Thanks to everyone who took us up on our donation matching offer from last week; together we donated $20k in short order. We’ll be announcing more on the topic of structural inequality soon.
The line between work and life is blurring, with the largest effects being felt by those working on problems in the physical world. I keep hearing claims that we have now proven remote work is possible - or even inevitable - but I have yet to hear it from someone building something tangible.
I’ve personally shipped and received many prototypes in the past few months, and with each transaction I feel an inefficiency and worry that some sliver of technical understanding is being lost. Even the best documentation can’t beat working with someone side by side, and the problems compound as you approach a product launch. As one reader described it, “for hardware, the system integration work is where the magic happens.” I work on a product the size of a phone booth; shipping it around once it’s all put together just isn’t practical.
There’s something else missing as well. As much as we pride ourselves on what we make, who we make it with is equally as important. Even for things we make on our own, the feedback we get from others is empowering. While hard to measure, I think this will be the greatest detriment of remote work: The lack of spontaneous interaction and camaraderie within a company as a whole.
So this week, I encourage you to put some time on your calendar with someone to share what you’re working on and what you’re going through. I think you’ll both appreciate it.
Planning & Strategy.
- IBM, Amazon, and Microsoft have reconsidered their facial recognition deals with law enforcement. Clearview AI is doing the opposite, only working with law enforcement; they also controversially scraped social media sites to get their data.
- America’s obsession with automobiles has had far-reaching impacts - take for example the role highways played in American poverty or the demise of streetcars that once existed in most major cities.
- NYC is far from the exemplar of urban transportation reform, but the need for social distancing is resulting in shifting street allocation from cars to bike and pedestrian use. I welcome anything that makes future cities more green and livable; I often point to Barcelona's "superblocks" urban plan as an envied example.
Making & Manufacturing.
- Making steel-toed Crocs with wood molds, by the same YouTuber whose robotic golf club video we linked to last week. The trial and error involved makes for a long but informative video on the behavior of sheet metal and the general challenges of making something new.
- Converting an old washing machine into a water powered generator.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- An automated Kuka robotic arm, painted MTA blue, installs a sensor on a tunnel wall at Grand Central Station.
- People are buying more used tech and learning to repair devices on their own.
- To help save lives, iFixit had half of their company create the world’s largest medical equipment service database with a priority on ventilators. One of the medical companies sent them a threatening letter.
Distribution & Logistics.
- A good piece on how COVID-19 is affecting & may continue to affect last-mile logistics. I recently went to a DHL center in-person to retrieve a package because they insisted that my office was closed, and it would appear that centralized pickup may be ascendant.
- I was at an airport a month ago and saw a plane take off with no one but the crew. Airlines are still tuning their schedules, causing some flights to be empty while some are packed. On the bright side, I don’t think we’ll see standing airplane seats anytime soon.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- A well-produced video on how drones and AI are inspecting tanks in oil tankers, a job that is challenging and time-consuming for humans.
- Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) was used to map an entire ancient Roman city underground.
- A brief history of barcodes, leading up to the now ubiquitous QR code.
- An enhydro agate is a rock with water trapped inside its cavity. The WaterJet Channel broke one open and tasted it.
- IKEA opened a convenience store in Japan. It still has cinnamon buns.