Enough with aiding society’s trash

I am fed up with all of the aid that the world’s various governments give to society’s trash. How long have we been doing it? In some form or another, governments have been handing money out to people, with surprisingly little control over who gets it, for almost 100 years now. The way these programs are currently run, they’re not really helping those who truly deserve help, and they’re providing too much help to those who don’t deserve it. If anything, I see societies slowly declining and I see more and more goldbricks and welfare swindlers around every day. I have had it with these parasites who are walking about and poisoning our societies on our own money!

I want to make myself clear so you don’t get the wrong idea. When I talk about societal parasites, I’m talking about trash of any color and breed. I mean those who won’t work because they know they can wiggle their way through the welfare system without doing it. I mean the ones who can work, are offered jobs but won’t take them, the ones who have no problems turning down an honest day’s work but have no problem selling their children into sex, the ones begging in the streets even though they’re perfectly healthy, the ones who’d rather commit crimes instead of getting a job. Those are the shitheads I’m talking about.

I am not talking about people who have lost their jobs, who need a temporary helping hand, a leg up, who can’t get by even though they’re working, because their jobs don’t pay enough for them to support their families, the widowed, the elderly, the disabled and any other honest folks I might have not mentioned here. By all means, let’s help these people! As a matter of fact, if we stopped helping the shitheads I named in the previous paragraph, I bet we’d have a lot of money that we could use to help these people, who are truly deserving of our help.

It’s fiscally irresponsible to just hand money out without thoroughly checking who gets it and what they do with it but then, when have we known politicians in general to be fiscally responsible? It’s very easy to spend someone else’s money, especially when it means you can be a populist and earn cheap votes from all the scumbags who never do an honest day’s work, simply by promising to keep their aid flowing.

This sort of thing does nothing but encourage the same kind of disgusting behavior we now see in most developed countries of the world: shitty people being shitty, all day long, all over the place. Think about your own community for example: you know exactly who these shitty people are, the ones who live on welfare and multiply like fleas because they get more government aid that way. They’re filthy drunkards and/or drug addicts, horrible parents and as humans, they’re not only subpar, I doubt they even qualify for the title. In countries where it’s allowed, they are out begging on the streets, teaching their children to do the same, sometimes even mutilating them (yes, you read that right) in order to make them into better beggars.

In Romania for example, these assholes get free government-subsidized housing, which they shit on, literally. They get new housing and in a few years, it’s unrecognizable, in part because they shit around it and in it. Yes, in it, you read that right. They have toilets but don’t use them. They shit and piss outside the buildings, in the hallways and in their apartments. They get free TVs, free furniture, subsidized utility bills (they can spend all the energy they want, they only pay 5-15 lei per month). In return, they do nothing but evil. The law says they’re supposed to do some community work per month, but no one holds them to it. They go out and they beg on the streets. They steal. They have more children in order to have more benefits. They break the law more often than you can keep track. They pollute the city with their garbage, which they throw everywhere, including right out the window, so it piles up next to their free housing. They pollute the cities with their noise because they play their TVs and stereos loud all the time. They have fights on the streets. The list goes on and on. It’s utterly disgusting to watch them and no one wants to see them around. Come voting day, they pile up at the booths to vote for whatever politician bribed them off (the going rate is about 50-75 lei per vote). And they continue to get welfare from the government. Why in hell does that happen?

Why do we aid them? Why do we, the tax-paying citizens who support our governments and who work hard, some of us seven days a week, not just five, allow populist politicians to give our tax money to this societal detritus, to these walking piles of filth who pollute our cities and our lives? Why? That is a question for which I have yet to receive an adequate answer.

Some say it’s because the crime rate would go up, that these societal parasites would resort to crime of all sort in order to get some cash, and that we need to placate them with a monthly stipend. To that I reply that they (the parasites) are already engaging in illegal and criminal behavior. And besides, that’s we have we have police forces. I’d much rather know that my tax money goes to pay the salary of honest policemen who won’t hesitate to shoot down a parasite who is committing a crime, rather than have it go to helping that same parasite get drunk or drugged or sit in his or her own filth all day, watching TV.

Are you winching at the idea of cleaning up the filth of the world? Why? Are you more content to see it polluting your world, day in and day out, while you support it with your own money?

Some say that we need to work on rehabilitating the scumbags. To that I say they’re welcome to do it on their own dime and time. I have yet to see these efforts succeed even marginally. Some people are born to be shit and they’re going to be shit for as long as you allow them to be around.

Some say that out of the parasites we sometimes get people who rise up and become good citizens. To that I say I’ve heard enough about the exceptions to the rule. We need to stop worrying about the 0,001% of societal parasites who might at some unknown time become worthwhile people and deal with them as a class right now, the way they deserve to be dealt with.

So why are we spending so much of our money (it’s still our money even if we give it to the government in the form of taxes, I hope you realize that) to support those who don’t deserve any support whatsoever? Why?! Why don’t we cut them loose and help those who truly deserve it?

In case you’re wondering what we can do with the societal detritus, I have a plan and it’s this: mandatory community service. If they want government aid, they need to be out there on the streets, every single day, cleaning up our towns, everywhere. Whatever work to be done in our communities, they report for work every morning and they they get it done properly, under close supervision, otherwise they get nothing. They sweep the streets. They clean the garbage cans. They scrub grafitti off the walls. They scoop the poop leftover from wayward pets and the gum off the sidewalk. They clean our city parks and pull out the weeds. Etc… this list can go on and on. And it should also be mandatory for them to keep their places of living clean, to do everything by the letter of the law, or they stop getting aid. They get caught doing anything illegal, in jail they go, where they do mandatory work assigned to them.

As for the people who deserve help, I bet we can all think of hundreds of ways to help them, besides those currently available in our various countries.

Come on, let’s put a stop to the filth of society already!

The jostle for authority among the Romanian police forces

When you visit Romania, you might be surprised to learn that there’s more than one kind of police (or you might not be, depending on where you come from). As I understand it, in the US you’ll find local police and state troopers. Among the local US police forces you’ll find all kinds of teams and task forces whose authorities overlap with those of the the state police and the federal law enforcement teams (and if you’ll click on that link, I’ll bet you didn’t know there were so many of them).

In Romania, you have what people commonly know as the police, which acts locally but answers to its national ministry in Bucharest (MAI = Ministerul Afacerilor Interne). Let’s call them the “national police”, for lack of a better term. You also have the “local police”, which is literally called the “local police” in Romanian (Politia Locala) and answers directly to each city hall, to the mayor’s office. There is no national website for them, because they’re entirely local. For example, here’s the website of my city’s local police. And then you have the jandarmes, which are separate from the regular police force but are also part of it, since they answer to the same national ministry (MAI). I’m not sure what they do; I believe they’re called in for crowd control or in violent confrontations between citizens, but in my city, they do blended patrols that combine local and national police forces, as well as jandarmes. As you can see, this is fairly confusing and can’t be fully explained in a paragraph. I don’t know why countries make it so confusing for their people to understand how their law enforcement teams are organized and how they work.

At this point you’re wondering why I’m writing about this. Well, because as a private citizen, my concern is not with how the police are organized, but with getting a response when I call the dispatch office. That’s all anyone cares about, right? You have a situation, you need police assistance, you call the emergency number and you’re supposed to get some help. Let’s stop this line of thought for now, it’ll start to make sense later down the page.

In Romania, one of the things that is going on right now is a jostle for authority between the “national police” (for lack of a better term) and the “local police”. At some point in the past, the government decided to split up the police force this way, but it didn’t move policemen from the national police to the local police. Instead, it promoted local teams that used to be called “gardieni publici” (public guardians) or “politia comunitara” (community police) to the local police force. See here for the details.

This created a chasm between the national police and the local police. The main problem, as stated by the national police, is that the local police don’t go to the Police Academy and aren’t trained to be legitimate policemen, leading to unprofessional behavior and a poor knowledge of the laws they’re supposed to enforce. Another problem is that insignia and uniforms meant to be used by the national police are being used by the local police without the authority to do so. These arguments are ongoing and are constantly revived on social media by various policemen. Examples abound in the media of local policemen using the wrong insignia or behaving unprofesionally toward private citizens.

However, as a private citizen, I have also seen plenty of incidents where the national police behaved in completely unprofessional ways toward citizens, abused their authority, acted in such ways that made me suspect them of having been bribed, or were simply too lazy to respond to calls for assistance. And contrary to the general image one finds in Romanian media about the local police forces, in my city (Mediaș), they’re professional, they’re polite and they respond to calls for assistance.

Allow me to give you a few examples from my experiences.

A few weeks ago, we were driving through Bușteni, a mountain resort town, and a traffic policeman (they belong to the national police) was directing heavy traffic as he saw fit. What I mean by that is that he had just given our side of the street the go-ahead, the traffic light was green, but a few seconds later, he spotted a blonde who wanted to cross the street. He quickly changed his mind and stopped an entire convoy of cars so he could let her pass and leer in her direction while he measured her from head to toes. Of course she smiled, flattered (or as I like to call it, flatulated) by the attention. I was part of that convoy of cars and I considered it an abuse of authority to stop heavy traffic for the sole reason of leering at a woman.

In our own town, traffic police were directing traffic during road construction. My wife was a first-hand witness when they screamed at people. Those of you who understand Romanian will agree with me when I say that this phrase, “Măăă, io nu ți-am spuuus să nu te miști, măăăăă! Stai acolo băăăă!” is inappropriate. I understand they’re stressed out when directing traffic and that they have to deal with confused and perhaps even dumb people, but you don’t speak to citizens that way, and then demand respect for your authority.

Also in our town, we have this bar/restaurant of ill repute, which is constantly blasting music up and down the street without regard for noise ordinances. In the past, they’d bring in hookers for the party-goers and have all-night booze and STD festivities. People would spill out and urinate, defecate or vomit on the street. It was thoroughly disgusting and illegal. I and other neighbors would call in the national police and here’s where I think you’ll raise your eyebrows: a few minutes before they would arrive, the music would stop, the gates to the filthy place would close and their facade lights would be turned off. The police car would make its way past the place, see and hear “nothing”, then come and berate those of us who called and they’d threaten us with fines for calling them in for no reason at all. Then they’d either leave or sometimes park their car and go into that same place for “refreshments”. I like to call those refreshments “payoffs”. Feel free to call them what you like. After they’d leave, the lights would come back on, the gate would open and the whole disgusting thing would continue until the early hours of the morning. This happened multiple times. Years later, after countless verbal and written complains to whomever would listen at the local, county and national level, that place is no longer operating in that manner, though they still have loud music from time to time. So what are you thinking, was that appropriate and professional behavior from the national police?

A few years ago, we were driving in wintertime on a national road, in a place called Rupea Gară. We made a turn onto a side street in order to take a break from driving and make a few phone calls. There was a bit of an incline to get back onto the road and even though I had winter tires on, the wheels kept slipping (there was ice underneath the snow) and I couldn’t get the car back up on the road. As we were wondering what to do, I saw a traffic police car coming our way with two policemen inside and I flagged them down to ask for help. Do you know what their response was? “We can’t help you, manage by yourself,” in those words. Having been used to the traffic police and state troopers in the States, who would stop of their own accord to offer assistance if you were stopped or stuck, and who would call a tow truck if one was needed, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from these two uncaring policemen. I call them uncaring because they didn’t even care to look at me or my wife while they were talking, nor did they get out of their car, even though it was winter. I asked them if they knew of a tow truck company or if they were willing to help pull us up. We only needed a little help, we were driving our MINI Cooper at the time and we only needed to get over a 2-3 meter stretch of slippery asphalt. They declined and told me to “leave them alone because they’re busy” before they sped off. We were left there stranded and were finally helped after a half hour or so by a good samaritan who saw us and pulled us up in a matter of minutes with his car (not a tow truck). When I hear policemen ask for salary increases or for respect from the general population, I think back to this incident.

The street where we live is a residential street inside the medieval city walls. It’s classified as a low-speed zone. The traffic police, city hall and navigation apps all differ on the speed limit that should apply there. There are no speed limit signs, nor are there any policemen there at any time to enforce the speed limit. I’ve written to the city hall and to the police, I’ve even met with the chief of the traffic police and have gotten nowhere. Children play on this street and yet cars will drive up and down at speeds of 60-80 km/h. Idiots on motorbikes will accelerate their death-mobiles on purpose when they drive here, but it’s still just a two-lane street in the middle of the city, on a street packed with houses, where children play. Just a couple of streets over, right in front of a middle school, a car ran over a girl a few years back. You would think the police and city hall would be more sensitive to the issue. Navigation apps say the speed limit is 5 km/h. City hall says it’s 30 km/h. But no signs are posted and nobody’s enforcing anything. I’ve told the chief of the traffic police, if he’d only post a patrol car there every once in a while, it’ll be well worth his time. He’ll hand out plenty of fines that’ll help his bottom line, but he’s not interested.

The same lack of interest is shown by the rest of the national police when they’re called to deal with noise violations from automobiles, apartments or houses, or with littering and vandalism in public places, or with begging in the streets and many other “little things” which if not resolved, tend to make life less civilized in the cities. They’d rather someone else handle these things; they consider these tasks beneath them, and they’re more than happy to let the local police handle them. Thank goodness there is a local police that deals with this stuff, or else who’d take care of it?

In order for you to understand this next issue, I have to offer a bit of a preface. During Ceausescu’s communist regime, all kinds of people, mostly low to no-education and low-income, were moved into historic Saxon homes in the centers of medieval cities and villages, which had been illegally appropriated by the state. These large homes were subdivided into 1-2 room apartments. The idea was to use all the livable space without having to fund new construction, and these homes had been left empty by Saxons which fled to West Germany. “Fled” perhaps isn’t the right term, because West Germany had to pay a sum that varied between 10,000 – 20,000 Deutsche Marks per person, before the Saxons were allowed to leave the country. Fast forward to modern times, and what we have now is people with very mixed (and mostly low) incomes living in homes that are meant for people with deeper pockets, because they’re historic homes whose renovation requires lots of funds. It’s not like in the States, where there are zoning laws and where residential neighborhoods are separated by income levels. Of course, most of these homes are now crumbling, because surprise, surprise, these people have neither the funds nor the drive nor the know-how nor the good taste to renovate these homes, which are no longer government housing. So what you have now, in countless cities and villages in Romania, are beautiful, historic homes which are in various states of disrepair, defaced and destroyed by careless people who’ve even chopped the furniture and the structural beams into firewood. Still, not all the houses are like this. Some people understand their historical value, have bought them and have restored them, but as I said above, this requires significant funds and is not be undertaken lightly.

Okay, now I can move on to the next example I wanted to give you, because you now understand the context. On our street, gypsies live in one of the neighboring houses. For years, we’ve had noise issues with them. I know what some of you are saying now, “here he goes, he’s discriminating”. This has nothing to do with color or ethnicity, this has to do with behavior. It is my opinion that gypsies have no place in civilized society, not because something they’re born with (such as ethnicity or skin color) precludes them from participating in society, but because they refuse to change certain antisocial (and also illegal) patterns of behavior, and that in itself makes civilized people go, “Oh, I don’t know what you’re doing here, but you really shouldn’t be here. Not until you learn to behave properly.” Furthermore, you can be purple with pink polka dots, if you’re a good person and you behave like one, I’ll not only have no issues with you, I’ll probably like you. But these gypsies, they simply refuse to understand that there are laws against blasting “manele” at night and against getting piss-drunk and going outside and yelling at each other, at night or during the day, in the middle of a residential area where people are trying to live, work and sleep in a civilized manner. The list of illegal things they do could go on and on (and belive me, law enforcement authorities throughout Europe know this too well), but I’m restricting the discussion to this particular group of gypsies. We tried talking with them and it solved nothing. We called the national police and they were fined a few times, but the noise still continued. We filed written complaints and the noise still continued. And then the national police refused to bother anymore. They’d hang up on me when I called. Yes, you read that correctly. By the way, they’d also hang up on me when I called about that bar/restaurant mentioned a few paragraphs above. I’d call again, ask them why they hung up on me, and they’d do it again. They’d even tell me that “they didn’t feel like it” (“nu am chef, lasa-ma in pace”). Then I started calling the local police and they didn’t hang up on me. They responded, each and every time, and after several visits from the local police, the gypsies finally got the message and now they abide by the laws (somewhat). They’ll still “forget” every once in a while and play loud “manele”, they still make other noises at night (they cut firewood or move boxes/furniture) that are so loud we can hear them through thick brick walls, but the situation is better.

I did have a positive experience with the national traffic police (just one, unfortunately) in the Brașov region a few years ago. The cops in that area are renowned for the amount of traffic fines they hand out but in my case — and granted, it was an exceptional situation — they let me go on my way. It was time for Ligia to give birth to Sophie (our daughter who is now four years old). Her water had broken and we were driving to the hospital in Brașov where Ligia was going to give birth, from Mediaș. I had my emergency lights on and was driving about 10-20 km above the speed limit (depending on the road conditions), rushing to get to the hospital so that Sophie would be okay and Ligia could give birth under medical supervision, not in the car. Why Brașov and not Mediaș, you might say? Because the hospital in Mediaș is terrible and I wanted Ligia to give birth to our daughter in a properly equipped and staffed hospital, where the staff would be attentive to our needs, which was in Brașov. Well, as we were driving that way, I spotted a traffic stop ahead. We were flagged to stop and we did. The policeman came to our car and told us we’d been seen driving over the speed limit and asked why we had the emergency blinkers on. I pointed to my wife’s belly and said we were on our way to the hospital in Brasov so she could give birth. He looked at her, looked at me, then waived us on and told us to drive carefully. He could have fined us but chose not to do it. So that’s my one positive experience with traffic cops in Romania.

I could give you more examples, but I’ll stop here. The point is, as a private citizen, my experience in my own city with the national police, the ones who are making such a fuss about the local police, has been less than adequate and less than appropriate. On the other hand, the local police have always answered my calls for assistance and have done what they could to resolve those situations. And they’ve been professional, courteous and wore their uniforms correctly (that’s another complaint the national police have about them). I’ve been in the US Army, I know what a properly-worn uniform looks like and they’re doing it right.

I understand this is definitely not the case in other cities or villages in Romania, where the local police are behaving entirely inappropriately, don’t know the laws and are easily corrupted, but again, as a private citizen, I have to say that this perceived competition between these two police forces has resulted in better results for me, the citizen. As is the case in business, where competition is better for the consumer, having the option of calling two different police forces who answer to different authorities is good for citizens. It’s harder to corrupt both forces (corruption is an ongoing issue in Romania), so that if one of these forces is bought off locally, at least you still have the option of calling the other. I don’t know how this jostle for power is going to be resolved in the future, but for now, it allows the private citizen access to an honest, responsive police, whichever of the two it may be.

One last thing: the question in the news these days (at the time of publishing this article) is whether or not the police ought to have more authority. Yes, I believe they should, but I’d also like to see them put that authority to good use. Judging by what I’ve seen so far (about nine years of living in the country), the Romanian police are far more concerned with ignoring situations than solving them.

On self-driving cars

Here is a video I made about self-driving cars, and which I recorded in our VW Passat Station Wagon, which has a feature called Adaptive Cruise Control. When I got this car, I was amazed at how it could apply braking and acceleration as needed in order to keep the car at a safe distance from those in front of it. The only thing I needed to do was keep my hands on the steering wheel.

Now that self-driving cars are beginning to enter the marketplace, we’ll be able to take our hands completely off the wheel and focus on tasks that are more useful to us, such as reading, looking out the window, talking to our spouse or children, even catching up on sleep.

I’d love to see self-driving cars become mainstream, with the option of turning off the auto-pilot and driving them manually every now and then!

The 1956 Maserati A6G-2000 Allemano

A lot of great cars are featured on Jay Leno’s Garage. Out of all the episodes I’ve watched over the years, this 1956 Maserati Allemano is one of my top favorites. Design-wise, it’s pretty close to perfection. And of course, it’s dark silver, which is one of my favorite car colors (our two cars are also dark silver).

1956 Maserati A6G-2000 Allemano Exterior

1956 Maserati A6G-2000 Allemano Interior

Permanent data storage

We need to focus our efforts on finding more permanent ways to store data. What we have now is inadequate. Hard drives are susceptible to failure, data corruption and data erasure (see effects of EM pulses for example). CDs and DVDs become unreadable after several years and archival-quality optical media also stops working after 10-15 years, not to mention that the hardware itself that reads and writes to media changes so fast that media written in the past may become unreadable in the future simply because there’s nothing to read it anymore. I don’t think digital bits and codecs are a future-proof solution, but I do think imagery (stills or sequences of stills) and text are the way to go. It’s the way past cultures and civilizations have passed on their knowledge. However, we need to move past pictographs on cave walls and cuneiform writing on stone tablets. Our data storage needs are quite large and we need systems that can accommodate these requirements.

We need to be able to read/write data to permanent media that stores it for hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of years, so that we don’t lose our collective knowledge, so that future generations can benefit from all our discoveries, study us, find out what worked and what didn’t.

We need to find ways to store our knowledge permanently in ways that can be easily accessed and read in the future. We need to start thinking long-term when it comes to inventing and marketing data storage devices. I hope this post spurs you on to do some thinking of your own about this topic. Who knows what you might invent?

Mobile phones as desktop and laptop replacements

It’s high time we were able to come home and place our mobile phones in a dock that’s connected to a display, keyboard and mouse, and have it turn into a full-fledged desktop and laptop replacement. Mobile phones have sufficient computing power for most of our needs, they have the apps most of us use on desktops as well, and there are incredible energy savings to be had. Hardware manufacturers need to start making sincere, concerted efforts toward this end.

You may also want to read through this post of mine, where I tried my best to use a tablet (an iPad) as my main computer, only to be frustrated to no end by the lack of common ammenities and functionalities we’ve come to expect on desktops and laptops, simple things such as the use of a mouse, drag-and-drop functionality between folders, a finder/file explorer and the ability to easily access drives and files on the network.

I realize that people who engage in heavy computing on a daily basis, such as 4K video editing, 3D graphics and 3D video rendering, large-scale CAD projects, serious coding that requires powerful compilers and other such tasks, will still need very powerful desktop computers and even small server farms in order to do their jobs and I am in no way suggesting that they start using mobile phones to do their work.

We simply have to acknowledge that the majority of the population that uses computers can do just fine with the computing power of a mobile phone. I’m talking about the people who mostly check their email, use social networking sites and apps for social networking sites, plus some online banking and take casual photos and videos. What if all those people were able to use their mobiles phones as replacement desktops or replacement laptops? Wouldn’t that be a significant cost savings to them?

Looking at the greater picture, if all those people, or at least a significant portion of them did this, wouldn’t that translate into significant energy savings for cities, counties, states and countries? Aren’t we always talking about reducing our carbon footprint? Well, instead of using a laptop that consumes about 60W when plugged in, or a desktop that eats up about 200W, give or take, why not use a mobile phone that consumes 3-5W when plugged in?

A suggestion for this new year

Since this is my first post of 2017, I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year!

Now I’d like to suggest that you do something. I know you’d like me to post here on my blog more often. And that’s one of the things I’d like to do this year. But there is one place you can go where I post a lot these days: my Facebook page.

I’m not kidding. You’re missing out on a lot of good stuff if you aren’t following my page. As you know, the main subject of my website is how to make one’s life better. The things I talk about, the photos I publish, the videos I make, are by and large geared toward that purpose. My Facebook page deals with the same subject, except I can post a whole lot of stuff there that doesn’t necessarily belong on a website, like a quick video or a link to an article, or a photo that I didn’t take, or an inspirational quote, etc. So go to my Facebook page and follow me if you’re interested in this kind of stuff.

I bet you’ll also be interested in the photo albums I’ve posted there. For me, they’re sources of inspiration when it comes to making my life better and I hope they inspire you as well. Here’s the list, feel free to browse through them:

I believe some of you will have a couple of concerns as you start going through the photos, so let me address them here:

  1. Most of the photos aren’t my own. I wanted to post them anyway, because they are truly inspirational, whether they are scenes from nature or photographs of beautiful things. Where I knew the photographer, I gladly gave credit. Where I didn’t, I didn’t. If you do, let me know and I’ll quickly add a caption giving credit where it’s due. Also notice I said most of them aren’t my own. That means that interspersed between all those photographs you’ll find mine as well, and I didn’t credit myself either.
  2. It might seem like I’m overly concerned with things, with possessions. It’s not that. It’s about drawing inspiration from beauty and looking to re-create beauty of that sort in my own life. All of us have this innate need for beauty in our surroundings, for quality in the things we use, and yet most of you (I excluded myself from that group long ago, sorry) are content with the average or the sub-par. Sure, you’ll bring up money as an excuse but just like with anything in life, there’s no excuse for anything you really want to accomplish. I myself would rather go buy a top-notch coat from the thrift store than pay double or triple that price for an average coat at the store. Money isn’t a concern. You can always find a way to make your life more beautiful, more interesting, more worth living.

Anyway, the point of this long-overdue post is not to berrate you but to inspire you. If you want to be inspired and to learn good things, you need to folllow my Facebook page. And this website, naturally.

Thanks!

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.

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.

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.

My favorite vantage point for photography

I was invited by the folks at Light, who are working on some pretty interesting camera technology, to write about my favorite vantage point. I explained to them, as I’m explaining to you now, that I don’t have one. I get bored with shooting the same locations and I’m always on the lookout for new things to shoot.

Then I realized that over the past few years, I’ve been working in the exact same location, putting in lots of time and effort, being happy with the challenges offered by that very same spot and enjoying the beautiful results. But you didn’t know about those photos, because I haven’t published them on my website, and it didn’t occur to me earlier that it was a vantage point. I’m talking about my studio work for my wife’s printed books, in other words, about my food photography.

My favorite vantage point over the past few years has been the whitebox (the official name for it is a seamless tabletop background sweep cyclorama). Here’s what it looks like:

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That’s where I’ve been spending my time. Lots of my time. Here’s one example of my work:

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This is one of my wife’s raw desserts. It’s a raw vegan whipped cream, mint and strawberry cake. You can find the recipe for it in her Raw Desserts book.

And here’s another photo from the same book. I apologize if it leaves you drooling. It’s a raw vegan brownie with a raw chocolate glaze.

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Here’s how I work. I don’t have a set position for the camera or for the speedlites. I work handheld and I vary my camera position, angle and lens until I find what I think is a good frame for the photo. Then I’ll shoot a few photos to see how the lights fall on the subject and whether I need to vary their positions as well, in order to bring out the colors and sculpt the dimensionality of the photo with lights and shadows.

I use three independent speedlites triggered by the on-camera flash, which I sometimes choose to also fire or to only have it act as a remote for the other speedlites. For this photograph, I worked with my Canon gear: one of my three Canon cameras, an EOS 60D and three Canon speedlites. I love my EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens and I tend to use that a lot for my studio work. I also use ambient light from within the room itself (I turn on wall and ceiling lights) and I use a mix of warm and cold lights. I know most people say you should use the same temperature lights, but I prefer to mix them in order to get a warmer ambient light. The speedlites overwhelm the subject with their cold light, but there’s a hint of warmer light all around the photo, which I like, and this comes out when I edit the photo as well. I suppose I started doing this when I began to shoot video. People leave a lot of work for post-production, but I do like it when I capture the mood light of the video live, as I shoot it, so I fiddle less with it in post.

I’d like to say I’m the set designer as well, but for my food photography, I leave that to my wife. She’s the award-winning raw chef with seven published books and I’m the photographer. Sometimes we’re inspired and we love the results, and sometimes we’re not happy with what we get. So we re-do the photo shoot at another time. There have also been instances where we’ve re-shot certain recipes for later editions of her books, because we weren’t happy with the photographs and as our skills improved, we knew we could do better.

I wish I could be more helpful than this but for me, every studio photo is a new challenge and I vary my angles and lighting in order to get what I think are the best photos of my subjects. My wife and I then cull through them and pick the ones that’ll go into her books. I then edit each one carefully, add it to the collection designated for that book in my Lightroom catalog and carry on doing this until we’re ready to turn things over to the publishing house.

Here’s to the simple solutions

For the past couple of days, Mail had stopped working. It couldn’t connect to the email servers for some reasons and kept taking my accounts offline. I knew I hadn’t changed any of its settings. In all my years of using a Mac (since 1994), I’d never run into a situation where Mail settings had gotten corrupted, but I was now willing to look into it. I kept looking at all sorts of scenarios and guides online — things such as these (1, 2, 3, 4) — but nothing helped.

Then it occurred to me that three days ago, as I worked late, past midnight, I got the bright idea to switch the firewall level to High from Medium. “Oh, let’s get some extra protection, shall we?” My router is one of these gizmos handed to me by my ISP, it’s a ZTE that came with no printed documentation and barely any online documentation beyond “this is ON button, this is internet port”. So how was I to know that switching it to High would mean all traffic other than port 25 and 80 would be closed off? But that’s what happened. I did it, forgot about it, and when my email stopped working, it took me a couple of days to connect the dots.

I’m writing this down for you because it’s a great reminder that sometimes the simple solutions are the best (and possibly the only) ones. That, plus writing down changes to the internet configs, especially when I’m working late… Sure, I could have taken a dive into deep-level Mail documentation and email servers and the intricacies of setting up IMAP and opened up ports on my firewall and deleted my Mail settings and set up everything again, but all it took was me logging onto the ISP router and switching the firewall back down to Medium. Less than a minute vs. hours and hours of needless work.

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Good to know, right?