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#8: Chip shortage, Joe Rogan, GMO's, Thorium Reactors, Kids, and more!

Hey everyone!

A lot has changed since the last issue of this newsletter: I became a father of a healthy baby boy!

I’m thinking: do I already register a domain name, Twitter handle, and YouTube channel for him? 😅

We’re a bit sleep-deprived at the moment, so please forgive me for any typos that might have found their way in this newsletter.

Enjoy the read,
Xavier

🤓 Cool Stuff I Found on the Internet

The Chip Shortage Keeps Getting Worse.

We all heard it in the news: there is a shortage of computer chips, impacting our daily lives. The Playstation 5 is almost impossible to buy, and car manufacturers need to suspend production.

But why is there a shortage of chips? Can’t we just make more? Turns out that modern chips are incredibly difficult and expensive to make. Manufacturing capacity has been planned years in advance, so it’s hard to scale up production quickly.

This article walks you through all the dynamics at play.

Joe Rogan, confined to Spotify, is losing influence

Joe Rogan’s podcast has been exclusive to Spotify since January 2021. This article investigates the impact of that exclusivity. They looked at how many followers a guest gained after being featured on Rogan’s show. They found that guests are getting way fewer followers since he moved to Spotify, indicating that fewer people listen to the show.

There are multiple possible explanations for this. Maybe it’s because Spotify isn’t available in all countries. Or maybe people dislike Spotify’s app, which is very limited compared to other podcasting apps out there.

Old iPhones become faster if you change the region to France

Apple introduced new iPhones this week but did you know that you can speed up old iPhones by changing the location to France?

Apple says it does this to protect the batteries and prevent devices from shutting down unexpectedly.

Research could yield increased food production, boost drought tolerance

By manipulating RNA, researchers were able to boost crop yields by 50%. Plants grew longer and deeper roots which helped them better withstand stress from drought. It also made their photosynthesis more efficient.

🧬 Whether you like it or not, genetically modified crops are here to stay. In fact, most of our fruits and vegetables are already genetically modified. This helps them grow better, be more resistant to pests (which reduces pesticide use), and better withstand droughts.

The rise of weedkilling robots

Farmers are under pressure to reduce their use of pesticides. These contaminate the ground, affect wildlife, and have been linked to increased cancer risk.

A potential alternative? This weed-killing robot! It can zap 100,000 weeds per hour with a laser. A machine learning model is used to detect weeds so it doesn’t zap the actual crops.

AWS adds an extra 5.5M IPv4 addresses

Amazon has purchased over 5 million new IP addresses for its cloud business. How significant is that? There can only be 4.2 billion IP addresses (v4), which means that Amazon owns almost 2% of all addresses!

How much does an IP address cost? Around $45-50! And since IPv4 addresses are becoming very scarce, it could be a good (short-term) investment.

Is handedness determined by genetics?

I had an interesting discussion at work the other day. We wondered if handedness was determined by genetics or the result of growing up and observing adults.

It turns out there’s no consensus around this! Scientists have identified over 40 genes that play a role in being left or right-handed. But here’s where it becomes weird: children of left-handed parents are most likely to be right-handed.

⚡️ Energy & Environment

World's biggest wind turbine shows the disproportionate power of scale

A company in China is currently constructing the largest offshore wind turbine. When operational, it will generate 16MW of clean electricity, enough to power 20,000 homes. But what’s interesting is that it’s only 19% bigger than the company’s previous model, yet generates 45% more electricity! Benefit? They have to build fewer of these units, which is handy when placing them in rough conditions such as the open sea.

Leaded Gas Was a Known Poison the Day It Was Invented

Lead is poisonous to humans, and yet we added it to gasoline as an additive to prevent engine knocking. Burning lead causes all sorts of health problems, so why did we do it?

The reason: money. There were other anti-knocking additives at the time, most notably ethanol, which we use today. However, General Motors didn’t like ethanol because it couldn’t be patented, and they couldn’t control its production. Wow!

Leaded fuels have now been banned, and according to the UN, that has saved 1.2 million lives and avoided $2.4 trillion in healthcare costs.

China prepares to test thorium-fuelled nuclear reactor

China heavily invested in developing new nuclear reactor technology. One of those is a thorium-based reactor which is cooled by liquid salt. This is safer than traditional reactors because they operate under lower pressure (reduced risk of explosive meltdowns).

Thorium is interesting because it’s a waste product of the rare-earth mining industry, and it’s more abundant than uranium.

👶🏻 Babies

Like any proud dad, I can now add a section about infants in my newsletter. I’m fascinated by how babies grow and make sense of the world around them. Growing up must be extremely hard!

I can’t promise that this will be a recurring section in the newsletter, but for now, here are a few things that I found interesting:

Toxoplasmosis: The Cat Poop Parasite That's Probably in Your Brain

Here in Belgium, pregnant women are screened for toxoplasmosis, an infection that is usually harmless but could cause miscarriages. So, where does it come from? From the world’s most common parasite: Toxoplasma gondii.

One of the ways the parasite spreads is through cat feces, so it comes as no surprise that most cat owners are hosting this parasite. But fear not: it’s not dangerous when you’re healthy and non-pregnant.

Baby Sight Tool -- Help my baby is broken!

Newborn babies have poor eyesight. They see in greyscale, and everything that’s further than 20-30cm is very blurry. This is why it’s important to keep your face close to babies so they can study your face and learn to recognize it.

This tool shows you what a baby sees at various stages between 0 and 12 months.

Changes to the Areola During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

So babies have bad eyesight. So how do they find mom’s nipple when it’s feeding time? Aha! Nature has figured out that problem.

The areola (the area around the nipple) darkens during pregnancy. This is due to the increase of melanin, a hormone that darkens our hair, skin, and eyes. It’s believed that this helps babies to latch on more easily.


That was it for this edition of the Simply Explained newsletter. Thanks for reading all the way to the end. I’m going back to changing diapers and cuddling with my newborn.

See you next month!
Xavier

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