Worldwide Waste

There's a website called "World Wide Waste" that is dedicated to the subject of digital waste and its costs to the environment. It seems to me that it is less of a subject for the individual than for the corporations, although we are all guilty of over-streaming. I wonder whether the environmental costs of internet streaming is greater than reliance upon satellites? It may be that since both exist, it makes little difference. It must be better to use videoconferencing than traveling and commuting. Harari makes the point that we don't really have an energy problem - there is infinite energy that we could obtain. It's just a technological and an environmental problem. If we can only solve the 21st century technological problems of polluting industries, we will be able to enjoy the tech advantages, but, along the way, we are making terrible misjudgments. Humans are inherently wasteful. We need to cut down on packaging and processed foods, products that are wasteful.

Of course, writing these words, I'm aware that this is actually delusional and that we are still on the way to annihilation. I can make personal improvements, but the problems are endemic. Seeing the wastefulness of Americans, of my brother for example, there is little hope for humanity. And no doubt in Israel too I am unaware of the way many people are living. But there is satisfaction whenever one can make personal good decisions. These can be shared and communicated over our own networks in order to help popularize environmental consciousness.

Yes, despite the luxury of an independent, non-connected blog, it makes much more sense to communicate ideas that to keep them to oneself. I simply haven't cracked the technique of doing it in a manner that doesn't lead to disgust or embarrassment. Effective communication requires a style that is far removed from my slow circumlocution and roundabout thinking. Writers like George Monbiot are effective communicators, though even they manage to invoke the ire of folks who are quite near to them ideologically. And then there are the superstars, like Michael Moore, who also make terrible mistakes, unforgivable errors, which create great damage. So where does that leave someone like me? I guess it is all about an honest dialogue. Actually, I have little patience for one.

It's useful to do lots of reading I think I prefer to do my thinking, my writing or communicating as a monologue. Blogging is better for me than a Reddit-style back-and-forth, and even one-line responses to my posts bother me immensely. So that's how I end up with a blog that does not permit responses, or simply a private journal. The dialogue is simply me reading what other people have said, and then writing, in my own fashion, reflections on what I have read; or sometimes my own thoughts. There are folks who are better than me for the true dialogue. If am more private, it isn't arrogance, exactly, but the need for personal space. It's the reason that it is much easier for me to write offline, by hand, in a personal journal, than to write blog posts. But there is still room to transcribe these later.

Mob violence in India

“He looked like a terrorist!” How a drive in rural India ended in a mob attack and a lynching

These stories of mob lynchings (this one in Reuters) are so depressing. I'm beginning to feel that there is something more going on than simply panic against child abductors.

I was just remembering a paragraph in Saki (HH Munri) story "Filboid Studge" (1912)
" There are thousands of respectable middle-class men who, if you found them unexpectedly in a Turkish bath, would explain in all sincerity that a doctor had ordered them to take Turkish baths; if you told them in return that you went there because you liked it, they would stare in pained wonder at the frivolity of your motive. In the same way, whenever a massacre of Armenians is reported from Asia Minor, every one assumes that it has been carried out "under orders" from somewhere or another; no one seems to think that there are people who might like to kill their neighbours now and then."

That's typical Saki. But it would be truer to say that this is a reaction of village people who have been left out of India's boom. They see rich hi-tech workers from Hyderabad in their shiny new red SUV and something snaps inside them. Perhaps the story they tell themselves is that they are confronting child abductors, but unconsciously they are acting from a deep sense of grievance. All of these lynchings have been of outsiders. In the south, the victims have usually been northerners or people from the cities. In a case near Tiruvannamalai in TN, a 63 year old north Indian woman was killed after having been seen giving sweets to children. Probably the children themselves were pestering her for sweets or school pens.

Whenever there is a bandh (a strike) or any kind of civil unrest in India, the first thing you do is get off the streets, because if you are not a local, or are from the wrong community, you automatically become a potential target. If something unexpected happens, like the death of a well-known politician, the streets empty in an instant, because everyone is afraid.

Is India such a "primitive" country? It isn't the only place subject to mob violence. In America, people become similarly afraid of each other after every national disaster. Every man for himself. Civilization is all too fragile.

Currency Calculations in LibreOffice Writer Tables

LibreOffice has some nice features that are not always so well-documented. Here's one for performing currency calculations that I discovered and found useful.  Typically a table might have a column in the local currency, and then require a column for the same figures in another currency.  That's where it's useful to calculate the figures automatically, based on a given rate.  If the current rate changes, the foreign currency rate will automatically update, based on a new figure that is placed in the cell from which the conversion will be performed.  That's as long as the document is saved in .odt format.  If the document is saved in .doc or .docx format, only the values will be preserved, meaning that the document should look fine, but it will not be possible to perform an automatic update of the fields based on a new currency rate.

  1. Choose a cell for the currency rate and place there the currency rate there, which can be obtained from xe.com
  2. Obtain the cell references from the status bar at the bottom of screen
  3. Place cursor in the cell in which the calculation should appear.
  4. Get the formula bar by pressing F2
  5. Insert the formula as (example) =<C3>/<D1> and click on check mark (where D1 is the cell reference for the currency rate and C3 is the currency from which the calculation should be made).
  6. Change the number format of the cells to reflect the currency that is being converted to. (Table, Number format, choose currency and format for expressing it).
  7. Another way to get the cell references is to click inside the cells while the formula bar is operative, and simply type between them the operator (/ or *)

Networks and how we use them

PMCoder blogged:  I “get” Google+ Now and Apparently so do Others (Facebook May Have a Problem) " about which I've been thinking.

I'm no longer on Facebook, but I receive more information that is of value to me on Twitter than on Google+.  It's easier for me to find new sources to follow, and easier to skim through a large number of tweets in order to find what's interesting.  It's wonderful as a discovery engine, and I routinely find articles that I would not have found via news feeds.

I subscribe to just a couple of hundred people on Twitter.  I don't follow anyone back simply because they have followed me and am not interested in whether those who I follow will follow me back.  My own tweets consist mainly of links to my blog posts, which aren't very frequent.  I don't re-tweet anything.  I bookmark interesting articles on Pinboard.

Probably the value derived from any of these networks depends on our use of them.  The way I use Twitter is a kind of hack, because it breaks the recommended rules of engagement.  I will never get a following on Twitter, and never have "influence".  But if I were to use Twitter in the way that social media experts recommend us to use it, the comments I found in the Google+ comments stream for PMCoder's article would be entirely valid: "You can't compare Twitter with G+. Twitter is used to tell other people what you are doing right at the moment." and: "It's unfair to G+ to make any comparison to Twitter I think. Twitter is like a mind-numbing stream of unconsciousness."

Google+, and other networks have the ability to overcome Twitter's inherent problems: both the ones related to "signal versus noise", and the fact that Twitter is a terrible venue for discussions. On a functional level, Google+  could easily step in and replace Facebook.  It all depends on how many people come to the party. With networks, it isn't always the best ones that win.  For example, Identi.ca has many advantages over Twitter and even Google+.  Unlike Twitter you can follow a conversation.  Unlike Google+ you can easily find an interest group to follow and participate in.  Unlike either of them you can self-host a Status.net node and still hook up with people on Identi.ca and other networks.

I really hope that Google+ catches on and chips away at the popularity of Facebook and Twitter.  Not because I love Google more, but simply because fragmentation will hasten the day when all of these networks are forced to conform to a single standard, as happened with email.  Yesterday's Christian Science Monitor article, "Facebook IPO: Who's resisting Facebook and why" points out that even today, four out of every ten Americans are not on Facebook and, "If all those people continue to shun Facebook, the social network could become akin to a postal system that only delivers mail to houses on one side of the street. The system isn't as useful, and people aren't apt to spend as much time with it."  Although there are people who will never join any of these networks, and even those who will never acquire an email address, social networks will be a lot more useful if we can reach a point when it simply won't matter which network we post to.

The technology is already there.  It's only a problem of implementation.

Old vs New Google Storage Plans

I just installed Google Drive, and I'm thankful that I had previously purchased storage for Picasaweb, even though I hadn't really needed it.  Just look at the difference between my old storage price plan and the "upgrade" plans in the picture below.  Previously $5 would buy a whole year's worth of 20 GB storage.  Whereas now, $2.50 pays for 25 GB a month.  Now I wish that I'd purchased 100 GB at the old price.  According to Google's information on storage plans, the old annual plan remains in force forever, unless I let my credit card information expire or in any other way invalidate or change the current plan.  So I had better beware.
The ups and downs of storage plan prices are interesting at Google.  Prior to my 20 GB for $5 plan, I was paying $20 for 20 GB.  Then Google reduced the price to a quarter of the original cost, meaning that for a while, before adjusting the Gigabytes, I had 100 GB for my $20.  Now, 100 GB costs $60 per year, or three times what it cost just a week ago.
It's not quite as simple as I made it appear above.  There have been other adjustments to Google storage capacities, and what counts towards storage (for example photos under a certain size are now free - but they have been so for the last several months). 

Information on the storage plans :

http://support.google.com/drive/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=39567&p=butter_old_storage

Bhava and Beef Tea

"Never Let Me Go" sneaked up and grabbed me quite insidiously.  I read the first part of it without much attention, between other books, with a result that I had even less an idea of what was going on than the author intended.  I even thought I must be so completely out of touch with English culture that I didn't understand all this talk of "donors" and "carers".  Of course if I'd been paying more attention, I would have caught on earlier.  But it's a great device, none the less, that the author employs when Miss Lucy tells the kids that they've been told, but not really told.  And, of course, the same is true of us, the readers.

It's a wonderful thing about imaginative fiction that it can stray into impossible, unrealistic situations and resonate all the more deeply because of that. Someone touched on this the other day when discussing Murakami. So, when reading this novel by Ishiguro, I couldn't help thinking of real situations in which in which humans are treated with cynical contempt, while their humanity remains as a silent accusation against those who cause and sometimes indeed benefit from their suffering.  Locally, I think of Palestinian refugee children. In India I might think of street urchins.

In real life situations, there's the danger of bhava clouding the imagination, and drawing connections where there should not be any. When a person stands before us in suffering, it's easy to think of other suffering persons we have known, or make him a symbol of all the suffering in the world, so that what we actually see is not the one before us, but something entirely unconnected to him.  When this happens, it becomes impossible to give such a person the particular sort of attention that might be of real help.  I think this is the difference between pity and compassion. Compassion is a state of greater alertness, perceptiveness and intelligence.

Good writers like Ishiguro avoid maudlin scenes that spin us into tears.  At no point in Never Let Me Go was I moved to tears, and yet the book quietly penetrated my soul.  I felt for the characters as if they were real, and of course they are real in a certain sense.  As for the situation, there is little room for doubt that we humans would permit similar horrors to occur.

I just went back to read the story of Kasturbai Gandhi and her rejection of beef tea. I don't know about the beef tea, but I think I'd prefer to be put out of my misery than accept Kathy's kidney - first or second.

I think I’m becoming mild, or balmy

I think I'm becoming mild, or balmy.  I actually like the "new look" in Gmail; can't work up strong opinions about it like Dave Winer did yesterday. I also use fastmail.fm, at $40 a year, and that's just fine too.  Its new beta interface took a page out of Gmail's book and in some ways improved upon it.  I thought it would help me to break the dependence on Google, but fat chance: it's just a frivolous luxury.

I like my new ThinkPad X120e , even though it comes with Windows 7. One day I'll probably change it to Ubuntu, just as I've done with all my other computers.  But for now it's fine.  I like that it suspends or hibernates and dependably comes back to life, unlike every Linux computer I've owned.

My ThinkPad has only an 11 inch screen, but it's easier to lug around with me than my previous 13-inch. I didn't believe it before, but an 11-inch screen - unlike a 10-inch screen - is still big enough.  The ThinkPad has a marvelous keyboard, runs for five or six hours on battery, and costs two and a half times less than an Apple product.  It's not as light or as powerful as one of those, but it's perfectly adequate for my needs, and I won't be as distressed if it goes missing like those 1,500 laptops that (according to the British Airways in-flight magazine) are disappeared each day in British airports.  (I think it's more likely to be nabbed on one of my India trips.)

To the ThinkPad I added Office 2010 so I can share documents a little more reliably.  It's not as nice, or easy to use as LibreOffice, and starts almost as slowly, but there are a couple of advantages, like you can pin documents you use often to the Recents list.  Oh, and the right mouse button context menu (though it occasionally does the weirdest things).

I like my new IPhone.  It's a lot simpler to use than my old Blackberry.  The phone calls are crystal clear when they aren't disconnected after 2 seconds.  I'll probably end up reading more books on it than my new Kobo. I also listen to music more often on it than on other devices, and I definitely won't bother buying another camera.  On the other hand, if I had to actually buy an Iphone (and not receive one from work) I probably wouldn't spend that amount of money.  Those old monochrome Nokias with a one-inch screen and batteries that last about 3 weeks aren't half-bad either.

I'm making an experiment and leaving my eye glasses in my pocket or at home. That means I don't have to spend every morning looking for them in the most absurd places.  I can see most everything I want to see without my glasses and fortunately I don't need to drive a car every day.  I also notice that when I don't put my eye glasses on for a part of the day, my vision is clearer without them for the rest of the day.  Maybe all these years I didn't really need to wear glasses after all.  Primary School blackboards are the best friend of the world's opticians and optometrists.  Maybe one day when every child owns a laptop, the eye doctors will go out of business.  Or at least stop forcing six year olds into glasses.

Literature

Reading 1Q84 took me about 3 months, at my usual easy pace of 10 pages a day. With interruptions: when I traveled to America for 10 days I left it at home, not wanting to schlep such a heavy tome in my bags.  I'm a painfully slow reader, though somehow I seem to plod through thick volumes more readily than thin ones.

Not that length really matters in a novel.  I wonder if writers ever consider how long they intend a book to be before writing: it seems to me that a novel needs to be just as long as it needs to be and not longer.  I can't imagine 1Q84 being written as a shorter novel.

In terms of structure, it's probably the most perfect of all the novels I've read by Murakami.  Sometimes I've felt a little bit lost in his longer ones, even irritated.

Actually I found myself growing a little irritated with him earlier today.  I wasn't sure I trusted him.  I decided to adjourn my judgment till the end of the novel. Perhaps he was planning some bizarre ending that no one would understand?  But I needn't have worried.  A story as bizarre as this does not require a bizarre denouement.  It requires that normalcy will be restored.

Earlier today, though, another thing, perhaps, was bothering me too.  The way that the novelist sets himself up as a God.  Everything is determined by the Master's stroke of the pen.  The rest of us just have to go along with this.  He's the Perceiver, and we are the Receivers - on the unlikely assumption that I understand Murakami's terminology correctly.

There is Sruti and there is Smriti, to use another terminology.  The Sruti is "what has been seen" by the Rishis - the Vedic seers, whereas Smriti, is "what has been remembered".  The latter was recorded by mere men (even if, like the Gita, dictated by Gods).  The novelist in this kind of novel (1Q84), where reality is not subject to ordinary rules, has more the role of the Rishi.  The reader's role is to take the words of the novelist and recreate the story in his imagination.  But this license only extends so far, as does the range of interpretation. "Literature is not a free-for-all," said an English literature professor once, irked by my Buddhist interpretation of Canterbury Tales.

However, I'm beginning to feel constrained by the circle of these novelists' words.  As if I want to break free and write my own book of life. To do so, of course, I would need divine inspiration, and then it won't technically be mine anyway, will it?

Finally, irritated or not, if I'm having these thoughts, it can only be thanks to Murakami.  Thanks to him we know that there is "only ever one reality," though "things may not be as they seem".  They may veil truths that can be revealed only by imagination.

Kali Yuga

Five minutes into reading my twitter stream I learned of the rape of a five year old in Delhi, the rape of a young mother in Gurgaon, and of a girl in Morocco who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist.

Meanwhile in Sri Lanka, which I've been thinking of visiting, I read about the spate of "white van abductions", in the tradition of Michael Ondaatji's "Anil's Ghost".

A new survey in India reveals that more that while more than half the population lack toilets, a higher percentage owns a mobile phone. A frightening percentage lack access to untreated drinking water (as was mentioned also in a WHO survey). They said in that WHO survey that while enormous progress had been made in Africa and other areas of the world, with regard to access to cleaner drinking water and public sanitation, India was holding back the global success rates.

I survived for a longer time on Twitter than on the the Channel 2 TV news tonight, which was upbeat over Israel's successes in Gaza. The killing of 25 "terrorists" (they actually said that) gave The Chief of Staff the opportunity to tell us that whenever the enemy strike at us, we'll hit them back even harder. It has already been forgotten that Israel started the current round.

While the 25 terrorists remained nameless, the reportage moved on to cover the residents of the south as they begin to emerge from their shelters and get back to a normal life, but by that time we had switched off the news to eat our dinner in peace. In the same spirit, I'm going to try to get back to sleep. It's a mistake to read Twitter in the night.

Living in towers

The TV carried a travel feature on Georgia (the country).  In ancient mountain villages every house has its own high stone tower.  No one remembers exactly why these were built.  One theory is that the towers would protect the villagers from the danger of avalanches.  But it seems unlikely that every village was equally subject to that danger.  A more likely theory is that the towers were built due to the popular (and surviving) custom of vendetta.


After dark, each family would place a wooden ladder against the wall of their tower, climb the three meters to its single portal, then haul the ladder in after them.  That way they could be assured of a sound night's sleep, confident that their neighbors wouldn't murder them while they slumbered.

What a distance we've traveled since those dark days!  We no longer need stone towers to protect us from our fellow men.  The technology has significantly improved.