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









Business and Finance Thanks for the enthusiasm, but let's stick to the facts
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew appeared on "Fox News Sunday" and at one point said, "[I]t's my job to try to make sure we strengthen the economy, and I spend every day trying to do that." While the superficial enthusiasm for the economy is nice to hear, that's not the job of the Secretary of the Treasury. The Treasury Department does a lot of things, but the original Treasury Act of 1789 didn't say anything about a responsibility to the economy as a whole; instead, it charged the Treasury with making and keeping accounts by collecting taxes and other revenues and by managing how they are spent. At a time of government shutdown, perhaps it's worth asking whether we're keeping the Treasury occupied enough with its essential tasks, and not over-extending the scope of responsibility far more than is healthy for the department (and the country). Mission creep that grows to the extent that the Treasury Secretary thinks his primary job is to manage the economy (rather than to collect taxes and pay the nation's bills) probably points us in the wrong direction.











News Chinese state media call for "De-Americanization"

Humor and Good News Fukushima Industries needs some branding guidance

News Popular beliefs that hold back the world's progress
Surprisingly thought-provoking analysis from Cracked

News Banksy goes undercover
Is art really all that attractive if people don't know who the artist really is?

Humor and Good News Tobias Funke times six

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Business and Finance Another argument for this being the Era of the Judgment Economy
The "knowledge economy" isn't what really matters. As has been argued here since at least 2009, we are in the Era of the Judgment Economy.

Broadcasting The hidden number in "Futurama" episodes

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News How can the Old Gray Lady not understand the institutional imperative?
They've renamed the International Herald-Tribune as the "International New York Times". Silly move. They've been building the IHT brand for over 125 years...so why pull the plug?

Agriculture Why ethanol just got a lot cheaper

News Pope Francis worries some conservative Catholics
That's too bad. His attitude about what's really important has been refreshing.

Iowa Iowa and Nebraska are the two most fiscally-sound states in the country

Iowa UNI College of Business Administration gets "Best Business School" endorsement

Health The addictive Oreo

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Business and Finance Warren Buffett's latest round of one-liners
Speaking in Washington, DC, the investor noted (on the subject of women being kept out of business and public policy for much of America's history): "Look at how far the country came using half of its talent. Think of what we can do using all of it."

Computers and the Internet Twitter changes its direct-message policy
And that could lead to a bit of spam if you're not careful

Computers and the Internet Mark Zuckerberg buys out the neighbors
Facebook's founder wishes not to become a tourist attraction, apparently

Computers and the Internet Apple gets its space-saucer world headquarters
They're building it in Cupertino, California, where the city council just approved the plans for the enormous, heavily-stylized campus

News All copy, no originality
Chinese cities are being built as intentional replicas of other world cities. Ironically, this copycat behavior is happening at the same time as Chinese cash is being used to buy up lots of real "original" assets elsewhere.




Business and Finance Mortage rates remain bargain-basement low, but rates paid on savings are even lower
Problem: Banks got into a lot of trouble a few years ago for not having enough capital, particularly when some of their loans went bad. Solution: They're trying to increase capital by spreading the gap between what they charge borrowers and what they pay to savers. But that, in turn, is locking up lots of money in the banks without actually making it circulate through the economy. And that's partially why we have a very low monetary velocity right now. Super-low. Which in turn is how the Federal Reserve can keep on trying to "quantitatively ease" the economy without actually causing any serious price inflation. The enormous -- titanic, really -- task ahead of the next Federal Reserve chair (presumably Janet Yellen) is figuring out when the monetary velocity corner has been turned, and then taking money out of the economy fast enough to prevent inflation but not so fast that it chokes off the economy. It's going to be one of the biggest challenges in economic history, and godspeed to her.

The United States of America "Competence and humility"
An endorsement for Joe Lhota in his run for mayor of New York City says he "possesses a refreshing combination of competence and humility." Those are two of the three most important things we can find in our public officials. The third is curiosity, and Lhota seems to be an intellectually-curious guy, as well.

Computers and the Internet Now presenting: Windows 8.1

Threats and Hazards Criminal teams are hiring computer hackers to facilitate drug-smuggling

Aviation News Give it two more years and we might have flying cars

Science and Technology Maybe early humans weren't a bunch of different sub-species after all




Business and Finance Retirement-savings insecurity keeping older workers from retiring
Some of the surveys suggest that half of people in the upper age ranges of the workforce are putting off retirement. We find ourselves in a complicated spot: Part of the point of Social Security was to ensure that older workers got out of the workforce so that younger workers would have someplace to go. If the older workers don't depart, there's a surplus of labor and wages are pushed down. But here's the rub: Social Security isn't enough for a comfortable retirement, and everybody who honestly looks at it knows that. So we (very sensibly) encourage people to save and invest on their own for retirement. This, in turn, makes us both workers and capitalists. But, ironically, as we pour money into retirement savings (in other words, increase investment capital), our interests as capitalists cause us to demand higher returns on our investments. And right now, the real gains in profits aren't coming from investing in new workers -- they're coming from automation, computerization, and other investments in equipment. Why hire new workers when there's so much uncertainty in doing so and so much greater certainty in the returns to better computers, robots, and machines? That's why we are still talking about a more than five-year-long "jobless recovery", in which the nation's total output is back to normal, without the same number of workers as before. Big companies are letting go of workers while still trying to get the same amount of business done, and that only happens when they're able to employ tools that make their remaining workers more productive. It's complex -- and anyone who tries to break things down into oversimplified matters of things like "corporate greed" just doesn't get that complication. Most people are both workers and capitalists at the same time, and there are important reasons to figure out how to avoid high and persistent unemployment without wasting the resources that help savers and investors enjoy something in retirement.

Business and Finance Justice Department and JPMorgan Chase reach $13 billion civil settlement
The bank's going to have to pay $9 billion in fines and penalties, and essentially rebate $4 billion to customers. Oy. It's been argued that JPMorgan is paying a big penalty for having salvaged the biggest bank failure in US history back in 2008...which the government, of course, wanted somebody to do.

Humor and Good News Is it too soon to find out what ads we'll see during the Super Bowl?
Nestle is going to roll out a Butterfinger-based version of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. This development is going to do wonders for American waistlines.




Business and Finance Progress towards ending poverty
The Brookings Institution reports that the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half worldwide since 1990. That's exceptional progress, with more to be made. They think it may be possible to get to a point where almost nobody is left in extreme poverty by 2030, which would be a remarkable win for humanity. The tools that encourage the growth that unlock human potential and take us towards having a truly global middle class aren't going to come from command-style economies, and never have.

Health Maybe we sleep so our brains can take out the chemical trash
Proteins that build up inside the brain and that can form harmful plaques may be flushed during sleep, allowing the brain to remain healthy

Science and Technology It's hard to find a more optimistic futurist than Google's Ray Kurzweil
Google's director of engineering, who just spoke in Omaha, thinks we're close to a future with 150-year-old people and nanobots floating through our bloodstreams, cleaning out our arteries. It will be interesting to see whether his big-picture visions have an influence on Google, which for all its successes is still utterly dependent upon advertising dollars (they're 92% of all Google revenues). They have the people and equipment necessary to make some bold innovations in important areas that could be highly profitable. But unlike Microsoft, which is so integral to commerce that it has a big cushion against change, Google is driven by speculation about what could make money someday -- not by an engine of profits that more or less guarantees income, even if they make a few errors. It's a tough place for such a significant company.

Threats and Hazards What kind of brokenness causes people to take a flesh-eating drug?
A synthetic drug meant to be a lot like morphine is pretty well likely to kill its users within two years by eating their flesh. It's virtually unfathomable that (a) anyone would produce it or (b) anyone would take it. Something is profoundly broken in the minds of both sets of people. To think that they're of the same species that made it to the moon.

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Iowa Sioux City is on the hook for a bad loan it co-signed




Business and Finance Spain's economy grows at 0.1%
Which is enough to technically end the recession there

Humor and Good News Whomever came up with the Dos Equis "Most Interesting Man" concept is an advertising genius

Business and Finance PriceWaterhouseCoopers wants to buy Booz Allen Hamilton
There aren't enough available characters on the keyboard to spell the resulting name

Business and Finance Kiplinger Letter forecasts Chinese buyers to put $1 trillion into US assets over the next decade

News Some gang of idiots decided to put "We love you long time" on a billboard in Portland's Chinatown




Business and Finance Chinese state-run news media accuse Starbucks of overcharging Chinese consumers
Who knew that they were being held at gunpoint and forced to buy coffee?

Business and Finance Half of people approaching retirement are adding debt faster than they're saving

Computers and the Internet NSA accused of spying directly on Google

Computers and the Internet It's not a coincidence that Android's latest release is called "KitKat"
They've been naming the different iterations of the operating system in alphabetical order, using dessert names (ice cream sandwich, froyo, and so on), but this one's a "branding partnership".

Business and Finance What Americans own of foreign companies
There's a lot of fretting about foreign investment in the United States, but it's worth noting that Americans own foreign stocks as well. And at the end of last year (the last time for which data are available), Americans held on to $5.3 trillion in stock in foreign companies, and another $2.5 trillion in their debts.

Health "Football is bad for you, and that's ok"
A columnist argues that it's the maintenance of the illusion that there can be safety behind pads and helmets and mouth guards that really makes things dangerous

Business and Finance A little less compensation for investment bankers?


Iowa Iowa's traffic-enforcement-by-camera debate continues
Police representatives showed up to a hearing in Ankeny to argue that traffic-enforcement camera systems should be kept

Humor and Good News Good advice on the art of being a man
From Kareem Abdul-Jabbar







Computers and the Internet What to do about ransomware like Cryptolocker






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




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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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




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

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

Weather and Disasters Terrible typhoon hits the Philippines

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

News China's buttering up to Israel

Business and Finance Low interest rates as inter-generational combat

Health The real hazards of electronic cigarettes

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




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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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




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.



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

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

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

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

Humor and Good News The unpardonable turkey




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

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

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

Humor and Good News Resolving some loose ends
(Video)

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




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

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

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

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

Business and Finance Hilton Hotels is going public




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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

Computers and the Internet All the wingdings in one chart

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




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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

Broadcasting What broadcasters get wrong about podcasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science and Technology Can species extinction be undone?

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

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

Computers and the Internet Using games to recruit better workers

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Iowa Skill shortages keep Iowa businesses from growing

Business and Finance Trump's four bankruptcies

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

Health Vaccination works
We should be enormously thankful for their success

News The Obama Administration's campaign against photojournalists




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

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

Aviation News Police helicopter crashes into Scottish bar

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

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

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

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

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




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

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











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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

News Yet another revoution brewing in the Ukraine?




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

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

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

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

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


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

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




Iowa Judge puts the brakes on the Hard Rock Sioux City

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

Agriculture Iowa farmland prices hit a new peak

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

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

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




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

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

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

Agriculture China is trying to steal seed secrets


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




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

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

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

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

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





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

Computers and the Internet A big failure at Yahoo Mail


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


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

Humor and Good News Making it all the way to Mexico





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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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




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


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


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


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

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




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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

Iowa Cameras in the courtroom, meet the smartphone age

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

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

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



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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iowa State-owned resort is barely breaking even

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

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

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




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

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

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




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

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

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

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


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

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

Humor and Good News Chipmunk plans better than most people
(Video)

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




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

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

News Whatever happened to painting ceilings like the sky?

Computers and the Internet Tips for the infographic creator

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

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

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

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

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

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




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