"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
08/20/21
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.


‘Breakthrough’ Infections Do Not Mean COVID Vaccines Are Failing (Scientific American) 

With the recent resurgence of covid-19 infection rates across the country, a number of news reports have raised fears of “breakthrough infections”, wherein those who have already been fully vaccinated contract the virus and receive positive test results. It’s important to note, however, that these positive tests rarely mean that the infected person will become sick, even among those carrying the Delta variant of the disease. In addition, such breakthrough cases are to be expected, as they are a common occurrence in those vaccinated against other diseases like the influenza or measles, and do not indicate the overall ineffectiveness of a vaccine. Ultimately, covid vaccines are safe and dramatically reduce the chance of serious infection or death, despite the impression that might be gleaned from a cursory glance at the headlines. “Anecdotally, from talking to my friends and family and on social media, I think people are more concerned about these breakthrough infections than their prevalence would lead you to be.” Read more…

 

China Says It's Closing in on Thorium Nuclear Reactor (IEEE Spectrum)

Since the 1960s and 70s, scientists have theorized that a nuclear reactor using thorium, rather than uranium, would provide several benefits, including increased efficiency and reduced risk of catastrophic failure — not to mention a decreased stock of nuclear waste that could be used to create atomic weapons. With an increased call for clean energy production in the coming decades, multiple nations are reporting work on reactors that use thorium, with China hoping to construct the first commercial reactor by 2030. The creation of such a facility would not only be a major step for thorium technology, which has long been sidelined despite its promise, but also a win for Chinese industry, which is at the forefront of research into what’s known as a molten salt reactor, or MSR. Such reactors enjoy the additional advantage of using sand for cooling rather than water, which reduces operational costs in arid regions. Read more…


The Largest Cells on Earth (Nautilus)

As one of the most under-explored places on Earth, the surface of the abyssal plains far below the ocean, are full of strange organisms that are just beginning to be understood. One of these is a strange, single-celled organism called a xenophyophore, which builds its own enclosing structure out of the detritus raining down from the aquatic environment above. Sometimes as large as basketballs, these creatures also produce waste that “…resembles animal feces, though a single cell isn’t supposed to merit that term.” Aside from their incredible abilities as a single-celled organism, xenophyophores transform the otherwise featureless seabed into a habitat for fish and other creatures, which feed on them or lay eggs in their shells. Unfortunately, much like coral, xenophyophores are an exceedingly fragile form of life, and populations may never recover from mining efforts seeking to extract valuable elements like cobalt from their shells. Read more…


Let's Talk About How Pirates Affected the Development of Los Angeles. (Fifty Three)

Los Angeles is an outlier among cities, with an urban area dispersed over hundreds of miles. With such a large area to cover, it might not strike the average resident that the historic center of the city is 20 miles from the ocean — an anomaly that sets LA apart from every other major coastal city in America. As it turns out, the foundation of old Los Angeles followed strict rules for Spanish settlements at the time — rules that prohibited their construction along coastlines for fear of marauding bands of pirates. These fears were not unfounded, as the Spanish empire of the 1500s experienced several crippling attacks on cities such as Santiago, Cuba and Nombre de Dios, Panama. “These laws, originally passed to make cities defensible against pirates, lasted through the rest of the colonial period even after the piratical threat was largely over. They still applied when LA was settled in 1781.” Read more…


Explore a Pharoah’s Boat (Nova)

4600 years ago, the Egyptian ruler Khufu commissioned a massive ship, which was discovered in 1954 in pieces next to his tomb at the Great Pyramid of Giza. Now fully reassembled, the vessel is on display at the site today, as seen in this slideshow. Enlightening for its display of ancient shipbuilding techniques such as its construction from outside-in and its lack of nails and other modern fasteners, the ship is a wonder from a bygone age. “They didn't wrap the rope around or through the hull planks, which might have promoted leaks. Rather, they worked it through thousands of V-shaped channels they laboriously carved into the inside faces of planks. In essence, they sewed the ship together.” Chief among the Khufu boat’s mysteries is its intended purpose: was this a ceremonial aid or a tribute to the late king, meant to carry his body into the afterlife? Read more…

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            - Greg
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