Teun

Writing is hard.

Amazing open source software

I'll admit it, some open source programs feel like second-grade imitations of proprietary software. This is not a jab at any open source developers; I think this is mostly due to copyright laws and the sheer money that's behind the world's most popular software.

However, there is open source software out there that's simply unbeatable. Here's a few of these programs.

youtube-dl

Website    https://yt-dl.org
It is    a video downloader
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux
Replaces    Freemake Video Downloader, Free Studio, shady ad-filled websites

Youtube-dl is, like, so good. It can do everything you expect from a Youtube downloader, and much more. It officially supports many hundreds of video sites, and it can handle even more through some generic extraction methods. Seriously, throw any video link at youtube-dl and if there's any way to download it, the program will do it.

Youtube-dl is a command line program, but it's so well documented that even inexperienced users should be able to operate it fairly easily. If the command line is too intimidating, there's always youtube-dl-gui which gives you a nice and simple interface.

Firefox

Website    https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/
It is    a web browser
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
Replaces    Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Safari

Almost the entire internet has switched to Chrome over the last few years, which is a shame, because it's owned by Google and doesn't give a shit about its users' privacy. Firefox is fairly private by default, and can be tweaked to be as private as browsers get. It's also very customisable and has tons of great add-ons, like uBlock Origin, my personal favourite ad and content blocker. Talking about uBlock Origin…

uBlock Origin

Website    https://ublockorigin.com/
It is    a content blocker
Platforms    Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Opera
Replaces    WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger

I'm not sure how this ad and content blocker could get any better. I haven't seen a single ad in a long time, and web pages have become a lot less bloated (both visually and data-wise) since I installed it. It can be run in easy mode, which blocks most stuff you don't want automatically, or in manual mode, which means it blocks a lot by default and you occasionally have to un-break certain websites. This control and transparency is a big part of what I love about this extension. By default, even in easy mode, it blocks not only ads but also tracking, annoyances and resource abuse (using your CPU or bandwidth without consent), so it's a great one-stop-shop for a better internet experience.

PDF Arranger

Website    https://github.com/pdfarranger/pdfarranger
It is    a PDF arranger (shocker)
Platforms    Windows, Linux
Replaces    Adobe Acrobat, various PDF websites

I wish I'd learned about this tool earlier. When I want to edit a PDF file, I usually want to do one of three things: 1) take a selection of pages and dump the rest, 2) rotate the pages (because some people don't know how to scan documents properly), or 3) crop the white edges in a document. PDF Arranger lets you do exactly these things, and in the simplest way possible. No ads, no websites, no millions of redundant options. Also, it preserves all text as text and basically does nothing to your files except what you tell it to. Just lovely.

Zotero

Website    https://www.zotero.org/
It is    a reference manager
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux
Replaces    EndNote, RefWorks

If you do any kind of academic writing, a reference manager is almost a necessity. Zotero is easy to use, feature-rich and just happens to be open source as well! It does everything I want it to do, and more. Managing citations – even many hundreds of them – is easy with the nested folder system. Exporting one or multiple sources for in-text citations or a bibliography is a breeze, plus it integrates with LibreOffice Writer and even MS Word (if you're into that kind of thing). It also offers browser extensions, so you can directly import references from web pages.

Standard Notes

Website    https://standardnotes.org/
It is    a note-taking app
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, web
Replaces    Evernote, Google Keep, OneNote

Hey, it's the program that I'm writing this post in! Standard Notes is perfect for me as a student because it allows me to customise what's important and keep the rest as simple as possible, so that taking notes is distraction-free. It has a bunch of themes (including beautiful dark ones), a ton of different editors for different purposes, and it allows you to organise your notes through folders and sub-folders.

It's not as extensive as something like Evernote, but it focuses on one thing and does it extremely well. Oh, and it also encrypts all your notes by default and syncs them to their servers, so that you can access them anywhere.

Radiotray-ng

Website    https://github.com/ebruck/radiotray-ng#radiotray-ng-an-internet-radio-player-for-linux
It is    a radio streamer
Platform    Linux
Replaces    TuneIn, iHeartRadio, web players

Another tiny application that does one thing perfectly. This program sits in your tray and lets you play radio stations. You add radio stations through web links (.pls or .mp3), and you can group them by genre. The fact that it's a tray application is perfect, because it stays out of your way while always being available at a single click for when you want to change the channel or pause the music.

Also, allow me to plug the excellent SomaFM while I'm at it. Pick a station whose name you like, and you'll probably like the music! It's seriously good and totally ad-free.

LibreOffice Writer

Website    https://www.libreoffice.org/
It is    a word processor
Platforms    Windows, macOS, Linux
Replaces    Microsoft Word, Google Docs

This one might be seen by some as one of these inferior open source copies of proprietary software (mostly MS Word). But I've really come to love it. For me, it doesn't lack a single feature that MS Word offers. It also feels light and easy to handle, and it's very customisable – it even has the ribbon design from Word as an option, if that's your thing. And it supports more filetypes than you'll know what to do with – including .docx files, of course.

LanguageTool

Website    https://languagetool.org/
It is    proofreading software
Platforms    browsers (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera), word processors (Google Docs, MS Word, OpenOffice, LibreOffice), macOS
Replaces    Grammarly

This program gives you useful writing tips in over 30 languages. It checks both grammar and style, and covers stuff such as sentence length, grammatical errors, old-fashioned or unclear language, false friends and much, much more. Of course, its functionality differs per language, but I can testify to its usefulness in both English and Dutch.

Jitsi

Website    https://meet.jit.si/ (server-hosted); https://jitsi.org/jitsi-meet/ (self-hosted)
It is    video conferencing software
Platforms    Linux, macOS, Windows, Android, iOS, web
Replaces    Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger Rooms, Discord

The fact that people massively flocked to a shady proprietary videocall program for their quarantine communication, and that it's not just companies but universities as well, still baffles me. Especially because there's a great open-source and private alternative out there: Jitsi! Their hosted service works great for individual use, and it's more user-friendly (and prettier!) than many of the proprietary alternatives. Seriously, setting up a meeting takes two clicks, it's that simple.

Signal

Website    https://signal.org/en/
It is    a messaging app
Platforms    Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Linux
Replaces    WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, fax

Another app that's so good that you wonder why everyone still uses the crappy one. Signal is, in many ways, a WhatsApp clone. The irony here is that WhatsApp actually uses Signal's messaging protocol, because it's so damn secure. WhatsApp, though, is owned by Facebook, who promised a few years ago that they wouldn't use WhatsApp's data for their advertising activities, and who are now doing exactly that. Signal, on the other hand, is as private as it gets. On top of that, they have a desktop app that works independently of the phone app, and it can double as an SMS app!

It's good: Gnod & João Pais Filipe – Faca de Fogo

What a beautiful, hypnotic, crushing album. This is 4 tracks, 44 minutes of droning, pounding and at times grooving noise rock. Though 'noise rock' doesn't really cover the kaleidoscopic range that this album has. It constantly shifts before your eyes (ears?), it refuses to be pinned down, which is terrible to write about but lovely to listen to. (I refuse to list all the genres that this album pulls from. You listen and figure it out for yourself.) Percussionist and 'sound sculptor' João Pais Filipe seems to really add a lot to these tracks, which sound like true collaborations and are bursting with sponteneity and passion.

This album is highly contemporary in its experimentation, bleakness and lack of convention, but at the same time it deeply embodies the timeless spirit of music-making.

It's good: Electric Wizard – Dopethrone

Jeez, what is there to say about this album other than that it slaps so freaking hard? Listening to this album means being crushed by riff after riff after riff, each of them heavier than the last. The production is perfectly dirty without getting muddy. The vocals are frantic and buried in the mix, as if the singer himself is struggling to overcome the gargantuan wall of guitars and bass and drums. And honestly, if anyone can find a song with better, more crushing, more groovy riffs than Funeralopolis, they should contact me immediately.

It's good: Torche – Harmonicraft

Ah, the incomparable joy of finding out that an album you loved years ago is still great! The infectious joy and energy of Torche's Harmonicraft hasn't diminished at all over the years. So, I guess this is, like, poppy sludge punk? They sound like the perfect band to see live, which makes me a bit sad that I haven't.

This album is also consistently good, it really doesn't let up. Every single song takes its ideas in interesting directions, and most of them are fantastic sing-along songs as well. The last two songs are somewhat outlier-y, being hypnotic almost kraut rocky and doom metal-inspired respectively, but they still fit with the sound that the band establishes with the rest of the album. I really love this sound, and the way they execute it here is just spot-on.

It's good: Névoa – Towards Belief

There's no shortage of bands that claim a combination of metal and jazz, but so very few pull it off as well as this Portugese band does.

Often, metal bands playing jazzy musical segments – or even calmer passages in general – lack the nuance to make them sound good. But Névoa absolutely has the skill to pull off the dynamic changes on this record.

And it's not just that they actually play both the metal and jazz parts exceptionally well. It's also how they manage to have their very own sound apart from the standard metal/jazz vocabulary. They're dark, very dark, mostly pulling from atmospheric black metal, and their more jazzy passages are moody and smokey. They let their segments play out for as long as needed, but they're also good at shifting gears. This makes their music feel less monolithic than your typical black metal record, and much more like a musical adventure. And it doesn't feel hokey either: they're still heavy and doomy, and I'd definitely recommend this for fans of both doom and black metal. But this is for the more musically curious as well!

It's good: Huntsmen – Mandala of Fear

Not often does a band that's rooted in stoner, doom and post-whatever capture my attention like this. This album is incredibly diverse, and it does everything it attempts very well. Its 'basic' sound is indeed stoner-influenced (I hear Intronaut and Baroness and Mastodon in there) but this album is a ride that goes much further than that. It has blistering passages of rage that are not only heavy, but also quite unlike anything the abovementioned bands have ever put out; it has calm, soothing sections with amazing female vocals (more of that in metal, please); it has melodic passages that are total prog... With every single thing this band does, it sounds like that's the kind of band it is: 'this is a death metal band', 'this is an atmospheric folk band', 'this is a prog rock band', etc. Except it's all the same band!

The album as a whole flows wonderfully, with all of its songs (ranging from 2,5 to almost 11 minutes) having a certain purpose in the musical arc of the album. Just a rich and rewarding musical experience!

It's good: Kyros – Celexa Dreams

There's nothing quite so satisfying as musical surprises. And this album is full of them. The backbone of this album is super-nostalgic 80's powerprog, at times so cheesy it borders on homage. But this band brings in a truckload of modern influences, popping up where you least expect them. The heavy passages especially caught me off-guard, not only because they contrast so strongly with the rest of the music, but also because they turn out to fit perfectly, and are executed with great finesse. All too often a not-so-metal band will attempt to sound 'heavy' only to end up sounding brittle, but Kyros pulls off every single element of their sound.

This is really fun, colorful music that is both nostalgic and truly progressive.

It's good: Melted Bodies – Enjoy Yourself

If you ever feel like you're living in a ridiculous dystopian hellscape, then this album will be immensely satisfying for you. Their sarcastic takes on the state of the world are as funny as they are painful.

I could describe their sound as a mix of System of a Down and avant-garde stuff like Dog Fashion Disco and Stolen Babies, but they really have their very own thing going on. They even have moments of truly heavy, un-ironicised death metal. The whole thing is pretty crazy, I guess is my point.

It's good: NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM – Éons

I'm gonna be honest, I didn't even finish this album yet. I just really want to write about it so I don't forget how I feel.

I like to think of music, especially heavy music, in terms of scratching an itch. Some music scratches a particular shallow itch really well, even violently. Some ultra-heavy music can scratch such an itch until it hurts. (I wonder how this all sounds to someone who isn't into heavy music... inviting, no?)

NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM also is in the business of itch-scratching, but the itch it targets is deep. As such, it can never fully be scratched. Satisfaction can never be reached. Because the itch is a spiritual one, and in order to scratch it, the music has to transport you to a different world. Once there, you'll want to stay there, however turbulent and violent this world is. There's something true about this world; it feels truer than our own world. So when the album is over (which takes some time, mind you), you're left wanting to go back to this wonderfully hideous spiritual world that's so much like our own and yet nothing like it. When I see the ugly ugliness of the real world, I miss the beautiful ugliness of this album.

It's good: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – K.G.

This is a vibe album, as most King Gizzard albums are. In the same way that some movies are vibe movies: your enjoyment will largely depend on the extent to which you can vibe with it. And I can vibe with K.G.

They dragged out their microtonal instruments again, and they definitely experiment to get some interesting tunes out of them. This might be a sequel to their 2017 album Flying Microtonal Banana, it's definitely not a redo. The band has clearly evolved in the 3½ years (and 6 studio albums) since then.

What I especially love is the sheer fun that shines through their music. Some songs even sound like they started out as jokes, before they got turned into well-produced songs. On top of that, the microtonality adds a lot of flavour to the music, without making it too hard to listen to.

It's good: Underworld & The Necks – Appleshine Continuum

Damn. The pure joy of two artists that you love coming together and making something beautiful. And it's even more lovely when these two artists don't seem to fit together at all.

Underworld is a legendary (but also kind of underground) electronic music group, mostly known for their song Born Slippy. The Necks is an obscure jazz band with a truly unique sound (think ambient, minimalism, improvisation).

These two groups came together for a single 47-minute track that weaves these two textures together beautifully. It drifts from pulsating trance to hypnotic jazz and back, and although the electronics are always present, the structure feels like pure The Necks: organic and improvisational.

It's just really beautiful and hypnotic, and perfect for studying to as well.

It's good: Zeal & Ardor – Wake of a Nation

I want to start keeping track of music that I listen to and like, so that I don't forget. I call it "it's good" because it's good music. Yeah. I might come up with a better name later.

Zeal & Ardor is notably less black metal on this short EP, but it's still impactful. At the Seams, for example, is an uncharacteristically pop-rocky tune, which makes its final black metal-tinged moments all the more impressive. The whole thing feels like a bit of a hodgepodge, but a very impassioned and relevant one. If anything, it's a clear reflection of the current socio-political climate in the USA (tl;dr: a narcissictic racist idiot is in power), which gives the off-the-cuff feeling of this EP a lot more validity.

I'm so happy to hear that they're not resting happy with the sound that they developed in the past. This is really good, really creative, and I'm curious what they'll do next! Let's just hope they won't go the Shining way.

(Also, I want to hear a Zeal & Ardor / Algiers collab so bad, you have no idea.)

24-09-2020

This might be as good a time as any to resume this bizarre unread blog. For I've read some books that, as Kant put it, awoke me from my dogmatic slumber, and I ache for a place to put my thoughts lest I forget them.

The two books are, somewhat unfortunately for this blog, both in Dutch. They are Theorie van de Kraal ("Kraal" is an enclosure for livestock) and Hints voor een diagnose. I should've probably read them in reverse order, because the former book deals with the current political climate and why we shouldn't submit to the violent tendencies of liberalism (which the writers put on the same spectrum as fascism), whereas the latter book deals with our current dominant mode of operation ("zijnswijze"), its philosophical origins and why we shouldn't submit to its supposed primacy.

So Theorie van de Kraal talks about liberalism and argues that it is a mediocre excuse for a societal structure at best. It presupposes, and therefore forces, people to be finished individuals: people with borders. There's no room for the idea that we might all be incomplete, imperfect, never finished. No, you're a human being with a definite form, and thus you get all the (negative) freedom to do what you want, as long as you don't cross someone else's borders. These borders are projected outwards by liberals in the form of country borders, and countries are another fiction similar to individuals. Liberalism then says that although people are finished individuals, they have unlimited desire: that's their nature. So they have to run, run together (con-currere) to produce ever more stuff, all the way into infinity or death, whichever comes first. And the insidious, or curious, thing about liberalism is that it feels like there's no alternative: of course there's an economy! Of course we need borders! Of course you have to participate to earn your rights! It feels like such a well-balanced system, where all that's needed is the occasional tweaking of some minor law here or there. But underneath the veneer lies the rot, the injustice, the violence, in the form of the people who are left behind, the homini sacri (by way of Agamben), the refugees and other people who somehow lost their 'inalienable rights'. So maybe there is another way, after all. A better way to live together. Maybe love is a better place to start than contract, or law, or sovereignty. Or perhaps the true starting point is to admit that I, like everyone else, don't know how to live peacefully. Not yet.

Hints voor een diagnose is comparably much drier, more technical, and not filled with the frantic urgency that a book published anno 2019 would have. Otto Duintjer takes Kants philosophy as an example of how western civilisation has been fixated on rationality to such an extent that it forgot that anything else exists. More specifically, we see our 'selves' as thinking selves. Being is thinking. And his dissection of every major facet of Kants work is very convincing: Kant clearly considers thinking-being to be the only mode of operation worth considering. Everything else is merely distraction, sidenote, collateral at best, actively immoral at worst. Duintjer argues that there are nevertheless other possible modes of existing. He goes into quite a few of them, but the one I found the most interesting is the mode of 'simply observing'. This is what is sometimes called 'meditation', and it means you simply observe with all your senses, but also your body and mind. Thoughts may still come and go in this mode, but instead of being carried away by them (and identifying yourself with them), you simply observe them; like clouds in the sky, they come and go. By turning off your seemingly unstoppable internal monologue, you gain access to very different kinds of existing next to and beyond the rational-empirical.

It's fascinating stuff, and it ties in wonderfully with Kraal: both implore us to see other ways of seeing the world and ourselves. To look beyond what's given to us. And Hints too talks about the violence of reason, just as Kraal describes the violence of liberalism. It too talks about how thinking is little more than endlessly running from place to place in your head, just as liberal society consists of endlessly running to produce. In fact, thinking is itself production: it uses sense data as raw input to be processed into coherent thoughts.

So what if we didn't have to produce? What if, instead of thinking about the future or the past, we would just sit down and observe? What if, instead of running from job to job, we would just experience life? Contentment seems to be the biggest threat to the primacy of both reason and liberalism. So let's be content a bit more often, shall we?

60.

I'll be honest, I'm way too lazy to write today. But since I just opened my editor and I already started writing, there's no going back now. Technically I already achieved my goal, since I can just click "submit", but let's not be an asshole about this. What I really want, is to have my 100 writings and do some fun statistical stuff with it. Like, I wonder what word I used the most in my writings. I could make one of these word webs. I hope it won't contain any swearwords. And the most common word is probably "I".  I could also make a graph of the length of each text, and see how it evolved over time. Maybe I got more lazy as time went on, and my texts became shorter and shorter. I thought I had more ideas to justify how excited I am about this, but I guess I'm just a dork. Oh yeah, I could also see what the most common two-word pair is, although it's probably "I guess". I'm predictable.

Today I've been looking for books for my studies. Specifically, for two versions of the same book, by Kant: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. In my class we're going to read it in German, and the punchline is that I don't understand German. So when she was done laughing, my teacher said that I should get an English or Dutch version to read for myself. I visited four book shops in my home city, and I could find not a single book by Kant. There's no Kant in the entirity of my city! Which is somewhat understandable: no popular book shop would sell his books, because they're unreadable and impossible to understand. No, popular book shops barely sell any primary philosophy at all. It's mostly popular and contemporary stuff, then some books about old writers, and occasionally a lost work by Aristotle or Hume or Hegel. So this means that I'll either have to get a Dutch version in a second-hand book store in Antwerp, or get an English one online. Maybe a Dutch one wouldn't be so bad (even though I secretly hate my own language), since my lessons will also be in Dutch. Switching between German and Dutch and English might be a bit too much of a good thing anyways. And I really do want to have a physical book, because reading from a screen sucks, and printing a pdf is just a bit too lame.

This has been another chapter of Adventures in Finding Books Nobody Wants. Tune in next week for more wacky adventures!

58.

When I was young(er), memes were, well, pretty obscure. I went to websites like Memebase and Failblog (which, by the way, still exist!), and later Encyclopedia Dramatica and, yes (I'm sorry), 4chan. All these were part of what I'll call "internet culture". Which, back then, didn't mean culture in general. There was actually a culture outside of the internet! And this internet culture, with its countless inside jokes, was, I'll be honest, for dorks. There was a very specific type of person who'd engage with it. Young, male, insecure and introverted are the first words that come to mind. These people wouldn't just walk up to other people to make friends. They were, generally speaking (and definitely speaking for myself) lucky to have friends at all. But online, there was this whole world of like-minded people, sharing jokes that no one outside of this circle would understand. You could tell random people at school "The Game", and none of them would know what the hell you're talking about. Of course, the joke was on them, since you lose The Game by thinking about The Game. So you just lost, as did I. Anyways, all of this is to say that there was a clear distinction between real life and meme life. So it's pretty crazy to see that today, memes have taken over the world. They're ubiquitous! And although they've grown in popularity and therefore lost their appeal as a secret (albeit stupid) language, they're still inside jokes. The boundary has just shifted. It's no longer just young insecure boys, it's an entire generation. And other generations are never in on the joke. I think that I'm currently on the border: I'm not up to date with the memes that are popular today, but I do still understand most of them. One effect of memes having become so widespread, is that most of them have become very lowest-common-denominator. They're easy to get, as they barely require any kind of inside knowledge. But old people (also known as boomers) severely lack any kind of knowledge of internet culture, so even these popular memes (sometimes known as normie memes) will fly over their heads most of the time.

Most of the insecure boys who were part of meme culture back in the day will have grown up by now. The ones who haven't are still on the internet, in the dark corners where no one dares to venture. 4chan has become one of these places. To be fair, it was always a pathetic place. The utter shittiness of 4chan was a meme in itself. Yet there was a kind of authentic shittiness that made it unique. Now, it's truly nothing more than a toxic breeding ground for the rare group of people who are both insecure and assholes. The offensive humor that the site used to be known for, has turned into just offensiveness. Some people still think it's funny. But I think that most of them have moved on. So have I, in case that wasn't clear. It was a strange time for sure. And it's even stranger, seeing a manifestation of that culture being so abundant now. Even if a lot of the memes right now are pretty crappy, it was probably the natural way for them to evolve. After all, the internet has become our entire lives. It only makes sense that internet culture takes over the new generation.

56.

I didn't write yesterday, but only because I was writing something else, something serious. And I just didn't feel like writing anything more. Oh well, why am I even making excuses for myself?

Today I found out that it is illegal to cycle together on one bike in Belgium. As in: a second person sitting on the back of the bike, legs to one side. Maybe I'm ignorant, but I find this very weird. In the Netherlands, carring someone on your bike is the peak of romance. The most famous scene from the most famous Dutch movie is just two people riding on one bike. Many odes to this way of cycling have been written. People have gotten angry over bike sharing services offering bikes without a rack on the back. There's multiple well-known songs called bagagedrager (a good word to practice your Dutch!). So as a Dutch person, I'm naturally soaked in the culture of the bike rack, and a happy participant in the two-people-on-a-bike tradition. But our southern neighbors apparently don't look so kindly on this behaviour. And I don't really understand why. Is it really so dangerous that it should be made illegal? Or is there some other reason? In any case, I don't think that we're going to stop doing it. It's a comfortable and romantic mode of transport, it requires almost no equipment and is carbon neutral! What more do you want?

Also, I just now realized that I've been doing this writing during a period of no lectures. My lectures have just started, and I can already sense that this writing is going to get a whole lot more tiring from now on. My studies consist of approximately 100% reading, thinking and writing, so this extra writing suddenly seems a bit... excessive. Oh well.