A Guide To A Good Life

How are you spending this time?

I thought I’d make a video about this historically significant period in our lives, one which deals with how I’m spending my time, with the importance of appreciating and enjoying one’s time alone and at home, and with using this free time productively, in ways which will enrich your lives now and later. (Sorry about the audio, my external microphone malfunctioned and I had to rely on what my phone’s microphone captured.)

Part of the discussion in the video comments centered around a reading list that would be well-suited to this time, so I put one together here. I hope it proves useful to you!

Released 21-04-2020
Thanks for watching!

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A Guide To A Good Life

My grandfather’s example

This is the second video in a new series where I talk about the people, experiences and things that have helped me in life. Who knows, perhaps they’ll help you as well. This time I’ll tell you the story of my grandfather, and how he inspired me to be better through his example. Enjoy!

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Events

Sophie’s here!

Exactly one week ago at this very hour, our daughter Sophie was born into this great big world of ours. We’re so thrilled to have her. She’s a joy to behold and a joy to be with: peaceful and lovely, an enchanting little angel. We were a couple before and now we’re a family. And I’m a daddy, which is a notion that still floors me.

The best part is that Ligia and I both wanted a daughter. To make it even more interesting, we kept the gender a secret from ourselves till the very climactic end, when the midwife set the freshly born Sophie on Ligia’s chest and we learned that our wish had been granted.

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Big news at home!

We’re expecting a baby! 🙂

Ligia’s three months into her pregnancy and we’re soon going to be parents! We don’t know and we don’t want to know whether it’s a boy or a girl (I want a girl) until the birth.

Two more tidbits: we’re raw foodists, which means the baby is going to be pretty special, free of the toxins and hormones you find in processed foods, and Ligia’s going to have a natural birth, without drugs. More info about the technique that she’ll be using is found here, it’s called hypnobirthing.

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Places

The winter of 1998 in Romania

It’s snowing outside as I write this. It’s been a wacky winter season so far. One day it feels like spring, the next it’s winter, the next is autumn and it’s raining and then it all freezes and winter moves back in.

I’ve been going through some old photos, taken back in 1998, when I made a trip to Romania in December, to spend the winter holidays with my grandparents. I’d graduated from college that May and I hadn’t visited Romania in eight years. It had changed a lot since 1991. It’s still changing, with each year.

The photos were taken with an APS film camera, the first generation Canon Elph, which I still have. If you remember APS film cameras, you’ll know they had an on-camera switch that would modify the FOV (Field of View), letting you take landscapes (like the photograph you see below) or regular photographs (like the second photograph you see below) or portraits — which was a setting I seldom used. When you developed the photos, the store would automatically crop your photos based on the setting you chose. The landscape-format photos would be printed on wider paper. It was a nice system, for its time.

That winter was a real winter: cold, lots of snow, ice on the roads, winds that chilled you to the bone — fun stuff! I drove my grandparents’ Dacia 1310 to see the country, and it was an adventure to get it started every morning. Sometimes you had to pour boiling water over the engine. Sometimes you had to push it. Sometimes you had to get a mechanic to open up the carburetor and clean it, because the fuel quality was so bad that it would constantly get dirty.

There’s the Dacia, parked on the side of the road in this photograph.

I remember almost getting stuck in a field in the middle of nowhere that year. I took a country road after topping up the tank, because I wanted to help a couple of people get home to their village. Unbeknownst to me, the gas station had added water to their gasoline. A few kilometers into an open field, with no settlements in sight, the engine started to choke. It was freezing cold outside, so cold that my nostrils would clog up with icicles when I breathed. We started to panic. At the time, cellphones hadn’t yet reached Romania. There was no one we could call.

We pushed on, hoping we’d make it. Unfortunately, the engine couldn’t handle the crappy fuel. The prospect of walking 5 or so kilometers through deep snow, in the freezing cold, was beginning to weigh heavily on our minds. I kept revving up the engine, keeping the rpms high, hoping I could keep the engine turning. If I let my foot off the accelerator even for a bit, the needle would immediately drop and the engine wanted to stop completely. Then it stopped. I got it going again. It stopped once more. I got it going again. It stopped once more, and it didn’t want to turn any more. There we were, peace and quiet all around, our breaths fogging up the car windows, unsure what came next.

Then one of the folks got a bright idea. They’d bought a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Why not put it in the tank, maybe it would mix with the water and help it burn? We poured a bit in, and after 5 minutes of alternately trying to start the car via ignition or pushing, the engine started puttering away. We reached the village shortly after that, and my first stop was at the village store, where I bought three bottles of rubbing alcohol. That winter holiday, whenever I drove anywhere in Romania, the car was stocked with rubbing alcohol, and it saved me time and time again. There was no point relying on the quality of the fuel, because all gas stations would “multiply” their fuel reserves with water. Some added more, some added less, but you could count on it being in the gasoline, wherever you bought it.

Let’s get back to the photographs. They have a yellow color cast. It’s not a film effect. It’s simply a matter of the photo paper yellowing with time. I scanned the printed photos instead of scanning the film negatives, so the “vintage” effect is physical, not digital. I hope to scan the negatives at some point, so I can archive and edit these memories properly.

That winter, I visited my paternal grandparents in Maramures (my father’s parents). I visited them with my maternal grandfather (my mother’s father). He took this photograph of the three of us.

Here’s my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandparents (or “tataia” as I liked to call him).

Both my grandfathers are gone now. My maternal grandmother is also gone. Only my father’s mother is still alive. Some day, I too will be but a memory, a face in old photographs. Memento mori.

My grandparents had a wonderful dog named Rex, a very smart German Shepherd. You can see how intelligent he is right away when you see him in old photographs like this one. It’s amazing how some dogs shine brighter than others, right away.

Rex is gone as well, and we have yet to find a dog as smart as he was. Our new dog, a Romanian sheep dog (“Ciobanesc Mioritic”) is still a baby, but she’s showing signs of being fairly smart. We’ll see how she develops with time.

So there you have it, dear reader: a glimpse into my past, into a beautiful, almost magical winter, a time I remember with joy to this day, because it was spent with family, with people I loved and who loved me back.

I’m always more aware of the importance of loving relationships during winter. When you’re out there in the cold, traveling, the prospect of being welcomed into a warm home where you know you’ll find love makes that time magical. It makes every second worthwhile, it imbues the very cold air you breath with the hope that there’s something even better right around the corner, that life is worth living.

It’s one of the reasons why I love winter. I love to curl up on the couch with a fire in the stove, a book in my hand, a cup of tea in the other, and look out the window, taking comfort the fact that while it’s cold outside, I’m warm and my life is made wonderful by that simple realization.

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Thoughts

Happy Birthday Tataie

It’s my grandfather’s birthday today. He died just a couple of weeks ago after a painful struggle with mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

He’d been coughing for a few years. It was a persistent cough, but it wasn’t a severe cough. He coughed here and there, and especially after he came into a cooler room after working outside, in his beloved garden. Then things got worse. He kept getting cold-like symptoms and coughing more. When doctors in Romania examined him, they discovered water in one of his lungs. They started drawing it out with syringes regularly, liters at a time. A lesion of sorts developed at the site where they kept inserting the needle. A biopsy of the lesion revealed nothing. Things didn’t improve.

My parents hoped that the Florida weather would do him good, so they brought him to the States. He loved the weather, but didn’t get better. They thought US medical care would be better than Romanian medical care, so they put him in a hospital here. Doctors literally paraded by his bedside by the tens, specialist after specialist, all of them clueless. Oh, let’s try this, let’s try that, blah, blah, blah — that’s how the story usually goes. X-rays and CT scans and urine and lab tests every day, and still they couldn’t figure things out.

Finally they decided to open him up and see what was going on. That’s when they discovered he had mesothelioma, with a few “localized” tumors in his right lung. But they still couldn’t figure out what to do about the water accumulation, so they proposed to insert talcum powder between the lung walls, in the hope of sealing that chamber and stopping the leaks (that’s apparently a standard procedure for this sort of thing).

So they opened him up again and inserted the powder. Water still accumulated, this time more slowly, but it still happened. Then he developed difficulty swallowing. They stuck tubes with cameras down his throat. More CT scans, more X-rays, and still no idea why. Well, let’s enlarge his esophagus and cardiac sphincter (the opening from the esophagus to the stomach.) That might help… Well, it didn’t. He still had trouble swallowing.

They didn’t know what else to do for him, so they released him from the hospital. The bill came to well over $100,000, and my grandfather was no better than before. He was worse, and now he had to contend with pain from the surgery and the other procedures done on him while in the hospital.

My mother had to blend everything into a soupy puree before feeding him, and still he had trouble swallowing. He withered and dried out and lost tens of pounds. He was hardly recognizable, but his spirit was still well, and he hoped he’d get better. That was the hardest part, to see him trying to eat and unable to swallow, then leave the table with a horribly sad look on his face.

We knew he wouldn’t last long like that, so we convinced him to return to Romania, where at least he could die in his own home, if it were to come to that. Once he got there, my aunt, who took care of him, put him on IV fluids. He got a little better. We decided to try seeing some specialists there in Romania, so she took him to the hospitals in Sibiu and Timisoara.

If you don’t know how the healthcare system works in Romania, I’ll tell you. It’s based on heavy bribes. If you don’t bribe the doctors and nurses, no one cares about you. No one even looks at you, and you’re treated like scum. If you have the money to give them, you actually get somewhat decent service, depending on how much you give. You can’t lay the blame entirely on the medical personnel for this practice though. Doctors’ salaries are horribly tiny, smaller than the salaries of some janitors at well-to-do companies. So they need cash infusions from the patients in order to be able to live properly. But the way they go about it is disgusting to me. And there’s no telling when they’ll make up stuff about your condition just so they can get more money out of you. They’ll even do extra procedures (if they’re unethical people) so you’ll pay them more.

Once in the hospital, they slipped a feeding tube through his nose and into his stomach. In Sibiu, they opened him up again and discovered some lesions on his esophagus, and some on his stomach. They said he needed his esophagus replaced, but that they couldn’t do the procedure, and that he needed to be sent to Timisoara. We believe the doctor who operated on him at Sibiu twisted his stomach or intestines around and caused a severe blockage in his GI tract, because his digestion and regularity were never the same after that.

In Timisoara, the specialist who was to replace his esophagus with a silicone stent bragged to high heaven that he was the only one doing the procedure in Romania and in the entire Western Europe. If that sounds phony to you, don’t worry, you’re right. He just wanted to make sure he got enough money for the job. He ended up operating on my grandfather, but replaced less of the esophagus that he’d originally said. We’re not sure why. Things went completely downhill from there.

My grandfather never recovered from that operation. His situation got worse and worse every day. Now he couldn’t digest his food at all, even the soups he was fed through his tube. He coughed up blood and fluids of various colors. He got thinner and more dehydrated every day. My aunt put him back on IV fluids, but they didn’t help. He was in horrible pain, throughout the day and night. He moaned in agony. He couldn’t sleep. When he did manage to sleep, he would writhe and cry out in anguish. He was dying.

Four days before he died, he asked my aunt to make the preparations for his burial. He knew it and he was ready. He asked her to let him go, to stop trying to keep him alive. She couldn’t stop caring for him, but she knew it was going to end anyway. He looked forward to joining my grandmother in the grave next to hers.

And then he died in the evening. I got the call from my mother. She was crying. I couldn’t cry. I knew what he’d been through, and wanted him to get the rest and peace he so badly needed. I was angry with everything that had happened to him, and still am. Why did he have to die in such pain? Why did he have to encounter the utmost morons in his quest for decent medical care? Why did he have to suffer so much?

We don’t know when he got exposed to asbestos. It wasn’t uncommon in communist Romania to get exposed to dangerous conditions or materials. He worked at the same factory all his life, and got promoted to chief technical engineer from a humble line worker. He came up with various inventions and improvements during his career, and was even decorated by Romania’s dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, for his contributions. I’m not saying this because I care about Ceausescu, who was a horrible man, but I care about my grandfather and about his life’s work, and was glad to see him get recognized.

For me, my grandfather’s suffering serves to underline how little medical science really knows about the human body, and how horribly few things they can do to cure people. In spite of all our technology and advances and drugs, when it comes to treating disease, our options are very limited, and very primitive. We can:

  • Mask the symptoms by treating them with drugs
  • Cut into people and butcher them with plain knives or sear them with electric knives, then sew them up with string
  • Poison them with radiation therapy and chemotherapy

I remember my frustration with this while in medical school, and perhaps it had something to do, subconsciously, with my leaving it to return to IT work. At least in IT you can find out what’s really wrong and can fix it either through code or hardware replacements.

What my grandfather’s death also showed (amply) is how many idiots there are in the healthcare system. My God, we have so many doctors out there that can’t diagnose their way out of a paper bag, and they run test after test and try this and that and still can’t figure out what’s wrong. I’m fortunate enough to know there are good doctors (although they’re few and far between) who know how to diagnose with much less information at their fingertips, because I’ve met some of them.

If all these retards can graduate medical school and can pass the boards, then clearly medical education isn’t doing its part in weeding them out. I had plenty of them in my class in med school, too. They were the ones who got by very nicely by rote memorization. Worked great, until you asked them to analyze something — then they looked at you like a hen looks at a newspaper.

Another one of my beliefs was reinforced: that the overwhelming majority of nurses are lazy asses that don’t care at all about their patients. I’m sorry if that offends you, but that’s the truth. I know this because I saw they way they treated my grandfather, and I saw the way they treated other patients over the years.

All nurses seem to want is more money and more benefits for as little work as humanly possible. Oh sure, they put in a lot of “hours”, but most of those hours are spent socializing at the nursing station, not by the patient’s bedside. What’s unfortunate is that the market is tilted so much in their favor right now (and will continue to be for the next several years) that nothing significant can be done about it. There’s a nursing shortage, and that means we’re going to have mediocre, good-for-nothing nurses in all of our hospitals until supply meets demand, and hospitals can start to weed out the non-performers.

I tell you, the nursing profession will not emerge unscathed from this. The stink caused by these bad nurses will taint the good ones, too. The good ones are out there, I’ve met some of them, and when I say they’re good, I honestly mean it. They’re great, and they care, and they know a lot, but they’re few and far between, and they’re mostly in academia.

Coming back to my grandfather, I think of my grandmother’s death two years ago, also in June. A week or so after her burial, it was my grandfather’s birthday, and I remember him celebrating it with us, his family, but without his beloved wife. The sorrow was evident on his face, even through his smiles, and there was nothing any of us could do for him but to try and cheer him up.

Now, he’s resting in the grave, and it’s his own birthday. There’s no birthday celebration now. Just pain and a feeling of irreplaceable loss.

Rest in peace, tataie. You taught me how to build and fix things and work in the garden, and how to use tools and paint and be the man I am today. You were the first man I looked up to, the first one that made me want to learn how to shave. I saw you do your best, every day, to care for and protect your family. You never spoke much, but you did much. You were loved, and are loved. Rest in peace.

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Merry Christmas!

I know Christmas isn’t celebrated by everyone, but if you’re one of those who does celebrate it, Merry Christmas! Even though the origins of the date are pagan, the meaning we have chosen to ascribe to it over time is certainly worth celebrating. For those among us who are Christians, it means our Savior’s birth. For others, it means that time of year when we think of others, and give them presents. For others still, it’s a joyous holiday time spent with family, winding down the year and looking forward to the next. However you choose to celebrate it, I hope you’ll enjoy these next several photos I’ve prepared.

As Christmas nears, I love the change that comes over the home. The decorations make it a special time of the year.

Christmas time

Keep the light burning brightly

Let’s not forget to pick out just the right Christmas tree.

Got that tree?

And fill it full of wonderful ornaments.

Play that golden harp

A wreath of holly

How about the last minute gifts that we forgot to get? What to pick, I wonder?

The last minute gift

As Christmas Eve draws near, some of us like to sing Christmas carols.

Let’s sing in the town square

On Christmas Eve itself, we have a wonderful Christmas meal. In my family, the food we make this time of year is always special and plentiful.

Seeker of light

By the way, this is how the sunset looked on Christmas Eve this year.

Christmas sunset

Those of us who choose to ascribe a religious meaning to Christmas remember the story of the star in the East, and of the angels’ appearing.

Visitation

A star in the East

That ocean of angels that filled the sky on our Savior’s birth night must have been a glorious sight. This is a poor approximation, but it will have to do.

Apparition

According to popular legend, the little town up North where toys get made is pretty quiet on Christmas morning. Perhaps it looks something like this?

The little town where toys get made

Merry Christmas!

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Reviews

How houses get built in the DC area

I thought that when I lived in Florida, the construction there was shoddy. I was wrong. At least there they used concrete pillars and floors for the houses, and the building code was so strict everything was anchored properly, especially after Hurricane Andrew. When I moved to the DC area, I thought construction would be better here, since it’s a temperate climate and the houses should be built to last and hold up to the weather. I was wrong. Construction here is horribly shoddy.

I have never been so shocked at the cheap and flimsy “workmanship” I see every time I pass some house or building under construction. It never ceases to amaze me what passes code in these parts, and I’ve lived here since 2003. It’s downright thievery, I tell you. I’ll show you some photos below to help you see what I mean. I call it thievery because you’d think housing would be dirt cheap given the materials and level of effort that goes into the construction, but it isn’t. It’s terribly expensive, to the point that people making below what would be called upper middle class in other parts of the country can’t afford to live inside the Beltway, much less outside it. They have to go find housing either in bad neighborhoods, or way out in the boonies, in order to get anything affordable.

It’s not right. It makes my blood boil. Honestly, I can’t believe what goes on. It’s the same construction everywhere, from the (relatively) cheaper townhomes and single family homes right up to the McMansions that have sprung up on River Rd, Georgetown Pike and other richer places. The only thing that changes is the size and price of each monstrosity, but they’re all just as flimsy.

Do you want to see what I mean? Take a look at these photos. They’re from a house currently under construction in my area.

House under construction

Some unwitting soul is going to pay several hundred thousands of dollars for this piece of crap, and he won’t know what a lemon he’s getting. It’s all 2×4 construction. There’s nothing solid and concrete there except the foundation, and I’m not sure how thick that is, either. It’s all either cheap, soft wood or plywood, including the upper floor. Not only that, but the beams aren’t straight, and the joints aren’t secured properly.

House under construction

It’s basically a big plywood box. I’m not sure what its projected lifetime is, but I can’t imagine it’ll last more than 30 years. It’ll start needing serious repairs even before the mortgage is paid off. Isn’t that terrible?

Do you see that cheap, flimsy Tyvek plastic? That’s the weatherproofing. No, I’m not kidding. That’s it. That’s also the insulation. I doubt they’ll put glass fiber or any other kind of insulation between the drywall and the beams. They might, but I seriously doubt it. I’ve seen the inside of many walls, and they’re usually empty.

House under construction

Can you say cheap? I can. It’s cheap construction! It’s a travesty. Look at that horrible plywood shell. That’s going to be a tower. It’s going to look so nice, clad in fake brick or plastic siding only 1-2 inches thick… It’s also going to be horribly inefficient when it comes to temperature preservation. And if water should happen to leak in through that cheap brick cladding and through that flimsy Tyvek sheet, the plywood will rot away quietly and the owner won’t even know it… Wonderful, isn’t it? Isn’t this piece of crap worth mortgaging your life away?

Should we be ill-fortunate enough to get a hurricane or some tornado in our area, the roof on this thing will probably get torn off, and the entire house might or might not be standing when nature’s done with it.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I understand that America has a long history of 2×4 construction. It’s how the West was won. It’s cheap, affordable, goes up quickly, etc. But this isn’t the West, and it’s not the 1800s. This is the supposedly refined East. We should know better by now. It’s our nation’s capital. And the prices of these plywood boxes aren’t cheap. No, they’re so high most people can’t afford them.

I also understand the builders have to make a profit and the cost of land in this area is expensive. But this is ridiculous! If you’re going to build something that someone will want to call their home, and will pay dearly for it, sinking most of their productive, working years into paying it off, then God help you if you don’t build something worthwhile, something that’ll last. You’ll get what’s coming to you, don’t you worry about that…

What I wonder about is how the people and companies that put up these things can live with themselves. That’s what I want to know. How can they sleep at night knowing someone’s going to pay a fortune for something that’ll start falling apart after the first several years, for something that’s so horribly inefficient when it comes to energy use that they’ll be paying through the nose to cool it in the summer and to heat it in the winter? Don’t tell me about efficient windows! You can get the most expensive windows out there — if the walls themselves can’t conserve the inside temperature, you’ll still be nowhere. There’s such a thing as global warming to worry about. Have you heard of it? Everyone needs to reduce their carbon footprint, and it starts in the home.

Whatever happened to the good, old masonry work? What happened to quality stone construction? Yes, it’s more expensive, but isn’t it worth it? Why can’t you builders put a little more pride in your work? Why can’t you make a concrete skeleton, and use thicker insulation and better materials for the cladding? Is it so hard to do? So you’ll make a little less money. You might have to mark up the price a little. You might have to educate the consumers that know nothing about quality construction. But isn’t it all worth it in the end? Won’t you feel better knowing the house you built will last a long time? Won’t you feel better knowing the people that will buy your house will thank you for your solid construction later? Isn’t it it worth it to build good will instead of ill will?

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The reason behind our trip to Romania

You may recall that I mentioned a recent trip to Romania in a few of my posts. The occasion for our trip was a joyous one, thank goodness: my wife’s sister got married. I would have loved to post a few photos of them, but she and her husband would prefer to stay off the Internet, at least for now. Still, I did the next best thing. I put together a list of my favorite photos from the wedding that are okay to show in public.

This is an overexposed photo of Ligia, processed in Lightroom. I like the way it came out.

Ligia

My little niece was one of the bridesmaids.

One of the maids of honor

Ligia’s singing in the choir. The bride and bridegroom are in the bottom left corner. I think this photo’s alright to show, since they’re facing away from the camera. 🙂

The bride and bridegroom

One of my nieces and her friend is giving me the tilted head look. I love how this photo came out, in spite of the lens flare visible near my niece’s right eye. The pose was completely spontaneous, and yet they both managed to tilt their heads and bodies at parallel angles. Lovely!

The tilted look

The bride takes a walk outside the restaurant where the wedding party took place.

The bride

I loved this simple yet dramatic chandelier, and the cloth ribbon draped across the ceiling was a great touch.

Chandelier

The bride and bridegroom cut the wedding cake, hand in hand.

The wedding cake

Here we are. My brother-in-law (not the one getting married) took this photo. It came out really nice, don’t you think?

Ligia and Raoul

My lovely wife. I never get tired of photographing her.

Ligia

We had a really wonderful time at the wedding, getting to know the groom and making new friends. It all went just as planned, and came out even better!

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Reviews

Windows Family Safety

Windows Family SafetyWindows Family Safety (WFS) is a new offering from Microsoft that aims to offer protection from questionable or indecent websites to families or individuals. I tried it out for a couple of weeks, and found it to work fairly well, except for a few hiccups here and there.

It is a software-based internet filtering mechanism. The difference between a software-based internet filter and a hardware-based one is that the software needs to be installed on every computer where filtering is desired. A hardware-based internet filter is usually self-contained in a box or appliance that gets placed between the user’s internet connection and the internet. The benefit of such an appliance is readily seen. There’s nothing to install on client computers. Unfortunately, hardware-based solutions have been fairly expensive, historically speaking.

Software-based internet filtering has also cost money, until now. As a matter of fact, Microsoft used to offer one such software-based solution with its premium MSN service. Windows Family Safety may be that same offering, repackaged as a free service.

Having used other software-based internet filters, I can tell you Windows Family Safety is a lot easier to use, and much less annoying than paid products. Those other services, who don’t even deserve to be called by their names, were just plain awful. I had to authenticate every time I tried to access a website, and logins didn’t even take at times. What’s worse, if a single website called out to other websites to display information, as is so common these days, I had to authenticate for every single request. They were a nightmare, and I quickly uninstalled them.

Windows Family Safety requires a simple install, and the selection of a master account which can set the level of access for that computer. It uses Microsoft Passport sign-ons, which means I was able to use my Hotmail account to log in. After that, it was a matter of logging in every time I turned on my computer or came back from standby. This was one area where I encountered a hiccup though. The software had an option to allow me to save my username and password, so I wouldn’t have to enter them so often, but that option didn’t seem to work. I was stuck logging in much more than I cared to do, but still, this was nothing compared to the torture I went through with other software-based filters — as already mentioned in the paragraph above.

Just how does WFS work? It turns out that it uses a proxy to filter the traffic. It means that every time you make a call to a website, that call first goes through the WFS servers, where it gets matched to their content database and the website deemed to be appropriate for the level of safety that you’ve chosen. Here’s where I encountered two hiccups.

The first was that at peak times, the speed of my internet connection was slowed down to a crawl until it could pass through the fairly busy proxy servers and be filtered. That was really annoying, but I assume that’s going to get better as MS dedicates more proxy servers to the service. Perhaps it might be better to download content filters directly to each computer and filter the traffic locally, so the chance of a bottleneck is reduced or eliminated.

The second was the seemingly arbitrary designation of some sites as inappropriate. I chose to filter out adult, gambling and violent websites. Somehow, both of my blogs (ComeAcross and Dignoscentia) didn’t meet that standard, which was very surprising to me. Neither of those sites can even remotely be classified under those questionable categories. Fortunately, there’s a fairly simple process for requesting that a site be reconsidered for proper classification, and it’s built into the Windows Family Safety website. I followed the procedure, and within days, my sites were properly classified. But the fact that I had to go through all of that makes me wonder how they’re classified in the first place.

Overall, I found that WFS still hasn’t gotten proper branding. What I mean by that is that it’s not clearly identified as a product by Microsoft. The Windows Live OneCare Family Safety website is part of the Live Family of sites, true, but it’s not even identified on most of the other sites in that family (Hotmail, SkyDrive, etc.) I also found that configuring one’s WFS account can be pretty unintuitive, as the navigation on the WFS site is cumbersome and lacking focus (much like the Windows Live OneCare site, come to think of it.) I even got code errors when I tried to surf through it recently, which is not what I expected from a public MS site.

On a general note, Microsoft really needs to do some work in associating each MS product with the Windows Live account that uses it, and making it easy for each user to access the online/offline settings for each product. Google does a great job with this, and MS could stand to learn from them here.

Windows Family Safety is a good solution, and it works well considering that it’s free. If you’re looking to set up some easy internet filtering at your home, it could turn out to work great for you. Give it a try and see!

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