Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Health 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 A Saudi prince is buying up a big block of Twitter stock
While it's a smart move to take the money from the country's oil wealth and invest it in something other than more oil production, this particular effort at diversification is a bad idea in two ways. First, the choice of Twitter as an investment isn't a great one -- it's a technology stock that's gotten exciting because it's popular, and thus like all fads it will eventually become yesterday's news (just like MySpace, Second Life, and AOL). There's no telling when that will happen. But the other reason why it's a bad move is more existential: It's not actually an investment in anything that will enrich or employ the people of Saudi Arabia. Does anyone actually think the country is suddenly going to have 20 million people with full-time jobs on Twitter? Countries that are fortunate enough to have a special endowment of natural resources (like the oil beneath Saudi Arabia) need to reinvest the lucky profits into other, more sustainable sources of wealth. Norway, for instance, has a half-trillion-dollar investment fund that's being used to squirrel away the country's excess profits from oil. But there's a big gap between the economic development needs of Norway and those of Saudi Arabia. Twitter isn't going to keep Saudi Arabia's economy afloat when the oil runs out. It looks more like a vanity investment -- much like the type that's been swallowing lots of the investment money in Abu Dhabi.

The American Way Vaclav Havel is dead
He led the peaceful and bloodless revolution against Communism in Czechoslovakia

Threats and Hazards Hackers threaten to make attempts on the Iowa caucuses
They should put their efforts to productive use, rather than trying to tear down the political process. The caucuses are a little anachronistic, to be sure -- but they involve citizens showing up to express their thoughts on politics in a neighborhood environment, just like the classic town hall meeting. The kinds of people who think they can get what they want by trying to tear down established processes like the caucuses are the types of people who think they can get rich by throwing chairs through other people's windows. It's worth noting the contrast between these kinds of thoughtless destroyers and the constructive individuals who fought Communism, like Vaclav Havel.

Business and Finance AT&T gives up on takeover of T-Mobile

Humor and Good News Beavis and Butthead comment on Katy Perry's "Firework"
(Video) It's good to have Mike Judge's humor back

Computers and the Internet BT sues Google
The British telephone company says Google is stealing its patents

Water News High corn prices make it hard to put land aside to protect drinking water

Business and Finance Iowa unemployment rate falls to 5.7%
Outsiders can say what they want about this being flyover country, but the economy tends to be much more stable here than in other parts of the US. The unemployment rate here is nearly three full percentage points below that of the rest of the country. That's a huge margin of advantage. That's certainly not to diminish the suffering of the many Americans who are among the long-term jobless for whom times are very, very tough. The challenge, of course, is coming up with the right prescription for solving joblessness. There are a lot of people who think that there's some kind of magical power held by politicians or businesspeople that allows them to create jobs at will. The problem is that people in the private sector don't set out to create jobs -- they set out to make money, and jobs are a byproduct. Jobs for jobs' sake are just unproductive. Building a 5,000-foot monument to Ronald Reagan would create jobs, but it wouldn't do anything really constructive. Jobs exist because people are capable of doing things that other people want to have done. And technology allows us, as it always and forever has, to produce more goods and services with fewer people doing the work. It's not a new phenomenon -- that's why American farm families used to have lots and lots of children, but today by and large do not. Machines do the work that people used to do. But at the same time, technology opens new opportunities for people to do useful work. For everyone who thinks they're entitled to a full-time job posting things on Twitter or Facebook (for which there really is no such market), there are lots of little jobs appearing on places like the Amazon Mechanical Turk and products showing up on Etsy. The Internet is helping break down the barriers between people who want to do work and those who want it done. It would be nice if we could concentrate more of our efforts on creating a healthy environment in which businesses could grow on their own rather than forever chasing big "economic development" projects, but the allure of those projects draws headlines, and that's what gets politicians elected and re-elected. We need a better metric for demanding a good economic environment than "jobs".

Threats and Hazards Baby, you're a firework
North Korea reportedly test-fired a missile a few hours after it was announced that Kim Jong-Il had died. The world is clearly better-off without people like Kim Jong-Il. But the question now is whether we'll be better off with whatever or whomever follows. Kim's apparent successor is his son, about whom very little is known. But it's also not clear whether he's got the moxie to keep the military and the inner circle of the regime loyal to the family. Any kind of revolution there would probably require the complicity of the army, and their bread is buttered by the regime. If we really want change, we're going to have to find a way to incentivize the new boss to head towards reform -- and to get China to back it. It's a tall order.

Business and Finance Rumor says Chicago Sun-Times is about to be sold
Chicago's #2 paper has had a checkered financial history over the last few years, thanks to Conrad Black

Business and Finance Why Warren Buffett wants IBM stock to go down in price
He said he's done buying IBM stock through Berkshire Hathaway, and is now counting on IBM's own buyback plan to cut the number of shares outstanding (which, in turn, increases Berkshire's stake in IBM without costing a penny in cash). Tricks like that make estimates of the intrinsic value of Buffett's own company very difficult to measure, but make that intrinsic value very clearly much greater than most people realize. Based upon paper accounting, it might appear to decline if IBM's shares decrease in market price -- but the long-term value is actually weighted very heavily in its owners' favor if the company takes a lot of shares off the market. Using cash to buy back shares makes oodles of sense when a stock is undervalued. When the stock is overvalued, it's an abomination.

News Fighting gang violence in Scotland

Aviation News The evolution of the NASA logo

Iowa The first part of "civilization" is "civil"
The clowns who keep going around making noise and protesting at political events all over Iowa (and the country) in the name of the "occupy" movement really need to sit down and shut up. Literally. There's a place for civil discussion of issues, including (maybe even especially so) those upon which we disagree. Barging into places and screaming like a bunch of feral cats is a far thing from reasonable protest.

Threats and Hazards Man gets seven years in prison for industrial espionage
Good. The rise of industrial espionage against America is enormous and it's a huge threat to our economy. We need to show that we're serious about putting a stop to it.

Health 30,000 French women ordered to remove faulty breast implants
It sounds like the setup to a joke, but it's a very serious story -- their implants were improperly filled with the wrong grade of silicone. What's interesting is the order to remove them, which undoubtedly will put some of their lives at risk (since surgery is never a riskless thing).

Computers and the Internet Why people add and remove friends on Facebook

Science and Technology Scientific journal asked to not publish study on super-virulent bird flu

Business and Finance Crooked movie-makers ordered to pay restitution to Iowa for film subsidies

Computers and the Internet Where Verizon has or plans to launch 4G service
Also: What phones can actually use the service

Business and Finance New local owners to buy out Chicago Sun-Times

Computers and the Internet Microsoft pulls out of the Consumer Electronics Show

Weather and Disasters Satellite captures magnificent shot of snow on the ground

Science and Technology How an oil well pump works

Business and Finance More erosion in the household savings rate
C'mon, America...we were doing so well for a while there. Personal savings rate now down to 3.5%. It really should be in the 5% to 10% range.

News It's hard to believe that Vladimir Putin has less than $200,000 to his name

Science and Technology Tokyo is at greater risk for a serious earthquake than a year ago
The major quake this year appears to have shifted energy to a fault that threatens Tokyo

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The United States of America What is wrong with the Vice President?
It really seems untoward of the Vice President of the United States to submit a letter to the editor to the nation's first caucus state, taking potshots at a single rival candidate for the White House. Mitt Romney did get a chance to respond.

Business and Finance Long-time Nebraska meat company sells out
A family has found that the next generation isn't really interested in taking over the business. They appear fortunate to have found a buyer in another family company that was looking for an acquisition.

The United States of America US warned: A credit downgrade could be coming

Business and Finance Smarter investors choose Roth IRAs
That's not an opinion -- it's a statement of fact

Agriculture Record ethanol volumes are being produced

Threats and Hazards Digital thieves claim original logos by others as their own work