Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol



News A life without multitasking
Writer AJ Jacobs conducts a lot of personal experiments to see what might happen if he changes his environment. One such experiment involved taking up a solitary task at a time, eliminating all multi-tasking. Why? Because it turns out we're pretty lousy at maintaining any useful focus on anything more than a single task at a time anyway. Jacobs makes it a funny experiment anyway.

Computers and the Internet The future belongs to those with good judgment
As cadets graduate from the American military academies, it's worth considering whether they face trouble if they aren't allowed to encounter certain tools while they're in the academy experience -- a relevant question, considering the military's repeated flirtations with bans on tools like Facebook. We don't want leaders who are disengaged. A cadet at a military academy needs to know how to judge and when to walk away from Facebook, not to be oblivious to its existence.



Threats and Hazards It's not the atomic doomsday clock that should worry us
Paul Volcker (who's earned the right to say things like this) says we're running out of time to get the US fiscal situation under control. "The time we have is growing short," says the man who tamed inflation in the Reagan era.

Weather and Disasters Even tornado-chasers have to drive safely

Aviation News Poor little Mars Phoenix lander
It's frozen solid on the surface of the Red Planet.

Humor and Good News One elaborate visual gag
We've entered an age in which complex gags are much easier to spread around the world than ever before. The Internet makes it possible for someone to lampoon BP and its response to the Gulf oil spill, at zero cost, to a global audience. And the spoof Twitter account has several times as many followers as the real BP public-relations account. That wasn't possible in 1776, or even 1976. Then again, perhaps the preponderance of eye-popping videos and brilliant-but-savage mockery everywhere are numbing us to just how astonishing some things really are. Like a woman giving birth while driving.

Aviation News MSP feels like a completely different place now that Delta has swallowed Northwest Airlines
When a company like Northwest, which defined the Minneapolis airport for years, is absorbed by another company and loses its identity, it's hard not to get a little strangely nostalgic. Unlike our ancestors, we spend a lot of time with companies and brands, so they help to form our consciousness. Thus, when they go away, it's a loss that has at least a little in common with the death of an acquaintance.

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The American Way What to do about energy markets
The Economist published a piece recently which called for a carbon tax to help combat future hazards from oil drilling, which is undoubtedly more reasonable than insisting on drilling moratoria. But a tax is just a deterrent. What we really need are inducements to create the new technologies that will change both the production and consumption of energy. Innovation prizes brought about the safe canning of food, transatlantic flight, and (in the recent Ansari X-Prize) privately-funded space travel. Surely a handful of giant prizes (on the order of $1 billion each) would be enough to tease a few innovations out of otherwise idle minds. Perhaps some of Sarah Palin's book royalties could help start an endowment.

Health Why the South should be especially supportive of stroke research
Georgia and the Carolinas have been found to have 40% higher rates of age-adjusted stroke mortality than the rest of the United States. Blame the fried foods.

Computers and the Internet Google makes Pac Man a permanent feature
One software firm thinks the appearance of the game on Google's home page the other day sucked up 5,000,000 hours of work time. And that's quite easy to believe.

The American Way Report from the Acumen Fund
It's an American charity, but it behaves like a mutual fund: It invests in private-sector technologies and businesses in the developing world in order to help encourage private-sector improvements in quality of life. What's encouraging is that they recognize the lack of smoothness in progress -- big leaps combine with little steps to lead to better living.

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Computers and the Internet Apple's market cap exceeds Microsoft's
The New York Times heralds the event as an epic moment in computing and business history. That's overstating the case a bit, though it's interesting to see that Apple and Microsoft are #2 and #3, respectively, in US market capitalization, well ahead of every other American company but ExxonMobil. But Microsoft has $45.7 billion in net equity, and Apple has $31.6 billion. Clearly, Apple's shareholders are a little more optimistic about the future. But should they be?

Science and Technology The pig with the sheep's wool
It happens to be a rare type of pig with long hair. Most people probably don't realize (if their only interaction with hogs has been the pigskin) that all swine have hair, and in fact quite a bit of it.

Threats and Hazards North Korea's government tries to pick a fight with the Republic of Korea

Aviation News Space Shuttle Atlantis ends its final scheduled flight
And still no plan for a successor to the Shuttle program



Weather and Disasters Early forecasts warn of a busy hurricane season
NOAA estimates the pending hurricane season in the Atlantic will include at least 3 hurricanes of category 3 or greater, and up to 23 named storms. NOAA also notes that a hurricane or two might actually help speed the biodegradation of the oil spilling in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Humor and Good News Is this Ozzy Osbourne real or wax?
(Video - beware R-rated language at the start) A funny practical experiment in conditioning. People at a wax museum just assume that the Ozzy figure sitting next to them is made of wax. But it's really Ozzy.

The United States of America Pro-electrification group praises new legislation
Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate are backing a proposal to promote electric vehicles. Obviously, electric-power companies are probably quite enthusiastic supporters of the legislation (and, undoubtedly, campaign contributors to the sponsors). But as a matter of national interest, migrating away from heavy dependence on petroleum, especially for transportation, is probably going to end up being very good for issues like national security -- particularly as China becomes far more interested in competing for the same limited supplies of oil that we share.



Science and Technology Why science needs to be taught as a process, not just isolated facts
When children get the impression that science is a big pile of factoids to be memorized, they don't learn to comprehend the scientific process -- nor do they learn that a lot of science is the result of one question leading to a mistake leading to a correction leading to new questions. Perhaps it's the misunderstanding of science as a pile of facts rather than a process of discovery that causes the anti-science crowd (for instance, hard-core creationists) to think that by picking apart isolated mistakes, they can cause the entire edifice of Science As We Know It to tumble to the ground. But no science is like that -- not evolutionary biology, not computer science, not nuclear physics. Mistakes can be made and errors corrected along the way, but the process moves forward. No science need be 100% firm evidentiary fact in order to move forward or even to be "true" in the sense that it leads us to greater discovery.

Humor and Good News The cleverest use of Twitter yet
Someone registered the name Ferris_Bueller_ and documented the movie ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off") like it was a day in someone's actual life. Hilarious.

Computers and the Internet How long is a digital memory?
Our comprehension of long-term institutional or social memory is pretty bad. Aside from a handful of artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the hieroglyphics inside Egyptian pyramids, we don't have much of an understanding of knowledge that's been kept around for a long time. Thus it's intriguing to see the debate that takes place about whether Google can keep images from its Street View cameras on file, and for how long. European authorities argue that it could be a violation of privacy standards to allow the company to keep those images for more than a few months. From an utterly different standpoint, though, there will undoubtedly be historians living 100 or 200 years from now who will wish that we had digitally archived everything. We will seem, in many ways, as mysterious to people living 1000 years from now as people living during the Dark Ages seem to us now. The fact that we are living through the nascent development of digital recordings makes us a lot like the first people to discover (or create) things like cuneiform, paper, and the printing press. Our obsession with things like bandwidth metering today is going to look just about as silly as a papyrus shortage in a short time from now.

Humor and Good News "Roam" by the B-52s -- the dance version
(Video) Just when you thought a song couldn't get any peppier

Humor and Good News Man crosses English Channel using a chair and a bunch of helium balloons

Broadcasting Really? Television shows about cake? More than one?
Really? That's why we needed the 500-channel universe?

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Iowa Never understimate the value of knowledge transfer
When delegates from 29 countries show up in a small town like Grundy Center, Iowa, to learn how they teach physical education, it's a clear sign that we still haven't achieved the age of perfect information. The Internet has done a lot to improve the transfer and exchange of knowledge, but there are still some things that require direct personal experience to be learned.

News How useful is a site like Wikileaks?
Wikileaks, which bills itself as a repository for leaked documents and information as an aid to government transparency and public accountability, has been working through some serious financial problems. Interestingly, it's also engaged in a battle with some publications over whose rules to follow. On one hand, there's no doubt that there are secrets being withheld from public view that need to see the light of day. But on the other, we all have secrets of our own, and somewhere, someone has to draw the line about what's public and what's private. Most people probably don't want anyone "leaking" information about their bedroom habits -- and many businesses have a definitive right to retain proprietary knowledge and information in confidentiality. In an age when Google can start a diplomatic row with China, the importance of Internet communications, privacy, and censorship cannot be overstated.

Humor and Good News "Othello", remade with the help of a sassy gay friend
(Video) Hilarious

Broadcasting Why was radio advertising too complex for Google to handle?

Broadcasting How the BBC reported on D-Day