The story of a pair of shoes

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I’ve owned these monk-strap shoes for over 10 years. I photographed them this morning for the purposes of this post. These are one of the pairs of shoes I use around the house for all kinds of work: home office, going to the cellar to fetch firewood, going into the dusty attic to put or get various things, renovation work, etc.

I used them last night as we mounted this restored door frame back in place, as I used a miter saw in the cellar, carried the various parts up to the house, used a nail gun to secure them in place and assemble the frame.

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You can see these same shoes in this video.

I also used them when I built our garden shed in Florida.

In spite of all the wear and tear I’ve put them through over the years, a little elbow grease always gets them looking great, and that’s a testament to the craftmanship of the shoemaker. The brand (Mario Calugi) isn’t as important here as the lesson to be learned from the experience.

Lots of people make a big stink about how wearing leather contributes to animal cruelty but the truth of the matter is, using every little bit of an animal that’s going to get sacrificed for its meat anyway, is the right thing to do.

Furthermore, taking proper care of your belongings, especially the ones made from other beings (because animals are beings, not things) is crucial and it is part of showing respect for the sacrifice of that animal, for the protection its skin profers you and for the hard work that went into making the finished good you now have in your possession.

Good leather lasts a lifetime if you take care of it. Great shoes also last a lifetime if you take care of them. Yes, it means changing the soles when they wear out, it means treating the leather and polishing it, but it’s the right thing to do. It’s part of being a good, responsible human being to take care of your stuff. Please do it.

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.

How to behave toward women

Raoul and Ligia

Someone asked me to make this video a long time ago. I put off doing it until now and you’ll see why as you read on.

I am an introvert and have trouble relating to people (to women in particular). Some would label me an extreme introvert with anti-social behavior, although I manage to mask this when I’m in public, for the sake of others. Fact is, I’m most comfortable and clear-minded when I’m by myself, far, far away from everyone. I get splitting headaches when I have to be in public or speak with strangers, and the rub of it is that I organize public events with my wife (it’s part of our business). These things take their toll on me, but I do it because I have to. I find ways to retreat and hide during those days, so that I can recover my sanity. But enough about my bats in the belfry and on with the bread and butter of this article.

Given what I’ve said, I encourage you to draw your own judgment about the advice given in my video (just as you should with any advice you receive from anybody). It’s a long video, as I’m wont to do, so if you do make it to the end, thanks for watching!

Here are a few notes I jotted down before I sat down for the video:

  • Women and men are different in the way they look at the world. Clearly. But the differences aren’t black and white. There’s a spectrum of sexuality and traditional female and male roles are becoming outmoded as our understanding and acceptance of “man” and “woman” gets more nuanced. So it’s up to each of you to discover how different each woman you meet is from you and from other men and women, and to respect those differences.
  • My own personal history with women doesn’t give me much background and knowledge to go on. I’ll let the video speak for itself here.
  • When you find a good woman, one that you’ll want to be with, one that you dream of being with, you’ll know it. Of course, the woman may not know it and that’s where you can screw up big time. All introverts know what that’s like. Thank God there are women like my wife, who take the time to understand a social screw-up like myself and see me as I am in private.
  • Some women deserve wonderful treatment, some are downright nasty. Just like some men are wonderful people and some men are pricks. Being an asshole is a gender-neutral thing. And figurative assholes are to be avoided, no matter their sex.
  • The most important thing is to realize that women have the right to the same opportunities, pay, treatment and choices as men. Choice is the most important thing in a woman’s life and as men, we should give them that choice. Choices in life, relationships, choices in growing up, in love and in their jobs. We owe them that choice, especially because of our despicable behavior toward women during the past few thousands of years. No one can argue that women have been empowered and treated equally in our patriarchal society, and everyone I think will agree that women have had to fight, tooth and nail, to get rights and privileges that we as men have enjoyed efortlessly, by virtue of being born with a penis and two balls.
  • Just because women are fragile, it doesn’t mean they’re weak. Just because they’re small, it doesn’t mean they can’t do great things. Just because they’re pretty, it doesn’t mean they’re stupid or that they can be objectified. Just because they have a vagina doesn’t give anyone the right to enslave them and force them into sex trafficking.
  • Things like restrictive clothes are remnants of our male dominant culture. Dresses that zip up at the back, they take control out of a woman’s hands and put it in someone else’s. High heel shoes make it difficult for them to move and escape a potentially dangerous situation, plus they ruin their feet. Flimsy materials used in their dresses can be easily torn, exposing their bodies and encouraging abuse. I realize some of these things are meant to celebrate the beauty, the unique and amazing shape of a woman’s body, and so clothes are made thin and shape-fitting and shoes are made thin and tall, to accentuate their beauty, but there are clear downsides to these practices, and they’re also remnants of a past where males dominated and abused females.
  • Some would say women choose to dress and act this way… But when little girls are raised to believe that’s how they should dress and talk and behave, it’s no longer their choice. They see bad examples of the status quo everywhere and they’re brainwashed into thinking that way. That’s how their choices are taken away from them. Just like many of our choices as people are taken away from us simply because we’re raised to believe certain things, to not question some things, to do things because that’s the way they’re done, etc. We need to question everything. It’s our duty as we mature to sit down with ourselves and reason out what makes us tick. See where we’re right and where we’re wrong.

Finally, treat each woman as a person. A real, breathing, talking, feeling human being, not a sex toy, not a body with breasts and a vagina, not something to possess and f**k, but a soul. Relate to them that way. The rest will follow… or not, but the focus should be on a soul to soul connection, not on a penis to vagina connection. Do you get me? Treat each woman as your equal. Different but equal. Show respect, be honest and where needed, keep your distance. Not every woman is a flower, but when you do meet a flower, remember to be gentle and move slowly, as not to break it. To continue this analogy, although it’s nice to have a bouquet of flowers in a vase in your living room, flowers are meant to be outside. That’s where they get pollinated, form seeds and give birth to new life but most importantly, that’s where they live freely, enjoying their time in the sun and being seen by everyone. Give every woman the freedom she deserves.

The case for cursive handwriting

I’ve been meaning to do a video about cursive handwriting for a while, and I’ve also been asked by a few of my viewers on YouTube to do it.

Before you watch the video, I want you to know some of the benefits of handwriting:

  • It works the brain in ways that typing cannot achieve. Every little movement of the fingers and the pen as they form letters on the paper requires many neurons to fire, whereas typing requires much less effort once you learn where the keys are. This article explains it in more detail.
  • You put more emotion, more feeling into handwriting, and this can be seen in the strokes, the thickness of the lines, the size of the letters and so on. When you type, none of that can be seen, unless you say it with words.
  • All of this mental exercise that is required for regular handwriting helps to develop children’s brains and also staves off conditions such as dementia in the elderly.
  • Beautiful handwriting and calligraphy can be admired as art, and they can also be read. A page typed on the computer and printed out is just that: a printed page.
  • Studies suggest that taking notes by hand improves retention of the subject matter.
  • There is a feeling of charm that occurs when one handwrites. I can’t put into words the satisfaction that I get when I put a fountain pen to paper and form beautiful letters. It’s almost hypnotic.

Here’s the video. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it’ll inspire you to write by hand more often!

Sources of vegan protein

I get asked quite often how I get my protein as a vegan (raw vegan). First of all, if your diet is diversified enough, you’ll get plenty of protein from the foods that you eat, but if you also work out and you want to add extra protein, here are the sources that I’ve tried.

In the order they appear in the video, these sources of vegan and raw vegan protein are:

An insightful video essay about Chuck Jones

I loved this video essay by Tony Zhou about Chuck Jones, the genius behind many of the Looney Tunes cartoons. I absolutely love the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts. New ones are still being made but sadly, they fall quite short of the mark set by the original ones made in the 40s, 50s and 60s. This video will help you understand the disciplined artistry that took place behind the scenes in order to create those beautiful cartoons.

Thank you Chuck Jones!

Romania Through Their Eyes – Mark Treon

Mark Treon and I sat down for a conversation about Romania on 7/8/15, in my studio. Mark has been coming to Romania since 1991, has made over 30 trips to the country and has also adopted a child here, which has bound him even closer to the country. He is now renovating three Saxon homes in the village of Richis and plans to turn them into an inn.

This is the tenth episode of “Romania Through Their Eyes”, a show featuring interviews with foreigners living in Romania. The show’s purpose is to get their impressions about the country and to start a dialogue which will lead to a greater understanding of the issues facing Romanians and Romania.

Music: “Ballade no. 4 in F minor, Op. 52” by Frederic Chopin, performed by Frank Levy. Track is public domain, obtained from Musopen.org.

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Released 7/13/15

My review of the Wet Shave Club monthly kit

Here’s my review of the initial kit sent out by the Wet Shave Club, a wet shaving subscription service that allows you to sample various blades, soaps and after shaves every month.

It’s a rather long video, but it’s not just a review. It’s packed with lots of helpful shaving advice, so it’s more like a detailed tutorial. Enjoy!

Ligia’s Kitchen: A different sort of salad

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Here’s a greens salad made with a range of sprouts, wild garlic, kale leaves, green onion leaves and tomatoes from our garden. I call it different because the combination of the ingredients and the special dressing that Ligia makes for it give it this wonderful and different taste. You won’t know what I mean until you try it!

Romania Through Their Eyes – Tom Lovelock (Second Interview)

Raoul Pop and Tom Lovelock

Four years and two months after the first interview with Tom Lovelock, we sit down for a second time and talk about Romania.

Tom Lovelock is a retired sales manager for Jaguar and an ex-policeman from the UK, who moved to Romania together with his wife five years ago (at the time of filming this episode).

This is the ninth episode of “Romania Through Their Eyes”, a show featuring interviews with foreigners living in Romania. The show’s purpose is to get their impressions about the country and to start a dialogue which will lead to a greater understanding of the issues facing Romanians and Romania.

Music: “Ballade no. 4 in F minor, Op. 52” by Frederic Chopin, performed by Frank Levy. Track is public domain, obtained from Musopen.org.

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Released 4/17/15

How I recovered from catastrophic data loss

In late 2012 and right after New Year’s Eve this year, in 2015, I experienced two data loss events, both of which happened on my Drobo storage devices. I’ll write a separate post detailing my experiences in recent years with my Drobos but for now, I wanted to let you know how I recovered my files.

First, what do I mean by “catastrophic data loss”? Simple: the loss of terabytes of my very important data: photos, videos, documents. Among other things, I am a photographer and a filmmaker. Losing my photos and my videos is a catastrophic event, as my libraries and archives include both personal and professional photos and videos. If I were to lose these things, I’d lose both treasured memories and part of my livelihood.

Here I should also point out that all of us are at risk of data loss. Most of our stuff is digital these days (or going that way). What would you do if you’d lose all your photos and videos? Think about that question and put a plan of action in place. Follow through with it and make sure you’re covered.

Now let me get the bad part out of the way: in 2012, I lost somewhere between 25,000 – 30,000 photos and I still haven’t counted how many videos, but it was a lot, probably about 20% of my video library. This is stuff I’ll never get back. It’s gone. Period. Who’s to blame? The Drobo. More on that in a later post.

Earlier this year, I could have lost an untold number of files once more but I didn’t. Why? Partially because the Drobo has improved in the way it’s handling errors but mostly because I had access to good software.

Here are the three methods of data recovery I’ll talk about below:

  • Data Rescue: it’s a piece of software that lets you mount bad drives and get your files backed up somewhere else. This let me copy all of the files it could read off the Drobo, although a lot of them ended up being corrupted, as detailed above.
  • Jeffrey Friedl’s Preview-Cache Image Extraction: this is a Lightroom plugin that allowed me to extract image previews for the lost images directly from my Lightroom catalogs. It’s a niche plugin but it’s super useful. You don’t realize just how good it is until you have to use it and then you thank the heavens that it exists.
  • Flickr and YouTube: I was able to download images and videos I’d published to Flickr and YouTube at their maximum upload resolution. They may not have been my digital negatives or my raw video files, which were lost forever, but at least I had something left. This is why I’ve started to upload to both Flickr and YouTube at the best resolution and quality possible, in case something like this happens again.

If you’re pressed for time, feel free to stop here. Make sure you use the methods outlined above and you’ll fare much better if you should lose your data, particularly if you’re working in visual media like I am. If you want the details, read on.

Data Rescue

Back in 2012, I was able to mount the corrupted Drobo volume using Data Rescue 3 and recover the bulk of my files. As mentioned above, Data Rescue was able to see all of the files, including the corrupted ones and it let me copy them off, but 25,000 – 30,000 of a total of about 130,000 photographs and I don’t know how many videos were corrupted and couldn’t be read by either Lightroom, Photoshop, Final Cut Pro or Quicktime, so they were of no use to me. They were gone. These were original RAW, DNG, TIF and JPG files from my cameras and SD and HD video files (MP4, MOV and AVI) from my video cameras. I also lost a great deal of family videos and films and cartoons I’d painstakingly digitized from VHS tapes and DVDs I’d purchased, as well as shows and films I’d recorded from TV using a DVR and then edited and stored on the Drobo. In most cases, the files just wouldn’t open up at all. In other cases, I could open them but half or more than half of the image was gone, as you see below.

This is one of my wedding photographs. Most of my wedding photographs look like this or worse…

At our weddingHere’s another. This used to be a photograph of a cliff.

Cheile Turului

I could give you many more examples but the point is, they were irreversibly damaged when the Drobo decided to go kaput.

I don’t know what I would have done without Data Rescue. Because I bought it and used it, I was able to save 70-80% of my data after my 1st catastrophic data loss event and 100% of my data during my recent data loss event.

You may say it’s not data loss and it’s not catastrophic if I was able to recover the data. To that I say that I’d have recovered 0% of my data in both cases without Data Rescue and 0% of over 8 TB of data is damned catastrophic in my book.

Jeffrey Friedl’s Preview-Cache Image Extraction

This super-useful and little-known plugin for Lightroom allows you to extract JPG files from the preview images stored in your Lightroom catalogs. That means that even if you lose the original raw files, you can still have the JPGs and that’s a huge thing.

There’s one caveat though: you need to have allowed Lightroom to keep the previews and you also need to have allowed Lightroom to store high-quality previews. I won’t get into the exact terminology here, there are plenty of tutorials on the internet that will teach you how to optimize those settings. Suffice it to say that I now have my catalogs set to create 1:1 previews and to never delete them, just in case I ever experience data loss again.

I didn’t do this in the past, which meant that I was only able to recover thumbnails or smaller JPGs for most of my corrupted photos, but this was still better than nothing. I have precious photos of my wife that are thumbnail-sized, but at least I have those, I was able to get something back from the gaping maw of data loss.

Flickr and YouTube

These two websites aren’t just for sharing photos and videos. They also let you download your originals. Well, Flickr lets you download your originals. YouTube only lets you download MP4 files of your videos but hey, it’s wonderful anyway.

By the way, the Flickr mobile app and the Google Plus mobile app (for iOS and Android) both let you automatically back up the photos taken with that phone to your respective accounts on both services. They’re set to private by default so only you see them. That’s really nice.

Flickr download options

YouTube download options

This is why I now upload all my published photos to Flickr at their highest resolution and quality and why I also upload all my published videos to YouTube at their highest resolution and quality. In case I ever experience data loss in the future, I’ll have part of my photo and video library on these sites and I’ll be able to download it. And this is also why I no longer put watermarks on my photos. It’s no good to be able to download your own original and have a watermark on it. You now either have to crop it or Photoshop it. I have no time for that sort of thing. I’d rather deal with more productive stuff.

Of course, JPGs aren’t DNGs or RAW files but if they’re the highest resolution, dpi and quality available, they’ll do just fine. And an edited 1080p MP4 file isn’t the same thing as the original Final Cut Pro event and project along with the original video and audio files that were used to create it, but if you don’t have those anymore, you’ll be very thankful to have the MP4.

Now, for some less-than-obvious stuff…

But Raoul, why don’t you back up your stuff? That would solve all your problems! 

I do back up my stuff. I’ve been using CrashPlan for years and I also use Time Machine to back up the files on my Mac (but not all my files are on my Mac, they don’t all fit on it). Unfortunately, during my first data loss event in 2012, I was re-structuring my backup sets and the Drobo couldn’t have picked a worst time to fail. If I had relied on my backups, I’d have recovered only about 25% of my data.

This year, I was doing a little better, although I was also re-structuring my backup sets. Somehow these things seem to know when to fail just to cause more headaches (my warranty had also just run out about 3-4 days before it failed). That brought to mind images of planned obsolescence…

This time I’d have recovered about 80% of my data from the backups. Not ideal but much better than before. I can go into my backup strategy at a later time, but it’s much more difficult for me to back up all my stuff than it is for you, simply because I have a ton of data and I always run into bandwidth issues. For example, one of my backup jobs has to keep up with 8.1 TB of data. The other, with 6 TB of data. And I don’t add small amounts of data to those backup sets, I add gigabytes, lots of gigabytes, whenever I have a studio shoot or take a trip, whether it be photos or videos.

But Raoul, why do you keep using the Drobo when it keeps failing? 

The basic premise of a Drobo, that of using SATA drives of different sizes, from different manufacturers in a single array that can show up as a single 16 TB volume on my Mac, and also allow for one (or two) of those drives to fail while keeping the data safe, still cannot be beaten by anything else on the market. If you know of anything else that meets those criteria, let me know. The Drobo has its drawbacks and data corruption is one of them. Drobos also brick themselves quite a lot, just search for that phrase and you’ll see what I mean. They’re not to be relied upon but they provide the basic benefit outlined above.

But Raoul, you could have used photo recovery software to get all those tens of thousands of photos back! Why didn’t you? 

Back in 2012, I knew of no such software. Now I believe there are several options available and some allow for batch processing of corrupted photos. I haven’t tried any of them yet so I can’t tell you anthing about them. I doubt that any software can do much when half of a photo’s pixels are missing. Besides, I didn’t need to use them after my latest data loss, I was able to get it all back with Data Rescue.

But Raoul, you could have sent your Drobo in to a professional data recovery service. Couldn’t they have done a much better job? 

Maybe. I did get a couple of quotes. They ran anywhere from $3,000 – over $10,000 and they couldn’t guarantee they’d get all my data back. What also made things more complicated and expensive was shipping my drives to the US, where these companies were located. I live abroad and the customs are such a headache I try to avoid dealing with them whenever I can.

Ligia’s Kitchen: Raw hummus from sunflower seeds

Here’s a raw vegan hummus recipe prepared by my lovely wife from sunflower seeds. I can assure you, as usual, that it’s delicious. She’s made it for us many times. Enjoy!