Category Archives: Science

What if Everyone on Earth Had Super Fast Internet for $1?

Only about half the world has internet access. Even rural America lags behind in broadband penetration.

But what if everyone on earth had incredibly fast internet for $1 a month?

A fascinating company called Akash Systems just might pull that off. It is delivering internet 100 times more cheaply than its competitors.

Given that Starlink is charging $99/month for its high speed satellite internet, Akash may one day be able to do it for as little as a dollar.

“This is sort of where the internet was in, I would say, ’98, ’99.”

Felix Ejeckam

The key is a new type of transistor called Gallium Nitride (GaN)-on-Diamond. The founder of Akash, Felix Ejeckam, invented it.

The hottest part of a transistor is put within nanometers of a synthetic diamond. Synthetic diamonds conduct heat better than any other material.

This means that the transistor produces way less heat. Anyone who’s had a laptop on their lap knows it can get hot.

Electronics getting hot cause all sorts of problems, especially in space.

Excess heat means problems with wireless communication. It also requires large heat sinks to dissipate the heat.

This makes the satellite bulkier and more expensive.

Today, Akash focuses on building transmitters for other satellite makers. In the future, they plan to launch their own satellites and internet service.

I can’t wait to sign up and cut my bill down to nothing!

In an interview with the Ejeckam, I was fascinated to hear that he dreamed up this idea 17 years ago. It shows the persistence needed to make a dream real.

“The limits of your imagination today define the limits of space tomorrow.”

Felix Ejeckam

More on tech:

Robot Hands, Vertical Farms, and the Future of Food

How Solana Could Wipe Out Visa and MasterCard

Inside a Startup Accelerator Demo Day

Photo: “Antares Rocket Launch” by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Amazon Business American Express Card

You already shop on Amazon. Why not save $100?

If you’re approved for this card, you get a $100 Amazon gift card. You also get up to 5% back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% on restaurants/gas stations/cell phone bills, and 1% everywhere else.

Best of all: No fee!

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! 

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Did COVID Come from a Lab? A Doctor’s Perspective

In southern China near the border with Laos, there is a mine. To this day, it is heavily guarded by the Chinese government. Any journalist who tries to visit is detained.

Inside the mine: the possible origin of the COVID pandemic.

Scientists identified the animal that first transmitted the original SARS virus (SARS-CoV-1) within 6 months. The culprit was the civet cat. But no animal intermediary for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has ever been found. Meanwhile, we know that bat guano samples from that mine were taken to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and studied. Is that lab the real source of the pandemic?

In an excellent podcast by the eminent Doctor Peter Attia, he and journalist Katherine Eban dig into the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from the Wuhan lab. There are many precedents for this: SARS-Cov-1 has escaped from labs several times. And the Wuhan Institute was not very secure: some of its labs had biosafety level (BSL)-2 precautions. This is about the same level of security as an American dentist’s office.

There is no longer any scientific consensus on whether the virus came from an animal or a lab. But we may never know for sure where SARS-CoV-2 came from, since China has stonewalled international researchers and the Wuhan Institute’s database of virus info just happened to be taken offline in September 2019, shortly before the pandemic began to rage.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

More on China:

IS CHINA USING ITS COVID VACCINES TO CONTROL OTHER COUNTRIES?

CHINA IS CRUSHING ONE OF ITS MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES

HOW CHINA’S TECH INDUSTRY DIES

Note: The doctor I’m referring to is Dr. Attia. I have no scientific or medical background.

Photo: “File:Wuhan Institute of Virology main entrance.jpg” by Ureem2805 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave your comments at the bottom.

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

This Hoboken-Based Rocket Company Could Revolutionize Space

In the shadow of New York City, I walked down a quiet street beneath an overpass. I came across a squat brick building with no windows. On the door, a small sign was the only indication of what’s inside: Hudson Space Systems.

Founded by graduates of the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hudson Space Systems (HSS) is working to make cheap, reusable rockets available to everyone. The microgravity (weightlessness) that being high above the earth provides is critical to research in medicine, physics and materials science. Cell cultures grow faster, physics experiments are simplified, and materials are tested like nowhere else.

But this invaluable scientific platform has a problem: waiting lists for launches are long and costs are high. HSS’s 3D printed, resuable rocket aims to bring the cost down by 40% and increase capacity until booking space on a rocket launch is as easy as booking a dinner reservation on OpenTable.

SpaceX proved rockets can be reused. What SpaceX did for launching satellites, HSS hopes to do for launching science experiments.

Hoboken, New Jersey, with its density and proximity to New York City, might seem like the last place where you’d find a rocket company. But it’s one of the most educated cities in the country, with over 80% of the population holding bachelor’s degrees or higher, and has a technical university right in town. Tech companies often grow out of universities, as this one did.

Will HSS be able to realize its vision? That’s anyone’s guess, but they have already raised $100,000 in 2020 and are $162,000 into a $250,000 raise that closes in a few days. Since they are currently working on protypes and don’t yet have a product in market, this company is earlier on than the startups I invest in. But if you like getting in on the ground floor, and especially if you have expertise in this area, it could be a great opportunity.

Best of luck to these hardworking men and women on their exciting new business right here in the Garden State!

More on startups:

Photo: “Antares Rocket Launch (NHQ201610170114)” by NASA HQ PHOTO is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/Reddit/etc. using the buttons at the bottom of the page. This helps more people find the blog! 

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Liftoff: How Elon Musk Built SpaceX

At 1310 East Grand Avenue in El Segundo, just south of Los Angeles, sits a large white building. In 2002, it housed only about a dozen people. There wasn’t even a receptionist.

Deep in this building was a small group of cubicles, staffed by about a dozen men. This tiny group had an audacious goal: sending the first humans to Mars.

Their leader was a young internet entrepreneur named Elon Musk. He had just made $180 million from the sale of PayPal. Many men in his position would buy an island and relax, or perhaps begin a career in philanthrophy. But Elon toiled away in this nondescript warehouse instead, building the future.

This is the subject of an outstanding new book I just finished called Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX.

From this tiny team, Musk built SpaceX, which now does two thirds of all commercial satellite launches in the world and owns the most powerful rocket on earth, the Falcon Heavy. That small group of employees has mushroomed to nearly 10,000.

To go so far so fast, Musk needed the best people in the business, and he focused like a laser on finding them. One engineer’s wife got a job at Google in the Bay Area, which meant he couldn’t accept Musk’s offer to work at SpaceX. Undeterred, Musk called the CEO of Google and got the engineer’s wife a transfer to Los Angeles. Sure enough, he got the engineer he wanted.

Musk went so far as to personally interview the first 3000 people SpaceX hired. Musk paid less and his company was unproven, but he excelled at inspiring people to join him to revolutionize space travel.

Even with Musk’s drive and a superb team, SpaceX faced many struggles. By 2008, they had three failed flights and barely a month’s worth of cash left. Even Elon’s considerable fortune had run dry supporting both SpaceX and Tesla. But Musk and his team stayed focused and successfully launched a rocket into orbit in the nick of time. This achievement won them a NASA contract that kept the company alive.

SpaceX questioned everything about how business is normally done in aerospace. Most companies buy parts from established suppliers, but SpaceX built almost everything itself, substantially lowering its costs. For the parts it did buy elsewhere, SpaceX ignored common practice as well. Instead of paying in 30 days, SpaceX paid in as little as 24 hours. This got their orders prioritized, which helped them move faster than other rocket companies.

Today, only one other private company, Rocket Lab, has reached orbit. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, despite all his money, has never reached orbit. Indeed, SpaceX is so dominant that customers sometimes spread around a few of their orders, just to make sure its competitors don’t all go out of business.

If I had seen Musk in that empty warehouse twenty years ago, I would never have believed what SpaceX would become. But Musk saw it, and stopped at nothing to get there.

When the first man steps on Mars, will it be Musk?

Dig into these posts for more on Elon Musk and space:

Photo: “SpaceX Dragon Propulsive Descent Landing Test” by NASAKennedy is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

We Need Science Funding More Than Road Repairs

As the Biden administration pushes for a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, I dug into some numbers on federal research funding today. Most basic scientific research is funded by the federal government, including the critical advances in mRNA technologies that laid the groundwork for COVID vaccines. But this funding has fallen by more than 1/3 since the 1970’s, measured as a percentage of GDP:

In absolute dollar terms, funding has increased, but far below the rate one would predict given our burgeoning economy. Meanwhile, the infrastructure bill contemplates $110 billion in funding for road repair. This despite the US having some of the best roads in the world (slightly better than those of Switzerland) and among the world’s lowest commute times. Even in the New York area, which many single out for having poor road infrastructure, I see mostly smooth pavement wherever I go.

Science funding will never be as visible as road repair. You don’t see men in orange jackets out there with big trucks. But without basic research, we will find ourselves falling behind competitors like China and left without the tools we need to meet future challenges. What if we had faced the COVID pandemic without the scientific groundwork laid by massive research funding in decades past?

For more on science and policy, check out these posts:

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Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too! 

Photo: “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Lost Planet of Vulcan

For nearly two hundred years, Newton’s laws of motion worked pretty well. Then, a French scientist named Urbain Le Verrier came along and messed it all up.

He calculated Mercury’s orbit using Newton’s laws and waited until it orbited the sun again in 1848, awaiting confirmation of his calculations. Mercury didn’t behave as expected. Its orbit was off by a fraction of a degree, enough to perturb exacting astronomers. Le Verrier went in search of what could’ve caused his calculations to go awry, and seized upon a dramatic possibility.

What about an unknown planet? If a small planet existed between the sun and Mercury, it would explain the deviation in his calculations. Le Verrier called the unknown planet Vulcan, and set about trying to find it.

Only Le Verrier never could find it, and neither could the many other astronomers who looked.

The mystery was finally solved decades later by Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. It showed that Newton’s laws were wrong, and the mass of objects warped space in a way that brought objects together, rather than an object itself attracting other objects. It also perfectly explained the shape of Mercury’s orbit without needing to postulate a planet no one could find.

Einstein’s theory remains unchallenged to this day, and even NASA telescopes can’t find Vulcan. It seems to have existed only in our imaginations.

I found out about Vulcan today in an excellent class I’m taking. It’s called Puzzles, Problems and Paradoxes and you can sign up here. It’s online every Wednesday at 11:10am Central through UT-Austin.

For more on science, check out these posts:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/LinkedIn/email using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too! 

Photo: “False Color View of Mercury” by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Amazing Drugs Are Going from the University to the Graveyard, While Patients Pay the Price

Was the cure for cancer invented in a university, only to be shelved for a lack of funding?

University labs are creating incredible drugs on a regular basis. Unfortunately, most will never get to the patients that need them so desperately. This is the conclusion of an intriguing book I just read, Preserving the Promise: Improving the Culture of Biotech Investment, by Scott Desain and Scott Fishman.

The problem is that universities don’t have the massive funds it takes to bring a drug candidate through clinical trials to FDA approval. What about Big Pharma? Well, they’ve been cutting their R&D budgets drastically for years.

This leaves early stage biotech investors to fund much of the commercialization of new drugs, and there simply aren’t enough of them to fund all the good candidates. Indeed, the number of investors specializing in this area is shrinking. This doesn’t surprise me given that most early-stage investors focus on software startups and have a software background themselves.

This does leave the few angel investors who specialize in biotech in an enviable position though: more great companies out there than there are angels to fund them means big slices of great companies for less money, and thus higher returns. This is an area that I may be branching out into in the future. Being even a tiny part of creating a new lifesaving drug or medical device would be incredible.

University policies also hinder the effective commercialization of research, the book notes. Technology Transfer Offices own the patent, but sometimes are hesitant to license it unless they can get lots of revenue for it right away, which is hard for a fledgling company to provide. In other cases, they bury the patent, thinking it unpromising. And university conflict of interest policies can often stop the inventor from continuing to work on the research with company funds. This separates the technology from the person who is best positioned to advance it.

In all, this seems like a neglected area with a lot of problems. That we rely on it for virtually all new drugs is scary. But investors like myself should eye the area with interest, especially given rich valuations in software startups.

For more posts on biotech, check these out:

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/LinkedIn/email using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too! 

Photo: The co-founders of BioNTech, a biotech success story. “Forschungszentrum der Biotech-Unternehmen BioNTech AG und Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG” by MWKEL-RLP is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Miracle Particles Behind COVID Vaccines

The particles that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines rely on are 1/1000th the width of a human hair. They’re called lipid nanoparticles, and they’re revolutionizing medicine as we speak.

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines work by sending mRNA to your cells. The mRNA tells the cells how to make proteins that block the virus. But you can’t send the mRNA on its own, because it would be repelled and flushed out through the kidneys.

The mRNA needs a wrapper, and that’s where the lipid nanoparticle comes in. The mRNA molecules are negatively charged and so are our cells. These two negatives push each other away. But, the nanoparticle can make it inside the cell.

Once inside the cell, the particle faces another barrier. The cell wraps it in a container called an endosome, because the cell doesn’t want to be contaminated. So, the lipid nanoparticle has to be specially designed to escape that endosomal prison.

Decades of research has gone into these particles, and they can now escape and spread the necessary information into the watery substance inside the cell (called the cytoplasm). Our commitment to funding basic science decades ago is paying off today in ways we could never have anticipated.

I learned a great deal about these incredible particles today at an online seminar hosted by the journal Nature with Kathryn Whitehead of Carnegie Mellon University and Yizhou Dong of Ohio State University. They gave some great perspective on the development of this amazing technology.

One thing Professor Whitehead mentioned was that despite concerns that the mRNA vaccines are too new and unproven to be safe, the lipid nanoparticles they use have existed for decades. In fact, she said she’s had research rejected for publication because these particles are considered too old hat!

I also finally learned why the vaccines have to be stored at such cold temperatures: molecules will start moving around too much once the temperature rises, so the lipid nanoparticles could come apart. Perhaps one reason Moderna’s vaccine doesn’t need quite as cold of storage is that they’ve been researching these particles for much longer than Pfizer/BioNTech, so their particles may be a bit more stable.

Beyond COVID, lipid nanoparticles and the mRNA therapies they’re a part of could be used for other viruses like the flu, Zika and Ebola. They may also be used as cancer immunotherapies. (This echoes what the co-founders of BioNTech said recently.)

These particles seem likely to underlie an entire new generation of medicines. I’ll be keeping a close eye on them, microscopic as they are!

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/LinkedIn/email using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Photo: “2020_06_020100 – a human cell attacked by Covid-19” by Gwydion M. Williams is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Killer Kittens Can Be Placated With Meat and Playtime, New Study Finds

It would be wise not to anger him.

Cats kill billions of animals yearly, but feeding them a meaty diet and providing lots of playtime can redirect them to less violent pursuits, a new study finds.

The mother of one cat in the study had seen her furry friend wreak havoc:

“We’ve had birds in the bedroom, rats in the paper bin, rabbits in the utility room, and several vermin that have died of fright,” says her owner, Lisa George from Cornwall, U.K.

But redirecting their prey drive to play, plus keeping them sated with meat, greatly reduced the body count:

the high-meat diet and playtime approaches had the most sweeping impacts, slashing all types of animals on the doorstep by 36% and 25%, respectively.

See the full study out today in Current Biology here.

A surprisingly large number of species have a prey drive. Our gerbil stalked, attacked and ate caterpillars, leaving only the legs. He also ripped the head off a cockroach and wisely left the remains for my wife to clean up rather than eating them.

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/LinkedIn/email using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Photo: “killer kitty” by Ayeshah Ijaz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Did You Know Dragonflies Can Do Backflips?

I came across this interesting new study today showing dragonflies can do backflips, even unconscious!

They found that conscious dragonflies, when dropped from the upside-down position, somersaulted backwards to regain the rightside-up position. Dragonflies that were unconscious also completed the somersault, but more slowly.

Check out the video below!

I happened to be watching a wonderful David Attenborough documentary on insects, including dragonflies, last night with my wife, so this interesting tidbit caught my eye! Nature continues to amaze me, day after day.

See the full study here.

If you found this post interesting, please share it on Twitter/LinkedIn/email using the buttons below. This helps more people find the blog! And please leave a comment at the bottom of the page letting me know what you think and what other information you’re interested in!

Photo: “White-faced meadowhawk dragonfly” by Tibor Nagy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0