2022-03-21 6 min read


Notes, 2022-03-21.

One tool which has been on my mind recently is time. Humans have had sundials since about 1500 BC, giving us the concept of local time and letting us coordinate locally. In the mid-1700s we figured out how to apply our knowledge of time towards geolocation: With an accurate timepiece it’s possible to calculate your longitude, and the accuracy of John Harrison’s pocket watch, first tested in 1761, enabled a ship’s captain to geolocate to within a few nautical miles. In 1840, a train company in England invented the first time zone, letting them synchronize their operations – coordinating activity across space. Then in the late 20th century, cesium clocks brought us GPS, and with it much of modern digital life.

Time is remarkably effective at evoking emotional reactions in people too. For instance, it turns out that people like to end their workdays before the sun sets, and when they do end their workdays, they tend to get upset if their clocks show them small numbers. As the designers and maintainers of those clocks, there are any number of things we might do to ensure that this doesn’t happen. We might adopt 24 hour time, which puts sunset on the winter solstice in NYC at around 16:48 this year – a pretty big number. Or we might use something akin to Swatch Internet Time, which has no time zones and renders that same NYC sunset time as @950. Or we could simply change our mental model of what “6pm” means, and encourage employers and schools to shift the numbers on their open signs accordingly.

Or, I suppose, we could just add an hour to the numbers on our clocks. Because as much as it pains me to write this, most people don’t care whether the sun is at its highest point in the sky at noon – what they want is to feel a particular way when their clocks tell them it’s 6pm. So just as Spinal Tap can make all of their volume knobs go to eleven, I guess we can just as well turn our clocks ahead an hour and keep ‘em there. After all, time is our tool; we may as well use it in a way that suits our needs.

-Spencer Wright

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~9% of opens) was a video of a *highly* automated pie production line. In the Members' Reading Group, we're starting Space Forces, Fred Scharmen's critical history of life in outer space. Join us :)

Planning & Strategy.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • A good, detailed shop tour of Paul Components, one of the mainstay producers of high quality, high style, US-made bicycle components. The section walking through their job boxes – standard hanging/stacking bins, full of all of the jigs, tools, and setup parts needed to produce a part – was particularly fun for me, as the part shown is one I’ve personally installed dozens of (and ride on my own daily commuter bike). In other words: this video is possibly more interesting for bike nerds than it is for manufacturing nerds 🤓
  • Something I missed during the pandemic: Boeing consolidated their 787 production to South Carolina, eliminating the assembly line that had been running in Everett, Washington. As a side note, the Everett facility has an excellent public tour, which I took in 2014 and recommend highly.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • NASA released the first image from the James Webb Space Telescope, with the message that its “optical performance will be able to meet or exceed the science goals the observatory was built to achieve.”
  • electricityMap is a company that compiles real-time energy production & distribution data in 150 countries (their coverage isn’t complete, but they’ve got the majority of Europe, Australia, and the Americas). That data is available via a (subscription-based) API, and available for free on their live map, which shows regional carbon footprints per kilowatt-hour in colors from green to dark brown.

    My own home grid power comes from the New York Independent System Operator, which as I write this is running at 221 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per kilowatt-hour – a medium-yellow color on electricityMap’s scale. NYISO’s (slightly outdated) production mix is on page 49 of this PDF; it’s not too pretty, but I remain gung ho about our own electrification efforts. My family put a couple of solar panels on our little roof a year ago, and since then we’ve produced slightly more power than we’ve consumed – prompting me to start scheming about electric options (heat pumps and induction) for our heating, domestic hot water, laundry, and cooking. It’s pretty fun to own your own power production, and finding ways to cut our home’s fossil fuel consumption to zero has become a nice optimization problem for my spare (ish) time.

    Related: An interesting interview with the CEO of Otovo, a European online solar installation marketplace, about the current state of the art in solar financing and sales strategies. If you’re curious about how and why to electrify your own home (which you should totally do), the Rewiring America Electrify Everything In Your Home guide is a good starting point – totally actionable, explanatory, and easy to process.

This one-sentence paragraph from the Wikipedia page for time is kind of blowing my mind right now:

Time in physics is operationally defined as “what a clock reads”.


John Harrison's H4, which solved the problem
of longitude navigation at sea.

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