"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
07/15/21
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.


This Brilliant Data Visualization Explains Jeff Bezos’ Staggering Wealth One Pixel at a Time (The Verge)

Studies have shown that people tend to misunderstand the distribution of wealth in America today, believing that the wealth of the top 1% is much smaller in proportion to what it actually is. That’s why the creators of this visualization decided to put that wealth to scale by using a single pixel on your screen to represent $1000. As you scroll sideways (which might be easier on a phone screen than on a computer), you’ll first come across the individual fortune of Jeff Bezos, the richest American. If you can make it through that (it’s a lot of scrolling), there follows the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans, comprising nearly 3 trillion dollars. Fortunately, there is a bit of narrative along the way to explain just how much money we’re actually seeing. As the visualization points out, this kind of wealth is literally unimaginable, and it’s pretty astounding that it’s possible for so much of it to be held by so few people. After all, even for hedge fund managers, CEOs, and celebrities that we might see as very wealthy, “…many have not fully grasped the enormous gulf between themselves and the super rich.” Read more…


Voice AI is Scary Good Now. Video Game Actors Hate It. (Input)

Is it fair to voice actors to have their work replicated and altered by means of artificial intelligence? It’s a debate that’s starting to rage on the technological frontier of video games, where developers say that dynamic content, including game choices made by the user, require a model that can adapt to new information by crafting new messages. The method, however, is causing a great deal of concern among actors, who are fearing for their livelihoods. For right now, according to the actors’ union, studios do not have the right to use a performer’s voice for additional content without their permission, but it’s easy to imagine a world where unique voices are generated, cutting out the human element entirely. That would be a mistake, according to the actors, because there are a lot of creative decisions made by human beings that would be sorely missed. Even more ominous is the fear that the technology behind such voice mimicry might fall into the wrong hands. Read more…

 

The Economics of Dollar Stores (The Hustle)

America has slowly become a nation of dollar stores, with more locations than CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target combined. Dollar stores are now a $94 billion dollar industry in the United States, with just three firms controlling 70% of the market: Dollar Tree, its subsidiary Family Dollar, and Dollar General, which now outranks Coca-Cola on the Fortune 100. How does such a bargain-price industry make any money? While certain chains now charge over $1.00 for certain goods, the model relies on snapping up bulk quantities of cheap items and discontinued stock. That allows the stores to keep their per-unit prices extremely low, sometimes under 50 cents, and the typical profit margin to about 1/3 of the item’s price. There’s a darker side to the story, as these bargain-price stores are typically located in lower-income areas and also make money from overpricing smaller-sized items in the hopes that consumers will be too busy or distracted to compare prices with other retailers. Read more…


Can Scientists Map the Entire Seafloor by 2030? (Smithsonian Magazine)

While the land surface of Earth is very extensively mapped — you can zoom in on any part of the world using a web browser and satellite data — the ocean floor is quite another story. In order to map the remaining 71% of the planet that lies underwater, teams of researchers must send unmanned probes deep into the sea to emit sonar waves. The information, while costly to obtain in terms of both time and resources, is valuable for research in a number of fields, including climateology, ecology, and in predicting the potential paths of tsunamis. A project called Seabed 2030 aims to map the entire ocean floor at a useable resolution by the year 2030, which will require collaboration among different agencies and existing projects, as well as additional funding in a field that’s not often highlighted for investment. “There are more than 200 vessels capable of deploying sonar systems,…but the cost of such a feat would be somewhere between $3 billion and $5 billion, which isn’t easy to find in the maritime domain.” Read more…


The Clever Folds That Kept Letters Secret (BBC Future)

In the Late Middle Ages in Europe, communication by handwritten letter was commonplace, but envelopes were not. What prevented anyone besides the intended recipient from reading the letter? While totally preventing snooping was impossible, senders of letters could employ a process called “letterlocking” to ensure that any unauthorized access to its contents would be noticed. This article provides a video demonstration of the letterlocking technique, which basically involves cutting a thin strip out of the original paper, which is woven through a hole made in the folded-up letter. According to research, there were at least 18 different versions used, with some forms becoming very complex. It was all for the purpose of safeguarding sensitive contents, and a broken letter lock has revealed tampering by individuals and even governments intent on censoring or persecuting different people. "This isn't something special that people do on special occasions. This is how you send a letter before the envelope is invented.” Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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