Wise Guys on WHO Radio - February 28, 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.

In the news this week

Computers and the Internet The FCC's version of "net neutrality"
Companies will be prohibited from favoring some traffic over others, and basically will serve to regulate Internet access like a public utility, like landline telephone service. The problem is that most places don't have a lot of options for broadband Internet access right now, so we pay too much and get far too little speed compared to what's offered in other rich countries. And some of the incumbent providers have been bullies, creeps, and just all-out jerks to their customers. Lots of people really, really hate Comcast and Time Warner. But the hazard here is that the regulation that people want to impose on those companies (perhaps to prevent them from misbehaving) may also have the effect of entrenching the interests of those companies that are already large. That's usually the outcome of additional regulation -- to further consolidate the interests of the incumbents, even if they bristle at the regulation itself. And they're definitely not happy -- Verizon posted a protest message in Morse code (with a translation that looks like a 1950s typewritten memo, fretting about the FCC's move to "adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana". And that's the problem: Some sort of rulemaking power may have been necessary to prevent anticompetitive abuses by Internet service providers, given that there are so few of them today. But the sledgehammer approach adopted by the divided FCC commissioners (who voted 3-2) is very likely to make it hard for new entrants to get into the business and introduce the competition that consumers really want after all.

Science and Technology Google is putting $300 million into a fund to build residential solar power
It's part of a $750 million fund being spun up by a company called SolarCity that provides solar power as a service rather than a homeowner investment. Google gets tax breaks and good publicity out of the deal. This follows an $848 million investment in solar power by Apple earlier this month. Considering that energy is one of the very top expenses for companies like Apple and Google, it's no surprise they're actively interested in the market. That, and it's difficult for both companies to find other ways to invest internally for good returns. The successes of the past for both companies are exactly zero guarantee of future profits.

Computers and the Internet Hedge-fund manager is starting a unit to be run by artificial intelligence
Bloomberg says that Bridgewater Associates will use trading algorithms run by computers that are supposed to learn and evolve. It's smart to create and follow rational guidelines (or rules, or in a computing sense, codes) -- but it's also important to have human comprehension about why those rules are in place and when it makes sense to override them. There's a reason we say "the exception that proves the rule". Artificial intelligence may be helpful at identifying opportunity and could certainly be used as an enhancement for lots of decisions (including financial ones, just like it can enhance medical and engineering decisions), but this kind of gambit tends to get out of hand quickly in the financial world. LTCM collapsed while being run by some of the smartest people in money.

Computers and the Internet US government intelligence review says cyberattack is a bigger threat than terrorism
And it calls out Russia as a particular source of trouble, both from state action and from "unspecified" aggressors. Falling oil prices play a part.

Computers and the Internet Google unveils 225-page plan for Mountain View headquarters
They propose lots of public access to spaces in and around their campus, which would also include buildings designed to transform and re-shape themselves with the help of robotics. Some of the structures would be encased in a flexible glass-like skin.

Computers and the Internet Chinese online services could be at grave risk
The government is enforcing a policy requiring people to use their real names on social networks, which is a tricky thing to ask in a place where the government doesn't take kindly to dissent

Computers and the Internet Pebble rolls out new color e-watch -- with a microphone
Dick Tracy, here we come. It's going to retail for $199, but they're offering several thousand via Kickstarter for less than that.

Computers and the Internet YouTube for Kids
Parental controls (like a timer and search settings) and bigger buttons (for fat little fingers) are part of the deal, and Google says its scope is "narrowed to focus on content that is appropriate for the whole family". What will be interesting is to watch the inevitable back-and-forth that Google has to play now that it is playing the role of content curator: Someone's going to complain that their content is family-friendly but not recognized as such. Someone else will complain that Google's standards for family-friendliness aren't stringent enough. Someone else will complain that Google is trying to impose some set of unwanted values on families (it'll probably come from showing something like same-sex parenting couples on the "family-friendly" channel, but never doubt the capacity of people to take offense.) Some will think Google's standards are too bold and others will find them too restrictive. It's not really a winning situation for Google to enter -- not when other companies (especially Disney) have owned the notion of "family friendliness" in the psychological space for decades. They'll probably come to regret not outsourcing the curation of content to others, even if the app is a success -- which it quite well may be.

Your role in cyberwar

Security update

Street-smart social media

So what's this Ello thing, anyway?

Gadget of the week

Apple will probably roll out the Apple Watch on March 9th. My invitation must have been lost in the mail. The basic version will cost $349, substantially more than its competitor the Pebble.

You ought to follow...

Technically funny

Fun fact: Some spambot thinks Bill Gates receives email through my website. http://t.co/h2oqQpd4SH

— Brian Gongol (@briangongol) February 20, 2015

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