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29 September 2013

Special Tool Engineering

This is my friends families' machine shop on the southwest side of Chicago. It was started by his grandfather; not surprisingly German. They have an absurd amount of really large heavy machines that can make just about anything you can dream up - to absurd tolerances.


This is the coolant leaving the surface grinder.

Large plate bender.

Painting area.


Large CNC mill.

More large CNC's.

Bridgeport endmill.

Surface grinder. It magnetizes the rotating bottom disk and uses a very large abrasive wheel to grind the face of the part flat.


Sunday Morning Reading

Photos of San Francisco's new eastern span of the Bay Bridge. (Wired)

Photovoltaics continue their march to prominence. (NYT)

First mechanical gear found inside living creature. It also happens to be a new variety of gear. (Popular Mechanics)

A beautiful video of Tesla's factory and talk with one of its directors. (Wired) Bonus, their Model S achieved the highest safety rating of a car ever. (Tesla Motors)

Police wearing cameras all the time seems to improve outcomes for everyone. Less force is used and less complaints are filed against the police. (NYT)

Remarkable photos of Hong Kong's high rises. (Wired)

US food desert map that's well visualized. (Wired)

A few tips/tests to improve your graphic design layouts. I particularly like the upside down test. When shooting medium format film cameras the image is reversed and in large format also upside down. It forces you to study the composition before releasing the shutter - same concept. (Tree House Blog)

NASA is running out of Plutonium-238 (the stuff they use to power all unmanned missions) and it seems to be largely due to a lack of political will. Damnit government - start loving science, and not just the kind that kills people. (Wired)

59% of jobs added in the last year were part time. (John Lott)

The typical American family makes less money (in real terms) than it did in 1989. (Washington Post)

The new pope continues to be level headed and overall seem like a fairly swell guy. Help the poor and love one another. As an outsider, it seems like a positive shift in mission framing. (NYT)

A well done and non-facile explanation of why US healthcare is expensive and not all that great. It's worth your eight minutes.

Werner Herzog narrates Where's Waldo? Hilarious.

His  last answer is brilliant.

11 September 2013

How to Cut Employees Pay Without Them Noticing

The reason I bring this up is that I see it happen in my industry, architecture/AEC, on a continual basis. When I bring it up it's often viewed as an opinion when in reality it's econ 101 material, so here goes.

Most people hold a bias known as money illusion. The gist of it is that people tend to focus on the nominal cost (literally the number after the dollar sign) of something as opposed to the real cost (the purchasing power of our earnings). But to understand why not receiving an annual raise is the exact equivalent of getting a pay cut it helps to understand a related phenomenon known as sticky prices/wages.

Sticky prices is the idea is that the price of a good/wage moves easily in one direction but not the other. For example, say you're a gas station owner and you order a tanker of gasoline at a certain price. The next day gasoline prices go up ten cents. You raise the price accordingly since it's now worth more. The next day the price of gas drops twenty cents making it ten cents cheaper than where you bought it at. You most likely won't drop the price you charge below that of what you paid until you sell all your inventory. This is a sticky good.

Workers are much the same way. Raises are readily accepted whereas pay cuts are not. Most workers would either leave their job or prefer that some of their coworkers were fired as opposed to take any significant cut in pay. This is known as downward nominal wage rigidity (if that fascinates you here you go), but I think sticky wages has a better ring to it.

So say you're an employer and in a down economy you can't afford to give your employees raises. What do you do? Nothing. One year goes by. Then two. If you stopped giving employees raises in 2008 how much would their earning power be at the start of 2013?

Roughly $0.92 (source). And that's not too bad. Inflation has been really low in the last few years1. Anyways, that's how you cut employees salaries without them noticing. Inflation and ignorance.

1 - 2008 - 0.1%, 2009 - 2.7%, 2010 - 1.5%, 2011 - 3.0%, 2012 - 1.7%. Source.
2 - The Social Security Administration uses these same numbers.
3 - Krugman has some nice graphs showing how this has happened over recent years in the US.

06 September 2013

What Reddit Has to Offer

Over the last year I've been on reddit a lot, and because of its instant feedback I've gotten better at conveying ideas. It takes a while to figure out how to interact with the hive mind but I think it's a worthwhile endeavor, especially as an increasing amount of our interactions happen digitally and in venues that are open to a large number of people. Here's some rough guidelines:
  • Being snarky or mean rarely works to your advantage. Along those same lines, swearing, unless done in the appropriate context, often makes you look less intelligent.
  • People are far more interested in craft and the process of building than I assumed.
  • Being defensive, dispassionate, humorless, and overly analytical - generally at the same time - is not a way to win hearts and minds.
  • If you make it even slightly difficult to view photos or find information you will lose viewers, and they better be hosted to Imgur.com. Losing viewers is not linear either, its logarithmic. Lose three of your first ten viewers and your post might get ten up votes instead of a thousand.
  • Timing is everything. Posting a thread or commenting on a thread at the right time is the difference between no exposure and hitting the front page (a lot of people reading what you submitted).
  • Bad grammar isn't tolerated well.
  • Trying to promote yourself or a product on reddit is nearly impossible unless you are completely genuine. Redditors have about the greatest bullshit detectors out there. Become one of them, then share things you're passionate about. It's the only way.
So what's the point? Allow me to digress.

When I played paintball there was a format change. Tournaments went from a 7v7 single game to a sort of 5v5 in rounds. It changed the dynamic of play greatly, but more or less the same people who were "famous" before stayed famous afterwards. The new format favored some players styles and soon there were new superstars. Players who otherwise would not have been famous. That's what's happening now with internet communities. There are companies and individuals creating their own niche and credibility through communities like this.

The part that's fascinating is that, through various mechanisms of the community, only people who really genuinely care get promoted. Do something interesting that you're passionate about and they'll promote you. Otherwise, get ignored.

05 September 2013

Morning Links

20-somethings are unemployed and losing hope. The whole situation reminds me of a chapter from Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart that says "the problems of the elderly are often serious and seldom interesting", which to some extent explains why my parents generation cannot comprehend what's happening to anyone under 30 who's just trying to start a life. (policymic)

A hole in the wall noodle shop in Hong Kong that serves $1.50 dishes got a Michelin Star. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Whole Foods is opening a store in Englewood (one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago). (Chicago Sun Times)

Video games can help older people regain cognitive function. (NYT)

Public.resource.org has been publicizing trade association books and building codes, which are law, on it's site for the last few years. Those of us in the design world often have to continually buy $100+ books of these codes. Well ASTM, ASHRAE, et. al. finally decided to sue the website, so the outcome of this court decision will decide if parts of the law can only be viewed after being bought from a book. (Washington Post)

Classical music competitions apparently place more importance on visual cues than auditory. Anecdotally, when I played paintball my team and I could tell how good someone was just by watching their body language; even very briefly. What's interesting to me is the shock from professional classical musicians saying that their auditory expertise, at least in this case, is comprimised. (Harvard Gazette)