"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
05/06/21
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.


Global Populism: Big Promises, Poor Pandemic Results (Christian Science Monitor)

In the latter half of the 2010s, populist leaders took the reins of power in major nations like Brazil, Mexico, India, the UK, and the US. Promising a departure from the stale promises of career politicians, these leaders enjoyed broad support from their constituents. Then, covid-19 happened. The pandemic has blindsided populist governments, with the top five mortality rates belonging to the above named countries. Why does populism fall flat when presented with a crisis of this magnitude? Casting crises in simple terms might work on the campaign trail, but in practice tackling complex issues requires carefully crafting complex solutions — something that would also involve listening to experts and taking their recommendations seriously. “When rulers surround themselves with ‘yes men,’ and shut out questioning and diverse viewpoints, a health disaster in the making won’t be flagged.” The proof, sadly, is measured in the body counts, and in infection rates still affected by under-preparedness. Read more…


The Reason Gas Stations Charge 9/10 of a Cent (Mental Floss)

You pull up at the gas pump and take a glance at the meter: $2.99 a gallon. And nine tenths! Why do those gas station owners insist on charging us nearly an extra cent per gallon? In fact, that little extra amount is there because of the Great Depression. The Revenue Tax Act of 1932 authorized a federal tax up to one cent per gallon, but gas station owners protested — one cent was a lot back then. So the government allowed for a fraction which would give the impression that prices hadn’t changed significantly as a result of the tax. And research bears that conclusion, showing that consumers fail to round up most of the time and simply accept the posted price without the tax. In 2006, a gas station owner even tried rounding up the extra cent as a good faith gesture. His station ended up losing about $23 a day in revenue — margins really count in the fuel business. So, barring federal action, fractional pricing is likely here to stay. Read more…


Let’s Talk About the ‘Velocity of Money’ (Tampa Bay Times)

In economics, there is a concept called “velocity of money” which, though a useful tool, isn’t much discussed in society at large. Simply put, money velocity, or “V”, is the rate at which a given dollar changes hands in a year.  In the US, money velocity gradually grew from the 1950's to the mid-1990's, then began to drop off in the late 1990's. In 2020, "V" became a vertical drop. What does this mean for our economic health? Economists say that decreasing money velocity in the US is a sign of increasing inequality — today, the richest 10 percent of the nation own about 70 percent of its wealth, and they put most of it into savings, real estate, and the stock market, where it doesn’t contribute to actual economic growth in the way that it otherwise would. This could explain low inflation rates observed since the 2000s. On the other hand, the coming out of the lows of the pandemic will likely spur some short-term inflation. Read more…


NASA Solar Probe Becomes Fastest Object Ever Built As it ‘Touches the Sun' (Cnet)

The record for the fastest man-made object of all time has been broken. Again. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, has been using the planet Venus as a gravitational slingshot to work its way ever closer to its object of study, the sun (incidentally, the next time you hear someone say they’re going to shoot something into the sun, remember that it requires quite a bit of effort). The probe broke records in February 2020 during its first flyby: fastest human-made object at 153,454 miles per hour, and closest to the sun at 26.55 million miles.  Now, it’s broken those records as well, streaking past our local star at an incredible 330,000 mph and a distance of 6.5 million miles. The goal of the craft, about the size of a small sedan, is to use its advanced instruments to study particles in the sun’s corona and emissions called “solar wind”. If all goes well, November 21st of this year will see yet another record-breaking flyby. Read more…


The Crazy Life and Crazier Death of Tycho Brahe, History's Strangest Astronomer (Gizmodo)

Astronomers have always been a slightly different sort, peering upwards into a dark world that, frankly, many people would rather not try to comprehend. But one of the strangest historical astronomers, a 16th century Dane named Tycho Brahe, outdid them all, even though he’s known today as one of the most influential astronomers of all time. Inheriting a vast fortune estimated at 1% of the entire wealth of Denmark at the time, Brahe lived an eccentric lifestyle in his whimsical castle, with a court jester named Jepp and a pet elk. He also sported a prosthetic nose, the result of a duel at the age of 20. All this time, however, Brahe kept his records of the night sky, cataloging thousands of stars and other celestial objects. That immensely helped his student, Johannes Kepler, upon Brahe’s mysterious death at 54, leading to Kepler's further work which included the first laws of planetary motion. Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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