Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

Business and Finance An ugly day on the stock market

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

Threats and Hazards Chicago has a violence epidemic

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

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

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

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January 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 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.

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.