January 6, 2016

National Geographic - Why We (Still) Can’t Live Without Rubber 5-15min

Because rubber is so common, so unobtrusive, so dull, it may not seem worth a second glance. This would be a mistake. Rubber has played a largely hidden role in global political and environmental history for more than 150 years. You say you want an industrial revolution? If so, you need three raw materials: iron, to make steel for machinery; fossil fuels, to power that machinery; and rubber, to connect and protect all the moving parts. Try running an automobile without a fan belt or a radiator hose; very bad things will happen within a minute. Want to send coolant around an engine using a rigid metal tube instead of a flexible rubber hose? Good luck keeping it from vibrating to pieces. Having enough steel and coal to make and drive industrial machinery means nothing if the engines fry because you can’t cool them. ... To the extent that most people think about rubber at all, they likely picture a product made from synthetic chemicals. In fact, more than 40 percent of the world’s rubber comes from trees, almost all of them H. brasiliensis. Compared with natural rubber, synthetic rubber is usually cheaper to produce but is weaker, less flexible, and less able to withstand vibration. For things that absolutely cannot fail, from condoms to surgeon’s gloves to airplane tires, natural rubber has long been the top choice. ... Iron can be found around the globe; so can fossil fuels. But rubber today is grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia, because the region has a unique combination of suitable climate and infrastructure. Despite all the ups and downs in the global economy, the demand for tires continues to grow, which has created something akin to a gold rush in Southeast Asia. For millions of people in this poor part of the world, the rubber boom has helped bring prosperity

BuzzFeed - The Inside Story Of How A Food Startup Cracked 5-15min

Good Eggs was founded in July 2011 in San Francisco. The two software developers behind it wanted to build an efficient way for small farmers and producers to reach consumers who were interested in fresh, beautiful ingredients but didn’t necessarily have the time to hunt them down at a farmers market or a grocery store (which probably wouldn’t carry them to begin with). It was a promising idea, well-positioned at the white-hot Venn-diagram center of some of the biggest themes in tech right now: tech-enabled on-demand delivery, food, eye-popping funding rounds. Good Eggs started operating on a limited basis in the Bay Area in 2012, and by the end of the following year, it had expanded to full service there, opened three additional hubs around the country, and was on its way to hiring hundreds of employees. To date, it has raised almost $53 million in venture capital. ... But by Good Eggs’ own admission — and as Stambler’s sudden email indicated — building the business was immensely, unexpectedly difficult. On-demand delivery, perishable inventory, strict regulations, fluctuating prices, and city-specific quirks added up to a host of logistical challenges that can’t always be neatly predicted or solved by software.

Priceonomics - The Guinness Brewer Who Revolutionized Statistics < 5min

Guinness brewer William S. Gosset’s work is responsible for inspiring the concept of statistical significance, industrial quality control, efficient design of experiments and, not least of all, consistently great tasting beer. ... Because he used a pseudonym, his name isn’t even familiar to most people who frequently use his most famous discovery. Gosset is the “student” of the Student’s T-Test, a method for interpreting what can be extrapolated from a small sample of data. ... Born in 1876 in Canterbury, England, Gosset entered a world of enormous privilege. His father was a Colonel in the Royal Engineers, and though he intended to follow in his footsteps, he was unable to due to bad eyesight. Instead, Gosset attended the prestigious Winchester College, and then Oxford, where he studied mathematics and natural sciences. Soon after graduating from Oxford, in 1899, Gosset joined the Guinness brewery in Dublin, Ireland, as an experimental brewer.

Aeon - The cold fusion horizon 5-15min

Is cold fusion truly impossible, or is it just that no respectable scientist can risk their reputation working on it? ... cold fusion (or LENR, for ‘low-energy nuclear reaction’) is the controversial idea that nuclear reactions similar to those in the Sun could, under certain conditions, also occur close to room temperature. ... was popularised in 1989 by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, who claimed to have found evidence that such processes could take place in palladium loaded with deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). A few other physicists, including the late Sergio Focardi at Bologna, claimed similar effects with nickel and ordinary hydrogen. But most were highly skeptical, and the field subsequently gained, as Wikipedia puts it, ‘a reputation as pathological science’. ... We know that huge amounts of energy are locked up in metastable nuclear configurations, trapped like water behind a dam. There’s no known way to get useful access to it at low temperatures. ... There are credible reports that a 1MW version of his device, producing many times the energy that it consumes, has been on trial in an industrial plant in North Carolina for months, with good results so far. And Rossi’s US backer and licensee, Tom Darden – who has a long track record of investment in pollution-reducing industries – has been increasingly willing to speak out in support of the LENR technology field. ... We should certainly be very cautious about such surprising claims, unless and until we amass a great deal of evidence. But this is not a good reason for ignoring such evidence in the first place, or refusing to contemplate the possibility that it might exist.