Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Evolution of Thanksgiving

Is this where we are heading?:

Don't laugh too hard, we may already be well on the way there:


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How did the US help create IS/ISIS/Daesh?

Russia Says U.S. Policies Helped Islamic State, Interfax Reports
U.S. actions in the Middle East helped Islamic State to gain influence, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, according to Interfax.

The strengthening of Islamic State “became possible partly due to irresponsible U.S. politics” that focused on fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad instead of joining efforts to root out terrorism, Medvedev was cited as saying in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. President Barack Obama earlier on Sunday said that Russia is facing a strategic choice as Assad can’t stay. The Obama administration declined to comment Sunday on Medvedev’s statement. [...]

Another article I read earlier in the week, would seem to support the idea of bad US policy being partly responsible for helping create IS (Daesh). This is from an interview with Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Syria:

Why we’re not doing a better job destroying ISIS, according to the former U.S. ambassador to Syria
[...] Looking back on our policy toward Iraq and Syria, did the Obama administration do enough?

Well, the administration I think made one major mistake in both countries. Which is that it didn’t seek to implement policies that would help address underlying Sunni-Arab grievances. For example, Assad's unbelievable brutality in Syria. Removing sarin gas was a small step, but the regime still uses chemical weapons. On the Iraq side, there was a similar problem. There the administration in 2010 strongly backed Nouri al-Maliki returning as prime minster. There were some in the administration who thought that was not a good idea because he was very sectarian, but the administration went ahead anyway.

The problems that Maliki caused among Iraqis combined with Bashar al-Assad's actions in Syria created this devil’s brew that is the Islamic State. The administration is trying to address it now. They finally dropped their support of Maliki, and they’re trying to address it in a very narrow way in Syria, but it got very bad before the administration started to make changes. [...]
Sunni Muslims in both Syria and Iraq were not being represented, so they joined forces and became IS/ISIS/Daesh.

The Russians have an interest in solving this, because it's unfolding on their doorstep, and they don't want it spreading to the large Muslim population in their own country. And while Assad has been brutal, he was also fighting Sunni Muslims, many of them brutal, who became IS/ISIS/Daesh fighters.

Assad and his followers are of the Alawite Muslim sect, which are more westernized than the Sunnis. The Alawites are only around 10% of the Syrian population, whereas the Sunnis are about 74%. Historically,Sunnis have persecuted Alawites. The Sunnis outnumbered them and tried to take over, and Alawites defended themselves.

The Alawites have Iran and Russia as allies, who support keeping Assad in power.

The US got rid of Saddam in Iraq, and destabilized it. The US got rid of Qaudaffi in Libya, and destabilized it. Now the US is demanding the removal of Assad. Is it any wonder the Russians support him? Perhaps they have had enough of the US destabilizing the Middle East. One only has to look at a map to see why it matters more to Russia; it affects them more directly by proximity.

If the US wants to try to negotiate the eventual removal of Assad, they can try. But to insist on it as they are doing may be a mistake, because Russia and it's allies don't want it, and it looks as if they are going to try to use the UN to support that position as well. If they succeed at the UN, and can't be persuaded to change their minds, then continuing to insist on Assad's removal just becomes a block to further progress. Maybe the US needs to be more flexible and bend a little?

Russia may try to go it alone, but they may ultimately find they need more allies. Ideally, we should have a coalition to fight IS/ISIS/Daesh. Russia it seems, does not want to join a US led coalition. Fine, even understandable. But Russia may well find that few want to join a coalition lead by Russia.

The US and Russia would be stronger working together. But it won't happen unless both sides can learn to bend, to compromise on particular areas of concern they each have, that they currently can't agree on. That must be overcome before they can work together. Can they do it? Will they?


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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Some good Thanksgiving advice: "When you gather ’round the turkey, try not to be one"

Here's an interesting idea:

Have a happy, politics-free Thanksgiving
[...] Nobody needs tryptophan when you’ve got Pundy McPundit (amateur, professional or otherwise) at the table to bore your company to death with his or her insights on “climate-proofing” your holiday feast; bombard you with details about Bernie Sanders’ latest Web ad; regurgitate John Kasich’s latest attacks on critics of his massive Medicaid expansion; or champion Jeb Bush’s latest re-re-re-reboot (two exclamation points, new talking points, a fix-it toolbox, blah, blah blah).


I feel sorry for rabid partisans on either side of the aisle who refuse to talk to family members, co-workers or friends who support a candidate they don’t like. Life’s too short — and 99 percent of all politicians are crapweasels, anyway.


It shouldn’t be a struggle to avoid yelling about Bush, Clinton or Trump as you pass the sweet-potato casserole. Don’t get mad. Get perspective. Here, let me help:

If your children are alive, free and healthy, count your blessings and say a prayer for all those parents spending the holiday week in hospitals, hospices, clinics, jails or funeral homes.

If you can’t think of something nice to say to the person sitting next of you, trade memories of the dearest, departed loved ones you share a connection with who are no longer sitting at the table at all.

Pick up an instrument and play music together or sing some old hymns of Thanksgiving (“We Gather Together” was always my favorite).

Take a walk, breathe fresh air, go out on the deck and make fire pit s’mores (or use the gas grill).

Show the young ones at your gathering how to make rubberband stars, advanced paper airplanes, origami hearts or crochet snowflakes.

Get silly. Play “Charades” or “Spoons” or “Balderdash.” Laugh at yourself and laugh with your relatives.

Don’t take family time for granted. Ever. You never know when your time will be up. It would be ridiculous if the very last, parting words you traded with an elderly uncle or sibling or cousin you rarely get to see were “You’re an idiot for voting for (fill in the blank)!” instead of “I love you.”

Look up at the stars. Remember how small and insignificant you are in the universe.

Finally: When you gather ’round the turkey, try not to be one.
Amen. Read the whole thing for embedded links and more.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

ISIS, ISIL, or IS... or "Daesh"?

Words matter in ‘ISIS’ war, so use ‘Daesh’
The militants who are killing civilians, raping and forcing captured women into sexual slavery, and beheading foreigners in Iraq and Syria are known by several names: the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS; the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL; and, more recently, the Islamic State, or IS. French officials recently declared that that country would stop using any of those names and instead refer to the group as “Daesh.”

The Obama Administration should switch to this nomenclature, too
, because how we talk about this group is central to defeating them.

Whether referred to as ISIS, ISIL, or IS, all three names reflect aspirations that the United States and its allies unequivocally reject. Political and religious leaders all over the world have noted this. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “This is a terrorist group and not a state. . . the term Islamic State blurs the lines between Islam, Muslims, and Islamists.” President Obama made similar remarks saying, “ISIL is not Islamic . . . and [is] certainly not a state.”

Muslim scholars around the world have denounced the group’s attempt to declare a caliphate. Egyptian Islamic theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi published an open letter to Muslim scholars explaining, “A group simply announcing a caliphate is not enough to establish a caliphate.” The Syrian Sufi leader Muhammad al-Yacoubi called the group’s declaration “illegitimate” and that supporting it was “haram,” or forbidden.

The term “Daesh” is strategically a better choice because it is still accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, “Daesh” can also be understood as a play on words — and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from “to trample down and crush” to “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” Already, the group has reportedly threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who uses the term.

Why do they care so much? The same reason the United States should. Language matters.

With some 30,000 to 50,000 fighters, Daesh is a relatively small group, and propaganda is central to its growth strategy. Whether hijacking popular Twitter hashtags or using little known distribution channels to post videos to YouTube, their leadership knows that the war of words online is just as key to increasing its power and influence as the actual gruesome acts they commit on the ground.

By using the militants’ preferred names, the US government implicitly gives them legitimacy. But referring to the group as Daesh doesn’t just withhold validity. It also might help the United States craft better policy. [...]
I first heard the term "Daesh" being used by Putin. Now I know why. And I see why the French now want to use it. So should we.

The rest of this article, which is not very long, talks about the many good reasons to be using the name Daesh, and about the many Muslim groups and scholars around the world who know ISIS, ISIL, IS as Daesh. And they oppose Daesh, vehemently, for many reasons. The article has embedded links for many of these Muslim anti-Daesh groups.

Not only is it encouraging to know that these groups and scholars exist, but the article explains why it's important to use the name Daesh, so our allies in the Muslim world know that we understand, using the word from their language, that we share the same concerns about the same people.

"Daesh". I was sold on it at "a bigot who imposes his view on others." Hopefully President Obama will get on board with using this name. If he does, the media will likely follow his lead.

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The Myth of Scandinavian Socialism

Here is the Myth exposed:

No, Bernie Sanders, Scandinavia is not a socialist utopia
When Bernie Sanders was asked during CNN’s Democratic presidential debate how a self-proclaimed socialist could hope to be elected to the White House, he gave the answer he usually gives: Socialism has been wonderful for the countries of Scandinavia, and America should emulate their example.

“We should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people,” Sanders said. When the moderator turned to Hillary Clinton, she agreed that America has to “save capitalism from itself” and that, yes, Scandinavia is great. “I love Denmark,” declared Clinton. It was the only time in the debate a candidate uttered the verb “love.”

Liberals have had a crush on Scandinavia for decades. “It is a country whose very name has become a synonym for a materialist paradise,” observed Time magazine in a 1976 story on Sweden. “Its citizens enjoy one of the world’s highest living standards. . . . Neither ill health, unemployment nor old age pose the terror of financial hardship. [Sweden’s] cradle-to-grave benefits are unmatched in any other free society outside Scandinavia.” In 2010, a National Public Radio story marveled at the way “Denmark Thrives Despite High Taxes.” The small Nordic nation, said NPR, “seems to violate the laws of the economic universe,” improbably balancing low poverty and unemployment rates with stratospheric taxes that were among the world’s highest.

Such paeans may inspire Clinton’s love and Sanders’ faith in America’s socialist future. As with most urban legends, however, the reality of Scandinavia’s welfare-state utopia doesn’t match the hype. [...]
The rest of the article goes into detail about how Scandinavian prospered in spite of socialism, not because of it. How socialism nearly destroyed their prosperity, and how they have spend years rolling back welfare and taxes, and re-introducing free market reforms. How much of the success of Scandinavian countries has to do with who they are:
[...] The real key to Scandinavia’s unique successes isn’t socialism, it’s culture. Social trust and cohesion, a broad egalitarian ethic, a strong emphasis on work and responsibility, commitment to the rule of law — these are healthy attributes of a Nordic culture that was ingrained over centuries. In the region’s small and homogeneous countries (overwhelmingly white, Protestant, and native-born), those norms took deep root. The good outcomes and high living standards they produced antedated the socialist nostrums of the 1970s. Scandinavia’s quality of life didn’t spring from leftist policies. It survived them. [...]
Read the whole thing, it's short and it gets to the point, with many embedded links to back up what it says.

BTW, I've no objections to looking at Scandinavia as a model, so long as we look at everything, their successes and their failures. We could learn a lot from both of those. If some things they've done were successful and could be adopted by us, so be it. It's just the sweeping generalizations based on fantasy that I'm leary of. Read the whole article. Why adopt policies from the Scandinavians that they themselves have discarded as unworkable? Even policies that work for them in their largely homogenous culture, may not necessarily transplant to ours. When looking for role models, let's keep it REAL, shall we?

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

French President calls for "pitiless war" ...

Understandable under the circumstances. But who is going to answer that call? I have every sympathy for France and the French people. I've posted in the past about some of France's problems with the riots in 2006.

I don't pretend to have a complete understanding of all the issues and problems of France or Europe. And I wish them the best in solving them. These latest attacks in Paris have garnered the sympathy of civilized people all over the world, and rightly so. But I have to ask: should the French President be calling for a war, when he has no significant army to fight one?

When Europeans call for war, they typically count on the US military to take on the brunt of the fighting. Europe wanted Obama to be the American president, and they got him. He's gutted our military, which is now a fraction of what it was.

I don't say that is good or bad; it simply is what it is. I doubt we will be going to war again any time soon. There may be pressure to change that now. But can we, and should we? Here is an opinion ventured by professor Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University, that looks at those very questions:

A war the West cannot win
French President Francois Hollande’s response to Friday’s vicious terrorist attacks, now attributed to ISIS, was immediate and uncompromising. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,” he vowed.

Whether France itself possesses the will or the capacity to undertake such a war is another matter. So too is the question of whether further war can provide a remedy to the problem at hand: widespread disorder roiling much of the Greater Middle East and periodically spilling into the outside world.

It’s not as if the outside world hasn’t already given pitiless war a try. The Soviet Union spent all of the 1980s attempting to pacify Afghanistan and succeeded only in killing a million or so Afghans while creating an incubator for Islamic radicalism. Beginning in 2003, the United States attempted something similar in Iraq and ended up producing similarly destabilizing results. By the time US troops withdrew in 2011, something like 200,000 Iraqis had died, most of the them civilians. Today Iraq teeters on the brink of disintegration.

Perhaps if the Russians had tried harder or the Americans had stayed longer they might have achieved a more favorable outcome. Yet that qualifies as a theoretical possibility at best. Years of fighting in Afghanistan exhausted the Soviet Union and contributed directly to its subsequent collapse. Years of fighting in Iraq used up whatever “Let’s roll!” combativeness Americans may have entertained in the wake of 9/11.

Today, notwithstanding the Obama administration’s continuing appetite for military piddling — air strikes, commando raids, and advisory missions — few Americans retain any appetite for undertaking further large-scale hostilities in the Islamic world. Fewer still will sign up to follow President Hollande in undertaking any new crusade. Their reluctance to do so is understandable and appropriate.


Rather than assuming an offensive posture, the West should revert to a defensive one. Instead of attempting to impose its will on the Greater Middle East, it should erect barriers to protect itself from the violence emanating from that quarter. Such barriers will necessarily be imperfect, but they will produce greater security at a more affordable cost than is gained by engaging in futile, open-ended armed conflicts. Rather than vainly attempting to police or control, this revised strategy should seek to contain.

Such an approach posits that, confronted with the responsibility to do so, the peoples of the Greater Middle East will prove better equipped to solve their problems than are policy makers back in Washington, London, or Paris. It rejects as presumptuous any claim that the West can untangle problems of vast historical and religious complexity to which Western folly contributed. It rests on this core principle: Do no (further) harm. [...]
It's worth reading the whole thing, it's well reasoned.

I resisted it a first. But he makes a good case. If the offensive measures taken in the Middle East by both the United States and Russia, at great cost in both resources and lives, did not achieve the desired results, then should we not pause before doing the same thing again? The terrorists who wish to provoke that response would love to see us repeat our mistakes again and again, and weaken ourselves.

Read the whole thing, to better understand the cohesiveness of the professors argument. While it might be emotionally more satisfying to agree with the French president, it would behoove us all to not rush to repeat mistakes, and carefully consider all options available to us. And the probable consequences.

California dreaming... ending or begining?

Is one generation's California Dream, another generation's nightmare? This article makes a good case for it:

My Dark California Dream
Our­ parents had wide open spaces all around.
We still had nature within reach. Now what?
CALIFORNIA’S over, everything I love about this place is going to hell.

I knew there was something familiar about this thought from the moment it occurred to me in Yosemite National Park. My sister and I started going to those mountains 40 years ago with our parents, who taught us to see the Sierra Nevada as a never-changing sanctuary in a California increasingly overrun by suburban sprawl.

Once we had our own families, we indoctrinated our kids in the same joys: suffering under backpacks, drinking snowmelt from creeks, jumping into (and quickly back out of) icy lakes, and napping in wildflower meadows. Yosemite remains my personal paradise, but the impact of drought and climate change has become overwhelming — smoky air from fires, shriveled glaciers leaving creeks dry and meadows gray, no wildflowers.

The big new forest fire didn’t help, as we hiked back to our car in mid-August. We were never in danger, but smoke from that so-called Walker fire filled the sky and turned sunlight orange. At the surprisingly good restaurant attached to the Lee Vining Mobil station just outside the park, ashes fell like apocalyptic snowflakes onto our fish tacos. We watched a DC-10 air tanker carpet bomb flames a few miles off. We had intended to stay in a nearby motel, but Highway Patrol officers told us they planned to close the road, so we joined the line of vehicles escorted past red walls of fire.

We slept at a friend’s house on the western flank of the Sierra Nevada. The next morning, as we began our drive home to San Francisco, this sense of unraveling — of California coming apart at the seams — worsened by the mile. The air was more Beijing than Yosemite, and the Merced River, normally a white-water pleasure ground, was a muddy sequence of black pools below mountains covered with dead ponderosa pines, a tiny sample of the more than 12 million California trees killed by drought and the bark beetles that thrive in this now-warmer climate.

The San Joaquin Valley, still farther west, is depressing on good days, with its endemic poverty and badly polluted air and water. But driving in freeway traffic through endless housing developments on that particular weekend encouraged a fugue state of bleakness in me. Somewhere in that haze lay an industrial-agricultural plain where the unregulated pumping of groundwater has gone on for so long that corporate farms pull up moisture that rained down during the last glacial period — with two paradoxical and equally strange geological effects.


We were nearly home, inching through Sunday-afternoon traffic (rush hour is now everywhere and always), when I realized that I had become my parents. Put another way, it was finally my turn to suffer the sense of loss that made my mother weep over every strip mall obliterating every once-lovely farm during family road trips in our 1971 VW micro-bus. My father’s nostalgia was more for 1950s Los Angeles: Bing Crosby living down the street, the Four Freshmen on the radio, a T-shirt filled with oranges as he rode the bus from his family’s Westwood home through sleepy neighborhoods to a completely separate town called Santa Monica.

Confusing one’s own youth with the youth of the world is a common human affliction, but California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.


“Eyes wide open, here,” says Terry Sawyer, co-owner of the nearby Hog Island Oyster Company, where the big issue is excess atmospheric carbon dioxide raising ocean acidity so fast that oyster larvae struggle to build shells. “The California dream of us being wet and making a living and enjoying ourselves may be threatened,” he says. “I have kids, and I want that dream intact for them, but it may not be the same dream. I may not be growing the same organism. I am hopeful, but I am extremely concerned.”

Everybody is — except, of course, those living the most obvious new California dream, the technology gold rush. Try telling successful 25-year-old entrepreneurs in San Francisco that California’s over and you’ll get blank stares as they contemplate stock options, condos going up all over the city, restaurants packed nightly and spectacular organic produce at farmers’ markets every day.

It’s not only 25-year-olds saying that.
“You’re a naturalist, Duane, so of course you see it through that lens,” said Mr. Starr, later in our conversation. “But don’t lose sight of all the great new things happening, all over California. Marc Benioff just built one of the greatest pediatric hospitals on the planet a few miles from your house! And this whole tsunami of foreign investment pouring into California is really a ringing endorsement of the dream.”

I drive by Mr. Benioff’s hospital every day, and I know that Mr. Starr is right. I am also impressed, sincerely, by all these brilliant people making fortunes seemingly overnight. I recognize that prosperity is better than its absence, and I like the fact that Californians still help make the future look hopeful, by developing better solar panels and electric cars, sustainable agriculture and marine-protected areas that preserve fish populations and their habitats. I have also noticed the friendly crowds jostling my elbows at every surf break and on the shockingly long lines below Yosemite rock climbs. These people have as much fun as I ever did, loving the only version of California available to them. [...]
That's just it. Those of us who knew an older version of California, miss it as it disappears. New people come along, not knowing how things used to be, and they think it's fabulous just the way it is.

Perhaps this is true of life generally, not just California specifically. As we get older, we miss what was. California's transformation(s) have been many and rapid, which makes it dramatic. But I think it's happening everywhere, as the world becomes a smaller, more crowded place. And once you become old enough to have as significant amount of "past" behind you, you notice it more.

It was a good article, with lots more examples, read the whole thing for embedded links and more.


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Russia, geography and history

When history repeats itself, it's sometimes for geographical reasons. This article explains a lot:

Russia and the Curse of Geography
Want to understand why Putin does what he does? Look at a map.
Vladimir Putin says he is a religious man, a great supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church. If so, he may well go to bed each night, say his prayers, and ask God: “Why didn’t you put mountains in eastern Ukraine?”

If God had built mountains in eastern Ukraine, then the great expanse of flatland that is the European Plain would not have been such inviting territory for the invaders who have attacked Russia from there repeatedly through history. As things stand, Putin, like Russian leaders before him, likely feels he has no choice but to at least try to control the flatlands to Russia’s west. So it is with landscapes around the world—their physical features imprison political leaders, constraining their choices and room for maneuver. These rules of geography are especially clear in Russia, where power is hard to defend, and where for centuries leaders have compensated by pushing outward.

Western leaders seem to have difficulty deciphering Putin’s motives, especially when it comes to his actions in Ukraine and Syria; Russia’s current leader has been described in terms that evoke Winston Churchill’s famous 1939 observation that Russia “is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of an enigma.” But it’s helpful to look at Putin’s military interventions abroad in the context of Russian leaders’ longstanding attempts to deal with geography. What if Putin’s motives aren’t so mysterious after all? What if you can read them clearly on a map?


Just as strategically important—and just as significant to the calculations of Russia’s leaders throughout history—has been the country’s historical lack of its own warm-water port with direct access to the oceans. Many of the country’s ports on the Arctic freeze for several months each year. Vladivostok, the largest Russian port on the Pacific Ocean, is enclosed by the Sea of Japan, which is dominated by the Japanese. This does not just halt the flow of trade into and out of Russia; it prevents the Russian fleet from operating as a global power, as it does not have year-round access to the world’s most important sea-lanes.


Two of Russia’s chief preoccupations—its vulnerability on land and its lack of access to warm-water ports—came together in Ukraine in 2014. As long as a pro-Russian government held sway in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, Russia could be confident that its buffer zone would remain intact and guard the European Plain. Even a neutral Ukraine, which would promise not to join the European Union or NATO and would uphold the lease Russia had on the warm-water port at Sevastopol in Crimea, would be acceptable. But when protests in Ukraine brought down the pro-Russia government of Viktor Yanukovych and a new, more pro-Western government came to power, Putin had a choice. He could have respected the territorial integrity of Ukraine, or he could have done what Russian leaders have done for centuries with the bad geographic cards they were dealt. He chose his own kind of attack as defense, annexing Crimea to ensure Russia’s access to its only proper warm-water port, and moving to prevent NATO from creeping even closer to Russia’s border.

The same geographic preoccupations are visible now in Russia’s intervention in Syria on behalf of Putin’s ally, Bashar al-Assad. The Russians have a naval base in the port city of Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. If Assad falls, Syria’s new rulers may kick them out. Putin clearly believes the risk of confronting NATO members in another geographic sphere is worth it.

Russia has not finished with Ukraine yet, nor Syria. From the Grand Principality of Moscow, through Peter the Great, Stalin, and now Putin, each Russian leader has been confronted by the same problems. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links, lots of maps, and more. It really explains a lot. I'm not arguing that what Russia is doing is right or wrong. I am saying that when you look at the maps and the history, it is understandable. Russia has it's reasons, in the past and the present. Anyone who really wants to understand what is happening and why, needs to look at the larger picture and take these very real concerns into consideration.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Is Windows 10 the new software "Borg"?

Borg, as in "resistance is futile":

Microsoft Makes Windows 10 Upgrades Automatic For Windows 7 And Windows 8
[...] In September Microsoft admitted it is downloading Windows 10 on every Windows 7 and Windows 8 computer. Then in October it claimed an ‘accident’ saw these downloads begin installing without user permission. Well this accident now looks to have been a secret test run because Microsoft has confirmed mass upgrades to Windows 10 from all Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers are about to begin…

In a post to the official Windows blog, Windows and Devices Group executive vice president Terry Myerson announced this will be a two step process:

Step One

Beginning now, Windows 10 has been reclassified as an “Optional” update in Windows Update for Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers. This means users who have set their version of Windows to accept all updates will find the Windows 10 installation process will begin automatically and they will need to actively cancel it.


Step Two

But in “early” 2016 things will become more aggressive and Microsoft will again reclassify Windows 10 as a “Recommended” update. Given the default setting on Windows 7 and Windows 8 is for all Recommended updates to install automatically this means the vast majority of users will find the Windows 10 install process starts up on their machines.

“Depending upon your Windows Update settings, this may cause the upgrade process to automatically initiate on your device,” admits Myerson.


For Most, Resistance Is Now Futile

While tech savvy users will find workarounds and hacks, quite frankly avoiding the upgrade process is going to become far too much effort for the average consumer.

Is Windows 10 worth upgrading? From the perspective of most mainstream consumers, I’d say yes. It’s slicker than Windows 7 and more intuitive than Windows 8. But it is also incredibly invasive and controlling, taking an iron grip on what it installs to your PC and tracking everything you do – something options let you minimise, but not stop entirely.

As such my personal objection to Microsoft’s behaviour is not that Windows 10 doesn’t represent a potentially valuable upgrade, it is that the company has forgotten the fundamental right of customers to choose. And dressing ‘choice’ up as ‘you can just keep saying No’ is a facade everyone should see through…
I had blocked it in my updates, but it keeps unblocking itself and adding itself back. This is really pushy, and I resent it.

It just isn't right, because in the end, you have to ask "Whose computer is this, mine or Microsoft's?" I bought it with Windows 7, because that is what I wanted. Offering a free upgrade path to 10 is fine, but I want the freedom to choose it. When I want. If I want. When I decide that I'm ready for it.

Do I actually have to seriously consider moving to a Mac, as my only option? Or moving to Linux Mint on my Windows 7 computer, before it "turns"?

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Sunday, November 01, 2015

Writing computer code: not for everyone?

Not only not for everyone, but not for most people:

Coding Academies Are Nonsense
[...] I see coding shrinking as a widespread profession. Not because software is going away, but because the way we build software will fundamentally change. Technology for software creation without code is already edging toward mainstream use. Visual content creation tools such as Scratch, DWNLD and Telerik will continue to improve until all functionality required to build apps is available to consumers — without having to write a line of code.

Who needs to code when you can use visual building blocks or even plain English to describe intent? Advances in natural-language processing and conceptual modeling will remove the need for traditional coding from app development. Software development tools will soon understand what you mean versus what you say. Even small advances in disambiguating intent will pay huge dividends. The seeds are already planted, from the OpenCog project to NLTK natural-language processing to MIT’s proof that you can order around a computer in your human language instead of code.

Academies had better gather those revenues while they can, because ultimately they are the product of short-term thinking. Coding skills will continue to be in high demand until technology for software creation without code disrupts the entire party, crowding out programming as a viable profession. [...]
Kinda what I suspected. The technology is changing quickly, and whats valid today is obsolete tomorrow. I think eventually there will be software that can create code. There were also some interesting comments about people who try to learn computer coding, and why they give it up. If you need more convincing, read the whole thing for further arguments, embedded links and more.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Sense about Syria, from Jimmy Carter?

Could it be? Take a look:

Jimmy Carter: A Five-Nation Plan to End the Syrian Crisis
[...] In May 2015, a group of global leaders known as the Elders visited Moscow, where we had detailed discussions with the American ambassador, former President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, former Prime Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov and representatives of international think tanks, including the Moscow branch of the Carnegie Center.

They pointed out the longstanding partnership between Russia and the Assad regime and the great threat of the Islamic State to Russia, where an estimated 14 percent of its population are Sunni Muslims. Later, I questioned President Putin about his support for Mr. Assad, and about his two sessions that year with representatives of factions from Syria. He replied that little progress had been made, and he thought that the only real chance of ending the conflict was for the United States and Russia to be joined by Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in preparing a comprehensive peace proposal. He believed that all factions in Syria, except the Islamic State, would accept almost any plan endorsed strongly by these five, with Iran and Russia supporting Mr. Assad and the other three backing the opposition. With his approval, I relayed this suggestion to Washington.

For the past three years, the Carter Center has been working with Syrians across political divides, armed opposition group leaders and diplomats from the United Nations and Europe to find a political path for ending the conflict. This effort has been based on data-driven research about the Syrian catastrophe that the center has conducted, which reveals the location of different factions and clearly shows that neither side in Syria can prevail militarily.

The recent decision by Russia to support the Assad regime with airstrikes and other military forces has intensified the fighting, raised the level of armaments and may increase the flow of refugees to neighboring countries and Europe. At the same time, it has helped to clarify the choice between a political process in which the Assad regime assumes a role and more war in which the Islamic State becomes an even greater threat to world peace. With these clear alternatives, the five nations mentioned above could formulate a unanimous proposal. Unfortunately, differences among them persist.


The involvement of Russia and Iran is essential. Mr. Assad’s only concession in four years of war was giving up chemical weapons, and he did so only under pressure from Russia and Iran. Similarly, he will not end the war by accepting concessions imposed by the West, but is likely to do so if urged by his allies.

Mr. Assad’s governing authority could then be ended in an orderly process, an acceptable government established in Syria, and a concerted effort could then be made to stamp out the threat of the Islamic State. [...]
I'm not a Jimmy Carter fan. But if you read the whole thing, for the full context, it actually makes sense. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Carter may be right about this. It should be seriously considered.


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