2020-03-30 6 min read


Notes, 2020-03-30.

It may not be evident from the outside, but this newsletter has always been about doing one's own best work. When I started it I was in a period of reinvention, and I saw The Prepared as an exercise in sharing my own path towards more a meaningful and fulfilling life. It was supposed to be a public accounting of the things I was trying to teach myself; a proclamation of the beliefs I held. It took me years to realize that The Prepared itself had become a key part of my career, but I'm still not sure if I understand what, precisely, I've been preparing for. On the one hand I feel as blindsided by the current moment as anyone; it's clear that really nobody was ready for it. On the other, if the past six and a half years of reinvention has left me standing idly by, then what exactly has The Prepared been an exercise in?

My own ennui aside, a few thoughts (proposals?) on what The Prepared is likely to look like in the coming months:

  • As with the rest of life, COVID-19 will ultimately force itself into the entirety of this newsletter. It's almost too obvious to say aloud, but the virus is reshaping the fields that we cover and discuss here; it's just not practical to keep it relegated to its own topic heading. That said, you can expect me (and all of our guest editors) to cover it in the same way we cover anything else: As something to be understood and learned from, so that you can go on and do your best work.
  • If you're working on relief efforts and there's something that The Prepared can do to help, get in touch with me directly.
  • If you've lost income due to COVID-19 and have skills that are relevant to The Prepared's audience, get in touch with me directly.
  • If you're hiring for remote-friendly roles, post them for free here.
  • If you have a story idea that relates to the way that COVID-19 is reshaping engineering, manufacturing, and logistics, pitch it here.

I'll also note that I've toyed with the idea of a biweekly (in the "every two weeks" sense) video lunch for some much needed socialization and general chit-chat; as with most things, it would be rolled out to paid subscribers first and foremost. If that sounds interesting to you, send a note here.

Lastly, I just want to thank you all - and especially The Prepared's sponsors and paid subscribers - for supporting me during this period, both financially and emotionally. Whatever The Prepared is an exercise in, I'm glad to have you all here with me for it.

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~20% of opens) was a minimalist workout routine.

Planning & Strategy.

  • An explainer on the Payroll Protection Program, which is part of the $2 trillion bill that passed last week. These are low interest SBA loans, given with no collateral or personal guarantee and administered by normal banks. Any business with under 500 employees (including independent contractors and self employed people) can take them out to cover utilities, rent, mortgage, and payroll - and the first 8 weeks of the loan will be forgiven if you use it to pay for those items. Note, it appears that very few (if any) banks have set up applications for these loans yet - but the recommendation is to contact your current bank if you want to begin the process.
  • A thorough explainer on force majeure clauses, which are included in many commercial contracts (like lease agreements). Force majeure events are typically related either to governmental/political action (like war) and natural disasters; if a qualifying event occurs, some contractual obligations (like the obligation to pay rent) are typically waived. Interestingly, force majeure is not implied under English Common Law, so if your contract doesn't contain an explicit force majeure clause then your obligations under the contract are likely to hold through COVID-19. However, force majeure *is* implied under the PRC General Provisions of the Civil Law - meaning that contracts with Chinese companies may now be unenforceable. I happen to be both a commercial lessor and a commercial lessee, and it strikes me (perhaps naively) that the best case scenario is one where rent throughout the system is frozen and failures are aggregated at the mortgage holder level; YMMV. Related, a public Google Doc with template letters for anyone in NY hoping to withhold rent.
  • An almost real-time oral history of how H-E-B, which I'm told is "the food store in Texas," is managing supply chain disruptions from COVID-19. According to their website H-E-B has "over 100k employees," and take disaster preparedness seriously enough to have someone working full time on the issue. If you're aware of a company that's smaller than that and also has a full time disaster person, I'd love to hear about it.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • A good video of hardened, spiral fluted steel nails (apparently intended for fastening to concrete) being made. The nails are formed by a WAFIOS S140; a similar unit, made in 1966, is available here for 17,900 €.
  • An instructional video on making relatively professional surgical type pleated face masks. Note that the video was produced as part of a stopgap effort to get individuals to make masks for hospital use, and the WHO says that "if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection."
  • Chickens have not slowed egg production over the past few weeks, and yet there appears to be a shortage of eggs in the UK. This is partly because people are stocking up, partly because the egg supply chain is shifting from restaurants to grocery stores, and partly because there are only three egg carton manufacturers in the UK; the rest are in continental Europe.
  • 3M set up a bunch of excess capacity on their N95 mask lines after the SARS outbreak; it's coming in handy now.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • In response to 2020-03-09, Chris wrote in with some interesting points about consumer computer hardware, which has its busy sales season in July and August during back-to-school sales. In the laptop world, production for the slowest & cheapest shipments (which correspond with the highest volume & highest revenue products) begin in March; higher end units (which have higher profit margins and are shipped more quickly/expensively) go into production in May and June. With COVID-19 disruptions, brands will probably need to either extend last year's models, or consolidate SKUs, or delay new model production and eat the cost of expedited shipping, or delay new model introduction and take a hit on sales. Of course, back-to-school sales seem a little unpredictable at this point, and I'm sure the chance of a slower recovery is being treated as a real factor.
  • The name "Triscuit" is short for "elecTRIcity biSCUIT," an homage to the fact that they used to be based near Niagara Falls and used cheap electric power for their baking.
  • American Airlines flew its first all-cargo trip in more than 35 years.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • A collection of "responsible live visualizations" of data related to COVID-19. Note the directive to use non-alarmist colors (e.g. not red) on maps, and the discussion of how recoveries are as important as deaths.
  • As a random thought, it's kind of insane that most of the people we consider "essential employees" are often the lowest paid people in our economy.


Glitchy gloves.

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