2021-08-02 3 min read


Notes, 2021-08-02.

None. Happy August - I hope you’re able to make the most of it :)

-Spencer Wright

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~8% of opens) was a blog post on the Seiko spring drive.

Planning & Strategy.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • If you missed Anna & Kelly’s feature last week on Geofoam (the enormous polystyrene blocks that are hidden below many modern civil infrastructure projects), you really should go back and read it. I also posted most of the GIFs/images on Twitter here, but the imagery in the article is totally worth your time. Geofoam is just too weird/complicated to be true!
  • A pretty interesting Twitter thread about polycrystalline diamond cutter drill bits, which played a role in the shale gas revolution and (if the author, who works in the industry, is to be believed) are on the verge of being well suited to drilling geothermal wells.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

  • iFixit reviews the modular Framework laptop, giving it an astounding 10/10 on the repairability scale. As Xavier smartly noted on The Prepared’s Members’ Slack:Of course the main threat to repairability will not be the ability to disassemble everything, but the availability of Framework parts (which are open source, but not exactly common) down the road. The most important thing Framework might do today is not to improve their laptop but to build a sustainable company and community (of users and suppliers) around it.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • Robinson Meyer on long-range electricity transmission, which the US desperately needs but seems totally incapable of building. Coal is easily transported by rail, and natural gas pipelines are quite easy to build due to the fact that they only require approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But power lines require federal, state *and* local buy in, and both the economy and the environment suffer as a result. “Since 2009, China has built more than 18,000 miles of ultrahigh-voltage transmission lines. The U.S. has built zero.” Interestingly, the Energy Bill of 2005 gives the US Department of Energy the authority to override regional siting boards in places where long distance energy transmission would be particularly useful, but nuances in the way the bill was worded have left it mostly toothless.
  • Rocket Lab’s 70-page payload user guide.
  • A pretty fantastic visual history of maps from the 1300s to the 1700s, at which point cartography began to be seen as a core governmental function and transformed completely as a result.
  • In 1894, a British engineer named Magnus Volk laid two sets of rail tracks 18 ft apart through the surf in Brighton. They were supported by big concrete sleepers mortised into the chalk bedrock, and were used to drive a 45 ton train car, later dubbed Daddy Long Legs, which stood on braced tubular legs 23 ft tall. The train would literally drive through the surf, and was seriously damaged in a storm just a few weeks after it opened.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • A good rundown of some new broadcast technologies being used during the Tokyo Olympics. My favorite: the biometric data display, which shows the heart rates of athletes in the archery competition - and gets that data by “analyzing the slight changes of skin color generated by the contraction of blood vessels.”


Lake Mead's water level is officially the lowest it's been since 1937; this is not good.

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