Saturday, December 28, 2013

Peak Oil: Collapse or Inequality?

If you have done any reading or research on Peak Oil, you will have run across quite a number of people who claim that the ultimate effect of Peak Oil will be the collapse of modern industrial society. The implicit assumption here is that lack of resources will reduce everyone’s standard of living across the board until we have returned to pre-industrial lifestyles, with the resultant conflict, die-off, and wholesale industrial infrastructure collapse.
The implicit assumption in this scenario is that our economy is egalitarian at all levels. One moment’s reflection shows that this is not the case; as through all of history, might makes right, and the spoils go to the victor who then turns around and writes history.
I am not entirely certain that Peak Oil will play out that far anyway. I think our standard of living will be reduced but there will be an economic intersection between a falling standard of living and an increasing freedom from fossil fuels brought about by technology and conservation. Those who believe technology will save us are partly right and those who believe we are in for hard times and collapse are partly right.
However to the extent that the Peak Oil phenomenon results in a reduced standard of living, it will do so in an extremely regressive way that will only exacerbate the inequalities of our present economic system. The upper few percent will maintain and even increase their standard of living while all of the declines will occur for the bottom 95-99 percent.
Even if the doomsayers are totally correct and we are in for a complete collapse, the top one percent will still maintain their standard of living. The rest of us will be living in slums and eating meager portions that are ours only by virtue of being, for all practical purposes, slaves to this elite upper crust. Yes, slave labor—a relatively cheap source of energy that was widely exploited throughout the world up until the Industrial Revolution… This one percent will have their cars, houses, plenty of food, and every modern convenience in communities inaccessible to everyone else.
I am reminded of a passage in the Bible, a striking image of inequality:

“When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there before me was a black horse, and its rider held a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard something that sounded like a voice coming from the middle of the four living creatures. The voice said, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, and do not damage the olive oil and wine!’”
-Revelation 6:5-7 (NCV)

Windows 8 Metro = Active Desktop? ...also some prognostications

Is Windows 8 Metro the new Active Desktop?

            Microsoft has a history of trying some pretty interesting things, especially when it’s a little behind the curve. Consider Active Desktop. If you ever worked with a brand new install of Windows 98, you remember being greeted with a colorful smorgasbord of Active Desktop content. However, in the last version of Windows to support it (Windows XP), you had to know the feature existed and how to turn it on. Few people used it and it was little missed when it was dropped in Vista and Windows 7.
            Active Desktop died, not because it didn’t serve a need, but because it was unworkable for the majority of users upon release. The power of Active Desktop could only really flourish with a high-speed Internet connection, and in the days of Windows 98, most people were still using dial-up modems. Lower bandwidth implementations of similar technology ruled the day such a PointCast and eventually, RSS.
            Metro appears to be in a similar situation. The full effect of Metro cannot be experienced without a touch screen. However, the proliferation of touch screens is nowhere near the critical mass necessary to establish Metro in the minds of Windows users. The cheap hardware that home users demand won’t come with a touch screen, and business users aren’t buying touchscreens either (and haven’t been really migrating to Windows 8 anyway). This leaves the pro-sumer and high end segments that are willing to churn out $700+ for a traditional PC in the age of smartphones and tablets.
            Windows 8 RT tablets such as the Surface are cheap enough to satisfy the home user crowd, but for anything less than a full PC experience on a budget, Android tablets are more compelling (and cheaper in many cases).

The future:
            I predict that future versions of Windows will continue to synthesize Metro and desktop, with Metro becoming more like the desktop and the desktop becoming more like Metro, ultimately resulting in a unified interface that does away with the current desktop/Metro split personality of Windows 8. The desktop will retain the upper hand, and in Windows 10 or 11, you’ll boot to a very touch friendly desktop and there will be no separate Metro experience. Current Metro (appx) apps will transform into something entirely new, possibly a hybrid between sidebar widgets and Active Desktop content, while desktop apps will also move toward a similar paradigm in which everything is infinitely floatable, dockable, switchable, mashable, shareable, etc. But while this interface will be touch friendly, it will be equally mouse friendly in a way where your method of input is actually rather irrelevant, functionally.
            All the brouhaha over form factors (tablet, phone, desktop, laptop) completely misses the point, technologically speaking, and this where Microsoft is getting it right and Apple is getting it wrong. Already we are seeing the proliferation of new form factors such as glasses (Google Glass) and watches (Samsung) and this will only continue. If Microsoft can evolve Windows into a truly form factor and input agnostic OS it will poised to dominate.
            Some may point to the lack of app development for Windows Phone and Windows Metro, but the traditional OS app barrier will not exist for much longer. Apps are being rewritten for the web at an astounding pace, including Microsoft Office.
            The entrenchment of iOS and Android as touch OSes will prove to be a future handicap without significant forward thinking and development on the part of Apple and Google.

Business and corporate:
            Business is all about manageability and control. Traditional corporate IT system management and security practices and hardware and OS upgrade patterns will not permit the rapid deployment of new technologies. There is a tremendous amount of what I call “compliance assurance” that goes into approving new technology, and it is this compliance requirement that defines corporate IT (at least GOOD corporate IT).
            Vendor software that is rapid-release (Firefox, Chrome, etc.) cannot by definition meet compliance assurance requirements. Thus the proliferation of long-term or extended service releases. Microsoft has not been “rapid-release” with Windows so businesses have been able to run XP for a good long time, and will be able to run Windows 7 for a good long time to come, before being forced to upgrade.
            By the time extended support for Windows 7 expires around the end of this decade, I fully expect Microsoft to provide a new OS that business can work with. As I said above, this OS will work on the desktop as well as it will on a phone or watch. I think corporate IT will be pleasantly surprised with one of the next three releases of Windows over the next 5-7 years.
            However, corporate IT has an extremely powerful trump card: desktop virtualization. Corporate IT can decide to check out of the client OS rat-race at any time and deploy thin-clients (hardware or software) that drop users on a personalized, traditional desktop being run on a server. Besides the uncertainty of what Microsoft will do with the Windows client OS, desktop virtualization is extremely attractive because it centralizes administration and reduces client hardware costs. It isn’t workable in every scenario, but it will work in most. Bring your own device, because we don’t care—nothing is running on your Mac/Android Tablet/Windows PC/Linux box anyway…
            Desktop virtualization stands to be greatly impacted by upcoming Windows releases but this is a complex interaction so I won’t even comment on how that might play out. I will simply say that while Windows will become more flexible, security considerations will tend to keep corporate information assets sandboxed even if the client OS can handle different contexts properly while allowing the users to “mash” them together. This is a can of worms, full of potential hurt for whoever is in charge of corporate IT security, and is one of the greatest reasons why BYOD is unworkable unless the IT department is given complete control over the device.


It’s gonna be ok! While you have to appreciate what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 8, you don’t have to be satisfied. In fact, the best is yet to come. The old saw that Windows versions alternate between great and terrible has some truth because new ideas always need improvement. Windows 8 may not be winning a lot of hearts and minds right now, but it is an evolutionary step in the right direction.

P.S. Hey Microsoft if you are listening: Give me an MMC snap-in or a Control Panel option to manage Metro apps (provisioned and per-user). Why should I have to use PowerShell for this?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Average is Over

In this book, Tyler Cohen makes the case that the US is on a path to higher inequality. He argues that those who can work with computers and smart machines will increase their earnings and everyone else will be relegated to low-income status. We have all heard this before.
Cohen explicitly promotes the Horatio Alger myth by name and claims that people with enough self-determination and discipline will do well in this environment. He claims that government fiscal issues will push the low-income earners toward areas of the country with low taxes and middling public services. He quite literally promotes US slums where housing is worn down, services are shoddy, and people make do.
Cohen’s right-wing dreamery continues as he claims that America will grow more conservative (read right-wing) over time as America grows older.
Cohen seems to miss that immigration completely voids his predictions. Yes, income inequality is growing, and computer jobs are the future. However, H1-B visa abuse has confounded countless numbers of American IT professionals who can’t compete against what is essentially taxless indentured servitude that always seems to get paid on the low side.
Also, Latino immigration is changing the demographics of America in a profound way. This influx of Latin Americans will tend to keep America younger than it would be, confounding Cohen’s idea that America will age into right-wing conservatism. Furthermore, Latinos may be conservative on the level of personal lifestyles and morality but they are far from conservative on society and government.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Skip Microsoft Account in Windows 8.1

Choose create new account, and then choose to sign in without an account.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The HP JetDirect MAC Address Sticker

The HP JetDirect MAC Address Sticker will have two addresses: a TR or Token Ring MAC address, and an AD or standard Ethernet MAC address.

Posting here because it took entirely too long to figure out the difference between TR and AD!