2021-01-04 4 min read


Notes, 2021-01-04.

Happy New Year, all - and congrats for making it through the last one.

-Spencer Wright

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~15% of opens) was on the tax issues that arose from MIT's majority ownership of the Bose Corporation.

Planning & Strategy.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • I’m looking for a new US supplier for a simple stamping for The Public Radio - a part that we use about 5000 per year of. If you are or know a stamping shop that could make the part, I’d love to hear about it.
  • A company called Canvas is developing an automated system for finishing drywall, a process that traditionally involves a lot of skilled manual labor. Canvas’s robot works a bit differently than a human would, spraying compound instead of applying it with a knife, but Canvas claims they can reach a level 5 coat in just two days - a pretty impressive feat. Construction is an incredibly varied field, making it difficult to deploy much automation at all: Two jobsites just blocks apart from each other can look wildly different, and regional variations are huge. My assumption with almost any technological advancement in construction is that it’s likely to target very large jobs and very large construction firms - institutional projects that employ scores of people, but which most individuals outside of the construction industry don’t have much exposure to. Related: A lush article in the New Yorker about ultra high end residential construction in NYC.
  • A good three-part video series (1, 2, 3) of vintage style can capacitors being made. The whole vibe in these videos is deliberate and specialized, and I kind of love the small business trappings - the VP of Production speaking directly to the camera, the appearance that maybe there’s only a single production employee… It’s great. Related/on the other hand, an old and very corporate video from Kemet of SMT ceramic capacitors being manufactured.
  • A pretty rad homemade automatic wire cutter & stripper, engineered to make wire harness construction a lot easier.
  • An impressively large 3D printed yacht hull mould.
  • If you’re a manufacturer or product design company in NYC, ITAC wants to hear from you here.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • I spent a lot of time last year pining for a mayor like Paris’s Anne Hidalgo, and so this 2018 article about the catastrophic rollout of Vélib upgrades was a bit dismaying. The incident revolved around the electrification of the Vélib fleet, and occurred during the transition from its initial operator, the advertising mega-corporation JCDecaux, to Smovengo, a consortium whose members make up some of the largest bikeshare operators in the world.
  • TeleGeography’s subsea cable map, which I’ve lusted after in print form but which also exists as a decent website.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • Formula 1 is considering a ban on wind tunnels, a move that would be effective in 2030. From the standpoint of the sport, this seems totally rational to me: Games are all about arbitrary limitations, and F1 in particular makes its mark by being pedantic about all sorts of odd things (imagine if the NBA regulated the amount of Gatorade that a player could drink during a game, or mandated a single supplier for all sneakers worn on the court). But this change is also supposed to address sustainability (the idea being that wind tunnels consume more energy than computers running CFD; This strikes me as mostly marketing, given that each F1 race involves the burning of ~2200 kg of fuel, and the fact that per F1 itself, an even larger source of emissions is shipping race cars to the track), and there’s also chatter about how a CFD-forward design paradigm “might spice things up a bit,” presumably by leveling the financial playing field and allowing poorer teams to compete better. I’d tend to be skeptical of this: CFD software itself is not inexpensive, and hiring engineers who really understand it is a significant task unto itself, and something makes me think that wind tunnels might still be easier to utilize on a per-hour basis than fluid dynamics simulations are. Regardless, I appreciate F1’s willingness to experiment - and if this ends up pushing change in the engineering software industry, that’ll certainly be interesting.
  • A video of the NY MTA’s Track Geometry Car, which inspects the subway system’s rails for wear and damage.


  • A pretty fantastic twitter thread of videos of moss being rehydrated.

The Vert-A-Pac, a system designed to double the number of Chevy Vegas that could be shipped per rail car.

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