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Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow

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An interesting profile by Neil Strauss in Rolling Stone:

It’s mid-afternoon on a Friday at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and three of Elon Musk’s children are gathered around him – one of his triplets, both of his twins.

Musk is wearing a gray T-shirt and sitting in a swivel chair at his desk, which is not in a private office behind a closed door, but in an accessible corner cubicle festooned with outer-space novelty items, photos of his rockets, and mementos from Tesla and his other companies.

Most tellingly, there’s a framed poster of a shooting star with a caption underneath it that reads, “When you wish upon a falling star, your dreams can come true. Unless it’s really a meteor hurtling to the Earth which will destroy all life. Then you’re pretty much hosed, no matter what you wish for. Unless it’s death by meteorite.” To most people, this would be mere dark humor, but in this setting, it’s also a reminder of Musk’s master plan: to create habitats for humanity on other planets and moons. If we don’t send our civilization into another Dark Ages before Musk or one of his dream’s inheritors pull it off, then Musk will likely be remembered as one of the most seminal figures of this millennium. Kids on all the terraformed planets of the universe will look forward to Musk Day, when they get the day off to commemorate the birth of the Earthling who single-handedly ushered in the era of space colonization.

And that’s just one of Musk’s ambitions. Others include converting automobiles, households and as much industry as possible from fossil fuels to sustainable energy; implementing a new form of high-speed city-to-city transportation via vacuum tube; relieving traffic congestion with a honeycomb of underground tunnels fitted with electric skates for cars and commuters; creating a mind-computer interface to enhance human health and brainpower; and saving humanity from the future threat of an artificial intelligence that may one day run amok and decide, quite rationally, to eliminate the irrational human species.

So far, Musk, 46, has accomplished none of these goals.

But what he has done is something that very few living people can claim: Painstakingly bulldozed, with no experience whatsoever, into two fields with ridiculously high barriers to entry – car manufacturing (Tesla) and rocketry (SpaceX) – and created the best products in those industries, as measured by just about any meaningful metric you can think of. In the process, he’s managed to sell the world on his capability to achieve objectives so lofty that from the mouth of anyone else, they’d be called fantasies.

At least, most of the world. “I’m looking at the short losses,” Musk says, transfixed by CNBC on his iPhone. He speaks to his kids without looking up. “Guys, check this out: Tesla has the highest short position in the entire stock market. A $9 billion short position.”

His children lean over the phone, looking at a table full of numbers that I don’t understand. So his 13-year-old, Griffin, explains it to me: “They’re betting that the stock goes down, and they’re getting money off that. But it went up high, so they lost an insane amount of money.”

“They’re jerks who want us to die,” Musk elaborates. “They’re constantly trying to make up false rumors and amplify any negative rumors. It’s a really big incentive to lie and attack my integrity. It’s really awful. It’s…”

He trails off, as he often does when preoccupied by a thought. I try to help: “Unethical?”

“It’s…” He shakes his head and struggles for the right word, then says softly, “Hurtful.”

It is easy to confuse who someone is with what they do, and thus turn them into a caricature who fits neatly into a storybook view of the world. Our culture always needs villains and heroes, fools and geniuses, scapegoats and role models. However, despite opinions to the contrary, Elon Musk is not a robot sent from the future to save humanity. Nor is he a Silicon Valley savant whose emotional affect has been replaced with supercomputer-like intelligence. Over the course of nine months of reporting, watching Musk do everything from strategize Mars landings with his rocket-engineering team to plan the next breakthroughs with his artificial-intelligence experts, I learned he is someone far, far different from what his myth and reputation suggest.

The New York Times has called him “arguably the most successful and important entrepreneur in the world.” It’s an easy case to make: He’s probably the only person who has started four billion-dollar companies – PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City. But at his core, Musk is not a businessman or entrepreneur. He’s an engineer, inventor and, as he puts it, “technologist.” And as a naturally gifted engineer, he’s able to find the design inefficiencies, flaws and complete oversights in the tools that power our civilization.

“He’s able to see things more clearly in a way that no one else I know of can understand,” says his brother, Kimbal. He discusses his brother’s love of chess in their earlier years, and adds, “There’s a thing in chess where you can see 12 moves ahead if you’re a grandmaster. And in any particular situation, Elon can see things 12 moves ahead.”

His children soon leave for the home of their mother, Musk’s ex-wife Justine. “I wish we could be private with Tesla,” Musk murmurs as they exit. “It actually makes us less efficient to be a public company.”

What follows is … silence. Musk sits at his desk, looking at his phone, but not typing or reading anything. He then lowers himself to the floor, and stretches his back on a foam roller. When he finishes, I attempt to start the interview by asking about the Tesla Model 3 launch a week earlier, and what it felt like to stand onstage and tell the world he’d just pulled off a plan 14 years in the making: to bootstrap, with luxury electric cars, a mass-market electric car.

The accomplishment, for Musk, is not just in making a $35,000 electric car; it’s in making a $35,000 electric car that’s so good, and so in-demand, that it forces other car manufacturers to phase out gas cars to compete. And sure enough, within two months of the launch, both GM and Jaguar Land Rover announced they were planning to eliminate gas cars and go all-electric.

Musk thinks for a while, begins to answer, then pauses. “Uh, actually, let me go to the restroom. Then I’ll ask you to repeat that question.” A longer pause. “I also have to unload other things from my mind.”

Five minutes later, Musk still hasn’t returned. Sam Teller, his chief of staff, says, “I’ll be right back.”

Several minutes after that, they both reappear and huddle nearby, whispering to each other. Then Musk returns to his desk.

“We can reschedule for another day if this is a bad time,” I offer.

Musk clasps his hands on the surface of the desk, composes himself, and declines.

“It might take me a little while to get into the rhythm of things.”

Then he heaves a sigh and ends his effort at composure. “I just broke up with my girlfriend,” he says hesitantly. “I was really in love, and it hurt bad.”

He pauses and corrects himself: “Well, she broke up with me more than I broke up with her, I think.”

Thus, the answer to the question posed earlier: It felt unexpectedly, disappointingly, uncontrollably horrible to launch the Model 3. “I’ve been in severe emotional pain for the last few weeks,” Musk elaborates. “Severe. It took every ounce of will to be able to do the Model 3 event and not look like the most depressed guy around. For most of that day, I was morbid. And then I had to psych myself up: drink a couple of Red Bulls, hang out with positive people and then, like, tell myself: ‘I have all these people depending on me. All right, do it!'”

Minutes before the event, after meditating for pretty much the first time in his life to get centered, Musk chose a very telling song to drive onstage to: “R U Mine?” by the Arctic Monkeys.

Musk discusses the breakup for a few more minutes, then asks, earnestly, deadpan, “Is there anybody you think I should date? It’s so hard for me to even meet people.” He swallows and clarifies, stammering softly, “I’m looking for a long-term relationship. I’m not looking for a one-night stand. I’m looking for a serious companion or soulmate, that kind of thing.”

I eventually tell him that it may not be a good idea to jump right into another relationship. He may want to take some time to himself and figure out why his previous relationships haven’t worked in the long run: his marriage to writer Justine Musk, his marriage to actress Talulah Riley, and this new breakup with actress Amber Heard.

Musk shakes his head and grimaces: “If I’m not in love, if I’m not with a long-term companion, I cannot be happy.”

I explain that needing someone so badly that you feel like nothing without them is textbook codependence.

Musk disagrees. Strongly. “It’s not true,” he replies petulantly. “I will never be happy without having someone. Going to sleep alone kills me.” He hesitates, shakes his head, falters, continues. “It’s not like I don’t know what that feels like: Being in a big empty house, and the footsteps echoing through the hallway, no one there – and no one on the pillow next to you. Fuck. How do you make yourself happy in a situation like that?”

There’s truth to what Musk is saying. It is lonely at the top. But not for everyone. It’s lonely at the top for those who were lonely at the bottom.

“When I was a child, there’s one thing I said,” Musk continues. His demeanor is stiff, yet in the sheen of his eyes and the trembling of his lips, a high tide of emotion is visible, pushing against the retaining walls. “‘I never want to be alone.’ That’s what I would say.” His voice drops to a whisper. “I don’t want to be alone.”

A ring of red forms around his eyes as he stares forward and sits frozen in silence. Musk is a titan, a visionary, a human-size lever pushing forward massive historical inevitabilities – the kind of person who comes around only a few times in a century – but in this moment, he seems like a child who is afraid of abandonment. And that may be the origin story of Musk’s superambitions, but more on that later. In the meantime, Musk has something he’d like to show me.

“If you say anything about what you’re about to see, it would cost us billions,” he says, rising from his desk. “And you would be put in jail.”

The most interesting tourist attraction in Los Angeles County is one that’s not in many guidebooks: It’s in the otherwise-untouristed southwestern city of Hawthorne, around SpaceX. If you walk along Crenshaw Boulevard from Jack Northrop Boulevard to 120th Street, what you will see is a city of the future that’s under construction. This is Musk city, an alternate reality, a triumph of futuristic imagination more thrilling than anything at a Disney park. On the west side of the street, a 156-foot-tall rocket towers above SpaceX headquarters, symbolizing Musk’s dream of relatively low-cost interplanetary travel. This particular rocket booster was the first in human history to be launched into space, then recovered intact on Earth after separating, and then fired back into space. On the east side of the street, an employee parking lot has been dug up and turned into the first-ever tunnel for the Boring Company, Musk’s underground-honeycomb solution to traffic jams and the future home of all his terrestrial transportation projects. Then, running for a mile beside Jack Northrop Boulevard, there’s a white vacuum tube along the shoulder of the road. This is the test track for the Hyperloop, Musk’s high-speed form of city-to-city travel. Taken together, the dreams of Musk city promise to connect the planet and the solar system in ways that will fundamentally change humanity’s relationship to two of the most important facets of its reality: distance and time.

But there is a particular building in Musk city that few have visited, and this is where Musk takes me. It is the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2017 at 9:49 am

Nothing is so infuriating as trying to get mobile phone service

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I’m struggling to get a mobile phone up and running. It seems to me needlessly complex.

Just complaining.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2017 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

A completely rebuilt Firefox browser: Firefox Quantum

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I use Firefox to write my blog posts, and it just updated itself to the newest version, Firefox Quantum. This version looks damn good. You can read about it (and download it) on this page.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 November 2017 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Software, Technology

Deriving design from evolution’s results: Biomimicry

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2017 at 3:49 pm

The Giant Magellan Telescope: A perfect mirror

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2017 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Science, Technology

Watch the Casting of a Giant Mirror for the First Extremely Large Telescope

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Very interesting article by Daniel Oberhaus in Motherboard, with excellent photos and a great chart:

The article begins:

Galileo didn’t invent the telescope, but he may as well have. Prior to the Italian polymath’s foray into optics, astronomers were relying on telescopes that only magnified objects three times—not great when your job is looking at celestial objects that are millions of miles away. Within a year of making his first telescope in 1609, Galileo had modified the device so that it could magnify objects by a factor of twenty, an improvement that facilitated some of the most important discoveries in early astronomy, such as four Jovian moons and the existence of sunspots.

Today, astronomers are just as dependent on telescopes to observe the cosmos, although the complexity and sheer size of modern telescopes would make them inscrutable to Galileo. At the forefront of modern telescopy is the Giant Magellan Telescope, the first device in a new class of ground-based optical instruments appropriately named “Extremely Large Telescopes.”

When the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) becomes operational in the early 2020s, its effective aperture—a way of measuring the optical ‘strength’ of a telescope—will be double the size of the largest optical telescopes operating today. This feat of engineering is largely the result of advances in manufacturing the giant lenses at the heart of the GMT, and no one knows this better than the scientists at the University of Arizona’s Mirror Lab, where astronomers go when they need some serious glass.

“This is pretty much the limit for the limit of a mirror you can cast and still move around,” Robert Shelton, president of the international consortium of universities called the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization that is building the telescope, told me over the phone. “It’s truly an incredible feat of engineering.” . . .

Continue reading.

I wish they hand’t cancelled the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2017 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Science, Technology

The Slow Death of the Firm

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Nick Tomaino writes in Medium:

Most people think of Bitcoin as a digital asset, but it can be thought of as something more general than that: a decentralized organization. Years from now, Satoshi’s creation may be looked at as a catalyst for the slow death of the firm.

Why do firms exist?

Economists typically suggest that firms exist for two main reasons: to minimize transaction costs and to aggregate capital and people. Ronald Coase wrote about the firm’s ability to minimize transaction costs in 1937 in his famous essay “The Nature of the Firm.” Seventy five years later, Nicholas Vitalari and Haydn Shaughnessy wrote about the firm’s ability to aggregate capital and people in the Elastic Enterprise. In addition to the economic arguments, some argue that firms provide people with structure and stability (i.e. job security), which risk-averse humans inherently seek.

Firms have played an important role in society for decades for these reasons (and likely a variety of others). Despite their prominence, most people dislike them.

Bitcoin thrives with no firm

In January of 2009, Satoshi released software that combined cryptography and incentives to offer users a digital service (a ledger to store and transfer value) that persists over time without any central party behind it. There is no firm behind Bitcoin; there’s simply code (rules for organization) and incentives (the BTC token) that brings together many different participants who are all incentivized to contribute their time and resources to maintain the service.

Bitcoin relies on proof-of-work consensus to secure the network and align the workers in the network. There are three types of workers in the network: miners, developers, and users. The miners work is measured objectively and that work gets compensated directly from the protocol: hash power contributed to the network earns BTC. To be a miner, you just need electricity and an Internet connection and you can earn BTC. Miners are the only group of workers that get paid directly from the protocol and the other two groups (developers and users) work indirectly for the protocol if they own BTC. If developers and users add value through coding, holding, or marketing, they add value to BTC and the BTC they own appreciates.

This new organizational structure has resulted in close to $100B worth of value creation (today the total market value of Bitcoin is now larger than the market capitalization of Goldman Sachs).

So what?

Bitcoin is the first example of an organizational structure that has the beneficial characteristics of the firm (minimizing transaction costs, aggregating capital and mindshare, and providing job security for contributors) combined with some new characteristics: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 November 2017 at 7:43 am

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