25 November, 2021

Phones

I've gone into my phone settings and deleted or returned to factory settings any app that doesn't come from F-Droid. There may be a one or two Samsung apps under an Apache license that are lurking in the background. (I never signed into Samsung's app store or services.) I've had a Samsung A10 phone since last year. I don't remember why I eventually enabled the Google Play Store - it may have been so I could use an app for parking or one of the various apps that are convenient for travel in India. There is no shortage of useful apps, but many of them exist only in GAPS, and for them you have to sign in. I'm fortunate and probably unusual in not having to depend on them. A prince of the digital age. Right now, with the Coronavirus, you can't even go outdoors in some countries of the world without installing tracking apps in your phone. Next time I go to India that will probably be true so I will need to either leave my phone at home or get another one. I'm well aware that even under the best circumstances, when with a FOSS OS, a device free of hardware blobs, and no GAPS, a mobile phone remains a personal tracking device.

Communications

The above came after I wrote the following to my fellow workers at the office (I'd complained again about the poor communications between us:

I have decided not to complain any more about communications. The rest of the staff is happy with WhatsApp; and I'm the odd-man-out there, so I should take responsibility for that and not complain. I will serve the office as well as I can with these constraints*, and not worry too much about other people's responsiveness to emails, etc. I will put in my hours and not concern myself about the results.

I don't use any non-free apps on my phone. I'm not using Google Play Store and my phone is not signed into Google. I use an alternative app-store called F-Droid, which contains only free open source applications. WhatsApp isn't in F-Droid because it is not free open source. Telegram is there, so I agree to use it. Not that I particularly love it.

WhatsApp cannot be used from a computer without a phone. It is owned by Facebook. Facebook spies on its subscribers and is responsible for many other ills of our society which, unless you have been hiding in a cave for the last few years, you already know about. My only use of Facebook is to post information for the village and the School for Peace. Instagram is also owned by Facebook and, like WhatsApp, can also be used only when tied to a phone. I have found a way around that so I am now able to post to Instagram from the computer.

My favorite means of communication is email and favorite device is the computer. I usually see email messages more quickly than those received on my phone, and if I am not near my computer, that means I am not working, so I do not really want to be bothered by messages anyway.

In favour of email, there is an advantage that our communications are all stored in the same place, because they are then searchable and easily found (that would also be the main advantage of using Google Chat and Rooms rather than another service).

For email I am trying to move to an offline email client (Thunderbird) rather than webmail. That is more convenient for me and is more secure. Messages are signed digitally, stored locally and can be encrypted. But I can probably show the office staff how to use the Gmail's webmail more successfully too.

Notes:

  • If the office does insist that I will use WhatsApp, it will need to give me a phone and a new number, which I will use only for communications with the office staff. I would find that inconvenient, but it's a possibility.
  • PS - In a couple of years time, I won't need to bother using Facebook, Google, or any of these non-free services ever again. I'm looking forward to that.

Our office director surprisingly wrote back quite a favorable response to that long rant. I'm fortunate to work in a place that is willing to tolerate workers like me. Most would not be.

LibreOffice

I've given up again on their various ribbon / tabbed view options. I couldn't remember where to find things and, in particular, the toolbar buttons for Left-to-Right and Right-to-Left text were not there, and I couldn't find a way to customize the tabbed views in order to put them there. So I've gone back to the ugly but familiar standard menu layout. A few weeks ago I downloaded ONLYOFFICE, but haven't used it, mainly because it doesn't have an option for Right-to-Left languages, so it doesn't fit well into my workflow. Otherwise it might be useful for sharing documents with the docx-centric world, as that's its native format.

Ramana Maharshi - a conversation with one of my sons

Self Awareness And Ignorance - Ramana Maharshi - Audiobook - spoken by lomakayu
by Medicine Of One on YouTube

I gave my son to listen to what I thought was a good dialogue with Ramana. He duly gave it a listen but he had only negative things to say about it.

"I find it very problematic.
It sounds to me like he has taken a philosophy and turned it into a religion. As if understanding the philosophy would instantly make your life better.
Similarly the discussion he is building is very manipulative. He begins by trying to make you aspire to be the gunpowder and take his ideas without thought. And throughout the discussion he does not explain his ideas, he just makes convoluted analogues and metaphors to confuse the listeners into submission, trying to make you feel stupid for even questioning it. Instead of trying to systematically explain his ideas.
So sorry but I don't share your enthusiasm here 😕"

I wrote back:

"Thanks for listening to it, and sorry that you found it annoying and manipulative. It's the narration of a translation from Tamil of a dialogue by Ramana, probably from the 1940s. Ramana was speaking to "a target audience" of spiritual seekers who were well-grounded in the non-dualistic thinking of the Adwaita philosophy, according to which the universe appears to us as material and made up of separate objects due only to our egoistic objectification of it, whereas in reality there is an "underlying unity". Ramana says that if we want to understand the manner in which we objectify reality, we first need to inquire into the nature of the self, and understand the "I" that precedes every verb and is the foundation stone of the mental construction that is our world. I don't think he talks directly about "making our lives any better" as you say, unless we are already convinced that our way of seeing the world is causing us suffering.

Ramana's teaching of self-inquiry was based on a personal experience as a boy, before reading philosophy. (After his experience he ran away from school and spent most of the next 17 years meditating in a cave). Not everyone accepts the worldview of adwaita philosophy or Ramana's approach to it. He is well-respected by a broad spectrum of people around the world, and I also respect and admire him, though my views don't coincide precisely with his and my practice is different from the one that he advocates. When I look around me at the state of our civilization, the massive destruction of the environment, the sixth great extinction, etc., I think that it must be based on our way of looking at the world as a species, and that anyone who is proposing alternative ways of understanding ourselves and our position in the universe deserves to be listened to."

He responded:
"I agree with the goal, I don't think this is the way though. And he does speak about reaching happiness and enlightenment as a result of understanding the concept.

I agree that we need to make people understand that the world and our environment in general is a part of our civilization. But I don't think that using mysticism is the way to do that, at least if you see religion and moral as an analogue."

I responded:
" Concepts are of the mind or intellect. No "mystic" worth his salt would talk about reaching happiness through understanding a concept, so your language is imprecise, though I know what you mean. I don't think that Ramana's approach is "mysticism" exactly, but anyway the kind of transformation he is talking about is beyond the average person. (Even if, as he says it is not about transforming ourselves into something new, but simply about understanding who we are.) So I kind of agree with you that because there is an element of urgency, we need to be practical. I wrote my views last year in a blog post last year.

He[/zrl] responded:
"I think the student has outgrown the master ^^ your article is a lot more concise and logical than Ramanas"

I responded:
"No chance. We don't respect Ramana as much for what he wrote but for what he was. He wrote very little and most of the time hardly said anything. What you heard was very condensed. So many others have written about these matters in dozens of highly intelligent and very sophisticated books. People like Osho - a brilliant writer who ended up with a fleet of Rolls Royces and an ashram full of disciples toting AK-47s. We do need to bring over some of the teachings from the field of spirituality into practical life because the limitations of our thinking and outlook have brought us a civilization that is in some ways the most advanced ever, but which is also facing an existential crisis. Thich Nhat Hanh is another one who is worth listening to, because he is more from our own time, and has a sense of the problems facing us."

Links

✭ "Indigenous man and granddaughter, 12, handcuffed after trying to open bank account
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/24/indigenous-canadian-human-rights-bank-arrest“From the BMO manager deciding our members didn’t belong, to the 911 call to police, to the cuffing, detention and questioning of Max and his granddaughter about how they came to be at the bank, this was a clear case of racial profiling and systemic racism,” Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation, said in a statement."

At first I was thinking the article was about someone who tried to withdraw money from an account. But they only tried to open an account. Gasp.

✭ How do we avoid future authoritarians? Winning back the working class is key | Bernie Sanders
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/nov/24/bernie-sanders-working-class-win-bac
"Democrats must have the courage to take on the powerful special interests who have been at war with the working class of this country for decades. I’m talking about Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance industry, the fossil fuel industry, the military industrial complex, the private prison industrial complex and many profitable corporations who continue to exploit their employees."
Biden, in the meantime is saying that his presidency won't look like an Obama third term. The jury is out on that.
✭ Brexit stems from a civil war in capitalism – we are all just collateral damage | George Monbiot
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/nov/24/brexit-capitalism
"Brexit
, treading on the heels of the pandemic, is likely to harm the lives and freedoms of millions of people in the UK. But it’s not about us. We are just caught in the crossfire of capitalism’s civil war."

I do enjoy how Monbiot consistently manages to think independently and present original opinions. Sometimes, like with this one, I simply don't know enough to ascertain whether he's right.

✭ French minister says images of police breaking up refugee camp 'shocking' | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/24/french-minister-calls-images-of-police-break
"The police operation came at a delicate time for the French government, which is facing widespread criticism for a new law that would make it illegal to disseminate images of police officers in certain circumstances. The law, seen as a direct threat to press freedom, also authorises police use of drones and facial recognition technology. It has passed its first reading in the Assemblée Nationale."

Sometimes even the law-makers are shocked (or claim to be) by the outcome of the laws they make.

✭ Secret Amazon Reports Expose Company Spying on Labor, Environmental Groups
https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dp3yn/amazon-leaked-reports-expose-spying-warehouse-worke

Nothing will surprise me about Amazon. I deleted my account a few months ago and am happy I have never had to go back on that. I do still have an account with The Book Depository - an Amazon subsidiary, but rarely use it.

✭ How to Make Better Bread
https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-make-better-bread-1446703
Necessary
 tips: breadmaking is really an art.

✭ A Suitable Boy: Netflix India faces boycott calls over kissing scene - CNN
https://edition.cnn.com/2020/11/23/media/a-suitable-boy-netflix-india-intl-hnk/index.html
"The
 story follows the love life of a young Hindu woman and at one point, depicts her being kissed by a Muslim man at a Hindu temple. That has proven controversial for some viewers in India, including Hindu nationalist politicians. On Sunday, "#BoycottNetflix" was trending on Twitter there, according to local media reports."

Liars! It isn't just the kiss they are worried about, but the negative and truthful mirror it throws up for Hindutva fanatics.

✭ Hackers 'try to steal Covid vaccine secrets in intellectual property war' | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/22/hackers-try-to-steal-covid-vaccine-secrets-i
"Agencies point finger at state-sponsored hackers from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea"

Imagine a world where all such research took place under conditions of free collaboration between doctors all around the world, where their research was open sourced and nobody actually need to spy.

✭ Researchers find coronavirus was circulating in Italy earlier than thought | Reuters
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-italy-timing/coronavirus-emerged-in-
"ROME (Reuters) - The new coronavirus was circulating in Italy in September 2019, a study by the National Cancer Institute (INT) of the Italian city of Milan shows, signaling that it might have spread beyond China earlier than thought.... This is the main finding: people with no symptoms not only were positive after the serological tests but also had antibodies able to kill the virus,” Apolone said... It means that the new coronavirus can circulate among the population for a long time and with a low rate of lethality, not because it is disappearing, only to surge again,” he said."

✭ Biden's Transition Team Is Stuffed With Amazon, Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb Personnel
https://www.vice.com/en/article/y3gd85/bidens-transition-team-is-stuffed-with-amazon-uber-

"Biden's agency review teams highlight the revolving door between big tech and Washington even as the president-elect opposes Uber's Proposition 22."

Yawn. There's no hope for That Country.

✭ Youtube-dl is Back on Github: 'Our Priority Is Supporting Open Source'
https://www.vice.com/en/article/7k9b4q/youtube-dl-is-back-on-github

"Last
 month, Github removed youtube-dl, a popular open-source tool used for downloading and archiving videos from YouTube, following a copyright claim from the Recording Industry Association of America. In doing so, it cut off activists, historians, creators and journalists from an invaluable piece of software for archiving materials on the web."

After trying unsuccessfully to download an item from YouTube with VLC (which does work for some YouTube films), I went ahead and installed youtube-dl and it worked like a charm. Then, for music and lectures, I went a stage further and installed FFMPEG, which converts a video stream into an mp3. That also works like a charm. These two simple CLI programs are brilliant.

✭ Demand For Employee Surveillance Increased As Workers Transitioned To Home Working - Slashdot
https://tech.slashdot.org/story/20/11/16/2114212/demand-for-employee-surveillance-increase

"A new study shows that the demand for employee surveillance software was up 55% in June 2020 compared to the pre-pandemic average"

As I said above, I feel like a prince of the digital age. I'm never going to need a job that does this to workers. But we are living in a sad age where millions of people are becoming virtual slaves. Sometimes well-paid slaves, but totally unfree. What a horrible world.

I eventually got my Nokia 208 working again. I thought the internet wasn't connecting. However it accepted the APN settings automatically from my provider. It turns out simply that the built in browser doesn't work properly any more. But you can set up IMAP email, then download and use Opera Mini by sending yourself a link.

I don't like the phone's sound level from the earpiece - I think my hearing is beginning to deteriorate slightly - but the loudspeaker is great. It works on 3G networks in Europe, India and the US.
https://www.devicespecifications.com/en/model/03862760
https://www.gsmarena.com/nokia_208-5560.php

I have 3 working phones, none of them new. But as none of them accept Lineage or Replicant, I am going back to this one for now.

No patience for stuff that “almost” works

A number of times I've tried out new apps for my Firefox OS phone and they haven't worked. The latest was an ftp program - the only one in the app store. I got it to work once, and then not. Really, I've no patience for applications that are more trouble than they are worth, so I tend to give up on them, rather than struggle with them. The FF phone is all right for making phone calls, checking email and a few other things. That's enough for me, and the price I'm willing to pay not to have to use Android or IOS.

If a better operating system or phone comes out anytime soon, I won't be exchanging the one I have for it either.  When the battery eventually dies on this thing, I'll just go back to my Nokia. In fact, I've already tried to buy a new battery - the one suggested by Geeksphone. It came, nicely wrapped in cellophane from Hong Kong, but doesn't work in my phone. Another unhappy buyer said that he had conducted a voltage check on the pins, and found that their output differs.  It's the sort of minimal check one might expect Geeksphone to make for their customers before making recommendations, but they're a small outfit - not necessarily incompetent or greedy: they fixed and shipped my phone back without charge. But I guess they are investing their energies in trying to stay afloat in a market ruled by cutthroat competition.