Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

The Future is Now

Posted from Livermore, California at 10:51 pm, February 27th, 2014

Two notes about two of my favorite companies:

  • Tesla Motors announced a bit more about their proposed “gigafactory” this week, which (if built) will produce as many lithium ion batteries in a single, massive US plant as were produced in the entire world in 2013. They will be partnering with established battery manufacturing firms, giving them the necessary know-how and experience to make this happen, and making it possible that a component that we take for granted as coming from Asia could suddenly be produced primarily in the US. What’s more, by bringing production in-house Tesla foresees significant economic advantages, and I suspect that they will work hard to innovate in battery technology and thus quickly drive down the cost and improve the efficiency of their most important component. Longer term, Tesla Motors might follow Apple Computer in dropping the second half of its name as the company gains the ability to produce massive battery packs that could be tied to the electric grid to provide large-scale energy storage, thus revolutionizing the electrical grid in as significant a way as what Edison and Nikola Tesla did at the turn of the century.
  • Meanwhile, Spacex will be launching another rocket to the International Space Station in mid-March. While they have seemingly made the once-unthinkable task of private rocket launches seem almost mundane, this launch will be noteworthy for having landing legs attached to the first stage. The plan is to try to “soft land” the rocket into the ocean as a test, with the goal of controlling things sufficiently that the rocket can eventually be flown back to the pad and re-used. Spacex has already reduced launch costs to almost one-third of what their competitors charge, but if they can create a truly reusable rocket then costs will plummet (think of the difference in costs of air travel if we only used each plane for a single flight) and an age of space exploration that rivals the journeys of European explorers after the Middle Ages could conceivably begin.

It is of course entirely possible that either of these companies could fail in their efforts, but it’s not hyperbole to say that if they each meet their goals that they will change the world as we know it in very dramatic ways. It’s a fun time to be alive.

2014, so far

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:46 pm, February 23rd, 2014

Here’s a recap of adventures in 2014 thus far:

  • Last weekend I had to make a very quick trip to the Midwest for a funeral, the first return visit to Cleveland in five years. Cleveland in February is not the best of months, but it was still both fun and sad to re-visit. The Cleveland Museum of Art has been significantly expanded and rivals any museum in the world, Case Western has upgraded everything from student housing to campus buildings, and Shaker Heights still feels like it would be a pleasant place to live. On the flip side, the economic downturn has not been kind to Cleveland, and the potholes were scary, the downtown was a ghost town after 5PM, and many buildings that weren’t vacant ten years ago are now shuttered.
  • After visiting Cleveland, I picked Aaron up at the airport at 11PM, and we then braved snowy roads in a Chevy Skidsalot for the two hour drive to Erie, slept for a very short time, and then got to see a bunch of people we’re related to. We’ve got some fun relatives who most definitely fall on the “good people” side of the spectrum.
  • Aside from expeditions to the Midwest, 2014 has mostly been about enjoying living in Southern California. Audrey got treated to lobster for Valentine’s Day, we took advantage of nice weather during a visit to the Getty, and there have been a few trips to the ocean to see what birds are visiting.
  • In homeowner news, a crack team of plumbers came to install a gas line and other hookups last Friday, and my first ever appliance purchase is now operational: the Samsung Future drying machine from space. It has knobs and LEDs and settings and musical tones and dries good. Removing the old, 320 pound stackable unit from its previous home in a hallway closet made for some good times, but I emerged (mostly) unscathed and much wiser in the ways of appliance disassembly.
  • One last minor note, but my iPhone battery was having trouble holding charge for more than a few hours, and rather than pay $80 and send my phone away for a week I figured I’d replace it myself for $25. After an hour, much stress about screws the size of dust molecules, cable connections smaller than fruit flies, and screen removal instructions that involved a suction cup and the admonition to “pull harder than you might think necessary”, my phone luckily turned on again and I am now completely certain that bomb disposal technician is not a wise future career choice for me.

Not the most exciting of starts to the year, but planning is underway for grand adventures that begin in July, so while it is slow now, there should be many, many days worthy of a journal entry during the latter half of 2014.

Shortly after landing I texted Audrey to let her know that I had just seen both of the buildings, and she was jealous.

Iceland Revisited

Posted from Culver City, California at 7:54 pm, January 31st, 2014

The Annenberg Space for Photography is doing an exhibit celebrating 125 years of National Geographic photography. Rather than simply print a handful of photos, the exhibit uses a number of LCD screens to showcase over five hundred iconic photographs. Immediately after visiting I came home inspired and purchased the largest-available digital frame I could find (18.5″) and Audrey and I now have about a hundred of our own photos on display in the living room.

In the process of going through photos to put into the frame I found a bunch from Iceland that may not have made it into the journal before, and since they are pretty and since it’s the end of the month and I need a third entry to meet my self-imposed quota, here are a few of them:

Breidavik church at sunset

Breidavik church at sunset. If I remember correctly this was taken at about 1AM – it gets dark late that far north.

Landmannalauger landscape

Landmannalauger landscape. This area is a bizarre volcanic region filled with amazing colors and twisted landscapes that is accessible only to cool people in high clearance four-wheel drive vehicles.

Skogafoss landscape

Skogafoss landscape. Skogafoss is a waterfall, and it turned out that the area upstream was also heart-warming.

Hafragilsfoss waterfall

Hafragilsfoss waterfall. This waterfall is downstream from Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall.

2014 Predictions

Posted from Culver City, California at 10:33 pm, January 23rd, 2014

Following a disasterous set of 2013 predictions, predictions for 2014 are now ready to be proven incorrect. For those wanting to read about things that never came to pass, past year’s predictions can be found at the following links: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Here’s what the crystal ball shows for the coming year:

  1. Since 2014 is mid-term election, here’s the obligatory election prediction:
    • Democrats will hold the Senate, barely, with their 55 member majority reduced to between 50-52 members (current projections are that it will be 50-50 after the elections). I think the Obamacare web site issues will mostly be forgotten in November, but I also think Republicans are likely to nominate better candidates than they did in the last two cycles.
    • The House will stay under Republican control – currently Republicans hold 234 seats, and after the election they will hold 224-234 seats (current projection is 228). The way House districts are drawn make it tough for things to change much so soon after the redistricting that took place for 2012.
  2. The values of Facebook (currently $56) and Twitter (currently $63) will both decline by at least twenty percent due to growth and revenue concerns. Revenue models based on the dual belief that everyone on the planet will sign up and that they will then spend money on Farmville are not something that smart investors should be banking on.
  3. Tiger Woods will win at least two major championships. He remains the most talented golfer alive and is way overdue.
  4. No significant new laws will be passed in the areas of gun control or immigration reform prior to the mid-term elections. For the record, I think it is inevitable that immigration reform will happen eventually, and thus in addition to the fact that it is a good idea on the merits, Republicans would be wise to pass something soon to prevent this from continuing to be an issue that damages them in national elections, but their less moderate members will continue to block any action.
  5. Google is going to make some sort of HUGE move into the entertainment space. It’s clear that with Google TV, Youtube and Google Fiber that they want to be in the living room and delivering content, and I suspect that they will try hard to make any such move well ahead of Apple to gain whatever advantage comes from being first.
  6. Lebron James will re-sign with the Heat, as will Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. There is noise around the idea that once he becomes a free agent Lebron will return to Cleveland or go elsewhere, but he wants to win as many titles as Michael Jordan and will thus stay exactly where he is. Also, Cleveland is cursed.
  7. Apple’s share of the tablet market will continue to fall precipitously. It dropped from 40% in 2012 to 30% in 2013, and will drop another ten percent to less than twenty percent of the total tablet market by the end of 2014. Since its announcement in 2010, and after four generations, the iPad hasn’t offered much new beyond better screen resolutions, and as a result most cost-conscious consumers will choose other options.
  8. Tesla will not deliver the Model X as scheduled in 2014, but will plan on delivering their next vehicle no later than Summer 2015. They will also not have rolled out their battery swapping technology due to a lack of demand – I think they announced that capability just to shut up critics, but I don’t think it’s something that people who are actually driving the car want. Finally, they will not have moved forward on their plans for a battery factory as their focus continues to be on the hugely successful Model S and their next generation vehicle, which if they can meet their goals will (I believe) be the most important vehicle since the Ford Model-T.
  9. The next evolution of TV – 4K resolution, which offers four times the resolution of current HD TVs – will be well underway by year’s end. While a handful of TVs are currently available offering 4K resolution, content is hard to come by, but by year’s end cable companies will have streaming 4K offerings, a few shows will announce plans to film in 4K, and the movie studios will be on the verge of announcing a 4K format to succeed blu ray.
  10. The Browns will draft a quarterback with their first pick, and whoever they get is not going to be nearly as successful as recently drafted QBs like Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck. The team should just grab the best available player in a draft with a ton of talented guys, and ideally they would use a few of their many picks to build an impenetrable offensive line – even a moderately talented QB with a reasonable amount of time to throw will be a success – but they will screw it up and reach for a guy that won’t be starting in three years. Sadly, I’ll still root for them until the end of time.
  11. Following Colorado and Washington, California and at least two others states will vote to de-criminalize marijuana use.
  12. Apple and Google will both unveil products and strategies that will focus those companies heavily on home automation. Google just bought Nest, a company that was a pioneer in putting thermostats and smoke detectors online, while Apple has already made small efforts to connect music sources, printers, etc, but this will just be the tip of the iceberg. We live in an era where companies are starting to find value for customers by putting even things like solar panels and lightbulbs online, and that will continue with everything from hot water heaters to alarm systems getting the “smart” treatment, resulting in more efficient energy usage whilst we wake up to lights that mimic the sunrise.

And there they are. Some of them may not seem impressive in retrospect (everyone would put money on Lebron staying put), but that’s what I’ve come up with after staring at this screen for far too long and trying to predict the future. The comments link is available to anyone who either wants to mock me or add some predictions of their own. See you in twelve months for the (likely embarrassing) retrospective.

2013 Prediction Scorecard (aka Warthog-Faced Buffoon)

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:54 pm, January 11th, 2014

2013 marks a new record of futility for my annual predictions, and it breaks the previous record by a margin that can in no way be considered small – while these recaps are usually at least partially tongue-in-cheek, my pride is actually hurt by such an utter and complete failure to guess where the world was headed. I take heart, however, in knowing that dumb luck alone says that I should almost always get at least a couple of correct predictions, so this record of shame is unlikely to be broken in 2014. As a reminder, here’s the past scorecard: 2009: 31% correct (5 of 16), 2010: 44% correct (7.5 of 17), 2011: 50% correct (7 of 14) and 2012: 40% correct (6 of 15). And now, the carnage that was 2013:

  1. The resolution to the current debt ceiling debate will permanently defuse the debt ceiling as a future threat.

    Luckily a last-minute agreement prevented the self-destruct button from being pushed on the US credit rating, but while politicians were afterwards making noises about not repeating this masochistic exercise, nothing was done to actually defuse the bomb and we are headed for more potential drama in March. Zero-for-one in the prediction game so far, and it gets much worse.

  2. Usain Bolt will not win an individual gold medal at the 2013 Track & Field World Championships and will be overshadowed by his training partner Yohan Blake who will win both the 100m and 200m.

    Usain Bolt won both and Yohan Blake (the Olympic silver medalist) didn’t even run after sustaining a hamstring injury a month before Worlds. Even had he run it’s unlikely that Blake would have beat Bolt – I thought Bolt would slack off after the Olympics, but he continued to make everyone else look like they were competing for second place.

  3. A la carte cable, in which consumers can choose only the channels (or even the shows) they want, will be announced (or on the verge of reality) from one or more companies capable of making it happen for the vast majority of America.

    In fairness, this is something that I very much want to happen, that I think makes all kinds of sense, and that realistically I should have known the cable companies would do everything in their power to delay. It will happen someday, and maybe even someday soon, but it didn’t happen in 2013.

  4. The unemployment rate will drop from its current rate of 7.9% to around 7.3% (+/- 0.1%).

    Officially it was 6.7% at the end of the year, but if I’m going to be wrong, at least it was because the job situation improved more than I thought it would. For those counting at home, that’s four straight wrong predictions.

  5. With Washington and Colorado having legalized marijuana, there will be a push at the national level to either reduce penalties for marijuana or to give states greater flexibility.

    Aside from assurances from Eric Holder that he wouldn’t send in the feds unless pot was crossing state lines, there was a great big “nothing” that happened on this front. Clearly lawmakers aren’t yet ready to have their fingerprints anywhere near anything that has to do with easing the war on drugs.

  6. The NFL will announce a deal to bring a football team to Los Angeles

    There are TWO stadium plans for LA, the Rose Bowl and Coliseum are available as temporary homes, and still the NFL can’t find a way to get a team to America’s second largest TV market. Does anyone in Jacksonville even know that they have a team there? Florida doesn’t need three teams – send one over here and see if they notice.

  7. Star Trek Into Darkness, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Man of Steel will be three of the five highest grossing movies of the year.

    How did they mess up Superman? While it ended up #5 on the year, two hours into it I didn’t care at all about any of the characters except for Pa Kent, who they killed off after the first hour. Hunger Games was a solid flick and ended the year #1, but Star Trek was underrated and finished at #11 (per the 2013 domestic box office). Seven predictions, and still not one that was correct.

  8. The next iPhone will offer the same form factor as the current iPhone 5, but will add the ability to use the phone for credit-card-like payments using near-field communication (NFC).

    I got the form factor right, but that’s too obvious to warrant any credit. The exciting new features for the iPhone 5s were – more colors and a fingerprint sensor? I like Apple, I think they’re an amazing company, and I even own Apple stock, but they need the ghost of Steve Jobs to give them a kick in the pants because they haven’t been breaking any new ground lately.

  9. Increased demand for the Model-S will cause Tesla to increase its production target for 2013 from 20,000 vehicles to at least 30,000.

    While there has been huge demand for this amazing car, I under-estimated how tough it would be for Tesla to ramp up production. They smartly focused on improving their quality and margins, and as a result will still exceed their delivery goals but won’t hit the 30,000 vehicle number despite the fact that they have a long backlog of orders.

  10. Congress will not pass significant immigration reform this year.

    I GOT ONE RIGHT!!!! Passing immigration reform is the right move for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it helps the economy, helps individual immigrants, and eliminates this issue as something that Democrats can attack Republicans over, but Boehner didn’t have a majority of his caucas willing to support it. I predicted last year that it is an issue that may return after the primaries, when Republicans will be more willing to prove that they can get things done and appeal to independents, but for now the bill is gathering dust in the House.

  11. At least one of the following companies will not survive the year: Sears, J. C. Penney, or K-Mart.

    I don’t understand how any of them stay solvent.

  12. Spacex will carry out 4-5 launches of its Falcon rocket (they have at least six planned) and one successful test launch of their massive new Falcon Heavy rocket.

    I’m giving myself half credit, mainly out of self-pity. There were four Falcon-9 launches in 2013, but if a Falcon Heavy has even been built yet I haven’t seen any news. A test launch of that uber-cool monster of a rocket remains on their launch manifest for 2014, and they have a busy schedule of Falcon-9 launches planned for this year, including a successful launch that put a satellite in geosynchronous orbit last week. It’s a good time to be a fan of spaceships.

  13. California High-Speed Rail will break ground in the Central Valley as scheduled this year.

    They issued a contract to get ground broken, then put it hold due to a lawsuit and other issues. I’m a strong believer that high-speed rail is an amazingly good idea and an investment that should be made, but the mis-management of this project is enough to make even me believe that it might be better to shut down the current efforts and start over. Build a high-speed train, but do it with a more realistic and effective plan, and a competent team in place to oversee its implementation.

  14. The Browns will have a winning record in 2013.

    In my defense, I added “this is the type of prediction Browns fans make every single year, and are wrong about every single year“. 4-12. Ouch. They were a better team than that record shows.

Final score: 11% (1.5 of 14). Eleven percent, and that’s after rounding up from 10.7%. To put that number in perspective, there is a woodchuck in Pennsylvania that makes yearly predictions and has a 39% success rate, so my predictions are nearly four times worse than a rodent’s. An octopus, a creature with a brain the size of a green pea, correctly predicted seven straight World Cup match results in 2010. Meanwhile a grown man with a normal-sized, albeit questionably functional, human brain barely exceeded a ten percent success rate. A smarter man would retire in shame, but I am not such a man and will be back shortly with another set of horribly inaccurate predictions for 2014. Watch this space.