Admitting Ignorance and Uncertainty Can Bring Hope

In the wake of President Obama’s clearly (and intentionally) misunderstood comment about not having a policy in northern Africa and the Middle East, it is good for us to recall this observation by famed physicist and clear thinker, Richard P. Feynman:

It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn’t get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before…

In fact, it is the expression of confidence and certainty in delicate, complex situations that is the greater sin here. His opponents like this in neat little bumper sticker sayings because they in turn believe that that is the deepest level of thinking of which their adherents are capable. I judge them to be better thinkers, more insightful in the presence of actual knowledge, which includes the simple act of saying, “I don’t know” when you really don’t.


New Firefox Browser to Include Pretty Unobtrusive Ads

firefox_logoWord appeared today that the Mozilla Firefox Web browser would begin hosting ads in an upcoming release. The ads will appear as tiles on the page when users open a new page or tab. That real estate is presently home to most frequently accessed Web sites.

Technically the ads are referred to as sponsored tiles. The non-sponsored tiles are called directory tiles. Mozilla allows the user to set a preference to turn off tiles completely so that each time he starts with a new tab or page, it is completely blank.

The Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit that controls the Firefox browser and a number of other Web sites and technologies, first announced its intent to find non-obtrusive (or, perhaps more accurately, less obtrusive) ways of placing advertising in the browser in February.

I’d call this a pretty unobtrusive way to put advertising in front of me. As a non-profit foundation, Mozilla has to figure out some ways to generate revenue if it’s going to stay afloat. I don’t use Firefox much myself (I’m a Chrome guy) but I do test all of my and my clients’ sites on FF.

Most of the early comments on this development, which occurred in the new version Firefox nightlies and is therefore not yet in wide circulation, have been neutral or supportive but there’s a strain of folks who begin bitching about any new aspect of free software that they don’t happen to like. Interestingly, some of the most caustic comments came from people using the largely unknown and insignificant Palemoon browser (Window and Linux only). Of course, Firefox has the second-highest market penetration of any cross-platform browser, having only recently fallen from the #1 spot and been replaced there by Chrome, which now has 20% of the total market vs. 15% for Firefox. Chrome has been in steady growth; Firefox has been in steady decline. (Internet Explorer retains a 60% usage rate but only because it ships with Windows and runs only on that platform.)

In any case, I’m not bothered much by the Firefox plans. There are numerous ways around even seeing the sponsored tiles. I hope they generate significant revenue to the Mozilla Foundation, which deserves to stay viable.


Obama to Bypass Congress, Establish Informal Accord on Global Climate Change

President Barack Obama, who has lately been taking a number of executive actions to circumvent a Congress hell-bent on doing nothing at all, has come up with another solid idea for doing so, this time on global climate change.

Republican congressional members are mostly climate change deniers and anti-science reactionaries. Any global treaty that the Obama Administration would attempt to enter into would run afoul of the need for Congressional ratification by a 2/3 vote. (Another outdated and ludicrous provision of a Constitution badly in need of reform.) So the White House has announced that it will spearhead an effort to get an agreement among the nations of the world on global climate change whose only “teeth” would be a “name and shame” approach.

It’s not promising, it’s not enough, but it’s better than the nothing we’ll end up with if short-sighted and ignorant Republicans get to continue to block any meaningful legislation until Chicago is ocean-front property and all the corn that grows in Kansas — all 500 stalks — comes out pre-popped.


Important Column by Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni is one of the more observant and thoughtful of today’s political columnists. He bends left but he acknowledges the Right’s good ideas. I find him generally helpful in understanding what’s going on in the nation. That’s why his latest column is so important, so chilling and so damning of our current political scene.

He starts off by saying:

More and more I’m convinced that America right now isn’t a country dealing with a mere dip in its mood and might. It’s a country surrendering to a new identity and era, in which optimism is quaint and the frontier anything but endless.

I agree. Not that my opinion matters all that much to more than a handful of people. But it has been my observation for the past couple of years that the core of the capitalist economic and political system is fundamentally broken because it’s based on a faulty assumption: boundless growth. That is a myth, pure and simple, and the system is on the verge of collapse because we can’t shake our addiction to that idea.

no-hopeBruni points out that the American people broadly are disaffected, angry, pessimistic and resigned to their fate. We don’t think our children will have it better than we did. I know mine already don’t. We don’t see a clear leader on the horizon who can solve our problems because the system in which any such leader — if he or she existed — would have to work simply doesn’t. We are mad at President Obama (29% approval), the Supreme Court (30%) and the Congress (7%).

But as Bruni points out, “The tyranny of money, patronage, name recognition and gerrymandering in American politics” guarantees no change through the system. 

We are on our way out as a nation. My kids will grow up in an America that is no longer seen as the best example of how to run a country, how to lead the world, how to take care of your people.

And then global climate change will wipe out huge swaths of humanity as our Planet issues its next verdict of how we’ve treated it.

Only a spiritual awakening among a tipping point of people on the planet can avoid this fate. I remain hopeful that this awakening will happen in time. But then, I’m still optimistic enough to write about this stuff when the end is so clearly in view.


Cool Way to Handle Tiny Menu Type on Tablet

If you’re a tablet or smartphone user (and who isn’t these days?) who has been perplexed by the tiny type on many menus, you’ll appreciate the “new” technique I discovered during my morning news crawl the other day.

It happens that I discovered it on AlJazeera America, but I suspect other sites are also using it.

When you tap on the top navigation bar of the app on the Kindle Fire HD, rather than going directy to the page or section it appears  you tapped, the app displays the menu in the immediate vicinity of where you tapped, with all of the menus in large type. Tapping on one of them will take you where you actually intended to go. It’s quite genius, actually.

Here’s a screen shot of how it looked when I tapped on “Technology”.



Kindle Fire Wins the Prize for Worst. Editor. Ever.

I was out and about today and had my Kindle Fire with me because I had some reading I needed to do while I waited for people I was chauffeuring around to finish their errands. I decided to do a light edit on a book chapter submitted by one of the contributors to more upcoming book, Secrets of the LiveCode Masters. It’s on Google Drive, so I opened my Chrome browser on the Kindle, found and opened the doc and went into Edit mode.

Now, I’ve tried using the Kindle Fire text editor before. It is a weird app. It uses a guess-ahead approach to text entry and the guessing is sometimes pretty darned good. I’ve found myself being able to type long sentences by typing only the first two or three characters of a word. Sometimes, it feels like the guess-ahead algorithm has some intelligence built in as the word(s) it suggests seem particularly appropriate to the word I just finished typing. If I type slowly (hard for me to do; I’m a really fast typist even on these virtual keyboards), I can often snap off  sentence or two that makes me feel like this is in some ways a faster way of editing than flat-out typing.

But then something strange happens and the editor goes into spasms from which it seems impossible to extricate myself. This  happens when I start to type a word, realize a typo, backspace to fix it, and then find myself with a string of gibberish that I can’t delete or replace.

So let’s say I’m trying to type “project” and instead I manage to enter “projet” and press the space bar. I backspace to replace the “t” and accidentally hit a “j”. Now I have the “word” “projej”. I backspace again. I get to the first “j” and type an “e” and what do I see in my editor? “projejee”. Huh? So, I backspace through the entire word and start over. I get to the previous word, “the”, hit the spacebar, and now I have “thep” where I used to have “the.” WTF?

This keeps getting worse and worse. The more I try to fix the word, the longer and more incorrect the string becomes. I’ve spent several minutes trying to fix the problem; it’s not just that the typo is in the way, it’s that the editor seems perversely determined to keep creating new variations of the misspelling. And because the editor is learning new words from me as it goes along, I end up with meaningless words in my dictionary, which I must then remove from the vocabulary (a completely opaque process).

There don’t appear to be any replacement text editors for the Fire that allow editing of Google Docs with the possible exception of OfficeSuite Pro, but the free version doesn’t appear to support external storage so I can’t test it and I’m not about to plunk down $15 to see if it works.

This editor is so bad it makes the Kindle Fire counter productive for office work. Too bad.

Where Are America’s Interests Here?

A New York Times report today says that a high-ranking Obama Administration national security official has indicated that military action against ISIS is possible. “If you come against Americans, we are going to come after you,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, said.

anti-syria-warWhere in the world is ISIS going to “come against Americans” with the possible exception of those who have either been ordered into harm’s way by our trigger-happy President or are there in direct violation of State Department warnings not to be there? Where are America’s interests in the region? Where?

The law already requires the President to notify Congress within 60 days of starting hostilities in a foreign nation. That same law should, at the very least, be strengthened with the requirement that the President spell out, in very specific detail, what American interests are at stake. And if those interests are corporate profits rather than national security, then the corporations should be left on their own.

Too often throughout our nation’s history (see A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn) we have shed American blood to protect American greed. I don’t know if that will be Obama’s justification (real or imagined) in this case, but he’s going to have to convince me that there are legitimate American interests involved in this fight before I’ll support spending one more dime or one more soldier there.

Do you hear us, Mr. President? We are many and we are angry.

Car Sharing Service Uber Hires Mongo Lobbyist: David Plouffe

uber_logoUber has hired former White House policy adviser David Plouffe as its new Senior Vice-President for Policy & Strategy. AKA, chief lobbyist. The guy responsible for technology strategy and implementation during President Barack Obama’s successful re-election campaign assumes the new role next month.

Uber has already raised something like $1.2 billion in investment and is valued at $17 billion last I checked. So presumably they can afford Plouffe, who undoubtedly commanded a huge salary.

It’s a pretty savvy move. As Uber has gone through its early rounds of launching in various cities, states and countries, it has frequently encountered opposition from governments and unions. Plouffe clearly knows how to manipulate the levers of governmental power on behalf of a client, having done so for the biggest client imaginable. He will probably keep Uber out of trouble and out of headline-creating confrontations with government officials. In fact, the announcement of his hiring was accompanied by congratulatory blurbs from several sitting governors.

I am a big supporter of economic transformation away from a market based on money and toward sharing and gifting based economies but I must admit to being a bit skeptical of Uber. Not because it is disruptive technology that threatens to displace government-regulated-and-taxed taxi companies and limo drivers but because of what I see as potential issues with driver responsibility, insurance claims and other safety and legal-related issues. I don’t know if Uber is screening drivers but the first time one of their drivers abducts a fare and holds him or her ransom or attacks them or has a fatal accident with them, Uber is going to need a great lobbyist…and a hard-hitting law firm.