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Muldoon lived alone in the Irish countryside with only his pet dog for company. One day the dog died, and Muldoon went to the parish priest and asked, "Father, me dog is dead. Could ya' be saying' a mass for the poor creature?"
Father Patrick replied, "I'm afraid not me lad; we cannot have Services for an animal in the church. But there are some Baptists down the lane, and there's no tellin' what they believe. Maybe they'll do something for the creature."
Muldoon said, "I'll go right away Father. Do ya' think $5,000 is enough to donate to them for the service?"
Father Patrick exclaimed, "Sweet Mary, Mother of Jesus, me lad! Why did ya' na' tell me the dog was Catholic?"
How do you judge whether a political reform has actually improved anything? Those who're afraid of advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology and other fields often wax apocalyptic about the risks these technologies pose. Frequently, they call for total bans on wide areas of research.
However, if medical progress stopped today, it's a near certainty that everyone alive right now will be dead in 150 years. So from the perspective of the people alive right now, the risk that say, somatic gene therapy technology will be used to construct virulent super-viruses that will destroy 50% of the population sometime in 100 years, must be weighed against the certainty that _without_ the gene therapy we will all be dead anyway in 150 years.
One possible measure of the success of any given political/regulatory reform is the change in the total national "healthy life-years" following the implementation of the given policy. A healthy life year is a year in which a person lives in total mental and physical health. Obviously, most people never reach that level of health in any given year. One person might live 90% of a healthy life year one year, 95% the next and so one. If such a person lives to be 100, they might live, say, 85 total "healthy life-years".
The problem however, is that you may have to wait a long time--lifetimes, perhaps--in order to know how a given cluster of government policies will affect the total national HLY's. How could we get useful information about the impact of government policy's on total national HLY's within a reasonable span of time?
Now, I have a strong personal interest in maximizing my own total HLY's. Suppose I could offer a prize certificate that said the following: "The bearer of this certificate will get $25.00 if Christopher M. Rasch lives in good health from January 1, 2004 to January 1, 2009." (With appropriate legalese to precisely define what to "live in good health" meant). Let's call these prizes Life Certificates or LIFEs for short. Now suppose that I created 10 of these Life Certificates and auctioned them off on the Life Exchange. Let's suppose that lot's of other people did the same.
The median value of the 5 year LIFEs at auction would then reflect the best guess of the Life Exchange traders of the likelihood of that population living for the next five years. The price of LIFE's with later pay dates--10, 20, 50, 100 years in the future--would give information about longer spans of time.
Now suppose that a proposed policy change caused the price of all LIFE's to drop. What would that say about the probable effect of that policy? Conversely, what if a given government policy caused median LIFE price to rise?