2022-01-10 6 min read


Notes, 2022-01-10.

None :) Enjoy!

-Spencer Wright

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~10% of opens) was a TikTok video of sandwiches being prepared on a jobsite. In the Members' Slack, we've been swapping tips on audio system mesh networks, the best wifi repeaters, and writing prompts for technical writing.

Planning & Strategy.

  • An earlier version of my Notes section above was centered around a business structure I’ve long been fascinated by: the Japanese Zaibatsu. Zaibatsu were vertically integrated industrial conglomerates, born of specific circumstances following the Meiji restoration. They were dissolved after World War II and succeeded by keiretsu - which include Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and many of the larger Japanese manufacturers and consumer products brands we know today.

    My train of thought didn’t fully come together, so I’ll just note that I also like Mittelstand - the small to medium sized German businesses that “are characterised by a common set of values and management practices. These companies are predominantly run by classic “owner-entrepreneurial families” (Unternehmerfamilien) seeking to sustain the business by instituting a core ideology of longevity, conservative long-term financing, and operating practices.”
  • Tesla opened a showroom in Xinjiang province - a (morally and politically) complicated move, to say the least. They also released a software update that includes an "assertive" driving mode which may perform rolling stops.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • A good design guide for photochemical machining, a fabrication process in which a photoresist is applied to a piece of sheet metal, which is then etched to create a complex flat part. This animated video gives a decent sense of the process, which resembles and is derived from the fabrication process for printed circuit boards. Photochemical machining tooling is remarkably inexpensive (on the order of $350) and lead times are often just a few days, but the process is limited by material thickness (up to about 2 mm) and sheet size (up to about 1 m across).
  • From Kevin Lynagh in the Members’ Slack:

the JWST's golden hexagon mirrors can actuate with a step size of < 10 nm
  • A cryogenic motion reduction flexure was developed and patented back in 1999.
  • That patent has since expired.

    this diagram

    Related, NASA’s JWST tracker website is really quite nice - like the Dominos Pizza tracker, but the destination (the second Lagrange point, where the gravitational pull of Earth and the Sun are effectively canceled out) is about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Also, let me just remind you that JWST’s sun shield reduces the temperature of the mirror/instrument side of the telescope by a whopping 347°C over a distance of just two meters. 🤯

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

  • I should probably say something about the Noah Smith/Ryan Petersen interview, which got a lot of play in my social feeds last week, but to be honest it left me feeling flat. Petersen is a smart person, and I found myself nodding along to many of his points. But it’s hard for me not to see him as a politician - showing up at the port and buying everyone tacos and then stepping up to the podium to give a rallying speech on how the federal government should appoint a Logistics Czar and companies should fire all the bean counters. I don’t know: I liked Season 2 of the Wire as much as anyone, and I don’t really question Petersen’s account of what’s happening in Long Beach or what we could do to fix it. But the idea of a strategic reserve of truck chassis just kind of bums me out, and as someone who has seen what happens to excess inventory, I’m not exactly rallying for companies to build “strategic reserves.”
  • If you add up all of the stuff that humans ship by sea, a shocking 40% of it by mass is fossil fuels. “Which is great news. Because it means that if and when we make the transition to solar power and windpower, we will not just stop pouring carbon into the atmosphere, and not just save money—we will also reduce the number of ships sailing back and forth by almost half.”
  • A Turkish cargo airline transported 63 horses from Chicago to Istanbul, 59 of which were flown on the same flight. See also this article from UC Davis’ Center for Equine Health on reducing horses’ stress during travel, this product page for collapsable horse cargo stables made by VRR (a specialized air cargo container manufacturer), and this short video of a couple of horses being loaded onto a jet.
  • On the Nike Historical Society website, some very nice diagrams of how Nike anti-aircraft missiles worked - along with a (somewhat incomprehensible) text explanation of the same.
  • A little website that lets you input any train station in Europe, and it maps all the places you can travel without transfers.
  • “An ant mill is an observed phenomenon in which a group of army ants are separated from the main foraging party, lose the pheromone track and begin to follow one another, forming a continuously rotating circle, commonly known as a ‘death spiral’ because the ants might eventually die of exhaustion.”

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • I’m a big fan of egg drop contests, in which teams make some kind of contraption that lets a raw egg fall - and not break - from a high height. Well, Sojo University’s Department of Architecture holds a seismic loading competition, in which teams of high schoolers build toothpick towers that stay standing when shaken by a simulated earthquake. The towers fail in delightful ways - some lean slowly, some topple all at once, some twist up over a period of minutes before collapsing on themselves. The full 2021 competition (which was live streamed!) can be seen in this video, though highlights of the 2010 competition are perhaps more fun to watch. I also *love* the variety of designs: See this photo archive of the 2019 competition, which had a height target of 50 cm. Category 1 (designs 1-51) allowed tower mass up to 60 g with a single weight mounting location, and category 2 (designs 52-94) allowed a mass up to 80 g with two weight mounting locations. I especially love design 93, which is orderly and neat, and design 32, which is ramshackle, twisty, and just great.
  • Ponzi schemes are terrible, yes, but at least they’re zero-sum; they simply redistribute wealth from one group to another. But cryptocurrencies are negative-sum: “If the price of bitcoin collapses to zero, the gains of those who sold would fall short of the losses of holders.”
  • One thing I really want to do with my almost 4 year old kid this winter: go somewhere with a dark sky and look up at the stars. To plan this, I am using lightpollutionmap.info 👌


  • A thought provoking 2012 paper on the phenomenon of violence, which classifies it not in moralistic terms (violence is bad; violent behavior is bad, violent people are bad, etc.) but in the language of infectious disease. Like smallpox, cholera, and leprosy, violence exhibits clustering, spread, and transmission. One violent event leads to others, and over time a community can be completely overtaken; violence can become endemic. “It has been said for a long time that violence begets violence, but it is just as tuberculosis begets tuberculosis, or flu begets flu, that violence begets violence.”
  • While exercising and working on various bike projects, I’ve been listening to How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan’s 2019 book on LSD and psilocybin. I am perhaps predisposed to it (I generate a seemingly endless supply of psychic unrest, and had a meaningful experience with psilocybin early in my adulthood), but I find Pollan’s argument - that psychedelics can be used to safely and effectively help “healthy normal” people come to grips with the challenges of everyday life - compelling. Related: “Psilocybin, in 10 mg or 25 mg doses, has no short- or long-term detrimental effects in healthy people.” Also related: Truffle Report is the trade journal of the psychedelic industry, covering “the mainstreaming of psychedelics through business, legal, medical and scientific and cultural channels.”
  • The average lifespan of a civilization is 336 years.

A Flickr album - with 1700 photos - of the National Air & Space Museum being moved.

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