Gongol.com Archives: November 2012
Brian Gongol

November 2012
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November 1, 2012

The United States of America Pew survey: Likely voters are exactly split between Obama and Romney
As for the actual vote, the superstorm really upended things on the East Coast.

Science and Technology Why it's ethical to eat the meat that got derided as "pink slime"
It's meat, just like any other. The process by which it was collected is a technological advancement that means less of each animal goes to waste. If we're going to have animal agriculture, shouldn't we be as efficient about it as we can?

Business and Finance Gallup survey says 20% of American workers are actively poisoning the work environment

Threats and Hazards An awful story of a pointless murder in Omaha
Two young women were shot -- and one died. And over in northeastern Iowa, a couple of bank robbers shot two police officers before they were caught.

Iowa What's the lifespan of a local landmark?
Sioux City, Iowa, has a set of concrete arches installed in 1980. They were installed to establish a local landmark, but now the site is going to be removed so Interstate 29 can be widened. So, do they try to move the arches, or just consign them to history?

Science and Technology Nuclear power in the UK may have new life as it dies in Japan
Hitachi is going to start managing nuclear plants in the UK

Iowa High-end state salaries in Iowa belong entirely to university employees
According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, "The first non-university employee in the state salary database coming in at 163 is Som Lerd, a physician supervisor for the Department of Human Services."

News Vladimir Putin's new presidential ride
It's a new domestically-built (to Russia) limousine. It may come as a surprise just how many countries have domestically-built limousines for their heads of state.

Business and Finance The good news: American companies are managed better (on average) than companies elsewhere in the world
The bad news: Only 15% score well on objective tests of management quality

Computers and the Internet Gmail will add extra composition windows

Computers and the Internet How to create mock-engraved type

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November 2, 2012

Iowa Nostalgia makes us do curious things
Like spending $110,000 to move an old house

Iowa What's with the violent crime lately?
Two men were arrested for robbing a credit union in Marshalltown, and one of them shot a police officer in the process.

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November 4, 2012

Business and Finance A great introductory lecture on economics
It's from a University of Chicago professor, so it's already starting out on a good footing. But the added graphics and the enthusiastic style with which it is presented make this a real winner.

Weather and Disasters How chaotic are things in New York?
Reports of a frightening breakdown in ordinary law and order after Hurricane Sandy. There appears to be an awful lot of damage.

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November 5, 2012

Business and Finance "[T]he truth is that U.S. manufacturing has never been stronger" -- but...
..."The catch is that the number of American workers needed to create all that value has dropped steadily."

Computers and the Internet Tech tip: Protect your computer in winter weather

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November 9, 2012

News An extremely expensive public-transit project

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November 10, 2012

News Image matters
A small newspaper in North Sioux City has a profoundly bland flag (the thing most people incorrectly call the masthead). So, while the publisher certainly is within rights to be upset that a political party put out a publication that had some similarities in look to his own paper, he really doesn't have much of a leg to stand on, given that the fonts used in his own publication are the most generic of all: Arial and Times New Roman. Regardless of whether the similarity was intentional or not, a more distinctive look to the regular news publication is definitely in order.

Threats and Hazards New police chief in Cedar Rapids wants license-plate scanners
They're a very disconcerting tool -- particularly if used without a massive amount of civilian oversight and extraordinary safeguards.

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November 11, 2012

Business and Finance What you should know about the "fiscal cliff"

Business and Finance Foxconn might open up TV manufacturing plants in the US

News UK will stop sending official aid to India in three years

Threats and Hazards We should value the occasional offense
The only way to have freedom of speech is to have the right to say things that bother others. That doesn't mean we should go about abusing the right and making awful nuisances of ourselves, but we have to expect the right to say things that might offend others -- and the responsibility to accept a bit of offense once in a while from what others say. That, sadly, appears to be a condition that is eroding badly in Britain today...and what happens in Britain quite often influences people in the corridors of power in the United States.

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November 13, 2012

The United States of America Unsettling, indeed
The Omaha World-Herald's staff cartoonist asks, "Why do I have this unsettling feeling we're going to learn more about the Petraeus affair than we will Benghazi?" He is absolutely right.

Science and Technology "Idiocracy" today
A Stanford geneticist posits the idea that civilization does such a good job of keeping natural selection from weeding out the stupid that we might be a lot dumber than the average person who lived a few thousand years ago.

Science and Technology Relatively low gas prices keep depressing the market for electric cars
Until the payback period on electric cars reaches something less than the length of time most people tend to keep their cars, EVs aren't going to take up much market share. Also, there's a big difference in value to an electric or hybrid car whether one is in a crowded metro area like Los Angeles (where stop-and-start traffic is the norm) or in a place like western Nebraska, where an uninterrupted 50-mile drive at 60 mph or more is downright routine.

The United States of America US could be self-sufficient in petroleum within a decade
But is that entirely a good thing?

Business and Finance Economists think the low-hanging fruit from cheap labor in the BRIC group is mostly gone

Health MRI tests may show that people in apparent vegetative states are really still conscious

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November 14, 2012

The United States of America Washington's fear of making real decisions is going to cost us dearly
Eaton's CEO says "Until we solve the fiscal issues (in the United States and Europe), you're not going to get back to normal GDP growth"

News 80 people want to become superintendent of schools in Omaha
That's a pretty big talent pool

Iowa Widening the last 42 miles of Highway 20 could take another 10 years
It's important for northern Iowa to finally get a full four-lane expressway from one end of the state to the other. The longer this highway takes, the more disconnected many of the communities will remain from economic development.

Computers and the Internet Windows division president leaves Microsoft
The move seems to have taken a lot of people by surprise

Agriculture Hidden economic news in a pork report
Page 16 of the November "Iowa Pork Producer" magazine includes this nugget: "While pork exports to the China/Hong Kong region were higher through August [...] they are not likely to match last year's pace in coming months. For August only, exports to China/Hong Kong were down 31 percent in volume to 30,450 metric tons and 34 percent in value to $60.5 million." There may very well be another reason for the decline, but it's hard to see a drop-off like that happening without a larger slowdown taking place in the Chinese economy.

Science and Technology There's a giant planet floating in space with no star to orbit
Imagine living there...plants (as we know them) would have to grow without photosynthesis. There would be no sunrise or sunset. Come to think of it, things would be pretty wickedly dark. But the planet is huge -- four to seven times the size of Jupiter. And it's hot. But we know of extremophile organisms on Earth, so maybe they exist elsewhere.

Computers and the Internet Facebook couples pages...
...for those times syrup of ipecac just isn't powerful enough. In reality, you can see a "relationship" page for anyone with whom you are a Facebook friend. It's just that the idea of Facebook pages for couples is so especially nauseating.

Humor and Good News Psy and Madonna mash-up...on stage

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November 15, 2012

News China meets the new boss
Pretty much the same as the old boss?

Computers and the Internet Google invests in Iowa wind farm
It's not really anything new -- it was noted here in 2007 that investment in renewable energy might be a strategic move for Google, and in 2008 that it was not necessarily an altruistic move at all. Which, by the way, isn't necessarily a bad thing. Companies have no obligation to be charitable. And Google's position is such that diversifying away from search results alone is a very wise move, especially since the day may come when the company finds itself regulated like the phone company used to be. It actually meets many of the qualifications for a "public utility" already. Curious, perhaps -- maybe even ironic -- that they might be able to make more money in the future from an economic sector that has traditionally been a regulated sector (energy) than from its currently unregulated Internet business.

Threats and Hazards Traffic cameras are about money, not safety

Business and Finance Federal Reserve demands stress tests by 30 large banks
They want to know whether the banks could handle a recession with 12% unemployment and a 5% decline in GDP

Humor and Good News Drunk but determined
Drunk man in a suit seems not to realize he's going the wrong way on an escalator, despite the aid of really insistent passers-by

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November 16, 2012

Business and Finance Hostess is shutting down
Untenable union pay and pension demands (and management's decision-making) have killed the maker of Twinkies. Don't worry too much, though: Someone will buy the Twinkies brand name and recipe. That's what's supposed to happen when a company goes bankrupt. Ideally, of course, companies shouldn't get to the point where they go bankrupt in the first place, since nobody really wins from a bankruptcy. The owners are out hundreds of millions. Workers are out of their jobs. Suppliers are screwed. Consumers will end up getting their Twinkies somewhere else (the brand still has value), but everyone else is going home a loser.

Health We are tantalizingly close to eradicating polio
But anti-vaccination holdouts are keeping the virus alive in southern Asia and Africa

Computers and the Internet The European Commission is " considering whether Google's Android mobile operating system needs to be regulated"
Meanwhile, the US Federal Trade Commission is looking into ways to manage Google's search-engine dominance. As noted here only yesterday, Google has a tough road ahead. Regulators can't help themselves from trying to influence any firm as successful as Google. (Maybe they should offer to fix the major airlines' computer systems. They seem to need it.)

News Grad students think they're under-valued

Business and Finance Mind-blowing economic figures from the Treasury Department
Mainly this: The average 30-year mortgage now costs just 3.38%. For real? This cannot last.

Agriculture Farmers are already gambling on a reversal in the drought
One might have thought that the skyrocketing prices for corn and soybeans of the last year, driven by drought, would have caused more farmers to sell off their cattle. But that doesn't seem to have happened. Inventories in Iowa are almost exactly where they were last year at this very same time.

Health Don't overdose on energy drinks

News Minnesota family thinks son was denied Catholic Confirmation over a Facebook photo
He protested against a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage

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November 17, 2012

Science and Technology Some fascinating optical illusions

Computers and the Internet Google announces third phase of data center in Council Bluffs
The $200 million third phase brings the total investment to about $1.1 billion.

Agriculture "Agriculture has become a knowledge-based industry"
Anyone who looks down their nose at farmers is a fool; farming is an increasingly sophisticated sector of the economy. But it's also one of many jobs in which a college education (in the form of a two- or four-year degree) is increasingly important if not necessary component for new entrants to be competitive. That should signal something to the people who think there are or should be lots of high-pay jobs for low-skill workers; they simply don't exist anymore. There are lots of good jobs to be had in agriculture, manufacturing, and the service sectors -- but virtually all of them are or will soon require some form of post-secondary education.

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November 18, 2012

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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November 20, 2012

Aviation News Why you shouldn't recline your airline seat

Health Humans aren't the only primates to suffer midlife crises
Chimps and orangutans feel it, too

Iowa Complicated land swap in downtown Des Moines might fix problems for YMCA, Polk County, and private sector

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November 21, 2012

Threats and Hazards Sleepwalking into a surveillance society
A Senate bill under consideration would basically give Big Brother (in the form of 22 different Federal agencies) the right to look at your e-mail, Twitter direct messages, and Google Docs without a warrant. Outrageous.

Weather and Disasters Winter climate outlook

The United States of America Thanksgiving, American Indian style: Buffalo stew recipe

Business and Finance Why the Big Ten now has 14
It's all about bringing in television revenues

Business and Finance How much are you allowed to save for retirement in 2013?
The IRS has released the income and contribution limitations for tax-advantaged savings plans for next year. Isn't it a little odd how tax policy discourages savings beyond an arbitrary maximum?


November 23, 2012

Weather and Disasters Fog causes 100-car wreck on Thanksgiving in Texas
Crashes like these just reinforce the case for bringing self-piloted cars to the market as soon as possible. People are prone to over-estimate their own capacities to drive safely under bad conditions, like fog. We need machines to override our overconfidence.

Computers and the Internet Number of Windows 8 applications grows past 20,000
They're not all available everywhere, but many are, and the vast majority are free

Agriculture Milk prices could get rocky around January 1st
On a related note, Iowa farmers brought in half a billion dollars in payments for corn and soybean crop losses to this summer's drought

Broadcasting The best way to stay in business is to look for ways to put yourself out of business
Incentives fall on the side of innovation. In other words, there is a great deal of money to be made from disrupting the status quo. So if a company intends to stay in business for the long term, it needs to anticipate that disruptive innovations will come along, and that it's better to be the innovator than the victim of that innovation.

Iowa A lake of fire in north-central Iowa
Eagle Lake is completely dry due to drought, so it's expected that a grass fire there will keep the lakebed (which is a peat bog) smoldering for weeks.

Business and Finance Hostess bankruptcy judge says he has "serious questions as to the logic behind the decision" for the unions to go on strike
Most of the brands will end up being sold to other companies, but that doesn't mean the jobs will transfer there

Science and Technology Researchers discover that an island doesn't exist
It's shown up on maps for a long time, but Sandy Island in the Coral Sea apparently doesn't exist at all

Computers and the Internet A mostly predictable list of popular technology gifts for 2012
Microsoft Surface, Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad Mini, and the Samsung Galaxy S-III. Nothing really revelatory.

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November 24, 2012

Broadcasting Today at 1:00 Central: The WHO Radio Wise Guys return to the air
The show is streamed live on WHORadio.com. Send questions via text message to 515-989-1040.

The United States of America America, land of the free, becomes the land of the one-party state
A New York Times report holds that 37 states will have a single party in power, controlling the governor's office as well as both legislative chambers. A University of Minnesota professor says, "If you wondered what Washington would look like under single-party rule, the states are a laboratory for that now." One can hope that this might mark the peak of mindless partisanship -- in which people affiliate with one party or another based solely on hot-button issues -- and might give way to an era of performance-based voting, in which voters take a serious look at the actual performance of their elected officials and vote accordingly. It is certain that the only way any of the many "third parties" out there would ever work their way into prominence is by taking advantage of these completely un-balanced times, getting themselves elected as the "alternative" party on a local basis in places where a single party has absolute control (like the Democrats do in Chicago and greater Illinois, for instance), and then using that performance-based record to get themselves elected more broadly. But they have to prove themselves in a practical way, not in an ideological way -- and that's what the "third party" adherents seem not to realize.


November 25, 2012

The United States of America We can't go on building in disaster-prone areas forever
And we definitely can't go on believing that this behavior is cost-free. It is one of the major threats to the American economy.

Broadcasting Live radio tonight at 9:00 Central
Live on WHO Radio

News Garment-factory fire in Bangladesh kills more than 100 people

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November 26, 2012

News Stronger governments don't necessarily mean less corruption
A New York Times report on China hints at what really tends to happen when governments become all-mighty: People closely connected to the political elite become wealthy in ways that aren't accessible to the rest of the people. So, the next time someone says that the government should be given (or take) greater powers to intervene in the private-sector economy, ask whether that greater power could be used by the well-connected to line their pockets at the expense of the broader public. More often than not, it seems, that's what's likely to happen.

Science and Technology A collection of some pretty remarkable bridges
It's easy to overlook seeing bridges for what they really are: Very large and tangible collections of knowledge. The engineering skill required to design and build a bridge is the product of hundreds of years of trial and error and documentation. It's too easy to forget that human knowledge is accumulative -- that is, we gather more of it as we go along, and if we're wise, we document it so that the people who follow us can skip over the mistakes and go straight to the right answers. New questions will never be in short supply.

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