Discover more from Simply Explained Newsletter
#19: Roman Maps, Da Vinci, Jurassic Park, Ancient Computer, Aliens, Happy Birthday on Mars, and more!
I recently came across a post on Farnam Street about compound interest, which I wanted to share with you. Albert Einstein called compound interest the "8th wonder of the world" and noted that "he who understands it, earns it".
The basic idea is that small improvements in your life can have enormous impact down the line, even if they don't make an impact straight away. However, that's also where it becomes tricky:
"For your choices to compound, you need to be consistent. A lack of consistency keeps ordinary people from extraordinary results."
This is also to what James Clear writes in his book Atomic Habits. He notes that we're living in a world of delayed-returns. Our actions today don’t always have an impact tomorrow. You won't get fit from going to the gym once.
"If you want results, you need to be willing to pay the price. The price is both easier than you imagine and harder than you think. The price is consistently doing the small choices that put you on the path to success for years. The price is knowing that time is working on your side even when the results don’t show it … yet."
If you get 1% better at something each day, you'll be 37 times better after 1 year. This is the power of compounding interest.
So here's a question for you: what small steps can you make every day to improve your life? What changes do you want let compound day after day?
🤓 Cool Stuff I Found on the Internet
Roman Route Planner
If the Romans had Google Maps, this is what it would look like. This website shows a map of the Roman empire with its roads and settlements. You can even get directions from one settlement to the other. All roads lead to Rome!
Become a hacker: Hacker Typer
This website makes you look like a hacker from a Hollywood blockbuster. Just open the site and start mashing your keyboard!
Leonardo da Vinci's helicopter takes flight!
In the late 1480s, Leonardo da Vinci invented an aerial screw that looked like a helicopter. Now, a group of engineering students tested his invention and found that it actually produces lift! They designed and 3D-printed the aerial screw, attached it to a drone, and let it fly. The students noted that the aerial screw generates less downwash than conventional propellors, which means it blows up less dust and other debris. Oh, and it’s quieter too!
I’m amazed that Da Vinci designed this 500+ years ago, without the ability to test it himself. There was no way to spin the screw fast enough to achieve lift, and there were no materials strong enough to handle the pressures. All of his notes are available in the Codex on the Flight of Birds (translated to English).
Ancient Greek "computer" is too advanced for its time
This BBC video is about the Antikythera mechanism, a “computer” that could predict the position of the moon and sun, eclipses, and the four-year cycle of athletic games. It was discovered in a shipwreck in 1901 and is believed to have been constructed between 204 and 100BC. It contains 37 bronze gears, a remarkable feat for the time! The mechanism was studied with 3D X-Ray technology, which revealed inscriptions explaining how the mechanism works. What’s even more mind-boggling is that machines of this complexity didn’t appear again until Wallingford’s astronomical clocks in the 13th century!
Sadly though, the mechanism is incomplete, and there’s speculation on how it looked like. Many teams have created visualisations of what it might’ve looked like, while other have recreated the mechanical parts in… LEGO!
Which extinct animal species can we resurrect?
The question burning in all of our minds is: can we resurrect the dinosaurs and make Jurassic Park a reality? Well, unfortunately, no. In order to “de-extinct” a species, we need their DNA sequence, and while DNA is very stable, it can’t survive for longer than 6.8 million years. So no dinosaurs… This infographic shows a timeline of animals and which could be brought back to life, and which are forever extinct.
Sticker gives a live view of inside your body
MIT engineers developed a sticker that can continuously ultrasound a part of your body. It’s as easy to apply as a band-aid and works for up to 48 hours. The sticker captures reflected sound waves from inside your body and an external device converts that into images. While it’s not wireless (yet), it can reveal cool things that regular ultrasound machines can’t. Like how your blood vessels change diameter based on what you’re doing, how your stomach expands and contracts when you drink, or how weightlifting causes micro-damage to your muscles.
How long to burn off a Big Mac?
Fun horrible website that shows how long you have to workout to burn off a McDonald’s meal. Enter your weight, pick an item off the menu, and choose an activity. My favorite meal is the Big Mac, which comes in at 530 calories (excluding fries). To burn those calories, I’d have to run for 55 minutes, coach a soccer team for 114 minutes, carry an infant for 126 minutes, or go bowling for 147 minutes.
DeepMind predicts shape of 200 million proteins
Proteins are complex molecules that do many things in our bodies. For instance, kinesin is a “walking” protein that transports nutrients within cells. Proteins are essentially long chain of amino acids, but to do anything useful, a protein must fold itself into a 3D structure. Figuring out this shape is key to understanding what a protein does, and now Google’s DeepMind AI has predicted the shape of 200 million proteins. Scientists get free access to this database, and the findings could help us understand how diseases happen. Some also say it will lead to breakthroughs in medicine, but that’s unlikely to happen.
🛸 News from the Red Planet
Happy 10th birthday Curiosity!
August 5th marked the 10th birthday of the Curiosity rover on Mars. It’s currently “climbing” out of Gale crater onto Mount Sharp and continues its search for signs of past life. To celebrate, Husqvarna sent an update to its robotic lawn mowers to make them sing happy birthday to the “loneliest robot in the universe”.
Aliens on Mars!!! Okay, not really..
The Perseverance Rover found a “noodle-like” object on Mars. At first glance, I thought it was the root system of a small plant. But sadly not. NASA believed it was space junk, a leftover from Perseverance’s landing. They later released an update confirming that it was a piece of unraveled Dacron, a material used as netting in thermal blankets. The post also contains other man-made junk that the rover has seen since landing on the red planet.
Returning samples from Mars
One missions of the Perseverance rover is to collect samples, seal them in special tubes, and leave them behind on the surface. Then, the Mars Sample Return mission would pick them up and bring them back to Earth. The original plan was to design a special “fetch” rover, but now NASA now wants to send 2 helicopters instead. They could fly to the samples, land close by, pickup the samples, and deliver it to an ascent vehicle.