Gongol.com Archives: January 2010
Brian Gongol

January 2010
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January 1, 2010

Broadcasting Should Sunday morning talk shows fact-check themselves?

Weather and Disasters A review of Iowa's weather in December 2009
A huge temperature plunge and some remarkably heavy snowfall

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January 3, 2010

Health Rattan wood can be made into a bone substitute
(Video) All potential jokes about peg-legged pirates notwithstanding, it's excellent news. The transformation takes about ten days and results in a bone substitute with a lot of properties quite favorable for long-term repair.

News Is the New York Times a "freeloader"?
Writer and consultant Virginia Postrel says the paper is freeloading on content produced by well-regarded freelance writers

Humor and Good News "Tainted Love" with a 1930s feel
(Video) It's pretty funny to hear a 1930s-style remake of a song from the 1980s which itself was a remake of a song from 1964

Broadcasting Notes from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 3, 2010

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January 4, 2010

Threats and Hazards Irish atheists challenge anti-blasphemy laws
They've published a list of 25 blasphemous quotes in a direct challenge to a new law that prohibits statements "insulting" to any religion. Aside from the absurd way in which it violates the principles of individual freedom of thought and expression, it's also an utterly impractical rule: Even the most religious person is an atheist about all gods except his or her own. Any statement of faith that excludes other faiths is, in fact, blasphemous to those other faiths. And, lest anyone believe that this is a problem exclusive to a place like Ireland, there are quite a few Americans who would enthusiastically endorse an anti-blasphemy statute.

Business and Finance A logo is not a brand
Anyone who thinks that all they need to build a mighty company is to apply a magnificent logo is sorely mistaken. Eastern Air Lines had not one, but two excellent logos, but it went into bankruptcy. Berkshire Hathaway, on the other hand, has no real logo, but is one of the world's 25 largest companies.

Threats and Hazards Automakers think that intellectual property laws cover how to fix a car
Absurd? Most likely. But Congress has been stupid enough to pass the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which pretty much ensures that copyright terms last well beyond any reasonable "sell-by" date, which has a terrible chilling effect on the spread of knowledge.

Humor and Good News Ranking the decades

Humor and Good News Save the environment: Drive a car that runs on self-righteousness

Water News Valley Junction may have narrowly escaped a catastrophic fire

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January 5, 2010

Science and Technology The Burj Not-Dubai-Anymore opens
The world's tallest freestanding building is now open for business, but no longer under the name "Burj Dubai." It was renamed the Burj Khalifa in honor of the ruler of neighboring Abu Dhabi, who has been bailing out Dubai as its economic bubble bursts. Meanwhile, the Chicago Spire is still just a hole in the ground and lacks a similarly cash-rich neighbor to help bail it out. The official height of the tower is 2,716 feet -- more than half a mile high -- and the grand opening involved fireworks up and down that massive height. Undoubtedly, other massive skyscrapers will be built -- but it's really hard to figure out why, since they usually just stand as monuments to excess just before a bust. Someday, the Burj Khalifa will outlive its usefulness and have to be dismantled. Just try pondering how that'll happen. We don't rarely even take reasonable steps like requiring demolition bonds to set aside funds for the dismantling of much smaller buildings here in the US. In a not-altogether-unrelated vein, Emirates Air has done some crazy things to deck out the absurdly oversized Airbus A380.

Science and Technology The Pentagon is looking for a high-efficiency flying car
Not only do they want a vehicle that can off-road and fly like a helicopter, they want it to get a full mission done on a single tank of gas.

Computers and the Internet An early review of Google's new Nexus phone
"[A]n Android clone of the iPhone" is now on the market. As predicted some time ago, the iPhone has attracted a lot of competitors, and that's outstanding news for consumers.

Broadcasting Walter Cronkite's voice is retired from CBS
Almost half a year after his death, Cronkite will no longer introduce Katie Couric's evening newscast

News Some questions that linger about the attempted Detroit airliner bombing
Like, why was Detroit targeted? Jokes about the condition of the city notwithstanding, it doesn't seem to be a likely kind of target. More important, though, is this question: Why are we still suffering communications failures within the intelligence community more than eight years after the 9/11 attacks? It ought to be devastatingly clear that the government is not capable of "protecting" the public as well as politicians might want us to believe. So the next time they demand greater power and control, the voters ought to ask what reason we have to be confident that we'll gain any greater security out of the exchange.

Business and Finance Waterford Crystal is now gone from Ireland forever

Business and Finance Ram truck line to be split off from Dodge
The spin doesn't make a lot of sense: The truck is known as the "Dodge Ram" -- two syllables, which is just right. Who calls it just a "Ram"? The benefits of the Ram truck line boosted the value of the Dodge brand, so why make the split? Should Nissan have split off a separate brand for the Z?

News What got resolved in Copenhagen?

Water News Highway sound barriers might also be serving as pollution barriers

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January 6, 2010

Science and Technology New space telescope finds five more new planets
It's estimated that we Earthlings have found 422 planets outside the Solar System so far. 422! The really mind-boggling part is that we only found the first solid evidence of exoplanets in 1989.

Broadcasting On-demand radio: How much of the last decade's economic growth has been phony?

Broadcasting On-demand radio: The Mac-vs-PC debate

Humor and Good News The best episode yet of "Better Off Ted"
(Video) It's almost as funny as a music video starring a bunch of chimps and monkeys

The American Way January 2010 edition of the EconDirectory
Hundreds of sites where links, commentary, and analysis about business and economics are updated regularly. Others call it the "econoblogosphere", but that's a painfully clunky and jargon-drenched phrase. But if there's a definitive directory to this medium, it's here.

Water News Why knock-off products are bad for consumers

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January 7, 2010

Computers and the Internet Google's new smartphone: An attempt to stay dominant in search
One prediction would have one billion people using mobile broadband by 2012. That's a true technological revolution, considering Americans barely had the capacity to send text messages (SMS) by mobile phone in the year 2000. But mobile Internet access is so enriching that it's impossible to see this trend reversing course. So if Google wants to be competitive in the world of making money from those mobile broadband users, then one choice was obviously to start making and selling an Internet-enabled phone. But it also helps to illustrate why nobody should expect Google to be dominant in Internet search in 2020. The market is too dynamic for dominance to be held for a long time. Unlike the market for disposable razors, where innovation means adding another blade, the markets for Internet access, online advertising, and smartphone service will all be entirely different in 2020 than they are today. Staying on top of any of those markets will be a profound and expensive challenge for Google.

The United States of America Why does anyone think the United States is done growing?
The European Union continues to expand, with the accession of Turkey just one among many scenarios under consideration. The Association of South East Asian Nations is building a free-trade bloc and is aiming for a regional union modeled, in part, on the EU. And stories of both pan-Arabian union and pan-African union have been promoted for some time, even up to the present day. Why, then, wouldn't anyone expect the United States to continue expanding as well? The reality is that the US should make a standing offer of accession to any other nation, with only a handful of basic preconditions attached. We should be shocked if we reach the centennial of Hawaiian statehood in 2059 without a few more stars on the flag.

Threats and Hazards The return of the "somebody do something" fallacy
The reaction to the failed attempt on the Northwest flight in Detroit seems much to close to what the terrorist probably wanted us to do.

Science and Technology The story of the smallest planet found outside the Solar System

Science and Technology A visually luxurious look at the history of the world's subway systems

Water News The case for an Iowa water-management plan

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January 8, 2010

Humor and Good News The Onion: "Rural Nebraskan Not Sure He Could Handle Frantic Pace Of Omaha"
Go ahead. Make fun of the Midwest all you like. Just don't forget that a disproportionate number of America's great investors, for instance, have set up shop well outside the Wall Street nexus, and in so doing have contributed to a much smarter long-term perspective than tends to prevail in the parts of the country where "Midwestern values" don't prevail.

Humor and Good News It's definitely not spelled "definately"

Broadcasting How Craig Ferguson got to be the funniest man on late-night television

Iowa Snowstorm leads to 3500 calls to Iowa State Patrol

News Some very attractive typefaces from 2009

Water News The most unusual instance of land application in a long time

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January 9, 2010

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - January 9, 2010
And this time, it even includes a video special of two grown men blowing bubbles. But for a good reason.

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January 10, 2010

Computers and the Internet Facebook's founder signs the death warrant for his own creation
Mark Zuckerberg tells a live audience that he thinks privacy is no longer a social norm. This confounding level of stupidity can be shut down with a single, five-second thought experiment: Do people still place curtains, blinds, and shades on their windows? Of course they do. To assume otherwise is ignorant. Privacy still matters, and it always will, albeit to different degrees. But telling the world that you don't believe in privacy anymore, as Zuckerberg has done, only guarantees that in the long term, you'll never retain the trust of the customers you hope will keep coming back. As a result of this and other blunders, Facebook will not be the dominant social-networking website in 2015, guaranteed.

Broadcasting China's national broadcaster arrives in Houston
China Radio International now airs 24 hours a day in the Houston area on a Galveston radio station. Few Americans know much about international broadcasting and how influential it is around the world -- the BBC is the only service that gets much, if any, attention at all. But the fact that CRI is now being rebroadcast in the United States -- in Honolulu as well as Houston -- should be a wake-up call. America's own international broadcasting service has been badly neglected, and it's time to reverse course.

Aviation News How nice it would be if airline boarding passes weren't ugly
But, as it turns out, a lot of practical restrictions keep those passes from being pleasant to behold. Alas.

Business and Finance The EconDirectory gets a citation in the Eastern Economic Journal
The EconDirectory is a project of this site, in which hundreds of business- and economics-related websites are ranked by their traffic statistics

Science and Technology It may be cold outside, but forced-air central heating has only been around since 1935
Prior to that Depression-era invention, you just had to hope that radiant effects would work. Scary thought.

Broadcasting Notes from the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio - January 10, 2010

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January 11, 2010

News Empirical evidence: The media isn't biased politically, it's just too dependent upon the government
A survey by an arm of the Pew Research Center -- ostensibly to determine whether "new media" did much original reporting, which it concluded they do not -- found that even the "traditional" media are "driven mostly by government statements rather than journalists' own digging", in the words of the New York Times. This evidence serves to buttress the claim that the American news media aren't so much "leftist" as they are "statist". That is, the persistent assumption that official government pronouncements are "neutral" (and thus worthy of repetition) causes the American public to receive a disproportionately government-friendly view of the news. Truly an interesting angle to consider when reviewing the just-released documents from the Nixon Administration in which Special Counsel to the President Charles Colson made no bones about his distinct interest in bringing down the Washington Post. Related: For all of your not-really-news-but-we-need-videotape-anyway needs, try "We've got that B-roll", a great spoof video now on YouTube.

Threats and Hazards Keep calm and carry on
Overreaction to terrorism is only going to erode the quality of life it's taken thousands of years of Western civilization to deliver to us today. But if we're smart, we'll learn to use a little bit of math on the wide range of information we already have (rather than painfully intruding into a million points of private life) to make better predictions about who might be up to no good. If Netflix can predict with astonishing accuracy how much a person will like a film, then there's quite good reason to assume that the same kind of predictive powers can be applied to other aspects of life, security included.

Computers and the Internet Whatever you say on Twitter had better be a complete thought
Anything you say on Twitter (or any other "micro-blogging" or text-limited status-update site that succeeds it) had better stand on its own as a complete thought, because that thought now appears on Google and rival search engines as a search result, where it's totally out of any kind of conversational context. It's quite possible that the millions of Twitter users will understand that the syntax "@SomeRandomUserName ..." implies that you're involved in a conversation, to the six billion other people on the planet who do not use the same, the conversational syntax just looks like gibberish, and the rest of what you have to say stands solely attributable to you. Moreover, Twitter will be gone someday, yet the archives will quite possibly remain indexed forever on Archive.org or elsewhere, and those fragmented conversations of today might look preposterously stupid in a half-century.

Water News Frozen pipes all across Ireland

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January 12, 2010

Broadcasting Conan O'Brien says he's not moving for Leno
NBC really painted itself into a corner with the decision to re-shuffle late nights again. They gambled that Jay Leno could draw his late-night audience into prime time. He couldn't. Or at least, he couldn't move enough of it. But in announcing plans to migrate him back to late-night, they issued a slap in the face to O'Brien by telling him he would have to move over to make room for the old boy. It's hard to blame O'Brien for turning them down. Related: Craig Ferguson makes some hilarious comments on the situation in a recent monologue.

News Debate question: Is Dubai a bad idea?
(Video) The BBC and affiliated groups put on a one-hour televised debate on the proposition that Dubai is a bad idea. A fascinating discussion results; both sides argued deeply flawed cases, but the argument was still worth having.

News The pyramids of Egypt might have been built by free men
It's always been legend that they were built by slaves, but the location of some workers' tombs suggests that they might not have been slaves after all. Regardless, the colossal expense involved in constructing the pyramids was a titanic waste of resources, whether built by slaves or free people. Egypt would have been far better-off with any number of other uses of that time, energy, and capital.

Computers and the Internet Anyone with a website should be working overtime to make it mobile-friendly
When the iPhone came out two years ago, there was a rush to build iPhone-friendly sites, but as was mentioned on the "WHO Radio Wise Guys" at the time, mobile-friendly sites should be open to all mobile browsers, not just one platform (like the iPhone). And as mobile broadband access becomes a reality for ever-growing numbers of users, the demand for websites that look good on small screens is growing as well.

Iowa The Condition of the State of Iowa: Not very good, fiscally
But Governor Culver, instead of acknowledging the problem thoughtfully, offers a speech that is mediocre at best and not especially attuned to the needed solutions. When Culver says, "We face some real challenges. Ones we did not create, but ones we will overcome," he seems to ignore the fact that Iowa's biggest challenge is a state budget deficit that is precisely his fault and the fault of the Legislature. Nobody else created the problem, and they've been making things worse for years on end. And Governor Culver seems deeply intent on spending every dollar he can find to "create jobs", even though that's not government's role in a free society -- nor an efficient goal. The utterly nonsensical approach Iowa has taken with tax credits and state-funded incentives to all kinds of businesses has been a serious problem, and it's well past time that problem was addressed.

Business and Finance Private equity attracted very little money (by recent standards) in 2009

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January 13, 2010

Socialism Doesn't Work Google to China: You've crossed the line. We're finished.
Google says it's not going to play by Chinese government rules any longer after discovering a massive breach of Google's security by Chinese government hackers. Chinese use of the Internet remains broadly enigmatic; the government there still wants to censor the public's access, but the country has long been a colossal producer of spam. As China tries to move forward, the government there is going to find that holding people back from free exploration online will also keep them from creating great commercial ideas. Fear and censorship -- even when it's self-censorship out of fear rather than outright government intervention -- make a nation intellectually poorer. It's very unpleasant that Western countries have cooperated with the Chinese government and its censorship techniques. That they might someday be double-crossed in the process wasn't unforeseeable.

Computers and the Internet "Wet" information technology
Some European researchers are going to spend about $2 million on a three-year project to build a computer system that works a lot like the human brain. It probably won't do a whole lot of computing. But imagine what might happen if they can figure out how to duplicate the process used in the brain -- we could be on the verge of discoveries like a biological-style supercomputer or prosthetic brain components for victims of head trauma. Science is quite a magnificent thing.

Humor and Good News The right words at the right time

Business and Finance When is a stock-swap transaction most efficient?

Science and Technology Photos don't really show a frozen wave, but they're still beautiful
It's perplexing why people make up stories about fantastic and amazing photographs, when the actual stories are themselves truly engaging and wonderful. Why tell people that a photo shows a wave on Lake Michigan that was flash-frozen by cold temperatures, when that photo actually shows ice in Antarctica that has been subjected to some of the most powerful forces of nature? Isn't the real story more engaging than some fantasy?

Water News Haiti's biggest needs: Water, food, first aid supplies, and shelter

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January 14, 2010

Science and Technology 101-year-old tree warden loses half-century fight to keep a 235-year-old tree alive
Dutch elm disease has killed a tree that's probably stood since before American independence. The incredible longevity of some trees suggests that we need to figure out how some living organisms get to live many times our own normal human life expectancies. Considering that the average person in the Western world spends at least 20 years just getting some basic education about the world, we as a species would benefit from keeping people around gaining wisdom and experience (and then applying that to the world's problems) for far more than the normal 40- or 45-year working life. Norman Borlaug was working right up until his death at age 95, trying to solve problems of world hunger. He should have gotten another 95 years of health and opportunity.

The United States of America Nebraska has a divisible Electoral College vote, but a state senator wants to change that
He wants the state's five electoral votes all go to the same victor. But, realistically, splitting the vote according to Congressional districts and committing the two leftover electoral votes to the statewide winner is a sensible approach. It's certainly a thousand times better than a national popular vote, as some people have proposed. As it is, we have 51 separate Presidential elections (counting DC), which helps contain fraud and ensure that low-population states still get a fair chance to influence the outcome.

Computers and the Internet Natalie Portman knows the value of early training in over-exposure
The actress learned about watching her reputation and level of exposure after getting "weird" letters about a movie role she performed at age 12. Subsequently, she's been careful about how she's seen and how much of herself goes on display. A good lesson for a young celebrity to learn -- but in the age of Facebook and YouTube, it's a lesson that just about everyone ought to learn. It doesn't take a lot for regrettable photos, videos, or just plain comments to find their way to a worldwide audience. Just ask the Star Wars Kid.

Science and Technology Very big and very, very fast
A planet has been discovered well outside our Solar System that is about 15% larger than Jupiter. But it revolves around its star once every .79 Earth days. The kinds of bizarre gravitational and centrifugal forces at play under those circumstances have to be pretty mind-blowing.

Computers and the Internet Google does well to stand up to China, but what about other rights-infringing nations?

Broadcasting Podcast: Observations on the late-night TV reshuffle at NBC

Broadcasting Podcast: Christmas gifts with comedian Willie Farrell

Water News The great snowmelt of 2010

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January 15, 2010

Threats and Hazards Pat Robertson has nothing left to offer any useful discourse
His tacit blame of the Haitian people for the tragic loss of life following the recent earthquake is beyond inexcusable. His twisted, stupid declaration that the people of Haiti brought the quake upon themselves by making a "pact to the devil" in order to obtain freedom many generations ago is ignorant and disgusting. The Red Cross reports that 50,000 people may have died, and poverty is undoubtedly to blame, as it always is when natural disasters cause mass casualties. Earthquakes kill lots of people when they strike poor places, and they kill comparatively few when they strike rich places. That much is not in dispute. But to claim that some "pact [with] the devil" is to blame is itself an act of evil.

The United States of America 52-story skyscraper in downtown Dallas is going to close
How a skyscraper can be "shut down" is a pretty baffling question. It's still going to sit there, and like any building, any extended period of inactivity is going to cause its mechanical systems to go into serious disrepair.

Computers and the Internet Chinese government tries to play cool in the face of Google's plans to change policies

Water News Nebraska groundwater levels on the rise

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January 17, 2010

Broadcasting Partial transcript from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 17, 2010

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January 18, 2010

Health Different forms of leukemia can be distinguished by genetic codes
This new discovery means that doctors could be able to skip straight to the most effective types of treatments for individual patients' cancers

News Satan's response to Pat Robertson

Science and Technology How much of the future will we see through "augmented" eyes?
Services for mobile phones that offer data overlays for conventional views of the world are already here. How long before those layers are projected on the world via eyeglasses and contact lenses?

Humor and Good News Swedish newspaper: "Weight Watchers clinic floor collapses under dieters"

Computers and the Internet Google's investigating whether the China attacks were an inside job

Business and Finance A brief period of bond dominance over stocks has just ended
It's a peculiar event to find that one would have done better to invest in bonds than in stocks -- so rare that it's only happened twice before in the last 80 years

The United States of America President Obama's favorite crutch phrase: "Let me be clear"

Health Today is self-exam day
Take a minute or two and conduct some basic self-screenings for cancer. Early detection saves lives. There's lots of misinformation about cancer that finds its way around the Internet, largely because we've been trained to wait expectantly for some sort of magic-bullet solution to cancer. But cancer risks can be significantly reduced through a balanced diet, exercise, and early detection and treatment. Meanwhile, science is making great progress towards improving genetic detection, which holds great promise for some types of cancer. Instead of forwarding hoax-ridden e-mails about "cancer cures" and false threats, people should instead remind their friends and family to assess their health once a month.

Broadcasting Podcast: Oh, Facebook, why do you shoot yourself in the foot?

Water News Midwestern EPA region gets a new administrator

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January 19, 2010

Weather and Disasters US helicopters land on front lawn of Haitian presidential palace
What appears to be a complete failure of the Haitian government as a result of the earthquake could really find no better metaphor. As people rush to donate money to the relief effort, it seems logical to place those donations with Catholic Relief Services, which already has at least some existing infrastructure for aid distribution in the country. The process in Haiti will migrate from the immediate need to extract people from the rubble into the short-term need to get them medical aid, water, and food, to the medium-term need to get the country's economy restarted. In the long term, we should not be surprised if Haiti or other Caribbean islands consider applying to become part of the United States. There's no question that the relief effort in Haiti would have been conducted much differently had the same disaster occurred in Puerto Rico. Related: Even the Congo is sending relief money to Haiti.

Computers and the Internet Vintage ads from Apple Computer
The fonts and styles are dated. But the really eye-popping part is to look at the technical specifications: 64 kilobytes of RAM? Cassette tapes for memory? Monochrome displays? 300-baud modems? Oh, yes, kids: We lived like that.

News Yushchenko loses Ukranian presidential race
Now, a run-off between another "Orange Revolution" leader and the guy who was originally backed by Russia to win five years ago

Humor and Good News The 1985 Bears are out to reprise the "Super Bowl Shuffle"

Water News Spencer gets $146,000 to help with sewer separation

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January 20, 2010

Water News Iowa's ponds and lakes just aren't getting enough oxygen


January 21, 2010

Broadcasting Air America is shutting down
The company just couldn't make a profit. Times are obviously tough all over the broadcast landscape, with NBC paying Conan O'Brien $32.5 million to buy out the rest of his guaranteed contract to host the "Tonight Show". Now, Conan needs to hire the writers from "Arrested Development" and produce some great television. Conan clearly knows how to take advantage of a stunt, like pretending to blow $1.5 million on a sketch.

Socialism Doesn't Work Don't kid yourself: Big government power inevitably leads to big abuses
Chinese civilians -- tens of thousands of them -- are being ordered to retrieve the debris of a rocket that crashed and left behind deadly chemicals. That's what a government can do when the state is the sovereign, not the people. The fight over Internet access in China between the government there and Google will undoubtedly continue to reveal just how much an over-powerful government will do to try to repress its subjects.

Science and Technology The orangutan who's best friends with a dog
(Video) People wax philosophical about whether humans are naturally good or naturally bad. It's a ridiculous question. While there's a whole lot of theology that preaches the "fallen" nature of man, which in turn many take to suggest that we're innately evil, the fact is that humans, like other animals, can only survive over the long term by cooperating for mutual benefit. We make mistakes, and sometimes we can benefit in the short term by following "evil" ways. But eventually, the species needs cooperation and reciprocity (things we deem as "good") in order to survive. That's why cheaters get kicked out of sports, corrupt politicians get sent to prison, and nations band together to defeat fascism. Seeing how a primate and a dog can play together isn't itself proof that animals are innately good, but it certainly ought to give pause to those who are quick to condemn all living beings as being evil. Unfortunately, the belief that we're all evil causes some people to adopt all-or-nothing political attitudes and counterclaim legitimate legal concerns about religious freedom with untenable claims of personal offense when others try to exercise those religious liberties.

The United States of America Fergie Jenkins says that Mark McGwire should apologize to the pitchers of his era
Jenkins, a former pitcher himself, says that McGwire damaged the careers of pitchers who were playing by the rules by using steroids to improve his performance against them. He has a point.

Humor and Good News What's in a name?
Phyllis Stein might be aware of the pun her name creates when it's turned into the name of an art gallery

Water News Northwest Iowa town recognized for protecting its water

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January 22, 2010

The United States of America Supreme Court strikes down lots of limits on campaign spending
People will talk at eye-watering length about how they want to take the influence of money out of politics. But the reality is that money chases power, and the only way to truly reduce the influence of money over politics is to reduce the power of politics itself. The less government is engaged in doing, the less cause there is for people to try to influence the government. Do the same people who strongly endorse campaign spending limits also cheer for the Yankees, who have a massive payroll -- but one that only accounts for 15% to 30% of their success? The best way to really take the influence of money out of Congressional politics, at least, would be to expand the size of the House of Representatives ten-fold. We currently have 435 Representatives; we should have 4,350. That would take the average number of people represented per House member to 70,000 or so, instead of the current 700,000. In other words, getting elected to the House would take about the same amount of money that it takes to run for city council in a medium-sized city like West Des Moines or Waterloo, Iowa. Increasing the number of House members would reduce the cost to get elected, increase the prospects for new people to become citizen legislators, and reduce the relative influence of each individual Representative -- while simultaneously improving the quality of representation by smashing the current network of gerrymandered districts and cutting the risk to small states that they will lose huge amounts of representation over small changes in population. (To wit: Iowa is going to lose a seat in the House after the next census, dropping from five Representatives to four. That's a 20% cut. With a larger House, the number of Representatives might more reasonably change from 50 to 45. Changes in apportionment would be far less drastic with a larger House.) What's the real objection? That it would be too difficult to find seating for 4,350 people in Washington? Poppycock: The concert hall at Kennedy Center alone seats 2,442. It's not hard to find a few more chairs and a few more offices.

Business and Finance Anything that can't go on forever will eventually stop
That includes spending like drunken sailors and failing to pay the tab

Computers and the Internet How a web design goes from quality to disaster
The evolution of design means that people learn how to do things better as time marches along. That's why artists now know how to portray motion better than painters did in the past, and how we learn to construct bridges that won't fall down. Oddly, though, lots of people who know nothing about design and layout think that being a website user qualifies them to be website designers, as though watching a basketball game qualifies one to coach a basketball game. It's not true. And, unfortunately, that's why there are so many catastrophically ugly websites on the Internet.

Computers and the Internet Mozilla releases Firefox 3.6
They claim it'll work 20% faster than the previous version of the browser

Iowa Caucus season returns to Iowa

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January 23, 2010

Threats and Hazards Iranian police distribute magazine full of pictures of protesters
It's surely intended to strike fear into people who might think of protesting the ruling authorities. Anyone who's ever said, "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide" should take very serious notice. Governments aren't always in the right.

Computers and the Internet Video games could be leading to the return of rickets
Kids who spend too much time planted in front of video screens may not be getting enough natural Vitamin D. It might not help that some broadband Internet providers are rolling out 40 Mbps service. That's a whole lot of capacity for video -- and gaming -- data.

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - January 23, 2010

Computers and the Internet Twitter changes its recommendation strategy for new users
Instead of offering a random sampling of popular accounts to follow, they're clustering popular accounts by category. It's a good move, but it's not enough to ensure that Twitter can remain the most-used microblogging site for long.

Broadcasting "Better Off Ted" just keeps getting funnier
(Video) The latest episode includes some of the funniest wordplay on television in the last year

Aviation News Crashed airplane for sale: Cheap!
What remains of the plane that crashed in the Hudson River is now available for sale

Humor and Good News London Holiday Inn offers bed-warming service...using real live people
Sounds like a delightfully easy job...but a really creepy service. Wouldn't it be a lot cheaper to use electric blankets? Isn't it awkward enough to sleep in a hotel bed knowing how many other people have slept there, too?

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January 24, 2010

Computers and the Internet Why Twitter, Facebook, and Google won't be dominant in the future
Twitter probably has two more years of dominance in microblogging, Facebook five more years in social networking, and Google ten more years in search. But they should count on their dominance coming to an end in each of their respective fields.

Broadcasting Full transcript from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 24, 2010

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January 25, 2010

Business and Finance The best economics-related rap ever
(Video) Calling it the "best" may not mean much, considering it's probably the only one ever recorded. (The "Glenn Hubbard for Fed chair" song was a Police parody.) But if a person will only ever spend 8 minutes learning economics, then these might be the eight minutes to spend. It's an unusually creative summary of the century-long battle between those who think government should stimulate the economy when it slows down and those who think the hangover is much worse than the party is ever good. We're already seeing that the stimulus package implemented by the US government is creating a hangover of its own, with sales of existing homes declining sharply as the first round of homebuyers' tax credits expired. Since people didn't know whether another round would be coming, it looks like they just stopped shopping. Government "stimulus" packages pretty consistently lead to little more than temporary spikes in spending on industries that happen to be in political favor at the time, only to be followed by equivalent (or greater) declines when the stimulus packages go away. Michigan is suffering now from the results of riding a boom (in automaking) for far too long without investing in other sectors, too. Not that the government should have been the industry doing the investing, of course: If the people "investing" public funds into supposed "job creation" and "economic development" were really exceptionally skilled at such investments, they'd be in enormous demand to do so for private investors. Instead of stimulus packages and taxpayer-funded incentives, what an economy really needs is a level playing field in which it's easy for anyone with a better idea to take that idea to market. America as a whole needs to learn the same lesson: We, as Americans, are not going to be able to spending-freeze or tax-hike our way out of the colossal budget trouble we're in. The debt stands today at $12,311,350,000,000, or $39,900 per person. It's not going to be fixed by voluntary contributions to reduce the public debt. No, no. The only way to break America's debt is through radical innovation, leading to vastly greater economic productivity. To that end, our goal as a country should be to remove any obstacle to another Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or Thomas Edison building a new business empire.

Aviation News NASA may be sending astronauts aboard private spacecraft
It wouldn't be a stretch for the agency, which in recent years has transformed itself into one of the most economically-astute pieces of the government puzzle. NASA has been offering inducement prizes for years, a practice which is probably the most efficient way to obtain technology breakthroughs. And the rise of private-sector spaceflight is a wonderful thing for us all. Related: Even here on Earth, there are some stunning images to behold from space, particularly when good cameras meet even better computer programs.

Weather and Disasters Roads are usually closed for good reason
A nasty blizzard rendering most Iowa roads impassable today led to a whole slew of road closures. That doesn't mean people didn't still hit the highways and crash into one another, including one 15-car pileup near Mason City.

Humor and Good News Curious Georgina
(Video) A hidden camera captures a chimpanzee...who figures out the camera is there. It's really just plain fun to see, but it's also enough to get a person's attention: If the chimp had been wearing a mask with only the eyes visible, it would have looked just like one of us discovering the same hidden camera.

Broadcasting Podcast: Why a much bigger Congress would be a much better Congress

Broadcasting Podcast: Why Iowans should go to caucuses even in off-years

Water News Renewable-fuels lobbyists want a bigger ethanol mandate in Iowa

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January 26, 2010

Business and Finance Ford is hiring for its Explorer assembly plant in Chicago
They're planning to hire 1,200 people -- many at a new union wage that is much lower than the old wage. Good news for shareholders and consumers, and good news for the people moving into those jobs. Bad news for the union, since it represents a shift towards lower (but more realistic) compensation.

Iowa Proof this really has been an extra-bothersome winter

Science and Technology Evidence from teeth shows that humans keep evolving

Science and Technology A beautiful photo of the turbulence created by a wind farm

Water News Haiti's urgent need for safe water and working sewers

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January 27, 2010

The United States of America A good court system is the conscience of a great nation
The President's State of the Union address included a shot at the Supreme Court for its recent decision to overturn campaign-finance limits. Though he used the classic dodge "With all due deference", it was clear he wanted to say something that was popular, even if it wasn't right. And that's simply not the "due respect" that separation of powers requires. The court handed down a decision in Citizens United vs. FEC that's right, even if it isn't popular. It can be summarized in a single sentence from the decision: "No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations." And it's right that we should have an independent judiciary that can serve as a conscientious arbiter of important matters, like a national conscience. It's not altogether different from what happened when the Iowa Supreme Court decided in April 2009 that restrictions on civil marriage based solely upon gender violated rights enumerated in the state constitution. These are matters of upholding a social conscience even when the society itself may tend to object. An independent judiciary is a thing worth defending in its own right, even if some politicians try to score cheap populist points by claiming that they can overturn judicial review. The truth is that we should celebrate judicial independence, both when it results in decisions we favor and when it results in those we don't, because it's better to have courts with unpopular justice than mob rule with popular injustice.

Futurism Planning 'til the end of the week isn't enough
A look at some whiskey ads from the 1940s (predicated on a celebration of the "men who plan beyond tomorrow") reveals a few things: First, we seem to have given up too quickly on a sense of style in all things -- even the ordinary things, like grocery stores -- and making some aesthetic improvements commensurate with our technological ones wouldn't hurt. Second, we may not know for certain which of our predictions are going to come true (like cell phones) and which ones won't (like moving sidewalks in major cities), but we do know that the future will probably arrive before we think it will. General Motors executives in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s probably couldn't even conceive of a time when their company would be bankrupt. After all, GM topped the 1955 Fortune 500 list. And the ones from 1960, 1965, and 1970. Yet a lack of strategic foresight brought the once-mightiest company in the world to disaster. Every company should have a 100-year business plan, not because it'll ever be executed flawlessly, but for the same reason that a pilot files a flight plan: To get a sense of where he or she is going, and what trouble might be encountered along the way. A long-term plan, plus some consistent execution of good technique can make a system last.

Computers and the Internet Your browser may be telling websites who you are
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is doing research that seems to suggest that your computer can be uniquely identified just by its browser configuration data -- even if you're blocking cookies. Truly eye-opening stuff.

Business and Finance Australia escaped recession, but how badly does it need China?
Australia's reliance on exports to China could be dangerous in the future, when China's economy has a day of reckoning between its rapid growth and its underinvestment in the social infrastructure necessary to support its pending very-high ratio of retirees to workers

Business and Finance Is on-demand custom production what will light the economy on fire?
The only way for the United States to conquer its mounting national debt and overcome the titanic unfunded liabilities in the Social Security and Medicare systems will be through radical new innovations leading to vastly greater economic productivity. Maybe on-demand production will be just the thing to make that happen.

Humor and Good News Howlin' Mad Murphy: "I...will...be...heard!"
(Video) One of the classic segments from the hilarious "Sealab 2021". Related: Someone might've been a little howlin' mad in their own right when they programmed in some of the movie descriptions at Comcast.

Broadcasting Radio on demand: How should Google respond to Chinese espionage?

Broadcasting Radio on demand: Why you need to establish a digital footprint long before you think you'll need it

Water News Iowa DNR to host meetings over new stream standards

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January 28, 2010

Broadcasting Podcast: Why Mark McGwire owes pitchers an apology

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January 29, 2010

Science and Technology "Thanks, dreamed-up version of me"
Writer AJ Jacobs says he got into trouble with his wife after she awoke from a dream in which he flirted with another woman. For now, it's just a dream. But consider this: We sleep for a third of our lives, and there have long been attempts to make that sleeping time seem more useful to our waking lives -- mainly to figure out if we could learn in our sleep. What's really intriguing is to ask whether we are responsible for what our sleeping minds are doing -- sleepwalking was successfully used as a defense for murder in the 1800s, and similar cases are argued and studied today. But in the not-so-distant future, the same people who are constantly in touch with their friends and family via text messaging and smartphones may upgrade to having their brains connected directly to the Internet. It sounds outlandish, but it's actually quite likely in the next ten to twenty years. Bionic implants for hearing and sight are already making their way into practical use, and it's only a matter of time before people start making the leap to wanting constant access to information via the same kinds of channels. There's really only a slight jump to be made from walking around with a Bluetooth headset constantly attached to one's ear to actually having a device of a similar sort literally attached to one's body. And it would only take a slight nudge from the right people to make such an implant seem socially acceptable; all Steve Jobs has to say is "i-anything", and legions of Apple die-hards race to the stores. So when this all comes about, we'll have to wrestle with a very serious question about whether we're responsible for what we do in our dreams. What happens when someone who's a perfectly law-abiding, tax-paying citizen by day ends up surfing the Internet in his or her sleep? And what if that sleep-browsing takes her to an Al Qaeda message board? Or takes him to a site serving illegal pornography? Are we responsible for what our brains are doing when we're not conscious of it?

Business and Finance Business Week offers really bad business advice
An article by Bruce Nussbaum entitled "Ten worst innovation mistakes in a recession" has some reasonable advice about what a company should do during a recession (like sticking with good talent), but it also says it's a bad idea to "reduce risk" during a recession. To the contrary: A good business is built on taking only well-calculated risks with a high probability of success. Doing that consistently over time is, in fact, a very safe and non-risky approach. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that entrepreneurs are risk-takers. The truth is that good entrepreneurs are generally very risk-averse. They find work they can do with a high degree of competence, where they have a safe margin of competitive advantage over the other companies in the market, and then invest heavily on that safe bet. The idea of the entrepreneur as some adventure-seeking Richard Branson clone is surprisingly misleading. The truth is that, for many entrepreneurs, their income is safer when it's entirely under their own management than it would be if it came in the form of a paycheck from someone else.

Computers and the Internet Bing Maps adds a layer for live Twitter updates
Very intriguing -- thanks to geotagging, one can browse anywhere on the Bing maps of the planet and see the latest Twitter updates from that location. Recreational fun for now; potentially useful in case of major events from a specific location. On a related note though, there is far too much energy being devoted to navel-gazing about the "rules" and "etiquette" of social networking. Lots of people have the hubris to declare themselves "social-networking experts", and they ought to shut up and find something more productive to do with their time.

Science and Technology Forget the Moon shot
The President's proposed budget for 2011 cuts NASA's mission for a return to the Moon. Whether other countries will also cancel their plans for lunar exploration remains to be seen -- China wants to put a rover there by 2020, and the EU wants to do a manned mission by 2025. We should not be surprised in the least if the Google Lunar X-Prize is successful before any government trip to visit the Moon again, nor should we be surprised if a private mission to the Moon follows. On a related note, the poor little Mars Rover probably won't be moving anywhere anymore, having been stuck since April. But if NASA can get it pointed in just the right direction, its solar panels could continue to churn out enough energy to produce interesting data from a stationary point.

Business and Finance Bureau of Economic Analysis claims a 5.7% increase in US GDP last quarter
If true, that's an exceptional rate of growth. Of course, we need that kind of growth rate more than ever in order to overcome the enormous unfunded obligations in our nation's old-age pension and health programs.

Science and Technology Chimps as filmmakers
(Video) The phrase "A thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters" comes to mind

Science and Technology Nuclear fusion is "going to happen this year"
A project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory just produced evidence that nuclear fusion could be initiated much more easily than previously thought, and along the way towards that effort, they managed to concentrate 20 times more energy than had ever been produced by a laser before. They actually offer a pretty useful video on their homepage describing how the system works.

Water News Should the people pay for sales taxes on projects mandated by the Federal government?

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