Rhys' Newsletter #38

Eli Pariser's digital spaces, Pixar's Soul has meaning, and mRNA vaccines teach us information theory

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Hey team! 👋🍭🦄🎉

Long time no see. Hope you had a good holiday and are feeling refreshed going into 2021. I helped clean out my dad’s basement, which was a great way to channel my OCD.

1) This week’s podcast: #77 Eli Pariser: Creating Digital Public Spaces.

I’ve discussed Digital Public Infrastructure a bit in this newsletter (most recently in #34). Eli is the co-founder of New Public, which stewarding this movement. I’ve been surprised by the power of the “digital public spaces” metaphor. What would community spaces like parks and libraries look like in digital form? There’s a lot of juicy design space to be explored here.

They’re hosting a New Public Festival next week (Jan 12-14) to help envision the future of digital space. They have a bunch of great folks speaking (many of whom have been on my podcast!). If you liked RadicalXChange’s 2019 event, definitely check out this festival next week.

2) This week is the last call for RF3 applications (which begins next week). If you’re interested, apply here by this Friday at 5pm EST!


1) I watched Pixar’s “Soul” this week and recommend it. Or maybe I’m just sponsored by Disney+ now 😉.

It’s quite aligned with one of the topics in this newsletter—on the nature of meaning and how to live a meaningful life. Before I go into it, heads up: SPOILERS BELOW. (Though not awful ones, tbh.)

Soul tells the story of a man who thinks it’s his life purpose to be a jazz pianist. He’s trying and trying and trying. Finally, he “makes it” and plays in a jazz quartet. After his first show, he expects to feel different. But he doesn’t find lasting meaning in his success.

At that point, he realizes that life is the journey, not the destination. It comes from the small moments below: being with your dad, letting water wash over your feet, biking in the warm sun, teaching a new class of students.

It’s what we discussed in Newsletter #22: Travel is No Cure for the Mind. You don’t find meaning by constantly hamster wheeling for new things (like travel). Instead, you find meaning from being grateful for the life you have.

Or as I wrote in How to Live a Meaningful Life, meaning comes from self-generating a clear important path (a feeling of importance) on top of the antifragile attractors that life provides (the randomness of life).

2) I’ve been reading a lot of books on genetics and information theory recently (The Information, The Beginning of Infinity, The Origins of Life). It’s good stuff, but can be too abstract.

So I was SO HAPPY (capz lok) to read this brilliant article by Bert Hubert: Reverse Engineering the source code of the Pfizer Vaccine. It describes how mRNA vaccines work using the language of code.

By the end of the article, you’ll understand how RNA takes this code (yes this the actual code of the vaccine):

To produce a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein which then triggers our immune response.

You’ll also learn:

  • How scientists used a special nucleotide, Ψ, to evade our immune system and inject the vaccine RNA.

  • How scientists increased the amount of Gs and Cs to increase the efficiency of protein creation.

  • How DNA/RNA carry information in a similar way to how bits carry information.

Seriously amazing stuff. If you’re lucky, you’ll be injecting the vaccine into your body soon. Learn how it works!

3) The Onion: CDC Announces Everyone Who Will Receive Vaccine Has Already Been Notified




Two amazing children’s songs.

First, “Shake My Sillies Out”, by Raffi. This song was made for TikTok dancing 😉.

I gotta shake, shake, shake my sillies out
I gotta clap, clap, clap my crazies out
I gotta jump, jump, jump my jiggles out
I gotta yawn, yawn, yawn my sleepies out
And wiggle my waggles away

Second, “What Kind of Cat Are You?” by Billy Jonas. This song is a bunch of questions where the answer includes the word “cat”. It’s fun! Some examples:

What kind of cat hangs out in your house? HOUSE CAT!
What kind of cat is actually a fish? CATFISH!
What kind of cat has a thousand legs? CATERPILLAR!
What kind of cat is a whole bunch of cows? CATTLE!

What kind of cat is a great big disaster? CATASTROPHE!
What kind of cat is an even bigger disaster? CATACLYSM!
What kind of cat rhymes with that and is a long religious recitation?

Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

❤️ Thanks to my generous patrons ❤️

Patrick Walker, Brady McKenna, Shira Frank, David Hanna, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Groeneman, Haseeb Qureshi, Jim Rutt, Zoe Harris, Yancey Strickler, Jacob Zax, David Ernst, Brian Crain, Matt Lindmark, Colin Wielga, Malcolm Ocean, John Lindmark, Collin Brown, Ref Lindmark, James Waugh, Mark Moore, Matt Daley, Peter Rogers, Darrell Duane, Denise Beighley, Scott Levi, Harry Lindmark, Simon de la Rouviere, and Katie Powell.