Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Computers and the Internet After 30 years and a lot of computing power, the Rubik's Cube has been broken
A conclusion has been reached with the help of a lot of computing power that any Rubik's Cube puzzle can be solved in no more than 20 moves. Not that most of us can come anywhere close to matching that ideal.

Iowa Remarkable satellite imagery of the 2010 flooding in Iowa
Thanks to real-time satellite imagery, we can see just how profoundly many rivers have exceeded their banks

Humor and Good News Psychics get the skewer
(Video - with some coarse language) Charlie Brooker destroys television "psychics" by showing just how transparent their cold-read schemes really are. Hilarious, and a blow for science.

News The Omaha World-Herald turns 125
The employee-owned company appears to have been reasonably successful in staging itself to remain strong in the long term

Aviation News Southwest Airlines thinks a little apology goes a long way
They actually employ a staff to apologize to passengers inconvenienced either by them or just while in their care. It's hard to think of a way in which this is a bad idea. The worst customer isn't one who's angry -- it's the one who's angry and decides never to come back.

Health Health-care reform bill only makes Medicare budget projections more murky
The reforms were pitched in part on the notion that they'd make Medicare more budgetarily-balanced, but not only does that seem superficially unlikely -- the people charged with making the future estimates say that the projected savings they hope to make probably won't come true. Egads, we're in a lot of trouble.

News India and America: Two countries separated by a common language
As has been so often said of other pairs of English-speaking countries

Iowa A gallery of the Iowa floods of 2010
The Iowa Department of Transportation caught a number of shots from road cameras that have been preserved for history

Iowa A terrific history of business in Ames, Iowa
The city will have a lot of work to do to recover from this year's flooding, but its historical society has done a laudable job of documenting what it's overcome in the past

Water News Why it takes so long to return municipal water service after an outage

Science and Technology Optical illusion makes uphill look like downhill
Among other things, we're not wired very well for estimating slope

Broadcasting Yesterday's "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio
In four parts: the value of alternative Internet browsers, why bad design is a hassle, how to put an end to neighborhood disputes, and the quest for a personal theme song

Aviation News Boeing 737 crashes, breaks into three pieces -- but only one person was killed
It happened in Colombia, and naturally a lot of people are talking about how grateful they are that God "protected" them in the incident. But what they should really do is thank the massive strides forward in airplane safety that have been achieved over the last couple of decades. Better airplanes and better pilot training mean we're seeing far fewer airline fatalities than in the past.

Iowa It sure isn't the Gateway Arch
Four sculptures have been installed on a bridge over Interstate 80 as it passes through Council Bluffs, Iowa, just to the east of Omaha. Considering its location on the most important east-west highway in the United States, the site is pretty prominent -- being traveled by about 80,000 vehicles a day. While it's great that western Iowans are getting behind public art, the sculptures aren't all that attractive. It's a subjective judgment, to be sure, but the sculptures just don't really have the same enduring aesthetic appeal as the St. Louis Gateway Arch or the Great Platte River Road Archway. There's a lot of modern sculpture that seems to celebrate a sense of incompleteness or hasty fabrication, with jagged edges and unsmoothed connections. Something suggests to the modern viewer that sculptures in this style are going to look hideously dated in about twenty years. It's not like we haven't long known how to approximate perfection in our physical objects. Why can't anyone work on a revival of Art Deco monuments or the Streamline movement in their sculpture?

Business and Finance Ghost signs
The remnants of old wall-painted signs that have faded with age but haven't been replaced. Proving that advertising and commerce don't have to be unpleasant to the eye.

Humor and Good News Vanilla Ice and Tone Loc: Back in action
Billed as the "Legends of hip-hop", they attracted thousands to a free stage at the Iowa State Fair. No word on any poisonings by Funky Cold Medina. But who can resist a good novelty show, anyway?

Iowa Tailgating rules to get tougher at the University of Iowa
It'll probably just lead to more concentrated drinking before people drive, which is even worse than the current binge drinking that takes place around Hawkeye football games

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Computers and the Internet Your password is too short
Passwords are supposed to protect our security by keeping unwanted intruders out of our online profiles. But here's the problem: As computers get faster, those passwords become less secure. The computers that incredible graphics (making possible animated films like Toy Story 3) are downscaled in order to produce smooth graphics on personal computers, too. And they produce those graphics by making lots of calculations swiftly. That also means that they can generate long lists of fake passwords swiftly, too -- making it possible for them to run brute-force attacks against password-protected websites and computer systems, relying only upon their ability to generate lots of possible passwords quickly, and nothing more sophisticated than that. Georgia Tech researchers say that anything shorter than 12 characters just isn't long enough.

Business and Finance GM files for an IPO
The company, which received a $50 billion bailout from the Treasury Department after declaring bankruptcy last year, will be selling itself to shareholders again. Shareholders in the previous edition of General Motors? Screwed. Bondholders from the previous version of GM? Also screwed.

Aviation News Stealth UAVs coming soon to a theater of war near you
The government is encouraging airplane and UAV manufacturers to look at including stealth technology in their next generation of unmanned aircraft. Great news for the theater of war. Terrible news if any evildoers get their hands on the technology and use it against a civilian population for terrorism.

Computers and the Internet Celebrity plastic surgeon killed by texting-while-driving
A friend says he was posting something on Twitter while driving -- just before he crashed off a cliff

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.

Computers and the Internet Intel buys McAfee
Interesting move -- the chip-maker wants to have a greater presence in network computing, and figures that it needs a stronger security offering in order to do it right.

Computers and the Internet Facebook introduces geolocation services
They're rolling it out to all US users. It's a cute idea, in a pat-it-on-the-head kind of way. But it's really a bad idea to let people know where you are all the time, even if it's kept to your Facebook "friends." If loose lips sank ships, geolocation is a great way to invite stalking and burglary. (There must be a catchier way to say that.)

Agriculture Russian seed bank might be saved by a Twitter campaign
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev appears to have been influenced by an online pressure campaign to intervene in a case where a huge seed bank was about to be destroyed and turned into a housing development. The seed bank apparently contains a huge amount of unique material -- 90% of its seeds aren't found anywhere else -- and a huge portion of it is a field collection, which means the seeds can't be moved. Supporters say that it contains 5,000 varieties of seeds and berries.

Computers and the Internet Why you should never use your child's photo as your profile picture on Facebook or elsewhere
There are at least three hidden hazards, two of which can harm the child -- and one of those is a direct threat to their safety

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Computers and the Internet Change your name? No thanks, Google.
Google's CEO Eric Schmidt has told the Wall Street Journal that he thinks young people might someday have to be given the option to change their names as they reach adulthood, just to let them escape the digital trail that recorded their youthful indiscretions. Interesting, coming from a guy whose personal website lists his e-mail address at Yahoo (a rival to Google).

Agriculture Text messages to tell farmers when to apply fertilizer
Sounds silly in the US, where GPS drives some tractors. But it's a great tool for people in the developing world.

The United States of America "You don't want to slide into whack-job territory. You just need a little ability to live without total dependence on the grocery stores being stocked."
Why Americans need to get tougher and smarter, for our own good.

Computers and the Internet Smartphone adoption rates continue to soar
It's estimated that 23% of all US mobile-phone subscriptions are for smartphones like the iPhone and the Android phones. The rate of adoption suggests that they'll be more common than standard phones within about two years. And to think that only 20 years ago, most people didn't even have a mobile phone at all.

Science and Technology No, Mars isn't going to appear as large as the Moon
An e-mail in circulation now suggests that Mars will appear as large as the Moon in the night sky sometime this month. Too bad it's preposterously false. And too bad it's a hoax that's been circulating for half a decade without being stopped.

Broadcasting How to write (well) for television
Putting aside the hindrance that it's written in all-capitals, producer David Mamet's letter to his screenwriters working on the now-cancelled "The Unit" implores them to ensure that every moment contains something to move the plot, not just deliver information. It's quite insightful.

The United States of America Government spending, and the gap between what's legal and what's smart
Whether passenger-rail service between Des Moines and Chicago would have been a good use of government money is up for debate. But there's no debating that a lot of what's been involved in "stimulating" the economy through government spending comes with a heavy administrative toll, and all that administration still won't stop stupid projects from being funded.

Humor and Good News Like a stroke, but diff'rent
One terribly evil but hilarious joke about a departed celebrity

The United States of America Real heroes
Too much time is spent idolizing the famous -- not the heroic

Computers and the Internet It's strangely easy to see the future now
The quality of graphics-editing programs (like Photoshop) and the skills of the people using them have improved so much over the last few years that when someone generates a picture of a proposed sign at a place like Wrigley Field, it looks almost exactly the same when it's actually finished.