Gongol.com Archives: August 2014
What to do (or not) about the F-35
The brutally-honest cover letter
Self-piloted cars are coming to the UK
USB firmware can be made to carry malware
And it's incredibly hard to detect. May be time to stop sharing flash drives, with or without a good virus scan.
Corn crops look great, demand is flat, and prices are in the toilet
Chicago's automatic red-light enforcement finally gets serious scrutiny
The Chicago Tribune found that the system had a bunch of apparent flaws, and now the city is hiring an outside auditor to review the anomalies. But the bottom line is that nobody should be surprised that there were problems with a system that gave a private company the financial incentive to ticket people on behalf of the city, which itself is in dire financial straits itself and could use any possible source of new revenues it can find.
Indianola gives a laptop to every high school student
The district calls it a "1:1 digital learning environment"
FCC criticizes Verizon for throttling wireless users with unlimited data
Radio show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 3, 2014
Five ways to tell if you're in an organization that's prepared for the future
The White House needs more delegation on national-security tasks
They're trying too hard to centralize decision-making, and that's causing big decisions to go un-made
Omaha is getting 1-gigabit Internet service city-wide
Iowa's Regents universities are paying as much as $450 an hour for work under an "efficiency review"
A whale of a consulting gig if you can get it
"What we've seen is a five- to sevenfold increase in injury rates in youth sports"
A surgeon who has made a career of repairing professional athletes wants parents to bring it down a notch on their kids -- most aren't ever going pro, anyway
Two hurricanes are headed for Hawaii
They might not be at hurricane strength by the time they arrive
No more Fox chase for Time Warner
Rupert Murdoch is calling off the pursuit. Meanwhile, Gannett is spinning off its print-publishing assets.
Planned merger of Sprint and T-Mobile falls through
Babies should not sleep in beds with adults
Maybe we would still care about the missing Nigerian girls...if we focused on just one missing Nigerian girl
It's too easy to retweet a picture or use a hashtag and then forget about an issue. It's time for some of what we know about practical psychology to be brought to bear upon the issue of sustaining public attention on important issues long enough to achieve actual results.
EU class-action lawsuit against Facebook
It's over privacy concerns; what else is new?
What might save the new Gannett is that it'll be debt-free
Isolating all of the print-publishing assets of the company in a new spinoff isn't really a great way to ensure the health of that spinoff, but at least they aren't going to burden it with a debt load. Newspapers can do well enough -- even in times of declining advertising revenues -- as long as they aren't saddled with a big debt burden.
Who owns the copyright when a monkey takes a selfie with your camera?
Keep them! You can keep them!
Vintage (1976) newspaper ad from the Chicago Tribune: "You get Nick and Warren Lattof with every car at Lattof Chevrolet!" Worth the click to see why buyers of the time should have caveat emptor.
The computer you could have gotten for $600 in 1978
4k of RAM and a cassette-tape recorder for data storage. In 2014, you could get two Asus Transformer tablets each with 1 Gb of RAM for that much, store 16 Gb, and still have $100 left over. Or you could get a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone with 2 Gb of RAM and 16 Gb of storage. Put another way: The smartphone, for the same price, offers 500,000 times as much RAM.
Interesting questions on the matter of military professionalism
We hope to recruit an officer corps full of bright, motivated people. Do we then want to hear what they think about political issues?
On getting older
Reality checks for Generation X
Netflix teases another season of "Arrested Development" in the indeterminate future
Please, please, please
Most people really are naturally good
(Video) Witness the effort by a group of people to rescue a man trapped by a train car
A third of US households are "just getting by" or "struggling" in their own self-characterization
There will always, always, always be work to do to make people better off. The most valuable thing we can do as a nation is make sure that we're setting the right systems and conditions in place to make sure that we're using market forces to make most people's lives better most of the time. One especially scary takeaway from the latest Federal Reserve research on the subject: "Almost half of adults were not actively thinking about financial planning for retirement." And by whom are they expecting to be taken care?
You don't have to be a gun advocate to appreciate that there are places where someone should be armed
And that may reasonably include hospitals, if certain kinds of people are likely to show up there. The recent experience of a totally justified self-defense shooting at a Pennsylvania hospital is a good illustration.
US labor productivity rose by 2.5% (annualized) in the second quarter
At least, that's the initial projection, though the government's figures have been subject to a lot of revision lately. Ultimately, labor productivity has to grow faster than the population if we are to experience real improvements in quality of life.
Drunk woman attempts to steal a car -- with two cops inside
Miami radio host takes a parting shot at LeBron James
And got suspended for ordering the snarky billboards in Ohio
Water is literally being used as a weapon of war in Iraq
Iraq's largest dam has been captured by ISIS, and the United States is promising only very limited intervention via airstrikes. Memo to the State Department and the White House: Do not discount the possibility that this becomes a semi-permanent state of affairs, with ISIS/ISIL establishing the functions of a state. And if that takes root, then on our hands we have an enormous problem indeed. Hamas provided social services to help cement its standing with the people of the Palestinian Territories. As ISIS/ISIL starts doing the same kinds of things, then it may not matter at all how much we reject them politicially as a terrorist group -- they may end up as de facto a state as many others. And that's a grave risk. Put another way, it doesn't matter that we hate the thought that the soft-power trappings of a legitimate government are being performed by a terrorist group; if they are being performed and accepted/tolerated/endured by the people, then we are witnessing the creation of a de facto state. What's happening is an invasion and occupation, even if we don't recognize the invaders as a sovereign nation. That should set off alarms all over the place.
Radio show notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 10, 2014
Washington should probably re-name its NFL team, but American Indians have much bigger problems to solve
One worries that the obsession over the "Washington Redskins" name distracts people from the terrible problems affecting American Indian communities in many parts of the country, including enormous physical and mental health crises and desperate poverty.
The Moon looks extra-bright right now
Who's in the Cabinet?
Here's a challenge, even for the well-informed and politically-engaged: Name the members of the Obama Cabinet. You might get half. There isn't enough delegation happening at the White House.
London's top cop interrupts TV interview to make arrest
"The ultimate tech guy you love to hate"
How the Chicago Cubs are building a winning system -- for real this time
A dream without a plan is just a wish. What's new for the Cubs system is that there's finally a plan (after a century of loveable losing). It has the best chance of working of anything the Cubs have ever tried, and if (or, Ernie Banks willing, when) it works, it will actually be a case study for business schools.
A future of work with many more robots
USDA expects Iowa to have a record-setting corn crop this year
185 bushels an acre, beating last year's 165 bushels per acre by a wide margin
Reviving a dead satellite
Buzzfeed thinks $50 million will help it move beyond stupid lists
They're good at distribution, but now they're going to try throwing a lot of ideas at a wall to see what sticks.
Death of Robin Williams brings spotlight to America's crisis of suicides
Giant slide sells at Iowa State Fair for half a million dollars
But the prior owner says he was making that in profits about every two years. For the record: If you have a business that pays for itself in two years, don't sell it to the Iowa State Fair -- operators are standing by and waiting for your call.
Red-light camera corruption now faces real justice in Chicago
PR people get paid more than journalists, on average, and the gap is growing
And there are a lot more of them
Microsoft offers a much better first-person time-lapse algorithm
Enough people are running around with Go Pro cameras and other first-person video recorders that they're becoming quite the genre. But the videos can be jerky and hard to watch -- so they've figured out how to smooth the flow of the video so that it moves from perfect first-person into more of a synthesized, stabilized follower.
How the US military leadership uses social media
Generals and their peers are a lot like high priests -- they preside over a highly-structured culture with a lot of in-group language, symbols, and rituals that outsiders don't understand. How they choose to reach out to the outside when those tools become available comes without much of a textbook for guidance.
Federal Reserve faces trickiest economic stunt of all time
The amount of money pumped into the economy as a stabilizing force? Huge. The consequences for pulling that money out too quickly? Extremely painful. The damage that could be done if the money stays in too long and creates inflation? Just as awful, but drawn out in slow-motion.
Mini-bonds sell out quickly in Denver
People wanted to buy low-priced local bonds, and they sold out in a hurry. This model should be considered for lots of economic-development projects in other places -- especially those projects that are purely speculative in nature, which public officials too often get in the business of funding with other people's money.
Could the A-10 be saved by cutting the F-35?
Local police are being pulled out of Ferguson, Missouri
After the reprehensible behavior of some officers documented by a Washington Post reporter, something serious has to change.
Americans know when to blow up the old and replace with the new
An old home may look nice, but if it's outlived its usefulness, then the time has come for it to be demolished. There's nothing wrong with a little nostalgia, but people shouldn't use that nostalgia as a justification to confiscate the freedom of others via "historic preservation" tools.
BMW leaves AM radios out of new electric cars
They claim there's signal interference from the motor
Leaflets heralding a caliphate in the Middle East get distributed in London
The more ISIS/ISIL takes on the trappings of a state, the worse this situation is going to look
Chinese savers are putting trillions of dollars into trusts and "wealth-management" products
The Pope in a Soul
Pope Francis, visiting South Korea, picks a Kia Soul for his temporary Popemobile. The jokes about the Pope having a Soul are almost too obvious, but symbolic gestures like this communicate a valuable message from a person like the Pontiff.
Canadian woman stabbed with a needle in the middle of a street
One worries for the woman individually, and for the possibility that this kind of thing might be related to some kind of dry run for a bigger threat
Windows 9 could look a lot like Windows 8, but with familiar trappings revived from Windows 7
The computing market seems to be stabilizing, with laptop and desktop sales coming out of a steep decline precipitated by the arrival of tablets. Rumor has it test editions of Windows 9 could be available by October.
47% of American workers are at high risk of computerization
The more routine your work, the more likely you are to find yourself automated out of a gig. To an extent, automation can be a highly productive change (allowing people to spend time on valuable work, instead of rote chores). And for consumers it can be a win, too -- if you don't mind self-service check-out lanes, for instance, it's a way to get in and out of a store much faster. But automation isn't a panacea: As Honda has demonstrated, automation doesn't always improve manufacturing as much as the smart application of the right tools in the hands of workers who know and understand their jobs. A robot programmed once can't improve, but a conscientious and engaged human worker might.
Google offers "video quality report"
A graph without a label on the Y-axis isn't much good, really, but that's the best Google offers with its chart for comparing the video quality delivered by Internet service providers in any given area.
CBS initiates hardball with TV affiliates
They're dropping their Indianapolis affiliate for another station starting January 1st. CBS is trying to extract more money from affiliate stations, it appears, and this is a signal that they won't stick with the ones who won't pay up.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad proposes "connecting every acre" with wireless broadband
High-speed Internet access certainly can be a high-value tool for farming, and agriculture is a high-value segment of Iowa's economy
A cat, wearing a shark costume, riding a Roomba
John Deere is laying off a lot of workers
It's bad news for Iowa, where the Ankeny and Ottumwa plants are being heavily affected. The price of corn has tanked over the last year, and that's bad news for anyone selling equipment to farmers.
Super-quality satellite photos are soon coming to the market
How Tokyo seeks to dispose of tens of millions of gallons of water
Stormwater collection, retention, and disposal is one of the public-works challenges that many cities have under-examined for far too long because it isn't very sexy
More signs around Wrigley Field?
Neighboring rooftop owners are suing to stop them. This is a classic case of the need for well-defined property rights -- feeding what economists call the Coase Theorem.
(Probably) unconscious racism in news headlines
How ISIL is even worse than Al Qaeda
30 people try getting into the UK via shipping containers
Imagine how awful life must be for a high-risk illegal immigration via shipping container to be the better alternative to staying
Radio show notes: Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 17, 2014
From El Salvador to Nebraska
Once one hears the narratives that cause people to try to enter the United States (legally or not), it's hard not to have sympathy for the immigrants. Many are facing life-or-death choices if they don't get here.
Chinese hackers have stolen 4.5 million American health-care records
Why? Good question...and that's the problem. What's the motive, exactly? Also important: They're successfully attacking databases using phishing emails. People can't assume that their antivirus programs provide comprehensive protection. We require good technology hygiene habits, too.
Valuable thoughts on the nature of civilian oversight of police departments and agencies
You can certainly get worked up like John Oliver [video with strong language], but it's more important that we start fixing the systems that keep us from checking our own behavior and that of our guardians of the public safety. If we don't start with critical, capable, and meaningful civilian oversight, we're really not going to end up where we belong. Any system that tends towards intimidation and other strong-arm tactics (even and especially when no laws are being broken) is one that needs to call the adults back in for supervision.
Water as a weapon of war
The Mosul Dam appears to be back under Kurdish control
Bring back the old twitchy eye
British Prime Minister David Cameron promises that the UK won't return to war in Iraq. But the threat we face there isn't to be taken lightly, and shouldn't be reassured by having any options removed from the table. Unpredictability is a huge strategic advantage in warfare, and a reputation for trigger-happiness (whether justified or not) doesn't hurt when you're up against a murderous band of opponents.
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.
The Onion's satirical-but-not-really look at police militarization
84% of Chicagoans support a $13-an-hour minimum wage
There's no problem, really, with indexing the minimum wage to a fair measure of inflation. But if we only go about doing the economic equivalent of slapping a coat of paint on the problem of low-value employment, then we're not really resolving the issues of poverty. What's really the most important thing to do is build the value of prospective workers through education and job-training programs, and to get them connected to the kinds of support and social services that can alleviate the anxieties that come with barely making ends meet, for long enough to allow them to climb up the economic ladder on their own.
Civil liberties are seriously lagging financial freedoms in China
The government seems to be tightening the screws harder and harder on Internet-based means of sharing news and opinions. That's not going to end well...the unanswered question is, when will it boil over? Economic freedoms almost invariably beget civil liberties sooner or later -- you can't go very long telling people that they own the rights to the fruits of their labors, but that the state owns what they think.
How car shows brought about colorful vehicles
Some incredibly stupid and tone-deaf things are being said about Ferguson, Missouri
A look at Gross State Product
The BEA launches reports on GDP by state for 2005 to the near-present
A thoughtful editorial on Ferguson, Missouri
The DC-3: A truly beautiful piece of machinery
The Margaret Thatcher diet
Any diet that includes whiskey can't be all bad
Chris Kluwe settles with the Minnesota Vikings
Was he dumped from the team for coming out in favor of gay rights? Maybe, or maybe not. But some team money is now going to support his cause.
Badly-mixed messages from a former cop
While absolutely correct that we should probably start putting body cameras on most patrol officers, LAPD officer Sunil Dutta wanders into dangerous territory when he writes that citizens should be plainly submissive when encountering the police. That's not how the law is supposed to work. Polite? Yes. Respectful? Inasmuch as we should be of any other person, certainly. Submissive? Now that's a step in the wrong direction, particularly when there are some (not all or even many, but some) law-enforcement officers who overstep their own bounds. It's troubling to see serious escalation taking place on the streets of an American city, with police officers pointing loaded weapons at people. We need de-escalation, not further escalation.
Reasons to hold back from sharing too much about your kids online
There are a whole lot of unresolved questions and potential pitfalls from over-sharing. At the very least, people need to think carefully about sharing their kids' pictures on Facebook and elsewhere.
Scotland votes in less than a month on whether to leave the UK
And the British government is campaigning to keep them in
Retired general says ISIL "is not a flash in the pan"
The group, which is carrying out forced conversions in the territory it occupies, is in fact carrying out a plan that was clearly documented and reported in 2005. The current state of affairs is exactly what Al Qaeda said it wanted a decade ago -- and on precisely the current schedule.
Sioux City considers banning plastic bags
ISIL threatens Chicago and DC via Twitter
The longer it takes to recognize that we're on borrowed time before ISIL becomes a permanent nation-state, the harder it's going to be to fight back
When it's OK to skip a vaccination
Spoiler alert: It's the exception, not the rule
Facebook adds a "satire" notice to some items in the news feed
Because sometimes The Onion's parallel universe to reality is just a little too much like reality itself for some people to get the joke
John Deere plant in Waterloo will lay off 460 indefinitely
That's a huge blow to the Waterloo metro area
China is playing unsafe games with fighter jets
Flying too close to American aircraft while over international waters isn't a bright idea
More of the region around Yellowstone is at risk of a big earthquake than previously thought
And with more people living there and visiting than the last time there was a big earthquake, the impact could be magnified a lot
65 possible contenders for President in 2016
Uber hires President Obama's former campaign manager as SVP of "policy and strategy"
It doesn't say good things about the state of the economy that companies feel the need to bring in marquee political names in order to get the kind of political favor they need to survive. That signals an economy that's subject to the whims of politicians, not one in which markets are free to reward good ideas and punish poor performers.
Sioux City loses Frontier Airlines service once again
They're hoping it isn't a permanent discontinuation
Radio show notes: WHO Radio Wise Guys - August 23, 2014
UK goes to "severe" terrorism threat level
Blame those who are trying to get into the Middle East to fight on behalf of ISIS/QSIS (or, as it ought to be called, "al-Qaeda Land"). The longer they have to establish themselves to develop terrible plans against the rest of the world, the worse the outcomes for the rest of us.
A flame war with shooting-war implications
The NWS Hurricane Katrina warning
A great example of using plain English to make a vital argument
Customer service delivered with personality
Most people are up for a good round of fun, even (and perhaps especially) when contacting tech support
Cedar Rapids tells Iowa DOT it won't give up speed cameras on I-380
European Council's new president is the prime minister of Poland
No doubt this carries some added significance considering Russia's behavior right now and the long-standing friction between Poland and Russia
Nebraska regulators are going to charge Lyft and Uber drivers with misdemeanors
The regulations on the books favor the incumbent taxi services. It's definitely time for the legal authorities to review whether that's really in the best interests of passengers.
Stock in Fiat Chrysler should hit a New York market by October
Fiat has bet the farm over and over on its pursuit of Chrysler; now, they have to find a way to make it worth the expense as some of the bills come due
Departing CNN reporter thinks nobody's paying enough attention in Washington
Lisa Desjardins: "Members of Congress could put the entire text of '50 Shades of Gray' into a bill, and no one...would ever notice"
Getting to know the shelf cloud