Gongol.com Archives: 2012 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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.

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

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter

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

Comments Subscribe Podcasts Twitter