Rhys' Newsletter 49

Learning biology from the internet and VORP for everything

This newsletter goes out to more than 1,000 ambitious frontier people. Please share it with a friend who would like it!


Well hi there.

1) I’ve been doing a lot of research on biological evolution for Terra Sapien. (And how it relates to technological evolution.)

I’m so, so grateful that I get to do this with the internet as my knowledge companion.

Wikipedia is my best knowledge companion. Check out this overview on evolutionary biology. Wow. So many amazing topics organized in a clear way—the origins of life, the evolution of wings, and astrobiology (life on other planets).

And I’ve only looked at 25% of them!

Youtube is the other gold mine of knowledge. My favorite folks have been:

Yeah, I know. Saying “wiki and youtube are cool” is pretty obvious. But damn, the wealth of high-quality resources is truly staggering.

For fun, here’s one specific thing I learned recently. (Many of you may have learned this in 9th-grade biology, but I don’t care! 9th-grade bio is cool too.)

ATP is a small molecule that is the “energy currency” of the cell. Whenever a cell wants to “do work” (make proteins, contract muscles, etc.), it needs ATP for energy. That energy comes from breaking down ATP into ADP.

In the image below, ATP is on the left. The T stands for triphosphate. Three phosphorus (P).

ADP is on the right. The D stands for diphosphate. Two phosphorus (P).

To get energy, we move from left to right and break off the third P. We go from P-P-P to P-P.

We can go backward too. We make ATP by “recharging” the battery: by putting a P back onto ADP. But the P doesn’t want to go back on. (It likes being free!)

How do we add back the P?

Our body puts that P onto ADP through this amazing rotating protein below, called ATP synthase. This machine rotates because positively charged H+ protons above it want to move to the negatively charged space below. As they travel, they turn the gear like a water wheel. This turning “smushes” the P onto ADP, and we get ATP.

Then that ATP is ready to give energy somewhere else. Voilá!

It’s pretty amazing that we know so much about something so small. Here are other cool ATP facts:

  • All life on earth uses ATP. Yes, all. You, your mother, your cat, your plants, and all the single-celled organisms we never see. This is crazy. It’s like AC electricity. Biology found a good protocol and stuck with it.

  • We use a lot of ATP in a day, roughly the weight of our bodies. (!)

  • ATP is created (with the rotating machine above) in the mitochondria. Mitochondria is cool. 2.2B years ago, it joined forces with a larger cell in the first-ever example of symbiotic cooperation. The mitochondria creates ATP energy and the larger cell provides protection. This was the start of eukaryotic life, which eventually led to multi-cellular life, the Cambrian Explosion, and us.

How does this relate to Terra Sapien? By understanding how biological evolution uses ATP as an energy protocol, we’ll better understand how technological evolution uses electricity as an energy protocol.

I haven’t done biology or chemistry since early high school, so it’s fun to re-learn these ideas.

And finally, on internet learning: Neither Wikipedia nor Youtube even existed twenty years ago. I’m excited to co-create an even more robust knowledge ecosystem for folks twenty years from now. (Wiki-Roam links, communities of people to ask clarifying questions, SRS notecard integration, self-learning taught in K-12, etc.)


1) Good news! The community fundraising limit increased from $1M to $5M. This is a great thread from Elizabeth Yin on how this changes the future of crowdfunding.

2) I’m on a recent binge of artificially enhanced human perception (#43). In this vein, I learned about Neosensory recently, which is a company that makes vibrating watches for blind and deaf folks. These watches sense both sound waves and electromagnetic waves, and convert those waves into vibrations on a watch. This video shows how it helped a deaf man sense sirens and “listen” to music.

It’s cool stuff. Long-term we’ll get the Neuralink high bandwidth connection into the brain. For now though, we can greatly expand our umwelt by sending our brain new signals, which it will then associate with a given stimulus.

3) I love Magic: The Gathering. This is a great thread about using “value over replacement pick” (VORP) to analyze drafts. VORP is popular in sports (value over replacement player). Counterfactual reasoning in all the things! Value over replacement husband, anyone?

4) The Onion: 'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. (The 16th time they’ve run this headline.)

5) Babylon Bee: 330 Million Americans Sue Cardi B For Psychological Damage

6) Rhys: Trumper And Furry Find Common Ground As Sheep

7) Related from NYT: Facebook is having trouble regulating satire.




I’m a big fan of loopists. These artists create music by starting with a beat, and then layering on bass, chords, and melody.

Beardyman was one of the first popular live loopists. The video below is from 2008 (early Youtube!).

Some of my other favorite loopists are Reggie Watts, Andrew Bird, Kishi Bashi, and Kimbra.

But my favorite new loopist is Marc Rebillet aka Loop Daddy. He combines humor, harmony, soul, and pitch shifting in a unique way. Dope tracks:

  • Look at That Ass. Takes the idea of a “nice ass” and exaggerates it to “I like to smell your butthole.”

  • Blackbeard. Uses pitch shifting to have a conversation between Blackbeard and a townsperson as Blackbeard is raiding their town.

  • Stop That Rape. As you can tell from the title, this is a controversial song. I personally like it as a humorous way to hate on creepy dudes. [cw: sexual violence]

I saw him live in 2019. One of the weirdest live shows I’ve ever been to. All improvised.

Marc has a new song about getting vaccinated. It’s the perfect song to listen to when you get your Fauci Ouchie. It’s also a welcome departure from the sadder songs about COVID. (Hopefully our positive direction in 2021!)

Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

❤️ Thanks to my generous patrons ❤️

Audra Jacobi, Sam Jonas, Patrick Walker, Shira Frank, David Hanna, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Groeneman, Haseeb Qureshi, Jim Rutt, Zoe Harris, 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.