"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things 😎
5 Cool Things:
07/22/21
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 Money Pushers: The World Is Embracing Japan-Style Economics (Nikkei Asia)

In the early 21st century, Japan embarked on a then-radical central banking program, embracing new and untested policies like the use of zero-interest rates and quantitative easing in an effort to juice its stagnating economy. In the years following the worldwide financial crisis of 2007-2008, many global economies followed suit, and the measures once thought extreme are commonplace among advanced economies. What has happened to Japan's ultra-accomodative central banking during that time? While its debit-to-GDP ratio is the highest among major economies at some 260%, the measures that were expected to combat deflation have themselves fallen flat, as the country’s economy remains mired in stagnancy. There are a lot of lessons here, including the tendency of Japan’s private sector to save rather than spend, even as the government holds the throttle open. But while the West frets over pandemic-related inflation, should we be more concerned — especially in the face of waning population growth — about a Japan-style future? Read more…


Why Are People Getting Worse at “The Price Is Right”? (Quartz)

The Price is Right has been an American institution since 1972, centering on the basic model of guessing prices of consumer products without going over. The show’s consistency over time has allowed data analysts like Jonathan Hatley of Harvard University to run some interesting studies comparing past performance to now, and his conclusion is quite striking: the average guess today is about 12% lower than it was in the 1970s. People today are more wrong than they were in the past. The average contestant’s accuracy, Hartley notes, declined sharply before the 2000s before stabilizing in the 2010s. Three factors might explain the discrepancy, he says: lower inflation, the rise of e-commerce that “flattens” prices across vendors, and the vast increase in the amount of products sold — “there are 50 times as many products at a grocery store than 80 years ago,” which leads to more differences in marketing and more confusion over price. One upshot to these findings: you may want to adjust your cost estimate upward by about 20% the next time you shop. Read more…


Anatomy of a Car Crash (Slate)

In the same way that watching endless amounts of game show footage teaches us about the average person, so does having access to decades of car crash data. And that helps analysts determine what types of scenarios are the most dangerous so that drivers can pay extra attention. The six most common scenarios: making a right on red and forgetting to look in front of you, falling asleep (“People are horrible judges of their own sleepiness”), loss of control (mostly overreactions), not being able to see and driving into a situation anyway, rear ending another person (an astounding 23-30 percent of crashes), and distracted lane or road departure (an even more astounding 33 percent of all crashes). There are so many ways to become a better driver and avoid crashes, but driving defensively, keeping eyes off of smartphones, and keeping distance from the car ahead are good places to start. Read more…


A ‘Thrilling’ Mission to Get the Swedish to Change Overnight (BBC)

If distracted driving is such a problem on the roadways, imagine how big a deal it would be to wake up one morning and find that the rules of the road suddenly reversed. That’s what happened to Swedish motorists on September 3rd, 1967, also known as H-Day, when Sweden’s authorities switched the entire road network from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right. Because the country shared a continent with neighbors who drove on the right side of the road and produced left-hand drive cars, Swedes tended to already own cars that were the “wrong way around,” causing safety concerns among the Swedish government and prompting the switch, which required local regions to repaint markings, relocate infrastructure, and redesign intersections and bicycle lanes. Unfortunately for these public servants, the switch had to take place at a specific time, which meant that 360,000 road signs were relocated, largely on the night before H-Day. While there was some initial confusion, fears of a mass casualty event were overblown as accidents on H-Day were actually lower than a typical Monday. In the final analysis, the project was a success, as traffic fatality rates decreased in its aftermath. Read more…


The Thriving Business of ‘Ikea Hacking’ (The Hustle)

It’s a good thing the Swedish survived their traffic switchover, as one of the most beloved exports of this Nordic nation is the affordable and stylish Ikea furniture that adorns any twenty-something’s apartment. In the mid-2000s, DIY blogs began to explore modifications to some of the more popular, basic items sold by the chain to enhance practicality and style while leveraging its legendary affordability. This movement has led to an entire new industry called “Ikea hacking,” with participants kit-bashing together everything from dog gates to guitar pedalboards to entire libraries from basic Ikea models. Perhaps most intriguingly, a large number of Ikea hacks offer ways to upgrade cheap items into imitations of very expensive ones. One DIY’er enhanced her Ikea couch “…with a set of mid-century modern legs ($70) and a new cover ($120) from an Ikea customization website. The project cost…about one-tenth of the designer version she’d had her eye on and it saved an old piece of furniture from the landfill.” Read more…

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            - Greg
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