2020-11-23 4 min read


Notes, 2020-11-23.

In October, Kelly took a Covid-appropriate road trip across the US Southwest to see some 1970s land art — a vacation in the middle of nowhere, with no one around, in search of a bunch of rocks. After stopping at a broad cross section of gas stations between San Francisco and southern Utah, one thing became clear: Perrier absolutely dominates the gas station bubbly water market across the Western states.

But the delicate French fizz of Perrier doesn’t do it for us: We want violently big bubbles.

Bubble size is determined by multiple factors: Temperature at the time of bubble formation; temperature and pressure at the time of bottling; dissolved salt composition in the water. But bubbles also exist within an aesthetic and cultural context. Small bubbles seem haughtier and more European, which makes Perrier feel even more out of place alongside the Monster Energy and Big Gulps.

-Kelly Pendergrast, Anna Pendergrast

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~13% of opens) was Randall Munroe on what makes sand soft.

Also: The Prepared is doing a Members' book exchange this holiday season! Join us now to get in :)

Planning & Strategy.

  • Professional clowns register their unique makeup design by having it painted on a ceramic egg. This register acts both as a record of clowns-past, and as an informal copyright system. “When a group of artists such as clowns decide to bypass legal tools by opting for self-regulation instead, it suggests that formal intellectual property systems do not address the needs of all creative communities in memorialising and protecting their work.”
  • An Indigenous view on doughnut economics from New Zealand. Teina Boasa-Dean helped reimagine the original doughnut economics model from a Tūhoe Māori perspective, 'flipping’ the diagram to present the ecological foundation in the center rather than on the outside. It is a reminder that many frameworks for design and systems change, no matter how powerful, are presented from a single, Western perspective.
  • Adriaen Coenen's 1577 Visboek (Fish Book), an 800 page illustrated tome that includes information about fishing grounds and seafood species both real and mythical.

Design & Engineering.

  • This eccentric explanatory video uses a human-sized (and human operated) sewing machine to explain how stitches are formed, with giant bobbins and rope-thick thread. The entire Secret Life of Machines series is worth a look — it really highlights the magical action of otherwise simple devices.
  • An overview of the mechanics of consumer noise cancelling headphones and the backstory of their invention.
  • ProPublica is writing some of its content about people with disabilities in ultra-accessible plain language. The stories use common words and simple sentences to write about complex issues. The clarity of cause-and-effect in these articles is striking.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • Story sticks or story poles are wooden sticks with project measurements marked on them. These “rulers” have a long history in construction and furniture making, and allow precise repeated measurements without the need for formal measurement units, as this woodworker describes. We were taken by the name, which evokes the material history and narrative life of objects, and emphasizes embodied knowledge over inches and centimetres.
  • Tufting guns are the tool we didn’t knew we wanted. They make fast and spectacular work of custom rug construction and fiber art, and are a joy to watch in action.
  • In the age of distributed, globalized supply chains, the people designing and selling products are often far removed from the people doing the making. This separation means that companies don’t have to see (or pay for) the pollution and other environmental impacts they create. Art book printer Gerhard Steidl is the rare exception: he purposefully lives just steps from his production facility. He is driven to keep noise and air pollution controlled, “because I am sleeping there, with an open window, every night.”

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • Pfizer has set up a vast supply chain and distribution network for its Covid-19 vaccine, which is in late stage clinical trials and has a goal of shipping an epic 1.3 billion doses in 2021. If and when the vaccine gets FDA approval, doses will be shipped in purpose-designed, reusable containers the size of a suitcase that will be packed with dry ice and tracked by GPS.
  • New York City chefs are sharing their kitchen spaces during the pandemic, as people lose their jobs and access to the commercial kitchens they need to legally operate in the state.
  • These comprehensive market reports from Vancouver-based Discovery Organics (where Anna worked years ago) show the many variables that affect harvest and shipping. Insect damage, weather forecasts, wildfires and e. coli testing requirements are all covered in the most recent dispatch, along with what produce might be on the menu in the Pacific Northwest in the coming months.


Trying to understand cybernetics? These diagrams won’t help.

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