Wednesday Quickies

I really don’t want to see these become popular. Does that make me a curmudgeon? From discovery.com.

1) There’s a bit of hype emerging about some Chinese researchers who are working on a “super-maglevtrain, which would supposedly be capable of speeds of up to 1,800 miles per hour. They’ve even made a prototype! Unsurprisingly, it’s being framed as competition for the hyperloop, but that doesn’t seem very plausible to me. The super-maglev is a full vacuum system; basically the same kind of vacuum tube transport system that has been a pipe dream (heh) for over a century now.

The super maglev has the same problem as all the other vacuum train proposals: It’s really bloody difficult to maintain a vacuum in a tube that stretches for hundreds or thousands of kilometers. Musk’s proposal is neat because it proposes a way around that. The super maglev proposes no such thing. Still, it’s neat that this kind of thing is getting media attention.

2) The pace of self-driving car development has really accelerated in the last few weeks. Google is looking to commercialize them, and now there’s a proposed amendment in the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic that would legalize them. The amendment was put forward by a collection of European countries: Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, and Italy. This suggests that they might be changing their domestic laws soon as well.

If Europe becomes a hotbed for the commercialization of autonomous vehicles, then Volvo might be poised to benefit. They have just released 100 self-driving cars into Gotheburg traffic, and made a shiny video demonstrating how self-driving cars could free up road space and reduce congestion. This is a pretty clear example of socio-technical visions at work, and such a public relations effort suggests that Volvo is getting serious about autonomous vehicles. It looks like the race might be on to actually start selling these things.

3) Also on the subject of transport, a few people are getting excited about this ridiculous flying bike thing. I’ll admit it looks like it might be fun, but I can’t see it having any value as anything other than a very expensive toy. And do we really need any more very expensive, carbon emitting motorized toys for grown men? Furthermore, do we want to see these things flying freely over national parks? I think maybe we should push for some pretty strict regulation if they actually start selling these. Otherwise we risk giving those jerks who floor it down city streets on their motorcycles the power of flight.

4) Lastly, YouTube is going to buy Twitch! In case you haven’t heard of it, Twitch is an internet video site designed specifically to allow people to watch and comment on video games. A few months ago, I was an avid follower of an ingenious Twitch channel called Twitch Plays Pokemon, in which the chat stream could be used to control a game of pokemon. The result was as hilarious as it was chaotic.

But Twitch is also well-known for the considerably more serious phenomenon of e-sports, and the initial bid on the site of over $1 billion suggests that YouTube has big plans for the purchase. With google’s financial muscle behind them, e-sports could become a lot more important. If e-sports start to compete for viewers with traditional physical sports, then we’re probably in for another annoying round of moral panic about how video games are making people sedentary and obese.

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