Gongol.com Archives: May 2012
Brian Gongol

May 2012
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May 7, 2012

Business and Finance Notes from the 2012 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' meeting
Notes attempting to capture the essence of what Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger said on May 5, 2012

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May 8, 2012

News "It's a mistake to stop doing business with China. Just as it's a mistake to think this is business as usual."
An analysis in Bloomberg Businessweek cites the theory that "China's economic miracle will fade because the security-obsessed government will continue to resist the creative destruction that is crucial to innovation".

Science and Technology Dinosaur gas may have killed Jurassic Park

Computers and the Internet Microsoft is going to kibosh "Windows Live" and just start integrating cloud services anyway
They're going to keep on providing the same services, like e-mail, online storage, and messaging, but they're going to start just calling it "Microsoft Account" and using it as the basis for Windows 8.

Business and Finance The plague of inflated job titles

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May 11, 2012

Iowa Police and DOT think stayed-cable median barriers are working well


May 12, 2012

Computers and the Internet Technology advice for moms on Mother's Day

Computers and the Internet A Facebook rival?
Diaspora is intended as essentially an open-source rival to Facebook and Google Plus, in which users own the data they post (as opposed to Facebook's we-claim-everything rule). They're wisely integrating the service with the existing competition.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft claims it will be carbon-neutral by July

Business and Finance Israel passes law prohibiting undisclosed Photoshopping of models
If he or she has been airbrushed to look skinnier, they have to disclose it

Computers and the Internet Google commences offering integrated ads with its Maps service
They're already starting to offer indoor walking directions for some notable buildings

Business and Finance Goldman Sachs has 5,400 people with titles at or above vice president

Computers and the Internet WiFi-blocking wallpaper
It's been developed, and better yet, it only blocks the frequencies used by WiFi, and doesn't mess with cell phone

Science and Technology Architect wants to build tall buildings out of wood


May 13, 2012

Iowa The Walmart effect is now mostly stabilized in Iowa towns
Sales declines in surrounding communities have supposedly stabilized, according to new research from ISU. The stores are bad for in-town direct competition, but specialty stores nearby actually appear to do a little better, since the Walmart acts like a magnet for shoppers from nearby.

News The really bad idiom: "He has hate in his heart"
Nobody has hate in their heart. They have it in their heads. And then they choose not to think hard enough to overcome that hate.

Business and Finance "Errors, sloppiness, and bad judgment" cost JP Morgan billions
A $2 billion loss isn't going to sink the company. But it's getting to be almost impossible to think that investment bankers (as a class) have really cleaned up their act.

Iowa Iowa's worst rollover spot could be fixed...in 15 years
A redesign for the really awful I-80/I-380 interchange is up for a vote later this month. But it's still going to be long before anything actually happens.

Business and Finance Iowa kids win prize for video about financial literacy

Business and Finance A checklist for keeping bad CEOs out of the executive suite
Managing the managers is the chief job of company boards. But too many directors have been too complacent when it comes to acting in the shareholders' interest.

Broadcasting Upcoming movie will probe the private side of Johnny Carson

Socialism Doesn't Work Vikings will pay less than half of the cost of their new stadium
To be opened in 2016

Agriculture US could have a big corn surplus this year
That's going to hurt prices

Science and Technology Robots may reach out better to some autistic kids than people can

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May 14, 2012

Socialism Doesn't Work A "week without capitalism"? Go ahead and try.
Groups that apparently have little to no actual contact with reality are talking about spending this as a "week without capitalism", which one might also take as a week without any sort of market activity whatsoever. Good luck with that. The inescapable fact is that the entire world -- human and natural -- is a perpetual cycle of inputs and outputs, trade-offs, production, and consumption. Just look at the activity inside a forest: The sun provides energy, which is captured by green plants. Those plants become food for herbivores, which in turn become food for carnivores. And when anything dies, it becomes food for the fungi, which recycle it into something useful for everything else. If any one part of that cycle becomes unbalanced -- say, if the deer become too populous -- then the market forces of supply and demand make a correction. ■ We may be more sophisticated than the deer and the squirrels, but to think that market forces are anything but massive, natural, and irrevocable is to ignore the basic rules of the universe. We can (and should) be aware of natural corrections that have to be made to the market system to try to corral some of those natural forces so that they don't harm us -- but in general, efforts to force human authority over the system results in poverty and misery for all. ■ Capitalism is simply an acknowledgment that some resources can be stored and that they will tend to seek their highest level of reward -- just like a plant will lean towards the sun. The plant doesn't "think" about it, and money doesn't either. But over time, people will save and then invest their money where it will create more money, whether they are farmers who choose to invest in land and tractors and seeds, or whether they're investors who look for the most profitable companies to own. It's not that it's philosophically good or bad -- it's just the natural order of things. And anyone who tries to push against that natural order for very long will find that nature wins out every time. Just ask the folks who starved under China's Great Leap Forward.

Humor and Good News The State of the Web: Spring 2012
Satirical/comedic site The Oatmeal pretty well nails the state of things. This is the same site, it should be noted, that recently rose to the defense of the honor of Nikola Tesla, because that's what geeks (a term of endearment, here) like to do.

Humor and Good News Thank goodness for Taiwan-imation
(Video) How else would we be able to fully grasp the magnitude of the grandmother-cheerleader tryout story?

Business and Finance Estimate: People pulled $2.3 billion out of the S&P 500 last week
Um...why? American companies are bringing in record-level earnings, and yet stock prices as a multiple of those earnings are well below historical norms. This is hardly a formula for pulling money out of equities. In other words, if you can buy companies that are more profitable than ever, and you are paying less per dollar of profits than normal, why in the world wouldn't you be eager to buy more pieces of those companies (that is, shares of their stocks)?


May 15, 2012

Science and Technology This is why America will survive anything
Some goofball at MIT has built his own real-life Mario Kart. It's preposterous, it's silly, it's a complete frivolity. But it's hilarious and ingenious as well. And it's an example of what happens when someone wants something -- even if it's just for fun -- and has the resources, knowledge, and freedom to create it. Command economies scoff at things like this, instead taking resources from all of the individuals in the land and turning them over the the authorities, who build their own preposterous monuments -- but do so in the name "of the people". ■ The truth is that exotic and ridiculous Stalinist projects like the Ryugyong Hotel are really just meant to glorify the state and the people who run it. Sure, the Moscow Metro has some magnificently beautiful stations, but did the people of Moscow need a fabulous subway station in 1938, or did they really just need an opportunity to keep more of their own resources in the middle of the Great Purge? ■ Even non-Stalinist states are often too quick to turn over profits to governments which then use them in pursuit of ego trips...the colossal Burj Khalifa/Burj Dubai was heavily funded by government spending. Free economies have their excesses, too -- any trip down the Las Vegas Strip will tell a person that. But what's most important is that individuals have the opportunity to make their own decisions about what to create and how to invest their time. ■ There will be plenty of people who chose to fritter away their lives in front of dull television programming every night. But there will be others who will tinker and experiment and create, and reap the rewards -- whether those are financial or just visceral (like riding a real Mario Kart). And as long as that occasional genius is rewarded and allowed to flourish, everyone else gets a free ride on the results.

Socialism Doesn't Work Taxpayers will contribute $498 million to the new Vikings stadium
The team will pay $477 million. But the team's finances will remain a secret to their partners, the general public.

Science and Technology Honda's new motorized wheelchair looks nothing like what's been built before
Further proof that life keeps getting better -- whether or not people recognize that fact

The American Way Charlie Munger: "I think civilized people don't buy gold. They invest in productive businesses."
Also: "Take the rapid trading by the computer geniuses with the computer algorithms. Those people have the social utility of a bunch of rats admitted to a granary."

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May 17, 2012

Business and Finance "JPMorgan Chase has a big hedge fund inside a commercial bank"
And that's an unnerving situation. According to the New York Times, "[T]he complex position assembled by the bank included a bullish bet on an index of investment-grade corporate debt, later paired with a bearish bet on high-yield securities, achieved by selling insurance contracts known as credit-default swaps. A big move in the interest rate spread between the investment grade securities and risk-free government bonds in recent months hurt the first part of the bet, and was not offset by equally large moves in the price of the insurance on the high yield bonds." Get all that in one take? Of course not. ■ The problem with excessive complexity inside financial markets is that the feedback loop is human-driven and not very easy to feel. Surgery can be complex...flying an airplane can be complex...forecasting the weather can be complex. But in each of these cases, the natural world is a large part of what initiates the complexity -- and we learn every day about how better to manage that complexity. Moreover, we get real and immediate feedback -- an artery bleeds, a rising column of air causes turbulence, or a mesocyclone starts to spin. These things are observable. ■ But financial markets remain the complex results of millions of individuals, many of whom can easily panic at once for no rational reason. We should be apprehensive about making our financial system more susceptible to the herd mentality than is really necessary: It only takes 5% of people going crazy to set an entire group into a panic. ■ If heavily-leveraged, complex, and large financial instruments can be susceptible to the panic of just 5%, then those instruments probably have no real place right next to the deposits that Grandma makes in her passbook savings account. We should give serious thought to reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act.

Computers and the Internet Good idea: Taking lots of pictures and videos of your kid
Bad idea: Putting all of those pictures and videos on the Internet. The advent of digital photography and video make the cost of recording family memories virtually zero. But there's an implicit cost to sharing everything on the Internet: It causes the child's digital identity to become something the parent forms, whether deliberately or inadvertently. If employers are asking for Facebook passwords today, and burglars are targeting the homes of people who post on Facebook that they're away, and all of that is happening today (when the Internet is, after all, still pretty young), then parents really shouldn't be sharing much -- if anything -- about their kids online. ■ Register the child's name as a domain name, yes. That will help them later. But don't pile on the content in the child's name. The kid will need as much of a blank slate as possible by the time they actually need to use the Internet to apply to college or to a job. And parents should really think twice about the security risks involved in sharing pictures and videos of their children on the Internet -- where you simply don't know what kinds of creeps might be looking for them. ■ There are already too many chances for a young person to screw up on his or her own, and to do a virtual face-plant in front of the world via the Internet. Lots of them don't have adequate discretion to be sharing things in front of a global audience without making serious errors of judgment. Parents shouldn't stack the deck against them by also sharing pictures and videos that may someday turn out to be embarrassing. Sure, Jessica's daily affirmation is hilarious and charming, but she and David of the dentist's strong anesthesia are both going to be defined for a lifetime by their childhood YouTube fame, no matter whatever else they do. (Make no mistake: There's still nothing funnier in the universe than the laughing baby. But a lot of parents seem to think it's a good idea to publicly document everything about their children, as though they're auditioning for some life-changing theatrical role. But are we quite sure that growing up in the public eye was the best thing for the Olsen twins?

Business and Finance Berkshire Hathaway becomes an overnight newspaper empire
Warren Buffett's company just paid $142 million for a group of 63 newspapers. It helps pull the selling company out of a serious financial hole, and it adds what Buffett called "keepers" to the company's roster of subsidiaries. What's amusing about this is how minor the acquisition is for Berkshire: The company brought in $3.245 billion in net earnings in the first quarter, or about $35 million a day. So the entire newspaper chain cost about 4 days' worth of profits from elsewhere in the Berkshire empire. What a bizarre sense of scale. (Full disclosure: Written by a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder.)

Iowa 200 buffalo now roam free across northwestern Iowa
They escaped from a ranch near Sibley.

News Debt is relatively on the rise again in Africa
Borrowing by governments is growing faster than the economies of those countries

Humor and Good News Cubs versus White Sox
(Video) Credit is due to whomever put together the New Era Cap ads featuring Nick Offerman and Craig Robinson. "Would you go skinny-dipping in Lake Michigan in December?" "Again?"

The United States of America A milestone in demography
Canada and the United States are both places defined by ideas and ideals, not the color of a person's skin. And that's a good thing.

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May 18, 2012

Computers and the Internet On the Facebook IPO
A lot of people who were early investors are getting rich. But: Suppose I own a small business. Five years ago, it lost $13,800. Four years ago, it lost $5,600. Then it started to turn a profit. In the next three years, it made $22,900, then $60,600, and then $100,000. ■ If I told you today that I'd be happy to sell you half of that business for $5 million, but that you would have no say in its management, would you buy it? No? Then don't buy Facebook stock today.

Socialism Doesn't Work With Hollande on the scene, is President Obama no longer the "last Keynesian standing"?
For one to dismiss everything about Keynesianism out-of-hand would be unfair and short-sighted. The key is to understand that Keynesianism makes a lot of promises on the backs of the people of the future. Even if "in the long run, we are all dead", the long run is still made up of lots of short runs, all chained together. And if our decisions are made largely on the basis only of short-run thinking (which is what Keynesianism tends to use), then sooner or later, the consequences of short-run thinking start to catch up with us. ■ Consider it like this: If a business person is known as a ruthless negotiator, then he or she may do very well on some early deals. But after a while, that reputation for ruthlessness may start to make people wary of working with them. Vendors may start to go into negotiations with inflated starting figures, in the expectation of being beaten over the head for discounts. What works once or a few times early on for that "tough negotiator" may turn out to adjust the expectations of other parties, who start to implicitly account for those expectations. ■ The same goes for an economy. If people start to anticipate that governments will intervene in "stimulating" ways to support the economy when things get slow, then the effect of that stimulation may be so widely-anticipated that it no longer counts for anything. Look at the last few years: We've had Cash for Clunkers, housing bailouts, bank bailouts, student-loan bailouts, and even government subsidies for the replacement of old appliances. At some point or another, people start to assume that they'll get government support when things go bad...which in turn may only encourage more of the behavior that leads to trouble in the first place. ■ The solution isn't for the government to do nothing at all. That may be what the Austrian School wants, but the modern Austrian movement has to be careful about going too far. There is a valuable recognition of reality and practicality that is offered by the Chicago School that pulls Austrianism's extreme libertarianism back from the brink just enough to keep it from giving people complete economic indigestion. But if there is any rationality at all to how economies behave, then the Keynesians need to realize that, like a junkie for whom only ever-escalating hits of a drug deliver the same high, the people who make up an economy also get used to anticipating intervention. And if they're too inoculated by intervention to take responsibility for their own personal and household and business behavior, then trouble is most certainly ahead.

Business and Finance Survey says college students are infatuated with the idea of going to work for Google
Business majors...computer majors...even liberal-arts majors want to work there. For all the loudmouths who constantly bemoan "corporate America", there sure are a lot of people looking to work for big corporations. It would be interesting to know what proportion of students think seriously about working for much smaller companies, where their impact on results is much more direct.

Aviation News First private-sector delivery to International Space Station scheduled for Saturday
NASA is outsourcing deliveries to the ISS to contractors -- SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. SpaceX is planning to make their first launch this weekend.

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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May 19, 2012

Broadcasting Shareholders need to start voting "No"...a lot
Transcript from a 16-minute segment from the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio last Sunday.

Computers and the Internet A change to Google search results
They're calling it the "knowledge graph", a riff of sorts on Facebook's "social graph". The idea is that Google will start delivering summaries of information about a topic, rather than just a series of links. They're trying to answer the "next question" people are likely to ask about a given topic. This isn't anything new -- WolframAlpha has been serving up these kinds of results for a long time. But it's definitely a change of pace by Google.

Computers and the Internet Court order blocks access to lots of mainstream file-sharing sites in India
A court ruled in favor of the producers of some films being made in India, who argued that sites like Vimeo were allowing people to share their work and cut into their profits. But legitimate content on those sites is being blocked, too.

Computers and the Internet Facebook versus Google by the numbers

Computers and the Internet How your friends may be undermining your online security
Even innocuous things like untagged photos on Facebook or Twitter may still give away clues about your identity that you might want to think twice about letting out

Computers and the Internet American parents are some of the world's snoopiest
A survey for antivirus company AVG says that 61% of American parents access their teenagers' Facebook accounts without the kids knowing. Ideally, there would be more openness and transparency about what happens online -- but there are likely a lot of kids who wouldn't willingly let their parents supervise their Facebook habits. Let it be noted, of course, that now that Facebook is entirely mainstream and known by everyone, that there is a tremendous market opportunity for an "anti-Facebook" alternative where kids could go about their social networking with less notice and supervision...while still being able to technically tell their parents the truth when asked, "Can I see what's on your Facebook page?" Youthful rebellion will always present lucrative opportunities to those who are paying attention.

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May 21, 2012

Science and Technology Human knowledge is constructive and additive
Take a look at the 1887 newspaper coverage of the construction of a railroad bridge across the Missouri River at Sioux City, Iowa. The pictures alone should cause one to step back and think, "Would I even volunteer to try to build a bridge across a river today, using modern tools and all of the safety equipment available?" No? Then imagine what kind of guts it took to build things like that before most cities had electric streetlights. What's perhaps more remarkable is that some bridges from that era are still in use today. ■ It just goes to show that human knowledge is additive -- that is, we build upon what the knowledge of the people who came before us (as long as they have the courtesy to write it down and pass it along). The awful counter-examples -- like the destruction of the Library of Alexandria -- are the kinds of human failures we should fear and avoid most of all. Pity us for going through a Great Recession, perhaps, but it's not as though we as a species forgot everything we learned before 2007. As long as we continue to add to the knowledge base -- and document it! -- life will continue to get better for our descendants. And maybe for us, if we find ways to live longer.

Humor and Good News David Mitchell colorfully explains investment banking failures

Humor and Good News An elaborate tour of San Francisco
(Video) It's a mystery what kind of brain-wiring it takes to inspire one to create a toothpick sculpture with multiple "marble runs" embedded within it -- but the result is certainly bewildering and amusing at the same time.

Water News Some things you should know about heavy rainfall


May 22, 2012

Business and Finance Possibly the single most ridiculous stock analysis ever
A Forbes contributor analyzes stock purchases made by Warren Buffett, but uses so-called "technical analysis". Technical analysis, plain and simple, is bunk. Hogwash. Bullhockey. It's the use of stock charts, looking at past results, to predict future results. Can people make money doing it? Sure. Just like they could make money flipping a coin or shaking a Magic 8 Ball. ■ The only reason to buy a stock is that one thinks he or she will get more in return from the purchase than he or she gives up. Further refined, one should also seek to be getting more in return for putting up that capital (i.e., buying the stock with cash) than one could obtain by investing in what is called a "riskless" asset, like a US Treasury Bill. ■ The only sane way to evaluate whether such a return is likely is to make a calculation of intrinsic value -- determining three things: What the company's net assets are worth today, what the company can be conservatively estimated to produce in net earnings over a reasonable time period (usually ten years), and how much that is worth per share of stock. If by that test a stock's price is higher than its intrinsic value, then it's not a good investment. ■ Technical analysis is nothing more than a wager on the sanity, insanity, and moods of millions of other people. The same people who get whipped up over voting on "American Idol" and buying hipster glasses. Using technical analysis to pass comment or judgment on investments -- especially those made by the world's most famous fundamental-analysis investor -- is just plain ridiculous.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft opens So.cl to the general public
So.cl looks a great deal like Google Plus (though, suspiciously, it doesn't always want to show up on the Mozilla Firefox browser). It's supposedly geared more towards encouraging collaborative research by folks like college students than towards getting people to share minute-by-minute updates on their experiences in the fast-food line, like other social-networking sites. Worth dipping a toe in the water? Maybe.

The United States of America China's central bank has unique direct access to lending to the US Treasury
The opportunities to lend aren't going away anytime soon: The Congressional Budget Office says that if we go ahead with higher taxes and spending cuts in the start of 2013, we could go right into a new recession. No politician wants to preside over one of those, so undoubtedly we'll find that the Federal spending leviathan will continue to borrow from China to spend in the USA.

Business and Finance "Risks are large and tilted clearly to the downside."
That's what the IMF says about the UK's economy thanks to trouble in the Euro zone, and the risks back and forth among them. The US should care because the UK is our #6 trading partner overall (year-to-date), and our fifth-biggest importer. If they stop buying, that means we stop selling.

Aviation News Airport lines for the Olympics could be four hours long
Which, in and of itself, creates a whole new type of security hazard. It's one risk to let people through and onto planes unscreened or poorly-screened. It's another to have large groups of people queued up in long lines, waiting to go through security checkpoints.

Business and Finance A surprising number of people seem to have seen through the Facebook stock bubble

Humor and Good News "[R]oyalty is a confidence trick and that requires confidence"
David Mitchell's column takes a paragraph or two to get rolling, but the payoff later is worth it. His best line: "What seems unpleasantly vulgar in a tycoon is appropriately headstrong in a king."

The United States of America Handicapping the race for Treasury Secretary 2013
Timothy Geithner says he expects to leave the job, even if President Obama wins a second term in office, so there will likely be a new Treasury Secretary next year, one way or another.

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May 23, 2012

Health Skin cells from 61-year-old man become brand-new baby heart cells
If this research doesn't blow your mind, you're not going to be amazed by anything. But if it's up your alley, then you might also want to see what's happened at MIT, where a team has developed a non-toxic coating that lets ketchup spill right out of the bottle.

Health A cheaper, faster, more accurate test for pancreatic cancer
Can we please do whatever is earthly necessary to expedite this test's rush to the market?

Business and Finance Facebook and its bank underwriters face lawsuits
Some stock traders -- it's hard to call them "investors" for paying the hugely-inflated Facebook IPO price -- are suing, saying that some of the underwriting banks told selected investors about some disappointing forecasts but withheld that information from others.

Computers and the Internet The browser wars are close to a three-way global tie
Among Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox

Science and Technology Change your light bulbs, Texas!
The state, among its many other peculiarities, is pretty much on its own when it comes to electricity -- it's largely on its own independent grid. And the operator of that grid says they're going to start cutting it really close between maximum supply and demand over the next few years. Time to switch to LED bulbs, folks!

Science and Technology Neil deGrasse Tyson deserves a pat on the back
"Fast Company" recognizes him as one of the "100 most creative people in business". The important thing, really, is that he's taken up the job of popularizing science -- making sure it's something for which people see a need in their daily lives, and in ways that aren't just way-out-in-the-cosmos abstract.

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May 25, 2012

News "I'm not really sure I want to be part of a government any more [...] that behaves this way"
The Minneapolis City Council voted 7-6 to give a total subsidy of $306 million to build a new stadium for the Vikings, but not everybody agrees it's the right thing to do. Many an argument will be made about how a stadium helps the local economy. But has anyone considered that this project -- which obligates the city, apparently, to subsidize the project through 2046 -- may outlast the popularity of football itself? A lot could happen in the next 34 years. They may so drastically change the rules of football in order to avoid concussions, for instance, that the game no longer appeals to people. Or tastes may simply change. Remember how baseball -- America's pastime -- was thought to have one foot already in the grave until the McGwire-Sosa home run era? It may sound like heresy, but the same thing could happen to football.

Humor and Good News This campaign ad...
...is too goofy to be serious, but not funny enough to be satirical. It's like there were three people involved -- one who wanted to make a funny ad (hoping it would go viral), one who's a true believer in what the candidate is saying, and the candidate himself (who seems to be half off his rocker). It sounds as though he's a long-shot candidate anyway. Thank goodness. (Incidentally, one should avoid wearing hats with the name "Barth" in order to avoid an unfortunate 80s reference.)

Computers and the Internet Google gets a million requests a month to remove copyright infringements from search results

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May 26, 2012

Business and Finance Google closes on purchase of Motorola Mobility
But, right out of the gate, they're making big mistakes. The old CEO is out, and a Google transplant is in. And Google CEO Larry Page says "he's already off to great start with some very strong new hires for the Motorola team". Rule of thumb for businesses: If you like the way a company is working well enough to buy it, keep the management in place. Truly good managers are hard to find. On the other hand, if you don't like the management, why would you buy the company in the first place? For its physical assets? ■ Google is doing something that could very well turn out to be smart -- having vertical integration from the phone people use to access the Internet up through the services that they use while there. And Motorola has been making some good phones lately -- the Droid Razr Maxx is a really good smartphone. Really good. But this is a big gamble for Google -- $12.9 billion big -- and they're paying $64.3 million to get rid of the CEO they decided not to keep around. So, in essence, they're saying that the replacement CEO is worth $130 million to the company...the amount they're paying to get rid of the proven guy who's leaving Motorola Mobility, plus the amount they'll have to compensate the new guy (which has to be at least as much over the next few years as the value of the "golden parachute" they're giving the guy who's leaving. ■ It's decisions like these that should give Google shareholders heartburn and give the rest of us pause to consider whether Google can really remain a juggernaut in its second decade.

Health Injections without the needle
MIT researchers have developed it -- and it could improve delivery of vaccines to the developing world as well as reduce the risk of infections by contaminated needles.

Computers and the Internet Someone attacked a University of Nebraska database with data on 654,000 people
Social Security numbers, addresses, grades, financial-aid information, even bank account details for some people. It's a big attack -- though it's unclear what information they were able to download, if any.

Weather and Disasters "[C]uriosity got the best of us and we watched it for a few seconds"
A family watched two tornadoes merge together on their farm before they decided to go to the basement, whereupon the tornado destroyed the house above them. It's possible we sometimes get a little too casual about tornadoes in the Midwest.

Weather and Disasters Beryl is a strange little storm
It's a subtropical storm (bringing about regular tropical-storm warnings), and it's moving to the southwest, which is an odd direction for a storm on the Atlantic coast to go

Computers and the Internet How the FBI plans to snoop on the Internet in the future
A unit based in Virginia will be working on ways to conduct surveillance on phone calls, Internet activity, voice-over-IP calls, and other communications

Science and Technology The Golden Gate Bridge turns 75

Computers and the Internet Google will warn users with infected computers to get the DNSChanger Trojan removed

News If you decide to go skydiving, do not -- DO NOT! -- chicken out at the last minute
It could cause you to slip out of the tandem harness. Yikes.

Science and Technology A motorcycle that never tips off of two wheels
It's a "self-stabilizing two-wheeler" with an electric powertrain and it has two doors and a steering wheel. It's not a car, nor a motorcycle. It stays upright using two high-RPM gyroscopes. But it looks just about as likely to get a driver killed in a wreck as a Smart Car.

Computers and the Internet New Microsoft user agreements would prevent class-action lawsuits
They've been a major nuisance for Microsoft for a long time, so blocking them entirely would mean a lot of added certainty for their projections and operations

Computers and the Internet So, what's really happening with the team that developed WebOS for Palm?
They got absorbed into HP, but then HP cancelled the enterprise. Now, rumors abound that some of them will move to Google. Officially, the ecosystem around it is now "sponsored by HP", but is supposed to become an open-source affair.

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May 27, 2012

Business and Finance Do we require too many licenses, and are they too hard to get?
A rather wide swath of jobs require some sort of professional licensure or certification from the government. Some of those are for good reason -- but others are nothing more than relics of a guild system. That is, sometimes people who are already in an occupation try to keep other people from joining that same occupation and do so by raising barriers like licensure requirements. ■ There can be legitimate arguments made for licensure -- especially where the health and safety of others are involved. But licensure isn't the only way to ensure the protection of others. The private sector does it: The Michelin guides are renowned for giving people insight about hotels and restaurants -- which can be invaluable information for someone from out of town. Consumer Reports is another prime example. ■ Insurance companies and banks also perform this role, though they do so without most consumers noticing. Insurance companies (if they're smart) invest in active risk management, seeking to limit their losses on policy claims. And banks that do their due diligence when lending money aren't going to hand over cash to borrowers if they expect those borrowers to run a shoddy operation. Nor will they usually lend money for real estate without requiring an inspection for health and safety. ■ When government intervention is required, it can often be done just as well through reactive enforcement as by imposing preemptive licensure requirements. Most Americans handle their taxes quite well on the honor system, knowing that the consequences of crossing the IRS are pretty grave. Besides, preemptive licensure can give people a false sense of security: Just because someone has been licensed to practice medicine is no guarantee that they're actually a good doctor. ■ Licenses, of course, can make sense. But it's important to weigh whether we require too many or whether their requirements are needlessly burdensome -- because a lot of jobs that could offer people a good opportunity to earn a living in a skilled occupation can also require burdensome costs and efforts to obtain licensure. That can artificially allow people already in the occupation to become rent seekers (in the economic sense), keeping potential competitors from gaining entry into a market where they could make money for themselves and provide a competitive price for consumers.

Computers and the Internet Your computer should know why you're smiling
The MIT Media Lab has been working on a project to make computers more responsive to the emotions of their users -- and one of the discoveries they've made is that 90% of people smile (briefly) when they're frustrated. But it's not the same smile as the one we give when watching a funny movie. So they're learning how to program the computers to know the difference, so that someday in the not-so-distant future, Siri won't think you're laughing along with her when in fact you're getting ready to chuck her against a wall. ■ But don't try using Siri if you're working at IBM, where management has decided that Siri and Apple's dictation features are to be turned off...because Apple isn't very clear about what it does with the information it captures from voice queries and transcriptions. IBM, being reasonably cautious, figures that it probably does't want people leaving a trail of IBM research and internal details on the servers of a potential rival.

News Illinois House of Representatives votes for $1-a-pack cigarette tax increase
The plan is to use the money to fund health-care expenses for the poor. The hazard is that such a large increase will give incentives to tobacco bootleggers.

Threats and Hazards Counterfeit parts found 1800 times in US military aircraft
And the total number of parts was over a million. 70% of the fakes came from China. The world has to start getting a grip on counterfeit products coming from China. The problem is huge and growing.

Business and Finance Worst headline of the day: "The week ahead: Should you be buying or selling?"
It's an example of a widespread but painful error in thinking within the financial universe. Nobody should be making decisions to buy or sell on a week-ot-week basis. There are really only two legitimate things to do in the market over time: Either just patiently invest on a dollar-cost-average basis using market index funds (and then withdraw those same funds slowly upon retirement), or invest very deliberately in a very concentrated way with a handful of companies which you take the time to understand well. If people think the stock market is to be "bought" and "sold" from week to week depending upon the sentiments of millions of other people, then they should really step away from the market altogether -- for their own safety.

Business and Finance Today's extremely low-return investing environment

Computers and the Internet Words that will get you flagged by the Department of Homeland Security

Health Shawn Johnson talks about having a healthy body image

Iowa This is what passes for crime news in Iowa
Why a man would have taken his zebra and macaw into a bar, nobody will likely ever know

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - May 26, 2012

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May 29, 2012

News It's not the OJ Simpson trial, that's for sure
Rajat Gupta is on trial to determine whether he cheated the stock market by using insider information. The judge in the case is worried that the lawyers on both sides are boring the jury to death, saying, "We need to find a way to sharpen the presentation on both sides and get it more focused." Unfortunately, this is why Warren Buffett noted in his year 2000 letter to shareholders that "More money, it has been noted, has been stolen with the point of a pen than at the point of a gun." People are neither well-versed in things financial, nor are most people easily excited about or interested in those things. In a very real way, theft by insider trading or accounting fraud is made easier by the fact that so many people find it just so infernally inscrutable. Because financial crimes don't involve gunfire or stabbings, they just don't seem as viscerally exciting as violent crimes. But they can be enormously harmful, and on a much larger scale than a single armed robbery.

Computers and the Internet Another view on the future of Facebook
The site simply won't last in predominance forever. It probably has about three really good years left. At some point or another, people will decide that too much sharing is just too much. And there's no shortage of potential rivals who have already arrived on the scene -- or that may appear later.

Iowa Iowa's supreme court isn't "radical", and political candidates have an obligation to be honest
A state senate candidate in central Iowa is accusing the Iowa State Bar Association of creating a "radical" supreme court for the state. He's referring to the court's decision in Varnum v. Brien, which was the correct decision -- even if he doesn't like it. The decision -- which had the effect of making gay marriage a legal right in Iowa -- was not "radical". It was, in fact, a fair decision under the state's constitution, which is all we can ask of our courts to deliver.


May 30, 2012

America's labor force participation rate

Business and Finance Fewer people are doing all the work
That's America's labor-force participation rate, measured from quarter to quarter. It measures the number of people who are working out of the total adult population (ages 16 and up). The number hasn't been this low since the early 1980s (when the trend was on the way up, thanks to Baby Boomers still joining the workforce). This graph undoubtedly shows the start of the retirement wave and just how quickly things are already changing. So...for those people still working, if you feel like there's nobody left around the office or the shop, it's not just in your head. And, by the way, it's happening much faster than the forecasts predicted. Just a decade or so ago, government forecasters expected the rate to remain above 63% until at least 2025. We could very easily drop below that number this year.

The United States of America Fisher House: A great charity for the week of Memorial Day
The Fisher House Foundation ensures that military families have someplace to stay when their loved ones in the armed services are hospitalized. Given the solemnity of Memorial Day, it's a highly worthwhile charity. Also worth considering for your charitable dollars: The USO, which provides entertainment and other relief services to active-duty members of the military. Both are outstanding charities.

@briangongol on Twitter

May 31, 2012

Humor and Good News "What would George do?"

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