Besides the classy office and the radically progressive workplace culture, my favorite part of being a corporate management consultant was asking sincere questions of semi-random people within our clients’ organizations. We would kick our projects off with an intense and somewhat haphazard research phase, during which we’d do a dozen or two half-hour interviews. I’m sure some of the people we interviewed saw us as helpful, though I’d guess that the majority were mostly bored at the prospect of talking to us. But to me, the conversations could be riveting.
I was about thirty years old when I had this job, and up to that point the idea of working for a large corporation had basically never occurred to me. Neither, though, had the idea of being paid to ask people direct questions about their careers, their jobs, and their employers. It was pretty wacky: All you have to do is ask someone a sincere question, and a surprising amount of the time they’ll give you a sincere response.
As I write this, I’m thinking, “cool, but how is this useful to whoever is reading this newsletter today?” And I think that maybe the point is that sincerity isn’t useful. In my best interviews I never gained anything; I never advanced towards any goal, or furthered any argument I might be building. In the best cases, I just walked away with a sliver of understanding about someone else’s career, and their job, and their employer. Which, it turns out, is a pretty radical experience.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~13% of opens) was Anna's plywood basement renovation. In the Members' Slack, the tools of parenthood are as carefully considered as shop tools; this week, parents weighed the trade-offs between reusable and disposable diapers. It turns out there is even a detailed questionnaire to navigate the choices (thanks, George!).
Planning & Strategy.
- This summer I spent a decent amount of time at the beach, sitting in a beach chair and attempting, at least, to read a book. It was not a very summery book: I’m reading Alfred Lansing’s 1959 Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. The story, which you’ve probably heard, really is incredible: During World War I, Shackleton and his crew were stranded in Antarctic sea ice for more than two years, and they had to take a 1,300 kilometer trip in an open lifeboat to get help, and not a single person on his crew died. Also incredible is the fact that the crew included a full time photographer (George Hurley), and he took hundreds of photos on the trip, and those photos were of course on glass plates, and somehow he managed to bring about a hundred of them back to safety. There are a few in the recent NYTimes piece that was published when the long-wrecked Endurance was found; this photo book is also good. Note: That recruiting ad often credited to Shackleton is probably apocryphal.
- For political reasons I make it a policy not to use Uline, the ubiquitous packaging supply company. If you want to wean yourself from Uline, I recommend calling up Ecoenclose (or really any of the suppliers listed here) and literally telling them the Uline part number you want and asking if they can sell you an equivalent.
- UPS, which is planning to hire 100,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, says that their online hiring process takes just 25 minutes, and that 80% of their seasonal jobs won’t even require an interview.
Making & Manufacturing.
- I went to college in Santa Cruz, California, and the few times I went down to the harbor I liked walking out onto the breakwater, which is made of big spikey concrete shapes that I always referred to as jacks. Their proper name is tetrapods, a reference to their four-pointed form; they’re used because they do a good job of dissipating wave energy and tend not to shift around much. Here is a Thingiverse file for 4-part molds that you can print (preferably on a resin printer) and then use to cast mini tetrapods out of concrete. A few similar (non-mini) wave dissipation systems include Xbloc, A-Jacks, Accropode, and dolos, a South African invention which “captured the popular imagination of many white citizens who proudly connected with the narrative of innovation, self-sufficiency and apartheid modernity.”
- A very comprehensive (and yet very minimal) online milling calculator, which among other things shows instantaneous cutting force as a function of rotation angle.
- From late spring, a NYTimes video/photo essay of the manufacturing line of the largest ice cream cone producer in the US.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- There are literally no termites in the United Kingdom. As I was reminded recently (we had a small infestation; mitigating and cleaning up after it became a whole thread in the #general-projects channel in our Members’ Slack), many varieties of termite live primarily in soil, entering the human-engineered world only to snack on the ample food (i.e. wood) we often build our homes out of. Subterranean termites are endemic in much of the world, but only one subterranean termite nest has ever been recorded in the UK – in Devon in 1994. Over the ensuing 27 years, property owners living above the nest were barred from doing any home improvement work or even demolishing their houses, under the fear that any disruption might disperse the nest. Their restraint appears to have been successful: After more than a decade with no documented activity, the colony has officially been declared dead.
Tangentially related: During the Pleistocene, all of the earthworms north of roughly present-day Ohio were wiped out. As a result, basically all of the earthworms now living in the northern half of the continent were introduced by European settlers starting in the 1600s.
- In 1954, more than 3,000 cases of windshield pitting – literally, little chips in the windshields of cars – were reported in the area around Seattle, Washington. The Seattle windshield epidemic is now understood as a case of collective delusion; windshield pitting occurs as a matter of course, but individual people didn’t notice it until a string of news reports captured their attention. “Conjecture as to cause ranged from meteoric dust to sandfly eggs hatching in the glass, but centered on possible radioactive fallout from the Eniwetok H-bomb tests conducted earlier that year.”
Distribution & Logistics.
- The Cessna 172 Skyhawk was first built in 1955; more 172s have been built than any other aircraft. Typically outfitted to seat four passengers, they offer a cruising speed of around 181 kph and a fuel capacity of around 200 liters. This gives a standard range of around 1200 kilometers.
But if you remove the passenger seats and install a few ferry tanks for additional fuel, you can extend your 172’s range to over 3,700 kilometers. This would allow a single pilot to fly a Cessna from Northern California straight to Hawaii – provided that they can stay sane for the duration of the 18+ hour flight. One such flight, a delivery of a new Cessna to a flight school, was completed in August.
Somewhat related: The FAA has officially approved a lead-free 100-octane fuel for all spark-ignition general aviation engines and airframes. This is such a big deal! As I’ve written here before, it blows my mind that all piston-based small planes (which is basically all small planes, including the Cessna 172) still burn leaded fuel, spewing lead-bearing exhaust in the air all around us. It will take years to transition from “low-lead” avgas down to unleaded, but at least now we’ve got something to transition to.
Also kind of related: An all-electric 9-seat production prototype airplane, Alice, completed high speed taxi tests – a big step towards its first flight tests. The plane is targeting <800-kilometer flights, which is a bit shorter than the average regional flight in the US and a bit farther than the distance from Paris to Milan.
- This is a review of an 857-hour documentary movie, which traces a piece of consumer electronics (a pedometer) backwards from Stockholm to Shenzhen. This is a 72-minute fan cut of the same film.
- There is a spec for locking USB-C connectors, which have little thumb screws like an old VGA or serial cable.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- An apparently high-quality study which showed that parachutes “did not significantly reduce death or major injury” when participants jumped out of an airplane. The authors note that “previous attempts to evaluate parachute use in a randomized setting have not been undertaken owing to both ethical and practical concerns.” In order to overcome these obstacles, this study asked participants to jump out of an airplane that was sitting still on the ground. The authors suggest “cautious extrapolation to high altitude jumps.”
- There is a bill in the NY State Senate that would allow New York City to install fifty bike lane cameras, which would automatically issue tickets to cars and trucks that block bike lanes. This strikes me as frustratingly insufficient, but then again so is reporting taxis in the bike lane using the Reported NYC app – and I do that a couple of times per week.
- On the television, I’ve very much been enjoying Reservation Dogs, Atlanta, and The Bear. On the headphones, I’ve mostly been listening to DOMi & JD Beck, a shockingly young and virtuosic jazz-fusion/hip-hop/what-even-are-genres-anymore duo. If you’ve got young kids, I really really recommend watching an episode or thirty of Bluey with them; it’s hilarious and clever and cute and it makes me feel like parenting is hard and also it’s gonna be okay and also family time really is a hoot if you’re just able to take a breath and see it that way.
- In reading the chapter on concrete in Stuff Matters, I was reminded of the Coignet building – one of the oldest reinforced concrete buildings in the US. It was listed for sale when I mentioned it last year in my feature article on carbonatation in reinforced concrete, and since then its asking price has been reduced by about a half million dollars.
Thanks as always to The Prepared's Members for supporting The Prepared. Thanks also to the following readers for sending links: Joe, Oliver, Pete, Alex, Ryan, Matt, Adan, Duann, Michael, Anthony, Jon, Nathan.
p.s. - We should be better friends. Send me a note - coffee's on me :)
p.p.s. - We care about inclusivity. Here's what we're doing about it.
p.p.p.s. - We're always looking for interesting links. Send them here.