Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Computers and the Internet Beware the false computer hot spot
Too many people are too cavalier with their use of WiFi hotspots, and it's an enormous security hazard

Threats and Hazards Don't name anything after living politicians
Whether it's the "Harkin Institute" proposed for Iowa State University or anything that Robert Byrd slapped his name upon while in Congress for decades, public goods should never bear the names of living politicians. It's in bad taste, it raises enormous ethical issues, and it carries the huge risk that the politician might turn out to be a crook -- like Dan Rostenkowski or any number of living ex-governors of Illinois. It just shouldn't be done.

Computers and the Internet What to do with an out-of-date computer
Microsoft, in an only lightly self-promotional article, suggests several options for what to do with a computer that's been replaced by something faster and newer. The suggestion to use it as a DVR makes sense, as long as the hard drive has been cleared and the processor is fast enough to handle the work. Leftover computers used to make sense as MP3 servers, too, but those aren't in high demand now that portable MP3 players are a giveaway item. The suggestion to tie it to a distributed-computing network isn't a bad idea at all, particularly considering the number of distributed-computing projects that are underway today. Another suggestion, to donate it to charity, is good on the surface but flawed in practice: One should never, ever, give away a computer with the hard drive still installed. Always remove the hard drive -- physically -- from a computer before giving it away. Wiping it or reformatting it is not good enough. Giving the computer to a family member is just another form of giving it to charity, and on the old "green" mantra of reduce-reuse-recycle, it's a sensible form of re-use. One person's out-of-date laptop is someone else's upgrade. Recycling the components is perhaps a less efficient means of preventing computer waste, but the rule about extracting the hard drive first still applies. Microsoft also advises turning an old computer into a new television, which can be done, but it usually requires some limited technical skill to carry out, as would turning it into a game server or the core of a household security system. There's probably more merit to the security-system idea, though it would require purchasing cameras and probably wouldn't be very energy-efficient. Turning the components into art is probably left to the kinds of people who were already thinking of ways to disassemble things like computers already, though there are some creative types who have turned old CRT monitors into geeky fishbowls -- though that still leaves behind some potentially toxic components that should be handled with care. A working old computer can be modified into a dynamic photo frame -- but if the fans are running loudly, they could become distracting. Using an ex-primary computer as a backup storage device is a fine option, as long as it doesn't occupy useful floor or desk space somewhere. (That doesn't mean one shouldn't still store backup data at least 100 miles away from home, because everyone should. But extra backups aren't bad to have around.)

The United States of America Arnold Schwarzenegger feels flabby

News Can the Obama birth certificate issue finally go away?

Water News Omaha won't get state sewer help until at least next year

Computers and the Internet Gmail's "priority inbox" should be a warning sign
Gmail has done an excellent job of morphing into one of the best webmail services (if not the solitary best) available to the public. It didn't take long for Gmail to surge ahead of the competition -- just five years ago, it was still available by invitation only, and its storage limits were ten times bigger than the competitions' -- but the "priority inbox" tool is like a canary in a coal mine. First off, it's visually cluttering. Google's been the main battleground for a fight between visual clutter and new utilities for a while now, including on the iconic Google search homepage. But the emergence of (and apparent demand for) the priority inbox also telegraphs two other things: One, at least some users are so overwhelmed by their incoming email that they're willing to turn over the categorization and management of that incoming email to computers; that's a whole lot of abdication. Two, it says that users don't know how to effectively manage Gmail's filtering feature, which has been around almost since the start of the service. Filtering isn't difficult, and it's one of the most attractive options available in Gmail -- and it's also one of the most robust tools available for managing to repel spam and flag the messages that truly are the most important. Gmail users should already know to create a filter on behalf of the senders they really care about that either stars their messages automatically or adds a "priority" label to them.

Business and Finance Bernanke says the Federal budget deficit is "not sustainable"
Talk about your categorical understatement. He spoke at a news conference following the FOMC meeting today, which was the first time that's happened. The committee discussed inflation and economic-growth projections for the coming two or three years that really seem to hold out hope for a very strong 2013.

Computers and the Internet Apple says it wasn't trying to track users' movements
In response to public outcry from about a week ago that the iPhone was (apparently) secretly recording the movements of iPhone users and transmitting that information back to Apple via hidden files, the company has released a statement saying that the records weren't what people thought they were (Apple says they were records of nearby cell towers and WiFi hotspots, not GPS data), that it wasn't trying to track them (Apple says the data shouldn't have been stored as long as it was, and that a correction is coming), and that the company wasn't trying to use the data to track individuals at all (a claim whose veracity can't really be known from outside Apple's corporate walls). The initial announcements from the researchers who found the bug and the public outcry that followed were probably both overheated, and on the other hand there's probably at least someone at Apple who knew this was a problem long before it became public and either didn't speak up or didn't get anything done about it.

Computers and the Internet Yahoo sells the social-bookmarking site Delicious...
...to the guys who sold YouTube to Google. Now, that's some peculiar horse-trading. Social bookmarking was a fad that's past its prime already. That doesn't mean people won't continue to share links of interest, but the concept takes too long to explain and thus isn't really capable of working on a mass market. The appeal of YouTube, for instance, is quite simple: Watch videos anytime. The appeal of social bookmarking is harder to explain. And all of this happens against the backdrop of "What happened to Yahoo?" The company, once the name above all names among Internet directories, is still decidedly unclear about what it wants to do or be. It's still managed to turn a nice profit in the last few years, but its revenues have been in decline.

Computers and the Internet Facebook for scientists
It's called ResearchGate, and its founder is hoping to accelerate the pace of scientific research by connecting scientists to one another without making them wade through the stuffy scientific literature. One might note, though, that its main advantages -- speed and informality -- are likely to be what makes it less than durable. Bound sets of scientific journals will last virtually forever. Social networking websites won't.

Weather and Disasters Frightening video of the Tuscaloosa (Alabama) tornado
(Video) The trees between the cameraperson and the tornado really put its size into perspective. The outbreak of tornadoes yesterday looks like it was one of the biggest ever.

News "The idea of hereditary legislators is as [...] absurd as an hereditary mathematician." - Thomas Paine
Who cares about the "royal" wedding?

Weather and Disasters "The prudent thing to do is assume earthquakes will continue"
That's not a prognostication for the Pacific Rim -- it's one for the central United States, where there's no substantial reason to believe the New Madrid Fault is anything but a still-ticking time bomb. The 200-year anniversary of the great quake there is coming up, and the long time that has passed is no guarantee there won't be another.

Business and Finance Let's not be surprised that internships are being abused
A research project finds that 17% of British companies in a small survey admitted to using interns as a source of cheap labor. The concept of an internship is not to displace paid labor, but to enhance the skills of an otherwise less-experienced potential worker in a way that benefits them more than it benefits the employer. Otherwise, it has to be a paid position.

The United States of America It's possible that nobody in America needs to shut up more than Donald Trump
Not only is he a terrible example for anyone to follow in business, he's now out rudely espousing patently nonsensical political positions in his flirtation with a run for President. He apparently told a Las Vegas crowd that he'd slap a 25% tariff on imports from China and just tell OPEC what price we'll pay for oil through sheer force of will. A 25% tariff on Chinese imports would make ordinary goods jump in price overnight -- not a good thing to do in a time when economists are worried about stagflation. It would also trigger a trade war with one of our biggest trading partners. It's a patently stupid idea. And the notion that OPEC will just be bullied into submission because a doofus with ridiculous hair barks swear words at them...well, that's just hallucinatory.

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