Gongol.com Archives: March 2010
Brian Gongol

March 6, 2010

Computers and the Internet There is no such thing as a reasonable expectation of obscurity anymore
If you have even the tiniest footprint on the Internet anymore, it's quite possible you could become a celebrity in an instant. Conan O'Brien, whose Twitter account has half a million followers, just declared that he's going to "follow" one random individual. Since the time of the announcement, that random individual has gone from having three followers to having just shy of 11,000. 24 hours ago, she was just another "obscure" person on the Internet. It once held that only politicians and celebrities had to behave as though everything they said and did could appear on the front page of the local newspaper. Today, everyone needs to hold themselves to the same standard. You can go from obscure to celebrity status in a matter of hours, without having done anything to merit the attention. Some people still earn their celebrity, too, but just as unpredictably: Nobody had really ever heard of Chesley Sullenberger before he landed a powerless plane in the Hudson River last January. Since then, he's written a book, had a drink named after him, and been discussed as a potential candidate for public office. What can happen to Sullenberger can happen to anyone -- even without having done anything meritorious.

Weather and Disasters Chilean government fires head of its oceanographic service for failing to predict tsunami
The service is a branch of the country's navy, and the firing is supposedly due to its failure to issue a clear degree of information about the tsunami that followed the massive earthquake a week ago. What's interesting about the firing is that we've lately discovered just how difficult it is to predict tsunamis. The Christmas tsunami of 2004 took the world almost completely by surprise, and ever since, it seems like every earthquake is immediately followed by tsunami warnings and breathless "breaking news" reports in anticipation of a recurrence of 2004. But one hasn't happened since. Effectively predicting tsunamis is going to require a lot more knowledge than we currently have about the oceans, and a lot more computing power than we've bothered to devote to the task until now.

News No child gets a zero
The Omaha Public Schools are testing a policy that says no student can get less than 50% on an assignment, even if they never turn it in. And they can't get less than 65% if they do turn it in, no matter how badly they complete the task. Is this a good idea? The proponents say it'll keep kids from giving up if they start to fall behind. But consider two inversions on the proposal: First, rather than automatically applying 50% to everyone, would it instead make sense to take 50 percentage points away from everyone who did turn in their assignment, then grading on a curve? How is the net result any different? Or, try this inversion: What if the old standards remained, and not turning in an assignment still resulted in a 0% grade, but the letter grades were reassigned, so that 40% was enough for an "A", 30% for a "B", and 20% for a "C". Again, how would the net result be any different?

Business and Finance One mutual-fund company lost $58.4 billion in the last decade
And yet, they still took a huge cut in management fees. The shareholders they were "serving" should be apoplectic with rage. Money managers, taken as a group, take far too much money from the customers they "serve".

Humor and Good News Canadian national anthem to remain just a little bit sexist
But the alternative version that had been floated would have been almost impossible to sing correctly. Then again, that's just commentary from down here in America, Canada's pants.