Editor's note: If you live in the US and can vote, please do! -SW
I recently moved several hundred kilometers, from Toronto to Montreal, and I’ve been trying to explore as much as I can in a new city still in partial lock down. My favourite spot so far is Frederic-Back Park where a landfill has been rehabilitated into public space, dotted with bizarre orb structures that siphon biogas to a nearby plant. Named after the artist who created The Man Who Planted Trees, an academy award winning animation about ecological rehabilitation, the park is a sprawling oasis in an otherwise industrial area and a testament to how much art and experience is valued in this province.
Spending more time inside, and buying so many things online, I worry that the vernacular wonders of the places around me might not be protected. There may not be as much to see over the winter, but next summer I am planning to visit the monumental hydroelectric dams across Quebec, and to keep learning about the unique aspects of the built world in my backyard.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~16% of opens) was the Wikipedia page for the Alcoa 50,000 ton forging press, though the article on its history and the effort to repair it was more informative and provides more context.
Planning & Strategy.
- These plans by architect Ralph Erskine lay out an Arctic metropolis built up against the wind, with apartments and public amenities built into a huge wall that would shelter the detached homes. While the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet never realized this city plan, the single building that was built lives on as the only hotel in town.
- My most enduring quarantine hobby has been caring for houseplants, which got me wondering about their supply chains. It turns out that supply chain strategies for plants haven’t changed much in over 50 years, and trends can take years to trickle from consumers back to growers. This has unintended consequences, such as poachers razing state parks for trendy succulents.
Making & Manufacturing.
- PEmbroider, an open library for computational embroidery with Processing, offers an update on the frustratingly limited software domestic CNC embroidery machines ship with.
- I enjoyed Connected, a Netflix series hosted by science journalist (and Radiolab co-host) Latif Nasir. I was particularly taken by the episode Clouds that included a look into the cable tank on a ship that lays submarine fibre optic cable. In the tank, they stage the cable for installation in a huge spiral as it feeds down from an onboard cable factory. While there have been some updates, this is the same fundamental process that was used to lay the first trans-Atlantic cable.
- Precious plastic offers plans for open source plastic recycling machines and processes with some nice outputs. I would like to see some open source ventilation solutions included, as most of the processes seem to involve a lot of heat and would no doubt make a lot of fumes.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- Every day at noon and 6pm, church bells ring out across Montreal. These are maintained by campanologists (bell specialists) who clamber up into the rafters and repair the electrical systems that ring the bells. Some lovely pictures can be seen here, but unfortunately the page isn’t translated into English.
- For those in America, there are many reasons to get out and vote this week. If you’re in Massachusetts be sure to pay attention to Question 1, which will decide whether or not automakers need to share vehicle telematics data with independent mechanics. This decision could be a huge win for the right to repair movement, and both sides have invested millions in swaying public opinion. If Question 1 passes, car makers would need to make sensor data available through a smartphone app for vehicle owners. This could open the door for the same rights being made available for car owners nationwide.
- These tiny plaques commemorate everyday bumps and scrapes in a home.
Distribution & Logistics.
- I am consistently frustrated by how poorly reverse logistics is handled; An incredible amount of sophistication goes into getting Amazon orders to their original destination, but upon return everything becomes chaotic. Journalists returned 12 products to Amazon with GPS trackers to trace where they ended up and only four were resold to new customers. One item travelled over 1,000 km in circles, and at least one was sent to landfill.
- Product labelling determines tariff rates, which led to a 2003 ruling that X-Men are not human (sorry, mutants). This lowered the import tariff from 12%, for dolls, to 6.8% for “nonhuman” toys.
- When the oil industry emerged in the 1850s, no one was producing barrels and they were in such high demand their price exceeded the oil they held. These days, the barrel has become more of an economic concept than a physical container.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- I am obsessed with standard test methods that look like torture devices. See, for instance, this automated knife, giant crushing pendulum, and blood cannon.
- Universal testing machines can have steep price tags, inspiring the Freeloader, an open source option with a BOM under $4,000 USD
- After the first nuclear tests in New Mexico, Kodak engineers on the other side of the country noticed their X-ray film had been exposed within the packaging. This video tells the story of how they traced the evidence through their supply chain and uncovered the top secret nuclear tests.
- The physics of falling while lead climbing.
- How it's Actually Made, a bizarre and quasi-surrealist redub of How it’s Made, brings me joy.
- I realized while reading the 99 Percent Invisible City that Toronto is the only city that disguises electrical transformers as suburban homes. As a Toronto native, I assumed this was common around the world. Explaining to a child that a transformer is inside a house is bound to lead to some confusion: I grew up believing my grandparents lived down the street from Optimus Prime.
- The colour you see when you close your eyes is called eigengrau.