Gongol.com Archives: January 2012
Brian Gongol

January 2012
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January 2, 2012

Business and Finance An economic scorecard for the 2012 Republican Presidential candidates
Everyone makes their own choices about how to pick a candidate. This is a chart for those interested mainly in economic issues.

Iowa Republican caucus locations for Dallas County, Iowa
Caucus locations often differ from the general election voting sites. Many polling locations don't have enough room to accommodate the people who will show up for the caucuses, which are a lot like town hall meetings.

Socialism Doesn't Work The Koreas are at a "turning point", says South Korea's president
Ideally, a way could be found to incentivize the ruling class in North Korea to initiate a peaceful reintegration process with the South. The longer the North stays Marxist/Communist, the greater the prosperity gap between the two countries. And at some point, the North's system will collapse. The sooner the North can be reformed -- deliberately, and in concert with the South -- the better-off the world will be. The signs are already there that China may slip away from Communist control soon, too. The pending burst of China's housing market bubble could hasten that change meaningfully.

Science and Technology 100 years ago, freak snowstorms still caught people in covered wagons
We should never be too quick to forget how dramatically technology influences (and improves) our lives. And technology is driven faster and more broadly by free-market economic incentives than by any other cause known to humankind.

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January 4, 2012

Science and Technology How concrete is good for your health
Most Americans don't have dirt floors, but people in other nations do -- and that exposes them to a range of creepy diseases. Concrete floors in their houses can make them healthier, and concrete on the roads to their homes can open up trade and increase prosperity. Funny how little incremental improvements that we often take for granted in the United States can have such a profound impact elsewhere. Of course, just paving the roads isn't enough to ensure that people will live well -- China's been paving everything in sight (or so it seems), and one of the consequences is that air pollution there is going to be unhealthy for people to breathe from now until at least 2030, and perhaps much longer. One of the reasons people criticize capitalism is that they tie it (mentally) to industrialization and pollution. But the truth of the matter is that free markets under the rule of law in societies where people have the right to elect their own representatives are the ones where pollution is most aggressively attacked. That's because the will of the people (which, generally, is a cleaner environment) gets enacted by the government, which in turn imposes regulations that give private parties an incentive to do something about cleaning up that pollution. Nobody has any incentive to invent a double-hulled oil tanker in a country where the government is the party responsible for moving the oil and has no accountability to the people it harms by spilling it.

Science and Technology Cornell University researchers think they can make things briefly invisible
An experiment with "compressing" light allowed them to create a tiny gap in the apparent perception of time. It's not enough to let anyone rob a bank (the gap was 50 trillionths of a second), but it's interesting science nonetheless.

Iowa The Iowa Caucuses in real-time

Science and Technology Blind test gives no edge to Stradivarius violins over modern makers
In fact, the violinists who tried them out side-by-side in a Pepsi Challenge-style test actually preferred the new violins over the really expensive antiques

News Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #8
18-year-old shoots home intruder on New Year's Eve. He broke into her house with a knife. Everyone needs to know some form of self-defense.

Computers and the Internet Google's rules on paid links may have ensnared one of Google's own operations
They have a requirement that paid links include some special code that tells the Google search bots to not follow those links. Someone on contract to promote Google's Chrome browser apparently failed to follow those rules.

News The Cubs don't need Zambrano anymore
His attitude doesn't seem to have done any good for the team, so it was time to let him go

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January 5, 2012

The United States of America The ten closest political races in US history
This year's Iowa caucuses place third. Google has produced some very rich data on the caucus results.

Humor and Good News At age 70, Stephen Hawking says women remain "a complete mystery"
He's done groundbreaking thinking about things like black holes, but it's the female of the species that puzzles him

Computers and the Internet Old photos, re-positioned in the present
The very clever DearPhotograph.com invites people to take old pictures and re-shoot the very same place and tell a micro-story about what's changed

@briangongolbot on Twitter

January 6, 2012

Computers and the Internet Observations on how to pick a smartphone

Threats and Hazards How the just-in-time delivery model could put entire economies at risk
We know disasters can happen -- like the Icelandic volcano. So why do we put our essential systems at risk?

News Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #9
Three guys got assaulted outside a West Des Moines bar on New Year's Eve. You never know when there's a violent thug around the corner.

Iowa City of Des Moines sets wheels in motion to send Occupy protesters home
They've had enough time to kill the grass on public property

Humor and Good News Early candidate for 2012 idiot of the year
Smoking enough pot -- inside a hospital -- to set off a smoke detector is a real act of idiocy

News Jamaica and Australia are on track to dump the monarchy
Just 236 years after the United States

Iowa MidAmerican Energy is buying up wind farms
In addition to constructing its own

Business and Finance More Americans are going back to work
The unemployment rate is falling nationally, and the number of discouraged workers is declining. A large number of people (194,000) also left the workforce between November and December. The unemployment rate is extremely closely-tied to education; those with bachelor's degrees and higher have a 4.1% unemployment rate, compared with 13.8% for those without a high school diploma. In related news, Iowa's governor has proposed some reforms to the educational system here.

Threats and Hazards Iran's government is cracking down on Internet access
Always worry about a government that wants to clamp down on its people's ability to communicate

News Three freight trains crash near Chicago
The crash led to a fire and a chemical spill. Chicago is a very serious choke point along America's east-west transportation routes.

Business and Finance "[A]nybody would be crazy to think that there would not be wicked corrections [in China] from time to time"

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January 7, 2012

News Unrest continues in northwestern China
The giant Xinjiang region is home to a whole lot of oil and natural gas, so no matter what political cost is to be paid, China's central government will probably be keen to hold on to it. But there's been violence in the area between the government and some of the residents, who (depending upon whom is asked) are either terrorists or just people trying to flee the Chinese regime. Regardless, the situation challenges the Western stereotyping of China as one homogeneous unit. The country's borders are an artificial construct, and there's a great deal of ethnic and racial diversity within China. We'd be smart to start seeing China for what it is, rather than the cartoon we sometimes make of it. We'd also be very wise to realize that the borders of China today almost certainly won't be the borders of China in 50 years, or probably even 20 years.

Business and Finance VW decides to shut down employees' BlackBerry email outside working hours
Email will be delivered only starting a half-hour before and ending a half-hour after the scheduled workday. Classify this under "Interesting". Some people certainly don't want to be bothered outside working hours, and they shouldn't be. Others, though, enjoy strategizing their work hours and can use idle time in the grocery line or while waiting for a pot of water to boil to make that work time flow better.

News A new look for the Washington Post
They're making some adaptations to the print edition to make it easier to digest quickly. Meanwhile, the newspaper's ombudsman thinks they're "innovating too fast" with new digital products and experiments. That may be how it feels on the inside, but when he says that "innovations are just tossed against a wall to see what sticks", he's actually describing the kind of thing that too many companies (in media or otherwise) are afraid to do with the Internet -- and should. Good ideas, instead of being tested, experimented-with, and tweaked to fit, are lost forever in red tape and fear. One must play with technology until it breaks, then figure out what broke, fix it, and start again.

Science and Technology The fractal nature of ZIP Codes
Since they aren't grid-based, there's an organic element to how they're ordered. It's actually rather pretty to behold.

News Why picking a good baby name is important
Among other things, a "bad" name could keep your offspring from finding a good mate someday. This is why there's good reason to follow some basic rules when naming a child.

Humor and Good News An ambitious New Year to you

Humor and Good News 365 days of Toronto
Photographer takes a year-long pinhole exposure of the city. Pretty cool.

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January 8, 2012

Business and Finance Rep. Ron Paul's gold standard won't fix problems with banks
Then again, those who just want to break up the big banks might not have it right, either: Canada's banking industry is dominated by giants, but they haven't had anything close to the problems of the American banks that have a much smaller proportional hold on the banking sector here. But the gold standard is an antiquated idea and shouldn't be revered.

Business and Finance Don't be fooled by economic and stock-market "cycles" -- just focus on the fundamentals
Looking too hard for patterns in the past keeps people from seeing the reality of the present and the future.

Iowa Excellent breakdown of the Iowa Caucus results
A breakdown of which candidates perfomed well among different demographic groups, by county. Very interesting.

The United States of America How Americans spend our time
Interesting facts: About a third of people with jobs work on weekends. On average, men work about 40 minutes more per day than women. About a quarter of us work at least part of the day from home. Half of women do housework on an average day, while only one in five men do. TV takes up half of our leisure time. Kids appear to cost adults about an hour of leisure time per day, compared with their childless peers.

Broadcasting Show notes from an afternoon on WHO Radio - January 6, 2012

Computers and the Internet Violin destroyed over PayPal policies

@briangongolbot on Twitter

January 9, 2012

Business and Finance Google's bold move to buy Motorola has a downside
Motorola's weak performance hit Google's stock price pretty hard today. Google's trying to fashion a modern-day conglomerate, but it's making some odd choices along the way.

Threats and Hazards Repugnant KKK flyers are being distributed in Cedar Rapids

Science and Technology Political attitudes may be rooted (partially) in how people think
Literally, that is -- how their brains process information. Some research hints that whether one is inclined to follow the cues of others may be a left/right thing.

Broadcasting De-commoditizing the nightly news
Network television is figuring out that they have to deliver differentiable products in order for anyone to prefer one newscast over another

News A nation-sized game of chicken
Britain's prime minister has laid down a gauntlet, telling the head of Scotland's government that they need to bring up a referendum on leaving the UK within 18 months or shut up until the next Parliament

Business and Finance Now the banks are borrowing from their former debtors
European credit markets have turned so sour that banks are getting big companies to essentially lend them cash to stay open

Humor and Good News "Larry, you can barely say it now"
Facebook allows teacher to get her revenge on an idiot former student

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January 11, 2012

Business and Finance Apple's CEO gets paid a nauseating amount
Did he create $378 million in value to the world last year? Put another way: Did he create more value for the company than Apple would have gotten from 3,780 people, each paid $100,000? Or: Did he do as much for Western civilization as 1,512 generals and admirals? If your answer is "Yes", then your name is probably Tim Cook. Or you're sleeping with him.

Computers and the Internet Google to Twitter: Nyah-nyah

Humor and Good News Anyone stupid enough to rename himself "Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop" is stupid enough to be taken off the streets for the good of everyone else

Humor and Good News Sen. Al Franken knows how to ask for money

Humor and Good News The in-efficiency expert
(Video) A Rube Goldberg page-turner

Business and Finance Hostess files Chapter 11

Humor and Good News Kids having a conversation in sign language

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January 12, 2012

Computers and the Internet "To whom thy secret thou dost tell, to him thy freedom thou dost sell" - Benjamin Franklin
Ever stopped for a minute to think of the blackmail value built up inside Facebook? Not just what you've told, but whose profiles you've viewed...whose pictures you've lingered upon...which comments you made three years ago. It's like everything every mob and oppressive secret police agency has ever tried to collect, all in one database. No matter what their terms and conditions say now, nothing guarantees they won't ever use or sell this information against 800 million people. Just the blackmail value in telling employers which employees were on Facebook during working hours is enough to make one shudder.

Computers and the Internet Michelle Obama is on Twitter now
Only some of the messages put out under her name will really be originally hers. This hearkens back to recent comments about the need to hear directly, in an unfiltered way, from our public officials. Now, whether the First Lady really does her own Tweeting or not doesn't really matter much in the grand scheme of things. But to reiterate the larger point: It would be good for society if our leaders actually had the self-discipline and dedication to sit down for ten minutes a day to compose and share their thoughts on the things that matter with the rest of us.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft places a big bet on smartphones
The company probably sees that Nokia's weak, BlackBerry is fading out, and Apple's reached a ceiling on the number of people willing to pay a premium for their much-vaunted "user experience". Android phones have reached a majority in the US market, but if the other competitors are weak, Microsoft might have found an opening using a flavor of Windows 7 to run the phone. Windows 7 has turned out to be a really good operating system, and Microsoft would be smart to capitalize on it.

Business and Finance US manufacturers say China is dumping cheap wind-turbine towers on the American market
Dumping has to be one of the least-certain ways of gaining monopoly power, but nobody should be surprised if it's actually true that the Chinese government is doing whatever it can to aid its own manufacturers as they try to keep people employed and put a lid on unrest in the hinterlands

Health $10 million is yours if you can make a Star Trek-style body scanner
It's another X-Prize (one of a series of inducement prizes) that seeks to concentrate the benefits of far-out-there research in a way that might accelerate the pace of technological advance. This one is being named for Qualcomm. The public is being invited to submit comments on what they'd like to see in this dream diagnostic machine until April 30th. They're going to pick 15 diseases and award the prize to the machine that does the best job of nailing down those diseases. Inducement prizes are a great tool, because the awarding agency/individual/government/company doesn't pay a penny until the winner shows proof of a result. By concentrating benefits, they make far-flung goals look more interesting and thus concentrate research efforts in their pursuit.

Science and Technology Live a happier life by making fewer decisions
That's one of the reasons why checklists are so attractive -- by taking the thought out of routine tasks, they allow the individual to concentrate on the really big decisions that need to be made in life

Humor and Good News Some people are just really slow learners

Computers and the Internet Get ready for a slew of ridiculous new top-level domains
Don't expect to be going to www.whatever.gongol anytime soon. They cost $185,000. Give this one a 65% chance of being a total boondoggle. Just like people still aren't convinced of dialing 1-888 or 1-877 rather than 1-800, they're not going to be convinced of using anything other than good old .com anytime soon.

Humor and Good News The Onion: "Area man's hard work finally pays off for employer"
It's surprising that there wasn't more of a rush toward independent contracting during the late economic contraction. One would think that people are getting tired of being conventional employees.

Business and Finance Man fined $400,000 for offering to buy American Airlines
Court says you can't do that if you have "no significant assets". However, it's being reported that Delta may be thinking of a buyout while American is in bankruptcy.

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January 13, 2012

Business and Finance We live in a very strange world: Mortgage interest rates are below 4%

Computers and the Internet Forget the $100 laptop, an even cheaper tablet is here
An Indian company is making a tablet now for $50

Business and Finance Insurer Aon says it's dumping Chicago for London
Exactly how many of their Chicago-based employees do they expect to take with them to the UK? Technically, in the short run, the company says it's only moving about 20 people, and that it will expand its operations in the US, starting with Chicago. But plenty of promises can be made in the short term that don't pan out in the long run, especially once people have stopped paying attention. Illinois has a terrible tax situation for companies, and this may be a symptom of that disease. But pulling up stakes on Chicago and going to London instead? That's a pretty dramatic move.

Humor and Good News Someone in a Mickey Mouse costume knows how to dance

Humor and Good News When Warren Buffett visits the doctor, does he tell them he's "self-employed"?
The question, of course, is really just rhetorical and a little tongue-in-cheek, but it is funny how the "self-employed" are treated differently from those who are employed by others. Sometimes it's hard to see how the distinction is relevant, as at the doctor's office.

Iowa Polk County proposes a big plan to fix the courthouse problem
The question isn't whether something should be done -- it must. The real question is whether any alternatives would be better


January 15, 2012

Business and Finance S&P downgrades debt of 9 of 17 Eurozone countries
That's pretty harsh...but it's also probably long overdue

Computers and the Internet Pandora founder wonders if Facebook is pushing instant sharing too far
And they probably are

News A video board at Wrigley Field? Bah!
It's practically heresy

Iowa Cedar Rapids got ripped off by giving away economic-development incentives

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January 16, 2012

Science and Technology The worry over SOPA comes to a head in a big protest this week

Health Could the London Olympics become a starting point for epidemics?

Science and Technology 3D printing: Coming soon to a household near you

News Impressive or terrifying? Leaning towards "terrifying."
(Video) China races to construct a building worrisomely fast

Computers and the Internet Is Google giving up on search?

Science and Technology Should increasing energy efficiency be more important than expanding supply?

Threats and Hazards A yacht for the Queen?
Monarchies do silly things -- like giving a national birthday gift worth tens of millions of dollars to the Queen of England

Broadcasting Show notes from the Brian Gongol Show - January 15, 2012

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January 17, 2012

Business and Finance China's economy is still growing quickly, but the rate of growth is slowing

Computers and the Internet How President Obama's re-election campaign is using data mining to plan their campaign
It's amazing to see the same people who would otherwise say that government can't be trusted turning over all kinds of information about themselves, voluntarily, to a political campaign. Of course, there's loads of data to be gathered from non-political databases, too. In a sense, it's highly democratic. In another, it's terribly creepy.

Computers and the Internet Facebook knows your political sentiments -- and now so does Politico

Business and Finance Ralcorp is spinning-off Post Cereals
They bought Post in August 2008, so somebody at Ralcorp has made a huge blunder -- either in paying too much when they bought, or spinning off too soon. But there's no way to categorize a quick purchase-and-resale such as this as a success.

Humor and Good News The television show for a generation that's never been told "No"
(Video) SNL may have just reversed years of damage to society (caused by sketches featuring the likes of Chris Farley and David Spade) in one fell swoop

Computers and the Internet An attempt to revive Atari
Strange that any of us should become nostalgic over a technology company. Yesterday's tech was slow and unimpressive by today's standards -- it's not like rediscovering a family recipe.

Science and Technology So...it turns out they really are making new real estate, after all

Humor and Good News Thoughts from the guy who wrote most of Elton John's lyrics

Health The neurology "time bomb"

Broadcasting On-demand edition of the "Brian Gongol Show" from January 15, 2012
Segments 1, 2, 3, and 4

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January 18, 2012

Threats and Hazards Bureaucratic dithering probably cost 100,000 lives in eastern Africa
We need better ways of storing food for the long term and of moving it quickly to where it's needed

Computers and the Internet Jerry Yang quits Yahoo board

News One of Kim Jong-Il's other sons says the current North Korean regime will collapse soon

Computers and the Internet The problem with passwords

Business and Finance Lee Enterprises thinks it's exiting bankruptcy this month
The company expanded too much and relied on debt to do it

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.

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January 19, 2012

Computers and the Internet How Twitter is making live TV more interesting

Threats and Hazards Thoughtless Occupists don't think about the costs they impose on others
Just putting a few of them through the court process in Des Moines for their intentional arrests is going to clog up the courts for a while. Selfish.

Computers and the Internet Google claims 90 million users on Google Plus

Computers and the Internet An influx of data centers in the Midwest?
It's about time people started de-concentrating away from the major metropolitan areas of the country. On a related note: Small data centers are popping up in unexpected places.

Iowa The bridge to nowhere...will soon go somewhere
I-80 will soon have an interchange with 105th Street in West Des Moines. Waukee hopes for the best.

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January 20, 2012

Business and Finance GM is once again the world's largest automaker
But at what cost? Some will argue that the Federal government has actually earned (or will earn) a profit on its "investment" in the company. But that means that there was, presumably, a profit to have been made by the private sector instead -- by people who specialize in capital allocation. The government doesn't specialize in that. Nor should it specialize in bailing out companies just because those companies happen to be major employers. Government's proper role is to establish a fair playing field for the private sector, and to ensure that the things society needs that are difficult or impossible to self-fund are provided. (The private sector tends to do a bad job of providing an Air Force, for instance.) When government turns its attention and resources to "rescuing" companies in the private sector just because those companies are big, then we march directly into dangerous territory.

Business and Finance Municipal debts are growing
Part of the problem: Incentive packages for businesses. Economic-development incentives seem rational on a case-by-case basis, but when taken as a whole, they're insanity. Cities do it, and so do states.

Iowa 29-year-old charged with identity theft...against the Iowa Secretary of State
One has to imagine it wasn't just a random pick, but rather a deliberately political attack

Computers and the Internet "Anonymous" movement crashes US government websites
Like the Occupy movement, the people at "Anonymous" may have reasonable grievances. But their means (vandalism, particularly) are unacceptable in a civilized society.

Computers and the Internet Sales of Microsoft Windows products drop by 6%
That's far from being a catastrophe, but it probably indicates that people are turning to alternatives like tablet computers and smartphones to do the things they may have done in the past with conventional desktop and laptop computers. Purchases of new tablets and smartphones are probably just offsetting the replacement of old laptops and desktops -- the kinds of machines that run Windows. Companies have probably slowed their replacement cycles for computers, too.

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January 25, 2012

Agriculture Volatility for biodiesel makers tracks uncertainty about tax credits

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January 26, 2012

Threats and Hazards "If it saves just one life..."
A letter to the editor in support of red-light traffic cameras in Cedar Rapids relies on the old canard that "If it saves just one life, then it's worth any price". But the problem here is that though we each value our own lives infinitely (because, of course, you can't take it with you), that equation is simply not true. We could have a world of infinite safety, in which every person is bubble-wrapped and we all travel at no speed greater than 5 miles per hour, but the trade-off for that level of security would be world in which nothing got done and in which we never experienced any thrills. In the case of red-light cameras, the trade-off appears -- at least on the surface -- to be between safety and surveillance. On that basis alone, we are obliged to very seriously consider whether we're willing to be surveilled at all times, even if we're abiding the law. (One might very likely think we are not.) But beyond that, the reality is that red-light cameras are no assurance of greater safety. They quite likely create more rear-end accidents (as people slam the brakes when lights turn yellow), even if they cut down on T-bone incidents. But further to the point, if the issue is really one of safety, isn't the solution to find engineering designs for intersections that make them more safe, rather than just introducing more Big Brother? Roundabouts prohibit T-bone accidents by design, and longer-duration yellow lights and longer gaps between the onset of red in one direction and green in the other can ensure that lapses in judgment don't rise to the level of causing accidents. And if the problem is with repeat offenders, shouldn't they individually lose their licenses? If the problem is with a particular intersection, shouldn't someone investigate what it is about the design of that intersection that causes so much danger?

News "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"
The head of local government in Scotland wants a referendum on that question sometime in 2014. It would throw into question Scotland's three centuries under British rule. Plenty of people in England seem not to be amused.

Humor and Good News "Moby Dick" typed on a roll of toilet paper
Yours for the bidding on eBay


January 27, 2012

Computers and the Internet Facebook could be up for an IPO by April
The Wall Street Journal is reporting rumors that the company could file paperwork about an IPO this coming week. It was pretty much inevitable that this would happen, but the sad part is that a lot of people are probably going to be suckered into chasing the stock because it sounds exciting and cool, not because it's a good investment. The Facebook bubble will pop someday -- just as surely as did CompuServe, MySpace, and Second Life. The question is when.

Business and Finance US GDP grew at an annualized 2.8% rate in the fourth quarter
Is it a great figure? No. Is it OK? Yes.

News A temple for atheism?
It's an interesting concept

Aviation News Pair of Canadian teens sends a Lego man into space
And they recorded the 80,000-foot climb and descent on video. It was a $400, 97-minute trip.

Computers and the Internet Twitter implements selective-censorship method
As they try to expand into different countries, they're trying to navigate the laws that differ from place to place. The notice of the new censorship algorithm is really just an unpleasant reminder that there are a lot of countries where there's no such thing as free speech.

Recent radio podcasts

January 28, 2012

Computers and the Internet How the LinkedIn founder views networking
Interesting: He doesn't advocate the kind of "friend"-everyone-you-meet kind of networking that people seem to think they have to do

Business and Finance Should the government encourage mass home refinancing?
That's the suggestion of a Fortune columnist, building on work by economists including Glenn Hubbard of Columbia Business School

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January 29, 2012

Computers and the Internet Cloud computing explained in two minutes
It's one of the buzzwords that's floated around for just long enough for everyone to have heard it, but it's been too poorly-explained thus far for most people to understand what it's all about

Broadcasting Show notes from the "WHO Radio Wise Guys" - January 28, 2012

Iowa Polk County (Iowa) is losing a good supervisor

@briangongol on Twitter

January 31, 2012

Computers and the Internet Why it's important to control your online reputation
The principal at Valley High School (in West Des Moines, Iowa) is being spoofed by someone using his name on a fake Twitter account. He ignored the problem early. Now the clown who started the account is putting up anti-Semitic messages, and there's nothing the principal or the school district can really do about it. The account is down now, though it's not clear whether that was a voluntary thing or if Twitter took action on its own. Regardless, the fact that the principal had to contact the company to ask that the account be removed illustrates just how important it is that people -- particularly those in the public eye or who deal with large groups, like school authorities -- get ahead of the curve and assertively manage their own online reputations. You don't want the most prominent search for your name to turn up a fake Twitter account -- or a bunch of news stories in which someone using your name was saying malicious things. Anyone with reasonable concern about these kinds of hazards can take action: Set up a LinkedIn account and make it public. Get a Twitter handle and post to it occasionally -- and do the same on Google Plus. Register your given name as a domain name and either set up a website or point that domain name to one of your accounts. Only the domain name costs anything ($10 a year), and among those actions, one can very quickly (and legitimately) take up the first four or five spots in a search for one's name. It probably sounded like a remote problem in the past. Today, it's essential.

Business and Finance Is there bias among the academics who discuss executive pay?
It's a hot and recurring topic in economics: How should shareholders pay the executives who manage their companies? Even an average senior research seminar in college is likely to find at least one student inquiring about the subject. But nobody has broken down the issue of executive pay more thoughtfully and clearly than Warren Buffett in his 1985 letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett clearly argues that fixed-price stock options create an incentive for executives to retain and then basically just sit on the profits they make, rather than using them thoughtfully, reinvesting or distributing those profits as dividends: "Managers regularly engineer ten-year, fixed-price options for themselves and associates that, first, totally ignore the fact that retained earnings automatically build value and, second, ignore the carrying cost of capital. As a result, these managers end up profiting much as they would have had they had an option on that savings account that was automatically building up in value." The entire letter is well worth the reading.

Business and Finance More evidence that the economy is very different from one part of America to another
There's a housing shortage -- yes, shortage -- in Pender, Nebraska. Employers are hiring and don't have any place for their employees to live.

Health Sometimes the world needs a little behavior that looks like a violation of anti-trust rules
Pharmaceutical companies are going to collaborate on producing medicines that will combat tropical diseases. The collaboration, partially at Bill Gates's behest, will try to knock down diseases found in places that aren't usually big markets for the pharmaceutical companies. The cooperation would probably otherwise look like a case for an anti-trust lawyer, but nobody's likely to complain.

Business and Finance Anyone who bets on stocks using technical charts deserves to get burned
A Reuters report on today's stock market used this completely incomprehensible jibberish: "The flat close with wide intraday moves in both directions describes a 'long-legged doji' pattern on a Japanese candle stick chart and is seen as a sign of uncertainty and indecision on the part of investors." What a bunch of hogwash. Either a company is worth buying or it is not. Looking for patterns hidden within stock charts to divine some kind of "market-beating" stock-picking strategy is the kind of gambling that should stay in the casino, where it belongs.

The United States of America The full 2012 primary and caucus calendar

Iowa Differences in Iowa power rates: Municipal vs. co-op vs. investor-owned utilities

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