Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol


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 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



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.



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 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)


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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 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