Expectation: you receive an issue of my Weekly Digest every Sunday
Reality: you only receive it on a Monday
If this was an Oxford essay crisis, then I would have failed to meet the deadline.
Indeed, mea culpa! I spent the past weekend staying in London and catching up with friends. It is always refreshing to take a break from the ivory tower and the comfort zone of Oxford.
Anyways, I hope that you are enjoying the week with the amazing weather in southwest England recently.
This week, we are going to look at meat-spiracy, masculine astrology, dna-battery, and electric-roads for Teslas etc.
Also, I am trying out a new format: a section where I dump a bunch of links with minor comments. Let's see if this Marginal Revolution-style compilation of links work.
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- 10 Reads of the Week
- My analyses and suggestions for further readings
- Jokes of the Week
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1 - Meat-spiracy: are the environmental effects of meat overblown?
This is a controversial video that has been going viral on YouTube for a while. I am not going to summarize the video because some of the evidence is quite shocking to me. You need to experience the cognitive dissonance yourself.
Nevertheless, I also want to remind you that the author is making a collection of very nuanced arguments. More specifically, these are the core claims, according to the author themselves:
(1) The proposed effects on GHG emissions if people went meatless are overblown.
(2) The claims about livestock’s water usage are misleading.
(3) The claims about livestock’s usage of human edible feed are overblown.
(4) The claims about livestock’s land use are misleading.
(5) We should be fixing food waste, not trying to cut meat out of the equation.
(bracketed are timestamps of the video)
These are very pin-pointed claims that do not sufficiently de-base the alternative protein movement. Rather than seeing the video as argumentative in nature, I see it as thought-provoking and clarificatory. These are directions where we need to further investigate and come up with conclusions from first-principles.
As expected, members of the alternative protein and vegetarian community responded. And of course, the author defended themselves by making another video and writing a long post on their Patreon.
If you want to follow the exchange, remember to check out the comment section of the YouTube video.
2 - Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus
Last week, we talked about an astrology startup raising VC funding. I framed it as the Joke of the Week. Perhaps I have made a mistake. Because apparently, astrology is a really profitable and legit tech trend now.
according to an internal survey by the dating app OkCupid, the number of men who believe complimentary horoscope signs are important for a match increased by 60 per cent in the last three years. Many psychics and astrologers contacted for this piece report an uptick in male customers.
Is this supposed to be counter-intuitive? A running joke in the online dating world (e.g. Tinder, Bumble, Hinge etc.) is that only women care about horoscopes. Now it seems that the tables have turned.
There’s certainly money to be made. On Keen, Sara has customers who can spend tens of thousands of dollars a year calling her. Ingenio says it sets spending limits for new customers and operate a pay-as-you-go system which it hopes acts as a self-regulating mechanism. But as Sara says: “If they don’t call me they’re going to call someone else.”
In last week's issue, I also commented that astrology is essentially a service, not a product. In fact, psychics are very much like counselors. They re-affirm what you already know. But you are willing to pay them to do so because they lend their air of legitimacy from psychology/supernatural powers. There are many services and industries in the world where the sellers do not really produce any tangible value. Yet, the buyers are willing to pay for what seems an exorbitant price.
If the astrology vertical does scale, can someone please make a meme? Gen-Z style only.. no more boomer memes
3 - Biology is eating the world
Continuing on last week's theme about biomachines, this article envisions a future where DNA holds the key to efficient energy storage.
Battery technology is important for alleviating climate change because:
- renewable energy generation is seasonal and fluctuates a lot
- the demand for energy is largely stable e.g. in hot countries, higher electricity demand at night because of air conditioners
- the supply of electricity via solar, wind and hydro etc. does not 'catch up' with the demand
- energy storage becomes important in order to 1) store surplus energy 2) release energy in times of shortage
- off-grid battery linked to a 'green' energy grid is one of the solutions
However, our battery is not quite efficient yet. There are some contending alternative solutions: QuantumScape's solid-state, Tesla & SolarCity's lithium-ion/solar farm, and most interestingly, Form Energy's 'air-breathing aqueous sulfur flow battery' based on the founding team's research at MIT.
However, air-battery is still not as exciting as DNA-battery. As a thinker of technology and waves of innovation, I admit that DNA-battery is as buzzword-heavy as it can get. Yet, it is also fascinating because it is an 'application' that is built upon several 'infrastructure' in three disciplines.
On the smallest scale of things, molecular genetics: we need to manipulate down to the molecular level the double-helix structure of DNA.
On top of that, we need biochemical engineerging. First, we need a lot of DNA. And this is where DNA synthesis comes in. The past decade is the emerging decade for DNA I/O: input stands for sequencing and output stands for synthesis. DNA synthesis is largely a biochemical engineering matter. And the article confirms my thinking:
To supply huge volumes of high-density DNA to Minteer’s group, Touchlight developed processes that increase DNA yield in its most concentrated, yet still processable form. Minteer and her team then use this DNA to create the hydrogels with the enzymes and other elements mixed in.
Packing all the DNAs together, we need nanotechonology. I imagine that packing a bunch of DNAs together, linking them via electrodes and ensuring that it can indeed I/O energy is as difficult as making semiconductors down to the nanometer level.
Once we abandon thinking of technological innovation in silos and accept inter-disciplinary ways of thinking, the world is our oyster.
4 - Telescope and Microscope: are they just the same?
Lux Capital, a deep-tech VC, recently participated in Eikon Therapeutics's $148M financing round to develop super-resolution microscopy.
Turns out that the technology was originally invented in order to view stars beyond the Solar System. Now Eikon is using it to view cells within our bodies. Learn more about the science here
I came across an article with a title along the lines of ' how interstellar imaging helps with a new technique of cell imaging' – but I cannot find it now. If you have seen it, please let me know!
5 - Do Teslas run on electric roads?
We paved roads for horse-cars. We built highways for cars. Do we need to build electric roads for electric vehicles (EV)?
I must admit that this Bloomberg video is futuristic and entertaining, not to mention that the title poses a very thought-provoking question. Nonetheless, the video itself is quite disappointing: it does not really answer the question. Do we even need electric roads?
One reason why we need electric roads, as a company mentioned in the video argued, is to wireless charge electric cars. My intuition tells me that the energy efficiency of wireless charging must be low that it just does not make sense to pave chargers all along the roads.
Continuing on the metaphors of 'applications' and 'infrastructure', my takeaway is that new wave of applications do not necessarily require a new type of infrastructure'.
6 - Classism, liberalism and complacency at elite universities
Well, I study at Oxford. So I am not going to say much, except that I strongly recommend you to read Natalia's piece.
The opening anecdotes in the article hits all the chords. It is a vivid reminder of 'class performanism'.
What I find slightly disappointing is that Natalia did not choose to press on the line of classism, but rather switched gears on the SJW phenomenon.
Another line of investigation worth pressing is the brain swamp of Ivy League talents by Wall Street. Talent allocation is something that I have thought about quite a lot. How do we design incentives such that talents go into the right places, both for their private benefits but also for social benefits?
Lastly, from a sociological perspective, it is also interesting to observe the social role Oxbridge/Ivy League graduates play. As most of these graduates are mostly WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant), to what extent does race affect their outcomes?
I have a blog draft chronicling and reflecting on the roles of Oxbridge graduates in Hong Kong. Chinese (including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwai) are now the second-largest international student population in Oxford and Cambridge. But this has only become a fait accompli recently. For a long time, the strongest connection between Oxbridge and Hong Kong is just that white Oxbridge graduates would 1) see the Far East as a promising region 2) came to Hong Kong as an expat 3) either joined the Colonial Office or became a banker.
Alternatively, they would also come to Hong Kong if they had failed in London. As they said back in the pre-1997 handover days, Failed in London; Try Hong Kong.
7 - What does the fox say?
I talked about what alien languages would be like in #1 of Weekly Digest. I speculated that understanding animalese is a good starting point to build out a meta-linguistic model that applies to all intelligent civilizations (or a narrower claim: applies to all organisms capable of communications)
One of the catalysts that can help us understand xenolinguistics is to understand the languages of animals on Earth first. Scientists have been able to draw correlations between behaviour and honey bees' mating dances. Some research is now being done on whales' signals.
Eventually we might find out that our languages are not so 'intelligent' compared to the dolphins.
And I also warned against anthropocentrism. It seems that some researchers are avoiding that by using AI, as mentioned in the New Yorker's piece:
Today’s machine-learning systems analyze data and look for correlations with startling efficiency; often, they find statistical connections that human analysts miss. They can, for example, deduce the “shape” of a language space, which depicts where words and concepts sit in relation to one another (“king” will typically be as far from “man” in this space as “queen” is from “woman”); these conceptual spaces turn out to be surprisingly similar for different languages—presumably because they are all representations of the same external world.
If the only solution to solving anthropocentric bias is AI, once we get AGI, we would have to rely on the benevolence of the AGI to conduct inter-species communication.
Can someone please work on this alignment problem?
8. ｈｏｍｅｗｏｒｋ ＆ ｓｔｕｄｙ: [lofi hip hop/chill beats]
Gen Zs are just weird. If you want to study, just study! I seriously doubt that talking to your friends on Discord is going to help you focus.... Comments on Tyler Cowen's blog also shows that boomers are struggling to understand the Study web.
One aspect of the Study Web is a support network that promotes positive thinking. It is very much a decentralized network of peer supporters – especially important in a post-COVID world where mental health issues will pop up more often.
Another aspect is the clout that comes with being a study-tuber. As you can imagine, the barrier to entry to becoming one is low. Hence, it explains why there are so many study-tubers in Oxford and so many wanna-be study-tubers. They are doing some great access/outreach work, unveiling the mask of a Day in Life as an Oxford Student. On the other hand, there are study-tubers who work hard on 1) content 2) branding 3) SEOs to get sticky loyal fans. One of them is Sienna Santer, a Harvard student who is now studying abroad at Oxford. The view stats of her videos is the best example of power law.
That's it for 10 Reads of the Week. Yes, you are right. I have only covered 8 reads. Check below for 'What I am reading'
What I am reading
This section is going to be a bunch of assorted links. Basically a dump of things that I have come across but have not got time to comment extensively.
SpaceX is X-cellent
Gamers of the world, unite and conquer the Metaverse!
She is my idol: passion, humility, and raw intellect
She was homeschooled in New Zealand, taught herself mathematics, literature, and history, and was working in a biological research lab on aging research by age 12. She was accepted to MIT at age 14, but later dropped out for the Thiel Fellowship.
As a genius, she is extremely intellectually open and humble:
I have no comments on this. But FT readers do
Google's Research as a Service
Can you slide into my Instagram DM?
Joke of the Week
If you know, you know.
That's it for this week. Hope you enjoyed reading.