Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Computers and the Internet Intel says it's introducing a chip with a billion transistors
The product merges a microprocessor and a graphics processor onto a single chip

Computers and the Internet "Google Instant is trying to kill me"
Inevitably, a lot of the things that we're still trying to accommodate and to which we're trying to adjust now -- like Google's new rapid-fire search engine, Facebook privacy issues, and hazards like texting while driving -- are going to look positively quaint in 25 years or so, just like we mock relics like the blocky graphics from the start of the computer animation age. But Charlie Brooker has a point: Sometimes we need to step away from instant gratification, just to ensure we're making the right choices. An all-you-can-eat buffet might look enticing, but it's hard to make a decision not to eat when it's right in front of you...even when that may be the right decision to make.

Health National study of 100,000 children from pre-birth to age 21 starts soon
It's a national study with 105 local locations, of which Polk County, Iowa, is one. They're trying to figure out what environmental factors affect children's development, and in what ways. The larger the sample size, they figure, the more likely it is that they'll find solid results even on low-frequency health problems.

The United States of America Pop vs. Soda vs. Coke: Which is it?
Americans generally fall into one of three categories when giving a generic name for soft drinks, and the regional distinctions are drawn among some amazingly sharp lines. English, you fickle language, you.

Science and Technology Simultaneous independent invention
If two people invent the same thing simultaneously, but without any knowledge of one another, doesn't that stand as evidence that what they were doing is at least somewhat obvious? And, thus, not patentable? The US patent system is in terrible shape, and so is the copyright system. They're hurting innovation and thus harming the economy.

Business and Finance Banks around the world will be pushed to hold 7% capital reserves

Business and Finance Warren Buffett doesn't foresee a double-dip recession
He thinks pessimism about the economy is more a media-generated story than a reflection of reality

News US Department of Defense warns UK it needs to avoid cutting defense budget
The UK is facing a huge budget problem with massive spending cuts, pretty much across the board. Except that cutting the Ministry of Defense would likely cause it to fall out of line with NATO requirements, and there are only so many remaining powerful defense forces in the world, of which the US and the UK are two.

Socialism Doesn't Work How efficient are tax subsidies for expanding employment?
Private businesses are looking for lots of state and local financing for their expansions. Is it really efficient?

Broadcasting Man hears his own voice from World War II

Aviation News Would cheap airline tickets be worth sitting in a saddle for three hours?
Just wait until a hard landing

Agriculture Genetic modifications show up in wild canola

Humor and Good News When anonymous hate mail gets its due
An amusingly persistent response to some unpleasant online comments

Business and Finance Why the Midwest didn't get hit all that hard by the recession
Less participation in a bubble means less suffering when the bubble pops. On a related note, after two years, they're still trying to unravel the remains of Lehman Brothers. And it's costing billions of dollars to figure out how to distribute the remaining assets of the company to the people to whom they belonged. It's time (as it really always has been) to focus on fundamentals: Conservative financing, innovation, and honest business practices. Americans have both known how (and been willing) to build for the long term -- witness the durable buildings constructed 100 years ago in places like Fort Dodge, Iowa. They come from a time when aspiration was matched by foresight.

Weather and Disasters Better weather forecasts save billions of dollars
Improved hurricane forecasts are preventing needless evacuations and saving hundreds of millions of dollars. Another example of how life is getting better all the time, in ways we rarely comprehend. And where does this improved quality of life show up in our conventional measures of economics and other well-being? We hardly think about the number of car accidents we don't get into, or the storm precautions we don't have to take, but things like these make life substantially better and save us time, money, and suffering. How do we measure things like people sharing personal interpretations of pop music in sign language? Skills and talents that might otherwise have been seen only by a handful of friends and family end up attracting hundreds of thousands of views, from the curious just as much as from the intended audience of the deaf and hard-of-hearing (who themselves undoubtedly gain in new and novel ways from communication tools like captions on YouTube in addition to the interpretive videos themselves).

Socialism Doesn't Work Cuba's government plans a million layoffs
That's supposed to be about 20% of the nation's entire workforce, and they're officially hoping that the private sector will take up the slack. And yet there are still people who defend Communism, arguing that its pure form has "never been tried". There's positively zero evidence that suggests that Communism, Marxism, Leninism, or whatever else one wants to call it, is an efficient means of ensuring material prosperity for anyone. Cuba has had fifty years to try to get Communism to work. Isn't it patently obvious that the system is doomed to fail?

Computers and the Internet Facebook: The personal-security black hole
A list of "six things you should never reveal on Facebook" sounds a lot like some of the advice delivered on the WHO Radio Wise Guys. Too much of what passes for "security questions" these days is easily given away through social-networking sites like Facebook, and it should neither be relied upon by website designers, nor given away so freely by users.

Computers and the Internet AMD says it's going to offer a chip to compete with Intel's new "Sandy Bridge"
Both computer chips match the processor with a graphics processor to accelerate the delivery of images on-screen

Humor and Good News Betty White breaks character
(Video) She's usually one of the most legendarily unflappable actresses anywhere, but sometimes even a legend has to slip

Agriculture Would high-fructose corn syrup sell better if it were called "corn sugar"?
It's an intriguing marketing question

Broadcasting Legendary Iowa newsman Jack Shelley is dead

Iowa Reverse 911 launches in Des Moines tomorrow

Humor and Good News Vintage ads from times we can't really recognize
Like the days when cocaine was sold over the counter, a Subaru was a babe magnet, or when men dressed like the Bee Gees. Whenever anyone complains about "today's society", they're probably not thinking about how much better things are now than they were when doctors advertised cigarettes, phones didn't travel with you, and male chauvenism was the norm. Life is getting better all the time. By definition, that means we should always be working on improvements -- but it also means we shouldn't paint the past as being rosier than it really was. It's unwise to romanticize the past as though it was some pristine Eden.

The United States of America An analysis of the "Tea Party" movement in the Midwest
To the extent that "Tea Party" enthusiasts favor limited government, balanced budgets, and personal responsibility, then they're very much in keeping with the mainstream of Midwestern values. But to the extent that they're just anti-tax (one backronym for the movement is "Taxed Enough Already") without also acknowledging the need to control spending -- including precious entitlement costs like Social Security and Medicare -- then they're no more in favor of solving the real problems America faces than the people who want to raise taxes and increase spending even more. The truth of the matter is that Americans are going to have to pay more in taxes overall -- and accept less in government spending -- for some time to come. One of the biggest problems with the "tea party" movement is that it has neither a clear definition of beliefs, nor an organized and accountable leadership structure. A large group of angry people with no coherent philosophy nor responsible leadership is just a mob. A real movement requires accountability and structure, not the persistent insistence that "we don't allow others...to either define or lecture us."

News A new romance typically costs two good friendships
Everything has a price, and it turns out that love's cost is taken out of the reserves of a person's close friends

Humor and Good News How fairy tales really end

Humor and Good News Why buy the cereal when all you want to eat is the marshmallows?
Order boxes of cereal marshmallows and satisfy childhood fantasies. Or just buy some meringue cookies and get the same effect.

Business and Finance Democratic capitalism
A shareholder-advisory firm recommends that shareholders try to kick out two members of the Casey's corporate board, but try to keep the others in. What's remarkable about the recommendation is that they made any serious recommendation at all in favor of shareholders taking action. Shareholders -- especially the institutional ones -- have been so completely lackadaisical about booting board members from office that they've become like the Soviet Politburo: Nobody ever gets tossed out by the people, even when they're grossly incompetent. And given the number of firms that have been in dire distress over the last two or three years especially, there ought to have been hundreds of boards wiped clean of their incumbents. It shouldn't take a debate over a hostile takeover proposal (as is happening with Casey's) to instigate shareholder revolt.

Science and Technology Automotive X-Prize won
Internal combustion engine in an ultralight vehicle frame hits 100 mpg

Business and Finance Americans are pulling tens of billions of dollars out of stocks
And they're stuffing the money into bond funds. Not a surprise, given the Baby Boomers' proximity to retirement (and the perception that bonds are a safer investment for retirees than stocks), but also a point of great opportunity for stock investors.

Threats and Hazards Terror-attack risk is rising, say the British
Inmates are leaving prison after becoming radicalized while in the big house

Threats and Hazards Crooks are targeting military families
Particularly using online scams. Revolting.

Broadcasting The problem with making the public pay for broadcasting
Harry Shearer is mad that he's being kept away from some NPR shows because he's been picked in a "dibs" contest by others. And because he has a political message, he doesn't have a lot of alternative routes to get them to repeat his claims.

Business and Finance Why you should always write pleasant complaint letters
A well-written letter of complaint might actually get a lot more mileage than just a plaintive one. The author of a letter complaining about airline food probably didn't expect the letter to end up getting published in a newspaper, but that's where it went. And as a result, the author received a call from the president of the company. Letters of complaint aren't a bad thing; good companies actually want to receive them, since they prove that customers still care about the quality of their service, and they give the company the opportunity to make things right. (Though it may be hard to write a letter of complaint adequate to the task of complaining about an Italian company's proposal to put airline passengers in saddle-like seats.)

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.