"5 COOL THINGS" - weekly emails

5 Cool Things  😎
5 Cool Things:
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.

Why it’s Not Quite Time to Panic about Inflation (Vox)

The big story in economics this week is the measurement of a 6.2 percent yearly inflation rate from a year ago, the highest pace seen since 1990. From gasoline to housing to food, almost everything is rising in price. It’s to be expected that goods tied up in major ports and floating off the coast of cities would increase prices for whatever makes it through, so most economists - and the Federal Reserve - expect inflation to ebb as production smooths out. In this interview with Claudia Sahm, a former Fed economist, it’s also noted that higher rates of inflation can be beneficial, decreasing the real value of outstanding debt, which is typically a boon for lower-income people. However, if inflation, which has been historically low in recent decades, were to return, major questions would surround the government’s response in terms of bond purchases and the raising of the Federal Funds Rate. Read more…

Where Did All the Public Bathrooms Go? (Bloomberg CityLab)

If public bathrooms are a measure of how a society views its citizens, its clear that the US has a ways to go. In big cities like New York, it’s become exceedingly hard to find a place to go in the center of the city, where it seems one must spend money to use a facility. Public bathrooms in America were once much more widespread, following hygiene programs in the late 1800s and enjoying something of a high-water mark in the progressive era of the 1920s. It’s unclear what led to their decline in the middle of the 20th century. One possibility is that a “consumer model of privacy" took hold, i.e., people would pay for the privilege of using a bathroom, rather than expecting it as a tax-funded benefit. In the latter half of the century and on to today, concerns over drug use and security have led to more and more closures — and that was before the 2020 pandemic with its hygienic concerns. However, it can easily be argued that a lack of action in building public facilities represents a societal failure, especially for those who have no other choice. “We put fire hydrants all over the place…why can’t we couple up with those, and build some basic toileting infrastructure?” Read more…


The Brain Can Recall and Reawaken Past Immune Responses (Quanta Magazine)

In Israel, scientists made a surprising discovery as they observed brain cells in mice that became active during inflammation in the abdomen, and were connected to that inflammation when later triggered. It’s another discovery of the power of thought on the rest of the body and it raises new questions about how the body deals with immune responses. Such responses have been noted in allergy sufferers who experience reactions when thinking about or seeing photos of things that they are allergic to, as well as the more common experience of recalling a food that one finds particularly revolting, with its accompanied feeling of nausea. Scientists can’t yet say whether neurons contain memory of an immune response, or something like a description of what’s actually happening. What they have shown is that “this information is encoded even though it may not be consciously experienced.” Read more…

Sodium Batteries May Power Your New Electric Car (Wired)

Most modern batteries, from those found powering smartphones or Teslas, are based on a metal called lithium, which became popular in the early 1990s when Sony introduced the first rechargeable lithium-ion battery. However, here’s another, more sustainable alternative — and it’s the one that powered the first electric cars a hundred years before: sodium. Lithium can be located in some hard-to-reach places. The difficulty of extraction, combined with the value of the substance, has raised concerns that supply chain issues will become increasingly common in a world that relies more and more on battery technology. In contrast, sodium is everywhere — especially, of course, seawater. The downside is that sodium batteries weigh more and have larger ions, meaning that they can’t be used as compactly. In areas like power grid storage and even fast recharging devices, however, researchers hope that the cost-effectiveness of sodium batteries might help us power the future in a more sustainable way. Read more…

iPhones in Old Paintings — Is This Evidence of Time Travelers? (Medium)

Imagine enjoying a beautiful painting from the 19th century — and noticing that one of the figures is holding an iPhone! In this digital age, more and more people are identifying paintings from hundreds of years ago that eerily seem to depict the use of modern-day smartphones, down to the glow of the touchscreen. What’s happening here? Is the phenomenon due to aliens, time travelers, or something else? In fact, experts say, there’s no foul play here at all — we’re just falling victim to an effect called pareidolia, or the ability of our brains to recognize and respond to familiar shapes and patterns, so that our world is more readily understandable. “When we look at these images we see iPhones and not what they were originally composed to represent.  This is because we have all become conditioned by our experiences in the world around us to interpret these as iPhones.” Read more…

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See you next week!
            - Greg
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