Gongol.com Archives: December 2015
Piketty is close but wrong
He says inequality is the prime driver of trouble in the Middle East. It's not inequality per se, but rather the failure to take advantage of extraction resources and turn them into productive economies that hurts. If you want a peaceful world, you need people to have something productive to do with their time.
Only 11% of Apple Watch buyers think they're getting enough value for the money
Yahoo may be thinking of selling its Internet properties
The new look for Amazon Prime drone delivery
A small increase in productivity (2.2%, annualized) in the third quarter
Better than nothing, but watch this space: We really need to get it rising a lot faster to sustain durable economic growth
Federal Reserve votes to stop itself from future emergency lending
Meet the Syrian refugees
"Please mess with our DNA"
Venezuelan government threatens Kraft management
How is Cyber Monday even still a thing?
Sen. Lindsey Graham has some much-needed perspective on the GOP
Unemployment rate sticks at 5.0%
There's a difference between quantity and quality in jobs
All US military combat jobs are now open to women
Washington Post gives up, authorizes "they" in the singular
It probably was a losing fight anyway
How "USA Today" is going to swallow up your local Gannett newspaper
Kiss the old guard goodbye
The US still imports a lot more than it exports
A strong force behind the great asset sell-off. For instance, that's why lots of Chinese buyers are picking up American real estate.
When does a front-page editorial make sense?
Keeping the family in the family business can be tough
It's a global phenomenon -- heirs everywhere find interests outside the company
Virgin Galactic will use Boeing 747 as a launch platform
Getting off the ground is half the battle to getting into space
What future casts may look like
Better designs for healing broken bones quickly
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder: "[C]yberattacks are quickly becoming the greatest threat"
Attention is obviously focused on real-world attacks like the one in San Bernardino. But while those kinds of events are scary, they are exceedingly rare. The plain fact is that cyberattacks are taking place constantly, relentlessly, and ever more brazenly. There is a significant amount of financial damage being done, but there could also be profound real-world damage done by the right attack in the right place.
Civilian oversight of police and the military is critical to a civil society
A Chicago police officer has been acquitted of charges he shoved a gun into a suspect's mouth and pressed a stun gun to the man's groin. It may have been a perfectly reasonable and sound decision -- but it's also worrisome that we can entertain the thought that such a thing could have happened, and believe actively that the allegations might be true. We do these things because there are sufficient examples of brutality and excessive force that they do not seem categorically impossible. That's a problem, and it suggests a failure of civilian oversight.
Alibaba buys the South China Morning Post
An interesting parallel to Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post
Is the end of emojis coming?
Surge in students from China at the University of Iowa
But the boom has created some cultural stumbles for some of the foreign students
The President needs a communications coach
The world "has not grown harder: just more foolish and selfish"
How we treat refugees says a lot about our humanity
Why government needs to evolve with the pace of technology
We don't necessarily need more democracy -- people are inclined to make stupid decisions, especially when decision-making isn't their particular strength -- but we do need to make sure that laws and regulations keep pace with the real world.
Ford will put Gorilla Glass in the new GT
Northrup Grumman touts its 2030s-era fighter jet of the future
Probably jumping the gun a little bit...maybe we should get the F-22 working flawlessly first.
The Midwest continues to experience deflation
Fun in the very short term, maybe. But a real hazard in the long term, since it tends to discourage people from spending money, which is more or less that upon which the entire economy relies.
New battleship breaks down after 20 days of service
If it were a car, we'd call that a lemon
Could Thursday-night NFL move to a streaming-only model?
Nobody should dismiss the idea prematurely
Dow and DuPont want a "marriage of equals"
A rarity when each of the partners is worth around $50 billion
Microsoft really, really wants you to update to Windows 10
Still free to computers with Windows 7 or 8, at least for the time being. No guarantee that it will last beyond the start of next year.
Federal Reserve decides to raise interest rates to 0.25%
It's non-zero, but barely distinguishable from it
California is working on rules for self-driving cars
The faster they get something on the books, the better. The technology is moving quickly, and the lack of a legal framework is a serious problem. There is a very urgent public-health case to be made for getting humans as far away from the driver's seat as possible. We are the cause of almost all crashes.
If you think governments can or should control the Internet, you have a friend in the Communist Party
Seven years of 0% interest rates
Even at just slightly over 0%, we still live in remarkable times that will look totally incredible from the perspective of future history
Canadians are selling "bottled air" to China
The smog is so bad in China that people are actually buying it. One thing is for certain: People with political rights and a little bit of prosperity tend to agitate very quickly for changes to environmental conditions that endanger them. Killer fogs in London led to clean-air legislation, and river fires in the Rust Belt led to clean-water legislation well before the Federal government stepped in. But if people either lack the political influence to agitate for a solution or the material well-being to afford the resources necessary to do the cleanup, then no obvious solution exists.
You can try to fight economic laws, but they act like gravity
The Teamsters Union Central States Pension Fund is running out of money and is asking the government to allow it to reduce benefits. One's heart breaks for the pain that cuts would impose on the pensioners who expected to get their full benefits -- but the pension system was inadequately designed: Too many Baby Boomers joined and are now retiring, the workforce taking their place is less interested in joining unions, and the pension fund apparently over-promised what its actual investment returns can do. Perhaps it's a reminder that (a) everyone has to get educated about finances and look out for themselves, regardless of the promises made by employers, unions, or the government; and (b) that it's best to see that labor and capital are mutualistic and that nobody wins when they turn antagonistic with one another. That second part might be a worthy reminder for the short-sighted buffoons who have nothing but bad things to say about "corporate America" without realizing that -- just for instance -- sometimes a union pension fund itself owns a big slice of "corporate America".
US Air Force to offer $125,000 "critical skills retention bonuses" to drone pilots
They have to promise to stick around for five additional years. Warfare has changed dramatically.
The FAA will require drones to be registered next year
It should never have taken this long for the agency to impose the registration requirement. If they'd implemented a registry back when these things were brand-new, then everyone would see registration as the status quo and there wouldn't be a fight. But trying to implement registration now -- long after drones have hit the mainstream -- is comically incompetent.
A 64-bit version of Firefox has arrived
DNC goes to war with the Bernie Sanders campaign
The two are fighting over access to voter data belonging to the Hillary Clinton campaign that the DNC says the Sanders team took, "like if you walked into someone's home when the door was unlocked and took things that don't belong to you".
Battles, both economic and military
Ukraine says it can't or won't repay $3 billion in bonds owned by Russia. Russia lent the money to prop up the former government, and now Ukraine says it can't pay back in part because it's so expensive to fight with the separatists in the eastern part of the country (who are, of course, backed by Russia).
Grand jury says the jailers didn't commit a felony against Sandra Bland
Another grand jury will consider next month whether to charge the arresting officer. It is extremely hard to believe that no crime was committed at some point in her handling and treatment. The video of her arrest is outrageous, and the thought that she spent days in jail before dying -- over a trumped-up traffic stop -- suggests that something is very, very wrong with the system.
Sen. Lindsey Graham drops out of the 2016 Presidential race
Graham wasn't right about everything (nobody is), but he brought a lot of sense to the discussion amid a lot of quackery from some of the other candidates. He may not have been destined for the Oval Office, but we do need voices like his in the public debate.
SpaceX launched and landed a reusable rocket
After three failures, this is a great success. And it looks pretty awesome, too. As the company said back in June, "airlines don't junk a plane after a one-way trip from LA to New York".
Adele stayed off social media to concentrate on her latest album
Putting the important before the immediate -- that takes discipline.
More legal marijuana means more electricity demand
It's not so green after all. The law of unintended consequences strikes again. But let's get one thing straight: Finding sources of non-polluting, ultra-low-cost power would be about the best thing that technology could do for humanity. Not for growing pot, necessarily, but for growing nutritious foods and preparing and distributing safe drinking water. Clean, cheap energy is in fact the single most valuable thing we could get from science and technology right now.
Iowa Department of Education to push for a task force on computer classes
They want a group to review the possibility of requiring all Iowa high schools to offer a "high-quality computer science course", even if it's not required for graduation. In principle, one should be both offered and (probably) required. But in practice, lots of schools would likely have trouble finding the human resources to offer such a course. The need for such education is great, and in theory a course requirement should be as obvious as requiring courses in foreign languages or the arts. In addition to the conventional reading, writing, and arithmetic, today's graduates need to be financially, scientifically, and digitally literate -- not because those things are wants, but because they are needs.
Dual US/Afghan citizen killed in Kabul
An American passport ought to feel like a metaphorical bulletproof vest, and that sense simply doesn't seem as strong as it used to. The principle that our power to protect our own interest extends far beyond our coastlines traces all the way back to the start of the 19th Century.
China suspends human-rights lawyer for microblogging
Found guilty of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", he's been given a suspended sentence of three years in prison
Iowa to develop a state-level cybersecurity strategy
On a national level, we ought to be strategizing, too. But it makes lots of sense for states to engage in cybersecurity defense, too. A multi-layered approach is inherently more secure than a one-size-fits-all, top-down arrangement. That argument notwithstanding, we probably also need a national cyber-defense corps on a level similar to one of the conventional branches of the Defense Department. There is approximately zero chance that cyberwarfare is going away, and it's an urgent national concern.
German court: Once a relationship ends, consent to hold naked pictures goes away
Perhaps a difficult legal principle to enforce, but the interpretation may leave a door open for the law to prevent "revenge porn"
The private sector is slowing its purchases of durable goods
From the Department of Commerce: "Nondefense new orders for capital goods in November decreased $5.2 billion or 6.3 percent". With interest rates still at basically zero, companies should be buying every bit of productivity-enhancing equipment they can possibly find. A drop of more than 6% is alarming.
Low inflation? Love it. Negative inflation? Not so much.
The hazards of deflation are large, so the economic consensus is around low, predictable inflation
Rdio goes bankrupt and signs off
Not every "disruptor" survives
Oracle ordered to push harder to get you to update Java
While you're at it, update all of your programs
Pebble issues software update to make Classics act like the new models
Pebble still offers the most reasonably-priced, hard-working smartwatches in the market right now
Apple still wants you to get Apple TV -- but restrain expectations of a revolution
Content providers still aren't feeling an urgent push to deliver their content via an on-demand model via Apple, so the big incentive simply doesn't exist
They just wanted tacos
Las Vegas restaurant owner turns security-camera footage of a break-in into a YouTube ad, complete with mocking captions
Ukraine could be in really bad shape
Political turbulence is causing economic misbehavior that could destabilize the long-term future of the country
Police departments lose their "asset forfeiture" winnings to the Federal government
It's all a highly suspicious practice anyway, but it's alarming to hear that cities are depending on the funding
Billions of dollars are leaving US mutual funds
Maybe people are just doing some year-end tax management, but it's not a great symbol
Hyatt payment-processing system hit by malware
Whether anything was actually stolen is unclear, but it's also hard to believe that an infection that gets past what ought to be a well-guarded system wasn't doing at least some damage
First openly gay American servicewoman killed in action
Honor and duty are in no way diminished by a person's sexual orientation
Maps of the world
One of these is a map of public debts compared to GDP. Public debt itself is not a killer, if the debt is used for sound reasons. It needs to buy permanent gains, like highways -- just like a home mortgage can be a "good" household debt if it pays for shelter at a rate less than comparable rent. But if debt is putting current consumption on a credit card, it's death to the future of a country.
Social networking causes lots of things to look more common than they really are
The things that well-connected people think, believe, and share will disproportionately influence the rest of the network into thinking that those things are commonplace, even if they aren't.
Parents are deep in their kids' college debt
Education most certainly does have its own intrinsic benefits, but when we're running up big bills for it, we ought to have a decent idea of the return that's coming from the investment
In memory of Cheryl Pannier
Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - December 26, 2015
Cheap money has skewed the market for IPOs
It's really never been cheaper to borrow money, so that's been fuel for private-equity firms to buy up or invest in companies that would otherwise have turned to equity markets (via IPOs). That's choking off the flow of businesses that might have gone to the public stock markets.
Cat-and-mouse game between consumers and advertisers continues
Ad blocking is on the rise, and that's going to push advertisers to stuff more advertising into unexpected places than before -- particularly in pictures. First there were banner ads, then there were pop-up ads, then there were pop-under ads, then there were autoplay commercials. Then there was "content advertising", embedded links, and advertising-supported apps. Funny thing: When radio was new, it was often supported solely by individual companies (like WHO-AM in Des Moines, which was a tool of the Bankers Life Company, or WLS-AM, which was an arm of Sears -- the "World's Largest Store"). In other times, individual companies have supported entire publications (as the Bell System did back in the day, or as Shell does today with "Impact" and Chevron does with "Next"). Aside from tricks like stuffing ads into visual media, there's been a modern revival of the house publication -- the content website, like AT&T's "Thread". Of course, the content has to be useful, interesting, and also somehow profitable for the company producing it.
Why not direct democracy all the time?
Among other reasons, because "Arrested Development" only lasted three seasons on television, but "Big Brother" has made it to 17, totaling 585 episodes of complete, mindless junk. But seriously: Direct democracy is fine on a tiny scale with limited scope, but once any real complexity becomes involved, people are unwilling to invest the time and effort required to come up with good decisions. That's why a democratic republic is the only way to go.
Local news: How about less hype and more analysis?
What we package as "news" is really a combination of news, events, and information, along with elements of entertainment, opinion, and analysis. News is anything that materially changes our understanding of the status quo. If it doesn't do that, it's probably an event or information. Those things can be valuable, but they're not news.
Brazen crooks ask makers of Raspberry Pi to install malware for pay
The Raspberry Pi is an ultra-cheap computer, and the thought that crooks would so openly seek to corrupt any system they could ought to make us all a little uneasy
Huge landslide discovered months later thanks to satellite photos
Mozilla to kill Firefox OS, spin off Thunderbird, and focus on the browser
The potential orphaning of Thunderbird is sad
Chinese government uses anti-terrorism cover for anti-liberty lawmaking
Never give power to yourself that you wouldn't want your opponents to have available to use against you
The most popular baby name in Israel? Muhammad.
Cheap oil is causing the shale-oil business to collapse
Very bad news for Canada and for North Dakota, indeed.
What 50 states of equal population might look like
Nothing more than an artistic experiment, but interesting nonetheless
MasterCard says online sales rose 20% this holiday season
Who knew there was still upside to be gained?
"Wave of regulation looms in 2016"
Alternate title: "America about to give itself yet another graduate course in the Law of Unintended Consequences".
A new generation of Google Glass is coming
The FCC leaked pictures
Saudi Arabia tightens budget in anticipation of continued low oil prices
A resource bonanza is a lot of fun while it lasts, but it takes serious discretion and foresight to reinvest bonanza profits in long-term growth
Priest rides "hoverboard" during Christmas Eve Mass
At least he wasn't wearing Heelys?
Mature savings bonds aren't much fun to keep around
Once they stop earning interest, they need to be converted to something productive
Spider silk plus carbon nanotubes equals incredible strength
Facebook's "Free Basics" app: Game-changing public utility or violation of net neutrality?
Or maybe both?
House Speaker Paul Ryan has exactly the right vision for government
"Then the people will know that we stand for a more prosperous, a more secure, a more confident America. And the rest? Well, the rest will be up to the people -- as it should be."
Truck driver crosses 6-ton bridge with 30-ton load -- bridge collapses
The driver was pretty dumb here, saying she didn't know how many pounds were in a ton (If you don't know how much a ton is, Google it.). But what's the point of letting nostalgia get in the way of modern infrastructure needs? A "historic bridge" is usually just another way of saying "something we should have replaced a long time ago, but now have 'the feels' about and refuse to pay for the proper maintenance thereof." The pictures show a rusty old pile of iron.
Collapse of oil prices crushes the Alaskan state budget
Lifeguards from Spain try to save refugee lives in Greece
Don't click "Like" on Facebook pictures
Doing so only encourages "like farming"
ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh issues rules for treatment of slaves
Slaves! In 2015! The word "outrage" isn't close to being enough. We also need to clean up our own domestic problem with sex trafficking, which really ought to be known as enslavement rape.
2015: The year investors didn't make any money
Bill Cosby charged with assault
The case is from 2004
George Pataki drops out of 2016 race
Russia views SpaceX as a competitor
Twitter imposes new rules to cut off hate speech, intimidation, and harassment
There's simply no perfect solution for companies like Twitter. The new language codifies a philosophy that intimidation is as rivalrous to free speech as explicit censorship. And yet there's the ironic condition that letting hateful people use platforms like Twitter for speech makes them easier to find, call out, and counteract. Sometimes, it's even useful to let terrorists tweet (it can help identify where to drop bombs, just for example). The problem is that services like Twitter and Facebook land on a nebulous boundary between "open" and "closed" societies and ways of thinking. The evildoers who wants closedness also want to take advantage of the tools of openness.
El Nino to really screw up our weather in 2016
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