Gongol.com Archives: May 2011
Brian Gongol


May 2011
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May 3, 2011

Aviation News Southwest Airlines buys AirTran
This could be very dangerous for Southwest -- it's going to require integrating a whole lot of pilots, cabin crew, maintenance workers, planes, and office workers into a well-known, but highly distinctive, culture. Very hazardous territory for any business to successfully navigate.

Aviation News Cockpit voice recorder from the Air France dropped-out-of-the-sky airliner finally located
It's hard to believe they were able to find it with so few clues to work with and such a big ocean floor

Humor and Good News This could be our year, Cubs fans

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May 4, 2011

News Where Osama Bin Laden met his end

Iowa Iowa's economic development plan for the future
Apparently, part of the debate bouncing between the state legislature and the governor's office is whether the state's economic-development corporation should include the name "Iowa" or the name "Wallace" (one of our state's most well-known families...from the past)

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May 5, 2011

Computers and the Internet Going public with the Chinese equivalent of Facebook
Public in the financial sense, that is. The fact that people are willing to chase Renren to the tune of nearly a billion dollars illustrates just how bonkers the stock market has been for "social networking" websites. It's just another bubble -- nobody in their right mind would throw vast amounts of cash trying to buy a portion of a company (like Renren) that doesn't operate in a truly free market, under the authority of an authoritarian government known for shutting down websites it doesn't favor, in a language the investor has no hope of understanding. And if the word "bubble" doesn't apply to the lunatic valuations described for Facebook, then the word applies to nothing at all. Bad things are happening with respectable companies like Sony, which says its databases have been attacked by online terrorists; why would any sensible person bet hard-earned money on the future of companies that don't even have a physical product to sell, and have nothing but that virtual presence -- a big attraction for crooks who have lots of resources with which to conduct their attacks? One really bad attack would be enough to bring down Facebook or Renren.

Business and Finance Productivity continues to rise in the US economy
It's estimated to have risen by an annualized rate of 1.6% during the first quarter of the year. Increased productivity is the only way to ensure that the US economy continues to grow over the long term -- especially as a large demographic group (the Baby Boomers) retire and leave the workforce. We'll have to get more work done by fewer people.

Computers and the Internet What can you learn about a computer from the files it produces?
Many novice and intermediate-level computer users would be surprised to learn just how much their computers are telling about them to the people who open their files

Humor and Good News "Domino's scientists test the limits of what humans will eat"
(Video)

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May 6, 2011

Computers and the Internet Service providing one-stop password-for-everything service may have been hacked
The service, called LastPass, says it can't account for a big spike in recent traffic to its servers, and figures it could be a worst-case scenario involving theft of its password databases. This would be a good time to re-visit instructions for saving passwords securely -- assuming you don't want to use a site like LastPass -- and to review the rules for creating a good password.

Computers and the Internet Google tweaks its search algorithm constantly
Some people are fixated on a recent update meant to weed out the junk -- and there certainly is a lot of promotional junk clogging up the Internet. What's interesting is to read some of the comments left for Google's search team by people who are frustrated by content thieves who steal their stuff and by Google's nonresponsiveness to their claims of infringement.

Weather and Disasters A great tornado video isn't worth your life
The problem with the new ubiquity of cell phones with video cameras is that people are now inclined to record movies of things they used to have the good sense to stay away from -- like tornadoes. The instinct to get on YouTube shouldn't exceed the instinct for self-preservation.

Humor and Good News The Blind Film Critic reviews "Clerks"
(Video) "Content is king"

News Brazil legalizes civil unions for gay couples

Water News A "monumental" flood on the Mississippi River

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May 7, 2011

Iowa Iowa loves wind power, but will we tolerate what it takes to sell it?
Iowa is situated in a great location for capturing a great deal of wind and turning it into electricity, but the free market dictates that sometimes it's better to sell that electricity far away from Iowa than to sell it close to home. The state's economy would benefit from selling electricity for higher prices elsewhere, but in order to get the power to those higher-price markets, someone will have to build a lot of transmission lines and those might not be very pretty.

News Scotland may have just put independence on a fast track
A political party that wants independence from the UK just roared into a majority in local elections there

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May 8, 2011

Humor and Good News A one-man battleship

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May 11, 2011

Business and Finance If you hoard gold, you're a jerk
One curiosity: The author of an article quoting Charlie Munger saying the same says he's "Not really sure exactly what [Munger is] trying to say here". Really? Let's make it simple: Gold doesn't do anything useful, really. And holding onto it in the hopes of surviving some end-times calamity -- at the expense of others -- instead of learning to do something useful that can be bartered, well, that makes one a jerk.

News Hillary Clinton says China's on a "fool's errand"
The Secretary of State says it's foolish for the Communist government to keep trying to keep its people down

Business and Finance Rajaratnam found guilty
The hedge-fund manager was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy. For a free market to function, we must have the rule of law. That's the shortcoming of extreme libertarian philosophy. But thinking that free markets are the only environments in which abuses will occur is the main error of the left.

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May 12, 2011

Business and Finance Budget-crunched cities are leaning on nonprofits to pay up
Payments in lieu of taxes -- they're really just taxes by another name. But it raises a reasonable question: Why should any organization be allowed to operate as a "nonprofit" with special treatment, anyway? There certainly are a lot of good organizations operating as non-profits. But there also are a lot of individuals who use nonprofit organizations as vehicles to dominate commercial markets and put for-profit companies out of business. And they can do so while paying themselves more than generously.

Broadcasting Chicago kisses Mayor Daley's butt on his way out the door
Including television anchors, who were (knowingly or not) featured in a furniture commercial smooching his rear end goodbye

Broadcasting Stephen Fry vs. a dance-music DJ: Is classical music irrelevant to youth?
(Podcast)

Iowa Cedar Rapids and Iowa City want a new "regional brand"
They've gone by the name "Technology Corridor" for a while

The United States of America Mike Huckabee just can't be taken seriously
The fact he has a website called "PrayForHuckabee.com at which people are asked to "pray" on his behalf to "help" him make a decision about whether to run for President -- well, it's nauseating.

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May 13, 2011

News Early warning: The European Union is doomed
Foreign ministers of the countries that make up the EU have agreed to require people crossing borders within the EU to show their passports. Passport-free travel is a pretty significant indicator of the internal integration of a place (nobody has to show a passport to cross from Oklahoma into Kansas). The plan has to be approved by the EU parliament to go into effect, but the fact they've even discussed the idea shows that an integrated Europe is doomed. That's probably unfortunate.

Computers and the Internet Facebook has been smearing Google -- on privacy matters
The business motivation is obvious -- but it sure seems ironic that Facebook would be using privacy issues as a lever against any other company or website. And it wasn't a very sophisticated or nuanced approach. They could have just funded a nonprofit to do their dirty work for them.

Business and Finance Sen. Chuck Grassley on the AT&T merger with T-Mobile
Does the merger threaten the public interest?

Computers and the Internet Google announces "Chromebooks" are coming this summer
Samsung and Acer will make the machines, and Google will make the operating system

Computers and the Internet Ad agency says Apple's brand value is $153 billion
Seems like that's a pretty wild overstatement

Humor and Good News A "fan fiction" attempt to revisit "Calvin and Hobbes"
It's hard to justify...much like a reunion tour or any movie sequel...but for one or two tries, these are reasonably good fan fiction

The United States of America Inside America's cultural media archive

Threats and Hazards Officials are worried about the nuclear plant just outside of Omaha

Humor and Good News Things that make you go, "Hmm..."
(Video) Cowboy monkeys

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May 18, 2011

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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May 19, 2011

Computers and the Internet "Fear will follow greed in due course"
The IPO in shares of LinkedIn made all kinds of news in the financial press today, but it's just another symptom that we're in the midst of a new technology stock bubble. Just because something is shiny and new doesn't make it a brilliant investment.

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May 20, 2011

Weather and Disasters When nobody else will save you, you have to save yourself
People living downstream along the Mississippi River have taken levee-building into their own hands, trying to protect their own homes

Business and Finance Nonprofit agency and contributor get into a fight over Twitter comments

Computers and the Internet Amazon.com says e-books are now outselling real books

News English queen visits Ireland
She gave a conciliatory speech to representatives of the formerly-occupied territory, but the fact that England still has a monarchy when countries like Ireland long ago chose to become republics is sad. Nations need a head of state -- but why should a head of state ever get the job by inheritance? Queen Elizabeth is undoubtedly doing a reasonably good job in the role, but it should have been chosen by merit.

Computers and the Internet Senators worry that a new project for wireless Internet could break GPS signals
Demand for wireless data transfer is increasing at a massive rate, but satisfying that demand could put other essential services at risk. It's hard to believe, but the wireless carriers seem to have catastrophically underestimated how much demand consumers have for bandwidth.

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May 21, 2011

Business and Finance How "full" should a full-ride athletic scholarship be?
The Big Ten is looking at adding more to its full-ride athletic scholarships, to add costs for things like incidentals.

Threats and Hazards The surveillance society quietly rolls on
Sioux City, Iowa, has a bunch of police cameras -- along with others attached to things like city buses. Just because we *can* continuously monitor things practically everywhere doesn't mean that we *should*. People who think they're being watched all the time develop an unhealthy relationship with authority.

Business and Finance Railroads pouring lots of money into new track

Iowa At least he admits to having preconceived notions
A New York Times reporter tours northern Iowa and finds it's not quite what he expected

Agriculture Really high corn prices mean that farmers are nearly planting on the gravel roads

Iowa Iowa high school girls' sports are moving to five size classes

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May 22, 2011

Computers and the Internet Tablet computers are "cannibalizing" the market for netbooks
They really need to drop to the $150 to $200 range in order to become a "no-brainer" purchase

Business and Finance Telemarketers take a big cut out of charitable fundraising
Telephone fundraisers often take 80% or more of what they raise by phone. That's why it makes sense to never donate money to anyone who calls by phone, but rather to make a list of charities you respect and then donate to them consistently from year to year. Priorities help determine results.

Weather and Disasters Curfews in Minneapolis due to tornadoes

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May 25, 2011

Threats and Hazards Sex-selective abortion remains endemic in India
It's estimated by a study published in The Lancet that as many as 6 million girls have been aborted in the last decade by families preferring to have a boy. The number is actually estimated to be on the rise, and more pronounced among wealthy and well-educated families than among the poor.

Weather and Disasters Tornado obliterates a semi trailer
(Video)

Iowa Coming attractions: A film about the floods of 2008
It's called "Lessons Learned"

The United States of America Palin for President? Really?
You can't quit your job as governor of a state and then expect to be taken seriously as a candidate for President of the United States. Sorry. No.

News Dogs are better than cats: Proof positive
A dog is nursing a pair of liger (lion-tiger hybrid) cubs abandoned by their own mother

Humor and Good News The trouble with stubby arms
It means you can't reach the good booze

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May 26, 2011

Business and Finance Beware of affinity fraud
The ridiculous claims made about the supposed end of the world last week highlights a problem: When people think they believe the same thing as other people, they think they have a certain affinity. And fraudsters use that affinity to try to exploit their victims.

Weather and Disasters What's going on with all of the tornadoes?
The number of storms is unusually high, as is the number of deaths. But there's not an especially good explanation why.

Socialism Doesn't Work Chinese prisoners are being used to win Internet game points for guards
Nauseating. It's a very strange form of prison labor, layered upon lots of other forced labor.

Computers and the Internet Kids under age 13 on Facebook? No way.
He wants to take on COPPA, which prohibits the collection of information from Internet users under age 13. While COPPA itself is badly flawed, kids under the age of 13 should definitely not be on Facebook. The site can protest all it wants to the contrary, but what information is collected by Facebook should never be considered secure -- either in the hands of the company, nor for the rest of the world. The existence of a site like Failbook proves that once something appears online -- even if nominally "private" just to one's own friends -- it can remain online forever, and stored on a million hard drives as well. Kids under age 13 are decidedly un-ready to make decisions about what to share, potentially with a global audience, and shouldn't be put at risk of making terrible (and potentially permanent) decisions about their privacy and private lives online. Good parenting requires stepping in to protect them from the potential consequences.

The United States of America Nebraska gets new Congressional districts
The bill redrawing the map, approved by the legislature and signed today by the governor, adjusts for the continued migration of population from rural areas to the urban centers of Omaha and Lincoln. That makes the rural 3rd district even larger (geographically) than before. Some people think the new plan makes it impossible for the Democrats to win any of the three districts.

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May 28, 2011

Computers and the Internet It shouldn't take a lecture from the Facebook kid to tell political leaders to back off regulation of the Internet
One of the problems with the political echo chamber is that politicians get so far removed from ordinary life that they don't even recognize the ordinary things that are patently obvious to the people doing the actual work of the world. While it's not necessary that everyone in office use every tool they might potentially regulate (like Senator Chuck Grassley uses Twitter), some of them are so far removed from reality that they then only listen to people they think are the "big names" in the private sector, instead of bothering to get actual knowledge and first-hand research. The result can then be that they build regulations that favor the big institutions instead of making sense for the economy at large.

Business and Finance The beauty of the throwback baseball cap
Here's an inexplicable: If (seemingly) everyone understands the appeal of things like throwback or retro baseball caps -- from as much as a century ago -- then how come so many businesses are eager to toss out their "legacy" names, logos, and images just because the new management feels the need to stamp it as "theirs"? Why, for instance, did United toss out the iconic "U" logo in favor of the much less-recognizable Continental logo after the two airlines merged? Why must egos be so fragile?

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May 31, 2011

The United States of America The debt-ceiling collision course
The debt ceiling must be raised, period. There's no escaping the necessity. And the real problem fueling most of the debt isn't discretionary spending (though the pursestrings need to be tightened anyway) -- the real problem is that mandatory spending on entitlements keeps growing for the foreseeable future with no hope of control.

Computers and the Internet Never, ever count on anonymity online
A California court has ordered Twitter to turn over the user details of an anonymous account to a local government agency in England. This is why one should always assume that everyone can learn one's real name behind anything one posts online.

Weather and Disasters The Joplin tornado had multiple vortices
It will undoubtedly be studied at length by scientists. The first-hand account of a doctor's experience inside the hospital that was hit by the tornado is harrowing.

Humor and Good News Kindergarteners' advice to graduating seniors
(Video) A very cute project from the Waukee Community Schools

The United States of America "50 State Stereotypes in Two Minutes"
(Video)

Iowa A shadow Dam-to-Dam road race for troops in Afghanistan
Dam-to-Dam is a popular run in Des Moines, so some of the Iowa troops in Afghanistan are going to have their own

Humor and Good News The Smurfs were just a bunch of Communists
Silly, but funny. Possibly not as funny as the video of a small kid racing a sea otter.

Humor and Good News Best theme park ever
Some genius has figured out that adults want to play with construction equipment, so he's built a theme park allowing us to do exactly that. Awesome. You don't need a driver's license and tickets cost $400 for a few hours.

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