Wise Guys on WHO Radio - February 7, 2015

Brian Gongol

The WHO Radio Wise Guys airs on WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa on 1040 AM or streaming online at WHORadio.com. 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 wiseguys@whoradio.com.

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.

All the excitement we can muster

When I was a kid, my favorite television show was called "Beyond 2000". (The title gives away roughly how long ago this was, but bear with me.) It was produced in Australia and aired there as well as here in the United States on the Discovery Channel, back when Discovery was about...well, discovery.

The premise of the show was that a team of about half a dozen reporters would go out and cover innovations and discoveries in science and technology, generally in segments shorter than the average "60 Minutes" interview. The subjects were all over the map, both literally and figuratively: They would report from around the world, and the topics ranged from computers to medicine and from flight to farming. But the binding theme among the stories was that they were told with a barely-contained sense of excitement about the future.

It wasn't a show about the long, long away future -- just far enough over the horizon to sound both challenging and intriguing. And it was positive -- relentlessly positive about the opportunities and possibilities coming soon. It wasn't a schmaltzy optimism; it was all about things that could be seen and done right now (generally in a lab or on a test track somewhere), and how those developments were just about to break through into daily life.

Some of the old episodes have found their way online, and looking back at them, aside from the obvious changes in style and fashion, it's hard not to get excited all over again. Sure, some of the technologies flopped or failed to find a useful market, but others have been in use so long that they've been lapped several times over by new and better iterations.

"Beyond 2000" wasn't the only show that could set fire to the imagination and excite a young kid about the possibilities of the real world. In its time, there were also shows like "Mr. Wizard's World" (1983-1991) and "3-2-1 Contact" (1980-1992) that pushed messages of enthusiasm for scientific and technical literacy.

The value of shows like these -- realistic but also optimistic, grounded in reality but pushing for discovery, and brainy but also joyful -- would be hard if not impossible to overstate. These were mind-shaping shows. I have not a shred of doubt that they contributed enormously to how I view the world today: It's full of challenges, but also full of people who can learn to do things better so as to overcome those challenges and move on to the next. It's not about reaching the top of some mythical mountain and then quitting. It's about building a tower, taking a look from the uppermost deck, and then deciding to build the tower even higher.

When these shows were on the air, the Western world had a clearly defined opponent in the Soviet Union. We could direct all kinds of investment and encouragement into math, science, and technology because we had to. The Soviets were forever trying to edge us in those fields, so we had to run the same marathon. I can't imagine that it's purely by coincidence that some of the shows of this type came to an end shortly after the Cold War concluded.

Our opponents aren't so easily defined today, but the race is still on. We need people, both young and old, not to be overwhelmed or frightened away by science and technology, but rather to embrace them as some of the most useful tools we have against the scary parts of the world today. Whether it's measles or ISIL, climate change or the safety of air travel, authoritarian governments abroad or diseases at home, we have to rally the same excitement for what's getting better, what should be better, and how we can make it that way -- just the same as we once tacitly acknowledged that we were in a fight to the death against Soviet Communism.

But it turns out that the best way to win a fight to the death with an opponent like that might just be to turn us all into happy warriors. So if, from time to time, I get a little wound up about things that seem a little "out there" -- or if it seems like I'm willing to accept a little bit of temporary suffering (through, say, a misbehaving operating system or a smartphone that isn't quite what it ought to be) -- it's because I see all of this as part of a relentless march forward. It's something we have to do, so we might as well want to do it as well. Gadgets and consumer technology aren't the only things that matter, nor are they the only things we should celebrate as "technology".

Things are getting better. They have to. And we need to rally all the excitement we can muster to make sure it stays that way.

In the news this week

Computers and the Internet Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, and Charlotte are getting Google Fiber
They're new to the Google Fiber list, but San Jose, Portland (OR), Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and San Antonio are all in line to get it next. Austin, Kansas City, and Provo already have it. Google's not the only supplier of gigabit-speed Internet access, but it's probably the highest-profile.

Computers and the Internet Who's your buddy?
Snapchat has historically told users who their "best friends" (most-frequently-used contacts) were, and posted those results publicly. Now it won't. Unsurprisingly, some users are complaining.

Computers and the Internet Gawker stunt hits new lows in tastelessness
They manipulated a marketing algorithm used by Coke to hijack a Twitter feed to post portions of "Mein Kampf" as ASCII pictures. Tasteless, childish, and shameful. It crosses the line beyond mischief, and is yet another example why "just because you can doesn't necessarily mean you should." What good did the stunt do?

Business and Finance Amazon as a white knight for Radio Shack?
It's rumored that the online retailer may be out to snap up part or all of the long-term retailer. Amazon has already stepped deep into the territory of having to collect sales taxes, thanks to the number of distribution centers it's developed. A physical showcase presence may not be the worst thing to happen to the company.

Computers and the Internet Twitter: No huge profits yet, but would you like some new features?
Lose half a billion dollars in the first nine months of 2014, and people might be curious where you're heading

Computers and the Internet "Net neutrality" isn't a silver bullet
The Cedar Falls Utilities, for instance, which is already delivering gigabit-speed broadband access to the Iowa college town, isn't on board with the FCC's plan to regulate Internet service like a utility...and with good reason. There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue. One certainty is that regulation has the strong potential to entrench the positions of the large providers who are already big.

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