Gongol.com Archives: January 2009
Brian Gongol

January 9, 2009

Science and Technology Saving languages via text message
Text messages exceeded the number of phone calls in the US in 2008, and Americans are far less text-addicted on average than people in many other parts of the world. Now there's a push to make more languages available via predictive texting -- in which the phone predicts out what the user is trying to text based on the first couple of keystrokes. It's a lot faster than picking each letter on a numeric keypad, but it's also only available for a small number of the world's languages. Since it's turning out that text messages are an outstanding tool for economic development in poor countries (serving, for instance, as a surrogate Internet and postal system in some places), the development of SMS-related technology is actually far more consequential than it probably appears at first. For instance, in Namibia, text messages are published as letters to the editor. And text messaging has already been documented as a powerful and stealthy tool for organizing demonstrations. It's worth watching how this technology develops alongside institutional changes, like the new BBC television channel being broadcast to Iran, and Google's new automatic translation of RSS feeds. In a far more long-term context, the survival of languages (or, at least, of ways to recover them) is a particularly interesting matter when we consider what a loss it was to humanity that the ancient Library of Alexandria was destroyed, along with much of the world's ancient literature.

Humor and Good News Guinness celebrates 250 years in business with flashback television ads
Not many businesses last a quarter-millennium. But it's certainly more likely for those with 100-year business plans than for those without.

Iowa Unions want Iowa state employees to get 5% raises
At a time when the state budget is already a complete disaster

Health Man donates kidney to wife; she cheats; he asks for kidney back
The situation highlights two related issues: First, US law has no useful system for dealing with voluntary organ donations in a way that values both the donation and the good those organs can do. Second, we are getting so close to the age of bioengineered organs that it should be impossible to avoid the excitement that the research is bringing about. Yet aside from some futurism enthusiasts, it hardly seems as though the news of this progress has filtered into the public attention. That's unfortunate, since public enthusiasm drives voting, which in turn guides public policy.

News Russian billionaire and former KGB agent wants to buy British newspaper
As financial conditions for the US newspaper industry get tougher all the time, here's a good question: Would anyone step in the way if, for instance, the Kuwaiti sovereign wealth fund stepped in to try to purchase the New York Times Co.? What if the Chinese sovereign wealth fund made a bid for the (Chicago) Tribune Company? The Times is in serious financial trouble and the Trib has already filed for bankruptcy. And with a flagship newspaper like the Boston Globe now valued at $50 million, newspapers are available for a fraction of their market values from a few years ago. To put the Globe's market price in perspective, the Des Moines Register (which has less than half of the Globe's circulation) spent $51 million just on a new printing plant about ten years ago. The Register itself sold for $200 million just under 25 years ago. And those values haven't even been adjusted for inflation. So, for a country or other organization looking to purchase the gravitas of an existing institution for bargain-basement prices, American newspapers might just be on the clearance rack. Don't think it couldn't happen: The Washington Times is owned by the Unification Church. And the world's sovereign-wealth funds are sitting on billions of dollars for potential investment.

Water News EPA solicits help setting perchlorate rules

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