Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Humor and Good News Cancer is now the leading cause of death in Iowa
Death rates due to heart disease have been falling, pushing cancer into the top positions

Business and Finance Ford sells Volvo to the Chinese
What was a Swedish-owned carmaker in 1999 spent just over a decade in American hands before being absorbed by the Chinese. Besides representing what appears to have been a poorly-considered business move by Ford, it's really a microcosm of what's happening now: American companies are selling assets to Chinese and other firms after years of over-borrowing and under-selling.

News Students start their own anti-sagging-pants campaign in high school

Threats and Hazards Pure evil: American nurse appears to have been convincing people online to commit suicide

Iowa Photos of the great flood in Cedar Rapids -- in 1929

Iowa Fighting back against "No policy without a crisis"
Iowa state representative Rick Olson has introduced an amendment to a state budget bill to express his frustration with the proliferation of pointless laws. His amendment would make it a misdemeanor "if any accident involving the emergency landing of an airplane, hot air balloon, glider, helicopter, or flying De Lorean on a jogging trail, beach, or other recreational or public area causes the death of a pedestrian who was listening to a portable media player at the time of the accident". It's a tongue-in-cheek reference to an incident earlier this month in which a jogger was killed by a plane making an emergency landing. Olson should be applauded for highlighting the pointlessness of making lots of laws in pursuit of the illusion of making the public safer, when in fact many high-profile incidents are the result of freak accidents and circumstances which merit no legislation.

Threats and Hazards Militia members busted for plotting to kill police
It highlights the ongoing concern that domestic groups (including radicalized Christians) can be a greater threat to the American public than foreign terrorists

Health Identity theft through medical records is on the rise
And it will only get worse when the government manages to digitize everyone's health records. All of the ballyhoo about how much more efficient things will be once those records are digitized needs to be balanced with a consideration of the new risks we're introducing.

Computers and the Internet Should law enforcement be trolling Facebook?
A columnist for the Economist points out that there's a pretty serious shortage of policy in place to determine what law-enforcement authorities should be able to do to gather information from semi-public sources like Facebook. It seems obvious that people stupid enough to flaunt their illegalities online (like posting photos with stolen goods and discussing gang activities) ought to be considered fair game -- but at what point are the authorities to be stopped from conducting sting operations against teenagers' keg parties by creating false Facebook profiles -- or issuing tickets to people who use location tracking on Twitter and clearly travel from point "A" to point "B" faster than the posted speed limit might allow? The law needs to catch up with the technology, and soon.

Computers and the Internet Can't remember the name of a song?
Sing 10 seconds of it to Midomi and the website will try to guess what you're trying to vocalize. Humming apparently works, too. (In a quick test, it correctly identified an awful humming of "Don't Stop Believin'" on the first try.)

Water News Put down the bottled water and get ready to pay more at the tap

Broadcasting Podcast: Give away most of your content, then charge for the special stuff

Broadcasting Podcast: Helping a victim of a Facebook crime

Threats and Hazards Russian authorities think more suicide bombers are on the way
39 people were killed in two bombings on the Moscow subway system -- a death toll just below those from the 7/7 attacks in London in 2005.

Health Magnetic stimulation can interfere with normal moral judgments
MIT researchers find a physical step in the process of the brain's determination of what is morally permissible and what is not

Water News High fire danger in the Upper Midwest today

Health Communicating with a person in a coma
The active use of MRI scanners, coupled with the selective activation of different parts of the brain appears to make it possible to communicate with some people who are comatose

Socialism Doesn't Work Does a government trillions in debt to other countries have any moral authority?
Members of the US Congress are trying to paint a moral contrast between Google and Microsoft based upon what those two countries are doing in China. But that kind of posturing is more than a little bit insulting, considering the Congress bears responsibility for the spending that has the country $889 billion in debt to China. Moral authority is compromised by reckless behavior.

Science and Technology Judge holds that isolated natural genes aren't patent-worthy

Humor and Good News Heat map of Saturnian moon looks like a giant Pac-Man

Computers and the Internet Don't believe everything you see
What looks like strong photographic evidence -- of giant human skeletal remains, for instance -- might just be the widely-circulated work of a Photoshop contest

Business and Finance Musings on the notion of a company town
There aren't many actual "company towns" still around today, since there are few benefits to be gained from trying to provide 24-hour care and service for a working population anymore. But Google's long list of on-the-job benefits and perks sound a lot like a modern echo of those company towns, and the rise of colossal retirement communities offers a counterpart in the post-working world. Some people think that our conventional notions of government roles and private-sector roles are bound to become blurred in an increasingly complex world. And there's some reason to believe that many people would be happy to turn over lots of little nuisances in life if they thought they could get an all-inclusive deal from someone else -- just like an ocean cruise or an all-inclusive resort, but one in which they might live 365 days a year. But just like defined-benefit pension programs, many of which have fallen apart, leaving beneficiaries with far less income than they were promised, the idea of an all-inclusive community (or a benevolent employer offering perks aplenty) ought to be held in deep suspicion.

Science and Technology Steampunk: A very curious movement
Participants try to create expressions of what they think the world might've looked like had the people of the Victorian era had access to some (but not all) of today's technologies. It's a bit like an alternate-universe version of science fiction. A little time spent playing around with such hypotheticals is fine, as long as people spend a reasonable amount of time looking to the future of today's technology and considering the ramifications of the changes all about.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft releases out-of-schedule security update
It fixes problems with Internet Explorer, versions 6, 7, and 8

Humor and Good News People don't always seem to be aware of their own irony
Like the Twitter update that reads, "I will finish Satanic Verses before I sleep, so help me God!"

Water News Epic flooding in Rhode Island

Health Study of 80,000 women says it's still worthwhile to do breast-cancer screenings
There's been some discussion in the United States about whether mammograms cause more harm than good (the harm being undue worry and over-exposure to surgery). But a British study says five lives are saved for every two that are over-diagnosed. That's probably enough to shift the balance well back into the favor of conducting the screenings. And as screening quality improves (as it should, with improved technology and improved knowledge), the ratio should tilt farther in favor of screening. Improvements are to be expected, and just because a technology or a technique is imperfect doesn't mean it isn't worth trying; the instructions for CPR have evolved dramatically over the last 15 years, moving now into a recommendation for "Hands-Only CPR" which looks completely different from the old rules of two breaths for every five or ten chest compressions. The technique has evolved -- but that it was imperfect before was no reason not to do it.

News India is undertaking a census of 1.2 billion people
Of course, they might just find that there are more or fewer people around as a result of the census itself. But the scale is huge -- four times the size of America's census, which is a huge undertaking unto itself. India is apparently trying to photograph and fingerprint everyone in the census, in an effort to produce a national identity card for everyone over the age of 15.

Iowa Iowa imposes a special ban on texting while driving
And kids under the age of 18 aren't allowed to use the phone while driving at all. While it's probably a bad idea to text while driving, is it really the kind of threat that requires a specific law? 21 states now prohibit texting while driving, but there are probably people who are safer texting while driving (for instance, those who don't have to look at the screen or the keyboard to compose an SMS message) than lots of people who drive while eating, shaving, applying makeup, or shouting at kids in the back seat. Isn't it the consequence (motor vehicle crashes) that we wish to discourage, not a certain class of causes?

Business and Finance New health-insurance law will have a serious effect on balance sheets this year
Boeing, Caterpillar, Prudential, and Deere are all taking one-time accounting charges on the $100-million scale. Then again, many large firms have been willing to overlook the huge costs of overpaying their managers for a long time, and that's similarly deleterious to the business as well. A new book about the fall of Lehman Brothers suggests that a corrosive keeping-up-with-the-Joneses culture infected the upper echelons of that company before it blew up with $613 billion in debts. So perhaps as companies are making public their extraordinary costs associated with the new health-care law, they should be cleaning house of overpayment to their managers at the same time. Shareholders deserve it.

Broadcasting How a culture focused on meetings could be damaging a great institution like the BBC
Meetings are often a great tool for obstructing progress. Great ideas come from individuals, and those individuals should be rewarded for their innovations. Related: One of the best things to come out of the BBC has been Charlie Brooker's "Newswipe", a brilliant, hilarious, and often scathing review of the news media.

Broadcasting Podcast: The Whigs are back, but will they get anywhere?

Broadcasting Podcast: Should you live in fear of your wireless mouse?

Water News Iowa is under an unusual risk of fires today -- even with ongoing flooding

Humor and Good News Ye Olde Gymnasium
What the health club of 1892 might've looked like.

Water News Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs" takes a turn at working at a wastewater treatment plant