Gongol.com Archives: May 2013
Brian Gongol

May 2013
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May 1, 2013

Business and Finance China, please stop stealing trade secrets
History will show that the stifling of political freedoms has and will continue to cost China dearly in the commercial market as well.

Computers and the Internet Facebook home gets off to a slow start
There's only so much encroachment into life that some people will accept. Make that: many people.

News Ricketts plays hardball over Wrigley Field
The family that owns the Cubs says it's a bunch of new video scoreboards in the outfield or they're leaving the classic park

News Just one bad decision after another
A teen mother goes from "reality" TV into pornography

Computers and the Internet Google Fiber gets a rival
CenturyLink says it'll test 1 Gbps fiber-optic service in Omaha

@briangongolbot on Twitter

May 2, 2013

Business and Finance Unlocking human potential
Warren Buffett argues that America's full economic structural advantages over much of the world (built on free markets and the rule of law) haven't even been fully actualized, given how long we have had social obstacles to women's success in the private sector. It's interesting reading.

Agriculture If someone cordoned off Buffalo and starved the entire city, we would have done something
The UN says that 260,000 people died in a famine in Somalia between 2010 and 2012. That's the population of Buffalo, New York. The famine was detected early, and the crop failure that caused the food to fall into short supply could have been mitigated by humanitarian relief efforts...if it hadn't been for militant groups that kept out the relief workers and used food as a weapon of war. It's shameful that criminals like that exist, and it's shameful that we don't pay greater attention.

Humor and Good News Keeping the tradition of May Day baskets alive

Humor and Good News Judge with a sense of humor rules on Texas strip-club laws

Iowa Iowa's railroads by freight carried
Also interesting: A map of Iowa's abandoned railroads.

Weather and Disasters Snow in May? Unusual but not impossible in Iowa.

Business and Finance Good credit means inconceivably low interest rates
Big corporations with strong balance sheets can borrow money for 10 years right now at 2.625% (and for 30 years at 4.125%). That's cheaper than the governments of New Zealand, Australia, India, Italy, or Mexico can borrow for similar periods of time.

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May 4, 2013

Business and Finance Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger - Comments from the 2013 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting
As they said it, more or less

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May 5, 2013

Socialism Doesn't Work Watch out for anti-capital proposals
The White House budget proposed in April called for a limit of $3.4 million on the amount Americans could accumulate in tax-preferred retirement accounts. The budget itself is really just a statement of policy preference -- it's not going to turn into the actual budget -- but it does echo a recurrent theme of President Obama's time in office: That capital accumulation is something to be viewed with suspicion, bordering on hostility. On one hand, $3.4 million is a lot of money -- nobody should doubt that. But we're also nearly completely blind in America to how much is "enough" for retirement. Many people would say the word "millionaire" and imagine Uncle Pennybags or Uncle Scrooge. But consider this: If you wanted to get $40,000 a year in retirement income and do it just on interest payments alone (in other words, if you were trying to avoid taking anything out of your nest egg and just live on the interest), then if you had your money in "safe" 10-year Treasuries earning 1.78%, then you'd have to have more than $2.2 million in the bank. Under those conditions, "rich" doesn't really look so rich anymore. Instead of turning every saver into a villain (or a convenient target for heavy taxation), we should probably start to get really honest with ourselves. Our biggest single fiscal problem is that we can't afford to pay for the entitlement programs we've created at current rates of spending and taxation. That problem isn't going to be solved by discouraging people from saving (and thus making them more dependent upon government entitlement programs). That's the straightest path to a downward-spiralling negative-feedback loop. We will only get out of the fiscal trap by getting the economy to grow meaningfully faster than it is (3% to 5% would be ideal), and that's only done by getting people to save and invest in productive businesses. That also has the very positive effect of creating a larger class of people who don't need those entitlement programs to support them in their old age.

Business and Finance There's "official", and then there's "Google official"
Google has now shifted from calling them the "Palestinian Territories" to "Palestine". It's not a decision that bears any diplomatic standing -- Google is, after all, just an international company...not a state -- but it's worthy of note that decisions like this by commercial entities can have more impact than, say, the same change when it's done by the UN. We may very well be in an era in which the behavior of large companies (like Google) may have greater impact on the world at large than comparable behavior by true nation-states. In other words, balance sheets may matter more than armies. Nothing presently rivals the United States for global influence, and there's certainly a tier of nations (including the UK, China, Russia, and India) that are significant enough for one reason or another to merit true global influence. But if one were to rank the relative influence of the UN Member States, there's no doubt that there are several big companies that would punch well above the weights of many member countries. It's not entirely unprecedented -- the Hudson's Bay Company and the Dutch East India Company are two examples that come quickly to mind. But we may be, as some writers have suggested, in an era when many corporations transcend the powers of nation-states, and that requires thinking about them in new ways.

Computers and the Internet Thinking of investing in Facebook?
Proceed with caution. Page 15 of the company's latest earnings report tells a very interesting tale of declining operating margins. It's becoming harder for them to make a profit, even as the number of users grows. That doesn't mean they'll stop making a profit -- but the downward trend is obvious even to the untrained eye. Also of note: On page 4, they reveal that membership growth in the US, Canada, and Europe has basically ground to a halt. If you're not a member by now, you're not likely to convert. The US/Canada "population" on Facebook grew from 183 million to 195 million from the first quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2013. Meantime, the US population grew from 313 million to 315 million, and Canada has about 35 million people in all, growing by about 400,000 a year. So, while Facebook's membership is still growing faster than the population overall, it's really at about the saturation point -- especially if one assumes that some of those "members" are second accounts.

Computers and the Internet Productivity growth doesn't seem to be showing benefits from computers and smartphones
Either something is wrong with the data (and/or how it's being collected), or we're blowing off some of the obvious benefits that everyone can see with their own two eyes by wasting time on Angry Birds. Or something. It may also be one of those insoluble paradoxes of trying to account for what we produce without a real measurement of our overall well-being.

The United States of America Republicans can succeed by pursuing good-government policies

Business and Finance Economic well-being is the only thing that can prop up political freedom
When people go hungry, they're far more likely to let go of their civic freedoms in exchange for promises of food. That's what's at risk in Egypt right now: Having clawed their way to greater political freedom, the people are suffering from economic stagnation. That could put the political freedoms at risk if a sufficiently persuasive party or demagogue comes along, offering bread in exchange for those freedoms.

Broadcasting This week in "making money and having fun"
Showprep for the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio for the week ending May 5, 2013

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May 6, 2013

The United States of America "Broke and demoralized, America retreats from the Pacific"
One of the possible scenarios detailed in an assessment of the next 20 years in the Pacific, as changes come to America, China, and Japan. The leading conclusion of the Carnegie Endowment report is that the status quo can't go on. And the evidence supporting that conclusion is clear: Publicly-traded companies in China are experiencing shrinking profits, and there's no escaping the demographic realities wrought by China's one-child policy. But the United States has to make the choice to grow (and to deliberately put policies in place to create the environment for growth), or else a slow-growth economy will choke out defense spending while cutting options for other things we want and need.

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May 7, 2013

Agriculture Last week's weather really put the brakes on Iowa's crop planting
Last year was terrible because of drought. This year, it's been too cold and too wet so far. It's hard to get a lot of field work done when you get 31 straight hours of snow in May.

Science and Technology Self-proclaimed "psychics" are taking money and hope from real victims
"Psychic" Sylvia Browne went on television in 2004 to tell the mother of a missing girl that the girl was dead. Except she wasn't -- she was one of the women freed this week in Ohio. But her mother died in the meantime, having been told a lie. It's heartbreaking, but it keeps on happening.

Humor and Good News Life is harrrd. Waaah.
A collection of animated .gifs from infomercials that make 21st Century Americans look like the biggest idiots in history.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

May 8, 2013

Computers and the Internet Are your passwords any good?
Intel offers a way to test their robustness

Business and Finance A hidden threat in Europe
High unemployment among young people. It's partly the result of bad government policy. And the effects will linger for a long time to come.

Computers and the Internet Google and Twitter team up to help Syrians get around Internet blockades

Humor and Good News The view from the cockpit
Photos from the cockpits of several fascinating vehicles

News Mayor Emanuel's popularity slips
Chicagoans may very well be getting tired of the violence

Humor and Good News Where should you chat online?

The United States of America A map of American English dialects

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May 9, 2013

Business and Finance Unwinding "quantitative easing" will be the greatest trick a Fed chief will see in a generation or more
We may have sidestepped a dramatic economic catastrophe, but we'll have to take off the Band-Aid someday, and that won't be pretty.

Computers and the Internet How "The Onion" got hacked
It's all a matter of using social cues and tricking people into trusting those they shouldn't

Computers and the Internet Adobe is taking Creative Suite to a service model
No more downloads...only online, "cloud"-type access

Humor and Good News "Mad Money" Billionaires
...and other clubs that don't exist

News A very insightful story about depression
Good reading for everyone

@briangongol on Twitter

May 10, 2013

Business and Finance What worries Ben Bernanke
Or, at least, what might. The thing that should really worry him most is whether his successor will be deft enough to take a lot of money off the table when inflation starts to pick up.

The United States of America Highest-paid state employees, by state
Mostly college football and basketball coaches. Probably not a good thing for America.

Computers and the Internet E-mail newsletters won't die
All things digital may be fleeting, but Twitter and Facebook posts (and their contemporaries) are even more ephemeral than a good old newsletter. That's why newspapers themselves will always have a place -- as the institutional memory of a place.

Threats and Hazards Buddhism has extremists, too

Iowa Best use of Swedish in a headline
A woman is said to have been carrying a "smorgasbord" of drugs

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May 11, 2013

Computers and the Internet Warfare goes digital, and the "Syrian Electronic Army" wants its recognition
Meanwhile, the Pentagon says China is getting bolder about state-backed cyberwarfare. The Defense Department says they've figured out it's easier to steal and copy our work than to invest in their own original R&D.

Iowa When will Highway 20 be four lanes wide across Iowa?
"Since IDOT doesn't plan for more than five years at a time, pinpointing a completion date isn't possible". And yet some businesses operate on 100-year business plans. That's how you win the future.

Computers and the Internet Snapchats don't really disappear like the service promises
The photos can be recovered with some simple file renaming -- or, you know, by taking a screen capture

News Emotions that stretch the English language
Some are too nuanced for English to neatly contain...but people feel them anyway

The United States of America Omaha police officially confirm citizens' right to record police activity
Civilian oversight of police authority is the only way to go in a free society

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May 12, 2013

Broadcasting This week in making money and having fun
Notes from the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio for May 12, 2013

Broadcasting This week in trends, tips, and technology
Notes from the WHO Radio Wise Guys show on May 11, 2013

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May 13, 2013

Threats and Hazards If it looks and smells like government overstepping its powers...
...then there's probably a good chance it really did. The Associated Press says the Justice Department secretly took two months' worth of their phone records. The AP calls it "a serious interference with AP's constitutional rights to gather and report the news". From what has been reported thus far, they appear to be absolutely right. And it should also be noted that this is exactly why people are wrong when they repeat the tired (and incorrect) refrain that "corporations aren't people". The AP is a corporation -- a cooperative, technically, but a corporation nonetheless -- that exercises the same legal rights to report the news under the auspices of the First Amendment as the individuals who work for the corporation. If the corporation (as a "body" of people) doesn't retain the same Constitutional rights as the journalists individually, then how could we really enforce those Constitutional rights for us all? This particular instance, at least, appears to illustrate exactly why it's silly to dismiss the understanding that corporations really are (made up of) people. And it should also be a case to give us all a serious case of concern about how open and transparent the Federal government really is.

Agriculture Iowa's farmers have 15% of the corn crop planted
This time last year, they had 86% of it in the ground. That's how cold and wet conditions have been.

Science and Technology Payphones, remembered

Science and Technology How smart are dogs, really?

Weather and Disasters Strangely, we've had practically no tornadoes in a year
Iowa and Nebraska have been virtually tornado-free. That's not normal at all.

Humor and Good News Listen more
Paul Bennett: "For most of my twenties I assumed that the world was more interested in me than I was in it, so I spent most of my time talking, usually in a quite uninformed way, about whatever I thought, rushing to be clever, thinking about what I was going to say to someone rather than listening to what they were saying to me." Sounds like a profound statement to the Twitter and Facebook age.

The American Way A democratic China within 20 years?
(Video) Maybe. A bold statement from a Chinese businessperson on "60 Minutes" earlier this spring.

Business and Finance Google versus the newspaper ad

Broadcasting Seth Meyers gets "Late Night" when Fallon takes over for Leno


May 14, 2013

The United States of America This thing we call a "free press"
The Associated Press is a corporation -- a cooperative, non-profit corporation, but a corporation nonetheless. It is owned by its member newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. The reporters and editors who report for the AP do so in America with the protection of the First Amendment, which applies to the individual reporters -- but also to the organization itself. Why? Because the corporation, ultimately, is made of people -- the people working for it, and the people who own the companies that own the AP. Like it or not, the Citizens United ruling struck down certain campaign expenditures because "certain disfavored associations of citizens -- those that have taken on the corporate form -- are penalized for engaging in the same political speech" as individuals and unincorporated groups. So, for as much as it was popular to jump on the bandwagon that criticized Mitt Romney for saying that "corporations are people", he was right: Corporations are made up of people, and those people do not give up their rights just because they decide to associate with one another. It may, however, take a case like this in which there is near-universal revulsion at the government's behavior for people to see the context.

News Is musical talent a depleting asset?
Specifically, music-writing talent, particularly for popular audiences

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May 15, 2013

Computers and the Internet Dwolla gets cut off from Bitcoin
The Federal government has stepped in to stop money-transfer service Dwolla from exchanging any of the "virtual" currency called Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a strange thing -- a private currency with no government and no real management, just a pre-programmed rate of creation and a highly anarchical exchange system. Dwolla probably didn't do anything wrong, but it seems quite likely that someone using Bitcoin did, and it's possible that the government wanted Dwolla (and possibly others) to stop touching it while something fishy is being investigated.

News Omaha's mayoral office goes Republican

The United States of America More US children are being born to unwed mothers
35% in Iowa in 2009, about the same as the national figure.

News Oregon researchers say they've developed a cloned embryo to the 150-cell stage

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May 16, 2013

Weather and Disasters Damage mitigation makes sense
Former Obama administration official Peter Orszag concludes that it's probably time to start looking at ways of making urban life more resilient to things like heavy rainfall and other dynamic weather patterns. His essay expresses frustration that "we seem to lack the will to reduce this threat by cutting greenhouse-gas emissions", but concludes that something can be done about mitigating the consequences. That's a conclusion that may well have been informed by Bjorn Lomborg, who has long argued that (a) there are likely to be climate changes ahead, (b) we humans may or may not be ultimately responsible, and (c) even if we are responsible for it, even the most drastic cuts to things like carbon-dioxide emissions are likely to make life terribly miserable without really reversing the effects of climate changes already underway. Lomborg makes a strong case for focusing our energy and resources on addressing problems that we know with a high degree of confidence that we can solve, rather than on speculative and massively costly efforts to reverse the warming of the global climate. His group concluded that $75 billion spent wisely could massively improve human happiness worldwide.

News Al Gore probably is about as wealthy as Mitt Romney
Gore got wealthy mainly after leaving office. His connections have kept him well-fed.

Weather and Disasters Some good news: 356 days without a tornado
That's the longest spell without a tornado in recorded history in Iowa. But we can't help but feel sympathy for the people of Texas, who had 12 tornadoes, including at least one EF-4 yesterday.

Iowa The Great Plains during the Colorado gold rush
A great map showing Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado during the gold rush. This is how the Great Plains looked during the Civil War.

Science and Technology Scientists find 1.5-billion-year-old water source a mile and a half under Canada
They think it's gone untouched by the rest of the environment for that incredible length of time, and they're trying to figure out if it contains anything living. If it does, that could hint at ways we should look for (and at) possible forms of life on Mars.

Computers and the Internet What does it mean to be a publisher?
The main writer behind a Chicago Cubs-related website posts a mea-culpa after relaying some rumors that he turned out to regret. He notes that since his site has evolved from a one-man blog into a much more significant operation, "I can -- and will -- still write 'differently' about the Cubs than traditional media, but I've got to stop thinking of myself as operating in an insular bubble." He deserves credit for recognizing that digital publishing still carries responsibilities, even if those words never make it to paper or the regulated airwaves. It's a lesson a lot of people have to learn, especially now that it's possible to publish to the entire world from a smartphone (possibly while drunk). As Charlie Munger put it at the 2013 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting, "I think there's a time when your ignorance and folly ought to be hidden".

Threats and Hazards The threat to several species in Africa is great

News Will the indignation at White House behavior grow?

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May 17, 2013

Broadcasting This week in trends, tips, and technology

Iowa Iowa State Patrol gets Humvees for the next winter storm

News San Francisco residents don't love their bacon enough

Business and Finance Still growing, but more slowly
Signals from the East Coast hint that the US economy may not be growing very quickly at all. The President, meanwhile, is trying to shift attention away from the scandals of the week and is using the "jobs" refrain as the means to try. What he ignores, willfully or otherwise, is that the private sector has a lot of people who distrust his motives and his moves alike. The budget proposal to cap tax-advantaged retirement savings at $3.4 million was just one example why he doesn't have that trust he needs: A limit like that just tells people not to save or invest. He can make all the speeches he wants, but when his policy proposals tell investors that their services aren't needed or wanted here, they're going to hold back.

Humor and Good News Just try explaining the political abuses of the last week

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May 18, 2013

Business and Finance Remember: China is still a developing nation
People too often use "developing" nation as a euphemism for "poor". China, it should be remembered, is widely recognized as the world's second-largest economy, but with four times the population of the United States, its people are much less well-off on average. And in the course of "development", the country will have to deal with its Communist government and its restrictions on things from land ownership to speech, as well as a host of issues related to the quality of life. In the meantime, Americans will have to figure out how to navigate the inflow of investment capital from China as this country remains one of the best places in the world to invest.

Business and Finance EU accuses Huawei and ZTE of "dumping" on the European phone market

Computers and the Internet Microsoft adds Google chat service to Outlook.com
An interesting move by Microsoft to integrate services from a competitor

News BBC documentary examines the "Quiverful" movement

Broadcasting A long-form essay on radio today

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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May 19, 2013

Computers and the Internet Wall Street Journal says Yahoo will buy Tumblr for $1.1 billion
That's a lot of cash, no matter who you are. But it could be a bold move by Yahoo to inflate its relevance. Tumblr is in a category that also includes Instagram -- sites that depend upon users sharing with one another, very much in a "social" way, but not in a manner that directly competes with Facebook. Tumblr counts on rapid-fire posts, sharing, and re-sharing of uncounted sources and types of content. Everyone seems to want to control the "next Facebook", but Tumblr and Instagram (which was purchased by Facebook last year) might just be the logical successors to Facebook, without actually looking much like Facebook. Yahoo, meanwhile, is about as seasoned (read: old) as an Internet company gets. Under CEO Marissa Mayer, they seem to be adopting the conglomerate model for an online company -- putting together a porfolio of services under one ownership umbrella, without actually integrating those services together, and they're treating their properties somewhat independently. For their flagship Yahoo page, they're reaching out to integrate services from other companies (like Twitter) into what they do. What's funny about that move is that many stock traders and investors actually discount the value of conventional conglomerates and pay less for them. It's not a rational thing to do of course, but the "conglomerate discount" is a widely-known phenomenon. Yet, moving from the bricks-and-mortar world into the online world, people seem to shift from discounting conglomerates to valuing them more.

Weather and Disasters Interactive map of Iowa tornadoes since 1950

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May 20, 2013

Humor and Good News Watch a "psychic" fail
(Video) Anchor Larry Potash calls her out: "You know what? You failed!" The "psychic" responds by accusing him of not being very nice.

Weather and Disasters A report on yesterday's severe weather in Iowa

Business and Finance More surcharges may be forthcoming
Especially with new costs coming for things like mandated health care

Agriculture Iowa farmers put 56% of the state's corn crop in the ground last week

Humor and Good News Zach Galifianakis shows some real humanity
He tends to play a total screwball, but it turns out he's been caring for an old lady out of his own pocket and the goodness of his heart for two years now

Weather and Disasters Straight-line winds damage airplane on the ground at Cedar Rapids airport


May 21, 2013

News China embarks on yet another goodwill tour

The American Way South Korea's economic miracle
It's the perfect contrast to the failure of Communist government up north. South Korea's history isn't perfectly free, democratic, or untroubled...but there's no denying that it's used the tools of democracy and capitalism reasonably well and in growing measure.

Business and Finance The modern wonder that is the standardized shipping container

Computers and the Internet Netflix says it's ready for the "Arrested Development" rush
New episodes will be released this weekend

Weather and Disasters Kansas TV broadcasters head to the basement when a tornado approaches the studio

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May 22, 2013

The American Way Investment clubs are a good thing
Illustrating how people can voluntarily associate for their own welfare

The United States of America How President Obama makes the case for limited goverment
It's not by intent, to be certain. It's by demonstrating just how awful over-reaching government can be.

News FBI agents kill man supposedly tied to the Boston Marathon bombers

Threats and Hazards Cyberwarfare most certainly will show up in the physical world around us
And we're woefully unprepared.

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May 23, 2013

Business and Finance Ford decides it's not worth building cars in Australia anymore
They're closing their Australian plants by 2016, leaving behind GM and Toyota as the only two remaining carmakers down under. Ford says it's been building cars in Australia since 1925.

Humor and Good News The Onion: "Woman who cracked three separate iPhone screens expecting baby boy this August"

News Newsweek's move to a digital-only format
They're sticking with a deliberately once-a-week publishing schedule for now. It's probably a smart move in that it allows the publication to serve an archival role -- marking how the world looks at a particular moment in time. We're so inundated with non-stop, live-streaming information from around the world that it probably should be comforting to know that there are sources to which we can turn for a review of everything that is or was important over a specific period of time. The true periodical probably has a more important role to play than ever.

The United States of America Boy Scouts remove prohibitions on homosexual members

News Frightening collapse of Interstate highway bridge in Washington
It may have been caused by a truck crash, but it shouldn't escape our attention that the nation needs a lot of infrastructure work. We've deferred maintenance on a lot more than just roads and bridges for a very long time.


May 24, 2013

Iowa What Jim Zabel taught me

Business and Finance Think!
Thomas Watson's command never goes out of style

Computers and the Internet Internet cafes: Good. Illegal gambling houses: Bad.
That's how it's been adjudicated in Ohio for now.

Humor and Good News Copyright in space
Cheers to the Canadian astronaut who made the most of his time on the International Space Station

Aviation News RAF scrambles fighter jets to escort flight from Pakistan
Two passengers were arrested after the plane was diverted

Weather and Disasters Video of the early stages of the EF-5 tornado in Oklahoma this week
(Video) Better coordination of spotter activity with better radar should mean even more warning and more lives saved in the future

@briangongolbot on Twitter

May 27, 2013

Science and Technology Receding glaciers expose plants that haven't been seen for 400 years
Astonishingly, some are coming right back to life. What this says about environmental change is one thing. But what it tells us is biologically possible is quite another.

Computers and the Internet Dr. Watson, I presume
How IBM's Watson supercomputer is likely to dramatically change health care

@briangongolbot on Twitter

May 28, 2013

Threats and Hazards China keeps on hacking
The Federal government says that it's becoming a "key point of concern" that China's government is using cyber-espionage (some would say "cyber-warfare") to get things like information on US weapon systems. The Washington Post reports that a confidential report for the Pentagon says that a laundry list of weapons have been "compromised" by Chinese hackers.

Business and Finance Have stock prices become severely decoupled from the real economy?

Computers and the Internet Google says it's not evil to avoid paying extra in taxes
They're getting criticized for using the law to avoid paying a bunch of taxes in the UK. Eric Schmidt says in response, "If the British system changes the tax laws then we will comply."

Science and Technology A look at electricity in 1888
We occasionally need to look back to see just how far we've progressed in just a few generations

Humor and Good News Duck takes up residence at an Iowa City hardware store

@briangongolbot on Twitter

May 29, 2013

Business and Finance Bad money chases out good
What's known as "Gresham's Law" states that if counterfeit money or "debased" currency starts to enter a market, people will hoard the valuable stuff and exchange the junk. It's easy to understand; if you have a 1964 dime, it's worth several times more than its face value for the silver content alone, so you'd be stupid to exchange it for something worth just ten cents. It's not a huge step to imagine that there's a digital corollary to Gresham's law: That in a "virtual" currency, bad transactions will chase out the good. The Federal government just clamped down on "Liberty Reserve", a digital-currency exchange that had its own virtual currency, which the government says was being used almost exclusively for money laundering and illicit exchanges. It's well-known that businesses with high rates of cash transactions are widely used for money-laundering. But if a digital currency exchange allows people to convert money more seamlessly and with a minimum of supervision, there should be no surprise that it attracts illegal activity. Legitimate consumers may not want the government tracking their moves, but they do tend to want Visa or MasterCard or PayPal to offer some kind of reassurance that they will back the security of the transaction and help the consumer in case of fraud. A totally laissez-faire digital currency exchange that does everything it can to avoid collecting information and details on its users offers no such reassurances -- and thus, the "bad" transactions will quite likely crowd out the "good".

Computers and the Internet Why is Facebook's stock not going anywhere?
One columnist speculates that it's because the company needs Mark Zuckerberg to start talking more like the head of Amazon, promising a big future in return for investment now. In reality, it's because Facebook was severely overpriced when it went public, and there are much better values to be found in the stock market for much more solid companies with much more certain futures.

Computers and the Internet Cedar Falls Utilities will offer gigabit Internet service
They've put fiber-optic cable all over the city and promise to turn on the gigabit-speed service the same day the customer requests it. They're the first community in the state to go with fiber to the premises. Not everybody needs it -- 1 Gbps is about 100 times faster than a typical cable Internet connection (running at 8 Mbps to 12 Mbps). But for those parties willing to pay for it, gigabit-speed Internet could be a fantastic service.

Agriculture Why we need to watch farm-land prices carefully
Interest rates are very low, so borrowing is attractive. Meanwhile, conventional investments like bonds look very unattractive to investors, so some of them have been switching from bonds to land, meaning there's more demand for the land that goes up for sale. Simultaneously, crop prices are very high. All of these things make for a recipe for high (and possibly inflated) land prices in the Midwest. The conditions are optimal for the highest-possible prices, really. That doesn't mean they won't rise further, nor that they will necessarily crash. But when you see that a market is firing on every possible cylinder, you have to assume that something about it is going to have to come back down to earth.

Iowa Michael Gartner sues Iowa Public Radio
Gartner can generally be expected to do or say something when he thinks people in government are trying to hide something

News Wrestling, baseball, and softball may still make the cut for the 2020 Olympics

Humor and Good News The Onion: "It's almost as if BuzzFeed doesn't respect my intelligence as a reader"
Original humor (like The Onion) beats hackneyed, copied content anytime

Computers and the Internet Why it would be a mistake for Microsoft to spin off Xbox or Bing
Just because the company doesn't dominate every market doesn't mean it should leave those markets

Computers and the Internet Yahoo's mission to become an Internet conglomerate
A writer for Wired echoes a theme echoed here on May 19th.

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May 30, 2013

Business and Finance Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary MidAmerican Energy is buying a Nevada energy company
Berkshire has treated MidAmerican differently than its other subsidiaries -- instead of shipping the profits back to Omaha, they reinvest them over and over within MidAmerican's own portfolio. This purchase fits the standards for a Warren-Buffett-friendly acquisition: Using a rough back-of-the-envelope estimate for how Buffett appears to have valued other recent purchases, NV Energy is intrinsically worth about $6 billion, and MidAmerican is paying $5.59 billion. If a company in a steady industry (like utilities) where retained earnings can be deployed to create even higher profits (as MidAmerican has done by building a mammoth portfolio of wind turbines), then getting a company for a decent discount to its intrinsic value makes plenty of sense.

Threats and Hazards Man who tried to bomb Wrigley Field gets 23 years in prison

Business and Finance Goldman Sachs says keep buying stocks, regardless of what the Federal Reserve does

Weather and Disasters Many tornadoes but light damage in Nebraska yesterday

Health Everything you ever wanted to know about blood types

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May 31, 2013

Science and Technology NHTSA wants four years to decide whether self-driving cars are safe
Four years seems like an awfully long time. Computers will be a lot faster and more powerful by then.

Computers and the Internet Relive the Amiga computer days and play "Lemmings"

Iowa Iowa's official flood-related Tumblr page goes live

The United States of America Are we overheating our talk about Social Security?
It's possible that the language used to discuss the program is hard to distill from actuarial-speak to general-public discussion, but it's also well worth noting that the costs of entitlement programs in the United States are still growing as a percentage of GDP, and are expected to keep on growing by that measure.

Computers and the Internet A preview of Windows 8.1
Microsoft knows that Windows 8 hasn't lit the public's imagination afire, so they're making some changes and will roll them out as "Windows 8.1" late in the summer or in the fall.

Weather and Disasters Should schools in Tornado Alley contain safe rooms?
It's a highly worthwhile question. "Safe rooms" would probably be a more rational expenditure of money on school improvements than bulletproof glass, but in all cases, the most important question is whether the incremental dollar spent is doing the maximum good it possibly can.

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