This video describes and shows the work that we did in order to lay roof tiles and finish up some other work on a reconstructed wooden scaffold that will serve as the stairwell to the clock tower of the Saxon fortified church in the village of Magarei (Pelișor) in Southern Transilvania, Romania. This was the continuation of a woodworking project that took place this summer. That project/workshop was co-organized by Stiftung Kirchenburgen, the Saxon foundation with whom we’ve partnered for the conservation and restoration efforts there, and it was sponsored in part by the Prince of Wales Foundation and the Order of Romanian Architects.

This part of the work was done by ourselves, Asociatia P.A.T.R.U., our NGO that we set up for the specific purpose of conserving and restoring the parochial house and fortified church in that Saxon village. I invite you to visit our NGO’s website and find out more about the work we’re doing.

Merry Christmas!

Places

Laying the roof on the stair scaffold of the Magarei Kirchenburg

Gallery
A Guide To A Good Life

Things everyone should know about technology

The fourth 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 one lists the things we all need to know about the technology we use everyday (computers, tablets, phones, routers, backups), in order to use them efficiently, increase our productivity and avoid frustration and swindles. Enjoy!

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Thoughts

Work

The single highest purpose in life.

The more one lives, the more they ask themselves about the meaning of life. What’s the point of it all? Why are we here? Who made us? We get into all these complicated discussions about origins and God and the afterlife, discussions that amount to just about zero. All the while life goes on, with or without our answers.

The point is, we are here. And if our lives are to have any meaning, if we are to get any enjoyment from them, we need to contribute. We need to do something. We need to work. It’s not an external mandate but an internal one. We ourselves get to find out that our lives have less and less meaning once we stop working. Even if it’s work we don’t like, it still gives some meaning to our lives. And when we do like it, oh boy, then our lives become wonderful!

Some of you will say, “Surely love is the single highest purpose in life. You’ve got your priorities wrong.” Nope. Love without work is dead. That’s a paraphrase, and I bet it sounds familiar to some of you. The actual quote is “Faith without works is dead.” A wise man wrote it. What is love but a kind of faith? The two imply each other. Faith cannot exist without love and love without faith just isn’t love. Furthermore, what would your love be worth to your partner without works? If you profess your love for them, but your deeds (your works) say otherwise or say nothing at all, then that love is dead. I’m not talking about esoteric things here, I’m talking about human love, the kind I hope you’re experiencing in your lives.

If all this talk about work is ringing false for you, then I am sure you don’t like your work. You see, for most of our written history, a lot of people have been engaged in doing unpleasant work. That’s still going around these days. Instead of each of us thoughtfully considering what work we should do, because we can do that nowadays, we jump at jobs for the wrong reasons, only to find out we hate them, and therefore we wrongly assume we hate work.

Even if we can’t pick our jobs, we can actively choose to do the jobs we have better. It’s a choice we can make every day, to do good work and let that be what makes us happy in our jobs. When we do that, the wonderful thing that will happen over time, is that our jobs will get better. We’ll find ways to make them better and new opportunities may open for us, perhaps advancement, perhaps other jobs that we’ll love. But we have to do good work first. We have to make that choice and we have to follow it through.

Rest assured when I tell you that work is the highest purpose in life, and that we can only find meaning in life by doing good work.

In recent years, research has been done on productivity that has shown that people who take proper vacations (where they break off from work completely) are more productive in their jobs. It’s easy to misinterpret those results and say that we need more vacations as rewards for substandard work, but I’d like to point out with quite a bit of personal certainty that vacations only make people who love their jobs more productive. In case you hate your job, you’ll simply dread going back to work and once you’re back, you’ll do the same crappy work you’ve done in the past. When someone loves their job, the contrast of being away from it is what charges them up. It’s the lack of work that winds them up like a spring-driven toy, and once they’re back, they unleash their newly gained energy on the work they love. That’s why we see increased productivity.

Instead of asking ourselves charged, difficult questions about the meaning of life and our origins, we should be asking questions like these, questions that will help us see right away that our lives have purpose and are worth living:

  • Am I working?
  • Am I doing good work? (Here I’m referring to the quality of our work.)
  • Is my work contributing to the greater good?
  • Do I like my work?

If the answers to those four questions are yes, then I’m fairly sure your life is good and you’re also feeling good. You wake up each day with a sense of purpose and at the end of the day, though you’re tired, you go to bed content because you’ve done good work. If not, then find out how you can turn that no into a yes. You know exactly what to tackle in order to get your life in… order.

These questions are also good criteria to be used when evaluating those in our societies who prefer to shirk work, the goldbricks, the ones who seek to be on social aid perpetually, the ones who complain about not having enough and about being downtrodden while they sit at home wasting their days glued to their TVs, making children so they get more aid from the government. Sadly, there are plenty of those human bed bugs around. What’s even more sad is that governments are willing to tolerate them and use them for cheap votes instead of requiring work from them. Those are exactly the kinds of people who deserve to do unpleasant jobs, because they’ve been living off the blood and sweat of honest folk and they haven’t contributed anything to the greater good. They need to go through plenty of tough work so they can compensate society for their squalid, useless lives where they’ve only consumed resources and generated trash and bodily waste.

Okay, back to pleasant things…

Let me entreat you to find work that’s meaningful to you. See if you can do work that contributes to society somehow, work that adds to our civilization, that builds upon that of others in order to yield even better results.

If you’re retired, see if you can do some consulting or mentoring work for 3-4 hours each day. Not only will you supplement your fixed income, but you’ll wake up each day with a renewed sense of purpose and you’ll contribute your lifetime of experience to those who need it, even if they’ll take a while to realize it.

Here’s to good work from all of us! 🤲

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Places

At the office

Here are a few photos of objects around my office, taken a few years ago. One of the photos has the exact date and time when it was taken written on it, but not in the typical way, where the camera imprints the text in the corner. I’ll let you see it for yourselves. Enjoy!

See the ColdFusion handbook in this photo? ColdFusion (by itself, without the Java layer recently shoehorned into it by Adobe) was and is the best programming language. It’s so high-level that a few lines of code can do what would otherwise take pages of low-level code in other languages. I find that very elegant.

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Video Log

The need for true craftsmen

I filmed a short vlog today about the need for true craftsmen, which is becoming more apparent in developed countries pretty much everywhere. The more emphasis is placed on white collar jobs, IT and college degrees, the less people you have going to vocational schools in order to learn how to become craftsmen. Countries don’t run on computers alone. We need people doing real, physical work, building the infrastructure and taking pride in their jobs, building with the best methods and to the highest quality available to them, otherwise fields like construction are going to get worse, not better. (Have you looked at the build quality of the sheds we call “homes” these days?)

I hope you take a few minutes to watch the entire video and do your part to encourage your children or your students in schools to become real craftsmen. They can make a good living, even a great living, doing craftwork, and they can do it without going into debt by the tens of thousands of dollars, getting college and post-graduate education which isn’t going to be useful to them. If you’d like a list of good, honest trades and crafts, this article which lists 19th century occupations alphabetically should help.

I’m not alone in my views. You can also watch Mike Rowe, host of “Dirty Jobs”, give a testimony before Congress where he urges the US government to encourage our children to choose to go to vocational and tech schools, because there’s a real need for these kinds of people in the US economy.

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Thoughts

A long commute may push you toward divorce

I’ve been a proponent for telecommuting for years, and I’m glad to see more proof — such as this article, which presents research from Sweden, where they’ve found that long commutes (around 45 minutes) make you 40% more likely to divorce, and also re-inforce gender-based stereotypes, where the man will usually have the better job and do the long commutes, while the woman is forced to take a lower-paying job closer to home.

According to the study, 11 percent of Swedes have a journey to work that consists of a 45-minute commute or longer. Many commuters have small children and are in a relationship. Most are men.

The risk of divorce goes up by 40 percent for commuters and the risk is the highest in the first few years of commuting.

And more Swedes are travelling farther distances to work.

“The trend is definitely pointing upward. Both the journey to work and the working hours are getting longer, “ Sandow told The Local.

The study was based on statistical data from two million Swedish households between 1995 and 2000.

This article in The Economist echoes the research, and offers additional arguments:

Ms Lowrey ends up running through the whole litany of traditional commuter complaints—that it makes us fat, stresses us out, makes us feel lonely, and literally causes pain in the neck—and finds research to prove that the moaners are, more often than not, right. “People who say, ‘My commute is killing me!’ are not exaggerators,” she concludes: “They are realists.”

This of course is in addition to the arguments I’ve already put forth in the past, such as in this article offering reasons for telecommuting, or this article about reducing waste in business operations.

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Events

Site migration complete

Last night, I completed what could be called an unusual site migration. I went from a self-hosted WP install to WP.com. That’s right, my full site is now hosted at my WP.com account. People usually migrate from WP.com to WP self-installs after their site gets big and they decide they want more options, like the ability to run all sorts of ads and fiddle with the code, etc. With me, it was the opposite. I wanted to stop worrying about my web server and focus on publishing my content.

As I mentioned here, things got worse after upgrading to WP 2.9. My server kept going down for no reason, and often, too. It’d go down several times a day. I’d have to keep watching it all the time, and that got old real quick, especially when I traveled and had no internet access. I’d often get home to find out my site was down and had been down for several hours, if not more. Since I hadn’t mucked about with my server to make things worse, and had already fiddled with optimized my Apache, MySQL and PHP settings to last me a lifetime, I decided to have WP have a go at hosting my site and let them worry about keeping it going. Judging by the initial results, it looks like they had a bit of trouble with it too (see this, this, this and this), but at least it’s not my headache anymore.

During the migration process, I learned three things:

  1. I hadn’t been getting full XML transcripts of my site in the past, when I used WP’s WXR Export feature. See this for more, and make sure you’re not in the same boat.
  2. The WordPress Import wizard still needs a TON of work to iron out the bugs. You’ll see why below.
  3. WordPress.com Support can be terribly unresponsive. I waited over 20 days for a resolution to my ticket about the site migration, and in the end, I had to work things out myself. When I told them as much — and I tried to be as nice as possible about it — it would have been nice to get a small apology, but I didn’t even get that.

Granted, my site migration does not represent the usual WP user’s migration path, nor was it a typical migration. By current count, I have 1,552 posts, 4,129 comments and 3,090 media files. That’s quite a bit more than your average blogger, and I think that’s what served to point out the bugs in the Import Wizard.

What exactly were the bugs?

  • Failure to import all posts, comments and media files
  • Post and media file duplication
  • Failure to properly change all paths to media files (either image source or image link or both)

Here’s where I need to acknowledge the help I did receive from WP Support. My WXR file was over 20 MB. The WXR upload limit at WP.com is 15 MB. WP Support modified the upload limit to allow me to go through with the WXR upload, and they also adjusted the timeout limit, because the migrations timed out prematurely as well. So I thank them for that help.

The big problem turned out to be the third issue mentioned above. The Import Wizard didn’t change all the paths to the image files. It turned out to be a very hit-or-miss operation. Given the scale of the operation, I might even call it a disaster. Some posts were fine, some weren’t at all, and some were a hodge-podge of images that were okay, and images whose paths were wrong, or whose links were wrong, or both. You might imagine that checking and fixing the image paths for over 3,000 media files can turn out to be a very big job, and it was.

I was also under pressure to finish the job quickly, since the site was live. Imagine how you’d feel as a reader if you visited a website and none of the image files showed up — you’d probably think the site was dead or dying, right? Well, I certainly didn’t want people to think my site was on its last legs, so I had to act quickly.

Thankfully, only (sic) about 40% of my posts had their image files messed up. The rest were fine, but then I also had plenty of posts with no images. If all my posts contained images, I might have had 90% of my posts to worry about… Still, I had to check every post, and as you might know if you’re a regular reader, I post lots of images per post, and where a post was messed up, brother, I had to do a bunch of work to get it fixed up. Just as an example, some posts have anywhere from 20-50 images…

Here are a couple of screenshots that show you how things stood. Here, the image link was okay, which meant I didn’t have to modify it. This was a happy scenario. However, the image path was still wrong, as you’ll see below.

The image source, or path, didn’t change during the import process, which meant I had to change it manually, or browse for the image by title or file name in the media library and re-insert it.

The image size was also lost, which meant that if I changed the image path manually, I had to also enter the width of the image.

What made things more cumbersome was the lack of an image insert button in the Gallery dialog box. That’s one of the differences between a WP self-install and WP.com. This meant that even though I’d uploaded a certain image for a certain post, and it showed on the Gallery tab, I couldn’t go there and re-insert it into a post. I had to go to the Media Library tab, search for it, then re-insert it, which takes precious time and clicks, particularly when you’re dealing with thousands of images.

In spite of all the extra work which I had to do, and which took about 1½ weeks of my time, I got done last night. My site is now fully functional, thank goodness!

As for my experience with WP Support, there are no hard feelings. I like the WordPress platform and it’s done good by me so far. I wasn’t a VIP customer and they didn’t have any financial incentives (besides the small fees for a space upgrade and a domain mapping) to get their hands dirty with my code. They offered minimal support, and to a certain degree, that’s to be expected when most of your customers are non-paying customers, as is the case with the large majority of WP bloggers.

Still, I would encourage them to consider doing the following:

  • Improve their Import Wizard so that it will not terminate until it checks and doublechecks to make sure it has imported all the posts, comments, pages, tags, categories and media files, and all the paths to the media files are correct. They’ve still got one of my WXR files, and they can use it as case study to help improve the accuracy of the import wizard.
  • Include an image insert button on the Gallery tab of the “Add an Image” dialog box, like the one that already exists on WP self-installs.
  • Offer the functionality of the Search & Replace WP plugin for WP.com blogs. This would have been a huge help to me as I fixed the image paths. I could have run a couple of queries on my blog’s content to change most of the image paths, and it would have halved my workload.

If you were one of the folks who kept seeing no images during this transition period, sorry for the inconvenience, and I’m glad you’re still around. If you’re still seeing no images, definitely get in touch with me, I might have missed a few — after all, I’m only human.

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Thoughts

One way to respond to stress

I was reminded today of something I’ve known for a long time, something that still hasn’t become second nature to me. I was faced with stressors, and how I chose to respond to those stressors determined my mood and milieu for the rest of the day. On a long-term basis, the sum of all these responses determines how my body will look. Scary, isn’t it?

Hence, a rule I will try to keep in my mind at all times: my response to stress is determined by my attitude, which in turn determines how my body feels and looks afterward.

There have been countless times in the past when my attitude toward a stressful situation caused me pain (anger, headaches, malaise, arguments), and yet, today, and a few other times, a simple switch in the way I chose to perceive the situation (it wasn’t even a complete 180° turnaround, just a different way of looking at the problem) allowed me to roll with the punches and go right on with my business. Instead of being stumped by stress, I overcame it and that allowed me to be productive and avoid feeling ill.

I remember my dad telling me about attitude more than a decade ago, when I was in college, but as a wise man once said, college is wasted on youth. It didn’t stick then, and it’s still not sticking. Sure, it sounds nice and you and I agree with this stuff (I bet you’re nodding your head right now) but until you bang your head against the wall a few hundred/thousand times, you don’t get to learn this lesson.

The simple heart of the matter is that I can look and feel like this…

raoul-at-work-2

… or I can look and feel like this.

raoul-and-ligia-at-home-7

I’ll take the latter any time, because I know the costs involved with the former state.

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Thoughts

The pain and importance of communication

During the past several months, I’ve had to work with people much more than before, and I learned a few things, one of which is the importance of communication.

Ligia and Raoul, talking

It’s one thing to sit in front of the computer all day and communicate via email and the occasional meeting, as it happens in IT work, and it’s quite another to only do it in person, face to face, explain concepts and ideas, try to get your vision across, then see how well others understood and delivered on the stuff you needed. More often than not, I’ve been disappointed, but I’m told that’s par for this course.

So where does communication help?

Where there’s tension, it helps deflate anger and potential conflict. I’ve been in situations where the tension had built up so much the hair stood up on my back and I was ready to punch someone, and yet if we were able to communicate rationally for a few minutes and hash out the various problems that we faced, all of that pent-up anger literally melted away. Of course, if the other person can’t communicate rationally, that’s another story altogether…

I can’t overemphasize the importance of communicating with each other as you work on a project with other people, particularly when it’s new territory for either one of you. Most people aren’t good communicators. They’d rather just do their work, but if they’re not taking the time to understand what it is you want them to do, being faced with an end result that differs from your expectations can lead to bad situations all around. So what I’ve had to do is to initiate communication most of the time, and to get these people to explain to me each stage of the work they were doing, several times a day, just to make sure they’re on the right track.

In the past, when I worked on IT projects, I had to do the same thing sometimes, but more often than not, I got too frustrated with the capabilities of others and brushed them aside, preferring to do the work myself, knowing I could do it faster and better. That wasn’t possible this time. I’ve been involved in construction/renovation work, and even though I could do the work myself, I couldn’t allow myself to do it because I needed to get results on a tight schedule. Doing things myself would have meant pushing deadlines into the future, and that wasn’t an option. The teams I worked with could deliver the stuff on time, but I had to make sure we were communicating properly. It was a real challenge, and I gained a new-found respect for general contractors and project managers. It’s very stressful and exhausting to work on construction projects and ensure everything gets done according to plan and to your vision when you’re dealing with people. Unfortunately, until we invent robots that can do all manner of construction work to spec — and I doubt that’ll ever happen — that’s what we have to work with.

In IT work, if something isn’t right, you can go back in and change things. You erase or modify the code, re-adjust the software options, etc. You’ve only wasted time, not materials. (Yes, you can also waste resources and others’ time, but let’s not bring that into the equation for this analogy.) In construction work, you not only waste time, you waste materials, and that can really add up. There’s also the painful cost of tearing down stuff that wasn’t built right and starting from scratch, and you pay for this in more stress.

So yeah, communication is vital, but there are some serious flip sides to it.

I’ve found out that you can still be misunderstood and judged even when you do your best to communicate as much as possible — and here I’m not talking about construction work, but life in general. Your every action can be perceived as the opposite of what you meant it to be. You’ll try to help someone else and they’ll think you’re trying to hurt them. You’ll do a good deed and it’ll get mocked or your kindness will be abused when others seek to take advantage of you. It is so painful to deal with this crap, and yet there’s no way around it unless you go live someplace away from everybody — and let me tell you I’m sorely tempted to do it.

There is so much potential in each of us to create, to do good things, lasting things, beautiful things, to achieve lofty goals working in harmony, but we’re stuck using language to communicate what’s inside us. There’s no better way to transfer information and ideas between us. Unfortunately, words can be sorely lacking in the power to transfer information and vision, in most situations where it’s really important for them to convey that. And yes, this is coming from a writer, someone who loves using words. It’d be so much easier if we could communicate what’s in our hearts, unequivocally, when we needed to do it, so there would be no doubt in the mind of the other person of what our true intentions really are. Of course my vision is somewhat utopic. After all, many people simply don’t aspire to do good things. Their goals stop at the ordinary or downright sordid aspects of life, and you can’t do much good with those people. You’re better off avoiding them, unless you welcome extra stress in your life.

I suppose one antidote for all this pain caused by living and working among people is to not care. By this I don’t mean we should be callous. I mean we shouldn’t care what others think of our actions or of us. We should stand rooted in our morality and do what we know is right, treat others the way we want to be treated, and let others think what they will of us. As long as we’re true to our own moral compasses, nothing else should matter. Right? But somehow it does, doesn’t it? And it’s so damned painful, too.

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