The Digital Divide Starts With a Laptop Shortage

Chromebooks, web-based devices that run on software from Google and are made by an array of companies, are in particular demand because they cost less than regular laptops. That has put huge pressure on a supply chain that cobbles laptop parts from all over the world, usually assembling them in Asian factories, Mr. Boreham said.

While that supply chain has slowly geared up, the spike in demand is “so far over and above what has historically been the case,” said Stephen Baker, a consumer electronics analyst at the NPD Group. “The fact that we’ve been able to do that and there’s still more demand out there, it’s something you can’t plan for.”

Adding to the problem, many manufacturers are putting a priority on producing expensive electronics that net greater profits, like gaming hardware and higher-end computers for at-home employees, said Erez Pikar, the chief executive of Trox, a company that

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As a helium shortage looms, “vacuum balloons” could save physics, medicine, and birthday parties

Helium balloons are a quintessential party favor, a fixture of any birthday, wedding or anniversary party. But few consumers seem to know that helium is a limited resource — and one which physics experiments and medical imaging tools rely on to work. Worse, once a helium balloon pops, that gas is lost forever — it floats upwards and escapes into space, never to be seen on Earth again. 

Now, with the specter of a recent helium shortage still looming, consumers are being asked to ration their helium in order to save science and medicine. The idea that party supply companies and consumers can’t give up helium balloons in order to save these more worthy enterprises might seem a tad selfish; but this is how the market thinks. Yet a few inventors around the country have a brilliant compromise: what if we could make a “balloon” that needed no helium gas

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