Friday, September 26, 2008

What could a $700 billion government investment buy?

Regardless of your position for or against the $700 billion investment bailout that the U.S. Congress is debating right now, it's important to realize exactly what scale of investment we're talking about. Whether you consider the following past government investments failures or successes, they are examples of what high-dollar federal funding can accomplish, and how much $700 billion federal dollars could otherwise buy:

(Note, these figures have been adjusted for inflation into 2008 dollars.)
  • The Apollo Program, which managed to put a dozen men on the surface of the moon and bring them back safely, cost $25.4 billion in 1969 dollars, or about $152 billion in 2008 terms. The bailout plan is about 4.6 Apollo Programs' worth of money. For the cost of the bailout, we could have put an entire 53-man NFL roster on the lunar surface, and that's a conservative figure. Over 60 percent of total Apollo cost lay in development for the Saturn V, the lunar lander and command module, which this crude math pays out four and a half times over. For $700 billion, I'm fairly confident we could put two complete NFL teams on the moon, with coaching staffs and referees, and play a regular season game from the Sea of Tranquility.
  • The Manhattan Project, which for better or for worse gave the world the atomic bomb, cost about $2 billion between 1942 and 1945. That's about $28 billion dollars in today's money. The bailout plan is about 25 Manhattan Projects' worth of money. Let that sink in--we could have invented The Bomb 25 times over for what it's going to cost us to bail out Wall Street.
  • The Smallpox Eradication Program, administered by the World Health Organization between 1967 and 1979, cost a little over $23 million annually, for a total cost of about $300 million by the end of 1979. That's about $905 million in 2008 dollars. And though the U.S. paid less than a third of the cost, for the purpose of this exercise, let's say Uncle Sam footed the whole bill. The bailout plan is about 773 Smallpox Eradications' worth of money. We could wipe out over 700 vaccinatible diseases from the face of the Earth for the cost of taking on these questionable mortgage-backed securities. Granted, that's assuming that such vaccines exist, which often they do not. Still, Bill Gates thinks he can conjure a malaria vaccine for a mere $100 million. Let's say he's wrong by a factor of ten. We could still probably develop 300 vaccines and adminsiter them to every man, woman and child on the planet for the cost of this plan.
  • The Marshall Plan, which effectively rebuilt the economy of post-WWII Europe and funded the U.S. military presence therein, from 1948 to 1949, at a cost of $7.4 billion. In today's money, that's about $682 billion, slightly cheaper than just keeping Wall Street from crashing as hard as it is right now. The bailout plan is roughly equal to the cost of the Marshall Plan--plus four Nimitz Class nuclear aircraft carriers. Put another way, we're being asked to soften the crash--not prevent it--in one sector of our economy will cost the same as rebuilding the entire European Economy in the late 1940s, plus the cost of four of the most expensive pieces of equipment ever devised by man ($4.5 billion apiece), just so we get to an even $700 billion price tag.
Some problems are of such a scale that perhaps only government can tackle them. This financial crisis may be one of them. But let's take a moment to realize what we could have bought instead of this bailout, and how many times over, before we blithely sign a check for a seven with a eleven zeroes behind it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why you shouldn't expect to make money blogging

Technorati Ranking & LinksImage by manoellemos via Flickr

According to 2008's State of the Blogosphere, the most successful blogs are the ones that post at least five times per day. Success, in this case, being the highest Technorati Authority rankings. These rankings, by turn, are based on the number of other bloggers that link to your stuff and the authority of those bloggers.

This seems to paint a picture of a small cudgel of high-volume bloggers massively cross-linking each other, possibly because compulsive five-times-daily bloggers would theoretically always be in search of new material, and seeing what everyone else is doing (and reacting to it) is a fertile ground for blog fodder. This is mere cynical supposition, mind you, but I'd lay some money on it being at least partially true.

Whether Technorati rank translates to actual fiscal success is a muddier cause-and-effect to fathom. The majority of bloggers don't make any money at their blogs, but the average household income of most bloggers is over $75,000 a year. (Granted, this is only the subset of bloggers that have listed themselves in Technorati, but that would likely include anybody who either gets paid for blogging and/or does it at least five times daily.) This suggests most blogging is a hobby for college-educated middle-class folks, not a serious money-making venture.

What I'd really like to see is a breakdown of the Top 100, Top 1000, and Top 10,000 bloggers by authority as applies to income. Simply, does Authority convert to money? My guess is at the very high end, it might correlate, but that the correlation declines sharply and disproportionately as you drop out of the Top 100. I'm also betting the volume of posting declines as you decline the list, too. I don't have the means or the werewithal to post 25-30 blog entries per week--not without quitting my day job--and I never will.

Blogging is a hobby. Some folks can be professional hobbyists--I mean, there are guys that make their living trading baseball cards, after all--but they are rare. And most people who play the guitar never make a dime off of it. Dreaming of being a pro blogger is a lot like dreaming of being a pro musician or pro athlete--most of us just aren't going to make it. Don't stop playing, just stop expecting to get paid.
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Monday, September 22, 2008

Perfection is a four-letter word

"Free yourself from the myth of perfection, and you’ll become a better writer. I guarantee it." - Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

Yeah, I've got some redrafting to do before my writers group next week. I haven't had a story for them in two months. Time to get back in the groove.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Yet another great idea I won't pursue

So I had another idea for a Web show/blog that could maybe get a little bit popular and make just a little money if only I hate time for it: It's sort of a larger, more general version of my Food Rants, wherein the audience suggests things for me to hate, and I conjure up a 2-minute video blog screen as to why I hate it.

I can find verbose and acidic justification for hating anything, and taking requests is always fun. It's low production-value, so i could produce something in about two hours. Promotion, obviously, would take longer. Of course, I have no time for this, like all my grand ideas. File it away with the Chrono-Anarchist Hitlist and Armchair Script Doctor. Alas.

I wish I was more into steampunk

This post from Fantasy Magazine lays out the most coherent and compelling case for the popularity of steampunk I've yet come across (thanks, SFSignal). When you read it, you almost feel stupid for not writing steampunk. Except--and this will just be the latest in a long line of my sci-fi heresies--I'm not all hat wild about steampunk.

Steampunk is fun for a goof, I suppose, but I guess I simply have too much of the dismal science in me. Steampunk, to me, has always been more fantasy than sci-fi. As wonderous as Charles Babbage's grand mechancical computers were, they really were hideously impractical. To my mind, the greatest technical achievements were those that made new things possible, largely by virtue of making them practical. Steampunk is the inverse, it revels in its impracticality, in the grand operatic largesse required to make these machines and indulge in the modest wonders they produce.

In the graphic novella Ministry of Space, writer Warren Ellis imagines an alternate history where the British, not the Americans, rescued Von Braun from Germany after World World II. It was the British that embarked on a space program to revive their war-torn economy and, as they "had opera in them," the Brits indulged Von Braun's mad bluster and brutish vision of putting men into orbit in the 50s, on the moon by the 60, and Mars by the 70s. All it took was one of the greatest cover-ups in history to pay the hideous cost. Ministry deftly examines both sides of the issue--space is a grand dream, but not a practical one. When its dark patronage failed, it could not be sustained.

That's the same issue with steampunk. Its dreams and devices are glorious, but they really only empower their mad creators--the dukes and princes with endless ennobled coffers to pursue these personal accomplishments, rather than some larger goal, some greater but simpler service to the world.

Maybe I just lack the imagination to truly embrace steampunk.

Or maybe stemapunk just lacks the imagination to conjure a world that could truly have been.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Why I gave up my UofL season basketball tickets

I snapped this photo of :en:Freedom Hall durin...Image via Wikipedia

Either I or my family have held UofL season basketball tickets since 1985--until this year. A large portion of my resigning the tickets has to do with my parents being older, so they never go, and me having a young daughter and working two jobs, so going to 18 or so home dates became time-prohibitive. But here's the real reason--the 2008-2009 Louisville home basketball schedule.

With the exception of the Kentucky game, which you get every other year regardless, there is not a single non-conference home game that is worth shelling out money to attend. UNLV is the next best team on the home non-conference schedule, and unless those seats come with a time-warp back to 1991, that's not much to write home about, either.

UAB? Sure, there's some interest because ex-Indiana coach Mike Davis is there and the Blazers beat Kentucky in Freedom Hall last season, but that should be the minimum we expect from the non-conference, not a highlight. The mildly exciting non-conference games--Mississippi, Minnesota (hello, Tubby Smith), and local fave Western Kentucky--are all neutral-site games. WHich is to say, season ticket holders don't get to see them. Just like last year, when the big North Carolina matchup was only a possible outcome of a Vegas tournament--and it didn't happen.

I get it that the Big East conference schedule is brutal, I do. And I enjoy that Notre Dame and UConn are coming into Freedom hall. But is it too much to ask that one, just one non-conference, non-Kentucky home opponent be a serious, name squad. We can't get Indiana, North Carolina, UCLA, or Kansas in here? We can't get Tennessee, or Florida, or Ohio State? Seriously? ESPN would shell out money for that? Or ABC?

I spent about $1500 last season on a pair of tickets and my seat donation for the right to buy tickets, and out of about 20 home games there maybe five worth attending. And I couldn't give away, let alone sell, the matchups with Sacramento State or Bellarmine. I'll actually save money this year paying scalper's prices for the Kentucky, UConn, and West Virginia games, rather than buying season tickets and selling the ones I don't want. There's something wrong with that equation.

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