Gongol.com Archives: 2015 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol

September 20, 2015

The United States of America How the US DOT sees "megaregions" emerging in the coming decades

Threats and Hazards 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.

Science and Technology Some predictions about your future dining experiences

September 19, 2015

Computers and the Internet 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.

September 18, 2015

News 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.

Business and Finance 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.

News 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

Business and Finance 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.

Aviation News 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.

September 17, 2015

Business and Finance 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.

Computers and the Internet 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.

Computers and the Internet Twitter claims it reaches more people than Facebook does
A stretch, to be sure.

News GM will pay $900 million in settlement over faulty cars
They had ignition switches that could shut down while a car was running.

News Dog saves drowning boy, then gets help
Your cat wouldn't do that

September 16, 2015

The United States of America Some women who belong on US currency

Threats and Hazards 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.

Threats and Hazards 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.

Business and Finance 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.

Business and Finance AB InBev wants to buy out SABMiller
That's a lot of beer

Computers and the Internet 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

September 15, 2015

Science and Technology Intel won't sponsor Science Talent Search anymore

Science and Technology An interesting history of color

Business and Finance Those who save 15% of their income

Aviation News How likely is your flight to be on time?
A deep and interactive analysis by 538

Business and Finance 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.