The WHO Radio Wise Guys
Brian Gongol

The WHO Radio Wise Guys airs on WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa on 1040 AM or streaming online at The show airs from 1 to 2 pm Central Time on Saturday afternoons. A podcast of show highlights is also available. Leave comments and questions on the Wise Guys Facebook page or e-mail them to

It's still astonishing that a large number of the world's tallest buildings have been constructed in just the last year or two. Whether it's real need for these large buildings or just ego that's driving the construction, it's truly a fascinating time in architecture right now. On that note, the rededication of the Sears Tower as the Willis Tower brings to mind the number of changes that have taken place since the Sears Tower was constructed in the mid-1970s. That was a time before desktop computers (much less the Internet), or cell phones, or even indoor air-quality monitoring. Just imagine the incredible number of things that have changed since the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building were each the tallest buildings in the world.

A listener asks about the Archos media player, and whether it's a worthwhile purchase. The answer really comes down to a couple of questions: First, is it a better purchase than a comparably-priced convertible or tablet laptop computer? If you're buying out of season or between model years, you can often find tablet notebooks at pretty exciting prices. The second question: Is the media player you're buying compatible with services like Internet tethering (if that's something you want to buy)? Everyone has their own preferences, and access may differ from location to location, but it's becoming pretty commonplace to want to have always-on Internet access, even when you're away from your home network.

This brings us to the matter of tethering your computer to a data plan on your cell phone. The short form of this story is that you'll typically have to pay extra for a "tethering" service plan on top of what you already have to pay to get Internet access on your smartphone. Does it feel like a scam? Yes. But even though there are lots of sneaky ways to get around the phone providers' rules on tethering, the bottom line is that you still signed a service agreement, which almost undoubtedly included a provision promising that you wouldn't tether if you weren't paying for the service. And if you get caught -- which a sudden spike in your data use might cause to happen -- you could find yourself on the losing end of a battle with your cell-phone provider. It's not likely to be worth it.

GE says it can produce a net-energy-neutral house by 2015. This goes back to an old argument we've had with those who talk about "energy independence" as though it's a good thing. "Energy independence" is a patently silly cause. We don't want to be "independent," we want to be energy exporters! But the only way to do that is through interrelationships of dependence with other places. Iowa doesn't have any extractable oil reserves, period. So until we have a 100% reliable substitute, we'll never be "independent" of those places that have petroleum. But we can produce more energy than we use -- and in so doing, we depend upon others to purchase our excess energy so we can make a profit. "Independence" is a ridiculous concept when it comes to energy.

Jeff Stein has written a new book called "One Week in June" which documents in fine (if painful) detail just how the Floods of 2008 affected Iowa, particularly in the east. It's eminently readable.

Bill Gates has his name on a new way to fight hurricanes. His idea may be pretty far-fetched, but at least the man is putting his considerable financial resources and intellectual firepower to good use. It's a reminder that while we're fighting out other major issues, like whether and what to do about climate change, we generally need more ideas, not more regulation. That's why government should be doing more to create and support inducement prizes -- offering more carrot and using less stick to get the changes we want. Ultimately, someone has to come up with the ideas we need. It's much better to encourage innovation through positive rewards than through more government intervention in the ways we already do things.

Speaking of innovation, the Facebook kids need to take the money and run. They're being offered ridiculous sums of money for their idea, and there's no guarantee that someone won't come up with a better and more popular idea next week. Twitter has bounded from nothing to massive popularity in a matter of little more than a year, and the next big rival to Facebook could appear tomorrow. Speaking of Twitter, you know what it really needs? Automatic translation. Google already has automatic translation software, and quite frankly, it doesn't seem like it should be hard to integrate that with Twitter since those messages are only 140 characters long anyway. Frankly, it would be nice to know what people are saying on Twitter in Chinese or Persian without having to jump through hoops to find out.

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