Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Aviation News Solar storms could blackout 75% of the US for weeks or even months
This probably deserves a whole lot more attention than it's received

Aviation News Every Frontier Airlines aircraft has a unique tail
Every plane in the fleet is named and has a unique animal identity. Why don't more airlines do this? It hardly costs a fortune to pick a name for an aircraft and to stencil it on the side -- they don't all have to get unique tail markings -- but by identifying a particular plane and giving it a name other than just its official FAA registration number, the airlines can help to humanize an otherwise not-particularly-humane reputation. That Frontier's particular choice gives rise to a whole range of funny spinoffs (like a Simon-style game featuring penguins) is an added bonus. People still record and reminisce about Pan Am "Clipper" names, and it's been gone from the skies since 1991. Branding matters, in no small part because it can help build pride in a company's service in a way that serial numbers don't.

Computers and the Internet YouTube fends off a $1 billion lawsuit, but how long will it last?
A judge has ruled that YouTube, a division of Google, has worked hard enough to keep copyright-protected material off its servers that it isn't liable for a suit from Viacom. The entire YouTube empire cost Google $1.65 billion in 2006, so losing a billion-dollar lawsuit would have been costly in relative as well as absolute terms. Google claims to be close to pulling in an operating profit on the service, though an operating profit today does not make the entire venture profitable -- all of the past expenses add up to red ink to be made up, and the future costs could be huge if other lawsuits succeed, or if bandwidth and server-space demands continue to expand like a fat man's waistline at the Iowa State Fair. The bottom line is that YouTube is a big gamble for Google -- and interesting one that pays off well for consumers, to be sure, but definitely a gamble.

Iowa An all-four-lane Highway 20 might yet happen
The highway is four lanes now from Dubuque in Iowa's east to Fort Dodge in the middle, but it has a long way to go to expand to a full four lanes all the way to Sioux City. But the expansion could be very, very good for the long-term growth of northern Iowa's economy. There are lots of very nice communities in that part of the state, but they are so far away from four-lane highway access that they tend to get economically isolated.

Broadcasting Recap of the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 11, 2010

Computers and the Internet How much does the NSA know about what's on the Internet?
A Wall Street Journal report on a project (rather ominously) called "Perfect Citizen" suggests that the government agency is setting up a huge network to monitor Internet activity to detect electronic terrorism. There's no doubt we need to monitor that technology because it most certainly is under threat now more than ever. But it's also imperative that someone supervise the agencies doing the work, just as the military is supervised by civilian officials.

Business and Finance Credit scores are spreading out
More people are getting high scores, and more people getting low scores. The normal distribution curve is being challenged. But it's clear that banks are finally getting to the point where they have to start lending out some money again; people with high scores are getting calls and mailings again offering them large personal loans -- even when the consumer isn't looking for one.

News Iranian village built into cone-shaped formations of volcanic ash
Photographs are circulating on the Internet portraying the photos as a depiction of life in Afghanistan. The truth is more interesting.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft kills off its "Kin" smartphone
It was only on the market for a few weeks. Perhaps it's a sign that Microsoft is having trouble coming up with a competitive idea in the fastest-growing area of new consumer technology right now. Or maybe it's just a sign that they were willing to conduct an experiment and are smart enough to pull the plug quickly when it looks like a flop. Microsoft and Google alike are facing a bunch of unusual problems right now -- Google has just had its license renewed to operate in China. The potential gains and losses these companies face from market forces as fickle as the whims of China's Communist Party are pretty staggering.

Broadcasting 70th anniversary of a wartime broadcast
Charles de Gaulle's broadcast via the BBC to occupied France is an example of the power of international public diplomacy. The BBC was an excellent tool of empire for Britain while it was such a power, and it remains a hugely influential tool of public affairs for the country today.

Broadcasting How not to curate a great institution
The present management at the Tribune Company is doing a lot to change WGN, a radio station that has been a heritage powerhouse for almost as long as commercial radio has existed. Sadly, it's demoralizing the staff and burning out a reputation that's been finely cared-for through almost a century. People care about their institutions, and they're willing to forgive a lot if the caretakers appear to be taking care. But they can be easily upset by carelessness.

Business and Finance How family trusts could be perpetuating unearned wealth

Computers and the Internet Why Twitter's popularity will fade
The concept of microblogging has its place -- users can share pithy anecdotes and have interesting exchanges -- but the concept also demands a lot of attention from those who really get into it. And the problem, as designer Mark Boulton points out, is that "when you live on a diet of 100 characters or so, you get get thin, jittery and unhappy". Moreover, the content found on Twitter -- such as it is -- is disproportionately driven by links to the extremely transitory, like gossip, endless self-reference, vapid self-help quotations, pop entertainment, and gadgetry-related news. It's hard to fill one's brain with substantial material while being bombarded by the transitory.

Computers and the Internet Texting and jury service don't mix

News Just because you carry a passport doesn't mean it's accepted everywhere
The Iroquois Nation issues its own passports, but they're not being accepted for travel between the United States and the United Kingdom. It might help if their national website weren't broken right now. The concept of nationhood is a funny thing: China, for instance, seems to be taking rather bold steps to protect its "national" economic interests -- to the point where multinational companies like GE are questioning whether it's worth doing any business there at all. But China as a monolithic entity is only a myth. And the multinational corporation itself is a concept which some people think will merge, to an extent, with real nation-states as the nation-states weaken and the corporations grow more powerful. Related: See a brand-new, modern ghost city.

News The best way to lose an argument is to overstate your case
A "tea party" group apparently paid for a billboard in Mason City, Iowa, whose message appears to draw parallels between President Obama and both Hitler and Lenin. It's so over-the-top that whatever point they likely intended to make is drowned out by the ridicule the sign rightly attracts. Has the President done things that are, literally, socialistic? Yes. The government bailout (and buyout) of General Motors, for instance, was socialistic. But socialism comes in many flavors, and there's certainly been a socialistic element to the government's approach to economics at least since the New Deal. George W. Bush's expansion of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit was just as socialistic as the government takeover of GM, but the Medicare benefit will be far more costly. That could, arguably, make former President Bush more of a socialist than President Obama. But to infer that either is comparable to Hitler or Lenin is unreasonable. It overstates (by an egregious margin) the magnitude of American leaders' behavior, and ultimately detracts from the very legitimate discussion that should be taking place about the proper role of government and the limitations of government spending. Our government spends far more than it takes in, and most people probably don't want to pay higher taxes. Thus, we need a serious discussion about what it is upon which we should be spending less -- not a cartoonish and offensive shouting match that ends up bringing Godwin's Law into effect.

Weather and Disasters The relative power of hurricanes turns out to be predictable

Computers and the Internet OpenOffice releases an updated edition
It's mostly built around a "refreshed" brand, which may or may not serve to bring the free, open-source office productivity suite to the attention of new users. But it's a good set of tools, and one cannot beat the price.

Weather and Disasters Tropical weather in Iowa
The dewpoint in Des Moines today reached 80, which is a figure the city hadn't seen since 2004. At that level, it's muggier outside than in a tropical rainforest. Or, put another way, a lot like a foggy day in London...but about 40 degrees hotter. It was brutal. But it also inspires some curiosity about those other rainforests -- not the tropical ones, but the temperate rainforests, where it's always wet but cool. It would have made a nice trade-off.

Computers and the Internet Some fresh music for airports
It's not as personally-crafted as something by Brian Eno, but for a song generated entirely by a computer (with the guidance of some human-made rules), it's far from atrocious. It's only ambient music, but it's a lot more listenable than some "experimental" songs a person might hear.

News A collection of last emperors
Hereditary monarchies are such a ridiculous idea

Health Surgery simulators now give physical feedback
Pilots train with simulators all the time; why shouldn't surgeons?

News Despite its troubles, some countries still want into the Eurozone
Estonia will become part of the common-currency area next year

News Remains of ship from the 1700s found at the WTC site

Humor and Good News "So if I wear these gloves, will it drop the call like an iPhone?"

Science and Technology Would we be aggravated by GPS voices if they were our own?

Iowa How is an old-time photo a "scoop"?
The Des Moines Register appears to be confused about the definition of a news "scoop", naming a feature with letters, old-time photos, and "where are they now?" content "The Sunday Scoop". Sounds more like "The Sunday Space-Filler".

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - July 17, 2010

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