During the mid 1980s through the 1990s, Apple was very interesting. Going through swings of almost bankruptcy, to launching the all new Macintosh, to losing their illustrious CEO, and the birth of NeXT Computers. During that time I was closely affiliated, either because I was selling a lot of those Macs, or because I was writing software on NeXT Computers. The one thread that ran through the era was Steve Jobs, and the always present news story. Steve had a way, and Apple has kind of gotten away from this a bit, of being in the news. Whether it was because of tantrums in the engineering org, or his stylistic choices in architecture, Steve, and thus his companies, were always in the news for good or bad. As such, Steve Jobs is a world renown name, and Apple is Apple.
Dare I say, the modern day Steve Jobs is Donald Trump. This is how a modern political campaign is won. He was always in the news, and everyone, especially his opponents, was always reacting to whatever he said or did. That’s just the way it is, and now he’s about to be in the White House.
As humans, we are often afflicted by a fascination of all things human, and sometimes that leads us to believe we are all important, powerful, or penultimate if not on this planet alone, then in the entirety of the universe. Then things start to happen that are far beyond our control. Mt Pinatubo erupts, and suddenly atomic bombs look smallish.
While I was running on the treadmill this morning, I was watching some video “Earth in 1000 Years”. It’s basically a 45 minute expose on what’s happening with the polar ice caps and iceland. I found it to be just factual. Satellite photos, x-rays, ice core samples, and the like. Explanations of what ocean currents are doing, what happens with tons of fresh water sliding into the oceans, how carbon is trapped and released, and how it all correlates to climate change, ice ages, thaws, and the like. Nothing political, no exhortations to drive an electric car, no brow beating about how environmental accords need to be agreed to. Just cold hard facts of what’s happening to our planet today, and what it will likely mean over the next couple hundred years.
Then, I read this story about how Miami Beach is losing its sand. Once again, this is a cold hard fact. The people who live their and manage the beaches know full well what’s going on, and the risk associated with a sea that is rising by .24″ per year. It’s not the actual rise that’s killer at the moment, but that the surge is upward, so the sand is getting washed away.
And this got me thinking on the Trump connection. There are any number of stories on Donald Trump’s beliefs when it comes to climate change, like this one. Basically “ah phooey, that stuff is a bunch of bunk…”. Yep, heard it before. Perhaps the only debatable point is the level to which human activities have any affect on the climate, but changing it is. But, here’s Donald Trump, in the media, saying anything to stay in the minds of the masses. It doesn’t really matter what he say. Facts, half-truth, made up reality. As long as he says it, and people are listening, it will get spread, and we’ll all react.
I understand why people say “there’s no climate change”. Because, invariably, they think the restrictions we impose on ourselves to deal with it are taking jobs away, suppressing profits, and generally just a bunch of governmental overreach. Yah, ok, I can understand the sentiment.
So, at least for the next 4 years, the US govt. might not be a world player when it comes to driving climate change initiatives. But what does that mean to me the average schmoe. Do I have to return all my newly installed LED lights and reinstall wasteful incandescent bulbs? Do I have to purchase an American made muscle car that gets 15 mpg instead of an electric? Do I have to invest in coal mines to ensure that my electricity comes from the good old fashioned “when America was great” method of electical generation, or can I go ahead and install those solar panels and battery pack at my house?
At some point, we all think, “this is a big problem, what difference does it make what I do?”, but these problems are all actually locally modifiable. If everyone on the planet could ditch their incandescent bulbs in favor of LEDs, at the very least we’d be using that much less power, which leaves more for other uses. If companies like Tesla make great looking cars at affordable prices, then we can buy them, and reduce by that much. These are tiny things, but they do in fact add up.
Politicians are so important when it comes to setting an agenda, and driving in a particular direction. We as individuals and societies outlast them, and operate on a personal level every day. No matter what is said in the media about climate change, I’m going to continue to purchase LED lighting, because it’s a fairly economical thing to do, and it just makes sense. I’m desperate to make my next car an electric one. I’m going to ride my bike to work more, when it’s not quite so rainy and dark. I’m going to try and support companies that are like minded and creating products that are friendly to the environment, not because they were forced to by government regulations, but because it seems like a good idea to take care of the place we call home.
Donald Trump is in the news a lot, for all sorts of things. He’s a media hound, and thrives off the attention, and ultimately it will suit his needs, whatever they may be. He is no oracle when it comes to understanding climate change. He’s just another human. I’m not going to get trumped by his view on climate, and I’m going to do the best that I can as a human to try and make our planet a better place.
I saw this notification in an email: Fri 11/18 Crane in parking lot 11/19-11/20 Building Closed
Now, it might be a sign of the times, or where I live, or my general gullability or stupidity or both, but this what my first thought: Oh, there must be some rare bird which landed in front of that building, and they’re shutting down the building for a few days so it doesn’t get hurt. I had visions of a rare bird, perhaps with a broken wing, maybe a whole family of cranes…
Then I thought, oh, wait, they’re talking about a construction crane, not a bird…
Just goes to show you the breadth and depth of knowledge, the openness, the empathy, that I as a programmer must possess…
Or, I’m just going senile.
I definitely want to post this note to myself, in time capsule form, so I can look back in 4 or 8 years and see what I thought was about to happen.
More importantly than the election itself, there was a game between the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks the previous monday night (Nov 7, 2016). There were plenty of iffy calls as usual, and one exciting one in particular at the end of the first half. This call involved Richard Sherman disrupting a field goal attempt. In the process of trying to block the kick, he’s clearly off sides, and ultimate touches the ball and bumps into the kicker. At full speed, the outcome seems obvious, and the Bills of course are looking for a roughing the kicker call, which never comes. Perplexed, the chorus of “cheater”, “dirty player”, “stupid refs” goes up in the twitter verse. The kicker’s wife tweets something dumb, twitter verse errupts with “racism” calls, and things are just out of control.
In hindsight, and review by calmer heads, it turns out that the rules are such that if the refs don’t blow a whistle, then what Richard Sherman did is perfectly legal, even if appearing abhorant. But, the headlines are all “Richard Sherman, dirty player, roughing the kicker non-call, the Bills could have been closer and possibly won the game in the 4th quarter”. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Next day, roll forward to the US election. Trump has been on a tare for months, saying all manner of rough and unpleasant things. We’re all in shock and the revelations coming forward almost daily. Democrates are salivating, not believing their luck in running against such a poor candidate. Could not dream of a more unfit person to run against. And yet, Hillary Clinton can’t quite seem to rise above him very far in the poles. Certainly not the landslide inducing lead you would expect to have against such a poor candidate. The only problem is, as poor as Trump was, Clinton appeared to be an even poorer choice.
History books will be full of analysis of why Clinton lost. For me, it was a fairly simple formula. She simply did not motivate the electorate to vote for her. In an election where populist sentiment was on display, the constant non-stop country crossing of Trump, the constant Trump in the media, was just too much for the calm cerebral policy wonk speech making of the Clinton candidacy. Just like the non-call in the Seahawks game. The Trump supporters were like the instant tweeted response calling for dramatic change immediately. The Clinton campaign was like the non-call, they were perhaps right, but they didn’t capture the emotion of the moment. In the election, the emotion of the moment won out, and Trump was elected, while the cool calm and collected stayed home, or voted for someone else in protest.
Whither now? My brother and I though Trump would win over the summer because of the way he captured the Republican party. Just a simple recognition that he came out of the blue, and ran a campaign that the established political systems had no idea how to deal with. They followed their traditional formulas, whereas Trump followed his reality TV success formula. So, what happens next?
Counter to what the non-trump supporters might believe, this guy is pretty smart, regardless of all the commentary. He is astute enough to know how to rile a crowd and get popular support. In his first hundred days, or so, I’d expect he will do lightning strikes with executive orders. He will try to reverse as much Obama driven stuff as possible. This will play to his base. In particular, he’ll go after stuff that has no real consequence, but plays well to the cheering masses. Certainly anything related to immigration, perhaps go after a few key flag burning cases, put some investment into border security. Roll back various rules and regulations where he can, so show that he’s getting government out of our hair. Rudy Giuliani will become that supreme court nominee. He could be secretary of state, but I think he would rather stay at home, and get his hands into shaping generations to come from the calm comforts of the bench.
Then, he’ll settle down and have to deal with things like the middle east, a resurgent Russia, and a China which will certainly probe and push hard.
On immigration, I’d expect that he’ll pretty much do what Obama has been doing, which is exporting as many un-documented people as is feasible. Obama has already been doing that in record numbers, so ultimately, Trump will just continue, but will make a better show of it, actually being at the border as the buses roll up and showing the ‘adios’ as people are shown the way home.
Foreign policy, he’ll become buddy buddy with Putin. Putin will say “Look Donald, can I call you Donald? You don’t really care about Ukraine do you? How about you look the other way while I just sort of annex the whole thing, and I’ll pull out of Seria?” Trump will think, ‘yah, that sounds good, there’s no oil in the Ukraine that I care about, and I could get a win for bringing peace to the middle east, sounds like a good deal’, and that will be that.
The Phillipines might be interesting. He’ll support strong man Duterte, and say “Look here, my daughter runs my businesses you know, I have nothing to do with those right now. I hear she wants to build a beautiful resort in the phillipines, I don’t know. I don’t know who the shareholders would be, but they’ll probably make a lot of money you know. Probably well connected people in the Phillipines, I don’t know. I do know I need to keep bases open there though. What do you say friend?”
Looking at Nafta, ripped up and re-negotiated? Hmmm, we’ll see on that one. Mexico, US, Canada are a fairly strong trading block. The US leverages Mexican workers on this side of the border to keep our various goods and services inexpensive. We leverage workers and factories on the other side of the border for the same reason. Large US businesses already benefit from things staying the way they are. This is a play for the smaller companies in the US who are not competing on the global scale. They need more protections from foreign competition (primarily Chinese goods dumping), but realistically, they simply don’t have the products at a competitive price to compete. Short of reducing our wages to the levels seen in those foreign countries, we’re in a tough spot. We could see some token gestures, but ultimately it comes down to having a competitive workforce in a global economy. We need to go upscale, providing services that low wages won’t get. And that’s the crux of a generational transformation for the American workforce.
I doubt nafta will be ‘torn up’. The Transpacific one though, that might stall, at least until it gets negotiated in a way that will favor a post white house Trump more favorably that it might currently.
Jobs creation? Bringing those American companies back home? That’s also a toughy. Those ostensibly “American” companies are international conglomerates. Not likely to ‘repatriate’ the hundreds of billions of dollars they hold in various other countries, just to be taxed. They’re very good at keeping that money moving, and out of the hands of tax hungry countries. Trump knows the tax codes, and could maneuver, but again, post white house trump likely loves things to stay the way they are.
And on and on it goes. I expect there to be a lot more attention on the white house. I expect Trump to be very popular initially. I expect him to put on a good enough show, and there to not be any viable candidates to oppose him, over the next 4 years. I expect him to get reelected. I also expect him to feel the weight of the office. I expect the flourish he shows in the first year or two to diminish somewhat by the end of his first term. I expect the world to continue to be a dangerous angry place as world power is rapidly shifting. I expect the disillusioned to wake up after the end of it all and realize they’re no better off than when Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, or Bush were in office.
This is a generational inflection point. This is what change looks like. It’s going to be a fantastic and scary ride, and we’ll end up on a different place, on a slightly different path than we’ve been on lately.
And what else? SpaceX, Tesla, Musk will continue to be in the news. Azure will continue to grow, water will continue to be an issue in the middle east, the temperature will continue to rise, diapers will continue to need changing. I will continue to type out musings.
So, I’m not an Elon Musk acolyte. I don’t own a Tesla, solar energy where I live isn’t particularly viable, and I don’t have any micro satellites to launch into orbit. I feel compelled to put down my thoughts on this guy simply because I want to look back in a few years and see how my various observations panned out.
First of all, Elon Musk is human. He’s fallable, and probably eccentric in his own way. I’m sure there are people who love working for him, and people who hate it. One thing is for sure, he is one of the shapers of our future modern world. I’ll begin at my beginning.
I never heard of Elon Musk until the whole Tesla thing started. At first he seemed to merely be a deep pocket investor, but later became the driving force of a company that probably would have gone the Fisker rout, cool tech, but not a viable business.
Then this whole economy ‘incident’ occured, and there was quite a cloud over innovation there for a while. Tesla survived (with some government help), and what’s this? There’s this whole other SpaceX thing which has also been brewing. Huh. I’m not really up on the history of SpaceX, but it appears like something cooked up by Elon Musk directly, rather than something he just so happened to invest in. And besides that, there’s this solar city thing that was also brewing on the side, just biding it’s time through the recession. And wait, there’s this giant factory that’s going to produce batteries, and then there’s Hyperloop. This last one is the one that pushed me over edge in wanting to write down my thoughts on things Musk.
So, these are a bunch of wild things, each of which is giant enough to drive someone’s lifetime ambitions, but Elon Musk is into all of them. I’m going to tray and channel him for a moment.
Elon Musk is a grown up who as a child had visions of going to Mars and setting up a colony. He’s smart enough to have realized that going to Mars to live isn’t merely a matter of getting there, which we can probably already do. If you really want to live there, you have to consider several things. With any city, there’s certainly the softer sides of governance, and societal management. Then there’s the more worrisome stuff like transportation, energy, food, shelter, water, etc. Of you consider these latter pieces, you can begin to see the skeleton of a Mars colony in everything that he’s doing today.
SpaceX is about rocketry. So yah, you have to work on that. If you want to transfer people in colony sized amounts, it has to be cheap enough to achieve. Up until SpaceX, the costs in rocketry were a bit high, largely driven by government sized entities. SpaceX is still largely government sponsored, but they are bringing costs down through various innovations. Of course China and India are doing much to reduce costs of space travel as well, but this is where the Boy Musk gets his excitement.
Then there’s Tesla. It’s marginally about transportation, but it’s hugely about batteries and energy systems. If you’re on Mars, you’re not likely to be burning fossil fuels (can’t find there, and can’t transport). Solar energy is going to be your best bet. Thus, Solar City makes a heck of a lot of sense. You’ll need to develop solar panels and techniques of all sorts. I wouldn’t be surprised if wind and some sort of thermic thing doesn’t work its way into the mix over time. Then there’s the mega battery factory. Oh yah sure, you can consume all those batteries in cars if you like, but really you’re creating battery systems to power houses, modules, factories, whatever. Now, batteries aren’t the best storage for all things. Compressed gas, or even liquids being pumped up hill might be good storage, but as far as mobile, and fairly isolated uses are concerned, traditional batteries are a good place to start. And now, they’ve recently announced battery packs for houses, mated with solar panels of their own design, and Solar City merges with Tesla. That’s the whole energy side of things. I’d expect this ‘car’ company to come out with more dramatic things on the energy front.
Isn’t the car company about transportation? Yes, marginally I think. Hyperloop is more about transportation when it comes to Mars. And this one really was the “aha” moment for me. The various comments I’ve read about the feasibility of the systems really harp on things like ‘too hard to pull a vacuum to be practical’. When you think of it from the perspective of Mars though, do the same things apply? First of all, purchasing right of way. I don’t know about the land grant rules related to Mars, but I’ve got to imagine that through the UN you can get a fairly large portion of Mars all to yourself. Lay out track in tubes, either above ground, or under, and you at least don’t have right of way problems. Creating a good enough vacuum on Mars is probably not as hard as doing it on earth, and with less gravity, moving trains requires that much less energy as well. Given the usage of mobile battery packs (solar charged) even the energy requirements are fairly minimal. The whole thing is solar powered.
So, for some runs, the Mars transportation system can rely on Hyperloop style conveyance. Perhaps it’s only used to ship the various mining materials from the fields to the processing plants? The humans can drive around in slower golf carts on short runs.
That’s the crux of how I see things unfolding for the Musketeers. Think of everything in the context of a Mars colony. That will drive habitation, transportation, energization, and all sorts of other ations. In the coming years, I would expect One Musk entity or another to get more into food growth, construction, and even create an amusement part somewhere inhospitable, like the ocean floor, or the middle of the desert, in order to explore and develop concepts related to life on Mars.
That’s my view on this modern day rocket man. At the very least, he’s inspiring a generation of thinkers and tinkers to go after this modern day moon shot. No doubt a lot will come of it, if we don’t drown or explore ourselves first.
Full Disclosure, as usual: I am currently employed by Microsoft, and have been for the past 18 years.
I came across the announcement for the Surface Studio today. This reminded me of a talk Steve Ballmer gave to several groups across the company back in the day. The question from the audience was “what do you see coming in the future…”. At that time, he said a lot more voice, eye tracking, bigger screens, just more and different forms of input and interaction. Say what you will about Steve Ballmer, but we did have a vision of how the client side consumer devices might unfold. Of course, we did kind of miff the early phases of the mobile computing thing, and had a few missteps on the tablet band wagon, but here we are.
I have never used the Surface Studio, but it looks very interesting to me. My toddler children ( 1 and 3) are growing up in a world of touch screens, tablets, and content delivery and interaction devices from 2.5″ to 45″. This is their world. I’d love to buy one of those Surface Studio devices if for no other reason than to put it in their play room so they could pull up various games and video content. I could cobble together the same using a Dell all in one, but this one looks really cool.
There’s something else going on here though. Often times I’m a consumer like anyone else. I have several products from the fruit company (not their phone) and I like them. I don’t allow my house to go fully into their walled garden though, because I’m just contrarian, so, we have plenty of MS, Linux, Android as well. Different devices for different functions. What’s going on though is a revival in my way of thinking.
If I read too much of the stuff on Hacker News and the like, I begin to believe the Windows client is irrelevant. To some extent that is true. The apps that I use are far more important than the OS that’s running them. These days, it’s Plex, or Kodi, or whatever is running Netflix. Typically just a web browser on a decent media machine is required. Same goes for email, and web browsing, and even dev code editing. The underlying OS simply doesn’t matter. But, now there are new devices with new capabilities.
It’s not that MS Windows is what I desire, it’s that I desire to run that Surface Studio “App” if you will, and it so happens to be run using Windows. Same goes for HoloLens. I don’t really care if HoloLens is running atop Linux or FreeRTOS, but it so happens to be running on Windows. Windows running on a Raspberry Pi isn’t quite as exciting, but these other ones are. If I want to do VR, I’m sure to get my hands into Windows, because that’s the OS that has the most VR stuff going on. If I want to get into the creatives, and I’m not locked into Apple, then Windows again, driven by things like this Surface Studio.
It’s a strange feeling. I like bashing Windows as much as the next guy, largely because as a share holder, I want it to get better. The company seems to be showing some nice innovations in form factors, and pushing the envelope in terms of new forms of interaction and consumption. This is enough for me to hold on to my nokia windows phone just a little bit longer in anticipation of the exciting next new thing from Microsoft.
I know, strange, isn’t it?
A number of years ago I purchased my first barebones Shuttle PC. At the time, it was about the size of two stacked shoe boxes, which was quite compact compared to the behemoth desktops circa 2005. I had ideas of streaming media from it, using it as a home media center. Microsoft even had a home centric OS, and attendant software.
It never really took off in that regard, and I ended up just using the machine as a standard browsing desktop for a few years. Now, it finds itself in the garage, holding up various bits and pieces, not getting any action.
There has been a whole thing in the industry about creating quiet PCs. From power supplies to fans, to specialized cases, motherboards, and the like. All in search of that perfect PC that can sit in the living room, unobtrusively, serving up media to the giant glass TV monitor above it.
Then along came XBMC. Oddly enough, first introduced on the Xbox to stream media content. Soon enough XBMC found its way to the standard PC, and subsequently to Operating Systems other than Windows. XBMC became Kodi, and here we sit today.
A couple of years back, I purchased a minix X8-H. Again, for the day, it was quite a nifty little device, that could stream media. But, ‘streaming media’, and servicing home media content needs has boiled down to a couple of things. First of all, netflix, and thus a Roku or other standard media devices, are the norm these days. For roughly $50 you can get a device that will stream all the standard network based streams that exist, from hulu, to netflix, TED Talks, NFL, or whatever. Of course, these media devices are essentially the new “set top box” for the age where cable bundles are dwindling, and you get to pay $5-$10 per month per channel you really want.
Well, there you go, problem solved, we can all go home now…
In summary, media consumption has turned into an internet based thing, where the differentiators are things like 4K streams vs HD, amount of memory (to minimize stalls), and the quality of the sound output. It’s no longer a question of CPUs (ARM is dominant), nor the OS (Android is dominant). It’s not even a matter of the software (proprietary or Kodi, and that’s it).
There is a tributary off this main stream though. That is, once you get into Kodi as your player, you’ve opened up a world of possibilities. I can stream all of my DVDs that I backed up to my NAS. I can get all the media content from the internet, I can stream live events, watch local television, etc. This is even greater as I can watch whatever content I want, pay whatever price I want, and not have a single concern for the quality of the content, nor the cost of the device. That’s all great.
So, I recently went back to the minix site just to see how they were getting along. Lo and behold, the media players are no longer front and center, but instead, there are ‘miniature’ PCs, like the ngc-1. This is a Windows 10 PC in the same form factor as those tiny media player boxes. I found it on Amazon for $299. Given the price of tablets and laptops these days, this is right in there with a typical low end machine. It is loaded with features though, like dual-AC wireless, 4K video, 128Gb SSD, and the like. It’s no slouch, even if it’s not the best bitcoin mining device. This paired with a reasonable couple of monitors makes for a great interactive PC for toddlers (who destroy laptops in a second).
This is a new breed. I’m thinking of getting one to act as my desktop “command” computer. You know, stick it on the top of my desk, or the back of one of my monitors, and just use it to remote desktop into other machines as I need to.
As a long time PC builder, my first reaction is, “I’m sure I could throw this together cheaper”, but the truth is I can’t. I can even purchase the components any cheaper, and they put it in a nice solid metal case, which I could not manufacture. I think we’ve reached the state where the PCs are almost commodity, and you can pretty much purchase one every year, and just attach them to whatever display you so happen to have. Those 17″ displays that you find in your work room, put a media stick (roku stick or chrome cast or whatever). For the bigger glass, like your Costco special 60″ tv, put one of the large media PCs that are capable of 4K display and have a bit more media handling capability. For your main desktop machine, the one you use in your cave for viewing lots of different kinds of content other than movies, put one of these new nano scale PCs. Stick a console gaming rig, or heavy duty PC on your midrange display for gaming.
My journey with media center PCs began roughly 12 years ago, and I can say, that journey has pretty much ended today. I’ll still fiddle about with the likes of an Odroid C2 for media streaming, but really, when it comes time to watch football, or the latest netflix bing season watching thing, it’s going to be a standard media device (likely rook) on the 50″ in the living room.
Media PC pursuit, rest in peace, long live the media PC!