Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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

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

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

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

Broadcasting Podcast: Why Mark McGwire owes pitchers an apology

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?