"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
04/22/21
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.


Deep Cleaning Isn’t a Victimless Crime (The Atlantic)

In the past year, we’ve all learned to become more conscious of our cleanliness — washing hands more frequently, making sure that public areas are wiped down, and enjoying a pump or two from the hand sanitizer bottles that can now be found nearly everywhere. But last week, the CDC announced that covid-19 transmission risk from so-called “surface transmission” is, in fact, low. “For most respiratory viruses, the evidence for fomite [object and surface] transmission looks pretty weak,” says a scientist who led an early push against over-sanitization. “With the exception of RSV [respiratory syncytial virus], there are few other respiratory viruses where fomite transmission has been conclusively shown.” Well, one might ask, what’s the problem with being extra cautious? Cost, for one, especially to cash-strapped public services. And then there’s the messaging: we’re scaring people into cleaning their homes and offices while distracting from the real causes of covid transmission. Read more…


The Woman Whose Invention Helped Win a War — and Still Baffles Weathermen (Smithsonian Magazine)

During World War Two, the efforts of many of the world’s best and brightest were pressed into service to figure out new ways of outsmarting the enemy. One of those bright minds was Joan Curran, a doctoral student in physics at the University of Cambridge’s Newnham College when war broke out. Along with her research partner, whom she would later marry, Curran helped to pioneer a strikingly simple method to confuse enemy radar systems — tiny strips of metal dropped from aircraft, today known as “chaff”. Deflecting and obscuring legitimate radar signatures from attacking aircraft, chaff was successfully employed during bombing runs and the invasion of Normandy, saving lives and hampering enemy defenses. Due to the prevailing attitudes of the time, Curran’s role in the breakthrough was played down by male colleagues and historians, but recent efforts have sought to highlight contributions made by female scientists. Read more…


The US’ Lost, Ancient Megacity (BBC)

Westerners have a bias that affects our view of ancient civilizations. We assume that ancient cultures see money and trade as the most important aspect of life, which leads archaeologists to look for signs of commerce at the expense of other guiding principles. That seems to have been the case at Cahokia, a thriving city located near modern day St. Louis a thousand years ago, which appears to have been a cultural — not a financial — hub. Larger than Paris at the time, the city lacked a central marketplace, instead indulging in feasting, drinking a caffeinated beverage called yaupon, and enjoying sporting events like chunkey (somewhat like today’s bocce or curling, but played with stones and spears). So, in this case, urbanization happened for the purpose of entertainment and socialization, not because there was money to be made. "We party that way all across the United States…they fit right into American history.” Read more…


How Many T. Rexes Were There? Billions. (Berkeley News)

“The project just started off as a lark, in a way,” says Charles Marshall, director of the University of California Museum of Paleontology. “When I hold a fossil in my hand, I can’t help wondering at the improbability that this very beast was alive millions of years ago, and here I am holding part of its skeleton — it seems so improbable.” But how improbable? Marshall started to wonder at the odds — and ended up designing a simulation to figure out how many T. rexes lived at any one time, referencing a phenomenon called Damuth’s Law that relates population density to the size of an animal. After crunching the numbers, Marshall's team estimated (roughly, of course) that billions of T. rexes might have existed over the course of their reign on Earth. The time scale allows for 127,000 generations, with about 20,000 individuals at any given time. So what’s the chance you might find a fossil? Fossils are incredibly rare — we only have 32 well-preserved adult examples today. That means the chance of finding a T. rex fossil might be just one in 80 million. Read more…


Victorian Strangeness: The Bizarre Tale of the Ladies who Limped (BBC)

It was known as Alexandra Limp: a strange, lilting walk that came over young women in the fashionable parts of Britain during the late 19th century. And it had nothing to do with physical ailment — not on the part of those women, anyway. The Prince of Wales’ wife Alexandra of Denmark, who held a trend-setting role akin to Princess Diana in those days, wore certain clothes, used a choker necklace to hide a scar on her neck, and walked with a limp after coming down with rheumatic fever — mannerisms which were widely copied across Victorian Britain. In the words of one newspaper editorialist, “taking my customary walk the other day, observant of men, women and things, I met three ladies. They were all three young, all three good-looking, and all three lame! At least, such was my impression.” Like all passing fads, the Alexandra Limp quickly rose and, just as quickly, faded away — probably just as well, in the eyes of today’s fashionistas. Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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