Must Read: “Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance

Just when I was despairing of hard engineering efforts in the 21st century, I picked up this book on my public library’s Overdrive service.  Author Ashlee Vance captures the intellect and drive of this remarkable innovator as Musk disrupts three huge and ponderous industries: space rocketry, automobiles, and solar energy.   This effort after two successful internet startups that left him set for life. Instead of stepping aside to invest in more digital companies, Musk literally went all in with his personal fortune to deliver SpaceX, Tesla, and SolarCity.  His methods are like those of Lockheed’s Skunk Works but absent Lockheed’s deep pockets and defense connections.  His personality is a bit warped and it distorts some personal skills and family life but on balance his achievements far surpass his limitations. Just read it.

We Lived in a Remarkable Century, Part 3: Lockheed’s Skunk Works

Skunk Works is the story of Lockheed’s fabled  prototype and black production outfit that produced the U-2, the SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117A stealth fighter among other projects.  The Blackbird is a must-see at several air museums today, notably the Smithsonian at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

The accelerated schedules and almost routine technical breakthroughs are a breath of fresh air compared to today’s decades-long projects that result in disappointments like the B-2 and F-35.

This book is worth the price just for the summaries of Blackbird training flights: literally coast to coast and border to border and return in less than four hours! – leave home in Sacramento, take off about nine am, refuel over the Pacific, fly cross country and north-south, refuel again near Miami, return in time to play tennis before cocktail hour.

Photograph all of North Korea in ten minutes (that’s how they found the USS Pueblo sequestered in a North Korean port.)

And on and on.

h/t Philip Greenspun’s Weblog





Coach Popovich on the Election

Coach Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs sees it pretty much like me. I’m placing his remarks here for posterity:

“Right now I’m just trying to formulate thoughts. It’s too early. I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.

“I live in that country where half of the people ignored all of that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of the whole thing to me. It’s got nothing to do with the environment and Obamacare, and all of the other stuff. We live in a country that ignored all of those values that we would hold our kids accountable for. They’d be grounded for years if they acted and said the things that have been said in that campaign by Donald Trump.

“I look at the Evangelicals and I wonder, those values don’t mean anything to them? All of those values to me are more important than anybody’s skill in business or anything else because it tells who we are, and how we want to live, and what kind of people we are. That’s why I have great respect for people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain, John Kasich, who I disagree with on a lot of political things, but they had enough fiber and respect for humanity and tolerance for all groups to say what they said about the man.

“That’s what worries me. I get it, of course we want to be successful, we’re all going to say that. Everybody wants to be successful, it’s our country, we don’t want it to go down the drain. But any reasonable person would come to that conclusion, but it does not take away the fact that he used that fear mongering, and all of the comments, from day one, the race bating with trying to make Barack Obama, our first black president, illegitimate. It leaves me wondering where I’ve been living, and with whom I’m living.

“The fact that people can just gloss that over, start talking about the transition team, and we’re all going to be kumbaya now and try to make the country good without talking about any of those things. And now we see that he’s already backing off of immigration and Obamacare and other things, so was it a big fake, which makes you feel it’s even more disgusting and cynical that somebody would use that to get the base that fired up. To get elected. And what gets lost in the process are African Americans, and Hispanics, and women, and the gay population, not to mention the eighth grade developmental stage exhibited by him when he made fun of the handicapped person. I mean, come on. That’s what a seventh grade, eighth grade bully does. And he was elected president of the United States. We would have scolded our kids. We would have had discussions until we were blue in the face trying to get them to understand these things. He is in charge of our country. That’s disgusting.”

A reporter then interrupted him.

“I’m not done,” Popovich said. “One could go on and on, we didn’t make this stuff up. He’s angry at the media because they reported what he said and how he acted. That’s ironic to me. It makes no sense. So that’s my real fear, and that’s what gives me so much pause and makes me feel so badly that the country is willing to be that intolerant and not understand the empathy that’s necessary to understand other group’s situations. I’m a rich white guy, and I’m sick to my stomach thinking about it. I can’t imagine being a Muslim right now, or a woman, or an African American, a Hispanic, a handicapped person. How disenfranchised they might feel. And for anyone in those groups that voted for him, it’s just beyond my comprehension how they ignore all of that. My final conclusion is, my big fear is — we are Rome.