Gongol.com Archives: November 2010
Brian Gongol

November 2010
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November 4, 2010

Computers and the Internet News Corp warns MySpace to start making cash...now
The social-networking site has been a loss-maker, even though the company cost News Corp $580 million in 2005.

Iowa Reaction to the 2010 Iowa election results
Iowa has a lot of built-in advantages in business, but it also has a really awful regulatory climate for businesses, particularly small ones. That needs to be fixed if the state is to earn long-term sustainable growth that doesn't depend upon subsidies and back-room deals.

News The elections -- animated
(Video) The Taiwanese company that produces animated versions of news stories illustrates the election returns with a boxing match involving Harry Reid

Computers and the Internet Analysis of Facebook status updates hints at peak breakup times
Spring break time and Christmastime appear to be the peak periods for breakups. Whether this kind of datamining should frighten us is up to anyone's interpretation.

Humor and Good News The most fattening Halloween costume ever
Dressing as the KFC Double Down sandwich seems like a great way to get fat without even trying


November 5, 2010

Computers and the Internet The average user has 130 Facebook friends
At least, that's what the company says

News US Postal Service plans 5-day delivery service next year
First-Class Mail is shrinking in volume by 13% a year. We can lament the decline in mail or we can celebrate the rise of easier, cheaper communications via e-mail. And now it's possible to get an "electronic postmark" on those e-mails to verify that what a sender claim was sent was actually sent.

Computers and the Internet "Does Google have a foreign policy?"
It's an interesting question

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November 8, 2010

Health Massive new discovery: Antibodies may actually kill some viruses from the inside
Rather than just preventing the spread of new infection, it turns out that antibodies may actually have virus-killing properties we previously didn't know about. And if that's true, we may be able to develop anti-virus drugs just like the antibacterial drugs that have revolutionized medicine and vastly increased human life expectancies over the last 100 years. If the findings are correct and can be put into useful application, this is huge news.

Business and Finance Is Wal-Mart a better regulator than the government?
The company, which sells a whole lot of groceries, is taking steps to change and manage some of the things its suppliers do with food. In the process, it could turn out to be far more influential than government regulators.

Aviation News Qantas says Airbus superjumbos have engine problems
One flight had to make an emergency landing, and three other engines appear to have anomalies. Nobody's been injured, but the planes are so large that if anything goes wrong, they don't have a huge number of options.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve plans to put $600 billion in new stimulus-like money into the US economy; the rest of the G20 might not be pleased
Basically, the Fed sees the US money supply and thinks there just needs to be more cash circulating around. The rest of the rich world, though, probably doesn't want the US dollar to get diluted more, which makes Americans less interested in buying products from abroad.

Humor and Good News History revised via Facebook status update

Water News Some great (and some dubious) moments in water history

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November 9, 2010

Computers and the Internet Facebook wants your Google data; Google says Facebook doesn't share well
That the companies are going to battle over the ease of exchanging the same user's data from one platform to another should be a sign of just how valuable that data is, particularly since any fight between the two companies is inevitably a public one

Humor and Good News "Thriller" Halloween light show
(Video) Apparently, household light shows aren't just for Christmas anymore. This one includes four animated Jack-O'Lanterns strobe lights, and a claimed 140 channels of controls. Hilariously awesome, as long as it doesn't belong to your neighbors across the street. On a related note, there's no shortage of Halloween costume cliches that return every year, regardless of the lights.

Broadcasting British satellite TV channel under investigation for carrying shows that advocate marital rape
The British government has a more activist media-content-enforcement presence than America's FCC, and it's investigating a satellite station called the Islam Channel for broadcasting shows that violate national content guidelines. On one hand, there's no doubt that something must be said in a civilized society to criticize those who advocate heinous practices like marital rape. But it's getting harder every day to do anything to control the kind of content that appears on television. Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and every other online video service in a sense make content entirely unmanageable.

Water News Cedar Falls will sue the EPA over water regulations

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November 10, 2010

Computers and the Internet Palm to release Pre 2
The Palm Pre is a really good smartphone -- with a nice, stable interface and a great capacity for multitasking. But it hasn't gotten a strong footprint in the US phone market, competing with the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android phones. But it's good to see that HP, which recently bought out Palm, hasn't abandoned smartphones and is instead charging ahead with new developments. More competition in this sector will continue to be great for consumers.

News Russian bears are grave-robbing for food
The summer was so bad for traditional foods that bears are foraging in graveyards for corpses

Humor and Good News Classical music plus rock performance styles: Is it "crossover classical"?
A group called Bond plays classical and classic-influenced music on strings. Good for them, popularizing classical styles.

Aviation News Delta says it'll buy some Boeing 787s -- in ten years
Not good news for Boeing, since Delta is one of the largest carriers around. Why anyone would want to be in the airplane-making business (except for its sex appeal) is a mystery: It's characterized by big orders (and big non-sales) from fickle customers, with huge lead times, and a mess of problems from suppliers and labor.

Iowa Ryne Sandberg won't be returning to the Iowa Cubs next year
But if he changes his mind and wants to return to the organization for spring training, Phil Hendry says "that would be great". Sandberg did a good job with the Iowa Cubs this year, but Mike Quade really lit some fireworks with a stellar coaching job at Chicago after Lou Piniella left.

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November 11, 2010

Broadcasting Job titles should mean something
The emergence of sites like LinkedIn, which make it possible for people to share their resumes with the entire universe, has also started an epidemic of idiotic title inflation. The inverse relationship between the inflation of a job title and the actual knowledge of the person doing the inflation should be obvious to everybody. A few "job titles" recently noted on LinkedIn include "brand warrior", "chief accomplishment officer", and the unbelievably wordy "insurgent who dares to believe that organizations are defined by relationships between people". Compare that to a title like "Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman, Berkshire Hathaway". It's not the title that counts; it's the record of productivity. People who spend their time inflating their titles rather than just doing something useful ought to be avoided, at least in business. Though they might be fun to invite to cocktail parties, if only to amuse the people who know better.

Iowa Southwest Iowa robbers are easily defeated
A guy tried to rob a Casey's after ordering a pizza. He was tossed out of the store without incident. Then he went to a pizza place five miles away and ordered the same thing. Police apprehended him without incident. The news coverage says it was the first attempted robbery in the entire county this year. Take that, Washington, DC.

The United States of America Who's on the money
A short explanation (intended for foreigners) of who appears on American cash. We see our own money so often that it's easy to overlook the fact that people like Ulysses S Grant and Alexander Hamilton aren't necessarily household names around the world.

Humor and Good News Craig Ferguson's "Late Late Show" puppets are available for sale
Ferguson's puppet sketches are some of the silliest, funniest scenes on television today

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November 12, 2010

Computers and the Internet Guy who mockingly proposed (on Twitter) to blow up an airport loses his appeal
He'll have to pay a lot of money in fines to make up for expressing his displeasure in an indiscreet way. That's one problem with our always-on access to the Internet now: People are so eager to say something clever that they don't always take the time to apply some good judgment first. Just watch: The next time a major celebrity dies, Twitter will be flooded almost instantly with people seeking to make what they think will be the wittiest comment about the passing -- no matter how tasteless. It's crass and crude to do so, but eagerness to be the first to say something runs in direct conflict with the notion of judiciously knowing when to speak and when to shut up.

Business and Finance Microfinance may be restricted in India
Just imagine: Microfinance loans, a concept that was dismissed as ridiculous until the Grameen Bank got its start just a couple of decades ago, is now so successful that there are calls for its tighter regulation. Amazing.

News The first time in history the words "Garfield" and "controversial" have ever been paired
Someone failed to take a careful look at their calendar when they put a recent "Garfield" comic strip into syndication. That's why we need editors, even in the digital age. Spell-checking can be automated (most of the time), but common-sense-checking cannot.

Humor and Good News Baby monkey riding backwards on a pig
(Video) One would think the title is fully self-explanatory, and it is. But the music video is so much more than that. Kinda.

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November 14, 2010

Science and Technology Tetris may combat PTSD
Apparently, if played shortly after a traumatic experience, the game's visual elements help block the visual memories from being locked together in a traumatic way. Truly interesting.

Computers and the Internet Firefox devotee creates fractal edition of the browser's logo
Warren Buffett once said that he admired Harley-Davidson because it was a rare company that could create a brand so great that people would tattoo its logo onto their own bodies. This isn't quite it, but it's close.

Humor and Good News One of the funniest TV traffic reporters ever
(Video) Jennie Stencel apparently no longer reports on traffic at WXII-TV, but the station has a mountain of old videos from her on YouTube. It's too bad there aren't more people in television who can be spontaneously self-effacing. It probably doesn't hurt that she's a stand-up comic, too.

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November 15, 2010

The United States of America Corrosion doesn't care which party controls Congress
Both of the major American political parties have been generally (and woefully) negligent of the need for maintaining our national infrastructure in a responsible fashion. Unfortunately, one crowd of politicians doesn't care how much debt they incur, as long as it's spent on short-term vote-buying, and another crowd thinks that taxes are always too high, no matter what taxes they are or who's paying them. But funding our infrastructure responsibly and sustainably is imperative if we want to maintain a leading global economy.

Humor and Good News Is it a good idea to buy stocks?
Depends on whether you're talking about the financial instruments or the tool of punishment. On the subject of jokes, it should be noted that Des Moines-area kids are compelled to tell jokes to get Halloween treats

Iowa Des Moines is the fourth-highest-taxed city in the country
When property, income, sales, and auto taxes are combined, the only places where people pay higher taxes in the country are New York City, Philadelphia, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. That's a problem.

Business and Finance Casey's declines takeover offer from 7-Eleven
The offer came in at $43 a share, which was more than the $40 a share that had been offered by a previous suitor, and far more than the stock's market price a few months ago

Computers and the Internet Charlie Brooker is going to strangle every single one of you
The British columnist expresses his discontent with a judicial decision against a man who made an over-the-top "threat" against an airport via Twitter -- by making his own over-the-top threat, against everybody. Related: An observer thinks that Qantas really dropped the ball with its Twitter accounts in the middle of the recent super-jumbo engine emergency.

Humor and Good News David Hasselhoff as a hairy little toddler

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November 16, 2010

The United States of America Buffett/Gates 2012: A dream ticket
But it isn't going to happen

The American Way UK women say Margaret Thatcher is the most influential woman alive
The Western world needs more Thatcherites, even today

Humor and Good News How the bomb affected pop music
If people think that tomorrow may never come, it can be reflected in their music. And it was.

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November 18, 2010

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.

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November 22, 2010

The American Way Why Americans should be happy that we probably won't ever have a lot of high-speed rail
Our population centers are widely spread-out, which makes it too expensive to even seriously consider connecting places like Chicago and Los Angeles with high-speed rail. And the process of installing it anywhere would be so unacceptably disruptive to the private property rights of so many people that it's just not going to happen, period. Specific installations? Maybe. But no national network. And that's OK, because we'll find plenty of other ways to save energy and travel more efficiently.

Science and Technology Bad rebar could doom a brand-new Vegas hotel
Las Vegas is notorious for blowing up its old hotels to make room for the new, but the Harmon Hotel may never open at all because the owner says it wasn't built the way it was supposed to.

Water News Tougher water-quality standards ahead for Iowa mines and quarries

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November 23, 2010

Threats and Hazards Is behavioral profiling any more intrusive than a physical pat-down?
The government is imposing all kinds of steps to fight the last terrorist attack, not predict the next. Racial or ethnic profiling are different -- they're blunt instruments that can do as much harm as good. But assessing risk based upon behaviors is a totally different question. It makes sense, yet we seem to be told that it's just as effective to pull aside randomly-selected passengers to be touched in ways that most people would never choose to be touched in public or by a stranger.

Business and Finance US economy is growing at a 2.5% annual rate
That's the latest estimate. 2.5% isn't anything great, but it's certainly better than no growth or a contraction.

Business and Finance Economic woes will bring down the Irish government coalition

Water News Boil order issued for Marshall County town

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November 24, 2010

Business and Finance Ireland's bailout: Does it mean democracy is on hold?
The country is in such fiscal trouble that it's going under IMF protection for a while. It's undoubtedly a serious psychological blow to a nation that has had less than 100 years as a free republic. The United States ought to take note.

Computers and the Internet Web Ghosts: The sites everyone used to visit but doesn't anymore
MySpace has been having trouble lately, but it's not the first one-hit-wonder of the Internet era. And it's definitely not going to be the last. We're looking at you, Facebook. And Twitter.

Humor and Good News A special, loving message from the TSA
(Video) The area previously known as the "bathing suit area" ought to be known henceforth as the "TSA area"

Humor and Good News A flamingo made of flamingoes
Sometimes nature has a pretty funny way of unfolding naturally. And speaking of how things unfold, The Onion has composed a very amusing alternative genesis of the Stars and Stripes.

Iowa Some idiot thought a high-speed chase on I-80 was a good idea
(Video) Not a bright idea

The United States of America Ways to celebrate Native American history month

Broadcasting Podcast: Do our smartphones make us too impatient?
Other podcasts from the show on November 14th include "Why does my radio studio smell like bacon?", "Really measuring quality of life", and "Cell phone contracts: Who needs 'em?". Tune in for the live show Sunday nights at 9:00 on WHO Radio.

Water News About a third of water systems are running deficits

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November 25, 2010

Business and Finance Has the Federal Reserve decided that managing the international value of the dollar is one of its jobs, too?
The Fed's job should be keeping inflation stable and slow, and that's really about the only job it should have.

Science and Technology DARPA and NASA decide it's time for a 100-year business plan
Specifically, it's a plan to get humans into deep space exploration -- en route to other star systems. The 100-year business plan is a woefully under-used business technique. It's easy to forget about the long term (or even the medium term) when business is booming, but as the disastrous economic conditions of the last couple of years have really made it obvious that short-term thinking (and debt) have become a seriously toxic recipe. In a good sign, though, it looks like some companies are getting their acts together: Ford, for instance, is getting rid of debt as quickly as it can and in the process giving investors the impression that the company might actually stick around for the long term.

Iowa Update on the financial situation at West Glen
It's a West Des Moines development that went up mainly during the height of the property boom. Times appear to be pretty tough for other developers in the area.

Computers and the Internet High-speed video...played in slow motion
Someone recorded a pass through a train station from a high-speed train, and seeing it in slow motion looks a lot like a the "bullet time" sequence from The Matrix

Broadcasting Make it once, share it often
The BBC is going to let the rest of the world start using the iPlayer, a platform for distributing television and radio programs. It makes a lot of sense -- once the programs have been produced, the only real marginal cost is to the bandwidth required to send those programs around the world.

Broadcasting Podcasts from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - November 21, 2010
The entire show in four segments: "Why I want someone to write Thanksgiving carols", "That's not really pumpkin pie", "It's time to start paying for our infrastructure", and "No, really, Des Moines taxes are way too high".

Humor and Good News The brilliant "Pearls Before Swine" gets the animated treatment

Water News Happy Thanksgiving


November 26, 2010

Science and Technology Electric utilities could make good money off electric cars
Some all-electric models go on sale next month, and utilities could make a lot of money selling the power, but they also might need to increase their production capacity to handle the increasing demand.

Computers and the Internet Anti-privacy vandals attack homes of people who don't want to be on Google Street View
People in Germany are able to have their homes blurred out on Google Street View as a privacy measure. Apparently, some vandals think that shouldn't be their right and are taking vigilante action against them.

Computers and the Internet Then and now
15 years ago: Rental VHS tapes. Now: Streaming movies on demand to a wireless home network, into a game console and onto the television. Don't even try to consider what 2025 will look like unless you're ready to start really expanding some horizons.

The American Way What government should do to influence employment
The Saudi Arabian government is trying to encourage businesses there to employ more locals, rather than foreign workers. But at what stage is government policy like that counterproductive? An interesting editorial makes a fine comment, applicable practically everywhere: "The business of government, any government is to create the circumstances in which the economy can grow and expand, with the inevitable increase in employment opportunities".

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November 30, 2010

Science and Technology Secretary of Energy says the US is falling behind China in the development of advanced energy tools
A couple of observations ought to be made: First, China's government has willfully promoted the outright theft of intellectual property from around the world for some time. Perhaps the best response is to allow them to spend their own money developing new technologies and then steal them in return, in a game of tit-for-tat. Fraudulent goods made in China are a huge problem about which the Western countries have done little or nothing, and something has to change about that. But a separate observation ought also to be made: The US government really ought not to be trying to do the research itself. If we have to go back to the Manhattan Project to find the last time the government rushed a technology from birth to maturity, then we really shouldn't expect to get a good return on investment today from the same agencies 65 years later. Instead, the government -- if it insists on having a role in promoting new energy technology -- should be offering innovation prizes to induce the private sector to come up with new ideas. Those kinds of prizes worked for everything from the invention of food canning to the dawn of transatlantic flight, so why shouldn't we try the same thing today? Innovation prizes are efficient (the people with the best ideas have the most incentive to invest in them) and cost-effective (the government doesn't pay until the answers have been delivered), so what's there to lose?

Threats and Hazards Christopher Hitchens thinks the TSA's next step will be probing
Literally: "In order for us to take them even remotely seriously, our Homeland Security officials should by now have had no alternative but to announce a series of random body-cavity searches some months ago." Which, of course, serves to highlight just what a ridiculous charade so much of the air-travel security system is meant to be. Only so much can be done to insult passengers' dignity before we reach the end of what a civilized society can tolerate -- and even then, terrorists will still have thousands of other ways to make life miserable. It's death by a thousand cuts, and by overreaction to the actual scale of the threat, we're soaking those cuts in vinegar.

News China thinks North Korea behaves like a "spoiled child"
That's not really a novel observation, per se -- it's obvious that North Korea's government acts out from time to time just to get the world's attention. Lacking a functioning market economy, North Korea is short on a lot of the material goods the country really needs. And until that market economy is allowed to grow, the country will be plagued by shortages, which in turn will cause the government to use whatever kinds of threats and blackmail they can find at their disposal in order to get the world to subsidize its ill-functioning system.

The United States of America There's always another emergency
An interesting column in Slate suggests that the Presidency is being handled today as though it's an all-purpose national inbox: Problems go in, and we expect a response right away. Here's an alternative vision: In a well-oiled system of management, qualified people are instructed to handle problems or delegate them effectively. Maybe there's a need for more delegation in the White House today. Unfortunately, the Obama 2008 campaign (continued today as a reelection campaign-in-waiting) was built so much around a cult of personality that it may be difficult for the system to change gears now.

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