Gongol.com Archives: 2015 Third-Quarter Archives
Teen birthrates are alarmingly higher in small towns
"What your email address says about your computer skills"
Department of Justice investigating allegations of collusion among airlines
Any market with a very small number of suppliers is likely to look like it's engaging in cartel-like behavior, whether or not it's intentional. It can get pretty hard to distinguish PR bravado from signals deliberately telegraphed to others. If there really is illegal collusion, throw the book at them. But there's a real possibility that ordinary behavior is going to look like illegal coordination in a market like the airlines.
Is a Chelsea Clinton speech really worth more than an average American's annual salary?
NYC worries about terrorism over Independence Day holiday weekend
Twitter is preparing "Project Lighting" for public consumption in a couple of months
They're making the site more welcoming to the drive-by visitor
Groups even harder-line than ISIS/ISIL/QSIL emerge in Syria
Extremism often turns on itself when questions of purity and dedication to a cause take over. But this is still frightening news.
USA Today reviews 50,000 complaints about TSA and finds 15,000 resulted in claims
We should be nowhere close to this rate of criminal activity inside an organization that is supposed to be protecting the people. We also ought to get them to reel in their enthusiasm for showing off -- like the pictures shared of a cash stash confiscated from a passenger. Novelty isn't illegality, and it's not really a permission slip to make a big deal out of things.
Visitors can now take pictures inside the White House
But those abominable "selfie sticks" are still prohibited, as they rightly ought to be.
A social network for public-policy addicts
Brigade, which is currently in invitation-only mode, is out to solicit personal opinions on public issues and to build some kind of network around "supporters". It's attractive initial clickbait, but it may be hard to get enough people really addicted to the site sufficiently to make it work.
Google artificial intelligence bot says the purpose of living is "to live forever"
Chatbots are going to get more and more interesting over time. What will be most interesting is to program them to respond to questions in the mode of a particular individual. There are only certain individuals who have been prolific enough as speaker and writers that their thoughts could be used to populate an AI "brain", but those would be some of the most interesting people to imitate artificially today: Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Isaac Asimov all come to mind.
St. Louis Cardinals fire scouting director, apparently over hacking
The former scouting director, Chris Correa, "has admitted hacking into a Houston database but only to determine whether the Astros had stolen proprietary data", according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. ESPN notes that "in-house algorithms and analytic models" now represent a real source of competitive advantage in baseball.
Mercy comes from strength
"NBC dumps orange loudmouth"
June was unusually wet for most of the Upper Mississippi Valley
Michael Eisner holds some rather depressing views of women
The former Disney chief thinks that "the number of beautiful, really beautiful women...that are funny, is impossible to find". Supposing he really believed that to be true, and that he really wished to find some, then why wouldn't he have invested in developing that kind of talent?
The most "American-made" car is the Toyota Camry
It's even more domestic-made than the Ford F-150
If a police body camera never blinks, then we need to know who gets to see the video
They have great potential for deterring abuse, but there are lots of things that police officers see that may not be good for the public to see
Speaking of all-out panic...
China is entering panic mode: "The central government, securities regulator and financial institutions have launched a joint effort to support the country's plummetingstock market amid fears that a market crash could threaten the country's entire financial system," says the state-run media.
Greek banks may be literally out of cash within the week
UN estimate: There are 60 million refugees worldwide
And half of them are children. If we are to have any hope of peace in the coming years, we're going to have to wrap our brains around this issue. In those places that are bound to be destinations for refugees, a sensible and humane approach must prevail. In those places producing refugees, changes are due. The number of refugees is thought to be almost 10 million larger than just the year before. That means the odds of being a refugee are now 1 in 122 worldwide.
Tennessee state representative wants refund over new state logo
They paid $46,000 for a logo, and he wants all but $10,000 of it returned in part because the US PTO rejected the application for a trademark
Show notes - Brian Gongol filling in for Simon Conway on WHO Radio - July 6, 2015
Streamed live at WHORadio.com
State attorneys general want to take the lead on data breaches
Stock market (computer) crash freezes NYSE
United Airlines flights grounded nationwide over computer issues
China's stock market enters meltdown mode
Unexplained fire alarm outbreak in Cedar Rapids
More than 25 million people's Federal identity records have been hacked
This isn't a piddling case of credit-card fraud -- it's cyberwar
Beacons at campaign events
Another way to reach out to people at campaign events
DARPA wants to save the Internet
Considering DARPA started it, one can see why they'd want to preserve it. The DARPA Security Challenge appears to be a reasonably smart way for the agency to get what it wants at minimal public expense.
China tries to rescue tumbling stock market with astonishing restrictions
If you're a major shareholder, you can't sell anything for the next six months
If you're a major shareholder, you can't sell anything for the next six months
The security consequences of Greece's economic troubles
They aren't trivial
Scott Walker team accidentally tweets premature announcement of Presidential run
Facebook permits a little more customization of the news feed
For now, just for iOS users. Others may come later.
Wedding planning via text message
Suppply meets demand
Truck drivers are in short supply
And that's just one more reason why trucking companies are going to be heavily behind the shift to self-piloted vehicles
Reddit riot gets CEO ousted
Chicago imposes 9% "cloud tax"
If you pay to stream music or videos (in other words, if you subscribe to Netflix or pay for Pandora), you'll have to pay for it -- starting in September. If it sticks, get worried about a national Internet sales tax regime.
PayPal changes terms to permit autodialing to bug people with debts
The quake that will devastate Seattle
Berkeley Breathed brings back "Bloom County"
The wonders of the Internet. Why worry about distribution when you can self-distribute and then sell collateral like books and plush dolls?
Too much rain has messed with some farms in the Midwest
Lots of acres got too much rain and flooded -- and it's getting to be much too late to re-plant successfully to beat the freeze in winter before harvest
Kansas City Royals bench coach uses calligraphy to create beautiful lineup cards
He does it so players have nice keepsakes from big games. And he also does it to illustrate that getting the details right can matter. And there's no reason not to bring a little beauty to the world.
NASA "New Horizons" spacecraft sends back photos of Pluto
More lab-grown organs are being produced
A set of cells were turned into a beating heart
Amazon still acts like profits don't matter
It's not a non-profit by definition, but it doesn't actively produce a lot of profits -- even after 20 years. That makes it hard for anyone to compete with them, and that may be the point. Amazon lost money in 2012, profited in 2013, and lost again in 2014.
Being a radio personality today is half about being Internet-savvy
Audi plant takes wind power and turns it into synthetic methane
They use surplus electricity from wind to split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Then they take the hydrogen (H2) and extra carbon dioxide (CO2) and combine them to produce synthetic methane (CH4) -- which also makes the produced methane carbon-neutral. Finding ways to capture the excess energy captured by wind systems and making it available when demand requires is a huge step forward for the energy budget (since the wind blows at night but most energy is used during the day). And because gas-powered turbines are really good for load-balancing with wind energy in the electrical supply, it's a great way to use technology. Most new electrical generation in the US is coming from wind and natural gas.
What caused the October 2014 "flash crash"?
Automated trading was part of the problem, but not the whole thing
IRS "taxpayer advocate" worries that migration to online services will put low-income users at higher risk of tax errors
Apparently, the IRS also has trouble answering the phone: Only 37% of the taxpayers who called the toll-free line actually got through. So there's a problem here: The online services obviously don't do enough since they're leaving people with questions that they feel the need to phone in, but then the IRS isn't answering the phone.
Copper prices are plunging
Production is still on the rise, but China -- which is consuming about half of the world's copper -- is slowing down, economically. And that slowdown is being reflected in demand for the metal.
Mediacom promotes "Xtream" Internet service in the Des Moines area
Download speeds for residential users up to 50 Mbps are promised, with "speed boost" options for up to 150 Mbps
Business travelers are now taking more trips on Uber than via taxi
That's an analysis from an expense-management software company, so it's third-party data that may not be completely accurate for the universe at large, but it does signal the threat that ride-sharing poses to conventional taxicab services. There's no doubt they've failed to capture the opportunities that the Internet placed right in front of them.
Chinese company buys abandoned Spanish airport for $11,000
Bloomberg reports that the company "plans to turn the so-called ghost airport into a European hub for Chinese companies". China is literally buying beachheads in Europe. This will not be the last -- certainly not if China's economy is really slowing down as dramatically as it appears. A whole bunch of important signals say they're running out of places to invest internally -- and fast. And a reminder to Europe and others: Ownership matters. Once you give up ownership, you give up control. This is an immutable law of economic nature, and the consequences in the intermediate-term future are going to be huge.
Google may be starting to watch its spending a bit
The stock price took off by 16% after the company reported a nearly $4 billion profit in the second quarter of this year. They're still trying to break out of the confines of Internet search-related advertising, but the impression seems to be that the new CFO won't tolerate quite so much frivolous spending as took place in the past -- and that she's going to keep a closer eye on some of the company's "moon shot" investments.
What's said on the Internet still has consequences
Gawker took down a post under pressure this past week. The original story alleged that a media executive had texted an escort, and they took down the story because the public pressure "reflects a growing recognition that we all have secrets, and they are not all equally worthy of exposure", according to Gawker's founder, Nick Denton. This is the same Gawker that tastelessly manipulated a Coca-Cola promotion earlier this year. It's odd watching Internet wunderkinds realize they have to grow up.
Samsung manages to hold off US activist investor group
More control for the founding family over the large and eye-poppingly complex conglomerate
Cedar Rapids joins lawsuit with Des Moines and Muscatine to get rights to re-activate traffic-ticket cameras
Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - July 18, 2015
Robot passes test of self-awareness
United Airlines rewards hackers for telling them about security error on website
Millions of miles -- probably cheaper than the consequences of leaving the security error in place
How police cars have gotten better -- a subtle quality-of-life improvement
You, too, can claim to be worth $10 billion
North Korea claims a 99.97% electoral turnout
A good example of how numbers can sometimes be a little too perfect. See also: Bernie Madoff.
Texas state trooper radically escalates traffic stop
(Video) The result was that a woman named Sandra Bland went to jail over failure to signal a lane change. And was found dead in her cell three days later.
Donald Trump (a/k/a The Orange Menace) gives out Sen. Lindsey Graham's personal phone number at campaign stop
It's an utterly classless move by a world-class clown
Matchmaking website for cheaters gets hacked
AshleyMadison, which was just about to go for an IPO, now has to deal with a group that says it's going to release "all customer records, profiles with all the customers' secret sexual fantasies, nude pictures, and conversations" online. This is a case where even if you like the outcome (shutting down a website for adulterers), you have to be displeased with the process.
HDTV is too good
It's driving people crazy on movie and TV sets -- they have to attend to details that have never mattered before, and that means they have to create an unreal reality in order not to offend what viewers expect to see
Army chief of staff views ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh on a decadal timeline
General Ray Odierno: "ISIS is a ten to twenty year problem, itís not a two years problem"
Chicago Tribune editorial gets the Sandra Bland case exactly right
Calling for the arresting officer to be fired, they note, "Bland didn't die at the side of the road. She died three days later, in jail. She shouldn't have been there in the first place." In any conflict, it is the solemn responsibility of the party with more power to de-escalate the situation.
Can you record the police?
If you're not interfering with their work, yes. And they can't take your phone or erase its contents without a warrant. And if you look at the suspicion surrounding the glitches in the dashcam video of the Sandra Bland incident, you should see why independent recordings and third-party custody of police dashcam and bodycam videos are important.
Judge says the State Department shouldn't have taken four years to respond to FOIA requests over Sec. Hillary Clinton
Taking four years to respond isn't anything close to "transparency"
Sen. Lindsey Graham stars in "How to destroy your cell phone"
A very clever response to Donald Trump acting like a clown and giving out Graham's personal telephone number. (Most of the methods shown are not in fact recommended for destroying an old phone.)
FBI director worries more about ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh than Al Qaeda
James Comey thinks that Al Qaeda's more methodical approach keeps it from conducting as many attacks as its offshoot will ultimately initiate, because the latter has taken to massive levels of publicity and has the potential to give ideas and some forms of training to "lone wolf" attackers
$800 billion in investments have left China in the last year
The government may be propping up the stock market, but that's a huge amount of capital outflow from the private sector. Gargantuan, really.
Amazon.com earned a profit in the second quarter
Remarkable because the company doesn't usually earn a profit. It was only $92 million on $23 billion in sales (or a 0.4% profit margin), but it's in the black nonetheless. The thing is, it's really hard for anyone to compete with an outsized market dominator that doesn't turn a consistent profit.
Fiat Chrysler recalls 1.4 million US vehicles
They were left vulnerable to hacking because a communications port was left open. A USB device is supposed to fix the error.
YouTube still working on a subscription model
They say content creators responsible for 90% of time spent watching have signed up to permit their videos on the subscription service, but they want 100% parity between the two versions of YouTube (ad-supported and subscription), so they might end up dropping some videos if the creators hold out.
"Time-lapse mining" from photos shared online
Researchers at the University of Washington and Google cooperated to "mine" social media for thousands of photos of well-known locations to create time-lapse videos using "geometric stabilization" (since the photos are aggregated from different perspectives). The paper concludes, "Our system discovered 10,728 time-lapses that show how the world's most popular landmarks are changing over time" and suggests how more could be done in the future as the number of online photos available for "mining" will grow. The system seems to especially like buildings under construction and waterfalls.
One-paragraph book review: "The ITT Wars"
How Taylor Swift could cause a diplomatic incident
It's not because she's never, ever, ever getting back together with a diplomat
Set off the alarms: ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh continues to evolve into a permanent nation-state
NASA found another planet much like Earth
Show notes - The Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - July 26, 2015
Some helpful insight on getting real computer security
Though be cautious about password managers
Apple promises OS X "El Capitan" update
They hint it's coming this fall
The border crisis
...for England. Refugees are piling up at Calais and trying to rush the Chunnel.
Twitter stock tanks after CEO downplays performance
They need a mass audience, and their audience isn't mass enough yet
Windows 10 is here
Archiving those old emails for posterity
Stanford teams are coming up with software to try to reconstruct the contexts and relationships that make e-mail make sense so that digital archivists can have something to use in the future when they get big dumps of inbox records
An early review of Windows 10
Consumer reporter busts his own identity thief
(Video) Dallas TV reporter shows up when the cops move in to arrest woman using his stolen credit-card number
Social Security trustee report is out
Trust fund reserves start drawing down in 2019. Depletion happens in 2034. The disability insurance trust fund goes broke next year. Overhead is 0.7%, or not that different from many mutual funds.
Man ends up dead after trying to rob another
The woeful part? He had spent 17 years in prison, wrongly accused of murder, and was freed in 2012. This may serve to illustrate the importance of a rehabilitation-first approach to incarceration. Imagine spending 17 years in prison for something you didn't do, and then trying to assemble a life on the outside. We're doing something wrong.
The United States is clearly in a cyberwar with China. The question is whether it's predominantly one-sided (from an offensive perspective, that appears to be the case), and what kind of defense and/or retaliation are justified. What achieves the objective? What really is the objective? The longer the government delays in framing the rules of the game (which, astonishingly, it has failed to do already), the longer the United States suffers both national-security and economic harm.
Iowa DCI says crooks are trying to extort people by phone in their name
It's good to live in a culture where we can generally assume that police authorities aren't going to call and demand a bribe
The New York City subway system can't find parts anymore
Many of the components that keep the trains running are so far obsolete that they have to keep open a shop just to fabricate their own replacements
NHTSA wants to know if Fiat Chrysler was the only manufacturer making hacking-vulnerable cars
Considering the supply chains involved, it's likely to be a broader issue than just a few Jeeps
A Facebook drone the width of a 737
They're going to launch the drones to hover at 90,000 feet and deliver Internet access to places that are generally off the broadband grid right now. That's because Facebook needs user growth, and they view the world's 1/3 or so who aren't already Internet-connected as a leading source of opportunity
Russia hacks the Pentagon
Blogger killed in Bangladesh -- probably for advocating secularism
Firefox requires an urgent update
Officials in Illinois used personal e-mail addresses to avoid public scrutiny
Robots and interest rates
Hotel group opposes Orbitz/Expedia merger
Chicago delays imposing "cloud tax"
Anti-corruption broadcaster shot in Brazil
A reminder of just how fragile self-government can be
Proliferation of new generic top level domains rolls on
Verizon and other phone providers phase out two-year contracts
Delta is testing super-upgrades for frequent flyers
Not just an upgrade to first class, but to a private jet. They're trying to make better use of deadheading flights to reposition aircraft for full-price private passengers.
International hacking ring stole info from press-release websites to trade on insider information
Hillary Clinton to turn over the infamous server hard drive
Plus a thumb drive containing backups of those disputed emails. A reminder to all of us: If you do serious business by email, you should make sure to deliberately keep a backup someplace safe. Have a strategy for security and backups; don't pull a Clinton.
Smartphones as the "Swiss Army knife" of the Millennial generation
Phones are used to do so many things that they are hard to do without
Kim Kardashian busted for endorsing pharmaceuticals on Instagram
Google's rearrangement as "Alphabet" doesn't make it a real conglomerate
But they are trying to be a digital conglomerate
UK government claims 83% of the country has "super-fast" broadband access
By "super-fast", they mean 24 Mbps. The big challenge in the UK, as it is elsewhere, is delivering high speeds in rural areas.
FCC invites phone companies to workshop on figuring out how to stop telemarketing robocalls
An ambulance drone may be coming
Designed to get things like defibrilators to the scene faster than an ambulance on four wheels
Samsung plans to build the world's biggest hard drive
In the standard 2.5" package, it's supposed to hold 16 terabytes
"Sesame Street" isn't leaving PBS...but it'll air first on HBO
Motorola Mobility to cut 25% of its Chicago workforce
The smartphone maker, spun off from the parent company, then sold to Google, then sold to Lenovo, is cutting 500 jobs in Chicago out of the about 2,000 it employs now. The rest of Lenovo is cutting back, too, and despite the Chicago cuts, the company supposedly wants Motorola to do more of the parent company's smartphone work.
Prankster goes after people angry about Target's gender-neutrality policy in the toy aisle
Samsung introduces new jumbo smartphones
The Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 Edge Plus are both really big -- "phablet"-sized -- and carry huge price tags: $700 and $800, respectively. Especially as cell-phone service providers move away from the long-term-contract model, consumers may start to get more price-sensitive, and $700 is a really big ticket.
Verizon tests 10 Gbps Internet service
Their current FiOS network offerings hit 500 Mbps, which is really fast -- but this is 20 times faster, and the company thinks they could get up to 80 Gbps. Fiber optics make all the difference...now, it just has to become economically feasible for utilities to install that expensive fiber all the way to homes. Densely-populated places will have a huge advantage in getting it first.
Comcast plans a new streaming-video service
Tentatively called "Watchable", it's expected to carry a lot of content from online-only providers and deliver it straight to cable TV subscribers' homes. It reflects the surging demand for content to suit ever-more-specific audiences, and how threatening that is to cable television providers.
One-paragraph book review: "Dangerous Pursuits: Mergers and acquisitions in the age of Wall Street"
USDA re-estimates crop sizes for the year
And the upward revision was enough to really shake the markets
Iowa barber gives haircuts to children in exchange for them reading stories to him
Knowledge transfer: UK troops help Ukrainian military
...and learn how to face the Russian military in the meantime
Apple puts TV service on hold
Negotiating distribution deals is turning out to be harder than expected
France threatens to open the border at Calais to send migrants to the UK
Using business jets to deliver scheduled flight service
Germany in the EU
The EU, founded more or less to keep Germany from getting belligerent again, now faces the problem of having a highly responsibe Germany that subsidizes bad economic behavior by others (who resent it)
A look inside Amazon.com's brutal workplace
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 16, 2015
Natural gas prices versus Chinese labor costs
The decline in the price of natural gas is making American electricity extra-cheap. Meanwhile, the cost of labor is rising in China. These factors mean that the overall cost of manufacturing in the United States is now within rounding error of that in China, and is likely to be in an advantageous positin within a couple of years.
Android Marshmallow is out for developers
The latest iteration of Google's operating system for mobile devices is ready for the last major step before public use
"Knowledge wins: Public library books are free"
A terrific war poster just as accurate today as a century ago
NLRB: "Stability" is the prevailing factor in blocking Northwestern football unionization
Of course university officials oppose unionization by their "student-athletes", but until that phrase ceases to be a pretty awful euphemism when applied to major college football programs, someone needs to continue agitating for a change of some sort. It doesn't have to be unionization, but it needs to be something.
The robotic lawn mower is finally coming to America
FCC finally approves an exemption for iRobot (makers of the Roomba) to use low-power radio signals to control the mowers. Honda already sells robotic mowers in the UK, so the technology isn't entirely new. Overall, the less time human beings spend on silly tasks like lawn mowing, the better.
An example of anything but transparency
The State Department just "found" thousands of emails it said did not exist
Donald Trump as mild fascist
Or, at least, as a dying canary in the coal mine of a healthy civic society. See also "It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis
Hackers release huge data dump of user information from AshleyMadison.com
The website catering to those who want to arrange extramarital affairs was targeted by a curiously moralistic kind of criminal
A tool for the compulsive over-sharer
A site called "My Social Book" will convert an individual's Facebook feed into a printed bok. Sure, it's appealing in a sense to have a personalized journal. But if you share enough on Facebook to fill an actual book, it's time to pump the brakes. Over-sharing on Facebook can lead to identity theft, among other serious personal hazards.
A bad sign for late-night television
If television stations are rebroadcasting old episodes of the Johnny Carson-era "Tonight Show", then someone really needs to work on talent development for today's broadcasters. Carson was a genius, no doubt -- but why hasn't anyone with comparable talent emerged in the 23 years since the show left the air?
One-paragraph book review: "America's Richest Families"
Why you should even back up your cloud-based data
A freak incident wiped out some data stored on Google cloud servers
Good advice for showing concern for a hospitalized friend
ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh kills scholars. Enough said.
If your worldview is threatened by the advance of knowledge, then you have a problem.
The cost of not asking tough questions
Chuck Todd's interviews with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders on the August 16th episode of "Meet the Press" were about as penetrating as a cover story for the "Weekly Reader".
One-paragraph book review: "The Liar's Ball"
Red-light camera company engaged in corruption
Former CEO pleads guilty to a $2 million deal
An argument for Google to buy Twitter
Computerized reconstruction of murder victim's face closes cold case
The value of a tool like that is hard to quantify, but psychologically huge
How to make the shrugging guy emoticon
Innumeracy is just as bad as illiteracy
Lots of important things, including in political life, depend on numbers. If a person (like a Presidential candidate) can't even come close to getting the numbers right, then that person is functionally innumerate. And that's a problem.
Watch as the Chinese stock market enters a meltdown
50 North Korean subs have left their bases
China's government can't prop up the stock market any longer
The market is a natural force much bigger than our power to coerce it effectively in most big cases. Britain's stock market took a big hit, too. Tremendous buying opportunities exist in the stock market when people lose their minds like this.
The tools Hyundai touts behind its convoy of cars driving themselves
The self-driving car isn't going to arrive all at once, like Google has been preparing to offer. It's going to arrive iteratively -- step-by-step. Parking assistance and lane management tools beget still better things and more serious overrides of human behavior. As comfort levels increase with each step, humans will eventually cede control of the car altogether to the car itself, and thank God. We are the weak link in the chain.
Cop draws gun on man apparently just standing in his own yard
It's not that police officers are inherently bad or eager to power-trip, but some are -- and the consequences when they can't demonstrate adequate self-control are so grave that the rest of us need to be sure that real civilian oversight is taking place. We should also be recording and sharing evidence of misbehavior, because it matters.
Selfies in the voting booth
On one hand, an expression of free speech. On the other, a risk to the secrecy of the ballot. Who can tell for sure that a photo of a completed ballot wasn't coerced?
Dish won't turn into a major cellphone carrier after all
The FCC has gotten in the way
Japan has so many people turning 100, it's busting the government's gift budget
Is the Chinese government really backing off intervention in the stock market?
NYSE Rule 48
How the stock exchange tries to put the brakes on an erratic market
New orders for durable goods are down a lot from last year
This is a problem, especially because capital investment by businesses has also been lagging for quite a while -- and there's really just no way to escape the fact that you need things in order to make other things
Putting computers to work on behalf of education
Computers aren't a substitute for teachers -- they should be used as enhancements. But if there's an area in which we should be almost maniacally eager to improve quality, especially in ways that can reduce costs, then education surely must be it.
Theo Epstein is up for a contract extension in 2016
The Cubs had better show up with a blank check. His value to the franchise is incredible.
Angela Merkel reminds Germans: Migrants are people, too
Refugees trying to escape troubles south of Europe are really just doing what any rational person would try to do
Plagiarized national anthems
Facebook claims a billion users per day
Instagram to permit portrait, landscape modes
Art is in the constraints. This does away with the biggest constraint of all on Instagram: The forced square. This will obviously please some people in the short run, but it really damages the appeal that made Instagram attractive from an artistic standpoint. Now it's just another dull way to share photos, like all the rest.
Burger King brilliantly proposes "McWhopper" in the name of Peace Day
Burger King: Looks clever and fun in their proposal. Looks engaged. Nothing to lose by tweaking your larger rival. McDonald's, on the other hand, looks sanctimonious in response. But rumor has it you shouldn't try building your own McWhopper.
The Federal Reserve looks at different exchange rates than Wall Street
Because the relative strength of the dollar affects our imports and exports, that affects the size of the economy. So it's not a trivial distinction what the Fed uses to establish how much inflation is occurring.
Not everyone named in the Ashley Madison hack was actually trying to cheat
Apparently, the company did nothing to verify addresses -- so people may have used the addresses of others in order to evade detection
The face of refugees arriving right now in Europe
Let's not forget that millions -- literally millions -- of people are on the run in Syria. They're people, not wild animals.
Going to cash right now is a dumb financial move
But people are doing it in droves
11 years in prison for supporting ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh from America
Throw the book at them
Earthquakes are inevitable. Disasters are not.
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, a reminder: Natural disasters are inevitable. But prosperity and the discipline to use some of that surplus in order to prepare for the inevitable are two very good ways to resist suffering.
Consumer Reports is crazy for the Tesla Model S
Tesla got one very important thing right: They went upscale with their electric car, rather than trying to achieve mass appeal but at a cost $15,000 above the comparable non-electric cars.
Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - August 29, 2015
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 30, 2015
Russia and China are building databases of data stolen from American computers
A vast repository of spies and subjects is being created, it would appear
Behold the new Google logo
A triumph of over-simplification. Where's the energy in the new look? Wholly dull, milquetoast, and uninspiring.
The NLRB may have gone too far
KCRG-TV is no longer independently owned
The Gazette Co. is selling off the standalone station
LinkedIn is rolling out a new messaging service
It's time to be clear about the shocking magnitude of the Syrian humanitarian disaster
2,500 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this summer. If six Boeing 747 jumbo jets had crashed this summer, we'd be paying attention to the problem. But somehow this story is falling through the cracks. And it's not a single disaster featuring 2,500 casualties -- it's 2,500 individual calamities, including two involving innocent little boys who drowned on a Turkish beach. The pictures are absolutely heart-wrenching. But the reality is even worse. Millions of people are trying to flee ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh and a criminal government in Syria. Where is our humanity?
A rise in productivity
0.7% from year to year, according to the BLS. That's better than zero, but not by much.
An extremely troubling police shooting
The trouble with chart-watching
People who look to predict the future of business by the movements of stock prices are playing financial astrology
Cartoons should be funny, not tepid
A mass crisis, summed up in one little person's tragedy
If your reaction to the death of a child who drowned while trying to escape Syria is anything but heartbreak, you need to readjust your thinking
Why Europe has so many refugees trying to get in
Human-caused disasters in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East and Northern Africa are leaving tens of thousands on the run
The near-term outlook for electric cars
They're coming soon to a mass market
Why Berkshire Hathaway reinvests all of its profits at MidAmerican
A guaranteed 11% return on equity is a huge incentive to reinvest. That's contributed heavily to Iowa's wind-generation boom.
Where are America's STEM jobs, and how much do they pay?
Startups are wildly overrated
Fortune: "The companies in the US that have a high impact on job growth aren't newest firms -- they're companies that are at least 15 to 20 years old on average"
Why Miami isn't ready for another hurricane
Low elevation, high population density and growth, and porous bedrock
Barenaked Ladies cover of "In the Air Tonight"
The Cubs are at last consistently fun to watch
(Video) Cubs fans have waited far too long to get players who crush grand slams
Perverse incentives can deliver despicable results
In China, "It is better to hit to kill than to hit and injure" because the incentives are on the side of killing a pedestrian rather than causing injury. The costs of burial are less than the costs of compensating the injured person for their medical care. Always look to the incentives created by laws, rules, culture, and other systems to anticipate the likely outcomes or to explain ones that seem perverse.
The new Google logo
There are things that the new "identity" does well, but the logo itself is nothing impressive
Facebook Messenger is now the number-two app on US smartphones
Only the Facebook application itself is more widely used. Forcing people off the messaging service built into the broader Facebook app and into the dedicated service certainly gave them another product to tout -- though it doesn't necessarily mean they have any broader total reach than before.
A thoughtful angle on the Syrian refugee situation
People are escaping war by boat and on foot. Pope Francis has gone so far as to implore every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a refugee family.
One-paragraph book review: "Devils on the Deep Blue Sea"
When publicly-funded arenas go bad
Nobody should be surprised when they don't pay for themselves
Tips for personal productivity
Phrases to use with children to develop their resilience
Paul Krugman and Donald Trump agree on bad economics
Krugman thinks that government intervention has reduced the unemployment rate and sees a kindred spirit in Trump. Both believe far too much in their own hype.
Krugman thinks that government intervention has reduced the unemployment rate and sees a kindred spirit in Trump. Both believe far too much in their own hype.
UK to accept 20,000 refugees from Syria
The situation is at historic proportions. Germany is taking 31,000 and France will take in 24,000.
Facebook changes its "Pages" service to try appealing to small businesses
No doubt this will spur Google to try to promote more heavily its services in the same market
Cubs manager Joe Maddon on goal-setting
Why you should donate instead of feigning outrage over a dead lion
The work of the African Wildlife Foundation seeks to improve the quality of life for the people of Africa -- and thus by improving their economic prospects, reducing the incentive to do things like killing lions illegally. Taking care of people can also mean taking care of wildlife.
China has a lot of debt, but not in excess of assets
Interesting note: For all the talk about the tough times in China's stock market, stocks are only about 2% of household assets there.
Meredith and Media General will merge
And thus another Des Moines institution gives way to someplace larger
Department of Labor proposes radical expansion of overtime eligibility
Anyone making $50,440 a year or less could not be exempted from receiving overtime pay. As always, the law of unintended consequences will rear its ugly head if this is implemented -- employers are terrified of a massive increase in overtime liability, so they might just end up hiring more part-timers or temporary workers instead of giving additional work to their existing employees. And don't be surprised if a massive wave of lawsuits ensues if the rules actually go into place. As has been too often the case with this administration, good intentions are advanced with little or no acknowledgment of economic reality, which will actually make it very likely that the people whom the government wants to "help" would actually find themselves penalized. Unintended consequences are very real, even if the people making the decisions think they're smarter than everyone else.
Federal government plans to indict hackers from China
Why the government wants access to your text messages
British Airways plane catches fire in Las Vegas
One-paragraph book review: "Kaizen: The key to Japan's competitive success"
President Obama wants 10,000 Syrian refugees to be admitted to the US in the next fiscal year
We could probably handle many more than that -- and morally, we probably should
Nobody wants to be around for a hard landing of China's economy
But don't be surprised if there's some serious pain as the laws of economic physics come to bear on the fast-growing market. Despite the rapid growth rates that have been achieved there, when China's premier says things like "we need to take targeted measures to resist downward pressure on the economy at the same time we need to build momentum for sustainable and healthy economic growth", he's only saying things that sound superficially good. The truth of the matter is that when politicians think they have the kind of power that the central government in China imagines that it has over economic growth, then they're only kidding themselves. The only thing a government can really do is remove impediments to growth by encouraging free markets and the rule of law, while reserving their interventions for those limited cases in which the market fails miserably. But that's not what the Chinese government is trying to do -- they're trying to keep up a specific rate of growth while exercising all kinds of measures to manipulate outcomes, like trying to prop up the stock market, micro-manage the currency exchange rate, and keep control of the "commanding heights" of the economy through state ownership of enterprises. That kind of stuff can work in the short term to kick-start growth -- authoritarian measures seem to have done well in small economies like South Korea and Singapore, but only for a limited time. The hangover that inevitably results once the economy grows beyond the reasonable capabilities of the government to manipulate (and China's economy is far beyond that point) is terribly painful (remember the Asian financial crisis at the turn of the century?). If you had $1,000 to invest right now (or even $1,000,000), you would stand much better odds for the next 25 years by investing in an index of the American market rather than an index of the Chinese market. A command economy (or even a mixed one) can only grow for so long before the inevitable inefficiencies, human errors, and pricing distortions catch up with the system and whack it in the kneecaps.
Apple to make iOS 9 available as a free update on September 16
The company also announced the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus (coming at the end of the month), a new Apple TV, and an $800 iPad with a $100 stylus.
Enrollment and lots of other figures rising nicely at UNI
The visibility of economic inequality may actually make people behave badly
Asking economists to forecast recessions is an exercise in hilarity
Knowing that something is likely to occur is one thing. Betting on when it will happen is a huge mistake. Brilliant people with lots of their own money on the line have lost big by trying to guess economic cycles. That's because it's not a rational process -- it's very much an outcome driven by human psychology.
Ten automakers agree to make automatic emergency braking a standard feature
This is how the self-piloted car is going to come about -- not in one big revolution, but in iterative improvements to our safety. Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mazda, Mercedes Benz, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo are all committed. The schedule is yet to be finalized between the automakers and the US Department of Transportation.
Fairfield police were "lawful" in using deadly force
Two officers fired on a car when the driver tried to run over one of them. Anyone who has the intention of running over a police officer deserves to get shot (at least karmically). However, the fact there were two other people in the car, including a juvenile -- compounded by the fact the police DIDN'T HIT THEIR MARK -- should be deeply troubling. If you can't hit your target, DON'T SHOOT. If they missed their mark, they could just as easily have hit one of the passengers. What if they had killed the kid?
The guy who ruined air travel last fall gets a dozen years in prison
He cut cables and lit a fire at the air-traffic control facility serving Chicago before he tried to kill himself. He lived and the facility was badly damaged. Prosecutors said $100 million in losses resulted.
Is it real or is it Photoshop?
A 25-picture test
What share China consumes of some of the world's major products
New cancer research suggests chasing the type of mutation, not the site of the tumor in the body
Goldman Sachs thinks $20-a-barrel oil could happen
Far-left-winger wins leadership election for the UK Labour Party
Why some teenagers make jokes about 9/11
Does it matter that Iowa is losing a home-grown company?
Meredith says it will retain its presence in Des Moines even after its acquisition by Media General. But promises are easy to make. As always, the best way not to lose control of something is to keep ownership of it. Maybe local ownership matters, maybe it doesn't. Some companies would be better off under management by others; some companies get ruined by a merger or acquisition.
A basic understanding of technology should really be a prerequisite for holding high office in 2015
The Hillary Clinton e-mail server story is an example of exactly why technological illiteracy is hazardous, especially when it involves high-level government officials. For instance: After months of protesting that the server had been "wiped", the Clinton camp is now backtracking and saying they don't know what "wiped" really means, and their service provider says they only deleted the files. There's a big difference between "deleted" and "wiped", and it's the kind of distinction a person should know before trying to use technical jargon to sound sophisticated -- or before taking part in any kind of lawmaking process in which it would matter to know the difference. We need literate, numerate, and technologically literate people in high office. If you can't understand the scope of a problem, you're never going to find an adequate solution.
There's a talent
Miss Colorado skipped the conventional light entertainment routine (singing, dancing, and so on) to talk about being a nurse in the Miss America contest.
A large crowd of men ages 25 to 54 has dropped out of the workforce
That could pose a long-term hazard to growth, as well as to political and social stability
The terrorism threat remains
Intel won't sponsor Science Talent Search anymore
An interesting history of color
Those who save 15% of their income
How likely is your flight to be on time?
A deep and interactive analysis by 538
An expanded alliance between Toyota and BMW is under consideration
In a lot of ways, the main cost a company has to face in many endeavors is that of "tuition" to learn about whatever it's doing. Some companies buy out others to pay that de facto tuition, while others spend on research and development. One of the more interesting approaches (and one that isn't used as widely as one might expect) is the joint venture.
Some women who belong on US currency
Journalist: "Stop blaming the media for Donald Trump"
But there are at least two things wrong with that analysis: First, Donald Trump is a monster that is entirely the creation of a star-struck media complex. He has been since at least the 1980s. He can easily seem like a big deal to people in New York City, and that's where much of the nation's media narrative is driven. They mistake his chutzpah for actual success, and fawn over him like teenagers at a rock concert. (The truly, truly successful businesspeople typically avoid ostentation and excess attention to their work because they benefit from a subtle touch. Trump is nothing but a hype man.) The second problem is that the level of deference to Trump exhibited by some journalists is excessive to the point of irresponsibility. Unfortunately, most journalists aren't also business majors -- so they don't really know what questions to ask about what really matters. But because Trump can't stop telling them that he's "really rich", those who aren't sophisticated enough to objectively evaluate his claims are at high risk of falling for the (self-serving) legend.
Another civil war that deserves attention
Syria isn't the only place with strife, civilians on the run, and terrible atrocities taking place. Burundi is in a similar predicament.
A flywheel for oil production
Prices are low, so oil drillers aren't thrilled -- but they can't exactly shut down, because most producers have to rely on maintaining cash flow to service their debts and keep from going broke. Stopping production altogether is a non-option. Even when production actually costs them money, some will keep going because the costs of shutting down are so high. So now they're storing oil in tanks on St. Lucia, awaiting a day with higher prices.
AB InBev wants to buy out SABMiller
That's a lot of beer
Facebook wants in on that virtual-assistant action
"Facebook M" looks like it's out to compete with Apple's Siri and Google Now and Microsoft Cortana
No change in interest rates, decides the Federal Reserve
This tightrope walk -- deciding when to reverse course on a positively stunning expansion of the money supply but not doing so before there's actual inflation to counteract. Money still isn't moving. And it seems like the Fed sees it that way, too.
Amazon is pushing a new $99 Amazon Fire TV box
Undoubtedly seeking to steal thunder from Apple TV. Oh, and now they're dropping the price of the 7" color-screen Kindle Fire with WiFi and 8 Gb of storage to $49. It might be noted that the regular Kindle is $79.
Twitter claims it reaches more people than Facebook does
A stretch, to be sure.
GM will pay $900 million in settlement over faulty cars
They had ignition switches that could shut down while a car was running.
Dog saves drowning boy, then gets help
Your cat wouldn't do that
What happens when a library goes bad?
Omaha is dealing with what appears to be a serious erosion in conditions at its downtown library. The reports suggest it's become less a place for people to read and learn in peace and more a site for society to temporarily dump off some undesirable characters. Libraries are such an essential part of culture that it's tragic to watch when they aren't able or willing to remain vibrant. Some real changes in the way libraries work, reach out to the community, and see their scope of responsibility have been foisted upon them by outside conditions. But those same conditions -- mainly technological changes -- actually make good libraries more important than ever, to serve as a free public resource to those who might not otherwise have the means to improve themselves.
The cab-versus-ridesharing war in Chicago escalates
The mayor wants the ride-sharing services (like Uber and Lyft) to be able to pick up passengers at the convention center and airports (which they can't officially do now). But the plan would also grant a 15% fare increase to taxi drivers. Add in a bunch of new surcharges the city wants to assess from both classes of rides-for-hire, and you're looking at a pretty combustible situation. Cab owners and drivers don't want their franchise eroded, but it's hard to see how they can keep standing forever without massive reforms to the business model. If you only make money because someone else is statutorily prohibited from competing with you, that's rent-seeking.
EPA orders 482,000 diesel Volkswagens to be recalled
The agency says their emissions-control systems were programmed to function at full capacity only when being tested, not when actually on the road
What to do with a loony economy
Canada's three largest political parties just held a debate on economics. The country is in an interesting situation: It's already a well-developed, highly advanced economy, but it's also been the beneficiary of a huge resource bonanza. That's really unusual: Canada only really entered the resource boom in the last generation, as a mature economy that didn't really need the money. Other countries with similar resource endowments (Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria, among others) never developed economies independent of their resources. That puts Canada in a truly blessed state, if they're smart enough to use it well -- but it's extremely hard to do so, as that requires striking a balance between enjoying the benefits today and putting off that enjoyment by reinvesting elsewhere and/or holding off on using up the resources too quickly. That may be easier in countries like Norway, where a very specific set of conditions exist that permit a highly socialized economy to work out. Canada is not as homogenous as Scandanavia, so it's very hard to get the same kind of cultural consensus built around making long-term decisions. That's no criticism of Canada; it's just what exists.
Another hint at the flying-car future
For $200,000, you can get an amphibious airplane that you can stash in your garage. It's a light-sport aircraft, so it's meant to be easy to operate (the training time is half that for a regular aircraft). The wings fold, so it can be mounted on a trailer the width of a regular car, and the Icon A5 has a range of 450 miles on 20 gallons of regular unleaded gas. It has landing gear, too, so you aren't just tied to landing on water. But despite the 1,500 preorders already on the books, one has to wonder whether we're really going to see personal aircraft ever take off (pardon the pun). Even 20 hours of training is too daunting an obstacle for a huge portion of the population. A betting person might wager instead on the prospects for autonomous electric-powered aircraft that could carry about half a dozen passengers. Electric, because that would make them quieter, more reliable, and less polluting than engine-driven aircraft. Autonomous, because computers are already quite capable of autopiloting every stage of flight already (so why bother training people to do it?). And sized for enough passengers (probably 6 to 10) to make it profitable for someone to own and operate the aircraft as a service to go between secondary markets that are well below the demand sizes necessary to justify regular scheduled commercial aircraft. But if people knew there were flights taking off every 60 minutes between, for instance, Des Moines and Kansas City, then a scheduled air-bus-like service could be economically attractive.
HP will cut an additional 30,000 jobs as it splits in two
That's on top of 55,000 other job cuts that were already expected.
How the US DOT sees "megaregions" emerging in the coming decades
Hong Kong should worry about 2047
That's when the "one country, two systems" policy expires with China. But any reasonable observer would have cause to wonder whether that expiration date won't find itself radically revised closer to today. And when prospective candidates for office are out advising people to "prove" that Hong Kong is "here to contribute to the country, and not to make trouble", that should itself be a cause for worry.
Some predictions about your future dining experiences
FTC investigating anti-competitive behavior by Google in the Android market
Pebble rolls out "Pebble Time Round" for $250
A new entry in the smartwatch market
Hundreds killed in Mecca stampede
How radio has gone video
Chinese copycat behavior is so bad, it even includes the F-35
Speaker Boehner is stepping down
Is Apple really going through with its silly plan to build cars?
Profits of Chinese industrial companies fall by almost 10% year-over-year
US personal savings rate: 4.6%
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pokes Mark Zuckerberg over hate posts on Facebook
There are two terrible forces destroying lives in Syria
Both ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh and the Assad government are purveyors of death
Apple claims 13 million new iPhones sold on opening weekend
You cannot escape Facebook ads
Google claims "How to" searches on YouTube are growing by 70% per year
Fun fact: Not everything is best explained with a video
There just aren't many options left for central banks
God save us if there's a major economic contraction