Gongol.com Archives: November 2013
Brian Gongol


November 2013
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November 4, 2013

Computers and the Internet What to do about ransomware like Cryptolocker

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November 7, 2013

Business and Finance US GDP grew at 2.8% annual rate in the 3rd quarter
As with the trend of late, it's not terrible -- it is growth, after all, and our friends in the EU would love to get to 2.9%, rather than 0.3% -- but it's not really very fast. We'd be much better-off with a 4% rate or higher, which should be our target.

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November 8, 2013

Threats and Hazards Asteroid strikes happen a lot more often than we think
Perhaps ten times as often. It's just that nobody's around to see or hear the impact, and we don't always hear them due to the limits of our hearing.

Business and Finance Somehow, we're sustaining a nearly 5% personal savings rate
More would be better, but this is far from as bad as it used to be

News Dear Belgium: A king, still? Really?
And he's complaining that his allowance isn't big enough.

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November 10, 2013

Socialism Doesn't Work Venezuela goes truly lawless
The government has commandeered a retail chain that sells electronics. Just stolen it, wholesale. It's shameless authoritarianism.

Business and Finance Sure, the Twitter IPO went well, but it's pure speculation
Suppose you were invited to invest in a hotel chain that had never recorded a profit, and that had negative net equity of $178 million. Suppose that their main selling point was that they were one of the most popular hotel chains around, thanks largely to the fact they allowed guests to stay for free, in exchange for seeing ads on every surface of the room. Would you want to invest in that company, or would you pick profitable companies with solid balance sheets? Any choice to buy stock in Twitter is emphatically not an investment. It's pure, unadulterated speculation.

Health 3D-printed human liver hits new survival record
A company claims to have gotten one to survive for 40 days, which isn't long enough to make it useful yet, but is long enough to show that the concept has promise

Computers and the Internet GPS tracking: Good for crimefighting, but only if it's done legally
Courts have been sending signals to law enforcement that they need to go through the right channels to get warrants before using technology to track suspects

Agriculture Northwest Iowa harvest is slow in places due to tornado damage
You don't usually have to watch out for debris when combining

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November 11, 2013

Computers and the Internet Amazon.com deal with US Postal Service gets them Sunday deliveries

The United States of America What Chris Christie could teach the center-right around the world

Weather and Disasters Terrible typhoon hits the Philippines

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November 12, 2013

Health How Federal health guidelines fail you as a healthy person
And yet we've voted for more government involvement in health care?

News China's buttering up to Israel

Business and Finance Low interest rates as inter-generational combat

Health The real hazards of electronic cigarettes

Aviation News US Airways is moving to a new "alliance"
It's part of the merger with American Airlines

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November 13, 2013

Agriculture Does ethanol aid conservation, or are they in conflict?

Business and Finance Crowdfunding: Sucker's bet or democratization of access to investing?

Business and Finance Group buys $15 million of personal debt and declares a jubilee
Sure, it sounds like something nice to do for the people with the debt. But the reality is that unless we fix the way Americans learn about money, jubilees aren't going to do any durable good.

Weather and Disasters 2013 winter outlook
For now, it looks like the Midwest will have a normal winter

Agriculture How wind farms could offset rural taxes
Finding sustainable sources of income could make a huge difference to rural communities

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November 14, 2013

Computers and the Internet New technologies promote the illusion of expertise
A lot of people have stumbled into a moment in which they appear to know something exclusive and valuable. These people call themselves things like "social media gurus". Their "guru-ness" comes from claiming special powers to understand and use tools like Facebook and Twitter. Many of them are so full of malarkey that they think they should be bringing home many-digited paychecks for their services, which often include making up nonsense words and rambling endlessly about "engagement". Here's the problem: These nonsense-artists are no different from the nonsense-artists who want you to manipulate others by twisting "you're welcome" into a psychological scheme. We need more actual STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experts and a lot fewer "social gurus".

Computers and the Internet LinkedIn integrates Pulse into its services
They might as well get some value from their $90 million investment

Weather and Disasters The year in tornadoes
2013 was a much quieter year in Iowa than usual

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November 15, 2013

Science and Technology Improvements in quality of life that never make headlines
A power plant serving the University of Texas at Austin went from 62% efficiency two decades ago to 88% today, thanks to improvements in controls, management, and technology. That's a tremendous move forward -- but it's the kind of thing most people never know about. Incremental progress, compounded year after year, makes life today vastly better than it was a few years ago. We don't have to hold our collective breath and wait for "disruptive technologies" to make things better.

News China plans slight relaxation of one-child rules
A victory for human rights? Not really, as much as a crass acknowledgement of economics and demography.

Computers and the Internet Computer hacker working with "Anonymous" gets ten years in prison for cybercrime
He's one of the people behind the Stratfor breach

Business and Finance After big brand extensions and digital growth, Forbes Media goes up for sale

Science and Technology Nebraska is about to undergo a wind-energy boom

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November 16, 2013

Weather and Disasters NWS cuts ice storm and blizzard warnings from list to send straight to your phone


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November 17, 2013

Broadcasting Notes on the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio for November 17th

WHO Radio Wise Guys on Facebook


November 18, 2013

Health Take two minutes for a self-exam today
Take a minute or two and conduct some basic self-screenings for cancer. Early detection saves lives. There's lots of misinformation about cancer that finds its way around the Internet, largely because we've been trained to wait expectantly for some sort of magic-bullet solution to cancer. But cancer risks can be significantly reduced through a balanced diet, exercise, and early detection and treatment. Meanwhile, science is making great progress towards improving genetic detection, which holds great promise for some types of cancer. Instead of forwarding hoax-ridden e-mails about "cancer cures" and false threats, people should instead remind their friends and family to assess their health once a month.
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November 19, 2013

Business and Finance Germany has no national minimum wage
If you really want a healthy, stable society, just build an appropriate social safety net. There's a very good case to be made that a guaranteed minimum income (as by a negative income tax) is a vastly more efficent way of doing this than by putting restrictions on the labor market. If you want to ensure competitiveness (and opportunity, particularly for the young and unskilled), making it harder for businesses to hire and fire is a recipe for disaster.

Business and Finance The demographics of the world's 50 richest

Computers and the Internet Google is opening physical showrooms in New York City

The United States of America Private-sector experience matters
One doesn't have to have been in the private sector to be a great President...but the vacuum of management skill inside the Obama White House should make voters deeply skeptical of putting anyone into the Presidency again unless they've been a governor, a private-sector manager, or a military leader. Legislative experience is just not the same thing.

Humor and Good News The unpardonable turkey

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November 20, 2013

News When times get tough, it's tough to repress populist nationalism
There's nothing wrong with a healthy degree of nationalism -- to the scale that people say to themselves, "We can do better...that's the American way!" But blind populist nationalism (of the flavor that says, "We don't want outsiders here!" or "We need to protect our own industries, no matter the cost!") often leads to highly counter-productive policies that make getting over the tough times even tougher. And Europe is in the middle of some tough times.

Humor and Good News A delightful parent-child interaction
Mom starts the artwork with a portrait; daughter finishes with a doodle

Health News flash: Researchers identify a new category of boredom
Another news flash: Somebody's actually made a career out of studying boredom.

Humor and Good News Resolving some loose ends
(Video)

Science and Technology Which uses more electricity: A refrigerator or a smartphone?
Depends on whether you're trying to measure the "total energy footprint" of the cellular network

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November 21, 2013

Science and Technology Getting kids interested in science, technology, engineering, and math
These are innately interesting subjects...they're often just taught in a way that kills that interest

Computers and the Internet Turning classic movie titles into clickbait
The website Funny or Die has spoofed Upworthy and other clickbait-obsessive sites by turning classic movie titles into what they'd be as, well, clickbait. It was easy to welcome Facebook and Twitter as relief from the ordinary until people started sharing these clickbait items relentlessly. Now it's like it's 2002 again, and all of our inboxes are again full of spam.

Aviation News Someone landed at the wrong airport
With a modified 747 sized to carry huge cargo

Business and Finance US Treasury promises that it won't be "Government Motors" after January 1st
The official policy is that the government wants to be entirely out of GM ownership by the end of this year

Business and Finance Hilton Hotels is going public

WHO Radio Wise Guys on Facebook


November 22, 2013

Computers and the Internet Jury tells Samsung to pay Apple $290 million for patent infringement

Socialism Doesn't Work Not a very enlightened reform
China may be easing on things like the one-child policy, but it looks like trends in the government's control of the media are taking no such steps forward. It makes sense that the state would want to encourage a mild amount of muckraking because that serves up patsies who can be charged with corruption and paraded around as examples in front of everyone else. But real criticism of the government? That's not going to happen when the government requires journalists to be credentialed in the "Marxist view on journalism".

Computers and the Internet Microsoft's takeover of the Nokia phone business is going smoothly
It looks like the EU is going to approve

Agriculture Fun fact: Iowa produces twice as many eggs as any other state

Aviation News China claims to have its first stealth drone
Some tools seem really cool to have -- when nobody else has them.

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November 23, 2013

Business and Finance French carmaker Peugeot turns to Chinese investors for cash
Companies can create their own innovations, or they can buy them. This kind of investment allows China to "buy" the know-how to make a car industry. And it's certainly not the only such investment.

Health Controlling the inner psychopath
The more we discover about neuroscience, the more we encounter really difficult questions -- like what to do when a person's brain is wired for psychopathy, but when they manage to keep it well-socialized. How much biological determinism are we ready to accept and accommodate within our justice system?

Computers and the Internet Building a rival to Amazon.com
Amazon's advantage in the marketplace may be its willingness to not really make a profit. Great for consumers, terrible for investors.

Computers and the Internet The return of the phishing scam
They really seemed to have cooled down over the last several months, but they're back with a vengeance

Weather and Disasters How Wayne, Nebraska, is recovering from an EF4 tornado
With characteristic Midwestern behavior, one might say: They're just putting their heads down and getting to work

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November 24, 2013

Health We're putting ourselves in serious existential danger by overdosing on antibiotics
Everyone has great reason to take far too many for themselves, and little incentive to show restraint (which is what's good for the population at large). This is a classic case of the tragedy of the commons.

Computers and the Internet Internet slang is killing the rules of English
Because Internet, as they say.

Broadcasting Young people and radio
A survey claims to tell what young people think of radio broadcasting today. And it may very well be a valid survey -- but the sample size is just 303 people. Doesn't seem like enough to draw conclusions about an entire generation.

Weather and Disasters Does the disaster response to the Filipino typhoon tell us what a China-led world would look like?

Health What's actually killing us
Considering that death seems to maintain a 100% hit ratio among humans, one would think we'd be more interested in strategically taking out the causes of death one-by-one.

Computers and the Internet All the wingdings in one chart

Broadcasting Notes from the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio - November 24, 2013

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November 25, 2013

Business and Finance Information most certainly doesn't want to be free
Arguments that "information wants to be free" or "information wants to be shared" are cute and easy to parrot, but the reality is that information most definitely does not want to be free. It has value. Now, we certainly have incentives to share some of it at some times for particular reasons -- to gain status, to ensure the success of family or friends, or to build relationships or achieve political ends -- but at its base, we have no instinct to give away any of our resources just for fun without compensation. And information is a resource.

Business and Finance A backlash against tech's nouveau riche?

Socialism Doesn't Work Your property is not your own
Not when New York City changes mayors. The new boss wants to squeeze property owners into doing what he wants done with their land by jacking up tax rates if they don't. Politicians need humility, competence, and curiosity. Lacking humility, they become too eager to tell other people what to do.

Business and Finance Swiss voters reject legal limits on manager pay
There are plenty of business executives who are paid far more than the value they create...but that's something for shareholders to fix, not politicians

News A six-lane connection between Omaha and Lincoln, at last

Recent radio shows on demand


November 26, 2013

Health IBM's computing power drives synthesis on medical research
A human doctor could read medical journals all day and not make sense of all the footnotes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using computers to do what we cannot do on our own. This is a whole new level of tool-making, which establishes us as some pretty impressive primates.

The United States of America American dialects, illustrated
(Video)

Aviation News FAA tells pilots of some Boeing aircraft to not fly so close to thunderstorms
And in some other interesting aviation news, China says it has some new airspace, and some American B-52s are challenging that claim.

Computers and the Internet Yahoo struggles to get its own people to use Yahoo Mail
Eating your own cooking?

Broadcasting What broadcasters get wrong about podcasting

Health What's worse than a drunk driver?
Quite possibly, a driver who is hungover

News Scotland is quite seriously looking at going independent
September 18th next year is the big vote

Broadcasting So...the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation no longer owns the rights to hockey in Canada
That's like ESPN losing the rights to SportsCenter

News There's more to what's happening in the Middle East than just the Iran deal

The American Way Forces of nature
Markets are like all other forces of nature: We can direct and harness them in limited ways, but we can't ignore them into nonexistence.

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November 27, 2013

Business and Finance Illinois may at last have a fix for its huge state-pension crisis
Higher retirement ages, smaller COLAs, and more room for individual success or failure all look to play a part

Science and Technology Can species extinction be undone?

Business and Finance Silicon Valley is more old boys' club than real meritocracy

News Letting ideas mix freely in the brain is how we evolve

Computers and the Internet Using games to recruit better workers

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November 28, 2013

Iowa Skill shortages keep Iowa businesses from growing

Business and Finance Trump's four bankruptcies

Health Government website for businesses to enroll in health care will be delayed by a year

Health Vaccination works
We should be enormously thankful for their success

News The Obama Administration's campaign against photojournalists

WHO Radio Wise Guys on Facebook


November 29, 2013

Science and Technology A high-friction road treatment is preventing crashes in Cedar Rapids

Threats and Hazards Why the world should worry about a Syrian backlash
Violence there isn't going to remain contained for long. Also, we need to worry about the children left homeless and alone by the war.

Aviation News Police helicopter crashes into Scottish bar

News What makes academics like drug lords
It's all about the hustle

News How jobs evolve
Firefighters do a lot more than just putting out flames. If your job hasn't evolved similarly in the last quarter-century, worry.

Business and Finance Why call anything a "tech company"?
An intriguing argument that technology isn't really a distinction anymore

Agriculture Corn prices have really gone into the toilet
From last November's $7.03 a bushel, we're down to $4.30. Not a good indicator for cash rents, and consequently for land prices

Computers and the Internet Why people get addicted to first-person shooters
Certain role-playing games have the capacity to induce a sense of "flow" -- a rewarding sense of control and positive feedback -- that makes people feel really good

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November 30, 2013

Science and Technology Bill Gates on the problems he's currently trying to solve
"I am a devout fan of capitalism. It is the best system ever devised for making self-interest serve the wider interest. [...] But capitalism alone can't address the needs of the very poor."

Computers and the Internet A Twitter account that absorbs the "flavor" of your writing and bounces it back to you
A cunning display of human self-absorption and technological prowess

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