Gongol.com Archives: 2015 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol

September 13, 2015

Iowa 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.

Computers and the Internet 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.

News 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.

Business and Finance 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

Threats and Hazards The terrorism threat remains

September 12, 2015

Business and Finance What share China consumes of some of the world's major products

Health New cancer research suggests chasing the type of mutation, not the site of the tumor in the body

Business and Finance Goldman Sachs thinks $20-a-barrel oil could happen

News Far-left-winger wins leadership election for the UK Labour Party

News Why some teenagers make jokes about 9/11

September 11, 2015

Business and Finance 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.

Science and Technology 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.

Threats and Hazards 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?

Aviation News 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.

Computers and the Internet Is it real or is it Photoshop?
A 25-picture test

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September 10, 2015

News 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

Business and Finance 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.

Computers and the Internet 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.

Iowa Enrollment and lots of other figures rising nicely at UNI

Business and Finance The visibility of economic inequality may actually make people behave badly

September 9, 2015

Business and Finance 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.

Computers and the Internet Federal government plans to indict hackers from China

Computers and the Internet Why the government wants access to your text messages

Aviation News British Airways plane catches fire in Las Vegas

News One-paragraph book review: "Kaizen: The key to Japan's competitive success"

September 8, 2015

Computers and the Internet 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

Humor and Good News Cubs manager Joe Maddon on goal-setting

News 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.

Business and Finance 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.

Iowa Meredith and Media General will merge
And thus another Des Moines institution gives way to someplace larger

September 7, 2015

Business and Finance When publicly-funded arenas go bad
Nobody should be surprised when they don't pay for themselves

News Tips for personal productivity

News Phrases to use with children to develop their resilience

Socialism Doesn't Work 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.

News 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.