Thursday, January 27, 2011

Woods Says He’s Ready to Return to Tour, and to Winning

Tiger Woods returned to familiarity on Wednesday, to the fairways and greens of Torrey Pines Golf Course, comfortable confines that are etched in his mind like the layout of his childhood home some 90 miles north in Cypress.

Whether this will be the week he returns to normalcy on the golf course where he has won seven times as a professional will depend on what happens in the Farmers Insurance Open, his first PGA Tour event of the year. But he could not have picked a better place to find out.

Relaxed, rested and seemingly at peace after a winless and tumultuous year, Woods, 35, said his game was in good shape and that he was prepared to resume his climb to the top of golf’s Mount Olympus. He said it with a smile and a self-assured tone that were absent from his public appearances last year. He left little room for doubt that, despite all the changes in his life, the audacious goal he set before his first professional tournament in 1996 — to win every tournament he enters — was intact.

“The goal’s still the same,” he said. “Try to beat all their butts. It hasn’t changed.”

Many things have changed, though, since Woods last played here, beating Rocco Mediate in a Monday playoff to win the 2008 United States Open. Among the oft-recited litany of losses, fallout from the off-course scandal in his personal life, are his ranking as the No. 1 player in the world; his marriage; multiple corporate endorsements; millions of dollars; and the on-course focus that made him the most prolific winner of golf tournaments (71) in the fewest number of years (14) in golf history.

Coming off a year in which he failed to win a tournament for the first time since he began playing competitively, Woods said he had balance in his life and that the memory from last year that was clearest in his mind was of the second shot he hit into the 72nd hole of the Chevron World Challenge.

“That was it,” he said. “All the changes I made in my swing, when I needed it the most. I needed to hit the 8-iron with that kind of shot, and I pulled it off. So under the most intense pressure I hit the shot I needed to hit when I needed to hit it.

“I needed to hit that fade. I needed to hit the 8-iron flush. I needed to get it there. I needed to hit it through the wind. And I did all those things and hit it to two and a half feet.”

Not one to rhapsodize about a shot unless it happens to meet his standards, and rarely one to recall a shot that did not lead to a victory, Woods chose to single out that one because it signaled that his work with the teacher Sean Foley had taken root and that his confidence in himself to execute under pressure was back. Graeme McDowell won the tournament by making two long putts, the first to tie and the second to win a playoff, but Woods had proved a larger truth to himself.

And now his peers see him coming back to where he was. Phil Mickelson, whose comedic timing is sometimes on a par with his short game, was asked what he expected to see from Woods this year. He started with what he had noticed toward the end of last year, at the BMW Championship and during the Ryder Cup singles.

“His speed was back up,” Mickelson said. “He was hitting it long. His touch was coming back, and I expect that he’ll be the Tiger that we’ve known for over a decade.”

Then Mickelson paused theatrically for effect before adding, “Unfortunately.”

That got a big laugh. Because what Mickelson realizes is the same as what the commissioner of the PGA Tour, Tim Finchem, knows and what television executives, fans and every tour player knows. A competitive Tiger Woods, focused on winning and not on discussions with lawyers, will help put the focus back on the sport.

And this week at Torrey Pines, there will be an intense competition that it likely to heat up again. An invigorated Woods and a golf course full of fearless young players who have been emboldened by his absence could be a recipe for entertainment that was missing last year.

Those who have written off Woods will be pulling hard against him. The fans who missed the single-minded pursuit of excellence that was absent from the distracted and somewhat wounded Woods will be pulling the other way.

And Woods is ready to see if what he believes he is bringing to the course will, in fact, be what he brings.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Travers: Harper’s changing the country more than we realize

Understanding how Stephen Harper is changing Canada is easy. Just listen closely to a national conversation that over the past five years has narrowed in content and sharpened in tone.

Federal politicians no longer debate the broad questions of justice, climate change or foreign policy. Instead, they dispute the details of law and order, ethical oil and how long to extend the Afghan mission.

Winning arguments often begins with framing the subject. This Prime Minister is remarkably successful at both.

Harper took control of the country’s agenda as soon as he stepped into office. He named five priorities and set about achieving the ones voters remember — twice trimming the GST stands out — while muddying those he prefers they forget, most notably the fingers-crossed commitment to be more open, accountable and democratic.

His clarity of purpose has faded since then but, with the exception of a few moments when his opponents coalesced around a common cause, Harper has never surrendered the microphone. He consistently commands the high political ground by tilting policy discussions to ruling party advantage.

Wrong-footing rivals is the Prime Minister’s favourite dance step. Those who criticize building super-prisons, Canada’s laissez-faire environment record or Canada’s diminished international reputation are quickly forced to defend themselves against message track charges that they don’t share Conservative concerns about victims of crime, energy jobs or principled values.

Other examples abound. All are connected by two national capital realities. One is that Liberals, the one other party remotely capable of forming a government, either can’t conceive or articulate an alternative vision. The other is that the only time Harper’s opponents found the courage to unequivocally say “no” was during the 2008 Christmas constitutional crisis when the Prime Minister’s plan to end public funding for parties directly threatened their interests.

Blowing through such limp reeds is light work for a minority Prime Minister who more often than not is able to operate as if he won a majority. Just as significantly, it allows Conservatives to uncouple their actions from results.

Rarely has that disconnect been more obvious than in current pre-election positioning. Conservatives are taking a stand on corporate tax cuts while lunging a second time at party subsidies. They’re not documenting how more breaks for already lightly taxed big business will create jobs, stimulate productivity or boost international competitiveness. They’re not explaining why a feel-good promise to cut the purse strings to federal parties isn’t a slippery-slope step backwards to the bad old days of backroom bagmen, influence pedalling and tollgating federal contracts for political donations.

Missing, too, from the national dialogue are looming challenges that dwarf the importance of topics Conservatives prefer discussing. Off the table and out of mind are, among many things, are the future of universal health care, the complex transition from hewing wood and drawing water to a post-industrial economy, and Canada’s changing place in a rapidly evolving, helter-skelter world

Some prime ministers are moulded by their times, others shape them. Harper is squarely in both categories.

Recession and the compromises required to hold power in country less conservative than his ideology recalibrated Harper’s pragmatism. Determination and the patience to alter a country’s course, one incremental pin step at a time, are core characteristics of a Prime Minister who is changing Canada more fundamentally than friends or foes often recognize.

Measuring Harper’s five-year realignment of Canada demands no more than deconstructing what the country is — and isn’t — talking about.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Information Warfare Running For Linux

At the end of 2010, the Russian government ordered that all government computers using Microsoft Windows must move to Linux (a free operating system that is far less vulnerable to attack via the Internet) within four years. There are several reasons for this switch. First, there is security. Windows based PCs are most frequently attacked by hackers, and protecting government networks from these attacks is very expensive. There are fewer attacks on Linux PCs because there are more than 50 times as many Windows PCs out there. Second, most of the Microsoft software used by Russian government PCs is stolen. Microsoft, and the United States government, is putting increasing pressure on the Russians to pay up. The Russians hope to avoid that by simply dropping the use of Windows and other Microsoft software. Software for Linux PCs is much cheaper, and often free. But based on past experience, the Russian effort to convert to Linux will probably fail. The main reason for that can be seen what happened when China tried to convert.

For a decade now, China has been trying to get business and government users to adopt Unix (and later Linux) as their operating system. Yet most Chinese businesses, and many government departments, continue to use Microsoft operating systems. They do this because Microsoft Windows is widely pirated in China, and there's a large amount of pirated software you can use only on Windows systems. Another critical reason is that more games run on Windows machines, and that is important, even in China. Finally, the Chinese government is more resistant to complaints from Microsoft than Russia.

While the Chinese government continues to push the adoption of Linux, they are finding more success mandating that government servers use a Unix variant operating system, developed in China, called Kylin. Meanwhile, the government is increasingly eager to force all Chinese businesses to adopt a Chinese version of Linux or Unix for their desktop and laptop PCs. All this is nothing new, but there is a growing sense of urgency to it.

The Chinese know that, while their own Cyber War forces were capable of launching attacks over the Internet, their own computers are already overrun with viruses and worms. While the United States is regarded as the one nation most dependant on the Internet, it is also the country with the largest amount of effort dedicated to protecting it’s PCs from infection by “malware” (viruses, worms, Trojans and the like.) China, on the other hand, had developed an outlaw mentality when it came to software. So most users have pirated operating systems and applications on their machines. While there are pirated versions of anti-virus software available, using this kind of protection is not popular. China is hoping to get around this by using Linux,. But Linux does not have as much software available for it, and users are reluctant to abandon Windows, and all the neat games and other software that only runs on Windows powered computers. The Windows based games, it turns out, are a major obstacle in getting many users, even business users, to switch. It seems that playing games on company computers after hours is a valuable fringe benefit for workers, and costs the company little. No one likes to talk about this form of compensation, but there it is.

The Chinese government has found that switching to Linux is difficult for other reasons. For example, there are not enough computer experts to carry this out. Microsoft Windows is much easier to install, and maintain, than Linux. Many more Chinese computer manufacturers are shipping PCs with Linux installed, but the demand is just not there. Microsoft has a huge head start, and only less than five percent of Chinese PCs use Unix or Linux, and the government represents a third of those non-Windows users.

China has tried to get around this by subsidizing Linux training for Chinese engineers and computer technicians. The government also subsidized the development of the Kylin Unix based server software. Kylin is shareware, and anyone can download it. Kylin is also designed to be very secure, much more secure than Microsoft server software, and most other similar products. China has had more success in getting users to adopt non-Microsoft server software, but the real battleground is PCs.

Russia believes they can force the adoption of Linux. But Russia has a long history of government that order grand things be done, and eventually settling for a compromise. Like declaring that the problem has gone away and everything is fine.