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Mapping the human genome
and other quick projects you can toss together in your spare time

by Tom Pullizzi <>

September 1, 1998

The government is on course to spending 3 BILLION (that's Billion) dollars and 30 years to map the human genome. I'm sure it sounded like a good idea at the time, and to procure this government grant I'm sure they lined up dozens of PhD's to lobby to the Congress about how badly we need this map. Also, it was probably accepted that such a huge undertaking (it makes the Panama Canal look like piker's fare), would cost a country's ransom. And if you hear $3 billion, you can be sure that it is $10 billion, after all the extensions to the grant. It always starts out that way, "we can do such and such for $10 Million". Once the $10 Million is granted, they have us. People are hired, using the $10 Million, to start writing the grant application for the extension. A grant is a self perpetuating thing. We all realize that grant money goes to the smartest people in the world, right? Well, if this is so, which it is, what makes you think that the smartest people in the world don't want to keep making their salary? Only the most ignorant among us would work themselves out of a job, or do you think that the Beltway Bandits are too altruistic for that?

Then we hear the good news that a scientist proclaims that he and his startup company will map the human genome in 10 years and for 1/10 of the $3 BIL. using private funds, no less. You might think that this is great news for anyone who pays taxes and owns a human genome map, but you don't know the ways of great science if you do. You see, that $3 billion will be spent anyway. You can't stop projects like this because there are too many smart, wealthy people making too much money for it to roll over and die. That much money means power, and powerful people will make sure that the publicity is bad for the person who says you don't have to spend it.

Which brings me to today's editorial;, inc. is mapping the metal finishing genome, i.e., a searchable database of the literature of industry. Now this project is not as important as mapping the human genome, in fact, I would place it at about the same level of importance as, oh, having the ability to offer video conferencing to the metal finishing industry for the purpose of an electroplating school. And, inc. is doing this the old fashioned way, by investing private funds and computer typing to the task.

I can see it now, though. People in the beltway are writing applications this very moment describing the latest projects requiring government money - We must have an online database of metal finishing literature, the lack of which is running down the ability of the American (or Canadian, or Mexican, or fill-in-the-blank) industry to compete. Its no good that this project may be done at 1/100 the cost of anything the government could arrange, it must be kept as free and open as the American capitalist system (!) so that no one private group can exploit the powerful need we feel to have this resource at our fingertips.

Another grant has probably already been written to ask for money for that video conferencing for the metal finishing industry. Forget the fact that anyone that wishes can get into the game for a few thousand dollars. Our industry needs at least a $1,000,000 grant for a sound and video room to create cool Internet movies for metal finishers, most of whom have a 28.8 modem connection to the Internet, making video and sound mighty slow.

It would be great to have fun money like that around to make products and services that nobody needs, thank goodness for the system which most of us work under. The system where you spend only the money you earn. It is usually the only thing which keeps one from wasting too much. So the next time someone tells you the industry needs government lobbying to protect our jobs, you tell them that the only jobs we are protecting are the jobs of Beltway Bandits who make 10 times the median income, and twenty times the median income of those line personnel who work in the plating shops, and you want information on how this money will directly save the job of a line plater.

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