Gongol.com Archives: 2012 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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

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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

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

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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.