Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives
Brian Gongol


June 17, 2016

Computers and the Internet You may be a social-media news consumer, but that doesn't mean you've quit traditional sources

Television and print newspapers seem to be moderately depressed by social-media usage; radio is untouched; news websites actually appear to gain considerably.

Computers and the Internet US Court of Appeals upholds FCC's net neutrality policy

Its treatment as a public utility has consequences -- "net neutrality" isn't a perfect paradigm. There are solid reasons to give some data preferential treatment from a practical standpoint -- even if it's not particularly attractive as a philosophy.

Computers and the Internet Chicago City Council moves ahead with tougher rules for ride-sharing

The least-surprising words in the Chicago Tribune report: "The ordinance, promoted by the taxicab industry..." Fingerprints, background checks, drug tests, chauffeur licenses, minimum fleetwide wheelchair accessibility, pricing, and response time rules are all included. Protections on health and safety can have their place, but the accumulation of proposed regulations looks a lot more like an effort to stifle competition than to serve the public. Restrict new market entrants too much and they might just quit your market altogether.

Business and Finance The enemy of my enemy...

Walmart has announced it will stop accepting Visa cards in mid-July because the card company charges too much on transaction fees. Small retailers are understandably excited to have a big dog joining them in the fight. The fees charged by the credit-card companies in North America are much higher than in other countries and it's high time they experienced pushback.

Computers and the Internet Facebook Live appears to have captured a man's murder

Don't forget who warned a month ago that Facebook Live would become a troublesome place in little or no time at all



June 16, 2016

Computers and the Internet San Francisco municipal rules are strongly discouraging Airbnb hosts

Municipalities have every right to set reasonable regulations regarding the interests of health and safety. But it's extremely easy for those regulations to become a tool for limiting competition and protecting entrenched interests. San Francisco should beware that hazard. The temptation is great to protect the interests of the well-entrenched, but that behavior (called "rent-seeking" by economists) only serves to harm consumers and the prospective competitors who are squeezed out by the regulations.

News A cartographic look at the influx of refugees into Europe

It's a migration of truly historic proportions, and it will be noted in the history books decades from now. History, though, is often hard to see when it's happening right before our eyes. Europe's challenges are huge: To welcome the newcomers with grace and human dignity, and to quickly get those newcomers to embrace liberal Western values. One of the major threats to those two things is the risk of xenophobia and populist nativism: If people who are refugees feel like they are being rejected and isolated, they may have a harder time embracing local values. Some historical context is in order: Remember that the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church (two of the defining institutions of Western Civilization) made vast use of syncretism in order to spread their influence. At the margins of cultures, the key is to embrace and co-opt -- not reject.

News A Donald Trump TV network?

Vanity Fair says it's under serious discussion, and there's no reason to be surprised by this. Trump's Presidential campaign has been a publicity stunt since the beginning, and now it's gone totally off the rails. A rational person in his position should have walked away from the "campaign" months ago, before it was too late, and leaving on his own terms. But instead, now he faces nothing but unpleasant outcomes: A revolt at the national party convention, an electoral loss to Hillary Clinton, or the prospect of somehow obtaining an office he is unfit to hold. The idea of using the campaign as a base from which to launch a cable TV network may be the only way to lock in something resembling a victory at this stage.

Threats and Hazards A worthwhile examination of "marked" speech

When racists and anti-Semitic bigots use things like parentheses to "mark" names for online harassment, civilized people need to understand the symbols being used so that they can repel the implicit hate speech involved

Computers and the Internet Twitter invests in SoundCloud

Twitter already owns Periscope, so maybe a SoundCloud investment isn't such a big leap. And on a related note, Twitter has just tightened its integration with Periscope, so live video streaming is now a one- or two-click operation from within the Twitter app.


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June 15, 2016

News The President should have a capacity for abstract thinking

Political analyst Nate Silver notes that Donald Trump "learns by rote rather than being an abstract thinker". He is quite likely right about that. When Trump speaks apart from unprepared remarks, his language is starkly concrete: That is, he almost never uses metaphors, similes, or other abstractions. When he says he wants a "big, beautiful wall", there is every reason to believe that he is speaking quite literally about a very large wall. Trump is, after all, known mostly for his real-estate ventures, and those are almost universally known for their emphasis on superficial ostentation: You don't move to Trump Tower because you appreciate subtleties, you move there because you want to show off every possible indication of glitz (no matter how gaudy or gauche). He participated in the construction of an otherwise attractive skyscraper in Chicago, then garishly slapped his name across it in giant letters, to the chagrin of the architect. He doesn't appeal to abstractions like a "shining city on a hill". This may not seem like a problem on first glance, but the fact is that the Presidency is not bounded by concrete problems -- most of the big issues require an exceptional capacity for complex, abstract thought. If it were all a matter of simple, concrete matters easily resolved in the physical world, the Presidency would be something much less than it is. But simplistic concretism is not what the Oval Office requires. The Presidency is usually defined not by what the elected individual thinks he or she is going to do, but rather by the unexpected events to which the administration must react: Events like 9/11 or the collapse of the Iron Curtain. To occupy the office requires an intuitive curiosity about the world and a high-level ability to see the abstractions of the world. Whether you like a candidate's policies or not, this ability is a functional requirement of the job, and a person who doesn't possess that ability is unsuited to the great responsibility.

News The Riviera in Las Vegas has been demolished

More than any comparable country, America knows when to blow up the old and replace with the new. Las Vegas does this better than anywhere else. Sentimentality has its place, but utility should win more often than not. Once something is no longer useful, it's time to replace it with something that is.

Computers and the Internet The disposition of everything Yahoo has bought under Marissa Mayer

An interesting mix of independent products, fold-ins, and acquisitions strictly used to obtain talent

Computers and the Internet Why IBM is now in the weather-forecasting business

Companies like IBM, Google, and Apple are well-advised to apply their technological advantages in markets where advanced computing can provide a competitive advantage. Weather forecasting is one of those areas -- pharmacological research and other subjects where sophisticated modeling would also be appropriate.

Computers and the Internet Facebook working on suicide-prevention tools

Technology is only good insofar as we use it to make people's lives better. So if social media is used as a tool for bullying, it must on balance also provide tools to offset the harm that may come about -- and to be "good", rather than neutral, then social-media sites need to help people who might have slipped through the cracks even in a world without social media.

News The AP has spoken: It's the Chicago L

It should be the "El", since the name comes from the original "elevated". But the AP has spoken.



June 14, 2016

The United States of America Consider the honorable alternative

A Bloomberg poll conducted by the highly reputable Ann Selzer firm shows Hillary Clinton well ahead of Donald Trump in national opinion polling. What matters in the end is not the national poll but the Electoral College split, but it's a big gap. And quite notably, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson shows up with 9% of the vote. Johnson appears to represent the most palatable third option that will appear on the ballot in November -- a two-term governor of New Mexico who held office as a Republican. Johnson right now appears to offer an honorable alternative for those voters who have spent 25 years digging in their heels against Hillary Clinton but who cannot stomach the specter of Donald Trump. Johnson is experienced and eligible in his own right, and while his party may act a little goofy, his principles and his track record both square well with the limited-government tradition that seems to be in exile from the Republican Party this year.

Threats and Hazards How the Russian government may meddle with the US election

It's not a purely abstract concern -- the Russian government hacked the Democratic National Committee's computer network and stole their research on the presumptive Republican nominee. They're not just casually disinterested in the outcome of this November.

Threats and Hazards "[A]ssaulting fundamental liberal democratic values"

The Washington Post editorial board responds to being banned from Donald Trump's campaign events. And they're right: It is fundamentally at odds with the values of openness and Western civilization for a candidate for President to banish a reputable, mainstream institution from covering his events because he doesn't like their coverage. It's petty and beneath the dignity of the office to which he aspires. One of the Post's staff humorists has responded with a tongue-in-cheek style guide to covering the candidate, which recommends against describing the candidate as "what results if you accidentally leave Guy Fieri in a microwave".

News Get the process right and the results will follow

A thoughtful critique of all those well-meaning but misguided commencement addresses that tell young people to follow their dreams

Computers and the Internet Apple is going to put Siri inside the Mac platform

Artificial intelligence and virtual assistants are both creeping their way more and more into the mainstream



June 13, 2016

News The leopard doesn't change his spots

Anyone who continues to hope that Donald Trump will start behaving like a civilized candidate for the Presidency of the United States is going to end up disappointed. Better to shift away allegiances now, rather than to wait for the inevitable disappointment.

Computers and the Internet Microsoft is buying LinkedIn for $26 billion

Of all the social networks, LinkedIn has the greatest staying power because it has a specific, business-oriented raison d'etre -- Facebook may be almost universal and Twitter may be ingrained deeply with certain power users and Instagram may be the platform for rebellious youth, but none of them serve an essential business purpose. LinkedIn manages to do that. If you're betting on which of these will still be around in 15 or 20 years, bet on LinkedIn. That doesn't mean that Microsoft is (or is not) paying a reasonable price for it; only that it is buying the most durable asset of its class.

Business and Finance Should smaller investors have access to choices like their wealthier counterparts?

"Accredited" investors have access to a lot of things that smaller investors do not -- but while that's intended as a measure of protection for the "little guy", it also keeps people who want to take venture risks (even with eyes wide open) from doing so. In practice, that means preserving some highly attractive opportunities for those who are already relatively wealthy. Good intentions do not always mean positive results.

Business and Finance A new stock exchange?

One is under development now

Threats and Hazards "Developed" doesn't always equal "civilized"

Qatar has a tremendous amount of prosperity going for it -- but the government there convicted a Dutch woman of adultery in a case involving her own rape. It may be a culture, but that is not the behavior of a civilization.