TECHNOLOGY

Weekender

‘World’s most powerful battery’

RESEARCHERS in Australia say they have developed the world’s most powerful rechargeable battery using lithium-sulfur, said to perform four times better than the strongest batteries currently available.
What’s more, these lithium-sulfur batteries are lighter and cheaper than the widely used lithium-ion batteries and can be produced cost-effectively and in an environmentally friendly manner, the researchers say.
The innovation, made by researchers from Monash University in Clayton, Australia, comes as the limits of the current lithium-ion batteries are being tested by their growing use in cars, smartphones and countless other devices.
At the heart of the new battery, still in development, is a particularly robust sulfur electrode, which the team around Monash researcher Mahdokht Shaibani presented in the US journal Science Advances.
The technology could also prove useful in aviation, where planes need to maintain a low weight, according to Holger Althues from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS in Dresden, participating in the research.
While they are larger than their lithium-ion counterparts, lithium sulfur cells can store more energy at the same weight.
One disadvantage of the lithium-sulfur battery, however, is that the cathode expands and contracts noticeably when absorbing and releasing lithium. This often causes tiny fractures in the material, so that the cell wears out quickly.
However, the Australian research team says it has developed and patented a promising solution to this problem.
“This approach not only favours high performance data and a long service life, but also simple and extremely cost-effective production using water-based processes,” Monash researcher Matthew Hill said. “And it can lead to a significant reduction in environmentally hazardous waste.”
– dpa


Burnout: ‘Sick and tired of feeling sick’

“I was working non-stop. The company was almost like a love affair. I call it ‘my greatest love affair’, because it felt so, so important.
“My identity was so wrapped up with work. If I wasn’t doing that job, I didn’t really know who I was.”
In 2017, Amber Coster was a glamorous highflyer in a senior role at a successful tech start-up, in her late 20s and travelling the world.
“On paper, my life looked incredible,” she says.
But she was ignoring some significant signs that all was not well.
“I used to say I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired,” Amber says.
And in addition to chronic fatigue and nausea, she was having migraines, extreme abdominal pain, skin rashes and eczema. Her GP diagnosed a recurrence of teenage glandular fever. And Amber, who lives in London, took two weeks off work to recover. But things got worse.
“I lost my words – I couldn’t speak properly,” she says. “I’d sit at dinner with my partner and ask him to ‘pass the post’ instead of ‘the water’. I couldn’t read numbers.
“I couldn’t walk down to the shops – I’d have to sit down on somebody’s garden wall.”
As the two weeks off turned into six months, doctors carried out countless tests. One told her she had the blood-test results of “a 20-year-old Olympian”.
“I just cried,” she says. “I knew that there was something wrong and I felt crazy.”
What the doctors didn’t know – and Amber herself hadn’t confronted – was she had been working extremely hard. She had regularly been getting up at 05:30 to send emails, working through until 23:30, when she fell into bed, and cancelling weekend plans in order to do yet more work – all the while telling her team to ensure they made time to relax.
Nobody had said anything to her about her own routine. Even when she had made an effort to spend fewer hours working, she had felt unable to switch off.
She describes the company, where she had been a senior manager, as “a very aggressive, high-sales, revenue-first organisation”. Its product was software enabling other businesses to run 24-7 and Amber says she had felt like she was becoming a part of the tech herself.
“We spoke about greatness a lot. And we spoke about ‘lion culture’.
“We spoke about being strong and we spoke about being brave and doing things that other people don’t do. We spoke about being ‘exceptional’.” Eventually, after she turned to a psychiatrist, Amber realised it was her mental health rather than her body that was, in her words, “broken”.
Physical symptoms of burnout are a common warning sign, sleep expert and author Dr Nerina Ramlakhan says. “I’ve seen a great deal of this – and I’m seeing more and more of it. The way in which we’re using technology and information and screens puts us very much ‘in our head’.
“If we were paying more attention to what’s happening in the body and getting off that mental treadmill, we would notice the niggles, the little aches and pains, the little early warning signals long before they become huge, great crescendos and screams for help.” – BBC


Policing the internet

IN THIS digital self-publishing era people can record and produce their own content, a lot of horrific stuff that clearly breaches websites’ taste and decency guidelines. A growing army of moderators has the unenviable task of sifting through it all, sometimes at considerable cost to their mental health.
Shawn Speagle worked as an online content moderator for six months in 2018. He’s still scarred by the experience.
“One of my first videos that I remember looking at was two teenagers grabbing an iguana by the tail and they smashed it onto the pavement while a third person was recording it.
“And the iguana was screaming and the kids just would not stop until the iguana was just pasted on the ground.”
Shawn was employed by a company called Cognizant in Florida which had a contract with Facebook. He speaks in a slow, considered way, still trying to process what he had to go through.
“I’ve seen people put fireworks in a dog’s mouth and duct tape it shut. I’ve seen cannibalism videos, I’ve seen terrorism propaganda videos,” he continues.
Hearing Shawn speak, it becomes clear why moderation has often been described as the worst job in tech.
Most of us internet users probably never give these moderators a second thought, yet there are hundreds of thousands of them around the world helping companies weed out disturbing content – ranging from suicide and murder videos to conspiracy theories and hate speech.
And now some are coming out of the shadows to tell their stories. –BBC

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