Monday, March 31, 2008

Watching the Watchers, Your Money at Work

It's no surprise that politics is all about money. But it sure can be surprising what the government uses our money for. Here's a sampling from the past couple of weeks.

Computers continue to have more and more processors available, and as the trend increases, moving data around to keep all that processing power fed becomes more and more of a bottleneck. Electrical signals propagate relatively slowly, and moving them around generates heat. Light beams, however are very, very fast, and super efficient. Sun has announced a government contract worth $44 million to research connecting chips using lasers. One Sun researcher describes the project as "high risk." High risk in this case means an even chance of failure.

The solar powered Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have remained useful well past their designed mission, but it costs about $20 million annually to keep the programs running. Since there's only so much money to go around, and the program has been asked to cut $4 million out of their budget, one or both of the rovers must be put into hibernation for periods of time they would have been gathering data on the Martian winter.

A story in the Seattle Times begins with this quote, "The unsettling thing about living in a surveillance society isn't just that you're being watched. It's that you have no idea." The reporter proceeds to tell a second hand story government nuclear surveillance picking up the radiation from a cat that had just had a cancer treatment. As it went by on the interstate at seventy miles per hour.

And finally, the presidential primary candidates are pulling in fund raising money at a pace of around $100 thousand a month. Extending that trend for a year reveals a frightening comparison: there are seven African countries or islands that have a gross domestic product of less than one billion dollars. The candidates are literally spending more than some small nations.

At least this stuff makes my budgeting decisions seem rather simple...

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