Category Archives: Evolution

Microsoft Ditches VBA for Security?

For some time I’ve been noting Dan Geer’s point that Microsoft faces a dilemma: stick to backward compatibility including many security vulnerabilities, or fix the holes and lose backwards compatibility. Looks like they’ve done the latter with Office:
Most of the whining comes because Office 2008 does not include Visual Basic. In some respects, this is welcome change because Office never should have had Visual Basic. VBA is what enabled the Macro Virus. Furthermore, Office 2009 (for Windows) is not going to have VBA, either.

However, not shipping VBA in Office 2008 means that people who want to have cross-platorm documents that are pseudo-applications have to deal with it in 2008, not 2009. That’s worth complaining about.

Microsoft Has Trouble Programming the Intel Architecture, by mordaxus, Emergent Chaos, 16 Jan 2008

The poster immediately goes on to sneer at OpenOffice for allegedly not being able to do things Office can do (without ever mentioning specifics) and at Keynote because everybody uses PowerPoint (while acknowledging that “Keynote rocks — it got Al Gore both an Oscar and the Nobel Prize”).

When Microsoft can manage to annoy even slavish users like that by breaking backwards compatibility, MSFT has a problem. No doubt no VBA in Office isn’t the last straw, but it isn’t the first, either.


Bananas and Apples: Another Monoculture

banana-bunch_d.gif Yes, we will have no bananas, again:

Most commercial growing facilities handle just a single banana type — the one we Americans slice into our morning cereal.

How much time is left for the Cavendish? Some scientists say five years; some say 10. Others hold out hope that it will be much longer. Aguilar has his own particular worst-case scenario, his own nightmare. "What happens," he says, with a very intent look, "is that Panama disease comes before we have a good replacement. What happens then," he says, nearly shuddering in the shade of a towering banana plant, "is that people change. To apples."

Can This Fruit Be Saved? By Dan Koeppel,, June 2005

Cavendish is the variety of banana eaten the world around. "Quite possibly the world’s perfect food," says Chiquita. But perfection comes with a price if it leads to monoculture. And that’s what we’ve got with bananas: every commercial Cavendish banana tree is grown from cuttings of the original tree, and so is genetically identical. Banana monoculture has borne the fruit of disaster before.

Growers adopted a frenzied strategy of shifting crops to unused land, maintaining the supply of bananas to the public but at great financial and environmental expense — the tactic destroyed millions of acres of rainforest. By 1960, the major importers were nearly bankrupt, and the future of the fruit was in jeopardy. (Some of the shortages during that time entered the fabric of popular culture; the 1923 musical hit "Yes! We Have No Bananas" is said to have been written after songwriters Frank Silver and Irving Cohn were denied in an attempt to purchase their favorite fruit by a syntactically colorful, out-of-stock neighborhood grocer.) U.S. banana executives were hesitant to recognize the crisis facing the Gros Michel, according to John Soluri, a history professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of Banana Cultures, an upcoming book on the fruit. "Many of them waited until the last minute."

Denial in the face of a clear and present ecological danger. We’ve seen this before.

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Bill Gates Considered as Evil Primitive Bacterium

archaea-tree-woese.jpg Has Freeman Dyson become an evolution denier?

Whatever Carl Woese writes, even in a speculative vein, needs to be taken seriously. In his "New Biology" article, he is postulating a golden age of pre-Darwinian life, when horizontal gene transfer was universal and separate species did not yet exist. Life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them. Evolution was a communal affair, the whole community advancing in metabolic and reproductive efficiency as the genes of the most efficient cells were shared. Evolution could be rapid, as new chemical devices could be evolved simultaneously by cells of different kinds working in parallel and then reassembled in a single cell by horizontal gene transfer.

But then, one evil day, a cell resembling a primitive bacterium happened to find itself one jump ahead of its neighbors in efficiency. That cell, anticipating Bill Gates by three billion years, separated itself from the community and refused to share. Its offspring became the first species of bacteria—and the first species of any kind—reserving their intellectual property for their own private use. With their superior efficiency, the bacteria continued to prosper and to evolve separately, while the rest of the community continued its communal life. Some millions of years later, another cell separated itself from the community and became the ancestor of the archea. Some time after that, a third cell separated itself and became the ancestor of the eukaryotes. And so it went on, until nothing was left of the community and all life was divided into species. The Darwinian interlude had begun.

Our Biotech Future, By Freeman Dyson, New York Review of Books, Volume 54, Number 12 · July 19, 2007

Has he sold out for an admittedly very fetching simile?

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