Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Five years age at the blog -- Looking back through the archive and I came across this. Surprised I only used the Scheherazade line once.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

There's still nothing there (and other lessons journalists refuse to learn about Elon Musk)

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From Ars Technica

Similarly, Musk told mayors on Thursday that he wants The Boring Company to dig sewers, water transport, and electrical tunnels under cities, in addition to the transportation-focused tunnels he hopes to dig to house electric skate systems.

Musk mentioned this alternate use for his boring machines at the National League of Cities' City Summit, during a "fireside chat" with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. According to Forbes, Musk told the audience, "The Boring Company is also going to do tunneling for, like, water transport, sewage, electrical. We're not going to turn our noses up at sewage tunnels. We're happy to do that too."

The Boring Company is built on the premise that tunneling technology has not been adequately developed. Musk claims that his boring machines will tunnel faster than the industry's best machines.

Elon Musk is good copy. Perhaps more than anything else, that is the one thing you need to keep reminding yourself of when trying to make sense of why reporters remain so hopelessly credulous on this story. As Upton Sinclair might have told you, the press is remarkably willing to accept dubious claims when they drive traffic and reinforce rather than challenge the standard narrative.

In this case, "reinforce" is far too weak a term. Elon Musk has fashioned himself to personify the cherished tech messiahs narrative. Like Abraham Lincoln in the old Bob Newhart monologue, if he hadn't existed, they would've had to invent him.

Musk is, to his credit, an exceptionally gifted promoter, particularly adept at the art of misdirection. No one is better at distraction, dramatically changing the focus of attention just long enough for goalposts to be moved, promises to be forgotten, and "I'll address that later" to become "we've already covered that."

These distractions are nested. Less like a "real life Tony Stark" and more like a modern day Scheherazade, Elon Musk tells stories within stories, constantly shifting back and forth so that all but the most careful and critical listener will lose the thread and get swept up in the fantasy. When it becomes increasingly obvious that Tesla is unlikely to ever justify its stock price, he announces that construction will soon begin on a long-distance maglev vactrains running along the East Coast. When the buzz fades from that, he very publicly launches a company that claims to be able to increase tunneling speed and decreased costs by an order of magnitude. When the lack of actual breakthroughs start to become noticeable, he releases cool CGI videos of giant slot cars racing underneath Los Angeles.

A key part of this magic show is the ability to make the ordinary seem wondrous. People have been digging tunnels for thousands of years and there is no reason at this point for us to believe that the excavation which is about to be announced with such fanfare employed methods in any way more sophisticated than those used on construction projects around the world.

The press has become so docile on this point that Musk doesn't even have to lie about having made some major advance in the technology. He can just pretend that the enormous superiority of his system was a proven fact, confident in the assumption that no reporter will point out the truth. As far as I can tell (and I've read all that I had time and stomach for), the few specifics he has provided have been either meaninglessly vague (blah blah blah automation blah blah blah) or have displayed a fundamental lack of understanding about engineering and infrastructure (making projects cheaper by making tunnels smaller in situations where the reduction in capacity would actually drive up costs).


Dude. I'm no Musk fan, how does this excerpt show hopeless credulousness? If anything, I read weary skepticism from it. They say that Musk's assertions are premises based on claims. What more do you want? The purpose of the article from Ars is to report Musk's comments, not evaluate whether he can revolutionize tunneling. I'm sorry, would you rather they didn't report on a major tech figure's remarks? Quite a lot of people think Musk is newsworthy. How is this Ars' fault? You seem to want Ars to turn into SeekingAlpha. There are plenty of Musk fluff pieces you could have cited; choosing to focus on the Ars article makes it seem like you're just out to nitpick.

  1. You've got a point. I picked Ars Tech because it seemed to be going viral and because I generally expect better from them, but they were far, far from the worst.


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