The weekly recap (2021#17)

This week I’ve seen a lot of stuff in different fields: biology, material science, computer science, tech, art… let’s take a look:

Dig it!

Really interesting read on an experiment that has been in development since 1879. The big question here is: how long can seeds last before not being able to germinate? The answer is more tricky than you might think, because even if today we cannot make something grow, we don’t really know if in some years technology could do it… Anyway, I also liked the mystique going around the experiment, as the number of researches that know the location of the seeds is super small, and they dig out every few years in total secret.

One of the World’s Oldest Science Experiments Comes Up From the Dirt, on The New York Times

Shut up and take my money!

NFTs keep being sent, the planet keeps dying. Now half a million dollars for a meme. What a time to be alive.

The World Knows Her as ‘Disaster Girl.’ She Just Made $500,000 Off the Meme, on The New York Times

Put the glasses on!

Apple keeps doing movements with regard to user security and the data that other companies have access to. However, many people are actively fighting against it with everything they got. While its early to say, everything seems to be going into a good direction, at least when compared to the crazy habits that we adopted during the last decade. Quite interesting topic here, I will definitely follow any updates.

Apple And Tracking: A Story Of Good Guys And Bad Guys, on Forbes

Welcome to the world of… yesterday?

Amazing video of London during the 30s and the 40s, colorized by means of Artificial Inteligence. You can read more about it in the nice article on OpenCulture.

Paint it white!

New advances in fabrication keep providing materials with better and better properties. In this case, some researchers at Purdue University have achieved a material that reflects up to 98.1% of the sunlight it receives. This is pretty cool when you think about it, as having higher albedo keeps things cooler, which is something we are going to need in the near future…

The whitest paint is here – and it’s the coolest. Literally. on

How a good design can push you to new heights: The Power of Video Game HUDs

Mark Brown released a video this week on Game Maker’s Toolkit, his channel on videogame design. This time he talks about the design of the Heads-Up Display (HUD). Something I really enjoyed is they way he describes how the decisions you make on its design affect not only the way players approach the game, but also how they understand or interact with it. I think there is a really cool concept there that transcends to many different platforms. In my case, they way I design figures for a conference presentation or a manuscript affects the way the readers will approach the subject I try to explain, and thinking about it is key to success. It also highlights that depending on the format, you might need to use different approaches to design, as sometimes what really works for a relaxed read does not work at all for a live talk.

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

PS: Paddington 2 is now officially the best movie ever done. At last.

Liquid walls: the science behind The Wall from Game of Thrones

Last week I noticed that HBO is celebrating the ten year anniversary of the airing of Game of Thrones. As a big fan of the books, I paused a bit to think and realized that I never wrote anything on the science that we can see in either the books or the tv show, so I think now is a good moment to solve that.

I remember getting a copy of the first book in the early 2000’s from my cousin, and that he told me “you are going to enjoy this, it is not the typical fantasy book”. And boy he was right. I still remember how I lost my mind when Ned lost his head, or the night I could not stop reading after the red wedding, or how bumped I felt when… well you get my point: I really enjoyed the world and its characters. Time to pay my debts.

The wall

Early in the series we find out that there is a gigantic wall made of ice in the north that has been protecting the realm of men for more than 8000 years. This wall is described as being ~480 km long, ~213 m tall and ~91 m in width. After I recovered from the first shock about the size of that (just to compare, the border between USA and Mexico is about 6 times longer than this, and there are some sort of physical barriers along ~1000 km) I started thinking whether such a structure would be viable.

While I am not very good at building structures, I am assuming that the construction would be tricky, but possible, given that big blocks of ice would behave in a similar way to big blocks of rock (maybe a bit more slippery), which we have been using to build big stuff since forever.

You are doing it wrong guys, just wait for the wall to move and walk into the realm of men…

However, we have super big icy structures in our world, and they have very intricate behaviours: glaciers. Glaciers evolve over time, they get bigger or shrink in size, and they move around. I think this characteristic would be the main limiting point in building such a wall. Let’s do some fast numbers:

Ice has a density of ~0.9167 g/cm3 at 0 °C, which means that a cube with 1 cm lateral size weights 0.9167 g. Given that we have the size of the wall, we can calculate how much pressure the wall itself will generate on its base. A wall column with a 1 m2 base would have a volume of 213 m3, and by using the density of ice (and the correct units) we can calculate its weight as 213 \times 0.9167 \times 10^{3}\approx 195257 kg.

With the weight, we can just calculate the pressure as P= \frac{Force}{Surface} = \frac{mass \times g}{Surface}, calculation that gives us a total pressure on the base of the wall of ~1.9 Mega Pascals (MPa). Here, the problem with ice is that at high pressure, it melts. This is why glaciers move around, because the ice on their base becames water, and then the ice on top starts to flow in any direction. The question now becomes, would the pressure on the wall make if flow around? The answer seems to be a big YES: usually glaciers start to flow with pressures on their base of 0.1 MPa, so the wall would exert a pressure about one order of magnitude higher than that. You can read a little more on the forces and movements that generate glacier dynamics here.

So, even if we do not care about temperature changes, erosion, etc. It seems that the wall would just move around in a few years, making the defense of the realm a really hard task… Thank to the old gods that Bran the Builder used magic!

The weekly recap (2021#16)

Quite a busy week, but fortunately I still managed to have some time to enjoy really cool stuff.

Lift off!

Just make a small pause and think about this: a couple days ago humanity did its first flight on a different planet. And we did not even were there. Let it sink. I have always been a bit jealous of the generation that lived through the Moon missions, but it seems that we are going to see incredible feats in the following years.

There were some really cool pieces on the Ingenuity helicopter:

Lift off! First flight on Mars launches new way to explore worlds, on

Look at it go!

Really cool article on OpenCulture on how the animation tools in Pixar have evolved through the years. A nice mix between tech and art:

How Pixar’s Movement Animation Became So Realistic: The Technological Breakthroughs Behind the Animation, on

The Times They Are a-Changin’

As we set course for other planets, I think it is time to reflect on the way we are shaping our home. Google released a new feature where you can take a look at some of our planet locations through the last decades, and see how humans have impacted on the landscape. You can take a look at Google Earth (they say they will keep adding info in the future too), and read about it on their blog post.

Long live the 70’s!

This actually happened last week, but I did not realize: Greta Van Fleet has a new album, and its awesome. Late birthday gift! Streaming links: Spotify, Deezer.

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

Godzilla vs Kong: some of the science behind

Recently I saw Godzilla vs Kong. I was expecting a lot of action between those two, and the movie delivered (in fact, there was not much else to see there). While is was a nice action movie to turn your brain off, there were some things that I really liked in the way they portrayed a great ape such as Kong. I am not going to enter in the topic on how big both Godzilla and Kong are, and if that is realistic or not. I already discussed the topic on some time ago (in Spanish).

There were two things that I liked that might be not so well-known for a lot of people: Kong using sign language and an axe. I am going to cover both in this article.

Great Apes Using Sign Language

While there are many videos on monkeys using sign language, I find the topic extremely interesting because as of today there is no clear consensus on whether great apes are really using language or they just learn some meaning by repetition/observation. In the movie, we can clearly see Kong communicating with a deaf girl, and those scenes seemed totally plausible to me (of course, just taking into account the communication process, and not the gigantic ape thing).

This is something that has been studied for decades now, and there seems to be a lot of data that indicates that there is something else besides imitation/repetition. You can see some examples of the actions that a great ape can do in the following links:

The Chimp That Learned Sign Language, on
Great Ape Language, on

Monkeys using tools

The second cool thing I want to talk about is how Kong throws a spear or swings an axe (and it really looks cool on the movie).

We can even see how he builds the spear by removing the branches of a big tree, and also how he sharpens one of the extremes. This exact behaviour has been widely reported on several primates. Of course, not for destroying a giant dome, but just to hunt for food or to collect water. You can see some really nice examples on the following videos, and some pictures on how a bonobo uses a hand-made stick to hunt for termites.

And that’s it for the film. Of course there is much more there that’s cool to see (I am not going to make any spoilers here), and while some might see it and never think about it afterwards, it is a cool movie to watch and not think about anything else for a couple hours, which given current state of the world is something to thank for, I think.

The weekly recap (2021#15)

Crazy things happening in the world this week. The header image of this post (well, the one in the header is a copy) was sold for $1.36 million. This NFT stuff still goes over my head, but seems like is something that will stick around, whether it really makes sense to burn energy this way… anyway, all hail capitalism I guess. There have been quite a lot of news on the topic, if you are interested[1,2,3]

MindPong revisited

Really cool video from P. Nuyujukian, going into all the details of the latest advances shown by Neuralink last week. It really was like watching a movie director’s cut.

Look at that one!

Astonishing collection of science-related images, made by Nature each month

Brace yourselves, they are coming

I knew at some they would stop dancing…

The French army is testing Boston Dynamics’ robot dog Spot in combat scenarios, on

The end of paywalls on papers?

It seems we crossed the point of no return in going open-access, but is is not clear at all which is going to be the final model. An interesting debate is ongoing, as many institutions are pushing for making every public research publicly available, but that often interferes with journal publishers. You can read a nice piece on the topic here:

A guide to Plan S: the open-access initiative shaking up science publishing, on

Technologies that shaped music

Really cool video by Rick Beato on 20 inventions that revolutionized music. While I would have added some (I cannot believe mp3 and microphones did not make into the list!), the video is a nice take on the history of music.

Get out of here, stalker!

The film that keeps on giving. OpenCulture posted this week a video I did not know about on the history behind the movie. Really interesting.

The Story of Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Troubled (and Even Deadly) Sci-Fi Masterpiece, on

And that’s it for the week. Stay safe!

the Weekly recap

Let’s see for how long can I do this section this time… Lots of really cool stuff happening right now to be honest. I hope this short recap is interesting!

Another one bites the dust

This week we found out that Yahoo! Answers is shutting down. Another cool site from an old internet era that goes away… Have fun with delicious, google reader, grooveshark, etc.

Don’t worry, we are not getting out of work soon

This week Fermilab made one of those announcements that the media loves (new physics?). I’ve collected a couple links talking about it that I liked. First one is a nice strip done by @PHDcomics that was published here. The Physics Girl also made a nice video talking about the topic, if you prefer that medium:

Out-nerd me now, Randall!

The week started with a super cool strip on the mRNA vaccines from xkcd. SMBC however, stepped up the game talking about quantum computing.

Neuralink keeps pushing forward

A new bunch of results from one of the coolest companies I know was published this week. Brain-to-machine interfaces are getting closer and closer, and that’s a good thing. There is a super cool blog post with more info on the experiments in the Neuralink blog.

Humour in science articles

A nice piece of text on Nature Review Physics on funny article titles.

Fantastic titles and where to find them, on Nat Rev Phys 3, 225 (2021).

Interesting insights on problem solving

A very cool News and Views on Nature about how people try to solve problems. Seems like the mantra “less is more” is not hardwired to our brains at all:

Adding is favoured over subtracting in problem solving, on Nature 592, 189-190 (2021).

Take these extra fps buddy

A very interesting text on hackaday about a technology I had never heard about: using machine learning tools to upscale videogames either spatially or temporally (and thus gaining resolution or frames per second). Really nice concept, as it seems that is should be way more efficient to do the training for each videogame in a super computer, and then millions of players could run it while consuming much less energy. The same can apply to streaming services, etc. Really shows how compression techniques leak to every aspect of our world today.


And that’s it for the week. See you soon!