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.’”
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.
- Redwood Materials, a battery recycler started by Tesla cofounder JB Straubel, announced a deal to receive 100% of the lithium-ion batteries processed by ERI - the largest processor of electronic waste in the US.
- A map of abandoned & out of service railroad lines.
- A whole subreddit for ISO 8601 appreciation.
Distribution & Logistics.
- From the Flanders Hydraulics Research center at Ghent University, a quick description of how bank effects on the western bank probably helped steer the Ever Given into the eastern bank of the Suez Canal. Related: Marc Levinson, author of The Box, arguing that long value chains and mega-container ships are past their prime.
- The best way to airlift a rhino is to hang it upside down by its feet; shout out to Reilly for sharing this in the always excellent Future of Transportation newsletter. Note also the ninth photo in the article's gallery, which shows a sedated rhino having a hole drilled into its horn - which will then house a GPS transmitter that's used to deter poaching. As described in this article, this is apparently a somewhat normal practice: “They burrowed an eight centimeter hole, about an inch wide. Inside they embedded a silver canister and then plugged up the incision with putty and wrapped some masking tape over the rhino horn, like a make-shift bush bandage.”
- @carryshitolympics is an Instagram feed of people carrying big loads on their bikes. And. I. Love. It.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- We installed solar panels on our tiny roof late last year, and in March our home produced a small net electricity surplus, and now I’m on the hunt for a system to track our (and The Prepared’s, for that matter) total environmental impact. If you know of something that fits that bill, holler! Related: a comprehensive 2020 blog post by Ramez Naam about the rather shocking decline in the cost of solar power.
- A good history (with some nice photos) of the Andover Earth Station, which was built in 1961-1962 by AT&T as one of the first satellite earth stations. “The horn-shaped antenna weighed 340 tons and was 7 stories high, enclosed in 16-story inflatable fabric bubble...The antenna was mounted on tracks that allowed station operators to aim it precisely to capture the signal from Telstar and transmit back to the satellite.”
- Weather radar is less prevalent in rural areas. This puts rural residents at higher risk when it comes to tornadoes, which are detected via doppler radar by measuring wind speed.
- A very good overview of the 23 cameras on Mars Perseverance, complete with section drawings and animations of the zoom and focus systems of the Mastcam-Z.
- 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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