It’s been too long without photos in the journal, so here are a couple from the 2014 safari in Tanzania that didn’t previously make it online:
I’m not sure if this subject has made it into a journal entry in the past or not, but my favorite theory of why America remains such a powerful force in the world seems like a good topic for a Fourth of July entry.
During my four decades of life it has been a common refrain that the US is on the decline and in danger of losing its position as the world’s leader in commerce and innovation. In the 1980s and 1990s it was seen as inevitable that Japan would soon take the lead position, and these days everyone seems to believe that China will do so. Yet somehow, despite falling behind in metrics like education, government investment, etc, the US still creates companies like Tesla, Google and Apple that lead the world.
A theory that I read a long while back is that the root of America’s success is literally encoded in our DNA – being unique as a nation of immigrants, nearly every citizen has in their family tree the DNA of someone who was motivated to leave their circumstances and go to a country where, if they worked hard, they could create a better life. In an evolutionary sense, the entire country is made up of people whose gene pool favors motivation, hard-work, and risk taking. As a result, in America if you create a business that fails, instead of being demeaned for failing you are rewarded for having tried. If a city declines and jobs disappear people don’t sit around and wait for improvement, but instead pack up and move to another city that offers better prospects. When an individual wants to follow a dream, it isn’t considered crazy for them to sell prized possessions or amass large debts in order to fund that dream and make it become reality.
There are of course a vast number of exceptions to the above examples, but moreso than any other country, Americans can be characterized by traits that trace back to ancestors who risked everything to come to a new place that offered hope of a better life. Furthermore, that hope wasn’t represented by the prospect of an easy life, but was instead based on a belief that hard work would be rewarded. On this Fourth of July I like to believe that the greatness of America might literally be encoded in the DNA of its citizens, a fact that makes me optimistic that, despite its stumbles, the success of this nation will continue.
June has been a slow month, but here’s a quick recap:
- After the first round of updates to bring the journal into the mobile age I’ve done a significant amount of additional re-work to make the site fully mobile-friendly. If you’re reading this journal entry on a phone, you’re welcome, and if you’re reading it in a browser and don’t notice any difference, well, if it ain’t broke…
- June had only one work trip to San Antonio, where temperatures have now jumped up to the “crispy” level. On a positive note, HEB has moved the e-commerce group to new offices, so instead of working in a dark and scary basement we’re now on the seventh floor of a building with plenty of windows from which to watch Southern Texas roast in the heat.
- The Cavs got stomped by the Warriors in the NBA Finals, but that still meant that a Cleveland team was playing for a championship – after years of growing up with Indians teams that inspired the movie Major League, and a Browns team that annually found creative ways to avoid playing in the Super Bowl, having a Cavs team playing in the NBA Championship every year is more than any Cleveland-native ever could have dreamed of.
- In homeownership news, proving that ten minutes on Youtube can turn anyone into Bob Vila, I hooked up some new landscape lighting without the slightest bit of electrocution.
- Finally, in local wildlife news, the attic has miraculously remained rat-free for several months now, while our newest backyard visitors include a family of crows whose favorite pastime is gathering outside of the window and loudly complaining whenever I forget to leave some mealworms out for them.
When I started this journal fifteen years ago the idea of reading a web page on a phone was still magic wizardry reserved for Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, but in 2017 (actually, starting in about 2007…) wasting horizontal space with three columns is a design faux pas of the highest order. Thus, tonight I spent some time bringing the journal into the mobile age, and the site is now a svelte two columns, with some additional plumbing done to hopefully make the font more readable on small screens, and to allow the images to dynamically resize. While I’m a decent programmer, I have the aesthetic abilities of a blind trout, so suggested improvements are welcome, and if anything seems broken please let me know what browser you’re using and what problem you’re seeing and I’ll try to get it fixed.
Several weeks ago I decided that one of this month’s journal entries would be about why I’m optimistic that the problem of climate change is one that the world is going to solve, and the recent announcement from Trump that the US would join Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not to be a part of the Paris Climate accords makes the subject even more appropriate.
To greatly oversimplify the issue of climate change, solving it means that clean energy needs to be a better option than fossil fuels in terms of cost and reliability. Looking at trendlines for both metrics, it seems that the world is underestimating how soon that tipping point is going to arrive.
In terms of cost, consider the following:
- Batteries, key to storing renewable energy, are dropping in price by a rate of about 8% per year, meaning a 60 kw/h battery pack that today is a $13,600 component will cost $5880 in a decade, $2580 in twenty years, and $1080 in thirty years – we are fast approaching the point where the cost of the most expensive component of an electric vehicle is more than offset by the savings from not needing a complex engine or transmission, an exhaust system, or any of the other supporting components of a modern gasoline vehicle. Note that the 8% estimates could even be pessimistic – one study reports that electric vehicle battery pack costs dropped from $1000 per kw/h to $227 per kw/h between 2010 and 2016.
- Solar power is following a similar trajectory, with costs declining 6-7% per year. A 2015 estimate put the cost of solar at $122 MW/h, vs natural gas at $82 MW/h, and coal at $75 MW/h. At a 7% annual improvement, the cost of solar matches that of coal and natural gas by 2022, and by 2030 solar costs would be just $41 MW/h, half that of natural gas.
The health benefits of reducing air pollution from fossil fuels are an indirect cost, but according to the US Department of Energy:
Achieving the SunShot-level solar deployment targets — 14% of U.S. electricity demand met by solar in 2030 and 27% in 2050 — could reduce cumulative power-sector GHG emissions by 10% between 2015 and 2050, resulting in savings of $238–$252 billion… This could produce $167 billion in savings from lower future health and environmental damages, or 1.4¢/kWh-solar — while also preventing 25,000–59,000 premature deaths.
From the standpoint of reliability, the fatal flaw for renewable energy is that it’s only available when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, but cheap batteries allow renewable energy to be stored and used whenever needed, and they also provide huge benefits for the grid. Since its inception the electrical grid has required energy to be used as soon as it is produced, so grid operators have had to execute a complex process for matching output to demand, and also have had to ensure that enough generation is available to match the highest possible load, meaning some power plants exist solely to meet demand on those few summer days when everyone is running their air conditioners. As batteries get cheaper, suddenly that’s no longer the case – instead, you store energy to handle peak loads, generation capacity just has to match average load (so inefficient power plants can be retired), and grid reliability is no longer an issue.
Reliability of cars improve when the system goes electric, too. A gasoline engine is about 20% efficient, the electric motor is closer to 75% efficient. The gasoline engine has belts, pistons, and tons of other moving parts that can fail, the electric motor is essentially a simple shaft wrapped in wires that costs far less to produce. A gasoline car requires a complex, multi-speed transmission, an electric car has a simple, single-speed transmission. A gasoline car uses oil, requires an exhaust system, and has tons of belts and hoses, an electric car has none of those things. Twenty years from now, we’ll wonder why anyone ever put up with regular trips to the mechanic.
Finally, consider home solar. Today we accept that a transformer failure or a fallen tree can mean no power for a few hours, and that a natural disaster can mean power outages for days. However, as solar and batteries drop in price, the grid starts to look kind of crazy – why would anyone pay more to have an unreliable grid connection that requires flimsy high voltage wires to be strung through the neighborhood when a system that can generate power from sunlight and store a few days worth of backup energy is available for the same (or less) money?
Why the future is awesome
The timelines above suggest that within the next twenty years a renewable energy world will beat out fossil fuels on both a cost and reliability basis. Stretch that 30-50 years, and all sorts of interesting possibilities occur – to cite one, desalination is cost-prohibitive because it is energy intensive, but if energy is cheap then a city like Los Angeles, located next to the ocean but forced to import freshwater from hundreds of miles away, could conceivably generate more freshwater than it needs and actually start exporting water to the rest of the state. Citing another interesting possibility, cheap energy might make it feasible to begin scrubbing CO2 from the atmosphere, so not only would emissions drop as fossil fuels are phased out, but mankind could actually begin to forcibly remove some of the greenhouse gases that we’ve unleashed.
Leaving the Paris Accords seems like an unnecessary, self-inflicted wound for the country, but the rate of technological advance still gives me great hope that the problems the world faces are going to be overcome, with or without support from America’s political leadership.
Another month, another recap of that month…
- In house news, after floors and walls were ripped apart, our home improvements for 2017 are now (probably) complete. The month started with installation of new windows and doors, an event that provided the opportunity to spend a day working in a house with massive holes in all of the walls were doors and windows once lived. The end result of all of that chaos is well worth it – the house is quiet, the drafts have stopped, you no longer get sunburned sitting near the glass, and the dog in the yard behind us is now almost hard to hear. The month ended with new bedroom carpets, because once you’ve shelled out the money for windows, carpet seems cheap by comparison.
- In Audrey news, we made an excursion across the LA basin to Chino Hills a week ago to pick up a cabinet she wanted, and on the way home somehow ended up barefoot while touring the grounds of an amazing Hindu Temple that we had seen from the highway – LA is capable of an infinite number of surprises. Later in the month her new band – either called “Soulful Rick” or “Funk Shui”, depending on which band member you ask – was playing its first show at the Venice Art Walk, but since I was going to miss the show due to work travel I got to sit in on rehearsal; I feel strongly that the insightful tips I offered (“play good”, “dress cool”) are what made their show so successful.
- In family news, my dad’s side of the family all decided to get together and bring the Holliday craziness to San Antonio for a few days, and I managed to align my work schedule so that I could hang out with two parents, two aunts, and a pair of uncles for three nights. While I spent my days working in a dark basement within the depths of the HEB headquarters they went out and explored San Antonio, but we then got together each evening to watch my mom yell, bang on tables, and otherwise lose her mind during the Cavs vs Celtics playoff series.
- Finally, in rodent news, there hasn’t been a rat in the attic for four weeks, although it is my understanding that 2-3 years must pass without any sign of rodents for an area to be officially declared rat-free.
I promise that this will be the last post about the Browns and Moneyball for a while, but with the 2017 NFL Draft now complete (quick summary: from a math perspective, awesome draft by the Browns) I wanted to revisit the 2016 trade of the #2 pick. I get that some people believe that Carson Wentz is going to be the second coming of Peyton Manning, but statistically he seems pretty average so far, and even if he turns out to be above-average, it’s really, really tough to argue with the numbers when you look at what the Browns have gotten for trading that draft pick. Moneyball now and forever.
|Browns trade:||Browns receive:|
1 via trade with Tennessee for 2016 First Round Pick (#8) & 2016 Sixth Round Pick (#176)
2 via trade with Carolina for 2016 Third Round Pick (#77) & 2016 Fifth Round Pick (#141)
3 via trade with Oakland for 2016 Fourth Round pick (#100)
4 via trade with Houston for 2017 First Round pick (#12)
At 1:48 AM last night, after months of regular visits, the master escape artist and king of all rats was finally caught. I was awoken around 2:30 AM by sounds from above, sleepily got out of bed, got the ladder out of the garage, climbed up to the attic, and finally came eye-to-eye with my nemesis. I brought the cage down to the kitchen, fed him some birdseed as a goodwill offering towards a respected adversary, and then proceeded to spend twenty minutes telling a rodent that he’d been a worthy opponent for these many months.
Since deciding to rid the attic of visitors I’ve emptied three cans of fill foam sealing gaps in the eaves, I’ve gotten a million scratches fashioning vent covers out of chicken wire, I’ve crawled through fiberglass insulation into claustrophobic corners of the attic looking for unseen gaps, and I’ve spent enough time running around on our roof that the neighbors have stopped bothering to ask what the hell I’m doing. Yesterday I made yet another trip to Home Depot to purchase foam, filling the last area I could think might possibly have a crack in it with an entire bottle of the caustic stuff, and coincidentally or not it was the final shot fired in our epic battle. I’ve obviously learned that my opponent is both cunning and numerous, so even though my tormenter of several months has been vanquished, the Ratcam will remain active in the attic for a few more weeks in case his followers come looking for their leader.
After driving him to the Ballona
Wetlands Rat Sanctuary at 3AM last night, it was with a measure of sadness that I watched him scurry off into the gloomy darkness, bidding farewell to my cunning and relentless adversary. I truly hope that he’ll yet live a long life, happily tormenting the owners of the large homes on the bluff above the wetlands as he makes his nightly rounds.
Last Saturday Audrey and I attended the Science Parade, since science rules and we both wanted to contribute to ensuring that the crowd was large enough to get the attention of the Powers-That-Be. The following are observations from a newcomer to these types of events:
- While I was somewhat afraid that the crowd might resemble Woodstock more than MIT, the majority of those present seemed to have some actual connection to science. There was a blue-haired lady in a bathing suit holding a “this is what a scientist looks like” sign, a booth from Caltech staffed by people carrying “binders full of knowledge”, and a little girl whose sign read “forget princess, I want to be a marine biologist”. I was a fan of the omnipresent nerdy science puns, and Audrey liked that nearly everyone’s spelling was correct.
- Among those not there specifically for science, there was a group of angry socialists with a megaphone, a guy dressed as an Indian who spent three straight hours banging on a drum, a small number of counter-protesters off to one side with signs noting that “supporting science means you oppose Sharia Law”, and a random handful of other people holding signs for causes unrelated to science. All-in-all it was a similar dynamic to an NFL game, where amidst thousands of people wearing team jerseys or other football-related apparel you can’t help but notice the small handful of folks who for some strange reason came to the game dressed as Santa Claus or the Fonz.
- I saw something online saying that 50,000 people showed up in Los Angeles, with the comments on that piece asking how the number was calculated, whether the raw data used for the calculation was available, and if the estimate could be reproduced by other counters; the scientific method and those who use it it are all kinds of awesome.
- One last observation is about a guy we saw walking around holding a giant deer head – after seeing him a second time we asked why he was carrying the head of a deer, and he said it was because we shouldn’t kill animals. We were apparently not the only ones feeling perplexed, since the LA Times chased him down for an interview in which they noted that he “carefully weaved between protesters making sure that an errant antler didn’t take out a stranger’s eye“.
My views and personality are such that I won’t be attending too many marches, but as someone who works in a technical field and graduated college with two engineering degrees, getting up early on a Saturday in order to be counted as a supporter of science was a worthwhile effort that I’d happily repeat in the future, even if doing so means risking an antler to the cornea.
Two weeks ago I returned to the Carrizo Plain with Audrey to catch the height of this year’s superbloom. The flowers did not disappoint.
There seems to be a constant undercurrent of doom and gloom in the world these days, so here are a few developments worth following for those who need reasons for optimism:
- Today SpaceX re-used a rocket for the first time in history. The launch is a HUGE milestone towards dramatically reducing the cost of spaceflight, and a reason to believe that launch costs will drop by an order of magnitude in the next 5-10 years.
- The Nature Conservancy recently demonstrated how floodplain restoration along the Truckee River could provide flood control, aquifer recharge, cleaner drinking water, and habitat for wildlife. If they can effectively argue that there are often greater benefits provided by “green” infrastructure instead of “grey” infrastructure then it will be very interesting to see if wetland restoration starts to become a preferred option as the nation deals with aging levees and rising seas.
- Tesla’s Gigafactory continues to expand on its path towards becoming the world’s largest building. When complete it will produce enough batteries for 500,000 electric cars each year, and they are already producing battery cells and have plans to start churning out drive units for the upcoming Model-3 later this year.
- I’ve been a frequent critic of Apple’s recent products and corporate decision making, but their new headquarters will be opening in April, and Apple has done an amazing job – it is probably the world’s most impressive corporate campus. The project was the last thing that Steve Jobs worked on, and seeing the finished product is a sad reminder of what the world lost when he died at an early age.
- California high-speed rail is actually under construction, with viaducts, grade separations, and other major work throughout the Central Valley. Even if it is another decade before trains actually run, some of the improvements being made to roads and bridges as a result of this project will have immediate benefits.
- The tomb of Jesus Christ recently underwent a lengthy archaeological renovation, with humans viewing the slab on which Jesus was believed to have been laid for the first time since at least 1555 AD. Even for those who aren’t religious, the archaeological value of studying this ancient & revered site has to be exciting.
- Bloomberg reports that there are now more clean-energy jobs in the United States than oil or coal jobs. The federal government may not be acting to clean up the energy grid, but market forces seem to be betting heavily on clean energy options as prices for solar, wind, and other renewables continue to drop.
There are plenty more reasons not to succumb to despair about the state of the world – the comments link is available for anyone who wants to share any others and thereby help keep the world a slightly more optimistic place.
The 2017 journal is off to a rough beginning – February already fell short on the three-entries-a-month goal, and March is getting a late start. Here’s a recap of the past month that hopefully explains why writing about myself hasn’t been a higher priority:
- March has had three weeks of travel, including two trips to San Antonio and a trip to the Bay Area. The first portion of the Bay Area trip was spent working in a hotel in Sacramento, where I got to visit with younger Holliday, admire his house, and eat a lot of grilled mahi. After leaving him I made a quick stop to ensure that Ma & Pa had working wi-fi and virus-free laptops before heading into San Francisco for a three-day conference; the parents put up with me for another night after the conference ended, but I can be a handful so the intermission was likely a good respite for them.
- The conference featured all things Google Cloud. I went in skeptical, and shockingly emerged a complete convert – Google is going to own the corporate internet in another five years, and when Skynet becomes operational it will probably do so from a Google data center somewhere. In the midst of learning that I need to come up with a plan to capture part of the tsunami of work that is going to be available as companies transition their IT infrastructure, one of my co-workers managed to find the best ramen I’ve ever eaten, so the trip was a success on many levels.
- On the drive home from San Francisco it seemed silly not to see if the record rains had caused a Monet to happen on the grasslands, so a detour was made to the Carrizo Plain. Soda Lake has been dry on all of my past visits, but this time I got to see placid waters shimmering in the light of the full moon before Suby III and I spent our inaugural night under the stars together. The next morning when the sun arrived it was clear that the wildflowers were just beginning to bloom, and while they were pretty a return visit might be necessary.
- Finally, in rodent news, I’ve spent two weekends roaming around on the roof looking for rat entry points. Two weeks ago I taped my phone to a pole, and by maneuvering it into an inaccessible space behind the gutters I was able to see (via video) a previously undiscovered gap. I then spent the next hour crawling through fiberglass insulation in a sweltering attic to an area so claustrophobic that there wasn’t even enough room to lift my head. I jammed a rag into the gap in the rafters, crawled slowly out, spent an inordinately long time ridding myself of fiberglass, and then sat down to savor my victory. That night at 8:30 the rat showed up again on camera and did his own victory dance to ensure that my shame was infinite. The following weekend’s efforts involved a trip to Home Depot, an attempt to remove the gutters without causing permanent damage, a massive quantity of sealant foam, and a valiant effort to re-attach the gutters in more-or-less the condition that I found them; time will tell if that endeavor has finally brought the War of the Roof Rats to an end.
Someday when everyone is like “what were you doing in February 2017?” I’ll have this journal entry to refer back to, and everyone else will have forgotten what they were up to, and thus I will win the game.
- February saw yet another work trip to San Antonio, because I fly around and do work and stuff.
- After six years of drought this winter has been one of the rainiest in California history, but instead of ending the water crisis the rain nearly broke the nation’s tallest dam. Apparently the universe really doesn’t want Californians to be able to take guilt-free showers.
- Showing again that Audrey is a far, far better person than I am, she hosted the CA-37 indivisible group at our house and then represented them the following weekend at a town hall hosted by Karen Bass, our House Representative. I’ve been excited to see people passionate about making the world better, and getting more involved in the process is enlightening, but I’m still searching for my own way to help. We live in broken times, and it would be way better if it was clearer how to fix them.
- In non-political news, Audrey rocked Brennan’s Pub with her band Knightingale a few weeks ago, and took me down to San Diego to hang out with her aunt, uncle and sister this past weekend. Her aunt is an amazing chef, the former mayor of Solana Beach, lives in an incredible house with expansive ocean views, and is the proud owner of two Maine Coon cats, each the size of a small car; hopefully I didn’t do anything to prevent being invited back, because it was a great trip.
- Finally, in home news, I hired a company to vacuum out all of the old, decrepit, rat-poop-filled insulation in our attic, seal everything, and then lay down new, better insulation. The job came with a “no rodents will get in your attic for a year” guarantee, but no one told the rat who appeared on camera one week later. I’m still going to win the war against them, but the vermin have dominated the battlefield thus far.
I’m pretty sure that writing a post that combines statistical analysis and the Cleveland Browns is a surefire way to drive away any remaining readers of this journal, but math and the NFL’s worst team are two of my favorite subjects, so against better judgement I’m going to indulge myself.
Browns fans apparently hate the idea of trading away the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, but here’s why I’d do it anyhow (see also Moneyball and Moneyball 2 for my past ramblings on this subject). The draft value chart says the #1 pick is worth 3000 points, a number that is almost certainly more than it should be, which means that the Browns should be able to make a trade similar to any of the deals in the table below. Note that in recent years teams have given up more than 3000 points, so the first pick may even be overvalued beyond what is shown below. The table shows the #1 pick from each of the last four drafts, and the players who were picked at positions equal to the value of that #1 pick. Pro-Bowlers are marked with an asterisk(*), and I’ve highlighted trades that I judged as “good” in green, “great” in bold green, “poor” in red, and “terrible” in bold red.
|Trade #1 pick (3000 points) for:|
|2016 Draft: #1 pick – Jared Goff|
|Carson Wentz (QB)
Nick Martin (C)
|Joey Bosa (DE)
Will Fuller (WR)
|*Ezekial Elliott (RB)
Sheldon Rankins (DT)
|Jalen Ramsey (CB)
Eli Apple (CB)
|Ronnie Stanley (OT)
Jack Conklin (OT)
|2015 Draft: #1 pick – *Jameis Winston||Marcus Mariota (QB)
Ronald Darby (CB)
|Dante Fowler (DE)
Cedric Ogbuehi (OT)
|*Amari Cooper (WR)
Danny Shelton (DT)
|*Brandon Scherff (OT)
*Todd Gurley (RB)
|*Leonard Williams (DE)
*Vic Beasley (OLB)
|2014 Draft: #1 pick – *Jadeveon Clowney|
|Greg Robinson (OT)
Jeremiah Attaochu (LB)
|Blake Bortles (QB)
*Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S)
|Sammy Watkins (WR)
*Odell Beckham, Jr (WR)
|*Khalil Mack (LB)
Eric Ebron (TE)
|Jake Matthews (OT)
Justin Gilbert (CB)
|2013 Draft: #1 pick – Eric Fisher|
|Luke Joeckel (OT)
Jonathan Bostic (LB)
|Dion Jordan (DE)
*Tyler Eifert (TE)
|Lane Johnson (OT)
D. J. Hayden (CB)
|*Ezekiel Ansah (DT)
Chance Warmack (G)
|Barkevious Mingo (DE)
Tavon Austin (WR)
I realize that teams rarely possess two high first-round draft picks, and thus that the table above is purely theoretical, but it gives an idea of how out-of-whack the valuation on the top pick actually is. In the past four drafts, the results of making the hypothetical trade would have been:
- great: 3 times
- good: 5 times
- about even: 9 times
- poor: 0 times
- terrible: 3 times
There are exceptions – in 2012 everyone in the world agreed that it would be insane to pass on Andrew Luck – but this draft doesn’t have a can’t-miss quarterback, so if someone offered a deal I’d look at the numbers above and almost certainly make the trade, rather than risking everything on the hope that Myles Garrett won’t be the next Courtney Brown.
It’s not a good start for the 2017 journal when it’s seven days into February and I’m just now writing the third entry for January. DOH! Anyhow, here’s a recap of how the year has gone thus far:
- The new year has already seen two trips to Texas, marking a solid start towards earning god-like airline and hotel treatment for another twelve months. Luckily during winter months San Antonio has fairly pleasant weather, unlike the summer when spontaneous combustion is a real danger, so I’ve returned from both trips tired but uncharred.
- The election of the orange President has turned Audrey political, and she hosted an “Un-auguration” party on the day of the new guy’s swearing-in, joined me at a climate change event hosted by our Congressional Representative, Karen Bass, and is now the founder of the indivisible group for our Congressional district. After years in which I was in charge of keeping track of what was going on in Washington, the tables have most definitely turned.
- In homeowner news, I am disturbingly excited about our new hardwood floors, as well as work we had done to replace a boarded-up closet window with a proper wall. Owning a house is a humbling exercise in trying to reconcile how, as a kid, I belittled my mother’s joy over new carpets and my dad’s fascination with gutters, but now I sadly share that same enthusiasm for garage doors and window treatments (our new garage door rules).
- Last of all, after six years of drought it’s finally raining regularly in California! The state’s reservoirs are mostly filled beyond their historic averages, our house’s four rain barrels are overflowing, and unlike the 2002 Alaska trip, frequent hot showers appear to be something that I can count on for the coming year.
Shockingly, 2017 is now the ninth year in a row that I’ve made a futile attempt at predicting the future. With any luck, at least one of the following will actually come to pass:
- While Tesla says it will begin volume production of the Model-3 in the second half of 2017, they will miss that goal slightly, delivering only between 4-8,000 vehicles by the end of the year. Even with that miss, the Model-3 is still going to be a game-changer. The industry underestimates how many advantages Tesla has built for itself – Tesla is several years ahead of anyone else when it comes to electric drivetrain technology, they have a massive, operational battery factory, a worldwide fast-charging network, and their advanced manufacturing experience now exceeds that of other auto manufacturers. If Model-3 is successful, suddenly Tesla will have all of those advantages AND a massive revenue stream that will be limited only by how fast they can grow.
- The Browns will trade at least one of their two first round draft picks. Analytics says that high draft picks are overvalued and that there is no sure thing in the draft, so if the Browns can turn one pick into many then they will run the numbers and take the deal.
- By the end of the year there will be rumblings in tech publications and among shareholders calling for Tim Cook’s ouster as Apple CEO. I don’t think anyone expected Apple to continue its streak of creating the next big thing once Steve Jobs died, but even the most ardent Apple fanboys are disappointed with the latest laptops, the company hasn’t updated their non-laptop Mac lineup in over three years, the iWatch continues to be a disappointment, and the main innovation that Apple has touted for the last three generations of iPhones and iPads has been “it’s slightly thinner than the last one”.
- Donald Trump’s favorability ratings will fall from the current 45% to between 27-32% by the end of the year, and there will be talk of impeachment from both sides of the aisle. I remain hopeful that I’m wrong about him, but the majority of his cabinet picks thus far seem like ideologues and loyalists, he has backtracked on some campaign promises before even being sworn-in, and anyone hoping he would change his behavior can read his Twitter feed to see that isn’t the case. Republicans don’t have any particular loyalty to him, Democrats already hate him, there are numerous potential scandals brewing, and it would be surprising if he delivers on any of his grandiose campaign promises, so I suspect he may be around for less than the four year term he was elected to.
- The stock market will end the year down about ten percent, finishing between 16,500 and 17,500. I’m obviously pessimistic about Trump and the ability of Republicans to steward the economy, but even without that pessimism, after several years of growth the market is overdue for a correction.
- Hidden Figures (which I haven’t seen) will win the Best Picture Oscar. Coming out of the Golden Globes La La Land has all of the buzz, but I think the combination of being a well-received movie, as well as Hollywood’s desire to send a message of support to minorities and women, will make Hidden Figures an unstoppable force by the time the awards air.
- SpaceX will not launch a human spaceflight mission, nor will it launch its new Falcon Heavy rocket, but it will re-fly one of its previously-flown rockets, and will complete at least twenty total missions without another accident. The Falcon Heavy was originally supposed to fly in 2013, and their manned program seems to be at least two years behind schedule, while its two recent launch explosions have also built a backlog of satellite launches that SpaceX needs to address. However, even with those issues they still offer the most promise, innovation, and excitement of any company in America; the missed deadlines can be partially excused by an ambitious timeline that is created without any margin for error in a business where occasional failures are an unavoidable reality.
- At least one of the following companies will be purchased by the year’s end: Twitter, Spotify, or Lyft. None of those three companies have clear paths to greater market share, but a Twitter acquisition offers instant social media prominence, a Spotify purchase makes the purchaser an instant media powerhouse, and Lyft is getting clobbered by Uber but would make any company that buys it the second-strongest player in the future ride-sharing economy.
- The next Star Wars movie will significantly under-perform the domestic box office take of $936 million earned by The Force Awakens; I’ll predict its box office ends up in the $500-600 million range. The Force Awakens was just an OK movie that benefited from being the sequel everyone had been waiting for since Return of the Jedi. Rogue One was a movie with a far better script, a more interesting story, and more of a Star Wars “feel”, but its box office is currently just over half of its predecessor at $512 million. The excitement level for new Star Wars films has clearly dropped, and will likely only diminish further as nostalgia for the original films wanes.
- Obamacare will not be repealed or replaced in any meaningful way. With the reality that repeal will have a lot of negative consequences, that some Republican lawmakers are expressing concerns about constituents losing insurance, and that replacement with “something better” is easy to use as rhetoric but near-impossible to implement as legislation, Republicans will instead end up stalling by passing some minor tweaks, such as eliminating some of the mandates for businesses. Since a failure to repeal the law would obviously be a high-profile defeat, I suspect they may double-down on something like defunding planned parenthood as a way to save face among the base.
- 2017 will be a turning point in the switch from cable companies to internet streaming services. HBO Now and CBS All Access already deliver services traditionally offered by cable companies without requiring a cable subscription, and by the end of the year I believe a large number of similar offerings will become available, including ESPN & the Discovery network. Additionally, one or both of Netflix and Amazon will find a way to offer local channels, thus providing an all-in-one service to completely replace traditional cable providers.
- I’m not quite sure how to quantify this prediction into something that can be judged true or false in a year’s time, but just as the Tea Party was often driven by anger that frequently turned towards Republicans who were deemed to be insufficiently conservative, I think that the coming actions that Trump and the Republican Congress will take against LGBT rights, abortion rights, the environment, and other issues will create a huge amount of anger on the Left that will manifest itself in similar ways to what was seen with the Tea Party. Given that reality, I worry that Democrats who show any inclination to compromise or adhere to traditional norms of governing will be targeted by their constituents, and while it won’t be fully manifested at the end of the year, tactics like government shutdowns and blanket filibusters will eventually no longer be tools unique to the Republicans as the far Left demands action at any cost.
- The Russian election hacking story will just be the beginning of ongoing cyberattacks that will continue in 2017 in an effort to undermine American credibility both domestically and internationally. Russia and other countries benefit from a diminished United States, and as long as these sorts of attacks are effective there doesn’t seem to be any reason they would stop. Like the election releases, released data will include embarrassing communications or incriminating documents, but will not include anything that compromises national security and would thus justify a military response.
- Google will announce an operating system to compete with Windows & OSX. There have been rumors about a Google OS for a while, but now that Google is selling its own phones and other products it makes sense for them to further expand their software ecosystem.
- The next season of Game of Thrones is going to kill off Cersei Lannister and Littlefinger. The show is totally unpredictable, so the odds of me correctly guessing anything about it are probably nil, but given the theme of Fire & Ice, Daenerys will almost certainly end up in charge of the South, and the Starks are likely to end up in charge of the North, so it’s tough to see the show not eliminating the obstacles to that happening before embarking on its final season in 2018.
There they are, everything from stock market analysis to predictions about the orange President to diminished expectations for the new Star Wars film. Given my track record, expect none of these things to actually come to pass, but as always it’s an interesting exercise, and the comments link is there for anyone who wants to join in the fun and make their own wrong predictions for the coming year.
As is tradition, before recounting how bad I was at predicting what 2016 would bring, here is the scorecard from the annual predictions during past years:
- 2009: 31% correct (5 of 16)
- 2010: 44% correct (7.5 of 17)
- 2011: 50% correct (7 of 14)
- 2012: 40% correct (6 of 15)
- 2013: 11% correct (1.5 of 14)
- 2014: 12% correct (1.5 out of 13)
- 2015: 33% correct (5 out of 15)
Here are the results of the 2016 predictions:
- Election predictions:
- Hillary Clinton will win the Presidency with a similar margin to Obama’s 332-206 victory in 2012.
Marco Rubio will be the Republican nominee. Donald Trump, currently far and away the frontrunner, will win South Carolina and at most three other states.
It hurts to be so very, very wrong.
There are 34 Senate seats up for grabs, 24 of which are held by Republicans. Democrats will pick up between four and seven seats.
Democrats picked up two seats. Had slightly fewer Trump voters shown up, or had just a few more Hillary voters gone to the polls, my predictions would have been spot-on, but as it is I’m now zero-for-three.
Marijuana will be legalized in California in 2016, as well as in at least five other states.
California legalized recreational marijuana, as did Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts. Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas legalized medical marijuana, but since the prediction was for six states to legalize recreational pot the correct prediction count remains at zero.
Tesla will make minor but noticeable style changes to the Model-S.
Model-S got a new front-end in April, and I finally got on the board with a correct prediction!
Leonardo DiCaprio will win best actor at the Oscars.
Not only do Leo and I share the fact that we are both winners, but we are also both incapable of growing facial hair that doesn’t appear to be infested with mange. The scorecard moves to two-for-six.
The Black Lives Matter organization will have mostly disappeared from headlines by the end of the year.
BLM is still around, although they are getting far fewer headlines. My hope had been that they would be replaced with a more effective organization, but instead BLM seems like it might instead be reforming itself to be more effective. An incorrect prediction on my part, but a hopeful development if they can transform into a group that is known less for blocking freeways and chasing Bernie Sanders offstage, and instead one that can meaningfully bring people together to address important racial issues.
This is a prediction that I actually expect will be wrong, but I’ll say that the 2016 US Olympic Men’s basketball team will lose one of their games.
Does it count that I got the “I actually expect will be wrong” part correct? It doesn’t make sense that a team with vastly better talent than its competition isn’t making Olympic basketball look like the Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals, but while this year’s squad had a few close calls, to their credit they did what they needed to do and went undefeated on their way to a gold medal.
Obama’s job approval numbers, currently at about 47%, will rise to between 53-57% as his term ends.
His job approval numbers have been at the high end of my prediction, even hitting 58% in one poll, but I’m still going to count this prediction as correct. At least forty percent of the country obviously disagrees, but I think he’s been by far the best president of my lifetime.
Microsoft’s plans to force upgrades to Windows 10 will backfire spectacularly.
I have no idea what happened on this one – either Microsoft backed off of their plans, or I misunderstood, or something went screwy, because they just didn’t force upgrade people. If I awarded negative points then this prediction would score a minus-one for being so utterly, completely wrong.
Batman v. Superman won’t finish in the top ten domestic box office for 2016.
This script was so flawed that the key conflict between the main characters was resolved because <spoiler alert> Superman and Batman both had mothers named Martha. Seriously. Yet somehow the film still ended up #8 at the domestic box office. Apparently being the first big superhero movie of the summer was genius positioning, because it did way better than some much better films that came out later in the year.
Russia will engage in significant provocation this year in an effort to rekindle a Cold War atmosphere.
Hacking servers and attempting to influence the Presidential election isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I made the prediction, but it most definitely counts.
Twitter will finish 2016 at least 25% lower than its current $20 price.
$16.44 on January 3. The 52 week low was $13.73, and it did drop more than fifteen percent in a year in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by about fifteen percent, but feel free to Tweet about how I got this one wrong.
Nest hasn’t come out with a new product in a while, so I expect this year will see a new security product.
Nest is quickly rising up my list of most disappointing tech companies. They could have owned the smart home market, yet more than five years after they released a pioneering thermostat their most innovative product is… the same thermostat they released in 2011.
The Browns will have another absolutely, indisputably, undeniably horrendous year in 2016, winning only between three and five games.
I got the “horrendous” part right, but somehow ended up being too optimistic when I predicted they would win three games. Ouch. At least the awful season means that on draft day they should either be able to pick a beast lineman and then spend 2017 watching him demolish quarterbacks, or else they can trade the top pick for a king’s ransom in another Moneyball masterpiece.
Final score: 4 out of 15 (27%). I was convinced that the 2016 predictions were too obvious, and yet somehow I still misfired on eleven of them. As of this writing I’ve already started on the predictions for 2017, and as wrong as I was about Trump in 2016, it looks like 2017 will see me doubling-down on underestimating the orange one.
The 2016 Man Trip finished up yesterday with a morning visit to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a virtually unknown national monument west of Bakersfield. The park is home to Soda Lake, which is supposedly an internationally-known area for birds, but the last time I visited it was completely dry. This time I left Bakersfield and spent an hour and a half meandering through the hills, oil fields and solar farms of Kern County before arriving at Soda Lake, which despite several recent storms was still bone dry; I think I heard the universe laughing at me.
Despite the dry lake it was still nice to be reminded how nice silence is – the modern world is constantly filled with the sound of cars or appliances or planes, but you don’t realize it until you’re in a place that is just completely still, and I sat at the end of a boardwalk for about an hour just enjoying the peace. Afterwards I wandered a bit more before pointing the car towards home, where I’ll hopefully get some rest and recharge before starting off the 2017 work year.
I’m pretty sure that the entire San Joaquin Valley reeks of cow manure. Someone really needs to look into it, because it can’t be benefiting tourism to have things smelling poopy.
Woke up at 5:30 this morning, an hour before my alarm, since the universe likes it when you see the sun come up. Merced National Wildlife Refuge was the sunrise destination, and Kern National Wildlife Refuge was the sunset destination, and both were chock full of birds and people shooting at birds (duck stamps help pay for wildlife refuges). Wedged in between those two visits was a giant biscuit at the Black Bear Diner, because it wouldn’t be a man trip without a manly breakfast.
Like most years, I started this year’s post-Christmas man trip with no real destination in mind. Since we don’t get much time together anymore it seemed like a good idea to spend the start of the trip with my brother, and on the way to his place I stopped to see the birds at the Cosumnes River Preserve. Upon arriving I discovered that all of my camera batteries were dead; the cranes flying low overhead had a mocking tone to their calls.
This morning after departing Sacramento I pointed the car towards the mountains and did some exploring in Gold County, one of the only parts of California I haven’t really wandered around in. The route began with a visit to Placerville, which is home to the oldest continually-operated hardware store west of the Mississippi; it’s actually cooler than it sounds, and I spent a while admiring the old-timey bins and beams and such. From there I meandered down to Murphys, taking in the rolling hills and small town scenery along the way. After a lunch in the historic Murphys Hotel I almost booked a room so I could spend a night in a building built in the 1850s, but instead decided to get a nature fix and headed up to Big Trees State Park to see sequoias in the snow, since snow obviously makes giant trees even better. While continuing along Highway 49 I passed a bizarre group of buildings, and sensing that the universe wanted me to stop I spent a short time exploring Columbia State Historic Park, which has a super-weird Williamsburg-wannabe-in-the-middle-of-nowhere vibe. I left the place almost as confused about it as when I arrived, but later learned that the state bought the town in the 1940s and now runs it as a living museum. From there it was on to Merced, where I’ll be making the seemingly annual pilgrimage to see the birds at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge tomorrow morning at sunrise.