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The Decimal Point Is 150 Years Older Than Previously Believed


Wednesday, February 28th, 2024


Today’s newsletter is: 920 words; 4 min.


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) “unequivocally” wants to avoid a shutdown. Schumer’s comment came after a reportedly “intense” meeting between President Joe Biden and congressional leaders on Tuesday.

A cyberattack on a subsidiary of the nation’s largest insurer has disrupted prescription drug orders. The attack on Change Healthcare, a division of UnitedHealthcare, was discovered last week and was reportedly carried out by the notorious Blackcat group. 

U.S. home prices reached a record high in December. While prices declined on a month-over-month basis, December marked the seventh consecutive month that home prices reached a year-over-year record high, according to the S&P Case-Shiller index .

Starbucks and Workers United agreed to begin discussions on a “framework” to reach a collective bargaining agreement. The two sides also hope to resolve their ongoing legal disputes that were brought after the nationwide labor campaign began in 2021.


A new study found the rate of antidepressants being prescribed to young people surged during the pandemic


Antidepressant Prescriptions for Young People Surged During the Pandemic

A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan found the rate of antidepressants being dispensed to young people (ages 12 to 25) rose 64% faster than normal after the onset of the COVID pandemic in March 2020.

Driven by females: 

  • The study found the increased rate was driven by females, who, after March 2020, saw rates of antidepressant dispensing jump 130% faster among girls ages 12 to 17 and 57% faster among young female adults ages 18 to 25.

  • In contrast, the rate dispensed to male adolescents stayed level and the rate dispensed to young male adults actually decreased. However, the researchers believe the rates among males are more likely due to them skipping health care visits during the pandemic rather than improved mental health.



A new study found Antarctica’s “Doomsday Glacier” began retreating three decades earlier than previously thought


Antarctica’s “Doomsday Glacier” Started Melting Three Decades Earlier Than Scientists Thought

A new study by researchers at the University of Houston found Antarctica’s “Doomsday Glacier” began its rapid pace of melting in the 1940s, about 30 years earlier than previously believed, likely after an extreme El Niño event warmed the region.

Why it matters: 

  • Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier (pictured above) is the widest in the world (about the size of Florida) and is nicknamed the “Doomsday Glacier” for its potential to cause devastating global sea level rise.

  • Scientists have observed its melting since the 1970s, but since satellite data only goes back to 1978, it wasn’t clear when exactly the glacier began retreating.



A new report found speaking roles for women in Hollywood declined in 2023


Don’t Let Barbie Fool You, Speaking Roles for Women Were Down in 2023 

A new report by researchers at San Diego State University found the overall percentage of speaking roles that went to women in the 100 top-grossing films of the year declined from 37% in 2022 to 35% in 2023, while only 18% of the films had more women than men in speaking roles and just 5% had equal shares. 

Hollywood problem: 

  • The report examined 2,200 characters in the top-grossing films of 2023, finding the percentage of films with women protagonists also declined from 33% in 2022 to 28% last year.

  • Of the women characters in 2023, 33% were in their 30s and only 15% were in their 40s, marking a decline in representation that men on screen don’t experience until they reach their 50s.


A new study found the decimal point is 150 years older than previously believed


The Decimal Point Is 150 Years Older Than Previously Believed

Ah, the humble decimal point, everyone’s favorite thing to add to a unit of time when trying to convince others of how quick an annoying task will seem (“C’mon, it’ll take like .2 seconds”).

  • But, have you ever thought about where it came from?

If you’re like me, you assumed it was wizards or whoever picks the math stuff we live by, but, if you’re like the gaggle of nerds at Trinity Western University in Canada, you combed through 15th-century astronomical tables to discover the real culprit: a dude named Giovanni Bianchini.  

Gio’s big point:

Bianchini (pictured above presenting Emperor Frederick III with his book Tabulae Astrologiae) was an Italian merchant and mathematician who used decimal points in a 1440 text on calculating stellar coordinates.

  • Bianchini worked for a Venetian ruling family and was tasked with calculating horoscopes and astrology (no, the stuff didn’t work back then either), and in some tables of his text, he uses the decimal point just as we do today.

Why it matters:

People have been breaking up numbers for centuries, but most mathematicians before the Middle Ages used fractions, since a consistent system of decimals wasn’t believed to be established until 1593, when German mathematician Christopher Clavius used them in an astronomical treatise.


  • 150 - The number of stores Macy’s is closing nationwide, including its flagship Union Square location in San Francisco, in an effort to reinvigorate sales and focus on its higher-performing operations, like Bloomingdale’s. The company is also facing takeover attacks from activist investors.


Long Video. Learn about the war that ended the ancient world. (14 min) 

Short Video. UV light kills everything, so why isn’t it everywhere? (8 min)

Fun Video. Relive Felix Baumgartner’s 2012 record supersonic fall from space. (3 min)

Good Read. Read about why people have different tastes in music, according to an education expert. (882 words; 4 min)

Neat List. Check out WalletHub’s list of the happiest U.S. cities.


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Written by Ryan Wittler