Gongol.com Archives: 2015 Second-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol

April 2, 2015

News Nobody buys single copies of the newspaper anymore

Business and Finance McDonald's to pay $1 above minimum wage in some stores starting July 1

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April 3, 2015

Computers and the Internet Ello announces a redesign

Business and Finance An argument for blowing a resource bonanza
Not that it's correct to do so, but an interesting case

Business and Finance Walmart wants less ad spending by its vendors

Business and Finance The shadow Federal funds rate

News Russia's going to professionalize its military

April 4, 2015

Computers and the Internet Netflix just arrived in Australia, and it's slowing the entire Aussie Internet
One ISP there says Netflix is using 15% of its bandwidth

Computers and the Internet Bill Gates's letter to Microsoft employees on the company's 40th anniversary
Whatever else you might think about Microsoft, for it to have lasted 40 years is pretty remarkable for a technology company.

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - April 4, 2015

April 7, 2015

News The evolution from "yoke mate" to "soul mate"
A partial explanation for much-later marriage

Threats and Hazards The "heckler's veto" on speech

Health Mark Cuban advocates routine blood tests and tracking
He's absolutely right, and the naysayers are only right about nitpicking the details. The need for better health surveillance and maintenance (as opposed to fixing things that have already gone wrong) is urgent. We have the tools to do it, and the resources to do it better and cheaper are on the way.

April 8, 2015

Business and Finance Early warning: American teenagers aren't working
Unemployment among teens ages 16 to 19 is at 17.5%, compared to a sub-6% rate for the population at large. Causes may include large numbers of adults occupying low-skill jobs, high levels of automation displacing low-skilled work, and/or pressure for higher minimum wages. Effects could very well include higher rates of violence and crime in the short run, and lower life-cycle earnings in the long run.

Threats and Hazards Murder charge follows police shooting
Meaningful civilian oversight of "peace officers" needs to make a real comeback. One can't possibly fathom what would justify the escalation of violence on display in the South Carolina incident, nor the apparent failure by the responding police officers to render aid.

Business and Finance China stock markets have an average P/E ratio of 220
Clinically insane

Broadcasting No more "loser Rob Lowe" commercials from DirecTV

News Someone please tell Rahm Emanuel to fix Chicago's budget, now that he's been re-elected

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April 9, 2015

Health The future of routine blood testing and health surveillance
Mark Cuban has argued that those who can afford it ought to get routine blood tests to perform surveillance on their health. He points to examples of its usefulness, and he's dead right.

Computers and the Internet Russia likely behind attacks on White House computer networks
CNN reports on the implications, and eWeek backs up the likelihood

Computers and the Internet Turkey overreacts to bad social-media use by blocking Facebook and Twitter
It's stomach-churning that people published images of a prosecutor who was taken hostage. But bad taste doesn't justify censorship. It's just an excuse used by bad governments.

Computers and the Internet JP Morgan turns to computer algorithms to predict human misbehavior
If it's decision-enhancing, great. But it's dangerous to turn over the thinking to machines.

Computers and the Internet The utter mayhem of wide-open TLDs
The explosion in top-level domains is going to make brand protection ever more difficult for companies doing anything that even remotely touches the Internet. It's going to be nothing but a bonanza for the registrars, who are going to rent-seek like there's no tomorrow. It was a mistake to open the floodgates like this.

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April 10, 2015

The United States of America President Obama promises less "meddling" in Latin America
What's worrisome is that he may be inadvertently telegraphing less engagement with Latin America. We need quite the opposite -- much, much more engagement with our neighbors in this hemisphere.

Computers and the Internet How we email
According to a Yahoo Labs review of their customer data, people basically behave as though there is a defined volume of time to be filled with email, and no more -- so the more you receive, the shorter and less often (proportionally) you respond. Unsurprisingly, people are much more terse when replying from mobile phones than from larger computers. And reply time is a predictable function of age -- the younger the person, the faster the reply.

Health Genes, not TV watching, have the biggest effect on making people antisocial
That doesn't mean it's a good idea to plunk kids in front of the television indefinitely, but it certainly does highlight that even things like our behavioral personalities are outside our deliberate, willful control

Threats and Hazards Nordic countries agree to statement of solidarity with Baltic countries
Russia has all of them nervous, and with good cause

Computers and the Internet Will cyberdefense get its own branch of the military?
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter: "There may come a time when that makes sense". The idea of consolidating efforts could be attractive, if it means more focus and higher levels of expertise. But there's also a case to be made that we're better off with multiple systems playing cyber-defense, each potentially overlapping the others. It may appear wasteful, but it might also be the only way to have confidence we're really capturing all of the threats.

Computers and the Internet Apple opens up pre-orders for Apple Watch
It will be released April 24th. $349 for the cheapest Sport edition, $549 to over $1,000 for the main edition, and $10,000-plus for the completely ridiculous high-end version. Early reviewers seem troubled most by the apps.

Business and Finance GE is dumping its real-estate and finance division
How in the blazes does that make sense? De-diversifying and spinning off a unit that (due to interest rates) should be at a low point? All of the enthusiasm for the announcement seems to overlook the obvious. The time to sell off your real estate and lending portfolio would be when prices were at peaks. They are not.

News Washington Post executive editor: Print newspapering isn't going to remain around for long
"The forces at work donít care about how we prefer to do our jobs, how easily we adjust to change, how much we have to learn. They donít care about any extra workload. This transformation is going to happen no matter what."

Broadcasting Apple and HBO launch their streaming-only service

Weather and Disasters Photos of the terrible tornado in Illinois

Computers and the Internet Main feature of Ello v2 appears to be giant pictures

April 11, 2015

Broadcasting Show notes - Wise Guys - April 11, 2015

April 13, 2015

Science and Technology "Graduating engineers would rather work for high-tech startups and near big cities"
Hiring isn't just about money. It's also about things like the agglomeration effect -- that people want to be near fertile sources of other opportunities, in case what they're starting with doesn't work out

Computers and the Internet One strategy for avoiding workload-management-by-inbox
Schedule on- and off-periods for email access during the day, and use the designated off-periods to do other things without interruption.

News Forgetting what China did with the Beijing Olympics might allow them to get the 2022 Games, too
A million people in Beijing had their homes demolished to make way for the games

Business and Finance What Japanese businesses are learning about selling to the elderly
Japan's demographics are such that the country is a bit ahead of the curve on having a large population of older people. An interesting point: Boston Consulting Group says that people over age 65 account for 40% of personal consumption in Japan.

April 14, 2015

Threats and Hazards Estonian president asks for some NATO troops
He's worried that his country -- with a population about the same size as Nebraska's -- wouldn't stand a chance if Russia tries to invade. And Russia's been doing plenty to make the Baltic states nervous -- including flying too close to American airplanes in the region.

News April is Iowa's "Distracted Driving Awareness Month"
Too much focus is put on the specific problem of texting-while-driving, at the expense of attention to the broader issue of distracted driving. Some people can't handle a ham sandwich while driving, and it's a mistake to focus our laws specifically on a particular technology or item (like cell phones), rather than on the broader problem of driving with limited concentration.

News The case for body cameras from the father of an innocent civilian killed by American police
There is undoubtedly an affirmative case to be made for police to wear body cameras, but they're no cure-all. There are significant questions that should be considered about issues like the release of video recordings under Freedom of Information Act claims, the protection of sources who may have a reasonable fear of retaliation, and the need to consider the interests of people like innocent children and adult domestic-abuse victims who may be deeply concerned or troubled by the prospect of having their words recorded. But the cameras shouldn't be dismissed out-of-hand, either -- especially not when there's strong evidence that some domestic police officers have strayed far from their mission to preserve the peace.

Aviation News French company sells anti-drone drone
They claim it can track down the person controlling a suspicious drone within a decent-sized radius in about a minute. Drones have enormous potential for both personal and commercial use, ranging from amusing videography to valuable surveillance over crops and sensitive facilities. But the problem is that they're really too small to show up on conventional radar, and thus they can't really be tracked by large-scale methods...thus, they are also very difficult to defend against. It may simply be that the only way to fight fire is with fire (or drones, in this case). The technology can't be held back forever, so we have to figure out how to accommodate it and how to protect ourselves against the bad.

Computers and the Internet Startup company that watches apps for bad behavior estimated at $1 billion market price

April 15, 2015

Computers and the Internet Nokia is buying Bell Labs
Bell Labs, previously a branch of the AT&T telephone monopoly, became part of the spinoff Lucent Technologies, which merged with Alcatel of France in the early 2000s, and the combined Alcatel-Lucent is now being merged into Nokia. Nokia, notably, sold its consumer-phone business to Microsoft back in April 2014. Microsoft has continued to sell the former Nokia line now under the "Microsoft Lumia" name, though the legacy "Nokia" name survives as well. (Of note: They had some fun on April Fool's Day, teasing the launch of MS-DOS Mobile.) Regardless, the acquisition of Bell Labs, among the many other parts of Alcatel-Lucent, is intended to enhance Nokia's sharpened niche in network backend technology, "location-based technology", and high-end research and development. It's been a bold change of course for the company that at one time was the dominant handset maker.

Business and Finance Shale oil production expected to drop by 57,000 barrels in May
If the EIA's forecast is correct, that would be the first month-over-month decrease in production since 2013. Prices are in the tank, and there's a glut of oil in storage waiting for refinement, so nobody should be surprised that the well owners are cutting back on production.

Computers and the Internet Companies face a huge risk in trying to be cross-culturally clever
Apple's digital assistant Siri is famously clever and sometimes cheeky in her American iteration. But it's being suggested that the Russian version is either uncomfortably coy or possibly even downright homophobic in Russian, suggesting that the very words "gay" and "lesbian" were rude and potentially offensive. Apple seems to have reprogrammed Siri quickly upon discovering the quirk (which, of course, could have been a deliberate bug planted by a contractor) -- or if you're suspicious of the company, you may think it deliberate. Russian law, of course, is very unfriendly towards homosexuality, and the inherent conflict between trying to satisfy lots of local cultural norms all over the world and trying to deliver products that act and behave in a human-like manner is an enormous challenge. Much like the difficulty that Google will almost certainly have with curating "kid-friendly" content on YouTube, anytime a neutral corporation tries to make money and in the process has to make cultural judgments, it's going to be especially tough for technology companies -- which by nature tend to have technocratic attitudes and a general indifference to sensitive feelings.

News Sad: Dogs are getting a serious flu bug
It's spreading among canines in the Midwest

Business and Finance How to succeed in life by really trying
Charlie Munger: "[A]ll I was capable of doing in life was thinking pretty hard about trying to get the right answer, and then acting on it."

April 16, 2015

Computers and the Internet Iran is ramping up cyberattacks
Cyberwarfare is a tremendous tool for asymmetric warfare -- it doesn't cost much to conduct, but it can cause your opponent to expend unfathomable resources in defense

Computers and the Internet EU goes after Google for anti-trust violations
Google really needs to figure out if it wants to try to cement itself as the online equivalent of a regulated public utility or whether it wants to fight these battles forever -- or at least until someone else eclipses them

News Half a million people are trying to escape Libya for Europe
Not all of them are good people (any group of 500,000 probably contains about 5,000 sociopaths), but most are perfectly innocent and just trying to do the best they can for their families. Doing something reasonable to accommodate those trying to escape awful conditions is a burden for the civilized world, but also a moral obligation. Imagine having the misfortune of being born into a culture now being attacked by ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh.

Threats and Hazards Identity theft related to online tax filings "has just exploded"
It's probably a cost of doing business generally, but people also do things that put themselves at unnecessary risk. Sharing too much personal information on social media is one such error.

Humor and Good News The juror is excused
Chief Justice John Roberts got called for jury duty. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't selected. It's a good thing; he's used to decisions involving nine votes, not twelve.

April 17, 2015

Computers and the Internet Starting April 21st, Google wants websites to be mobile-friendly
Those that don't automatically convert to make things easier to use on mobile phones will be penalized on the search engine. About a quarter to a third of searching is now done from mobile phones, so it's no surprise that they've decided to accommodate...but the rules for making sites mobile-friendly are inconsistent, and the tools can be prohibitively expensive. Form matters, yes, but so does content. There are millions of legacy pages on the Internet that simply aren't going to be converted to any mobile-friendly design, and that's going to end up causing some good content to get buried.

Computers and the Internet Russian cybercriminals try getting to the White House via goofball YouTube interviewers
Presumably under the assumption that those who got close enough to the White House to interview the President may also be close enough to interact with people who have sensitive computer accounts. Just another example of social-engineering attacks on the rise.

Computers and the Internet Researchers can pick out a troll with 80% accuracy in just five posts
It turns out that groups (including discussion groups online) develop their own internal linquistic styles, and those who are out to pick a stupid fight tend to rebel against the community style. That makes them surprisingly easy to pick out by an algorithm -- but moderation is still probably best handled by a human being.

Aviation News The case for airplanes without pilots
Rogue or suicidal pilots are an extreme rarity, but fatigue, distractions, and other crew resource management problems are the predominant causes of crashes (70% in the 1970s; probably a similar frequency today). Take human error out of the equation (perhaps by using computers to do most of the flying, with a human in the cockpit as a decider-of-last-resort), and we may all be a lot safer.

Threats and Hazards Australian police take out a prospective terrorist attack
They think a WWI memorial ceremony was the intended target

The United States of America Where to find shale oil and gas

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April 18, 2015

Computers and the Internet EU complaint about Google and antitrust violations
The European Commission says Google has abused its power by putting its shopping results above those of organic search results. They're also pursuing Google over the dominance of the Android operating system on mobile phones. If you ever wondered why Google seems eager to get into some far-fetched things, it's because they know that if this case were to succeed, it could severely crimp their profits from search-related advertising...which is the company's dominant source of income. Google's public response to the case includes examples of things Google has tried that are laggards in their markets (like Google Travel) and an argument that people spend most of their time on apps rather than search engines when using smartphones. The EU case may be frivolous, but some of Google's retorts are spurious.

Business and Finance Bloomberg terminal network had a huge crash
They claim it wasn't the result of a cyberattack, but it sure doesn't look pretty for the company to have a long blackout

Broadcasting You can't pick channels one-by-one yet
But Verizon is reportedly plannin to offer genre-based "channel packs" that would let subscribers bundle channels in groups that they're willing to pay for. Disney protests, as it would, since channel bundling is a huge deal to the companies that own the channels.

Computers and the Internet Again, "net neutrality" isn't the panacaea some make it out to be
Facebook is trying to get people to use Internet.org in developing countries with slow Internet access. The related app offers free services from a selected list, stripped-down so that they use minimal data. But now some Indian companies are rebelling, arguing that the app favors a small number of options, which in effect is like offering preferential access to some services over others. Their protest is made on the basis that preferential access is contrary to the idea of "net neutrality", and thus ought to be rejected. So are people better off without access at all, or with access to a limited number of services for free? Will a competitive market fill the vacuum without a kick-start like Internet.org? Don't overlook the fact that Facebook's level of market saturation in the rich world is such that they can't really grow at high speeds unless they get access to the world's less-Internet-connected populations.

Science and Technology Japanese bullet train hits 366 mph in test run
It's a magnetic-levitation train, so friction losses are at a minimum. They're reportedly going for 372 mph next week.

Computers and the Internet Google, find my phone
If you're logged into a Google account, have the Google app loaded on your phone, and have location access turned on, typing "find my phone" into the search bar will trigger a location process that shows the phone on a map and can also be used to ring the phone, in case you've lost it somewhere. Of course, location data can be a battery-killer and a potential security hazard, so caveat emptor. In a bench test, the results were close (giving a search radius of about an acre, with the phone actually about 100' outside the perimeter shown, on a claimed accuracy of 30 meters.

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

April 19, 2015

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 19, 2015
Live stream starts at 9:00 pm Central

April 24, 2015

Threats and Hazards Our enemies are learning all the time
So should we

Computers and the Internet Android gets into the smartwatch game

Computers and the Internet What the public doesn't know about technology definitely hurts it

Computers and the Internet Yet another example of social engineering as the emerging primary vector for online attacks

Threats and Hazards No proof, but "strong suspicion" that Al Qaeda had plans to attack the Vatican

April 25, 2015

News Welding class on wheels
Quite a concept: Take the classroom to the people

Business and Finance Reasonably good career advice from a newspaper editor
But applicable to other career sectors

Business and Finance GE is getting out of the financial sector
Is it just because the future of finance looks so bleak?

Business and Finance Comcast and Time Warner won't merge, after all
And they're out $32 million in lobbying costs in the process

News No more strippers at Chinese funerals

April 28, 2015

Computers and the Internet Google's new mobile phone service piggybacks on WiFi
When away from a wireless computer network, "Project Fi" switches over to Sprint or T-Mobile, which means much of Iowa is in weak service territory. But for those who want $20-a-month cell phone service plus a pay-as-you-go data plan (and who don't mind having to use a Nexus 6 to get it, Google may be offering an option. Generally, it looks a lot like an electric car: If you're the right kind of user in a particular place where the infrastructure is ready for it, then it may be a suitable choice -- but not really for most people.

Science and Technology The most ridiculous gadgets on the market

Computers and the Internet Russian hackers got access to emails from the President
The security breach revealed last year is now reported to have included Presidential emails. The bad guys don't have to penetrate the highly-secure system that protects the President's personal messages in order to get through to the messages of his associates, which gives them access to the same information without the effort. You're only as secure as the person receiving your messages. We should want Presidents who understand and use technology, but we also need to know the limits of our own policies to protect us.

Science and Technology NTSB says CTA train crashed at O'Hare because operator was sleep-deprived
33 people were injured in the March 2014 incident. The report says subways should have black boxes like airplanes and should have systems to automatically take over in case the human being at the controls is incapacitated or screws up. Cheap? No way -- costs would probably break into the tens of millions, just for Chicago. But technology ought to be helping us to live safer lives and taking stupid decisions (and mistakes) out of the hands of people who could hurt others.

April 29, 2015

Computers and the Internet "Flipped" classrooms
Teachers are learning to post videos for kids to watch at home in lieu of homework, and to have the students do what used to be the homework in the classroom

Computers and the Internet Twitter's earnings slipped into the news early
And the news wasn't good, causing the stock to drop by about a quarter. The company lost $162 million in the first quarter and doesn't seem to expect profits this year.

Computers and the Internet CNN reporter leaves to go to work at Snapchat
Peter Hamby will be hired as "Head of News" in an effort to bring credibility to a feature intended to make Snapchat a little more like a broadcast and a little less focused on one-to-one exchanges. "Discover" is a new piece of Snapchat, introduced late in January, that features video and some written content from CNN, ESPN, Food Network, National Geographic, and other media partners.

News Measured in development years, poor countries could take 100 years to catch up with rich ones in education

Computers and the Internet Twitter's "Periscope" video-streaming tool has a leg up on the competition
Integration within Twitter probably gives it a key advantage over "Meerkat" -- but then, do people really demand that much live-streaming video after all?

April 30, 2015

News Saudi Arabia went through 5% of its foreign reserves in two months
A new ruler, a big bonus to government employees, and a big drop in oil prices all play roles.

News Obama Presidential library will go to Chicago
The University of Chicago, to be precise.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft announces much at its conference for developers
At "Build", the company announced that the upcoming Windows 10 will be built to handle apps originally programmed to work in Android and the Apple iOS with minimal conversion required -- basically, the company is saying it's no longer worth the fight to expect programmers to start with Windows in mind from scratch, so why not just assimilate the competition? The new operating system will also be designed so that a phone or tablet running Windows 10 could more or less serve as a portable computer with the capacity to plug into a large display and keyboard -- it will automatically adjust to the display you're using. And their new Internet browser will be called "Microsoft Edge", rather than the code name "Spartan" under which it was developed.

Business and Finance Nebraska minimum wage will rise to $9 an hour in 2016, but teens might get less
The legislature is considering a plan to set a lower minimum for teenagers in order to give them a shot at employment they might otherwise not get with a higher minimum.

Computers and the Internet Customers play tricks on self-service kiosks at McDonalds
One diner in Chicagoland came up with a $25, 4-lb. burger by adding everything he could to his order. The bigger story -- the arrival of self-service at fast-food restaurants in America -- should not go without notice. It ought to reduce errors and either allow restaurants to run with fewer staff members or put their existing staff levels to better use providing a higher level of customer service.

May 1, 2015

Agriculture Iowa farmers already see it coming: "[T]his year isn't going to be so good"
ISU Extension reports that prices for corn and soybeans are below break-even pricing -- farmers, on average, will lose money on both crops. And it's not going to help anything that 25% of Iowa's egg-laying hens have avian influenza and will probably have to be killed.

Weather and Disasters 1975 Omaha tornado represented via 2015 technology
Contemporary visualizations help put the history in context. An EF-4 tornado passing through a major urban area is a significant event.

Science and Technology Take a chart and turn it into a slopegraph

Iowa MidAmerican Energy plans another $1.5 billion in wind-energy generation
The company says that 57% of its retail electrical load will come from wind once the latest projects are completed. Related: How one of those turbines gets built.

Computers and the Internet Columnist: Microsoft may be on the verge of being hot
Windows 10 and everything that's coming with it may be enough to turn a lot of heads

Weather and Disasters Some context on Nepal's earthquake and the recovery

May 2, 2015

Business and Finance Notes from the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - May 2, 2015

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May 3, 2015

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - May 3, 2015

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May 5, 2015

Business and Finance Comparisons of international costs of labor
For obvious reasons, the manufacturing sector is interested in the cost of labor, particularly across borders. It turns out that Norway and Luxembourg get more bang for their buck (in terms of GDP per hour worked) than the United States. Everyone else trails behind (though Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden all hold their own.

Computers and the Internet Do emojis really improve communication?
Like sign language, they can convey a lot of emotion effectively in a way that's hard to do with words. But they're also easily misunderstood, and that's the shortcoming of communication that deliberately avoids words.

Weather and Disasters Tornado warning, party of 6
The National Weather Service now publishes impact statistics along with their polygonal warning areas for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. One warning today affects an estimated population of 6.

Science and Technology Tesla moves into power packs

Business and Finance A fascinating study of Henry Singleton at Teledyne

May 6, 2015

Business and Finance Federal Reserve chair thinks stocks are overpriced
Price is what you pay, and value is what you get

The United States of America Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder won't run for President in 2016
But it would be good for @onetoughnerd to stay close to the national spotlight

Health Better greeting cards for cancer patients

Health Chinese researchers may be prepared to create genetically-modified people

News A whole lot of lost Mark Twain writing has been discovered
What's going to happen centuries from today when historians discover all of the things that missed digitization?

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May 7, 2015

Science and Technology Self-driving semi trucks are a reality
But it could take another ten years for them to hit the highways. Nevada has favorable rules for self-piloted cars, so this demonstration probably won't be the last. In the long run, self-driving trucks make utter sense: The trucking companies have a huge financial incentive to gain efficiency, reduce risks, and reduce costs. Other groups that will be key to the adoption of autonomous vehicles: Outside sales forces with large territories to cover, and the elderly and physically disabled. ■ One important caveat: The acceptance and adoption of self-piloted vehicles depends upon them being seen as iterative improvements in the safety of human driving, rather than as a replacement for it (even if that's the logical ultimate goal). We humans have established a very high baseline for the number of casualties we accept due to road travel when a human is behind the wheel. Americans tolerate more than 32,000 road deaths a year, or about 90 a day. That number has declined a lot since the 1990s (probably because the vehicles themselves are increasingly safe for the people inside), since the number of crashes hasn't really changed much in that time. But if 90 people were to die every day due to plane crashes, the public would lose its mind -- because our baseline expectations for air-travel deaths is near zero. It follows that with our baseline expectation for deaths involving autonomous vehicles on the roadways also at or near zero, the public will lose its mind if it sees people dying in self-driving cars, no matter the logic for their implementation. A frightened public is primed to do a lot of stupid things, like banning self-piloted cars. Acceptance hinges on autonomous technology being perceived as a tool that reduces the number of crashes by making human driving safer, not as a separate category of travel altogether. Of course, that may require acknowledging that human drivers are pretty unsafe for a lot of reasons. ■ Flashback: "The first mass audiences for self-piloted vehicles will probably be the trucking industry..." (2012) ■ Also: Savings from self-driving cars (2010)

Business and Finance Mountain View city council rejects Google's crazy campus plan
LinkedIn gets the bulk of the property in question instead. Google isn't happy about the decision, which the city council tried to spin as an attempt at ensuring economic diversity (Google already owns a lot of Mountain View). At first glance, it sounds like the city has a heavy-handed role in planning, which is generally undesirable. But, assuming the power is adequately restrained from abuse, they're probably right to be skeptical of depending too heavily upon a single employer. Google's plans went beyond ambitious and tripped over into silliness.

Broadcasting David Letterman thinks viral videos signal it's time for him to go

Computers and the Internet IBM's Watson: First it won Jeopardy, and now it invents recipes
Natural-language processing of thousands of recipes from Bon Appetit gives Watson a starting point to invent new recipes altogether

News The Brown Institute is closing its Twin Cities campus
The college for broadcasters is moving to online-only instruction

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May 8, 2015

Agriculture The avian influenza outbreak is huge
The USDA says we're at 30 million affected birds (almost entirely chickens and turkeys). That's meant a kill total so large that it's getting hard to figure out where to put all of the carcasses. The good news, if there is any, may be that the authorities don't see a big risk to humans from the outbreak. But a state of emergency has been declared in Iowa anyway.

Computers and the Internet Do big personalities survive without big media brand names?
Bill Simmons of "Grantland" fame is leaving ESPN. Will he decide to put up his own shingle or go with another big brand in sports?

Computers and the Internet Yes, there are more than just white guys in technology
A conference called "Big Omaha" appears to have successfully broadened its appeal and its roster of presenters beyond the class of people most widely represented in tech. Sounds like it took some deliberate effort, but it also sounds like it was worth doing.

Business and Finance The skills employers really want
Everyone's familiar with the idea of a skills gap -- the difference between what employers want and what prospective employees are bringing to the table. Here are some of the skills that the business world is desperately seeking.

News UK elects 20-year-old to Parliament
She's the youngest since 1667

May 9, 2015

Health Two roles for supercomputing in health care
First, they can be used to accelerate the pace of DNA sequencing, for patients and (when applicable) their illnesses. Second, they can be used to analyze the available information on a patient's condition and cross-reference it against the state of the art in medical research to recommend a course of treatment. ■ Computer-augmented decision-making is the way of the future, if we're smart about it. But "augmented" or "enhanced" is the key here: Computers shouldn't be put in charge of making all of the decisions, particularly because it is at the margin where big errors are made, and computers aren't yet prepared to handle that on their own. Take, for instance, the apparent labeling of an Al Jazeera journalist as a terrorist by the NSA. He met certain trigger criteria for labeling...probably because he was interviewing figures in terrorist groups for the news. The behavior of a journalist interviewing terrorists might easily look like the behavior of a terrorist, but they're two wildly different things.

Business and Finance McDonald's as a wildly successful educational institution
People learn "soft skills" from entry-level jobs like the ones most commonly associated with McDonald's. And if we make it too hard for people to get those jobs (as by raising the minimum wage too aggressively), we price people out of that "school" and make it harder for them to get into the workforce successfully. ■ Related: Notes from the 2015 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting

Science and Technology Swatch is getting into smartwatches
The CEO says they're going to introduce a battery next year that could power a smartwatch for months at a time

Computers and the Internet There won't be a Windows 11
"Windows will be delivered as a service", starting with Windows 10, and will be updated on a rolling basis

Humor and Good News Honest interpretations of job titles

Humor and Good News A poem for the republicans of the world on the arrival of a royal baby

May 11, 2015

Business and Finance The economy as we know it, May 2015 edition

Computers and the Internet Omaha residential customers to get 1-gigabit Internet service by next year
At $99 a month, it's more costly than most Internet service. But it's also orders of magnitude faster. Cox Communications is trying the same in Phoenix and Las Vegas, so Omahans are privileged.

Business and Finance Some producers are willing to take big chances that oil prices are coming back
If persistent and widespread, that makes for a pretty short bust

Weather and Disasters Aerial photos of the Lake City tornado damage

Threats and Hazards Man faces 15 years in prison for hurting 7-week-old baby
There has to be something better we can do to protect the defenseless innocent.

May 12, 2015

Business and Finance Moody's declares Chicago's credit rating is junk
Public-sector pensions are an enormous liability nationwide -- they just happen to show up in certain hot spots

Threats and Hazards Downward pressure on oil prices might trigger confiscation by the Russian government
When kleptocracy takes over, it's hard to see a peaceful way out

News Cedar Rapids family busted for trying to ship arms to the Middle East
More than 150 guns were seized

Business and Finance Bo Pelini is getting $737 an hour not to coach Nebraska football
Heads he wins, tails Nebraska loses

Computers and the Internet Why Verizon wants to buy AOL
It's a matter of online video ad revenues. The deal is for $4.4 billion.

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May 13, 2015

News Estonia practices largest war games ever
The tiny NATO member has reason to be alarmed about Russia

Threats and Hazards Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #19
Someone fired a gun inside a Megabus from Chicago to Minneapolis and other passengers had to subdue him. You simply don't always have time to call the police. Related: A student at the University of Iowa photographed women with the tools they carry to protect themselves.

News Secretary Clinton's hostile relationship with the press

Science and Technology Consumer Reports names ten cars likely to last for 200,000 miles
Every one of them is a Toyota or a Honda

Threats and Hazards The little tyrant
North Korea's defense chief has been murdered by the state. Speculation abounds that a coup had been plotted.

May 14, 2015

Computers and the Internet Google's self-driving cars -- some accidents, but the company says not their fault
Ultimately, the totally self-driving car is still too far-out for many people to accept. We'll get there, though, as long as there is a transition during which computers take over more and more of the driving in the interest of enhancing driver and passenger safety. We should do our best to reach a goal of taking humans out of the driving equation entirely as soon as possible (since human error and fallibility is the leading cause of accidents), but it's going to take a little time.

Aviation News Drone group formally activated at Des Moines Air National Guard wing

Business and Finance Wall Street traders think the Federal Reserve is bluffing about raising interest rates
At least, any time this year. And with the Producer Price Index down for the month of April, one almost has to wonder whether the traders are right.

Computers and the Internet Facebook picks nine publishers for quick-loading news articles
Stories from the New York Times, BBC, NBC, The Atlantic, and others will load about ten times faster than those from other sites because they'll be pre-loaded on the mobile app (starting with the iOS, then showing up on Android later). Of course, that may only make the publishers involved more dependent upon Facebook than before, and that ought to make them nervous. But maybe not any more nervous than those publishers who had special deals with AOL and CompuServe back in the day...perhaps?

Broadcasting The subtle politics of B-roll
The State Department and the Pentagon are asking reporters not to use B-roll footage of ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh that shows the terrorists at strength. And, if they value the classical liberal values that the terrorists are fighting against, the journalists probably shouldn't use that footage anyway. But journalists should also be perpetually resistant to any kind of pressure from the government to frame things in a manner the government desires. It's a tough case: The wrong people are asking for the right thing.

May 15, 2015

Threats and Hazards A third of Russians fear a US invasion

Threats and Hazards Penn State's engineering school targeted by Chinese state-backed hackers

Science and Technology "The principle of transparency is the same regardless of what technology officials choose to use"
Omaha World-Herald gets backing from the office of the Nebraska attorney general, saying that the paper should get to see work-related text messages sent to the personal cell phone of the mayor of Omaha

The United States of America How we got to a 162-game baseball season

Humor and Good News Someone at The Onion loves Photoshop a little too much
The Supreme Court didn't need to heed the catcalls to "take it off"

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May 16, 2015

Business and Finance Every boom is followed by a bust
A ton of money is flowing into skyscraper real estate in New York City right now. It's fueled by a combination of low interest rates, low returns on alternative investments (like bonds), a strong stock market (creating a wealth effect with concentrated effects near Wall Street), and a poor economic environment around the world (which makes foreign investors over-eager to put money into projects in the US). It cannot and will not last forever.

Science and Technology Automatic speed control wasn't working just before Amtrak crash
The more use we can make of computer augmentation of human control in transportation (cars, trains, and aircraft alike), the better. It's expensive and difficult to implement, but we have to think through the cost-benefit analysis with a bias towards implementation.

Iowa How does a community-college newspaper get into a dispute that escalates to serious First Amendment issues?

News Not the way to protest your innocence
A company founded and run by a family now standing accused of trying to smuggle weapons to the Middle East is protesting that their e-mails contain "privileged" attorney-client communications. While potentially true, that surely doesn't make them look innocent.

Humor and Good News "Junk playgrounds"
Seems like a strong antidote to helicopter-style parenting

Business and Finance President Obama earned $130,000 in book royalties last year
Former President Clinton seems to be doing better giving speeches, but the residuals off a couple of books sure aren't hurting

News A few tips for better presentations
Nothing especially ground-breaking, but given the culturally inculcated phobia of public speaking, perhaps these tips will help

The United States of America The 2016 Presidential cattle call begins in earnest
Eleven announced or prospective candidates showed up to give speeches in Des Moines

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - May 16, 2015

May 17, 2015

Threats and Hazards Forecast: Russia will get more territorially aggressive this summer
Putin's hands may be tied in a vicious cycle

News The Clintons have made $25 million giving speeches since the start of last year
Nice work, if you can find it

Science and Technology Google says its self-driving cars have been in crashes, but none of their own fault
The sooner we can get humans out of the driver's seat, the better. We are what cause accidents.

Computers and the Internet Discover is rolling out "chip" cards
Intriguingly, they avoid calling it by the "EMV" name -- for Europay/Mastercard/Visa. These cards are a step towards (but not a silver bullet for) better transactional security.

Broadcasting Corporate universities
Companies that have a serious commitment to and method of developing human capital are going to have a durable competitive advantage in the marketplace. What's interesting is that many of them are turning away from the conventional academy in order to get there.

May 18, 2015

Computers and the Internet Technology and the law don't always travel in tandem
And the State Department's situation with a certain former Secretary and her e-mails is a pretty good example

Iowa Half of Iowa and ISU grads leave Iowa
And 85% of UNI grads stay. Lots of the grads from the other schools boomerang later, and residency after graduation isn't the only thing that matters. But it should be noted and considered when it's budget time.

Computers and the Internet CenturyLink says some Des Moines business customers will get gigabit Internet access
Cedar Falls, Omaha, and Kansas City are all getting broader options for gigabit service

Weather and Disasters The National Weather Service is cleaning up its forecast icons

Humor and Good News "That'll show the government."

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May 19, 2015

Computers and the Internet Uber hires talent away from Google
But not technical talent -- political talent.

Business and Finance $50 million in incentives and no jobs to show for it
There may be no alternative but for Congress to step in and stop states from fighting one another with economic-development incentives. Building infrastructure and keeping a healthy environment for regulations and taxation? That's good competition. Unaccountable, no-recourse subsidies and tax breaks for the politically-connected? That's another.

Humor and Good News A worthy review of "Hyperbole and a Half"

Health When markets fail, government can play a role
Making antibiotics doesn't really pay very well, and they tend to lose effictiveness over time. States may be able to step in and do something to solve the market failure by offering prizes for those who develop new antibiotics and buying the rights to their use to ensure a profit to the makers.

Threats and Hazards That pesky Monroe Doctrine
The US hasn't spent enough time winning enough friends in Latin America, and China's been interested in filling that void

May 20, 2015

Computers and the Internet Some signals point to Apple building its own search engine

Business and Finance Why do estimates of Social Security's solvency keep getting worse?
Blame systemic bias in the way the agency has been conducting its forecasts. Underestimating costs, overestimating income. It's a serious problem.

Threats and Hazards China's building islands in the South China Sea
600 miles from the actual China itself, they're nothing more than naked territorial grabs

Broadcasting "[T]hat you can laugh at yourself or point to your own ignorance...almost gives you a license to be glib"
The meaner cultural effects of David Letterman

Business and Finance Minimum wage in LA goes to $15 an hour by 2020
Pegging the minimum wage to inflation is one thing. Dramatic increases in minimum wage rates are likely to have long-term effects that stunt the future earnings of those starting from the low end of the skill level.

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May 21, 2015

Business and Finance Are people finally putting collegiate compensation in perspective?
Legislators in Illinois are figuring out that their college presidents are getting perks that are out of touch with reality. ESPN has noticed that Charlie Weiss is being paid more money to not coach the Notre Dame football team than the current coach is being paid. And the Omaha World-Herald has done the math and calculates that Bo Pelini has a $737-an-hour job as the fired football coach at the University of Nebraska.

Business and Finance What real-estate bubble?
Towers being built all around Central Park in New York City are going ever-higher at ever-higher prices. Money is cheap and markets outside the United States aren't wildly attractive -- that's making speculation a little too attractive.

Business and Finance World incomes are getting a lot better on the low end

News Ricketts family buys three more Wrigleyville rooftops

News Your name in a different generation
A clever use of Social Security name data

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May 22, 2015

Threats and Hazards The cities likeliest to be hit by terrorist attacks
Almost none of them are in Europe or North America -- perhaps a reminder that "safety" is a relative concept, and that perceptions are not always reality

Computers and the Internet Facebook encourages people to "check-in" as "safe" after a disaster, but...
...there are probably better ways of communicating your status to those who need to know it after an event like a major earthquake or something similar. A simple Facebook status click may give the wrong impression about what's really "safe".

Business and Finance Buffett: A better EITC beats a higher minimum wage

Threats and Hazards Industrial espionage is serious and goes deep
The chair of the Temple University physics department is charged with trying to steal industrial secrets for China

Computers and the Internet Apple might want to deliver local TV programming

May 25, 2015

Health "[T]he best way to automate a new habit is to set the bar incredibly low"
And the best way to be happier in general is, apparently, to build lots of good habits since life is so heavily governed by them.

The United States of America For perspective...
How much US land area would it take to equal the same population as that of the entire UK?

Humor and Good News Australian police issue tongue-in-cheek "most-wanted" for Nickelback
The charge? Musical crimes.

Weather and Disasters Why do thunderstorms pop up at night without daytime heating?
NOAA's looking into it

Computers and the Internet The appearance of genius
Thanks to a new font, you can borrow Albert Einstein's handwriting for your computer, but that won't make your thoughts as deep as his. Ironically, what makes Einstein endure in pop culture is that he was a decent writer of words that communicated with the general public -- not that he was a great calligrapher.

May 26, 2015

Business and Finance Six European countries have youth unemployment rates of at least 30%
Put them on a watchlist now for short-term future volatility and long-term stagnant growth. Unemployed young people with nothing to lose tend to do more than their fair share of stupid things, including crime and riots. And if they don't get a start on their job histories now, they're going to pay a penalty later on.

Computers and the Internet The Office of Dissent Management is at it again
"Critics worry that governance by social media will cheapen the power of the presidency by substituting hashtag activism for serious policymaking." Moreover, there is a serious risk that "engagement" by the White House via tools like Twitter only serves to encourage the cranks and wackos of the opposition and the Hallelujah Chorus among the President's supporters. In reality, the executive branch must engage with the public and should do so thoughtfully and with dignity. It's not entirely clear that appearing on "Between Two Ferns" achieves that. The Presidency is an office and an institution, not a consumer brand.

Computers and the Internet Smartphones are a massive security vulnerability

Weather and Disasters How the ozone hole got plugged

News Corruption in the world's most popular sport? You don't say.

May 27, 2015

Threats and Hazards Russian cyberthieves file for $50 million in fake tax refunds
They used available information to steal 200,000 identities and apparently got away with it about 50% of the time. The IRS suggests the criminals got SSNs, birthdates, street addresses, and filing statuses from outside sources before conducting the attempted thefts. All the more reason to watch carefully what you share and with whom on social media and everywhere else online.

Aviation News Electric airplanes exist and could have a future
Their biggest advantage may be in reducing maintenance costs (and, potentially, both noise and air pollution). It's possible to imagine a future in which autonomously-piloted electric aircraft ferry passengers in small numbers like a skybus service. Not soon, but it could make sense and make air travel cheaper, more accessible, and more convenient for those who don't live near major hubs

Aviation News SpaceX gets approval to launch satellites for the military
That puts them into competition with a Lockheed/Boeing joint venture

News Birth certificates as an anti-human-trafficking device

Computers and the Internet Some thoughts on the Internet trends of 2015

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May 28, 2015

Computers and the Internet Google's new "Now On Tap" brings a new layer to smartphone applications
Google wants it to reside more or less between the user and the applications the user employs, and for it to link the different applications together in ways that they aren't permitted to do on their own. Adoption may largely depend upon how users perceive the cost-benefit equation between more of Google's intrusion into their worlds and the potential benefits the seamless integration could bring.

News The state of the print media summarized in one story
The Tribune Publishing Co. just bought the San Diego Union Tribune...and promptly laid off 178 employees, mostly at the printing plant. Newspapers may involve the word "paper" in name alone more often than not in the coming years, particularly as many of them move to a digital-first or digital-only model.

Computers and the Internet The White House says @potus will be a legacy Twitter account
They also say that the account is to be nothing but "Tweets exclusively from" the President. Which is kind of funny, considering there's already an @barackobama account that doesn't really belong to him. Guess he'll have to be something like @barackobama44 after he leaves office.

Business and Finance CEOs in the media sector are disproportionately represented among the highest-paid

News A summary of personality types
Using the popular Myers-Briggs format

May 29, 2015

Computers and the Internet Google promotes its latest new technologies
The company's work is fantastic for consumers, not so much for investors

Business and Finance First-quarter GDP shrank by 0.7%
That's the second contraction in five quarters. They're not consecutive, so it doesn't count as a recession...but contractions aren't good.

Science and Technology Roads? Where we're going, we don't need...drivers.
Iowa City, North Liberty, and Coralville area could get a road exclusively for autonomous vehicles

Threats and Hazards "Enemy plots thwarted almost everyday"
The news inside Iran paints a picture of paranoia...and the US and Israel are the supposed culprits. Of course, it's actually Saudi Arabia causing the most immediate and direct pain to Iran right now by taking the air out of oil prices.

Humor and Good News If Albert Einstein had gotten a performance review

May 30, 2015

Business and Finance Who's setting up new businesses?
Wunderkinds get all the good press, but entrepreneurs are pretty evenly distributed across age groups -- and workers over age 50 are better-represented than in the past. But women are much harder to find among the ranks.

Business and Finance Look to the revealed preferences for the news before the news
Demand for supertankers has gotten suddenly hot again, and that's a pretty good sign that the oil producers aren't looking to cut back

The United States of America The value of Latino voters to the Republican Party

Business and Finance One graph that illustrates two sea-change economic factors
The big, big decline in the number of people in the American workforce and the sustained zeroing-out of the Federal funds rate over the last ten years are a pair of massive forces bearing on the US economy. One signals a generation leaving the workforce, and the other heralds an unprecedented era of effectively free money for the borrowing.

Business and Finance Art forgery: The only crime where it might actually pay to report yourself

Business and Finance The state of Subway
The Washington Post calls a 3% decline in sales "the fall of Subway". That's an exaggeration. The real takeaways: Average sales per store are under $450,000 and a franchise can be started for under $125,000. And Subway's main challenge seems to be that American consumers' tastes have migrated upscale, even if we still seem to want things healthy and cheap. ■ On a related note: The Post has also heat-mapped the nation's fast-food sandwich chains.

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May 31, 2015

Threats and Hazards They say, "If you see something, say something" -- but what about when it's the government being creepy?
The ordinary person, behaving legally, should have no expectation -- none -- of being pulled over by an unmarked police vehicle or of being surveilled by airborne cameras or other detection equipment. Those activities lend themselves to abuse (like the police imposter reported in the Des Moines area recently), intimidation, and a lack of attention to real threats which cannot be distinguished from their secret government counterparts (like the suspicious unmarked aircraft recently doing circles over the Twin Cities). "If you see something, say something" is totally meaningless if the most suspicious behavior of all is associated with the activities of government itself. Police conducting ordinary patrols should be in uniform and in marked vehicles, be they cars, motorcycles, trucks, or aircraft, and the only exceptions should be for defined and limited purposes, like raids or investigative work against a specific target. We should expect that Sky Marshals go undercover because the element of surprise is essential to their mission. But on the roads or in the general public, we should know exactly who's enforcing the law.

News There are a lot more Republicans now, thanks to the French
The UMP just re-named itself

Aviation News Trouble in the skies: Green lasers and drones both creating problems in the last few days
To a large extent, we're going to have to evaluate whether it's going to be better to try to prevent people from misusing those tools or to find ways to mitigate the trouble they cause. Since terrorists aren't likely to be deterred by laws, we probably have to focus on hazard-mitigation adaptations for the aircraft already in the skies.

News Harvard surveys its seniors
The Crimson published results of its senior survey, and at least two lines are worrisome. First, a third of males in the elite social crowd are going into finance. Second, of the 14% of seniors going into engineering, half hope to be out of the sector in ten years.

June 1, 2015

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

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

Computers and the Internet Teach yourself programming

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

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

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June 2, 2015

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

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

News Russia plans a new $5 billion aircraft carrier

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

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

June 3, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

June 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

June 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

June 6, 2015

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

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

June 8, 2015

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

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

Computers and the Internet Apple's announcements at developers conference

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

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June 9, 2015

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

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

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

June 11, 2015

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

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

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

News Whatever happened to rotating restaurants on big hotels?

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

June 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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June 13, 2015

Business and Finance Some interesting insights on US household net worth

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

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

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

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

June 14, 2015

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

Business and Finance Fiat Chrysler really, really wants another merger

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

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

Business and Finance A collection of productivity tools

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

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

June 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

June 16, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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June 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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June 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

Computers and the Internet Ello gets an iOS app

June 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

June 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

Science and Technology Pebble Time now open for pre-orders

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

June 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

June 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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June 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

June 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

Threats and Hazards European tourists killed in Tunisian terrorist attack

June 27, 2015

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

June 28, 2015

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

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

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June 29, 2015

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

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

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

News Longer Omaha commutes in the forecast

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

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June 30, 2015

News Is there a rash of fires at black churches?

Business and Finance Greece defaults on loan payments to IMF

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

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

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