Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time curating multireddits around hobbies and side projects, and have found myself struggling to put into words why I really really like Reddit. I think it’s because a lot of the information there used to be buried in niche phpBB or vBulletin webforums, and I’d have to find these forums and make individual accounts. My accounts across forums were siloed from each other, and I’d have to bootstrap credibility in a community from scratch every single time.
Reddit has centralized and standardized the data structures and abstractions around all this really rich user generated content, and the efficiency in both finding and remixing knowledge is so much higher. At the same time, this standardization and common user pool has significantly lowered the bar for creating new communities, allowing niches to continuously spin off more specific communities and draw more specific knowledge and insight out of users.
Community forums contain a vast wealth of knowledge sussed out by dedicated hobbyists and unavailable anywhere else. Unfortunately, software like phpBB/vBulletin ages and obsoletes, and platforms like Reddit centralize knowledge and social capital—which has its own set of risks. I wish there were protocols to make knowledge truly portable (and I acknowledge how hand-wavy this sounds even as I type it). If you are aware of any projects in that vein, I would love to hear about them.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~15% of opens) was a quick mesmerizing video of a *huge* rope being braided. Chatter in The Prepared's paid subscriber Slack this week includes compact metal lathes, production quantity PRC painting vendors, and the recent changes to Autodesk's Fusion 360 pricing plans.
Planning & Strategy.
- Deaf people don’t experience motion sickness, making them an excellent control group for NASA spaceflight experiments in the 60’s. Interestingly enough, we still don’t know what actually causes motion sickness.
- I’m a fanboy for train infrastructure, but I do feel conflicted about stories like a billionaire privately funding passenger rail. On one hand, any train is probably better than none; on the other, privatizing what should be a public good—even when done with good intent—introduces all kinds of perverse incentives and moral hazards.
- Commercial tuna fishing is grueling and crews experience 50% turnover as a result. A fishing company commissioned studio Nendo to design a longline ship for comfort and morale, and the result is stunning.
Making & Manufacturing.
- Sony only has four humans on the entire PlayStation 4 assembly line, which produces a unit every 30 seconds, and the humans only load the motherboards onto the line and package the finished PS4s—the assembly is entirely automated. This is an incredible amount of automation.
- Consumer electronics have kind of converged on the ethereal-glass-slab aesthetic, so I love finding old devices that were clearly designed with tactility and physicality in mind. The Olivetti Divisumma 18 Calculator is an exceptional specimen—and what name!
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- It’s a scene straight out of Mad Max: In 1993, Emile Leray’s Citroen broke down in the Moroccan desert. He built an improvised motorcycle from parts of the car, which he drove out of the desert. The story is doubly impressive because he had no power tools, drills, or welding equipment. The police promptly ticketed him because his registration did not match his vehicle.
- A good article on why seemingly simple items cost NASA a *lot* of money, with an explanation for the urban legend about NASA’s $1,095 carabiners. Related, I’ve been trying to find the manufacturer of the tethers the ISS astronauts use for spacewalks with no luck - if you know, I’d love to hear about it.
- Much of the IRS’s Individual Master File system is implemented in assembly code from the 60’s, and the IRS has spent years reverse engineering it into Java and relational databases and… not using it. No one can quite figure out why.
Distribution & Logistics.
- The Chinese and Indian armies stare at each other across the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayas. At 14,000+ feet above sea level, the logistics of supplying these armies gets really tricky: Helicopters barely fly, trucks lose power, artillery and small arms behave differently, and humans suffer “acute mountain sickness.”
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- Garage 54 is an incredible, wild YouTube channel best described as “joyful Russian mechanic does insane experiments with high production value.” Can a car run on Zippo lighter fluid? and Rubber chicken exhaust mod are two of my favorites.
- What is music? Harvard professor Alexander Rehding tries to answer this rather metaphysical question in the context of aliens finding the Golden Record we put on the Voyager probe. In the process he wrangles with the intrinsic challenges of shoving artistic endeavors into a rigorous framework.
- Former CIA Chief of Disguise Jonna Mendez breaks down spy scenes in movies. Surprisingly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got disguise technique right, and Jason Bourne did not.
- As a joke I tried Cheetos with milk, because really isn’t it just cereal? It turns out Kellogg’s concluded a sixteen year controversy over savory cereal in South Korea this year.
- I’ve always wondered how a new pasta geometry gets canonized. I still haven’t figured it out, but I learned a lot about the unexpectedly dramatic history of some of the major shapes.
- Sam Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit, created through a series of grafts, is a tree that produces forty different types of stone fruit.