Gongol.com Archives: February 2013
Brian Gongol

February 2013
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February 1, 2013

Humor and Good News Most people really are good at heart
A bunch of Omaha 5th-graders who got a snow day off of school used part of it to cheer up a classmate hospitalized with cancer

Science and Technology "Peak jobs?"
Is technology going to lead to a permanent class of people employed at low levels

Computers and the Internet If you're on Twitter, change your password
The company says there's been a sophisticated attack that stole 250,000 passwords from their servers. The stolen data was at least somewhat encrypted, but it's time to update those passwords anyway. And be savvy about it: Crooks have gone wild lately, breaking into computer systems in a lot of high-profile places. We're not doing enough to harden our defenses. Not nearly enough.

Threats and Hazards Shootings in Chicago seem to be getting more brazen
Broad-daylight shootings on Lake Shore Drive

Business and Finance The Dow Jones Industrial Average exceeds 14,000
Remember: The DJIA is a pretty much meaningless figure. And nominal thresholds like even thousands may be pretty, but they, too, mean nothing.

Computers and the Internet Norton says 2/3rds of mobile-phone users don't have security on their phones

Computers and the Internet Applebee's server fired for posting picture of rude receipt online
The restaurant patron who wrote the sanctimonious note should be ashamed of herself, but the waitress was dumb to photograph and share something that included a private individual's name and credit-card information. Just a lot of stupidity going on in this story.

The United States of America The White House jobs council is out of work
The "Council on Jobs and Competitiveness" has reached the end of its charter, and the President isn't renewing it. Councils like these are hard to take seriously -- even more so with an administration that is so frequently hostile to business interests -- and it seems not to have been taken very seriously by the President, either, who spent little or no time with them. The persistent problem is that the professional political class in Washington is so badly disjointed from knowing how their policies affect the rest of the country that when they do make a token gesture like forming a "council on jobs", they form it so badly that it doesn't really tell them anything. The President of the United States should probably already have the CEO of General Electric on speed dial (as well as the CEOs of many other large companies). Those people should probably be feeding back observations and news to the White House on a regular basis anyway, for the good of the country. But the people from whom Washington is outrageously disjointed are the people who own and run small and medium-sized businesses. Sure, they get a lot of lip service, but Washington is (generally speaking) so far removed from knowing what's happening with them that the country pays the consequences while nobody in power to do things about it notices. On a related note, it doesn't help when headline-writers skip essential parts of major stories. CBS reported that "Economy adds 157K jobs, unemployment hits 7.9%" -- skipping the essential word "but". Unemployment has risen even though jobs were created because more people entered the job market than the number of new jobs. But the more bad writing obfuscates a simple matter of numerators and denominators, the less the general public feels that it can understand the important work of economics.

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February 2, 2013

Computers and the Internet One of the largest Internet vulnerabilities ever
It's been discovered that some 40 to 50 million routers and other Internet-enabled devices are vulnerable to hijacking by crooks because they use code that was never intended to be used online (and thus isn't secured). The official report probably couldn't be more jargon-o-riffic if it tried, but the bottom line is that people can run a quick online test, and if necessary, update the vulnerable program.

Business and Finance What gets measured gets done
Bill Gates is out with a column in the Wall Street Journal and his latest annual report from the Gates Foundation, both of which focus on the importance of measuring progress towards the objectives of foundations like his. It's really quite fascinating to live in a time when one of the two or three richest people in the world is also a person who is also a highly-driven "fieldmarshal" (in the psychological sense) who, with a lot of time left in his life, has decided to put everything he's got into solving the world's biggest problems. And, if the psychological assessment is correct, this brings him vastly greater joy than spending his money like a playboy ever would.

Business and Finance Stock-market "technician" cranks are out in force
One trader writes for Marketwatch with a column asking, "Is this the biggest triple top ever?" The people who think the stock market is a predictable universe of patterns in the price graphs miss the most important fact of all: Shares of stock are just slices of ownership in a business, and it all comes down to how those businesses are performing at making a profit. That's all that truly matters, and it's the only thing that really drives stock prices in the long term.

Computers and the Internet Is Twitter the "Hotel California" for journalists?
An interesting opinion, at least

News If you're in Egypt and you're free to leave, you probably should
Right now.

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February 3, 2013

Humor and Good News Someone at Oreo was on the ball tonight
Managing to put out a visual ad on Twitter at 7:48 pm Central -- literally minutes after the power outage happened -- says several things about the team at Oreo: Someone's alert, someone's phenomenally quick to turn around an ad, and someone in management trusts the right people to execute on the brand's behalf without a lot of red tape.

The United States of America On public service
The three best things we could want in our public officials: Humility, competence, and curiosity

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February 4, 2013

News Super Bowl blackout was a system "abnormality"
A breaker flipped when sensors detected an "abnormality" in the electrical load. If you think that sounds like the kind of thing that probably should have been anticipated well in advance of the Super Bowl, you're probably right.

News Travel figures signal that the China-Japan rift is pretty serious

Computers and the Internet Everything about this story is just sad and depressing
A man in Colorado Springs obtains nude and explicit photos of women and posts them to a website, where the subjects' Facebook profiles and contact details are linked to the revealing photos. The subjects are told they can have the pictures removed for a fee of $250. There is absolutely nothing good or humane about the exploitation. The story should serve as a reminder, though: Don't let anything with a hard drive or a permanent storage memory leave your possession, particularly if there's even the slightest chance it contains any files you wouldn't want posted to the Internet for all the world to see. There are creepy folks out there who obviously make a business out of harvesting files from discarded cell phones and hard drives and sharing them on the Internet.

Humor and Good News Police stations look a lot like strip clubs...
...if you're high, apparently. This is what passes for crime news in Des Moines. Which is why we like it here.

Agriculture Russia could ban American beef and pork
And that could happen as soon as next Monday. It's due to a fight over a feed additive.

Iowa State review gives 98% of Iowa teachers a positive rating
While it's nice to think that only 2% of teachers are failing their students, a simple pass/fail methodology like this one doesn't tell us what we need to know about which teachers are really good and which ones are just good enough. It's important to honestly evaluate teachers, find the great ones, use them better, and find ways to help the others improve.

Iowa Half of what ends up in Iowa landfills should have been recycled or composted
That's just bad resource management

Computers and the Internet So if the New York Times has been under attack by the Chinese government...
...at what point do we need to start drawing a clearer "line in the sand" about the national defense of American interests? Is cyberwarfare, because it does not involve tanks and aircraft carriers, considered the kind of thing that private citizens and institutions must defend for themselves? Or, because it is clear that some nations are deliberately engaged in cyberwarfare on a nation-state level, should cybersecurity be nationalized in the same way that we expect the 101st Airborne to come to our physical defense?

Aviation News At long last, production of the HondaJet is underway

Business and Finance Oh, so now everyone thinks it's OK to get back into the stock market?
Tens of billions of dollars have been moved into the stock market in the last few weeks, perhaps because of year-end bonuses, but also perhaps because people are starting to feel a little bit better about the economy. Of course, the time to have been pouring money into the stock market was back in 2009, when it was in the dumps and everyone was in a panic. Getting in now is fine, but much too late to take advantage of the power of being greedy when others are fearful.

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February 5, 2013

Computers and the Internet Dell Computers goes private for $24 billion
It's reported as the "biggest leveraged buyout" since Hilton went private in 2007. Is it worth $24 billion? Hard to tell. Profits over the last four years have averaged about $2.5 billion a year, so by that measure, ten times earnings would be $25 billion. In some worlds, ten times earnings would be a decent price -- not an incredible bargain, but a fair price. But in the computer sector, who has any clue whether those profits will continue ten years into the future? There's far less clarity in computer-making than in, say, utilities. So even though it's probably a fair price based on normal metrics for companies in low-volatility industries, it's a bit of a gamble in the technology sector.

Science and Technology Lights out -- not just in New Orleans
The power outage at the Super Bowl was embarrassing, but the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities warns that we could have rolling blackouts in a couple of years because new environmental rules are shutting down power plants faster than replacements can be built -- and those replacements that are being built use natural gas, which could become very expensive very quickly.

Business and Finance Someone at the CBO needs to re-adjust their glasses
Their reading of the economic crystal ball has been off -- way off -- for several years in a row. They're estimating much faster economic growth than we've been having. And we definitely need faster economic growth -- but wishing doesn't make it so, and when our Federal government makes decisions based upon faulty projections, something's bound to go badly.

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February 6, 2013

Health Sioux City school district will look at getting bulletproof glass
As always, the first question ought to be: If we are intent upon spending this money in order to achieve a particular goal, is this the most efficient and rational expenditure? Suppose it turns out that bulletproof glass in all of the school buildings would cost $1 million. If the real objective is to make the children safer, would that $1 million be better spent improving, say, school bus safety? ■ School shootings are scary and headline-grabbing, to be sure, but accidents kill far more kids than homicides, and a pre-teen is more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by someone else. Perhaps mental-health, counseling, and anti-bullying efforts would be a better investment in junior high schools than bulletproof glass. ■ A kid in elementary school is more likely to die of cancer than to be murdered; perhaps free blood tests to screen for cancer would save more lives in elementary schools than new glass. It's important that we use our limited resources in the most sensible way to achieve the most good, not just in ways that make for good publicity. ■ That is not to say that we shouldn't examine the costs and benefits of things like replacing window glass, but it does mean we shouldn't rush to spend money on something that happens to be a current hot topic, rather than on what would really make a difference. And where events reveal that we have glaring omissions in security that can and should be redeemed, we should take action. There may be obvious steps that could improve safety and security at little or no cost. ■ It should be noted that, counting all age groups, more Americans commit suicide than are killed by others, and by a large margin. That doesn't mean we shouldn't seek to reduce homicides, but it does mean we need to think rationally about what we really could be doing better to save lives from human-inflicted harm.

Business and Finance Wishing doesn't make things so
Paul Krugman writes, "What is the evidence that fiscal uncertainty -- as opposed to overall lack of demand -- is the reason corporations are sitting on cash? There isn't any." ■ That Krugman doesn't know anyone in business well enough to recognize or acknowledge their fears doesn't mean those people don't exist. Absence of evidence isn't necessarily evidence of absence. If Krugman had friends in the private sector who could speak to him candidly (without fear of being accused of corruption or knavery), he might well learn that there are, in fact, plenty of businesses that look to Washington with profound uncertainty and concern. And some will admit right out loud that the uncertainty is is causing them to behave with greater caution than they would under more business-friendly conditions. ■ Again, just because Krugman doesn't know these people doesn't mean they don't exist. His bravado is not a substitute for real understanding of the microeconomic effects of macroeconomic policies.

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Business and Finance Ikea considers targeting senior citizens as they downsize

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February 7, 2013

Business and Finance An argument for requiring banks to hold 20% or more in equity
That number may be a bit high -- but it is definitely worth examining what value is the optimal one for bank stability. Obviously, the figures that prevailed in the last decade were not high enough. Canada's banks seem to have gotten by in the high single digits.

Aviation News Fresh off a rebranding effort, American Airlines may merge with US Airways
American is trying to emerge from bankruptcy, and the combination would create the world's largest airline

The United States of America Let's do lunch
Moderate members of both major parties in Congress are going to try to get together once in a while to talk with one another like human beings. What a wild idea!

Business and Finance The clock's ticking for Google
A photo-documentary of the company's new offices in Tel Aviv show off just how free and loose the spending is within the company. That kind of spending signals (implicitly) that the company is at the peak of its boom.

Iowa Proposal in Iowa statehouse would eliminate one-checkbox, straight-ticket voting

Threats and Hazards Federal Reserve internal websites hacked
No "critical functions" were affected, but it's still a grave concern. The "Anonymous" movement appears to have been involved.

Computers and the Internet 72% of email is spam
Believe it or not, that's the smallest share in five years

The United States of America President Obama says he's "eager and anxious to do a big deal" to cut the Federal deficit


February 8, 2013

News Postal Service subtly blames retirement programs for its financial crisis
And thus, by extension, for its move to cut out Saturday letter deliveries. This is a warning sign of things to come. The US Postal Service isn't the only agency with massive liabilities for pensions and retiree benefits.

Iowa Homelessness in Iowa City: A complex and growing problem
The city has a single homeless shelter, which is over capacity and doesn't allow anyone on drugs or alcohol to stay. But there are lots of non-housing resources (like food) available for the homeless, so people are attracted to the community for access to those services. It's really hard to get this kind of social problem resolved in a way that is both humane and oriented towards the long term. Of course the people operating the shelter don't want to allow in drug and alcohol abusers -- that could put the staff and other innocent guests at risk. But if the rest of the system creates large incentives for people to show up (like free food) and doesn't have an effective way of breaking addictions (which generally requires buy-in from the addict him- or herself), then a large population of homeless addicts is likely to persist in the area. That, in turn, may put a strain on the social services that are needed to reach out to those who are homeless but trying to get back on their feet. It's complex, and anyone who suggests otherwise probably isn't looking at the whole picture.

News New Year means a billion people moving around China
Imagine: Three times the entire population of the United States, and all of them going somewhere within the same country

Computers and the Internet Bush family e-mail accounts get hacked
To what extent should the Secret Service now be responsible for policing e-mail seccurity among the families of former Presidents? They certainly have access to high-level information, and they remain high-profile security targets. It's a reminder for everyone else to practice good password security.

News Iran's government pushes young people to have more children
They fear running out of younger workers to pay for the welfare system.


February 10, 2013

Business and Finance It's not what you know so much as who...
And you might not believe some of the things HR people say about job candidates and applicants

News The problem with music today...
...is not what they're playing (tastes and trends will always come and go, and today's "noise" will be tomorrow's "classic hits"). It's how the industry works. There's far more money in live performance than in creating and recording new material. What artists produce more than about one album a year? Very few. And who can blame them, if they'll make more money performing live? But in the long term, wouldn't the world really benefit more from getting a larger pure volume of music recorded by talented artists while they're in their creative primes?

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February 13, 2013

Business and Finance Who are America's minimum-wage workers?
In yesterday's State of the Union address, the President proposed raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. It's a no-lose political gamble for him: He can talk endlessly about how it will help working families, and parade examples of those low-wage families out in front of the cameras. It makes it look like his administration is "doing something" to help the poor. ■ While there is no doubt that there are families living on the minimum wage, the reality is that 50% of minimum-wage workers are under age 24. One in five minimum-wage workers is, literally, a teenager. Of the people working for minimum wage (or less), 51.3% work in leisure and hospitality (including restaurants), and about 17% are working in retail. ■ In other words, raising the minimum wage will largely affect the prospects of young people working in restaurants and retail. While a wage increase for adults in those jobs would undoubtedly make their lives somewhat better-off, a wage hike would also have the hidden consequences of making a night out at the restaurant more expensive for everyone else. It would also tend to shrink the opportunity set of low-wage, first-time jobs for young people in high school and college (or at least, for those of college age). That means higher youth unemployment, and if you want to see how that works out, ask France, where rigid employment laws keep huge numbers of young people from entering the labor market -- so they riot instead. ■ So even though it's an easy political move for the President, the consequences aren't necessarily quite so easy as "Raise the minimum wage, and working-class families will do better". If you really want to help working-class families, raise the Earned Income Tax Credit and increase the opportunities for job training and non-traditional routes to post-secondary education. But raising the minimum wage? Well, it looks nice, but it steals opportunities from the next generation by stealth. ■ Young people who can't get low-wage, low-skill jobs early in life don't develop a track record from which to get better jobs later. Nobody starts out as CEO of a Fortune 500 company; virtually everyone starts at the bottom. But if the "bottom" evaporates because good intentions (and easy politics) are allowed to ride roughshod over sensible long-term economics, then fewer people get a chance to start "at the bottom". Instead, the risk becoming part of a class of permanently unemployed non-workers. This concern is no small matter: It's a pressing worry already in Britain, and the dangers should be obvious: It's much, much better for young people to have legitimate opportunities to gain work experience, even when that work is low-skilled and for low pay, than to have no entry-level opportunities. ■ The President wrote in 1985 (when he was still a community organizer) about the frustrations of trying to help people get started finding jobs. It is as though he doesn't see the continuum between opportunities for young people and the success those people enjoy later after getting some skills and experience under their belts. And that, regrettably, is a lesson that doesn't translate well into a winning sound bite...but it's the right approach to lasting success.

Computers and the Internet Five technology myths that need to go away

Aviation News Why has it taken until 2013 to start addressing the legal consequences of drone aircraft?
The law is at least five years behind where it should be. Unmanned aircraft have been a huge development for the US Air Force, and it's an indictment of our lawmakers that they've ignored the consequences for civilians for so long. And on a related note, Raytheon can mine your digital presence (including photos and social-media connections) to form predictions about where you are and where you're likely to be found.

Computers and the Internet The ICN is up for sale
Iowa's statewide, state-owned fiber-optic network is on the market

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February 14, 2013

News New medal for cyber-warfare and UAV pilots would outrank the Bronze Star

News Would the St. Valentine's Day Massacre still shock Americans if it happened today?
A sad case can be made that it would not

Business and Finance Coke's 70-20-10 approach to marketing

Computers and the Internet Know the Facebook class-action lawsuit
It's a low-effort, low-return affair for most people. You won't get much for applying to join the class, but it doesn't take much effort, either. But be sure to read the terms for yourself; it's a lawsuit, after all.

Science and Technology You want to stop crashes? Use engineering.
Roundabouts decimate the crash rate at dangerous intersections. Red-light cameras don't.

Science and Technology Plants can communicate with one another
And the more closely-related the plants, the better the communication. Selfish genes, indeed.

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February 15, 2013

Socialism Doesn't Work North Korea may pose the biggest opportunity ever for a gun-buyback program
North Korea's nuclear-weapon test this week isn't happy news. The country is continuing to isolate itself from the rest of the world, and we should all be uncomfortable with the idea of a hard-core Stalinist regime toying with nuclear weaponry. It may be time to consider the world's biggest gun-buyback program. ■ American police departments conduct gun buybacks in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, because they apparently believe that the benefits of removing those guns from the streets outweighs the costs of buying them. We currently spend a non-trivial sum keeping about 25,000 American troops on the Korean peninsula. This is a cost that has lingered since the Korean War. ■ At some point, it may well be worth considering whether we could effectively "buy back" North Korea's weapons by buying-out the leadership of the Communist regime there. How much might it cost? Good question. But there is, without question, some price at which the regime would willingly leave power. A power play like that would undoubtedly be expensive and would have unintended consequences -- perhaps encouraging other regimes to pursue weapons programs in the hope of getting a similar sweetheart deal. And it would prevent the execution of the kind of justice applied to dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. ■ But there are real, direct costs to the current state of affairs in Korea -- and the high-risk game being played by North Korea also introduces lots of unknown hazards to the peaceable nations of the world, not to mention the implicit suffering imposed upon millions of North Koreans who could be living as well as their bretheren to the south, if it weren't for the lousy Communist system.

Health FDA approves an artificial retina
More bionics! It's great news, and it's good that there is a market for people to make money coming up with products like these that will improve the quality of life for people living right now.

Humor and Good News You had ONE job to do...
Tragically hilarious documentation of good jobs done badly

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February 16, 2013

Business and Finance Cisco says no more US-based acquisitions until the tax code changes
They'll have to pay 35% repatriation taxes if they bring foreign profits to the US from overseas

News Russia says it has trillions of carats of diamonds
They're beneath an asteroid impact crater. They've known about these for a long time, but kept the secret so as not to upset the world market. Now that Russia is on a natural-resources hot streak, the secret apparently doesn't need to be kept any longer. This is one of several reasons why a gold standard for a currency is a terrible idea: You never know when someone will arbitrarily discover (or reveal knowledge of) a huge amount of whatever hard asset you choose to back the currency.

@briangongol on Twitter

February 17, 2013

Socialism Doesn't Work Un-repaid economic-development incentives cost Iowa millions
Lots of companies have failed to pay back money they got from the state when they failed to deliver what they promised

Humor and Good News Christmas lights meet Pac-Man

Broadcasting WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 16, 2013

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February 18, 2013

Computers and the Internet Chinese Army seeks ways to attack critical US infrastructure, says research team

Computers and the Internet Job interviews via Twitter? A ridiculous idea.
One practically has to wonder whether USA Today just made up a quote from someone so far out of touch with reality that he is identified as saying that great talent isn't job hunting because "They're mobile and socially connected and too busy changing the world". This whole "changing the world" nonsense (as applied to things like social media) has gone too far. Yes, Twitter and Facebook and similar tools are cool and they're fun and they enhance our means of communication. But let's talk to cancer researchers and engineers designing next-generation batteries and crop scientists for the folks who are really "changing the world". A lot of what we do online is just noise, and we need to be honest with ourselves about that. Is it mildly interesting that Pinterest and Twitter have similarly-sized user bases? Maybe. But that's not "changing the world", at least not in any durable sense.

Business and Finance A great interview question for job candidates

Iowa New president lays out his plans for the University of Northern Iowa

Broadcasting Listen on-demand: Brian Gongol Show - February 17, 2013
North Korea, the bad part of a minimum wage law, and Russian diamonds

Broadcasting Listen on-demand: WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 16, 2013

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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February 19, 2013

Computers and the Internet Just because we're not paying attention to China's state-backed cyberwarfare...
...doesn't mean it isn't happening on a massive scale

Agriculture Farm-land prices keep going up
The Federal Reserve says really good Iowa farmland rose in price by 20% in 2012, despite a massive drought. There's no way that bubble can be sustained.

Humor and Good News 14 ways for an economist to say "I love you"

The United States of America US Postal Service-branded outerwear?
Yes, really. They're planning to sell it starting next year.

Science and Technology The massive scale of today's container ships

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February 20, 2013

The United States of America White House says it will go after China for industrial espionage

Health Swiss doctors will attach a bionic hand -- with a sense of touch -- later this year
The sensors on the hand will be connected directly to the patient's nervous system

Computers and the Internet Yahoo's new landing page

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February 21, 2013

Threats and Hazards Shootout and explosion leaves three people dead on the Las Vegas Strip
But the Las Vegas Police, apparently keen to protect tourism revenues more than people, say that even though the shootout happened at the corner of the Strip and Flamingo Road (or, in other words, dead center when you search for "Las Vegas" on Google Maps), a police spokesperson says "People don't have to worry". Oh, really? One would think people should worry when there are shootings along one of the most popular pedestrian paths in America. If the police can't use the mountains of video evidence that most certainly exists from the hundreds of surveillance cameras in the area to swiftly identify the perpetrators and send them directly to prison for life, then we should immediately end the use of surveillance cameras for any policing purpose in America. This had better be the world's fastest open-and-shut case. If it's not, then nobody should ever visit Las Vegas again.

News Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #11
A teacher -- recently trained in curbing incidents like school shootings -- stopped a stabbing at an Iowa City restaurant on Monday. You never know when you're going to be around when something bad is going to happen.

Science and Technology World population of mountain gorillas is under 1,000
The good news is that the number appears to be increasing. The bad news is that it's still so dangerously low.

Business and Finance What's wrong with the French labor system?
Quite likely, the fault lies with the law

News What is so hard about understanding that 911 is for emergencies only?
That the Iowa State Patrol sent out a press release reminding people that 911 is for emergencies only, and that 511 is the road-condition number, tells us that some idiots are still calling 911 asking for road conditions. And the abuse of 911 isn't just isolated to Iowa winter travelers. There's a never-ending litany of stupid calls to 911.

Computers and the Internet "Scroogled"?
Microsoft wants to raise fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the minds of webmail users by pointing out that Google's computers review the contents of your e-mail sent via Gmail to target the ads that appear on the service. Humans don't conduct the reviews, but computers do. And it's no big secret to anyone who has paid any attention whatsoever to Google for the last eight or nine years. But at the same time, many people who aren't tech enthusiasts -- but rather, just ordinary users -- probably aren't aware that Google targets ads in that way. And if their complacency or ignorance of the technology is disrupted by a rival's ad campaign, then that's probably better than them not being cognizant of the process at all.

Business and Finance The inflation rate is still between 1% and 2%
Now, this would seem odd, given that the Federal Reserve has poured vast amounts of money into the money supply. But the economy is governed by a simple equation: MV = PQ. The quantity of dollars in the economy (M), multiplied by the velocity (V) of those dollars (or, put differently, the number of times each dollar is used) equals the price level (P) times the quantity (Q) of real goods and services in the economy. More money poured in, with the velocity of money and the quantity of goods held constant, means the price level rises -- or, in other words, inflation. But what seems to have happened lately is that velocity (V) has fallen off a cliff. It's unusual, but if everyone just sits on their money, then the Fed can (and must) dump a ton of new money into the system in order to keep prices from crashing. (And, while lower prices might be fun on occasion in Wal-Mart, persistent deflation is a really, really bad thing.) So, the real challenge here is that someone is going to have to pull a mountain of money out of the economy when the velocity picks back up again someday, or else we're going to have a huge problem with inflation. But they can't take it out before then, or we'll have painful (or even disastrous) deflation.

Computers and the Internet A low fashion quotient isn't the only obstacle to Google Glass
The company is trying to find ways to make their wearable computers (attached to a pair of eyeglasses) look good, according to the New York Times. But the problems don't stop with aesthetics. It's also going to be very difficult for people wearing glasses-that-are-also-recording-devices to convince friends and family to be candid around them. It's hard enough to live with the knowledge that people could be surreptitiously recording your every move anyway. Unless Google Glass adds a full-fledged 1980s-VHS-camera-style flashing red "recording" light to Google Glass, every conversation will have to be preceded by "Are you recording this? Really? Come on, tell me the truth." Try having an intimate romantic conversation with someone wearing a pair of glasses like that. Without a doubt, wearable computing is going to become more commonplace with time -- perhaps someday achieving complete ubiquity. But the early adopters will have a lot of explaining to do. Wristwatch computers and less in-your-face (literally) jewelry will probably make better inroads than glasses will. And then the glasses will be made with smaller frames -- indistinguishable from those on ordinary glasses -- and the questions will probably stop.

Science and Technology Stand up to "psychic" frauds

Health The vast power of vaccines

News Jesse Jackson, Jr. pleads guilty to taking $750,000 from campaign funds for himself

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February 22, 2013

Computers and the Internet Will Papal Tweets stop with Benedict's retirement?
Outgoing Pope Benedict XVI was the first to use Twitter. Since we don't know who his successor will be, we can't really say whether the account will remain active, languish in obscurity and disuse, or be shut down entirely. Accounts belonging to an office, rather than an individual, are a problem encountered not just on Twitter, but on sites like Facebook and entire websites, like that of the White House. One would think we could start deliberately building sites like that of Congress and the White House for perpetuity -- WhiteHouse.gov/44/ could go to President Obama's section, in perpetuity, and /43 could have gone to George W. Bush, and /42 could have gone to Clinton, and so forth. But instead, each new administration blows up the site belonging to the old one, and we have to look to the National Archives to try to preserve the past sites. That's just stupid computing. Congress should be done the same way: Every member of the House of Representatives should get a site under House.gov/113/ (for the current Congress), which could be the default site for now, and eventually give way to /114 and /115 and so forth into the future. But instead, if you try to go to the site of a past Senator, like, say, Ted Kennedy, it's just...gone. Again, that's stupid computing.

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February 23, 2013

Business and Finance Physical distance from Wall Street may help people understand money better
Admittedly, the latest item of evidence is based upon a small sample set -- Bloomberg asked a bunch of economists to submit forecasts about the US economy, and many of the best performers ended up being people who don't even live in the United States. But there's something to be said for being away -- literally -- from the epicenter of groupthink, particularly as it regards money. For while macroeconomic forecasting is a difficult game (at best), getting things right in business and in personal finance can be a lot easier. And there's no doubt that geographic isolation from the shouting on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange has probably made Warren Buffett a better investor. There are even some likely micro-economic advantages to doing business in the Midwest, rather than in other parts of the country. But much of it probably does come back to being away from the echo chamber of New York City finance -- just like it probably makes politicians better servants of the people when they leave the Beltway and visit their constituents on their home turf. Say what you will about Senator Chuck Grassley, but when he sends Tweets from his "99 county meetings", he probably gets a better feel for what the public needs than he would have gotten from a think tank in DC.

Computers and the Internet Some steps for protecting your kids' online reputation
Parents probably need to be as deliberate about scoping out and protecting their children's online reputations as they would be about vetting their friends and dates. Reserving your child's name as a domain name (i.e., BrianGongol.com) is a sensible, low-cost affair, and a very wise piece of insurance on your child's digital footprint in the future. PairNIC is a very good service for registering a domain name; fair pricing and decent business practices.

Health Seven diseases; one billion affected lives
There are seven "neglected tropical diseases", according to the World Bank, that make a billion people's lives directly poorer. They could be fixed cheaply and with low-cost drugs. Fixing them would benefit the current victims directly, and the rest of us indirectly...because who knows what could be imagined, done, or produced by the billions of Earthlings currently living in poverty if only they had the opportunity to flourish?

News We love you, dear Britain, but why do you bother still having a monarchy?

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February 24, 2013

Broadcasting Please, ABC: Keep "Happy Endings" alive


February 25, 2013

The United States of America Retiring Sen. Mike Johanns says "opposing legislation was just as important as getting bills passed"
That doesn't make him negative -- it means he was sufficiently humble about the role of government to know that sometimes saying "No" is more important than reacting to the cry of "Somebody do something!"

Iowa Lots of infrastructure needs replacement
Roads and bridges happen to be highly visible, but dams, levees, airports, the power grid, and water and sewage treatment plants all need ongoing investment, too. If we want civilization, we have to pay for it.

News A look at the 1982 Thanksgiving Day fire in Minneapolis
A couple of kids started a fire that took down two downtown buildings and could have been a lot worse. Someone kept the TV news tapes from that day, too. Aside from the TV commercials (some of which show just how much better and cheaper consumer goods have gotten since the 1980s), the news coverage also gives an idea of how firefighting has improved since that time. One of the destroyed buildings had a weather beacon on top that could be seen from 15 miles away.

News Leave the creative writing for the "fiction" section
Says a Washington Post reader

News Natural gas is really, really cheap -- for now
And it's going to be used much more extensively in the not-so-distant future for power generation, as coal-fired power plants across America are going to be retired. So, is there a national-security justification for telling American natural-gas drillers not to ship their product overseas? Is there some kind of moral imperative to keep it here, as Charlie Munger has argued?

Broadcasting WHO Radio - Brian Gongol Show - February 24, 2013
Q: Is the economy doing really well, or is it stuck in low gear? A: Both. Available for listening on-demand

Computers and the Internet Some deep -- and important -- thoughts about the future of the Internet
First, it's not as robust as we might like to believe. More than a hundred countries are connected in ways that could easily be shut off by centralized powers. Second, it's turning into a militarized zone (anyone who's been paying attention to the news about China's apparent use of cyberwarfare should recognize this matter). And third, there's ever-less chance of getting the many nations of the world to agree to a set of principles about the use of the Internet that would mimic our common agreement about the use of space. All of these are bad news items.

Business and Finance Productivity tips from the very busy Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Agriculture Mmm...sawdust-fed beef
An Iowa farmer seems to have found a way to turn sawdust into a nutritive feed for his cattle

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February 26, 2013

News Merging the cultures of Time and Meredith
New York City meets Des Moines

Business and Finance Federal spending needs to be reined in
Some taxes undoubtedly do need to rise...but the spending problem must be fixed. And we need economic growth. Lots of it.

Business and Finance A prediction on what Warren Buffett will discuss in his letter to shareholders
The next letter to shareholders in Berkshire Hathaway comes out at the end of the week. Look for a section on "look-through earnings", or what the companies whose stock Berkshire owns made per share, multiplied by the number of shares Buffett's company owns. It's a huge number, even though it doesn't show up in conventional accounting figures.

Computers and the Internet Google: Still not giving in on Google Plus
Now they're building a tool to let people use their sign-in feature on different sites (a lot like the "Sign in using your Facebook account" option seen in many places). No surprise there: Google is really betting the farm on building user profiles through Google Plus, even if very few people use it as a social network.

Weather and Disasters Lightning shooting into space

The United States of America Where Craigslist "missed connections" happen most
In the Midwest, generally the grocery store. Throughout the South, quite widely it's at Walmart.

The United States of America One speech fits all?
Politico takes a look at the President's stump speechmaking lately and posits that it's turned into a "Mad Libs" style -- a formulaic approach to defining the terms of every issue, no matter what. Now, that could be a sign of many different things: Lazy speechwriting, for instance. Or a formula that has been proven to work. But one thing it signals is that real and meaningful thoughts about those issues aren't really being shared by the talk from the highest level. It's too bad we don't expect our Presidents (and other high-level officials) to spend just five minutes a day recording their own original thoughts on the day and the issues pressing upon it. Sure, we get official, sanitized Tweets from the White House and many other officials. And, occasionally, someone in Washington will pen an op-ed piece. But it would be nice to imagine that the people wielding the greatest power (a) thought highly enough of the people and (b) thought highly enough of the value of the written word that they would sit down, compose their thoughts briefly, and share them -- not through a press office or a spokesperson, but directly with their electors. Of course it will never happen, but that's really too bad. Good writing and clear thinking go hand-in-hand.

Computers and the Internet "Macs are not invulnerable"
Java security flaw allows hackers to attack Apple's own corporate computers. Macs still have some inherent security advantages over Windows computers, but the problem is that some people take that and assume it means they face no risks at all. That's a preposterous conclusion. Lower vulnerability is not the same as invincibility. And if that sense of invincibility causes Mac users to behave unsafely, then all of the security features and programs in the world won't stop them from making dangerous choices online.

The United States of America Does any Democrat dare run for President against Hillary Clinton?

News Farewell, International Herald Tribune
In what looks on the surface to be a pointless exercise in rebranding and identity dilution, it will be re-christened as the "International New York Times"

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February 28, 2013

Business and Finance A prediction about tomorrow's letter from Warren Buffett