Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

January 17, 2016

Business and Finance GE sells its appliance unit to Haier

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

Threats and Hazards Chicago enters 2016 with a lot of violence

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

Iowa Don't be surprised if more small towns disincorporate

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

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

FDR surpassed them all -- by a long shot

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

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

Business and Finance Intel is worried about China

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

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

Every public problem has a capitalist solution

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January 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 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 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.

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January 13, 2016

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

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

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

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

Broadcasting Live viewing is now only half of US television time

That's down from 81% in 2008

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

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

News Ricketts family now dominates the rooftops around Wrigley Field

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

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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 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