Elon Musk’s 5 Step Engineering Process

Nestled amongst this fascinating 3 part interview that Everyday Astronaut conducted with Elon Musk, is a nugget of engineering gold. Elon describes the 5 step engineering process he uses to build speed and efficiency at his companies(starts about 13 minutes into the video). Touring the under construction Starbase in south Texas, Elon shares the 5 steps outlined below as well as a wealth of information about Space X and Starship. Check out the video, after watching it, I have to see this place with my own eyes.

  1. Make your requirements less dumb: “The requirements are definitely dumb, it doesn’t matter who gave them to you. It’s particularly dangerous if a smart person gave you the requirements because you might not question them as thoroughly as you would if a dumb person gave you them.”
    • Any requirement/constrain needs to be attached to person, not a department. You can question a person, you can’t question a department. This ensures ownership and avoids “that’s the way it has always been done” thinking.
  2. Try to delete the part or process: Find what is truly required, “if you aren’t occasionally adding things back in, you’re not deleting enough. This bias tends to be very strongly towards, let’s add this part or process step in case we need it” It is easy to overengineer, but difficult to keep things simple.
  3. Simplify or Optimize: “possibly the most common error of a smart engineer is to optimize a thing that should not exist” Perfect the part or processes for quality before engineering for speed. Reduce or eliminate variation and defects in the process.
  4. Accelerate Cycle Time: “Go Faster, but not until you’ve worked on the other three things first… if you’re digging your grave, don’t dig it faster, stop digging your grave.” Now that you have a quality part or process, eliminate waste where possible to accelerate the process.
  5. Automate: Eliminate waste, don’t automate waste. “I’ve made the mistake of going backwards on all 5 steps, multiple times…” Elon describes a great example from the Telsa Model 3 battery pack manufacturing process that included a fiberglass mat that wasn’t even really required once Elon dove deep on the process.

Hopping down to Houston

Fueled by $29 each way flights to Houston, part of Southwest announcing new service to IAH in addition to HOU, I set to make a day trip in Houston.

Flying into IAH is of special interest to me because of the unique subway system that runs in the lower level of the airport. Outside the secure perimeter, in the plain, windowless lower level of the airport, is the only People Mover system built by Disney’s WED Enterprises that isn’t inside a theme park. Opened in 1981, the linear induction propelled train cars share little resemblance to their Orlando siblings except for the unique feel and sounds of the linear induction system and the train cars make the almost 20 minute loop around the airport terminals and hotel.

Having made the round trip on the “Subway” enough times to raise the eyebrows of airports employees, I grabbed my rental car and headed to my next stop, the 1940 Air Terminal Museum. This hidden gem of a museum is well worth the trip. The lovingly restored 1940 Art Deco terminal transports you to back rise of commercial air travel in Texas, its rooms filled with artifacts and models of bygone airlines and airplanes. The museum volunteers bring the history to life, an experience reminiscent of spending an afternoon listening to my grandfather’s stories.

My final stop before flying back to Dallas, was The Printing Museum in downtown Houston. Detailing the history of printing from woodcuts dating back to the 1300s up through modern day, the museum also hosts live demonstrations of historical printing process and in person classes. Another hidden gem in downtown Houston, The Printing Museum is certainly worth checking out.

Austin has always been my goto for weekend getaways.from Dallas, but with a little digging, you can find the weirder side in any city, even Houston.

Moseying through Marfa

A $39 Southwest flight, a rental car and a 3 hour drive from the modest 5 gate Midland International Air and Space Port, lands you in the middle of the universe, otherwise known as Marfa, Texas.

32 miles West of the Dairy Queen in Marfa, is “Prada Marfa.” Along the drive, I spot a white speck amongst the lines of stratocumulus clouds stretch along the west Texas horizon, but this speck doesn’t move and I tick down the mils toward the West Texas Prada outpost, an ever increasing refrain of “what the fuck is that” echoes within the Toyota Rav 4 as the stationary speck increasingly grows in size. The speck then begins to take the form of a blimp; now having ruled out aliens but not yet being able to identify said flying object, I’m left to ponder why the Goodyear blimp would be in West Texas. Maybe in these Covid times without many major sports going on the blimp finds itself covering a high school football game, Friday Night Lights style.

Past the large cutouts paying homage to the 1956 James Dean film “Giant” that was partially shot in and around Marfa, I see the answer to now identified flying blimp that is used by customs and border patrol as part of a radar network scouting low flying aircraft crossing the border from Mexico (Wiki- Tetherd Aerostat Radar System)

Prada Marfa

Having crossed “Prada Marfa” off the instagram bucket list, I set about exploring the rest of Marfa. There are pretty much 2 main streets in Marfa, dotted with eclectic shops, restaurants and galleries that would have been packed on any weekend in the before COVID times, but are struggling like so many small businesses. I wasn’t able to make reservations to visit The Chinati Foundation that arguably put Marfa on the map with their collection of its founder work, Donald Judd, who moved to Marfa in 1977. Next time.

The next day, following the only other other road out of town, I headed south toward Presidio and East along the Rio Grande River, traveling the scenic FM 170 towards Big Bend National Park. The picturesque and roller coaster like FM 170, where I actually saw a road runner and I have got to say cartoons have been lying and road runners(at least this one) are more like road speed walkers; also there was no coyote to be seen. My short trip only allowed me a couple hours to explore Big Bend, another thing to add to the list for the next trip…

Monday Morning Mind Meld 12/21/20

  • (Gates Notes) Bill Gates released his annual list of books to read over the holidays. “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” jumped out at me and at first glance reminds me of Susan Cain’s “Quiet” as something that may speak to me.
  • (Popular Science) An interesting article of how the supply chain for Dippin’ Dots is similar to the cold storage chain required to safely distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. There is also a great episode of “How I Built This With Guy Raz” on the story of Dippin’ Dots (NPR)

Pic of the week:

Tequila bottle Christmas tree at the Gaylord Texan

Monday Morning Mind Meld – 5/18/20

  • Movie: “Becoming” (Netflix) Hope, I think we could all use some at this time and watching the Netflix documentary on Michelle Obama takes you back to a time in our nation’s not too distant past full of hope for a brighter future that is missing in most of America bearing the weight of Coronavirus.
  • Book: “For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity”(Amazon) I’m rereading Liz Plank’s “New Vision for Mindful Masculinity” and with the isolation of quarantine I find myself with the time for both self reflection and reflection on the world around.
  • Podcast: “Sam Harris” (Tim Ferriss Podcast) Because everyone should have some Sam Harris in their life

Photo of the week:

Monday Morning Mind Meld – 4/27/20

  • Article: “‘A Goofy Movie’ at 25: An Oral History of “I2I” and the Powerline Concert Scene” (Slashfilm) A Goofy Movie turns 25 this month and is one of my favorite movies, now available on Disney +. Slashfilm does a oral history of the timeless music from the movie.
  • Article: “INNOVATION VS. THE CORONAVIRUS: The first modern pandemic” (Gates Notes)
  • Audiobook: “Caffeine:How Caffeine Created the Modern World”(Audible) A quick listen that I finished on a long walk on evening. Michael Pollan tells the story of the rise of coffee alongside capitalism, and the history of the coffee break in this Audible original.

Photo of the week

Buc-ee gets it. 😷

Monday Morning Mind Meld – 4/20/20

Fighting the urge to fall into a “Too Hot To Handle” shaped time suck, here’s what’s been distracting me from the darkness this week.

  • Series: “Devs” (FX on Hulu) While sitting at home binging reality dating shows on Netflix to make you feel better about your sad existence, why not watch a show that questions the universe and the existence of free will. The eight part miniseries is worth sitting through the commercials on Hulu for Nick Offerman’s performance alone.
  • Song: “Quarantine Boogie (Loco)” (Youtube) Hopefully not the anthem of the summer, but certainly the quarantine anthem.
  • Article: “Yes, Even Introverts Can Be Lonely Right Now”(nytimes.com) YES