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Shopping on Black Friday costs you more than you thought

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Going shopping on Black Friday and in the few weeks prior to the last Friday of November can be considered a global tradition – or rather craze. The problem is that we, unknowingly, spend more money due to Black Friday shopping deals than we would have at any other time of the year. Moreover, we are actually buying inferior quality products sometimes. Let me tell you what Black Friday is actually about.

Black Friday deals usually start two or even three weeks ahead of the proper day, and if you monitor prices for items on various shops, you will notice that they don’t really change much during the entire month of November. Now mind you, I’m mostly going to refer to online shopping, because the mysterious ways of Black Friday deal searching in malls is not my specialty. Online shopping isn’t, either, but I can’t help doing a lot of that anyway. Over the last 5 years, I’ve always shopped on Black Friday and was always searching for the best deals weeks ahead of time. I’ve accumulated a good deal of disappointment and a few pleasant surprises in that time. Let me tell you about them in a clamshell.

One thing I’ve found when Black Friday shopping ahead of the date is that products’ prices don’t really change on the actual day. I’ve been eyeing a Nikon D3300 for a few months now and I thought it would be a neat personal experiment to monitor its price until Black Friday. I regret not snapping screenshots, but at the time I didn’t realize what I would stumble upon. So I searched for Nikon D3300 deals and found that I could get my hands on a simple bundle with a few accessories, an extra battery and a bag for about $450 in various different shops. If you do a quick search, you’ll notice that you can find the same camera as part of various Black Friday deals – costing $500 without any accessories. The kit that I found is no longer available, but a similar one with an extra lens costs $700. What a great Black Friday deal!

If I had ordered the camera in September, when I was first checking it out, I would have been much happier than ordering it now. The same tendency to not actually change any prices but count on customers not having the time or the means to research their purchases is evident with almost all retail shops. While this is a prominent issue when online shopping, it might not be when in store. Online, it’s actually a bummer to notice that these massive Black Friday sales everywhere are in fact ripping you off. Let me give you another example.

I found a pretty neat Canon compact camera, pretty entry-level and basic, which I thought would be a nice addition to my travel pack. I had a camera fever to satisfy, so I checked its price in September and in October as well, and both times it was around $50. I thought to myself that I would wait for Black Friday sales to go live and buy it at a lower price to save myself some money. Checking back on Black Friday I discovered that the camera I had picked was actually slightly more expensive at $60. What a great Black Friday deal, right? I might have more, though.

Last Black Friday, I bought an LG HDTV, 31-inch large, almost no bezels, a sweet investment I don’t regret. I got it for a good price at $210 and didn’t see anything wrong with it, until I wanted to mount it on the wall. I found that the small hinges that were needed for a mount were used and missing, the retail shop from where I bought it explaining that it was a refurbished device from their aisles. When asked why they didn’t mention it in the Black Friday listing, I was treated to a cold shoulder and looked at like I didn’t appreciate all the good things that “new” TV was giving me. Although I haven’t had other problems with the TV and don’t regret buying it, the incident revealed to me, once and for all, that Black Friday is a scam. It’s a way to swindle people out of their money, by giving them “huge discounts”. They’re not discounts, most of the time you are going to pay the same price you would have a month or two prior to Black Friday.

As part of the editorial team here at Geekreply, John spends a lot of his time making sure each article is up to snuff. That said, he also occasionally pens articles on the latest in Geek culture. From Gaming to Science, expect the latest news fast from John and team.

Engineering

China’s $47 billion semiconductor fund prioritizes chip sovereignty as a key focus

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China has just shut down a third government-supported investment fund in order to strengthen its semiconductor industry and decrease dependence on other countries for the production and use of wafers. This move is aimed at emphasizing what is known as chip sovereignty.

The National Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund of China, commonly referred to as ‘the Big Fund,’ has had two previous iterations: Big Fund I (2014–2019) and Big Fund II (2019–2024). The latter was considerably more substantial than the earlier, but Big Fund III surpasses both with a total of 344 billion yuan, equivalent to around $47.5 billion, as disclosed in official filings.

The size of Big Fund III, which surpasses expectations, further demonstrates Huawei’s growing dependence on Chinese suppliers and reflects the country’s determination to attain self-reliance in semiconductor manufacture. It serves as a reminder that the ongoing competition in semiconductor technology between China and Western countries is reciprocal.

Both the United States and Europe share the desire to decrease their reliance on their long-standing technological competitors. China also has concerns regarding its supply, which extend beyond the potential impact on shipments from the U.S. and its allies.

Taiwan is the primary focus when it comes to chip manufacturing. If China were to take control of its production capabilities, it would greatly disadvantage the United States and its allies. Currently, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) produces approximately 90% of the world’s most advanced chips.

However, according to sources, Bloomberg has learned that ASML, a company located in the Netherlands, and TSMC have methods to render chip-making machinery inoperable in the case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

China now manufactures over 60% of legacy chips, which are often used in automobiles and household appliances, according to a statement made by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The competition between legacy and modern chips has expanded, yielding varying outcomes.

The Chinese official stance is that the policies of the United States is having a negative effect, resulting in a decline in exports from prominent American chip manufacturers. This viewpoint is shared by others as well.

According to Hebe Chen, a market analyst at IG, Nvidia is faced with the challenge of balancing its presence in the Chinese market while also managing the tensions between the United States and China. Due to U.S. sanctions, the company developed three customized chips specifically for the Chinese market. However, in order to remain competitive, the company had to cut the price of these chips, compromising its desired pricing strategy.

Nevertheless, it might be contended that the financial challenges faced by Western chip manufacturers may be justified if it hinders China’s rapid development and acquisition of more sophisticated semiconductors compared to its rivals.

Indications suggest that China may face significant consequences if limitations are imposed, such as the potential loss of access to Nvidia’s advanced chips for its AI companies or increased difficulties for its leading company, SMIC, in manufacturing its own chips.

The existence of Big Fund III indicates that China is experiencing significant pressure. As per reports, the cash will be allocated for both large-scale wafer fabrication, similar to past investments, as well as for the production of high-bandwidth memory chips. HBM chips, often referred to as high-bandwidth memory chips, are utilized in many applications such as artificial intelligence (AI), 5G technology, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

However, the most significant indicator is its size.

With the support of six prominent state-owned banks, Big Fund III has surpassed the $39 billion in direct incentives allocated by the U.S. government for chip manufacture under the CHIPS Act. Nevertheless, the total amount of federal assistance is $280 billion.

The EU Chips Act, valued at €43 billion, appears relatively modest compared to South Korea’s $19 billion support package. It is likely that the markets have taken note of this.

The announcement of Big Fund III triggered a surge in the stock prices of Chinese semiconductor businesses that are poised to gain from this fresh infusion of funding. Nevertheless, Bloomberg observed that Beijing’s previous investments have not consistently yielded positive results.

Specifically, China’s highest-ranking officials were dissatisfied with the prolonged inability to create semiconductors capable of replacing American circuitry. Furthermore, the media outlet highlighted that the previous leader of the Big Fund was dismissed and subjected to an investigation due to allegations of corruption.

Even in the absence of corruption, implementing significant modifications to semiconductor manufacturing is a time-consuming endeavor. In both Europe and the United States, the process takes a considerable amount of time. However, there are noteworthy and innovative advancements occurring.

Diamfab, a French deep-tech startup, is currently developing diamond semiconductors that have the potential to facilitate the green transition, specifically in the automobile sector. Although it is still a few years in the future, these Western ideas have the potential to be just as intriguing to monitor as the actions of established Chinese companies.

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Supercapacitors Reach New Heights with 19 Times Greater Capacitance

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Based on papers published at the same time by unrelated teams, two methods for improving capacitors’ ability to store charge appear to be effective. Each has the potential to make supercapacitors better at storing energy and maybe even put them in the running for large-scale energy storage.

For a long time, supercapacitors have been better than batteries because they can quickly release the charge they have stored. But not even the best supercapacitors have been able to store enough power to meet the most important needs of society. Sometimes, big steps forward have made supercapacitors look like they could compete in that market. But since lithium-ion battery prices have dropped so much, there isn’t much room for other batteries. That could change soon.

Two papers that came out last month in the same issue of Science both look at big improvements in capacitance. It remains to be seen if either of them can be scaled up, though.

The basic idea behind all capacitors is the same. There is material between the positive and negative charges to keep them from jumping across the gap. When a switch is closed, the negative charges can move around to meet the positive charges. This makes an electric current, which can be used for many things.

Laptops and phones now have hundreds of capacitors inside them. When you look at a phone, you can tell how small it is. Because of this, the amount of power they can store is many times too small to power a car, let alone a city all night.

As you might guess from their name, supercapacitors have a lot more capacitance. Even though they’ve made regenerative braking possible, batteries are still the best choice for long-distance driving. To make that happen, the capacitance has to go up, which means finding cheap materials that stop very large amounts of charge from recombining.

Many capacitors use ferroelectric materials like BaTiO3, but they have a problem called “remnant polarization,” which means that some charge stays behind instead of being released. Their crystals also break down over time.

A team from Korean and American institutions reduced remnant polarization by putting a 3D structure between 2D crystals. They were then able to store 191.7 joules per cubic centimeter of capacitor and release it with more than 90% efficiency. Similar products on the market today can store around 10 joules per cubic centimeter.

Dr. Sang-Hoon Bae of Washington University in St. Louis said in a statement, “We made a new structure based on the innovations we’ve already made in my lab involving 2D materials.” “At first, we weren’t interested in energy storage, but while we were studying the properties of materials, we came across a new physical phenomenon that we thought could be used for energy storage. It was very interesting and could be much more useful.”

The work report by Bae and his co-authors only talks about testing the capacitor over 10 cycles, which shows that there is still a long way to go before it can be used in real life. “We’re not quite at our best yet, but we’re already doing better than other labs,” Bae said. For capacitors to be able to charge and discharge very quickly and hold a lot of energy, our next step is to improve the structure of this material even more. To see this material used widely in big electronics like electric cars and other new green technologies, we need to be able to do that without losing storage space over time.

In the same issue of Science, scientists from Cambridge University talk about results that change how people think about making supercapacitors with carbon electrodes store more power. They say, “Pore size has long been thought to be the main way to improve capacitance.” But when commercial carbons with pores measuring nanometers were compared, there wasn’t much of a link between size and capacitance. With nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, we can see that what matters is the level of structural disorder in the capacitors’ domains.

They say that more disorganized carbons with smaller graphene-like domains have higher capacitances because their nanopores store ions more efficiently. “We think that for carbons with smaller domains, the charges are more concentrated, making the interactions between ions and carbon atoms stronger. This makes it easier for ions to be stored.”

The paper makes no mention of how much capacitance is possible when the carbon domains are sufficiently disorganized. This is because it goes against the norm to try to make electronic devices more disorganized than ordered.

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Emerging seabed batteries offer a more cost-effective solution for energy storage

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BaroMar, an energy storage company, is getting ready to conduct tests on a unique form of grid-level energy storage that utilizes water as its primary component. If it proves effective, this method could offer a more cost-effective solution for maintaining stability in renewable energy sources over extended durations.

The world is making progress towards zero-carbon energy options, but the path ahead is far from simple. In order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the majority of the world’s electricity, approximately 80 percent, will need to be generated from sources such as solar and wind power.

Some countries, such as Portugal, Denmark, and Namibia, have already made significant progress towards achieving zero-carbon grids, which may seem impossible to some. Yet, in order to be universally useful, there is a need for advancements in energy storage and release methods to meet the growing demand caused by these emerging technologies. These demands will differ based on location. Some locations may require a consistent supply, even on overcast days, while others may have fluctuating demand throughout the day.

During the winter or other seasonal low points, it is important to store energy for times when wind power cannot compensate for the decrease in solar power.

This is where BaroMar’s innovative compressed air energy storage (CAES) alternative could prove to be extremely useful.

The technology for CAES has been available for approximately four decades and is widely recognized as a cost-effective method for energy storage, contributing to grid stability. In the conventional approach, the procedure entails the compression and storage of surrounding air in subterranean reservoirs, such as caves or abandoned salt mines. When energy is required, it can be harnessed by utilizing turbines that power a generator to reclaim it.

BaroMar is confident that their innovative approach can surpass the effectiveness of the traditional method and efficiently store energy for extended periods using simple equipment.

Water is the solution. The company intends to establish plants in coastal areas that have access to deep water. The pressure generated from this water will be utilized to replace the high-pressure tanks typically used in conventional CAES systems. This method is significantly more cost-effective.

Instead of envisioning sleek and advanced tanks of pressurized air, picture massive concrete and steel tanks anchored by cages filled with rocks. These would be placed underwater at depths ranging from 200 to 700 meters (650 to 2,300 feet).

Every tank is equipped with water-permeable valves that initially fill them with seawater. Then, during the storage process, the compressor and generator located on land transfer air into the tanks through a hose at varying pressures, typically ranging from 20 to 70 bar (290 to 1,015 psi), depending on the depth. As the air enters the tanks, it expels water.

Then, when energy needs to be extracted, the air is directed back up the hose to power a thermal recovery system and a turbo expander, which in turn drives a generator.

At the sea floor, the tanks are refilled with water and patiently await future utilization.

This system, particularly the tanks, is reported to be much more cost-effective to manufacture due to the stabilizing effect of the pressure from the seawater.

“The tanks are engineered to withstand the various forces exerted by the marine environment, including compressed air and hydrostatic water pressure, during installation and operation,” a representative from Jacobs, in collaboration with BaroMar, clarified to CleanTechnica.

Jacobs is working on a pilot project for the new system to be installed in Cyprus. The goal is to achieve a round-trip efficiency of approximately 70 percent, which refers to the combined loss of energy when adding and withdrawing from an energy store. If accomplished, this would be comparable in efficiency to the world’s largest conventional CAES station in China.

Unfortunately, this water-based pilot project will fall short of matching the energy storage capabilities of the Chinese plants. It will have an initial storage capacity of approximately 4 MWh, which is significantly smaller than the 100-MW, 400 MW/h capacity in Zhangjiakou, China.

Even though it has a lot of potential, there will be problems. These are for things that are meant to stay underwater for decades. To make sure the tanks can be built and work at great depths, they need to go through a lot of geophysical research, feasibility studies, and geotechnological and bathymetric surveys.

However, if BaroMar is right, this new system would be very appealing to many cities around the world. It could also be a much cheaper and easier-to-expand solution. Let us see how things go.

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