8 December, 2020

Mobile phone photography workshop

Nadine gave an excellent photography workshop to our staff, with a focus on how to take pictures for our reports and posts. I was a little skeptical before the workshop about the scope of a workshop based only on mobile phones. But it was quite informative. She started with some general principles that are common to all photography, like what makes a good composition, how to frame the subject, etc., and then showed us how to use some features of phone cameras. For example, the first thing she got us to do was to enable the phone's grid feature. Even my pretty basic Samsung A10 phone has quite a number of possibilities in its advanced settings - most of which she didn't get into - but one feature that it is lacking is the portrait effect. That gives a shallow depth of field effect so that the subject is in focus, while the background is blurred. My son said that this is "very common now in phones with multiple cameras". But it seems that it does not, in fact, depend on the presence of multiple cameras, because my wife's Google Pixel 3A manages it with just a single camera. An additional thing we learned about that feature is that when it has been enabled for a photo, one can later correct the severity of the effect in the phone's photo editing software.

Somebody mentioned during the workshop that it is harder to take pictures of people with darker skin. Nadine said that's due to our racism; and then explained what she meant. She says that camera technology developed in a mainly white-skinned world, and that the chemicals and then digital tech were all aimed to create the best effects for white skin coloration. I reflected that this is now becoming a real problem, because AI is depending on the same technology for facial recognition, and it is known that it's doing quite a miserable job of identifying non-white faces.

Natural cadence of English and James Dickey's poetry

When I was in university, one of the most interesting courses I did was in the metrics of poetry. We spent a lot of time reading Milton and I also was introduced to James' Dickey's poems. Dickey is not the sort of writer I would normally like; he writes about his time in the army and a lot about hunting. I read two of his novels, Deliverance (on which a popular film, with its amazing film score

Dueling Banjos - Deliverance OST
by evenflow1816 on YouTube
, was based), and To the White Sea, a really savage novel about an American soldier, murdering and butchering his way through Japan at the end of World War II. (He's also the father of a well-known journalist called Christopher Dickey.) Anyway, with the help of that course professor, I came to like was the cadence of his poems, which the professor no doubt chose because it is so obvious that even ignoramuses or novices to metrics can identify, like,

In a stable of boats I lie still,
From all sleeping children hidden.
The leap of a fish from its shadow
Makes the whole lake instantly tremble...

And then, of course, he eventually breaks up the meter, with wonderful effect:

I wash the black mud from my hands.
On a light given off by the grave
I kneel in the quick of the moon
At the heart of a distant forest
and hold in my arms a child
Of water, water, water.

So I went to YouTube last night in order to find some recording of James Dickey reading his own poetry, because I was interested in whether he would read it like I would. My first surprise was how much he sounds like Martin Luther King - I suppose it oughtn't be such a surprise because they are both educated southerners from Georgia. The second surprise, was that he does not make obvious reference to the meter while reading his poems. Which is really nice. The meter is just there; he doesn't need to emphasize it.

In fact, he is using the natural rhythms of the English language. I have forgotten the principles of that metrics course that I took, or how to scan poems very well, but there's a good description, with examples here. It looks like the lines quoted above are based mainly on an anapestic meter (duh-duh-DUH).

Duh! - even Dr. Seuss has that anapestic meter.

That is what the cat said...
Then he fell on his head.

John Bolton and Yanis Varoufakis

While I was looking for James Dickey reading his poetry I actually got side-tracked by an interview with Noam Chomsky, which was interesting as usual. He seems to have become a bit of a wild man of the woods during the pandemic, but despite his appearance, he intones the same shocking truths in the same soft-spoken New England English. Then I started to listen to a debate with John Bolton and Yanis Varoufakis, which was such an unlikely duo that I couldn't imagine how that might turn out. And, at least as far as the first hour, which was when I gave up, they seemed to be describing life on two different planets. I actually gave up at the moment when Bolton said that he doesn't "do very well with taxonomies" - I thought that this epitomizes the man precisely. He sees the world in white and black. One of the few things that Trump said that most of us would agree with, was that Bolton "would have started World War VI".

As for Varoufakis, I think I agree with his ideas, but can't say so with any great confidence, because I'm never sure I have completely understood them.

Links blog

✭ 'It's not weird or foreign': the Ugandan monk bringing Buddhism to Africa – photo essay
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/07/ugandan-monk-bhante-buddharakkh
Bhante Buddharakkhita, who became a Buddhist while studying in India, is on a mission to use mindfulness meditation to heal trauma
#buddhism #africa

✭ Jewish Settler Tries to Burn Gethsemane Church in Jerusalem (VIDEOS) - Palestine Chronicle
https://www.palestinechronicle.com/jewish-settler-tries-to-burn-gethsemane-church-in-jerus
#palestine

✭ Settler tries to burn Gethsemane Church in Jerusalem | PNN
http://english.pnn.ps/2020/12/05/settler-tries-to-burn-gethsemane-church-in-jerusalem/
"Witnesses
 reported that the settler, pretending to be a visitor, sneaked into the premises of the church before he was seen pouring some flammable liquid there. The settler then tried to set some of the wooden pews on fire, but was thwarted by local Palestinian citizens who handed him over to a police force which had just arrived at the scene."
#palestine

✭ The curse of 'white oil': electric vehicles' dirty secret | News | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/news/2020/dec/08/the-curse-of-white-oil-electric-vehicles-dirt
The race is on to find a steady source of lithium, a key component in rechargeable electric car batteries. But while the EU focuses on emissions, the lithium gold rush threatens environmental damage on an industrial scale
#environment

✭ 'It's a free-for-all': how hi-tech spyware ends up in the hands of Mexico's cartels | Mexico | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/07/mexico-cartels-drugs-spying-corruption
As
 many as 25 private companies – including the Israeli company NSO Group and the Italian firm Hacking Team – have sold surveillance software to Mexican federal and state police forces, but there is little or no regulation of the sector – and no way to control where the spyware ends up, said the officials.
#privacy

✭ Israel to investigate shooting of Palestinian child | Israel | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/07/israel-launches-investigation-into-shooting-
The EU delegation to the Palestinians denounced in a tweet what it said was a “shocking” killing. “How many more Palestinian children will be subject to the excessive use of lethal force by the Israeli security forces?” it said, adding the “incident must be swiftly and fully investigated”.
#palestine

✭ Indian Farmers Lead Historic Strike & Protests Against Narendra Modi, Neoliberalism & Inequality | Democracy Now!
https://www.democracynow.org/2020/12/3/india_protests_modi_neoliberal_reforms
Meanwhile
, India is trying to stifle foreign comment on this, in a similar way that China would
#india

✭ Team behind Oxford Covid jab start final stage of malaria vaccine trials | World news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/05/team-behind-oxford-covid-jab-start-final-sta
“A lot more people will die in Africa this year from malaria than will die from Covid. I don’t mean twice as many, probably 10 times,” Hill said. The vaccine “is going to be available in very large amounts, it works pretty well. And it’s going to be very low priced.”
#COVID19

28 September 2020

The US, Nations

It's funny that Trump is being criticized for not being a very successful capitalist. But it's wholly depressing what the US has become. I am so glad I decided not to remain in that country like my poor brother. My gladness is only exceeded by my embarrassment about living where I do. But when I begin to think along these lines, I remember how difficult it is to like any nation state at all. They are all hideous, corrupt and rotten to the core. Small communities (of one kind or another) are something that I can relate to. None are perfect, and they do not scale. The greater their size, the more corrupt. Size seems to magnify the defects of any conglomeration of humans. Nations take the taxes gleaned from their hard working citizens and squander these on munitions, colonialist projects, or simply to support the extravagant lifestyles of useless elites.

I've never had the right to vote in any of the countries where I've lived and, as an alien, I'm not much of an activist. I believe in creating alternatives more than in protest. I think it's better to live in the way that we would like the larger society to be. It's not much, but it's something.

Interview

In the morning I interviewed Roi, the new director of the School for Peace, via Zoom. He and his wife and daughter will be coming to live in the village, in the next stage of the expansion. In the meantime, their plans are being held up a bit because the plot has an ancient wine press on it, requiring an archeological dig. That can be expensive, but the antiquities authority has agreed to arrange a community dig, which will apparently be quicker and cheaper. The hillside is dotted with such features, from various historical eras.

Meditation

In the late afternoon we had a meditation session, in the olive grove on the ancient terrace below the spiritual center. A surprising number of people showed up for that, though all of them Jews - on this Yom Kippur. I was seeing many of them for the first time - the village is growing, and there are lots of people renting now. NM led a sitting meditation. D. read a text about the "Beginning Anew" practice of Plum Village. There was also a walking meditation and another based on the idea of forgiveness. However, as usual in meditation sessions, I didn't pay much attention to what was being said. I haven't been attending such activities at all lately, and I attended this one only because it was held outdoors.

Meditation and other spiritual practices are much more main stream nowadays than they were a generation ago. This morning, one online mindfulness session arranged by Maty Lieblich and her mother Amia, to which 400 people registered; though they had to limit participation to 300. D. had planned to participate, but it was already full.

Hubzilla photo rendering

For some reason, when I view jpegs in the photo software of my computer (nomacs) they are superior to the same photos uploaded to hubzilla and viewed in my browser. The file sizes are the same. Must be something about the way they are rendered. Here is a screenshot of the jpeg in hubzilla (left) side by side with the same photo viewed in nomacs. But I have saved the screenshot in a png. The colors are more natural in the photo on the right, and perhaps the image is clearer. (Perhaps I should prefer .png to .jpg for hubzilla, or maybe its a deficiency in my server setup?)

Image/photo

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.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Rediscovering an old camera

For the sake of curiosity, I refitted my aging Minolta AL-F with a new battery and UV filter, and shot a roll of film. This is a camera I received at the age of 15 or 16, almost 35 years ago. I used it to take the majority of photos when I was younger and, later, most of my family albums. Up to a few years ago. Then I began to use newer cameras - either the cheap point-and-shoots that my brother sent me or the good digital cameras I have at the office. I became convinced that newer cameras must be better than the old Minolta.

But I always did enjoy taking photos with that camera, and had a kind of nostalgia for it. So I began to read up on the web about Minoltas of that era (late 60s, early 70s) and rangefinders in general. It turns out that the 1970s were a kind of golden age for cheap rangefinders. I didn't find much on my particular camera - it wasn't a popular model - but more can be found on Minolta hi-matics of the same era, and some of these seem to share the same lens. That's a very average Rokkor 38 mm f2.7. Still, by the standards of today's cheaper cameras, it's quite a sharp lens. The camera too is sturdier than today's breed, which explains why it lasted so long. It's easy to take good photos with the AL-F since exposure is shutter speed priority based. You focus by the old parallax system; aligning a yellow diamond in the viewfinder centre. Parallax correction is provided in this camera. Any cheap electric flash can be placed in the shoe, for better results than most of today's built-ins. An easy guide number system is used to calculate the flash exposure. It's no longer possible to find today the mercury battery that the minolta uses. I bought the equivalent alcaline 625, which the man in the camera store said should work fine with negative film, and indeed it did.

The only other problem I had with the camera was a cracked viewfinder pane. I first gummed it with selatape, and then had the idea of using a thin piece of rigid plastic cut from packaging material, which fit snuggly in the frame without further need for tape.

Why would I go back to this old camera? Partly nostalgia, partly due to the reassurance received from reading on the web about cameras of this kind, but mainly because it really is a camera that's comfortable to use, with more quality than other cameras in my price bracket. There are certain advantages to rangefinder cameras of this kind, too, like a very large bright viewfinder, which is wider than the frame itself, no blackout at the time of the exposure, and no on-off switch to wait for. The viewfinder is great for my aging eyes as I can leave my glasses on when focussing.

Although there are conveniences that come with digital cameras, these have been diminished by the fact that photolabs readily provide a photo disk at processing time. The digital copies on the disk are fine for printing and can be batch-processed down to screen size with free software like Irfanview in Windows or Imagemagic in Linux.

The disadvantages with my Minolta are what they always were - no way to override the semi-automatic settings, no chance to shoot at a wider aperture than f2.7, and no interchangeable lenses.

Such cameras are a bargain. I think the Minolta cost just over $100 originally - the equivalent of about $450 in today's dollars. Its worth today is probably less than $10 at an auction. That's an advantage too, considering that the spanking new Canon EOS 3 we purchased last year was stolen before I really got a chance to use it. Smaller digital cameras are also a hot item for pickpockets in the world's vacation spots. But who would bother stealing a worthless 1970s camera?