Early this year I wrote about my desire “to transition The Prepared from a hub-and-spoke model to a distributed network...to do a better job at connecting *you* with *each other.*” The truth is that I’ve never been sure how to achieve this, and my efforts to do so have mostly been ad hoc and opportunistic. And yet somehow the level of discourse on the paid subscriber Slack has increased dramatically since then, and it’s clear that spontaneous and beneficial interactions actually are happening on a level that’s beyond my own direct efforts.
I recognize, though, that the next challenge - building a culture that actively seeks out and is strengthened by heterogeneity, embracing change while remaining close knit - will require me to be a lot more strategic. As always, if you have thoughts about this I’d love to hear them here; I’d also invite you all to grab a half hour on my calendar if you have more in depth thoughts.
Also on my mind: Remaining calm in the face of toddler craziness, taking at least one bike ride for pleasure every week, and finally tackling a few Baltic birch plywood projects around the house.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~11% of opens) was a thoughtful essay on what it would mean to decolonize design.
Planning & Strategy.
- I really enjoyed the Biosphere 2 documentary, Spaceship Earth, that made the rounds a couple months ago. The project strikes me as a classic example of literary tragedy: A story in which a generally admired hero is brought down by their own ordinary human flaws. It might be an odd observation, but I was particularly taken with the idea that, as one of the central characters notes, “it’s unusual to find business partners who are willing to think long term.” My immediate reaction to this statement is that it’s true, but it also seems to me that perhaps Biosphere 2’s greatest flaw was a failure to project their immediate actions into the medium term.
- A proposal to build what will be the largest solar energy facility in the US was approved back in March - Gemini, a 690MW installation with 380MW of battery storage. See also the Wikipedia list of photovoltaic power stations, which shows impressive capacity in India, the UAE, and China.
- A *very* critical calling out of Autodesk, which (like most of us, I suspect) makes fairly bold claims about their efforts to measure & limit their impact on the environment - and also sells software to coal mining companies. This particular calling out is on the idealistic end of the spectrum, but the directive to move corporate sustainability out of marketing and into operations feels totally reasonable and right to me.
Making & Manufacturing.
- Kipp Bradford and Adam Savage make a refrigerated suit. See also my 2018 interview with Kipp, who is now working full time on cooling at Treau and is one of the most interesting and infectious people I’ve ever met.
- Kane Hsieh of MachinePix (and a frequent guest editor here!) has a new newsletter, the MachinePix Weekly, to share more context & background on the weird and awesome machines he digs up from the recesses of the internet.
- A quick video of the main back slat of a Thonet 214 chair (aka No. 14 chair, aka bistro chair) being steamed and bent. See also this old NYTimes piece on the No. 14 chair, which describes its 1859 invention as “startlingly innovative.”
- Yet *another* trail (ish) building tool: The Uprooter, which operates kind of like a nail puller/cat’s paw, but is meant for pulling up saplings and small shrubs. The first 15 seconds of the product video are gold.
- A short time-lapse video of the MTA installing a railroad bridge in just 52 hours.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- A good blog post on the varieties of corrosion that stainless steel is subject to. Stainless steel contains chromium, which reacts with atmospheric oxygen to create a chromium oxide film on the surface of the part (oxide layers function similarly to prevent corrosion in both aluminum and weathering steel, which you may know as COR-TEN). In low oxygen environments, however, the chromium oxide layer isn’t able to regenerate itself and heavy corrosion can occur. As a result boat builders often prefer silicon bronze for their fasteners and hardware, which form a patina but resist deep corrosion. Silicon bronze also exhibits elongation under cyclic loading, making it easier to detect damage over time.
- Pizza boxes are recyclable. “‘The addition of small amounts of cheese will not impact the fiber bonding in a negative way,’ the study concludes. ‘It is expected that the larger chunks of cheese will be screened out of the process. Therefore, there is no significant technical reason to prohibit postconsumer pizza boxes from the recycle stream...simply remove any leftover pizza and place the box in the recycle bin.’”
- A charming and clever website full of ideas for upcycling things like gym floors and pool covers.
- A beautiful restoration of a P-51C Mustang, which was used as a trainer in 1945 and is now dedicated to telling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Distribution & Logistics.
- A good blog post on the history of airline reservation software. “SABRE changed the game for American Airlines. It cut the average processing time for a booking down from 90 minutes to a few seconds, giving American a huge competitive advantage. Other airlines had no choice but to do the same, and IBM’s newfound expertise helped them set up their own computer reservation systems (CRS). Airline productivity soared.”
- Cole wrote in to ask whether locomotives could be built at a much lower cost (they currently run from $500K in diesel up to $6M in electric) and with a lighter towing capacity so that they could be operated in smaller fleets on cheaper railbeds (new track currently runs around $1M per km) and with a higher degree of automation. Note also this piece on railcar economics, which mentions that the advent of “precision scheduled railroading” still hasn’t helped railcar utilization get above 80%. My guess is that the most capital efficient model is to use large, expensive locomotives to pull a *lot* of cheapish railcars in a hub and spoke network, but I’d love to know more; holler here if you have expertise to share. Lastly, see this rather random video of a train running down a *really* damaged railway, and this rather silly article about how once you’ve bought “a full-floor apartment midtown, a Bentley, a yacht and maybe even a private jet” then the next logical purchase is a private train car.
- A short, meditative video of the Sumburgh foghorn being sounded.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- A series of white papers with detailed guidelines on vibration testing for small satellites.
- A superior (podcast) explainer on the history of barcodes.
- Aaron Gordon on the need to transition traffic enforcement from police to automated speed and red light cameras. The fight against traffic cameras is “emblematic of a wider issue with white privilege; it is hard to get the beneficiaries of that privilege to give it up.” Tangentially related, some *extremely* cute electric catwalk cars that police used in the Lincoln and Holland tunnels from 1955 until 2011.
- A series of maps showing how racially segregated New York City is. This challenged my idea of the city that I live in and love.
- The Building Technology Heritage Library, an archive of over 11,000 pre-1964 architectural trade journals, house plan books, and technical building guides.