"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
04/01/21
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 Empty Brain (Aeon)

Whenever the topic of brain science comes up in conversation, one of the participants is sure to point out the silliness of a human brain striving to understand itself. Funny enough, we’re usually taught to think about the workings of the brain in terms of something we understand rather well — a computer, which can store and access information using a variety of algorithms and coding functions. But brains do nothing of the sort, and the consistent usage of the computer metaphor belies the fact that brains work by reorganizing themselves to function within certain contexts, totally unlike a machine process. Consider a baseball player running to catch a fly ball. Under the “computer model, the player’s brain is taking in the velocity of the ball, the angle that it’s falling, and other hard data in order to make a prediction of where it will come down. But that’s not the way that it works in the brain. Instead, “…the player simply needs to keep moving in a way that keeps the ball in a constant visual relationship with respect to home plate and the surrounding scenery.” Read more…


Fish Eggs Can Survive a Journey Through Both Ends of a Duck (Smithsonain Magazine)

It’s an age-old question: how do lakes and ponds, seemingly cut off from the rest of the aquatic world, become stocked with fish? Finally, mankind may be closer to understanding this mystery. According to scientific studies from 2019 and 2020, fish eggs are now proven to be viable after being ingested — and defecated —  by swans and ducks. In the most recent study, 1000 carp eggs were fed to eight mallards, with 18 eggs surviving the perilous journey through the birds and three finally hatching. That’s a pretty small success rate, until you consider that a single carp can lay up to 1.5 million eggs several times a year. At that rate, it may simply be a matter of time until bodies of water are stocked with new fish populations. Read more…

 

In Hotter Climate, 'Zombie' Urchins Are Winning And Kelp Forests Are Losing (NPR)

The coast of northern California is home to enormous forests of towering redwood trees. And, in the waters offshore, it’s home to a similar underwater forest of bull kelp, a seaweed species that can reach 30 to 60 feet in height. Sadly, that parallel underwater habitat has been decimated in recent years as a mass of warm water called “the Blob” raised temperatures and increased the numbers of purple urchins in the region, resulting in the loss of 95 percent of the kelp. The urchins, free from their natural predator starfish, have been munching on the spores that seed new kelp populations. How can humans help? Besides the obvious and pressing action that will be necessary to combat climate change, scientists are planning efforts to restore natural predators like starfish and sea otters, and even launching a program to capture and cook some of the spiky invaders. "The word has gotten out about the nuisance of the purple urchins…so it's like 'Oh, I'm doing really great for the environment. I'm going to eat these guys.'" Read more…


The Earth Has Been Spinning Faster Lately (Phys.org)

Despite our carefully-managed marking of time on our planet, the Earth’s day/night cycle doesn’t last a consistent 86,400 seconds every time. With the development of more precise clocks, scientists have noticed natural variance in the planet’s spin brought on by effects like gravitational pull from the moon, erosion of mountains, and even levels of snowfall from year to year. Since the measurements began, the Earth has spun slightly slower over time — prompting timekeepers to insert a “leap second” ocassionally to keep human life running smoothly. But in 2020 (maybe to nobody’s surprise), everything changed: we started moving faster, with the shortest day/night cycle ever recorded taking place on July 19th. Does that mean we have to add a “negative” leap second, subtracting a unit of time from the official count? It’s unprecedented and therefore controversial, but likely nothing that the average non-scientist should have to worry about. Read more…

 

Lincoln Memorial Undercroft (Atlas Obscura)

If you’ve ever been to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., you know how fortress-like and imposing the marble structure can appear on top. But you likely didn’t know that there’s an equally cavernous basement underneath — one that was largely ignored after the monument’s construction in 1914 but re-discovered during bathroom renovations in 1975. When workers crawled into the space, known as the undercroft, they discovered a subterranean world with 40-foot ceilings held up by soaring concrete pillars, some of which were inscribed with graffiti and cartoons from the original construction workers. The undercroft, open for a short time to guided tours, was closed in 1989 after the discovery of asbestos. In June 2017, however, it was back in the headlines due to a National Park Service plan that hopes to rehab the structure in time for the 100 year anniversary of the Lincoln Memorial in 2022. Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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