Thing one: The “truth” behind the Startram is still being debated, but the science-fiction fan (and, well, scientist) in me is willing to entertain the general “coolness” of it (in a sort of Jules Verne-fashion), for the time being. And maybe pick it apart a little bit (that would be the scientist-part). The crux is that we humans, nay Earthlings, supposedly have the technology and funds (in times like these?) to build a colossal maglev (magnetic levitation – this bit is not sci-fi, and actually cool) tunnel straight into the stratosphere, to send humans on their merry way – in train-cars – into low orbit. The electronics will have to be comprised of superconductors to withstand the temperatures in space, and the tunnel will have to be “vacuumed”, so that the supersonic train does not disintegrate due to friction.
Frankly, I do not think that the theoretical science is faulty. However, I do not even want to think about the risk assessment involved, and I find the idea that it will cost less than some of our maglev land-railways… the excrement of male cows.
Thing one, v.2: The BBC is to air a new programme teaching Mandarin Chinese to young learners. I find this an admirable initiative, and with the gradual rolling out of more and more foreign languages in secondary schools today, it could be useful for people to learn about tonality at a young age. However, characters are completely different from the alphabet, so the effect of this type of learning may not extend beyond “travel phrase-book”, i.e. learning by recognition. Then again, I do believe that, at the most basic, the programme aims to make young children curious about foreign languages, and will therefore tune in. (What?! I might learn something too. You don’t know my life.)