"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
11/18/21
Hi, this is Greg Powell. I hope you'll enjoy one or more of these interesting topics from the world of business and beyond. Dan Powell, my son and collaborator, has researched the articles and written the summaries, so this is not a boilerplate message. We'd like to give you a weekly break to learn about something cool or, better yet, 5 Cool Things.


The Bizarre History of Cellphone Towers Disguised as Trees (Vox)

Nobody, except maybe an engineering student, likes to look at cellphone towers. It’s no surprise, therefore, that we’ve seen all sorts of measures designed to disguise them, typically by crating them into crude imitations of trees native to the region in which they're built, from Florida palms to Colorado pines — in fact, a game-changing 1992 “pine” cell tower in Denver paved the way for the expansion of these devices. As many are no doubt aware, there are limitations on the realism of the tree towers, including weight and cost constraints, which means that deciduous cell “trees” are a rare find, as they’re much more complex to build. Some of the most effective disguises are, in fact, saguaro cactus, which can be built without the normal “branches” required by other facsimiles. Read more


Every Living Creature (Medium)

In 1997, the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. In the rush to escape deadly and fast-moving pyroclastic flows like the ones seen at Mt. St. Helens, the locals abandoned everything — houses, possessions, and ultimately pets and livestock as well, leaving them to fend for themselves. “Residents set dogs and cats loose in the streets in last ditch attempts to save them. They freed cows and donkeys in the fields.” For the animals that survived, life on the island was a strange, lonely existence, with animals either hunting each other or slowly starving to death. Enter 57-year-old John Walsh, an animal advocate who was dispatched to rescue as many as possible from the ruins. “Get down there,” he was told by the director general of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and Walsh, along with fellow activist Gerardo Huertas of Costa Rica, managed to rescue some 120 cats and dogs, who all managed to find new homes in America. Read more…


How the Ancient Romans Went to the Bathroom (Smithsonian Magazine)

“There’s a lot you can find out about a culture when you look at how they managed their toilets,” says anthropologist Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow. “That’s why I study it.” The so-called “Queen of Latrines,” working out of Brandeis University in Massachusetts, has been examining a recent find of Roman latrines in modern-day Turkey, a long bench with holes cut out that seemingly offered no protection from the elements — let alone the awkwardness of sitting, dividerless, next to someone else. “Today, you pull down your pants and expose yourself, but when you had your toga wrapped around you, it provided a natural protection,” Koloski-Ostrow says. And for wiping, the Romans seem to have used a sea sponge attached to a wooden stick. While not exactly glamorous, and probably rather filthy during their heyday, it’s interesting to note that these public toilets were a response to the soiling of public areas, in contrast to the relative lack of toilets in our cities today. Read more…


Our Worst Idea About “Safety” (Slate)

Are public health and safety measures creating a climate of “false security?” While experts, most notably during the covid-19 pandemic, act under the assumption that measures such as mask wearing actually create more risky behavior due to the impression of safety, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this phenomenon, known as “risk compensation,” has held outsize sway over American public policy for many decades. For example, some of the first studies on then-new seatbelt technology in the 1960s warned that risk compensation factors would contribute to making the roads less safe — a concern that we now know to be unfounded. While safety measures may not all be useful, “In a sense, the point of these measures is to allow for a small amount of risk compensation.” — we can use them to win back a small, measured part of our freedom. Read more…       


Your Call Is Important to Us (Slate)

Legend has it that the first hold music, patented by a factory owner named Alfred Levy, was envisioned after a loose wire came in contact with a building’s steel frame, transmitting radio broadcasts through the phone lines. “It is an object of the present invention,” read the 1962 patent filing, “…to pacify the originator of the call if the delay becomes unduly long, and also to while away the idle time of the caller…” Today, we’re so accustomed to music on the other end of the line that many callers simply hang up if met with silence. There are, therefore, many detailed studies on the books regarding which hold music works best in which scenario for which business, with accompanying soundtrack recommendations. Interestingly, one study found that, faced with Beatles songs against pan-flute covers of the same songs, callers remained on the line longest with the pan-flute soundtrack (John is turning over in his grave . . .) Perhaps this is because it “…was rated as corresponding more closely with callers’ expectations concerning typical on-hold music.”  Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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