Gongol.com Archives: January 2015
January 1, 2015FBI wants to recruit "ethical hackers"
Annual salaries for these "cyber special agents" start at about $60,000 a year. That number might need to go higher if we really want to recruit qualified technicians.
BlackBerry saves the day for Sony after hacking
Shawn Johnson on the Iowa stereotypes encountered during "The Apprentice"
Kim Jong-Un: Extreme eyebrow plucker?
The South China Morning Post brings this not-very-urgent but hilarious update to the world's attention
"My doctor told me I should vaccinate my children, but then someone much louder told me I shouldn't"
The people behind The Onion strike again with a great piece of satire
January 2, 2015Researcher suggests that cancer is basically just bad luck, 2/3rds of the time
"[O]nly a third of the variation in cancer risk among tissues is attributable to environmental factors or inherited predispositions. The majority is due to 'bad luck,' that is, random mutations arising during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells." This conclusion will be hotly debated, to be sure. Undoubtedly, some cancer risk is certainly due to environmental or genetic conditions -- but if it's really this much of a crapshoot, there's a strong case to be made for putting all of us under routine surveillance (blood tests at every annual physical, for instance), and for crafting our health-care system to accommodate the sort of risk that apparently affects us all with substantial equality (in other words, if we're all at mostly equal risk and the risk is mostly random, then we should all bear the costs rather equally as well).
Three dozen people killed in New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai
Public-policy researcher asks why people weren't warned about the hazard via social media. It seems like that kind of responsiveness is a long time off.
"Ida" - a film worth watching
It's very well-executed from a technical standpoint, and the plot is high-caliber
A brief history of web design
Today is just like the day before
(Video) A real home run of a PSA for disaster preparedness
January 3, 2015Left-wing, union-backed policy group says trade deficit with China cuts jobs in every Congressional district but one
Without deeply examining their methodology or claims, it's quite possible that there has been some meaningful net reduction in employment in the United States as a result of persistent trade deficits -- not just with China, but with the entire world. But the predominant concern shouldn't be with the jobs "created" or "destroyed" -- it should be with the ultimate impact on net wealth. As a country, if we're importing a lot more than we're exporting, then in the long term, we are sending our dollars overseas and building up a non-trivial balance on a metaphorical national "credit card". If we don't turn that around in a hugely meaningful way, then we'll have to pay down that debt and repatriate those dollars by selling off a significant amount of assets. Not everything, of course, but if our trade deficits linger at about 3% of our national income (about $40 to $45 billion a month on about $1,400 billion in GDP each month), then it's not going to be pretty when the day of reckoning arrives. Let's not overlook the real numbers, either: With a population of 320 million people, it's the equivalent of us each buying about $1600 a year worth of foreign stuff more than we're creating. We need to agree and understand that it's not sustainable and then get to work on debating the proper solutions -- ones that won't squash all of the benefits we do obtain from free trade (and there are many).
Critics want Gates Foundation to stop focusing on specific diseases
While it's understandable that they want a more holistic approach to "health-system strengthening", they're overlooking the fact that accountability requires at least some specificity. The broader and more vague the mandate, the more likely it is that any organization will fail to actually achieve its mission. One could scarcely expect to get good value by assigning someone a large pile of money and saying, "Go fix transportation". But if instead, the options (air travel, ships, trains, cars, and so on) were carefully evaluated for their likely effectiveness at achieving certain specific goals (like getting food to market, or moving people at low cost to metropolitan centers), then specific and worthwhile investments could be made with a reasonable expectation of getting results. Health is the same: The Gates mission is to find specific causes of illness and death, target them relentlessly, and eliminate them. There will be some unintended consequences, mistakes, and oversights along the way to be sure. But if you're not specific about what you're trying to fix, you're likely to do a lot worse.
Customers sue Apple over iOS 8
They say it takes up a lot of storage space on their devices -- particularly when upgraded from a previous version -- and that it's a shadowy way to force people to pay for cloud storage. The claim holds that a device advertised as having 16 Gb of storage really only offers about 80% of that amount once the OS has taken up residence. It's probably a silly and frivolous suit, but it does highlight the fact that people need to realize that they can't store endlessly, nor is the listed storage capacity of a device what they'll actually get in practice.
"The smuggling and sale of oil provides ISIL with as much as $1 million per day"
Americans probably don't realize how far we are from saving enough
Saving enough for a comfortable and independent retirement requires thinking on the order of about a million dollars. Maybe more, maybe less, but that's the order of magnitude of the thinking required.
Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - January 3, 2015
January 4, 2015Ebola gets the headlines, but the flu kills more Americans by far
And that's included healthy young people this year, to our great sadness
Are we more anxious because our periodicals aren't very periodical anymore?
A New York Times contributor says the "ICYMI" ("in case you missed it") phenomenon makes us anxious that we're missing out on things all the time -- when it's not possible to catch up on it all
Terrorist moron geo-tags his Twitter updates
Lost in our devices
The National Geographic photography contest winner for 2014 is a glimpse of the zeitgeist -- a woman staring at her smartphone while everyone else around her is engaged in a tourist display
There's career value in becoming a specialist
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 4, 2015
Streaming online at WHORadio.com and on the air (1040 on the AM dial) at 9:00 pm Central Time
January 5, 2015
Always have a definitive outlet that speaks exclusively under your authority
For most people, that probably ought to be some variation on "[firstname-lastname].com". That way, people know conclusively when you're speaking for yourself and can check what other people try to say about or for you. For instance, if you're Bill Gates, it's helpful to have a website where you post things like book reviews, so that when a guy like Thomas Piketty decides to put words in your mouth about a telephone conversation you had ("He told me, 'I love everything that's in your book, but I don't want to pay more tax"), you can point to exactly what you said about the book ("Piketty's book has some important flaws that I hope he and other economists will address"). We don't all have the soapbox and bullhorn that Bill Gates does, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't learn to speak conclusively for ourselves. A domain name (even if it's only used to point to a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn profile) is a very healthy start.
How Sen. John McCain re-asserted control over the Arizona Republican Party
Benchmarking the major antivirus programs
Should Yahoo buy CNN?
Why is the poverty rate soaring among Hispanics in Nebraska?
January 6, 2015
At what point does ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh become a nation-state?
They have adopted many of the trappings of statehood, but is it enough to simply deny them legal recognition? And, on a related note, are we fighting Assad in Syria or not?
A heavy hitter throws weight behind criminal-justice reform
Charles Koch, demonized by the left, takes up a cause on which they might actually have to agree with him: Fixing the criminal-justice system so that people aren't railroaded by inadequent defense. Our system as it is presently structured wastes a shameful amount of human potential.
Facebook founder starts his own book club
Perhaps taking a cue from Oprah, or perhaps from a certain radio show in June, which advocated "less time with Facebook and more time with book-books"
Corning rolls out "Iris Glass" at Consumer Electronics Show
They claim it will enable super-thin LCD televisions
Striking image of a grounded cargo ship
January 7, 2015
The freedom to satirize is as meaningful a human right as the freedom to worship in peace
Big colleges usually fail when hiring new football coaches
And yet the salary inflation in the coaching sector outstrips the increase in virtually anything else one can imagine. It's time to end the travesty.
The travel of a sci-fi future with the style of the past
Someone at NASA has had great fun coming up with posters promoting future space travel in the style of the great 1920s/1930s design motif
How to report the "help desk" phone scam
Americans are getting telephone calls from people pretending to represent Microsoft and other big names in computing, and in the process of those calls they seek to intimidate the victim into loading malware onto their own computers
The impact of the Great Lakes on land temperatures
January 8, 2015
"Six of the seven California patients ... were not vaccinated for measles"
Two of the unvaccinated patients in California's measles outbreak were too young to get the shots, so they are innocent victims, too. But that leaves four individuals (or their parents) directly responsible for their own illness and for creating a hazard that endangers the health of others. Vaccinations are one of our best weapons against contagious diseases, and the people who insist upon exempting themselves from them ought to voluntarily quarantine themselves on an island far away from the rest of civilization, as their behavior is in fact un-civilized.
The First Amendment in action
A local politician objects to having his name in the paper, so the paper strikes back. They overstep in making a broad judgment about "conservatives" in general, but overall their editorial is great fun.
President Obama wants "free" community college
Here's the biggest problem: It's not "free", it's just "free" to the student, whose part in the process is to "attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completing their program." While it's true and valid to note that some kind of technical training or associate's degree is probably today's functional equivalent of yesterday's high-school diploma, this proposal needs a lot more thought before it will look like a solution to the needs of the economy and the people and not like another indulgence with other people's money.
The Internet Archive rolls out an MS-DOS game emulator
Programs that went into obsolescence with the arrival of better operating systems are back
Don't write off the PC just yet
They're featuring nicely at the Consumer Electronics Show
January 11, 2015Free community college? How much will it cost?
$60 billion over ten years, says one estimate. We'll have to see whether they payoff exceeds the expense when the details are finally revealed.
Cedar Falls will get a Presidential visit
The city will be used as a backdrop for the President to talk about putting high-speed Internet access in more places around the country. Cedar Falls has a strong municipal utility that got on the high-speed broadband train years ahead of much of the country, and it has certainly helped the local economy.
Does a dead person's money do more good in the hands of the government than charity?
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 11, 2015
January 13, 2015
Vaccinate your children
The Onion satirizes: "To be fair to the parents, no one could have predicted that neglecting to immunize people against diseases would lead to more people getting diseases."
Empty exhortations from the central government after Chinese stampede disaster
January 15, 2015
USAF needs more drone pilots -- right away
Pilots are working 6 days a week, 13 or 14 hours a day. That's a pace that can't be maintained forever. Pay is rising to accommodate.
LinkedIn endorsement helps catch lottery cheater
A critique of "disruption" as a business goal
The business case for "disruption" is weak. The critique may be a little over the top, but it's worth examination.
Stuff costs less than it recently did
The Producer Price Index has dropped month-over-month in four of the last five months, especially because of energy
The physics of flow and freezing water
January 16, 2015
Gov. Branstad: Iowa needs more people
In his inaugural address, he notes: "Although we are growing as a state, we arenít growing fast enough. Iowa remains the one state in the nation that has not grown by even 50 percent since the 1900 census."
Oil's price crash hasn't helped ethanol, but Federal mandates guarantee at least some demand
By 2022, the government will require 36 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel to find their way into the fuel supply. Right now, ethanol consumption is about 13 billion gallons and biodiesel is about another billion. The price per gallon of ethanol has to be lower than that for gasoline to meet consumer demand, because it contains about 30% less energy per gallon. So when gasoline prices plunge, it puts extra pressure on the margins for ethanol producers.
Cubs buy three Wrigleyville rooftops
The team should've done it a long time ago, and placed the controversial digital scoreboards and video boards there instead of messing with the park
Falling gas prices drive inflation to a negative 0.4% rate
That's a meaningful month-over-month drop. Overall, the total inflation from 12 months ago is just +0.8%. Food costs more, and so does medical care. Long-term deflation isn't as good as it sounds on the surface, if it causes people to cut back on economic activity altogether.
Pay attention to the Boko Haram in Nigeria
They oppose things like democracy and secular education -- and they're killing hundreds of people in a country that has the potential to grow and be a healthy liberal democracy...but not if it's plagued by terrorism. Satellite photos show how bad the attacks by the group really are. We will come to regret it if we don't pay active attention to what's happening in Africa. 177 million people live in Nigeria -- making it more than half of the size of the United States by population.
January 17, 2015
If you eat at Hardee's, you may be working at Hardee's too
Self-service fast-food kiosks are being pilot-tested at 30 Hardee's restaurants. Welcome to the future: If you don't mind doing some things for yourself, you may get faster service with fewer errors...but do not be surprised over the long term if lots and lots of entry-level jobs get replaced this way. There will be economic and social consequences as a result, making the need to constantly improve our educational system one of our most important priorities as a country. And in tandem with that, we have to ensure that opportunities remain available in the economy -- and that requires big-picture thinking, not government micromanagement.
A negative interest rate -- talk about extraordinary measures
It's how the national bank of Switzerland is seeking to re-value its currency. A negative interest rate makes it unpleasant to hold on to the currency, so it pushes people to spend it quickly. In a way, it's the same effect as inflation (since holding on to the money instead of exchanging it quickly for goods and services means you lose buying power), but it's an unusually explicit way of doing so. It's also illustrative for those who wonder why a little bit of inflation is a good thing, but a lot of it (or negative inflation) can be terrible.
SpaceX shares video of the failed "soft landing" of its rocket
(Video) At least they're trying bold new projects. Not all of them will work.
British police arrest man for "suspicion of unauthorized access to computer material"
It's related to the hacking of the Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox networks on Christmas
Google is cutting off sales of Google Glass to individuals
There may be a revival, and there may be other paths they take to market, but time is running out to buy the Google Glass Explorer Edition. Sales end January 19th.
January 18, 2015Of all kids in America's public schools, more than 50% are living in poverty
The only long-term way to keep them from finding themselves in self-perpetuating cycles of poverty is to make sure that the educational system gives them the tools to get out, and that the economy contains sufficient opportunity for them to use those tools
"Economic growth in Nebraska, Iowa, and eight other Midwestern states remains stubbornly slow"
The weak market for crops (like corn prices) is not helping anything in the Midwest, and that's showing up in the Rural Mainstreet Index assembled by Creighton University
Are we crossing "planetary boundaries"?
A paper in "Science" says we're already breaking the limits for extinctions, deforestation, atmospheric carbon dioxide, and nitrification of the oceans. The authors say we're into danger zones for each of those, and possibly in better condition for other indicators, like aerosol pollution, ozone depletion, freshwater use, ocean acidification, and the spread of modified organisms. One note on these: Finding sources of energy that are cheap and non-polluting can solve virtually all of these.
Is The Onion at risk of a Charlie Hebdo-type attack?
Smuggler tries taping 94 iPhones to his body
He was going from Hong Kong into mainland China. The border patrol thought he was walking stiffly.
A new coach for the Bears, and no seats in the bleachers at Wrigley
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 18, 2015
January 19, 2015A review of the Centcom hacking
Like it or not, we're engaged in non-stop cyberwar
The high cost of retransmitting "free" television
Xiaomi -- the biggest cellphone maker you've never heard of
Signs of trouble in the Chinese real-estate bubble
If there's too much cash coming into a country and not enough options available for investment, a bubble in the asset class(es) that are available is pretty much inevitable. The looming default by a Chinese real-estate development company may be a signal of trouble to come. Couple that with the government's steps to rein in the stock market, and things may be about to get very interesting.
Little progress made on investigating attack on Colorado NAACP office
January 20, 2015From the Ministry of Dissent Management...
There's a difference between government transparency and propagandizing. A transparent government is one whose workings are visible to the public and where sunlight can provide "the best of disinfectants". Streaming the State of the Union address on the Internet is fine, but it's not really any special measure of transparency. But promoting the government's coverage of its own speech with Tweets like "The best place to watch the State of the Union at 9pm ET is http://wh.gov/SOTU" isn't really transparency -- it's a declaration that the public is better off getting spin on the speech from the administration that just delivered the speech, rather than from independent journalists. The government certainly should provide the stream -- but it shouldn't then try to jump into competition with the Fourth Estate. It wouldn't be much to make a fuss about if it weren't for the fact that the White House has made lots of noise about being transparent while in fact being secretive, obstructive to journalists, and obsessive about controlling its own image. No: In a liberal democracy, the White House website is emphatically not the "best place" to view the State of the Union address...unless you want to hush dissent.
How the FBI sought to silence Martin Luther King, Jr.
When people say, "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide", they clearly aren't recalling how the government has treated many people who have been doing the right thing, even when it went against the prevailing ways of the times
Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #17
A man was abducted at gunpoint in Des Moines by someone who demanded he help him find narcotics
Twitter bets on developing markets by buying an Indian company
What's new in Windows 10
January 21, 2015Terrorists mask their emails to look like spam
It helps prevent detection
Honda: Seven-year auto loans at today's rates are "stupid" for manufacturers
It's hard to keep your head when everyone else around is losing theirs, but Honda deserves praise for seeing beyond today's illusory low interest rates
Resounding praise for Windows 10
It'll have a start menu and plays nicely with mobile devices. It also comes with a new browser.
Predominant religions by county in America
Anarchy is no substitute for the (carefully constrained) rule of law
People sometimes take anti-government sentiment too far and get the idea that a world with no government at all would be preferable to one that overreaches. While the overreach is dangerous and should always be pushed back, the law is necessary for the protection of innocents, like the 8-month-old baby found in a closet next to a loaded gun in a drug-filled Des Moines apartment this week. Someone has to step in on behalf of the welfare of the child. Government can be a powerful tool for good, like when safe-haven laws save the lives of babies whom their mothers might otherwise abandon dangerously.
January 22, 2015Deflation: It only sounds good if you don't think about it
Falling prices compound the costs of debt and cause people to pull back on worthwhile spending. High inflation and deflation alike are ugly. Which is why the EU is looking at another big round of pumping money into the economy.
Free upgrades to Windows 10 for users of most recent predecessors
People are often the biggest security flaw in a computer network
Like staffers in Washington, DC, who don't know how to resist attacks on their trust instincts
Confirmed measles patient exposed others in Omaha
Whether the contagion spread, we don't know yet
Google may be soon to offer mobile phone service
January 25, 2015Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 25, 2015
January 29, 2015If artificial intelligence development worries Bill Gates, it should worry the rest of us
IBM layoffs in Dubuque
The jobs were brought to Iowa through lots of incentives ($53 million worth) -- and now, 200 of them are going away
Mitt Romney's decision whether to run in 2016
Yahoo plans a spinoff of its Alibaba position
Is the AIB merger a good deal for the University of Iowa?
January 30, 2015
Pity the poor college students of China
The Communist government there, living in terror of leaving people with their own free thoughts, is pushing colleges to ban Western textbooks, especially if they speak ill of the Communist system
The Communist government there, living in terror of leaving people with their own free thoughts, is pushing colleges to ban Western textbooks, especially if they speak ill of the Communist system
First estimate of 4th-quarter 2014 US GDP growth: 2.6%
Nothing phenomenal, but at least it's growth
AOL is closing "The Unofficial Apple Weblog"
Farewell to Dahl's
The bankruptcy sale now goes to a judge for evaluation
Bill Gates doesn't like Control-Alt-Delete, either
January 31, 2015When politics trumps economics
An independent central bank is essential. The apparent non-independence of Russia's central bank is going to turn very, very costly.
Mitt Romney bows out of 2016 race
A wise country would put him to work fixing something like the State Department or running a venture-capital fund for social good. He's smart, and he has a lot more capacity to do good things.
Whose "brainchild" are you?
Sure, it's a promotional stunt by GE, but it's nice to see someone acknowledge that we're not just genetic children of our parents, but also intellectual descendants of other people
Google starts pushing mobile accessibility