Work in Progress: sterling silver matchbox holder (80 g), pictured with two paper prototypes. The original design was a box with a removable lid and handle made from four silver bars. The current design incorporates a hinge I practiced making in the earlier triangle pendant project. I still have not settled on a design for the handle (or latch or other closing mechanism) for the current box.


A sterling silver pendant, made from two triangular pieces joined with a hinge.

A 9 karat gold ring for a child

Regarding the first commercial production of his ‘horseless carriage’, Henry Ford supposedly said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

(Ford apparently never said that, but even so it’s still a good quote.)

I made this graph below from an article I saw at Wikipedia. It shows the size of largest container ship in the world, in terms of the number of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) it can carry, as a function of the year the ship was launched.

There is one ship, the Emma Mærsk, launched in 2006 with a capacity of just over 15000 TEUs, that stands out from the rest. But otherwise, the data points all seem to fall along a path that generally rises over time. Maybe the path is S-shaped and it seems like the three record-setters launched in 2017, the OOCL Hong Kong, the Madrid Mærsk, and the MOL Triumph, all with capacities greater than 20000 TEUs are nearing the size of the largest container ships that will ever get built.

These ships are monsters – early 400 meters (a quarter of a mile) long and over 16 meters (50 feet) at their deepest. This is twice the size of the largest ships in 2005. I am asking myself: Is this the logical endgame in the shipping industry? Just build a new largest ship, 1000 TEUs larger than last year’s largest, every year forever?

To me, it feels like ‘bigger ships’ is the shipping industry’s equivalent of ‘faster horses’. Maybe we will keep building ever larger ships. Or maybe 3D-printing will allow individuals, small companies or large companies, to make goods in Europe and the US that are now being made in China.

I have been seeing a lot of articles recently about innovations that seem to me to be ‘faster horses’ in agriculture, transportation, electricity and other areas.

Like ships, like largest passenger planes keep getting larger and the longest regular commercial routes keep getting longer. In 2001, Continental Airlines ran a 16-hour flight from Newark to Hong Kong. In 2004, Singapore Airlines flew an 18-hour flight from Newark to Singapore. In 2016, according to the BBC, a flight from Dubai to Auckland, New Zealand, had a scheduled duration of 17 hours 15 minutes. And a planned route from Dubai to Panama City will have a duration of over 17 and a half hours.

Again, ‘longer flights’ feels like ‘faster horses’. Will we still be flying commercial aircraft 500 years from now?

SpaceX is building a rocket that can hold a couple of hundred people and fly from New York to London in less than 30 minutes. They say it should be able to go from any point on Earth to any other in under an hour. Autonomous electric vehicles (AEVs) could replace short-haul flights. That feels more like the horseless carriage compared to the airline industry’s plans for larger planes, small supersonic craft, and longer routes.

Don’t worry about the timeframe – Just ask yourself what is the most logical endpoint, maybe 200 or 500 or 1000 years from now.

For energy, the most logical endpoints I see are solar power or fusion. In 1000 years (or sooner) we will have used up all of the oil, coal and natural gas. In 1000 years, we could also use up all of the uranium for fission. But in 1000 years the Sun will still be shining.

I have seen some articles recently saying that to accomodate more electric vehicles, we need to increase the capacity of electrical supergrids (the large trunk lines that form the backbone of the national-scale energy system). But the more energy we get from solar power, the less we will need giant electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure.

I have seen videos on YouTube of ‘exoskeletons’ – robotic suits that construction workers can wear to assist in lifting heavy weights and moving things. Here’s an article about big mining companies using sensor-equipped hats and helmets to detect fatigue among their vehicle drivers. Won’t these ideas just get wiped out by self-operating construction vehicles and humanoid robots?

I guess all technologies are transitional, and therefore exoskeletons and brain-wave helmets could be useful for a while until the robots arrive. But with technological change getting faster and faster, doesn’t it just make sense to spare the horses and hop on board the new ride?

Back when I was about 13 and the Soviet Union still existed, my social studies textbook contained a photo from a supermarket somewhere in Russia.

I think back about it every now and then. If I recall right, it was a black and white photo down a row of shelves that were almost empty except for a roll of toilet paper. Two women were standing separately in the aisle, each of them looking at that single toilet paper roll.

I realize that a photo is just a moment in time and maybe those women only looked at that roll for a second. But spine of my book had cracked so that basically every time I opened the book, it opened first to that photo. All year long, every time I opened the book, there were the same two women looking at that same roll of toilet paper, never finally deciding whether to buy it or not.

I guess what has stayed with me all these years about that photo is that, at the time, we were told that the Soviet Union was the world’s only other superpower besides the US. (They had beaten us into space!) And here with a basic staple item that is not particularly difficult to manufacture, transport or store, and that does not spoil, the Soviets forced to ladies to stand there, staring at a single roll of toilet paper forever.

Tony Robbins talks about the effect of taxes and fees on saving capital in his latest book, Unshakeable, and I thought one example he gives in his Unleash The Power Within seminar is so remarkable, simple as it is, that I had to recreate the numbers myself to check how it works.

Say that you start with $1 on the first of January and can put your money (capital) into an investment that will double one year later. At the start of year 2 you will have $2. At the start of year 3 you will have $4. At the start of year 4 you will have $8. How much money will you have after 20 years (the start of year 21)?

You can see in the table below that doubling your money each year for 20 years will leave you with over $1 million dollars. (A 100% return every year for 20 years is completely unrealistic, but it makes the math easier to follow).

What if your money doubles each year, but at the end of the year, someone (a tax collector or a professional money manager) takes 30% of the increase in your capital. So, when your initial $1 doubles to $2, the taxman (or money manager) takes 30 cents (30% of the $1 increase, not 30% of the full $2). How much will you be left with at the end of 20 years?

Again, we can see in the table. The first year, the fee will be $0.30, leaving you with $1.70 instead of $2.

The second year, your $1.70 will double to $3.40, but the fee will be 30% of the $1.70 increase (or $0.51), leaving you with $2.89.

The third year, your $2.89 will double to $5.78, but the fee will be 30% of the $2.89 increase (or $0.87), leaving you with $4.91.

So, by the start of year 4 you will have $4.91 instead of $8 and by the start of year 5 you will have $8.35 instead of $16. This 30% tax (or fee) has essentially left you one year behind by the start of year 5.

How much will you have in this scenario by the end of year 20 (the start of year 21)?

You can see from the table that it will be less than $41,000 ($40,642.31). That 30% fee leaves you in the end with less than 4% of what you would have had had there been no fee at all.

Where did the other 96% go? If we add up the fee collected each year, it only amounts to $29,610.40. In other words, you get about $41,000, the fee collector gets about $30,000 (for a total of about $71,000) and the other 93% of the money – $978,323.29 – simply disappears because it was never in the interest-generating pile of capital.

Now this example is extreme because no investment returns 100% per year every year for 20 years and taxes on capital gains (in the US) are more like 15%, taken only when you sell the asset at the end, not 15% of each year’s gain. However, some hedge funds charge ‘2 and 20’ (2% of your total capital, plus 20% of the increase), so a more realistic example might be 10% growth per year with a 15% annual fee.

Even in that case, you end up with about 76% of what you would have had if there had been no fee, the total fee amounts to about 12% of what you would have had, and then other 12% is simply destroyed.

I guess the same principle applies to non-financial matters as well. If the work you do builds on itself over time, and 15% or 30% of your effort each year goes toward unproductive tasks, then what you are left with at the end of 20 years or so could realistically be only a very small fraction of what it otherwise could have been.

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