Back to Windows 7–And Glad of it!

For those who did not read my previous message, a week ago I took the big step a lot of people have been doing recently, and upgraded my computer from Windows 7 to Windows 10.  What a disaster that was!  The new software did not work, because it could not access the Internet.  While the computer ran somewhat smoother than it did on Windows 7 + umpteen clunky updates, I lost more than I gained.  Some of my favorite programs no longer worked, Windows 10 doesn’t like my default browser (Opera), and every time I loaded a Microsoft Office 2010 program, Windows tried to reinstall it.  Office 2010!  You’d think that Windows would be compatible with another program from the same company that is less than ten years old, right?

So on Wednesday I tried to roll the computer back to Windows 7, like Windows 10 said I could do during the first thirty days.  No such luck.  After more hours on the phone with technical support, we decided to use my emergency backup DVDs and re-format the hard drive.  For those of you not familiar with computer terminology, this means I erased all the files my computer has accumulated since I bought it, five years ago.  Everything.  Therefore when I got done, my computer was exactly the same as it was back in August 2010; if it could talk, it would probably be waking up now and saying, "What an awful dream!"

Of course a lot of the files cleared off were accumulated junk, so overall it is now running better.  Almost as good as when it was new, in fact.  Since Wednesday I have been re-configuring everything for my purposes, deciding what programs and files to put back on (all the documents, pictures, etc. that I considered important were saved to external hard drives).  This morning, for example, I got the scanner to work again, so the main item left to fix is the Pogoplug device, which makes one of my hard drives part of the so-called Internet “Cloud.”

Overall, I’d say that someday Windows 10 will work right for users, but for now it is not ready for public consumption.  And I’m not going to wait until Microsoft gets the bugs out of it; I already lost half a week of my life, dealing with it as is.

Windows 10–Don’t Make the Switch Yet

In a follow-up to last month’s news, my brother Chris found free cemetery space for both of our parents.  It turns out there is a fairly new (opened 2009) veteran’s cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida, the Jacksonville National Cemetery.  Because Dad was in the Navy during the Korean War years, it costs nothing to put Mom and Dad’s urns there.  Therefore last Friday, Chris took the urns to the cemetery, bringing the family closure on that issue.

The other reason why we settled on Jacksonville is location – both Chris and my daughter Lindy can get there in about three hours of driving.  In Kentucky there is a military cemetery about 25 miles south of us, called Camp Nelson, but most of the other burials there go back to the Civil War era, and it won’t be a convenient visit for anyone in my family, if Leive and I move out of Kentucky.

I have been looking forward to having a computer that runs Windows 10 because the PC I have now is five years old, and after all the updates it has taken for Windows 7, it is quite slow and cumbersome.  Therefore, I accepted the offer Microsoft announced a couple months ago for a free upgrade.  Last Sunday I received a message saying it was my turn to download Windows 10.  After letting my computer download and install updates for all of Sunday, it turned out the updates I got were for Windows 7, probably irrelevant.  Then the Windows 10 material came in on Monday.  So what did my computer get?

Well, so far the upgrade experience has turned out to be a waste of time. None of the new software can access the Internet, making the Store and the Edge browser useless. In addition it is incompatible with the old browser that still works (Opera), the new music player is ugly and buggy compared with Windows Media Player, the weather app insists that I am in Washington, DC, and so far I have found out that three of my programs no longer work.  One of them is the webpage editor that I have used since 1999, so to continue writing material for my websites, I’ll have to install and learn to use a new HTML editor.

The only advantage I have seen is that aside from a few required restarts, my computer no longer locks up or crashes.  Still, it may not be worth all the other trouble.  Last night I was up past 1 AM with technical support, trying to get the Internet connection problem fixed.  If I can’t solve this soon, I’m going back to Windows 7.  And if I need to buy a new computer this year, I’ll look for one that still has Windows 7 on it.

The South Sea Bubble

Nearly four years ago, I posted a message about the Darien Scheme, an unsuccessful attempt by Scotland to colonize Panama (see my message from August 29, 2011).  Then yesterday I read an article listing the worst investments of all time, and it reminded me that until now I have not written about one which was distantly tied in with Latin American history – the 1720 South Sea Bubble.  The action took place in London, England, but it involved trade with Latin America, and the person who thought up the Darien Scheme may have thought this one up, too, so I am adding this to the section on Darien, in Chapter 3 of my Latin American HistoryHere is how the new addition (not the band called the New Edition!) will read:


Meanwhile, the European wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries taught the British that it was safer to take colonies overseas, especially small islands, than it was to occupy a territory on the Continent. Limiting their landholdings on the European mainland meant they could sit out the frequent conflicts there, if they chose to do so.  Overseas colonies could also be more profitable, if defended and managed right. Accordingly, in the Treaty of Utrecht, one of the things the British asked for, and got, was the French half of the island of St. Kitts. They also won the right to sell up to 4,800 slaves and 500 tons of cargo per year in the Spanish colonies, something they probably considered more important than the land they gained.

The British wanted trading rights because wars are expensive, and they had run up some big debts during the War of the Spanish Succession. By 1711 the national debt was estimated at £9 million; the government staged lotteries and sold tickets to citizens looking for a chance to win prizes, but this only raised a fraction of the money needed to pay down the debt. Then the idea came up of floating a company that would assume at least part of the debt. In return this company, called the South Sea Company, would be given the right to trade in Latin America and the Caribbean, once the Spanish colonies opened up to non-Spanish merchants. The government would also give the company an annual annuity, worth 6 percent of the debt it took on, and this annuity was distributed to the shareholders as a dividend. We don’t know who thought of the South Sea Company first; some historians think it was Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe; others think it was William Paterson, the same fellow who gave us the Darien Scheme. If it was Paterson, this shows us that Great Britain did not learn anything from Scotland’s experience in Panama.

The trade rights granted by the Treaty of Utrecht were much less than what the South Sea Company had expected, meaning its ability to make a profit legally would be limited. Nevertheless, many saw great potential in Latin America, and persuaded themselves that the company was another Dutch West India Company; once Latin American colonists tried British-made products, the profits would pour in. When the company issued its first shares of stock, investors bought them eagerly. The first voyage by a company ship in 1717 only brought a moderate return, but then King George I became governor of the company in the following year, boosting investor confidence again. By 1720 the company was doing so well that it offered to take over the entire national debt, and Parliament accepted the proposal.

What Parliament did not realize was that the company was experiencing its first cash flow problem; it did not have enough money to pay the Christmas 1719 dividend, and it informed shareholders that payment would be delayed twelve months. Since it would take too long to get the money by expanding trade, Company executives tried bidding up the value of their stock. In January 1720, company shares were trading at £128, and had not changed much for a while. Back then one pound (£1) was worth about $400 in today’s dollars, so if you do the math, you will see why the stock wasn’t selling very fast.

When the company executives told wild stories about the wealth of the lands beyond the "South Sea," how Latin America was loaded with gold and silver that the company would eventually bring to Europe, this caused a buying frenzy, now called the South Sea Bubble, that drove up the value of the stock, to £175 in February, £330 in March, £550 at the end of May, and at the peak in August, around £1,000 a share. Politicians were offered a chance to buy shares at pre-bubble prices, allowing them to make a profit when they sold the shares later. The big bubble also led to the appearance of little bubbles, as swindlers went to investors who missed out on the company stock and offered them absurd get-rich-quick schemes that were limited only by imagination. The proposals put forth by these "companies" ranged from making better soap, to importing walnut trees from Virginia, to cannon that fired square cannonballs. Probably the cleverest and craziest proposal got investors to put down money "for carrying on an undertaking of great advantage; but nobody to know what it is."

Well, what goes up must come down. When those running the South Sea Company realized that their personal shares were worth many times as much as the company itself, they sold their stock, hoping that if they kept this move secret, the company would continue to do all right without them. Instead, word of them cutting and running got out, a panic selling replaced the frenzied buying, and share prices instantly collapsed; prices fell to £175 by the end of September, and £124 by December. Those who got in after the bubble started swelling were financially ruined when the bubble burst, especially those who had borrowed money to purchase shares. Among the losers was the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton, who lost £20,000 (worth probably $8 million today) and remarked, "I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men."

The House of Commons conducted an investigation in 1721, which found plenty of deceit and corruption; at least three government ministers had taken bribes from the company. The prosecution of those officials and the company managers followed. The South Sea Company stayed in business until 1853, but its stock was given to two real moneymakers, the Bank of England and the British East India Company, and it sold most of its rights to the Spanish government in 1750. Finally, the British government outlawed the issuing of stock certificates, and that law stayed on the books until 1825.


Mt. Pelée Kills St. Pierre

Back in 2013, when I composed Chapter 5 of the Latin American history project for The Xenophile Historian, I forgot to write about the disaster that struck Martinique in 1902.  Then when I remembered it recently, there wasn’t an appropriate place in the chapter to add it, even among the footnotes.  Therefore I just created a new section early in the chapter for it.  Here is how it reads:


While the Americans were turning Cuba loose, the worst volcanic disaster of the twentieth century struck in the Caribbean, on the French-ruled island of Martinique. Mt. Pelée, the volcano on the north side of Martinique, had shown it was active by erupting in the past, but those were minor eruptions, not big enough to prevent the nearby building of Martinique’s largest town, St. Pierre. When more minor eruptions and earthquakes occurred in early 1902, the island government told everyone St. Pierre was safe, and urged the residents to stay so they could vote in the elections scheduled for May 11; the governor even sent troops to the road going between St. Pierre and Fort-de-France, to turn back refugees trying to escape to the latter town. The election never happened, because the big eruption came on May 8, 1902; a pyroclastic flow (a large black cloud of superheated gas, ash and rock) rolled straight down the mountain at more than 100 miles per hour, destroying every building in St. Pierre in just one minute. A second eruption on May 20 wiped out what was left, including the two thousand rescue workers who had arrived by that time. St. Pierre has not recovered since then; whereas the population was an estimated 28,000-30,000 right before the May 8 eruption, the community on that spot today has only 4,544 people (2004 census).

Quite a few Romans managed to flee from the famous first-century eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, but Mt. Pelée’s first major eruption left only two survivors. One, a young shoemaker named Léon Compere-Léandre, was badly burned in his house, but because he was in better-than-average health, managed to run out of town and stay alive. The other was a prison inmate, Ludger Sylbaris (Louis-Auguste Cyparis in some texts), who had been put in solitary confinement for getting into a barfight or street brawl the night before the big eruption. His poorly ventilated cell was the only real underground shelter in town, and that saved his life, though he suffered burns as well. Four days later, rescuers heard him crying for help, and got him out of the ruined prison. Sylbaris was subsequently pardoned and went on to join the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, becoming the first black man to star in that show, as "the man who lived through Doomsday."