5 January, 2021

PDF in Linux

I have a couple of programs that I can use to manipulate PDFs, like split them into separate files, or merge them. Right now, I have PDF Arranger and the free version of Master PDF (which isn't FOSS). LibreOffice Draw, they say, can sometimes work as an editor. But these solutions weren't, I think, suitable for the situation I had this morning of receiving a scanned PDF (really a picture inside a PDF container), which needs to be signed, dated and returned by email. The free version of Master PDF won't let you add anything without including a watermark. So I thought of Inkscape. It opened the PDF, allowed me to add my signature image file and, with its text tool, to add the date, then I could save it back to PDF. Perfect. For more solutions, there's the link below (it doesn't mention Inkscape).

Links blog

✭ 10 Best Linux PDF Editors You Can Use in 2020

✭ Watching a show at Israel's High Court
Watching a show at Israel's High Court - Opinion - Haaretz.com
Samah Salaime from Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam wrote an opinion piece in Haaretz following the High Court decision (see below).


✭ A scion of Zionist aristocracy wants to quit the Jewish people. Will Israel let him?… | Balfour Project
Why Avraham Burg, who has served as Knesset speaker, interim president and head of the Jewish Agency, is asking Israel to annul his registration as a Jew

(Judaism is regarded as a "nationality" in Israel; following the recent supreme court ruling not to accept a challenge by Arab citizens to the 2018 "Nation State Law" that establishes a formal inequality between Jewish and Arab citizens, Burg has asked to have the Jewish nationality scratched from his designation in the population registry.)

✭ OHCHR | United Kingdom: UN expert cautiously welcomes refusal to extradite Assange
"I am gravely concerned that the judgement confirms the entire, very dangerous rationale underlying the US indictment, which effectively amounts to criminalizing national security journalism," Melzer said.

✭ Coronavirus live news: Belgium to get half of January Pfizer vaccine doses it ordered; Italy measures extended | World news | The Guardian
India: The Covaxin vaccine was granted emergency approval before final-stage human trials had been completed. Health experts have widely criticised the move as premature, pointing out that there is no publicly available data on its efficacy.
#india #COVID-19

1 January, 2021

Graphics Tools

I have to work with photos quite a lot. But the only graphics programs I have consistently used consistently over the years have been (the non-opensource, crossplatform program) XnView and GIMP. I usually go to GIMP only when there is something a bit more complicated to do. In XnView, my main uses are auto-correcting white balance (or doing this manually, if the automatic function does not work very well for a photo), cropping, and batch-resizing. My favourite shape for photos is 3:2, like the old 15x10 cm. printed photos. 4:3 is not a pleasant shape to look at (for me), and, if I use this size for a featured image under the title of a WordPress post, the text below it is too far down the page. 16:9 is too wide for many needs, especially if the photographer did not intend this shape when taking the picture. Standardizing on 3:2 is easier.

When I receive a bunch of photos from people for a post, these are often of mixed sizes, shapes and orientation. I don't batch crop, but I usually want to batch resize at least some of these photos, so that they will be of the right size, or the right weight, for the web. Obviously, when making the photos a uniform size, I do not want to enlarge the ones that are small.

XnView handles these needs quite nicely because :
a. It can choose to resize only those photos that are too large.
b. It can choose that the new dimensions will be according to just the longest side.

I have installed Gthumb again, which is much improved from its early versions. It has perhaps a more agreeable interface than XnView, has some nice editing functions; including many that are absent from XnView. But its batch resize functions are primitive compared to XnView (see screenshots). I say this with a little bit of uncertainty, because under GThumb's "Personalize" function, it may be possible to create scripts that can do more - but this is beyond me. I am sure there are ways to obtain the same flexibility by using Imagemagic, and there is a batch plugin for GIMP. But I know that with me, GUI simplicity works better than memorizing complex commands.

XnView's batch editor:


GThumb's batch editor:


There is one annoyance in XnView. Sometimes, especially after altering a photo, it gets the orientation wrong. Eventually, I discovered that this has to be corrected in Tools | JPEG Lossless Transformations rather than by the more intuitive method of rotating the photo in the editing view.
Anyway, I think I may incorporate GThumb into my workflow.

Meanwhile, I still did not understand why, in my Hubzilla instance, my PNGs come out looking better than JPGs. And I wonder when Hubzilla will begin to handle WebPs ?

Links blog

✭ Popular Tools for easily Cropping and Resizing images in Ubuntu
 working with images, even as an amateur, we frequently encounter the seemingly simple task of resizing and cropping our image files. Let us first see how cropping and resizing are different from each other.
#linux #graphics-tools

✭ Calls for release of man arrested photographing transfer of Rohingyas | Human rights | The Guardian
“Photography is not a crime. Abul Kalam was taking photos of buses on their way to Bhasan Char … it is by no means a secret and has been extensively covered in the media,” said a letter calling for his release.

✭ Dozens of residents die at Belgian care home after Santa visit | Belgium | The Guardian

✭ Joe Biden should end the US pretence over Israel's 'secret' nuclear weapons | Desmond Tutu | Opinion | The Guardian
"The cover-up has to stop – and with it, the huge sums in aid for a country with oppressive policies towards Palestinians..."
"Every recent US administration has performed a perverse ritual as it has come into office. All have agreed to undermine US law by signing secret letters stipulating they will not acknowledge something everyone knows: that Israel has a nuclear weapons arsenal."

✭ How Four U.S. Presidents, including Obama and Trump, Helped Protect Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal | The New Yorker
"The Israelis first started to feel as though the unwritten Meir-Nixon arrangement was no longer sufficient during the Presidency of George H. W. Bush, when, after the first Gulf War, in 1991, world powers talked about the possibility of creating a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms."

✭ The Guardian view of Brexit: a tragic national error | Editorial | Opinion | The Guardian
"This is a day of sadness. Britain’s departure remains a tragic national error. We have expelled ourselves from a union that was good for this country and the world....

In 2016, many of the most fanatical Brexiters hoped the UK’s departure would trigger the EU’s breakup. Yet two of the most striking consequences of the vote were the unity of the EU27 in the face of Brexit compared with the growing disunity of the UK4 over the issue. The breakup of Britain rather than the EU is now the more likely prospect."

16 December, 2020


I spent a bit of time trying to make my desktop (Budgie in MX Linux) more attractive. The red info at the top is in Conky. I no longer bother with silly wallpapers.



Writers are brilliant self-promoters of their profession, and have been since the beginning of storytelling, when it was in the hands of self-aggrandizing bards and minstrels. I finally suffered through to the end of Game of Thrones (the TV series, rather than the books, which I'm still plodding through), and liked the discussion there of the importance of storytellers. I didn't remember the exact lines, but found them in quite a good blog-post on the subject here:
“The Imp,” renowned for his wit and erudition, gives a speech to the heads of the leading houses of the realm. “What unites people?” he asks. “Armies? Gold? Flags?” He shakes his head. “Stories. There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.”
Amitav Ghosh, in Gun Island, similarly extols the importance of storytelling, and of course there is a ton of scientific research to corroborate these views.

"You mustn’t underestimate the power of stories. There is something in them that is elemental and inexplicable. Haven’t you heard it said that what makes us human, what separates us from animals, is the faculty of storytelling? But what if the truth were even stranger? What if it were the other way around? What if the faculty of storytelling were not specifically human but rather the last remnant of our animal selves?"

Here in Israel/Palestine there is enormous importance to the preservation of narratives, both from the Shoah and the Nakba, so I find myself returning to thoughts about the importance of stories fairly frequently. One of my observations is that the way things are remembered is often more important than historical truth. This has a contemporary aspect too, in that I often encounter greater concern about "what people say" than the facts. At one time, our village was visited by the film star Richard Gere, and his visit was mentioned on our website. A few years later, on social media, there were suddenly a stream of accusations that the man had made various horrible racist comments about Palestinians, and so people said they were sorry he ever visited us and that I should remove all reference to his visit from our website. I said that I first wanted to see evidence that he really had made the statements attributed to him. I spent a few hours researching the matter and came up empty - the first chronological reference I found to them was on an obscure Pakistani website. But the person who asked me to rid our website from the noxious mention of Richard Gere said that it didn't matter whether he actually made those statements; it was more important that people would be saying that he did. "You'll never understand us," she told me.

Reading the Mahabharata, I have also been thinking about the value of storytelling. It's one of the earliest texts to come down to us; several times longer than the Illiad and the Odyssey combined, it declares of itself that if something doesn't exist in the Mahabharata, it doesn't exist at all. The central story is actually a lot more violent and cruel than the Tale of Ice and Fire; the heroes are killed off one by one. According to my indology professor, in India it is considered quite unlucky to keep a copy of the Mahabharata inside one's home. As with Martin (and somewhat unlike Tolkien), the characters are not black and white representatives of good or evil. The Pandava family are broadly the good guys, the Kauravas, the bad guys, but then one of the Kauravas, Karna, is the most popular and well-loved hero of all. Krishna, the God incarnate, plays some quite underhanded tricks.

I've always been a reader and a cinema-lover, though I'm not a very hungry consumer of either novels or films. It's odd that during the last few years, I have grown less interested in normal, humanistic genres and gotten more into fantasy. I agree with Gene Wolfe that our contemporary interest in realism is an aberration. Our traditional literature has always been dominated with mythological and fantastic elements.

Usually, the older generation are the people that we approach to learn about long-deceased family members and earlier times, so they are the natural preservers of narratives and cultural history. I found myself interviewing my own parents and taking many notes before they died. I'm sorry I didn't ask more questions. Now there are photo albums filled with anonymous figures and vague memories of stories heard during childhood. In our village, though I'm not one of the more senior members, I'm sometimes a source of information about former times.

But a part of me wants to escape from all preoccupation with stories. In the Indian scheme of life stages, old age (which began formally at an earlier time than in our reckoning) is a time for reading philosophy, the Brahmanas and the Upanisads, if the poor eyesight characteristic of those years, permits one to read anything at all.

Links blog

✭Saudi prosecutor seeks maximum jail sentence for women's rights activist | Saudi Arabia | The Guardian
“A regime that sees women’s activism as terrorism is deeply broken. There is no moral or legal case for [activists’] continued imprisonment, and their prolonged incarceration is not even in the narrow interests of the Saudi regime,”
#MENA #womens-rights

✭Paris city hall fined for putting too many women in senior roles | Paris | The Guardian
“I am happy to announce that we have been fined,” Hidalgo, a member of the Socialist party, told a city council meeting, adding that she had been filled with joy when she learned of the penalty.

✭Israeli spy firm suspected of accessing global telecoms via Channel Islands | World news | The Guardian
The Israeli private intelligence company Rayzone Group appears to have had access to the global telecommunications network via a mobile operator in the Channel Islands in the first half of 2018, potentially enabling its clients at that time to track the locations of mobile phones across the world.

✭Watch Out! Adrozek Malware Hijacking Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Yandex Browsers
 campaign — which impacts Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Yandex Browser, and Mozilla Firefox browsers on Windows — aims to insert additional, unauthorized ads on top of legitimate ads displayed on search engine results pages, leading users to click on these ads inadvertently.

✭Muslims targeted under Indian state's 'love jihad' law
A day after the law was enacted in early December, police in the city of Lucknow violently halted a wedding ceremony between a Hindu woman, Raina Gupta, and a Muslim man, Mohammad Asif, that was to include both Hindu and Muslim rituals. The families, who supported the union, said neither was going to convert religion, but the wedding was still prevented from going ahead.

✭Russian FSB hit squad poisoned Alexei Navalny, report says | World news | The Guardian

✭Tsundoku - Wikipedia
 (Japanese: 積ん読) is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one's home without reading them.[1][2][3] It is also used to refer to books ready for reading later when they are on a bookshelf.

✭Hackers are selling more than 85,000 MySQL databases on a dark web portal | ZDNet
Hackers have been breaking into MySQL databases, downloading tables, deleting the originals, and leaving ransom notes behind, telling server owners to contact the attackers to get their data back.

✭Here Comes the Google Chrome Change that Worries Ad-Blocker Creators - Slashdot
The importance of the Chrome team's choices are magnified by the fact that other browsers, including Microsoft Edge, Vivaldi , Opera and Brave, are built on its Chromium open-source foundation. Microsoft said it will embrace Manifest v3, too.The importance of the Chrome team's choices are magnified by the fact that other browsers, including Microsoft Edge, Vivaldi , Opera and Brave, are built on its Chromium open-source foundation. Microsoft said it will embrace Manifest v3, too.

✭Indian police use violence as a shortcut to justice. It's the poorest who bear the scars - CNN
's over-burdened police force has 158 police officers for every 100,000 people. That lack of manpower, coupled with inadequate investment in modern investigation techniques and political pressure to get results, means confessions under torture are often simply the quickest, or only, way to resolve crimes -- even if they come at a deadly cost.

✭A hiking trip amid the beautiful West Bank scenery is a bittersweet experience | Palestinian territories
Israeli settlements and checkpoints are encroaching on one of the few escapes from harsh reality available to Palestinians

✭Digging in: on the frontlines as farmers lay siege to Delhi | India | The Guardian
 are citizens of the land, not of politics, but many now say that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, radically underestimated their determination and resilience, and could now have met his match.

29-31 August 2020


I don't have Waze and am trying to avoid Google Maps in favour of OsmAnd for driving directions. It's pretty usable in our area. I like the interface, but not everything is perfect, at least in my set up.

  • I still haven't figured out a way to make the map face in the same direction as the driving. It would be easier to read if it would switch itself around.
  • In our area at least, it doesn't recognize street numbers.
  • It's a bit hard for me to read all the information. I think it's time to get multi-focals!

Openstreetmaps political bias?

Looking again at my address coordinates, I see that Openstreetmap is guilty of a political bias. The majority of the village is actually in what Israelis term a "no-man's land" (שטח הפקר) between Israel and Palestine (formerly Jordan), whereas the presentation in Openstreetmap shows us as being well within the Israeli territory.

The status of this buffer zone has never actually been decided. It was not, like East Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, unilaterally annexed by Israel. Google Maps and other mapping companies do show the no man's land area, but it has not been added to Openstreetmap. I don't know how to edit there, but perhaps I should write to them. I imagine that, like Wikipedia, Openstreetmap is a hotbed of political dispute, and the omission is not by chance.

(See the Wikipedia article on Latrun)

Meanwhile on Google and Apple maps

Calls for Google to put Palestine on the map

Primary School

Our village school opens the school year tomorrow with a bit of a dispute. We were set to have 2 fairly balanced first grade classes, but then parents of 11 Jewish children withdrew their registration, citing a need for their kids to learn closer to home while the pandemic continues. This caused a rumpus in the parents committee, as some of the Jewish parents from outside the village were scared their kids might find themselves at a disadvantage among many Arab children. The school management decided to solve the problem by reversing the registration of 13 Arab children 2 weeks before the school year. The parents of those children are up in arms, justifiably. Most of the people here in the village - both Jews and Arabs - very much agree with them. However the school formally belongs to the education ministry and there isn't much we can do, it seems.*

There'll be a demonstration tomorrow in front of the school gates: "Hey first grade: we are missing 13 children" --- the residents of Neve Shalom protest this shameful decision"


Budgie on my Linux

I must say, I'm quite happy with the Budgie desktop environment on MX Linux (19.2). Usually a distro's native desktop works best, but I grew frustrated with a couple of things in XFCE and switched. I like that it docks applications; and can pin them to the panel. I think that any modern windows manager should have that feature built in by now. It also does a better job of suspending and waking up from suspension. Under XFCE on MX, if one suspends by closing the laptop lid, the login screen will be missing, when the lid is reopened. (One can still blindly type the password in order to log back in.). Actually, in Budgie, there's a login bug as well. If, when suspending the Hebrew keyboard has been active, it is impossible to change the language and log back in with the Latin keyboard. (My work-around is not to use alphabet keys in the password). Finally, Budgie does a better job of managing multiple displays than XFCE. Sometimes under the former, if I would just unplug a display, I'd be left without a primary display. Budgie is attractive, light-weight and works better for me.


Y. came to visit, bringing a German friend. Y, from Haifa, has both Jews and Palestinians in her family, and grew up with an aversion to Zionism and the myths that most people of her generation imbibed. She taught for a while in our school, but has always had a personality and intelligence that makes most people wary of her, so someone eventually ejected her from her position and she left the village. But we have stayed in contact with her throughout the years. She lives in Jerusalem and is about to retire. In recent years she became interested in Krishnamurti and Buddhism. She visited K's center Brockwood Park, near Oxford, and spent a few months at the Intersein Buddhist retreat center in Bavaria.

Y's friend Cornelia was visiting us for the second time, though I had completely forgotten her or her first visit a couple of years ago. She is working for a German public development bank on various projects in the West Bank, while living in Sheikh Jarakh in East Jerusalem, so her contacts are mainly with Palestinians. During the pandemic she returned to Germany for a few months, but returned to complete her 3 year tour of service. Before visiting us, the two had been at a concert in Beit Jimal, the Salesian monastery near Beit Shemesh - purportedly the burial place of St. Stephen. They brought some nice beer from the nearby boutique brewery in Srigim and we talked about German politics and the vagaries of the country's reception of refugees.

We went for a late afternoon walk down to the corner of silence, where the dome has recently been repainted a brilliant white. From experience, I know that it will quickly darken again. I wish they'd paint it the colour of the earth and trees surrounding it. Near the Garden of Rescuers I noticed for the first time the sycamore fig tree (ficus sycomoros) because it is currently full of its red fig-like fruit. The tree is comparatively rare in modern Israel, and the fruit are not harvested commercially. I once heard that they are popular in Gaza. There is still an avenue or two of huge sycamores in Tel Aviv. It's quite like Eitan to have remembered to plant one of these trees in the village.

Thoughts on another lecture by Harari

Listened to another YouTube video of Yuval Noah Harari, This one was a lecture at Google in 2015 and is about "new religions of the 21st century." I have read only the first of his books, and listened to various interviews. He lives not far from here, practices vipassana meditation, is strictly vegan, firmly on the left, anti-nationalist, and deeply influenced by Buddhism. The video is chiefly about the increasing power of the algorithm in undermining our currently dominant religion, which, as he says, is humanistic liberalism.

I was thinking his talk about the "new religions of the 21st" century would be about the discovery of our interdependence with nature and of the impossibility that the human race will survive the coming centuries while maintaining its existing speciesism.. At a point in the talk he asks a rhetorical question about the main scientific discovery of the 20th century? (the response: there are so many of them that it is hard to say), and then what was the main discovery in the same period from the faith religions ("the religions that believe in God"). The response he gives is that it is hard to decide, because we can't think of any. But I don't think that's strictly true. There is a discovery or re-discovery, of one of them core teachings of all religions, of altruism and the need to overcome our inherent egoism for the good of the whole. It isn't exclusively the domain of religion, and the dominant religions have themselves contradicted this message to disastrous effect. Yet the belief, or understanding, that there is a deep connection, or even a fundamental unity, between our own existence and consciousness and that of the universe, is both at the heart of religion, and is the key message of our times. "Key" because it is key to our survival as a species. Like the power of the algorithm, this understanding challenges humanistic liberalism and individualism, as Harari defines it. But unlike our new faith in algorithms to address the issues of our times, the earlier message that we can, and need to, transcend our egoism is at the heart of the human condition. It predates humanistic liberalism by tens of thousands of years and can be felt when viewing the art of the first humans on cave walls. And it will supersede our present stage of evolution, if we are to survive at all. It's a truth with which we have grappled from the beginning, but which rises to paramount importance in an era when we have the power to destroy both our species and the delicate symmetries that make all of life on earth possible. Eventually logic may lead us to the same conclusion. Indeed, we may already have enough scientific knowledge to emphatically confirm it. But if we don't grasp, at a deep level, and quickly, that in order to survive we must stop destroying the biosphere for selfish reasons, it won't be very helpful if this understanding remains confined to the rational level. Understanding has always been a matter more for the heart than for the intellect.


Listening to Zaarbi e-rast of Zarbang, from my Emusic collection.

D. complains that I didn't update our music collection for the past several years, which is true, and anyway she wouldn't like my choices. However I suggested she will probably find something on Spotify, though I've never actually used it. Quickly downloaded through snap their Linux player for the old, outdated Ubuntu media PC we have in the living room. I guess it sounds all right..

Mostly I still listen to tracks I downloaded years ago from Emusic; nothing mainstream. Sometimes lately I've been supplementing this with stuff suggested to me by YouTube - ethnic, house. Indian classical or bhajans that I can listen to while doing other things.

When I first traveled through the Middle East in the 1970s, cassettes were in vogue. Young people in Turkey got me interested in their Halk Musik (folk music). In Konya I bought some sufi instrumental music - strange stuff. In Afghanistan, you could still wander into a tea shop and find people playing traditional instruments; though cassette players were beginning to take over. Back home I would hunt for rare stuff like Tibetan monastery music , Indonesian gamelan gong music and medieval madrigals on Nonesuch Records. I wonder if the label still exists?

Linux on my Thinkpad

I am pleased with the transition I made from Windows to MX Linux on my Lenovo Thinkpad T470p. It's a beautiful machine, but much better now that I no longer have to use Windows 10 in it. I am back in the operating environment that I know and love and don't need to make any compromises. I have used MX Linux previously, on lower-powered and older machines, but although I know that I could easily run a fancier distro under my 32 GB RAM, I wanted something that I already knew would be stable and that I would probably stay with. Initially I tried installing MX with the Gnome 3 and KDE Plasma desktops, then reinstalled and tried Budgie. I liked Budgie best, but it's a bit buggy, so I've gone back to XFCE. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with any of the others, but XFCE is the desktop that MX Linux comes with, and MX seems to play best with it.

Regarding software, as usual, I have added the tools that I use: Cherrytree Notes, Bluefish, Filezilla, KeepassXC, Osmo, Scribus, Calibre, for now. All of these are multi-platform and available also for Windows, so even for the few months I was working under Windows, I was able to use almost exclusively free open source software.

I installed XnView as a photo manager, but then I had a pleasant surprise when I found that GThumb has grown into a program that can handle most of my everyday needs, such as cropping, resizing, color correcting. Last time I checked, this was not so, and I've reluctantly used XnView for years since. Though it is free, and very nice, it is still proprietary software. On Windows there is FastStone, which is under a GPL3 license.

For my cloud needs, I have NextCloud for personal files. This works fine (though it doesn't start up automatically, for some reason). For the office, I unfortunately have to use Google Drive. Here there is a problem, because Google provide no native system for synchronization on Linux. (They initially promised, and people have been screaming at them for years in the Google forums, but it hasn't helped - it just ain't gonna happen.) I tried to use the Gnome 3 and KDE Google Drive solutions (which was the reason for my mentioned experimentation with these desktop environments). The verdict: Gnome's Online Accounts is still too slow to be of much use. KDE's Google Drive synchronization is currently disallowed from authenticating by Google. I tried next to use a proprietary solution, Expandrive, because it is supposed to work like Google Drive File Stream. But, for Linux at least, this is completely Beta software (and expensive). I had an email from the developer, but he didn’t reply to my feedback. So I'm using InSync, but just for a single folder where I keep some active files. My hard drive is not large enough to contain all of the files we have on our Google Drive, and previously Insync somehow made a horrible mess, mixing some of our personal home documents in public folders - it took hours and hours to correct the mess and I don't want to go there again.

Regarding support under Linux for the Thinkpad T470p, as far as I can see, everything is supported, almost out of the box. For battery management, there is a specific external module for the TPL battery management system that I needed to add (acpi-call-dkms). This keeps the battery charged up to a certain threshold in order to help preserve the life of the battery. The machine still seems to drain the battery more quickly than under Windows, however.
The only thing that I have not yet installed is the drivers for the finger print reader.

The trackpoint

I once before owned a very cheap Thinkpad, on which I also replaced the Windows system with Linux, but I never really got the hang of using the trackpoint. Now I've decided to try to get used to it. I have always hated touchpads, and usually the first thing I do is disable them and use an external trackball (which I much prefer to mice). I suspect that I'm less dexterous than most people and always look with admiration when I see people effortlessly using their touchpads. It could be age, but I remember how even in primary school the teachers would tell me I was holding the pencil too heavily.

But the trackpoint is something special. There's no way to accidentally create havoc with it, as I always do with with touchpads. Still, getting accustomed to the trackpoint is no easy task, though I do recognize the advantages. The experience reminds me of when I first began using a mouse, after working for years with WordPerfect under DOS. It felt really strange. But there's something about the trackpoint that brings me closer to the machine, and encourages me to use keyboard functions more. For example, in LibreOffice, to select a large block of text that spans more than a page, I would normally use the mouse (or trackball), but trying to accomplish that with the trackpoint is simply horrible. So I looked up how to do use the keyboard instead and gasped how easy it is (you simply hold down the shift key while moving the arrow buttons - doh - I bet everyone else already knew that). Giving up external pointing devices is quite liberating. No doubt those who work completely in Vim or Emacs, and don't need to use any pointing device whatsoever, feel this even more strongly. Having used a pointing device consistently for about 25 years, I've simply forgotten how it felt beforehand.

Cross-platform foss apps (again)

Now I'm on MS Windows (see earlier post), because that's what I acquired with the Thinkpad given or loaned to me by my son. But we seem to be reaching a stage where the actual operating system is not of prime importance.* I mean I had to fiddle quite a bit in order to set up the machine as I wanted it, minimizing the connections with Microsoft and setting up the same software I always use on Linux. I'm beginning to think it's a useful constraint to go for software that's available everywhere, on all Linux desktops as well as MS Windows and Mac. Not everything works as well as the non-FOSS options. For example, Foxit Reader (which isn't FOSS) is much more feature-rich than Evince, which I also have set up. But for everyday tasks, Evince is enough.

For those willing to work with the terminal, the limitations become much more insignificant, but it's a struggle to identify the right scripts. For example today I was looking at Imagemagick, and I didn't find yet an easy explanation of how to do stuff. There's a routine operation I always do when importing photos from my phone or elsewhere, in order that I can put them online. This involves reducing the size of the photos according to their longest side (but only those that actually need to be shrunk), and then saving them with a new name. This is very easy in Xnview (which isn't FOSS), but it seems like a struggle to obtain through Imagemagick.

I'm still trying to obtain a FOSS alternative to XNView, and yesterday looked at Digikam. Naturally it can do a lot more for digital assets management than XNView, however its batch routine is still primitive compared with the latter. There are no options for shrinking only large photos (rather than blowing up the smaller ones), and no option for shrinking them by their longest side (in order that it will work the same for portrait and landscape shapes). That's when I started to look at Imagemagick, because why be upset with GUI options, when in the CLI you can do everything, right? But it isn't quite so simple in the case of Imagemagick. And I know myself. Things that take a long time to learn are just as easily forgotten - especially the ones that I don't need to do several times a day, so that they become a routine.

For text editing, I've finally ended up with Bluefish.  It can do everything I need, and it was possible to simplify the interface how I liked it, and use tabs.  One need that many people don't have is simple and painless LTR / RTL shifting, as soon as one changes the input language.  Bluefish handles this painlessly - when I shift to Hebrew or Arabic, it begins the line from the opposite side.  Some programs, for example Geanie, can't handle RTL languages at all, and others don't do it very well.

I would like to get into the habit of using a single editor (Bluefish) wherever I need an editor. For example this WordPress post, and maybe also for writing emails. Using a single editor means that everything is taken care of in one familiar interface, and there are no surprises like losing all of my work if the computer suddenly turns off. Bluefish saves every minute by default.

* The upcoming versions the Windows Linux Subsystem offer an even more real Linux experience than what currently exists, and it has better interaction with filing systems.

Journal – mainly about photo handling under Linux

I was somehow sick yesterday - woke up feeling very low energy.  In mid-morning I had loose bowel movements, throughout the day felt zift.  And it was also quite a busy day, with the annual test for the car, a visit from the guy that replaces our water filter, two trips to Modiin to take Yotam to work and back.  Then in the afternoon we bought him a new computer monitor.

Most of last weekend was spent moving files around and doing backups, in order to free a disk up for our new Nmix multimedia player. Then setting up the player itself.  I will talk about that some other time.  But the awkward thing is that somewhere during that process my laptop Windows partition, and even the HP restore partition got affected, such that I can't use Windows, and have to use Ubuntu.  Previously I was flipping back between these every few weeks; probably eventually spending more time with Windows.

The data on the partition all seems to be there, and I was able to access and transfer it using Yotam's Ultimate Boot Disk.  Just won't let Windows start. 

So I'm stuck with Ubuntu, unless I get it fixed.  Truth is, I'm a bit worn out by the problems of both operating systems, and have found myself lusting for a Mac.  But, as my son Yonatan says, if I had a Mac I would probably find things to complain about that too.

Since I'm a bit of a fatalist, I took up using only Ubuntu as a challenge.  The most difficult thing for me under Linux is finding a way of working with photos.  Although photography is by no means the larger part of what I do, it is an area that has to be in order.  And the big obstacle to overcome is finding a Linuxcentric photo organizer and workflow.

I have done a major revisit to this subject in the last few days, trying the most commonly known applications and some less known options:  Picasa, Digikam, Gwenview, G-thumb, F-spot, Lightzone, Bibble Pro, as well as reading up on Geeqi and a couple of others.

What I need really, is actually what Picasa does rather well, except that Picasa under Linux chokes on my photo collection (it's about 35,000 photos so far). I need something that imports photos from a camera, lets me organize them and handles light editing - preferably non-destructive.  I have a folder-based system, but also use tags (keywords).  I want to use both, and to be able to search for photos using both. I also want to have a quick way of uploading the photos to the web (I have been using Picasaweb.

All that turns out to be a tall order.  Picasaweb has the most elegant user interface I have seen for handling photos.  In a single screen, without any customization, it does everything I need to do.  It is super-fast, for browsing, searching, editing and sharing, and permits a brilliant workflow.   I think it's a work of genius.  There are still a couple of things I don't like about it, but all in all I'm happy.  But, as mentioned, the Linux version (which is based on the Windows emulator Wine) is less robust.

Under Linux, the best equivalent seems to be Digikam.  It has keywords, uses folders, can handle editing (not non-destructive as in Picasa), but, for some reason, on my machine it is almost unusable.  Slow and prone to freezing.  Again, the problem may be the large photo collection.

G-thumb does a reasonable job.  It's fast and easy to use.  It uses a folder-based system.  It allows simple (not non-destructive) editing.  Instead of keywords, it relies on searchable comments.  Trouble is, the comments are recognized only in G-thumb, and it does not recognize IPTC keywords at all.  That means that any time spent in tagging (which is an exhaustive process) would be good only for G-thumb, or perhaps Gnome's file manager. 

F-spot is just the opposite.  It relies only on tags, and does not allow a folder view.  It does tagging very well, and these are searchable.  The tags are generic IPTC standard, and are recognized outside of F-spot.  The problem is, that after you have invested so much time organizing a photo collection in folders, it just isn't possible to go back and start tagging every single photo.

F-spot seems to be closest to I-photo under Mac.  I checked out I-photo in a display model in Office Depot today.  I don't think that would work for me either. 

Lightzone and Bibble are two non-free photo managers and editors that work under Linux.  At up to $200 they are expensive.  But I would consider them if they did everything I want.  Lightzone does editing very well, and is supposed to handle Raw photos (which I don't use).  Bibble seems to handle the photo-organization quite well and also allows editing.  Both programs are aware of and can handle tagging. Both do non-destructive editing, though they handle it in different ways.  Unfortunately neither have a search engine.  Lightzone has some problems navigating to my external hard drive.  Bibble has an interface based on dockable windows, which seems a bit messy to me.  A new version of Bibble has been promised for a long time.  I will wait and see what that offers.

Gwenview is nice mainly for viewing photos and is a bit limited.  Geeqi, based on an old "competitor" to GThumb, is in a very alpha-stage and is mentioned as being unstable and not recommended for serious use.  There are systems that use PHP and Appache, but these don't seem a good option for work on a desktop computer.

So there I am - nothing really does everything that I need to do.  I will probably adopt a workflow that involves Picasa, GThumb and F-Spot.  Perhaps I will import photos in Picasa, use Picasa as an intermediate station, since it works quite well with a smaller number of photos.  In Picasa I can tag them, then archive them for later viewing in GThumb and F-Spot.  Sometimes, in order to work with photos in the archive, I can do the opposite - moving them to a folder that is watched by Picasa, doing quick editing, then sharing them from there by email or web.  There are a couple of things I'm still not sure about in this process, such as Picasa's handling of keywords, and how best to use Picasa as a way-station.

Perhaps, in a few months time, some of my difficulties will be solved by updates to some of the programs I have mentioned.

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Writing, and Writers’ programs on Linux

Daughter Ella left for Barcelona this afternoon, to meet up with the Rainbow gathering, currently near the town of Leon.  Doesn't seem like long since she came home from India. Europe will be different for her. During her year in Sicily, she didn't travel very much - now it's another phase in her life.

One of her deliberations was whether to take a camera. Eventually she decided on her old Rebel - a film camera. When I first traveled to India, I didn't take a camera. I wasn't sure about preserving memories, or maybe it was about preserving them by mechanical means - hard to remember one's ideologies of thirty years ago.

Lately I've been thinking that not taking travel pictures might encourage me to do more writing. I found a couple of writing programs that work under Linux. There's yWriter 4, by Spacejock. That's a free program that runs under Wine / Crossover (Windows emulators for Linux). At least it's supposed to run. I didn't managed to get it to work properly. You type and nothing appears on the page. Like a mechanically induced writers' block, or the machine version of those nightmares where you scream but are unable to produce sound. Perhaps now, after reinstalling under Crossover 8 / Wine 1.0 it will work better.

However, the other program I discovered looks good too. This is a multi-platform suite called Writers' Cafe. It isn't, unfortunately, a free open source program (though the Mac version is free).

The most convenient computer for writing, of course, is my ageless Psion. Its AA batteries last a month and the thing clips neatly onto my belt.  Not so inspiring to type on the small keyboard and grey screen but when the spirit moves me these details are forgotten.  Perhaps now, with the emergence of a line of computers like the Ee PC, we are moving back again towards convenient handhelds.