Very abruptly in the last 2 weeks I packed up and moved from Toronto to Montreal to work in a textile factory doing research. It's been a whirlwind of a month and a steep learning curve in many ways. One notable challenge has been sourcing experimental materials with the current supply chain disruptions; it’s made me acutely aware of distances that often feel so collapsed. Manufacturing within Canada is very limited, which is a problem we’re trying to address directly and a unique challenge during the pandemic.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~11% of opens) was a beautiful and very detailed writeup of an Aleutian skin-on-aluminum-frame kayak being built.
Design & Concept.
- A compelling and comprehensive piece on what it means to decolonize design, and the subtle but insidious effects that can be caused by seemingly minor elements of everyday artifacts. “With every design choice we make, there’s the potential to not just exclude but to oppress; every design subtly persuades its audience one way or another and every design vocabulary has history and context.” See in particular the further reading section at the bottom of the piece, which is a wealth of excellent resources.
- Designing space suits for the Apollo missions was a unique challenge, surprisingly solved by Playtex, who are better known for making bras in the 1950-60s than their contributions to space exploration. It’s hard to say what the next generation space suits will look like, but Iqaluit artist Jesse Tungilik made a space suit sewn from seal skin as a way of exploring what an alternate reality might look like where there was an Inuit space program.
- A comprehensive design review of an effort to re-imagine Atlanta’s city's jail as a process for dismantling racism and ending mass incarceration. The radical redesign trades the existing concrete structure for large windows and community spaces.
- From 1965-1975, Fairchild Semiconductor operated an integrated circuit manufacturing plant in Shiprock, New Mexico on a Navajo reservation. The delicate work was presented as visually similar to traditional rug weaving in Fairchild’s insidious brochures. “The idea that Navajo weavers are ideally suited, indeed hard-wired, to craft circuit designs onto either yarn or metal appeals to a romantic notion of what Indians are and the role that they play in U.S. histories of technology.” This framing was used to attempt to justify the exploitation of Navajo women for their cheap labour and tax benefits. Their stories are still untold in the electronics industry.
Making & Manufacturing.
- I’ve been fascinated to learn the complexity of circular knitting machines and how they work. The latching needle is a brilliant mechanism that makes it possible.
- This great video of the electrospinning process shows how highly porous nanofibers are made using electric fields. Many electrostatically charged masks use this method, which allows statically charged fibres to help with particle filtration. Wet spinning is another interesting extrusion technique!
- A descriptive video of how color laser printers use positive and negative charges to transfer ink onto the paper.
- Ken Shirriff decaps and looks at ICs under the microscope. He documents their history as well as the function of each IC with beautiful photos, like this reverse engineering and comparison of two Game Boy audio amplifiers. My favorite of his older projects is bitcoin mining on the Apollo guidance computer.
- Making semiconductors at home is no small task, but Sam Zeloof has the basics to get you started. His website is full of tools and methods like using a modified presentation projector to transfer an image onto a photoresist coated wafer without using a mask. It's pretty amazing to see it all come together in a distortion pedal made entirely from homemade parts.
- ZrF4-BaF2-LaF3-AlF3-NaF, also known as ZBLAN, is a promising optical fibre that can theoretically have up to 100 times lower signal loss than silica fibres. However, Earth’s gravity during production can cause imperfections, which is why several fibre optic manufacturing companies are pursuing making ZBLAN on the ISS.
- Two videos (1, 2) of an old Sunbeam toaster with a rather brilliantly simple mechanical design. By using a bimetallic strip and a complicated but low cost system of levers & nickel chrome wire, the cook cycle length is determined by measuring radiation off of the toast rather than fixed to a certain amount of time.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations
- Tim Harford’s Cautionary Tales is a podcast about human error and catastrophes. La La Land: Galileo’s Warning is a great episode to start with, and shows how complex systems designed to prevent disaster can sometimes be their own downfall, from nuclear reactors to typography at the Oscars.
- Carbon is often used in masks as a filtering mechanism, but this self cleaning mask uses carbon traces to create heat and disinfect the mask with a simple USB charger.
Distribution & Logistics.
- The story of how Target Canada bought Zellers for $1.8 billion, failed to implement a new point of sale and inventory software, and went bankrupt in just 2 years.
- A flowchart detailing the relationships of penguins in two Kyoto aquariums.
- An animated map of every earthquake and its magnitude for the last 100 years.
- Decellularizing and growing of meat on a grape.
- A comically small laser cutter made from teeny stepper motor actuators + a DVD burning diode laser.
- A guide to web scraping as an artistic practice.
- Lady Gaga outfits, reimagined as physics experiments