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Monday, August 12, 2013

Elon Musk Unveils Plans for Hyperloop High-Speed Train

Elon Musk, a serial entrepreneur who was a co-founder of PayPal and is chairman of Tesla Motors, harked back to the days of the late-1990s bubble on Monday by showing off plans for a project he said he doesn’t plan to build but believes could be built.

By someone. Or he might do a prototype if no one is interested and he can find the time. Or not. It’s not quite clear just yet.

The hypothetical project is called the Hyperloop, a high-speed train that would be able to take people to San Francisco from Los Angeles in 30 minutes. That’s a speed of almost 800 miles an hour.

But don’t pack your bags just yet. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek on Monday, Mr. Musk said he regretted mentioning the Hyperloop last year, saying that he has no time to work on the project and instead has to run SpaceX and Tesla Motors, his two other companies.

Mr. Musk first mentioned Hyperloop last summer. He detailed it further in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.. In July, he announced on Twitter that he would unveil the designs for the high-speed train on Aug. 12. As promised, a 57-page “alpha design” plan was posted online Monday that explained how such a train would work.

Mr. Musk has clearly put a lot of thought into the design. The document he unveiled explains that the high-speed train would become “truly a new mode of transport - a fifth mode after planes, trains, cars and boats.” The Hyperloop would transport people in ”pods” that would travel through tubes. The tubes would be mounted on pylons that could be designed to withstand earthquake movements.

Mr. Musk took swipes at the “California High Speed Rail” that is being built and headed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. This train, while real, is not expected to be completed until 2029 and will cost $68.4 billion to build.

“When the California ‘high speed’ rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too,” Mr. Musk wrote while saying that the Hyperloop would cost $6 billion to build.

If anyone could build such a train, it’s likely Mr. Musk. Critics railed against him when he first broached the idea for Space Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, Calif., otherwise known as SpaceX. But he proved them wrong last year when the company launched its Falcon 9 rocket.

But Mr. Musk’s assertion that he does not want to be the leader of the Hyperloop project has some people wondering if it will actually be built.

During a Monday afternoon news conference Mr. Musk seemed to waver over whether he wanted to be involved with the project or not. ”I’m somewhat tempted to at least make a demonstration prototype,” he said during the telephone news conference. “I’ve sort of come around a little bit on my thinking here that maybe I should do the beginning bit and build a sub-scale version that’s operating.”

In the paper released Monday, Mr. Musk acknowledged that there had been other proposed ideas for a train similar to the high-speed train over the years. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “none of these have panned out.”

Mother Says Son Is Messiah, Judge Says No

Asked to settle a dispute between a mother and a father over what their child’s last name should be, Martin or McCullough, a magistrate in Tennessee in search of a Solomonic compromise decreed last week that the boy should be known as Martin McCullough. The child’s mother, Jaleesa Martin, told the NBC News affiliate WBIR-Knoxville that she would appeal the ruling, mainly because the court order meant scrapping the first name she had given her son, Messiah.

A WBIR-Knoxville video report on a legal dispute over a child named Messiah.

The magistrate, Lu Ann Ballew, justified her decision by telling a WBIR reporter that the name Messiah was inappropriate. Ms. Ballew, who wore earrings in the shape of a crucifix during the interview, said: “The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ.”

Ms. Martin, whose appeal is scheduled to be heard next month, said she was shocked by the ruling. “I didn’t think a judge could make me change my baby’s name because of her religious beliefs,” she told the channel.

Hedy Weinberg, the director of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, agreed. She told The Tennessean that the magistrate was “imposing her religious beliefs on others,” and offered legal aid to Ms. Martin to fight the ruling.

According to a searchable database maintained by the federal government, Messiah is an increasingly common name for American boys, reaching number 387 in the charts last year. The female name Nevaeh, or Heaven backward, was 24th most popular in Tennessee last year.

Code to Joy: The School for Poetic Computation Opens

New computer science graduates jumped by nearly 30 percent last year, and a bevy of professionally oriented programming courses have erupted to teach start-up ready skills like, “How to Build a Mobile App.” So it makes sense that programming is widely considered to be this generation’s “Plastics” â€" a surefire professional skill that can bring success, security and maybe even stock options.

But fewer people talk about how programming and engineering can be used for pleasure, beauty or surprise.

Now, four people with a variety of backgrounds â€" in computer science, art, math and design â€" have banded together in Brooklyn to rethink how programming is taught.

Their school, the School for Poetic Computation, is intended to be more passionate, free-spirited and curiosity-driven than other kinds of private coding academies that have cropped up in the last few years, like New York’s Hacker School or Seattle’s Code Fellows, which offer practical classes with an aim to get their students a job after graduation.

In contrast, the School for Poetic Computation is taking a different approach. Imagine the Robin Williams character from the movie “Dead Poets Society” teaching Objective C instead of “O Captain, My Captain.”

The founders of the school say they want to promote work that is strange, impractical and magical.

The school’s motto? “More poems less demos.”

A start-up venture in its own right, the school has 15 students enrolled for fall, selected from a pool of 50 applications, who will not receive any formal credit, but will pay about $5,000 to spend 10 weeks tinkering, building and tweaking projects of their own design.

“People are coming from a programming background, and thinking, how do I make art with these skills? Things that are whimsical? Dreams?” said Zach Lieberman, one of the school’s four founders and instructors, who has taught at the Parsons School of Design and like his collaborators, has one foot in the technology world and another in the art world.

The school’s first crop of students include both traditional programmers and designers, but also a beatboxer from Canada, and a Ph.D. candidate studying criminal justice who wants to use data visualization to highlight problems in the prison system, said Mr. Lieberman.

While the curriculum is still being formed, a glimpse at the instructors’ earlier works offers some sense of the kinds of projects their students might tackle.

The “Eyewriter” is a piece of hardware created by Mr. Lieberman that allows disabled graffiti writers (or any person, really) to draw with their eyes.


Another instructor, Amit Pitaru, who has taught at New York University, is the creator of the Sonic Wire Sculptor a musical instrument that creates muted and dreamlike dissonant tones with a three-dimensional drawing tool.

And Jen Lowe, a researcher at Columbia University, works with scientists and designers to make things like this vector field that represents wind flow.

Still, they struggle to explain to people what, exactly, “poetic computation,” is. Is it making art with computers? Writing poetic code, with structure, rhythm and form? Or simply allowing yourself to be completely impractical, using the tools of our hyper-productive digital age?

They instructors offer one interpretation on their Web site:

Noise is undesirable in engineering, but artists find glitch to be beautiful and revealing inner workings of the system. Poetic computation may value expressive nature of code and computers more so than efficiency. This might an answer to questions like “Why Less Demos and more Poems?” Demonstrations are driven by end goal. It values practicality and functionality, while poems desire aesthetic and emotional impact. Hopefully what we make at School for poetic computation is for people, not computers.

Applications are now closed for their fall program, but the founders hope to run additional sessions throughout the year, and one day dream of making the school free of tuition fees. Mr. Lieberman said he has seen the high debt burdens that traditional graduate programs can place on students, and believes some kinds of skills do not need a full two-year program, and can be learned in other ways.

“In the world we’re in, we’re used to “media labs” and residency programs and going some place for six months and using that as a launching point,” he said.

A starting point for what, however, will be up to the students themselves.

Their first class begins on Sept. 16th.

AmEx Links a Debit Card to an Online Video Game

American Express is set to announce a new sponsorship program and prepaid debit card that take aim at the millions of people who play the online video game League of Legends.

Daily Report: NBC to Buy Start-Up to Stream Video From Phones

NBC News, a unit of Comcast’s NBCUniversal, on Monday will announce its acquisition of Stringwire, an early stage Web service that enables streaming live video straight to its control rooms in New York from the cellphones of witnesses.

Vivian Schiller, the chief digital officer for NBC News, said she imagined using Stringwire for coverage of all-consuming protests like those that occurred in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Brian Stelter reports.

“You could get 30 people all feeding video, holding up their smartphones, and then we could look at that,” she said in an interview by phone. “We’ll be able to publish and broadcast some of them.”

Such a vision fits neatly into the future many academics predict. That future has fewer professional news-gatherers but many more unpaid eyes and ears contributing to news coverage.

Stringwire is embryonic. What NBC is really acquiring is Phil Groman, who developed the technology while a graduate student in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University.

Such “acqui-hiring,” in which a start-up is bought primarily for its talent, is normally associated with technology companies like Google and Apple, not television networks like NBC. But that is partly the point of Monday’s announcement, Ms. Schiller said: to send a message that the network news division wants more entrepreneurs like Mr. Groman.

Mr. Groman, who graduated from N.Y.U. in May, will become a product lead, based at the NBC News Digital Group’s office in San Francisco, where he will finish building Stringwire. The service works by tapping into the multitudes of people who send Twitter messages when they witness a news event.

Those people will receive a Twitter post that asks them to click a link and point their camera at what they are seeing. Without any special app, the service will start streaming live video to NBC. The video submissions will be vetted just like any other material the network uses, Ms. Schiller said