Gongol.com Archives: January 2011
Brian Gongol

January 2011
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January 2, 2011

Science and Technology This time around, the Moon race is a lot more fun
Private contestants are trying to win the Google Lunar X Prize, which will hand out a lot of money to the first teams to get to the Moon and send back pictures. This kind of contest, built around an inducement prize, is exactly what the world needs more of to spur innovation in critical areas.

News Letters of last resort
The captains of the UK's four nuclear-equipped submarines were given secret instructions by their prime ministers about what to do in case of an attack on their home country that incapacitated their government. Fascinating stuff.

Humor and Good News Driving 55
(Video) Massive "civil obedience"?

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January 4, 2011

Health Remember swine flu? It's still around.
It's just not as widespread as last year, probably because so many people caught it and developed immunity.

Socialism Doesn't Work Banning the Happy Meal until it becomes the Healthy Meal
(Video) Hilarious assessment of plans in San Francisco to prohibit the sale of Happy Meals until they get healthier. The completely perverted logic espoused by the people behind the regulation is self-evident in the satirical report. Attention elected officials everywhere: You cannot baby the public into well-being.

Agriculture Better marketing for the sweet potato
The sweet potato has a bad reputation in Africa, where it could be precisely the thing that people should be eating to combat low levels of Vitamin A. Time to call upon marketing. (Or, if the San Francisco authorities are correct, maybe they should just hand out toys along with the sweet potatoes.)

News Possibly the strangest casualty of the Cold War
A Belgian teenager was killed in 1989 after a Russian airplane on autopilot flew way out of its assigned territory and into Western Europe before crashing into his house.

News Possibly the creepiest real photo in history
A Filipino politician appears to have inadvertently taken a photo of his assassin at the moment the gunshot was fired

Water News When steel prices rise soon, blame flooding in Australia

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January 5, 2011

Computers and the Internet Unfortunately, the age of speculation is back
So many people want to get their hands onto some Facebook stock that the SEC may soon force the company to start reporting its financial details -- at which point, it'll probably just go public. It's the Dot-Com Bubble all over again! If only one thing should have been learned from the late 1990s, it is that speculative bubbles surrounding online services and websites never last long, because consumers are too fickle to stick with any site forever.

News Butt-dialing into a hostage situation
A man accidentally called his wife by bumping into his phone while it was in a pocket. He was listening to gangster rap. She thought the garbled voices sounded menacing and called the police, thinking a hostage situation was underway at the school where he works. Three hours later, the SWAT team figured out they'd just gotten a very expensive and unexpected training simulation.

Iowa Should the Valley High School barn be saved?
A lot of people want to hold on to an old barn on the property of Valley High School in West Des Moines, but do they really want to pay to have it made safe and useful? One of the great things about America is that we know when it's time to tear down something old and replace it with something new. Maybe that's what should happen to the barn, and maybe it's not. But that decision should be made by rationally evaluating the costs and benefits of keeping the old building around.

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January 6, 2011

Computers and the Internet The massive insecurity of Social Security numbers
(Video) If your birthday and hometown are listed in public (like on a Facebook profile), then it's not as hard as one might think to deduce what your Social Security number might be. That's one of the unintended consequences of radical transparency, as espoused by Mark Zuckerberg and others. The old systems of identity aren't really designed to handle the problems that tend to emerge under the new model of openness.

Computers and the Internet Spam volumes go into sudden decline
It's been noticeable on a personal basis, and the anecdotes are confirmed by the data: Spam volumes are about 20% of what they were in the summer. Whether that's the result of declining effectiveness, better anti-spam campaigns, or something else (like the buildup to a whole new approach to sending spam which we're not likely to enjoy) remains unknown.

Threats and Hazards Prototype of a Chinese stealth fighter...maybe
The editor of Jane's Defense Weekly thinks the photo is legitimate, and that the plane really is under development, combining stealth technology with Russian engine designs. When combined with powerful weapons like "carrier-killer" missiles, which might also be under development, this could be a signal that China is making rapid strides ahead in developing military technology. The Soviet Union fell, in part, because much of its economic might and technological know-how was diverted to building better arms. China, by contrast, is building its private-sector wealth while apparently also developing this military technology. While it's easy for Americans to take for granted that we live under the umbrella of an effective military defense, that's never really been the standard under which most of the rest of the world could live. If China is on the rise as a military power, as it quite likely could be, the world will be much better off if we can all avoid diverting huge amounts of intelligence and effort into building a new cold war.

Business and Finance France is besieged by "economic war"
The country's well-known carmaker, Renault, says it's under attack by people trying to steal their proprietary technology for electric cars. This development cannot be divorced from today's news that China may be developing a stealth fighter: If the theft of intellectual property continues not only to expand, but to be tacitly tolerated by governments that can and should be doing something about it, then we could face an incredibly unstable future. There are already those who say that the patent system is so fatally flawed as to be unusable (they say you're better off hoping to keep your proprietary secrets in-house rather than publishing your ideas for the record). But if there's not even at least an attempt made to halt the theft of ideas from their rightful creators, then there may be a dangerous devaluation of innovation.

Agriculture UN warns that food prices are moving dangerously high, dangerously fast
Food-price volatility is nothing to be sneezed at -- the vacillations are getting extreme, with some commodities rising and falling by 50% in a year. That diminishes the predictive power of market prices and leads to uncertainty for farmers and consumers alike. And that instability in turn causes people to invest inefficiently in their plans for the future -- metaphorically, causing people to spend lots of money to stockpile canned corn when they could instead be using the same money to take a class at a community college -- and the tradeoffs initiated by that inefficiency of pricing information is no good for anybody. Nor is starvation, of course. And it always comes back to the question of how well we store our food -- which, it turns out, is not well at all.

Water News What's really in bottled water?

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January 11, 2011

Iowa A once-beautiful building goes abandoned in downtown Des Moines
The Des Moines Building has some gorgeous Art Deco features, thanks to its 1931 construction. But the city is trying to figure out what to do with it, now that the owners have gone AWOL.

Computers and the Internet So many people want a piece of Facebook and LinkedIn that they may have to go public
But anyone dumping money into them now is likely to regret the move later, when the bubble bursts, just like it always does

News The Playboy Mansion: Even more disgusting than one might think

Humor and Good News Don't watch scary movies before bedtime

Humor and Good News "Top Gear" tours the USA
(Video) Hilarious television

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January 12, 2011

Computers and the Internet The del.icio.us social-bookmarking site isn't shutting down
But it is leaving the Yahoo ecosystem. Where it will end up, and what the new owners will choose to do with it, are of course beyond anyone's public knowledge. But it's an example of the kind of thing that happens way more often than we really acknowledge online -- a service takes off, gets popular, gets acquired, then fades a little bit and starts bouncing around until nobody feels like it's safe to keep using anymore. "Social bookmarking" is nice in concept -- but using third-party services to make it happen is a dangerous proposition. One can almost as easily just use an e-mail account and a simple website (programmable entirely in basic HTML) to "bookmark" as much as much, and have zero fear that the site will ever change hands, be taken down, or disappear without warning. Online, it's always smart to trust yourself alone, and nobody more than you have to.

Computers and the Internet Half of the jobs at MySpace are about to become history
Speaking of one-time high-flying sites that have seen better days, it's hard not to look at MySpace and think "death spiral"

Science and Technology Farewell to the incandescent light bulb
Starting in 12 months, 100-watt light bulbs in the US are going to have to meet new efficiency standards that incandescents pretty much just can't meet. By 2013, 75-watters will have to do the same, and by 2014, so will 60-watt bulbs. Electricity costs will fall, but up-front costs for the bulbs themselves will be much higher.

Agriculture Commodity prices start rising...fast
Corn and soybeans both take a jump after the USDA reports that last year was a really bad one for corn, at least compared to recent history. Blame the floods.

Humor and Good News The Beatles on ukulele
Funny concept -- but the moving force behind the project comes across as a total nutter


January 13, 2011

Science and Technology If ever you get your kneecaps whacked by a mobster...
(Video) ...then Honda has the technology for you. Their U3-X "personal mobility prototype" is basically like a high-tech wheelchair that stabilizes itself on a single wheelbase.

Science and Technology Stopping H5N1 at the bird
Researchers say they've successfully completed a proof of concept that a chicken can be genetically engineered so that it can't pass H5N1 to other birds. It works, but it's hugely expensive. Don't expect it to stop the next round of bird flu, but do expect to see the technology replicated for use in other applications.

Aviation News Russia blames Polish pilots for plane crash that killed the Polish president
Aviation safety depends a lot upon "human factors" -- the people involved, and what influences their decisions. And the Russian investigators say that the pilots were worried about keeping the president happy, more than they were attentive to his safety. Maybe true, maybe not.

News If it looks like vote-buying...
...then it probably isn't an above-board move, even if it's technically legal. The campaign against an effort to recall Omaha's mayor from office is now in trouble because it apparently paid homeless people to attend a training seminar on getting out the vote -- though, probably not just by coincidence, there was also an opportunity to vote early at the same site. Legal or not, someone should have known better.

Business and Finance End the monopolies in professional sports?
Probably a good idea. There's no legitimate reason why the big leagues, which are businesses unto themselves, should have massive monopoly power to manipulate everything from the players to the communities in which they operate, just by fiat. We give Major League Baseball an exception, but why? The game is definitely strong enough to survive without protection. But the even more repugnant monopoly is the one used by the NCAA to keep college players in a strange limbo between paid professional sports and indentured servitude. The Cam Newton saga clearly illustrates that a market exists for players -- at least in sports like football -- so it's probably not doing anyone any good to pretend like that market doesn't exist.

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January 14, 2011

Science and Technology Technology adoption and prices
Fax machines, corded phones, and even cordless phones are on their way out. Regular cellphones peaked about four years ago, and they're just barely out-selling smartphones -- for about another month or so.

Computers and the Internet Global spam volumes bounce back as the holidays end
Which in part suggests that the drop in spam volume noted recently was in part due to the fact that people simply turn off their computers over the holidays. It also suggests that we all have a vested interest in herd immunity with our computers.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft says its January security update is really important
They claim to be patching an exploit that could work against any Windows-based computer visiting an infected website

Science and Technology Verizon gets the iPhone starting February 10th
Really bad news for non-iPhone users on the Verizon network, since it means there will likely be a surge in data traffic -- especially as people who are tired of the AT&T network make the jump on short notice. In the UK, T-Mobile is slashing data-download limits to keep users from using their phones as, say, smartphones are supposed to be used.

Agriculture Living in a food desert
Slate claims that 2.3 million Americans have no car and live more than a mile from a supermarket, and calls those people residents of "food deserts". If that means they have to walk to get their food, and thus don't get a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats, then that's probably a sign they really do live in the equivalent of a dietary desert.

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January 16, 2011

News Reading the intentions of the Chinese leadership isn't an easy thing to do
A New York Times story makes the current leadership structure in China sound a lot like that of Iran -- a nominal president who says a lot of things, but who really answers to power brokers who operate in much more shadowy circumstances. Welcome to diplomacy in 2011.

Computers and the Internet Forget chess: IBM supercomputers now know how to win "Jeopardy!"
The next five to ten years in computer development are likely to leave even technophiles scratching their heads, as computer scientists are able to combine ever-improving raw computational power (in everything from capacity to speed to price) with an improved understanding of how to make machines "think".

Computers and the Internet "Freakonomics" brand will leave the New York Times
They're taking their website independent again, and it should be no surprise that things turned out not to work any longer as part of a bigger media site. Lots of independent sources of Internet content are shining on their own, and there's little network benefit to be gained from association with a larger ownership model. RSS feeds and other means of delivering content truly democratize the content delivery method.

News "Should pricing systems be used to structure evacuations?"
No -- we need to consider those places where evacuations could occur (everywhere), evaluate whether we've concentrated too many people and too much critical infrastructure in one place (we Americans certainly have, especially in New York City and Washington, DC), and start thinking more clearly about the structural failures of mass evacuation strategies.

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January 17, 2011

Broadcasting Show notes from the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio - January 16, 2011
Several links from the show, plus a video bonus:

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January 18, 2011

Computers and the Internet Just don't install Facebook apps, ever
The latest security/privacy snafu to pop up has been a plan to let some applications harvest telephone numbers and addresses from Facebook users. Though the company has put this "feature" on temporary hold after getting some bad publicity, it's exactly this kind of step that reveals why people shouldn't put anything on Facebook that they wouldn't put on a digital billboard along the side of the road. Facebook management is either careless or willfully negligent when it comes to thinking through the consequences of additional sharing by people using its site, and these kinds of errors are just not acceptable when information of any personal value is at stake.

Broadcasting FCC says it's OK for Comcast to take over NBC
As a result, GE won't own a majority stake in NBC anymore. Seems odd for the company to give up such a giant marketing gem.

News Television remains in decline as a source of news
Same for newspapers. But the Internet is on its way to the lead role for delivering national and international news to Americans, and that might not be all bad -- especially if we're getting some of that news from non-US sources. A little diversity of news and analysis is probably good for us.

News Luck o'the Irish
Ireland's prime minister (the taoiseach) has managed to win a vote to stay in the leadership of his political party after being challenged by his foreign minister. How he's done that is anyone's guess, considering how woefully unpopular his government is right now.

The American Way January 2011 update to the EconDirectory
About 400 sites covering business, finance, and economics, ranked by daily traffic

Business and Finance Should you work for free?
No, almost never. But a handy flowchart tells exactly when and when not.

Humor and Good News Canned whiskey
It's being sold by a Panamanian company. Eight shots, one can.

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.

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January 19, 2011

Computers and the Internet "Cyborg anthropology"
(Video) How our increasing reliance on things outside of our own bodies (computers, phones, websites, and plenty of other things) makes us into a different type of sub-species -- at least culturally -- than we used to be.

News "It is China's trajectory then, rather than its current power, that gives it superpower status"
China's economy is undoubtedly on the rise -- but it also has some seriously shaky foundations, including an internal debt problem (yes, really), a government that is showing signs of hostility to foreign companies, and a clearly enormous problem with the gap between real innovation and copycat intellectual-property theft. On that last point, a real economy can't be built for the long term on stolen innovations any more than it can be built on a resource-driven economy. Oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia benefit in the short term from their resource abundance, but they risk becoming complacent in the face of that cash inflow and failing to invest for the time after the resources run out -- not to mention failing to spread the wealth to those who don't happen to have access to the resource wealth itself. Stolen intellectual property is much the same; you can make a good cheaply for a short time, but sooner or later, customers catch on to the fact you're selling them crap, or some other country starts to supply labor at an even lower price, or the products you're stealing become obsolete and are replaced by newer, better things that aren't so easily copied. Or -- and this may be wishful thinking here -- other countries realize that free trade requires the rule of law, which includes the enforcement of intellectual property rights. Regardless, there are serious problems to consider in China's future.

Computers and the Internet What does copyright mean in the digital age?
(Video) A TED Talk by Larry Lessig from 2007 that's just as relevant today as it was nearly four years ago -- which only tells us that no progress has been made towards rationalizing copyright laws. Too bad.

Business and Finance Good times to be a partner at Goldman Sachs
A New York Times analysis says people at the partnership level within the firm were granted considerable bonuses in the form of stock options in 2008, which are now worth a fortune compared to their market price then. The structure of the compensation may not be all bad -- the options require that the partners hold on to their shares until 2014, so at least they're enforcing some long-term investment in the health of the company -- but the sheer size is what's difficult to swallow. What is the right amount for investment banks to take as their commission for conducting the business of business finance? One would not be alone in thinking that the collective investment-banking payout is a bit disproportionate to the value it actually creates.

The United States of America How structure made JFK's inaugural speech a winner
A rhetorician breaks down the elements that made John F. Kennedy's inaugural address one that people still quote today. Imagery and three-part lists seem to have been among the most powerful contributing features.

News Reopened after 100 years
A townhouse in France that belonged to a wealthy bachelor has been re-opened after about a century of being sealed off. Now it's a museum -- a lot like a house-sized time capsule.

Business and Finance A tax map for small business
The IRS's guide to what small business owners need to do to protect their assets, in a tax sense

Broadcasting Podcasts from the January 16th "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio
Including: "The computer that can win 'Jeopardy!'", "Computers to make your life easier", and "Who's in charge of China?"

Broadcasting Podcasts from the January 15th "WHO Radio Wise Guys"
By segment: "Verizon gets the iPhone", "Reassurance to the technophobe", "Social bookmarking without Del.icio.us", and "The $75 e-reader is coming"

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January 20, 2011

Computers and the Internet What really lasts forever?
Is an object that lasts for a century something that has survived "forever", at least in our minds? And can it survive that time without a caretaker? And what does that say about how long things will last on the Internet? Thus far, the Internet is a lot more accessible than the world's books (we can't fit those into our pockets like we can our smartphones), but the books have proven to be far more robust.

Business and Finance Median weekly earnings in the United States last quarter: $751
That's among the nation's 100.1 million full-time workers, which for a full 52-week year is about $39,000

Health A "neurological epidemic" is coming
(Video) With the world's average age rising, our future is likely to be influenced heavily by neurological disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Be aware.

Humor and Good News "F*** You" by Cee-Lo Green...in signed exact English
(Video - of a song that has a "dirty" word in the very title) It's probably not technically a rendition in ASL (American Sign Language), because the interpreter actually translates the song word-for-word -- but it's a delight to watch

Business and Finance Why would anyone want to work for companies that ask ridiculous interview questions?
Sure, it makes some sense to test interviewees' math skills for accounting jobs, but one website has documented a whole slew of bizarro interview questions that seem designed mainly to throw off the person being interviewed. What's the point? It's one thing to test people "on their feet", but an interview is usually about as high-stress as any other occupational activity, so why make it worse? Interviews are of wildly overestimated value for predicting an individual's suitability to a task, anyway.

Humor and Good News Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise race on "Top Gear"
Turns out Cameron's a fast driver with a foul mouth...and Cruise knows how to drive on two wheels

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January 21, 2011

Computers and the Internet Google shuffles the executive suite
Larry Page, one of the co-founders, will take over the CEO role in April. There are those who say that Eric Schmidt, who's the current CEO, is being fired, and others who say it's just handing back the reins after a natural growth period. Schmidt himself joked about "adult supervision" no longer being required. Regardless, Google has a devil of a challenge ahead of itself. Unlike the self-driving car in which the leadership team photographed itself, the company can't just drive itself into the future. Lots and lots of reinvestment is going to be required to constantly keep the company profitable. After all, any other competitor is only a matter of clicks away on the Internet. It's hard to stay on top indefinitely when customers have grown accustomed to expecting change in your marketplace. The days are numbered for today's tech giants, to be sure. Google's second decade will require more innovation than its first.

Agriculture EPA approves 15% ethanol blends in cars
That's a substantial increase in the amount of ethanol allowed to be blended into mainstream gasoline in the US -- at least for cars from model year 2001 and on. Good news for those selling ethanol, but perhaps trouble in the long term for food prices, since it does in fact more tightly link some food prices to oil prices (since demand for ethanol as a substitute for petroleum would then be positively correlated to the price of that petroleum for a larger portion of the total gasoline market than before).

The United States of America US defense secretary says Chinese military is outpacing our estimates

Science and Technology What happens to boiling water at -22°F
(Video) It becomes instant snow. Also at those temperatures, soap bubbles become ice in mid-air

Humor and Good News A salad for carnivores
(Video) Meat surrogates for every single vegetable item in a salad. Positively disgusting. But hilarious.

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January 22, 2011

Business and Finance A lousy week for Apple
Steve Jobs takes a medical leave of absence as CEO of Apple because his health is still in trouble, and the stock drops about 3% in value. He's probably worth a whole lot more to the company than that.

Computers and the Internet Spain wants Google to wipe results from its databases
Google has links to newspaper articles from Spain. Some of those articles are being challenged by people who say their privacy was violated by those articles. Since they apparently can't get the newspapers to take the articles down, they're going after Google instead. It clearly raises simultaneous and competing questions about the right to privacy (who doesn't treasure that?), the right to freedom of the press (an imperative for a functioning democracy), and the right "to be forgotten" (libel and slander laws are there to keep people from losing their ability to earn an income by having their reputations unfairly besmirched, but what about when real mistakes are now digitally documented in perpetuity?). Moreover, it raises the very important issue (not altogether irrelevant in light of the Wikileaks situation) about who is responsible for content that may be troubling: The source, or the people who publish (or re-publish) it?

Computers and the Internet If you want to buy a share of Facebook, better move offshore
After goofing on the way they announced the investment opportunity, Goldman Sachs has decided that the only way to keep American regulators happy is to offer the "private placement" to people who live outside the US. It's not even an intentional part of the great asset selloff (in which Americans, loaded with debt and facing a huge retirement-related liability as the Baby Boomers start retiring), and yet it's happening anyway.

News Candidates line up for one of the toughest jobs on the planet
The prime minister (taoiseach) of Ireland has announced that he's stepping down as leader of his party, but he wants to stay in charge of the country until a general election in March. Others are lining up inside and outside of his party to get his job -- which is a hugely challenging one. The country has a load of debt it needs to clean up.

Science and Technology 50 years of Japanese concept cars
Some look pretty impressive -- others, total disasters. Not as though a similar collection of American or German concept cars would look much better or worse, in the aggregate.

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January 23, 2011

Business and Finance Sales decline in 2010 for DVDs, CDs, video games, and movie tickets
DVD sales went down by 13%; music CDs nose-dived by 19%. A lot of people have turned to streaming (two-thirds of Netflix users are on the company's streaming service), and a lot of people don't have a lot of spare cash to spend on entertainment.

Business and Finance A very golden parachute for Google's outgoing CEO
Eric Schmidt, who already has a rather large collection of shares (approximately 140,000 shares, according to NASDAQ and SEC filings), is getting a $100 million stock-and-options deal as he exits the job.

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January 26, 2011

Business and Finance The manifesto of an angry investor
What's happening under the guise of "professional" money management is infuriating. There has to be a better way.

Humor and Good News Flavor Flav's Fried Chicken starts up in Clinton, Iowa
The rapper has opened the first restaurant in what he hopes will become a chain -- in Iowa. For real.

Computers and the Internet No more real estate listings on Google Maps
Too bad; it was a nice feature while it lasted. But the company says other options exist and it's too much work to keep up. That, if nothing else, says that Google can come up against competition it can't best.

Computers and the Internet Another attempt at a question-answering service that won't really take off
For all the information that's stored on the Internet, there's very little in the way of effective means of reliably obtaining answers to one's own questions, short of learning how to become a search-engine superstar. Now comes Quora.com, which attempts to combine the democratic style and flavor of Wikipedia with the question-and-answer format of Yahoo Answers. But let's be honest about this: This has been tried and tried again, never with any resounding success. On the Internet, speed trumps customization (if you have to try three or four different searches to get the answer you're looking for, it's still better than waiting three days for someone to answer your first question precisely), and it's really just not sensible to think that there's a lot of new ground to cover -- certainly not after even Google folded Google Answers. But that doesn't stop people from trying, even though it really isn't worth any individual user's time to become a regular participant. (And that, it should be noted, is why these sites are doomed in the long term: If I have a really good answer to your question, I want to get paid for it. So if I'm not going to get paid, why should I answer, unless I have some backdoor means of getting compensated? Thus, you'll find any number of people posing as credible experts on Q-and-A sites when they're not, either because they have something to sell, or because they can't establish their credibility elsewhere and find that answering questions online gives them some semblance of a feeling of authority.

News The cost of bad roads
A lobbying group says that bad roads cost the average Omaha driver $1,100 a year in accidents, vehicle wear, and wasted gas. Campaigns for better roads have been around for at least half of America's history, predating Teddy Roosevelt's time in the White House. But the recurrent problem is this: As with all infrastructure, people tend to notice only when it's falling apart -- not when it's working well and is properly maintained. Thus politicians have very little incentive to promote the adequate funding and upkeep of the infrastructure while in office, but do gain credit for "fixing" problems once the condition has deteriorated badly. It's not a well-thought-out way to manage essential public services like roads, sewers, and parks. The I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis on August 1, 2007, is a classic case study in what happens when neglect compounds over time.

Broadcasting Legendary BBC World Service to be cut dramatically
The organization is going to release 650 people from work -- 25% of its staff -- in an effort to deal with $80 million in government budget cuts. The result will be a considerable cutback in the service's global radio footprint, which raises a question: How much would that footprint (or any portion of it) be worth to a commercial sponsor?

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January 27, 2011

Broadcasting Al Jazeera's role in the current unrest in the Arab world
The news network is playing a rather strange role in spreading information about some protests -- and keeping quiet about others

Socialism Doesn't Work Chavez encourages squatters to set up around Caracas
The Marxist-style socialist is trying to win over the poor -- but in the process, he may be irritating a lot of people in the middle class who want nothing to do with squatters in their city

Iowa The fastest cable-TV repair truck in history
Someone stole a Mediacom truck in Des Moines and managed to get through at least three sets of stop sticks. No legitimate cable-repair guy in history has ever tried so hard.

News The remaking of a worn-out shopping mall
A developer wants to turn Omaha's Crossroads Mall -- which has seen better days, especially since a much fancier mall opened up a couple of miles down the street -- into a mixed-use development, with a focus on college students as residents. Interesting concept.

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January 28, 2011

Computers and the Internet Three things you should know before using an Internet message board
Plus a bonus fourth recommendation

Science and Technology The worst parking-fee machine ever
It's like some nightmare of design

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January 29, 2011

The United States of America A whole new way to be terrorized
The stupid color-coded "homeland security threat level" system is going away. It was obvious years ago that the color-coded system was a failure, but at last it's being ended. The new system is the NTAS (National Terrorism Advisory System), which appears to be just a specific list of threats people ought to know about. We'll see how the implementation goes, but it looks like a vastly better approach than the yellow-that-never-ends threat level of the old system.

Science and Technology The gorilla who strolls around like one of us
An adult silverback gorilla in the UK has been captured on video walking around on his hind legs like a human being, and a former caretaker says he was doing that 20 years ago. While walking on two legs isn't itself a particular signal of evolution, it is a reminder that some animals are capable of learning innovations from one another, as well as a reminder that evolution itself hasn't simply stopped for any animals, just because we've figured out the science. Quite to the contrary, all of our animal neighbors are still evolving, just as we are.

Iowa Downsizing (student) government
The Northern Iowa Student Government has voted to shrink itself. An unusual move.

News Dig a big hole, then leave it unfilled
That's what kids sometimes do in the yard, but what about a developer who wants to build a tower in downtown Omaha? The city's getting upset because a developer started work four years ago and hasn't gotten past the big-hole-in-the-ground stage.

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January 31, 2011

Humor and Good News "Young Me/Now Me"
A brilliant project by ZeFrank.com, in which people submitted pictures of themselves when young...and today. Most chose to mimic the pose of their previous photo, and it's really just delightful. Simple and addictive all at once -- especially the group photos.

Computers and the Internet An SAT question for 2011: Is Apple without Steve Jobs like Microsoft without Bill Gates?
Jobs is on medical leave from Apple, but Gates is on permanent leave from Microsoft. He's busy using his epic fortune to do things like eradicate polio from the planet. The author of a ComputerWorld article suggests that Microsoft has lost its focus with Gates no longer at the helm, but it's hard not to think that Apple is even more dependent upon its founder than Microsoft is, and that Jobs's time away from Apple could threaten it enormously over time.

Computers and the Internet Ten tablet computers coming in 2011
When competition pushes the price of a tablet below $150, that will be the real breakthrough moment. For now, the price point is generally in the $400+ range, but that makes them a purchase people have to think about. Drop them to $150 apiece, and then a set of tablets for a family of four costs less than a brand-new big-screen television. That would open up a huge new market for the tablet, which right now is the province of the technological enthusiast rather than the ordinary user. They'll get to that point, but the price level must fall.

Humor and Good News Two hilarious people having a chat
(Video) Betty White and Craig Ferguson -- a recipe for great television. They'd be even better on "Frank's 2000-Inch TV".

Humor and Good News The Weird Al tapes
(Video) Not as revealing as the Nixon Tapes, but these bizarre messages left by Al Yankovic on his drummer's answering machine a quarter-century ago are a funny relic of the time when answering machines were brand-new and nobody had a smartphone.

Business and Finance Anti-product placement
Rumor has it people are sending anti-celebrities (like Snooki) their competitors' goods, hoping to inspire a negative association in the minds of a public that loves to hate its most vapid celebrities.