Gongol.com Archives: February 2009
Brian Gongol

February 4, 2009

Science and Technology Baby steps toward better government
Some of the President's top advisors don't have his new secret e-mail address. But at least a few people do, and it's a good step forward. There was a time when someone had to decide whether a telephone was worth installing in the Oval Office (telephone service came to the White House in 1877, but it didn't make it to the President's office until Hoover. Obviously, no one wants the President bumming around on Facebook all day, but at the same time, he needs to get access to outside ideas -- whether by push (e-mails sent to him) or by pull (his own Internet browsing). There's certainly a point of diminishing returns to any technology in the office -- but the use has to be greater than zero for any benefit to be obtained. Related: The Oval Office has only been the President's workspace for a hundred years. Teddy Roosevelt and his predecessors had a different office space altogether. Nixon didn't really work in the Oval Office at all.

Threats and Hazards The state of California has run out of cash
The situation is bad enough that the state controller is withholding income-tax refunds. Maybe they could find some non-traditional sources of revenue.

Computers and the Internet Following the Super Bowl via Twitter comments
The New York Times has made very creative use of data from public comments on Twitter to follow the mood of the nation as people watched the Super Bowl

Iowa David Yepsen leaves the Des Moines Register
Yet another of the institutions that made the paper special is about to end. Yepsen will probably be replaced -- the Register wouldn't dare do without a political columnist in the land of the first-in-the-nation caucuses -- but Yepsen has held the job for decades, and it looks like he's read the writing on the wall about the future of the newspaper itself and gone looking for greener pastures. The Register has recently abandoned its front-page editorial cartoon in a cost-cutting move that only serves to underscore that the newspaper as an institution can only survive if it delivers something unique to its readers. Related: Bad news for another Iowa institution, as Rockwell Collins lays off 600 employees.

Agriculture Thousands of tons of food for the poor is rotting in India
The Food Corporation of India is a semi-public institution responsible for managing India's food supplies to help prevent famines. But they somehow have found themselves in a situation with thousands of tons of wheat sitting around and rotting. This underscores the problem the world has -- we're getting very good at producing enough food for us all, but we're terrible at storing food for the long term. This is more important now than ever before because we have nearly 7 billion people on the planet, and rising by about 7 million a month. We only reached 4 billion in the mid-1970s. But even with that dramatic increase in population, which we've obviously become rather good at feeding, we also have the ever-present risk of natural disasters that could put a tremendous pinch on our ability to grow more food. It's happened before: The 1815 eruption of the Tambora volcano led to dramatic crop failures around the world. We have the technology to preserve food better than we do -- so why don't we use it? It doesn't even take a natural disaster to lead to human suffering -- isolated food shortages are still present around the world, even right now.

The American Way February 3, 2009 edition of the EconDirectory
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Broadcasting Podcast: Why we should save a little extra during good times

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