Thursday, April 24, 2008

BIO - Fuel or Food

The Age today reports that the U.S. has rationed sales of rice. The world price for rice rose about 68% last year.

In February, The Times reported that the world was only 10 weeks away from running out of wheat. The world price for wheat rose about 92% last year.

In January, The Finacial Post reported that U.S. corn exports will seize up in less than three years. The world price of corn rose about 60% last year.

Here's another one from April 24 that talks about the UN having to make "heartbreaking choices" with its emergency aid because it can no longer afford to buy food for starving nations.

So let's talk a little about the real costs and benefits of biofuels, if any can be said to exist. What are biofuels? Biofuels are those fuels like "biodeisel" or ethanol, that are produced mostly from food plants or disguarded by-products of food plants like used vegetable oil. For the most part we use grains like wheat, corn and rice to make ethanol with the very versatile (not to mention gentically modified) canola being used for oil, mostly.

Ethanol is an excellent energy carrier but produces just as much CO2 as regular unleaded fuel. Biodeisel, distilled from old or new vegetable oil doesn't work quite as well, so you'll need a Deisel engine to burn it properly. Even so, you'll still produce just as much CO2 as you would with deisel fuel, so in that regard at least, there's no real advantage to either of them as "environmentally friendly" fuels. They are however, renewable resources.

The European policy on biofuels dictates that there be 2% ethanol by volume in petrol, rising to 5.75% by 2010 in order to create a disired "crude oil saving". America is considering a similar policy, as is Australia and a myriad other countries around the world and the saving in crude oil is the only reason for it.

As we can see from all those articles though, there's already a serious food shortage brought on mostly by our current minimal insistance on biofuels. But as ethanol percentages rise in fuel, so will the demand for those food products. That means food becomes scarce, prices continue to rise, which of course drives yet more inlfation and the UN will have to choose who will die for lack of food.

Is this really the answer that we're looking for?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Plonka's Financial Tips

"Well now" says Dikkii, "What have we here?" That's as it should be though because normally, if I had a query concerning the scary world of finance, I'd ask Dikkii. It's a simple fact of life that if you want an informed answer, ask someone that knows a thing or two about the subject.

I call myself "Plonka", not because there was a mathematician of that name - I didn't know that when I chose the name - but because I "plonk" along. I tend to waffle on a great deal about things I know very little about with only the tenuous pretext of scant research, usually at Wiki, to back me and I wait for the blogophere to correct me. It's fun, I make friends and learn as I go.

There are however, some things I know with absolute certainty. One of those things, and herein lies the "tip", is that if a man says to you "I can get you a 70% return on investment", your best course of action is to thank him for his time and politely show him the door, the other side of it for preference. On this point, I'm sure Dikkii will agree with me so I feel confident in sharing this advice.

From The Age:

Mr Hoy's company, Chartwell Enterprises, reportedly promised investors returns of up to 70%. Instead, many were left watching in disbelief yesterday as the locks were changed on its offices in Geelong's Ryrie Street.

"In disbelief"... Surely they can't be serious. Someone even scratched the word "liar" into the door of his Jag. Really? I would never have guessed. He also owns a $900,000 Rolls, a luxury ocean cruiser and a $3million sub-penthouse apartment that isn't built yet. But then if you're a con that's trying to lure people, then the greater your advertised return, the better you have to make it look and this guy did it with style and to great effect.

The basic lesson here is "the greater the return, the greater the risk". I learned that at school in "home economics" (*sigh*...I show my age....) many years ago, and it seems to be one of very few things in the financial world that has remained steadfastly constant throughout that time. I may not know what a "good rate" is at the moment but I do know that 70% is laughable. Sure, some have managed to do exceedingly well at times, but a sustained 70%? Well even the great Mr. Buffett would have trouble with that one I think...

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Desktop Religion

I was over at Dikkii's the other day, as is my want, where I read that he's bitten the proverbial bullet and has settled on the dreaded Microsoft Vista as the operating system on his new machine. This of course sparked the inevitable Microsoft beat up, but that's the way it is when MS is mentioned. Now normally I'm not one to defend MS. Their marketing tactics over the years have been dubious to say the least, and their operating systems and software tend to be resource hungry behemoths, albeit very good ones, but I had to on that occasion and you can read it over there, if you want to.

The reason I'm writing this post is because Dikkii also mentioned that he'd installed Ubuntu on his old machine. Now being a nerd who's particular penchant is making operating systems work for you, not against you, I thought I'd best give it a go too. After all, I've been known to run with Red Hat, Fedora, Suse or even VMS if you count my Alpha. There's been Commodore 64 emulators, AmigaOS, Amithlon, BE OS, QNX and Knoppix on my machine at various stages, so I suppose it's time to see what the fuss is all about. I have a 750gig hard drive now, so space for weird partitions really isn't an issue.

I downloaded Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy) for i386 and burned me a CD. Then I partitioned off 105gig, just so I'd have some room to breathe, made a 100gig ext3 partition and a 5gig swap partition (I have 4gig of ram and to much is better than not enough). I then bunged in the CD and proceeded to boot from that and install Ubuntu.

And that's where I began to run into trouble. You see, I have an nVidia 8800GTS 512 G92 video card which is very new and very, very fast, and it seems that the drivers for it aren't entirely up to scratch. To cut a very long story short, I made some very silly decisions and now have 4 different versions of Ubuntu to choose from in my CD rack, but nowhere near as much download left as I normally do at this time of the month.

The best one I've found so far is Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy) beta AMD64. It installed a treat and automagically updated the restricted drivers for my card.
So I now have a very snazzy Gnome interface (I didn't like KDE4 very much) and as you can tell, everything works a treat everything works a treat. I'm using a thing called "ScribeFire" as my offline blog editor, as you can see in the pic, so we'll see how it goes for a bit. Other than playing X3 or Call Of Duty, I might be using Ubuntu full time...

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sex And The Sacrament

"'It's to dark down here, I can't see what I'm doing', as the bishop said to the actress." or "'It doesn't usually leak this much', as the actress said to the bishop."

Sound's familiar doesn't it? Well it probably should too. " the actress said to the bishop" and vice versa have been popular idioms in the English language for a long, long time and have provided us with much humour over the years (Benny Hill immediately springs to mind).

Then there's the one about the young priest who has to fill in for Father Brian one weekend. He has to take a confession from a prostitute, but having never been exposed to such things before is unsure of what atonement to assign for her sins. As he's pondering this he sees the head alter boy and thinks, "He'll know, he's been around a while" so he asks: "John, what does father Brian give for oral sex?" The boy answers: "A can of Coke and a Mars Bar usually, why?"

The old ones are always the best, aren't they? But I can sit here and type crass priest jokes all day. They'd all be old and I wouldn't run out any time soon. We tell jokes like these because they are things that simply shouldn't happen, shouldn't be allowed to happen and yet somehow seem to happen with monotonous regularity, so we laugh at the hypocrisy. It's pure sarcasm at its most sarcastic.

But how did we become so tolerant of and amused by the concept of sex within the pious ranks of the clergy? We all know that priests are not supposed to indulge in this sort of behaviour, yet at the time these jokes became popular, jokes about the priesthood's lasciviousness were all the rage.

Well it probably has a lot to do with Thomas Aquinas. Back in his day, prostitutes were referred to as "actresses" in the polite vernacular and he advocated prostitution, saying things like; "Suppress prostitution and capricious lusts will overthrow society" and "prostitution in the town is like the cesspool in the palace; remove the cesspool and the palace will become an unclean and evil-smelling place". I can only assume he said such things because the brothels of Southwark, which employed young men as well as young women and "serviced" the clergy free of charge, were owned and controlled by the Bishop of Winchester from as early as the 11th century, a post that Aquinas himself held for a short period. They were also a reasonable source of income too, naturally. Did someone say "MONEY"? Gee, now there's a surprise.

As to the second joke, well it's also a sad fact that sometimes the Bishop's male "employees" were forced to serve as alter boys to atone for their sins before they were sent back to sin again, probably at the behest of a priest. It's been modernised with the advent of "coke and a mars bar" I know, but "ale and a pork bun" used to work just as well back in the day.

As a consequence though, whenever I hear about a clergyman or deeply religious person, whether they be Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Fundamentalist or any of the myriad "denominations" that exist today, being involved in some sort of scandal with an alter boy or prostitute/s, whether they be male or female, it always surprises me that their fellow christians seem to get upset about it. These guys are not doing anything new as far as "church business" is concerned and let's face it, now that they're not the pimps anymore they are at least forced to pay for the services they receive, not like Aquinas and his cronies.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Well FAQ Me.

xmercy_thumb[3]_thumb[1]Mat 19:17-19 - "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

18"Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbour as yourself.'" (My bold)

"Do not give false testimony"... It means "do not tell lies". It's a very simple and straightforward statement, uttered by none other than Jesus himself and written as an instruction from Jesus to those who wish to follow him. "Do not tell lies"... I mention it just so we can all be sure that it is a basic tenet of christianity that really shouldn't be ignored if you purport to be a christian.

With this in mind, let's take a look at question 6 on the Mercy Ministries program FAQ with my bolds and highlights:

6. How much does the program cost?

Mercy Ministries program is provided at NO COST to the young women.

For young women who are eligible for a Centrelink payment (eg. Youth Allowance, Newstart, Pension) we ask that they contribute their payment to Mercy Ministries for the duration of their time in the program. From this payment the young women receive an allowance for weekly shopping for incidentals.

Upon entry into the program a deposit of $200 is required from all young women (whether eligible for Centrelink payment or not), to cover the cost of any impending medical expenses.

It will then be necessary to replenish the deposit to take it back to a balance of $200 for any further medical treatment that may be required.

For young women who are not eligible for Centrelink support, Mercy Ministries does require them to have a sponsor to support weekly shopping for incidentals and medical expenses.

As Mercy Ministries is not a medical facility we work with the young women alongside medical professionals who support Mercy Ministries to access excellent and affordable medical care.

Any remaining part of this deposit will be refunded to the resident on departure from the program.

So is it "no cost" or a $200 deposit with ongoing costs? One of these things must be a lie, so only one question needs to be asked; In ignoring such a basic tenet of christianity, deliberately and in print and expressly for the purpose of attracting desperate young women, does this organisation still have the right to call itself christian? My personal opinion is no, they don't, but I'm interested to hear what you think.

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

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