2021-05-10 4 min read


Note: A warm welcome to our newest sponsor, Royal Circuit Solutions! We're very glad to have them :)

Notes, 2021-05-10.

I recently moved, and was therefore reminded about how terrible moving is. Why is it so hard to bear? As an engineer, my brain immediately tries to solve the obvious logistic challenges: how to optimize each box so that its contents nest well, or how to track frequently-used items so that I can find them quickly during and after the move. In the end, these optimizations can effectively be solved by hiring movers who know what they’re doing, but moving is still painful.

Perhaps it comes down to more personal factors: I’m not just moving objects, but myself - and my life. No matter how much of it I optimize, my privacy will still in some way be violated, something will inevitably break in transit, and many future weekends will be spent agonizing over furniture placement. And there’s no technical innovation that will make those things not suck.

-Eric Weinhoffer

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~17% of opens) was a video of a parking lot full of Teslas all receiving a software update a the same time. In the Members' Slack (and in the Member's evening Zoom chat) last week, a series of spicy conversations about how various aluminum extrusion-based industrial framing systems stack up to one another 🔥.

Planning & Strategy.

  • I was very excited to see Stratolaunch, one of the largest airplanes to ever fly, finally return to the skies last week. Take a look at their website to get a sense of scale, especially the wingspan. The monstrous size is required so it can eventually carry hypersonic test vehicles between its fuselages for mid-air release, which I can’t wait to watch.
  • DARPA wants to utilize nuclear propulsion to improve efficiency and speed in spaceflight, and has selected three contractors, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, to start working on it. So, why nuclear? Electric propulsion, an efficient alternative to chemical propellant, is already in use - but it’s not yet powerful enough to speed up long journeys. A nuclear-powered spacecraft could provide the thrust needed to cut down travel time, and can do it in an efficient way. This has the convenient benefit of reducing the already-huge radiation doses that come with space travel, and would allow the spacecraft to stay at cruising speed for a longer portion of its journey.

Making & Manufacturing.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

  • A fantastic visual guide to internal combustion engines, which builds up each basic concept with clear 3D animations and includes explanations on the engineering, geometry, and assembly of an engine’s every subcomponent. One thing that this piece has impressed on me is the many person-years of work that have gone into the development of ICEs, an invention that, while profoundly important, has also contributed to much destruction. It’s hard not to consider what would’ve occurred if only a fraction of this work was directed elsewhere.
  • One of the many waste tanks at the aging Hanford site in Washington is leaking radioactive waste into the ground. Sadly, this isn’t exactly new: the site was originally developed as part of the Manhattan Project for plutonium production and, since the early 2000s, has been leaking hundreds of gallons of radioactive waste into the ground every year.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • I loved this photo essay from 2015 about the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. The challenges, including stringing up a giant safety net between sides, were staggering - and yet the bridge was completed ahead of schedule and $1.3 million under budget.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • From BirdCast and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, bird migration maps showing total migration traffic across the US for every ten minute period since early 2018. I love how this field of measuring bird migration patterns, radar ornithology, came to be: it started with researchers trying to sort out what some unidentified “angels” were on radar, and has recently relied on machine learning to parse out the birds from other data, like weather patterns or insects.
  • After four successful test flights, Ingenuity, the first rotorcraft to fly on another planet, will transition into an operational role scouting paths for the Perseverance rover on Mars. Since the helicopter relies on the rover as a data relay and took up valuable mission time as it performed early test flights, the original plan was for the rover to leave it behind. I’m happy to see that it’s been successful enough to warrant a new mission phase instead of grounding it while it’s still in good condition.


A sounding machine, used to measure water depth.

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