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June 27, 2016

Computers and the Internet An app to help deter human trafficking (that is: sex slavery)

Taking photos of unoccupied hotel rooms can help with the prosecution of those who take advantage of their fellow human beings for exploitation

The United States of America George Will resigns membership in the GOP

He says Donald Trump has infected the party and it is no longer behaving in a way that reflects his principles. And he declined to enter a catfight over the story because Trump "has an advantage on me because he can say everything he knows about any subject in 140 characters and I can't".

Science and Technology A remarkable look at the deflation in solar-power production costs

Costs have supposedly fallen by 80% since 2008

Business and Finance S&P drops UK's credit rating over EU departure

One thing is certain: The buying power of the pound versus the dollar has declined considerably in the wake of the "Brexit", so it's a fine time to be an American buyer in the hunt for British stocks.

Aviation News The FAA's new commercial drone rules

Playing catch-up at this stage

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June 25, 2016

Aviation News FAA issues new rules on commercial drones

Computers and the Internet The Chicago Tribune has been Tronc'ed

No longer the Tribune Company, it's now "tronc", for "Tribune Online Content". A ridiculous brand name. In the long run, what will be interesting to see is how much they depend upon algorithms to generate news stories for coverage, in the same style as Netflix comes up with new programming based upon known user interests.

June 24, 2016

Computers and the Internet Pebble promotes its new "Core" as an Amazon Alexa device

The Core is set to retail for $99, but the company is using a Kickstarter campaign to pre-fund, and will sell the miniature device to early backers for $79

News Is the British vote to depart the EU a signal of a less-open world?

Quite possibly. There are many reasons that may have led to people voting either way on the referendum -- thoughtful Euroskeptics who voted to leave probably don't share a lot in common with nativists, and the people who voted to stay because the EU subsidizes their incomes probably don't have a lot in common with those who want to welcome more immigrants. But on balance, even though the EU is a bureaucratic juggernaut with structural flaws that probably doom it in the long run anyway, its diminishment does tend to push in the direction of a less-open world, and that does not portend well for the future.

Computers and the Internet Digital publisher says that Twitter engagement rates continue to decline

The co-founder of widely-read site The Next Web says they're seeing less and less click-through from links shared on Twitter, even when people are re-sharing their articles more than ever. The conclusion: People breeze past a headline, share it because they think it's supposed to be interesting, and then move on without actually reading it. That could certainly be trouble for Twitter, but it also suggests that social media is becoming a monster that eats itself. If the purpose is to show that you're sharing things (rather than experiencing or learning from them), then it's not a productive utility. And Twitter isn't the only site where this is happening. There is clearly sharing-for-show taking place on other platforms, like Facebook. That only tends to exacerbate tribalism (in the sociological sense) and identity politics, rather than making us better off.

June 23, 2016

Business and Finance Tesla to buy SolarCity

One Elon Musk venture acquires another. It probably makes abstract sense without making practical sense: They may very well fit together, but they both struggle to make a profit.

Threats and Hazards Social Security Trustees issue annual report

The Social Security program is officially going to begin running deficits by the end of the decade. And "the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund will be depleted in 2028, two years earlier than projected in last year's report". We're in a world of trouble.

Business and Finance Airbnb confronts problems of discrimination

As more freedom and laissez-faire finds its way into some markets (like lodging), it reveals that discrimination persists -- and reiterates how hard it is to legislate decency and respect into people. On a related note, the New York state legislature has gone on the attack against home-sharing.

News Britain's clear ballots

Nobody voting on the EU referendum will be able to argue that they misunderstood how they were voting. No hanging chads there.

Computers and the Internet Pew survey: 71% of US adults think it would be a career disadvantage not to have broadband at home

The Internet has more or less reached the status of public utility -- like water or electricity. Those without it are missing a fundamental, core piece of infrastructure of modern life.

June 22, 2016

News Three critical traits of a good elected official: Curiosity, competence, and humility

And if a candidate for office never leaves a bubble of self-reinforcing messages and ventures out to learn more (or even acknowledges that there is more to be learned), then that candidate is dangerously unqualified for just about any job in the public trust.

News Chicago passes new regulations on Airbnb

A local community has the right to a considerable amount of self-determination, but it should also be considered whether regulations are actually being used to preserve the health and safety of the public, or if they're just being used as a blunt instrument because some people don't like some things. The opponents of short-term home rentals in Chicago include some people who say that it's dragging down their neighborhoods by creating transient communities. Some supporters, though, come from among those who need to make income off their homes when not in use just in order to make the payments. In theory, home-sharing should be a social good -- if it's putting homes to use that otherwise would have been unoccupied for a day, a weekend, or even a month, then it's highly efficient to put those properties to use. That doesn't mean that abuses and other externalities couldn't become a factor; they could. But we have to be hesitant to use the blunt instruments of regulation.

Business and Finance More regulations and higher minimum wages appear to be reducing options for young workers

The less fluid the labor market becomes, the harder it is to enter. That may seem like a luxury to people who are already up the food chain, but when you keep young people out of the labor market at ages 16 through 25, you keep them from getting on a track to upward mobility. Soft skills matter!

News A single father -- in his 60s

His wife died suddenly just after giving birth to twins. A remarkable situation and story.

Science and Technology Drowsy driving summit

The Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau is holding a summit on drowsy driving on June 29. While often overlooked in the shadow of its nasty counterpart drunk driving, drowsy driving (and other forms of distracted or impaired driving) remains a major public-health problem. The sooner assistive technologies can be widely applied to vehicles, the better off we all will be.

June 21, 2016

Business and Finance How much does it cost to break even on drilling for oil in America?

The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas finds that producers say anywhere from $9 a barrel to $60 a barrel, but averaging from $29 to $43, depending on location

Iowa Des Moines and Omaha trounce other cities at total livability

Affordability, family-friendliness, modest prosperity -- it's a full-package deal

Business and Finance Global Risk Institute worries that debt is reaching chokepoint levels

One executive says "There's debt being piled upon debt being piled upon debt." At some point, rates must rise.

Business and Finance One highly anxious economic analysis

There are too many uncertainties and lingering problems for it to be anything like a boom. The question is whether it's destined to become a bust -- and that's not clear.

News The Trump campaign isn't behaving like a campaign

Probably because it's just a perpetuation of what began as an exercise in shameless self-promotion and has never grown more serious than that. They're funneling 20% of their spending back into Trump interests and circling the wagons against any outside influence.

June 20, 2016

Business and Finance Book review: "The Ten Commandments for Business Failure", by Donald Keough

A book that ought to be used in business schools to offer a capstone perspective on leadership.

News Book review: "Between Worlds", by Bill Richardson

An interesting political time capsule left behind by a politician whose ideology has largely gone missing

The United States of America How would America look with a multi-party electoral system?

The Economist comes up with a model suggesting how we might look as a "parliamentary" democracy. It's only a hypothetical model, but it's a clever illustration.

Business and Finance St. Louis Federal Reserve rethinks macroeconomic forecasting

No more forecasts of some future long-run steady state. Just a guess at different periods that could emerge.

Computers and the Internet Toyota calls automotive artificial intelligence "guardian angel" technology

This is how the self-driving car becomes a permanent reality. It won't happen in one giant leap (like the Google model), but rather via incrementalism -- culminating in a broad public acceptance that the technology has eclipsed human capacities to drive safely. Autonomous-vehicle technology has to prove that it makes us safer in steps -- if it is measured by the lives it saves from human error, it will be seen as an advancement; if it is measured from an assumption that self-driving cars are perfectly safe, then it will be doomed in the court of public opinion because some accidents will be inevitable.

June 17, 2016

Computers and the Internet You may be a social-media news consumer, but that doesn't mean you've quit traditional sources

Television and print newspapers seem to be moderately depressed by social-media usage; radio is untouched; news websites actually appear to gain considerably.

Computers and the Internet US Court of Appeals upholds FCC's net neutrality policy

Its treatment as a public utility has consequences -- "net neutrality" isn't a perfect paradigm. There are solid reasons to give some data preferential treatment from a practical standpoint -- even if it's not particularly attractive as a philosophy.

Computers and the Internet Chicago City Council moves ahead with tougher rules for ride-sharing

The least-surprising words in the Chicago Tribune report: "The ordinance, promoted by the taxicab industry..." Fingerprints, background checks, drug tests, chauffeur licenses, minimum fleetwide wheelchair accessibility, pricing, and response time rules are all included. Protections on health and safety can have their place, but the accumulation of proposed regulations looks a lot more like an effort to stifle competition than to serve the public. Restrict new market entrants too much and they might just quit your market altogether.

Business and Finance The enemy of my enemy...

Walmart has announced it will stop accepting Visa cards in mid-July because the card company charges too much on transaction fees. Small retailers are understandably excited to have a big dog joining them in the fight. The fees charged by the credit-card companies in North America are much higher than in other countries and it's high time they experienced pushback.

Computers and the Internet Facebook Live appears to have captured a man's murder

Don't forget who warned a month ago that Facebook Live would become a troublesome place in little or no time at all

June 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet San Francisco municipal rules are strongly discouraging Airbnb hosts

Municipalities have every right to set reasonable regulations regarding the interests of health and safety. But it's extremely easy for those regulations to become a tool for limiting competition and protecting entrenched interests. San Francisco should beware that hazard. The temptation is great to protect the interests of the well-entrenched, but that behavior (called "rent-seeking" by economists) only serves to harm consumers and the prospective competitors who are squeezed out by the regulations.

News A cartographic look at the influx of refugees into Europe

It's a migration of truly historic proportions, and it will be noted in the history books decades from now. History, though, is often hard to see when it's happening right before our eyes. Europe's challenges are huge: To welcome the newcomers with grace and human dignity, and to quickly get those newcomers to embrace liberal Western values. One of the major threats to those two things is the risk of xenophobia and populist nativism: If people who are refugees feel like they are being rejected and isolated, they may have a harder time embracing local values. Some historical context is in order: Remember that the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church (two of the defining institutions of Western Civilization) made vast use of syncretism in order to spread their influence. At the margins of cultures, the key is to embrace and co-opt -- not reject.

News A Donald Trump TV network?

Vanity Fair says it's under serious discussion, and there's no reason to be surprised by this. Trump's Presidential campaign has been a publicity stunt since the beginning, and now it's gone totally off the rails. A rational person in his position should have walked away from the "campaign" months ago, before it was too late, and leaving on his own terms. But instead, now he faces nothing but unpleasant outcomes: A revolt at the national party convention, an electoral loss to Hillary Clinton, or the prospect of somehow obtaining an office he is unfit to hold. The idea of using the campaign as a base from which to launch a cable TV network may be the only way to lock in something resembling a victory at this stage.

Threats and Hazards A worthwhile examination of "marked" speech

When racists and anti-Semitic bigots use things like parentheses to "mark" names for online harassment, civilized people need to understand the symbols being used so that they can repel the implicit hate speech involved

Computers and the Internet Twitter invests in SoundCloud

Twitter already owns Periscope, so maybe a SoundCloud investment isn't such a big leap. And on a related note, Twitter has just tightened its integration with Periscope, so live video streaming is now a one- or two-click operation from within the Twitter app.

June 15, 2016

News The President should have a capacity for abstract thinking

Political analyst Nate Silver notes that Donald Trump "learns by rote rather than being an abstract thinker". He is quite likely right about that. When Trump speaks apart from unprepared remarks, his language is starkly concrete: That is, he almost never uses metaphors, similes, or other abstractions. When he says he wants a "big, beautiful wall", there is every reason to believe that he is speaking quite literally about a very large wall. Trump is, after all, known mostly for his real-estate ventures, and those are almost universally known for their emphasis on superficial ostentation: You don't move to Trump Tower because you appreciate subtleties, you move there because you want to show off every possible indication of glitz (no matter how gaudy or gauche). He participated in the construction of an otherwise attractive skyscraper in Chicago, then garishly slapped his name across it in giant letters, to the chagrin of the architect. He doesn't appeal to abstractions like a "shining city on a hill". This may not seem like a problem on first glance, but the fact is that the Presidency is not bounded by concrete problems -- most of the big issues require an exceptional capacity for complex, abstract thought. If it were all a matter of simple, concrete matters easily resolved in the physical world, the Presidency would be something much less than it is. But simplistic concretism is not what the Oval Office requires. The Presidency is usually defined not by what the elected individual thinks he or she is going to do, but rather by the unexpected events to which the administration must react: Events like 9/11 or the collapse of the Iron Curtain. To occupy the office requires an intuitive curiosity about the world and a high-level ability to see the abstractions of the world. Whether you like a candidate's policies or not, this ability is a functional requirement of the job, and a person who doesn't possess that ability is unsuited to the great responsibility.

News The Riviera in Las Vegas has been demolished

More than any comparable country, America knows when to blow up the old and replace with the new. Las Vegas does this better than anywhere else. Sentimentality has its place, but utility should win more often than not. Once something is no longer useful, it's time to replace it with something that is.

Computers and the Internet The disposition of everything Yahoo has bought under Marissa Mayer

An interesting mix of independent products, fold-ins, and acquisitions strictly used to obtain talent

Computers and the Internet Why IBM is now in the weather-forecasting business

Companies like IBM, Google, and Apple are well-advised to apply their technological advantages in markets where advanced computing can provide a competitive advantage. Weather forecasting is one of those areas -- pharmacological research and other subjects where sophisticated modeling would also be appropriate.

Computers and the Internet Facebook working on suicide-prevention tools

Technology is only good insofar as we use it to make people's lives better. So if social media is used as a tool for bullying, it must on balance also provide tools to offset the harm that may come about -- and to be "good", rather than neutral, then social-media sites need to help people who might have slipped through the cracks even in a world without social media.

News The AP has spoken: It's the Chicago L

It should be the "El", since the name comes from the original "elevated". But the AP has spoken.

June 14, 2016

The United States of America Consider the honorable alternative

A Bloomberg poll conducted by the highly reputable Ann Selzer firm shows Hillary Clinton well ahead of Donald Trump in national opinion polling. What matters in the end is not the national poll but the Electoral College split, but it's a big gap. And quite notably, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson shows up with 9% of the vote. Johnson appears to represent the most palatable third option that will appear on the ballot in November -- a two-term governor of New Mexico who held office as a Republican. Johnson right now appears to offer an honorable alternative for those voters who have spent 25 years digging in their heels against Hillary Clinton but who cannot stomach the specter of Donald Trump. Johnson is experienced and eligible in his own right, and while his party may act a little goofy, his principles and his track record both square well with the limited-government tradition that seems to be in exile from the Republican Party this year.

Threats and Hazards How the Russian government may meddle with the US election

It's not a purely abstract concern -- the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee's computer network and stole their research on the presumptive Republican nominee. They're not just casually disinterested in the outcome of this November.

Threats and Hazards "[A]ssaulting fundamental liberal democratic values"

The Washington Post editorial board responds to being banned from Donald Trump's campaign events. And they're right: It is fundamentally at odds with the values of openness and Western civilization for a candidate for President to banish a reputable, mainstream institution from covering his events because he doesn't like their coverage. It's petty and beneath the dignity of the office to which he aspires. One of the Post's staff humorists has responded with a tongue-in-cheek style guide to covering the candidate, which recommends against describing the candidate as "what results if you accidentally leave Guy Fieri in a microwave".

News Get the process right and the results will follow

A thoughtful critique of all those well-meaning but misguided commencement addresses that tell young people to follow their dreams

Computers and the Internet Apple is going to put Siri inside the Mac platform

Artificial intelligence and virtual assistants are both creeping their way more and more into the mainstream

June 13, 2016

News The leopard doesn't change his spots

Anyone who continues to hope that Donald Trump will start behaving like a civilized candidate for the Presidency of the United States is going to end up disappointed. Better to shift away allegiances now, rather than to wait for the inevitable disappointment.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft is buying LinkedIn for $26 billion

Of all the social networks, LinkedIn has the greatest staying power because it has a specific, business-oriented raison d'etre -- Facebook may be almost universal and Twitter may be ingrained deeply with certain power users and Instagram may be the platform for rebellious youth, but none of them serve an essential business purpose. LinkedIn manages to do that. If you're betting on which of these will still be around in 15 or 20 years, bet on LinkedIn. That doesn't mean that Microsoft is (or is not) paying a reasonable price for it; only that it is buying the most durable asset of its class.

Business and Finance Should smaller investors have access to choices like their wealthier counterparts?

"Accredited" investors have access to a lot of things that smaller investors do not -- but while that's intended as a measure of protection for the "little guy", it also keeps people who want to take venture risks (even with eyes wide open) from doing so. In practice, that means preserving some highly attractive opportunities for those who are already relatively wealthy. Good intentions do not always mean positive results.

Business and Finance A new stock exchange?

One is under development now

Threats and Hazards "Developed" doesn't always equal "civilized"

Qatar has a tremendous amount of prosperity going for it -- but the government there convicted a Dutch woman of adultery in a case involving her own rape. It may be a culture, but that is not the behavior of a civilization.

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June 11, 2016

Computers and the Internet British intelligence exec: The "Internet of Things" is too attractive for terrorists to resist

And they'll try to exploit its inevitable security shortcomings to try to do massive harm to society

Broadcasting Stephen Colbert puts third party Presidential ticket in the spotlight

Some pop-culture exposure could go a long way

June 10, 2016

Computers and the Internet Promise and perils of using the Amazon Mechanical Turk for social science

It's hard to get the right subjects in the right quantities to do real social-science research. The Mechanical Turk might help -- or it might only look like it's helping.

Business and Finance A fantastic visualization of yield curves

You could spend four years in college going to economics classes to understand yield curves, or you can watch a 9-point slideshow from the New York Times that captures the concept brilliantly. Or both, if you really want to.

Business and Finance The United States isn't supposed to export political risk to the world economy

When American business leaders are forced to explain the prospects of a nightmare candidate making it to the Oval Office, it has real costs to the world economy.

Computers and the Internet Gawker Media files for bankruptcy

Rather than try to pay $140 million to Hulk Hogan after losing a lawsuit to him over invasion of privacy, the company just hopes to sell itself to Ziff Davis after getting bankruptcy protection. Gawker has made serious errors in judgment before, so perhaps it isn't surprising that a bad call has landed the company in today's trouble.

News Georgia, Ukraine want into NATO as soon as possible

And with unpredictability the rule in neighboring Russia, who could blame them? Of course, it's also possible that Russia would take the very act of NATO enlargement as a sign of aggression (and quite likely would), so this is a complex problem.

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June 9, 2016

Computers and the Internet Can artificial intelligence make human art better?

Purists will probably reject the idea that computers can help human beings to create art. But if many sketch artists and cartoonists learn by tracing the work of others, and if young musicians practice their chops by playing covers of known favorites, then what's the loss in creativity if we use computers to generate starter ideas that human beings can build upon? Whether or not it leads to any "great" art, this kind of technology should lead to computers that do better at human-like tasks, which we need. But in the end, what harm could possibly come from introducing more good art in all its forms into the world? It shouldn't have to be rare to be valuable.

Threats and Hazards Good people, bad system

The North Korean people are trapped by a revolting, authoritarian state. The system is what's wrong. We should have deep sympathy for the people trapped under it.

The United States of America The consequences of a toxic ticket at the top of the ballot

People are highly disinclined to vote split tickets between the White House and their House and Senate races. So a bad Presidential ticket is potentially poisonous down-ticket. This election is so strange that it's possible we will see odd voting patterns -- like people who vote exclusively for the top of the ticket (and skipping downballot races as an act of protest because they reject "politicians" altogether) or the opposite, in which party regulars (especially Republicans) leave the top of the ticket blank because they can't force themselves to commit to either major-party choice.

Health What in the environment could trigger Type 1 diabetes

If you're genetically predisposed, everything from respiratory infections in infanthood to psychological trauma in adulthood could play a part in triggering diabetes

Science and Technology Tesla is going to sell a cheaper Model S

The Model S 60 will come with a base sticker price of $66,000 -- considerably less than the base price for the fancier version of the same, which runs to just shy of $90,000.

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June 8, 2016

Weather and Disasters Paris floods of 2016 vs. Paris floods of 1910

Side-by-side photos tell the story brilliantly

Threats and Hazards Parentheses used as a symbol of hate

ADL highlights the use of the "echo" symbol as a tool of antisemitic thugs

Threats and Hazards ISIS murders women who refuse sex slavery

Unconscionable evil exists in this world. These are serious times.

News Self-awareness isn't for chumps

Metacognition isn't a strong suit for everyone. It's just unfortunate that some people who utterly lack self-awareness are this close to the seat of power.

News Former Secret Service agent publishes "tell-all"

And that should probably be strictly forbidden as a term of employment -- and future receipt of things like retirement benefits. How can a protectee trust their protectors if they have concerns about being "revealed" in a future publication?

June 7, 2016

News "I can change, I can chaaa-nge!"

Donald Trump's behavior as a Presidential candidate (and now presumptive Republican nominee) is a lot like the Saddam Hussein character in the South Park Movie: Lots of promises to change, and then no real change whatsoever. It's no wonder (though it is worthy of note) that one Iowa State Senator has quit the party in protest.

Computers and the Internet Marketing company claims research shows big drop in time spent on social-media sites

Whether that's correct analysis or suspicious data is worthy of further investigation. It doesn't particularly seem like people are spending less time with social media, but there's also the possibility that people are getting real about the huge amount of time that they're devoting to what is fundamentally non-productive activity. The advice remains: Less time with Facebook, more time with book-books.

Computers and the Internet Wall Street Journal says Verizon wants to buy Yahoo's operating business for $3 billion

Second-round bids were due on Monday

Computers and the Internet Facebook is making the Messenger app mandatory

Facebook knows best. Just ask them.

Humor and Good News Woman tracks down the person who saved her life a quarter-century ago

She was in a terrible car wreck as a minor. A nearby truck driver also happened to be a paramedic. He probably saved her life by acting until rescue services could arrive -- but he couldn't follow up because she was a minor. They got in touch briefly long ago, then lost touch, and have found each other again. There's still a great deal of good in most people.

June 6, 2016

The United States of America Senator Ben Sasse: No, I'm still not for Trump

He notes: "[T]he Libertarian Party is something I would certainly consider in the long term", while generally looking unfavorably at the future of the two major parties. Note, though, that the only things that would really run the two-party system off the rails would be proportional voting (not likely to happen inside our federalized system, in which states are independent of one another on Election Day), fusion voting (which is worthy of very serious consideration), or a fundamental breakdown in the value that the party structure brings to the electoral process (which it's too early to say has happened for certain, but isn't entirely outside the realm of plausibility). The stable outcome of a first-past-the-post electoral system like ours is going to be a two-party/two-coalition system. What we're experiencing right now is a deep disruption to both of the coalitions that form the two major parties.

The United States of America Book review: "Seven Principles of Good Government", by Gary Johnson

Johnson's book is actually even more mainstream in 2016 than it was in 2012 -- and well worth reading; the campaign is making a mistake by not printing and giving away millions of copies

Computers and the Internet Teaching survivors of human trafficking how to code

A laudable means of empowering those whose lives were disrupted by evil. The ability to support one's self -- particularly with a high-value skill -- is an important human condition.

Computers and the Internet The Federal Reserve is under almost-constant cyberattack

That doesn't make it any different from almost all big financial institutions, but it's a reminder that today's "wars" don't always take place on fields of physical battle

Science and Technology A robot to fold your laundry

Laugh about it if you want. Call it frivolous if you must. But recognize that labor-saving devices make our lives better all the time and they soon enough just become part of the background of daily life and we hardly ever acknowledge how much time and effort are being saved by everything from crock-pots to dishwashers.

The United States of America AP says Hillary Clinton has locked the Democratic nomination

And the November general-election matchup is now set, barring any bizarre circumstances (and it's been a bizarre campaign)

June 5, 2016

Health Why our fingers wrinkle

It appears to be a physiological response to permit us to grasp things with wet hands

Business and Finance A potential case for demolition bonds

Small communities are having trouble paying to remove old buildings that have outlived their usefulness (and often contain perils like asbestos). It may make some sense to require every new building to come with a bond for its own demolition. The costs are real, even if we don't think about them.

Humor and Good News Denmark's kinda-creepy way of reversing population decline

If the young people aren't making enough babies, shame them into doing it for Grandma. And get Grandma to kick in for the cost of a romantic vacation.

Aviation News Delta says 90% of flights will come with free onboard entertainment by July

A few hundred movies and several hundred TV episodes will be available over the WiFi signals in Delta planes. That's a huge change from just a few years ago, when most electronic signals were forbidden in-flight.

Computers and the Internet Alphabet/Google subsidiary Nest moves CEO to "advisory" role

The transition from startup to subsidiary isn't always an easy or satisfying one

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 5, 2016

Live on WHO Radio (AM 1040) starting at 9:00 pm Central Time, or streamed on iHeartRadio

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

June 2, 2016

Computers and the Internet Google Express launches -- aggressively -- all over and around Texas

Next-day delivery (or two-day delivery) for a lot of goods is promised all over the state, not just in densely-populated areas as one might expect.

Computers and the Internet Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter agree to a European code of conduct

They promise to take down hate speech within 24 hours. It's a complex issue: On one hand, sunlight is usually the best disinfectant -- so revealing the identities of people with awful things to say and subjecting them to public shame and scorn would likely be more productive than scrubbing their comments...but anonymity is so easy to achieve online that it's probably not plausible to do so. On the other hand, when hateful speech takes up space in the public square (as the Internet now serves), people may begin to see it as normal rather than deviant. It's not a conscious or deliberate act to accept anti-social behavior as normal; it's just a natural consequence of familiarity.

Science and Technology King Tut's dagger didn't rust because it was partially made of meteorite

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that something special like a space rock would have been used to make something for a king

Business and Finance Saudi Arabian government fund to invest $3.5 billion in Uber

Uber is supposedly pushing hard to expand in the Middle East, and the investment satisfies Uber's hunger for cash investment and the Saudi government's need to put oil profits to use in industries other than petroleum. Having a great endowment of any natural resource (like oil) can subject an economy to a perverse natural-resources curse. Whether investments like one in Uber are the right ticket out isn't a certainty, but it's likely a step in the right direction.

June 1, 2016

News Donald Trump's completely inadequate summer reading list

He claims (dubiously) to be planning to get through a book on Hillary Clinton, a book on Richard Nixon, and "All Quiet on the Western Front". Real leaders need to read widely and be able to talk and write about what they've been reading. Theodore Roosevelt was a voracious reader, reputedly speed-reading a full book a day. In Benjamin Franklin's words, "From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out in Books." Our military leaders insist on sharing long and thoughtful reading lists for the professional development of the officers serving beneath them. A dignified occupant of the White House should be a reader-in-chief as well.

Computers and the Internet Australian government confuses "CC:" for "BCC:"

In telling thousands of women who had applied for consideration in government appointments that they would need to follow a different procedure to apply, someone in the government used the "CC:" field to address the list. The problem, obviously, is that the field is open to everyone on the list -- and while email addresses aren't strictly private things, revealing thousands of addresses tied to a specific program definitely isn't a savvy way to manage anyone's IT.

Computers and the Internet Twitter suspends parody account mocking Putin

Was there concern that "@darthputinkgb" would somehow be confused for the real person? Hardly. The parody tweets were original and unmistakably mocking. One of the highest roles to be played by free speech is in permitting people to mock their political leaders.

Computers and the Internet MySpace got hacked

And if you have a legacy account there, you should seriously consider resetting your password or pulling the plug on the account altogether

Science and Technology Elon Musk says Tesla 3 owners will have to pay for their own charges

The fancier, higher-end cars (Models S and X) come with free charging at the company's Supercharger sites, but Tesla wants people to charge their cars at the home and office. There's one Supercharger site in Iowa. The advantage to using the Tesla chargers is that they are so much faster than regular charging.

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May 31, 2016

Computers and the Internet Microsoft doesn't like your password

If it's one of the most common passwords, the company isn't going to allow users to employ it. They're going to "dynamically ban common passwords", based on the lists they can automatically generate of the most over-used passwords. That means "123456" is out, and so are a lot of others like it. Microsoft will use the new dynamic banning policy on Microsoft accounts like Hotmail, Outlook, Xbox, and OneDrive. Unsurprisingly, they're also pushing users to activate two-factor authentication, too. Interestingly, Microsoft's research finds that it's actually counterproductive to force people to change passwords regularly because it leads to the use of more predictable passwords. And people are already dangerously predictable.

The United States of America Gary Johnson talking sense on immigration

Growing reason to take seriously the Libertarian candidate

Computers and the Internet There are too many versions of Android floating around

What's good for Google -- to have the single, latest OS out there universally -- is bad for the phone-sellers who want people to have to buy new hardware to get the latest software

Threats and Hazards Trump adviser says the Orange Menace would make the Vice President do all the work

Nobody needs an over-eager, micromanaging President. But we're fools if we're hiring someone who doesn't plan to do the job.

Threats and Hazards Series of shipwrecks kills 500 people in Mediterranean

If 500 Americans or Europeans died in a plane crash, it would make non-stop headline news. There should be no less respect for the loss of lives from Syria and other troubled nations.

The United States of America Book review: "Stand for Something", by John Kasich

Certainly not the worst political memoir/position book ever written, but definitely not as strong as Kasich's actual record

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

May 30, 2016

Business and Finance Book review: "When Genius Failed: The rise and fall of Long-Term Capital Management", by Roger Lowenstein

Had it been a work of fiction, nobody would believe it -- but it's an important documentation of modern financial history

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May 29, 2016

Business and Finance Book review: "Big Deal" by Bruce Wasserstein

If you find the subject of mergers and acquisitions interesting, this book won't dull your feelings -- but prepare for a long slog.

Humor and Good News Book review: "Me of Little Faith", by Lewis Black

Interesting enough company to keep for listening in the car, provided you aren't offended easily by someone dismissing faith and don't hav any children in the vehicle with you.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 29, 2016

Live on WHO Radio at 9:00 pm Central Time

May 27, 2016

Computers and the Internet Under the sea

Microsoft and Facebook are teaming up to build an undersea cable between Virginia and Spain to transmit Internet content at 160 terabits per second -- a pretty wide thoroughfare for data. Microsoft is investing because it's investing full-tilt in the cloud computing market. Construction is to begin this August with completion by October 2017.

Health Dr. Heimlich gets to use his eponymous maneuver for the first time

At age 96, he uses his technique to directly save a life for the first time

Computers and the Internet Just don't accept Facebook friend requests unless you're sure

Scam after scam after scam keeps popping up, and it's all because people are too loose with their "friend" requests

Business and Finance Turnarounds must be a lot of fun (for the right manager)

Nissan took a controlling stake in Mitsubishi Motors after Mitsubishi's market price plunged because of a massive misstatement of fuel economy ratings for its vehicles. Nissan is run by Carlos Ghosn, who seems to be very, very good at turnaround situations.

Iowa Canada geese: From near-extinction to annoying overpopulation

They're pretty obnoxious birds

Threats and Hazards What should really alarm us about the nuclear threat

As the President visits Hiroshima, nuclear weapons return to the front pages (at least for a little while). A few worries: The nuclear arsenals of the world (and the command-and-control structures surrounding them) are old and may not have been adequately maintained. There are plenty of weapons in places where political leaders (and military ones) may not be adequately grounded in reality. Imprecise tracking of fissionable material may make it too easy for non-state actors to make weapons of their own. And even if the prospect of all-out nuclear attack seems altogether improbable, nobody can really certify that an "oops" engagement is an impossibility (that is, given the right resources and the right set of conditions, we can't be sure that a weapon might not be engaged in a way that could be made to look accidental). These are real worries.

May 26, 2016

Science and Technology As robots do more, who's responsible when they do something wrong?

In the long run, it's important to do a couple of things. First, government can do well simply to draw a line somewhere -- a clear line -- so that the market can respond by allocating the costs of the damage done by wayward robots. Cutting the check isn't the same as paying the price, so it doesn't matter quite so much whom the law saddles with liability. What matters is establishing the rule itself so that the costs can be allocated efficiently by the marketplace. (Think of real-estate agent fees: The seller "pays" the agent, but the cost comes from the sale price, which is ultimately paid by the buyer. The agent's commission comes partially out of both the seller's and buyer's pockets, even if only one of them technically cuts the check.) What's also important is that the benefits of automation (which tend to be diffuse, or spread out across lots of people who each benefit a little bit) don't get overwhelmed by the concentrated costs (like those of the people who might be injured by faulty robotic systems). In other words, we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, even if there end up being terrible, high-profile stories of people injured or killed by malfunctions. The aggregate gain to society will still be enormous, even if some people pay a very high price. That may very well indicate that a case ought to be made for a national insurance pool for such errors -- otherwise, the cost of private insurance may be prohibitive if the potential costs of liability appear to be unlimited.

News Gov. Susana Martinez -- a Republican -- fires back at Donald Trump

And good for her. Trump's behavior is erratic, nonsensical, and wildly unbecoming a candidate for President of the United States. His continued attacks on members of the Republican Party are petty and unprincipled and only further serve to reveal him not as an authentic Republican, but as a virus that has infected the party.

Science and Technology Apple in the car business

It's practically everyone's favorite tech rumor, and Morgan Stanley now boards the train, arguing that Apple's recent investment in a ride-sharing company in China is indicative of a serious focus on transportation.

Computers and the Internet Pebble returns to Kickstarter roots

Launching three products at once: Pebble Core (a cellular-enabled super-compact computer aimed at runners who don't want to carry their phones and at developers who want something tiny to hack), Pebble 2 (a $99 next-generation black-and-white smartwatch), and Pebble Time 2 (with a big color display for $169).

Computers and the Internet Lenovo has trouble integrating Motorola

Lenovo bought the phone-maker from Google in 2014 and that was after it collapsed in value by about 75% under Google's control.

May 25, 2016

News Syrian refugees are human beings first

It's disappointing to see them discussed like some abstract concept (especially when it's by people who only want to say awful things about them). They are real human beings living real human lives under terrible circumstances, and like people all over the world, the vast majority -- probably 99% -- are good and decent.

News Meth cookers burn down home, then set fire to their hotel room

A story that might almost be funny if it didn't mean other people's lives were at risk -- including other guests at the same hotel and the couple's children. Behavior like this is wonton negligence and cries out for a very firm intervention by law enforcement.

Computers and the Internet What it really means when couples over-share on Facebook

They may very well be enjoying one another's company, but they also may be trying too hard to obtain their self-esteem from the approval of people outside the relationship looking in

Iowa A former member of Iowa's Board of Regents opines on the departure of UNI's president

UNI is a great university, but the system surrounding it is creating artificial problems

Iowa West Des Moines Police to target distracted driving

They plan an all-summer effort to crack down on "speeding, failure to obey traffic control devices, improper use of lanes, texting while driving and failure to utilize seat belts"

May 24, 2016

Business and Finance Much of America is in recession

The county-by-county data isn't as rosy as it could be

Computers and the Internet Mobile data consumption is skyrocketing

It's inevitable that data usage will increase -- unless some very significant changes are made to the way that content is delivered, and there's little chance of that happening anytime soon, at least not at the same pace as new usage escalates.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft is getting really aggressive about pushing Windows 10 upgrades

Better to make the upgrade when you've set aside a couple of hours to manage it than to wait for it to be thrust upon you

Humor and Good News Touching story of some girls at Boys Town

Five girls are graduating together from high school, much better off than when they arrived

Computers and the Internet French authorities raid Google offices over taxes

The perils of international business

May 23, 2016

The United States of America Restrain the Executive Branch

The imperial Presidency is a pox on American civilization, and it needs to be stopped before the next President. Our options aren't looking good, and whomever is inaugurated in January 2017 needs to be restrained by the law much better than recent Presidents have been. Never take powers while in office that you wouldn't want your opponents to have when they're in charge.

Business and Finance The Swiss are voting on a national minimum income

Not the worst idea that could happen. If there's going to be an extensive welfare state, perhaps it makes sense to apply it with the maximum degree of individual autonomy and self-control possible -- and a guaranteed income may be the way to do it. Or perhaps not. Much depends on whether there would be an adequate support structure in place to ensure that people knew what to do with their guaranteed incomes.

Business and Finance Tribune Publishing may counterpunch at Gannett

Both companies have recent experience with disastrous amounts of debt...and this new arms race is only going to end in a debt disaster, too.

Science and Technology MidAmerican Energy tests a new ultra-tall wind turbine

Taller turbines may give them a better chance to capture stronger, more sustained winds at higher altitudes

Computers and the Internet Internet trolls on the Chinese government payroll

It's a real thing. A real and awful thing.

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May 22, 2016

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 22, 2016

The week in making money and having fun

May 21, 2016

Broadcasting Show notes - Wise Guys on WHO Radio - May 21, 2016

The week in trends, tips, and technology

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

May 20, 2016

Science and Technology Google doesn't really want pedestrians to stick to their cars

But if "human flypaper" is part of a broader scheme to make vehicles safer for everyone, then so be it

Computers and the Internet Observers wonder whether Google is even really trying to get business clients

And the more it cedes that line to Microsoft, the worse Google's future is going to look

Threats and Hazards Black renters pay meaningfully higher prices on AirBnB

So says a study from January, saying discrimination against African American renters shows up both in prices and in the agreement to even make a deal.

Computers and the Internet The race to get artificial intelligence into your home

The scramble to get AI integrated into people's lives will have interesting effects on how we perceive what thoughts are our own and which ones we share with a digital surrogate or adjunct.

Computers and the Internet Facebook leadership takes meeting with conservative politicos

Reviews of the meeting seem to suggest that it went down exactly as expected: The site's perceived political bias against conservatives appears to be a problem for the business model, so it will be corrected not out of political motivation but out of the pursuit of profits.

May 19, 2016

Threats and Hazards Don't dismiss the nightmare scenario of Russia re-invading the Baltic states

A recently-retired British general has published a book saying he thinks Russia might go after Latvia as soon as next year. The book's online description says the nuclear deterrent won't work. When reviewers skewer the writing but then say, "for all the clumsy writing, it is of profound importance when a former Nato deputy commander is screaming at us that the alliance's high readiness task force is a sham", then attention must be paid.

Computers and the Internet Maybe it's a bit too early to go all-in for the "smart home"

Security flaws let hackers figure out how to unlock doors integrated with the Samsung platform. The hackers, fortunately, were researchers at the University of Michigan and Microsoft, but the proof of concept is enough that it should put on ice the ambitions to connect everything everywhere in the "Internet of Things". Hacking an entire home (or office) is an attractive proposition, so it's best not to be the very first adopter. One of the main problems the researchers identified is "overprivilege", or the granting of too much power to programs and applications to achieve what they're advertised to do.

Computers and the Internet Google announces "Allo" and "Duo" for release this summer

"Allo" will be their next-generation chat application, with an AI assistant built-in. Duo is to be a 720p HD video chat service.

Computers and the Internet Charter now owns Time Warner Cable

And they're killing off the Time Warner name. They claim to reach 25 million customers in 41 states.

Computers and the Internet A global map of Facebook live video feeds

It's the Truman Show come to life. It's not an unequivocally bad thing that people can now live-stream anything they want to Facebook -- think, for instance, of the deployed soldier who can be shown a live stream of a major family event -- but it's also not an unmitigated wonder of the world, either. People make bad decisions, and it's hazardous to let them make bad decisions in front of what is -- at not even the click, but just the hover of a mouse -- a global audience that could easily include lots and lots of people with mal-intent. We should not be in the least bit surprised when a Gresham's Law of sorts swallows up "Facebook Live" -- bad purposes, bad actors, and bad audiences will drive out the good.

May 18, 2016

Business and Finance Chinese investment brings labor-union manufacturing jobs to south Chicago

A great deal about the story seems incongruous, doesn't it? It's certainly not an organic outcome (that is, it wouldn't have happened spontaneously), but the United States is too attractive a market for investors around the world to resist, and China has a lot of money to put to use. And if that manifests itself in a Chinese company pursuing and winning a bid to build cars for the CTA, and the contract includes a "Buy Chicago-made" provision, then what is organically or spontaneously unlikely becomes possible. Rival bidder Bombardier protests, saying "Buy American" is all that should have mattered, not "Buy Chicago".

Computers and the Internet Breitbart goes anti-Semitic

The online media outlet, which has been an openly pro-Trump mouthpiece for much of the 2016 campaign, turns a foul attack on Bill Kristol. Shame on them.

Broadcasting Jake Tapper starts asking important critical questions

As one of CNN's premier political journalists, Tapper is in an important role -- one that most of his peer group has failed to execute with enough vigor. Too many of them have treated the rise of Donald Trump as "good television", but haven't acted like bulldog journalists. Good for Tapper for stepping up his questions.

Broadcasting Chelsea Handler show launches on Netflix

The idea of distributing a marquee semi-nightly program via an on-demand service may not be new, but it hasn't really been tried on quite this level before

Science and Technology Good typography matters

Important messages need to be delivered well -- and in ways that our brains are capable of processing efficiently

May 17, 2016

Threats and Hazards Venezuela is collapsing

A matter of grave concern for the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Not only is the country economically important (as a major producer of oil), but it also has the potential to create a lot of disturbance. And, critically, there is an enormous human cost of suffering that has been building under the country's profound mismanagement by a corrupt and mindless government.

Threats and Hazards A selfie shouldn't have to be an act of political defiance

Yet it is in Iran, where women are being harassed by the authorities for posting pictures of themselves without head coverings

Aviation News Sen. Bernie Sanders flies Eastern Airlines

The photographs aren't vintage -- just the livery. His campaign is using a plane bearing the markings of the once-defunct, now-revived heritage airline

Business and Finance Gannett tries to squeeze Tribune

One newspaper publisher tries to ensnare another with a higher bid for its stock

Science and Technology Technology as human adjunct, not replacement

When humans identify the recyclable products inside a waste stream and robots do the physical picking, the process goes much faster and more effectively than either humans or machines alone can achieve

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

May 16, 2016

News Speaker Paul Ryan reinvents Kempism for the 21st Century

And there's no way to make up a tenable alliance between his vision of America and the unmitigated, inarticulate goulash of false promises that is Trumpism

Threats and Hazards Nevada Democratic convention turns out-of-control

This is no way to conduct a democracy

Threats and Hazards "[W]e are forced to think how to neutralise the emerging threats to the Russian Federation"

& Those are the words of Vladimir Putin

News College majors and their shortcomings

Computers and the Internet Why you should hold back on sharing reactions on Facebook

The escalation from the plain old "thumbs up" to the multi-dimensional reactions may be nice as an expression from friend to friend, but it also gives a lot more potential information to those who aggregate data about Facebook users for commercial purposes

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May 15, 2016

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 15, 2016

With links to the podcast

Follow briangongol on Twitter

May 14, 2016

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - May 14, 2016

With links to the podcast

May 13, 2016

Computers and the Internet Apple invests $1 billion in a Chinese ride-sharing service

The company is wise to start investing beyond its core business

Aviation News Airport operators now tell TSA that long security lines are at a "breaking point"

If security becomes impossibly slow, it makes air travel less and less useful

Science and Technology Using a slipstream of bubbles to make ships more efficient

Adding bubbles to the water at the bow of a ship could permit the rest of the vessel to pass through the water with less friction

Science and Technology A closer look at the Hyperloop

Tested successfully over a very short track for a very short time this week, it may be in line for real implementation in the future

Computers and the Internet Reuters says Berkshire Hathaway is part of a bid for Yahoo

Yahoo may be so vastly under-priced that even the notoriously tech-averse Berkshire has to give it a serious look. It would probably only participate in a deal that leaves Berkshire in the role of investment bank (with someone else responsible for any ongoing operations), but with the right deal, anything is possible.

May 12, 2016

Aviation News Used aircraft are now economical

They may be old and less fuel-efficient than newer jets, but fuel costs so little that they may still be economical to fly

Computers and the Internet Instagram channels 2002 for its redesign

Their new logo and application icons depend heavily on gradients, which are pretty passe in the design world today. The new look really isn't all that new-looking.

Computers and the Internet How Facebook picks trending news to feature

Mostly a human process, mostly dependent upon what's being covered by a handful of widely-known sources

Business and Finance This is what it's come to for newspapers

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is being "harvested" for parts

News No matter how your day has gone today...

...you're not the driver who harassed a cop on I-235, got pulled over in the Valley High School parking lot, and found yourself arrested for flashing a weapon

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May 11, 2016

Computers and the Internet When crimes and tragedies show up in live streams

Suicides and other personal tragedies are showing up as people stream their experiences live to the Internet. How can and should the service providers react? Immature young people are making bad decisions with these streaming tools, too. This issue is only going to become more important as the options become universal: Facebook Live is now available to everyone in the US.

Computers and the Internet Walmart sues Visa over EMV cards

Chips don't make a lot of difference to security without PINs. And nobody's using that part of the card yet.

Computers and the Internet One more calendar app bites the dust

Microsoft is killing off the "Sunrise" app

Computers and the Internet Amazon targets YouTube

They want to deliver the videos upon which YouTube heavily depends

Computers and the Internet Microsoft to turn off service to share WiFi passwords with contacts

Definitely one of the items that people should have been disabling when setting up Windows 10

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May 10, 2016

Threats and Hazards Here's why you should worry

A major-party Presidential candidate who is all but certain to carry his party's nomination into the general election seems neither to understand the consequences of inflation nor the devastation that would result from a failure to keep the central bank independent. An independent authority over the money supply is a non-negotiable condition for a large, stable economy within a free political system.

Business and Finance Hedge fund managers and their obscene pay

2-and-20: 2% of assets every year, plus 20% of returns year-over-year. That's a huge cut being taken by people who on average are not delivering excess performance.

News Good design matters on things like ballots

Clarity and legibility aren't matters just for graphic designers. They matter to public policy.

The United States of America Is the Libertarian Party failing to capture the moment?

The problem is that the Libertarian Party has far too long been identified with some of its more counter-cultural issues, like the legalization of drugs. The real opportunity right now is for a party in the center of a normal distribution of the population and its political views -- not from some corner of the map of the "world's smallest political quiz". As the parties have drifted apart, they haven't stranded the extremes -- they've stranded the center.

Computers and the Internet Are better e-books coming?

A failure to standardize in a way that crosses over to pure online content has really held back the field

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May 9, 2016

Computers and the Internet After the Millennials: Generation Z

The prefer YouTube and Instagram over Facebook

Aviation News Drone footage of a live tornado

A fantastic use of UAV technology. Why should people place themselves in harm's way if the machines can go there for us and get a better view?

Computers and the Internet The chatbots are coming

Facebook is putting them in your face

Business and Finance One family business. 1300 years.

That takes longevity to a whole new level.

Science and Technology Self-driving electric cars on the road...next year?

That's the rumor now

May 8, 2016

The United States of America Does socio-economic class mean what conventional wisdom suggests it does?

Possibly not, at least in the voting booth

Aviation News Economist booted from airplane for doing math

We're at war with innumeracy

May 7, 2016

Computers and the Internet Beware self-promoting hacks on social media

There are plenty of people willing to sensationalize and exaggerate in the interest of getting more followers

Computers and the Internet Netflix mobile app to permit more user control over data use

A good step

News Counterfeit products get some Senate attention

Lots of copying disincentivizes innovation

Science and Technology Tesla factory is 14% complete

They're going to finish in sections so battery production can begin before the building is complete

Business and Finance Federal Reserve independence at risk

The chief of the Kansas City bank worries that the political climate is ripe for bad policy

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - May 7, 2016

Live on AM 1040 starting at 1:00 pm Central Time, or streamed via iHeartRadio

May 6, 2016

Weather and Disasters The USGS takes renewed interest in Mount St. Helens

"There is absolutely no sign that it will erupt anytime soon, but the data we collect tells us that the volcano is still very much alive [...] Over the last 8 weeks, there have been over 130 earthquakes formally located by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and many more earthquakes too small to be located. Earthquake rates have been steadily increasing since March..."

The United States of America Speaker Paul Ryan steps up his defense of Republican principles

Withholding endorsement of Donald Trump

News A history of Chicago CTA train cars

Surprisingly engaging

Weather and Disasters Stunning videos from the Fort McMurray fires

People leaving the city in a panic and driving convoys right through the fires. The damage toll could be in the range of $10 billion.

Computers and the Internet Free Windows 10 upgrades to cease at end of July

The company says Windows 10 is now running on 300 million devices, and that the free upgrade offer for Windows 7 and 8 users will expire on July 29th -- after which, upgrades will cost $119. Still not a terribly high price, but why pay if you have the option to get it free?

May 5, 2016

The United States of America House Speaker Paul Ryan "not ready" to support Trump

An exceptional political moment. The prospective Republican nominee is no more a Republican than his expected Democratic opponent.

News Why California could be the place to start a non-Trump campaign for exiled GOP members

A state that really isn't going to be in play for anyone but the Democratic Party may be a very good place for someone to run up an alternative gambit

Science and Technology Americans seem not to really want the self-driving car

That's why it won't happen wholesale -- the self-driving car will arrive one piece at a time. But it will arrive eventually.

News Even newspaper-friendly UK can't sustain a new paper

A well-backed startup lasted just nine weeks

Humor and Good News What's wrong with the German sense of humor?

Such as it is

May 4, 2016

The United States of America A self-serving argument from California for abolishing the Electoral College

An academic suggests that it would mean fewer TV campaign ads. Equally self-serving is the argument on behalf of small states that the Electoral College should stay in order to keep us from being steamrolled by the bigger states. But then again, that's exactly why the college takes the form it does.

Iowa Johnson County (Iowa) raises its minimum wage

Iowa's most left-wing county will provide a small-scale experiment for the rest of the state to watch

Weather and Disasters Fort McMurray fires shock the eyes

Canadian wildfires truly stun the viewer

News If the endowment gets bigger, why don't tuition rates get smaller?

Warren Buffett obliquely criticizes Grinnell College for its endowment largesse (largely a result of his own work as a trustee) but its failure to make college more affordable with that wealth. The core problem in college costs isn't necessarily funding -- it's the management and administration of higher education. What other industry could behave with such disregard for efficiency?

Business and Finance When "helpers" aren't helping

A strong argument against funding the financial industry

May 3, 2016

Business and Finance Big hikes in the minimum wage are no sure thing for the working poor

Warren Buffett reiterates his argument that the minimum wage is a bad instrument by which to really improve the lives of the working poor. It's not a philosophical argument; it's a practical one. In practice, a higher minimum wage may make a marginal difference to the lives of some adult workers who earn it. But about half of people at minimum wage (48%) are under age 25. Raising the wage by too much will reduce the number of entry-level working opportunities available to them -- which reduces their ability to acquire things like the soft skills and job experience that put them on the ladder to future, higher-quality jobs. Raising the minimum wage to track inflation -- or even just a modest boost -- aren't bad ideas, necessarily, but they aren't real systemic fixes for the deeper issues. Targeted assistance like the Earned Income Tax Credit is probably more efficient at helping the true breadwinners who are at low wages, and ultimately the broader solution is a matter of job training and education. Of all people at or below minimum wage, only 16% have at least an associate's degree. In the long run, we need to fix the training and educational system so that workers have higher market value that places them well above the minimum wage as a market-clearing rate.

Business and Finance Productivity grew during the Great Recession

That doesn't usually happen, apparently

Humor and Good News How do you pronounce that food?

Is it "crayfish" or "crawfish"? Depends on where you live.

Threats and Hazards Doddering old man recycles unfounded conspiracy theories from supermarket tabloids

Regrettably, that crazy person is running for President

News Tampa becomes a one-paper town

The economics of the newspaper business have never favored anything other than natural monopoly, anyway -- but high production and distribution costs in a time of digital media are enough to topple almost any duopolies that remain

Iowa Iowa's spring scourge of 2016: Creeping charlie

The over-aggressive ground cover is spreading everywhere

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May 2, 2016

News Canadian Supreme Court recognizes Metis as Indians

The Metis, historically identified as the offspring of native or "First Nations" peoples and the French fur traders who arrived later, have long had trouble obtaining legal recognition. Part of the problem, naturally, is that the mixed ancestry of the Metis meant they didn't form a well-defined group. The definition part of the process isn't going to be simple, but the legal recognition is long overdue.

Threats and Hazards Russia and China close the "weapons gap" with the United States

Their military weapons are improving, and it's hard not to suspect that cyber-espionage against the US defense sector has played a role

Computers and the Internet Mark Zuckerberg enlarges his domain over Facebook

Investors who care about voting control might need to pay attention

News Carnival-affiliated cruise ship docks in Cuba

At some point, Castro Communism has to fall. Will accelerating tourism and economic exposure help hasten that downfall? On a related note, the cruise is being conducted by a Carnival-owned startup cruise line promising that people can take a seven-day cruise and "transform lives". Seems like a stretch.

News Nebraska tourism commission paid speaker $44,000 for 90-minute talk

Some quick math: $44,000 for 90 minutes is a rate of $29,333 an hour. At 40 hours a week times 50 weeks per year, that's an annualized rate of just a little shy of $60 million a year. There aren't a lot of people whose time is legitimately valued at that rate, nor is it easy to stomach the idea that a mere speaker could deliver that rate of value to a tourism conference. Seems like a case of spending other people's money on yourself, which Milton Friedman warned usually doesn't result in restraint.

April 29, 2016

Threats and Hazards Syrian town of Aleppo now faces utter devastation

A true human disaster

Threats and Hazards Why everyone should know self-defense, case study #21

Three members of a family got attacked out of the blue in a street in Thailand

Computers and the Internet Microsoft buys into DNA-based data storage

DNA is, after all, just a means of biological data storage. Whether it can be used synthetically for the same purpose but on a very large scale? That's what Microsoft wants to figure out.

Computers and the Internet It's getting harder to sell devices

...so Apple is trying to pivot harder into service businesses

Computers and the Internet What a CEO tells you -- and how -- tells you a lot about the company

Which makes it intriguing that the Alphabet (that is, Google) team took a pass on so doing this year

April 28, 2016

News Joint Chiefs chair: We don't want to go into fair fights

He wants the US Armed Forces to have "the capability and credibility to assure our allies and partners, deter aggression and overmatch any potential adversary"

Broadcasting Comcast is buying Dreamworks for just under $4 billion

Comcast, once just a simple cable company in Tupelo, Mississippi, has gone full-bore for content creation since becoming majority partner in NBCUniversal in 2011. The deal is being spun as a way to get stronger in "family" programming -- though Comcast carefully calls it "the highly competitive kids and family entertainment space". If it weren't "highly competitive", they might face tougher odds gaining regulatory approval. Of course, Disney bought Pixar, and arguments are made that Pixar is the better studio.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft is testing underwater data centers

Figuring that the preponderance of the world's population lives close to the ocean, they're trying to figure out how to deliver things like cloud computing without taking up valuable landside real estate

Computers and the Internet Is Yahoo proper really worth -$8 billion?

Stock markets can be terribly irrational sometimes. The tech industry is a brutal marketplace. Together, it adds up to a highly un-enviable spot for Yahoo.

News The US is sending F-22 jets to Romania

That's not a recreational trip -- it's a show of force

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

April 27, 2016

Science and Technology Bill Gates on the future of energy

On this issue, at least, he's a supply-sider

Business and Finance Why Goldman Sachs is opening an online bank

Deposits from people who open savings accounts give them financing that makes the regulators happy

Business and Finance Why isn't the Porsche family intervening more at Volkswagen?

When the family business is in trouble, someone in the family either needs to step in or find someone who can. It doesn't look like that's happening at VW.

Computers and the Internet Nokia is getting into wearable tech gadgets

The one-time dominant phone maker is out of that game entirely, and now looks at wearables as a growth industry

Computers and the Internet Chatbots aren't perfect for everything

Sure, there are plenty of circumstances under which people might want to use natural language in order to interact with a firm or organization. But there are also plenty of times when the scope of what a person can actually do with such an organization are fairly narrow and the exchange is best conducted with something like an interactive contact form instead.

April 26, 2016

Computers and the Internet Apple iPhone sales shrink

And the company is dependent upon iPhone sales, so that shrinks the revenues to the company

Threats and Hazards Chernobyl, 30 years later

Let it not be forgotten that the disaster at Chernobyl was predominantly the result of human error, compounded by a system that couldn't handle mistakes well

Business and Finance Mitsubishi is in huge trouble for fuel-economy miscalculations

Potentially trailing back for 25 years

Agriculture Farmers are taking out bigger loans and banks are demanding more collateral

Another sign of rough roads present and ahead for the agricultural economy

Science and Technology Transmitting wind power isn't easy

To get it from where it's produced to where it's consumed requires lots of transmission lines -- and there are political costs to overcome

April 25, 2016

Iowa Doing business on a handshake

The fact it's not unusual to do that in the Midwest is a cultural strength that becomes a business advantage. As noted here in 2010, reputations are highly valuable and much too important to risk in even the largest of Upper Midwestern cities. That keeps people generally on their best behavior.

Business and Finance Gannett offers to buy Tribune Publishing for $815 million

Gannett, freshly off a split from its electronic-media properties, is right back to the behavior that got it into trouble in the first place: Unbridled acquisition. The deal would include a massive pile of debt over at Tribune. Bloomberg estimates that Gannett 12% of the nation's daily newspaper circulation, and Tribune has 5%.

News The ruins of empire

Literally -- the ruins of buildings that once housed the functions of the British Empire

News "He's with me" versus "I'm with her"

An interesting perspective on the durability of Donald Trump's following

Socialism Doesn't Work China shuts down iTunes and Apple bookstore

Beware any government that would shut off the flow of knowledge

April 24, 2016

Threats and Hazards Bystanders let a man die in a Chicago street

The appalling consequences of the diffusion of responsibility

News Steve Wozniak has good advice on learning

It may start in school, but it's a terrible idea to let it end there

Science and Technology San Francisco to require solar panels

Always beware mandates like this one: Ordering everyone to do the same thing in the same way, even on a scale as small as a city, leaves no room for the subtle variances in life that make things that can be seemingly sensible turn into total disasters. Today's solar panels are better than yesterday's, and tomorrow's will almost certainly be better still. Requiring people to install technology that is in the middle of a rapid evolution can backfire: What if all houses in 1990 had been required to include giant satellite dishes, or all cars of the same time required to be equipped with bag phones? And what of flexible circumstances -- like a house that's always in the shade, due to hills, trees, or tall surrounding buildings? It's not like San Francisco is a place of cheap real estate to begin with -- it's already preposterously expensive. Mandates only compound that effect, raising the cost of living for people who already may be finding it hard to get by.

Computers and the Internet Kanye West may come to regret making promises on Twitter

Words like "never" can be costly when you're trying to get people to pay for things you're selling

Socialism Doesn't Work They might have had the capability to destroy us, but the Soviets weren't entirely crazy

People watching "The Americans" can be forgiven if they feel a tinge of nostalgia for the Cold War. "Ivan" might have been terrible, but he also didn't have a particular interest in dying. Today's foes aren't always quite so attached to their own skins, and that makes them unsettling in a way that Soviet nuclear weapons never really could be.

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April 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet How not to quit your job

A radio play-by-play announcer quits with an online posting. There are so many mistakes made here: The announcement includes misspellings and takes place in a public forum while burning all bridges along the way. These things persist, you know. Something like this becomes the #1 search result in your next job interview. To anyone who doesn't know the back story, this looks like sabotage is your M.O.

Iowa Is it really a substitute?

Due to printing problems, the Des Moines Register isn't distributing an April 16th printed edition. As pointed out by a former staffer, printing problems used to activate backup plans -- today, it would appear, the answer is to just tell people to access the online edition for free. But if they're really equivalent substitutes for one another, then why go to the trouble of printing and distributing the print edition at all? And if they are not equivalents, then shouldn't a press failure be important enough that some kind of emergency plan can be rolled out? Either the print copy matters or it does not. This response seems to suggest that, institutionally, the latter belief is in the driver's seat.

Threats and Hazards Unprecedented antisocial behavior in politics

The presence of a candidate who has treated the entire Presidential race like a game of Mario Kart has brought out the worst in a lot of people

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - April 16, 2016

Streamed live at whoradio.com/listen and archived for later playback on iHeartRadio

April 15, 2016

Iowa MidAmerican Energy now targets 80% of power generation from wind

They expect to get there by the end of the decade, putting Iowa light-years ahead of everywhere else

Threats and Hazards The DoD says cyberattacks are now a threat on par with missiles themselves

We're looking at you, Iran and North Korea

Aviation News Boeing/Lockheed "United Launch Alliance" is making job cuts

New competition has tightened the rocket-launch market

April 14, 2016

Business and Finance Japan's debt spiral

Public debt is now at nearly unsustainable levels -- and when that triggers a reaction, things could get ugly in a hurry

Health "Citizen scientists"

It would be a good thing if all citizens thought about science more often, but "citizen scientists" is a clever title to offer people for participating in an NYU study of baby sleep patterns. The study asks parents to record their baby's sleeping patterns in a widely-used smartphone app -- something many parents were doing with the app already, but by aggregating the data, they can turn it from micro-information (used by the parents) into a macro-study with far more data points than the researchers were ever going to get by handing out paper surveys.

Computers and the Internet EMV credit cards are still slowing down checkout lanes

In the long run, a chip-and-PIN system ought to be highly secure for in-person transactions. But in the short run, the inconsistencies in their rollout and use are driving people crazy at the cash register.

Threats and Hazards Russian jets buzz US Navy warship in the Baltic

It's one thing to show off, and it's another to provoke. This behavior teeters dangerously close to the latter.

Computers and the Internet Great social-engineering attacks in history

We think of social-engineering attacks as a modern online phenomenon, but they've been around forever. And it helps nothing at all when IT people use techniques that are indistinguishable from those of the attackers.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft claims coming Windows 10 update will be good for classrooms

Technology alone doesn't and can't fix problems with education, but viewed as a useful tool, technology may be able to help. The less teachers have to be IT people and the more they can simply use their tools, the better.

April 13, 2016

Computers and the Internet Facebook's next ten years

They want more artificial intelligence and more artificial reality

Aviation News Schumer plan to legislate bigger airline seats fails

Not that today's seats aren't absurdly small and uncomfortable, but legislation isn't the way to fix it -- especially not if people are given the option to pay for bigger seats (and don't)

Science and Technology Lab-grown diamonds are on the way -- in a big way

Fundamentally indistinguishable from organic diamonds, they don't come with any of the ethical baggage and offer creative cutters options they didn't have before

Computers and the Internet Netflix hacking

Crooks are trying to break into Netflix accounts not because they want to mess with your ratings, but because they want login information. They can get enough information to trick people using social engineering into giving away credit-card info, and it's also likely that any passwords people use on Netflix are in use elsewhere, too.

Humor and Good News "No business being an extrovert"

Another hit from The Onion

April 12, 2016

News A dystopian vision of the future

The Boston Globe looked into its crystal ball to see a Trump Presidency and they saw something awful

The United States of America Nebraska will keep its split Electoral College votes

It's a practice that shouldn't have been threatened in the first place -- more states should follow Nebraska's lead on this and divide their Electoral College votes by Congressional district, with the statewide winner getting the two remaining votes

The United States of America Speaker Paul Ryan won't run for President (this time)

He's putting his foot down on the idea of being named as some kind of unity candidate. He's needed in Congress now, and almost certainly to an even greater degree after the results of this coming November. The primacy of the Executive Branch needs to be reeled in a bit, and Speaker Ryan is the right person for the job on the Legislative Branch's side of things.

Computers and the Internet The National Weather Service will kindly stop shouting now

They are at long last changing the format of most of their reports to conventional sentence case, rather than the ALL CAPS format that had been in place since the teletype days. The practice was a technological artifact -- it was necessary when there wasn't sufficient means to send mixed-case messages. But now there is, and since sentence-case messages are easier to read and comprehend, this is a good change.

Computers and the Internet Facebook introduces 8K-resolution video camera with 360-degree viewing

For those times when it's not just enough to feel like you're there, but also to get serious motion sickness in the process

April 11, 2016

Computers and the Internet Britain's Daily Mail may want to buy Yahoo

They would use private-equity money to form a new company, but the essence of the deal would still be the same: An old-media company buying a new-media company to give both a shot at survival.

Science and Technology Toyota working on "guardian angel"

A very clever metaphor for the technologies that will eventually accumulate and lead to self-piloted cars for everybody -- but that in the shorter term will at least ensure higher levels of safety by overriding the stupid decisions and slow reactions of human drivers.

Business and Finance Canadian Pacific gives up on bid for Norfolk Southern

The rail industry is already pretty well-consolidated, so further consolidation may be hard to achieve.

Business and Finance "Returnships" for those returning from job gaps

It's a sign that an economy is healthy if people who leave the workforce need to catch up a bit when they return. That means things are changing and improving. Thus it's smart to have ways to help people rejoin the workforce quickly, and "returnships" may be part of the answer.

Science and Technology Truck platooning is working

The over-the-road freight trucks of the future won't always have individual drivers. Testing is taking place right now in the EU, where trucks use automation to communicate with one another to drive in closely-packed series that move more efficiently and use less road space than individual trucks. It's also supposed to save fuel. Pilot testing is underway in Europe.

The United States of America "Hillary would beat [Trump] from jail"

Tim Miller has a very clever way of looking at things and framing the politics around them. His take on the Presidential race right now is worth a solid 45-minute listen.

April 10, 2016

Computers and the Internet Facebook has some pretty lofty ambitions

It's not a non-profit, and it's not a charity. Users would be wise to keep that in mind.

News Neuroscience classes in prison

The effect it has on the incarcerated students tells us some important things about education -- and about what we should seriously consider doing to fix our criminal-justice system

Business and Finance The Treasury doth protest too much

When the Treasury Department issues a special statement announcing that they weren't targeting anyone in particular with a brand-new set of rules (that happen to have a serious impact on a high-profile event), it doesn't take all that much cynicism to suspect that the lady doth protest too much.

Broadcasting Netflix is hiking prices for customers on grandfathered plans

The product is "sticky" enough that it's hard to imagine a lot of people quitting their subscriptions over $2 a month

News Saving the mountain gorilla

Some of the best strategies for saving the gorillas may also be very good ways of helping human beings, too

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 10, 2016

We leave way too much human potential unfulfilled

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April 9, 2016

Business and Finance The Baltic Dry Index is rising, but it's still at a very low point

Telling signs about the world economy at large -- if shipping costs (as tracked by the index) are very low, then that's a symptom that goods aren't moving on the high seas

Threats and Hazards A toxic lack of interest in others

Video circulates showing people being attacked in hotels in China as bystanders just let it happen

Business and Finance Kansas City's Federal Reserve chief is a hawk

Someone needs to be the hawk at the table -- even if, on balance, the Fed still probably needs to be dovish

Broadcasting Netflix is going to raise subscription fees

A bunch of people grandfathered into cheap streaming plans are going to have to pay a couple of extra dollars a month

Computers and the Internet Slumping Yahoo should pick through Google's product graveyard

Google has gotten pretty good at creating products, demonstrating market demand, and then pulling the plug. Yahoo should try harder to be a fast follower.

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

April 8, 2016

Threats and Hazards Disengagement from communities may make people more likely to vote for a terrible candidate

People who are invested -- even just a little bit -- in their local civic institutions are probably less likely to fall for the siren song of a candidate who wants to blow up everything about civic society.

Computers and the Internet Senate drafts an encryption bill that doesn't have a lot of fans

This is why we need technologically literate adults everywhere, but especially in the halls of Congress

Business and Finance Looking at the microeconomic data may signal a macro recession

When you see freight shipments declining at the biggest railroads (as they are now), you need to question whether all is well in the economy at large

Computers and the Internet Twitter buys NFL Thursday night game streams for $10 million

Seems like a bargain, and the NFL says it wasn't the highest bid. But it does put the NFL in the middle of the preeminent real-time events service on the Internet, while giving Twitter something new entirely to attract new users. An interesting gamble all around.

Aviation News SpaceX finally sticks the landing

They managed to launch and then land a rocket, vertically, on a floating platform in the ocean. It was the fifth try and its success means this has been a very, very good week to be Elon Musk. The landing as viewed from the chase plane is downright surreal.

April 7, 2016

Computers and the Internet Why you need to own the domain of your name if you're in the public view

A bunch of staffers at Mashable just got laid off abruptly. They work in the public eye, and reports have it their e-mail accounts were shut down as part of the sudden layoffs. People who are (or might be) in the public view need control over their public-facing image, and it doesn't get more public-facing than the Internet.

News American admiral wants to challenge China in the South China Sea

But the White House doesn't want him (or people like him) saying anything out loud

Business and Finance Should a fiduciary rule apply to investment advisers?

In theory, a fiduciary rule should apply -- but whether the government should be the party imposing the rule (instead of consumers simply have the requisite knowledge to know what to demand of their service providers) isn't an open-and-shut case. Among other things, it's not enough just to require that the adviser have good intentions -- consumers also need to be able to discern when they're getting bad advice from well-meaning people.

News Saving a newspaper the hard way may be the only way

A Boston Globe editor asks his associates to ponder: "If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization designed to take on The Boston Globe, what would it look like?" And that's exactly the right question. All sympathies and sentimentality aside, the value of a company is what it's going to be able to produce in the future. From that perspective, what exists today isn't as important as what an organization would build if starting from a blank sheet of paper.

Computers and the Internet Verizon moves closer to an offer for Yahoo

Google may be considering a bid, too

April 6, 2016

Computers and the Internet Google's habit of dropping products is catching up with it

A customer of a home-automation product acquired by Google is mad because the product -- acquired by Alphabet subsidiary Nest -- is being bricked on May 15th. Is it Google/Alphabet's prerogative to do so? Yes. Does it reflect badly on the company? Yes. Does it undermine the company's reputation for customer support? Yes.

Computers and the Internet Guest Tweeting is a dangerous game

It's one thing to bring in a "guest editor" to put together a special edition of a magazine. But it's quite another thing to let someone apart from an editorial staff take over the Twitter account of a publication. The New Republic just learned that the hard way.

News When a major Presidential candidate isn't serious

Senator Bernie Sanders knows how to whip up a movement, but he's not showing an adequate grasp of his own policies to be able to implement them. That lack of seriousness is not trivial.

The United States of America How much runway is left for an independent Presidential run to take off?

Not a huge amount, but not zero, either

The United States of America Voter histograms

Who's voting where, for whom, for what reasons -- in a very bizarre Presidential campaign

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

April 5, 2016

Aviation News Why Rwanda is going to get drone-based package delivery before your neighborhood

It all boils down to the need for critical supplies and a shortage of safe and reliable transportation options. One may recall the scene from the late "West Wing" episode in which the retiring CJ Cregg responds as follows to an offer of a $10 billion philanthropic grant: "Highways [...] It's not sexy. No one will ever raise money for it. But nine out of ten African aid projects fail because the medicine or the personnel can't get to the people in need. Blanket the continent with highways and then maybe get started on plumbing."

Computers and the Internet Expect more chatbots in your world

Businesses are using artificial intelligence to provide customer service without the human customer-service reps

Computers and the Internet Changes to AP style

The Internet is now just the internet

The United States of America How heterosexual American couples meet

Several key methods of meeting seem to be missing from the data (like "mutual interests"), so the graph itself is suspect. But it still seems to strike a lot of people as true.

Threats and Hazards GAO warns that nobody's in charge of responding to cyberattacks

Once again raising the question: Do we need a dedicated military branch or agency dedicated to cyberwarfare?

Computers and the Internet A peek behind the curtain of startup mythology

There's a point at which people substitute a lot of dignity for impressions of status. Some tech startups exploit that.

April 4, 2016

Computers and the Internet How people learn depends on their socioeconomic status

High-income, high-education people turn to the Internet for lifelong learning. People with lower incomes and less education don't as much.

Computers and the Internet Computer programmers are more self-taught than classroom-educated

A lot of fields reject self-taught" authorities on a subject. Computer programming does not.

Weather and Disasters You don't have time to run from a tornado you can see

Man stops to film tornado from his attic. It turns and obliterates his home before he can make it downstairs.

The United States of America Nebraska may go back to a winner-take-all rule in the Electoral College

A sad prospect -- Nebraska is one of the only states to allocate electors by Congressional district, which is actually a sensible practice that more states should follow. Let the overall state winner take the two statewide electors.

Business and Finance What happens with prohibitively-high minimum wages

Tracking the minimum wage to some kind of inflation-related index? Probably reasonable. But large jumps do run the serious risk of causing employers to take drastic measures, like automating or leaving the affected jurisdictions.

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March 31, 2016

Business and Finance Foxconn buys Sharp for a lot less than originally offered

Their original bid was 489 billion yen -- and the actual sale price is about 100 billion yen less than that. That's not the direction these negotiations usually go. Japanese news reports reveal a whole lot of resentment at Sharp over the outcome. The buyer is Taiwan's Hon Hai (better known as Foxconn).

Science and Technology Tesla releases the Model 3

An electric car with a price tag starting in the mid-$30,000 range

News Why is violence still surging in Chicago?

A great city with a huge problem

News Two attorneys say they were kicked out of a bar for being black

They happen to be attorneys for the ACLU, so that's not likely to end well for the bar

Agriculture Iowa farmland values fell by 9% last year

That's a huge decline, largely tied to the drop in commodity prices. Lower prices mean less cash flow, and when the outputs don't justify the cost of the capital (here, that capital is land), the market price of the capital is bound to fall.

Science and Technology Scientific literacy made fun

A deceptively simple and addictive game called Guess the Correlation reveals just how bad we human beings are at recognizing statistical correlation -- even when it's right in front of us

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March 30, 2016

Threats and Hazards What kind of unconscionable evil attacks a park full of families?

And where is the shame that should shadow the fact that 69 people have been killed in a terrorist bombing -- but because it happened in Pakistan, it isn't making the same kind of headlines as an equivalent attack in a city in Europe?

Business and Finance IDS Center, Minnesota's tallest building, goes up for sale

It's been in current hands for just three years. This is "trader" capitalism. While not immoral or unethical, per se, it isn't the same as constructive or productive capitalism that depends upon transforming things of lower value into things of higher value. It's also not the same thing as proprietor capitalism, in which a person proudly owns his or her business for what it creates. Again, this doesn't make trader capitalism evil or wrong -- but we need to be very careful about celebrating the cowboy antics of trader capitalism. Trader capitalism tends to be a zero-sum game, or close to it. The other forms are decidedly non-zero-sum: They deliberately turn out something better at the end than what was put in.

Business and Finance Trade has diffuse benefits and concentrated costs

Thus we all can think of a town that has lost a factory to "outsourcing" -- but many people would find it hard to quantify how much trade benefits them personally. This tempers how people understand trade, since it means we overweight the costs and underweight the benefits -- even though the benefits overall far outweigh the costs. Sensitivity to those concentrated costs is important, though: If we benefit at-large, then we need to tax at-large as well in order to help the people who are directly hurt by the effects of trade.

Threats and Hazards On defeating ISIS/ISIL/QSIS/Daesh

Niall Ferguson says it's best viewed as a true network and best opposed as such

Computers and the Internet Instagram adds longer videos

The site that built its reputation on still pictures now says "you'll soon have the flexibility to tell your story in up to 60 seconds of video". That doesn't quite make it YouTube, but it's a change of position.

March 29, 2016

Computers and the Internet Iowa City hospital gets hit by privacy-invasion virus

Hospital databases are natural targets for the depth and scale of the data they collect. It's been reported that 15,000 patients have been notified about the Iowa City attack alone -- that's the population of a small town.

Computers and the Internet "Petya" ransomware scrambles entire contents of a computer's hard drive

How to protect yourself? Don't open attachments from people you don't know. Use webmail services instead of putting an e-mail client on your desktop. Run antivirus software. Keep your computer at the lowest level of access allowed (in other words, don't log in as an administrator unless necessary). And keep backups of your data -- update the backups frequently and keep more than one backup approach in use (in other words, go ahead and use a cloud backup, but use a portable hard drive as a backup-backup).

Aviation News Alphabet and Facebook run into red tape with high-altitude Internet

Both companies are testing projects to deliver Internet access from very high altitudes -- above normal commercial air traffic. But they're running into complicated rules on the way there, as well as some hassles with the lack of clarity about the rules that apply to air traffic at such high altitudes. Also, there's the sticky issue of flying across borders.

Science and Technology Forbes says Amazon is America's "most reputable company"

Netflix, Intel, Sony, and Samsung also make the top ten list. That likely says something not necessarily about technology-oriented companies being inherently more reputable than others, but about how high levels of consumer scrutiny and very low barriers to customer switching helps to keep these companies on their toes.

News Girl uses text-to-911 service to report drunk driver: Her father

This is exactly the kind of thing that technology should be doing: Creating new ways for people to be responsible for their own safety, even when circumstances might not otherwise permit it. Imagine the bravery required to turn in your father as he's driving drunk with you in the car. It's hard to imagine it happening via a voice call, but a text message provides a safe alternative. The value in technologies like this isn't how often they're used -- it's in whether they allow people to call for help in circumstances when they might not otherwise have the choice. If that's a non-zero number, then it's certainly worth further examination.

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March 28, 2016

Threats and Hazards US unintentionally funds opposing sides in Syria

Syria is only one of many highly complex situations on the world stage right now -- and anyone who tries to argue that they have simple answers or a monopoly on the solutions is a reckless bozo.

Computers and the Internet Marine Corps establishes cyberwarfare group

How do you say "Oorah!" in binary code? It's still unclear whether it makes more sense for each branch of the military to have its own cyberwarfare operations, or whether we should seriously consider spinning up a dedicated branch, agency, or corps dedicated to the purpose. The comparable case is probably the Coast Guard, which has a definite mission serving a specific type of territory, but which also executes its role well within the nation's borders -- something that the Army, for instance, isn't supposed to due because of the posse comitatus rule. But because cyberwarfare is often about criminal behavior rather than nation-states bearing arms against one another, cyberwarfare often (but not always) is better described as an act of law enforcement rather than martial defense. Of course, this is the kind of debate that should be dominating the Presidential race, but it's not. Not by a long shot.

Business and Finance "Zombie houses" are hurting valuations in some communities

The problem of unoccupied, un-maintained houses that start to deteriorate and "bring down the neighborhood" is a serious issue, since so many people have large shares of their net worth tied up in their housing stock.

Computers and the Internet FBI breaks into controversial iPhone

They didn't need Apple to corrupt its own security after all. Now, will the FBI tell Apple how they did it so that Apple can fix the problem?

Computers and the Internet Startup is taking pre-orders for $119 laptop-dock for smartphones

They'll provide the keyboard and a 14" screen in a laptop-like unit. Users will provide the smartphone that will act as the "brains".

March 27, 2016

News An interesting meditation on the modern rat race

One thing that may be happening without sufficient attention is that the forces that cause the white-collar classes to work exceptional numbers of hours and to spend much of their free time in activities that also pass as career networking may also be the forces that serve to pull apart important civic organizations. It seems hard to find people with valuable skills who have the time and inclination to support civic institutions with their time and talents -- especially if they're spending time doing things like toting kids around to league sports.

Computers and the Internet Chinese tech giant thinks it can predict when crowds will turn dangerous

The government authorities probably don't mind if Baidu keeps up this kind of work

Computers and the Internet Apple cuts prices on iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watch

They're still higher than comparable products in the same class, but the company certainly appears to be trying to get more consumers in the door of the Apple ecosystem. The iPhone SE clocks in at $399, the new iPad Pro 9.7" costs $599, and the entry-level Apple Watch is now $299.

Humor and Good News "Scientists slowly reintroducing small group of normal, well-adjusted humans into society"

The Onion lands another smashing satire. It's just close enough to reality to be disturbing.

Computers and the Internet Nintendo wants its own social network to catch on

Miitomo involves "Mii" avatars who go out and live a virtual life for you, "interacting" with those of your friends

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)

March 26, 2016

News Wrong-way driver crashes into police transport on I-80

Two police officers, one prisoner, and the opposing driver were all killed

Business and Finance Low oil prices are making the near-circumnavigation of Africa cheaper than the Suez Canal

Canal passage fees are higher than the cost for extra fuel in some cases

Computers and the Internet Microsoft introduces $22,000, 84" touchscreen TV

A little bigger than the Surface

Computers and the Internet Study: Adults ages 19 to 32 use social media for 61 minutes a day

What in the world is that time displacing? It's not all just "found" time that was otherwise spent in line at the grocery store -- it's coming from the time budget for something else. And the authors found that high levels of use were correlated with symptoms of depression. Correlation isn't necessarily causation, but it is a relationship that is cause for concern and further analysis.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft doesn't want to buy Yahoo, but...

...the company might help some other party to buy it out. Microsoft apparently makes decent money from its partnership with Yahoo and doesn't want to kill a productive arrangement.

Broadcasting Netflix now throttles video to Verizon and AT&T wireless networks

As long as data limits remain both low and in effect, video streaming over wireless networks is going to be a source of conflict. This is (probably) just a short-term ploy by Netflix, but one that may be enough to tweak some of the wireless carriers into raising data limits. It certainly isn't leading to good feelings.

March 25, 2016

The United States of America Speaker Paul Ryan as the unity candidate for the GOP?

He's needed -- badly -- as the Speaker of the House, virtually no mater who gets elected in 2016, and it's hard to think of anyone better to fill his current role

Computers and the Internet Microsoft releases chat bot and everything goes off the rails

We can't have nice things, in part, because people can't seem to resist digital vandalism. Microsoft tried to launch "Tay", but unfortunately it would appear that exposing it to social media only turned it into an idiot.

Computers and the Internet Build an Alexa device with Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi is a super-cheap computer processor, and Amazon is giving out instructions to make something of it

Health Husband and wife each get cancer twice -- at the same time

Stunningly terrible misfortune

Computers and the Internet Intel is going to start foot-dragging on Moore's Law

The perpetually high rate of improvement in chip power is going to ease back a bit

March 24, 2016

Computers and the Internet Secretary Hillary Clinton knew her e-mail server arrangement was problematic

An FOIA request by a group hostile to her finds emails from February 2009 that appear to acknowledge her recognition that her BlackBerry and e-mail use were going to raise questions

News TV station takes on local newspaper directly in Cincinnati

If physically getting the news on a dead tree is no longer a defining characteristic for a news organization, then the rivalry could severely disrupt the classic monopoly model enjoyed by major metropolitan newspapers

Computers and the Internet Apple rolls out iPhone SE

Arriving in stores next week (3/31), it shares a chip with the iPhone 6S, has a 12-megapixel camera, and is in a relatively compact 4" size. $400 for the 16 Gb entry-level edition.

Computers and the Internet Activist group tries takeover of Yahoo board of directors

Starboard Value LP is launching a proxy fight. With just 1.7% of the company's stock, they don't have enough to call the shots, but in their letter to shareholders, they indict the current board and management for failing to turn around the company operationally or get it sold.

Business and Finance Rockefeller interests sell the last of their Exxon stock

Very few family businesses survive intact, it would seem

March 23, 2016

Threats and Hazards A not-insignificant number of Americans are trying to get a functional illiterate elected President

Donald Trump's session with the editorial board of the Washington Post is a stunning example of word salad. It's understandable that lots of people are angry at the political system, but working for his election is like trying to get Ronald McDonald hired as the executive chef at a French restaurant because you don't like their pastries.

Agriculture Iowa corn yields by county

Corn is one of Iowa's greatest products

Broadcasting The "most interesting man in the world" is retiring

Only the actor. Dos Equis is planning to reboot the campaign.

Humor and Good News Nebraska's new license plates

Once you see what's wrong, you won't be able to un-see it

Broadcasting Strong-man tactics on the local political scale

TV reporter gets kicked out of city hall for asking uncomfortable questions

March 22, 2016

News Macro-scale factors making voters angry worldwide

The middle classes are feeling discontent

Aviation News Army and Marine Corps argue that budget cuts are causing fatal crashes

Marine commandant: "[W]e don't have enough airplanes to meet the training requirements for the entire force"

Science and Technology Toyota says automatic brakes will be standard by 2017

Well ahead of the voluntary mutual pact to have them on all new US cars by 2022

Broadcasting Starve the clown of attention and he withers

The symbiosis between Donald Trump and the news media is very bad for civilization, even if it's "good" TV

Computers and the Internet EFF argues that there's no room for compromise on data encryption

The privacy-rights group argues there's no alternative to the mathematics of absolutism when it comes to encryption

March 21, 2016

News Fun fact: Countries with short election cycles are just in perpetual campaign mode

It doesn't matter if the cycle is only 15 weeks long; the campaign process is continuous

Business and Finance A catalog of Donald Trump's business failures

He is more hype-man than legitimate business success

Health Work may be more dangerous than previously thought

OSHA changed measurement and reporting requirements and it turns out more people are getting hurt on the job than the old data suggested

Computers and the Internet Apple announces a new iPhone

But no real revolutions at the latest product launch

Humor and Good News Good kid, bad kid, future economist

Honestly? Raising the future economist may be the best move of all.

March 20, 2016

What ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh is doing is genocide

Words matter. Now if only we could settle on what to call the perpetrators.

Computers and the Internet Cartoon animation software goes open-source

What built "Futurama" is about to become free

Health It may be possible to recover memories after Alzheimer's

With so many people in the Baby Boom generation headed into their senior years, don't be surprised by an intense focus on the diseases associated with aging

Business and Finance Toyota renames the Scion models

Killing off the brand but keeping the products

Weather and Disasters Carbon-dioxide emissions are remaining flat

India's probably producing more, and China's producing less

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March 19, 2016

Business and Finance Chinese insurer offers $13.2 billion to buy Starwood hotel group

That's a lot of money for the Westin, Sheraton, and W chains

News 150,000 American children got sent to new homes via orphan trains

Not that long ago, really

Business and Finance Evidence-based policymaking

Bipartisan agreement on at least one thing

Computers and the Internet Mediacom announces gigabit Internet access systemwide

The rollout is going to be a three-year project

Iowa Uber surge pricing seems to take some people by surprise

Might be a mismatch between high demand and low supply in a metro area like Des Moines

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March 18, 2016

Computers and the Internet Take it easy on the social-media posts about your kids

Parents are proud of their children and want to share that pride. They also look for help and the Internet can provide a community level of response. But kids also deserve to control their digital identities, and it makes sense to default on the side of caution -- especially given the permanence and universal reach of the Internet.

News Portraits of the children of Syria and Afghanistan

Literally millions of refugees -- each a person, with a personal experience of this massive human disaster

Computers and the Internet FBI warns that high-tech cars introduce hacking risks

Drivers are specifically being advised to keep vehicle software up to date and to use caution when integrating third-party apps with their vehicles

News David Brooks on the imperative of stopping Donald Trump before reaching the Oval Office

The country can survive a bad President or two. But we shouldn't be willing to try.

Business and Finance Stock analysts think Tesla is about to do great things

But as a class, analysts have generally proven to be far too credulous when they should have been skeptical, and often too pessimistic when they should be seeing potential. Investors and other observers should reach their own judgments accordingly.

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March 17, 2016

The United States of America Rep. Paul Ryan sees rising odds of an open Republican convention

The Speaker of the House is one of the most prominent "adults in the room" in the GOP right now, and his presence is needed more than ever

Science and Technology Automatic brakes should be standard by 2022

20 automakers have agreed to "make automatic emergency braking a standard feature on virtually all new cars" by 2022. Almost all new cars sold in the US should be included. Note that the government itself admits that this voluntary agreement "will make AEB standard on new cars three years faster than could be achieved through the formal regulatory process". That says something rather disappointing about the pace of regulatory standards, but it's pleasing to see that they're willing to circumvent their own policy in order to get to a desirable goal sooner.

Business and Finance GM and Lyft work out a rental deal

Lyft drivers (starting in Chicago, then likely rolling out elsewhere) will be able to rent a GM car for $99 a week. The program will let people who don't currently meet Lyft's vehicle standards still get paid to drive. Chevy will offer its mid-$20,000-range Equinox SUV for $99 a week, or around a fifth of the cost of the vehicle per year -- including insurance and maintenance. GM is already a major investor in Lyft, to the tune of half a billion dollars. On a related note, a research paper says that Uber drivers are much more efficient than taxi drivers, when efficiency is measured by the amount of time passengers are actively being carried somewhere for a fare. The model would tend to bear this out: Uber and Lyft don't rely on their drivers having to hunt for customers -- they're actively being hailed by prospective passengers who aren't visibly waiting on street corners. The cab industry really blew a huge opportunity by not adapting faster to the Internet. Notably, too, higher efficiency means the prospect of lower rates for passengers, since higher productivity pays off faster for drivers.

Computers and the Internet Amazon takes out patent application for payment-by-selfie

It isn't entirely unreasonable to think that we're close to a time when biometric identification will suffice for a lot of transactions, rather than passwords. Because of the huge number of passwords most people need to keep, the wide range of characteristics that apply (some sites require the use of special characters, for instance, while other sites don't accept them at all), and the inconsistency of practice around factors like the frequency with which passwords must be changed, the whole concept of passwords may not be fatally flawed but it certainly isn't optimal. But the leading problem with biometrics may likely be that many people inherently distrust them and distrust any institution that would record their biometric identifiers.

Science and Technology Google is cutting loose the Boston Dynamics division

Google parent company Alphabet reportedly doesn't see robotics turning a profit soon, so they're looking to get rid of the division, which develops some amazing products and only became part of the larger company a hair over two years ago.

Computers and the Internet Call in the technocrats

In his recent discussion on Reddit, Bill Gates said, "I think very few people take the extreme view that the government should be blind to financial and communication data but very few people think giving the government carte blanche without safeguards makes sense." The government isn't necessarily wrong to try to get its hands on data, nor is Apple wrong to resist. By the same token, the government isn't necessarily trustworthy to have access to people's private data, nor is Apple perfectly patriotic and flag-waving in resisting cooperation with the government. Rather than polemic from people who don't understand what they're talking about, these kinds of issues demand attention from sober people with technical knowledge.

March 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet Mediacom says it's bringing gigabit Internet access to Des Moines

At least six Iowa towns already have it.

Science and Technology General Motors buys software company that programs self-driving cars

Company founder: "[W]e are moving very, very fast" to integrate systems. The path to the self-driving car is going to be more incremental than not -- lane assistance, automatic braking, and the like -- but it can't come fast enough. Eliminating human error from the roadways would save tens of thousands of lives a year.

Health Babies have metacognition

They know that there are things they don't know -- and that is a special form of consciousness

Broadcasting Amazon enters live-streaming to compete with YouTube

Only further evidence that the future of "television" may very well be delivered predominantly via the Internet

Science and Technology How to make smartphones truly, deeply helpful

They need to be programmed to recognize when users need help but don't know how to ask for it -- like when they are suicidal, depressed, or otherwise in need of human help (but brokered by artificial intelligence)

March 15, 2016

Threats and Hazards The children of civil war in Syria

The war has now lasted so long that children are reaching kindergarten age having never seen peace. Some 400,000 to 500,000 people have died in the course of the war.

Business and Finance What you really need to know about manufacturing jobs, right now

Very important reading. The manufacturing sector in the United States is actually doing well right now -- but there are specific groups of workers who are falling behind. Instead of blowing up the systems of international trade that make modern prosperity possible, we need to think about ways we can help the affected individuals recover and come back even better.

Business and Finance Visualizing world shipping

Seeing the flow of international trade aboard the ships on the high seas is actually a very helpful way to see how the world is interconnected. Trade is, on balance, a good thing. It leads to peace.

Agriculture Farm debts are getting serious in the Midwest

This is a serious problem for the Midwestern economy generally. If farmers get into cash-flow trouble, that affects the implement dealers and seed reps and other primary resource providers...and then it spills over to Main Street.

Broadcasting CBS Corporation plans to sell off CBS Radio

And with that, William S Paley rolls over in his grave. There are 117 radio stations in the group.

Science and Technology Robotic ants pull a car

Technology is doing amazing things

March 14, 2016

The United States of America "America has been the gold standard of democracy for so long"

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is one of the most important "adults in the room" in politics right now. His voice is badly needed at a time when a major candidate in the Presidential race seemingly cannot tell the truth under any circumstances and addresses women with pathological disrespect.

Threats and Hazards Significant terrorist attack in Turkey takes three dozen lives

The government is blaming "Kurdish militants", which may or may not be true. It certainly would fit a narrative being pursued by the government, so independent and objective study of the evidence is required. Whoever is responsible, it's a large attack and a tragic display of destruction.

Humor and Good News The Onion asks: What are you doing with yourself?

"[T]he final product of a dwindling bloodline that his proud forebears fought relentlessly to advance even before the dawn of history, decided to spend his free time after work watching the 1989 Tom Hanks comedy film The 'Burbs."

Computers and the Internet Windows 7 users are getting auto-updated to Windows 10

Microsoft has been hinting pretty clearly for some time that a move like this was forthcoming -- but it still seems a bit aggressive

Business and Finance How trade deficits return to equilibrium

A Chinese insurance firm is spending $6.5 billion to buy a batch of luxury hotels in the United States. That's one way the cash that has been leaking out of the United States to China (in the form of trade deficits) comes back home -- through asset sales.

Business and Finance "An MBA is an expensive want"

A recent student doesn't see the value in what he earned

March 11, 2016

Computers and the Internet Does $9.25 a month really make broadband affordable?

That's the structure of a Federal program to subsidize Internet access for the poor and those who live in places with limited options for access. But $9.25 a month doesn't really cover the full cost of access, and it may be a moot point in many places where there really isn't a good service available at all. This is an important public issue because the people who are caught without reliable Internet access are and will increasingly be at a substantial economic disadvantage to those who have it. And the people who don't have access now are likely to already be fighting an uphill battle economically. There ought to be a debate about the best way for public policy to address the problem, but there should be no mistaking the fact that the "digital divide" presents a serious hazard, and one that is only likely to deepen if not addressed. This should not be a case of debating whether there is a problem, but of how public policy ought best to be used to address it. There may be very market-friendly ways of so doing, and there are definitely government-overbearing ways of so doing. The debate itself, though, needs to begin with acknowledging the problem and addressing it thoughtfully so that the permanent consequences aren't as costly as they will be if the problem is ignored.

Computers and the Internet What does India give up by rejecting Facebook's "Free Basics" service?

It may look like a victory for "net neutrality", but there's a strong case to be made that the worries people have about the approach actually resemble strongly the worries people once had about AOL -- and that the AOL worries crumbled easily on their own once people got a taste for Internet access

Computers and the Internet You can have a built-in ad-blocker on your Internet browser

But you have to be using Opera to get it. Opera is a very distant also-ran in the browser market, but this may raise their profile. The company claims it delivers pages around 40% faster than the competition once those ads are scooped out. One might wonder how website publishers are going to respond to this, given that it's the equivalent of building an automatic commercial-skipper into a television set.

Computers and the Internet FCC pushes for data privacy from ISPs

The agency is proposing that Internet service providers be limited in what records they can keep on what individuals do with their Internet access

The United States of America An online quiz shows that San Jose is "forgettable"

When asked to name America's largest cities, more people overlook San Jose than any other -- relative to the fact it's the 10th largest individual city (not metro) in the country and one of only ten to have more than a million residents. But San Jose seems to be eternally in the shadow of its neighbor San Francisco, which is in fact meaningfully smaller in population.

Threats and Hazards Strength is a bad thing in the hands of the unjust

Donald Trump's incapacity to acknowledge that the iron-fisted response by the Chinese government to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests is yet another sign that he has authoritarian instincts that belong nowhere near the White House. Ohio Governor John Kasich deserves credit for highlighting that problem.

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March 10, 2016

Socialism Doesn't Work China is moving towards tracking every vehicle in Shenzhen

Tiptoeing towards totalitarianism: The argument now is that they want to track vehicles carrying hazardous waste and buses carrying kids. But how to stop it before they start tracking every car?

Science and Technology Apple says quitting apps on the iPhone doesn't really save battery life

Sooner or later, we'll have batteries that render the problem of battery life entirely moot

Business and Finance Intra-family lending saves many people from financial disaster

Just $1,000 exchanging hands between parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, and uncles appears to be what keeps a lot of people out of calamity

Computers and the Internet Microsoft releases more than a dozen updates for Patch Tuesday

Several critical. More than one requires a restart.

Computers and the Internet Skype puts group video calling on mobile devices

Android and iOS now, Windows 10 Mobile soon.

The United States of America Chicago Tribune Presidential endorsement: Rubio for the GOP and nobody for the Democrats

Their reluctant embrace of Senator Rubio is understandable. Governor Kasich is better-qualified, but his campaign organization itself doesn't look like it's built to win. Their case against the two Democrats for their "distance from economic reality" is positively dead-on.

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March 9, 2016

The United States of America "I wouldn't be good at doing what you need to do to get elected"

Bill Gates says he doesn't want to run for President. The fact he doesn't -- a fact that also applies to a lot of highly-qualified individuals we should like to see in high government office -- says something unflattering about the way we pick our leadership. If the process is faulty, then we're only lucky if it yields positive results.

Business and Finance Understanding populism

When something is good in general and on balance (like free trade) but injures certain specific parties (like people who lose their jobs to outsourcing), then we see the extraordinary need for leaders who can explain the benefits and enact the kinds of accomodative measures needed to help those injured parties adjust. We shouldn't hold back on things like free trade that, on balance, leave us vastly better off as a civilization. But when we don't do enough to capture the social benefits and funnel them to the parties who are hurt by it, then in the long run we're likely to face populist backlash (like Trumpism). To regress and give up the benefits of trade by turning to absurd policies like prohibitive import tariffs would be to set the whole of civilization back.

Business and Finance Japan debt now mostly at negative yields

The idea that the capital environment is so backwards that people willingly pay to put their savings someplace is hard to comprehend

Science and Technology Pebble drops prices by $50 on mid-range models

$150 for the color-screen edition, $200 for the fancier round design in color. That's well below $550 for the Apple Watch or $350 for the entry-level Apple Watch. Competition is a beautiful thing, and technology price disinflation is pretty astonishing.

News National Merit program for black high-school students is cancelled

Strange, considering how important educational achievement for minority students can be

March 8, 2016

Computers and the Internet Do cracked iPhones threaten everyone's security?

An Apple engineer says so

Business and Finance Chinese exports have fallen for eight straight months

A foreboding sign for the global economy

News A girl shouldn't have to pass as a boy to get an education

Still a long way to go for equality between males and females

The United States of America Eight states where "I" is the leading party

Perhaps a symptom that both parties have work to do to satisfy many voters. Just look, for instance, at the almost total absence of Democrats up the middle of the country. It's sparsely-populated territory, for sure, but shouldn't there be some appeal from both parties?

Threats and Hazards Scotland Yard assistant commissioner says UK is at risk of "an enormous and spectacular attack"

The ambitions of ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh and its long propaganda reach combine to create a risk for the West. There most likely will be attacks again in the future -- terrorism is a tactic, not an organization -- and when they occur, we will want competent leadership in charge of our government and those of our allies.

March 7, 2016

Business and Finance An objective evaluation of performance in real estate

It turns out that the shameless self-promotion of a 2016 Presidential candidate doesn't reflect actual performance.

Science and Technology Humanoid robots in the uncanny valley

Androids are coming, but they're going to look creepy for a while

The United States of America Michael Bloomberg decides against an independent run for President

Even despite the rising risk that Donald Trump will capture the Republican nomination, which would be a terrible thing for the party

Science and Technology Toyota develops device for blind users

Called "Project BLAID", it's worn around the neck and is supposed to give the wearer information about the surroundings that aren't available through a cane or a seeing-eye dog. Of course, better visualization and feedback to the user have some useful applications in developing safer cars, too.

Humor and Good News Iowa tourism ads show Napoleon discovering what he gave up

Seller's remorse?

March 6, 2016

Science and Technology Self-healing textile has roots in WWII

The history of the textile industry might actually be the best lens into American industry of all

Computers and the Internet Nook gives up on the UK market

Not every technology survives

Humor and Good News It's a complex comb-over

Explaining the hair on top of the Orange Menace's head

Threats and Hazards Turkish newspaper forcibly overtaken by government

Immediately it turns into a propaganda mouthpiece. And Turkey wants to join the EU.

The United States of America Process matters: Nebraska looks to set the rules for redistricting

Getting that right makes a big difference to getting outcomes that reflect the people represented. Sound, non-partisan, rule-based districting is of enormous importance to a healthy democratic republic.

Iowa Iowa's community college network

A key to the long-term health of civilization and the economy

February 26, 2016

The American Way Using prizes to incentivize ways to expand economic opportunity

Innovation prizes are a great way to induce progress using market-friendly thinking, and using them to find ways to make capitalism itself work better is like a double helping of good thinking.

Computers and the Internet Enlisting Silicon Valley to fight terrorism

Technology has a role to play, but anyone who thinks there's some kind of magic that can be performed just by flipping some kind of switch is bound to be disappointed. Technology can make the job of fighting terrorism both easier and harder at the same time.

Computers and the Internet Should pseudonyms count in academic journals?

As tools like crowdsourcing find their way into academic research, people are facing an interesting question: If that work then leads to a paper, should the contributors be cited by their natural names or can they use their online pseudonyms (usernames) instead? To some, the pseudonym may be a more valuable and descriptive identity than the natural name.

Iowa Letting local schools turn to online learning

The state of Iowa has an initiative in place to let schools offer classes that they cannot afford or otherwise manage to offer in-house. The Iowa House just unanimously approved a bill to let schools look online for options when that process doesn't work out.

The United States of America Politicians' lies and exaggerations need to be called out

Especially by the people who are inclined to agree with them. It's probably a greater service to the world to keep your own team honest than to bark across the aisle (though that has its own merits, too). Fortunately, some people are calling out some of the more egregious examples in the 2016 Presidential campaign right now.

Computers and the Internet Bigger than the Nigerian bank scam

American companies are thought to have lost $2 billion in the last year from fraud involving spoofed messages that appeared to come from the CEO

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February 25, 2016

Computers and the Internet Facebook maps the world

Facebook can only really grow if the billions of people who don't have reliable Internet access become Internet users and join the site, so the company has a vested interest in expanding Internet access all over the world. In order to do that efficiently, they need to know where the people are. Thus the company is working on taking artificial intelligence and applying it to known data about the world (like satellite imagery) to come up with much more granular detail about where people can be found. They're having the Earth Institute at Columbia University review the data for quality, and Facebook then says it will make the data available on an open-source basis later this year. Facebook estimates that about 3 billion people worldwide have Internet access, and 4 billion don't. The population maps are mainly useful to Facebook when seeking to decide where to use wireless hotspots, where to use cellular-type service, and where they might have to turn to satellites or UAVs to deliver connectivity. It's estimated right now that 95% of the world's population is within reach of mobile phone service, but if those estimates are based on faulty data, then it may impede the necessary infrastructure investments to expand access. That's where better population-density mapping has a role to play. Of course, the research is being done with Facebook's private benefit in mind, but the spillover benefits from better mapping have the potential to do a lot of social good, like aiding in disaster planning and recovery.

Computers and the Internet Bookstore ban on Internet devices only demonstrates how relative "information overload" can be

The bookstore touts itself as a refuge from connectivity overload, but isn't the idea of a bookstore fundamentally to connect people with access to more information than they could possibly ever want to use? Maybe it makes people feel better, but disconnecting isn't necessarily a better way of life.

Computers and the Internet Google's "neural network" is learning to geo-locate photos

Google took billions of photos that included location data and fed them into a database. They then turned that database into a system that tries to identify the locations shown in new pictures based upon what it already knows about the rest of the world. Naturally, it's working better in places like tourist destinations that are well-documented than in remote areas, but it's apparently generally much better than human beings are at the same test. The Google system was able to at least get to the right continent about half of the time.

Science and Technology Triumph of the non-machines

Mercedes is replacing robots in some of its plants with human workers, because it's easier to give a person detailed instructions than it is to reprogram the robots. Mercedes is trying to deliver more customized vehicles right off the assembly line, and people are their most efficient choice for now. This is actually a lesson learned long ago by Honda, which emphasizes the value of using people to do work because people can improve and innovate while automation cannot. There's a role for both, of course. We're better off when machines augment or supplement human work, labor, and thinking.

Broadcasting "Idiocracy" writer says he didn't intend for his comedy to become a documentary

It's time to stop celebrating ignorance. As Ben Franklin said, "Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn."

Threats and Hazards Nearly 20% of Trump supporters think freeing the slaves was a bad idea

Relitigating the Civil War may be one of the stupidest pursuits out there. Trump's only philosophical loyalty is to expediency, and that appears to be attracting some pretty shameful political bedfellows. It's also creating friction with our friendly neighbor, Mexico, where a former president has flatly rejected the idea that a Trump administration could somehow force Mexico to build and pay for a border wall.

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February 24, 2016

The United States of America The Republican Party might just be dead if forced under a Trump banner

You can't build a coalition around an extremist-leaning populist movement that lacks a philosophical core

Business and Finance Low interest rates are making Manhattan's skyline uglier

The flood of money available to real-estate speculation has incentivized the construction of some super-tall towers in New York City. People around the world are looking for investments and finding little that seems attractive, so it's spurred a bubble in skyscrapers. And, regrettably from a visual-aesthetic standpoint, the availability of materials that permit very tall, very narrow buildings is making that the design of choice for some of these new projects. These big, inelegant towers aren't remotely as appealing to the eye as the classic tapered skyscrapers designed to suit setback requirements.

Computers and the Internet WordPress hitches its star to the Google speedy-pages project

A new plugin for weblogs and sites using the WordPress publishing tool will create parallel sites that cooperate with Google's "AMP" project to accelerate the delivery of pages on mobile devices. WordPress and Google share a common interest in keeping people on the public Internet rather than behind "walled gardens" like Facebook.

News How the world looks when men are Photoshopped out of politics

It's a lonely place for the women

Computers and the Internet Facebook keeps trying to wedge its way into search

What Google has, Facebook wants

February 23, 2016

Science and Technology Bill Gates: Energy breakthroughs are really our best hope

He seems surprisingly uninspired by the idea of big inducement/innovation prizes to advance the subject, but perhaps they're just icing on the cake to a much larger market anyway

Aviation News Russia wants high-altitude flyovers to photograph the United States

Wave "hello"

News The alternative press at the White House

A motley crew

News A profile of a social-justice priest on Chicago's South Side

Eye-opening stuff

Health Babies can survive at just 22 weeks of gestation

What medical science can do to save tiny lives is awesome

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February 22, 2016

Computers and the Internet Samsung introduces the Galaxy S7

They can be submerged (IP68) and go back to accepting MicroSD cards. Samsung killed that feature in the Galaxy S6, so its revival is welcomed.

Threats and Hazards Pakistanis murder a thousand of their own family members a year over "honor"


Business and Finance The national economy is OK, but some states are in recession

Wyoming, West Virginia, Alaska, and North Dakota are in recession, according to Moody's Analytics

Threats and Hazards Trump's threats against the Ricketts family illustrate his lack of fitness to serve in office

We don't need a strongman who bullies his rivals

Science and Technology Thomas Edison wanted to build single-pour concrete homes

It didn't go far as a concept

February 21, 2016

Aviation News SpaceShipTwo is unveiled

Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites are hoping the second-generation spacecraft will get them on track again to offer private space flight

Business and Finance Apple is going to borrow on the cheap to buy back its stock

They're going to borrow $12 billion to buy back stock at interest rates starting at 1.3% for one year and rising to 4.65% for 30 years. It's a little nuts to try to forecast Apple's market position 30 years from now -- remember that 31 years ago, Steve Jobs was fired, and he was reinstated at the company just 19 years ago. But in the short term, borrowing money at 1.3% in order to consolidate the ownership position of existing stockholders is pretty sound policy.

The American Way Charles Koch says Sen. Bernie Sanders is right about one thing

The exceptional capitalist says the socialist candidate is right about one thing: It's bad for society to have a lot of people who are kept downtrodden. Koch, of course, differs strongly with Sanders about exactly how to fix that problem -- but that's why it's long past time to find advocates to speak up more openly about the many capitalist solutions that are available to us. Denying that problems exist isn't the way forward: Acknowledging that they do exist, and finding solutions that fit within a thoughtful and sustainable framework is.

Iowa Des Moines police officers to get body cameras this year

Broadly speaking, the idea of police-worn body cameras is attractive. Eyewitness testimony is utterly unreliable, even when it comes from trained witnesses like the police -- so the more actual documentary evidence we have from crime scenes and contested events, the better for justice. But it's not an idea without consequences and drawbacks: Someone has to be responsible for acting as custodian of the video evidence, and that's an area where some police departments have played games when seeking to protect their own when their own have done wrong. Moreover, there are complicated matters of access to the documentary evidence (and whether it becomes public record) as well as questions of civilian privacy (especially for children caught up in events, situations of domestic violence and abuse, and access to police informants) that require thoughtful policies and oversight.

News London's Conservative mayor wants Britain out of the EU

Boris Johnson is a politician with real star power, so this could make things complicated since his own party's leadership is campaigning to stay in. Johnson is a role model for politicians in at least one way: He writes a weekly column for a major newspaper, which is where he announced his opposition to remaining. Imagine how much better-off we all would be if our elected officials were all expected to be thoughtful and regular writers. The act of writing forces a person to clarify their own thinking -- and seeing who can write and elucidate their thoughts clearly, as opposed to who cannot, would be a valuable tool for voters.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 21, 2016

Where is the game theory in Washington?

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February 20, 2016

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 20, 2016

Airing live on Newsradio 1040 WHO at 1:00 pm Central. Streaming at WHORadio.com/listen.

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February 19, 2016

Threats and Hazards How things could get worse in the South China Sea

As China sends more non-military ships into the sea, the de facto rules that have applied to encounters between ships of the Chinese and US navies won't necessarily be regarded -- and that raises the odds of misunderstandings and unintended conflicts. That's a serious problem. We're being gamed, hard, on what's happening in the South China Sea: America is appearing to lose an epochal battle without a shot being fired, and it's not as though there's any recourse to be found by appealing to some kind of higher authority. That's the problem with being the solitary superpower in a world where rising powers aren't interested in playing by conventional rules. Someone in Washington needs to get to work on a comprehensive game-theory review of the situation so we can start anticipating the next steps rather than just reacting. As one observer notes, "this is about strategic posture", and it doesn't matter much if the UN laws of the sea say that China's misbehaving -- they're moving forward at flank speed regardless. That means the only way for us to reach an acceptable outcome is to comprehend what the likely next moves are based upon incentives, costs, collaboration, and conflict (or, in other words, game theory), and to start playing this game of real-world chess several steps ahead.

Computers and the Internet Apple: Oops on that broken-screen iPhone thing

People who got the glass on their iPhones fixed by non-Apple technicians got something called "Error 53". Apple says it was intended to prevent people from bypassing the fingerprint lock, but now they're changing the software to keep the repairs from bricking the phones. The threat of a class-action lawsuit probably didn't hurt.

Business and Finance After the Dow-DuPont merger and three-way split, pretty much everything will just be reshuffled

Des Moines, regrettably, won't get the headquarters operation of the intended agriculture spinoff, but it supposedly won't lose any jobs either

Computers and the Internet The Yahoo saga continues

They're setting up an independent committee to figure out what to do next

News Consumer behavior as predictor of political persuasion

Psychographics meet politics

Threats and Hazards Omaha child who froze to death should have had someone to protect her

The most valuable thing government can do is defend the defenseless. That didn't happen here, and someone needs to figure out why.

Agriculture The rural Midwestern economy continues contracting

The effects of low commodity prices don't stop at the grain elevator

February 18, 2016

Computers and the Internet Apple fights the FBI over cracking the San Bernardino shooter's phone

People who try to over-simplify the case are going to do harm to our public policies -- it requires nuance to address privacy issues like whether a phone-maker should let police agencies get a back-door skeleton key to the data stored on those phones. Regrettably, media attention is gravitating towards the reaction of one simplistic, reductionist, un-curious bozo running for the Presidency, and that's turning the debate over the issue into a disaster.

Threats and Hazards ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh hits a cash crisis

Starving the beast is one way to defeat it -- but don't be surprised if the beast lashes out when it's injured

Business and Finance The gasoline market may be foretelling a summer recession

Timing a recession is really hard to do, because they usually depend upon unpredictable triggers. But there are lots of conditions currently in place that should give us concern that a recession could happen.

Socialism Doesn't Work Left-wing economists rebuke Sanders campaign for unreasonable economic promises

When even the people inclined to side with you say your assumptions (like growth in excess of 5% a year even under greater burdens of regulation and taxation), then it's time to stop playing Santa Claus and get real about causes and effects. You can promise some things under socialism -- but ultra-fast growth rates are decidedly not among them.

Threats and Hazards Time is running out to resolve the South China Sea conflict

It's mostly an academic or diplomatic conflict at this stage -- but there's plenty of dry tinder waiting to ignite into a conflagration. Time is running out.

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February 17, 2016

Business and Finance "Millennials' political views are...at worst, totally incoherent"

An incredibly important takeaway: "Forty-two percent of Millennials think socialism is preferable to capitalism, but only 16 percent of Millennials could accurately define socialism in the survey." As a cohort, they're not necessarily alone in their economic illiteracy -- but we as a country should be ashamed that we haven't gotten better over time at teaching people the fundamentals of economics. That's exactly the type of thing that we should be getting better at teaching all the time -- and it would appear from the outcomes that we're actually getting worse.

News 70% of Saudis are under age 30

And there aren't any jobs, especially now that oil prices are crashing and the government is running out of ways to subsidize employment. This is potentially a nightmare scenario for extremism -- nothing is more destabilizing than lots of young people with nothing worthwhile to do. The Saudi government may very well find itself extinguished by the curse of oil wealth. Resource bonanzas are a terrible thing if they aren't managed wisely in the boom years.

Computers and the Internet Ransomware cripples an LA hospital

Cyberwarfare is everywhere

Humor and Good News Paul McCartney, Woody Harrelson, and Beck try to walk into a bar...

The three were rejected from a party around the Grammys because the bouncer didn't recognize them. The look on Beck's face is hilarious.

News An eye-opening view of the political climate

Some of the possible factors feeding into the frenzy for Presidential candidates who don't make any sense. Make no mistake about it: We're in dangerous times when more than a third of Trump supporters identify with white nationalist views.

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February 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet Computers enter the art market

As creators of art, which makes it interesting. Some humans will complain that computer-generated art lacks something about the soul, and they could be right about that. But there's so very much bad art already in the world, created by human beings, and we can hardly be sad about it if that crappy art gets driven out of the market by comparably better computer-generated art. On balance, isn't that a good thing for human civilization? Wouldn't a world in which computer-generated art and good human art both flourish be a more beautiful world?

News VA suicide hotline sent people to voice mail and never called back

A test of a civilization's health is how it treats the most vulnerable. Veterans calling a suicide hotline really couldn't be much more vulnerable.

Computers and the Internet Stephen Fry quits Twitter (again)

The laudable wordsmith and popular actor finds the environment just too hostile to continue engaging with it

Threats and Hazards The situation in Syria just continues to get worse

Another airstrike on a hospital. Millions of people displaced. Tens or hundreds of thousands of children running for their lives rather than living in security and going to school. The consequences are going to be profound.

Agriculture Japan is getting the world's first robotic farm

Vertical farms are the next logical step -- but only if the cost of transportation rises or the cost of electricity falls. Those are the most likely triggers for making vertical farming economically feasible on a large scale.

February 15, 2016

The United States of America A thoughtful reflection on the death of Justice Antonin Scalia

Scalia could be curmudgeonly and immovable, but he was also brilliant. He vigorously advocated a perspective on the law that should always be heard, even if it shouldn't always prevail.

News Things aren't as free in Hong Kong as it may have been believed

Rioting and protests have been happening, and not everybody is a fan of mass assembly

Business and Finance Deutsche Bank worries that only the Federal Reserve can prevent stock-price declines

If the Fed raises interest rates, that could touch off trouble for companies that have borrowed too much, and that could put the hit on their stocks

Science and Technology Cedar Falls Utilities establishes a "solar garden"

They're installing a bunch of solar panels and customers are buying shares to cover the installation price in exchange for credits on their power bills

News The private sector isn't the only place where poorly-supervised executives pad their own pay

The Chicago Transit Authority is dealing with pension payments that executives could start collecting in their 40s

Aviation News Air Force One and how the Boeing 747 has evolved with time

The airframe, which has been in the air since 1968, has undergone incremental improvements over time that mean it goes farther, faster, on less fuel today than previous generations. That's the value of incremental improvements accumulated over time. Revolutions come from time to time, but continuous improvement is far more powerful than people generally acknowledge.

February 13, 2016

Computers and the Internet Should the government have special privileges to break encryption?

The "pro" argument would say that the risks of terrorist attack are so great that the government needs to have backdoor tools to get in. But the "con" argument would remind us that it's never wise to demand powers when you're in control of government that you wouldn't want your opponents to have when you're out. And the power to have special access to break encryption is a very, very significant one. It's also worth noting that putting back-door access into legitimate software will do nothing to control access to illegitimate software. Bad guys can write code, too.

Socialism Doesn't Work Sen. Bernie Sanders promised jobs for young people, but how?

He recognizes the hazard correctly: There's very little that's more dangerous or destabilizing than lots of young people (particularly males) with nothing productive to do. But as with so many of his socialist schemes, Sanders only makes vague promises that he'll offer some kind of benefit without ever explaining how. And that's a critical flaw, because the default mode of socialism is actually to put people out of work. As a general rule of thumb, the more government regulates and seeks to manage employment, the harder it becomes to both hire and fire -- which makes it much harder for young, low-skill workers to enter the labor force. The burden is on Sanders to explain how he's going to do what he promises, and how his plan would escape the built-in anti-employment traps of socialism.

Computers and the Internet Congress sends ban on taxing Internet access to the President

It's not a ban on putting sales taxes on things purchased on the Internet, just a ban on taxing the Internet access itself

Computers and the Internet France challenges Facebook's data-collection practices

If you don't know the terms and other policies that apply to Facebook use, then you should click no further on it until you educate yourself

Computers and the Internet "There just aren't enough people who are prepared to pay for printed news"

The editor of the UK's "The Independent" writes an editorial basically saying "We had to kill it [the print edition] in order to save it [the institution]".

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 13, 2016

Trends, tips, and technology on WHO Radio, including a live stream at 1:00 pm Central

February 12, 2016

Computers and the Internet An incomplete cybersecurity strategy

We can't win cyberwarfare by accident

Iowa Banning holiday exchanges in schools?

Sure, you want to avoid hurt feelings or undue burdens. But you also can't escape the corrosive effect on social cohesion and trust when we nix everything always instead of finding workarounds. There are real costs, even though they're hidden.

Computers and the Internet India bans Facebook's "Free Basics"

Reasonable people don't want to see anyone cheat their way into dominance of the Internet, but banning Facebook's offerings in the name of "net neutrality" seems like it goes too far

News British newspaper "The Independent" to cease print publication soon

Times are brutal for newspapers everywhere

News Turkey threatens to flood Europe with refugees

It's probably just a threat -- doing so would probably nuke their chances of joining the EU, but the situation has to be taken seriously. Turkey is dealing with more than 2 million refugees right now -- a population the size of New Mexico.

February 11, 2016

Science and Technology Tesla to hit regular-car prices with an electric vehicle

Tesla's strategy of aiming for the high-end market first certainly looks wise; they were able to turn electric cars into an aspirational item while spending whatever they needed to spend in order to make the cars work. Now, they can take what they learned and move it down-market.

Computers and the Internet Flash drives for freedom

Smuggling entertainment content into North Korea via USB drives may be a powerful way to undermine a criminally authoritarian regime -- one that just executed its army's chief of staff

Computers and the Internet Twitter to offer an algorithmic news feed

A strange take on what makes Twitter special. Some users are not amused by the idea. Meanwhile, the company is having trouble attracting new users. It may simply be at its saturation point.

Business and Finance Are interest rates persistently low because of demographics?

A Canadian think tank proposes that possibility

News A ceasefire for Syria?

In a week, according to an international agreement. If true, it could be great news.

February 10, 2016

Socialism Doesn't Work Now they're just making up numbers for fun

A pro-Sanders economist claims that imposing socialist policies along the lines proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders would result in economic growth rates of 5.3% a year. That's truly just making it up as they go along. The United States hasn't been anywhere near that kind of a sustained growth rate for a long, long time. Are there things that could be done to raise the rate of growth? Absolutely. Could we raise it up to a real rate of 4% or 5%? Maybe, though it would require sustained improvements in worker productivity that are much larger than what we've been able to do for a while. Is there any chance on God's green Earth that those kinds of growth rates could be produced by imposing massive new government taxing and spending? No. Absolutely not. Massive new deficit spending plus massive new taxation of the types touted by Sanders are a recipe for much higher interest rates on the nation's debt (remember -- just like households, nations pay higher interest rates when it looks like they're over-stretching their capacity to pay their debts). Moreover, beware any plan that claims to deliver high rates of growth without explaining what path the private sector will take to those higher rates. Just spending a lot of money isn't the same thing as growing the economy -- any more than a person becomes rich by running up a huge credit-card bill. Economics can't be run via myth and fantasy.

Computers and the Internet Google pushes "AMP" project to keep people off Facebook and other rivals

Google has a vested interest in people staying on WWW pages, not within "walled gardens" like the Facebook app. So, acknowledging that people are doing a lot of their Internet use from mobile devices, Google is pushing its "Accelerated Mobile Pages" project to encourage fast website delivery using their tools.

Science and Technology NHTSA takes step towards accepting self-driving cars

In a letter to Google, the agency basically agreed to call the self-piloting system a "driver", equivalent to a human driver. Ultimately, the less humans control about our cars the better. Everyone thinks they're better than average behind the wheel -- but the almost 10% increase in traffic deaths in the first 9 months of 2015 and the fact that humans are responsible for well over 90% of crashes suggests otherwise. We are the weak link in the chain.

Iowa Iowa state treasurer wants a state-run retirement program for private-sector workers

In theory, an attractive idea. Private accounts for retirement savings are in general a favorable goal. But the idea should be taken with a lot of caution -- Iowa's existing state-run retirement program for public-sector workers is already under strain: According to its own annual report, IPERS is about 15% under-funded right now. The idea is worth further examination, for sure, but caution is definitely in order.

Computers and the Internet Senate committee approves bill requiring White House to prepare social-media anti-terrorism strategy

A companion bill made its way through a House committee. Now the two need to be approved by the full Senate and House.

February 9, 2016

Threats and Hazards The Director of National Intelligence worries most about homegrown terrorists

As rightly he should -- they don't have to pass through borders and aren't subject to the kind of scrutiny we can place on known foreign terrorists. And it should also be noted that domestic terrorists can come from any racial, ethnic, or religious background and have a wide variety of political motivations. Terrorism is a method, not a philosophy.

News Obama Administration proposes $4 trillion Federal budget with deficit amounting to 3.3% of GDP

A deficit smaller than the rate of real growth in the economy can be sustainable -- 3.3% is absolutely not

Computers and the Internet Now it's the SecDef under scrutiny for personal e-mail use

Senator Chuck Grassley, acting as Judiciary Chair, sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense asking for clarifications on his use of personal e-mail to conduct Defense Department business. As a country, we are way behind the curve on getting to grips with making sure our leadership has the right access to secure means of communications wherever they need it.

Iowa MidAmerican will get 57% of retail electric load from wind next year

Iowa is way ahead of the pack when it comes to wind-energy generation

Science and Technology Using Xbox technology to make reliable assessments of MS

Kinect can measure with more accuracy than human beings can observe

Computers and the Internet $3.1 billion cybersecurity revolving fund proposed

A loan program for Federal agencies to upgrade their IT infrastructure

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February 8, 2016

News Understand the refugee crisis

This is one of the most significant events in a generation, and reading just one article from The Economist will leave you with a sensible understanding of the situation. In an election year, it's not too much to ask.

Business and Finance Xiaomi says no mobile phone sales to the US

The dynamics of mobile-phone manufacturing collide with international relations

News Proposed $10-per-barrel oil tax is nothing to sneeze at

The Obama Administration's proposed oil tax is huge -- a 30% tax or more. Anyone who thinks the oil companies will simply absorb that kind of tax on their own without passing it along is either delusional or ignorant. The party that cuts the check isn't necessarily the one that pays the price.

Business and Finance Running Google is worth $200 million in stock, apparently

$199 million in stock is a huge amount for Alphabet to pay the CEO running Google. For perspective, the US spent about half that amount chasing loose nuclear fuel from Russia about a decade ago.

Threats and Hazards Refugees are still drowning

Almost 400 have died trying to get out of Syria, Iraq, and other troubled places so far this year. These are human lives -- and they're dying in numbers that are on a scale that would shock the world if these were plane crashes. If a Boeing 747 crashed with 400 souls aboard, it would dominate the news. The story is no less significant when it occurs in a slow drip. Refugee lives are just as valuable as everyone else's.

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