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#7: Smartphones, WW2, SpaceX, Leap seconds, Battery innovation, and more!

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Thanks for still being subscribed to this newsletter. I hope I'm not boring you with these random bits of "cool" information.

This month, I have some thought-provoking 🤔 subjects for you.

I hope you enjoy this edition, and as always: reply with feedback if you have any!

Stay curious,

👨‍🏫 Simply Explained

I didn't post any videos during the previous month. I'm currently working on some educational videos for actual classrooms!

I just wanted to share an update of my YouTube spam filter: it's been running very well. So far, it has automatically deleted 190 spam comments. However, it missed 132 spam comments, so I keep my eye out for those and periodically retrain the model.

🤩 My favorite YouTube channels

I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite YouTube channels with you. Many of them have inspired me to start my channel, and I've learned a lot from them as well. They're listed in no particular order:

SmarterEveryDay, Stuff Made Here, Veritasium, Vsauce (2, 3), PolyMatter, Tom Scott, Physics Girl, The Vintage Space, Curious Droid, Kurzgesagt - In a Nutshell, PBS Space Time, NileRed, Andymation, Colin Furze, Mark Rober, Tom Stanton, Chain Bear, AntsCanada, CGP Grey, MinuteEarth, Minutephysics, Beedle The Bardcore, and last but not least: Simply Explained 😆

🤓 Cool Stuff I Found on the Internet

The most unbelievable things about life before smartphones

An entertaining read about "the good old days." before we had electronics in every nook and cranny. Here are two quotes from the piece:

I used to get lost all the time. I'd ask for directions, look for landmarks, fold maps, carry a guidebook, and keep an atlas in the glove compartment. I never knew when the next train was coming. I waited around a lot.

I rarely got what I wanted and, when I did, I had to wait at least 8-10 days for it to be delivered.

🤔 While it's fun to read, it also made me question my behavior. I'm taking my smartphone out for pretty much everything. So much of "the moment" is lost when you do that.

Road warriors: American trucks and SUVs are now longer than the tanks that fought in World War II

Surprising fact: American SUVs are now longer than World War 2 tanks. Uhm, what? This was very surprising to me as a European. I must assume that Americans think of our cars as Matchboxes.

Leap seconds: Causing Bugs Even When They Don't Happen

Bert Hubert is back with another great article on leap seconds. In short: we need to compensate for the fact that Earth doesn't rotate at a steady pace. Instead, it speeds up and slows down slightly.

Leap seconds (and timekeeping in general) have been very tricky for computers. Did anyone say Y2K? Anyway, I thought this was a non-issue, but leap seconds cause all sorts of issues and will even impact GPS. That took me down the rabbit hole of learning how GPS works (essentially very precise clocks in space).

SpaceX installed 29 Raptor engines on a Super Heavy rocket

SpaceX is making incredible progress on its Super Heavy rocket. They now have a prototype of the first stage with 29 Raptor engines on it! By comparison, the Falcon 9 has "only" 9 engines.

Getting this amount of rockets to work together has been challenging. Only the Soviets attempted something similar with with the N1 rocket, and that wasn't a success.

Apple will start scanning your photos

Starting with iOS15, Apple will scan all photos shared through iCloud for known instances of child abuse. For this, they'll use a hashing algorithm called Neural Hash.

🤔 But there are many concerns. Should Apple do this? Does it invade our privacy? Does this open Pandora's box? Could future governments require Apple to scan for things like anti-government signs at protests?

I think this is the right thing to do, but I recognize that this is a slippery slope.

Apple has also responded to these concerns.

Apple AirPod batteries are almost impossible to replace, showing the need for right-to-repair reform

Apple AirPod batteries are almost impossible to replace, showing the need for right-to-repair reform

AirPod's are amazing. I have a pair of them, and I use them every day. However, they aren't serviceable. If their tiny batteries start to degrade, your only option is to buy new ones.

Last year, Apple shipped over 70 million AirPods. Unfortunately, all of these carry an expiration date, and they'll likely end up in landfills after their lifetime. That's crazy! Some companies are now specializing in replacing the batteries inside AirPods to give them new life.

🤔 Should we instead mandate that products should be serviceable and repairable?

Why we can stop worrying and love the particle accelerator

What would happen if you stuck your head inside a particle accelerator? Apart from getting an insane amount of energy through your head, you would be relatively okay.

Soviet scientist Anatoli Bugorski can attest to this. His head was in a particle accelerator when a safety mechanism failed. The damage? He saw a flash of light but felt no pain. He's still alive today but occasionally suffers from seizures, and half of his face is paralyzed (it also appears younger than the other half).

⚡️ Energy

Tesla's Battery Supplier CATL Just Unveiled Sodium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-Ion batteries are fantastic but also have some shortcomings. For example, they degrade over time, don't do well in low temperatures, and use exotic materials like Cobalt and Nickel.

Contemporary Amperex Technology has now made a Sodium-Ion battery that alleviates some of these issues. Their batteries store less energy, but they can charge faster (80% in 15 minutes), perform better in low temperatures, and are free of Lithium, Cobalt, and Nickel.

The company plans to start producing them in 2023 as part of a hybrid battery pack.

Top 5% Polluting Power Plants Account For 73% Of Global Emissions

Researchers looked at the most polluting power plants in the world. They concluded that the top 5% of most polluting plants are responsible for 73% of the world's emissions for electricity generation. These plants are very inefficient, polluting between 28% and 75% more than their peers.

A "quick win" would be to convert these plants to natural gas, which would reduce emissions of the whole energy sector by almost 30%. Capture the carbon, and that reduction would be almost 50%. Wow!

🦠 SARS-CoV-2

And last but not least: some news about our ongoing battle against COVID19.

Commission approves Novavax coronavirus vaccine deal

Europe has approved the use of the Novavax vaccine. But I was more interested in the technology behind it.

The Novavax vaccine is a protein vaccine. It contains Spike proteins that were made in the lab. That's different from mRNA vaccines which trick our bodies into producing these spikes.

COVID isolation: Are our immune systems out of practice?

In 2020 and 2021, we saw very few Influenza cases because of the COVID19 restrictions. Wearing masks, washing hands, and keeping a distance prevents many viruses from spreading, not just SARS-CoV-2.

We're currently seeing reductions in many types of infections: measles (-86%), whooping cough (-64%), rotavirus (-83%), norovirus (-79%).

🤔 That raises the question: are our immune systems getting out of shape because we're less exposed to germs? Actually no. The immune system is not a muscle that needs regular exercise. Instead, our bodies are constantly under attack.

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