Gongol.com Archives: June 2011
Brian Gongol

June 2011
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June 2, 2011

Iowa Des Moines has the nation's highest per-capita income...
...when adjusted for the real cost of living. Start with some of the nation's most-affordable housing and add in low food costs, and you're off to a good start in the Hawkeye State.

Business and Finance Ponzi schemes aren't just for Social Security and Madoff anymore
A Federal lawsuit accuses an Omaha trio of ripping off their friends and neighbors in a Ponzi scheme

Science and Technology Germany is closing all of its nuclear power plants by 2022
It gets more than a fifth of its electricity from nuclear plants. That's a lot of power to have to replace in just a decade.

Humor and Good News How to get better service through good tipping in Las Vegas

Humor and Good News 5,000 people in one lip-synch of a music video
(Video) A huge crew of volunteers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, got together to lip-synch "American Pie" in an impressive continuous-shot video. It's a pretty impressive community effort.

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June 3, 2011

Business and Finance Groupon is going for an IPO
The company hopes to raise $750 million in the stock market. Don't be surprised if it's over-subscribed. Stock jockeys are cuckoo for social-media companies right now, just like they were for the dot-com companies of ten years ago. The stock market is anything but rational.

Science and Technology Dow Chemical says it'll have solar-panel shingles for sale by the end of the year
The company thinks an ordinary household could cover half its power bill using $6000 worth of shingles

Humor and Good News This kid has a future in motivational speaking
(Video) A kid who just learned to ride a bike thinks everyone else can do so, too

Humor and Good News Carnivores, keep on being awesome

Iowa Iowa Republicans form group in favor of gay marriage
The party isn't in lock-step over the issue, despite the cartoonish characterization made of the party in the popular press

Science and Technology How much is a tree worth?
The Arbor Day Foundation (which obviously has a bias in favor of trees, but that's hardly a bad thing) has an online calculator that attemtps to estimate the value of a tree planted on a residential property, including the value of the pollution and the carbon dioxide the tree captures, as well as the stormwater it prevents from running off. Interesting stuff.

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June 4, 2011

Business and Finance Google has too many chances to get things wrong
Google may remain the darling among technology stocks for many stock-market speculators, but the company faces an almost impossible task in making the next ten years of its existence as productive as its first ten. Google's former CEO (and current "executive chairman") admitted in a recent speech that the company had dropped the ball on social-networking services. And he's right. Google does fine work in the sectors it presently dominates (like search engines), but it faces an almost insurmountable task in trying to do as well in any other area of online services. Google needs to start reinvesting its excess profits in non-Internet businesses where technology can make a good business better. Unfortunately for the shareholders, it probably won't. And as it faces new challenges that cross the line from conventional business-competition matters into issues of international diplomacy and espionage, the company will be challenged less by what its computer scientists can do than by how it strategically navigates laws, consumer sentiments, and a million hidden threats.

Socialism Doesn't Work The Tienanmen Square massacre was 22 years ago


June 15, 2011

Computers and the Internet Le Tweet?
France's government is prohibiting radio and television from using the words "Facebook" and "Twitter" on the air unless part of a specific news story. In theory, the decree makes sense -- why give commercial promotion to one site or another just because they're in the popular current? On the other hand, it's a great way to ensure that French radio and television will live in a sort of online exile. Those sites are where the people are today. The people will choose on their own -- regardless of what French television or radio have to say about it -- to go to other sites in the not-too-distant future. But that probably shouldn't stop them from being used in the meantime, while they're still popular. That popularity will fade no matter how much the words "Facebook" and "Twitter" are used on the air. The signs are already there: The number of Facebook users in the US, Canada, Norway, and the UK is already in decline. The site has peaked, and so should the excitement.

Computers and the Internet German girl forgets to make birthday party invitations "private" on Facebook...
...and gets 1500 uninvited guests instead

Computers and the Internet Microsoft's June Patch Tuesday was a huge one
Almost twenty major updates, mostly dealing with security. So, if your computer has been running slowly this week, now you know why: It's been downloading and processing a ton of updates.

Business and Finance The gold bugs are back, and they need a reality check
The notion of a gold standard for the US currency sounds fine in principle -- after all, a stable currency is a sensible thing to have, since it aids private firms and households with long-term planning. But a very small amount of inflation is a good thing to have, and you can't get that in a sustained way with an asset-backed currency. Moreover, gold is a really silly thing to use for a hard-currency standard: Why not oil? Corn? Platinum? People only think of gold because it's what has been used for a long time. That doesn't make it a good standard, particularly since it's still being extracted from the earth at an uneven rate. The best way to ensure a stable currency is with the control of a politically-independent central bank with lots and lots of self-discipline.

Iowa Halfway between Pepsi and Diet Pepsi
They're going to test-market "Pepsi Next" in Iowa soon, with about half of the calories of regular Pepsi


June 16, 2011

Business and Finance Greece is on the brink of collapse
The country just can't get its financial house or its political house in order. And if the government can't fix the fiscal problem, it's likely to start a snowball effect that will destroy the European Union as we know it.

Health "Stayin' Alive" is really a lifesaving device
The American Heart Association wants people to start doing hands-only CPR (forget the rescue breaths), pumping to the beat of "Stayin' Alive", which conveniently has a beat that matches exactly the pace that's considered ideal for chest compressions. Obviously, it's also impossible to stop thinking of that song once it creeps into one's head, so it's quite effective, too.

Broadcasting Sayonara, Fairness Doctrine
It's been unconstitutional (and thus unenforceable) for a long time, and now the FCC is taking it off the books for good

Humor and Good News Neil Patrick Harris: Theater isn't just for gays anymore
(Video) Very funny satire

Weather and Disasters Omaha makes plans for evacuations in case the levees break

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June 17, 2011

Science and Technology This is how memos should always be written
A copy of a 1968 memo issued by an engineer on the Apollo Moon missions serves as a perfect example of how to write a memo -- the language vivid and illustrates exactly the kind of problem the engineer wants to fix, and addresses how that should be done -- all in one page. It's really quite a spectacular piece of work, especially compared with the dull, lifeless tripe that usually gets circulated around offices.

Humor and Good News Dear Kids: Read!
Some terrific letters from children's authors about reading

Humor and Good News The swearing of 1898 sounds a lot like the swearing of 2011
Even on the ball diamond

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June 18, 2011

Computers and the Internet United Airlines grounded by huge computer glitch
Apparently, it affected virtually every flight across the country on the airline last night. That highlights a number of issues: First, they clearly need to find a more robust system. Second, it illustrates how vulnerable many of our complex systems are to catastrophic failure. This event may or may not have had anything to do with people hacking in from the outside, but United surely isn't the only computer-dependent company in the world that isn't prepared for a crash. Third, the event sounds like it could be used as a case study in exactly what not to do when communicating with customers. One report early on suggested that the United website was pointing people to the company's Twitter account for all updates. That's a colossal mistake: The company website should always be destination #1 for updated information. Secondary sources like Twitter or Facebook should always come in as backups to the main source of information -- like translations from English into Spanish -- but should never be relied upon to provide a primary channel of information.

Science and Technology Fascinating view of a nearby galaxy with a black hole in the middle
According to images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, the black hole is firing out jets of gas while it draws in the stuff nearby

News The Guardian aims to become 80% digital in three to five years
Newspapers are facing a huge uphill battle to stay alive as institutions as advertising markets like job listings evaporate

The American Way The trouble with capitalism
(MP3 file) BBC journalist Peter Day talks with Gary Hamel about the state of capitalism today. It's really quite a good conversation. Hamel argues that there's a lot of need for more long-term thinking and a lot of need for over-ambitious politicians to back off.

News Um...sorry...those aren't your ribbons

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.

@briangongol on Twitter

June 28, 2011

Business and Finance How to decide whether to take a new job
No list of questions on the matter can be complete and useful to everyone, but these questions could help


June 29, 2011

Computers and the Internet Google takes on Facebook
The company has launched "Google Plus", which is an attempt at a social-networking website. It might work, and then again, it might not. Undoubtedly, many people will try it out -- but that is no guarantee of durable success. A lot of people tried the Macarena, too. In its favor, of course, is the fact that Google already has enormous reach -- whether people use Gmail or Google Voice or just use the search engine, they already probably have some form of contact with Google already. But that may be what sinks Google Plus, as well. People already express (reasonable) concerns about Facebook and its wildly inconsistent (and unprofessional) approach to protecting user privacy. But Facebook only gets what people put into Facebook. Over-sharing, though common, is at least partly the result of the user not showing enough discretion of his or her own. Google, on the other hand, has a natural reach into most everything a reasonable person might do online -- from their email to the videos they watch, to their search habits and vastly more. It's one thing when an upstart like Facebook starts to have just a little too much reach into one's life -- it's another for Google to try to get people to go all-in with their site, voluntarily becoming participants not just in those separate projects that Google offers through its products, but through a sort of meta-Google identity, which is what Google Plus sounds like it's trying to become. That may just be a little too much for some users. Then again, if Google Plus fails, it could be due to a million other causes -- some early testers don't like the user interface, for instance. It's a much more mundane-sounding thing, but if the site is too hard for people to get into using, they simply won't stay. Google isn't -- and can't be -- the nimble startup it once was, so bureaucratic behaviors are inevitable, and those may alone be enough to sink the project. On the other hand, perhaps Google Plus will turn out to have arrived just at the right moment, as Facebook fatigue sets in with ever-more users who are interested in trying something new.

Iowa Installation of a giant new scoreboard at Jack Trice Stadium
(Video) Interesting time-lapse stuff

Humor and Good News Someone at Amstel is a genius
Picking up on the notoriety of the Boston Bruins' bar tab after the Stanley Cup parade, they noted that someone bought exactly one bottle of Amstel Light, so they've offered free beer to whichever of the teammates steps forward to claim it as his own. Genius. Just genius.

@briangongol on Twitter

June 30, 2011

Computers and the Internet MySpace, we hardly even remembered you were there
It wasn't that many years ago that everyone on the Internet wanted a friend named "Tom", the guy who founded MySpace. But the site shuffled its way from wild popularity straight into history by essentially arming monkeys with machine guns: Anyone could post just about anything on MySpace to make their own page, well, "theirs." But that led to pages full of animated characters, flashing text, and annoying background music. That's a large portion of what led so many people to migrate to using Facebook instead: While MySpace was much freer for individual experimentation, as a whole it was just terrible to look at. News Corp bought the site for $580 million a few years ago -- and now it's been sold again, for just $35 million. They sold it Specific Media, an online advertising firm...which begs the question: What will happen to the millions of people who have MySpace pages who might've forgotten those were there? Now may be the time to tear down those old pages, or at least to watch them carefully, since Internet advertising companies aren't precisely known as the world's most-scrupulous firms. To help run the show, they're bringing in Justin Timberlake, a guy who -- to his credit -- has turned out to be a much sharper and more perceptive guy than his boy-band beginnings might have suggested. The site is supposed to be re-imagined in about two months, so the new product will be interesting to see. But it's hard to imagine that even a marquee entertainer like Timberlake will be able to turn MySpace cool again. Websites -- particularly the social ones -- tend to be a lot like musical styles. They start with small groups of fans, who become apostles to their friends, and soon enough something that was once underground becomes a phenomenon. But they also have a shelf life -- the disco craze ended in the Disco Demolition Night, remember? -- and once a musical style (or a website) becomes passe, it's going to take a long time for it to come back around again, if it ever recovers. Heard any ragtime on the radio lately?

Aviation News Unintended consequences of tighter air security
Since airline security has been tightened, drug smugglers -- and their cash smugglers -- have taken to the Interstates instead. It's well-known that one of the problems with making air travel more complicated and unpleasant (one of the things contemporary security measures assuredly do) is that it causes parents to take their children on long highway road trips instead of traveling by air. This exposes children to much greater risk of being killed or injured en route. Thus it is counterintuitive -- but logical -- not to require individual seats for small children on airplanes. The risk that one will be killed or injured in an aircrash because they didn't have an individual seat is far, far less than the risk that they'll be killed in a car wreck with a parent behind the wheel.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve imposes limits on debit-card fees
Retailers: Happy. Banks: Really unhappy.

Computers and the Internet You, too, can register a .XXX domain soon

Computers and the Internet Don't try to doctor photos
Getting it wrong can make the culprit look like an idiot -- as it has for someone who cut-and-pasted some government officials onto a photo of a new road in China. They can and should be mocked for the fraud.

Business and Finance Good publicity for a good cause
A Hy-Vee store is setting up a partnership with a homeless shelter to produce vegetables from an adjacent plot to be sold directly in the grocery store. The miniature farm will then be able to pay the workers a wage and, more importantly, help them to establish a job history with references.

Humor and Good News Apparently Steve Irwin wasn't the first nut to make a career out of harassing dangerous animals
(Video) Ross Allen got there first

Humor and Good News Whoops...you can't see me...
(Video) A TV weather forecaster shows up when he shouldn't have on-camera...then makes an attempt at a subtle exit. What's interesting is look of the station's graphics and studio -- totally different from most of what's seen on local television in America. In fact, it's quite European in styling.

Water News Another levee breach in southern Iowa

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