The story of a pair of shoes

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I’ve owned these monk-strap shoes for over 10 years. I photographed them this morning for the purposes of this post. These are one of the pairs of shoes I use around the house for all kinds of work: home office, going to the cellar to fetch firewood, going into the dusty attic to put or get various things, renovation work, etc.

I used them last night as we mounted this restored door frame back in place, as I used a miter saw in the cellar, carried the various parts up to the house, used a nail gun to secure them in place and assemble the frame.

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You can see these same shoes in this video.

I also used them when I built our garden shed in Florida.

In spite of all the wear and tear I’ve put them through over the years, a little elbow grease always gets them looking great, and that’s a testament to the craftmanship of the shoemaker. The brand (Mario Calugi) isn’t as important here as the lesson to be learned from the experience.

Lots of people make a big stink about how wearing leather contributes to animal cruelty but the truth of the matter is, using every little bit of an animal that’s going to get sacrificed for its meat anyway, is the right thing to do.

Furthermore, taking proper care of your belongings, especially the ones made from other beings (because animals are beings, not things) is crucial and it is part of showing respect for the sacrifice of that animal, for the protection its skin profers you and for the hard work that went into making the finished good you now have in your possession.

Good leather lasts a lifetime if you take care of it. Great shoes also last a lifetime if you take care of them. Yes, it means changing the soles when they wear out, it means treating the leather and polishing it, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s part of being a good, responsible human being to take care of your stuff. Please do it.

Poze de la Raw Generation Expo Cluj, Ediția II

Here are over 500 photos from the latest edition of our Raw Generation Expo. It’s one of our worthwhile projects, an event through which we promote healthy foods and a balanced life. This one took place in Cluj-Napoca and it was the second regional edition we held there. We’re coming up on twelve national editions and this one makes six regional editions. Here’s to a good life for everyone!

Ligia Pop

Raw Generation Expo Cluj a fost un eveniment extraordinar de bine primit, care a incununat cu succes seria expozitiilor de anul acesta. Am avut parte peste 40 de expozanti (mai multi ca la prima editie) si in ambele zile foarte multi vizitatori fericiti. Mai jos puteti vedea o parte din pozele de la eveniment. Multumim Cluj-Napoca pentru primirea frumoasa si ne revedem in toamna lui 2017!

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The importance of trust and common ground in relationships

One of the things I know to be true, because it’s proven itself to me time and time again, is the value of my relationship with Ligia (my wife). I knew it to be true as soon as I met her. My heart told me so, in pretty clear terms, that if I didn’t connect with her, if I didn’t make it work with her long-term, it would be something I would regret for the rest of my life. The heart will do that — talk to you at crucial times — but you have to listen. You have to be in a state of mind where you’re looking for guidance. Both my wife and I were in that state of raised awareness, so to speak, when we met, and we both felt that we were made for each other, even if we hadn’t yet gotten to know each other.

I told you that in order to set the scene. Fast forward 14 years and my wife and I are happily married. More than that, we know we can trust each other implicitly. We can rely on each other implicitly. We think alike. We share common goals and visions for our life together. We share everything with each other: what we’re thinking, feeling, planning on doing, finances, expenses, etc. We work together. We form the perfect team and it’s this concerted effort, this uniting of two beings, that multiplies the effect of our united actions, so that it’s not just x2, it’s more like x3 or x4. I guess one word for it would be synergy. A year or so ago, we were told by a Russian shaman that we were true soulmates, which is apparently something quite rare in the world. We didn’t seek this piece of knowledge, it came out serendipitously as we were inquiring about something else.

I believe our relationship grew to be so for two reasons: (1) we both wanted it to be this way and we made concerted, persistent efforts over time to get it to this point (we’re aware that this is an ongoing project) and (2) we shared a lot of common ground from the start. You know the old saying, “opposites attract”… well, long-term that’s not really true. You need a lot of common ground so that you stay together over time, otherwise the relationship and the bond between you will get pulled in different directions. Instead of naturally pulling together, you’ll waste a lot of effort and time just trying to stay together and you won’t be able to accomplish the goals you want to achieve as a couple, or even the goals you want to achieve as a person.

Now don’t take my words as golden rules. I’m not trying to pose as an expert here. I’m talking strictly from my own experience and as I stated here, my experience with women is limited and before I met my wife, it was mostly painful. This is what works for my relationship with Ligia. Your experience may vary. With that in mind, here’s a video I made on this very subject. I spoke from my heart and I hope it helps you.

First snowfall of 2016

One of the first things I feel in the morning is my daughter kissing me on the face and whispering “Daddy…”, usually followed by a request for food or cartoons or playtime. She’s our alarm clock, whether we like it or not, though I have to say, no matter how tired I am, waking up to a little angel giving me a kiss and calling me daddy is a pretty good way to start the day.

Yesterday morning, even though I’d worked till 2 am and she was waking me up at 7 am, I got up and took her in my arms and started walking together toward her playroom. I looked casually out the kitchen window and (this happens every year) let out a “Yoo-hoo!” because the first snowfall of the winter had already covered our yard. Sophie did the same — after all, she wants to be like her daddy — and we both giggled as we looked out the windows at the pure, little ice crystals coming down in a hurry.

Still, I needed my sleep, so I got a fire going in her playroom, got her some food and shuffled back to bed. By the time I got up again, the snow was still falling, albeit in less of a hurry, and blustery winter winds had begun to blow. You know the kind, the chill goes right to your bones and makes you shiver no matter how many clothes you have on you.

After breakfast, I had to grab a camera and go out to photograph the snowfall. It had started coming down a little heavier again and this was a chance not to be missed, in spite of the cold weather.

I did just that. The streets were mostly deserted, which is just the way I like it, although the tracks of hurried morning traffic were visible in the snow. It was odd weather. The warmer ground had turned the freshly fallen snow to slush and yet high winds were blowing down, carrying more snow from up above and spreading it everywhere. It was not a good time to walk around with a camera in hand. My fingers began to slowly freeze and become unresponsive. I’d forgotten how this felt. A warm summer will do that to you. My nose and ears seemed to be in a parallel plane where the sensations consisted mostly of prickly pins being shot at them. The cold started creeping up my legs and in spite of the old saying that goes something like “I’m freezing my a** out here…” it wasn’t my derriere that was suffering, it was my kidneys. Weird stuff…

Anyway, I persisted, walked throughout the historic district and photographed what caught my eye. I hope you’ll enjoy these photos. It was a fun and partially frozen experience…

By the way, high wind advisories are still in effect throughout Romania. Meteorologists are saying that some regions are expected to have winds up to 60-70 km/h. Should be interesting!

Poze de la Raw Generation Iași, Ediția II

Here’s what my wife and I did this past weekend. Raw Generation Expo is one of our worthwhile projects, an event through which we promote healthy foods and a balanced life.

Ligia Pop

Toamna aceasta Raw Generation Expo a poposit la Iasi, un oras drag sufletului meu si la care m-am reintors cu cea mai mare bucurie! Multumesc celor care au ajutat la organizare, mai exact echipa Verde Bun dar si expozantilor care s-au implicat cu trup si suflet pentru realizarea aceastei editii!

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A comparison of CrashPlan and Backblaze

I’ve been a paying CrashPlan customer since 2012 and my initial backup still hasn’t finished. I’ve been a paying Backblaze customer for less than a month and my initial backup is already complete. 

I’m not a typical customer for backup companies. Most people back up about 1 TB of data or less. The size of my minimum backup set is about 9 TB. If I count all the stuff I want to back up, it’s about 12 TB. And that’s a problem with most backup services.

First, let me say this: I didn’t write this post to trash CrashPlan. Their backup service works and it’s worked well for other members of my family. It just hasn’t worked for me. This is because they only offer a certain amount of bandwidth to each user. It’s called bandwidth throttling and it saves them money in two ways: (1) they end up paying less for their monthly bandwidth (which adds up to a lot for a company offering backup services) and (2) they filter out heavy users like me, who tend to fill up a lot of their drives with unprofitable data. My guess (from my experience with them) is that they throttle heavy users with large backup sets much more than they throttle regular users. The end result of this bandwidth throttling is that, even though I’ve been a customer since 2012 — at first, I was on the individual backup plan, then I switched to the family plan — my initial backup never completed and I was well on track to never completing it.

When I stopped using CrashPlan’s backup services, out of the almost 9 TB of data that I need to back up constantly, I had only managed to upload 0.9 TB in FOUR YEARS. Take a moment and think about that, and then you’ll realize how much bandwidth throttling CrashPlan does on heavy users like me.

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After four years of continuous use, I backed up a grand total of 905.7 GB to CrashPlan

To be exact, counting the various versions of my data that had accummulated on the CrashPlan servers in these four years, I had a total of 2.8 TB stored on their servers, but even if you count that as the total, 2.8 TB in FOUR YEARS is still an awfully small amount.

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Space used on CrashPlan’s servers: 2.8 TB

Tell me honestly, which one of you wants this kind of service from a backup company? You pay them for years in a row and your initial backup never finishes? If a data loss event occurs and your local backup is gone (say a fire, flood or burglary), you’re pretty much screwed and you’ll only be able to recover a small portion of your data from their servers, even though you’ve been a faithful, paying customer for years… That just isn’t right.

I talked with CrashPlan techs twice in these fours years about this very problematic data throttling. Given that they advertise their service as “unlimited backup”, this is also an ethical issue. The backup isn’t truly unlimited if it’s heavily throttled and you can never back up all of your data. The answer was the same both times, even the wording was the same, making me think it was scripted: they said that in an effort to keep costs affordable, they have to limit the upload speeds of every user. The first time I asked them, they suggested their Business plan has higher upload speeds, so in other words, they tried to upsell me. During both times, they advertised their “seed drive service”, which was a paid product (they stopped offering it this summer). The gist of their paid service was that they shipped asking customers a 1 TB drive so you could back up to it locally, then send it to them to jumpstart the backup. Again, given my needs of backing up at least 9 TB of data, this wasn’t a userful option.

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This is false advertising
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This is also false advertising

Some of you might perhaps suggest that I didn’t optimize my CrashPlan settings so that I could get the most out of it. I did. I tried everything they suggested in their online support notes. In addition to tricking out my Crashplan install, my computer has been on for virtually all of the last four years, in an effort to help the Crashplan app finish the initial backup, to no avail.

Another thing that bothered me about CrashPlan is that it would go into “maintenance mode” very often, and given the size of my backup set, this would take days, sometimes weeks, during which it wouldn’t back up. It would endlessly churn through its backup versions and compare them to my data, pruning out stuff, doing its own thing and eating up processor cycles with those activities instead of backing up my data.

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Synchronizing block information…
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Compacting data… for 22.8 days…
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Maintaining backup files…

I understand why maintenance of the backups is important. But what I don’t understand is why it took so long. I can’t help thinking that maybe the cause is the Java-based backup engine that CrashPlan uses. It’s not a Mac-native app or a Windows-native app. It’s a Java app wrapped in Mac and Windows app versions. And most Java apps aren’t known for their speed. It’s true, Java apps could be fast, but the developers often get lazy and don’t optimize the code — or that’s the claim made by some experts in online forums.

Another way to look at this situation is that CrashPlan has a “freemium” business model. In other words, their app is free to use for local (DAS or NAS) backup or offsite backup (such as to a friend’s computer). And one thing I know is that you can’t complain about something that’s given freely to you. If it’s free, you either offer constructive criticism or you shut up about it. It’s free and the developers are under no obligation to heed your feedback or to make changes because you say so. As a matter of fact, I used CrashPlan as a free service for local backup for a couple of years before I started paying for their cloud backup service. But it was only after I started paying that I had certain expectations of performance. And in spite of those unmet expectations, I stuck with them for four years, patiently waiting for them to deliver on their promise of “no storage limits, bandwidth throttling or well-engineered excuses”… and they didn’t deliver.

Here I should also say that CrashPlan support is responsive. Even when I was using their free backup service, I could file support tickets and get answers. They always tried to resolve my issues. That’s a good thing. It’s important to point this out, because customer service is an important aspect of a business in the services industry — and online backups are a service.

About three weeks ago, I was talking with Mark Fuccio from Drobo about my issues with CrashPlan and he suggested I try Backblaze, because they truly have no throttling. So I downloaded the Backblaze app (which is a native Mac app, not a Java app), created an account and started to use their service. Lo and behold, the 15-day trial period wasn’t yet over and my backup to their servers was almost complete! I couldn’t believe it! Thank you Mark!🙂

I optimized the Backblaze settings by allowing it to use as much of my ISP bandwidth as it needed (I have a 100 Mbps connection), and I also bumped the number of backup threads to 10, meaning the Backblaze app could initiate 10 separate instances of itself and upload all 10 instances simultaneously to their servers. I did have to put up with a slightly sluggish computer during the initial backup, but for the first time in many years, I was able to back up all of my critical data to the cloud. I find that truly amazing in and of itself.

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This is what I did to optimize my Backblaze installation

As you can see from the image above, I got upload speeds over 100 Mbps when I optimized the backup settings. During most of the days of the initial upload, I actually got speeds in excess of 130 Mbps, which I think is pretty amazing given my situation: I live in Romania and the Backblaze servers are in California, so my data had to go through a lot of internet backbones and through the trans-Atlantic cables.

The short of it is that I signed up for a paid plan with Backblaze and my initial backup completed in about 20 days. Let me state that again: I backed up about 9 TB of data to Backblaze in about 20 days, and I managed to back up only about 1 TB of data to CrashPlan in about 4 years (1420 days). The difference is striking and speaks volumes about the ridiculous amount of throttling that CrashPlan puts in place for heavy users like me.

I also use CrashPlan for local network backup to my Drobo 5N, but I may switch to another app for this as well, for two reasons: it’s slow and it does a lot of maintenance on the backup set and because it doesn’t let me use Drobo shares mapped through the Drobo Dashboard app, which is a more stable way of mapping a Drobo’s network shares. CrashPlan refuses to see those shares and requires me to manually map network shares, which isn’t as stable a connection and leads to share disconnects and multiple mounts, which is something that screws up CrashPlan. I’m trying out Mac Backup Guru, which is a Mac-native app, is pretty fast and does allow me to back up to Drobo Dashboard-mapped shares. If this paragraph doesn’t make sense to you, it’s okay. You probably haven’t run into this issue. If you have, you know what I’m talking about.

Now, none of this stuff matters if you’re a typical user of cloud backup services. If you only have about 1 TB of data or less, any cloud backup service will likely work for you. You’ll be happy with CrashPlan and you’ll be happy with their customer service. But if you’re like me and you have a lot of data to back up, then a service like Backblaze that is truly throttle-free is exactly what you’ll need.

Autumn has visited our home

I’ve been hearing our trees calling out to me these past few days, particularly yesterday, when it rained and their leaves were wet, a beautiful kind of colored, almost translucent wet brought on by the autumn winds. They were saying, “Raoul, come out and admire us, you know you want to… Take your camera and come outside.” And I’d say to myself, “Yeah, I really need to set some time aside today to do that,” and then I’d get to work on whatever project was most important and lose all track of time.

I didn’t get to go out yesterday but I did it today and it was worth it. Our entire courtyard is peppered with sour cherry and cherry leaves, paulownia leaves, “platan” leaves (it’s a big tree, grows as big as oak trees, but I can’t find its name in English as I write this), fig leaves, lilac leaves, grape leaves and of course my favorite, delicate white birch leaves.

What’s left on the trees is sheer beauty, bunches of leaves hanging on here and there, some dappled with many colors, some filled out completely with just one hue of autumn’s palette, ready to be admired, lessons in meditation and slow, peaceful focus. Autumn is truly a wonderful time, a time to be enjoyed slowly, savored in little vignettes that we tuck away in the precious corners of our heart and pull out later when we want to feel cozy and nostalgic.

I suppose we feel that way because the passing of these temperate four seasons of ours is a good preparation for life (its beginning, progress and ending). It’s hard not to look at autumn leaves and realize they’re saying goodbye to the world they’ve known for many a day. Some will stick around a little bit longer, most are already on the ground, but they know it and we know it; it’s inevitable. Winter, that time of hibernation, of natural pause, of a rest that explodes back into glorious life as spring arrives, will soon be here.

We too, have our autumns. We know, as we get older, that the time is up ahead. We start to feel it in our bones, our joints, our skin. We turn a little more yellow, the bones become a little brittle, the skin on our faces and bodies begins to tell the story of the experiences we’ve had. We have long autumns, we humans, but somehow they’re still not long enough. We always want to do more, even when we can barely move, when we should be preparing for the transition into the next season of our lives, that great hibernation that no one really knows anything about.

The plants are teaching us that every day matters. They show us how to make the most of the days we have, because sometimes all we have is one year, perhaps even less than that. We look at them and admire them for having accomplished their purpose in life, which was to act as complex, integral parts of a whole, for a while. Created by the whole, they rejoin it as they slowly re-integrate into the earth that gave life to the tree itself and is still providing for it.

Perhaps natural beauty is more beautiful because of its intrinsically ephemeral nature. And perhaps human beauty and human life are meant to work in the same way. Enchant us for a while, like blossoming flowers, then give up their life force in order for other creations to exist.

Don’t take these thoughts of mine too philosophically. They’re merely passing glimpses of subjects we don’t understand and possibly cannot even grasp. The only takeaway here is that we should be beautiful in our lives, to possess a beauty that shines from within and colors us in happy hues. We should bring joy and peace to others. We should make positive contributions to the working of the world in general. And we should learn to give up gracefully what was given to us for just a while, when that time comes.