Mental Distractions

Posts tagged "software":

20 May 2022


Modern travel

I decided to join D for part of her planned trip to Plum Village, so I'll be there for her "Lamp Transmission" ceremony. That meant booking flights. There are less options today, following the pandemic, and many trips to Bordeaux involve travel of 20 - 30 hours or more. I struggled for a couple of hours with Expedia, trying to find something cheap and convenient, but eventually gave up. D came to the rescue with E-Dreams, which, in this case, seemed to have more options with the cheapo companies like Veuling, Wiz and whatever. She was able to find a cheaper flight, which I eventually booked.

One thing I learned along the way is that it is much easier to book a flight to France than to order a rail ticket. (It's true that Air France offers rail arrangements sometimes instead of connecting flights.) I have previously had more success with the SNCF website (and previously have had their telephone app), but this time the experience was awful. First, in order to make any booking, one has to log in. For that to happen, after the password log-in they send a confirmation code by email. After that there's a CAPTCHA. That's already three kinds of verification. But a couple of minutes later, a message popped up telling me that I had been blocked, due to suspicious activity, so I simply had to give up. I was using an up-to-date Vivaldi browser, which uses the same rendering engine as Chrome and matches it for all other browsing features. I have Privacy Badger installed, but nothing that blocks ordinary javascript.

Travel is becoming quite a nightmare in our era. Booking rail tickets in France, India, and no doubt in many other countries, is a horrible experience dressed up in the guise of being sophisticatedly modern. Here in Israel we just had a foreign guest who took a bus from the local junction, only to discover that tickets can no longer be purchased on the bus itself. She managed to reach Jerusalem only due to the kindness of a passenger.

Plane, bus and rail companies, whether private or government-run are guilty of the worst form of ableism. Our modern pretenses against all kinds of discrimination against people with disabilities, are a complete sham. They challenge even mentally fit people with their byzantine arrangements, and only work very well if one is equipped with a smartphone full of surveillance apps. The situation is getting worse, not better. If all of this somehow helped to reduce carbon emissions, by making travel less popular, there might be an advantage, but the ones who travel most are not those who feel challenged by these difficulties. And the relative complexity and inconvenience of public ground transportation favors travel by planes and private cars.


I made good progress today, especially on the matter of file transfers. I discovered earlier that although WebDAV had seemed to work, it actually is only presenting the server folders in read-only format. I cannot change anything. The configuration there is too complex and I gave up on WebDAV just as I've given up on GIT, so it was back to FileZilla. Then I discovered Rsync, which, although I knew about it, had never actually used. It's powerful and amazing. It's also very quick (at least for what I need it for) and simple to use from the commandline, once you get the syntax right. Furthermore, it's something that I can execute from within Emacs (where I'm now composing this blog).

So now, for blog posts, I only need to a) save the file b) publish it locally and c) rsync it to the server. All of this happens within emacs itself. When I grow more proficient, I will probably set up a macro to handle these operations even more quickly. Update: done, easily enough. That's a nice thing about emacs, and probably the Lisp programming that underlies it - that it can be used on a simple level, but provides the opportunity to grow with it. When Stallman talks about the advantage in open source programs that the code is up-front and visible, people like me think that that's all well and good, but the majority of us are completely unable to read code. However when I look at Lisp code, understanding it seems within reach.

Browser colors

I noticed today that the colors in Vivaldi are brighter than those in SeaMonkey or Chrome. The blue color that I have been using in this blog appears purplish in Vivaldi. I tried to find something about this in the settings and it looks like there may be a configuration option for this, but I didn't succeed in changing anything.

Tags: software travel
15 May 2022

2022-05-15 - Server software

I've been looking at my various options regarding the home server; whether to try to restore my old Hubzilla installation, or something new. I have several old laptops lying around that could be used. I thought again to try to use Bob Mottram's freedombone/libreserver installation. It doesn't have Hubzilla, but does have another Zot/Nomad based platform called Roadhouse. But I instantly got stuck with that because his basic instruction for installation does not work, and the directions are unclear.

It may or may not be possible to restore the old installation, depending on how much damage there is to the disk. I'm afraid that I will plod through all the steps of using dd or ddrescue, only to find that it won't go anywhere.

I think the simplest will be to set up a new Debian system with Apache or other server software. For my needs, I don't even need MySQL or PHP, because I want to keep everything as simple as possible. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty with stuff but I feel tech-weary. And I'm also unwilling to follow someone's instructions to set up a system that I would never be capable of understanding myself.

When I was growing up there was a Sci-Fi TV series in which an alien civilization requires earthlings to create a machine of such complexity and advanced tech that no one understands what they are actually building. It could save the earth or destroy it. I don't think I watched the series to the end, but it was a great concept, and I often think of that when I'm attempting to do things that go way beyond my comprehension.

For my blog, working either with simple html or the Bastion Bechtold's emacs org-mode system I feel reasonably comfortable. (When I have the time, I would enjoy learning the basics of Lisp programming too.) For now, I know that the output is simple html files that I can save, serve and move almost anywhere, such as on my Fastmail cloud server. The same with photos and other features that I would like to include. But I would like also to add a simple social networking system too. The easiest seems to be Bob Mottram's Epicyon, which uses the ActivityPub protocol, but has no database or javascript. The last time I tried it, I couldn't get it to work properly; but maybe now it's more stable. I hope so.

I was going through my newsfeeds yesterday and read a fairly negative review of Genesis. I had a similar intuition regarding it. He claims that it is "solutionism" - whatever that means. But I think he is saying that it tries to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. We can choose to keep things simple if we want to: for ordinary html and CSS based websites we don't need fancy Javascript frameworks, web applications and all the wizardry that modern commercial sites use. We can dumb things down to the level that we feel comfortable with, and spend our time writing and creating beautiful websites that rely upon simple code, instead of either delving into multiple layers of technology or deploying platforms through scripts that work well but leave us floundering when something goes wrong.

Being dependent upon technology that is beyond our reasonable ability to understand it, without specialization, is as bad as depending upon platforms like Facebook, in that we surrender control to someone else. I want to be go my own way, and be independent both of the big companies and complex technologies.


L'Inde brûle déjà du réchauffement climatique - tousdehors

« vivre décemment » dans un monde qui devient de plus en plus inhabitable et intolérable ne peut signifier que vivre, prendre soin les uns des autres et du monde et lutter tout à la fois.

Tags: software
28 Apr 2022

writing in html - imagining a better future

Writing in html

One thing that I like about this composing this blog in Bluefish editor is that I am writing it in the actual html used to publish it online. Not in BBCode, Markdown, some sort of WYSIWYG view, or a word processor. It's somehow liberating to use the actual code, even if I do find occasional validation errors afterwards. That's also why I want the code to be as clean and easy to read as possible. For example, I shift long html anchor links to the end of the post.

CSS (cascading style sheets) enables us to separate style from content, so that the code can be as clean as possible. But if you look at the source of most modern web pages (Ctrl + U in the browser), what you will see is an undecipherable mass of code and java script. Hubzilla is relatively tidy, but if you open a single Hubzilla post or article, you need to scroll down through about 2000 lines of code before reaching the post's title and text, whereas, as you can see from the image below, this is not the case here. desktop with editor open

Not only that, but, because of the WebDav system, I'm also writing it online and saving occasionally, so a visitor may catch me in the middle of an unfinished post.


Yuval Noah Harari says that science fiction is the most important literary genre of our era. But when an average movie-goer thinks of SF today, they probably think about blockbuster superheroes or post-apocalyptic dystopias. The situation in print is fortunately a little better, but we know from even the greatest writers, going back to Dante and Milton, that it has always been easier to imagine and write about scenes from hell than about heaven.

Some popular authors, like Kim Stanley Robinson [1] buck the trend for doom and gloom by imagining more positive outcomes, based on confronting the issues. This kind of fiction is sometimes called Solarpunk [2]. The SF site Tor has a review of several books in this category [3].

The sense of the upcoming disaster seems to traumatize all those who are not in denial of it, and there is a tendency towards paralysis - which is the opposite of what we currently need. Films like "Don't Look Up" attempt to shake us out of complacency through parody, but the idea that "anyway, we're screwed" is not likely to lead to a way forward.

It's hard. George Monbiot [4], who writes about climate change for The Guardian, has been known to break into tears on live TV, because he sees that what needs to be done is consistently undermined by policy makers.

One thing that we know is that shifting the responsibility to individuals is not going to solve anything. Buying bamboo toothbrushes with bristles made from beans isn't actually going to save the planet.

Changing our conception of the way the world works, rejecting a vision of the future where humanity loses the planet due to the inaction of politicians and corporate concerns, and galvanizing people to action, on the other hand, could actually help.

As human beings we are always motivated by the stories we tell ourselves, the myths we believe in, and our dreams. Human history can't be understood or explained without giving sufficient space for these aspects. We live less in objective reality than in our collective imagination. So the only way to motivate people to make a real change is to reach people first on this level.

Solarpunk, which is not just about fiction-writing, but also about hacker spaces and community, could be an interesting way to start. Yesterday I learned of an online conference that is coming up at the end of May, which looks promising.


  1. Kim Stanley Robinson on Science Fiction and Reclaiming Science for the Left

  1. Solarpunk - Wikipedia

  1. The Solarpunk Future: Five Essential Works of Climate-Forward Fiction |

  1. George Monbiot | The Guardian

Tags: software
13 Apr 2022

2022-04-13 A walk | the blog | browsers | Signal messenger | links

I have been feeling a need for a bit of seclusion lately. Maybe because in Israel-Palestine the holiday season with its seasonal tensions is on us again. I went for a walk in the woods and fields today and ran into a battalion of boy/girl scouts. One of them - maybe their security detail - was waiting for me as I approached, with questions about where I lived, whether I was Jewish, how relations are between Jews and Arabs there - he got mostly a stony silence from me as I marched through. Luckily I'm harmless.

Then I found a quiet spot to read Ibn Arabi and do a bit of writing. It's a lovely season and was a beautiful day; the wild chrysanthemums are blooming and the thistles are starting to flower too. Unfortunately I didn't have a camera or a phone. Blogging

I have accumulated several issues to handle in the blog, when I find time/feel like doing something about it. I already mentioned making the font sizes larger. Yesterday I found a couple more articles on static blogs, and one of these mentioned Google Lighthouse - a Chrome extension which is an even greater stickler than the tests that I have been using. It discovered a couple of things to improve. the SEO rating - where my blog suffers most - does not interest me, and could never be very high when I have included "No Index, No follow" meta, but there are a couple of other things to take care of. Regarding RSS, either I will learn to write my own, or I will depend on WP, which I have been using for archiving in any case. There may even be a way of using WP solely for RSS, with no front-end blog interface - I will have to check that.

I was looking again at Genesis in Lagrange. Because it is solely text-based, habitually lacklustre textual blogs seem even less inspiring to me when viewed in Genesis. One day I might decide to use it, but not now. Although I'm not a particularly graphic-oriented person, I do find that the likelihood of my reading a blog is somewhat influenced by appearances, and I have an unproven hunch that this is true of many people.

"My stack will outlive yours"

"My Static Blog Publishing Setup and an Apology to RSS Subscribers"


I found a few interesting articles to check out on browsers. One blogger insists that Pale Moon and related UXP browsers are the way to go, for web privacy. I find that I am staying with SeaMonkey except in cases where a website patently won't work.

Pale Moon Hardening Guide

UXP Browser Bundle

UXP Browser


I have stopped using Signal, because I don't trust it; but I see that Russians are trusting it more and more, among other means, to get around censorship.

How Russian citizens evade Putin’s censorship - Protocol

Here are a couple of other articles regarding Signal:

Tell HN: iOS Signal eats your disk space | Hacker News

Moxie Marlinspike has stepped down as CEO of Signal - The Verge Other interesting links

Leave your shoes outdoors, these scientists say - CNN

I Liked The Idea Of Carbon Offsets, Until I Tried To Explain It

Tags: diary blogging browsers software links
27 Mar 2022

2022-03-27 Updating Thunderbird, growing the root partition

I managed to update Thunderbird from version 78, which was from the MX Testing repository, to version 91, which I found as a flatpak. Transfering the old profile was not so easy, but when it worked, it worked painlessly.

Along the way, I had to grow the size of the root partition on my my hard drive, by skimping on the swap directory, but that also worked easily. It turns out that you can grow an ext4 partition to the right, even when it is mounted.

With the help of SoundCloud I continue my exploration of mainly MENA Music. It just turns out somehow that one thing leads to another and almost all the tracks and the musicians I follow end up being from there.

true sorry

True Sorry, by Ibrahim Maalouf

"Ibrahim Maalouf is a trumpeter who is also a composer and arranger for trumpet. He also teaches trumpet. He was born on December 5, 1980 in Beirut, Lebanon, but now lives in France.

He is the son of trumpeter Nassim Maalouf and pianist Nada Maalouf, a nephew of the writer Amin Maalouf, and the grandson of journalist, poet and musicologist Rushdi Maalouf. He is currently the only trumpet player in the world to play Arabic music with the trumpet in fourth tones, using a technique his father invented in the 1960s. Ibrahim is also the winner of some of the greatest classical trumpet competitions in the world."

Tags: hardware software
19 Mar 2022

2022-03-19 Auntie Alice's recipe book - opml files - SeaMonkey - Hubzilla Cards - Zelensky

When we moved from Yorkshire to Virginia in 1969, my Auntie Alice gave my mom a handwritten notebook of her cake and dessert recipes.

page in recipe book

My mom treasured the book and used it a lot - it had everything from her syrup sponge puddings to her Christmas cakes. When I was there one time I scanned the notebook and have now collected all together into a 20-page PDF[1] which I have placed in Hubzilla's file storage.

If I would use it I'd want to substitute for ingredients like eggs and suet in some of them, but it's a nice thing to pass down to future generations. I tried in various ways to get the PDF size down, eventually settling on a batch conversion in XnView. Finally I got it down from 162 MB to just under 15.

On the way, I have added a wiki post [4] describing what I like about SeaMonkey.

Zelensky and Palestine

Zelensky is to address Israel's parliament on Sunday. (The speech will be also broadcast in Tel Aviv's main square). The mainly Arab Joint List party may boycott it, though Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List says he will attend. He spoke on Israeli TV saying that evidently this was because they (with their communist roots) consider Russia to be a continuation of the former communist state. But Ilan Pappé, an Israeli historian who self-exiles in the UK, writes in the Palestine Chronicle [6] why Palestinians might not feel so enthusiastic about Zelensky:

The Ukrainian establishment… is also disturbingly and embarrassingly pro-Israeli. One of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s first acts was to withdraw the Ukraine from the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People – the only international tribunal that makes sure the Nakba is not denied or forgotten.

The decision was initiated by the Ukrainian President; he had no sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian refugees, nor did he consider them to be victims of any crime. In his interviews after the last barbaric Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in May 2021, he stated that the only tragedy in Gaza was the one suffered by the Israelis.

Thanks to Manuel for sharing a Spanish version of the article.

The Libre Planet conference [7] has some interesting speakers. Unfortunately my attempts to listen to it have resulted in failure so far, due to the buffering lag. Perhaps afterwards I will manage to watch/listen to the recordings. Links

  1. Recipe Book (for download)

  1. SeaMonkey (in wiki)
  2. Chana Dhal (The Guardian)

  1. Navigating our Humanity: Ilan Pappé on the Four Lessons from Ukraine

  1. LibrePlanet conference

Each Firefox download has a unique identifier

Google gives Black workers lower-level jobs and pays them less, suit claims

Life imitates art as seven charged over robbery from Lupin set

Spanish driver who ate hash cakes claims diplomatic immunity from non-existent state

Nicholas Johnson: Why I do not use a pseudonym Inspiring.

Tags: recipes software browsers
17 Mar 2022

2022-03-17 Hubzilla menus in mobile view - guest access tokens - PDF editing

In the morning we were busy with a guest. In the afternoon I had another look at a couple of things that have been bothering me regarding Hubzilla.

1: Menu system in Hubzilla mobile view. It is possible to create a custom menu that can be displayed on every page. However, the menu is not shown in the mobile version of the site; only the default menu is shown. For me, this means that, when giving a link to friends, it is better to send them directly to my blog, which is a website under Hubzilla's cloud file system. Here, I now have a responsive menu, which displays a "hamburger" menu on phones. (I have written how this is done in my technology wiki).

2: Access tokens. I find Hubzilla "dropbox style" guest access (which involves using links that contain access-tokens) a bit hit-or-miss. Today, when testing in a private browsing window, I found that the access token had stopped working completely, though it had been set to never expire. I went through the motions of saving the token again, and then the link did allow access - no idea why. But it worked for one private photo album, and not for another.

There is a separate problem that whereas the access token guest access seems to survive clicks across several Hubzilla pages, it does not survive the passage between my blog and the rest of Hubzilla. So if, as mentioned above, I use my blog as my primary give-out link, it does not help that I include there an access token. My conclusion is that, since most of my Hubzilla assets are public, this is important mainly for items like family photo albums. It is therefore better to keep those elsewhere, such as in my Fastmail storage. Although the links would be "public", they are hard to find without obtaining a direct link; for example, Google is not going to crawl those photo albums if there are no links to them from another website. Basically it means that when I have personal-type photos that I wish to share with the family or friends who lack login credentials, I will share these somewhere else.

There are, very occasionally, bits of text that I do not want to share publicly or get into search engines. These should not be included in the blog, but can be included in Hubzilla Articles then shared privately. There is an example in this current post.

The upshot of these reflections is that I can use the link to my blog in places like my email signature. This has a mobile view from which my other Hubzilla assets can easily be reached. And I will no longer worry about access tokens. When I wish to share a family album, I will place it elsewhere and share the link directly through email.

Adobe Acrobat writer

One of the office staff has asked me to purchase Adobe Acrobat writer, or whatever it's currently called. I pointed out that in the majority of cases it's possible to manage without it, but she was not convinced. I think I have never managed to persuade anyone to use free open source software. But admittedly it's a bit of a tough sell with PDF writers, because there is no exact fit among FOSS solutions. There are foundations to which we need to apply that require good PDF editing of their application forms. I personally haven't had much experience with filling out complex PDF forms but have seen the frustration of those who have needed to do so. I am sure I would manage somehow, as I always do, but can't expect that of others.

It seems that Adobe's Acrobat software is not part of their Creative Suite, for which they have a specific discount for non-profit associations like us. Therefore it's necessary to pay the full amount, which is quite expensive.

For simple editing of a PDF document, I personally find that InkScape has one of the best options. It imports a PDF document nicely (though only one page at at time), and allows one to edit both text and graphics quite well.

Tags: hubzilla software
10 Mar 2022

2022-03-10 - Phone messaging | Int'l Rescuers Day | Diaspora connections

After hearing from Ivan Zlax about Telegram and its founder Pavel Durov, I felt that it may be time to ditch the program from my phone. He dug up an old bio about him in the Internet Archive that has the following:

In 2005, Pavel completed his training at the Faculty of Military Studies of St. Petersburg State University with a specialization in Propaganda and Psychological Warfare. While training with the Faculty of Military Studies, he served as Platoon Commander of the Philology Department. Upon completion, he was awarded the title of Lieutenant of the Reserve Force.[2]

There have been numerous articles by Moxie and others regarding the security of Telegram, but this is the first time that I heard these details of Durov's past. I don't get the feeling from reading his posts on Telegram that he is turning over user data to three-letter agencies, but I also don't feel like he is being sufficiently open about things.

I have been looking at replacements for Telegram. One thing I considered was Delta Chat [3]. It has the advantage that one does not need to worry about not being able to communicate with existing contacts who do not use Delta Chat, because it simply repurposes email protocols. It sets up PGP automatically so that one can communicate securely with those who are on Delta Chat. This is a little like Signal, which uses ordinary SMS to send and receive messages for those who do not have Signal.

Parallel to my interest in privacy I have an interest in simplifying and minimizing interaction with my phone. This is also in line with recommendations for good operational security, because the less applications (and data) are on the phone, the smaller the attack surface. Some weeks ago I removed both email and NextCloud from the device. If one doesn't intend to use a dumb-phone (which are considered to be very insecure due to their reliance on old-fashioned protocols), the best thing is to bring the use of a smartphone closer to the level of a dumb-phone.

For now I have left Signal on the phone, and use it as an SMS replacement. A few of my contacts have Signal and do the same. But i don't feel inspired to recommend Signal to others. For one thing, it uses Amazon servers. If there were a decentralized messaging app that could also replace SMS as the phone's default messaging service, I might use that instead, but I haven't found one. I think it is possible to bridge between Signal and Matrix, but that defeats my purpose of minimalism.

Meanwhile, I continue to use Telegram on my computer as our family group is quite heavily invested in it (tons of family photos and videos, etc.) International Rescuers Day ceremony

Today we had the International Rescuers Day ceremony near the Spiritual Center. This emulates the event promoted around the world by the GARIWO organization. They actually refer to it as the "Int'l Day of the Righteous" but Prof. Auron, who initiated our local event, prefers the term "rescuer" to "righteous" due to the latter's possible religious connotations.

This year the village awarded the prize (which has no monetary value) to the Ta'ayush organization [4] and to the Afghan journalist and feminist activist Atefa Ghafoory, who wasn't present - she lives with her child in Sweden these days, after suffering quite badly at the hands of the Taliban. The annual event takes place in a dedicated area under the olive trees below the spiritual center, and we were lucky this year with the weather.

I was happy to hear from the Ta'ayush founder afterwards that David Shulman is still active in their activities and is writing a new book about these. His earlier short book, "Dark Hope" is excellent.

Int'l rescuers day

Einat, the new director of the spiritual center, invited a professional photographer for the event, which, though I haven't seen the results so far, was a good idea as an olive grove has its challenges for photography: under the blotchy sunlight, many of my photos had areas that were either too dark or overexposed. I didn't find a good way, in darktable to deal with the overexposed areas, though one article did at least address the issue.

I liked a photo that Manuel had posted on Hubzilla, so I thought to follow the photographer. She is on Diaspora, on which I currently have no current connections. I enabled the diaspora protocol in Hubzilla's admin and added the add-on in the applications panel, but still no luck with adding her.

My solution for people in non-compatible social networks like Twitter and Facebook is a bookmark tool bar folder that I check occasionally. Works fine for me.


Tags: myvillage software
22 Nov 2021


Organizing some news feeds under Vivaldi

I put some of my RSS Newsfeeds in order in Vivaldi. My idea is to use it for blogs, rather than busy news sources. For that reason I first added RMS’s political notes, and then removed it. Because if I want to use it as what Dave Winer calls “a river of news”, RMS dominates too much. But the links are good. It would be better if Vivaldi made it possible to use sub-folders for different areas (and hence sub-rivers – by being able to click on the top folder that includes each set of feeds).

It’s a little disappointing to see many of the bloggers whom I bookmarked falling silent for months on end. Many people invest a lot of time in producing a nice looking blog, and then forget to use it.

Paywalled systems

I had a look at Glenn Greenwald’s website ( It’s an outdated mess, with stuff requiring Flash player. His website doesn’t mention that he is now on Substack, ( of which I was already aware. I can’t afford to subscribe to him on Substack, any more than I can afford to pay for other news sources. For now, I support the Guardian with a monthly donation, but can’t afford to do that for every web journal I visit. Steve Winer, who is wealthier than I am, has written about this problem. If enough websites gang up on me and offer a subscription model that works more like the music streaming services, offering a monthly subscription that allows me to read, say, 50 or 100 articles a month, across different journals, maybe I would pay for it. I think that the only real solution to paywalls is a model similar to the music streaming services, with a flat monthly subscription similar to that of Medium. But Medium reminds me a little of the gig economy; there are a few top earners, but even they are not getting paid so much. For bloggers and independent writers, what would work best would be to get together and create a “writers guild” or cooperative, working as a non-profit, so that the writers themselves don’t get cheated.

I don’t mind the presence of ads, only the nasty ones and trackers.

Open Library

I was delighted, then disappointed, to find, where one can “borrow” books for a limited time. The problem is that the presentation makes them not very readable. Might be okay for students, but not really for readers. Someone put in a considerable amount of work in making the books available, but didn’t go the full route. At minimum there should be a phone application enabling comfortable reading of the books. The project belongs to, the internet archive, and uses the same login for both.


India hovers over the Pause button for Big Tech’s march onto one hundred million farms • The Register

Tags: software books links
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