Gongol.com Archives: 2015 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol

December 27, 2015

Computers and the Internet Cat-and-mouse game between consumers and advertisers continues
Ad blocking is on the rise, and that's going to push advertisers to stuff more advertising into unexpected places than before -- particularly in pictures. First there were banner ads, then there were pop-up ads, then there were pop-under ads, then there were autoplay commercials. Then there was "content advertising", embedded links, and advertising-supported apps. Funny thing: When radio was new, it was often supported solely by individual companies (like WHO-AM in Des Moines, which was a tool of the Bankers Life Company, or WLS-AM, which was an arm of Sears -- the "World's Largest Store"). In other times, individual companies have supported entire publications (as the Bell System did back in the day, or as Shell does today with "Impact" and Chevron does with "Next"). Aside from tricks like stuffing ads into visual media, there's been a modern revival of the house publication -- the content website, like AT&T's "Thread". Of course, the content has to be useful, interesting, and also somehow profitable for the company producing it.

News Why not direct democracy all the time?
Among other reasons, because "Arrested Development" only lasted three seasons on television, but "Big Brother" has made it to 17, totaling 585 episodes of complete, mindless junk. But seriously: Direct democracy is fine on a tiny scale with limited scope, but once any real complexity becomes involved, people are unwilling to invest the time and effort required to come up with good decisions. That's why a democratic republic is the only way to go.

Broadcasting Local news: How about less hype and more analysis?
What we package as "news" is really a combination of news, events, and information, along with elements of entertainment, opinion, and analysis. News is anything that materially changes our understanding of the status quo. If it doesn't do that, it's probably an event or information. Those things can be valuable, but they're not news.

Computers and the Internet Brazen crooks ask makers of Raspberry Pi to install malware for pay
The Raspberry Pi is an ultra-cheap computer, and the thought that crooks would so openly seek to corrupt any system they could ought to make us all a little uneasy

Weather and Disasters Huge landslide discovered months later thanks to satellite photos

December 26, 2015

Broadcasting In memory of Cheryl Pannier

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - December 26, 2015

Business and Finance Cheap money has skewed the market for IPOs
It's really never been cheaper to borrow money, so that's been fuel for private-equity firms to buy up or invest in companies that would otherwise have turned to equity markets (via IPOs). That's choking off the flow of businesses that might have gone to the public stock markets.

December 25, 2015

Computers and the Internet Hyatt payment-processing system hit by malware
Whether anything was actually stolen is unclear, but it's also hard to believe that an infection that gets past what ought to be a well-guarded system wasn't doing at least some damage

News First openly gay American servicewoman killed in action
Honor and duty are in no way diminished by a person's sexual orientation

Business and Finance Maps of the world
One of these is a map of public debts compared to GDP. Public debt itself is not a killer, if the debt is used for sound reasons. It needs to buy permanent gains, like highways -- just like a home mortgage can be a "good" household debt if it pays for shelter at a rate less than comparable rent. But if debt is putting current consumption on a credit card, it's death to the future of a country.

Computers and the Internet Social networking causes lots of things to look more common than they really are
The things that well-connected people think, believe, and share will disproportionately influence the rest of the network into thinking that those things are commonplace, even if they aren't.

News Parents are deep in their kids' college debt
Education most certainly does have its own intrinsic benefits, but when we're running up big bills for it, we ought to have a decent idea of the return that's coming from the investment

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December 24, 2015

Broadcasting Apple still wants you to get Apple TV -- but restrain expectations of a revolution
Content providers still aren't feeling an urgent push to deliver their content via an on-demand model via Apple, so the big incentive simply doesn't exist

Humor and Good News They just wanted tacos
Las Vegas restaurant owner turns security-camera footage of a break-in into a YouTube ad, complete with mocking captions

Threats and Hazards Ukraine could be in really bad shape
Political turbulence is causing economic misbehavior that could destabilize the long-term future of the country

News Police departments lose their "asset forfeiture" winnings to the Federal government
It's all a highly suspicious practice anyway, but it's alarming to hear that cities are depending on the funding

Business and Finance Billions of dollars are leaving US mutual funds
Maybe people are just doing some year-end tax management, but it's not a great symbol

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December 23, 2015

Business and Finance The private sector is slowing its purchases of durable goods
From the Department of Commerce: "Nondefense new orders for capital goods in November decreased $5.2 billion or 6.3 percent". With interest rates still at basically zero, companies should be buying every bit of productivity-enhancing equipment they can possibly find. A drop of more than 6% is alarming.

Business and Finance Low inflation? Love it. Negative inflation? Not so much.
The hazards of deflation are large, so the economic consensus is around low, predictable inflation

Broadcasting Rdio goes bankrupt and signs off
Not every "disruptor" survives

Computers and the Internet Oracle ordered to push harder to get you to update Java
While you're at it, update all of your programs

Computers and the Internet Pebble issues software update to make Classics act like the new models
Pebble still offers the most reasonably-priced, hard-working smartwatches in the market right now

December 22, 2015

Computers and the Internet Iowa Department of Education to push for a task force on computer classes
They want a group to review the possibility of requiring all Iowa high schools to offer a "high-quality computer science course", even if it's not required for graduation. In principle, one should be both offered and (probably) required. But in practice, lots of schools would likely have trouble finding the human resources to offer such a course. The need for such education is great, and in theory a course requirement should be as obvious as requiring courses in foreign languages or the arts. In addition to the conventional reading, writing, and arithmetic, today's graduates need to be financially, scientifically, and digitally literate -- not because those things are wants, but because they are needs.

Threats and Hazards Dual US/Afghan citizen killed in Kabul
An American passport ought to feel like a metaphorical bulletproof vest, and that sense simply doesn't seem as strong as it used to. The principle that our power to protect our own interest extends far beyond our coastlines traces all the way back to the start of the 19th Century.

Threats and Hazards China suspends human-rights lawyer for microblogging
Found guilty of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble", he's been given a suspended sentence of three years in prison

Iowa Iowa to develop a state-level cybersecurity strategy
On a national level, we ought to be strategizing, too. But it makes lots of sense for states to engage in cybersecurity defense, too. A multi-layered approach is inherently more secure than a one-size-fits-all, top-down arrangement. That argument notwithstanding, we probably also need a national cyber-defense corps on a level similar to one of the conventional branches of the Defense Department. There is approximately zero chance that cyberwarfare is going away, and it's an urgent national concern.

Computers and the Internet German court: Once a relationship ends, consent to hold naked pictures goes away
Perhaps a difficult legal principle to enforce, but the interpretation may leave a door open for the law to prevent "revenge porn"

December 21, 2015

News Grand jury says the jailers didn't commit a felony against Sandra Bland
Another grand jury will consider next month whether to charge the arresting officer. It is extremely hard to believe that no crime was committed at some point in her handling and treatment. The video of her arrest is outrageous, and the thought that she spent days in jail before dying -- over a trumped-up traffic stop -- suggests that something is very, very wrong with the system.

The United States of America Sen. Lindsey Graham drops out of the 2016 Presidential race
Graham wasn't right about everything (nobody is), but he brought a lot of sense to the discussion amid a lot of quackery from some of the other candidates. He may not have been destined for the Oval Office, but we do need voices like his in the public debate.

Aviation News SpaceX launched and landed a reusable rocket
After three failures, this is a great success. And it looks pretty awesome, too. As the company said back in June, "airlines don't junk a plane after a one-way trip from LA to New York".

Computers and the Internet Adele stayed off social media to concentrate on her latest album
Putting the important before the immediate -- that takes discipline.

Science and Technology More legal marijuana means more electricity demand
It's not so green after all. The law of unintended consequences strikes again. But let's get one thing straight: Finding sources of non-polluting, ultra-low-cost power would be about the best thing that technology could do for humanity. Not for growing pot, necessarily, but for growing nutritious foods and preparing and distributing safe drinking water. Clean, cheap energy is in fact the single most valuable thing we could get from science and technology right now.