Gongol.com Archives: June 2015

Brian Gongol

June 2015
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June 1, 2015

Computers and the Internet $537 million fundraising round at Snapchat concludes
Based upon the proportional ownership involved, that means someone thinks the company is worth $16 billion

Science and Technology A near-perfect recharge of a battery?
Research at the University of Waterloo may have found a way to make lithium-oxygen and sodium-oxygen batteries work, which would make energy storage cheaper and more portable than now

Computers and the Internet Teach yourself programming

Computers and the Internet One person's trash is another person's $200,000 antique computer

News Neverland Ranch is up for a $100 million sale
That gets the lucky buyer a 12,000-square-foot home, 21 other buildings, and 2,700 acres. Or you could buy 12,590 acres of Iowa farmland at last year's average per-acre price of $7,943 (that's about 20 square miles of productive land).


June 2, 2015

Threats and Hazards Absolutely miserable failure rate by the TSA
Good security comes from having many low-friction layers that aggregate to a high level of security, rather than a single and highly obtrusive system in which we vest all of our hopes

Business and Finance On real professionalism
People abuse the word "professional" -- applying it to suggest a higher level of quality. In reality, professionalism is about following a certain code of ethics. In return for being compensated well, you agree to put the client's needs first. The story of a 99-year-old financial adviser is a good example.

News Russia plans a new $5 billion aircraft carrier

Computers and the Internet Google, Apple, and now Facebook trend toward higher levels of encryption for regular users

Broadcasting "Altruism pornography"
A good way to describe some of the exploitations of poor people for the amusement of television

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June 3, 2015

The United States of America A perspective on being the world's sole superpower
Some intriguing insight from Ian Bremmer

Broadcasting ABC's "World News Tonight" is doing well in the ratings by emphasizing the visual
The future belongs to whomever can tell the important stories in a compelling manner. When we make the important stories boring and elevate the trivial (as it's being not-so-subtly suggested that ABC is doing), we move in the wrong direction. What is visually compelling isn't necessarily good journalism. Moreover, it's up to good storytellers to find the novel and original in the world and bring them to people in a serendipitous fashion. When we lose serendipity, we lose a great deal. Synthesis is really the foundation for understanding great things.

Computers and the Internet "Best" is a terrible way to close an email

Threats and Hazards The FBI is flying creepy surveillance planes over American cities
How are people supposed to recognize and report real threatening behavior when the government does exactly the kinds of things that people are supposed to report?

Computers and the Internet Facebook will build a third data center in Altoona, Iowa
Cheap, reliable power; a low cost of land; a central location away from most natural disasters; a high-quality workforce. All contribute to making Central Iowa an attractive place to build a data center.

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June 4, 2015

Business and Finance Stop talking about "new rules of work"
Every time someone writes a list of "the new rules of work", the soul is trampled just a little. Certain circumstances of work always have evolved and always will, but for the most part, the fundamentals of work really aren't any different than they have ever been. The "new rules" are mainly just trivial details.

Business and Finance Privatization isn't dead
The UK government plans to sell off its remaining shares in the Royal Mail. 70% has already been privatized; the remaining 30% is about to go on sale.

Computers and the Internet Google tries to do with Android what Microsoft did with Windows years ago
The more your platform becomes the universal conduit for commercial activity, the better your prospects

Threats and Hazards Ukraine fears a full-scale Russian invasion in the near future
And here's the nightmare scenario: Russia goes ahead and invades, the West responds to repel the invasion, and it gets spun in Russia as though the West is invading Russia. And yet, for what purpose is there even such a thing as NATO if it doesn't stand up against the threat of invasion?

Business and Finance IMF wants the Federal Reserve to wait on raising interest rates
On the macro scale, the IMF is worried about what dominoes might fall if the US economy isn't propped up even longer

Recent radio podcasts

June 5, 2015

Computers and the Internet 4 million Federal employees -- past and present -- now victims of cyberattack
The Federal government is pointing fingers at China, and that's not something that's done lightly. This is war, just without the gunfire.

Computers and the Internet What's Google's future, anyway?
Eric Schmidt thinks the company's moon shots might be the key

Computers and the Internet A major Twitter shareholder posits his thoughts on breaking out
The service is too daunting to those who aren't regular users -- the author says a billion people have signed up and then quit

Threats and Hazards Social engineering attacks target Iowans
People are being bullied into thinking their utilities are going to be cut off, and the criminals are extorting payments via credit or prepaid cards. It's not necessarily all that high-tech an attack, and it exploits the weak link in a lot of technological systems: People. One would think the payments should be traceable, but perhaps there are enough steps through gray areas to give cover to the crooks. MidAmerican Energy says the evildoers are even spoofing the company's Caller ID.

News A positive and spontaneous human response
A man was rescued from beneath a bus because bystanders took action and signalled to others that aid was needed. We are herd animals, and it should come as no surprise that most people follow the crowd -- we'd never have survived anthropologically if everyone always went off on their own. But we also need a certain proportion -- perhaps one in fifteen or twenty -- who are capable of walking straight into the headwinds of social pressure and doing whatever they judge best, regardless of the consequences. We need just enough of us to be excessively confident and resistant to social pressure -- but still with a strong moral compass -- that when things start to go wrong, there's someone around for others to follow. To an extent, perhaps the difference between a sociopath and a great leader is empathy: Both carry on regardless of social pressures, but the leader does so out of empathy for others. It's been suggested that ego resilience is a particular trait of those who do heroic things.

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June 6, 2015

Threats and Hazards Russian President Putin blames Ukranian crisis squarely on US and Europe

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - June 6, 2015


June 8, 2015

Business and Finance Why it's unpleasant to be the most competent person in the office
Or, as the title of an Atlantic Monthly article puts it, "Being a go-getter is no fun".

The United States of America Free-trade agreements as a tool of American strength
Condoleezza Rice: "Free trade is no substitute for military strength or for giving voice to those who still seek liberty", but "trade is an essential element" of peace

Computers and the Internet Apple's announcements at developers conference

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol on WHO Radio - June 8, 2015

Recent radio podcasts

June 9, 2015

Weather and Disasters The oddities of May weather
It was the wettest May on record for a not-unsubstantial portion of the US

Business and Finance GE is speed-racing out of the financial-services market
Getting back to manufacturing, in part because of the pain caused to the company back in 2008/2009. But de-conglomeratizing isn't always a great idea. If your company is run by people who are really good at allocating capital, then it's highly efficient to be in lots of different businesses that have different economic cycles, so the capital-allocators can take advantage of good opportunities when they arise.

Computers and the Internet Is Apple Music the main "big deal" out of Apple's latest conference?
$10 a month to stream. Supposedly they'll have some channels that will be "curated" by people, rather than picked by algorithm.

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June 11, 2015

News 100,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to escape Libya

Business and Finance Has the US really lost a decade's worth of economic growth?

Business and Finance Snoop Dogg sues Pabst
He claims breach of contract over the sale of the Colt 45 line

News Whatever happened to rotating restaurants on big hotels?

Weather and Disasters Satellite imagery showed the NWS that the Lake City tornado track was different from initial impressions

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June 12, 2015

Business and Finance Generation X gets the worst of things when it comes to money
Bad luck hasn't done much to help them

Threats and Hazards Someone needs to start thinking hard about what happens if ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh manages to permanentize as a state
No sensible person wants it to happen, but what's the roadmap to keep it from happening? Nobody seems to know, and that's a big problem. And what happens if they manage to make it permanent?

Agriculture A commercial-scale hydroponic garden is working in Omaha
Right in the middle of the Midwest, someone is working on a precursor to vertical farming. That might suggest that the future of vertical farming is much more likely than it may at first appear.

News China's military is growing
We don't have to be allies and we don't have to be rivals, but we shouldn't ignore where they're investing heavily

Business and Finance NBA and Nike: A $1 billion, 8-year deal
Adidas is walking away from its relationship with the league in 2017

@briangongol on Twitter

June 13, 2015

Business and Finance Some interesting insights on US household net worth

Socialism Doesn't Work Under authoritarianism, everyone's time runs out sooner or later
A former security chief is going to prison for the rest of his life. Never be surprised when there's a purge under an authoritarian regime.

News Are skyscraper architects just getting high together?
The silly-looking proposal for Two World Trade Center really begs the question whether skyscraper architects are even serious anymore

Computers and the Internet Twitter is eliminating its character limit on direct messages
They're going from 140 characters to 10,000 (which is effectively unlimited, for all intents and purposes). This positions them to potentially provide a sort of trusted alternative to email.

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - June 13, 2015

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June 14, 2015

Business and Finance "Why I defaulted on my student loans"
A writer who is at least in his mid-50s and who has published five books thinks it isn't his job to pay his student loans. And he "is writing a memoir about money", according to his New York Times biography. This is not an individual who has anything constructive to add to the discussion about student loans. He's simply taking pride in his own irresponsibility.

Business and Finance Fiat Chrysler really, really wants another merger

Threats and Hazards A good example of the needless waste of human potential in American corrections

Business and Finance Marriott will launch Netflix access in 100 hotels by year-end
Hotel guests' tastes have changed; one wonders why this has taken so long

Business and Finance A collection of productivity tools

Socialism Doesn't Work Finland's economic situation -- not so grand
Those who have fallen all over themselves for a long time to praise the Nordic social economies might want to reconsider. There are certain specific circumstances under which a strongly socialized economy can be sustained, but when important elements go missing, the system falls apart.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 14, 2015

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June 15, 2015

Health UI Hospitals takes small steps toward protecting patients
Too many have taken their own lives simply by jumping off the parking ramps. A sad illustration of our woefully inadequate care for mental wellness.

News Cold War v2.0
Heavy weapons are headed to Europe, and who could blame us for sending them?

Aviation News United leaves passengers in Canadian barracks when plane breaks down
A real disaster for customer serice; a real credit to Canadian hospitality

Health Chicago hockey legend won't enjoy the Blackhawks victory
Whether his dementia is the result of game-related traumatic brain injury or not, it's sad to see people like Stan Mikita lose the capacity to use their minds as in their youth. More research is decidedly needed.

Science and Technology SpaceX opens competition to college students to design Hyperloop pods
They're building a test track and eventually want to see the technology commercialized for 700 mph transportation in a tube

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June 16, 2015

Threats and Hazards Why we should assume Russia and China both have the Snowden documents
It might not even require that they have the documents Snowden himself captured -- they may very well have been inside the systems already

Threats and Hazards More nuclear saber-rattling
This nonsense should have ended with the Cold War

Science and Technology Automation to enable fresh groceries in underserved neighborhoods
Automation reduces the cost of delivery and might ultimately make fresh groceries economical (and profitable) to sell in low-income neighborhoods. A robogrocery looks like a very smart application of technology to solve a human problem.

Business and Finance OPEC has no apparent plans to cut back on oil production
When a cartel can't enforce enough production discipline to create an effective price control, nobody should be surprised when everyone instead goes all-out to produce like mad

The United States of America Reagan was packing heat
He carried a gun in a briefcase as President. Maybe he knew they were going to make "Air Force One" and was practicing for his own role.

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June 17, 2015

Computers and the Internet Samsung Galaxy phones can be hijacked
600 million phones are at risk

News Clean up after yourselves
Protest and free speech are one thing; leaving behind a mess for other people to clean up is quite another

Agriculture North Korea says it's having the worst drought in a century
A nation that lives without creating surplus won't do well in times of shortage

Business and Finance California wants Uber drivers to count as employees, not contractors
That's a direct hit to the company's central business model

Computers and the Internet Former Nokia CEO is leaving Microsoft
He led the sale of the company to Microsoft, and about a year later, he's out

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June 18, 2015

Computers and the Internet The OPM data breach was a full-blown catastrophy

Computers and the Internet What makes a place attractive to data centers

Business and Finance Strip Andrew Jackson from the $20 and leave Alexander Hamilton prominent on the $10
The plan to put a female figure on the $10 bill (in addition to Hamilton) would be much better-executed by stripping Jackson from the $20. The $20 is a more widely-used bill, so it would put the female figure in wider circulation, and Jackson is a poor representative of the virtues we espouse today (among other things, he was a slave owner and authorized the Indian Removal Act of 1830). Jackson deserves no exalted place in history or on our currency.

The United States of America The nation is fortunate to have Paul Ryan in Congress

Computers and the Internet Ello gets an iOS app

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June 19, 2015

Computers and the Internet Microsoft's upcoming Edge browser should be much improved
Standards have won at last

Computers and the Internet China had a year of unfettered access to OPM database
Everyone seems to have an excuse -- antiquated computers, slow procurement policies, and the like. The time for decisive action is long overdue.

Computers and the Internet EU plans to hold websites responsible for what users post

News FCC says carriers can block robocalls
Just wait -- this only means more awful calls from spoofed numbers

Computers and the Internet FCC wants to fine AT&T $100 million for lack of transparency on "unlimited" data plans
The carrier says it has to throttle back customers who are responsible for the heaviest use; the FCC says the problem is that can't really be called "unlimited"


June 22, 2015

Business and Finance American business should prepare itself for a congestion crisis
Supply chains that break down can spell death to businesses

The United States of America Take down the Confederate flag from South Carolina state grounds

Computers and the Internet Don't let your domain names expire
They're cheap. Once you reserve a name, you'd better be committed to holding on.

Business and Finance Supreme Court decides in favor of the small farmer who wants out from the raisin cartel

Science and Technology Pebble Time now open for pre-orders

The United States of America On the malappropriation of Native American identity
While many are guilty of adopting the superficial trappings without any deeper understanding (fetishizing things like feathered headdress without any real engagement with American Indian culture), there's also the complex and curious case of those who are descended from First Nations but who were culturally cut off from their heritage by aggressive tactics of assimilation.

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June 23, 2015

Business and Finance Retailers drop the Confederate flag
In many ways, the retail-level decision-making is actually much more important culturally than anything done at the legal level. If Amazon.com and Walmart decide that something is too toxic to sell, then they're literally putting their money at risk in making the decision.

Business and Finance Durable goods orders have dropped in three of the last four months
That paints a highly worrying picture of the economy

The United States of America Ben Bernanke agrees: Kick Jackson off the twenty
Leave Alexander Hamilton in his place on the $10 bill

Science and Technology Google's health-tracking wristband
Big deal? Maybe. Too much privacy encroachment for some? For sure.

Computers and the Internet IBM's "Chef Watson" goes to a more public stage
As of today, it moves to a public Facebook group and more open access

Recent radio podcasts

June 24, 2015

Computers and the Internet OPM breach probably affects 18 million Federal employees
It's a huge breach of security, and nobody wants the hot potato to fix it

Computers and the Internet Google puts an "unsend" button on Gmail
Some may find it useful, but it won't stop every regret

Iowa "Connect Every Acre" legislation becomes law
Iowa's effort to get broadband everywhere

Threats and Hazards ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh begins minting coinage
Another trapping of statehood

Computers and the Internet Emojis are the hot thing of the moment
But that's only going to continue for a while -- they aren't clear enough to remain durable

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June 25, 2015

Threats and Hazards The problem of baseline error
The New York Times notes: "Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims". It is depressing and it is sad. And it's important to public policy that we recognize the baseline error that creeps into our thinking on the subject. "Lone-wolf" extremism of the type described fades in the public's attention because it has become familiar. It's not common, really, but it's been around for a long time -- since at least the 1960s, when white male killers murdered President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and 15 people on the University of Texas campus. It is sad but true that we have established a baseline expectation for those kinds of killers in our collective attention. Consequently, when a new type of killer emerges (like the kinds who attacked America on 9/11), they get a disproportionate share of attention because they are new and novel. Our baseline expectation for those killings starts at zero, so we pay attention when something causes the number to rise above zero. This baseline error has serious consequences for public policy-making; we shouldn't address problems in proportion to how novel they are, but in proportion to their consequences and what we can do to prevent them.

Business and Finance Cartels like to protect their advantages
French taxi drivers protest the rise of ride-sharing services like Uber by blockading the streets

Computers and the Internet Samsung, you're not helping
Samsung appears to be disabling automatic Windows updates on some new laptops

Computers and the Internet Yahoo aims for answers-first search results
On mobile search, Yahoo says "rather than delivering endless links for you to sift through on a small screen, we beautifully assemble the most relevant information in a way that allows you to take action right away". Since its earliest days as a web index (rather than a search engine), Yahoo has always taken a different approach to delivering information. Whether they can use computer-generated results to deliver a curated-style experience that can beat out Google Now and Siri is theirs to prove.

Computers and the Internet Amazon "Echo" drops in about three weeks
Coming July 16th: A product that is combination stereo speaker, Siri, and cloud-computing device. But will people really embrace a product that's always listening?

@briangongol on Twitter

June 26, 2015

The United States of America Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage rights nationwide
One of the great beauties of our judicial system is that the majority and the dissenters are accountable for putting their decisions in writing. This is vastly to the credit of the nation. In fact, how about a Constitutional amendment requiring every elected official to write 200 words a day for public review (with no assistance permitted)? There may be no faster way to expose idiots, demagogues, and empty suits.

Computers and the Internet China and Russia aren't just cyber-attacking the United States
"[C]yber espionage is combined with human espionage to research targets and work out whom to approach and how"

Threats and Hazards 5,000 child refugees from North Africa have gone missing in Europe
This is an enormous human disaster -- these are children, and some of the will undoubtedly become victims of exploitation

Science and Technology Bill Gates thinks Uber will get to self-driving cars first
The people who will push hardest for innovation are the ones who have the most to gain. In the case of self-driving cars, Uber has a lot of potential upside to gain. But trucking companies have an enormous amount to gain, as do suppliers who want to reach the very large potential consumer markets including groups like outside salespeople and the elderly.

Threats and Hazards European tourists killed in Tunisian terrorist attack

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June 27, 2015

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - June 27, 2015

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June 28, 2015

Business and Finance First-quarter GDP growth estimate revised up, but it's still negative
From a +0.2% estimate to -0.7% and now to -0.2%. These aren't trivial swings in estimation.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 28, 2015

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June 29, 2015

Computers and the Internet App developers settle with FTC over crooked program to mine virtual currencies
The app, "Prized", apparently hijacked phones to turn them into bots to mine cryptocurrencies

Computers and the Internet Using positive feedback via text messages and the Internet to encourage blood donors

News Gov. Bobby Jindal has some pretty outlandish ideas for the courts

News Longer Omaha commutes in the forecast

News New Jersey jury rules "conversion therapy" a consumer fraud

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June 30, 2015

News Is there a rash of fires at black churches?

Business and Finance Greece defaults on loan payments to IMF

Iowa Kum and Go reveals design for new downtown Des Moines headquarters

Threats and Hazards Lots and lots of bad things led to a prison riot in Nebraska

Science and Technology A leap second to keep our atomic clocks on time

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