"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
11/27/20
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.

 

How a Thanksgiving Day Gag Ruffled Feathers in Mission Control (ARS Technica)

In the early hours of Thanksgiving Day 1991, as the space shuttle Atlantis orbited high above the Earth, Lead Flight Director Milt Heflin in Houston’s Mission Control received a call that sent shivers up his spine. According to Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Heflin was told, a Turkish satellite had been tracked on a collision course with the space shuttle, aboard which the crew members were still asleep. "When I think about all of my time, I don't remember ever being so nervous or upset about something as I was then," the NASA veteran recalled later. Fortunately for the astronauts, and perhaps unfair for Heflin, the incident turned out to be just a Thanksgiving prank organized by bored team members — when the ground tracking display lit up to show the position of the “Turkish” space debris, a large cartoon turkey was coded in its place. Though practical jokes have a long history at NASA, this one came close to getting several staff members fired. After the incident had passed and jagged nerves had blown over, Milt Heflin says he learned something from the experience: perhaps a leader needs a little extra distance from his subordinates in order to be effective. Read more…


When We Lose Weight, Where Does it Go? (The Conversation)

Where does human body weight go when we lose it? Though you might think you know the answer, only three out of a sample of 150 doctors, dietitians, and personal trainers that were surveyed knew the correct answer. Is fat burned off, turned into energy? That seems intuitive, but in a closed system matter cannot be destroyed. The answer, surprisingly, is that we breathe fat out of our body. To be more precise, as we process fat, it gets turned into carbon dioxide and water, which is expelled as sweat or urine. “If you lose 10kg of fat, precisely 8.4kg comes out through your lungs and the remaining 1.6kg turns into water. In other words, nearly all the weight we lose is exhaled.” According to research, the only material that makes it to the colon undigested is dietary fiber. That means that in order to lose weight, we need to get up and burn (and breathe and sweat) more than we take in. Read more…

 

Did Viruses Create the Nucleus? The Answer May Be Near. (Quanta Magazine)

While cells can exist with a nucleus (eukaryotic) or without a nucleus (prokaryotic), cells that have a nucleus have been much more successful in Earth’s history, leading to multi-cellular life like fungi, plants, and animals. “‘What we [eukaryotes] are is a classic case of what they call emergent complexity,’ explained Philip Bell, the head of research for the yeast biotechnology company MicroBioGen.” That is, the nucleus, mitochondria, and the rest of a cell’s structure came together to make larger life possible. But how did they combine in the first place? One theory holds that the original nucleus was the result of a viral invasion inside a prokaryotic cell — that the nucleus is, essentially, an evolved “virus factory”. While the theory is considered fringe by some, two new discoveries might lend it legitimacy: the possible identification of the nucleus’ ancestor species, and the discovery of “giant viruses” that could have created it. Read more…

 

Zebra Finch ‘Heat Song' Changes Hatchling Development (BBC)

Zebra finches, a species that makes its home in harsh desert conditions in Australia, might be able to communicate to their young while still inside the egg. According to a research paper published this year in the journal Science, eggs that were played recordings of the birds’ incubation songs grew lighter and more slowly  than a similar control group. Although it might seem disadvantageous to be smaller, studies that follow these hatchlings into adulthood have shown that smaller birds fare better and produce more offspring in hot conditions. This indicates that something in the songs of these birds might prepare their young for conditions once they hatch. Although researchers have studied pre-natal singing in birds with regards to learning particular calls, this recent study suggests that hatchlings might be affected much more by sounds coming through the shell of their eggs before birth, and might help them adapt to a warming world. Read more…

 

North Korean Gymnast Defects by Vaulting Fences (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Through the years, there have been plenty of escapes past the North Korean security fences into the free world made by daring and desperate refugees. But none like this: according to the South Korean military, a gymnast this month simply pole vaulted over the wall, without even triggering sensors in place to detect a breach. “Officials were so taken aback by his feat that they asked him to demonstrate twice how he was able to jump over the three-metre (~10 foot) fence, according to the BBC's Seoul correspondent.” The man was detained without incident and asked for political asylum. Although his eventual fate is unknown, he would seem to be a shoe-in for next year’s Olympic games. Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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