Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Do yourself a favor: Take two minutes for a self-exam today
Take a minute or two and conduct some basic self-screenings for cancer. Early detection saves lives. There's lots of misinformation about cancer that finds its way around the Internet, largely because we've been trained to wait expectantly for some sort of magic-bullet solution to cancer. But cancer risks can be significantly reduced through a balanced diet, exercise, and early detection and treatment. Meanwhile, science is making great progress towards improving genetic detection, which holds great promise for some types of cancer. Instead of forwarding hoax-ridden e-mails about "cancer cures" and false threats, people should instead remind their friends and family to assess their health once a month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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