2021-04-05 5 min read


Editor's Note: A warm welcome to our new sponsors: Formlabs and Instrumental!

Notes, 2021-04-05.

You will not think it surprising, dear reader, that I find the White House’s American Jobs Plan to be smart, reasonable, and forward-thinking. Its fact sheet is littered through with infranerd catnip: Over $100B in mass public transit; $20B in improved road safety that prioritizes cyclists and pedestrians; $80B to Amtrak; $20B to reconnect communities bisected by highways; $17B in port and waterway upgrades; $174B in electric vehicle infrastructure (including the electrification of the USPS’s fleet), and a new ARPA-C “to develop new methods for reducing emissions and building climate resilience.”

And it isn’t just sexy stuff! There’s also a call to eliminate mandatory parking requirements, $12B for community college upgrades, R&D and funding earmarks for HBCUs and other minority serving institutions, and $45B to “completely eliminate all lead pipes and service lines in the country” (though it notably doesn’t address the additional ~$300B needed to eliminate lead paint, lead-contaminated soil, or all the infrastructure around avgas, the small plane fuel that is somehow still allowed to contain lead).

As Dan Wang wrote recently, American politicians rarely use the kind of grand, centralized “campaigns of inspiration” that are a fixture of the Chinese political system. In this respect it seems to me that The American Jobs Plan is an outlier: It clearly means to inspire us, if not to “reimagine and rebuild a new economy” then at least to “outcompete...the ambitions of an autocratic China.” And while I’m ambivalent about that last part - I might entertain the idea of China as a nemesis, but not as an archenemy - my default reaction to the American Jobs Plan is “you had me at ‘unify and mobilize the country to meet the great challenges of our time.’”

-Spencer Wright

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~18% of opens) was a LinkedIn post about bullet holes in WWII aircraft. You should also join The Prepared's Members' Slack, where there were excellent conversations about Macbook SSD replacement, Voltswagen, and the horrible experience most folks have programming PLCs.

Planning & Strategy.

  • I submit to you evidence that patent activity is not necessarily a sign of progress, or value creation, or even the slightest bit of common sense: Apparatus for facilitating the birth of a child by centrifugal force.
  • Fictitious entry is the term used for deliberately false entries in encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other reference works. My favorite example of fictitious entry is when Google hard-coded results for terms like “hiybbprqag,” “mbzrxpgjys,” and “indoswiftjobinproduction” - all of which subsequently turned up identical results on Bing.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • A seriously impressive video of an FDM printer that prints tooling which it then uses to assemble functional mechanisms on the print bed. This thing is wild - I love the overhead forklift gantry, and the bread knife it prints to then cut the ham and cucumber sandwich it made is… just wild.
  • A rather moody short film showing resource extraction, production, and distribution of goods from mainland China.
  • A Teen Vogue article from a few years ago on the cost structure of the lingerie industry, and the amount of manual labor that goes into making bras in particular. I found the explanation in this article to be lacking, namely because apparel manufacturing is infamously dominated by manual labor; see for instance this video of a T-shirt factory, or this video of mens’ underwear being made. It simply doesn’t make sense to automate many of the tasks in textile production: For one, there’s lots of low wage labor left in the world, and for two it’s really hard to get robots to handle fabric, and for three it’s hard to recoup capital expenses put into apparel automation because the market moves so quickly and things go out of fashion before you can amortize non-recurring engineering expenses. That said, bras come in a rather shocking range of sizes (centered around twelve “core sizes,” the idea of which is now somewhat controversial due to evolving ideas about body image) and have a *lot* of individual subcomponents - and the costs associated with engineering and then setting up production processes for each of them are certainly worth considering.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.


  • I love this ridiculously bad website for a company that has 14-month lead times on ~$400 handmade water color palette trays.
  • A short video of some mind-bending topology tricks being used to untie tricky knots.

The USDA's 10,000 lb. test weight cart loaded with an additional 30,000 lbs of test weights. The entire test weight group clocks in at 100,000 lbs, and is used to calibrate the master scales for the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyard Administration.

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