Gongol.com Archives: 2012 First-Quarter Archives
Brian Gongol





Business and Finance An economic scorecard for the 2012 Republican Presidential candidates
Everyone makes their own choices about how to pick a candidate. This is a chart for those interested mainly in economic issues.

Iowa Republican caucus locations for Dallas County, Iowa
Caucus locations often differ from the general election voting sites. Many polling locations don't have enough room to accommodate the people who will show up for the caucuses, which are a lot like town hall meetings.

Socialism Doesn't Work The Koreas are at a "turning point", says South Korea's president
Ideally, a way could be found to incentivize the ruling class in North Korea to initiate a peaceful reintegration process with the South. The longer the North stays Marxist/Communist, the greater the prosperity gap between the two countries. And at some point, the North's system will collapse. The sooner the North can be reformed -- deliberately, and in concert with the South -- the better-off the world will be. The signs are already there that China may slip away from Communist control soon, too. The pending burst of China's housing market bubble could hasten that change meaningfully.

Science and Technology 100 years ago, freak snowstorms still caught people in covered wagons
We should never be too quick to forget how dramatically technology influences (and improves) our lives. And technology is driven faster and more broadly by free-market economic incentives than by any other cause known to humankind.





Science and Technology How concrete is good for your health
Most Americans don't have dirt floors, but people in other nations do -- and that exposes them to a range of creepy diseases. Concrete floors in their houses can make them healthier, and concrete on the roads to their homes can open up trade and increase prosperity. Funny how little incremental improvements that we often take for granted in the United States can have such a profound impact elsewhere. Of course, just paving the roads isn't enough to ensure that people will live well -- China's been paving everything in sight (or so it seems), and one of the consequences is that air pollution there is going to be unhealthy for people to breathe from now until at least 2030, and perhaps much longer. One of the reasons people criticize capitalism is that they tie it (mentally) to industrialization and pollution. But the truth of the matter is that free markets under the rule of law in societies where people have the right to elect their own representatives are the ones where pollution is most aggressively attacked. That's because the will of the people (which, generally, is a cleaner environment) gets enacted by the government, which in turn imposes regulations that give private parties an incentive to do something about cleaning up that pollution. Nobody has any incentive to invent a double-hulled oil tanker in a country where the government is the party responsible for moving the oil and has no accountability to the people it harms by spilling it.

Science and Technology Cornell University researchers think they can make things briefly invisible
An experiment with "compressing" light allowed them to create a tiny gap in the apparent perception of time. It's not enough to let anyone rob a bank (the gap was 50 trillionths of a second), but it's interesting science nonetheless.

Iowa The Iowa Caucuses in real-time

Science and Technology Blind test gives no edge to Stradivarius violins over modern makers
In fact, the violinists who tried them out side-by-side in a Pepsi Challenge-style test actually preferred the new violins over the really expensive antiques

News Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #8
18-year-old shoots home intruder on New Year's Eve. He broke into her house with a knife. Everyone needs to know some form of self-defense.

Computers and the Internet Google's rules on paid links may have ensnared one of Google's own operations
They have a requirement that paid links include some special code that tells the Google search bots to not follow those links. Someone on contract to promote Google's Chrome browser apparently failed to follow those rules.

News The Cubs don't need Zambrano anymore
His attitude doesn't seem to have done any good for the team, so it was time to let him go

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The United States of America The ten closest political races in US history
This year's Iowa caucuses place third. Google has produced some very rich data on the caucus results.

Humor and Good News At age 70, Stephen Hawking says women remain "a complete mystery"
He's done groundbreaking thinking about things like black holes, but it's the female of the species that puzzles him

Computers and the Internet Old photos, re-positioned in the present
The very clever DearPhotograph.com invites people to take old pictures and re-shoot the very same place and tell a micro-story about what's changed




Computers and the Internet Observations on how to pick a smartphone

Threats and Hazards How the just-in-time delivery model could put entire economies at risk
We know disasters can happen -- like the Icelandic volcano. So why do we put our essential systems at risk?

News Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #9
Three guys got assaulted outside a West Des Moines bar on New Year's Eve. You never know when there's a violent thug around the corner.

Iowa City of Des Moines sets wheels in motion to send Occupy protesters home
They've had enough time to kill the grass on public property

Humor and Good News Early candidate for 2012 idiot of the year
Smoking enough pot -- inside a hospital -- to set off a smoke detector is a real act of idiocy

News Jamaica and Australia are on track to dump the monarchy
Just 236 years after the United States

Iowa MidAmerican Energy is buying up wind farms
In addition to constructing its own

Business and Finance More Americans are going back to work
The unemployment rate is falling nationally, and the number of discouraged workers is declining. A large number of people (194,000) also left the workforce between November and December. The unemployment rate is extremely closely-tied to education; those with bachelor's degrees and higher have a 4.1% unemployment rate, compared with 13.8% for those without a high school diploma. In related news, Iowa's governor has proposed some reforms to the educational system here.

Threats and Hazards Iran's government is cracking down on Internet access
Always worry about a government that wants to clamp down on its people's ability to communicate

News Three freight trains crash near Chicago
The crash led to a fire and a chemical spill. Chicago is a very serious choke point along America's east-west transportation routes.

Business and Finance "[A]nybody would be crazy to think that there would not be wicked corrections [in China] from time to time"

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News Unrest continues in northwestern China
The giant Xinjiang region is home to a whole lot of oil and natural gas, so no matter what political cost is to be paid, China's central government will probably be keen to hold on to it. But there's been violence in the area between the government and some of the residents, who (depending upon whom is asked) are either terrorists or just people trying to flee the Chinese regime. Regardless, the situation challenges the Western stereotyping of China as one homogeneous unit. The country's borders are an artificial construct, and there's a great deal of ethnic and racial diversity within China. We'd be smart to start seeing China for what it is, rather than the cartoon we sometimes make of it. We'd also be very wise to realize that the borders of China today almost certainly won't be the borders of China in 50 years, or probably even 20 years.

Business and Finance VW decides to shut down employees' BlackBerry email outside working hours
Email will be delivered only starting a half-hour before and ending a half-hour after the scheduled workday. Classify this under "Interesting". Some people certainly don't want to be bothered outside working hours, and they shouldn't be. Others, though, enjoy strategizing their work hours and can use idle time in the grocery line or while waiting for a pot of water to boil to make that work time flow better.

News A new look for the Washington Post
They're making some adaptations to the print edition to make it easier to digest quickly. Meanwhile, the newspaper's ombudsman thinks they're "innovating too fast" with new digital products and experiments. That may be how it feels on the inside, but when he says that "innovations are just tossed against a wall to see what sticks", he's actually describing the kind of thing that too many companies (in media or otherwise) are afraid to do with the Internet -- and should. Good ideas, instead of being tested, experimented-with, and tweaked to fit, are lost forever in red tape and fear. One must play with technology until it breaks, then figure out what broke, fix it, and start again.

Science and Technology The fractal nature of ZIP Codes
Since they aren't grid-based, there's an organic element to how they're ordered. It's actually rather pretty to behold.

News Why picking a good baby name is important
Among other things, a "bad" name could keep your offspring from finding a good mate someday. This is why there's good reason to follow some basic rules when naming a child.

Humor and Good News An ambitious New Year to you

Humor and Good News 365 days of Toronto
Photographer takes a year-long pinhole exposure of the city. Pretty cool.




Business and Finance Rep. Ron Paul's gold standard won't fix problems with banks
Then again, those who just want to break up the big banks might not have it right, either: Canada's banking industry is dominated by giants, but they haven't had anything close to the problems of the American banks that have a much smaller proportional hold on the banking sector here. But the gold standard is an antiquated idea and shouldn't be revered.

Business and Finance Don't be fooled by economic and stock-market "cycles" -- just focus on the fundamentals
Looking too hard for patterns in the past keeps people from seeing the reality of the present and the future.

Iowa Excellent breakdown of the Iowa Caucus results
A breakdown of which candidates perfomed well among different demographic groups, by county. Very interesting.

The United States of America How Americans spend our time
Interesting facts: About a third of people with jobs work on weekends. On average, men work about 40 minutes more per day than women. About a quarter of us work at least part of the day from home. Half of women do housework on an average day, while only one in five men do. TV takes up half of our leisure time. Kids appear to cost adults about an hour of leisure time per day, compared with their childless peers.

Broadcasting Show notes from an afternoon on WHO Radio - January 6, 2012

Computers and the Internet Violin destroyed over PayPal policies

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Business and Finance Google's bold move to buy Motorola has a downside
Motorola's weak performance hit Google's stock price pretty hard today. Google's trying to fashion a modern-day conglomerate, but it's making some odd choices along the way.

Threats and Hazards Repugnant KKK flyers are being distributed in Cedar Rapids

Science and Technology Political attitudes may be rooted (partially) in how people think
Literally, that is -- how their brains process information. Some research hints that whether one is inclined to follow the cues of others may be a left/right thing.

Broadcasting De-commoditizing the nightly news
Network television is figuring out that they have to deliver differentiable products in order for anyone to prefer one newscast over another

News A nation-sized game of chicken
Britain's prime minister has laid down a gauntlet, telling the head of Scotland's government that they need to bring up a referendum on leaving the UK within 18 months or shut up until the next Parliament

Business and Finance Now the banks are borrowing from their former debtors
European credit markets have turned so sour that banks are getting big companies to essentially lend them cash to stay open

Humor and Good News "Larry, you can barely say it now"
Facebook allows teacher to get her revenge on an idiot former student

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Business and Finance Apple's CEO gets paid a nauseating amount
Did he create $378 million in value to the world last year? Put another way: Did he create more value for the company than Apple would have gotten from 3,780 people, each paid $100,000? Or: Did he do as much for Western civilization as 1,512 generals and admirals? If your answer is "Yes", then your name is probably Tim Cook. Or you're sleeping with him.

Computers and the Internet Google to Twitter: Nyah-nyah


Humor and Good News Anyone stupid enough to rename himself "Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop" is stupid enough to be taken off the streets for the good of everyone else


Humor and Good News Sen. Al Franken knows how to ask for money


Humor and Good News The in-efficiency expert
(Video) A Rube Goldberg page-turner

Business and Finance Hostess files Chapter 11


Humor and Good News Kids having a conversation in sign language
(Video)

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Computers and the Internet "To whom thy secret thou dost tell, to him thy freedom thou dost sell" - Benjamin Franklin
Ever stopped for a minute to think of the blackmail value built up inside Facebook? Not just what you've told, but whose profiles you've viewed...whose pictures you've lingered upon...which comments you made three years ago. It's like everything every mob and oppressive secret police agency has ever tried to collect, all in one database. No matter what their terms and conditions say now, nothing guarantees they won't ever use or sell this information against 800 million people. Just the blackmail value in telling employers which employees were on Facebook during working hours is enough to make one shudder.

Computers and the Internet Michelle Obama is on Twitter now
Only some of the messages put out under her name will really be originally hers. This hearkens back to recent comments about the need to hear directly, in an unfiltered way, from our public officials. Now, whether the First Lady really does her own Tweeting or not doesn't really matter much in the grand scheme of things. But to reiterate the larger point: It would be good for society if our leaders actually had the self-discipline and dedication to sit down for ten minutes a day to compose and share their thoughts on the things that matter with the rest of us.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft places a big bet on smartphones
The company probably sees that Nokia's weak, BlackBerry is fading out, and Apple's reached a ceiling on the number of people willing to pay a premium for their much-vaunted "user experience". Android phones have reached a majority in the US market, but if the other competitors are weak, Microsoft might have found an opening using a flavor of Windows 7 to run the phone. Windows 7 has turned out to be a really good operating system, and Microsoft would be smart to capitalize on it.

Business and Finance US manufacturers say China is dumping cheap wind-turbine towers on the American market
Dumping has to be one of the least-certain ways of gaining monopoly power, but nobody should be surprised if it's actually true that the Chinese government is doing whatever it can to aid its own manufacturers as they try to keep people employed and put a lid on unrest in the hinterlands

Health $10 million is yours if you can make a Star Trek-style body scanner
It's another X-Prize (one of a series of inducement prizes) that seeks to concentrate the benefits of far-out-there research in a way that might accelerate the pace of technological advance. This one is being named for Qualcomm. The public is being invited to submit comments on what they'd like to see in this dream diagnostic machine until April 30th. They're going to pick 15 diseases and award the prize to the machine that does the best job of nailing down those diseases. Inducement prizes are a great tool, because the awarding agency/individual/government/company doesn't pay a penny until the winner shows proof of a result. By concentrating benefits, they make far-flung goals look more interesting and thus concentrate research efforts in their pursuit.

Science and Technology Live a happier life by making fewer decisions
That's one of the reasons why checklists are so attractive -- by taking the thought out of routine tasks, they allow the individual to concentrate on the really big decisions that need to be made in life

Humor and Good News Some people are just really slow learners
(Video)

Computers and the Internet Get ready for a slew of ridiculous new top-level domains
Don't expect to be going to www.whatever.gongol anytime soon. They cost $185,000. Give this one a 65% chance of being a total boondoggle. Just like people still aren't convinced of dialing 1-888 or 1-877 rather than 1-800, they're not going to be convinced of using anything other than good old .com anytime soon.

Humor and Good News The Onion: "Area man's hard work finally pays off for employer"
It's surprising that there wasn't more of a rush toward independent contracting during the late economic contraction. One would think that people are getting tired of being conventional employees.

Business and Finance Man fined $400,000 for offering to buy American Airlines
Court says you can't do that if you have "no significant assets". However, it's being reported that Delta may be thinking of a buyout while American is in bankruptcy.

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Business and Finance We live in a very strange world: Mortgage interest rates are below 4%

Computers and the Internet Forget the $100 laptop, an even cheaper tablet is here
An Indian company is making a tablet now for $50

Business and Finance Insurer Aon says it's dumping Chicago for London
Exactly how many of their Chicago-based employees do they expect to take with them to the UK? Technically, in the short run, the company says it's only moving about 20 people, and that it will expand its operations in the US, starting with Chicago. But plenty of promises can be made in the short term that don't pan out in the long run, especially once people have stopped paying attention. Illinois has a terrible tax situation for companies, and this may be a symptom of that disease. But pulling up stakes on Chicago and going to London instead? That's a pretty dramatic move.

Humor and Good News Someone in a Mickey Mouse costume knows how to dance
(Video)

Humor and Good News When Warren Buffett visits the doctor, does he tell them he's "self-employed"?
The question, of course, is really just rhetorical and a little tongue-in-cheek, but it is funny how the "self-employed" are treated differently from those who are employed by others. Sometimes it's hard to see how the distinction is relevant, as at the doctor's office.

Iowa Polk County proposes a big plan to fix the courthouse problem
The question isn't whether something should be done -- it must. The real question is whether any alternatives would be better

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Business and Finance S&P downgrades debt of 9 of 17 Eurozone countries
That's pretty harsh...but it's also probably long overdue

Computers and the Internet Pandora founder wonders if Facebook is pushing instant sharing too far
And they probably are

News A video board at Wrigley Field? Bah!
It's practically heresy

Iowa Cedar Rapids got ripped off by giving away economic-development incentives


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Science and Technology The worry over SOPA comes to a head in a big protest this week


Health Could the London Olympics become a starting point for epidemics?


Science and Technology 3D printing: Coming soon to a household near you


News Impressive or terrifying? Leaning towards "terrifying."
(Video) China races to construct a building worrisomely fast

Computers and the Internet Is Google giving up on search?


Science and Technology Should increasing energy efficiency be more important than expanding supply?


Threats and Hazards A yacht for the Queen?
Monarchies do silly things -- like giving a national birthday gift worth tens of millions of dollars to the Queen of England

Broadcasting Show notes from the Brian Gongol Show - January 15, 2012





Business and Finance China's economy is still growing quickly, but the rate of growth is slowing


Computers and the Internet How President Obama's re-election campaign is using data mining to plan their campaign
It's amazing to see the same people who would otherwise say that government can't be trusted turning over all kinds of information about themselves, voluntarily, to a political campaign. Of course, there's loads of data to be gathered from non-political databases, too. In a sense, it's highly democratic. In another, it's terribly creepy.

Computers and the Internet Facebook knows your political sentiments -- and now so does Politico


Business and Finance Ralcorp is spinning-off Post Cereals
They bought Post in August 2008, so somebody at Ralcorp has made a huge blunder -- either in paying too much when they bought, or spinning off too soon. But there's no way to categorize a quick purchase-and-resale such as this as a success.

Humor and Good News The television show for a generation that's never been told "No"
(Video) SNL may have just reversed years of damage to society (caused by sketches featuring the likes of Chris Farley and David Spade) in one fell swoop

Computers and the Internet An attempt to revive Atari
Strange that any of us should become nostalgic over a technology company. Yesterday's tech was slow and unimpressive by today's standards -- it's not like rediscovering a family recipe.

Science and Technology So...it turns out they really are making new real estate, after all


Humor and Good News Thoughts from the guy who wrote most of Elton John's lyrics


Health The neurology "time bomb"


Broadcasting On-demand edition of the "Brian Gongol Show" from January 15, 2012
Segments 1, 2, 3, and 4




Threats and Hazards Bureaucratic dithering probably cost 100,000 lives in eastern Africa
We need better ways of storing food for the long term and of moving it quickly to where it's needed

Computers and the Internet Jerry Yang quits Yahoo board


News One of Kim Jong-Il's other sons says the current North Korean regime will collapse soon


Computers and the Internet The problem with passwords


Business and Finance Lee Enterprises thinks it's exiting bankruptcy this month
The company expanded too much and relied on debt to do it

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.




Computers and the Internet How Twitter is making live TV more interesting


Threats and Hazards Thoughtless Occupists don't think about the costs they impose on others
Just putting a few of them through the court process in Des Moines for their intentional arrests is going to clog up the courts for a while. Selfish.

Computers and the Internet Google claims 90 million users on Google Plus


Computers and the Internet An influx of data centers in the Midwest?
It's about time people started de-concentrating away from the major metropolitan areas of the country. On a related note: Small data centers are popping up in unexpected places.

Iowa The bridge to nowhere...will soon go somewhere
I-80 will soon have an interchange with 105th Street in West Des Moines. Waukee hopes for the best.

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Business and Finance GM is once again the world's largest automaker
But at what cost? Some will argue that the Federal government has actually earned (or will earn) a profit on its "investment" in the company. But that means that there was, presumably, a profit to have been made by the private sector instead -- by people who specialize in capital allocation. The government doesn't specialize in that. Nor should it specialize in bailing out companies just because those companies happen to be major employers. Government's proper role is to establish a fair playing field for the private sector, and to ensure that the things society needs that are difficult or impossible to self-fund are provided. (The private sector tends to do a bad job of providing an Air Force, for instance.) When government turns its attention and resources to "rescuing" companies in the private sector just because those companies are big, then we march directly into dangerous territory.

Business and Finance Municipal debts are growing
Part of the problem: Incentive packages for businesses. Economic-development incentives seem rational on a case-by-case basis, but when taken as a whole, they're insanity. Cities do it, and so do states.

Iowa 29-year-old charged with identity theft...against the Iowa Secretary of State
One has to imagine it wasn't just a random pick, but rather a deliberately political attack

Computers and the Internet "Anonymous" movement crashes US government websites
Like the Occupy movement, the people at "Anonymous" may have reasonable grievances. But their means (vandalism, particularly) are unacceptable in a civilized society.

Computers and the Internet Sales of Microsoft Windows products drop by 6%
That's far from being a catastrophe, but it probably indicates that people are turning to alternatives like tablet computers and smartphones to do the things they may have done in the past with conventional desktop and laptop computers. Purchases of new tablets and smartphones are probably just offsetting the replacement of old laptops and desktops -- the kinds of machines that run Windows. Companies have probably slowed their replacement cycles for computers, too.

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Agriculture Volatility for biodiesel makers tracks uncertainty about tax credits


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Threats and Hazards "If it saves just one life..."
A letter to the editor in support of red-light traffic cameras in Cedar Rapids relies on the old canard that "If it saves just one life, then it's worth any price". But the problem here is that though we each value our own lives infinitely (because, of course, you can't take it with you), that equation is simply not true. We could have a world of infinite safety, in which every person is bubble-wrapped and we all travel at no speed greater than 5 miles per hour, but the trade-off for that level of security would be world in which nothing got done and in which we never experienced any thrills. In the case of red-light cameras, the trade-off appears -- at least on the surface -- to be between safety and surveillance. On that basis alone, we are obliged to very seriously consider whether we're willing to be surveilled at all times, even if we're abiding the law. (One might very likely think we are not.) But beyond that, the reality is that red-light cameras are no assurance of greater safety. They quite likely create more rear-end accidents (as people slam the brakes when lights turn yellow), even if they cut down on T-bone incidents. But further to the point, if the issue is really one of safety, isn't the solution to find engineering designs for intersections that make them more safe, rather than just introducing more Big Brother? Roundabouts prohibit T-bone accidents by design, and longer-duration yellow lights and longer gaps between the onset of red in one direction and green in the other can ensure that lapses in judgment don't rise to the level of causing accidents. And if the problem is with repeat offenders, shouldn't they individually lose their licenses? If the problem is with a particular intersection, shouldn't someone investigate what it is about the design of that intersection that causes so much danger?

News "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"
The head of local government in Scotland wants a referendum on that question sometime in 2014. It would throw into question Scotland's three centuries under British rule. Plenty of people in England seem not to be amused.

Humor and Good News "Moby Dick" typed on a roll of toilet paper
Yours for the bidding on eBay

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Computers and the Internet Facebook could be up for an IPO by April
The Wall Street Journal is reporting rumors that the company could file paperwork about an IPO this coming week. It was pretty much inevitable that this would happen, but the sad part is that a lot of people are probably going to be suckered into chasing the stock because it sounds exciting and cool, not because it's a good investment. The Facebook bubble will pop someday -- just as surely as did CompuServe, MySpace, and Second Life. The question is when.

Business and Finance US GDP grew at an annualized 2.8% rate in the fourth quarter
Is it a great figure? No. Is it OK? Yes.

News A temple for atheism?
It's an interesting concept

Aviation News Pair of Canadian teens sends a Lego man into space
And they recorded the 80,000-foot climb and descent on video. It was a $400, 97-minute trip.

Computers and the Internet Twitter implements selective-censorship method
As they try to expand into different countries, they're trying to navigate the laws that differ from place to place. The notice of the new censorship algorithm is really just an unpleasant reminder that there are a lot of countries where there's no such thing as free speech.




Computers and the Internet How the LinkedIn founder views networking
Interesting: He doesn't advocate the kind of "friend"-everyone-you-meet kind of networking that people seem to think they have to do

Business and Finance Should the government encourage mass home refinancing?
That's the suggestion of a Fortune columnist, building on work by economists including Glenn Hubbard of Columbia Business School




Computers and the Internet Cloud computing explained in two minutes
It's one of the buzzwords that's floated around for just long enough for everyone to have heard it, but it's been too poorly-explained thus far for most people to understand what it's all about

Broadcasting Show notes from the "WHO Radio Wise Guys" - January 28, 2012

Iowa Polk County (Iowa) is losing a good supervisor





Computers and the Internet Why it's important to control your online reputation
The principal at Valley High School (in West Des Moines, Iowa) is being spoofed by someone using his name on a fake Twitter account. He ignored the problem early. Now the clown who started the account is putting up anti-Semitic messages, and there's nothing the principal or the school district can really do about it. The account is down now, though it's not clear whether that was a voluntary thing or if Twitter took action on its own. Regardless, the fact that the principal had to contact the company to ask that the account be removed illustrates just how important it is that people -- particularly those in the public eye or who deal with large groups, like school authorities -- get ahead of the curve and assertively manage their own online reputations. You don't want the most prominent search for your name to turn up a fake Twitter account -- or a bunch of news stories in which someone using your name was saying malicious things. Anyone with reasonable concern about these kinds of hazards can take action: Set up a LinkedIn account and make it public. Get a Twitter handle and post to it occasionally -- and do the same on Google Plus. Register your given name as a domain name and either set up a website or point that domain name to one of your accounts. Only the domain name costs anything ($10 a year), and among those actions, one can very quickly (and legitimately) take up the first four or five spots in a search for one's name. It probably sounded like a remote problem in the past. Today, it's essential.

Business and Finance Is there bias among the academics who discuss executive pay?
It's a hot and recurring topic in economics: How should shareholders pay the executives who manage their companies? Even an average senior research seminar in college is likely to find at least one student inquiring about the subject. But nobody has broken down the issue of executive pay more thoughtfully and clearly than Warren Buffett in his 1985 letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett clearly argues that fixed-price stock options create an incentive for executives to retain and then basically just sit on the profits they make, rather than using them thoughtfully, reinvesting or distributing those profits as dividends: "Managers regularly engineer ten-year, fixed-price options for themselves and associates that, first, totally ignore the fact that retained earnings automatically build value and, second, ignore the carrying cost of capital. As a result, these managers end up profiting much as they would have had they had an option on that savings account that was automatically building up in value." The entire letter is well worth the reading.

Business and Finance More evidence that the economy is very different from one part of America to another
There's a housing shortage -- yes, shortage -- in Pender, Nebraska. Employers are hiring and don't have any place for their employees to live.

Health Sometimes the world needs a little behavior that looks like a violation of anti-trust rules
Pharmaceutical companies are going to collaborate on producing medicines that will combat tropical diseases. The collaboration, partially at Bill Gates's behest, will try to knock down diseases found in places that aren't usually big markets for the pharmaceutical companies. The cooperation would probably otherwise look like a case for an anti-trust lawyer, but nobody's likely to complain.

Business and Finance Anyone who bets on stocks using technical charts deserves to get burned
A Reuters report on today's stock market used this completely incomprehensible jibberish: "The flat close with wide intraday moves in both directions describes a 'long-legged doji' pattern on a Japanese candle stick chart and is seen as a sign of uncertainty and indecision on the part of investors." What a bunch of hogwash. Either a company is worth buying or it is not. Looking for patterns hidden within stock charts to divine some kind of "market-beating" stock-picking strategy is the kind of gambling that should stay in the casino, where it belongs.

The United States of America The full 2012 primary and caucus calendar

Iowa Differences in Iowa power rates: Municipal vs. co-op vs. investor-owned utilities





Business and Finance Facebook wants to raise $5 billion in an IPO
Among the most interesting take-aways from the filing is that Mark Zuckerberg will have enough voting power to do whatever he wants with the company. The filing says, "As a result of voting agreements with certain stockholders, together with the shares he holds, Mark Zuckerberg, our founder, Chairman, and CEO, will be able to exercise voting rights with respect to [...] a majority of the voting power of our outstanding capital stock following our initial public offering. As a result, Mr. Zuckerberg has the ability to control the outcome of matters submitted to our stockholders for approval". So if you have questions about his judgment -- and there is good reason to have those -- you might want to think twice about becoming what is, essentially, a limited partner in his company. Also amusing was this warning: "Likewise, we have a number of current employees whose equity awards are fully vested and shortly after the completion of our initial public offering will be entitled to receive substantial amounts of our capital stock. As a result, it may be difficult for us to continue to retain and motivate these employees, and this wealth could affect their decisions about whether or not they continue to work for us." True, and a little foreboding. Now, one can't blame Zuckerberg for structuring the company the way he has -- retaining a huge share of the Class B stock, each share of which has ten times the voting power of the Class A stock that will be sold in the market -- nor would it be fair to deny that Facebook has become a very popular tool that brings a lot of happiness to people all over the world. But as an investment, it's extraordinarily risky. All of the meaningful control in the company is vested in one person, who then has to get lots of decisions right -- because there's no environment in which competition is more nimble and more fierce than in online services. The stock will probably be very hot upon its IPO, but at some point it will cool, and any bets on how it will perform can only be categorized as speculation, not investment.

News Would Wales try to leave the UK?
With Scotland likely to vote in the next two years on a plan to divorce itself from England, there's a chance Wales could do the same thing. This raises an interesting question: If one were to re-draw the world's political maps based upon what made sense, rather than on historical precedent, what would change? There is, for instance, no really good reason why the United States hasn't added new territory in the last half-century. Not through force, mind you, but through voluntary accession. We should have a giant "Welcome" sign hanging out to say that any city, province, state, region, or country that meets a certain set of eligibility requirements is welcome to accede into the USA. Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution says it: "New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union". Aren't there likely some places around the world where the locals would rather have the protection of the American military, the stability of the American government, and free-trade access to the entire American economy, rather than what they presently have? And as long as they're entering debt-free, with a commitment to the rule of law, republican government, and free enterprise, wouldn't new states be even better than the same number of new individual immigrants? In the UK and the United States alike, we're already bending the rules to make it easier for wealthy people to move in -- why not extend the principle a bit and welcome entire territories?

News Iran's government misinterprets the Arab Spring...badly

News The top five regrets of the dying

Weather and Disasters Ferry sinks off Papua New Guinea
The number of missing is unknown -- and quite unknown, at that. It could be smaller than a dozen, and it could be greater than 100.

News Michigan tests the next generation of police cruisers
With old stand-by choices like the Chevy Caprice and the Ford Crown Victoria gone, they're having to look to a whole new range of vehicles

Iowa Traffic deaths in Iowa hit more than half-century low




Business and Finance Household net worth in the United States
The Census Bureau keeps tabs on a lot of wealth and poverty statistics. Among them, how much families have as their net worth.

The United States of America Grassley motion in Senate intends to cut down on "political intelligence operatives" who collect DC inside information for investors


Business and Finance Sioux City organization holds out $5,000 grants for entrepreneurs






Threats and Hazards President Obama: "We're going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon"


The United States of America Is Newt Gingrich in the Presidential race just to pay himself?
There's a lot of reimbursement going on between his campaign and his own companies

Computers and the Internet Should you manage your bills online?
A two-minute introduction to the subject in plain English

Computers and the Internet Parents: You're probably sharing too much about your kids on Facebook.
Please stop.

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Business and Finance About that Chrysler Super Bowl ad...
The Chrysler ad voiced by Clint Eastwood was good television, no doubt. It's a powerful and emotional spot. But something about it still doesn't sit well, even after a few days of consideration. Yes, the bailouts of GM and Chrysler have turned out pretty well for those two companies. More than $60 billion in government cash infusions will do that sort of thing.

But what about everybody else? What about the erosion of the wall between the government and private industry that lingered with the government's continued ownership of minority stakes in both GM and Chrysler? What about the bondholders who were sent straight to third-class treatment behind the government and the UAW when the government and GM agreed to restructure ownership of the company in bankruptcy? What about the shareholders and workers of Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and other companies that also build their cars in America, but without bailout funds? Why should Ford have to compete with massive subsidies backing the other two of the Big Detroit Three? What makes Toyota's plant in Indiana, Honda's plant in Ohio, or Hyundai's plant in Alabama any less "American" than similar facilities in Detroit?

Subsidizing the poor choices that built up at GM and Chrysler only served to punish the companies that had gotten by on their own. And, to take it a step beyond, why should people in any other American industry have to subsidize just a handful of participants in the automotive industry -- just because it's well-known and politically important? It's not as though a non-bailout world would have meant the end of the automotive industry in Michigan: Had a more natural process taken place, the valuable assets of the companies would have been acquired by others. One thing about what that would have meant: The acquiring companies would, most likely, have been better-managed than the bankrupt companies, and would have been better at putting those resources to work than the management of the bankrupt companies.

Don't misinterpret this, of course: Nobody should revel in bankruptices. They hurt a lot of people, and they should be avoided whenever possible. But if they're inevitable -- as they apparently were at GM and Chrysler -- an intervention like the one the Federal government undertook on our behalf can create very visible results, but it hid the damage done to others. It's easy to wave a flag and say "Look at how well Chrysler and GM have done since the bailouts!" It's harder (but no less important) to ask what sacrifices were made by others to make it happen.


Computers and the Internet This is why you always register your electronics with the manufacturer
A series of security cameras from Trendnet contain a firmware bug that could allow anyone to see live streams from those cameras (including ones inside bedrooms and other parts of private homes) over the Internet without any kind of password protection. The company says that 95% of users haven't ever registered their cameras, which means they aren't getting contacted by the company with instructions on how to fix the problem. Always register your software and hardware alike.

Business and Finance We need to stop handcuffing ourselves to temporary tax breaks
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke is worried that uncertainty over tax rates is a threat to the economy -- and that increases in tax rates, if they occur as scheduled now, could be enough to stifle economic growth at a very precarious time. We've been using tax policy as a means of stimulating the economy for too long, and now that behavior is really coming home to roost.

News Should journalists be certified, accredited, or even licensed?
A newspaper editor in the UK is arguing for a system to accredit journalists there, so as to prevent the un-accredited from attending newsworthy events in a reporting capacity. On the surface, it might sound like he's calling for journalists to be more professional. But what he's really calling for is a means of limiting his competition. That's almost always what certifications, licenses, and other accreditations are all about -- keeping competition out, and protecting the guild within.

Science and Technology Soldiers of the future might use mind controls
That is to say, they might both control their weapons using their minds, and use weapons against their adversaries' minds

Computers and the Internet A cleaner Facebook user interface would be nice, but...
...sometimes the site goes through a hiccup and nothing appears at all

Computers and the Internet Pen and paper still have a place in the digital world

Threats and Hazards Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #10
A man in Chicago punched a woman repeatedly on a street in broad daylight because she looked at him in a way he didn't like. It's unfortunate that she wasn't equipped with the tools to lay out a punk like that and teach him a life lesson.

News Everyone should know how to stop a runaway car
One person survived a ride in which a Chicago driver chased a death wish by going the wrong way down the Interstate. Three other people inside the car (including the driver), and a driver in another vehicle died. It's a low-probability thing that anyone's going to be caught in such an extraordinary situation (or any other, like a kidnapping or carjacking), but it takes about ten seconds to learn how to stop a moving car when it's out of control.

Water News A picture from pump school




Business and Finance There are plenty of jobs available, but not enough skilled workers to fill them
A whole lot of the chatter we hear about the "decline of manufacturing" in America is utterly wrong. Total manufacturing output is huge, both in volume and dollar terms. But we're producing more with fewer people, because machines are doing more work, and more of the work is technically sophisticated. The idea of being a dummy turning a wrench and taking home a fat paycheck was illusory at best, and the day of high pay for low-skilled work is gone. But a lot of commentators (and probably a lot of parents, too) are far too dismissive of blue-collar work. Modern manufacturing work isn't for idiots, and not for the lazy.

Business and Finance Cities as economic catalysts

Computers and the Internet Des Moines gets a special Foursquare badge
Foursquare is a novelty, but people really shouldn't be in the habit of giving away their location in real time online, no matter how good the offers for so doing might be.

News Winning entry in design contest for Chicago parking stickers might've contained gang symbols
...so it's not going to be the winning entry anymore. There's something to be said for having aware, alert people involved in every stage of anything that's going to be seen widely by the public. It's like the rule that the person with the dirtiest mind at a newspaper should be the copy editor who writes headlines. That person will see the double entendres that others will miss.

Humor and Good News When people take "The Onion" literally

Humor and Good News Carjacking punks get the beat-down they deserve
...from a guy who's 75 years old

Weather and Disasters Des Moines-area river flood stages are rising

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News Should semi-trailer loads be 21% heavier than they are now?
Congress is debating whether to raise the limits on Interstate highway loads from 80,000 lbs. to 97,000 lbs. That would represent a lot more weight -- and thus a lot more momentum behind every truck. It could make shipping more efficient, but would it also make driving more dangerous for others on the road?

Business and Finance It's well past time to retire the "star" mutual fund manager
Fidelity, long known for "star" investment managers like Peter Lynch, is starting to have its mutual fund managers team-up, rather than go it alone. Here's the thing: Actively-managed mutual funds are, with a very small number of exceptions, a losing proposition for investors. Most people would be better off putting most of their retirement investments into broad-based index funds, like the Schwab Total Stock Market Index fund, which has tiny fees and is invested in almost all of the widely-available publicly-traded stocks in America. The idea? Pretty boring. The results, though, are going to reflect the overall performance of the American private-sector economy, which over the long term is going to be pretty good. Most people go after actively-managed mutual funds because they're hoping to get something better than average. So, for that reason, the best advice for most people is to put the lion's share of stock-type investments into a very-low-fee index fund (like the Schwab fund) -- something like 75% to 90% -- and then invest the balance in a smaller number of individual stocks than you could count on both hands. That keeps a touch of excitement in the game, but ensures that, for the most part, you'll get the same performance you could expect from the market as a whole. Low fees are a key, though: The Schwab fund currently charges less than 0.1% a year. Most actively-managed funds take 1% to 2%, and some take even more. Using the low-fee fund means handing over 90% less to Wall Street, and that's not an insignificant amount of savings.

Iowa Iowa gas taxes could rise
We have to pay for our road infrastructure somehow, and the number of deficiencies seems to suggest we haven't been paying enough. But there are better alternatives to the gas tax.




Iowa University of Iowa professor surprised people didn't like his rant about living in the state
Here's a hint to Stephen Bloom: If you submit an article to 40 different publications, you're probably trying pretty hard to get it published. And if you're being a low-class clown about how you paint your neighbors with unflattering stereotypes, then you're probably pretty well-aware that you're being a jerk. Don't act surprised when people take offense. You knew exactly what you were doing.

Iowa New ISU president says economic development is "dear to my heart"
Universities can play a great role in economic development, as long as they're focused on creating useful knowledge and disseminating that to the community. Some universities have been competitors with their local private-sector counterparts, and that's not an appropriate role for a state-funded institution. One of the best things that ISU (and Iowa's other state schools) could do is expand access to bachelor's degree programs outside the traditional bounds of the four-year residential experience. What happens to the person living in Rock Rapids or Chariton or Decorah who wants to get a BA or BS but who has a full-time job? The state has a strong economic interest in making sure they have access to four-year degrees, even if it takes them eight or ten years, taking classes via the Internet or attending evening courses at a nearby high school.

Iowa Better business environment in South Dakota lures factory that had considered Iowa
Iowa still plays too many games with economic-development "incentives" rather than just creating a low-tax, thoughtfully-regulated climate for businesses of all sizes

Computers and the Internet Iowa State Patrol will switch from VHS to digital for dashboard cameras
The VHS tape is careening towards total obsolescence

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Business and Finance Why gold is a lousy investment, by Warren Buffett
The adaptation from Buffett's upcoming letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway delves into the problem with thinking of gold as either (a) a stable investment, or (b) a productive investment. Buffett touches on two themes noted here earlier this year -- that gold's value is constantly being eroded by the fact it's being mined constantly around the world, no matter how much the gold bugs seek to convince others that it's rock-solid, and that it's a truly capricious choice for stability -- no more sensible than coal or uranium (suggested here) or seashells or shark teeth (suggested by Buffett).

Computers and the Internet How to make email management a lot easier for about $10 a year

Business and Finance A video tour of Warren Buffett's office
(Video) It's a bit contrived, but as much as anything, it's good to see a very successful executive working in an office that doesn't look like some kind of lavish imperial chamber. It's a nice office, but it doesn't look like the kind of place that has a gold-plated toilet or an $87,000 area rug.





Broadcasting Chinese government clamps down on foreign TV shows
Nobody in America has to put limits on how much foreign television content is available here...

Business and Finance Mortgage rates are still falling, and T-bills are interest-free
The Treasury Department says that the national average for a 30-year mortgage rate is 3.92%, and that a three-month Treasury bill is paying 0.02%. That's less than inflation, which means that people are effectively paying the government to take their money.

Broadcasting Does a more mainstream Fox News Channel alienate the right?

Business and Finance Principal Financial looks to China's potential as a market for retirement-investing plans

Threats and Hazards Israel says Iranians are behind coordinated terrorist attacks in three countries this week

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Business and Finance Who's entitled to the proceeds of the automotive bailout?


Agriculture Bringing broadband Internet access to rural areas: Good.
Interfering with GPS-driven tractors: Very, very bad.

Iowa Seriously! Stop it with the incentives!


Humor and Good News Miss Piggy as red-carpet reporter
(Video)




Business and Finance A $10 minimum wage? Not now.
A subcommittee in the Iowa Senate (that is, three people) approved a bill to raise Iowa's minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2013. The parties involved seem to acknowledge that the proposal really isn't going anywhere, but it's important to ask what the real goal is. Wages and salaries should, generally, represent a return on the amount of economic value that the individual's work creates. People who are more productive are generally paid more than those who are less so. Those who are at the lowest end of the pay scale are presumably there because they don't create a great amount of value per hour worked. Thus the real question is whether the problem is that some people aren't being paid very much, or that some people aren't able to create much value with their labor. If the problem is really the latter (and it is), then what we should be doing is looking for ways to help people increase the amount of value they create per hour worked. (This only makes sense: If you were a farmer a hundred years ago, and you saw that your neighbor consistently brought in half of the yield in crops that you did, you would be doing far more good to help him come up with ways to rise to your level of production than to try to force the grain buyer at the elevator to pay the neighbor twice as much per bushel as he paid everyone else for the same grain.) Some people (like teenagers) don't earn much because they don't have any work experience, which means they don't know yet how to add much value to the work they do. Raising the minimum wage makes entry-level jobs harder to create and find, which only makes it harder for people without job experience to gain it. Other people earn low wages because they lack the job skills to create much value and thus command higher pay. Over the long run, the just thing to do is to help them find ways to become more economically productive -- which in turn will be reflected in higher market rates of pay for their work.

Computers and the Internet Are social networks too big?
The website/app called Path seeks to limit "social networking" to one's 50 closest friends. The argument has it that nobody can really cognitively maintain more than that number of active friendships. One might wonder, though: Is that true for everyone equally? Some people are introverts; others are extroverts. Isn't it likely that one's degree of extroversion is positively correlated with the number of relationships one wants (or even needs) to maintain, and can?

Aviation News Swiss design satellite to clean up space junk
Thank you, Switzerland. This is needed more than most people could possibly know.

Science and Technology One word, son: Plastics
Finding ways to build plastics from renewable resources is a really good idea

The United States of America Ronald Reagan's coat of arms

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The United States of America We will live to rue the day we kept avoiding the inevitable payroll-tax increase
Congress approved extending the payroll-tax cuts today. Does a payroll-tax cut probably improve the employment situation? Yes. Is it nice for workers to have more take-home pay? Absolutely. Does a payroll-tax cut probably have a mildly stimulative effect on the economy in the short run? Most likely. But the fact of the matter is that payroll taxes are there to fund the Social Security and Medicare programs, and the longer we under-fund them (which was already a problem before we made it worse by cutting those payroll taxes), the more painful it's going to be in the future when the bills come due.

Business and Finance China's government continues to disregard intellectual property rights
The legal system is set up to reward "trademark squatters" -- people who file applications for ownership of product and company names that belong to others. That's not the way to ensure honest trade. Proper respect for intellectual property -- including trademarks as well as patents -- is absolutely necessary to ensuring honest business and fair competition.

Socialism Doesn't Work Are the Vikings worth a $1 billion stadium?
Some people love their sports too much -- like the guy who has a mascot or icon tattoo for every team in Major League Baseball. State and local government could be on the hook for half a billion dollars to build a replacement for the Metrodome in Minneapolis, if early reports are true.

Science and Technology Using religious arguments to justify politics
Stanford study says that, basically, liberals justify some of their arguments by convincing themselves that a modern-day Jesus would be even farther to the left than they are, and conservatives do the same justification dance by arguing that he'd be even farther right.

Iowa A look at the symbols behind China's vice-presidential visit to Iowa
There are deeper meanings to some of the things that were done and said

Iowa UNI faces more budget cuts

News Is it really appropriate to make flippant jokes about birth control?
When people who seek to influence national life -- including a very prominent backer of a Presidential candidate -- make absurdly out-of-touch comments dismissing serious issues like reproductive health, it's a very bad sign of things to come. We can't just reduce national political conversations to stupid one-liners and exaggerations.

Computers and the Internet People remember better what they read off a printed page than from a computer screen
The difference is estimated at 20% to 30% better recall from the printed page




Health 20% of antibiotics are being prescribed for common colds
And it turns out those antibiotics don't do any good for relieving that cold, anyway. If we want antibiotics to keep on working when we need them, we need to stop over-using them.

Humor and Good News Grandma Courtney

Humor and Good News A real-life Eric Cartman

Business and Finance Why do perfectly intelligent people hire consultants who don't know anything?

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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News "The Cubs Way" is finally being written down
Every organization has a "way" of doing things. The smart ones write it down so new people can learn it quickly. That's how institutional memory can be documented and used efficiently inside any organization -- from baseball teams to Fortune 500 companies to governments.

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Agriculture The first lab-grown hamburger will be eaten in October

Weather and Disasters Where to see the auroras

News Latvia still not interested in Russia, 20 years after independence
The country voted 75% against making Russian the country's second language

Business and Finance Mortgage-backed securities...are back

Humor and Good News Miniature libraries

News Swedish man claims to have survived two months trapped in his snowbound car

Humor and Good News New mothers and their blogs

Threats and Hazards Scientology labor camp




Business and Finance Foxconn, the company assembling many Apple products, raises wages by 25%
Bad publicity for low wages and long hours have come back around against Apple and its contractor, so wages are going up. But at the same time, the company's (wisely) trying to automate more of the assembly process, which in turn will simply put some workers out of jobs entirely. This is how things work -- higher wages create pressure to automate. But it's also a signal that the "cheap labor" advantage that China has had for a long time is not destined to last forever.

Computers and the Internet There's not enough radio spectrum space for all of our smartphones
Mobile access to the Internet is a huge perk. But it's such a wonderful thing that we're saturating the available radio signals for using it.

Business and Finance The failures of business schools
"[W]e've fostered a segment of the population that thinks they're entitled to a high-paying job by virtue of the fact they have a college degree and can fog a cold mirror"

Aviation News Southwest Airlines subsidiary AirTran will soon offer service from Des Moines to Chicago Midway
It's pretty close to what Des Moines-area travelers have been hoping would happen for a long time -- it's not exactly direct service from Southwest to other destinations, but it'll certainly open up a lot of access to Southwest routes out of Midway

Humor and Good News Animated diagram of the Polo Grounds
It has to have been one of the strangest-shaped baseball fields in history

Science and Technology Clone of a 30,000-year-old plant comes back to life

News Good for society: More wind power. Bad for society: Hiding the costs through tax breaks.
Nobody can blame the companies taking advantage of the tax breaks for doing so -- it's just a smart business move. But at one point or another, society has to decide that our lawmakers need to stop trying to pick winners and losers via the tax code. It's just not healthy. If they were that good at picking good businesses, they'd be private-sector investors themselves, rather than eelcted officials.

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 18, 2012




Threats and Hazards "Sleepwalking into a surveillance society"
London may have cameras everywhere, but they don't appear to be lowering the crime rate. And when the people defending the cameras lean on phrases like "“We try and strike a balance with civil liberties but a lot of the time we are reacting to what people are wanting", that's when one should become alarmed. Civil liberties are not a popularity contest.

News 8-year-old hit by stray bullet shows more composure than many un-shot adults
Some poor second-grader got hit by some stray gunfire in the Bronx, but still managed to keep his composure -- and his manners. All of which causes one to think that this kid deserves to grow up someplace where bullets don't hit second-graders.

Computers and the Internet Google's plans for an antenna farm in Council Bluffs

Business and Finance White House plans push for simpler corporate tax rates
More often than not, a simpler tax code is a smarter tax code. Fewer loopholes, exceptions, and tricks mean less wasted effort shuffling paper rather than just doing business.

Weather and Disasters AccuWeather predicts a worse-than-normal tornado season
It's warm in the Gulf of Mexico, and that's the fuel that powers major storms

Computers and the Internet Facebook's content rules
They're trying to navigate the sensibilities (and laws) of countries all over the world. There's no way to do that without looking ridiculous from time to time.

Humor and Good News Rick Santorum's Gmail inbox
It may be a parody, but it's not that far removed from some of the outlandish things Santorum says

Humor and Good News When your neighbor's Christmas lights outshine yours...




The United States of America The Onion: Captive breeding program for moderate Republicans
It's a spoof that really isn't all that far removed from reality. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, has been alienating moderate voters by letting its own far-left activists run the show. Mathematically, there's really only room in a first-past-the-post political system (like America's) for two major parties -- if the parties are each seeking to win over the votes of the largest number of people, who will tend to be in the middle of a left-right spectrum. But if both parties are hijacked by activists from the extremes -- particularly if those activists are more interested in ideological purity than in winning elections (and don't think that there aren't plenty of people in both parties who would rather lose an election than cede any ground within their own narrow bands of "purity") -- then there may be a very unusual opening for a moderate party to emerge between the two.

Health How culpable is the NFL for head injuries?
The family of a former player for the Chicago Bears is suing the NFL over his suicide, since he suffered a large number of concussions while he was playing.

Socialism Doesn't Work Why is sports welfare so much more widely-accepted than other forms?
The race to see who can throw the most government money at a plan to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings is astonishing. It's not unlike the nauseating lengths to which states will go to subsidize the film industry. The favoritism shown to the sports and entertainment industry is both unfair to other firms and inefficient for the economy as a whole.

Computers and the Internet AT&T promises 4G almost everywhere in Iowa by next year

Business and Finance Sears is on sale. No, really. They're selling Sears stores.
Including two in Iowa.

The United States of America Study of kids in Florida suggests K-8 schools are better than separate elementary and middle schools
At least when measured by math and reading test scores

Humor and Good News Twitter comment inspires short-lived breakfast cereal




Iowa Can Iowa, Iowa State, and UNI be marketed under a common banner?
Some of the members of the state Board of Regents think they can, and should, in an effort to attract students from outside the state -- and especially outside the country -- since they pay higher tuition rates than in-state students. It would definitely be a challenge to merge the identities in any meaningful way, given how much the schools have tried to differentiate themselves from one another. It's a distinct contrast from the University of Nebraska system, for instance, which is dominated by the Lincoln campus, but also has "University of Nebraska" campuses in Omaha and Kearney. But the Iowa schools need to do something to shore up their budgets -- programs like the renowned Price Lab School at UNI are being placed on the chopping block.

Business and Finance LinkedIn is nice, but business cards aren't going anywhere

Iowa Many Post Offices slated for closure are in places where there aren't affordable alternatives

Aviation News Fantasy camp for extreme air-travel nerds






Science and Technology Engineering can be beautiful
In fact, it routinely should be

Socialism Doesn't Work Is it possible for Communists not to sound ridiculous?
Undoubtedly something is being lost in the translation of China's language on the one-family, one-child policy -- but the absurdity of what they say and have said is even more extreme than fiction would permit.

Broadcasting Well worth watching: "Spaced"
A really short-lived television series (14 episodes in all) packed with a combination of studied references to film and clever original dialogue. Quite charming. But watch it from the beginning; the episodes build upon one another and wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable without the progressive narrative. Barely more than a dozen episodes, and it still inspired an elaborate fan site that's still being updated more than a decade after the show aired. Besides, it's absolutely essential that one see how a television show manages to turn the "A-Team" theme song into a dance club gag. (It may, quite seriously, be one of the funniest things ever done on television.)

Broadcasting WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 25, 2012
Listen on-demand to segments one, two, three, and four

Broadcasting Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 26, 2012
Listen on-demand to segments one, two, three, and four

News Cruise ship loses power and goes adrift between Madagascar and Somalia
Costa -- the same line whose Concordia went aground a few weeks ago -- owns this troubled ship, too




Business and Finance Microsoft wants the EU to clamp down on Google over Google Plus
At least, that's the report from Reuters, which quotes unnamed sources saying that it's just an informal complaint at this stage. Superficially, it seems like an odd time to be pressing Google over the Plus project -- it's attracting an average of three minutes a month of use per user, compared with six or seven hours on Facebook. And even prominent users are saying they think the site is self-defeatingly popular only with techies. But Google isn't going to give up on Google Plus anytime soon. As the Wall Street Journal notes, "The company's main financial goal of Google+ is to obtain personal data about users to better target ads to them across all of Google." That's worth a fortune to Google, no matter what.

Science and Technology Chicago high schools will offer a 6-year plan -- including an associate's degree
With subsidies from IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Motorola, and Verizon, the district is going to open five high schools to focus on STEM jobs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The first class will start next fall.

Business and Finance Stop overpaying executives
People use the "global market for talent" to argue for higher executive pay, but that doesn't mean anyone is actually using the global workforce to pick executives.




Broadcasting RIP Western Civilization (758 BC - 2012 AD)
Bristol Palin is getting a reality television show. The network says it's about her moving forward "professionally". That sound you hear is the death rattle of thoughtful inquiry. The penultimate sign of the end was live-Tweeting from a Nascar driver's seat.

The United States of America Santorum attracts spoiler votes from Democrats but still loses to Romney in Michigan





Business and Finance Foreigners have shoveled $2 trillion into American investments in the last year
The Treasury Department says foreign holders held $12.5 trillion in American stocks and bonds as of June 30th. Some of the increase over the previous year's total, $10.6 trillion, was probably due to rising stock prices. But it also means that the money is staying here, rather than being pulled out in a wave of profit-taking. No country is more heavily-invested in American securities than China, which has $1.7 trillion invested here. But the UK, Canada, and Japan hold more American stock than any other countries by far. (It's probably safe to assume that the huge Cayman Islands account is due to a wide range of Americans and others avoiding tax laws.) This kind of investment is enormously important for three reasons, at least: (1) Foreign interest in American securities props up prices, which is probably of great interest right now as a huge demographic wave cruises toward liquidating its investments during retirement; (2) It subsidizes Federal spending and pushes down interest rates for households, the government, and businesses; and (3) It introduces very, very interesting issues when it comes to international relations. For a long time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was mass panic that Japan was going to take over America, one huge buyout at a time. It fizzled. Now, we worry that we owe so much to China that they can tell us what to do. It's probably an overstatement, but there's no escaping the fact that we are the debtors in the relationship.

Business and Finance US personal-savings rates are at 4.5%
Much higher than the long-term average of the last ten or fifteen years, but the number appears to be drifting downwards. Even 5% is not enough; it really should be closer to 9% or 10% for households to have long-term security (and freedom from future government dependency). But it's definitely better than the zero rate of savings that prevailed a short while ago.

Business and Finance Is Wall Street filled with psychopaths?
A study supposedly finds that 10% of the people working in Manhattan finance are psychopathic. That may or may not be true. But it is certainly true that the public is being fleeced by the hyperactivity of the financial markets. Too many traders are making fortunes by taking a commission off rapid-fire buying and selling, which neither does any good for society, nor enriches the people investing for the long term. Smart long-term investing is patient and deliberate; most people would be best-served by investing mainly in broad-based index funds and just reinvesting the dividends.

Computers and the Internet Twitter and Facebook may let you, but you shouldn't just say anything you want online
Free speech is constrained by certain boundaries -- like the prohibition on libel. The whole point of a ban on libel is that you shouldn't be able to destroy another person's ability to earn a living by spreading lies and rumors about them. One person being able to eat is a superior good to another person being able to vent their spleen with lies and falsehoods.


Socialism Doesn't Work Iowa City "Occupists" turn deadbeat
They refuse to pay for the $2,300 in damage they did to the grass in a city park

Iowa The future of Walnut Street
The City of Des Moines is hiring a consultant to help with a project to do a major makeover for Walnut Street between 4th and 10th

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News Putin wins presidency in Russia -- all over again
After a constitutionally-required hiatus, the two-term president is headed back to the presidency. Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns the New Jersey Nets, was the only non-extreme opposition candidate, and he lost badly. He says no matter what happens, he'll be back.

Threats and Hazards Police accuse Le Mars man of assaulting 11-year-old girl during home invasion
There are some kinds of people who may very well be just entirely incapable of reform. The kind of lowlife who would assault an 11-year-old girl is exactly that kind of sociopath.

Humor and Good News How an economist says "I Love You"

Weather and Disasters A warm winter for the Upper Midwest
Far fewer bitterly-cold days, and a lot more just-plain-warm ones. And following a series of four very unusually cold winters, this reversion to the mean has felt a little strange.




Iowa The epic challenge of keeping small Midwestern towns alive
The enormous success that is modern agriculture means that we need far fewer people than ever before to produce much greater amounts of food. While that's a very good thing for society, it has consequences: One of those is the depopulation of rural areas. Those places without a lot of people are essentially "leaking" their populations, largely to bigger cities nearby, because that's where the jobs are. The epic question for states like Iowa and its neighbors is how we can concentrate our resources so that we don't end up with desolation in those places "in-between". Given the right mixture of access to technology, transportation, and a good business environment, there are excellent cases to be made for economic growth in many small towns. They can offer outstanding quality of life with an exceptionally low cost of living, for starters. But some decisions have to be made along the way about how to let the market make the allocation decisions without starving communities of the resources they need to provide the basic services (like roads and clean water and fire protection) that are non-negotiable requirements of modern living.

Business and Finance How Toyota builds cars and trucks in the US and still makes a profit
Seeing improvement as something to be done in "event mode" rather than as a cultural practice may be keeping a lot of companies from getting ahead in the Toyota way

Humor and Good News Historic pictures...Turnerized
It turns out that color really does put a new spin on some famous old photos

Humor and Good News Is this really a discussion?
A handy flowchart

Agriculture Increased corn production could finally be catching up with increased demand
As those two come closer to equilibrium, corn prices might cool down a bit -- which in turn could cut the throttle of the skyrocketing prices for agricultural land in the Midwest

Computers and the Internet Tech Tip: Is Google Plus ever going to take off?




The American Way Financial distractions notwithstanding, things are getting better all the time
A column in The Economist highlights the very real, tangible progress being made on a wide range of fronts -- meaningful progress, not just new ways of social marketing. Among other things we are quick to forget: A plain-vanilla smartphone today contains the equivalent of thousands of dollars' worth of technology fifteen years ago, from a high-powered computer to a video camera. And it's portable. As the essay concludes, "Knowledge is cumulative. And that is a good reason for supposing that things will get better." Whatever best rewards the creation of new knowledge is what will make life better, in the aggregate, for most people. Capitalism, as it so happens, is that system that is best at creating the right rewards.

News Dennis Kucinich loses Democratic primary to stay in Congress

Weather and Disasters A big solar flare is (probably) incoming




Business and Finance American Airlines is trying to freeze pensions to help get out of bankruptcy
They may actually be trying to avoid dumping those pensions on the PBGC, which is the organization the government uses to keep paying the pensions promised to people who worked for companies that went belly-up. The PBGC is paying out on 4300 pension plans, an increase of more than a thousand in the last decade. That's why the classic defined-benefit pension system is dead...it was too easy to raid and too easy to under-fund, and now those programs are huge albatrosses around the necks of companies like airlines and automakers. The PBGC is massively underfunded, to the tune of $26 billion, so they're publicly breathing a sigh of relief that American is talking about taking care of its pension obligations without giving up altogether on them. (American's entire plan for exiting bankruptcy protection is a bit unusual, too, so the pension plan is just another component.) Ultimately, a few facts remain: People will need to save for retirement, and they will habitually avoid doing so adequately (because an ice cream cone today tastes a lot better than the promise of having enough money to pay for oatmeal when you're 85). Firms are scarcely different from the people that make them up, so when firms are obligated to provide retirement savings, they'll routinely avoid doing so (because today's dividends make people a lot happier than a fully-funded defined-benefit pension plan that will be the next CEO's problem, anyway). And government has shown it's no better than the voters (to whom all this trouble goes back in the first place), as evidenced by the truly staggering under-funding crisis within Social Security and Medicare. It's no exaggeration: Social Security is already running a deficit, which will get really big, really fast, starting in about two years, and Medicare had to dip into its trust fund to the tune of $32.3 billion last year. The best solution? Probably to have a mandatory program for old-age savings, but one in which people have some sort of private, personal account that the neither the government nor an unscrupulous employer can raid. If we're smart enough as a people to get mortgages and buy car insurance and raise children, then we're smart enough to manage our retirement savings -- as long as there's something compulsory about it.

Weather and Disasters NOAA's space weather page
We really don't seem to know fully what effects space weather conditions have on terrestrial weather, but we do know that things that happen way out there can affect our electronics and other things down here. Considering there's been a big solar storm that's likely to affect Earth tomorrow, it seems like a good time to keep an eye on extraterrestrial weather.

The United States of America Why do we have our party colors backwards in the United States?
Red is the left-leaning color practically everywhere else, and blue is the right-leaning color. So why do we call the right-leaning states "red states" and the left-leaning ones "blue states"? It's all backwards.

Threats and Hazards Texas state cops say: Don't go to Mexico
The killings of 120 Americans there last year didn't help.

News The microtargeted Presidential campaign
A little bit of research unearths an effort by President Obama's re-election campaign to target potential donors based upon all kinds of details they're collecting in their voter database. Ever wondered why Facebook and Google are so eager to collect personalized information about every user? Because it's extremely valuable stuff.

Computers and the Internet Apple rolls out the third-generation iPad
It's only been out for a day for media reviews, but there seems to be a lot of early reaction that the iPad 3 is no great leap forward beyond the iPad 2. It has a better display and 4G capability, but otherwise looks and behaves a lot like its predecessor. It'll ship on March 16th and start at $499.

Science and Technology A dust devil on Mars

Aviation News A lovely-looking airplane
A modern Boeing 737 in a classic Streamline-era paint scheme. It's really a work of art.

Science and Technology Radioactive toys for the Space Age

Broadcasting AIB will end its program for television captioners
It's odd, considering that voice-to-text software still has a long way to go before it's reliable enough for full-time transcription, and there's still a rule in place requiring virtually all American television to be captioned. One would think those two add up to serious job security, but students apparently aren't interested enough to keep the program open.

Humor and Good News The Oreo cookie is 100 years old

Water News Good news about the Missouri River

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The American Way An Olive Garden opens in Grand Forks
The chain restaurant got a serious review from the local newspaper's food critic, and that review in turn went viral. Things like this go viral because someone who's sincere does something that seems naive (who, after all, would bother to review a chain restaurant?). But for all the laughter at Grand Forks's expense, it's worth considering that chains only succeed if they consistently deliver something that people want at an affordable price. That's what's magnificent about capitalism: It rewards what people really want, not just what they say that they want. And if that means we want a taco in a shell made of Doritos, then it doesn't matter whether authentic Mexican restaurants would ever be caught dead making something like it. It only matters that people actually want it and are willing to pay for it.





Business and Finance Outsourcing innovation
How companies are using venture-capital projects to find innovation without developing it through internal research and development. On one hand, it probably isn't the worst idea -- there may very well be good ideas and potential companies looking for venture-capital funding. But on the other hand, it sounds like an admission by the companies doing the funding that they're either too bureaucratic or hide-bound or simply un-creative to get the job done from the inside. Organic growth -- endogenous growth, if you will -- is attractive because it suggests a certain sustainability.

Iowa Iowa unemployment rate falls again
It's never gotten anywhere close to as high as in other parts of the country, and it's recovering well

Iowa Stop the incentives madness!
A developer wants $2.5 million from Iowa City to subsidize the construction of a new high-rise

News Depressing social steps backward in Russia
Bans on "homosexual propaganda" are just thinly-veiled bias

Computers and the Internet Yahoo sues Facebook


Business and Finance How the Washington Post may be positioning itself to outlive the New York Times




Iowa The trouble with unemployment dropping too low
It may sound like a foreign problem elsewhere, but in the Midwest, there's an unemployment problem -- that the rate of unemployment may be too low. The lack of available workers could be stifling growth at companies that are ready to expand. There's also a serious problem with a labor mismatch -- the open jobs out there require skills that the potential employees don't have. This is why it's so important to have a system for building the job skills of the unemployed -- otherwise, they just stay unemployed. Others have observed -- and they're probably right -- that the solutions aren't likely to be found in big, aggregate macroeconomic measures. There are too many economic problems that people try to address with esoteric "solutions" like stimulus packages and incentive deals. Specific problems often require specific solutions.

Business and Finance Departing Goldman Sachs executive gives exit interview...to the New York Times


Computers and the Internet Pinterest promises site upgrades -- right away






Business and Finance The Goldman Sachs resignation letter
"[W]ill people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated products to clients even if they are not the simplest investments or the ones most directly aligned with the client's goals? Absolutely. Every day, in fact."

Business and Finance What you're being called behind your back

Iowa Cedar Rapids wind-turbine manufacturer for sale
It was purchased by a larger company just a couple of years ago, and now they want to cut it loose

News North Korea plans a satellite launch -- or missile test
It depends on how one wants to look at it.




Health More cell printing by inkjet printer
This is going to be one of the key breakthrough medical technologies of the next 10 to 15 years, and if our lawmakers don't know their science, we could face some bad unintended consequences

The United States of America Chicago Tribune endorses Mitt Romney

Business and Finance US Senator pushes "Startup Act"
Things to like about the proposed law: Efforts to reduce regulatory burdens, an increase in the immigration limits for people with advanced degrees in science and technology, and reforms to Sarbanes-Oxley. Things not to love so much: Lots of special tax breaks for startup businesses. We all want our taxes to be lower than they are, but cutting special deals is what gets us into the absurdly-complex and utterly stupid tax code that we have today. Nobody deserves a special break; just make the corporate tax code simple and fair for all. One other worry: That people will get the idea that startups all have to be Internet-based service companies. Sure, there are lots of great ideas that make sense to deliver online, but we need a lot of other non-Web businesses, too.

Science and Technology The Milky Way over a thunderstorm
It's too easy to forget to look up into the night sky sometimes

Science and Technology South Korean scientists are going to try to clone a wooly mammoth
There's some leftover bone marrow from a long-dead mammoth that's been recovered in Russia

Health Self-diagnosis depends on how the symptoms are listed
People turn to the Internet for a lot of help with self-diagnosis of medical conditions. If it means they go in to get serious problems checked, then it's a good thing. If they're only using it to feed paranoia, then it's harmful. Some research by psychologists at Arizona State University finds that the best way to list symptoms alternates between specific ones and broader ones -- the specific ones help winnow out people who are too quick to think they're dying of something awful; the broad ones give people who are too casual about their health cause to think again and check into their health.




News Recycling the beautiful old Omaha Federal building

Broadcasting Show notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys - March 17, 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.

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)




Weather and Disasters Dallas area will pilot test a $500,000 low-level radar system mounted to cell phone towers
Low-altitude radar will be a huge benefit to severe weather forecasters and observers

Business and Finance UK plans lower minimum wage for young workers than for adults
It makes sense; younger workers have less to offer due to their lack of experience -- so making their labor more affordable helps them get the experience they need

News The Exxon Valdez has sailed its last
The infamous oil tanker has been sold for scrap

Iowa Rethinking the Des Moines Partnership building


News A senior toll collector on the Illinois Tollway makes $52,000 a year
Just a curious little factoid




Computers and the Internet Politicians and their Twitter accounts: Who owns the name of the job?


News The tragedy that brought the stink to natural gas


News What should be done about Syria?


Humor and Good News Firefighters in drag -- fighting a fire


Science and Technology Seeing around corners...in 3D
(Video)

Computers and the Internet Job applicants may be asked by some employers to turn over their Facebook passwords





Iowa Iowa does better than average, but not well, on the government-integrity index


Science and Technology Why we invest in science and basic research


Business and Finance Tax breaks, once given, live on forever


Iowa Regents approve program changes at UNI


Business and Finance An alternative analysis of American manufacturing


Computers and the Internet The cyberhacking threat to the nation's infrastructure


Aviation News Southwest Airlines branches out...into a bigger Boeing 737





Business and Finance The President's nominee to head the World Bank


Business and Finance How to research mutual-fund leverage


Business and Finance Fund flows
Americans are yanking money out of the stock market and pouring it into bonds

News To fight alcoholism, Britain's going to make it more expensive to drink
Minimum drink prices will be part of a new government initiative there. The new rules would make Two-Buck Chuck cost about $5.







Computers and the Internet Don't ever give away passwords to non-essential users
Employers shouldn't be asking for Facebook passwords, and employees shouldn't give them out. (Some exceptions prevail, of course: Certain occupations are highly sensitive and require that someone with the right knowledge can sweep up mistakes. But those are few and far between.) Facebook has come out with a light rebuke of the practice, but it's really not the kind of definitive statement they probably should have made. A real defense of user privacy might've come with a statement like, "Any organization or employer shown to be demanding the passwords of current or prospective employees without cause directly tied to a substantial public safety hazard shall be immediately suspended from any use of Facebook in any manner whatsoever."

Health Today's babies could have a 1-in-3 chance of living to 100
New figures are being used by the UK's government for future projections, and that new assumption of longevity is one of them. This is exactly why we need to think very, very differently about mandatory old-age savings programs.

Business and Finance Elected officials: Please stop tinkering with taxes
Dow's fight with the IRS over a research tax credit just goes to show why politicians should stop trying to manipulate behavior through the tax code

Agriculture The PR campaign against "pink slime" has real, harmful consequences
Lots of people are going to be put out of work because the demand for the product is going to drop off so much. Moreover, where do people think the beef trimmings that went into the poorly-named "Lean Finely-Textured Beef" are going to go now? Anyone who's ever eaten a really good steak and gone back to salvage just a little bit more meat from around a piece of fat knows that there's nothing wrong with that meat. The "Beef is Beef" counter-campaign isn't a bad idea -- but it's probably too late to offset much of the damage that has been done. When given the opportunity to fear something they don't understand, people will default to whatever meaning is implied by a name like "pink slime", so it's imperative that people who sell products like LFTB actively get ahead of the parade long before it becomes an issue and actively promote shorthand names that sound good.

Business and Finance Forbes columnist argues for tighter controls on the Roth IRA
Suggesting that some people are using the investment vehicle to shelter investments in closely-held or even publicly-traded companies in which they are major investors, Deborah Jacobs suggests that new Roth IRAs be limited to a certain maximum amount, and that their tax-free transfer to heirs be limited as well. Perhaps more valuable would be to remove the restriction that keeps ordinary people from investing in their own companies via the Roth IRA. If the well-connected are already skirting the law on this matter, they shouldn't be getting an advantage over everyone else.

Computers and the Internet European politicians want Google censored


Computers and the Internet Jail time seems like a lot to risk for the chance to see Scarlett Johansson naked
A computer hacker went to a lot of trouble to try to get compromising pictures of celebrities. And he succeeded. But now he's headed to jail until he can be sentenced in July.

News Entertainment newspaper "Variety" is up for sale


Iowa The Des Moines Public Schools superintendent sure seems to want to leave town


Science and Technology The influence of architect Mies Van Der Rohe


Broadcasting Notes from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - March 25, 2012

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Business and Finance A visual display of the global economy
(Video) How the United States compares -- on several levels -- with the developing economies of Russia, Brazil, India, and China

Science and Technology The evolution of the Moon
(Video)

Business and Finance Bank acquisition just for the sake of acquisition
Acquisition for its own sake isn't a good plan

The United States of America There's no useful debt deal. Why is anyone surprised?


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News Some people should lose their jobs for being stupid
An American woman who became a hooker in Mexico because she didn't want to go home "back to the claustrophobic suburbs [she] had worked so hard to escape" quit that line of work and became a teacher. But she kept on writing about the experience under her own name. And seems shocked (!) that she lost her job over that. This is another anecdotal case for what should be called the "judgment economy". Lots of people talk about the "knowledge economy", but it's probably a misnomer. Thanks to the Internet, there's massive access worlwide to vast troves of information and knowledge. But judgment can't be looked-up on Google. The kind of nutjob who would willingly pick prostitution over life in the suburbs and then pick some kind of imagined ethnographic fame over a teaching job doesn't have the judgment to leave a building on fire.

Business and Finance America's economy is growing
Not at a breakneck pace, but an annualized growth rate of 3.0% in the fourth quarter of last year and a 1.7% rate for the full year of 2011 is at least something positive. Britain's economy shrank in the fourth quarter, by an estimated 0.3%. It's not an economic collapse, but a contraction of any sort is unsettling. One further note on the US change: GDP should really be measured against population, since the important thing is that people become better off, on average. An economy can grow quickly, but if the population grows even faster, then the larger pie is offset by sharing a larger number of slices. In the US case, the Census Bureau estimates that we gain, on average, a person every 15 seconds, after births, deaths, and migration. That's four people per minute, or 5,760 per day, or 2.1 million per year. Considering that the population overall is about 313 million, then the population grows by something like 0.6% a year. So what really matters -- GDP per person -- grew by something less than that 1.7% rate.

Computers and the Internet Best Buy announces plans to close 50 stores
The company lost $1.2 billion last year

Threats and Hazards PowerPoint strikes again
FBI PowerPoint instructions told agents they could break the law. That is not the case. But the lazy way in which so many PowerPoint presentations are composed may have given a faulty instruction to unknown numbers of agents anyway.

Computers and the Internet What is it about the Internet that encourages racists to spout off?
The number of people who are apparently willing to say blatantly racist things in a thoroughly public forum like Twitter is downright amazing. Anything said in a public account on Twitter is archived by the Library of Congress. So any idiot that says something stupid on Twitter is saying it for the public record, forever.

News Huge cuts coming to BBC News
They're going to get rid of 140 jobs in the venerable news organization. It's a large number of jobs -- though it's not as large a set of layoffs as, say, the ABC News layoffs of 300 people two years ago.

Iowa The big fight over university funding in Iowa


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