Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Business and Finance At least a dozen London economists think the Euro will be dead within 5 years
A fascinating forecast, to be sure. If the Euro flops, Britain will look smart for having stuck with the pound sterling.

News How to make a national newsmagazine more national
A New York Times columnist opines that Newsweek should find a "grid of smart contributors from Phoenix, Miami and Austin, Tex., etc." That's an absolutely dead-on suggestion; oddly enough, it's a suggestion that should apply to the "national" newspapers, like the New York Times, as well. But even the national newspapers have been slaughtering their news bureaus across the country -- where, for instance, are the Washington Post bureaus outside of metro DC? -- and it makes them seem hopelessly out of touch with what's happening across the country.

Business and Finance What's wrong with the American economy in one short list
Yahoo lists some of the highest-paid starting salaries for college graduates. The top of the list includes consultants (Question: What college graduate knows diddly squat that's worth a consulting fee? Answer: Not one) and Federal government employees (as though the Federal government needs to drop further into debt). Government jobs shouldn't be a path to quick riches, and college graduates aren't reasonably qualified to consult on anything more complicated than a lemonade stand.

Science and Technology A glimpse of the 1939 World's Fair
The General Motors exhibit, Futurama, in which GM sold a concept of automotive freedom, rather than a particular car. Aside from the occasional iPhone ad, most American companies seem disinterested in selling a vision today, which confirms a certain lack of long-term planning.

Broadcasting Show notes from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 6, 2010

Broadcasting Podcast: Should we copy Germany for a better economy?

Broadcasting Podcast: The first non-Latin web addresses go live

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Science and Technology Prosecutors consider pressing charges against Italian earthquake researchers
The scientists had apparently dismissed early signs of the pending earthquake as nothing to be alarmed about. Then a big quake occurred, and people died. Of course, the idea of prosecuting the researchers as though they had created the hazard themselves is bonkers. Weather forecasters, geologists, tsunami researchers, and others are obviously trying as hard as they can with the best tools they have available to give their fellow people the best possible warnings ahead of natural disasters. But they're working with limited information and even more limited knowledge. That's the point of science: We're in the process of learning all the time, and new information and new study begets better knowledge -- but we'll never be perfectly right. It would be absurd to press charges against your local television weather reporter because he couldn't forecast that a tornado would hit your home, and it would be absurd to sue a vulcanologist because she didn't foresee that a lava flow would ruin your Hawaiian vacation. Charging the Italian researchers with anything criminal is similarly ridiculous. They made an inaccurate forecast, but it was almost undoubtedly the best they were capable of making at the time, given their knowledge and the available data.

News Health-care reform bill included far too little money for early retirees
The Employee Benefit Research Institute says that a provision to help cover health-care costs for early retirees is so badly underfunded that it will go broke after two years -- even though it was supposed to last for four. If that's any kind of early-warning signal for how underfunded the rest of the reform package is, then we're in serious trouble.

Computers and the Internet The new iPhone really doesn't sound like anything to get excited about
As predicted here two years ago, the iPhone was a clever early entry into the consumer-level smartphone market, but strong competition didn't take long to emerge, and now Android-based and webOS-based alternatives do a lot of things the iPhone can't.

Agriculture Stunning statistics about world agriculture
For obvious reasons, John Deere needs to keep good metrics on world food production. Among the statistics they've measured is the quintupling of Brazilian soybean production since 1993, and roughly a quadrupling of their sugarcane production over the same time. They also note a pretty serious erosion in the global backup stock of corn over the same time.

News See the cleanup of a train derailment in time-lapse
It's really quite interesting to see how quickly the workers recover the train cars and the coal they spilled

Humor and Good News How to keep the "24" franchise alive
Charlie Brooker says they should hire a bunch of six-year-old boys to write the continuing storyline. He might just have an idea there. And in other bizarre entertainment news, someone thinks they've found a young Barack Obama in the video for "Whoomp, There it Is".

News Helen Thomas "retires" from the White House press corps
The 89-year-old made some pretty outlandish comments about kicking the Jews out of Israel, and they were caught on video and posted to the Internet. One would think that a journalist who's been covering the White House since Kennedy would (a) have seen enough of the world to be more enlightened than that, and (b) know better than to say something stupid right into a camera.

Broadcasting Podcast: Why the budget really is a matter of life and death

Broadcasting Podcast: A big Patch Tuesday is on the way

Water News Weekend storms dropped rain at a rate of 4" per hour on southern Iowa

The United States of America "Share your ideas to stop the oil spill"
That's the title of an e-mail issued by the US Department of Energy, soliciting online suggestions from the small-business community for ways to manage the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It's hard to tell whether the request is innovative, ridiculous, half-baked, or a combination of all three. Where's the incentive to respond? In other words, what does a respondent get if his or her idea works? "The thanks of a grateful nation" isn't going to be enough to motivate people who are working to build the businesses that will have to pay the future taxes that the very same government is running up with its pathological addiction to debt, so there needs to be some kind of concentrated benefit to coming up with the right answer.

News Analyst who leaked Iraq footage to Wikileaks gets arrested
Apparently, he just couldn't help himself and had to brag about leaking the video...to a former hacker, after reading the guy's story in Wired magazine. Stories like this make it really difficult to believe that anyone could keep up some of the more exotic and elaborate plots and cover-ups of which organizations (often governments) are frequently accused, like the supposed discovery of intelligent alien life at Area 51. The bottom line is that if one guy can't even keep his trap shut about his own work, how can a conspiracy of hundreds or thousands be expected to hold for any length of time? Someone's going to spill the beans sometime.

Business and Finance Hong Kong consultants say India has the world's worst bureaucracy
That the country continues to enjoy economic growth despite stifling red tape really illustrates just how much potential India could probably unleash if only it would get rid of the obstruction.

News Using burglar alarms to stop fires
New Zealand has a problem with arson in schools, but they can't afford to retrofit all of the school buildings with sprinklers. But they might be able to stop the crimes with burglar alarms, which are much cheaper.

Humor and Good News Cover-band drummer decides to add a little something extra to ZZ Top
He ends up looking like a cross between one of the audioanimatronic characters from the Rockafire Explosion at Showbiz Pizza and Animal

Broadcasting Podcast: Why incremental improvements matter

Broadcasting Podcast: Whatever happened to powerline broadband?

Water News Is 12% ethanol coming to a gas pump near you?

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The American Way June 2010 update to the EconDirectory
Hundreds of websites about economics and business, ranked by daily average traffic

The American Way Gates Foundation puts $10 million into kick-starting mobile banking for Haiti
Haiti can't really recover economically from the earthquake of this year until its people can save and invest. And while banking via mobile phone may sound like a luxury to Americans, in parts of the world where many people remain "unbanked", mobile-phone services can be a nearly-ubiquitous (and very clever) substitute for establishing lots of expensive bank branches with prohibitively high barriers to entry for the unbanked poor. Plus, money saved in mobile-linked accounts is much safer to carry than cash, which can be stolen. The Gates Foundation is making the reward an innovation prize, with the largest rewards reserved for the competitors who deploy mobile banking services fastest and to the largest number of people. It's a great idea -- especially because it's using the market to create a sustainable improvement in human development, not just one-time charity.

Health Wolfram Alpha adds health indicators
The complex and evolving "decision engine" is now populated with World Health Organization data on the world's health. Very interesting stuff. If you want to improve the things that matter, you have to find ways to quantify them.

The United States of America Exercising the right to vote is a significant historical anomaly
Suppose that something like 100,000,000,000 people have ever lived. In that time, only a handful of nations -- mostly in just the last century or so -- have ever had a true representative democracy with a secret ballot. Even if the entire planet today had that kind of secure right to self-governance (which it most assuredly does not, considering China alone has more than a billion citizens who have no such thing as a free and fair vote), one's chances of having had the right to vote freely without fear of violence or reprisal would still be well under one in ten. In honor of those who don't have the right to vote -- not to mention one's ancestors, who likely came from lands ruled by kings, princes, and invading armies, those of us who have the right to vote today should exercise that right in every election, every time. Even when it's just a primary election: If you don't vote in the primaries, you're volunteering to have just one more choice than someone living in a one-party state.

News Fascinating urban ruins
Truly intriguing photographs of once-densely-populated places that were abandoned

Broadcasting Radio on-demand: Who gets leisure time in America?

Broadcasting Radio on-demand: Why we're going to have to hitchhike into space

Water News Researchers "surprised" to find more bacteria in bottled water than tap water