Gongol.com Archives: December 2013
Brian Gongol

December 2013
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December 8, 2013

Computers and the Internet Microsoft labels the Federal government an "advanced persistent threat"
That's the same category in which they place cyber attacks and "sophisticated malware". Microsoft says it's stepping up encryption tactics and releasing more information about program code so that people can see they're not complicit in intrusive government surveillance. Still think government is always good and business is always bad?

Business and Finance Are corporate boards of directors getting better?
The staff columnist on management at The Economist suggests that many are better than they were ten years ago. One might ask, in addition to whether they are "providing strategic direction" to the company and appropriately managing their supervision of the CEO (which is what the columnist highlights), whether their incentives are fully aligned with the rank-and-file shareholder. There are boards on which many directors own none of the company's stock and who sell the shares they receive as compensation the very moment they vest. That's troubling. It conveys to the other shareholders that the rank and file are suckers for holding on to their shares.

Health The choking smog over Shanghai
At some point, the people will have had enough of this mismanagement

Computers and the Internet Bragging on Twitter doesn't look any better when the New York Times does it

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December 9, 2013

Aviation News US Airways and American are on final approach to a merger

Science and Technology A gargantuan LNG ship is now on the seas

Threats and Hazards Venezuela continues falling for the populist narrative
The party in power nationally is keeping power on the local levels as well

The United States of America Weak times for bipartisanship
Few would argue that it's because there's more thinking going on.

News Yet another revoution brewing in the Ukraine?

Recent radio podcasts

December 10, 2013

The United States of America Why the US and Canada should get a little closer
Borders don't have to be permanently static, you know. And a merger of two friendly, prosperous neighbors might make a lot of sense.

Humor and Good News Romance, or just a good case for the Oxford comma?

Threats and Hazards In 2013, there are still countries that conduct purges

Aviation News Flying in the supposed golden age of flight...wasn't so pleasant
We shouldn't confuse the style portrayed with the substance of just how unpleasant many aspects of it really were

Computers and the Internet Cedar Rapids wants to build a city-wide WiFi Internet system

Computers and the Internet Twitter opens the door to direct-message photos
Parents of adolescents need to be keenly aware of this

Humor and Good News MIT's claim to a toughest tongue-twister really isn't that hard

@briangongol on Twitter

December 11, 2013

Iowa Judge puts the brakes on the Hard Rock Sioux City

Humor and Good News Get this robot some self-awareness!
An automated telemarketing system interacts with its targets via a limited range of prerecorded scripts. Mayhem ensues when reporters get involved. For now, it's just annoying. But once it becomes cheap enough to fire decent artificial intelligence (good enough to pass a basic Turing test) at mass audiences...well, that may be when people start abandoning their cell phones.

Computers and the Internet Depending too heavily on Facebook is going to be Upworthy's undoing
Facebook is starting to get the hint that many users are tired of being bombarded with clickbait everywhere in their news feeds. Upworthy and the Huffington Post are by far the most notorious transgressors. So if Facebook gets smart and throttles them back, times could get tough for the clickbaiters. Incidentally, a word to the wise: Make sure you're breaking out of the echo chamber once in a while. If everyone's sharing the same things, then we're really not testing new ideas.

News What you should know about graphic design
Even if you're just an occasional client

Aviation News Get the humans out of the cockpit
We should eagerly welcome the day when humans are no longer in moment-by-moment control of planes, trains, and automobiles. Autopilot isn't killing people -- human error is.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

December 12, 2013

Humor and Good News Child of deaf parents delivers a signing surprise
She could have done the Nelson Mandela funeral better than the man who was on stage

Threats and Hazards Child protection must be a priority value
A baby died of exposure in a Chicago apartment after being left by her own mother -- in an apartment where heat is included with the rent. In no reasonable universe could we say that society shouldn't step in to protect the child in a case like this. It's wise to respect the instinct to hold the line against government encroachment into too many areas of our lives -- but we should always bear in mind that there are some cases in which government intervention is the only humane policy.

News Historical photos meet contemporary context
Visions of World War II blended with how those places look today. Fascinating.

The United States of America Rough times within the Republican Party
Unfortunately, to some degree, the abrasive and rush-to-be-first-to-say-it nature of some media is causing some people to substitute shameful playground taunts for real political thought. And that's too bad -- America's first-past-the-post voting system means we're usually going to have a two-party system, whether or not people like it. And if we're going to have two parties, then we should want two vibrant, intellectually healthy parties...not a bunch of arrogant windbags.

Health How to end China's choking smog
Give people a real right to vote. They'll hold the right people accountable. Free societies (free both economically and politically) are without question the best ones for public health and environmental quality.

Threats and Hazards Signs are bad for the New York Times and other journalistic organizations operating in China
Rumor seems to have it that Bloomberg and the Times are both on thin ice

Agriculture Iowa farmland prices hit a new peak

Business and Finance A downsizing GM is cutting off its investment in Peugeot
The car industry has an unusual degree of cross-ownership, which may surprise many people -- GM's release Peugeot shares notwithstanding

The American Way By many measures, life has never been better
Credit is largely due to the freedom that many people have to do what they want with their thoughts, their money, and their lives

Computers and the Internet Gmail is going to take a bite out of email marketing
By caching the image files upon which e-mail marketers have traditionally relied for their data, Google is going to make it really hard for anyone outside the company to know who's getting mass mailings.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

December 13, 2013

Health The measles are back with a vengeance
And the people who withhold immunizations from their children are directly to blame

Science and Technology Awe-inspring snowflake photography
If a good photograph of a snowflake doesn't spark an interest in fractals, nothing really will

Computers and the Internet Netflix says most users are binge watchers
We're watching series in bulk, not in weekly installments. Not a surprise. And it should be noted once again that much of the best creative writing being done today is going into television scripts.

Agriculture China is trying to steal seed secrets

News Waiting in line for free tattoos?
Seems like there may have been better uses for the individuals' time

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December 14, 2013

Health A big step forward for personalized medicine
Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering have developed a new way to test cancer patients' blood to help determine the best methods of treatment based upon each individual's genome. Very exciting news.

Aviation News FCC's vote to further investigate allowing phone calls in-flight is just a first step
A public comment period follows, and there will be further debate. But from a technical standpoint (not one of convenience or courtesy), there appears to be no reason to continue prohibiting the calls.

The United States of America The press steps up its demand for a more transparent White House photography policy
The government has been issuing staged photos like a Cold War-era propaganda machine, but the news media just want to be able to take their own pictures. That's not unreasonable.

News Surreal views of London blanketed in fog -- from overhead
Contrast them with the notorious smog over London decades ago (or with Shanghai today) and ask if there's any better recipe for public health and environmental quality than a market economy with a democratic system of government. (There isn't.)

Health Don't nag kids about the abstract dangers of drug use
Make them read the story of the meth addict who tried to kill his girlfriend and three police officers -- and who ended up handcuffed, shackled, and dead of a heart attack

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December 16, 2013

News This kid has real grit
Overcoming a terrible family life to point in the direction of real achievement in life

Computers and the Internet A big failure at Yahoo Mail

News What people hate about newspapers hasn't changed in 50 years

Humor and Good News When Pastis and Adams collide
(Video) A clever meeting of the minds between two cartoonists -- even if it's a commercial

Humor and Good News Making it all the way to Mexico

Recent radio podcasts

December 17, 2013

Computers and the Internet Google's quest to make big waves in robot manufacturing
Google's best move is to position itself for monopoly-like protection as a search engine and Internet backbone, and funnel profits into other business sectors where computing power creates a major competitive advantage.

Business and Finance Inflation remains exceptionally low
It's basically zero on a monthly basis, and only about 1% over the last year. Cheap energy is making a huge difference.

Health Deferred maintenance leading to a catastrophic failure of essential water and wastewater services
CNN is reporting that the Carnival Triumph, which had the infamous nightmare cruise back in February, was sent out to sea even though management knew fully that there was equipment that badly needed repair. Unfortunately, there are plenty of cities in the same condition. We like to defer maintenance as long as we can, because the consequences may not show up until they're someone else's problem.

Business and Finance ADM decides to move from Decatur (Illinois) to Chicago -- even though the state is providing no "economic incentives"
A move like this -- from one part to another within a single state -- is a pretty obvious zero-sum game for the state, so why should the government pay? The argument, of course, is that some other place may offer even better incentives and cause them to leave the state altogether.

Weather and Disasters Supervolcanoes in the western US
More serious a threat than we previously thought

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December 18, 2013

The United States of America It's about time the Senate agreed to a budget

Broadcasting 2014 Super Bowl ads will cost $4 million per 30 seconds

Business and Finance Amazon faces a unionization vote at a fulfillment center in Delaware


December 19, 2013

Computers and the Internet Bitcoin gets hammered after China's government restricts access

Business and Finance North Dakota's oil boom spills over into nearby states

Computers and the Internet People really do still save some shopping for "Cyber Monday"

Computers and the Internet 40 million credit cards and debit cards on the loose
Target says people who used credit and debit cards between November 27th and December 15th may have been exposed in a data breach

Business and Finance The Federal Reserve is going to back off its firehose into the money supply
But they're going to keep interest rates extremely low. But because money velocity remains terminally low, inflation still isn't a problem.

Recent radio podcasts

December 20, 2013

News What's going to make China healthier and safer?
Wealthier consumers who expect more, that's what.

Computers and the Internet A $300 alternative to the iPad
The Asus Transformer T100 runs on Windows 8.1

Iowa Passenger rail in Iowa isn't making much progress
It's looking more expensive than previously thought to connect the Quad Cities and Iowa City, and that's where the inter-metro population is most dense. It's hard to imagine getting more luck moving farther west. Regardless, if we can convert our cars into more efficient vehicles through automation, then the advantages to alternatives like rail might not be so great.

Business and Finance Europe's credit rating drops from "AAA"
Standard and Poor's says it's only worthy of AA+ because the countries making up the EU can't agree on things like budgets

Computers and the Internet New rules (that aren't so new)
Own your personal name as a domain name, and don't say stupid things online

@briangongol on Twitter

December 21, 2013

The American Way Economic freedom results in prosperity for the poor
Why is it so hard for people to see that a person like Paul Ryan could both believe strongly in economic freedom, and also in improving the lives of the poor? The two go utterly hand-in-hand, especially when a healthy civic community takes care of people via private charitable work. You can't donate to charity unless you have at least a little more than what you need to get by. You can't have that surplus without economic freedom and opportunity.

Computers and the Internet Kids aren't starting blogs anymore
Aside from the fact that "blog" is a stupid word, there's nothing wrong with the conclusion. However, there's going to be something badly lacking about our digital memories if people don't set about creating and controlling their own websites from early ages. The services being used today (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on) are deeply ephemeral and won't leave much to look back upon...other than our biggest mistakes, which can get quickly amplified in the atmosphere of heroin-like addiction to being first, being popular, or being the most outlandish. People should retain that little flame of conscience that reminds them not to say profoundly stupid or insensitive things just in the hope of getting a laugh.

News It only took the author of "The Anarchist Cookbook" 44 years to realize he was wrong
It isn't that free speech doesn't allow for books like it...but that reasonable people don't write and publish them

The United States of America Tech investor puts his name and money behind a plan to split California into six states
Overall, that would leave the voters of today's California with greater net representation in the Senate, and make Republicans there more relevant in Presidential elections

Computers and the Internet Why you should probably put tape over your computer's webcam
Yes, there really are ways for crooks to hack into your computer and turn on the camera without your knowledge

@briangongolbot on Twitter

December 23, 2013

Computers and the Internet Contagious arrogance in Silicon Valley?
Clever people figuring out technical problems shouldn't mistake themselves for great philosophers. There's a big mistake to be made in confusing a particular type of technical skill (coding/programming/hacking) with deeper wisdom. It's the kind of mistake that causes us to let older people think they're stupid for not knowing how to navigate Facebook and let younger people think they're creating a whole new world via hashtags and Snapchat. Nobody should have thought themselves stupid fifty years ago because they didn't know how to operate a Linotype press, and nobody should prematurely dismiss themselves today because they can't program an iPhone app.

Computers and the Internet British plan to block porn with filters goes a little farther than that
When people trust their government to nanny them into "safety" online, they're going to find that the nanny has a tsk-tsk attitude about a lot more than just some dirty pictures. When you're in a democracy, even when you deputize other people to make decisions on your behalf, they're only deputies. You're ultimately responsible for the conclusions. It's just like dealing with your doctor: You may not have a medical degree, but you have to retain the good sense to know whether to act upon the recommendations you receive -- and when to seek a second opinion.

Iowa Cameras in the courtroom, meet the smartphone age

Iowa Some Iowans are about to get 8-year drivers' licenses

Computers and the Internet Facebook joins the S&P 500 Index
A couple of observations on this event: First, do the people who wring their hands over the (false) impression that "Nobody makes anything in America anymore" think that the rise of services like Facebook is a bad alternative to people building widgets? Separately, from an investor's standpoint, it's hard not to worry about those who put their hard-earned money into investments in companies like Facebook. Facebook succeeds only because of a herd mentality. Sure, it goes by the more impressive name of the "network effect", but the bottom line is that it only works if everyone wants in and agrees that it's working. The moment public opinion starts to shift away from the site -- perhaps their new video ads become just too intrusive, or the terms of service get just too onerous, or maybe Facebook just ceases to be cool (like what happened to MySpace) -- that's the moment the company is no longer valuable. There's no institutional inertia keeping the site above water, and the moment it starts to slip, the negative feedback loop that results will kill the site.

@briangongol on Twitter

December 24, 2013

Broadcasting Radio show notes: Filling in for Jan Mickelson on WHO Radio

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December 25, 2013

Business and Finance The economics of gift-giving
Sure, we overpay for the gifts we give to others, and many people would probably be happier with cash than with some of the things they receive. But that overlooks the sentimental nature of gift-giving -- as well as the benefits of feeling good about actually giving the gifts themselves.

Humor and Good News Perhaps people are overestimating the number of real "existential crises" out there

Iowa Cedar Falls police officer shoots man for trying to beat him unconscious

Business and Finance China aims lower
The government is hoping for a 7.5% rate of economic growth in 2014. They were hoping for 8% in 2013. The new target would still be a rapid rate of expansion, but half of a percentage point is a lot to shave off expectations.

Computers and the Internet Dell says a quarter-million computers are infected by Cryptolocker
A hugely important component of their report: "Backups to locally connected, network-attached, or cloud-based storage are not sufficient because CryptoLocker encrypts these files in the same manner as those found on the system drive."

Threats and Hazards The government spies on telephone metadata...to prove that it needs to spy on telephone metadata
The problem we're experiencing with over-reaches in the "war on terrorism" is the same as the problem of public budgeting. Nobody gets credit for returning what they don't use...which in turn leads to overreach and waste. A Nobel Prize awaits the person who figures out that Gordian knot.

Threats and Hazards UN says thousands have been killed in South Sudan
It's not good for humanity that a situation like this can go on and still seem like a remote problem

Business and Finance How grandparents can give their grandchildren a gift of financial savvy
You don't have to ram an understanding of money into their heads -- but it's really not good for finances to remain a taboo topic

Aviation News Brilliant use of a digital billboard
(Video) British Airways set up a billboard in London to highlight where its flights were going as they passed overhead

The United States of America Brian Schweitzer may have his eye on the White House
The former governor of Montana is a different flavor of Democrat than the ones currently running the party -- which, naturally, he'd have to be to get elected in Montana. Whether that translates into national appeal may be a different question altogether, but he's showing up in Iowa, and outside politician does that just for fun. On a related note, there's a case to be made that we're really divisible into eleven different cultural "nations".

News "What's the best way to encourage scholars to combine the best insights from multiple disciplines?"
The question comes from Bill Gates. The shortest answer may be to insist that college-bound students get two majors -- one in a "hard" science or a technical field (like science, business, or computers), and one in something from the liberal arts. On their own, liberal-arts degrees get a bad rap (and often deserve it). But the "hard" sciences need their actors to be well-rounded.

Computers and the Internet Facebook might kill itself by trying to be everything, all the time, to everyone
Specialization may be the way to stay durable. And now that Facebook is toying with video ads, they're really going to test the patience of some users.

Business and Finance Attitude starts at the top
Governors who make positive and optimistic "condition of the state" speeches may actually influence their local business communities to invest.

Business and Finance Standard and Poor's says Europe is no longer has AAA credit

News The Battle of the Bulge in color
Something about colorization (done right) makes the pictures a lot more real

The United States of America Putin says America is "non-traditional"
Ah, for the days when we all understood the original meaning and intent of the label "classical liberalism"

Iowa State-owned resort is barely breaking even

Humor and Good News How different media outlets would report the end of the world

Computers and the Internet British company says half of teenagers surveyed have never sent a personal letter
A Tweet to family and friends will only go so far

The United States of America If you don't like Washington gridlock, you may need to change the system
But motion isn't the same as action -- and action isn't necessarily what we always should want from our political representatives. So if they aren't getting things done, isn't that often a good thing unto itself?

Recent radio podcasts

December 26, 2013

Broadcasting Notes for "Mickelson in the Morning" on December 26th
The letter you should write to your family tonight...getting science into the right hands...and China with lower expectations

Business and Finance 2013's "naughty" and "nice" influences on the world economy

Computers and the Internet Repent, ye clickbait monsters! You're breaking the Internet!
A great column/confession on the trouble with obsessing over clicks

@briangongolbot on Twitter

December 27, 2013

Business and Finance Japan is trying to get more inflation
And they're halfway to their goal

Health An insulin pill may be very close to reality
Diabetics may be spared insulin shots

Computers and the Internet Twitter's stock has been on fire
One set of analysts -- at Macquarie -- says the stock is over-priced. Lots of others should agree.

The United States of America A budget has at last been signed

Business and Finance Online sales and last-minute orders overwhelmed UPS's ability to deliver packages at Christmas
Amazon.com and UPS are going to be making some expensive refunds. FedEx had serious delivery delays, too.

Broadcasting Radio show notes for "Mickelson in the Morning" on WHO Radio - December 27, 2013

Humor and Good News Chipmunk plans better than most people

Weather and Disasters Decent video of what apparently was a meteor over Iowa yesterday

@briangongolbot on Twitter

December 28, 2013

Threats and Hazards Judge rules NSA phone meta-data collection is lawful
The ACLU brought the suit to stop it, and the judge ruled that what was collected is lawful because the "blunt tool only works because it collects everything".

Iowa State forester says Iowa's ash trees are doomed
The emerald ash borer is spreading quickly, and we don't really know how to stop it. Terrible news for Iowa's ash trees. (The state has a field guide to common Iowa trees that helps identify which are ash and which are others.)

News Whatever happened to painting ceilings like the sky?

Computers and the Internet Tips for the infographic creator

Computers and the Internet More evidence that teenagers just don't want to be on Facebook

Science and Technology Architectural losses of 2013
The Pan Am Terminal at JFK, and others

Broadcasting WCCO returns a weather beacon to Minneapolis
...after 31 years of absence

Health What's killing people right now
Literally -- what's causing death, and what we should know about it

Computers and the Internet A deeply pessimistic review of 2013 in technology

Iowa Iowa's unemployment rate is about 4.4%
Well below the national figure. And in some metro areas, it's even lower yet.


December 29, 2013

Broadcasting Show notes for the Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 29, 2013
Making money and having fun

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