Working For Elon Musk

One of my favorite types of science fiction character is found in the books of Ben Bova; a business mogul who through brilliance, hard work, and the force of personality drives mankind to a whole new level in areas such as commercializing space, colonizing the stars, battling governments, and thwarting competitors.

It is possible to name a few such characters in real life — influencing the electricity industry was George Westinghouse, automobiles was Henry Ford, and more recently Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. With Elon’s drive we may all finally be driving electric cars within 20 years and spreading out into space with his cheap rockets. Due to the latter he may be the closest yet to one of Bova’s characters.

So what’s it like to work for Elon Musk at Tesla or SpaceX? Most of us have read articles about him, and much that he’s written himself, as well as watched some of his many interviews and talks. But to get some idea of what it’s like to work for him I greatly enjoyed the insight from Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. To write it Vance had many interviews with Musk as well as those who work with him or have in the past. Through this we get a fascinating look at a contemporary mogul of engineering.

The Hiring Process

Working on the Dragon heat shield
Working on the Dragon heat shield (Source: SpaceX)

SpaceX looks for more than engineers with top grades. They look for type A personalities, engineers who have excelled in robot competitions, made racing cars, have built unusual vehicles and have been making things all of their lives. They have to be passionate and work well in a team and have real experience in bending metal.

SpaceX takes walk-ins but also recruits from colleges and goes through research papers to target engineers with specific skills. When wooing candidates at trade shows and conferences, initial contact is sometimes made in a cloak-and-dagger fashion by handing out a blank envelope containing an invitation to meet in a nearby bar or restaurant. Those who show up find they’re part of a small, select group and are made to feel special.

As with other tech companies they go through a battery of interviews, some informal, some challenging with quizzes. For coders, rather than being asked to solve problems with a few lines of code, programs run into the hundreds of lines. Once they make it to the end of the process they are asked to write an essay for Musk about why they want to work at SpaceX.

The final step for at least the first one thousand hires was a meeting with Musk; this was for janitors and engineers alike. The meeting could last from thirty seconds to fifteen minutes. Reports are that the interviews run from torturous to the sublime, being asked from just one question to many, and he always gives a riddle to solve. One such riddle is “You’re standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?”

Start-ups And Silicon Valley Companies

Once you’re hired, you’ll feel like you’re part of a start-up or at least in a Silicon Valley company. Both SpaceX and Tesla started life as start-ups and given their non-stop innovative goals, still have much of that start-up feel. The Silicon Valley feel comes from Musk’s background running Zip2 and PayPal.

SpaceX Hawthorne facility
SpaceX Hawthorne facility (Source: SpaceX)

Robert Downey Junior toured SpaceX’s facility in 2007 to observe Musk as part of his research for his role as Iron Man. He said the facility looked like a giant, exotic hardware store, with enthusiastic employees zipping around working on machines. “Young white-collar engineers interacted with blue-collar assembly line workers, and they all seemed to share a genuine excitement for what they were doing… It felt like a radical start-up company,” Downey said.

But start-ups take their toll, causing engineer churn. While Tesla was still in its early days, employees who’d enjoyed the engineering challenges of the first five years were burnt-out. One didn’t think a mass market electric car would ever work. Another left to form his own start-up making electric delivery trucks. Yet another who’d been an important, can-do engineer felt he’d lost his effectiveness when the company grew to three hundred people and didn’t want to suffer through another five years getting the sedan to market. But with Tesla’s strong brand there were plenty of other top talent that they were able to hire, including ones from the automotive industry who knew what was needed to get the Roadster to market.

Both SpaceX and Tesla still have a high turnover rate.

Impossible Schedules

Falcon 1 at Kwaj
Falcon 1 at Kwaj (Source: SpaceX)

Most of us have been given impossible schedules by our bosses or been affected by the stereotypical salespeople who make impossible promises regarding how long a project will take. Musk certainly shares this affliction. His initial plan for SpaceX’s first launch of the Falcon 1 rocket was to be just fifteen months after the company was formed, in November 2003, when instead it happened in March 2006. A similar prediction happened for Tesla’s first vehicle.

According to one employee, “Elon has always been optimistic. That’s the nice word. He can be a downright liar about when things need to get done. He will pick the most aggressive time schedule imaginable assuming everything goes right, and then accelerate it by assuming that everyone can work harder.”

Employees have noticed a special trick Musk uses to get people to meet their deadlines. Instead of saying “You have to do this by Friday at two P.M.,” he says, “I need the impossible done by Friday at two P.M. Can you do it?” When an employee says yes, instead of doing it for Musk, he or she does it for themselves having signed up for it.

His Intimidating Mental Abilities

A cult has formed within the companies around Elon Musk. That’s not too unusual. I’ve worked for a company where one of the founders not only ran the company but still wrote code and led design meetings. A company’s product is usually a founder’s baby and he or she tends to know everything about it. Such founders usually get a lot of respect. Though not all of them have created companies that make reusable rockets or mass market electric cars. That earns extra street cred.

Musk gets some of his aura from his ability to absorb information with near-flawless recall, often pumped from his employees. He’d grill them about some component or material. One employee reported, “I thought at first that he was challenging me to see if I knew my stuff. Then I realized he was trying to learn things. He would quiz you until he learned ninety percent of what you know.”

During the 2007 and 2008 battle to get the Tesla Roadster costs down one employee stated about presentations, “If you put a number on the projector that does not make sense, he will spot it. He doesn’t miss details.”

Musk doesn’t like it when an employee tells him something can’t be done for the cost he thinks it can be done for or on his schedule. If you’re in the way, he’ll take over the project and accomplish exactly what he said was possible, while also running his two companies. It’s difficult to work for someone with this knack without expecting the same out of yourself.

Encouraging Employees To Spend Wisely

Testing the Tesla at Argonne National Laboratory
Testing the Tesla. By Argonne National Laboratory [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Spending wisely means being both thrifty and frivolous depending on the circumstances. Musk keeps a tight rein on spending. You can’t blame him since much of the money in the companies is his. But at SpaceX he’s also trying to reach the elusive cost per kilo to orbit to $1000 while at Tesla he’s trying to produce an electric car affordable by everyone.

Around 2007 when the Tesla Roadster was still under development and the cost was looking like it would be in the $200,000 range with the manufacturing costs being ambiguous and in need of lowering, Musk gave a speech saying, “we would work on Saturdays and Sundays and sleep under desks until it got done.” When someone objected, Musk said, “I would tell those people they will get to see their families a lot when we go bankrupt.”

But he was methodical in getting that cost down, too. In December the motor cost $6,500. Musk wanted it to cost $3,800 by April and costs were plotted and analyzed monthly. There was hell to pay if you fell behind and some were let go.

With SpaceX it’s necessary to teach employees to spend wisely because many come from aerospace companies with huge government contracts and have to be converted to more of a Silicon Valley mentality. He teaches them to make trade-offs between costs and productivity, saying that everything is a function of their burn rate. If he thinks a part can be found at a cheaper price then he’ll tell them so. Meanwhile, he once rented a plane to get a part to Kwaj (the Kwajalein Atoll) in the Pacific where they were working on launching the Falcon 1. The plane rental cost ninety-thousand dollars to get the part but it saved the loss of an entire workday, this at a time when the burn rate was a hundred thousand dollars a day.

Working On Rockets And Electric Cars Silicon Valley Style

SpaceX Dragon recovery team
SpaceX Dragon recovery team (Source: SpaceX)

One of the main things that makes all of Musk’s above mentioned foibles worth it is what his engineering staff gets to work on. For those with a passion for aerospace, rather than work at companies that are content to stick with rockets from the 1960s, they get to work on reusable rockets, with a goal of lowering launch costs to make it affordable (for thousands of people to colonize Mars no less).

For those wanting to push the envelope on automobiles, rather than work on the centuries old internal combustion engine they get to work on high performance electric vehicles that have features like ludicrous mode, and are also semi-autonomous, are leaders in safety and are innovative right down to the ways the doors open and close. Everyone wants to work on something new, to pioneer the undiscovered, and to be successful in doing so. There’s a lot that goes along with that and the gamble isn’t for everyone, but the rewards for success are something these engineers will carry with them the rest of their lives.

Musk has done all this Silicon Valley style with all the usual Silicon Valley company perks. And after all, who wouldn’t want to come to work only to see spaceships that have actually been to orbit hanging from the ceiling and a mission control room behind a multistory glass wall straight out of a Bond movie villain’s lair.

163 thoughts on “Working For Elon Musk

  1. I’ve observed that CEOs who have a technical background and actually drive design decisions make a better and revolutionary company than one with a CEO who has an MBA and who strives to keep the company financially viable and make the shareholders happy. There are many examples for the former such as Tesla, SpaceX, Apple, Microsoft etc. There are not many examples for the latter because that’s the point. What do you guys think?

    1. Depends… are we talking about TECH companies success or just business success in general? Because MBAs seem to have made huge giants out of banks and other financial institutions… And not that I like them or anything… but in the end those are the companies that rule the world.

      1. It might not be easy for a CEO to foster a successful company, but it’s a sh!t load easier if all they have to do is produce pieces of paper with numbers written on them rather than something tangible like a tech company has to.

        Unfortunately ‘success’ is measured in dollars, not in the contribution to the betterment of the species and planet.

        1. That’s a very naive view. Just because a bank, charity, building contractor or some other type of company doesn’t produce a piece of software or a laptop doesn’t disqualify them from the notion that they’re impressive. A sweeping statement claiming that tech companies always produce tangible produce is even more naive.

          And most tech companies do literally nothing to contribute to the betterment of the species and/or planet.

          An MBA is just as likely as a tech person to found a successful company (tech or otherwise) and there are PLENTY of examples of both MBA’s founding tech companies, and techies founding non-tech companies – all with varying degrees of success. And yeah, success is measured in dollars because we’re in a capitalist society. Even Musk needs to get his companies to turn a profit.

    2. Translation: “I’ve only observed a couple companies and am brazen enough to make a broad correlation.”

      I think your understanding of Apple and Microsoft’s design decisions making a better and revolutionary company is up for debate.

      1. While “better and revolutionary” is unarguably subjective, it’s far less subjective to say that Apple and Microsoft’s design decisions (made not by classic MBAs, but by engineers/designers) led to success by most definitions.

        1. MS got there by predatory business practices, Apple did it through appealing to fashion and snobbery. Old Apple, the earlier Macs, sold on ease of use, and having lots of software available for certain industries (design and graphics). Apples were sold to “just work”. I’m sure they needed their share of tending, and could go wrong often enough, but the users blamed themselves rather than the machine, Apple had a sortof cult-like thing going, where Mac users would protect the brand, even making allowances for faults. Though a closed hardware system meant faults were easier to prevent.

          Post-Imac Apple was basically down to designers like Jonathan Ives, making Apple’s stuff into good-looking products, status symbols. You’d pay more, and get technically less, but it looked cool. Other tech companies have never really mastered that. Because engineers don’t have any aesthetics. Apple put the designers in charge of the products, and made the engineers produce things that fit into the cases.

          There’s a market for “designer” products, that are expensive on purpose, just to show that you can afford them. This appeals to everyone, not just Cartier watches and yachts, ordinary people like to be a bit flashy. Iphones are priced just nicely for that. With a ridiculous ripoff 5-year contract, even the poorest people can afford one, and show off for 2 weeks before the next model comes out.

          The Iphone has the Apple Look. It’s definitely an Apple, next to Mac OS and the Ipod and all the rest, you could tell they’re all family. It looks superior, looks it’s price. But, mostly, it’s not even about that, many people have appaling taste. Really it just has to look like it costs 600 quid. Or people have to know, one way or another, that it costs 600 quid. Costing 600 quid is the Iphone’s primary selling feature, all the rest is secondary.

          Me being a geek, I have one of the cheapest Androids, with quad-core and loads of RAM, because I only care about the technical stuff. Looks like any other Android, it’s black and a rectangle. I’d rather have it than anything Apple, even if I wasn’t paying for it. Partly because I don’t trust Apple (though Google aren’t much better), but partly if I’m going to make an impression, it’s going to be “isn’t into conspicuous consumption”. Another sort of message, really, but that’s not why I bought it.

    3. In my experience you need both skill sets to make a successful company. Engineering talent makes awesome things possible and more likely, but without the business savvy to keep costs down and charge enough to make a profit the company will go belly up very quickly!

  2. Not a hack… but thie article is just perfect. :)
    I’d be happy to see Hackaday become a “magazine” a-la Wired or Popular mechanics style but without all the bullshitty stories they usually carry. Past couple years have shown there is more to this site than just “hacks”…
    Keep it going guys…

      1. HAHA! With the amount of shit fed through ads these days you cannot be serious.

        A few sites I browse use a static JPG linking to the advertiser. I actually click those links on occasion – it’s obviously an ad the site owner cares about.

      2. Guy with adblocker enabled on my website tells me to disable adblocker on his website.

        Runs article about Musk just like the magazines he feels better than.

        I leave adblocker enabled….

  3. Visionaries are typically get a bad rep for being cold and calculating. Usually this is due to them letting folks go when they don’t meet the requirements set. People have to realize it’s no longer about the people when you work for someone like Musk. He’s not called a visionary because he’s a philanthropist that cares about you and your family, he obviously has a vision that he WILL achieve no matter how many people he has to go through.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking you matter, at the end of the day it’s the product or service you provide that will continue your employment. A good job will never love you back.

    Further, if you think that his book is not an autobiography you’re kidding yourself. It was a marketing move to make Musk seem approachable by the consumer.

    trends by keywords:,%2Fm%2F0dr90d,%2Fm%2F03nzf1

    book release news for the time:,+SpaceX,+and+the+Quest+for+a+Fantastic+Future&tbs=cdr:1,cd_min:4/1/2015,cd_max:8/1/2015,sbd:1&start=770

    1. Don’t fool yourself into believing you are unique in your personal needs, juvenile manipulative rhetoric, or professional skill set. Managers literally have heard the same BS a thousand times before you arrived…

      I’ve fired many smart people for being unproductive socio-paths — you know, the people that tell everyone how great they are, contribute nothing of real substance, and try to exploit other people at work. These “smart” people usually end up back in academics where their behaviour can push a bureaucratic career forwards, or in another company for awhile where their “newness” excuses their lack of ethics.

      Elon is notable because most large companies don’t retain a technical person as CEO for very long.

      He has my sympathy for suffering fools…

    2. Successful “visionaries” are often sociopaths. Or perhaps in tech, autistic. Either way, they don’t hold any value in other human beings. And Musk’s trick of getting people to work ridiculous, health-damaging hours “voluntarily” isn’t anything for him to be proud of. I’m sure they know their volunteering, or lack of, will have consequences quite soon in their career.

      It’s as much exploitation as when people had to work in cloth mills all day every day. It’s probably as bad for your health. These people need criticising, not lionising. Just because someone’s young and has the time to spare, doesn’t mean they should be induced, or even allowed, to regularly work ludicrous hours, generally for no extra pay. For someone with a life outside work, considered on an hourly rate you’d probably be better off slinging burgers.

      If these practices are needed regularly, then Elon needs to take on more staff. If a business is only viable under sweatshop terms, it’s a business that harms society.

      1. It has a name:
        If no one in your department is over 30, than you’re going to be outsourced eventually anyway.

        Real talent means people will seek the easiest solution requiring minimal effort.
        Unfortunately, 90% of people focus on the minimal effort part, and fiscal responsibility leaves few options.

        If you own a company, your perspective on things changes rather quickly.
        Human beings can be fairly terrible creatures when money is involved.

      2. You sound like you’ve been burned before. You should try to look at it from their point of view. They have a dream to accomplish, some folks are driven to the point of exhaustion while others want to take it slow and keep pace. I like to think I’m a member of the former. If you can’t keep up with the rest of your team, perhaps you need to look elsewhere for employment? Something that’s a bit more your speed. Don’t even fool yourself into thinking that your CEO is slacking off like your boss does. Ever try to focus a company with 30,000+ employees? Didn’t think so, your problem is with your boss NOT the company.

        The relationship you have with your job and position is not the fault of your employer. They have “needs” that NEED to be met(funny how that works). If you no longer fit those needs, you should be replaced to continue the progress of the company. As a professional, you should be looking forward so that the needs of the company can be met with your skills as an employee. Workforce stagnation is a real threat to the bottom line and typically can set off a chain reaction that will cripple if not destroy a good company.

        If you feel offended because you were let go because you could not perform, just stop. It’s all business, this isn’t the 1950s where everyone is promised a job. If you still can’t get past the hurt and anger of losing your position, grow up and put on your “big-boy” pants. I see 20-30something folks get so butthurt over the dumbest shit. If you focused half as much effort on finding a suitable job for your skills as you do on whining then you would never have a problem. People these days have such a sense of entitlement that they feel they are obliged to have a high-paying job(I’m looking at you $15 minimum wage). There’s no way in hell that it’s fair that some highschool dropout can make close to what I made with a two year degree.

        Politics aside, there are some extremely bad practices that companies have that cause a huge negative impact on the workforce. All I can say, do your research BEFORE you apply for that job. Until then you take your entitlement and rage, and shove them WAAAAAYYY up inside your butthole.

  4. So Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet. Ruthless intelligent businessman driven by flawed ideals.

    Deep down we all want to live in a sustainable world and explore space, we just need to be practical about how to accomplish it. It’s true some Luddites employ empty arguments against ‘green’ technology. Unfortunately Elon’s obstinate cult views every argument in this light. Solar, electric cars and space might give you the nice fuzzy feelings but are simply not practical yet.

    Not, “That’s why we need to just invest a little more money to make them practical (for perpetuity)”. Rather “There’s a fundamental flaw which no amount of money will change”.

    Solar peaked and still makes less financial sense than just investing money in the stock market. It only has a ROI because of unsustainable energy credits.

    Practical and cheap electric car technology has been around since the 80’s. The only issue which STILL remains is the battery technology. It’s too expensive and Elon creating a monopoly (Gigafactory) will not help.

    Space is awesome, but all Elon is doing is milking the government here. The money spent on a single space experiment could fund ten terrestrial endeavors. It’s a lot like society extorted into spending massive amounts on health insurance to fund pharmaceutical research.

    Definitely eager to read all the fanboy responses.

    1. Whoa, put down the Logical Fallacies for Dummies book and step away from the keyboard.

      Your criticism of the cult of Musk are toothless without actual fact. Making assertions about what “we all want” isn’t useful (some people don’t give a damn about space exploration, but want reusable rockets to deploy non-sustainable-world burning lasers, for example).

      Maybe I can help tease out some facts from assertions by asking questions:

      How are electric cars not practical yet? Given the number of Tesla’s I see on the street, they’re at least as practical as most other motor vehicles.

      Solar peaked? My solar panels have already paid for themselves, weren’t subsidized by anyone (nor were they cheap because the manufacturer was subsidized), and actually produce more electricity than my household uses. I, like most homeowners, aren’t investors in solar technology companies the way public company shareholders are investors. We just want a product that does what it says it’ll do. Solar panels do that. I don’t give a damn about whether or not investing in solar companies produces a better or worse ROI than investing in the stock market. When I bought solar panels, I did the math and saw that given time, they’d pay for themselves. Today, that window of time is magnitudes shorter than the time it took me to see them pay for themselves. Given that, I think your assertion that solar has peaked flawed.

      The gigafactory is a calculated gamble. Musk believes that when produced at scale, batteries can be both cheaper and have higher capacity. Whether or not Musk succeeds at this doesn’t matter – battery capacity relative to battery size has been consistently increasing over time. Suggesting Musk will have a monopoly on better batteries because of the gigafactory is an absurd and sensational assertion.

      Milking the government? Show us how that happens. Give us some facts. How much money is the US government spending on a mission conducted by NASA? How much money is Musk spending on a comparable mission?

      Tell us, also, how much money health insurance companies are putting into pharmaceutical research?

      For what it’s worth, I’m not a Musk fanboy. I just can’t resist calling bogus on such a logical fallacy laden sensationalistic rant on why he’s wrong. Frankly, I suspect you’re an oil lobbyist just itching to offer up fossil fuels as the best solution.

      1. Whoa! You begin with a personal attack and end with ‘you must be paid by oil companies.’ That pretty much invalidates everything you wrote in between.

        Plus, I seriously doubt you could find a solar company that isn’t subsidized or that your panels paid for themselves – unless you use the “new math.”

        1. Solar power is subsidized by net metering. The utility company is forced to give you electricity worth at least 11 cents a kWh for electricity they could buy elsewhere for 4-5 cents. The difference is the subsidy.

          Very few domestic solar power producers actually “eat their own dog food” because they can’t properly utilize the energy when it is available.

          1. I don’t have a utility company. The excess power I produce is stored in batteries, and what those batteries can’t store, I don’t use. I recognize I might be the exception to the norm, but that’s just a matter of wiring. If other domestic solar producers wanted to, it’s fairly trivial to be completely off the grid.

        2. If suggesting that someone park their logical fallacies at the door is a personal attack, I’m guilty as charged. Even if I agreed, a personal attack wouldn’t invalidate anything I’d said.

          For example, the second half of “That shirt you’re wearing is a terrible color and you’re stupid for thinking it’s a good color” doesn’t mean the subject isn’t wearing a shirt.

          I never said “you must be paid by oil companies” – I said “I suspect you’re an oil lobbyist.” Suspicions of this kind are fair considering the dearth of evidence and glut of hyperbole I was responding to. There’s no evidence, however, that would motivate me to make the conclusion you made with your words with any sort of certainty. Suspicion is not the same as certainty. I never claimed certainty.

          As far as “new math” goes, you’re about as wrong as you can be. My panels were paid for using “old math”, when governments had no interest in promoting solar panels and I had to pay full, actual price for an unproven but promising technology. Had I more foresight, I could have waited 10 years and paid half the price for twice the efficiency. Today, I wouldn’t doubt that it’d be hard to find a solar company that isn’t subsidized on some level. 20 years ago the climate (in a number of ways) wasn’t the same.

          That said, so what if solar companies are subsidized? So what if there are tax incentives for purchasing solar panels? No matter how you look at the data, oil companies get a lot more in subsidies than do solar companies.

          1. “No matter how you look at the data, oil companies get a lot more in subsidies than do solar companies.”

            Only in absolute terms, because oil companies are a whole lot bigger than the whole solar industry is. On a per kWh basis solar literally gets a thousand times more subsidy than oil. It’s a thoroughly disingenous propaganda comparison because it’s looking hundred years back and applying the historian’s fallacy.

            Plus, it’s an apples to oranges comparison because most subsidies on petroleum products are not producer subsidies, or paying someone to make something they can then sell – but consumer subsidies: most oil subsidies come from countries like Iran or China where the government buys oil and the distributes fuels to its people at a cheaper rate.

            Plus, a lot of the subsidy isn’t a subsidy but loan/insurance guarantees that are simply given monetary value, while in reality nothing is paid or left unpaid to anyone. A government guaranteeing a loan simply saves both parties money because of lower risk and therefore lower cost of capital.

    2. Your statements that solar has peaked and is only sustained by energy credits are false.

      1) Solar is still growing YOY. Both module cost and BOS costs are still declining YOY. Verify via multiple industry, NGO, and utility sources and forecasts.
      2) Investor owned electrical utilities also have a historical return that is less than the broader stock market. Trivial to verify from publicly available historical stock data.
      3) Large solar developers are exceeding historical market returns (6%-8% ROI) on most projects before leverage or tax equity or “energy credits”. Easy to see from financial reports for many companies developing projects.
      4) A significant and growing portion of the global PV market is profitable without subsidy and driven purely by the economic and other advantages of some solar on the grid.
      5) Most of the global PV industry is not driven by “energy credit” subsidies. Perhaps you can tell me which markets and time frames you are referencing and then I can point out differences between that market and the remaining 80%++ of the global solar industry.

      People who present these wrong arguments are usually just very out of date in their analysis (or their trusted analyst).

      1. Solar power is completely unsustainable in the US without subsidies. The ITC and accelerated depreciation programs reduce the cost of utility scale solar power by 75% to the point where it can be sold to utilities at 5 cents a kWh. The real price is about 20 cents a kWh before transmission, and domestic solar power nearly double that, and domestic producers get net metering on top of the tax credits. Companies that rent solar panels to homes also get to sell “green credits” and carbon offsets on top of the subsidies.

        The average level of subsidy to solar power by the federal government is $235/MWh (23.5c/kWh) not including net metering where it applies at an average of $110/MWh. In reality solar power is so ridiculously expensive that it would simply not exist if most of it wasn’t paid by the back door.

        1. Look, I know it’s not the norm, but you can simply buy panels without any complicated tax credits and generate electricity that, assuming you’ve paid for the panels in full, costs next to nothing. There are maintenance costs (the water you use to hose down the panels when they’re dusty costs something right? As does the 10 minutes of time spent doing it). Some panels break too, (hasn’t happened to me). So it’s not free, but it’s safe to say it’s more free than any other energy source once the panels are paid for.

          If you’re going to talk about how the subsidization of solar makes it’s unsustainable, you really should also be considering how much the fossil fuel industry is subsidized too. The IMF reported that the fossil fuel industry received over $4T in subsidies in 2011. That number may be higher than $5.3T today. Granted, the size of that industry is huge so you need to break down the cost/kWh just like you did with solar.

          According to the Institute for Energy research, petroleum is the most expensive energy source at (21.56c/kWh). Without subsidies that number grows as much as 32.43c/kWh. One reason fossil fuels remain “sustainable” is in large part because a third of the cost is paid for by governments. Another reason is that there was a time when it was the only viable option, and trillions of dollars were poured into the infrastructure it still requires. Infrastructure that still costs money to install and maintain. Who knows what the actual cost of petroleum would be if we had to consider all that infrastructure lifecycle cost as part of the entire package (like everyone wants proponents of solar energy to do).

          Don’t get me wrong though – we wouldn’t have solar energy, let alone any sort of alternative technologies if not for the gains that were made by using fossil fuels. But it’s not ever accurate to say that solar, with a lifecycle of 25 years, is more expensive than the lifecycle cost of fossil fuels. We never break down the cost of the estimated life span of all the infrastructure fossil fuels depend on, and yet, the subsidized cost is still higher than most solar installations’ unsubsidized, equipment-lifecycle-included costs.

          1. It’s not the subsidy that makes solar unsustainable. It’s what makes it sustainable – in the market sense. Pull the subsidy and the investments in solar drop to zero because solar power is too expensive to utilize.

            Of course you can buy cheap panels off of ebay and install them yourself, and wire it up to a bunch of car batteries, but that’s just not scalable to the level of the whole society and you’re hardly counting all the costs, such as the battery replacements.

            “petroleum is the most expensive energy source at (21.56c/kWh)”

            How is it possible then that a gallon of gasoline (33.3 kWh) costs less than $3 when according to your numbers it should cost $7 just to make? Gasoline is NOT subsidized to the tune of $4 per gallon, not in the US, not anywhere else. I’m sorry but your numbers don’t pass the straight face test.

          2. Fuel cost isn’t production cost. To make a car analogy, production cost would include the amortized parts of the car that are specific to petroleum energy generation and meeting regulatory requirements.

            Specific to power plants, that would also include the cost of getting the oil to the plant and maintaining that infrastructure.

            Oil isn’t really used in the US for power generation, which is part of the reason the cost is so high.

        2. As you’ve said of some other, “I’m sorry but your numbers don’t pass the straight face test.”

          You are wrong on the costs and the impact of subsidies, probably because you base your thinking on too specific examples. I can accept that. Few people have the time to follow an entire global industry. But even accepting your costs you neglect too much. 1) Those costs are reasonable for a portion of our power system (that we have not yet saturated, but will in about 6 years of current demand). 2) Accelerated depreciation offsets the capital cost of pretty much all power plant and manufacturing equipment

          Your opinion about small systems scaling seems uninformed as well. Do you understand where the costs are (hint: not hardware or professional labor!)

          Batteries will become necessary when solar power passes natural gas in net kWhs. (aka a very long time from now) You can verify this via the many integration studies carried out by/on behalf of all ISOs in North America, aka the grid undisputed grid management experts. And should we chose we can delay batteries further by updating our antiquated hydro infrastructure and building out transmission.

          Lastly energy is getting more expensive, which I would expect as a more enlightened society is capable of considering the total costs and impacts. What alternatives are you proposing? Pollution? 100% natural gas? Surely with your obsession on cost, it isn’t nuclear or clean coal.

      2. Fanatics are experts at the shell game. It delays the puncturing of their beliefs.

        They argue with the cost of the cheapest panels/batteries and power output of the most expensive panels/batteries.

        When critics point out that their highly unrealistic scenario includes subsidies, they say… “Well those are required just to deal with oil companies. I’m certain they could survive without subsidies.” …even if the removal of subsidies from their scenario tells a different tale.

        Just because there’s nothing under two of the shells, doesn’t mean there’s something under the third.

    3. My biggest gripe with Tesla is use of NCA chemistry batteries to get max performance and putting too much effort in electronic fluff like autopilot and the falcon doors vs working to deliver an affordable electric car.
      Most of the rest of the industry is moving to LiFEO4 and NMC chemistry batteries because they’re safer.

      1. I’m still amazed at the amount of ancillary devices (screens etc) Teslas use. Give me a set of hardware switches and analog dials that don’t require a screen to operate. removing more electricity dependent devices on the car should be a goal.

        1. Consider the battery in a tablet, compared to that in an electric car. The motor uses nearly all the energy. The rest is fluff. And people expect computers in cars nowadays, the thing has to sell after all. Being high-tech and “premium” is what electric cars currently sell on. That will change once the budget models come out and they start competing on price.

    4. “….Solar, electric cars and space might give you the nice fuzzy feelings but are simply not practical yet……”

      Well, how do they get “practical” if someone doesn’t push the envelope and try to make them as such? Airplanes, automobiles, radios, and televisions weren’t practical at first either. DOS wasn’t practical for the first PC’s made for consumer use either.

      No new technologies are practical at first. But you have to ask the question. Is this technology worth being made practical. It wouldn’t surprise me if Tesla’s sold in the $20,000 range with 500 miles on a charge in the near future. AND who the hell drives 500 or even 300 miles continuously any way? most drive 10-30 miles to work a day.

      1. Yup, the long-distance thing is a big problem, even though as you say, most people rarely drive more than 30 miles or so.

        People need to be able to hire long-range cars when they drive long distances, but somebody who owns a car won’t want to do that. They expect their existing car to do it. Maybe a plug-in range extender, a petrol-powered generator that’s either optional to rent, or part of the car. Making it a rented item would make maintenance easier, as well as the cars cheaper. Perhaps that’s a product that needs to be part of the range. Sell short-range electric cars, and use the savings on batteries to throw in a petrol generator. The generator would be easily removable to keep at home most of the time. After a few years of that, people will start asking for cars without the generator, for a lower price, and be happy just to hire them when needed.

        The generator would also be handy if it could power your house during blackouts, people with unreliable power (apparently a lot of the USA in summer with their ubiquitous air conditioners) would see the benefit in that.

        1. I can’t understand why someone hasn’t brought a 2-wheel towable generator to market that could charge your car while you drive. Seems that a high efficiency engine of some type (turbine?) with a 15-20 gallon gas tank would fit the bill nicely, for extra style points put it into a teardrop shaped housing ala Buckminster Fuller.

          1. Well, trailers absolutely murder gas mileage, so that’s probably a good part of the problem. Extending the range of an electric car by turning it into a bad gasoline powered car seems like not a good idea. You’d probably be better off buying a cheap used gasoline powered car.

          2. They have, but rather than fitting them to a trailer they put them up front where you’d expect to find an engine. See the Chevey Volt for example. Pure electric drive with an IC backup generator.

        2. “The generator would be easily removable to keep at home most of the time. ”

          I get the idea, and it’s cute, but think about it. The only reason you would leave the generator at home is if the weight savings from removing the generator increases your range. And if that’s true, then it’s not easily removable.

          The whole “short range/long range” thing is not an easy problem. Well, I mean, it *would* be in a reasonable country with efficient mass transportation, but, y’know. USA.

      2. They get practical through innovations from other industries. Airplanes and automobiles became practical through innovations in metal and engine technology.
        Assume the Wright brothers started selling one time use airplanes for the equivalent of a modern Tesla S P85D. Assume they used the profits to fund research in materials and engine technology, great. Airplanes are on their way to becoming practical. Until that research bares fruit, it’s impractical.
        Alternatively, if they decided to spend all those profits on one test which only tells us how cold it is 30k feet up (space research)….. might not be the best use of funds.
        To your straw-man about no new technologies are practical at first…. yep. Asking “if this technology is worth being made practical” shows an ignorance in innovation. So I wouldn’t be surprised that you think Tesla would be selling a $20k car with a 500 mile range and similar performance to their existing cars in the near future. You probably would also think that’s a bargain.

      3. You’re a city boy, you don’t get it.

        Come out to the West coast and you’ll see commuters easily putting on a 100-200 miles a day in nasty stop and go driving with the A/C on. It would beat a Tesla to death in no time.

        BTW DOS was practical from the outset. Primitive but useful and affordable by most families and businesses. Same with transistor radios.

        1. In addition to what you’ve said, there’s another issue worth mentioning with regard to electric cars and their limited range. Even if a person doesn’t usually drive more than 20-30 miles a day, they might need the capability to do more in the case of unexpected circumstances or emergencies. Let’s say you’ve already driven to work and back home and your electric vehicle is now plugged in and charging or the next day. Then you get a phone call, your kid got hit by a car walking home from school and has been transported to the hospital in critical condition. The fact you now have to wait hours for your vehicle to charge is a failure of epic proportions. With a fossil fueled vehicle, even if your tank is about empty, it only takes about 5 minutes at a nearby filling station station to solve. Owning an automobile gives people the freedom to travel exactly when they want or need to. The limited range and long charging time of electric vehicles undermines that freedom. For many people, if hey don’t have the freedom to drive wherever they want whenever they want, there’s no point in owning an automobile at all.

  5. In my experience, those start-up mentality compagny are not great places to work.
    Like a rocket, they go fast, high and are super cool but burn a lot of fuel (young and talented people in that case)
    It only pushes you so far, isolating you from your friends, hobbies (other than the one your are practicing) and families that you learn to hate your job, your favorite hobbie and the economy that allow such a compagny to succced.

    It’s not a surprise that you are a more productive compagny if you crush your employees and throw them away afterward.
    You make a lot of money and it’s no your problem to clean up.

    The older, slower compagnies have to respect their employes (you know, unions…) and gets in a lot of trouble if they don’t.
    But in the other hand, their employes are their clients and they take their social responsabilities.

    The national space agencies use to cost a lot and make expensive products because the employees where a lot, well paid and their workplace was good enough for them to be able to spend their life there.

    With good organisation and planing and a high enough turnover you can ensure that most of the compagny will reduce the staff in their R&D, hire only fresh out of school kids who will accept the chalenge of doing alone in 3 month (internship?) a project that could have employ a team of 3 during 6 month. (it will be made not perfectly or not with the best practice but who cares?)

    Our tools are now mature and performant enough to make the “realy hard” and really expensive of 2000 an “almost easy” task (embedded system running linux) and no market has miraculousely appered to bring new needs (don’t say smartphone, tablet or connected stuff that don’t employ R&D outside of apple, samsung and this kind of inaccesible compagny)

    I don’t say that we shouldn’t chalenge cost, functionalities, delay and so on but we should always be carefull while approching “low cost” : the biggest cost is always the humane one.

    If this cost is reduce drasticaly, it means than someone lost his job or have really bad work conditions.

    1. Elon definitely takes advantage of his employees in this regard. Make fantastical goals they are passionate about appear achievable so they kill themselves trying to reach it… profit.

      Engineers have a reputation for meeting deadlines because engineering is about compromise. Always about compromise. As the deadline approaches, more is compromised. Simple as that. With Elon, he blurs the line between work and life so that engineers don’t realize they are dedicating their own resources to his companies. I’m not entirely talking about cash, but time and social contacts and relationships.

    2. Well, from my own view, I’m glad that I started in a start-up before moving on to an S&P 500 corporation. I’ve never learn’t as much as I learnt back then. Sure, I earn more now in my corporate job, but I really don’t want to miss that time; we got the newest R&D equipment, did cutting edge research and had a close contact to our CEO (who was a scientist himself). The work hours however were not that drastic; rather 40-50 h/week; so honestly I don’t know how it is to work 70+ hours. I’d just say, corporations really should take more start-up people in their higher ranks; the mindset is so different (thinking out of the box, etc).

      1. I’m really glad you said this. I haven’t worked in a startup — but observationaly I believe that being in a startup is like boot-camp for breaking entrenched assumptions and practices. Some would package this into the buzzword “disruption”. It is carried with the people who go on to successful careers that don’t gobble up 100% of their free time but stull allow them to be highly productive.

        1. A caveat is that most startups fail. They’re disruptive, but not successfully so, and the people involved end up learning nothing useful except one way how to not run an engineering venture.

          1. I’d have to argue that learning “how not to run an engineering venture” is actually a very useful thing to learn. If you’re gonna see the bad in everything, of course it’s gonna suck.

          2. Spacex already disrupted the industry even causing the stalwart industry giant ULA to look into reusable LVs and cutting edge stuff such as integrated fluid on their upper stages.
            The greatest thing they have done probably is removing the giggle factor from the concept of trying out of the box things in aerospace.

          3. I disagree, haveing been involved in a failed “startup” I learnt heaps. Spent a lot of time designing, dealing with suppliers researching the market, producing prototypes.

            I ended up working for free when for a while once the money ran out till I needed to pay my bills – I ended up been paid in test gear and tools so it was not all a loss, for me at least.

  6. I don’t have numbers but known some folks who know. SpaceX turnover is crazy high. It could be pressure from expectations, like demanding that software is finished on a tight schedule, or a miserable work culture. Apple could be that way when Steve Jobs started popping into cubicles and demanding “Justify your job to me right now”.

    However, the results have been spectacular, which would seem to mean communications, cooperation, and testing run well and people bail out before problems develop.(Opposite of Microsoft). I would not mind knowing more about the low-level company culture.

    1. Well, aside for the bit where Tesla is continuously failing to meet Musk’s promises or make a profit, and the technology they’re pushing proves to be worse than advertised with cars catching on fire or the “autopilot” decapitating people – which according to other reports was because Musk got the numbers and decided “it’s good enough” while the actual engineers who tested it were losing sleep in the knowledge that someone’s gonna die sooner or later.

      It’s engineering to the minimum. There’s other curious anecdotes from the engineers, such as that the parking assist in the Model S doesn’t work right if you park it close enough to a ledge, because it’s not programmed to identify a cliff drop behind the car. That’s just another “close enough” from Musk, who is now updating the sensors after they did turn out inadequate.

      Musk is also bailing out his own cousin by buying the uncompetitive Solarcity company on investor money. He seems to be so full of hot air that alone is enough to keep the whole thing afloat.


        “”I came in with this mentality that Elon had: I want to go from on-ramp to off-ramp and the driver doesn’t have to do anything,” says Meadows, who was fired from Tesla two months later for performance reasons. “The last two months I was scared someone was going to die.””


        “In another anecdote recounted by two sources, Musk was told that the sensors used for Tesla’s self-parking feature might have difficulty recognizing something as small as a cat. Musk is said to have responded that given how slow the car moves in this parking mode, it would only be dangerous to “a comatose cat.””


        “”It’s hard to believe a Toyota or a Mercedes would make that same tradeoff,” says David Keith, an assistant professor of system dynamics at MIT Sloan School of Management who studies new technologies in the automotive industry. “But the whole ethos around Tesla is completely different: they believe in the minimum viable product you get out there that’s safe.””

        1. “But the whole ethos around Tesla is completely different: they believe in the minimum viable product you get out there that’s safe.”

          This sounds like it is straight out of Stanford B School via Y Combinator. It is part of how to bring a product to market efficiently. For only time in the real world will provide the kind of information necessary to perfect the product. Prototype ASAP, adjust and reiterate in that cycle until one hits the sweet spot. It is very Silicon Valley and it works quite well with plenty of real life experience and high octane research to back it up.

      2. Pretty harsh opinion on Solar City. Another argument is that the market just does not understand the business plan, which is consistent with the entire industry… Look no further than volatility in the yield-co market or other privatization plans. Solar City is just one company among many struggling to convince the market of their long term thinking. They have the advantage that Elon has another company for which the market does understand the long term plan. There is no benefit a public corporation that can’t convince shareholders of its plan.

        As for SolarCity being uncompetitive? vs who? No other major residential solar installer I know is doing better. The market likes them even less… They’re all going to get gobbled up by private equity anyway at this rate.

        1. It’s not harsh. Couple years ago when they announced their new big factor, Musk promised 55 cents per Watt. Trouble is, the Chinese are pushing 40 cents a Watt and the factory is still not running. Solarcity is obsolete and uncompetetive, and bound to go the way of Solyndra.

          Elon buys the company off of his cousin even though he’s got zero actual profit from any of his ventures. He’s running entirely on investor funds. He hasn’t got any sustainable business that would stand by their own merit without continuous influx of new investment capital, and that’s why he’s running his mouth faster and announcing new goals and new products quicker than his companies can produce or sell them: as long as he keeps the hype mill turning, the money keeps coming. When he stops, the house of cards falls down.

          Elon Musk has a stronger reality distortion field than Steve Jobs – at least Steve had to actually sell something, whereas Musk is just promising things.

          1. And a great deal of what he does is gimmicks and marketing – just like Steve Jobs.

            For example, what is the “Ludicurous mode” in the Model S? It’s simply a software bypass that allows the motor inverter to temporarily work beyond specs to deliver high acceleration, provided the battery is at least 95% full. It’s a one shot trick that is perfectly useless even as a toy – consider that you can’t use it if you have already driven the car a couple miles.

            So the new 100D model can do 0-60 in 2.5 seconds? Yes, if you first top it up and then push it to the starting line.

          2. “Elon buys the company off of his cousin even though he’s got zero actual profit from any of his ventures.”

            Either you are uninformed or… deliberately spreading the seeds of doubt. Is your short position unsustainable or are you just trying to get a bump? For SpaceX is solidly in the black and a cash machine, with launches booked well into the future, each with a fat margin. Additionally, there are the other investments in startups you know nothing about.

            Furthermore, SpaceX is one of the largest holders of Solar City paper. Given Musk controls SpaceX Unlike other CEOs, Musk is all in as The Major Shareholder, takes only minimum wage, has his desk in the middle of the action, sleeps in the factory as necessary and works 9-10 hour days. He knows his product better that his competition knows their’s.Tesla gets more done in two weeks than the competition does in 2 years.

            Currently the machine that makes the machine is being redesigned to function much more efficiently. This goes for all the factories. This will include the use of AI throughout the Tesla organization in a comprehensive manner that will touch every facet.

            For someone who had never made a mass production automobile until he actually did it, Elon is doing quite well. Being CEO of two disruptive, fast growing companies that make exceptional products, made by incredible people, simultaneously, is an exceptional feat in anyones book. From founding of the company to making 100,000 unit per year, Tesla will hit the mark well before Porshe AG first hit theirs.

            Yes they are sinking a ton of cash into the companies, but they are not pissing it away, but rather investing it in the future.

            Just because you don’t fully understand what is going on, nor seem to care to, does not make Musk wrong or inept.

            I am long Tesla and admire the work Mr. Musk is doing.

          3. Their main business is installing panels not making them and they are competent and competitive in this area. Solar city can always buy panels from China at 40 cents a watt (soon high 30s). Manufacturing modules in the US is a terrible idea but not enough to sink the company.

          4. @zerg
            You could say much of silicon valley today is a pretty much ponzi scheme with companies that do not have a positive cash flow being valued far more then their actual asset value.

      3. You’re never going to get 100% safe. Providing the Tesla Autopilot is more safe than a human driver, and they catch fire less often than a conventional car (which happens rather more regularly than you think) then they’re on the right track. That’s not to say that Tesla should stop improving things, but what they have is suitable for the market already.

        1. Tesla cars haven’t been on the roads for that many years or that many miles, and they’re already catching flame in comparable numbers to cars that have been neglected for 20-30 years. Consider, the cars that catch flame on the roads are made 11 years ago on average. The Teslas that catch fire were made last year, and at least one Model S burst into flame straight out of the car dealer’s lot when they were test driving it.

          The problem is that Tesla is knowingly using a particular lithium battery chemistry (NCA) known for its high energy density but marginal fire safety. They’re “cheating” there as well, and hoping that the cars don’t light up too often, much the same as how Ford knew the Ford Pinto was defective but neglected to fix the issue because they calculated it would cost more than the cost of the lives.

          “Providing the Tesla Autopilot is more safe than a human driver”

          That depends on what you mean by “a human driver” and what you mean by “safer”. Given the Elon Musk’s beancounting ways he will argue that the car is safer than humans when it has less accidents per mile than the average driver. However, a small number of drivers are responsible for the majority of accidents on the roads, which means most people are actually better, safer drivers than the “average driver”. It’s mean vs. median, and you know what the corporate marketing department is going to pick.

          1. It also goes to show how immature and how far behind the hype the technology still actually is. If Tesla were to use the safer battery options, they would halve the driving range of the cars and have to drop the 2.5 second “ludicurous mode” accelerations and be more like Nissan Leaf or the e-Golf – i.e. totally uninteresting.

          2. Driver safety is easy to measure in a statistical sense. How many accidents are there per million miles driven. The Tesla autopilot is not doing badly on that scale.
            As for fires, they happen in new petrol (gas for the US readership) vehicles also. In the US alone the fire services are called to over 200,000 vehicle fires per year. The NTSB doesn’t think that electric cars are more prone to fires than petrol, and if they are involved in one then there is much less chance that they will explode. Carrying around large amounts of stored energy has dangers, be it in the form of petroleum spirit or batteries.

          3. Determining which is safer isn’t easy. It heavily depends on what variables are included (reference “P-Hacking”). Elon’s Autopilot claim is HEAVILY dependent on P-hacking. He’s not comparing his own car’s accidents with/without Autopilot…. which would be MASSIVELY better than him comparing his car’s Autopilot record to the average poor person’s car. He’s also ignoring the fact that most people don’t trust Autopilot, so they’re actually monitoring the driving and regularly correcting mistakes.

          4. People *aren’t supposed to trust Autopilot yet*. Despite the fancy name it’s currently enhanced cruise control plus lane holding. It can handle things like idiots trying to pull into your lane when you happen to be in the way, cars in front of you stopping suddenly etc, but it isn’t supposed to be a fully automated system and should be supervised when it is in operation. Read the details on it, not the headlines.

          5. “The Teslas that catch fire were made last year, and at least one Model S burst into flame straight out of the car dealer’s lot when they were test driving it.”

            The French couple test driving the car that last caught fire said they can’t wait to take delivery of their new Tesla when asked for their reaction.

            According to “Consumer Reports” 97% of current Tesla owners said their next car will be a Tesla. There is no other manufacturer of anything, much less cars, that can report that kind of customer loyalty. German auto manufacturers would die for a number even close to that.

            Furthermore, Tesla has spent ZERO dollars on advertising! Despite this, the 370,000 advance orders of the Model 3 made automotive marketing history when people around the world camped out, to line up, to put down $1,000.00 cash for a car they would not receive for years to come. The response surprised even the most optimistic.

            The Model 3 is designed for manufacturing which means efficient manufacture of an excellent product. “Everything from the tooling required to achieve certain shapes for stamped body panels to the ideal joining technologies for different types of metals had to be agreed upon ahead of time, unlike Model X, where design changes were made on the fly, adding complexity and causing manufacturing delays.”

            “The Model 3 is the first car Tesla is creating that is designed to be easy to make. This is really a fundamental difference,” – Musk

            The new Fanuc robots on the Model 3 line will be GPU-powered AI robots that can learn by trial and error. This deep-learning technology was developed by Preferred Networks an AI company Fanuc has invested in.

            In addition, the entire Tesla enterprise will be supervised by a proprietary AI that Elon is teaching. Recently he helped fund the nonprofit Open AI with the help of some of his PayPal friends and others. He has also invested in other AI companies on his own. Consequently, Tesla will become the most efficient automobile manufacturer in the world. This will happen very quickly after they have fine tuned the manufacturing, which is in process now.

            Regarding the competition, the incumbent auto manufacturers have a major problem to deal with if they are to go all electric. That is their dealer networks. For dealers make their money from the repair shop. An electric car won’t need near the maintenance if well made other than tire and wiper blades. Consequently, one can not sustain a dealership on that kind of diet. Hence the dealers are an albatross around the necks of the manufacturers as they will not go quietly into the night.

            Call it what you may, but Tesla is obviously doing something right and that has obviously gotten under your skin. Hence all the BS you are attempting to spin.

            Who do you work for? Because you obviously have an agenda.

        1. There’s a reason they call it rocket science. Rockets are barely controlled explosions. Stopping one from blowing up, going off course, breaking up under the strain etc isn’t easy. Until we find out the cause I wouldn’t be hasty to mock.

    2. I have a good friend who has been there for about 5 years. Talking with him, he puts in 80+ hours a week (sometimes working 7 days a week). He also stated that the average person lasts about 18 months (that was the number they told him when he was hired on). They said if he could last longer than 2 years, his chances for advancement and movement in the company would be drastic. And true to form, he stuck it out and has moved up quite a bit.

      That said, he is single, has no hobbies, and at one point didn’t even have an apartment because he literally never slept anywhere but the office.

    3. I work in a small aerospace research company and spacex is pretty notorious for chewing up engineers and spitting them out. A lot of people work there just for the resume builder and then leave, and spacex knows this but to them the human capital is just a disposable commodity.

    1. Er. I get it now. I posted another comment which hit the moderator queue. I feel dumb now.
      If it’s still in the mod queue it can be deleted. Or not, I can be a lesson to future generations.

      1. Suppose you were near the South pole. You could walk a mile South to where the latitude is 1 mile in circumference, walk a mile West, then a mile North and end up in the same spot.

        You could do the same by walking to where the latitude is 1/2 mile in circumference, or 1/3, and so on.

        So there are a number of latitudes on the Earth where you could pull that trick off.

          1. I said “near”, not “at”.

            Start at the South Pole.

            Walk North 0.159 miles. Put a red flag there. At that point, a 1 mile circumference circle will bring you back to your starting point. If 0.159 is the radius, twice that 0.318 is the diameter, and pi times that gives a circumference of 1 mile.

            Walk North of your red flag by 1 mile. Put a green flag there.

            Now: Starting at the green flag, walk South 1 mile, to your red flag. You are 0.159 miles North of the South pole, which is *near*, but not *at*.

            Walk 1 mile West and return to your 1st marker.

            Walk 1 mile North and return to your 2nd marker, your starting point.

            So you can do it if you start 1.159 miles North of the South pole.

            And any other point that makes the circumference of the circle an integer fraction of a mile.

      2. Well, I think you have to differentiate between geographic North Pole and magnetic North Pole. (i.e., you would use a magnetic compass at the magnetic North Pole and longitude/latitude at the geographic North Pole) But as long as you were consistent in your choice of directions it would be the same result.
        Nice riddle.

        1. Actually I don’t think it matters. You could define any point on Earth as the “North Pole”, and it’d work. Simply because of the definitions of “North” and “South”.

      1. How about starting at any point on the latitude that is exactly a mile north of the latitude (in the south pole) which is exactly one mile in circumference? Now how about starting a mile north of the latitude that’s half a mile in circumferance? or 1/3 of a a mile?

        1. Yes, that’s a pretty interesting case. I would consider that an “extra credit” answer. I’d be impressed if someone came up with that on the spot. I just considered it a variation of the riddle that goes “You are in a house with four windows on each of the four walls, which all face South, a bear walks by. What colour is the bear?”.

          Both answers appear in this thread: I suppose in either case you could claim that if there’s a bear, it would have to be a polar bear.

      2. +1 It is an old question. You don’t think about right angles, but the directions given and look at a sphere. I mile South on a great circle that passes through the South pole, then an arc 1 mile long on a 1 mile radius West circle (doesn’t matter how long this leg is), then 1 mile North on a great circle. And you are back at the North Pole.

        They don’t teach differential and projective geometry much anymore, if at all, unless you take a course in General Relativity that is not too abstract.

        1. No the actual quote – “You’re standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?”
          Says it in the question, you end up exactly where yo started.

  7. There’s something to be said for not working for a D-bag.

    Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Steve Balmer and Henry Ford (just to name a few) are/were all very successful, and are/were abominable human beings.

    1. Especially Ford, an unrepentant antisemitic conspiracy theorist and mass publisher, this comic book like bent villain just wanted to provide good working conditions and good automobiles exclusively to Lilly white Aryan American families and screw those scheming Zionist Jews. He was a great inspiration to the Fuehrer and his all white Autobahn and Volkswagen ubermench only utopia and again screw(well this time genocide 1/3 of world Jews) those imaginary Jewish world controlling emperors.

      1. The others in the list are just varying degrees of douchey ego-maniac .01%ers who also lead some more or less neat projects or products. Lets just say they have not helped inspire literal created the definition genocide and world war with their hate incitement, incitement which could never be made up by any number of great products or good treatment of staff.

    2. Most people are glass half full, or glass half empty people. If you want to be one of the 0.1% revolutionaries, demand to know why the fuck the glass isn’t full to the top.

    3. Ford at least pushed for the 40 hour work week even though it was primarily in the interests of profit as more then that the hourly productivity dropped off ,there were more errors,accidents, and absentee rates went up.
      Plus they would time to go out and buy some of the very products they manufactured.

    1. I enjoy Heinlein characters but haven’t read anything with D.D. Harriman in it. Judging by the outline I just read, he sounds about right. I had in mind Bova’s Dan Randolph from Empires Builders and a few other of his books.

  8. Battling governments.? The guy wouldn’t have made a dime without his expertise in acquiring continual government subsidies. He certainly has given Hillary enough donation money to insure he gets free taxpayer money the next 4 years too

  9. Here in the UK we are planning to spend a few £Billion on High Speed Rail, then another 20 or so Billion on a new nuclear power plant. We should contract both projects out to Elon Musk, we would have a real futuristic transport system and I guess micro power generation in every ones homes.

  10. As long as the human history goes slaves were ruled by psychopaths.
    We want to think about ourselves as the pinnacle of social order (after all most countries are practicing more or less defined democracy).
    The truth however is that we are slaves ruled by psychopaths.
    Founders, CEOs, Board members, Investors Politicians or Lawyers – all of them will pass psychopaths lacmus test and most of them are living in the financial wealth ‘bracket’ not accessible to regular slaves.
    We think we are free but in reality we are nicely segregated to our pay brackets and forced to play the given roles in the ‘theater of life’.
    If we do not play by the psychopaths rules we suddenly find ourselves without the basic necessaries of life ( not much different than slavery in Syria 3 thousands years ago).

    And then … we have exceptionally smart people supporting the practices mentioned in this article.
    Are those smart people going to be proud of being enslaved for 18 months ?
    Do they really have some sick desire to be ‘taken advantage of’ (avoiding profanity) than thrown away mental end emotionally scared for life ?
    Do they really think that ‘supper slave for the 18 months’ is something that is going to help their carers later on in life ?

    Why do we feed and encourage that particular psychopath ?
    Why do we lineup for the product of his sick mind ?
    Which one of us (slaves) will take trip to Mars ?
    How many of our kids will be gainfully employed by the ‘mega factory’ and out of those few ‘lucky ones’ how many of them will have time to procreate ?

    The only way to fight psychopath in our current economical situation is to fight them back on the principle of supply and demand.
    As long as we continue demanding their products we satisfy their sick brains and encourage them to be more dangerous.

    1. Have you read “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson? He interviews Bob Hare, who invented the current checklist used to diagnose psychopathy, he spends a lot of time talking to him through the book. Then Jon goes to interview someone who faked mental illness to get out of a prison sentence. Which is exactly the sort of thing a psychopath would do! So they’re keeping him in the mental hospital for his psychopathy, not for the stuff he pretended to have.

      He also interviews Toto Constant, leader of a Haitian death squad (FRAPH), now living a modest life in the USA, and, believe it or not, collecting McDonalds Happy Meal toys as a hobby.

      As well, he interviews Albert J Dunlap, famous corporate “downsizer”, who was given the jobs nobody else wanted, because he actually enjoyed firing people. He made hundreds of people unemployed to prop up share prices. While it lasted. Dunlap’s also known for bringing companies into ruin, and the SEC estimated he claimed $60 million in earnings for one company which were fraudulent.

      Anyway, what’s interesting is Jon, a fairly meek and unassuming bloke, hesitantly asks questions from the Test to Dunlap. He comes up positive for many of them. But he redefines the questions, explaining away psychopathic qualities as actually being good and necessary in business. He may be right.

      Bob Hare thinks psychopaths in power, political and business, among others, are responsible for most of what’s wrong in the world. Free-market capitalism seems to favour the characteristics these people have. They rise to the top in a system that’s made for them, and then use their power to change the system to be even more favourable.

      I think I agree with Bob Hare.

      Unfortunately it’s not the sort of thing you can boycott. Not until they start putting CEO psychological evaluations in company reports. There aren’t many ethical businesses you can conveniently patronise, who would you buy your medicine or energy off? It’s the system as a whole that’s fucked, really fucked. Same with politics, that’s even more depressing. Things aren’t going to get better til we start giving more of a shit about our fellow man. And the media makes it it’s business to separate us all with fear and alienation.

      Partly it’s a few very bad people, mostly it’s millions of ordinary people behaving in a sub-par way. As a species, we’re not capable of living well in a modern world.

    2. Luckily most of us can’t afford Musk’s “products”, which he isn’t making any money off to begin with since he needs taxpayer subsidizes to exist.

      As for those stupid enough to work for him and get burnt out emotionally physically, they deserve it. Look any company that pushes 70-80 hour work weeks and has almost a 100% turnover every two years is a disaster. It tells me management and planning are non-existent and someone is making promises they can’t keep.

      And they certainly don’t care about their employees. What sane person wants to work for a company that treats them like disposable tissue paper?

      If you have the talent to be noticed by SpaceX, you can probably get a very nice paying and easy job at Lockheed or some other giant.

      It won’t be as sexy as SpaceX but they won’t burn you out and kick you out the door a year from now.

  11. We need to encourage innovation and discourage stagnation. Today those who innovate tend to rapidly increase the wealth accumulated, while those who stagnate, squat. We tax income, and more income we tax more, not less. Our policy must change. We need to tax wealth itself rather than the accumulation of wealth. The more rapid the accumulation of wealth, the less aggressively should such accumulation be taxed. Our goal is we need to encourage the accumulation of wealth for our aggregate economy and discourage wasteful use of our country’s accumulated wealth.
    The best trained people to invest wealth are going to be the people now in possession of wealth. Wealthy families tend to stay wealthy for a reason, and that reason is family lore and evolved family practices. This confounded communism and augers against it forcefully.
    With the capitalist victory in the Cold War, the spread of peace and stability has encouraged investment world wide, and this has driven up the value of capital. Strangulation of capital, limiting investment, is to be avoided.
    America has divvied up our economy into favored and unfavored. Solar and wind investments are favored. Coal mining is unfavored. Markets do this automatically. Government does this democratically. The value of externalities (positive–like employment and negative–like pollution) requires social responsibility that government fiat alone can forge. The cost of pollution is underreported, however, in that human sociopathy as well as environmental pathology are also among those costs, and thus the entire burden of institutional care may be laid at the door of polluters.
    So, do I argue for a flat tax? No, but progressive taxation should progress only to the limits of consumption. Purchase taxes rather than sales taxes should be progressive at the margin and on an annual basis, hopefully the fiscal year to avoid grinching Christmas. It is counterproductive to sales tax the poor at the same rate as wealthy people anyway. Our computational and communications technology could be utilized to enable this scheme without too much difficulty.
    That would help Musk to do what seems now impossible. The rest of us must help him, not hinder him. He’s working for all of us.

    1. We must help him like you must help me. No more.

      He’s working for himself more than anyone.

      Any notion of his altruism is unfounded and purely based on image.

  12. “They look for type A personalities, engineers who have excelled in robot competitions, made racing cars, have built unusual vehicles and have been making things all of their lives. They have to be passionate and work well in a team and have real experience in bending metal.” Well, I’m screwed!

  13. In a world where people only care about how thin their next phone is and what dick moves Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian are up to, Musk is a breath of fresh air,

    While working for him is obviously not for everyone, anyone applying for a job there would be well aware from the outset that it is a very high pressure environment, just like anyone joining the army would be aware there will be 20 mile runs and a good chance of getting shot at.

    No company is going to create a ground breaking product by employing people who sit on their arse and moan about how hard the work is.

    My 10 cents.

    1. There’s a difference between sitting on your arse, and having an expectation of actually working your contracted hours, with perhaps a humane and reasonable amount of paid overtime. Working 90 hours on a 40 hour contract isn’t “being cooperative”, it’s a ticket to a heart attack. As well as 50 precious hours of your short life that you’ll never get back.

      Exploitation like this is excused, and even praised, far too much these days, and it encourages more exploitation. If Musk wants to sleep at his desk, that’s his prerogative, and it’s him who’s going to make the billions of dollars. If he needs more man-hours, hire more men. That’s how people used to do business.

  14. Being paid well and doing something you believe in passionately is a luxury and if you know what you are in for then there is nothing wrong with how Elon optimises his workforce, but If you want to have a life too, yeah good luck with that.

    I’ve done the long hours thing, crazy contract rates and non-stop +30 hour days, never again, it damages you in the end and nobody cares once you are no use to them. Better to live a good and complete life and find meaning in it your own way, forget about the big money too because all the best things in life are free, you just need the time to enjoy them.

  15. My Take On Musk: A guy who is in to science and tech but has “social currency” so can actually get capital and cooperation unlike the awkward mathematician or hacker that people naturally have a problem with for being too “arrogant” or “snobby”.

    If he can persuade the world to science, objectivity, and conservatism instead of careless consumerism and illiteracy than more power to him. He seems to have the personality and look to handle the political part..

    I can’t tell you how many times in life things I did were passed over and used years later when someone else pushed it because I was awkward and naturally can’t persuade and social-network. It sucks.

  16. ““You’re standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?””

    I don’t consider that a terribly hard riddle to solve. When I was interviewed many eons ago for a software dev company I was asked some silly questions too like “why are man hole covers round”.

    Naturally my answer was “that’s the shape of the people who go in them”. I still got the job ;-)

    1. The book goes on to say that the importance in asking the question is not so much to see if you give the correct answer but more to see how you describe the problem and go about solving it. Much like your answer to the man hole cover question probably told them something about you that they liked (sense of humor? geometric thinking? doesn’t overthink?).

    2. They’re round cos if they were square they might fall in diagonally. Round cover can’t fall in a smaller round hole.

      The answer to Elon’s riddle is “The North Pole”. Only place on Earth where that’s possible. It’s a pretty stupid job interview question though. It’s like the riddle of the Sphinx, if you know the answer, it’s obvious. If you don’t, it’s not gonna occur to you. I’d sooner use some sensible problem than a daft novelty. I suppose if an applicant were crafty he could pretend to have worked the North Pole one out from first principles. Taking credit for someone else’s work, he’d therefore be ideal for management.

    3. I like the man hole question. The mistake many make is to think their answer is the answer. There are a plethora of reasons man holes are round, and someone who, unprompted, identifies many of them and is openly accepting of there being more will tend to be the type of thinker to:
      avoid mistakes based on their assumptions or interpretations,
      be more creative, not stopping at the first/easiest solution, and
      have an eye for detail, analysing the seemingly trivial
      The only issue is it is a question many candidates have encountered.

      Other reasons off the top of my head:
      They are the shape to cover manholes which are round because cylinders support pressure from surrounding earth most efficiently.
      They can be rolled making them easy to move.
      They maximise hole area for perimeter, minimising costs of lip insert and manhole walls
      Stress concentrations are minimised and loading is optimised for brittle cast iron.
      Maximum span is minimised, lowering strength requirements.
      Manholes are constructed from sewer pipe segments, no need to stock a different shape of wall.

      Any more people?

    1. “Altruism doesn’t exist, only enlightened self-interest” Ayn Rand is a dead huckster who sold sociopathy as something normal and noble to those buying confirmation bias. Enlightened self-interest is naught but sociopathy. Sociopathy is a flaw not an evolutionary bonus or strength.

      Musk is not practicing “enlighten self-interest” unless making the world a better place is so. Sure he pushes people hard, but it is not to make more money, but to get the job done efficiently as he know time is not on our side regarding anthropogenic global warming. People are capable of doing much more than they believe they can.

      If the cream of the crop has rocks in their head jawnhenry, where does that place you. For it is evident you would never cut it in one of his companies.

      In anticipation of a response regarding the so called “Myth of Scientific Consensus About the Cause of Global Warming” I give you the following:

      1. Well it does show that you have no qualms about screwing young workers over and not paying them for OT.

        Really it says a lot of bad things about Musk. He’s unable to manage, plan, allocate resources in a sensible manner and instead works in full panic mode to make up for it.

        Been there, seen it.

        The main products of such companies are the human wreckage that comes out the back door.

        And what does Musk produce in terms of real products – a toy for millionaires. .

        The fact a bunch of geeks at hackaday are ecstatic over a company that burns out people like them all the time is just pathetic.

        What a selling point to young people wanting to be STEM workers – get hired by a company that puts you on salary so they don’t have to pay you OT, work you 80 hours a week, that ruins your healthy, your social life and emotional well being so as to make some billionaire even richer and then after 18 months lays you off because you’re burnout.

      2. Ayn Rand didn’t even live up to her own psychopathic ideals. She went on welfare when nobody was buying her shitty books, and appointed someone else with power of attorney to claim medicare on her behalf. Power of attorney despite, presumably, being as sane as she ever was. So she took government help when she became in need, but did it in a ridiculous, pouty, childish “it’s not ME it’s that damn attorney, pass the morphine” manner.

        Everyone else is lazy and deserves starvation, but when Ayn needs help it’s she’s just taking back HER share of taxes that she paid decades ago. Just like everyone else did. Welfare is acceptable to Ayn Rand as long as you oppose the principle of welfare. She realised this truth at the point that she needed to claim welfare.

        In a world that wasn’t filled with coddled basement-dwelling arseholes and corporate psychopaths, she’d be just another dead crank that nobody had heard of. Like she was 20 years ago.

        Far as global warming goes, you’re probably doing the world a much bigger favour going vegetarian and not keeping pets, rather than just offloading your car’s energy usage to distant power stations. Might make the Middle East a bit calmer though, when it’s no longer economically worthwhile for the West to constantly interfere with them.

      3. Ayn Rand proposed an easy way out by having singular culture and production value for individuals.. It’s not “sociopathy” because she wasn’t publicly a SJW or something.. It just wasn’t politically correct or what Joe the fry-cook wanted to hear.. I dare say social-majorities especially in the US actually practice her teachings though they just don’t apply it to their own groups..

        Funny thing is most of the gated community idiots who are pushing her pseudo-philosophy these days don’t meet up to the standards according to it that they like to think. If you sold products at a corporate level you’re a salesman not a scientist or artist or rationalist. Be careful what you wish for “philosophers”..

        If we are to judge purely on behavior like actual rationalists then Musk seems to be a positive force in the world.. If not then who is? Who is he relatively worse than in any aspect?

  17. Why isn’t anyone talking about the HyperLoop? Isn’t it one of Elon Musk’s most fantastic inventions? Wouldn’t his engineers be able to overcome all of the limitations of travelling at the speed of sound inside a pipe?

    1. Probably because HyperLoop a dud. SolarCity is a dud – so broke that Musk is trying to bail it out using public investor money from Tesla to keep that SolarCity dud afloat. The only problem is that Tesla loses more money than it makes too.

      The whole setup is a house of cards that smells a lot like a ponzi scheme. The problem Musk has is that now he has a harder time hiding his magic math Enron accounting scheme to prop up all these businesses.

      Elon Musk is no more a genius than any other sucker who won the big lottery. The big difference is that Musk now believes he’s gods gift because he managed to win the lottery by selling an over inflated dot com bubble business to some suckers before the crash. He then managed to use this winnings to start another business that got bought out by PayPal and then won the lottery a second time after eBay overpaid him for PayPal.

      Musk’s genius isn’t technical. He’s a master manipulator and scam artist who manages to sweet talk people out of their money. SpaceX? Government supported. Tesla? Public company. He’s a genius at skimming off the top and selling his ideas to people too eager to give away money.

      He’s riding the front of the wave in another tech “dot com” bubble. His businesses lose more money than they make because they are not viable real world businesses without a bunch of sugar daddy’s to bank roll his tech fantasies.

      The Tesla car is pretty cool. I’d just rather spend $150K on other things that would make me money. Like shorting Tesla stock.

      1. Interesting how this “sucker” “who won the big lottery” is capable of doing what he did, while you are a just a despicable sucker yourself, whining about people who worked their ass off to get where they are now.

        1. I would be more interested in hanging out and learning from a “genius” like Dr. Dan Gelbart than a megalomaniac like Musk. Gelbart became a billionaire selling his business to Kodak. The difference in Gelbart’s business was that it was actually profitable and viable. If I ran my business the way Musk and the tech bubble start-ups do I would have been bankrupt long ago. And guess what…I’ve been running a business for 20 years now. I didn’t win the lottery and don’t have billions in the bank but I’m 90% confident that I’m probably living more comfortably that you are.

          If a person wins the big poker stars tournament two times does that make them a genius? Is that person guaranteed to win again? Thats not the way luck works.

          Don’t confuse hard work and success. I’ve seen a lot of really hard working people never get a fair shake. And I’ve seen real dumb@sses get hit with a money stick and still pilfer it all away.

          Sure Musk is smart. He’s blowing millions of dollars daily of other peoples money and people keep giving him more. Donald Trump is smart – went bankrupt 4 times (he destroyed other peoples wealth then walked away), doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes, and now he’s using his “business acumen” to fix the economy for everybody and is running for President.

          Yes I guess I’m despicable.

  18. I would certainly hope if I was a multi-millionaire I would not be asking anyone to work for me for free. I would hope I would be somehow making lives better instead of making lives worse. Elon is certainly free to make aggressive schedules for his company but the fact that he does this and relies on his employees to work massive, constant hours of unpaid overtime is what sickens me. He could hire more workers rather than ask for his employees to sacrifice all life outside of work and work for him for free so he can make more money.
    His companies are his dream, his passion, and all his hours worked go into increasing the value of his company, but his employees at SpaceX put in thousands and thousands of unpaid hours, working 70 hours a week or more, and have no meaningful relationship with any other human beings other than those they work with, and make less money than engineers doing the same job at other companies working 40 hours a week who actually spend time with their families and kids and friends and have a life outside of work. His dangling carrot of compensating employees with private company stock or stock options for when the company goes public sounds good but Elon does not see the company going public until after completing their Mars mission, which is decades away.
    Somehow Elon’s greed and demands for free labor are not viewed the same as a classic sweat shop, but thats what they seem to be to me, cloaked by the fact that the business is “cool”.
    Making a fortune by demanding people work 70 hours a week for you for 40 hours of pay is not improving anyone’s life but Elon’s.

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