2020-03-02 5 min read


Notes, 2020-03-02.

Last week I did my first subtractive CAM work basically ever; I've done plenty of manual machining and worked alongside a CAM operator for a time, but have never really done CNC setup myself. It was a good project, and one that I look forward to hacking on more soon, but mostly it made me a) happy that I spend a good portion of my professional life behind a keyboard rather than at a machine, and b) deeply, *deeply* appreciative of the fact that my keyboard is usually in the same room as a wide variety of machines :)

Unrelated: In a couple of weeks, The New York Infrastructure Observatory is reprising one of our most popular trips ever: A tour of the MTA's Coney Island Maintenance Yards. The Coney Island Complex is one of the largest train yards in the US, and (if I recall correctly from our 2015 trip) does all of the wheel and motor maintenance for the MTA's subway fleet; it's also on the National Register of Historic Places. If you're in NYC and interested in transit, it's a must-see!

Lastly, theprepared.org's awesome lab notebooks and pocket notebooks are up for sale on the Tool Guide; paid subscribers should please hit me up for a discount code.                                                                            The most clicked link in last week's issue (~16% of opens) was a contact print made by placing a puffer fish that was caught near the Bikini Atoll in 1946 on a photographic plate.

Planning & Strategy.

  • Bernie Sanders introduced legislation that targets executive retirement plans by taxing stock options when they vest rather than when they're exercised. The bill applies to anyone with a salary over $130k who is vesting options at a rate faster than $100k per year, which would include employees at later stage startups. These are people who are by global standards *extremely* well compensated, but they may nevertheless (and with reason) might see themselves as bycatch in a system that's written too broadly. There's no claw-back mechanism in the bill, meaning that the vesting options are taxed  regardless of whether the stock goes to zero or the employee decides not to exercise. I'm not one to get stressed about this; I assume that it'll be cleaned up before it comes remotely close to being law, and even in its current form I figure the startup employment market would find some other mechanism of enticing employees to the table.
  • Kickstarter's employees successfully voted to unionize.
  • A good blog post on startup strategy by one of the founders of iRobot. As with most industries, "good business models are harder to build than good robots."
  • The brilliant Limor Fried, of Adafruit, explains their strategy and shows off their Tribeca PCBA line. "We're an education company with a gift shop at the end."

Making & Manufacturing.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

  • One of my favorite weird Instagram follows: @visevillan, who seems to have a never ending stream of old equipment (mostly vises) to restore.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • A very well done explainer (with interactive graphics) of all sorts of gears.
  • A totally fascinating history of Vlisco, the Dutch company known for producing textiles that most readers will immediately think of as "African." In the late 1800s, Vlisco's founder developed an industrialized riff on Indonesian batik. He initially tried to sell it back to Indonesia, where it flopped, but along the way some of it ended up in West and Central Africa and took on a whole new identity there. The geopolitics here are complicated AF, but I find the implicit collaboration between Vlisco (which designs and produces fabric) and local seamstresses (who design and make garments, imbuing the imported patterns with local meaning) compelling, and regardless of the history of exploitation it seems to me that the openness to *not* vertically integrate was probably critical to Vlisco's success.
  • A rolleron is a passive stabilization device that was used on the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. Toothed wheels on rollerons protrude from the missile's tailfins, sweeping through the air and spinning at high speed. If the missile starts to roll, the wheels act as gyroscopes and push the tailfins in the opposite direction, counteracting the roll forces.
  • UPS is getting on board with the idea that free, ubiquitous curbside parking for private cars is in direct tension with demand for package delivery. To me, "ban free parking" is like Chris Rock's bullet control joke - a practical and high leverage mechanism to address a set of otherwise intractable problems.
  • Hawala is an "informal value transfer system based not on the movement of cash, or on telegraph or computer network wire transfers between banks, but instead on the performance and honour of a huge network of money brokers." "The unique feature of the system is that no promissory instruments are exchanged between the hawala brokers; the transaction takes place entirely on the honour system. As the system does not depend on the legal enforceability of claims, it can operate even in the absence of a legal and juridical environment."

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.


  • A correction from a few weeks ago: That link on payment processing in the porn industry is here (it was broken due to the way that the Wayback Machine formats URLs).

A set of hand drawn 1940s aircraft drawings.

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