Gongol.com Archives: May 2015
Iowa farmers already see it coming: "[T]his year isn't going to be so good"
ISU Extension reports that prices for corn and soybeans are below break-even pricing -- farmers, on average, will lose money on both crops. And it's not going to help anything that 25% of Iowa's egg-laying hens have avian influenza and will probably have to be killed.
1975 Omaha tornado represented via 2015 technology
Contemporary visualizations help put the history in context. An EF-4 tornado passing through a major urban area is a significant event.
Take a chart and turn it into a slopegraph
MidAmerican Energy plans another $1.5 billion in wind-energy generation
The company says that 57% of its retail electrical load will come from wind once the latest projects are completed. Related: How one of those turbines gets built.
Columnist: Microsoft may be on the verge of being hot
Windows 10 and everything that's coming with it may be enough to turn a lot of heads
Some context on Nepal's earthquake and the recovery
Notes from the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting
Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - May 2, 2015
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 3, 2015
Comparisons of international costs of labor
For obvious reasons, the manufacturing sector is interested in the cost of labor, particularly across borders. It turns out that Norway and Luxembourg get more bang for their buck (in terms of GDP per hour worked) than the United States. Everyone else trails behind (though Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden all hold their own.
Do emojis really improve communication?
Like sign language, they can convey a lot of emotion effectively in a way that's hard to do with words. But they're also easily misunderstood, and that's the shortcoming of communication that deliberately avoids words.
Tornado warning, party of 6
The National Weather Service now publishes impact statistics along with their polygonal warning areas for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. One warning today affects an estimated population of 6.
Tesla moves into power packs
A fascinating study of Henry Singleton at Teledyne
Federal Reserve chair thinks stocks are overpriced
Price is what you pay, and value is what you get
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder won't run for President in 2016
But it would be good for @onetoughnerd to stay close to the national spotlight
Better greeting cards for cancer patients
Chinese researchers may be prepared to create genetically-modified people
A whole lot of lost Mark Twain writing has been discovered
What's going to happen centuries from today when historians discover all of the things that missed digitization?
Self-driving semi trucks are a reality
But it could take another ten years for them to hit the highways. Nevada has favorable rules for self-piloted cars, so this demonstration probably won't be the last. In the long run, self-driving trucks make utter sense: The trucking companies have a huge financial incentive to gain efficiency, reduce risks, and reduce costs. Other groups that will be key to the adoption of autonomous vehicles: Outside sales forces with large territories to cover, and the elderly and physically disabled. ■ One important caveat: The acceptance and adoption of self-piloted vehicles depends upon them being seen as iterative improvements in the safety of human driving, rather than as a replacement for it (even if that's the logical ultimate goal). We humans have established a very high baseline for the number of casualties we accept due to road travel when a human is behind the wheel. Americans tolerate more than 32,000 road deaths a year, or about 90 a day. That number has declined a lot since the 1990s (probably because the vehicles themselves are increasingly safe for the people inside), since the number of crashes hasn't really changed much in that time. But if 90 people were to die every day due to plane crashes, the public would lose its mind -- because our baseline expectations for air-travel deaths is near zero. It follows that with our baseline expectation for deaths involving autonomous vehicles on the roadways also at or near zero, the public will lose its mind if it sees people dying in self-driving cars, no matter the logic for their implementation. A frightened public is primed to do a lot of stupid things, like banning self-piloted cars. Acceptance hinges on autonomous technology being perceived as a tool that reduces the number of crashes by making human driving safer, not as a separate category of travel altogether. Of course, that may require acknowledging that human drivers are pretty unsafe for a lot of reasons. ■ Flashback: "The first mass audiences for self-piloted vehicles will probably be the trucking industry..." (2012) ■ Also: Savings from self-driving cars (2010)
Mountain View city council rejects Google's crazy campus plan
LinkedIn gets the bulk of the property in question instead. Google isn't happy about the decision, which the city council tried to spin as an attempt at ensuring economic diversity (Google already owns a lot of Mountain View). At first glance, it sounds like the city has a heavy-handed role in planning, which is generally undesirable. But, assuming the power is adequately restrained from abuse, they're probably right to be skeptical of depending too heavily upon a single employer. Google's plans went beyond ambitious and tripped over into silliness.
David Letterman thinks viral videos signal it's time for him to go
IBM's Watson: First it won Jeopardy, and now it invents recipes
Natural-language processing of thousands of recipes from Bon Appetit gives Watson a starting point to invent new recipes altogether
The Brown Institute is closing its Twin Cities campus
The college for broadcasters is moving to online-only instruction
The avian influenza outbreak is huge
The USDA says we're at 30 million affected birds (almost entirely chickens and turkeys). That's meant a kill total so large that it's getting hard to figure out where to put all of the carcasses. The good news, if there is any, may be that the authorities don't see a big risk to humans from the outbreak. But a state of emergency has been declared in Iowa anyway.
Do big personalities survive without big media brand names?
Bill Simmons of "Grantland" fame is leaving ESPN. Will he decide to put up his own shingle or go with another big brand in sports?
Yes, there are more than just white guys in technology
A conference called "Big Omaha" appears to have successfully broadened its appeal and its roster of presenters beyond the class of people most widely represented in tech. Sounds like it took some deliberate effort, but it also sounds like it was worth doing.
The skills employers really want
Everyone's familiar with the idea of a skills gap -- the difference between what employers want and what prospective employees are bringing to the table. Here are some of the skills that the business world is desperately seeking.
UK elects 20-year-old to Parliament
She's the youngest since 1667
Two roles for supercomputing in health care
First, they can be used to accelerate the pace of DNA sequencing, for patients and (when applicable) their illnesses. Second, they can be used to analyze the available information on a patient's condition and cross-reference it against the state of the art in medical research to recommend a course of treatment. ■ Computer-augmented decision-making is the way of the future, if we're smart about it. But "augmented" or "enhanced" is the key here: Computers shouldn't be put in charge of making all of the decisions, particularly because it is at the margin where big errors are made, and computers aren't yet prepared to handle that on their own. Take, for instance, the apparent labeling of an Al Jazeera journalist as a terrorist by the NSA. He met certain trigger criteria for labeling...probably because he was interviewing figures in terrorist groups for the news. The behavior of a journalist interviewing terrorists might easily look like the behavior of a terrorist, but they're two wildly different things.
McDonald's as a wildly successful educational institution
People learn "soft skills" from entry-level jobs like the ones most commonly associated with McDonald's. And if we make it too hard for people to get those jobs (as by raising the minimum wage too aggressively), we price people out of that "school" and make it harder for them to get into the workforce successfully. ■ Related: Notes from the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting
Swatch is getting into smartwatches
The CEO says they're going to introduce a battery next year that could power a smartwatch for months at a time
There won't be a Windows 11
"Windows will be delivered as a service", starting with Windows 10, and will be updated on a rolling basis
Honest interpretations of job titles
A poem for the republicans of the world on the arrival of a royal baby
The economy as we know it, May 2015 edition
Omaha residential customers to get 1-gigabit Internet service by next year
At $99 a month, it's more costly than most Internet service. But it's also orders of magnitude faster. Cox Communications is trying the same in Phoenix and Las Vegas, so Omahans are privileged.
Some producers are willing to take big chances that oil prices are coming back
If persistent and widespread, that makes for a pretty short bust
Aerial photos of the Lake City tornado damage
Man faces 15 years in prison for hurting 7-week-old baby
There has to be something better we can do to protect the defenseless innocent.
Moody's declares Chicago's credit rating is junk
Public-sector pensions are an enormous liability nationwide -- they just happen to show up in certain hot spots
Downward pressure on oil prices might trigger confiscation by the Russian government
When kleptocracy takes over, it's hard to see a peaceful way out
Cedar Rapids family busted for trying to ship arms to the Middle East
More than 150 guns were seized
Bo Pelini is getting $737 an hour not to coach Nebraska football
Heads he wins, tails Nebraska loses
Why Verizon wants to buy AOL
It's a matter of online video ad revenues. The deal is for $4.4 billion.
Estonia practices largest war games ever
The tiny NATO member has reason to be alarmed about Russia
Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #19
Someone fired a gun inside a Megabus from Chicago to Minneapolis and other passengers had to subdue him. You simply don't always have time to call the police. Related: A student at the University of Iowa photographed women with the tools they carry to protect themselves.
Secretary Clinton's hostile relationship with the press
Consumer Reports names ten cars likely to last for 200,000 miles
Every one of them is a Toyota or a Honda
The little tyrant
North Korea's defense chief has been murdered by the state. Speculation abounds that a coup had been plotted.
Google's self-driving cars -- some accidents, but the company says not their fault
Ultimately, the totally self-driving car is still too far-out for many people to accept. We'll get there, though, as long as there is a transition during which computers take over more and more of the driving in the interest of enhancing driver and passenger safety. We should do our best to reach a goal of taking humans out of the driving equation entirely as soon as possible (since human error and fallibility is the leading cause of accidents), but it's going to take a little time.
Drone group formally activated at Des Moines Air National Guard wing
Wall Street traders think the Federal Reserve is bluffing about raising interest rates
At least, any time this year. And with the Producer Price Index down for the month of April, one almost has to wonder whether the traders are right.
Facebook picks nine publishers for quick-loading news articles
Stories from the New York Times, BBC, NBC, The Atlantic, and others will load about ten times faster than those from other sites because they'll be pre-loaded on the mobile app (starting with the iOS, then showing up on Android later). Of course, that may only make the publishers involved more dependent upon Facebook than before, and that ought to make them nervous. But maybe not any more nervous than those publishers who had special deals with AOL and CompuServe back in the day...perhaps?
The subtle politics of B-roll
The State Department and the Pentagon are asking reporters not to use B-roll footage of ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh that shows the terrorists at strength. And, if they value the classical liberal values that the terrorists are fighting against, the journalists probably shouldn't use that footage anyway. But journalists should also be perpetually resistant to any kind of pressure from the government to frame things in a manner the government desires. It's a tough case: The wrong people are asking for the right thing.
A third of Russians fear a US invasion
Penn State's engineering school targeted by Chinese state-backed hackers
"The principle of transparency is the same regardless of what technology officials choose to use"
Omaha World-Herald gets backing from the office of the Nebraska attorney general, saying that the paper should get to see work-related text messages sent to the personal cell phone of the mayor of Omaha
How we got to a 162-game baseball season
Someone at The Onion loves Photoshop a little too much
The Supreme Court didn't need to heed the catcalls to "take it off"
Every boom is followed by a bust
A ton of money is flowing into skyscraper real estate in New York City right now. It's fueled by a combination of low interest rates, low returns on alternative investments (like bonds), a strong stock market (creating a wealth effect with concentrated effects near Wall Street), and a poor economic environment around the world (which makes foreign investors over-eager to put money into projects in the US). It cannot and will not last forever.
Automatic speed control wasn't working just before Amtrak crash
The more use we can make of computer augmentation of human control in transportation (cars, trains, and aircraft alike), the better. It's expensive and difficult to implement, but we have to think through the cost-benefit analysis with a bias towards implementation.
How does a community-college newspaper get into a dispute that escalates to serious First Amendment issues?
Not the way to protest your innocence
A company founded and run by a family now standing accused of trying to smuggle weapons to the Middle East is protesting that their e-mails contain "privileged" attorney-client communications. While potentially true, that surely doesn't make them look innocent.
Seems like a strong antidote to helicopter-style parenting
President Obama earned $130,000 in book royalties last year
Former President Clinton seems to be doing better giving speeches, but the residuals off a couple of books sure aren't hurting
A few tips for better presentations
Nothing especially ground-breaking, but given the culturally inculcated phobia of public speaking, perhaps these tips will help
The 2016 Presidential cattle call begins in earnest
Eleven announced or prospective candidates showed up to give speeches in Des Moines
Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - May 16, 2015
Forecast: Russia will get more territorially aggressive this summer
Putin's hands may be tied in a vicious cycle
The Clintons have made $25 million giving speeches since the start of last year
Nice work, if you can find it
Google says its self-driving cars have been in crashes, but none of their own fault
The sooner we can get humans out of the driver's seat, the better. We are what cause accidents.
Discover is rolling out "chip" cards
Intriguingly, they avoid calling it by the "EMV" name -- for Europay/Mastercard/Visa. These cards are a step towards (but not a silver bullet for) better transactional security.
Companies that have a serious commitment to and method of developing human capital are going to have a durable competitive advantage in the marketplace. What's interesting is that many of them are turning away from the conventional academy in order to get there.
Technology and the law don't always travel in tandem
And the State Department's situation with a certain former Secretary and her e-mails is a pretty good example
Half of Iowa and ISU grads leave Iowa
And 85% of UNI grads stay. Lots of the grads from the other schools boomerang later, and residency after graduation isn't the only thing that matters. But it should be noted and considered when it's budget time.
CenturyLink says some Des Moines business customers will get gigabit Internet access
Cedar Falls, Omaha, and Kansas City are all getting broader options for gigabit service
The National Weather Service is cleaning up its forecast icons
"That'll show the government."
Uber hires talent away from Google
But not technical talent -- political talent.
$50 million in incentives and no jobs to show for it
There may be no alternative but for Congress to step in and stop states from fighting one another with economic-development incentives. Building infrastructure and keeping a healthy environment for regulations and taxation? That's good competition. Unaccountable, no-recourse subsidies and tax breaks for the politically-connected? That's another.
A worthy review of "Hyperbole and a Half"
When markets fail, government can play a role
Making antibiotics doesn't really pay very well, and they tend to lose effictiveness over time. States may be able to step in and do something to solve the market failure by offering prizes for those who develop new antibiotics and buying the rights to their use to ensure a profit to the makers.
That pesky Monroe Doctrine
The US hasn't spent enough time winning enough friends in Latin America, and China's been interested in filling that void
Some signals point to Apple building its own search engine
Why do estimates of Social Security's solvency keep getting worse?
Blame systemic bias in the way the agency has been conducting its forecasts. Underestimating costs, overestimating income. It's a serious problem.
China's building islands in the South China Sea
600 miles from the actual China itself, they're nothing more than naked territorial grabs
"[T]hat you can laugh at yourself or point to your own ignorance...almost gives you a license to be glib"
The meaner cultural effects of David Letterman
Minimum wage in LA goes to $15 an hour by 2020
Pegging the minimum wage to inflation is one thing. Dramatic increases in minimum wage rates are likely to have long-term effects that stunt the future earnings of those starting from the low end of the skill level.
Are people finally putting collegiate compensation in perspective?
Legislators in Illinois are figuring out that their college presidents are getting perks that are out of touch with reality. ESPN has noticed that Charlie Weiss is being paid more money to not coach the Notre Dame football team than the current coach is being paid. And the Omaha World-Herald has done the math and calculates that Bo Pelini has a $737-an-hour job as the fired football coach at the University of Nebraska.
What real-estate bubble?
Towers being built all around Central Park in New York City are going ever-higher at ever-higher prices. Money is cheap and markets outside the United States aren't wildly attractive -- that's making speculation a little too attractive.
World incomes are getting a lot better on the low end
Ricketts family buys three more Wrigleyville rooftops
Your name in a different generation
A clever use of Social Security name data
The cities likeliest to be hit by terrorist attacks
Almost none of them are in Europe or North America -- perhaps a reminder that "safety" is a relative concept, and that perceptions are not always reality
Facebook encourages people to "check-in" as "safe" after a disaster, but...
...there are probably better ways of communicating your status to those who need to know it after an event like a major earthquake or something similar. A simple Facebook status click may give the wrong impression about what's really "safe".
Buffett: A better EITC beats a higher minimum wage
Industrial espionage is serious and goes deep
The chair of the Temple University physics department is charged with trying to steal industrial secrets for China
Apple might want to deliver local TV programming
"[T]he best way to automate a new habit is to set the bar incredibly low"
And the best way to be happier in general is, apparently, to build lots of good habits since life is so heavily governed by them.
How much US land area would it take to equal the same population as that of the entire UK?
Australian police issue tongue-in-cheek "most-wanted" for Nickelback
The charge? Musical crimes.
Why do thunderstorms pop up at night without daytime heating?
NOAA's looking into it
The appearance of genius
Thanks to a new font, you can borrow Albert Einstein's handwriting for your computer, but that won't make your thoughts as deep as his. Ironically, what makes Einstein endure in pop culture is that he was a decent writer of words that communicated with the general public -- not that he was a great calligrapher.
Six European countries have youth unemployment rates of at least 30%
Put them on a watchlist now for short-term future volatility and long-term stagnant growth. Unemployed young people with nothing to lose tend to do more than their fair share of stupid things, including crime and riots. And if they don't get a start on their job histories now, they're going to pay a penalty later on.
The Office of Dissent Management is at it again
"Critics worry that governance by social media will cheapen the power of the presidency by substituting hashtag activism for serious policymaking." Moreover, there is a serious risk that "engagement" by the White House via tools like Twitter only serves to encourage the cranks and wackos of the opposition and the Hallelujah Chorus among the President's supporters. In reality, the executive branch must engage with the public and should do so thoughtfully and with dignity. It's not entirely clear that appearing on "Between Two Ferns" achieves that. The Presidency is an office and an institution, not a consumer brand.
Smartphones are a massive security vulnerability
How the ozone hole got plugged
Corruption in the world's most popular sport? You don't say.
Russian cyberthieves file for $50 million in fake tax refunds
They used available information to steal 200,000 identities and apparently got away with it about 50% of the time. The IRS suggests the criminals got SSNs, birthdates, street addresses, and filing statuses from outside sources before conducting the attempted thefts. All the more reason to watch carefully what you share and with whom on social media and everywhere else online.
Electric airplanes exist and could have a future
Their biggest advantage may be in reducing maintenance costs (and, potentially, both noise and air pollution). It's possible to imagine a future in which autonomously-piloted electric aircraft ferry passengers in small numbers like a skybus service. Not soon, but it could make sense and make air travel cheaper, more accessible, and more convenient for those who don't live near major hubs
SpaceX gets approval to launch satellites for the military
That puts them into competition with a Lockheed/Boeing joint venture
Birth certificates as an anti-human-trafficking device
Some thoughts on the Internet trends of 2015
Google's new "Now On Tap" brings a new layer to smartphone applications
Google wants it to reside more or less between the user and the applications the user employs, and for it to link the different applications together in ways that they aren't permitted to do on their own. Adoption may largely depend upon how users perceive the cost-benefit equation between more of Google's intrusion into their worlds and the potential benefits the seamless integration could bring.
The state of the print media summarized in one story
The Tribune Publishing Co. just bought the San Diego Union Tribune...and promptly laid off 178 employees, mostly at the printing plant. Newspapers may involve the word "paper" in name alone more often than not in the coming years, particularly as many of them move to a digital-first or digital-only model.
The White House says @potus will be a legacy Twitter account
They also say that the account is to be nothing but "Tweets exclusively from" the President. Which is kind of funny, considering there's already an @barackobama account that doesn't really belong to him. Guess he'll have to be something like @barackobama44 after he leaves office.
CEOs in the media sector are disproportionately represented among the highest-paid
A summary of personality types
Using the popular Myers-Briggs format
Google promotes its latest new technologies
The company's work is fantastic for consumers, not so much for investors
First-quarter GDP shrank by 0.7%
That's the second contraction in five quarters. They're not consecutive, so it doesn't count as a recession...but contractions aren't good.
Roads? Where we're going, we don't need...drivers.
Iowa City, North Liberty, and Coralville area could get a road exclusively for autonomous vehicles
"Enemy plots thwarted almost everyday"
The news inside Iran paints a picture of paranoia...and the US and Israel are the supposed culprits. Of course, it's actually Saudi Arabia causing the most immediate and direct pain to Iran right now by taking the air out of oil prices.
If Albert Einstein had gotten a performance review
Who's setting up new businesses?
Wunderkinds get all the good press, but entrepreneurs are pretty evenly distributed across age groups -- and workers over age 50 are better-represented than in the past. But women are much harder to find among the ranks.
Look to the revealed preferences for the news before the news
Demand for supertankers has gotten suddenly hot again, and that's a pretty good sign that the oil producers aren't looking to cut back
The value of Latino voters to the Republican Party
One graph that illustrates two sea-change economic factors
The big, big decline in the number of people in the American workforce and the sustained zeroing-out of the Federal funds rate over the last ten years are a pair of massive forces bearing on the US economy. One signals a generation leaving the workforce, and the other heralds an unprecedented era of effectively free money for the borrowing.
Art forgery: The only crime where it might actually pay to report yourself
The state of Subway
The Washington Post calls a 3% decline in sales "the fall of Subway". That's an exaggeration. The real takeaways: Average sales per store are under $450,000 and a franchise can be started for under $125,000. And Subway's main challenge seems to be that American consumers' tastes have migrated upscale, even if we still seem to want things healthy and cheap. ■ On a related note: The Post has also heat-mapped the nation's fast-food sandwich chains.
They say, "If you see something, say something" -- but what about when it's the government being creepy?
The ordinary person, behaving legally, should have no expectation -- none -- of being pulled over by an unmarked police vehicle or of being surveilled by airborne cameras or other detection equipment. Those activities lend themselves to abuse (like the police imposter reported in the Des Moines area recently), intimidation, and a lack of attention to real threats which cannot be distinguished from their secret government counterparts (like the suspicious unmarked aircraft recently doing circles over the Twin Cities). "If you see something, say something" is totally meaningless if the most suspicious behavior of all is associated with the activities of government itself. Police conducting ordinary patrols should be in uniform and in marked vehicles, be they cars, motorcycles, trucks, or aircraft, and the only exceptions should be for defined and limited purposes, like raids or investigative work against a specific target. We should expect that Sky Marshals go undercover because the element of surprise is essential to their mission. But on the roads or in the general public, we should know exactly who's enforcing the law.
There are a lot more Republicans now, thanks to the French
The UMP just re-named itself
Trouble in the skies: Green lasers and drones both creating problems in the last few days
To a large extent, we're going to have to evaluate whether it's going to be better to try to prevent people from misusing those tools or to find ways to mitigate the trouble they cause. Since terrorists aren't likely to be deterred by laws, we probably have to focus on hazard-mitigation adaptations for the aircraft already in the skies.
Harvard surveys its seniors
The Crimson published results of its senior survey, and at least two lines are worrisome. First, a third of males in the elite social crowd are going into finance. Second, of the 14% of seniors going into engineering, half hope to be out of the sector in ten years.