Modernity and youtube production values

We sometimes think (in our age of progress) that if we look back, we must see very primitive creatures. 

But even if we go back ten thousand years, we don’t find primitive humans. We find modern humans.  Genetically, we have not changed very much in 10,000 years. What has changed? We have learned a huge amount of chemistry, biology, etc. Of course we didn’t know which bits were useful. It took a hundred years to figure out. That’s how science works. 

The discoveries of past centuries created some rapid changes. Example of progress: within a few hundred years we went from knowing what gunpowder was, to seizing guano Islands, to synthesizing ammonium nitrate to nuclear weapons. 

Ancient impulses with modern weapons are weird. I have this picture in my head of an angry person saying “I’m going to get that guy. I’m going to go lay claim to a guano Island, refine potassium nitrate, make black powder, and use an explosion to propel a small metal ball through his body.” Then the pre-modern human says “I’d just hit him with this rock. Simpler.”


Jack Conte posted a video (Why Do People Watch RHETT & LINK?) about the history of Rhet, Link and their Youtube show, Good Mythical Morning. I’ve watched their stuff before, but lost interest at some point.

I had no idea that the production team was 100 people. Now that I think about it, it makes sense. I think it’s interesting that the impression I had while watching it was maybe five people involved? Why did I form that impression?

In retrospect, it’s obviously not right. They put out way too much content to be a small team. I see that. From planning, to coordinating guests, to coordinating props/supplies, to filming to editing and cleanup… if 5 people tried to do it, each episode would take a week to produce. There are clearly more than 200 man-hours of work in each episode.

Another example, not YouTube: look at the Goodenough lab (podcast profile in C&EN). They have produced a lot of great scientific work in the battery field. And if you saw a talk by the Head Professor In Charge, you would see all the acknowledgments. He would give credit to the funders and associated students and scientists who contributed. But it would still be easy for me to come away with the vague impression that the scientist in front of me did it all (even though a moment’s reflection would dispel that idea).

Why do I form the impression that the thing I’m seeing is the product of a small team or even one person? I think it is because I want to do all the work myself in my own projects. I want to do it all: from planning, to ordering supplies, to experiments, to analysis, to the written and video products at the end.

The Iron Battery Project started that way, but it had several students working on it in the end. It was no Goodenough battery or wildly successful morning show, but I had the most fun when I could get my hands on it.

Here are some highlights of other things I’ve been reading and watching.


Dancing Queen by ABBA but folk – YouTube 

Digital lava lamp! – Raspberry Pi 

Spirited Away – Why Work Is Toxic – YouTube 

What Are You Doing With Your Life? The Tail End – YouTube 

The Tail End – Soundtrack (2021) – YouTube reminds me of “Shiny Happy People” mashup with “Mad World.” That would be a great Pomplamoose song, actually. 

Hardware Store CEO: We’re Rebranding (For Some Reason) – YouTube 

Welcome to O’Town – YouTube – Perfect short movie with cute characters


The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill | WIRED – Science is personality driven. Langmuir was wrong. Aerosols are important for transmission and 100 microns (rather than 5 microns) is small enough for a droplet to stay in the air and transmit a pathogen. 


Errementari (2017) – IMDb Good movie about a blacksmith who sold his soul to a demon.


Tribes by Seth Godin | Audiobook | 

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green | Audiobook | 

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers | Audiobook | 

A silly pun about lichen

The strange taste of memories; lichen comics; Week 13 of 2021

Funny stuff:

A strange thing happened. I ate a Walmart fudge brownie, then some peanuts and drank some coffee. It tasted exactly like a memory of waiting for a table at Smitty’s with my grandparents. The yellow wavy glass, the vinyl bench, the smell of my grandmother’s perfume, the sound of silverware, the juice glasses with the distinctive bulgy profile… it all came back. It was clear in my mind to a crazy degree. It only worked once, though. No matter how many brownies I ate.

Unrelated: I’ve been doing some macro photography. I saw this weird moss and lichen on the top of a post. The vibrant red color is very interesting. I would love to know what the pigment is. The red nodules were about 2 mm in diameter. What a fun lens. It made me think of an old comic, A Softer World. So, I tried to make some things inspired by their style.

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Week 8 2021: Pilgrimage to the Temple of Power

My wife and I took a drive up to the Temple of Power. It was pretty cool, and pretty much deserted. It’s a sculpture made from salvaged electrical equipment at the Gorge powerhouse. We saw an eagle fly over us while we were wandering around. It was pretty cold, but very pretty. In retrospect, I wish I’d captured video so I could do a vlog.

I saw that Netflix is Adapting the ‘Redwall’ Books Into Movies, TV Series. I liked those books as a kid. They got repetitive after a while, but I still remember parts of Mossflower very fondly. I read them at a point in my life when I didn’t want to like anything the other kids liked (I was a hipster before it was cool, bruh), but Redwall won me over. Wholesome good fun. I hope the new series takes the material seriously.

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Iron Battery 2.0 has been published in HardwareX

I’m happy to announce that Iron Battery 2.0 has been accepted for publication in HardwareX, the peer reviewed journal for Open Source Hardware. Back in 2017, and with the help of some generous crowd funders, we set out to make a radically inexpensive and nontoxic battery. We made a lot of progress.

Here’s the Announcement Video for Iron Battery 2.0!

We took inspiration from the Edison cell iron electrode (invented more than 100 years ago). When iron oxidizes, it gives up electrons. In the Edison cell, those electrons are taken up by nickel. That transfer of electrons is what gives the usable electricity we want. To reverse the reaction and charge the battery, electrons are sucked out of the nickel and back into iron. But nickel is relatively expensive, and the Edison cell uses a concentrated and caustic alkaline electrolyte.

Back in 2017, we replaced the nickel with ferric iron and neutralized the electrolyte. This really hurts the energy density and performance of the battery. The energy was there, it just couldn’t discharge fast enough to give useful power. The plan was to use it for stationary applications, but it was still under-powered. It would take days to get all the energy out of Iron Battery 1.0. But it worked well enough to show that the idea was valid.

This low-power problem is called high internal resistance. So, the next step was to try to decrease the internal resistance. So, if we could reduce the distance the electrons had to travel, we should make a better battery. To help get the electrons close to the ferric iron, we added a lot of carbon black (a conductive carbon powder used in conductive inks). That’s how we made Iron Battery 2.0. It is a significant improvement in power, up to usable levels.

A single Iron Battery 2.0 cell can now deliver enough power to light up an LED (albeit with a little voltage booster circuit called a “Joule thief,” which has a great pun for a name). This is getting closer to practical level where this chemistry could store solar or wind energy on a larger scale.

The previous build video (Iron Battery 1.5) goes through the construction and the main recipe. The very detailed build instructions (including a list of all the materials and where to get them) are now available in the new publication.

Dark Crystal Landscapes and Sex Ed for Mantises: Week 3 2021

The scene is from my walk this last week. The landscape looks odd in this season. It looks a little like something from The Dark Crystal. It’s a strange collection this week.

Oh, sweet summer hatchling. You’re not going to like this, Tommy Mantis. Probably. I mean, I don’t know what you’re into.

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