Tesla Motors: How Elon Musk and Company Made Electric Cars Cool, and Sparked the Next Tech Revolution

The inspiration behind Tony Stark’s Iron Man business man persona, Elon Musk, is truly a fascinating and intriguing character.   I will confess that my first impression of Musk, was an eccentric rich play boy, who craved the lime light with no real substance – the technologies Paris Hilton.


I couldn’t have been more wrong in my initial view of Musk.  The man, immigrated from South Africa, cut his teeth in the early 90’s technology boom, first creating and selling Zip2 then more successfully, founding and selling PayPal.   The theme so far, Musk was a disruptive business man, challenging the conventional wisdoms within a particular industry sector.

He wasn’t finished yet.  The car industry, the space race and the worlds energy producers are all in his cross hairs and he’s making significant progress with each.

This book tracks the history of his motor company, Tesla Motors Inc., a company that has redefined the auto-mobile in the modern day age.   The media can’t heap enough praise on the infamous, “insane” Model S.   What made a company that just barely celebrated its 10th year, leap frog and leave every established manufacturer with their pants down?

The book retraces the steps, from the humble beginnings of attempting to create an electric car with the sexiness and practicality of a high end luxury car, shaking the classic “golf cart” view of an EV car.

You are taken through the various milestones of what it takes to create a modern day mass scale automotive company.   Musk has a 3 step program that is so far on course.   First create a limited run (expensive) car, to prove the market, shake out the initial findings and create a media buzz.   The Roadster (loosely based on the British Lotus Elise) was that first car that had a 2500 production run.   The next is to create a high end sedan, to compete with the likes of Mercedes, BMW and Lexus, and to use that to show case just precisely what an EV can do while catering to a practical and demanding audience.  This car is to bring the company to profitability and maintain a positive cash flow.   The Model S (originally named WhiteStar) more than ticked that box.   Finally, to create a mass appeal car, in the $30k price bracket, that can be bought by the average motorist; the Model X coming later (hopefully) in 2015.

Musk involved himself at every stage, micro managing some of the design elements, including the infamous reclining door handles.   He wanted a car that not only redefined the auto-mobile for the 21st century but had the performance of a super car, such as a McClaren F1 or Ferrari.   His cautionary tale to his team was to say: “DeLorean looked great, but had shitty performance”.

Tesla while an American built car, is more international than probably most realize.  The Roadster had a lot of help from Lotus (British).  Daimler (German) and Toyota (Japanese) are major investors and customers of Tesla, while Panasonic (Japanese) supply the batteries and a partner in the GigaFactory project.

But the story is far more interesting and intricate than quick sound bites.  Musk’s legendary energy (he apparently works 100hrs a week; saying he can do in 4 months what most people can only achieve in a year) affords him the ability to be active in not just one disruptive high tech company, but three; Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity.


This book is well written and very pacy in its narrative.  I completed the book in just two sittings as each page I turned, I was marvelling at the complexity of what it takes to bring around a revolution.   What Amazon done for shopping, Tesla is redefining what it means to design, build and deliver the next generation of automotive transportation.   But to limit Tesla to just cars is doing them a huge injustice; they are an energy company with many of their innovations in the world of battery power management.

Musk believes in the greater good, proving this, by open sourcing (a common term in the software industry from which he came) all of Tesla’s patents, for any company to come along and kick start their EV program.  Inspiring.

I came to this book to learn more.   I am the recent owner of a Tesla Model S car, and it literally takes my breath away each mile I drive.   When you drive the Model S you know you are sitting in a time machine, 20 years in the future.   Never did I think I would be driving a car daily, that can do 0-30 in 0.7 seconds, beating nearly every super car on the planet, with no production car getting anywhere near that.  

I had to know more on the story of this revolution and this book filled in a lot of the gaps.  I am far more appreciative of the sweat and effort it took to bring this car to the market.   I feel I am no longer driving an EV car, but taking part in a crucial part of history that will change how we view and interact with what we know today as the humble car.

The story is still unfolding.  The book goes up to the summer of 2014.   That is nearly a year ago now, which in Tesla years, is a lifetime away.   Much has delivered a lot since then, and Musk shows no sign of slowing down.

Looking forward to reading the follow up to this story.

Tesla Motors: How Elon Musk and Company Made Electric Cars Cool, and Sparked the Next Tech Revolution

[review] Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!

I am always fascinated at the history of companies, particularly those that we interact with on a daily basis.  Yahoo is one of the original pioneering internet companies that seems to be a poison chalice for any CEO that attempts to reform it back to its glory days.

This book, contrary to the title, is not all about Mayer and her fight to save Yahoo.  It is instead a history of Yahoo, the many board room drama’s it has faced, the near misses and numerous hits.   There is a number of chapters focusing on Mayer at Google and how she rose up through the ranks there.

I had the good fortune of meeting and chatting with Marissa Mayer a long time ago, after a talk she delivered on the design of the Google search page.  I was impressed by her nervousness that overshadowed her brilliance trying to break through publicly.   That was nearly 10 years ago and after reading this book, it looks like she still suffers from this nervousness.

The book is fast paced and well written, taking the reader through each episode of Yahoo’s beleaguered history.  I read this book, 341 pages, in one night, failing to put it down as each chapter kept my interest and excitement at how things were panning out.   I knew of Yahoo’s many failures (attempt to buy Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc) but what I didn’t know was the real story behind those.  Fascinating.

An example when Microsoft attempted to buy Yahoo, for 3 times the price of the stock at the time.  Too much pontification and posturing ensured the deal was destined for failure, including the creation of a “suicide pill” which would make it very expensive for any would be suitor to make big changes.

It voted to adopt a new severance plan for Yahoo employees where, if the company were to be acquired, any Yahoo employee who quit “for good reason” would get a large cash payout and a bunch of stock they would have otherwise had to stay in their jobs for years to get.

A “good reason” would be “any substantial adverse alteration” in the employee’s job over the two years following the change in control. Given that many Yahoos had very specific responsibilities and qualifications, many of them would have been able to walk with cash and stock after the deal.

What was fascinating for me to learn was just how many CEO’s Yahoo went through that never knew technology – one never even used email!  This was ultimately the failure that lead Yahoo to be where it is today; two founders that never had the business ambition of Page/Brin. Got the sense they were never really that passionate about the business.

Yahoo created the very industry that made it irrelevant.  Netscape, an early pioneer under Jim Clark/Marc Andreessen, had the decency to call it a day and realize it was no longer in the game.  Yahoo suffers the same fate, however, management have checked out, but HR haven’t been told so the payroll continues.

The sheer size of the company was staggering to learn, the amount of projects (400+) it was supporting, all with their own infrastructure and languages.  There was no standard.  No unifying business strategy.  An example was Yahoo Photos competed with Flickr (an acquisition Yahoo made) for many years.

The only reason that Yahoo is still in the game today, is due to a $1B investment it made in Alibaba (the chinese online marketplace company) a number of years ago.  This has resulted in Yahoo’s stock to be in excess of $37B.   This is a good problem to have, however Yahoo’s stock is trading high not because of what it is doing back at home, but how it’s investment in Alibaba is doing.

Mayer is having to make a big decision this quarter on what she is going to be doing with that investment as shareholders are itching for her to give back.

Mayer has a big battle in front of her.  She has made huge progress with Yahoo in the first couple of years since taking over.   Focusing on some of its flag ship products (mail, home page) and bringing in a focus on mobile apps (their weather one won an Apple design award last year).  She is running the company finally as a product company with a laser like focus of her time going over the smallest of details.

“This page is too busy. What you need to do is look at every font on the page, every font size. And every time you see a new color or a new font size, you add up a point. I want this page below five points.”

Moral overall is much higher, employees are far more engaged and resumes are coming in.

She isn’t without blunders so far though.  She hasn’t hired terribly well for those around her management team, with one costing Yahoo $100M.

The book is unfinished.  Mayer is only just getting started in Yahoo and while it is easy to quickly snap to judgement I believe there is more to come on the Yahoo story.

[review] Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!

Amazon S3 overhaul for OpenBD

Building on last weeks work with AmazonS3Write() function, I have just released a slew of updates and changes to the whole range of OpenBD functions designed to make it easier to work with Amazon’s S3.

The following functions have been updated with new functionality:

  • AmazonS3Write()
    Supports background uploads. Multi-part uploads (for larger files). Set storage class and ACL as part of same call.  Retry logic.  Callback CFC uploads. Amazon Server Side Encryption support.
  • AmazonS3Read()
    Amazon Server Side Encryption support.
  • AmazonS3Delete()
    Supports deleting of multiple files in a single request.

The below functions are new to the suite:

  • AmazonS3Copy()
    Copy a file to another location (including another bucket), setting the storage class and ACL in the process.
  • AmazonS3ChangeStorageClass()
    Changes the storage class of the given file.
  • AmazonS3BucketExists()
    Checks to see if a given bucket exists.
  • AmazonS3CreateBucket()
    Creates a new bucket.
  • AmazonS3DeleteBucket()
    Deletes a given bucket.
  • AmazonS3BucketSetACL()
    Sets the default ACL for the objects in this bucket.
  • AmazonS3BucketRequestPays()
    Flips the flag on who pays for the access to the files in the bucket.

These are available now as part of the OpenBD nightly release.

Amazon S3 overhaul for OpenBD

Improved AmazonS3 uploads with OpenBD

I have added an end of year feature bonus to OpenBD, available in the nightly build edition.   This improves the uploading capabilities to Amazon S3 from your CFML apps.

With this improvement, the AmazonS3Write() function brings the following features:

  1. Retry capability, complete with configurable time to wait between retries
  2. Automatic local file delete on successful upload
  3. Background uploading, with CFC callback upon success or failure

This will help a lot with the management of uploading to S3.  As wonderful a service as S3 is, it isn’t without the odd hiccup when uploading.   Retry logic was a must in any business critical application that required data to be reliably uploaded.

This addition to OpenBD reduces the amount of code the CFML developer has to code and maintain, while increasing the reliability.

Available now to download and start using.

Improved AmazonS3 uploads with OpenBD

“Scotch: The Whisky of Scotland in Fact and Story” by Robert Bruce Lockhart

If you are mildly interested in the history of Scottish whisky then you can go no wrong with this book written by Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart.

Lockhart, died 20 years ago, and was from a completely different era with a word play that you would expect from the upper-class snobbish of an old boy that can only bring a smile to your face.   To give you a hint of how he sees the world, here is an excerpt that had me in titters …

  • On my way back from a fishing expedition, my hired car broke down outside a tiny cottage on the Grantown-Tomintoul road. Before the door stood a tall spare man who lent my driver a bicycle and, while the driver went off to get another car, I talked with the man.

Creeps up on you doesn’t it?  Written as if he had broken down while driving around the roads of the Scottish Highlands, but no, it wasn’t he that was put out, but his driver!  Classic.

This attitude is to be embraced and enriches the journey Lockhart takes us on as he charts the history of whisky from its humbling beginnings in the Highlands to the international drink of choice it has become today.

Lockhart takes a look at the make up and personality of the expert whisky drinker with some classic lines:

  • ‘One whisky is all right, two is too much, and three is too few.’ Two makes you want another and after three you can’t stop.
  • I would define the average whisky drinker’s attitude towards his favourite drink as a wobble between what he really likes and what he thinks he ought to like.

  • Scotch malt is a he-man’s drink and goes with hard toil and strenuous exercise in the open air. Blended Scotch is for weaker stomachs.

He takes us through the process of how whisky is made and highlights some interesting facts that the average drinker is probably not aware of.

  • Malt whisky, which emerges from the spirit still as clear as gin, has to be matured in order to rid it of impurities and to improve its flavour.

  • Sherry in the wood which gave the malt whisky its rich amber colour, and depending on the size of the cask, malt whisky is at its best between the ages of eight and 15 years.

  • Nowadays, in order to obtain standardisation of colour the big whisky firms who control the trade use a solution of caramel

  • Contrary to a widespread belief, whisky does not improve in the bottle.

  • The use of the sherry cask and the consequent colouring of the whisky were probably accidental, and whatever the advertising wizards may say, the colouring in itself has only a small effect on the flavour.

Another interesting tale he talks to us about is the consumption of whisky in England, Ireland and Scotland … showing the Scottish know how to drink (which still holds by the way in 2013!).

  • In 1842 England with a population of 15,000,000 consumed 7,956,054 gallons of spirit (mainly brandy, gin and rum) or approximately half a gallon per mouth of population.

    Ireland with a population of just over 8,000,000 consumed 5,290,650 gallons; roughly two-thirds of a gallon per mouth.

    Scotland with a population of 3,620,184 drank 5,595,186 gallons, mostly whisky, or more than two gallons per mouth of population!

The book is packed full of interesting tidbits, including the differences with American whiskey (note the extra ‘e’) and how he believes that it shouldn’t be called anything near whisky as it is not made from barley but instead corn or rye/grain.   Now that said, Lockhart is so loyal to the Highland single malt that he barely recognizes the Lowlands as officially in Scotland (and he considers Edinburgh to be in the Lowlands!).

I loved this book and thoroughly enjoyed the tone, including the very detailed account of the Burns Supper in Dumfries as he toured the infamous Globe Inn and local spots.

If you enjoy a good single malt (here is where I do agree with him, blended malts are not to be even considered whisky) then this book will have you tittering and give you an insight into that beautiful, smooth, silky liquid that you hold in your hand.

“Scotch: The Whisky of Scotland in Fact and Story” by Robert Bruce Lockhart

“Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath, Dan Heath

This book was recommended by my trusted colleague, Stefan Bauer, as a bit of light reading over the weekend.  Weighing in at only 291 pages, it was a book that proved very hard to put down once started.

The authors take a look at what it takes to make ideas and messages resonate and stick with people.   By using lots of case studies they illustrate just how easy it is to manipulate people’s minds by simply rearranging words and challenging the conventional wisdom of what you would think should work.

An example they use is getting people to choose a given outcome.  First they present 2 choices, and then run the study again and offer 3 choices.

Suppose, instead, you had been given three choices: 1. Attend the lecture. 2. Go to the library and study. 3. Watch a foreign film that you’ve been wanting to see. Does your answer differ? Remarkably, when a different group of students were given the three choices, 40 percent decided to study—double the number who did before. Giving students two good alternatives to studying, rather than one, paradoxically makes them less likely to choose either. This behavior isn’t “rational,” but it is human.

Another idea they discuss in depth is how we tend to over indulge our audience with facts and figures, we tend to give too much information.   It is a natural effect but the key is to be aware of it and break it.

People are tempted to tell you everything, with perfect accuracy, right up front, when they should be giving you just enough info to be useful, then a little more, then a little more


Becoming an expert in something means that we become more and more fascinated by nuance and complexity. That’s when the Curse of Knowledge kicks in, and we start to forget what it’s like not to know what we know.


If you want your ideas to be stickier, you’ve got to break someone’s guessing machine and then fix it

One of the most fascinating things that the authors illustrated was how positive thinking wasn’t always the best way of making us better.  In fact they argue that replaying every single step that laid up to the poor outcome should be re-imagined.  The idea being that you need to be aware of the conditions so you can recognize the signs and take steps to avoid them.

It turns out that a positive mental attitude isn’t quite enough to get the job done. Maybe financial gurus shouldn’t be telling us to imagine that we’re filthy rich; instead, they should be telling us to replay the steps that led to our being poor.

There are lots of great examples of how urban myths and proverbs stick in our minds.  How have those ideas lasted thousands of years and makes people want to repeat them.  They pick apart the process and how you can manage that with the messages you are trying to sell.

I have read a number of books like this and it still amazes me how we think we have “free will”.  Humans really are just programmable bots and if you know the right words to use you can get them thinking whatever it is you want for a particular subject.

While this book won’t give you the secret code, it will help you hone your message and make your ideas stick with people for a bit longer.  Well worth the read.

“Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath, Dan Heath