Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Science and Technology Maybe we're looking for the wrong signs of alien life
An astronomer makes a very good observation: We're looking for signs of biological activity as an indicator that life exists beyond our little blue planet. But maybe shouldn't be looking for anything biological, since we don't necessarily know how things would have evolved elsewhere in the Universe. Maybe we should instead be looking for signs they're using computers of their own, since the rules of electricity are likely to be more universal (literally) than the rule of biology.

Computers and the Internet HP will use the Palm WebOS to drive a tablet computer
It'll be available next year. Much has been made of the iPad, but with a price point of $499, it costs as much as a more powerful laptop computer, but does less. But if HP (or another manufacturer) can start selling tablet computers for $150 or less, then they'll be on to something. Tablets are a novelty without a lot of practical use (aside from places like hospitals, where easy-to-clean surfaces are valuable) -- until they're cheap. Once they get to be cheap, then their utility for lesser applications emerges. $500 is too much to pay for an easy way to watch videos of people playing the Super Mario Brothers theme on a Theramin, but $100 might not be.

Humor and Good News A real moment of Zen
(Video) A man juggles while a cover band plays "Purple Rain" at the Iowa State Fair Bud Tent. Go on; just try to explain that.

News Lou Piniella retires from the Cubs
It's sad that his family circumstances have initiated an early exit, but there have also been a lot of reports (and even televised evidence) of rivalries and infighting inside the clubhouse. That's a managerial problem. In any organization, if there are people problems, then there's a managerial problem.

News A beautiful home made largely of glass
But, seriously, who would want to live there? Great for entertaining and fine for use as an office, but there's a reason we have blinds and curtains. Privacy is valuable, even when what's being kept private isn't very important.

Science and Technology The phantom toll booth
How a poorly-designed toll plaza is likely to cause driver anxiety and possibly even accidents

News 60-mile-long traffic jam in China
Traffic hasn't moved in nine days

Iowa Fights at the Iowa State Fair
It takes some serious numbskulls to start fights with police at the State Fair, but apparently it's happened. For those who wonder whether such things deviate from the norm, the Des Moines Police Department has an online map of crime statistics for the whole city.

Business and Finance Sales of US homes plunge in July
Nobody should be surprised: The expiration of tax credits means a double-whammy: Not only is the added incentive gone (taking activity out of the market), but the fact that people knew the tax breaks were going to expire caused some to accelerate their purchase plans. Government "stimulus" efforts like Cash for Clunkers and the homebuyers' tax credit have the inevitable effect of stimulating a lot of rapid, visible activity -- but also causing a hangover effect later that tends to be less-noticed.

Science and Technology Mafia uses text messages to television shows to communicate with bosses in prison
Wherever there's a void, ingenuity tends to find a way to fill it -- in this case, the void was for communication tools

Humor and Good News "Airplane!" turns 30
It remains one of the funniest movies ever recorded, containing not a single serious moment

Water News How to size a home-scale system to boost low water pressure

Broadcasting Charlie Rose and the business of producing an interview show
His drawl can sound a little foreign to northerners, but Rose is one of the best interviewers actively working today

Science and Technology Why schools should think more broadly about the historical record
One school administrator says "If I see another school trying to boost black achievement by talking about black pop and sports stars, I am going to do someone a serious injury". And when education gets hung up on the same handful of revered historical figures (like George Washington), rather than making note of lesser-known types who still affected the world in which we live today (like George Washington Carver), that education risks making kids think that only the flashiest contributions matter. In fact, the world has been built by the steady contributions of improvements by many.

Business and Finance The Federal debt is equal to $1,800 for every second that has passed since the US declared independence in 1776
Now that's a scary thought

Humor and Good News Fantastic catches from Japanese baseball
The ability to scale a wall appears to improve one's outfield play

News 33 miners found trapped deep underground in Chile

Humor and Good News The Onion tackles the immigration question

Water News FEMA to Lake Delhi: No cash for you

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Aviation News Air-traffic control is finally getting upgraded
The NextGen system for guiding aircraft from one airport to another has been under development for a long, long time. American Airlines just sent a flight on the first route using the new system, which is supposed to create more-direct routes for flights, saving fuel and time. It's mostly just a matter of using GPS (which is widely available) instead of radio beacons, but the airlines blame the FAA for taking much too long to put the system into service.

Iowa Internet banking crime steals $600,000 from Diocese of Des Moines
The need for safeguards against electronic theft has never been greater

Computers and the Internet An automatic translator for Internet and text-messaging slang

Business and Finance Casey's will buy back a quarter of its outstanding shares
It's an effort to head off a takeover by Couche-Tard. On one hand, the step will most likely help the current management remain in control of the company, but on the other, it comes at a very hefty price: about $500 million in borrowed money. They received reasonable financing on the deal, but new debt depletes the owners' equity. Was it the right move? For some people, yes. But if a share buyback had been the company's most efficient use of capital, why didn't they do it a year ago, when the stock cost $27.67 a share, rather than $37 today?

Humor and Good News Top Gear reviews the world's fastest street car

The United States of America A virtual tour of tenement life in America a century ago
Progress is the result of lots of little improvements in life, all compounded upon one another

Computers and the Internet An education nobody could have gotten ten years ago
How a creative individual has generated hundreds of online educational videos -- on a shoestring budget -- and distributed them via YouTube, gaining the praise of the likes of Bill Gates and others in the process. Gates has been pushing for major improvements in public education through his foundation, and one of his conclusions has been that we need to do a better job of distributing and replicating the work of "master teachers". This boot-strapped effort to do that is probably a good example.

Humor and Good News 15 logos that look like something else
The Dodge Viper logo, for instance, looks like an upside-down Daffy Duck. Of course, there are some logos that really shouldn't be used, ever.

Business and Finance Americans are still pulling lots of money out of stock-market mutual funds
They're trying to move lots of that money over to the bond markets, which is thought to be safer. Just because it's thought to be safer doesn't make it so, but that's what the conventional wisdom says.

Iowa Iowa's foreclosure rate hits a new record high
It's lower than the rest of the nation's, but it's still higher than it's ever been.

Water News Algae cuts into Ohio town's drinking-water supply

Humor and Good News Lady Gaga on the Iowa State University campanille
(Video) It's like a heaping helping of awesome. Very good work, ISU. Related: An unusually good auto-tuned news report on a home intruder. It's getting hard to tell what's the real news and what's not anymore -- The Onion satirizes the fluff news in newsmagazines, and yet the satire is hard to distinguish from the truth.

Health Why we need to get a lot smarter about handling concussions
Conventional wisdom about returning people to the playing field and other activities after a hit to the head may have been causing a lot of misdiagnoses of ALS, among other problems.

News DNA tests suggest Hitler was both Jewish and African ancestors
Irony much?

Humor and Good News How does a police chase end up on an airport runway?