Habitat 67, a brutalist apartment complex arranged like an alien beehive, looms in the distance from the city side banks of downtown Montreal. Built on a quay in the St. Lawrence river, the iconic structure was the realization of young architect Moshe Safdie’s thesis project and a showpiece for Expo 67. Today I walked there for the first time (it’s out of the way without much else nearby) and I was surprised to see the building is in some disrepair with plywood and concrete patches throughout. I love it.
I absolutely love that it isn’t a pristine, perfectly preserved relic but a living piece of architecture that is distinctly lived in. Residents’ patio furniture, plants, and personalities peek through the curved plexiglass windows. Habitat 67 was a utopian, futurist project imagining universal housing for all. And while housing is still an intractable problem more than 50 years later, I appreciate any flavor of futurism that puts human needs at its center.
A friend recently introduced me to the idea of cozy futurism, a movement that centers human needs and technologies that work to create affordable cities. This is the energy I want to carry with me in my life and work, and I hope you might consider it as well.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~19% of opens) was a blog post on some really weird Japanese butter utensils. On The Prepared's Members' Slack last week, an in-depth conversation about the cost structures of US residential housing, suggestions on which industries have similar energy today as consumer 3D printing did in ~2010, and a deep discussion on Langdon Winner's Do Artifacts Have Politics? Coming up this week, we're picking a new book to read for the Members' Reading group - please join us! :)
Planning & Strategy.
- The latest episode of RIPCorp details the legal and technical pitfalls of Planetary Resources, a New Space startup that promised to mine asteroids to expand Earth’s access to natural resources. The episode explores whether or not mining asteroids is even economically viable, and with current tech, it seems unlikely.
- The indie music cassette revival is possible because cassette manufacturing never stopped: it’s been propped up by prison policies. Many United States prisons still only allow prisoners to listen to music on cassette. I am interested in these vestigial remnants of older eras of manufacturing we can’t seem to shake, but it’s frustrating to see entire product categories being supported by the goal of depriving incarcerated people access to everyday things.
Making & Manufacturing.
- These ASMR reviews of the tactile experience of different knobs are satisfying and a little unsettling.
- If you haven’t been watching Tim Hunkin’s Secret Life of Components series, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a joyful romp through the workshop of a truly dedicated tinkerer, watching as he pulls boxes and boxes of parts from the shelves. I was particularly charmed with his description of the mechanics of constant force springs, which he insists are not to be confused with a negator spring such as a measuring tape. The trouble is, he doesn’t explain the difference and I can’t find a meaningful distinction between the two mechanisms. If you have an answer, get in touch - it’s bugging me.
- Transcribing music notation is delightfully anachronistic, and many publishers used hand-engraved metal plates until the late 1990s. This was superseded by a DOS software package, SCORE, that despite being abandoned after the death of the creator is still in use by those with a license. While most music notation is done with modern digital tools at this point, those who make scores with software or code are still called engravers. This video about a new notation font has a cool deep dive into the history of SCORE.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- My absolute favorite subreddit is r/whatisthisthing, where a user recently posted looking to identify a strange weapon seen in the news. It looks like a huge forked antenna stuck into the end of a rifle, and it turns out it is a Turkish anti-drone jamming system. RF jamming still seems like something from science fiction to me, but I suppose it’s easy to ignore the use case if you don’t live under the threat of drones.
- Volvo’s latest EV had cars stuck at ports waiting for software updates, and while it’s not clear if all units have since been delivered, customers were not impressed. Range is the top consideration for most consumers interested in EVs, but the reliability of software is my main concern these days.
Distribution & Logistics.
- Troubles have not ceased for the Ever Given, with the ship now impounded until the parent company pays $900M in fines for salvage costs and lost transit fees. The saga of the Ever Given is quite small compared to the 1967 blockage of the Suez canal, in which 14 ships were trapped in the Great Bitter Lake for eight years.
- Kelly Pendergrast (occasional guest editor here at The Prepared) traces her anxiety about an unwanted corkscrew in her kitchen cupboards out into global supply chains. She shares her reflections about how supply studies has a lot in common with contemporary conspiratorial thinking - but rather than finding one powerful person behind it all, these exercises turn up “no one culprit, no conspiracy of globalists or monomaniacal billionaires, but an endlessly networked set of dependencies and nodes with nothing at the center. A hole in the world where all the money goes.”
- Dutch supermarkets have been running out of cheese after a major supplier was the victim of a ransomware attack.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- After the Dutch government reported concerns about their lack of insight into malicious digital activity towards vital infrastructure, one citizen took it upon himself to learn more through an experiment. Stefan Grimminck hosted a fake nuclear power plant online with code including a honeypot, which listens to get more information about digital attackers. While I feel somewhat relieved no malicious attackers tried to initiate a (fake) nuclear disaster, I hadn’t known how easy it was to locate internet connected industrial devices.
- A valiant attempt at trying to understand the motivations and production behind Amazon’s custom-made t-shirts.
- You can buy 1100 kg of mayonnaise.
- I love this 3D model of Kowloon Walled City and it reminded me how excited I am for an upcoming video game where you play a cat strolling through the walled city.