Poze de la Raw Generation Iași, Ediția II

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

Ligia Pop

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

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A comparison of CrashPlan and Backblaze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Space used on CrashPlan’s servers: 2.8 TB

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

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

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This is false advertising
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This is also false advertising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is what I did to optimize my Backblaze installation

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

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

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

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

Autumn has visited our home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dawn

It’s not often I wake up early enough to see the dawn. I usually work late into the night, because I find that’s when I can gather my thoughts and be at my most productive — when I’m alone, the noises of the day have subsided and the only sounds I hear are the reassuring churning of the hard drive platters in my Drobo and my own breath.

When I do manage to wake up early (or work through the night and into the dawn), I get these gorgeous, glorious views of the Earth waking up as that huge fireball called the Sun starts to light things up. Mind you, I’m not talking about the sunrise. It’s the dawn, also known as the daybreak. It’s when the darkness of the night starts to fade away and shapes begin to form out of the mist. It’s when things unseen become seen.

I thought I’d publish a gallery of various photos I’ve taken in recent years of the dawn. Some of the photos are from places where I’ve lived, others are from places I visited and most are from the road. My wife and I would often just get in our car and drive to some town where we had business in the middle of the night, so we’d be there in the morning. The roads were quiet and it was an experience unto itself to be in the middle of nowhere, our car a capsule of civilization and warmth in an otherwise cold place at a cold time, its headlights eyes, peering out into the darkness and making sense of it. Now that we have a small daughter, there’s no night driving. We’re too exhausted. We’re happy to take any and all sleep we can get. Which is what I’m going to do after publishing this post, because it’s way past midnight here.

This gallery isn’t exhaustive, it’s a work in progress (I hope I’m around for a long, long time to capture countless more dawns on bits and bytes) but I think it’s beautiful to look at and I hope you do too. Enjoy!

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.

Ligia’s Kitchen: a raw vegan dessert from whipped cream and blackberries

In this episode, Ligia makes a quick and delicious dessert from raw vegan whipped cream and blackberries, sweetened with Green Sugar, an all-natural powdered sweetener made from stevia, with none of the stevia after-taste.

An evening walk through Sibiu’s historical center

Here are a few photos from a recent visit to Sibiu, where we walked through the two main piazzas in its historical center.