Quarterly guest edits of The Prepared have served as mileposts for me in a year where our perception of time is distorted. To think that back in March, we were debating how much this newsletter should focus on COVID-19, and decided to temporarily relegate it to its own section. Coronavirus soon permeated through all of the areas we cover in this newsletter, and through all the areas of our lives. Nine months later and so much has changed and yet it all feels like a flash.
Even amidst the chaos, you can always find threads of progress. For me, my relationships with loved ones grew; I learned so much at and outside of work; and simply adapting to this new world seems like an accomplishment in itself. As we approach the milestone that is the end of 2020, I’m asking myself which threads I want to continue to improve upon in the coming year. Crises will always happen. But crises also end. Now is a great time to start preparing for what’s next.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~12% of opens) was a *very* rad desktop wind tunnel. In The Prepared's Members' Slack this week, the first meeting for our new reading group, on The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World.
Planning & Strategy.
- 3D printing pioneer Stratasys acquired Origin, a sponsor of The Prepared. Congratulations!
- Google AI research scientist Timnit Gebru was fired over a research paper examining the ethical implications of an AI tool Google and others use. There has been a large backlash in the Google and academic communities. As AI becomes more widespread for making decisions about humans, it is important that we have the ethical implications being considered by a diverse group of experts at every step; Gebru’s firing seems like a step in the wrong direction.
- On the topic of corporations making decisions about humans, Palantir is developing software for the government to help determine where to allocate COVID-19 vaccines.
Making & Manufacturing.
- From Kane @ MachinePix (who is editing this newsletter next week), a short video of making a large, hollow steel sphere by detonating an underwater explosive inside to hydroform the steel. Turns out, explosive hydroforming has been around for decades and is especially useful for low-volume, complex sheet metal contour forming as it can be accomplished on a one-sided die (with the explosive providing the force from the other side).
- I’ve learned a lot about keys over the past year at my job, and it's amazing how much complexity there is to a piece of metal most of us carry around in our pocket. Stuff Made Here recently made an unpickable lock and includes a good explainer on how locks work. Related, cameras are being made so small now that they can be inserted into a lock to determine their code.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- Venice flooded last week even though their $8 billion artificial dam flood defense system was finally ready; The forecast had underestimated sea level rise, causing MOSE not to trigger. There are long-known shortcomings to the design and maintenance of this system. It is a quickly rusting band-aid for sea levels that will only continue to rise, and an example of the often underestimated investment needed for large infrastructure projects.
- GE announced the first US wind turbine blade recycling program, converting blades into material for concrete. Unfortunately, that means up until now wind turbine blades were being put straight into landfills, the cheapest option. Related, a wind turbine blade being maneuvered up a winding mountain road on the bed of a single truck.
Distribution & Logistics.
- Freight forwarders will play a critical role in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, though many are not equipped to handle the Pfizer vaccine’s minus 70 degrees Celsius storage requirement.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- Mount Everest is now officially 3 feet taller. The amount of manpower and technology involved to get such an accurate measurement is admirable; one surveyor lost part of his toe to frostbite to get this measurement.
- An amphibious robot called iFROG is being tested to clean and inspect offshore wind turbine monopiles above and below water. Another reminder of the costs of maintenance especially when dealing with saltwater.
- The Sydney Harbour Tunnel projects a massive stop sign onto a waterfall in front of trucks that are too big to enter.
- Of course, Santa is also figuring out Zoom this year.
p.s. - I would love to hear what people are gearing up for in 2021. Send me a note.
p.p.s. - Before preparing for what’s next, try writing down lists of what you’re grateful for and what you’ve accomplished this year. I find it’s a great place to start.
p.p.p.s. - We care about inclusivity. Here’s what we’re doing about it.