Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - June 17, 2014

Brian Gongol

Podcast: Updated weekly in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning. Subscribe on Stitcher, Spreaker, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or iHeartRadio

Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.

The great migration

[4:35 pm]

ISU researchers say that most of Iowa's towns are shrinking, while a handful of the largest cities are just getting bigger.

Questions for Liesl Eathington of Iowa State about the study:

Curing (or at least attacking) cancer with genetics

[5:10 pm]

Researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have reached a possible breakthrough phase in the treatment of cancer, by cracking into the genes of individual tumors. By knowing what's making the cancer tick on an individual, patient-by-patient basis, they can tailor therapies so that people can be treated effectively and quickly.

They're calling it the "Impact" test, and its power comes from developments that make gene sequencing fast and accurate...two things that until recently haven't always been the case.

Questions for Dr. Maria Arcila:

About those sirens last night

If you live around metro Des Moines, there's a good chance you were awakened by the civil defense sirens last night. It wasn't a tornado, but instead a severe thunderstorm with 70-mph winds. According to AJ Mumm (emergency management director for Polk County), Omaha/Council Bluffs, the Quad Cities, and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City metro all use the same 70-mph criterion for setting off the sirens.

The justification for setting off the sirens is this: A 70-mph wind gust can do the same damage as an EF-0 tornado. So, if you don't think officials should be picking and choosing which tornadoes they choose to warn us about, then you shouldn't complain about them using a special warning for a wind gust that will do the same damage as a tornado. After all, it's not the precise nature of the threat that counts (who cares if the winds are moving in a circular pattern or a straight one?) but rather the risk to life and property. Large tree limbs and telephone poles went down as a result of the winds, so the damage threshold was met. If a storm is strong enough to knock over 2' diameter trees (like this one), it's strong enough to injure anyone who's outside -- and telling people who are outdoors to take cover is the point of the sirens, after all. I didn't like being awakened, either, but the risk was serious enough that I'll back them on the policy, especially considering the number of tornadoes the same system put down elsewhere in the area (including the ones that killed two people in Pilger, Nebraska.) There are so many other cases in which people will say we should do anything "even if it only saves one life" -- so we should probably be consistent about expecting lifesaving things to be done, even when they're inconvenient to us.

By the way, as to the argument that setting off the sirens for non-tornadic storms leads to a boy-who-cried-wolf situation, note that this policy should generally add only one to three warnings per year -- which is well below the "crying wolf" threshold. Note, too, that the National Weather Service's storm-based warnings are supposed to substantially reduce the area under each warning (versus the old county-by-county system), so we should be getting fewer warnings at a higher signal-to-noise ratio than in the past. So a few extra sirens for high winds should be offset by fewer sirens for unnecessary tornado warnings.

The Maker Movement gets a day in the sun (tomorrow)

The White House is hosting a "Maiker Faire" on Wednesday, June 18th. I object to the silly name, but the concept is certainly growing in relevance. Sites for hand-crafted items (like Etsy) have matured and come into the mainstream, while techies have everything from open-source programming to 3D printers on their hands.

Getting down and dirty

Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs" fame came to Iowa last week to talk about the shortage of technical skills (some would call them "hands-on") in the workforce and how that's related to the nation's problem with student loans and unemployed and under-employed people.


Weather and Disasters We need more weather radar installations
Of all the things on which we could choose to spend Federal tax dollars, additional weather radar sites should be near the top of the list. Tonight's severe weather struck in several places where the nearest Nexrad is 100 miles away, which means there's very little effective coverage anywhere close to the other words, where the real dangerous action is. In Iowa, Mason City, Waterloo, Storm Lake, and Ottumwa all get peripheral coverage at best. Very few things make better sense for public expenditure than tools to help the National Weather Service detect and warn about severe weather that affects everybody, even in less-densely-populated areas. They're probably too polite at the NWS to ask for the funds, but the need is self-evident.

Business and Finance Ikea makes the ill-advised choice to go after its most enthusiastic consumers
People who "hack" Ikea products to do new and unusual things have been told to stop calling themselves "Ikea hackers". It's one thing to protect your's quite another to slap the people who adore your brand with threats.

News Russia cuts off natural gas to Ukraine
This should surprise exactly nobody. Gazprom says Ukraine is on a cash-and-carry basis, and is rumbling that the EU might not get what it expects if the gas has to travel through Ukraine. The EU gets about 15% of its natural gas via that route, but a marginal 15% in the middle of a cold streak in winter could be back-breaking. Virtually all wars and international disputes come down to matters of resources and how far opposing parties are willing to go to get them. This one doesn't have the makings of a situation that ends well.