15 June 2021

COVID-19

This country has almost entered a "post-Corona" situation. Today, the rule that requires the wearing of masks in most indoor areas was cancelled too. The necessity to show "green passes" or vaccination certificates, limitations on congregation and on wearing of masks outdoors were cancelled some time ago. Yesterday, out of 21,000 tests there were only four positives, and the number of hospital patients in serious condition is down to around 30. But "post-corona", like "post-colonial" has its own meaning, and carries the outcomes, repercussions and trauma forward into the future.

Personal property

My aspiration is to have a dwindling amount of personal property - I would prefer not to have any, but to have enough income to cover my living expenses. Whenever I go to India, I don't have more than fits in a small rug sack, usually, and that feels like more than enough. I can live like that for months on end, doing my laundry each day so that I don't need more clothes than I wear; having just a phone and a computer for my technology needs, etc. As I grow older I want to feel completely independent and free, which means for me living without debt or financial commitments. Yesterday Cory Doctorow had interesting things to say with regard to home ownership and rent:
The Rent’s Too Damned High. A human right, commodified and rendered… | by Cory Doctorow | Jun, 2021 | GEN.

Why do homes increase in value? Because they grow more valuable over time. But that value isn’t intrinsic: the roof doesn’t get better at keeping out the rain, sleep doesn’t come more easily in the bedrooms. Rather, homes get more valuable because not owning a home gets worse...

The very existence of the rental market is key to home appreciation: one reason someone might pay you more for your house than you paid for it is because they expect to be able to rent to someone who can’t afford to buy. The more lucrative it is to be a landlord, the more every rentable home is worth, because every sale potentially includes bidders whose maximum price includes their expected returns from rental income.

This means that the more rights tenants have, the less your house is worth, even if you never rent your house out. Or, contrariwise, when tenants are worse off, homeowners are better off.

We are lucky enough to own a home, and the family owns additional property; but I actually don't think of myself as owner of any of any of this; let it be in my wife's name or the family's name.

MS Windows, computers

I spent some time yesterday updating one of the office computers from Windows 7 to Windows 10.1. It took forever but worked without a hitch. Samah has at least 3 computers. I can't understand why people who are much worse at managing computers than I am feel the need for so many of them. I never want to use more than one of them - keeping a single computer well maintained is enough of a challenge for me. It is true that I also use three, but one is an old laptop for my home server, and the other is our media PC, which runs on Ubuntu. And lately I brought home another old laptop from the office, in case I need to do anything fancy with Office 365, as my everyday computer runs on MX.

Email subscriptions

I have signed up to the blogs of Cory Doctorow and Dave Winer, as mentioned earlier. I quite enjoy receiving these in my inbox each day. Winer's usually arrives first thing on a morning, like a newspaper. Seeing it in the mail has the advantage of not having to look at the racist mug of Winston Churchill, which currently adorns his blog header. Doctorow's comes in via Mailman a bit later in the day. I also signed up for my own blog to see how well Feedrabbit handles it: they are an Australian company that converts an RSS feed for despatch by email. In a case situation where there is just one blog post per day, this works well, and the result looks good.

Links

Plastic rafting: the invasive species hitching a ride on ocean litter - The Guardian

Ocean plastic has become a route for invasive species that threaten native animals with extinction, with Japan’s tsunami sending nearly 300 species ‘rafting’ across the Pacific

NSA whistleblower Reality Winner released from prison | Reality Winner - The Guardian

Home server?

I've been thinking more seriously about setting up a home server.  Yesterday I looked at the Freedombone, Yunohost and Freedombox projects - these are some of the noteworthy attempts to make a Linux distro specially geared towards home servers.  All three are based on Debian Linux and can be run on a variety of hardware.  Cheap Raspberry Pis, old computers and other cheap machines are what people normally use.  In my case I will be trying from an Eeeepc netbook, since I have one lying around and its electricity needs are a bit smaller than those of a normal laptop.  I do have an unused Raspberry Pi, but it's one of the early models and has only half a gigabyte RAM.

My initial experiments were failures.  It took many hours to download Freedombone from Bob Mottram's site, and even then it seems that the data was corrupted.  Yunohost's download took just a couple of minutes but the thumb drive wouldn't boot for me.  I will try again with these later.  Or I'll just work from another distro - my eeepc already has a Debian distro on it.  These kind of experiments always seem to take me longer than for most people.

International Keyboard

I found it hard to find descriptions of how to use the international keyboards available under Linux, so spent some time trying to figure out the key combinations to produce various diacriticals and international characters. On my mx linux box, which is set to US English with the Euro key, (though the standard way of getting the Euro doesn't seem to work). These are some combinations that do work, with my compose key set to right-Alt (Alt-Gr)

á Alt+' then a
à Alt+

then a
æ Alt +a then e
ç Alt+, then c
é Alt+ ‘ then e be quick with the Alt-'
è Alt+

then e
ê Alt+Shift+^
€ Alt+e then =
ï Alt+i then shift + " quickly on the second set
£ Alt+Shift+L then =
ñ Alt+- then n
ö Alt+o then shift+" quickly on the second set
ō Alt+- then o
ø Alt+/ then o
œ Alt + o then e
ú Alt+' then u
ü Alt+u then shift+" quickly on the second set.

Buying Nadella a coffee

Our association director yesterday asked me to look into purchasing new non-profit sector licenses for MS Office 365. These go for only $3 a month per user, but that's still not an inconsiderable amount for us.

I pointed out that it's almost 20 years now since I've used Microsoft products and that all my work is accomplished with FOSS programs. She responded that she's used those programs too but that in her estimation "they aren't good enough for people lacking in computer skills".

When we opened our office in the early 1990s, it was Bob and me, in our mid-30s, and Coral, in her late 70s, and we were all teaching ourselves to use WordPerfect under MS DOS. Then we made the transition to MS Word under Windows 3.1, so we had to learn how to use a mouse, which was especially tricky for Coral, as old people have trouble with their eye-hand coordination. But she managed quite well, and was able to continue working successfully until she had a stroke at about the age of 87. After a while she began speaking again, but permanently lost her ability to use a computer.

So I'm wondering if there has perhaps been a decline in the average intelligence of workers nowadays, or whether it's just our expectation of what they will be able to learn?

New computer

The Asus X200MA is our new computer (for D and me both). It has a Pentium processor, an 11 inch screen, 4GB RAM and a 500 GB hard drive. I got this mainly for our travels. My Dell Vostro isn't so much bigger but that thing is hardly portable due to its poor battery life (it lasts about 10 minutes).

The Asus comes with Windows 8.1, but I don't plan on using that. D can use that. PuppyLinux is the only OS I use these days and it works fine on the Asus - I was sure to check that before purchase. The only troublesome thing is the touchpad. It's over-sensitive, stupid and I didn't figure out a way of cancelling it, as the synaptics driver doesn't work for this one. So my solution is just to keep it covered up. No problems about that!

One thing that surprised me about the Asus is the great sound. It's better than any computer I've recently used, and almost as good as the old HPs we had with the Altec Lansing speakers. This will be a great computer to have with me in India.

Staying with my old computers

I've decided not to do any computer purchases when visiting my parents in the US this time. My 3 year old Dell Vostro V13, which came with and still runs on Ubuntu, is still fine. It has an i3 processor and is quite fast enough for my needs. It's just that this machine has a very poor battery and is a bit large for traveling, though last year I took it both to India and the US. When in the US last year i did replace the battery, but it didn't help much, and it's back to about half an hour on a full charge.

I also have a four-year-old eeePC 1005PE, and that's the one I'm going to take to the US and probably for my 2 months in India this year. It has a slow Atom processor, a 1024 x 768 pixel 10 inch screen, and is actually quite heavy for its size. That machine impressed reviewers at the time it came out with its long battery life - it lasts 8 - 11 hours on a full charge. Now my battery is down to about a third, so I've ordered a new one at $35.

The eeePC, which I originally got for my wife, runs on Windows 7 starter, though I hardly ever use that. I run it on Puppy Linux (Slacko) on USB. I've customized the distro quite a bit, adding LibreOffice, GIMP, Emacs and many other programs. On Puppy, the eepc is still fast enough. For email, modern AJAXy interfaces are a bit slow so it's better to use Sylpheed. The 1024 x 768 screen and cramped keyboard are still annoying, but it's a matter of using the machine wisely.

I can also use the Puppy on thumb drive on my Vostro, and do that sometimes instead of Ubuntu.