Coolest Things from 2020

2020 was an historic year.

Read into that statement what you will because I’m not going to rehash it here.

However, since it seems like I write a lot about questionable business valuations, financial shenanigans, and unfounded exuberance in the marketplace, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m a cynic (I’m not – I’m a realist).

So even though 2020 headlines were dominated by doom and gloom, the list below contains the coolest stuff I read in the past year. Note: all of the books came out in prior years but I just got around to reading them.

Health

Declining eyesight improved by looking at deep red light. You know how your mom probably told you not to stare into a flashlight? Well, she was wrong.

CRISPR base editing slashes cholesterol in monkeys. Why do monkeys always get the best drugs? This is actually a fascinating breakthrough as it’s a way to reduce heart disease without relying on changes in diet or daily drugs.

A COVID_19 vaccine brought to market within 9 months. I imagine you’ve already seen this one in the news. But it’s still amazing that a brand new vaccine was developed, tested, and delivered within 9 months of identifying a novel pathogen.

Environment

Rock dust on fields to remove CO2 from the air. Climate change will be the defining issue of the 21st century and anything that can easily and cheaply pull CO2 from the air will have a part to play.

A national system of energy transmission could cut power-plant emissions by 80. So much of the current focus is on reducing the cost of energy storage to make renewables work. This paper argues that improving our ability to shift energy from producers to demand centers using DC power lines stretched throughout the country could make a substantial difference in our emissions. Eminent domain is the biggest issue here as the technology for DC power is almost as old as electricity itself.

Cooling from space! Since the world is going to get hotter, the ability to cool buildings with zero energy input is going to be useful. It sounds like science fiction, but desert dwellers used the same “trick” to make ice at night centuries ago. An engineer has figured out how to create a perfectly reflective film that does the same thing. Yay physics!

Suck it mosquitoes. In what will either be a boon to summer evenings or an ecological disaster, scientists released 750 million genetically modified male mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. Male mosquitoes generally don’t bite and their offspring will die before they get old enough to start biting. When this has been done in other environments it hasn’t caused a collapse of the food chain so hopefully this practice will be deemed safe and will spread further north to my neck of the woods.

Books

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. I’ve spent the pandemic with food, electricity, heat, running water, home-roasted coffee, and plenty of reading material. Not once have I had to club a seal for supper.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II. This is another book about incredible challenges, troubling times, and keeping the faith. This isn’t a spoiler, but she hiked over the Pyrenees with a prosthetic leg to escape the Nazis.

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler. Women are finally getting the credit they deserve for their contributions against the fight against fascism in the 20th century. This is another incredible biography of dealing with stress and making a difference.

Superpower: One Man’s Quest to Transform American Energy. If you thought the article on a national system of energy transmission I linked to above was interesting, this is a more in-depth look at what it takes to actually build one of these lines. It’s a really interesting look at the hurdles developers are up against and what it takes to overcome them.

Optimism Triumphs

Every year I keep a list of the neat stuff I see even if a lot of it is still in the idea phase. Some of it may turn into an investment thesis down the road but if nothing else the list is a good reminder that there are a lot of passionate, brilliant people working on humanity’s problems. And some day, with luck and perseverance, they might succeed…

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