8 January, 2021

The GIMP

A few years ago, I was much less successful in my attempts to use GIMP. Now YouTube has a video on pretty well everything I want to do. Today, I wanted to improve my knowledge of making electronic signatures. I'm usually the one to make these for everybody around here, but I discovered I was doing it wrong, or not in the best possible way. They weren't properly transparent. This had never bothered me before, because in LibreOffice, they don't really need to be transparent. You can just take a jpeg signature, and wrap it "in the background" and the non-transparent white parts will move behind the text. However, the other day, I had to sign a PDF document (actually a picture inside a PDF container) and I noticed that my signature wiped out some of the text. So I thought I'd better learn how to do it better - not just for me, but for all of our signatures (which we keep in a folder on Google Drive).

There were a couple of good YouTube videos on the subject. The best one :

OpenOffice & Gimp Tutorial: Making a Signature With a Transparent Background
by Ongytenes on YouTube
) was by a person who calls himself Ongytenes, with a really pleasant, avuncular US southern drawl. I followed all the directions precisely, but there was one step that didn't work for me. The step involves strengthening the signature's colour with the paintbrush set to Overlay mode. That's all very well, but it coloured also the image's transparent alpha channel. I discovered that for this not to happen, you have to "lock" the alpha channel. Perhaps in earlier versions of the GIMP it was locked by default, so Ongytenes didn't mention that.

Zoom

While D is teaching her mindfulness classes by Zoom, I'm basically shut up in the bedroom, because she gives those two-and-a-half-hour classes in front of the bedroom door. So if I were to wander out, that would create a disturbance. So I have lots of time to learn about GIMP on Friday mornings, and today I was also learning about Zoom. I never need to initiate any Zoom meetings personally, but I do need to be able to help others with that. So today, again via YouTube, I was learning all about proper lighting and presentation skills. A lot of thought has gone into that program. There were so many tips that go way beyond the knowledge and skills that most people have of it. Anyway, I eventually ended up ordering a green screen and stand. Not in order that D. can present herself in front of some Hawaiian beach scene, but in order that she can give her presentations in a better place than in front of our bedroom door, so I won't be a captive while she is doing them.

Links Blog

✭“Shkreli Award” goes to Moderna for “blatantly greedy” COVID vaccine prices | Ars Technica
https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/01/moderna-shamed-with-shkreli-award-over-high-covid-
"Award judges cited Moderna’s pricing of its COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed with $1 billion in federal funding. Still, despite the tax-payer backing, Moderna set the estimated prices for its vaccine significantly higher than other vaccine developers."
#COVID-19 #capitalism

✭ Platforms Must Pay for Their Role in the Insurrection | WIRED
https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-platforms-must-pay-for-their-role-in-the-insurrection/
"In their relentless pursuit of engagement and profits, these platforms created algorithms that amplify hate speech, disinformation, and conspiracy theories."
#social-media

Image/photo

✭ Donald Trump suspended from Facebook indefinitely, says Mark Zuckerberg | US news | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/07/donald-trump-twitter-ban-comes-to-end-amid
"If Trump does continue to violate Twitter rules to the point of being banned from the site, a community of alternative social networks already exists to provide him with an alternative platform."
#socialmedia

✭ Iran issues Interpol notice for 48 US officials including Trump | Conflict News | Al Jazeera
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/5/iran-issues-interpol-notice-for-48-us-officials-in
"Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili announced during a press conference on Tuesday that Iran has requested the international police organisation to arrest Trump and 47 other American officials identified as playing a role in the assassination of top general Qassem Soleimani last year."
#Iran

I wonder if in earlier ages, as many hostile acts were perpetrated, without a full declaration of war, while in the meantime, maintaining the pretense that all countries equally belong to international frameworks like the UN, Interpol, etc., under a sham veneer of civilized international behaviour.

✭ Iran compensation plan for downed plane slammed by Kiev - The Hindu
https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/iran-compensation-plan-for-downed-plane-slamme
"The Islamic republic admitted three days later that its forces mistakenly shot down the Kiev-bound Boeing 737-800 plane after firing two missiles, amid heightened US-Iran tensions."

“The [Iranian] cabinet approved the provision of $150,000, or the equivalent in euros... for the families and survivors of each of the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash as soon as possible,” Iran’s presidency said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

“This compensation does not prevent the prosecution of the criminal element of the case before the competent judicial authority,” the statement added.

But Kiev said the compensation amount should be the subject of negotiations, stressing the need for “establishing the causes of the tragedy and bringing those responsible to justice”.
#Iran

✭ Delhi riots victims, lawyers allege police pressure to drop cases | Conflict News | Al Jazeera
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/8/delhi-violence-lawyers-victims-allege-police-press
“They want to give a message that no lawyer should take up such cases or they won’t be spared.”
#india

In so many ways, tiny Israel and humongous India are following a parallel path. Both have right wing governments that are trying to increase the standing of the dominant religion / culture to the detriment of the minority, and in both cases the minority in question is largely Muslim. In both countries, the loyalty of the Muslim minority to the state is doubted, while its allegiance to an outside country or countries is claimed. Arabs in Israel and Muslims in India are regarded more and more as second class citizens. Meanwhile, both countries control territories through a kind of military occupation. Both countries are militarily strong but obsessed with security in response to real and present security threats. While Indian Muslims are not ethnically different from Hindus, having simply undergone religious conversation over the centuries, they are perceived as different. But the same is actually true of Palestinians, whose DNA record closely matches that of Jews.

✭ Three men filmed beating dolphin to death arrested in India | India | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/08/three-men-filmed-beating-gangetic-dolphin-de
"after footage of the attack went viral, prompting a national outpouring of disgust, three men were identified and arrested."
#india

✭ India's supreme court gives go-ahead for controversial new parliament building | India | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/05/indias-supreme-court-gives-go-ahead-for-cont
"Critics say Narendra Modi’s $3bn redevelopment of Lutyen’s central vista is an ‘expensive vanity project’
#india

✭Global heating could stabilize if net zero emissions achieved, scientists say | Environment | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jan/07/global-heating-stabilize-net-zero-emis
"Climate disaster could be curtailed within a couple of decades if net zero emissions are reached, new study shows"
#environment

✭ Dozens of Hong Kong pro-democracy figures arrested in sweeping crackdown | Hong Kong | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/06/dozens-of-hong-kong-pro-democracy-figures-ar
"The sweeping arrests on Wednesday morning came without warning, and shocked observers. It is the largest single mass arrest of people under the NSL, and appeared to relate to just a singular event: the holding of democratic votes."
#HongKong

✭ Watching a show at Israel's High Court
https://notes.pinboard.in/u:hosh/283cd83b92ea027a4898
Watching a show at Israel's High Court - Opinion - Haaretz.com
#israel

Arabs in Israel challenged Israel's 2018 "Nation State Law" in Israel's high court. The country doesn't have a constitution, but relies on "Basic Laws" instead. The Basic Laws are mostly from the early days of the state, but this recent one was legislated by right wing politicians and intends to enshrine in law certain principles related to the Jewish character of the state. For example, whereas previously both Hebrew and Arabic were recognized as official languages, after the law, only Hebrew was recognized as "official", whereas Arabic has "special" status. This was objected to by Arab lawmakers and organizations, who finally had their day in court. However the judges, probably wary regarding their mandate of challenging a "basic law" that had been introduced through legislation, didn't take the challenge very seriously and found ways to slither out of doing anything. Samah (from our village) wrote this opinion piece for Haaretz and it appeared in the paper's Hebrew and English editions, though the English translation doesn't seem to be very good. It's interesting that the presiding judge made a reference to the gender equality law, saying that this is even more "basic" than the "nation state" law, and that therefore, when the country gets around to making a constitution, it will have to deal with this and other contradictions. As I mentioned to Samah, years ago, I also used this discrepancy among the arguments I made for conscientious objection. Women had the right to CO status, but men didn't. So there was a contradiction between this law and the law of universal army service for men. (It wasn't my idea, but that of my draft counsellor). Eventually they exempted me, without stating any reason other than a catch-all clause.

✭A scion of Zionist aristocracy wants to quit the Jewish people. Will Israel let him?… | Balfour Project
https://balfourproject.org/a-scion-of-zionist-aristocracy-wants-to-quit-the-jewish-people-
"Why Avraham Burg, who has served as Knesset speaker, interim president and head of the Jewish Agency, is asking Israel to annul his registration as a Jew"
#israel

Relates to the above issue. Avraham Burg, an important figure (and son of a top National Religious Party politician, has requested the population registry to remove his "Jewish nationality". Judaism is not conceived of just as a religion in Israel, but as a nationality. For example, in my identity card as a permanent resident, it is written that my nationality is "British". If I were a permanent resident but Jewish, it would be written that my nationality is "Jewish". Israel makes a differentiation between "nationality" and "citizenship". There was once someone who appealed to have his nationality inscribed as "Israeli", but he lost the case. Burg, who says that if possessing Jewish nationality (according to the Nation State Law) awards him privileges greater than those of other citizens, then he refuses to be registered as Jewish and wants it scratched from the record.

✭OHCHR | United Kingdom: UN expert cautiously welcomes refusal to extradite Assange
https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26638&LangID=E
"I am gravely concerned that the judgement confirms the entire, very dangerous rationale underlying the US indictment, which effectively amounts to criminalizing national security journalism," Melzer said."
#Assange

22 November, 2020

I checked my name in the search engines and found that most recent references come from Hubzilla, not so much my personal instance, but the Hubzilla instances of others. My Hubzilla already isn't federating properly outside Hubzilla, through some bug or flaw. But that's not such a bad thing. Now I've turned on the no-federation plug-in by default, as well.

Link Stream

✭ Solomon Islands government preparing to ban Facebook | Facebook | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/17/solomon-islands-government-preparing-to-ban-
"Communications minister claims move is intended to address ‘abusive language’ but observers say it is linked to China’s influence"

People should stop using the monstrosity that is Facebook, but obviously it shouldn't be banned.

✭ How bad is Russia's Covid crisis? Packed morgues and excess deaths tell a darker story than official numbers suggest - CNN
https://edition.cnn.com/2020/11/17/europe/russia-coronavirus-pandemic-excess-deaths-intl/i

✭ Ma Jun: China has started to 'walk the walk' on climate crisis | Greenhouse gas emissions | The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/13/ma-jun-china-is-beginning-to-walk-the-
“Some people have been found bringing products like ivory and rhino horn into China. I think, increasingly, people are starting to recognise that it’s immoral – not just illegal, immoral. Our younger generation of Chinese, they tend to have a much higher understanding of this.”

✭ Zoom’s Censorship of Palestinian Events Sparks Outrage
https://theintercept.com/2020/11/14/zoom-censorship-leila-khaled-palestine/
For
 all Zoom’s invocations of anti-terrorism laws, a spokesperson also noted that ultimately the company reserves the right to bar anyone from using its services, for any reason or none at all

Zoom’s intervention adds a new layer to the long-running debate on university campuses over the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but its implications reach far beyond that, several scholars and free speech advocates warned. The platform’s censorship has raised questions about the role of private tech companies in curtailing academic freedom and constitutionally protected speech, particularly in the context of public universities. The incidents also reignited criticism of a controversial definition of anti-Semitism promoted by pro-Israel groups and endorsed by President Donald Trump in an executive order issued last year, which critics say severely limits all debate of Israeli policy.

20 November, 2020

Let's Encrypt

I was worried about renewing the Let's Encrypt certification for my site, but it turned out to be a simple matter. Now I know how it's done, that imaginary worry won't come back. I used the instructions here. I forgot how I originally set up the certificate, and it seemed to reinstall a lot of stuff, but the main thing is that it worked.

Zoom conference

Samah called me in to give support in the background for the Zoom conference last night. I don't know much about Zoom. She had also forgotten to tell me that she was setting up a virtual studio and that she wanted the whole thing to go live on Facebook. If I'd known the latter, I would have been able to inform people about it earlier. If I'd known the former, I might have been more prepared.

This is how it looked (the illusion vs the reality):

Image/photo
Image/photo

At the beginning there was a sudden problem. It turns out that it's possible to "lock" a Zoom meeting so that even registered participants can't enter. Somehow, we'd locked the meeting. I should have known there was an issue, as there were only 18 participants and nobody else seemed to be joining. Eventually I found the setting and unbolted the gates. Then, due to another mis-setting I had to manually admit everyone, every few minutes; all the stragglers who had turned up late, or simply hadn't managed to get in.

In the end, it all came right. We had also promised that people could ask questions. But since Samah was on-screen, I ended up manually writing out each question from the chat in longhand, and someone had to hand those to her, as if we were still in the pre-industrial age.

Afterwards, since we had forgotten to record the Zoom meeting itself, I had to figure out how to download the video from the Facebook live meeting in order to upload it to our YouTube channel. After looking up various sneaky ways to do this, I discovered that Facebook itself allows one to do this, in a more simple way. I have such mistrust and dislike for Facebook, I was almost sure they would prevent that.

On "virtual studios": I'm a communicator and nobody's idea of a "marketer". I prefer to tell it like it is and look at that ugly reality in the second picture above than at a pretty illusion. And I'm thinking that most of our news programs originate in fancier versions of the improvised virtual studio above. There's a story about Chaim Yavin, Israel's former veteran news anchor that he would show up in the studio looking prim in a business suit and tie, but wearing shorts, since nobody ever saw him from the waste down. If illusion-making is so deeply embedded in our culture that even our news programs begin by cultivating illusion, then what does it say about our society?

We are willing victims, too. The "human interest" stories on the news come accompanied by background music, as if we are watching a sad or happy movie. It's one of the reasons I can't tolerate TV news.

27 October, 2020

Crowdfunding

In the morning I took part in a Zoom conference on crowdfunding led by a woman from Shatil who seems to have mastered the art of using this effectively. Despite my cynicism regarding the various platforms that extract their pound of flesh from those who are obliged to use their services, one has to acknowledge that they tap into or shift a stream of money for good purposes. I should see what are the more ethical platforms for crowdfunding.

I spent a lot of time trying to reach tech support for that computer I was trying to fix yesterday, and restored another computer to factory condition (which means of course Microsoft Windows condition) for the new person who has been appointed to administer our educational institutions (or something like that).

Timeline

I wrote to Nava suggesting that they create a historical timeline for the School for Peace, in order to avoid confusion on the part of some of our friends associations on the sequence of events there. I heard back from her quickly. She said she wanted to gift me her recent book, since it has some of what I'm looking for. I told her I'd never read any book about the village, and that reading one in Hebrew would be too much work for my few paid work hours. For the timeline I just need a simple table of what happened when.

Curating the history of a small village is a significant task. Much of it is stored in people's heads and, if one isn't careful, dies with them. Does it matter? Do any of our lives matter? It's a question of perspective. There is no unequivocal answer. They may have importance sometimes. For example, communities are intrinsically interesting because they are comparatively rare in our modern world. Many of them fail quickly. What factors are involved in their success or failure, and what can be learned from them.

Sculpture at the art gallery

On our afternoon walk we stopped by at the art gallery, to speak with Dyana who, on a mostly voluntary basis, is responsible for it. Across from the gallery entrance there is a bare rock face that the builders had sheered out when they built the library building. Today Dyana got some local sculptors to work on that rock wall. On one corner, one of them had sculpted from the soft limestone an entire Palestinian village. Really lovely. Another artist had turned a large stone into a dove and attached it to a rock. I think the real quality of artists, particularly sculptors, is to see the creative potential locked up in our humdrum reality, and liberate it. Art is hopeful in that way.

24 October, 2020

Websites and energy

post by Kev Quirk led to some research on how to reduce the digital impact of websites and turned up the links below.

My Hubzilla page got a very poor rating. I will at least try to optimize images better. The only pluses are that
a. It is hosted at home and does not have many visitors. My own visits are only via the local network.
b. People don't need to visit the site at all if they see the posts on the fediverse, or use a feed aggregator
https://hubzilla.vikshepa.com/feed/hosh&cat=categoryname).

Also
 this has made me think that maybe my custom of aggregating various items throughout the day into a single post may be less effective than, in the traditional way of social media, i.e., creating a separate post for each item. When a post federates to hubzilla servers, aggregated items will usually be re-sent with each new edit, and, if the post is quite long, this will result in energy waste. If a post is edited, the edits, as far as I understand, are not re-sent to other fediverse sites.

✭ How Local Fonts Can Save The Environment - Kev Quirk
https://kevq.uk/how-local-fonts-can-save-the-environment/
✭ The Green Web Foundation | Directory
https://www.thegreenwebfoundation.org/directory/
international
 directory of green hosting
✭ Webwaste – A List Apart
https://alistapart.com/article/webwaste/
"They
 say a picture paints a thousand words but sometimes it’s a thousand words of crap."
✭ Website Carbon Calculator | How is your website impacting the planet?
https://www.websitecarbon.com/
✭ This website is killing the planet
https://visitmy.website/2020/07/13/this-website-is-killing-the-planet/

Red spotted longhorn beetle

My son sent a photo of one of these he found on our patio. We had one also last year, which proved almost impermeable to drowning, starving or anything except bug spray. It's the red spotted longhorn beetle, Batocera rufomaculata; scary and huge. It attacks fig, mango and avocado trees in Israel/Palestine, and a few years ago decimated most of the fig trees in our village.

Image/photo

Techno-stress

Saturday morning so far has been helping wife with Zoom (not that I'm better at those things than she is), and she too is just assisting by Zoom-hosting an online "day of mindfulness" of the Thich Nhat Hanh sangha, which a couple of other people are leading. The mission was to share a screen in which an audio clip would be shared together with having the lyrics appear on the screen. Of course, when the session actually started, nothing happened quite so easily as in the couple of practice sessions we did. She had to search frantically in Nautilus for the audio file, remember to un-mute her microphone, then look for the PDF with the lyrics.

Somebody else is supposed to divide them into breakout rooms and she planned to do that by making him a co-host. Zoom claims that a co-host can arrange the breakout rooms, but the button doesn't appear on his screen, meaning that he will need to be the host. Etc.

At least Zoom, to its credit, has a Linux version, though, in a previous session, I think we discovered that the Linux version was a bit behind the version for MS Windows and Mac, and thus lacking a couple of features. (It may have caught up by now.)

Jitsi?

Jitsi-meet might be a simpler option that we all could be using, but it would mean that just when people are getting used to Zoom, we will ask them to try something new; and I'm wondering whether it has all the features needed. Breakout rooms, for example, seems to be still a beta feature, and not in Disroot's version. But I'm more worried about the smoothness of the streaming; I won't know until I can properly experiment with it.