Dear Microsoft, help me like you

The years after Ballmer’s exit from Microsoft brought big changes, and many of them.

  • .NET’s core became open source under a widely known permissive license. Previous FOSS efforts from Microsoft didn’t do so well in picking licenses. But now it’s all on GitHub, not on some marginal platform, but on everybody’s darling.
  • MS absorbed Xamarin, perhaps making mobile .NET development less of a pain. I don’t know if it had been painful at all, I hear Xamarin’s tools were pretty good on their own, but with Microsoft’s gloved and lubed hand deep inside the monkey, Xamarin may extract more joy from it.
  • Docker now (or soon) runs on Windows, natively using Hyper-V.
  • Node.js runs on Windows, natively.
  • Chakra (the JavaScript engine) has become open source and cross-platform. It will soon be available inside Node.js.
  • ASP.NET is open source.
  • F# is open source.
  • TypeScript is open source.
  • PowerShell is quite probably going open source.
  • Visual Studio Code came out, and is open source.
  • Canonical has ported their Ubuntu userland to the Win32 API.
  • Microsoft is going into containers and small footprint servers with Nano Server.
  • Microsoft absorbed Mojang and thus Minecraft. Perhaps to lure the younger generation towards Microsoft products, perhaps also because they can make cool toys like Hololens and stack them on something that already has an established community.
  • MS dropped XNA instead of open sourcing it, but Monogame came to the rescue, and now that we’re all part of the touchy-feely FOSS crowd, we’ll forgive them that move.

But there have been some dark chapters as well:

Continue reading “Dear Microsoft, help me like you”

Microsoft’s Cortana spies on everyone except school children

It appears that Microsoft decided that its voice-controlled assistant can no longer be disabled in Windows 10 after the upcoming Anniversary Update. So is listening in on everything someone says in a household something perhaps slightly immoral? From this action, you’d think that Microsoft doesn’t think so. But then you discover that Microsoft also decided that school children will not be spied on (that would be immoral?) so the Education Edition of Windows 10 will not contain Cortana at all.

Maybe physically removing the microphones from your computer will prevent being spied on, because just disabling the devices via software is not guaranteed to switch them off, since you don’t have the source code to the drivers or the kernel.

Microsoft is not alone in wanting to listen in on you having clumsy sex, Google also sneakily placed a recording system on all computers running an up-to-date version of Chrome. They even managed to infiltrate the free software base of Chrome, Chromium. So do Chrome users on Windows 10 now have two spies in their bedroom?

Ungoogling has reached the mainstream

I’m very happy that ungoogling (removing all your data from Google services and hosting it yourself, using services that respect your privacy) has now reached the mainstream. I did my ungoogling some years ago and it’s been great, even though Google still has its fist up my anus since I use Android.

There is one project that explictly lists ungoogling as its goal, Cozy. They raised over €5 million in the last few months and it looks like they’re well on their way of reaching their goals. I didn’t look at the architecture in detail so I don’t know if they have some security innovations, but if it’s innovative security you’re looking for in addition to easy hosting, there is already Sandstorm.

Both also offer (free) hosting if you don’t want to host yourself. For some, this could be the right choice, for others it might defeat the purpose.

There are of course other hurdles to overcome in the future. It would be nice if every human could have their own little box of storage connected at home, always reachable, making their own data available securely and only to those humans that this human authorizes. We’re still some distance from that goal, but people are working on it.

There will be a time when it’s you who is in control of your data. Not some corporation.

The end of the Microsoft era

The way I see it, Microsoft are struggling hard to remain relevant these days and the next five years or so will decide whether they’ll still be in a power position ten years from now.

No longer fancy-cool

If anecdotal evidence counts, Apple has won the consumer computing war of the 2010s. The younger people (under 20 year olds) around me are buying Macs, not Windows machines, and sadly not GNU/Linux. This is a generation of people who only has to touch Windows at work, if at all. Windows gets the stigma of the boring work thing, not the exciting spare time thing.

If they branch into software development in their spare time, they usually do that using Atom or XCode on OS X, writing stuff in JavaScript for Node.js or in Swift if they want to go native. Some dabble with PHP, but on the frontend it’s all JavaScript-template-engine-of-the-month or perhaps React or Meteor.

Continue reading “The end of the Microsoft era”

The Dhammapada exploration – introduction and part 1: Pairs

After my failed Qu’ran reading experiment I was asked whether I might want to do the same for Buddhist texts (which I know a little better). At first I wasn’t sure and referred people to Dr. Walpola Rahula’s “What the Buddha taught” and some of my favorite teachers like Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Amaro, Thich Nhat Hanh and Brad Warner. But then it struck me that it’s been more than ten years since I’ve last read the Dhammapada, one of the more easily understood canonical texts that is a good introduction for laypeople.

So, do you want to read it with me? It’s only 70-something pages of very large and sparse text.

Continue reading “The Dhammapada exploration – introduction and part 1: Pairs”

The Qu’ran reading experiment: Summary

I tried my best, but after over 100 pages of “you will burn in fire forever,” and very little in terms of wisdom, I don’t think the Qu’ran has earned more of my time. I’m glad that I don’t need to do extensive criticism of the book, because others have done that.

I went into this with as open a mind as I could, and I will research Islam more (just like  Jainism, Judaism, Bahá’í, Yazidi and Druze) but without the use of the Qu’ran. I deeply despise dogma in religions, and the Qu’ran is nothing if not full of it.

I have no doubt that there are Muslims who manage to interpret, twist, tweak and hack Islam into something that enriches their lives. I don’t think they can do this while actually also believing every word they read there. Although maybe they can, cognitive dissonance is not uncommon in religious people and it seems to bother them a lot less than it bothers me.

This journey for me is about understanding religious people, and I think despite reading the angry words of a punishing and hateful Allah, I think I now have a tiny inkling of what’s going on there. I see some elegance in what Islam can be, somewhere in the distance, and I sincerely hope so do all happy, cheerful Muslims.

Forced into Islam

It is said in some places of the Qu’ran that one submits to Islam voluntarily. At the same time we know that after the death of Muhammad, many wanted to leave Islam, but the remaining Muslims threatened and slaughtered them so they would remain Muslims. This is similar to how today, some Muslim nations place the death penalty on leaving Islam. And in the lands conquered by Muslims, people usually had the choice of being slaughtered, converting forcibly to Islam or becoming slaves of Muslim households.

How can this be such a good, peaceful, benevolent religion when it has to threaten those who want to leave with death? Wouldn’t a religion that is in itself fulfilling be so wonderful that you wouldn’t want to leave? There are many reasons to leave Islam. Why don’t they let people leave?

Of course the Christians weren’t any better, the choices when they conquered Europe were either to convert, to be killed or to leave the kingdom hoping that a neighboring king would grant asylum to a heretic. That was 500 years ago. Can Islam fast-forward itself into the now?

There will be blood

When reading about Muhammad’s life and the Qu’ran, I couldn’t help but notice that he lived in very bloodthirsty times and that he was quite happy to partake in the bloodshed when he thought it would be to his advantage.

Religion based on an exclusive worship of a single deity is a concept that is broken on so many levels that it’s hard to disentangle the mess, but let’s operate for now on some basic assumptions that these religions share:

  1. A single creator has created the universe.
  2. That creator has sometimes sent messages to prophets among humans (all of them male, but that’s another problem).

But, but, but!

  1. The monotheistic Abrahamic religions claim that there is an all-knowing creator that loves his creation and desperately needs to be loved back (or else throws a hissy fit and destroys or punishes believers and non-believers alike).
  2. Islam claims only they know the truth about this creator. Jews and Christians disagree. Everyone is mad at everyone else.
  3. Each religion through military and political power has tried to force the members of the other religions to believe what they believe. Sometimes they claim to have had divine aid from their creator (like the Muslims in the Battle of Badr) to prove that they are indeed the creator’s favorite people.
  4. This continues to this day, nearly two thousand years of bloodshed, torture, destruction and intolerance, plus self-loathing and family trouble for e.g. homosexual Muslims.

What benefit could possibly outweigh all this conflict? And how did we not manage to stop this for nearly 1500 years?

Muhammad ordered battles that killed an unknown number of innocents. In just one example, he slaughtered the people of Jurash behind the back of their ambassadors even though those had come to him respectfully for peace talks. He took sex slaves from the conquered tribes. He was an insatiable maniac bent on domination. And why? All for a better afterlife?

Did he really think that by force-converting everyone to his system he would be rewarding his victims, like the Spanish conquistadors thought they were helping indigenous children by baptising them before smashing their skulls open against the rocks?

As a Muslim I would ask myself: How much love and compassion can you learn from a warlord?

Sufi Islam

I think that there were some Muslims who asked themselves the same things and that weren’t happy with the horrors of religious doctrine either. I found a branch of Islam that adds warmth and exploration to the mix.

Sufi Islam also mixes a lot of meditation into its practice, and I have no doubt that some of the leading Sufi mystics have attained what the Buddhists call enlightenment or realization.

Sufi Muslims suffer under the whip of their Muslim brothers and sisters, maybe precisely because they dare to think for themselves. In some areas orthodox Muslims force-convert Sufis to one of the less flexible branches. Extremists destroy Sufi shrines and claim that Allah has ordered them to do so.

I personally find this infighting even worse than the Shi’a/Sunni schism because to me Sufism presents one of the most progressive elements within Islam, and this just goes to show how backwards the other branches are.

Meanwhile Sufis appear almost syncretic, are happy to co-meditate with Buddhists and open their practice even to those hated Jews, atheists, agnostics, anyone. If there is a noble, loving creator, wouldn’t such collaboration be precisely what he wants? And why so much intolerance for the Sufi Muslims by their own brothers and sisters? Does Islam always have to smother any attempts at opening it, at reform or integration?

I wasn’t born with the religious gene, so all I can do is watch from the outside. This saves me from some of the grief you have if you think you have to defend your god against all others. But it doesn’t immunize me against religion. After decades of watching all the major religions, all I feel is very sad for religious people.

 

Qu’ran reading experiment 4: Surah an-Nisā’

Please read the disclaimer on the first article in this series.

Surah 4 deals among other things with how to distribute the belongings of orphans. You shouldn’t steal them or embellish them, instead there are specific instructions for how to distribute them. This arose apparently because one of Muhammad’s many battles didn’t go quite as well as he’d hope and many Muslim children lost their parents.

There’s also a bit about how to deal with inheritance. Female children receive only half of what boys get. There are other instructions e.g. for how much surviving parents would receive. I have no clue if this was progressive (“wow, women get a full half of what men get!”) or par for the course of the time. But can you guess what happens if you don’t distribute things properly or if you steal from orphans? That’s right, Allah punishes you by roasting you in eternal fire.

Allah can forgive, though. It seems he can forgive adulterers (“unlawful sexual intercourse”) if they confess and regret what they’ve done (4:16-18). So finally some niceness is shining through all the grim burning and eternal fire, alḥamdulillāh! The Qu’ran also establishes that surviving male heirs have no right to marry the widow. And that if a man chooses a new wife and sends his former wife off with gifts, he cannot later reclaim those gifts. Plus, no marrying women who your fathers have already married before. Some bits about no marrying sisters, etc., and 4:25 seems to say that if you get very horny and can’t find a wife to marry freely, you can marry a slave girl instead of giving in to sin.

Of course this is all directed at men, no one asked the women what they think about it. In fact, the Qu’ran establishes with absolutely no margin for error or misinterpretation that “men are in charge of women” (4:34) (husbands are in charge of wives, not women in general). But at least  in this surah we have some instructions for (what was perceived as) good moral conduct.

Fun nugget of history, in Switzerland, even into the years of the early feminist movement, women had to have their husband’s signature to open a bank account. So the Qu’ran is no worse here.

Forgiveness and good advice

Also, hey, Allah forgives even more things. If you get rid of your major sins, your minor ones are to be stripped off as well. Could it be that the Qu’ran gets cheerful at this chapter? Yes, it does!

4:35 – 4:44 is a treasure trove of truly good avice! You should be nice to your neighbor, your friends, do good to your relatives, parents, your slaves! Do not be stingy with the things Allah has given you, but do not be boastful if you have plenty. Allah will repay you many times over for any good things you have done. You shouldn’t pray while intoxicated (wait until you know what you’re saying again – so much for forbidding alcohol, that’s not in the Qu’ran so far at least). Don’t come back from the toilet or having sex without washing your hands and face first, especially if you’re ill.

I’m not trying to take the piss, I’m genuinely impressed, there is some really good advice here. Of course the Buddhists had this same wisdom nearly a thousand years earlier, without having to create a punishing God-figure, but hey, good job anyway.

Of course at 4:46 the book is back to criticizing Jews, but let’s give the Qu’ran its moment of glory for a second here.

Back to the gory business

The interlude of love and happiness is brief, however. Surah 4 is actually home to some of the most gruesome threats of torture that I’ve read so far in the Qu’ran, and the book is full of threats of torture on every page. Get this:

4:56: Indeed, those who disbelieve in Our verses – We will drive them into a fire.
Every time their skins are roasted through We will replace them with other skins so they may taste the punishment. Indeed, God is ever Exalted in Might and Wise.

Wow. This is some tough shit. Hannibal Lector? A limp-wristed pussy in comparison to Allah’s magnificent torture methods. Then 4:74 says that if you fight in the cause of Allah and die, you will be rewarded richly (a previous verse in surah 2 said the same thing). It really is easy to see how someone who wants to set off a suicide bomb to kill unbelievers could take these verses as motivation. This book offers him a divine truth from Allah, and would Allah lie about this? Surely not. Surely there will be a reward. Surely western troops marching into Iraq can be seen as enemies of Allah that we need to defend against.

Allah does seem to have an interest in military campaigns:

4:84: So fight, [O Muhammad], in the cause of God; you are not held responsible
except for yourself. And encourage the believers [to join you] that perhaps God
will restrain the [military] might of those who disbelieve. And God is greater in might and stronger in [exemplary] punishment.

Fighting without accepting responsibility for your actions. Exemplary punishment. Yes, of course. Allah is just like Kim Jong-Un, then.

That’s as much as I can take. I am not making things up when I say that on almost every single page of the Qu’ran, you are threatened with eternal fire, death, damnation and punishment. I don’t want to read this anymore, it’s sickening. My next thing will be a summary of what I’ve read so far.