I've been saying this for years: as the tools get better and more widespread, soon anyone will be able to plunder the movies and music and literature and art and the rest of the output of the 20th century and mix and mash it up into new art in the 21st century. We've barely scratched the surface of what's possible. Here's a new example, which while amazing, is still just the bare beginnings. I expect full feature films with 60s Kirk, Spock, and maybe Columbo, and Lawrence of Arabia, and maybe Monty Python, all in some new feature film, with the exact, faithful voice and likeness renderings of the original actors, but new dialogue, new scenes, and nobody (Hollywood lawyers take note) will be able to stop it.
For a few years the clickbait media has been pumping out one dumb headline after another about Tesla Motors. The giveaway is always whether the headline ends with a question mark. As a rule, if you ever see a Tesla headline with a question mark at the end, don't waste your time reading it, because what that publication is basically saying is, "We don't know, but we want the ad impressions, and maybe some you think we do know, and you'll be fooled into clicking."
I'm going to state categorically that no, Tesla is not "the next Apple." But I am going to go further. I am going state categorically that Apple was not "the previous Tesla." They are very different companies, with very different visions, different timelines. They are companies that emerged in different eras.
In 2006, Elon Musk posted the very first Tesla blog post, "The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me)" in which he laid out the long-term vision of the company. The plan was hugely ambitious but at the same time very simple and straightforward. First they would build a few very expensive toy sportscars, to prove the concept of electric vehicles, and demonstrate that you could build an EV and make it as attractive and desirable, if not more attractive and desirable, than a gasoline car. If they could pull that off, then the era of dismissing EVs as glorified golf-carts would be over. The next phase would be to produce a still-expensive, but still very attractive and desirable sedan vehicle. That was the Model S. Then for phase 3, they would introduce a more affordable, large-scale EV that could sell in the millions. That is the Model 3, announced on March 31st of this year, and for which there are now over 400,000 pre-orders, proving there is a robust demand for EVs, just like Tesla always said there was.
If Apple were "the previous Tesla," then Steve Jobs would have announced, in 1976, or, to be fair, since Elon's blog post happened 3 years after Tesla was founded, so let's say 1979, that Apple's long-term master plan involved launching a primitive personal computer, the Apple I, then a more sophisticated machine, the Apple II, then really change the world with the third generation graphical machine, which would ultimately be known as Macintosh. Or, better yet, Apple would have announced, in 1979, that the first generation of the company was going to be personal computing, which would enable them to evolve into a second generation of personal music devices and music selling (eventually the iPod and iTunes), and then really go all-out with the third-generation platform of smartphones and tablets that would sell to hundreds of millions of people worldwide, changing the world.
But Apple made no such announcement. Largely because the technology didn't exist for the second and third generations back in 1979.
Tesla, on the other hand, has had a crystal clear vision, a vision that has been remarkably consistent to anyone paying attention, for ten years straight. And they have been executing like clockwork against that vision. Today they announced that they are accelerating their plans for ramping up the new Model 3, with the goal of shipping 500,000 cars in 2018, and potentially a million by 2020, two years ahead of what we all were led to believe until today. This is because of the 400,000 pre-orders for the Model 3, of course, which has lit a fire under the company.
Wall Street, and even more so, the tech media, has been generally slow to understand and appreciate how consistently Tesla has been working against this 2006 master plan. Even though it was right there, laid out in plain pixels since 2006. All they keep doing is looking at the quarterly results and even the slightest deviation from guidance for the next quarter would result in a butchering of the stock price. They've been either impatient, or bored, or had their expectations raised then dashed. They've been trying to position Tesla as an Apple when in fact Tesla, as a car company first, and now really more of a transformational energy company second, has a completely different model, vision, set of priorities, and product life cycle cadence, than Apple. Plus, it's building big complicated pieces of hardware and software that weigh in the tons, rather than tiny handheld gadgets that weigh in the ounces.
Rumors are flying that Apple is building a car. But does Apple have the culture to switch from personal digital devices to multi-ton transportation vehicles? The media so badly wants to paint Apple as, in a way, the next Tesla. And if anything, I think Apple aspires to be the next Tesla. I don't think Tesla now, or ever, aspires to be the next Apple. I think Apple's peaked. They could buy Tesla, or Google could. But the culture clash would be phenomenally bad in both instances. Google is an advertising business. Apple a personal digital device and content-distribution business. Neither has the DNA for vehicles. I suspect that both will try to change their DNA (Google is more obviously trying to do that since they became Alphabet, using that corporate arrangement as a way to figure out what is going to make them something other than just an advertising business).
For me, the answer to the big question is, Tesla is the first Tesla, not the next Apple. They are doing something different. The other car companies are reluctant to admit it, but they will all need to aspire to become the next Teslas, but none have the DNA to pull it off, I don't think. I suspect as Tesla keeps growing and hits 1 million vehicles shipped in 4-5 years, we'll start seeing some car companies merge with each other, or declare bankruptcy, thanks to outdated business models (ahem: auto dealers and old-skool franchise laws), outdated technology (gas/diesel engines), and outdated manufacturing models (outsource everything except the motors).
As an investment, I think Tesla continues to represent an insanely great opportunity to make some money on the long term. It is a wildly volatile stock, and will continue to be. The world economy could tank tomorrow. A madman in the White House could wind up being worse than madmen in other palaces, and start WWIII. But barring those macroeconomic risks, I can't think of a better thing to invest in than Tesla. It may, with the Model 3, have its iPod moment, or iPhone moment, like Apple did. But it is not the next Apple, and for that I am extremely grateful. Apple has said for 20 years, "Think different." Tesla took that seriously. Tesla is different.
Get the audio track "Marble Machine" by Wintergatan:
I randomly stumbled upon the hashtag #safarilive on Twitter the other day, and noticed everyone was talking about what seemed to be a safari that was going on at that very moment in South Africa.
A little searching resulted in the discovery of an outfit called WildEarth.tv which among other things operates live, unedited, noncommercial safaris in the huge 7000 sq mi Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa. Twice a day, you can go to YouTube and see the live "Safari Sunrise" and "Safari Sunset" broadcasts, sometimes 2-3 hours in length.
What is remarkable about these broadcasts is that they're the real deal. This is what "reality television" should be. Raw, unedited, authentic. You never know what is happening next: the ranger may be driving along trying to reach a pack of lions before sunset when suddenly he get acid flies in his eye, forcing him to pull over as he's temporarily blinded; a random water buffalo may suddenly appear out of nowhere, just standing there staring at the humans in the truck (old South African lore says that water buffalos always look at humans the way someone looks at you when you owe them money). Around a bend may be some gaunt vultures drying off up in a dead tree. A minute later, there might be a group of pregnant, lazy lionesses snoozing in the sun right along the dirt road when suddenly a tiny tortoise walks right over and cozes up against a sleeping lion's front leg! All along the rangers, who are walking/driving encyclopedias of nature facts and figures and stories, help the viewer appreciate what they're seeing and hearing. And, this being the age of social media, they even have little earpieces allowing the rangers to (one supposes) receive a private radio signal back at the command center, where someone is telling the ranger about a tweet or email question that just came in that moment... so the driver turns to the camera and says something like, "Good question, Amy from North Dakota...." and then rattles off an answer.
Unlike the usual fast-edit, hyperbolic, tense-music-backed American "run! fear! danger! extreme! it's out to KILL you" bullshit nature programming shown on Animal Planet, Disney nature movies, National Geographic Channel (owned by FOX, remember), and even PBS's nature series, or the slow-motion, super-productions that come out from the BBC, WildEarth is no "best-of" and severely cut and rearranged and one might even say fictional nature broadcast. This shows the animals as they are -- or aren't -- at that very moment. Which means, for the most part, you encounter them just hanging around, feeding, raising their young, marking their territory, being amused or annoyed by the curious humans driving around in those noisy, stinky, petrol-burning machines.
It's an extraordinary, well-run operation, prone to occasional technology glitches, but still, the idea that I can fire up my AppleTV, feed a live YouTube signal into my HD projector, and curl up and watch on a 12-foot screen a LIVE broadcast in glorious high-resolution video, of a safari going on right at that moment some 10,000 miles away is just plain cool.
I see movies. Most of them movies that Americans are completely unaware of, or skip.
I'm going to try something new for 2016 in this blog. I'll update the list of movies I've seen, but present them in order from least-best to best in 2016. So each time I post a new blog post with this list, it'll be revised.
Here we go. I've seen a dozen movies so far this year. Remember, my opinion only, from least-best (#12) to best (#1).
12. THE WITCH. Acting fine, costumes fine, production fine, photography fine (I think; theatre I saw it in must've lazily left projector in 1/2-brightness mode after showing a 3D movie; it was severely dark and hard to see throughout), story fine, reviews were generally excellent, but... meh. Just didn't buy into it. Too much madness in the current world, don't need to see what irrational raving totally-lost-it madness was like in 1630.
11. 2016 OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORTS. I've seen numerous of these anthologies over the years, and this one was pretty forgettable compared to most, which is surprising and disappointing. Worst one: Bill Plympton's piece.
10. CHI-RAQ. I get it, but, ugh. But, I did go see it.
9. THE TREASURE. A very simple modest little film, not bad, ending disappointed. Would drive most American audiences crazy. I dare you to sit through it.
8. BROOKLYN Another 1952-era setting, like CAROL which was a better film. This was fine EXCEPT the last half hour, when the protagonist started doing things that made absolutely no sense and ruined the whole thing for me.
7. HAIL, CAESAR! Perfectly fine film, well-made, well-acted, sometimes funny. Kind of like RAY DONOVAN meets HUDSUCKER PROXY. But still... meh. Instantly forgettable entertainment.
6. FLOWERS (aka LOREAK). Took me half the movie to figure out the language was Basque and that the area was northern Spain. Interesting plot. Not too bad.
5. HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. If you're a film person, this is a pretty great documentary. Learned lots. Then, went and Netflix-rented the 50s version of Hitch's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and hated it, it was disgustingly dated. So, go figure.
4. JOY. Liked it a great deal. Could relate a lot to the entrepreneurial mission and challenges. Also learned lots about how QVC worked.
3. WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. Michael Moore's new thing. Not superb, he's a sore for sight eyes, but at times funny, illuminating, lots to learn, lots to think about. Go see it. Discuss afterwards.
2. THE BIG SHORT. Loved it. Went to see it twice. Can't recommend it enough.
1. REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM. Best thing I have seen in 2016 so far. If only every single American would see it, think about it, discuss it, we might wake up and realize what's going on (particularly with the fiasco that is the 2016 presidential election and the corporate media coverage of it).
There's been a lot of news in the past week about Twitter planning to introduce "algorithm enhancements" to Twitter feeds, and how users are furious over this, complaining it's one more example of Twitter trying to be like Facebook. It's Twitter management's ongoing struggle to ruin what makes Twitter unique and special in order to no doubt appease Twitter shareholders and advertisers by making the service behave more like Facebook, in the process hopefully boosting Twitter's revenue and market value.
This reminds me of this great Louis CK moment on the Conan O'Brien show:
Dear Twitter management: your company has created a magnificent tool for the people of the WORLD. There are HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of people (okay, subtract all the bots, but still) who use and enjoy your service, and find out all kinds of things in near real time, almost always beating out TV and news media. Also, it's a great way to follow the thoughts and observations of people whose thoughts and observations you find interesting. Here we are in 2016 and this amazing service exists and ALL THESE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE use it ALL OVER THE WORLD, it is truly a marvel of TECHNOLOGY, as Louis CK has argued with airplanes, which, after all, enable you to SIT IN A CHAIR IN THE SKY.
So why is it, Twitter, that you have to fuck that up? Why ruin it? Twitter users love Twitter largely because IT. IS. NOT. FACEBOOK. It is different. It is special. It is a completely different thing. And yet you seem determined to ruin that which makes it special. Why? Because your board is pressuring you to? Your institutional investors? Your big billionaire investors, looking for a return on their pre-IPO investment?
How many of these bigshot investors use the system every day? How many of them appreciate how GREAT the service is, as-is? The more you tweak it, the more you try to make it like that other thing, the less value it is. Why do that? Would it be so wrong to just say enough is enough, and appreciate that even one percent growth a year is wonderful? What is wrong with three hundred million users? It is a PHENOMENON! A miracle of technology. You should be so incredibly proud. Why ruin that? Why cave to this absurd pressure to double that size, or triple, or more? Who cares?
It's a times like these I wish Twitter had never gone public, and had kept its staff small. Find modest ways to monetize the business, sure, no harm in that. What's wrong with say ONE BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR in revenue? Does it have to be two? Ten? One hundred? Couldn't you just keep the employee count to a few hundred people, and operate it indefinitely at a reasonable burn rate? Why does it need 3000 employees?
I'd love to see Twitter's management wake up and get a clue about what's important and unique about the service, and stop trying to change it. Your users don't want it changed. Or, change it in meaningful ways that benefit users. It boggles my mind that Twitter has such little vision and imagination and is incapable of striking the right balance between innovation, monetization, and maintaining a happy user community.
One of the better cover songs I've heard in recent times.
I used to love Netflix. The scope and range of their offerings far surpassed the site's shortcomings, which included an inability to filter out stuff I wasn't interested in. But that was back when one rented discs. I still do rent discs, and consider that the only good part of Netflix in 2015. But the streaming is the focus of the business, so one has to deal with it.
Here we are in late 2015, and Netflix continues to race towards whatever it is it believes it needs to be racing towards. All I know, is it is racing away from me. How about you? Are the streamable offerings on Netflix relevant to you? The majority? I bet not.
The level of desperation at Netflix can be seen in their wave of site redesigns over the past year or two that continue to attempt to conceal the lack of content available for streaming. There's such a dearth of material available, it would be screamingly obvious to customers, so they attempt to conceal that by a lot of cheap content lacking much merit, and by creating their own content like House of Cards. Some of Netflix's content is okay. Most is about as memorable as the movie that just finished five minutes ago on Syfy but you already can't recall what it was about.
It's Time for NOTFLIX.
What I have wanted for 13 years, ever since joining Netflix, is the ability to simply tell Netflix what I do NOT want to see. Ever. As in, don't even suggest it to me. But they are afraid to do that, is my guess. Because if they did, in 2015, the result would be nearly-empty or entirely-empty web pages on Netflix's site.
A company like Netflix is too afraid to go down that path. Which is a shame. Because I would LOVE it. If Netflix went down this path, it would indeed mean, over time, that more things would be saved as "I don't want to see that" than Netflix is able to add to their streaming collection, with the result being very little to nothing available to stream.
But would that really be so bad? Seriously. People celebrate and even brag on Twitter about achieving "zero inbox." Why not "zero Netflix"?
Take another look at that Recently Added screenshot above. There is no ability for the user to tell Netflix the following: "I don't ever want to see 'This isn't Funny' nor do I ever want to see 'China's Forbidden City', nor do I ever want to see 'Yukia Yuna is a Hero', nor do I want to see . . . " well, you get the idea. I would go through every one of these utterly crap TV shows or made-for-Netflix movies and say NO to Netflix. Then the next time I visited this page, the ONLY things I should see are new things, and things I did not indicate "I don't ever want to see this" on.
I call this extremely-filtered version of Netflix "Notflix." Because it knows what I do NOT want to see. Which is the vast majority of swill that passes for content these days on the service. But the great thing about Notflix is how easy it would be to keep an eye on. When new stuff appears, as in really new, stuff I don't know about yet, I can easily see that, and not have to slog through all the crap -- face it, it's filler -- that Netflix stuffs their meagre offerings with so that they at least look like more than you can count at first glance.
Funny how Netflix keeps content in the "Recently Added" bin for months, possibly years on end. Seriously: there's junk there that I have seen for months on end, still being passed of as "Recently Added". It's a pain to have to shovel through that stuff either on the Netflix website, one of the Netflix apps, or the Netflix thing on AppleTV. It's all the same: stuffed to the gills with filler.
A Notflix service would let me quickly indicate "I don't ever want to see this, stop showing it to me, period" to any content. The list of such content would grow large quickly. THAT IS OKAY. What would be left would be a very small set of offerings. THAT TOO IS OKAY. Really, Netflix, that would be perfectly fine. Achieving "Zero Netflix" would be a good thing.
Years ago I asked Netflix to add the ability to tell the service to simply HIDE forever certain genres I never want to see, never will see, period: kids content, sports, anime, faith and spirituality, zombie crap, Marvel comic book crap, all kinds of genres. It is still not possible to do that. A Notflix service would of course offer this ability, so that entire swaths of new incoming content would be auto-hidden from customers who already indicated to hide it.
I can see the day I give up on Netflix. If you look at that ever-growing array of streamable offerings on AppleTV, Netflix is just another box. There's really nothing great there, nor is the brand any different than the other array of brands on the long scrolling AppleTV menu. Once again, Hollywood likes to imagine itself as a set of branded silos, believing consumers like silos. We don't. We never bought record albums based on the label. We don't buy books based on the publisher. We don't go to movies distributed only by Sony or Universal. These are Hollywood fictions. And it's no different with streamable content.
I'll continue to rent blu-rays from Netflix as long as it makes financial sense. Even that is questionable. But for streaming? Netflix is increasingly just not worth the trouble.
And the most awesome fire-hose of scientific jargon you've ever heard from the narrator. I dare you to try to keep up with what he's saying....
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