Wise Guys on WHO Radio - March 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.

The big picture: Dark libraries

I've heard a lot about the "dark web" lately, as it's come into popular attention, what with the FBI working on ways to search it and so forth.

But I'm actually more interested in what we might call the "dark library" of human knowledge.

Google is certainly trying gamely to put lots of information online that currently resides only in offline form -- the Google Books project being a prominent example.

But think of all the knowledge (and information, and raw data) that aren't cataloged, searchable, indexed, or digitized: And it takes at least two steps for any of these to make it to the knowledge web of the Internet -- first, someone has to convert them to digital format, and then someone has to host the data. And that doesn't even count the work of making the content searchable by text, which is really the only method we have.

Even new video and audio aren't being indexed very well. As voice-to-text algorithms improve, they'll become more searchable, but for now they are generally not. The disjointedness that's occurring as people default to searching online and default far away from legacy sources is a source of potential competitive advantage for those who can bridge it. Reading Royal Little's autobiography and finding periodic research from the golden age of conglomerates explains the Berkshire Hathaway advantage in an instant. But with so many people going for the clickbait approach of putting "Warren Buffett" in the title of an article, it's certain that a lot of people are getting diverted.

Meanwhile, an 88-year-old author is in trouble for writing candidly about the hydrogen bomb, even though he claims the information is already in the public domain.

That begs an important question: Assuming information is already in the public domain, to what extent is someone responsible for what happens when that information simply becomes easier to find? For instance, anyone could have looked up property records in the past by going to the county courthouse; the information was all a matter of public record. But today that information is easily accessible through many county treasurer or assessor websites. It can be searched without any real transactional costs on the part of the person doing the searching. Is it any different if someone takes information already in the public domain and compiles it? Does it make any difference if the author worked on the hydrogen bomb in the 1950s?

On a less existentially-threatening level, there are endless volumes of knowledge, information, and data that are parked all over the globe, far from the reach of the Internet. Just because we can't find them doesn't mean they aren't valuable.

In the news this week

Business and Finance The majority of people don't pay exclusive attention to conference calls
Perhaps because they tend to be poorly-organized, poorly-run, and too long. Though Harvard Business Review's analysis also says 47% of people have gone to the bathroom while on conference calls. Just because we have the technology to "get everyone together to talk about things" doesn't mean it's the most efficient use of everyone's time.

Computers and the Internet Apple users in UK will get to sue Google for privacy breach
For a nine-month period in 2011/2012, Google appears to have gotten around privacy settings on the Safari browser. The company says it didn't even use the data, so no harm was done. A British court says that doesn't stop the users from suing. It's all a question of cookie tracking, which is basically how most customization and tracking on the Internet still get done. But when people say they don't want to be tracked, they really don't want to be tracked.

Science and Technology A lever-powered wheelchair

Aviation News The Germanwings plane crash looks deliberate
Appropriately or not, a lot of the media speculation has turned to suggesting it was the result of depression. The facts still aren't known to us all, so speculation is inappropriate. But the subject itself is worth discussion: Nobody is embarrassed by "dental illness" -- most of us just go to the dentist as a matter of routine, and some people have more filings than others. Nobody wants cavities, but nobody avoids going in for regular cleanings because there isn't a pointless stigma about going to the dentist. The same philosophy should apply to mental wellness. Some people need prescriptions or therapy that others do not, but we should all go in for regular screenings and checkups. That would be a healthy standard for society to adopt, and it may be the only way to effectively de-stigmatize mental-health issues, which is a highly desirable social goal.

Business and Finance Where the Amazon distribution centers are
It's easy to see why the company turned in favor of Internet sales-tax collection; they already have a physical presence in so many states that it's hardly going to cost them more in administrative expenses -- but it might impose a burden on their competitors

Computers and the Internet Who uses which social media?
Facebook is pretty balanced across all age groups, but Snapchat definitely is not

Computers and the Internet Twitter introduces "Periscope" for live video streams
Right on the heels of a rival application called Meerkat

Computers and the Internet Taylor Swift reserves www.taylorswift.porn
Probably not a bad idea from a reputational-control standpoint, and for $99, a low-risk proposition anyway. Though one wonders about the potential for the administrators of the new top-level domains (TLDs) to conduct some soft extortion against the famous and semi-famous.

Business and Finance How much are 78 million customer records worth?
Depending on what a court decides in the Radio Shack bankruptcy case, possibly quite a lot. One might ask "Who cares?" about records on your battery and bulb purchases from ten years ago. But what if another company -- more prominent, or perhaps more effective at getting your personal data -- were to go belly-up? Nothing guarantees that Facebook or Google will last forever.

Computers and the Internet Legal contests begin over FCC "net neutrality" rules
More than half a decade ago, groups like the EFF warned of the risk of "regulatory capture" -- that an FCC with more power would become a tool of vested interests. There's also the risk of corrosive mission creep.

Computers and the Internet USDA to subsidize replacement of broadband connections

Computers and the Internet
Facebook doesn't want to post your links anymore
They're aggressively trying to get news sources to publish directly on their platform

Your role in cyberwar

Threats and Hazards Don't feed the trolls
The Al Qaeda offshoot that's wrecking parts of Syria and Iraq has declared a threat against specific members of the US military. Some have responded to the threat with their own bombast. While we definitely shouldn't be cowed by despicable acts and sub-human behavior, it's also rarely good practice to feed Internet trolls.

Computers and the Internet Health care goes online...but not without hiccups and headaches
Some health-related information is being put online due to government mandate; other information is going there just because that's where everything is going anyway. But for a variety of reasons, the security isn't what it could be, and that's putting us at risk of what the Washington Post calls "the year of the health care attack".

Security update

Computers and the Internet Computer infection via favicon
The tiny icons that identify individual websites inside many browsers can be compromised

Computers and the Internet Fraud on Apple Pay
Ease of setup may make it too easy to use for theft. One analyst thinks an astonishing 6% of Apple Pay transactions use stolen credit cards.

Street-smart social media

Computers and the Internet Facebook updates its "community standards"
Less will be allowed, ultimately, and that's probably unavoidable. Facebook has too much to lose from laissez-faire. But policing content that is offensive in some places but not in others is an exercise in being hated.

Computers and the Internet Twitter softly rolls out options to block offensive posts
The forced immediacy of everything on Twitter makes it hazardous turf for risk of offense

Gadget of the week

Computers and the Internet Apple thinks it can beat Google Glass at its own game

You ought to follow...

Tweets by @daswenson

Dave Swenson is an ISU economist

Technically funny

Productivity tool

Google updated its calendar tool this week. It doesn't seem to function much differently, but it has a look and feel that match a little closer with other Google products.

Dispatches from the flying-car future

Aviation News State Farm will test drones for inspecting storm damage

Politics of technology

Computers and the Internet Secretary Hillary Clinton's email dispute drags on
House Republicans say she deleted her entire e-mail server and that doing so could have compromised any investigation involving messages that were not officially turned over -- something like half of the messages supposedly received. The letter from her lawyer says "there are no hdr22@clintonemail.com e-mails from Secretary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State on the server for any review." Regardless of what was legally required or not, nuking an old e-mail server after being asked for records that were on it is exactly the kind of thing someone would do if they were trying to hide something.

Jargon alert

Listener questions

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