"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
01/02/20
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.
 

Happy New Year -- and New Decade! Dan and Greg wish you all the best at this time of fresh starts and good intentions. Make your very life a Cool Thing!
 

The Surprising Origins of the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop Tradition (Time)

We all know what happens on New Year’s Eve: a huge, bejeweled, lighted ball descends from the top to the bottom of a pole on top of a building, signaling the start of a new year. Wait, why are we cheering over this ball? As it turns out, “time balls” are of maritime origin, the first being built in England in the mid-19th century. These balls would rise and fall at a specific time each day, allowing ship captains to set their chronometers accurately. The devices became popular across the pond as well, even as the telegraph began to make them obsolete. The first time ball in New York City was constructed by the New York Times in 1907, in order to mark the new year despite a recent fireworks ban. The tradition has stuck ever since. Read more…

 

For Her Head Cold, Insurer Coughed Up $25,865 (NPR)

Alexa Kasdan went to her doctor, got blood drawn, a throat swab, and a presciption for antibiotics. Everything seemed totally normal, until the bill came: her quick doctor visit cost $28,395.50. "I thought maybe they meant $250,” Kasdan said. “I couldn't fathom in what universe I would go to a doctor for a strep throat culture and some antibiotics and I would end up with a $25,000 bill." The enormous price tag, although an extreme outlier, illustrates how healthcare prices in America have skyrocketed in the last decade, especially when compared to those in other countries, where procedures can cost hundreds of times less. Lawmakers at state and federal levels are working on solutions, although it may be hard to impact a health system where pricing decisions are increasingly automated. Read more…

 

How Headphones Are Changing the Sound of Music (Quartz)

Every era of music has been driven by technology and the way in which the audience listens. In the classical days, pieces were designed to sound good in cathedrals, and later trumpets became popular in jazz for their ability to be heard in loud clubs. Today, most people listen to music digitally, from a computer or a phone using headphones. How does that change music itself? “‘Listening to music on headphones is very different to speakers where there is a temporal and spatial difference between you and the music.” That leads to vocals with a “whisper-like” quality, and differences in mixing and mastering of different frequencies. Another aspect of headphone listening is privacy, which may make listeners less afraid of confessional or very personal songs. It’s early on, but it seems that this new dominance of headphones will make a significant impact on the future of music. Read more…

 

The Histories Hidden in the Periodic Table (The New Yorker)

The periodic table has 118 elements, and each one has its own story. The history of these elements and of the table itself is explored in this article, from the ancient Greek atomists who first conceptualized the idea of an atom, to the “element-hunting” done by particle physicists in the 1930s, to the 1950s hydrogen bomb experiments by the US Air Force, where planes with wingtip atom collectors flew through mushroom clouds. More recently, 2016 saw the addition of element 118 Oganesson: “…the velocities of its supercharged electrons likely approach the speed of light, and so the element may not act like the gases with which it’s grouped. Instead, oganesson and its neighbors might follow the rules of relativity; time and space might appear to bend inside them, and their properties could follow suit.” Read more…


Betelgeuse Is Dimmer Than We've Ever Seen It (Fraser Cain - YouTube)

Nearby (in a relative sense) red supergiant star Betelgeuse is one of astronomers’ favorites for a number of reasons, the most interesting being its eventual supernova fate. The star is approaching the final stage of its life, and someday it’ll violently explode, creating a light display that will be bright enough to see during the day for nearly a year. Of course, nobody can really say when that will happen; it could be tomorrow or 300 years from now. But if Betelgeuse goes supernova in our lifetimes, it will be a rare close-up glimpse of this amazing phenomenon. Recently, the star has dimmed dramatically, fainter than it’s ever been before. Whether this development indicates it’s about to blow is anyone’s guess, but this video lays out everything you need to know about this red giant star. See more…

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            - Greg
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