Gongol.com Archives: 2015 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol


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?



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



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


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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


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