Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Weather and Disasters Earthquake shakes Mexico City
It's a metropolitan area of 19 million people, and though this quake wasn't huge, the one that struck in 1985 was hugely damaging and killed 9500 people. Any time we round a death toll to more than one significant digit, it should definitely capture our attention. Entire buildings toppled in 1985. Mexico City is wealthier and likely much better-prepared for a quake today, but it's a scary thought to consider what might occur if something the size of the 1985 quake repeated today.

Science and Technology Pronoun use tells a lot about a personality
Among the interesting things research has unveiled: Depressed people say "I" a lot more than others

Business and Finance Ma Bell may not get its hands on T-Mobile after all
The national market for mobile phone service is already so dominated by a small number of competitors that the merger is being seriously questioned

Computers and the Internet WHO Radio Wise Guys post-show video: December 10, 2011

Humor and Good News Boxed wine: It's for the classy
Speaking of classy, there may be nobody in America more self-obsessed than the hand model

News Staking out a community identity on the Great Plains

Computers and the Internet Yet more unexpected (and maybe unwelcome) changes at Google
Google is revising many of the pieces inside its RSS feed-reader, Google Reader. It has fewer users than Gmail or the search engine, but it's still a substantial part of Google's user base. As part of the company's efforts to make sure that everyone who uses their products is essentially forced into using Google Plus, they've integrated the two services a lot and stripped away many of the sharing options that used to reside within Google Reader -- including what was a very nice option to send streams from Google Reader to a widget that could be placed on any other website. Instead, they just want everyone to do all of their feeding through Google Plus. The whole "G+" thing is a major gambit upon which they seem intent on doubling down at every opportunity. That they are stripping away many of the features that made other Google products popular along the way in order to force-feed Google Plus seems to be a risk they're willing to take. But it's dicey. But the more they strip away, suspend, and disassemble products they've been offering for a long time, the more Google will cause savvy users to second-guess whether they're serious about supporting the new products they offer. It's not without parallels -- General Motors has stopped building several of its old lines of cars, like Saturn and Oldsmobile, in order to buttress their ongoing lines, like Buick and Chevrolet. But some doubt absolutely must enter the mind of today's GM customer about whether the company will abruptly stop offering its products in the future. The same must be true of Google's customers today. It's a very, very dangerous strategy to follow. They call it "spring cleaning", but it alienates developers and other users. And on a related note, they're creating all kinds of new privacy worries by introducing facial recognition into their photo searches. It sounds cute at first -- an innocent-sounding way to make sure you can find pictures of your friends and family online. But it's a bit Big Brother-ish.

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - December 10, 2011
The full show is available for on-demand listening

The United States of America Newt Gingrich has some seriously out-of-touch demands
As a paid speaker, he demanded first-class treatment

Science and Technology Weed-out courses are keeping women and racial minorities out of science and engineering majors
They're not the only ones, of course. The problem with "weed-out" courses is that they stop lots of good people from pursuing valuable majors. Why make the learning process unpleasant? A sensible approach to filling the need for people with technical training and education would be to make the introductory courses friendlier -- not tougher.

News Britain exempts itself from EU plans for reform

Aviation News Southwest Airlines orders a bunch of new Boeing 737s

Business and Finance Newspaper publisher Lee files for bankruptcy
Too much debt was incurred to facilitate too much buying

Agriculture 2011 turns into a really good year for farmers

Humor and Good News Pop music may signal the end of civilization
(Video) The Onion creates a fake pop star who can't really be distinguished from real pop stars...which is just all that much more frightening

News Awful violent attack in Belgium

The United States of America Are American Indian tribes too quick to cut people from their rolls?
One of the main problems in American Indian life today is that the problems so heavily concentrated in tribes and reservations are isolated -- culturally and geographically -- from much of the rest of American life. There are undoubtedly many thousands and perhaps even millions of people who would like to know more about their ancestral identities, but there seem to be more people interested in keeping them out of identifying as American Indians than there are people helping to bridge the gap. This is unfortunate on two fronts: First, it means that people who may have had a great-grandparent or another ancestor who came from an indigenous American tribe remain cut-off from the cultural traditions they might not have received as that "Indian blood" was diluted by intermarriage with others. Second, it takes that culture outside the mainstream of consciousness. Consider how much interest Americans descended from Irish immigrants still take in the Emerald Isle, oftentimes many generations after their families left.

Computers and the Internet Facebook's "other" inbox

The United States of America Excellent CBO graphic on the Federal budget
The magnitude of the problems -- systemic ones, not year-to-year pork-barrel projects -- causing the Federal budget to fall entirely out of balance are difficult to show rather than tell. At last, someone at the Congressional Budget Office has done a really good job of "show". We need the economy to grow (producing a larger GDP and a larger tax base) and we need to get honest and serious about fixing the systemic spending problems we have with entitlements.

Computers and the Internet Google Plus "hangouts" will soon be recordable
On one hand, it's a very attractive feature. On the other, there are going to be some people who discover much too late that it's even easier to say something stupid for the permanent record when they do it in a Google Hangout than when they sit down with the intention of creating a video for YouTube. And there are already enough people who have shown really poor judgment before putting something on YouTube that they had the opportunity to do-over. A recorded Google Hangout won't even have that opportunity for additional reflection and reconsideration.

Iowa Huge price increase in Iowa farmland values
It's a huge increase in just one year -- undoubtedly unsustainable. That's what makes it frightening.

Business and Finance So that's why it was called "Chemical Bank"
Anti-banking sentiment in the 1800s meant that it was easier to set up a company first (in this case, a chemical manufacturer) and then add a banking arm to it than to start with a bank from the beginning. Interesting.

Computers and the Internet Phishing scam claims to come from Ben Bernanke
But it's pretty obvious he's not sending out messages to random Americans from an AOL Mexico account.

Humor and Good News "Wow. I'd better shave."
No, Winona Ryder still isn't going to sleep with you

Science and Technology Clock is ticking on the tax discounts that subsidize some classes of renewable energy

Business and Finance Of all the stupid, undeserved pay raises...
Huge pay hikes just came down the pipeline for a bunch of American CEOs

Business and Finance Oil boom in North Dakota means good times for manufactured-home builders in Nebraska
If they're smart, they'll put someone to the task of figuring out how to make sure they can keep the momentum going when the boom in North Dakota runs out. Which it will. They always do. Bubbles always burst.

Health Fighting back against fraudulent claims of medical miracles
There's a whole lot of quackery that goes unpursued and unpunished, and it gives people false hopes, robbing them of money and time that could be spent on actual cures and remedies instead of lunacy

Computers and the Internet Major Apple subcontractor appears to be ramping up production in Brazil
Foxconn is well-known for manufacturing Apple's iPhone in China, but now it appears to be opening up shop in Latin America

The United States of America National Review editors declare Gingrich candidacy a non-starter
It's possible for intelligent people to serve a highly valuable purpose at one time (as Gingrich did in 1994) but to be ill-suited to a new role of similar magnitude. The editors seem to think Gingrich fits that formula.

The United States of America Theft is not free trade
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is on China's case for keeping its currency artificially weak (thus artificially making its goods cheaper for the rest of the world to buy) and for the apparent national policy of not only tolerating intellectual-property theft but encouraging it outright. Both of these methods of cheating a system of free trade are damaging to American companies and workers who play fair. Nobody wants competition when they're the ones sellig, but we all want it when we're the buyers. But even sellers can tolerate fair and honest competition -- it's the cheating that's unacceptable. Romney's right to make this a campaign issue. It has an enormous impact on the macro-scale forces that have left America with 50 million people below the poverty line and 100 million with low incomes. Unfair competition by a nation with 1.3 billion people puts a whole lot of workers on the global market at sub-market rates. There are many things we can and should do as a society to try to get those 150 million Americans to higher living standards, including job-training programs, public education, and encouraging private-sector investment. But having 1.3 billion people in an artificially low-wage country connected to the global economy isn't helping. Our entire population is their two-digit rounding error.

News Christopher Hitchens is dead
Free speech makes people like him necessary. When we agree, we're happy to have him on our side since he tears the other side to pieces. Then he turns on us. He was always polemical, and never entirely fair. But that's what argument is often about...getting the blood boiling a bit. People like Hitchens serve the absolutely necessary role of ensuring that we remember why free speech must remain free -- even for those with whom we disagree.

Computers and the Internet Income at BlackBerry (RIM) falls by 71% from a year ago
Sales are falling and they're having to take a big hit on discounted products. They sold 14 million smartphones in the third quarter, and that number could drop even more in the fourth quarter. Pressure from Android-based phones and the iPhone is enormous.

Computers and the Internet Wresting control of the Facebook timeline back from the company
"It must have been neat being America's smartest toddler!" Facebook's revisions to how they display user data are encouraging people to tell an entire life story through the site. But that much information doesn't need to be concentrated on one website. Interestingly, one of the early partners in Facebook is starting a new project, hoping to make a home base for distributing left-wing political content.

Business and Finance Fiscal problems in the EU are building friction between France and the UK
The UK is trying to stay as far outside the problems of the Euro zone as it can, and France seems to resent that avoidance. There are a lot of people who are talking about getting the United States back on a gold standard for the dollar who apparently aren't able to see across the Atlantic, where the UK's relative freedom to adjust its currency is giving it a major advantage over the countries using the Euro. Monetary policy is a very powerful tool that must be used with exceptional caution -- but it's extremely valuable to have, and a gold standard makes it go away. Meanwhile, the managing director of the IMF is begging the nations of the world not to close their economies to one another, since she thinks that would just push us straight into a global depression.

News Teen babysitters are being pushed out by adult professionals

Computers and the Internet Sweden's Twitter account becomes a mouthpiece for the people
The account @sweden, being run by the country's tourism people, is to be "curated" one week at a time by individuals from the country, where they are free to say whatever they want. As a means of making the account more interesting and of building interest: It's genius. As a means of making sure the right message about the country gets out: All bets are off.

Business and Finance Midwest price update: Everything's rising slowly, except gasoline and food
Food prices are up more than most other things over the past year, but gas prices are the category where costs have risen the most

Humor and Good News Propaganda posters for everyday life
#23 is probably the best: "If you want to help a good cause, go out and volunteer. Your chain status [on Facebook] means nothing, and I will not copy and paste."

Iowa Sioux City gets good press coverage for Republican debate
Sioux City is a fascinating place, historically speaking. It was Iowa's #2 city for a long, long time -- but it's currently in fourth place and largely off the radar of attention even within Iowa, given its location in the otherwise sparsely-populated northwestern corner of the state, far from the Des Moines area and from the eastern Iowa population centers.

Computers and the Internet AOL's attempt at local news (Patch) isn't making much money
Revenues are low and expenses are high for the experiment, which seeks to make money off digital coverage of small local news markets