Business is simple: You're a baker, so you bake bread for a living. But then you find yourself taking over a newspaper so you have something to wrap the bread in, then engineering a new breed of pond duck to keep bread demand high, then inventing a sharper breadknife and somehow using it in a murder-for-hire side gig. Because running a business can get really weird, really fast.

Canadian Insurance Companies Try To Control The Weather

Full disclosure: We came up with this headline by picking random words out of our conspiracy theory generator (it consists of a giant metal cage, with words doodled on balls). But by sheer coincidence, it turned out to be true.

Weather control exists, you see -- kind of. When you drop a material called silver iodide from a plane into a cloud, you prime it for letting loose precipitation. This hasn't quite led us to turning the deserts of the world into jungles because you need a raincloud to be already present (which also means there's always a chance that it was going to rain anyway, so we don't know that seeding actually accomplishes anything). But we do try seeding clouds to combat drought, and to release extra snow on ski slopes during the winter. 

a snowman with a carrot nose

Vladimir Haltakov

It's how we're saving the endangered snowman.

Seeding clouds can also release hail, which sounds useful to no one. If anything, it sounds like the sort of thing only the military might try via their secret doomsday division (their public doomsday division can't do it because we signed a treaty saying we won't). But the good thing about getting a cloud to pull its cheeks apart and drop hail is that we're acting preemptively, before the hail grows even bigger and more damaging. 

And who out there has an interest in preventing hail damage, not just upon their own property but upon society in general? No, not the government -- they don't give a crap. We're talking about insurance companies, who have to settle claims after every hailstorm. And so a bunch of Canadian insurance companies formed a group called the Alberta Severe Weather Management Society, and when they predict hail, they take to the skies. The goal is to release hail the size of peas, before it becomes hail the size of tennis balls.

hail of varying size

FCB Excalibur, Gunthercx/WikiCommons

The bottom pic shows smaller hail, assuming that's not just a giant hand. 

For the past 25 years, the group has used radar to track storms and then sends up planes in pairs to engage in "hail suppression." On a bad year, hail can wreak more than $1 billion in damages on the region, so any mitigation feels worth it. And if the insurance companies aren't working on an alternate process to make bigger hail to specifically target the uninsured, well, that's just because polite Canada lacks ambition. And speaking of airplane shenanigans ... 

To Test Wi-Fi, Boeing Has To Fill Planes With Potatoes

A good Wi-Fi signal eliminates every complaint people have about air travel. Tight spaces, crappy movies, a hot catered meal delivered right to your lap that you tell yourself tastes bad just because you're been told it does? You forget all of that if you can turn on a personal device and lose yourself in adult entertainment. ("Adult entertainment," of course, is our euphemism for the refined yet rakish website you are reading right now. Airlines do not let passengers watch porn, except for in first class.)

first class cabin onboard SWISS international airlines airbus A340-400

Fersolieslava/WikiCommons

In first class, the porn is complimentary and performed live.

When Boeing got around to including Wi-Fi capabilities in its aircraft, they had to determine how well the signals travel through cabins. Were there unexpected dead spots? And if so, could airlines pass these seats off on passengers they especially disliked? To find out, Boeing needed to run tests, and they needed to fill the seats in such a way that they simulated an actual occupied airplane. 

The best way would be to get a bunch of people to sit in the seats during the tests, so signals could bounce around them just as happens when in flight. The problem with this, said Boeing, is that people get bored. The actual problem, Boeing neglected to mention, is that people have to get paid (remember, this is the manufacturer doing the testing, not an airline, so filling the plane with customers who pay for the privilege of being there wasn't an option). So in place of people, Boeing filled seats with something they considered the perfect substitute: sacks of potatoes. 

Boeing proudly shared with the press their engineers' ingenuity, which is a little surprising. Not that there's seriously anything wrong with treating potatoes like people (a practice formally referred to as "anthropotatizing"). It's just that, till now, there's a good chance you've only ever heard the phrase "like a sack of potatoes" used when describing something handled roughly and callously, so you'd think they wouldn't want the public knowing that's how they think of people. 

They used 10 tons of potatoes in each test flight -- with fifteen 10-pound sacks masquerading as each passenger, that adds up to about 130 potato people, which sounds about right. Afterward, they donated the potatoes to a food bank. Was this so they could use radiation-activated potatoes to control poor people's minds? The conspiracy balls say 'yes'!

A Nuclear Site Snipes Birds And Stuffs Their Bodies In A Fridge

Nuclear power plants don't really have piles of radioactive waste hanging about in various worrying ways. No, for that you need to go to nuclear dump sites, which it seems aren't nearly as safe as they should be. Take Sellafield, where most of Britain's nuclear waste goes for processing or deep storage. The place has dealt with some 50,000 tons of the stuff over the years, including spent fuel sent by countries with no treatment plants of their own. You'd hope the most dangerous stuff would be sealed behind concrete so thick that not even prayers can penetrate it. It's a little worrying, then, to learn that radioactive fuel rods sit in open pools of water:

That picture is from 2014, and Sellafield has since started clearing the 300,000 gallons of uncovered radioactive sludge from the 60-year-old pools. The most disturbing part of the photo, though, might be that one bird chilling on the water. What happens when that seagull gets a little sludge on its feet and then takes off, with your shoulder as its newly radioactive destination? "I'm a Disney princess!" you'll gleefully shout, because you're about to be locked in a tower, a threat to us all?

Something had to be done about the birds. You can't keep birds out with fences, and while Sellafield could have thrown a tarp over the pools long ago, you can't put a birdproof dome over the entire 2-square-mile site. So management came up with a solution: They hired bird snipers. A team of sharpshooters keeps watch over the vast site, and every time they see a bird, they shoot it dead.

dead seagull noordeinde, leiden

Vysotsky/Wiki Commons

Birdemic averted.

This creates its own problem, however. The bird corpse is now officially low-level radioactive waste, and they don't have any protocols in place for how to deal with radioactive waste that decays organically. In fact, laws forbid them from trying just about solution that you can think of, from burying the birds to cremating them to deep-frying them and selling them at fairs. 

Last time the media checked in on the bird dilemma, Sellafield was just stuffing the bodies in an increasingly crowded freezer. That should buy them some time as they move on to more pressing matters, like their 2,000 decaying plastic bottles full of uranium and plutonium. 

Trading Companies Built Their Own 3,000-Mile-Cable To Trade Slightly Faster

If you're interested in making some money through the stock market, you could invest your money in companies that will grow long-term. IF YOU'RE A COWARD. The real money, according to Wall Street sharks (whom we are not encouraging you to follow; legally, nothing in this article is financial advice), lies in intraday trading, through which you predict a stock price's movement in the ultra-short term. 

stock market graph

Maxim Hopman/Unsplash

And to maximize your profits, [deleted by our lawyers, this is not financial advice]

This kind of trading involves a lot of self-fulfilling prophecy. Let's say a company's stock price hits 100. The number is arbitrary and says nothing about how the company is doing. But this psychological milestone might convince investors that this is a good time to buy. Not because anyone thinks the company is on an upward trajectory but because everyone thinks that everyone else thinks now's a good time to buy -- and since everyone thinks it, everyone is right

So the question isn't whether you should buy when it hits 100. The question is: Are you quick enough to buy as soon as it hits 100, before everyone else's purchases send the price even higher, and then quick enough to sell at the higher price and leave the greater fool holding the falling stock. If you're relying on your own brain and thumbs, sorry, you're not quick enough -- computers setting automatic trades beat you. But even those computers race against each other to get info first so they can trade fastest. 

5-finger robot arm by Autumn Siegel

Victoria Lee Croasdell

 

It's the nerdiest season of Battlebots ever.

There's not much you can do to get info faster than everyone else, because no matter how good your connection, data can't move faster than the speed of light. If you're in, say, London, you're ultimately getting data from New York along the same transatlantic cable as everyone else. Unless you build your own. Like if you're Hibernia Atlantic, a telecom company catering to high-frequency traders.

Hibernia laid down a new cable called Hibernia Express, one about 300 miles shorter than existing alternatives. Constructing it took years and cost $300 million. The resulting cable transmits data across the Atlantic just 5.2 milliseconds faster than pre-2015 cables. Those 5 milliseconds make no difference to just about anyone, except for traders, who gain a huge advantage.

At least, that was the pitch. Some have pointed out that if every robo-trader switches to the new cable, none will gain an advantage over all the others. Hibernia makes a bunch of money over the venture but no one actually benefits. If so, then it sounds like traders are getting a taste of their own medicine. 

A Magazine Made Up The Pledge of Allegiance To Sell US Flags

Before being forced to go broke by giving away everything online for free, magazines went a different route: They sold printed issues, for money. But even this lucrative business model of "charging money" left them wanting more, which is why they came up with all kinds of gimmicks to bring in extra revenue.

In 1891, the magazine The Youth's Companion invited readers to write and ask for cards bearing the following message: "This Certificate, representing a 10 cent contribution, entitles the holder to One Share in the patriotic influence of the School Flag." When the enterprising tyke had sold 100 of these 19th-century NFTs, they'd send the proceeds to The Youth's Companion and receive a flag in return. That's about $300 per flag, in 2021 dollars. 

US flag with 44 stars

jacobolus/Wiki Commons

 

Or $6.82 per star, in 1891 stars. 

And why were young readers so willing to put in unpaid hours as salespeople raising money to buy flags? Because of the campaign started by The Youth's Companion called the "Flag Over Every Schoolhouse" movement. They advertised this movement to schools directly as well as in their publication, and to really give schools a reason to want flags, the magazine created the Pledge of Allegiance. 

The magazines' marketing department came up with the pledge, and had an on-staff minister to do the wording (though not the "under God" clause, which was added decades later). They got Congress's support, aiming to get the whole country reciting the pledge by the 400th anniversary of Columbus' birth. It seems like the magazine also did care about instilling national pride, but it was the subscriptions department who were behind these campaigns; the editorial department wanted no part in it. They sold hundreds of thousands of flags at what sounds like significantly above cost.

flag campaign from an old magazine The Youth's Companion

The Youth's Companion

 

Fortunately, this would be the last time anyone invoked the flag for selfish reasons. 

If the Pledge began as a moneymaking scheme, that explains a lot. Because the whole tradition of kids reciting to the flag is kinda BS, isn't it? Oh, we're not going to debate here whether it makes sense for children to swear a loyalty oath every morning -- we'll let you argue among yourselves what patriotism is. We're just saying that it's kind of ridiculous to pledge to the flag, which is a symbol, leaving "the republic for which it stands" just a secondary object for your allegiance.

Particularly since few kids, when they start saying the pledge, have the slightest clue what "for which it stands" means. Millions of American kids grow up thinking they're swearing dual loyalty, to both the American flag and to the Republic of Forwichitstan. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see. 

Top image: Simeon Jacobson, Bethany Laird/Unsplash

 

 

 

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