Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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

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

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

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

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

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