WordPress Updates: why, and how?

WordPress proudly announced a few releases ago that minor updates would be done without the consent of any website owner. This is so security updates won’t get omitted.

I disagree. I think updates to anything should be controlled by the owner of that thing, who probably has at least password protection over how it gets updated.

If WordPress can update my blog’s wordpress installation, without my knowledge and without my permission, does that mean that they have a back door into my website? I think it does. I think that’s a bad idea. Anyone can be hacked? If the back door is known?

I dont (otherwise) allow automatic updates of anything on any computer in this building. If an update looks odd, I google it. If an update looks potentially risky, I back up first.

WordPress’s decision takes these precautions away from me.

Comments, anyone? Does anyone on WordPress read this blog? That’s the dumb question.

and, don’t (please) tell me to raise a ticket. I did that, and was condescended to. As one-time technology steward for CIBC specialty business, and one-time Central Computer Complex Change Co-ordinator the for Bank of Montreal, I can make some small claim to know what I’m talking about. You cannot guarantee what you cannot control, and you cannot recover what you did not know you needed to back up.

Again, comments, anyone?

Airline routing practices: what’s going on?

I have noted that air travel routing and costs do not always make sense. Let me explain.

To fly to Rome, we went via Amsterdam with a longish stopover.

To fly to Madrid, we went via Rome.

To fly to Egypt, we went via Milan.

To fly to Morocco, we went via Paris.

Iraklion via Athens makes sense, but also via Gatwick and Rome?

It turns out that it is often cheaper to fly with a stopover than it is to fly direct. It is often cheaper to fly to a stopover city and get off (not continue to the next leg) than flying to that stopover city directly.

A website has been created to allow travellers to take advantage of this fact. You must not have checked luggage, as that would continue to your ‘final’ destination. You use the website to find a ‘hidden city’ which is your intended destination, and is the stopover on a flight to elsewhere. Ridiculous at it might sound, it can be 40% cheaper to fly through a city than to fly to that same city.

That website’s owner is being sued by United Airlines and travel firm Orbitz. You can find this on BBC news here.

Apparently a crowdsourcing attempt is ongoing, for legal costs.

I suggest some readers might consider contributing.

Happy New Year.

Four things we’re going to run out of

This is, accidentally, a plug for Nature magazine. www.nature.com.

I read. I read the Report on Business in the Toronto Star, because many social issues are exposed there.

I read Nature. I have a subscription. It is a British research journal, comes out every week, has a high rating and excellent content. Many articles are too dense for me to understand, particularly western blots and material science. But I read, and get the general gist.

We are going to run out of fresh water. Here is a hotlink to that article in Nature.

We are going to run out of natural gas. The US estimates of frackable resources are grossly overstated. Here is a hotlink to this in Nature.

We are going to run out of Antarctic ice. Here is the Nature link.

We are going to run out of Arctic ice as well. Here is the Nature link on this topic.

The world air circulation patterns have varied over time, and will vary with global warming. Here is the Nature link to this topic.

This last is more important than might at first appear. Naively, one would expect the central overturning of air to be at the equator. In fact it is pushed toward the warmer of the two hemispheres, and is roughly six degrees north of the equator now. If it moves a bit farther, worldwide rain patterns will shift. Historically, Sahara may have had lots of rainfall, and may experience it again – in your lifetime. Conversely, other areas will or could suddenly be all-drought. This on top of the freshwater issue mentioned first above.

Now for the dumb questions.

  • Will any politician of any stripe suggest any action about any of this?
  • Will all oil and gas extraction plans go ahead, once the price of oil recovers?
  • Will assumptions of quantity available cause over-investment in extraction projects?
  • Will global burning and global warming continue?
  • Will gross climate change occur in the foreseeable future?
  • Could we, if we all understood, avoid these outcomes?
  • Will any politician of any stripe suggest any action about any of this?

As usual, they are dumb questions.

A Bitter History Lesson

Here you will find a Wikipedia entry. I found it by searching for the term ‘Sykes-Picot Agreement’.

The British and French, with some small Russian collaboration, agreed on how to divide up the Ottoman Empire, should it be defeated. This was essentially during World War One.

A quote from the early part:

following the Russian Revolution of October 1917, the Bolsheviks exposed the agreement, “the British were embarrassed, the Arabs dismayed and the Turks delighted.”

A quote from much farther down:

Eighty-five years later, in a 2002 interview with The New Statesman, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw observed “A lot of the problems we are having to deal with now, I have to deal with now, are a consequence of our colonial past. … The Balfour Declaration and the contradictory assurances which were being given to Palestinians in private at the same time as they were being given to the Israelis—again, an interesting history for us but not an entirely honourable one.”

In between these two quotes is quite a bit about the formation of Israel, including the possibility of a settlement in Uganda. Instead the Palestinians were made into second-class citizens in their own homes.

This cynical piece of history also occurs in the Wikipedia page:

“By excluding Hebron and the East of the Jordan there is less to discuss with the Moslems, as the Mosque of Omar then becomes the only matter of vital importance to discuss with them and further does away with any contact with the bedouins, who never cross the river except on business. I imagine that the principal object of Zionism is the realization of the ideal of an existing centre of nationality rather than boundaries or extent of territory. The moment I return I will let you know how things stand at Pd.”

History has shown that the boundaries and extent of territory are of great interest in Israel, and the subject of settlements, fences, trade restrictions, and checkpoints.

I will end with a quote from Hosea 8:7: “they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

May God have mercy on us all. We do not learn from history, and are fated to repeat and reiterate our mistakes, while digging in deeper in our untenable positions.

A Brutal Economics Lesson

Here you will find a TED talk by Thomas Piketty on economics.

I recommend you take the time to see this video. It is about inequality: Income inequality, and Wealth inequality.

Without active (government) efforts, inequality of both kinds will continue to grow without any apparent limit.

The formula behind this discovery is really simple, brutally so. It is this:

r > g


  • r is the rate of return on capital, percentage if you like
  • g is the rate of growth of the economy (or world) expressed in the same way.

Historically, r has always been greater than g, with a few exceptions which Piketty does mention in his TED talk.

In primitive times, g was close to zero, but the rent rate for a field was about five percent of its value. So if you owned a field, and had it cultivated by serfs, you were growing at five percent while they were growing at roughly zero percent. Thus you got to buy more fields.

Piketty also shows the odd fact that wealth inequality generally grows faster than income inequality. One sample scenario: a world growing at one percent (g), while the return on capital is five percent (r). The wealthy need only invest one-fifth of their capital to stay in the same relative wealth position. Should they invest more, they will grow faster than the economy as a whole.

If a subset of the population grows wealth-wise faster than the population as a whole grows wealth-wise, that means the first subset is increasing their wealth inequality. Constantly.

Piketty’s talk concludes with some tough questions. Can (even should) governments do anything about this? And if so, what?

(Normally I include a dumb question or two in a post, but these are too serious as questions to make light of, imho.)

To answer the first question: persistently growing inequality inevitably destroys the institutions that maintain it. The peasants eventually revolt. The provinces defy the Roman empire. The 99% make the .01% live unpleasant lives of constant demonstrations, picketing, and unpopular police actions in response.

So, something should be done. What?

I suggest more progressive taxation. I also suggest a surcharge on the income of lobbyists, whose entire existence is to improve the lot of already special interests.

I suggest a very small tax on all large financial transfers. (I note that my bank, and yours, can charge either of us some 2.5% merely for converting one totally safe currency into another (USD to CAD in Canada is pretty safe, eh?).) This was proposed (and rejected, recently) at a very tiny level yet it would have interesting side effects:

  • Very Large currency movements, often done by speculators, would net national governments (or their central banks) a bit of revenue.
  • Very Narrow currency spreads would cease to be profitable for speculators. As a side benefit, the tax could eliminate the small profit rate that rewards extremely large transactions.
  • Taxation creates central records. Who’s doing what to which currency could become clear public knowledge. Today we have rumours about who’s attacking the ruble, the US Dollar, the renminbi. With legal tax records, we would have information and the means to enforce its collection (IRS in US, CRA in Canada, et cetera.)

I request that every citizen with influence use that influence to create pressure for action on these suggestions, and any better ones you can come up with.

Meanwhile, any other good ideas posted here, meeting the rules (See Rules, Sort Of) will be approved. Identity of posters is always kept secret, unless you spell your name out in your post, eh?

I await your input.

An idea for Canada Post

Canada Post is, imho, in a death-spiral of increasing costs and decreasing revenue. Amazingly, after buying a fleet of new trucks, CP is going to cease home delivery. Instead, groups of boxes will be used.

Incredibly, one report stated that senior citizens would be grateful for being forced to leave the house, especially in bad weather, to retrieve their mail.

Personally, as soon as my mail is a block or two away, I’m going to put the ‘no junk mail’ notice on it. I’m not carrying a handful of glossy ads on a windy day.

Our post office (Canada) is a federal department. In England, I believe the Royal Mail is actually a private enterprise.

Maybe that’s why they are more inventive – driven by profit instead of secure in bureaucracy.

Anyway, the Royal Mail is trying out a new service: 3-D printing. No kidding. You can check out the details here.

You can request a standard item, for which they already have the CAD information. You can use your own CAD (Computer Aided Design?) and source your own product.

In any case, the Royal Mail will then deliver the package to you. Neat, eh?

Now for the dumb questions.

Does anyone out there think that Canada Post will do anything innovative to curb their losses?

Does Canada Post not know that most of us will stop junk mail when it is inconvenient to handle it?

Does Canada Post not now depend on junk mail revenue?

I said they were dumb questions, eh?


Putin, Crimea, Nato, and Gorbachev – a history lesson?

After the fall of the Berlin wall, Gorbachev and George W. H. Bush had discussions re Germany. It was agreed that the Russians would remove troops from East Germany in return for the promise that NATO would not expand into the once-Warsaw Pact nations.

Some writers dispute that this agreement was in fact made. This one is ambiguous.

Conversely, this page‘s author is pretty sure this agreement was made, and explains much of Vladimir Putin’s recent actions.

Gorbachev himself is quoted on this page, saying

We knew that when we pursued the principle of freedom of choice and non-interference in eastern Europe that we also deprived the West from interfering, from injecting themselves into the processes taking place there.
I read this as, NATO agreed to be kept out.

NATO most certainly did not keep out – some fourteen countries were added to the alliance, bringing NATO to the edges of Russia.

Putin’s take on this is pretty much what one should have expected. On this page you will find these words:

Putin has been behaving lately like a man who has lost faith in diplomacy, who is convinced that the world has realigned itself into a shape fundamentally hostile to Russia.

and these:

Putin has been lashing out on both the political and security fronts, the analysts say, because he despairs of getting European or U.S. officials to consider the post-Cold War strategic realignments from the Kremlin’s point of view.

If that didn’t get your attention, how about these:

And on Wednesday, Putin’s defense minister announced that nuclear-capable long-range bombers would resume patrols off the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts. A proud nationalist committed to protecting Russians who now find themselves in neighboring countries, Putin may have given up on playing by rules written, in his view, by gloating adversaries who consider themselves the Cold War’s victors and Russia’s historic sphere of influence their spoils.

Finally, a quote from a review of Henry Kissinger, author of A World Restored, who defined the concept of a ‘revolutionary power’ as one which does not believe the world system will give it (or him or her) what is wanted. Here is the quote:

Kissinger declared, “It is a mistake to assume that diplomacy can always settle international disputes if there is ‘good faith’ and ‘willingness to come to an agreement'”; in a revolutionary situation “each power will seem to its opponent to lack precisely these qualities.” In such circumstances many will see the early demands of a revolutionary power as “merely tactical” and will delude themselves that the revolutionary power would actually accept the status quo with a few modifications. Meanwhile, “Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists.” “‘Appeasement,'” Kissinger concluded, “is the result of an inability to come to grips with a policy of unlimited objectives.” A few pages later, for good measure, he added,Coalitions against revolutions have usually come about only at the end of a long series of betrayals … for the powers which represent legitimacy … cannot “know” that their antagonist is not amenable to “reason” until he has demonstrated [that he is not]…. And he will not have demonstrated it until the international system is already overturned.

I do not particularly like Henry Kissinger. His book was perhaps his thesis. It is brilliantly written and explains Metternich, Tsar Alexander, Castlereagh, and Napoleon.

My point here is, Vladimir Putin is a revolutionary power. NATO is, to Putin, a revolutionary power. The US is (quoted I think by Noam Chomsky, imho) a revolutionary power.

Unless NATO is rolled back away from Russia, things will stay, er, interesting.

How likely is that? Will we deliberately wait until the escalation into open war occurs?

That’s the dumb question for today.

Federal Dollars: Largesse and not

Ontario has repeatedly requested additional funding from the Federal Government for infrastructure. An adjustment to the equalization system has been due for years if not decades.

However, the Harper Government has no money for this.

Toronto has requested additional funding from the Federal Government for infrastructure, in particular, transit.

Don’t expect the Harper Government to come across with much here either.

True, three hundred million might be lent to Pratt & Whitney, Mississauga. That’s a break from habitual treatment of Ontario, for sure. You can expect some election goodies and an early election call. (I’m still betting on Valentine’s Day, eh?)

Here you will find that the IMF thinks the Harper Government subsidizes oil, gas, and coal production companies to the tune of … wait for it ….

Thirty-Four Billion Dollars. per year.

Those industries are in …. Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. A link on the above page comes to this one, where you can read this for yourself.

Now for the dumb question: does the Canadian federal government play favourites?