Gongol.com Archives: 2010 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Computers and the Internet Bloglines will be shut down soon
The service -- one of the first to consolidate RSS feeds into one place -- has been beaten out by rivals like Google Reader. Google shouldn't get lazy and sit on its haunches, though, since the rise and fall of Bloglines certainly isn't all that different from what could easily happen to Google at any time. Nobody's tied down to their choices in Internet services -- for anything. People can pick up and leave any given service on a whim, and they do.

Business and Finance A few proposals for a redesigned US Dollar

Humor and Good News One way to make the escalator more entertaining

Threats and Hazards FBI arrests man for attempting a terrorist attack on Wrigleyville
He thought he'd placed an explosive backpack near Wrigley Field. Instead, he had been tricked by the FBI with a prop. And now, if justice is to be served well, he'll spend a long time paying for his attempted crime.

Science and Technology Chicago plans to have pay phones removed from the CTA system
That the L no longer has room for the telephones is just another sign of evolving times. So many people have cell phones that the pay phones just don't make any serious money anymore.

Humor and Good News Time-lapse of the changeover at the Meadowlands
(Video) Two teams, one stadium. And a really cool look at how it changes identity, literally overnight.

Science and Technology The Jeep: A surprising case in genius
(Video) Seeing a group of servicemembers tear apart a Jeep, then reassemble it in a matter of seconds, reveals just what an elegant design it is. Not elegant in the sense of little black dresses and pearls, but in the sense that it's quite possibly one of the simplest solutions to a problem available. Quite worth the viewing.

Socialism Doesn't Work North Korea may be soon to announce a new "dear leader"
Reports suggest that Kim Jong-Il is in dire straits with bad health, and that his youngest son might soon be in charge of the Stalinist holdout, making for the third generation of family control over the country. Communism never did away with privilege -- it just institutionalized it with the political class. Say what you will about capitalism, but markets tend to be very good at enforcing shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.

Computers and the Internet Facebook says it's trying to clamp down on profile hacking
But the problem isn't going away anytime soon

Humor and Good News OK Go + dogs = another wacky music video
(Video) If nothing else, the band has assuredly figured out how to build a franchise off their unusual music videos in a post-MTV era.

Iowa Underage drinking and the law of unintended consequences
Sometimes, a business owner's incentives are well-matched with a matter of public policy -- as in Iowa City, where the local authorities have closed all bars to patrons under age 21. A bar owner -- who obviously wants as many people as possible inside his establishment anyway -- argues that the policy is bad because it doesn't keep young people from going out on Saturday nights and drinking -- it just sends them to house parties and other less-regulated locations. That's bad for his business (whether or not they were drinking in his establishments, since he could still charge a cover and sell them non-alcoholic beverages), and it's also a bad approach to public health policy. The problem in college towns isn't drinking per se -- it's binge drinking, particularly unsupervised binge drinking by inexperienced young people. It's hard to imagine a set of circumstances under which they would be safer at a drunken house party than under the supervision of a paid (and sober) staff trained in recognizing dangerous consumption.

News Natural disaster in Pakistan is leading to economic calamity
The country is running out of money, in part because the floods this summer wiped out a lot of agriculture and simultaneously decreased exports and dramatically increased the need for food imports. Now the country might not even be eligible for additional funding from international lenders like the IMF. It's an excellent illustration of the need for international trade: More trade allows nations to specialize more and develop their industries. Within the United States, which is itself one big free-trade zone, Iowa focuses on raising corn and soybeans, Michigan builds cars (or at least it used to), and California produces the TV shows. Specialization makes for efficiency, and efficiency makes for productivity. President Obama doesn't mow his own lawn, and neither does Bill Gates. They have better things to do. Economically speaking, so do many countries -- and increased trade lets them focus on what they're best at doing.

Threats and Hazards Potential hurricane insurance liabilities dwarf resources in the southeastern US
A bad hurricane anywhere along the Gulf Coast or southern part of the Eastern Seaboard could be calamitous to the states that have failed to set aside enough for their insurance plans. America has vastly overbuilt in highly-exposed areas, and it's one of the most serious economic threats to the United States.

Science and Technology What would happen if we actually did discover intelligent life beyond Earth?

Water News Millions in state aid for Coralville flood protection

Business and Finance Will the N8 save Nokia?
The cell-phone maker has fallen way behind in the smartphone market, so it's betting heavily on a new product to help it capture lost ground. Nokia -- at least for a little while -- looked as dominant over the mobile-phone field as Google looks over search engines today. But cell phones and search engines are disposable consumer choices -- and they have a very short useful life. A two-year-old phone is so vastly outmatched by a new one that it's hardly a fair fight. Thus, dominance in the market today is absolutely no guarantee of dominance tomorrow. The same holds true for search engines -- ask Yahoo. In other words, don't be surprised if Google is but a shadow of its present self in 2020. In fact, it almost certainly will be. Switching costs for consumers using almost any of Google's products and services are basically zero. That in and of itself doesn't necessarily doom Google -- switching costs between Coke and Pepsi are virtually zero, too -- but Coca-Cola doesn't have any reason to provide its customers with anything new from year to year. In fact, their most well-known failure was the result of trying to change the formula to New Coke. Imagine how things would be different if Google customers demanded exactly the same search results and browser experience they had ten years ago. This is why Google and other high-tech companies ought to plow their surplus profits into durable, non-technological businesses. They should...but they never do. Instead, they let their CEOs walk around hypothesizing about a future that, frankly, makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

News Former Bin Laden compatriate calls for Al Qaeda to stop using war and terrorism
Putting aside altogether the philosophy of what the organization stands for, consider this: The Catholic church has had vastly more success at spreading and maintaining its influence around the world by adapting to local cultures and co-opting local customs than it could have ever gotten by the sword. Assimilation does far more good than imposition.

Broadcasting What it's like to climb to the top of a television and radio tower
(Video) It's a climb to the top of a 1700' tower -- which is 300' shorter than the towers north of Des Moines. While not as recognizable as the Sutro Tower in the San Francisco Bay area, the central Iowa towers are among the tallest structures in the world. Climbing to the top of one without a harness should be towards the top of any sane person's never-to-do list.

Business and Finance Not that they deserve any sympathy, but mutual-fund managers aren't all rolling in dough
The real tragedy of the mutual-fund investing system in America today is that we're just not seeing a lot of people assembling their own investment companies with friends and family, then treating that money like it means something -- not like some kind of crazed speculative gamble, which is what 24-hour financial news channels like CNBC often make "investing" out to be. It should be easy -- almost insultingly so -- for people to band together, pool their funds, and invest together for the long term. Instead, we have a market with enormous barriers to entry for mutual funds, and it should come as no surprise that America's financial literacy rate is appallingly low. What we don't practice, we don't understand.

Humor and Good News A religious conversion on which everyone can agree
It's time for nachofication. Also good for a laugh: The season premiere of "Modern Family".

Iowa Should Iowans have to show some form of ID in order to vote?

Water News How a side dish is creating a water crisis