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Why Elon Musk will be remembered as an automotive pioneer | John Naughton

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As I write, Tesla, the manufacturer of electric vehicles (EVs), has a market capitalisation of $1.051tn, which makes it the world’s sixth most valuable company by market cap. Tesla shares are trading at $1,047, which is 64% higher than at this time last year. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of the company, currently has a net worth estimated at $300bn, which makes him the richest person in the world.

Enormous wealth, like power, acts as an aphrodisiac that warps people’s perceptions of those who possess it: it’s as if they’re surrounded by a reality distortion field. Similar force fields have enveloped Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in their time and now it’s Musk’s turn. Because he’s uncommonly voluble on social media, especially on Twitter, where he has 65.7 million followers, his every utterance is assiduously parsed by besotted fans (all of whom call him “Elon”, as if he were a buddy of theirs). This gives him an influence way beyond that of any other corporate executive, influence that, on some occasions, even affects global financial markets through what the normally sober Financial Times calls the “Tesla-financial complex”. A closer examination of his Twitter feed, though, yields an impression of a really complex individual: a baffling combination of formidable intelligence and ungovernability – part visionary, part genius, part fruitcake and part exploiter of tax loopholes and public subsidies. And it raises the question: what (or where) is the real Elon Musk?

The answer, I suspect, lies in his mastery of the business of manufacturing complex products. One sees it, for example, in the way SpaceX, the aerospace company he set up to reduce the colossal costs of space travel, has become the first non-state organisation to: successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft; send a spacecraft to the International Space Station; manage the first vertical takeoff and vertical landing for an orbital rocket; and send astronauts to the International Space Station. Anyone who thinks this stuff is easy has never done it.

Compared to SpaceX, you’d have thought that the business of manufacturing electric cars would be child’s play, especially since, compared to vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, they’re considerably simpler. (Basically, an EV is like a massive skateboard where the huge battery is the board.) Even so, when Tesla started making them in 2008, the world (not to mention Ford, General Motors, BMW, Mercedes, VW and Toyota) sniggered, which, oddly enough, reminded this columnist of the way Nokia and Motorola sniggered in 2007 at the idea of Apple making a mobile phone.

The story is the same in the case of the car. Tesla did eventually figure out how to make them – making bodyshells out of aluminium and then kitting them out with all the stuff that goes into a vehicle using a combination of robots and humans – and now its Model 3 is emerging as the bestselling new car in a number of markets.

But it turns out that, just as with Apple and the smartphone, mastering the art of conventional manufacturing was just the beginning. Some time ago, Musk seemed to have had an epiphany, perhaps triggered by a conversation with a grizzled veteran of car manufacturing named Sandy Munro, who allegedly likened the rear end of a Tesla shell during manufacture to a patchwork quilt. Why, Musk mused, couldn’t the entire bodyshell be die-cast in one piece from molten aluminium, just as reproduction toy cars are?

You can guess where this is heading. Tesla bought a number of colossal press-casting machines – inevitably christened “Giga Presses” – from Idra, the Italian company that makes them. And they are now deployed in some Tesla factories turning out the rear half of Model Y bodyshells as single pressure-moulded pieces. Suddenly, a task that required 70 different parts to be assembled by 300 robots is being done by a single giant machine. The obvious next step is to use the same process to make the complete bodyshell in one fell swoop.

This step – and the huge investment needed to implement it – suggests a new way of thinking about Musk: as the spiritual heir of Henry Ford. Since the early days of the car, there have only been three major paradigm shifts in the manufacturing process. The first was Ford’s introduction of a moving production line, memorably satirised in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, which could turn out a completed Model T in 90 minutes.

The second paradigm shift came from Toyota in the postwar years – the famous “lean” production method that involved minimising inventories and arranging supply chains for just-in-time delivery of components that arrived just before they were needed at the relevant stage in the manufacturing process. Although invented in Japan, and initially ignored by the US car industry, in the end every car has been made the Toyota way.

Lastly, the arrival of the Giga Press and the thinking behind it is what suggests that, in the end, Musk might be remembered not so much as the oddball who dreamed of colonising Mars (or possibly expired thereon), but as the guy who found a new way of making terrestrial vehicles. He will doubtless be frustrated by this thought, but – hey! – that’s a price the rest of us might be prepared to bear.

What I’ve been reading

Words of wisdom
How to Fix Social Media is a long, thoughtful and historically informed essay by Nicholas Carr in the New Atlantis.

Woolf at the door
The Work of Living Goes On: Rereading Mrs Dalloway During an Endless Pandemic is a lovely essay by Colin Dickey on the dystopian undercurrents in Virginia Woolf’s famous novel and its echoes in our attempts to “move on” from Covid.

On the bright side…
Why Humans Aren’t the Worst (Despite, Well, Everything Happening in the World) is the title of an intriguing interview with the journalist and historian Rutger Bregman by Kara Swisher.



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Angharad Yeo: the 10 funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet) | Comedy

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I am a child of the internet. I was always drawn to computers and tech, and used to beg my dad to bring us to his office on a weekend so we could use the high-speed internet to play Neopets games. As I got older it was all MSN, MySpace, Paramore fan forums, Tumblr, Twitter and now TikTok. I want nothing more than to zone out and look at my little pictures.

One of my favourite things about the internet is that it allows you to see everyone’s best joke. The moment in their life where they were at their absolute funniest – whether it be because they had a moment of brilliant wit or because they got pulled through a panel roof while practising for a high school play (I assume).

The internet has rotted my brain with the following content. Please now allow it to rot yours.

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The Pandemic Years have (and continue to be) difficult for everyone. Who among us has not, at one time or another, needed to just explain themselves by saying: “It’s mental illness, innit?”

2. Perfect burger

When I showed this video to my fiancee, she flatly said: “I like how absurdist it is.” That’s her code for, “I don’t get it, but I’m happy you’re happy.” And I am happy. Look at how confident and brave this burger is – ready to take on the world, come what may. I wish to be the burger.

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I have been to court precisely once because I inadvertently got in a cop’s way and he was grumpy about it so he booked me. The penalty was dismissed but not before I cried in front of the judge trying to explain what happened because I was so stressed out. Court is a daunting place and I simply cannot imagine walking in there with any level of irreverence. However, I’m extremely glad there are people who simply do not care, will say whatever damn thing and then an internet angel turns them into TikToks.

4. Turtle choir

This tweet is made all the more majestic by the vaguely threatening Sylvanian Families-style profile picture, on a Twitter account named @bigfatmoosepssy.

5. Trying coffee with pasta water

Climate change is slowly turning the Earth into a barren ball of pain as Mother Nature smacks us for being extremely bad. Even though individual responsibility for climate change isn’t enough to turn the tide, I still applaud those who try. Twitter user @madibskatin woke up in the morning and decided to be the change she wants to see in the world, tastebuds be damned. One could argue that it’s pretty obvious that pasta water isn’t going to make a good coffee but like my dad says as he puts pineapple juice in his coffee: “If no one tries it, how will we know? What if it’s secretly good?”

6. Soaring, flying

If you look closely, this video is actually a metaphor for the ways in which we attempt to break free from our circumstances, yet are entirely at the mercy of them.

7. You cannot trick me

This may be a parody Twitter account, but the spirit of Gail Walden speaks truths. There is no victory sweeter than that which is gained on thine enemy’s own soil.

8. Self-deprecating jokes

Humour is a coping mechanism. I am coping.

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Dairy products are delicious. Ice-cream? Revolutionary. Cheese? Life-changing. Whipped cream on a pavlova? Essential. But milk? Disgusting. It’s not a drink, it’s a stepping stone to greater things.

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I am absolutely 100% not at all lactose intolerant (I promise) so I don’t relate to this video at all (not even a bit).

Angharad Yeo is the host of Double J Weekends, 9am – midday, Saturdays and Sundays.



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F5 cuts revenue 2022 forecasts amid low network chip stocks • The Register

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The artist formerly know as F5 Networks – it moved to plain old F5 in November – is clipping revenue forecasts for fiscal ’22 by $30m to $90m because it can’t source enough specialised chips to produce systems.

The continued impact of the shortfall was outlined in F5’s Q1 results to 31 December and subsequent earnings conference call, during which chief exec François Locoh-Donou opened up on the challenge of suppliers cancelling orders because they can’t meet demand.

“As a result of persistent strong system demand, our systems backlog continued to grow in Q1,” he said. “Over the last 30 days, suppliers of critical components that span a number of our platforms have informed us of significant increases in decommits.

“These came in the form of both order delivery delays and sudden and pronounced reduction in shipment quantities. The step function decline in components availability is significantly restricting our ability to meet our customers’ continued strong demand for our systems.

“Like others in the industry, we are seeing worsening availability of specialized networking chipsets. Within the last 30 days, we have learned that deliveries for 52-week lead time components or at a year ago have been pushed out and that our expected quantities have been reduced.”

Group turnover grew 10 per cent year-on-year to $687m in F5’s Q1, fuelled by a 47 per cent leap in software to $163m, 2 per cent in services to $344m, and 1 per cent in hardware to $180m.

“Our software transition continues to gain momentum,” said Locoh-Donou, adding later in the earnings call: “While we are solely disappointed that supply chain challenges have gated our ability to fulfil customer demand for systems in the near term, we are more confident than ever in our position, our strategy and our long-term opportunity.”

The backlog grew by 10 per cent so the sales pipeline is looking healthy, said the exec, who was at great pains throughout the call to tell analysts: “It absolutely is a supply issue. And the revision we’ve just done to our annual guidance is 100 per cent linked to the supply issue.”

For the year, F5 now expects sales to grow 4-8 per cent ($610m to $650m).

“The issue with our supply chain has deteriorated steadily. And last year, we were not able to ship the demand, which is why our backlog grew so much during the year.

“Things have been getting worse. And at the beginning of our fiscal year, when we were doing the planning for this year, we actually took into account the number of decommits that we were getting from various suppliers and a situation that was already very tight on a number of components.”

He said in the past month it was seeing more than 400 cancellations from suppliers, “and we were running about 30 per cent less than that even just a month ago – the situation is quite unprecedented.”

In a bid to ameliorate the supply situation, F5 said it is working to design and qualify replacement parts – which may improve thing in the second half of the year. It is also trying to pre-order more components.

F5 is confident that it will not see orders cancelled. “The demand we have is very real. Our lead times, unfortunately, have gotten progressively worse over the last five, six quarters, but we haven’t seen any increase in order cancellation, and we don’t expect to see that going forward,” Locoh-Donou stated.

Supply chain problems with silicon components have been hitting companies in the IT industry and beyond for multiple quarters now, and networking vendors are no less vulnerable.

Last year, Arista warned that lead times for key chips were extending out to 60 weeks, twice what would be expected before the pandemic. Both Arista and Juniper announced they were being forced to bump up prices in November, while Cisco warned its buyers and investors that supply chain issues were likely to persist for several months more, although it expected to see some improvement in the situation for Q3 and Q4, taking us into the second half of 2022. ®

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Cork data centre equipment maker Edpac acquired for €29m

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Munters, a Swedish air treatment technology company, will use the Edpac acquisition to expand into the European market.

Irish data centre equipment manufacturer Edpac has been acquired by Swedish company Munters in a €29m deal.

Based in Carrigaline, Co Cork, Edpac manufactures cooling equipment and air handling systems for data centres in the European market, with additional sales in the Middle East, South America and Asia.

For Munters, which has significant operations in North America, the acquisition is an opportunity for it to expand in the European market. Once complete, the deal will see the transfer of Munters’ technologies and engineering capabilities to Ireland.

“The European data centre market is a prioritised segment for Munters, and the acquisition is a significant step in our growth strategy,” said Klas Forsström, president and chief executive of Munters.

Forsström said that Munters’ experience in the North American market will provide Edpac with “opportunities for further profitable growth” by collaborating on “technology development and establishing unified processes”.

Edpac has two manufacturing facilities in Ireland – Newmarket and Carrigaline – and employs around 150 people in the country. Currently a manufacturing partner for Munters, Edpac sees approximately 7pc of its revenue come from the sale of Munters products.

In the financial year ending April 2021, Edpac reported net sales of €17m and earnings before tax of €1.7m. According to The Irish Times, Edpac managing director Noel Lynch has led the company since it was bought from its Swiss parent in 1991.

“We are excited to welcome Edpac to Munters. Edpac brings an attractive, differentiated customer base and high-quality products,” Forsström said, adding that Edpac’s operating model “is a perfect match with Munters ways of working.”

Founded in 1955, Munters aims to create energy efficient air treatment technologies for customers in a wide range of industries. Listed on Nasdaq Stockholm, it employees 3,300 employees across 30 countries – with annual sales exceeding 7bn Swedish krona in 2020.

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