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 MediaČ™ 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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On voting rights

Yesterday’s presidential elections in Romania have prompted me to write about something that’s been on my mind for some time: voting rights in a so-called “democratic” country.

I’m concerned about the quality of the electorate and their capability to make objective decisions for the good of the country, not just for their own good. I’ve seen the average comprehension and literacy levels of adults drop across the board, on both sides of the pond. It’s a scary prospect, to be faced with a general electorate that can understand less and less of what you, as a legitimate candidate, are trying to communicate. If this keeps up, our future presidential candidates will need to yell, “Me, give food! Me, give shelter!”, wait for the grunts of approval to subside, then add “Press red button for me! No press red button, no food!”

Pandering to the lowest common denominator leads to short-sighted political decisions, to skeezy populism, to electoral promises/lies, and to a wanton disregard for the kind of leadership that is needed in a world increasingly screwed up by people — the kind of world where governments need to start making long-term, tough, redressive decisions and abide by them through regime changes.

We can look at the origins of democracy (Greece, Rome) in order to see how they handled voting rights, and the main takeaway in those cultures was to not let anyone vote who didn’t have “skin in the game”. By that the Greeks meant well-to-do men who’d also served in the military and the Romans meant men who came from good families (aristocratic) and were well-educated. Women weren’t allowed to vote, and neither were immigrants.

Here’s my proposal:

  • First we need to start thinking of the act of voting as a privilege, not as a right. It’s rightfully a privilege that can be lost if one screws up.
  • We won’t take away any of the hard-won voting privileges that exist in current democratic countries. Clearly women’s voting rights will stay. Clearly naturalized citizens will be able to continue to vote. But we’ll add some requirements; more specifically, the ones below.
  • You must be actively employed or own an active business entity, and you must have done so for at least 1 year prior to voting. In other words, you must be a contributing member of society who’s been working productively, or employing people productively, and paying taxes to that society. This is the crux of my proposal: if you want to have a say in how a society is currently run (which is the definition of a vote), you must currently contribute to it.
  • This means that certain groups of people will not get a vote: the retired and the unemployed. These are the two classes of people who’ve been skewing elections in the wrong direction in Romania for decades, and who almost sabotaged the current presidential election. Criminals will also lose their voting privileges, and rightly so.

I have nothing against retired people; they’ve put in a lifetime of work and they deserve their pensions, but they always vote for the people who will promise them $10-20 more in their monthly pension checks, regardless of what horrible things those people have done and will do to the country. And it’s a lot harder for them to vote objectively. A lot of them vote subjectively, particularly through the lens of nostalgia. This has to stop if a country is to move forward.

I have nothing against someone who’s temporarily unemployed and is looking for a job, but we have a huge problem in Romania with people who game the unemployment system and collect checks while they’re working here and there on the gray and black markets. They’re sucking up aid from the government any way they can, including by making babies for the sole purpose of getting more money per month from the government, while they contribute nothing. And their political allegiance is to any party and/or group of politicians that will bribe them off ahead of the elections and will promise to keep their aid coming. These people are uneducated, morally bankrupt shirkers whose only cares are whether they have enough cheap crap to stuff into their mouths and working television sets. They produce nothing except body odor, and they contribute nothing except body waste. They are the biggest threat to a country’s fiscal stability, particularly in the face of a decreasing work force, because they start barking and getting violent as soon as you tear them away from the teats on which they’ve been suckling. No politician wants to touch them, but they’re a problem that has to be addressed.

Thankfully, anyone excluded from voting under the rules I’ve proposed above can quickly remedy the situation by getting a job or starting a small business and contributing to the society in which they’re living. Then they’ll have earned the privilege to vote.

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On governmental stimuli for child-rearing

As the rate of population growth in developed or developing countries decreases, governments interested in managing their financial risk for social programs quite often offer one short-sighted solution: financial stimuli for making more children. The idea is to increase the future tax base and cover the costs of running a country’s social programs. It’s what just happened in Romania earlier this year, as the monthly allocation for each child was increased. This is the wrong approach.

Contrary to unfortunately popular beliefs and populist politicians, a nation’s decreasing population is a good thing. It’s an educated, informed, working population’s natural response to overpopulation, to the state of the world and the world’s resources, and its preference for quality over quantity. They prefer to have less children, often just one, and to ensure that that child gets the best education and upbringing that each family’s money can buy. Gone are the days when a family would have several children, knowing that a few would be lost during childhood and also knowing the ones who’d reach teenhood and adulthood would be good help on the homestead. Also gone are the days when a country’s population growth was seen as a nationally strategic decision and encouraged against reason and odds.

Still, financial stimuly for child-rearing are a popular topic with voters. What are a country’s leaders to do as they try to shift their country’s focus from quantity to quality, on all levels of life? Here’s a thought: do what the educated parents do. Lavish proper financial stimuli on a family’s first child. I would increase the amount of aid offered by the government by quite a bit, but only for the first child. After that first child, the aid would stop. Each family should be completely on its own if they want to have additional children.

This could be taken one step further in order to fully address a country’s population growth: governments could institute a higher income tax on those families who choose to have more than one child. Whatever name gets attached to it, in those countries where population growth must be curbed, there should be a tax — perhaps even a tax that grows exponentially — for each additional child.

In a world that is well past the mark of overpopulation, each family that chooses to have additional children should ensure they have the proper resources to take care of them instead of being a burden on society. The making of children purely for the purpose of obtaining financial aid from the government (which is a thing in Romania among certain people) would no longer be a problem. The problem of uncontrolled population growth would be fully addressed.

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On bad behaviors in public

I’ve written time and again here on my site about my repulsion for people who disturb the peace and about products that enable them to do it. I think most of today’s governments are, in general, much too lax on their stance on this, and it’s the kind of thing that should not be tolerated at all, given how many people are affected when, say, a single idiot decides to play his music too loud. Hundreds of people could be bothered by it (if not thousands in more densely populated areas). Then there is the matter of one’s taste in music, which is an individual choice and should not be forced on others at all, period.

The impact of disturbing the peace is huge when you factor in the stress and its health effects (seen and unseen) on the people within reach of the noise and by and large, the fines for this sort of bad behavior are next to nothing in a country such as Romania. Not only are the fines fairly small here, but there is little to no enforcement in most cases, mostly because the population tolerates it (because they don’t know better), and also because in some cases, there is corruption and collusion with the offenders within the police force, particularly in the countryside, where the police force is stretched thin and they have few checks in place to catch bribes and other types of collusion.

On several occasions, I have experienced this sort of public disturbance myself, have called the police about it and they either did nothing, or ended up fining the individuals involved some small amount, but the noise levels were insufferable for most of a day, so all that time was wasted while hundreds of people were inconvenienced by a single moron or a group of morons.

I truly believe this is the sort of thing that spirals down. An asswipe who is tolerated by those around him when he decides to disturb the peace is only encouraged to break the law even further. Bad behavior unchecked leads to more bad behavior.

It’s the same sort of thing with littering in public. Certain people in Romania have this nasty habit of eating roasted sunflower seeds in public, then spitting the shells on the ground. They are unfortunately tolerated by the police force, in part because they feel it’s beneath them to fine someone for an offense this small, and also because they don’t want to bother. They know those types of individuals will make a scene, so they prefer to ignore their behavior and see to their other duties. But if you follow the thread of sunflower shells, to speak figuratively, you’ll see those same people, unchecked, dump trash by the roadside. It could be just an empty plastic bottle. It could be a bag of garbage. Or it could be a cart or a van full of construction debris or various things they want to dump out of their home. Instead of disposing of that litter properly, at the dump, where they’d have to pay a small fee, they simply throw it by the wayside at night. And I believe it starts with spitting sunflower seeds in public. Or throwing a candy or gum wrapper on the ground. Doing that sort of stuff, unchecked, for a few months or a few years, will gradually lead to greater offenses.

We need serious policing in a lot of countries today, particularly in Romania. We need serious fines and even more severe punishments for the people who engage in bad behavior in public. Unchecked, things will only get worse.

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On gardening and civilized society

Ever since we’ve begun the restoration work on the historical monuments in the Transylvanian countryside (see Asociatia P.A.T.R.U. for the details), I’ve had to tend to the landscaping, among other things. And if there’s one thing you learn when you garden, is that you have to prune the weeds constantly. Some weeds you simply cannot just pull out and throw in a compost pile, they’re so invasive that you must burn them in order to stop them from spreading.

Yet in our modern, civilized society, we are led to believe that we must tolerate the weeds, including the really nasty ones. That somehow, we are to be as tolerant as possible, that there is a place for everyone in our all-inclusive civilization. It’s as if everyone’s a precious flower that we must tend to and nourish. Inasmuch as I want that to be the case, and lots of other idealistic people want that to be the case, a lot of people are weeds. Nasty weeds that we shouldn’t tolerate, that do not deserve our respect, attention, or our help. These are people that constantly shit the bed of civilization, so to speak. They take every chance, every opportunity given to them by society, by well-meaning people, and they abuse it. They turn it into something to be regretted. Like weeds, if they’re not pruned, they spread everywhere, and then there’s no garden anymore. They must be thrown out of society. For some, a little time in the compost pile might be enough. For others, there is no coming back. It’s like trying to stick a square peg in a round hole. They’re anachronisms, throwbacks to more barbaric times. Unfortunately, unlike anachronisms, they’re not self-eliminating, they’re self-perpetuating. And so more drastic action must be taken.

This isn’t something that’s done once. It requires regularity. Punishing regularity. Real effort, real sweat. A constant battle against the weeds. Just like gardening.

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Thoughts

In-camera, optical tilt shift is now achievable

I’m not sure when it clicked for you that tilt shift could be had easily and practically, in camera with some recent models, but that time was today for me.

Tilt–shift photography is the use of camera movements that change the orientation and/or position of the lens with respect to the film or image sensor on cameras.

Sometimes the term is used when the large depth of field is simulated with digital post-processing; the name may derive from a perspective control lens (or tilt–shift lens) normally required when the effect is produced optically.

“Tilt–shift” encompasses two different types of movements: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift.

Tilt is used to control the orientation of the plane of focus (PoF), and hence the part of an image that appears sharp; it makes use of the Scheimpflug principle. Shift is used to adjust the position of the subject in the image area without moving the camera back; this is often helpful in avoiding the convergence of parallel lines, as when photographing tall buildings.

Tilt-shift photography, Wikipedia

The only mainstream lens manufacturer I know of that sells tilt-shift lenses is Canon. While I like Canon cameras and love the capabilities of tilt-shift lenses, I would like to see if there are other ways to handle this issue. It’s somewhat of a niche problem, but it’s one that’s worth addressing.

And then it dawned on me. Some camera models have sophisticated 5-axis image stabilization. That means they effectively tilt and shift the sensor, along with “shake it all about” and so on, in order to keep a longer exposure clear. But what if we were to modify the firmare, to introduce a special section in the camera menus, where the vertical and horizontal angles at which the sensor is kept when facing a scene could be manually adjusted through that special section? We could effectively introduce optical tilt and shift capabilities by manipulating the sensor, while still using the same lenses.

Lightroom offers some options to tilt and shift the image after it’s been taken, but any good photographer will tell you it’s better to capture the image you need directly in camera. Introducing a special menu that lets us tilt and shift the sensor, perhaps using the buttons and dials already built on the camera, would provide this valuable niche capability to those who do not own Canon tilt-shift lenses and do not shoot with Canon cameras. It’d literally be a bonus firmware upgrade that could be pushed out and the new feature should just work. There would be some limitations in the amount of movement, since the IBIS engine wasn’t originally built for this, but it would work, and in future iterations of the IBIS, I’m sure it would work even better.

If you liked this idea and you work in product design and development, you may want to have a look at my consulting website.

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Thoughts

What I’d like to see in a new iMac

As is usual in anticipation of the launch of new hardware from Apple, there are lots of posts and videos with detailed renders of what we might expect from a new iMac. Other than faster hardware, which is something that we’re going to get anyway, I would really like to see a new swivel design that allows me to turn the computer to Portrait mode. I made a mock-up in Photoshop, but I’m no wizard in that app, so you’ll have to excuse the quality.

The capability to rotate the display and have it conform automatically to the new vertical is something that we’ve already had for years in iOS devices like the iPhone Plus and the iPad. And with the iPad Pro, the bezel design is symmetric, so the device looks good in any orientation. So giving the iMac the same capability would require a redesign of the outer face, probably by making the bezel the same width all around, as others have already hinted. Do you see how this purported new design lends itself to the rotation of the display?

Monitors that function in Portrait mode are nothing new, so this isn’t reinventing the wheel. I’ve seen them around since the early 1990s, when people working on books and brochures in Aldus Pagemaker (also called Adobe Pagemaker later on) would turn theirs sideways to help with their work. I imagine it would also help when working on portrait photos or other vertical photography.

Oh, and how about six USB-C ports on the back? Rather than go with two USB-C and four USB 3.0, ports, I’d go with six USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports and use readily available connector adapters for USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 devices.

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Thoughts

The best of times

Isn’t it interesting how timeless and true good writing proves itself, even in our modern age, and even though it was originally intended for a different literary context?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, 1859

We are indeed living in the best times of current recorded history and because every coin has a flip side, there are surely plenty of things to complain about. Yet I thought I’d point out some of the good things in this post.

Out of all our known and written history, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a time like this, when most of the world is enjoying a period of “not war” and when the options available to us in areas such as healthcare, living conditions, hygiene, infrastructure, learning, jobs, possessions, transport, personal freedoms and just about everything else you can think about are so many and so readily available. Yes, some of these options can get expensive, but they are there and they are available, whereas most of them simply did not exist in the past.

We get so caught up in our daily, mundane routines and our various disappointments that we allow to blacken our lives, that we forget we have it so good. I’d like to invite you to find and watch documentaries and TV series that portray our various periods of history with accuracy; there are quite a few these days. I’d like you to become acquainted with how people lived and how hard it was to simply get through a day and have some food to put on the table, much less be able to afford a few knick-knacks here and there.

Most people have never been able to afford what we call a proper home and have lived in sheds, hovels and small cottages for most of history. Most houses were a one-room affair in the past. The toilet was a pot under the bed or a communal outdoor hole in the ground. Chamber pots would be thrown into the street every morning. Think about taking a walk in those cities! Even in civilized cities, right up to the 1960s-70s, people would have to share a common bathroom or bathrooms in apartment buildings or subdivided houses. And now we’ve gotten to the point where we mind sharing a bathroom with our guests and we complain if our house has less than 3-4 rooms.

The capability to take a daily shower under hot running water, with a pleasant soap and shampoo, has been unheard of in all our recorded history, until recent times. And yet people still find excuses when it comes to maintaining proper daily hygiene and complain about water hardness and water pressure and soap quality, etc.

Dental care is so important. Without it, most of us would be toothless by our 40s and those who’d still have teeth would have some rather nasty decoloration and build-up on them. Should we be part of the majority of the population without teeth, we’d have to wear dentures made of wood or animal teeth, or of metals such as lead, dentures that wouldn’t fit properly and cause us daily pain. We now have access to orthodontics, fillings that match the color and hardness of our teeth and are almost invisible, crowns, implants and now stem cell implants, which can regenerate our own teeth! This was never available in the past. We’ve had to struggle with primitive tooth care for so long.

Of all healthcare options available, I would single out trauma surgery as the most important development. Nowadays we have the option of receiving triage and trauma care that allows us to fully heal without infection, including proper bone and joint surgery and for most of known history, we simply didn’t have this. Broken arms stayed broken. Torn joints stayed torn. Cuts and flesh wounds often got infected and led to death. Yes, healthcare is terribly expensive. Yes, good basic healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. But look at the bright side: it exists! How governments choose to make it available to their citizens is an open and ongoing discussion instead of a “No, we’ve never heard of that, it doesn’t even exist” kind of discussion.

How easy is it to learn things nowadays? Access to information is virtually free, and more resources (historical and modern) have become available online than we’ll ever have time to read, and yet I’m hard pressed to come across than a few learned, thoughtful individuals during the course of a day and sometimes even a week; (perhaps that’s also due to the way our educational systems are structured.) Various apps on our mobile devices compete to make learning as fun as possible for us. Universities and colleges post videos from their courses for free online access. For most of history, people didn’t know how to read or write. They were thirsty for learning but it was out of their reach. It was simply too expensive or just not an option for them. Trade secrets, for example, were closely guarded and only revealed to tradespeople in secrecy, after long apprenticeships. Now everyone can watch how-to videos and learn how to do something, but how many follow through and actually do those things or even more, persist at them until they get good? Most of us tend to confuse reading or watching the news with learning. Opening up our minds and pouring in the news isn’t learning, it’s just a deluge of unhelpful and depressing bits of information.

For most of our history, people couldn’t pick their jobs. There was little social mobility. If you were born into a peasant family, you were a peasant, end of story. Only the aristocracy could pick and choose what they wanted to do, but even if they were passionate about something, it could only be a hobby, because they were expected by all to be aristocrats, not do things (I know, boo-hoo for them…) Now anyone can be just about anything, and training for that job is within reach if they want it enough. One way or another you can make ends meet and get to do what you like in life. I know, I know, student loans are huge… that’s why it’s doubly important to figure out what you want to do before you start going to school for it, else you’ll be spending money you don’t have so you can get to do what you don’t want to do. While I’m talking about this, allow me to pitch you on choosing a career in the trades; good craftsmen are in severe demand these days.

The subject of possessions is huge, both figuratively and literally. We could talk all day about rampant consumerism and fake economies and fast fashion. The point is, it’s incredibly affordable to buy things today, and it simply wasn’t the case for most of our history. Even something that we often take for granted and is typically rusting in our garden sheds, such as a simple hand saw, was incredibly hard to make and buy during medieval times. Even an axe or a pick was hard to make. They cost lots of money, the equivalent of small cars nowadays, so people saved up for years to buy tools, then cared for them and handed them down to their sons and daughters. Clothes were made by hand, and that included the materials. You cared for them and mended them as long as you could. Someone would typically only have one change of clothing. Nowadays clothing is literally clogging up our homes and people are desperate to get help in order to clean them up and organize them.

In the last 100 years, means of transport have progressed tremendously. Whereas travel was slow and expensive, it’s now fast and inexpensive. We can travel by car, train, ship and airplane. We can even skip physical travel and visit locations virtually by looking at photos from those places, or street views in mapping applications. We can even immerse ourselves in 360 degree videos and virtual realities.

We find time to bitch about every little bump and pothole in our public roads, yet we’ve never had it so good. It’s true that Roman roads are legendary, but you have to remember they were cobblestone in a time where suspension hadn’t yet been invented. Every single bone and sinew in your body would have been shaken out of sorts by the time a day’s ride would be over. After Roman civilization degraded, we were back to mud ruts and dust for over 1500 years, plus frequent attacks from highway robbers. Now all but the most rural roads are paved and can be safely traveled.

How about personal freedoms? Have societies ever tolerated so much free speech, even when it’s hateful and offensive, and offered so much personal freedom for various lifestyle choices, even for something that we now consider so commonplace as divorce or adultery? Do you know how shunned people were for adultery in the past, or how impossible it was to get a divorce, even when situation was terrible and abusive? How about the open criticism and ridicule of politicians, business leaders and other figures of authority or fame that we now tolerate? When was that sort of thing well-tolerated in the past? And yet we still find ways to take these things to the extreme, and we keep pushing the boundaries till things get truly and downright brazen and defamatory, instead of celebrating the freedom of speaking out against someone and doing it with some sense of decency.

I do wish more people would realize how good we have it and would be more grateful for all of the opportunities, amenities and conveniences that modern times offer us. We certainly don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we lose what we’ve worked so hard for as a human race and civilization, because then we’ll have really failed ourselves. I think the way to become more grateful is to pay attention to the past, because it offers up enough contrast to the present to make us have those little epiphanies of conscience that raise our collective morale.

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The flip side of digital photography

Should you be old enough, you’ll remember how different photography was before the arrival of digital cameras. Not only was it difficult to get great photos, the kind that were good enough for publication, but it was difficult to develop them and reproduce them. There were real barriers to entry and to success in the field. They weren’t insurmountable, but they were there.

Nowadays, digital cameras make it so easy for us. Even a novice can occasionally get a great photo simply by clicking the shutter button, because modern cameras can pretty much handle all situations. They don’t do everything, you still need to know what you’re doing in some scenarios, but they’ll get you pretty close to your desired result by themselves, most of the time. So not only is it easy to take photos, but it’s also easy to “develop” them using your computer, and you can reproduce them endlessly. The barriers to entry and success in the field are now almost gone.

However, one thing we all learn as we age is that everything comes with pluses and minuses. Just like film photography had certain minuses, digital photography comes with plenty of unpleasantries on its flip side.

Publications that used to hire photographers and pay them good wages are dwindling. How many do you know of that still have on-staff photographers, or hire photographers for their stories? And how do their salaries compare with those of photographers in the past if they’re adjusted for inflation?

Stock agencies are decreasing the payouts to photographers. There is a lot of competition in that market, paired with a real glut of photographs. And when the supply always outnumbers the demand, prices will fall. There are but a few stock agencies left. There are a ton of microstock agencies which sell photos for piddly sums and pay cents on the dollar to photographers, and they’re also getting bought out and merging with each other in order to survive. If it wasn’t clear a few years ago, it’s becoming painfully clear now that a photographer cannot make a living selling microstock. There are a few who manage to do it, but it’s clear that on average, microstock yields a non-livable income.

There are so many photographs being made that people don’t truly appreciate them anymore. Do you remember how we used to admire photographs in the past? We’d stare at them for 5-10 minutes at a time, taking in each detail. We’d cut them out of magazines and paste them in scrapbooks. We’d look at them and look at them and look at them… Now we’re lucky if a photo gets 5 seconds of someone’s time. There are so many of them that people just gloss right over a photo that took days or hundreds of tries to make. Perhaps you’ll understand this better if I compare it to a periodical cicada emergence. In just a few days, animals that would eagerly consume them as they came out, would become so glutted that they’d simply lay on the ground and watch them crawl around and over them, unable to eat a single morsel. That’s what’s going on with photographs now. Each of us has a rhythm, a rate of “ingesting” digital content and we’ve all reached our max, but the photographs just keep coming. They keep coming and their rate of production is actually increasing. We cannot keep up.

Digital photography gear is made to become obsolete, causing you to spend more money every few years. Remember how you could use the same film camera for 10-20 years, even a lifetime, if you took care of it? That’s not the case with digital cameras, which typically last about 4-5 years before something goes bad. Even if you’re willing to pay a repair shop to have it fixed, camera manufacturers stop stocking parts for older cameras after a certain number of years, because they want to force you to buy a new model. I wanted to send my Canon 5D in for repairs last year, but I couldn’t. The repair shop said I shouldn’t bother, because Canon actually doesn’t allow them to work on the 1st gen 5D anymore and they’ve stopped stocking parts. Not that Canon repair experiences were so great to begin with, but at least they got the job done. I also sent in my Olympus PEN E-P2 in for repairs last year, but it didn’t get repaired. It came back just as I sent it, with a message that offered apologies for the inconvenience and explained that they’d stopped stocking parts for that model just a few months back; support had been discontinued by Olympus. I don’t understand it: there’s money to be made with service and repairs, so why stop supporting a model? Why not keep servicing it for as long as the customer is willing to use it? That business model has been proven to work a long time ago by the car industry.

Cameras, lenses and flashes are getting more expensive each year. Manufacturers can call them inflation adjustments all they want, but price hikes still feel very much like price hikes. And when they’re coupled with no real way to make money from your photos anymore, what are you left with? Doing weddings? Yuck. I don’t know how photographers are coping with all of this. I have a nagging feeling that wedding photographers are pretty much the only ones making money from photography these days. They’re certainly the bulk of the paying customers for camera manufacturers. It’s them and the online “experts” that have sprouted like mushrooms after rain, offering “advice” about which camera model to buy on YouTube and other video sites. It’s a new model/brand each week of course, unless they’re getting paid by a manufacturer to promote a certain brand.

There are real costs associated with processing, storing and archiving digital photographs. We’re told that digital photographs are pretty much free and there’s never been a better time to take many, many photos in order to learn the craft, but there are significant costs that come into play when you add the price of a good computer and good software and the storage and backup solutions that you will absolutely need unless you want your photos and your hard work to go up in a puff of virtual smoke. I’d like to challenge you to add up the costs of your camera gear (camera, lenses, flashes, adapters, tripods, etc.) and computer equipment (laptop/desktop, external hard drives, backup equipment/services) and once you have a total, divide it by the number of photographs you’ve taken with your camera so far. That’ll give you a pretty good idea of the cost per image, and you’ll see that digital photographs are not free. Granted, that cost per image will go down the longer you keep your current equipment and the more photos you take with it, although the cost of storage and backup will still be there for your larger collection of photographs. Do you realize you’ll likely need to pay for a backup subscription for the rest of your life? It’s no wonder that more and more people choose to take photos with their smartphones and edit them directly on those devices, forgoing the cost of computer equipment. And when smartphone manufacturers also offer direct and almost instantaneous cloud backup of the images and videos taken with the phones (at somewhat reasonable prices) it becomes a very attractive offer.

It’s so easy to reproduce digital photographs that it’s actually a problem, because anyone can steal and plagiarize them. Theft of online photographs is rampant. It’s one thing for a fan to repost your photos on another site — I’d go so far as to say that’s fine… but it’s quite another thing for someone to download your photos, enlarge them in Photoshop and repost them on a stock site or use them in ad campaigns, and this is happening quite a lot.

There is no consistent way to attribute photographs online, which means a photographer’s name is likely to get lost in the shuffle. Sure, you can use a caption that lists the photographer’s name, but that only works if you’re the primary publication and you’ve worked with the photographer. Most software used to export and compress images for online publication generally strips EXIF and IPTC copyright information. And most online platforms also have no consistent way of keeping that information inside the photographs, instead offering excuses about file size and compression algorithms which sound very empty given how far we’ve come with computer technology. Have you ever tried to find a photographer’s name for a photo reposted on social media? Good luck… Unless they’ve got a tasteful watermark somewhere on the photo, the metadata’s been wiped clean by these sites. Even Flickr still does not keep a photographer’s name in the metadata of a photo. Should you be able to download a photo from a Flickr contact, you’ll get a link to the page where it was found and maybe a caption, but you will not get something as basic as the photographer’s name, much less the rest of the copyright information.

I’m not saying we should go back to film and analog equipment. I love digital cameras and their ease of use. And I love the various advances being made in digital camera gear. Some of the minuses listed above can even be fixed. I’m just not enthusiastic about their flip side. When photographs were harder to make, we appreciated them more and good photographers stood a good chance of making good money with them. Now that photographs are easy to make, we don’t appreciate them and income from photographs has gone down to pennies on the dollar, if at all. Thank goodness I take photographs for the sake of it, as a creative endeavour that relaxes me after working on my various projects, but I wonder how others are coping with these changes. And it’s also not to say that I wouldn’t mind making money from my photographs on my own terms.

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