Manufacturing guy-at-large.

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Swag

Added on by Spencer Wright.

To my surprise as much as anyone else’s, the little manufacturing newsletter that I started five years ago has swag now:

pencils-1.jpg

Thanks to everyone who’s read this site - and The Prepared - as it has grown into an actual thing. Now head on over to The Prepared’s Subscriptions page to get on the distribution list :)

The Prepared is hiring a part time operations manager

Added on by Spencer Wright.

The Prepared, my (excellent!) weekly newsletter, is growing. And while I never intended it to be anything other than something I did to keep myself busy in the evenings, it has become evident The Prepared needs part-time help.

So I’m excited to announce that The Prepared is hiring a part time operations manager. The role will cover a variety of research, archiving, and growth operations, and is remote-friendly. If you or anyone you know is curious, energetic, and interested in helping build a community of like-minded people (most of whom work in or adjacent to manufacturing), please apply!

As always, thanks to The Prepared’s sponsors, patrons, and subscribers for making this possible.

The Prepared's podcast + A history of The Public Radio

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Some updates!

So, I've been working on some stuff. 

First: Thanks to The Prepared's *awesome* donors, I've redesigned and relaunched theprepared.org. Awesome!

Second: In the spirit of expanding The Prepared's purview (which is why I'm taking donations in the first place), we now have a podcast! The goal of it, as with this newsletter, is to help people prepare for good work - and to share the results of the big things they've worked on. To kick things off, we've got two episodes: One with Zach on the history and future of Centerline Labs, the company we cofounded to create The Public Radio, and one with Zach and Gabe about some of the things we're thinking about on the eve of...

ThirdThe Public Radio's launch on Kickstarter! I'm very excited about this, and it deserves a bit of explanation:

The Public Radio started in 2013 as a longshot side project - "a product idea for a single-band FM radio," as I described it four years ago. Going back through my blog while filtering for the "publicradio" tag shows a funny story. Early on, I posted a lot of "this was my workday" posts. Then there was more topical content - my struggles finding the right potentiometer; little thoughts on how to take crowdfunding offline. In early 2014 Adafruit posted something short about us, and shortly after we soft launched

All of that was under looks-like prototypes; it wasn't until mid 2014 that we had a works-like, which we assembled (without SMT stencils! we were so naive) by hand. At this point the design iterations were more substantial, but it wasn't until late that year - after our first Kickstarter campaign - that things really became serious.

At this point we started getting some real attention, and a bit of backlash as well. It's worth mentioning that at the time, my days were spent consulting for Bank of America and GE on management & marketing strategy; The Public Radio was a weird thing to match that with. But it was getting *fun* - real engineering problems, real supply chain problems; real business problems; real press coverage; my first injection molded part. I was interviewed by New Hampshire Public Radio and by Matthew Lesko, the guy who wears the question mark suit on old '80s infomercials. 

And then, all of the sudden, we (with the oh-so-gracious help of friends/family/indentured servants) shipped 2500 radios to people all over the world. We missed our Kickstarter shipping goals by about a week; pretty good.

Almost immediately afterwards, we went to China to plan for v2.0. We visited our speaker supplier in Dongguan and roamed the Shenzhen electronics markets, and did all of the other things you'd expect. But as we were heading back to the US, my day job was in the process of vaporizing, and for the ensuing two years The Public Radio has largely been relegated to the odd warranty email.

So, this relaunch. The thing is, The Public Radio is a good product, and we want to find a way for it to live on. This is harder than it sounds. No matter how much the traditional supply chains are being (*cough*) disrupted, it's still really hard to run a hardware business in your spare time. The Public Radio is an incredibly simple device - intentionally so - and yet it's real work to get it made.

But we're trying anyway. We've got a pretty nice plan here - one that keeps TPR lean on capital requirements, keeps our supply chain short, and (most importantly) makes for a really nice customer experience. There's a lot to unpack here, and you can bet that I'll be sharing more here in the next few months :)

Anyway, that's that. Please, check out The Public Radio on Kickstarter and share it!!!! They look great, work great, and make for *excellent* gifts. And as we build out our manufacturing process, you'll be right there learning about it with us!

The Prepared's Podcast

Added on by Spencer Wright.

As I've said here before, The Prepared was never meant to be a media operation. And yet, when I think of its place in my life and in (apparently) the lives of its readers, it's just that - and I can't help but want it to be more

So I'm happy, then, to announce The Prepared's first experiment into audio. Appropriately enough, the first episode of The Prepared (the podcast) is a conversation between myself and Zach Dunham, the better half of The Public Radio - which, as it happens, is *about* to relaunch on Kickstarter.

You can subscribe to The Prepared's podcast on iTunes or on my favorite posting app, Overcast. Heck yeah!

The Prepared - Where it's at, and how I'm doing with it

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Recently The Prepared, my weekly manufacturing newsletter, crossed 1000 subscribers. As a result of this (and because it's been on my mind for a few months), I wanted to post an update to the role that The Prepared plays in my life, and how I see it working in the future.

I'm going to cover three areas in this post. The first is about the actual execution of The Prepared - the time spent curating and creating the newsletter every week. The second is more operational, and covers the underlying infrastructure (and cost) required to make The Prepared happen. The third is on the impact that The Prepared has had on my own life and career - and, to the extent that I'm aware, the impact that it's had on my readers.

How The Prepared is made

The Prepared was spawned as a result of my own reading habits; its original purpose was to track and share the things that I felt might be important for me to know in the future. I read something like 50 articles per week. I don't have current stats, but in previous years that's worked out to between 4 and 5 million words per year, which at a speed of 273 words per minute (roughly my rate) averages to 5.5 hours of reading per week. Most of that happens on the subway, which I ride for roughly 5 hours per week (two half-hour commutes per day), and the rest happens in waiting rooms or while I'm on a plane taxiing around the airport (I can often blast through a backlog of reading while traveling). 

But reading is only part of it: Even after spending five or six hours a week reading and filtering down to a few dozen shareable links, I still need to actually compose the newsletter. This usually happens on weekends, and takes at least an hour or two. All in, I'd say that the average newsletter represents roughly seven hours of work - a commitment of over 250 hours per year.

I enjoy doing it, and a lot of the reading I'd do anyway. But it puts some pressure on my life - and I've spent a bit of time thinking about how that can be reduced. To start, I've asked Eric Weinhoffer - a subscriber to The Prepared - to curate the newsletter on a few occasions. I've been thinking of expanding my guest curation program, though I've been conservative about doing so. If you're interested in being a guest curator, let me know - I'll put you on my list.

Overhead & Infrastructure

The Prepared's stack goes Pocket -> IFTTT -> Gmail -> Mailchimp. For a long time, this whole process was free, but recently I've upgraded both my Pocket and Mailchimp accounts; the total annual cost of these is $344.99.

I've also put a bit of money into paid advertising. I bought ads on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, spending $40, $25, and $75 respectively. I did this as an experiment, to see who would sign up and how expensive it would be to expand The Prepared's reach. Of the three, I found Reddit to be a bit more effective - I got more referral traffic per dollar than Facebook, and longer session times as well (my Twitter ads were a leadgen campaign, which allowed users to sign up directly from the Twitter app; as a result it's a bit harder to compare results there). I'm not sure whether I'll continue to use ads to expand The Prepared's reach, but I'm glad to have seeded a few new users that I might not have been able to reach organically.

On the other side of the equation, I recently began soliciting donations for The Prepared. To date, I've received $76.25 from five readers, which averages out to about $0.07625 per reader. My hope is that I can bring in an average of $5 per reader in the second half of 2016 - an amount that seems ambitious, but not unrealistic. 

Speaking of which: If you read The Prepared, you should consider donating! As outlined above, it takes about 250 hours per year PLUS $344.99 in fixed costs per year. If you donate $5 per year, then that values my time composing and sending the newsletter at about $18/hr - a pretty fair wage, if you ask me.

Impact

It's a bit surprising to say, but somehow this weekly email - which I started without really wanting it to be a thing - has become one of my primary calling cards (the other big one is "the bin of broken dreams guy"). I get 3-5 emails about it every week; some are from people I knew before it started, but most are from folks who I probably would have never met otherwise. Usually one or two of these is a link submission, but many are just someone saying hi - something I never expected to happen. It feels great.

I've also developed a handful of significant relationships through The Prepared. I've met a few dozen subscribers in person, and have on many occasions turned to them for specific advice or expertise. I've also connected a few subscribers to each other, and on at least one occasion this has resulted in someone being hired for a job. 

Moving forward, I want to continue making The Prepared a way for people to connect and share ideas. Despite my slow rollout, I'm excited to have more people curate, and I want to find more ways to connect The Prepared's subscribers directly too. This probably means organizing meetups or drinks more often; I've also considered setting up an online meeting place.

The Prepared has taken up *way* more of my time than I could have ever anticipated, and has bought me more in return than I could have possibly hoped for. Here's to its continued expansion, and whatever the future brings.

Good newsletters

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Prompted by Brendan, I wanted to list a few good email newsletters that I subscribe to and consistently enjoy. If you know of one that isn't on this list, give a holler and I'll check it out.

  • My own The Prepared <- shameless plug.
  • Reilly Brennan's Future of Transportation. Lot of autonomous car stuff here, but also great coverage of less hyped-up developments. I particularly like the "Patents & patent applications" section - mostly because it's a useful category of stuff, which I've really yet to develop for The Prepared.
  • Alexis Madrigal's Real Future, formerly Five Intriguing Things. Lot of obscure stuff here, all appropriately nerdy :)
  • Jon Russell's Asia Tech Review. Most of this is way beyond my interest level, but I like to keep more or less up to date on China and Jon does a good job at that.
  • Ingrid Burrington's Infrastructure Time. I'm not 100% sure that this is continuing beyond Ingrid's trip to the west, but I *really* liked her format and subject matter. 
  • Tilly Minute's New Yorker Minute. This got a lot of coverage recently as a way to cheat and act like you had read the New Yorker, but I find it really useful for it's real purpose: as a filter for what to devote my attention to.

I'll also mention Benedict Evan's newsletter. I don't really enjoy it much anymore, but you should be aware of nonetheless.

Two years of The Prepared

Added on by Spencer Wright.

I began writing The Prepared, my weekly manufacturing newsletter, two years ago. I wrote a year-in-review of sorts this time last year, and thought I'd update it here.

First: The Prepared's subscriber list has increased by 185%, from 195 to 556. Its cumulative open and click rates are 52.3% (down from 54%) and 28.6% (down from 29%) respectively. 26 people unsubscribed in 2015.

Less tangibly but equally important, I feel notably closer to my subscribers than I did last year. I've connected with many of them by email or on Twitter, and have had more phone calls and coffees than I can keep track of. And as I've focused my area of interest, my audience has become more focused too. Increasingly, it includes people doing some of the most serious and interesting work in manufacturing today.

I also, for the first time, had a guest editor this year: Eric Weinhoffer, who filled in while I was on my honeymoon. Handing over the keys was good, and made me think about what The Prepared might look like if it weren't just my weekly manufacturing newsletter. I'm not sure whether I'll pursue a change in the near term (maintaining the current course is probably the path of least resistance for now), but even the possibility was interesting to consider.

As I wrote last year, The Prepared is "arguably the single most popular and useful thing that I do." It continually pushes me to make my knowledge base both broader and deeper, and has brought more people into my life than almost anything I've ever done.

Here's to another year!

Guidelines for The Prepared

Added on by Spencer Wright.

My weekly manufacturing newsletter, The Prepared, has grown significantly in the last few months. I had more signups in August than any month before, and I've been proud to recognize more and more of my subscribers for having done work that I've admired in in the past.

As it's matured, I've gotten a bit better about knowing what I - and my subscribers - want from it. Here are a few guidelines I use currently:

  • Be focused. While I might fancy myself capable of commenting intelligently on a wide range of topics, the fact of the matter is that while people will appreciate the "manufacturing guy comments on other random subject" link, they won't love the "random guy comments on whatever he wants" link. 

  • Have a voice. I'm with Joe Biden on this: No matter how well it pays, I don't want a job that doesn't allow me to be me. 

  • Be pithy. I tend to pontificate, but this is a weekly email. Try to keep it short.

  • Be warm. I tend to be skeptical of things I don't have personal experience, but the point of the newsletter is to connect people with interesting stuff. Where appropriate, show a little enthusiasm :)

  • Differentiate yourself. I subscribe to a few great newsletters (check out Jon Russell's, Reilly Brennan's, Alexis Madrigal's, and Benedict Evans's), and will definitely repost stuff that those guys share. But ultimately it's good for me to have my own niche, and defining myself in opposition to them helps make The Prepared better and more useful to my subscribers.

  • Don't stress the format. The categories are useful for organization, but they really don't matter that much.

  • Attribute links where it makes sense. This is a tricky one, especially because my workflow (which is 90% Pocket, 10% IFTTT+Gmail) doesn't make it easy for me to remember who sent me what. As a result this ends up being mostly driven by practical constraints, like whether or not the person who sent it could use a shout out, and whether or not they have a web presence that I can link to, and how well publicized the thing they sent me was. Not exactly a science, but I try.

  • This is a weekly email, but the actual day I send it out doesn't really matter. Some people may feel differently, but my rule is that I need to send it "sometime in the weekend," and I define "weekend" liberally.

A year of my mailing list

Added on by Spencer Wright.

I've been doing my weekly mailing list (which you should sign up for!) for a little over a year. 

The first four issues were sent on 2013.11.20, 2013.12.26, and 2014.01.10. They had no subscribers and were pretty loose. The first issue claimed its purpose to be:

To be useful. To connect. To tell you about things that matter to me.

Furthermore, all of the first four issues included a version of the following:

"If you're going to make a mailing list, at least make it a self-aware one."
— Me, like a month ago, when I first set this mailing list up.

Today, I have 194 subscribers. I'd say that I know about a third of them personally, but about half of those people I know mostly through the mailing list itself. In 2014.04.12's issue I added a note at the bottom of each email asking the people I send it to to have coffee with me, and through that I've made a number of new friends.

Here you can see the list growth over time, plus open & click rates by issue:

My workflow is as follows: I get links from places (details below). I add them to Pocket. I read them on my daily commute, which is a predictable 30 minutes twice daily. If I like something, I star it. Then an IFTTT recipe grabs the link and emails it to me. When I'm back at my computer (usually the same day), I open the link up and add it plus a short description/observation to that week's campaign.

My sources fall in four big categories:

  • The first (and most prevalent) is RSS. I use Digg Reader, and go through between 50 and 100 posts a day - almost never reading them in browser, almost always saving them to Pocket.
  • The second is Twitter. I follow about 600 people, and save a handful of links per week to Pocket there.
  • The third is through one of the companies that I work & hang out at. The Undercurrent Slack channels give a few articles per week, as do Gin Lane's email chains, which I'm on. I also get a lot of links from Kane & Adam at Brilliant Bikes.
  • The fourth is through subscribers. I get a few emails per month from people (often friends) who subscribe to The Prepared and think I'd be interested in something.

At any given moment I usually have between 40 and 80 articles in Pocket, and I churn through them pretty quickly. I organize my Pocket list LIFO, which means that some longer articles get stuck in the queue for a while. I'll usually try to attack those on a long flight, or if I know I'll be in a waiting room for a while.

It's surprising to say so, but in the past year my mailing list has become arguably the single most popular and useful thing that I do. It's also something that I'm quite fond of. For one, it does a great job at incentivizing me to self-educate. But equally as important (and much more surprising to me) is the effect that it's had on my social circles. The Prepared's subscriber list continues to amaze me; I feel absolutely blessed that there are so many caring, intelligent, and interested people who bother to read it.

Thanks so much for a great year!

Being Prepared.

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Links for the week! Sign up here.

Pathing.

Manufacturing.

Logistics.

Reflecting.

Stuff that doesn't fit into my dumb/arbitrary categories.

And.

 Love, Spencer.

ps - Thank you to everyone - especially my friends at Gin LaneUndercurrent, and on twitter - who referred me to everything here.

Reading

Added on by Spencer Wright.

My mailing list is live! And you, dear reader, should subscribe to it. 

 

Pathing.

 

Developing.

 

Evaluating.

 

Reflecting.

Mailing List v1.0

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Mailing list: LIVE!

This is the best of the best of the stuff I've read in the past month or so. Check it out here, or subscribe!

Pathing.

  • Wikipedia: "Hedonic Treadmill." Basically, humans aren't very good at getting happier.
  • Wikipedia: "The Planning Fallacy." People are also terrible at planning, even when they're primed to be aware of that fact.

 

Developing.

 

Evaluating.

 

Reflecting.

  • Juliet Waters/NYTimes: "The Code of Life." A journalist learns a little programming, and discovers that it's not all bad.
  • FastCo: "Digital Cameras are Messing With Your Memory." This is great, but you really need to read to the end - I suspect that the way that many of us deal with digital photography avoids some of the pitfalls.
  • John Dickerson/Slate: "Note to Selfie." Dickerson gives an excellent, and heartfealt, defense of mobile technology and its place in our everyday lives.

 

And.

Love... your friendly host.

Mailing List is Live.

Added on by Spencer Wright.

And the signup is HERE.

 

A few questions:

Why am I starting a mailing list?

Because it's good.

Do people *do* mailing lists?

I don't know. Do people do RSS? Do they look at websites on a regular basis? If everything is going mobile (as it appears it is) then I'm guessing the answer to the above is "mostly no." I'm not sure email is the cure (cf. Paul Graham's "Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas," point 2), but I'm trying not to try to change user behavior. And anyway, why *not* do a mailing list?

What's on this mailing list?

Oh, I don't know. Whatever. Something about behavioral psychology, something about probability. Something about design, or startup ideas. Maybe something from the Shouts & Murmurs section, or a link to an xkcd comic, or whatever. 

Good stuff.

Are you gonna spam me?

Oh, give me a break. It's on MailChimp, it's standard operating procedure, etc. Plus I'm a decent person.

What else?

Is there anything else? I think that's it. Sign up, it'll be kinda fun.

Mailing list!

Added on by Spencer Wright.

I know you're out there: The RSS readers, the folks who drop by, the people who are at least *somewhat* interested in what I'm thinking about.

So here's your chance!

I'm setting up a mailing list. Nothing fancy, just links to things I read on the internet and think are good. I read a lot, and the topics are varied, so expect a wide range of compelling to mindblowing to kind of weird stuff. I'll try to keep it predictable, concise, and relevant.

And I won't, like, spam you.

Here's a taste of my first draft: 

So. Sign up below and I'll get in touch. It'll be fun. 

Really.

Name *
Name