Gongol.com Archives: March 2009
Brian Gongol

March 11, 2009

Science and Technology Pillow fights, technology, and civil liberties
San Francisco city officials are really upset over the mess left behind when a flashmob got together for a big pillow fight. So upset, in fact, that they want the organizers to pay cleanup and get the necessary permits for a mass gathering. But, of course, flashmobs don't work that way. And they won't start to, either. Technology has made peaceable (and even not-so-peaceable) assembly incredibly cheap and easy to coordinate. That means we have to rethink how our laws deal with mass gatherings -- and that rethinking has to include consideration for the essential value of the First Amendment civil liberty of the right to gather freely in a peaceful way.

News Institutional memory is vastly more important than we usually think
The US government agency in charge of keeping track of our nuclear weapons "forgot" (in an institutional sense) how to handle an essential secret material. A report says, "It had kept few records of the process when the material was made in the 1980s, and almost all staff with expertise on production had retired or left the agency." It's hardly a problem isolated to government work -- institutional memories are lost all the time, and it's for no good reason. Good records and manuals really aren't that hard to create or maintain, but unless things are written down, nobody can count on them making it from one "generation" of group members to the next. It's especially ironic that institutional memory is set to become a huge problem (as Baby Boomers retire and leave many of the organizations they've helped to build) at the very same time that we're starting to realize the risks of pervasive data collection.

Health Putting health risks in better perspective
Statistics can be helpful, but only when accompanied by a little thing called context.

Humor and Good News On kids and monkeys
An Iranian family is in trouble because a child from the family revealed on a TV call-in show that his father named a stuffed monkey after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Meanwhile, it turns out that baby macaques throw tantrums just like human children, and that peer pressure is enough to get mother macaques to cave in (just like human parents).

Humor and Good News "And the way she said, 'You missed a spot over there'"
A local government agency in the UK is outfitting its lawn mowers with satellite navigation. Goodbye, dead reckoning.

Water News The return of flooding season