Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Business and Finance Megachurches appear to be relatively recession-proof
While one would be wrong to impugn the beliefs of the attendees, there's no escaping the fact that at least some leaders of these churches are using faith to enrich themselves. Some churches are far more "business" than "charity".

Computers and the Internet Indian government threatens to shut down BlackBerry service
They're citing security concerns as the reason

Weather and Disasters After 400 years of dormancy, an Indonesian volcano comes back to life
No casualties are reported yet, but how many other "dormant" volcanoes aren't really as sleepy as we think they are?

Business and Finance The more the government has fiddled with the economy, the harder it becomes to make projections
Government interventions have been hugely expensive, and some of them are having perverse effects as they change, evolve, and expire -- like the way that the expiration of homebuyer tax credits has squished the housing market lately. Some government intervention in the economy will always be necessary -- but it should always seek to be as minimal as possible.

The United States of America Buzzwords are hurting the legitimate public debate about important issues
Says Charlie Brooker: "It's possible to be a patriot without being a bigot, just as it's possible to be a weather forecaster without being a stripper, but if a weather forecaster took her clothes off halfway through a forecast, its fair to say the striptease element of her performance would greatly overshadow any meteorological merit. Still, a lot of people erroneously believe that saying 'I'm a patriot' automatically absolves them from any and all charges of bigotry." Similar problems happen on the left, of course, where the perpetual refrain of "it's for the children" is usually just a cover for telling people what to do and then taxing them for it.

News Should the Caribbean try to arrange its own unified government?
(Article in Spanish) The many small islands of the region don't have a lot of individual power or sway -- and they're subject to lots of powerful external forces in the world marketplace and in hemispheric politics -- like power struggles between the US and Venezuela. But could the well-led islands unify with the poorly-governed ones and lift the weak up to a higher standard without dragging down the strong?

Agriculture Soybeans are being killed by "sudden death" all over Iowa
It's come basically out of nowhere, and there's not a lot that farmers can do to control it. It's one more example of the unpredictability of food production that means we need to do a better job of storage as an insurance policy against inevitable future disasters.

Weather and Disasters Engineers try to design a San Francisco Bay Bridge to survive any major earthquake
The many steps forward in technologies like bridge design have undoubtedly made life much better for the people who use them, even if the average commuter has no idea whether he or she is traveling a good bridge or a weak one.

The United States of America The most powerful Republican in America is the governor of Mississippi
That wouldn't seem likely were it not a world in which Haley Barbour is in charge of the Republican Governors Association, which has a huge war chest, and the ability to spend it on things like state-level elections, where a lot of the real governing in America gets done

Water News New Orleans keeps creeping towards comprehensive flood protection

Computers and the Internet 30 old computer ads
A 10-megabyte hard disk once cost $3500. Today, a 10-Mb email attachment is no big deal. The really interesting part is to consider how archaic today's computer-related ads will look in 20 years.

Weather and Disasters A report from Pakistan
The nation's devastating flooding is causing real and significant human suffering

Threats and Hazards Russian prime minister Putin says protesters should expect to get hit on the head by police
If that kind of language doesn't recall Soviet-era prohibitions on protest and free speech, what does? The world needs Russia to be prosperous and free.

News US Army colonel booted from Afghanistan in part for criticizing PowerPoint
Bullet-pointed slides are no substitute for clear thinking, but the colonel thinks the bullet points are winning out

Weather and Disasters Hurricane Earl could hit New York City
And it's doubtful the city is adequately prepared. Related: What everyone should have in a "go bag" in case of emergency.

Science and Technology "Skeptical environmentalist" Lomborg now thinks $100 billion a year would be a good investment in fixing climate change

Humor and Good News MyWifeKnowsEverything at the finish
(Video) Two oddly-named horses finish one-two

Weather and Disasters Golfer accidentally causes 25-acre fire
Somehow, a bad swing in a rocky patch of rough caused a spark, igniting a whole bunch of dry brush. Bizarre.

Aviation News Justice Department clears the way for United and Continental Airlines to merge

Broadcasting Prediction: BP will change its corporate name sometime in the next 18 months

Broadcasting Why Apple seems just a little bit Stalinist

Water News Dozens permanently kicked out of Nebraska mobile-home park because of a broken septic system

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News How to prepare for disasters: Plan to get out and to communicate
To all those people who ask, "Why would I want to learn how to send a text message?", here's one answer: During a disaster, phone networks are often overloaded. But text messages take up so little space in the radio spectrum that they can often be delivered when full-fledged calls won't pass. It's like the question, "Why should I learn self-defense?" -- the answer isn't always obvious. But when mob violence breaks out at a music festival, it's too late to try to learn how to defend oneself.

Computers and the Internet Chinese family ordered to change their name because it contains a rare character
Apparently, that character is so rare that Chinese government computers can't handle it, meaning they can't be issued ID cards, so they're being ordered to change their name.

Computers and the Internet British advertising regulator adds company websites and Twitter accounts to its watchlists

Business and Finance The (Chicago) Tribune Co. is moving its back office to Texas
There's undoubtedly supposed to be some logic to the move, but it's hard to see what that would be, considering the company's largest operations are far away from Texas.

News Quick-thinking 8-year-old slams window on arm of intruder

Water News Outgoing DNR director comments on Lake Delhi flooding-related pollution

Agriculture Why we have to give refuge to agricultural pests
New seeds and new insecticides are so good at obliterating pests that the government requires farmers to set aside "refuge" acreage without those technologies, so that the pests have somewhere to go instead of sticking around and becoming superbugs. On the surface, it seems to make some sense -- the MRSA "superbug" has been a huge problem in the medical sector, brought about by the misapplication of antibiotics. But it's a hassle for farmers to have to set aside the refuge fields. Moreover, we haven't addressed MRSA in hospitals by setting aside "refuge" rooms where it's OK for infections to run rampant.

Humor and Good News If nobody ever again uses the word "edgy" to describe a logo, it will be too soon
But Drake University's use of "D+" to convey the advantages they confer to their students isn't even "edgy" -- it's just disappointing. There are more clever things they can do to enhance their branding position than rehash a cliche. Besides, F Minus is a lot funnier.

Iowa UNI marching band will introduce "peppy" version of the Iowa Corn Song as a victory march
The rendition definitely is jaunty -- but they'd better not use it to replace the traditional fight song, or there's going to be a problem.

Computers and the Internet Google releases version 6 of Chrome browser
It's been two years since they first released the browser, and there's no question that it has improved in several regards -- not the least of which is its stability. It's still not perfect, but Google does employ a clever trick: They pay a meaningful amount of money to people who identify bugs in the software, which incentivizes people to turn over the problems to Google so they can be fixed, rather than letting them sit until they're exploited by crooks. Chrome isn't perfect, but neither are any of the other browsers. And because it's free, smart computer users ought to download it and get familiar with it, since occasionally it's deemed unsafe to use one particular browser or another due to those crooks exploiting vulnerabilities. On a related note, Google is now offering automated inbox prioritization for people who use Gmail, which predicts how interested a user might be in the incoming messages based upon that same user's past actions. Potentially quite handy -- but it also reveals just how valuable information about our e-mail use can be. Whomever controls your inbox also controls a vast amount of information about you.

News Another explosion on an offshore oil-drilling platform near Louisiana

Threats and Hazards Censorship just isn't a good idea, period
Officials are trying to keep bad news off the minds of the 33 miners trapped in Chile, but even though it's well-intentioned, it's a bad policy. They're going to be down there for at least several more weeks -- if not a few months. If you received nothing but syrupy, happy news in that length of time, wouldn't you begin to believe that people were deliberately keeping things from you? And wouldn't that paranoia be worse than having a degree of normalcy in life -- even if that normalcy involves occasional bad news? After all, they're trapped in a mine -- it's not like they won't have a bit of perspective on how important (or not) Tiger Woods's divorce really is. The Iranian government is using a similar chain of reasoning for censoring news about the political opposition there, saying it's bad for the public to hear about those people. It doesn't take forever for people to realize they're being fed a line of nonsense, so why pretend like it's for their own good?

Science and Technology Stephen Hawking thinks gravity initiated the Big Bang
People are trying to spin this as a religious conversion on Hawking's part. The real story is that Hawking is pretty confident that we may have actually cracked the code that explains how the process of the initiation of everything we know came about. People are welcome to adopt whatever explanation for their personal beliefs might be, but it's truly exciting to think that we may be as close as Hawking apparently thinks to having a real, evidentiary basis for drawing the conclusions we do.

Iowa Iowa should not delay on installing more median barriers
Tensed-cable barriers running down the middle of expressways save lives, period. We know that they work, and we know that there are some stretches of road where head-on collisions are unusually common. Of all the investments we could make in infrastructure, adding some of these barriers to high-frequency accident locations should be toward the top.

Humor and Good News Does Chinese food leave people hungry shortly after eating?
It's certainly a widely-accepted legend, but is it true? And if so, why? This might be one for which science has no firm answer, but there is at least a little bit of evidence in the form of satiety indices, which suggest that some of the major components of Chinese food tend not to satisfy hunger as well as some major components of Western food.

Aviation News Boeing is running behind on delviering its new 787
It's already years behind schedule, and the longer it takes, the more time Airbus (makers of the ridiculous A380) has to woo their customers.

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