Wise Guys on WHO Radio - August 10, 2013
Brian Gongol

Is this a dream or is it a plan?
Know the difference between a dream and a plan

The Los Angeles school district will issue $50 million in bonds to buy iPads for students as part of a $400 million overall campaign to put one in the hands of every student.

Without speaking directly to the Los Angeles plan (it's not our plan and it's not our city, so what they do is up to them), let's talk about the two things guaranteed to happen when people propose big investments in technology for schools, businesses, governments, and other organizations:
  1. Narrowly-focused tech promises come true
  2. Vague dreams become money pits
That's it: The narrower the focus, the more likely the project will be a success. So, when technology investments are proposed for school districts, we need to ask exactly what outcomes are being expected, pursued, and measured: Or are you just hoping that "technology" will somehow magically make the students better? Measurable, specific, accountable steps in a plan will work, but wishful thinking is just a way to throw money down the drain.

In any huge project (like the one in Los Angeles), there will be waste, fraud, loss, and abuse. Everyone needs to know that going in -- otherwise adequate precautions won't be taken to prevent it. But that waste, fraud, loss, and abuse need to be balanced against the specific good that's intended to come from the investment.

Too many times, people get enamored with a sales pitch or really vague expectations that technology will make all of their problems go away. It reminds me of an older person I knew who once asked: "Set up a website for me so I can make some money." He didn't know what he would be selling, or for what reason. He just thought "technology" would "fix" something.

Also in the news:

Sen. Ron Wyden says secret NSA rules allow for warrant-free searches of phone calls and e-mails
The Senator was responding to The Guardian and its request for information based upon documents leaked to it by Edward Snowden. President Obama seems to be reacting to some of the public outcry on these issues with some limited steps towards greater civilian oversight.

"When was the last time that Patch was relevant to your local life?"
TechCrunch asks a good question, particularly in light of AOL's plans to cut staffing at the online local-news source. The route ahead for local news is for established institutions (small community newspapers) to learn how to use the Internet effectively. Trying to start up a network with a national footprint and a national template (as Patch has done) really doesn't quite do the trick. But, unfortunately, many newspapers don't understand how to make the leap to digital.

Child commits suicide after photos of her sexual assault hit the Internet
Truly heartbreaking. Parents absolutely must help their kids navigate the hazards of the Internet age, even if much of what's happening and changing seems fuzzy.

How much will Google Glass cost on the open market?
They've been charging beta testers $1,500 -- but there's published speculation that the retail price will be more like $300 -- or 80% off. If true, that would make the gadget much more likely to attract a widespread following, though there's still a great deal to be done to reconcile both law and cultural norms with the possibility of always-on video recording. The difference between the beta-tester price and the supposed retail price also suggests that this may have been the most cunningly-funded R&D project ever.

Is Facebook becoming more deliberate about its changes?
Wired Magazine calls it "an end to the Hacker Way". But given the number of times Facebook has changed things without much notice to its users (and the frustration users have felt as a result), an end to the perpetual change might be of merit.

Speculation runs rampant about Jeff Bezos's plans for the Washington Post
One thing is clear: If the newspaper (and its small group of affiliates) is losing $100 million a year with no clear end to the freefall in sight, then paying $250 million in cash to buy it signals that Bezos thinks the cachet associated with the name itself is worth at least $1.5 billion to $2 billion. A handsome sum for a trophy, but he can certainly afford it and may very well have brilliant plans for turning the tide.

Small-scale US test of malaria vaccine has great results
People who got five doses of the vaccine appear to have developed immunity. But it was a small trial, and it's hard to get anyone to want to suffer through five doses of a vaccine requiring injection into a vein, so it's some distance between this and a practical vaccine. But it's a good sign.

Iowa City Press-Citizen guts its sports staff

A look at "America's most dangerous bridges"
Bridges are just physical manifestations of human knowledge

Americans are driving older cars than ever

A novel form of campaign contribution
Senate candidate Cory Booker got equity in a startup firm

Lab-grown hamburger served for the first time
The idea of lab-grown meat is going to take a while for most people to digest (psychologically), but in the long run, it's an idea that we should do our best to get right. The more we can do to satisfy the world's food needs, the safer human civilization itself will be...and if that requires some novel, innovative, and mind-bending experiments along the way, then so be it.

The future of regional jets
If your home airport isn't a major hub, here are the airplanes that are coming soon to a terminal near you

Google goes public with "Project Loon"
That's the plan to provide WiFi Internet access over huge geographical areas with the help of high-altitude balloons. Great for consumers, but Google investors will probably come to regret some of the company's (literally and figuratively) lofty ambitions someday.

At long last, Netflix will allow multiple profiles on the same account
Parents don't want their recommendations contaminated with kids' choices, and vice-versa, and the quality of the Netflix recommendation engine is best used on an individual basis. Letting people share the cost of an account while still getting individualized recommendations is a wonderful feature.

Post-show links: