Vikshepa

Mental Distractions

26 Jun 2022

2022-06-26

I just noticed that there are many blog posts, mostly from last year, that I haven't moved over into this blog. When I find some time I will do that.

Today I decided to try KDE Plasma Desktop - which I had held off on a long while because I thought it was too "heavy". Well, I have to say that I'm loving it. Over the years since I last tried, it, it has grown into a very polished desktop environment. It has what I liked about Budgie, but so much more. If there are no problems with it, I will surely keep it.

My demands are not very high actually. I could have stayed with MX's native XFCE, but it was giving me some difficulties by not waking up after suspending the computer. In addition, I was irritated by its inability to pin applications to the panel like any modern desktop. So I drifted to Budgie, and now Plasma.

A guest

A, a friend came to visit us, since she was taking part in a workshop on Friday. She's a talker and often I find myself having limited patience for listening to conversation these days - even family. Sometimes I would find myself listening with only one ear to what she was saying, though she's a very interesting person, with her own take on reality. Highly critical, she is from a family of intellectuals. Only in later years has she begun to express interest in spiritual practice.

She says of herself that all of her friends are "special" in some way - she doesn't have mainstream friends. So there is a temptation to feel honored that she counts us among her friends.

She grew up among both Jews and Palestinians - most of them communists. One grandmother married a Palestinian - a well-known politician. He seems also to have been a child abuser. The men in the family seem to have been what she calls "narcissists" and idealists. One uncle was expelled to the US by the British in the 1930s due to his communism. From childhood, she remembers the visits of prominent Palestinians, who later shunned all connection with her, as an inconsequential Jew.

Both her parents committed suicide. Her father poisoned himself - his body was discovered by her sister. A's mother burned herself alive and she discovered the body. Her mother was 44; A. was 21. She lost a brother in the 1967 war.

At school, her Jewish classmates avoided her - for them she was an Arab. But her opinions antagonized both Jews and Palestinians in the family. She doesn't have kind words for any of the political activists and politicians she has known. She recalls that when she told Leah T. of her brother's death in the war, she said something like "one less Zionist". She says that most of these people are only into themselves. "M. W." is the only human being among them, she says.

After her mother's death, it took her years to pull herself back together. She has never been able to enter into a normal relationship - afraid to repeat the experience of her own parents. Now she is in her 60s and at peace with her past - "it is what it is", she says. Today she has quite an easy life in retirement, with not so much money, but freedom, and plenty of time.

I told her she should write about her experience - either in the form of a memoir or in a fictionalized way. D suggested to write stories. But A is afraid to harm her sister, who has always maintained the pretense of "normality" in her upbringing. She is afraid to "destroy her sister's life" by speaking openly about their lives. But I think there are ways of telling this tale. I think of writers like Isabel Allende.

Thoughts about growing old

On our afternoon walk I was telling D that what I principally experienced with DF in Tiru was the degree of his entrapment in material concerns. Here was a fellow that had tried to give his life to spirituality and to being a perfect devotee of Ramana, and in fact he was caught up in concerns about his bank account, and distrust of almost all the people around him. Tragic really, because his sincerity and seriousness regarding spiritual life is profound. This was not the experience I had imagined I would have in Tiru. Eventually I felt like getting away from DF. But perhaps not only from him, but the dryness I was experiencing there, in every other way. DT was the only person I was talking to. I compelled myself to sit four hours in the ashram each day, but could not really fill those hours with meditative practice, and I avoided other pursuits. I definitely learned something from the experience, but not all of what I learned was positive.

At around the same time, I was paying annual visits to my father, who was also plagued by financial troubles. He was not financially secure like DT, but struggling to pay a mortgage and maintain a household, but the message was equally strong. At the end, my father, after living carefully and without excess, and after years of working, followed by the reward of a reasonable pension, discovered that he was still living beyond his means. His difficulties were not his own but those of the economic system that gave birth to them. He did not deserve this fate, but if he had been financially more astute, he would not have suffered it.

I told D that my feeling is that ownership always engenders financial worries, of one kind of another. I fear in my own life facing the same issues as my father and of DT. My feeling is that despite the presence of a reasonable pension and owning a fully paid for house, there is still a continual trail of pitfalls, that come in the form of housing repairs, taxes that the village suddenly discovers that went unpaid and that are suddenly demanded by the state, and other unanticipated costs. She tells me that I don't need to worry about all that, and, indeed my tendency is to avoid thinking about them: but that's not what she means. Her thinking is that, while financial concerns are always present, one can deal with these with equanimity; with upeksha I suppose.

I'm only half convinced. I'm not a Janaka - my tendency is to avoid the problems by ditching ownership and living on a bare minimum. I'm not quite a saddhu; but I would much rather live below my means than at parity with them. Give me a small, well equipped room surrounded by a large forest, with occasional community support, and maybe I would be happy. That sounds like a description of life in Auroville, actually.

23 Jun 2022

2022-06-23 Home Server Woes

Well, unfortunately I did not succeed to use our phone company's infrastructure for properly hosting my website from home. Their fiber modem comes with various cyber protections and although it claims not to be operating under a firewall, it still seems to be. I was able to almost get NGINX to serve my pages without https, but the service seemed wonky, hit-or-miss and did not stabilize for the first 24 hours, at least. I don't want to give too much time to this, having already spent many hours getting things up and running with the old modem. Fiber is still a little new around here. Bezeq, the phone company, is trying its best to seal people in to its own service and does not allow one to use a non-Bezeq modem without using an adapter. Eventually I will probably find a freer ISP because there are competitors.

For now I'm able to use my Fastmail file storage to host this static site, but, for a couple of reasons that is not ideal. I will hunt around for a good and hopefully cheap virtual server as I also don't like being nannied by the hosting companies.

Tags: web-hosting
20 Jun 2022

2022-06-22 Fiber | Israel-Palestine

Yesterday we were connected to the fiber infrastructure and, hopefully will receive more robust internet connection, though that flimsy wire hanging flapping about among the bushes, leaves me feeling rather doubtful. In the newer section of the village, the cables are buried; in the older section where we live, we depend on wires and poles, which occasionally get hit and pulled down by passing trucks. The phone company technicians are known for their resourcefulness. For years, our connection was dependent on cables twisted together inside an old coke bottle on our roof. I suppose the technician didn't have a proper connection box handy on his several visits.

Now we have a formal connection speed of 1 Mb, though stability, rather than speed will be the incentive of most of the village residents to adopt the new service.

I still haven't got around to asking the phone company to give me a permanent ip and open port 80, so this post will be offline till I so so.

For the Thich Nhat Hanh sangha I suggested to share the Nextcloud folder I use, so that we'll have a joint folder for sangha-related activities. It's hosted at Disroot.org. They are a bit slow in responding to requests for new user registrations, so we'll see if this actually works. Most people are used to instant responses for new registration from the big tech companies, so the idea of a sign-up taking several days is foreign to them. I'm also not sure exactly how the Nextcloud federation plays out in real life, so we'll see. The service actually wasn't working at all for me for the past several months, till I figured out that I need to update my client. Then it worked again. This is one of the problems with AppImage and the other newer Linux software installations. The Debian package management system is much more dependable by comparison. And the more that software developers come to rely on the newer installation methods, the less motivated they are to keep the repository versions updated. (The other main problem is the variety of competing installation types, so that one has to remember whether an application was informed from the repository or snap or appimage, or Git or compiled from a tar ball, or whatever. The result is chaos, whereas formerly it was a lot easier to manage to update a Linux system than in Windows.

Link

‘The land beyond the road is forbidden’: Israeli settler shepherds displace Palestinians This is typical of the painful story that happens beneath the radar of international attention. Shepherding weaponized and used simply to take over Palestinian lands. The occupation is violent in every one of its aspects, but when Palestinians resort to desperate means like blowing themselves up in order to protest the occupation, they are the ones who are castigated for being violent.

The phone company sub-contractor who came to install our new fiber line were Palestinians from East Jerusalem. He was impressed to hear that our village is shared by Arabs and Jews living together. "It's the only one, unfortunately, I said." - "Inshallah, one day there will be peace" . - "Sure, after we are dead," I joked. His young worker, who hadn't understand this exchange in Hebrew, asked him afterwards why he was hearing the teachers from the adjacent primary school speaking in Arabic. So his boss explained to him that the school has Arab and Jewish kids learning together. The two of them had nothing more to say about it. In the reality of East Jerusalem, such a reality is even more difficult to contemplate.

Tags: web israel-palestine
18 Jun 2022

2022-06-18-Website work, thoughts about India

I spent most of the day working on the Israeli Thich Nhat Hanh sangha site, mindfulness-israel.org. It's completely voluntary but I enjoy it and it feels useful. This is a Wordpress site with the flexible Weaver theme, which sometimes frustrates me, but it is at least malleable, unlike many WP themes.

In between, I've been reading "Eight Mountains", which grows more interesting with every chapter. A sensitive writer with a good story to tell.

Al-Jazeera carries an item, in both print and audio, by Arundhati Roy: India is becoming a Hindu-fascist enterprise. Unfortunately I agree with her assessment. India, unlike some other troubled nations, is one that love and care about. I can't say why, or really what that means. Maybe it means nothing? However that may be, it is possible that I will never go there again. At least not while Modi and the BJP are in power, despite the temptation to do so. Not going there will, in fact, be a painful decision.

Israel is a shocking place too. It has an appalling human rights record, and the entire country is constructed upon an ongoing historical iniquity. On the other hand, it's the place where I live and for now I have little choice in the matter.

Nations, in terms of their governments, their politics, their actions and group identities, are almost universally repugnant. Some more than others. Ever since I lived there, I felt a distaste for the US, which has gradually grown over the years. And, particularly since Brexit, I feel anguished about the country of my birth and citizenship, the UK.

Of course, countries are more than their repugnant aspects. There is much to love about the culture of the US, the UK and elsewhere. The current or recent attempts to boycott Russian culture, such as music performances, are quite riduculous.

I will continue to love India; it's part of who I am. But it looks increasingly less likely that I will return there.

There are many instances of people loving a country in exile. Usually, it's their homeland, and the exile is either voluntary or forced.

There are no doubt similar instances of people loving a country but being unable to visit it. Usually, because they wouldn't be allowed in or can't afford to go there.

If we care nothing for a country and feel indifferent to its governance, politics or other forms of national expression, visiting it or otherwise matters little.

It's when we do care that it becomes a problem.

Tags: india work
05 Jun 2022

2022-06-05-Wordpress

I spent most of the day improving a WordPress website that I manage voluntarily. For that site and another, I use the flexible theme Weaver. The theme developer tries his best to keep up with WordPress's changes, but maybe it's a losing battle. It seems to me that at a certain stage Autommatic lost the plot. In the attempt to make everything simpler, they keep making it harder. I've tried a few times to adopt their block editor but each time gave up and went back to the classic editor, which itself is sufficiently cumbersome and unfriendly. I try to do some of the editing in html but Wordpress usually messes it up.

Today I tried to include a simple html accordion (the details, summary css solution), but Wordpress wouldn't let me use it properly, due also to RTL-LTR issues. I looked online for a solution, but the only one offered is with plugins - either the old or the new kind that take advantage of the block editor. The writer recommended the latter, and, in particular the Kadence block plugin. So I installed that, and re-initialized the block editor. The result was a horrible mess. Besides Wordpress's native block editor, I now had a button for Kadence blocks, in addition to another unusable button fo Extendify blocks. The latter is a form of malware. It somehow insinuated its way into the system without my asking for it, and provides options that don't work unless you purchase the plugin. In any case, I was unable to get the accordion working properly.

After more search engine research and failed attempts to get rid of Extendify and after disabling Kadence, I went back to the classic editor, where I soon discovered I already had a working system for accordions and had simply forgotten about it. That's another thing that happens with WP - it encourages you to download loads of ridulous plugins that you later forget about, so they just sit there slowing down the site. This was also my experience after initializing the block editor: Slowness happened after I'd initialized the block editor: the editing slowed to a snail's pace (in Vivaldi: it won't work at all in SeaMonkey - you just get a blank page).

But those problems were only the beginning. The majority of my time was spent in WP's customize module, where I tried, and eventually succeeded. to move and resize the site logo and adjust various spacing issues. Weaver has, besides the "customizer" module, an older classic theme editor, and I have often used these together. But this time I discovered that the classic theme editor will sometimes undermine the changes made with the customizer module, so it can no longer be trusted.

The attempt to put html editing into a GUI is understandable in modern web development because the underlying infrastructure grows ever more complex.

But for my limited needs, it is usually quicker and more satisfying to edit html and CSS directly. Moving the earlier mentioned site logo in the Customizer was a nightmare in WP's customizer, and there's a feeling of surrending control to the whims of a system that seems to "have its own mind," or at least its own quirks.

The further you get away from the code, the greater the feeling of helplessness. Coding can be exasperating too, but the frustration is more honest - I don't find myself screaming at the screen and cursing the developers - there's only myself to blame when something doesn't work out right.

Aaron Swartz

R came by the other day to do some laundry. He's camping out in the woods during his stay. We somehow got talking about Aaron Swartz on a previous occasion and he had read up on him in the meantime. He said he was surprised that Swartz took his own life despite the fact that the conditions of his detention were not terribly serious. But then he said that maybe for someone like Swartz, who had invested so much idealism in the internet, seeing what was happening to this tool for emancipation may have driven him over the edge.

It was 2014 - the heroes of the Arab Spring were being rounded up and put in jail. Snowdon and Assange were also being hounded, and governments were using the internet as a tool for surveillance and tyranny. Perhaps Swartz could not stomache this dystopian outcome of his early idealism? I don't know. But certainly it's a plausible motive for suicide.

Meanwhile, it seems to me that the only people who approach me with regards to this blog are those who want to sell something. In their world, the only purpose of blogs and websites is to be part of the money market - a particularly grubby corner of it where people write commissioned articles for the purpose of advertising. So when I read an article like the one concerning Wordpress accordions, I find myself wondering who was paying him.

Film camera boom

The Guardian had an article today about young people who are going back to film photography ‘You only have one shot’: how film cameras won over a younger generation. Apparently the market for old cameras is bouncing back. I would do it too, but only if I were to do the developing myself. I always hated surrentling control to some stupid photolab that can sabotage one's best efforts. A few of those albums we have from earlier years contain photos that have lost most of their colour. What I could conceivably imagine doing is to just develop the negatives at home, then put the negatives through a negative scanner. The same could be useful also for many other old negatives that we have.

But in almost every other way, I'm a man of the digital age - I don't even do my reading away from a screen, so I'm not sure I would go back to film cameras.

Tags: wordpress photography
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