Technology Can Be Crazy-Making


I’m taking a wee pause from the travel and expat posts to seethe publicly about technology, namely outages on my web host’s servers that have been taking down my five websites on a too-frequent basis lately. It’s been happening sporadically but the frequency is steadily rising. You may have noticed it already or been lucky that you haven’t yet. It’s a consumer problem for which moving hosts seems to be the simplest of solutions… or, is it?

Just like moving in real life, making a digital move of domains and content is all kinds of hassle. Plus, no web host is immune from server issues and thus it’s somewhat of a time/expense gamble to move, only to find out the green is not greener on the other side. And, while I’m tossing metaphors around, I’m on the fence about moving since I’ve been with this host for more than 10 (!) years. A web eternity! Not from loyalty, however, it’s based on the usual formula of price / customer service / reliability, but the reliability measure is heading into the red zone: on Wednesday they deactivated my entire account after it was flagged for spam posting (what??) and it took some convincing that I did no such thing!

Anyway, the outages have become a real issue and I decided to write this post to acknowledge that I’m aware of them and notified the Powers That Be. But unless I can prove the outages in real-time (which is often while I’m asleep and they don’t accept the emailed notifications I’m given by my website monitor as proof), I can’t build a case for frequency. If the situation doesn’t improve I’ll end up transferring this site (and the four others) which means another outage during the transition. Really not looking forward to that, either.

If you’re a reader with no intention of ever registering a website, by now this post has either put you to sleep or assured you that website ownership is a dumb idea. Leave that sort of crazy to the masochists.

Photo: February 4, 2012
Subtle Technologies: ArtScienceCamp2, Toronto

A Friday Rant About Technology

view of Porto from Taylor’s Port Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia

This is where I was yesterday afternoon, the patio at Taylor’s Port Wine Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, soaking up the sunshine and the view. Not that you can tell by this picture, but I was also wilfully ignoring the fact that technology has been conspiring against me this whole week. I have posts sitting in draft, unpublished because of:

  1. Website host issues (mostly HTTP error 503);
  2. Plugins failing, then having to search for replacements (rather unsuccessfully, I might add);
  3. One of my external drives reporting disk errors, turning it into a Read-Only drive. I didn’t lose any files, but I have lost a spirit-crushing amount of time and speed. At 3TB, the corrupted drive is my largest. I had to back up files somewhere else, reformat the drive, copy the files back, and now deal with the major slowdown of my computer as Time Machine does a full backup of my hard drive (1TB) to the 3TB external drive. It is very slow right now.

Technology, sabotaged by technology! Those three issues have been ongoing this entire week, testing my patience. I hope once this full backup is finished (tomorrow?), I can get back to normal.

In the meantime, since all rants must conclude with something else, I must tell you what else is not in this picture: Ice the Dog lying down and relaxing on the terrace, with his face shoved in a plastic bag of dog food that I brought along. Yes, I have The Laziest Dog in the World — so lazy that he can’t even be bothered to eat standing up.

Happy Friday!

view of Porto from Taylor’s Port Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia

October 22, 2015
Album: Portugal [Autumn 2015]

13th Blogiversary

This entry is part 9 of 9 in the series Blogiversary

a birthday cake brought over from Dusseldorf for me (no, it's not my birthday)

Happy Birthday, Blog!

My blog is now officially a teenager (yikes) in human years, which makes me more of an elderblogger, except I’m still a ways from 50. But now that I’ve reached this milestone of 13 years, how old would this site be in internet years?

On Quora, some say it’s the same as dog years (x7), some say x2, or square the number. If I were to use dog years my blog would be 91 today, which means it’s old enough to do anything and get away with it… smoke, trespass, speed, wear slippers and pyjamas in the grocery store — why not? After 5,384 post titles, this blog has earned its stripes. I still cringe at some of the early vapid posts, particularly from 2002-2004, the same way I cringe at my school photos. But I would never delete those early posts, they’re snapshots in time. I started this blog when I was 30, in university and procrastinating on my essays. Little did I know what I’d be writing about in the 13 years since then.

If Only Blogs Could Talk (Like Humans)

And then, of course, there’s all the stuff I couldn’t write about, and wouldn’t write about. There are stories I can only tell in person, because they don’t belong on the internet. For every story I write here, there are dozens more I wished I could tell. As much as the internet is expanding and assisting and detailing our lives, it is not a medium best suited for human interaction. It facilitates, but it can be rather limiting in its ability to tell a story properly, even enriched with pictures and video.

You can travel vicariously through a blog, but it’s no real substitute for actual travel. Comment fields just aren’t the same as real discussions. I don’t receive many comments here, but I do receive more email and I value those more than comments, the same way I value one-on-one conversations more than group discussions.

Content Is Still King

The internet is an evolving technology and goes through as many fashion stages as apparel. And, just like fashion, those who chase the trends end up with a site that looks just like everybody else’s and cringe at those choices once they’re outdated. You can dress it up how you like, but content is still king.

I can’t tell you how many fancy travel blogs I encounter in my web wanderings that have the most superficial of content, pumped full of keywords and SEO. Sometimes I wonder if the writers even visited the location at all or were the words and photos scraped off of other blogs. When I see comments obviously generated from blog hops and other networks dedicated to building followers, it makes me quite cynical (and realistic) when it comes to the state of the blogosphere in general. People get very hung up on statistics — page views, rankings, popularity — and don’t bother with research, checking sources, spelling or grammar. Then there’s my personal pet peeve: writing posts that are antagonistic, contrarian, or just plain insulting with the sole purpose of making a post go viral. Nothing gets page views faster than controversy. Please don’t feed the trolls!

Learning To Ignore The Naysayers

I remember reading articles in the past that said blogging was dead, but you know what? I don’t care. I don’t pander to anyone, I have kept this space for myself to post freely. I have continued to blog through the boom of social networks and microblogging platforms like Tumblr and Twitter. I use them all, but my blog takes priority because I own my content here. One day those sites will be the victims of corporate mergers or acquistions or disappear altogether, but I’m still chugging along here with even more dedication than I had when I began. I can’t say that about anything else I do, except maybe photography.

On Being Consistent

But lets see if the numbers reflect my claim for consistency…

I’ve updated the Excel file to find that I’m only a few posts down from last year, which is encouraging since last year was the first time I stopped the decline in posts which started in 2009 and continued to 2013. Thing is, I have more pictures than ever I want to show but what slows me down isn’t the volume of pictures, it is this: I feel compelled to write about those pictures but writing is my major weakness. I mentioned this to a friend who was visiting recently and she was surprised to hear it.

“Really? But you’re prolific.”

Prolific is an illusion. Readers only see the end result, not what comes before. Ever watched someone churn out a book? The only people who know how long it takes writers to write are the people who live with them. I don’t call myself The Slowest Writer Ever™ for nothing, and my husband would likely agree. You would think I’d be faster at this after 13 years (I’ve exceeded my 10,000 hours!) but apparently it doesn’t work that way. Although it takes me approximately 10x longer than anyone to come up with the same amount of content, we are ultimately judged by the content than the speed so that’s what keeps me going.

13th blogiversary

5,384 posts (including this one); I’ve been trying to come up with original post titles since 2002!

Cheers to the blog for making it to that magic number 13!


Blogging In 2015

Gail at Large, shooting in Iceland

shooting in Iceland with my first DSLR (Pentax K100D)

One of my objectives for this blog in 2015 is to (further*) throw chronology out the window in favour of diversity. In other words, expect trips to get chopped up into smaller posts and spread out across months, interspersed with other trips and mixed in with posts that follow a theme rather than a timeline. It’s a practice I began in 2014 by adding dates and album links at the bottom of every post, because one of things that drove me bananas when reading other blogs is the lack of a date stamp (for pictures and sometimes on text). Although it flies against the very nature of blogging (a neologism of web+logging) which shows posts in reverse chronological order, I want to make the blog more diverse than it has been and dust off the archives more often, instead of abandoning them to the whims of keyword searches.

Let’s face it: the world is constantly changing, information gets obsolete, even historic buildings get renovated or even destroyed, and my pictures are (generally) not time-sensitive unless it’s a special event — they’re only but a time capsule, anyway. For me, it makes much more sense to break down content into manageable pieces and present it over time with date stamps rather than attempt large posts and present them as complete packages. As well, I never get an idea that a place is “done” — I can return to places over and over and see new things every time.

Another reason to be diligent about date-stamping is the fact that the web itself is constantly changing, too. It’s an extremely ephemeral place with annoying headlines like “10 Places To See Before You Die” and “Top 20 Things To Do Before You’re 40” and “Best Travel Blogs Written By People Who Only Blog For SEO and PR Reps”. (OK, I made up that last one, but the weird world of blogging has taken a sharp commercial turn, to the point where people won’t blog without monetization.) Online presence is a fickle beast, and I’ve been publishing on the web for long enough that I’m more aware of this than ever. I installed a plugin for my website about six weeks ago that alerts me every day to broken links, and I’m continually surprised at the number of sites that I’ve outlasted. My blog is almost 13 years old, can you imagine how many broken links I had?? It’s taken me at least six weeks to whittle it down from 1,000+ to around half of that. The Wayback Machine must be running on overtime.

In the past I set goals to achieve this gargantuan task of processing entire albums (download, cull, tag, edit, upload, rinse, repeat) for trips and write text for the post in a timely fashion, and it still amazes me that I kept it up — mostly — for more than a decade while working, acquiring new skills and competencies, starting a business by myself, and maintaining a social life. It was always a running joke in my previous lives that I was a vampire who never slept. But the harsh reality is that something was always sacrificed, whether it was picture quality (editing takes time), or the text (writing is not my forté), or my sanity (not my forté, either). The archives are there to remind me. But now that I’m in my 40s, I’ve officially earned Old-Timer Blogger status and I’ve decided to try and write more to get the stories and ideas out of my head and into the website before I forget everything. (This post may or may not be prompted by seeing the movie Still Alice last week. Cue bucket lists!) It’s not easy because like I said, writing is not my forté and I’m the Slowest Writer Ever.

For the present my plan for the blog is to maintain its focus on places, culture, food and drink, but at the same time I need to remind myself that this is a blog and not a brochure for Life in Portugal, although it looks that way sometimes. Time to mix it up.

* First draft had “One of my objectives for this blog in 2015 is to throw chronology further out the window in favour of diversity.” Somehow, that just sounded a bit too violent…

12th Blogiversary

This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Blogiversary

Gail at Large's 12th blogiversary

To imagine in 2002 what this blog would look like in 2014 would be like looking into a crystal ball of the internet, something investors and probably most — if not the rest of us — would love to do. (If the blog were a human it would be a tween turning into an adolescent… shudder) Let’s look at how much the internet has changed according to Google:

Google Zeitgeist for 2002, by month. See the total number of websites and users by year throughout history.

Nickelback had the biggest hit of 2002 (more shudder), with “How You Remind Me” (let’s not!), according to the Billboard charts. How about films:

Top-US-Grossing Feature Films Released In 2002, according to IMDB:

  1. Spiderman
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  3. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  5. My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Do you remember who played in the World Cup Final on June 30, 2002 in Japan? Brazil beat Germany, 2-0. It was tears of joy, back then, for Brazil. In case you’ve been living under a rock or have been totally unplugged in the Seychelles this month, World Cup 2014 is a year Brazil would rather forget. Forever.

The year I started writing in this blog, euro banknotes and coins were put into circulation.

I started this blog two years before Gmail was launched. The iTunes Music Store did not yet exist, either. Feeling old yet, blog?

If you talked about the cloud back in 2002, any rational person would just look up at the sky. Today, maybe just your grandma.

This blog predates Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace. In fact, it’s older than 13 of the 15 top social networking websites as of July 2014 according to eBizMBA — only Classmates (1995) and Meetup (June 2002) have been around longer. If I’d known back then what I know now about the internet, something I would’ve paid more attention to is Dead Links — links to nowhere! This blog is a big link graveyard. I should’ve pasted some excerpts instead, since The Wayback Machine doesn’t save everything. I also dearly wish I’d saved screenshots of the various incarnations of this website interface, or even just the mastheads, a la Dooce. Too late now.

Site statistics aren’t nearly as entertaining anymore now that Google hides keywords from organic search enquiries. Far fewer of these gems, aw. Or this and this. Too bad!

Speaking of statistics, I’ve updated my Excel file, which tells me I posted way more in February this year compared to last year, but that’s no surprise since the Turning 40 Series finale happened on February 5. I also did better in May this year (because last year I went to Portugal to obtain our marriage license).

Blog Stats 2014-07-28 at 4.17.27 PM

2014 also marks the end of an era: Orkut shut down, for good. (That page will probably disappear, too, so here’s the announcement on TechCrunch.) It’s been many years since I logged into Orkut, which is the reason why I wasn’t able to archive the posts and albums from David‘s account or mine. I met a LOT of people through Google’s first social network, not just David. Forum history that’s 10 years old is gone, sadly.

The internet is notorious for short shelf lives, quick expiry dates, trends, and fads. I’ve seen so many sites bite the dust and jump the shark, I can’t even begin to name all the big ones. Some major websites have been “repurposed” — Friendster is now a gaming platform — and serious money is being invested in smartphone and tablet apps. RIM (now Blackberry) is a shell of the company it once was in 2002, its worldwide market share eroded to only 1% in 2014 by Android, iPhone, Windows et al, according to

It’s a whole different world than it was 12 years ago, even in the blogging world. I’ve web-watched bloggers (and photobloggers) marry, have kids, divorce, come out of the closet, get written up for plagiarism, lose their religion, find another religion, delete their websites, some try and restart them, scale down to a microblog on sites like Tumblr, change their ‘voice’ or reinvent their image. To see so many bloggers virtually explode and implode is pretty dizzying.

Meanwhile, I’ve been quietly blogging along here on a regular basis, under the radar, wrestling with plugins and negotiating prices with domain hosts and experimenting with new layouts and watermarks (yes, even though I loathe watermarks I’ve resigned myself to apply them because of Pinterest — big sigh). No matter how much I mess around with the interface, I fully agree that content is still king, and while many bloggers try and stay motivated to blog with projects like Writing Prompts, Blog Challenges, Weekly Themes, Guest Writers and whatnot, I’ve always had the opposite problem: blogging has become such a habit that it’s like brushing my teeth. Except it takes longer… exponentially longer. If only blogging was as quick as toothbrushing, I’d free up a lot of time spent processing images and thoughts into posts.

Can someone make a plugin for that?

Post #5,000!


HSBC Celebration of Light, Vancouver (August 3, 2005)

Little did I know, when I wrote Post #4,000 while on holiday (my annual birthday trip), that I would be writing Post #5,000 in the same place, which I now call home. How little did I know, back then!

a clearance of the ghostly kind

Dublin, Ireland (April 18, 2003)

But here I am, a thousand posts later, marvelling at the wonder of life’s twists and turns, and wondering where the next 5,000 posts will take me. The 12th blogiversary is coming up soon (July), let’s see what happens by then.

(You) Are Free

Toronto (March 20, 2007)

Downtime Is For The Birds

Mister Hugh (RIP) glaring at the internet

Mister Hugh (RIP) glaring at the internet

… not the cats.

My websites and email accounts were down for 11.5 hours! Apologies to anyone trying to reach us — we are frustrated with Bluehost’s downtime, especially since we are not on a shared server, and will be shopping around for remedies/replacement and something really tasty and crunchy to gnaw for a while.

End-of-Year Randomosity, and Contemplating the Next Frontier

Café Progresso

Café Progresso

I’m choosing randomosity because it’s pretty cliché at the end of the year to make a list of things. Plus, I make lists and mark events all ‘year round. So here are some VSCO-processed mobile pics taken in Porto last weekend (the top one is my favourite), and some random bits and pieces to throw in the 2013 pot before I make the last post.

wall art, Porto

wall art, Porto

ecobus, Porto

ecobus, Porto

As to be expected, the posts will be very Portugese-centric in 2014, just like they have been for the last quarter of 2013. And what could be more Portuguese than bacalhau à brás?

bacalhau à brás

bacalhau à brás

The blog turned 11 in July, and today I updated the stats table and graph to see how consistent I was this year about blogging. (I miss you, Excel!) Apparently the Big Events of this year were big enough to keep me away from the computer — I posted the same decline (6%) as last year. But I suspect the blogging will increase in 2014, for the absence of all the reasons it declined in 2013.

blog stats 2013

A lot of things happened in 2013, so how do we top it? What’s the Next Frontier?