Gongol.com Archives: January 2016

Brian Gongol

January 2016
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January 1, 2016

News Trump supporters aren't really Republicans

It's not conservatism he's selling; it's a lowbrow populism. And it's really just a vanity exercise intended to give him free publicity -- a marketing scheme in which the news media have been utterly complicit. The excuse that he's a serious candidate because people are talking about him is nonsense; even a modestly intelligent and informed interviewer with even the slightest determination to hold him to a Presidential standard could take him down like an Olympic wrestler. That no examples of that come to mind suggests that there aren't enough good interviewers in circulation, and that's a problem for the public good.

News Instead of highly ambitious resolutions, try committing to a small improvement instead

Science and Technology A few technology-related predictions for 2016

News Arlington National Cemetery is running out of space

That, unfortunately, is causing the government to do things like revoking eligibility for the remains of women who served in a paramilitary role during WWII. That just doesn't sit well.

Humor and Good News A year-end summary from "Acrylics and Dinosaurs"

Recent radio podcasts

January 2, 2016

News Refugees are real people

They are people just like any of us. Just people. Anyone who would diminish their humanity to score cheap political points ought to be ashamed.

Computers and the Internet West Liberty and West Branch (Iowa) get gigabit broadband

Launched by the local independent ISP on Christmas Day to a pair of communities with a total of about 6000 people

Computers and the Internet Iowa City claims one of nation's top rates of broadband adoption

Computers and the Internet Microsoft says it will advise users it thinks are being hacked by governments

Reuters may have triggered the announcement by pursuing a story that suggested that the Chinese government had intercepted the data of some users, though Microsoft says it doesn't have firm evidence that it was, in fact, a Chinese government incident. But they do say that "We will now notify you if we believe your account has been targeted or compromised by an individual or group working on behalf of a nation state." Here's an interesting corollary question: What about groups like ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh, that have many of the trappings of nation-statehood but no formal recognition? As always, the use of strong passwords and two-factor authentication is recommended practice for anyone.

Computers and the Internet A fair and mostly positive appraisal of Microsoft in 2015

Health A possible substitute for knee replacement

Ohio State University is testing a "meniscal implant" that could offer a substitute for knee surgery in patients who have damaged the meniscus of the knee

Iowa Black Velvet is the most popular liquor in Iowa

It certainly has its adherents among seniors

Computers and the Internet Why Facebook accidentally showed "46 years of friendship"

The bug definitely caused its share of confusion going into the end of 2015. It was probably due to a Unix date calculation bug.

Computers and the Internet A reminder: What you share with Facebook, you share with all its advertisers and "partners"

And what a lot of people share with Facebook is...a whole lot.

Computers and the Internet Why it's called "human intelligence"

Twitter shut down an account belonging to the wrong person -- thinking it was a terrorist they were blocking, they actually shut down a reform activist. And it's probably because someone just didn't read the names correctly.

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - January 2, 2016

Recent radio podcasts

January 3, 2016

Threats and Hazards Taking over a Federal building is terrorism

If demonstrators in some foreign country had overrun our embassy, we would consider it a massive act of provocation. It is the same for the self-appointed "militia" that has taken over the headquarters of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon. It doesn't need to come to a shootout with them (nobody wins when that happens), but they've stepped outside the boundaries of political expression into outlaw behavior.

Threats and Hazards There really needs to be a better policy for dealing with people whose lives are threatened

A young mother from Omaha and her 2-year-old daughter were killed, apparently by a boyfriend she feared, shortly after police showed up to check on her welfare. Something better needs to be done.

News Bill Gates reads 50 books a year

And his reviews can give a decent bump to book sales. If you're not reading 50 books a year (and most of us probably aren't), it's worth considering that Gates probably has a lot more on his plate than most of us do, and a lot less to gain financially from learning new skills. Also worth noting: He prefers print to digital.

Iowa Cornices atop Des Moines's renovated Hotel Randolph

Cornices are a beautiful architectural element, and so rarely acknowledged as such

News Things didn't go so well at Motley Crue's farewell show


January 4, 2016

Threats and Hazards Trouble between Iran and Saudi Arabia escalates quickly

Business and Finance What a way to start a year: China's stock market drops 7%

All of the signs point towards the Chinese economy hitting the skids much more abruptly than the official figures show. Combine that with the imposition of new regulations on equities trading and the fact that a not-insignificant number of businesspeople have gone missing in China lately, and nobody should be surprised to see big shocks in the stock market there. It's long been less a matter of "if" than "when".

News A small victory for justice

An attorney working for the City of Chicago has resigned after a judge found he misled a court case about a police shooting that happened in 2011. Whether or not the police officers were justified in the shooting, the importance of carrying out the legal process with transparency and honesty is paramount. If we don't have that, then any other purported civilian oversight of police work is meaningless. Process matters.

Threats and Hazards Censorship is alive and much too well

See a picture of the New York Times with an "offensive" story removed. It's jarring. But it apparently really happens when the paper is printed around the world and stories offend local sensibilities.

Science and Technology GM invests $500 million in Lyft

That's a huge investment -- part of which is intended to boost self-driving car development.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

January 5, 2016

Threats and Hazards North Korea claims a successful nuclear test

The world situation calls for seriousness. Anyone who continues to entertain the idea of voting for one of the unqualified nuts (from either party) should pay attention and straighten up. South Korea is worried, Japan is on edge, and the United States is the boogeyman for the Communist dictatorship. The real trouble is not so much the actual weapon (and whether or not it actually works) so much as the massive signal that the regime in Pyongyang intends to behave erratically and disruptively. Predictable opponents can lead to tension but at least remain stable. Unpredictable and irrational behavior is quite another thing. North Korea isn't just threatening Western notions of security with this test, it's also slapping China in the face.

Business and Finance Minimum wage in Nebraska goes to $9 an hour

The minimum wage probably should track along with inflation (like the cost-of-living adjustments applied to many other things, including government employee pay and many entitlement benefits). But the minimum wage is a terrible tool for alleviating poverty. It's poorly targeted and it quite likely creates not only additional unemployment but also a serious hidden cost. That hidden cost is in the form of a deficit of opportunities for young workers to get starting jobs. The longer we artificially obstruct young people from entering the labor market, the longer it takes for them to start accumulating the work experience and soft skills that permit them to rise up the economic ladder later on. It's a hidden cost -- but yet it's not. Any place that has relatively high youth unemployment is also likely to have relatively high rates of trouble with mischief and even crime among those young people. Put plainly, teenagers and young adults need productive things to do and a clear trajectory towards a rising standard of living. Those needs can be satisfied in a number of ways, including enrichment education, extracurricular activities like sports, volunteerism, and organized clubs. But there are plenty of young people for whom a job is just the right thing. It's conceited and myopic to think otherwise. While everyone is responsible for their own decisions and nobody has a right to pursue crime and chaos, a society has only itself to blame if it fails to provide adequate opportunities for young people to have something productive to do -- and then suffers any number of ills from truancy to rioting as a result. Most people are, by nature, good -- but they also need sufficient opportunities to be good. Anything that puts up artificial roadblocks to those opportunities (like the ridiculous notion that the minimum wage should be nearly doubled to $15 an hour) is an exercise in economic and sociological illiteracy.

News Chinese government intervenes to prop up injured stock market

Why they would try it in the short run is easy to see. That it's a really dangerous thing to try (and, if it continues, could make things much worse in the long run) should be equally obvious. Someone needs to introduce them to the economic concept of marginality -- much of the behavior we're seeing suggests that it's not understood.

Computers and the Internet Might Twitter actually raise or eliminate its character limit?

Art is in the constraints. Take away the 140-character constraint, and Twitter may very well find itself consigned to the trash heap of history.

Threats and Hazards "Forced disappearance" of book publishers in China

The longer this kind of thing goes on, the more obvious it becomes that the people trying to command the Chinese economy miss a fundamental point: Starting from a low base, an economy can gain a lot by industrialization. But its long-term growth will be capped severely if people are not free to think for themselves -- politically, economically, technologically, socially, or otherwise. Freedom of thought doesn't really know boundaries, and if people fear that they may "disappear" for publishing the wrong content, then they plainly do not have freedom.

Recent radio podcasts

January 6, 2016

Computers and the Internet Mozilla positions itsself as the anti-surveillance team in tech

Aviation News Dutch investigators looking into possible Russian role in Malaysian airliner crash

Science and Technology "Faraday Future" shows of 1,000-hp electric car at CES

That's a bit impractical

Computers and the Internet Twitter may be very close to jumping from 140 characters to 10,000

The hints are pretty hard to miss. 10,000 may be a high-side estimate, but it definitely looks like a serious plan is underway to increase the character limit. Art is in the constraints.

Computers and the Internet Yahoo shuts down video hub

Seeing no future of victory against YouTube and others, they're cutting their losses

Computers and the Internet Iowa's list of gigabit-broadband cities is growing rapidly


January 7, 2016

Threats and Hazards Why everyone should know self-defense: Case study #20

Things went very wrong in Cologne on New Year's Eve as large numbers of men sexually assaulted and harassed passing women. There's no guarantee that anyone can pass through a sufficiently large mob without being hurt, but there's also something to be said for defending yourself in such a way that the beaten pulp of one seriously injured attacker is left to serve as a warning to others.

Threats and Hazards Trump's campaign isn't about politics: It's a thinly-veiled vanity marketing stunt

Regrettably, though, it's dredging up feelings among some of his supporters that they shouldn't be proud to display

Business and Finance An ugly day on the stock market

It doesn't matter so long as people understand that the market isn't the economy and the economy isn't the market. The marginal behavior of the stock market is erratic and irrational, but so long as people train themselves to think of the value of the companies they own through stocks and to generally ignore the price, there's no cause for actual alarm.

Threats and Hazards Chicago has a violence epidemic

A stunning number of shootings and killings. And these things can be "contagious", in a sociological sense, which makes the problem worse.

Science and Technology US Marshals show up to stop knockoff single-wheel skateboards from selling at CES

The list of actual patent violations coming out of China would blow the minds of anyone willing to try comprehending it, but this is an unusually dramatic move. Things like these self-balancing "electric skateboards" are pretty silly on their own, but they do point towards big and useful improvements in technology down the road.

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January 9, 2016

Computers and the Internet White House summit on countering terrorism on social media

We should actually start the fight in the real world and use the virtual to supplement our efforts

Science and Technology Facebook says Oculus Rift will cost $599

That's not a cheap way to get to virtual reality, but it's new

Computers and the Internet Netflix just added...130 countries to its roster

A few countries, like China, are being left out. But much of the rest of the world can now stream content.

Computers and the Internet "Google Cardboard" gives surgeons a pre-flight

Small improvements add up over time.

Business and Finance Saudi Arabia may put its oil company on the stock market

You should only go for an IPO when you think your operation is at its peak valuation. This is either really stupid or hugely ominous for petroleum.

Business and Finance Union pension cuts are going to hurt

But if the money isn't there, it isn't there. A system with serious design flaws has met its reckoning.

Business and Finance Hyatt takes steps to test "sharing-economy" model

AirBNB and other "sharing-economy" models aren't going to replace conventional hotels, but Hyatt probably deserves applause for takings steps to learn from them

@briangongol on Twitter

January 11, 2016

Threats and Hazards Syria's government is starving entire cities

Cruelty and inhumanity aren't exclusive to ISIS/ISIL. There are a staggering number of innocent people being harmed and killed in Syria right now, as they are attacked from all around.

Computers and the Internet Toyota and Ford agree to share common open-source platform for device connectivity

The more people depend upon their devices, the more important it becomes for car companies to deliver the experience that consumers want

News When a vanity stunt backfires

A certain vanity candidate for the White House is damaging his own brand. May he get the comeuppance he deserves.

Business and Finance One reason why there is little innovation in the pickup truck market

Restrictions on foreign manufacturers depress the competitive drive that otherwise tends to deliver interesting new goods to the American consumer. Honda and Toyota are both rare among "foreign" manufacturers in that they build cars stateside, so Honda's new Ridgeline model may give the pickup market a kick in the pants.

Business and Finance Drop in rail traffic could suggest an economic slowdown

In fairness, we may be in a protracted slow-growth period, but we may be due for a recession

@briangongol on Twitter

January 12, 2016

Threats and Hazards The vaporware candidate

Donald Trump knows terrifyingly little about the economy. He is a promoter and a marketing whiz, but not a brilliant economic or business thinker. Too many people buy the hype and don't see that what he promises is vaporware -- the things he says do not exist and will not exist, nor will they work the way he claims. Things are far more complex than he acknowledges, and what is most frightening is that he seems to believe his own nonsense. His candidacy is a grave threat to good sense, because he's a master at selling total nonsense to a willing audience of indiscriminate consumers.

News The new plan to fight ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh online

It's telling that sometimes people refer not to the "War on Terrorism" but to the "War on Terror". Notwithstanding that you can't really conduct a war on a tactic ("terrorism" isn't a group, it's a method of fighting -- and it's been around for all of recorded history), we ought to think more deeply about the question of whether we are doing enough to eliminate needless terror and fear from the world. The more fear being experienced by ordinary people all over the globe, the greater the risk that those who use terrorism as a tool will exploit that fear. A less fearful world is a more open world, and more openness generally means more peace. But reducing fear and promoting openness may take some unconventional and strategic thinking. It's not enough to just put up a few accounts on Twitter.

Business and Finance Oil prices fall below $30 a barrel

Nice if you're buying gasoline. Not so nice if you're worried about the stability of countries that depend upon oil exports and that haven't done enough to develop alternative sources of income. With prices this low, the United States probably shouldn't be bothering to export petroleum, but should instead be looking for new ways to store it for the future...not for use in cars, but because fossil fuels are essential to agriculture.

Business and Finance Some Millennials see long-term employment as a failure

Painting an entire generation with that broad of a brushstroke is a mistake -- but it's worth further examination whether it's a more prevalent view among Millennial workers than in generations past. Also worth examining: Is there just a certain subset of Millennials who think this way? (For instance, those who grew up in professional-class households who think they still have access to a family safety net?)

News "The brutalism of Ted Cruz"

The Senator from Texas is very smart. But he also appears highly disingenuous. This is worrisome.

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January 13, 2016

The United States of America Governor Nikki Haley said some tough things that needed to be said

And now there are some real clowns taking shots at her. They are corrosive to principled, reform-oriented conservatism, no matter how "conservative" they claim to be.

Threats and Hazards China's anti-corruption drive is a big red flag

Not red as in Communist, either. At least not predominantly. The country's drive to get rid of "corruption" isn't really about anti-corruption efforts (though they need them). It's almost certainly just an excuse for scapegoating and purges. The grain of truth that corruption exists does not change the fact that an authoritarian government needs to create fear and uncertainty among the people generally in order to stay in power. China is about to get wobbly, especially with an economic slowdown underway. This is just a symptom.

Broadcasting Live viewing is now only half of US television time

That's down from 81% in 2008

Science and Technology Can Germany bring technological skills into the workplace?

Technology isn't just about the possible -- issues like cultural expectations also play a role

News Ricketts family now dominates the rooftops around Wrigley Field

They really should have just scooped them all up back when the team was still terrible -- but perhaps they just didn't have the cash to do it


January 14, 2016

Threats and Hazards 1.8 million South Sudanese children are not in school

There's very little that is more dangerous or more destabilizing than large populations of young people with nothing productive to do. Yes, it's a humanitarian issue. But it's overwhelmingly a security issue.

Science and Technology New renewable energy installations exceed conventional ones

Economies of scale seem to be prevailing in wind and solar power. Now we just need to develop better energy storage.

Aviation News Fight against ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh gives the A-10 a second chance

It's just too good a tool to dispose of

Health Gyroscopic gloves could help Parkinson's patients

If we can't cure the disease, we can at least mitigate the symptoms. A fantastic use of technology to make people's lives better.

Business and Finance "China is nowhere close to reining in its debt problems"

Looking for a single sign that China isn't rapidly shifting into a slower economic gear? Keep looking. And that's going to have global consequences -- not just economically. Security becomes an issue, too.


January 15, 2016

Health No more "brain games" for you

The FTC has settled a case against the people who promoted the Lumosity "brain games" products, saying that the company used false advertising to convince consumers to pay up for products to enhance cognition, when those products weren't actually proven to have those effects. Three things are interesting about this case: First, the FTC statement on the settlement specifically notes that the company used not just mass media but specific Google AdWords to target consumers who were worried about things like dementia and Alzheimer's. The fact they used the notion of targeted advertising itself as part of their case should send some shivers down a lot of spines in Mountain View, California. That kind of government action could have a chilling effect on Google's core advertising product. Second, the FTC says it has suspended a $50 million judgment against the company "due to its financial condition after the company pays $2 million to the Commission". In other words, "We could bankrupt you, but we'll just take $2 million instead and leave you to bleed." Interesting. Third, there is a risk that an over-zealous application of the FTC's standard (that the company must "have competent and reliable scientific evidence before making future claims about any benefits") could have a serious chilling effect on future commercial development of these kinds of tools. In other words, just because one company overstated its case doesn't mean the concept itself is bogus -- but by putting the hammer down, the FTC might just be discouraging useful innovations that others might seek to commercialize. A not-insignificant number of scientists have indicated their general worries about this very effect. That doesn't mean the government shouldn't tamp down the hype artists -- but there are other consequences that need to be borne in mind, too.

Threats and Hazards Ukraine lost power due to a cyberattack

American systems are likely to be highly vulnerable to cyberattack, too. This should be cause for serious alarm. The investigative work is complicated, but what was targeted (and how) points pretty clearly in the direction of Russian attackers.

Aviation News SpaceX is going to try landing a reusable rocket at sea

Reusable launch technology has moved far and fast since commercial developers got involved

Business and Finance How much do meetings really cost?

Well-run businesses try to make good use of machine uptime, but what about people's uptime? Putting a lot of people in a room has a meaningful cost, so there had better be a return on that investment.

Computers and the Internet Boxing match to be broadcast in virtual-reality mode

Why? Probably just because they can. Other sports would probably be more fun to watch in VR mode.

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January 16, 2016

Threats and Hazards Millions of Syrians are at risk of starvation

These people are human beings first, regardless of where they live, what language they speak, or how they look. Once we adopt that stance, we need to empathize: What would we want others to do for us if we were in their shoes?

Threats and Hazards Jewish leaders fear for their fellows' safety in France

Mutual understanding and acceptance across cultures and religions would be ideal, but if we can't have that, we should at least insist on tolerance

Broadcasting Al Jazeera America is shutting down

Al Gore cashed out on Current TV at a good time, it would appear

Health 3D printing gives elementary student a bionic arm

A sterling example of using technology to make lives better

Business and Finance Capacity utilization is falling

This is the kind of wonky bit of economic data that escapes attention from just about anyone -- but it's an important warning signal. If productive capacity isn't being used, the next question is whether inventories are rising. If both are happening, then stuff simply isn't moving through the economy like it might be expected to -- or capacity got over-built, which is also possible in a time of very low interest rates. Signs that corporate earnings may be falling are also unfavorable.

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January 17, 2016

Business and Finance GE sells its appliance unit to Haier

A reminder to America, generally: If you don't want to lose control, don't give up ownership. GE decided it wanted out...but this isn't the first sale of an "American" business to China -- and it definitely won't be the last.

Threats and Hazards Chicago enters 2016 with a lot of violence

110 people shot in the first ten days of the year. Something's wrong in a great city.

Iowa Don't be surprised if more small towns disincorporate

It hasn't happened a lot, but the small number seems to be growing

The United States of America How many executive orders has each President enacted?

FDR surpassed them all -- by a long shot

Business and Finance Can we combat terrorism with better property rights?

It's not as outlandish a suggestion as it might at first appear. If people in developing countries don't feel secure in their ability to protect what is theirs, then they won't have a lot of investment in protecting the established order. In other words, if the little guy doesn't gain any of the benefits of the law, how legitimate is the law going to really be? But people who stand to benefit from peace and good government help to comprise a bulwark against bad things happening.

Business and Finance Intel is worried about China

Word has leaked out of the chip manufacturer that people aren't buying computers at the expected rate in China. It's another signal that the economy there is slowing down with unexpected speed.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 17, 2016

Every public problem has a capitalist solution

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January 18, 2016

News YouTube "celebrity" questions didn't really add to the Democratic Presidential debate

Debates undoubtedly play a storied role in our political tradition, and we don't have to do away with them. But they are assuredly not an effective means of really teasing out the information that voters really need in order to make an informed decision about any candidate, particularly not for something as complex as a Presidential race. And the obsession with trying to make use of the "new" in these debates -- via questions from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube -- has to be done in an effort to ask better, broader questions in the debates. Unfortunately, the YouTube "stars" clunkily inserted into the last debate didn't really edify anything. In a far better universe, we would have interesting and thoughtful interviews with the candidates conducted by intelligent interviewers with a solid grasp of the facts and a sense of fearlessness about pursuing lines of inquiry -- not the pandering lap-dog behavior we see all too often today. And in a truly ideal universe, we could put candidates through something like an Oval Office simulator -- though that would probably be impossible to conduct squarely. The next-best thing is probably to give preference to candidates who have served as state governors, which is likely the closest thing.

News Turkey has an estimated 2,000,000 refugees

An astonishing number -- greater than the entire population of Nebraska

News Good question

Why pay $200,000 to hear a canned speech?

Computers and the Internet Whatever his take on the issues, Sen. Cory Booker is largely right about using technology in government

Tools that shine more sunlight are valuable things

Aviation News SpaceX didn't stick the sea landing

Better luck next time. But a really pyrotechnic video survives the latest attempt.

@briangongol on Twitter

January 19, 2016

Socialism Doesn't Work Exactly nobody believes that China's economy can keep going like it has been

Fun while it lasted, the economic boom in China simply hasn't been designed to remain durable. The government still interferes far too much -- and the costs of failing to provide political freedom alongside (limited) economic freedom have been building. China hasn't been centrally planning its economy in a conventional sense, but with state ownership of enormous shares of the nation's total enterprises, it's a distinction without much of a difference. And when the real costs of holding back on political reform come due (and they will), things are going to get interesting in a hurry. Keep a close eye on developments like the political climate in Taiwan, where economic disappointment seems to have been translated into support for the pro-independence party. The mainland/Taiwanese rift has been a source of friction for a long time, but if the good times are no longer rolling, then that friction may turn into a spark. And Taiwan isn't the only place that it may become politically and economically costly for Beijing.

News Federal spending is growing faster than revenues

It's fine to run a deficit if it's smaller than the rate of growth in the economy. That's not the case here and now.

Threats and Hazards Terrorism that happens in Africa is still terrorism

Too little has been said about the attack by Al Qaeda on a hotel in Burkina Faso, relative to what would have been said had the same attack taken place in Tokyo or Berlin or Cleveland.

Business and Finance Norway looks to a post-oil economy

Blessed with a resource bonanza, Norway was fortunate not to become entirely dependent upon it...which is a good thing, because current oil prices mean there isn't much kick left in the chili.

Computers and the Internet Technology doesn't always make things better for developing countries

If the have/have-not gap is expanded by uneven access to communications technology, then the Internet might inadvertently make things tougher for people in some places

Computers and the Internet Yahoo Mail fixes cross-site scripting bug

An example of a security risk that consumers can't do anything about


January 20, 2016

News California's natural-gas pipeline leak is symptomatic of a broader infrastructure problem

Whether we're talking about natural-gas pipelines, airports, levees, dams, water mains, or any other type of infrastruture, there's lots of evidence that we've been underinvesting for too long in maintenance, upkeep, and replacement. We are tremendously fortunate that many of these things were built long ago by people who spent the money and effort to make them last for more than a generation. But we've been on cruise control for a long time -- behaving as though these things represent a free endowment and that no further investment is required. That's a colossal mistake. When we build infrastructure, it typically requires a big up-front cost, followed by a long period of relatively low maintenance cost, followed by a period of rising maintenance/replacement cost until the infrastructure itself reaches a point of failure. We are morally obligated to treat at least the maintenance and upkeep as a pay-as-you-go expense. Just because something was incredibly well-built and then handed to us essentially for free does not give us license to treat it irresponsibly. That's a big cultural problem we need to face -- and it's not just our physical infrastructure that's been on the receiving end of under-investment; the same applies to our public and private retirement investment "infrastructure" as well as much of our educational "infrastructure". Keeping up means paying as you go. It's lazy and freeloading to skimp on upkeep. This is a crucial lesson in our time for both the left (who are too often inclined to think we can just "soak the rich" to pay for things) and the right (who too often resist paying for anything if it means higher taxes). Adults clean up after themselves. We need to behave like adults.

Threats and Hazards Saudi Arabia won't cut back its oil production

And if they don't, then the supply of oil produced by OPEC will continue to push downward on oil prices. That seems like a lot of fun in the short term (yay, $1.60/gallon gas!), but...people are underestimating the enormous geopolitical implications of an oil-price crash: Saudi Arabia can keep going long after everyone else drops like houseflies. That means they can use oil prices as a weapon against Iran, which can't compete with Saudi Arabia's minimal production costs. Destabilizing Iran is already a dangerous game, but you add in a volatile Russia (which also depends on oil money and also has higher production costs than Saudi Arabia), a Nigeria that could of course fall at any moment to pieces, and other already-failed states like Libya and Syria, and this is a brewing catastrophe of epic proportions.

News Bob Dole says Sen. Ted Cruz would be a catastrophe as a Presidential nominee

Cruz is playing up simplistic representations of the world -- particularly one that says there's no room for compromise. And that's -- well, simply -- wrong. Nobody agrees with their own spouse or their own mother 100% of the time, so it's preposterous to think that we can only play brinksmanship games with politics: Compromise is, frankly, a non-negotiable requirement of the job of governing in a democratic society. Cruz seems to actively reject that idea, despite being clearly smart enough to know better. That makes him repellant.

Threats and Hazards China arrests a Swede

He was working for an NGO, promoting "public-interest litigation" in the Communist state

Iowa Des Moines, Omaha, Kansas City, and St. Louis to cooperate on economic development

Some of the most stable micro-economies in the country -- joining forces is probably a good idea

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January 21, 2016

Science and Technology Caltech claims to have found another planet

And it's a big one

Threats and Hazards China continues cyberwar on the United States

There's zero reason to expect the assaults to end

Science and Technology Solving problems of energy moves a lot of people away from poverty

Cheap, storable, clean energy is pretty much the best thing the world could work on right now

Business and Finance China's central bank keeps pouring money into the financial system there

They have huge reserves, but these are huge moves, too.

Broadcasting FCC wants FM chips activated in cell phones

Didn't know they were there? Almost everyone has them -- they're just not activated.

Computers and the Internet Things not looking smooth for Charter/Time Warner merger

The round-and-round nature of communications industry consolidation looks more like a whole lot of horse-trading than real business-building


January 22, 2016

Computers and the Internet Police officer unwisely rants against protesters on Facebook

Everyone is of course welcome to have an opinion (preferably one that is well-informed and reasonable), but sharing it publicly makes the situation different. The exercise of free speech is guaranteed, but that's not a guarantee of freedom from consequences. And a police officer in a place with high tensions between the police and members of the local community (due to a police-involved shooting) ought to have the sense to avoid incendiary public speech -- like suggesting that people run down protesters.

Computers and the Internet USA Today: FBI took over and ran child-porn site to catch users

Nobody should have sympathy for the people who were caught -- but was the process right?

Computers and the Internet US customs official questions whether people should have anonymity online

His words: "[S]hould not every individual be required to display a 'license plate' on the digital super-highway?" While it probably wasn't intended as much more than a throwaway thought exercise, it does hint at a lack of understanding of how privacy and technology coexist.

Humor and Good News "Twin Strangers" offers to help you find your doppelganger

For a small fee, of course

Computers and the Internet Are the big five of technology inevitable winners?

That is to ask: Is there any reason to believe that we won't still be talking about Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon ten or twenty years from now as the still-dominant players in consumer technology and the Internet? The honest answer is that they all have big war chests and strong market positions, but they also have to make a lot of right decisions to stay on top -- and long streaks of right decisions in technology aren't often made.

Business and Finance Print subscriptions to newspapers are evaporating

If the figures dredged up by one observer are correct, dead-tree editions of major metro newspapers are becoming a rare find

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January 23, 2016

Science and Technology Volvo wants to make its cars "death-proof" by 2020

Now that's an aggressive vision

Health A little more on the Biden cancer "moon shot"

Roundtable sessions are happening. The big question is whether having the Vice President chase a subject is enough to catalyze real progress that wasn't happening already.

Science and Technology What if extraterrestrial life existed, then went extinct?

It's almost surely happened somewhere -- if such a thing is possible. After it emerged on Earth, life began showing a truly stupendous degree of robustness -- it always finds a way to fight its way into even the most inhospitable environments. Is the notion itself of wiping out all life on any planet even plausible, or will evolution always find a way?

Computers and the Internet Pope Francis says text messaging can be a "gift of God"

In a not-altogether-unfamiliar way, he points out that the medium isn't as important as the people using it

Computers and the Internet Maybe Apple is developing a new iPhone. Maybe.

As usual, everything is rumor when it comes to Apple

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - January 23, 2016

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January 24, 2016

Computers and the Internet New algorithm proves 85% effective at detecting sarcasm

That might actually beat the recognition rates of a lot of credulous human beings

Computers and the Internet Google paid Apple $1 billion to get access to the iPhone

That's how badly Google wants to make sure its products stay in front of consumers

Broadcasting Live365 is closing down

Streaming audio still has trouble going up against terrestrial or hybrid terrestrial/streaming competitors

The United States of America Michael Bloomberg sees an opening in the Presidential race

If the two parties put forth crazy people, there may be a third lane available to an independent

Aviation News More people forgot ("forgot"?) they were still armed at TSA checkpoints in 2015

It does seem like the kind of thing that should be acutely at the top of a person's mind before going through security, doesn't it? Isn't it pretty easy to run through a mental checklist (wallet, keys, phone, gun)?

News Why (and how to) read more actual books in 2016

It's not really that hard to increase the volume of one's reading; over the course of a year, even minor incremental increases stack up

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - January 24, 2016

Why governors should get the edge in a Presidential race, all else being equal


January 25, 2016

Business and Finance Lots of worried feelings emanate from Davos meeting

It's a strange thing; the world has achieved more useful things in the last couple of decades than can really be counted, yet there's anxiety all over

News Lots of posthumous David Bowie material is forthcoming

The economics of modern music favor live concerts, but the long view of history would like us to squeeze as many new creations as possible out of our greatest artists. Too bad nobody's looked hard to find a way to reconcile the two.

Broadcasting Disney animated films have a disproportionate tilt favoring male characters

While we're fixing that, could we also do away with the whole "princess" paradigm? There are plenty of entries already in the canon, and girls deserve to see female characters depicted in a world free of hereditary monarchy

Business and Finance Dallas Federal Reserve: "Texas factory activity fell sharply in January"

The decline was dramatic and, it appears, somewhat unexpected

Business and Finance Johnson Controls and Tyco announce merger plans

A peculiar development, considering that Tyco has spent the last decade de-conglomerating itself

Business and Finance Minneapolis makes the case for demolition bonds

There have been a couple of thousand demolitions in the city since 2002 -- a worthy reminder that if we don't construct buildings to last forever, then perhaps we should be accountable (at the time of construction) for the cost to tear them down

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January 26, 2016

Business and Finance Is a recession likely?

Instead of asking people to forecast whether it will happen, a better approach to the story would ask whether the ingredients are in place

Broadcasting East Coast blizzard led to record on-demand TV viewing

The blizzard didn't follow a tidy schedule, so why should people's entertainment choices?

Threats and Hazards Chicago's red-light camera program opened the door to big-time corruption

A city official just got convicted on more than 20 counts of bribery and other corruption-related charges. With tens of millions of dollars on the line for the contractor, Chicago's unfortunate reputation for corruption got the best of things.

Computers and the Internet Apple says iPhone sales are slowing down

Smartphones have reached a near-saturation point among the economies where they are plausible and affordable. That forces Apple to look for "what's next", which is the curse of technology giants: It takes a lot of good decisions to stay in the lead, and it's very hard to build long streaks of good decisions when operating on the cutting edge.

Health Task force says all adults should be screened for depression

That would be a terrific step forward to move from a paradigm built around "mental illness" to one of sustaining "mental wellness". That's where we ought to be -- treating mental wellness as something positive to be sustained as much as possible and promoted holistically, not as something only to be addressed when something has "gone wrong".

Agriculture The banana as we know it could be endangered

That's the trouble with having one genetic line become predominant

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January 27, 2016

News "Why is it that voters in the world's greatest democracy are turning away from accomplished leaders in favour of untried individuals with worryingly simplistic ideas?"

Hard to put it better than that.

Computers and the Internet "The threats and the attacks are bigger than they've ever been"

White House cybersecurity strategist says we need better ways of developing software that are more rigorous than current standards

News Denmark to confiscate cash and valuables from refugees to pay for asylum

On the surface, it looks like they're just using it to pay for the cost of shelter and care. But that kind of confiscation most certainly will have a chilling effect on the interest of any wealthy or middle-class asylum-seekers in going to Denmark, which probably will have the opposite of the intended effect. If you have wealth and you know it will be taken away, you'll probably avoid going there (which means asylum-seekers with advanced skills will be weeded out). But those who don't have anything consequently have nothing to lose.

Threats and Hazards Civil war in South Sudan has killed 10,000 people

We should probably begin by knowing where South Sudan is and taking it seriously. A civil war that kills 10,000 people anywhere is a tremendous stain on humanity.

Business and Finance Apple is seeing "extreme conditions"

Everywhere the global manufacturer looks, it sees signs of pending or imminent economic trouble

Business and Finance Fixing poverty through market-friendly mechanisms

If we misunderstand the basis of poverty, then it's going to be hard to get the solutions right. On the other hand, if we recognize that market economics are probably the best tool for creating the wealth that resolves poverty and then deliberately apply lessons for enhancing that growth, then maybe we can do better at eliminating poverty.

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January 28, 2016

Business and Finance Early warning sign for the economy: Baltic Dry index is crashing

If the cost of shipping goods across the oceans is falling dramatically (and there's no sudden rush of new supply to explain the drop), then something is quite likely wrong with trade volumes

News Good point: Relying on "Indian" costumes to represent "wild" behavior is thoughtless stereotype

A picture is worth a thousand words, and it's worth re-considering the use of images that have been taken for granted for all too long

Humor and Good News Scary health threat of the moment: Zika virus

Public health is a great example of the kind of subject that government is uniquely equipped to address

Business and Finance Meredith gets $60 million breakup fee

Their proposed merger with Media General fell apart, but it doesn't hurt Meredith's bottom line to get that cash

News The Navy's intelligence chief can't see classified documents

What a bizarre circumstance and a pretty obvious violation of common sense

Iowa Sanders campaign wants its own caucus count

The Iowa Republican and Democratic parties got together to set up an accountable method of collecting caucus results -- it's unfortunate the campaign wants to opt out of a good-faith arrangement that shows the parties can actually work together.


January 29, 2016

Business and Finance Negative interest rates: A reality in Sweden

And now in Japan, too. It's hard to think of anything that would do more to discourage saving than a negative interest rate.

Aviation News Boeing starts testing new 737 Max

Basically the same as the regular 737, but with a big boost to fuel efficiency

Business and Finance China to "look after" stock market "investors"

Government intervention only helps the traders -- real investors want volatility so they can take advantage of cheap prices

Aviation News Google drone crashes after wing breaks

They're practicing to deliver Internet access to far-flung users

Aviation News F-35 still not fully functional

...but production is ramping up quickly anyway

Broadcasting Free iTunes Radio is over

You can still pay to get it

Humor and Good News Stephen Colbert takes down Trump using Trump

(Video) The national class clown has lots of ways to make himself look like a fool

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