Gongol.com Archives: April 2015

Brian Gongol

April 2015
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April 2, 2015

News Nobody buys single copies of the newspaper anymore

Business and Finance McDonald's to pay $1 above minimum wage in some stores starting July 1

@briangongol on Twitter

April 3, 2015

Computers and the Internet Ello announces a redesign

Business and Finance An argument for blowing a resource bonanza
Not that it's correct to do so, but an interesting case

Business and Finance Walmart wants less ad spending by its vendors

Business and Finance The shadow Federal funds rate

News Russia's going to professionalize its military

Recent radio podcasts

April 4, 2015

Computers and the Internet Netflix just arrived in Australia, and it's slowing the entire Aussie Internet
One ISP there says Netflix is using 15% of its bandwidth

Computers and the Internet Bill Gates's letter to Microsoft employees on the company's 40th anniversary
Whatever else you might think about Microsoft, for it to have lasted 40 years is pretty remarkable for a technology company.

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - April 4, 2015

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April 7, 2015

News The evolution from "yoke mate" to "soul mate"
A partial explanation for much-later marriage

Threats and Hazards The "heckler's veto" on speech

Health Mark Cuban advocates routine blood tests and tracking
He's absolutely right, and the naysayers are only right about nitpicking the details. The need for better health surveillance and maintenance (as opposed to fixing things that have already gone wrong) is urgent. We have the tools to do it, and the resources to do it better and cheaper are on the way.

@briangongol on Twitter

April 8, 2015

Business and Finance Early warning: American teenagers aren't working
Unemployment among teens ages 16 to 19 is at 17.5%, compared to a sub-6% rate for the population at large. Causes may include large numbers of adults occupying low-skill jobs, high levels of automation displacing low-skilled work, and/or pressure for higher minimum wages. Effects could very well include higher rates of violence and crime in the short run, and lower life-cycle earnings in the long run.

Threats and Hazards Murder charge follows police shooting
Meaningful civilian oversight of "peace officers" needs to make a real comeback. One can't possibly fathom what would justify the escalation of violence on display in the South Carolina incident, nor the apparent failure by the responding police officers to render aid.

Business and Finance China stock markets have an average P/E ratio of 220
Clinically insane

Broadcasting No more "loser Rob Lowe" commercials from DirecTV

News Someone please tell Rahm Emanuel to fix Chicago's budget, now that he's been re-elected

Recent radio podcasts

April 9, 2015

Health The future of routine blood testing and health surveillance
Mark Cuban has argued that those who can afford it ought to get routine blood tests to perform surveillance on their health. He points to examples of its usefulness, and he's dead right.

Computers and the Internet Russia likely behind attacks on White House computer networks
CNN reports on the implications, and eWeek backs up the likelihood

Computers and the Internet Turkey overreacts to bad social-media use by blocking Facebook and Twitter
It's stomach-churning that people published images of a prosecutor who was taken hostage. But bad taste doesn't justify censorship. It's just an excuse used by bad governments.

Computers and the Internet JP Morgan turns to computer algorithms to predict human misbehavior
If it's decision-enhancing, great. But it's dangerous to turn over the thinking to machines.

Computers and the Internet The utter mayhem of wide-open TLDs
The explosion in top-level domains is going to make brand protection ever more difficult for companies doing anything that even remotely touches the Internet. It's going to be nothing but a bonanza for the registrars, who are going to rent-seek like there's no tomorrow. It was a mistake to open the floodgates like this.

@briangongol on Twitter

April 10, 2015

The United States of America President Obama promises less "meddling" in Latin America
What's worrisome is that he may be inadvertently telegraphing less engagement with Latin America. We need quite the opposite -- much, much more engagement with our neighbors in this hemisphere.

Computers and the Internet How we email
According to a Yahoo Labs review of their customer data, people basically behave as though there is a defined volume of time to be filled with email, and no more -- so the more you receive, the shorter and less often (proportionally) you respond. Unsurprisingly, people are much more terse when replying from mobile phones than from larger computers. And reply time is a predictable function of age -- the younger the person, the faster the reply.

Health Genes, not TV watching, have the biggest effect on making people antisocial
That doesn't mean it's a good idea to plunk kids in front of the television indefinitely, but it certainly does highlight that even things like our behavioral personalities are outside our deliberate, willful control

Threats and Hazards Nordic countries agree to statement of solidarity with Baltic countries
Russia has all of them nervous, and with good cause

Computers and the Internet Will cyberdefense get its own branch of the military?
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter: "There may come a time when that makes sense". The idea of consolidating efforts could be attractive, if it means more focus and higher levels of expertise. But there's also a case to be made that we're better off with multiple systems playing cyber-defense, each potentially overlapping the others. It may appear wasteful, but it might also be the only way to have confidence we're really capturing all of the threats.

Computers and the Internet Apple opens up pre-orders for Apple Watch
It will be released April 24th. $349 for the cheapest Sport edition, $549 to over $1,000 for the main edition, and $10,000-plus for the completely ridiculous high-end version. Early reviewers seem troubled most by the apps.

Business and Finance GE is dumping its real-estate and finance division
How in the blazes does that make sense? De-diversifying and spinning off a unit that (due to interest rates) should be at a low point? All of the enthusiasm for the announcement seems to overlook the obvious. The time to sell off your real estate and lending portfolio would be when prices were at peaks. They are not.

News Washington Post executive editor: Print newspapering isn't going to remain around for long
"The forces at work donít care about how we prefer to do our jobs, how easily we adjust to change, how much we have to learn. They donít care about any extra workload. This transformation is going to happen no matter what."

Broadcasting Apple and HBO launch their streaming-only service

Weather and Disasters Photos of the terrible tornado in Illinois

Computers and the Internet Main feature of Ello v2 appears to be giant pictures

Recent radio podcasts

April 11, 2015

Broadcasting Show notes - Wise Guys - April 11, 2015

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April 13, 2015

Science and Technology "Graduating engineers would rather work for high-tech startups and near big cities"
Hiring isn't just about money. It's also about things like the agglomeration effect -- that people want to be near fertile sources of other opportunities, in case what they're starting with doesn't work out

Computers and the Internet One strategy for avoiding workload-management-by-inbox
Schedule on- and off-periods for email access during the day, and use the designated off-periods to do other things without interruption.

News Forgetting what China did with the Beijing Olympics might allow them to get the 2022 Games, too
A million people in Beijing had their homes demolished to make way for the games

Business and Finance What Japanese businesses are learning about selling to the elderly
Japan's demographics are such that the country is a bit ahead of the curve on having a large population of older people. An interesting point: Boston Consulting Group says that people over age 65 account for 40% of personal consumption in Japan.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

April 14, 2015

Threats and Hazards Estonian president asks for some NATO troops
He's worried that his country -- with a population about the same size as Nebraska's -- wouldn't stand a chance if Russia tries to invade. And Russia's been doing plenty to make the Baltic states nervous -- including flying too close to American airplanes in the region.

News April is Iowa's "Distracted Driving Awareness Month"
Too much focus is put on the specific problem of texting-while-driving, at the expense of attention to the broader issue of distracted driving. Some people can't handle a ham sandwich while driving, and it's a mistake to focus our laws specifically on a particular technology or item (like cell phones), rather than on the broader problem of driving with limited concentration.

News The case for body cameras from the father of an innocent civilian killed by American police
There is undoubtedly an affirmative case to be made for police to wear body cameras, but they're no cure-all. There are significant questions that should be considered about issues like the release of video recordings under Freedom of Information Act claims, the protection of sources who may have a reasonable fear of retaliation, and the need to consider the interests of people like innocent children and adult domestic-abuse victims who may be deeply concerned or troubled by the prospect of having their words recorded. But the cameras shouldn't be dismissed out-of-hand, either -- especially not when there's strong evidence that some domestic police officers have strayed far from their mission to preserve the peace.

Aviation News French company sells anti-drone drone
They claim it can track down the person controlling a suspicious drone within a decent-sized radius in about a minute. Drones have enormous potential for both personal and commercial use, ranging from amusing videography to valuable surveillance over crops and sensitive facilities. But the problem is that they're really too small to show up on conventional radar, and thus they can't really be tracked by large-scale methods...thus, they are also very difficult to defend against. It may simply be that the only way to fight fire is with fire (or drones, in this case). The technology can't be held back forever, so we have to figure out how to accommodate it and how to protect ourselves against the bad.

Computers and the Internet Startup company that watches apps for bad behavior estimated at $1 billion market price

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April 15, 2015

Computers and the Internet Nokia is buying Bell Labs
Bell Labs, previously a branch of the AT&T telephone monopoly, became part of the spinoff Lucent Technologies, which merged with Alcatel of France in the early 2000s, and the combined Alcatel-Lucent is now being merged into Nokia. Nokia, notably, sold its consumer-phone business to Microsoft back in April 2014. Microsoft has continued to sell the former Nokia line now under the "Microsoft Lumia" name, though the legacy "Nokia" name survives as well. (Of note: They had some fun on April Fool's Day, teasing the launch of MS-DOS Mobile.) Regardless, the acquisition of Bell Labs, among the many other parts of Alcatel-Lucent, is intended to enhance Nokia's sharpened niche in network backend technology, "location-based technology", and high-end research and development. It's been a bold change of course for the company that at one time was the dominant handset maker.

Business and Finance Shale oil production expected to drop by 57,000 barrels in May
If the EIA's forecast is correct, that would be the first month-over-month decrease in production since 2013. Prices are in the tank, and there's a glut of oil in storage waiting for refinement, so nobody should be surprised that the well owners are cutting back on production.

Computers and the Internet Companies face a huge risk in trying to be cross-culturally clever
Apple's digital assistant Siri is famously clever and sometimes cheeky in her American iteration. But it's being suggested that the Russian version is either uncomfortably coy or possibly even downright homophobic in Russian, suggesting that the very words "gay" and "lesbian" were rude and potentially offensive. Apple seems to have reprogrammed Siri quickly upon discovering the quirk (which, of course, could have been a deliberate bug planted by a contractor) -- or if you're suspicious of the company, you may think it deliberate. Russian law, of course, is very unfriendly towards homosexuality, and the inherent conflict between trying to satisfy lots of local cultural norms all over the world and trying to deliver products that act and behave in a human-like manner is an enormous challenge. Much like the difficulty that Google will almost certainly have with curating "kid-friendly" content on YouTube, anytime a neutral corporation tries to make money and in the process has to make cultural judgments, it's going to be especially tough for technology companies -- which by nature tend to have technocratic attitudes and a general indifference to sensitive feelings.

News Sad: Dogs are getting a serious flu bug
It's spreading among canines in the Midwest

Business and Finance How to succeed in life by really trying
Charlie Munger: "[A]ll I was capable of doing in life was thinking pretty hard about trying to get the right answer, and then acting on it."

@briangongolbot on Twitter

April 16, 2015

Computers and the Internet Iran is ramping up cyberattacks
Cyberwarfare is a tremendous tool for asymmetric warfare -- it doesn't cost much to conduct, but it can cause your opponent to expend unfathomable resources in defense

Computers and the Internet EU goes after Google for anti-trust violations
Google really needs to figure out if it wants to try to cement itself as the online equivalent of a regulated public utility or whether it wants to fight these battles forever -- or at least until someone else eclipses them

News Half a million people are trying to escape Libya for Europe
Not all of them are good people (any group of 500,000 probably contains about 5,000 sociopaths), but most are perfectly innocent and just trying to do the best they can for their families. Doing something reasonable to accommodate those trying to escape awful conditions is a burden for the civilized world, but also a moral obligation. Imagine having the misfortune of being born into a culture now being attacked by ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh.

Threats and Hazards Identity theft related to online tax filings "has just exploded"
It's probably a cost of doing business generally, but people also do things that put themselves at unnecessary risk. Sharing too much personal information on social media is one such error.

Humor and Good News The juror is excused
Chief Justice John Roberts got called for jury duty. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't selected. It's a good thing; he's used to decisions involving nine votes, not twelve.

@briangongol on Twitter

April 17, 2015

Computers and the Internet Starting April 21st, Google wants websites to be mobile-friendly
Those that don't automatically convert to make things easier to use on mobile phones will be penalized on the search engine. About a quarter to a third of searching is now done from mobile phones, so it's no surprise that they've decided to accommodate...but the rules for making sites mobile-friendly are inconsistent, and the tools can be prohibitively expensive. Form matters, yes, but so does content. There are millions of legacy pages on the Internet that simply aren't going to be converted to any mobile-friendly design, and that's going to end up causing some good content to get buried.

Computers and the Internet Russian cybercriminals try getting to the White House via goofball YouTube interviewers
Presumably under the assumption that those who got close enough to the White House to interview the President may also be close enough to interact with people who have sensitive computer accounts. Just another example of social-engineering attacks on the rise.

Computers and the Internet Researchers can pick out a troll with 80% accuracy in just five posts
It turns out that groups (including discussion groups online) develop their own internal linquistic styles, and those who are out to pick a stupid fight tend to rebel against the community style. That makes them surprisingly easy to pick out by an algorithm -- but moderation is still probably best handled by a human being.

Aviation News The case for airplanes without pilots
Rogue or suicidal pilots are an extreme rarity, but fatigue, distractions, and other crew resource management problems are the predominant causes of crashes (70% in the 1970s; probably a similar frequency today). Take human error out of the equation (perhaps by using computers to do most of the flying, with a human in the cockpit as a decider-of-last-resort), and we may all be a lot safer.

Threats and Hazards Australian police take out a prospective terrorist attack
They think a WWI memorial ceremony was the intended target

The United States of America Where to find shale oil and gas


April 18, 2015

Computers and the Internet EU complaint about Google and antitrust violations
The European Commission says Google has abused its power by putting its shopping results above those of organic search results. They're also pursuing Google over the dominance of the Android operating system on mobile phones. If you ever wondered why Google seems eager to get into some far-fetched things, it's because they know that if this case were to succeed, it could severely crimp their profits from search-related advertising...which is the company's dominant source of income. Google's public response to the case includes examples of things Google has tried that are laggards in their markets (like Google Travel) and an argument that people spend most of their time on apps rather than search engines when using smartphones. The EU case may be frivolous, but some of Google's retorts are spurious.

Business and Finance Bloomberg terminal network had a huge crash
They claim it wasn't the result of a cyberattack, but it sure doesn't look pretty for the company to have a long blackout

Broadcasting You can't pick channels one-by-one yet
But Verizon is reportedly plannin to offer genre-based "channel packs" that would let subscribers bundle channels in groups that they're willing to pay for. Disney protests, as it would, since channel bundling is a huge deal to the companies that own the channels.

Computers and the Internet Again, "net neutrality" isn't the panacaea some make it out to be
Facebook is trying to get people to use Internet.org in developing countries with slow Internet access. The related app offers free services from a selected list, stripped-down so that they use minimal data. But now some Indian companies are rebelling, arguing that the app favors a small number of options, which in effect is like offering preferential access to some services over others. Their protest is made on the basis that preferential access is contrary to the idea of "net neutrality", and thus ought to be rejected. So are people better off without access at all, or with access to a limited number of services for free? Will a competitive market fill the vacuum without a kick-start like Internet.org? Don't overlook the fact that Facebook's level of market saturation in the rich world is such that they can't really grow at high speeds unless they get access to the world's less-Internet-connected populations.

Science and Technology Japanese bullet train hits 366 mph in test run
It's a magnetic-levitation train, so friction losses are at a minimum. They're reportedly going for 372 mph next week.

Computers and the Internet Google, find my phone
If you're logged into a Google account, have the Google app loaded on your phone, and have location access turned on, typing "find my phone" into the search bar will trigger a location process that shows the phone on a map and can also be used to ring the phone, in case you've lost it somewhere. Of course, location data can be a battery-killer and a potential security hazard, so caveat emptor. In a bench test, the results were close (giving a search radius of about an acre, with the phone actually about 100' outside the perimeter shown, on a claimed accuracy of 30 meters.

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - April 18, 2015

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April 19, 2015

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 19, 2015
Live stream starts at 9:00 pm Central

@briangongol on Twitter

April 24, 2015

Threats and Hazards Our enemies are learning all the time
So should we

Computers and the Internet Android gets into the smartwatch game

Computers and the Internet What the public doesn't know about technology definitely hurts it

Computers and the Internet Yet another example of social engineering as the emerging primary vector for online attacks

Threats and Hazards No proof, but "strong suspicion" that Al Qaeda had plans to attack the Vatican

@briangongolbot on Twitter

April 25, 2015

News Welding class on wheels
Quite a concept: Take the classroom to the people

Business and Finance Reasonably good career advice from a newspaper editor
But applicable to other career sectors

Business and Finance GE is getting out of the financial sector
Is it just because the future of finance looks so bleak?

Business and Finance Comcast and Time Warner won't merge, after all
And they're out $32 million in lobbying costs in the process

News No more strippers at Chinese funerals

@briangongolbot on Twitter

April 28, 2015

Computers and the Internet Google's new mobile phone service piggybacks on WiFi
When away from a wireless computer network, "Project Fi" switches over to Sprint or T-Mobile, which means much of Iowa is in weak service territory. But for those who want $20-a-month cell phone service plus a pay-as-you-go data plan (and who don't mind having to use a Nexus 6 to get it, Google may be offering an option. Generally, it looks a lot like an electric car: If you're the right kind of user in a particular place where the infrastructure is ready for it, then it may be a suitable choice -- but not really for most people.

Science and Technology The most ridiculous gadgets on the market

Computers and the Internet Russian hackers got access to emails from the President
The security breach revealed last year is now reported to have included Presidential emails. The bad guys don't have to penetrate the highly-secure system that protects the President's personal messages in order to get through to the messages of his associates, which gives them access to the same information without the effort. You're only as secure as the person receiving your messages. We should want Presidents who understand and use technology, but we also need to know the limits of our own policies to protect us.

Science and Technology NTSB says CTA train crashed at O'Hare because operator was sleep-deprived
33 people were injured in the March 2014 incident. The report says subways should have black boxes like airplanes and should have systems to automatically take over in case the human being at the controls is incapacitated or screws up. Cheap? No way -- costs would probably break into the tens of millions, just for Chicago. But technology ought to be helping us to live safer lives and taking stupid decisions (and mistakes) out of the hands of people who could hurt others.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

April 29, 2015

Computers and the Internet "Flipped" classrooms
Teachers are learning to post videos for kids to watch at home in lieu of homework, and to have the students do what used to be the homework in the classroom

Computers and the Internet Twitter's earnings slipped into the news early
And the news wasn't good, causing the stock to drop by about a quarter. The company lost $162 million in the first quarter and doesn't seem to expect profits this year.

Computers and the Internet CNN reporter leaves to go to work at Snapchat
Peter Hamby will be hired as "Head of News" in an effort to bring credibility to a feature intended to make Snapchat a little more like a broadcast and a little less focused on one-to-one exchanges. "Discover" is a new piece of Snapchat, introduced late in January, that features video and some written content from CNN, ESPN, Food Network, National Geographic, and other media partners.

News Measured in development years, poor countries could take 100 years to catch up with rich ones in education

Computers and the Internet Twitter's "Periscope" video-streaming tool has a leg up on the competition
Integration within Twitter probably gives it a key advantage over "Meerkat" -- but then, do people really demand that much live-streaming video after all?

@briangongolbot on Twitter

April 30, 2015

News Saudi Arabia went through 5% of its foreign reserves in two months
A new ruler, a big bonus to government employees, and a big drop in oil prices all play roles.

News Obama Presidential library will go to Chicago
The University of Chicago, to be precise.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft announces much at its conference for developers
At "Build", the company announced that the upcoming Windows 10 will be built to handle apps originally programmed to work in Android and the Apple iOS with minimal conversion required -- basically, the company is saying it's no longer worth the fight to expect programmers to start with Windows in mind from scratch, so why not just assimilate the competition? The new operating system will also be designed so that a phone or tablet running Windows 10 could more or less serve as a portable computer with the capacity to plug into a large display and keyboard -- it will automatically adjust to the display you're using. And their new Internet browser will be called "Microsoft Edge", rather than the code name "Spartan" under which it was developed.

Business and Finance Nebraska minimum wage will rise to $9 an hour in 2016, but teens might get less
The legislature is considering a plan to set a lower minimum for teenagers in order to give them a shot at employment they might otherwise not get with a higher minimum.

Computers and the Internet Customers play tricks on self-service kiosks at McDonalds
One diner in Chicagoland came up with a $25, 4-lb. burger by adding everything he could to his order. The bigger story -- the arrival of self-service at fast-food restaurants in America -- should not go without notice. It ought to reduce errors and either allow restaurants to run with fewer staff members or put their existing staff levels to better use providing a higher level of customer service.

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