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Media Alert

I will be on After Hours AM talking DB Cooper at 7:10pm PST on February 28th.


  • An archive of my posts relating to the Cooper Case can be Found Here
  • You can buy my book on DB Cooper Here.
  • Here is a list of people I’m researching to find a possible connection to the Max Gunther book. (List was downloaded from FamilySearch.org, it is all the Canadian-born US Army WWII enlistees.) Any information on any of the people on the list would be helpful.
  • My Data on no-pulls during WWII and in skydiving.

Twitter: @martyandrade

Update: Podcast is up, my interview begins in the second hour.


Minnesota Mysteries: Susan Swedell

Susan Swedell disappeared thirty years ago, January 19th 1988. She has not been seen since.

Susan Swedell is shown in a photo taken about a month before she went missing on January 19, 1988. Swedell left work at a Kmart in Oak Park Heights that night, bound for an evening of popcorn and movies with her mother and sister at home in Lake Elmo. Later, a gas station clerk let her leave her overheated car at the station, a mile from home. That clerk, peering through a snow-splattered store window, saw her get into another car with a man. That was last time she was seen. (Courtesy of the Swedell family)

It was a blustery January night in 1988 when Susan Swedell drove her car to a gas station about a mile from her home in Lake Elmo. The blizzard was dumping what would turn out to be about six inches of snow. An average winter storm, nothing to miss work over. Susan was coming home from her job at the local Kmart. The stop at the Clark Station wasn’t for gas or a snack. Her car was overheating; Susan asked the gas station attendant if she could leave her vehicle for the night. The attendant agreed as long as she moved it. A few minutes later, Susan left in another vehicle driven by a young man—early twenties with long sandy blonde hair and a leather jacket—who had followed her into the K station. Susan was never seen again.

Thirty years later, we have no answers. Susan may have voluntarily gotten into the car with the mysterious man in the leather jacket, but she certainly had no intention of absconding. She was just nineteen and had recently moved back home after a year at college. Susan was described as a homebody. To say she ran off and never looked back would be against everything we know about her. The family knows better. Her younger sister never really recovered from Susan’s disappearance, never marrying, she lives with her mother.

The list of suspects is short, and there aren’t many good ones. There was the high school boyfriend, whom she was going to meet that very night but cancelled on because of the weather. There was a guy she met at a dance club. Another suspect now lives out of state, an unlikely murderer but one who failed part of a polygraph exam. The man at the gas station has never been identified. Unfortunately, we can’t limit the suspects to those already known to investigators.

Susan Swedell had broken up with her high school boyfriend, who was three years her junior, and had aggressively put herself on the market, as it were. She would go out to dance clubs. She met people at her job at Kmart and her second job in a store at the same mall as the Kmart. Her Kmart coworkers said she would get lots of calls from men while working. And, she had racked up about a $400 phone bill calling into a teen-chatroom where young men and women would flirt for about 80 cents a minutes. Investigators might have identified a few of the men in her life, but it’s possible their list is short by a significant number.

Still more difficult is trying to understand Susan’s intention on that night. When she was done with her shift at Kmart, she changed into a sweater and a miniskirt, as if she was planning on meeting somebody. This was after she had called her mom to say she was coming home to watch a movie, and even asked about the best route to deal with the snow. Susan had already cancelled plans with her former boyfriend that night. Did she meet somebody while at work and decide to meet for a quick date? Did she get a call? She was afraid of snowstorms, according to her family, so any change of plans was out of character.

The mystery deepens. Her car problems might have been from sabotage. The petcock on her radiator had come loose, draining the engine of its coolant. This is unlikely to have happened on its own, and it’s very convenient that there was someone ready to help her in the middle of a blizzard. Someone who happened to be about her age, tall and good looking, with a leather coat driving a late model muscle car.

Within a week of Susan’s disappearance, the story gets stranger still. Susan’s little sister comes home one day to find the key to their home has moved from its normal hiding spot. Once inside, she finds dirty dishes in the sink. Susan’s red pant suit, the one she took off before she left Kmart, is found under Susan’s bed. Someone had been smoking marijuana in the house. Someone other than the Swedell’s had been in the house. Whoever it was, they knew about the house key and had Susan’s work clothes.

In her car, Susan left her glasses and purse. These were items she would need if she was going somewhere. Despite this, the police were forced to treat this as a missing persons case. Susan voluntarily got into the man’s car. Adults have the right to disappear. Law enforcement can’t assume she’s in danger if there’s no evidence a crime has been committed. The case stalls.

It doesn’t help that reports come in. Susan is spotted somewhere. The person is sure of it. She was the girl in the roadside diner. She was at a gas station in Fargo. Nothing comes of it. In 1990, her dental records are pulled to compare to a Jane Doe. Not a match. About a decade ago, there was activity on Susan’s social security number, but it was just a case of identity theft.

Sadly, it’s likely Susan was murdered by the man in the leather jacket.

This police sketch, drawn by an artist working for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, was created on Oct. 13, 1998, based on a description given to investigators by the gas-station attendant who was the last to see Susan Swedell, 19, of Lake Elmo, on Jan. 19, 1988. (Courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office)

Whoever this man was, Susan was comfortable around him. She probably encountered him before, either at a dance club or at the mall. He might have been one of the guys she talked to on the phone all the time. Maybe she changed into “date” clothes because she knew he was going to meet with her, probably in the parking lot, and that they were going to go someplace nearby for a quick date or a dance before she would continue home. The man was mechanically inclined and drained the engine’s coolant system, causing the engine to overheat—a problem he likely helped her notice—before convincing her to get into his car.

Wherever her body is, it hasn’t been uncovered in thirty years of development and suburban sprawl. It’s unlikely she will ever be found. The only way this case will be solved is if her murderer or someone who knows the murderer, comes forward. Whoever the man in the leather jacket was, he was within her social network at the time. Somebody knows something.

There is a $25,000 reward for information in this case.

Still Missing Podcast
Pioneer Press (Source for pictures and captions, as well as other details)

Living with Reasonable Doubt: Chandra Levy

I’ll be moving beyond the Cooper Case, hopefully, over the next year. This is the first in a series dealing with reasonable doubt in notable murder cases. I’ll also be looking at some other unsolved and unusual crimes as well. Happy New Year!

On May 1st, 2001, Chandra Levy left her apartment in Washington DC for a run through Rock Creek Park. A computer recovered from her apartment showed she had researched the park online. The 24-year-old Levy was also having an affair with Gary Condit, a socially conservative Democrat from California. Over a year later, her body was found by a dog in Rock Creek Park. The state of her remains made it impossible to conclude much about her death, but it looked like she had been restrained with her own jogging pants.

Ingmar Guandique was an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who assaulted two women in Rock Creek Park in the months preceding Levy’s disappearance. A jailhouse informant fingered Guandique for the Chandra Levy murder when he supposedly bragged about doing it (after getting paid by Congressman Condit no less). This informant/confession was not taken seriously, and the case went cold.

Long story short, a shakeup at the D.C. police chief office and a series of articles run by the Washington Post gave the case new life, and the result was a re-examination of Guandique, including a search of his federal prison cell. Guanadique had a picture of Chandra Levy in his cell, and a tattoo on his chest bared close resemblance to the deceased Levy. Other witnesses were talked to, and Guandique was charged with Levy’s murder.

At the trial, the prosecution’s entire case rested on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who said Guandique admitted to the murder of Levy but denied any sexual assault (Guandique was worried about reprisals from other inmates as rapists are not looked up to in the prison hierarchy). The defense did their best to discredit the testimony of the informant and presented another cellmate of Guandique’s who testified he heard nothing from the defendant about the Levy murder. The Jury found Guandique guilty, and he was sentenced to 60 years.

Of course, it didn’t end there. Later revelations would show the jailhouse informant perjured himself, not about Guandique’s confession but about other elements of his testimony. Guandique’s defense team asked for a new trial based on this information, and a judge granted that request. With their star witness completely discredited, prosecutors were forced to drop all charges. Guandique was deported to El Salvador. Officially, the Chandra Levy case remains unsolved.

So how do we deal with such a result?

First, let’s understand that Guandique is almost assuredly the killer. He did confess to a jailhouse informant, and that informant never changed his story concerning the confession. In fact, the perjury charge against the informant deals with only one thing: that the informant lied about not previously being an informant (and maybe exaggerating his level of “reform”). Of course the informant is going to say he’s not being an informant for selfish reasons, and of course a convict is going to claim to be “reformed.” Unfortunately, no matter what, a jailhouse informant is just a bad source in the eyes of your average juror.

Because the case against Guandique was so thin, any corruption of the primary witness is going to create problems for a prosecutor.

How thin is the other evidence? Remarkably.

Guandique was absent from work the day of Levy’s disappearance; Guandique had scratch marks on his face; he robbed two women in the same park. And, he had a picture of Chandra in his cell. It’s not 100% definitive how Levy died. Perhaps she was choked, as her manubrium was damaged, however the only real evidence we have of a homicide is the presence of her pants near being inside-out, with knots in them. This suggests a lot, that she was tied up and sexually assaulted, but that’s all inference. Otherwise, no forensic or physical evidence in the case can be linked to Guandique, or anyone else for that matter.

The MO evidence is the most interesting. In two previous instances, Guandique would follow women to a secluded part of the park, and jump them. Levy’s body was found in a secluded area off one of the park’s rougher trails. The MO fits. However, Guandique didn’t kill any other victims, in fact, one of his victims successfully escaped him. He also didn’t sexually assault the two other women. Chandra might have been an escalation for Guandique, or everything could be one big coincidence.

And there is a solid reason Guandique might have made a false confession (assuming he really did make a confession): because people who are rapists tend to get targeted for rape while in prison. So he needed to confess and say it was a robbery that ended in murder, and not a rape. (Why confess at all? Well, it depends on whether Guandique thought they would believe him if he claimed innocence.) (Of course, the informant also had significant motivation to deliver false testimony if it helped him serve less time.)

What a mess. The defense had very little work to do to prove reasonable doubt. Once they discredit the informant, their narrative is simple: Levy googled an unfamiliar site because she was meeting someone there for a run. At some point, her jogging partner took advantage of the remote location and murdered her. It could have been anybody. The other evidence against Guandique is either coincidence or misinterpreted. It’s even possible he became obsessed with Levy after becoming a suspect. Odd? Yes, but it’s not murder.

It makes sense the charges against him were dropped, the case was thin to begin with and the testimony of a single jailhouse informant didn’t help matters. It’s unfortunate, and there was a major missed opportunity: the police did search the park about ten months before Levy’s remains were found. There would have been soft tissue to examine, and other evidence might have still been recoverable at that point. Instead, they found her over a year later, and nothing forensically useful was found. We have to live with the result, but the silver lining is the fact Guandique will never to the US, though that likely gives little comfort to Levy’s parents, who deserved better.

DB Cooper news: Interview with author Martin Andrade

My interview with Bruce Smith, more thoughts later.

The Mountain News - WA

By Bruce A. Smith

With the 46th Anniversary of DB Cooper’s skyjacking approaching us – Cooper hijacked his Northwest Orient jetliner on the evening before Thanksgiving in 1971 – it is certainly timely to discuss this iconic crime with another DB Cooper author, Martin Andrade, Jr.

View original post 1,445 more words

Joseph Lakich is not DB Cooper

Bill Rollins, author of a very speculative book on DB Cooper, has come up with a new suspect in the case: Joseph Lakich. Bill makes the case for Lakich in a press-release pdf that made the rounds among Cooper researchers a few months ago. To try to make a long story short, Joe Lakich was related to one of the victims in the FBI-botched 58 November hijacker (which took place October 4th, 1971). There’s no physical evidence linking the two events, and I would say there’s nothing of substance to Rollins’ claims. He makes a statistical argument that Lakich had the looks, demeanor, grudge and background that we think DB Cooper had.

Unfortunately, Rollins’ statistical analysis is flawed. Rollins states there’s a “1 in a billion” chance Lakich isn’t Cooper. I would say Lakich is a member of a large group of people who could be Cooper. We’re going to stay away from the math and just focus on Rollins’ inputs. First, I agree for the most part with his assertion that about 1 in 10,000 men in 1970 could have had the background to commit the Cooper hijacking. It’s a rough guess but likely accurate.

Where Rollins goes wrong is in his other attributes. Rollins severely underestimates the number of men who resemble the physical description of DB Cooper as a dark-haired middle-aged man with a slim build. He suggests 1 in 600, I would say it’s closer to 1 in 40. Recently, I and another Cooper researcher went through the entire Tektronix employee album, about 12,000 total people. We found about a dozen guys who looked like the sketch, and one guy with the right background (ex-military man with a white collar job in a blue collar industry). If anything, we keep finding more and more people who fit the description and have the right background to be Cooper, which is frustrating and shows why this case may never be solved.

Rollins goes on to commit more egregious errors. Rollins links Lakich to the “Dan Cooper” comics despite zero evidence showing Rollins spoke any of the languages the comic was printed in. Besides, the “Dan Cooper” comics “clue is pure speculation in this case anyway; we don’t know how Cooper picked his alias. It could have been a random name, a name of a friend, his middle name or some edited version of his real name, or it could have been the comic book character. We don’t know. If Cooper had instead used “Tony Stark” or “J. Bond” or another less common name, the relationship to the fictional character would be much more obvious.

Rollins next attribute in his press release is “grudge intensity.” Since Lakich lost his daughter in a hijacking botched by the FBI, he has an obvious grudge against them and would therefore want to embarrass the agency with a successful skyjacking. However, the very idea of a “grudge” is vague and ambiguous. Everyone has some kind of grudge, it’s hardly a rare thing and isn’t a limiting factor in this case.

Joseph Lakich is no more likely to be DB Cooper than the dozens of other marginal suspects the FBI had decades to investigate over the years.

D.B. Cooper: Rackstraw Revisited

Tom J Colbert (TJC), co-author of “The Last Master Outlaw” and the force behind what we can call the Robert Rackstraw theory, recently made a big splash in the media about a possible D.B. Cooper find, including the possibility of the first physical evidence recovered from the case in decades. The physical evidence will have to wait for a future post, but TJC released a new theory regarding Cooper’s possible escape from law enforcement, outlined in a pdf circulated to a few Cooper investigators. Information about the theory is available on his website, which is where I will take any quotes from, though I intend to summarize the theory instead of quoting.

Here is a summary of the escape theory sent to me: A small private aircraft was doing touch-and-goes at a remote airfield in Washington the day before the hijacking. This aircraft was later used during the hijacking. It had an oversized anti-collision light on the tail, making it visible from the 727 above. Cooper waited at the bottom of the stairs until he saw the red beacon, signalling that 305 had traversed the jump point. Cooper jumps, lands within 1300 feet of his target (!), and is whisked away by a ground crew driving a truck. Cooper is taken to the remote airfield and is picked up by the Cessna which received a signal from the truck. They (Cooper and the pilot) fly VFR, below radar, over the Lewis River to Lake Vancouver. They plant some of the ransom money ($50k) and the briefcase bomb in Lake Vancouver to make it look like Cooper drowned. Then they go to a final airport, and The Hijacker (who, as far as I can tell, is not named by the storyteller) flies out on another aircraft. Years later, a buddy of Rackstraw’s gives some of the ransom money to the Ingram family, who plant it at Tina Bar on the Columbia… which happens to be the same place that dredge spoils from Lake Vancouver ended up. And by some miracle, those spoils included remnants of the original 50k planted in Lake Vancouver the night of the hijacking.

There’s a lot to unpack here:

-A precision jump under these circumstances would have been impossible. Cooper may have manipulated the 305 crew to go south, but the actual route was chosen by ATC and the flight crew. In fact, 305 was given permission to go anywhere it needed to. Thus, *maybe* Cooper could have jumped within a few miles of his preferred latitude. Maybe. However, Cooper had no control of his longitude (east-west line). In this case the particular route was Victor 23 (which is eight miles wide), but there were other routes that could have been taken. Cooper provided zero instruction to the crew and would have had no idea where the plane was east-west, and no any control over where it was, when he jumped.

-The weather would have been a big factor, there was cloud cover at two different elevations (Weather from Hominid via Cooper Forum):


The maximum cloud coverage (“overcast”) was at a base of 5000′ for all three observations, from 8pm through 9:17pm. Over that time frame, the “broken” layer base rose from 2700′ to 3100′ to 3500′ (all AGL). In other words, the layer that (with any lower layer) provided over .5 coverage was rising over the period. The sky was clearing below 3500′ and a helo at 2500′ AGL would have been below most of the cloud coverage the entire time.

Over that same time sequence, an 8pm “scattered” layer at 1500′ AGL was gone at 9pm, but was then back at 9:17. In place of that scattered layer, a few “CUFRA” at 1500′ were reported at the intermediate time (when the scattered layer had disappeared). I believe from this that the CUFRA was the remains of the scattered layer of clouds rather than clouds that were ripped away from larger clouds by winds, or formed by the higher clouds. That is, the scattered clouds had shrunk to almost nothing and were identified as CUFRA because of their appearance. A 2500′ helo would be above this base in clear air or scattered clouds.

Also, the horizontal visibility (air “clear-ness”) peaked at the intermediate observation time. It was 7 statute miles (SM) at 8pm, went up to 10SM at 9pm (when the low clouds were disappearing), then went back to 6SM at 9:17. Light showers were reported at each time.

The existence of the data for 8pm and 9pm in the data Carr posted gives us an opportunity to fill in between the 7pm and 10pm data from WeatherUnderground. Combining data from the sources shows that the wind speed went from 4.6mph at 7pm, to 11.5mph at 8pm, to 12.67mph at 9pm, to 11.5mph at 10pm. The wind speed went abruptly up from nearly dead calm between 7pm and 8pm, then stayed approximately constant for the next two hours.

Similarly, the wind direction changed from 130° (SE) at 7pm (when there was barely any wind) to 270° (W) at 8pm to 190° (S) at 9pm and to 200° (SSW) at 10pm. The abrupt change of the wind to west at 8pm, then back to SSW at 9pm is intriguing. (BTW: wind directions are plus or minus 5°.)”


From 8pm to 9pm to 9:17pm the base of the sky obscuring (overcast) cloud layer rose from 4000′ to 6000′ AGL. At 8pm no lower layer was reported. At 9pm a layer of “broken” clouds (over .5 coverage) developed at a little under 2200′ AGL. It rose to 4000′ AGL at 9:17, at which time a “scattered” layer had developed at 1500′, the horizontal visibility had dropped to 7SM (from 10), and the wind direction had changed from 220° (SSW) to 270° (W). (wind directions ±5°) Over the period, wind speed had gone from 7kt to 21kt/24mph (9pm) to 12kt. Light showers at 8pm, very light at 9pm, and back to light at 9:17pm.

In general, showers and vertical visibility diminished and wind increased for the intermediate observation. Then the wind direction changed and the horizontal visibility dropped a bit. The cloud cover heights increased, but a lower coverage layer appeared. A 2500′ helo could have been above a cloud base at any time after 8pm.

Generally mild weather at the mouth of the gorge, but the wind did pick up a bit after 8pm.


Much of the info for 8pm (just below the line for Yakima “YKM”) is illegible in the 8pm report. It appears that the wind was 9kt from 200°.

At 9pm there was a “scattered” cloud layer at 1500′ and a “broken” layer at an estimated 6000′ (AGL). Visibility was 15SM. 6kt wind from 310°. No precipitation was reported for 9pm, rain having begun at 8:04 and ended at 8:06 (2 minutes of rain).

At 9:17pm the scattered layer had risen to 2500′ and the broken layer had fallen to 4000′. Light showers, wind 15kt (17mph) from 270° (W). The 9:17 report included “chance of light XC” (whatever that meant).

For the entire day, the WeatherUnderground site indicates that The Dalles got only .08″ of rain.

In general, wind dropped and changed direction a bit at 9pm then went back some at 9:17. Cloud layer heights changed.

Mild weather at this point in the gorge, except that the wind did go up a bit at 9:17.


Toledo was not on the 9:17 report in image 1b, as far as I could tell. At 8pm its report said 3000′ AGL overcast (complete cover), 12SM visibility, very light showers, 5kt from 190°, and rain had begun at 7:35. At 9pm the report was 3000′ scattered, 3400′ measured ceiling/overcast, the same visibility, no rain, 6kt (virtually the same) from the same 190°, and rain had ended at 8:05.

Very mild conditions at both 8pm and 9pm a few miles north of Vancouver. A 2500′ helo would have been under the cloud base.

It *might* have been possible for Cooper to see a circling plane from the rear stairs, but by no means was this guaranteed. The weather was not good for a plan built on so much visual communication.

-Some more problems: To hit within 1300 feet of a chosen dropzone, Cooper would need a wrist altimeter. There’s no evidence Cooper had such a device. There’s no evidence Cooper had any specialized skydiving equipment. Cooper would also need radio equipment. Again, no evidence Cooper had such equipment. Cooper would have needed to be in constant contact with the cockpit to keep the plane on the right line, this didn’t happen.

-Meeting up with a getaway plane at an airport seems like a really bad idea. Once Cooper was picked up, he could have driven anywhere he needed to go, the police response to the hijacking was laughably thin, and law enforcement wasn’t even sure Cooper jumped until hours later in Reno.

-Why the VFR flight path over the Lewis River? On a moonless night over a rural area? It wouldn’t have been impossible, it would just be laughably difficult. Another “super spy” element of the story that serves no real purpose. There were lots of planes in the air, it was a busy travel day, another private aircraft coming and going would be less suspicious than a low-flying aircraft trying to follow a river in the dark.

-Three planes were used in this getaway? Again, why? You’re in an airplane, go where you need to go. Everytime you touch down at an airport you increase the chance of being discovered or caught.

-Throwing money into Lake Vancouver–What? This is perhaps the most unbelievable part of the story. The whole point of the heist was to secure the money, so throwing nearly $50k away on a ruse (about $250k in today’s money) is illogical; we’re looking at a four-way split, so surrendering any money, let alone $50k, is ridiculous.

-TJC suggests dredge spoils from Lake Vancouver ended up on Tena Bar, based on the documentation I’ve seen this would have been impossible as the lake wasn’t dredged until after the money was found.

-Lots of accomplices–a pilot, two ground crew, possibly an aircraft owner or two? All of whom never came forward, even after the statute of limitations expired?

-Rackstraw would never surrender the money. First of all, we’re looking at a four-way split, so surrendering any money, let alone $50k, is ridiculous.

That said, physical evidence is king. TJC is claiming pieces of a parachute harness and potentially money. The money is likely to be completely rotted away, and it’s unlikely the pieces could be linked to Cooper. So the key would be the totality of the find: parachute harness, clothing, the parachute itself, rotted currency, other evidence, location of the site.

Fearless predictions: No money, at least with serial numbers we can check, will be found. The parachute harness won’t be connected to the hijacking, and I’m guessing it will prove impossible to show it is actually a piece of an NB6/8 rig. However, I can’t be sure and look forward to finding out more.

In summary, here’s what we have: a third hand story from a deceased pilot. Some fabric and a possible dig site. Old reports from the FBI about a plane doing touch and goes the day before the hijacking. Another eyewitness report of a man wearing a suit walking along a road somewhere in the Lake Merwin area. The FBI did investigate these matters and it led to a dead end. I’m pessimistic; the escape plan is too convoluted to be true. The conditions during the jump would have made the plan completely untenable. I’m certain the FBI is going to pass on an excavation, so TJC and a TV crew are going to go in and do it themselves, hopefully they find more than garbage.


DB Cooper: Breaking News

Looks like TJC (Cooper investigator who believes Robert Rackstraw is Cooper) has released some new findings that he believes will solve the case.

I’ll have more later, but here are some links:



Slightly better pictures of the strap


Futurism and other Nonsense

One of my primary pet peeves is the hyperbolic rhetoric of technophile futurists who are convinced mankind is on the verge of some kind of technological utopia thanks to cell phones and machine learning. I admit, I’m a curmudgeon, but sometimes it’s more than I can take. Considering the zeitgeist of the age, these sorts of posts might start appearing more regularly.

There has been a particularly egregious clickbaity article circulating on social media, and after some digging I think I found the source. I figured I’d repost the entire thing and respond to each point of ridiculousness in turn. Taken from “Udo Gollub, the CEO of 17 Minute Languages“:

Into the future
By Udo Gollub at Messe Berlin, Germany

*I just went to the Singularity University summit. Here are the key points I gathered.
Rise and Fall: In 1998, Kodak had 170,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper worldwide. Within just a few years, their business model disappeared and they were bankrupt. What happened to Kodak will happen in a lot of industries in the next 10 years – and most people don’t see it coming. Did you think in 1998 that 3 years later you would never take pictures on paper film again?*

There is a great bit by George Carlin about one hour photo printers where he asks “how can anybody be nostalgic about a little while ago? You just saw the f–ing thing.” (Couldn’t find the original bit, working from memory). So yes, the camera industry changed very quickly, but color me bewildered by modern personal photography. I don’t understand why people take so many photos, why they have them on their phones instead of in albums, and why all these photos are so terrible. I’m looking for a few good photos to keep, preferably framed, as a connection to the past. I have three or four photos of my maternal grandmother. That’s all I need.

*Yet digital cameras were invented in 1975. The first ones only had 10,000 pixels, but followed Moore’s law. So as with all exponential technologies, it was a disappointment for a long time, before it became superior and mainstream in only a few short years. This will now happen with Artificial Intelligence, health, self-driving and electric cars, education, 3D printing, agriculture and jobs.

Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution. Welcome to the Exponential Age. Software and operating platforms will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years.*

It’s important to remember the pace of change he implies. It is simply impossible for humans to keep up with this pace. Human inertia will slow some of this down, which I think will be a good thing.

*Uber is just a software tool. They don’t own any cars, but they are now the biggest taxi company in the world. Airbnb is the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don’t own any properties.*

I think the effects of the “sharing economy” are being greatly exaggerated. This tools flourished during the great recession and have continued, and that’s a good thing. However, while I may appreciate a shared ride to the airport, I don’t want to share a wardrobe or kitchen utensils.

*Artificial Intelligence: Computers become exponentially better in understanding the world. This year, a computer beat the best Go player in the world, 10 years earlier than expected. In the US, young lawyers already don’t get jobs. Because of IBM Watson, you can get legal advice, (so far for more or less basic stuff), within seconds. With 90% accuracy, compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans. So if you are studying law, stop immediately. There will be 90% fewer generalist lawyers in the future; only specialists will be needed.*

The whole AI field is a mess. Some sensationalists suggest the human species will be obsolete and our extinction is assured (humans and AI computers presumably occupy the same space in the ecosystem, and biology demands only one species can survive in each niche). Other AI specialists say AI programming and computer learning is constrained by the fact computers process information differently than humans in ways that are not well understood. I am in the camp that believes there is a qualitative difference between machines and human minds. While computers will reach the processing power of a human brain, it will never interact with the environment the way a human does, saving us from absolute obsolescence.

As for lawyers, I have to ask, when was the last time you needed legal advice? Maybe to write a will or sign real estate papers. So sure, those tasks will be automated. But if you need to face a human jury and a human judge, you’re going to need a human attorney. (I wrote about my experiences on a jury a few years ago. There’s no way a robot could have handled the complexities to the case.)

The advice is still good though, don’t go to law school. There are already enough lawyers, the school is very expensive and the pay upon graduation is surprisingly awful.

*‘Watson’ already helps nurses diagnose cancer, four times more accurately than doctors. Facebook now has pattern recognition software that can recognize faces better than humans. By 2030, computers will have become ‘more intelligent’ than humans.*

The medical profession has been in desperate need of an information technology upgrade. An AI helping doctors diagnose patients, as well as leveraging the use of statistics and data, is a positive step. The human body is incredibly complex and the base of human knowledge about the human body has exceeded the mental capacity of any living person. That said, there is no way you can replace the role of human doctors. The first problem is aggregation; on average, humans have one testical and one ovary. A human knows this is a joke, a computer doesn’t. Computers will struggle with the innate individual differences found in humans. Smoking can give teenagers lung cancer but some centenarians smoke with no ill-effect. How do you reconcile that in a computer algorithm?

I recently had a medical scare. My symptoms were associated with cancer, but after many invasive tests I was diagnosed with something innocuous. As it turned out, my symptoms didn’t quite fit my diagnosis because symptoms are irregular. They fall on a continuum and the continuum between various diseases overlap. Diseases are found in clusters. Genetics play a role. Tests are subject to error. A computer might say “there was a 20% chance you had cancer” but it took a collaborative effort between several doctors to figure out I had non-standard symptoms and get me the right diagnosis.

Let’s also say there are epistemological problems with how we define intelligence. If we’re taking just operations per second and total memory, then yes, computers will surpass humans in the coming decade. However, that’s not really what human intelligence really *is*. Humans don’t process information like computers. We have a complex web of cells, each of which is connected to thousands of other cells, synapses have hundreds of neurotransmitters and all these processes seem to be self-directed by…something. It really is quite a mystery how the human being finds meaning from the inputs given it by the senses. How can all that a human being does, including stuff like figuring out special relativity or the rules of geometry, or catching a baseball without doing calculus, be programmed?

*Cars: In 2018 the first self driving cars will be offered to the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You don’t want to own a car anymore. You will call a car on your phone; it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and you can be productive whilst driving. Our kids will never get a driver’s licence and will never own a car. It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95% fewer cars for our future needs. We can transform former parking spaces into parks. At present,1.2 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 100,000 kms. With autonomous driving, that will drop to one accident in 10 million km. That will save a million lives each year.*

Dumb question, if no one owns a car how will there be any autonomous cars to drive you anywhere?

This autonomous car idea sounds like a variation of the Personal Rail Transit that was fashionable in some circles a decade or so ago. It’s better because there are no rails to build. However, there are still a lot of problems. First, most people need to ride at the same time, weekdays from 6am to 9am and 4pm to 7pm. This system of magically ownerless cars works great for people with irregular schedules, but the 9-5 work crowd might as well own their own vehicles. And they’ll still need a place to park their cars because demand for autonomous cars will go down precipitously outside of rush hour. In order to change this situation, you have to change the way people work and are scheduled to work. If you’re going to do that, you might as well change it so everyone telecommutes.

*Electric cars will become mainstream around and after 2020. Cities will be cleaner and much less noisy because all cars will run on electricity, which will become much cheaper.

Most traditional car companies may become bankrupt by taking the evolutionary approach and just building better cars; while tech companies (Tesla, Apple, Google) will take the revolutionary approach and build a computer on wheels. I spoke to a lot of engineers from Volkswagen and Audi. They are terrified of Tesla.*

I have no idea how the car companies are going to react to these changes. However, it still sounds like everyone at this futurist convention believed cars would still be a primary mode of transportation in the future. Maybe Google will create a smart car that does a better job spying on their passengers, but I would bet money on car companies being strong moneymakers in a world of cars.

*Insurance companies will have massive trouble, because without accidents, the insurance will become 100 times cheaper. Their car insurance business model will disappear.*

This assumes everyone rapidly gives up driving cars. More likely this will be a slow generational change. Insurance companies will have plenty of time to diversify.

*Real estate values based on proximities to work-places, schools, etc. will change, because if you can work effectively from anywhere or be productive while you commute, people will move out of cities to live in a more rural surroundings.*

Oh, that’s right, we’re not at the part where 80% of the workforce is unemployed. Author once again assumes everyone wants the same thing, in this case they apparently want to live outside of large cities. Which is weird, since people have been moving into big cities for decades now. Personally, I’d prefer a rural homestead, but until I can buy a 3D printer that makes good pho, well, you know…

*Solar energy production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but only now is having a big impact. Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil. The price for solar will drop so much that almost all coal mining companies will be out of business by 2025.*

Which is fine, coal mining is a relatively minor industry in the United States now. It’s been a decades-long process and people have had plenty of time to react to the changing job market.

*Water for all: With cheap electricity comes cheap and abundant water. Desalination now only needs 2kWh per cubic meter. We don’t have scarce water in most places; we only have scarce drinking water. Imagine what will be possible if everyone can have as much clean water as they want, for virtually no cost.*

This is great, of course.

*Health: The Tricorder X price will be announced this year – a medical device (called the “Tricorder” from Star Trek) that works with your phone, which takes your retina scan, your blood sample and your breath. It then analyses 54 biomarkers that will identify nearly any diseases. It will be cheap, so in a few years, everyone on this planet will have access to world class, low cost, medicine.*

And presumably they will also have access to all the misdiagnoses and mistakes inherent in trusting WebMD instead of a doctor. It’s great that diagnostic tests will be cheaper and easier to get, but I don’t see how it removes doctors from the equation. Something interesting I heard on Tyler Cowen’s podcast, access to medical care doesn’t necessarily produce better results. Amish and Christian Scientists have similar life expectancies to those of us who have access and use modern healthcare. I’ll have to delve into those studies sometime.

*3D printing: The price of the cheapest 3D printer came down from 18,000$ to 400$ within 10 years. In the same time, it became 100 times faster. All major shoe companies started printing 3D shoes. Spare airplane parts are already 3D-printed in remote airports. The space station now has a printer that eliminates the need for the large amount of spare parts they used to need in the past.

*At the end of this year, new smart phones will have 3D scanning possibilities. You can then 3D scan your feet and print your perfect shoe at home. In China, they have already 3D-printed a complete 6-storey office building. By 2027, 10% of everything that’s being produced will be 3D-printed.*

I’m on the fence about 3D printed stuff. I need a small part for an unusual pistol, and the part costs more than the pistol is worth. It’d be great to 3D print the part instead of having an expensive paperweight. However, I’m very sure i don’t want to live in a 3D printed home. There’s an obvious lack of craftsmanship about 3d printing, and I hate cheap crap devoid of craftsmanship.

And let me say also, if 3D printing can get me a shoe that fits comfortably and lasts longer than three months, all is forgiven.

*Business opportunities: If you think of a niche you want to enter, ask yourself: “in the future, do you think we will have that?” And if the answer is yes, then work on how you can make that happen sooner. If it doesn’t work via your phone, forget the idea. And any idea that was designed for success in the 20th century is probably doomed to fail in the 21st century.*

I like to think of “serial entrepreneurship” as the modern form of subsistence living. Everyone takes every side gig they can, just to break even. So sure, everyone is going to be doing some kind of non-salaried hustle, but it’s hardly going to make anyone rich. This point just admits that the employer/employee model of making a living is about dead (which I don’t think is necessarily true, but that’s a dark pit for another time).

Another aside: I got a smartphone about a year ago. I’m a Luddite, so I was actively avoiding it but circumstances demanded I get a new phone and the smartphone was free. Regardless, I’ve had a for about a year. I don’t understand the hype. I added a bunch of apps, most of them educational, and it’s nice. But I found that I spent most of my time scrolling through facebook and checking my email. I didn’t need a device to help me check my email more often. I guess we’ll see how people are going to leverage the ubiquitous pocket computing power in the future, but I don’t see how it’s going to revolutionize anything. As for me, I’ve caught myself checking my email so often, I’ll probably just get rid of the damn phone.

*Work: 70-80% of jobs will disappear in the next 20 years. There will be a lot of new jobs, but it is not clear that there will be enough new jobs in such a short time.

Where did that number come from? It’s well-known that driving jobs are at risk of automation in the next decade, and that’s about 45% of jobs. What else is going to disappear? Regardless, such a rapid transformation is unlikely, and we should be glad. The social unrest that would occur if 75% of the public were unemployed would be incomprehensible. During the industrial revolution, the majority of the populations in western countries went from rural agriculture to urban misery. The end result was 50 years of static wages, lower standards of living, lower quality of life, urban disease epidemics, two world wars and the rise of extremist political philosophies that resulted in the deaths of over a hundred million people outside of the world wars. When billionaires talk about Universal Basic Income, part of me wonders if they’re doing it out of self-interest.

*Agriculture: There will be a 100$ agricultural robot in the future. Farmers in 3rd world countries can then become managers of their fields instead of working in them all day. Aeroponics will need much less water. The first veal produced in a petri dish is now available. It will be cheaper than cow- produced veal in 2018. Right now, 30% of all agricultural surfaces are used for rearing cattle. Imagine if we don’t need that space anymore. There are several start-ups which will bring insect protein to the market shortly. It contains more protein than meat. It will be labelled as “alternative protein source” (because most people still reject the idea of eating insects).*

All positives. New technologies will allow more people to grow their own food on smaller and smaller plots of land. How many people will actually do that, I don’t know. From an economic perspective these changes will be difficult to predict. Having cheap robots lowers the barriers to entry, so everyone can afford to grow food commercially. This will increase demand on land, causing prices to rise. However, switching from cows to petri dish meat and insect protein will lower demand on land and demand for crops in general. Add-in all the various government subsidies and regulations and you have a mess.

*Apps: There is already an app called “moodies” which can tell the mood you are in. By 2020 there will be apps that can tell by your facial expressions if you are lying. Imagine a political debate where we know whether the participants are telling the truth and when not!*

Maybe. It’s very difficult to gauge whether a person is lying based on body language alone, and there are individual differences and contextual difficulties to deal with. Also, people can learn to lie better. A grad student I had as a teacher learned how to tell a lie and avoid detection despite being strapped into an fMRI machine. I can imagine a new industry where experts teach politicians to defeat these new technologies.

*Currencies: Many currencies will be abandoned. Bitcoin will become mainstream this year and might even become the future default reserve currency.*

These crypto-currencies are a joke. They have, in my estimation, been enjoying a rise in value thanks to speculation. Once people realize they are more devoid of value than fiat currency, they will die. I’ve never had anyone explain to me the appeal other than “computer stuff” and “anonymous transaction” both of which can be accomplished with cash. If fiat currencies fail, bitcoin will not be the saviour and it won’t matter because you’ll have lots of other problems to deal with, like war or civil unrest.

*Longevity: Right now, the average life span increases by 3 months per year. Four years ago, the life span was 79 years, now it is 80 years. The increase itself is increasing and by 2036, there will be more than a one-year increase per year. So we all might live for a long, long time, probably way beyond 100.*

This is a statistical misrepresentation. We’ve done a great job of reducing death at childbirth and death from childhood diseases. This is where a majority of the increase in life expectancy has come from. We have not appreciably increased the outbound limits of life expectancy. Basically, 0-60 years of age have seen huge gains. After 70+ years? The actuarial tables really haven’t changed. This was discussed on Tyler Cowen’s podcast with Atul Gawande

*Education: The cheapest smartphones already sell at 10$ in Africa and Asia. By 2020, 70% of all humans will own a smartphone. That means everyone will have much the same access to world class education. Every child can use Khan Academy for everything he needs to learn at schools in First World countries. Further afield, the software has been launched in Indonesia and will be released it in Arabic, Swahili and Chinese this summer. The English app will be offered free, so that children in Africa can become fluent in English within half a year.*

A lot of us have been waiting for a revolution in education. It should be here already. I’ve been self-educating on Khan Academy and studying Spanish on Duolingo for years and years now. I guess it’s personally enriching, but it hasn’t made a difference in my financial situation. I guess this is all good, but the skeptic in me doesn’t believe the hype. This goes back to the smartphone rant; yes, we all have access to an incredible vault of knowledge and endless educational opportunities. Yet, we still spend most of our time snap chatting or playing some worthless game. It’s not how many opportunities we are afforded, it’s how many we actually take.

DB Cooper: FBI Vault

TJC continues to get hundreds and hundreds of pages of FBI documents on the DB Cooper case released through a tenacious use of FOIA requests, all can be found here:


DB Cooper Podcast

I made an appearance on the GravityBeard podcast talking about DB Cooper (and a brief peak at my political eccentricities).

Part of the interview was my response to D. Godsey’s appearance on the same podcast a few months ago.