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 :)
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.
- I finally took note of the Tally Ho project the second or third time Nick shared it in The Prepared’s Members’ Slack, and it continues to bring me much-needed dopamine hits. In stressful times, it feels reassuring to watch something so frivolously meticulous, and rebuilding a 110-year-old wooden ship provides a great mix of engineering and fabrication challenges.
- Bleach degrades *way* more quickly than I would have thought, with NaOCl concentration dropping from ~6% down to below 5% in less than 200 days at room temperature. Bleach is also *more* effective as a disinfectant when diluted 1:9 with water, though its shelf life drops to a rather shocking 24 hours.
Distribution & Logistics.
- Back in 2018, I noted that McKinsey has tended to estimate global shipping growth at 1.7x-3.1x of global economic growth. My assumption was that this would continue, and inasmuch as it does (and it did in 2020: Global economic output is down ~4.4%, but global trade is down only ~4.1%) we should discount any theories about the advent of distributed manufacturing. On one hand I feel intellectually vindicated by this (I’ve long been skeptical of startup culture’s assumptions around 3D printing and distributed manufacturing), but on the other hand it is of course somewhat dismaying: COVID has not yet spurred a TIME TO BUILD in the US, and the frantic few weeks we all spent sourcing masks and wondering about pneumatically powered ventilators strike me now as both naive and short-lived.
- My heart goes out to the USPS this year, with its self-immolating fleet of LLVs and its annoyingly complicated rules around guaranteeing “package acceptance.”
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.
- Phoebe Bridgers really held me together this year, through 2020’s Punisher, and through repeated listenings of 2017’s Stranger in the Alps, and more recently through her Christmas-themed EP If We Make it Through December.
- The RZA vs. DJ Premier battle set is still probably the most delightful thing I, a dude in my late thirties, watched this year.
Thanks as always to The Prepared's Members for supporting The Prepared. Thanks also to Amreeta for sending the image, and to everyone reading this for another year of emailed replies, for shout-outs on Twitter, and for just sticking with us to the end.
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