Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol



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"

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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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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




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



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