Speed Listening: Or How Silicon Valley Peeps Try To Get Ahead by Downloading Books into Their Brains 

Here’s the e-mail that set my brain whirring.

“LOVED the book. Listened to it on Audible at 2x speed and finished it in three days. Couldn’t put it down. Congrats!”

It came from Anthony Goldbloom, the CEO of a funky, clever start-up called Kaggle. He sent it to me not long after my biography on Elon Musk had just come out.

It had never occurred to me that people might listen to the book at 2X speed in order to ingest the information at a quicker rate. But here was proof that such things occur. This struck me as such a Silicon Valley thing to do. Hook your brain to the machine and download at the best transfer rate available. And Goldbloom’s language shows just how close some people are to living this idea. He “couldn’t put it down.” That’s usually what people say when they’re curled up with a good book in bed and burn away the night reading. The vision of Goldbloom running and running and running or coding furiously for hours on end at his desk seems so much less romantic to me.

My gut tells me that Goldbloom is not alone. The hardcover version of the book has done very well, placing on the NYT best-seller list since its debut. But it has done extraordinarily well on Audible where “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” has been the top non-fiction title or near the top since ever before the book was released. This appears to be the way Silicon Valley has chosen to consume the book, and I suspect it’s because other people want to download the information into their brains as quickly as possible like Goldbloom and/or that Tesla owners like to hear more about Elon while in their cars.

Sadly, the NYT does not count audio book sales toward the NYT best-seller list totals. A New York Times spokeswoman told me, “We do not compile sales data on audio books and we have no plans to do so for a few reasons. Consumers often purchase an audio book because of who is reading it. It is difficult to compare audio books featuring outside readers vs. those in the author’s voice. Also, release dates and sales and distribution channels sometimes vary from the title’s print and digital publication cycles. Lumping them together with print and digital is not a seamless fit.”

These are fair reasons for not including audio books, although I’d suggest that the NYT is not really reflecting the way people have chosen to “read” books these days. I await the arrival of their “Most Brain Transfers” category.

Elon Musk, First Martian? A Serious Conversation About the Future in Space

I recently had a chance to sit down with Andy Weir, the author of The Martian. We both live in Mountain View, Calif. and have basically cornered the market on martians and hopeful martians. Weir did me the favor of analyzing the plans for Mars that Elon Musk lays out in my book and giving his take on whether or not Musk will in fact be the first Martian. The interview also hits on NASA’s future. Weir is a good, quirky dude. Hope you enjoy.

 

 

 

Source: Elon Musk, First Martian? A Serious Conversation About the Future in Space

The True Story of Elon Musk, Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark

When setting out to write this book on Elon Musk, I wanted to try and make the story accessible to as many people as possible. Yes, it’s a book full of electric cars and rockets and technology, but it’s much, much more than that. Musk’s life feels at many times like the stuff of a modern Shakespearean tragedy. There’s great suffering, back-stabbing in the boardroom, near-death experiences, tumultuous romance, fortunes won and lost and won again and a main character who may well be the most interesting man alive.

It’s been so gratifying to receive e-mails and other messages from people who devoured the book in one sitting. I always meant this to be a gripping tale first and foremost and a tome about business in the background. Many people helped make this possible along the way, including Elon, his family and a handful of the celebrities in his circle.

iron_man_stills

Robert Downey Jr. was one celebrity who provided some deep insight for me into the grandeur of Elon’s world. During our interview, he provided the most detailed account ever of how Elon came to inform and inspire the way Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark in the Iron Films. And here’s a taste of that. This is the start of Chapter 8 – Pain, Suffering and Survival:

AS HE PREPARED TO BEGIN FILMING IRON MAN IN EARLY 2007, the director Jon Favreau rented out a complex in Los Angeles that once belonged to Hughes Aircraft, the aerospace and defense contractor started about eighty years earlier by Howard Hughes. The facility had a series of interlocking hangars and served as a production office for the movie. It also supplied Robert Downey Jr., who was to play Iron Man and his human creator Tony Stark, with a splash of inspiration. Downey felt nostalgic looking at one of the larger hangars, which had fallen into a state of disrepair. Not too long ago, that building had played host to the big ideas of a big man who shook up industries and did things his own way.

Downey heard some rumblings about a Hughes-like figure named Elon Musk who had constructed his own, modern-day industrial complex about ten miles away. Instead of visualizing how life might have been for Hughes, Downey could perhaps get a taste of the real thing. He set off in March 2007 for SpaceX’s headquarters in El Segundo and wound up receiving a personal tour from Musk. “My mind is not easily blown, but this place and this guy were amazing,” Downey said.

To Downey, the SpaceX facility looked like a giant, exotic hardware store. Enthusiastic employees were zipping about, fiddling with an assortment of 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. After the initial tour, Downey came away pleased that the sets being hammered out at the Hughes factory did have parallels to the SpaceX factory. “Things didn’t feel out of place,” he said.

Beyond the surroundings, Downey really wanted a peek inside Musk’s psyche. The men walked, sat in Musk’s office, and had lunch. Downey appreciated that Musk was not a foul-smelling, fidgety, coder whack job. What Downey picked up on instead were Musk’s “accessible eccentricities” and the feeling that he was an unpretentious sort who could work alongside the people in the factory. Both Musk and Stark were the type of men, according to Downey, who “had seized an idea to live by and something to dedicate themselves to” and were not going to waste a moment.

When he returned to the Iron Man production office, Downey asked that Favreau be sure to place a Tesla Roadster in Tony Stark’s workshop. On a superficial level, this would symbolize that Stark was so cool and connected that he could get a Road- ster before it even went on sale. On a deeper level, the car was to be placed as the nearest object to Stark’s desk so that it formed something of a bond between the actor, the character, and Musk. “After meeting Elon and making him real to me, I felt like having his presence in the workshop,” Downey said. “They became contemporaries. Elon was someone Tony probably hung out with and partied with or more likely they went on some weird jungle trek together to drink concoctions with the shamans.”

After Iron Man came out, Favreau began talking up Musk’s role as the inspiration for Downey’s interpretation of Tony Stark. It was a stretch on many levels. Musk is not exactly the type of guy who downs scotch in the back of a Humvee while part of a military convoy in Afghanistan. But the press lapped up the comparison, and Musk started to become more of a public fig- ure. People who sort of knew him as “that PayPal guy” began to think of him as the rich, eccentric businessman behind SpaceX and Tesla.

Musk enjoyed his rising profile. It fed his ego and provided some fun. He and Justine bought a house in Bel Air. Their neighbor to one side was Quincy Jones, the music producer, and their other neighbor was Joe Francis, the infamous creator of the Girls Gone Wild videos. Musk and some former PayPal executives, having settled their differences, produced Thank You for Smoking and used Musk’s jet in the movie. While not a hard-drinking carouser, Musk took part in the Hollywood nightlife and its social scene. “There were just a lot of parties to go to,” said Bill Lee, Musk’s close friend. “Elon was neighbors with two quasi-celebrities. Our friends were making movies and through this confluence of our networks, there was something to go out and do every night.” In one interview, Musk calculated that his life had become 10 percent playboy and 90 percent engineer.10 “We had a domestic staff of five; during the day our home transformed into a workplace,” Justine wrote in magazine article. “We went to black-tie fund- raisers and got the best tables at elite Hollywood nightclubs, with Paris Hilton and Leonardo DiCaprio partying next to us. When Google cofounder Larry Page got married on Richard Branson’s private Caribbean island, we were there, hanging out in a villa with John Cusack and watching Bono pose with swarms of adoring women outside the reception tent.”

Excerpted from Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Published by Ecco, a division of HarperCollins © 2015 by Ashlee Vance