Gongol.com Archives: March 2013
Brian Gongol


March 2013
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March 2, 2013

News Mr. Rodman goes to Pyongyang
And other recent oddities of the North Korea relationship

Computers and the Internet Knowing yourself a little better
The Myers-Briggs test isn't a bad way to figure out some of the characteristics that make us who we are -- and explain what makes us "tick". It may throw people off at first if they find that the results strongly correlate with their own life experience; after all, we are frequently told what unique snowflakes we all are. But if knowing more about yourself can in turn help you to discover ways of getting along better with co-workers, family, friends, and the world at large, then perhaps it would be wise for everyone to know their personality type. We are not far away from the time when personality engines will be programmed into computers and other electronics, and it may be well worth knowing which personality types help round out our thinking and expose blind spots.

The United States of America The sequester starts...now
The effect -- unless a replacement plan is found -- amounts to 13% cuts in the defense budget and 9% cuts outside defense. The truth of the matter is that we spend too much and show too little interest in paying for what we vote to give ourselves. The sequestration plan isn't pretty, but it's pretty real in terms of the cuts that we need to make. It's odd that we generally don't impose efficiency expectations on government like we do on business. People go to business school to become private-sector managers, but to public administration classes to become public-sector managers. Yet both categories of work require balancing budgets, satisfying customers, and managing people. Moore's Law and its corollaries insist that computers do more work faster and more efficiently all the time. We in turn apply those gains in the private sector to deliver great leaps in products like cell phones. If we have a "Chief Technology Officer" of the United States, shouldn't we have some serious commitment to applying technology improvements to the services government delivers?

Computers and the Internet Fast, cheap, and worth every penny
Western Digital's "My Passport" portable hard drive costs around $100 for 1 terabyte. It's a work of art.

Iowa Talk of raising the gas tax in Iowa


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March 3, 2013

Business and Finance Switzerland votes for limits on executive pay

Computers and the Internet Two American power plants hit with computer viruses
There's a great deal of risk to our national infrastructure thanks to the computer technology that makes much of what we do possible. But human decisions about security make an enormous difference.

Business and Finance Sen. Harkin wants to tax sales of stock
He spins it as something "Wall Street" can afford...but what about Mr. and Ms. Main Street investor? If the objective is to discourage high-frequency trading, that's one thing -- there may be very smart reasons to tax extremely short-term stock holding periods in order to slow down the computer-enhanced insanity in high finance (even so, we should thoroughly investigate whether a tax is the right way to discourage the behavior, and be very sure that it's worth discouraging in the first place). But if it Senator Harkin just wants to tax everybody, we should be far more skeptical.

Aviation News Drone aircraft are already in the skies
At this stage, the regulations are just chasing the technology, having already ceded a multi-year lead

News Bus drivers fired for drag racing
...with kids on board

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March 4, 2013

Business and Finance Swiss vote on executive pay could be more complicated than at first glance
Just because the people want something doesn't mean the government knows how to effectively implement it. The feeling of aggravation at high executive pay is understandable -- but the rational way to manage it probably isn't to turn over the power to manage C-suite compensation to the government.

The United States of America Federal recognition of gay marriage could mean higher tax receipts
The marriage penalty can be mitigated, but never completely erased

Business and Finance Is there a better way to do mutual funds?
Bruce Berkowitz is an exceptional long-term investor, and he's managed mutual funds for a long time (and to great success). But he's had a lot of trouble with investors who panic and run for the exits when things turn downward -- even though those downturns present the greatest opportunities to buy stocks at discounted prices in order to get great returns later, when the price rises to match the true intrinsic value of the underlying company. It's the problem of finding "patient capital". The transparency and flexibility of mutual-fund ownership certainly benefits investors to some extent, but the ease with which some people can leave funds makes it difficult for managers to think and operate for the long term...which is fundamentally what's gone wrong with a lot of the financial sector in America. The long-term approach has made lots of money for Berkowitz and his investors, but it's hard under current rules to ensure that the same patience is rewarded in the future. Patience matters in the private sector -- and in the charitable sector, too, where the Acumen Fund is an example of a charity that uses market-oriented principles to show just a little more patience than the private sector usually supplies in order to get great results for improving the quality of human life. The really, really great results (in charity, in the private sector, and in the public sector as well) come from long-term investment.

Iowa Iowa's gas-tax debate rolls down the road
The state Republican party chairman took the unusual step of sending a letter on party letterhead to a state legislator with a request to change his position on the subject

News What happens if Scotland leaves the UK?
One has to wonder if the legendary stereotype of Scottish thrift would play out in such a way that Scotland would end up with a better credit rating than England

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March 5, 2013

Business and Finance Debt matters, no matter what the Keynesian groupthink suggests
(Video) Jeffrey Sachs breaks down some of the serious errors in Paul Krugman's argument that it doesn't matter how the government spends money in a time of macroeconomic slowdown, as long as it keeps on spending for the purpose of spending in its own right. Krugman's analysis is fatally flawed; suppose, for instance, that instead of talking about dollars we were talking about hours of labor. This isn't an unfair characterization, since for every person, we can find some exchange rate between dollars and work. ■ So if we found ourselves in a period of reduced activity (imagine, if you will, that the "economy" is twenty shipwreck survivors on a deserted island, and this "recession" is simply everyone choosing to lie around in hammocks), and our intention were to improve our standard of living (which, after all, is the only point of having an economy -- deserted island or otherwise), we would be idiots if we could not see the difference between causing people to spend an hour in productive work and an hour engaging in unproductive work. On the desert island, there would be an enormous difference between an hour spent standing on the beach naming the passing whales and an hour spent retrieving coconuts. ■ In our daily lives, there's a clear and meaningful difference between spending three minutes brushing and flossing one's teeth and three minutes spent counting the creases in a window curtain. There most certainly is a difference between productive and unproductive spending, and between productive and unproductive work, and between productive and unproductive investment. Arguing otherwise is fatuous at best, and deliberately wasteful at worst. And it's ironic that Keynesians, tending to be a left-of-center group, are willfully disinterested in the productivity of spending when it comes to the public purse, when they can be counted upon to recognize so quickly that behavior like high-frequency trading in the stock market is so phenomenally unproductive.

Business and Finance The Earned Income Tax Credit is a better way to help the poor than raising the minimum wage
Important: About half of workers earning the minimum wage are in their teens and early 20s. Low-wage jobs (reflecting their low skill levels) are nonetheless superior to joblessness, since they provide pathways for entry into the formal, full-time job market. Raise the minimum wage and some of those pathways will disappear.

Computers and the Internet YouTube finds its next leap -- into music-only streaming

News Will China rethink its relationship with Tibet?
Now that there's a new team taking power in Beijing, some people might wonder.

Science and Technology Where Americans ride trains

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March 6, 2013

Business and Finance "Agitated voters, grandstanding politicians, and intelligent policy rarely go together"
Opinion columnist echoes almost exactly a discussion on the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio this past weekend -- namely, that shareholders have every reason and right to be categorically angry about the amount of money paid to corporate executives. Not every one of them is overpaid, but many are -- and painfully so. But the way to fix that isn't to impose new laws on that pay, but rather for shareholders to speak up and exercise their rights as the owners of the companies involved.

News ID thief hands Applebee's server the server's own stolen ID

Threats and Hazards One million people have now registered as refugees from Syria
A million people! That's everyone in Boston, plus another 375,000 people, run out of their homeland by a government out of control. The suffering has gone on for months.

Computers and the Internet "The court of public opinion ... works better for revenge and justice than for dispute resolution"
Worthwhile thoughts on how and why people turn to the Internet to get what they want, rather than the courts. A related note: Everyone should know about libel and slander -- starting with young kids. If you're old enough to have a Facebook account (i.e., 13 years old), you're old enough to know the boundaries for defamation. And if those are too difficult to understand, then you shouldn't have the ability to post things on the Internet. The judgment not to thoughtlessly attack, disparage, or defame others is a prerequisite for the safe use of the Internet.

Threats and Hazards Red-light camera companies have an incentive to bribe public officials?
You don't say!

@briangongolbot on Twitter


March 7, 2013

Threats and Hazards North Korea shuts down the hotline to Seoul
The Stalinist government is making some bold and cold moves regarding its neighbor on the peninsula, and making some threats against the United States in the process. The hostile language is at a crescendo right now; North Korea's propaganda agency actually published these words: "[N]ow that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country." Talk of a "sea of fire" is problematic, since it's very difficult to back down from a provocative bluster like that without losing face somehow. South Korea may be at least a little more vulnerable than usual right now because of a change in government that apparently confuses some of the chains of military command. Let's get this right, shall we? Perhaps some serious consideration of a program styled on a gun buyback?

Computers and the Internet Longer passwords could be easier to remember
If given the freedom to use things like spaces, people may be able to create more complex passwords by using phrases and sentences, rather than just an arbitrarily-selected word or jumble of characters. They're going to try it at UNI, where the new minimum will be 15 characters.

Computers and the Internet Facebook uses newspaper metaphor to describe the new look of the news feed
Hooray! Another change to the look and feel of Facebook! Just what the millions of users have been asking for, right?

Computers and the Internet Google will dump another 1200 workers at Motorola Mobility
The phone-making subsidiary is up for a round of layoffs affecting about 10% of the current workforce. This follows a 20% cut in August. Tech businesses are great for consumers, but woe to the tech-oriented investor.

Science and Technology The political left has an anti-science bent, too
Both the political right and left contain a whole lot of people who aren't very objective about scientific facts. Neither should revel in the other's misguidance, but rather both ought to take a careful look in the mirror.

WHO Radio Wise Guys on Facebook



March 9, 2013

News Don't cry for Chavez; he was a "soft authoritarian"


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March 10, 2013

Business and Finance "You can be sure...if it's Westinghouse"
Westinghouse was a great consumer brand name...but does it mean anything anymore? Toshiba owns the Westinghouse name for nuclear plants, but the legendary company also lent its name to a lot of other non-affiliated, unproven brands as well.

Business and Finance More business, but fewer jobs


Business and Finance Executive pay in the Nordic countries is different from here


Business and Finance Time Warner just isn't what it used to be


Aviation News China accidentally takes out a Russian satellite
Debris from a test China did to blow up an old satellite of their own appears to have hit the Russian bird on January 22nd

The American Way "Every single problem can be converted to a social business"
A curious observation from Muhammad Yunus. By "social business", he apparently means private-sector organizations that act a lot like endowed foundations with a business motive.

@briangongol on Twitter


March 11, 2013

Computers and the Internet The rivals encroaching on Facebook's turf
Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, and plenty of others are moving in on Facebook's territory and may have an advantage among younger users who don't want their parents and grandparents watching closely. That's probably why Facebook bought Instagram.

Computers and the Internet Asking for unmoderated public comments isn't a good idea


The United States of America Federal employees and the sequester
A case in the shared incidence of budget cuts: Employees feel some, and the public feels some. And don't be surprised if efforts aren't made to emphasize the portion the public sees and feels; managers playing a strategic game may insist on cutting highly-visible public services (like White House tours) to make sure the burden falls more on the taxpayer than not.

Iowa A return to sanity in Iowa's state budget


Computers and the Internet A Harvard search for leaked e-mails


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March 14, 2013

Computers and the Internet Google Reader goes dark at mid-year
Google has become like the buddy who promises to help you move your stuff to a new house, only to back out at 10:30 the night before. By offering free services spanning a broad spectrum of wants, they touch on lots of different ways to be enormously helpful. And by offering them all for free, Google can't really be blamed when it stops offering them. But it's just flaky behavior -- and they routinely "cull" enough services from their roster that it's hard to tell which ones are going to stay for the long term and which ones aren't. They're betting the farm on Google Plus, so that one is clearly around for the duration -- but Google Voice could easily be axed once it outlives its usefulness to Google. That usefulness seems driven mainly by its capacity to hone the accuracy of Google's voice-to-text translation algorithms, which still have a way to go before they'll be useful for translating the huge number of video and audio files on the Internet (which is, in turn, essential to making them searchable via Google's core search-engine service). Not knowing whether one's favorite Google product will be around six months into the future makes it hard to rely on the company, even though it's hugely profitable and very good at a lot of what it does. That may, in time, serve to be Google's ultimate downfall. Microsoft may make its old operating systems obsolete every few years, but at least businesses can count on the fact that there will be backwards compatibility to other Windows-based programs from one generation to the next. That kind of reliability makes for a huge competitive advantage in the high-profit commercial computing market, and Google doesn't seem to understand that.

Computers and the Internet Hashtags on Facebook, maybe?
The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook is working on mimicking Twitter's iconic hashtag-based system for organizing updates based on their content

News Carnival Cruise Line has some explaining to do
A month after the colossal screw-up that was the Carnival Triumph debacle, now they've had a generator failure on the Carnival Dream. Something clearly needs to get straightened out with their systems. It's almost as though they don't realize the world learns immediately when there's a problem on board a ship, and the first-hand accounts can't be stifled when most passengers are carrying phones equipped with HD video cameras.

Computers and the Internet Samsung introduces the Galaxy S4
It's supposed to be available in April, featuring a tool that allows the user to scroll through content on the screen by tilting the phone and pause a scroll just by looking away, and another that uses the user-facing camera to take a simultaneous picture with the outward-facing camera is capturing in order to blend them together into a composite. There's no doubt Samsung is trying hard to give Apple an effective run for the money as the "cool" smartphone maker; the Galaxy S3 of 2012 was a very impressive machine to begin with, and the S4 appears to take measurable steps forward from that baseline. There's still room, of course, for a strong third powerhouse in smartphone making, but no strong player seems to have moved in there yet (though LG is trying stunts to get there). One other note on the S4: Its built-in translation tool for both speech and text is as close to the Babel fish as anything we've seen in the mainstream yet.

Weather and Disasters Coming April 1st: New tornado warnings
The National Weather Service is planning to test an approach to tornado warnings for the central part of the US that would distinguish those times when they think there might be a tornado from those times when they have reliable confirmation that a big killer is making its way through an area. They should be commended for trying to come up with ways to limit the impact of the "boy who cried wolf" problem -- which tends to make too many people too comfortable in the face of high risk. The first major step in this direction was to clarify the warning areas with the storm-based polygons they use now, rather than the old county-based system. This recognition of varying levels of confidence and severity should also help.

News New Pope says he doesn't want the Catholic church to become a "compassionate NGO"
Things could get quite interesting under the first Jesuit Pope. He apparently also summoned the head of Vatican Radio for a talk on his first day in office, which apparently is a complete 180 from his predecessor's behavior.

Computers and the Internet It's really not so hard to collect personal data on high-profile celebrities
Buzzfeed shows how

Computers and the Internet "Rural-sourcing" as a counter to overseas outsourcing
Technology improvements make it possible for people to live in small towns (at small-town prices) and do global-quality work. That can make jobs in small-town Iowa very competitive with jobs in low-wage countries.

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March 15, 2013

Computers and the Internet FTC declares that Twitter and Facebook ads have to follow rules


Science and Technology "Earth Hour": Counterproductive feel-good symbolism
Shutting off the lights doesn't really do any good. And, in fact, electrification should be celebrated -- it's one of the most efficient ways of getting many things done around the world. Electrifying cooking stoves in Africa and Asia, for instance, would make lives healthier and safer.

Threats and Hazards Someone in the Vice President's office doesn't understand the First Amendment
A pointlessly vigilant staffer insisted that a student journalist erase photos of an event from his digital camera. There was no justification for it, and it's the kind of stunt we should expect a White House employee to know better than to try.

Iowa About 2/3rds of Iowa's counties have shrinking populations
Only 31 of 99 counties gained people. The gains were almost exclusively in the counties with, or immediately bordering, the major metro areas -- Des Moines, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Dubuque, and the Quad Cities. Some of northwest Iowa's rural counties didn't do too badly, either. Population growth itself isn't the end-all, be-all...but when a population is in persistent decline, that can depress property values and make it difficult for communities to support their essential services. It's reported that about a third of US counties are shrinking.

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March 16, 2013

Threats and Hazards A billion dollars, for what?
North Korea's beligerence has the United States sufficiently concerned that we're going to beef up our missile-defense system on the West Coast. A billion dollars will be spent on the project. It's probably a rational response to a completely irrational game. A billion dollars could do vastly more good in many other ways, but because of Stalinist hot-headedness, we're blowing it on a defensive tool that we can only hope will forever sit idle. Mitt Romney made a good point in a speech this week when he noted that, despite having the world's mightiest military, the US hasn't gone around using it to plunder other countries.

Humor and Good News A much better March Madness bracket
Making the "bracket" a radial diagram rather than a space-consuming bracket chart makes a lot of sense

Aviation News We need better flight simulators
A pilot suggests that current simulator technology doesn't do enough to help pilots get a grip on stalls like the one that caused the Air France crash

Threats and Hazards Chinese police detain a British news crew while they're live on the air


Business and Finance Surprisingly good marketing advice from an article with a spammy title
The title "Why your marketing campaign sucks" suggests that it's purely a Google-bait piece. But it's actually a surprisingly good look at how many folks in public relations and marketing don't understand rule number one: "What's in it for me?" People don't care about jargon-thick statements of corporate principles, and reporters don't want to wade through the nauseatingly spammy press releases they get every day from people who think they're entitled to "earned media". But when there's a real offer of value from one party to another (i.e., from the company doing the marketing to the public or the media), then there's a reason for a reciprocal act to take place. You have to offer something of value before someone will return the favor.

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March 17, 2013

The United States of America Sen. Tom Harkin pushes for a "national manufacturing strategy"
On one hand, it's clear that there are plenty of obstacles to manufacturing in the United States. But the problem with pursuing a "national manufacturing strategy" is that it violates one of the main expectations we should have of our elected officials: They should be curious, competent, and (most importantly) humble. Humility means knowing that the government generally does more good by staying out of the way of the private sector than by trying to conceive and execute a plan for everyone else to follow. It's one thing to seek advice and counsel from people who know a lot about a subject -- like a brain trust or "Kitchen Cabinet". It's quite another to think a national strategy can be conceived and executed from on high. Developing countries -- like Japan and South Korea in the latter half of the 20th Century -- have sometimes benefitted from coordinated national industrial strategies -- but some of their greatest problems have come from letting those policies stay in place for too long. The chaebol and kerietsu probably got too much protection for too long, and that made them susceptible to trouble in the Asian financial panic around the year 2000. On a related note, the shortage of skilled workers in the US is and will remain a problem. And that's another reason why the notion of a "national manufacturing strategy" ought to be held suspect: How can you effectively offer the educational opportunities needed for skilled work when education is so ill-suited to national-scale management and intervention? And when the market itself is what drives the demand for those workers (and when rising pay opportunities still aren't enough to motivate people to seek them), how is Federal intervention going to make things better?

News On the usefulness of shame
Not everything that's bad needs to be regulated by law

Humor and Good News 42 facts about Douglas Adams
When it comes time for personality engines to hit the mainstream, his ought to be one of the first they program

Weather and Disasters Reflections on a massive tornado, 100 years later
We as a species have gotten vastly better at predicting severe weather. It's one of our most shining achievements as the human race. Predicting severe weather in all its forms saves lives.

Broadcasting BBC broadcasts its last bulletin from the old Television House

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March 18, 2013

The American Way Exceptional analysis on the "Arab Spring"
Economist Hernando de Soto nails several major issues missing from a lot of the superficial discussion of what's happened and happening in the Middle East. Significantly, the mistaken notion that "just because we have elections - just because Jimmy Carter comes in and says that we are fine - means that we have democracy". He points out that if there's no accountability to local voters, then the elections really don't mean much. He also points out that the protests started in Tunisia because a man believed (as his family now reports it) "The poor also have the right to buy and sell." It was a commercial appeal -- not an overtly political one. And yet he died for the cause.

The United States of America John F. Kennedy held 64 news conferences in his time in office
On average, one every 16 days. Friday marked the centennial of the first Presidential news conference. President Obama, by comparison, held 36 in his first term.

Health 3D printing of organs will be one of the breakthrough technologies of the next ten years
An Iowa City group thinks it's within six years of producing a pancreas in a lab. This kind of advancement, along with self-piloted cars, will be the technology that creates the next huge leap forward on a scale similar to that of the Internet.

The United States of America Swift reaction to the Republican Party's introspective
The Wall Street Journal's headline called it a "scathing self-analysis". The first major portion of the report's narrative says there are "two parties" inside the GOP: "[T]he gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself". Whether anything else in the report holds true or not, this single line taps an essential notion: The Republicans can be the "good government" party, especially by showcasing the work that state governors do well. Everyone (minus the anarcho-libertarians) accepts that we must have some government; Republicans have historically done very well when being the party of government that does things well and efficiently in the public trust.

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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March 20, 2013

Computers and the Internet On virality
The next Nobel Peace Prize should go to whomever can figure out how to make The Economist-quality content spread virally like the linkbait they post on Buzzfeed. Seriously. Technology is advancing with dizzying speed (drones in the sky...instantaneous social media in the hands of people with no judgment...designer babies on the horizon), and it's not just applicable on the personal or consumer level -- it's forcing a lot of tough questions to be asked of nation-states and businesses as well. We need to know whether North Korea is serious about launching a nuclear war. We need to know whether Israel and Iran (or Israel and Syria) are about to get into a shooting match. We need to know whether big banks are meeting the right "stress tests". But instead, we're being baited relentlessly into clicking ripped-off and regurgitated articles on duckfaces and Beyonce photos. ■ There's something to be applauded about the way The Onion routinely gets satire brilliantly right in a way that actually ends up offering news analysis and criticism that's often better than what's found in sincere, serious news outlets. But getting meaningful content virally exciting really needs to go much farther -- there are volumes of things a person needs to understand today that our counterparts of 100 years ago didn't. Retirement then meant having enough kids that they could support you if you outlived your working life. Now, a basic understanding of mortgages, life insurance, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and options (or at least the dangers thereof) -- plus investment vehicles like IRAs, SEP plans, and the 401(k) are all necessary just to function. Libel way back then meant not calling out your neighbor in front of everyone on the town square; the newspaper publishers generally took care of preventing people from accidentally defaming others in print. Today, the number of social-media errors appearing daily, ranging from the stupid to the outrageous, is exhausting...not to mention the accidental incidents that happen because cameras are everywhere. High technology then was a party-line telephone and -- perhaps -- a radio receiver. Now, you'd better know your adware from your spyware from your viruses from your Trojan horses from your honeypot sites from your phishing from your spoofing from your spamming. And that's before you're asked, as a voter, to be wise enough to know a little about net neutrality, interstate commerce and sales taxes, and whether it's safe to build a pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands across the Great Plains. ■ It's not that these questions are too hard; it's that they aren't being driven, delivered, or discussed with the skills that are make people go crazy for cat videos. That needs to be addressed. For, as little as the linkbaiters actually create for society, they're very good at getting people to read things and stick with them. Now, the people with good ideas need to adopt and co-opt their tricks in order to get what's important out into the public consciousness.

News Suburban mayor wants Chicago Cubs to move Wrigley next door to O'Hare

Socialism Doesn't Work Using government to drive the economy
David Brooks: "[Some] Democrats want to take an astounding $4.2 trillion out of the private sector and put it into government where they believe it can be used more efficiently."

Health Something's gone wrong; the HPV vaccine isn't getting used like it should

Threats and Hazards North Korea won't stop with the threats

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March 21, 2013

Business and Finance Under-funded public-sector pensions are among the biggest anchors on the US economy
Illinois is working on a big reform plan now...which is good, since they have one of the worst under-funding crises

Business and Finance The advantage mortagages have over renting
It's grown quite large due to impossibly low mortgage rates

Computers and the Internet What service will Google shut down next?
Google increasingly cannot be trusted -- not for malice, but for flakiness

Computers and the Internet BlackBerry thinks a new phone will save the company


Aviation News It's well past time to decide some laws about drones
The technology is way ahead of the law right now, and the risks of ill use are huge

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March 22, 2013

Computers and the Internet A look at the week in technology news

Computers and the Internet 7-year-old Twitter finds a niche among diplomats
Lithuanian authorities are directing their ambassadors to get on board with the service

Science and Technology Why drawings of skyscrapers should probably skip the trees

Health Vaccine against malaria doesn't last very long
A durable vaccine would do wonders for the developing world, and something is better than nothing...but it appears to wear off after four years, which isn't much lasting protection.

Health A cure for cancer. Really.
Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering appear to have figured out a way to cure one type of adult leukemia.

Computers and the Internet Stupid language on Facebook costs Nebraska political consultant his job

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March 24, 2013

News Cedar Rapids Gazette to leave the AP on April 1st
They're by no means the first newspaper to acknowledge the ever-rising ratio of costs to benefits from membership. The AP is in an unusual position: It's a co-op, but it's also got a virtual monopoly on mainstream "wire service" news delivery. There are lots of other wire services, of course, but ever since UPI basically fell off the face of the Earth, the AP has been utterly dominant. Some competition would serve the market well. One thing we should all expect to see is that newspapers that rely mainly on wire copy are going to become unprofitable and irrelevant; if it's news everyone got yesterday on their smartphones, then the dead-tree reprint of the same isn't going to mean much. But papers that provide a unique angle, deep coverage of local news, and engaging analysis and commentary are going to have a bright future. The Omaha World-Herald, for instance, is smart to have a whole section devoted to covering Warren Buffett, and it's only sensible that the Deseret News has a heavy focus on the LDS church. Both papers "get it" -- at least to some extent.

Aviation News Who should lead the next space race?
Robert Krulwich isn't sure whether it should be publicly-funded NASA, as Neil Degrasse Tyson insists, or "self-nominated, can-do, sometimes obnoxious business people". Since Krulwich and Tyson are certainly two of the smartest people in the room, it's an interesting question and worthy of debate.

Business and Finance EBRI study: Half of American workers have very little confidence in their retirement savings
That's despite a rebound in the stock market. The gap between economic perceptions and stock market performance has many causes, but we may be to the point where there's nothing left (fundamentally speaking) but for the prices of American companies to go up.

Iowa State of Iowa doles out another batch of economic-development incentives

Science and Technology Lockheed joins the exoskeleton race
These things are remarkable: They can strap to people's bodies and give them superhuman strength and endurance -- or restore mobility for those whose muscles don't work properly on their own. Fascinating stuff.

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March 25, 2013

Business and Finance Jobs for young workers are important for creating career paths
It's not so important what particular job a young worker gets, so much as getting some kind of job at all. The early working years are more important for developing the basic skills of functioning in the workforce than for developing particular job-specific disciplines (though it certainly doesn't hurt). That's why proposals to raise the minimum wage should be greeted with deep skepticism. The intent behind raising the minimum wage is generally good -- people want low-wage working families to have a little less struggle. But since half of minimum-wage workers are young, raising those wages by law means invariably that employers will find substitutes. Anyone who's seen a self-checkout lane in a grocery store has participated in this substitution of technology for low-wage workers, so there's no denying that it happens. And if higher minimum wages means fewer job opportunities for young workers, then it creates a longer-term effect that depresses their future earnings potential. This is happening right now in Britain and France, and we're fools to risk it happening here in America, too. Helping low-wage families is better done through strategies like raising the Earned Income Tax Credit. We shouldn't let good intentions substitute for good policy.

Iowa Crews cleaning old hospital discover a skeleton they can't identify

Broadcasting "80 percent of MSNBC's ratings come from people who watch it for 150 minutes or more a day"
And roughly the same reportedly goes for Fox News. It can't be mentally healthy to spend that much time inside an echo chamber.

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March 26, 2013

Iowa Score one for human goodness
After the deeply saddening stories about assault, taunting, and exploitation of vulnerable people in Connecticut and Ohio, it's good to read a story about people taking care of one another when one of them is discovered in a helpless state. Newspaper carrier Ralph Miller found a teenaged girl alone and in danger this past weekend in Cedar Rapids, and he rescued her from likely death. There is much good left in humanity.

Computers and the Internet How to protect and bolster your kid's online reputation
Like it or not, everyone leaves behind a digital footprint on the Internet, and that footprint is finding its way into job interviews and college admissions decisions. Start early and work hard to make sure your kid has a profile that gives them the best possible leg-up on the future.

Iowa Plans in place to restore the Younkers Tea Room
It's not clear that we really should be spending $15 million in public money (via tax credits) to restore it and other historic parts of the downtown Des Moines building, but putting that aside, it will certainly warm a lot of hearts to have the old place back.

Humor and Good News The Onion takes on the Supreme Court gay-marriage case
There can be a great deal of truth in satire.

News Hard feelings about Wrigleyville in the public eye

The United States of America Fascinating story on disability payments in America

Broadcasting "The Americans" actually has roots in real spy programs
The FX show about a sleeper KGB cell in America actually has basis in real spy-cell stories from the present day

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March 27, 2013

Computers and the Internet Leave a flower in the Google Product graveyard
The company's habit of starting up a product and then cancelling it just causes people to distrust that any new products will be around for the long term. Makes it tough for people to justify using them for critical business purposes...which, incidentally, is the kind of product category that makes so much money for Microsoft.

News Test drive of a Dodge Ram ends up in a big fire
Well...that was awkward.

Humor and Good News Mr. T goes to the hockey rink
(Video)

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March 28, 2013

The United States of America America's real state boundaries
A physicist has taken the data from "Where's George?" and mapped out where Americans appear to do most of our business with one another. Not surprisingly, Texas is like a giant free-standing economy, and Iowa is half-like three separate states...but at the same time, half-like one mega-state in combination with Nebraska. Minnesota and the Dakotas are like one giant state, too. Pretty interesting sociology and cartography.

Business and Finance Our economic condition, summarized
GDP (gross domestic product) is growing somewhere in the neighborhood of 2% a year. While it's not shrinking or in a standstill, it's not a particularly swift growth rate. Meanwhile, Americans are saving about 4% of personal income. Again, better than nothing (which is literally how low the rate was just a few years ago), but again, not anything that merits a fireworks show. Residential construction is in a boom again after going through a depression, and businesses seem to be doing a lot of investment.

The United States of America Lincoln (Nebraska) has the nation's highest level of well-being

Science and Technology Natural gas: From 19% of US electricity generation to 30% in half a decade
Natural gas is so phenomenally cheap right now that it's displacing other sources of fuel for electrical generation, especially coal. Over time, the price can't remain as low as it is -- but for now, it's subsidizing America's economy by providing cheaper power than we otherwise would be getting. What's important now: Finding a way to bridge between current fossil-fuel power sources and future non-fossil ones, using what we have available right now.

Computers and the Internet Google collects before-and-after photos from the Japanese tsunami
They've created a site in the name of "Memories for the Future" that collects a combination of user-submitted photos as well as Google Street View shots in order to document life before and after the event. It's a single instance of what will end up being a much larger industry in the future: Documentation of how things looked in time. Right now, you can use services like Google Earth and Street View to see what things looked like at some relatively-recent instant in the past. But pictures of the same town may have been taken at totally different times, and differ considerably from, say, satellite or aerial shots of the same locations. What's needed is not just a geographical index (allowing users to search for a specific place) but also a temporal one (that specific place on or about a certain time). We're probably a long way from that.

Computers and the Internet Google announces winners of its promotion to get Google Glass first

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March 30, 2013

Weather and Disasters What's causing our erratic climatic patterns
...maybe.

Broadcasting The week in technology
Show notes for the WHO Radio Wise Guys this week

Computers and the Internet How to save your feeds from Google Reader


Business and Finance How cheap natural gas in the US could crunch Chinese manufacturing

Recent radio shows on demand


March 31, 2013

Broadcasting The week in "making money and having fun"
The notes behind the March 31, 2013 edition of the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio, which is archived online for on-demand listening.

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