Gongol.com Archives: 2015 First-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol

January 1, 2015

Computers and the Internet FBI wants to recruit "ethical hackers"
Annual salaries for these "cyber special agents" start at about $60,000 a year. That number might need to go higher if we really want to recruit qualified technicians.

Computers and the Internet BlackBerry saves the day for Sony after hacking

Iowa Shawn Johnson on the Iowa stereotypes encountered during "The Apprentice"

Humor and Good News Kim Jong-Un: Extreme eyebrow plucker?
The South China Morning Post brings this not-very-urgent but hilarious update to the world's attention

Humor and Good News "My doctor told me I should vaccinate my children, but then someone much louder told me I shouldn't"
The people behind The Onion strike again with a great piece of satire

January 2, 2015

Health Researcher suggests that cancer is basically just bad luck, 2/3rds of the time
"[O]nly a third of the variation in cancer risk among tissues is attributable to environmental factors or inherited predispositions. The majority is due to 'bad luck,' that is, random mutations arising during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells." This conclusion will be hotly debated, to be sure. Undoubtedly, some cancer risk is certainly due to environmental or genetic conditions -- but if it's really this much of a crapshoot, there's a strong case to be made for putting all of us under routine surveillance (blood tests at every annual physical, for instance), and for crafting our health-care system to accommodate the sort of risk that apparently affects us all with substantial equality (in other words, if we're all at mostly equal risk and the risk is mostly random, then we should all bear the costs rather equally as well).

Threats and Hazards Three dozen people killed in New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai
Public-policy researcher asks why people weren't warned about the hazard via social media. It seems like that kind of responsiveness is a long time off.

Broadcasting "Ida" - a film worth watching
It's very well-executed from a technical standpoint, and the plot is high-caliber

Computers and the Internet A brief history of web design

Broadcasting Today is just like the day before
(Video) A real home run of a PSA for disaster preparedness

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January 3, 2015

Business and Finance Left-wing, union-backed policy group says trade deficit with China cuts jobs in every Congressional district but one
Without deeply examining their methodology or claims, it's quite possible that there has been some meaningful net reduction in employment in the United States as a result of persistent trade deficits -- not just with China, but with the entire world. But the predominant concern shouldn't be with the jobs "created" or "destroyed" -- it should be with the ultimate impact on net wealth. As a country, if we're importing a lot more than we're exporting, then in the long term, we are sending our dollars overseas and building up a non-trivial balance on a metaphorical national "credit card". If we don't turn that around in a hugely meaningful way, then we'll have to pay down that debt and repatriate those dollars by selling off a significant amount of assets. Not everything, of course, but if our trade deficits linger at about 3% of our national income (about $40 to $45 billion a month on about $1,400 billion in GDP each month), then it's not going to be pretty when the day of reckoning arrives. Let's not overlook the real numbers, either: With a population of 320 million people, it's the equivalent of us each buying about $1600 a year worth of foreign stuff more than we're creating. We need to agree and understand that it's not sustainable and then get to work on debating the proper solutions -- ones that won't squash all of the benefits we do obtain from free trade (and there are many).

Health Critics want Gates Foundation to stop focusing on specific diseases
While it's understandable that they want a more holistic approach to "health-system strengthening", they're overlooking the fact that accountability requires at least some specificity. The broader and more vague the mandate, the more likely it is that any organization will fail to actually achieve its mission. One could scarcely expect to get good value by assigning someone a large pile of money and saying, "Go fix transportation". But if instead, the options (air travel, ships, trains, cars, and so on) were carefully evaluated for their likely effectiveness at achieving certain specific goals (like getting food to market, or moving people at low cost to metropolitan centers), then specific and worthwhile investments could be made with a reasonable expectation of getting results. Health is the same: The Gates mission is to find specific causes of illness and death, target them relentlessly, and eliminate them. There will be some unintended consequences, mistakes, and oversights along the way to be sure. But if you're not specific about what you're trying to fix, you're likely to do a lot worse.

Computers and the Internet Customers sue Apple over iOS 8
They say it takes up a lot of storage space on their devices -- particularly when upgraded from a previous version -- and that it's a shadowy way to force people to pay for cloud storage. The claim holds that a device advertised as having 16 Gb of storage really only offers about 80% of that amount once the OS has taken up residence. It's probably a silly and frivolous suit, but it does highlight the fact that people need to realize that they can't store endlessly, nor is the listed storage capacity of a device what they'll actually get in practice.

Threats and Hazards "The smuggling and sale of oil provides ISIL with as much as $1 million per day"

Business and Finance Americans probably don't realize how far we are from saving enough
Saving enough for a comfortable and independent retirement requires thinking on the order of about a million dollars. Maybe more, maybe less, but that's the order of magnitude of the thinking required.

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - January 3, 2015

January 4, 2015

Health Ebola gets the headlines, but the flu kills more Americans by far
And that's included healthy young people this year, to our great sadness

Computers and the Internet Are we more anxious because our periodicals aren't very periodical anymore?
A New York Times contributor says the "ICYMI" ("in case you missed it") phenomenon makes us anxious that we're missing out on things all the time -- when it's not possible to catch up on it all

Computers and the Internet Terrorist moron geo-tags his Twitter updates

Computers and the Internet Lost in our devices
The National Geographic photography contest winner for 2014 is a glimpse of the zeitgeist -- a woman staring at her smartphone while everyone else around her is engaged in a tourist display

Business and Finance There's career value in becoming a specialist

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 4, 2015
Streaming online at WHORadio.com and on the air (1040 on the AM dial) at 9:00 pm Central Time

January 5, 2015

Computers and the Internet Always have a definitive outlet that speaks exclusively under your authority
For most people, that probably ought to be some variation on "[firstname-lastname].com". That way, people know conclusively when you're speaking for yourself and can check what other people try to say about or for you. For instance, if you're Bill Gates, it's helpful to have a website where you post things like book reviews, so that when a guy like Thomas Piketty decides to put words in your mouth about a telephone conversation you had ("He told me, 'I love everything that's in your book, but I don't want to pay more tax"), you can point to exactly what you said about the book ("Piketty's book has some important flaws that I hope he and other economists will address"). We don't all have the soapbox and bullhorn that Bill Gates does, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't learn to speak conclusively for ourselves. A domain name (even if it's only used to point to a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn profile) is a very healthy start.

News How Sen. John McCain re-asserted control over the Arizona Republican Party

Computers and the Internet Benchmarking the major antivirus programs

Computers and the Internet Should Yahoo buy CNN?

News Why is the poverty rate soaring among Hispanics in Nebraska?

January 6, 2015

News At what point does ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh become a nation-state?
They have adopted many of the trappings of statehood, but is it enough to simply deny them legal recognition? And, on a related note, are we fighting Assad in Syria or not?

News A heavy hitter throws weight behind criminal-justice reform
Charles Koch, demonized by the left, takes up a cause on which they might actually have to agree with him: Fixing the criminal-justice system so that people aren't railroaded by inadequent defense. Our system as it is presently structured wastes a shameful amount of human potential.

Computers and the Internet Facebook founder starts his own book club
Perhaps taking a cue from Oprah, or perhaps from a certain radio show in June, which advocated "less time with Facebook and more time with book-books"

Computers and the Internet Corning rolls out "Iris Glass" at Consumer Electronics Show
They claim it will enable super-thin LCD televisions

News Striking image of a grounded cargo ship

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January 7, 2015

News The freedom to satirize is as meaningful a human right as the freedom to worship in peace

Business and Finance Big colleges usually fail when hiring new football coaches
And yet the salary inflation in the coaching sector outstrips the increase in virtually anything else one can imagine. It's time to end the travesty.

Humor and Good News The travel of a sci-fi future with the style of the past
Someone at NASA has had great fun coming up with posters promoting future space travel in the style of the great 1920s/1930s design motif

Computers and the Internet How to report the "help desk" phone scam
Americans are getting telephone calls from people pretending to represent Microsoft and other big names in computing, and in the process of those calls they seek to intimidate the victim into loading malware onto their own computers

Weather and Disasters The impact of the Great Lakes on land temperatures
It's stark

January 8, 2015

Health "Six of the seven California patients ... were not vaccinated for measles"
Two of the unvaccinated patients in California's measles outbreak were too young to get the shots, so they are innocent victims, too. But that leaves four individuals (or their parents) directly responsible for their own illness and for creating a hazard that endangers the health of others. Vaccinations are one of our best weapons against contagious diseases, and the people who insist upon exempting themselves from them ought to voluntarily quarantine themselves on an island far away from the rest of civilization, as their behavior is in fact un-civilized.

The United States of America The First Amendment in action
A local politician objects to having his name in the paper, so the paper strikes back. They overstep in making a broad judgment about "conservatives" in general, but overall their editorial is great fun.

News President Obama wants "free" community college
Here's the biggest problem: It's not "free", it's just "free" to the student, whose part in the process is to "attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completing their program." While it's true and valid to note that some kind of technical training or associate's degree is probably today's functional equivalent of yesterday's high-school diploma, this proposal needs a lot more thought before it will look like a solution to the needs of the economy and the people and not like another indulgence with other people's money.

Computers and the Internet The Internet Archive rolls out an MS-DOS game emulator
Programs that went into obsolescence with the arrival of better operating systems are back

Computers and the Internet Don't write off the PC just yet
They're featuring nicely at the Consumer Electronics Show

January 11, 2015

News Free community college? How much will it cost?
$60 billion over ten years, says one estimate. We'll have to see whether they payoff exceeds the expense when the details are finally revealed.

Computers and the Internet Cedar Falls will get a Presidential visit
The city will be used as a backdrop for the President to talk about putting high-speed Internet access in more places around the country. Cedar Falls has a strong municipal utility that got on the high-speed broadband train years ahead of much of the country, and it has certainly helped the local economy.

Business and Finance Does a dead person's money do more good in the hands of the government than charity?

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 11, 2015

January 13, 2015

Health Vaccinate your children
The Onion satirizes: "To be fair to the parents, no one could have predicted that neglecting to immunize people against diseases would lead to more people getting diseases."

Threats and Hazards Empty exhortations from the central government after Chinese stampede disaster

January 15, 2015

Aviation News USAF needs more drone pilots -- right away
Pilots are working 6 days a week, 13 or 14 hours a day. That's a pace that can't be maintained forever. Pay is rising to accommodate.

Computers and the Internet LinkedIn endorsement helps catch lottery cheater

Business and Finance A critique of "disruption" as a business goal
The business case for "disruption" is weak. The critique may be a little over the top, but it's worth examination.

Business and Finance Stuff costs less than it recently did
The Producer Price Index has dropped month-over-month in four of the last five months, especially because of energy

Water News The physics of flow and freezing water

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January 16, 2015

Iowa Gov. Branstad: Iowa needs more people
In his inaugural address, he notes: "Although we are growing as a state, we arenít growing fast enough. Iowa remains the one state in the nation that has not grown by even 50 percent since the 1900 census."

Agriculture Oil's price crash hasn't helped ethanol, but Federal mandates guarantee at least some demand
By 2022, the government will require 36 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel to find their way into the fuel supply. Right now, ethanol consumption is about 13 billion gallons and biodiesel is about another billion. The price per gallon of ethanol has to be lower than that for gasoline to meet consumer demand, because it contains about 30% less energy per gallon. So when gasoline prices plunge, it puts extra pressure on the margins for ethanol producers.

News Cubs buy three Wrigleyville rooftops
The team should've done it a long time ago, and placed the controversial digital scoreboards and video boards there instead of messing with the park

Business and Finance Falling gas prices drive inflation to a negative 0.4% rate
That's a meaningful month-over-month drop. Overall, the total inflation from 12 months ago is just +0.8%. Food costs more, and so does medical care. Long-term deflation isn't as good as it sounds on the surface, if it causes people to cut back on economic activity altogether.

Threats and Hazards Pay attention to the Boko Haram in Nigeria
They oppose things like democracy and secular education -- and they're killing hundreds of people in a country that has the potential to grow and be a healthy liberal democracy...but not if it's plagued by terrorism. Satellite photos show how bad the attacks by the group really are. We will come to regret it if we don't pay active attention to what's happening in Africa. 177 million people live in Nigeria -- making it more than half of the size of the United States by population.

January 17, 2015

Business and Finance If you eat at Hardee's, you may be working at Hardee's too
Self-service fast-food kiosks are being pilot-tested at 30 Hardee's restaurants. Welcome to the future: If you don't mind doing some things for yourself, you may get faster service with fewer errors...but do not be surprised over the long term if lots and lots of entry-level jobs get replaced this way. There will be economic and social consequences as a result, making the need to constantly improve our educational system one of our most important priorities as a country. And in tandem with that, we have to ensure that opportunities remain available in the economy -- and that requires big-picture thinking, not government micromanagement.

Business and Finance A negative interest rate -- talk about extraordinary measures
It's how the national bank of Switzerland is seeking to re-value its currency. A negative interest rate makes it unpleasant to hold on to the currency, so it pushes people to spend it quickly. In a way, it's the same effect as inflation (since holding on to the money instead of exchanging it quickly for goods and services means you lose buying power), but it's an unusually explicit way of doing so. It's also illustrative for those who wonder why a little bit of inflation is a good thing, but a lot of it (or negative inflation) can be terrible.

Aviation News SpaceX shares video of the failed "soft landing" of its rocket
(Video) At least they're trying bold new projects. Not all of them will work.

Computers and the Internet British police arrest man for "suspicion of unauthorized access to computer material"
It's related to the hacking of the Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox networks on Christmas

Computers and the Internet Google is cutting off sales of Google Glass to individuals
There may be a revival, and there may be other paths they take to market, but time is running out to buy the Google Glass Explorer Edition. Sales end January 19th.

January 18, 2015

News Of all kids in America's public schools, more than 50% are living in poverty
The only long-term way to keep them from finding themselves in self-perpetuating cycles of poverty is to make sure that the educational system gives them the tools to get out, and that the economy contains sufficient opportunity for them to use those tools

Iowa "Economic growth in Nebraska, Iowa, and eight other Midwestern states remains stubbornly slow"
The weak market for crops (like corn prices) is not helping anything in the Midwest, and that's showing up in the Rural Mainstreet Index assembled by Creighton University

Science and Technology Are we crossing "planetary boundaries"?
A paper in "Science" says we're already breaking the limits for extinctions, deforestation, atmospheric carbon dioxide, and nitrification of the oceans. The authors say we're into danger zones for each of those, and possibly in better condition for other indicators, like aerosol pollution, ozone depletion, freshwater use, ocean acidification, and the spread of modified organisms. One note on these: Finding sources of energy that are cheap and non-polluting can solve virtually all of these.

Threats and Hazards Is The Onion at risk of a Charlie Hebdo-type attack?

News Smuggler tries taping 94 iPhones to his body
He was going from Hong Kong into mainland China. The border patrol thought he was walking stiffly.

Broadcasting A new coach for the Bears, and no seats in the bleachers at Wrigley

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 18, 2015

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January 19, 2015

Computers and the Internet A review of the Centcom hacking
Like it or not, we're engaged in non-stop cyberwar

Broadcasting The high cost of retransmitting "free" television

Computers and the Internet Xiaomi -- the biggest cellphone maker you've never heard of

Business and Finance Signs of trouble in the Chinese real-estate bubble
If there's too much cash coming into a country and not enough options available for investment, a bubble in the asset class(es) that are available is pretty much inevitable. The looming default by a Chinese real-estate development company may be a signal of trouble to come. Couple that with the government's steps to rein in the stock market, and things may be about to get very interesting.

Threats and Hazards Little progress made on investigating attack on Colorado NAACP office

January 20, 2015

News From the Ministry of Dissent Management...
There's a difference between government transparency and propagandizing. A transparent government is one whose workings are visible to the public and where sunlight can provide "the best of disinfectants". Streaming the State of the Union address on the Internet is fine, but it's not really any special measure of transparency. But promoting the government's coverage of its own speech with Tweets like "The best place to watch the State of the Union at 9pm ET is http://wh.gov/SOTU" isn't really transparency -- it's a declaration that the public is better off getting spin on the speech from the administration that just delivered the speech, rather than from independent journalists. The government certainly should provide the stream -- but it shouldn't then try to jump into competition with the Fourth Estate. It wouldn't be much to make a fuss about if it weren't for the fact that the White House has made lots of noise about being transparent while in fact being secretive, obstructive to journalists, and obsessive about controlling its own image. No: In a liberal democracy, the White House website is emphatically not the "best place" to view the State of the Union address...unless you want to hush dissent.

News How the FBI sought to silence Martin Luther King, Jr.
When people say, "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide", they clearly aren't recalling how the government has treated many people who have been doing the right thing, even when it went against the prevailing ways of the times

Threats and Hazards Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #17
A man was abducted at gunpoint in Des Moines by someone who demanded he help him find narcotics

Computers and the Internet Twitter bets on developing markets by buying an Indian company

Computers and the Internet What's new in Windows 10

January 21, 2015

Computers and the Internet Terrorists mask their emails to look like spam
It helps prevent detection

Business and Finance Honda: Seven-year auto loans at today's rates are "stupid" for manufacturers
It's hard to keep your head when everyone else around is losing theirs, but Honda deserves praise for seeing beyond today's illusory low interest rates

Computers and the Internet Resounding praise for Windows 10
It'll have a start menu and plays nicely with mobile devices. It also comes with a new browser.

The United States of America Predominant religions by county in America

News Anarchy is no substitute for the (carefully constrained) rule of law
People sometimes take anti-government sentiment too far and get the idea that a world with no government at all would be preferable to one that overreaches. While the overreach is dangerous and should always be pushed back, the law is necessary for the protection of innocents, like the 8-month-old baby found in a closet next to a loaded gun in a drug-filled Des Moines apartment this week. Someone has to step in on behalf of the welfare of the child. Government can be a powerful tool for good, like when safe-haven laws save the lives of babies whom their mothers might otherwise abandon dangerously.

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January 22, 2015

Business and Finance Deflation: It only sounds good if you don't think about it
Falling prices compound the costs of debt and cause people to pull back on worthwhile spending. High inflation and deflation alike are ugly. Which is why the EU is looking at another big round of pumping money into the economy.

Computers and the Internet Free upgrades to Windows 10 for users of most recent predecessors

Computers and the Internet People are often the biggest security flaw in a computer network
Like staffers in Washington, DC, who don't know how to resist attacks on their trust instincts

Health Confirmed measles patient exposed others in Omaha
Whether the contagion spread, we don't know yet

Computers and the Internet Google may be soon to offer mobile phone service

January 25, 2015

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 25, 2015

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January 29, 2015

Computers and the Internet If artificial intelligence development worries Bill Gates, it should worry the rest of us

Iowa IBM layoffs in Dubuque
The jobs were brought to Iowa through lots of incentives ($53 million worth) -- and now, 200 of them are going away

The United States of America Mitt Romney's decision whether to run in 2016

Computers and the Internet Yahoo plans a spinoff of its Alibaba position

Iowa Is the AIB merger a good deal for the University of Iowa?

January 30, 2015

Socialism Doesn't Work Pity the poor college students of China
The Communist government there, living in terror of leaving people with their own free thoughts, is pushing colleges to ban Western textbooks, especially if they speak ill of the Communist system

Business and Finance First estimate of 4th-quarter 2014 US GDP growth: 2.6%
Nothing phenomenal, but at least it's growth

Computers and the Internet AOL is closing "The Unofficial Apple Weblog"

Iowa Farewell to Dahl's
The bankruptcy sale now goes to a judge for evaluation

Computers and the Internet Bill Gates doesn't like Control-Alt-Delete, either

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January 31, 2015

Business and Finance When politics trumps economics
An independent central bank is essential. The apparent non-independence of Russia's central bank is going to turn very, very costly.

The United States of America Mitt Romney bows out of 2016 race
A wise country would put him to work fixing something like the State Department or running a venture-capital fund for social good. He's smart, and he has a lot more capacity to do good things.

News Whose "brainchild" are you?
Sure, it's a promotional stunt by GE, but it's nice to see someone acknowledge that we're not just genetic children of our parents, but also intellectual descendants of other people

Computers and the Internet Google starts pushing mobile accessibility

February 2, 2015

Weather and Disasters Latest blizzard is Chicago's 6th-worst

News Crankiniess doesn't suit libertarians
(Video) Sen. Rand Paul got rude and touchy in a CNBC interview. That's not what sells the libertarian philosophy he so loudly professes.

News Debunking the myth of the Nordic socialist "utopia"

February 3, 2015

Business and Finance The world has challenges, but we're getting better at solving them
The bad news gets the headlines, but the good news is voluminous

Computers and the Internet Syrian rebels trapped by cyber honeypot scheme
People are often the weakest link in computer security

Threats and Hazards Another Chinese crackdown against the Internet
People in China sometimes use VPN services to get around the government's "Great Firewall". So now the government is trying to block the VPNs.

Computers and the Internet Raspberry Pi 2 is revealed
It's a $35 kit containing the innards of a computer -- no monitor, keyboard, or SD card slot, but with a quad-core CPU and a gigabyte of RAM.

Threats and Hazards Authoritarianism is back in Russia

February 4, 2015

Computers and the Internet "Net neutrality" isn't a silver bullet
The Cedar Falls Utilities, for instance, which is already delivering gigabit-speed broadband access to the Iowa college town, isn't on board with the FCC's plan to regulate Internet service like a utility...and with good reason. There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue. One certainty is that regulation has the strong potential to entrench the positions of the large providers who are already big.

Computers and the Internet Twitter and Google are going back into partnership
And that's going to bring Twitter updates into the Google search index once more, later this year

Socialism Doesn't Work Things can't get much worse in Venezuela
The question now is whether the opposition will get a chance to fix it

Computers and the Internet People are often the weak link in the security chain
Imposters using social-engineering techniques stole lots of money from an Omaha company

News Questions raised about Harper Lee's new book
There are circumstances that suggest it may not have been a clear-minded, uncoerced decision

February 5, 2015

Business and Finance Amazon as a white knight for Radio Shack?
It's rumored that the online retailer may be out to snap up part or all of the long-term retailer. Amazon has already stepped deep into the territory of having to collect sales taxes, thanks to the number of distribution centers it's developed. A physical showcase presence may not be the worst thing to happen to the company.

Threats and Hazards Young men with nothing useful to do are a very common cause of trouble
While unemployed young men in poor places are often the cause of criminal violence, rich young men who inherited everything can also be a plague

Computers and the Internet Twitter: No huge profits yet, but would you like some new features?
Lose half a billion dollars in the first nine months of 2014, and people might be curious where you're heading

Business and Finance Labor productivity dropped by 1.8% in the fourth quarter of 2014
A step back is costly. To recover, we'll have to increase productivity by more than 1.8% just to get back up to even.

Business and Finance "Cards Against Humanity" meets a branding exercise

February 6, 2015

Health The case for making some vaccinations compulsory
You're not allowed to carry a bag of anthrax spores through a mall. The dangerous (and even deadly) externalities of highly-contagious airborne infections trump the perceived direct cost to personal liberty.

Computers and the Internet Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, and Charlotte are getting Google Fiber
They're new to the Google Fiber list, but San Jose, Portland (OR), Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and San Antonio are all in line to get it next. Austin, Kansas City, and Provo already have it. Google's not the only supplier of gigabit-speed Internet access, but it's probably the highest-profile.

Computers and the Internet Who's your buddy?
Snapchat has historically told users who their "best friends" (most-frequently-used contacts) were, and posted those results publicly. Now it won't. Unsurprisingly, some users are complaining.

Computers and the Internet Gawker stunt hits new lows in tastelessness
They manipulated a marketing algorithm used by Coke to hijack a Twitter feed to post portions of "Mein Kampf" as ASCII pictures. Tasteless, childish, and shameful. It crosses the line beyond mischief, and is yet another example why "just because you can doesn't necessarily mean you should." What good did the stunt do?

Computers and the Internet Android version 5.1 is showing up -- in Indonesia

Health Requirements of medical recordkeeping have doctors hiring "scribes" to follow them around
Certainly not the worst way to divide up the labor, assuming the records have to be kept in the first place

Computers and the Internet Is Google suffering from brain drain?
CNBC posits the question after several of the company's highest-level employees have departed. But it's probably overstating the case to call it "brain drain" as though the situation is any different from the natural order of things: A small, young Google is inevitably hot and moves fast. A mature, leviathan Google may still be very good at what it does and might even manage to remain somewhat nimble, but there's just not going to be as much there to stoke the fire in the belly for people who want to be in the spotlight of what's new, rather than inside the machinery of what's the incumbent.

Threats and Hazards The horrible things being done in the Middle East shouldn't be called "medieval"
The enemies of liberty and of the individual have a choice and it has nothing to do with the time in which they live. It never has. We always have the choice to turn away from stupidity and brutality, and humans always have.

February 7, 2015

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 7, 2015

February 8, 2015

Threats and Hazards Human-rights group claims 210,000 people are dead due to Syria's civil war
If true, that's a shocking number, and not befitting the 21st Century

News China's buttering up Latin America
While international engagement isn't a zero-sum game (for instance, the individual states within the United States are better off because all 50 interrelate with one another), the United States has been ignoring Latin America far too often and too much for too long and we're going to regret the consequences of letting others fill the vacuum of engagement

Business and Finance Nebraska's 2.9% unemployment rate comes with its own troubles
That rate is so low that it's hard to find enough qualified talent

The United States of America Nobody notices German-Americans anymore
That's because their immigrant heritage has been mostly subsumed into the culture as a whole. It's an observation we should note for interactions with today's immigrant populations, too: Sooner or later, nobody really cares where your family came from. We all become Americans together.

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

February 9, 2015

News New Illinois governor issues executive order to block "fair share" payments to state employee unions
Bruce Rauner has wasted little time in going on the offensive. Given the state of Illinois' finances, some shock and awe on a lot of fronts is likely in order.

News The war in Ukraine: Displaced off the front pages, but still very real

Humor and Good News Anti-vaccination arguments applied to the brakes on a car

Computers and the Internet Charge website commenters and leave the articles for free
A stroke of genius, really

Computers and the Internet Federal law doesn't require encryption of medical data

February 10, 2015

Business and Finance Des Moines officials propose a new ordinance to accommodate Uber
At first glance, it appears to be a responsive step in the right direction towards recognizing the reality of demand for ride-sharing services and the need for public safety. Most cities with any kind of regulation on for-hire transportation are going to have to come up with a new set of rules, probably much closer to the laissez-faire model of Uber and Lyft than to the heavily-regulated cartel model for cab services. But it really can't be a total free-for-all without serious consequences for public safety and the potential for discrimination. The transparency and accountability driven by the Uber two-way feedback model probably beats the capacity of any metropolitan government to regulate the quality of cab drivers. But there are also some conditions (like insurance requirements) that may reflect a legitimate public interest in health and safety. The key is to ensure that the regulations that are imposed are there in service of legitimate public interest, not solely for the purpose of restraining competition.

Computers and the Internet What is there to fear about smartwatches in schools?
Certainly there's a knee-jerk reaction against any form of communication technology that could potentially be used to facilitate cheating. But tests aren't really the ultimate objective of schooling, are they? And if they aren't, shouldn't the emphasis really be on the teaching and learning, with matters of how the tests are administered only a secondary issue?

The United States of America American stereotypes about the regions of America
Midwesterners are "self-reliant". Westerners are "uninhibited".

Health Most people dream in color

Computers and the Internet Microsoft's Patch Tuesday for February includes three "critical" updates

February 11, 2015

News Sources are for the birds?
The business pressures on news media have gotten to be such that editor of one newspaper (the Bakersfield Californian) has instructed staff to produce stories based really more the interest of producing something -- whatever it might be -- rather than what appears most newsworthy. This story would be so much less disturbing if it said "Everyone needs to spend one hour on a fresh short-form story each day, on or off your beat. Make it quick, interesting, and newsworthy." The memo as reported by Jim Romenesko just sounds like, "Hey, we heard about this thing called Up-Buzz-Click-Worthy, and we want you to do that instead of reporting."

Computers and the Internet Twitter says it was asked by governments for user data 40% more often in late 2014
For years, futurists have predicted that some businesses would become rivals to governments, and while many of them hinted that large multi-national corporations would be the subjects, it's actually turned out to be tech companies like Twitter and Google and Facebook that have had the most visible run-ins with government officials. It's hard to blend the interests of those companies with the demands of governments.

Computers and the Internet Americans are about to get European-style credit cards
Magnetic stripes are to be replaced by chips. It's going to take some time for people to get used to the change, and it's going to cost money to get the new readers installed.

News Ten tips for journalists
And with a reasonably open mind, many of the same suggestions apply to other fields as well

Iowa Iowa legislators will consider a 75-mph speed limit

February 12, 2015

Business and Finance Apple's growth rate is limited by its large size
But don't call that the "law of large numbers"

Science and Technology A hotel staffed mostly by robots
They're building it in Japan

Broadcasting Think twice about piling on Brian Williams
There's lots of armchair psychoanalysis being conducted on the NBC News anchor, and he may or may not be the villain that people like Maureen Dowd make him out to be. But when it comes to matters of memory, we should all be cautious: Human memory is pliable, flimsy, fallible, and subject to all kinds of error and manipulation. Nothing should ever be taken on just an eyewitness report. Whether it's on television, in a courtroom, or just in conversation, if you can't find corroborating evidence, you should discount the value of anything you're told by at least 90%. Don't trust eyewitnesses -- only evidence really matters.

Broadcasting Don't lament Jimmy Fallon -- Johnny Carson isn't coming back
A TV critic finds Fallon unfunny. And that he may or may not be; there's no use disputing matters of taste. But if people expect another Johnny Carson, they will never be satisfied -- Carson was a product of a time that is irreversibly gone. He honed his broadcasting skills on the radio first, and then migrated into television -- and there's simply not enough of a farm system left in radio to produce that kind of talent, nor the stomach for experimentation on local television for an entertainer like Carson to be duplicated.

Humor and Good News A satirical take on the five habits of highly successful people

Agriculture When copyright law meets tractor maintenance

February 13, 2015

Threats and Hazards Thousands risk their lives to flee as terrorists move in
One can only hope that Westerners stay alert and sympathetic to the plight, even though the names involved are Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Boko Haram. If they were Germany, Poland, Denmark, and Al Qaeda, we most certainly would.

Computers and the Internet Vint Cerf: "[W]e stand to lose an awful lot of our history" because people rely on digital records
His opinion on this matters because he's one of the original architects of the Internet and is the "Chief Internet Evangelist" at Google. Because of hazards like bit rot and the tendency of old file standards and programs to become obsolete, he says the digital records we keep may prove to be far worse than the printed copies we used to keep as a matter of course.

News Post-firebombing Dresden photos merged with life 70 years later

February 17, 2015

News Debate over property taxes in Omaha highlights the state of fraternal groups
America used to have a lot more fraternal groups, and a lot more people who were members of them. It's worth considering whether something has been lost in their decline, and if there's a way to revive the movement.

Computers and the Internet Crooks take $1 billion from banks in a two-year plot
The "Carbanak" criminal group hit banks around the world, using a variety of techniques, including hacking ATMs to spew out cash and fooling bank employees into clicking on compromised links

Threats and Hazards An update on the scourge of ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh

Humor and Good News Alternative recipies using Nutella

February 18, 2015

Business and Finance Quick observations on American business
Companies are reporting their results from 2014 overall, and The Economist notes that the American economy remains head-and-shoulders above the rest of the world right now, but energy companies are suffering from low petroleum prices and other companies are running dangerous risks from technological change.

Computers and the Internet Chicago allows Uber to ride, with lots of added requirements
The city is imposing lots of regulations in the name of public safety, and will conduct "real-time audits" with off-duty police officers

Threats and Hazards Libya as a gateway for terrorism to enter Europe

Aviation News A space launch to protect civilization
Some of the existential risks we face justify insurance-like behavior

Aviation News Yes, KLM tries to return missing items to passengers
...but they don't have an adorable dog to do it

February 19, 2015

Science and Technology Group wants to install a robotic grocery store in Des Moines
Automation continues to improve the quality of life for many people -- even while it threatens job opportunities for some. It's just like free trade: On balance, very good for most of society, but with concentrated costs for some. We're smart enough and wealthy enough to figure out how to accommodate.

Science and Technology More STEM majors, please -- with liberal-arts training
It's a simple economic proposition: two majors are better than one

Computers and the Internet Lenovo PCs were sold with "Superfish" adware preloaded at the factory
It's the kind of breach of trust for which the company should pay a stiff price in the marketplace

Business and Finance Walmart promises widespread pay increases

Computers and the Internet JP Morgan doesn't trust government security protection anymore
It's a symptom of what some futurists have called the post-state era: Private-sector organizations deciding that the work they used to depend upon government to do is now too important to be entrusted to government

February 20, 2015

Computers and the Internet Government surveillance means that basically nothing is private online
Spy games are even more pervasive than just about anyone has wanted to acknowledge

Business and Finance Why don't we know more about how to increase productivity?
Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen asks a question that more economists should be asking. More of them should be talking about productivity and its essential role in economic well-being.

Computers and the Internet Apple wants to be building cars by 2020
But a former GM CEO says to find another line of work; cars just aren't a great line of business to be in

News Huge Dubai skyscraper fire
A related question: When and how are old skyscrapers supposed to come down?

Threats and Hazards What happens if Russia turns more aggressive against the Baltic states?
The possibilities are highly alarming

February 21, 2015

News Greece convinces rest of Europe to stretch out the financial aid package
They otherwise would have run out of money next month

Science and Technology What changes minds about tough subjects

Humor and Good News Build your own highway sign
One guy did it in Los Angeles -- and got away with it

Business and Finance Asian stock markets suffer the curse of analysts
The problem with many analysts is that they don't know anything useful -- but they're profoundly certain that they do

Computers and the Internet How Etsy irritated its core craft-producer community

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 21, 2015

February 22, 2015

Science and Technology Robotic exoskeletons are already helping paralyzed people to walk

Computers and the Internet Lenovo engages in torturous doublespeak about their spyware scandal
Sure...of course you added adware to computers to "enhance the user experience". Because consumers definitely want that kind of CPU drag.

February 23, 2015

News China doesn't have to be a foe, but don't imagine it's a friend

February 24, 2015

Threats and Hazards 90 Americans are killed on the road every day
In a rational world, we would be more eager to do something about that than we are to be frightened by word of a terrorist threat against shopping malls. One is a known fact, killing a known number of people, and something which we could be doing more to solve. The other is a threat -- a scary one, yes, but at this stage only a possibility. We need to be rational about the things that get us worked up, otherwise terrorists succeed in disrupting our lives and harming us by just saying wild things, without necessarily doing anything at all. That is the very definition of asymmetry in warfare.

Computers and the Internet What's wrong with the Superfish vulnerability on Lenovo computers
It (a) changed the search results people got from sources like Google, but more significantly, it (b) made Internet browsers incapable of the kind of secure communication they need to be useful

Computers and the Internet YouTube for Kids
Parental controls (like a timer and search settings) and bigger buttons (for fat little fingers) are part of the deal, and Google says its scope is "narrowed to focus on content that is appropriate for the whole family". What will be interesting is to watch the inevitable back-and-forth that Google has to play now that it is playing the role of content curator: Someone's going to complain that their content is family-friendly but not recognized as such. Someone else will complain that Google's standards for family-friendliness aren't stringent enough. Someone else will complain that Google is trying to impose some set of unwanted values on families (it'll probably come from showing something like same-sex parenting couples on the "family-friendly" channel, but never doubt the capacity of people to take offense.) Some will think Google's standards are too bold and others will find them too restrictive. It's not really a winning situation for Google to enter -- not when other companies (especially Disney) have owned the notion of "family friendliness" in the psychological space for decades. They'll probably come to regret not outsourcing the curation of content to others, even if the app is a success -- which it quite well may be.

Threats and Hazards China is not our buddy
The people are certainly as good and fine as they are anywhere else in the world, but the government is not

News New regulations mean home water heaters are about to get much bigger

February 25, 2015

Computers and the Internet Pebble rolls out new color e-watch -- with a microphone
Dick Tracy, here we come. It's going to retail for $199, but they're offering several thousand via Kickstarter for less than that.

Iowa Some students will get into the U of I law school without taking LSATs
From an outside perspective, it looks like a sensible evolution -- why impose a costly testing regime on people whose qualifications are obviously sound? Next step: Making law school (and other programs) more accessible for people who don't feel like dropping everything and enrolling in a residential program for multiple years. We have the technology to do it, just not the will.

News Report claims that US and British intelligence agencies hacked the company selling 30% of the worlds SIM cards
That would give them a way to snoop on phone calls and text messages sent via phones using those compromised cards

Broadcasting Reality TV isn't very real
So says a former "Biggest Loser" participant, who thinks the show is contributing to lots of bad decisions among viewers who mistake the fiction for reality

News Chicago mayoral race goes to round two
Money doesn't inevitably win elections -- Rahm Emanuel had a much bigger war chest than his opponents, but still couldn't get 50% of the vote. Now it goes to a runoff.

February 26, 2015

Threats and Hazards "NATO and Russia hold rival military exercises on Estonian border"
That's a headline that had better wake up the planet

Threats and Hazards Manipulations of power and privilege
At least on the surface, it appears that United Airlines may have put a route into place just to please the chair of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which has supervisory power over the three major airports in greater New York City. It may be a far lesser kind of extension of privilege to the politically powerful than the apparent plunder of Yemen by its former president for an estimated $60 billion, but both situations derive from the common thread that people will seek power and luxuries, and they'll do it whether the economic system involved is free-market, socialist, communist, or otherwise. It is purely naive to imagine that capitalism is somehow specially susceptible to abuse or that government power isn't always and everywhere at risk of abuse as a tool for enhancing the lifestyles of the politically powerful. In general, the more powerful the government and its ability to regulate, the more likely (and larger) the abuses will be.

Threats and Hazards The Guardian claims Chicago Police have a "black site" for detentions that exceed legal standards

Computers and the Internet Chinese online services could be at grave risk
The government is enforcing a policy requiring people to use their real names on social networks, which is a tricky thing to ask in a place where the government doesn't take kindly to dissent

News Violent crime is one of Omaha's biggest troubles right now
It's not an especially violent city by any means, but there has been a lot of highly visible violence in recent memory. It's worth asking whether the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Omaha metro is almost entirely under the same municipal government; Des Moines, comparable by almost every measure, seems to have less violent crime -- and it's at least possible that the difference could in part be due to the fact that the Des Moines metro consists of dozens of communities, each of which has a different police force and set of community priorities. It's much harder to differentiate efforts to respond to different problems when everything is under the same municipal government.

February 27, 2015

Business and Finance Berkshire Hathaway at 50 years under current management
The widely-read annual shareholder letter from Berkshire Hathaway will be released tomorrow morning, and this one is attracting unusual interest because it will be larger and longer than usual, owing to its significance as an anniversary edition. Some speculation as to its contents: ■ Warren Buffett will discuss the type of shareholder he likes. Over its first 50 years, the company's patient, low-turnover shareholder base was a huge benefit to the company. It didn't hurt that Buffett himself controlled, directly or by significant personal influence, enough votes to keep the company doing what he thought was best for the long-term, rather than for a quarterly report. As his shares are converted to less-influential Class B shares and turned over to charity, the voting power of the remaining Class A shareholders will become proportionally greater -- and he undoubtedly hopes they will remain a solid voting bloc in favor of long-term principles. But now that Berkshire is part of the broad S&P 500 index, it has more institutional shareholders than ever, and they categorically fail to show the same kind of long-term vision that individual Berkshire shareholders used to have. The change in the culture of ownership is one of the biggest threats -- probably the biggest of all -- to Berkshire's next 50 years. ■ Charlie Munger will ponder the merit and virtues of the next generation of managers. He quite likely worries a lot about the risk of future generations of managers lacking the kinds of virtues and rationality that he so publicly espouses on behalf of the company and the culture at large. More so than Buffett, Munger tends to worry about the dark side of human nature and its tendency to do things like hoarding the perquisites of office. Munger will almost undoubtedly discuss how hard (and vitally important) it will be to recruit and keep managers who live up to exceptional moral standards. This will undoubtedly be extra-difficult in light of Berkshire's size: The larger it gets, the more likely it is to turn to the professional managerial class rather than the owner/operator/proprietor/entrepreneur class who have historically dominated Berkshire's management roster. ■ Breakup speculation is hilariously wrong. Some analysts, apparently incapable of seeing the most obvious things right in front of them, think the company may drift over time towards a breakup from its conglomerate status. It's a ridiculous guess for two reasons: First, the obvious evidence, which includes the use of the Berkshire parent company name over the company's media holdings, real-estate enterprise, automotive dealerships, and energy companies. (A company planning a spinoff of those interests or any others wouldn't double-down on the use of the brand name like never before.) Second, the considerable benefit the company gains from its position as a buyer of choice for sellers who don't want their heirloom businesses to be broken up or sold off. That reputation gets Berkshire deals that it wouldn't get otherwise, and whatever costs it pays by holding on to lesser-performing subsidiaries for "too long" by Wall Street standards, it makes up many times over by burnishing the company's reputation and standing as a buyer. ■ The cost of capital weighs heavily on the present, but that won't last. The company's low cost of capital (driven mainly by float developed by its insurance subsidiaries), historically a huge advantage, hasn't been much help over the last several years as the Federal Reserve has pushed borrowing prices to near-zero. That's been compounded by the fact that terrible markets for investments like bonds have pushed lots of capital into stock markets and private-equity investments, which has made it more expensive than usual for Berkshire to find good deals on common stocks and whole companies to buy. But that won't last forever -- rates will someday go up, and Berkshire's huge capacity to generate cash (now from operating subsidiaries in addition to the insurance float) will at some point in the foreseeable future become a huge advantage again. Anyone who barks about wanting a big dividend from the cash-rich Berkshire isn't seeing the long-term future -- that cash may not be doing much today, but the time will come again in the course of another boom/bust cycle when the company will be able to put huge amounts of money to work for eye-popping returns.

Computers and the Internet US government intelligence review says cyberattack is a bigger threat than terrorism
And it calls out Russia as a particular source of trouble, both from state action and from "unspecified" aggressors. Falling oil prices play a part.

Computers and the Internet Google unveils 225-page plan for Mountain View headquarters
They propose lots of public access to spaces in and around their campus, which would also include buildings designed to transform and re-shape themselves with the help of robotics. Some of the structures would be encased in a flexible glass-like skin.

February 28, 2015

Computers and the Internet The FCC's version of "net neutrality"
Companies will be prohibited from favoring some traffic over others, and basically will serve to regulate Internet access like a public utility, like landline telephone service. The problem is that most places don't have a lot of options for broadband Internet access right now, so we pay too much and get far too little speed compared to what's offered in other rich countries. And some of the incumbent providers have been bullies, creeps, and just all-out jerks to their customers. Lots of people really, really hate Comcast and Time Warner. But the hazard here is that the regulation that people want to impose on those companies (perhaps to prevent them from misbehaving) may also have the effect of entrenching the interests of those companies that are already large. That's usually the outcome of additional regulation -- to further consolidate the interests of the incumbents, even if they bristle at the regulation itself. And they're definitely not happy -- Verizon posted a protest message in Morse code (with a translation that looks like a 1950s typewritten memo, fretting about the FCC's move to "adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana". And that's the problem: Some sort of rulemaking power may have been necessary to prevent anticompetitive abuses by Internet service providers, given that there are so few of them today. But the sledgehammer approach adopted by the divided FCC commissioners (who voted 3-2) is very likely to make it hard for new entrants to get into the business and introduce the competition that consumers really want after all.

Science and Technology Google is putting $300 million into a fund to build residential solar power
It's part of a $750 million fund being spun up by a company called SolarCity that provides solar power as a service rather than a homeowner investment. Google gets tax breaks and good publicity out of the deal. This follows an $848 million investment in solar power by Apple earlier this month. Considering that energy is one of the very top expenses for companies like Apple and Google, it's no surprise they're actively interested in the market. That, and it's difficult for both companies to find other ways to invest internally for good returns. The successes of the past for both companies are exactly zero guarantee of future profits.

Computers and the Internet Hedge-fund manager is starting a unit to be run by artificial intelligence
Bloomberg says that Bridgewater Associates will use trading algorithms run by computers that are supposed to learn and evolve. It's smart to create and follow rational guidelines (or rules, or in a computing sense, codes) -- but it's also important to have human comprehension about why those rules are in place and when it makes sense to override them. There's a reason we say "the exception that proves the rule". Artificial intelligence may be helpful at identifying opportunity and could certainly be used as an enhancement for lots of decisions (including financial ones, just like it can enhance medical and engineering decisions), but this kind of gambit tends to get out of hand quickly in the financial world. LTCM collapsed while being run by some of the smartest people in money.

Health Fixing some colorblindness with special glasses

Science and Technology American Meteorological Society deserves credit for consistency of principles
The group is criticizing the efforts of a Democratic member of Congress to witch-hunt some university researchers who have been prominent skeptics about climate change. The group, while predominantly composed of people who tend to believe that humans have played at least some role in causing climate change, is standing on the principle that political witch-hunts have a "chilling" effect on research. Good for them. It's easy to say we would stand up for the rights of those with whom we disagree; it's another thing to actually do it.

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 28, 2015
Streaming live on WHORadio.com at 1:00 Central Time

Computers and the Internet Good reason to hold your applause on the FCC's net-neutrality ruling
The Omaha World-Herald puts it well: "Few will know the real costs of net neutrality rules until the FCC makes public the more than 300-page regulation that it passed without releasing the document first to the public."

March 5, 2015

Computers and the Internet Twitter continues begging for users
Now with embeddable video

Computers and the Internet A skeptic reacts to Apple's coming smartwatch

Computers and the Internet How C-SPAN delivers noteworthy information without resorting to clickbait

Computers and the Internet Google Plus gets third boss in less than a year

Computers and the Internet Tech-related business is still a boys' club

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March 6, 2015

Computers and the Internet Java now adds "bloatware" to Macintosh computers
They've been trying to force-feed Ask.com onto Windows computers for a long time already

Computers and the Internet You should have your own domain name, but keep official accounts for official business
If Hillary Clinton had given out her home mailing address instead of using her office as Secretary of State, that would have looked odd and unprofessional. Same thing applies to the decision to use a personal e-mail address rather than a state.gov account.

Business and Finance Apple is to join the Dow Jones Industrial Average
The DJIA is anachronistic and totally out of date. Why do we even bother to mention it ever?

Aviation News CNN gets FAA approval to use drones for TV footage

Computers and the Internet Three crooks, one billion stolen e-mail addresses

March 7, 2015

Computers and the Internet Server farms are today's economic-development grand prize
It's also a growing signal of corporate extra-nationalism

Science and Technology A truly silly argument against self-piloted cars
A story in "Wired" points to extraordinary dash-cam videos as some kind of dismissive evidence against autonomous cars. Yes, the extraordinary happens, and there's no way to program a computer to anticipate a truck full of cows tipping over. But most accidents are not the faults of extraordinary circumstances, but of failure to deal with the routine. With 90 people dying every day on the roads of the US, you can't say there are 90 extreme events taking place. More likely, there are 89 perfectly ordinary events that go bad, and the leading cause of those events is human error.

Computers and the Internet Should the Secretary of State really be using a personal email address for diplomatic purposes?

News No clear lane ahead for ride-sharing services in Nebraska

Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - March 7, 2015

March 8, 2015

Broadcasting $17 billion moves from stocks into bonds thus far in 2015
Stocks are at not-cheap prices right now, but long-term investing in bonds is a terrible idea under present conditions

Threats and Hazards Canadian man faces charges for refusing to turn over smartphone password

Business and Finance High-fee money managers ought to become an endangered species

Aviation News What the candidates said at the Iowa Ag Summit

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

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March 9, 2015

Threats and Hazards Iraq/Syria terrorists are destroying ancient heritage sites
These are not civilized people, and civilization needs to defend itself from them

Business and Finance Don't believe forecasts promising big returns from publicly-subsidized hotel and entertainment projects
The forecasts are too easily skewed to deliver the results the client appears to want, and there's practically no accountability later on

Aviation News A year later, no evidence that the crew deliberately crashed MH370

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March 10, 2015

Threats and Hazards Putin admits being behind the Crimea takeover stunt
Let's not call it "coming clean" -- just admitting responsibility

Science and Technology Getting kids into engineering via robotics

Business and Finance Upcoming generations might find their inheritances surprisingly small

Weather and Disasters Daylight Saving Time is stupid and should be eliminated

March 11, 2015

Science and Technology China builds a 57-story skyscraper in 19 days
Prefabricated blocks are being fused together on-site

Business and Finance A strong dollar versus the euro means happy shopping for US companies
...as long as they can stomach buying companies with euro-denominated earnings that will be depressed for a while

Computers and the Internet Yahoo layoffs trickle down even to Omaha
A couple of dozen customer-service reps were cut in Omaha, as part of nationwide cuts that coincide with the company's 20th anniversary. The layoffs appear to be happening in a slow trickle.

Computers and the Internet The New York Times and Los Angeles Times are now digital-first publications
When the biggest newspapers in the country consider their print editions secondary to their electronic ones, the tide has definitely shifted

Computers and the Internet Horrible, awful, soulless trolls impersonate a victim of the Sandy Hook murders
Shutting down the scourge of cybertrolls is tough to do -- most only feed off the fight, and revel in showing off the skills that make them hard to stop. Unfortunately, about 1% of people are sociopathic, and it's hard to shut down their access to the Internet without abridging free-speech rights for everyone. That doesn't mean we shouldn't shun, ostracize, and block the creeps out of our worlds.

March 12, 2015

Computers and the Internet New York Times questions Google's future
Notes the analysis: "Growth in Google's primary business, search advertising, has flattened out at about 20 percent a year for the last few years." They also note the company really hasn't diversified its income beyond search advertising, despite herculean efforts and massive spending.

Broadcasting AccuWeather television channel displaces Weather Channel on Verizon FiOS
The AccuWeather service is stripped down to the bare essentials and is intended as a substitute for glancing at a smartphone screen. They're calling it "all weather, all the time". The Weather Channel's migration to lots of scripted programming may have made sense as a means of capturing long-form viewers, but it hurt the channel's reputation for meteorology.

Humor and Good News Joe Maddon wants his Cubs to focus on the fundamentals
There's much to be excited about -- power hits are already showing up big-time in spring training -- but fundamentals, executed consistently, win championships.

Business and Finance The war between Uber and the taxis
Big companies own many of the nation's cab companies, so there's a concentrated cost to them if deregulation takes hold. Des Moines just adopted new regulations that will permit Uber to coexist alongside the incumbent taxi and limo services. The rules aren't quite laissez-faire, but they no longer protect rent-seeking by the cab companies. At first look, the regulations appear to strike a very sensible balance.

Science and Technology Computer modeling meets construction management to make bridge-analysis tool
Professors at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln are trying to get Federal authorities interested in their 3D modeling tool. Data is no good unless it turns into something actionable.

March 13, 2015

Computers and the Internet FCC releases its rules on "net neutrality"
Central to the new rules: No blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. Those sound lovely in theory, but there's going to be trouble in the nuances. And the "no throttling" rule is going to cause serious heartburn as demand for bandwidth keeps increasing and supply fails to keep up.

Computers and the Internet Secretary Clinton's email-sorting process was a rudimentary search
No, nobody went through and hand-checked them. They just used a name and keyword search to go through 60,000 emails. Anyone who's had to find a lost email knows that's an impossibly inadequate way to ensure the Clinton team found everything that matters.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft may be having some luck with its push to cloud-computing services
Their challenge appears to be getting customers who start on the service to stick with it and really put it to good use. While on the surface it might appear that customers who pay but don't use are a dream source of cost-free revenue, the truth is that Microsoft and its competitors really want customers to get attached to the products, since the more they entrench their operations in a cloud service, the harder it becomes to leave.

Computers and the Internet Latest Patch Tuesday gave some users heartburn
Some of the updates seem to be causing hiccups on some computers, and some of those problems may be echoes of a previous attempt at the same patch. And the set of updates was a big one, with or without installation troubles.

News Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #18
Omaha man suffers injuries after trying to break up a fight among girls -- who then turned on him

March 14, 2015

News Future earnings depend on the type of college degree, not the pedigree of the institution
Take that, overpriced snob schools

News One-paragraph book review: "Thinking, Fast and Slow"

March 18, 2015

Computers and the Internet "Dot-com" addresses obsolete? Don't be preposterous.
Even with a broadening array of alternative top-level domains, it's a laughable conclusion...800 numbers are still far more recognizable than 888 or 877. Anything ".com" is more definitive than the alternative in any other TLD.

News Vladimir Putin returns to the public view
10 days of radio silence sure looks suspicious

Computers and the Internet Multi-billion-dollar tech startups aren't "valued", they're speculated-upon

Computers and the Internet Iowa communities want more (Internet) fiber

Threats and Hazards How an Omaha company lost millions to social engineering

March 19, 2015

Business and Finance The surging value of the US dollar
Reversed slightly by the Federal Reserve's discussion this week, the surging value of the dollar has to have made it more appealing for Americans to look at buying European companies with large volumes of dollar-denominated earnings. In other words, Warren Buffett really must be shopping hard for European companies to buy. The buying power of the dollar is just too great to ignore right now.

Business and Finance Italy re-enters competition for silk fabrics
On a related note, one could learn much of what one needs to know about labor economics by studying the history of textile manufacturing in New England

Health Surveillance saves lives from loss to cancer

Computers and the Internet Apple's entry into Internet TV service

Business and Finance A profile of US household debt

March 20, 2015

Threats and Hazards Terrorist attack in Tunisia was carried out by Al Qaeda/ISIL
Two language checks: First, we shouldn't allow internal divisions among terrorist groups to determine what we call them. The group variously known as ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh is a splinter group of Al Qaeda, and we shouldn't dilute our attention to the hazard by diluting the name we apply to it. Second, we should reject the common phraseology "takes responsibility for" when talking about terror attacks. Civilized people "take responsibility". Barbarians just crave your fear.

Business and Finance Government is the leading employment sector in ten states and DC
Food for thought

Health Failure to care for sick veterans is a national shame
It's probably time for us to stop using the phrase "mental illness" (which tends to connote something negative that is to be avoided) and instead talk openly about "mental wellness" as something positive to which we ought to deliberately commit resources like money and attention. At a level that is probably subconscious, the terminology "mental illness" perpetuates the stigma we have unwisely attached to it. It becomes something unpleasant-sounding, so culturally we are inclined to avoid it. But if we were to talk about a positive commitment to mental wellness, it would probably help to open the public conversation such that we would think of it as an affirmative state of well-being which we as a culture should be committed to preserving (or creating, as the case may be) for everyone. We all exist in various states of mental wellness, and improving that state for every person is a positive, affirmative goal. It's much too easy to think of "mental illness" as something that someone else has -- it's impossible to reject the notion that we are all in some state of "mental wellness." And words do matter, particularly on sensitive topics. Making them less sensitive by bringing them out of the shadows is something worthwhile to consider.

Threats and Hazards Yemen fails into civil war
When the president has to flee an air raid on his residence, things are pretty messed up. And the deaths of scores of people at two mosques is another stomach-churning development.

News US DOT infographic shows why it matters where you choose to live
The amount of lost time and added expense faced by people who choose to live in places where congestion and traffic are terrible really boggles the mind

News One-time prosecutor apologizes for erroneous death-penalty conviction
Fortunately, the innocent convict has been freed -- after decades of wrongful incarceration

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March 24, 2015

Computers and the Internet Apple thinks it can beat Google Glass at its own game

Computers and the Internet Facebook updates its "community standards"
Less will be allowed, ultimately, and that's probably unavoidable. Facebook has too much to lose from laissez-faire. But policing content that is offensive in some places but not in others is an exercise in being hated.

Aviation News State Farm will test drones for inspecting storm damage

Computers and the Internet USDA to subsidize replacement of broadband connections

Computers and the Internet
Facebook doesn't want to post your links anymore
They're aggressively trying to get news sources to publish directly on their platform

March 25, 2015

Computers and the Internet Twitter softly rolls out options to block offensive posts
The forced immediacy of everything on Twitter makes it hazardous turf for risk of offense

Business and Finance How much are 78 million customer records worth?
Depending on what a court decides in the Radio Shack bankruptcy case, possibly quite a lot. One might ask "Who cares?" about records on your battery and bulb purchases from ten years ago. But what if another company -- more prominent, or perhaps more effective at getting your personal data -- were to go belly-up? Nothing guarantees that Facebook or Google will last forever.

Computers and the Internet Legal contests begin over FCC "net neutrality" rules
More than half a decade ago, groups like the EFF warned of the risk of "regulatory capture" -- that an FCC with more power would become a tool of vested interests. There's also the risk of corrosive mission creep.

Computers and the Internet Fraud on Apple Pay
Ease of setup may make it too easy to use for theft. One analyst thinks an astonishing 6% of Apple Pay transactions use stolen credit cards.

Computers and the Internet Computer infection via favicon
The tiny icons that identify individual websites inside many browsers can be compromised

March 26, 2015

Threats and Hazards Don't feed the trolls
The Al Qaeda offshoot that's wrecking parts of Syria and Iraq has declared a threat against specific members of the US military. Some have responded to the threat with their own bombast. While we definitely shouldn't be cowed by despicable acts and sub-human behavior, it's also rarely good practice to feed Internet trolls.

Business and Finance A sign that money is too cheap
A 77-story apartment tower is being planned for Queens. 77 stories? That could only remotely happen under conditions of easy money. Too-easy money.

Computers and the Internet Health care goes online...but not without hiccups and headaches
Some health-related information is being put online due to government mandate; other information is going there just because that's where everything is going anyway. But for a variety of reasons, the security isn't what it could be, and that's putting us at risk of what the Washington Post calls "the year of the health care attack".

Computers and the Internet Who uses which social media?
Facebook is pretty balanced across all age groups, but Snapchat definitely is not

Computers and the Internet Twitter introduces "Periscope" for live video streams
Right on the heels of a rival application called Meerkat

March 27, 2015

Threats and Hazards Saudi Arabia won't say it's not building a nuclear weapon
Meanwhile, the United States is cooperating openly with Iraq and perhaps tacitly with Iran, to conduct airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh and Yemen is descending into civil war as Saudi Arabia enters the fray with airstrikes of its own.

Business and Finance "If you find it puzzling, your brain is working correctly."
Charlie Munger on today's interest rates

Aviation News The Germanwings plane crash looks deliberate
Appropriately or not, a lot of the media speculation has turned to suggesting it was the result of depression. The facts still aren't known to us all, so speculation is inappropriate. But the subject itself is worth discussion: Nobody is embarrassed by "dental illness" -- most of us just go to the dentist as a matter of routine, and some people have more filings than others. Nobody wants cavities, but nobody avoids going in for regular cleanings because there isn't a pointless stigma about going to the dentist. The same philosophy should apply to mental wellness. Some people need prescriptions or therapy that others do not, but we should all go in for regular screenings and checkups. That would be a healthy standard for society to adopt, and it may be the only way to effectively de-stigmatize mental-health issues, which is a highly desirable social goal.

Business and Finance Where the Amazon distribution centers are
It's easy to see why the company turned in favor of Internet sales-tax collection; they already have a physical presence in so many states that it's hardly going to cost them more in administrative expenses -- but it might impose a burden on their competitors

Weather and Disasters The tornado-free parts of the United States, illustrated

March 28, 2015

Computers and the Internet Secretary Hillary Clinton's email dispute drags on
House Republicans say she deleted her entire e-mail server and that doing so could have compromised any investigation involving messages that were not officially turned over -- something like half of the messages supposedly received. The letter from her lawyer says "there are no hdr22@clintonemail.com e-mails from Secretary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State on the server for any review." Regardless of what was legally required or not, nuking an old e-mail server after being asked for records that were on it is exactly the kind of thing someone would do if they were trying to hide something.

Business and Finance The majority of people don't pay exclusive attention to conference calls
Perhaps because they tend to be poorly-organized, poorly-run, and too long. Though Harvard Business Review's analysis also says 47% of people have gone to the bathroom while on conference calls. Just because we have the technology to "get everyone together to talk about things" doesn't mean it's the most efficient use of everyone's time.

Computers and the Internet Taylor Swift reserves www.taylorswift.porn
Probably not a bad idea from a reputational-control standpoint, and for $99, a low-risk proposition anyway. Though one wonders about the potential for the administrators of the new top-level domains (TLDs) to conduct some soft extortion against the famous and semi-famous.

Computers and the Internet Apple users in UK will get to sue Google for privacy breach
For a nine-month period in 2011/2012, Google appears to have gotten around privacy settings on the Safari browser. The company says it didn't even use the data, so no harm was done. A British court says that doesn't stop the users from suing. It's all a question of cookie tracking, which is basically how most customization and tracking on the Internet still get done. But when people say they don't want to be tracked, they really don't want to be tracked.

Science and Technology A lever-powered wheelchair

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