Gongol.com Archives: July 2012
Brian Gongol

July 2012
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July 3, 2012

Computers and the Internet How many people don't understand the rules about what shouldn't be shared online?
Apparently, many. So many that a site like We Know What You're Doing can document dozens of people admitting to hating their bosses, doing drugs, being hungover, or giving away private information for all the world to see. Stop the over-sharing!

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July 4, 2012

Weather and Disasters It's hot on the 4th of July, and we can't blame the fireworks
100 degrees and hotter in lots of places, and some people still don't have power due to a storm last Friday

The United States of America In a free society, it's essential that the public retain the right to document police behavior
Transparency is essential when it comes to enforcement of the law. Hence the response to the Attorney General over the "Fast and Furious" program.

Computers and the Internet Facebook's e-mail system: A magnet for spammers?

Computers and the Internet Google wants a stake in the tablet computer market
They're having Asus build the 7" tablet for them, and it'll run (naturally) on the Android operating system

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July 11, 2012

Business and Finance New TD Ameritrade headquarters is supposed to look like old-school ticker tape
In a world increasingly filled with dull, unimaginative, and just plain ugly architecture, at least it's something new

Business and Finance The gap between what businesses need and what job-seekers can offer is too large
A survey of hiring managers by CareerBuilder suggests that it's costing the economy. Meanwhile, college graduates are saying (out loud), "I think I just should have majored in business." No kidding? Liberal-arts degrees are fine (especially as second majors), but we need more math and science majors. A lot more.

Iowa Electricity prices went to 17 times normal last Thursday
The heat wave sent demand through the roof, while some power plants were offline and couldn't produce

News Even the Taliban hates Al Qaeda

Iowa Iowa City's attempt to replace panhandlers with donation meters

Computers and the Internet Military theorist says the US should be recruiting hackers to fight cyberwars for us


July 13, 2012

Computers and the Internet Single piece of malware attacks Windows, Mac, and Linux at the same time
That's a pretty unusual combination

Computers and the Internet Digg sells for $500,000
The social news site was once valued by some investors at $175,000,000. Now it's been sold for scrap parts, in essence.

Business and Finance Economy continues to grow, but at a slower pace
It's shameful how badly the economy is covered in the news. There's the rate of economic growth, and then there's the rate of change in that rate of growth. It's not good that the economy's rate of growth is starting to slow down -- but at least it's still growing. That's not quite the same as "flatlining". Imprecision of language leads to imprecision of thought in things like this, and if there's one subject about which people should be smarter (and eager to become smarter), it's economics.

Iowa Prairie Meadows has biggest-ever year for casino revenues
How should people really feel, though, about the fact that it's on rented public land and is operated by a nonprofit group? At the very least, it's an uncomfortable arrangement in which the county government gets subsidized by gamblers. It's been suggested (only a little bit tongue-in-cheek) that the profits from casinos should be funneled directly to the teaching of math, probability, and statistics in schools.

Business and Finance Will municipal bankruptcies become more common?
Warren Buffett thinks so. There's no question, though, that people have gone a little bit daft: As Buffett also points out, people are accepting zero and even negative rates of return on Federal bonds -- for periods out to 20 years. That's just plain nuts.

Iowa State senate candidate takes a leave of absence from the real world

Health Inducing hypothermia can save some babies' lives

@briangongol on Twitter

July 14, 2012

Computers and the Internet Google wants its self-driving cars to become "predominant" in our lifetimes
The first mass audiences for self-piloted vehicles will probably be the trucking industry (if they can get convoys of trucks to line up with one another, they could potentially get away with far more truckloads being driven by far fewer drivers) and outside salespeople (for whom the ability to do more useful tasks as they go from place to place would be immediately monetizable). The road-weary salesperson of the past, plunking down at a desk in a hotel room late at night to catch up on paperwork and filling out orders, could be replaced by one who gets his or her work done from the road and whose car delivers him or her home safely at 1:00 in the morning. ■ Of course, there's always the problem of bugs -- like the ones that make it "difficult" to fix errors in Google Maps, apparently:

A Google Maps error that should be recognizable to Iowans

Computers and the Internet At last, people are starting to grumble about ad-supported websites being "the only way"

Computers and the Internet Some very ambitious thoughts about what should come next in technology
Among the (probably correct) observations: Google could be supplanted by a good search engine that satisfies a very specific audience. You don't have to win over the entire Internet-user audience to make a meaningful step forward.

Business and Finance Investors: Beware technology stocks
Not because they're bad companies...but because many of them are being built so that no matter how many shares of the company you own, the founder still has control.

News End the swoosh!

News How old are Olympic athletes?
And how old have they been throughout the history of the modern games? Graphing enthusiasts have sought to answer that question.

Science and Technology Robots attempting to express emotion
Obviously, robots don't have emotions. But as we should expect to encounter them more in the future, technicians are working on ways of making them seem more humane so that we can use them more naturally. But it's going to take a while to get this right.

Threats and Hazards Should the police automatically scan the license plates of every passing car?
They're already doing it in some places. On the positive side, the technology certainly could be useful for catching fugitives. But is it really worth the cost in the erosion of the privacy of ordinary people? The argument that "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear" is too simplistic: Few of us are doing anything wrong when we go home at night, but we still draw the blinds shut. Not many people choose to live in all-glass houses on busy streets. Yet if we're letting the police automatically track, measure, and store data on where we are, even when we're not doing anything wrong, then we're asking for trouble.

Computers and the Internet Ten reasons people are already trying to heap dirt on RIM/BlackBerry's grave
It's premature to bury the company just yet. But there's no doubt they have an uphill battle, and it's only a reminder of just how awful it must be to operate a company in the lightning-fast consumer technology industry. The changes are so swift that it's almost impossible to be sane and remain afloat.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

July 15, 2012

Iowa Iowa's public-sector pension plan is only 80% funded
It was almost fully-funded at the start of the century, so something has to be done. Opinions differ -- the state treasurer, for instance, wants to put a cap on the amount that can be paid out to people who were high-income members of the program. But that may have the effect of discouraging people from taking those public-sector jobs if they can get cushier benefits in the private sector instead. At the same time, taxpayers probably aren't going to be very happy if they're asked to foot the bill for the shortfall...particularly if they're among the majority who have defined-contribution retirement plans instead of defined-benefit pensions. People are living longer than ever and we're in a very low-return investment environment. Something's going to have to change, because the devil-may-care habits of yesterday aren't suitable anymore.

Computers and the Internet Big password breach at Yahoo
Half a million passwords were stolen and posted on the Internet. The company was storing them -- irresponsibly -- in a non-encrypted database. Most people won't be affected, but it would be wise for anyone using any Yahoo services -- especially the email service -- to change their passwords.

Science and Technology Will the auto problem of the future be emissions or gridlock?
Bill Ford thinks (and is pushing his company to act upon the notion) that emissions will be reduced to practically zero within the foreseeable future. But he thinks the world's number of autos on the road will quadruple in the next 40 years, and that it will cause chaos in heavily-populated areas worldwide.

Business and Finance How 25 famous logos evolved into their current states
Not all are even any good -- but it's hard not to have a soft spot for the Shell logo. Something about it seems just outrageously friendly for a major oil company.

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - July 14, 2012

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July 16, 2012

Threats and Hazards The Federal government is taking time-stamped photos of license plates in four states
...and saving the records for two years. The data recorded is being shared among agencies, too. The argument is that it's a tool for catching drug smugglers and illegal immigrants. But what about the completely innocent people whose behavior and patterns are now being recorded and aggregated by the Federal government? There's too much surveillance creeping into our daily lives, and though it gives us dramatic videos to watch, that doesn't justify the creeping Big Brotherism.

Business and Finance Kids need simple tasks and basic job training
Straight from the mouth of one participant in a summer-jobs program in Omaha: "Summer Works has helped me a lot, because I would be doing bad stuff right now, so instead of getting into trouble, I work."

Broadcasting They're taking the "MS" out of "MSNBC"
NBC's parent company is going to buy out Microsoft's share of their online partnership (Microsoft got out of the television partnership a few years ago), and they're each going to pursue their own online outlets. Microsoft will stick with MSN.com, and NBC will start pushing NBCNews.com for their news services, and MSNBC.com for their opinion-driven programming. It's surprising that Microsoft hasn't asked them to divorce the "MS" out of the "MSNBC" name to avoid having the reputation of the cable network's left-leaning opinion shows look like they're associated with Microsoft.

@briangongol on Twitter

July 17, 2012

Socialism Doesn't Work "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
- President Barack Obama, July 13, 2012

News What kind of numbskull pulls the plug on a Springsteen/McCartney concert?
Someone who was more interested in following the letter of the law than in using some common sense, that's who.

Computers and the Internet Yahoo hires (yet another) new CEO
This one -- Marissa Mayer -- is the third in a year. But she comes from Google, where she was one of the first two dozen people on staff. She's young -- only 37 -- and (refreshingly) has her own presence on the Internet, with @marissamayer on Twitter and a Google Plus account that hasn't quite yet been updated to reflect her new job role.

Humor and Good News Thought baby names couldn't get worse? Wrong.
Some people are bound and determined to make their children permanently miserable.

Threats and Hazards Woman pleads guilty to pimping her underage sister in Coralville
Revolting. Just revolting. What kind of human could do that to her own sister?

Threats and Hazards Terrorism suspects are getting through Britain's immigration checkpoints
They've tried to accommodate the rush of Olympics-related travelers by increasing staff levels at places like Heathrow, but the newbies seem to be missing lots of suspicious types

@briangongol on Twitter

July 18, 2012

Business and Finance Is manufacturing the future?
The White House is trumpeting a report released by an advisory council talking about the future of "advanced" manufacturing in the US. Some of the comments are sensible, and recognize that manufacturing isn't just about the Dow 30 Industrials ("While some of the largest U.S. firms have the depth and resources to be ready for this challenge, a significant number of small and medium-sized U.S. firms operate largely outside the present innovation system." -- page ix). But on the other side of things, there's already supposed to be an existing framework in place for academia to deliver information and advanced technological knowledge to the public -- the extension systems around the nation's land-grant colleges. And there's reason in general to be skeptical of any plan that talks about using the government "in partnership with" the private sector. When government policy and spending become involved, there's a very serious and inherent risk that only those who are well-connected with government will benefit.

Humor and Good News A "Star Wars" version of "Call Me Maybe"

Humor and Good News "New ad urges hipsters to go to Applebee's ironically"
(Video) "The Onion" and "South Park" might as well be designated as extensions of the National Archives today, since they're probably the two best records of popular culture in this entire era. The only thing more ridiculous than a hipster is a hipster in running gear.

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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July 19, 2012

Science and Technology Natural gas overtakes coal as the #1 source of US electrical power
On the bright side, natural gas is insanely cheap right now, and it leaves behind a smaller greenhouse-gas footprint than burnt coal. But on the other hand, as Charlie Munger pointed out at this year's Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' meeting, the United States has an enormous natural resource "in the bank" with all of that natural gas sitting in the ground, and using it now in large volumes just because it's temporarily cheap may prove to be a very, very regrettable decision in the future.

Business and Finance Man retires after a 58-year career at just one store
Jack Diamond sold furniture at the Nebraska Furniture Mart from 1954 until this week. He moved to Nebraska after being a member of the Polish Resistance against the Nazis in WWII. Remarkable.

Iowa Automated traffic enforcement hits a new record in Des Moines
Cameras (speed or red-light) were responsible for 4,762 citations in June -- or more than 158 per day. Nobody needs to excuse anyone else for breaking the law, but there is neither the evidence that 158 daily tickets are preventing a meaningful number of traffic accidents, nor that the automated enforcement of the law justifies giving people the sense that they are perpetually under surveillance.

Science and Technology Are scientists working too hard at the wrong tasks?
And is it causing burnout? One columnist thinks so.

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July 20, 2012

Science and Technology Even scientists don't like reading science articles with lots of equations
According to a study by a couple of British authors, "The density of equations in an article has a significant negative impact on citation rates, with papers receiving 28% fewer citations overall for each additional equation per page in the main text." But when authors moved their equations to the appendix rather than the main text, the effect went away.

Science and Technology China now emits almost as much carbon dioxide per person as Europe
The country has been the world's biggest single-nation source of carbon dioxide for half a decade now, and it's rapidly closing in on European levels of per-person production. If current trends continue, it won't be long before it eclipses US production per person. So, here's a question: Are there people who up until now have argued against controls on CO2 emissions, but upon learning that China's production rates are enormous and rising rapidly might change opinions and think that controls may be wise? The problem with greenhouse gases and global warming is that much of what we think is cloaked either in unknowables or in pre-conceived notions? There are some on the anti-controls side who will argue against any kinds of controls (no matter what the evidence) -- up until the point when the problem can be blamed more on somebody else (in this case, the Chinese). And there are others who are quite certain that no matter what the consequences, draconian limits must be imposed -- even if an argument can be made that it would be smarter to spend the same amount of money on a range of other life-saving programs than on global-warming projects.

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July 21, 2012

Aviation News Er...that plane doesn't go here
Someone landed a C-17 (one whale of a plane) at a dinky general-aviation airport near Tampa. They probably meant to land at a nearby Air Force Base, where the runway is three times as long. Not the kind of error that results in people keeping their flying careers, no matter how impressive it was that they were able to stop the plane before it went off the runway. (Also pretty impressive: The video of the Air Force managing to get it to take off from the same under-sized runway.)

Humor and Good News "More discarded good habits than a swimming pool at a convent"
The Irish comedian Colm O'Regan describes his efforts at self-improvement as generally futile. But that one-liner makes up for them all.

Computers and the Internet On the hazards of using social media without understanding the language
A site called "Celeb Boutique" was forced to backtrack like nobody's backtracked in years after their Twitter account managers posted comments about an "Aurora dress" in response to a spike in comments about "Aurora" on Twitter. Of course, the spike in "Aurora" mentions was in response to the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The company had to backpedal, saying "Our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend." US-based or not, someone should've used better judgment and at least checked for a reason or two why the word might've appeared in the news before putting something stupid on Twitter. But that the public relations service is "NOT US-based" hints that Celeb Boutique needs to re-think whether they outsource something as vital as the company's external image.

Computers and the Internet When to use GPS tracking on your workouts

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July 23, 2012

Business and Finance Smaller paychecks at Goldman Sachs
By "smaller", the Wall Street Journal means an average of $225,697 for six months. There's a long way for that number to decline further before it sounds even remotely rational

Aviation News 30,000 domestic drones by the end of the decade?
We shouldn't let that just happen without some serious consideration

Health Some think salt intake creates a stomach-cancer risk

Weather and Disasters Lightning sets off huge wildfire in north-central Nebraska


July 24, 2012

Computers and the Internet We need digital wills to manage our online legacies after death

Humor and Good News This man really cares about his classical music
(Video - coarse language) The political diatribe and the coarse language aren't really necessary, but the analysis of Beethoven's 9th Symphony is rather enlightening

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July 25, 2012

Computers and the Internet Apple releases its newest Mac operating system

Broadcasting It's morning in America
(Video) Say what you will about Ronald Reagan as a President, the man was a skilled broadcaster, pulling off a four-minute campaign script without a stumble. Most broadcasters are happy to get through a 60-second recording in one take.

Computers and the Internet Some common user complaints about websites

Business and Finance Ouch: UK gets hit with a sharp new recession


July 26, 2012

Business and Finance Judging job candidates by their grammar
Interesting hypothesis: If you don't know the rules for "its" vs. "it's" by age 20, your learning curve is too flat for you to be qualified for other work.

Science and Technology What woods you should avoid using to smoke meat

Humor and Good News The Onion: "Horrible couple really wants wedding to reflect their personalities"

Humor and Good News Tomorrow will be Ron Santo Day at Wrigley Field

Business and Finance Chicago lures 3,000 jobs at Motorola away from a neighboring suburb
The jobs will move from Libertyville to the Merchandise Mart -- a distance of about 40 miles (but no real migration out of the Chicagoland area). This begs the question: What's the point? Didn't Chicago just steal a few jobs from a neighbor without really creating anything new? This is exactly what's wrong with economic-development projects: Nothing new is really being created. We're just shuffling the deck.

Business and Finance On a quest to eradicate poverty around the world

News A pitched battle is being fought over Britain's economy
Things have turned south for the economy, but the government is way out of fiscal balance

Business and Finance America's factories are filling up, and mortgage rates keep falling down


July 27, 2012

The United States of America As the Olympics begin...

Computers and the Internet Temporary outages at both Google and Twitter
Always have a backup strategy for services like email

Agriculture Drought has really been a catastrophe for Midwestern corn

The United States of America Is Cuba really open to talks with the US?
Fidel Castro's brother (who is the country's president, after all) says so. But isn't the reality that the island will someday end up being absorbed into the United States -- probably voluntarily -- after the Communist regime dies out?

Computers and the Internet Anonymous accounts on Twitter? Maybe not.
The company is likely to hand over the details of an account-holder who thought he was conducting an anonymous parody of a newspaper executive.

Weather and Disasters Those creepy rolling clouds

Computers and the Internet Kansas City gets Google Fiber

Aviation News Delta is shutting down Comair

The United States of America The lesser-known other side of the Lincoln Memorial

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July 28, 2012

Threats and Hazards Speed cameras and automated road monitors everywhere, but the police still can't catch a drunk driver

Computers and the Internet The President as cyber-commander-in-chief
The President turns to the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal in an effort to push in favor of a bill about cybersecurity

Business and Finance Seen on CNBC the other day: The obvious

@briangongol on Twitter

July 31, 2012

Computers and the Internet Twitter suspension of journalist looks fishy
Was it because of the ostensible violation of terms (that he posted the email address of an NBC executive), or because he was so sharply critical of NBC's Olympics coverage and NBC somehow put the pressure on Twitter to block him? Either way, it looks odd -- it's not exactly difficult to reverse-engineer the email addresses of most people at major corporations, once their particular version of [firstname].[lastname]@[corporation].com can be worked out. ■ Twitter took a few days to reverse its decision, so the journalist in question has his account back. But some real damage has been done -- including the revelation that Twitter was actively watching out for NBC when it alerted them to the comments that led to the suspension. That undoubtedly will resonate badly with many users who would prefer not to think that their comments were being watched carefully (or even automatically) for criticisms of organizations like NBC. ■ It should also be a reminder to people that you should never rely upon an outside service to deliver your primary "face" to the digital world. Today, Twitter and Facebook make it easy for celebrities and non-celebrities alike to park their digital selves on those sites. But Facebook and Twitter should always -- always -- be secondary to a stand-alone website under your direct control, no matter whether you're Joe Sixpack or the United Nations. Intermediaries (whether they're Facebook or Twitter or Wordpress or Blogger or Google Plus or any of a hundred other choices) can be fickle. They can fail. They can change policies. They can pull the plug on you. And if you're dependent upon them for your primary digital presence, you're at their mercy. Buy your own domain name and have a site hosted by a trusted webhosting provider. If you always have a backup of the content on that account (which you should), you can move to another webhost in a matter of minutes should any need ever exist. Use Twitter and Facebook to interact with people and to point people to that website -- of course. But don't rely upon them as your primary interface with the digital world.

Weather and Disasters Americans are woefully inclined to ignore weather warnings
About five years ago, the National Weather Service refined its system for issuing warnings -- changing from the old county-based system to an approach that confines warnings to just the areas expected to be hit by storms. Unfortunately, they chose the clunky (though accurate) name of threat-based polygon warnings. So even though the new warning system (also called "storm-based warnings") has resulted in far, far fewer unnecessary warnings, that point still hasn't gotten across to many people. ■ The reality is that the new warnings should be taken substantially more seriously than they were five years ago; if you're under a warning now, it's much more likely that there's a real threat nearby than under the old rules. But in practice, half of people say they aren't likely to act even if they receive notice of a warning, and a quarter of the general public are so stubborn (and stupid) that they insist on seeing some actual action (like a funnel cloud) before taking action. ■ Rather than letting natural selection take its course on these people, it may as well be acknowledged that no amount of public education is going to be enough to get these people to heed warnings and think ahead. So perhaps it's time to think about funding a project to give National Weather Service volunteers access to video-enabled autonomous aircraft -- call them "weather drones". ■ There's plenty of reason to be skeptical of the use of drones by law enforcement and government agencies, but this may be a role they could play without endangering civil liberties. In fact, one might imagine that a live video stream of a tornado would provide (a) valuable information to the National Weather Service, and (b) the kind of confirmation that the weather-warning skeptics might actually heed for their own good. They can be built for minimal cost -- around $1,000 -- and it's rapidly becoming easier to stream live video via cell-phone towers, thanks to the rapid deployment of 3G and 4G networks. It's obvious there are legions of people who already want to be storm chasers and tornado hunters, so it likely wouldn't even be all that difficult to enlist volunteers to do the work.

News Power outage in India affects population twice the size of the US
We frequently lack the kind of perspective we need to really understand the news

Broadcasting British government committee wants all TV to move to the Internet
They want to use the leftover radio spectrum space for mobile phones. That would/will require putting a heaping helping of brand-new fiber-optic cable into the ground, because the world's network just aren't ready yet to carry that much data.

Science and Technology The new Nobel Prizes are the Milner Awards

Threats and Hazards Where is the data going?
Des Moines and Sioux City are about to start using license-plate scanners to hunt down lawbreakers automatically. But what are they going to do with the data on the thousands of law-abiding citizens they pass? It's an epic threat to civil liberties.

Humor and Good News A small collection of mainly house-themed musicians

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