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To the future occupants of my office at the MIT Media Lab (ethanzuckerman.com)
459 points by app4soft on Aug 15, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 180 comments

It's very MIT.

It's also an illustration of what went wrong with the "internet of things" concept. Sensors are easy today. Actuators are hard. Most "IoT" things can't do much.

Try to buy a home power window. They exist. They're an exotic luxury home item. Even controllable home HVAC dampers are rare. It makes good sense to have a system where windows, fans, dampers, heaters, and compressors are all coordinated to maximize comfort at minimum cost, automatically. Will NeXT sell you that? No. It takes too much installation.

You might see that at a well run convention hotel. They have to keep customers happy, yet many of their big rooms are empty much of the time. So they'll have CO, CO2, temperature, humidity, and motion sensors tied to a control system that senses what the room needs for the current people load.

There's real IoT, but it's under commercial building automation.

The trouble seems that there aren't many people that get software AND electronics AND mechanics AND on top of that marketing, right.

It is rare enough to find people with good electronics and software skills.

After working in robotics for a few years, I came to the realization that people (applies especially to managers) don't recognize when they are bringing the wrong instincts to a problem. If you come up through software, you develop one set of instincts, EE another, and ME yet another set of instincts. When making a decision, step one must be identifying the appropriate set of instincts to bring to the problem.

Once upon a time I worked for a manager who could only bring software instincts to any problem. He was dismissive, even, of ME problems. But not every problem can be solved in two-week sprints and pushed over LTE to the fleet. (Actually, if you want a good start-up idea, find a way to push a field update to a 5 kilo aluminum casting over LTE -- I'd invest in that.)

But here is the thing -- unless you can synchronize the release of software + electronics + mechanics, you don't have a robot. That means design, validation, component tracking, field updates, maintenance. You always need to take a step back and ask yourself what instincts to bring to a problem, and if you are weak in one/some of those areas, learn who's instincts you can trust and bring them in.

I am presumptuous enough to believe this applies to IOT mechatronics as well as robots. (Actually robots need more than SW+EE+ME, but this rant is already long enough.)

This is one of the cool things about the Harvey Mudd College Engineering major. Rather than doing Mechanical Engineering, or Electrical Engineering or Cheese Engineering or whatever, you just do Engineering. Graduates leave with a full toolbox of skills. I kind of wish when I was an undergrad, I hadn't had such an aversion to practical knowledge (I started out majoring in Physics/English, then Math/English then dropped out of college to eventually get a BA in English).

That might be a start, but higher education only scratches the surface of on-the-job skills in engineering. You learn the basic tools, the way of thinking and the skill of acquiring additional knowledge. You get near to zero experience on real engineering problems as encountered in business.

So in the good case this degree might broaden your horizon and teaches you that you don't know enough and in the bad case it might make you overconfident in even more areas while having even less knowledge than from a more focused degree.

That's right. So I see a lot of mechatronics students that actually, instead of trying to develop all their skills, settle in either electronics or software development.

Students should understand that what they learn at uni is as far from real world product development as possible. Uni does not have incompetent coworkers, unreasonable, conflicting or entirely missing requirements, scaling issues, vendors trying to screw you, procurement processes trying their best to prevent you from doing anything, faulty materials, etc. Knowing a bunch of mechanic formulas or software development patterns does not an engineer make.

Uni does not have incompetent coworkers, unreasonable, conflicting or entirely missing requirements, scaling issues, vendors trying to screw you, procurement processes trying their best to prevent you from doing anything, faulty materials, etc.

MIT students have complained, after graduation, of finding companies that worked like soap operas.

I suspect it is the same everywhere.

At Uni you are taught many things including "things NOT to do"; some seeming quite obvious. I thought:

"Well, I shouldn't encounter those "things NOT to do" in the Real World TM, because professionals in the workplace have had 10 years to learn these lessons."

Ah, the naivety of youth...

Professionals are just people who convince someone to pay them for what they do. What they do doesn't have to include competence.

Now, here's a good project for someone into mechatronics. There are many videos of machines for making N95 masks on Youtube. Watch them, and try to design a better one. Things to note:

- They're all running at a rather leisurely pace, about 1 mask per second. That's very slow for a simple low-cost product. Compare textile machinery, progressive stamping presses, bottle making machines, and printing equipment. That's probably because demand for these things wasn't high until recently, and nobody designed a high-speed machine.

- The bottleneck seems to be attaching the elastic loops. The rest of the process is all roll to roll and could easily be 3x as fast. Is there some better way to do that?

- Can you get wider rolls of the source materials and build machines that make more masks at a time?

- At the output end, most machines just dump the finished masks into a bin. That loses order and count. They then need a separate packaging operation. They come out of the machine in a consistent position and orientation, which can be exploited. A better machine would put 10 or 20 masks put into a printed poly bag and heat-seal the bag. Then it would drop the bag into a waiting cardboard carton. When the carton is full, switch to a new carton. The filled carton gets a shipping label and rolls down a roller conveyor headed for shipping.

Compare [1], an N95 mask making machine, and [2], a paper cup making machine. The paper cup machine is doing a tougher job at 5x the speed. It has a flying paster, like a big printing press, so you can change rolls without a shutdown. The cups are shot out through a pneumatic tube to the cup stacking and packaging machine. That's why paper cups are so cheap.

[1] https://youtu.be/SdCBKB4DhdA

[2] https://youtu.be/x3Vx5y0Yg3Q

The capstone of the engineering major is the engineering clinic project which has students working on “real engineering problems as encountered in business”. Companies pay the college to have teams of senior engineering majors solve a problem they face. Two of the sexier projects were Disneyland hired HMC to come up with an anti-collision system for autopia and West Dorm had a clinic team refurbish a beloved vintage pinball machine.

My university had a student club doing that and it's probably my fondest memory of engineering. It was so inspiring and almost addicting to work on projects that actual people would use or have their lives improved by. And you got to have a hand in writing firmware, machining parts/enclosures, meeting the customer (mostly doctors, which was super cool), and researching the market fit for if it were a real project. It was so much fun.

I really wish my post-college engineering experience could be anything like that. I miss making useful things.

My wife, after she finished her MS in Software Engineering, ended up in a job where one of her first tasks was writing DOS .BAT files.

On the other hand, her first asp.net page was demonstrated by Steve Ballmer at CES, so she did advance in the world.

This is even worse with managers. Managers have whole lot of other problems to deal with and what they frequently fail to recognize is the need to separate areas where it is up to manager do act on their "instincts" (which I call experience) and where it is up to engineer to do their job.

Unfortunately, the power assymetry between managers and engineers frequently manifests itself as you have described:

-- managers trying to understand everything through the lens of their past experience,

-- engineers trying to conform to managers (ie. using manager's language to formulate problems and solutions)

-- managers dismissing/prioritizing down areas, ideas, problems that they are not familiar, promoting/prioritizing up where they feel they have good understanding,

-- engineers responding by doing the same (ie. focusing on where they feel they will be rewarded by manager).

-- managers hiring/promoting based on their assessment of the candidates/employee competency in the area of expertise of the manager, because it is easier to rate candidate/employee competency if it is in your area.

-- managers failing to improve in areas where they are completely new. Maybe because people in general tend to want to improve in areas they already know. Maybe because they don't want to be seen as noobs making silly mistakes with experts around, and so trying shun entire area as less important so that the discussion can focus on where they are comfortable talking to experts.

-- so on...

So where a team works on a product that requires software/electronics/mechanics, the team, regardless of its initial composition, will over time get skewed in the area of expertise of its top manager.

Same goes for startup -- duo of guys who know software and electronics will inevitably look for products in the areas they know best. Not being able to quickly rate how difficult something is, mechanically, is definitely scaring a lot of people away.

I also noticed people dealing with software and electronics rarely mingle with mechanics/material experts which I think might also explain a little bit why there aren't too many enterprises that join those areas well.

I'm in robotics and I agree with this. ME people are 100 times more thorough in checking things are done correctly than EE or SWE. Its very hard to make changes in ME. Also people heavily underappreciated the difficulty of the field.

From a SWE perspective, Robotics Engineers need to know physics and math than the average SWE learns.

Interestingly almost all the successful robot projects I've worked on seem to follow a waterfall process. You keep working on it till it works. After its ready don;t change anything.

> waterfall process ... keep working on it till it works

I thought waterfall was to plan it out in detail, then do all the work according to the plan despite realizing that the plan is wrong, then finally, after disbanding the development team, test it to see if it works?

That's obviously a caricature, but if you have the feedback loop to see if it works while you're working on it, you might also call it agile.

You’ve described waterfall accurately, but waterfall is kind of an anti-pattern. Nobody actually uses it.

You mean there are no places where managers tell their teams the scope and deadlines and then tell the team to go play "agile"?

That's not waterfall.

From that point of view I would say no project is waterfall. In any sufficiently complicated project requirements MUST change over development if only for the fact it is not feasible to specify absolutely everything absolutely precisely before development starts.

I agree. Waterfall is primarily a discussion point on why Agile is the way to go -- hence an anti pattern. Nobody actually does waterfall.

I like your use of the instinct concept, similar to experience/seniority yet very different.

I was pretty terse about my definition of instinct in my original post, because I thought the post had gone on long enough. But the idea I that am trying to get at is grounded in the concept that emotion and gut feel drive more decisions than we would like to admit, with logic applied to back-justify the decision. Then part two is that by the time someone has risen to the level of decision authority that SW/EE/ME are all answering up through their portfolio, they probably have baked in a lot of intuition about the branch they came up through. That intuition informs their decisions -- but may not be reliable outside of their comfort zone.

Someone who came up through software intuitively knows that while "it is only a 3 line change in each of 4 files", making the change in master is only the beginning. Also on deck are: back-porting and validating in the 4 release branches still running on the 4 hardware versions in the field, and pushing the update reliably, oh, and it changes the log format so our log monitor query needs to be updated and validated.

EE -- yes, it is just changing out one connector -- but we need the latching version and only two latching variants are available, and one requires moving a mounting hole which would require chassis rework, the other is expensive and has a 12 week lead time... and in any case we need to update the test fixtures. And we need to keep some of the old test fixtures around for the old rev, and while we could save some money by reworking some of our old test fixtures, who has time to write and validate the engineering change order for the test fixture rework?

ME -- yes it is only moving two mounting holes, but both the chassis and the skins need to move, so we either have to rework the fleet to accept new skins, or do two sets of expensive tooling for the skins, or do some kludge adapter that allows new skins on old chassis, but we need to vibration test that.

Intuition and instinct are about understanding the implications and the unarticulated risks buried with decisions.

Very true.

Having worked in this space, the failures usually come from lopsided teams. Too many startups try to treat these products as technology products with a side of building materials, assuming that the technology is the hardest part.

In reality, the technology part is easy. The most difficult part is manufacturing and shipping reliable mechanisms at low cost. It can be done, but the mechanisms and mechanical parts need to be treated as the primary product, not an afterthought.

Just as important is people are generally quite capable, so stuff people find annoying tends to be genuinely difficult.

A mass market automated pill dispenser you can just dump your prescriptions in seems like an obviously viable product. But, building something that’s easy enough to use, reliable enough to be safe, and cheap enough to be affordable is a pipe dream.

Turning on a set of lights is not actually very high on the list of annoyances for most people. Putting dishes in the dishwasher and then putting them away, ditto for clothes, wiping down the kitchen counters and cleaning the floor much more so. Dealing with various yard work a bigger PITA still. Guess which one consumer IoT can actually somewhat address.

You know I'll be actually surprised if that isn't a product, because that seems "As seen on TV" level amount of effort. Have some hopper with 7 compartments, put a disk with a hole underneath it, and hook it to some 3 cent digital clock module such that spins it around 50 degrees or so everytime it rolls over. Build the whole thing out of plastic, throw it at some factory in China, and before you know it you'll be selling in every walmart in middle America.

Plenty of devices have little bins you fill, some then automatically open those bins on the correct days.

However, pills are of wildly different shapes and sizes, which invalidates most of the seemingly obvious sorting solutions. Prescriptions can also call for multiple pills in the same day.

Very much this. Last time my dad visited he had 4 pill boxes: 7am,10am,2pm,6pm. We had to color code so he knew which ones at which hour. They had to be portable, at least 10 and 2 did. He had slight dementia so he would get confused about colors and sometimes the day. Even worse was trying to decipher the instructions for each medicine to refill the boxes especially after some would change doses after initial couple of weeks. Really hard to automate that correctly even if you had a sorting machine.

It's really sad, but the automation for this is a pharmacy that creates custom plastic sealed single-dosing packets. Some people, most older people, are on THAT many meds and just need to take the next one off the roll.

I've seen this for a nursing home in Norway. I'm not sure if folks get this at home or not. I'd guess that some that get a home nurse at least once a day gets them. And honestly, they would usually seem to be a good solution.

I think the main weakness is that for a few folks, medicine changes would be difficult because they often are mid-week or mid-month and for some, they would really need their medicines re-packaged. I'm not sure this is as big of a problem in nursing homes and whatnot because the nurse is dispensing the meds, while some folks at home have bad memories or the beginnings of undiagnosed dementia and just won't remember.

That's what all pharmacies in South Korea do.

This and how stable are the active ingredients to oxygen? Are they stored under inert gas in the blister pack?

Sounds great until someone loads it wrong it doesn’t set the date correctly or something, gets the wrong dosage, and dies. The risk seems too high for the potential reward.

I'm no market expert, but wouldn't a pill dispenser be a very niche product? Most people aren't on any medication and thus won't need one, at least until reaching old age.

Though the number of old folks is getting larger, so maybe that's a market by itself.

Basically every person over 70 takes some pills in the West.

I know for a fact that my parents and my wife's parents would all love this.

My mother was a nurse, so she handles it better than most, but she still spends an hour a week on it.

Reminds me of the Juicero, which took a fairly basic concept (validating a QR code and squeezing a packet of mushed up fruit pulp so juice would come out) and still comically failed because, even with all their meticulously machined gears and cogs, it did a much inferior job to a human hand and a few conveniently shaped kitchen utensils.

Never mind that an internet connected, custom-engineered juice press was a bad idea in the first place. It was still out-manufactured by simple tools like a garlic press, or a little metal thing you twist your fruit on top of. Or a blender.

it's kind of interesting that places like University research groups (including MIT in the early days of computing in the 50's/60's) recognized this need and had dedicated machinists to build a lot of the mech that they needed. If you've ever watched a talented smith work a lathe - wow, they are the true wizards!

These days you can scratch that itch on youtube.

Also see: every "smart lock" startup around.

I have a great smart lock. The secret is, it's dumb. It has a keypad and a keyhole and a 9V battery that lasts about five years. About three months before the battery wears out, it starts beeping and blinking every time you open it, so you know it's time to replace the battery.

You have to look in the manual to add or remove a code, but it remembers at least a dozen codes. It doesn't talk to a smartphone. It doesn't have a network connection. It doesn't store a log of openings, and it doesn't violate your privacy.

What it does is solve the two biggest problems with door locks: not having your key, and getting a key to a friend so that they can get into your house.

That sounds like it’s solved half the problem, at least it’s not another outdated Linux 2.7 machine with a nodejs app with no rate limiting listening to unencrypted http sessions over WAP “secured” wifi.

But I wonder how it’d fare if someone like the lockpicking lawyer reviewed it’s mechanical lock design? Is it actually a good lock?

Is it actually a good lock?"

I'm not convinced it matters as long as it seems, to the layperson, to be a lock of average quality. No one really wants a lock to feel insecure if it is held in the hand, for example. And sure, if tests say you can just hit it and open it, you'll pass. But as long as it doesn't have obvious defaults... It is good.

Most locks really just keep out crimes of opportunity. Few folks have locks that will keep out folks that would destroy your front door or break your windows and few are real challenges to lockpicks. And the shouldn't be challenges to lockpicks! Otherwise, how would a locksmith do their work? It doesn't matter, though. Most folks simply aren't lockpicks - and a good number of folks that can* pick locks well do not have desires to break into homes.

Which lock is it that you’re using? I’m kind of in the market atm.

A big problem is that anybody from those fields who can program well enough to do it exclusively for a living, eventually does so. This could be due to higher pay, and more mobility within the job market.

There's also a perception that software is more valuable than hardware, which can affect the workplace culture in a negative way.

> It is rare enough to find people with good electronics and software skills.

That should be my niche (if it's small enough to be called one), but I've worked firmly in software since graduating a few years ago, and I'm increasingly worried that I'm unhirable for anything else, even if I brushed up with some hobby electronics at home, despite it being electronics that got me into CS.

Is there any truth to that? Would I have to start over in a grad role for anyone to hire me for hardware? (I'm not actually looking, I just don't like the thought that the road's closed, my next job has to be software.)

Yup. True home automation is something that changes your life, not gadgets for rich people. I will call true home automation for example when I can throw the trash into a hatch at my same floor in a bag with RFID tag so that it will send it down and sort out it for recycle. I recall when I was less than 10 (mid '70s) my grandparents having those hatches (minus electronics of course) in their building. They would leave the bag there and it would drop to a container in the basement that the litter van would retrieve later. Of course it was long before recycling legislation so with new laws it had to be ditched and people would have again to bring their trash bags to the bins, which weren't that close. So why the system can't be repurposed, and introduced where necessary, to be recycle friendly? That's what I would call modern home automation, not stuff like reading a sensor and opening a window, which could have been done 10 years ago with an Arduino, 20 years ago with any uC and X10 already did in the '70s.

For some reason this reminds me. My old house, built in the 40s, had a mysterious small hatch in the closet floor across from the bathroom.

One day I opened it and it was just a cutout of the floor, directly over the washing machine in the basement below. I'm not sure if that's lazy or genius, but it doesn't get much easier than that I guess.

We lived in a house with one of these as I was growing up. It was a chute in the corner of a little room next to the bathroom (too small for a bedroom). That led down to a cabinet at the top of the basement stairs that held the dirty laundry until you washed it.

And to be fair, this house was built in 1918, and I think part of the purpose was to have their maids/servants wash them. Out of sight and all. This house also had doors sectioning off the kitchen and made sure the basement had its own entrance.

Our built-in-the-late-90s house has one of those in the hall closet upstairs. No door on it, just a hole. There’s some flashing and a “chute” that’s just a piece of sheet metal angled at 45 degrees to keep stuff from free-falling the whole way down, so it doesn’t look unfinished, but it’s basically just a hole.

Really it’s just a laundry chute. If the laundry room is directly under you, why make it fancier than that?

You'd want a door of some sort to keep things (cats, children) from falling down it, no?

It's like an 8-inch-square hole. Big enough for a shirt or pants or a towel to slide down, maybe with a nudge from a foot. By the time a kid can open the closet door to get to the hole, they'd have a hard time fitting through it. Any cat that falls through a hole in the floor has only itself to blame, and can likely manage the problem just fine.

We have kids and a cat and none have had trouble with it. It's not half as dangerous as and has a lower attractive-nuisance factor than any set of stairs.

Growing up, my house had a laundry chute. In retrospect, it was probably installed by my dad. It was in the en-suite bathroom of the master bedroom, and had a door in the cabinet of the bathroom that folded down like a dishwasher door. It opened up directly on top of the washing machine in the basement.

I remember crawling up and down it all the time as a kid while playing hide and seek or whatever. In fact it had a flaw of a weak latch. Sometimes when you closed the bathroom door, The laundry chute door would fall open, blocking the bathroom door from opening. When this happened the only way to resolve it is to send a small child up through the laundry chute to close its door.

8" square is pretty big: 11" on the diagonal. I think my 6yo would fit through that fine, though she has the sense not to.

Yeah I thought we might end up having to temporarily stick some ply across it or something when we moved in, but it's never been an issue. Our kids are psycho daredevils who don't listen for shit, so I have to assume it's just not that interesting to them. I think the diagonal sheet metal in the hole helps. Effectively, the hole in the ceiling under it is offset by the width of the hole itself, and the metal directs stuff between the hole in the floor and the hole in the ceiling under it, which means that you can't really get a good look at stuff falling down. You can see it go through the hole if you look in at an angle, but not the fall to the floor. The metal itself would be rad as hell to slide hot-wheels down, except it's pretty short and you can't see the car fall on the other side very well so I guess it's more fun to just throw them off the stairs, or the deck, or whatever. Its residing in a small, boring linen closet probably helps.

it was just a cutout of the floor, directly over the washing machine in the basement below.

See also: the film Home Alone.

Seems a nice way to send a basket with dirty clothes down without having to bag them or bring them through common areas. Was the basement in common with other people or it was all yours? Nice idea though, although hard to survive in modern times where the mere thought that a child could open it and fall down the basement onto the washing machine would deem it instantly.

This was a single family home, 3 bed 1 bath. Incidentally, the basement was smaller than the house itself, which I guess why the hatch wasn't in the bathroom itself(which was over empty crawlspace).

I'd never considered the child aspect, but that may explain why it had a lock on it(the turn up, push/pull, turn down kind, like on public restroom doors, unsure what they're called). Also, why it was so heavy. I wish I'd taken pics of it. From memory, it was probably 8"x8", about 2" thick. A small child could fit in it, but would probably have difficulty opening it.

For what it's worth my grandfather has a laundry shoot in his home, but his is in the wall and is small enough that a child would have difficulty fitting through if they should reach.

Fire and safety codes may mandate much of this.

I thought laundry chutes were pretty common, they were in all three houses I grew up in in the US. (Second floor direct to basement in two, 1st and 2nd to basement in another.) One was built in the 30s and the others in the 70s.

If you want to something really "genius" look up razor blade wall banks.

In typical Russian apartment washing machine is installed in bathroom.

I think this is common in Europe, too. Except in the UK and Ireland, where electrical regulations don’t allow it, banishing the washing machine to the kitchen.

Which is something I always hated in British houses, because nowadays it's quite common to have an open plan kitchen connected with the living room....which in a normal European house would be fine, but in a British house it means that every time you run a washing machine it's a source of noise for whatever you're doing in the living room. Enjoy watching a movie over a 1400rpm spin cycle, good luck!

The only good solution which works is moving it to the garage, but it's not possible in every house unfortunately.

> where electrical regulations don’t allow it, banishing the washing machine to the kitchen.

That explains! I've wondered why people in movies/series would keep washing machines in the kitchen.

Around here in medium size houses like mine the washing machine is typically placed in the same room as one of the toilets and the room is referred to as the washing room (vaskerom).

That would actually be allowed AFAIK - it's the bath/shower that makes it a bathroom (both in British English usage and electrical regs!) and banishes the white goods. But WCs tend to be v. small (as if given a little extra space architects say What shall we do, Fred, cupboard or loo?) so can't house them either.

Usually (flats/small houses aside) they'll be in the scullery (adjoining the kitchen) though, not actually in the 'cooking area'.

I’d say in the vast majority of house they’re in the kitchen; most don’t have a scullery/utility room.

And drying racks in sunroom.

I used to work in a place that put me in contact with a lot of architects who worked on skyscrapers. I asked one why new apartment buildings don't have trash chutes as often as they used to.

He said a lot of developers don't want the expense that goes into building them. And a lot of owners don't want the maintenance expense. They get clogged up more often than most people realize.

That said, when I lived in Seattle last decade, my building was new and had a trash chute. It got clogged about once a month. You'd see the maintenance guys with big long poles trying to shove the stuff through.

Interesting; garbage chutes are required for any building over 4 storeys around here (Singapore). Some older places have individual chute openings in each flat, but most newer ones use centralized pneumatic systems, e.g. https://www.hdb.gov.sg/cs/infoweb/about-us/our-role/smart-an...

Singapore and Japan are two countries where I've seen things work that don't work anywhere else because the citizenry treats the commons so well (whether out of pure civic pride or fear of some consequences I don't have any idea).

> whether out of pure civic pride or fear of some consequences I don't have any idea

A little of column A and a little of column B. Collectivism is sort of self-reinforcing, but there are also legal mechanisms that keep people honest.

The house I grew up in had a laundry chute, from the hallway outside the bedrooms to a bin in the room/clothset with the washer and dryer. It's kind of superfluous (how hard is carrying a bin of laundry down the stairs, really?) but also kind of nice/fun.

For kids, fairly hard. I grew up in a single story house and a laundry chute was one of the romantic ideals. So I gave my kids the childhood I was denied — our house has a trapdoor in the kids' bedroom that drops straight down to the laundry room. It is fun! And more useful to me than a smart faucet or whatever.

They were pretty standard for higher buildings in communist Poland, but they quite quickly got disabled in many of them. The reason was that, without good and reliable maintenance, they were too good of a source of food for bugs, which would then spread around the apartments.

> I recall when I was less than 10 (mid '70s) my grandparents having those hatches (minus electronics of course) in their building.

The problem with those little hatches is that they create a breeding ground for rats and cockroaches.

They also serve as a fantastic means for idiots to grind your building's trash disposal system to a halt - when said idiots toss oversized items into them. (Christmas trees were a popular failure mode in my apartment building. How people got them into the trash chutes was beyond me.)

It seems like avoiding a walk to dispose of garbage isn't all that far removed from "gadgets for rich people?"

I get your point. It all depends on age, weight and how far one has to walk. For elderly people not having to walk to trash their cats litter (mine is like 8+Kg) plus glass bottles, plastics etc, can be a life changer. I still however see some of these automations more like bullet points in hotel advertising rather than really useful things.

On a similar note, many of those seemingly pointless as-sold-on-TV gadgets for kitchens or cleaning are actually assistive devices for people with limited mobility, relabeled for general sale on the side.

The building my wife was living in in Chicago when we first met had this sort of garbage chute (it was a 1920s-era building). Sorting recycling is not an issue: Chicago found a low-tech way to deal with the sorting: blue plastic bags are reserved for recycling only.

I suspect that if incentives were more aligned, the program could have succeeded. People in general don't want to pay more, but you can guide people to certain behaviors if they benefit from the behaviors. In South Korea, people have to pay for bags for general trash, and for food waste. Recycling requires no extra fees. This incentivizes people to reduce general trash by increasing recycling sorting, and to reduce food waste.

I’ve not lived in the city for 18 years. I didn’t know they gave it up.

I see a comparison between "CNC retrofit" and "CNC from the factory" machines. What are buildings after all but big machines around us.

CNC retrofits (even when successful) tend to be never ending projects. This is partly because the kind of person who retrofits a machine is seldom satisfied with it.

But also one tends to end up replacing the whole machine over time - the motion and way the machine gets used is different. The "wear cycle" is accelerated and new machine properties become important. Retrofits also are much more challenging to support than factory-supplied systems and tend to "frankenstein" very quickly.

IOT windows might start making real sense as an aspect of a whole building design where they can be fit for purpose, designed for expected wear and usage and work harmoniously with other building systems.

A truly native IOT window will involve the frame, the glass, the opener, maybe the shades -- and the rest of the building. We probably also need standardised "window sockets" around the frames, with standards for power and data connections to make installation, replacement and upgrade practical.

> CNC retrofits (even when successful) tend to be never ending projects. This is partly because the kind of person who retrofits a machine is seldom satisfied with it.

There are two primary reasons for the infinite refit:

1) No definite project for the CNC

If you have a definite project, you have a deadline and want that project done. The project also has a monetary implication so you have a budget.

I bought a Formlabs Form 2 for this reason. I didn't want to dork around with 3D printers--I needed to print parts. And it worked, we were printing parts within 3 hours of unboxing the machine.

2) Too stringent budgetary constraints

A lot of people doing CNC refits are scrounging parts from EBay, swap meets, etc. Consequently, the project doesn't have a definite plan--it proceeds in fits and starts when a critical number of pieces have been found.

I’ll just throw this out here for people interested in 3D printers: the Prusa i3 mk3s was a very similar experience for me. I actually wanted the kit but no localish vendors had any, so I ordered the preassembled version. Open the box, set it on the table, load filament, and go!

I’m probably ordering a Formlabs Form 2 for work in a couple of weeks because of some of their specialty resins, but did want to point out that around $1000USD can get you a workhorse if a printer!

Another option that I’m also looking at is the Prusa Mini. We have a bunch of small parts to print, and getting an army of smaller printers to work in parallel looks like a significant speed improvement.

I had this problem early on When I wanted a 3D printer. I ultimately spent more time working on my printer than printing things. It was very frustrating. Whenever I talk to people who are looking at getting a printer I always ask them “do you want to work on a printer or print things?”

> Even controllable home HVAC dampers are rare.

I've got two in my house! Of course they weren't wired to anything, and one of them had its wires hidden behind drywall (and the accessible one seems to be broken, but I'd have to disassemble the ductwork to figure out why). Thankfully, the functional one is actually pretty useful, and I was able to hack it up so call for cold/heat closes off the basement, preventing the basement from turning into a freezer. Of course, if Nest would give us an API (again), I could also modulate the cooling if the basement gets too cold.

I use flair.co vents at my house, they work pretty well!

They do basically what you describe... open and close in rooms depending on temperature in the room, automatically. You can customize preferences for each room, and have a schedule for the day.

> Sensors are easy today. Actuators are hard.

Actuators are expensive--not hard.

Home automation is lousy because it does not scale in software.

I've been in several campus facilities like this. When they make ridiculous decisions, the person with the power to override is three ticketing systems away. In one case we even managed to get the right person on the phone, but it was a weekend and her VPN client wasn't working. Something to be said for a window you can open by putting your hands on it.

Yes, educational organizations tend not to buy the air quality sensors (CO, CO2, humidity, people load) and use timer control instead. They think they can just put the system on a fixed schedule. Convention hotels are in a competitive business. They don't want to hear "the Textile CEO Association cancelled for next year because their meeting room was too hot this year." If they don't have full automation, there's probably someone in a control room.

I’m guessing NeXT is supposed to be Nest (given IoT and HVAC).

Changing "Nest" to "NeXT" — That guy's phone must have the world's most awesome autocorrect learning database.

I can't even get my phone to stop correcting "duck."

Add word to contact list.


(via Daring Fireball)

On Android all keyboards can be set to stop autocorrecting. On iOS I use SwiftKey.

I have highly efficient actuators directly attached to my shoulders that open and close windows with remarkable ease.

I've been thinking about some of these guys a lot lately.

When are we going to collectively unpack the fact the Media Lab/Berkman Center project has been a complete failure?

I worked at these places and mingled on the outskirts, and for a long time really believed all the bullshit they were spouting at the time - that the internet was a positive force, if we just connected enough people, surely their "stories" and "empathy" would "revolutionize" the world, etc., etc..

They were all wrong.

Digital, networked technology seemed exciting for a brief and beautiful moment, but has turned into nothing more than a global system of surveillance, advertising, propaganda and skinnerboxing, far worse than any television ever was - forget about your "global library" dreams.

And yet - they persist, despite their ever increasing irrelevance. Spineless hucksters like a Zittrain still get wheeled out occasionally for their take on some hot new trend in Wired magaize, they still get private and government grant money, and, of course, they still keep taking on hapless graduate students.

Just when will we call a spade a spade?

EDIT: This little tirade made me go back and re-read some of the Cluetrain Manifesto - I feel almost ashamed of myself to reread something like "markets are conversations" and remember thinking it was ever good, important, or even valid argument. I now see this as evil thought.

> into nothing more than a global system of surveillance, advertising, propaganda and skinnerboxing, far worse than any television ever was - forget about your "global library" dreams.

I don’t know, if you’re basically saying your stylized, hyperbolic, generalizing, imprecise, inaccurate discourse is better than theirs just because it’s negative and theirs is positive... I would rather have the positive?

I'm not saying that at all, I'm saying very specifically:

The material conditions of people alive in the west today are significantly worse than they were in 1999, largely as the result of the ascendance of the digital platforms and economic arrangements that organizations like MIT and Berkman were taking money to promote.

Ordinary people today are more lonely, overwhelmed, polarized and impoverished. The "new" economics they were promoting - gig economies, crowdfunding, "conversational" marketing - have only resulted in a new form of serfdom, upward movement of capital from the poor to the rich, and a completely collapse of dignity in public life.

In fact, I'll even go a step further and suggest that what we needed was _more_ negativity. Techno-positivity and lack of critical thought is exactly how we got in this mess.

It sounds like an opinion, and you can certainly make a case there. But I feel equally strong that networked technology today is amazing, and 1999 sucked. Being able to look up how to do anything, talk to people I know instantly. Cameras in your pocket, wikipedia, phones, collaborative documents, gps on maps, youtube, online shopping, they've been great equalizers in many ways.

All the things you mentioned were serious problems before just in a different way. Advertising was horrible when I watched broadcast TV. I spent probably 2 hours each day looking at commercials. Propoganda was ubiquitous and there wasn't even a place you could point out it was happening. The gig economy jobs back then were just different jobs with fewer options, like pumping gas or minimum wage at McDonald's or greeting people at Walmart. And now online discussion allows people to be more open about mental health and the anonymity let's you talk about relationship or depression problems with others.

It's not perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than what life was like before. And one thing I agree with you on, is that it isn't because of the Media Lab or Berkman. It's because of a lot of people making slow incremental progress throughout the entire tech stack.

Maybe the lives of people in the West did get worse due to Internet (debatable), but the lives of everybody else might have gotten better.

If not for Internet, I'd be a completely different and I suspect much more limited person (I'm from EE). Internet provided me access to role models in my areas of interest who showed me how high the sky can be in our industry (if not for that, I'd be some depressed J2EE developer/Project Manager in a local telco or something). People in the US can just have in-person access to such role models (e.g. by getting a job at some cool company, doing a PhD at strong US technical school etc.), while in backwater areas of the world, if not for Internet, you would not even be aware of this whole cool universe.

People in the US in maybe 6 cities

I think your argument is the start of a very important and stimulating discussion, and you've worded it perfectly. I think the negative aspects of the "digital revolution" definitely exist and starry-eyed Silicon Valley positivism will never find the solutions or even detect them.

That said, I deeply disagree with your conclusion. I think, barring politics or pandemics of course, the world is objectively better due to the digital revolution. It's not only a positive force, but it's an overall positive one.

You capture the symptoms of technodystopia well but seem to say the cause is due more to the techno than the dystopia.

Hyper Globalization, the Post Colonial re-emergence of Asia, and the forgone peace dividends of Forever Wars are not due to technology.

MIT & The Labs, for all their shortcomings laid bare by many in these comments, are contained within a larger society experiencing larger forces at play on par with the early industrial revolution where urbanized mind numbing factory exploitation existed but also eventually led to an empowered middle class with more leisure time, disposable income, and upward mobility than at any time before.

Perhaps the last 20+ years of technical progress efficiencies were unjustly captured by return on investment capital instead of by increasing everyone else's leisure time but your average western person who no longer enjoys a 1999 quality of life still has a whole lot to be thankful for even if they choose to enjoy the hard fought for luxury of taking it all for granted.

The Media Lab’s arguably most widely adopted product, the Scratch programming language... is that leading to the “collapse of dignity?”

What about Guitar Hero? Are those guys, Media Lab grad students who spent a decade after graduation until they found hard earned success... did they create a “new serfdom?”

The Berkman Center houses the historic DoJ tech antitrust lawyers. Do you think antitrust won’t play a role in reversing “the movement of capital from the poor to the rich?”

Anyway, there are a lot of people who rail on the academy or whatever. I suppose your opinion, however stylized, is as good as anyone else’s.

GuitarFreaks did not come out of the Media Lab. No disrespect to Egozy and Rigopulos, but HMX's success (even before GH) seems to have come specifically after they dumped Media Lab-inspired plans and started drawing inspiration from the Japanese arcade scene.

You are strawmanning OPs argument by giving those examples as if that’s what they said. OP seems to criticize the ethos of Media Lab as professed, not any particular products. Not only that, you criticize their form and dismiss them as inaccurate but don’t actually posit any counter-arguments.

I think the Media Lab's most widely known project was probably the failed One Laptop Per Child initiative, which I think perfectly illustrates my point.

Turns out what people in the third world need isn't donated laptops, it's liberation from an economic system which keeps them deliberately impoverished. They need food, vaccines, unions, debt jubilees and nationalization of natural resources.

The MML/Berkman ideology is literally that laptops bring wealth. In reality, wealth brings laptops.

It's not for that, it's for giving people with prestige more prestige. The more irrelevant the work is, the better it is for its real purpose.

Solving a problem with technology does solve the initial problem, but at the same time it introduces new ones.

There has been a naïve belief that the Internet would be an all-positive force, which it is not. For instance, we used to have a constant lack of information, now there is information overflow. Content consumption used to be synchronous (people watched the same broadcasts, live), now content consumption is asynchronous.

The problem is that our old tools and concepts to navigate the world around us don't work in this new era anymore, not that the development in itself is inherently bad. Real problems have been solved.

There's something so beautiful about a place so dysfunctional that you can't even replace standard office equipment; I know it was alluded to in the article, but in case anyone forgot, the MIT Media Lab played a part in Jeffery Epstein and he often leveraged it for good PR https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/07/business/mit-media-lab-je...

Some quick additional info, since I wasn’t familiar with all the context. I am glad I looked deeper, I am ashamed to admit I assumed some wrongdoing given he had resigned!

Wikipedia notes that he “...resigned from his position[19] as director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, in protest of the Media Lab's involvement with Epstein.”[0]

[0]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethan_Zuckerman#Career

Here's Ethan's own explanation of why he left: http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2019/08/20/on-me-and-the-...

He's landed on his feet very well. He has a temporary position at Columbia this fall, and then will be starting a tenured job at UMass Amherst next year.

People do a lot of creative experiments around that building so it’s not surprising you would want to ask before disassembling someone’s thesis project. To call the place “dysfunctional” because some brilliant grad students constantly try new things is to miss the point (and the spirit of the place) entirely.

I think they were referring to the bit where facilities was unable to fix it after the author had removed the original work.

Maybe a better wording would be disorganized =)

"Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."


Ethan Zuckerman explicitly resigned due to MIT’s and the Media Lab’s involvement with Epstein and is thus the reason why he is leaving his office. So the comment you replied to is not unrelated nor a tangent.


It was heavily alluded too in the article, I wanted to give readers full context, because I don't think Ethan wanted to explicitly call them out in his blog...

If the mods have an issue with this comment I can take it down

Remember when MIT media Lab gave a civil disobedience award to bethann mclaughlin for some nebulous #metoo bs who since disgraced herself by LARPing as a fake Native American academic who died of covid? https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/twitter-account-emba...

Remember when they chased Aaron Swartz to commit suicide and never gave him a civil disobedience award?

Remember their extremely close links to Jeffrey Epstein?

Sorry but MIT media Lab is absolute trash and an embarrassment to the MIT name.

You realize the author of the linked article resigned over Epstein and frequently fought to improve things? Why try to link him to some trash that he vehemently opposed?

And Swartz’s death was caused by JSTOR not the Media Lab FYI

Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured "appropriate" out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the "criminal" who we who loved him knew as Aaron.

-- Lawrence Lessig, "Prosecutor as Bully"


> And Swartz’s death was caused by JSTOR

Huh? What in JSTOR's behavior [1] do you think caused Swartz's death?

[1] https://docs.jstor.org/summary.html

By their own account, “We also reiterated our desire that MIT identify the individual(s) responsible”

They pushed for aggressive chasing down of an individual for stealing some articles that were largely publicly funded as I recall. This escalated to the FBI and led to a laundry list of charges that scared him into suicide. Not great for some research we should have just had available for free after already paying to fund it once

JSTOR has to at least make a show of respecting the licensing agreements that they have with publishers. It can't be seen to wink at an attempt to make its entire archive available for free.

JSTOR actually does a ton of useful work scanning old journal articles. Someone has to pay for this.

And MIT threw Adam to the wolves.

Correct but not the Media Lab specifically and that’s a big difference

Who's Adam?

some of your points, including regarding Epstein, are valid. However, unless I'm recalling incorrectly, the Aaron Swartz incident wasn't related to the Media lab in particular.

Yeah, their treatment of Aaron Swartz was despicable, and extremely hypocritical.

I hope by "their" you mean "MIT's", not "MIT media lab's". MIT media lab wasn't particular responsible for the Aaron Swartz situation.

"Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."


I think the parent comment is relevant since the blog post (and subsequent comments here) praises the hacker/anti-institutionalist mentality of the Media Lab. Yet when Schwartz practiced altruistic, civil disobedience in line with that sentiment, MIT's response was to sue him until he killed himself. They've done a lot of cool things that I'm into, but let's not whitewash history.

The only link between Aaron Swartz and the Media Lab is that they hosted his memorial service.

Step one of not whitewashing history is to be accurate about it. You can't say that the Media Lab is an embarrassment to the MIT name when one of your pieces of evidence is that the rest of MIT - not the Media Lab - did something unconscionable. You can't hold organizations to account if your account is wrong.

And that's the danger with unrelated controversies and tangents - all of a sudden we need to have a discussion about the substance of that controversy and tangent. The angrier you are about something, the more important - and harder - it is to target your anger appropriately. Anger is a great tool. Make sure it is hitting what you intend for it to hit.

(In the interest of disclosure: I am an MIT alum who has never been particularly proud of my alma mater in general; I have no tie to the Media Lab.)

I could be wrong and am glad to be corrected if I am. It's not like I'm following MIT Media news all day. But did the Media Lab acknowledge and critique MIT for its actions? If so you're right, I shouldn't criticize the MIT Media Lab. But if not I consider them complicit.

Re: the Disobedience Award. I did a google search to find the speech they gave where they discuss why they didn't give it to him. https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/reflections-on-the-disobedie....

I'm glad they recognized his principled and disobedient activism, but there's no acknowledgement about MIT's role in his death, and ultimately they chose not to give him the award.

> I consider them complicit.

That's fine, but that's a different argument from the one being made, that the Media Lab is "absolute trash and an embarrassment to the MIT name."

> Yet when Schwartz practiced altruistic, civil disobedience in line with that sentiment, MIT's response was to sue him until he killed himself.

MIT arrested him for breaking into a closet to access the network. I've never heard anything about them suing him. JSTOR did some kind of settlement agreement. It was the feds prosecuting him for wire fraud etc that undoubtedly led to the suicide.

Sorry, but organisations need to be held to account.

But rarely are.

Whenever I read stuff about this I get a sense of immense jealousy. MIT certainly has its issues but man, I'd love to be at a place where people exhibit so much joy and interest in creation. I've met my share of cool people but it truly does feel like MIT has this unique environment of technical skill and creativity.

That the old MIT. For the past 15 years MIT leadership has been dedicated to destroying the creative hacker spirit.

Melodrama much? It’s still one of the most creative and amazing places to meet hackers (or become one) in the world

A lot of MIT "myth" for me, daj when I was trying to get in, was that they would do a lot of things internally and dogfood - for example, project athena, using that as basis for many other things, etc.

Recently I heard from some fresh MIT grads that a lot of that is now pushed to outsourcing and same cookie-cutter approach.


I’m not agreeing with the premise but MIT’s disavowal of Star Simpson when she was arrested in 2007 could be evidence.


Yes, choosing the Christian tradition, MIT seems to have acted like Peter denying knowledge of Jesus. But, like Peter ("The Rock") it seems as if neither MIT nor Star is worse for the wear; in fact, her email is still listed as <I-won't-publish-this>@mit.edu in the alum directory! Not @alum.mit.edu, but @mit.edu. Thanks, I had forgotten about her, at the time I thought "good for her! doing nothing wrong". ALSO, fwiw, she lived in the two campus housing units that, shall we say, are meant for those not on the 'straight and narrow' path. Not an excuse; praise. I might have lived in one of them, too... ;-)

Yes and the Media Lab in particular was an amazing place (can’t speak for the current state) even if it gets a lot of shit for the bad decisions by a few administrators. Definitely met some of the coolest and most inventive people I have met there

You should join a maker group!

Make a plan and get there too!

Paradoxically, publishing this blog post will no doubt result in the window knob being fixed and a new "no unauthorized modifications to HVAC" policy being out in place.

I'd be surprised if that is the outcome. MIT facilities tends to be quite tolerant of stuff like this.

> When sleeping in this office, I found it helpful to cover the blue light on the box with a post-it note.

Some people point to Richard Stallman having a mattress in his office at MIT as some sort of sinister sign. This, I should think, proves otherwise.

Kind of tangential because it also involves the MIT and lots of crazy funny sentimental stories like this one about working and studying there: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightwork:_A_History_of_Hacks_...

This is the same reason I'm never going to be able to move into a nicer/bigger/cuter/better view house. I have my house and the barn behind it all laid out exactly as I see fit, and I know that if I ever sold this place, no amount of impassioned pleas to understand the nuisance and rationale will ever be heard. It's always going to distill into "great, but strip it all out, all of it, paint it white and make it able to store a boat". So much of my ego is programmed into the layout of the building that it would be a denial of self to let someone else have it.

Coincidentally I was just watching a talk from one of those two students that ran the breast pump hackathon: https://vimeo.com/354276137

> ... needs to be plugged into wifi and power

That first one is going to be a challenge.

>If it start beeping, either it’s malfunctioning and needs to be rebooted, or there’s a significant radiation leak on campus.

With no details on how it beeps I'm now anxious for beeping of a device many miles away

Awesome post. Who was the cranky researcher who developed the climate-controlled window system with the Linux box and python scripts? I want to do the same thing.

Same, but it seems overkill. I'm in an old office where the only openable window is consumed by a window A/C unit.

I want to put a 120mm fan in a small opening next to it that'll turn on when it's more than 3C cooler outside, and more than 24C inside.

Seems like an Arduino would do it.

I believe I found the researcher and thesis that informed the window project here: https://resenv.media.mit.edu/#Projects#personalized-building...

I don't think it's overkill within the context of his full work. Based on my brief skimming, he's coupling the window with a personal device to modulate his environment through reinforcement learning.

This "Responsible Environment" website pegs my CPU...

It could be much simpler. If I understood the problem, a differential amplifier (any opamp would do) wired to the temp sensors would output a voltage proportional to the difference between the two temperatures, plus adjustment. This voltage then can be used to drive a pwm generator wired to a h-bridge that drives a reversible fan that would pump air with speed and direction depending on the difference between two temperatures, so that it could be used both ways too warm up or cool down. The same could also be done the digital way by using for example an uber cheapo ATTiny85 small board wired to the sensors, plus the fan and its driver, then doing all in software. That little critter has just the right amount of ports for the job and then some.

Not checked on paper (especially the first) but on principle both should work and also would be extremely cheap.

I have to ask -- are you aware of the existence of bimetallic strips, and how they can perform this function in a completely mechanical way? (No electricity.) It doesn't get you active air movement, of course, but it has worked for years in greenhouses.

I know about them; that would be the simplest and safest possible solution indeed, however they are on-off switches and also have a fixed (sometimes excessive) hysteresis which couldn't be ideal for some uses.

My only worry with that is having one end hang out the window. The household round thermostats are still like $35+ each.

So when it is 21C outside, and 24+C inside is close enough.

Two analog temp switches will be far more reliable, easier, and adjustable.

(I get the fun with an Arduino, but it is hard to beat century old tech)

Yeah that's a good way to do it. I think there are a couple of additional ideas that might be worth exploring:

- Comfort is a function of multiple factors, not just the dry bulb temperature difference. It includes occupant metabolism, insulation from clothing, radiant heat exchange, air speed, and humidity. This is trivial to solve in the case of a single-person office (just give them control of the window), but more complex once you have multiple occupants with different needs, who are in different locations in the office. I wonder if there's value in using reinforcement learning to customize natural ventilation to optimize the comfort of multiple occupants.

- Predicting the temperature the next day, and using a fan to draw in cold night time air into your HVAC ducts when a hot morning/afternoon is expected. This way you can have a reservoir off cool air you can access the next day.

- Once you have multiple rooms, and a tall building, there's multiple effects that are worth attempting to coordinate. For example you could coordinate the ventilation of the building air with the stack effect and wind-driven air through the windows, or coordinate the cross-ventilation horizontally through multiple rooms. This would not just modulate temperatures, but also satisfy indoor air quality needs traditionally achieved through the HVAC.

Typically a lot of fine-tuning of natural ventilation isn't done because the actual energy/comfort impact for one of these ideas is small relative to complexity of building the system, and the large uncertainty associated with the dynamics of airflow. But my general hypothesis is that with the integration of cheap prediction or RL methods, we can reduce that uncertainty which would permit a more long-tail approach where we can combine multiple small improvements.

Sounds like something coming out of the Responsive Environments group (https://resenv.media.mit.edu/).

Thanks for the link, I think I found our guy!


He published his thesis 2010, which aligns with when Ethan arrived at his office, and if you watch the video at that link, you can see the automated window control system at 1:47.

(Also the video is kind of hilarious and awesome in its own right).

Awesome internet-search foo! I gotta talk with Ethan, I mean, it's cool the window opens automatically. He could have put his wood knob on the open (clockwise) and close (counterclockwise) buttons and achieved preserving the past, and making things easy to use for the present. All good.

He’s a cool guy and you’re likely right

Peltier element is just about the worst solution for anything. The angel wings girl wasn't experiencing much "cooling" for sure. Form over function, I suppose - consumer market seems to prefer that, but as an EE I immediately know shit's not going to work, which robs me of appreciation of the "form".

And I'd prefer a mechanized window, myself.

It's art

Then why bother with Peltier?

It's part of the art. Thats like asking why kinetic sculptures move. The whole generating energy from your own inner heat part is kind if part of it. It's not supposed to make enough current to charge your phone, it's art. You're way overthinking it.

Why bother making costumes for Neptune Day?


(Но впрочем песня не о нем, а о любви.)

Actually, there's no such thing as "Vermont Maple". It's Sugar Maple or if you prefer the latin, Acer Saccharum.

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