Let’s get this all in perspective

outrageously racist posterThe inauguration of President Barack Obama as the first African-American president of the United States was the occasion of much self-congratulation. I haven’t yet heard “Only in America” but it’s only a matter of time.

This is cause for satisfaction on the part of Black America; it’s a watershed event and a welcome change. Nevertheless, the facts that just a few months ago this event was deemed unlikely to be acceptable to the majority of white voters and that it would’ve been an absolute impossibility prior to the elevation to national hero status of General Colin Powell is a disgrace.

Hypocrisy in abundance

Fine words have been spouted by generations of luminaries: slave-owning Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and countless others. But the state of race relations in the U.S.A. is still abominable. In my lifetime Black Americans living in the “Land of the free and the home of the brave” have been treated in a despicable fashion. The situation has improved immeasurably in the last 50 years, but it’s still abominable.

So, what to do?

Just like here in New Zealand, the answer lies in education.

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”

Derek Bok, American Educator and Lawyer

Education of Black children gives them a chance to drag themselves out of the ghettos. Education of white children erodes prejudice. Throughout the world, the spread of education has dragged people out of poverty: enabling them to increase their incomes and empowering women to limit their child-bearing.

Racism in America–and here in New Zealand–won’t disappear overnight, but it’s possible in a generation or two.

Linux for the rest of us

Confessions of a would-be penguin freak. For the last two or three months I’ve indulged in a minor obsession. I switched completely from Windows to Linux. Started out with the Ubuntu 8.10 flavour but in the end settled on Mandriva 2009.

I’ve been so up to my ears in the learning curve that I’ve been ignoring my blog, my websites and the house painting.

I’ve tried Linux three or four times in the past. On those occasions I gave up within days: the learning curve took up too much of my time and there were programs I missed and didn’t care to do without. This time, accepting that Linux and the free software movement has improved by a degree or two of magnitude in recent years, I changed my criteria. Instead of considering what I’d have to give up I started out deciding what I couldn’t do without. It wasn’t all that much:

Must haves

The Need The solution Rating
LAN and wireless Internet connectivity. No brainer for wired connection. My Dell Broadcom wireless card is proving fractious, although a USB wireless adaptor works OK. 9/10
Web browser and email client. My favourite browser, Firefox, and add-ons are totally Linux compatible. 10/10
Word processor and a spreadsheet program. OpenOffice.org 3.0 is an excellent office suite. Not as fancy as MS Office, but plenty good enough and improving all the time. What’s more it doesn’t have that pestilential “ribbon”. 8/10
Photo and web graphics editing. The GIMP is a long way short of Photoshop and Corel Painter but good enough for my graphics needs. 7/10
FTP program (file transfer protocol ) for uploading files to my websites. FileZilla FTP program is totally Linux compatible 10/10
Information manager for storing and retrieving text data. This was my deal-breaker in the past. I use Info Select – an ugly duckling of a program which infuriates its devotees, is expensive, has too many extra features, but is the best data management software under the sun. Try it for a month and you’ll be hooked. Happy days, there’s now a Linux program which is not as good but is acceptable for my needs. BasKet Note Pads. Sadly not Windows portable yet so that makes transition difficult, but it’s a very good program under continual development.
What’s more, I made the happy discovery that I could run Info Select successfully in Linux using the outstanding Wine layer translation program.
9/10
Printing and scanning. Recognises my scanner and all three printers. I can’t print CDs yet but I’ll get over that. 9/10
Stable and secure operating system. No problem. Linux beats Windows in this regard. 12/10
Hard disk and partition management. BootIT-NG is a great program for all operating systems, albeit a bit harder to learn than my Windows must-haves: Acronis True Image and Acronis Disk Director. 9/10
Acceptable motherboard and graphics card compatibility. Hardware compatibility for Linux is generally better than Windows. Graphics cards and some wireless networking cards require a special download of drivers because of copyright issues, but generally not a problem. 11/10

Important, but not deal-breakers:

The ability to network my desktop and laptop for synchronization of data files. I’m having trouble with this. I need to spend some serious time learning the intricacies of Linux permissions. This is a lack of knowledge on my part, not a Linux failure. In fact it’s a Linux plus – due in part to Linux’ superior security. 3/10
Music player. I can take my pick from a number of very good music players. 10/10
PDF program. I use Adobe Acrobat 8, its excellent Scan to OCR facility would be sorely missed, but creating and reading PDF files in Linux is a breeze. 8/10
OCR (optical character recognition) capability. Not in the same league as Acrobat, but not bad. 7/10
System backup capability. BootIT-NG does the job. 10/10
Play flash and Apple QuickTime movies. Bit of a hassle to install, but no big problem. 9/10
A good WYSIWYG HTML editor. Bluefish and KompoZer are very good. Not in the same league as Dreamweaver or MS’s Expression Web, but good for most amateur use.
For me however, I need to learn more PHP scripting unless I totally rehash my websites to do without includes.
7/10

It’s easy to have the best of both worlds and run both Windows and Linux in dedicated machines, in virtual machines or as a “dual boot” configuration. But unless one has a specific requirement to do that to my mind it’s a waste of effort, resources and time. If you must use Windows, there’s not much point in having Linux as well unless you need it on a server, for learning or for teaching or as a short term situation during the transition to stand alone Linux.

For me, Linux is all or nothing. After about a month I decided that there was no going back to Windows. I was a Linux user now and forever. My must haves were satisfied and with more learning my non deal-breakers would be too.

However!

A week ago I switched back to Windows. It’s not permanent, but I’ll be using Vista for some time yet. Linux is ready for prime time. I’ve set up two of my granddaughters with Ubuntu: one 20-year-old, recently married and impecunious; one 9-year-old and smart. I’d be happy to set up any new computer user with Linux. They’d find it less of a battle than Windows.

For me it’s more problematic. I’m supposed to be an experienced computer user and fix-it man. My friends, children and grandchildren come to me for help mistaking me for a geek. As yet I’m not there in Linux. There are too many arcane bits of knowledge I need to acquire before I can make the switch confident that I can fix things when they turn pear-shaped.

This is not a Linux failing. To reach the level of expertise I need takes time with Windows too.

Update

In 2012 I switched to the Mac.

Sigh…

I want to stick with Linux, but Ubuntu have gone in a direction I don’t care for, Evernote won’t come up with a Linux client and I got hooked on an iPhone.

One of theses days. 🙂

Cricket and cheap oil

Don’t get your hopes up either way

Unless you’re an American or you’ve been hiding under a very big rock you won’t have missed the unseemly glee with which various cricketing nations have greeted the demise of Australia’s perennial world champions at the hands of South Africa. The Proteas have beaten the Aussies for their first time ever in a test series in Australia. If they win the final test they’ll knock the Aussies off the world #1 pedestal where they’ve been since the old king died.

All this on top of the stunned Australian nation watching the victorious Kiwis thump the Kangaroos in the Rugby League World Cup final. It’s enough to make a dinkum Aussie swear off Fosters and take up chamomile tea. If you’re not an Aussie, enjoy the feeling while you can. The sporting world is littered with the festering corpses of sports folk who underestimated the Australian will to win.

The legendary Australian Book of Etiquette may be somewhat short but so too is the list of Aussie chokers. I predict with some confidence that their run of defeats won’t last long.

Just like oil at $40 a barrel

When oil was pushing $150 a barrel a few months ago I recall reading that the pundits’ predictions for the medium term ranged from $80 to $200 a barrel. Nobody predicted that the economic downturn would lead to it going below $50.

Not even your trusted blogger. I got it right about the economic meltdown, I even expected Helen Clarke’s relinqushment of the NZ Labour leadership. I did not expect to see oil south of $80 again.

Interesting to speculate upon why OPEC have allowed it to happen.

  • A big chunk of the peak was a result of speculation. That bubble has well and truly burst. Some investing biters have been bitten. Historically speaking, $40 a barrel is still not cheap, nevertheless if I had a million or two to spare I’d be partial to oil futures about now.
  • We can safely assume that OPEC don’t want to send the planetary economy into even more of a tailspin right now, so they’d be wise to keep their powder dry until the battle lines are clearer.
  • It’s also a fair bet that they don’t want to push oil prices up to the point that the USA, the European Union and Japan start getting serious about alternative energy. The Persian Gulf is hardly a hotbed of conservationism – they desperately need us to keep on burning that black stuff.
  • Nevertheless, the oil czars are not in the charity business. Don’t be surprised if those outlet valves are eased closed a smidgeon in the very near future.

I’m rather partial to prediction myself, so let’s look at some facts

  • Two billion people in China and India are still on a growth curve, albeit having slowed a little. Their oil consumption will probably increase steadily. Another couple of billion people in the emerging world are also aiming at living the high life. The pressure on the price of oil will increase.
  • Although oil pumping capacity exceeds demand right now, that happy situation for consumers will last months rather than years.
  • The OPEC folk really do want your dollars. How else would we in the West continue to fund Al Qaeda, Hamas, fundamentalist Islam and all the other hate groups whom we pay to hasten our own downfall?
  • Russia has climbed out of an economic mire on the back of high oil prices. They’ll be partial to staying out of it.
  • The Gulf states are heavily committed to some big spending to keep the peasants from revolting. Some are even running out of oil — are they happy right now?
  • Struggling Nigeria, Indonesia and Venezuela are hardly likely to be impressed with the status quo.

Just like the Aussie battlers, they’ll be back.

I’m punting for a stable oil price of at least US$100 a barrel within two years. Possibly within one year. If we had any common sense we’d be putting a tariff on it to bring it up there right now. Fat chance.

More about that soon.

Hmmm… anyone detect a bit of a trend here?