Gongol.com Archives: 2016 First-Quarter Archives

Brian Gongol

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"

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

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.

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.

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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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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

February 2, 2016

News North Korea claims to be planning a space launch

Never forget that the foundations of all rocket-based space travel are shared with the foundations for intercontinental ballistic missiles. On a related note, China has just released some photos from the Moon.

Science and Technology A $40,000 exoskeleton

Technology may not be able to biologically solve paralysis yet, but it may be able to give people adequate workarounds

Threats and Hazards ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh claims it's building an "army of the poor"

There's no doubt that poverty and a sense of helplessness can incline some people towards extremism. Strategic global thinking would seek to eliminate the worst of poverty in order to choke off the flow of raw material (that is, frustrated people) to extremist movements.

Computers and the Internet Yahoo tightens its belt with a 15% staff cut

That's no small change -- more than one person in every seven will be let go. The company's press release on the matter calls it "sharpening focus", but digging deeper they claim that they expect to save $400 million a year with the smaller staff.

News The Iowa Caucuses

(Video) In hilarious Taiwanimation

Computers and the Internet The FCC worries about a persistent digital shortfall in rural areas

High-speed broadband Internet access just isn't finding its way into sparsely-populated areas, and that could end up permanently crippling rural areas.

February 3, 2016

Threats and Hazards 10,000 refugee children have gone missing in Europe

Computers and the Internet People care about what's been "taken" from them

Microsoft's decision to reduce the amount of free storage space offered through OneDrive is making people mad. But it's still a free product!

Computers and the Internet Comcast to start charging extra to high-bandwidth broadband users

Business and Finance Harley-Davidson reliability means the used market is flooded

While that may be making it hard for Harley to sell new motorcycles, it's also a sign they need to find other, related things to produce

Computers and the Internet Facebook wants to take a shot at Twitter

People have adapted their usage patterns for the two services to accommodate their relative strengths and weaknesses -- so while Twitter is fiscally vulnerable, it seems less vulnerable technologically

Computers and the Internet China's biggest banks are profiting from spam

February 4, 2016

Computers and the Internet Google parent company Alphabet announces earnings

Alphabet had $75 billion in revenues in 2015, with $67 billion of that coming from advertising. Only $448 million in revenues came from "other bets" -- their category for Calico, Google Fiber, Google Ventures, Google X, and Nest -- and that category lost $3.5 billion. Turns out, it's expensive to lay that much fiber-optic cable. Why they don't just buy proven, profitable businesses and find ways to make them more profitable is a mystery. The "science projects" are sexy and headline-grabbing, but from an investment perspective, there may be smarter choices to be made.

Business and Finance Many people don't understand their student loans

Literacy comes in many forms: Conventional literacy with the written word, of course, but also numeracy...and functional literacy with science, technology, and economics. If we're sending 18-year-olds out into the world with high-school diplomas and not adequately preparing them for those "other" literacies, then we're in trouble.

News Psychographics are influencing the 2016 election

Senator Ted Cruz may be making the most progress with them thus far...to the detriment of the health of the Republican Party.

Computers and the Internet Now Yahoo may be reconsidering putting itself up for sale

Verizon is being kicked around as a possible buyer

Computers and the Internet NSA worries that quantum computers will overwhelm security

And for what it's worth, they're not just a security issue. Massive changes in computing capacity and strategy could easily overturn some big business models -- like, for instance, Google's.

Business and Finance Toyota to shut down the Scion brand

The cars will simply become Toyotas

February 5, 2016

Threats and Hazards Deficits need to return to the public debate

If we don't reverse the direction of public budgeting, the country's going to pay in the not-so-distant future. Interest rates at all-time lows are simply buying us a short-term cushion from the pain.

Computers and the Internet Twitter shuts down 125,000 accounts for promoting terrorism

They claim most were supporting ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh. The suspensions aren't necessarily a perfect idea -- there's reason to believe that by casting terrorist supporters off Twitter, the mainstream may be chasing them to places that are harder to watch. There's quite often more to the story when it comes to cyberwarfare.

The United States of America Republican governor of Massachussetts: Cruz and Trump are unfit to serve

Indisputably true

Business and Finance White House proposes $10 per barrel oil tax

And that's how you know it's nothing more than a stunt -- not a serious proposal. At $2 or $3 a barrel, directed specifically at subsidizing a next-generation energy future, virtually nobody could object. At $5 a barrel, it would be a tough sale, but might stand a chance given the right trade-offs. At $10 a barrel (when oil is barely above $30 a barrel), it's a punitive tax. Where they could easily have grabbed low-hanging fruit, the administration instead picks an unproductive fight.

Business and Finance Chinese-led group buying the Chicago Stock Exchange

And the great asset sell-off continues

Threats and Hazards Mogadishu flight incident was probably a bomb

Smuggled, possibly, on the person of a bomber posing as someone confined to a wheelchair

February 6, 2016

News Europe's cohesion threatened by refugee crisis

The human toll of the crisis in Syria and surrounding environs is of the greatest magnitude. Dealing with it humanely is a moral imperative. Failing to deal with it assertively could be politically fatal to the EU itself.

News Is the Republican Party undergoing a fundamental realignment?

Parties don't break apart or collapse all that often -- but it does happen from time to time

Humor and Good News Why some people just have that angry look about them

The scientific origins of "RBF"

Iowa Polk County promises $30 million for convention-center hotel

News Chicago's two major newspapers are under common ownership

The majority owner of the Chicago Sun-Times now is the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, too

Computers and the Internet Cyberwarfare is a bigger threat than terrorism

And Sen. John McCain wants Silicon Valley to enlist.

February 7, 2016

Business and Finance The world is awash in bad lending

Super-cheap borrowing has created a perilous situation

Business and Finance Consumer confidence in Nebraska is low

The economy may not be in recession, but there are plenty of warning signs that things aren't good

Threats and Hazards ISIS crucifies people on advertising billboards

Barbarity with no bounds

Threats and Hazards Cyber breach at tax-preparation company

Targets of opportunity

Threats and Hazards The difference between a space launch and a missile test?

It's not obvious. Except when it's being conducted by an authoritarian regime. Then it's pretty obvious what's up.

February 8, 2016

News Understand the refugee crisis

This is one of the most significant events in a generation, and reading just one article from The Economist will leave you with a sensible understanding of the situation. In an election year, it's not too much to ask.

Business and Finance Xiaomi says no mobile phone sales to the US

The dynamics of mobile-phone manufacturing collide with international relations

News Proposed $10-per-barrel oil tax is nothing to sneeze at

The Obama Administration's proposed oil tax is huge -- a 30% tax or more. Anyone who thinks the oil companies will simply absorb that kind of tax on their own without passing it along is either delusional or ignorant. The party that cuts the check isn't necessarily the one that pays the price.

Business and Finance Running Google is worth $200 million in stock, apparently

$199 million in stock is a huge amount for Alphabet to pay the CEO running Google. For perspective, the US spent about half that amount chasing loose nuclear fuel from Russia about a decade ago.

Threats and Hazards Refugees are still drowning

Almost 400 have died trying to get out of Syria, Iraq, and other troubled places so far this year. These are human lives -- and they're dying in numbers that are on a scale that would shock the world if these were plane crashes. If a Boeing 747 crashed with 400 souls aboard, it would dominate the news. The story is no less significant when it occurs in a slow drip. Refugee lives are just as valuable as everyone else's.

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February 9, 2016

Threats and Hazards The Director of National Intelligence worries most about homegrown terrorists

As rightly he should -- they don't have to pass through borders and aren't subject to the kind of scrutiny we can place on known foreign terrorists. And it should also be noted that domestic terrorists can come from any racial, ethnic, or religious background and have a wide variety of political motivations. Terrorism is a method, not a philosophy.

News Obama Administration proposes $4 trillion Federal budget with deficit amounting to 3.3% of GDP

A deficit smaller than the rate of real growth in the economy can be sustainable -- 3.3% is absolutely not

Computers and the Internet Now it's the SecDef under scrutiny for personal e-mail use

Senator Chuck Grassley, acting as Judiciary Chair, sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense asking for clarifications on his use of personal e-mail to conduct Defense Department business. As a country, we are way behind the curve on getting to grips with making sure our leadership has the right access to secure means of communications wherever they need it.

Iowa MidAmerican will get 57% of retail electric load from wind next year

Iowa is way ahead of the pack when it comes to wind-energy generation

Science and Technology Using Xbox technology to make reliable assessments of MS

Kinect can measure with more accuracy than human beings can observe

Computers and the Internet $3.1 billion cybersecurity revolving fund proposed

A loan program for Federal agencies to upgrade their IT infrastructure

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February 10, 2016

Socialism Doesn't Work Now they're just making up numbers for fun

A pro-Sanders economist claims that imposing socialist policies along the lines proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders would result in economic growth rates of 5.3% a year. That's truly just making it up as they go along. The United States hasn't been anywhere near that kind of a sustained growth rate for a long, long time. Are there things that could be done to raise the rate of growth? Absolutely. Could we raise it up to a real rate of 4% or 5%? Maybe, though it would require sustained improvements in worker productivity that are much larger than what we've been able to do for a while. Is there any chance on God's green Earth that those kinds of growth rates could be produced by imposing massive new government taxing and spending? No. Absolutely not. Massive new deficit spending plus massive new taxation of the types touted by Sanders are a recipe for much higher interest rates on the nation's debt (remember -- just like households, nations pay higher interest rates when it looks like they're over-stretching their capacity to pay their debts). Moreover, beware any plan that claims to deliver high rates of growth without explaining what path the private sector will take to those higher rates. Just spending a lot of money isn't the same thing as growing the economy -- any more than a person becomes rich by running up a huge credit-card bill. Economics can't be run via myth and fantasy.

Computers and the Internet Google pushes "AMP" project to keep people off Facebook and other rivals

Google has a vested interest in people staying on WWW pages, not within "walled gardens" like the Facebook app. So, acknowledging that people are doing a lot of their Internet use from mobile devices, Google is pushing its "Accelerated Mobile Pages" project to encourage fast website delivery using their tools.

Science and Technology NHTSA takes step towards accepting self-driving cars

In a letter to Google, the agency basically agreed to call the self-piloting system a "driver", equivalent to a human driver. Ultimately, the less humans control about our cars the better. Everyone thinks they're better than average behind the wheel -- but the almost 10% increase in traffic deaths in the first 9 months of 2015 and the fact that humans are responsible for well over 90% of crashes suggests otherwise. We are the weak link in the chain.

Iowa Iowa state treasurer wants a state-run retirement program for private-sector workers

In theory, an attractive idea. Private accounts for retirement savings are in general a favorable goal. But the idea should be taken with a lot of caution -- Iowa's existing state-run retirement program for public-sector workers is already under strain: According to its own annual report, IPERS is about 15% under-funded right now. The idea is worth further examination, for sure, but caution is definitely in order.

Computers and the Internet Senate committee approves bill requiring White House to prepare social-media anti-terrorism strategy

A companion bill made its way through a House committee. Now the two need to be approved by the full Senate and House.

February 11, 2016

Science and Technology Tesla to hit regular-car prices with an electric vehicle

Tesla's strategy of aiming for the high-end market first certainly looks wise; they were able to turn electric cars into an aspirational item while spending whatever they needed to spend in order to make the cars work. Now, they can take what they learned and move it down-market.

Computers and the Internet Flash drives for freedom

Smuggling entertainment content into North Korea via USB drives may be a powerful way to undermine a criminally authoritarian regime -- one that just executed its army's chief of staff

Computers and the Internet Twitter to offer an algorithmic news feed

A strange take on what makes Twitter special. Some users are not amused by the idea. Meanwhile, the company is having trouble attracting new users. It may simply be at its saturation point.

Business and Finance Are interest rates persistently low because of demographics?

A Canadian think tank proposes that possibility

News A ceasefire for Syria?

In a week, according to an international agreement. If true, it could be great news.

February 12, 2016

Computers and the Internet An incomplete cybersecurity strategy

We can't win cyberwarfare by accident

Iowa Banning holiday exchanges in schools?

Sure, you want to avoid hurt feelings or undue burdens. But you also can't escape the corrosive effect on social cohesion and trust when we nix everything always instead of finding workarounds. There are real costs, even though they're hidden.

Computers and the Internet India bans Facebook's "Free Basics"

Reasonable people don't want to see anyone cheat their way into dominance of the Internet, but banning Facebook's offerings in the name of "net neutrality" seems like it goes too far

News British newspaper "The Independent" to cease print publication soon

Times are brutal for newspapers everywhere

News Turkey threatens to flood Europe with refugees

It's probably just a threat -- doing so would probably nuke their chances of joining the EU, but the situation has to be taken seriously. Turkey is dealing with more than 2 million refugees right now -- a population the size of New Mexico.

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February 13, 2016

Computers and the Internet Should the government have special privileges to break encryption?

The "pro" argument would say that the risks of terrorist attack are so great that the government needs to have backdoor tools to get in. But the "con" argument would remind us that it's never wise to demand powers when you're in control of government that you wouldn't want your opponents to have when you're out. And the power to have special access to break encryption is a very, very significant one. It's also worth noting that putting back-door access into legitimate software will do nothing to control access to illegitimate software. Bad guys can write code, too.

Socialism Doesn't Work Sen. Bernie Sanders promised jobs for young people, but how?

He recognizes the hazard correctly: There's very little that's more dangerous or destabilizing than lots of young people (particularly males) with nothing productive to do. But as with so many of his socialist schemes, Sanders only makes vague promises that he'll offer some kind of benefit without ever explaining how. And that's a critical flaw, because the default mode of socialism is actually to put people out of work. As a general rule of thumb, the more government regulates and seeks to manage employment, the harder it becomes to both hire and fire -- which makes it much harder for young, low-skill workers to enter the labor force. The burden is on Sanders to explain how he's going to do what he promises, and how his plan would escape the built-in anti-employment traps of socialism.

Computers and the Internet Congress sends ban on taxing Internet access to the President

It's not a ban on putting sales taxes on things purchased on the Internet, just a ban on taxing the Internet access itself

Computers and the Internet France challenges Facebook's data-collection practices

If you don't know the terms and other policies that apply to Facebook use, then you should click no further on it until you educate yourself

Computers and the Internet "There just aren't enough people who are prepared to pay for printed news"

The editor of the UK's "The Independent" writes an editorial basically saying "We had to kill it [the print edition] in order to save it [the institution]".

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 13, 2016

Trends, tips, and technology on WHO Radio, including a live stream at 1:00 pm Central

February 15, 2016

The United States of America A thoughtful reflection on the death of Justice Antonin Scalia

Scalia could be curmudgeonly and immovable, but he was also brilliant. He vigorously advocated a perspective on the law that should always be heard, even if it shouldn't always prevail.

News Things aren't as free in Hong Kong as it may have been believed

Rioting and protests have been happening, and not everybody is a fan of mass assembly

Business and Finance Deutsche Bank worries that only the Federal Reserve can prevent stock-price declines

If the Fed raises interest rates, that could touch off trouble for companies that have borrowed too much, and that could put the hit on their stocks

Science and Technology Cedar Falls Utilities establishes a "solar garden"

They're installing a bunch of solar panels and customers are buying shares to cover the installation price in exchange for credits on their power bills

News The private sector isn't the only place where poorly-supervised executives pad their own pay

The Chicago Transit Authority is dealing with pension payments that executives could start collecting in their 40s

Aviation News Air Force One and how the Boeing 747 has evolved with time

The airframe, which has been in the air since 1968, has undergone incremental improvements over time that mean it goes farther, faster, on less fuel today than previous generations. That's the value of incremental improvements accumulated over time. Revolutions come from time to time, but continuous improvement is far more powerful than people generally acknowledge.

February 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet Computers enter the art market

As creators of art, which makes it interesting. Some humans will complain that computer-generated art lacks something about the soul, and they could be right about that. But there's so very much bad art already in the world, created by human beings, and we can hardly be sad about it if that crappy art gets driven out of the market by comparably better computer-generated art. On balance, isn't that a good thing for human civilization? Wouldn't a world in which computer-generated art and good human art both flourish be a more beautiful world?

News VA suicide hotline sent people to voice mail and never called back

A test of a civilization's health is how it treats the most vulnerable. Veterans calling a suicide hotline really couldn't be much more vulnerable.

Computers and the Internet Stephen Fry quits Twitter (again)

The laudable wordsmith and popular actor finds the environment just too hostile to continue engaging with it

Threats and Hazards The situation in Syria just continues to get worse

Another airstrike on a hospital. Millions of people displaced. Tens or hundreds of thousands of children running for their lives rather than living in security and going to school. The consequences are going to be profound.

Agriculture Japan is getting the world's first robotic farm

Vertical farms are the next logical step -- but only if the cost of transportation rises or the cost of electricity falls. Those are the most likely triggers for making vertical farming economically feasible on a large scale.

February 17, 2016

Business and Finance "Millennials' political views are...at worst, totally incoherent"

An incredibly important takeaway: "Forty-two percent of Millennials think socialism is preferable to capitalism, but only 16 percent of Millennials could accurately define socialism in the survey." As a cohort, they're not necessarily alone in their economic illiteracy -- but we as a country should be ashamed that we haven't gotten better over time at teaching people the fundamentals of economics. That's exactly the type of thing that we should be getting better at teaching all the time -- and it would appear from the outcomes that we're actually getting worse.

News 70% of Saudis are under age 30

And there aren't any jobs, especially now that oil prices are crashing and the government is running out of ways to subsidize employment. This is potentially a nightmare scenario for extremism -- nothing is more destabilizing than lots of young people with nothing worthwhile to do. The Saudi government may very well find itself extinguished by the curse of oil wealth. Resource bonanzas are a terrible thing if they aren't managed wisely in the boom years.

Computers and the Internet Ransomware cripples an LA hospital

Cyberwarfare is everywhere

Humor and Good News Paul McCartney, Woody Harrelson, and Beck try to walk into a bar...

The three were rejected from a party around the Grammys because the bouncer didn't recognize them. The look on Beck's face is hilarious.

News An eye-opening view of the political climate

Some of the possible factors feeding into the frenzy for Presidential candidates who don't make any sense. Make no mistake about it: We're in dangerous times when more than a third of Trump supporters identify with white nationalist views.

February 18, 2016

Computers and the Internet Apple fights the FBI over cracking the San Bernardino shooter's phone

People who try to over-simplify the case are going to do harm to our public policies -- it requires nuance to address privacy issues like whether a phone-maker should let police agencies get a back-door skeleton key to the data stored on those phones. Regrettably, media attention is gravitating towards the reaction of one simplistic, reductionist, un-curious bozo running for the Presidency, and that's turning the debate over the issue into a disaster.

Threats and Hazards ISIS/ISIL/QSIL/Daesh hits a cash crisis

Starving the beast is one way to defeat it -- but don't be surprised if the beast lashes out when it's injured

Business and Finance The gasoline market may be foretelling a summer recession

Timing a recession is really hard to do, because they usually depend upon unpredictable triggers. But there are lots of conditions currently in place that should give us concern that a recession could happen.

Socialism Doesn't Work Left-wing economists rebuke Sanders campaign for unreasonable economic promises

When even the people inclined to side with you say your assumptions (like growth in excess of 5% a year even under greater burdens of regulation and taxation), then it's time to stop playing Santa Claus and get real about causes and effects. You can promise some things under socialism -- but ultra-fast growth rates are decidedly not among them.

Threats and Hazards Time is running out to resolve the South China Sea conflict

It's mostly an academic or diplomatic conflict at this stage -- but there's plenty of dry tinder waiting to ignite into a conflagration. Time is running out.

February 19, 2016

Threats and Hazards How things could get worse in the South China Sea

As China sends more non-military ships into the sea, the de facto rules that have applied to encounters between ships of the Chinese and US navies won't necessarily be regarded -- and that raises the odds of misunderstandings and unintended conflicts. That's a serious problem. We're being gamed, hard, on what's happening in the South China Sea: America is appearing to lose an epochal battle without a shot being fired, and it's not as though there's any recourse to be found by appealing to some kind of higher authority. That's the problem with being the solitary superpower in a world where rising powers aren't interested in playing by conventional rules. Someone in Washington needs to get to work on a comprehensive game-theory review of the situation so we can start anticipating the next steps rather than just reacting. As one observer notes, "this is about strategic posture", and it doesn't matter much if the UN laws of the sea say that China's misbehaving -- they're moving forward at flank speed regardless. That means the only way for us to reach an acceptable outcome is to comprehend what the likely next moves are based upon incentives, costs, collaboration, and conflict (or, in other words, game theory), and to start playing this game of real-world chess several steps ahead.

Computers and the Internet Apple: Oops on that broken-screen iPhone thing

People who got the glass on their iPhones fixed by non-Apple technicians got something called "Error 53". Apple says it was intended to prevent people from bypassing the fingerprint lock, but now they're changing the software to keep the repairs from bricking the phones. The threat of a class-action lawsuit probably didn't hurt.

Business and Finance After the Dow-DuPont merger and three-way split, pretty much everything will just be reshuffled

Des Moines, regrettably, won't get the headquarters operation of the intended agriculture spinoff, but it supposedly won't lose any jobs either

Computers and the Internet The Yahoo saga continues

They're setting up an independent committee to figure out what to do next

News Consumer behavior as predictor of political persuasion

Psychographics meet politics

Threats and Hazards Omaha child who froze to death should have had someone to protect her

The most valuable thing government can do is defend the defenseless. That didn't happen here, and someone needs to figure out why.

Agriculture The rural Midwestern economy continues contracting

The effects of low commodity prices don't stop at the grain elevator

February 20, 2016

Broadcasting Show notes - WHO Radio Wise Guys - February 20, 2016

Airing live on Newsradio 1040 WHO at 1:00 pm Central. Streaming at WHORadio.com/listen.

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February 21, 2016

Aviation News SpaceShipTwo is unveiled

Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites are hoping the second-generation spacecraft will get them on track again to offer private space flight

Business and Finance Apple is going to borrow on the cheap to buy back its stock

They're going to borrow $12 billion to buy back stock at interest rates starting at 1.3% for one year and rising to 4.65% for 30 years. It's a little nuts to try to forecast Apple's market position 30 years from now -- remember that 31 years ago, Steve Jobs was fired, and he was reinstated at the company just 19 years ago. But in the short term, borrowing money at 1.3% in order to consolidate the ownership position of existing stockholders is pretty sound policy.

The American Way Charles Koch says Sen. Bernie Sanders is right about one thing

The exceptional capitalist says the socialist candidate is right about one thing: It's bad for society to have a lot of people who are kept downtrodden. Koch, of course, differs strongly with Sanders about exactly how to fix that problem -- but that's why it's long past time to find advocates to speak up more openly about the many capitalist solutions that are available to us. Denying that problems exist isn't the way forward: Acknowledging that they do exist, and finding solutions that fit within a thoughtful and sustainable framework is.

Iowa Des Moines police officers to get body cameras this year

Broadly speaking, the idea of police-worn body cameras is attractive. Eyewitness testimony is utterly unreliable, even when it comes from trained witnesses like the police -- so the more actual documentary evidence we have from crime scenes and contested events, the better for justice. But it's not an idea without consequences and drawbacks: Someone has to be responsible for acting as custodian of the video evidence, and that's an area where some police departments have played games when seeking to protect their own when their own have done wrong. Moreover, there are complicated matters of access to the documentary evidence (and whether it becomes public record) as well as questions of civilian privacy (especially for children caught up in events, situations of domestic violence and abuse, and access to police informants) that require thoughtful policies and oversight.

News London's Conservative mayor wants Britain out of the EU

Boris Johnson is a politician with real star power, so this could make things complicated since his own party's leadership is campaigning to stay in. Johnson is a role model for politicians in at least one way: He writes a weekly column for a major newspaper, which is where he announced his opposition to remaining. Imagine how much better-off we all would be if our elected officials were all expected to be thoughtful and regular writers. The act of writing forces a person to clarify their own thinking -- and seeing who can write and elucidate their thoughts clearly, as opposed to who cannot, would be a valuable tool for voters.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - February 21, 2016

Where is the game theory in Washington?

February 22, 2016

Computers and the Internet Samsung introduces the Galaxy S7

They can be submerged (IP68) and go back to accepting MicroSD cards. Samsung killed that feature in the Galaxy S6, so its revival is welcomed.

Threats and Hazards Pakistanis murder a thousand of their own family members a year over "honor"


Business and Finance The national economy is OK, but some states are in recession

Wyoming, West Virginia, Alaska, and North Dakota are in recession, according to Moody's Analytics

Threats and Hazards Trump's threats against the Ricketts family illustrate his lack of fitness to serve in office

We don't need a strongman who bullies his rivals

Science and Technology Thomas Edison wanted to build single-pour concrete homes

It didn't go far as a concept

February 23, 2016

Science and Technology Bill Gates: Energy breakthroughs are really our best hope

He seems surprisingly uninspired by the idea of big inducement/innovation prizes to advance the subject, but perhaps they're just icing on the cake to a much larger market anyway

Aviation News Russia wants high-altitude flyovers to photograph the United States

Wave "hello"

News The alternative press at the White House

A motley crew

News A profile of a social-justice priest on Chicago's South Side

Eye-opening stuff

Health Babies can survive at just 22 weeks of gestation

What medical science can do to save tiny lives is awesome

February 24, 2016

The United States of America The Republican Party might just be dead if forced under a Trump banner

You can't build a coalition around an extremist-leaning populist movement that lacks a philosophical core

Business and Finance Low interest rates are making Manhattan's skyline uglier

The flood of money available to real-estate speculation has incentivized the construction of some super-tall towers in New York City. People around the world are looking for investments and finding little that seems attractive, so it's spurred a bubble in skyscrapers. And, regrettably from a visual-aesthetic standpoint, the availability of materials that permit very tall, very narrow buildings is making that the design of choice for some of these new projects. These big, inelegant towers aren't remotely as appealing to the eye as the classic tapered skyscrapers designed to suit setback requirements.

Computers and the Internet WordPress hitches its star to the Google speedy-pages project

A new plugin for weblogs and sites using the WordPress publishing tool will create parallel sites that cooperate with Google's "AMP" project to accelerate the delivery of pages on mobile devices. WordPress and Google share a common interest in keeping people on the public Internet rather than behind "walled gardens" like Facebook.

News How the world looks when men are Photoshopped out of politics

It's a lonely place for the women

Computers and the Internet Facebook keeps trying to wedge its way into search

What Google has, Facebook wants

February 25, 2016

Computers and the Internet Facebook maps the world

Facebook can only really grow if the billions of people who don't have reliable Internet access become Internet users and join the site, so the company has a vested interest in expanding Internet access all over the world. In order to do that efficiently, they need to know where the people are. Thus the company is working on taking artificial intelligence and applying it to known data about the world (like satellite imagery) to come up with much more granular detail about where people can be found. They're having the Earth Institute at Columbia University review the data for quality, and Facebook then says it will make the data available on an open-source basis later this year. Facebook estimates that about 3 billion people worldwide have Internet access, and 4 billion don't. The population maps are mainly useful to Facebook when seeking to decide where to use wireless hotspots, where to use cellular-type service, and where they might have to turn to satellites or UAVs to deliver connectivity. It's estimated right now that 95% of the world's population is within reach of mobile phone service, but if those estimates are based on faulty data, then it may impede the necessary infrastructure investments to expand access. That's where better population-density mapping has a role to play. Of course, the research is being done with Facebook's private benefit in mind, but the spillover benefits from better mapping have the potential to do a lot of social good, like aiding in disaster planning and recovery.

Computers and the Internet Bookstore ban on Internet devices only demonstrates how relative "information overload" can be

The bookstore touts itself as a refuge from connectivity overload, but isn't the idea of a bookstore fundamentally to connect people with access to more information than they could possibly ever want to use? Maybe it makes people feel better, but disconnecting isn't necessarily a better way of life.

Computers and the Internet Google's "neural network" is learning to geo-locate photos

Google took billions of photos that included location data and fed them into a database. They then turned that database into a system that tries to identify the locations shown in new pictures based upon what it already knows about the rest of the world. Naturally, it's working better in places like tourist destinations that are well-documented than in remote areas, but it's apparently generally much better than human beings are at the same test. The Google system was able to at least get to the right continent about half of the time.

Science and Technology Triumph of the non-machines

Mercedes is replacing robots in some of its plants with human workers, because it's easier to give a person detailed instructions than it is to reprogram the robots. Mercedes is trying to deliver more customized vehicles right off the assembly line, and people are their most efficient choice for now. This is actually a lesson learned long ago by Honda, which emphasizes the value of using people to do work because people can improve and innovate while automation cannot. There's a role for both, of course. We're better off when machines augment or supplement human work, labor, and thinking.

Broadcasting "Idiocracy" writer says he didn't intend for his comedy to become a documentary

It's time to stop celebrating ignorance. As Ben Franklin said, "Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn."

Threats and Hazards Nearly 20% of Trump supporters think freeing the slaves was a bad idea

Relitigating the Civil War may be one of the stupidest pursuits out there. Trump's only philosophical loyalty is to expediency, and that appears to be attracting some pretty shameful political bedfellows. It's also creating friction with our friendly neighbor, Mexico, where a former president has flatly rejected the idea that a Trump administration could somehow force Mexico to build and pay for a border wall.

February 26, 2016

The American Way Using prizes to incentivize ways to expand economic opportunity

Innovation prizes are a great way to induce progress using market-friendly thinking, and using them to find ways to make capitalism itself work better is like a double helping of good thinking.

Computers and the Internet Enlisting Silicon Valley to fight terrorism

Technology has a role to play, but anyone who thinks there's some kind of magic that can be performed just by flipping some kind of switch is bound to be disappointed. Technology can make the job of fighting terrorism both easier and harder at the same time.

Computers and the Internet Should pseudonyms count in academic journals?

As tools like crowdsourcing find their way into academic research, people are facing an interesting question: If that work then leads to a paper, should the contributors be cited by their natural names or can they use their online pseudonyms (usernames) instead? To some, the pseudonym may be a more valuable and descriptive identity than the natural name.

Iowa Letting local schools turn to online learning

The state of Iowa has an initiative in place to let schools offer classes that they cannot afford or otherwise manage to offer in-house. The Iowa House just unanimously approved a bill to let schools look online for options when that process doesn't work out.

The United States of America Politicians' lies and exaggerations need to be called out

Especially by the people who are inclined to agree with them. It's probably a greater service to the world to keep your own team honest than to bark across the aisle (though that has its own merits, too). Fortunately, some people are calling out some of the more egregious examples in the 2016 Presidential campaign right now.

Computers and the Internet Bigger than the Nigerian bank scam

American companies are thought to have lost $2 billion in the last year from fraud involving spoofed messages that appeared to come from the CEO

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

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?

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.

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

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.

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.

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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

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

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)

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.

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.

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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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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".

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.

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.

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