Gongol.com Archives: February 2014

Brian Gongol

February 2014
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February 3, 2014

Computers and the Internet Google sells Motorola Mobility to Lenovo
Not a great investment on Google's part, it turns out. And the company needs to avoid big mistakes in order to survive into the future.

Business and Finance US personal income rose 2.8% in 2013
But we saved a lot less (in total) in 2013 than in 2012. By $126 billion.

Computers and the Internet CNN to automatically mine Twitter for news tips

Weather and Disasters Cedar Rapids bounces back from disastrous flood, largely by its own bootstraps

Business and Finance What not to buy at "dollar" stores
(Other than anything you would put in or on your body)

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February 4, 2014

Business and Finance It's time for the next generation in credit cards
The huge Target security breach hammers home that point

Science and Technology NHTSA wants cars to transmit location data to one another
If we can effectively enable inter-vehicle communication in a way that mimics the swarming behavior of ants (for instance), we could all end up much safer on the roads

Computers and the Internet Microsoft names its next CEO
Interesting: They're putting their cloud-services chief in charge of the whole company and (supposedly) increasing Bill Gates's role once again

Weather and Disasters NOAA's looking for better ways to issue weather warnings to the public

Broadcasting Why Maria Bartiromo quit CNBC
Ambitious people who don't see anyone seeking to help them advance can't be blamed for looking around for other options

Recent radio podcasts

February 5, 2014

Science and Technology Inventor James Dyson says there's a shortage of engineering skill in the West

Computers and the Internet Emergency update to Adobe Flash

Humor and Good News Delta takes its in-flight safety video back to the 80s
(Video) Some of the gags are superficial...but others are sublime

Humor and Good News A world-class fair in Omaha in 1898
It's deeply revealing to take an occasional look back at the things we considered the state of the art in the past

News Could the British royal family get any more ridiculous?
The queen is sending her "personal dresser" to help put Duchess Kate in longer skirts. Really?


February 6, 2014

Business and Finance BLS claims a 3.2% annualized increase in US labor productivity
If true and accurate, it's great news. Economic growth (per capita) is necessarily the result of increased productivity. More productivity means faster growth.

Computers and the Internet Now the computer crooks have turned to fake funeral announcements
They'll clearly do anything to get you to let down your guard and click on a malicious link

News The attempt to legalize targeted killings of American citizens in the "War on Terror"
Do we demand security at any cost?

Computers and the Internet The hacking threat to Sochi Olympics visitors and participants

Science and Technology Impressive visualizations of science

Humor and Good News A response to Russia's "gay propaganda" ban

Humor and Good News Drink Leninade!

Recent radio podcasts

February 7, 2014

Iowa Envy isn't an economic policy
Richard Doak used to edit the opinion pages of the Des Moines Register. Now he's just opining on his own, saying that Iowa needs a Minnesota-style economic policy (which he characterizes as being part of their "more progressive politics"). Not everything he suggests is wrong -- we'd be better off finding an escape route from the free-for-all of economic-development incentives. But suggesting that we need a "more progressive state income tax" is boneheaded. The state's tax system is already too complex and riddled with special deductions. Flatten the rate and simplify the system. And don't think Iowa needs to become more "progressive" (code language for "more inclined to spend") in order to succeed.

Weather and Disasters Putting knowledge of user experience to work alongside weather forecasting
The science of weather forecasting has improved a lot over recent decades. Now it's time to improve the communication of that science to a public that doesn't seem especially interested in specialized information.

Business and Finance What would it really take to unionize college football players?
They're trying to do it at Northwestern

Weather and Disasters How much snow has to fall before school gets cancelled?

Humor and Good News There's a perfect way to hold your hamburger
But you'll look pretty silly doing it

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February 8, 2014

Computers and the Internet Upworthy is winning the "curiosity gap" for now
But the site's formula for successful leverage on Facebook won't last forever

Business and Finance So...Porsche owns half of Volkswagen
...but Volkswagen owns the Porsche brand name. Interesting corporate structure.

Weather and Disasters Recent temperatures established a new record for frost depth in Iowa
29" down from the ground level. The measurements are still relatively new, but that's pretty deep.

Iowa Iowa's Civil War monument at the State Capitol

Humor and Good News Movie prequels we'd like to see

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February 9, 2014

Broadcasting Jay Leno moves out, and Jimmy Fallon gets ready to move in
Leno may have been hard-working and successful in attracting (and keeping) an audience, but he never really used his five hours a week in the world spotlight to do much of anything to elevate the human condition. He had a tremendous soapbox on which to stand, and never really said anything really sincere or deeply thoughtful. It doesn't have to be a Charlie Rose kind of show every night, but you don't have to look any farther than Craig Ferguson to see occasional examples of moments that are both entertaining and thoughtful. Instead, Leno's usual routine was bland and lowest-common-denominator, based largely upon pointing and laughing at someone else for being stupid (see "Jaywalking").

Business and Finance GDP is just one among many useful measurements
It's roughly like the measurement of airspeed in an airplane: Absolutely essential, but not the only thing that matters. So, those who would jettison GDP as a measurement of well-being are just being blinded by some ulterior distaste for economic growth (or an unhealthy obsession with equalizing outcomes), but anyone who cartoonishly ignores every other measure for sake of GDP alone is also missing the point. It's an imperfect measurement, but it's also one of the most important, by far.

News Former "McGruff the Crime Dog" actor is going to prison for 16 years

Business and Finance Railcar graffiti: If it isn't yours, don't paint it
But at a cost of $1,000 to repaint a car, owners sometimes don't want to bother. One could wonder whether there's a way to channel the work of the frustrated artists who are just looking for a canvas (as opposed to the gang members and criminally-oriented taggers).

Business and Finance Burlington Northern will spend $5 billion on capital improvements in 2014
A huge amount of America's infrastructure is actually privately-funded and privately-maintained. But if one railroad can spend $5 billion in a year, are we doing enough to keep up with our public-sector infrastructre spending -- or are we just deferring much-needed maintenance and hoping it fails after we're gone?

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February 10, 2014

Business and Finance Mexico is about to become the #2 exporter of cars to the US
It's overtaking Japan and could soon beat out Canada, too

Weather and Disasters Atlanta's snow catastrophe: It was forecast...but the people who should've listened didn't

Iowa Robber picks the wrong Casey's store
An Iowa DCI agent was in the parking lot

Computers and the Internet The US power grid needs better cybersecurity

Business and Finance One-paragraph review of "Damn Right! Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger"

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February 12, 2014

Computers and the Internet How Facebook is putting people inside dangerous echo chambers

Business and Finance Everything's a trade-off
For the cost of the Sochi Olympic Games, Russia could have just bought every team in the NFL and the NHL

Broadcasting The risks to radio as it ignores personality development

Iowa A $15 million mansion at Okoboji

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February 13, 2014

Business and Finance Comcast announces plans to buy Time Warner for $45 billion
That's a premium of 50% over the intrinsic value of Time Warner, but the compulsion to get bigger can compel a lot of bizarre decisions. If Comcast were actually seeking to spend $45 billion in optimal ways, buying Time Warner for such a premium price would not be the way. As usual, there's talk of savings from synergies, but here's how to tell something about this is a raw deal: it's an all-stock deal. Those only make sense when the acquiring company thinks its own stock is wildly over-priced by the market and the target company is unreasonably cheap. That can hardly be the analysis here -- in fact, while Time Warner is overpriced, Comcast is quite fairly priced. That's like going into a store and not only paying full retail price, but paying a premium on top of the retail price, and doing it on a credit card that doesn't even offer rewards points. (And, again, someone used the word "synergies" in the press release. That's usually a huge red flag.)

Business and Finance Slowing down high-frequency traders by delaying press releases
It might be a sensible first step

The United States of America Natural-gas production is through the roof, but storage and distribution are choke points

Humor and Good News Betty White is everywhere
(Video) Including in-flight safety briefings

Humor and Good News Does your candy match your politics?

@briangongol on Twitter

February 14, 2014

Business and Finance Interpreting stock charts the wrong way
Someone pointed out to CNBC that a chart of the stock market in 1929 looks a lot like the chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average from 2012 until today. There are so many things wrong with this interpretation: First, there will be uncanny similarities and eerie patterns in stock charts all the time -- because they are fractal in nature. They can be self-similar at wide ranges of scale (that is, a minute-by-minute chart, stripped of the time scale, can look a lot like a month-to-month chart with the same number of data points). The prices mean nothing in isolation -- prices matter only in relation to fundamental matters of value (and, by the way, the DJIA of 2014 has virtually nothing in common with that of 1929 other than its name and the highly arbitrary way in which it is calculated). And, above all else, it is not really the "price" of the market in aggregate that counts, but rather the individual prices of many different companies, each in relation to its intrinsic value. People who look to charts like some magical set of tea leaves are only asking to be buffaloed by self-proclaimed wizards who know nothing but their own chart alchemy. The truth of the matter is that there are many over-priced companies in the US stock market right now, at a ratio of perhaps 2:1 over the number of under-priced or fairly-priced securities. But that's something far different from a market on the brink of a crash.

Agriculture Iowa suffered a big drop in farm income from 2012 to 2013

Business and Finance The importance of manufacturing to Africa's future

Business and Finance The danger of out-of-touch business executives

Computers and the Internet Wearable computing: Still finding its way in the world
Lots of users lose interest and stop using them after just a matter of months

News Time for "Le Selfie"
Nobody seems impressed by the decorum of the French press corps along for the ride to Washington this week

@briangongol on Twitter

February 15, 2014

Weather and Disasters There has to be a better strategy than praying we don't get obliterated by space rocks
Any strategy to protect our fragile existence on this planet has to include a plan to prevent a catastrophe caused by the arrival of a large asteroid. That plan would have to include surveillance (knowing where the threats are and when we might face them), prevention (some approach for deflecting, destroying, or otherwise reducing the impact thereof), and mitigation (figuring out what our greatest vulnerabilities are and how to buttress them). And whatever goes for space rocks goes double for threats like volcanic eruptions and earthquakes -- things that are also bound to happen that we (unfortunately) still don't understand well.

Computers and the Internet Security breach at Kickstarter
Another case that should remind people of the importance of having different passwords across different websites

Iowa The cultural importance of the Midwest

The United States of America How Presidents judge other Presidents

Humor and Good News Gnarles Barkley recorded "Crazy" in one take

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February 16, 2014

Iowa Abandoned school buildings in Iowa
There are many. And many of them were constructed solidly, so the bones and the shells of the buildings are still in fine shape. But lots of them were constructed using means and materials (like asbestos insulation) that make them hazardous and expensive to return to good use (perhaps repurposed as apartments or office buildings). It's a good example of why we should think about requiring demolition bonds to accompany new construction. ■ We can't perfectly match the lifespan of a building to its useful life, so instead of leaving abandoned buildings standing where they can become health and safety hazards or diminish the value of their surrounding neighborhoods, why not pre-pay a small amount at the time of construction to ensure that there's a set-aside fund available when it's time to tear down the structure? ■ It's not just an American problem, either: Japan faces enormous costs to remove old buildings that are abandoned and unsafe -- including some, for instance, that don't meet earthquake safety standards. Given how hard it is to get people to pay for maintenance and upkeep without deferring some of those costs out of convenience, responsible societies should think about forcing pre-payment of those costs so that they don't accumulate needlessly and burden later generations with the cost of cleaning up old buildings they never used in the first place.

Broadcasting Revealed preferences on Facebook: Who's in a relationship?
There's a pretty predictable pattern -- people's patterns of posting with their counterpart change dramatically (on average) as a relationship begins

Business and Finance "[W]hat does a good boss do better than a poor one? In a word, teach."
A Stanford study measures the productivity of teams at a large company and finds that replacing a bad boss with a good one does more to improve productivity on a team than adding a whole new worker.

News An argument for academic relevance
Not relativism, but relevance to the real world. Nicholas Kristof makes a strong argument in a New York Times column that the highest stratum of academia "glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience" and needs to spend more time on Twitter.

@briangongol on Twitter

February 17, 2014

Socialism Doesn't Work "[W]e elect governments that are happy to be extorted"
...by companies with enough cachet that politicians don't want them to leave

Socialism Doesn't Work UN commission wants North Korean regime brought to trial for crimes against humanity
On that point, they are right. But the commission muffled the criticism with this erroneous line: "These are not mere excesses of the State; they are essential components of a political system that has moved far from the ideals on which it claims to be founded." There is no such thing as an "ideal" in a Communist state. Communism is an exercise in putting a "people's movement" face on a naked power-grab by the leaders of the Communist Party. It has never been anything but. The fact there are 200,000 people in the North Korean gulag system for political "crimes" is proof enough of that.

Business and Finance Peugot is about to become one-third Chinese-owned
It's another example of the sale of Western assets to China, which is a trend that will continue and accelerate as long as Western countries continue to borrow more than they save and import more than they export. France has a large trade deficit, and that means, on net, they're exporting Euros...which are finding their way back to Europe in exchange for ownership stakes in European companies. ■ If that's a bad thing (and it may be or not, depending on whether you prefer consumption or ownership), then thoughtful people should do some thinking about how to change course. (It should be noted, by the way, that some net-exporter countries, like Germany and [sometimes] Japan, have themselves made big investments in the US, which is why Volkswagen has plants in Tennessee and Toyota has plants in Indiana. ■ Foreign ownership isn't necessarily a bad thing, at least not by definition. And it's a bad move to play politics with the export success of our allies, as the Obama Treasury Department has done with Germany.)

Business and Finance How to really help low-income workers: Expand the EITC
Minimum-wage hikes don't tend to really put more money in the pockets of low-wage workers. And they have a negative side effect: They reduce the number of options for young people to get after-school jobs, which depresses their future earnings prospects and can run the risk of leaving us with lots of unemployed teenagers hanging around with nothing productive to do (and that doesn't usually end well -- just ask France). Moreover, raising the minimum wage does away with options for people who want supplemental income to their regular jobs. If the point is really to help poor people, we should do what actually works -- and that's consider an expansion of the EITC. Skepticism about the value of a minimum-wage increase doesn't mean the skeptic is against helping the poor -- it may just mean he or she thinks there's a better way.

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February 18, 2014

Business and Finance Americans are back to borrowing a whole lot of money
The reign of good behavior (paying down debt and socking money into savings) may be over. Consumers borrowed a quarter-trillion in the last quarter of 2013.

Humor and Good News The science of a good harmony
Strangely, we don't quite seem to understand why a really good musical harmony can trigger the goosebumps, but sure enough, it's a widely-recognized phenomenon. Odd how there are so many things that are practically universal that we just plain don't understand at all...especially involving the brain.

Computers and the Internet The comparatively poor performance (and price) of US broadband Internet access

Computers and the Internet Facebook goes on the counterattack against Upworthy

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.
@briangongol on Twitter

February 19, 2014

Business and Finance Should Apple buy Tesla Motors?
Apple has a massive stockpile of cash, but is this their smartest potential investment? Car companies are a tough, tough business; there may be lower-hanging fruit.

Humor and Good News The trials of women's sports
(Warning: Strong language) The Onion reports on the US women's hockey team like no other source can

Computers and the Internet Are those who delete their past condemned to repeat it?
US News deletes its online archives from before 2007. Apparently, they don't believe in the "long tail" effect.

Aviation News US Airways CEO makes a hefty profit on stock appreciation
The December merger of American and US Airways left him with a big profit on US Airways stock he bought on the open market in 2008.

Business and Finance Good reading on entrepreneurship
Some countries have a lot of small businesses because it's too hard to get big.

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February 20, 2014

The United States of America Bill Gates: "[P]olitics needs to focus on the problems rather than attacking the other side"
Spoken like a true technocrat -- a type of influencer that has fallen out of favor over time, but that we need to bring back to the table. There aren't many engineers, programmers, or microeconomists who feel comfortable weighing in on public policy from a purely pragmatic perspective...but we could use them. It's not sensible to just occasionally point vaguely in the direction of "scientists" when arguing about subjects like global warming. We have legions of technically-trained people who have helpful ways of analyzing and addressing local, national, and global problems, and we should be eager to get their input.

News Who makes the law for the Keystone XL pipeline?
The degree to which different authorities have their fingers in things makes it tough to cut through

Humor and Good News Brian Williams (unwittingly) performs "Rapper's Delight"

Computers and the Internet The dangers of using apps to look for love
Leaving a breadcrumb trail of the places you visit -- especially when signaling that you may be single and unaccompanied -- could be a really bad idea

Health A novel approach to caring for people with dementia
Creating a safe, enclosed space in which they are protected from wandering-off incidents, but can remain surrounded by familiarity

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February 21, 2014

Business and Finance The disruption obsession
USA Today columnist Michael Wolff looks at the return of Bill Gates to a technical role at Microsoft as a case study in "a new kind of business distinction: the super cool and the woefully uncool". That's not quite the problem. What's really going on is that there are plenty of successful, profitable firms that have done a poor job of conveying their 30,000-foot view of the company's mission and the large goals they have along the way (the core of the "Built to Last" thesis), and at the same time, there are lots of popular stories being told about "disruptive" companies and projects that capture too much of the public's imagination. What's really the greater mission: Creating the software that makes modern commerce possible, or blowing through a bunch of venture capital in an effort to disrupt some niche market with no real path to profitability? To be sure, we need both evolutionary progress and revolutionary innovations. But just because someone can cobble together an app doesn't make them smarter than someone who can figure out real-world, hands-on problems that don't get them tweeted-about in the "silicon" tabloid circles.

Computers and the Internet Google says it wants to bring fiber-optic service to nine more US metro areas
They're in Provo, Kansas City, and Austin already; Portland, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Antonio, Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and Atlanta are all under consideration

Computers and the Internet Kids in an Omaha neighborhood learn programming early
At a pre-teen age. One parent is teaching the classes. Terrific story.

Business and Finance The cost (in increased unemployment) of a higher minimum wage

Weather and Disasters Ice on the Chicago River
Time-lapse video converts slow motion into something much prettier

@briangongol on Twitter

February 22, 2014

Business and Finance Skills gaps in the workplace
Is it the employer's job or the employee's job to fill the gaps?

News DoD puts $70 million into Chicago manufacturing institute

News Head of Mexican drug cartel captured
The sooner Mexico can break the backs of the drug cartels, the better


February 23, 2014

Broadcasting CNN is dumping Piers Morgan
And not a moment too soon. He lacked any sense of humility. His problem was not that he was a Briton looking at American politics and issues -- it's that he was so utterly and openly contemptuous of so many American ways of doing things.

Broadcasting Radio notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 23, 2014
The "And then China takes over" edition

@briangongol on Twitter

February 24, 2014

Science and Technology The "word gap" in children's brains
(Video) Research suggests that kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds get a huge head start over kids from lower-status backgrounds, just based upon the larger vocabularies of their parents. The gap appears incredibly early (before 18 months) and appears to be durable well into older age.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft drops Windows 8.1 cost to $15 for some OEMs
They're hoping a big cut in price might help stave off competition from Apple and Google

News They may actually go ahead and build the Chicago Spire
A 2,000-foot tower in the Windy City. Necessary? Not in the least. But people do like a good symbol.

Computers and the Internet UIowa basketball coach tells players to suspend their Twitter accounts
There's been some unreasonable reaction by "fans" to some recent play. It's the behavior of unreasonable, immature jerks. But those people exist, and the Internet allows them to step up on a very public soapbox. For the time being, it may make sense for the coach to order his players off the virtual field in order to stop the bleeding. But it's really about time for universities to realize that the genie is out of the bottle and focus on training students (including student-athletes) to know what to say and when online. Prohibitions never last forever.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

February 25, 2014

News Are newspapers failing their communities?

Business and Finance Public power district discovers its waste sand is worth a fortune
Someday, America's landfills will be highly treasured for the resources they contain, too.

Business and Finance Income inequality by city
Obsession with inequality for its own sake isn't particularly productive. But if it is a symptom of other concerns, then knowing where it's large or small may be valuable.

Computers and the Internet There's over-sharing, and then there's being over-shared

Health Why smoke to get lung cancer when you can just breathe in China?
Rich democracies have the best environmental protection

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February 26, 2014

Science and Technology Digital librarians claim science is expanding three times faster than in the mid-20th Century

Science and Technology How journalists drive scientists up the wall
Do remember, dear scientists, that at least the journalists may be trying. And if they stop, woe be unto all of us.

Aviation News Delta turns frequent-flyer program on its head

Threats and Hazards The press may not be all that free in Hong Kong

Computers and the Internet Always have an offsite, offline backup of your most valuable photos

@briangongol on Twitter

February 27, 2014

Health Your language affects how you think
Not just superficially -- it turns out, rather deeply

Aviation News For her 100th birthday, a return to the skies
A woman who served as a WAVE during WWII gets another flight

The United States of America Survey says: Majority of Americans are OK with same-sex marriage

Computers and the Internet Yahoo chats may have been snooped-upon by the spooks

Computers and the Internet The mayor who wins Twitter

News Stripping the Ukranian treasury on the way out of town

Humor and Good News Hipster brands, de-hipsterized
And in fact, mightily corporatized

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February 28, 2014

Iowa Des Moines is firing on all cylinders
A news report by a TV station in Fort Wayne might as well just be the new Convention and Visitors' Bureau ad

News Waking up in a body bag is probably still better than not waking up at all
It just happened to a man in Mississippi

Weather and Disasters No, giant walls across Tornado Alley won't stop tornadoes

Aviation News Astronaut remains calm as his helmet fills with water
A nightmare only barely kept from turning to tragedy

News How the Irish language was lost
Columnist draws an interesting contrast between Irish Gaelic and Hebrew

Weather and Disasters Study suggests that wind farms hamper hurricanes
Seems a little hard to believe; more study definitely needed

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