Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Weather and Disasters Damage from Chilean earthquake could be $30 billion

The United States of America Six essential books in conservative thought
One of the most frustrating things about self-identified conservatives like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck is that they behave like they don't really read. But conservative thought does possess a thoughtful intellectual tradition, and at least six books really are essential to understanding that lineage of thought.

Computers and the Internet Google plans to offer ultra-high-speed broadband access
They're initiating a plan under "Google Fiber" to offer 1 gigabit per second broadband Internet access throughout at least one community. They're looking for applicant communities of 50,000 to 500,000, though the service won't be free. Consumers will definitely benefit from an offering like this, but on first impression, this seems like another expensive project for Google that might not really be a good return on their investment. Related: An in-depth look at the reasons why most Americans don't have very-high-speed broadband access yet.

Humor and Good News Campaign 2010: Elect Ron

Aviation News Shutting down NASA's Moon mission is going to cost billions of dollars
Contractors working on the rockets and other components of the mission to return to the Moon may still make money even though the President wants to quit the plan

Computers and the Internet Microsoft wants regulators to look more carefully at Google
The EU is now looking at Google because of antitrust concerns

Humor and Good News Conan O'Brien arrives on Twitter
The comedian needed to establish his own footprint online -- so it's a good thing he's finally done so. It will serve him well to have an Internet presence where he can remain in people's minds even while he's off television.

Humor and Good News How LG appeals to the inner 80s child

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Business and Finance Midwest Airlines could be killed off
Midwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines were both purchased in the last year by Republic Airways. Now, they're talking about creating a "unified brand" for the two. It's a typical move -- companies do a lot of acquiring, then re-branding. And while it could certainly make sense to simplify the backend of operations by merging things like maintenance and reservations systems, killing off a brand name just doesn't ever seem to make sense. Republic's latest balance sheet shows $84 million in "goodwill" -- which, to a large extent, is the brand value of the company and its subsidiaries. Destroying those brands is an expensive proposition that rarely makes sense. Brands can evolve over time, but doing away with them wholesale rarely makes sense; after all, the acquiring company paid some kind of premium to obtain the brand name in the first place. Why pay for it just to destroy it? Related (in the vein of needless destruction): Beautiful train stations that were demolished and replaced by uglier and less useful things.

Broadcasting ABC News to dismantle most of its news bureaus outside Washington, DC
And with ever more of the news being produced from the Washington/New York City corridor, expect the quality of coverage to decline as it becomes one big echo chamber.

Business and Finance Knowledge decay hastens the rise of the judgment economy
People who want to stay employed (or in business) over the long term have to adapt to changing conditions within their business as well as to changes tangential to the business. In the words of Ian Pearson, "[Y]ou don't want to be the animal who is so fantastically well adapted to one tree that they will die if that tree is cut down." Technological change, hastened by competition from around the globe, means that what we know can be of rapidly-diminishing value. What use is memorizing a list of facts when the Internet is close at hand, everywhere? But the decline of knowledge itself as a competitive advantage is matched by the rise of judgment as a matter of supreme importance. Knowing how to look up an answer on the Internet isn't all that valuable; having the judgment to discern whether to trust Wikipedia or a different source is. Knowing the distance between San Diego, CA and South Padre, TX isn't all that valuable; having the judgment to recognize the difficulty in policing a 1500-mile border between a rich nation and a developing one has value. Knowing a stock price is of little value; having the judgment to figure out which ones are under-valued can turn a person into Warren Buffett (whose judgment is famously sought by investors worldwide. We aren't in the "knowledge economy" anymore; we're in the era of the judgment economy.

Computers and the Internet Twitter is still trying to find ways to make money
More evidence that Twitter, Facebook, and Google are all likely to be overtaken by rivals within the coming decade.

Science and Technology Dubai considers building a vertical farm
We'll have to see whether vertical farms turn out to be sufficiently profitable to be built. Most likely their value will remain economically inefficient until we can find a breakthrough source of clean, cheap energy. Like desalination, vertical farms may have a few limited applications for now, but in the long run they just don't make enough economic sense in a world of expensive energy.

Science and Technology Beautiful true-color photographs of Earth from space

Broadcasting Podcast: Thinking like the boss

Broadcasting Podcast: Browsing in your sleep
A question: What would it take to get you to install an always-on Internet connection in your head?

Water News Time to check your sump pumps

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Computers and the Internet Apple files patent-infringement lawsuit over the iPhone
It's going after HTC, which makes a smartphone similar to the iPhone, but built on the Google Android operating system. At least one observer thinks it's a warning shot across Google's own bow, since Google is now making its own iPhone-similar smartphone. Apple itself says the infringements are mainly related to the user interface, which is a sign they're mainly interested in swatting away any competitors that try to make a phone that "feels" like an iPhone to the user.

News Russia's grumblings about a US missile-defense system may have backfired
Though there was a lot of backpedaling last year over where the US would station anti-missile defense technology in Europe, it appears that the US and its allies may end up with a much more comprehensive defense system as a result. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Clinton may have inadvertently torqued off the British by suggesting that Argentina might have a right to the Falkland Islands. The islands are a relic of a bygone era of British imperialism, to be sure, but the UK is one of America's closest allies, and the Falklands have some degree of self-determination which probably leaves them better off (with the protection of the British armed forces and self-government) than they would likely get as part of Argentina.

Iowa Hard to tell what flooding Iowa will experience this year
The ground is saturated and covered with more snow. But how that hydrology will play out remains in question.

Water News French seawall failure kills dozens

Health Which health supplements have substantiated benefits?
A fascinating display of quantitative data evaluating which supplements are useful and which are snake oil. Easy to use -- downright intuitive. An excellent display of valuable information.

Computers and the Internet Since late January, Russia has vastly overtaken China as the biggest producer of spam

Humor and Good News A Rube Goldberg-themed music video from OK Go
(Video) Almost impossibly complex. Perhaps the most impressive part is the deft footwork required of the camera operator.

The United States of America In which religions are the highest incomes found?

News Is a happy cow going to slaughter better off than one that never existed at all?

Humor and Good News When everyone around you appears to be crazy, you might very well be the only sane one left
(Video) Improv group pulls off a spontaneous birthday party in a bar for an unsuspecting patron

Water News Iowa's proposed lake-nutrient rules to be paused and overhauled

Science and Technology We should be able to generate original music using a seed function and fractals
Hearing the same old music gets dull, and there's really nothing about rhythm and harmony that can't be generated by a computer. It may lack "soul", but it's really not difficult to imagine computers generating lots of music customized to the listener thanks to the Music Genome Project.

News South African president bristles at Britain
It's another example of the importance of institutional memory. The decisions made now may have lingering effects a hundred years or more into the future. President Zuma vocally resents being told how many wives he should have, among other things, and expresses more than a little hostility for the former colonial power of Great Britain.

Water News EPA assesses civil penalty against UPS over hazardous waste

Humor and Good News "Google responds to privacy concerns with unsettlingly specific apology"
A very funny Onion satire, with echoes of a very real concern: Google has a lot of access to a lot of details about a lot of people. That kind of access creates real concerns (as well as over-hyped worries), and it's one of the reasons why Google will not control more than 50% of the search-engine market in 2020.

Science and Technology Nobody talks more on their mobile phones than Americans
Puerto Ricans (American citizens, too) talk the most

Water News Northeast Iowa mobile-home park to be shut down because they can't afford a sewer-system upgrade

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

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

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

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

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

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