All of briancpotter's Comments + Replies

Building Fast and Slow: The Empire State Building and the World Trade Center (Part I)

The difficulty isn't normalizing (per square foot is probably the most reasonable), it's getting death information for individual buildings. Outside of the most famous buildings it's not easy to track down.

Building Fast and Slow: The Empire State Building and the World Trade Center (Part I)

In general, worker safety has improved significantly in the 90 years since the Empire State Building was built, see here: Workplace Fatalities Fell 95% in the 20th Century. Who Deserves the Credit? - Foundation for Economic Education (

It's pretty common to interpret slower speed as the inevitable cost of increased safety, but looking at some notable projects the link is less than obvious to me: 

-5 workers died during the construction of the Empire State Building, which was built in 11 months

-0(!) workers died during the construction of the Chr... (read more)

1jasoncrawford2yDeaths per worker hour would be one way to normalize?
Nature of progress in Deep Learning

Re: other examples - true interchangeable parts, which was a major manufacturing advance, required a lot of advances in precision manufacturing. It had been attempted as early as the early 1700s, and was made much more feasible/cost effective by the invention of high-speed tool steel in the late 1800s, which made it possible to machine heat-treated parts. Interchangeable parts was, among other things, one of the technologies that made Ford's assembly line possible (iirc, Ford was the very first car manufacturer to use interchangeable parts.) But as late as the 1940s, it was still expensive to get true interchangeability, and wasn't always used.

Where are the robotic bricklayers?


Re: portable brick machine, I think automation would have to advance a lot before something like this ended up being cost effective (and the resulting automation could probably do a lot of other, more interesting things than just "assemble bricks")

Re: mortar, folks are already doing this (this is what fastbrick robotics uses, basically)

Re: 3D printing, I don't think this is especially likely, mostly because people want brick specifically because of how it looks - it's already a sort of cost-inefficient system that people choose for the aesthetics. Adding another system to the mix doesn't seem like it would change this calculus, even in the event it becomes super efficient (which seems unlikely to me).

Book Review: Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything

For folks interested in this topic, I found "Air Conditioning America" a good complement to this book. It covers a narrower period of time (from 1900 to 1960), and it's more academic, but it goes into quite a bit more depth than "Cool" does.