28 July 2021

Piwigo and Impress

I use the FOSS program Piwigo to manage the photo albums for our village. Piwigo has many features that we don't use, such as compiling a list of personal favorites, and then showing these as a slideshow.

Yesterday I also discovered a wonderful plugin for LibreOffice Impress that converts a folder of photos into an instant slideshow presentation.
I was able to use this with Piwigo, to download the necessary photos into a folder and quickly make a slideshow for an event we were having.

Photo magic with GIMP

I discovered a great tutorial on YouTube “Make your photos look better”
(the link has been passed through Invidious). It quickly turns a dull photo into something amazing. But for someone like me, who doesn't understand the mechanics of how this can be done, the method seems even more magical than if this were a one-click operation in photo software. I have summarised the steps, so I don't need to watch the video each time.

  1. load a photo into GIMP
  2. duplicate layer, twice.
  3. on top copy, colors menu, desaturate, based on luminance
  4. on colors menu, desaturate
  5. on filters menu, blur, gaussian blur, 5 to 40 radius, depending on size of photo.
  6. reduce the opacity of this top layer to about 35% (opacity is in a scale above the layers dialog box)
  7. then right click on the layer and choose the option merge down.
  8. Then select the option for the layer and choose “grain merge” (modes are at the top of the dialog box)
  9. “now you can see how the colors are more vibrant” (make layer disappear with the eye next to the layer)
  10. We can also use other modes, for example, “soft light”
  11. We can also control it with the opacity. If you think it is too much, you can decrease it.


The best articles are appearing now, a few days into the reporting. Edward Snowden, Cory Doctorow, Arundhati Roi, George Monbiot all have written, each with from their own unique perspective. People are tired of reading this stuff, but it has never been more important. George Monbiot's article is one of the shortest and his points are the most salient, so I will quote extensively from that:

Pegasus spyware is just the latest tool autocrats are using to stay in power - The Guardian

Democracy depends on an equality of arms. If governments acquire political weapons unavailable to their opponents, they become harder to dislodge. They now possess so many that I begin to wonder how an efficient autocracy, once established, might ever again be overthrown.

Since the Berlin Wall came down, autocrats have refined a new strategy for perpetual governance: to maintain the process and appearance of democracy – including elections and parliaments – while ensuring it doesn’t work. Power is sucked out of democratic structures and relocated to a place where it can scarcely be challenged: an inner circle defended from opposition by a forcefield of money and patronage, a compliant judiciary and a grovelling media. Narendra Modi, Viktor Orbán, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Jarosław Kaczyński, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko all know how it works.

Protest, as we have seen from Belarus to Hong Kong, often becomes ineffective. Huge numbers take to the streets, pull the lever of democratic moral authority that has toppled so many regimes in the past, and nothing happens. The autocrats sit and wait for the protest’s energy to fizzle out, crack heads and imprison leaders, knowing they no longer need fear the people. They now have the means either to win elections through rigging, suppression or beguilement, or to ignore the result if they lose. The arc of history no longer bends towards justice.

The new surveillance tools complement a formidable array of modern weapons. Dark ads on social media; thinktanks using dark money to turn outrageous ideas that favour the ruling class into apparent common sense; voter suppression; the stuffing of the courts; the long march through the institutions, shutting down opposition in the civic sphere; cleverly prosecuted culture wars: these are the ever more sophisticated tools of autocratic power in nominal democracies.

He particularly dwells on the case of the UK (which probably didn't need Pegasus, because it has its own sophisticated tools). But Monbiot speaks of how legislation is being used to suppress criticism and protest there.

Arundhati Roy is equally eloquent, and is equally relevant - she brings various examples from India.

This is no ordinary spying. Our most intimate selves are now exposed - The Guardian

At the end of her article, the advice she offers is traditional:

So, where does that leave us? Back in the world of good, old-fashioned politics, I’d say. Only political action can halt or mitigate this threat. Because that technology, when it is used, if not legally then illegally, will always exist within the complicated matrix that describes our times: nationalism, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, racism, casteism, sexism. This will remain our battlefield – regardless of how technology develops.

We will have to migrate back to a world in which we are not controlled and dominated by our intimate enemy – our mobile phones. We have to try to rebuild our lives, struggles and social movements outside the asphyxiating realm of digital surveillance. We must dislodge the regimes that are deploying it against us. We must do everything we can to prise open their grip on the levers of power, everything we can to mend all that they have broken, and take back all they have stolen.

The question is how effective that can be, once the autocrats have so successfully played our supposedly democratic systems, to establish their authoritarian rule. As Monbiot says, the main reason Donald Trump failed was his incompetence - leaders like Modi and Orban are much more successful. And, in the US, the Republicans are working in the background even now to ensure they will win the next elections through suppression of votes. Countries like China and Russia are already beyond hope. India is almost there. The UK is on the way.

I love this photo in the Guardian of the Indian home minister


Cory Doctorow is as usual best at giving a complete historical overview, because he has been following this stuff for so long. He also, unlike some of the journals that have been reporting on Pegasus, links to key sources.

Pluralistic: 27 Jul 2021 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow

Forbidden Stories is one of the primary sources for the Pegasus Project:

Pegasus: The new global weapon for silencing journalists - Forbidden Stories

OCCRP - which I hadn't previously heard of - is one of the most comprehensive reporters on Pegasus
The Pegasus Project - OCCRP

Here's how much the software costs:

Pegasus Hack: How Much Did it Cost to Spy on Citizens? - The Citizen



Julian Assange stripped of citizenship by Ecuador - The Guardian

Former intelligence analyst sentenced to prison for drone program leak - The Guardian](https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/27/former-intelligence-analyst-sentenced-prison-drone-program-leak)

“He committed the offense to bring attention to what he believed to be immoral government conduct committed under the cloak of secrecy and contrary to public statements of then-President Obama regarding the alleged precision of the United States military’s drone program,” they wrote.

Israel's famous whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu continues to post a tweet each month, with a photo of himself overlooking the beach near Jaffa. The message is always about the same:

No news yet,nothing changed continue to wait for freedom from israel,this is me waiting in Jaffa after 35 years 1986-2021,I will continue to wait,Freedom is the way,soon or later they must let me go,see you in Freedom,Borne to be free!

Vanunu Mordechai - @vanunumordechai - Twitter

18 July 2021

Affairs of the day

Apart from getting a puncture fixed in the morning, I spent the day mostly reading. In the afternoon I had to film two people for a short video that I will handle tomorrow. I also spent time fixing a CSS problem on one of the websites I handle.

This summer seems hotter than usual. Summer is usually the time I go to South India, where it is even hotter, and muggier, and I live without A/C. But I manage that mainly because I don't really do very much. Summers in Palestine are hot and dry; the evenings are a little more bearable. But lately, we have often been keeping the A/C on even at night.

The Life of Palestinians under the Citizenship Law

In the village today, we had an important evening highlighting the issue of thousands of stateless Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza who are married to Israeli citizens and live here without papers of basic rights. They are unable to drive, open a bank account, purchase health insurance, etc. The law - an emergency regulation that has to be periodically renewed - was recently the subject of a political crisis when the ruling coalition did not obtain enough votes to renew it. This presents something of a window of opportunity for many couples; but it might be shortlived.


I was reading about Automattic, the owner of WordPress, which, over the last couple of years, has been acquiring various other companies like Tumblr, and now a journaling App, Day One. The only ethical consolation I can get from using WordPress, is that it is a free open source product that doesn't need my support. They seem to be doing just fine.

Matt Mullenweg: Collaboration Is Key - FS

I believe all proprietary software to be an evolutionary dead end. Maybe it’ll take 50 or 100 years, but what happens, just like what happened fairly quickly with Encyclopedia Britannica and other encyclopedias and Wikipedia is that the thing which is open to all and gets everyone working together if it truly gets that humanity working together on the same shared resource, you get the opposite of the tragedy of the commons, versus the field being overrun, each person operating in their own self-interest kills the environment or kills the shared thing, and in digital world, we can do that because we have economics of abundancy versus economics of scarcity. That’s why open source will eventually win every market it’s in.
-- Matt Mullenweb (co-founder of WordPress)

The Guardian's scoop on NSO's Pegasus

A couple of days ago, there was the report about the notorious Israeli spyware company Candiru. This is all about it's bigger and better-known Israeli sister NSO and yet another despicable spyware product. The buyers of these products are mainly governments who are eager to spy on journalists, critics and dissidents.

Revealed: leak uncovers global abuse of cyber-surveillance weapon| The Guardian

Human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world have been targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, according to an investigation into a massive data leak.
The investigation by the Guardian and 16 other media organisations suggests widespread and continuing abuse of NSO’s hacking spyware, Pegasus, which the company insists is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists

FT editor among 180 journalists identified by clients of spyware firm - The Guardian

Other journalists who were selected as possible candidates for surveillance by NSO’s clients work for some of the world’s most prestigious media organisations. They include the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times, Al Jazeera, France 24, Radio Free Europe, Mediapart, El País, Associated Press, Le Monde, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, Reuters and Voice of America.

This is creating a lot of interest in India, which, unlike many of the countries on the NSO's client list, is traditionally regarded to be a democratic country. The situation has been worsening under Modi.

List of Indian journalists, activists allegedly put on surveillance using Pegasus - The Print

Pegasus Project: How Phones of Journalists, Ministers, Activists May Have Been Used to Spy On Them The Wire

Meanwhile in America

Man Jailed for Traffic Ticket Dies in Cell After 17 Days of Torture. Officers Watched It HappenReason.com

David Stojcevski, a 32-year-old resident of Roseville, Michigan, was arrested for failing to pay a $772 fine stemming from careless driving. A court ordered him to spend a month in the Macomb County jail.

Denied clothing, denied treatment for his drug addiction, died in agony while under bright lights and surveillance cameras intended to prevent self-injury.

Reclaiming unused insurance

I took out overseas travel health insurance for one month, but this is one loss that can be reimbursed. You call the insurer and they give you reimbursement from the day you returned to the country. How to determine that you are in the country? There's a slip of paper that passport control give you on entry. I rummaged through my bags and found the previous two of these. Alas, I'd thrown the last one away - I think I tossed it in a waste paper bin in the arrivals hall. But no fear! You can go to a government website and ask for a report of your current whereabouts. I've filled out a form, and they'll send it to me within a few days. I just need to email it to the insurance company, and they'll give me my $100 back. There are also some positive benefits of the panopticon.