"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.

The Power and Pitfalls of Gamification (Wired)

Are there any apps on your smartphone that do a good job of encouraging you to get stuff done? From notifications for getting up and taking a walk every day to reminders about practicing a language you’re learning, “gamification,” the act of making everyday tasks into a sort of game, is a powerful tool. Like any tool, however, gamification runs the risk of being over-applied to the point where it can cause damage. This is most apparent in workplaces like Amazon or within the Uber rideshare app, where gamification can create a sense of stress and disillusionment. To understand the mechanisms behind work-as-a-game, researchers ran a series of experiments. The results showed that workers who bought into the game and believed in its premises became happier, but more cynical workers fell behind. “At its best, gamification seems to work when it helps people achieve the goals they want to reach anyway by making the process of goal achievement more exciting.” So, gamification works best when we want to play. However, traditional methods of encouragement may be best for those roles that we don’t particularly want to take on. Read more…


Exit the Fatherland (Aeon)

How does a nation cope with the utter failure of its own nationalistic aspirations? There is probably no more extreme an example in the modern world than that of Germany, a nation which lay in ruins after World War Two. As one might expect, many Germans carried a great deal of shame in the wake of defeat, but there was a sizeable cohort that lived in denial, even after the fall. “In the mid-1950s, nearly half of all Germans polled said ‘yes’ to the proposition that ‘were it not for the war, Hitler would have been one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century.’” While these numbers would shift in the ensuing decades, the evidence seems to show that nationalism, even toxic nationalism, is quite “sticky” in public consciousness. For Germany, a combination of economic success, immigration, and time proved to be effective in dissolving the illusion, as citizens could contrast the comfortable lives they now led against even the best years of the Third Reich. Read more…

China on Brink of Laser-Matter Breakthrough (Asia Times)

Within two years, say scientists in Shanghai, the Extreme Light Station now under development will become the most powerful laser on Earth, producing an intensity of light 10 trillion times greater than that of sunlight. The ambitious project hopes to achieve something that’s been thus far the realm of science fiction: creating matter out of concentrated heat and light. The idea is to produce a powerful enough stream of light that particles of matter and antimatter are produced, in the same sort of process as the big bang. Remaining, of course, is the problem of separating the matter from the antimatter before they collide and transform back into energy, but the researchers claim that the laser may be able to separate the particles before this takes place. The main goal is not to produce matter from energy in any sizeable quantity — that ability is a long way off, if humans ever develop it at all. Rather, the experiments hope to measure the qualities of matter and energy, as well as to prove Einstein’s prediction that the two are interchangeable in any direction, since we already know that nuclear weapons transform matter into pure energy. Read more…

Why the Avocado Should Have Gone the Way of the Dodo (Smithsonian Magazine)

“Survival and growth through seed dispersal” is the goal of all types of fruit on Earth. This is accomplished many different ways, from burrs that stick to animal fur to “helicopter” seeds that fall from maple trees to acorns that are buried by enterprising squirrels and then forgotten. The avocado evolved, like certain other fruits, to be eaten and then pass through the digestive tract of an animal, before being left behind to grow in a new location. The difference between avocados and other plants alive today is that the evolution of the fruit was based on huge mega-fauna like giant sloths and mammoths that no longer exist. Without creatures large enough to swallow its fruit whole, the avocado’s continued survival into the modern age remains a mystery. Of course, once humans reached the point at which they could cultivate the fruit, the avocado was out of the woods — and enjoyed a selective breeding process that increased the amount of pulp in relation to pit size. Read more…

How the Stunning Scarlet Macaw Came Back From the Brink (Smithsonian Magazine)

The scarlet macaw is high on the list of the most beautiful birds in the world, which of course presents a problem in efforts to conserve the species. For decades, poachers in the rainforests of Central America have stolen eggs from nests and clipped the wings of adult birds, leading to a precipitous decline in wild populations. What's been needed is a program to reintroduce macaws to the wild and to educate people in the region so they don't recapture them. Lloyd Davidson, an American biologist who has lived in Honduras for over 30 years, is the director of the country’s first macaw rescue, release, and rehabilitation center, where the work of he and his staff has reintroduced some of the first flocks of wild macaws in many years. “Indeed, for those who visit Copán Ruinas today, it’s impossible to miss macaws. They fly in large, sweeping groups and their shrill cries echo once again throughout the Sacred Valley of the Guacamayas.“ It’s a sight that would be impossible without the help of local Hondurans, who help to track and report poaching activities. Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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