only so many locations of blah blah blah. They're gonna be so much. Now closed loop pump hydro you eliminate the hydroelectric power. So you don't need a river. You don't need a dam. You just need two reservoirs of water with a good head. The head is the difference in altitude between the two. And they have to be relatively close together. They could be two kilometers apart. You just run a pipe from one to the other.

C: And you could cap them so you didn't have evaporation?

S: Well, you could minimize the evaporation. You want to get the evaporation to less than the rainfall. So then the rain is replacing at least what is evaporating then that's long-term storage.

C: But you can also just fully make it a closed loop, you could close it off, couldn't you?

S: Well, I think because these needs to be huge, in order for it to be really useful.

J: Don't we already do this?

S: Very little. Very little.

C: Interesting. Why?

S: Because you've always attached them to hydroelectric power. But now the idea is you make it closed loop. There's no river. There's no dam. There's no source of electricity. It's just grid storage. So I've read three analyses. One specific to Australia. One specific to the United States and one worldwide. Looking at the question how many potential locations are there in the world or wherever where we could build a closed loop pump hydro system. How much energy storage would that equal and compared to how much we would need in order to have a 100% renewable energy infrastructure.

GH: Yeah, but the Australian ones go in the opposite direction. (laughter)

S: So the question is I asked these guys the question earlier, so I'll ask you too guys, what do you think is the the percentage? What percent of, if one unit is all the grid storage we would ever need in order to have a completely renewable system. How much pumped hydro potential is there? Closed loop pumped hydro.

C: Of the total grid storage potentiality, what potent what percentage of that...

S: Could we get to.

C: Could we feasibly do pumped hydro?

S: Yes, the closed loop specifically closed loop. Let's forget about-

C: And you're talking about we're on the planet, where's the infrastructure for like how could we do it.

S: We would have to build it.

C: Yeah, but like places where [inaudible]

S: The places exist. We could build one there.

GH: It's going to be 3% or 1,500%. (laughter) I'm gonna say 1,500%.

C: I bet you it's high because you look really excited. (laughter)

S: It's even more than that. It's a hundred times. A hundred times what we would actually need.

C: Oh, that's great. Which means we only would need to develop the 1% of best Locations in order to have all the grid storage we need around the world.

GH: Congratulations Phoenix. We've chosen you!

C: So but the thing is we would have to do that energy sharing situation because obviously there are regions in the world where the evaporate is significantly higher than the rainfall rate.

S: Yeah, but the thing is we could pick the 1% best locations.

C: And then we just export the energy?

S: Well, the other thing is they're everywhere because there's lakes everywhere.

C: Yeah, but I feel like there are places in the Middle East where there's be like we're gonna start with the oil.

S: You're not gonna put it in the Sahara.

C: Right, but there's geopolitical reasons that sharing energy might be problematic.

GH: This is using pre-existing?

S: Yeah. Pre-existing.

GH: Lake.

J: Bodies of water.

GH: Bodies of water.

S: Pe-existing geology.

J: If you look at a map, whatever country you're from but United States, for example, if you look at a map of that highlights the bodies of water, there are bodies of water everywhere. They're everywhere. So this this idea, this blew my mind when you said that we that-

S: Hundred times.

J: When that capacity is there that means this is the infrastructure that this we don't need batteries.

S: We don't need batteries. We use save the batteries for the cars. We don't need them for grid storage.

C: But how do you move I'm still confused once you've produced the energy.

S: Well, you need the grid.

S: Well you we definitely need to upgrade the grid. There's no question. Right now in the United States, there's four grids.

C: Like Texas.

S: There's Texas. (laughter) There's Alaska. There's the eastern grid and the western grid. And the eastern grid includes Quebec and, not Quebec, some of Canada. I think Quebec is its own grid too. But anyway, the whole eastern half of the United States is one grid. So we could literally share energy across it now. There's it's one thing to be interconnected and it's another thing to be interconnected robustly so that you can share lots of energy across a long distance with little loss and you have a smart grid that can load balance and do all that good stuff. So that's what we need to invest billions of dollars in our grid to improve it so that we can't share over large areas and then we need to build lots of closed-loop pumped hydro to store all of that wind power that we're [inaudible].

J: So why don't we just start doing it right now?

C: This is great for a country like the US.

S: It's great for most countries.

C: But when we talk of most countries don't have massive ecological and biome shifts. Most countries are a biome or a small range of biomes. So when you're looking at countries again, like in the Middle East where you've got low rainfall high evaporates somewhat geopolitically difficult boundaries. How are you going to, I just I worry about this, it seems techno optimist to think that this could just solve these problems we have with fossil fuels.

S: This is a first of all, it's a major new approach. Which has tremendous potential and I think will can get us a lot farther along this path. It's not enough no one solution I think is gonna get us 100% of the way there. I still think we're gonna need to have some nuclear power plants. So we have right now we're at 18 for the United States at 18%. I think we need to at least maintain that. Keep around 20% and then we get 10% geothermal and hydroelectric and then 70% wind and solar with lots of grid storage, but that's gonna need to be pumped hydro. There's nothing else scales the way it does nothing else scales the way it does. It's gonna be it's more I think it's more universal and you think but absolutely there are places that where it's going to be less useful. But also if you think about the countries that are producing all the CO2, they'll be fine.

C: That's true the places where we need to like stop the haemorrhaging immediately.

S: China, India, United States, Europe. They have a plenty. Plenty of locations. Now in the US right now it takes five to ten years just to get the permitting to do to build one of these facilities. So that's that's a that's a huge problem.

C: Can we just like have some sort of presidential decree and fix that?

S: Yes. That's what we need. We need an operation warp speed for for this. For the pumped hydro. Absolutely. Now there already are and again, but the thing is it's federal and state and local records, multiple layers of regulation. It's no just the FDA where there's one institution.

C: Unless these were federally funded and sponsored pumped hydro.

S: There would have to be massive regulatory change at the federal level that somehow controlled the more local level things or superseded them or whatever. Now there is a fast track where we could do it in two years. It's already exists, but most sites don't qualify for the fast track. I'm not sure what the details are there. But definitely I think we need to look at this. How can we make this happen as quickly as possible? It's gonna take regulatory overhaul and lots of money, but it's totally worth it. It is completely worth it because this is really the only way we're gonna get any significant penetration of wind and solar.

GH: Apart from costs, what are the, what will be the potential arguments against it?

S: There really aren't any.

'GH: There aren't.

S: I couldn't find any. Because these are pre-existing bodies of water. You don't have to build any dams. That would be minimally environmentally impactful, but again that five to ten year permitting process is all environmental.

C: It's all red tape and pork. Those are all the problems. It's like we are, jurisdiction wants this.

S: But if I were king of America, I could just say that's a ton of pumped hydro and that would solve the problem.

J: It seems like a no-brainer. This is one of those things.

S: I think it's going to happen. I think this is going to be a bit of a game changer.

J: I mean it was like it was like there all the time. It just took people to think about and go, we could store the energy this way. And you got to think about it. When you're moving water from one place to another you're not damaging anything.

S: The technology is there.

C: So the ones we already have where are they? Like here in the US?

S: There's not that many. There's only a couple. Then they've been, but we've had them for decades. The technology is literally decades old. It was just never a big projet.

J: Steve. Quonnipaug Lake has pumped hydro.

S: Yeah, I know.

B: No way.

S: Yeah the lake where we live.

C: It's like I think about I think about California and how important it is for us culturally in our government to be ahead of the curve when it comes to green energy. But pumped hydro might not work there because it's drought city. It's a problem. We don't have enough water as it is. And so yeah, it is kind of we'd have to be like help us out.

S: Yeah, but you gotta just kind of read the analyses. There's so many potential locations again, you only need 1%, that's we need. Think about how little that is of all the potential locations.

GH: Reminds me of that great lamp that they were using in low income countries, which was just a weight.

S: Yeah.

GH: So it was like a weight on a pulley basically and you would lift the weight up and it was a very low toothed gear that slowly would drop the weight down and that would run your your whatever 60 watt bulb very little five hours. It would slowly just go down and then you just walk back over you lift it back up. Five hours of energy.

C: Like a soccer ball they were using in low-income countries. They were kicking the soccer ball [inaudible] batteries at night.

GH: Something like that.

J: Grandfather clocks run off of gravity as well.

C: The kids are playing soccer.

GH: They're there the answers are there.

Bright Satellite (1:26:55)[edit]

S: All right, Evan, you're gonna finish us up with some information about satellites and astronomy.

E: Yeah, so recent news on this. First of all bright objects in the sky. They include things like well-

J: UFOs.

E: UFOs. So that's Spielberg movie. The Moon obviously, stars also-

C: Mars, Jupiter.

B: Venus.

E: Sirius. Canopus.

J: Airplanes.

E: Rigel is one of my favorites, absolutely. Well now we have to count an artificial satellite as one of the brightest objects in the night sky and it's called the Blue Walker 3. It has officially become one of the brightest objects in the night sky and while the technology of satellite technology, which is bringing cellular service and communication around the world, that part of it is great, there are always trade-offs. One of the big trade-offs with this particular satellite is the impact that it's having on the study of astronomy. Because it is so bright. But not only because it's so bright the radio emissions power of it itself is also interfering with telescopes. With radio telescopes here on the planet.

J: What does the satellite do?

E: It's a communication satellite. It's cellular service. Yep. 693 square feet it's how big it is. Pretty big for a satellite. And causing a lot of radio traffic. And so much so that the International Astronomical Union released a statement earlier this month, which is the news item trying to bring people's awareness to this matter. And it's not just this satellite. We've talked about other satellites in the past, you know the Starlink satellites that have been having this sort of negative impact on astronomy as well. So the problem seems to be becoming worse and worse. This is just the prototype satellite that went up the first one. The plan is for this company, it's called AST space mobile. They will be launching hundreds of these.

J: Of that 600 foot one?

E: Of this and and perhaps larger and more and more power. So they see the danger on the horizon and they're really trying to bring people's awareness to it now. I order to try to help mitigate this in some way or at least open a line of communication about what is what is happening. There are 3,000 Starlink satellites right now currently in space and that's planned to go up to 12,000, is the ultimate plan? And what do we have?

C: 12,000?

E: 12,000.

C: Do we all get free internet finally?

E: I mean eventually yeah.

C: 12,000?

S: I thought the high I thought that it was gonna come out at 20,000. It's the only only internet in Ukraine right now I understand.

E: Yeah, that's right. So again, positive aspects of it but there are also these negative ones that definitely do have to be addressed here. Here are a couple lines from the actual statement they're released. Because of its large phased array antenna BW3 for short appears in the sky as bright as some of the brighter stars. If imaged by the very sensitive detectors of astronomical telescopes can easily saturate them making the entire image useless and in some instances it might even damage the detector. Therefore it's imperative know exactly the position of such bright satellites in such a way that they do not cross the field of view of the telescope. So there has to be a better coordination effort as to exactly the paths these are taking and where our astronomical instruments are also pointing. But they also said their impact on radio astronomy is potentially serious. Large radio astronomical observatories are located in remote regions. We talked about the one in Australia recently, in order to limit the interference by the cellular phones. But if the microwave emissions come directly from the sky no region on earth will be immune from the interference.

S: Evan, can they make these satellites but paint them black?

E: So what we have is that and and SpaceX is actually kind of all the companies leading, has heard this call and they have answered. And they have been doing things with their second and third generations of the Starlinks for example. They have, back in July this year they announced an initiative called the Brightness Mitigation Best Practices for Satellite Operators. This is SpaceX. They're identifying and mitigating the key causes of satellite brightness using new and more sophisticated materials with less reflectivity. Specular scattering material is what they're using which reflects light at a single angle. Like a direct on as opposed to it going bouncing in all kinds of directions in which you would see these more prominently. Their first generation of the satellites had visors. Sun visors actually attached to them, but those are proving to be kind of problematic. While yes, it does cut down on the amount of light it also interferes with the capabilities of the satellite itself. The laser components on it are not as effective and it also has a physical drag on the satellite itself. So they moved on to something called RF transparent mirrors and intercell backing materials in which basically they're just kind of changing the color structure of the backing material. They started off using white which has a high reflectivity, but they've moved it to a dark red color obviously because that's better. However, that's also having some issues because of the heat. It's in temperature and heat issues now become a problem. So they're continuing to try to tweak it. And they have something else called dielectric. The dielectric which is a mirror film now. This will reduce the reflectivity by ten times. So you're gonna get like 90% lower reflectivity which seems to be working and the new satellites that are going up are going to have this material. It maximizes the specular scatter and allows the radio waves to pass through with no apparent issues. Not only that they're gonna make this technology available to the other satellite companies that are doing this at no profit no markup. They're gonna do it to them at cost so that they can easily implement this particular technology which I think is going to be best for all the companies who [inaudible].

J: That's great.

S: That's great but this is also an area where we need some international regulation. You shouldn't be allowed to put noisy satellites up there ruining for everybody.

B: They should coat them with Vantablack.

GH: Oh, yes, they Vantablack. Totally.

B: Too bad so expensive.

E: So yeah, so again the news this week was that the the union came out with this statement and really wanted to make everyone aware of this. This has been having real right now impacts on what we're trying to what astronomers are trying to do.

S: It's another form of light pollution.

J: But it's also a part of a much bigger problem which as we all know it's all the space junk.

E: We got a ton of stuff up there.

J: We got to start pulling that stuff down somehow. We've got to really make that happen. We could get into a situation where we have a chain of events happens in orbit where an accident happens creates debris and that debris goes out and makes more debris and then we're totaled. Then we can't put-

GH: Sandra Bullock is fucked. (laughter)

C: When I was at that launch at Baikonur it was one web, which I think went defunct I'm not sure somebody might have bought them since then. There's been a lot of drama with that company. But they were saying that their satellites all have a shelf life and they deorbit after that shelf life and I think that's starting to become hopefully the norm.

S: That needs to become standard.

B: It has to be.

C: I know there's stuff up there from before but like you shouldn't be able to put anything up new unless you are the, it will come back down.

S: Yeah, you can't leave your garbage there.

C: Exactly.

E: Unfortunately not the countries China have been able to kind of maintain this sort of effort to to deorbit correctly.

C: Well, and the problem is it's like the honor system, that has to be regulated.

E: Yeah, yeah in some way you're right. There have to be tight there have to be tighter laws. The whole system needs a lot of tightening and lots of different aspects.

S: All right. Thanks Evan.

E: Yep.

S: All right guys, let's move on to science or fiction.

B: Yes!


Science or Fiction (1:35:20)[edit]

Theme: Arizona law

Item #1: Any misdemeanor committed while wearing a red mask is automatically considered to be a felony.[7]
Item #2: Donkeys are not permitted to sleep in bathtubs[8]
Item #3: It is illegal in the state of Arizona to refuse someone a drink of water if they ask and you have water to give.[9]

Answer Item
Fiction Refusing to give water
Science Red mask felony
Donkeys in bathtubs
Host Result
Steve clever
Rogue Guess
Red mask felony
Red mask felony
Refusing to give water
Refusing to give water
Donkeys in bathtubs

Voice-over: It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Each week I come up with three science news items or facts. Two real and one fake. And I challenge my panelists got to tell me which one is the fake. There's a theme this week. What do you think the theme is?

J: Phoenix?

C: Phoenix!

S: No.

E: Arizona.

C: Fusion?

S: No, but it's related to Arizona.

C: Meteors.

S: It is Arizona law.

J: Oh boy.

S: I want no kibitzing from the peanut gallery.

E: I want lots of kibitzing.

S: We will ask you your opinion after the rogues will weigh in. So no feedback until you may have heard these.

C: DO you know that half the people here aren't from here, they're from out of town.

E: We have people from Missouri.

S: Whatever. Here we go.

J: Let's do it.

S: All right item #1: Any misdemeanor committed while wearing a red mask is automatically considered to be a felony. Item #2: Donkeys are not permitted to sleep in bathtubs. And item #3: It is illegal in the state of Arizona to refuse someone a drink of water if they ask and you have water to give. All right, we're gonna start all the way on the left. Bob. If you want to see them I got them.

Bob's Response[edit]

B: No. Red mask fiction.

S: Red mask is the fiction? Okay.

E: I want to see them again.

B: Who knows? Jesus.

S: Evan what do you think?

Evan's Response[edit]

E: Why would a red mask constitute a felony.

B: Automatically. What happens on Halloween? Come on.

E: Is it the same concept is like insurance companies will charge more if you have a red car that kind of thing? Is it? I don't get it. Donkeys not permitted to sleep in bathtubs. Sure. That is some you know 1814 or whatever 1912 law on the books for whatever reason. Those things happen all over the place. Yeah. What it was, refusing someone a drink of water if they ask. If you have water to give. Well, I mean you can kind of see perhaps maybe yeah that public service sort of aspect to it. A good Samaritan laws do exist in some places, so I think I'm with Bob the one about the red mask is making the least sense to me.

Jay's Response[edit]

J: You know, I'm tempted to pick the one about the water because it seems to be the most reasonable. There's just no way that I could these are all weird.

B: Jay, you searching through his phone?

J: No, this this phone sucks, but I mean it doesn't stay right?

E: No it doesn't.

J: I'm going to pick it.

S: Stop toughing it.

J: It's been my problem my whole life Steve. I'm going to pick the water one because out of all three of these that one seems the most reasonable and this seems like one of those times we're in this that's my I'm gonna bet that Steve is picking that.

S: Okay, Cara.

Cara's Response[edit]

C: I think we wrote, we took notes. I feel like there is a an argument for all of them. The red mask and it was a misdemeanor but now it's a felony. What if there was some gang of bandits like the red mask bandits and at the time that was written into law and then they just never repealed it. Because it's those old things that they don't matter anymore and they don't actually enforce them so it's still on the books. Maybe. And then same thing with the donkey in the bathtub. I'm trying to think of where but would a bathtub have been outdoors at the time? Don't bathe your donkey in the same. Maybe there was like a cholera situation. I don't know. I'm trying to think of why that would be I don't think it's a zoning problem, but maybe a public health measure. And then the whole you can't refuse water, totally if there was something we're like somebody died because they had heat stroke and they needed water it's a bit like can't have my water and then they were found liable I could see that. But also I could see this one being one that Steve just like straight-up made up, because we think of Arizona and we think of the desert and we think of. And the other two were negative and this one's positive. I think I'm going to go with Jay on this and say Steve just made that one.

J: Ooh.

S: All right, and George.

George's Response[edit]

GH: Oh boy. To quote the Beastie Boys when you wash your ass, you better best use soap. You know what? I am leaning with Cara and Jay on this.

J: Wow.

GH: So but now because-

C: You could get all the glory.

GH: I'm thinking it you can't bring a donkey inside and have it go up to the second floor where your bathtub might be because then it's gonna be a weird structural thing. The red mask I like the idea of there was some kind of red, there was some kind of gang and they never took it off the books. But because no one has chosen the donkeys and because I'm a Beastie Boys fan. I'm gonna say the donkey.

S: You're gonna go with the ass.

GH: Always go with the ass.

S: All right.

Audience's Response[edit]

S: Now we're gonna pull the locals and see what you guys think. George you want to do?

GH: The one clap. Yes, I think it's so if you think one clap.

S: So if you think that the law about the red mask is not true clap. (few claps)

Then if you think that the one about the donkey is the fiction clap. (more claps)

And you think the one about the water is the fiction clap. (a lot of claps)

J: Pretty damn even.

S: No, there's definitely more for the water.

C: But still I don't think they know.

S: Alright. So we'll take these in order.

Steve Explains Item #1[edit]

S: Item #1: Any misdemeanor committed while wearing a red mask is automatically considered to be a felony. Bob and Evan you think this one is the fiction.

B: I regret it now.

S: About 20% of the audience thinks this one is the fiction.

B: 20?

S: And this one is science. This one's a real law still on the books-

GH: Weird.

S: -in Arizona.

B: What's the origin?

S: I don't know why.

C: You didn't look up the origin?

S: I did. I couldn't find it.

'C: So it's my story.

S: But that makes sense. Bandits were wearing red masks so they had to, whatever up it.

GH: Some political.

C: It's worse because it was you.

S: Let's go on to #2.

Steve Explains Item #2[edit]

S: Donkeys are not permitted to sleep in bathtubs. George. You think this one is a fiction.

GH: Yes.

S: You got about quarter of the audience or so. And this one is science also. Sorry George. I have no idea why they decided to specifically outlaw allowing donkeys to sleep in bathtubs. I guess that was a thing. At some point in Arizona.

J: A thing? It was happening all over?

E: One incident and one mayor went crazy over or something and decided to lobby them.

C: Or maybe there was a like a sickness.

E: That's all it would take is one incident.

C: Figure this out right now.

S If anybody has any insight into this please share with us.

Steve Explains Item #3[edit]

S: So what this means that it is illegal in the state of Arizona to refuse someone a drink of water if they ask and you have water to give is the fiction.

J: Did you make it up?

S: No, I didn't make that up. But there are dozens of sites on the web that say that that's a real law in Arizona. Have any of you heard of that any of the local Arizonans? Did you know it was a myth or did you hear it is real? So you don't know it's a myth. But so there's a good site that basically looked through all of Arizona law and that just doesn't exist. It's like that law does not exist in there. So it's one of those things that so makes so much sense that it just becomes in popular.

C: I found this a couple times. Okay, so multiple people online. This is from Phoenix, Arizona A town near Kingman was flooded by a local dam. While a merchant allowed his donkey to sleep in an old bathtub. The donkey survived the trip but was washed about a mile down the valley, landed in a basin and It took a lot of money to rescue the animal and they decided we're gonna ban this from happening. (laughter)

S: That seems prudent.

E: That's brilliant.

C: Yeah.

S: All right.

J: So, what do me and Cara get?

C: Points.

S: You get to hear some other interesting Arizona laws that I did not use. It's also illegal to hunt camels in Arizona. No camel hunting.

J: Are there camels here?

S: Are there camels in Arizona? They're all hunted. I know there are camels in Australia that they were basically introduced. Yeah, they were introduced. I figured they were injured just like in Australia, same thing. Any misdemeanor as I said that one donkeys. It's a class 2 misdemeanor occurs if one places a mark upon a flag which was likely to provoke physical retaliation.

J: Wow.

S: Again, it's got to come from something. It is illegal to manufacture imitation cocaine. So no fake cocaine in Arizona.

J: They only want the real thing. That's awesome.

S: And this is what kind of makes sense. When being attacked by a criminal or burglar you may only protect yourself with the same weapon that the other person is using.

J: Wait, wait, wait.

S: So you can't bring a gun to a knife fight.

C: In Arizona.

S: In Arizona. That's amazing.

GH: If I attack you with like a conch shell.

J: That was weird.

S: So I thought that was fun. Have you ever played Red Dead Redemption 2?

C: No I have not. You know the answer to that question.

S: Gotta put your mask up before you rob the train.

C:All those games I played.

S: All right, Evan take us out with a quote.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:45:17)[edit]

The boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.

 – Charles Dickens (1812-1870), English writer and social critic, from A Christmas Carol 

E: All right. This quote was suggested by a listener. His name is Sean. He's from the United Kingdom and apparently a fan of Charles Dickens. Any Charles Dickens fans here? Me either.

S: Charles Dickens.

E: A seasonal skeptical quote from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol here it is. "The boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased." Ignorance is bad.

S: Wholeheartedly agree. We were just talking about the Christmas Carol

B: We just read it.

J: What with Christmas coming and all.

S: It's really really a great story.

E: It is a good story.

J: It's another don't be a dick story.

E: I mean of all the Dickens it's one of the most accessible. And I saw the Patrick Stewart.

J: That was so freaking good.

GH: I have to say I just saw Spirited the Will Ferrell/Ryan Reynolds film. It's great.

S: Is it really?

GH: It's great. I have never been, I've never had a Christmas Carol plot that I didn't know what was gonna happen. It's got these twists and you're like wait what? Oh, wait, what? Oh, wait what?

B: Good afternoon sir!

GH: No the music the musical numbers are I mean, it's just Busby Berkeley on crack. It's just it's amazing. It's amazing. Songs are great.

S: But not fake crack.

E: Fake cocaine.

GH: No, yeah, it's I was blown away. I had, my expectations were very low is playing a local theater I'm like, oh, it's gonna be fun. Let's just go check it out. It'll put us as a still, you make fun of it or whatever and I'm like these songs are great and the message was great. And it's this subversion of the Christmas Carol story that's fully aware. It's subverting it, but it's super clever. I recommend it, highly.

S: Interesting, I was looking for shows to download for the plane travel and I saw that on there like hard pass. My expectations are so.

GH: If you don't like musicals, you're not gonna like it. But if you but if you can appreciate, good songwriting. The songs are very catchy, very clever and it's a really cool message and it's yeah, I enjoyed it.

S: Very nice. Well, thank you all for joining me for this new show.

GH: Thank you.

S: Thank you guys in the live audience. You are wonderful. (applause)


S: —and until next week, this is your Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. (applause)

S: Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information, visit us at Send your questions to And, if you would like to support the show and all the work that we do, go to and consider becoming a patron and becoming part of the SGU community. Our listeners and supporters are what make SGU possible.


Today I Learned[edit]

  • Fact/Description, possibly with an article reference[10]
  • Fact/Description
  • Fact/Description




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