Gongol.com Archives: August 2011
Brian Gongol

August 2011
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August 1, 2011

Threats and Hazards So many lives are at stake in Africa's famine

The United States of America House approves debt-ceiling deal
It's an imperfect deal, but it had to be done. What's disappointing is that some partisans, who are entirely right that the government needs to bring spending under control, used entirely the wrong tactic for getting their point across. Running down the clock to the last minutes before a potential government default in order to protest excessive government debt is like taking the family for a death-defying drive at 100 miles an hour on the freeway just to scare them into wearing their seat belts. Brinksmanship isn't persuasion, it's a scare tactic. Now that the deal looks like it'll go through (pending approval in the Senate), the really critical matter will be determining who sits on the 12-person committee of Congress to come up with some kind of plan for resolving the long-term deficit problem.

News Sometimes the drug charge is a better option
Some doofus racked up dozens of traffic violations running from the police in Cedar Rapids, apparently in an effort to avoid getting busted for possession of a small amount of pot. Idiot.

Humor and Good News How community institutions get started
The receptionist in the lobby of a Pittsburgh office tower listens to baseball games on the radio and uses home runs as a cue to flicker a light atop the building. It's really quite delightful -- a totally organic, authentic community expression. Very fun.

@briangongol on Twitter

August 2, 2011

Threats and Hazards Somalia's famine is a dreadful story
People are braving awful violence just to try to get food

News Hugo Chavez wants OPEC to let Venezuela pump more oil
It's hilarious to watch a socialist have to deal with the consequences of economics in the real world. Chavez has been running Venezuela's economy into the ground, but it's being buoyed by oil prices. But he also participates in OPEC, which seeks to raise world oil prices by constricting supply. But since he's trying to stay in power, he needs an economic boost that socialism can't provide, so he wants permission to pump more oil. Countries endowed with an abundance of natural resources run a very serious risk of mistaking their resource abundance for a signal that their economic policies are working. Natural resources, especially in the hand of an authoritarian government, can become a serious curse -- enriching the powerful elite who proceed to impoverish the rest of the country because they remain hungry for power and control.

Iowa Kids' lemonade stands were shut down during RAGBRAI
If the stories being told are true, then police were taking a sledgehammer approach to applying the permitting ordinance around the event

Agriculture Terrible story about a detasseling tragedy
Two young girls were electrocuted while detasseling corn -- highlighting the risk involved in that dangerous line of work. In an ideal world, all dangerous work would be done by machines (like detasseling equipment), rather than by people.

News Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #4
A bunch of thugs beat up a pair of drinkers in a Quad Cities bar the other day, using what look like pipes and wrenches. Who knows whether there was a deeper story involved, but it certainly looks unprovoked in the raw surveillance footage. One never knows what's going to set off a thug in a public place, so it's best to know how to respond...ideally in a way that will cause the attacker some serious and lasting regret.

Humor and Good News A history of root beer

Water News $4 million in damage caused by flash flooding in Dubuque

@briangongolbot on Twitter

August 3, 2011

Business and Finance Robots are replacing people building the iPhone
The manufacturer making the units has faced a lot of bad press and scrutiny for the apparently pretty bad conditions it keeps for its employees, some of whom have committed suicide. Now they're setting a plan to replace some of those workers with robots. This should set off some warning lights: If Chinese labor is now getting too expensive (or troublesome) to work with, and robots are more economical, then several consequences are likely to ensue: First, the increase in demand for robots will probably expand the market for them, bringing economies of scale and making robotics more affordable for manufacturers around the world. Bad news if you're a factory-line laborer without other skills. Second, it signals that the search for low-cost labor will drive work out of China -- likely to other portions of southeast Asia, and eventually to Africa. Could be good news for the people living in those countries, if it brings in foreign investment and stable jobs. Third, it could be the beginning of the end for the Communist Party in China, which depends upon rising wages for as many people as possible to keep it in power. If companies start using their revenues to buy new machines rather than to employ new workers, it's going to put the brakes on China's rapid urbanization and leave a lot of people wondering where the higher wages went. China already faces regional strife as some of the far-flung provinces are getting harder for the central government to manage. If the manufacturing boom stops feeding workers and only serves to enrich the people with capital (dare we call them the "capitalists"?), that unrest could rapidly become widespread.

The United States of America States are going to face a lot of budget trouble without Federal support
A Minnesota state representative says "There's a new sheriff in town, and its name is Reality". He's absolutely right. The transition will undoubtedly be very uncomfortable for many states -- just like living without the stimulus money they had two years ago made for budget pain this year.

Computers and the Internet The latest share in Twitter sold at a rate that would make the entire company worth $8 billion
That's an astronomical market cap -- more than the sale price of Chrysler in 2007. Which makes it evident that people are buying into the firm either without thinking, or in the wild hopes that the market valuation will keep climbing just long enough for them to ride the increase and then sell out before the bubble bursts. But it's decidedly not a sensible valuation.

Threats and Hazards Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #5
An Australian girl spent 10 hours thinking she had a "necklace bomb" around her neck after an intruder broke into her house

Iowa The modern radio business doesn't make room for the legends it used to
Full-service radio is virtually gone

Iowa The 2011 Iowa State Fair: Now with a lot more police!
Last year's mob scenes were shameful

The United States of America The insider language of some branches of Christianity

@briangongolbot on Twitter

August 4, 2011

The American Way US household net worth: $58.1 trillion
That's a ton of money -- far more than our Federal debt, among other major figures

Computers and the Internet Everyone will have a smartphone soon
Saturation rates in the UK are already at 50% for young users

The United States of America Former Governor Huntsman says it would be "impossible" for Representative Bachmann to get the Presidential nomination
Her absolutist stance on the Federal debt ceiling is inexcusable

Business and Finance GM's profits are up -- but that's no consolation to the people they screwed in bankruptcy
That's one of the semi-hidden consequences of bankruptcy: The surviving company gets to behave as though nothing really happened, and the creditors end up being punished.

The American Way Freelance work via the Internet is on the rise
Great news for places like Iowa, where people could work remotely for distant businesses while still enjoying a very high quality of life

@briangongolbot on Twitter

August 5, 2011

The United States of America There goes America's "AAA" credit rating
Standard and Poor's has downgraded US Federal debt to "AA+", which is still very strong -- but no longer perfect

Iowa Another big Iowa wind farm is coming
The state now produces the equivalent of 20% of the electricity we consume from wind power

Computers and the Internet Google offers to host websites to give them faster page speeds
This will undoubtedly lead to antitrust concerns

Iowa Iowa regents consider 72 candidates for next ISU president
It's a big job and a highly valuable one, but a reasonable person might wonder whether it's also overpaid

Aviation News Why is there a football stadium 250 feet away from the main runway at the Akron airport?
Seems like potentially-catastrophic bad planning

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August 7, 2011

News A map of the possible consequences of the US debt-rating downgrade
It's not a pretty sight. (Based upon a quick sketch of the problem from Sunday night.)


August 8, 2011

Science and Technology The wind farms of the future
They might look less like Holland

@briangongolbot on Twitter

August 9, 2011

Threats and Hazards UK riots incident map
The absolutely shameful behavior on display is revolting. London police numbers are being quintupled from their normal levels just to deal with the problem. One of the things the West must do over time is decide to show a little more self-discipline (without the insistence and heavy hand of government forcing it) in all regards, unless we want the antiseptic and authoritarian vision of progress imposed by China's Communist Party to rule the globe.

Computers and the Internet Apple has the world's largest market capitalization
Some will read into this more than they should: It simply means that shareholders have valued the company more highly than any other, but valuations are often irrational

Weather and Disasters The floods in Pakistan: One year later
Some really heartbreaking scenes. It wasn't that long ago, but it's long-forgotten most everywhere else. Yet the pain appears to remain quite fresh for many, and their suffering is both a humanitarian issue and one with global strategic consequences.

Weather and Disasters An earthquake in South Dakota. Really.
That's why earthquake insurance in the Midwest isn't such a bad idea

The United States of America World War II on the homefront -- in color
It's too easy to see black-and-white films of the era and forget that the world occurred in color and HD, even if it wasn't usually recorded that way

Humor and Good News Why Americans could learn to love Japanese baseball
(Video) A spectacular catch caught on video

Computers and the Internet Who wants an emotional robot?
Robotics will in many ways be the tools of a future in which a robust labor supply is no longer available (especially as Baby Boomers retire) and in which energy can be produced at low cost. The more energy we have, the more stuff we can produce to solve our problems. But we may actually need robots that show what looks like emotion in order to have them fulfill some of our human needs for which there are not enough capable humans to do the work at an affordable cost.

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August 10, 2011

Threats and Hazards The London riots continue
Mob scenes are really depressing things -- to think that self-government depends on the self-control of the governed, and that it's never entirely safe from peoples' tempers taking a turn for the worse and overriding what should be their better judgment.

Business and Finance Stop subsidizing my competition
The problem with American cities and states and their approach to economic development is that many elected officials and professional civil servants are too quick to think that they know better than everyone else what kinds of businesses their places need, so they set up incentives to encourage people to set up shop in those industries. But the problem is, there's almost always someone else already in business providing that service, who then gets taxed and ends up indirectly subsidizing their own competition. It's not reasonable, it's not efficient, and it's not fair. Thus one can understand why a hotelier in Lincoln, Nebraska, doesn't want the city subsidizing the construction of other hotels -- especially when his isn't even full.

Business and Finance The fight over Dr. Pepper made with real cane sugar
For good reasons or not (maybe it's all just in our heads), a lot of people think that soft drinks made with cane sugar taste better than the stuff made with corn syrup (which is most pop in America). Now there's a fight going on between a small bottler of Dr. Pepper made with cane sugar -- and the parent company that owns the product formula.

Agriculture Bill Gates has bought 5% of John Deere
While interesting, it shouldn't be a huge surprise. Gates undoubtedly sees the macro-scale factors at work on a global scale: Particularly, that the world's population keeps rising, and as a result, so will demand for food. And as goes demand for food, so will go the demand for the agricultural tools that Deere makes to plant, manage, and harvest crops. Deere is consistently profitable, if not spectacularly so, and its price to book value isn't outrageously high. These are factors that seem to make sense for an investor who's still looking 20 to 30 years down the road, like Gates.

Humor and Good News Ron Santo gets a statue at Wrigley Field
It's too bad he didn't live to enjoy the honor

Health American Medical Association chief wants budget debate to include discussion about medical costs
And it should -- though the problem is that it probably won't, at least not thoughtfully

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August 11, 2011

News China's new aircraft carrier used to belong to Russia
It takes a great deal of self-control not to make a joke about how they're likely just going to make cheap knock-off copies of it to build out their naval fleet. Oh, wait. Apparently it takes too much effort to resist.

Humor and Good News This definitely beats Hypercolor shirts
A German group produced shirts for an event attended by a lot of people suspected of having racist or nationalist tendencies, and when the shirts were put through the wash, their original decoration changed to a message encouraging them to become more open-minded. Clever work. And for those who don't understand the "Hypercolor" reference, they were shirts sold in the late 1980s and early 1990s that changed color when heat was applied. This made for an awful lot of inappropriate gags and socially awkward moments.

News Vengeance
The people who shot down the American helicopter with the Navy Seals aboard the other day have themselves been killed

Aviation News The fastest airplane ever
DARPA's "Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2" was supposed to be the fastest airplane ever, traveling at speeds of Mach 20. But the test flight today resulted in a complete loss. Fortunately, it's designed to be unmanned, so nobody was aboard anyway. It's intended to be a very effective killing machine, capable of traveling the distance from New York to Los Angeles in 12 minutes -- or, in practice, similar distances overseas between American military bases and targets like Osama Bin Laden.

Aviation News American Airlines wants to spin off American Eagle
It's actually kind of odd -- just after placing a huge long-term order for new airliners, the company is talking out of both sides of its corporate mouth: Saying on one hand that the spin-off would create a large and economically viable regional airline service, but on the other that the spin-off would let American Airlines (the parent company) go shopping for better deals for its feeder network. As Richard Branson has said, "The easiest way to become a millionaire is to start off a billionaire and go into the airline business."

Science and Technology Orangutans are mimes without the face paint
It turns out that apes are capable of communicating through the same means as Marcel Marceau

Computers and the Internet Google reiterates its "real names only" policy on Google Plus
Many people object, saying that there are legitimate reasons for people to use pseudonyms online.

Aviation News How six airlines use the Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet
Much attention is lavished on the accommodations in first class. But the real question is, if a person is spending a fortune to fly first-class, why wouldn't they just pay to fly by private jet instead?

Aviation News Jet flight without an airplane
A crazy person straps jets to his arms and flies

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August 12, 2011

News Big recall of China's bullet trains
The reason? Safety issues. The size? 54 trains have been recalled. The good news is that they're at least conducting the recall instead of putting more lives at risk.

Business and Finance What happens if European banks are threatened by debt defaults?
Europeans are holding tons of debt, and much of it has to be repayed soon -- and it's not clear whether the cash is there to do so, which puts the banks at risk

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August 13, 2011

Threats and Hazards Dear London rioters: Get a job. Stop breaking other people's stuff.
It's 2011: If you're young and unemployed, go to Amazon Mechanical Turk and pick up some work, or take a free class online from a school like MIT and learn new skills. Using Twitter to organize mobs to go smash up the storefronts of the very employers who create jobs is about the stupidest thing anyone could possibly have done.

Computers and the Internet Better, smaller electronics are easier to steal than their predecessors
And since college students tend to be early adopters -- and since many of the freshmen will be especially naive -- a reminder to all: Watch your stuff, particularly in a campus environment

Computers and the Internet Consumers may love Google, but other companies don't
An interesting column from TechCrunch makes the case that Google has spread out into so many different areas of business that it's racked up an incredible number of competitors, many of whom are developing a "chip on the shoulder" degree of distrust for the company. This will make Google's second decade much more difficult to navigate than its first. It's almost inevitable that Google in 2020 will be a shadow of Google in 2011, unless they get smart and diversify into areas outside of the obvious Internet-technology arena. Microsoft and Google will each pay a heavy penalty if they rely solely upon computer services and products to make their fortunes in the decades ahead. It's too hard to guess what consumers will want and what markets will tolerate in the constantly-evolving world of consumer and Internet technology -- it's like trying to be Versace and Wal-Mart at the same time: Always at the forefront of taste and fashion, but delivering all things to all people at mass-market prices. It just can't be done forever. If you're running Microsoft or Google, and you have $39 billion or $53 billion (respectively) in cash just sitting around, with $8.5 billion or $23 billion (respectively) in new profits rolling in each year, then now would be the time to invest in non-traditional lines of business where technology expertise could make those other lines of business much more productive and profitable. It's hard to think of any business where some additional degree of automation and computerization wouldn't potentially make things more efficient.

Broadcasting Fox will re-make "Cosmos"
The Carl Sagan original was epic, and here's hoping the remake will be, as well

Iowa One of the few bridges connecting Iowa and Nebraska has serious damage
Flooding along the Missouri River has scoured away a 56' deep hole near the bridge's supports on the east side of the river

Computers and the Internet One of Ireland's most popular TV hosts is quitting Twitter
Even with 60,000 followers, he says he just doesn't have time to keep it up. A bad sign for the social-networking site.

Agriculture The scourge of the Japanese beetle
The annoying (and invasive) things are everywhere, eating all kinds of plant leaves and fruits all over Iowa

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August 16, 2011

Business and Finance Is Google trying to become a mobile-phone maker?
Or are they just trying to buy a whole bunch of old patents by buying the spun-off phone division of Motorola?

Broadcasting How the news used to look

Science and Technology An elevator pitch for healthy skepticism

Iowa Who earns big money in the Midwest?

@briangongol on Twitter

August 17, 2011

Business and Finance Disagree on the economy, but don't be disagreeable
Say what you will about Texas governor (and Presidential candidate) Rick Perry, but accusing the Federal Reserve chairman of "treason" for using the standard tools of monetary stimulus is a reckless thing to do, and Perry should be ashamed of himself for either (a) not understanding how the economy works when he wants the job of President, or (b) knowing better, but willfully stepping over the line between rhetoric and incitement. There are some people now sharing a pretty dystopian vision of the future economy, and they're welcome to harbor those ideas and to defend them in a legitimate and fair debate. But angry talk isn't going to solve anything.

Computers and the Internet Free speech isn't always pretty
It's a bad thing when China's Communist government applauds another country's curbs on free speech -- and they're applauding comments by Britain's prime minister that people who have been involved in the riots there should perhaps be banned from using social-media tools. At least two people there are headed for jail time after trying to incite riots via Facebook.

The United States of America Vice President Biden goes to China
He's there, in part, to convince America's biggest lender that the country is good for its debts. What could possibly go wrong?

Computers and the Internet Flash-mob tactics are being applied to criminal behavior
People are using Twitter and other social media tools to coordinate swarm robberies of convenience stores in Maryland and Pennsylvania. It was noted here back in 2007 that flash mobs had the potential to overwhelm forces organized under the old rules of bureaucratic architecture.

Weather and Disasters The new normal
New climate observations from the national weather service suggest that the first decade of the 21st Century was warmer than the 1970s, to a statistically significant degree

The United States of America Succeeding despite ourselves
America retains a strong economy despite our rather lousy performance in education. Imagine how great things would be if we could improve schools and keep a free economy at the same time.

Science and Technology 60 miles to the gallon?
No, this Volkswagen gets 60 miles to the quart

Water News Don't forget: American cities used to burn to the ground. Not anymore, thanks to municipal water systems.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

August 18, 2011

Business and Finance US stock market falls by 4.5%
No cute interpretations or headines are in order. Just one major issue: We need a serious measurement of the amounts of money that (a) Baby Boomers have been saving for retirement, (b) that have moved out of stocks lately, and (c) that have recently moved into bonds and bond funds. It seems likely that that (b) and (c) are pretty close to one another, and that either one marks a not-insignificant share of (a). As of this time last year, half hadn't saved enough to even think about retiring comfortably, and it's likely that many -- whether they've saved enough or not -- have been so spooked by the recent volatility that they're trying to cash out of the stock market now, seeking to lock in any gains they might've had since the 2008 market drawdown. It does appear that many billions are flowing out of stock investments and into money-market funds and other "safe" waiting places.

Business and Finance Stop the economic-incentives madness
It's great that businesses want to expand in Iowa, and if economic-development incentives are made available, those businesses can't really be criticized for pursuing those offers. But economic-development incentives are a zero-sum game for the nation as a whole, with a lot of overhead costs. Congress should step in to stop them. Unilateral disarmament in the economic-development battlefield isn't likely to happen, since nobody wants to be the politician or public official blamed for failing to "bring jobs" to a community. But the fact of the matter is that these incentives tax some companies and people to subsidize their own competitors. It's a perverse structure that really must end.

Computers and the Internet The August Patch Tuesday update from Microsoft
It came out last week, but is undoubtedly still just now being added to some computers. This latest round contained about a dozen updates, two of which were labeled "critical."

Science and Technology There's no such thing as a psychic
There are just people who are really good at cold-reading the nonverbal cues of other people. As proof, the illusionist James Randi offers $1,000,000 to anyone who can prove psychic powers under controlled conditions.

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

August 19, 2011

Business and Finance Panic on the stock-market floor: Unjustified
The problem with what's happening now is that people are pulling money out of stocks to shovel it into "safe" accounts that earn little or no interest but carry little risk of loss. They're too late to make the switch, particularly if retirement is coming soon but isn't quite here yet. Cashing out now just means you've locked in your losses, so a little patience is in order -- maybe a couple of years' worth. If the overall market hasn't recovered within 5 years of now, we're in pretty dire condition anyway. Things will be different then, of course -- there's a good chance that the world five or ten years from now won't have a Euro anymore, or at least, not one that's used by as many countries as use it today. But it's critical to remember that no matter how bad things get in the stock or bond markets, we didn't all just become stupid. The things we know how to do -- flying airplanes, building bridges, performing surgery -- we still know how to do. And we as a species learn more things to do every day -- and if we're smart, we learn new things as individuals every day as well. The scorecard may look a little different, but the fundamentals haven't changed. Circumstances will evolve, China will play a larger role in the world economy, people in poor countries will get opportunities to take up low-wage work, and entrepreneurs will still break their backs trying to get rich. Oh, and whenever there's a bad day on the stock market, we'll be subjected to the painful cliche of the brokers with their hands on their faces.

Computers and the Internet Google wants to take over the old Motorola cell-phone line
There's a lot of debate: Is this so that Google can step up its presence in the smartphone market, or so that it can make use of all of the company's patents and collect the royalties from them? Given that HP is exiting the smartphone business, one has to wonder whether the Motorola phone business is as profitable as Google might expect a new acquisition to be. We'll have to see whether antitrust regulators even let the deal go through. Google's CEO says the acquisition is Google's way of defending itself against Microsoft and Apple, which he makes the bold step of accusing of "anti-competitive patent attacks on Android". Is it hubris? It's definitely an interesting decision, right on the heels of the shutdown of Google Labs, which seemed like a really bad move at the time, and still does a month later.

Computers and the Internet HP wants to spin off its computer-making business
It's a third of the company's sales, but the profit margins are below 6%, and the CEO wants to focus elsewhere. They're also killing off the WebOS project, though they may end up selling it elsewhere. The company hasn't formalized plans yet, but plans to do so in about 12 to 18 months. They're trying to become a cloud-computing company, starting with a big acquisition.

Computers and the Internet "Woot" and "retweet" make it into the OED
The Oxford English Dictionary puts a stamp of approval on the existence of the words, even if the editors don't think "woot" should have replaced "hurrah"

Health Archaeologist says don't blame the rats for the Black Death
The 1300's plague killed too many people too fast to have been spread by rats, says Barney Sloane, who also says he's tried to find evidence of lots of rat corpses from the era in the dirt, but to no success.

Science and Technology How much oil is beneath North Dakota and Montana?
The USGS says up to 4.3 billion barrels, which leaves a big gap behind Venezuela's 296.5 billion-barrel reserve, and Saudi Arabia's 264.5 billion barrels.

Science and Technology Spice found in curry powder could help identify explosives
It changes color in the presence of TNT

Agriculture ISU agronomists think the corn crop will be worse than the USDA expects
Flooding and the recent hot, dry streak could put a significant dent in the total crop this year

Iowa Does anyone like the new Cy-Hawk trophy?

@briangongol on Twitter

August 23, 2011

Weather and Disasters Earthquake in Washington, DC

Health Progress is being made on better HPV vaccines
That there is a vaccine available to prevent some types of cancer -- and that some parents won't give it to their children -- is mind-boggling

Humor and Good News Why you heard "Great Scott!" in "Back to the Future"
Dr. Emmett Brown's favorite phrase has a long history

Iowa Police officer thrown nearly 50' after being hit by car

Humor and Good News The "Muppet Show" theme, reimagined

Recent radio podcasts

August 24, 2011

Business and Finance Warren Buffett is still burying the lead in the story

Iowa Why kids should pay attention to bus-evacuation drills

Business and Finance Americans are watching household budgets better than in a long time

Science and Technology How far away is fusion power?

Threats and Hazards Intellectual-property theft borders on being a national emergency

Computers and the Internet The "Anonymous" problem

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August 25, 2011

Broadcasting 90-year-old construction firm closes in Waterloo
This reinforces the argument that every firm needs to have a 100-year business plan, not because the plan will ever be even close to remotely correct at that horizon, but because the pace of change accelerates and the things that we think today are 100 years off may only be 50.

Science and Technology Out of sight, out of mind
The Great Ape Trust on the southeast side of Des Moines is having trouble raising enough money to pay the bills, but one could argue that part of the problem is that there's really no public component of the facility. Lacking that, nobody visits, which means people don't often think about it -- even though the organization seems to have been doing very interesting and worthwhile scientific research. As the characters in the movie "The Right Stuff" joked: No Buck Rogers, no bucks. Science needs to be seen as interesting and engaging for people to feel like throwing money after it. But most of all, it has to be seen.

Weather and Disasters If Hurricane Irene really does hit New York City, how bad could it be?
Really, really bad. The city just isn't built to accommodate a big storm, which could flood the subways, shatter glass from skyscrapers, and turn every Manhattan street into a wind tunnel. This could be really, really bad, and it's not as though we didn't know it might happen someday. The latest forecasts show the hurricane grazing Washington and landing squarely on New York City.

Weather and Disasters Very few people in the DC area thought to get earthquake insurance
Just because something is a low-probability event doesn't mean it shuoldn't be insured against, especially if it could be high-impact. It should come as no surprise that the earthquake disrupted mobile-phone service and caused so many people to try to check in that the system fell apart. Everyone needs a "push" and a "pull" method for telling other people that they're OK in case of an emergency.

Humor and Good News Gaddafi has a crush on Condoleezza Rice
Someone found a photo album dedicated to the former US Secretary of State in his palace -- which, to be fair, is no longer his

Computers and the Internet China caught Red-handed conducting cyber-warfare
We have to be prepared for a -- rival? opponenent? competitor? -- who wants to use these tools to our detriment

Computers and the Internet Slashdot site founder resigns
The site is a juggernaut in technology news and commentary

Computers and the Internet Three big new developments about the iPhone
A cheaper iPhone 4 may be coming, the iPhone 5 should be released soon, and Sprint may become the third carrier to offer the phone

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August 26, 2011

Business and Finance US economy continues growing...only barely

Business and Finance Lower pay for some investment bankers
The croupiers continue, however, to take a huge cut from the investments of others

News The war experience through the eyes of people in Tripoli
The war in Libya seems to have shown once again that air power is a necessary, but not sufficient, tool for winning a war

Business and Finance Old news, but interesting: Oprah Winfrey and the investment tool called a "family office"

Computers and the Internet New privacy policies at Facebook
One might credit the power of a competitor -- like Google Plus -- for bringing this about

Weather and Disasters Fine maps of the incoming Hurricane Irene

Computers and the Internet UK government drops ridiculous plans to try to shut down social media websites in case of emergency
The tools are content-agnostic; that is, they can be used by the bad guys, but also by the good

Recent radio podcasts

August 27, 2011

Computers and the Internet DC-area cell phone networks were overloaded after the earthquake
No big surprise, but that it's no big surprise is only a reflection of how obvious it should be to everyone that there's just not enough capacity.

Iowa Terrible story about a beating death in Waterloo
The story is still evolving, but it sounds as though an adolescent feud turned violent and resulted in the death of a teenager who was being taunted for being gay. Whether it rises to the legal status of a hate crime or not, it reflects the really awful extent of open homophobia, which really has to stop. We're a civilized nation, or at least we should be, and what consenting adults do behind closed doors is nobody else's business. Nor ought it be anyone else's concern how an individual is sexually oriented. We're all just people here, and most human beings are basically good and are just trying to live their lives -- so making anyone else's life worse just because of the way they're naturally wired to be attracted to others is really quite inhumane.

Threats and Hazards China's shameless cyber-warfare
Cyberwarfare is a tool of foreign policy that's a whole lot "softer" than building up a huge military arsenal, but that makes it no less potentially destructive. The right cyber-attack against the United States could be not only economically devastating, but also physically so. Much of our infrastructure is governed by computers, and much of that governance is conducted via the Internet. The United States is at grave risk, and we're no better off for ignoring the threat.

Business and Finance Pete Ricketts calls special tax credit for angel investors "a dumb law"
It's another of many economic-development incentives that mainly serve only to funnel resources from taxpayers to the well-connected

News Tolls on Illinois Tollway roads will almost double
The Illinois Tollways, despite all kinds of criticism, are probably so politically entrenched that they'll never become freeways

Computers and the Internet Will Facebook's new privacy features protect it from competition?
Pressure on Facebook from the new rival, Google Plus, appears to have forced the incumbent to take some steps toward better privacy protection. Over the long term, Facebook simply cannot hold its place as the market dominator in social networking, just as Google will not be able to hold indefinitely to its position as top dog in Internet search.

Business and Finance Environmentalism and economic development
A satirical paper suggests that rich nations combat global deforestation by covering half their lands with trees. The point being, of course, that it's easy to sit back and offer armchair solutions from the rich world that may appear to solve global environmental problems -- without recognizing that those solutions may have serious consequences for the economic well-being of the people affected.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

August 31, 2011

Business and Finance Government steps in to block T-Mobile merger with AT&T
AT&T is holding out 5,000 jobs in call centers as a carrot, but the real question is whether the merger would hurt consumers. The public shouldn't be unreasonably forced to subsidize those 5,000 jobs.

Science and Technology The trouble with academic journals
They're using their monopoly power to exact huge profits -- at the expense of spreading knowledge. This is undoubtedly a deadweight on social benefit.

Health Why the Japanese live longer than everyone else
Nutrition, hydration, public health measures, and a commitment on the part of many to getting good preventative care

Computers and the Internet No more encryption software in Pakistan
It's being prohibited by a government that doesn't realize that encrpytion software can be used for good as well as evil. One software developer says it exactly right: "This is like banning cars because suicide bombers use them".

Iowa Dear Iowa CCI: Please stop being jerks. Love, everybody else in Iowa.
Now it seems nearly everyone agrees that the activist group is past the point of being a useful contributor to public debate and is now nothing more than a shouting club

The United States of America Jokes are supposed to be funny
Yukking it up over hurricanes and using those guffaws to score political points is tasteless