Gongol.com Archives: 2016 Weekly Archives

Brian Gongol


August 19, 2016

Science and Technology Uber is testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, starting -- now

Uber's CEO said to Bloomberg that self-driving cars will be "basically existential for us". And he's probably right -- and there's a very good reason why they're also getting into the development of self-driving trucks, as well, with the acquisition of a company called Otto. The cost of the driver in either case is a major component of the cost of transportation, and stripping out that cost will make a big difference to ride-hailing services and over-the-road trucking alike. These first self-driving Volvos will have drivers anyway (to take over when required and to take notes on why that human intervention was necessary), but they're going to be there as problem-solving engineers.

The United States of America America's campaign season may look maddeningly long, but there's a method to it

People criticize the length of the American campaign cycle (jockeying for 2020 is already underway), but it's just a different manifestation of the same game that plays out in every electoral democracy. Anywhere people have the right to vote on their leadership, there is always some form of campaign going on, whether that is made explicit or not. British political parties form shadow cabinets so that the voters always have a picture of what the "other" government might look like. Canada's prime minister only appears to have burst suddenly on the scene -- he's also the son of a prime minister. And for as much as the perpetual campaign may annoy us, it's either that or no choice at all. The people of North Korea and Saudi Arabia and China and Syria would probably all willingly tolerate a few campaign ads. And for as long as the campaign may be for the voters, it's also an endurance test (and probably a necessary one) for the candidates, too.

Computers and the Internet Gawker.com is shutting down

Univision is buying the company, but the namesake website is going away. In general, it's unfortunate to see any media outlet slip away if it did anything useful on balance. And if an outlet is going to fail, then it's best if that happens because it fails naturally in the marketplace because it failed to serve the needs of its audience. But in the case of Gawker, it's shutting down because it can't afford to pay a $140 million legal judgment over a celebrity sex tape. Gawker too often found itself making news for really stupid reasons: Like hacking an algorithm to make a Coca-Cola-owned Twitter feed tweet "Mein Kampf" and targeting a media executive for allegedly texting an escort. The stunts undermined the institution's credibility (such as it was), so its departure from the scene probably isn't going to leave a void that necessarily must be filled. And in a true demographic sign of the times, Univision is moving in to pick up the pieces of the Gawker empire.

Humor and Good News The best way to tuck a shirt

Thanks, Internet!

Computers and the Internet Twitter is releasing the "quality" feature to all users

They say the feature will help filter out posts from accounts that aren't "high-value"

News One-paragraph book review: "Churchill on Leadership"

How we decide creates who we are. This book does an unusually good job of explaining how Winston Churchill made his decisions.


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August 18, 2016

Threats and Hazards A vast problem, and a photo of just one small child to prove it

The look in the eyes of a small Syrian boy, shell-shocked by having his home bombed by his own government, is utterly heartbreaking. And it puts a very personal scale on an enormous humanitarian disaster.

Business and Finance States worry that deficits are coming

The economies of many states are actually contracting (into recession, even), even though the nation as a whole is not. That's going to put a pinch in government income from tax and other revenue sources, and it doesn't help at all that the Federal government continues to push unfunded mandates down to lower levels of government.

Threats and Hazards Twitter suspends hundreds of thousands of extremist-related accounts

There's a lot of friction at the boundary between the open world and its tools (like the Internet and social media) and the groups who would see the world closed off (like ISIS/ISIL). The advocates of the closed world clearly aren't afraid to use the tools of the open world against openness, and those of us in the open world are generally unprepared for it. Nobody at the inception of Twitter would ever have imagined that terrorists would use it for propaganda someday -- it's just too far outside the boundaries of our imagination.

Agriculture A look inside the world's largest vertical farm

The arrival of high-efficiency LED lights may actually usher in a whole new kind of farming. Not everywhere, of course, but perhaps in some important places where the people are numerous and the food is far away.

Humor and Good News Ranking every joke in "Airplane!"

A bold endeavor if ever there was one. And stop calling me Shirley.



August 17, 2016

Business and Finance The Economist tackles Warren Buffett's capitalism

The stalwart publication of classical liberalism argues that Buffett's investing style -- which depends heavily upon businesses that have some defense against competition, whether through natural monopoly or some other meaningful "moat" -- isn't especially good for making good things happen inside a dynamic capitalist economy. And, in a sense, The Economist is right: Buffett's style is about safety, not innovation. But on the other hand, Buffett's style is really suited more to the idea of cautious investment as preservation of capital than to economic dynamism, and if people choose to invest with Buffett as an alternative to other "safe" investments like government bonds, then it could be argued that even if the innovations emerging from Berkshire Hathaway are minimal, it's still better for the money to go to work within the private sector than to prop up additional government spending. A great deal of the good that comes from capitalism, though, does come from the willingness of entrepreneurs and daring proprietors to take risks with no certainty of returns.

Business and Finance Losses can't go on forever in a private market

And the losses hitting health-insurance companies may permanently undermine Obamacare. Probably the biggest single shortcoming of Obamacare is that it did nothing to reduce the actual costs of health care -- it only sought to realign who paid for them. That didn't deal with the root problem, and in introducing more government oversight and interference may very well have made the situation worse.

Health Reading may correlate with longer lifespans

It may be correlation without causality, of course, but it may also be rooted in the same kind of effect that some people experience from having pets: Daily reading may serve to give the reader a valuable period of physical rest and mental de-stressing that end up delivering physiological benefits.

Broadcasting Univision buys Gawker

Pushed into a precarious financial state by an expensive lawsuit, Gawker is heading into the arms of a media company with its eyes squarely on one of the most important growth demographics in the United States. Very interesting.

Computers and the Internet Android devices everywhere may be highly vulnerable to attack

Just one more indignity we didn't need right now


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August 16, 2016

The United States of America A debate about the future of the Republican Party

The GOP simply cannot survive in its current form; the Trump coalition is small, shrinking, and destructive to the party as a whole. The candidate is a shameless attention hog, which makes the damage he does even more consequential. So, what happens next? Do people try to forgive and forget after November, or is it time for show trials and a purge?

Weather and Disasters More than 20" of rain in two days

The amount of precipitation that fell on Louisiana is stunning

Science and Technology Ford promises fully autonomous cars within five years

It's really too ambitious -- not from a technical standpoint, but from a cultural one. Autonomous cars are absolutely coming...but people resist changes this dramatic if they don't get to see it happening incrementally. "Guardian angel" technologies have to take over first, and people need to adjust to seeing them in their own cars before they'll calmly accept them on the roads in the next lane. For that to happen, we have to put most drivers through a buying cycle with a lot of assistive technology already enabled. That said, autonomous vehicles are a major step forward for public health; human drivers are the most dangerous part of cars. Ford says it's targeting a mass market in ride-sharing.

Computers and the Internet How Facebook and Twitter connect people to news stories

They don't work in the same way

News Tough times for America's golf courses?

Some are trying to revive interest in the sport by making it faster-paced. Seems like the leisurely pace is the main selling point of the game, and changing that implicitly diminishes the aspect of golf as a luxury good. Anyone who fails to admit that golf is a game built on conspicuous consumption isn't being honest.


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August 15, 2016

Business and Finance Boston cheers news of ownership of iconic Citgo sign

What a funny thing about capitalism -- how advertising can become culture, and how under some circumstances people will actively rise to its defense

Humor and Good News Katie Ledecky recreates autograph session with Michael Phelps

The Summer Olympics have been brimming with feel-good moments for Americans

News How might a Hillary Clinton landslide come about?

Some predictions based on the electoral map

Threats and Hazards Abducted Nigerian schoolgirls have been missing for two years

The terrorist group that took them has posted a video in what appears to be a "proof of life" display. Remember that more than 200 girls were kidnapped, and most are still missing.

Broadcasting Show notes - Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - August 15, 2016

A special weekday fill-in appearance


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