"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.


Bad News Wrapped in Protein: Inside the Coronavirus Genome (The New York Times)

For all of the consternation it has caused, the RNA sequence of the coronavirus represents only about 30 kilobytes of data, enough to fit on a standard floppy disk 81 times over. The information is represented by four amino acids, which create proteins when linked together. Scientists have already identified the functions of many of the coronavirus’ proteins — those that sabotage the infected cells, create bubbles that help replicate the virus, and camouflage the invaders — but some remain a mystery, or may be “junk” coding altogether. This article by the New York Times goes line by line through the code to lay out what we already know and what we still have to learn about what makes this virus tick. Read more…


The Pandemic Is Turning the Natural World Upside Down (The Atlantic)

“A quick search for the phrase birds are louder on Twitter reveals that many other people have been wondering the same thing I have lately: Are the birds chirping more fiercely these days, or am I losing my mind?” Turns out, it’s been quieter out there during this time of social distancing — a lot quieter, with average reductions of close to 30 decibels in some cities. And that’s not all: worldwide, there are fewer seismic vibrations from subways and construction, cleaner air quality, and less underwater noise due to the dearth of cruise ships and other cargo vessels. In short, the natural world is taking a much-deserved breather this month, and biologists will have a lot to study about this period when all is said and done. Soon, North Pacific humpback whales will make the annual journey with their newborns to southeastern Alaska, where they’ll enjoy the quietest spring in decades, without a sightseeing cruise ship in sight. Read more…

Bill Withers: The Soul Man Who Walked Away (Rolling Stone)

On March 30, the world lost soul singer Bill Withers, an unlikely star who created some of the most-loved hits of the 1970s, including “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Just the Two of Us.” Picking up a pawn shop guitar in his late twenties while working in an aircraft parts factory in Oakland, Withers drew the attention of Clarence Avant, a music executive who set him up with A-list Los Angeles musicians including drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, and guitarist Stephen Stills. All that remained was for Bill Withers to give a voice to his music. “Withers was extremely uneasy until Graham Nash walked into the studio. He sat down in front of me and said, ‘You don’t know how good you are,’’ Withers says. ‘I’ll never forget it.’” Read more…


NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Shows Off its Shiny New Mirror (BGR)

The long-awaited replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope is coming, albeit possibly on a delayed schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic. The James Webb Space Telescope is currently expected to go into orbit sometime next year, sitting in a region of space called the “L2 Lagrange point,” an area 930,000 miles behind the Earth (much farther away than the Moon at ~240,000 mi.) as it revolves around the sun. This stable orbit will provide the perfect dark environment for the sensitive near-infrared sensors inside the telescope to peer through clouds of interstellar dust and debris and see far back in spacetime, all the way to the formation of the universe. At that distance, much depends on proper deployment of the telescope’s systems, and engineers successfully tested the unfolding of the primary mirror this week. (For more on the telescope, check out its Wikipedia page here.) Read more…

‘Space Jam’ Forever: The Website That Wouldn’t Die (Rolling Stone)

Anyone who was online in the mid-to-late 1990s remembers the way the primitive internet felt: cheesy full-page backgrounds, pixelated gifs, and goofy buttons aplenty. For the most part, early-web design was constrained by dial-up modems, which could only load data at 56 kilobytes per second. Before technology like Flash, designers had to make do with basic HTML functionality, resulting in a static feel that, with modern technology, has been mostly buried and removed from view. Fortunately, there’s a place where one can relive that first-wave internet aesthetic: spacejam.com. Yes, the website for the 1996 movie Space Jam is still fully functional, and improbably so, long after Michael Jordan retired from basketball in 2003. The original site was a product of a small team of designers, none of whom anticipated their work serving as a lasting monument to the early web. Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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