Gongol.com Archives: May 2010
Brian Gongol


May 2010
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May 1, 2010

Business and Finance Wall Street Journal's coverage of the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting
Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger said a lot of things at the meeting that sound like "plain common sense", as we are so fond of saying. They talked about thinking about the long term, having faith in human ingenuity and the power of capitalism to unleash that ingenuity, and the virtues of learning every day. Yet it's not especially common to find people who live up to those "common sense" standards because we're bombarded with promises of easy money, effortless profits, and overnight success. It's really quite amazing how much reinforcement we humans seem to need on a regular basis: Talk radio reinforces opinions, preachers reinforce moral ideas, and television shows reinforce ideas about family and relationships. Oprah Winfrey has made a fortune by delivering a sort of comforting reinforcement to her viewers, and Benjamin Franklin essentially did the same thing 250 years ago with Poor Richard's Almanack. To have complete confidence in one's own ideas seems to be quite the rare thing -- and perhaps that's a good thing. As much as it's useful for a handful of people to be cheerful contrarians, we have to forever be on watch against sociopaths, who also don't really care what other people do or think, but do so with malice.

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May 2, 2010

Computers and the Internet Facebook's 2010 privacy policy looks nothing like its 2005 policy
The dramatic differences between them illustrate the service's rapid evolution over the last half-decade. Its continued evolution (and the growth of Facebook regrets) will ensure that Facebook won't be the premier social network of 2015.

Business and Finance United and Continental announce merger plans
The press release uses words like "synergies" and declares that in this "merger of equals", the United name will be matched with the Continental logo (Really? Blowing up the better logo of the two?), which suggests that it's probably going to destroy more shareholder value than it creates. It's hard to think of a single merger in which anyone actually experienced "synergy."

Humor and Good News "Top Gear" builds a homemade electric car
(Video) The best line of the whole video comes when Jeremy Clarkson says, "See the happy hippies" at a college campus through which they drive their abominable vehicle.

Broadcasting A history of WOW-AM
It's fascinating to compare the pomp and circumstance that surrounded radio stations in their early years with the utterly throwaway nature of websites today.

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May 3, 2010

Business and Finance How will teachers be trained to be effective financial-literacy educators?
It should be glaringly obvious that Americans need a dose of financial literacy, and if primary and secondary schools are going to be the places where they'll get it, then someone needs to teach the teachers. We're living in a complicated world, where some people think a massive financial crash could soon happen in China, and where others are credited with avoiding a banking panic in the US. There's no getting around the huge impact that money has on our lives, and the problem of economic ignorance is massively costly, both on an individual basis and on the entire economy.

News Guerrilla gardening
A company is selling vending machines with "seed bombs" -- mixtures of clay, compost, and seeds -- that it hopes people will buy and throw into vacant lands. On one hand, it's a great idea -- lots of vacant spaces in urban areas become overgrown with weeds and serve not just as eyesores, but as sources of weed contamination for nicer green spaces nearby. But on the other hand, it's hard not to see this causing some kind of scare at some point or another: The seed bombs look a little like plastic explosives, and it was just two years ago that cartoon characters from "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" put Boston police into a panic. Roll in this weekend's bombing attempt in Times Square, and there are plenty of reasons to expect trouble at some point when a police officer sees someone throwing a seed bomb and suspects something more troublesome afoot. On a related note, though, it's a pleasure to see people dedicating old cigarette vending machines to loftier uses.

Science and Technology Stephen Hawking's visions of life in the universe beyond Earth
(Video)

Business and Finance Chevrolet Suburban turns 75
Quite remarkable that the model has been evolving -- but intact -- for three quarters of a century, or more than half of the time automobiles of any sory have been on the planet. The airline industry, which hasn't been around quite as long as the automobile, has gone through a great deal more convulsions than this one vehicle model.

The United States of America If the budget hasn't depressed you already...
(Video) ...see it in stacks of pennies

Humor and Good News Reenacting those lesser-known incidents in history

Water News Serious flooding in Tennessee

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May 4, 2010

Computers and the Internet Internet Explorer's market share: 60% now, down from 95% in 2003
Firefox and Chrome have both offered strong competition. This is a good trend for computer users overall; a more heterogeneous browser environment forces website designers to use common standards instead of designing sites that are "optimized for" a particular browser. That will make them more useful over the long term, as well as helping to ensure access to people using mobile browsers. Cooperate on standards; compete on content.

Business and Finance "Why Amish businesses don't fail"
It's hard to believe that Amish-run businesses are especially unique, but there are a certain consistent characteristics of businesses that endure: Keeping debt loads small, focus on a target market and specialty niches, and planning for the very long term.

Computers and the Internet Tools for exploring the "Invisible Web"
Not every site is accessible from Google, so other tools are necessary for finding information buried inside databases and other hidden sources

Computers and the Internet New online bookstore from Google

Iowa Interactive maps of Iowa
Including some aerial shots from the 1930s

Water News Nashville flooding takes out water plant

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May 5, 2010

Humor and Good News "Supreme Court upholds freedom of speech in obscenity-filled ruling
Hilarious article from The Onion that somehow delivers both a whole lot of dirty language and a robust defense of free speech all at the same time

News What the British are about to vote on
The manifestoes of the major political parties; they tend to be more coherent than America's patchwork (and mostly pointless) party platforms

Water News UNICEF says water needs are being forgotten

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May 6, 2010

News Newsweek goes on sale
Not the cover price -- the whole magazine. The Washington Post, its parent company, is cutting the cord. The magazine has been around since 1933, but it'll probably need to undergo some serious changes to make it until 2033.

Computers and the Internet First non-Latin website addresses go live
New country codes for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates mean that even some top-level domains will be written without Latin characters

Computers and the Internet "Facebook has become more scary than fun"
Privacy problems, including a temporary security hole that emerged this week, are going to be the death of the site

Humor and Good News The Little Drummer Boy
(Video) A little kid plays along with Joan Jett's "I Hate Myself for Loving You" with a pretty good degree of rhythm

Water News Upcoming dam safety meeting in Iowa

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May 7, 2010

The United States of America "Do we really want to live in a country where when someone busts into your house at night you're supposed to assume they might be cops?"

Science and Technology How social status affects our brains

Water News The unpredictable ethanol market looks like it's swinging back up again

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May 9, 2010

Threats and Hazards Is today's biggest threat cyberterrorism?
There's no doubt that the United States has become massively dependent upon the Internet in order to keep the economy functioning -- not to mention lots of critical infrastructure. Are we well-defended against attack? It certainly doesn't seem so.

Business and Finance Europe gets one colossal new bailout package

News Chicago gets new CTA trains
Passengers face one another more often than in old-style train cars. And because things are done differently in the Midwest than in other parts of the United States, people behave differently in those cars where they're forced to face one another.

News India cannot have sustainable growth until it gets reliable electricity

Health College students create a $30 portable centrifuge
Human ingenuity remains a remarkable force of nature

Business and Finance If you're an American taxpayer, you own the Red Roof Inn
(Video) Representative Alan Grayson is an interesting fellow: He's rightly outraged by the way that investment banks passed off some lousy assets to taxpayers. He goes a bit off the rails, though, when he insists that the Congress audit the Federal Reserve. The Fed needs to be strictly independent of political influence, and an "audit" certainly sounds like cover for a grab for control. And to be perfectly reasonable, Congress, which has gotten America into a downward spiral of potentially-catastrophic structural debt, needs to be kept as far away as possible from control over the currency.

Science and Technology Scientists want a little more respect
Group letter to Science magazine says they're tired of being accused of malfeasance in the climate-change discussion

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May 10, 2010

Business and Finance The EconDirectory: Updated for May 2010
It's a bit overdue, but behold! Hundreds of websites dedicated to economics and business, at just the kind of time when interest in such things is rightfully at a high point.

Computers and the Internet Wikipedia founder gets into dispute over who can delete what from the site
Jimmy Wales deleted some disputed content without obtaining other users' consent. The content was apparently sexual in nature, but wasn't photographic, and the distinction apparently got some users defensive. The dispute speaks to two concurrent (and overlapping) problems: First, it's getting almost impossible to establish "democratic" rules of behavior online, especially when people have strong opinions that conflict with the rule of law. Second, we're already drifting into territory where it's impossible to tell what images are photographs and which are just photorealistic. When certain types of images are deemed to be illegal, are they illegal because they record illegal acts, or are the depictions themselves against the law by their very nature? Digital photorealism and even hyperrealism means it's possible to, for instance, create pornographic images without having any actual human subjects involved in the process. But who is to say, for instance, whether a depiction of a completely digital creation represents a 17-year-old or an 18-year old? If there were actual photographs in question, one might be illegal and the other not.

Weather and Disasters Iceland could have another major volcanic eruption soon

The American Way Micro-payments bring insurance to farmers in poor countries
We probably don't think about it much in wealthy countries, but crop insurance makes a huge difference to farmers' ability to smooth out their income across good and bad weather years, which makes a gigantic difference to their ability to make long-term plans

Computers and the Internet Bug in Twitter forced people to "follow" others
There's just too much time and energy being devoted to "social media". Twitter and other services can serve a useful purpose, but not if we're putting all our brains into transitory stuff that won't make any real difference to the world in 10 years.

Broadcasting The Betty White sketches from "Saturday Night Live"
Including some that went unaired

Weather and Disasters A very bad day to live around Tulsa
The National Weather Service says that in the Enid/Tulsa/Wichita region today, there's at least a 30% chance that a big tornado will drop within 25 miles of any given point, a similar probability of 50 mph wind gusts, and a 45% chance of penny-sized hail within the same proximity. Plus, there's a good chance of hail that's 2" in diameter. Yow.

Water News Farmers: Don't ignore the EPA

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May 11, 2010

Business and Finance Notes from the 2010 Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders' meeting
Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger share a great deal of valuable common-sense but contrarian advice at their annual Q&A session. Recommended reading, even for those who aren't Berkshire shareholders, or even knowledgeable investors.

Business and Finance Why it's more likely the US government will default on debt than inflate the way out of it
Given that a major share (by some metrics, a majority) of Federal debt is held outside the United States, the political pressure against inflation may be greater than the pressure against default. This fact makes it possible -- perhaps even likely -- that we could lose our AAA debt rating, which in turn will force us to pay higher interest rates on our debt, which in turn causes the debt to grow faster than before, which in turn makes it even more likely that default could occur.

Weather and Disasters Tom Skilling sees tornadogenesis up-close
Skilling is the well-known meteorologist at WGN-TV in Chicago; outside the Weather Channel, his is probably the most significant television weather forecast in the country, since the weather in the Midwest is the most variable (and economically significant) in the country

News Big Ten Conference invites Big 12 schools to make the switch

Water News How much of a chemical is safe in your drinking water?
The EPA is struggling with an internal dispute over the matter

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May 12, 2010

Computers and the Internet Bill Gates puts his personal money where Microsoft and Google should
He's invested $10 million in a company that pursued "computer-aided drug design." Google and Microsoft (and, to some extent, Yahoo and other companies) are battling a war of attrition over services like Internet search and webmail access, when they really ought to be devoting their massive computing firepower to the pursuit of novel business opportunities where complex computations could be generating huge new opportunities. Lots of fields -- energy, medicine, and agriculture, for instance -- could use the complex problem-solving potential embedded within the big Internet and computer companies. Whichever firm decides first to pursue novel lines of business (instead of battling out the same old turf wars for browser market share) will have the healthier future. Google's complex relationship (and emerging legal troubles) with privacy suggest that the company is approaching the limit of what it's going to be able to offer for online services without significant changes in social norms. With apologies to Sheryl Crow, a change could do them some very profitable good. Related: An interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett right around the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting.

Computers and the Internet Eight websites nobody needs to build anymore
The Internet is being littered with sites nobody needs -- especially new social-networking sites. We've networked enough; we really just need more and better tools to get on with the business of getting things done automatically, so we can concentrate on putting our brains to work generating new ideas. Let's solve a few real problems before trying to build the "next" Facebook.

The United States of America Anti-immigrant rhetoric is probably hurting job prospects for black Americans
By distracting people from meritable improvements that could be made to things like education and the reduction of bureaucracy, people who are trying to convince black Americans and others that their jobs are being "taken" by illegal immigrants are probably just perpetuating problems like unemployment and poverty.

News A day with Bill Clinton: Now a raffle prize
Clinton is one of the smartest people alive in America today; it's too bad he does things like this which make him seem oddly out of touch with reality, and more than just a little bit tacky. Then again, there's a lot of tackiness circulating in the world of politics today, like a campaign commercial suggesting that a candidate is an idiot for endorsing the concept of evolution by natural selection. Evolution as an explanation for how we got here makes a considerable degree more sense than any of the other explanations that have been floated.

Humor and Good News Signs that don't always make sense
The best is #26 in the series, which advises no fishing in a toilet

Science Could whiter clouds reflect more sunlight than regular clouds?
And, in turn, would that reduce global warming? It's a big idea, and potentially a massive experiment to be undertaken.

Broadcasting Podcast: Do tax incentives really do any good for economic growth?

Water News Major water award goes to University of Iowa researcher

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May 13, 2010

Business and Finance Vending machines for gold
They're being installed from Germany to Abu Dhabi. To even begin to comment on the ridiculousness of a machine like this would take forever. As a novelty, perhaps gold has some utility. But gold is a terrible investment. If someone were selling boxes of staplers as a "hedge against inflation", most reasonable people would laugh them off. After all, a stapler is just a piece of metal that sits around most of the time, doing nothing. Yet that's all gold is, too. Gold has very limited intrinsic usefulness -- people get porcelain fillings in their teeth, and we don't need it that much for anything industrial. It's pretty, but so is crystal. And as an inflation hedge, it's quite silly: Most people don't have enough money to make saving 10% of it in the form of gold to leave them with much of anything (if you only have $50,000 to your name, what use would $5,000 in gold be after some kind of apocalypse?). And anyone for whom 10% of their wealth can be stored away in something that just sits around doing nothing already has very little to worry about. People shouldn't be scared by gold merchants into buying a relatively useless metal because of their fears of inflation. If you're really worried about the value of your money, it's best to get that money into productive assets -- like shares in companies that can raise their prices along with inflation. And if it's the end-of-the-world, collapse-of-all-economies scenario that one is worried about, a few hundred dollars invested in taking some trade classes at a community college would go a whole lot farther towards ensuring one could survive some nightmarish economic depression (or worse) than a big pile of gold coins. No sensible person in a nightmarish collapse-of-civilization scenario would accept gold as a medium of exchange: Who knows how to tell the difference between real gold and fool's gold? But if the economy really were to collapse, people would turn to trade and barter. Useful skills and productive assets make vastly more sense than speculation in odd metals.

The United States of America Policy on avoiding civilian deaths in Afghanistan is a big departure from historical precedent
The US military policy in Afghanistan today emphasizes using firepower under much more limited circumstances than in the past; the idea is to limit civilian casualties and thus win over the support of local non-combatants. It marks a pretty dramatic departure from the mentality of the Vietnam War-era marching song "Napalm Sticks to Kids". Whether it will actually lead to a better outcome for US forces and for the world at large remains to be seen.

The American Way Why ingenuity will ensure we have a better future
...even if a lot more people are sharing the world's resources

Health Chemical solution can keep organs alive for 10 days outside the body
Outstanding news: It extends the viability of harvested organs from hours to days, making more and better transplant options possible. Now we just need to find better ways of producing synthetic or bio-engineered organs so that we don't have to wait for donors

Humor and Good News Wedding photos that will make you question the future of civilization
If these are the people getting married and having children, then we might be doomed

Broadcasting Radio on-demand: Who's being overpaid in the world today?

Water News Flash flooding out east

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May 14, 2010

Business and Finance "[T]he diversion of our best talent going into some money-grubbing exercise"
Notes from Charlie Munger's discussion at the Wesco Financial meeting

Science and Technology Extremely clever stop-motion video of the Icelandic volcano

Business and Finance Subway wants trademark on the "footlong" sandwich
Surely theirs can't be the first nor a novel use of the word "footlong" for a sandwich

News Can New Orleans use statistics to make the city better?
Improvement in most areas usually requires measurement

Water News Will the Xenia Rural Water District sell out to the Des Moines Water Works?

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May 15, 2010

Health $20 personal genetic test coming to Walgreens
It's supposed to cover a range of subjects, like one's "carrier" status for certain inherited diseases. While this test is likely to be mostly superficial and a bit error-prone, it's a proof of concept that illustrates how quickly we're progressing towards having lots of useful information about ourselves available for doctors to use when personalizing our medical care. That could be very good for efficiency -- but if it's used to obstruct people's access to care, it's going to cause trouble. The law needs to take action post-haste to ensure that people will still be able to obtain services like insurance coverage once it's known that they are likely to suffer future genetic-related maladies.

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May 16, 2010

News A day with Bill (Clinton) to pay off Hillary's bills

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May 17, 2010

Computers and the Internet National Internet use remains almost directly proportional to income

Humor and Good News "Ghostbusters" comes to a New York City public library

Science and Technology Have a dark beer
It might be good for you

Business and Finance Still trying to figure out what made the stock market skittish two weeks ago

Broadcasting The "Gibbs rules" from NCIS

News Young workers aren't all that idealistic
They just want to get paid well to have a lot of free time. At least, that's the result of a recent generational study.

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May 18, 2010

Iowa The trouble with unmarked police vehicles
The Iowa State Trooper driving the governor on Sunday afternoon used his unmarked SUV to pull over another driver who says he thought he was being followed by a crazy person. The rise of the unmarked police car is pretty disturbing, philosophically and practically. Just as one has the right to face one's accuser in court, one should also have the right to see police and law-enforcement officials in clear sight. The idea that one is just as likely to encounter an unmarked police vehicle as a marked one is bothersome, since it leads to the conclusion that police officers are lying in wait, ready to surprise the unsuspecting driver anywhere. And they present a very real security risk: Imposters have mimicked unmarked police vehicles and used that element of surprise to attack unwitting victims. That creates a specific hazard to law-abiding motorists. It's just downright weird in this Iowa case, since the vehicle was an executive escort for a state official. There's no problem with using unmarked vehicles for executive protection details, but to turn one of those vehicles into a pursuit car seems like really bad judgment at best, or a strange abuse of privilege at worst.

Health Do yourself a favor: Take two minutes for a self-exam today
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.

Water News A chemical plume migrating a mile every ten years knocks out private Nebraska water wells

WHO Radio Wise Guys on Facebook


May 19, 2010

Business and Finance More than 20,000 people work for Google
The company reported a large rise in revenues compared to a year ago. Since Google's profits are pretty closely tied to overall advertising spending, it's probably a good sign for the economy as a whole.

Computers and the Internet Top five social media scams
We'll look back on this list in 2020 and laugh at our lack of sophistication

Humor and Good News Bacon Vodka
Because if there's one thing that makes everything else better, it's bacon

Water News Iowa farmers got an early planting start -- and they might need it

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May 21, 2010

Science and Technology Made-from-scratch genome powers a new bacterium
It's being called the first synthetic life form -- but it is life. Sometimes, it seems like even the most wide-eyed optimist about the future of science is still a decade behind the curve.

Business and Finance How long will we have to wait before politicians stop talking about jobs and start talking about wealth?
Nobody should be bothered if we become a nation of leisure, with all the hard work being done by robots. We might not have "jobs" in that sense, but we could still be far better off than we are today.

Computers and the Internet News Corp says the British Library and Google are picking a fight
There's a plan to digitize huge amounts of old newspaper content and put it online -- which on one hand is a great announcement for the spread of knowledge, but also probably a huge problem for copyright law. Which is broken anyway. Either way, the project is supposed to take ten years, so it's not going to be an overnight phenomenon, and the plan is to charge for online access. Meanwhile, Google is in trouble for collecting data from private Wi-Fi networks while sending its Street View cameras out on the roads. Oops.

Broadcasting The greatest use of Steadicam ever
Steadicam is the technology that keeps a moving camera from getting jumpy. And it's used to stunning brilliance in a Eurovision contest. Even if nobody in America wants to know what Eurovision is, they should see this brilliant camera work.

Humor and Good News "I think part of a best friend's job should be to immediately clear your computer history if you die"
And other observations for the modern world

Computers and the Internet That "chomp-chomp-chomp" sound you hear is America's 2nd-quarter productivity going down the drain as we all play Pac-Man on Google today

Computers and the Internet Players are abandoning "Farmville" on Facebook at a stunning rate

Humor and Good News Darth Vader and the coolest baby-shower cake in history

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May 22, 2010

Computers and the Internet Confiscation of teenager's explicit self-photos just exposed her even more
A girl whose cell phone (with nude photos of herself) was illegally confiscated by a school principal says that the confiscation and subsequent investigation was like allowing the authorities involved to spy in her bedroom window. And she has a point. She needed to use better judgment about what kinds of photos to take; the authorities probably need not to escalate these situations.

Science and Technology Forget trying to multi-task; you can't

Humor and Good News Government officials try to tell beavers to stop building a dam

Broadcasting A history of WBTV Charlotte
One of the oldest television stations in the South

Broadcasting A history of the Blaw-Knox radio tower
An unusual diamond-shaped radio tower from a time when style weighed heavily on industrial design

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May 23, 2010

News A life without multitasking
Writer AJ Jacobs conducts a lot of personal experiments to see what might happen if he changes his environment. One such experiment involved taking up a solitary task at a time, eliminating all multi-tasking. Why? Because it turns out we're pretty lousy at maintaining any useful focus on anything more than a single task at a time anyway. Jacobs makes it a funny experiment anyway.

Computers and the Internet The future belongs to those with good judgment
As cadets graduate from the American military academies, it's worth considering whether they face trouble if they aren't allowed to encounter certain tools while they're in the academy experience -- a relevant question, considering the military's repeated flirtations with bans on tools like Facebook. We don't want leaders who are disengaged. A cadet at a military academy needs to know how to judge and when to walk away from Facebook, not to be oblivious to its existence.

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May 24, 2010

Threats and Hazards It's not the atomic doomsday clock that should worry us
Paul Volcker (who's earned the right to say things like this) says we're running out of time to get the US fiscal situation under control. "The time we have is growing short," says the man who tamed inflation in the Reagan era.

Weather and Disasters Even tornado-chasers have to drive safely

Aviation News Poor little Mars Phoenix lander
It's frozen solid on the surface of the Red Planet.

Humor and Good News One elaborate visual gag
We've entered an age in which complex gags are much easier to spread around the world than ever before. The Internet makes it possible for someone to lampoon BP and its response to the Gulf oil spill, at zero cost, to a global audience. And the spoof Twitter account has several times as many followers as the real BP public-relations account. That wasn't possible in 1776, or even 1976. Then again, perhaps the preponderance of eye-popping videos and brilliant-but-savage mockery everywhere are numbing us to just how astonishing some things really are. Like a woman giving birth while driving.

Aviation News MSP feels like a completely different place now that Delta has swallowed Northwest Airlines
When a company like Northwest, which defined the Minneapolis airport for years, is absorbed by another company and loses its identity, it's hard not to get a little strangely nostalgic. Unlike our ancestors, we spend a lot of time with companies and brands, so they help to form our consciousness. Thus, when they go away, it's a loss that has at least a little in common with the death of an acquaintance.

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May 25, 2010

The American Way What to do about energy markets
The Economist published a piece recently which called for a carbon tax to help combat future hazards from oil drilling, which is undoubtedly more reasonable than insisting on drilling moratoria. But a tax is just a deterrent. What we really need are inducements to create the new technologies that will change both the production and consumption of energy. Innovation prizes brought about the safe canning of food, transatlantic flight, and (in the recent Ansari X-Prize) privately-funded space travel. Surely a handful of giant prizes (on the order of $1 billion each) would be enough to tease a few innovations out of otherwise idle minds. Perhaps some of Sarah Palin's book royalties could help start an endowment.

Health Why the South should be especially supportive of stroke research
Georgia and the Carolinas have been found to have 40% higher rates of age-adjusted stroke mortality than the rest of the United States. Blame the fried foods.

Computers and the Internet Google makes Pac Man a permanent feature
One software firm thinks the appearance of the game on Google's home page the other day sucked up 5,000,000 hours of work time. And that's quite easy to believe.

The American Way Report from the Acumen Fund
It's an American charity, but it behaves like a mutual fund: It invests in private-sector technologies and businesses in the developing world in order to help encourage private-sector improvements in quality of life. What's encouraging is that they recognize the lack of smoothness in progress -- big leaps combine with little steps to lead to better living.

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May 26, 2010

Computers and the Internet Apple's market cap exceeds Microsoft's
The New York Times heralds the event as an epic moment in computing and business history. That's overstating the case a bit, though it's interesting to see that Apple and Microsoft are #2 and #3, respectively, in US market capitalization, well ahead of every other American company but ExxonMobil. But Microsoft has $45.7 billion in net equity, and Apple has $31.6 billion. Clearly, Apple's shareholders are a little more optimistic about the future. But should they be?

Science and Technology The pig with the sheep's wool
It happens to be a rare type of pig with long hair. Most people probably don't realize (if their only interaction with hogs has been the pigskin) that all swine have hair, and in fact quite a bit of it.

Threats and Hazards North Korea's government tries to pick a fight with the Republic of Korea

Aviation News Space Shuttle Atlantis ends its final scheduled flight
And still no plan for a successor to the Shuttle program

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May 27, 2010

Weather and Disasters Early forecasts warn of a busy hurricane season
NOAA estimates the pending hurricane season in the Atlantic will include at least 3 hurricanes of category 3 or greater, and up to 23 named storms. NOAA also notes that a hurricane or two might actually help speed the biodegradation of the oil spilling in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Humor and Good News Is this Ozzy Osbourne real or wax?
(Video - beware R-rated language at the start) A funny practical experiment in conditioning. People at a wax museum just assume that the Ozzy figure sitting next to them is made of wax. But it's really Ozzy.

The United States of America Pro-electrification group praises new legislation
Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate are backing a proposal to promote electric vehicles. Obviously, electric-power companies are probably quite enthusiastic supporters of the legislation (and, undoubtedly, campaign contributors to the sponsors). But as a matter of national interest, migrating away from heavy dependence on petroleum, especially for transportation, is probably going to end up being very good for issues like national security -- particularly as China becomes far more interested in competing for the same limited supplies of oil that we share.

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May 28, 2010

Science and Technology Why science needs to be taught as a process, not just isolated facts
When children get the impression that science is a big pile of factoids to be memorized, they don't learn to comprehend the scientific process -- nor do they learn that a lot of science is the result of one question leading to a mistake leading to a correction leading to new questions. Perhaps it's the misunderstanding of science as a pile of facts rather than a process of discovery that causes the anti-science crowd (for instance, hard-core creationists) to think that by picking apart isolated mistakes, they can cause the entire edifice of Science As We Know It to tumble to the ground. But no science is like that -- not evolutionary biology, not computer science, not nuclear physics. Mistakes can be made and errors corrected along the way, but the process moves forward. No science need be 100% firm evidentiary fact in order to move forward or even to be "true" in the sense that it leads us to greater discovery.

Humor and Good News The cleverest use of Twitter yet
Someone registered the name Ferris_Bueller_ and documented the movie ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off") like it was a day in someone's actual life. Hilarious.

Computers and the Internet How long is a digital memory?
Our comprehension of long-term institutional or social memory is pretty bad. Aside from a handful of artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the hieroglyphics inside Egyptian pyramids, we don't have much of an understanding of knowledge that's been kept around for a long time. Thus it's intriguing to see the debate that takes place about whether Google can keep images from its Street View cameras on file, and for how long. European authorities argue that it could be a violation of privacy standards to allow the company to keep those images for more than a few months. From an utterly different standpoint, though, there will undoubtedly be historians living 100 or 200 years from now who will wish that we had digitally archived everything. We will seem, in many ways, as mysterious to people living 1000 years from now as people living during the Dark Ages seem to us now. The fact that we are living through the nascent development of digital recordings makes us a lot like the first people to discover (or create) things like cuneiform, paper, and the printing press. Our obsession with things like bandwidth metering today is going to look just about as silly as a papyrus shortage in a short time from now.

Humor and Good News "Roam" by the B-52s -- the dance version
(Video) Just when you thought a song couldn't get any peppier

Humor and Good News Man crosses English Channel using a chair and a bunch of helium balloons

Broadcasting Really? Television shows about cake? More than one?
Really? That's why we needed the 500-channel universe?

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May 29, 2010

Iowa Never understimate the value of knowledge transfer
When delegates from 29 countries show up in a small town like Grundy Center, Iowa, to learn how they teach physical education, it's a clear sign that we still haven't achieved the age of perfect information. The Internet has done a lot to improve the transfer and exchange of knowledge, but there are still some things that require direct personal experience to be learned.

News How useful is a site like Wikileaks?
Wikileaks, which bills itself as a repository for leaked documents and information as an aid to government transparency and public accountability, has been working through some serious financial problems. Interestingly, it's also engaged in a battle with some publications over whose rules to follow. On one hand, there's no doubt that there are secrets being withheld from public view that need to see the light of day. But on the other, we all have secrets of our own, and somewhere, someone has to draw the line about what's public and what's private. Most people probably don't want anyone "leaking" information about their bedroom habits -- and many businesses have a definitive right to retain proprietary knowledge and information in confidentiality. In an age when Google can start a diplomatic row with China, the importance of Internet communications, privacy, and censorship cannot be overstated.

Humor and Good News "Othello", remade with the help of a sassy gay friend
(Video) Hilarious

Broadcasting Why was radio advertising too complex for Google to handle?

Broadcasting How the BBC reported on D-Day

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May 30, 2010

Business and Finance Proposal to audit stock trades would cost $4 billion at the start
...and $2 billion a year thereafter to operate. What's too bad is that the "flash crash" and the overall market lunacy of the last two or three years has given a lot of people the impression that they need to behave like maniacal traders in order to make money as investors. The truth is that the good advice about investing (which is mainly "Be patient and do little") is crowded out by non-stop shouting about "fast money" and ads for gold.

Business and Finance GM posts its first quarterly profit in almost three years
On one hand, as the citizen-shareholders of the company, Americans should probably be happy about the turn of events. But it's difficult not to still be dismayed at everything that took place to get to this point: A colossal risk taken with taxpayers' money, and one of the most violent acts of destruction against private wealth ever undertaken by a free society. It's still an entirely fair and reasonable question to ask whether such extraordinary measures were called for -- but that kind of reasonable question is vaporized by the political value of a "Mission Accomplished"-style photo opportunity for the complicit politicians who can talk about "saving" a giant company.

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May 31, 2010

Broadcasting The future of advertising...maybe
LG has a rather artful 7-minute short film on the Internet that doubles as an ad for their televisions and other consumer electronics. Interesting stuff. At the very least, it acknowledges that advertising requires an exchange of value between the consumer and the company hoping to get the consumer to take action. If a short film creates adequate value, then it's a wise decision.

Health Video of an infant's cochlear implant activation
(Video) Cochlear implants are a fascinating subject in medicine: They're an amazing technology, but there's also a reasonable debate about whether they're appropriate to surgically implant in a young child whose brain is obviously exposed to risk while the surgery is taking place. We should not be surprised, though, if bionic implants of all sorts -- for hearing, vision, internal organs, and so forth -- become quite routine in the not-so-distant future.

Humor and Good News How to teach CPR
It turns out there's a much sexier approach than messing around with Rescue Annie

News Comedian-led party gets biggest share of seats on Reykjavik city council
It's called the "Best Party" and seems to stand mainly for protest against whomever's already in office, which, given Iceland's economic troubles lately, is probably all anyone needs to stand for to get elected

Broadcasting Notes from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 30, 2010
Running out of time to control the debt...leisure time and its inequities...and the echo-chamber story of the hour

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