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

Some Expat Advice For Portuguese Winter


at large in January (Furadouro Beach – photo by Paulo)

There’s definitely a change of season in Portugal; it’s generally chillier at night but so far still in the 20s (Celsius) during the day. I’ll take it. In a couple of months I’ll be in my third Portuguese winter and I know what to expect. If you haven’t experienced Portuguese winter yet and are wondering what to pack, here’s my two cents.

Winter in Coastal Portugal

While there can be snow in the interior, coastal Portugal winter involves a mix of wind, rain, and sun. You can even have all three at once, but bet on dealing with any combination of those three elements.

Even on a warm day, you’ll need a windbreaker of some kind and a pair of sunglasses — not just to block the sun but to protect eyes from wind debris. Since the daytime winter sun can be strong enough to give you a sunburn (seriously!), on certain days it’s worth wearing sunblock that will also act as a moisturizer against skin-drying wind.

Weather and temperatures can be variable throughout the day, so layer your clothes, otherwise it’s too easy to overheat when the sun’s out and you’ll end up shivering in the shade.

Invest in a good rain jacket as part of your outer layer, preferably one with a hood because umbrellas are pretty useless most of the time and completely useless on a windy day. I keep mentioning the wind, but without it Portugal wouldn’t be known for its surfing!

I would also recommend a pair of quality rubber boots with good tread for those slippery calçadas (stone sidewalks), ones that will keep your feet dry — and sand out — when you wear them on the beach. Lastly but not leastly, you’ll need a pair of slippers for indoors.

So, to sum up, here’s the basic1 winter items list:

  • windbreaker and/or rain jacket with hood
  • sunglasses
  • sunblock
  • layers
  • boots
  • slippers (the more coverage, the better)

Depending on where you’re from, Portugal may feel colder or hotter than the sort of winter you’re familiar with. Portuguese houses are built for long, hot summers and winter only lasts a couple of months. We live in a modern apartment with central heating, a wood fireplace, and two sets of glass on all windows, which makes a big difference to the comfort level. We don’t use our central heating much, if at all. The first winter I turned on the heat a few times, but last winter I don’t think I turned it on once.

Older buildings don’t have central heating or insulation, and most have tile floors that stay cold all year — a problem for people who are used to fully-heated, winterized homes. If there’s one complaint I hear more than any other, it’s the reaction to cold + humidity. By cold I’m talking about above-zero temperatures, but it’s the humidity that’s the culprit. That’s why a rain jacket plus layers is more important than a cold-weather jacket that isn’t waterproof.

A Note On Electricity

Electricity costs in Portugal are a significant part of household expenses — see the (energy regulating authority) ERSE Portal for the current tables of electricity tariffs and the hours for off-peak rates. We monitor our energy usage closely and conserve energy wherever possible, using timers on our washing machine and dishwasher to run them outside peak times.

For a simplified baseline of utility expenses, see the Portugal section of the Numbeo website which provides a cost of living index with prices submitted by users. You can filter by city, too.

I’ll be posting more practical information about living in Portugal in response to related questions I receive by email and message. After two years, I figured it’s time to share the emails with a wider audience — to save my typing fingers!

Winter in Interior Portugal will be another post…


at large in January (Furadouro Beach – photo by Paulo)

January 24, 2015
Album: Beaches From Ovar to Aveiro [January 2015]

  1. Personal preference may include gloves or a hat (the wind may steal it!).

A Canadian, Two Years Away

Sunshine Coast, BC

On the Sunshine Coast of BC two years ago, capturing the last frames of Canadiana for a while… (photos by Paulo)

September 28, 2013

My friend took pity on me kindly drove me and my heavy suitcases of computer equipment from my apartment in Toronto to Pearson Airport. There I met up with Paulo, who had landed on a connecting flight that departed Vancouver that morning. I had flown the night before to use the last of my Aeroplan frequent flyer mileage and pick up the equipment that I didn’t want travelling in the back of my car, 4,358km across the country. It made for a nutty itinerary on my last day in Canada, but in the end everything went according to plan and we flew that evening from Pearson together, everything intact and no baggage fees (thanks SATA!).

September 28, 2015

Two years later, I have a ticket booked for Canada — at Christmastime. By the time I arrive, I will have been away 26.5 months. It’s not a record, come to think of it. I left Canada in November 1991 and was away for about a month longer, returning in early 1994 for a couple of weeks before flying back to the UK to resume work. I’ve calculated that in the past 25 years, I have lived outside of Canada for 6.5 years, or 26% of my adult life. The stints were late 1991 to early 1995 (Australia, UK), then late 2004 to early 2006 (USA), then late 2013 to today in Portugal. The major difference between then and now, apart from life experience, is the internet. It’s changed the expat experience completely.

What It Was Like Being An Expat in the Early ’90s

  • Keeping in touch with people was either slow, costly, or next-to-impossible. I wrote a TON of letters and bought phone cards. In the rare instance I found a broken payphone, I would proceed to call everyone in my address book (remember those?) who might be awake and then hog the payphone until someone harassed me or the phone company cut me off.
  • I lost track of people who were nomadic. Sometimes I would resort to calling their parents, if I had their contact details. Occasionally someone would give me the phone number of a parent or grandparent who spoke no English at all. Fun times on the phone!
  • I had no blog back then for people to read what was I was up to or update where I was. Everything I told one person, I had to repeat to another. Since I had no plan, everything was a surprise (even to me). To make sure I wasn’t repeating information to the same people (no copy/paste, no automatic archives), I kept dated lists. I would send postcards by the batch, writing variations of the same news, then kept one of the postcards with a summary of the news plus the list of recipients who received it. I also copied the date beside the person in my address book to keep a tally of how often that person was updated. This was my system for a long time, and it worked.
  • I was completely out of touch with what was going on in Canada. I didn’t know about the 1994 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver until well after it happened (unlike the riot in 2011 when I was in Portugal and saw the news on my laptop). I remember arriving in London in February 1993 from Thailand, and visiting Canada House in Trafalgar Square soon after. In the lobby was a giant portrait of former Governor General Jeanne Sauvé (the first woman appointed to this post in Canada), announcing that she had passed away. I stood there in some disbelief that I would find out this way in London and not through a Canadian broadcaster. What was even stranger was that I had already been out of the country for more than a year and accustomed to receiving news from Canada in tiny dribs and drabs, if anything, and usually from a shop window or airport TV screen. It would take a catastrophe in Canada to show up in an international news feed. I was surprised at my own reaction at Trafalgar House, it was as if a distant relative had died and nobody told me.

What It’s Like Being An Expat in 2015

  • So much information. Two decades ago, living outside of Canada meant being quite cut off from what was happening and where. These days the news comes regurgitated and diluted from all directions; it takes filters and dams to keep it at a reasonable level. There’s quite a lot of nonsense, too, which makes it necessary to fetch news from different sources.
  • Social media is a beast. It’s an odd thing to have a mixture of acquaintances, close friends, distant family, and immediate family members all jumbled together virtually. Every channel has a different mix of people in it, a phenomenon that would never happen in real life, except at your own funeral — which of course you’d never be able to attend. Social media is like having a virtual room and inviting people you know to talk to you, but unlike a real world room where most people would naturally turn to talk to other people, too, in general those people are there to talk to YOU. In the virtual rooms, it’s perfectly OK to not say a word for long periods of time, unlike in real life where once you know someone is around, there would probably be (much) more interaction.
  • Social media abets (and begets) laziness. I must admit I’m far less diligent now about staying in touch with people even though it’s much easier and mostly free. Through the magic of the internet, people see what you’re doing and you see what they’re doing, but until someone says something you either assume they know and haven’t commented on it yet or jump to wild conclusions why they haven’t acknowledged it.
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is in the Oxford Dictionary, believe it or not. I’m far too old for FOMO the Millennium Edition, but I got the antiquated version of FOMO out of my system when it meant using one’s imagination only. Nowadays, social media will provide the visual reminder of what the distant people in your life are doing without you. For new expats and millennials, this can be a form of torture — “I’m missing friends and parties!” For Gen-X expats (and older), the modern version of FOMO is a generational difference, a likelihood and acceptance that the next flight home might be for a funeral rather than a wedding. Pre-internet, it was only possible to hear about someone’s terminal illness, but these days it is possible to witness it in real-time through a screen.
  • It’s easier to find people, and be found. This one can be an emotional landmine. No explanation necessary.
  • It’s easier to do (most) things long-distance. There was a time when the phone was a necessary device for making arrangements and reservations, maybe even a fax machine, currency exchange was a pain, and time zones were inconvenient. Now it matters far less, with many options for research, communication, confirmations, verifications, and payments. There’s email, SMS, MMS, contact forms, DMs, PMs, QR codes. However, the people who were always hard to reach are still hard to reach (I’m talking to you, Dad).
  • Technology still can’t fetch me a fresh Montreal bagel, but I can find the closest bagel shop. This is huge. There are mobile apps for all sorts of things, from maps to dating. If someone hasn’t yet built an app for finding which store now stocks real Canadian maple syrup, it’s just a matter of time. I remain hopeful.

On Voting

I can also tell you that being a Canadian abroad is not what it used to be, thanks to current policies regarding voting status:

If current policy continues, October 19 will be the last General Election in which I’m eligible to vote. Yes, I’m voting, even though I have issues with the eligibility requirements. I take civic duty seriously, like I did when I was in Canada. It doesn’t change just because I don’t live there. Although it is stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that voting is part of our democratic rights as Canadians, it is trumped by this current policy that Canadians who live abroad for more than five years can’t vote. My personal view is that if the previous policy of letting the five-year rule reset with visits were reinstated, that would be enough for me. But there are plenty of arguments for why this arbitrary five-year rule doesn’t make sense on top of being unconstitutional, and there is a growing opposition towards it among the Canadian expat community.

The popular line is that we are “un-Canadian” because we don’t live in Canada. But talk to a Canadian abroad and you’ll see why choosing where to live is not the same as calling it home. See here for more Canadian expats who want to vote, and their stories.

Looking Forward

I’m excited about our trip to Vancouver in December, to see people and to eat all the food. I’ve spent two Christmases in Portugal and it’s time for a break. Although it’s not for another two and a half months, I’m already thinking about what to eat! But above all, I’m there to see people. In the past two years, an aunt passed away, my nieces and nephew have moved across the border to Washington State, a close friend got married, another close friend has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and is currently undergoing aggressive treatment, another friend has come out as transgender and is in transition. Time marches on, and there are probably other big life events that I’ve missed in the meantime. I lived in Toronto for more than seven years and got used to flying the five hours each away from Vancouver, but the distance from Porto to Vancouver is such that there are no direct flights and it makes for a much longer travel day (12.5 flight hours each way there, plus overnight in Amsterdam there and two stops on the return). Trips like this won’t be frequent, but I’ll make them count.

Sunshine Coast, BC

Here is the last gallery of photos I took during our epic cross-Canada road trip which I call Lua de Mel 2: Canada (our second honeymoon).

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