Planning & Strategy.
- The MTA and the Partnership for New York City announced the Transit Tech Lab, an unpaid accelerator for "entrepreneurs who are developing products that could be useful to the MTA’s modernization plans." A few thoughts about this:
- I strongly believe that NYC should work to maintain its position as *the* global center for people wanting to work on urban infrastructure. That said, the MTA needs to figure out how to recruit, retain, and nurture top talent itself, and the Transit Tech Lab (like the MTA Genius Challenge before it) seems to punt on this issue.
- The MTA is broken largely due to the fact that neither the city nor the state have the incentive to take it as seriously as it deserves, and it's not at all clear to me that the technological (rather than political) fixes that accelerators tend to produce will be effective in that context. This is particularly acute in the second challenge, "How can we make buses faster and more efficient?" The obvious answer is that buses are slow because there are too many cars in the way, and while mounting cameras to buses will help measure that, solving the problem will ultimately involve either reducing the number of private vehicles on the road, or seriously stepping up bus lane enforcement, or creating a legit Curitiba-style bus rapid transit system.
- In the US, podcasts are supported by ads; the US podcast industry brought in $314MM last year. In China, podcasts are supported by subscriptions; the Chinese podcast industry brought in $7.3B last year.
- I know that by now many of you will have already read the piece about Amazon's "secret AI recruitment tool" that gave demerits to women, but I just need to point out that "the company managed to salvage some of what it learned from its failed AI experiment. It now uses a 'much-watered down version' of the recruiting engine to help with some rudimentary chores, including culling duplicate candidate profiles from databases." If this is the future of AI - that we build something, and it ends up replicating some terrible aspect of human nature, and then we repurpose it to do nothing more than identify duplicate data - then can't we go back to calling it a regular old computer program again?
Making & Manufacturing.
- Apple's 2017 Supplier List. I recommend browsing the related Hacker News thread too.
- A video tour of the rather gritty looking Fisher Space Pen factory, and a video tour of the much more contemporary and automated Lamy fountain pen factory.
- Ruchi is looking to chat with someone who has experience with an NXP i.MX 7ULP.
- A decently technical rundown of Kodak's effort to revive Ektachrome through smaller batch sizes.
- Programmable Air is an open source pneumatic control kit for developing soft robotics.
- A series of new magnesium alloys targeted at lightweight applications where 6061 and carbon fiber would otherwise be used.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- Using AWS Snowball Edge servers to host existing & new satellite/drone imagery during disaster response. Snowball Edge is marketed primarily as a high capacity mode of data transmission; an acknowledgement that, as Randall Munroe put it while answering the question "When - if ever - will the bandwidth of the Internet surpass that of FedEx?," "for raw bandwidth, the internet will probably never beat SneakerNet." In this case a Snowball Edge is loaded up with satellite imagery, brought to the scene of a disaster, and then used as a base station for drones which collect real-time data. Note: Amazon is marketing Snowball Edge to factories as well; if you've used this then I'd love to know about it.
- Apple's new MacBook Pros include a not-yet-active "kill switch" that, if enabled, would effectively prevent anyone other than Apple from repairing them.
Distribution & Logistics.
- The deal that UPS negotiated with the Teamsters Union was voted down by the union's membership, but the margin wasn't big enough to officially reject the deal; they'll go back to negotiations anyway. "The tentative deal, reached between the company and union leaders in July, faced a persistent campaign from a Teamster faction that objected to a two-tier wage system for drivers and starting wages that will soon trail those offered at Amazon.com Inc."
- A Soyuz launch failed last week, delaying further flights to the ISS until the root cause can be identified.
- A company called LanzaTech extracts carbon monoxide from waste gas produced by steel plants, feeds it to "proprietary microbes," and ends up with a jet fuel replacement that can actually be flown.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- A very thorough technical description of turbulence, and why CFD software will probably never be able to fully model it. Feeling pretty good about my Long Bet on the subject :)
- A long, unassuming, and rather inspiring interview with the founders of Method, the cleaning products company. I *love* the idea of a couple of kids in SF in the 90s starting a soap company, and Method's status as a B Corp doesn't hurt either. See also, however, the NYTimes' 2013 interview with (co-founder) Eric Ryan in which he says he "was just so thankful we never had to go down that path" of being acquired by "a major strategic" like, say, SC Johnson. When that interview was written, Method had just been sold to Ecover... which was then was subsequently bought by SC Johnson in 2017.
- Just one of the top ten selling phones of all time is made by Apple.
- Shenzhen I/O is a single-player Steam game where you build circuits, write code, and navigate the Shenzhen engineering ecosystem.
Thanks as always to our recurring donors for supporting The Prepared.Credit also to Rich, Tom, Andrew, Gabe, Zack, Jay, Nick, Ryan, and Ezra for sending links.
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