Gongol.com Archives: July 2013
Brian Gongol

July 2013
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July 1, 2013

Humor and Good News A reporter aggressively shames videobombers

Computers and the Internet Firefox launches its OS for smartphones

Humor and Good News How to drink like Christopher Hitchens

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July 2, 2013

News Federal health-care mandate implementation delayed until 2015

News Where does Egypt go from here?

News New Chinese law requires children to visit elderly parents

Health Wales chooses an opt-out system for organ donations
It's presumed consent unless the individual has declared otherwise

News China steps up security presence in Xinjiang
It's a largely Muslim region in China's far west, where riots in 2009 led to about 200 deaths. The anniversary of those riots could be cause for additional violence.


July 3, 2013

News Egypt returns to military hands
The constitution has been suspended, and the military says that the chief justice of the constitutional court is in charge. Egypt has 85 million people, making it the 15th-most-populated country in the world. It has more people than Germany, France, or the UK.

Health Japanese team builds functioning human liver from adult stem cells

Business and Finance On the future of unpaid internships
It's probably going to become harder to offer them

The United States of America Also from the Supreme Court...
A lot of people paid attention to a few decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States last week, but not many of them read the decision in "Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl". They should. If it's a reflection of how the court operates generally, then we're in good hands. The decision (in a case about an adoption that was derailed by a Federal law) was 5-4, but not along the kinds of ideological lines that people like to draw. Alito wrote the decision, Thomas concurred but argued that the law itself was Constitutionally flawed, and Breyer concurred but added questions he thought were left unanswered. Sotomayor wrote the primary dissent, to which Scalia added his own twist with a question about the language of the law itself. Each of the opinions is thoughtful and interesting, and if they are at all representative of how the SCOTUS goes about its business, then we should be quite pleased with the justice we get in return for their salaries, no matter how we feel about any particular decision.

The United States of America When did the Mid-Atlantic accent die out?

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July 4, 2013

The United States of America Happy Independence Day

The United States of America Who's the worst President of all time?

News China's copycat towns
China isn't just ripping off intellectual property with patent infringement...it's actually building full-scale cities that are intended to mimic the look and feel of other places. Whatever they produce by those means, it'll never be as good as the original. If you don't understand the process of how anything (a book, a machine, or even a city) came into being, you cannot adequately copy it by reverse-engineering. It's impossible. The process determines the result.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft promises a much bigger ecosystem around Bing
They're trying to morph the search engine into an "intelligent fabric" for building applications and services that depend upon searchable information

Iowa Iowa tourism on the side of a truck
The state is wrapping trucks from the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division with tourism-themed graphics. It's a decent idea for making use of the trucks, since they're on the roads already. Now, as to whether it still makes sense for Iowa to retain state control over the sale of alcohol? That's a different story.

Humor and Good News High fashion on school picture day
A Texas teacher retires after 40 years of wearing the same polyester shirt and sweater on picture day. The guy deserves credit for taking the long view on a joke.

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July 5, 2013

Computers and the Internet "Cathedrals to the Internet Age"
Companies that are making their fortunes off the Internet -- like Apple, Google, and Facebook -- are building some of the most radical architecture on the market right now. But one might ask: What happens in the future, when those companies run out of gas? It's impossible for any of them to consistently make all of the good decisions necessary to stay on top indefinitely; their respective rises to prominence have largely to thank weak competitive markets and innovative new ideas at the start of certain Internet industries (e.g., searching, mobile music, and social networking). Staying on top is much harder than getting there when the market is nascent. So will these giant buildings someday look a lot like Ford's River Rouge plant?

News Congratulations, Illinois: Now only one ex-governor is in Federal custody
Former Governor George Ryan was released on Wednesday

Health Some HIV patients may be cured by stem-cell treatment
The stem-cell transplants were used to cure the patients' lymphoma, but it may have had the secondary effect of curing the HIV as well

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July 6, 2013

Science and Technology Jeweler with a 3D printer helps surgeons with models
Iowa City jeweler Mark Ginsberg has a 3D printer that he uses to produce models of hearts and other organs to help University of Iowa surgeons when planning tricky surgeries

Computers and the Internet France, too, has been using digital surveillance on its people
Civilian oversight is essential

Iowa Coralville Independence Day fireworks start off with a bang
Computer glitch causes 70% of the show to take off at the start of the program

Science and Technology Beaming ads directly into your brain
German ad agency figures out how to transmit audio commercials via train windows, and thus by bone conduction, straight into passengers' heads. No word yet on whether it will be used (but mark these words: it will, eventually).

Agriculture Evolution strikes back
Herbicides have been successful for so long that the weeds that weren't susceptible to them are now gaining ground (since their weaker cousins have been killed off by the chemicals). It's going to make life harder in agriculture.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft has big plans for Bing
They're broadening access to the core services of the Bing platform, and trying to turn it into something that program developers can use to build applications and integrate seamlessly into more of the things that people use when connected to the Internet. It's going to start off mainly as a service for the refreshed Windows 8.1 to be released later this year, but it's likely to find wider application later on.

Broadcasting This week in trends, tips, and technology

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July 7, 2013

News 5 people killed by oil-train explosion in Quebec
Early reports suggest the train was parked uphill and that the brakes either failed or weren't properly applied, causing it to run downhill. It was carrying tankers full of oil, and the crash caused an explosion and fire.

Iowa Why would a town decline state funding to repair bridges?
Possibly because the funds usually require matching spending by the locals, and municipal governments aren't necessarily flush with cash right now. It's very difficult to get the right combination of foresight and political motivation to pay for infrastructure maintenance and upkeep. It's not always easy to get the funding together for the initial construction of a capital project -- though anything that invites a big ribbon-cutting is usually good for at least a few votes. The Archway Monument over Interstate 80 at Kearney, Nebraska, has run into hard times just a few years after being opened, and now the parties involved have to figure out whether to spend the money to keep it open, or pay a big bill to tear it down.

Business and Finance Are we regulating ourselves right out of prosperity?
Niall Ferguson suggests so in a recent "Wall Street Journal" column.

News Process matters, including in Egypt
The president has been deposed in a coup, and now the opposition groups that led the protests that brought about the coup are trying to decide who will take over (and it's not a settled process). Meanwhile, some supporters of the ousted president are pledging to put him back in power. Whether Morsi was any good or not, it should make everyone nervous that there's this much instability -- and such a crisis of process -- in a nation of 85 million people. Is the military's intervention good for democracy? That's a tough sell.

Computers and the Internet Pebble "smart-watches" are for sale at Best Buy
The watch synchronizes with Android and Apple smartphones, because now it's too much work to reach into one's pocket to retrieve one's phone

Broadcasting This week in "making money and having fun"


July 8, 2013

Aviation News One lesson of the Asiana crash: Don't trust eyewitnesses
People form very strong opinions about what they saw, even when they're completely wrong. A BBC News article about the crash quotes a passenger who says "the plane appeared to be coming in too fast", and a witness who says that the plane "looked out of control" as it came in. But the very first conclusion shared by the NTSB is that the plane was "significantly below" standard approach speed. In other words, it wasn't "too fast" at all -- it was way, way too slow. And as for being "out of control", one can see quite clearly from a crash video shown on CNN that there was nothing visibly "out of control" about the approach. And early on, the Associated Press was quoting an eyewitness who said the plane cartwheeled, when it clearly did not. They have since revised the published version of the story to remove the cartwheeling reference, but it was clearly used in the original. The fact we have so many erroneous observations from eyewitnesses that contradict the evidence just goes to show that you cannot accept eyewitness testimony without corroborating evidence. It just isn't reliable.

Aviation News Another lesson of the Asiana crash: Know where your emergency exits are

Threats and Hazards BBC reports that some Morsi supporters have been murdered by the Egyptian army

Computers and the Internet "Glassholes are the new little brother"
People recording everything around them with Google Glass will probably bother everyone sooner or later

@briangongol on Twitter

July 9, 2013

Computers and the Internet Smartphones as earthquake detectors
Earthquake shock waves travel quickly, but not so quickly that early detection couldn't help save lives. If a seismic wave travels at 1 kilometer per second, that means a place 20 miles away from an epicenter could have half a minute of warning before the shock arrived. Even just a few seconds could be enough to shut down industrial processes, bring trains to a stop, or close off bridges and tunnels to traffic.

Humor and Good News Credit union makes great use of Facebook
A stuffed animal left behind by a child got some extra attention and a return to its owner

Weather and Disasters Why cold fronts produce thunderstorms
Look to the wedge action caused by the cold air moving in below warm, humid air

Health HPV vaccines prove profoundly effective at preventing cervical cancer
In the HPV vaccine, we have -- literally -- a vaccine against cancer that proves so effective it lowers cancer rates by more than 50%. This is a remarkable breakthrough.

Business and Finance Kroger buys Harris Teeter
One big supermarket chain will absorb another. It's worth asking of any merger: Is this the most effective way the company could deploy its cash and other resources in order to bring its owners more money? Sometimes the answer is yes...but with many mergers, the answer is no.

Computers and the Internet Grand Theft Auto 5 game trailer released
(Video) The level of programming detail involved in creating this role-playing game devoted entirely to behaving like a sociopath is...well...a little disturbing. Impressive, but disturbing.

Computers and the Internet Patch Tuesday for July 2013
Microsoft is out to fix a half-dozen critical vulnerabilities in its products. The company is also introducing a new policy to require app developers for its Windows Store and other app sources to fix vulnerabilities in 180 days (or less, if it's actively being exploited).


July 10, 2013

Weather and Disasters Is money more wisely spent adapting to climate change than fighting it?

News Interesting demographics on architects in America

News Dustin Hoffman reflects on playing "Tootsie"
(Video) Very interesting reflections

Business and Finance Hedge funds will now be allowed to advertise

Business and Finance Tribune Company will split itself in two
And with that division, "WGN" and the World's Greatest Newspaper will no longer be under the same roof

Business and Finance When interest rates tick upward, our Federal debt will hurt more
And it will hurt more at an accelerating rate, since additional interest owed will just turn around to compound the total debt. But that may take a while; Ben Bernanke says rates will stay low for a long time.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

July 11, 2013

Business and Finance Why bond markets have been goofy lately
There's a dynamic tension between rational economics and animal-spirits trading, and it ain't pretty.

Computers and the Internet Google will push a brand-new Motorola phone
It's rumored to be called the Moto X, and Google's putting a whole lot of money (possibly $500 million) into marketing it for sale with all four major national carriers this fall.

Computers and the Internet Nokia unveils smartphone with 41-megapixel camera
The Lumia 1020 is a Windows-based phone, and with photographic resolution like that, users can actually make use of digital zoom.

@briangongol on Twitter

July 12, 2013

Threats and Hazards "We choose to negotiate in the trenches, not in hotels."
So says a group linked to Al Qaeda in response to the ouster of Egypt's president

Aviation News Boeing 787 catches fire at Heathrow
Fortunately, the Ethiopian Airways jet had no passengers aboard at the time

Business and Finance Plan for the next 100 years
A small handful of companies have 100-year business plans. Most should.

News The US Postal Service photographs every envelope
How long are the records kept, and on whom? It should also be noted that much of what is done online is also being tracked.

Aviation News Every system is perfectly designed to deliver the results that come from it
So, with that in mind, it should be no surprise that the Air Force pays a lot more attention to manned aircraft than unmanned. The system is designed to promote pilots. That doesn't make it right or wrong; it just makes the outcome predictable.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

July 13, 2013

News Do not fall for the story that "psychic powers" found a murdered boy in California
A woman claims she had "visions" that told her where to find the body of a missing boy. But let's examine the evidence: The body was found on the property of his family's home, which was a highly likely place to search. And the body was actually located when her kids (10 and 12 years old, mind you) smelled the body and saw a mound in the dirt. None of this -- not one thing -- suggests anything other than a hunch (backed by a little use of Google Maps) that is convenient to back-fill with a good storyline about "visions" and a little dramatic license. ■ What reasonable person, legitimately believing him- or herself to discover a dead body, would bring along two pre-teen children for the search, undoubtedly leaving them with terrible memories for life? But, no...this story will be used to legitimize the role of self-appointed "psychics", who waste the precious resources of law enforcement and give worried families false hopes and fake reasons to grieve. ■ Everyone has intuition -- that's just the result of the subconscious mind assembling conclusions while the conscious mind isn't paying attention. And some people may be better than others at assembling those intuitions -- but there is still no evidence to prove that anyone has psychic powers of the type widely claimed in these cases. Purely by coincidence (and practice), "psychics" will occasionally get a call right, just like some people will win lotteries by choosing their children's birthdays. There is no magical power behind it -- and anyone who claims that there is must show the evidence to be believed. ■ A great way to lose an argument is to overstate your case. "Psychics" overstate their case, when they could be saying "I have a hunch, and I think my intuition is better than yours."

News Those fake pilot names reported in the Asiana crash? The NTSB blames an intern.

Health Always wash your fruits and vegetables
The parasite cyclospora (which causes the illness cyclosporasis) has been found on vegetables being sold in Iowa and Nebraska, and it's making people sick. According to the CDC, "This most commonly occurs when food or water contaminated with feces is consumed." And now you know why safe, reliable public systems for sewage disposal and clean drinking water are essential.

Business and Finance Casey's is the nation's #5 pizza chain
The convenience-store chain ranks nationally as a pizza franchise, thanks to the in-store pizza sales. Now Valentino's, a Nebraska-based pizza chain, wants to mimic the success by working its way into convenience stores.

Business and Finance You are about 0.5 to 0.75 percentage points more risky than the Federal government
That is, from a credit perspective. The baseline US home mortgage rate tracks very closely with the 30-year Treasury rate. So closely, in fact, that it explains almost precisely why mortgage rates have jumped so much in the last month -- Treasury rates have jumped, too.

Computers and the Internet Lawsuit alleges over-broad Florida law makes computers and smartphones illegal
The law was intended to crack down on slot machines, but it's pretty hard to distinguish electronic slot machines from other computers, particularly when the legal definitions are imprecise.

Broadcasting This week in trends, tips, and technology
Show notes for the WHO Radio Wise Guys, airing at 1:00 pm CT on WHO Radio.

Recent radio podcasts

July 15, 2013

Iowa Iowa's incredibly equal voter-registration figures
36.31% of voters are independents, 31.86% are Democrats, and 31.83% are Republicans. The Democrat/Republican split is so small, the difference wouldn't even fill a quarter of the Civic Center in Des Moines.

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July 16, 2013

Business and Finance CEO pay: A matter of fairness or a matter of efficiency?
It's widely argued that when the average CEO of a top-200 US corporation gets 200 times the yearly compensation of an average employee, there's a problem of fairness involved. That may or may not be true; fairness is a difficult thing to measure correctly (even if something does smell a little rotten about it). But from a capitalist perspective, it's well worth asking whether that kind of pay imbalance is efficient -- that is, whether it's likely to deliver the right set of results to the shareholders of the company. Since shareholders are the owners of the business, they should be acutely interested in how compensation is doled out. And if the CEO is getting 200 times the pay of an average employee, it's worth asking: Is that CEO delivering better ideas than a cadre of 200 smart employees would? There's a very, very good chance that the answer to that is a resounding "No" -- which tells us that many executives are more skilled at extracting really high salaries and bonuses than they are at making their shareholders wealthier.

News From phone-company office to apartment building
Recycling of a different sort

News "PC World" is done with publishing a print edition
It will remain a digital publication, but the market no longer sustains a printed edition

Computers and the Internet Pro tip: If your life's mantra is "Chive On", don't expect to get hired by a sensible employer
A lot of people bristle at the thought of sanitizing their Facebook and other social-media profiles in pursuit of employment. But there are a lot of people who also see fit to advertise that their objective is to skirt by with as little effort as possible in the workplace -- and if they're advertising that by wearing shirts and repeating slogans that mock actual labor and enthuse about wasting time on an entertainment site, then their potential (and actual) employers would be stupid to ignore that.


July 17, 2013

Computers and the Internet More Big-Brother behavior

Computers and the Internet Microsoft cuts the price of Surface tablets

Broadcasting Tribune Co. goes on a TV buying spree
And seeks to sell the newspapers

Threats and Hazards A hunch is all that DHS needs
And the policy has been that way for years.

Threats and Hazards Contaminated lunches killed 25 kids in India
The world needs to get its house in order

@briangongolbot on Twitter

July 18, 2013

Broadcasting Netflix earns Emmy nomination for original shows

Threats and Hazards Deer Trail (Colorado) issues drone-hunting licenses

Humor and Good News Someone on the NYPD is using Darth Vader's entrance theme

Humor and Good News Someone was over-served

Computers and the Internet The Pope and his Twitter account

Computers and the Internet Verizon is spinning up a no-contract cellphone plan

News More shrinkage at the Chicago Sun-Times

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.

July 19, 2013

News Detroit declares bankruptcy
And pension promises won't be held sacred. Every retirement-savings system comes caveat emptor -- even pensions.

Business and Finance DC's labor laws turn good intentions into very bad economics

Business and Finance Survey says unethical behavior is widely found on Wall Street

Science and Technology New dinosaur discovery finally gets a name

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July 20, 2013

Weather and Disasters National Weather Service offers user-defined forecasts

Computers and the Internet Bill Gates on using computing power to improve the world
(Video) It's part of the Microsoft Virtual Faculty Summit

Computers and the Internet Google changes Gmail again
This time, adding tabs to categorize different types of inbound messages

Science and Technology 40% of US electrical generation added in 2012 was wind power
Coal-powered plants are being retired and nobody seems to want to build much nuclear. So expect to see a lot of wind generation and natural-gas power plants in the future. What we really need are energy-storage breakthroughs so that the inconsistency of wind and other renewable power sources can be wrangled under control to meet demand at the time it's needed.

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July 21, 2013

Business and Finance China's economy is still growing, but at a slower rate
And whether that turns into something significant depends upon whether the drop (from an average of 9% to the recent 7.5% annual rate of growth) stabilizes, turns around, or falls even more. It's impossible for China to grow at 9% forever, but it's such a large economy already that major changes will have ripple effects throughout the world. One writer argues that China's been using inefficient investments by state-owned enterprises for a while to prop up the economy when things slow down -- and that they'll have to stop doing that (investing inefficiently) if they want to have any hope of growing in the long run. It's been noted that China's state-owned companies are the worst performers in the country, and that companies in China are having trouble locating workers at the right price. Considering that China has been using its low-cost labor as a competitive advantage in world trade, worker shortages will mean higher wages and thus an erosion of the advantage.

News Statistician Nate Silver is leaving the New York Times for ESPN
He applied solid research on data to the 2012 elections and had a good grasp on the outcome well before Election Day. Now, he's apparently going back to crunching numbers for sports. Having revealed (or created) significant demand for statistical analysis of election data, one wonders whether Silver will have successors at the Times and elsewhere.

Iowa Four Iowa cities have much-coveted AAA credit ratings
West Des Moines, Ames, Iowa City, and Cedar Rapids. It is well worth noting that West Des Moines, Ames, and Iowa City are very similar in size (59,000, 60,000, and 70,000 people, respectively), and Cedar Rapids is slightly larger at 128,000. There's a good chance that if one were to really drill down into the data, they'd find that the 50,000 to 75,000 population range is a sweet spot for municipal success and stability -- large enough to develop a good, sustainable commercial tax base, but not so large that government agencies are too big to manage.

Broadcasting 2013 Emmy nominations includes lots of appearances for Netflix
This is probably the very best signal that the era of conventional television programming dominance by networks, cable, and satellite systems is at the beginning of the end

Iowa Who has chemical stockpiles in Iowa?
That may be a harder question to answer than one might expect

Humor and Good News Television news banter gone wrong

Broadcasting This week in making money and having fun
Notes on the "Brian Gongol Show", airing on WHO Radio Sunday night at 9:00 CT

Broadcasting This week in sports
Notes for "Two Guys Named Jim", airing on WHO Radio Sunday night at 6:00 CT

Recent radio podcasts

July 22, 2013

Computers and the Internet Is Snapchat a tool for facilitating insider trading?
Rest assured that if Jim Cramer has thought of using it, so have other people like him who are still involved in high-stakes stock swapping

News I-80 to be a hotbed of police presence from July 24 to 31
State-patrol departments from 11 states will be increasing traffic enforcement along America's most important highway

Iowa Red-light cameras in Clive get shut down
At least for the time being. They're not a satisfactory solution to traffic safety; it makes much more sense to take a design-engineering approach, which usually calls for longer yellow lights and longer delays between red lights and green lights in intersecting directions of travel, or traffic circles instead of intersections when appropriate.

News All over the rich world, serious crime is declining
There's no simple answer as to why -- but it's certainly a welcome development. And on a semi-related note, Omaha has a new mayor whose chief of staff is doubling as a security detail.

News Without legal changes, some Commonwealth countries might recognize the wrong British monarch
In other news, it's 2013, and people still recognize heads of state on the basis of heredity.

Health Preventing child abuse
It's a massively worthy effort

News Municipal golf courses hit hard times
Fewer people are playing the game, which makes it harder to make ends meet. This should highlight the risk in public financing of facilities for any popular leisure activity -- including big sports stadiums. If golf can fall from grace, so can football (for instance).

Broadcasting A "Growing Pains" theme for 2013
It is terribly catchy, but that may just be an acute case of 80s nostalgia doing the talking

@briangongol on Twitter

July 23, 2013

News For the sake of the monarchs, end the monarchies

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July 25, 2013

Threats and Hazards 100,000 people have died in Syria's civil war

News It's "predominant", not "predominate"

Agriculture Former anti-GMO campaigner changes his tune

Humor and Good News Just think...we probably have a good three or four decades of Bill Clinton to come

@briangongolbot on Twitter

July 26, 2013

Threats and Hazards Dozens -- maybe scores -- killed in Egyptian protests

Computers and the Internet 5 men charged in $300 million credit-card heist

Computers and the Internet CNet says Federal government "has demanded that major Internet companies divulge users' stored passwords"

Broadcasting A little less conversation, a little more action please
The Obama administration dedicates lots of talk to lots of subjects, but seems not to know what actions would really help the economy

News Speaker Boehner to Rep. Steve King: Please stop

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July 27, 2013

Iowa Economic mobility is especially strong in Iowa
At least, according to the "Equality of Opportunity Project" study by researchers from Harvard and UC-Berkeley

Iowa Iowa's adult illiteracy rate: 7%

Business and Finance A better donation than cash
Toyota engineers made New York charity more efficient. That's better than throwing more money at the problem. Teach someone to fish, rather than feeding them for a day.

News Mapping Chicago neighborhoods is tougher than just drawing a line

Threats and Hazards New York Times calls White House promises on privacy "laughable"

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July 28, 2013

Business and Finance Why it's better to endow prizes than foundations


July 30, 2013

Business and Finance What President Obama doesn't "get" about the economy

Computers and the Internet British spy agencies won't use Lenovo computers

Computers and the Internet Someone clicked on one of those annoying "One weird trick" ads so you don't have to

Humor and Good News Some good advice for naming children

News "20 things 20-year-olds don't get"

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July 31, 2013

The United States of America US homeownership at 18-year-low

Humor and Good News Strangers together in strangely intimate poses

Computers and the Internet Microsoft writes down more in lost value of Surface tablets than it sold in the last year
Microsoft still can afford to make a lot more mistakes than any other major tech company

News Egyptian government orders police crackdown on protests

Iowa Hotel Pattee closes in Perry