"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
06/18/20
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.


The World Economy Runs on GPS. It Needs a Backup Plan (Bloomberg Businessweek)

It’s hard to understate the importance of the Global Positioning System (GPS), a technology first released for public use by the US military in 2000 that’s used not only to pinpoint locations on the planet but crucially as an accurate timekeeper for countless computer systems. Our dependence on the 31 satellites that comprise the GPS network inevitably creates a vulnerability. “‘GPS is the single point of failure for the entire modern economy,’ says Representative John Garamendi, a California Democrat…’No cellphone, no ATM machine will work.’” The bigger risks include solar flares and impact with space debris, but the fragile accuracy of the atomic clocks in each satellite is prone to innocuous threats like software bugs as well. Read more…

 

How Prohibition Tossed a Wet Blanket on America’s Inventors (Atlas Obscura)

Do bars play an outsize role in innovation? Certainly, they’re a gathering place for people from all backgrounds, and the phrase “back of the napkin” (or envelope) is a well-worn cliché that evokes the kind of informal brainstorming that sometimes takes place while sharing a pint. Researcher Mike Andrews wanted to test whether this was true, and history offered a unique opportunity: Prohibition. As saloons shut their doors across America in the years prior to the national adoption of Prohibition in 1920, patent offices saw declines in new patents by 15%. “This suggests that the bars’ closure had an effect one-third as strong as a county gaining a university [45% patent increase]—albeit in the opposite direction.“ While patent production recovered — inventors eventually substituted other meeting places — the data certainly shows a strong correlation between bars and new ideas. Read more…

 

Why Gravity Is Not Like the Other Forces (Quanta Magazine)

The eternal search for a unified “Theory of Everything” has thus-far identified four forces responsible for all phenomena: strong and weak nuclear forces, the electromagnetic force, and gravity. Of these, gravity is the most mysterious — at its most extreme limits, for example the environment of a black hole, scientists say that a thorough explanation of gravity’s effects requires a quantum theory. Since the 1930s, the search for this holy grail theory has been hampered by several factors. For example, it’s hard to isolate a phenomenon that applies to all matter at once. In addition, gravity is entangled with space and time in complicated ways. But nailing down a quantum gravity theory might be the next big breakthrough for scientific understanding — whenever it happens. Read more…

 

The Incredible Story of the US Army's Earth-Shaking, Off-Road Land Trains (The Drive)

The initial stage of the Cold War saw United States and Soviet strategists facing off across the North Pole, designing and building stations that would detect incoming formations of nuclear bombers as they crossed the shortest route between the two nations. This radar-based arms race required many new technologies and methods for constructing and operating stations at the edges of human habitation. The US’ “DEW Line”, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, was well beyond the reach of traditional railroads. That’s where R.G. LeTourneau’s incredible land trains came in. These “Snow Trains” sported 7-foot wheels, two 400 horsepower diesel engines, and 24-wheel drive, enabling transport of 150 tons across inhospitable terrain. Some of the enormous tires from the project later found their way onto the first monster trucks of the 1980s. Read more…

 

The Oldest Treasures From 12 Great Libraries (Atlas Obscura)

Around the world, great libraries are often home to some seriously old documents. Here’s what was revealed when librarians were asked to name the oldest pieces in their collections — they detailed everything from a fourth century B.C. Roman cookbook to a book on medicine from 10th century North Africa, and even an Egyptian Book of the Dead in the collection of the Austrian National Library, which “…is actually a papyrus scroll, 20-foot long, that contains magical spells to help the recently deceased make their way to the afterlife.” The papyrus dates from sometime in the 15th century B.C. Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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