Obama’s next squandered opportunity– the Hyperloop

Twitter should auto-subscribe new accounts to Joe Weisenthal’s @thestalwart and, of course, @realdonaldtrump. To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, If you’re tired of those two, you’re tired of life. Joe’s had a couple great pieces this past week. The first showing that as a percentage of GDP< public construction spending is at his lowest level in at least 20 years. I'm not a fan of counter-cyclical infrastructure spending (it should be planned years in advance and built out steadily in good times and bad) but its opposite, pro-cyclical infrastructure spending is lunacy but that's exactly what we have now. Joe’s second piece, from today, is about something Mike and I have been watching for months, the Hyperloop.

Tesla founder Elon Musk has been teasing an exciting idea for a new form of transportation for the last year. He calls it the “Hyperloop” and he says it’s better than a bullet train. The Hyperloop would get people to Los Angeles from San Francisco in 30 minutes. However, he’s been vague about how he’s going to make the Hyperloop a reality. The closest to detail he’s gotten is when he said the Hyperloop is a “cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table.”

Joe thinks its a Vactrain, I’m not sure that’s it but we’ll know at the end of June when Musk releases more details. If Musk’s numbers are anywhere in the solar system close to being right (he’s suggested twice the speed of a jetliner at fraction of the cost of high speed rail), Obama should scrap his current high speed rail plan (which is expected to be done one fine day in… 2030) and build out a Hyperloop network as fast as it can be built.

That build schedule could be pulled in a decade or so. imagine if Kennedy had said “we choose to go to the moon by the end of the decade after the decade we’re in now”. He’d have walked into the ocean first before he’d say something so lame. Which brings up back to President Obama.

Our national policy of small ball can be exemplified by looking up Project Orion on wiki. There are two main definitions; one from 2 years age and the other from 50 years ago… Here’s a clue, which one sounds like Jack Kennedy and which one sounds like Barack Obama?
Project Orion (nuclear propulsion), an engineering design study of spacecraft powered by nuclear pulse propulsion
Project Orion, a project within the Constellation program to create the Orion (spacecraft) to replace the US Space Shuttle fleet

I know, that’s a gimme. Kennedy actually canceled Project Orion (subject of a BBC documentary To Mars by A-Bomb) because it conflicted with the Partial Test Ban Treaty the US, UK & USSR had just signed. A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, that was the smart play. But the Cold War’s over, there was (and is) absolutely no reason the US, Russian and Britain couldn’t amend the treaty and work together on something amazing.

To be fair, the rot runs deeper than Obama, its something Roger Ebert caught in his 1995 review of Apollo 13.

“Apollo 13” inspires many reflections, and one of them is that America’s space program was achieved with equipment that would look like tin cans today. Like Lindbergh, who crossed the Atlantic in the first plane he could string together that might make it, we went to the moon the moment we could, with the tools that were at hand.
Today, with new alloys, engines, fuels, computers and technology, it would be safer and cheaper – but we have lost the will.

We went to the moon the moment we could, with the tools that were at hand– our national leaders don’t think like that anymore. What’s remarkable about Elon Musk– perhaps because he only became an American as adult– is he clearly didn’t get the memo.
To sum up in 140 characters or less…
@realDonaldTrump 25 May
Nation’s infrastructure is collapsing, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN


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7 Comments on "Obama’s next squandered opportunity– the Hyperloop"

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4 years 2 months ago

This reminds me of the revolution in transportation in South Park:
“Meanwhile, Mr. Garrison, tired of the inefficient and frustrating airline check-ins, decides to invent his own vehicle. Inspired by watching singer Enrique Iglesias’ sexualized singing on TV and by gyroscopes, he invents the gyroscope-powered monowheel “IT.” “IT” can go up to two hundred miles per hour, gets three hundred miles to the gallon, and is an all-around better mode of travel. The only problem is that “IT” is controlled by an uncomfortable method; using four “flexi-grip handles”

4 years 2 months ago

Is there a hope that this hyperloop thing could get private funding if it is really so great? Didn’t fracking for gas get ample private funding despite being a new technology? To me Concord is a classic example of how sometimes state funding can be bizarrely directed. Concord got massive state support despite only being something that would be used by the ultra-rich. Why support that?

In the USA do you actually have less state expenditure now than in the 1960s? My guess is that you have more now in real terms (please correct me if I’m wrong). The question then is what is it being spent on? In the UK we have a massive expenditure on bureaucratic complexity simply for the sake of bureaucratic complexity. That is a cost that snowballs all on its own. Career progression requires each bureaucrat to have a staff working under them. That requires more regulations to be concocted and staff taken on to administer those new regulations. Those new staff themselves need to move up the career ladder so they need to invent more rules and forms such that they are overwhelmed with work and so can justify recruiting more staff and so on. The European Union bureaucracy does this to an even more horrendous extent.

I wonder whether cutting down the size of the banks and cutting out pointless bureaucracy wouldn’t free up spending towards what people actually wanted and then that would provoke investment in things like the hyperloop (if it makes sense)???

4 years 2 months ago

By “state” I meant government (ie not meaning “state” of Kansas, Utah or whatever).