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January 20, 2024
I am currently reading “How Infrastructure Works” by engineer and materials science expert Deb Chachra. It’s one of those books that has to be read in sips of about 20 pages or so. To do otherwise would be akin to chugging a bottle of barrel-aged Scotch: a waste of a good thing and far too potent to take in at one time.
One of the most stunning concepts in the book is also one of the most obvious: the systems that make our lives easier, from the water in our taps to the infinitely complex miracle of air travel, are too vast for a single person to ever understand.
It seems like a “duh” moment until you realize that that means within those systems is built an immense amount of trust and cooperation. Every time we turn on a lightbulb or send something through the mail, we are relying on countless people we will never know, working with technologies we will never understand, that have been refined over countless years by even more people we will never know. It’s an unsettling but powerful thought. We are more connected than we think and depend on each other more than we could ever understand.
Our favorites this week
Get going with some of our most popular good news stories of the week
A winter wonderland
The inaugural Mazaalai International Snow and Ice Festival in Mongolia just started a few days ago, and it’s already making a splash. The free event, constructed outside the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, reportedly set a Guinness World Record for most people to descend an ice slide in one hour. As part of the opening festivities, 408 attendees helped secure the win by whooshing down the festival’s 16.4-meter-long ice slide (about 53 feet) one after the other. Other attractions at the festival include a five-meter-high snow and ice sculpture of the country’s protected Gobi bear (Mazaalai in Mongolian) and her cubs, aimed at raising awareness of the critically endangered animal. Mongolian leaders also hope the fantastical event introduces people to a new side of the beautiful East Asian country.
A loyal companion
A hiker on the Lanipo Trail in Kaimuki, Hawaii, called 911 after seeing an unaccompanied dog barking at the edge of a steep slope. After getting the dog to safety, rescuers noticed something else — a bag filled with personal items about 70 feet below where the dog was found. Responders on the ground who were caring for the dog found a name and contact information for its owner on its collar. When their call went unanswered, local police performed a welfare check and found no one was home, indicating something was wrong. Sure enough, further down the slope underneath thick foliage, rescuers found a 35-year-old woman — the owner of the dog that provided some loyal lung power — who had taken a fall during a hike. The crew loaded her onto a rescue stretcher and airlifted her to safety.
Well, that’s a new (or old) one
Wayne State University’s Word Warriors program has released its 2024 list of extremely cool words, and they are a feast for the brain. The program highlights delightful, oddly applicable words that have been lost to time and definitely deserve a renaissance. Among this year’s shortlist are:
• curglaff (n): the shock when one plunges into cold water
• rawgabbit (n): a person who speaks confidently but ignorantly
• thunderplump (n): a heavy lashing of rain during a rainstorm
They actually seem so accurate if you think about it. Of course that’s what a rawgabbit is! Read some other highlights from the list here.
Raise a glass to …
Everyone who shone bright at this year’s Emmy Awards ceremony! Pedro Pascal was big brother goals, escorting his lovely sister Lux on the red carpet. Lux Pascal is a trans model and actress and Pedro has always been her biggest supporter. Then there was Christina Applegate, who made a radiant appearance after announcing her MS diagnosis in 2021. Right and left, people were honoring their families and their heritages (awards season darling Ayo Edebiri honored her mom and dad, who are from Barbados and Nigeria, respectively). Others, like Niecy Nash-Betts, were rightfully honoring themselves! “I want to thank me – for believing in me and doing what they said I could not do. And I want to say to myself in front of all these beautiful people, ‘Go on girl with your bad self. You did that,’” Nash-Betts said in her moving speech. Oh, and Elton John now has an EGOT (an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony). What a night!
Wanna get away?
Don’t let the tropical turquoise waters fool you. This breathtaking vista is on the Isle of Tiree in Scotland, sometimes referred to as the Hawaii of the North. Tiree is one of CNN Travel’s best islands in Europe for getting away from, well, almost everyone. Visitors to Tiree have to take a four-hour ferry ride to get there, but are treated to miles of sparsely-populated beaches, walking trails and cycling routes. Read about more uber-remote dream locations here.
Did you know the first barcode wasn’t a bar at all, but was shaped like a bull’s eye? The earliest patent for what is now a ubiquitous technology, filed in 1949, used concentric circles instead of lines. And the first big adopter of barcode technology? The railroad industry! In the late 1960s, railways started using Kartrak barcodes, which were developed to automatically identify rail cars as they moved past scanners. Even those looked different than barcodes today because they used lines of varying colors that kind of resembled modern art. There are so many other fun facts in this great article about the history of the barcode. Who knew they were so fascinating?
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