The importance of home

It is truly important to have a place you call home, a place where you feel at home. It roots you, it provides you with a sense of belonging, it contributes to your mental health and it goes a long way toward making your life longer and healthier. The more time I spend in our home and the more effort I put forth making it our home, the more I get out of it: peace, relaxation, belonging. You could almost call it a symbiotic relationship where the house will take care of you if you take care of it. I hope you get to experience this in your own lives. There are more things I talk about in the video, so please watch and enjoy!

The toy train II

Back in 2009, I made a little video called “The toy train” and published it to YouTube. As 2017 turned into 2018, that video was seen more than 25,000,000 times. Almost ten years later, I made a follow-up video that can see it here or on YouTube.

The tracks were set up for my daughter, who loves playing with trains. It’s Thomas the Tank Engine and Sir Handel, running on two track sets, Elsbridge Station and Runaway Boulder. The various toys used to decorate the set belong to her.

If you were to put yourself in my shoes, you’d have an interesting perspective on the phenomenon that can be loosely called “children’s videos on YouTube”. When I posted my original toy train video, there was no such thing. I simply made a fun little video that I liked and that I thought children might like. I was thinking forward to the time when I might have a child of my own.

It’s now 2018 and the demand for children’s videos has exploded around me. Some of the big YT channels aimed at children get views that number in the billions and revenues that are in the very healthy millions (see this article). There are even YT channels that don’t even bother to make real videos; instead they use computer algorithms to mash together video clips and audio clips in order to create somewhat watchable gibberish, in the hope of racking up views and revenues (see this article). That’s disturbing. Children need simple, logical storylines to their videos, their young minds are thoroughly confused by computer-generated gibberish.

Rest assured my videos are real and they’re made by me. Enjoy!

Coming to terms with the complexity of life and the fear of death

I thought I’d write a lighthearted, cheery post, sort of a gift that keeps on giving throughout the year ahead, so naturally, I wrote (and made a video) about how complicated life is and how we’re all afraid of dying, but we shouldn’t be, because zombies and vampires… Wait, what?!

“We trouble our life by thoughts about death, and our death by thoughts about life.” ― Michel de Montaigne

“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much… The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” ― Seneca

“You are mistaken, my friend, if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action – that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one.” ― Plato

Here’s (more or less) what I talked about in the video.

Whatever your beliefs about life after death, one thing is for certain: this life you’re living now will end within the span of a few decades. That’s pretty short and it’s no wonder we have a hard time dealing with that notion.

I’d like to submit to you that one way we grapple with death is through the introduction of death-less characters into popular culture. Nowadays, those characters are vampires and zombies. We call both of them undead and we’ve made up all sorts of fiction to explain their existence and ways they survive this event that scares us so much. And yet, neither character is something we’d choose rationally, if we were faced with that choice. Both vampires and zombies must continually kill in order to survive and in that sense, they’re terribly selfish: they sacrifice the lives of many innocent others in order to preserve themselves. In escaping death, they force it upon others. And zombies, those putrescent, barely alive corpses, are never first on anyone’s list of ways to prolong existence.

Both these characters though, are ways in which we’re not only dealing with the question of death, but with the question of life. Both offer simplified ways to view and treat an existence which many of us find to be complicated and stressful. Zombies are the perfect example. Instead of dealing with life’s mind-numbing complexity and options, upon becoming a zombie, you have only one option: eat brains. That’s it. No more jobs, bills, taxes, children, etc. Vampires are a bit more complicated and I think that is because they were invented earlier, in the 19th century, whereas zombies, as a manifestation of popular culture, only appeared midway through the 20th century. The more complicated real life will be, the more simplistic the escapism tends to be.

If we’re to stack these deathless characters by level of complexity against others invented throughout history, we find them on the lower rungs of life. If we step back in time, we find that people invented many deathless gods, most of which led far more interesting and complex lives than the humans who believed in them. But as life started to move faster and became more complex and harder to deal with, as we experienced world wars that terrified and scarred entire continents, we began to look for simpler characters and the unfortunate “best” we came up with were blood-sucking parasites that slept in coffins and blabbering, putrid corpses that dragged their rancid meat through cities and the countryside looking for brains. It’s quite sad really, to see where we’ve arrived.

I for one miss the more lofty deathless characters of old, gods who lived interesting, full lives, were articulate, powerful, higher and better than man (though sometimes just as petty and vindictive) and gave us something to look up to. Now we’ve got coffin-sleepers and tomb-climbers… It makes for good escapism through books, TV shows and movies but it does not make for a good alternative to death, nor does it ultimately help us deal with the complexity of life. Instead, we end up terrifying ourselves even more with the various “end of days” scenarios that are fed to us when we watch or read about these characters.

There’s no easy solution to this. Life is only getting faster and more complex. At least it seems that way, because we haven’t yet learned to filter all that is coming our way, and we haven’t learned to only deal with things that are of immediate concern to us. That’s what people did 100 years or more before our time. They didn’t have access to all that we have now. We should do the same. Just because we can have access to something, it doesn’t mean we should introduce it into our lives. We need to turn off the TV more often, put our phones away and spend more time with our selves, getting to know who we are, developing the skills that we deem valuable, exploring nature, sitting in silence. This won’t take us all the way, but it’ll put us in a much better place so we can deal with life. As long as we continue to be terrified by its complexity and by its quickly-approaching end, we’ll continue to look for quick fixes that are sorely inadequate and unrealistic, grotesque versions of ourselves that end up inflicting yet more of the pain and suffering that’s been scaring us but (in theory) take us out of the routine of daily living and offer us a simpler way to see our existence.

Proud To Be Romanian at Cetatea Făgărașului

Ligia and I were in attendance at a wonderful event last night, organized by the good folks from Proud To Be Romanian at Cetatea Făgărașului, a medieval fortress whose construction began in 1310 and continued through various repairs and improvements well into the 1630s.

It goes without saying that I love medieval fortresses and castles. I feel right at home whenever I visit one. I loved the architecture here, the various tunnels and cellars that run under its walls, the beautiful, grandiose rooms and hallways but most of all and perhaps a little odd, the window encasements which were made of carved stone. They were so beautifully and delicately made and were perfect for the style of the castle.

We got there a little before the entertainment started. Being there ahead of time gave us the opportunity to explore the castle and take some photos, which you’ll get to see here. The evening’s festivities involved wine and champagne tastings, hors d’oeuvres, some networking, a ceremony celebrating those who are doing good things in Romania (Ligia was among those who were feted) and a concert in the castle’s inner courtyard.

I also shot some 360° video with my Giroptic camera (it’s embedded below and may not display properly in certain browsers like Safari on a Mac). I have to apologize for its quality. While the novelty of this kind of video kind of makes up for the camera’s technical inability to record proper HD video, it’s not enough to recommend it. And when you hear the bad sound recorded with its microphones, you’re even more put off. Again, sorry… If any of you know how to improve the quality of the video captured with this camera, please let me know.

But enough whining! The event was great, the champagne and the wine were great and the castle was amazing! We loved it! One of the people we got to meet was Mrs. Simona-Mirela Miculescu, Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Office at United Nations (you’ll see her in one of the photos with Ligia) and you should have seen my face when she said she knew me and liked my show, Romania Through Their Eyes… 😳

Thank you Adriana and Rob for putting this wonderful shindig together!

Dealing with anger

I’d like to help those of you who like me, are dealing with anger issues, and I also want to add a few original pieces of advice to the growing body of self-help articles and techniques for anger management. That is why I made this video.

What follows is a close transcript of what I said in the video.

First, you’ll want to ask what anger is, because the definition varies based on the kind of anger you feel.

There’s normal anger. It’s normal for everyone to get angry every once in a while. That kind of anger can even be used for good, such as to spur you on to make changes for the better in your life.

There’s also the bad kind of anger, the kind that takes over you, makes you ready to explode and hurt someone. It’s the kind where you lose control and do things you regret afterwards. It’s the kind of anger that scares others and even yourself, because you don’t know what you’ll do once it takes over. This is the bad anger. You have to take care of this anger, you have to fix yourself so you don’t get this angry anymore, before you do something that you might regret for the rest of your life.

The first step when you find yourself angry is to get on top of the anger. Realize you’re still in control. That’s why we have these large brains with a very well developed cortex. We have the power to get on top of our base instincts. It takes a lot of effort but it can be done. If you feel you can’t do it, do the next best thing: get away from the situation. Walk away, get as far away as you need in order to stop feeling the tension of that situation and begin to calm yourself down.

Once you’re calm, you may choose to have a discussion about what caused the anger. Obviously, this only works in situations where the other person or persons are available and amenable to such things. Stay objective, DO NOT BLAME the other but express what triggered your anger and what you and the other person can do to avoid that sort of trigger in the future.

You can also choose to work out your anger through physical exercise. I’ve done this myself but let me tell you, it only works when you’re not that angry. When you’re so angry you’re bordering on mad, you can work out all you want, the anger will still be there and you may also risk physical injury to yourself, because you’ll be tempted to push your body beyond its limits in order to spend that anger inside you.

Anger is disruptive at best and can be lethal at worst — lethal to you or to others. You can easily have a heart attack or a stroke when you’re angry and the effects of those incidents can be temporary or permanent. You can also easily injure or kill others when you’re in a fit of anger, because you’re not in control of yourself, you’re pumped up on fight or flight hormones and capable of greater physical strength than normal.

So it behooves you to control your anger, to find out what triggers it and to work on yourself in order to find out the underlying causes for your anger. It may be that you’re just naturally irritable, it may be that your upbringing caused you to be angry, because you were abused or mistreated or your family dealt just as terribly with anger, giving you a bad example that you’re now mirroring.

Look for a good CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) practitioner. CBT has been proven, time and time again, to work much better than medication. Something that helped me is Ferasa. It’s an ancient Arabic face reading practice. The Ferasa practitioner is trained to look at the subtle movements of the muscles in your face and to sense what you are feeling, then he will ask you questions that will cause you to eventually find your problems and face them. The thing is, you can’t hide what you’re feeling or thinking from a knowledgeable Ferasa practitioner. He will continue to ask you probing questions until you are forced to deal with your problems.

The point is not to ball up in a fetal position and cry about how much of a victim you are. That’s not productive and it won’t solve your anger. The point is to find out what’s causing your anger and acknowledge that cause to yourself, fully. You want to own that cause and you want to say to yourself, over and over, until it sticks, that what happened is in the past, that you accept it, that you forgive yourself and the others involved, and that you’re moving on. That you’re an adult now, that you have a good life, that you are a good person and that you are choosing to behave rationally and considerately, each and every day.

It will also help to have a regular physical exercise schedule, at least 2-3 times per week, and it will also help you to meditate at least 5 minutes in the morning. It’s much better to do it in the morning, because you’ll be starting your day by calming yourself down. And you may also find that you’ll want to do a 5 minute meditation at night, to close out the day, where you acknowledge the good and the bad situations that happened that day and you promise yourself to do better the next time.

Proposed EU measures to extend product lifetime

I am happy to let you know that things are underway within the EU to ensure that products will last longer and will be easier to repair in the future. These are proposed measures at the moment, they’re not law, but they soon could be. The idea, according to the EEB (European Environmental Bureau) is to:

  1. Extend the lifetime of products
  2. Extend the availability of repair services
  3. Improve consumer information and rights
  4. Make these measures binding, not voluntary

If you live within the EU, I encourage you to contact your representatives to the EU Parliament and to ask them to support these proposed measures.

Even if this isn’t law yet, I am happy to see my own feelings on the matter mirrored by those in a position to do something about it. You may recall that I wrote an article called “Truly sustainable computing” back in August of 2015, where I proposed that desktop computers have a projected lifespan of 20 years and laptops and mobiles phones have a projected lifespan of 10 years.

The proposed EU measures would apply to every category of products, not just to computing devices, so things like cars, electronics, appliances would all be covered by the new regulations, ensuring we would once again have quality products that last a long time.

I say “once again” because those of you who are younger than me may not recall we had this sort of thing before the 1970s. The idea of “planned obsolescence” was introduced in the 1960s by manufacturers and that’s when things started to go downhill for products in terms of durability, repairability and build quality. You could still get kitchen appliances made in the late 1960s that looked and worked perfectly even in the late 2000s. You can no longer do that with today’s appliances.

It’s irresponsible in so many ways for us to generate mountains of e-waste every year and it’s doubly irresponsible for manufacturers to make them, one because they’re using the Earth’s resources without any regard for the future and two, because they make them easily breakable and disposable, contributing to the enormous amounts of waste that we generate as a race. It’s time we did something quantifiable and legally binding about this!

An interview with Brian Clement and Anna Maria Gahns-Clement

Back in March, Ligia and I attended a retreat organized by Do Good Academy on a mountaintop in the region of Brasov, Romania. At that retreat, I sat down with the co-directors of the Hippocrates Health Institute, Brian Clement and Anna Maria Gahns-Clement, for an interview that focused on the questions asked most frequently about raw food by Romanians. The interview was then featured in the July episode of De Vorba cu Ligia, one of our web shows here in Romania. Since the interview was recorded in English, I thought you might enjoy it as well.