Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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?

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.

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.

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?