the hype about Hyperloop

Elon Musk comes to town
Elon Musk comes to town

This article makes an important point about the Hyperloop:

America has the means to reduce traffic and connect people to where they want to go in less time — but solving these problems entails politically difficult choices to shift travel away from cars and highways. Any high-tech solution that promises a shortcut around these thorny problems is probably too good to be true.

I can’t help but see an echo of the wishful thinking surrounding the EMDrive in the Hyperloop marketing campaign. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

Here’s the original white paper PDF from Elon Musk, and here’s a rather detailed critique by mathematician and transit analyst Alon Levy. Anyone who takes Hyperloop seriously should read both.

2017 Hugo discussion


Mark has his thoughts on the 2017 Hugo nominees up – and as usual, they are detailed 🙂

My own much briefer take: the Rabids are not very relevant. Ms. Marvel being nominated again is more important than ever given the nonsense going on – about diversity in comics, and using comics for political messaging, Ms. Marvel is basically the rebuttal and antidote.

I enjoyed The Obelisk Gate, and haven’t read Three Body Problem yet so can’t speak to Death’s End. Since I am going crazy over the Expanse (both in TV format as well as devouring the novels), I am excited to see it in the new Best Series category. And Rogue One just wins for me for the Vader sequence alone.

the coming implosion of biomedical & health science research

The state of health science in the US today is not weak, but it is under threat. The main problems: 1. p-value hacking. 2. commoditization of adjunct and postdoc labor. 3. disincentives of null value results or replication. All of these things threaten the foundations of the increasingly unsustaiunable edifice that is modern health science, and all of them derive in one way or another from the same root problem: the only source of objective funding, untainted by corporate interests, is the NIH. In essence, health science is a zero-sum game.

This is why the Trump Administration preliminary budget proposal is ominous: it specifies an unprecedented 18% cut to the NIH budget.

As the image above illustrates, grant applications have grown almost twice as competitive over the years as NIH funding stayed constant. An 18% cut in this context is like an amputation.

There is only one possible outcome of this: labs will shrink. Health science research is going to be dramatically curtailed. Maybe there are benefits, in the long run, to this – but in the short run it will only worsen – severely – the problems that health science research currently faces. The question is, how resilient is the health science establishment? We are going to find out.

Even though I left academia, I will be marching for science on Earth Day.

Related: great article at The Atlantic that points out how private funding is a drop in the bucket compared to government support. In my opinion, public science funding is as critical and as irreplaceable as national defense.

Space battles in The Expanse are incredible

watch this.

wow. that raises the bar in my imagination for any space battle in any sci fi. I’ll never be quite as enamoured of X-Wing dogfights ever again. The Expanse is true hard sci-fi in the TV era – there’s as much depth in the novels for a Game of Thrones-esque run if they do it right. Having read (most of) the books, I am amazed at how amazed I am at major plot developments in the show, even though I know they are coming – they just have such incredible impact.

Related: the Nauvoo is just… a cathedral of awesome.