Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol

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 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.

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 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 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 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.