Silicon Valley and Elon Musk

When you live with someone, and they decide to do something, you are also being small scale forced to do it. If the something is cooking, you get to smell it for a while then hopefully eat some of it. If it’s purchasing a Gamecube, you are pretty much guaranteed to lose some of your own time to it. And if it’s taking a class, you will most likely get to learn a few things, yourself.

Hank is currently enrolled in two online courses through UC Berkeley – stats and computer programming. The stats class is… stats. Highly applicable and, by definition, pretty predictable. But the computer programming class is shaping up to be really cool, and why wouldn’t it? Computers and the path to their development are insanely interesting and they will be relevant probably forever. Any skill with them and ability to conceptualize them is excellent to have. Plus, Hank gets to do some of his assignments on this cute little thing:

So little and cute and primary color-ed

I listen avidly when he talks to me about what he’s learning (er… I am always listening avidly to everything he says, but I listen EXTRA avidly when it’s computer time), and try not to spend too much time daydreaming about what kind of computer genius I’d be if I had started teaching myself about them when my neural plasticity was higher. One of his assignments is to watch Silicon Valley. The PBS documentary, not TJ Miller smoking weed and bossing nerds around. We watched it last night via Amazon Video and I don’t know if my amygdala has been popping off lately, or I’m primed to be inspired due to my apprehension about turning 25, or what, but it was seriously, like, so inspiring!!!!$*?!

Learning the significance and implication and touching on the science of what these men invented is fascinating – transistors, semi-conductors, integrated circuits. Even more fascinating is the profiling of the men themselves; the etiquettes they broke, struggles they overcame, and culture they shaped. An example of the first, a year after being hand-selected to work at William Shockley’s Shockley Semiconductor, a group of eight young men made the difficult decision to leave the company as a group when Shockley’s deteriorating leadership style made the situation intolerable, despite their best efforts to remedy the situation by speaking to him and higher-ups. This decision, at a time when it was ubiquitously understood that once hired, you stayed at a company forever, and when your boss has just won a Nobel Prize, was pretty badass. After a long string of rejections, the “traitorous eight” were able to secure funding as Fairchild Semiconductor – a new division of Fairchild Camera and Instrument. They went on to accomplish amazing things, including a huge contract to supply the Apollo space program with Robert Noyce’s integrated circuit (microchip). Noyce also went on to co-found Intel (casual).

Those eight men (plus the numerous others recruited along the way) were passionate about the work and innovation and pushed themselves constantly. At Intel, Noyce cultivated the laid-back, open, equal culture which is now indicative of Silicon Valley companies and (luckily) spreading. Not to mention, at one point in the documentary, a former employee describes the environment at Fairchild Semiconductor as “part college dorm slash frat house, part country club… locker room.” Working with seven of your most brilliant colleagues in a California valley populated mostly by your company’s employees, selling stuff primarily to the US government and kicking it with your buddies at the local dive, Wagon Wheel, after? Actually, sounds more like the TJ Miller show than I expected…

Both feeling very excited about the prospect of technology and innovation, we rounded off the evening with several Elon Musk interview videos. I would say that as a household, we are actually behind the average when it comes to knowing what Elon is up to these days. I have some negative memories associated with Tesla (unrelated to the actual company), and Hank has thought Elon is a meme for a while. However, the keynote I attended a few weeks back in Monterey ended his presentation by expressing his great desire to meet Elon, and hearing that from him immediately following such an impressive presentation was *just* enough to make me consider I may have not been giving Elon enough credit – (seriously… that’s what it took for me to even consider that I may have condemned him too soon, despite that the whole world has been screaming at me that he’s a genius for years… Humans are funny in how firmly we hold on once we’ve decided we believe something’s true, despite evidence to the contrary… and by funny, I mean it’s a problem) – and Hank was game too.

I learned that SpaceX is actually a legit thing, and not just sort of “in the works,” as I had thought (embarrassing). I learned he’s sunk a great deal of his personal fortune into funding the project, (a similarity with some of the men from the documentary), because financiers don’t touch projects so unprecedented (sucks, but makes sense), but he believes in his ideas more than he believes in keeping his 100 million dollars. And I learned he is a cringe-worthy public speaker.

I also learned that some people think he’s an alien, and I could totally see him pretending to suck at public speaking to blend in. I could also see him purposely failing landings for a bit before he did it successfully to disguise his obviously superior alien technology. I could also see him being tasked by his species to mention the idea that perhaps a simulation indistinguishable from reality has already been invented and we are in it, because it is in fact true, and they want us to know, but gradually, so we don’t do anything too rash. Though they did kind of mess up, because who is going to believe that one of the most brilliant people currently alive is this hung up on Amber Heard.

As I fell asleep last night, I contemplated several points from the documentary which align with how I’ve been thinking lately. My circle (myself included) has long spoken rather teasingly about Elon Musk and other info-age golden kids, as naive in their idealism. And I do think it’s true that with the way media (social and otherwise) is framing stuff right now, you have to be naive or crazy to think your ideas are unique or brilliant or valuable enough to succeed, but the people whose ideas are taking off don’t have anything over you except that they acted (unless you’re really not smart). Whether consciously or not, this negative view of Elon is sort of motivated by the fear that if we were to actually admit to giving something 100%, we may fail. And we probably would fail at least once, but opening ourselves up to the opportunity to fail is half the battle. Plus, the alternative is never trying. And there are a lot of people who never try, but I’m not willing to be one of those people. And I’m not even the smartest one in my friend group. I’m hoping that my level of idiocy in pursuing my ideas will be enough to inspire others to do so, until me and everyone I know is spending their time in a positive, engaging, fulfilling way.