Gongol.com Archives: November 2011
Brian Gongol

November 2011
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November 8, 2011

The United States of America Election Day 2011
It's too easy to take the right to vote for granted. Many Americans who are skipping out on their obligation to show up at the polls today are the descendants of people who lived under monarchs, emperors, and others who told them what to do from on high. The revolutions that begat republics in places like France, Ireland, and Spain are all examples of the lengths to which people have gone to assert their right to self-government. We shouldn't take too lightly the obligation to visit the ballot box every chance we get.

Science and Technology The need for modern innovation
Far too many brains are being put to work trying to come up with the next smartphone application or social-media network. We need lots of innovation in lots of areas -- including those that may otherwise seem low-tech. We can't let the "Ooh! Shiny!" effect of gadgets obscure the fact that innovation is a necessary process all around us. It should also be noted that there are a lot of highly-privileged people who think they should be rewarded just for being artsy. The liberal arts are a necessary element of a well-rounded education; that said, they likely do not equip most people with the tools they need to earn a satisfying income. Even well-rounded, college-educated people have to learn how to do something -- probably something somewhat technical -- in order to earn a satisfying amount of take-home pay. "Technical" work can take on a lot of different uniforms (teaching people to write clearly is a technical process, as is programming a robot), but like it or not, there must be some kind of commercial application for most work in order for that work to be profitable.

Business and Finance The law of unintended consequences is impossible to escape
A well-meaning proposal to ensure that disabled adults are paid at least the standard minimum wage could mean that programs intended to keep them active and productive would have to shut down. There's no escaping the fact that there are some people who are sufficiently disabled that they simply cannot produce more than, say, $5.00 per hour of useful output. That should not prohibit them from producing that work, nor for being paid for it. There is an inherent dignity to doing useful work, and it would be shameful if charitable programs were no longer able to provide some kind of outlet for the disabled to participate in that sense of self-dignity.

Computers and the Internet The $150 personal computer of 30 years ago
In early 1982, $150 bought a computer with a 32x24 display and 1K of memory. Today, $150 could just about buy a netbook with a high-resolution display and 250 Gb of storage. Times change. Nobody ought to look at the past and think that times were better then...whenever "then" was.

Broadcasting A diplomatic tug-of-war over reporters
A member of Congress from California wants to see parity between the number of reporters from Chinese state-run news agencies sent to the US and the number of reporters from American state-run news outlets sent to China. Considering almost all of China's media are state-owned, and virtually none of America's are, this could turn out to be well nigh impossible to achieve. There are legitimate concerns to be had about the number of reporters from China who may in fact be espionage operatives under cover. But it seems unlikely that flooding the Chinese market with VOA journalists would make any difference.

Business and Finance A little chat about Berkshire Hathaway
Hosted by the Omaha World-Herald on a weekly basis. This week: A speedy calculation that the company made $1.2 million by repurchasing under-priced shares. But that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $24 billion the company invested last quarter.

Broadcasting Why radio stations need to transition from "program directors" to "content directors"


November 9, 2011

News The "union" in European Union is on borrowed time
The apparent crisis surrounding Italy's debt appears to have the French and Germans in a rush to figure out how they can cut ties to some of the Eurozone countries. Combine this with the news from back in May that the foreign ministers of the EU countries were agreeing to re-impose border controls (requiring people to show passports to cross from one EU member nation to another), and the picture is becoming clearer: The long-term future of the European Union as we know it is looking more unlikely with every passing minute.

Threats and Hazards The positively revolting timeline of accusations at Penn State
If the accounts of abuse as reported by the Associated Press are correct, then the coach involved in the abuse there was a deliberate predator of young boys who was repeatedly let go by authorities of all stripes who should have stopped him. Someone -- anyone -- should have stopped him.

Computers and the Internet US Cellular will roll out 4G service in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines early in 2012
The cell-phone companies need to roll out as much bandwidth as they possibly can as fast as they can. None of them seem to have been adequately prepared for the enormous demand for data that people place on their smartphones. It should have been much more obvious than they appear to have realized that people would want to do all of the things we can with smartphones as often as we could.

Computers and the Internet Maybe we really want cheap, disposable electronics
Google may have a way to de-commoditize journalism -- at least for the reporters
They're offering a tool to integrate the writers' Google Plus profiles with the articles they write, so that they can essentially take centralized credit for their bylines. This is an interesting concept -- there are lots of easily-recognized TV news anchors, but not a lot of bylines that really swing any brand power. If the journalists themselves are able to leverage this media presence (with Google's search-engine strength) correctly, at least a few of them may be able to command a higher price -- or at least a little more respect -- for their work.

Computers and the Internet A solution to the problem of using multiple user profiles on Windows 7
Smart users will have more than one user profile under Windows -- one, an administrator-level account; the others, limited-access. But Windows 7 seems to contain some kind of strange design flaw that causes it not to offer those alternative profiles when the computer is first booted up. This is a silly design error, but it turns out to have a rather simple solution. Windows 7 is otherwise a generally satisfactory operating system.

News UK plans to speed up its withdrawal from Germany
British troops have been in the country since the end of World War II. They are reportedly being set to be completely out by 2020 -- 75 years after the end of WWII. This is why people need to think about the long term -- the consequences of our actions usually linger a whole lot longer than we initially anticipate.

The United States of America One of the most remarkable "brain freeze" moments of modern times
Texas governor Rick Perry forgot a key platform issue during a CNBC debate. The reviews are savage.

Computers and the Internet What Google might yet do to make Google Plus take off
There may yet be a grand strategy to emerge from within the Googleplex. None of the great powers in technology seems to know what the market is going to favor on the Internet just a year from now, much less five or ten years down the road. People are doing odd things like erasing their entire Internet footprints -- which seems like a tragic error. (If nothing you've ever written online has been worth saving, then why waste the electrons? And, conversely, if it was worth saving, why obliterate it all?)

Iowa A tour of southwestern Iowa after the Missouri River floods of 2011
(Video) First-hand raw video from the Interstate 29 corridor. Some parts look untouched; others are clearly devastated.

Water News State Department could delay Keystone XL pipeline route until after 2012 elections

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November 10, 2011

Threats and Hazards Potentially-contaminated honey from China is hitting American store shelves

Computers and the Internet Atari used to be a leading computer manufacturer
Take one look at this ad and tell me you're willing to wager $100 that Apple will still be a powerful computing and electronics brand in 30 years. The market is simply too volatile for long-run predictions to be made.

Threats and Hazards The problem with Jim Cramer
It is Jim Cramer's style of hyperactive trading that causes ordinary investors to make stupid, rash, emotional decisions that cost fortunes.

Computers and the Internet Seriously: Don't put pictures on the Internet unless you are prepared to anticipate problems

Computers and the Internet Is an old AOL e-mail address a status symbol?
Despite the argument put forward in the article, probably not: It looks more archaic than it looks like the symbol of an early adopter.

News Gull attacks eagle

Science and Technology Better robots will be good news for us all

Agriculture Why the McRib only shows up occasionally

Aviation News NSF will convert an A-10 into a storm-chaser plane
The A-10 is renowned for its durability, so it's probably the most sensible airframe to try. Will be interesting to see the results.

News Postal Service worker has been stealing rebate checks from Iowans

Threats and Hazards Confederate-flag license plates? Really, Texas?

Humor and Good News High-school students serving on the local fire squad

Humor and Good News Gongolina, Poland: Sounds like a nice place to visit

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November 11, 2011

The United States of America What if Texas were to self-divide into smaller pieces?

The United States of America Secretary Clinton: As we leave Iraq and Afghanistan, we can pay more attention to Asia and the Pacific

Business and Finance The more bizarre markets become, the more they move in unison

Socialism Doesn't Work Medieval-style guilds are alive and well today

News The DA who never charged in the Penn State case has been missing for years

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November 13, 2011

The United States of America Municipal defaults: Cities aren't immune from going bankrupt

Business and Finance China's wealthy are heading to the West

Broadcasting Notes from the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio - November 13, 2011

Science and Technology The "underground skyscraper" proposed for Mexico City

Iowa There's a shortage of diesel in the Midwest

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November 14, 2011

Business and Finance Old workers are in competition with young workers. Don't ever forget it.
Little-known truth: Programs like Social Security aren't really about protecting old people from poverty in old age. They're about getting older workers out of the job market so that younger workers can have opportunities. But the situation today is deeply unsettled, since a lot of older people are trying to stay in the job market and collect pension-type benefits at the same time. This is not a good situation for people on the low-skill, low-experience end of the jobs spectrum. However, it may be one of the only ways to unwind the mess we've made in America over generations of overpaying our retirees and under-funding the system that feeds them. Unfortunately, though, it's just a massive intergenerational transfer from today's young people to today's retirees (who got to double-dip: first, by getting older workers out of the way for less than they should have been paying in Social Security taxes back in the day; second, by getting to collect today without having pre-paid into the system adequately over time). On a related note, homebuilders (who are facing an economic depression that seems to be isolated to their sector of the economy) are trying to kick-start new construction by building multi-generational housing.

The United States of America Chicago tries plugging budget hole with ads on public buildings

The United States of America The dramatically-changing demographics of small towns

The United States of America Huge team of US Federal agents will go to the London Olympics

News Newsweek gives up on long-standing project to track Presidential candidates

Business and Finance The most efficient spenders in pro sports

Broadcasting NBC News hires Chelsea Clinton
Oh, did you mean Chelsea Clinton, the renowned journalist?

Threats and Hazards The Sandusky indictment

Computers and the Internet Technology tip: Should I put up pictures of my kids on Facebook?

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November 15, 2011

Socialism Doesn't Work It's time to stop the silly tax breaks
A Des Moines Register analysis concludes that a whole lot of companies got special tax treatment in Iowa in return for promises to "create jobs"...and that a whole lot of them failed to live up to their end of the bargain. A smart economic-development environment starts with a level playing field for everyone and doesn't put government officials in the position to dole out favors to anyone. Why should one firm with ten employees subsidize another firm with 50, just because the one with 50 promises to hire people? The free-market solution would say that both should carry their own weight, and the one with the greatest opportunity to survive without subsidies should be the one to grow.

Business and Finance Chinese ratings agency threatens to downgrade US debt again

Science and Technology "Psychic" chickens out on chance to prove her supposed "powers" to talk to the dead

Computers and the Internet Amazon.com begins shipping the Kindle Fire

Threats and Hazards Big Brother in London taxis

Business and Finance What a bank failure looks like
The main thing people need to understand about what causes a bank failure is that banks don't keep every dollar that they receive in deposits. They only keep a fraction of those deposits sitting around; the rest, they lend out to other people. The percentage kept in reserve is the "capital reserve". From place to place, the amount varies, but in general it's going to be about 8%, in accordance with the latest international agreements. The more conservative the operation, the higher the reserve amount. So when a bank (like Liberty Bank in West Des Moines) falls to 2.5% in reserves, then it's in serious trouble.

Broadcasting Audio files for the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio from November 13, 2011

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November 16, 2011

Business and Finance Today's employment gap
It's not that there aren't jobs and opportunities being created -- it's that there's a gap between the skills needed and the things people seem to be willing to do/learn/try

Agriculture Farmland prices are up, up, up
It's probably unsustainable. That's the worry.

Science and Technology Visions of a utopian future
Artists, architects, and visionaries have enjoyed sketching up their visions of the urban future for a century or more -- but the thing they so often get wrong is that they portray a comprehensively-planned future in which everyhing has reached a similar level of advancement. But the reality is that the only system wealthy enough to produce great advancements in culture or urban living is the free market, in which no such centralized coordination can take place. Taking exception for one or two places (like Disney World), very little can be comprehensively planned on a massive scale. And it should be pretty obvious from the New York skyline (which contains the Pan Am building, the Chrysler Building, and the new World Trade Center) that progress happens over time, in stutter steps, and that elements of that skyline can remain durable for generations. It's not like all of the old buildings get wiped out and replaced, urban-renewal-style, just to make way for the new ones.

Business and Finance 40% of all Canadian men work for the same company as their father at some point
One wonders whether there's a similar coincidence of employment in the United States, too

Science and Technology A montage of sky-views over the course of a year
(Video) A fascinating video experiment

Computers and the Internet Android's market share is galloping forward

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November 17, 2011

Humor and Good News Stephen Fry interviews Lady Gaga
The story is actually a few months old -- from May -- but it's really a treat. The musician's best line: "I just am committed wholeheartedly to theatre with no intermission." She's profoundly talented, that's for certain.

Iowa A bad third quarter for IPERS
Iowa's pension system for public-sector employees lost a little over 6% of its value in the third quarter.

Threats and Hazards Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #7
A man gave $2 to a panhandler in Chicago and got sucker-punched for it. One of the central exercises in Tae Kwon-Do is how to block a punch and follow with a technique to disable the attacker.

Water News A flood plan takes shape for Cedar Rapids


November 18, 2011

Computers and the Internet Colleges try to protect their names on the new ".xxx" top-level domain
Is this really necessary? Colleges buy up their names in the .xxx top-level domain. Maybe it's justifiable, but the whole point of there being ".xxx" domains instead of ".edu" or ".com" was to make it clear what was going on there. A university would have a pretty easy time arguing that nobody has a right to "UniversityOfWherever.xxx".

Humor and Good News There's never a good time to buy illegal drugs...
...but it's probably an especially bad idea to show up when the police are already in the building, conducting a search for narcotics. Idiots.

Computers and the Internet US Cellular maps roll-out of 4G service

Health 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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November 19, 2011

The United States of America Small towns are hanging on by a thread
Tough times mean employers leave. Employers leaving cuts into the tax base. So taxes have to be raised to keep paying for basic services. Higher taxes put pressure on households and businesses, causing some to leave. And thus the negative feedback loop persists. There is a way to break the feedback loop, but it requires doing something to assure the private sector that services will still be delivered and that taxes won't be hiked. It also requires some creativity -- the main streets that used to be full of businesses serving the thriving ag markets nearby don't have as much to do today because the ag population has decreased so sharply over the last century. So small towns need to sell themselves on the basis of quality of life -- and find new occupants for those main streets that don't have to be geographically prominent. Lots of business can be done today from anywhere in the world.

Business and Finance The housing market is probably the sector in the worst shape in the entire US economy
And it's going to take some time to work out the glut in housing that was constructed in the last two decades. The rate of construction exceeded the rate of new household creation, and until that glut works itself out, we're going to see continued trouble in the housing sector. Pella Corp. is laying off 3500 people because of the drop-off.

Weather and Disasters Tornadoes from space
3D satellite analyses of tornadic thunderstorms show huge updrafts. The more we can figure out about analyzing these storms while they're happening (or before), the better we'll be able to protect life on Earth.

Aviation News EU bans full-body scanners at airports
They're doing it over fears of a cancer risk (which is probably pretty unlikely, except for very frequent travelers), but there are plenty of other very good reasons to object to those scanners.

The United States of America Budget problems could mean a smaller US ICBM arsenal

Computers and the Internet Google directly challenges Apple's iTunes

Humor and Good News Paper covers rock

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November 20, 2011

Threats and Hazards NSA boss on cyberwarfare: "We can't just defend"
And a retired general says, "When nations steal terabytes of information, our nation suffers for 20, 30, 40 years." On a related note, one of the easiest routes into organizational computer networks today is the lawless Wild West of security that is the smartphone. They're everywhere, and nobody has a serious handle on how to keep them secure.

The United States of America Budget "supercommittee" is near collapse

Weather and Disasters Why it was appropriate to change the Omaha baseball team name to the "Storm Chasers"
It probably escapes the attention or understanding of people who live away from the Midwest, but the weather here is categorically extreme: Temperatures up to almost 120°F and down below -30°F; winds over 110 miles per hour, even without a tornado (which can happen throughout most of the year); and hailstones measured in multiple inches.

Broadcasting Radio show notes from the "Brian Gongol Show" on November 20, 2011

Weather and Disasters Live seismic data from around the world

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November 21, 2011

Agriculture There are a million people going hungry in one country right now
A million people is more than half of the state of Nebraska -- or the entire state of Montana. It should not matter to us one bit that the people live in a country called Zimbabwe, but it certainly feels like our instinct (in the US) is to discount the importance of tragedies happening to people who live far away.

Aviation News Architect proposes $80 billion plan to replace Heathrow
The huge new airport would be in the middle of the Thames River, could take 20 years to build, and supposedly might even be self-financing. We'll see about all of those.

Science and Technology Time-lapse videos of Earth from space

Business and Finance Microlending is on the rise in the US

Business and Finance Iowans have better-than-average financial literacy

Computers and the Internet How to create Google Maps showing a radius of distance from a central point

News Co-creator of "Dangermouse" has died

News Putin gets booed off the stage

Water News Nobody knows the route of the new Keystone XL pipeline

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November 26, 2011

Business and Finance Young people are falling for the gold-as-investment myth

Business and Finance There are jobs out there for people willing to learn technical skills
Blue-collar jobs aren't for dummies.

Iowa Midwesterners have the best credit scores

Science and Technology Prices for household wind-energy prices are declining
They still seem pretty unaffordable for most households, but just like computers, they ought to be affected by declining prices with technological improvements

Agriculture Beef prices are rising to new records
...but ranchers are getting squeezed because cattle feed is costing more than ever, too

News Deep-voiced politicians have better electoral success
A Canadian study concludes that deeper-voiced politicians are considered more authoritative, with or without cause

Computers and the Internet How technology makes it easier for bands to get off the ground

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November 29, 2011

News The Onion positively nails the Penn State tragedy

Computers and the Internet Is Facebook worth $100 billion?
They're rumored to be considering a public offering of stock, to which lots of people will likely be attracted just because it's a well-known company. That doesn't make it a good investment.

Business and Finance State budgets may be in huge trouble

Computers and the Internet Why you can't believe everything you see
Most really attractive women in magazines have been digitally retouched...a lot

Science and Technology The gadgets in everyday life that don't tell you the truth

News A most interesting response to the question "Where are you from?"

Business and Finance Bankruptcy for the parent company of American Airlines

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November 30, 2011

Business and Finance British banks told to be ready for the Euro to fall apart
If there's one thing we should have learned in the last ten years, it's that it's imperative to think not only of the obvious risks, but also of the low-probability, high-impact events that can change our world as well. One can argue at length about whether the European Union will fail, and whether it may have even been doomed from the start, but the obvious takeaway from it all is that people need to anticipate even the unpleasant and improbable, as long as it's still possible. With the EU turning to the IMF for help, it should be clear that really bad things can happen, whether or not we anticipate them and act to protect ourselves.

Humor and Good News Entitlement
Someone at The Onion really doesn't like nitwits with a sense of entitlement

Computers and the Internet FTC muscles Facebook into a deal for better privacy protection

Computers and the Internet Oracle turns over the keys to OpenOffice to the Apache Software Foundation

Computers and the Internet Google keeps changing its user interface
One wonders how much they intend to get away with changing before aggravating too many users?

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