Gongol.com Archives: April 2016
April 4, 2016
How people learn depends on their socioeconomic status
High-income, high-education people turn to the Internet for lifelong learning. People with lower incomes and less education don't as much.
Computer programmers are more self-taught than classroom-educated
A lot of fields reject self-taught" authorities on a subject. Computer programming does not.
You don't have time to run from a tornado you can see
Man stops to film tornado from his attic. It turns and obliterates his home before he can make it downstairs.
Nebraska may go back to a winner-take-all rule in the Electoral College
A sad prospect -- Nebraska is one of the only states to allocate electors by Congressional district, which is actually a sensible practice that more states should follow. Let the overall state winner take the two statewide electors.
What happens with prohibitively-high minimum wages
Tracking the minimum wage to some kind of inflation-related index? Probably reasonable. But large jumps do run the serious risk of causing employers to take drastic measures, like automating or leaving the affected jurisdictions.
April 5, 2016
Why Rwanda is going to get drone-based package delivery before your neighborhood
It all boils down to the need for critical supplies and a shortage of safe and reliable transportation options. One may recall the scene from the late "West Wing" episode in which the retiring CJ Cregg responds as follows to an offer of a $10 billion philanthropic grant: "Highways [...] It's not sexy. No one will ever raise money for it. But nine out of ten African aid projects fail because the medicine or the personnel can't get to the people in need. Blanket the continent with highways and then maybe get started on plumbing."
Expect more chatbots in your world
Businesses are using artificial intelligence to provide customer service without the human customer-service reps
The Internet is now just the internet
How heterosexual American couples meet
Several key methods of meeting seem to be missing from the data (like "mutual interests"), so the graph itself is suspect. But it still seems to strike a lot of people as true.
GAO warns that nobody's in charge of responding to cyberattacks
Once again raising the question: Do we need a dedicated military branch or agency dedicated to cyberwarfare?
A peek behind the curtain of startup mythology
There's a point at which people substitute a lot of dignity for impressions of status. Some tech startups exploit that.
April 6, 2016
Google's habit of dropping products is catching up with it
A customer of a home-automation product acquired by Google is mad because the product -- acquired by Alphabet subsidiary Nest -- is being bricked on May 15th. Is it Google/Alphabet's prerogative to do so? Yes. Does it reflect badly on the company? Yes. Does it undermine the company's reputation for customer support? Yes.
Guest Tweeting is a dangerous game
It's one thing to bring in a "guest editor" to put together a special edition of a magazine. But it's quite another thing to let someone apart from an editorial staff take over the Twitter account of a publication. The New Republic just learned that the hard way.
When a major Presidential candidate isn't serious
Senator Bernie Sanders knows how to whip up a movement, but he's not showing an adequate grasp of his own policies to be able to implement them. That lack of seriousness is not trivial.
How much runway is left for an independent Presidential run to take off?
Not a huge amount, but not zero, either
Who's voting where, for whom, for what reasons -- in a very bizarre Presidential campaign
April 7, 2016
Why you need to own the domain of your name if you're in the public view
A bunch of staffers at Mashable just got laid off abruptly. They work in the public eye, and reports have it their e-mail accounts were shut down as part of the sudden layoffs. People who are (or might be) in the public view need control over their public-facing image, and it doesn't get more public-facing than the Internet.
American admiral wants to challenge China in the South China Sea
But the White House doesn't want him (or people like him) saying anything out loud
Should a fiduciary rule apply to investment advisers?
In theory, a fiduciary rule should apply -- but whether the government should be the party imposing the rule (instead of consumers simply have the requisite knowledge to know what to demand of their service providers) isn't an open-and-shut case. Among other things, it's not enough just to require that the adviser have good intentions -- consumers also need to be able to discern when they're getting bad advice from well-meaning people.
Saving a newspaper the hard way may be the only way
A Boston Globe editor asks his associates to ponder: "If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization designed to take on The Boston Globe, what would it look like?" And that's exactly the right question. All sympathies and sentimentality aside, the value of a company is what it's going to be able to produce in the future. From that perspective, what exists today isn't as important as what an organization would build if starting from a blank sheet of paper.
Verizon moves closer to an offer for Yahoo
Google may be considering a bid, too
April 8, 2016
Disengagement from communities may make people more likely to vote for a terrible candidate
People who are invested -- even just a little bit -- in their local civic institutions are probably less likely to fall for the siren song of a candidate who wants to blow up everything about civic society.
Senate drafts an encryption bill that doesn't have a lot of fans
This is why we need technologically literate adults everywhere, but especially in the halls of Congress
Looking at the microeconomic data may signal a macro recession
When you see freight shipments declining at the biggest railroads (as they are now), you need to question whether all is well in the economy at large
Twitter buys NFL Thursday night game streams for $10 million
Seems like a bargain, and the NFL says it wasn't the highest bid. But it does put the NFL in the middle of the preeminent real-time events service on the Internet, while giving Twitter something new entirely to attract new users. An interesting gamble all around.
SpaceX finally sticks the landing
They managed to launch and then land a rocket, vertically, on a floating platform in the ocean. It was the fifth try and its success means this has been a very, very good week to be Elon Musk. The landing as viewed from the chase plane is downright surreal.
April 9, 2016
The Baltic Dry Index is rising, but it's still at a very low point
Telling signs about the world economy at large -- if shipping costs (as tracked by the index) are very low, then that's a symptom that goods aren't moving on the high seas
A toxic lack of interest in others
Video circulates showing people being attacked in hotels in China as bystanders just let it happen
Kansas City's Federal Reserve chief is a hawk
Someone needs to be the hawk at the table -- even if, on balance, the Fed still probably needs to be dovish
Netflix is going to raise subscription fees
A bunch of people grandfathered into cheap streaming plans are going to have to pay a couple of extra dollars a month
Slumping Yahoo should pick through Google's product graveyard
Google has gotten pretty good at creating products, demonstrating market demand, and then pulling the plug. Yahoo should try harder to be a fast follower.
April 10, 2016
Facebook has some pretty lofty ambitions
It's not a non-profit, and it's not a charity. Users would be wise to keep that in mind.
Neuroscience classes in prison
The effect it has on the incarcerated students tells us some important things about education -- and about what we should seriously consider doing to fix our criminal-justice system
The Treasury doth protest too much
When the Treasury Department issues a special statement announcing that they weren't targeting anyone in particular with a brand-new set of rules (that happen to have a serious impact on a high-profile event), it doesn't take all that much cynicism to suspect that the lady doth protest too much.
Netflix is hiking prices for customers on grandfathered plans
The product is "sticky" enough that it's hard to imagine a lot of people quitting their subscriptions over $2 a month
Some of the best strategies for saving the gorillas may also be very good ways of helping human beings, too
Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 10, 2016
We leave way too much human potential unfulfilled
April 11, 2016
Britain's Daily Mail may want to buy Yahoo
They would use private-equity money to form a new company, but the essence of the deal would still be the same: An old-media company buying a new-media company to give both a shot at survival.
Toyota working on "guardian angel"
A very clever metaphor for the technologies that will eventually accumulate and lead to self-piloted cars for everybody -- but that in the shorter term will at least ensure higher levels of safety by overriding the stupid decisions and slow reactions of human drivers.
Canadian Pacific gives up on bid for Norfolk Southern
The rail industry is already pretty well-consolidated, so further consolidation may be hard to achieve.
"Returnships" for those returning from job gaps
It's a sign that an economy is healthy if people who leave the workforce need to catch up a bit when they return. That means things are changing and improving. Thus it's smart to have ways to help people rejoin the workforce quickly, and "returnships" may be part of the answer.
The over-the-road freight trucks of the future won't always have individual drivers. Testing is taking place right now in the EU, where trucks use automation to communicate with one another to drive in closely-packed series that move more efficiently and use less road space than individual trucks. It's also supposed to save fuel. Pilot testing is underway in Europe.
"Hillary would beat [Trump] from jail"
Tim Miller has a very clever way of looking at things and framing the politics around them. His take on the Presidential race right now is worth a solid 45-minute listen.
April 12, 2016
A dystopian vision of the future
The Boston Globe looked into its crystal ball to see a Trump Presidency and they saw something awful
Nebraska will keep its split Electoral College votes
It's a practice that shouldn't have been threatened in the first place -- more states should follow Nebraska's lead on this and divide their Electoral College votes by Congressional district, with the statewide winner getting the two remaining votes
Speaker Paul Ryan won't run for President (this time)
He's putting his foot down on the idea of being named as some kind of unity candidate. He's needed in Congress now, and almost certainly to an even greater degree after the results of this coming November. The primacy of the Executive Branch needs to be reeled in a bit, and Speaker Ryan is the right person for the job on the Legislative Branch's side of things.
The National Weather Service will kindly stop shouting now
They are at long last changing the format of most of their reports to conventional sentence case, rather than the ALL CAPS format that had been in place since the teletype days. The practice was a technological artifact -- it was necessary when there wasn't sufficient means to send mixed-case messages. But now there is, and since sentence-case messages are easier to read and comprehend, this is a good change.
Facebook introduces 8K-resolution video camera with 360-degree viewing
For those times when it's not just enough to feel like you're there, but also to get serious motion sickness in the process
April 13, 2016
They want more artificial intelligence and more artificial reality
Schumer plan to legislate bigger airline seats fails
Not that today's seats aren't absurdly small and uncomfortable, but legislation isn't the way to fix it -- especially not if people are given the option to pay for bigger seats (and don't)
Lab-grown diamonds are on the way -- in a big way
Fundamentally indistinguishable from organic diamonds, they don't come with any of the ethical baggage and offer creative cutters options they didn't have before
Crooks are trying to break into Netflix accounts not because they want to mess with your ratings, but because they want login information. They can get enough information to trick people using social engineering into giving away credit-card info, and it's also likely that any passwords people use on Netflix are in use elsewhere, too.
"No business being an extrovert"
Another hit from The Onion
April 14, 2016
Public debt is now at nearly unsustainable levels -- and when that triggers a reaction, things could get ugly in a hurry
It would be a good thing if all citizens thought about science more often, but "citizen scientists" is a clever title to offer people for participating in an NYU study of baby sleep patterns. The study asks parents to record their baby's sleeping patterns in a widely-used smartphone app -- something many parents were doing with the app already, but by aggregating the data, they can turn it from micro-information (used by the parents) into a macro-study with far more data points than the researchers were ever going to get by handing out paper surveys.
EMV credit cards are still slowing down checkout lanes
In the long run, a chip-and-PIN system ought to be highly secure for in-person transactions. But in the short run, the inconsistencies in their rollout and use are driving people crazy at the cash register.
Russian jets buzz US Navy warship in the Baltic
It's one thing to show off, and it's another to provoke. This behavior teeters dangerously close to the latter.
Great social-engineering attacks in history
We think of social-engineering attacks as a modern online phenomenon, but they've been around forever. And it helps nothing at all when IT people use techniques that are indistinguishable from those of the attackers.
Microsoft claims coming Windows 10 update will be good for classrooms
Technology alone doesn't and can't fix problems with education, but viewed as a useful tool, technology may be able to help. The less teachers have to be IT people and the more they can simply use their tools, the better.
April 15, 2016
MidAmerican Energy now targets 80% of power generation from wind
They expect to get there by the end of the decade, putting Iowa light-years ahead of everywhere else
The DoD says cyberattacks are now a threat on par with missiles themselves
We're looking at you, Iran and North Korea
Boeing/Lockheed "United Launch Alliance" is making job cuts
New competition has tightened the rocket-launch market
April 16, 2016
A radio play-by-play announcer quits with an online posting. There are so many mistakes made here: The announcement includes misspellings and takes place in a public forum while burning all bridges along the way. These things persist, you know. Something like this becomes the #1 search result in your next job interview. To anyone who doesn't know the back story, this looks like sabotage is your M.O.
Due to printing problems, the Des Moines Register isn't distributing an April 16th printed edition. As pointed out by a former staffer, printing problems used to activate backup plans -- today, it would appear, the answer is to just tell people to access the online edition for free. But if they're really equivalent substitutes for one another, then why go to the trouble of printing and distributing the print edition at all? And if they are not equivalents, then shouldn't a press failure be important enough that some kind of emergency plan can be rolled out? Either the print copy matters or it does not. This response seems to suggest that, institutionally, the latter belief is in the driver's seat.
Unprecedented antisocial behavior in politics
The presence of a candidate who has treated the entire Presidential race like a game of Mario Kart has brought out the worst in a lot of people
Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - April 16, 2016
Streamed live at whoradio.com/listen and archived for later playback on iHeartRadio
April 24, 2016
Bystanders let a man die in a Chicago street
The appalling consequences of the diffusion of responsibility
Steve Wozniak has good advice on learning
It may start in school, but it's a terrible idea to let it end there
San Francisco to require solar panels
Always beware mandates like this one: Ordering everyone to do the same thing in the same way, even on a scale as small as a city, leaves no room for the subtle variances in life that make things that can be seemingly sensible turn into total disasters. Today's solar panels are better than yesterday's, and tomorrow's will almost certainly be better still. Requiring people to install technology that is in the middle of a rapid evolution can backfire: What if all houses in 1990 had been required to include giant satellite dishes, or all cars of the same time required to be equipped with bag phones? And what of flexible circumstances -- like a house that's always in the shade, due to hills, trees, or tall surrounding buildings? It's not like San Francisco is a place of cheap real estate to begin with -- it's already preposterously expensive. Mandates only compound that effect, raising the cost of living for people who already may be finding it hard to get by.
Kanye West may come to regret making promises on Twitter
Words like "never" can be costly when you're trying to get people to pay for things you're selling
They might have had the capability to destroy us, but the Soviets weren't entirely crazy
People watching "The Americans" can be forgiven if they feel a tinge of nostalgia for the Cold War. "Ivan" might have been terrible, but he also didn't have a particular interest in dying. Today's foes aren't always quite so attached to their own skins, and that makes them unsettling in a way that Soviet nuclear weapons never really could be.
April 25, 2016
The fact it's not unusual to do that in the Midwest is a cultural strength that becomes a business advantage. As noted here in 2010, reputations are highly valuable and much too important to risk in even the largest of Upper Midwestern cities. That keeps people generally on their best behavior.
Gannett offers to buy Tribune Publishing for $815 million
Gannett, freshly off a split from its electronic-media properties, is right back to the behavior that got it into trouble in the first place: Unbridled acquisition. The deal would include a massive pile of debt over at Tribune. Bloomberg estimates that Gannett 12% of the nation's daily newspaper circulation, and Tribune has 5%.
Literally -- the ruins of buildings that once housed the functions of the British Empire
"He's with me" versus "I'm with her"
An interesting perspective on the durability of Donald Trump's following
China shuts down iTunes and Apple bookstore
Beware any government that would shut off the flow of knowledge
April 26, 2016
And the company is dependent upon iPhone sales, so that shrinks the revenues to the company
Let it not be forgotten that the disaster at Chernobyl was predominantly the result of human error, compounded by a system that couldn't handle mistakes well
Mitsubishi is in huge trouble for fuel-economy miscalculations
Potentially trailing back for 25 years
Farmers are taking out bigger loans and banks are demanding more collateral
Another sign of rough roads present and ahead for the agricultural economy
Transmitting wind power isn't easy
To get it from where it's produced to where it's consumed requires lots of transmission lines -- and there are political costs to overcome
April 27, 2016
Bill Gates on the future of energy
On this issue, at least, he's a supply-sider
Why Goldman Sachs is opening an online bank
Deposits from people who open savings accounts give them financing that makes the regulators happy
Why isn't the Porsche family intervening more at Volkswagen?
When the family business is in trouble, someone in the family either needs to step in or find someone who can. It doesn't look like that's happening at VW.
Nokia is getting into wearable tech gadgets
The one-time dominant phone maker is out of that game entirely, and now looks at wearables as a growth industry
Chatbots aren't perfect for everything
Sure, there are plenty of circumstances under which people might want to use natural language in order to interact with a firm or organization. But there are also plenty of times when the scope of what a person can actually do with such an organization are fairly narrow and the exchange is best conducted with something like an interactive contact form instead.
April 28, 2016
Joint Chiefs chair: We don't want to go into fair fights
He wants the US Armed Forces to have "the capability and credibility to assure our allies and partners, deter aggression and overmatch any potential adversary"
Comcast is buying Dreamworks for just under $4 billion
Comcast, once just a simple cable company in Tupelo, Mississippi, has gone full-bore for content creation since becoming majority partner in NBCUniversal in 2011. The deal is being spun as a way to get stronger in "family" programming -- though Comcast carefully calls it "the highly competitive kids and family entertainment space". If it weren't "highly competitive", they might face tougher odds gaining regulatory approval. Of course, Disney bought Pixar, and arguments are made that Pixar is the better studio.
Microsoft is testing underwater data centers
Figuring that the preponderance of the world's population lives close to the ocean, they're trying to figure out how to deliver things like cloud computing without taking up valuable landside real estate
Is Yahoo proper really worth -$8 billion?
Stock markets can be terribly irrational sometimes. The tech industry is a brutal marketplace. Together, it adds up to a highly un-enviable spot for Yahoo.
The US is sending F-22 jets to Romania
That's not a recreational trip -- it's a show of force
April 29, 2016
Syrian town of Aleppo now faces utter devastation
A true human disaster
Why everyone should know self-defense, case study #21
Three members of a family got attacked out of the blue in a street in Thailand
Microsoft buys into DNA-based data storage
DNA is, after all, just a means of biological data storage. Whether it can be used synthetically for the same purpose but on a very large scale? That's what Microsoft wants to figure out.
It's getting harder to sell devices
...so Apple is trying to pivot harder into service businesses
What a CEO tells you -- and how -- tells you a lot about the company
Which makes it intriguing that the Alphabet (that is, Google) team took a pass on so doing this year