2019-08-12 3 min read


Planning & Strategy.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • International Flavor and Fragrances in Hazlet, NJ is a secretive, $10.8B chemical company behind many of the scents we experience in our lives: luxury perfumes, movie popcorn butter, and cleaning products are all counted in their portfolio.
  • The Forbes Pigment Collection is a collection of colors and how to physically make them. A charming (but sometimes poisonous) reminder of how tactile colorimetry is.
  • Lithium prices have plummeted by a third as mining companies rushed to build supply for an electric vehicle boom that hasn't quite happened yet.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

  • When a ship like the MV Cougar Ace carrying $100M of cargo has to be abandoned, it kicks off an international, Oceans-11-like race between salvage teams to claim the ship. Salvagers are paid a percentage of cargo value by insurers, so rivalry between crews is fierce and can be deadly.
  • "STS-107 In-Flight Options Assessment" was published by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in the wake of the 2003 Space Shuttle accident. In it, NASA proposes a hypothetical orbital rescue mission using Space Shuttle Atlantis, which was being prepped for STS-114 during the accident. Post-accident, no Space Shuttle mission was ever launched without a rescue shuttle on standby. It's always fascinating to me to read wild ideas rigorously and dispassionately assessed by professionals.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • Packaging Solutions is the innocuous name for the $900B industry of packing materials and equipment. In an amazing buzzword hat-trick, McKinsey managed to fit "blockchain", "AI", and "virtual reality" into an industry report on packaging.
  • Speaking of Packaging Solutions, a random sampling of molded fiber food bowls (the papery brown disposable bowls that replaced styrofoam) in NYC sold as "compostable" show that they contain high levels of fluorine, likely as a result of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) treatment for structural integrity. While it is unclear what the full implications are, PFAS is not compostable, and this shows that there's rarely a simple silver bullet for ecological questions - in this case, how do we make food packaging greener?

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • Cavitation is the formation of bubbles in liquids due large local pressure differences. In high performance hydraulics, cavitation can even eat through tool steel. I also really enjoy finding very specific trade publications, and Machine Lubrication published by Noria ("Lubrication-Enabled Reliability") takes the cake this week.
  • Researchers at National Autonomous University of Mexico claim to have found a general solution for lens aberration. You've probably seen a type of aberration as weird purple fringes in your phone pics. Theoretically, this solution gives perfectly sharp lenses. Don't celebrate yet though - while the solution gives a lens geometry, it's unclear how or if the geometries can be manufactured economically.


  • If you have the misfortune of being a Twitter user, you probably saw #feralpigs trending last week. Terrible Internet flame war aside, feral pigs are a surprisingly destructive invasive species. Cities as varied as Waco, Berlin, and Hong Kong have tried, among other things, helicopter hunting, trapping, baiting with contraceptives, and deporting to remote islands, all to no avail (they're great swimmers).
  • Blasterhub is the empirical test of Nerf dart performance you've been looking for.

Someone was accidentally shipped a 2.5" Allen wrench and people are trying to guess what it's for. Best guess: adjusting valves on a mud drilling pump.

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