Hello readers, Hillary here.
Since I was here last, I started a master’s research project on waste issues in Canada’s Eastern Arctic. Managing waste resources is a huge challenge worldwide and recycling systems across North America are failing to deliver the circular supply chain they promised. In the Arctic, where most communities are isolated, waste often stays on the tundra or is managed in open dumps. Recycling isn’t a viable option and municipal solid waste is a small fraction of the waste left behind by military operations and resource development. My advisor, Dr. Hird, has written about the complicated intersection of settler-colonial development in Inuit homelands and the ongoing waste legacy, and I’ll be continuing that work.
I am preparing to work in Pangnirtung, Nunavut this summer, assisting the municipal government to design a repair and reuse program to keep materials out of the dump. I spend a lot of time browsing library catalogs looking for books about repair and more than generalized theories, I find endless repair manuals from all disciplines. From repairing DNA to repairing concrete, humans are in a constant state of beating back entropy. Everything is always in need of repair. In the last issue of Kneeling Bus, Drew proposes entropy as a more powerful organizing principle for reality than progress. Often we get trapped in the growth ponzi scheme, expanding projects beyond our capacity to maintain them and hoping things will work themselves out down the line. How might we design systems that are a collaboration between humanity and entropy?
For a quick primer on how challenging it is to manage waste in the Arctic check out this podcast about dead cars in Alaska, and to understand how materials are shipped to the Arctic check out this (highly sensationalized) show about Arctic sea-lifts.
Planning & Strategy.
- Moore’s Law has never been a predictive law of natural processes but describes the massive R&D and investment that have transformed computing. There are lessons from the history of computing that can be applied to the future of decarbonization but the idea that we can sit back and expect exponential growth in carbon-related technologies should not be the main takeaway.
- Part visualization and part criticism of predictive policing, a map highlighting areas at high risk for white collar crime. This subversive map is a reminder that while mostly invisible, white collar crime costs the U.S. more than $300 billion per year.
- If worrying about software vulnerabilities is not enough, ICs may be carrying trojans or other malicious performance issues. DARPA runs SHIELD, a program that addresses issues of integrated circuit vulnerabilities in the production supply chain.
Making & Manufacturing.
- I believe we should never stop marveling at the complexity of everyday things and this short essay on everything that goes into a can of coke is a great meditation on the marvels of collective knowledge and creation. “Coca-Cola did not teach the world to sing, no matter what its commercials suggest, yet every can of Coke contains humanity’s choir.” Don’t forget to wow (or potentially annoy) your friends and family by constantly reminding them that a pop tab acts as three different kinds of levers while opening your drink.
- The Roebling device was used to calculate electrical wire resistance per foot based on wire diameter and has a lovely Fibonacci curve in its design.
- A hilarious talk on the supply chain of silicon, the supply chain of healing crystals, and the resonant frequencies of both. As the global demand for semi-precious stones keeps growing, sellers keep their supply chains closely guarded, obscuring pretty risky artisanal mining operations.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- In Australia and New Zealand, it’s common to have a salvage shop adjacent to the municipal landfill called a tip shop. The Glenorchy Tip Shop is turning 27 this year and inspired other towns to create their own facilities. I am curious how this has impacted waste diversion over time but I can’t find any long term studies, if you have one, holler here.
- Spencer shared this in 2017-03-27, and it’s a piece I keep coming back to: Google’s modular phone, meant to be easily upgraded or repaired, ended up scrapped after years of development. Part of the failure was a bizarre development cycle, taken from DARPA’s hardware development methods. But potentially more damning was the fact there was no strong evidence that consumers actually wanted a modular phone.
- A lovely primer on how a smartphone camera works. I have a pretty good idea of how film cameras work from dark room photography but more layers of complexity and logic govern digital images.
Distribution & Logistics.
- Infrastructure moves slowly enough that this 1996 piece by Neil Stephenson on laying submarine fiber-optic cable is still riveting and relevant. Gonzo hacker journalism tracing wires across the planet is a timeless genre in my world.
- This site has aggregated stories of the supply chains of dozens of common commodities and reminds me of Jenny O’Dell’s Bureau of Suspended Objects. See also this guide for investigating supply chains.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- Not all Kickstarter projects have panned out as promised, so it may come as no surprise that the “Air Umbrella” has been debunked as deeply impractical.
- I love the work Jamie Allen has done on ‘apocryphal technologies’: devices that are dubiously authentic and make claims about the metaphysical. I particularly like this workshop where the Scientologist’s E-meter was recreated and critiqued.
- Companies are beginning to label the carbon footprint of food products but the complexity of calculation may have diminishing returns. I am annoyed that yet another decision is being downloaded onto citizens when we should reasonably expect the responsibility of decarbonization to happen at a much larger scale.
- You can create really incredible music and visuals on an oscilloscope!
- After a nuclear test at Bikini Atoll in 1946, a scientist placed an irradiated pufferfish on photosensitive paper and exposed a photograph with its body.
- I love these beautiful choral arrangements of astronomer Carl Sagan’s words.
- Cory Doctorow on climate transitions.
p.s. If you have thoughts about entropy-centered design or repair in isolated communities, drop me a line.
p.p.s. - Whenever possible, we work to encourage inclusivity. Here's how.