Month: January 2021

Why I gave up on Microsoft Edge

All the tech press (and here) has been gag about the new version of Microsoft’s Edge browser. It uses the same Chromium rendering engine that Google Chrome does and seems a little faster. It definitely uses less memory, although not orders of magnitude less, but maybe half as much. Here is a Task Manager screen shot showing Chrome and Edge with the same 9 tabs open. In both cases there are many more instances running than were open at that moment. Over time this number of instances tends to grow more in Chrome than in Edge, but it is seldom an actual performance issue.

Since it clearly is less of a memory hog, they conclude you should switch. Edge has more privacy settings, but Chrome is better hooked into the Google  “ecosystem,” of Google Docs, Maps and Gmail.

Default search engine

Edge uses Bing as its default search engine, which among other things means that getting to Gmail or Google docs won’t work directly.  Bing is OK but not as all-encompassing at Google’s engine. Changing Edge to use Google as its default search engine is a little involved. Open the menu button, select Settings, and Privacy, Search and Services. Then scroll down to Search Engine Used in Address Bar. You can select Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, and a couple of others.

You would think that’s all there is to it, but it isn’t. Every time you click on “+” to open a new tab, the Microsoft Bing page comes up. You can get Google instead if you have put a link to it in your menu bar. If you hold down Ctrl and click on Google it opens a new tab.  Slightly inconvenient.

And look at the difference between what comes up in Edge and in Google:

If Edge calls up the Bing engine, you get an empty address bar to type in. If it calls up Google, the URL to Google is displayed and you have to sweep the mouse to remove it before typing in a new URL.

There is no way to set Edge to open a Google search panel from the +-sign from the menu. The only way is to install a Google-provided plugin. But even then, clicking on that plus sign does not provide you with an empty address bar.  This is simply dumb, (or intentional) on Microsoft’s part.

Importing data from Google

Edge will import all your Chrome address bar tabs and Chrome’s file of passwords. Almost. I found that it did not correctly import my password to my credit card provider, Citibank. Instead, it imported several old passwords, but not the current one, although this is hard to track since it masks the passwords as “*******” so you can’t find the right one.

Edge also doesn’t seem to import anything from your browser history, which provides valuable type-ahead data for entering sites you don’t bookmark but want to get to by just typing 2 or 3 characters. You have to do it over again for all those sites.


If I tried to access my bank account, the bank system sees a new browser without any cookies to tell it that I am the same customer, and it wants to send me an Email or SMS message with a numeric key to tell it I am the same user.

That would be OK, except the Edge never learns that fact, and the bank continue wants to validate me. I asked the bank about this and got no reply. I would assume that means they have no solution. That and the inelegant address bar were really my deal breakers. I’d have to switch back and forth to check if payments had cleared and so forth.

Switching Back

You would think that just going to Chrome and setting it as the default browser would undo all this, but it might not. The first time I switched back, I found that got Bing some of the time anyway. I had to go to the Windows search bar and type Default Apps to bring up the app where I could switch all searched back to Google. This went away after a recent Windows update, and now Chrome brings up that Default Apps program window directly.

However, once you again make Chrome your default browser, that Google plugin in Edge that makes the +-sign open a Google search page no longer works, and you have to reinstall it or revert to the Ctrl/click method to open a new tab as a Google window.  Bah!

Kindred: a fascinating look at Neanderthals

Kindred: a fascinating look at Neanderthals

Kindred,  Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, the new book by Rebecca Wragg Sykes, is a thorough look at what science now actually knows about Neanderthals and their dominant position for thousands of years. Sykes explains that recent research shows that Neanderthals were the dominant hominin in Europe for over 350,000 years (350 ka). And by Europe, we actually mean a huge swath from Britain all the way to Israel!

This is one of the most fascinating books I have read in many years. It covers their entire history and lives in much more detail than I had any idea we knew about.


Sykes explains that Neanderthals were a nomadic people, apparently moving from camp to camp, and to some extent following the migration of game that was so important to them.  Many of these camps included caves or “rock shelters,” and they apparently returned to them many times over the years. She explains that their meat rich diet included reindeer, horses, aurochs (huge early oxen), and even mammoths and elephants, and it appears that each individual consumed 5000-7500 calories a day because of their active lifestyle as well as the sometimes very cold climate. Plants were also part of their diet, but the evidence for which ones is a bit scanty. They survived several glacial and inter-glacial periods and persisted until relatively recently.

While popular imagination considered Neanderthals to be very primitive, current evidence shows that they had much the same vocal apparatus we do, and probably had speech and some language. They were probably closer to Alley Oop (without Dinny) than to the Flintstones (with recycled Honeymooners voices and humor), but we know that they made complex tools from various types of rock, and used them for sophisticated butchery, hide scraping and construction of fur clothing. In fact, the lack of many nicks on the recovered animal bones suggest that their butchers were very skilled indeed.

They even mastered some chemistry: tools exist that had stone blades but wooden handles, glued on by reduced birch sap cooked under low oxygen conditions, or when that wasn’t available, pine sap tempered with beeswax.

Sykes explains that Neanderthals were a bit shorter than us homo sapiens, and of course had the sloping brow you see in most pictures. Their fingers were a bit longer than ours, but their brain case was much the same as ours, implying they had the same level of intelligence we do.

Rather than the rough-looking images reconstructed from their skeletons, you might consider the beautiful paintings of Thomas Björklund more representative of what Neanderthals really looked like. They were as human as we are and lived and loved much as we do.


Much of the art that Neanderthals produced was using red and yellow and black colors that they dug from the ground. There is evidence that they decorated shells that way and added colors to their tanned leather clothing. But one of the most astonishing finds was the arrangement of stalactites in a cave at Bruniquel in Spain. Sykes explains that they broke off over 400 stalagmites, selecting the middles of them by size,  and arranged them in two rings, with the larger one 6 by 4 meters.

There is also a flat plate balanced on a cylinder.  And careful dating shows that this construction is 174,000 years old.  There were fires placed on some of these structures. Bear in mind that all this took place deep in a barely accessible cave with no light whatever.  We have no idea whether it was art or some ceremonial construction, although there may have been some bear remains in some of the fires. It remains an amazing mystery.

Pieces of cave art were also reported in Spain in 2018 in Cantabria and two other sites that were about 65,000 years old. If you look carefully, you will see a painting of a red ladder pattern with some sort of pathway along the top. This is the oldest known cave painting and took place long before there were homo sapiens in Spain.


Homo sapiens didn’t begin to arrive in Europe from Africa until about 100 ka, and evidence seems to indicate that there was some interbreeding with Neanderthals. Most people of European descent have about 2% Neanderthal genes while indigenous Americans, Asians and those from Oceana and Papa “have up to a fifth more.” Those of sub-Saharan descent have much less, and when they do it appears to have come from later interactions.

The major migration of homo sapiens from Africa to Europe didn’t take place until about 42ka and eventually they dominated, although we still do not understand what happened to the Neanderthals. Their burial customs were variable but for the most part we have found far fewer bones than you would expect from such a dominant race. Sykes believes there is still a lot more work and excavating to do to resolve this mystery. There are also genetic theories of one species’ DNA replacing another’s, although this has happened in other species, we have no proof it happened with Neanderthals.

In summary, Sykes describes the lives of Neanderthals over much of their long reign in Europe and gives us a fascinating picture of their accomplishments. You really need to read this book.