Vikshepa Blog

Mental Distractions

15 Jan 2023

I listened to T.N. Ravi's speech in Auroville from November 7. He is both the governor of Tamil Nadu and the chairman of the Auroville Foundation. His talk was intended to inspire and wake up Aurovillians to what he saw as their responsibilities at a time of much discord within the township.

It was a good speech, in tune with the higher purpose of Auroville. Ravi claims to be a lifelong student of Sri Aurobindo (whom he calls "Rishi Aurobindo" - the first time I'd heard that). I do not know enough about the man to give much of an opinion. He is a representive of the national/federal government and apparently suspected of not being very progressive on a range of issues, but my sense of him was that in this talk he was being very sincere, and genuinely concerned about the future of the township. (There are politicians who are actually downright hostile towards it, and this too, is unfortunately a reasonable viewpoint.)

I understood from the speech that the expectation from India is that the people, especially foreigners, who live in Auroville should concentrate on spiritual sadhana (through nishkama karma), and avoid getting involved in power struggles, rights of ownership or politics. At some level that seems fair, because it reflects the original purpose of the township. I don't know how fair it seems to Aurovillians, especially 2nd and 3rd generation children of Aurovillians, who may have developed their own views and expectations. But if I chose to live in Auroville, my motivation would be spiritual.

The way that India regards the presence of foreigners is decidedly backward, during an era when people ought to be able to live where they want, under certain conditions. But it's also necessary to look at this with a remembrance of India's recent colonial past and its present day concerns. Whatever the justifications or lack of justifications for this behaviour, nations have their psychological issues, just as people do. Sometimes, if we are feeling generous, we can give an understanding nod.

But this is not about India, but about India's relationship with Auroville and those who live there.

Tags: auroville
13 Jan 2023

Interoperability

I am not so worried about a few big tech companies embracing fediverse, because if a couple of them do, it may draw the even bigger fish in too, meaning that for the first time we will have interoperability between major social media companies.

If we like the unique feel of Tumblr, the rapidity of Twitter, the artistic community of deviantart or the targeted boosts offered by Facebook, etc. we could choose one of those services knowing that we can still them to stay in touch with our friends on other networks.

That will still not be enough to persuade many of us to join those commercial networks, but we will finally be able to read posts sent by our friends, and they will be able to read ours. If that happens, it will be great, because it will no longer matter what service people decide to join.

Even the big companies may eventually see that interoperability is to their advantage - they will simply need to shift their attention away from all kinds of devious behaviour that aims to lock in users by force, and towards offering the best experience possible. When people are no longer held captive, they will be able to demand more.

If I already enjoy being on Facebook, but can also see there all the posts of my friends on Twitter, I will end up spending more of my time on Facebook, which is eventually better for Facebook.

The only real danger, as far as I understand it, is that as with email, it could become a playing field mainly of a few big operators. Because in order for it to work properly, there is quite a high bar to reach. It has to be done with a slew of protocols and security standards. But new email companies and services, even non-profits run by a few volunteers, do manage to break in, and even manage to be innovative in what they offer.

I think this will be the same with the fediverse. What will eventually persuade the big companies to open up and be interoperable will be government regulations or other necessities, rather than "competition" from Mastodon. But the availability of common free opensource protocols like ActivityPub is showing the way forward.

Tags: socialnetworking fediverst
10 Jan 2023

Bits and bats

Shifting as I do between Markdown, BBCode, Orgmode, SPIP PHP tags and plain HTML there's a tendency to get a bit mixed up sometimes. Bill Gates would say that the wonderful thing about standards is that there are so many of them.

Lately I haven't found the inspiration to write in my blog, but, on the other hand, I've written lots of little things in various other places, so I'll collect a couple of them here.

In sickness and in health

A person who has to be laid up for several months due to a couple of unexpected spinal operations wrote that:

"I'm feeling ok now - a little mentally traumatised still from the urgency and unexpectedness of the surgery. The randomness of life really hit me."

I wrote back that I wasn't sure that "life is random" because I've been conditioned to think of it as prarabhda karma - which Jiddu Krishnamurti would have laughed at, because we create theories to explain away life's mysteries. I also wrote that I try to relate to the "random" things that happen to us as gifts from the universe, as a bhakti would do. Baruch ha shem be tov ve ba ra as they say in Judaism.

But then she asked me to explain all these words, so follows my explanation:

'Prarabhda karma' is one of three types of karma according to brahmanist texts: it's the kind that you have already been landed with, as against the karma you are now creating, or the karma that you have already perpetrated, but which has not yet resulted in anything. Actually, there's nothing mystical about the word karma itself - it simply means action - the Indo-European root is cognate with our word "create", but there's a whole philosophy built around it (in both Hinduism and Buddhism): the result of "bad" actions, good "actions", and doing action without seeking reward, etc. - the Bhagavad Gita, a poem of 700 verses, spends a lot of time on it.

'bhakti' means someone of a devotional bent, who might find himself in opposition to, say, a "raja yogi" or a dhyani. The analogy they usually give in India is that a bhakti is like a kitten, who his mother picks up by the scruff of his neck, and allows himself to be carried along, surrendering personal will to divine providence, whereas other kinds of yogis are more like the monkey baby, tenaciously clinging to their stated objective.

' blessed is God who brings goodness and ba ra' I suppose "praise G-d whether he brings us good things or bad things" is the spirit of it. Bhakta, or devotion, is pretty much the same in all religions, I think. In one of Paul Bowles books, set in Morocco, there's a scene where the narrator accidentally slams the taxi door on the hand of an elderly fellow passenger. Wordlessly, the old guy wraps his bloodied fingers in his shawl, mutters "alhamdulillah" (praise be to Allah!) and goes on his way.

I find I don't have a problem reconciling between the attitudes of these different religions, while not believing in a conceptualization of God as some of them do. "God" is just a shorthand term used for convenience; a personalisation similar to the way some people assign personal names to inanimate objects. If they find it helpful, let them do so. Just don't try to persuade me that divinity is the way that you imagine it, based on what has been drummed into you in churches and temples. Or that the god you yourself have set up on a pedestal needs to be pulled down, because either way, it is of no consequence to me. Agnosticism and atheism are nonsense terms and only imply that we haven't understood, while "belief" will always be extremely fragile.

Progressive web applications

On my phone, using Epicyon, I noticed that there are interesting differences between Firefox (and Mull) and Chrome, in the way they handle progressive web apps. The launcher I use does not directly support pwas. But I found that if I create a Chrome pwa in Samsung's default launcher, I can then go back and use it in my launcher. But the same is not true for Firefox pwas. They can be added to Samsung's home screen, but do not show up among the applications, as do Chrome pwas. I don't normally use Chrome and when it began to pester me about syncing between devices, I decided not to use it for Epicyon either. So, since I can't use Firefox web apps under my launcher, I simply open Epicyon from a Mull tab. I might eventually put Vivaldi back on my phone, so then I'll see what happens with the web apps that it creates, but for Epicyon I can manage like that. My launcher, by the way, is Baldphone - it's supposed to be a simple launcher for old people. Maybe I'm getting old, because although I've experimented with every launcher in F-Droid, I like it best.

Unfediverse

Someone said the other day that it isn't entirely true to say that "the Fediverse is bigger than Mastodon" because, as it stands, Mastodon by itself has many more people on it than any of the other non-Mastodon instances. (And what happens if all of Tumblr joins the Fediverse?) Anyway, for now, the effect of Mastodon's "market dominance" is that all the other instances need to conform to Mastodon first, and then worry about being interoperable with each other only later. As a result, although almost everything I do in Epicyon and Hubzilla will work in Mastodon, and everything I receive from Mastodon is likely to come through fine, this is not true if I try to follow someone on Hubzilla from Epicyon, and, as I just discovered, posting an image in Hubzilla will come through blank to Akkoma (a Pleroma fork). Even with Mastodon, Epicyon and maybe Hubzilla have compatibility problems. From Epicyon, I discovered that I cannot respond to surveys, for example. Images can be given alt tags in Hubzilla (through a non-intuitive and undocumented syntax), but these do not seem to work in exactly the same way as in Mastodon. It's all a bit wild. So, for interoperability it's best to keep posts as simple as possible.

Palestine

When political realities change for the worse, we tend to adapt to them by hardening our positions. When Russia invades Ukraine, this has an inhibiting factor on all discourse that tries to be even-handed. Suddenly we are all against Russia, siding with the warmongers of NATO. That's too bad, because the necessary nuances are lost - with the darkness of night comes our inabilities to perceive differences in colors.

It's the same now with what's happening in Israel/Palestine. Israel's new regime is so harsh, anti-Arab and Fascist, the world cannot do other than to side with Palestinians and to unite against Israel. This usually results in sending Israeli Jews into defensive mode. A people so traumatized by historical antisemitism have a strong defensive reflex. This too is dangerous.

But what can one do? What can one do when a conflict seems to require that we take sides? To sign up anyway but just not to be happy about it?

Lao Tsu has the following to say about war:

Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 31

Good weapons are instruments of fear; all creatures hate them.
Therefore followers of the Tao never used them.
The wise man prefers the left.
The man of war prefers the right.

Weapons are instruments of fear; they are not a wise man's tools.
He uses them only when he has no choice.
Peace and quiet are dear to his heart.
And victory no cause for rejoicing.
If you rejoice in victory, then you delight in killing;
If you delight in killing, you cannot fulfill yourself.

On happy occasions precedence is given to the left,
On sad occasions to the right.
In the army the general stands on the left,
The commander-in-chief on the right.
This means that war is conducted like a funeral.
When many people are being killed,
They should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.
That is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.


I'm told that there's a parallel Talmudic passage.

War and peace may be governed by firm principles, or be in the domain of realpolitik. But they are also matters of the heart. When it comes down to it, I am not going to listen to Lao Tsu, Marx, Jesus, my elders, the Prime Minister or the laws of the nation. I'm going to do what my heart tells me to do.

Links

Palestine: Unite or die | Israel-Palestine conflict | Al Jazeera This article by an al-Jazeera senior journalist suggests that it's imperative for Palestinians to put aside their differences if they want to struggle against the new political realities in the region.

2022’s Best Investigative Stories in India - GIJN

There are amazing stories here.

Tags: spirituality, software
30 Dec 2022

2022-12-30

For Christmas, one of my sons gave me a new set of in-ear noise cancelling bluetooth earphones, which are very nice; great in fact - they remain comfortable after hours of use and I'm not bothered by things like the TV.

I also bought myself another set of headphones, though fortunately with a different purpose - they come as part of a sleep mask and are comfortable for nights when I want to fall asleep to music or hear it through the night. Lately I've been doing ok without them - I always sleep better in winter: the womby effect of thick blankets, probably.

Most of my music continues to be long mixes that SoundCloud chooses for me: right now it's "May Peace be Everywhere in the World" - an almost 3 hour track by Andi Rietchel. No need for mainstream first-tier musicians with me. My mainstray is Cafe de Anatolia, especially the stuff mixed by Billy Esteban.

It may be a sign of the times that we spend a lot of time piping music to our ears. I have at least 7 functioning sets of headphones by now. Perhaps it's to drown out all the negativity around us. The toxic politicians and cruel, divisive politics. There are no doubt stronger drugs that people are resorting to.

I have three social media streams now; having set up Hubzilla and Epicyon on my VPS while continuing to use Akkoma on Disroot's server. I'm making sure to follow different people on each. However, I'm not so much enjoying the experience; maybe I've just fallen in with the wrong crowd. As for my own contribution, I haven't felt much like sharing anything of late, so I don't. I think I'm more interested in social media from a technical point of view; when it comes to actually using it, I find that I don't have a great deal to do there.

I have a greater interest in creating my own corner on the web, "a digital garden", so I keep thinking about that.

VPN service and internet connections

I made a trial subscription to njalla's VPN service. This came after I followed a link to a world library site recommended, which asked if I'm in "Neve Shalom". Usually, the sites that I encounter have suggested that I'm somewhere in the general region - where my ISP server is located, for example. I didn't understand how it came to know I'm in this tiny village. I don't have location services enabled in my browser and Google Maps always has to ask whether I wish to enable them. Anyway, I thought that's just a step too far. It's not that it's hard to know where I live, for anyone who makes a bit of effort: I mention it in my blog and my fediverse accounts, but how does some random site knows where my computer is? That I didn't get. Anyway now the library site believes I'm in Finland, which is fine with me. Njalla's service seems OK, but was a bit hard to set up, and I still didn't manage to incorporate the VPN into my computer startup sequence.

The whole business of connecting to the internet never seems to settle down. New protocols and standards to learn, and deliberate obfuscation on the part of telecoms and companies that don't want us to know. I just bought a new mesh router but apparently it's the wrong one for the proprietary fiber modem-router of my carrier. There's some other mesh router that's supposed to go with that. Bummer.

And I hate all this proprietary stuff. This new mesh component does not come with the traditional website interface but a stupid simplified phone app that claims to be super-easy but is much less configurable. The approach of telecoms and companies is "Don't bother trying to understand: we'll take care of everything for you." And instead of explaining how everything's supposed to work, they try to keep us in the dark, which limits our freedom.

We need to counter such attempts through hacker-groups and websites that tirelessly explain whatever information is being kept from us. Locally I'm at a disadvantage, because I am less aware of Hebrew-speaking groups that specifically address the obfuscation and fud of the local telecom and its competitors. For sure there are people out there that understand the field much better than I do.

Israel's new government

It's all dark stuff. There's still a disconnect in my brain; I didn't completely internalize what it means, though rationally I know how bad it is, and how much worse it can become. I don't know what to do with this information. Of course, we should leave this country and go to some other, slightly better, place. But, as an individual: should one do that, when the rest of one's family remains behind? This must have been the same question that Jews and left-wing intellectuals would ask themselves during the 1930s in Germany and central Europe. With the difference that they were directly endangered themselves. So maybe it's more like the circumstances in which ordinary white Christian Germans without overt political affiliation found themselves during the same era. They would not be hunted down by the SS or the Gestapo, but they might suffer the effects of the war. And they might feel sympathy for the direct victims of the Nazi regime.

The situation may yet arise that we will all simply need to flee; I would not be too surprised, but I can't be sure, and I'm old after all, with family responsibilities of my own.

Tags: diary
22 Dec 2022

Diary

There's something about social media that it's both a time-suck and an energy-suck. I've been so busy with it lately that I have not found the time or the energy for my blog. Not that I have been active on social media: that would not be true. It's more that I have been either reading timelines, or evaluating and playing with its possibilities. Or installing, or reinstalling, and not getting very far with anything.

I've been busy both with Epicyon and with Hubzilla, and, as always my interest is more in the possibilities and capabilities of a system than actually using it. I'm simply not very good at being very social on social media, so I end up following smart people with interesting things to say; the ones who are least likely to follow me back, in other words, because they already have thousands of followers.

However interesting it is to play around with social media, blogging has greater importance. It's the place where one can record one's thoughts or place images that will have more permanence. So it's unfortunate that people who spend / waste time on social media often end up neglecting their blog. I don't want to become one of those people.

My blogging system lacks a way to keep the blog updated when I'm not at my computer. That's a bit of a problem for when I contemplate traveling just with my phone. It isn't a problem entering text on the phone. I have a nice, portable keyboard for that. Today while I was awaiting the family to emerge from a children's play, I was able to sit in a coffee shop and type away on my keyboard, using my phone as a screen. I have Orgzly in my phone and it's great for taking notes or writing longer texts. So it's possible to use it also for blogging, and then sync it later to my blog when I'm on a computer. I could also use Epicyon to write blog posts, and later move them back to my blog. I suppose these methods are the best solutions.

One day, perhaps, I'll have a linux phone where I can do exactly what I want. Perhaps computers as such will be unnecessary, and the phone will present a complete solution.

This post was written in the Emacs terminal mode. It's the first time I've done that (normally I use the GUI version). But the GUI version does not have a huge advantage over the terminal. Not that I've memorized all the emacs commands, but there's a menu system and I have my notes.

Interesting links

Les bonnes pratiques d'écoconception pour WordPress

Telling Is Listening: Ursula K. Le Guin on the Magic of Real Human Conversation

"Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it."

What is the small web, by Aral Balkan "The Small Web is the Single Tenant Web Small Web applications and sites are single tenant. That means that one server hosts one application that serves just one person: you. On the Small Web, we do not have the concept of 'users'. When we refer to people, we call them people."

But he also raised a concern today that seems to be valid: that on the Fediverse, it is quite likely that, as with email, there will be a tendency by large servers to block small instances. With email, this is due to the prevalence of spam. With the Fediverse, it would be due to the challenges of moderation. It's easy to block right-wing white supremicists, for example when they are all on a couple of large servers, which can easily be blocked. It would be much harder to accomplish if they were on single or small instances, with just a few users. So one could imagine a situation where an instance could decide to block everyone who isn't on a few well-known, well-moderated instances.

We're just at the beginning of popular mainstream adoption of the Fediverse. It's an exciting time, but it's still very unclear how its future will evolve.

Favorite books of 2022

Now's the time when lists are being made of popular books and popular TV shows, movies etc., so it's a good time to make wish lists. Maria Popova has a book list with many promising titles.

Tags: blogging fediverse
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