10 June 2021


Theoretically I don't work on Thursdays and start enjoying a 4-day weekend. Practically, I often do work, and today, I spent most of the day dealing with office related matters.

In the morning I spent a lot of time, to no avail, trying to get Thunderbird to change its default browser. The method changed in recent versions. But the newer method hasn't worked for me.

A more useful task was to deal with the demands from our bank to obtain various letters from foreign supporters. Israeli banks, it seems are increasingly subject to the government's attempts to harass NGOs through demands for documentation of foreign donations. They request letters, statements and authorizations from foreign donors, and their lawyers and banks. The overworked and inexperienced clerks dealing with these requests at the Israeli bank often have a dim understanding of what they are requesting themselves, as well as a poor literacy in English and geography (ours, apparently, was convinced that the state of California is somewhere outside the United States.)

Then I spent a couple of hours trying to figure out what had gone wrong with our Civi-CRM installation, which works as a plugin for WordPress. I trialed the system a couple of years ago, but at some time during an upgrade, it lost much of its functionality. Now it is complaining that the PHP version needs upgrading, though our web host has installed there the newest version in its systems (7.4). On my home server, I'm up to version 8.00 or so, but I know that commercial hosting companies tend to be a little more conservative. CiviCRM's main menu has mysteriously disappeared, though I've implemented all the remedies for that scenario that I've found so far on the web.

A bit later, I looked again at Microsoft's offering for donor management and requested a meeting with their partner organization. I've a hunch that that might not come to anything, but what they offer may be a little more stable than Civi-CRM. I previously tried Salesforce, but working with it looked unwieldy for our small organization.

In the late afternoon, I did some outdoor maintenance. My son borrowed a machine that cleans outdoor flagstones and pathways with compressed water - in Hebrew, this is apparently referred to as a “gurnik” - I don't know how its called elsewhere. Anyway I managed to to brighten the paving quite well. My son had already done about 4/5 of the work, but it still took me a couple of hours, all the same. While spraying the gaps between the paths and the house walls, an enormous black scorpion made its appearance, and was summarily hosed away from the scene. Then a big black beetle suddenly appeared under my feet, and, conditioned to anticipate scorpions, at first thought that was one too. And now, as I prepare to wrap up this blog post, I have found yet another scorpion, a little smaller, but this time inside the house. I guess that is the price of disturbing their domicile. Every year we find two or three of them inside, usually at night, and usually crawling along by the skirting tiles. They aren't particularly rapid creatures, so usually it is possible to take a broom and scoot them outside without harming them.

In the evening, I watched a few new episodes of season II of Love, Death and Robots on Netflix. Much of it is a retelling of various SciFi memes - nothing very original, so far, but quite well invested.


Voluntourism: new book explores how volunteer trips harm rather than help - The Guardian

Biddle’s stories suggest the industry is built to meet the needs of volunteers, not communities. But the problem is not simply that volunteers are unqualified, the entire industry seems to be an extension of a colonial mindset and with colonial structures of economic and political power.

Incorporating education about colonialism, aid, and privilege can result in more meaningful cross-cultural experiences for volunteers and communities, and Biddle highlights possible solutions – from certification systems for volunteer organisations to better child protection laws. But as a white woman who has made her own mistakes, she says it is not up to her to decide what better volunteering looks like. “The conversation should be led by the communities affected by this,” she says.

The Impossible Dream: A Review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s "The Ministry for the Future" - CounterPunch.org

I wish I could be more positive. Robinson’s work certainly has good buzz and occasional spark. He is a revered figure for many of my friends. My disappointment is the same problem I have with our society: technological overdevelopment has not been accompanied by deep thinking about our social reality. Robinson’s failure to give his characters any real depth can be correlated with his inability to comprehend the need for social revolution, for the transformation of everyday life, not simply legislation.

I haven't read that book yet. From the earlier one I read, New York 2140, I guess I understand the reviewer's point of view. Yuval Noah Harari says that science Fiction is the most important literary genre of our era. But science fiction writers are, like everyone, a product of their time and place, and their thinking is constrained by their conditioning. This is really our problem; we struggle to imagine a different future than the one that is merely an outgrowth of what we see in the present. What we really need, as Jiddu Krishnamurti said, is "freedom from the known."

Bob's Instance

There is no really ethical consumerism under capitalism. Do enough investigation and you will always find someone being horribly exploited, stolen land or resources and unsustainable ecologically unsound practises.
Some decisions are better than others, but ultimately it's all murky and you can't buy a clean conscience under the existing economic system.

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.