Gongol.com Archives: August 2012
Brian Gongol


August 2012
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August 2, 2012

Aviation News Is it worth $30 not to stand at the luggage claim in the airport?
For some people, definitely. American Airlines is going to offer a bag-delivery service starting Monday at 200 airports in the US.

Broadcasting One set of stupid television ads won't break a company, but...
Apple's new advertising campaign is about as lifeless and colorless as seems possible. Not a good way to define a company that built its entire brand upon "Think Different".

Computers and the Internet Windows 8 has been released to production
The upgrade price will be $40 for current users. Upgrades and fresh installations (right out of the box) will be released on October 26th.

Computers and the Internet If even three idiots are using a hand-sign for "hashtag", that's too many

Computers and the Internet Smartphones keep getting better
So what is Apple to do with the next iPhone? If every other manufacturer is going large, should Apple break the old mold (literally) and go with an iPhone 5 that's bigger than the iPhone 4? If they don't, is that going to leave them at a serious competitive disadvantage? On a related note, it's being reported that 2/3rds of applications in Apple's App Store never get downloaded.

Computers and the Internet Clock's ticking for those still using the old Facebook profile
They're going to force everyone onto their "timeline" design by the end of the year

News Is women's beach volleyball a feminist success?

Business and Finance Concentrated costs and diffuse benefits
One of the most challenging aspects to public budgeting of any sort is that there two different ways to split the bill for expenses -- concentrate them or spread them out -- and the things government spends money on can have benefits that are again either concentrated or diffused throughout the population. Things like the Air Force have both diffuse benefits and diffuse costs -- everyone benefits relatively equally, and everyone pitches in via income taxes. There isn't a lot of debate about those issues. Then there are things with concentrated benefits, which cause a huge number of our problems, especially when they have diffuse costs: There's always a good reason for the people who benefit to lobby heavily for everyone else to pay for the things they want, and that's why we get earmarks. (It's also why we get things like the National Endowment for the Arts -- the people who want it most are the artists it supports [a really concentrated benefit], and they argue that by spreading out the cost among everyone, the per-capita cost is next to nothing. Sure, there are lots of talking points about why the spending benefits everyone, but the reality is that the benefits are extremely concentrated among the actual recipients.) But things get really challenging when a situation arises like the one going on in Omaha right now, where the city faces a huge bill ($3 billion, perhaps) to separate its stormwater sewers from its sanitary sewers. It's a project with no real lobby -- the benefits are about as diffuse as they could possibly be, and nobody really notices their sewers unless they're fighting backups. The project has been mandated by the Federal government, so Omaha doesn't have a choice whether or when to do it. They have to spend money, starting now. But there are certain industries that use more water (and thus produce more sewage) than others, and a group of 19 of those companies is fighting a plan to make them pay 5% of the overall bill. Their argument in response is that there's no way to absorb those costs without cuts elsewhere -- or even, possibly, closures. There's no way to escape the fact that the project is going to be expensive and that someone will have to foot the bill. And, unfortuantely, it's not the kind of project that counts as "sexy" in any way, shape, or form, so there's really not even a way for anyone to find a political solution that will look good when re-election time comes around.

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August 3, 2012

Science and Technology Electric blackouts are on the rise
Blackouts are most uncommon in the Upper Midwest, but if you're in or near New York, the lights go out for an average of 214 minutes per year. In Japan, that number would be 4 minutes. And it's probably more than they'd like. One researcher says we can fix the problem with a "smart grid". Maybe. But something really needs to be done -- the 10-day outages in some places along the East Coast last month after a derecho blew through were just not acceptable in the 21st Century.

Computers and the Internet 83 million Facebook accounts are fake, bogus, or duplicated

Computers and the Internet Zynga wants so badly for you to spend all of your time playing games
But when will we really get around to productive games?

Aviation News Is Reagan National Airport just too close to trouble too much of the time?
The airport is a stone's throw from the White House, the Washington Monument, and the US Capitol -- not to mention the Pentagon. As a result, pilots have to follow some crazy instructions to get in and out of the airport. And an incident this week hints that there might just be a little too much going on in too tight a space for everyone's real safety.

News Lech Walesa endorses Mitt Romney

Humor and Good News Shameless plug: Help kickstart "Crocodile Life is Hard...and other observations"

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August 4, 2012

Business and Finance Stock-trading company causes its own miniature "flash crash"
One can see exactly how we got ourselves into the situation we're in today -- where a handful of companies with privilege and access are able to use computers to conduct instantaneous automated stock trades. And though none of the individual steps seems to have been wrong, the result is a real mess. And it's one in which those privileged firms try to convince themselves and the world that they're doing something of value by making stock markets more liquid. But liquidity itself isn't necessarily a good thing. If a plane crashed on a deserted island with 100 survivors, would anyone think it would serve any useful purpose to have ten of those survivors spend all day running back and forth, trading coconuts for seashells in order to ensure a "liquid market" for each? ■ The whole notion of high-frequency trading is based upon the notion of making lots of money by trading huge volumes of stock shares for very small profits. Hence algorithmic trading accounts for more than 60% of stock-market activity. But the whole notion is a total fallacy. Warren Buffett didn't get wealthy by swapping shares of stock all day for pennies a share. Real investing calls for discovering the real value (the so-called "intrinsic value") of a company, in terms of what it possesses and what it has the potential to create, and then acquiring a portion of ownership in that company when someone else is willing to sell it for a price below that intrinsic value. And because intrinsic value can only be estimated in very rough figures -- particularly because it involves making estimates ten years into the future -- one can only do it right by being extremely conservative and taking action only when the gap between the intrinsic value and the market price is big. It's practically the polar opposite of high-frequency trading.

Computers and the Internet How could Apple use its $117 billion in cash?
New York Times business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin suggests acquisitions from Nuance (makers of voice-recognition software) to Twitter to RIM to Sprint. There's no doubt the company is on a profitable roll right now -- bringing in $9 billion from the start of April to the end of June. Interestingly, with $112 billion in shareholders' equity, the company already has $89 billion in "long-term marketable securities". In other words, Apple is behaving like a gigantic mutual fund that happens to have a $3-billion-a-month inflow. (Sorkin's $117 billion figure is the sum of the company's cash, short-term marketable securities, and long-term marketable securities.)

Computers and the Internet Senate takes summer break without approving cybersecurity bill
That may be a good thing -- the Federal government has already made it clear it demands broad powers in case of a meaningful cyber-attack, and there are reasonable concerns that the bill as proposed would violate our expectations of privacy. The bill, called the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, does address an important matter -- cyber-attacks could be dreadful if carried out by an effective and motivated party. But we're talking about the same Federal government that failed to anticipate the means and methods of the 9/11 attacks, and couldn't respond quickly enough on that day to scramble armed fighters to protect the White House. In other words, their ability to anticipate threats and prepare appropriately is doubtful. Considering the speed at which Internet technologies change and evolve, it's hard to believe that a great deal of codification will make us safer. What might, on the other hand, is if insurance carriers were to start imposing real dollars-and-cents costs on companies that need coverage but that haven't initiated adequate cybersecurity protections.

Business and Finance We need a word other than "rich"
A Tumblr account re-posts pictures posted on Instagram of young people flaunting their spending. The name of the blog is "Rich Kids of Instagram", and that's probably the name most people would give it anyway. But there's something a little wrong about that title. "Rich" is one thing..."spoiled" is another. But then again, there are children in families with little or no money that are still spoiled rotten. "Overprivileged" just sounds whiny, but "wealthy" isn't the right word, either -- especially because the people who really get and stay rich from generation to generation aren't out blowing money on Ferraris for their children or $14,000 bar tabs. And they definitely aren't bragging about it on Twitter and Instagram. That's just short-term conspicuous consumption.

Health New evidence: Some cancers may come from rogue stem cells
That's as opposed to the theory that they come from mutations to already-differentiated cells.

Computers and the Internet New Illinois law says companies can't ask for employee passwords on social-networking sites

Science and Technology Is sports photography a dying art?
Great photos will continue to be produced, no doubt. But one has to wonder whether there will long be a point to having photographers even bother to try capturing still images. As HD video recording becomes easier to perform with ever-smaller cameras, won't we likely reach a point -- soon -- when someone can simply carry a camera, set it to snap pictures at a rate approaching that of video, and simply go back and take still frames from the video? Naturally, there will be matters of exposure time and shutter time to adjust and tweak, but photographers already routinely set their cameras to take multiple shots in a "machine-gun"/continuous/burst mode. Aren't we getting quite close to the time when that burst mode becomes virtually continuous...all the time? The point here being that perhaps in the next era, what matters won't be the ability to take the perfect action shot, so much as to be able to pick it out.

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August 6, 2012

Business and Finance Wishing just doesn't make it so
Economist Greg Mankiw points out that in the White House's latest review of the Federal budget, some assumptions are made about the future growth of the economy. That's fine -- we all have to make assumptions about the future. But those assumptions presently being made are pretty astonishingly rosy -- including guesses at 4.0% real economic growth in 2014, 4.2% in 2015, 3.9% in 2016, and 3.8% in 2017, before apparently settling into a long-term stable rate of 2.5%. But Mankiw notes that those estimates for 2014 through 2016 are each about a percentage point higher than what private-sector economists are anticipating. But that's not like being 1% different -- it's like being 25% different. ■ The government has a reason to hope for those higher rates of growth, since they mean Americans will pay more in income taxes, which in turn makes long-term estimates of Federal deficits look smaller. But the private-sector economists don't have the same incentive to guess high. For many of them, getting their estimates wrong means giving bad advice to businesses and investors, who can then punish them for being wrong by firing them. ■ For an idea of just how rosy the White House estimates really are, the history of GDP growth in America shows that the last time we could expect average growth rates to top 4% was back in the 1960s. Growth rates are much milder than that today. (In fact, they've been between -3.1% and +2.4% over the last four years. Nowhere close to 4%.) No doubt we'd love to see them go back up to 4% or even 5%, if we could make that happen consistently...but wishing just doesn't make it so. ■ Real growth is going to come from much higher labor productivity and much better technology -- and given that labor productivity growth seems to be stuck around 2%, that's about as fast as we should expect to see the economy grow, barring a sudden explosion of cheap robots.

The United States of America Promises of transparency go up in smoke
The much-vaunted promises of government transparency and openness under an Obama administration have turned out to be false, says a Washington Post analysis. They conclude that 10 out of 15 Cabinet-level departments are even less likely to hand over requested information now than they were two years ago.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft rolls out Outlook.com to replace Hotmail
People can continue to use their old Hotmail addresses, change them, or tack-on new Outlook.com accounts as additional addresses. The new user interface is a lot cleaner than Hotmail ever was (in fact, it's almost too clean -- it's such a blank slate that it takes a moment to get oriented), and they've built in a very useful editor for Microsoft Office documents. It's really quite good.

Computers and the Internet Amazon sells more e-books than printed copies
It's a global pheonomenon -- in Britain, the ratio of e-books to printed books sold on Amazon is now 114 to 100. In the US, e-book sales eclipsed printed copies last May. Young children may very well grow up to have peculiar understandings of what "books" are and do and look like, especially if they grow up in households that have gone all-digital.

Water News The heat has been causing fish to suffocate

Business and Finance The latest flash crash shows why investors need limit orders
...and they need to watch those limit orders like hawks

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August 8, 2012

Business and Finance American workers keep getting more productive...slowly
Basically, a rate of 1% to 1.5%. Not enough to deliver the 4% GDP growth rate assumed by the White House in its fanciful budget projections.

Iowa The website for corndoggers-on-the-go
A mobile-enhanced site for the Iowa State Fair

Threats and Hazards Why would people want to live where the police can conduct pat-downs at random?


Computers and the Internet Typo-squatters chase people looking for the Olympics...imprecisely
And it's more reinforcement for the need for anyone who might even remotely...possibly...in even the slightest chance....come into the public eye to establish and maintain their own domain name.

Science and Technology Pictures from the new Mars rover


Aviation News FAA wants to fine American Airlines for maintenance shortcomings


Computers and the Internet Google isn't afraid to spin-off its acquisitions
It happened in April, but Google sold off its SketchUp 3D modeling service -- which it had only acquired a few years before, in 2006.

Computers and the Internet The personal risks of cloud computing


WHO Radio Wise Guys on Facebook


August 9, 2012

Iowa Cedar River falls to 3' near the Palo nuclear power plant
The Catch-22 to the situation is that power plants need more water when it's hot outside, because that's when people use more energy (for air conditioning). But the same hot weather has reduced the supply of essential cooling water available in the rivers.

Science and Technology NOAA says nature is absorbing half of humanity's production of excess carbon dioxide
But they don't understand the processes well enough to anticipate whether that will continue

Agriculture Drought's impact on the price of food may be exacerbated by panic buying on an international scale

Iowa DOT to Windsor Heights: How about a new merging lane instead of speed cameras?
Engineered solutions are better than surveillance

The American Way Why didn't we celebrate July 31st?
July 31st should have been an international holiday to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Milton Friedman. His influence on economics -- really, the establishment of the Chicago School of economic thought -- and of the public's understanding of economics should not be understated. In short, the Chicago School can be said to assume that liberty has value unto itself and that government should be powerful where needed but aggressively limited in its reach. Metaphorically, a powerful referee is needed to ensure that games are played according to the mutually-agreed rules, but the referee shouldn't himself be a player.

Computers and the Internet FTC hits Google with $22.5 million fine for tracking Safari users

Science and Technology Evolution: It's still happening
Apes are getting smarter, for instance: They're figuring out how to dismantle traps set by human hunters

Health On hitting the sweet spot between over-parenting and under-parenting

Business and Finance Despite massive government intervention, the economy hasn't really kicked it up a notch
Has the government intervention smoothed out what would have been a much lower trough, or is it creating so much fear and uncertainty that it's limiting anyone's appetite for risk?

Weather and Disasters There's never been a hotter month than July 2012
(At least, not in the United States)

Broadcasting There really will be a revival of "Arrested Development"

Health Fighting back against antibiotic resistance -- with viral proteins

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August 10, 2012

Computers and the Internet Google keeps pushing to make its search engine results more natural
It's an enormous uphill climb -- and a risky one, since people have grown accustomed to the way things are done

Computers and the Internet Lenovo wants the ThinkPad 2 to compete with the iPad
But how much will it cost?

Business and Finance The rise of the "renovator" and the decline of the "builder"
A look at CEO styles

Science and Technology Why some people should doodle at work
Depending on your brain's hard-wiring, you might be of the type who learns best when converting information actively into a visual context.

Business and Finance The price of a logo

Business and Finance Depending on who's doing the estimating, America has a shortfall of 20,000 to 200,000 truck drivers
If the shortage persists, it's going to cause transportation costs to rise. Couple that with the inevitable impact on food prices that will result from this year's drought, 2013 could be an expensive year. The shortfall in drivers is one reason why one should expect trucking companies to be among the very first in line to demand the technology for self-driving vehicles. If one driver could operate more than one truck (operating in a semi-automated convoy), the trucking companies are going to be interested in making that investment.

Agriculture USDA expects Iowa corn production to be 141 bushels per acre this year
It was 172 bushels per acre last year -- so the USDA's estimate looks pretty optimistic, given just how awful Iowa's weather has been this year. The output will almost certainly be the worst in about twenty years -- if not more.

Computers and the Internet Always read your contracts first
A woman is suing because a breast-feeding video in which she appeared has led to some pornographic manipulation -- and her name has gotten involved. The release she signed included the use of her name, so though it's unfortunate, she did in fact give away permission for its use. And her daughter's name, too. The problem is that people are far too casual about giving away their rights -- witness how Facebook's terms and conditions claim a worldwide, royalty-free right to any pictures or videos you post.

WHO Radio Wise Guys on Facebook


August 11, 2012

Computers and the Internet How hackers took down a "Wired" editor's entire digital universe
It wasn't through sophisticated techniques...they just tricked the right people. You should protect yourself from cascading failures in digital security and do so without delay.

News The right way to fix a messy bathroom
More facilities (especially restaurants, gas stations, and retail stores) should use the "If this bathroom needs attention, flip the switch" technique

News Architectural criticism: Platte Valley State Bank

Computers and the Internet Who owns the digital legacy of the dead?
A thoughtful bit of commentary during a radio program from Australia

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August 12, 2012

News Architectural criticism: National Guard armory
A good Art Deco building keeps looking good

News The value of quick comprehension
Bad signs don't do travelers any justice

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August 13, 2012

News I ain't saying she's a gold-digger...
...but 40-year-olds are not routinely attracted to 82-year-olds

Humor and Good News The greatest collection of reaction shots ever
(Video) One way to get natural reactions out of people is to show up on ChatRoulette dressed as a man in a bikini singing "Call Me Maybe". Yeah, that would work.

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August 14, 2012

Business and Finance Which way to go with Federal spending?
Here's the problem in a nutshell: We are currently deficit-spending to the tune of $1.2 trillion a year, or around $3.3 billion per day. Again, that's just the amount of deficit spending -- the amount we have to borrow as a country each and every day. It's more than George Lucas's net worth. Or, in more meaningful terms, more than the market price for all of Manpower, Tupperware, Hillshire Farms, Six Flags, or The Washington Post Company. We are, in essence, borrowing the entire value of one of these companies every day. Which means that we would/will have to create a company of that size every single day in order to pay back those debts. That's no small order.

Business and Finance Jack Bogle says "the outlook for bonds over the next decade is really terrible"

Computers and the Internet Hi, Motorola. Welcome to Google. 4,000 of you are fired.
Google took over Motorola Mobility (the cell-phone maker) less than a year ago, and now they've laid off 20% of the staff.

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August 15, 2012

Business and Finance Investment dollars are leaving China, fast
That signals a couple of things at once: First, that people within China see greater opportunities outside their country than within it. But it's also a sign of what happens when other countries spend too much of their money buying other countries' stuff: Eventually, the net-exporter nations end up trading that cash back to the net-importer nations, in exchange for the property the net-importers own. It's a curious kind of takeover. ■ More evidence that investment money from developing markets is going to come towards the West: High dividend yields from stocks in "emerging markets". This condition is a sign that the companies in those countries can't find enough promising investments of their own at home in order to justify hanging on to those profits. Business value always comes back to earnings: If a company is making money, it can either reinvest in itself or send the cash back to the shareholders in the form of dividends. ■ A company that sees limitless potential for positive returns ahead might retain all of its earnings -- as does Berkshire Hathaway. In the hands of a truly gifted investor like Warren Buffett, that's good for all of the owners. (In his words, "Unrestricted earnings should be retained only when there is a reasonable prospect ... that for every dollar retained by the corporation, at least one dollar of market value will be created for owners.") Other companies retain lots of earnings and then spend those retained earnings stupidly on foolish acquisitions and capital expansions. Other companies send the money back to shareholders through dividends, or indirectly through share repurchases. There's a time and a place for each of these strategies -- retention/reinvestment, dividends, and buybacks. ■ But high dividend yields tend to be a sign that management can't find much better to do with the profits. It's an intriguing notion that emerging-markets companies don't see enough opportunities ahead to merit retaining those earnings. And it means more cash in the hands of their investors to pursue companies in the United States and elsewhere.

The United States of America A quick quiz about the US Armed Forces
Some surprising answers

Agriculture Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam...
The drought has made it too difficult for a Nebraska nature preserve to maintain their wild buffalo herds, so they've sold off 126 bison to a South Dakota rancher.

Computers and the Internet Google tweaks search formula to punish copyright abusers
Hypothetically, the lower a site appears in the search results, the less money it can make from advertising. And since most of the copyright abuse out there is done to attract pageviews strictly for the purposes of gaining ad dollars.

Computers and the Internet Google rolls out less-complicated custom URLs for some Google Plus users
Why it's taken so long is beyond any reasonable comprehension.

Computers and the Internet Chartwell
A font developed specifically for creating charts inside of text. Interesting.

Business and Finance How much longer can college costs keep rising faster than everything else?
Not forever, that's for certain.

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August 16, 2012

Computers and the Internet Facebook will start dropping ads into users' news feeds
And not just from the brands that the users have "liked".

Business and Finance "They don't have much of a way to do that. They’re used to thinking more on a day-to-day basis."
A photographer observes how poverty prevents some people from being able to plan ahead. Fixing that poverty is really one of the most important issues people could be called upon to think about.

Iowa Iowa gets about 20% of its electricity from wind
The Department of Energy says that South Dakota could produce 22% of its electricity demand through wind generation. The only state to produce more watts of wind power than Iowa is Texas.

Computers and the Internet The beginning of the end for Flash?
If it's already on your Android-based smartphone, you're in the clear. But it's being removed from the Google Play store.

Science and Technology It's not a laser, it's a maser
Microwaves, not light, can be concentrated and used for purposes where light cannot pass. That could include body scanners -- which could mean a lot of early detection of health problems. The maser has been around for over half a century, but a recent development has put it back in the news, because it could be going from high-specialty item to widespread application and use.

Agriculture Midwestern bankers are pessimistic about farm incomes
The serious hit to crop and livestock production caused by the enormous and severe drought all over the Midwest this year has bankers expecting much lower farm incomes, which in turn is going to do some damage to economies on a local scale. If farmers aren't effectively importing lots of cash from elsewhere in exchange for their crops and animals, there simply isn't going to be as much cash to exchange around the communities where they live. Credit unions are worried that the harm done to farm incomes might offset the improvement that had been seen among other parts of the private sector.

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August 18, 2012

Science and Technology KPMG forecasts self-driving cars on showroom floors by 2019
Yes, please. Think of all the time that Americans waste behind the wheel that could be used for other things.

Computers and the Internet Nine items in August's Microsoft Patch Tuesday
Five were rated "critical". The worst involve "remote code execution" -- or hijacking. Run your computer on a limited-access account to help reduce the risk.

Computers and the Internet How you browse -- not what -- may signal your emotional health


Computers and the Internet Amazon starts rolling out same-day delivery in ten major metro areas
Meanwhile, eBay is trying the same thing on a very limited basis. Some people think this could end up being terrible news for newspapers.

News Zimbabwe's dictator says, "We want more children, give us more children you women"
Declining birthrates are generally seen as a reflection of rising standards of living. Dictators trying to tell people how many children to have should generally be seen as people who should be removed from power.

News The Strategic Petroleum Reserve shouldn't be used as a political tool
We need to find some way to put the Strategic Petroleum Reserve under the control of some non-political management. The rumor that the White House is considering a release from the SPR at a time when oil prices are a little higher than in the last few months, but not extraordinarily high just makes it clear that no politician (Democratic or Republican) should be trusted with the levers. Either the reserves are there for legitimate strategic use (like, for the military) or they are just being used as a tool of political theater.

News Things get hot when heated
A woman is suing the Dallas Cowboys because she got third-degree burns from sitting on a black-colored bench in the sun. Burns which she apparently didn't discover until she stood up after some time parked on bench. Anyone who's too dumb to anticipate that a bench like that might get hot, and who then fails to notice third-degree burns for some extended period of time, is apparently someone who shouldn't be allowed outside a bubble without supervision.

Business and Finance High-frequency trading in a nutshell
As Ben Franklin said, "Never confuse motion with action."

Iowa RAGBRAI events run a $25,000 deficit in Cedar Rapids

News Factory-direct furniture (when the factory is a prison)
Prison industries may count as a necessary evil: It's probably far better for society as a whole for inmates to have jobs while they're locked up, since that helps them develop job skills and gives them something positive to do and focus upon while on the inside. That certainly has to make the guards happier and safer, too. But it certainly seems like prison industries would have to be watched extremely closely to prevent their abuse by people in authority. And who would want to be a private-sector manufacturer paying market wages in competition with a prison industry?

Agriculture Rescue tubes for people trapped in grain elevators
It's not widely known outside of highly-agricultural communities, but people are injured and killed far too often when they get caught in flowing grain. Fortunately, small-town fire departments seem to be getting their hands on engulfment-rescue tubes to help avert tragedy.

News Might China's internal politics cause America heartburn in the near future?


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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August 20, 2012

Iowa Despite drought, Iowa farmland prices are still shooting higher
The average increase has been 24% over the last 12 months. That's decidedly unsustainable. Short-term, it's going to make farmers feel wealthier. Long-term, it could not only be an obstacle to young people becoming farmers, but could also threaten a serious hangover when the prices come back down again.

Computers and the Internet Tour of a Facebook data center

Computers and the Internet Pew survey finds more than half of Americans over age 65 are regular Internet users
The only sad part of that is that the figure isn't much higher

Science and Technology Garbage disposal, 100 years ago
"The city executive favors use of barges on which refuse could be floated to the middle of the Missouri River and dumped in the stream. This plan is in force in Omaha."

Threats and Hazards Tensions rising between China and Japan


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August 21, 2012

Broadcasting Good advice for young people looking to get into radio
"Learn everything you can, and don't say 'no' ... If you want to have a high personal 'stock price' then you should be able to do anything." - Chad Rufer

Aviation News The bird-in-a-circle motif
How to tell if something's an airline logo from 50 paces. Unless it's the new logo for Fiji Airways.

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August 22, 2012

Humor and Good News "Area man regrets investing in Facebook"
The Onion's spoof has Mark Zuckerberg saying, "[T]here’s not a whole lot of room for long-term growth there, or any real solid plan for the future". It's funny because it's true.

Health Electronic medical records with a real purpose
IBM's Watson supercomputer is being used to analyze patient records and improve medicine at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. This is exactly the kind of thing for which better computing power should be used. IBM has obviously found a partnership from which to start. It would seem obvious that companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft -- all drowning in cash and packed to the gills with smart people and high technology -- should be looking for problems like these, where they have competitive advantages and can establish profitable new divisions that don't depend upon advertising revenues for their success.

Business and Finance A Federal deficit of 7.3% of the entire economy
Look: We can deficit-spend from year to year, but only at something less than the rate at which the economy is growing. If you know you're going to make $50,000 this year and $55,000 next year, then if you can borrow the money at something close to a 0% interest rate (which the Federal government can do right now), then spending $52,000 isn't really a crisis -- the deficit is more than made-up by a rising income. But the economy isn't growing at 7.3% a year -- not even close to it. And every year we overspend at a rate that much more than how fast we grow, we just make the future pain many times worse.

Threats and Hazards At least four dozen people killed in Kenya over cattle-grazing rights
A tragedy of property rights and tribalism. A government that cannot maintain the rule of law needs to be replaced.

The United States of America American manufacturing is not -- and never has been -- dead
Particularly for sophisticated work where high quality is essential

News When the collective memory will forget things
In ten years, the Reagan years will be nothing more than history lessons to half the population

Humor and Good News Pale skin as a sign of high status
Full-body beachwear -- in the form of the "facekini" -- is finding its way to popularity in China, where a lack of pigment suggests one has risen above field work. Of course, in the US, a tan suggests that the person has enough money to afford leisure time to sit in the sun. Unless it's a farmer tan.

Iowa 60% of college-bound high school graduates aren't ready for college
A report from the makers of the ACT test say that only 40% of the students taking their test met more than half of the benchmarks on the test for college-preparedness. And that's among the young people who are signaling their intent to go to college. Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin have the highest overall scores on the test, yet even those students are performing only marginally better on those preparedness standards than the rest of the country. Schools and school districts should pay careful attention to trends in the numbers -- after all, benchmarks are important, and what gets measured gets managed.

News Former Pakistani ambassador to the US says we should all stop fooling ourselves
He suggests that if we stop pretending like there's a real partnership going on between the US and Pakistan, then we can start getting around to setting real terms and conditions for working together.

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August 23, 2012

Computers and the Internet Rule #1: Don't get caught in stupid photographs or videos
In case Prince Harry and others haven't noticed, this is the Internet age, which means a photo can be disseminated all over the world faster than most of us can find a postage stamp. This means two things: One, we're all going to find ourselves in compromising or unflattering pictures once in a while, and as a result, we're all going to have to become a little more forgiving and a little less judgmental about the mistakes of others if we expect the same for ourselves. Two, anyone with a reasonable endowment of brainpower will avoid getting into stupid situations when cameras are in the immediate vicinity. Getting naked during a game of pool is probably a bad idea for anyone, but most especially for one of the most recognizable celebrities in all of Britain.

The United States of America US borrowing at this pace cannot go on forever
We don't technically have to balance the budget completely -- a deficit of less than the rate of economic growth would be fine. But that means getting to something like 21% of GDP in spending and 19% of GDP in taxes and other government revenues. We're nowhere close to that kind of balance, and we're on a fast track to making it much worse. The gap is a cavernous 8.5% in 2012. Mitt Romney is asking the right question: Is today's spending worth borrowing more from China?

Business and Finance "At the very least China is building a global portfolio"
"At the most this is the start of a new empire."

The United States of America The Onion: "College newspaper endorses Barack Obama"
Sure, it's funny because it's practically a foregone conclusion on campuses across the nation. But we really ought to ask an important question: What major achievements of the present administration can be accounted-for without transfer payments? In other words, what can the Obama administration really say it has done that hasn't come back to taking money from one set of taxpayers and giving that money to a different class of voters? Certainly, the White House is not without some credits: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seems to have been doing a stellar job of managing American diplomacy, and it was probably time to get rid of "Don't ask, don't tell" in the military. But the health-care "reform" act remains a mystery even to many of the people who voted for it in Congress, and there's really no way to justify proposals like aggressive forgiveness for student debts without acknowledging that such proposals either explicitly or implicitly punish some people in order to offer a "freebie" to others. The same goes for the huge breaks given to first-time homebuyers. And it would be perfectly rational for a person to take these free things, and there's a natural human instinct to want to reciprocate the apparent generosity (that is, to vote for the candidate who "gave" the voter something). But it's a misplaced reciprocity, since the government has no money of its own -- just the money it collects from taxpayers and then uses.

Weather and Disasters NOAA thinks hurricane season could be worse than normal
And one of them is on track to hit Tampa while the Republican national convention is in town next week

Computers and the Internet Google moves its email-security tool to Google Apps


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August 24, 2012

Computers and the Internet A new logo for Microsoft
It's still recognizable. The old one lasted 25 years. They're spinning the new look as a way to herald a bunch of new products that are coming soon, like the Surface tablet (the price of which we still don't know).

Computers and the Internet South Korean court rules that Apple and Samsung have been stealing from each other


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August 27, 2012

Broadcasting Jimmy Kimmel gets the "Nightline" timeslot in January
Kimmel is funnier than Leno and Letterman, so it'll make for a decent bout of competition, but Jimmy Fallon and Craig Ferguson are really the two to watch. Note, though, to the Washington Post: Saying that Conan O'Brien was "too young and too hip for flyover country" is pretty offensive. It's rude to call the rest of the nation "flyover country" to begin with, and to suggest that a bunch of rubes out in the sticks brought down Conan O'Brien is absurd. First off, NBC treated him unfairly. Second off, to blame the rest of the country for a show's failure is mathematically ignorant. The top ten television markets in the US contain 34,253,110 "TV homes" out of 115,905,450 in the entire country. That's 29.6% of the total. Nobody can blame Davenport, Iowa, (market #99, with 309,800 TV households) for bringing down an entire show. Being a regional snob may be self-satisfying, but it's not adequate journalism.

The United States of America Ross Perot is back, and he's still mad about Federal spending

Business and Finance The world's biggest companies, over the years

Business and Finance A dull stock market isn't necessarily a bad thing

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August 28, 2012

Computers and the Internet When social media, religious strife, and the law collide

The United States of America Good news: The 2011 earthquake didn't move the Washington Monument
It still appears to have been damaged by the quake, but at least it didn't experience liquefaction

Computers and the Internet E-Week calls Windows 8 "a tablet-friendly Windows 7 with tiles"

Computers and the Internet Reality check: Google Maps was only introduced in 2005
The rather astonishing level of detail it has added since then is nothing we've really fully digested from a social or legal standpoint

Science and Technology Ocean-bound floating cities
Practical or even plausible? Generally not. But they're fun eye candy. Humanity will definitely need to come to better terms with the oceans and how to live on and with them than we do today, but the major conceit to most "floating city ideas" is that there are millions of people aching to live in highly communal, closed societies. There just aren't. The incredibly few people who choose today to live aboard residential cruise ships are a strange breed indeed.

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August 29, 2012

Weather and Disasters Live coverage of Hurricane Isaac from New Orleans


Iowa Sure...gigantic video boards just off an urban Interstate highway won't distract anybody
Especially not when they're on I-380 in Cedar Rapids, at a notoriously dangerous S-curve. What could possibly go wrong?

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August 30, 2012

News British Green Party looks for a new boss


Business and Finance Good idea: Personal, portable savings accounts for old-age use
The sooner we all realize (a) that the government isn't any better at managing people's long-term savings than individuals are, (b) that people aren't likely to save enough for old age without some kind of mandatory savings requirement, and (c) that the Social Security system is anything but an adequate system for old-age savings (considering that it's underfunded, over-extended, and doesn't allow the individual to pass along anything to his or her heirs), the sooner we'll start to get on-board with some plans that are realistic for the future. America's personal savings rate is just 4.2% right now. That's not even close to what it should be.

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August 31, 2012

The United States of America The decline of fraternal organizations in America
This is a profoundly important story that gets practically zero attention

News Iranian government forbids women from studying nuclear physics and petroleum engineering
No reasonable society can exclude half its population from scientific and technical fields and hope to compete in the modern world

Business and Finance Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke wants more economic stimulus

Agriculture How and why cucumber tendrils turn into springy coils

Weather and Disasters Isaac's rain is needed here, but probably won't fall in most of Iowa
The drought remains extreme without a great deal of relief. The 20.08" of rain that Isaac dropped on New Orleans is more rain than has fallen on Des Moines all year -- which means we're nearly 10" short of where we should normally be by the start of September.

News Drunk motorcyclist killed after exceeding 120 mph near Cedar Rapids
He left behind a 17-month-old daughter

Aviation News US Airways and American Airlines examine merger prospects

Health Whooping cough cases are on the rise
Dramatically so. And almost undoubtedly due to the fact that there are too many people who consciously avoid vaccinations. They put their own lives at risk and threaten others by doing so. Not every vaccine creates immunity -- just like not every aspirin cures a headache. But we all benefit from herd immunity. The more of us who are vaccinated, the fewer of us are exposed to the risk of contagious diseases.

Weather and Disasters Big wildfire spreads in western Nebraska

Humor and Good News TV commentator learns first-hand not to make fun of Tae Kwon-Do

The United States of America "The Libertarian Party is a great concept [...] but it got too far off the deep end, and so I dropped out"
David Koch's comments on the GOP and the Libertarian Party show that he isn't the one-dimensional money machine that his political opponents make him out to be. The sooner America's left wing makes peace with the idea that markets are natural forces (with which we must work constructively) and the sooner America's right wing makes peace with the fact that social standards have opened up on a large number of issues (and that as moves the society, so must move the laws), the better off we'll all be.

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