Gongol.com Archives: 2012 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

Science and Technology Human knowledge is constructive and additive
Take a look at the 1887 newspaper coverage of the construction of a railroad bridge across the Missouri River at Sioux City, Iowa. The pictures alone should cause one to step back and think, "Would I even volunteer to try to build a bridge across a river today, using modern tools and all of the safety equipment available?" No? Then imagine what kind of guts it took to build things like that before most cities had electric streetlights. What's perhaps more remarkable is that some bridges from that era are still in use today. ■ It just goes to show that human knowledge is additive -- that is, we build upon what the knowledge of the people who came before us (as long as they have the courtesy to write it down and pass it along). The awful counter-examples -- like the destruction of the Library of Alexandria -- are the kinds of human failures we should fear and avoid most of all. Pity us for going through a Great Recession, perhaps, but it's not as though we as a species forgot everything we learned before 2007. As long as we continue to add to the knowledge base -- and document it! -- life will continue to get better for our descendants. And maybe for us, if we find ways to live longer.

Humor and Good News David Mitchell colorfully explains investment banking failures

Humor and Good News An elaborate tour of San Francisco
(Video) It's a mystery what kind of brain-wiring it takes to inspire one to create a toothpick sculpture with multiple "marble runs" embedded within it -- but the result is certainly bewildering and amusing at the same time.

Water News Some things you should know about heavy rainfall

Business and Finance Possibly the single most ridiculous stock analysis ever
A Forbes contributor analyzes stock purchases made by Warren Buffett, but uses so-called "technical analysis". Technical analysis, plain and simple, is bunk. Hogwash. Bullhockey. It's the use of stock charts, looking at past results, to predict future results. Can people make money doing it? Sure. Just like they could make money flipping a coin or shaking a Magic 8 Ball. ■ The only reason to buy a stock is that one thinks he or she will get more in return from the purchase than he or she gives up. Further refined, one should also seek to be getting more in return for putting up that capital (i.e., buying the stock with cash) than one could obtain by investing in what is called a "riskless" asset, like a US Treasury Bill. ■ The only sane way to evaluate whether such a return is likely is to make a calculation of intrinsic value -- determining three things: What the company's net assets are worth today, what the company can be conservatively estimated to produce in net earnings over a reasonable time period (usually ten years), and how much that is worth per share of stock. If by that test a stock's price is higher than its intrinsic value, then it's not a good investment. ■ Technical analysis is nothing more than a wager on the sanity, insanity, and moods of millions of other people. The same people who get whipped up over voting on "American Idol" and buying hipster glasses. Using technical analysis to pass comment or judgment on investments -- especially those made by the world's most famous fundamental-analysis investor -- is just plain ridiculous.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft opens So.cl to the general public
So.cl looks a great deal like Google Plus (though, suspiciously, it doesn't always want to show up on the Mozilla Firefox browser). It's supposedly geared more towards encouraging collaborative research by folks like college students than towards getting people to share minute-by-minute updates on their experiences in the fast-food line, like other social-networking sites. Worth dipping a toe in the water? Maybe.

The United States of America China's central bank has unique direct access to lending to the US Treasury
The opportunities to lend aren't going away anytime soon: The Congressional Budget Office says that if we go ahead with higher taxes and spending cuts in the start of 2013, we could go right into a new recession. No politician wants to preside over one of those, so undoubtedly we'll find that the Federal spending leviathan will continue to borrow from China to spend in the USA.

Business and Finance "Risks are large and tilted clearly to the downside."
That's what the IMF says about the UK's economy thanks to trouble in the Euro zone, and the risks back and forth among them. The US should care because the UK is our #6 trading partner overall (year-to-date), and our fifth-biggest importer. If they stop buying, that means we stop selling.

Aviation News Airport lines for the Olympics could be four hours long
Which, in and of itself, creates a whole new type of security hazard. It's one risk to let people through and onto planes unscreened or poorly-screened. It's another to have large groups of people queued up in long lines, waiting to go through security checkpoints.

Business and Finance A surprising number of people seem to have seen through the Facebook stock bubble

Humor and Good News "[R]oyalty is a confidence trick and that requires confidence"
David Mitchell's column takes a paragraph or two to get rolling, but the payoff later is worth it. His best line: "What seems unpleasantly vulgar in a tycoon is appropriately headstrong in a king."

The United States of America Handicapping the race for Treasury Secretary 2013
Timothy Geithner says he expects to leave the job, even if President Obama wins a second term in office, so there will likely be a new Treasury Secretary next year, one way or another.

Health Skin cells from 61-year-old man become brand-new baby heart cells
If this research doesn't blow your mind, you're not going to be amazed by anything. But if it's up your alley, then you might also want to see what's happened at MIT, where a team has developed a non-toxic coating that lets ketchup spill right out of the bottle.

Health A cheaper, faster, more accurate test for pancreatic cancer
Can we please do whatever is earthly necessary to expedite this test's rush to the market?

Business and Finance Facebook and its bank underwriters face lawsuits
Some stock traders -- it's hard to call them "investors" for paying the hugely-inflated Facebook IPO price -- are suing, saying that some of the underwriting banks told selected investors about some disappointing forecasts but withheld that information from others.

Computers and the Internet The browser wars are close to a three-way global tie
Among Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox

Science and Technology Change your light bulbs, Texas!
The state, among its many other peculiarities, is pretty much on its own when it comes to electricity -- it's largely on its own independent grid. And the operator of that grid says they're going to start cutting it really close between maximum supply and demand over the next few years. Time to switch to LED bulbs, folks!

Science and Technology Neil deGrasse Tyson deserves a pat on the back
"Fast Company" recognizes him as one of the "100 most creative people in business". The important thing, really, is that he's taken up the job of popularizing science -- making sure it's something for which people see a need in their daily lives, and in ways that aren't just way-out-in-the-cosmos abstract.

News "I'm not really sure I want to be part of a government any more [...] that behaves this way"
The Minneapolis City Council voted 7-6 to give a total subsidy of $306 million to build a new stadium for the Vikings, but not everybody agrees it's the right thing to do. Many an argument will be made about how a stadium helps the local economy. But has anyone considered that this project -- which obligates the city, apparently, to subsidize the project through 2046 -- may outlast the popularity of football itself? A lot could happen in the next 34 years. They may so drastically change the rules of football in order to avoid concussions, for instance, that the game no longer appeals to people. Or tastes may simply change. Remember how baseball -- America's pastime -- was thought to have one foot already in the grave until the McGwire-Sosa home run era? It may sound like heresy, but the same thing could happen to football.

Humor and Good News This campaign ad...
...is too goofy to be serious, but not funny enough to be satirical. It's like there were three people involved -- one who wanted to make a funny ad (hoping it would go viral), one who's a true believer in what the candidate is saying, and the candidate himself (who seems to be half off his rocker). It sounds as though he's a long-shot candidate anyway. Thank goodness. (Incidentally, one should avoid wearing hats with the name "Barth" in order to avoid an unfortunate 80s reference.)

Computers and the Internet Google gets a million requests a month to remove copyright infringements from search results

Business and Finance Google closes on purchase of Motorola Mobility
But, right out of the gate, they're making big mistakes. The old CEO is out, and a Google transplant is in. And Google CEO Larry Page says "he's already off to great start with some very strong new hires for the Motorola team". Rule of thumb for businesses: If you like the way a company is working well enough to buy it, keep the management in place. Truly good managers are hard to find. On the other hand, if you don't like the management, why would you buy the company in the first place? For its physical assets? ■ Google is doing something that could very well turn out to be smart -- having vertical integration from the phone people use to access the Internet up through the services that they use while there. And Motorola has been making some good phones lately -- the Droid Razr Maxx is a really good smartphone. Really good. But this is a big gamble for Google -- $12.9 billion big -- and they're paying $64.3 million to get rid of the CEO they decided not to keep around. So, in essence, they're saying that the replacement CEO is worth $130 million to the company...the amount they're paying to get rid of the proven guy who's leaving Motorola Mobility, plus the amount they'll have to compensate the new guy (which has to be at least as much over the next few years as the value of the "golden parachute" they're giving the guy who's leaving. ■ It's decisions like these that should give Google shareholders heartburn and give the rest of us pause to consider whether Google can really remain a juggernaut in its second decade.

Health Injections without the needle
MIT researchers have developed it -- and it could improve delivery of vaccines to the developing world as well as reduce the risk of infections by contaminated needles.

Computers and the Internet Someone attacked a University of Nebraska database with data on 654,000 people
Social Security numbers, addresses, grades, financial-aid information, even bank account details for some people. It's a big attack -- though it's unclear what information they were able to download, if any.

Weather and Disasters "[C]uriosity got the best of us and we watched it for a few seconds"
A family watched two tornadoes merge together on their farm before they decided to go to the basement, whereupon the tornado destroyed the house above them. It's possible we sometimes get a little too casual about tornadoes in the Midwest.

Weather and Disasters Beryl is a strange little storm
It's a subtropical storm (bringing about regular tropical-storm warnings), and it's moving to the southwest, which is an odd direction for a storm on the Atlantic coast to go

Computers and the Internet How the FBI plans to snoop on the Internet in the future
A unit based in Virginia will be working on ways to conduct surveillance on phone calls, Internet activity, voice-over-IP calls, and other communications

Science and Technology The Golden Gate Bridge turns 75

Computers and the Internet Google will warn users with infected computers to get the DNSChanger Trojan removed

News If you decide to go skydiving, do not -- DO NOT! -- chicken out at the last minute
It could cause you to slip out of the tandem harness. Yikes.

Science and Technology A motorcycle that never tips off of two wheels
It's a "self-stabilizing two-wheeler" with an electric powertrain and it has two doors and a steering wheel. It's not a car, nor a motorcycle. It stays upright using two high-RPM gyroscopes. But it looks just about as likely to get a driver killed in a wreck as a Smart Car.

Computers and the Internet New Microsoft user agreements would prevent class-action lawsuits
They've been a major nuisance for Microsoft for a long time, so blocking them entirely would mean a lot of added certainty for their projections and operations

Computers and the Internet So, what's really happening with the team that developed WebOS for Palm?
They got absorbed into HP, but then HP cancelled the enterprise. Now, rumors abound that some of them will move to Google. Officially, the ecosystem around it is now "sponsored by HP", but is supposed to become an open-source affair.