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GAZETA WYBORCZA

From The Ruins Of A Polish Coal Mining Town Comes The World's Fastest Processor

Ruins of a mine boiler in Rozbark coal mine in Bytom
Ruins of a mine boiler in Rozbark coal mine in Bytom
Przemysław Jedlecki

BYTOM – In this desolate coal-mining town in southern Poland, every fifth resident is unemployed.

You can see the impact of mining on the surroundings in this rugged region of Silesia: damaged buildings and streets, and the remains of industrial structures. Many of Bytom's store and home windows are boarded up or covered in bricks.

Polish reporters don’t visit this town very often – unless there is a murder, a construction disaster or the demolition of a historic building.

Extensive underground coal mining has resulted in huge terrain surface changes – a phenomenon called subsidence – with the surface of the earth lowering by 18 meters since 1965. In the neighborhood of Karb, the walls of houses suddenly started to crack, forcing inhabitants to move. Buildings were razed to the ground. The world saw a Polish image of desolation and despair.

The city's deterioration is undeniable. People continue to associate Bytom with coal mines and steel mills, but today there isn't a single steel mill and just one coal mine left -- and those with big ambitions all seem to be the first to go.

But not everyone has left. Jacek Hanke, the co-founder and CEO of Digital Core Design (DCD). And in this foresaken place, his company has just created the world's fastest processor.

Hanke started his company with two classmates from the Silesian University of Technology. DCD has ten employees, all of whom studied in Silesia or at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow. The view from the window, in an old office building in central Bytom, is of an old coal mine.

In every SIM card

Earlier this month, DCD announced at the CeBIT trade show in Hannover, Germany that they had created the world’s fastest 8051 processor – the DQ80251.

DQ80251 is based on 8051 specifications developed by Intel in 1980 and has been used by engineers all over the world for 30 years. The model was discontinued by Intel five years ago, but continues to be in high demand in many parts of the world.

“It is one of the most popular microcontrollers in the history of electronics,” says Hanke. A computer can use as many as several dozen 8051 microcontrollers, as well as a car or a refrigerator. This processor is also found on every SIM card. It is approximately 0.2 square millimeters.

According to Hanke, the DQ80251 can execute 66 times more operations than competing processors working on the same standard. DCD itself does not produce the chip, it is licensed to companies who manufacture it themselves. Among Bytom’s clients are Toyota, Intel, Sony, Philips, Siemens, Sagem and General Electric, as well as a few unnamed arms manufacturers.

Why the need for such a fast processor? Time and convenience, says Hanke. This kind of chip is in every USB drive, and having a fast processor makes, for example, transferring hundreds of photos onto your computer take a matter of minutes, instead of hours or days.

“The death of 8051 has been announced for 10 to 20 years now,” says Hanke. But applications for the microcontroller are constantly growing.

DCD has had several proposals to move from Bytom to Western Europe and the U.S. but the owners have always refused.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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