February 20, 2021


Video compression

My project today was to edit a downloaded Zoom video and upload it to Vimeo, in the framework of my voluntary work for the Thich Nhat Hanh sangha.


I use OpenShot for video compression. The version in Debian Buster isn't the newest version, but I do have the new version in an AppImage. Unfortunately, the new version crashed today each time I tried to move an imported Zoom video to the video timeline, so I went back to the native Debian version (for MX Linux).

The video as downloaded from Zoom weighed 133 MB - it's a low quality 640 x 380 pixel mp4. But, when exporting after editing, it ended up too large for Vimeo's free 500 MB per week upload framework. I tried a few different formats but couldn't get it down.

I looked online and found that ffmpeg, which I already have installed, can do a better job. So I took the 809 MB mp4 file that OpenShot had given me, and ran the magic command:

ffmpeg -i input.mp4 -vcodec libx265 -crf 28 output.mp4

The result was a nice 53 MB file with no noticeable quality loss.
Apparently this is due to the better compression ratios given by libx265; Openshot seems to handle the exports with libx264, and didn't produce a smaller version even when I manually changed that in the Export options.

Links blog

✭Covid: vaccinated Israelis to enjoy bars and hotels with ‘green pass’ | Israel | The Guardian
Israel is preparing itself to be split in half from next week, with the government creating a new privileged tier in society: the vaccinated.

✭Relationship between Haredim, non-Haredi Jews at breaking point
Pandemic exacerbates long-existing tensions that, according to one expert, can only be quieted through political resolution with leaders abandoning personal and sectoral interests for the good of the country

✭Facebook is gambling Australia can't live without it. Imagine if we prove them wrong
The platform’s own irresponsible and chaotic implementation of its Australian news “ban” appears to have rallied the country – citizens and politicians from across the aisles – and governments from around the world, to support the Australian government’s resolve.

There are other ways to get news.

14 February, 2021

Staring down a gazelle

On my afternoon walk I stopped for a while and sat on a rock to read my book, until I heard a loud snorting sound nearby and turned to see a gazelle. At first it didn't seem to notice me, though maybe it had, because that snorting sound might be an alarm cry. I have read that's the case with some members of the gazelle family.

After a while it turned around to look at me. I remained motionless and stared back. It gave up, moved away a little, then began to peer at me again, even drawing closer. I continued to stare back; again it turned away and rummaged behind a bush. This continued three or four times, interrupted by snorts each time it turned away. It would have been nice to take a picture of my friend, but I knew that if I had moved to reach for the phone, the spell would have been broken and it would take fright. Eventually it pranced away, with another series of snorts.

The Palestine mountain gazelle is a beautiful creature. This one was a fine specimen; probably female because its horns were not long and didn't seem to be ringed. I didn't notice a penis. There are quite a lot of these gazelles in the nearby woods and fields, and it isn't unusual to see them. In the whole country, there are apparently about 3,000. There used to be more, but, till the 1990s, they were regarded as pests, and hunted. Judging by the foolish curiosity of the gazelle I met today, it isn't surprising that they are endangered. But according to the Hebrew Wikipedia article, they are intelligent enough to learn who to be scared of. They will get used to farmers and their tractors, while running away from cars. In zoos, they will come to recognize the people who feed them, while remaining wary of others.

Besides their beauty, they are also extremely graceful - they seem to glide effortlessly through the woods, over bushes and boulders. For their qualities, gazelles are given a place of honour in Hebrew and Arabic culture and tradition, especially love poetry, onward from the Song of Songs. The English word gazelle comes directly from Arabic ( غزال‎). And it is thought that the word for love poems and songs, ghazal (غزل) may derive from the name of the animal.

In Hebrew, the name for this particular species is "Tsvi Eretz Israeli" (צבי ארץ-ישראלי), however there is some confusion in Hebrew between the names for deer, antelope, ibices, etc. Another name is "ayal / ayala", to which the Ayalon Valley adjacent to our village, as well as the nearby ruined Palestinian village of Yalu, probably owe their names.

Links Blog

✭Live Streaming with Jitsi and YouTube - Jitsi

✭8x8 Jitsi as a Service
"Secure video calls, conferencing, chat, desktop sharing, file transfer, support for your favorite OS, and IM network. All this, and more, in Jitsi - the most complete and advanced open source communicator."

✭Nextcloud Forms is here to keep your surveys private – Nextcloud
"With Nextcloud Forms, you can create as many forms, with as many questions, and shared with as many people as you like – without any limitations. You keep your form and the data you collect on Nextcloud. And you can easily analyze and share the results with our pretty and insightful graphs."

2 February, 2021


When my kids were teenagers, I used to hate their House music, and now, weirdly I've started to like it myself. I've hardly seen a dance floor, but like to put it on while working. Listening a lot lately to Cafe de Anatolia, and Nora En Pure right now, in a piece recorded in Gstaad. My discovery engine is YouTube, but I think it's wasteful to stream, so I download it instead with Youtube-dl. I was till now downloading also the video and then extracting it, but now I've discovered how to download just the audio.


I bought my earphones about five years ago in an airport in Delhi or Mumbai. They're the simple in-ear kind with a black plastic wire, but they've been really good. It's easy to lose earphones, but I tend to look after my stuff. I also find that once something has been with me a while it tends to stick to me, and gets harder to lose. So the other day I had the earphones in my pocket on my afternoon walk. It was a particularly wild walk, as I didn't keep to the paths but scrambled down the face of the hillside, jumping over rocks and wading through thick grass. When I got home, I found the earphones were no longer in my pocket. I don't give up so easily, and the same evening I went out with my phone light and retraced at least the more civilized part of the way I had taken. No luck. The following afternoon I went out again and tried to approximate the route I'd taken down the hillside; which was impossible, but some of it I got right. After about 20 minutes, I saw them; my earphones were lying there on a rock.

I wasn't so surprised really. It's at least the second time I've found those earphones somewhere outside. The other time was on a park bench. I happened to re-visit the same bench without actually looking for them, a day or two later.

The Expanse

The Expanse is one of the few TV series I have stuck through. I didn't read the James Cory books - unlike one of my sons, who listened to all of them on audio - but I like the cast and the storyline. Unfortunately, I can never remember all the ins and outs of the plot, so I get a bit lost some times. Now it's at Season 5, and probably remains one of the best Sci-Fi series.

Muhammad Bakri interview

Last week I helped with setting up and then publishing the interview we did with the filmmaker Muhammad Bakri. As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, he just lost a suit that was brought against him by a soldier when he was making the film "Jenin, Jenin", back in 2002, just after the massacre/battle. He has been ordered to pay something like $80,000. Two earlier court cases had failed. In this one the plaintiff won because for a period of 4 seconds, he had been caught on film while in the refugee camp, so could claim that the charges of massacre brought by the interviewees damaged his personal reputation. Rubbish, of course. Bakri has been hounded, persecuted and denied work in Israel since making the film - almost 20 years ago. He views himself more as an actor than as a film maker. But he does not regret making the film. As he says, if it managed to get so many people riled up, and they are still going after him all this time, maybe the film "has something". Some of the viewers of the Zoom interview asked him if he would accept donations to help cover his losses; but he refused outright. He says he will take full responsibility. If people want to donate money, let them give it to those who were maimed or disabled after what happened there in Jenin, for example. Great guy. I see there's:

Jenin Jenin: Livechat with Mohammad Bakri and Adam Bakri
by bildamilda on YouTube
with him in English, recorded a couple of weeks ago.

Downfall of a psychologist

My partner was shocked to hear in the evening news that a psychologist she knows has been accused of multiple instances of sexual exploitation and rape. He's now in jail. He was also a yoga teacher, and is very popular in the alternative scene. I don't know him at all. But I know that creepy feeling of being disappointed with someone who you thought you knew.

Links blog

I saw that Cory Doctorow has written about how Google surveils us when we embed YouTube videos in websites, so have started to look into alternative ways.

✭Youtube videos without cookies
Many companies, media outlets and bloggers enjoy sharing YouTube videos on their sites. The problem is that YouTube sets a tracking cookie (for marketing purposes) by default.
2021.02.02 21:22:40 edit delete
✭Lite YouTube Embeds - A Better Method for Embedding YouTube Videos on your Website - Digital Inspiration
Learn how to embed YouTube videos on your website in a fast, lightweight manner that loads the embedded video on demand thus reducing the size of your web pages and improving your core web vitals score.

✭Twitter suspends hundreds of Indian accounts after government demand | India | The Guardian
A Twitter statement on “country-withheld content” said suspensions of accounts or content was routine, arguing “many countries have laws that may apply to tweets and Twitter account content”.
#india #social-media

✭Chinese millennials aren't getting married, and the government is worried - CNN
With a looming population crisis on the horizon, the Chinese government has introduced a flurry of policies and propaganda campaigns exhorting couples to have children. State media lectured couples that the birth of a child is "not only a family matter, but also a state affair." In cities and villages, propaganda slogans advocating for a second child went up, replacing old ones threatening strict punishment in violation of the one-child policy.

✭WHO's Covid warnings were not heeded. Now the world has a new chance to beat the virus
Rich nations have made bilateral deals with manufacturers to vaccinate entire populations, sometimes several times over. This has left countries under huge domestic pressure to start immunising their populations little choice but to make their own arrangements.

This has resulted in manufacturers prioritising more profitable deals with rich countries, rather than support equitable rollout of vaccines to all countries.

✭Important stories hidden in Google's 'experiment' blocking Australian news sites | Technology | The Guardian
"The search giant’s experiments see sources of questionable quality being promoted over mainstream websites in some cases"
Smart people use other search engines.

✭Lunar cycle has distinct effect on sleep, study suggests | Sleep | The Guardian
"Scientists have long understood that human activity is facilitated by light, be it sunlight, moonlight or artificial light. But a study suggests our ability to sleep is distinctly affected by the lunar cycle, even when taking into account artificial sources of light."

Blame it on the moon.

29 December, 2020

Video editing

I recently started to look into the matter of how to place videos on the website of the Israeli Thich Nhat Hanh website as people recently started to record their Zoom talks. I uploaded the last two to Vimeo.com, after doing some light editing in OpenShot video editor on Linux. Now we are thinking to adapt one of Thich Nhat Hanh's original videos by adding subtitles. Plum Village (the Buddhistic community of Thich Nhat Hanh in France), has a channel on YouTube and allows people associated with the various sanghas to add translation subtitles to the videos there through the Amara.org service. While looking into this, I noticed various other features of YouTube about which I was unfamiliar, such as that it is possible to get an automatic transcript of any video and that it is possible also to obtain an instant automatic translation based on speech. And the translation isn't bad. It could serve as a basis for a human translation, in the same way as I use Google Translate when I'm translating from English to Hebrew. (Unfortunately DeepL dcan't handle Hebrew or Arabic.)

It seems that it is also possible to download subtitles through youtube-dl (which I have already been using quite a lot lately for downloading music videos and converting them to mp3 files with ffmpeg).

I see that in Linux there is also a cross-platform FOSS program called Subtitle Composer. But it is no doubt easier to use the YouTube system. Vimeo is recommending instead a paid service for subtitling, Rev, which charges $1 a minute for obtaining captions from the audio. So it may be easier and cheaper to go with YouTube for subtitling and place the Hebrew subtitles on the YouTube channel so they will be available internationally. We can continue using Vimeo for the local channel because there we do not need to create subtitles, though it would be a better service for people with hearing impairment. There again, YouTube has an advantage. It's hard to beat Google. It manages to leverage its various systems to its best advantage. (I even see, when using its translation program, that it is benefiting from Google Search, using the correct spelling of proper names and sometimes incorporating our in-house abbreviations for the institutions in our village.)

I would not use PeerTube for these needs, because there is little advantage of spreading Hebrew language videos through federated social media. In the whole country it's probably just me and a few hundred others who use that. I don't feel that I can depend on the longevity or persistence of persons or services to host our videos over the long-term, and don't have the bandwidth to self-host video. And Peertube does not have nomadic identities like Hubzilla.

One thing that almost everybody recommends is not to weigh down one's WordPress site with videos uploaded to the site's hosting. I was doing so for audio recordings, but wouldn't do that for video.

Embedding video in WordPress

For the sangha website I use the Weaver Xtreme Plus WP theme, which I like because of its flexibility. I can embed videos from Vimeo easily into posts using a shortcode provided by the theme. This is not ideal, because it would be better for video-play to be available directly from the homepage (which gathers links to the most recent posts in a given category). Those links include title, excerpt and featured image. What I probably need is a plugin that can replace the featured image with a video. Weaver Xtreme Plus can do that for the individual posts, but not for the links that appear on the homepage. There is, I see, a specific plugin called Vimeography which can do it; a pro-version can add videos directly from a Vimeo channel. However, this pro-version costs $50 and I am not sure I want to add the videos directly in that way. I may test this and another plugin for our use.

Pine Processionary Caterpiller

I didn't walk out in the woods today, as crop-dusters were dive-bombing the trees with chemicals to eliminate the pine processionary caterpiller, which is a danger to humans and their pets. But I wonder how many other innocent creatures were harmed by this procedure?

Links blog

✭ Agriculture and evolution - Wheat absorbs phosphorus from desert dust | Science & technology | The Economist - 10.pdf

 don't know this fellow, who rents a home in our village, but it looks like an interesting discovery. This country is so dusty and, especially in summer, all the plants and trees get covered with a grey layer of dust. It turns out that some plants are actively using this dust for nutrients.

"The plant (or, rather, plants) in question were in the care of Avner Gross of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel. As Dr Gross told this year’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which took place online during the first half of December, his study was prompted by hikes he had taken near Neve Shalom, his home village in the Judean Hills. On these, he often noticed plant leaves completely covered in dust that had been carried thereby sand storms from the Sahara desert. It occurred to him that this dust might not be the light-blocking nuisance it appeared at first sight. It could, on the contrary, be beneficial because of the growth-enhancing elements such as phosphorus which it contained."

✭ Why I’m No Longer Allowed To Visit Israel - TravelAwaits
https://www.travelawaits.com/2559999/why-im-not-allowed-to-visit-israel/“Israel passed a law banning entry to foreigners who support boycotting the country.” Since I’ve written about B.D.S., I guess that includes me."

This citizen journalist mentions her visit to our community and other peace groups. There are a few inaccuracies in her writing, but overall this is a good and informative article. I wonder how many people know that Israel is selectively preventing the entry of people that oppose its policies by supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement?

As a community we don't have a position on BDS. It's questionable whether, as a community that is based on pluralism, we should even adopt a uniform, monolithic position on anything. Years ago, I personally put my name to an online petition for Israelis who support BDS, but when the country stiffened its laws, I chickened out and got them to remove my name. I'm a resident, rather than a citizen of this country, and resident status can be more easily revoked. With regard to BDS, my feeling is that this is something that deserves a chance, because it is one of Gene Sharp's 198 nonviolent methods, and every other way, including intifada and (fake) peace processes, seems to have failed. But Israelis cannot be so easily shamed into changing its relationship with Palestinians, and so far they have cleverly managed to contain the "damage" to its reputation created by the movement. Partly by claiming that it is anti-Semitic, which some BDS supporters no doubt are. But anti-Semitism is easily confused with anti-Zionism (itself a rather opaque term), or to Israel and its policies. To be effective, anyone espousing BDS needs to be very clear about what they are supporting and what they are opposing.
#israel #palestine

✭ Subtitle Composer | Subtitle Composer: An open source text-based subtitle editor
https://subtitlecomposer.kde.org/ The open source text-based subtitle editor.

✭ Nihilism Gets a Bad Rap

✭ Moving from YouTube to PeerTube
#video #peertube