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Ten Years in the Making: The Maounique Interview!

maounique@Maounique has been a member of LowEndTalk for 10 years.  I think of him as one of the moral centers of gravity in the community.  You may disagree with him but you’ll always know where you stand with Maounique because he never compromises on his vision of what is right and wrong, and I deeply respect that.  He’s a lot of fun as well with a fresh perspective on every issue.  I’m sure you’re looking forward to reading this interview as much as I am!

So where in Romania do you live?

I used to live in Bucharest since I was born but moved out in the mountains at the start of the pandemic because of my asthma. I bought a little house with a little garden in the small town/resort of Azuga in the tourist area of Prahova Valley as far from the traffic as possible, close to the ski slopes and MTB tracks.

What is your IT background?

I am actually an economist with 2 MBAs, one food and agriculture related and another in banking. In 1998 I got my first job at a bank and it was one of the best jobs possible at that time, banking was booming and the whole economy was waking up from the communist slumber. Unfortunately, the communist system was still alive and well there, I was making less money than “senior” staffers without studies and with basically no responsibility. By 2000 I was lieutenant CFO with the full job because the guy was always ill and I discovered major corruption issues which prompted me to leave in 2001 because I was not keen to cover up or get involved in that.

The IT part started then, though, there were accounting issues generated by the implementation of an integrated IT system and I worked closely with the IT team which I found to be incompetent in accounting. I had to teach them the basics and solve the problems which prompted the highest Romanian accounting authorities to order an audit. I found the IT issues easier to solve and IT people easier to deal with than obtuse accountants who grew up with the communist dogma. When anyone made a mistake and I was asking why they did that, 90% of the time the answer was along the lines of “you are new here, but this is how it is done”.

My next job was as an IT&C Manager at a medium company (in the food and HVAC industry equipment import/export and not IT) where my GF worked at that time and never looked back. I’ve had 15 years of fun there dealing with everything, designing and implementing the network and storage systems, keeping the costs low and using FOSS and open standards software and hardware, educating the employees about phishing, spam, viruses et all but a worsening health forced me to retire early and, eventually, move out of Bucharest altogether. Now I work from home, mostly as a ghost-writer in 3 languages, another of my dreams coming true, one from the primary school when I was unable to recount the way I spent my summer vacation in more than 3 sentences.

So, as a conclusion, I am not a trained programmer, software or hardware architect, I was born in 1975 in a backward and autarchic communist country so I had to learn on the job, more or less, little of everything, I can program in a couple of languages as well as understand code in a few more, I can design basic networks and storages, I follow the trends and market, I have an economist view over the IT sector and this means no IT for the IT’s sake, just solve problems faster and cheaper with the help of the IT&C.

Obviously, you are literally next door to the war in Ukraine. How is this affecting Romania? Do you have many refugees where you live?

Romania, per se, is not affected more than the other countries from the economic point of view, only indirectly, through higher food and energy prices. The people are worried, naturally, the psychological impact is not negligible, but, by now, they got used to it, more or less.
The refugees are not coming to expensive places such as tourist resorts where I live, but I have 3 houses of which 2 in Bucharest and one I have “rented” to a Roma family who fled Ukraine, aware they would unlikely find easy accommodation due to the way Romanians are regarding “the Gypsies”. I only asked for them to take care, pay the bills and a symbolic 100 Eur for a 78 sqm apartment in the center of the Romanian Capital city because they needed to have a legal contract for EU residency.

In general, though, in Romania there are only some 100k “protected” refugees, mostly women and kids, the rest are in transit, so it is not like you meet them all over the place in a country with 20 million inhabitants. There are refugee centers and converted schools and other facilities no longer in use, but I don’t go out a lot (except for taking trips in the mountains, ski and biking) because I am afraid of COVID and the flu which are affecting me severely due to my asthma condition.

You have strong views on “Putler”. How do you think the war in Ukraine is going to end?

I have a strong view regarding all dictators, strong men and populists, from Putler to Trump and their followers. The world is a much worse place due to their policies, more hate, more death, destruction, poverty, less education, healthcare, science, more war etc. This might be the last populist crisis in history, it has a high probability of ending civilization, not only figuratively, as we are no longer civil to each other, but literally, if anyone would survive the wars, they would drastically degrade in all senses of the word.

The war in Ukraine would end in a loss for Russia. It depends on the rest of the world whether that would be a loss for everyone (nuclear winter) or only for Russia (and Ukraine in the short term, because after the war there will be a huge reconstruction effort to give an example to the whole world).

You describe yourself this way in your LowEndTalk signature: “Extremist conservative user, I wish to preserve human and civil rights, free speech, freedom of the press and worship, rule of law, democracy, peace and prosperity, social mobility, etc. Now you can draw your guns.” So I conclude you are passionate about human rights and the growth of liberal democracy around the world. Isn’t that what everyone believes? How do you differ?

I think it is obvious that not everyone believes in human rights and liberal (or any kind of) democracy in the world. There are countries which openly say that, such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and many more and others which claim they are democratic but there is no democracy in there, from the rigged elections to the imprisonment and worse for the activists.

I differ from both extreme currents. From the socialist “libruls” in that I advocate unlimited freedom of speech no matter the subject and the insanity level of the “ideas” as well as from the religious ultraconservative, racist, xenophobic, isolationist, anti-elite, anti-science and education side (that is obvious in all my writing and I won’t detail it, only the “librul” socialist side differences).

You want to spread your pedophile pizza joints or the jewish mind controlling satellite conspiracies? Be my guest! Do you wish to “prove” trans and gay people are a danger for the society and should be “isolated” or “cured” in some way? You could try that. Do you wish to say communism is good, Marx was right, Lenin and Stalin were the best humanity could have offered? Fine with me! Do you think the Holocaust never happened and it’s just another Jewish conspiracy? Your right to think so! I can at most pity you and help the authorities with any investigation into actual crimes you might have committed in the “support” of those ideas. Your rights end where mine begin.

I also differ in the way of an economist. I am fundamentally on the right as an economist, I believe in the market forces, the rewarding of enterprise, innovation, even exploiting certain market situations and, by doing so, balancing the unhealthy trends and/or forcing a change. I would resist “windfall taxation” for example, but advocate fossil fuel extra taxation, reject subsidies for that, not only as an asthma sufferer, but because the science shows the great harm this dependency does to almost all sectors of the economy in the best of times, empowers dictators and their hybrid wars against peace and prosperity, as well as harms the people and life on the planet in general.

I differ from the majority in the sense that my thinking follows the science, it changes in time, from the extremist conservative economist of the 90s advocating the cut of all subsidies, the gold standard introduction, the 0 benefits for people not in work, including involuntary unemployment etc, to a minimum guaranteed income advocate now. We can afford it and it would be good for the economy, seriously blunting the economic downturns and it would make up for the automation gripping all sectors of the economy as well as taking advantage of it. Increased productivity can free more and more people for the arts, culture, debates and all of that. The automation will come, it is already here, rather than fighting it, we should take advantage of it. High paid jobs for skilled people, educating those, lesser pay in the services sectors, humanities, except for the exceptional artists, educators, historians and the like.

You grew up in Communist Romania. I did a little research and Romania ranks very well as far as freedom and human rights. Some of your neighbors have not developed as well. What’s your take on Romania these days?

In spite of Ceausescu’s independence from the USSR, which roughly meant he wanted to be the sole dictator in here answering to noone, unlike the other rulers around, in spite of Romania being actually free from Soviet occupation since 1958, the economic and nationalist-autarchic policies the local brand of communism waged were deeply ruinous, especially towards the end. The 80s were a nightmare in here, people had no food, no heating, no water, even, in the winter my family of four was getting together in an 8 sqm room to keep warm, even so we had as low as 9 degrees (Celsius, about 50 F) in the house together with extensive wallflower infestation which led to me getting ill. I was “lucky” to catch the worst and my generation does not forget and does not forgive the communists. Each time the national-communist parties get into power, they are facing revolts in all major cities, 600k people in the streets, more than 300k in Bucharest alone (15% of the total population) forced the fall of the last socialist government when was developing pro-corruption, anti-EU nationalist policies, starting the Soros and similar “narratives” and all that arsenal of lies and manipulations.

Compared to Romania, countries around had it way better, even Bulgarians lived better than Romanians in the communist times and they have a slightly milder view of nationalism and communism, therefore relapses could happen easier there than here. People know what freedom of speech means and its role in society, Romanians would never agree to a “social contract” which takes away their right to criticize and protest, it is a second nature over here, the right to speak out is still considered the most important achievement from 1989. Maybe the Latin origins and culture are setting Romanians apart from the people around, there is an inherent rebellion of sorts. I don’t really subscribe to that thesis, but there is a marked difference between the Romanians and the Slavic people around and, in spite of huge similarities in many aspects, the fundamentals are not the same.

My impression of Romania is that everyone has 10Gbps at home. Maybe a slight exaggeration, but Romanians do enjoy excellent broadband connectivity due to adopting later in the cycle (or so I’ve read). What’s it like there?

Nope, only big towns can get 10 gbps, in here, 4k inhabitants, I can only get 1 gbps, albeit I am living practically in the forest, where the bears come raiding the trash.

There is also the misconception, which some people are deliberately pushing to try to deflect public scrutiny away from their monopolies and the effect they have on the market, the narrative of adopting later in the cycle which, somehow, is advantageous. That is totally wrong, it is “the fault” of the market forces and the way they were distorted early on after the revolution.

You see, in the late nineties and even early 2000, the state maintained a monopoly, at first de jure and later de facto only, over the communications sector.

In as late as 1999 I was paying 100 USD for a 4K dedicated line connection SHARED with 10-15 other people. I was so happy with the advent of the Google search engine, it took only one minute to load compared to 10 without the pictures for Altavista I was using before. I grew from that to a 400 people network sharing a few 100 mbps cable links. I could have started a telco pretty easily and many did.  Digi is one of those which started sharing satellite tv signals in a Transylvanian city back in 1991 and incorporated in 1992.

This drove fierce competition, some had better service (higher speeds), others had more stable service (the cables were not running over metal roofs burning the NICs and motherboards at every thunderstorm due to the induction, even in the absence of a direct lightning strike), others had dirt-cheap prices, they were run by enthusiasts and some grew at a faster pace and became national players driving the state monopoly into bankruptcy.

So, in a nutshell, the state monopoly and the resulting high prices and lousy services forced people to organize at a local level at first and they grew into national players later. We have good competition everywhere, 4G coverage all over and 5G even in small towns like here at affordable prices, if not dirt cheap. Heck, I took a second subscription for a different whatsapp number because it is only 2 Eur a month for 200 minutes and SMS, internal and international as well as 80 GB traffic at 5G speeds and lower afterwards.
It is all about the market and not the technology, early or late, we went through all the technologies, from dial-up, ISDN, cable, (x)ADSL to fiber and the latter is available even in small dwellings as of today. It is not like we jumped directly to the fiber, far from it. Same for mobile phones, in the early nineties I saw an ad for “Telemobil”, a woman was passing a long line at a public phone sporting her mobile unit, tucked into an oversized handbag only for it and linked with a wire to the receiver. The towers and gear have been upgraded to GSM, all iterations, up to 5G today.

You’ve been on LET for 10 years. Why do you take such a prominent role in our community?

With forced breaks :P

I am passionate about freedom of speech, my views are not popular in ultraconservative US (and now Russia) and many people here share US-centric points of view which come out as very conservative for a European.

On the other hand, people here are smarter than the average and death threats, for example, are far less common than in other places. Besides, I have a “family pact”, my GF forbids me from having a social media presence in exchange for other things. I found it to be a good deal, especially since it would have been a huge time sink, so LET is as close as it could get.

How do you maintain your equanimity online? You’re so passionate and are happy to wade into controversy. Are you the kind of person who’s energized by spirited debate or do you do have other things you do to maintain your balance?

I strongly believe that, especially today, you can’t be open about your ideas unless anonymous. I took that position out of principles and observations but when Francisco threatened Salvatore with hacking his SolusVM installation unless he fired me because he didn’t like my investigations into his dealings with the resource allocations, I have had the confirmation that stuff is real and can affect everyone, no matter how insignificant.

I do acknowledge that anonymity can have and does have unintended consequences and criminals could and are benefitting, but that is valid for every invention, from the gunpowder to the credit cards and cryptocurrencies. Should we expose everyone’s life to make them “prove they have nothing to hide”? Of course not, the police should do their job like they always did, adapting, learning, keeping up, since the cavemen societies, up to the information age.

I am convinced that the noisy “majoritarian thinker” is not as majoritarian as he thinks he is, there are many people who enjoy the benefits of an open society and would “stay out of politics” in the way the Russians did until it is too late and that open society is gone. I am doing my job to try to wake the majority up, to expose the lies and fallacies the alt-right is using to push their agenda of an “illiberal” religious society where the rule of the rich, the kleptocracy, the theocracy et all is unimpeded by small things like the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of assembly, the right to live as you see fit for as long as you don’t infringe on other people’s rights. The “majoritarian” morals, religion, sexuality, beliefs et all, should not infringe on the minorities, on science, technology and most of all, the “alternative facts” should not have equal footing with the facts.

What do you use your LowEnd VPSes for?

Tor nodes where possible, Freenet nodes, teaching people, VPNs, selling various services to people I know, from always on game clients to game servers and VPNs with low latency for games. At 47 I am still a gamer, albeit mostly older hits.

Any other computer-related hobbies?

What has driven me to LEB, i.e. squeezing the last ounce of power from tiny specs, was always an addiction I was unable to shake since I started to “mod” my Spectrum clone in 1989. I am restoring old computers and still using/giving away to kids things like Dell d430 laptops with 2 GB sdram and 60 GB mini IDE drive. They are learning computers too, how they work et all, not everything is a blackbox of wonder like a phone, for example. I also believe a 6yo should not be given a 1000 Eur laptop. They would drop or “wash” it and waste a lot of pollution and materials which went into it while creating more e-waste by throwing away still great machines like gen 3 Elitebooks just because we are too lazy to shove an SSD inside and upgrade the RAM.

Any Romanian hosts you’d care to recommend?

None. Unfortunately, there is a long-standing “business attitude” here which states “merge si asa” or “it still works like that” and which basically means you can cut the corners as much as you would like for as long as the business would still be afloat and as long as your product specs are good at a good price. People don’t go the extra mile for stability and customer satisfaction and the customers do not expect anything better. Yes, the technical specs matter greatly as well as the price, of course, the Romanians strive to have the latest and greatest in hardware at the lowest possible price, while the related services are usually poor, to be polite. Great technical skills, no respect for the customer, quasi-autistic and/or arrogant attitudes, totally different from what someone in the West would expect. In the communist times, if you were to complain about the poor quality services and products (almost noone did), you would have been shown the door, go get from another place which, of course, was the same thing, the quality was poor everywhere (when there was anything available) and that is true for 95% of the Romanian hosts and the remaining ones are not for the LET crowd. “We are doing you a favour for providing a great service at a great cost, shut up and endure our attitude and the downtime.” Unfortunately, regarding the respect for the customer, things have barely changed since the communist times and that is really bad.

Since you’re passionate about human rights, I know you think a good deal about threats to freedom. What do you think are the major threats to human liberty online? Is it big tech’s omnipresent eye, loss of privacy, social media warping people’s minds, government spying, or…?

Ranking threats is a mistake. They are all contributing to the general trends towards hateful and closed societies. The constant drip-drip-drip of laws and regulations made us all numb. This is what happened in Russia until Putler felt safe enough to unleash full dictatorship, autarchy and war. When we would be unable to bear anymore we would find out there is no way to protest and change things. Just look at Russia, Hungary, Turkiye and you would understand. This is not about a regulation or another, it is about the whole attitude we have. Abandon the fight for democracy and human rights and they will be replaced by oppression, dictatorship, war, economic collapse, unbearable suffering. I prefer to die a lone wolf rather than a sheep in the fold.

How can LowEndTalk and LowEndBox improve?

This could be more than a technical forum, a niche marketplace, it could become a corner where people learn to use cheap means for asymmetric fightback against censorship and “majoritarian thinking”, where anonymity could be learnt and preserved, where skills for surviving a digital dictatorship could be honed and, if possible, even prevent it from being imposed in the first place by making it clear that informed netizens would always be a step ahead of the censorship. We should fight to keep the internet free, same as for hearts and minds.

And maximum freedom of speech. Anything legal, at least, should be allowed.

Anything else you’d like to share with our community?

I think I share everything on a daily basis in my long posts, from my economic expertise to the “radical conservatism”. This got too long already, the TL;DR crowd would never make it this far :P

Wow!  Vă mulțumesc, @Maounique!  



  1. Good read, really enjoyed it! Another well done interview.

    November 2, 2022 @ 4:48 pm | Reply
  2. Maounique — a LowEnd legend.

    November 2, 2022 @ 6:46 pm | Reply
  3. Ranking threats is a mistake.

    April 24, 2023 @ 7:43 am | Reply

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