Gongol.com Archives: 2013 First-Quarter Archives
Brian Gongol





Broadcasting Some far-out questions for your consideration
Why do we give free health care to the elderly instead of to children and young adults? Why don't we fire Congress for not balancing the budget? Why are Congressional districts ten times larger than in the early days of the nation, and why don't we go back? Why don't people get a tax credit for being good citizens? Why do we baffle ourselves with huge numbers instead of talking about budgets in per-person terms?

Broadcasting Al Jazeera buys Current TV


News What happens if Russia shuts down adoptions by American families?


Computers and the Internet Why are we so slow to get high-speed Internet access all over the country?





Agriculture Founding father of the anti-GMO movement recants
If we don't take some scientific steps to make our agriculture more effective, we aren't going to be able to feed the world

Broadcasting The value of a good brand name
How much is a good brand name worth? And why doesn't Congress do something about the economic war between the states?

Humor and Good News What "social-media experts" really are

Weather and Disasters A time-lapse of severe-weather warnings in 2012
(Video) There were at least two "Tornado Alleys" this past year

The United States of America A great visualization of the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff
Newspaper cartoonist Tom Toles nails it. Jeff Koterba got it right, too.

The United States of America John F. Kennedy wasn't quite the speedy talker people think he was

Health What happens when faces are made artificially symmetrical
Making a person's face symmetrical (with the help of Photoshop) can make them look like a totally new person

Science and Technology Some great industrial designs from 2012

News What people mean by "spiritual, but not religious"

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Business and Finance Why deflation hurts
As well as some thoughts on the importance of making America 2100 a better place than America today

Computers and the Internet Hulu CEO resigns
It's still owned by Fox, Disney, and NBC

News Why is Eric Schmidt going to North Korea?
Google's executive chairman says he's going on a "personal humanitarian mission", but there's also a lot of cheap labor available there.

Computers and the Internet Twitter may plan to go public in 2014
Going public is a curious choice for a firm that's making money. It -- somewhat obliquely -- telegraphs the moment when a company's owners think the prospects are at their peak.

Iowa A truce in the war between the cities
Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty may agree to stop trying to snipe one another's business. But what's really needed is a national prohibition on trying to steal other places' stuff.

Socialism Doesn't Work Chinese newspaper journalists sign letter against a propaganda official
The tension between China's controls on personal freedoms and their exploitation of some market forces simply cannot go on forever.

Business and Finance Some reasons to be positive about 2013
Not everything must be doom and gloom

Aviation News Return of the airship
A rigid-bodied airship for military and cargo use is ready for some test flights soon

Computers and the Internet Does Rosetta Stone really work as a language teacher?
A credible reviewer says yes, as long as you're curious enough to conduct some additional study of the details

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The American Way Time for a national attitude adjustment
A USA Today poll suggests that there's a vast surplus of pessimism in America, particularly about economic issues. And while there is considerable reason for disappointment -- a President who won't acknowledge the imperative need to control spending among them -- the long-term engines of prosperity in America remain in place and can be brought to full throttle if we will let them. ■ Our primary obstacles seem to come back to dependency. Do we await another bailout or another "stimulus" package or another "economic-development" offer before getting to work? We shouldn't. Nor should we hope that the government will sensibly allocate things like "green" tax credits or job-creation funds. The Federal government has shown no reasonable capacity to even balance its own budget, much less to make sensible real-world, private-sector investments that pay off. ■ Over the intermediate and long terms, things will get better in America. Sustainably. Persistently. And they must, if we are to even pretend to fix some of our great structural problems -- the need to fund our vast entitlement complex, or the need to bring our infrastructure up to the kind of first-class standards we expect.

News Can Chavez remain Venezuela's president if he's too sick to take the oath of office?
It's hard to rule a country by remote

Science and Technology More self-piloted cars: Now one from Toyota
Google's been putting self-driving cars on the road for a short while, and now Toyota appears to be doing the same thing. Self-piloted cars should be a huge benefit to society when we get them -- saving energy (by driving more efficiently than people), saving lives (since they should be considerably safer than human-piloted vehicles), and saving lots of valuable time (allowing people to make use of the many hours we spend behind the wheel -- especially in America -- doing something other than developing road rage at the other drivers around us). This is a can't-wait-for-it technology.

The United States of America Party control by state, 2013
Many, many states are essentially under single-party control, which gives those parties the opportunity to show that they can actually govern effectively. And if they don't, the voters in those states should punish them severely at the ballot box.

Science and Technology The "fiscal cliff" bill was signed by autopen


Broadcasting Funny-man Hassel departs Des Moines television

Computers and the Internet The majority of Americans with cell phones now have smartphones
Nielsen says 56% of mobile-phone users were on smartphones by the third quarter.

Business and Finance Some unofficial new looks for old brands
It's funny what non-commissioned redesigns tell us: People really do care about their brands, and are disappointed when they feel like those brands aren't living up to the users' expectations.

Computers and the Internet A majority of adults around the world think people over-share online

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Business and Finance An adversarial labor relationship won't keep a company around for the long term


The United States of America Former Sen. Chuck Hagel could be the next Secretary of Defense

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Broadcasting Are we using enough prizes in this country?




Computers and the Internet The relentless forward march of Google Plus
It's hardly an active, widespread social-networking site...for now. But the company just isn't going to give up on the project. Guaranteed.

Business and Finance Towards a future of many more companies...but not many more employees
The more it becomes possible -- and even rewarding -- to have employee-free businesses, the more they're going to show up. Technology enables this. It's bad for people who just want to punch a clock or who aren't interested in making their own skill sets more valuable.

Computers and the Internet Target says it'll start price-matching online competitors
That includes Amazon.com. The Internet is great for consumers, but it can definitely be painful to the people who own the companies whose markets it undercuts.

Computers and the Internet A positive spin on classroom rumors
A team of kids in Iowa City is using Twitter to say nice things about other people

Science and Technology Some interesting (and important) risk-related questions for 2013
Not all of them will be effectively asked in Washington, but they should be




Science and Technology What's on display at the Consumer Electronics Show

Iowa Making electric-car drivers pay the same registration fees as everyone else
The Iowa DOT is looking to lawmakers for help matching the registration fee to that paid by other drivers. And it still won't cover their share of wear and tear on the roadways that isn't recouped by the gasoline tax.

Iowa Does a pretty building require an ugly tax subsidy?
A 20-story tower planned for Iowa City might get $13 million in tax subsidies towards its $54 million price tag

Broadcasting Why a debt jubilee isn't going to do any good

News Baseball Hall of Fame elects no one
After how they treated Ron Santo over the years, it should be no surprise they let down everyone this year

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Business and Finance Americans aren't the only chronic under-savers
South Korea has a household debt level of 89% of GDP. That doesn't make it good for either country -- but it does signal that we perhaps have a common problem.

Computers and the Internet What really is the impact of "Tosh.0" on society?
Or, put another way: "What happens if we spend all day exposed to the extremes of life, to a steady stream of the most improbable events, and try to run ordinary lives in a background hum of superlatives?" It's a good question. Maybe even a great one.

Science and Technology Some long-missing images from Benoit Mandelbrot's collection

Humor and Good News "Man has alarming level of pride in institution that left him $50,000 in debt"
And yet again, The Onion satirizes a painful truth

Business and Finance A conversation with Charlie Munger
(Video) A most interesting two-hour Q-and-A session with the Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman

Broadcasting WGN shuts down "Extension 720"
Milt Rosenberg's nightly program was unique: It was public-radio highbrow without being public-radio boring. Sometimes he had his mind already made up on a topic, but more often than not, it was enlightening listening.

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Computers and the Internet Message Mark Zuckerberg for $100
What message could you really have for the guy that would be really so important?


Business and Finance Underfunding of public pensions: The iceberg nobody sees yet
We're in for a world of hurt. Cities, counties, school districts, and states have all been badly underfunding their pension systems. It's going to be a disaster when the reality hits.

Aviation News Problems with the 787 shake faith in Boeing
It's been a bad week for Boeing

Aviation News How to survive a plane crash
The chances of being in a crash are infinitely low. But if the cost of reading and internalizing the information is sufficiently low, it might be a worthwhile exercise.

News How much subsidy will the new Metrodome need?

Humor and Good News "What?"
(Video) News anchor finds himself surprised by the camera

Humor and Good News "We've got a truckin' convoy..."
Where that nutty song came from

Business and Finance Many factory jobs that have gone away aren't coming back
ISU economist says: "Manufacturing remains a huge part of our economy, but itís relying on less and less labor over time." True.




News Would Jack Lew be a business-savvy Treasury Secretary?





The United States of America Remember when the "Anglosphere" was the buzzword of the day?
The phrase was highly prominent in 2005 and 2006, but it's hardly used today. And the UK (which probably depends more upon the idea than the United States) may be getting signals from the Obama administration that the notion of shared principles and objectives -- creating a strong bond of common interest -- may be eroding. Writes one columnist: "The US is turning its face towards the Pacific while Britain counts for less." It's all a result of some talk from a State Department official who seems to have suggested that we value the UK relationship mostly because the UK is part of the European Union, not for its own right. It's being seen as a meddlesome bit of interference by the US. The UK could be putting its membership in the EU up for a vote, as the amount of skepticism about the EU seems to be rising along with frustrations over the finances of some of the member countries.

Iowa Smartphones are now severely displacing old-style cell phones
Google's Android operating system is capturing the largest number of sales and activations by a significant margin

Computers and the Internet Tech tip: Should you use the integrated calendar on your smartphone?

Broadcasting The problem with private equity is that most people don't really understand it





Broadcasting Why Google needs to look beyond the search engine

Water News Using sliding rates rather than mandatory restrictions to conserve water in a drought




Aviation News Boeing has had better weeks
Battery fires aboard the new Dreamliners have spooked the FAA enough that is has grounded every US-based 787. Japan's big airlines voluntarily grounded their 787s already.

Business and Finance Russian saber-rattling over Japan's currency
Russia doesn't want Japan to weaken its currency. If your currency is weak, that means foreigners get more for their money when they buy your stuff, so a weak-money policy can be very good for exports. Russia doesn't want to see Japan benefit from that at Russia's expense. Heaven help us if the world gets embroiled in a currency-manipulation bloodbath.

Business and Finance Goldman Sachs will pay an average of $400,000 per employee in 2012
Investment bankers would make less money if the rest of us stopped being willfully ignorant about finance

Computers and the Internet Kaspersky bags the target in the hunt for "Red October"
The antivirus and online security firm reports that it discovered a massive cyber-espionage campaign that's been going on since 2007 and continues to this day. Nobody has made a firm identification yet of the perpetrators, but Russian criminals and Chinese government agents are on the shortlist.

Computers and the Internet Coming soon: A new way to search through Facebook
It was announced to great fanfare, but whether it's anything great or revolutionary is yet to be seen. The upgraded search tool in Facebook may allow people to conduct somewhat natural-language searches of the people in their social networks. The beta test will take a while.




Business and Finance JP Morgan board cuts CEO's pay
It's a signal that they're punishing him for a big trading loss last year. Boards are altogether too often so much in bed with upper management that it's uncommon to see something like this happen. Perhaps it should more often.

News Ricketts family plans hotel next to Wrigley Field


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Health Energy-drink overdoses send lots of people to the hospital
A government report says that almost 21,000 people went to emergency rooms in 2011 with symptoms of caffeine overdosage. The report says men are almost three times as likely as women to overdo caffeine in such a big way. But it should be noted: a lot of coffee blends are even more turbocharged than off-the-shelf energy drinks. While overdosing is a bad thing to do, our relationship with caffeine is a funny thing: It's a performance-enhancing drug that is almost universally consumed. Except for people who observe real or imagined religious prohibitions on its consumption, it's hard to find people who don't caffeinate somehow -- through pop, coffee, tea, or chocolate. And, if it has useful effects (like improved powers of concentration) when consumed at moderate rates throughout the day, then it's probably a very useful performance-enhancing drug indeed. But if you're a know-it-all politician, why not just propose to ban high-caffeine products altogether? Egads.

Iowa "Hey, Dad, why don't you become a Catholic priest?"
And other things that haven't been said out loud by more than a handful of people alive

Computers and the Internet All the world's Tweets are being captured by the Library of Congress
We've known that for quite some time, but it bears repeating -- particularly in the era of the judgment economy. And when James Gleick weighs in, it's worth re-considering.

Broadcasting How suggestible are some people?
(Video) One has to wonder how many people are swayed by television ads for medication. If you can be influenced to buy Prilosec because it's endorsed by Larry the Cable Guy, you probably shouldn't be allowed to self-medicate.

Computers and the Internet Life Flight helicopter pilot wants his own first-responder app to take off

Computers and the Internet The latest on the Java security hole
Norton says its antivirus programs are protecting against exploitation of the security hole, and Kaspersky says they're protecting against exploits, too. Supposedly, Oracle (which makes Java) has patched the problem, so (hypothetically) one should be OK if they both keep Java updated (not just JavaScript -- which is separate from Java, but should also be kept up-to-date in its own right) and run a reputable antivirus and anti-malware suite. But the advice being doled out is inconsistent and often confusing. And it's not helped by Oracle, which instead of saying something clearly and unequivocally in a place any dummy could find it (and keeping people updated daily on the progress toward a solution), just buries some commentary under a mountain of jargon in a "security alert" deep within their "Technology Network" site. Not even a press release. Oh, there was a half-explanation somewhere on a "Software Security Assurance Blog" that could have been found if one had been watching their Twitter feed carefully. But that announcement was made only once -- so unless you happened to look for and find that one particular Tweet (and then happened to follow the link, read the update, and somehow translate it from geek-speak into English), then you probably haven't gotten any kind of assurance. Someone at Oracle needs to learn a thing or two about communication.

Business and Finance Do not call yourself a "guru", a "wizard", a "master", or anything else superlative
Bill Gates doesn't need a fluffy title on his business card. Nor does Warren Buffett. Nor Hillary Clinton. If you're superlatively good at what you do, you don't have to tell everyone.

The United States of America There's no reason for everyone to vote
George Will makes a fine point: "A small voting requirement such as registration, which calls for the individual voterís initiative, acts to filter potential voters with the weakest motivations." Same-day voter registration and other full-throttle efforts to get everyone in the universe to the polls are troublesome in that way: Voting is a duty, to be sure, but it's one that should be undertaken with some degree of understanding of what the vote really means. It's not just about choosing Coke versus Pepsi. It's a matter of rather significant historical anomaly that we have the right to vote freely without fear of violence or reprisal. Or the right to vote at all. Lots of us are descended from people who were told what to do by their kings and other potentates. If that sense of historical obligation is not enough to motivate a person to do so much (or so little, really) as to register to vote sometime in advance of an election, then that person probably isn't going to invest a lot of effort in the process of considering the issues, values, or people involved.

Computers and the Internet Very good advice for families on preventing teen sexting

Business and Finance Who gets the essence of oil-boom money right, Canada or Norway?
Norway's government has captured a lot of the nation's oil wealth and socked it away in a sovereign-wealth fund. Canada's approach has been much more privately-oriented. On one hand, it's easy for a nation to go broke after the boom turns to bust (which booms always do). But on the other hand, it takes a profoundly enlightened government and a massively cohesive society to channel the lion's share of the profits from a boom in a way that ends up truly benefitting the people in a socially-optimal way. There's probably a middle ground to be had.

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.




Computers and the Internet What is cloud computing, and is it safe to use?
A plain-English guide for the ordinary person

Business and Finance The people who pay a tax aren't always the people who give the money to the government
Companies that make medical devices are paying a 2.3% excise tax to help fund the Federal health-care program. A lot of people undoubtedly think that means the 2.3% will come straight out of the company's profits (and this in turn can lead to strongly populist instincts about sticking it to the people making a profit in health care). But the people who pay for a tax aren't always the ones who cut the checks to the IRS. Every tax (just like every other kind of cost increase) is paid in part by the seller and in part by the buyer. The split is mysterious and varies from exchange to exchange, but it all comes down to a cost split. And if we're trying to cut the cost of medical care, do we really accomplish that by taxing medical products more?

Science and Technology Technology making life safer on the roads
Volvo is showing off its technology for forcing trucks to brake automatically before they collide with slow-moving or stopped vehicles on the road

News Angst and the graphic designer

The United States of America "Immigration is still an entrepreneurial act"

Business and Finance Great time to be a long-term stock buyer
Short-term worries about earnings are just going to make good companies cheaper to buy -- and it might last for a while to come





Computers and the Internet Wealth and good-looking websites are uncorrelated

Business and Finance Why Wall Street ends up with so much undeserved cash
They just have to stand there as the gatekeepers while Americans buy or sell the equivalent of every single share of stock in the entire country TWICE every year. We're just giving them the money because we're stupid and impatient about money.

News Minnesota has some serious problems with underfunded public pensions
Taxpayers will end up on the hook




Business and Finance The latest figures on the US economy

News Economic troubles have a real impact on people's lives
An Irish politician committed suicide recently, and his brother blames the public's reaction to some of the budget cuts he had to defend. There are very few things more important than getting economics and public health right.

Weather and Disasters 3D snapshots of falling snowflakes could improve weather forecasting and reporting


Weather and Disasters Why don't we all have portable hail blankets for our cars?

Humor and Good News The Presidential inauguration you saw depends on the network you watched
(Video) The Daily Show took a funny look at how Fox News and MSNBC reported on two totally different networks, while CNN failed to show up thoughtfuly at all.




Business and Finance Lots of people could find their jobs threatened by computers and automation

Iowa Why MidAmerican Energy has been so aggressive about wind energy
Tax credits have made wind energy an affordable option for the utility company, and lawsuits that could shut down coal-burning operations at a major power plant hint that it's going to become more expensive and painful to produce electricity from conventional sources in the future.

Computers and the Internet Conserving cash, Nokia skips dividend for the first time in 143 years
That's the problem with being in the technology business: It's too unpredictable. Nokia wasn't always a tech firm, and though it should be commended for adapting well enough over the years to stay in business, it should be no surprise that morphing into a technology company made it far more susceptible to bad times. It's really, really hard to be resilient when consumers are bombarded constantly with offers of newer, better stuff -- stuff that's expensive to develop and deeply subject to whims in tastes and preferences. On a related note, it's hard to stay profitable in the airline business for different reasons -- mainly an income statement that is deeply price-competitive on the revenue side and highly uncontrollable on the cost side.

Computers and the Internet Twitter takes over the local news
Quite nearly half of the useful information in the initial version of a story about a political operative's car crash in Minnesota was based upon postings on Twitter. Later versions of the story incorporated more original reporting, but it's noteworthy that Twitter -- which probably should have been usurped by now -- has found some surprising durability by entrenching itself among people who like to talk about sports and politics. Those two niche audiences seem to keep it lively while the mass audiences may still be underwhelmed.

Computers and the Internet Bing: Still not quite profitable, but losing less money than before

Computers and the Internet Insurance worries could put the brakes on self-driving cars
But they shouldn't. The ultimate result of self-piloted cars should be a dramatic increase in safety and a much better allocation of human time. Driving may be necessary, but it's rarely a good use of the driver's brain power.

Computers and the Internet Why you see "shva" in the browser address bar when using Gmail
It supposedly refers to "should have valid authentication" -- not The Destroyer or the mourning period after a Jewish death.

News Wisconsin has plans to offer online college degrees
But with a twist: A liberal test-out policy may allow people with the right knowledge to get that degree without ever taking a class. Frankly, it's a long-overdue idea, based mainly upon the premise that about a fifth of adults in that state started college but didn't finish. Making an easier path for them to complete their degrees is a smart thing to do.

News China's time as the world's bulk supplier of cheap labor may be coming to an end
That doesn't mean the country will cease to be the world's greatest exporter of cheap, rip-off, pirated junk. No, "Made in China" may long continue to mean "blatantly copied and stolen from other countries".

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Aviation News The new look at American Airlines
It's clean enough for now, but it'll look outdated in less than a decade. It would have been better if they'd made some kind of nod to the Astrojet livery of the 1960s, or even better, the earlier one. The "Flagship" livery was quite stunning, really.

Agriculture Hunger is more often political than natural
Some people in central Asia are going hungry because of a political dispute over borders. And that's more often the case than hunger due to natural causes, like crop failures. It's sad for humanity that we're scientifically capable of producing enough food for billions of people, but we allow avoidable squabbles over human matters to keep that food from getting to the people who need to eat it.

News Why is China investing in Central Asia?
Is it working on projects there as part of a global program of influence-building? Or is there a different motive involved, like keeping the Xinjiang province from splitting away? Rest assured: The map of China in 2030 will look different from the one of 2013.

Aviation News So, what's causing the battery fires aboard the Boeing 787s?


Computers and the Internet Changing your passwords: Necessary but not sufficient
An editor from Fortune points out that even though he carefully maintains great password hygiene, someone still used social programming to trick him into visiting a corrupted website, which in turn gave the crooks a route to hack his Twitter account.

Computers and the Internet And thus begins the panic over Apple
Nobody should wish the company harm; there are lots of investors, employees, and suppliers whose well-being is tied into the company. But Apple got over-hyped, and it's no surprise that the stock price has come down from its lofty heights of not that long ago. The only matter that was up to question was when -- not whether -- reality would take over. And the reality is that calling Apple the world's "most-valuable company" is misleading. It has recently been the highest-priced company in the world -- when the price of the company is taken as the number of shares multiplied by the most recent sale price for one of those shares. But a company's actual value isn't quite so straightforward: It's a subjective assessment of what it has, what it's likely to earn in the future, and what it takes to make those earnings possible. Price is what you pay, but value is what you get.

Computers and the Internet DHS Secretary Napolitano: A massive cyber-attack on America could happen "imminently"
Why, yes, it could. And that's really no change from any moment in the last decade. But because many in Washington are painfully illiterate on technology issues, we can't even begin to have a thoughtful discussion on these matters.

Health The swine flu really was an epidemic

Business and Finance The national debt isn't a new thing
It was essential to keeping the young United States together (read "Hamilton's Blessing" sometime for the full story).

Science and Technology Scientists claim they can turn light into a tractor beam
It only works on a microscopic scale, but even there it may have useful application in areas like medicine

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Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin is retiring
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could start with a blank slate and ask ourselves (as Iowans): Who is the smartest, most dependable, most thoughtful person we could send to an august body of decision-makers who are challenged with bringing wisdom and sobriety to the decision-making process of government?

Computers and the Internet New coding technology approved by ITU will allow more video with less bandwidth


Iowa Sioux City was once a city of 200,000 people


Threats and Hazards North Korea plans to rattle the nuclear saber again
And when they say they're planning a test directed at the United States, one has to wonder just how the leadership there got the idea that this would be smart. And it's not as if people weren't already quite worried about military clashes in the Pacific Rim.

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The United States of America Businesses expect a new wave of regulations
Now that the President is starting his second term with no electoral consequences to himself for what happens next

Aviation News Japan's air-transport regulator says it isn't the battery on the 787 that's causing trouble

Computers and the Internet A new .jpg image file format: Better than the old, but will it be preserved?
The Library of Congress is just the right type of institution to worry about whether old file formats will become unreadable in the future because they aren't widely adopted or go obsolete

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News South Korea launches its own civilian rocket into space
They've spent half a billion dollars on the project, which technically gets a research satellite into orbit -- but subtextually gets the message across that North Korea isn't the only country on the small peninsula that's capable of launching things

Business and Finance Do young workers only enter jobs with dreams of retiring young?

Computers and the Internet Facebook tracks where the football fans are

Science and Technology How fractal is your plumage?
The more complex the plumage, the more attractive the bird -- to potential mates

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Broadcasting Google is thinking of adding paid channels to YouTube


Science and Technology How to get out of quicksand
Plus a lesson in non-Newtonian fluids

Threats and Hazards Egypt's military warns of possible state collapse on its Facebook page
The BBC interprets this as a warning to protesters

News You might've been richer than Zimbabwe last week
The country had $217 in its national bank account at one point last week. A non-trivial number of people carry more than that in their wallets.

Broadcasting What else you could get for the price of a Super Bowl ad
Seems like there may be more effective ways to spend four million advertising dollars

Health Deterrents must be suited to their intended outcomes
A proposal in the Iowa House would create a new criminal offense for mothers who deliver babies who test positive for the presence of drugs. The intention is sound: Pregnant women can endanger their children when they take addictive drugs. But if the child's health is the most paramount issue, and the mothers have already shown sufficient neglect that they are willing to take drugs in the first place, then adding a criminal offense only seems likely to discourage them from getting adequate medical care. As a matter of public health, this seems likely to endanger the children even further. Some sort of evidence must be available to show whether there are more effective means of protecting babies from harm by their mothers. It seems hard to imagine that there isn't a better solution available.

Humor and Good News Most people are fundamentally good at heart
Take the case of the junior-high students -- male and female -- who are knitting scarves for second-graders as a community service gesture

News A flavor chart to woods for smoking meat

Business and Finance How "The Onion" takes advertising to a new level





Humor and Good News Most people really are good at heart
A bunch of Omaha 5th-graders who got a snow day off of school used part of it to cheer up a classmate hospitalized with cancer

Science and Technology "Peak jobs?"
Is technology going to lead to a permanent class of people employed at low levels

Computers and the Internet If you're on Twitter, change your password
The company says there's been a sophisticated attack that stole 250,000 passwords from their servers. The stolen data was at least somewhat encrypted, but it's time to update those passwords anyway. And be savvy about it: Crooks have gone wild lately, breaking into computer systems in a lot of high-profile places. We're not doing enough to harden our defenses. Not nearly enough.

Threats and Hazards Shootings in Chicago seem to be getting more brazen
Broad-daylight shootings on Lake Shore Drive

Business and Finance The Dow Jones Industrial Average exceeds 14,000
Remember: The DJIA is a pretty much meaningless figure. And nominal thresholds like even thousands may be pretty, but they, too, mean nothing.

Computers and the Internet Norton says 2/3rds of mobile-phone users don't have security on their phones

Computers and the Internet Applebee's server fired for posting picture of rude receipt online
The restaurant patron who wrote the sanctimonious note should be ashamed of herself, but the waitress was dumb to photograph and share something that included a private individual's name and credit-card information. Just a lot of stupidity going on in this story.

The United States of America The White House jobs council is out of work
The "Council on Jobs and Competitiveness" has reached the end of its charter, and the President isn't renewing it. Councils like these are hard to take seriously -- even more so with an administration that is so frequently hostile to business interests -- and it seems not to have been taken very seriously by the President, either, who spent little or no time with them. The persistent problem is that the professional political class in Washington is so badly disjointed from knowing how their policies affect the rest of the country that when they do make a token gesture like forming a "council on jobs", they form it so badly that it doesn't really tell them anything. The President of the United States should probably already have the CEO of General Electric on speed dial (as well as the CEOs of many other large companies). Those people should probably be feeding back observations and news to the White House on a regular basis anyway, for the good of the country. But the people from whom Washington is outrageously disjointed are the people who own and run small and medium-sized businesses. Sure, they get a lot of lip service, but Washington is (generally speaking) so far removed from knowing what's happening with them that the country pays the consequences while nobody in power to do things about it notices. On a related note, it doesn't help when headline-writers skip essential parts of major stories. CBS reported that "Economy adds 157K jobs, unemployment hits 7.9%" -- skipping the essential word "but". Unemployment has risen even though jobs were created because more people entered the job market than the number of new jobs. But the more bad writing obfuscates a simple matter of numerators and denominators, the less the general public feels that it can understand the important work of economics.

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Computers and the Internet One of the largest Internet vulnerabilities ever
It's been discovered that some 40 to 50 million routers and other Internet-enabled devices are vulnerable to hijacking by crooks because they use code that was never intended to be used online (and thus isn't secured). The official report probably couldn't be more jargon-o-riffic if it tried, but the bottom line is that people can run a quick online test, and if necessary, update the vulnerable program.

Business and Finance What gets measured gets done
Bill Gates is out with a column in the Wall Street Journal and his latest annual report from the Gates Foundation, both of which focus on the importance of measuring progress towards the objectives of foundations like his. It's really quite fascinating to live in a time when one of the two or three richest people in the world is also a person who is also a highly-driven "fieldmarshal" (in the psychological sense) who, with a lot of time left in his life, has decided to put everything he's got into solving the world's biggest problems. And, if the psychological assessment is correct, this brings him vastly greater joy than spending his money like a playboy ever would.

Business and Finance Stock-market "technician" cranks are out in force
One trader writes for Marketwatch with a column asking, "Is this the biggest triple top ever?" The people who think the stock market is a predictable universe of patterns in the price graphs miss the most important fact of all: Shares of stock are just slices of ownership in a business, and it all comes down to how those businesses are performing at making a profit. That's all that truly matters, and it's the only thing that really drives stock prices in the long term.

Computers and the Internet Is Twitter the "Hotel California" for journalists?
An interesting opinion, at least

News If you're in Egypt and you're free to leave, you probably should
Right now.




Humor and Good News Someone at Oreo was on the ball tonight
Managing to put out a visual ad on Twitter at 7:48 pm Central -- literally minutes after the power outage happened -- says several things about the team at Oreo: Someone's alert, someone's phenomenally quick to turn around an ad, and someone in management trusts the right people to execute on the brand's behalf without a lot of red tape.

The United States of America On public service
The three best things we could want in our public officials: Humility, competence, and curiosity




News Super Bowl blackout was a system "abnormality"
A breaker flipped when sensors detected an "abnormality" in the electrical load. If you think that sounds like the kind of thing that probably should have been anticipated well in advance of the Super Bowl, you're probably right.

News Travel figures signal that the China-Japan rift is pretty serious

Computers and the Internet Everything about this story is just sad and depressing
A man in Colorado Springs obtains nude and explicit photos of women and posts them to a website, where the subjects' Facebook profiles and contact details are linked to the revealing photos. The subjects are told they can have the pictures removed for a fee of $250. There is absolutely nothing good or humane about the exploitation. The story should serve as a reminder, though: Don't let anything with a hard drive or a permanent storage memory leave your possession, particularly if there's even the slightest chance it contains any files you wouldn't want posted to the Internet for all the world to see. There are creepy folks out there who obviously make a business out of harvesting files from discarded cell phones and hard drives and sharing them on the Internet.

Humor and Good News Police stations look a lot like strip clubs...
...if you're high, apparently. This is what passes for crime news in Des Moines. Which is why we like it here.

Agriculture Russia could ban American beef and pork
And that could happen as soon as next Monday. It's due to a fight over a feed additive.

Iowa State review gives 98% of Iowa teachers a positive rating
While it's nice to think that only 2% of teachers are failing their students, a simple pass/fail methodology like this one doesn't tell us what we need to know about which teachers are really good and which ones are just good enough. It's important to honestly evaluate teachers, find the great ones, use them better, and find ways to help the others improve.

Iowa Half of what ends up in Iowa landfills should have been recycled or composted
That's just bad resource management

Computers and the Internet So if the New York Times has been under attack by the Chinese government...
...at what point do we need to start drawing a clearer "line in the sand" about the national defense of American interests? Is cyberwarfare, because it does not involve tanks and aircraft carriers, considered the kind of thing that private citizens and institutions must defend for themselves? Or, because it is clear that some nations are deliberately engaged in cyberwarfare on a nation-state level, should cybersecurity be nationalized in the same way that we expect the 101st Airborne to come to our physical defense?

Aviation News At long last, production of the HondaJet is underway

Business and Finance Oh, so now everyone thinks it's OK to get back into the stock market?
Tens of billions of dollars have been moved into the stock market in the last few weeks, perhaps because of year-end bonuses, but also perhaps because people are starting to feel a little bit better about the economy. Of course, the time to have been pouring money into the stock market was back in 2009, when it was in the dumps and everyone was in a panic. Getting in now is fine, but much too late to take advantage of the power of being greedy when others are fearful.




Computers and the Internet Dell Computers goes private for $24 billion
It's reported as the "biggest leveraged buyout" since Hilton went private in 2007. Is it worth $24 billion? Hard to tell. Profits over the last four years have averaged about $2.5 billion a year, so by that measure, ten times earnings would be $25 billion. In some worlds, ten times earnings would be a decent price -- not an incredible bargain, but a fair price. But in the computer sector, who has any clue whether those profits will continue ten years into the future? There's far less clarity in computer-making than in, say, utilities. So even though it's probably a fair price based on normal metrics for companies in low-volatility industries, it's a bit of a gamble in the technology sector.

Science and Technology Lights out -- not just in New Orleans
The power outage at the Super Bowl was embarrassing, but the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities warns that we could have rolling blackouts in a couple of years because new environmental rules are shutting down power plants faster than replacements can be built -- and those replacements that are being built use natural gas, which could become very expensive very quickly.

Business and Finance Someone at the CBO needs to re-adjust their glasses
Their reading of the economic crystal ball has been off -- way off -- for several years in a row. They're estimating much faster economic growth than we've been having. And we definitely need faster economic growth -- but wishing doesn't make it so, and when our Federal government makes decisions based upon faulty projections, something's bound to go badly.

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Health Sioux City school district will look at getting bulletproof glass
As always, the first question ought to be: If we are intent upon spending this money in order to achieve a particular goal, is this the most efficient and rational expenditure? Suppose it turns out that bulletproof glass in all of the school buildings would cost $1 million. If the real objective is to make the children safer, would that $1 million be better spent improving, say, school bus safety? ■ School shootings are scary and headline-grabbing, to be sure, but accidents kill far more kids than homicides, and a pre-teen is more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by someone else. Perhaps mental-health, counseling, and anti-bullying efforts would be a better investment in junior high schools than bulletproof glass. ■ A kid in elementary school is more likely to die of cancer than to be murdered; perhaps free blood tests to screen for cancer would save more lives in elementary schools than new glass. It's important that we use our limited resources in the most sensible way to achieve the most good, not just in ways that make for good publicity. ■ That is not to say that we shouldn't examine the costs and benefits of things like replacing window glass, but it does mean we shouldn't rush to spend money on something that happens to be a current hot topic, rather than on what would really make a difference. And where events reveal that we have glaring omissions in security that can and should be redeemed, we should take action. There may be obvious steps that could improve safety and security at little or no cost. ■ It should be noted that, counting all age groups, more Americans commit suicide than are killed by others, and by a large margin. That doesn't mean we shouldn't seek to reduce homicides, but it does mean we need to think rationally about what we really could be doing better to save lives from human-inflicted harm.

Business and Finance Wishing doesn't make things so
Paul Krugman writes, "What is the evidence that fiscal uncertainty -- as opposed to overall lack of demand -- is the reason corporations are sitting on cash? There isn't any." ■ That Krugman doesn't know anyone in business well enough to recognize or acknowledge their fears doesn't mean those people don't exist. Absence of evidence isn't necessarily evidence of absence. If Krugman had friends in the private sector who could speak to him candidly (without fear of being accused of corruption or knavery), he might well learn that there are, in fact, plenty of businesses that look to Washington with profound uncertainty and concern. And some will admit right out loud that the uncertainty is is causing them to behave with greater caution than they would under more business-friendly conditions. ■ Again, just because Krugman doesn't know these people doesn't mean they don't exist. His bravado is not a substitute for real understanding of the microeconomic effects of macroeconomic policies.

Broadcasting Behind the scenes of the WHO Radio morning show

Business and Finance Ikea considers targeting senior citizens as they downsize

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Business and Finance An argument for requiring banks to hold 20% or more in equity
That number may be a bit high -- but it is definitely worth examining what value is the optimal one for bank stability. Obviously, the figures that prevailed in the last decade were not high enough. Canada's banks seem to have gotten by in the high single digits.

Aviation News Fresh off a rebranding effort, American Airlines may merge with US Airways
American is trying to emerge from bankruptcy, and the combination would create the world's largest airline

The United States of America Let's do lunch
Moderate members of both major parties in Congress are going to try to get together once in a while to talk with one another like human beings. What a wild idea!

Business and Finance The clock's ticking for Google
A photo-documentary of the company's new offices in Tel Aviv show off just how free and loose the spending is within the company. That kind of spending signals (implicitly) that the company is at the peak of its boom.

Iowa Proposal in Iowa statehouse would eliminate one-checkbox, straight-ticket voting

Threats and Hazards Federal Reserve internal websites hacked
No "critical functions" were affected, but it's still a grave concern. The "Anonymous" movement appears to have been involved.

Computers and the Internet 72% of email is spam
Believe it or not, that's the smallest share in five years

The United States of America President Obama says he's "eager and anxious to do a big deal" to cut the Federal deficit




News Postal Service subtly blames retirement programs for its financial crisis
And thus, by extension, for its move to cut out Saturday letter deliveries. This is a warning sign of things to come. The US Postal Service isn't the only agency with massive liabilities for pensions and retiree benefits.

Iowa Homelessness in Iowa City: A complex and growing problem
The city has a single homeless shelter, which is over capacity and doesn't allow anyone on drugs or alcohol to stay. But there are lots of non-housing resources (like food) available for the homeless, so people are attracted to the community for access to those services. It's really hard to get this kind of social problem resolved in a way that is both humane and oriented towards the long term. Of course the people operating the shelter don't want to allow in drug and alcohol abusers -- that could put the staff and other innocent guests at risk. But if the rest of the system creates large incentives for people to show up (like free food) and doesn't have an effective way of breaking addictions (which generally requires buy-in from the addict him- or herself), then a large population of homeless addicts is likely to persist in the area. That, in turn, may put a strain on the social services that are needed to reach out to those who are homeless but trying to get back on their feet. It's complex, and anyone who suggests otherwise probably isn't looking at the whole picture.

News New Year means a billion people moving around China
Imagine: Three times the entire population of the United States, and all of them going somewhere within the same country

Computers and the Internet Bush family e-mail accounts get hacked
To what extent should the Secret Service now be responsible for policing e-mail seccurity among the families of former Presidents? They certainly have access to high-level information, and they remain high-profile security targets. It's a reminder for everyone else to practice good password security.

News Iran's government pushes young people to have more children
They fear running out of younger workers to pay for the welfare system.





Business and Finance It's not what you know so much as who...
And you might not believe some of the things HR people say about job candidates and applicants

News The problem with music today...
...is not what they're playing (tastes and trends will always come and go, and today's "noise" will be tomorrow's "classic hits"). It's how the industry works. There's far more money in live performance than in creating and recording new material. What artists produce more than about one album a year? Very few. And who can blame them, if they'll make more money performing live? But in the long term, wouldn't the world really benefit more from getting a larger pure volume of music recorded by talented artists while they're in their creative primes?






Business and Finance Who are America's minimum-wage workers?
In yesterday's State of the Union address, the President proposed raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. It's a no-lose political gamble for him: He can talk endlessly about how it will help working families, and parade examples of those low-wage families out in front of the cameras. It makes it look like his administration is "doing something" to help the poor. ■ While there is no doubt that there are families living on the minimum wage, the reality is that 50% of minimum-wage workers are under age 24. One in five minimum-wage workers is, literally, a teenager. Of the people working for minimum wage (or less), 51.3% work in leisure and hospitality (including restaurants), and about 17% are working in retail. ■ In other words, raising the minimum wage will largely affect the prospects of young people working in restaurants and retail. While a wage increase for adults in those jobs would undoubtedly make their lives somewhat better-off, a wage hike would also have the hidden consequences of making a night out at the restaurant more expensive for everyone else. It would also tend to shrink the opportunity set of low-wage, first-time jobs for young people in high school and college (or at least, for those of college age). That means higher youth unemployment, and if you want to see how that works out, ask France, where rigid employment laws keep huge numbers of young people from entering the labor market -- so they riot instead. ■ So even though it's an easy political move for the President, the consequences aren't necessarily quite so easy as "Raise the minimum wage, and working-class families will do better". If you really want to help working-class families, raise the Earned Income Tax Credit and increase the opportunities for job training and non-traditional routes to post-secondary education. But raising the minimum wage? Well, it looks nice, but it steals opportunities from the next generation by stealth. ■ Young people who can't get low-wage, low-skill jobs early in life don't develop a track record from which to get better jobs later. Nobody starts out as CEO of a Fortune 500 company; virtually everyone starts at the bottom. But if the "bottom" evaporates because good intentions (and easy politics) are allowed to ride roughshod over sensible long-term economics, then fewer people get a chance to start "at the bottom". Instead, the risk becoming part of a class of permanently unemployed non-workers. This concern is no small matter: It's a pressing worry already in Britain, and the dangers should be obvious: It's much, much better for young people to have legitimate opportunities to gain work experience, even when that work is low-skilled and for low pay, than to have no entry-level opportunities. ■ The President wrote in 1985 (when he was still a community organizer) about the frustrations of trying to help people get started finding jobs. It is as though he doesn't see the continuum between opportunities for young people and the success those people enjoy later after getting some skills and experience under their belts. And that, regrettably, is a lesson that doesn't translate well into a winning sound bite...but it's the right approach to lasting success.

Computers and the Internet Five technology myths that need to go away

Aviation News Why has it taken until 2013 to start addressing the legal consequences of drone aircraft?
The law is at least five years behind where it should be. Unmanned aircraft have been a huge development for the US Air Force, and it's an indictment of our lawmakers that they've ignored the consequences for civilians for so long. And on a related note, Raytheon can mine your digital presence (including photos and social-media connections) to form predictions about where you are and where you're likely to be found.

Computers and the Internet The ICN is up for sale
Iowa's statewide, state-owned fiber-optic network is on the market




News New medal for cyber-warfare and UAV pilots would outrank the Bronze Star

News Would the St. Valentine's Day Massacre still shock Americans if it happened today?
A sad case can be made that it would not

Business and Finance Coke's 70-20-10 approach to marketing

Computers and the Internet Know the Facebook class-action lawsuit
It's a low-effort, low-return affair for most people. You won't get much for applying to join the class, but it doesn't take much effort, either. But be sure to read the terms for yourself; it's a lawsuit, after all.

Science and Technology You want to stop crashes? Use engineering.
Roundabouts decimate the crash rate at dangerous intersections. Red-light cameras don't.

Science and Technology Plants can communicate with one another
And the more closely-related the plants, the better the communication. Selfish genes, indeed.




Socialism Doesn't Work North Korea may pose the biggest opportunity ever for a gun-buyback program
North Korea's nuclear-weapon test this week isn't happy news. The country is continuing to isolate itself from the rest of the world, and we should all be uncomfortable with the idea of a hard-core Stalinist regime toying with nuclear weaponry. It may be time to consider the world's biggest gun-buyback program. ■ American police departments conduct gun buybacks in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, because they apparently believe that the benefits of removing those guns from the streets outweighs the costs of buying them. We currently spend a non-trivial sum keeping about 25,000 American troops on the Korean peninsula. This is a cost that has lingered since the Korean War. ■ At some point, it may well be worth considering whether we could effectively "buy back" North Korea's weapons by buying-out the leadership of the Communist regime there. How much might it cost? Good question. But there is, without question, some price at which the regime would willingly leave power. A power play like that would undoubtedly be expensive and would have unintended consequences -- perhaps encouraging other regimes to pursue weapons programs in the hope of getting a similar sweetheart deal. And it would prevent the execution of the kind of justice applied to dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. ■ But there are real, direct costs to the current state of affairs in Korea -- and the high-risk game being played by North Korea also introduces lots of unknown hazards to the peaceable nations of the world, not to mention the implicit suffering imposed upon millions of North Koreans who could be living as well as their bretheren to the south, if it weren't for the lousy Communist system.

Health FDA approves an artificial retina
More bionics! It's great news, and it's good that there is a market for people to make money coming up with products like these that will improve the quality of life for people living right now.

Humor and Good News You had ONE job to do...
Tragically hilarious documentation of good jobs done badly

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Business and Finance Cisco says no more US-based acquisitions until the tax code changes
They'll have to pay 35% repatriation taxes if they bring foreign profits to the US from overseas

News Russia says it has trillions of carats of diamonds
They're beneath an asteroid impact crater. They've known about these for a long time, but kept the secret so as not to upset the world market. Now that Russia is on a natural-resources hot streak, the secret apparently doesn't need to be kept any longer. This is one of several reasons why a gold standard for a currency is a terrible idea: You never know when someone will arbitrarily discover (or reveal knowledge of) a huge amount of whatever hard asset you choose to back the currency.




Socialism Doesn't Work Un-repaid economic-development incentives cost Iowa millions
Lots of companies have failed to pay back money they got from the state when they failed to deliver what they promised

Humor and Good News Christmas lights meet Pac-Man

Broadcasting WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 16, 2013

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Computers and the Internet Chinese Army seeks ways to attack critical US infrastructure, says research team

Computers and the Internet Job interviews via Twitter? A ridiculous idea.
One practically has to wonder whether USA Today just made up a quote from someone so far out of touch with reality that he is identified as saying that great talent isn't job hunting because "They're mobile and socially connected and too busy changing the world". This whole "changing the world" nonsense (as applied to things like social media) has gone too far. Yes, Twitter and Facebook and similar tools are cool and they're fun and they enhance our means of communication. But let's talk to cancer researchers and engineers designing next-generation batteries and crop scientists for the folks who are really "changing the world". A lot of what we do online is just noise, and we need to be honest with ourselves about that. Is it mildly interesting that Pinterest and Twitter have similarly-sized user bases? Maybe. But that's not "changing the world", at least not in any durable sense.

Business and Finance A great interview question for job candidates

Iowa New president lays out his plans for the University of Northern Iowa

Broadcasting Listen on-demand: Brian Gongol Show - February 17, 2013
North Korea, the bad part of a minimum wage law, and Russian diamonds

Broadcasting Listen on-demand: WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 16, 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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Computers and the Internet Just because we're not paying attention to China's state-backed cyberwarfare...
...doesn't mean it isn't happening on a massive scale

Agriculture Farm-land prices keep going up
The Federal Reserve says really good Iowa farmland rose in price by 20% in 2012, despite a massive drought. There's no way that bubble can be sustained.

Humor and Good News 14 ways for an economist to say "I love you"

The United States of America US Postal Service-branded outerwear?
Yes, really. They're planning to sell it starting next year.

Science and Technology The massive scale of today's container ships




The United States of America White House says it will go after China for industrial espionage

Health Swiss doctors will attach a bionic hand -- with a sense of touch -- later this year
The sensors on the hand will be connected directly to the patient's nervous system

Computers and the Internet Yahoo's new landing page




Threats and Hazards Shootout and explosion leaves three people dead on the Las Vegas Strip
But the Las Vegas Police, apparently keen to protect tourism revenues more than people, say that even though the shootout happened at the corner of the Strip and Flamingo Road (or, in other words, dead center when you search for "Las Vegas" on Google Maps), a police spokesperson says "People don't have to worry". Oh, really? One would think people should worry when there are shootings along one of the most popular pedestrian paths in America. If the police can't use the mountains of video evidence that most certainly exists from the hundreds of surveillance cameras in the area to swiftly identify the perpetrators and send them directly to prison for life, then we should immediately end the use of surveillance cameras for any policing purpose in America. This had better be the world's fastest open-and-shut case. If it's not, then nobody should ever visit Las Vegas again.

News Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #11
A teacher -- recently trained in curbing incidents like school shootings -- stopped a stabbing at an Iowa City restaurant on Monday. You never know when you're going to be around when something bad is going to happen.

Science and Technology World population of mountain gorillas is under 1,000
The good news is that the number appears to be increasing. The bad news is that it's still so dangerously low.

Business and Finance What's wrong with the French labor system?
Quite likely, the fault lies with the law

News What is so hard about understanding that 911 is for emergencies only?
That the Iowa State Patrol sent out a press release reminding people that 911 is for emergencies only, and that 511 is the road-condition number, tells us that some idiots are still calling 911 asking for road conditions. And the abuse of 911 isn't just isolated to Iowa winter travelers. There's a never-ending litany of stupid calls to 911.

Computers and the Internet "Scroogled"?
Microsoft wants to raise fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the minds of webmail users by pointing out that Google's computers review the contents of your e-mail sent via Gmail to target the ads that appear on the service. Humans don't conduct the reviews, but computers do. And it's no big secret to anyone who has paid any attention whatsoever to Google for the last eight or nine years. But at the same time, many people who aren't tech enthusiasts -- but rather, just ordinary users -- probably aren't aware that Google targets ads in that way. And if their complacency or ignorance of the technology is disrupted by a rival's ad campaign, then that's probably better than them not being cognizant of the process at all.

Business and Finance The inflation rate is still between 1% and 2%
Now, this would seem odd, given that the Federal Reserve has poured vast amounts of money into the money supply. But the economy is governed by a simple equation: MV = PQ. The quantity of dollars in the economy (M), multiplied by the velocity (V) of those dollars (or, put differently, the number of times each dollar is used) equals the price level (P) times the quantity (Q) of real goods and services in the economy. More money poured in, with the velocity of money and the quantity of goods held constant, means the price level rises -- or, in other words, inflation. But what seems to have happened lately is that velocity (V) has fallen off a cliff. It's unusual, but if everyone just sits on their money, then the Fed can (and must) dump a ton of new money into the system in order to keep prices from crashing. (And, while lower prices might be fun on occasion in Wal-Mart, persistent deflation is a really, really bad thing.) So, the real challenge here is that someone is going to have to pull a mountain of money out of the economy when the velocity picks back up again someday, or else we're going to have a huge problem with inflation. But they can't take it out before then, or we'll have painful (or even disastrous) deflation.

Computers and the Internet A low fashion quotient isn't the only obstacle to Google Glass
The company is trying to find ways to make their wearable computers (attached to a pair of eyeglasses) look good, according to the New York Times. But the problems don't stop with aesthetics. It's also going to be very difficult for people wearing glasses-that-are-also-recording-devices to convince friends and family to be candid around them. It's hard enough to live with the knowledge that people could be surreptitiously recording your every move anyway. Unless Google Glass adds a full-fledged 1980s-VHS-camera-style flashing red "recording" light to Google Glass, every conversation will have to be preceded by "Are you recording this? Really? Come on, tell me the truth." Try having an intimate romantic conversation with someone wearing a pair of glasses like that. Without a doubt, wearable computing is going to become more commonplace with time -- perhaps someday achieving complete ubiquity. But the early adopters will have a lot of explaining to do. Wristwatch computers and less in-your-face (literally) jewelry will probably make better inroads than glasses will. And then the glasses will be made with smaller frames -- indistinguishable from those on ordinary glasses -- and the questions will probably stop.

Science and Technology Stand up to "psychic" frauds

Health The vast power of vaccines

News Jesse Jackson, Jr. pleads guilty to taking $750,000 from campaign funds for himself




Computers and the Internet Will Papal Tweets stop with Benedict's retirement?
Outgoing Pope Benedict XVI was the first to use Twitter. Since we don't know who his successor will be, we can't really say whether the account will remain active, languish in obscurity and disuse, or be shut down entirely. Accounts belonging to an office, rather than an individual, are a problem encountered not just on Twitter, but on sites like Facebook and entire websites, like that of the White House. One would think we could start deliberately building sites like that of Congress and the White House for perpetuity -- WhiteHouse.gov/44/ could go to President Obama's section, in perpetuity, and /43 could have gone to George W. Bush, and /42 could have gone to Clinton, and so forth. But instead, each new administration blows up the site belonging to the old one, and we have to look to the National Archives to try to preserve the past sites. That's just stupid computing. Congress should be done the same way: Every member of the House of Representatives should get a site under House.gov/113/ (for the current Congress), which could be the default site for now, and eventually give way to /114 and /115 and so forth into the future. But instead, if you try to go to the site of a past Senator, like, say, Ted Kennedy, it's just...gone. Again, that's stupid computing.




Business and Finance Physical distance from Wall Street may help people understand money better
Admittedly, the latest item of evidence is based upon a small sample set -- Bloomberg asked a bunch of economists to submit forecasts about the US economy, and many of the best performers ended up being people who don't even live in the United States. But there's something to be said for being away -- literally -- from the epicenter of groupthink, particularly as it regards money. For while macroeconomic forecasting is a difficult game (at best), getting things right in business and in personal finance can be a lot easier. And there's no doubt that geographic isolation from the shouting on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange has probably made Warren Buffett a better investor. There are even some likely micro-economic advantages to doing business in the Midwest, rather than in other parts of the country. But much of it probably does come back to being away from the echo chamber of New York City finance -- just like it probably makes politicians better servants of the people when they leave the Beltway and visit their constituents on their home turf. Say what you will about Senator Chuck Grassley, but when he sends Tweets from his "99 county meetings", he probably gets a better feel for what the public needs than he would have gotten from a think tank in DC.

Computers and the Internet Some steps for protecting your kids' online reputation
Parents probably need to be as deliberate about scoping out and protecting their children's online reputations as they would be about vetting their friends and dates. Reserving your child's name as a domain name (i.e., BrianGongol.com) is a sensible, low-cost affair, and a very wise piece of insurance on your child's digital footprint in the future. PairNIC is a very good service for registering a domain name; fair pricing and decent business practices.

Health Seven diseases; one billion affected lives
There are seven "neglected tropical diseases", according to the World Bank, that make a billion people's lives directly poorer. They could be fixed cheaply and with low-cost drugs. Fixing them would benefit the current victims directly, and the rest of us indirectly...because who knows what could be imagined, done, or produced by the billions of Earthlings currently living in poverty if only they had the opportunity to flourish?

News We love you, dear Britain, but why do you bother still having a monarchy?




Broadcasting Please, ABC: Keep "Happy Endings" alive




The United States of America Retiring Sen. Mike Johanns says "opposing legislation was just as important as getting bills passed"
That doesn't make him negative -- it means he was sufficiently humble about the role of government to know that sometimes saying "No" is more important than reacting to the cry of "Somebody do something!"

Iowa Lots of infrastructure needs replacement
Roads and bridges happen to be highly visible, but dams, levees, airports, the power grid, and water and sewage treatment plants all need ongoing investment, too. If we want civilization, we have to pay for it.

News A look at the 1982 Thanksgiving Day fire in Minneapolis
A couple of kids started a fire that took down two downtown buildings and could have been a lot worse. Someone kept the TV news tapes from that day, too. Aside from the TV commercials (some of which show just how much better and cheaper consumer goods have gotten since the 1980s), the news coverage also gives an idea of how firefighting has improved since that time. One of the destroyed buildings had a weather beacon on top that could be seen from 15 miles away.

News Leave the creative writing for the "fiction" section
Says a Washington Post reader

News Natural gas is really, really cheap -- for now
And it's going to be used much more extensively in the not-so-distant future for power generation, as coal-fired power plants across America are going to be retired. So, is there a national-security justification for telling American natural-gas drillers not to ship their product overseas? Is there some kind of moral imperative to keep it here, as Charlie Munger has argued?

Broadcasting WHO Radio - Brian Gongol Show - February 24, 2013
Q: Is the economy doing really well, or is it stuck in low gear? A: Both. Available for listening on-demand

Computers and the Internet Some deep -- and important -- thoughts about the future of the Internet
First, it's not as robust as we might like to believe. More than a hundred countries are connected in ways that could easily be shut off by centralized powers. Second, it's turning into a militarized zone (anyone who's been paying attention to the news about China's apparent use of cyberwarfare should recognize this matter). And third, there's ever-less chance of getting the many nations of the world to agree to a set of principles about the use of the Internet that would mimic our common agreement about the use of space. All of these are bad news items.

Business and Finance Productivity tips from the very busy Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Agriculture Mmm...sawdust-fed beef
An Iowa farmer seems to have found a way to turn sawdust into a nutritive feed for his cattle

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News Merging the cultures of Time and Meredith
New York City meets Des Moines

Business and Finance Federal spending needs to be reined in
Some taxes undoubtedly do need to rise...but the spending problem must be fixed. And we need economic growth. Lots of it.

Business and Finance A prediction on what Warren Buffett will discuss in his letter to shareholders
The next letter to shareholders in Berkshire Hathaway comes out at the end of the week. Look for a section on "look-through earnings", or what the companies whose stock Berkshire owns made per share, multiplied by the number of shares Buffett's company owns. It's a huge number, even though it doesn't show up in conventional accounting figures.

Computers and the Internet Google: Still not giving in on Google Plus
Now they're building a tool to let people use their sign-in feature on different sites (a lot like the "Sign in using your Facebook account" option seen in many places). No surprise there: Google is really betting the farm on building user profiles through Google Plus, even if very few people use it as a social network.

Weather and Disasters Lightning shooting into space

The United States of America Where Craigslist "missed connections" happen most
In the Midwest, generally the grocery store. Throughout the South, quite widely it's at Walmart.

The United States of America One speech fits all?
Politico takes a look at the President's stump speechmaking lately and posits that it's turned into a "Mad Libs" style -- a formulaic approach to defining the terms of every issue, no matter what. Now, that could be a sign of many different things: Lazy speechwriting, for instance. Or a formula that has been proven to work. But one thing it signals is that real and meaningful thoughts about those issues aren't really being shared by the talk from the highest level. It's too bad we don't expect our Presidents (and other high-level officials) to spend just five minutes a day recording their own original thoughts on the day and the issues pressing upon it. Sure, we get official, sanitized Tweets from the White House and many other officials. And, occasionally, someone in Washington will pen an op-ed piece. But it would be nice to imagine that the people wielding the greatest power (a) thought highly enough of the people and (b) thought highly enough of the value of the written word that they would sit down, compose their thoughts briefly, and share them -- not through a press office or a spokesperson, but directly with their electors. Of course it will never happen, but that's really too bad. Good writing and clear thinking go hand-in-hand.

Computers and the Internet "Macs are not invulnerable"
Java security flaw allows hackers to attack Apple's own corporate computers. Macs still have some inherent security advantages over Windows computers, but the problem is that some people take that and assume it means they face no risks at all. That's a preposterous conclusion. Lower vulnerability is not the same as invincibility. And if that sense of invincibility causes Mac users to behave unsafely, then all of the security features and programs in the world won't stop them from making dangerous choices online.

The United States of America Does any Democrat dare run for President against Hillary Clinton?

News Farewell, International Herald Tribune
In what looks on the surface to be a pointless exercise in rebranding and identity dilution, it will be re-christened as the "International New York Times"





Business and Finance A prediction about tomorrow's letter from Warren Buffett





News Mr. Rodman goes to Pyongyang
And other recent oddities of the North Korea relationship

Computers and the Internet Knowing yourself a little better
The Myers-Briggs test isn't a bad way to figure out some of the characteristics that make us who we are -- and explain what makes us "tick". It may throw people off at first if they find that the results strongly correlate with their own life experience; after all, we are frequently told what unique snowflakes we all are. But if knowing more about yourself can in turn help you to discover ways of getting along better with co-workers, family, friends, and the world at large, then perhaps it would be wise for everyone to know their personality type. We are not far away from the time when personality engines will be programmed into computers and other electronics, and it may be well worth knowing which personality types help round out our thinking and expose blind spots.

The United States of America The sequester starts...now
The effect -- unless a replacement plan is found -- amounts to 13% cuts in the defense budget and 9% cuts outside defense. The truth of the matter is that we spend too much and show too little interest in paying for what we vote to give ourselves. The sequestration plan isn't pretty, but it's pretty real in terms of the cuts that we need to make. It's odd that we generally don't impose efficiency expectations on government like we do on business. People go to business school to become private-sector managers, but to public administration classes to become public-sector managers. Yet both categories of work require balancing budgets, satisfying customers, and managing people. Moore's Law and its corollaries insist that computers do more work faster and more efficiently all the time. We in turn apply those gains in the private sector to deliver great leaps in products like cell phones. If we have a "Chief Technology Officer" of the United States, shouldn't we have some serious commitment to applying technology improvements to the services government delivers?

Computers and the Internet Fast, cheap, and worth every penny
Western Digital's "My Passport" portable hard drive costs around $100 for 1 terabyte. It's a work of art.

Iowa Talk of raising the gas tax in Iowa





Business and Finance Switzerland votes for limits on executive pay

Computers and the Internet Two American power plants hit with computer viruses
There's a great deal of risk to our national infrastructure thanks to the computer technology that makes much of what we do possible. But human decisions about security make an enormous difference.

Business and Finance Sen. Harkin wants to tax sales of stock
He spins it as something "Wall Street" can afford...but what about Mr. and Ms. Main Street investor? If the objective is to discourage high-frequency trading, that's one thing -- there may be very smart reasons to tax extremely short-term stock holding periods in order to slow down the computer-enhanced insanity in high finance (even so, we should thoroughly investigate whether a tax is the right way to discourage the behavior, and be very sure that it's worth discouraging in the first place). But if it Senator Harkin just wants to tax everybody, we should be far more skeptical.

Aviation News Drone aircraft are already in the skies
At this stage, the regulations are just chasing the technology, having already ceded a multi-year lead

News Bus drivers fired for drag racing
...with kids on board




Business and Finance Swiss vote on executive pay could be more complicated than at first glance
Just because the people want something doesn't mean the government knows how to effectively implement it. The feeling of aggravation at high executive pay is understandable -- but the rational way to manage it probably isn't to turn over the power to manage C-suite compensation to the government.

The United States of America Federal recognition of gay marriage could mean higher tax receipts
The marriage penalty can be mitigated, but never completely erased

Business and Finance Is there a better way to do mutual funds?
Bruce Berkowitz is an exceptional long-term investor, and he's managed mutual funds for a long time (and to great success). But he's had a lot of trouble with investors who panic and run for the exits when things turn downward -- even though those downturns present the greatest opportunities to buy stocks at discounted prices in order to get great returns later, when the price rises to match the true intrinsic value of the underlying company. It's the problem of finding "patient capital". The transparency and flexibility of mutual-fund ownership certainly benefits investors to some extent, but the ease with which some people can leave funds makes it difficult for managers to think and operate for the long term...which is fundamentally what's gone wrong with a lot of the financial sector in America. The long-term approach has made lots of money for Berkowitz and his investors, but it's hard under current rules to ensure that the same patience is rewarded in the future. Patience matters in the private sector -- and in the charitable sector, too, where the Acumen Fund is an example of a charity that uses market-oriented principles to show just a little more patience than the private sector usually supplies in order to get great results for improving the quality of human life. The really, really great results (in charity, in the private sector, and in the public sector as well) come from long-term investment.

Iowa Iowa's gas-tax debate rolls down the road
The state Republican party chairman took the unusual step of sending a letter on party letterhead to a state legislator with a request to change his position on the subject

News What happens if Scotland leaves the UK?
One has to wonder if the legendary stereotype of Scottish thrift would play out in such a way that Scotland would end up with a better credit rating than England




Business and Finance Debt matters, no matter what the Keynesian groupthink suggests
(Video) Jeffrey Sachs breaks down some of the serious errors in Paul Krugman's argument that it doesn't matter how the government spends money in a time of macroeconomic slowdown, as long as it keeps on spending for the purpose of spending in its own right. Krugman's analysis is fatally flawed; suppose, for instance, that instead of talking about dollars we were talking about hours of labor. This isn't an unfair characterization, since for every person, we can find some exchange rate between dollars and work. ■ So if we found ourselves in a period of reduced activity (imagine, if you will, that the "economy" is twenty shipwreck survivors on a deserted island, and this "recession" is simply everyone choosing to lie around in hammocks), and our intention were to improve our standard of living (which, after all, is the only point of having an economy -- deserted island or otherwise), we would be idiots if we could not see the difference between causing people to spend an hour in productive work and an hour engaging in unproductive work. On the desert island, there would be an enormous difference between an hour spent standing on the beach naming the passing whales and an hour spent retrieving coconuts. ■ In our daily lives, there's a clear and meaningful difference between spending three minutes brushing and flossing one's teeth and three minutes spent counting the creases in a window curtain. There most certainly is a difference between productive and unproductive spending, and between productive and unproductive work, and between productive and unproductive investment. Arguing otherwise is fatuous at best, and deliberately wasteful at worst. And it's ironic that Keynesians, tending to be a left-of-center group, are willfully disinterested in the productivity of spending when it comes to the public purse, when they can be counted upon to recognize so quickly that behavior like high-frequency trading in the stock market is so phenomenally unproductive.

Business and Finance The Earned Income Tax Credit is a better way to help the poor than raising the minimum wage
Important: About half of workers earning the minimum wage are in their teens and early 20s. Low-wage jobs (reflecting their low skill levels) are nonetheless superior to joblessness, since they provide pathways for entry into the formal, full-time job market. Raise the minimum wage and some of those pathways will disappear.

Computers and the Internet YouTube finds its next leap -- into music-only streaming

News Will China rethink its relationship with Tibet?
Now that there's a new team taking power in Beijing, some people might wonder.

Science and Technology Where Americans ride trains

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Business and Finance "Agitated voters, grandstanding politicians, and intelligent policy rarely go together"
Opinion columnist echoes almost exactly a discussion on the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio this past weekend -- namely, that shareholders have every reason and right to be categorically angry about the amount of money paid to corporate executives. Not every one of them is overpaid, but many are -- and painfully so. But the way to fix that isn't to impose new laws on that pay, but rather for shareholders to speak up and exercise their rights as the owners of the companies involved.

News ID thief hands Applebee's server the server's own stolen ID

Threats and Hazards One million people have now registered as refugees from Syria
A million people! That's everyone in Boston, plus another 375,000 people, run out of their homeland by a government out of control. The suffering has gone on for months.

Computers and the Internet "The court of public opinion ... works better for revenge and justice than for dispute resolution"
Worthwhile thoughts on how and why people turn to the Internet to get what they want, rather than the courts. A related note: Everyone should know about libel and slander -- starting with young kids. If you're old enough to have a Facebook account (i.e., 13 years old), you're old enough to know the boundaries for defamation. And if those are too difficult to understand, then you shouldn't have the ability to post things on the Internet. The judgment not to thoughtlessly attack, disparage, or defame others is a prerequisite for the safe use of the Internet.

Threats and Hazards Red-light camera companies have an incentive to bribe public officials?
You don't say!

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Threats and Hazards North Korea shuts down the hotline to Seoul
The Stalinist government is making some bold and cold moves regarding its neighbor on the peninsula, and making some threats against the United States in the process. The hostile language is at a crescendo right now; North Korea's propaganda agency actually published these words: "[N]ow that the U.S. is set to light a fuse for a nuclear war, the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country." Talk of a "sea of fire" is problematic, since it's very difficult to back down from a provocative bluster like that without losing face somehow. South Korea may be at least a little more vulnerable than usual right now because of a change in government that apparently confuses some of the chains of military command. Let's get this right, shall we? Perhaps some serious consideration of a program styled on a gun buyback?

Computers and the Internet Longer passwords could be easier to remember
If given the freedom to use things like spaces, people may be able to create more complex passwords by using phrases and sentences, rather than just an arbitrarily-selected word or jumble of characters. They're going to try it at UNI, where the new minimum will be 15 characters.

Computers and the Internet Facebook uses newspaper metaphor to describe the new look of the news feed
Hooray! Another change to the look and feel of Facebook! Just what the millions of users have been asking for, right?

Computers and the Internet Google will dump another 1200 workers at Motorola Mobility
The phone-making subsidiary is up for a round of layoffs affecting about 10% of the current workforce. This follows a 20% cut in August. Tech businesses are great for consumers, but woe to the tech-oriented investor.

Science and Technology The political left has an anti-science bent, too
Both the political right and left contain a whole lot of people who aren't very objective about scientific facts. Neither should revel in the other's misguidance, but rather both ought to take a careful look in the mirror.





News Don't cry for Chavez; he was a "soft authoritarian"





Business and Finance "You can be sure...if it's Westinghouse"
Westinghouse was a great consumer brand name...but does it mean anything anymore? Toshiba owns the Westinghouse name for nuclear plants, but the legendary company also lent its name to a lot of other non-affiliated, unproven brands as well.

Business and Finance More business, but fewer jobs


Business and Finance Executive pay in the Nordic countries is different from here


Business and Finance Time Warner just isn't what it used to be


Aviation News China accidentally takes out a Russian satellite
Debris from a test China did to blow up an old satellite of their own appears to have hit the Russian bird on January 22nd

The American Way "Every single problem can be converted to a social business"
A curious observation from Muhammad Yunus. By "social business", he apparently means private-sector organizations that act a lot like endowed foundations with a business motive.




Computers and the Internet The rivals encroaching on Facebook's turf
Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, and plenty of others are moving in on Facebook's territory and may have an advantage among younger users who don't want their parents and grandparents watching closely. That's probably why Facebook bought Instagram.

Computers and the Internet Asking for unmoderated public comments isn't a good idea


The United States of America Federal employees and the sequester
A case in the shared incidence of budget cuts: Employees feel some, and the public feels some. And don't be surprised if efforts aren't made to emphasize the portion the public sees and feels; managers playing a strategic game may insist on cutting highly-visible public services (like White House tours) to make sure the burden falls more on the taxpayer than not.

Iowa A return to sanity in Iowa's state budget


Computers and the Internet A Harvard search for leaked e-mails







Computers and the Internet Google Reader goes dark at mid-year
Google has become like the buddy who promises to help you move your stuff to a new house, only to back out at 10:30 the night before. By offering free services spanning a broad spectrum of wants, they touch on lots of different ways to be enormously helpful. And by offering them all for free, Google can't really be blamed when it stops offering them. But it's just flaky behavior -- and they routinely "cull" enough services from their roster that it's hard to tell which ones are going to stay for the long term and which ones aren't. They're betting the farm on Google Plus, so that one is clearly around for the duration -- but Google Voice could easily be axed once it outlives its usefulness to Google. That usefulness seems driven mainly by its capacity to hone the accuracy of Google's voice-to-text translation algorithms, which still have a way to go before they'll be useful for translating the huge number of video and audio files on the Internet (which is, in turn, essential to making them searchable via Google's core search-engine service). Not knowing whether one's favorite Google product will be around six months into the future makes it hard to rely on the company, even though it's hugely profitable and very good at a lot of what it does. That may, in time, serve to be Google's ultimate downfall. Microsoft may make its old operating systems obsolete every few years, but at least businesses can count on the fact that there will be backwards compatibility to other Windows-based programs from one generation to the next. That kind of reliability makes for a huge competitive advantage in the high-profit commercial computing market, and Google doesn't seem to understand that.

Computers and the Internet Hashtags on Facebook, maybe?
The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook is working on mimicking Twitter's iconic hashtag-based system for organizing updates based on their content

News Carnival Cruise Line has some explaining to do
A month after the colossal screw-up that was the Carnival Triumph debacle, now they've had a generator failure on the Carnival Dream. Something clearly needs to get straightened out with their systems. It's almost as though they don't realize the world learns immediately when there's a problem on board a ship, and the first-hand accounts can't be stifled when most passengers are carrying phones equipped with HD video cameras.

Computers and the Internet Samsung introduces the Galaxy S4
It's supposed to be available in April, featuring a tool that allows the user to scroll through content on the screen by tilting the phone and pause a scroll just by looking away, and another that uses the user-facing camera to take a simultaneous picture with the outward-facing camera is capturing in order to blend them together into a composite. There's no doubt Samsung is trying hard to give Apple an effective run for the money as the "cool" smartphone maker; the Galaxy S3 of 2012 was a very impressive machine to begin with, and the S4 appears to take measurable steps forward from that baseline. There's still room, of course, for a strong third powerhouse in smartphone making, but no strong player seems to have moved in there yet (though LG is trying stunts to get there). One other note on the S4: Its built-in translation tool for both speech and text is as close to the Babel fish as anything we've seen in the mainstream yet.

Weather and Disasters Coming April 1st: New tornado warnings
The National Weather Service is planning to test an approach to tornado warnings for the central part of the US that would distinguish those times when they think there might be a tornado from those times when they have reliable confirmation that a big killer is making its way through an area. They should be commended for trying to come up with ways to limit the impact of the "boy who cried wolf" problem -- which tends to make too many people too comfortable in the face of high risk. The first major step in this direction was to clarify the warning areas with the storm-based polygons they use now, rather than the old county-based system. This recognition of varying levels of confidence and severity should also help.

News New Pope says he doesn't want the Catholic church to become a "compassionate NGO"
Things could get quite interesting under the first Jesuit Pope. He apparently also summoned the head of Vatican Radio for a talk on his first day in office, which apparently is a complete 180 from his predecessor's behavior.

Computers and the Internet It's really not so hard to collect personal data on high-profile celebrities
Buzzfeed shows how

Computers and the Internet "Rural-sourcing" as a counter to overseas outsourcing
Technology improvements make it possible for people to live in small towns (at small-town prices) and do global-quality work. That can make jobs in small-town Iowa very competitive with jobs in low-wage countries.




Computers and the Internet FTC declares that Twitter and Facebook ads have to follow rules


Science and Technology "Earth Hour": Counterproductive feel-good symbolism
Shutting off the lights doesn't really do any good. And, in fact, electrification should be celebrated -- it's one of the most efficient ways of getting many things done around the world. Electrifying cooking stoves in Africa and Asia, for instance, would make lives healthier and safer.

Threats and Hazards Someone in the Vice President's office doesn't understand the First Amendment
A pointlessly vigilant staffer insisted that a student journalist erase photos of an event from his digital camera. There was no justification for it, and it's the kind of stunt we should expect a White House employee to know better than to try.

Iowa About 2/3rds of Iowa's counties have shrinking populations
Only 31 of 99 counties gained people. The gains were almost exclusively in the counties with, or immediately bordering, the major metro areas -- Des Moines, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Waterloo/Cedar Falls, Dubuque, and the Quad Cities. Some of northwest Iowa's rural counties didn't do too badly, either. Population growth itself isn't the end-all, be-all...but when a population is in persistent decline, that can depress property values and make it difficult for communities to support their essential services. It's reported that about a third of US counties are shrinking.




Threats and Hazards A billion dollars, for what?
North Korea's beligerence has the United States sufficiently concerned that we're going to beef up our missile-defense system on the West Coast. A billion dollars will be spent on the project. It's probably a rational response to a completely irrational game. A billion dollars could do vastly more good in many other ways, but because of Stalinist hot-headedness, we're blowing it on a defensive tool that we can only hope will forever sit idle. Mitt Romney made a good point in a speech this week when he noted that, despite having the world's mightiest military, the US hasn't gone around using it to plunder other countries.

Humor and Good News A much better March Madness bracket
Making the "bracket" a radial diagram rather than a space-consuming bracket chart makes a lot of sense

Aviation News We need better flight simulators
A pilot suggests that current simulator technology doesn't do enough to help pilots get a grip on stalls like the one that caused the Air France crash

Threats and Hazards Chinese police detain a British news crew while they're live on the air


Business and Finance Surprisingly good marketing advice from an article with a spammy title
The title "Why your marketing campaign sucks" suggests that it's purely a Google-bait piece. But it's actually a surprisingly good look at how many folks in public relations and marketing don't understand rule number one: "What's in it for me?" People don't care about jargon-thick statements of corporate principles, and reporters don't want to wade through the nauseatingly spammy press releases they get every day from people who think they're entitled to "earned media". But when there's a real offer of value from one party to another (i.e., from the company doing the marketing to the public or the media), then there's a reason for a reciprocal act to take place. You have to offer something of value before someone will return the favor.




The United States of America Sen. Tom Harkin pushes for a "national manufacturing strategy"
On one hand, it's clear that there are plenty of obstacles to manufacturing in the United States. But the problem with pursuing a "national manufacturing strategy" is that it violates one of the main expectations we should have of our elected officials: They should be curious, competent, and (most importantly) humble. Humility means knowing that the government generally does more good by staying out of the way of the private sector than by trying to conceive and execute a plan for everyone else to follow. It's one thing to seek advice and counsel from people who know a lot about a subject -- like a brain trust or "Kitchen Cabinet". It's quite another to think a national strategy can be conceived and executed from on high. Developing countries -- like Japan and South Korea in the latter half of the 20th Century -- have sometimes benefitted from coordinated national industrial strategies -- but some of their greatest problems have come from letting those policies stay in place for too long. The chaebol and kerietsu probably got too much protection for too long, and that made them susceptible to trouble in the Asian financial panic around the year 2000. On a related note, the shortage of skilled workers in the US is and will remain a problem. And that's another reason why the notion of a "national manufacturing strategy" ought to be held suspect: How can you effectively offer the educational opportunities needed for skilled work when education is so ill-suited to national-scale management and intervention? And when the market itself is what drives the demand for those workers (and when rising pay opportunities still aren't enough to motivate people to seek them), how is Federal intervention going to make things better?

News On the usefulness of shame
Not everything that's bad needs to be regulated by law

Humor and Good News 42 facts about Douglas Adams
When it comes time for personality engines to hit the mainstream, his ought to be one of the first they program

Weather and Disasters Reflections on a massive tornado, 100 years later
We as a species have gotten vastly better at predicting severe weather. It's one of our most shining achievements as the human race. Predicting severe weather in all its forms saves lives.

Broadcasting BBC broadcasts its last bulletin from the old Television House




The American Way Exceptional analysis on the "Arab Spring"
Economist Hernando de Soto nails several major issues missing from a lot of the superficial discussion of what's happened and happening in the Middle East. Significantly, the mistaken notion that "just because we have elections -Ė just because Jimmy Carter comes in and says that we are fine -Ė means that we have democracy". He points out that if there's no accountability to local voters, then the elections really don't mean much. He also points out that the protests started in Tunisia because a man believed (as his family now reports it) "The poor also have the right to buy and sell." It was a commercial appeal -- not an overtly political one. And yet he died for the cause.

The United States of America John F. Kennedy held 64 news conferences in his time in office
On average, one every 16 days. Friday marked the centennial of the first Presidential news conference. President Obama, by comparison, held 36 in his first term.

Health 3D printing of organs will be one of the breakthrough technologies of the next ten years
An Iowa City group thinks it's within six years of producing a pancreas in a lab. This kind of advancement, along with self-piloted cars, will be the technology that creates the next huge leap forward on a scale similar to that of the Internet.

The United States of America Swift reaction to the Republican Party's introspective
The Wall Street Journal's headline called it a "scathing self-analysis". The first major portion of the report's narrative says there are "two parties" inside the GOP: "[T]he gubernatorial wing, is growing and successful. The other, the federal wing, is increasingly marginalizing itself". Whether anything else in the report holds true or not, this single line taps an essential notion: The Republicans can be the "good government" party, especially by showcasing the work that state governors do well. Everyone (minus the anarcho-libertarians) accepts that we must have some government; Republicans have historically done very well when being the party of government that does things well and efficiently in the public trust.

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.




Computers and the Internet On virality
The next Nobel Peace Prize should go to whomever can figure out how to make The Economist-quality content spread virally like the linkbait they post on Buzzfeed. Seriously. Technology is advancing with dizzying speed (drones in the sky...instantaneous social media in the hands of people with no judgment...designer babies on the horizon), and it's not just applicable on the personal or consumer level -- it's forcing a lot of tough questions to be asked of nation-states and businesses as well. We need to know whether North Korea is serious about launching a nuclear war. We need to know whether Israel and Iran (or Israel and Syria) are about to get into a shooting match. We need to know whether big banks are meeting the right "stress tests". But instead, we're being baited relentlessly into clicking ripped-off and regurgitated articles on duckfaces and Beyonce photos. ■ There's something to be applauded about the way The Onion routinely gets satire brilliantly right in a way that actually ends up offering news analysis and criticism that's often better than what's found in sincere, serious news outlets. But getting meaningful content virally exciting really needs to go much farther -- there are volumes of things a person needs to understand today that our counterparts of 100 years ago didn't. Retirement then meant having enough kids that they could support you if you outlived your working life. Now, a basic understanding of mortgages, life insurance, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and options (or at least the dangers thereof) -- plus investment vehicles like IRAs, SEP plans, and the 401(k) are all necessary just to function. Libel way back then meant not calling out your neighbor in front of everyone on the town square; the newspaper publishers generally took care of preventing people from accidentally defaming others in print. Today, the number of social-media errors appearing daily, ranging from the stupid to the outrageous, is exhausting...not to mention the accidental incidents that happen because cameras are everywhere. High technology then was a party-line telephone and -- perhaps -- a radio receiver. Now, you'd better know your adware from your spyware from your viruses from your Trojan horses from your honeypot sites from your phishing from your spoofing from your spamming. And that's before you're asked, as a voter, to be wise enough to know a little about net neutrality, interstate commerce and sales taxes, and whether it's safe to build a pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands across the Great Plains. ■ It's not that these questions are too hard; it's that they aren't being driven, delivered, or discussed with the skills that are make people go crazy for cat videos. That needs to be addressed. For, as little as the linkbaiters actually create for society, they're very good at getting people to read things and stick with them. Now, the people with good ideas need to adopt and co-opt their tricks in order to get what's important out into the public consciousness.

News Suburban mayor wants Chicago Cubs to move Wrigley next door to O'Hare

Socialism Doesn't Work Using government to drive the economy
David Brooks: "[Some] Democrats want to take an astounding $4.2 trillion out of the private sector and put it into government where they believe it can be used more efficiently."

Health Something's gone wrong; the HPV vaccine isn't getting used like it should

Threats and Hazards North Korea won't stop with the threats




Business and Finance Under-funded public-sector pensions are among the biggest anchors on the US economy
Illinois is working on a big reform plan now...which is good, since they have one of the worst under-funding crises

Business and Finance The advantage mortagages have over renting
It's grown quite large due to impossibly low mortgage rates

Computers and the Internet What service will Google shut down next?
Google increasingly cannot be trusted -- not for malice, but for flakiness

Computers and the Internet BlackBerry thinks a new phone will save the company


Aviation News It's well past time to decide some laws about drones
The technology is way ahead of the law right now, and the risks of ill use are huge




Computers and the Internet A look at the week in technology news

Computers and the Internet 7-year-old Twitter finds a niche among diplomats
Lithuanian authorities are directing their ambassadors to get on board with the service

Science and Technology Why drawings of skyscrapers should probably skip the trees

Health Vaccine against malaria doesn't last very long
A durable vaccine would do wonders for the developing world, and something is better than nothing...but it appears to wear off after four years, which isn't much lasting protection.

Health A cure for cancer. Really.
Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering appear to have figured out a way to cure one type of adult leukemia.

Computers and the Internet Stupid language on Facebook costs Nebraska political consultant his job

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)




News Cedar Rapids Gazette to leave the AP on April 1st
They're by no means the first newspaper to acknowledge the ever-rising ratio of costs to benefits from membership. The AP is in an unusual position: It's a co-op, but it's also got a virtual monopoly on mainstream "wire service" news delivery. There are lots of other wire services, of course, but ever since UPI basically fell off the face of the Earth, the AP has been utterly dominant. Some competition would serve the market well. One thing we should all expect to see is that newspapers that rely mainly on wire copy are going to become unprofitable and irrelevant; if it's news everyone got yesterday on their smartphones, then the dead-tree reprint of the same isn't going to mean much. But papers that provide a unique angle, deep coverage of local news, and engaging analysis and commentary are going to have a bright future. The Omaha World-Herald, for instance, is smart to have a whole section devoted to covering Warren Buffett, and it's only sensible that the Deseret News has a heavy focus on the LDS church. Both papers "get it" -- at least to some extent.

Aviation News Who should lead the next space race?
Robert Krulwich isn't sure whether it should be publicly-funded NASA, as Neil Degrasse Tyson insists, or "self-nominated, can-do, sometimes obnoxious business people". Since Krulwich and Tyson are certainly two of the smartest people in the room, it's an interesting question and worthy of debate.

Business and Finance EBRI study: Half of American workers have very little confidence in their retirement savings
That's despite a rebound in the stock market. The gap between economic perceptions and stock market performance has many causes, but we may be to the point where there's nothing left (fundamentally speaking) but for the prices of American companies to go up.

Iowa State of Iowa doles out another batch of economic-development incentives

Science and Technology Lockheed joins the exoskeleton race
These things are remarkable: They can strap to people's bodies and give them superhuman strength and endurance -- or restore mobility for those whose muscles don't work properly on their own. Fascinating stuff.




Business and Finance Jobs for young workers are important for creating career paths
It's not so important what particular job a young worker gets, so much as getting some kind of job at all. The early working years are more important for developing the basic skills of functioning in the workforce than for developing particular job-specific disciplines (though it certainly doesn't hurt). That's why proposals to raise the minimum wage should be greeted with deep skepticism. The intent behind raising the minimum wage is generally good -- people want low-wage working families to have a little less struggle. But since half of minimum-wage workers are young, raising those wages by law means invariably that employers will find substitutes. Anyone who's seen a self-checkout lane in a grocery store has participated in this substitution of technology for low-wage workers, so there's no denying that it happens. And if higher minimum wages means fewer job opportunities for young workers, then it creates a longer-term effect that depresses their future earnings potential. This is happening right now in Britain and France, and we're fools to risk it happening here in America, too. Helping low-wage families is better done through strategies like raising the Earned Income Tax Credit. We shouldn't let good intentions substitute for good policy.

Iowa Crews cleaning old hospital discover a skeleton they can't identify

Broadcasting "80 percent of MSNBC's ratings come from people who watch it for 150 minutes or more a day"
And roughly the same reportedly goes for Fox News. It can't be mentally healthy to spend that much time inside an echo chamber.




Iowa Score one for human goodness
After the deeply saddening stories about assault, taunting, and exploitation of vulnerable people in Connecticut and Ohio, it's good to read a story about people taking care of one another when one of them is discovered in a helpless state. Newspaper carrier Ralph Miller found a teenaged girl alone and in danger this past weekend in Cedar Rapids, and he rescued her from likely death. There is much good left in humanity.

Computers and the Internet How to protect and bolster your kid's online reputation
Like it or not, everyone leaves behind a digital footprint on the Internet, and that footprint is finding its way into job interviews and college admissions decisions. Start early and work hard to make sure your kid has a profile that gives them the best possible leg-up on the future.

Iowa Plans in place to restore the Younkers Tea Room
It's not clear that we really should be spending $15 million in public money (via tax credits) to restore it and other historic parts of the downtown Des Moines building, but putting that aside, it will certainly warm a lot of hearts to have the old place back.

Humor and Good News The Onion takes on the Supreme Court gay-marriage case
There can be a great deal of truth in satire.

News Hard feelings about Wrigleyville in the public eye

The United States of America Fascinating story on disability payments in America

Broadcasting "The Americans" actually has roots in real spy programs
The FX show about a sleeper KGB cell in America actually has basis in real spy-cell stories from the present day

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Computers and the Internet Leave a flower in the Google Product graveyard
The company's habit of starting up a product and then cancelling it just causes people to distrust that any new products will be around for the long term. Makes it tough for people to justify using them for critical business purposes...which, incidentally, is the kind of product category that makes so much money for Microsoft.

News Test drive of a Dodge Ram ends up in a big fire
Well...that was awkward.

Humor and Good News Mr. T goes to the hockey rink
(Video)




The United States of America America's real state boundaries
A physicist has taken the data from "Where's George?" and mapped out where Americans appear to do most of our business with one another. Not surprisingly, Texas is like a giant free-standing economy, and Iowa is half-like three separate states...but at the same time, half-like one mega-state in combination with Nebraska. Minnesota and the Dakotas are like one giant state, too. Pretty interesting sociology and cartography.

Business and Finance Our economic condition, summarized
GDP (gross domestic product) is growing somewhere in the neighborhood of 2% a year. While it's not shrinking or in a standstill, it's not a particularly swift growth rate. Meanwhile, Americans are saving about 4% of personal income. Again, better than nothing (which is literally how low the rate was just a few years ago), but again, not anything that merits a fireworks show. Residential construction is in a boom again after going through a depression, and businesses seem to be doing a lot of investment.

The United States of America Lincoln (Nebraska) has the nation's highest level of well-being

Science and Technology Natural gas: From 19% of US electricity generation to 30% in half a decade
Natural gas is so phenomenally cheap right now that it's displacing other sources of fuel for electrical generation, especially coal. Over time, the price can't remain as low as it is -- but for now, it's subsidizing America's economy by providing cheaper power than we otherwise would be getting. What's important now: Finding a way to bridge between current fossil-fuel power sources and future non-fossil ones, using what we have available right now.

Computers and the Internet Google collects before-and-after photos from the Japanese tsunami
They've created a site in the name of "Memories for the Future" that collects a combination of user-submitted photos as well as Google Street View shots in order to document life before and after the event. It's a single instance of what will end up being a much larger industry in the future: Documentation of how things looked in time. Right now, you can use services like Google Earth and Street View to see what things looked like at some relatively-recent instant in the past. But pictures of the same town may have been taken at totally different times, and differ considerably from, say, satellite or aerial shots of the same locations. What's needed is not just a geographical index (allowing users to search for a specific place) but also a temporal one (that specific place on or about a certain time). We're probably a long way from that.

Computers and the Internet Google announces winners of its promotion to get Google Glass first





Weather and Disasters What's causing our erratic climatic patterns
...maybe.

Broadcasting The week in technology
Show notes for the WHO Radio Wise Guys this week

Computers and the Internet How to save your feeds from Google Reader


Business and Finance How cheap natural gas in the US could crunch Chinese manufacturing




Broadcasting The week in "making money and having fun"
The notes behind the March 31, 2013 edition of the "Brian Gongol Show" on WHO Radio, which is archived online for on-demand listening.

Telephone or text: 918-2-GONGOL (+1-918-246-6465)