2019-11-11 4 min read


Planning & Strategy.

  • A remarkably comprehensive essay on Starlink, which argues that it is in fact a *huge* deal for SpaceX. Assuming that Starlink satellites cost $100k to build an launch and are operated for five years, and assuming some reasonable-sounding things about its actual communication capabilities, SpaceX may be able to generate $1000 in revenue for every single orbit - recouping the manufacturing & launch costs in just a week. "Even taking into account its ludicrously low usage fraction, a Starlink satellite can deliver 30 PB of data over its lifetime at an amortized cost of $0.003/GB, with practically no marginal cost increase for transmission over a longer distance."
  • A fun piece on cheap but high fidelity Chinese audio equipment, typically purchased on AliExpress. "'If you have a van and a bottle of glue,' Klasco says, 'you can be in the business.' What you sometimes end up with is a headphone with shockingly high-end internals, meaning excellent sound quality, from a company that has essentially no overhead. Those companies can still make a solid profit — if anyone can find their stuff."
  • The Netherlands, which has about 1/3 as many traffic deaths per capita than the US does, abolished jaywalking laws in 1995. Related, 99pi's old podcast episode on how the auto industry invented the term "jaywalking;" I recommend the old video of SF that's embedded on the show page. Also related, The War On Cars podcast on how modern policing is completely structured around & defined by automobiles.

Making & Manufacturing.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

  • Adam Minter on wiping rags. "Approximately 30% of the textiles recovered for recycling in the U.S. are converted to wiping rags, according to Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles (Smart), a trade association. And that’s probably an undercount. The 45% of recycled textiles that are reused as apparel eventually wear out, too. When they do, they’re also bound for the wiping-rag companies." The logistics of sweatshirt fragments toward the end of the story are crazy, too.
  • A very good graphic explaining just how hard it is to recycle EV battery packs.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • Frangibolts are essentially bushings made of Nitinol that have electric heaters embedded in them. They have "memory" of a certain length, and then are compressed axially to a shorter length and installed in a bolted assembly in (typically) an aerospace application. Then when the assembly is meant to disassemble (say, when a satellite is being launched) current is applied to the electric heater, resulting in the Nitinol returning to its original length; that applies a tensile load on the bolt, breaking it. Pretty clever.
  • 69 Bravo is a private property in the Santa Monica Mountains that has been heavily invested in by its owner (a wealthy individual) so that it can serve as a refilling (both water and fuel) depot for the LA County Fire Department's helicopters.
  • A little appreciation of cassette adapters, that automotive staple of the late 90s.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • Over the weekend I watched a bunch of Gourmet Makes episodes (which you can find on YouTube, Prime TV, etc), in which well-known candy & snack foods are painstakingly recreated in Bon Appetit's test kitchen. Both my wife and I found them delightful and addictive. To me the key to watching these is a mildly ironic understanding of the word "gourmet," as the mass-manufactured versions of instant ramen and Cheetos are (intense stabilizers and sweeteners aside) so clearly superior to their bespoke counterparts. My only quip is that I wish Claire would make a real fixture every once in a while (see the Pringles and instant ramen episodes for particularly painful hacking of kitchen tools), though one might argue that that's just me missing the irony.
  • A profile of StrongArm Technologies, a NYC based startup that makes position tracking equipment for warehouse workers. I find myself ambivalent about this: On the one hand, StrongArm CEO Sean Petterson seems (note: over the years I've been at the same parties with him a few times, but we've never properly met) genuine in his desire to improve the lives of workers. On the other, his position (that they would reconsider their data policy "if a case arose" in which data was being used against employees) seems intentionally naive. It is incumbent upon leaders to act with intent; I'm disappointed that StrongArm isn't willing to stake out a real position on how their product might affect the human beings that it's literally attached to.
  • A mounting push in the UK to ban private jets - something I'd support but am not holding my breath for. "A private flight from London to New York was equivalent to driving a typical UK car non-stop for four and a half years."
  • A short profile of Artur Korneyev, a nuclear inspector famously photographed in Chernobyl next to a enormous formation of corium. "'Soviet radiation,' he joked, 'is the best radiation in the world.'"


  • Matt Yglesias interviewing Anil Dash on how the Facebook era differs from previous versions of the web. To me the curious thing about this interview is that this newsletter (and newsletters in general, I suspect) functions almost in a pre-Facebook world, where connections are 1:1 and typically very personal. Which is cool.
  • Stigler's law of eponymy states that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer.

NASA Ames' parallel wind tunnel testing + CFD simulation loop.

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