Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol


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



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 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


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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


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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"

Appalling

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