2020-12-28 4 min read


Notes, 2020-12-28.

Looking back at the year, it’s difficult to see the new life experiences I happened to have as separate from, well, the year that was. This is perhaps a quintessentially human feeling: To conflate one’s own experience with the experience of humanity as a whole; to interpret world events through one’s own life moments. For me the year is wrapped up in my kids’ developmental stages (they are four and one and a half years old, and their ecstatic and often mercurial trajectories provided, ironically, a sense of stability) and my own nascent re-self-employment (a career choice I had both yearned for and dreaded for the preceding half-decade). It would miss the point to call these things mundane - raising young kids and hanging out your own shingle are both totally absorbing activities to the person doing them - but nevertheless it does feel like they might have made me miss the big, historical lessons that 2020 spent *so* much time beating into every one of us.

Fifty-two weeks ago, I tried in this newsletter to “look back on a full year to highlight the things that, in retrospect, seem indicative of where we're headed.” Interpreted as short-term predictions, my observations were of course utter garbage, and the exercise makes me wonder what (other than the totally needless suffering; the political-cultural posturing; the lack of leadership at both the national level and at the NYC Mayor’s office) I’ll remember about 2020.

So without further ado, the things that distracted, informed, and kept me sane this year. Let at least *some* of them be relevant when we look back from the end of 2021 :)

-Spencer Wright

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~21% of opens) was a blog post on the 1986 Oldsmobile Incas concept dashboard.

Planning & Strategy.

  • It took me years to process the reasons that my first business failed. The failure was of course mine: I neglected to find or create a market for the things I wanted to sell, assuming naively that a community would simply emerge from the fact that I had started an LLC. I had been totally oblivious to the nuances of community-building, and so it is surprising to me now that The Prepared functioned more as a community than as anything else in 2020. If there’s one recommendation I have for anyone contemplating an uncertain future, it’s to get ye a community - it really does make everything easier.
  • I thought a lot about the concept of neighborhood defenders this year, and the dynamics that make new housing development and urban change so difficult in the US.
  • I was shocked to learn that MIT owns Bose, and then somewhat baffled to learn that it might just be a big tax avoidance scheme.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • Many years ago, as I was complaining about the poor condition of a lathe that I had bought, a friend advised a more empirical perspective. “Old lathes make new lathes,” he told me: We bootstrap our own better future, and are never afforded the luxury of a perfect starting point.

     I would be lying if I told you that I found it encouraging at the time, but in my better moments I’ll recall it with a sense of hope. The world is like an old lathe: Ways worn, taper attachment missing, and hand-spliced drive belt coming apart at the seam. It’s an incredible opportunity to build something better.
  • My favorite project builds this year were BEHEMOTH (a totally wild, computerized recumbent bike built in the early 90s) and this gorgeous skin-on-aluminum-frame Aleutian kayak.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • Like many people I read White Fragility over the summer, which challenged me to think of racism less as an explicitly held ethos and more as a quality that all sorts of actions are imbued with - regardless of their motivations. This was not an easy definition to accept, but I find that it has significantly more descriptive and explanatory power - qualities that are well worth the emotional anguish you’ll experience from reading a 192-page book.
  • I *loved* this desktop wind tunnel.


The world's heaviest hinged door, which I'll be thinking of as this year comes to close.

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