Gongol.com Archives: April 2013
Brian Gongol


April 2013
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April 1, 2013

News Will a private developer revitalize downtown Detroit?
The founder of Quicken Loans wants to get some streamlined government approval for a massive redevelopment of the downtown area in America's 14th-largest metro. At some point, as long as the infrastructure for a city remains at least mainly in functional condition, a real-estate market from which the bottom drops out will eventually attract someone who thinks the future return on the investment is worth the risk. And there's no evading the fact that Detroit is on sale. It's possible -- not certain, but possible -- that a model that suspends most government regulation might be the swiftest way to attract the investment needed to get Detroit on the rebound. The city needs it: They're under emergency financial management. And Detroit isn't alone...quite sadly, we need to be aware of the risk that as cities find themselves unwilling or unable to make good on promises made over the years (especially to pension programs), more may find themselves in grave financial trouble. Stockton, California, has 300,000 people...and a $900 million debt to Calpers. That's $3,000 in pension debt for every resident. It's going to get ugly when pension obligations in other cities come due and nobody's prepared to pay. The problem at the municipal level is a reflection of the problem at the national level, too: Too many promises have been made by a government that hasn't been funding those promises adequately. (This tension, by the way, must be kept in mind when the same government makes additional promises to pay for more things in the future.)

Business and Finance T-Mobile goes after competitors in a big way
The CEO, using some salty but direct language, says mobile phone contracts are unreasonable and argues that T-Mobile's no-contract plan means customers will pay less over time, even if they lose the carrier subsidy for their phones

News Obituary for the first rabbi at the liberation of Buchenwald

Computers and the Internet The risk of the great honeypot
A huge online database run by the General Services Administration was found to have a big security vulnerability, which the government is now scrambling to fix. And thus we have a great case study in "Why you don't want the Federal government to centralize too many things". Massive national databases are a very attractive target for digital criminals.

Threats and Hazards What happens if North Korea's regime fails ungracefully?
The US military has been planning for the possibility, which isn't outside the realm of imagination. The greater the number of threats, the more likely it is that North Korea will do something to prove at least some of those threats to be credible. But the Communist system there is untenable in the long term, and long-term untenability risks short-term instability, and that could happen without a great deal of provocation. South Korea is standing its ground on the provocations, which it must.

The United States of America 40% of undocumented immigrants in the US didn't sneak across the border
They've just overstayed their visas. And the visa process is anything but clear and direct. It's well past time for reform.

Computers and the Internet Lowering barriers to entry
An iPhone with Instagram is now all a person needs to take pictures good enough for the front page of the New York Times

The United States of America Congress needs to reclaim the power to declare war

Science and Technology A good look around the changing energy landscape

Humor and Good News The great Peeps Diorama Contest

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April 2, 2013

News A revival of the ranch home?

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April 3, 2013

Business and Finance Government pushes for high-risk mortgages all over again


Threats and Hazards North Korea warns it's ready to launch a nuclear attack


News Carnival Cruise Line needs to learn a few things about humility
And public relations

Business and Finance An abrupt slowdown in China's economy?
Yes...it's actually quite likely over the next decade. The US is gaining a big energy advantage with the shale-gas boom, and China's labor-price advantage is diminishing rapidly.

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April 4, 2013

Threats and Hazards North Korea continues to add heat and tension


Iowa Iowa City residents circulate petition to stop red-light cameras


Iowa Iowa's losing a really good state auditor
But the country appears to be gaining a really good chair of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. One can only hope he can spread some of the sense of responsibility he brought to his state auditor role.

Computers and the Internet Firefox turns (version) 20


Computers and the Internet Should Microsoft be afraid of Chromebooks?
It's clearly a competitive threat, but Microsoft is a badly-underrated company

Computers and the Internet Facebook wants to put something like a skin over the Android OS
They didn't go after a full Facebook phone because selling 10 or 20 million phones "wouldn't move the needle" for the company

Health To stretch, or not to stretch?
Medicine seems to still be working on an answer

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April 5, 2013

Agriculture We're too slow to respond to signals of famine
A UK think tank points out that early-detection systems give warning of potential famines almost 12 months before they happen -- but the early detection still isn't translating into swift action. We have the means to feed the world, even if nature doesn't always cooperate...but it's human beings that stand in the way of making sure that other people get fed.

Computers and the Internet Austin, Texas, claims to be next on the list to get Google Fiber
It's Google's service for delivering 1 Gbps broadband Internet service -- that's one gigabit per second, or about 100 times faster than the speeds widely found on DSL or cable services. In much of western Europe, 100 Mbps Internet speeds are widely found (that's about ten times faster than American standards...and about a tenth of the speed of Google Fiber). European customers tend to have two things working to their advantage: More competition among Internet providers, and a much higher population density (which makes it easier to get the physical cables in place to deliver high-speed broadband).

Science and Technology A house built to expand as the family inside it grew
A very clever design for a ranch-style home with a huge volume of window space and an open, flexible floorplan

News A manifesto demanding that journalists start showing their work
It's possible to do so rather easily, thanks to the Internet, so it should probably happen more often -- as a matter of building and reinforcing credibility and trust

Humor and Good News That's not the recommended way of demolishing a silo
(Video -- language is not safe for work [NSFW])

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April 6, 2013

Broadcasting This week in trends, tips, and technology
Show notes for the "WHO Radio Wise Guys"

Business and Finance Today's negative real interest rates are something to behold
If you loan money to the Federal government for 5, 7, 10, or even 20 years, you will actually get paid less in interest than you will lose in buying power over that same time. In other words, it's a negative "real" rate of interest. That's exceptional...people around the world remain so fearful of the future that they're willing to pay the Federal government of the United States for the "privilege" of letting the government borrow their money. This behavior is clinically insane.

Business and Finance We live in dualistic economic times
The progress of technology, the growth in regulation, the hazard of steep tax increases to come, the natural-gas boom, the global marketplace, and the very deep cuts to interest rates all mean that we're in an economic phase that is very bad for people without skills or capital, even though lots of companies are doing quite well. It's all easy to lay out, but seeing where the future lies may be something else altogether.

Humor and Good News Costas does Ludacris name-checking Costas
(Video)

Computers and the Internet Wearable computing that could make a real difference
A "smart bracelet" is being developed that would track aid workers in faraway lands, giving them the option to trigger a signal that could be relayed both to GPS tracking and to social media if they find themselves in dangerous situations. You can have your Pebble watches and Nike Fuel bands...but this is wearable computing that could make a real difference.

Socialism Doesn't Work Anti-capital?
The President's budget proposal that's expected to come out next week may include some new limitations on how much people are allowed to put into their retirement accounts on a tax-advantaged basis. Here's the thing about such a proposal: We can't really evaluate it until it's on paper, nor is it necessarily unreasonable to place limits on the amount to which incentives are given in order to get people to put away more money for retirement. But a government whose first instinct always is to discourage capital investment is one that implicitly discourages all of the things that are necessary to putting people to work and making their lives better.

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April 7, 2013

The American Way This week in "making money and having fun"

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April 8, 2013

News Margaret Thatcher "will no doubt be remembered for her results"
So eulogizes the Christian Science Monitor. They conclude appropriately: "She had faith in unending progress for all".

Business and Finance US savings rate plunges back to dangerously low levels
There are plenty of problems from a savings rate that is too low: It starves the process of private-sector investment, making individuals and families less well-off in the long term. It puts households at greater risk of trouble if and when the unexpected occurs (like a water heater going bad or a surprise illness). And in an economy as consumer-spending-driven as America's, it means that policy-makers get desperate quickly when they see consumer spending decrease (since people without any savings don't have a well from which to draw in order to take advantage of bargains when the economy slows and prices fall...which is how an economy should naturally self-correct) -- so it encourages those policy-makers, in turn, to try to "prime the pump" through government borrowing and spending (which only further impoverishes the future taxpayer). But, perhaps worst of all, the progress of today's economy is away from human labor and towards time- and money-saving machines (and computers and programs) that make workers more productive than ever...meaning fewer of them are needed. It's nothing new...the John Deere plow was bad news for farmhands. But if people are under-saving (and thus under-investing in capital) at a time when capital is being rewarded proportionally better than labor is, then lots of people are making a deliberate choice to put themselves in a much worse future financial situation than they should. Some people are quick to get indignant about this inequity of payoff between labor and capital, but they're generally not thinking about the big picture -- the effort to discover time- and labor-saving devices is one of the defining currents of all human history. We settled the Great Plains because windmills let farmers get water from the ground with a lot less work. If they'd been forced to rely on hand pumps, they wouldn't have had time or the ability to become homesteaders. Even today, there are people around the world who must waste hours every day trying to collect and carry clean drinking water. Those are hours that children could instead be spending in school, and that their parents could instead be spending in many other productive pursuits. Virtually anything that saves human time and effort makes us better-off in the long run.

Broadcasting Are the broadcast television networks being drama queens?
Fox and Univision are both starting to drop hints that they might just pick up and leave over-the-air television someday because it's getting so easy for people to watch their programming without tuning a television set at a predetermined time. While it's pretty unlikely we'd see a network dissolve anytime in the coming ten to fifteen years, it's increasingly possible that the future will depend ever less on the big broadcasting networks. After all, who would've thought 15 years ago that NBC would be in 5th place among the networks for viewers ages 18 to 49?

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April 9, 2013

Business and Finance If we only talk about "creating jobs", we'll never really get what we want
It's a lot more popular to talk about jobs than about capital...but wealth is necessary to buy the tools that make labor productive. Ignoring that necessity is a bad way to run a country.

Health Nobody really multi-tasks
We can suspend our attention to one matter and give it to another, and even cycle quickly among those things, but we can't really do two thinking things at once. Tragically, that was illustrated by a helicopter crash caused by the pilot's inattention to detail during the pre-flight inspection. He was distracted by text messaging.

Computers and the Internet Bad ideas go viral
A public-health study found that people are quick to believe nonsense (about the flu vaccine, in the case of the study) but not useful information. That suggests we need to think long and hard about how to disseminate public-health messages; apparently, it's a serious uphill battle. A lot more thought needs to go into how to make useful thoughts go viral.

Computers and the Internet Domain names are cheap...don't overlook them
If the Obama campaign machine (which is morphing itself during his second term into a perpetual-campaign machine), despite its much-vaunted online organizational skills, isn't sharp enough to have registered their new name as a domain name before rebranding...well, then just about anyone could probably use the reminder to protect important names as assets early on. Register your own name as a domain; do the same for your children. On a related note, none of us should be surprised at all when the "Obama For America/Organizing For Action" team decides to try to put First Lady Michelle Obama's name into contention for some kind of high office. (Strangely, though, nobody on the campaign's team apparently ever thought to register MichelleObama.com. They'll come to regret that.)

Science and Technology The Mandelbrot Set as a dynamic, three-dimensional shape

Business and Finance Insider trading may be signaled by what parents do for their youngest children

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April 10, 2013

The United States of America Know your Federal budget
The President has proposed a budget for Fiscal Year 2014. And it's not balanced, nor does it ever estimate becoming so. A deficit equal to 6% of GDP for 2013, 4.4% for 2014, 3.2% for 2015, 2.8% for 2016, 2.4% for 2017, and 2.3% for 2018 (see page 29). Of course, that also assumes the US economy will grow 4.2% in 2013, 4.9% in 2014, 5.4% in 2015, 5.5% in 2016 and 2017, and 5.2% in 2018 (see page 27). Would that be great? Of course. Is it going to happen? No way. A 5% economic growth rate would be a delightful boom, and a 2% Federal deficit would be easily-tolerable under those conditions. But that's not what's going to happen. Even making accommodation for the fact those estimates are not adjusted for inflation, deducting out 1% to 2% for inflation still assumes a much higher expected growth rate for the economy than has been experienced with any consistency for quite a while.

Business and Finance WTO forecasts slower trade growth in 2013
They'd like to see 5% growth; they're expecting 3.3% this year

The American Way "The miners' strike shows why Thatcher was correct to want the government out of industry"
Why the political left owes Margaret Thatcher a debt of gratitude: She so shifted the political dynamic that the most outrageous statism was revealed for what it was (and is), forcing leftists to get in touch with market economics.

Health Shifting attention from task to task leads to errors

Iowa Rebuilding Mapleton
The Iowa town was damaged terribly by a tornado in 2011, but the people there have rebounded admirably.

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April 11, 2013

Business and Finance Global economics 101: Wages in East Asia are rising
The more wages rise, the less those countries retain a competitive advantage in selling their wares. Rising wages there will end up spilling over to places with even lower wage rates. Rising wages will also boost automation.

Computers and the Internet Samsung's Galaxy Mega smartphones are the size of a small book
They'll be introduced in European markets first, probably as a test. One is 6.3" diagonally -- bigger than the (huge) Galaxy Note (which is about 5.5").

The American Way Steve Forbes: We need more leaders like Margaret Thatcher
This publisher agrees.

Computers and the Internet Facebook and YouTube tie for "most important" social-media ranking among teens
But Facebook's ranking as "most important" has fallen about ten percentage points over the last year. That's significant. Twitter comes in third. Parents and adults generally need to know how to supervise their kids' use of social networks.

News North Korea from the riverside
The country's management (we can't honestly call it "leadership") is out of control. But the people didn't choose it, and they're human beings, just like the rest of us. A peaceful resolution to the tension there is badly needed, so that people don't suffer needlessly.

Iowa The nanny state versus the home-brewers
The state legislature is looking at revising Iowa's alcoholic-beverages rules so that home-brewers can get together and share their beers with one another. Current law says home-brewed beer can't be consumed outside the home...because, you know, we also prohibit people from sharing food at potlucks and bake sales due to essential government interest in the safety of its people. Oh, wait.

Humor and Good News A Beach Boys shred
(Video)

The United States of America A plan to build a mini-Albuquerque...connected to Albuquerque
The city is trying to cut off private-sector developers by creating a huge planned community with built-in sprawl resistance. Questions of "urban sprawl" sound pretty hilarious when you're from the part of the country that has a county bigger than Connecticut, with a population of less than 6,000.

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April 12, 2013

Business and Finance Roberts Dairy name to be retired
It lasted a little more than 100 years, but they're adopting the name of the parent (Hiland Dairy) instead. Hard to fathom that it's worthwhile to burn 100 years of brand equity in an instant, but that's what someone has decided to do.

Business and Finance Two more years of HARP to come
The FHA is extending it through December 31, 2015

Computers and the Internet LinkedIn buys newsreader site
The acquisition of Pulse is another effort by LinkedIn to make sure that it remains relevant -- no small matter in a world where MySpace went from pop-culture centrality to oblivion in what seemed like an instant. And good timing, too, as Google kills off Google Reader. Pulse could be a substitute for some users.

The United States of America The sequestration and the bigger problem

Threats and Hazards A truly mortifying case
The allegations against Kermit Gosnell, a doctor standing trial in Philadelphia, are utterly revolting. One cannot read the account without finding endless cause for outrage.

Computers and the Internet This week in trends, tips, and technology
A preview of the WHO Radio Wise Guys, which airs Saturday at 1:00

Business and Finance Newspapers on the market
Big-city newspapers, including the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune, are for sale right now. Rumor says the Koch brothers are looking at the Tribune (which would be historically suitable; the paper has historically been a pro-business Republican paper, and they're about as pro-business Republican as they come). Of course, big-city newspapers may be highly prestigious, but they're not particularly good investments. Small-town and middle-market newspapers are still much better moneymakers than the metro dailies.

Weather and Disasters Updraft helicity may tell forecasters how serious tornadoes will be
The more we learn about tornadoes, the better off many lives will be.

Business and Finance Bond returns are so bad, insurance companies are trying to buy toll roads instead

The United States of America Maybe the USPS will keep Saturday service after all

Computers and the Internet Google's "Inactive Account Manager" offers a plan for your Google accounts in the afterlife
It'll contact people you designate and give them your passwords after a 3/6/9/12-month period after you stop logging in. Or, you know, you could always just write down the passwords and keep them in a secure location.

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April 14, 2013

Broadcasting This week in making money and having fun
Notes from the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio

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April 15, 2013

Threats and Hazards Tragic bombing in Boston

Computers and the Internet Dish Network wants to buy Sprint for $25.5 billion

The United States of America Given a path to citizenship, 87% of undocumented Latinos in the US would take it

Computers and the Internet Family will sue accused assailants after daughter commits suicide over photos online
The high-school student was sexually assaulted, and the photos ended up online. She killed herself a week later. It's heartbreaking on so many levels.

Humor and Good News "Annoyance is fungible"

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April 16, 2013

Business and Finance "The mystery of stable prices"
Inflation, unemployment, and the money supply aren't coordinating quite like the old models used to predict

News Do voters get the lawmakers we pay for?
The Minnesota Senate is looking at raising pay for state lawmakers from $31,000 a year to $42,000 a year. The pay rate hasn't risen since 1999. Some people might argue that anyone in public service should be willing to sacrifice (financially) for the privilege. But it's also worth noting that if you want your laws to be made by an assembly of people who reflect the interests of the mainstream voter, then if the job comes with the duties of a full-time occupation, it's probably necessary to pay enough for someone to live a reasonably comfortable existence. If legislators are required to perform full-time duties but aren't paid the equivalent of a professional salary, then nobody should be surprised if the resulting legislator is filled with people who answer to special interests, working things like no-show jobs at large companies and union halls.

News Where the Obama campaign team is working now
Some are turning electoral success into big business in the consulting and lobbying sphere

Computers and the Internet Google and Silicon Valley startup-backers fund a project to make Google Glass viable
They want application developers to take the tool under their wing. But it's still going to require a lot of social adjustment to imagine people comfortably wearing Google Glasses out in public -- it's going to be a clear mark of tech/geek status for some, but it's probably too obtrusive to gain mainstream interest, at least for quite a while. Wearable computing certainly has a future, but some things are hard to imagine crossing the gap from "geek chic" to widespread acceptance. Perhaps when they become little more subtle, we'll see them adopted widely.

Iowa Iowa State Patrol plans to trap car thieves
They're putting out "bait cars" equipped with tracking equipment to see if they can put some car thieves in jail.

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April 17, 2013

Computers and the Internet China thinks Apple is obscene

Science and Technology Lab thinks it's built a better battery
Finding better ways to store energy should be one of the highest technological priorities we have. The natural world provides us with enormous amounts of free energy that we could be using, if only we could store it.

Business and Finance Is Steve Ballmer holding back Microsoft?

Computers and the Internet Provo, Utah, will get Google Fiber
Google is buying out an existing network in the town that's home to BYU, and they'll expand it

Business and Finance Greenland struggles with a resource bonanza
Natural-resource wealth can be a great thing -- like winning a lottery. But like many lottery winners, places that gorge on the bonanza without planning for the future often end up in terrible shape later on.

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April 18, 2013

Business and Finance Gold isn't a "safe haven"
The price of the metal has fallen by double-digit percentages in a matter of months, and that's making people who use it for jewelry very happy. It's undoubtedly driving gold bugs crazy. And the plunge is just one of several reasons why money shouldn't be based on a gold standard. The recent gold fever has been bubble-driven, but people who were smart and converted their cash into skills instead are probably much happier than those who hoarded the metal.

News Memorial tributes to Margaret Thatcher

The United States of America Are you ready to start paying more to cover past pension shortfalls?
Lots of public-sector pension programs have gone badly under-funded for some time, and now it's time to pay the piper.

News Tom Ricketts promises a World Series for the Cubs
It's a promise made in exchange for very significant renovations to and around Wrigley Field

Business and Finance Tesco bids farewell to the US market
Hugely successful at home, Tesco found the American market just too much to bear. Domestic groceries celebrate the departure.

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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April 19, 2013

The United States of America Should the TVA be privatized?
If it's not an essential public service, then the Federal government most likely should privatize it. But it seems strange that there are Republican members of Congress opposing the plan, and a Democratic administration floating the idea. The present White House hasn't show much tendency towards privatization -- in fact, much the opposite. So if nothing else, the idea makes for quite the soap opera.

Iowa Wells Fargo breaks ground on $100 million expansion in West Des Moines
The Des Moines Register reports "The bank is not seeking government incentive dollars for the Jordan Creek expansion".

Iowa Hard Rock Casino on the way for Sioux City
It will take the place of the current Argosy riverboat casino. Local supporters think the Hard Rock will bring in twice the money for local charities that the riverboat has.

News How big is Africa, really?

Weather and Disasters Chicago suffers serious flooding

Business and Finance Single adults close to retirement have a lot less on average than married peers

News The US could have shown a little more respect at Thatcher's funeral
No high-ranking administration officials were sent to attend. By contrast, Thatcher herself made a personal appearance at Ronald Reagan's funeral.

Humor and Good News Rammstein vs. Cookie Monster
(Video)

Broadcasting This week in trends, tips, and technology

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April 21, 2013

Business and Finance If your skills are easily replaced, job security will be low
What's really important for people is to realize the value of having two specialties -- not just one. One is easily replaceable, but two makes for a better-rounded individual with far more pricing power in the market for labor. Charlie Munger just made a big donation to the University of Michigan in the hope of seeing cross-departmental cooperation among graduate students, saying "Specialization causes a lot of bad thinking."

Business and Finance Even the best intentions can leave us trapped
Students in northwest Iowa schools are involved in a stock-market investment competition in which they team up with one another and "invest" a hypothetical windfall of $100,000. It's great that the schools are doing what they can to encourage kids to learn about investing; something is definitely better than nothing in this regard. But it's impossible to do something tied to the school year that will teach kids the most important lessons about investing -- patience and the search for value -- because there's no way to fairly evaluate deep value investing on a time horizon of six or even nine months. Most people really need to learn how to invest for the optimal returns over many years -- and the way you do that is quite different from short-term speculation. Again, it's far better that these kids learn something about stocks rather than nothing, but it's hard to really instill the most important lessons without a much longer time horizon than the school year permits.

Health Tourniquets saved lives in the Boston bombing
Not to be widely used, but in catastrophic circumstances, they might be the best option

News The Onion: "Majority of Americans not informed enough to stereotype Chechens"
It's not even satire -- it's the truth

Broadcasting This week in the business of making money and having fun
Notes for and from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio for Sunday, April 21, 2013

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April 22, 2013

Computers and the Internet IBM may sell its low-end server division to Lenovo
If an IBM-to-Lenovo sale sounds familiar, that's because IBM sold its PC division to the same company back in 2004/2005. Now, they may be looking to spin off another low-growth division, and Lenovo may be back with its corporate checkbook.

Business and Finance Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke may be signaling his exit
He's skipping the Jackson Hole conference, which is a big one among the American finance and central-banking crowd. His term is due to expire within a year, and he may simply be ready to pull a George Costanza and go out on a (relative) high note. On the other hand, he would be leaving at a moment when the Federal Reserve has to be watching the economy with great intensity. They've pumped lots of money into the system, but it hasn't started moving very quickly; when it eventually does, the Fed will have to show some very good judgment about pulling that money back off the table in a timely manner, or else we'll see high inflation rates.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft tries to steer the conversation towards privacy
It's one of the areas where they probably think they have a competitive advantage against Google

Threats and Hazards "Whenever the word 'terrorist' is mentioned in this country, reason tends to go out the window"
Overreaction is too much like surrender

Weather and Disasters How much rain, how often?
A NOAA tool lets users see how often heavy rainfalls can be expected. Exactly what would be a 1-in-1,000-year rainfall, for instance?

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April 23, 2013

Computers and the Internet Facebook will build a data center in Altoona
The Des Moines suburb is on the opposite side of the metro area from the data center built by Microsoft in West Des Moines. The company says it's to be the fourth owned-and-operated data center for Facebook. Food farms and server farms can coexist in peace and harmony.

The United States of America Work-commute times across America
It's no surprise that metro areas in the Midwest like Des Moines and Omaha have some of the shortest average commute times in the country. It's a meaningful contributor to quality of life. Save ten minutes a day over 250 work days a year, and you've just cut an entire work-week (41 hours, in fact) out of your annual time behind the wheel. That's a lot of valuable leisure time to add to a year.

Science and Technology Scientists test putting swarms of robots to work
Lots of small robots with small brains might be able to do things very effectively -- just like schools of fish or flocks of birds. The demonstrations of distributed behavior by small robots with tiny "brains" resemble the behaviors we see in nature, and may show promise for what we need out of the robots of the future, like when they're at the nano scale and are used for things like cleaning our arteries. In the words of the lab's chief, how much work can we get done without lots of thinking?

Humor and Good News A public-service announcement about those Bill Gates pictures on Facebook...
...no, you're not going to get $1,000 for sharing

Business and Finance Yeah, we'll get to work. After the check clears.


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April 24, 2013

Threats and Hazards Legislators propose cutting pay for Iowa supreme-court judges
It's intended as punishment for how they ruled in the decision that brought about same-sex marriage in Iowa. And for making such a ridiculous proposal, the legislators should be ashamed of themselves. Cutting pay (or otherwise seeking to enact punishment) for judges who decide against your wishes is the best way to destroy the safeguarding role that the judiciary plays in a healthy republic. We need the judiciary to make unpopular decisions occasionally, when the popular will is actively (or soon to be found) trampling on the rights of others. Rights aren't a matter of popular will, if we believe our founding documents and their "self-evident truths". So when the popular will is hostile to rights, we need the judiciary to provide a sober backstop.

Science and Technology Some watchers think solar power is about to break through on a big scale
That, plus cheap natural gas and tools like next-generation household energy-management tools (like the Nest thermostat) could make for volatile times ahead for the major energy utility industry

Business and Finance Huawei: "Not interested in the US market anymore"
The Chinese phone-maker plans to focus on the rest of the world's markets instead after running into social and political friction trying to get into the American market

Science and Technology Don't let your "friends" count get you down
A handful of well-connected people skews the average number of friends inside real and digital social networks

Computers and the Internet What happens to your posthumous Facebook account?

Business and Finance April 2013 edition of the EconDirectory

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April 25, 2013

The United States of America The challenge of keeping fraternal and civic organizations alive
There are so many competing interests for people's attention and time that civic groups are having trouble recruiting younger members. This is a bad long-term trend: We really need to make sure that there is regular, personal engagement within our communities, and if fraternal and civic organizations aren't healthy, then it's time to start looking for the secret sauce to give them some help.

Computers and the Internet CEO at eBay calls for revolt over sales taxes for Internet sales
For self-interested reasons, eBay wants an exemption for small businesses (fewer than 50 employees and interstate sales of less than $10 million a year) from a proposed rule requiring Internet retailers to collect sales taxes nationwide. This one's a tough issue: States and local governments are clearly losing out on tax collection due to Internet sales, but the burden of collecting taxes on behalf of nearly 10,000 different jurisdictions would be altogether overwhelming for many Internet retailers. For those small retailers, eBay's self-interest brings deep pockets and first-class legal advice that the many little parties involved can't afford on their own. Anyone who thinks that it's reasonable to expect small retailers to collect taxes in that many jurisdictions at once is someone who hasn't spent enough time dealing with government regulations. The burden would be overwhelming.

News Forty people found alive a day after Bangladeshi building collapse
But at least 250 of the 2,000 or so people who were inside the building were killed

Computers and the Internet Make sure someone trusted knows how to take over your Facebook page
A Brazilian judge has ordered Facebook to take down the page of a woman who died at age 24, after her mother sued over the distress the lingering page caused her. You don't have to give anyone your passwords while living, but for goodness' sake, write down your essential passwords and store them in a safe location -- in a sealed envelope in a safe-deposit box, for instance. If something tragic (expected or not) should happen to you, whomever you trust enough to go through your belongings should also have your trust enough to do the right thing with the digital footprint you leave behind.

News Bringing some bulldog journalism back to the daily paper
A profile of the editor of the Toronto Star suggests that getting a little spunky has meant good business for the major-market paper. The same formula would never work in a smaller market, but that's the difference between metropolitan-level newsgathering and community-focused journalism.

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April 26, 2013

Computers and the Internet US Cellular customers from St. Louis to Chicago to Fort Wayne will be moved to Sprint soon
That means they'll have to buy new phones. Both networks are on CDMA, but the companies claim the antennas within the phones are tuned to the wrong frequencies to make the switch. Strange move on the part of US Cellular to sell off 11% of its customer base, but they did, slicing a meaningful piece out of the carrier's national retail footprint. Customers in other US Cellular markets should still be able to use their phones, but it seems like a signal that US Cellular is trying to boost its cash supply. (Also interesting about the move: US Cellular is headquartered in Chicago, where they paid mightily for naming rights to the White Sox ballpark...$68 million for a 20-year deal. Wrigley Field remains named for the chewing-gum magnate, without a naming-rights deal. The carrier is facing a lot of upset customer comments on Facebook for selling them to Sprint. This is all happening as Sprint fights off losses of half a million customers per quarter and weighs which takeover bid (from Softbank or Dish Network) suits them best.

News Fake reporter, real bylines
An Australian publication uses a fake name as a byline for articles written by their editors. On one hand, it's misleading -- if no such reporter actually exists, then the articles are not really accountable to the individual who wrote them. But it's not entirely different from the practice of radio and television hosts who change their names to make them more palatable to the audience. "Mark Twain" wasn't, "Dear Abby" isn't, and the use of house names isn't original by any means. And the number of people who go by contrived identities online probably outnumbers those who go by their own names...so is a "house name" for editor-written articles all that bad?

Business and Finance First estimate of last quarter's US GDP: 2.5% growth
But the revisions to GDP figures have been large and frequent recently, so it's hard to say for certain what the final number will be. But it definitely won't be the 3% to 5% high-growth, low-inflation rate assumed by the White House in its recent budget proposals.

Broadcasting This week in trends, tips, and technology
A preview of the WHO Radio Wise Guys show for April 27, 2013

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April 30, 2013

Science and Technology A hurricane on Saturn
With clouds the size of Texas

News Nebraska: So big, the governor needs an airplane
It's hard to argue against a state-owned (or leased) airplane when it takes so long to travel from one end to the other via car

Iowa From Cedar Rapids resident to president of Sierra Leone?


Computers and the Internet Always have a way to communicate if your website goes down
Any individual, company, group, or organization needs to have its own, standalone website as its true home base on the Internet. But it also needs at least one solid backup means of communication in case the site crashes -- as happened to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

Business and Finance CEO pay ratios
To declare or not to declare?

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