July 20, 2014

How to change the world the help of Elon Musk

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If you've decided to change the world with a revolutionary company, this article is a must read. Someone else who is changing the world is the entrepreneur Elon Musk. He has founded companies like Tesla Motors (electric cars) and SpaceX (rockets). So maybe you can learn something from how he did it:

The quotes are by Elon Musk

Step 1. Learn by doing. Elon Musk believes you can learn everything you need to start a company. But an education will speed up the learning process. What you need to study is both engineering and economy - Elon Musk studied both physics and economy. 
"I think you could learn whatever you need to do to start a successful business. There are examples of successful entrepreneurs who never graduated from high schools, and there are those with PhDs. So I think the important principle is to be dedicated to learning what you need to know."
"I studied physics and business, because in order to do these things you need to know how the universe works and how the economy works and you also need to be able to bring people together to create something. It's very difficult to create something as individuals if it's a significant technology."

Step 2. Make a lot of money by selling a company you didn't need a lot of money to create. If you want to create a car company, then you need millions. No outside investors will give you those millions, so you need to have them on your bank account. This will probably be an Internet company. Elon Musk founded two Internet companies, Zip2 and PayPal, and he had a car and a few thousand dollars when he founded Zip2. 
"Unless you've got a ton of capital that someone gave you or you've inherited, you have to start a company that requires a small amount of capital. It would have been impossible for me to have done electric cars or rockets right from the start."


Step 3. Find a big problem you want to solve. Elon Musk came up with three things that in the future will change the world. They were: the Internet, space, and how to stop the world from using fossil fuels. 
"I'm not trying to paint myself as some sort of saint. I'm just making the point that the success of the company doesn't change my life. These are the problems that I think are important and need to be solved, and I'm trying to help solve them."

Step 4. Find a solution to the problem by reasoning from a physics standpoint. You can first say that battery packs for electric cars will always be expensive because they have always been expensive. From a physics standpoint, you can break the batteries down into the materials they are made of, and then ask what the value is of those materials on the commodity market. You will now realize the material is not as expensive as the final battery pack, so you just have to come up with a way to improve the manufacturing process.
"I think that physics is a good analytical framework. One of they key things in physics is to reason from first principles. This is contrary to the way most human reasoning takes place, which is by analogy ['We'll do that because it's always been done that way' or 'Nobody has ever done that so it must not be good']. Reasoning from first principles just means that you figure out what are the fundamental truths, and can you build up a conclusion from that? Reasoning by analogy is helpful because it's a shortcut, and is mostly correct, but tends to be mostly incorrect when you are dealing with new things."

Step 5. Recruit experts and students without any experience. Elon Musk wanted students without any experience because they don't yet know what's impossible. Someone with experience may think that you can't build cheap rockets, but a student is easier to convince. But you also need experts that can teach the students (and Elon Musk himself since he didn't have any experience from neither rockets nor electric cars). But how can you recruit experts? What Elon Musk did when he founded SpaceX was to invite experts to a series of meetings where he presented facts. He let the experts discuss the facts until they convinced themselves.
"I essentially led them to a conclusion that they created. It was sort of a Socratic dialogue on a technical level. The essence of a Socratic dialogue is that people wind up convincing themselves. People are much more willing to change their opinion if you're not forcing it."

Step 6. Endure misery. Companies that change the world are solving problems that are extremely difficult to solve. So as you fail, you have to endure misery to not give up. 
"I do think you've got to have perseverance. You've got to stick it out, and the team that you're working with does, too. That allows you to get through a series of issues. It took us four flights to get to orbit at SpaceX. That was kind of grueling."

That's it! What are you waiting for? Go out and change the world! But if you can wait, then you should read more about Elon Musk by reading my biography book

July 12, 2014

The Engineer Update 3

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I've improved my Elon Musk biography book called The Engineer. This is the third update. It's not as big as the last update - just a few new sentences here and there. You can find the following:
  • More about Elon Musk's favorite author, Isaac Asimov, and how Elon Musk have been inspired by him
  • More about the co-founder of Tesla Motors, Marc Tarpenning, including how he became interested in the oil industry
  • I found the lawsuit the co-founder of Tesla Motors, Martin Eberhard, filed when he was forced out of Tesla Motors. So I've added a little more information about that
  • Elon Musk revealed in a new interview that Ronald Reagan is his favorite US president, so I added more about why he thought that
  • The longest update is a more detailed timeline where you can get a better overview of Tesla Motor's chaotic history
  • I've also improved the text with the help of a tool called Hemingway 

July 7, 2014

Why lemons are not sour

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"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is a proverbial phrase used to encourage optimism and a can-do attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. We have touched this subject before in the brief article Why Rejection is Awesome. But we are now going to talk more about it because I've spent a few hours of this summer reading the book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.

Ryan Holiday has written several good books, including Growth Hacker Marketing and Trust Me I'm Lying. His new book, The Obstacle is the Way, is maybe his best book so far. It may be easy to understand why we should live by the expression "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," but it's hard to apply it when we are forced to eat lemons. This is why you should Ryan Holiday's book as it is filled with examples showing how famous people throughout history have made lemonade. 

Why was Thomas Edison happy when his laboratory burned down? How could Abraham Lincoln be so successful despite his deep depression? How could the allied forces on the western front during the Second World War beat the German Blitzkrieg? The book will give you the answers and it is that all of them found a way to turn their lemons into fresh lemonade. 

The basic idea to overcome you obstacles is to accept them as part of your life. When you are out driving with your car, traffic signs seem to always give you a red light and everyone else gets the green light. But that's not true - it's just a feeling that's part of your life. So what we need to do is the following:
See things for what they are.
Do what we can.
Endure and bear what we must. 
What blocked the path now is the path.
What once impeded action advances action.
The Obstacle is the Way.

One of the best historical examples from the book is the life of Rubin "Hurrican" Carter, who was a boxer in the mid-1960s. But his life changed when two males entered the Lafayette Bar and Grill at East 18th Street at Lafayette Street in Paterson, New Jersey, and started shooting. The shooters killed instantly the bartender, a male customer - and a female customer died almost a month later. The court accused the Hurricane of committing these murders and his verdict became three life sentences. 

The Hurricane didn't break down. He realized no one could take away the choices he had even though he was in prison. He refused to be angry - because being angry wouldn't make a difference. What he did was to spend every second of his time in prison by reading books. He decided he would leave prison as a free and innocent man - and as a better and improved man. 

Nineteen years later, he walked out of the prison as a free man and continued with his life as if nothing had happened. 

(adlibris, adlibris)    

June 27, 2014

Skunk Works - or how to not waste taxpayers money

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Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed is a 20 year old book written by Ben Rich, who used to be the head of a mysterious small company called Skunk Works. You might now have heard of the company, but you have probably seen images of a one of their famous products: the F-117 stealth fighter

The history of the Nighthawk, as the F-117 is also called, began almost by accident. This was during the Cold War and one of the engineers at Skunk Works had found a report related to stealth technology written by a scientist in the Soviet Union. No one but the engineer at Skunk Works had cared to read the report and the content of the report described how to use equations to optimize an object's surface so the radar can't almost see it. These equations were complicated and the reason why the Nighthawk is so "squary" is because the computers couldn't make the calculations needed to create a more smoother surface. Modern stealth fighters are more smooth because modern computers have more power.

The book Skunk Works is filled with similar stories, not only by Ben Rich but also by pilots and government officials who were related to Skunk Works and their products. Another interesting fact about Skunk Works is that they always tried to not waste money. Other government funded companies have a tendency to spend more money because they know they will get more money from the government (tax-payers) if they need it. Someone who also tries to minimize the money received from the government is Elon Musk. I used to write a biography about Elon Musk called The Engineer: Follow Elon Musk on a journey from South Africa to Mars, and I discussed the topic there. Elon Musk said: 
"If you were sitting at an executive meeting at Boeing and Lockheed and you came up with some brilliant idea to reduce the cost of Atlas or Delta, you'd be fired. Because you've got to go report to your shareholders why you made less money. So their incentive is to maximize the cost of a vehicle, right up to the threshold of cancellation."

But Skunk Works, who was a part of Lockheed, always tried to optimize their costs - but it wasn't always easy. Ben Rich discusses it in the book and he realized that the government didn't have an account to where Skunk Works could send the money they didn't need anymore. Unknown exactly why - maybe no other company had ever tried to return money before? 

Another waste of money Ben Rich discovered is related to the spy plane SR-71 Blackbird. The original name of the plane was actually RS-71, but when the then US President Lyndon B Johnson revealed the plane to the press he said by accident SR-71 and not RS-71. Lyndon B Johnson was apparently a stubborn man, so instead of publishing a small correction he forced Skunk Works to change the name of the plane to SR-71. 29000 blueprints needed to be changed and it wasn't cheap to do it.  

June 8, 2014

How to make tank tracks in Unity and Blender

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What we are going to achieve here is this:


How do we make tank tracks in Blender and Unity? One part of the problem has already been answered in a Russian tutorial, but you can translate it with Google translate, or follow the links below.

Unity3D tank tutorial Part 1
Unity3D tank tutorial Part 2

Unity3D tank tutorial Part 1 (translated)
Unity3D tank tutorial Part 2 (translated)

In the Russian tutorial you will learn how to import a tank model in Unity and how to make it move. I don't know if it's the ultimate solution, but it's a good starting point. It uses the simplified version of tank tracks - a solid mesh that symbolizes the track and then the texture is animated so it looks like the track is moving. The other version, to model each part of the track and then join them together, will produce a more realistic track, but your computer will probably burn up from the calculations.

The problem with the Russian tutorial is that it assumes we know how to make the track itself. Well, I didn't and it took a while to figure out, and I thought it would be a good idea to share my new knowledge. We are going to use Blender to make a tank track that fit the Russian tutorial - and we are going to do it with bones. It is assumed that you have some knowledge of Blender.

Step 1. Import your blueprints and model something that looks like a tank.


Step 2. Draw a curve that symbolizes the track.


Step 3. Draw one cube (the size of the cube will determine the resolution of the track) that will be modified with two modifiers. The first modifier is an array modifier and the other is a curve modifier. The cube will now look like a track but is not connected so before you move on you have to connect the track so it becomes one solid shape. 


Step 4. Add bones to the track and position them so they originate from the center of the wheel to make it easier to move them in Unity. You also need to add a "surplus" bone where we are going to assign the vertices that don't belong to anywhere else.


Step 5. Connect the bones to the track and assign vertex groups to each bone.


Step 6. Weight paint the vertex groups so that the outer vertices are not moving as much as the vertices that are closer to the center of the wheel. It's important that each vertices has a total weight of 1. So the vertices connected to the left/right of the "outer" wheels have also to be connected to the "surplus" bone that we added before, or Blender will automatically give them weights of 1 and it will mess up the simulation.


Step 7. Mirror everything, export to Unity, use what you've learned in the Russian tutorial, and the result will hopefully look like this:

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