Interesting Finds: Issue #29

Scary alien microbes in space, snowflake photography and the Scam of NFTs

Each week, I curate and spotlight the most curious content I find. This week’s issue, #29, has three Interesting Finds: Scary alien microbes in space, snowflake photography and the Scam of NFTs.

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Microbes vs Humanity

From Science Alert:

Researchers from the United States and India working with NASA have now discovered four strains of bacteria living in different places in the ISS – three of which were, until now, completely unknown to science.

We can blame Hollywood for desensitizing us to this news because every sci-fi movie set in outer space seems to have this plot. Maybe I’m being overly cautious but this seems scary as f*ck because every one of those movies ends horribly.

From Food to Snowflakes

Nathan Myhrvold is the former CTO of Microsoft, but is arguably better known for all his endeavors since leaving the company in 1999. The two most notable being:

  • In 2000, he founded Intellectual Ventures with a goal to “create a market for patent-backed securities” and now employs over 800 people. It got labelled by many as the Ultimate Patent Troll after acquiring over 30k patents and leveraging them for royalties and licensing.

  • He’s formally trained as a Chef at École de Cuisine La Varenne, which is one of the world’s most famous cooking schools. In 2011, he released the transformative Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking which is an epic masterpiece that has gone onto to receive critical acclaim and win a James Beard Award for cookbook for the year in 2012. If you’re a home chef, you should totally check out the follow-on Modernist Cuisine at Home which is a more approachable take on this modernist cuisine movement that’s actually doable at home.

If it wasn’t obvious from Modernist Cuisine, Myhrvold is also into crazy technical photography as explained on his bio page:

Myhrvold decided that photography should be an important part of the book, hoping that captivating images would draw readers in and make the content come to life. Myhrvold and his team developed innovative photography techniques and custom-built equipment to capture food in new, unexpected ways, such as cutaway views of cooking equipment and stacked-focus supermacro close-ups.

Check out these two amazing photos of a charcoal grill and vegetable canning. Surreal.

Myhrvold made the news again earlier this month with more photography, this time of snowflakes. From the New York Times:

Kenneth G. Libbrecht, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, has spent a quarter-century trying to understand how such a simple substance — water — could freeze into a multitude of shapes [of snowflakes].

[…]

Dr. Myhrvold, an avid photographer, first met Dr. Libbrecht more than a decade ago, and in the spring of 2018, he decided he wanted to take pictures of the intricate frozen crystals himself. He recalled thinking, “Oh, we’ll just throw something together, and we’ll be ready for the winter.”

But, as with many of his projects, things were not as simple as Dr. Myhrvold planned.

“It turned out to be massively more complicated than I thought,” Dr. Myhrvold said. “So it took 18 months to build the damn thing.”

The “damn thing” was the camera system for photographing snowflakes. He wanted to use the best digital sensors, ones that captured a million pixels.

Definitely read the entire NYT article, and you’ll also get a sample of the photos, such as this stunner:

The Current Scam of NFTs

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are all the rage these days making the news everywhere whether it’s about Jack Dorsey’s $2.5M tweet, a $69M artwork or LeBron’s $200K dunk video. NFTs are everywhere and feels like a bubble, well, because it probably is.

I strongly believe there is a future where NFTs are valuable and can unlock some very unique scenarios for digital work that is otherwise impossible. Two examples:

  1. A museum featuring digitally native artwork where NFTs prove the origin and authenticity

  2. Derivative long-tail royalties paid for use of digital work that doesn’t require an intermediary like a Getty Images.

The promise of NFTs is rooted in the assumption there is some transference of rights or ownership over the digital work. Unfortunately, as it currently stands, that is not the case.

David Gerard published a terrific hit piece on NFTs titled "NFTs: crypto grifters try to scam artists, again”. Here are some gems, first starting with a one line summary of the “scam”:

The scam is to sell NFTs to artists as a get-rich-quick scheme, to make life-changing money. There’s a gusher of money out there! You just create a token!

and

NFTs exist so that the crypto grifters can have a new kind of magic bean to sell for actual money, and pretend they’re not selling magic beans.

The meat then gets to this, which talks about ownership and the supposed transfer of it (or lack thereof):

Without a specific contract saying otherwise, an NFT does not grant ownership of the artwork it points to in any meaningful sense. All implications otherwise are lies to get your money.

This is the “registration scam” — like selling your name on a star, or a square foot of land on the moon. Musicians will know the “band name registry” scam, where the scammer sells something that they imply will work like a trademark on your name — but, of course, it doesn’t. (There have been multiple “register your band name on a blockchain” scams.)

Crypto grifters will talk about “digital ownership.” This is meaningless. The more detail you ask for what actual usable rights this “ownership” conveys, the vaguer the claims will get.

He then cites the recent auction for the aforementioned $69M piece of digital artwork, where the terms are clearly laid out with this gem in the T&Cs of the NFT auction:

You acknowledge that ownership of an NFT carries no rights, express or implied, other than property rights for the lot (specifically, digital artwork tokenized by the NFT).

… You acknowledge and represent that there is substantial uncertainty as to the characterization of NFTs and other digital assets under applicable law.

So you’re basically getting nothing. Yikes.