Our new backyard is beginning to attract a wider variety of wildlife, including more birds, a bevy of possums, tons of interesting insects, and miscellaneous other critters. We’ve had roof rats around for a while (thankfully not in our roof since the epic final battle), and while people hear “rat” and immediately go “eww”, ours are pretty cute. Two new arrivals have started hanging out on our back wall each night before sunset, and we’ve named them both “Dusk Rat”.
Two weeks ago, with the anger over George Floyd’s death escalating, a large protest took place in Santa Monica, just a short distance from our home. Looters used the protest as cover to ransack the area a few blocks from where the protest was taking place, smashing windows, setting fire to some establishments, and destroying large parts of an area that we visit regularly. Culver City put a 4pm curfew in place, but there was still looting that night a few blocks from us on Venice Blvd. To be clear, it was not protesters looting – the folks doing the looting were very organized criminals who showed up wherever protests were occurring knowing that police resources would be tied up, and then looted nearby businesses a few blocks away. That said, it was an unnerving time.
In the midst of this chaos, once darkness fell we noticed that a homeless guy in a wheelchair was hanging out at the end of our driveway, which is unusual for our neighborhood. We went out to talk to him, make sure he was OK, and give him some water, and it was pretty clear that he wasn’t a danger but that he had some significant mental issues. We didn’t know what to do to help him, so we called our police non-emergency line for a “welfare check” – we just wanted to make sure this guy would be OK, but didn’t want him harassed or taken away.
Three minutes later two cops showed up. They didn’t put on their lights, and didn’t approach the guy in a way that was at all threatening. We came out as they were talking to him, and they were beyond kind to this guy. “You doing OK? You need medical help? Anything hurting?” We asked the cops if they knew the guy and he jumped in to say “My name is Charles!” then… “but not in charge”, to which the cops cheerily responded “and now we know him, good to meet you Charles”. Charles didn’t want to go to a shelter, and the cops said they’d be full anyhow given the curfews. They asked if he had any medical issues that needed attention, to which Charles responded that he had a “broken heart”. Charles was cheerful during the entire exchange, the cops were joking with him, and finally they said they thought he’d be OK but would send a car in the morning to make sure he was still all right.
I know cops are getting a bad rap right now, but I was grateful for the compassion and professionalism these men displayed when we asked them to check on the welfare of a homeless man during what I’m sure was a very stressful night to be in law enforcement. They didn’t escalate the situation, and they put everyone present at ease. Clearly some of the videos that are coming out show a need to make dramatic improvements to the way law enforcement is administered in this country, but our experience on this particular night was very much an example of the police at their best.
The backyard is in full bloom, so it made sense to set a goal for the week of getting a decent picture of the hummingbirds that are now here enjoying the flowers. While the prettiest hummingbird continues to mock me by flying directly behind me, chirping, and then flying off as soon as I turn around, a few of the others have been more cooperative.
There have been a handful of times in my life that have felt like historic moments, and this week has that feel so I’m going to ramble a bit, mainly for my own benefit as it is a useful exercise to be able to revisit one’s thought process later with the benefit of hindsight.
The reason that this week feels novel is obviously because if was the week where the threat from coronavirus became real. Government at the local, state and federal levels started taking action against the virus, all sports leagues shut down, colleges closed, school districts closed, museums shuttered, people are being told not to go to work, grocery stores are being mobbed by panic buyers cleaning out the shelves; it is reminiscent of the days and weeks following September 11, when no one was quite sure what was going on and people entered a weird state where everyone just put normal life on hold and waited to see what would happen next.
Sadly, one difference between 9/11 and this crisis is that the country came together after 9/11 with a common purpose. Say what you will about George W. Bush, but he provided clear and decisive leadership when the country needed it, and his approval ratings reflected that all Americans were with him, at least for that moment. Today the top-level leadership is very different, and half of the country seems to question whether this crisis is even real, or whether it’s a media-driven, left-wing assault on Donald Trump. In a few years, once we know how it plays out, I suspect that the differing views of this pandemic will begin to converge, although I worry that if the state and local response to this crisis is effective that we will learn the wrong lesson.
I haven’t lived through many major crises, but my experience has been that when they are handled well people assume that the danger itself was overblown. I started in technology in 1998, and at the time IT professionals the world over were focused on the Y2K bug, expected to hit older computer systems on January 1, 2000 with dire consequences. Billions of dollars were spent testing the systems that ran nuclear plants, transportation networks, banking systems and other critical infrastructure. Government issued warnings to make sure that everyone, everywhere was aware of the problem and looking closely at their systems. Then, at the start of the millennium when things were supposed to break, nothing happened. People scoffed and said it was much ado about nothing, but the opposite is true – testing in advance made it clear that there would have been massive disruption, and without huge amounts of work and a gigantic effort to make companies aware of the problem, the world would have been a very different place on January 1, 2000. It was only because so many people worked so hard that the response was so effective and none of the worst consequences came to pass, but instead of cheering the success, “Y2K” is instead today widely perceived as an example of fear-mongering and over-reaction.
Today, with the coronavirus, I hope that it can be another Y2K. Scientists estimate the range of deaths from coronavirus in the USA will be up to 1.7 million, but that scenario only occurs if we don’t take action to slow the spread; the reason schools are shutting down today is because that number is based on almost 200 million Americans contracting the disease, which only happens if there is no change in social behavior. Keeping people separated means infected people are less likely to pass the virus to others, slowing down the spread and potentially saving a lot of lives. However, if we avoid the worst-case scenarios I fear that instead of rewarding officials who took drastic action, people will instead say we overreacted, just as they did with Y2K, making the next crisis even harder to contain.
Now in its twelfth inglorious year, here’s my annual list of predictions for the new year. For anyone who has followed along in the past, my track record is… not great… so you may want to get a second opinion before heading to Vegas or calling your stock broker based on anything written here.
- Here are the obligatory political predictions for the upcoming election season. Important caveat: I’m terrible at predictions, and I also think there is enough uncertainty in the economy, world events, and the candidates themselves to swing the election wildly in either direction:
- Either Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg will be the Democratic nominee. I think the early success of Bernie Sanders is going to make Democrats desperate to find a more centrist candidate who has a better chance of beating Trump, which gives an advantage to Biden and Buttigieg. I suspect that South Carolina will probably be a turning point – if Buttigieg wins there that will send a signal and he should clean up on Super Tuesday, but if Biden can win big in South Carolina then that will position him well to earn the most delegates in the following week’s primaries.
- Democrats will end up gaining 3-4 seats in the Senate. It’s a bad map for Republicans – they are defending 23 seats vs just 12 for Democrats, so they are on defense in some blue-ish states. I suspect Democrats will flip Arizona, Colorado and Maine, but lose Alabama, which would result in a 50-50 split Senate.
- Democrats will maintain control of the House but lose a few seats overall. The Democrats had a 235-199 advantage after the last election, so it would take a pretty big win for the Republicans to take back power. However, Democrats who won in Trump districts are going to have a harder time earning re-election now that attention has been focused for months on impeachment after they based their election campaigns on everyday issues like health care.
- Trump will lose in the general election. I don’t like putting that into writing because I don’t feel like it’s going to happen, particularly if someone like Bernie is the Democratic nominee, but I’m hoping the country is better than the reality show it has been for the past four years. Feelings aside, I have trouble believing that the good economic numbers that have been Trump’s main argument with swing voters will continue to hold up through the end of the year, or that a global crisis like the coronavirus won’t expose the lack of competence in the current administration, much like Katrina revealed problems in the second Bush administration.
- Virgin Galactic will launch its first paying space tourists, and Richard Branson will finally take a ride on his new space plane. Space is awesome, and having a reliable way of putting rich tourists beyond the atmosphere is an excellent first step towards a world where I someday get to see the Earth from orbit.
- Coming off of a seventh-place finish in the 2019 World Championships, the US men’s basketball team will go undefeated in the Olympics, winning each game by no less than ten points. The world is catching up to America in basketball, but I think Steph Curry, rested after a year in which Golden State misses the playoffs, and a motivated James Harden will be awfully tough to stop.
- Tesla will announce major updates to its Model S and Model X vehicles; these changes will go far beyond minor cosmetic updates or slight range boosts. All-but-verified rumors say that Tesla will be announcing improved battery technology later this year. Combined with new manufacturing processes that Tesla has developed for its other models, the company will have the opportunity to re-imagine its flagship vehicles, differentiating them from the lower-end Model 3 and Model Y, and re-invigorating sales.
- Lebron James will win his fifth NBA MVP award and his fourth NBA championship. Being from Cleveland I’m biased, but he took a mediocre Cavs team to the championship numerous times, and is now doing wonders with the Lakers. People love having heroes, so I think the story of the 35 year old guy leading a storied franchise to the league’s best record is going to earn him another MVP trophy, to be followed shortly thereafter with another NBA championship.
- Despite some positive news from the FAA, Boeing’s 737 MAX plane, grounded since March 2019, will not fly again in the US until the July-September timeframe. As an engineer, seeing some of the reports that have come out during the investigation into the plane’s failings have been demoralizing – removing redundancy in critical sensor systems to cut costs, management decisions that forced engineers to come up with complex solutions when simpler options should have been possible, etc, etc. Hopefully Boeing emerges from this snafu with a renewed focus on innovation and quality, but having seen behind the curtains I’m not optimistic that will be the case.
- The deployment of faster 5G wireless will be slow and problematic through 2020, with deployments mostly limited to high-density areas in some cities; specifically, I’ll predict that Verizon will not have made usable 5G available at my house by the end of the year. 5G requires more towers than previous technologies, and based on my experience in Los Angeles, wireless carriers are having trouble deploying enough towers to create meaningful coverage areas.
- Wonder Woman 1984 will be the top-grossing comic book movie of the year, but will lag far behind the $412 million earned by its predecessor; I’ll predict something in the $275-325 million range. The original movie was fun but not particularly good, and Warner Brothers has a terrible record of making comic book movies.
- At least two of the following three things will happen: Drew Brees will return for one more year with the Saints but retire when the season ends, Tom Brady will return for one more year with the Patriots but retire when the season ends, or Andrew Luck will announce that he is ending his retirement and returning to the Colts. I think it is almost certain that both Brady and Brees come back for another year, but I also think both of them want to go out as stars and will retire while they are still among the league’s best quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck retired for health reasons, and the circumstances around his retirement (the Colts let him keep $16 million in salary that they could have recouped) make me wonder if he hasn’t expressed some desire to play again when he’s healthy.
- Mobile phones with folding screens will be the next big idea in tech that turns out to not have a market. Just like 3D televisions several years ago, folding cell phones (which “unfold” to give you a bigger screen) sound like a good idea, but they will be bigger, less capable, and more prone to breaking than normal phones, all while being significantly more expensive. While some people will purchase them, I strongly suspect that most people won’t want a device that is neither a good phone nor a good tablet, particularly when they could spend the same amount of money on two separate devices that individually do their jobs much, much better.
- SpaceX will launch astronauts to the space station by the end of summer, but Boeing will not launch astronauts in 2020. SpaceX successfully completed their in-flight abort test (click and go to the 20:05 mark for a cool video of the crew module escaping, followed by the main rocket going BOOM), and despite the slow pace of rocketry they should be on-track to launch humans soon. Boeing, meanwhile, had a troubled first test and needs to do additional work to prove that their capsule can fly safely.
- Apple will either purchase an existing studio, partner with another streaming service, or in some other way significantly beef up the content library for its Apple TV service, since rumors state there seems to be limited interest in their current offerings. Currently Apple is reported to be spending $6 billion on developing original content, but it is lagging far behind the number of subscribers for other services. Disney purchased Marvel for $4 billion and also paid $4 billion for Lucasfilm – surely Apple would be willing to spend a similar amount to augment its own content offerings.
A bit late this year, but there they are. Given my recent track record of getting only 20-30% of them right, expect most of these to be embarrassingly wrong when the carnage is tallied next January. As always, the comments link is available for anyone who wants to join the madness and add their own thoughts on the coming year.
For over a decade I’ve made an annual effort at self-flagellation by posting predictions for the coming year, and looking over the predictions for 2019 I made a particularly large mess of it this year. Here’s the embarrassing results of this year’s effort.
Tiger Woods will return to the world golf #1 ranking at some point in 2019.
While he improved his ranking from #1199 all the way up to #5, he was inconsistent and never really threatened to go to #1. This prediction is the first of many that I got wrong this year.
Democrats will not seriously pursue impeachment of Donald Trump in 2019.
In my defense, I added the following caveat to this prediction: “I may be either giving Democrats too much credit, underestimating what Robert Mueller’s investigation will uncover, or be too optimistic about Trump not doing anything so crazy that impeachment becomes inevitable.” I think Democrats would have been better off pushing for a censure or investigation instead of jumping straight to impeachment, but I’m guessing Nancy Pelosi figured that anything less than impeachment would divide Democrats during the primary season, and so knowing that no amount of evidence would convince the Senate to convict Trump she simply rushed to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible.
After Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox Studios, 2019 will see another massive media merger.
I’m surprised that everyone is pursuing their own streaming strategy and that there hasn’t been more consolidation, but it seems like Warner Brothers, CBS and Universal are going to hold out as long as they can before bowing to inevitability. I’m now zero-for-three in the prediction game for the year.
After making almost $60 billion in profits in 2018, Apple will see its lowest yearly profits since it made $40 billion in 2014.
I’ve been debating quitting the iPhone for a while now, but the fact that I still have one should have been a warning flag against making this prediction. Apple reported lower profits this year than in 2018, but still brought in $55 billion, well above what I predicted.
Facebook will begin to see its active user base erode. By the end of the year the number of people “quitting Facebook” will be a noticeable minority, and other companies will be either planning or promoting legitimate Facebook alternatives in an effort to snatch up the Facebook deserters.
There’s a lot to unpack in this prediction, but the quick version is that I thought there would be a clear threat to Facebook’s dominance in the social media space, and that hasn’t materialized. Governments are starting to legislate against Facebook’s more odious practices, and many users are now aware of the fact that Facebook is doing a lot of really sketchy things, but there’s no reason to believe that anything will change soon.
By the end of the year the leading Democratic candidates will be Elizabeth Warren, a new face that the party’s Progressive wing coalesces around (probably someone like Kamala Harris), and someone with executive experience (a governor, military leader, or former executive branch leader) who no one is paying any attention to right now. If Bernie Sanders runs he’ll lose most of his 2016 supporters to whoever the new Progressive darling ends up being.
This prediction also contains a lot of small predictions, but essentially I misjudged how the race would unfold. Today’s polling averages from fivethirtyeight.com show Joe Biden at 26.6%, Bernie Sanders at 18.1%, and Elizabeth Warren at 15.4%, with the next tier all polling in single digits. Democrats all seem to be lamenting their choices, but they aren’t really looking at anyone who hasn’t been in the national spotlight for the past few decades; the three poll leaders are a 78 year-old gaffe-prone former-VP, a 79 year-old socialist from Vermont, and a 71 year-old liberal Senator from Massachusetts.
SpaceX will successfully launch a crewed flight to the space station this year, but Boeing will further delay their first crewed mission until 2020.
Both SpaceX and Boeing had setbacks in their crewed launch programs this year, and now both will be lucky if they can get astronauts to the space station in 2020. As an act of charity I’m going to give myself half credit for predicting that Boeing would fail, particularly since the aerospace giant continues to be even further behind than SpaceX.
With the rollout of 5G cellular service already beginning, Google will make a move towards acquiring an existing wireless company or deploying its own 5G network.
There is no indication whatsoever that Google has any interest in its own 5G network. I should probably deduct a point for being not just wrong, but utterly and completely wrong, but let’s just move on.
Avengers: Endgame will outperform Star Wars: Episode IX at the box office.
I FINALLY GOT ONE RIGHT! Avengers:Endgame ranks #1 in the all-time worldwide box office with $2.8 billion and #2 in the all-time domestic box office with $858 million. Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker is currently at $945 million worldwide and $461 million domestic, meaning it won’t come close to the latest Marvel movie’s numbers.
After Virgin Galactic finally reached space in December, their flight test program will continue through 2019, but they won’t fly any paying customers. They will, however, do a test flight with Richard Branson on board during 2019.
I’m actually a little bit shocked that Richard Branson hasn’t taken a flight in his new spaceship yet – they’ve done a bunch of test flights and even sent up a test passenger in February, but so far the daredevil CEO hasn’t flown. I’m giving myself a half-point as charity for predicting that they wouldn’t fly any paying customers in 2019.
Despite predictions of bidding wars, during NFL free agency Le’veon Bell won’t be offered anything that comes close to the reported $70 million that he turned down from the Steelers… he’ll be the NFL’s third-highest paid running back.
I GOT ANOTHER ONE! Bell sat out a year, arguing he wasn’t being offered enough by the Steelers, and ended up signing a four-year, $52.5 million contract. He barely moved ahead of David Johnson in terms of average salary, but ended up still being the third highest paid running back once Ezekiel Elliott signed an extension in Dallas.
Tesla will introduce a major refresh of its Model S and Model X vehicles, including a new battery pack technology.
Reports indicate that a cosmetic refresh is imminent and that new battery technology will also be introduced in 2020, but Tesla spent 2019 focused on ramping up and optimizing Model-3 production and pushed changes to its existing lineup to the backburner.
Boeing will officially announce its new 797 plane this year.
Obviously the grounding of Boeing’s 737-MAX caused all other efforts in the company to grind to a halt, and it is now likely that the company is completely re-thinking its product roadmap.
While US politics will continue to be a dispiriting example of how not to run a country, at least one major piece of legislation will pass this year.
Surprisingly, Trump’s update to NAFTA passed the House by a vote of 385-41, but like hundreds of other bills that have made it through the House, it is stalled in the Senate. Mitch McConnell has been laser-focused on putting conservative judges on the bench and as a result hasn’t spent as much time on legislation, so like most of the other predictions for this year, I’m going to call this one incorrect.
PG&E will be split up and in many cases turn into municipal utilities.
So far PG&E seems to be weathering its troubles by increasing rates and doing a surprisingly adept job of navigating bankruptcy court. The utility is still in a precarious position, but it looks like they could emerge from their current troubles intact.
The final tally for 2019: 3 out of 15 (20%), making this the third-most dismal showing behind only 2014 (12%) and 2013 (11%). And bear in mind, that score is with two charity half-points I awarded myself for mostly-incorrect predictions. Oy. I’ll make an effort to ensure that the upcoming predictions for 2020 are better.