Daily TIPs: Ethanol Policy, Data Security, Mercury Mop-Up, & More

6/30/08

Is Ethanol Policy Counterproductive?

Citing a pair of wire stories, Salon asks whether current policies to promote the production of ethanol amount to bad economics. Federal ethanol mandates are driving up the price of corn, which makes it hard to make a profit by selling ethanol. High corn prices have driven about a dozen biofuel plants to file for bankruptcy.

Record Data Breaches Recorded This Year

Government, businesses, and universities have reported a record-breaking number of break-ins to their databases. The Washington Post’s Security Fix blog says that the Identity Theft Resource Center tracked 342 reports of data breaches between January 1 and June 27. That’s a 69 percent increase over the same period last year.

Brain, Not Cell Phone, Is Problem, Studies Say

Many states are mandating that drivers use only hands-free cell phones to minimize traffic accidents. But with California’s law going into effect July 1, a story in the Los Angeles Times highlights studies that show the real danger is not dialing. It’s that conversation refocuses the brain’s attention.

Court Ruling May Not Offer Text Privacy

In a case last week in which a police department had tried to gain access to employees’ text messages, a federal court ruled that the department had no right to see the material. The media hailed the decision as a blow for privacy. But GigaOm argues that the ruling won’t keep your messages out of the hands of employers unless you work for the government.

Material Protects Environment From Fluorescent Bulbs

Compact fluorescent light bulbs are being promoted as a way to help the planet, since they use so much less electricity than ordinary bulbs. But the downside has been their mercury content, which can spread if the bulb breaks. Now researchers at Brown University have come up with a material that absorbs the mercury in case of a break, UPI reports.

Hawaii Requires Solar Water Heaters

All new single family homes in Hawaii must have solar water heaters to get a building permit. The law signed by Governor Linda Lingle goes into effect in 2010. The Environmental News Network says the law is meant to address the fact that the island relies on foreign countries for 90 percent of its energy.

Throttling Web Traffic May Not Be Necessary

Telecom companies are threatening to turn down data allowances to subscribers because, they say, too much peer-to-peer traffic is eating up bandwidth and causing network congestion. But Ars Technica says it looked at traffic numbers from Bell Canada and discovered that the level of congestion is low, with no link being congested more than 3 percent of the time. The one place that does have a problem, where DSL lines come into the central office, actually saw an increase in congestion after Bell started its throttling policy.

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