Posted from Culver City, California at 9:59 pm, March 30th, 2017
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.
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.
Seeing this campus nearly complete is a poignant reminder of how much the world misses Steve Jobs; even the parking garages look cool. I worked at this site back in 2001 when it was a Hewlett Packard campus.
Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 11:09 pm, August 29th, 2016
Here’s a round-up of exciting news in the engineering world, which means this is a journal entry that probably only my dad and I will read in full:
On August 14th SpaceX landed its sixth rocket (two on land, four on a barge at sea), making this amazing feat of engineering seem almost ordinary. Even better, the first rocket that they ever landed is now on display at their headquarters down the road in Hawthorne, so Audrey and I got to visit it this past weekend, and can do so again anytime I need a spaceship in my life (i.e. a lot). Supposedly they will be launching the initial flight of their Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful rocket to take to the skies since the Apollo era, before the end of the year. SpaceX also claims to be on schedule with their manned program, so people may be regularly going to space in a non-Russian rocket again starting next year. Finally, they are going to announce details about their BFR (yes, it stands for what you think it stands for) for traveling to Mars in the coming months. We live in the best time in history.
Tesla just announced an upgrade to the Model-S that they have dubbed the P100D. The new model goes 0-60 in 2.5 seconds, travels 315 miles on a charge, and costs more than the combined price of six Subarus. Luckily, the trickle-down effect ensures that their less expensive cars will eventually inherit much of this new technology, so those of us who don’t want to take out a second mortgage to buy an electric car won’t have to do so. Additionally, they continue to claim that the Model-3 is on schedule for deliveries in late 2017, the ginormous Gigafactory, while still only a fraction of its eventual size, is already being used to produce battery packs, and all-in-all Tesla remains the coolest car/energy/battery company that has ever existed. Did I mention that we live in the best time in history?
In non-Elon Musk news, Boeing’s new 737-MAX airplane is well into its test flight schedule and might actually be ready to deliver earlier than planned; the new plane was originally scheduled to begin service with Southwest in the third quarter of 2017, but it looks like it will be delivered several months sooner. Given the fact that the 737 is the most common passenger plane in the air today, the majority of air travelers will soon enjoy quieter, more comfortable, and more efficient air travel. Planes aren’t as awesome as spaceships (what is?) but they occupy an exclusive level of coolness that is shared with few other human endeavors.
Locally, the much-maligned California High Speed Rail project is actually under construction, with bridges, viaducts and other structures being built near Fresno. The project thus far is a great idea that has spawned a series of ever-more-dismaying disappointments, but even with its problems it now seems highly likely that in 10-25 years it will actually be completed, after which Californians will probably wonder why anyone would have opposed such a valuable piece of infrastructure. And for the record, high speed trains occupy a similar realm of coolness as airplanes.
Posted from San Antonio, Texas at 3:35 pm, March 31st, 2016
At 8:30 tonight Tesla will unveil their third-generation electric car. A company that just five years ago was mocked for having the audacity to think they could survive, much less compete with the existing automotive behemoths, is on the verge of launching a $35,000 automobile that is projected to sell 500,000 vehicles every year by 2020, and is one of the most anticipated new car launches in history.
We live on a planet where global warming due to greenhouse gases is already causing massive disruptions to ecosystems not capable of handling rapid climate change, where even an area as remote as the North Pole faces hazardous air quality, and a seemingly infinite number of other environmental problems can easily lead to hopelessness and despair.
In a world faced with challenges that can seem overwhelming, it’s worth marking this date. Tonight the next generation of the automobile is being unveiled, and it changes the paradigm of how transportation affects the environment. This new car is driven by advances in battery technology that will have applications for all sectors of the energy industry, and will almost certainly change the way the world is powered. And it was created in spite of a hostile political environment by engineers who saw a problem and set out to solve it by building the best car that they could design. We live in the future, and the future seems like it’s going to be a good place to be.
Posted from Culver City, California at 6:42 pm, December 31st, 2014
Mostly because it’s fun for me to put these lists together, for the final post of 2014 here’s a look back at some news events that I got excited about:
SpaceX Reusable Rockets – The important caveat is that SpaceX hasn’t yet landed and re-used a rocket, but this year they figured out how to take a first stage that was plummeting back towards earth at multiple times the speed of sound, slow it down, and fire its rockets so that it could “land” vertically on a pre-determined spot in the ocean. That’s a really big deal, and their next launch is going to attempt to vertically land a rocket on a floating platform. It is an awesome time to be a fan of spaceships.
Transbay Center – The “Grand Central Station of the West Coast” finally began poking its head above ground this year, with the first structural steel being put into place during the past few months. When completed, this massive development will be the home for California High Speed Rail, Caltrain, Muni, buses, and will be the heart of a new San Francisco neighborhood.
Los Angeles subway – Ground was actually broken for a subway to the Westside in Los Angeles, and the residents of Hell all donned jackets. If ever there was a city in need of vastly improved mass transit it is LA, and slowly but surely the situation is improving.
Tesla Gigafactory – Tesla announced that it will be building a battery factory outside of Reno that will produce more lithium-ion cells in a single facility than are produced by all other manufacturers in the world combined, with the goal of dropping prices on their battery packs by one-third and giving them the ability to quickly innovate on a core component. This move has huge ramifications for US manufacturing (Reno?!?! What other commodity technology isn’t built in Asia?), energy storage (see JB’s talk to understand how energy storage is going to massively change the world), and Tesla’s future automobiles.
Solar technology – Related to the previous item, solar panel prices have gotten dramatically cheaper over the past few years, to the point where solar power is now cost-competitive with grid electricity in many places. There is no reason to believe that trend shouldn’t continue for the immediate future, which will mean that many homeowners may soon be choosing between solar panels and a local battery storage unit versus paying more for power from the electric company. Suddenly power that produces no CO2 emissions looks like it could become a dominant force in the world market, and the environmental outlook begins looking a bit less grim.
I’m sure I’ve probably missed some obvious stuff (Europe landed a probe on a comet!), but that’s a decent sample of things that excited me during the year. Hopefully 2015 will continue the trend – we live in exciting times.
SpaceX vertical rocket landing test, showing off the grid fins used for steering the rocket during its supersonic descent. Also, there are some cows that get freaked out at the two-and-a-half minute mark.
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.
Proving that at age thirty-seven I am truly a grown up, I called a plumber and got a new water heater installed after the old one died. No nineteen year old is even thinking of hot water heaters, much less bugging the installer with stupid questions about efficiency and reliability as he’s installing it.
Audrey and I actually went out and saw TWO movies in one month, which may be a record. Reviews: Star Trek was excellent entertainment, and I even got to make a starfleet insignia and wear it so that Audrey could brag about how cool I was. Man of Steel was average. I wanted it to be great, and you could see how much potential there was in what they were going for with the whole “what is my place in the world” thing, but I never really felt like I cared that much about any of the characters, and as a result it didn’t really matter who was super-punching who at any given moment. Hopefully this series is like Batman, where a lackluster first film is merely setup for an amazing second film.
In another stunning example of grownup behavior Audrey and I joined some friends for a fancy dinner at the Getty Museum (side note: the Getty will be near the top of the eventual “great things in LA” list). Despite being a high-end restaurant, there was only one fork to deal with so the meal was completed without any truly embarrassing mistakes.
Our friend Greg, who was an early buyer of the Tesla Model-S, invited us to join him at Tesla’s recent announcement about battery swapping. The event was set up like a party, with lights, drinks, many hundreds of well-heeled attendees, and techo music blaring (comment from JB: “I keep telling Elon to let up on the techno but he loves that shit”). The main event was an Apple-style demonstration of a Tesla driving up on stage, the battery pack being automatically replaced from underneath, and the car driving off fully-charged ninety seconds later. I’ve posted about why I’m so impressed with Tesla’s engineering and strategy before, but it will be interesting to see what the next reason people come up with to disparage them will be now that the “no one wants to wait thirty minutes to charge the car during a roadtrip” issue has been addressed.
Finally, following the monthly pilgrimage to Boise, we met some friends for a birthday celebration at Mar Vista Lanes. The music and disco lights came on at ten, and while I may have scored the most points, the clear winner of the evening was Brett and his magical (and intoxicating) bowling dancing. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a man in a Green Lantern shirt perform a two minute routine to disco that culminates in a gutter ball. Hopefully a video will someday show up online.
A very fancy plate of bouillabaisse at the very fancy restaurant at the Getty, with my super fruity cocktail in the background.
Only the coolest movie-goers wear homemade Star Trek insignias to see the show.
Posted from Culver City, California at 10:44 pm, June 30th, 2012
Audrey’s friend was the 237th person to place a reservation for the new Tesla Model S and asked if we were interested in joining him at an invitation-only test drive event today (my response: “Um, YES!”). Only reservation holders were allowed to drive, but even just as a passenger I’m confident in predicting that this new electric car is going to be very much talked about – we flew down a closed road at eighty miles an hour (0-60 time: 4.4 seconds), took a turn at about fifty with the car feeling like it was glued to the road, and changed the car’s steering and breaking characteristics via software on the huge touchscreen console. The interior is massive – it’s open through to the back, and the engine is in the rear axle so the front is what Tesla calls a “frunk” to provide additional storage space. JB and the rest of the Tesla team have a winner in this car – every single person who completed a test drive walked away ridiculously enthusiastic, a reaction that is probably only seen as frequently at Ferrari and Lamborghini dealerships.
Only the cool kids are invited to get amped. Luckily I knew one who could get me in.
Post test-drive in the photo booth. Awesome car, awesome gangster poses, cheesy fake palm tree background.
Posted from Culver City, California at 4:10 pm, July 17th, 2006
The development of JAMWiki moves on, with the current release up to 0.0.6, and 0.0.7 on the horizon. It’s still very much a work-in-progress so I haven’t really publicized it that much, but already a guy from Russia has contributed bug reports and a new default design, and a few others have installed the software and reported that it works for them. This thing actually has the potential to be kind of a big deal, which is cool. Granted, most non-technical folks out there have absolutely no idea what exactly it is that I’m building, but trust me, it’s good.
J.B.’s company is launching their new electric car tomorrow in Santa Monica, and Mr. Straubel came through with two invites for Audrey and I. It seems like their timing is perfect, with gas around $3.50 per gallon here and more and lots of rich movie stars driving around in environmentally-friendly cars. Having just watched An Inconvenient Truth over the weekend, and given the current mess in the Middle East, it seems it’s none-too-soon to be getting cleaner cars on the road that can run on something other than oil. For those who don’t know J.B., keep an eye out for news on Tesla Motors, ’cause they have a lot of potential.
And the only other news is that Audrey invited me to a jam session the other night with her on bass, Tommy on guitar, and Alex on drums, and all I can say is that my girl can wail. Totally improvised, and totally awesome. Makes me realize I need a talent (and no, using big lenses to capture nostril shots of albatross isn’t really a talent).
Waved Albatross (note the detail on the nostril) on Espanola Island.