Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol



Broadcasting Notes from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 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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Business and Finance Shareholders should be livid with rage over executive compensation
CBS paid its CEO $43.2 million last year. That's completely insane in a country where median household income is about $51,000 a year. It is positively impossible to believe that Les Moonves is creating more value for CBS than could be obtained by hiring 432 other employees for $100,000 a year (twice the nation's median household income). CBS shareholders should be absolutely beside themselves with rage over that kind of overpayment. Hire 432 good minds at $100,000 a year, and you'll get vastly more value for the money than for overpaying one solitary executive. This kind of over-payment of executives constitutes one of the greatest rip-offs of capitalism ever, and shareholders should be voting complicit board members out of office and booting overpaid executives like there's no tomorrow.

Weather and Disasters UK to send its navy out to rescue stranded Brits
It's interesting what citizenship and a good passport can do for a person: Carrying an American passport, for instance, means that the 101st Airborne has your back anywhere on the planet.

Humor and Good News How to pronounce the name of the problematic volcano in Iceland
The comments, being YouTube comments, are mainly nonsense and stupidity. But whomever wrote "Stop laughing at people who can't pronounce its name, and repair your volcano" has a good sense of humor.

Humor and Good News Font-finding flowchart
For those times when you're not sure whether to go with Frutiger or Myriad. Follow the trail that leads to Comic Sans for a good laugh.

Water News Iowa wastewater systems in limbo as new rules await EPA approval



Business and Finance How much we still need to learn about economics
Bill Gates is one of the world's three richest people, and he has the available leisure time to study anything he wants -- and to pay the smartest people in the world to teach him. So when he expresses how many unanswered questions he still recognizes in the economic events of the past few years, he sheds light on a serious problem: Our modern understanding of economics is probably equivalent in sophistication to our understanding of medicine around 1915 or so. We understand some of the major concepts, but we're largely ignorant of the most important factors that determine the real outcomes. It is self-evident, for instance, that financial markets are neither mature nor efficient. Otherwise, we wouldn't have millions of Americans at or near retirement age with no meaningful financial assets to their names, nor would disciplined investors like Warren Buffett still be able to obtain consistently superior results by honest means. There's a lot of learning yet to be done.

Weather and Disasters What Midwesterners need to know about living in an earthquake zone
Because, contrary to instinct, we're more likely to feel a serious earthquake when it happens than Californians would be likely to feel an equivalent quake.

Humor and Good News The world's perfect test of the transference property
If A is better than B, and B is better than C, then A is better than C. Or so "The Most Awesomest Thing Ever" is trying to prove with a head-to-head matchup of, well, everything, in a test of, well, awesomeness. As of now, the Internet is winning, beating life itself, oxygen, and sex.

Science and Technology Streaking through the sky, it's...a meteor

Water News Finding well-educated workers for an unglamorous sector requires real incentives

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Business and Finance Warning bells for US debt are growing louder
Data from the credit markets suggest that it's safer to lend to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway than to the Federal government. Buffett doesn't have the power to compel people to pay him like the Federal government does, nor does he have the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at his beck and call. That his company is considered a better credit risk than the US government suggests that the markets are telling the government to stop spending beyond its means. As our cost of borrowing rises, the size of our debt grows at an accelerating rate -- making us an even worse credit risk, leading to higher interest rates on our debt, compounding the size of the debt, and so on in a feedback loop that's going to cost us lots of real money in the future. Better to slow spending now and get the debt under control. Unfortunately, while one group of activists wants the government to do more and more (and thus spending more) all the time, another group is single-minded about paying less in taxes. The problem is that, having built up a big pile of debt for past expenses, we're going to have to get less from our government while paying more for it. That's the Catch-22 of debt: Getting responsible after the fact only compounds the pain. The pain is necessary, but nobody wants to administer the fix.

Computers and the Internet Why nobody, ever, should borrow, steal, or buy e-mail lists
They don't do the good they're advertised to do, and there are hidden perils -- like blacklisting -- that can result. Good content and valuable offers make a list worth joining freely.

Broadcasting Public radio coverage across the United States
An interesting map indicating national coverage of local radio signals. It's too bad that these kinds of maps aren't easier to generate dynamically for other radio broadcasts, like Cubs games, for instance.

Computers and the Internet Is ultra-high-speed broadband as significant as electricity?
Perhaps so, but more in the negative than in the positive: That is, not having high-speed Internet access may increasingly become just as painful as being without other basic services.

Humor and Good News America: Putting the party in Canada's pants since 1776

Threats and Hazards "South Park" puts Muhammad in a bear costume
When someone uses an American website to suggest that the creators of the show will be killed, is that a threat or is it "a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them"? It certainly sounds like the former. Ridiculous claims are made in the name of religion all the time: An Iranian cleric says that women's clothes are causing earthquakes, and Pat Robertson blames Haiti's disaster earlier this year on a "pact to the devil." People of goodwill and free thought should be unanimous in their rejection of these stupid claims and the fear they put in their fellow people.

Broadcasting Podcast: Economics as a lifesaving device

Broadcasting Radio highlight: What's nice about Firefox

Water News Protecting your valuables during hail season

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Computers and the Internet UK privacy official says Google needs to impose stricter rules for private data
The company has a lot of work ahead of it to convince people that it's going to do the right thing regarding privacy. They're trying with efforts like their report on government requests, but the fact is that as Google continues to try to expand its online reach (which it has to do to keep driving revenues from online sources), it's going to inevitably run into more and more conflicts with some of its users' expectations. Because Google still thinks of itself as an Internet company (rather than as a problem-solving company), it has yet to diversify its income away from Internet-based sources. That failure to diversify is going to cause the company lots of grief in the future. Conflicts over privacy are now structurally embedded within Google's growth plans.

Weather and Disasters If you're worried about global warming, you ought to be twice as concerned about volcanoes
For all of the harm that global warming could do (and the most dire of the predictions are quite unsettling), it's really nothing compared to what could happen in the event of a massive volcanic explosion with a big ash cloud. We've just seen the trouble that can result from a poorly-placed eruption like the one that just happened in Iceland. But in a dire scenario, we could face global hunger of an incredible scale. It's happened before, in the "year without a summer" following the Tambora eruption of 1815, and to a smaller extent in 1907. These events can be truly global in magnitude and there's little that can be done to predict them. And yet, despite their capacity to wipe out an entire year's worth of agricultural productivity, we don't store enough food as a hedge against cataclysmic disaster. It's time to change that.

Science and Technology Psychedelic false-color image of the Sun
Solar temperatures ranging over hundreds of thousands of degrees illustrated with colors

Water News Earth Day turns 40

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The American Way Putting the right minds to work on the important subjects
Bill Gates says he wants to "get more of the world’s brightest people to focus on the world’s biggest challenges, like poverty, global health, education, energy and climate change." That would be a worthy goal. The incentive structures that have grown up around nonsense like technical analysis in stocks have drawn lots of good minds into what are basically meaningless, low-societal-value pursuits. In America, this has happened largely due to the lack of knowledge among investors (who are unwittingly complicit in the mis-assignment of value that happens when executives aren't paid according to the value they create but by their ability to extort, bribe, and steal from their shareholders through lap-dog boards of directors, and the stealthy death-by-a-thousand-mosquito-bites that happens when financial managers like mutual fund companies get paid handsomely to do anything but mind the store. Pay should reflect value, and it's not government action that will fix the problem: It's capitalists -- the stock and mutual-fund shareholders of America demanding real value for what they are charged -- that will set things straight. Gates, himself one of the most successful capitalists of all time, knows this, which is why he pushes for market-based solutions to problems like the brain drain away from socially-valuable work.

The United States of America A "Daily Show" editorial we can all agree upon
(Video) What anyone who threatens death in the name of religion can do to themselves. Hint: It's not pretty.

Computers and the Internet Facebook believes its own hype -- the first step towards disaster
The company is trying to capitalize on the fad of the "social Internet" by claiming that it can provide better resources for discovering what a user will and will not like through the aggregation of data from that user's friends. But there are several flaws in the logic: First, people like serendipity, and it's hardly serendipitous that you'll discover anything meaningful from your friends' Internet behavior that you don't get from just interacting with them anyway (for instance, if they start popularizing a new restaurant, then you'll probably hear about it anyway if it's worthwhile). Second, Facebook has over and over been a serious violator of privacy expectations -- not necessarily rules, but social expectations. They've eroded too much trust already to expect that people will be comfortable just giving them more data all the time. Third, their ambition is getting to be a little over-the-top: Teaming up with Microsoft to deliver document-sharing via docs.com may be a novelty, but it's hardly a breakthrough. We already have e-mail and Google Docs for these purposes -- and once again, there's only so much information that many people are going to be willing to hand over to services like Facebook. The sharing has to end somewhere.

Business and Finance A really good visual depiction of the world's debtor nations

Socialism Doesn't Work British drivers are being watched by GPS and speed cameras
And a system to determine who's speeding over long-distance trips is being tested. This is Big Brother behavior, and it should be rejected by free people wherever they have the choice. A free society depends upon the right to live one's life without the constant surveillance of the state. As the saying goes, if a cop follows you for 500 miles, you're going to get a ticket.

Humor and Good News Some people are good enough sports to laugh along with jokes about their names
Like the family that owns Butt Drugs. Watch their television commercial.

Humor and Good News Good life advice: Don't run over the cop car
(Video)

Water News At least one war the 21st Century will be fought over water