Book Review: Spare Parts – by Joshua Davis


Here is a book I give four stars, because I cannot think of a book more relevant today.

It tells the true story of four undocumented Latino teenagers from Mexico in Carl Hayden Community High School in West Phoenix. In 2004, against all odds, they started a robotics team under the guidance of two extraordinary and inspiring teachers. They built an underwater robot (in the Arizona desert) and took it to the Marine Advanced Technology Education Robotics Competition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They were up against some of the most renowned engineering schools in the county, like MIT, funded by grants of thousands of dollars. Their robot was built out of spare parts, PVC pipe bought at Home Depot, glue, a briefcase, all stuff they found around the house and the garage. The robot wasn’t pretty. They called it Stinky, because the glue they used stunk.

Against all odds, they won.

Spare Parts tells the story of four kids, Oscar, Cristian, Luis, and Lorenzo, how they came to live in the United States, what brought them to Carl Hayden High School, what motivated them, and what happened to them after they created national headlines with their unexpected underdog success.

Spare Parts tells the story of undocumented aliens in the United States. Each of these kids was as American as you or I. They were brought to the country by their parents when they were infants, toddlers, or elementary school kids. Yes, they were born in Mexico, but they knew no reality than their lives in the barrios of Phoenix. They were Americans and they could not understand why they didn’t get the same opportunities their American-born friends got. They were marked.

Their crime was that their parents brought them into the country by sneaking through a hole in a fence somewhere in the desert. They were guilty, and they were illegal, because their parents committed a crime, the crime of trying to make better lives for themselves and their families.

I am not advocating that it’s right to slip through the fence on the border to improve your lives. We have laws, and they don’t permit this. But I am advocating that it is not right to punish children for the crimes of their parents. Yet, our laws do exactly that.

Read Spare Parts and get a view into the lives of four teenagers, all of whom found themselves in this extraordinary situation, where they were very smart, driven, dedicated, hard-working, willing to serve their country, but not permitted to do so and ostracized and criminalized for it. Read Spare Parts to understand the problem.

Not only did these four teenagers in 2004 create extraordinary success for themselves, they started a movement. Carl Hayden High School has gone on to win many competitions in robotics all over the country since then. More students at the school get engineering scholarships than all sports combined. The interest in engineering has gone through the roof, and the program is now renowned.

Spare Parts refers to Jeff Sessions and Barack Obama. Both have appearances in the book. In 2001, Senator Dick Durbin had introduced legislation to provide a path to citizenship for young immigrants who had been in the United States for at least five years and were attending college. That was the Development, Relief, and Education for Minors Act, the “DREAM Act.” The bill failed to even make it to a vote. In 2010, he tried again, using Oscar Vazquez, one of the four teenagers in Spare Parts, as an example. Senate Republicans commenced a filibuster, blocking the vote.

“This bill is a law that at its fundamental core is a reward for illegal activity.”

— Senator Jeff Sessions

The Senate needed 60 votes to break the filibuster. They only got 55.

Spare Parts was written and copyrighted in 2014. Enter Trump in 2017. Jeff Sessions, the Illustrious, is now our Attorney General. Guess what will happen to immigrants now? Donald Trump has signed orders to have Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents round up “illegals” and deport them, sometimes without due process. Trump has blatantly labeled Mexicans rapists and murderers. Trump is fomenting xenophobia. Trump is stirring up vigilantism. Trump is dividing the country.

Reading Spare Parts will give you insight into the plight of illegal immigrant children and their despair about finding their own place in a world where they can’t figure out where they belong. I challenge you to read this book, and then come to me and defend Trump’s current approach.

I challenge you!

Rating - Four Stars



Unbelievable: I Have Some Praise for Trump (about the F-35)

I didn’t think this would ever happen, but in a year where I have said this many times, I actually have a bit of praise for Trump. Here it is:

I have been an outspoken critic of the F-35 programs and its massive cost overruns over the years. The F-35 is the Pentagon’s largest single program, and is likely to cost the government around $400 billion over the next 22 years.

It has always bothered me that a single F-35 fighter plane costs between $100 and $200 million, and we’re buying 2,443 of them. How can that be? How can nobody in the government stand up to this and deal with it? Obviously, the military industrial lobby is extremely strong, so even Obama in his eight years didn’t stand up to it.

The fact that nobody can even tell us exactly how much each plane costs is alarming. Try to google it! The difference between $100 and $200 million is $100 million. Do you realize how much good $100 million can do for our country? Do you realize how much good $100 million times 2,443 could do? Yet, we have no problem blowing that kind of money on a marginal and highly criticized program that may never even work.

Here is a list of posts I have published over the years to give you some background on the F-35:

February 14, 2016 – The F-35 is an exceptionally bad plane

November 13, 2015 – Trump on the F-35 Boondoggle

May 21, 2015 – Buying the F-35

April 5, 2016 – Government Contracting at its Worst

November 14, 2016 – The Insanity of the Republican Candidates

November 7, 2015 – Giving Foreign Aid to Israel

Trump, with his loose Twitter finger, has been poking and prodding Boeing about the cost of the new Air Force One 747 planes and Lockheed Martin about the F-35 and its incredible cost overruns. The stock of both companies declined immediately after he did that, and sure enough, the CEOs of both companies responded.

Here is a tweet from the CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson:


Here is Trump commenting on it later:

It’s a little bit of a dance. But we’re going to get the cost down,” he said, calling the F-35 program “very, very—uhhh—expensive.

— Donald Trump

Here is an article that provides a bit more background about the exchange between Trump and Hewson. This concession by Lockheed Martin would never have happened without the brash and bold behavior of Donald Trump. I was hoping over the years that Obama would show backbone and stand up to this boondoggle. He didn’t. Bush before him didn’t. No modern politician did. I would venture to say that the word “F-35” never once got mentioned in any presidential debate by any candidate of either party. Lockheed Martin had (and still has) a steady stream of cash coming to it – a redistribution of wealth from the American taxpayer to the shareholders and executives of Lockheed Martin.

We have been blaming Obama for being a redistributor, and we have pointed to the measly food stamps program that helps destitute Americans to get nourishment for their children. But right in front of our eyes, glaringly in the open, we have tolerated a redistribution program on a much grander scale – and nobody has spoken up.

Enter Donald Trump.

I have nothing but disdain for the man Donald Trump. But this is good.

This little tweet of his might have been worth quite a few billions of dollars of American taxpayer wealth that can now go to more noble causes.


Trump is the first politician in my memory that is standing up to the military industrial complex.

And there you have it. I have posted in praise about Trump.

About the Emails

I am so, so, so tired of Clinton’s emails.

Trump stated tonight that Clinton has no right to run for the presidency “because of what she did with emails and other things.”

Because of what she did with emails?


I know a thing or two about emails. I am a software developer and I had several email accounts years before most people in the world had ever heard the words “dot com.” Our company has run, maintained and hosted our own email servers since the beginning of its existence before 1995. I give email etiquette and security lectures to our staff on a periodic basis to remind them, mostly, that email is not secure.

And the essence of this lesson is always this:

Before you hit SEND on an email, read it one more time, and consider what you would feel like if that email were published tomorrow on the cover on the New York Times. If you’d feel fine about that, go send the email. Otherwise, erase it right now.

Anything you send via email, whether that is the text of the email itself, or an attachment, is publicly accessible. Anyone who wants to can see it, with the right skills and tools. Yes, for the most part, our emails are benign. Go ahead and check out the five photographs from Thanksgiving I am sending to my mother.

But make no mistake about it – anyone with the right tools and skills can capture your email and do anything they want to do with it, including saving it, printing it, sending it on to a thousand people, posting it on a web site (Wikileaks), and of course, if the pictures are sensitive (Anthony Weiner) post them on a porn site.

Then there is backup.

Every information technology administrator (IT guy) worth his money will back up the email server in case it crashes, dies or some other bad thing happens. Those backup files get stored offline in the cloud, or, as it was in years and decades past, on other machines, or disks and tapes that then get stored offsite in bank vaults for security.

So – when you send a naked picture of yourself to your honey – because you are so inclined, that naked picture ends up in your honey’s inbox where it hopefully stays, rather than getting posted on a porn site. But that picture could also be skimmed off your email and posted in the New York Times tomorrow by a hacker. But worse, since it’s likely going through your SENT box, there is a copy of it there. Your server backup processes copied it on tape and the IT guy has taken that tape the bank for offsite storage, or the computer has shipped it off to Amazon for cloud storage. The point is, once you hit SEND, many copies of your naked picture are in all kinds of places that you no longer have any control over.

If you have ever been subpoenaed for certain email, and you needed your IT guy’s help to retrieve and print out those emails, you will know that there are more emails in your woodwork than you could possibly read and check, and they fill up boxes and boxes very quickly. Good luck to the hapless law clerk that has to sift through them, and congratulations to the lawyer that charges you $375 per hour to read them all.

Did I say email is not secure? Perhaps you understand better now why I said that.

Now on to Trump and Clinton.

I believe Clinton was incredibly naïve, even stupid, to maintain an email server in her house. She received very, very poor advice by whoever recommended that. Notwithstanding that her predecessors, all Republican, did the same thing, it was still very ill-advised and un-informed. And whatever she was trying to achieve with that – what that was is beyond me – she did not achieve. An email server is no more secure in your house in your basement than it is anywhere else. Yes, it was probably not very secure there, and the State Department’s data center would have been a better place. Clinton knows this now. I am sure she is beating her had against the wall every day that she actually did such a stupid thing in the first place, back in the day. Unfortunately, Clinton never attended and of my email etiquette and security briefings, because if she had she would have known better.

But stupid as it was, it’s not criminal, and Trump is silly for raising it as “what bad, bad thing she did with her emails.”

Look – let’s just say Clinton didn’t have her email server in her house, but she properly used the State Department’s email system. Ok, it might have been a LITTLE harder for a hacker to get to it. But any email that she was sending was still traveling over the open Internet and it was exposed. Just remember the naked picture example I gave above.

So the problem is NOT whether Clinton had classified documents in her email in the server in her house, but whether she EVER send classified documents via email, whether that be through a server in her house or the State Department. No matter where the server sits, once the document leaves via the SEND button, it’s out there. Naked pictures everywhere.

Of course, there is such a thing as secure email. Banks and other organizations use it to send sensitive and classified information over the Internet. Those systems use encryption to protect the data. But those systems are cumbersome to use, slow, and inefficient. Not what you want to use to send pictures of Thanksgiving to your mother. She could never figure out how to open them.

So the question I have: Does Trump even understand that? It does not sound like it. Because if he did, he’d know, that just about every public servant from the lowest to the highest level is guilty as charged. People send sensitive information over email all the time without thinking about it. I am sure Trump has.

After this, I think it’s time I gave our staff another email etiquette and security briefing.

Just in case.

The Two Flaws of our Maytag Refrigerator

When we needed to buy a refrigerator recently we went for the top brand: Maytag.

The day we got it, we noticed that it was looking at us. So I could not help it – I gave it eyes and a tongue.


But its personality is not one of the flaws I am alluding to in the title of this post. There are two flaws with it:

The Ping-Pong Balls and the Freezer

I have always been a stickler when people leave the refrigerator door open when they get something out. Cold air falls down, hot air rises. When you open the refrigerator door, the cold air inside it immediately starts falling out towards the floor, and warm air from the top back fills the refrigerator. The longer you leave the door open, the more air – and energy – you lose.

I have used the thought experiment of ping-pong balls. Imagine your entire refrigerator being filled up to the brim with ping-pong balls. Then you open the door. Immediately, the balls start bouncing on the floor like an avalanche. That is a good way to picture what happens to the cold air inside as soon as you open the doors.

All I would have to say is “ping-pong balls” to whomever the person was that left the fridge open, and they’d get the idea.

A good and efficient freezer design is a tub, where you open the top lid. All the ping-pong balls stay right inside. The cold air can’t rise out to make room for warm air. So I thought our bottom freezer drawer – the mouth with the tongue – would be a great design.

Until I noticed that I get cold feet every time I open the freezer barefoot.


Well, look: What was the genius at Maytag thinking when he designed the drawer not only with the bottom completely open, but the main drawer with a rack, rather than a tub design.

There is no way to open our freezer without losing all the ping-pong balls on the kitchen floor – every time we open it. That is a truly crappy design, and not one you really think about until you use it for the first time with bare feet.

The Drawer Cover that Pops Off

Here is the second flaw: Inside the refrigerator there is a wide bottom drawer with a lid. The drawer is good for cheese, lunch meat, flat stuff in general, and it has a little temperature regulator on the right side to keep it stable. When you pull out the drawer, the lid pops up and opens. The trouble is that the lid comes off about half of the time. The pegs that keep it in place are too short, and as the lid slides back and forth due to the little play it has, it pops off the right or left peg. Then it takes a lot of fiddling to put it back in place.

I checked the forums and found that everyone with a Maytag MFF2558DEM model is complaining about the drawer. Nobody seems to be able to make it work correctly. People hate their fridge because of the flawed lid.

I took a good look and found a solution:


I went to Home Depot and bought four 5/16th washers and placed two inside the pegs on either side. It was a little tricky to get them in there and then pop the lid back in. It’s best to do one side at a time, and be careful because the washers tend to pop out and fall down into the works. However, once in place, the lid is rock-solid. It’s been in there for a week and never popped again.

I am dumbfounded that Maytag would have such an obvious and blatant design flaw that affects the usability of the refrigerator pretty much every time somebody opens the drawer – and get away with it. But apparently they did.

I think I’ll post a link to this solution in the Maytag forums and I’ll be a hero.

And that’s all I have to say about refrigerators for a while. I know you needed to know this.

The Phenomenal Dumbing Down of America and the SpaceX Hoax

Check out this video and PLEASE tell me that this is a parody!

Then read down into the YouTube comments below (which I have often warned here never to do) and see how many people support these idiotic statement made in this video. Even if the person posting this video does it as a parody, these people commenting certainly don’t get it.

How can there be people in the United States, moving a mouse causing movement of cursor on a computer screen hosted by YouTube, sent to their house via satellite from some data center in Sweden, that do not believe the earth is a sphere? Do these same people use GPS in their cars?

I don’t think there is anyone outside of the United States that would buy into such batshit crazy nonsense. Europeans certainly aren’t. They are too busy building BMWs, and particle accelerators, and watches. The Chinese certainly aren’t. They are too busy building EVERYTHING.

I was at Home Depot yesterday, buying a replacement rod for blinds (made in China) and a few washers (made in China). Everything at Home Depot is made in China. Everything at WalMart. Everything at Sears. EVERYTHING. It’s because Chinese kids go to school 260 days a year and they’re not wasting time debunking science. The Chinese are busy teaching science.

Then there is our friend the dumbing-down-America in chief, Donald Trump. He is going to make America great again. Just trust him. He’s gonna do it. And he’s gonna build a wall, and Mexico is gonna pay for it. Because he’s a business man. He knows how to build great buildings.

Go vote for Trump. Make America dumber yet!

And then tell me this video is a parody, so I can rest again.


Apple vs. the Government

As the public debate rages about Apple’s security measures and the Government’s request to create a backdoor, the country seems to be divided.

There is one side that blasts Apple as treasonous. Trump even calls for a boycott of Apple.

There is the other side that does not believe we should be living in a police state just to have the illusion that our illustrious government will protect us from San Bernardino-style Islamic lunatics. I belong this group.

For the most part, those belonging to the first group do not seem to have much of an idea of what they are talking about  – like Trump.

Here is extensive information about Apple’s response to the Government.


The iPhone, the Government, and the 28th Amendment

I recently had an exchange in a comment thread with a blogger I follow where I made the case that the iPhone (and by that I mean any smartphone or computer) should have the ability to be encrypted securely. While I recognize that this makes the job of law enforcement harder, I believe it’s essential that digital security remain uncompromised. Once a backdoor into our computers exists, the government and the bad guys surely will have the key, and they’ll be mucking with our stuff.

He countered that houses can be broken into, and judges can serve warrants to search our houses, bank accounts, private pictures, documents and financial records. This should extend to computers and all digital devices. We need to sacrifice our digital liberty and security for the sake of law-enforcement. He said:

The government and/or any motivated nefarious soul can do that now outside of my mobile phone or computer. Landline phones were being tapped for many many decades, or people were being spied upon or stalked for many many centuries, etc. What is so special about the mobile phone? I just do not get it. I understand the capacity for data that it has, but that should not mean it deserves its own special protected category.
I don’t mean to offend but it blows my mind that you don’t see this.

I don’t see it that way at all. Perhaps I know too much about things digital. After all, that’s been my career for 40 years.

I don’t think the argument holds. Just because smallpox killed children in infancy at rates of 50% centuries ago does not mean we can’t come up with a cure and eradicate it. Just because the government could tap into my landlines doesn’t mean it should forever going forward. The problem is that we didn’t transact financial business on our landlines, and we didn’t keep all our valuables in our houses to be broken into and stolen.

Our smartphones are becoming the keepers of our entire identities. I take my phone to the grocery store and pay with Applepay simply by putting my finger on the sensor. No tapping, to typing prices, no swiping. Just my finger, or my code. I buy airline tickets. I buy all my books. I have all my phone numbers in it. I have access to all my personal documents and pictures I took over the past 10 years from it. My phone has access to everything I created and own in the last 10 years – and it’ll get “worse” going forward. People use their phones to control the security systems and locks to their houses. They start their cars. They monitor their children. They have private video chats with their loved ones.

If I simply knew that there were backdoor keys around, I could no longer use it for all those purposes. If I ever lost it, or if it ever got stolen, the thief could do way more damage than the good old wiretaps of decades past, or the thugs that broke into my apartment when I was young and stole my stereo along with that favorite Bob Dylan record that was on the turn table at the time.  The thieves could ruin me. If backdoors exist, thugs in Russian, Chinese and North Korean apartments would start cleaning out the bank accounts of unaware people. A whole new category of crime would be created, far more lucrative than the cons of yesteryear.

So no, the smartphone does not occupy a special category. But by its existence, it requires strong, unbreakable encryption.

This is a technology we now have. We can’t un-invent it. Just like we have fighter planes that changed the way we wage war. The Revolutionary War would be over in a day with a single modern Apache attack helicopter. We can’t go back to the old wars with bayonets and musket balls.

We have a Second Amendment that entitles us to have weapons to protect ourselves. So we can be good guys with guns to protect ourselves from bad guys with guns.

I am proposing a 28th Amendment to make it illegal for government to strongarm technology companies into adulterating their products by disallowing strong encryption or by dictating backdoors into computers. We really need the 28th Amendment to protect the good guys with data from the bad guys that want to get ahold of our data.


Tim Cook’s View – Lack of Leadership in the White House

“With all due respect,” Mr. Cook told those around the table, including Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism chief and the heads of the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, “I think there has been a lack of leadership in the White House on this.”

New York Times

Apple vs. the U.S. Government and the Second Amendment

On April 1, 1976, almost exactly 40 years ago now, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple in the garage of Jobs’ parents.


The garage has become a historic site and the center of tech mythology. Wozniak put some cold water on the mythology in his comments in this post.

Who would have thought at the time that 40 years hence, this little company would be the most valuable company on the planet, the icon of corporate America, and the company that would take on the U.S. government in a legal fight about encryption, and the U.S. public in understanding the subtleties of high tech and how it affects the war between good and evil?

Now some Americans vilify Apple for sympathizing with terrorists. Even Trump is trumpeting drivel about this. Apple has taken the fight to the public. My stand is fairly radical in favor of Apple.

Personal communications devices must be secure. To be secure they must be encrypted, and there can’t be any backdoors. Any software system that has any backdoors will automatically be open to anyone. Backdoors never work. All large government contracts our company holds explicitly disallow backdoors of any kind. Yes – “The Government,” our customers, require that there be no backdoor. However, here “The Government” is asking Apple to build a backdoor to 700 million iPhones it has sold over the years. It makes no sense.

Sorry, one investigation into a case of terrorism does not warrant exposing 700 million users to intrusion by “bad guys.” Let’s make no mistake about this: The bad guys will get ahold of the backdoor quicker than you can blink.

Let’s put this into the perspective of the infamous debate about the Second Amendment. Encryption of my devices is my only defense against bad guys with backdoors. I have a right to that encryption, just as I have a right to own a gun to protect myself against bad guys with guns.

Think of secure encryption as your only defense against bad guys with software that want to steal your stuff. And then you might see the very important point that Apple is making.

Apple knows what it is doing, and apparently “The Government” does not. Would I trust “The Government” with the key to my valuables?


Chilling Letter by Apple’s CEO about U.S. Government Overreach

I have no words to add. Tim Cook’s letter is succinct and very much to the point. The U.S. Government is spinning out of control. If there were a backdoor to the iPhone, I would no longer be able to use my iPhone.

Here is the letter by Tim Cook.

Apple Junk: Apple Apps I Never Use

Apple Junk

“Raise your hand if you have a folder on your iPhone full of native Apple apps you never use … yup, that’s a lot of you. Now raise your hand if you use iCloud Mail, iCloud Drive or the default iOS Notes or Reminders apps instead of third-party options like Gmail, Dropbox, Wunderlist, Evernote and so on. Not nearly as many of you are raising your hand this time.”

— Nathan Ingraham

Yep, I am one of those. You can see the “Apple Junk” folder on the third or fourth page of my iPhone. That’s where I put all the native Apple apps that I can’t delete off my phone. Either I don’t need them, or I don’t like them, or they are too complicated, or they are too clunky to use, or I have another app that I’d rather use.

One of the most frustrating major apps is the Apple Maps app. I can’t stand how it works. Somehow I can’t use it. Google Maps works fine, is reliable, and is intuitive instead. It galls me that Apple does not allow me to make Google Maps the default navigation tool. So when I navigate from another app, it launches Apple, and then I have to memorize the address and retype it into Google.

Some things about Apple are great, and other things really suck.

Don’t even get me started with iTunes!

Ruminations on Self-Driving Cars – Take Two


Earlier this year I posted some Ruminations on Self-Driving Cars. Last week, 60 Minutes broadcast a piece about self-driving cars, and the challenges automakers are facing. They focused on what the cars will be able to do, and how many deaths will be prevented.

Tesla just announced that this coming Thursday, October 15, 2015, they will release the much-anticipated software upgrade version 7.0 for the Model S. This upgrade has many self-driving features, and Model S owners will now be able to drive hands free on highways.

I actually believe that once self-driving cars become commonplace, they will have a much more profound impact on our lives than just relieving us from the daily chore of driving or reducing traffic accidents and fatalities. They will fundamentally change the way we live, the way our cities look, and the way we structure our societies.

A similar change took place about 100 years ago when conventional automobiles took over the horse and buggy world. In New York City alone around 1900, we estimate that there were 170,000 horses at any time. The horses were worked in 12-hour shifts. Horses defecate every 2 hours and urinate every 3-4 hours. All this went onto the city streets. There were workers called “dirt carters” that picked up the manure from the streets and hauled it to specially designated “manure blocks.” Imagine the flies and vermin this attracted.

In the winter, the frozen waste was covered by layers of ice and snow, and the streets sometimes rose up by several feet, as this built up. Imagine the stench and mess when the spring thaw came around. When horses died, as all living things do eventually, they were often left on the streets until they were rotted sufficiently so they could be taken away in pieces. While they were there, children played with the carcasses.

Behind every house, there was a stable. When citizens wanted to travel, they had to get the horseman to prepare the team. Horses needed to be cared for and fed daily. Only the richest could afford horses – and therefore transportation.

This changed rapidly when cars come along.

The advent of self-driving cars will once again change the way we live and travel as fundamentally as the change from horses to cars did.

When we can summon our cars using a mobile app on our smart-phones, similar to how we can hail an Uber car right now, we really won’t need parking lots anymore at work places, airports, train stations, shopping malls or restaurants downtown. We will simply have our cars drop us off at the front door wherever we are going. Then the car will drive away to a parking garage that’s designed just for cars.

Cities will be clean. The streets will no longer be littered with parked cars on both sides. The only cars on city streets will be those that are on their way to drop off or pick up their passengers. They will park in peripheral facilities away from the human activity.

We hail our cars when we need them, and send them away when we don’t have use for them. That, of course, begs the question: Why would anyone still “own” a car? We really don’t spend enough time in our cars to warrant having them sit in our garages all the time, like the horses waited in the stables behind the houses of yesteryear.

Imagine requesting cars of varying luxury and grades. If we just want to go down the street to the mall for a couple of miles, we might get an entry-level car, just for transportation. It would be very cheap. However, if we are planning on a 45 minute drive downtown to the Opera, we might get a luxury model with leather couches, a bar and a high-end sound system. There would be no need to own either. We would just use them when we needed them.

Car ownership, car maintenance, use of energy, expedience of transportation, quality of the ride, quality of the air we breathe, cityscapes, inner-city ambiance and the structure and construction of office buildings, all will change rapidly because cars drive themselves.

We will watch old movies of 2015 and it will seem as quaint as westerns look to us now.

That’s how we will think about the days when we still had to drive our own cars.

Book Review: Elon Musk – by Ashlee Vance


The subtitle for this book is Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

There are not many people in history that have created a billion-dollar company. The odds against are astronomical. Elon Musk has created several billion-dollar companies, and right now he is running two of them simultaneously. That is utterly astounding. What does it take to do that?

This biography describes who Musk is and how it came about that he was able to accomplish what he did. It starts with his childhood in South Africa, his rocky upbringing and unfortunate family circumstances. He landed in Canada with the proverbial few dollars in his pockets and started working hard, taking menial jobs and trying to be creative. And he made it big. He is now one of the icons of high-tech business in the world. And he has only just started. As I write this, he is only 44.

The biography of Elon Musk is required reading for anyone who wants to start a business.

I have started a business, and run one, and am still running one. Elon Musk started his first business after mine was already established, and he built Tesla and SpaceX long after I was already rolling along. There is a lot I can learn from him.

Reading this excellent biography by Ashlee Vance was a good start.

Rating - Four Stars

Test-driving a Traditional Gas-powered Car

Assume we didn’t have cars. To go to the store, you would have to go to the barn, bring out your horse, put on the harness, attach the harness to the wagon, then get on the wagon and “drive” the horse to town. Just getting ready to leave is a major production and takes a lot of time. Keeping a horse is very expensive. When you are used to cars, going back to a horse would indeed be challenging and frustrating.

Now imagine for a moment that electric cars are now the standard. What would it be like to go back to a traditional car?

Traditional or hybrid cars have anywhere from hundreds to thousands of moving parts. There is no engine with coils, cylinders, valves, spark plugs, distributors, alternators, belts, crank shafts, water pumps, gas pumps, carburetors, transmissions, fans and exhaust systems. An electric car, according to Tesla, has about a dozen moving parts. There really are only the wheels, the steering mechanism, brakes, and an electric engine the size of a watermelon between the rear wheels.

Here is a hilarious story of someone doing just that: looking at a traditional car from the standpoint of the customary electric one.


High Speed Rail in the United States

California is in the process of building the most expensive and slowest high speed rail line in the world. Politicians love to make fun of this project. Yet, we need high speed rail – efficient and effective high speed rail – so badly in this country.

There is a rail line planned from Victorville, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. For those of you that are not from Southern California, Victorville is a community in the high desert.


Victorville is a bedroom community about 40 minutes north of San Bernardino, over the mountains, in the Mojave desert. People commute from there into the San Bernardino valley for work. It’s also a stop on the way to Las Vegas, or up Highway 395 into the Sierras.

I cannot imagine driving to Victorville, which would be about two hours from Los Angeles or San Diego, then park my car and get on a high speed train to complete my drive to Las Vegas. By the time I am in Victorville I am through the hard driving, and the remaining two to three hours are easy.

I imagine the line won’t be completed to Los Angeles or San Diego because of land constraints and expenses of building a train line in the middle of urban areas. But that’s where we need them the most. If I could get on a high speed train in San Diego to Las Vegas, and be there in a couple of hours, I definitely would use the train.

The Victorville to Las Vegas line is definitely a boondoggle that makes no sense to me.

Then there is the planned connection between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, which also gets terrible press by many politicians.

Here is a summary of the high speed rail initiatives in the United States.

Now let’s compare our initiatives with those of the rest of the world, particularly in China. Here is a map showing high speed rail lines in the United States, superimposed over all our rail lines.

America's High Speed Rail System

[source language=”Wikipedia”][/source]


This admittedly looks pretty anemic for a large, industrialized country. Here is China’s map, in comparison:

China's High Speed Rail Lines

China is approximately the same land size of the United States. Yet, it has more high speed rail than the entire rest of the world combined. And it’s still building more. Here is a chart that illustrates this:


High Speed Rail

My take-away from this:

China has more high speed rail than the entire rest of the world combined. China is currently building almost twice as much high speed rail as the entire rest of the world combined. The United States is ranked along with tiny countries like Belgium, Austria, Taiwan and Uzbekistan in its installed base. Greece, yes, Greece is building more high speed rail right now than the United States.

High speed rail, the way we think of it, is apparently not practical in the United States. China knows something about infrastructure that we’re not paying attention to, and our children and grandchildren will pay that price. China will be able to move military equipment and troops all over their country with rapid speed. We cannot match this, and even if we started now, we’d be decades behind.

China just started building all this infrastructure within the last 15 years or so. Yes, China is a very polluted country with disregard for human rights, individual freedom, and the environment. Nevertheless, they are building infrastructure like mad, and we are not.

I think the United States is on a dangerous path of rapidly losing its competitiveness in the world by disregarding its infrastructure, and high speed rail capacity is one aspect that illustrates this.