Gongol.com Archives: 2013 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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".

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

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.