Gongol.com Archives: 2011 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol



Business and Finance Sometimes it's better to be the spinoff company


Business and Finance The unintended consequences of closing coal-fired power plants


Computers and the Internet The Internet makes it much easier to be an idiot on a public stage


Business and Finance How to get richer in 2012


Broadcasting Cedar Rapids is getting a new radio station




Business and Finance People respond to incentives
Anecdotal evidence suggests that college students are moving towards majors with relatively low unemployment rates

Threats and Hazards High-school student in Ottumwa charged with terrorism conspiracy
That's a serious charge, so the police had better be certain they're right. Otherwise, they're branding a 16-year-old with a label that will do damage for life.

Iowa Social conservatives face the 2012 Iowa Caucuses and don't know for whom to vote
Interestingly, Bob Vander Plaats seems to think he has the right to tell some of the candidates to leave the race. From where he gets this authority, nobody knows.

Agriculture Clock is ticking down fast towards even more starvation in North Korea
The destabilization of the country's political system with the death of Kim Jong-Il means we just don't know what's happening next.

Threats and Hazards Vandals have been destroying valuable Egyptian artifacts
Priceless artifacts are being lost to disorderly mobs

Agriculture Nearly a third of all hogs in the United States -- are in Iowa
Also...about twice as many chickens as any other state

Computers and the Internet Tablets are punishing the print newspaper business

Humor and Good News A singing elf on the trading floor
(Video)

Business and Finance Brazil's economy is bigger than the UK's

Broadcasting Brian Gongol Show - December 25, 2011
The full show, available on-demand for listening anytime

Broadcasting WHO Radio Wise Guys - December 24, 2011
The full show is available on-demand



Computers and the Internet Who owns your Twitter account?
People who find themselves using "social media" on behalf of their employers may need to do more due diligence up-front to define whose work belongs to whom. It's pretty obvious that when someone writes for Chevron's house magazine during business hours that the work ultimately belongs to Chevron unless stipulated otherwise. But what about the work done by people on behalf of their employers that dances on that line between the professional and the personal? And if it happens outside regular working hours? Most importantly, what happens when the working relationship is over? Problems like these make it easy to believe that more people will be independent contractors in the future than are today.

Agriculture Under-investment in agricultural research may be causing gains in production to taper off
That's really ominous news, since lots of countries are going to keep growing quickly, and those people need to be fed

The American Way Economic growth reduces need for foreign aid in developing countries
That's obviously what everyone hopes will happen, but the good news is that there's evidence it's actually taking place

Science and Technology A handful of tricks for defining problems
Just as the person who defines the test can determine its outcome, the person who learns how to define a problem more effectively can do a better job of solving it

Weather and Disasters Why there's a 30' hill in the middle of pancake-flat Grand Island
It turns out the city was hit by a huge tornado outbreak in 1980, and that's where they put the debris

News Ben Nelson is leaving the Senate
The Nebraska Democrat is one of the most conservative in his own party



Socialism Doesn't Work Official report says that China's bullet train crashed in July due to design flaws and sloppy management
There's a great deal to admire about Chinese culture, and a lot to learn from it. But there's a great deal of behavior by the Chinese government of which to be highly skeptical. The tacit endorsement of intellectual-property theft is one of the worst. It's widely argued that China stole the technology behind its bullet train, and there's a very important lesson for people to remember about the theft: Knowing how to put something together that looks the same as the original isn't the same as knowing how to make the original. Plenty of people can duplicate paintings, for instance. But the process matters, too. A photograph of a Jackson Pollock painting is definitely not the same thing as a Pollock original. And process matters in technology as much as it matters in art: Knowing why individual materials were chosen, or angles used, or steps taken in a manufacturing process can be essential to the outcome, even if two products -- original and copycat -- look a lot alike when placed side-by-side. And with many companies relying so heavily on China, the world has a vested interest in getting the Chinese government to play by the rules that allow the market system to work. A free market requires the rule of law.

News Copy editors at the Cedar Rapids Gazette miss a pair of big errors
An article titled "Iowa Republicans struggling with who to back in precinct caucuses" made two big mistakes. First, it should be "whom to back", not "who". And second, the first sentence of the article should not read "It's hard to find a straight Republican in Iowa", even if the author is trying to make a clever reference to how many voters say they're "leaning towards" a candidate. Saying you can't "find a straight Republican" simply doesn't pass the giggle test.

Iowa Cloak-and-dagger move in Iowa politics
A state senator abandons his post as chair of Michele Bachmann's Presidential campaign so he can endorse Ron Paul instead -- less than a week ahead of the caucuses. Should one have a sincere change of heart of that magnitude, one should probably just knuckle down and do the best he or she can for the remaining few days. But this looks like something underhanded. The individual in question (State Sen. Kent Sorenson) previously used a database from his state-government email list to drop spam on voters on behalf of Bachmann. He seems to have a problem with his judgment.

Humor and Good News The rise of the misquotation

News Justice prevails for some Egyptian women, but too late
A court has ended the practice of forcing degrading "virginity tests" on female detainees. It's unbelievable that they were allowed to take place at all, ever.

Science and Technology How to make predictions better
Apparently, the more an individual adheres to a unifying worldview, the less likely that individual is to produce useful predictions. Better predictions appear to come from those who are interested in the heterogeneity of the sources from which they draw.

Aviation News The rise of drone aircraft for fighting wars
They look great from the standpoint of being able to project greater American fighting power without putting more Americans in harm's way. But they're a terrifying development should they fall into the wrong hands. We may find ourselves quite urgently needing to learn how to detect and defend against them far more than knowing how to launch them.

Science and Technology Fun with levitation

News Someone's been Photoshopping in North Korea
Erasing stragglers from a shot of Kim Jong Il's funeral procession. But why bother?

Humor and Good News Firefox 9 is on the market
They're trying to seriously speed up their release cycle -- Version 9 follows Version 8 by a matter of weeks

Humor and Good News A less-powerful laser pointer



Iowa Romney aims for the business conservatives in Iowa
Despite what people might perceive of the outsized influence of cultural conservative voters in Iowa, there are still many people for whom the economy comes first and always has. They will be showing up to the caucuses on Tuesday night, too, and they're probably going to be attracted to the idea of putting "a turnaround guy" in the White House. The United States tends to be a slightly center-right nation, and it's probably fair to characterize most of the conservatism as a pro-market orientation rather than a demand that things never change socially. The echo chamber of the national and international media tends to assume that thousands of mindless drones here follow the pronouncements of a few noisy conservative leaders, but the truth is that there are plenty of sensible people in Iowa who want free trade and smaller government more than anything else.

Computers and the Internet The Department of Homeland Security is watching Twitter
It doesn't take more than a minute or two of watching the streams of comments flowing on Twitter to realize that there are a lot of people who type without thinking through the consequences. One can't really blame the government for creating false accounts to track the loose-lipped who might be planning to do violence. But it's also a little ominous that we've had to come to this stage.

Business and Finance Women are substituting education for low-wage jobs
Which can be a very sensible thing to do -- as long as it doesn't require undertaking a whole lot of debt. In the long term, if it turns out that women are doing so in significantly larger proportion than men, it could forecast an important trend in the workplace of the future.

Iowa A dozen things that the "Occupy Des Moines" protesters should be doing instead of getting arrested

Computers and the Internet Tech Tip: How often should I back up my files?
Short answer: Preferably daily. Highly recommended weekly. Absolutely no less than monthly.

Computers and the Internet Tech Tip: Is it safe to pay bills online?
Short answer: Yes, but you need to know what precautions to take first

Water News Rush to fix Missouri River levees gets underway



The United States of America How do you get doctors to set up practice in rural communities?
Or other professionals, like engineers and lawyers? One of the problems with the debate about this important issue in the Midwest is the language. Too many people frame it as "capturing" or "trapping" these kinds of professionals. In reality, what must be done is to make these places so attractive that people want to live there. From a broader perspective, that means it's necessary to think about the health and growth of population centers, spaced closely enough together that it's possible to travel easily from one to another. Iowa's largest population centers are spaced one to two hours apart from one another. Farther west, the spacings grow much larger very quickly. Over the very long term, it's going to become important to ensure the intermediate communities between larger ones don't shrivel and die, but rather find renewed growth. It's widely expected that the leading cities of the region will continue to grow -- but we don't want the smaller places in between to become ghost towns.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft issues an emergency security update
A problem with their ".NET" system means that crooks could gain privileges and control over users' computers

Computers and the Internet CNet offers a comprehensive overview of SOPA
The Stop Online Piracy Act has a name and an ostensible intent that both sound really good -- but the devil seems to be in the details. The proposal appears to require service providers (including the people who make the backbone of the Internet stay up) to pull the plug on websites when the government deems them to be in violation of the law. Makes sense if there's a site dedicated to hosting millions of pirated movies. Much more threatening if it means that a single infringement on a site could render the whole thing inaccessible. Opposition to the proposal is coming from respectable quarters, like Kaspersky, which makes some of the world's best antivirus software. And from musical satirist Dan Bull.

Science and Technology Chimps seem to understand how much their peers know

News Just because someone said it a long time ago doesn't mean it's the right thing to do
"The ancients tell us what is best, but we must learn of the moderns what is fittest." - Benjamin Franklin

Computers and the Internet 2011 was the year of the cameraphone

Business and Finance Recommendations for last-minute charitable contributions

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