Thursday, December 29, 2005

Still in holiday recovery mode. Not a lot going on other than work and sitting at home playing with one of my Christmas toys. My mother-in-law got me a Western Digital Passport; basically a 60GB laptop hard drive in a case that connects via USB cable to any PC. It runs off the USB power, so there is only one cable. If you need to, there is provision for plugging it in, but it isn't necessary. In fact, in order to do so, you have to buy the wall wart separate. In any case, fast, quiet, and 60GB is big when you've been working on a 9GB laptop. So far, I have ripped about half the CD's in the house to it and moved a lot of data to it that is either expendable (downloads that could be easily re-downloaded in case of failure, for example), or that already exists in multiple areas (digital photos that are on two other systems and on CD). That has filled up about a quarter of the drive. Not bad for a hundred bucks and a form factor somewhere between a deck of cards and a paperback book. I may go back and pick up another one. Right now, all our digital photos to date don't take up much room (a couple gigs), but I've been looking into services to digitize all of my 35mm slides and film. If I do that, I would prefer to have separate drives for music, photos, archived data, etc. That will likely all fit on one for now, but that won't last long. In any case, if you need more disk space, it's hard to get any easier than this. I haven't had enough experience with this to trust it as primary disk space, but it is certainly good enough for a second portable copy of large amounts of data, a backup device, images of install discs, etc.

The Feds are dropping M3 data in March, 2006. What does that mean? M3 is, to grossly simplify things, the sum total of all money in our system. That may seem like an important number to keep track of, and historically it has been very important. There seems to be disagreement over whether that still holds true. Currency traders, who make obscene amounts of money by taking advantage of the fluctuations in world currencies, say it isn't all that important, there are other indexes that give a better picture, M3 is outdated, blah blah. Gold bugs, like the ones that wrote the article I linked to above, say M3 is the single most important number generated by the Federal Reserve. Both sides are in a position to know a hell of a lot more that I do. Both sides also have horses in the race, so I take their opinions with a healthy dose of sodium chloride. Having said that, there are aspects of this that make me nervous. First, this is one of the most inflationary administrations in recent history. Second, the announcement was made in a very odd manner, almost as an aside, and not accompanied by any explanation as to why. Call me paranoid, but I don't think holding large amounts of US dollars after March is a good idea.

Ponder for a moment all the blood and treasure we have spent in places like Iraq. Reflect on the destruction of civilian air travel by the TSA. Consider the desecration of the Constitution by George W (as in "wiretap") Bush. Then read this. Feel safer? The most critical pieces of information this kid needed were supplied by the federal government itself. I can't have tweezers on an airplane because I might use them to hijack the plane, but the feds are handing out information on how to extract and purify radioactive isotopes to random people.

Ok, now lets look at this situation from another angle. The War of on Terror has cost how many 100's of billions? Now along comes a kid bucking for Eagle Scout and for a few thousand bucks builds a respectable atomic pile from scrounged materials, aluminum foil, and duct tape. It's hard to tell from a magazine article, but I'm guessing it produced enough heat to run a small RTG. I'm certain there is no way this home-built RTG would have provided enough electricity to run a house, but it raises some interesting possibilities as to how we could have better spent a couple hundred billion dollars. Forty or so years ago, either Heinlein or Asimov speculated that every house would run off its own RTG installed in the basement in a sealed cask with warnings in a dozen languages that if you were persistent and stupid enough to break the thing open, you would instantly die. For a half-trillion dollars, I'm sure we could be there.

At least the story ends well: Hahn is now in the Navy instead of rotting in some jail cell.

That's all folks!

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