Thursday, January 29, 2009

Even I’d use Windows 7 if it was free!

Fellow ZDNet blogger, Andrew Nusca, asked a great question today: “Should Microsoft give Windows 7 away for free?” He answers his own question, with a pretty big yes (at least under certain conditions), but I think his question is even more relevant here in the land of Ed Tech than it might be for businesses or consumers.

In the educational field, there are a few very important considerations that make a free Windows 7 far more appealing than yet another upgrade to yet another Microsoft product. The first is the bottom line. While businesses obviously need to focus on costs, educational technology usually makes its way into the first round of budget cuts, along with art and music programs. When it comes down to it, as Linux distributions become easier to administer, free software starts looking mighty attractive.

As Andrew points out, an upgrade to a new Microsoft OS will be a hard sell for those of us still running XP. Anyone who has migrated to Vista, whether as part of a planned rollout or through new hardware acquisitions will also have a tough time justifying the cost of an upgrade any time soon, even if Windows 7 is chock full of fixes.

In K-12 education, our job is, obviously, to teach. In most cases, there is little difference between the ways we can support learning and student achievement on Windows, Mac, or Linux computers. While plenty of proprietary applications exist, if it comes time to shave costs from a budget and we can still achieve our mission using free software, the choice should be pretty easy.

Even at the college level, students are curious, motivated, and community-minded. Have a question about that new Ubuntu netbook you just snagged? Chances are your roommate (or your neighbor or your RA) has been tinkering with Linux since she was 12. When you were in college, what would you have chosen? A $60 upgrade from Vista to 7 (assuming academic standard pricing and the existence of Vista when you were a college student) or a week’s worth of pizza?

I’m not even suggesting that every college kid or school should choose Linux over moving to Windows 7. I’m saying that there is no incentive in tight financial times and institutions accustomed to exploring a variety of solutions for moving to Windows 7.

Unless, of course, it’s free. Then, given that Windows 7 actually seems to be a pretty solid OS, even in beta, with the wide variety of compatible software, 7 starts looking pretty attractive. As I noted in my title, I’d certainly consider it if it was free. Charge me for it, though, and chances are, I’ll find a way to satisfy computing requirements some other way, whether that means FOSS, XP, or even Vista.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Threat of Climate Change

By: Former Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett

For a long time, the world has seen climate change as an environmental problem: a 'green' issue. That is understandable: the potential effects on our biodiversity from climate change range, under differing scenarios, from serious to catastrophic.

But the, perhaps rather sad, truth is that the international community will not move with the necessary urgency or ambition if climate change is seen as primarily something that effects insects, animals and plants: although they may in turn hold the key to our own survival. We have to show that this is a problem for humans too; that it will affect our basic security.That is precisely what the science is telling us. The recent report of the Second Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change paints a stark picture. It predicts, for example, that by 2020 crop yields in some African countries, could have halved. A separate study the UK did with the Chinese government estimated that climate change could reduce China’s grain production by 30 to 40 per cent.

Physical impacts of this scale and severity in some cases can give us very specific reason to be worried. Countries throughout Asia (not least here in Burma/Cambodia), and indeed globally, should be concerned at the possibility of rising food prices and growing instability in China. Rising sea-levels could displace millions in Bangladesh alone and add a dangerous new dynamic to an already tense region. The Middle East – where five per cent of the world's population share one per cent of the world's water – will have even less of that water to go round.

Worrying though any of the scenarios would be, they are only a glimpse of a much wider picture. The implications of climate change for our security are more fundamental and comprehensive than any single conflict.

For a start, there is that potential devastating effect on the global economy. If there is one resounding thing we have learnt in the past 150 years it is that there is a deadly and complex link between the global economy, economic nationalism and increased global tensions.
The former Chief Economist at the World Bank, Nick Stern, estimated that the dangers of unabated climate change – based on the science available in 2001 and on a narrow range of effects – would be at least five per cent of global GDP. Taking on board more recent scientific evidence and the economic effects on human life and the environment, he estimates that the global economy could take a hit equivalent to 20 per cent of GDP or more.

The implications of that for developed and developing countries alike are, of course, huge. And that same report shows that the costs of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change can be limited to around one per cent of GDP each year. In other words, it won't cost the earth to tackle climate change, but it will – literally and figuratively – if we do not.

Add to that mixture the sense in certain parts of the world that climate change is a developed world problem for which the developing world will pay the price and you can see how easily it could serve to exacerbate an existing sense of grievance. President Museveni of Uganda was the first African leader to describe climate change as an act of aggression by the rich against the poor: he won’t be the last.

But there's more to it even than that. There are some fairly basic needs that underpin our collective security – as much within communities and societies as between states. Take them away, fail to prepare adequately and you raise the chances of conflict and instability. If people don't have enough food to eat it can lead to instability. If – perhaps even more so – they can't get the water they need for themselves and their families: again, the risk of heightened tension. Make it more difficult for them to secure the energy they need to power their homes and their businesses – in any or all of these instances they might decide to go out and take what they need for themselves.

And here's the problem. All of those pressures are already evident, and evidently growing. Rapid population growth means we are living on a planet bursting at the seams. We use double the amount of water we did in 1960. The International Energy Agency predicts a rise of more than 50 per cent in primary energy demand over the next 25 years. There are millions of people going hungry; millions are moving off agricultural land into overcrowded cities.

Everything in the history and pre-history of the human race demonstrates how physical change drives change in societies and communities. The abandoned cities
and even civilisations which litter our planet are evidence of that. Think of the world today then, as a dangerously simmering pot. An unstable climate risks that pot boiling over. And we ignore that risk – literally – at our peril.

That is the reason why last Tuesday the UK tabled a debate on climate change at the UN Security Council. The debate marked the recognition by the vast majority of the international community of climate change as a core security issue: and one that we must do much more, together, to address. If we succeed in that shared endeavour, we will all enjoy a better prospect of security. Climate change is a threat that can bring us together if we are wise enough to stop it from driving us apart.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Motorola Shears 4,000 More Jobs as Recession Withers Demand

Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Motorola Inc., the second-biggest U.S. seller of mobile phones, cut an additional 4,000 jobs as consumer demand languishes under the strain of the recession.

The mobile devices unit will account for about 3,000 of the job losses, Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola said yesterday in a statement. The reductions, which begin immediately, follow 3,000 cuts disclosed in October as the faltering phone business eroded the company’s profitability.

Since 2007, Motorola has reduced its workforce by about 16,000, joining AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp. in slashing jobs. Motorola shipped half as many phones in the fourth quarter as a year earlier. The company expects to save about $1.5 billion this year from yesterday’s cuts and those announced last quarter.

“It’s tough to turn something around in a good environment, it’s a lot tougher in a tough environment,” said Mark McKechnie, an analyst at Broadpoint AmTech Inc. in San Francisco, who has a “neutral” rating on the shares. “The turnaround can hopefully start after this round of layoffs.”

Motorola was unchanged in late trading yesterday after dropping 21 cents to $4.11 on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares slid 72 percent last year.

AT&T said last month it would cut 12,000 jobs, or 4 percent of the workforce, as the economy falters. A few days later, Sprint said it would cut jobs throughout its units to bolster profit margins. Verizon is nearing the end of a three-year plan to eliminate 7,000 jobs from its business division.

The slumping economy led analysts at Citigroup Inc. to predict last month that global mobile-phone sales will fall 13 percent this year, the first drop since 2001.

Pension Freeze

Co-Chief Executive Officers Greg Brown and Sanjay Jha have frozen U.S. pension plans and cut executive pay to lower costs. Jha has said he’ll use Google Inc.’s Android software to create more advanced devices to challenge Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., which took the market lead in the third quarter.

Revenue in the fourth period fell to between $7 billion and $7.2 billion, Motorola said in yesterday’s statement. That missed the average $7.47 billion estimate of 22 analysts in a Bloomberg survey. Sales of $7 billion would represent a 27 percent drop from a year earlier.

The company had a net loss of 7 cents to 8 cents, excluding some items. Analysts had estimated a loss of 1 cent. Full results will be reported on Feb. 3, Motorola said.

Motorola shipped about 19 million handsets in the fourth quarter, less than half the amount of the year-earlier period.

Holiday 2009 Release

The company introduced its first touch-screen device, the Krave, in October to compete with Apple’s iPhone. Later that month, Jha said the company had been too focused on “bright, shiny objects.” Motorola would trim the number of operating systems to three and release an Android-based phone in time for the 2009 holidays, he said.

“If the environment’s still weak in the second half of ‘09, then this could be a ‘10 story,” Broadpoint’s McKechnie said.

Motorola lost its top ranking in the U.S. mobile-phone market in the third quarter as the company’s share of sales slid to 21.1 percent from 32.7 percent a year earlier, according to researcher Strategy Analytics in Newton, Massachusetts. Sales at Samsung, based in Suwon, South Korea, rose to 22.4 percent of the market from 17.9 percent.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

TAKE A LOOK-Russia, Ukraine sign deal on gas flows

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered the
resumption of gas supplies via Ukraine to Europe on Tuesday, six
days after a Russian- Ukrainian price row cut deliveries in
freezing temperatures.

Following are key stories about the dispute. Double click on
the square brackets below:
> Russia says starts gas flows via Ukraine [nLD708539]
> All parties sign Russia-Ukraine gas deal--source [nLC376325]
> Bulgaria seeks EU aid to ease Russia gas dependence[nLC229577]
> Yushchenko aide: low Russian gas stocks delay deal [nLC254302]
> No reason for Russia not to resume gas - EU [nBRU007160]
> TIMELINE-Gas crises between Russia and Ukraine [nLC323043]
> Ukraine president calls for gas talks with Russia [nLC336966]
> Slovakia awaits gas talks outcome before nuke resta[nLC332967]
> EU to hear Slovakia on nuclear plant restart [nBRU007164]
> Hungary says has gas for own needs [nLC163177]
> Ukraine faces gas price battle despite EU deal [nLB19916]
> Energy ministers to meet amid Europe's gas crisis [nLB727930]
> Naftogaz financial future in doubt - auditors [nLB33061]
> Ukrainian despair at politicians in gas row [ID:nLA196509]
> Russian gas to Balkans will take 3-7 days-Greece[ID:nLB702970]
> Hungary to continue gas supply to Balkans [ID:nLB665632]
> Croatia secures gas imports from Germany [ID:nLA252667]
> European fuel oil market unmoved by Russian gas cut [LC69626]
> Gas crisis, a PR coup for French nuclear industry [nL8349259]
> Russia, Ukraine need oil-linked gas deal [nLC418993]
> Q+A-What next in Russia-Ukraine gas dispute? [nLB67371]
> COLUMN-Ukraine gas crisis spurs EU energy policy [nLA494113]
> Gas row exposes east Europe's Achilles heel [ID:nL8408013]
> Gas row risks long damage to Russia's reputation[ID:nL9192050]
> Russia-Ukraine middleman may hold key [ID:nL8351791]
> Gazprom chief does business in Kremlin shadow [ID:nLA180771]
> EU needs to invest in Nabucco, act jointly [ID:nL9376154]
> Q&A: What next in Russia-Ukraine gas dispute? [ID:nLB67371]
> FACTBOX-Russia rejects Kiev additions to deal ID:nLB90948]
> FACTBOX-Impact in Ukraine of gas cut [ID:nL9320185]
> FACTBOX-Europe gas stocks and how long they last[ID:nL0596237]
> FACTBOX-Major disputes between Russia, Ukraine [ID:nL3514397]
> FACTBOX-Top Russian gas customers in Europe [ID:nLV90716]
> TIMELINE of Russian energy disputes [ID:nLV194881]


Friday, January 09, 2009

Disgraced pastor Haggard says his faith now stronger

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ted Haggard, the powerful U.S. evangelist who fell from grace in 2006 amid a gay sex scandal, returned to the spotlight Friday saying his faith was stronger but he wished people had been more forgiving.

Haggard, 52, was exiled from the New Life mega-church he founded and told by church elders to leave Colorado after admitting "sexual immorality" and buying methamphetamines from a male prostitute.

It was a stunning admission for the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, a formidable force among U.S. conservative Christians and a group that had the ear of the White House.

An HBO documentary about Haggard's year in exile, his struggle with his sexuality in the face of his past condemnation of gays, and his attempts to make a living outside the church, will air on the cable TV network on January 29.

Haggard, his wife Gayle and two of his five children appeared on a panel for U.S. television critics Friday to promote the documentary, "The Trials of Ted Haggard." He had previously been barred by evangelical leaders from speaking to the media.

"I don't think it is a flattering piece. I think it is even-handed," Haggard told Reuters in an interview. "It is embarrassing for me for people to see it, but it does answer their questions."

Haggard refers to himself in the documentary as a sinner who deserved the punishment meted out to him. He says he came close to suicide.

for more information:

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The amazing vanishing Mac desktop machine

A couple years back, after the introduction of the iPhone at the January 2007 Macworld Expo, I penned a little reaction peace entitled iDisappointed, expressing my dismay at the lack of Mac hardware updates—it is, in fact, called Macworld Expo. (I should also point out that I was also amazingly prescient with that piece, when I wrote “My gut reaction is that Apple has hit a huge home run with the iPhone.” I love it when I luck into being right!)
I learned my lesson that year—don’t expect anything from the keynote, and you won’t be disappointed by whatever you hear. The following year, my newly-lowered expectations meshed well with the message that was delivered, leading me to discuss the overall cohesiveness of the products covered in the keynote speech.

Fast-forward to 2009, and the Phil Schiller-delivered keynote address. In the lead-up to the Expo, I’d read the various new product rumors, discounting most of them in line with my ‘low expectations’ approach. I entered the keynote in good spirits, not expecting much at all in the way of new stuff.

Then, in the course of one slide and a couple of sentences, I allowed myself to be sucked into the reality distortion field once again—even when Steve Jobs isn’t present, it seems that some of the distortion field remains in Moscone West. The slide that hooked me was the simplest of slides—it said only “Mac.”

The words were equally simple, with Schiller saying “what I’m going to talk to you about is all about the Mac. I think that’s appropriate at Macworld that we talk about the Mac.” When I heard “the Mac,” the “cool new hardware” synapses in my brain

took over all normal, rational thought, and my low expectations went right out the window. “All about the Mac?”—wow, maybe all the rumors were correct. New Mac mini; new Mac Pros, perhaps; new iMacs; and a new 17-inch MacBook Pro! Excellent!

You see, when you get right down to it, I’m a hardware junkie. Sure, I love the Mac’s software (both Apple and third-party created), but what really piques my interest is a new machine from Apple, pusing the limits of design and technology. So while Schiller was providing more details on the Mac stuff he was going to talk about, my mind was already wandering off, thinking about all the cool new hardware that was soon to be announced.

Then, just about the time my imagination was ramping up to full speed (perhaps even a Mac NetBook or Mac Tablet!?), reality came crashing back into the picture when Schiller said he was going to talk about three things, and that the first of those things was the new iLife ’09. OK, I thought, well, that still leaves two pieces of new hardware, that’s not bad.

But as time marched on and we were still watching slides and demonstrations of the new iPhoto and iMovie, it seemed that perhaps even two new pieces of hardware was optimistic. Indeed, item two on Phil’s list was iWork ’09, also not a new piece of hardware. OK, down to one piece of new hardware…but which ultra-cool machine would it be? Maybe the Netbook, perhaps, saving the best for last? But no, as you all know by now, the third thing was the new unibody 17-inch MacBook Pro with its eight-hour battery-for-life.

A fine machine, to be sure, but beyond the tech in the battery, there’s nothing really new to see here—the 17-inch MacBook Pro is a larger version of its 15-inch counterparts, which have been dissected in great detail over the initial months of their existence. So yes, it was interesting, but not all that exciting.

Now, don’t get me wrong—today’s keynote didn’t even hit the bottom of my “iDisappointed” scale—I’m more disappointed at myself for allowing the “new hardware!” thoughts to creep into my brain. The stuff we were shown was generally impressive, save the clearly nowhere-near-done iWork-web integration. The new facial recognition and geotagging features in iPhoto look simply amazing, the features added back to iMovie ’08 may very well be enough to get me to try it again (though I’m not a fan of “scrub to select”), and iWork appears to have received a solid update with some compelling new features. I thought Schiller did an admirable job of stepping into a really large pair of shoes, and his delivery was as good as I’ve ever seen.

But when I look at the keynote in total, it was sort of a “yawn” event, and the lack of new Mac hardware—desktops, specifically—is disconcerting. It’s now been about 17 months since the Mac mini was updated; a full year since the last Mac Pro update; and more than eight months since the iMac was updated (which is lengthy, given its historical update rate).

In the fast-paced world of computing, these are long periods of time for a model to go unchanged, and it’s obvious that updates must be coming soon…just not quite yet.