"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
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.


Hidden Cameras and Secret Trackers Reveal Where Amazon Returns End Up (CBC)

In the past, we have explored the ways in which the online shopping revolution has had negative impacts on resources and the environment. A new investigation into Amazon’s operations in Canada, using tracking devices hidden in returned items, has shown that even returns of unused goods can end up destroyed or sent to landfills. Experts estimate that 30 to 40 percent of online purchases are returned, and Amazon’s liberal free return policy encourages items to be sent back, in some cases, as the trackers showed, leading to circuitous journeys of thousands of kilometers before finding a new home or ending up at a third-party processing center. "You're lucky if half of all returns can still be sold as new, so a huge amount of merchandise has to be dispositioned via some other means — liquidation, refurbishment, recycling, or landfill." In response to public outcry, Amazon launched a program in the US and UK last year which helps sellers send returns directly to charities instead of disposal services. Read more…


Why Do Computers Use So Much Energy? (Scientific American)

5 percent: that’s how much of current energy consumption in the United States is dedicated to keeping computers running, and it’s only expected to grow with tech demands and increasing computational power. In addition to using a lot of energy, computers also generate a significant amount of heat, which necessitates additional cooling systems that can tax resources as well. This article, written by a researcher at the Santa Fe Institute (famous for its studies on complexity theory), explores how scientists might employ models studying thermodynamics in nonequilibrium systems, as opposed to classical studies which used equilibrium systems to explore issues related to computing. In short, using this “messier” version of physics might help explain how computers use energy and how to design the system to run more efficiently. Read more…


The Thoughts of a Spiderweb (Quanta Magazine)

The spider’s web is a small miracle of innovation, almost unbelievable given the tiny brain of its creator. Spiders can tense certain areas of the web, searching for different types of prey. They can track construction of their webs by remembering certain key sections. And exposing spiders to drugs like caffeine and LSD can dramatically change the way they spin their webs. In fact, some biologists have speculated that the web is actually an extension of the cognitive capabilities of the spider — that is, it represents, in a strange sense, the thoughts of the organism that created it. This hypothesis is controversial, but not totally off the wall. For example, octopuses have arms that move independently, a sort of off-loading of the cognitive tasks of the central brain. And crickets process the songs of other crickets using sensory organs in their legs. The insight that cognition isn’t limited to the brain might fundamentally transform the way we understand biological functions. Read more…


From Ketchup to Pineapples: The Food That Should Never Be Kept in a Fridge (The Guardian)

If you’re anything like this writer, most of your perishable foods end up in the refrigerator, lest they start to go bad unexpectedly. But different foods have different needs, and many of the foods that we tend to chill could actually fare better on the counter or in the pantry. “Potatoes and onions belong in a cool, dark place such as a vegetable basket, ideally in a cloth bag (except spring onions, which should be kept in the fridge). You can also store soy sauce, ketchup, brown sauce, mustard, olive oil, pickles and chutneys in a cupboard away from sunlight, even if the label advises refrigerating after opening.” A handy resource can be found here, at the Love Food Hate Waste campaign website, which offers tips not only for storage of various foods but also about how to use them up. For example, leftover wine can be used as a flavor enhancer in sauces, stews, and casseroles. Read more…


When the Street Light First Came to London, Disaster Ensued (Smithsonian Magazine)

On December 9, 1868, London became the first city with a traffic light, an era-appropriate gothic-styled gas lamp that loomed over the intersection outside the House of Parliament. Prior to the installation of such devices, city streets frequently became clogged with carriage and horse traffic, and pedestrians needed to be on constant lookout to avoid being struck by a wayward driver. London’s initial streetlamp was an awkward contraption, employing mechanical arms to direct traffic flow during the day as well as green and red gas lamps at night, but it quickly became a source of admiration. As the South London Chronicle reported, “A more difficult crossing-place could scarcely be mentioned, and should the anticipations of the inventor be realized similar structures will no doubt be speedily erected in many other parts of the metropolis.” Read more…

Check out my Blog: "Minding Your Business"
See you next week!
            - Greg
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