Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Weather and Disasters Eye-popping aerial photos of the flooding in the Missouri River basin
Just another attempt to grasp the magnitude of the disaster

Iowa North Liberty: From tiny town to booming suburb at breakneck speed
Note that the most important challenge facing the town -- which more than doubled in population over the last decade -- was keeping up with infrastructure requirements. They aren't sexy, but roads, sewers, and water lines comprise the single most important category of necessities for any community. Without them, there's no point to putting in parks or even good schools. The very basics of modern life are often overlooked, but they're completely and totally essential to keeping a city afloat.

Humor and Good News There is no "poop fairy"
People don't always realize it, but their animal waste is just as hazardous to public health and water supplies as human waste. When it's left on the ground, it makes its way -- untreated -- to streams, creeks, rivers, and lakes. Nobody would do that with their own waste, so they shouldn't do it with that of their pets, either.

Threats and Hazards Humanitarian emergency in Africa
It's the driest year since 1951 in parts of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Uganda, and 10 million people need help. Almost all food crises -- including this one -- are magnified by political problems. There's enough food in the world to go around, but food also makes a convenient weapon with which to wage war, which is what's happening in Somalia, for instance.

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Business and Finance "You don't have to train machines"
As capital has become cheap relative to labor, companies are buying things like robots rather than hiring new workers. That's why the economy is growing but unemployment rates aren't falling. A Harvard economist says (rightly) that if what you do can be programmed into a machine (or written down like a program) then you're probably going to be unemployed soon.

Science and Technology Learning from the disaster in Joplin
Engineers and others are looking at the buildings that collapsed in the Joplin tornado, trying to figure out whether there are lessons to be learned to save lives in the future. It's not pleasant work, since people died where the observations will be taking place. But it's one of the most important things that can be done after a disaster. Human progress is made by observing failures and taking preventive action to keep them from recurring.

Computers and the Internet Google redesigns the user interface for Gmail and Google Calendar
The company is finding itself in an increasingly challenging cycle, trying to satisfy a fickle public that wants new stuff but doesn't always go along with change very easily

News Mama robin says "hello" and "goodbye" to her babies

Computers and the Internet Does Firefox update too frequently?
What's good for consumers and households -- an Internet browser that updates frequently, keeping up with security developments and new technological opportunities -- is bad for corporate users that don't want to have to test new software all the time. But that really just reveals the failure of the corporate-user environment, not a problem with the development of new browsers.

Computers and the Internet LulzSec hacker group claims it's disbanding

Humor and Good News A macaque self-portrait
Nature photographer claims macaques in Indonesia heisted his camera, and one of them took a rather cheesy self-portrait

Broadcasting WHO Radio Wise Guys - July 2, 2011
Four segments, each available in MP3 format: Google Plus has gone live, MySpace has been sold, auto-tune is killing Western Civilization, and Verizon is about to start limiting data plans.

Computers and the Internet GoDaddy sells out to private-equity firms

Science and Technology A big bet -- with Federal funding -- on cellulosic ethanol
The good news: They're going to start making ethanol from more than just the kernels of corn -- using cobs, salks, and other materials that otherwise just get inefficiently used or just go to waste. The bad news is that the plant is going to cost the Federal government $105 million (out of a total construction cost around $350 million). First of all, the government doesn't have spare cash right now -- we're in a huge budget hole. Second, it makes the government essentially an investor in the plant without giving it any claim on the benefits. (Government ownership of private business is a bad thing...government ownership without any reward is even worse.) Third, it's bothersome to see that there are still so many efforts being put into attempts to manage the country's energy policy -- by a government that just released a bunch of petroleum from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, just because people complained that gas prices were too high. Nothing should have been released from the strategic reserves -- those should be stored for true national emergencies. This isn't a time of national emergency. And by releasing cheap fuel on one end, while subsidizing the production of an alternative fuel on the other is counterproductive. If gas prices rose high enough, then projects like cellulosic-ethanol plants would be capable of profiting faster in the private sector alone, without government help. Clearly, the people who are "in charge" have no idea what they're doing.

Science and Technology Galaxy Zoo: Coordinating lots of little efforts into big exploratory value
Some tasks still aren't suitable for computers to do -- like classifying galaxies based upon their appearance, which requires some subjective judgment. But it turns out that when the huge amounts of uncategorized data collected about space are organized and handed over to volunteers for review, those people can race through hundreds of thousands of images and produce really useful, reliable data. That's a fantastic use of computing power and human effort.

Business and Finance Minnesota's budget stalemate gets...well, more stale
The governor and state legislature are arguing over roughly $3 billion in spending, and nobody seems to be getting closer to agreement. State budget problems are going to become more of a commonplace feature of life in America as pension costs rise and as the Federal government pulls back from funding things it can no longer pretend to afford.

Iowa Bob Vander Plaats, please sit down and shut up
It's one thing to ask Presidential candidates to say they're in favor of marriage. That's a platitude, like being in favor of Mom and apple pie. It's quite another to ask them (as Vander Plaats and his advocacy group do) to sign an absurd pledge that appears in its very first bullet point to make it sound as though black Americans had better family lives under slavery than they do today. That's insulting, and the whole "pledge" looks like like race-baiting and gay-hatred.

Computers and the Internet Facebook and Skype establish partnership
Free Skype calls are coming to Facebook soon

Iowa Sioux City is rated one of the best living bargains in America
These kinds of rankings are always a little spurious, but the bottom line is that Sioux City and many other Iowa cities offer a very high quality of life and a low cost of living

Humor and Good News Max-performing your vehicle

Threats and Hazards Al-Qaeda seriously needs to give up the aviation obsession
The terrorist group may be planning to surgically implant bombs in terrorists' abdomens to help them evade screening at airport security checkpoints

The United States of America 14th Amendment could offer a back-door solution to the debt-ceiling crisis
The problem with the "debt ceiling" is that the nation is obligated to pay its debts, no matter what. That we don't like the President's spending policies is not sufficient nor just cause to lead us to the brink of default.

Aviation News A prototype flying car is supposed enter production next year
It's a two-seater and drives on motorcycle tires

Aviation News Air-traffic control turns 75 years old
The first control centers were in Chicago, Newark, and Cleveland. It's funny to think that 75 years later, Cleveland simply doesn't bear the national influence it once did. In 1940, Cleveland was the 6th-largest city in the country. (Newark was 18th.) Las Vegas wasn't even in the top 100. Times change: Cleveland's now 25th.

Science and Technology An 8,000-square-foot treehouse
The builder thought he heard a message from God in 1993 telling him to build

Business and Fiditionsnance US unemployment sticks at 9.2%
It certainly appears as though the economy is growing without putting people into new jobs. That's because machines are relatively cheaper than employees right now, and that's not all that likely to change, even though that's going to be bad news for people who want jobs. This is an interesting situation to compare with that of Japan, where a declining birthrate and a national hostility to immigration have combined to artificially contract their available pool of workers, making the country eager to find ways to get machines to do human work.

News Bad decisions kill a 168-year-old newspaper
Britain's "News of the World" has been around since before the American Civil War. Today, it's being shut down because reporters and editors apparently were hacking into the voice-mail accounts of thousands of people, including murdered teenagers and the British royal family. Stupid, short-sighted thinking is what brings companies (and other institutions) to their knees. Every organization should have a 100-year business plan to identify what it's going to do to stick around for the long haul. The News of the World may have been the best-selling newspaper in Britain, but a lack of scruples and vision killed it.

Computers and the Internet Google tweaks the look of Calendar and Gmail
They're making evolutionary changes to the interfaces to make them more consistent from site to site and (hypothetically) more useful and user-friendly.

Threats and Hazards This is why everyone should learn self-defense
(Video) A video shows a man being attacked, beaten, and stabbed by a mob in Chicago one recent night. There's no guarantee, of course, that any form of martial art or self-defense technique would have stopped the attack, but the video provides some startling evidence that mob attacks still happen from time to time, and one certainly doesn't want to become a victim without a fighting chance.

Computers and the Internet Google Plus: Opening up now to everyone
But is it hype-worthy? Maybe. As a social-networking site, it will fulfill one overdue need: Making Google's Picasa photo-sharing service something useful. Facebook's terms and conditions regarding photos are just too hazardous (Facebook claims worldwide, royalty-free rights to any photos you post there) and subject to whimsical change, so it's always a crapshoot whether sharing photos there will be worthwhile. To its credit, Google is pretty clear about not claiming any rights to photos posted on Picasa. There are still some bugs to be worked out -- not all of the links even work correctly within Google Plus -- but it has potential.

Humor and Good News They Might Be Giants performing a cover of "Tubthumping"
With the people who work on the AV Club at The Onion singing backup

Aviation News Final Space Shuttle mission underway
The Space Shuttle has worked -- with more than a few bugs -- for three decades. But the US now has no "Plan B" for going regularly into space for manned missions, since the Shuttle is being retired without a successor. Poor long-term planning, America. We could have done better. We only ever used the Shuttles 135 times.