Gongol.com Archives: July 2011
Brian Gongol


July 7, 2011

Science and Technology A big bet -- with Federal funding -- on cellulosic ethanol
The good news: They're going to start making ethanol from more than just the kernels of corn -- using cobs, salks, and other materials that otherwise just get inefficiently used or just go to waste. The bad news is that the plant is going to cost the Federal government $105 million (out of a total construction cost around $350 million). First of all, the government doesn't have spare cash right now -- we're in a huge budget hole. Second, it makes the government essentially an investor in the plant without giving it any claim on the benefits. (Government ownership of private business is a bad thing...government ownership without any reward is even worse.) Third, it's bothersome to see that there are still so many efforts being put into attempts to manage the country's energy policy -- by a government that just released a bunch of petroleum from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, just because people complained that gas prices were too high. Nothing should have been released from the strategic reserves -- those should be stored for true national emergencies. This isn't a time of national emergency. And by releasing cheap fuel on one end, while subsidizing the production of an alternative fuel on the other is counterproductive. If gas prices rose high enough, then projects like cellulosic-ethanol plants would be capable of profiting faster in the private sector alone, without government help. Clearly, the people who are "in charge" have no idea what they're doing.

Science and Technology Galaxy Zoo: Coordinating lots of little efforts into big exploratory value
Some tasks still aren't suitable for computers to do -- like classifying galaxies based upon their appearance, which requires some subjective judgment. But it turns out that when the huge amounts of uncategorized data collected about space are organized and handed over to volunteers for review, those people can race through hundreds of thousands of images and produce really useful, reliable data. That's a fantastic use of computing power and human effort.

Business and Finance Minnesota's budget stalemate gets...well, more stale
The governor and state legislature are arguing over roughly $3 billion in spending, and nobody seems to be getting closer to agreement. State budget problems are going to become more of a commonplace feature of life in America as pension costs rise and as the Federal government pulls back from funding things it can no longer pretend to afford.

Iowa Bob Vander Plaats, please sit down and shut up
It's one thing to ask Presidential candidates to say they're in favor of marriage. That's a platitude, like being in favor of Mom and apple pie. It's quite another to ask them (as Vander Plaats and his advocacy group do) to sign an absurd pledge that appears in its very first bullet point to make it sound as though black Americans had better family lives under slavery than they do today. That's insulting, and the whole "pledge" looks like like race-baiting and gay-hatred.

Computers and the Internet Facebook and Skype establish partnership
Free Skype calls are coming to Facebook soon

Iowa Sioux City is rated one of the best living bargains in America
These kinds of rankings are always a little spurious, but the bottom line is that Sioux City and many other Iowa cities offer a very high quality of life and a low cost of living

Humor and Good News Max-performing your vehicle

Threats and Hazards Al-Qaeda seriously needs to give up the aviation obsession
The terrorist group may be planning to surgically implant bombs in terrorists' abdomens to help them evade screening at airport security checkpoints

The United States of America 14th Amendment could offer a back-door solution to the debt-ceiling crisis
The problem with the "debt ceiling" is that the nation is obligated to pay its debts, no matter what. That we don't like the President's spending policies is not sufficient nor just cause to lead us to the brink of default.

Aviation News A prototype flying car is supposed enter production next year
It's a two-seater and drives on motorcycle tires

Aviation News Air-traffic control turns 75 years old
The first control centers were in Chicago, Newark, and Cleveland. It's funny to think that 75 years later, Cleveland simply doesn't bear the national influence it once did. In 1940, Cleveland was the 6th-largest city in the country. (Newark was 18th.) Las Vegas wasn't even in the top 100. Times change: Cleveland's now 25th.

Science and Technology An 8,000-square-foot treehouse
The builder thought he heard a message from God in 1993 telling him to build

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