2022-09-05 5 min read


Notes, 2022-09-05.

I’ve been learning about decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs. DAOs are groups that form with a common purpose, usually to invest in or operate something, with decisions being voted on transparently over a blockchain. There are a lot of examples of failed DAOs. Most notoriously, ConstitutionDAO raised $47 million to buy a copy of the US Constitution at auction - but didn’t win, costing donors millions in cumulative network fees. I’m more interested in the ones that are succeeding in operating something in a novel way. Some DAOs have members vote based on merit, requiring contribution to the network in order to claim a vote. These organizations end up with a more diverse, informed governing body.

At first glance, the DAO structure seems so incompatible with my hardware manufacturing work. Building physical products has typically required a lot of centralized decisions and a centralized factory. Leveraging these economies of scale in mass production is a good thing, but for people trying to develop great ideas at a smaller scale, they also represent a high barrier to entry. However, software continues to provide new solutions to access global hardware expertise, collaborate on design, and manage supply chains — I think DAOs could be a framework for further decentralizing networking and governance for hardware execution. So I’m excited by the possibility of a future where more hardware products won’t just be crowdfunded, they’ll be crowd-developed.

-Sean Kelley

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~9% of opens) was an all-terrain vehicle designed to replace the donkey carts on South African farms. In the Members' Slack, we're wrapping up The Toaster Project this week with a conversation with author Thomas Thwaites.

Planning & Strategy.

  • A beautifully designed website providing 105 examples of cognitive biases in product development. One of my favorites is the IKEA effect, in which people disproportionately value things they helped create. This can then contribute to the sunk cost fallacy, which is surprisingly not on the list, where one continues to invest in something beyond rationality.
  • An overview of why Europe's electricity prices are so high. As costs continue to rise, more drastic measures are being taken such as building out liquified methane terminals in Germany. The terminal project, originally estimated to be completed in 3 to 5 years, is now supposed to be completed this winter, in time for peak seasonal demand. In order to achieve that deadline, Uniper, the German energy company managing the build, is cutting corners by starting construction before permits are complete and foregoing environmental assessments.
  • I used to test radiation therapy machines at work and had to wear a radiation dosimeter. We also required 2 m concrete walls to block the radiation generated by the linear accelerators. But that doesn’t come close to the challenge of storing spent nuclear fuel, which emits more long-lived radiation and generates heat. This article details the unique geological conditions required to store nuclear waste properly for thousands of years. It’s treated as an inevitability that the physical containers for nuclear waste will eventually fail, so geology needs to be the ultimate container, cutting off all potential access to groundwater.

Making & Manufacturing.

  • The last 747s are currently being built in Boeing’s factory in Everett, Washington. This marks the end of an era in American manufacturing — an era that touched many lives, including my family’s. My mom was a flight attendant for United on 747s back when the upper deck was a spacious lounge. My uncle started his career as an electrical engineer designing the “lavatory occupied” signs for 747s. He said that Japan Airlines even considered putting a rock garden in the upper deck, before airlines realized that the most profits would come from adding in as many seats as humanly possible.
  • A quick video of the automated testing of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4. The Fold 4 is rated to survive 200,000 folds, similar to its predecessor. However, the big question about foldable phone screens is whether they last as long as they’re rated to. With the Fold 3, fold cracking appeared to happen much sooner than anticipated in the uncalibrated hands of humans. For an industry that already has concerns over designed obsolescence, phones cracking in half from normal use seems like taking it too far.
  • A thread on the challenges of PCB design and how software can help accelerate the process.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

  • A thread in The Prepared’s Members’ Slack asked why ship propellers are smaller than airplane propellers. I responded since in college I ended up taking an ocean engineering course because it was the only elective that would fit in my schedule. In both water and air, a spinning propeller creates low pressure regions in its wake. For an airplane this typically isn't a big deal — air around the blade will fill the drop in pressure. But in water, low pressure regions can create bubbles of water vapor, which then tend to implode violently in a process called cavitation. Cavitation can cause real structural damage to boat propellers, and they're also detectable on sonar — so for both maintenance and stealth, ocean engineers have dedicated a lot of research to reducing cavitation. Because cavitation tends to happen where the propeller is moving quickly, it's a particular problem at the ends of propeller blades; hence, having a smaller propeller and varying the blade angle of attack helps reduce the pressure differentials. The other reason for boat propeller sizing is much more practical: draft. You want your propeller to be fully underwater, but not scrape the ground before the hull of the boat.
  • Vibration analysis can be a useful tool for understanding if something is built and functioning correctly. In the past, I’ve used it to verify that thin internal walls were taut in an assembly. More recently, I’ve been using it as a measurement for proper belt drive tension. Plucking the belt and listening to the sound it makes gives more reliable results than manual force-displacement tools. The acoustic method captures a consistent and pronounced natural frequency, while the manual method requires a single precise measurement and calculations that can introduce human error.

Distribution & Logistics.

Very few bills of lading are digitized, due to regulations that only recognize printed bills as a title to the goods and for customs clearance. Maersk is trying to change that with TradeLens, its blockchain-based global trade network. They face competition from Hong Kong based Global Shipping Business Network, among others. The immutability, traceability, and high uptime of blockchains make them well suited for bills of lading. However, agreeing on a single solution, especially between competitors, and negotiating the legal framework to support digitization, presents major challenges.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.

  • While I had hoped that the chip shortage would get better by the end of this year, in my experience it is still getting worse. A catch-22 is that even the production of new chipmaking machines is being held up by chip shortages. For now, manufacturers will either have to redesign products to use fewer chips or rely on the inconsistent broker market. If doing the latter, there are many methods needed to inspect chips for counterfeits, which adds to the lead times, increases cost, and destroys some valuable chips in the testing process.
  • A snake-like robot for performing inspections in tight spaces. The work is funded by Rolls-Royce to inspect the interiors of their jet engines and can even repair internal liner damage with the addition of a flame spray attachment.
  • I’ve been brushing up on my electrical engineering skills. This online circuit simulator is the best one I’ve found for quickly building and visualizing the flow of electricity in circuits. It also includes some fun examples: try Circuits>Misc Devices>LED Array to add a smile to your Monday.


Half of the residents of Whittier, Alaska live in a single building. Many community services also exist in the building along with an underground tunnel connecting it to the local school, so people end up walking around in sandals and shorts throughout the Alaskan winter.

The first Boeing 747 at the Everett factory, 1968.

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