Gongol.com Archives: 2015 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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.

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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

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