"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.


Australia Will Lose to Climate Change (The Atlantic)

Australia’s savage wildfires this year may serve as a warning to a world that’s so far done little to combat the threat of climate change. “There were at least twice as many fires in New South Wales in 2019 as there were in any other year this century,” according to a New York Times report. Australia, perhaps the developed nation most vulnerable to climate change, has long profited from coal exports to developing nations in Asia, and currently finds it nearly impossible to pass meaningful climate legislation, even as rainfall has declined and coral in the Great Barrier Reef is dying at an alarming rate. “Its current prime minister, Scott Morrison, actually brought a lump of coal to the floor of Parliament several years ago while defending the industry.” With the crisis ramping up, the political dynamics in Australia may become a proving ground for humanity’s response to climate crisis. Read more…

Profits Without Prosperity (Harvard Business Review)

Since the recession of 2008, the US stock market has witnessed a historic bull market, longer than any other expansion in the nation’s history. But the stock market’s gains feel to average Americans as if they’re increasingly disconnected from economic reality, and share buybacks might be one reason why. This excellent article from 2014 explains how the corporate practice of buying back shares, something that was discouraged until the late 1970s, is consuming a larger and larger proportion of operating budgets, displacing money traditionally used for research and development. “Trillions of dollars that could have been spent on innovation and job creation in the U.S. economy over the past three decades have instead been used to buy back shares for what is effectively stock-price manipulation.” Read more…


Parking Has Eaten American Cities (CityLab)

Parking spaces are something that we typically don’t think about — until we need one. But how much of the physical space of cities is reserved for parking? Eric Scharnhorst of the Research Institute for Housing America conducted a study of five cities —  New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Des Moines, and Jackson, WY, and discovered the outsize importance given to parking space: in Jackson, for example, parking takes up 25 times as much room as residential areas. New York, the city in the study with the least parking spaces per acre (10), is the only city with less area reserved for parking than residences. Notably, New York is also the city in the US with the highest number of transit commuters, owing to its highly developed public transit system. Driving is in decline across most of the country, and with the rise of ride-sharing and other new means of transportation, it may soon be time to rethink America’s urban landscapes. Read more…


How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology (The Atlantic)

You are probably familiar with lichens, even if you don’t recognize the term — they’re the fuzzy, sometimes quite beautiful, patches of life that decorate rocks, bark, and old logs. Lichens are extremely hardy, and can survive in extreme climates where nothing else can grow. But for a long time, they have been misunderstood — the first Swiss scientists to study them believed they were plants, until research showed an incredible symbiosis between algae and fungus. “The alga uses sunlight to make nutrients for the fungus, while the fungus provides minerals, water, and shelter.” Despite the discovery, scientists struggled to recreate lichens in a laboratory setting, until biologist Toby Spribille, working to isolate the genes in the involved species, discovered that an entirely separate, second fungus was present. Just like that, 150 years of the “two-organism paradigm” now appear to have been overturned. Read more…


The History of the Color Blue: From Ancient Egypt to the Latest Scientific Discoveries (My Modern Met)

It’s often overlooked in the modern age, but every color that we see in art and manufacturing has a unique history, attached to the discovery and use of dyes and pigments over the centuries. Blue was first synthesized as a pigment in 2200 BC by the ancient Egyptians, who used minerals containing copper to create a yellow-blue glaze that they applied to statues, ceramics, and pharaohs’ tombs. Since then, other sources were discovered, from the expensive, gemstone-derived ultramarine used in Renaissance art, to plant-sourced indigo, which became the basis for navy blue and denim. This article charts the history of these famous forms of blue, concluding with a new discovery — YInMn blue, a blend of yttrium, indium, and manganese, which wasn’t released until 2016. Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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