23 August 2021

village view

Early morning walks

We have been getting up early to beat the sun and walk for a few kilometers each morning. Today there was a nice full moon over the village, with the sun on the other side. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to mess around composing the photo, as I wasn't alone and we had to get back early; otherwise I would have tried a few different exposures. As it is, I improved it a little in Darktable.

I've been using OsmAnd to trace our routes - I'm still learning how to use that application properly, but yesterday learned how one can add GPX traces, in order to plan a route.

This is all training for our walk in France.

Ides of March, 2021


Electric bike burns down house

The local TV news had the story of a couple whose house burned down due to the "unattended" charging of an electric bicycle battery. Well of course unattended. Were they supposed to sit there and watch it while it charged?

Last night / Piwigo

I've been waking up in the night sometimes lately. Last night, I thought to do a little work. An email suggested that I upload a couple of photos for the archive. But, when I went into our Piwigo site, it gave a database error. I then remembered that back in January this had happened before, when I'd tried to update PHP to a newer version. Undoing the upgrade had solved the problem, but the webhost had said they would be updating automatically across the board in March. So, here we are in March. It took me awhile to learn that I needed to create a new DB user, attach that to the database, then find Piwigo's configuration file to replace the user and password there. The problem was solved, but by that time of course I was tired to do any work and went back to sleep.

I quite like Piwigo. There are probably slicker and more advanced FOSS online photo gallery CMSs by now, but, at the time I started the site, it seemed like the best option. Now there are so many photos there, I probably won't be changing any time soon. I began collecting them on Piwigo after getting disgruntled with Google over its frequent changes, from Picasaweb to Google Photos and Google Plus and what have you. It felt like walking on quicksand, and I realized I needed to take control.

Photo printing

Speaking of photos, the other day my daughter asked if I could print some photos of her boy - a request from the kindergarten. Now that it has reopened again, they were celebrating all the missed birthdays from January through mid-March, I guess. It's been a long time since I actually printed a photo, and the results were quite pleasing. Should do it more often.


In the morning I translated and published a long post about the Rescuers' award to Médecins sans Frontières and Physicans for Human Rights. Then I fixed a leaky pipe for my daughter, made lunch, and went for an afternoon walk.

More photos from my walk



Links blog

Primark supplier accused of locking workers in factory in Myanmar protests | Primark | The Guardian
'Garment workers interviewed by the Guardian said they would continue to demonstrate because they were determined not to live under a military dictatorship. One worker, who claimed to have been fired, said: “Under their rule, we have to fear everything.”'

How one employee's exit shook Google and the AI industry - CNN
'until Google provides some transparency about its research and publication processes, Bender thinks "everything that comes out of Google has a big asterisk next to it."'

Wow, Google is beginning to sound like Monsanto.

Tim Berners-Lee: ‘We need social networks where bad things happen less’ | Tim Berners-Lee | The Guardian

Outrage in Myanmar after activist allegedly tortured to death | Myanmar | The Guardian

Japan and China are giving dual citizens an ultimatum on nationality -- and loyalty | CNN Travel
"critics say the ban on dual citizenship also reflects a tilt toward nationalism -- and the desire to maintain a monoethnic, monocultural identity."

December 2, 2020



(The broad leaves are of the cyclamen, which will follow the narcissi in this patch of the woods.)

13 October, 2020

Nice Sunset from the hilltop



Office Suites

Onlyoffice / LibreOffice / Google Docs
Interested to discover the "Onlyoffice (ONLYOFFICE ?) Desktop editors" suite, which is released under a free open source licence. It has a much cleaner interface than LibreOffice and claims to have greater compatibility with Microsoft Office, because it natively saves in the same XML formats developed by Microsoft. The latter is a more important feature than the user interface, and somewhat sets it apart from all the other non-MS office suites that I know. Otherwise, it has less functionality than either Microsoft Office or LibreOffice, but probably has the main features than most people need. It could not be a complete solution for me, because it does not cater to Right-to-Left languages. There is some progress in that but, in my experience, if an application does not begin with RTL support, it's hard to implement later.

Approaching Onlyoffice only from the perspective of usage as a standalone desktop application does it a great disservice, as it actually intended more for online collaboration, at which it no doubt excels, but I currently have no use for that.

LibreOffice, meanwhile, never seems to attain full compatibility with MS Office formats. Google Docs actually does better, in some respects. On the other hand, Google Docs' compatibility with LibreOffice's Ocean / Open Document formats is inferior (again, according to my experience, rather than rigorous testing). There is no excuse for that. As many people complain, LibreOffice's user interface is lousy, and, in some ways has gotten worse. In earlier versions, I found it easier to use LibreOffice Writer's document styles. I still find it easier to use styles than in MS Office, but it might be because I'm more experienced with LibreOffice.

On the other hand, in recent versions, LibreOffice's equivalent of the ribbon interface is showing more maturity. It still isn't the default option and, typical of LibreOffice, there is a confusing variety of 9 different user interfaces to choose from. All of them can show also the standard menu bar, in case one gets lost. The "tabbed compact" interface seems like a reasonable choice. Speaking of tabs, LibreOffice still lacks document tabs, unlike OnlyOffice.

It's been a while since I have looked at the other office suites available. In the past I didn't find any compelling reason to prefer them over LibreOffice; all of them seemed to have a serious flaw, such as use of home grown or proprietary formats, poor compatibility or lack of essential features. So right now, the only office suites I'm using are LibreOffice and sometimes Google Docs - at my workplace we use the latter for collaboration. After all the editing is completed, there is no choice but to export to PDF, in order not to be let down by formatting incompatibilities. This isn't ideal. Everyone, including Microsoft, should be standardizing on OpenDocument Formats by now, but I don't think that's ever going to happen.

For personal use, FeatherPad is adequate for my needs.

11 October

Description of plague

A "Description of the Plague at Florence in the Year 1527" records this plague in detail, authored by Lorenzo di Filippo Strozzi :

Our pitiful Florence now looks like nothing but a town which has been stormed by infidels and then forsaken. One part of the inhabitants, ... have retired to distant country houses, one part is dead, and yet another part is dying. Thus the present is torment, the future menace, so we contend with death and only live in fear and trembling. The clean, fine streets which formerly teemed with rich and noble citizens are now stinking and dirty; crowds of beggars drag themselves through them with anxious groans and only with difficulty and dread can one pass them. Shops and inns are closed, at the factories work has ceased, the law courts are empty, the laws are trampled on. Now one hears of some theft, now of some murder. The squares, the market places on which citizens used frequently to assemble, have now been converted into graves and into the resort of the wicked rabble. ... If by chance relations meet, a brother, a sister, a husband, a wife, they carefully avoid each other. What further words are needed? Fathers and mothers avoid their own children and forsake them. ... A few provision stores are still open, where bread is distributed, but where in the crush plague boils are also spread. Instead of conversation ... one hears now only pitiful, mournful tidings – such a one is dead, such a one is sick, such a one has fled, such a one is interned in his house, such a one is in hospital, such a one has nurses, another is without aid, such like news which by imagination alone would suffice to make Aesculapius sick.


Photo sizes

Most people I know seem to have such a muddy view of photo sizes, without any idea of whether they are sending me a small photo or a large one. Software and messaging programs don't bother to inform them about the sizes in which their photos will be sent and what those sizes mean.

Soma FM

I have been checking the different channels available on Soma.fm. These are described at  https://somafm.com/playlist/ . Just now I'm listening to their Drone Zone, which is all right for doing work by. The station seems a less commercial than options like YouTube and Spotify, though it's unfortunate they are an "Amazon affiliate". If I spend a long time with them, I'll send a donation.

Bibi Go Home

My young grand daughter watched my son making a sign for the local evening demo at the intersection. His sign, calling for the expulsion of the prime minister, was "Bibi Go Home". Her interpretation of this was "Bibi Come Home", which sounds friendlier.



My default search engine, Disroot's instance of SearX, seems to be having trouble sometimes, lately, and then I end up using DDG. I might think about hosting my own instance.

Celebrity status

It's funny how celebrity status (or "influencer" status in social media) means that people pay attention as if being good at one thing automatically turns them into an expert all manner of things, and attracts engagement, likes and comments even when their statements are not particularly intelligent, or explicitly dumb. I first came to understand that being an expert in one field doesn't extend to others while living alongside people who are at the top of their academic fields yet, when it comes to more ordinary matters, their interactions and interventions were often idiotic or childish. If we could just remember this principle, I think it could save us some of our disappointment regarding the outbursts of people like Elon Musk, J.K. Rowling or whoever is the current bête noire. Just ignore them.

"Not to honor men of worth will keep the people from squabbling"
Lao Tzu.

Tomatoes from Italy

D. just read in The Marker that those imported cans of Italian crushed tomatoes that we've been buying are the produce of modern slave labour, in a market controlled by the mafia dons of southern Italy. Whenever we buy imported stuff I think, well at least I know it isn't coming from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, but there are other possibilities just as bad.

Cory Doctorow, Covid-19, film

I liked the interview with Cory Doctorow in The Guardian. For a science fiction writer and technology geek, he's a lot more grounded in reality than those who are driving the tech industry.

One of the problems with The Social Dilemma is that it supposes that tech did what it claims it did – that these are actually such incredible geniuses that they figured out how to use machine learning to control minds. And that’s the problem – the mind control thing they designed to sell you fidget spinners got hijacked to make your uncle racist. But there’s another possibility, which is that their claims are rubbish. They just overpromised in their sales material, and that what actually happened with that growth of monopolies and corruption in the public sphere made people cynical, angry, bitter and violent. In which case the problem isn’t that their tools were misused. The problem is that the structures in which those tools were developed are intrinsically corrupt and corrupting.

Covid-19 thoughts

It's just typical of our era that when a pandemic strikes, it is possible to look at it from two opposite perspectives: that it's the most dangerous and deadly threat to public health in a century, and a kind of mass delusion that is less dangerous than the counter-measures used to protect us from it.

Doctor Sleep

Regardless of Stephen King's opinions, The Shining works as cinema and you can enjoy it more than once. This one is almost unwatchable rubbish.


✭ Amazon says nearly 20,000 of its U.S. workers have COVID-19 | Boing Boing
https://boingboing.net/2020/10/01/amazon-says-nearly-20000-workers-have-covid-19.html✭ Leather-like material biofabrication using fungi
✭ Why the hidden world of fungi is essential to life on Earth

✭ Library of Things - Wikipedia
 Library of Things movement is a growing trend in public, academic and special libraries in many countries.[7][8] There are also free-standing organizations separate from libraries, such as tool libraries, toy libraries, community sharing centers,[9] independent non-profits, and individual initiatives.
2020.10.10 08:38:56 edit delete
✭ India's tea workers strike as government fails to deliver wage increase
For years, the owners of the vast plantations in Assam have been accused of under-paying and exploiting workers. Campaigners have reported that workers have little access to clean water, work in unsanitary and dangerous conditions and have their fundamental human rights undermined.
In 2018, the Indian government had agreed to raise the daily wage from the current figure of 167 rupees to 350 rupees, but has failed to implement the decision. There are fears that, after consulting tea estate owners, the government will backtrack on its promise and move to significantly lessen the increase.
✭ Louise Glück wins Nobel Prize for Literature - BBC News

7 October, 2020

Village views

On Saturday the temperatures dipped to near perfect and I spent a couple of hours out in a favourite spot just outside the village.

In various spots around the village, these flowers of late-summer - autumn are growing. I think it is the "Small Flowered Pancratium" (Pancratium parviflorum)


The "house of silence" has a new coat of paint.


The air was particularly clear and free of dust, so I got some nice landscape shots.


The larger sized photos are in the album.

Regal cinemas close

7,000 screens go dark
"Cineworld, parent company of Regal, announced that it will be suspending operations of its 536 Regal theaters as of Thursday, October 8. The suspension also affects 127 Cineworld and Picturehouse cinemas in the UK."

My last visit to one of those was while visiting my father and brother in the US, around Christmas. (Photos from Gainesville, Virginia.)


22 September 2020

The early hours of the morning are absolutely the best time of day in this part of the world, in summer; also the best time of day for sitting out under our pergola, with a citronella candle and a couple of joss sticks at least, to keep mosquitoes at bay. At least they don't carry dengue around here.

Money and the conflict

The Guardian has a story that first broke on BBC News Arabic, regarding the investments by Russian oligarch and new Israeli citizen Roman Abramovich in Elad, a right-wing group dedicated to using archeology in the service of supporting Israeli claims over the densely populated Silwan valley area of East Jerusalem. They try to show that King David lived there and use this as an excuse to take over Palestinian property. Today there are 450 heavily guarded Israeli settlers among 10,000 Palestinians, and they are not exactly good neighbors.

It's amazing how much of the conflict here is funded by foreign trouble-makers with dirty money. One of our village members is fond of saying that if we only had one tenth of the cost of an F15 fighter for our educational peace work, we would be able to do amazing things. But it's also true that we could do marvelous work if we had a tenth of the millions that flow into settlement projects from questionable sources. Oligarchs and plutocrats don't give to peace projects, of course, and even the small amounts of money that do flow into liberal causes from overseas are heavily investigated by the tax authorities. NGOs are required to publicly state whatever money has come to them from foreign sources, such as from EU grants, whereas settler groups like Elad somehow manage to keep their sources well hidden. Meanwhile, it is likely that the settlers themselves - those who are sincerely motivated by crazy religion or ideology - are simply being used as pawns in larger money making schemes. Like all colonialist projects, the whole enterprise is based on graft and greed.

"The extradition of Julian Assange would undermine freedom of speech"

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/21/extradition-julian-assange-wikileaks-democracy-not-criminal - Great article by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, no less.

Afternoon walk



17 September 2020

Israel's deal with UAR

The deal with the Gulf states is shrug-worthy. Though technically in a state of war, they were never going to attack Israel. Neither were they going to harness enough influence to hasten the end of the Occupation. Israelis have been going to the Emirates for some time. One of my sons (who is an Israeli citizen), was there once for his company. I've flown with Israelis from Tel Aviv through Dubai to India, on a flight specially arranged to facilitate that. The Gulf states will no doubt continue to support Palestine in the same way as before, through the pocketbook but little else.

Palestinians regard the move as a stab in the back from people they never trusted in the first place, but they have given up believing that Arab states will bring about their salvation. They have almost given up on everyone else too. They continue to be out-maneuvered by Israel on every strategy they use to end their collective suffering, be it violence, non-violence, sanctions or peace-making. Even their archetypal leader was cornered and eventually poisoned by the Israelis, probably. The only thing that may eventually work is sumud. I think if I were a Palestinian... no I'm not going to play that game: if they have been out-foxed, it isn't for lack of "good advice".

Any non-violent strategy, at least, deserves the world's support. Their plight needs to remain in the world's consciousness. When their anger explodes into violence, this should not surprise us; it did not come from nowhere. Oppression, like a form of slow torture that maims but does not kill, is a much greater violence.

A couple more considerations:

Out-maneuvering one's adversary at every turn may seem ingenious, but the only desirable result in this game is a situation in which both sides can prosper and live in peace. Unfortunately that gets forgotten along the way.

Eventually, it's possible that states that have formal diplomatic and trade relations with Israel wield greater influence than those who don't, so the "new relationship" with the Gulf states is not necessarily a bad thing.

Maybe we are all too nation-centric. Nations are a figment of our collective imagination. But unfortunately it is usually those who enjoy the protection offered by nations who make statements like that. Palestinians don't even have a passport they can call their own. Our world is arranged in nations, so naturally they want one too. If Israel were a normal modern state, and did not insist on defining itself in ethnocentric terms, it would be possible eventually to include Palestinians as equal citizens in an entity that conveniently already exists. Because it isn't open to such a revolutionary good idea, Palestinians desire an ethnocentric state too. In an area in which there was formerly a free flow of peoples between what are now neighboring states, Zionism has done more than anything to create a Palestinian national identity. Now we are stuck with yet another national struggle, in an era when national struggles have gone out of fashion.

Cheerful thought for the day: In two or three years, even if I don't completely retire, I'll absolutely stop using any products by Alphabet, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Zoom, and their ilk.

Afternoon walk: thorny things

Pretty well everything this time of year looks dead, grey-brown and spiny.


12 September 2020

Science Fiction

It is interesting to compare the mediums of fiction writing and cinema with regard to world creation, especially in the case of fantasy and science fiction. In the written medium, the writer has to painstaking describe everything. In the case of cinema, it is possible to skirt these descriptions by using elaborate stage sets or CGI. In the written medium, it is not practical to expend too many words on description, so the writer must depend upon the imagination or acquaintance of the reader with a comparable reality. However this is surely unequal, and this inequality will mean that, to a greater extent than in cinema, the experience of one reader to the work of fiction will be widely different to that of another. This is not true only for fantasy and science fiction, but in general. One reader will imagine a character in a different way to that of another. But still I think it is especially true, when the world in which the story takes place differs from that of the reader. On the other hand, a novelist who is writing about his contemporary reality, which he/she assumes that the reader already knows, is unlikely to expend too many words about describing it. This means that when we read books that were set in an earlier era, we have to be able to fill in the details of their reality from our knowledge of the era. Here it will have been helpful to have seen films, because someone else has done the research about those eras, and have been able to depict them more or less accurately. But imagine if I am reading a novel set in the early 19th century and have not seen any of those films, or have watched them inattentively, my mind might create a backdrop that confuses images from the 17th or early 20th century with the time period of the novel. In that sense, a science fiction or fantasy writer has the advantage of not being able to assume that the reader knows the world that he is describing, and must more carefully describe it.

I think that, in any case, the keyword is atmosphere. The description must be able to create the atmosphere that is suitable to the story. The effort that a writer spends on description is especially aimed towards that. I must be able to feel the atmosphere of the backdrop even if I cannot fully visualize it.

It will be interesting to see what Villeneuve creates in the new version of Dune that is due later this year.


Since I stopped using Waterfox, I've been spending time with various browsers, mainly Vivaldi, Firefox, Palemoon and Tor. Palemoon would be fine for me if it were able to work well with more sites, but there are some that don't perform so well with it. For example, there's a site (not the John Hopkins one) that shows charts of my area's coronavirus statistics. Palemoon is unable to handle the chart's complexity and presents a simpler version of it. Palemoon doesn't complain, and I would not know that I was not receiving the optimal presentation if I hadn't seen the same page in other browsers. Vivaldi is a fine browser but occasionally there is a subtle kind of friction in using it. Sometimes searching for a term on SearX will provide no feedback at all, and the browser seems stuck. I've noticed such problems when I'm in a hurry and have many tabs open. This is a fast computer, with 32 GB RAM. The experience on Firefox is somewhat smoother, So I'm going back to that.

There's another issue regarding Vivaldi. I haven't managed to update it to version 3.3 over the past few days under MX, but this isn't something that had me worried.

Chrome is installed too, but I rarely need it.

Afternoon walk

At 6 PM the thermometer had dipped to around 30 degrees, so I went out for a walk. I took along my Lumix point-and-shoot and this time it took nicer photos than my phone. For some of the photos I chose the sunset setting to enhance the red tones, otherwise, I used just the automatic settings.