Gongol.com Archives: September 2012
Brian Gongol


September 7, 2012

Business and Finance On government intervention
Government intervention in the economy should be like surgery: Exceedingly rare, precise, and decisive. Doing lots of things with a vague hope that "something will kick-start the economy" or "this will create a lot of jobs" is just a hopelessly silly way to go about intervening in a system so complex and subject to natural forces and random chance that even a widely-acknowledged financial genius like Warren Buffett tries to make very few decisions each year (in his 1990 letter to shareholders: "Lethargy bordering on sloth remains the cornerstone of our investment style"). Buffett follows this philosophy because he knows it's better to act infrequently but boldly -- only when his confidence in an investment is high -- than to stand around taking a swing at every pitch that crosses the plate. A government that thinks it can do all things and achieve all its desired goals just by acting, acting, and acting all the time is one that's destined to waste a lot of resources that belong to the taxpayers. The best we can (and should) hope for is a government that follows a Hippocratic Oath for the economy: First, do no harm.

Iowa Iowa City police are actually starting to write jaywalking tickets
It's understandable that there are serious concerns about pedestrian safety in Iowa City, where a university and a traditional storefront-type downtown overlap with a very high population density (at least, one that's very high for Iowa). But jaywalking itself is kind of a silly thing to prohibit -- unless a pedestrian is deliberately walking in a way that obstructs traffic or shows willful neglect, then jaywalking is simply a way of making efficient use of street space. If it's not in use by vehicular traffic, then there's really no good reason to prohibit its use by pedestrians. Moreover, if jaywalking is a chronic problem, that's probably a signal that an area should simply be made off-limits to vehicular traffic and turned over to pedestrians alone. Places that are so congested that jaywalking is actually routinely hazardous are probably places that should be designed better and turned over to people on foot. Besides, there's more than just a little hint of nanny-statism in assigning police to actually ticket otherwise law-abiding people for choosing to cross the street at someplace other than a designated crosswalk.

Business and Finance It might not be possible for Americans to be any less-informed about finances than we already are
An SEC report just says it outright: " Studies reviewed by the Library of Congress indicate that U.S. retail investors lack basic financial literacy. The studies demonstrate that investors have a weak grasp of elementary financial concepts and lack critical knowledge of ways to avoid investment fraud." We're not going to be any good at making laws or even voting for the people who do so unless we understand the basic matters required to make an economy tick.

Computers and the Internet Amazon drops the price of the Kindle Fire to $159
That's to accommodate the new Kindle Fire HD at the $199 price point. Tablet computers are going to very rapidly approach essentially a "throwaway" price. Amazon is also rolling out a $119 "Kindle Paperwhite", which is intended to look more like a clean sheet of paper than any prior e-ink reader. Someone certainly must have decided that the reference to a sheet of white paper was worth risking that people will call it the "Paperweight" if it flops.

Computers and the Internet Our attention spans are shrinking at a breakneck pace
Electronic publishers are finding themselves racing to produce pictures where words previously were enough, because people are basically losing the patience to even read 140-character posts on Twitter. Ye gods.

The United States of America Why Bill Clinton's speech to the Democratic convention went so long
He ad-libbed. A lot.

Business and Finance The power of suggestive selling and marketing
By adopting the slogan "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz", Alka-Seltzer didn't quite double its sales, but they did dramatically increase over the period when they advised only taking one at a time

Computers and the Internet A Pepsi Challenge for search engines
Bing is trying to prove that their search results are better than those from Google by offering people a blind test of the results from each. They claim a 2-to-1 advantage for Bing. Whether or not it's true, it does give people a good reason to re-consider Bing.

Computers and the Internet Apple's new iPhone comes out on September 12th

Computers and the Internet Nokia gets busted misrepresenting cell-phone video
In promoting their video recording quality, they actually used footage from a professional video camera...not the phone

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