2020-03-23 3 min read


Notes, 2020-03-23

Hello friends, Kane here.

It feels strange to guest edit this week knowing there is clearly one thing on everyone’s minds; it feels stranger still that by the time this is published, things may have changed drastically again.

Following Sean’s lead from last week (and adapting from your feedback, which we appreciate), I have included a COVID-19 section at the bottom of the newsletter. I do not intend to speculate, but rather present the state-of-the-art of understanding from the institutions on the front lines.

I am lucky to live with close friends I trust and draw a steady paycheck. Many are not so fortunate, and I hope we remain empathetic in the uncertain months to come. Take care of each other, educate each other, and be kind (at a 2 meter distance, with washed hands).

Without further ado,

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~16% of opens) was a TED talk on a simple, better method of tying your shoelaces.

Planning & Strategy.

  • It’s hard to upgrade avionics, but consumer hardware moves much faster. US spy plane pilots have started wearing consumer smartwatches that can navigate with GLONASS (Russian), BeiDou (Chinese), Galileo (European), or GPS (American) in case an enemy jams the GPS the U-2 spy plane depends on for navigation.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • It’s *really* hard to make fully open source hardware (the hardware is what gets you). The Librem 5 phone has made a valiant effort, but was unable to find fully open sourced radios or RAM. The economics of software are fairly unique in their ability to support high quality, production-grade open-source.
  • Speaking of open source software, System76 is a Linux computer company that my developer friends swear by. I recently learned they operate an in-house machine shop and test facility to manufacture their high-end desktop cases.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

  • SpaceX scrubbed its launch of Starlink satellites 301 to 360. The abort was automatically triggered at T-0 when one of the nine engines detected a power issue. Despite the complexities of launch, the SpaceX Falcon 9 had a perfect record in 2019.

Distribution & Logistics.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • Stone Age hominids were pretty good at inferring material properties for toolmaking. Archaeologists at The University of Kent tested the sharpness and durability of stone tools and found that H. habilis and H. erectus tools were optimized for specific tasks. The full text is behind The Royal Society paywall, but my friends in academia say that Primary Investigators can share the entire paper if you email them.
  • Going from the Stone Age to the Classical Era, it turns out that Ancient Roman concrete marine structures are stronger now than when they were built because seawater dissolved ash in the concrete and deposited stronger minerals in its place. Ironically, we still don’t know how the concrete was actually made.
  • Rounding out testing in the contemporary era, the excellent Brick Experiment Channel tests how much torque a LEGO test bench can generate. Hint: more than you think.


  • I recently learned about Culture Jamming, and specifically the Barbie Liberation Organization which would swap the voice boxes of GI Joe and Barbie dolls in stores to challenge gender stereotypes.
  • I was admiring the full moon on March 9th (the Worm Moon) and wondering why the moon looks larger closer to the horizon… and apparently no one knows! The Moon Illusion is unsolved.


  • Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (whew) has aggregated and open-sourced the most comprehensive dataset on COVID-19 on their Github. They also host an ArcGIS dashboard based on the data.
  • Imperial College London’s COVID-19 Response Team published their report commissioned by the UK Government. A high level summary (copy-paste URL if you hit paywall) and the full report are available.
  • The NIH administered the first potential vaccine for COVID-19 as a part of clinical trials.
  • There is a shortage of medical ventilators, and a handful of projects have sprouted up, some more legit than others. CoVent 19 is the project run by anesthesiology residents at Massachusetts General Hospital.
  • The other The Prepared provides friendly, thoughtful content and reviews on emergency preparedness. I have used it to build and ship kits to loved ones.
  • A Minimalist Bodyweight Routine to stay fit in lockdown.

Pratt & Whitney has a 747SP with a stub wing to test its engines and it’s pretty odd.

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