Nerd Corner #45

deep simplicity, 3d-printed food, and more!

Hi All!

I hope you are all well and safe. Just when I couldn’t imagine 2020 to get any weirder there are major protests and riots going on in the USA. 

While I condemn riots as they are not only bad but actually counterproductive in the efforts of legitimizing a protest, we should remember the words of Martin Luther King Junior (one of my favorite historical characters, his autobiography is a must-read): 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

On Friday I published a short article, "Navigating the wealth of misinformation: COVID-19 edition” about some strategies I’ve been using to swim through all the good and bad information that we find constantly submerged in. Let me know what you think!


What I am reading 📚

I’m currently reading “Deep Simplicity” by John Gribbin. This is the first science book I read this year and it’s been reminding me how much I enjoy reading about math, science, and its history. It also helps that Gribbin is very good at distilling and explaining mathematical concepts in very simple ways. 

The thesis of the book is that all the complexity we see here on Earth —like us humans— stems from just a few simple mathematical rules that act in nonlinear ways to generate “chaos”. To explain this, Gribbin takes us on a journey from the ancient Greeks all the way to the 20th century, tracing the development of all the relevant mathematical ideas from geometry to Newton’s Laws of Gravity to Einstein’s relativity theory and finally Lorenz’s ideas on "Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow”.

For an awesome introduction to Chaos Theory check out this video from Veritassium (one of the best science Youtube channels out there).


Nerd Corner 🥗🥩

As I am reading and learning more about food tech and the whole food supply chain (how our food gets produced, processed, and delivered to us) I am starting to see different trends that often seem to oppose each other.

The first has to do with food production itself. On the one hand, there is a lot of research being done in order to produce food directly in labs and even 3D-print them. On the other, there is also a big push towards more humane and beneficial farming methods like regenerative agriculture.

First, I'm curious about what the future will look like. Is food going to be mass-produced in labs, shipped to us by mail, and then 3D printed at home? Or will things like regenerative agriculture prove its worth and take us back closer to our origins?

The first scenario—that of lab-grown food—has the potential to solve our food problems forever. Imagine, as Winston Churchill presciently said that

We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.

We would be able to produce everything that we need in much less space and also cheaper. But it will also bring the end of farms as we know them. More than 2 million farms in the US alone will ultimately need to shut down or find another purpose for their lands. And this is only in the USA. For the future to look like this, the world will need to dramatically change in the coming decades.

In the second scenario, farms will still exist but they will need to change from intensive mono-crops to rotating crops and will need to include grazing animals to build sustainable ecosystems. After all, the promise of regenerative agriculture is that it increases biodiversity, creating more sustainable ecosystems, and even helps the soil capture more CO2.

As you can see, both scenarios bring with them their challenges and tradeoffs. While personally, I am more inclined and hopeful for a future of regenerative agriculture, there are many variables at play and, if the world's population keeps growing at its current pace there will be more than 10 billion of us by 2050. The amount of food we produce will need to almost double as many around the world come out of poverty and start including more protein in their diets.

At the moment I don't see either of these as clear winners or best options. But there's hope on both ends as there are multiple projects tackling these challenges.

In next week's edition, I will be diving deeper into lab-grown food.

Stay tuned!

To Know More

- This article provides a good overview of what 3D-printing food might look like

- Forbes also has a good overview of 5 innovations in this sector.


Cool Finds 🤯

  • The Dymaxion map is a projection of a world map on the surface of an icosahedron (a polyhedron with 20 faces). It was first created by Buckminster Fuller in the 1940s. It is better than other map projections since it preserves better the relative size of areas (hard to maintain in other projections of spheres into a two-dimensional plane). Most notably it doesn’t have a “right way up” as most conventional maps do. It makes sense regardless of the orientation you see it from:

  • Parking lots are a 10 billion dollar industry in the US. Like every other sector, they got badly hit when the pandemic started and cities enforced lockdowns. This article by The Hustle explains why and how the parking lot economy is so big in the US and how some startups were trying to disrupt it even before COVID-19.

  • While SpaceX has gotten us used to re-usable space rockets that come back safely after they launch astronauts into space, for the past 50 years rockets have been discarded and fallen to the ground providing the few inhabitants of the Altai mountains of Russia with enough metals to fuel a small scrap market. Anything from farming tools to chicken coop roofs in the region are made with aluminum and titanium that has fallen from the sky. 


Before you go 😎

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Until next week, 

Alberto