My thoughts on the Caitlin Jenner transition and controversy

I’m going to assume most readers know what I’m referring to without needing to cite a specific news story (a practice which is becoming more hit-or-miss as the days go on and which I’m considering changing; more on this in a later post). For those of you who have missed it and need some backstory, start with this section of the Caitlin Jenner article on Wikipedia.

(I had hoped to get this out there while it was still relatively topical. By now, it’s a bit stale, but I do have a lot to say on the subject, and a lot of the topics will remain relevant for some time to come.)

The last decade has seen a fair number of high-profile events involving sexual preference, gender identity, and gender norms. For example, the “coming out” of college football player, Michael Sam, originally drafted by the St. Louis Rams, later joining the Dallas Cowboys practice squad and then the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes. (Other players have since “come out” as gay or lesbian.) It’s no longer the huge taboo it once was for men to use color cosmetics (makeup), though it’s still a relatively small minority that choose to do so. Target has just recently (2015 August) decided to remove gender-based signage from the toys aisles (and some other departments) in its stores. (More on this in a future post, since this is still somewhat topical and worthy of its own post.) The Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that life partnership (marriage) can no longer legally be withheld from same-sex couples. All of these combined mean a very different world going forward.

A lot of the controversy surrounded Caitlin receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the 2015 ESPY Awards. It could be said that Caitlin, with her athletic career long since over, was not all that courageous “coming out” as transgender. I can see the logic behind giving her the award though, because coming out as transgender is damned hard enough as it is, and having become this famous as a male athlete, even if three decades prior, can’t possibly have made it any easier.

When the Ashe Award has been given to multiple recipients, there has always been some connection; examples include Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, and Jeremy Glick in 2002, who perished on-board United Flight 93 hijacked as part of the terrorist attacks of 2001 September 11; the Tillman brothers in 2003; and a few others. So one possible answer to the criticism, to award multiple recipients in 2015 for completely unrelated acts of courage, would probably not have gone over well and for good reason.

I’m not going to pretend to be omnipotent regarding who really should have received the award. Indeed, it could be argued there’s no objective way to measure courage and, thus, the answer as to who was the most courageous over the course of a year will vary depending on who is making the decision, and that the debate over whether or not Caitlin deserved the award will continue for many years if not decades. While we as a society have made a lot of progress, there is still a huge gap to close before we can say we have eliminated bias based on unconventional gender identity. I hope that those that disagree with the decision to give Caitlin the Ashe Award can at least respect that decision no matter how vehement their disagreement may be. It is also my hope that Caitlin’s coming out leads to more acceptance of transgender individuals and greater awareness of LGBTQ issues.

Same song, I lost count of how many verses: Microsoft, Windows 10, and application choices

A recent Ars Technica article reveals a very nasty (but entirely in-character for Microsoft) “feature” of Windows 10. If you are not paying attention when you upgrade to Windows 10, you could easily wind up with all your default applications reset to Microsoft’s “recommendations” by which I mean their attempts at monopoly like the new version of the Internet Exporer browser called Edge. (I’ll cover how to avoid this shortly.)

Not surprisingly, the CEO of the Mozilla Foundation (the non-profit behind Firefox, Thunderbird, and other software descended from the original Netscape Navigator/Communicator suites) is quite unhappy and is asking Microsoft to “please reconsider” their decision. I don’t blame him.

My quick take on this, is it reeks of the same anti-competitive behavior that Microsoft has been engaging in for most of the last two decades. I’m not going to explain all of it here, but a few notable examples:

  • Previous versions of Windows (unfortunately, I would assume Windows 10 is no different) were notorious for clobbering boot loaders for GNU/Linux dual boot setups, so much so that the advice to install Windows first to avoid complications became almost universally known among GNU/Linux user communities. One really should not have to do this; Windows, certainly by now, should be smart enough to detect a dual boot setup and not clobber it.
  • Microsoft’s own websites, during the height of the “browser war”, would intentionally serve broken CSS stylesheets to browsers identifying as something besides Internet Explorer (IE). The intent was for the uneducated users to quickly say “this layout is completely busted, let me see if IE handles it any better.” Of course Microsoft got caught out with these shenanigans in short order.
  • Microsoft orginally partnered with IBM to make Operating System/2 (OS/2). The partnership was short-lived; I am guessing Microsoft was mainly in it to get their hands on the High Performance File System (HPFS) code, which they hacked into the gratuitously incompatible NTFS which is now the default filesystem on Windows (and was the preferred filesystem for Windows NT from the beginning). Microsoft in the end left IBM holding the bag with OS/2, and when IBM made it an actual competing product, Microsoft did everything they could to stop it (a lot of it unethical, some quite possibly outright unlawful).

Anyway, for those of you upgrading to Windows 10 who want to keep your Firefox (or Chrome or Opera or K-Meleon or whatever), the “feature” to be on the lookout for is called “express settings.” If you want to keep your existing application choices, do not select “express settings, instead do this (from the Ars Technica article):

If you click the small “customise settings” button during installation, you can keep your default apps from the previous installation—but the size of the button would seem to indicate that Microsoft wants most users to just click “use express settings” instead. (Actually, you have to click “customise settings,” and a few pages later click another tiny, low-contrast button to actually change the default apps. Microsoft really doesn’t want you to change Windows 10’s default apps.)

It’s disappointing, but unfortunately quite non-surprising, to see Microsoft covertly steering users away from competing technology such as Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc. Unfortunately it is far from surprising. I have no real issue with Microsoft promoting their own products, but in the case of users upgrading from previous versions of Windows, Microsoft needs to learn respect for the choices the user has already made. Those choices may be OpenOffice or LibreOffice (instead of Microsoft’s Office suite); Firefox, Chrome, Opera, or another competing browser (instead of IE or Edge); Quicken or GnuCash (instead of the now-discontinued Microsoft Money, which is incidentally proof that Microsoft doesn’t in fact win them all); or even Vim (instead of something like Notepad or Wordpad). I could go on and on with the number of applications on an average PC, I’m sure Microsoft has an answer for a lot of different computing applications. The reality is that a lot of people will use something different, and that there are choices out there. Microsoft should work with its customers’ choices, not against them.