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Vapourtech October 23, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

You’ll be aware of vaporware, that is software that is massively hyped in advance and then, well, never arrives and often with no official cancellation.
The game Duke Nukem Forever was a bit like that. Long lauded in advance but delayed by… decades actually. Actually the fact it did arrive made it unusual. And there were other more, shall we say, serious apps that had similar problems.

But what about technology. Take fusion. For as long as I’ve been around nuclear fusion has been the coming thing. It’s always, though five or ten years away. I’m near enough certain it will manifest itself eventually, but I’d be willing to bet we’re talking many many decades, perhaps even a century or two before we’re able to harness it.

Airships? They’ve been. They’ve gone. They may be coming back but it would be a brave person who believed they were the future of air transportation. That doesn’t stop brave people declaring just that.

Monorails? Kind of sort of. Famously these were parodied in the Simpsons, but when I were a lad they were the coming thing. No illustration of a city of the future, the near future at that, was complete without a stylish monorail (usually a suspended carriage but not always) arcing between buildings and across parks. Here’s an example of same from the early 1960s. This sort of stuff gives a boy expectations, it really does.

Sadly they were unfulfilled. I’ve never been on one, not even the Docklands Light Railway. And the idea that one would be put in in, say, Dublin seems fantastical – though it would be interesting to do a case analysis as to whether it would be more or less disruptive than on trams. But look, that’s all moonshine, it isn’t going to happen. Granted, unlike fusion, monorails actually exist (anyone remember the excellent one in Farenheit 451?).

There’s other vapour tech. SSTs, another technology that came and went and has yet to return, though they may be back. And on air flight who now speaks of hypersonic transports? No one. No one speaks of them.

I guess large tranches of the space programme can be shoved in there, particularly the human space programme. We’re still at low earth orbit. The clue is in the word ‘low’. There’s some talk we’ll go a bit further but not much sign of it at the moment. I’d be willing to put good money on it that no manned Mars landing will occur before I’m 70. Possibly later.

And so on. Of course few enough of these were announced as such. Or not many – the US SSTs were. And few were cancelled as such. But the dynamic isn’t entirely different.

I don’t know if this is a cause for despair. Technology, as is its way, has occupied other niches, ones we never thought of, or at least not deeply, in the 1960s and 1970s. Communications most obviously, but not exclusively.

Anyhow, any other examples of vapour tech?


1. EWI - October 23, 2016

Self-driving cars. Self-aware AI. The promises of ‘economics’ cultists.

Pick any of the last twenty years of ‘super’ weapons for the US/NATO (planes, ships, land vehicles, weapons).

All coming with ‘super’ prices.


Michael Carley - October 23, 2016

They’ve now got to the point of what happens when you believe your own propaganda: people who know about these things reckon that if the US really does adopt the F35 as it plans to, it will lose its next war against any properly equipped opposition.


Starkadder - October 23, 2016

As a kid, I remember reading one of those children’s futurology books that had a section on possible “future weapons”.

One of them was a “direct energy weapon” that would kill every living thing in a building while leaving the actual building and contents undamaged. They had a drawing of futuristic soldiers in hazard suits walking over the dead DEW victims (two parents and a little girl, dressed in contemporary clothes) and the drawing really scared me.


WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2016

And in a way isn’t that the neutron bomb?


2. sonofstan - October 23, 2016

“I’ve never been on one, not even the Docklands Light Railway”

I remember my first trip on the DLR and being totally freaked by the driverless-ness. Now it’s just part of what is, despite everything, one of the best public transport systems anywhere. No real scope for more in London, but Dublin? Given how much of the Luas is off road anyway would it have been a better option to go mono?

‘Famously these were parodied in the Simpsons,’

Itself parodying ‘The Music Man’

Has anyone ever seen the whole movie? Never found it

Liked by 1 person

3. sonofstan - October 23, 2016

Is there such a thing as Vapour politics’?
Draining the Shannon, reviving the language and taking back the North, fr-instance. (that list was a favouritie of the Da)

Liked by 1 person

4. 6to5against - October 23, 2016

I’ve been following that one about fusion for decades. I did a tour of a fusion research facility outside Oxford sometime around 1985. All very impressive and -as you said – they claimed to be 5-10years away from success. And every few years I see a similar claim is put out there. I presume whenever a funding round is in progress.
Will it ever happen? I would be inclined to think so. Its not a basic physics problem, as I understand it. More an engineering issue. But it does seem the plan has changed very little in those decades…..


5. 6to5against - October 23, 2016

As for Mars, I’m increasingly inclined to think, why bother? Send probes by all means, but if sending people creates greater technical difficulties without opening up new opportunities, I don’t see the point.


CL - October 23, 2016

‘the most logical conclusion to draw from these studies is that cosmic radiation exposure poses a real and potentially detrimental neurocognitive risk for prolonged deep space travel.’

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2016

I’m sure they can shield, but the more shielding the more weight… and the more cost ineffective it becomes.


WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2016

I think in the long run humans will land there, but Charles Stross and others have made the point 6to5 and CL that given we don’t ‘colonise’ the Antarctic or the Gobi why would we go somewhere incomparably more inhospitable. At least at this point. There is a use case in the mid term for off planet human habitation, many of them actually, but at the moment it does seem to be a waste of resources. This isn’t to say the space programme(s) are a waste, one thing we very badly need is a beyond low earth orbit capacity – if only in order to deal with the threat of impacts, something our current technological level is well able to do (and just thinking about it that doesn’t need to be manned). But other than that so far there’s not a whole heap of need.


gendjinn - October 23, 2016

Water as shield. You’ll need there and you have to get it there so travel inside it.

The reason to go is because we can make Mars habitable. I would say that we are well on the way to making Antarctica habitable, despite the problems it is causing for the rest of the planet.

But really, in the end, we will go because we still have Jeremiah Johnsons and billionaires willing to fund them for the historical bragging rights of being the first to colonise a planet.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy has a pretty good outline of the science required to terraform Mars. It all seems doable. But as the trilogy and The Expanse series point out, the science is the easy part, it is the politics that will kill ye.


CL - October 23, 2016

“Musk’s plan is sort of the 1920s science-fiction cliché of the boy who builds a rocket to the moon in his backyard, combined with the Wernher von Braun plan, as described in the Disney TV programs of the 1950s. A fun, new story.”KSR

Earth is our only home.-KSR.


CL - October 23, 2016

And its all done by free enterprise and entrepreneurship.


6. lamentreat - October 23, 2016

Absolutely agree on fusion – it has been the last next big thing for decades now. “And a single glass of water would be enough to power all human energy needs for…. zzzzzzz.”

But monorails are not so unusual, I think: the Airtrains linking both Kennedy and Newark airport to the wider public transport systems are both elevated monorails. Actually slightly depressing in their banality. And there’s a big maglev train in China somewhere which would probably count as a monorail.


WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2016

I’m probably just bitter that there aren’t more monorails!


6to5against - October 23, 2016

Did you see Tomorrow-land a few years ago? I really enjoyed it. The premise was basically how people of our generation had a broadly optimistic vision of the future, and of technology in particular, as kids and how magical the future seemed just 40 years ago.

I’ve asked several groups of teenagers over the last few years if the believe the world will be a better or worse place in, say, 50 years time. Overwhelmingly, they believe it will be worse.

Sadly, they may well be right, but their very pessimism could become self-fulfilling. And regardless of whether or not they’re right, I think its very sad that they have such a bleak world view.

Billy Bragg put it very well…


WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2016

I did, I liked it a lot – a bit uneven in places but so true. That’s a thought re the young being pessimistic, and they’re not entirely wrong. Climate change -and the denial of climate change, etc, seems to me to offer the sort of dystopian outcomes that could really cause problems.


gendjinn - October 23, 2016

Yeah, but Logan’s Run had monorails. So you know, BAAADDD!!!


WorldbyStorm - October 23, 2016

It sure did, very swanky monorails too! Worst effect in LR iirc was a robot…. urghhh


gendjinn - October 24, 2016

1976 & 1977

I believe that’s what they call punctuated evolution.


7. Dermot O Connor - October 24, 2016

In the classic TV show ‘7 Up’ they follow a group of kids from age 7, and revisit them every 7 years as they grow. They’re up to 56 at the last episode, I think.

Anyway, one of the bright young lads studies physics, and at 28 is in the USA, working a fusion project to “help bring clean power to the world”. This was mid to late 80s. 7 years later, he’s left the project, and when he’s asked why he left the project, you can see that he clearly realises: there is no way this is ever going to work in any meaningful way in our lifetimes, if ever.


8. CL - October 24, 2016

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