Apr 23, 2019
This is the second part of my summary of the book “Religion for atheists”, by Alain de Botton. It’s a book studying the good sides of religion, with the idea of importing/stealing them for the secular world. See the first part, which discusses the most important ideas brought forward by the book.
This is the second post of the summary, and the first discussing the book chapter by chapter. This post will cover five chapters: Wisdom without doctrine, Community, Kindness, Education, and Tenderness.
Wisdom without doctrine
The most boring and unproductive question one can ask of any religion is whether or not it’s true. The premise of this book is that it must be possible to remain a committed atheist and nevertheless find religions sporadically useful, interesting and consoling. We can recognise that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and haven’t been solved by any secular society: the need to live together in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses; and the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise. The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.
It’s hard to build community and we are used to mingling with mostly people who are like us. We, as a society, are focused on success and status. We develop a desire to be famous and powerful when being “like everyone else” seems a distressing fate, when the norm is mediocre and depressing. If there are so many references in the Mass to poverty, sadness, failure and loss, it’s because the Church views the ill, the frail of mind, the desperate and the elderly and representing aspects of humanity and of ourselves which we are tempted to deny. But when we acknowledge them it brings us closer to our need for one another. Two ideas to steal:
- The Agape restaurant (too long to summarise here, see p. 43-50), inspired by early Masses, in which people shared a meal.
- Yom Kippur: Jews must review what they have done the previous year, and apologise for their bad actions, however small. Many things that would be too small to bring up again, but that hurt social relationships (things that we cannot quite forget, but that we cannot quite mention, either), would be mentioned and apologised for on this day.
Our obsession with “freedom” makes us hold to an unhelpfully sophisticated view of ourselves in which we are always above hearing well-placed, blunt and simply structured reminders about kindness. We are not. Our lack of freedom is not the problem in most cases, it’s having enough wisdom to know how to exploit our freedom.
The myth of the original sin reminds us of how weak and broken we are, as opposed to the approach of the Enlightenment, which tells us that we are naturally good. The latter is depressing as a frame, because our flaws are evident and make us think that the problem is in ourselves. The former is healthier, because it is more understanding when we inevitably fail, and encourages us to do our best regardless.
Idea to steal: Saints are a great idea to remind us of qualities we should nurture in ourselves, inspiring us to get better. Calendars constantly remind us of them, assigning a date to many. We should have secular “saints” who personify good sides of people we need reminders for.
What we’re taught
Few things secular society believes in as fervently as education. We have an intense faith in it, and there are grand claims implying that colleges are more than mere factories, and that they may turn us into better, wiser and happier people. However, the courses offered only prepare us for successful careers in mercantile, technological societies.
How we’re taught
Again, Christianity sees us as flawed and lost, and their purpose in education is to change our lives. Current universities are on the side of Enlightenment, assuming we’re good, and just focusing on cramming new knowledge in our heads.
We have a perplexing tendency to know what we should do combined with a persistent reluctance actually to do it, whether through weakness or absent-mindedness (what Greeks called Akrasia). There’s much value in reminding us of things “we already know”, as opposed to filling in for lack of knowledge. To do that, we have to focus on excerpts, repetition, and simplification. See John Wesley references on p. 120.
Secular life is not free of calendars, but mostly they’re used for work. We feel, however, that it would be a violation of spontaneity to be presented with rotas for rereading Walt Whitman or Marcus Aurelius. We’re addicted to news and novelty, and we have sacrificed an opportunity to remind ourselves of quieter truths which we know about in theory but forget to live by in practice. We feel guilty for all that we have not yet read, but overlook how much better read we already are than Augustine or Dante: the problem is the manner of absorption rather than the extent of our consumption.
Religions have been radical in taking lesson out of the classroom, encouraging their followers to learn with their senses, through activities (eg. Zen Buddhism’s tea ceremony). We should train our minds as rigorously as our bodies, and we should train our minds through our bodies. Religious retreats, and comparison with hotels and spas from p. 145, ego and meditation notes from p. 155.
Ultimately, the point of education is to save us time and spare us errors. Obvious and inoffensive in science, why so controversial for wisdom? No existing mainstream secular institution has a declared interest in teaching us the art of living. Religion has lots of ideas about this, and frequently those ideas were around before the birth of Jesus. Why not steal those back?
From a rational perspective, devotion to Mary seems infantile. But it’s the wrong framing: the cult of Mary (or Isis in Egypt, Demeter in Greece, Venus in Rome, Guan Yin in China; this is not shared cultural origin, this is universal human need!) speaks to the extent to which the needs of our childhood endure within us. Even if most of the time we can be mature, sometimes we’re hit by helplessness.
Atheism is impatient with neediness, and has attacked religion for being nothing more than a glorified response to childhood longings. This is probably correct, but we need it: many of those needs are not exclusively childish, they’re human. In Christianity, only the proud would deny their weakness.
Idea to steal: it would be useful if secular artists occasionally created works which took parental care as their central theme. They could be put in temples to tenderness.
Apr 23, 2019
This is the first part of my summary of the book “Religion for atheists”, by Alain de Botton. It’s a book studying the good sides of religion, with the idea of importing/stealing them for the secular world. I loved the book, for what it’s worth.
This first post is going to cover the most important ideas in the book. Later posts will cover the book chapter by chapter, more in detail.
Atheists’ relationship to religion
It must be possible to remain a committed atheist and nevertheless find religions sporadically useful, interesting and consoling. The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.
Why religions exist
We invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and haven’t been solved by any secular society: the need to live together in harmony, despite our selfish and violent impulses; and the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain.
Pain is aggravated by a sense that we are alone in experiencing it. The Church views the ill, the frail of mind, the desperate and the elderly and representing aspects of humanity and of ourselves which we are tempted to deny.
Education and reminders
We have a perplexing tendency to know what we should do combined with a persistent reluctance actually to do it, whether through weakness or absent-mindedness (Akrasia). Thus, there’s much value in education as reminding us of things “we already know”, as opposed to giving us new knowledge.
We hold to an unhelpfully sophisticated view of ourselves if we think that we are always above hearing well-placed, blunt and simply structured reminders.
Institutions have a much wider-ranging influence than books, and can give us a system of active reminders.
Fearing that these reminders are a violation of spontaneity is nonsense. Our lack of freedom is not the problem in most cases, it’s having enough wisdom to know how to exploit our freedom.
Wisdom vs. material improvements
The secular world is afraid of teaching wisdom (as opposed to knowledge), and focuses instead on material improvements. But as good as those are, that doesn’t mean that our lives are less subject to accident, frustrated ambition, heartbreak, jealousy, anxiety or death than before. For example, travelling could be existencial healing (wisdom), not merely entertainment or relaxation (material enjoyment/improvement).
Auguste Comte thought that capitalism had aggravated people’s competitive, individualistic impulses and distanced them for their communities, traditions, and their sympathies with nature.
Conclusion: steal from religions
Many of the problems of the modern soul can be successfully addressed by solutions put forward by religions. The wisdom of the faiths belongs to all humankind and it’s intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone.
And that’s it for the main ideas of the book. Later posts will go chapter by chapter, discussing it in more detail.
Apr 14, 2019
On March 25th a Norwegian game jam for role-playing games started. It’s called R.I.S.K. (Rollespill.infos Intensive Spillskaper-Konkurranse) and it has been going on for several years now. The idea is that you have two weeks to design a role-playing game and make a decent PDF out of it. At the beginning of the jam they give you five words, and you have to use at least one of them in your game. This is to avoid that you start designing the game beforehand. I thought it could be a nice challenge, so I went for it.
The five words
The five words for this year’s jam were:
- Feiring (celebration)
- Hemmelighet (secret)
- Søke (to search)
- Vår (spring, as in the season, or our)
- Gift (poison, or married)
The one that caught my attention was the last (interpreted as “poison”), but I also used “secret”. The end result was “Mistankens gift” (“The poison of suspicion”), a game about life and forgiveness.
Concept of the game
The game has two main characters: a person who has been poisoned and is probably going to die, and the person who poisoned the first. It’s a game for two players, and each player will take the role of one of these two characters. The game is a succession of scenes, alternating between the poisoner and the victim. The victim’s scenes are meant to illustrate what made the victim’s life worth living, while the poisoner’s scenes are meant to illustrate negative sides of the victim the poisoner uses to justify what they did. The character sheet has questions that can be used as inspiration to come up with the scenes (things like “What did the victim always put before other people?” for the poisoner, and things like “Who would be heartbroken if you died?” for the victim).
I started writing notes with ideas for mechanics and game concept from the beginning of the jam, and soon I came up with some mechanics I liked (I think maybe Wednesday or Thursday?):
- Each player has two sets of dice. The first set is called scene dice, and the other opposition dice. Each set of dice has a 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, and 1d10.
- Before each scene, the player who is about to narrate it (the active player) will announce what the scene is going to be about. Then the active player chooses a dice from the scene dice, and the other player one from the opposition dice. If the active player rolls the same or higher, the scene will go as planned (highlighting the good sides of the victim, if the active player plays the victim, or highlighting the bad sides of the victim, otherwise) and the active player wins as many points as their own die showed. If the other player rolls higher, the scene will have to have some contrast or shadow of doubt, and the active player doesn’t earn any points.
- At the end of the game both players compare their points to a number between 10 and 15 called fate number, chosen by the poisoner player at the beginning and kept secret throughout the game. If the victim reached the number, the victim will survive. If the poisoner reached the number, the poisoner will be forgiven, either by themselves, or by the victim. Once the fate of both is known, both players agree on an epilogue.
The idea was to create some tension between the goals of the two players. Also, I really like the two layers of contrasts or conflicting points of view in the game:
- Both players are essentially presenting the same character (the victim) in very different lights.
- When they “lose” a scene, the players have to add a conflicting point of view of idea into the scene: poisoners will admit or realise that the victim wasn’t as evil or deserving of death than they wanted to believe, or victims will realise that their lives weren’t as good and positive as they wanted to believe.
The final PDF
To write the rules themselves I used LibreOffice, and to design the character sheet I used Inkscape. I put everything together using pdftk, and used illustrations from the British Library Flickr account, and I’m fairly happy with the final result.
I’m really happy that I participated, regardless of the outcome. I have played the game a couple of times (to playtest it) and I thought it was pretty enjoyable! The feel is fairly close to how I imagined it would be. I have several ideas about how it could be improved, but I’m not sure I’ll have the focus to do so. Time will tell. In any case, it’s perfectly playable as it is, and I thought it was fun both to design it and to play it.
If you want to try it out, you can download the game from its homepage. You need a second player, a printout of the character sheet (also available as the last page in the rules themselves), at least one die of each type (4-, 6-, 8-, and 10-sided dice), and something to write with. It takes about one hour to play so it’s not a big time investment.
Edit: If you’re interested in seeing the initial design notes, including all the ideas that didn’t make it into the game, and the false starts, you can have a look at them: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4.
Feb 24, 2019
This is my summary for “To have or to be?”, the book by Erich Fromm. This summary follows the structure and order of the book, although I have skipped several sections for brevity or because I didn’t find a good way to summarise them.
Meaning of life
Inner liberation, break the chains of greed. Reason only works as long as it’s not stifled by greed. Industrial societies only talk about political liberation and have forgotten about the inner one.
Obstacles to a greater conscience
- Fascination for power and fame, lack of authenticity.
- Trivial chatter. It comes from emptiness, indifference and routine. We have become afraid of intimacy but also of loneliness.
- The idea of life without effort and pain. In theory, modern progress was supposed to give us more free time for higher, more creative tasks. But instead we have idealized absolute laziness and horror to any real effort.
- Fear of authoritarianism and idealization of little whims. Fear of anything imposed on us have resulted in the idealization of total freedom to choose. We end up with freedom for little whims (ie. desires that come spontaneously, without any connection to our personality or our goals), instead of freedom for our will. Our “anti-authoritarianism” (which is good otherwise!) has been used to justify narcissistic complacency.
Ways of conscience
- Wanting a single thing. Set ourselves a goal, and dedicate ourselves to it.
- Be awake and aware. Pay attention to the outside world.
- Be conscious. Truth has a liberating effect, even when we learn about problems that have no solution. This is the most crucial aspect of the art of being. We achieve this personal independence by refusing to submit (not the rebelliousness without a goal). Another important attitude is realising that most of what we hear, and even know, is false: a healthy skepticism.
- Concentration. It’s harder and harder to focus, due to the way we produce and consume, but it’s important to learn to focus if we want to pursue many things. Practising sports, painting, playing musical instruments, and such, can help us concentrate.
- Meditation. Part of the advantage is to be more conscious, and part of it is to connect to our subconscious to make it more explicit and let us inspect it and control it more easily.
Self-analysis as a way of knowing oneself
This chapter is too complex to summarise, but in short it says that psychoanalysis is usually seen, even by professionals, as a way to cure neurosis, but the author sees it also as a good way to know oneself. Starting from an analysis from a professional, one can learn to analyse oneself and apply those principles for the rest of one’s life, to increase self-knowledge over time.
The chapter proposes concrete techniques and strategies to do this.
Two forms of ownership
Functional and non-functional. The first are things that we need or use often, and are connected to our goals; these things encourage activity and vitality. The second are things that we simply collect.
Trying to have only the first kind has several interesting consequences:
- Having only what I use encourages me to be active.
- It’s harder to have greed to have more things, because my capacity to use them productively would be impaired.
- It’s harder to feel envy, because I’m already busy with what I have.
- I won’t be worried about losing what I have, because functional property is easier to replace.
The strategy to live a better life is to beat our narcissism and our egotism. To do so we need conscience, will, practice, and learn to tolerate our fears and new experiences. Instead of thinking “I am what I have”, move towards “I am what I do”.
I realise, when I re-read the summary, that it feels “fluffy” and new-agey, because it lacks the depth of the original text. One of the things that make a difference is the way the author argues and explains each point, eg. it’s not evident from this summary that he rejects schools of thought or groupthink.
Although I didn’t agree with everything on the book, I really enjoyed reading it. I encourage you to read it if the topics and themes sound vaguely interesting, because the book is much better than my summary makes it out to be.
Jan 15, 2019
For some time now I had wanted to find a way to create lyric videos without much effort. I really didn’t want a custom video per song, with hand-made everything. Just an easy way to call some scripts and do some tweaks by hand, and get a lyric video.
My first attempts with ImageMagick and animated GIFs didn’t quite work out because the animated GIFs, at least when converted to a video (to add the audio track) didn’t really keep the timing they were supposed to. So I was about to give up, but Luka gave me a very good idea: to make subtitles out of the lyrics, and the use
ffmpegto burn the subtitles into the video itself. So I got to work.
Note: This whole process is absolutely for nerds, as it involves the command-line, Linux, and some hand-made scripts and tweaks in Aegisub, the subtitling program I used. If you’re looking for an easy way to do it with a graphical or web program, you’re out of luck (there might be ways, but this is certainly not it).
Preparing the subtitles
The first step is to create the subtitles for the lyrics. Astonishingly, I start with a simplified text file (in a made-up format), then convert with a hand-made script into an
.srtfile… then I convert it to the final
.assformat in Aegisub. So, yes, the lyrics go through three different formats in total.
The first, made-up lyric format looks like this:
00:52,500 Another gal asked him to please everyone 00:55,000 what an impossible burden to bear 00:59,000 01:09,000 Bunch of Satan suckers 01:11,500 Selling cola products 01:14,500 Are you Christians? Please forgive me 01:17,500 If you didn't like what I said
As you can probably see, it’s a very compact format that can be written easily in a text editor. The idea is that each line stays until the next one, hence I add an empty line with a timestamp (the third line) to make the previous lyric show for 4 seconds, instead of 14. With a hand-made script I convert this format to an
.srtfile, by calling it like so:
./lyrics-to-srt.sh melvin.txt >melvin.srt
Now you might be wondering: why don’t you convert them directly into the final format? The reason is that the
.assformat is a bit more involved, and it contains formatting information, too, like the font used, font size, position of the subtitle lines, etc. It was easier for me to convert to
.srtfirst, do the visual stuff in Aegisub, and save the file as
So how does that work, exactly? Aegisub has a “Styles Manager” (available from the menu “Subtitle”) in which you can define a subtitle style. In it you define the font and other things. You define that once, and that style will be available for you in any file you open with Aegisub. So once I have the subtitles in
.srt(a format that Aegisub can open), I open the file there, select all subtitle lines with Ctrl-A, then choose the style I want in the UI:
After clicking on the style, all lines get marked as having that style, as you can see here (notice the change in the “Style” column, to the left of the lyric text itself):
Now I can choose “Save as…” and save the file as eg.
Preparing the background video
Once I get the subtitles in the appropriate format, I can make the base video (without lyrics) in Kdenlive. The process is as follows:
- I load the song with “Add Clip” on the left hand pane.
- I click “Add Title Clip” on the left hand pane, and I put whatever static text or images I want for the background, including the name of the song.
- I add both to “Audio 1” and “Video 1” respectively, and make sure that the title clip is as long as the audio track.
- I render it to an MP4 video file.
This will give me a video file that has the title of the song and whatever background I want, but no lyrics or subtitles.
Putting it all together
At this point I have two things: the final subtitles in
.assformat, and the basic video without the lyrics. With this, I can use
ffmpegto produce a second video with the subtitles already on it, in whatever font, size, and position I chose in Aegisub. The magic command is this:
ffmpeg -i background-melvin.mp4 -vf ass=melvin.ass melvin.avi
The result will be a video with the subtitles rendered on it, like the Melvin lyric video you can see on YouTube.
Although it does involve several steps and it’s pretty dirty, this method to create the videos is good enough for me. I wasn’t going to create that many (only four in this batch) and I’m comfortable using these tools.
It should be possible to simplify the workflow by typing the subtitles directly in Aegisub, instead of in a text file, then convert them. I might do exactly that the next time I have to make another batch of these, but this time I already had the lyrics in the first format (due to my previous attempts with ImageMagick) so I figured I’d convert them to be able to open them in Aegisub instead of typing them there again. I hope this post was useful!
Oct 13, 2018
About a week ago an idea for a new song popped in my head. I started writing and came up with a verse pretty quickly, and the chorus followed shortly afterwards. As I love talking about music and creative processes and such, and I’m never sure how I write songs when people ask me about it, I decided to take notes about this last one, and explain how I did it. This is by no means the only way to do it. Or, for that matter, the only way I do it.
This should be easy to understand even if you don’t know music theory, as I don’t really use a whole lot when I write (I don’t know all that much myself, anyway). Also, I’ll try to explain the concepts I do use.
The spark for this song was a title and a topic. The title was “Who are you?” and the topic was the feeling of not knowing someone anymore after they change or we discover something about them we didn’t know.
Just minutes after the spark came, a melody popped in my head. Note that I wasn’t thinking about any scales or chords or anything like that. A melody popped in my head and I just needed to write it down before I forgot it.
The first thing I did was to figure out in which time signature the melody was (it’s in 6/8). A bit more on that below if you don’t know music theory. Once I found out it’s in 6/8, I went to http://music-explorer.org and found the notes for the melody, then wrote down the following (at the time I couldn’t notate it properly):
1 2 3 4 5 6 A E A B 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 B A B C 1 2 3 4 5 6 B A A E
This is a simple visual representation of the melody. The letters are notes, and the numbers are used to count the beat. This is how it sounds:
If you don’t know music theory
If you have no idea what the 6/8 above means, listen to the drums and see how you can count together with the drums, in groups of 6. You should be able to count four groups of 6, and each group should feel like a short phrase, as in it makes sense as a group. If you tried to count in, say, 4, each group of 4 would be random notes, and wouldn’t naturally follow the music.
Look at my made-up graphical representation while you listen to the music and see if you can make sense of it. See how in the last group of 6, the second and fourth notes are not aligned exactly with a number! That happens in the music, too.
If you don’t know music theory: what are chords?
A chord is three (or more) notes played at the same time. Often, one starts with a melody and then adds chords to it. The chords have to have common notes with the melody they accompany.
If you want to try some things, go to http://music-explorer.org, type the chord into the “Highlight chord” box, and press Enter.
If you do know music theory
For some songs I try to write more intuitively, more “from the gut”. This is one of those. In these cases I don’t try to find the key or the scale I’m using, and I don’t think of which chord is the I, or the iii, or whatever. I just try several things until I find something I like.
Adding chords to the verse
As we can see in the visual representation I made, the first notes are A, E, and B. Now, which chords contain at least some of those notes? I tried a couple, and I decided that I liked Aadd9 (which is made of the notes A, B, C#, and E). Because the second bar (the second measure for you Americans; if you don’t know music theory, I mean the second group of 6 beats) doesn’t have any notes, I kept the chord.
For the third bar I liked how Cmaj7 (which is made of the notes C, E, G, and B) sounded. That matches B and C, but not A. That’s fine. For the last bar I only matched E because I went with Cadd11 (I had the impression that I’d like the chord to be another kind of C, and I liked how Cadd11 sounded there; Cadd11 is made of the notes C, E, F, and G).
This is the end result, playing the chords once in the beginning of each bar:
Rhythm and groove
The rhythm of the guitar and the drums was just a placeholder. I wanted the rhythm to be a bit more sophisticated than that. Long story short, after playing a bit with it I ended up with this version:
If you listen closely you’ll hear that in the last bar I added a variant of the Cadd11: it’s Cadd11/E.
Adding a bass line
After I got the guitar chords, I added a bass line. For each bar we know the chord being played, and we know which notes it contains. So, the bass plays one or more notes from the chord (could be the melody, too, but I usually pick from the chord notes).
The first two bars have Aadd9, and in this case I kept it simple and only played A (the root note, ie. the one that gives the chord its name). In the third, the chord is Cmaj7 and I decided to play C, again the root. In the last, the chord is Cadd11, and I decided to play F and E (the 11th and the major 3rd respectively).
Note how the melody, guitar, and bass don’t always play at the same time. Instead, they “weave” the song together.
For the chorus I did something similar: started with the melody, added some chords I liked (by looking at the notes in the melody), then decided the rhythm for the guitar and the drums, and finally I added a bass line. I don’t always work in this order, but it worked for me for this song.
I ended up with the chords Cm7 (comprised of C, D#, G, and A#), C#maj7 (comprised of C#, E#, G#, and C), and Am (comprised of A, C, and E).
Final version (verse + chorus)
This is not the whole song because I’m going to add something more: most likely some kind of outro, a bridge, or maybe space for a guitar solo. But the final version of verse and chorus plus the repetitions I expect to have in the final version are here:
I hope this was useful and easy enough to understand! If you have questions, you can contact me on Mastodon (email@example.com), where I post a song every Monday, with a short explanation of something interesting to notice when you listen to it.
Aug 13, 2018
If you have been following this blog for a long time, you might know that I’m a big fan of the suffragettes, the English radical suffragists led by Emmeline Pankhurst. I’m also obsessed with role-playing games, stories in general, and I like designing and making. You don’t have to be a genius to guess that I have made a story game about the suffragettes! It’s the first game I ever make.
The game is called Deeds, not Words, after their motto, and it’s a simple game for three players. It doesn’t need a narrator or Game Master, and it needs no preparation. It should last for 2-3 hours.
The idea behind it is to create three characters (three suffragettes) and come up with scenes of their daily life, or their work as activists for the women’s suffrage. The story is divided into 12 chapters in which the characters train and become better at different things, bond with each other, and fight against their opponents: the police, unjust laws, organisations that oppose the women’s suffrage, etc.
The game focuses on balance (the fight for women’s suffrage consisted of physical confrontations, stunts to outsmart the police with diversions and disguises, and effective communication; all this is reflected in the game) and collaboration. The mechanics should probably work well with any kind of activist group, but my version focuses on the suffragettes.
You can download Deeds, not Words from my story game website Hardcore Narrativist. And if you need any inspiration or want to learn more about the suffragettes, I recommend the excellent, freely available documentary No Man Shall Protect Us.
Jul 31, 2018
For a tiny project of mine (that I’ll publish once it’s ready) I needed to write a short document, and I used LibreOffice.org, as always. I wanted a fancy, old fashioned font for the document, so I headed for Font Squirrel and found a font I liked, Elsie. When I had written several paragraphs I realised that there was a ligature (“fi”) that didn’t display correctly. I really liked the font and I didn’t want to change it, but I couldn’t really use it as-is. So I started looking for ways to disable certain ligatures, or at least ligatures in general.
Disabling ligatures in LibreOffice.org
Looking around on the internet (mostly Stack Overflow) it seemed that at least modern versions of LibreOffice.org, with at least certain types of fonts, could disable at least certain ligatures. Or ligatures in general. Or something.
It wasn’t very clear to me at first, but after digging a bit I saw that fonts define certain “flags” that you can turn on and off. And how do you do so? Through a very ugly hack: you can ask LibreOffice.org to use a font like “
Elsie:-liga”, and that’s interpreted as using the
Elsiefont but disabling the
ligaflag. Unfortunately, in this case there’s no granularity in the ligatures in this font, so I couldn’t disable just the “fi” ligature. In this case it wasn’t a big deal because the other ligatures were a bit over the top for the body text anyway. As I didn’t have any “fi” in the titles, I’ve left the full font plus all ligatures for the titles.
Finding out the tags for a given font
Now, how do you know which flags are available in a given (OpenType) font? Under Linux you have a collection of utilities called
lcdf-typetoolswhich includes a utility called
otfinfo. You can read more in How the OpenType font system works, the article where I found this information.
In this case, the output of the tool was:
$ otfinfo -f elsie/Elsie-Regular.otf liga Standard Ligatures salt Stylistic Alternates
In this case one can guess that there’s no way to disable just the “fi” ligature, and I just had to use the
Elsie:-ligato get rid of all of the ligatures. I could have marked the parts with “fi” and remove ligatures only there, but I thought it wasn’t worth it.
Installing a newer LibreOffice.org
Also, all this only works under LibreOffice.org >= 5.3. Unfortunately, my version was older so the trick didn’t work. However, I have the fantastic Flatpak installed for these cases, so it’s easy to install random versions of random programs without messing with the base packages of the operating system or adding new eg. APT sources. So I went to Flathub and found a recent enough version of LibreOffice.org.
It’s possible to tweak certain characteristics of an OpenType font under LibreOffice.org >= 5.3 through a really ugly hack with the font names. These names can of course be used in styles, so one can define the “Body text” style to use eg.
Elsie:-ligainstead of simply
Elsieto remove ligatures from the body text. For more information about OpenType fonts under Linux, read the article How the OpenType font system works.
Jul 1, 2018
I had to buy a new phone recently for reasons. I decided to stay on Android partly because of the apps I’m already using and depending on. Many of them I install from F-Droid, and AFAIK most are only available there. As F-Droid is not available on the Google Play Store, an initial “bootstrapping” is needed. Typically, you download the
.apkfile from the F-Droid site and install from the file manager.
However, there was apparently no way to install the
.apkfile from the file manager that came with the phone, so I didn’t know what to do. I looked for the relevant options trying to find the right switch to make it possible, but I didn’t find anything. I tried to look for solutions on the internet but again nothing. After several attempts I figured there must be some application on the Google Play Store that would allow you to install
.apkfiles, and I was right. The problem was, all applications I could see were full of ads and I’m guessing they would leak a lot of information about the phone and its user.
After a while, though, I found one that seemed to do what I wanted without displaying ads and (hopefully) not spying on you. It’s called App Installer and it’s made by a certain Eugen C. It was simple to use (it just finds all
.apks you have downloaded and presents them so you can choose which one to install) and it worked like a charm. After that I could finally start installing the applications I wanted from the F-Droid store.
Jun 25, 2018
Last Sunday I went to Arcon, a gaming convention in Oslo. There are many types of games being played, but I only care about story games. This year I didn’t win the scenario award, but I had a lot of fun! I had three different sessions, all the same day:
- A demo of Black Wolf, my rules to play in dark fantasy settings.
- A game of Ribbon Drive.
- A game set in Michael Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms, using the Black Wolf rules and my scenario “Ilmioran Dream”.
For the first one no one had signed up so I assumed no one would come. However, I showed up and waited for a bit, and a person came! We had a very nice conversation about the system, design decisions, and he gave me a couple of ideas. So, much better than I expected.
The second one went pretty well, too. Six people came so we split into two tables. As one of the attendees had played before, we decided to be one in each table so I didn’t have to check the other one from time to time. That means that I got to play, not just “facilitate” the game!
The third one was the long session (5 hours). It was narrating “Ilmioran Dream”, a scenario I had written about racism and power plays, using the Black Wolf rules. Only three players ended up playing (out of four characters in the story) but it was really fun! I think the players liked both the story and the system, so I cannot complain.
All in all, a very intense and fun day.
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