180: Mailbag Revisited

Matt and Sean revisit your questions about robotic surgery, house cooling systems, waste reuse and more.

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Hey everybody, on today’s episode of Still to Be Determined, we’re going to be jumping into the mailbag with both feet. Who are we? Well, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi. I write some stuff for kids, including my most recently released The Sinister Secrets of Singe, available everywhere.

And with me is my brother Matt. He’s that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which of course is the mothership to this program. It takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives. And Matt, how are you doing today?

I am getting ready to move into my house at the week, and it is complete and utter chaos, so, but I’m still here to record an episode of the podcast.

How are you doing? I’m doing okay, as I shared with you previously. Uh, I am a little under the weather, so my voice may be a little deeper, a little gravelly, or a little more like, who knows what’s gonna happen? Uh, sounding a little bit like Keith David from… Film Noir Detective? Yeah. It was a dark and stormy night.

But on this episode, I think we’ll be able to make it through regardless. And. We’re going to be talking about some of the viewer comments and listener comments from previous episodes. We’re going to be jumping back first, all the way back to episode 179, where we talked about waste use for energy production.

And there was a question from Vera Fleck, and Matt, I don’t know that you’ll know the answer to this, but it is an interesting one. Is there a use case for dog waste and cat litter? It’s a pure city problem, I’m sure.

That’s a good question. I have no idea. And it’s something that’s actually been on my mind because we have a cat.

My wife’s kind of a, I’m going to throw her under the bus. She’s kind of a crazy cat lady. Sean, you know that. We love her for it. Yeah, there’s so much. Cat waste that comes out of just one cat for this house. It’s like just multiply that by thousands of cats. It’d be great if there was a way to reuse that in some fashion, but I’m not sure.

I don’t know.

It seems like the closest potential would be in the form of a fertilizer. Ala what you were talking about in your video where human waste being turned into fertilizer, it seems like a natural one to one, but of course with kitty litter, you also have other compounds in the kitty litter, so it’s a question of what are, what’s in there?

Is it clay? Is it some other chemicals? Um, and then of course the big issue around all of this is collection. And happily human waste is collected naturally due to indoor plumbing, uh, and a place like a farm where waste is collected as a normal process of keeping all the animals clean and healthy. And then that waste is all gathered.

That makes sense, but I don’t know that there would be enough of a large scale. Okay, everybody bring your kitty litter on Tuesday to this place. Ooh. Yeah. Yeah. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere near that place on a Tuesday. Yeah.

I know. Oh boy.

There was also this question on the same episode from Jocko, who.

Was responding to our conversation about whether or not home heating and cooling and storing of the heat or storing of the cooler temperature like a battery was something that you could potentially use Jocko jumped in to share on the super cooling Of your house. I’ve been doing it for years.

Here in central California, we have a hundred plus degree days at the high and 50 degrees nights and low humidity. I use a filtered fan blowing into the house to cool the interior down to the sixties. Depending on the daily high most days, the heat pump starts in mid-afternoon. I’m able to stop the AC around 8:00 PM saving the battery, and not buying anything from the evil pg and e.

So, he’s fighting the good fight against his power supply company. The National Weather Service publishes a daily chart giving a temperature plot for your area. So, that is, you know, as far as, like, figuring out if you could do this, his comment of the National Weather Service is a great resource to be able to go and say, like, well, if this is my goal.

Is it even possible? Because if you live in an area where your daily highs, like here in New York City, our daily highs recently have been in the nineties, mid nineties, and our nightly lows are in the mid seventies. So you’re not really going to get to a comfort zone with a range that limited and actually that high.


I was gonna say for our international listeners, it would probably be what is that in the 20s Celsius range at the low end and what up in the 30s at the high end is probably what you’re talking about. Yeah,

there were also comments continuing to come in around robot assisted surgery. This is from episode 178, and Richard Carpenter shared this little anecdote.

My knee replacement surgery falls right into what you were talking about in this episode. The doctor and the robot defined what was going to happen. Then during the surgery, the robot watches the doctor to make sure he does not deviate from the plan unless he manually overrides the robot. I was actually awake during the surgery.

With just an epidural injection, so no anesthesia backlash. And I walked out of the hospital into my car for the ride home. It was interesting. There was a sheet in the way, so I could not see what they were doing, but they had a monitor with a graphic representation of what they were doing to each bone as they worked.

They let me pick the music they were piping into the operating room to cover the noises that were going on during the surgery, the operation took one and a half hours, I was actually in recovery longer than in the surgery. Pretty amazing. Pretty amazing stuff.

I’m sorry. The first place my head went during that, which was they let me pick the music.

It’s like, what if you pick like nine inch nails, head like a hole. That’s just like blaring out of the speakers as that’s going on. But that’s really cool that they were showing a graphical representation as to what was going on instead of like a live bloody video feed of what’s actually happening.

It’s that’s really, really cool. That’s the only way I would be able to take that visual. It’s like actually seeing what’s going on is not something that would work for me at all, but the high level overview, I can, I can, I can take that. I can definitely take that, but

yeah, 3d graphic representation of like a fly through of like, and here’s this bone and here’s what we’re going to be doing.

We’re moving it over here. Like I’d be fine with that, but an actual, some of the videos show on discovery channel where it’s, you know, like. It’s you’re just in a red tube and it’s just a little,

but I love this example,

like this kind of stuff of, of showing how the technology can be used as like an assistive device to the doctor to make sure that they’re doing exactly what was planned to make sure that the surgery goes off without a hitch. It’s, that’s really, really cool. I love that. It’s a great application for this technology, especially we’re not at the stage right now where the robots could do the surgeries themselves.

I wouldn’t want to go near that, but to have a

doctor’s department. Yeah I wouldn’t want to sit down and have the door open up, and have a robot with like a giant, Saw hand and a,

I’m here to help,

like, no,

show me where it hurts

and some comments from Matt’s most recent episode, which was about the five innovations for reusing waste. And the comments on this one included from Kleppo, who wrote, could carbon be used as a platinum replacement in catalytic converters? I realized there’s palladium and other precious metals in there too, but it would lower the cost and lower their value to thieves.

So I’m curious, did you find anything in your research about why the precious metals in catalytic converters are even there? And is there a potential replacement for them?

I think the answer to that question is at some point, we’re not going to need catalytic converters because we’re electrifying everything.

I think that would really be the ultimate answer. So it’s, yeah. In the short term, I’m not sure. It’s like there’s there is a possibility that you could make a catalytic converter with different materials and be less precious metals and precious materials. But, uh, in the long term, I think this is kind of like a problem we’re not gonna have to worry about because as we electrify everything, that whole need for that technology kind of fades


This is the buggy whip. This is the buggy whip manufacturers trying to figure out a different material to use. This is, yeah, that’s a good reminder. There was also this from David Wee, who wrote, Hi Matt, I’ve been watching your videos for years now, and there are so many promising things to come and go well.

I think I wouldn’t be alone in asking you for an honest appraisal in where we are in clean, renewable energy, as it seems that we haven’t figured it out yet. You are really one of the best people to answer this question. If you could consider making a video like this, it would be appreciated. So… I think it’s an opportunity for you to say, first of all, big picture, where do you think we stand without getting too in the weeds, but also share some of the insights of what are some of the videos you have planned, what are your researchers beginning to work on, because ultimately your entire channel .

Is this question, like your entire channel is effectively like, yeah, I’m constantly revisiting where do we stand on sustainability? Where do we stand on developments of technology and it’s positive or negative impacts around us? So, so thank you so much, uh, to David for the question. I think it’s a good jumping off opportunity for you to share big picture.

What do you think is going on and small picture? What do you have coming up in the immediate future? Well, in

the big picture, the, and really short answer is, I think we’re in a really good place with sustainable technologies. It’s one of those, we know how to do everything we need to do. It’s not like we’re waiting on some special technology to unlock something over here or over there.

We actually do know how to do most of it. It’s just, we just have to implement it. So right now, Can I jump in? Can I jump

in really quickly? Yeah. When do you think we were in the position of having to wait? When were we in the position of having to wait? Yeah. Like when do you think there’s a moment where people are like, well, we know what we need to do, but we can’t do it yet.

The nineties, the eighties. I would

say it’s probably the, I would say it’s probably the nineties. There was still stuff we were waiting on because like in the 90s and into the early 2000s, battery technology got so much better with like lithium ion batteries and the cost of that dropping. It kind of unlocked the whole electric vehicle realm because up before that EVs.

Had very short ranges. And now we know how to really kind of make them go long distances. And there’s been more kind of breakthroughs around that to make them more of a viable technology for individuals and businesses and things like that. So I would think it was probably around the nineties where maybe things started to kind of flip where and to.

Clarify, we knew how to do it, but we may not have had all of the technologies in place. Today, we have all the technologies in place. Like we have heat pumps. We have really great batteries. We have really good wind turbines and solar technology. We have everything we need to basically tick off the boxes.

And at this point, it’s really just about, we got to do it. We got to do it really fast. And we have to make this transition as quickly as possible. efficiently as possible without like, it’s going to sound weird, but like, without causing a decimation of like job loss and entire sectors, we have to figure out how to do this where it’s, we’re making the

transition in a smart way.

The population of the planet behind it. Correct. Yeah. Yes.

So it’s like, for me, that’s the big picture. And then on the kind of more topic level of some of the things that are coming up. Kind of addressing this exact point, I have a video coming up, I can’t remember, it’s the beginning of September sometime, around the meteoric rise of solar power in the world and how everybody’s predictions were wrong and everybody was guessing too low.

The where we are with solar rollout today is better than even the most like heavy proponent of solar. If you look like, like the Estimates coming out of the International Renewable Energy Agency and all these different other think tanks that are very about renewable energy. They, they all got it wrong.

And then the people who are anti solar and think it’s all BS, they were of course way wrong. So it’s like, it’s a, I think that’s a good kind of like litmus test of showing you like. We know how to do this. We actually are doing very good job, but we, we still need to accelerate it from where it is even now.

Um, it needs to happen even faster. And then there’s technologies that are, I don’t know, it’s like new technologies that, calling it new technology is kind of a great way to put it, but like, in my new house, I’m putting in a, Uh, there’s a whole story behind this I could get into. I made a, I made some bad choices on my house and I have a video coming up about that too.

And some of the decisions have had this knock on effect. And one of which is in my mechanical room, there’s not enough room for my desuperheater tank that’s tied to my geothermal system, as well as my hot water tank that actually finishes the hot water heating. And. To solve that solution, I’m going to be using a new, I’m going to be switching from a heat pump water heater to this technology that uses phase change materials.

So it’s going to be a water heater that’s literally like this tiny little box that’s just going to sit in a corner and it’s going to free up all this space to be able to do what I need to do and it’s using phase change materials. This kind of product has never existed in the consumer market. This is brand new tech, but it’s also very old tech because phase change materials is nothing new.

We’ve known about phase change materials forever. It’s been used in space flight and satellites and all that kind of stuff for decades. You’ve done a video on it. It’s never really been applied to homeowners and buildings and things like that. Right. And it’s just starting to hit that market. So again, it’s not that we have to invent a new technology.

We’re finding new ways to apply it. Um, so that’s kind of like what a lot of my videos are kind of focused on. There’s a lot of old tech that’s being applied in new ways because we’ve kind of figured out how to apply it in those new ways. Where it’s not the underlying technology that’s new itself. Does that make sense?

It does. It does. And I’m sure a big part of it, too, is just as you were talking just now, one thing that did occur to me is that it’s not just a matter of knowing what to do and knowing how to do it, but also knowing what to do and how to do it and it not costing you more than conceivably you could do.

So, that’s also been a part of this equation for all of us. Well, everybody, thank you so much for taking the time to watch or listen. We appreciate you being our, being a part of the audience of this program. And we hope you’ll go back to wherever it was. You found this program, Spotify, Google, YouTube, wherever it was, leave a review.

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