Gongol.com Archives: March 2016

Brian Gongol

March 2016
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March 6, 2016

Science and Technology Self-healing textile has roots in WWII

The history of the textile industry might actually be the best lens into American industry of all

Computers and the Internet Nook gives up on the UK market

Not every technology survives

Humor and Good News It's a complex comb-over

Explaining the hair on top of the Orange Menace's head

Threats and Hazards Turkish newspaper forcibly overtaken by government

Immediately it turns into a propaganda mouthpiece. And Turkey wants to join the EU.

The United States of America Process matters: Nebraska looks to set the rules for redistricting

Getting that right makes a big difference to getting outcomes that reflect the people represented. Sound, non-partisan, rule-based districting is of enormous importance to a healthy democratic republic.

Iowa Iowa's community college network

A key to the long-term health of civilization and the economy

Recent radio podcasts

March 7, 2016

Business and Finance An objective evaluation of performance in real estate

It turns out that the shameless self-promotion of a 2016 Presidential candidate doesn't reflect actual performance.

Science and Technology Humanoid robots in the uncanny valley

Androids are coming, but they're going to look creepy for a while

The United States of America Michael Bloomberg decides against an independent run for President

Even despite the rising risk that Donald Trump will capture the Republican nomination, which would be a terrible thing for the party

Science and Technology Toyota develops device for blind users

Called "Project BLAID", it's worn around the neck and is supposed to give the wearer information about the surroundings that aren't available through a cane or a seeing-eye dog. Of course, better visualization and feedback to the user have some useful applications in developing safer cars, too.

Humor and Good News Iowa tourism ads show Napoleon discovering what he gave up

Seller's remorse?

@briangongolbot on Twitter

March 8, 2016

Computers and the Internet Do cracked iPhones threaten everyone's security?

An Apple engineer says so

Business and Finance Chinese exports have fallen for eight straight months

A foreboding sign for the global economy

News A girl shouldn't have to pass as a boy to get an education

Still a long way to go for equality between males and females

The United States of America Eight states where "I" is the leading party

Perhaps a symptom that both parties have work to do to satisfy many voters. Just look, for instance, at the almost total absence of Democrats up the middle of the country. It's sparsely-populated territory, for sure, but shouldn't there be some appeal from both parties?

Threats and Hazards Scotland Yard assistant commissioner says UK is at risk of "an enormous and spectacular attack"

The ambitions of ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh and its long propaganda reach combine to create a risk for the West. There most likely will be attacks again in the future -- terrorism is a tactic, not an organization -- and when they occur, we will want competent leadership in charge of our government and those of our allies.

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March 9, 2016

The United States of America "I wouldn't be good at doing what you need to do to get elected"

Bill Gates says he doesn't want to run for President. The fact he doesn't -- a fact that also applies to a lot of highly-qualified individuals we should like to see in high government office -- says something unflattering about the way we pick our leadership. If the process is faulty, then we're only lucky if it yields positive results.

Business and Finance Understanding populism

When something is good in general and on balance (like free trade) but injures certain specific parties (like people who lose their jobs to outsourcing), then we see the extraordinary need for leaders who can explain the benefits and enact the kinds of accomodative measures needed to help those injured parties adjust. We shouldn't hold back on things like free trade that, on balance, leave us vastly better off as a civilization. But when we don't do enough to capture the social benefits and funnel them to the parties who are hurt by it, then in the long run we're likely to face populist backlash (like Trumpism). To regress and give up the benefits of trade by turning to absurd policies like prohibitive import tariffs would be to set the whole of civilization back.

Business and Finance Japan debt now mostly at negative yields

The idea that the capital environment is so backwards that people willingly pay to put their savings someplace is hard to comprehend

Science and Technology Pebble drops prices by $50 on mid-range models

$150 for the color-screen edition, $200 for the fancier round design in color. That's well below $550 for the Apple Watch or $350 for the entry-level Apple Watch. Competition is a beautiful thing, and technology price disinflation is pretty astonishing.

News National Merit program for black high-school students is cancelled

Strange, considering how important educational achievement for minority students can be

@briangongolbot on Twitter

March 10, 2016

Socialism Doesn't Work China is moving towards tracking every vehicle in Shenzhen

Tiptoeing towards totalitarianism: The argument now is that they want to track vehicles carrying hazardous waste and buses carrying kids. But how to stop it before they start tracking every car?

Science and Technology Apple says quitting apps on the iPhone doesn't really save battery life

Sooner or later, we'll have batteries that render the problem of battery life entirely moot

Business and Finance Intra-family lending saves many people from financial disaster

Just $1,000 exchanging hands between parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, and uncles appears to be what keeps a lot of people out of calamity

Computers and the Internet Microsoft releases more than a dozen updates for Patch Tuesday

Several critical. More than one requires a restart.

Computers and the Internet Skype puts group video calling on mobile devices

Android and iOS now, Windows 10 Mobile soon.

The United States of America Chicago Tribune Presidential endorsement: Rubio for the GOP and nobody for the Democrats

Their reluctant embrace of Senator Rubio is understandable. Governor Kasich is better-qualified, but his campaign organization itself doesn't look like it's built to win. Their case against the two Democrats for their "distance from economic reality" is positively dead-on.

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March 11, 2016

Computers and the Internet Does $9.25 a month really make broadband affordable?

That's the structure of a Federal program to subsidize Internet access for the poor and those who live in places with limited options for access. But $9.25 a month doesn't really cover the full cost of access, and it may be a moot point in many places where there really isn't a good service available at all. This is an important public issue because the people who are caught without reliable Internet access are and will increasingly be at a substantial economic disadvantage to those who have it. And the people who don't have access now are likely to already be fighting an uphill battle economically. There ought to be a debate about the best way for public policy to address the problem, but there should be no mistaking the fact that the "digital divide" presents a serious hazard, and one that is only likely to deepen if not addressed. This should not be a case of debating whether there is a problem, but of how public policy ought best to be used to address it. There may be very market-friendly ways of so doing, and there are definitely government-overbearing ways of so doing. The debate itself, though, needs to begin with acknowledging the problem and addressing it thoughtfully so that the permanent consequences aren't as costly as they will be if the problem is ignored.

Computers and the Internet What does India give up by rejecting Facebook's "Free Basics" service?

It may look like a victory for "net neutrality", but there's a strong case to be made that the worries people have about the approach actually resemble strongly the worries people once had about AOL -- and that the AOL worries crumbled easily on their own once people got a taste for Internet access

Computers and the Internet You can have a built-in ad-blocker on your Internet browser

But you have to be using Opera to get it. Opera is a very distant also-ran in the browser market, but this may raise their profile. The company claims it delivers pages around 40% faster than the competition once those ads are scooped out. One might wonder how website publishers are going to respond to this, given that it's the equivalent of building an automatic commercial-skipper into a television set.

Computers and the Internet FCC pushes for data privacy from ISPs

The agency is proposing that Internet service providers be limited in what records they can keep on what individuals do with their Internet access

The United States of America An online quiz shows that San Jose is "forgettable"

When asked to name America's largest cities, more people overlook San Jose than any other -- relative to the fact it's the 10th largest individual city (not metro) in the country and one of only ten to have more than a million residents. But San Jose seems to be eternally in the shadow of its neighbor San Francisco, which is in fact meaningfully smaller in population.

Threats and Hazards Strength is a bad thing in the hands of the unjust

Donald Trump's incapacity to acknowledge that the iron-fisted response by the Chinese government to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests is yet another sign that he has authoritarian instincts that belong nowhere near the White House. Ohio Governor John Kasich deserves credit for highlighting that problem.

@briangongol on Twitter

March 14, 2016

The United States of America "America has been the gold standard of democracy for so long"

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is one of the most important "adults in the room" in politics right now. His voice is badly needed at a time when a major candidate in the Presidential race seemingly cannot tell the truth under any circumstances and addresses women with pathological disrespect.

Threats and Hazards Significant terrorist attack in Turkey takes three dozen lives

The government is blaming "Kurdish militants", which may or may not be true. It certainly would fit a narrative being pursued by the government, so independent and objective study of the evidence is required. Whoever is responsible, it's a large attack and a tragic display of destruction.

Humor and Good News The Onion asks: What are you doing with yourself?

"[T]he final product of a dwindling bloodline that his proud forebears fought relentlessly to advance even before the dawn of history, decided to spend his free time after work watching the 1989 Tom Hanks comedy film The 'Burbs."

Computers and the Internet Windows 7 users are getting auto-updated to Windows 10

Microsoft has been hinting pretty clearly for some time that a move like this was forthcoming -- but it still seems a bit aggressive

Business and Finance How trade deficits return to equilibrium

A Chinese insurance firm is spending $6.5 billion to buy a batch of luxury hotels in the United States. That's one way the cash that has been leaking out of the United States to China (in the form of trade deficits) comes back home -- through asset sales.

Business and Finance "An MBA is an expensive want"

A recent student doesn't see the value in what he earned

@briangongol on Twitter

March 15, 2016

Threats and Hazards The children of civil war in Syria

The war has now lasted so long that children are reaching kindergarten age having never seen peace. Some 400,000 to 500,000 people have died in the course of the war.

Business and Finance What you really need to know about manufacturing jobs, right now

Very important reading. The manufacturing sector in the United States is actually doing well right now -- but there are specific groups of workers who are falling behind. Instead of blowing up the systems of international trade that make modern prosperity possible, we need to think about ways we can help the affected individuals recover and come back even better.

Business and Finance Visualizing world shipping

Seeing the flow of international trade aboard the ships on the high seas is actually a very helpful way to see how the world is interconnected. Trade is, on balance, a good thing. It leads to peace.

Agriculture Farm debts are getting serious in the Midwest

This is a serious problem for the Midwestern economy generally. If farmers get into cash-flow trouble, that affects the implement dealers and seed reps and other primary resource providers...and then it spills over to Main Street.

Broadcasting CBS Corporation plans to sell off CBS Radio

And with that, William S Paley rolls over in his grave. There are 117 radio stations in the group.

Science and Technology Robotic ants pull a car

Technology is doing amazing things

@briangongol on Twitter

March 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet Mediacom says it's bringing gigabit Internet access to Des Moines

At least six Iowa towns already have it.

Science and Technology General Motors buys software company that programs self-driving cars

Company founder: "[W]e are moving very, very fast" to integrate systems. The path to the self-driving car is going to be more incremental than not -- lane assistance, automatic braking, and the like -- but it can't come fast enough. Eliminating human error from the roadways would save tens of thousands of lives a year.

Health Babies have metacognition

They know that there are things they don't know -- and that is a special form of consciousness

Broadcasting Amazon enters live-streaming to compete with YouTube

Only further evidence that the future of "television" may very well be delivered predominantly via the Internet

Science and Technology How to make smartphones truly, deeply helpful

They need to be programmed to recognize when users need help but don't know how to ask for it -- like when they are suicidal, depressed, or otherwise in need of human help (but brokered by artificial intelligence)

Recent radio podcasts

March 17, 2016

The United States of America Rep. Paul Ryan sees rising odds of an open Republican convention

The Speaker of the House is one of the most prominent "adults in the room" in the GOP right now, and his presence is needed more than ever

Science and Technology Automatic brakes should be standard by 2022

20 automakers have agreed to "make automatic emergency braking a standard feature on virtually all new cars" by 2022. Almost all new cars sold in the US should be included. Note that the government itself admits that this voluntary agreement "will make AEB standard on new cars three years faster than could be achieved through the formal regulatory process". That says something rather disappointing about the pace of regulatory standards, but it's pleasing to see that they're willing to circumvent their own policy in order to get to a desirable goal sooner.

Business and Finance GM and Lyft work out a rental deal

Lyft drivers (starting in Chicago, then likely rolling out elsewhere) will be able to rent a GM car for $99 a week. The program will let people who don't currently meet Lyft's vehicle standards still get paid to drive. Chevy will offer its mid-$20,000-range Equinox SUV for $99 a week, or around a fifth of the cost of the vehicle per year -- including insurance and maintenance. GM is already a major investor in Lyft, to the tune of half a billion dollars. On a related note, a research paper says that Uber drivers are much more efficient than taxi drivers, when efficiency is measured by the amount of time passengers are actively being carried somewhere for a fare. The model would tend to bear this out: Uber and Lyft don't rely on their drivers having to hunt for customers -- they're actively being hailed by prospective passengers who aren't visibly waiting on street corners. The cab industry really blew a huge opportunity by not adapting faster to the Internet. Notably, too, higher efficiency means the prospect of lower rates for passengers, since higher productivity pays off faster for drivers.

Computers and the Internet Amazon takes out patent application for payment-by-selfie

It isn't entirely unreasonable to think that we're close to a time when biometric identification will suffice for a lot of transactions, rather than passwords. Because of the huge number of passwords most people need to keep, the wide range of characteristics that apply (some sites require the use of special characters, for instance, while other sites don't accept them at all), and the inconsistency of practice around factors like the frequency with which passwords must be changed, the whole concept of passwords may not be fatally flawed but it certainly isn't optimal. But the leading problem with biometrics may likely be that many people inherently distrust them and distrust any institution that would record their biometric identifiers.

Science and Technology Google is cutting loose the Boston Dynamics division

Google parent company Alphabet reportedly doesn't see robotics turning a profit soon, so they're looking to get rid of the division, which develops some amazing products and only became part of the larger company a hair over two years ago.

Computers and the Internet Call in the technocrats

In his recent discussion on Reddit, Bill Gates said, "I think very few people take the extreme view that the government should be blind to financial and communication data but very few people think giving the government carte blanche without safeguards makes sense." The government isn't necessarily wrong to try to get its hands on data, nor is Apple wrong to resist. By the same token, the government isn't necessarily trustworthy to have access to people's private data, nor is Apple perfectly patriotic and flag-waving in resisting cooperation with the government. Rather than polemic from people who don't understand what they're talking about, these kinds of issues demand attention from sober people with technical knowledge.

Recent radio podcasts

March 18, 2016

Computers and the Internet Take it easy on the social-media posts about your kids

Parents are proud of their children and want to share that pride. They also look for help and the Internet can provide a community level of response. But kids also deserve to control their digital identities, and it makes sense to default on the side of caution -- especially given the permanence and universal reach of the Internet.

News Portraits of the children of Syria and Afghanistan

Literally millions of refugees -- each a person, with a personal experience of this massive human disaster

Computers and the Internet FBI warns that high-tech cars introduce hacking risks

Drivers are specifically being advised to keep vehicle software up to date and to use caution when integrating third-party apps with their vehicles

News David Brooks on the imperative of stopping Donald Trump before reaching the Oval Office

The country can survive a bad President or two. But we shouldn't be willing to try.

Business and Finance Stock analysts think Tesla is about to do great things

But as a class, analysts have generally proven to be far too credulous when they should have been skeptical, and often too pessimistic when they should be seeing potential. Investors and other observers should reach their own judgments accordingly.

Recent radio podcasts

March 19, 2016

Business and Finance Chinese insurer offers $13.2 billion to buy Starwood hotel group

That's a lot of money for the Westin, Sheraton, and W chains

News 150,000 American children got sent to new homes via orphan trains

Not that long ago, really

Business and Finance Evidence-based policymaking

Bipartisan agreement on at least one thing

Computers and the Internet Mediacom announces gigabit Internet access systemwide

The rollout is going to be a three-year project

Iowa Uber surge pricing seems to take some people by surprise

Might be a mismatch between high demand and low supply in a metro area like Des Moines

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March 20, 2016

What ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh is doing is genocide

Words matter. Now if only we could settle on what to call the perpetrators.

Computers and the Internet Cartoon animation software goes open-source

What built "Futurama" is about to become free

Health It may be possible to recover memories after Alzheimer's

With so many people in the Baby Boom generation headed into their senior years, don't be surprised by an intense focus on the diseases associated with aging

Business and Finance Toyota renames the Scion models

Killing off the brand but keeping the products

Weather and Disasters Carbon-dioxide emissions are remaining flat

India's probably producing more, and China's producing less

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March 21, 2016

News Fun fact: Countries with short election cycles are just in perpetual campaign mode

It doesn't matter if the cycle is only 15 weeks long; the campaign process is continuous

Business and Finance A catalog of Donald Trump's business failures

He is more hype-man than legitimate business success

Health Work may be more dangerous than previously thought

OSHA changed measurement and reporting requirements and it turns out more people are getting hurt on the job than the old data suggested

Computers and the Internet Apple announces a new iPhone

But no real revolutions at the latest product launch

Humor and Good News Good kid, bad kid, future economist

Honestly? Raising the future economist may be the best move of all.

@briangongolbot on Twitter

March 22, 2016

News Macro-scale factors making voters angry worldwide

The middle classes are feeling discontent

Aviation News Army and Marine Corps argue that budget cuts are causing fatal crashes

Marine commandant: "[W]e don't have enough airplanes to meet the training requirements for the entire force"

Science and Technology Toyota says automatic brakes will be standard by 2017

Well ahead of the voluntary mutual pact to have them on all new US cars by 2022

Broadcasting Starve the clown of attention and he withers

The symbiosis between Donald Trump and the news media is very bad for civilization, even if it's "good" TV

Computers and the Internet EFF argues that there's no room for compromise on data encryption

The privacy-rights group argues there's no alternative to the mathematics of absolutism when it comes to encryption

@briangongolbot on Twitter

March 23, 2016

Threats and Hazards A not-insignificant number of Americans are trying to get a functional illiterate elected President

Donald Trump's session with the editorial board of the Washington Post is a stunning example of word salad. It's understandable that lots of people are angry at the political system, but working for his election is like trying to get Ronald McDonald hired as the executive chef at a French restaurant because you don't like their pastries.

Agriculture Iowa corn yields by county

Corn is one of Iowa's greatest products

Broadcasting The "most interesting man in the world" is retiring

Only the actor. Dos Equis is planning to reboot the campaign.

Humor and Good News Nebraska's new license plates

Once you see what's wrong, you won't be able to un-see it

Broadcasting Strong-man tactics on the local political scale

TV reporter gets kicked out of city hall for asking uncomfortable questions

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March 24, 2016

Computers and the Internet Secretary Hillary Clinton knew her e-mail server arrangement was problematic

An FOIA request by a group hostile to her finds emails from February 2009 that appear to acknowledge her recognition that her BlackBerry and e-mail use were going to raise questions

News TV station takes on local newspaper directly in Cincinnati

If physically getting the news on a dead tree is no longer a defining characteristic for a news organization, then the rivalry could severely disrupt the classic monopoly model enjoyed by major metropolitan newspapers

Computers and the Internet Apple rolls out iPhone SE

Arriving in stores next week (3/31), it shares a chip with the iPhone 6S, has a 12-megapixel camera, and is in a relatively compact 4" size. $400 for the 16 Gb entry-level edition.

Computers and the Internet Activist group tries takeover of Yahoo board of directors

Starboard Value LP is launching a proxy fight. With just 1.7% of the company's stock, they don't have enough to call the shots, but in their letter to shareholders, they indict the current board and management for failing to turn around the company operationally or get it sold.

Business and Finance Rockefeller interests sell the last of their Exxon stock

Very few family businesses survive intact, it would seem

@briangongol on Twitter

March 25, 2016

The United States of America Speaker Paul Ryan as the unity candidate for the GOP?

He's needed -- badly -- as the Speaker of the House, virtually no mater who gets elected in 2016, and it's hard to think of anyone better to fill his current role

Computers and the Internet Microsoft releases chat bot and everything goes off the rails

We can't have nice things, in part, because people can't seem to resist digital vandalism. Microsoft tried to launch "Tay", but unfortunately it would appear that exposing it to social media only turned it into an idiot.

Computers and the Internet Build an Alexa device with Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi is a super-cheap computer processor, and Amazon is giving out instructions to make something of it

Health Husband and wife each get cancer twice -- at the same time

Stunningly terrible misfortune

Computers and the Internet Intel is going to start foot-dragging on Moore's Law

The perpetually high rate of improvement in chip power is going to ease back a bit

Recent radio podcasts

March 26, 2016

News Wrong-way driver crashes into police transport on I-80

Two police officers, one prisoner, and the opposing driver were all killed

Business and Finance Low oil prices are making the near-circumnavigation of Africa cheaper than the Suez Canal

Canal passage fees are higher than the cost for extra fuel in some cases

Computers and the Internet Microsoft introduces $22,000, 84" touchscreen TV

A little bigger than the Surface

Computers and the Internet Study: Adults ages 19 to 32 use social media for 61 minutes a day

What in the world is that time displacing? It's not all just "found" time that was otherwise spent in line at the grocery store -- it's coming from the time budget for something else. And the authors found that high levels of use were correlated with symptoms of depression. Correlation isn't necessarily causation, but it is a relationship that is cause for concern and further analysis.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft doesn't want to buy Yahoo, but...

...the company might help some other party to buy it out. Microsoft apparently makes decent money from its partnership with Yahoo and doesn't want to kill a productive arrangement.

Broadcasting Netflix now throttles video to Verizon and AT&T wireless networks

As long as data limits remain both low and in effect, video streaming over wireless networks is going to be a source of conflict. This is (probably) just a short-term ploy by Netflix, but one that may be enough to tweak some of the wireless carriers into raising data limits. It certainly isn't leading to good feelings.

@briangongol on Twitter

March 27, 2016

News An interesting meditation on the modern rat race

One thing that may be happening without sufficient attention is that the forces that cause the white-collar classes to work exceptional numbers of hours and to spend much of their free time in activities that also pass as career networking may also be the forces that serve to pull apart important civic organizations. It seems hard to find people with valuable skills who have the time and inclination to support civic institutions with their time and talents -- especially if they're spending time doing things like toting kids around to league sports.

Computers and the Internet Chinese tech giant thinks it can predict when crowds will turn dangerous

The government authorities probably don't mind if Baidu keeps up this kind of work

Computers and the Internet Apple cuts prices on iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watch

They're still higher than comparable products in the same class, but the company certainly appears to be trying to get more consumers in the door of the Apple ecosystem. The iPhone SE clocks in at $399, the new iPad Pro 9.7" costs $599, and the entry-level Apple Watch is now $299.

Humor and Good News "Scientists slowly reintroducing small group of normal, well-adjusted humans into society"

The Onion lands another smashing satire. It's just close enough to reality to be disturbing.

Computers and the Internet Nintendo wants its own social network to catch on

Miitomo involves "Mii" avatars who go out and live a virtual life for you, "interacting" with those of your friends


March 28, 2016

Threats and Hazards US unintentionally funds opposing sides in Syria

Syria is only one of many highly complex situations on the world stage right now -- and anyone who tries to argue that they have simple answers or a monopoly on the solutions is a reckless bozo.

Computers and the Internet Marine Corps establishes cyberwarfare group

How do you say "Oorah!" in binary code? It's still unclear whether it makes more sense for each branch of the military to have its own cyberwarfare operations, or whether we should seriously consider spinning up a dedicated branch, agency, or corps dedicated to the purpose. The comparable case is probably the Coast Guard, which has a definite mission serving a specific type of territory, but which also executes its role well within the nation's borders -- something that the Army, for instance, isn't supposed to due because of the posse comitatus rule. But because cyberwarfare is often about criminal behavior rather than nation-states bearing arms against one another, cyberwarfare often (but not always) is better described as an act of law enforcement rather than martial defense. Of course, this is the kind of debate that should be dominating the Presidential race, but it's not. Not by a long shot.

Business and Finance "Zombie houses" are hurting valuations in some communities

The problem of unoccupied, un-maintained houses that start to deteriorate and "bring down the neighborhood" is a serious issue, since so many people have large shares of their net worth tied up in their housing stock.

Computers and the Internet FBI breaks into controversial iPhone

They didn't need Apple to corrupt its own security after all. Now, will the FBI tell Apple how they did it so that Apple can fix the problem?

Computers and the Internet Startup is taking pre-orders for $119 laptop-dock for smartphones

They'll provide the keyboard and a 14" screen in a laptop-like unit. Users will provide the smartphone that will act as the "brains".

@briangongol on Twitter

March 29, 2016

Computers and the Internet Iowa City hospital gets hit by privacy-invasion virus

Hospital databases are natural targets for the depth and scale of the data they collect. It's been reported that 15,000 patients have been notified about the Iowa City attack alone -- that's the population of a small town.

Computers and the Internet "Petya" ransomware scrambles entire contents of a computer's hard drive

How to protect yourself? Don't open attachments from people you don't know. Use webmail services instead of putting an e-mail client on your desktop. Run antivirus software. Keep your computer at the lowest level of access allowed (in other words, don't log in as an administrator unless necessary). And keep backups of your data -- update the backups frequently and keep more than one backup approach in use (in other words, go ahead and use a cloud backup, but use a portable hard drive as a backup-backup).

Aviation News Alphabet and Facebook run into red tape with high-altitude Internet

Both companies are testing projects to deliver Internet access from very high altitudes -- above normal commercial air traffic. But they're running into complicated rules on the way there, as well as some hassles with the lack of clarity about the rules that apply to air traffic at such high altitudes. Also, there's the sticky issue of flying across borders.

Science and Technology Forbes says Amazon is America's "most reputable company"

Netflix, Intel, Sony, and Samsung also make the top ten list. That likely says something not necessarily about technology-oriented companies being inherently more reputable than others, but about how high levels of consumer scrutiny and very low barriers to customer switching helps to keep these companies on their toes.

News Girl uses text-to-911 service to report drunk driver: Her father

This is exactly the kind of thing that technology should be doing: Creating new ways for people to be responsible for their own safety, even when circumstances might not otherwise permit it. Imagine the bravery required to turn in your father as he's driving drunk with you in the car. It's hard to imagine it happening via a voice call, but a text message provides a safe alternative. The value in technologies like this isn't how often they're used -- it's in whether they allow people to call for help in circumstances when they might not otherwise have the choice. If that's a non-zero number, then it's certainly worth further examination.

Recent radio podcasts

March 30, 2016

Threats and Hazards What kind of unconscionable evil attacks a park full of families?

And where is the shame that should shadow the fact that 69 people have been killed in a terrorist bombing -- but because it happened in Pakistan, it isn't making the same kind of headlines as an equivalent attack in a city in Europe?

Business and Finance IDS Center, Minnesota's tallest building, goes up for sale

It's been in current hands for just three years. This is "trader" capitalism. While not immoral or unethical, per se, it isn't the same as constructive or productive capitalism that depends upon transforming things of lower value into things of higher value. It's also not the same thing as proprietor capitalism, in which a person proudly owns his or her business for what it creates. Again, this doesn't make trader capitalism evil or wrong -- but we need to be very careful about celebrating the cowboy antics of trader capitalism. Trader capitalism tends to be a zero-sum game, or close to it. The other forms are decidedly non-zero-sum: They deliberately turn out something better at the end than what was put in.

Business and Finance Trade has diffuse benefits and concentrated costs

Thus we all can think of a town that has lost a factory to "outsourcing" -- but many people would find it hard to quantify how much trade benefits them personally. This tempers how people understand trade, since it means we overweight the costs and underweight the benefits -- even though the benefits overall far outweigh the costs. Sensitivity to those concentrated costs is important, though: If we benefit at-large, then we need to tax at-large as well in order to help the people who are directly hurt by the effects of trade.

Threats and Hazards On defeating ISIS/ISIL/QSIS/Daesh

Niall Ferguson says it's best viewed as a true network and best opposed as such

Computers and the Internet Instagram adds longer videos

The site that built its reputation on still pictures now says "you'll soon have the flexibility to tell your story in up to 60 seconds of video". That doesn't quite make it YouTube, but it's a change of position.

@briangongol on Twitter

March 31, 2016

Business and Finance Foxconn buys Sharp for a lot less than originally offered

Their original bid was 489 billion yen -- and the actual sale price is about 100 billion yen less than that. That's not the direction these negotiations usually go. Japanese news reports reveal a whole lot of resentment at Sharp over the outcome. The buyer is Taiwan's Hon Hai (better known as Foxconn).

Science and Technology Tesla releases the Model 3

An electric car with a price tag starting in the mid-$30,000 range

News Why is violence still surging in Chicago?

A great city with a huge problem

News Two attorneys say they were kicked out of a bar for being black

They happen to be attorneys for the ACLU, so that's not likely to end well for the bar

Agriculture Iowa farmland values fell by 9% last year

That's a huge decline, largely tied to the drop in commodity prices. Lower prices mean less cash flow, and when the outputs don't justify the cost of the capital (here, that capital is land), the market price of the capital is bound to fall.

Science and Technology Scientific literacy made fun

A deceptively simple and addictive game called Guess the Correlation reveals just how bad we human beings are at recognizing statistical correlation -- even when it's right in front of us