I have worked in software for as long as I can remember. About 7 years ago, I got an itch to move into something more tangible and solve a problem I had: making fashionable shoes that fit wider feet. But ultimately, my moral compass would not allow me to continue this exploration given it would mean I personally would be responsible for adding to environmental pollution and climate change (not to mention working through legal loopholes given that I was on a H-1B visa).
If I was a true radical, this would have been the time to go back to my country and work on disassembling the local systems that make adding to environmental pollution the default option for anyone engaging in manufacturing. Instead, I decided to continue working in the tech sector. I chose this pragmatic option because I really wanted to stay in the US, and I rationalized that working for a tech company that was earnest in addressing environmental pollution would be easier on my conscience. And, I started engaging in a deeper study of how the systems that make our world came to be.
It will take a lot more to ease my conscience, though - especially knowing some people do not have the privilege of my pragmatism. So while I try to use my money, power, and privilege to support those who do not have the same, I also hope to join them someday on the other side.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~9% of opens) was Joel Telling and Neil Patrick Harris' 3D printed picture frame collaboration. In the Members' Slack, we've been talking about the benefits of heat pumps, the state of the [cough] smart cities movement, and the perverse fact that Kaizen foam actually *slows* the pace of continuous improvement.
Your #1 reason to join The Prepared as a Member today: Skyler is back organizing our Members' Holiday Book Exchange, which was *so* much fun last year. Your #2 reason: to join in with the Reading Group as it gets ready to read How Buildings Learn, Stewart Brand's seminal text on how physical infrastructure adapts to changing use.
Planning & Strategy.
- In 1976, anticipating dramatic job losses, shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace gathered ideas from workers and published what is now called the Lucas Plan, which lists 150 socially useful products that Lucas Aerospace could work on - instead of weapons of destruction. The plan included hybrid car engines that cut CO emissions by 80%, portable kidney dialysis machines, and road/rail cars.
The Lucas Plan itself was influenced by a GM strike organized by 400,000 United Auto Workers in 1970, which itself included a demand to come up with a plan to mitigate air pollution caused by the machines that the workers made.
The direct democracy exhibited by the Lucas Plan was extraordinary. These days, we see more benevolent but radical founders doing similar things with their companies (see Dr. Bronners and Chobani), not only working on socially useful products but also ensuring workers get a fair wage and reducing their impact on the environment. As the Lucas Plan says, “there is something wrong about a society which can produce a level of technology to design and build Concorde but cannot provide enough simple urban heating systems to protect old age pensioners who are dying of hypothermia.”
Making & Manufacturing.
- A great video on the impact of wheel diameter, gear ratio, 4-wheel drive, tire grip, breakover angle, and weight distribution on climbing obstacles - all through the use of Lego.
- An extremely detailed article on the process of painting a car, and the factors that make new car paint look like orange peel. As paint cures, solvent (typically water) evaporates, and the remaining ingredients come in contact with each other and begin cross-linking. As they do, small differences in surface tension result in clumping - which, once fully cured, results in a wavy, irregular appearance.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- Placer County officials in California spent just $58,000 to convert an overused and dried-out floodplain back into a forest. All they did was introduce beavers; alternative proposals involving heavy construction would have cost more than $1M. Similarly, San Francisco reduced flooding significantly by creating rainwater gardens, which allow storm water to sink (rather than being pumped) into underground aquifers. We need to be thinking of more unconventional but sustainable technologies to help fight climate change.
- Products made by people replacing unionized workers on strikes are known to be less safe. Not only do unions reduce gender wage gaps they are also effective in turning white workers into allies for racial equity. Recently, 10,000 striking John Deere workers won a $8,500 bonus and a 10% pay raise; I hope NYTimes signs a contract with Wirecutter union in time for Black Friday.
Distribution & Logistics.
- Cargo ships collectively spew an average of 1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, about as much as all U.S. power plants combined. I am not sure which number to be more freaked out by.
- A 2011 California law intended to reduce the state’s reliance on landfills set a goal for cities and counties to recycle 75% of their waste by 2020 - but didn’t ban them from exporting it. This means recycling agencies are simply smuggling the plastic scrap to Asian countries instead of putting them in a local landfill.
- Recology is a SF based waste management company that serves roughly a million homes and businesses in California, Oregon, and Washington. An employee-owned business that is reportedly the largest composter in the country, Recology has annual revenues around a billion dollars. They give a pretty good virtual tour of their recycling facilities in San Francisco (from which I learned that SF’s trash is dumped 50 miles away, at a landfill in Vacaville), and have a well-publicized Artist in Residence program which has spawned works like Neil Mendoza’s House Party and Jenny Odell’s Bureau of Suspended Objects.
And, Recology has been under increasing scrutiny recently - for the no-bid contract that it has held for SF’s trash collection since 1932, and for the “appalling” and unwarranted rate increases they pushed on SF residents during Mohammed Nuru’s time as Director of Public Works, *and* for “gifts of money, meals, and accommodations” that the company provided to city officials during the same time. A 2012 ballot initiative attempted to break Recology’s monopoly on SF trash collection; it was overwhelmingly voted down.
- 90% of the world population has never taken a flight. The most frequent flyers, taking 6 flights or more annually, are responsible for 50% of the CO2 emissions from passenger air travel.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- In 2013, San Francisco mandated that all soft story building structures be retrofitted to be earthquake-safe - a process that, for many old buildings, meant pouring new concrete foundations. These new foundations often enclosed gas pipelines, which - perversely - might then break during an earthquake. The Department of Building and Inspection knew about their mistake in 2017, and yet did nothing.
- From Emily Atkin, a good set of links on going beyond using cotton tote bags to save the environment, including buying mineral rights and refusing to sell them to frackers.
- A compelling treatise on how time was invented to spearhead colonialism and in turn capitalism:
Clock time is not what most people think it is. It is not a transparent reflection of some sort of true and absolute time that scientists are monitoring. It was created, and it is frequently altered and adjusted to fit social and political purposes. Daylight savings, for instance, is an arbitrary thing we made up. So is the seven-day week. “People tend to think that somewhere there is some master clock, like the rod of platinum in the Bureau of Weights and Measures, that is the ‘uber clock,’...There isn’t. It’s calculated. There is no clock on Earth that gives the correct time.”
- Basran Buhan, an archeologist and a native of Sulawesi, Indonesia, found the oldest known cave painting in the world, of a wild pig common to the region.
- Indigenous people have extremely fine-tuned technology. It is now known that whalers from Indigenous tribes in Alaska are able to communicate with the whales. Indigenous people across US and Canada have curated the “pristine” forests with deliberate burning to prevent wildfires. Grizzly Bear territories in Canada match maps of Indigenous language families.