Friday, May 20, 2016

I'm going to see how far I can go into this thread without using either the expressions "train wreck" or "perfect storm."

The hyperloop seems almost designed to prey upon the press's weakness when it comes to engineering and technology. It's a story that demands a grasp of infrastructure, implementation, and the distinction between mature and immature technology. On top of that, it combines an alarming number of the elements of the stories that have suckered the press corps in recent years. Silicon Valley hype, CEOs who are inevitably described as "visionary," ludicrously optimistic cost estimates, and geewhiz heavy technology.

Already, we are seeing many aspects of the Mars One fiasco playing out again:

Reporters are asking all the wrong questions;

They are seeking out "experts" with highly unrepresentative opinions;

They are credulously accepting numbers that are easily an order of magnitude off;

As far as I can tell, few have even bothered to look at a map of the route. Otherwise, we'd surely be hearing more about the bizarre decision to start a super sonic rail line to San Francisco just south of the Tejon Pass;

When the occasional journalist does actual... you know... reporting, it has little to no impact on the discussion.

This is going to get ugly.


  1. The four mile long Bay Bridge cost $6 billion and yet there are people who think you can lay four hundred miles of yet-to-be-developed track and tunnel technology for 20% less. This is not a good faith estimate.

    I'm sure as high speed rail hits its own inevitable overruns and delays ddulites will smugly point to the hyperloop proposal as evidence that the government doesn't understand technology. As if failure to do something simple proves trusting the same people to do something complicated was a good idea.

    The psychology of this is so frustrating--the problems are inevitably "mistakes" for some meaning of that word, so people who've boosted a disastrous project can generally insulate themselves from learning anything about reality, and instead just believe some other guys let them down.

    1. Once you dig into the story, it actually gets worse. Musk appears to have exaggerated capacity by about as much as he underestimated the cost.

      It often seems that the best way to get the press to accept claims uncritically is to give them completely unbelievable numbers. I am seeing lots of parallels here to Mars One with the added concern that some people with very deep pockets have a vested interest in seeing the alternative of high-speed rail not go through.