The Importance of Taking Leaps of Faith

I love this commencement address by Peter Dinklage to Bennington College’s class of 2012 (link goes to a Facebook page):

Peter Dinklage: The Importance of Taking a Leap of Faith

I watched this today and it made me realize that in almost every major (professional) change I’ve made during my adult life, and certainly all those I look back on as positive inflection points, I chose *against* common wisdom, *against* the advice, the counsel, of those advocating a safer, more conventional path. I chose for novelty, for adventure; I chose for passion, and I chose to be contrary. And, yup, chance plays a role, and holy crap it was hard, exhausting, stressful work for long stretches of my life. But I think that incredible man has a point! #FailForward #DoItAgain

 

The Sun and The Wind …and Ideological Conflict

The events in Charlottesville, VA, over the weekend beginning August 11th, which included the death of one woman and the injury of dozens of others were tragic. My heart goes out to the family, the friends, and the community to which the slain woman, Heather Heyer, belonged, and to all those injured when a homicidal white supremacist drove his car into a crowd.

My hope is that James Fields, allegedly the man behind the wheel, will be found guilty and sentenced to death — a sentence that gets carried out in Virginia faster than any other state.

I no longer live in Charlottesville, though I did once. As a result, I’ve a great many contributors to my social news feeds from that wonderful city. All are saddened; most are broadcasting anger.

As a beginning Stoic, I ask: What do we want to accomplish? How best will we get there?

Many of those affected by that weekend’s events are clamoring for censure, some for the removal of freedoms that underlie our society. As an American, I understand their hurt, their rage, but believe that it’s not just the wrong answer, but a counter-productive one. It won’t solve the problem, it would exacerbate it and cause greater ones. (Full disclosure, I believe that to be true for most “solutions” that seek to apply the power of The State to force constraint, control, or the limit of freedoms, upon The People.)

Ramez Naam, a born Egyptian who rose to prominence in the US as a Partner and Director of Program Management at Microsoft, an award-winning author, a patent-holding entrepreneur, futurist, and technologist, posted this on his blog today:

Don’t let the terrorists win.

We said that a lot after 9/11, and have for the last 16 years. As air travel became absurdly cumbersome, as civil liberties were eroded, as people were arbitrarily blacklisted or detained without room for appeal – we said the terrorists were winning, causing us to undermine the underpinnings of our own society, to crack down on the freedoms that are central to the principles of the United States.

Now, I see friends calling for cracking down on freedom of speech, for restricting the First Amendment, taking away its protections from speech they (and I) consider loathsome. I even see friends advocating for physical violence against people because of their speech.

That, my friends, is letting the terrorists win.

I loathe the ideology of white supremacy. But to let fear or anger at it undermine our notions of civil liberties or civil society… that would be letting the terrorists win.

We’re bigger than that. We’re stronger than that. Don’t let the terrorists win.

In all the footage I’ve seen of those rally’s, without exception, “counter-protesters” are broadcasting hate, vitriol, and disgust at assemblies of white supremacists and neo-nazi’s, who are themselves there to trumpet their irrational hatreds and disgust toward anything “other.”

It’s an emotional, understandable reaction for even rational, tolerant humans, as deeply wired into us as our core values. Emotional responses often come from deeper places, stemming from shared heritage, cultural identity, or our own experiences with justice or lack thereof.

But nowhere among the thinking, the tolerant, does there seem to have been consideration of the question: What do we want to accomplish?

Because, sure as shit, answering hatred with hatred has never worked worth a damn. We know that! In fact, we as a civilization know pretty fucking well at this point that anger, loathing, denials — even the threat of (or actual!) violence — has never done a damn thing to knock a fundamentalist movement from its ideological perch.

When you apply force that will not be sufficient to break a belief, you only strengthen it. Knowing that, why would we choose to strengthen the voices of racists for them? You don’t kill ideologies by denouncing them any more than you do by making martyrs.

Denunciation didn’t work against the original Nazi’s. It doesn’t work with Islamic fundamentalists like Isis. And it won’t work with any other form of dogmatic, institutionalized, hatred like that paraded by supremacists. The most it can do is drive such movements underground where they fester like a cancer until achieving metastasis. Then there’s really hell to pay.

Answering hatred and intolerance with hatred and intolerance is like deciding it’s smart to put out a fire with gasoline. When you see someone doing that, you have to ask, “What exactly are you expecting to accomplish?”

Martin Luther King knew that. He knew that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Mahatma Gandhi knew that. He knew “You must be the change you wish to see in the world. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Most importantly, he knew that “Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.”

Hell, even Aesop, the storyteller and slave in ancient Greece back around 600 BCE taught that lesson in his fable, “The Wind and the Sun.”

The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveller coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveller to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveller. But the harder he blew the more closely did the traveller wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveller, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on and took it off.”

The moral, of course, is: “KINDNESS EFFECTS MORE THAN SEVERITY.

These great men knew that meeting hatred with hatred was counter-productive. And in that knowing, they accomplished the seeming impossible. Why have we forgotten that?

As citizens in a complex society, filled with partial information and misinformation, we should know that often the intuitive, emotional response is the wrong one, the least productive one. And the more complex or deep-rooted the problem, the more counter-intuitive the solution will often be.

It’s one of the reasons why societies ruled by demagogues or tyrants inevitably collapse.

What do we want to accomplish? How best will we get there?

Well, we know for damn sure that you cannot bully people away from an ideology. You cannot soften a mob’s will by flipping it the bird, shouting epithets, or throwing stones. So if you’re not willing to employ lethal force to “change” someone’s mind, the only rational response is to embrace an approach that will work over time. Be cool. Be measured. Be smart. Because peoples’ minds change slowly, when they change at all.

When a little kid throws a tantrum, the fastest way to suck the energy out of it is to deprive it of an audience. That’s why timeout is so effective.

At the same time, when you want to kill a fire, you don’t spray water at it’s top. You take away its source of fuel. You wet what hasn’t yet burned.

When your war is one of ideology, the only way to win is over time.

  1. You undermine its recruitment. You make the beliefs so ridiculous that the cult’s target recruited demographic does not want to be associated with it. In short, you starve the movement of fuel.
  2. You educate whom you can. You remain human, and caring. You contribute to the society you believe in. You stop fanning emotional fires by attempting to put them out with facts — they don’t work. You look through those trumpeting irrationality and vitriol. You give no voice to those who would tyrannize or terrorize others. And you bide while waiting for intolerance to die. In the meantime, give racism, hatred, NO audience. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Because mobs and fundamentalists are like two-year-olds. And you don’t raise a two-year-old into an adult by mirroring their own tactics back at them. That’s no more likely to accomplish anything meaningful than, well, showing up at a bigots’ rally about hatred with a bucketload of your own.

Much more effective, especially against adults, are leadership by example; gentle, consistent, persuasion; and pity. King knew it; Gandhi knew it; Marcus Aurelius knew it; and even the lowly Aesop knew it, more than 2500 years ago.

What would happen, I wonder, if counter-culture rallies proclaiming the embrace of ignorance, the spreading of barbarism or self-serving revisionism, went completely ignored? If nobody showed up? If nobody gave a damn that a bunch of crackpots chose to demonstrate their conviction that the world was flat, or (as in this current case) that others should be blamed for ones’ problems simply due to the color of their skin; their willingness to work smart or hard; or for their choice of beliefs?

What would happen if such rallies were completely ignored or, better, that those who witnessed such displays in passing, going about their peaceful, productive day, simply shook their heads, half-smiled with visible, sad pity, then went about their business?

What if no news broadcasters showed up to amplify delusional voices? Because people declaring sad, ludicrous beliefs are NOT NEWS?

If you cannot, will not, or should not, use force — especially deadly force — to change minds, you must use persuasion. You must find and use the leverages that are inherent in our being a social species to shape amoral or aberrant behaviors over time. You find the vulnerabilities, then apply pressure when and where it will be productive.

Many people like to embrace anger as their first response. It’s as natural as flight-or-fight in response to a perceived threat. But no one rational, no one who’s educated, no one who’s studied history’s errors and would avoid repeating them, jumps to anger as an answer when the questions they should be asking aren’t how do I feel right now, but:
What do we want to accomplish? And,
How best will we get there?

Obstacles are opportunities.

What happened in Charlottesville was tragic. And this is going to happen again, and again, there and elsewhere, if we as a society continue to take our responses from ideologues that are like carpenters whose only hammer is anger.

Home is where the heart …gets healthy again!

For me, it’s always great to get back home from a trip. We had a wonderful time …but of course, like people often do,  while touring Italy I allowed the excuses of “vacationing” and “environment” for a solid week of lazy exercise and detrimental dietary choices.

Unsurprisingly, Italian food, commonly served in 3- or 4-course meals, always with wine (and desert!)(at least on the group tour we took, where many of the meals were pre-ordered for us) created an easy +5lbs in 9 days. Because, “Hey, everyone else is ordering that way!” It’s ridiculous how easy it is for me to fall back into nom nom nomming foods that reinvigorate those American-bred, fattening, aging, sugar and wheat addictions! It’d be easy to shift blame to those childhood “clean your plate!” instructions, but let’s face it: If I claim sentience I also have to accept responsibility for the food I shovel into my pasta hole!

So I always feel that one of the best parts about coming home from a trip is resuming the healthy lifestyle that is too often the first casualty of world travel. That feeling made this recent post by Rohan Rajiv, whose blog I follow, resonate this morning (@4am, because of course my I’m still recovering from a week on European time!):

Your environment versus your willpower

You can find his post at: https://alearningaday.com/2017/07/18/your-environment-versus-your-willpower/.

Now I’m looking forward to a short run and a mindful breakfast!

Thunderstorms and Golden Doodles

We get awesome thunderstorms in the Midwest. I love them.

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Karly H., aged twelve’ish.

My dog? Not so much. As you can see here, during any stormy rumblings, she will only be found down in the basement, in my writing cave, hunkered under my desk.

Today, while Debbie and I were sitting at the table eating taco salads for lunch, looking over a backyard being inundated with needed rain (about thirty minutes before the adjacent picture was taken), Karly and I had the following exchange:

[Scene: Two humans are seated at a dinner table. Their faithful canine companion is curled beside the man’s chair, snoozing (and perhaps snoring) as only twelve-year-old dogs can do within 8 seconds of laying down, anywhere, anytime. Lightning flashes.]

Man: “Oooh, that’ll be a good one.”

[Thunder rocks the house. The dog sproings from sound sleep to stiff-legged alarm. She pivots toward the stairs leading down into the basement.]

Man: “Karly, it’s just a little Spring storm. Stay and watch with us.”

[The dog pauses, perhaps recognizing the word “stay” in her master’s speech. A command? Really? Now? Is he freakin’ kidding? She looks over her shoulder. “Hooman,” her eyes say with deep sincerity, “fifteen thousand years ago, when our kind first began living with your kind, there were two kinds of dogs. There were my kind — those smart enough to know full well that storms were dangerous and the only wise thing to do when the sky growls is *always* seek shelter below ground, where dens are supposed to be dug (for good reason!) — and there were the other kind of dog, those who left risk determinations in the hands of their supposedly smarter hoomans…

“As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one kind of dog left.

“Now, are you coming, or not?”]

[The dog exits, stage left.]

 

This weird new snake oil can extend your life!

Edit: This article was updated on Jan 25th, 2017, after an exploratory conference call with the Ambrosia, LLC, Founder. -KH

So, do you wanna live forever?

When I began writing my number one non-selling book, “Surrogate Threats,” I was motivated by the idea that advancements in medical science had put us near the cusp of consumer-accessible life extension. Even back in 2015, a growing number of very smart people were predicting near immortality within ten years. My contemplation of that possibility spawned the creation of a fictional antagonist named Ryk Marius who, obsessed with the desire to become immortal and unwilling to be constrained by regulatory brakes or cumbersome morality, developed a plausible plan for life extension using today’s (and, okay, a little bit of tomorrow’s) medical technology. As an entrepreneur, I had such great fun hashing out my antagonist’s business model and innovating through his logistics challenges, I ultimately put his company, Marius Technologies, online at Rejuvi.me.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to spending part of 2015 caught up in recurring fantasies about extracting the (mostly) legal aspects of Marius Technologies to create and fund an actual bio-tech venture. If I’d known then what I know now, I might just have done it!

The Tantalizing Business of Life Extension

My sticking points in 2015, other than a chickenshit reticence toward funding legally gray, outlandish, futurist ventures, were (1) that I didn’t think I’d be able collect quite enough funding to get my life-extension venture off the ground; and (2) that I’d have to move out of the country to get around the United States’ oppressive regulatory environment when it came to building businesses out of experimental bio-tech. Put another way, I’d pretty much have to become a full blown Bond villain to develop this world-changing therapy into a profitable business. So I was stymied.

What made it more frustrating was that I was pretty sure someone could actually pull my plan off, if those meddling kids (and, you know, the rest of the world) would just leave them (and me, and my imaginary investors) alone to do it!

I needed a way to advance the vision that the rest of the world wouldn’t consider insane, ethically dangerous, and/or shudderingly creepy. Aye, therein lay the rub!

I was stuck.

Then, a week ago, I was stunned to learn I could have worked within the current US regulatory system to offer experimental age rejuvenation services while collecting substantial revenues — even if the process ultimately didn’t work! After all, while Winston Churchill once said,

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm,”

Kevin Higgins adds, “…and, even better, with no loss of your own money!”

There WAS a way!

you-wanna-live-forever

why-yes-i-doThe inciting element in this week’s narrative was a blog post on the site Singularity Hub by Peter Diamandis titled, “Stem Cells Are Poised to Change Health and Medicine Forever.”

Buried about three-quarters of the way into that article, in a section about the four main areas of stem cell therapies to watch, was a section on parabiosis. (For those not into linking away while reading, parabiosis was the term originally coined in the 1860’s (!) for linking the circulatory systems of two creatures, one young and one aged. The resulting blood sharing was found to literally, significantly, reverse the age of virtually all bodily tissues in the older creature. More recently, parabiosis is a term used to describe a process where blood (or plasma) from young donors is provided to elder recipients. The most energetic studies of parabiosis potential today in the US are being done at Stanford, where the treatments are being explored for their potential to stop (or reverse!) the progression of Alzheimer’s. Similar studies are being pursued at many other universities and research clinics elsewhere in the world.)

It’s really not science fiction that hordes of our most advanced researchers are beginning to view aging as a disease that can be cured.

It may turn out that Ponce de Leon’s long-sought “Fountain of Youth” was circulating through the arteries of the Utes* around him all the time!

This is the part where your inner mad scientist says, “Well, wait. If learned and aggressive clinical research doctors are securing valuable (and always scarce) funding to explore whether parabiosis rejuvenates aging, Alzheimer’s-riddled brains …and a full century of parabiotic experimentation with animals has created reams of peer-reviewed findings documenting the reversal of cellular age in virtually all bodily tissues …then maybe parabiosis has a strong chance of becoming at least one part of a multi-faceted strategy to cure people of aging!”

And your inner entrepreneur says, “Holy crap — that’s one of the Holy Grails of bio-tech!” (the other, of course, is to resolve once and for all whether a European Swallow might carry a coconut)(sorry, that was obligatory after a Holy Grail reference, but I digress)crazy-enough-to-work

Meet Dr. Jesse Karmazin, MD, Founder of Ambrosia, LLC, and your Conductor on this Entrepreneurial Train to Sci-Fi Town. Because what Dr. Karmazin has figured out, which I missed back in 2015, is (1) how to offer old (and perhaps wealthy, or desperate, or both) people access to the blood of youths via transfusions of plasma (a modern day, lower-risk take on actual parabiosis), while (2) operating under FDA regulations in the US, AND (3) get the applicants to pay the cost of the clinical trial! Genius!

Karmazin realized that as part of the Federal Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007 (one of many regulatory evolutions that opened up and increased transparency around clinical trials), establishing a clinical trial has become much more accessible (read: cheaper). He also pieced together two additional key allowances that made Ambrosia’s study viable: (1) (some) patient-funded clinical trials now fall under less scrutiny than they used to, and (2) the FDA doesn’t require approval for processes that are well-established, standard treatments. As you might expect, common blood transfusions (and, especially, even less-risky plasma transfusions) fall under this category!

One valuable type is genius is the ability to solve Gordian Knots of bureaucratic red tape with Alexander-like clarity.

Having found a way through the regulatory maze that I thought would require going offshore, Karmazin next had to develop a capitalization scheme — never an easy prospect when your core enabling technology (blood or plasma transfusions) isn’t protectable via patent. Because without developing a barrier to competition, finding Angel Investors, let alone Venture Capital, is a low-probability moon shot!

Still, the financial prospects were persuasive: 600 participants at $8000 USD per enrollee …comes to a cool $4.8MM in potential revenue for this study! …if you can find that many applicants.

Advancing science while making money? That’s enough to make the Pet Shop Boys sit up and take notice!

And the costs? Here’s my personal speculative back of the napkin work: The wholesale prices for getting blood tested and bio-markers reported can be found for less than a couple hundred dollars (depending on the various markers being evaluated and the accuracy desired). [Update: this may cost significantly more, given the vast number of biomarkers being tracked in this study.] You’ll need that done at least twice. And the cost of an actual unit blood plasma? Only about $61, on average. (Maybe one might pay a little more for the special order, primo stuff — like the plasma of Utes). [Update: this article’s initial calculations were based on erroneous information found online. Dr. Karmazin’s study is for an initial infusion of seven (7) units of Ute plasma, not the ~3 units originally reported.] Add in some consumables here and there and that creates estimated testing and plasma variable costs of about $1000 for each study enrollee. But, then it gets harder; you have to have a place for the participants to go for initial testing and qualifications, to receive the transfusions, and for subsequent blood draws and foll0w-up. That requires staff and office space. And, as every entrepreneur knows, fixed costs can be a bitch for a small venture (it’s why we so often start them in a garage).

[Update: At about an hour per unit of infused plasma, the seven (7) hours of clinic “seat time,” which is spread over a two-day period, will have to be factored into the variable costs.]

Enter young Dr. Karmazin’s savvy choice of business partner, Dr. Craig Wright, a longtime luminary in the field, a board-certified physician with over 30 years experience in seeing patients and working in the biopharmaceutical industry, an innovator (he holds over 15 patents), and a man with one additional important contribution: He’s already come out of retirement to open and operate an infusion clinic in Monterey, CA! With one brilliant partnership, that smashes our fixed costs flat and flattens out many of the other logistical hurdles — opening and managing clinical office space, tapping into an existent business for insurance and regulatory compliance, hiring technicians, etc. And it’s a win for Dr. Wright — his clinic is (presumably) already operating in the black; this is yet another source of (high-margin) revenue that doesn’t increase his existing fixed costs.

Work your way through the creation of a clinical trial and register it on the FDA’s clinicaltrials.gov web site, pay the requisite fee, and Voila! You’re in business!

[Update: And there’s an additional business model strength. The shortness of the clinical trial (one month) introduces opportunities for participants to come back for multiple transfusions, enabling this clinical trial to perform financially more like a therapy. That’s beautiful. As an entrepreneur, being able to sell deeper into your market, tapping satisfied customers, is usually a more profitable course than having to acquire new customers for additional revenues (assuming your therapy works).]

So, who wants a chance to feel (and perhaps actually become) younger? As a bonus, you may help advance the science of longevity, of anti-aging.

Step right up. You pays yer money and you takes yer chances.

image-53.jpg

* “Utes” – Youths

Sliding windows of opportunity

Author , who wrote “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” published an article an Internet eon ago (roughly 10 days), titled, “What to Do When Someone ‘Steals’ Your Amazing Idea.” I came across it in my newsfeed from Observer.com.

Now that, thought I, as a self-identified (paranoid) entrepreneur and occasionally penitent bad sharer, looks like something I should read. Because while a mere idea is the 1% inspiration to the 99% perspiration required to breathe life into a new venture, that flash  of what often feels like original genius is the inciting element that starts every entrepreneurial snowball rolling down Mount Disruption. That lightning-like “Eureka!” moment strikes rarely and without warning, so it’s natural to adopt a Gollum-like protectionism over your conceptual Precious, less some sneaksy Bilbo-analog snatch away your visions of changing the world.

The hard truth, of course, as Nir writes, is that that attitude is the “Sign of a Novice.” He explains,

“People tend to believe ideas are rare things, gems to be collected and hoarded. But in fact the nature of creative work, be it corporate innovation, academic research, or artistic endeavor, tells us quite the opposite—that if a useful insight pops into your head, it’s most likely in other people’s minds as well.”

Well, that stings. I’m a serial entrepreneur and I still want to behave that way when I get speared by inspiration out of the blue.

Nir continues,

“It’s called the ‘multiple discovery theory,’ which, contrary to the ‘heroic theory of invention,’ posits that discoveries are most often made by multiple people, not by lone ‘geniuses.’ History is littered with examples: the formulation of calculus, the discovery of vitamin A, the development of the telephone, the light bulb, the jet engine, the atom bomb.

‘When the time is ripe for certain things,’ the mathematician Farkas Bolyai said, ‘these things appear in different places in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.'”

Of course, most people who think they’ve stumbled onto some novel idea discover truly original insights are as rare as Astatine shortly after rushing off to uspto.gov (or Google) to execute a quickie patent search.

Mr. Eyal and Mr. Bolyai are inarguably correct. One’s idea is almost certainly not unique or novel to the world. But that doesn’t suggest that dismissing such shower thoughts, or approaching their development with slow deliberation, is the sane course of action. On the contrary, embracing the slavering enthusiasm that such ideas fire is what separates entrepreneurs from those preferring the path most trodden. The thing to recognize about such ideas is that they fuel the furnace that creates the steam it takes to start an entrepreneurial locomotive up Disruption Mountain.

But here’s the thing I would add to Nir’s article: That those flashes of inspiration are almost always shared by others does not mean they are not scarce. Nor does it imply that birthing an idea simultaneously with (or after!) some other inventor(s) dilutes one’s chances of fanning that baby into the kind of conflagration that burns yesterday’s paradigms down.

It’s an adage that while many people get ideas; few do anything with them. But that’s not entirely true and it’s a worldview that can be dangerous for the erstwhile entrepreneur. There are a lot more people that, once shown the path, can figure out the execution than there are those who can see the path to begin with.

Each of those ‘Amazing ideas’ (assuming you’re not delusional) may represent what I think of as a sliding window of opportunity. Once opened, they’re only going to remain that way for a short period before someone else will slam it shut. The risk that makes inventors averse to sharing should not stem from fear of theft. The greater danger is that sharing an idea beyond a select few known and trusted fellow visionaries wastes time that could be spent in research, refinement, and development. In the early stages of business conception, after commitment to the unicorn-like Golden Idea, sharing and the doubt that can introduce from people who don’t have time or interest in your vision can slow one enough that they never get out of the starting blocks.

Sometimes, that instinct to guard one’s embryonic inspiration with at least some level of discretion is the best way to convert innovative adrenaline into the most precious of all entrepreneurial elements: The will to begin the work of building a product. That protecting your Precious reduces the chance of theft and exploitation by a pent-up competitor is merely a bonus.

 

Friday Flections: “9 Rules For Building A Successful Business” (or life).

Today’s “Friday Flection” is from the blog of Tim Ferris and conveys some sagacity from Dr. Peter Diamandis (@PeterDiamandis), who has been named one of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune magazine. In the field of innovation, Diamandis is Chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, best known for its $10 million Ansari XPRIZE for private spaceflight. Today the XPRIZE leads the world in designing and operating large-scale global competitions to solve market failures.

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Enjoy Peter’s Principles (which are very different from the “Peter Principle!”) at the below link:

http://fourhourworkweek.com/2016/09/22/peter-diamandiss-9-rules-for-building-a-successful-business/

Have a great Friday and remember — if you’re not chomping at the bit for Monday morning to roll around, your life’s parabola might need some flexing!

For Sale: 2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S …because it’s not self-driving.

The guy who built the house in which I live oversized the garage so he could store his (fairly sizeable) boat at home over the winter. So as garages go, it’s a bit ridiculous. Lots of empty space…and you know what happens when you apply Carlin’s Law of Stuff to empty garage space: Some of that cavernous emptiness fills with cars.

I have many character flaws and an enthusiastic addiction to sculptures you can drive is near the top of the list. I love the kind of four-wheeled, drivable plumage that turns a weekend at a grand-prix style road course into a rollicking, adrenaline-set life experience.

Putnam Park Hot PitThough it’s not my usual track car, I’ve created a few such memories with my 991-series Porsche 911 Turbo S. Until recently, its 560hp and all-wheel drive made it the fastest accelerating road car Porsche had ever put into wide production. But 0-60mph in as fast as 2.6 seconds, and 0-120mph in a hair over ten seconds is only half the story. The car’s torque-vectoring dynamics, electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential, single-rear-wheel brake application, and rear-wheel steering, give the car the cornering ability of a cheetah …or maybe a gazelle running from a cheetah.

But it’s a 2014 — a model year when even the most advanced production cars only sported “Level 1” autonomous capabilities. So it needs a new home, before it’s too late.

Level 1 autonomous operation? What’s that mean?

Oh, come on. Certainly, you know by now that cars come in five important classifications:

  • Level 0 autonomous: Complete human-piloting required. The current source of over 32,000 deaths in the US per year.
  • Level 1 autonomous: Some automatic oversight to decrease the severity of human failures in skill or judgment. The car has some nanny systems, like stability control or automatic braking (for when that idiot driver in front of you stops without first checking his rearview mirror to see if you’re busy texting or not). This is probably what you’re driving now, unless you’re still in a level 0 car.
  • Level 2 autonomous: Limited semi-automatic operation, like lane keeping (the car will stay between the lines on the highway and either go the speed limit or pace the car ahead of you, stopping if necessary). This is perhaps the most dangerous level, because the car can do a surprising number of things without needing a human much, for most scenarios. This prompts overly-trusting, underly-sentient drivers to stop paying attention to what they’re (or their car is) doing, despite manufacturers’ warnings that the driver is required to be in control of these cars, with their hands on the steering wheel, at all times.
  • Level 3 autonomous: The car can do everything without driver intervention for many circumstances, and is (theoretically) situationally aware enough to know when it can’t, in which case the mostly-autonomous car will give its passenger sufficient time to take over as driver without creating a laundry emergency. These aren’t out yet, and will probably quickly give way to…
  • Level 4 autonomous: The holy-shit, whiz-bang, be-all-end-all of self-driving evolution, where the car is expected and able to do everything, under (almost) any conditions, without any guidance (other than being told where to go). Most experts include vehicle operations without any requirement for a human to even be in the car in this level, while other hair-splitters consider that a level 5 classification.

This is important to you (and gets to the reason underlying the sale of the car featured in the article headline) because:

(1) your current car is at best a level 2 car (if it’s an appropriately-optioned Tesla model S), or a Flintstone’esque level 0 or level 1 (everything else, as of May, 2016); and

(2) level 3 cars will begin driving families around public roads in some countries in early 2017, with wider availability in 2018, and the first level 4 production cars from many manufacturers are scheduled for release into world-wide markets in 2019.

Joe and Jane Mainstream really aren’t paying much attention to this yet. But that’s going to change over the next year, and when it does, Joe and Jane will have no interest in your pain-in-the-ass, obsolete, level 0 or level 1 (or even level 2) car anymore. Not when level 3 or level 4 cars are affordable (and they will be) and will allow them to get from point A to point B — including handling their heretofore miserable daily commute — without interrupting their Netflix bingeing.

As a result, all those level 0 through level 3 cars will, over the course of a very short time, become 21st-century Edsels. And sure, those who own specialty cars (like this 911 Turbo!) may be insulated from the kind of demand vacuum that hyper-depreciates undesirable cars [<cough>Volkswagen diesels</cough>], but only for a time. Because sometimes even sports car drivers would rather chill on Instagram rather than inch agonizingly along in stop-and-go traffic jams.

Which brings us back around to the Porsche 911 in question. Which is truly and honestly for sale to a good home (ideally to someone not paying attention to the blistering pace of automotive technological change or the market changes they will bring). Normally, Porsches — especially high-performance Porsches — hold their value well. But with only level 1 autonomous capability, this car’s value will begin plummeting in two years or less.

Hey, you there — staring at your computer/mobile phone/tablet screen! Looking for a good deal on a really fun, late model 911 Turbo? It’s adaptive cruise control and automatic braking is the cat’s meow (…for now). And lemme tell ya: It’s a very high-tech car (for a 2014). You won’t want anything more (..for at least two years)! Autotrader will provide serious inquirers with the necessary contact information.


Kevin loves driving cars (whenever there’s no traffic). And he loves buying cars. And once upon a time, he sold cars for a living (although not very well, as you might have guessed). And he loves this one weird little three-dollar book that could save you or someone you know thousands of dollars in automotive expenses over the next few years!

Pushing boundaries …while keeping the shiny side up.

Hoosier competition slicks don’t squeal like street tires do when pushing the boundaries of lateral grip. The folks at Hoosier expect drivers to possess enough feel for their car’s departure characteristics to have abandoned reliance on audio cues when coaxing their cars to the ragged limits of applied physics.

That’s the sort of knowledge that’s best internalized long before attempting to blend high lateral Gs (or g-forces) with the tire-loosening throttle that carries a car from the curb-caressing apex of turn 10 at Putnam Park Road Course to the track’s outer edge. Try to coax more lateral grip than the car’s setup allows, or get too heavy-footed on the gas during turn exit, and Newton’s immutable 2nd law will introduce the car’s shiny paint to a ravaging barrier wall just waiting to penalize such seat-of-the-pants, F=ma, calculation errors.

On the other hand, take the turn too slowly or lay into the throttle either too gently or too late means giving up two, or four, or ten mph at the turn’s exit. That deficiency then haunts drivers throughout the full ten or eleven seconds of acceleration down the front straight. Every missed mile per hour robs long tenths of a second from lap times.

All this flicked through the thoughts of the 997-era Porsche 911 GT2  driver in the four-heartbeats between turn 9 and turn 10. That’s not a good time for concentration to lapse.

Putnam Park turn 10

He scowled as he left a frustrating amount of padding between his car’s capabilities and the risk of a graceless, spinning exit from the track’s asphalt surface. He’d been off in the grass, and into a tire wall, before. It was making him too cautious now.

Fuckin’ granny, he chided himself. Accepting risk was an inherent part of extending one’s limits. No one clinging safely to their comfort zone ever improved at anything.

But in the last year, his damned car had begun appreciating wildly in value, leaving him overly cautious about sliding his Hoosiers as close to the abyss as was required for fast laps. Shaking his head, he thrust smoothly down on the gas, searching for that maximum amount of acceleration lying just this side of breaking the tires loose and allowing the 911’s heavy rear end to whip around and into the lead.

The car surged forward. Rocket sled g-forces momentarily fused spines and helmets to the carbon-fiber seat backs, ensuring the GT2’s inhabitants became one with the car.

The GT2’s windows were down. That was required during high-performance driving exercises. So the 120mph, then 130mph, then 145mph, thirty-eight degree Fahrenheit, Indiana Spring slipstream buffeting the car’s cockpit grew chillier. Yet neither the driver nor passenger spared attention to miniscule sensations like bone-chilling cold. Small sensory discomforts went unnoticed before the dopamine-based joy this car’s ability to slingshot out of a corner created.

2008 911 GT2 Facebook cover

In the passenger seat, the Porsche’s master mechanic, riding along to experience the result of the modifications he’d made to the drivetrain and suspension, fought the acceleration and the six-point safety harness to get a glimpse of the car’s instrumentation. He might have yelled “Holy crap” at what he saw, but amidst wind noise and thunderous exhaust, it’s hard to tell. A rear-engine car under straight-line acceleration might be considered the epitome of traction; nevertheless, for much of the car’s pell-mell flight down front-straight, the dashboard’s traction and stability control lights flickered on and off, indicating the application of such power that even the Hoosiers’ relationship with the asphalt became alarmingly tenuous.

“See?” the driver yelled, ten time-dilated seconds later. “It’s freakin’ nuts with the new tune! The car goes like a raped ape!” Cackling like a madman, he abandoned the gas pedal and put the car into threshold braking, right at the limits of ABS, throwing both occupants forward in their restraints and slowing the suddenly nose-heavy vehicle just to the point where the turn 1’s cambered exit banking was the only reason the car remained on the track rather than sliding WAY off into the grass.

An engine blip and downshift later, the car leapt toward turn 2. There were eight more uniquely demanding turns to conquer before the driver’s next stab at that most dangerous, and rewarding, turn 10.

Putnam Park turn 10 (2)

This was just a little exercise in narrative point of view, perspective, tense, and accessibility. I wanted to flex mental muscles a little prior to getting back to work on my second book in the Michael Rader series. After taking a break from fiction to knock out “Self-Driving Steamrollers,” I needed some forced typing to get back into third-person-limited mode again. If you’re still reading, I hope you enjoyed the diversion, rough though it may have been.

Putting Off the Decision to Buy a New Car May Be the Smartest Decision You Make

Then again, used cars will soon begin losing value at an accelerating rate, too — what’s a person to do?

The US auto industry had a record year in 2015. After surviving the sales trough tied to the financial and housing market implosion of 2008, US auto sales have been steeply up and to the right since the middle of 2009. In fact, the skyrocketing growth in car sales over the last six years is the strongest recorded by the car industry since World War II.

Looks rosy, doesn’t it? Then again, so did the housing market in the years before 2008. That’s the nature of economic bubbles.

Looking under the covers, we see some dirty sheets. Analysts have discovered negative equity ratings in almost a full third of car owners. They’re “under water,” in the parlance of the auto industry. The number of car owners who owe more on their car than it’s worth has rapidly almost doubled. Meanwhile, during this last six years of “growth,” average loan lengths have increased by two months per year, allowing more people to finance cars that they might not have been able to afford under older, more conservative, financing guidelines.

And an almost record number of those loans are “subprime,” meaning at higher risk of default. So now the auto industry growth is beginning to look like something we might see in a sequel to the 2015 Oscar-nominated movie, “The Big Short.”

Adding risk is the fact that millennials are showing increased apathy toward the historical “thrill” of car ownership. Falling percentages of them are even bothering to get a driver’s license. On-demand ride sharing has already eroded many city dwellers’ interest in car ownership. That trend began causing used-car prices to fall in 2015 and is forecast to continue through 2016.

Now we introduce a new specter, the age of autonomous cars. Their revolutionary technology and ability to transform the transportation experience looms to begin pulling more blocks from the bottom of this financial Jenga tower. What does that mean to you?

google-car-otto (800x444)

Assuming you don’t live in one of the few cities in the US where it’s common for people not to own a car, you or your family probably owns at least one, and maybe multiple automobiles. Within a few years, the value of those cars — your ability to sell them when you no longer want them — will begin to fall through the floor.

Probably beginning around 2020, but perhaps as early as 2019 for some cities, great masses of people are going to collectively decide that not only would it be stupid to buy a new car, they no longer want the expense of owning their old one. They’re going to anticipate the leap to new autonomous, on-demand transportation services. For many, that buy-in will be lock, stock, and barrel.

Within a couple years, markets will be flooded with used cars, for which there are decreasing numbers of buyers. The rest is basic economics, supply and demand. Five years from now (2016’ish), if you’re still hanging lovingly onto your old family horse, you’ll be lucky not to have to pay someone to cart it away for scrap.

In some parts of some countries, in the next few years, if you buy a new car without the capability for fully autonomous operation, you’re setting yourself up for major losses. Unless that car appeals to some specialty market (perhaps well-to-do folks with a passion for driving a sports car, for example), you should expect that new car to depreciate at devastating speeds. If you finance much of your car’s purchase price, you may never get to the point where the car is worth more than your loan payoff.

This will be exacerbated by additional financial realities. Those in the lower income brackets, young people entering the labor force, and the semi-skilled laborers who create most of the market for used cars are: (1) certain to be hardest hit by the coming changes, because historically that is the population most impacted by times of technological and economic disruption; and (2) the demographic who will probably find the cost savings of on-demand transportation most compelling.

As the demographic who comprise most of the gently-used-car market’s buyers become early adopters of autonomous on-demand transportation, the demand for used cars will evaporate. There will suddenly be an overwhelmingly greater supply of used cars than demand. Prices will plummet.

Your non-autonomous trade-in’s value will plummet with it. Even in areas where on-demand transportation does not quickly reach critical mass, forcing you to own your own car, the financial and quality-of-life incentives for owning a new self-driving car will still dampen the demand for the obsolete car you’re driving today and will soon be anxious to sell.

The used-car market implosion will begin in the cities, where autonomous on-demand car services will first appear and gain adoption. As demand ramps and the number of self-driving cars increases to meet that demand, people in those areas will begin divesting themselves of (dumping!) their cars. That will cause local used car values (for non-autonomous cars) to plummet. At the same time (if not before), new car sales in those areas will slow as people realize they’re decreasingly interested in taking on that unnecessary expense.
For a time, there may be some business opportunity in moving cars from regions where the supply of used cars is ballooning (causing falling prices) to areas of the country (or neighboring countries) where on-demand transportation has yet to become available. But that will last no more than year or two.

That domino effect of a glut in the used car market and softening new car demand will ripple outward from cities, into the suburbs, and finally into the country. With the ripple, car dealerships will contract in volume. The number of people they employ will decrease. Then used-car dealerships will begin to fold up their tents.

As on-demand transportation becomes ubiquitous, the only people buying “old fashioned” human-driven cars will be those who’ve figured out a way to make money from disassembly or scrap, or by moving them to regions of the world where autonomous cars are unsupported or disallowed.

Or people who’ve taken up driving in demolition derbies…

Smart people need to begin watching the market and the developing autonomous technologies. Timing, or mistiming, when you ditch your non-autonomous car could save you, or lose you, thousands of dollars.

This article is an excerpt from the first edition of the book, “Self-Driving Steamrollers (Your Guide to a Future Featuring Autonomous Cars You May Never Buy)”. It’s available for Kindle on Amazon.com. “Self-Driving Steamrollers” is an example of “Book 2.0,” encouraging collaboration. If you have something to say on the subject, you can submit your suggested essay or additional chapter(s) for inclusion in the next edition of the book. Editions come out often!

If you like this article and/or agree that thriving in the future is more likely when you’re prepared for its possible differences, please recommend it to others. That will help others discover it — and maybe their future will be better for it!