Thoughts

On the ephemerality of digital publishing

For all the ease of use and low cost of entry of digital publishing, there’s its inescapable ephemeral nature. I’m not talking about digital books, photographs, music and movies, although there’s a lot to be said about those things as well. That sort of distributed publishing puts a copy of your creation on someone else’s device, and is thus more buffeted against the inevitable loss or data corruption that occurs, because copies of your creation will likely survive somewhere. What I want to talk about is this very thing I’m using right now to publish this: my website.

It could be perceived as a contradiction in appearances to talk about how fleeting my website will be as it’s coming up on 20 years of existence (that’s right, my website will turn 20 later this year, after I turn 44). But I’m thinking beyond my lifetime. I’d like the things I write about, the photographs I take, the videos I make, to reach the generations of the future. I know there’s a lot of drivel out there on the web that won’t stand the test of time, because it’s made specifically for the now, to appeal to trends and other passing nonsense, but I don’t spend my time on those things. At least some of the things I write about are likely applicable or useful 50-100 years down the road, and just as I appreciate books, music and movies published 50-100 years ago, I hope my digital creations will be appreciated a century into the future. But how will it get there? How will my website survive 100 years?

In the past, articles were published on paper, books were published on paper, then we had negatives we could look at; books were scanned. Now when we publish posts and articles on websites, exactly how will this electronic (HTML + CSS + Scripts) format make it down the road? If we die and our domain name is no longer paid up, the website goes down. Should we be hosting our site on a platform like WordPress.com, when we stop paying the site domain may change back to the free WP subdomain, some site services will stop working, but the site will continue to stay up, but until when? Does WP have a plan to exist and function well in 100 years? Does any web publishing platform or social network plan to be around in 100 years? Will YouTube or Facebook be around in 100 years? What if they undergo so many changes in the way things get published and shown to the public that my content can no longer be ported onto the new versions of the software, and it gets left behind? Then there’s the basic nature of a business: it needs money to survive. The “freemium” plans of today, where you get some free services but the better ones cost money, aren’t futureproof. At some point, a company decides it’s had enough of freeloaders and switches to all paid accounts.

The thing with a book or a magazine is that once it’s printed, once it’s made, no further effort is needed to “keep it alive”, and this isn’t the case with digital publishing, where once you’ve made something digital, you still need further energy to keep the web server up and running, more energy to keep it patched up and upgraded, more energy to swap out parts that fail, more energy for the internet bandwidth, etc., energy that translates into utility bills, bandwidth bills and man hours, in perpetuity. None of this is needed with a printed book. It just sits in someone’s library and requires no effort and no energy to simply be there, storing its information for posterity, until someone takes it out, blows off the dust and stats turning its pages to read it. The act of turning a page requires little energy. The act of reading and considering the information that you’re reading consumes quite a bit of mental energy, but the same amount would go into reading something digital. So you see, digital publishing may seem easier and less expensive at the get-go, but it turns out to be mightily complicated and expensive to keep going over decades and decades.

Unless you’ve got the foresight to set up a trust with enough financial resources to keep your digital presence (websites, social media accounts, etc.) up and running, chances are you will be digitally defunct soon after you die or, depending on the circumstances of your last years, say a debilitating disease that won’t allow you to carry on your online presence, you’ll be digitally dead years before your actual death.

I know about services such as the Internet Archive. They’re well-meaning and I wish them the best of luck in storing all of the data, but they’re slow on lookups, and they tend to mess up a page’s style, which is kind of like crinkling up the printed pages in your favorite book and forcing you to read them like that from then on.

We need some way to make a site future-proof, to either make the individual articles or posts digitally distributable, or to come up with ways to make web servers consume less resources, much less resources, so that it’s economically feasible to keep a lot of data up and available in the future at much lower costs than today. I know about printing web pages as PDFs, and that’s something, but how many people do that? I want a clean, ad free, well-formatted, digital copy of a post or article made available to me, automatically. Perhaps solid state storage, on optical non-moving media of sorts, is the way that computers might work, so that the data, once written to that media, consumes no power while it’s not accessed, and the power needed to read it from them is insignificant. This way we could afford to prepay to keep our website up for the next 100 years, and it wouldn’t cost a ridiculous amount.

The current model, of paying yearly for a domain name and monthly or yearly for a web hosting package and a site publishing platform that you need to keep upgrading and updating, or else it’s subject to hacking, isn’t futureproof. It costs a lot and it needs a lot of attention — attention and money that it won’t get once someone’s gone.

We need to make it easier, or as digital information inevitably gets wiped out with time, the valuable sites and articles, that ones that might have made a difference in someone’s future life, if only they’d been available to them, do remain available to them, just like a book or a magazine on a shelf.

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Olympus E-330 DSLR
Reviews

My Olympus E-330 DSLR

Wait, didn’t I just post about my E-3? Yes, I did. This is about a different camera that I bought recently, the E-330, which was part of the same EVOLT series of digital cameras — which was itself part of the Four Thirds System (the precursor of the Micro Four Thirds System). The E-330 was launched at the start of 2006, so it pre-dates the E-3 by almost two years. I found this one in almost new condition with a really low shutter count (only around 2000 exposures) and the 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens, at a really good price. I’d wanted to at least see the E-330 up close and use it ever since I reviewed the E-500, but I couldn’t get a hold of it back then. Fast forward to fourteen years later and now I have it.

The E-330 is such an interesting camera. It was the first interchangeable-lens-type AF digital SLR in the world to offer full-time subject framing via a rear-mounted LCD monitor. That’s right — the ubiquitous tilt-screen or articulating screen that’s a normal feature of mirrorless cameras nowadays was first offered on the Olympus E-330. Also a first was Live View, or what you might now call a live through-the-lens (TTL) display of your subject, so you could either use the viewfinder or the screen. I know you’re used to this kind of thing now, but back in 2006, this was amazing new technology.

There were two modes for Live View. In Mode A, you’d close a flap over the viewfinder and the camera would then focus on the subject matter by itself when you pressed the shutter button, and in Mode B, you could focus manually using the live display and a 10x macro view that allowed you to dial in the focus perfectly.

Mode A
Mode B

The E-330 also featured another Olympus innovation, SSWF (a dust reduction system) that had been introduced in 2003 with the E1 and then perfected with the E-500 and E-300. Having used the E1, E-500 and the E-510 and E-410 back in 2007, I can tell you this dust reduction system worked flawlessly. I never had to remove dust spots from the photos taken with Olympus cameras, while I was always forced to remove them from photos taken with other cameras. Also, this camera had dual card slots (CF and xD) and keep in mind this was not a top of the line DSLR, which is where you’d typically find this feature. Also, (bonus!) it uses the same batteries (BLM-1) as my E-3.

Another interesting feature of the E-330 was (and still is) MF (Manual Focus) Bracketing. This was in addition to WB, AE and FL Bracketing. MF Bracketing would let you select from options for 5-frame or 7-frame series with 1-step or 2-step focus shifting, and the camera would then take that series of frames, automatically moving the focus point bit by bit. This would allow you to do focus stacking in post production, or simply to select the frame that you felt had the best focus point. Nowadays Olympus cameras such as the OM-D series will not only do MF Bracketing, but also do in-camera focus stacking, combining those frames into a single image with better overall focus. This is great for macro photography, where the focus (or the depth of field) can get quite thin, to the point where it’s impossible to get the whole subject (insect, flower) in focus without focus stacking. This next image is an example of this feature.

Notice how the shutter button, front control dial, the name of the camera and the brand inscribed on the pentaprism are all in focus. This could not have been achieved without MF Bracketing and a focus stack in post-processing.

The E-330 also has a pleasing and different design. Even though it’s a DSLR with an optical prism, it has no prism bump on top. It was just so different from other DSLRs of the time. It was this cute little camera with rounded edges and this unusual top. It’s a wonderful thing to behold and to hold in your hand. Yes, it has its limitations, but it’s so well-made and for its time, it worked brilliantly well. I also love that it has a remote control receiver that works with a universal Olympus remote (the RM-1), which allows me to control the camera wirelessly even in Bulb mode. I really enjoyed using it during the last week or so that I’ve had it, and I’ll look forward to using it again and again in the future.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the photos in the gallery enclosed here, they were taken with the E-330.

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Reviews

My Olympus E-3 DSLR

I bought an Olympus E-3 a couple of days ago. Its full name is the EVOLT E-3, and it was Olympus’ flagship DSLR back in 2007. It was announced on October 17, 2007 and it became available on November 23 of that same year. I realize it’s now 2020, thirteen years later, but I found it online in really good condition, with a low shutter count (only 8000 or so exposures) and at a good price. Other than a small crack in the lower left-hand corner of the LCD, this camera is in great shape and it’s a real joy to use.

I was present at the camera’s launch party in NYC on October 16, 2007. You can see my write-up of the event, with photos and video, in this post. I would have loved to purchase the camera at the time, but I was invested in Canon gear at the time. The E-3 was a great camera for its time, quite ahead of the competition in many ways. The supersonic dust reduction function that’s so common on all of the interchangeable-lens cameras nowadays was then only present on Olympus cameras, because they came up with it. The swiveling LCD, also ubiquitous nowadays, was a novelty only present on this camera and on an older model, the EVOLT E-330 DSLR. The in-body image stabilization, a big selling point on so many expensive cameras nowadays, was yet another feature that Olympus invented and was only present on their latest cameras such as their new flagship and other models launched that year. The E-3 was a dustproof and splashproof camera, and at least two of the lenses also launched with it, the Zuiko 12-60mm SWD f2.8-4 and the Zuiko 50-200mm SWD f2.8-3.5, were also dustproof and splashproof. This was incredible at the time. All these features and capabilities seem normal now, but they were extraordinary back then.

Here is a gallery of photographs of the camera. Please forgive the dust specks. These are real world photographs of equipment that’s actively in use. It’s not a photo shoot. I didn’t airbrush it. I didn’t clean all its nooks and crannies. I simply placed it on a piece of furniture and took these photos.

One of the big concerns with Olympus cameras at that time (around 2007) was their performance in low light (at high ISO settings). Typically there was quite a bit of noise at 800 ISO and above, but not so on the E-3, where low-light performance was much better than that of less expensive cameras such as the E-510, which had been launched earlier that year. The E-3 was a flagship camera after all. As a matter of fact, when I look at low-light photos taken with the E-3 now, they’re just as good as the “gold standard” of the day, the Canon 5D, and this is remarkable given that the E-3 could only gather half the light with its Four Thirds sensor size. Since 2007, the noise reduction capabilities of software such as Lightroom have also improved by leaps and bounds, to the point where high-noise photos from the past can look quite good when developed within the software. I admit that I also like a bit of noise. Sometimes I like a lot of noise (up to a point). It adds character to an image. Granularity, that organic quality of film that’s missing from crisp, clean and clear digital images taken at 100-200 ISO, tends to make a photograph more endearing.

When I began to use the camera in earnest, I looked for the mode dial out of habit. There wasn’t one where I’d typically find it. Believe it or not, I hadn’t noticed this at the camera’s launch event and surprisingly enough, I hadn’t noticed it in press photos of the camera either. Now I began to panic a bit. Where was the damned thing? Did it break off? After all, this was a second-hand camera. Where was it?!

It wasn’t to be found, because there isn’t one. I had to look up the user manual on the Olympus Japan website in order to find out that indeed, it didn’t break off and there isn’t one. You switch the mode by pressing the Mode button on the left-hand top side of the camera and by rotating the dial on the back of the camera. Once you do it, it becomes second-nature and you begin to wonder why other cameras have to have specific mode dials. After all, how often do you switch the mode? Really, how often? My cameras typically stay on Aperture priority virtually all of the time. I switch to Shutter priority when I have to capture high-speed images or when I want to force motion blur, but that’s seldom, and when I do night photography, I stick it in Manual mode, but really, the camera stays in Aperture mode most of the time.

I thought I’d do something now that I couldn’t do at the time of the E-3’s launch, which is to sit the camera side by side with my 5D and see how the two stack up. Which one’s taller? Which one’s wider? How do the grips compare? How do the various buttons compare? I was surprised to find out that the E-3 is just a bit taller than the 5D, and that the 5D is quite a bit wider, about 2 cm wider. You don’t feel this until you take the cameras in your hand. The E-3 sits a little better in the hand while you can feel the 5D’s center of gravity pulling it to the left a bit. I also like the E-3’s many buttons, which make it easier to get to certain features that are otherwise buried in the menus. And that’s another thing: the E-3 is packed with features compared to the 5D. The 5D’s design is simple and curved, while the E-3’s is angled, full of corners and turns and also some curves — like this lovely curve on the left hand side, near the lens release button.

The E-3 may have a more complicated design, but I like it. I liked this camera from the get-go, and I’m glad I could buy it now, almost thirteen years after it was made.

Having just compared the looks of two of the leading cameras of their day, I will also say this: comparing the features of various cameras in an effort to see which one’s better is useless. Yes, I mean that! It’s useless because in the end, what really matters are these two things:

  • Do you like that camera? If yes, buy it.
  • Can you take the photos that you want to take with that camera? If yes, buy it.

Worrying about this and that feature and why it is or it isn’t present on a particular model is a waste of time. Watching camera comparisons and reading reviews ad nauseam is useless. You need to know what you want from a camera, come up with a list of “finalists”, and then you need to go and hold those cameras in your hand and see how they fit you, see how easily you can access the functions that matter to you. Get the one that you like best. That’s it. I know this is a bit of a rant, and it’s as much addressed to me as it is to you, because in spite of knowing these things, I still tend to obsess over some features sometimes.

I got the E-3 with the 40-150mm f3.5-4.5 lens, which was at the time a premium version of the regular (kit) 40-150mm lens, whose aperture range was f4-5.6. This is a wonderful lens. And now that I have a Four Thirds camera, I will likely get other Four Thirds lenses, such as a wide zoom, a large aperture prime, perhaps a macro, a 35-100mm f2.0 SWD zoom, I’ll see…

I’ve been taking quite a few photos with the E-3 since I bought it, and I’ve been carrying everywhere with me. As I say elsewhere on this site and on other sites, I always have a camera with me. I seldom rely on my phone to take photos that I care about, simply because taking photos with a mobile phone is a constant disappointment to me when it comes to the quality of the images. In order to get proper keepsakes, you need a real camera, and the E-3 is a real camera. It’s a flagship camera and it feels like a flagship; it’s solidly made and it has withstood the test of time beautifully. Everything still works on it: all the buttons, all the switches, all the features — and the images I get with it are wonderful. I also love the mechanical sound of the shutter on it. The shutter sound is after all the most prominent sort of feedback one gets from the camera when they use it, and I want my cameras to sound good to my ears. The E-3 definitely sounds good. I’m so glad I had the chance to buy this camera after all these years!

I’ll leave you with a few of the images I’ve taken with it. Enjoy!

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Places

Laying the roof on the stair scaffold of the Magarei Kirchenburg

This video describes and shows the work that we did in order to lay roof tiles and finish up some other work on a reconstructed wooden scaffold that will serve as the stairwell to the clock tower of the Saxon fortified church in the village of Magarei (Pelișor) in Southern Transilvania, Romania. This was the continuation of a woodworking project that took place this summer. That project/workshop was co-organized by Stiftung Kirchenburgen, the Saxon foundation with whom we’ve partnered for the conservation and restoration efforts there, and it was sponsored in part by the Prince of Wales Foundation and the Order of Romanian Architects.

This part of the work was done by ourselves, Asociatia P.A.T.R.U., our NGO that we set up for the specific purpose of conserving and restoring the parochial house and fortified church in that Saxon village. I invite you to visit our NGO’s website and find out more about the work we’re doing.

Merry Christmas!

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Thoughts

On sounds and noise

As I think about the sounds and the noises we make as households, and what might or might not bother others, I can’t help thinking about loudspeakers. They’re responsible for the largest percentage of calls to police about noise violations. When we call to complain about so-and-so playing their music too loud, or having a loud party, what we’re really complaining about are the devices that enable them to produce those loud sounds, that terrible noise, the din that keeps us awake at night or drives us bonkers during the day, as we try to do our work or to relax.

I can’t help wondering what person in their right mind would invent a device that would enable morons of all shapes, sizes and ages to indiscriminately bother their neighbors or entire neighborhoods, and I also can’t help wondering what irresponsible companies would bring such products to the market, year after year after year.

Don’t misunderstand me. The speaker as a device that allows us to listen to recordings, to music, to the radio, to television, is an amazing invention. However, the speaker as a device that can be turned up to its maximum power and left like that for hours on end, is a terrible (and illegal) invention.

Every year, companies continue to develop these devices and they give them more power and (this is the really bad part) they give them more bass. Bass is the lower range of the sounds produced by a speaker, and this is what travels for long distances, through walls, through windows, through roofs, through vegetation, etc. and can drive you cuckoo in your own house. It could be the best song of the year or it could be the worst song of the year, it really doesn’t matter, because if you’re not in the room with the music, all you hear is the bass, pounding on your walls, hundreds of yards away. It’s a horrible experience.

At what point will it occur to lawmakers that it’s not just the people that need to be stopped from playing loud music, but it’s also the companies that make speakers that need to be stopped from making loud speakers? As I said before, it’s the speakers themselves that are enabling people to misbehave and to commit noise violations. At what point will there be some legislation that will force these companies to develop speakers that do not allow idiots to bother their neighbors? I see the need for truly powerful speakers at venues for public events, but what need is there for ridiculously loud speakers in an apartment or a house? Instead of focusing their R&D on pushing more power and more bass out of their speakers, these companies could focus on producing pleasant, balanced sound that does not penetrate through walls. I’d like to see speakers that can play music loudly, but do not bother the neighbors! That’d be a real achievement — not the indiscriminate increase in wattage and bass we see today.

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Thoughts

My vision for the towns and villages of the future

As I hinted in my previous post, I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for some time, and I hope to do it justice. If what I write here seems scattered, it’s because I haven’t been keeping notes on my ideas, though I’ve had many, so this is more or less ex tempore.

Even though I’ve made my thoughts on overpopulation pretty clear in previous posts (here is one of them), it’s important to state once again that I don’t believe the natural world can support as many humans as there are in the world for much longer, and something will happen to cut our numbers down. Nature will either do it for us, through the use of a blunt instrument such as a nasty disease or a series of natural catastrophes, or we can do it ourselves, by limiting the number of children we have. I have written previously that I believe one child per family would provide an immediate and constant decrease in population for the foreseeable future, and the ideal way to do it is for each family to commit to this by themselves, or we may get into a situation in the future where it will be mandated upon us.

In many ways, we are living in the best of times, and I’ve written about this in the past as well. It would be a great pity and a great loss if catastrophic events cut down the world population indiscriminately, reducing our civilization and technology back to medieval times, but that may well happen if we don’t take action ourselves. The best way to go about this is to ensure that we decrease the world population while we maintain and continue to develop the comforts that make modern life so worth it. I’m talking about modern plumbing, modern surgery, modern dentistry, modern electricity installations, modern computing, etc. Losing these would set us back hundreds of years, but that’s just what will happen through some sort of cataclysmic events if we don’t reduce our numbers proactively.

There are population controls built into nature for every species. I don’t think I need to say more on this. Nature documentaries abound, and you can see for yourselves that every species is subject to either natural predators or natural diseases that limit its numbers. When those fail, food supplies become limited and numbers once again fall. But we as humans have managed to evade our predators and our diseases, and we’ve also managed to pump up the production of our foods, to the point where there are much too many of us around. We are literally eating everything in sight and we’re consuming everything we can get our hands on. This cannot go on. Something will happen. It sounds ominous, I know, but just look around you. Everything in nature is governed by natural laws. We have been stepping all over those laws. How much longer do you think this planet upon which we’re so dependent will tolerate our numbers and our crimes against nature?

At this point you might be asking what this has to do with the towns and cities of the future. Well, this was the preamble that now allows me to say that these settlements of the future will have greatly reduced populations (one way or another), yet if we have been proactive, they will have maintained all of the modern comforts and will also provide gainful employment for people from all sorts of trades and occupations. That will be the hat trick.

Let’s look at population density. Clearly, lower population density is going to be a natural result of less population, but how about some numbers? There are many studies on this and I could link to a few, but I’d like you to do your own research on this. What feels comfortable to you? What feels overpopulated to you? For example, my house sits on a plot of land that’s about 1200 square meters in a small town in Southern Transilvania. The plots for the houses around me vary in size but I would say on average, they’re about 1000 square meters. This is enough space for a good-sized house, a driveway, a courtyard and a garden, plus some nicely-sized trees. I find this to be a good size for a plot of land in a town. Any smaller and it would feel cramped. Any bigger and it would of course be better 🙂. As for apartment buildings, that’s a different story. I would say about 100 square meters is the minimum for up to two people, but more importantly, and this is something I rarely found in apartments, there should be a minimum ceiling height, and it shouldn’t be 2.4 or 2.6 meters, but more like 2.8 or 3 meters. A small room is much more bearable when the ceilings are higher.

How about in the countryside, in a village? There, a decent plot of land that would allow you run a moderately self-sufficient household would have to be at least 3000 square meters, though that’s a bit small by my account. Let’s go with a number that’s easier to remember: 5000 square meters. That would allow you to have a bigger courtyard where you could round up your animals, keep a tractor or two, have a good-sized garden in the back to grow vegetables, etc, and you’d still have space for a good-sized house, a barn and various annexes such as stables, hen houses, etc. And you’d need some additional farmland outside the village, but since I’m not a farmer, I can’t speak to the size of those plots of land.

So 1000 square meters in towns and 5000 square meters in villages sounds good to me. And in order to meet the demands of farmland in-between settlements, we’d need to ensure a good distance between them. I can speak to the distance, because I’ve been doing a fair bit of driving. In order for these distances to be enjoyable and for the cars to be run properly, so the engines to have a chance to heat up during each drive, 10 minutes would have to be the minimum, with a 20 minute relative max, otherwise the drive gets a bit tedious, especially if you have to do it often.

How about the size of towns and villages? What numbers should we be looking at? Once again, I’ll speak to what I know. My town has about 47,000 inhabitants. By most standards, it’s a small town. But as it turns out, 47,000 people are too many for its infrastructure. The streets can get crowded during rush hour, partly because they were built for a much smaller town and partly because there are simply too many people crowded into the edges of the town, into neighborhoods full of apartment buildings built during communist times. When all those people get into their cars or into trolleys and start going through a medieval town that was built for about 10,000 people, it’s too much. So if we’re going to try to preserve the existing infrastructure, and I think we should, our town could probably handle somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000 people, and of course these numbers would be different for each town or city. Some people would be much more comfortable living in larger cities, but even there, I would caution against encouraging ridiculous growth. I could look at one city where I grew up, and that’s Cluj-Napoca. It’s one of the most prosperous cities in Romania right now, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s become unlivable. It’s much too big, much too crowded, much too stretched out, much too expensive and it’s chaos to try and get through it during the day. I wouldn’t want to live there.

As long as I’m on the subject of density, I’d like you to think about another number. When you walk through your town or city, count the people around you and think about what feels comfortable to you and what feels overcrowded. To me, more than 1 person per 10 square meters feels overcrowded. 10 square meters may sound like a lot, but it’s not. It’s about 3 meters by 3 meters, roughly. Given that our personal space is roughly about 1 square meter, we’d need at least 1-2 meters of space around us which could be navigated by other people without impinging on our personal space (keep in mind they may be carrying bags as well), and you’re already at 9 square meters (1 sq m + 2 sq m in each direction). Add another square meter to the total for a little more buffer and you’re at 10 square meters. I guess at peak times we could go as low as 1 person per 5 square meters, but anything lower than that would be overcrowding and even though you may not realize it, your body would feel the effects. Your heart rate would go up, your stress levels would go up, you may get a headache, etc.

Let’s talk about transport and roads. There are huge costs associated with building and maintaining roads and highways. There are also so many vehicles on the roads. Should the population levels come down, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but we’d still have this ongoing debate about pollution and consumption of natural resources and so on and so forth. I for one love cars and furthermore, I love old cars. While I enjoy the convenience and reliability of modern cars, I love the way old cars look, inside and out, and I love their fantastic, cushioned ride quality that’s so easy on the back, especially during long drives. If there were a way to combine the advantages of new and old cars, I’d be all for that. Some people say electric cars are the future. I’m not so sure, not unless we invent batteries with much higher capacities and whose raw materials aren’t as toxic and difficult to obtain from the ground. A number of years ago, I had a rough idea about a car that might be able to harness the gravitational force of the Earth and turn it into propulsion and possibly even levitation, but it’s something that has so far stayed in the realm of scifi. Beyond a wild hunch that this might be doable, I don’t have the scientific knowhow to even begin planning a prototype. The advantage of such a (scifi) vehicle would be that it wouldn’t pollute and it wouldn’t need the tremendous expenditure of paved roads, since it would be able to float just off the ground. Back to reality though: I’d be happy with cars that pollute less, last longer and look better, and by better I mean they should look more like the old cars, with organic curves and endearing appeal.

Let’s talk about buildings and architecture. I think most buildings in existence today are copy-paste jobs and have little to no originality that would make them worth saving when they start breaking down, and that’s a great pity. In terms of environmental impact, getting a house or a larger structure built takes a tremendous amount of natural resources and manual labor, and if you’re just building some nondescript box with cheap materials, you’re guilty of not only using up natural resources, but also for using them improperly, for a structure that will eventually be torn down. Furthemore, if you’re gilding that same crappy architecture with expensive finishings that you then tear down every decade in a stupid effort to keep up with fashion, you’re guilty a third time. There’s an old saying with a clear message that goes, “three strikes and you’re out”.

I think all structures built should have a planned lifespan of at least 100 years. Given the age of so many of the historic buildings in Europe, I think we could successfully plan for building lifespans of 500 years and we could and we should be building structures that could make it to 1,000 years. We owe it to ourselves (to our collective civilization and advancement) and we owe it to the planet, to build structures that last as long as possible, so that once we’ve used up valuable natural resources, we’ve put those resources to very good use. And there should be real, concerted effort from governments everywhere to conserve and restore historic buildings with time-proven methods, using high quality, traditional, natural materials and workmanship.

I’ll give you one pertinent example: in Southern Transilvania, we have many Saxon villages and fortified churches whose architecture was shaped by the industrious people that built them and whose architecture further shaped the land and created an integral artistic and historic whole that is unique in Europe and in the entire world. Nowadays, most of those churches are falling down and the houses are occupied by people who no longer see their historic significance or even appreciate their aesthetic appeal. Historic facades are being mangled. Historic reliefs, sills, cornices, socles, thrusts, pilasters, frontons, gables, porticos, brackets and other ornamental shapes are being stripped away and the bare walls are being covered with styrofoam insulation, with no regard for what was once there or for what will happen to a breathing brick wall once it’s sealed up. We have villages where the churches no longer exist, so even if the houses may still be historically accurate, the village has lost its focal point, or where the churches still stand, but they’re out of place, being surrounded by houses which have entirely lost their shape and are now some ugly, non-descript boxes for the so-called living, painted in garish colors. Ideally, the historic sections of these villages would be declared historic monuments and the whole ensemble (fortifications, church, schoolhouse, village center and village houses) would be conserved and restored accordingly.

Let’s talk about law enforcement, or as I sometimes call it, pruning one’s garden. I’d really like our collective societies to have stricter rules around what is and is not acceptable behavior in public, around public order and noise levels, and about gainful participation in society through work or other involvement such as volunteering, and about the consequences of not doing so. I’d like our towns and village to be quiet, peaceful places where we can do our work and live our lives undisturbed and without disturbing others.

I’d love to see noise violations punished more severely — and this is much more important, with frequency and constancy. I’d love to see people who play loud music get serious fines, now and in the future, and it doesn’t matter whether they do it at home or in their cars. I for one have had it with people whose loud speakers blare and boom up and down our streets and I’d like this kind of behavior stamped out completely. I’d love to see bad behaviors in public punished instantly, even if it means having policemen beating down offenders with sticks on the spot, like they used to do not so long ago.

I am all for people having rights under the law, and I am very glad for the equitable treatment we now espouse for people of different races and particularly for the equitable treatment of women. These advances are humane, they make sense, and they should have happened earlier. But there is a flip side to this: some of these rights should not be inalienable; they should be based on behavior. In the future (and also in the present), participation in society should afford you the same rights as anyone else who participates in that society, but if you’re just a parasite who portends to be part of a society but does not contribute to it through work or other proper involvement, you should, by rights, lose some of your rights. Let me give you some present-day examples.

Those who continually shirk work should not get aid from the government, and those who abuse society’s aid mechanisms by having multiple children just so they can get extra money, should also have their aid cut off, and they should be put to work. But there are currently no legal mechanisms in the EU through which someone can forcibly be put to work, so what we have now, although not many countries talk about it openly, is a certain percentage of the people in those countries who know they can’t be forced to work and who actively choose not to work and live on aid all of the time. This needs to stop in the future. It’s not sustainable and it’s not tolerable.

There are also no legal mechanisms through which policemen can adequately defend themselves and arrest people, should they be attacked. I don’t know if this is the case throughout Europe, but I know, directly from policemen, that it’s what’s going on right now in Romania. Should a policeman pull out his gun and defend himself in Romania right now, it would most certainly mean jail time for him. Should they want to arrest someone, they’d have no jail to take them to, because most, if not all police stations have no holding cells. You can’t put someone in county jail without due process, and you can’t leave someone violent or too drunk on the streets, so what do you do? Right now there’s nothing to do, so policemen will sometimes take these people for a ride to the station, hoping they’ll cool off. This needs to change in the future.

There are also no legal mechanisms to force someone to pay police fines. Ridiculously enough, if they have a job, they can be forced to do it, but if they don’t, if they’re parasites, they can go to court and argue they have no job to pay the fine with, or they can go to their local mayor and get a written excuse from the fine. These local yokel mayors are only too happy to give them these written excuses, because they’re desperate for cheap votes and don’t want to put in the work that wins real votes. Lots of nasty characters take advantage of these loopholes in the current laws and they go on offending, knowing there won’t be serious consequences. So we literally have people in Romania who’ve been violent toward their families or toward the police, or have committed other illegalities, who are staying at home on government aid because they don’t want to work, who are not paying their fines because they have no jobs, and who are also making more children so they can get more government aid. That’s a trifecta of crime and it goes on, unpunished. This needs to stop in the future, which I’m hoping will be much more orderly and disciplined. I’m all for rights, but in a logical and rational world, there are also consequences to one’s actions.

These are the things that come to my mind when I think of the future of cities, towns and villages. Thanks for reading!

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Thoughts

My vision for Transilvania

What follows here is a subjective, ideal scenario for my native region of the world, so if it doesn’t sit well with you, read this first sentence again.

I was born in a Saxon town in Transilvania called Medwesch. Its name in Romanian is Mediaș and in German, it’s Mediasch. However, its name originates from the Hungarian word “meggy” which means “sour cherry”. It’s entirely possible that the Medias region was known for its sour cherry trees. (Its name is spelled Medgyes in Hungarian). It recently celebrated its 750th anniversary, having been first mentioned in written documents on the 3rd of June, 1267.

Quick aside: as it turns out, I am half-Hungarian and I have sour cherry trees in our courtyard and garden. I love sour cherries and we make sour cherry liquor and sour cherry jam every autumn. Some of the trees here at home are almost as old as I am (over four decades) and one of them is possibly even older. This post has to do in large part with trees — not just sour cherry trees though.

My city is even older than its 750 documented years. Archeological findings in the area point to settlements that go back to the middle Neolithic period, certainly long before the Romans conquered what was previously known as Dacia and called its most beautiful region Transilvania, which means “through the forest” or “beyond the forest”. And here’s where we get to the crux of this post. Those neolithic people got to experience Transilvania in its most bountiful days, with old growth forests that stretched as far as the eye could see, with rivers and streams overflowing with pure water, with fertile fields set among rolling hills and mountains filled to the brim with precious metals and salt (which was more expensive than gold at certain times in history). That was an unpolluted, wild Transilvania with few settlements and long distances between them — the kind of world that made you seek and cherish human connections instead of being overwhelmed by overpopulation and left searching for quiet and solitude.

While some of the things that once were can’t be restored (such as the many, many thousands of tons of precious metals taken from our mountains), it is my dream that we roll back some of the damage that humans have done to this beautiful place and we restore some of the conditions that existed before there were too many of us around and we started messing about irresponsibly.

Here’s where the trees come in (the ones I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back). I’d like to see a massive reforestation effort take place in Transilvania, one where every available piece of land that’s not being used for agriculture is peppered with fast-growth and slow-growth trees. It should even be mandated that groupings of trees be planted in fields used for agriculture, for example one rectangular spot of 4m x 60m on every hectare of land, at a minimum.

I’d like to see common sense and clearly enforced measures in place when it comes to felling trees. What is clear is that we need wood for construction materials and for firewood, but what is also abundantly clear is that Romania has been cutting a great deal of wood illegally (about two thirds of the wood being cut in Romania per annum is cut illegally), so that needs to stop, even if it means armed forces will patrol the forests and shoot tree thieves on sight, be they regular people or employees of corporations.

Massive reforestation efforts, coupled with proper measures to check and control tree felling, would go a long way toward restoring Transilvania’s historic forests. And no tree cutting of any sort should be allowed in certain old-growth forests. We need to restore some semblance of the wild Transilvania in ancient woodlands and allow those old trees to stick around for a few hundred years more. Trees are more majestic and have more dignity in them than most people I see on a daily basis, yet dimwits with chainsaws think nothing of felling them illegally. I think that cruel sentiment should be mirrored back to them, and that’s why I am in favor of armed forces patrolling forests and shooting offenders on sight, without due process.

Together with the reforestation efforts, I’d like to see massive cleanups take place along all of the roadways in Transilvania. I’d like to see video cameras that work with mobile SIM cards and recharge from mini solar panels, mounted in hidden locations along the roads, and those people dumping construction debris or other garbage along the roads, identified, fined very serious amounts of money, and forced to clean up their own messes.

Furthermore, I’d like to see river and stream cleanups take place everywhere, with dredging where necessary to get the garbage and overgrown vegetation out and to restore proper water flow. We should have people in charge of the waters who are constantly maintaining the shorelines and keeping our waters clean. The harvesting of sand from the riverbeds should be done responsibly and only in select areas, after consultation with committees of geologists and archeologists, because the way it’s being done now absolutely destroys the riverbeds and the flow of the rivers.

When it comes to agriculture, I’d like to see more sensible, organic agriculture that employs crop rotations and allows certain plots of land to rest every seven years or so. I’m fed up with the ridiculous amounts of fertilizers and pesticides being dumped on our lands every year — much more than the recommended dosage from the manufacturer is sadly the norm when it comes to peasant farmers here. I’d like to see grazing lands used properly, by rotating the sheep and the goats and the cows so they don’t overgraze. The size of one’s herd or flock ought to be determined by the size of the land available to it, not by the projected year-end revenues, pumped up by extra tens or hundreds of head of cattle that have overgrazed the land and have needed extra hay to be trucked in from who-knows-where in order to support their feeding needs.

How about all the garbage left behind by the herders and shepherds every year? The hills are practically strewn with plastic bags and bottles of all kinds, and no one holds them accountable for it. How about the excessive use of communal water to feed thirsty crops in dry years, to the point where a village’s water supply runs dry and the water levels in people’s wells go down to the bedrock? That’s thoroughly irresponsible and heavy fines ought to be in place for those who water their crops excessively.

If you’re a regular reader, then you know my opinion on overpopulation already, but I think I’ll write about my thoughts on the ideal population density in the towns, cities and the countryside in a later post.

For now, I’d like you to close your eyes, like I do every once in a while, and try to imagine a Transilvania full of tall forests every which way you look, where cool breezes sway the tops of these beautiful trees and cool down the valleys below, where happy little streams that started as springs deep in the forests, flow unobstructed toward the bigger rivers, alongside scenic country roads that are clean and well-maintained. Should you drive on those roads, you’ll enter a village or a town every once in a while, places where people are productive and work the land or work in the crafts or run a shop or a business, or perhaps tend herds of cows and sheep, but everyone sees to their work and to their household and makes a solid contribution to their community and society. That’s what I’d like to see in my Transilvania.

And it starts with the trees. We need to get the trees growing back in the forests.

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