What’s on my industrial bookshelf? — Spencer Wright
What’s in my … ? issue #136
Most people think of Spencer Wright as something of an engineer, and he mostly thinks of himself as mechanic. But in truth he’s a writer and editor who runs theprepared.org, a newsletter about engineering, manufacturing, and infrastructure.
I run theprepared.org, where I write and edit writing about engineering, manufacturing, and infrastructure, and manage a community for folks who think and work in adjacent areas. And, I spend a lot of time obsessing over bikes, and trying out new (and old) tools — so much so that I run a shared woodworking, electronics, and bike shop in Brooklyn, NYC.
Behind my desk there’s an industrial bookshelf loaded up with textbooks and histories and paper airplane kits, and I use the top shelf to store a bunch of toys, tools, and mementos. This is my space.
I run a metric shop: My weather apps are in centigrade, I measure things in millimeters and distances in kilometers, and I take my own weight (er, mass) in kilograms. I’ve found it pretty easy to make all of these transitions (a few days of seeing 25° C in your weather app will give you a pretty strong sense of what that means), but I don’t weigh small objects that often and needed a little help getting used to grams. So, I got some test weights.
These two test weights cost me about $20, and they’re just perfect tactile objects. Holding them (mostly the hundred gram weight) in your hand is a great way to get a sense of the low end of the metric scale for mass.
Looking back on my life, I tend to mark time by the moments at which I realized something about the way the world works. Some of these moments correspond with things I’ve read or been taught, but the most memorable ones are the times where I caused a material change to a space I inhabit.
To be a little more specific: Pretty much every time I’ve made a new physical thing, my understanding of the world has been enriched. And that understanding is preserved, as if in amber, in the prototypes I’ve kept around.
Anyway, on my bookshelf are two pre-production samples of The Public Radio, a little FM radio I created in collaboration with Zach Dunham back in 2014. The two prototypes are about two years apart in age, and while the differences may seem subtle, they represent very different understandings of assembly, design, and production efficiency. Since they were made, we shipped tens of thousands of these little radios around the world, and I love thinking back to just how hacky the prototypes were when we first started working on them.
CW&T is one of my favorite design shops, mostly because the stuff they make is so highly opinionated. I’ve got a handful of their creations, each of which is somehow both off-kilter and perfect. My favorite is Time Since Launch, which is kind of a single-use stopwatch – it’s a glass vial, inside of which is a seven segment display which counts up continuously from the moment that its (grenade-style) pin is pulled. Mine has been going for about two years, marking the time since I started working on The Prepared full time. Every time I look at it, I feel a nice sense of accomplishment and am reminded of all the ways that my self employment has evolved.
A couple years ago I got a proper lab notebook — something that’s designed for IP documentation, like you would use if you worked in corporate R&D. I totally fell in love. A hardback notebook just feels official, and it’s way better for sketching and long form notetaking than a pocket notebook. I take daily notes in mine, and carry it with me next to my laptop; its format and durability complements a computer perfectly.01/19/22