Gongol.com Archives: July 2015

Brian Gongol

July 2015
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July 1, 2015

News Teen birthrates are alarmingly higher in small towns

Humor and Good News "What your email address says about your computer skills"

Aviation News Department of Justice investigating allegations of collusion among airlines
Any market with a very small number of suppliers is likely to look like it's engaging in cartel-like behavior, whether or not it's intentional. It can get pretty hard to distinguish PR bravado from signals deliberately telegraphed to others. If there really is illegal collusion, throw the book at them. But there's a real possibility that ordinary behavior is going to look like illegal coordination in a market like the airlines.

Business and Finance Is a Chelsea Clinton speech really worth more than an average American's annual salary?

Threats and Hazards NYC worries about terrorism over Independence Day holiday weekend

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July 2, 2015

Computers and the Internet Twitter is preparing "Project Lighting" for public consumption in a couple of months
They're making the site more welcoming to the drive-by visitor

Threats and Hazards Groups even harder-line than ISIS/ISIL/QSIL emerge in Syria
Extremism often turns on itself when questions of purity and dedication to a cause take over. But this is still frightening news.

Threats and Hazards USA Today reviews 50,000 complaints about TSA and finds 15,000 resulted in claims
We should be nowhere close to this rate of criminal activity inside an organization that is supposed to be protecting the people. We also ought to get them to reel in their enthusiasm for showing off -- like the pictures shared of a cash stash confiscated from a passenger. Novelty isn't illegality, and it's not really a permission slip to make a big deal out of things.

Science and Technology Visitors can now take pictures inside the White House
But those abominable "selfie sticks" are still prohibited, as they rightly ought to be.

Computers and the Internet A social network for public-policy addicts
Brigade, which is currently in invitation-only mode, is out to solicit personal opinions on public issues and to build some kind of network around "supporters". It's attractive initial clickbait, but it may be hard to get enough people really addicted to the site sufficiently to make it work.

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July 3, 2015

Computers and the Internet Google artificial intelligence bot says the purpose of living is "to live forever"
Chatbots are going to get more and more interesting over time. What will be most interesting is to program them to respond to questions in the mode of a particular individual. There are only certain individuals who have been prolific enough as speaker and writers that their thoughts could be used to populate an AI "brain", but those would be some of the most interesting people to imitate artificially today: Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Isaac Asimov all come to mind.

Computers and the Internet St. Louis Cardinals fire scouting director, apparently over hacking
The former scouting director, Chris Correa, "has admitted hacking into a Houston database but only to determine whether the Astros had stolen proprietary data", according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. ESPN notes that "in-house algorithms and analytic models" now represent a real source of competitive advantage in baseball.

News Mercy comes from strength

Broadcasting "NBC dumps orange loudmouth"

Weather and Disasters June was unusually wet for most of the Upper Mississippi Valley

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July 6, 2015

Broadcasting Michael Eisner holds some rather depressing views of women
The former Disney chief thinks that "the number of beautiful, really beautiful women...that are funny, is impossible to find". Supposing he really believed that to be true, and that he really wished to find some, then why wouldn't he have invested in developing that kind of talent?

Business and Finance The most "American-made" car is the Toyota Camry
It's even more domestic-made than the Ford F-150

Science and Technology If a police body camera never blinks, then we need to know who gets to see the video
They have great potential for deterring abuse, but there are lots of things that police officers see that may not be good for the public to see

Business and Finance Speaking of all-out panic...
China is entering panic mode: "The central government, securities regulator and financial institutions have launched a joint effort to support the country's plummetingstock market amid fears that a market crash could threaten the country's entire financial system," says the state-run media.

Business and Finance Greek banks may be literally out of cash within the week

Threats and Hazards UN estimate: There are 60 million refugees worldwide
And half of them are children. If we are to have any hope of peace in the coming years, we're going to have to wrap our brains around this issue. In those places that are bound to be destinations for refugees, a sensible and humane approach must prevail. In those places producing refugees, changes are due. The number of refugees is thought to be almost 10 million larger than just the year before. That means the odds of being a refugee are now 1 in 122 worldwide.

News Tennessee state representative wants refund over new state logo
They paid $46,000 for a logo, and he wants all but $10,000 of it returned in part because the US PTO rejected the application for a trademark

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol filling in for Simon Conway on WHO Radio - July 6, 2015
Streamed live at WHORadio.com

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July 8, 2015

Computers and the Internet State attorneys general want to take the lead on data breaches

Business and Finance Stock market (computer) crash freezes NYSE

Aviation News United Airlines flights grounded nationwide over computer issues

Business and Finance China's stock market enters meltdown mode

Iowa Unexplained fire alarm outbreak in Cedar Rapids

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July 9, 2015

Threats and Hazards More than 25 million people's Federal identity records have been hacked
This isn't a piddling case of credit-card fraud -- it's cyberwar

Computers and the Internet Beacons at campaign events
Another way to reach out to people at campaign events

Computers and the Internet DARPA wants to save the Internet
Considering DARPA started it, one can see why they'd want to preserve it. The DARPA Security Challenge appears to be a reasonably smart way for the agency to get what it wants at minimal public expense.

Socialism Doesn't Work China tries to rescue tumbling stock market with astonishing restrictions
If you're a major shareholder, you can't sell anything for the next six months

Threats and Hazards The security consequences of Greece's economic troubles
They aren't trivial

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July 10, 2015

Computers and the Internet Scott Walker team accidentally tweets premature announcement of Presidential run

Computers and the Internet Facebook permits a little more customization of the news feed
For now, just for iOS users. Others may come later.

Computers and the Internet Wedding planning via text message
Suppply meets demand

Science and Technology Truck drivers are in short supply
And that's just one more reason why trucking companies are going to be heavily behind the shift to self-piloted vehicles

Computers and the Internet Reddit riot gets CEO ousted

@briangongolbot on Twitter

July 14, 2015

Business and Finance Chicago imposes 9% "cloud tax"
If you pay to stream music or videos (in other words, if you subscribe to Netflix or pay for Pandora), you'll have to pay for it -- starting in September. If it sticks, get worried about a national Internet sales tax regime.

Computers and the Internet PayPal changes terms to permit autodialing to bug people with debts

Weather and Disasters The quake that will devastate Seattle

Humor and Good News Berkeley Breathed brings back "Bloom County"
The wonders of the Internet. Why worry about distribution when you can self-distribute and then sell collateral like books and plush dolls?

Agriculture Too much rain has messed with some farms in the Midwest
Lots of acres got too much rain and flooded -- and it's getting to be much too late to re-plant successfully to beat the freeze in winter before harvest

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July 15, 2015

Humor and Good News Kansas City Royals bench coach uses calligraphy to create beautiful lineup cards
He does it so players have nice keepsakes from big games. And he also does it to illustrate that getting the details right can matter. And there's no reason not to bring a little beauty to the world.

Aviation News NASA "New Horizons" spacecraft sends back photos of Pluto

More lab-grown organs are being produced
A set of cells were turned into a beating heart

Computers and the Internet Amazon still acts like profits don't matter
It's not a non-profit by definition, but it doesn't actively produce a lot of profits -- even after 20 years. That makes it hard for anyone to compete with them, and that may be the point. Amazon lost money in 2012, profited in 2013, and lost again in 2014.

Broadcasting Being a radio personality today is half about being Internet-savvy

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July 16, 2015

Science and Technology Audi plant takes wind power and turns it into synthetic methane
They use surplus electricity from wind to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Then they take the hydrogen (H2) and extra carbon dioxide (CO2) and combine them to produce synthetic methane (CH4) -- which also makes the produced methane carbon-neutral. Finding ways to capture the excess energy captured by wind systems and making it available when demand requires is a huge step forward for the energy budget (since the wind blows at night but most energy is used during the day). And because gas-powered turbines are really good for load-balancing with wind energy in the electrical supply, it's a great way to use technology. Most new electrical generation in the US is coming from wind and natural gas.

Business and Finance What caused the October 2014 "flash crash"?
Automated trading was part of the problem, but not the whole thing

News IRS "taxpayer advocate" worries that migration to online services will put low-income users at higher risk of tax errors
Apparently, the IRS also has trouble answering the phone: Only 37% of the taxpayers who called the toll-free line actually got through. So there's a problem here: The online services obviously don't do enough since they're leaving people with questions that they feel the need to phone in, but then the IRS isn't answering the phone.

Business and Finance Copper prices are plunging
Production is still on the rise, but China -- which is consuming about half of the world's copper -- is slowing down, economically. And that slowdown is being reflected in demand for the metal.

Iowa Mediacom promotes "Xtream" Internet service in the Des Moines area
Download speeds for residential users up to 50 Mbps are promised, with "speed boost" options for up to 150 Mbps

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July 17, 2015

Business and Finance Business travelers are now taking more trips on Uber than via taxi
That's an analysis from an expense-management software company, so it's third-party data that may not be completely accurate for the universe at large, but it does signal the threat that ride-sharing poses to conventional taxicab services. There's no doubt they've failed to capture the opportunities that the Internet placed right in front of them.

Business and Finance Chinese company buys abandoned Spanish airport for $11,000
Bloomberg reports that the company "plans to turn the so-called ghost airport into a European hub for Chinese companies". China is literally buying beachheads in Europe. This will not be the last -- certainly not if China's economy is really slowing down as dramatically as it appears. A whole bunch of important signals say they're running out of places to invest internally -- and fast. And a reminder to Europe and others: Ownership matters. Once you give up ownership, you give up control. This is an immutable law of economic nature, and the consequences in the intermediate-term future are going to be huge.

Computers and the Internet Google may be starting to watch its spending a bit
The stock price took off by 16% after the company reported a nearly $4 billion profit in the second quarter of this year. They're still trying to break out of the confines of Internet search-related advertising, but the impression seems to be that the new CFO won't tolerate quite so much frivolous spending as took place in the past -- and that she's going to keep a closer eye on some of the company's "moon shot" investments.

Computers and the Internet What's said on the Internet still has consequences
Gawker took down a post under pressure this past week. The original story alleged that a media executive had texted an escort, and they took down the story because the public pressure "reflects a growing recognition that we all have secrets, and they are not all equally worthy of exposure", according to Gawker's founder, Nick Denton. This is the same Gawker that tastelessly manipulated a Coca-Cola promotion earlier this year. It's odd watching Internet wunderkinds realize they have to grow up.

Business and Finance Samsung manages to hold off US activist investor group
More control for the founding family over the large and eye-poppingly complex conglomerate

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July 18, 2015

Iowa Cedar Rapids joins lawsuit with Des Moines and Muscatine to get rights to re-activate traffic-ticket cameras

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


July 21, 2015

Science and Technology Robot passes test of self-awareness

Aviation News United Airlines rewards hackers for telling them about security error on website
Millions of miles -- probably cheaper than the consequences of leaving the security error in place

Science and Technology How police cars have gotten better -- a subtle quality-of-life improvement

Humor and Good News You, too, can claim to be worth $10 billion

News North Korea claims a 99.97% electoral turnout
A good example of how numbers can sometimes be a little too perfect. See also: Bernie Madoff.


July 22, 2015

Threats and Hazards Texas state trooper radically escalates traffic stop
(Video) The result was that a woman named Sandra Bland went to jail over failure to signal a lane change. And was found dead in her cell three days later.

News Donald Trump (a/k/a The Orange Menace) gives out Sen. Lindsey Graham's personal phone number at campaign stop
It's an utterly classless move by a world-class clown

Computers and the Internet Matchmaking website for cheaters gets hacked
AshleyMadison, which was just about to go for an IPO, now has to deal with a group that says it's going to release "all customer records, profiles with all the customers' secret sexual fantasies, nude pictures, and conversations" online. This is a case where even if you like the outcome (shutting down a website for adulterers), you have to be displeased with the process.

Broadcasting HDTV is too good
It's driving people crazy on movie and TV sets -- they have to attend to details that have never mattered before, and that means they have to create an unreal reality in order not to offend what viewers expect to see

News Army chief of staff views ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh on a decadal timeline
General Ray Odierno: "ISIS is a ten to twenty year problem, itís not a two years problem"

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July 23, 2015

Threats and Hazards Chicago Tribune editorial gets the Sandra Bland case exactly right
Calling for the arresting officer to be fired, they note, "Bland didn't die at the side of the road. She died three days later, in jail. She shouldn't have been there in the first place." In any conflict, it is the solemn responsibility of the party with more power to de-escalate the situation.

Science and Technology Can you record the police?
If you're not interfering with their work, yes. And they can't take your phone or erase its contents without a warrant. And if you look at the suspicion surrounding the glitches in the dashcam video of the Sandra Bland incident, you should see why independent recordings and third-party custody of police dashcam and bodycam videos are important.

News Judge says the State Department shouldn't have taken four years to respond to FOIA requests over Sec. Hillary Clinton
Taking four years to respond isn't anything close to "transparency"

Humor and Good News Sen. Lindsey Graham stars in "How to destroy your cell phone"
A very clever response to Donald Trump acting like a clown and giving out Graham's personal telephone number. (Most of the methods shown are not in fact recommended for destroying an old phone.)

Threats and Hazards FBI director worries more about ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh than Al Qaeda
James Comey thinks that Al Qaeda's more methodical approach keeps it from conducting as many attacks as its offshoot will ultimately initiate, because the latter has taken to massive levels of publicity and has the potential to give ideas and some forms of training to "lone wolf" attackers

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July 24, 2015

Business and Finance $800 billion in investments have left China in the last year
The government may be propping up the stock market, but that's a huge amount of capital outflow from the private sector. Gargantuan, really.

Business and Finance Amazon.com earned a profit in the second quarter
Remarkable because the company doesn't usually earn a profit. It was only $92 million on $23 billion in sales (or a 0.4% profit margin), but it's in the black nonetheless. The thing is, it's really hard for anyone to compete with an outsized market dominator that doesn't turn a consistent profit.

Science and Technology Fiat Chrysler recalls 1.4 million US vehicles
They were left vulnerable to hacking because a communications port was left open. A USB device is supposed to fix the error.

Computers and the Internet YouTube still working on a subscription model
They say content creators responsible for 90% of time spent watching have signed up to permit their videos on the subscription service, but they want 100% parity between the two versions of YouTube (ad-supported and subscription), so they might end up dropping some videos if the creators hold out.

Computers and the Internet "Time-lapse mining" from photos shared online
Researchers at the University of Washington and Google cooperated to "mine" social media for thousands of photos of well-known locations to create time-lapse videos using "geometric stabilization" (since the photos are aggregated from different perspectives). The paper concludes, "Our system discovered 10,728 time-lapses that show how the world's most popular landmarks are changing over time" and suggests how more could be done in the future as the number of online photos available for "mining" will grow. The system seems to especially like buildings under construction and waterfalls.


July 26, 2015

News One-paragraph book review: "The ITT Wars"

News How Taylor Swift could cause a diplomatic incident
It's not because she's never, ever, ever getting back together with a diplomat

Threats and Hazards Set off the alarms: ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh continues to evolve into a permanent nation-state

Science and Technology NASA found another planet much like Earth

Broadcasting Show notes - The Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 26, 2015

@briangongol on Twitter

July 29, 2015

Computers and the Internet Some helpful insight on getting real computer security
Though be cautious about password managers

Computers and the Internet Apple promises OS X "El Capitan" update
They hint it's coming this fall

News The border crisis
...for England. Refugees are piling up at Calais and trying to rush the Chunnel.

Computers and the Internet Twitter stock tanks after CEO downplays performance
They need a mass audience, and their audience isn't mass enough yet

Computers and the Internet Windows 10 is here

@briangongol on Twitter

July 30, 2015

Computers and the Internet Archiving those old emails for posterity
Stanford teams are coming up with software to try to reconstruct the contexts and relationships that make e-mail make sense so that digital archivists can have something to use in the future when they get big dumps of inbox records

Computers and the Internet An early review of Windows 10

Humor and Good News Consumer reporter busts his own identity thief
(Video) Dallas TV reporter shows up when the cops move in to arrest woman using his stolen credit-card number

Business and Finance Social Security trustee report is out
Trust fund reserves start drawing down in 2019. Depletion happens in 2034. The disability insurance trust fund goes broke next year. Overhead is 0.7%, or not that different from many mutual funds.

News Man ends up dead after trying to rob another
The woeful part? He had spent 17 years in prison, wrongly accused of murder, and was freed in 2012. This may serve to illustrate the importance of a rehabilitation-first approach to incarceration. Imagine spending 17 years in prison for something you didn't do, and then trying to assemble a life on the outside. We're doing something wrong.


July 31, 2015

Computers and the Internet Tit-for-tat hack-for-hack
The United States is clearly in a cyberwar with China. The question is whether it's predominantly one-sided (from an offensive perspective, that appears to be the case), and what kind of defense and/or retaliation are justified. What achieves the objective? What really is the objective? The longer the government delays in framing the rules of the game (which, astonishingly, it has failed to do already), the longer the United States suffers both national-security and economic harm.

Threats and Hazards Iowa DCI says crooks are trying to extort people by phone in their name
It's good to live in a culture where we can generally assume that police authorities aren't going to call and demand a bribe

Science and Technology The New York City subway system can't find parts anymore
Many of the components that keep the trains running are so far obsolete that they have to keep open a shop just to fabricate their own replacements

Threats and Hazards NHTSA wants to know if Fiat Chrysler was the only manufacturer making hacking-vulnerable cars
Considering the supply chains involved, it's likely to be a broader issue than just a few Jeeps

Aviation News A Facebook drone the width of a 737
They're going to launch the drones to hover at 90,000 feet and deliver Internet access to places that are generally off the broadband grid right now. That's because Facebook needs user growth, and they view the world's 1/3 or so who aren't already Internet-connected as a leading source of opportunity

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