It’s an oddly stormy July day here in Southern California (a bit worrisome because I have outdoor theatre tickets tonight). Still, storms make it a perfect time for some stew. I’ve also got two other themed articles brewing on the back burners (one on food, and one on cybersecurity), but the haven’t quite set up right yet. So let’s dig into the stew:
- Benefitting from the Drought. Having a pool is a headache. You’ve got to keep it full; you’ve got to keep it clean. Additionally, when there is a drought, you worry about the water lost to evaporation… and leaks. Further, if you have a leak, think of the water bill if you have to drain and refill it to repair. I’m telling you this because some niche businesses benefit from a drought: In particular, a pool repair man who is able to repair pools under water has more work than he can handle. He’s developed a pool repair compound (trade secret) that can be applied and cure under water, meaning that pools do not require draining for repair. I found this very interesting, as I suspect my pool to have another leak… and for that leak to be somewhere deep where I can’t find it. During the summer, it is hard to differentiate water lost to a leak from water lost to evaporation.
- No One Ever Plans to Be A Mortician. This is one of my favorite phrases… and so here’s an article about morticians. Specifically, it is about two Los Angeles morticians who are trying to effect a radical shakeup of the undertaking business. What they want to do is return death to the home. In other words, people are removed from death and their loved ones. People used to die at home; now they die in hospitals. They are handled in isolation by undertakers, who pump them full of chemicals to make them look alive. These two young morticians work with families to facilitate what the two call a “more natural” death — no formaldehyde cocktail, no pods that fill hollow eyes, no mouth former, no satin-lined casket, no metal vault. The goal is to promote home funerals. If family members care to, they can undress, bathe, and cool the body with ice themselves or they can watch them do so. Interesting concept.
- The Rebirth of Vinyl. If you purchase music these days, you’ve probably heard about the rebirth of vinyl records; quite suprising in this day of digital music and CDs. But not everyone thinks it will last. In particular, Noel Paul Stookey, of Peter Paul and Mary, thinks the current resurgence of vinyl is just a fad. Specifically, he thinks a trend to oversampling will eliminate the sound advantage, but the tactile and emotional advantage will remain. Then again, if you don’t have a place or way to listen to the music you own, what difference does it make.
- Invisible Girlfriends. On the Internet, there’s a service for everything — even being an invisible girlfriend who is there only in text messages. This service is provided in a way similar to a Mechanical Turk: it is crowdsourced. What is it like to be an Invisible Girlfriend? Funny you should ask: Someone wrote an article about the experience. This seems the perfect subject for a Reply All episode.
- Magnets and Plutonium. Pluto has been in the news, so why not Plutonium. Plutonium is an odd metal: based on where it is in the periodic table, one would expect it to be magnetic — yet it isn’t. Scientists have just started to figure out why. The reason is that plutonium can have four, five or six electrons in the outer shell in the ground state (they previously thought the number was fixed); further, not only does it fluctuate between the three different configurations, it is in all three at the same time. Because the number of electrons in plutonium’s outer shell keeps changing, the unpaired electrons in the outer shell can never line up in a magnetic field and so plutonium can’t become magnetic.
- Taking Control of Your Digital Life. One of the things that was nice about Livejournal was the ability to see what was happening with your friends chronologically, back to the point where you had last done so. Facebook and their algorithms made that difficult: you were never sure if you were seeing everything from everyone — Facebook tried to bring up what it thought was most important. That all may be changing. Supposedly, Facebook is going to soon let you bypass their algorithm. After years of sorting news feeds primarily by algorithm, Facebook is letting users choose what they want to see first.An update to Facebook’s iOS app expands the existing “News Feed Preferences” section with a way to choose whose updates appear at the top of the timeline. A similar update is coming to Facebook’s Android app and desktop website in the coming weeks. Users can check out the new settings by pressing the “More” button in the Facebook app’s bottom-right corner, then tapping on “News Feed Preferences” and selecting “Prioritize who to see first.” This brings up a list of friends and Pages that users can mark as favorites. Unread updates from favorite contacts will always appear at the top of the News Feed, overriding Facebook’s predictive algorithms.
That’s it — your stew for the weekend. Let’s now hope that the storm (we’ve got thunder and rain as I type this) doesn’t cancel tonight’s theatre. Update: It did 🙁