2023-01-23 6 min read


NOTES, 2023-01-23.

In this newsletter on 2022-06-13, I focused on the role of lists in my life. I start each day by crossing off brush your teeth and drink coffee before going to work to complete a series of more complicated list items. But despite all of that, I’ve come to hold a special place in my heart for the occasional unfinished project.

I’ve lived in the same home for a little over two years, and for a long time I had a pile of picture frames that I wanted to – but for some reason couldn’t – hang. I think we’ve all been there with a house project that, try as we might, remains unfinished. It’s not for lack of want or effort – it’s more like something is missing. Rather than rushing to finish, it is worth the wait for that missing thing. Recently, I found this beautiful painting and it became instantly clear I was missing a vision for these frames. That evening, all the frames found their way on the wall and became a nook for my list writing, goal setting, and future visioning.

Finding that missing piece requires serendipity. As Adam Savage writes in Every Tool’s a Hammer, creators often hold onto a project, sometimes for years or decades, until they find that missing piece. And for many of those creators, waiting for that piece brought new layers to their project that, if finished prematurely, might not exist. So don’t sweat your unfinished project, you might still be missing a piece.

-Amreeta Duttchoudhury

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~10% of opens) was the monochromatic room at the Exploratorium.

In the Members' Slack, we're launching AMAs with guests from the community. Join us 2023-02-02 for a conversation about product design and development with Tom Gerhardt, co-founder of Studio Neat. Tom runs a product coaching practice that helps small teams and individuals translate ideas into new consumer products and services.


  • An overview of the tool-in ceremony at TSMC’s new fab in Arizona, which focuses mostly on broad geopolitical and economic issues. I was particularly interested in the concept of the tool-in ceremony, which Morris Chang, TSMC’s founder, describes like so:

Basically [tool-in] means, the end of the beginning… for a semiconductor factory. The romance of the beginning is gone! The initial excitement is gone! A lot of hard work remains…

The tool-in ceremony marks when a factory’s structure and envelope are complete; it marks the point at which tools can be installed and commissioned. In my work life, I’ve been consumed by the implications of a new building to house a new automated fiber placement machine. The building is still months away from completion and has been shockingly difficult to build. I am desperately excited for the construction phase to end, but appreciate Chang’s reminder that the tool-in ceremony is just the beginning.
  • A list of unclassified DARPA budget items for 2023. While it’s not surprising to see line items like Materials for Extreme Environments, in support of things like high temperature materials for hypersonics, I found myself surprised at how much of the list is dedicated to biological research. Two that stood out were Outpacing Infectious Diseases and Pandemic Prevention.
  • Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) are used in aerospace to communicate design maturity and consequently the risk associated with assuming an immature design. This article advocates for the use of TRLs in other industries, with examples of how they might help define product development in software and biotech.


  • From its creation in the 1970s through the early 2000s, filament winding was a popular method of creating lightweight structural aerospace composite parts. During filament winding, a continuous filament (usually made of either carbon or glass) is wetted with resin and wound under tension onto a rotating mandrel, then cured. Filament winding is a fantastic way to make simple, hollow composite shapes, but as robotics have advanced (and as aerospace companies have looked to develop more complex composite parts), automated fiber placement (AFP) has become increasingly popular.

    In many ways AFP is similar to filament winding, but the equipment is more complex and the material (pre-impregnated fiber tows) are more expensive. In this paper, researchers eliminated the pre-impregnated fiber from an AFP process, using dry fiber resin infusion (similar to the process that filament winding uses), with promising results.
  • 121c is a company that buys scrap carbon fiber from aerospace companies to manufacture skateboards. Funnily, the exact same team also founded Elevated Materials, which makes custom carbon fiber parts, like on this guitar.


  • This essay by Brian Potter considers the physical, economic and regulatory limits to skyscraper heights. The economic limit for building height is considerably lower than the physical limit, as there are diminishing returns on building past a certain height. This is due to expensive plumbing and mechanical systems, increased wind loads that require structural dampening, and elevator wait times. However, this economic limit can be exceeded:

Building height in excess of this “theoretical optimum” is often height for height’s sake, with the idea that an exceptionally tall building will have “prestige value” that more than compensates for the less efficient design. The (real or perceived) benefits of prestige, combined with the rising costs of servicing the upper floors, often results in buildings that achieve their height by adding large volumes of unoccupied space at the top. The Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building, is perhaps the ultimate example of this, with the top 29% of the building being unoccupied space.


  • Helium is used for a bunch of things: MRIs, welding, and cryogenics on rockets. The helium supply chain is incredibly complex and prone to shortages. This video covers some complexity, which includes the difficulty in storing helium, an embargo on exports from Qatar, and the fact that most helium reserves were discovered by accident.


  • A neat Twitter thread figures out the location of the stealthy B-21 aircraft in USAF’s photo reveal, using public image metadata and the literal stars in the background.


  • I love this episode of How I Built This about Universal Hydrogen. It emphasizes how much our aviation sector is dependent on oil & gas, and makes me even more curious, maybe even invested, in seeing Universal Hydrogen succeed.
  • I had always heard the idiom canary in a coal mine and had a general understanding that the canaries were used for gas detection. What I didn’t know is that there were attempts to save the canaries with this resuscitation device.

Barnacle clean up in the Seattle Ballard Locks.

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