Friday, July 29, 2011

Leaving Portland

I've not blogged at all this week as I've been in lovely Portland, Oregon for the 2011 OSCON. It's been fabulous, but I've missed my wife and daughter a bit. My wife, however, is uploading "Lilly-Rose says hi to daddy" videos for me.

I should return to Amsterdam tomorrow and hope to resume blogging soon.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Our Daughter's Future (and Europe's?)

Note: we didn't actually make it to France this week as I said we would. We've had to postpone our trip until November.

When I was a seven or eight years old, my mother was visiting a friend and I went outside to play. I wandered far and got lost in the suburbs. I knocked on a door and a lady answered. I explained that I was lost and could she please point me in the direction of the apartment complex my mother was at. She invited me inside, sat me at the table and said that we would have to wait until her husband got home.

I was scared. Terrified. I didn't want to wait hours for her husband and I didn't know why I was being held here. She made me a sandwich and I asked if I could play in the back yard. She said "yes" and after a few minutes of playing to reassure her, I slipped out the back gate. I ran down the alley and hit a dead end. My terror grew even more. I knew I'd have to run back the other direction and was terrified she'd be waiting for me. She wasn't and the other end of the alley was open and I eventually found my way back to the apartments.

NASA image of things my
daughter will take for granted.
My daughter may never know the terror of being lost. Perhaps I'll tell her the story one day and she'll ask me why I didn't use GPS to find my way back.

When I was born, presumably my mother may have thought that I'd have a nicer car and a few new household gadgets, but playing in a virtual world with people from around the globe? No, I think not.

I can't even imagine what life my daughter will have. I am living in what would have been a science fiction age in the 70s. My daughter will do the same. Perhaps she'll have the fortune to see people land on Mars. Perhaps she'll have the opportunity to leave Earth (I certainly hope so!). In any event, she will grow up in a world completely unlike what I knew.

Our beautiful daughter
I envy her. The future belongs to her, not me.
I grew up in the Cold War. The Russkies were a terrifying threat, promising to enslave the world (or at least, that's what Americans thought). Europe was a fantasy and China was an exotic, far off land that I knew nothing about. Today, China is on the rise, Europe is uniting, the Soviet Union is something we read about in history books and the United States is struggling.

But we still don't know what the future will bring. The spectre of the PIIGS, the economically struggling countries of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, threaten the stability of the Euro. Italy's struggle to deal with the influx of Libyans and Tunisians is threatening the border-free Schengen area in Europe. Given that the European Union is little more than a pile of treaties and not a "United States of Europe"[1], the future of the Union is uncertain. I doubt it will go away, but it's going to transform and we don't know how.

We also don't know how China's rise is going to impact the world. We don't know how India's growing economy will change the world. We don't understand the full impact of climate change[2].

All I know is that today things are changing far faster than when I was born and the world my daughter grows up in is likely going to be one which would have been completely unrecognizable to past generations. It's both exciting and scary and I can't wait to see what her life is going to be like.

1. A quick political note: for those American's who are truly keen on "state's rights", take a look at Europe for an extreme example of both the strengths and weaknesses of this concept. Despite some Europeans complaining about being governed from Belgium, this is very much not the case compared to the US federal government.

2. You may not believe in climate change and you may think that scientists are divided on this topic. They're not. 98% of scientists who work in climatology agree that humans are changing the climate and they're pretty pissed off at know-nothing politicians who find it inconvenient to business interests.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Who is moving where?

No "expat" blog would be complete without finding out who is moving where. Much of the data for this is publicly available, but is trying to create an "interesting" visualization of this data (fair warning: you must have a modern browser which supports HTML 5).

Right off the bat we see that an estimated 3.15% of the world's population appears to be comprised of expats. That's a huge number, though I don't know if those numbers are adjusted for immigrants who later leave. If you have a modern browser, you can click on the country code on the left hand side and get a pretty graph showing which countries people from the left hand country emigrate to.

While I think the site is pretty and I like the information it presents, unless your monitor's resolution is 1,280 by 10,000, all of the scrolling back and forth will be annoying. Of course, using 2 letter country codes instead of full names on the bars is also pretty annoying. I have to deal with those codes all the time at work and I didn't know off the top of my head what VG (British Virgin Islands) and WS (Western Somoa) were.

Still, it's useful putting this together and I'm going to have to download the raw data. We can see overwhelmingly that the top places Americans emigrate to are Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico. I suspect this has as much to do with the lower costs involved as legal ease of access, but perhaps when I download the data, I'll have a better idea why people move to various countries instead of just where they are moving to. In the meantime, check the data out. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tech: dynamically changing the blog description?

It's bloody annoying, but searching has failed me. How can I dynamically change the "description" on my blog posts. For the my last blog post, The Foreigner, I get the same useless description on Facebook and Google+:

Facebook at least allows me to manually edit that.

Google+ is a fail here (I suspect that will change soon)

When you search for "Overseas Exile" on Google, you again get the same description for every post, even though that's clearly not what I want.

Buckets o' #Fail

Does anyone know blogspot much better than I do and can recommend a way to jigger a template so that the "description" which appears becomes a proper preview? Instead of people reading this for every post:

Everyone should have a chance to live in another country. I'm an American who's lived in four countries and am currently living in Amsterdam with my lovely French wife. This blog is about ...

I'd like it to be a snippet of the first paragraph, like this:

Our niece, Kia, got on her plane back to the US. I can't possibly know what she will eventually decide she has taken from this trip, except that while she stated that in many ways Europe is better than the United States...

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Foreigner

Our niece, Kia, got on her plane back to the US. I can't possibly know what she will eventually decide she has taken from this trip, except that while she stated that in many ways Europe is better than the United States, she could never leave her friends and move here. I can understand that. My last move was, by my count, the 35th move in my life and it gets tiring leaving friends and family repeatedly. My adventure streak has compelled me to seek out new life many times, but now with a lovely wife and amazing daughter, I don't feel that same urge. I like living in Amsterdam.

Still, I will always be a buitenlander, a foreigner.

My wife and daughter, buitenlanders like me
I took Kia to the Schiphol airport and as I returned, I listened uncomprehendingly to the Dutch on the train's loudspeakers, I watched the canals glide by and as we pulled into Centraal Station, I left the train surrounded by a cacophony of American voices chattering about visiting one of the world's great cities, my home. I never felt more of a foreigner here than I did at that moment. My niece was returning to both her friends and mine and I was remaining in a tourist mecca. I felt supremely out of place.

I am fortunate to have a lovely family, new friends, and a good job, so this helps. The feelings I have are quite normal for expats. All of us go through difficult adjustment periods at times and I'm fortunately used to this feeling. Still, as I walked back to our new flat, I saw a policeman riding a scooter along a canal, a gun at his hip to protect against the virtually non-existent crime (compared to the US), but not wearing a helmet to protect against the very real possibility of an accident. He looks odd to me, but I am the buitenlander, not him.

Years from now, when we retire, we hope to have a place in the south of France, near the Mediterranean. Le├»la, despite being French, may find herself an ├ętranger in her own country, having lived so many years abroad. She's already finding herself, at times, speaking French with English grammar. Heck, I couldn't move back to the US without finding myself out of sorts. Despite my passport, I'm no longer quite American, but then, I don't know what to call myself other than "human". I don't mind as it's given me a lovely life, but sometimes I wonder what "home" means.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is Europe the Future?

Kalypso Nikolaidis - EU
Photo by openDemocracy
In the article Did the American Dream Emigrate to Europe?, Jane White, the author of the book America, Welcome to the Poorhouse, makes an interesting case that it's Europe, not the US, which is enjoying "American-style prosperity." American workers are taking lower paying jobs, manufacturing positions are moving to China and India and Europe is now the world's largest economic bloc and she claims that Germany now outperforms the US on exports (Wolfram Alpha claims that the US is slightly ahead, despite Germany having less than a third of the US population). And some European countries are beginning to offer salaries comparable to the US, and, of course, education and medical care are more wid

There is one thing I think she seriously underestimates. The European Union is not a United States of Europe. As I wrote:
[The EU's] lack of a central government means that separate states maintain separate economies with only a common currency and market to bolster them. This means that individual countries have the power to threaten the stability of the euro; individual US states do not. I'm unsure of how, or if, the EU can overcome this problem. Currently, the euro is holding together, but in the long term, several countries are threatening it due to mismanagement of their economies.
The US has long had its economy propped by the petrodollar as most petroleum trading since the early 1970s and earlier (but read about Bretton Woods to better understand the background here) was done in dollars and every country in the world thus wanted to preserve the stability of the US currency. There are now contenders to the petrodollar, but it's probably not the Euro. With Europe unable to control it's overall economy, investors aren't necessarily going to support switching to the Euro. However, if the US can't escape the Tea Party's murder-suicide pact, the world economy is going to suffer, the dollar will collapse further and oil buyers and sellers are going to start looking for alternatives.

The EU is a pile of treaties in lieue of a country and not quite ready to be the "land of opportunity". Personally I prefer it to the US, but there are still viable reasons to choose the US, too. So far, neither the US or the EU are looking particularly ship shape right now.

If the world should learn anything about this by now, it's that we shouldn't tie financial systems to a single point of failure (the dollar or euro), but I can't see the world changing their habits here any time soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Go the F*ck to Sleep

I have nothing in particular to say today regarding expat issues, either legal or personal. Thus, I've dutifully tagged today's post as aristotle, my tag for "nothing to see here". In fact, some of this will likely be offensive to you, but after moving, juggling a baby and building those damnable IKEA bookshelves, I'm hard-pressed to care.

Today is my niece's last full day in Amsterdam before returning to the US and I've decided this will be a "politically incorrect" day. Deal with it. That being said, because some of you are on silly corporate filters, I will write "f*ck" instead of the full word.

First, here's Samuel Jackson reading "Go the F*ck to sleep", a book which has reached the #1 spot on Amazon, doubtless due to exhausted parents like my wife and I appreciating someone spelling out exactly how we feel at times.

Here's a sample in case you can't or won't watch the video.
The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You're cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the f*ck to sleep.
I've read a number of critical reviews of this, though. People are worried that it sends the wrong message to children or that it might encourage child abuse.

They strike me as the sort of people who want to ban swings on the playground because you might fall. Honestly, if someone is likely to hurt their child, I doubt a humor book is going to push them over the edge.

In other "news you should not hear", when we were all down at IKEA buying bookshelves, my wife took off to find a cart to haul our stuff. That left my very white self, my painfully white and far, far younger niece, alone with our smiling baby of a decidedly darker skin color. Many people would walk by and smile at the baby and us, but a few would look and, um, get odd looks on their faces.  I can understand not knowing the situation, but from some of the looks we older man/younger woman/dark baby got, I was starting to get annoyed (IKEA will do that to you). I just wanted to lean over and whisper to some of those people "I think my niece cheated on me at her sweet sixteen party".

While my niece and I would be amused, I doubt they would be.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Moving house in Amsterdam

So we've moved into our new place on the outskirts of the Bos en Lommer district in Amsterdam. Bos en Lommer isn't the nicest area in Amsterdam, but parts of it are really awesome and we've been fortunate enough to find one. Because we've already made so many wonderful friends here, one of them helped us find an astounding place. There's a beautiful canal full of ducks (duck-ridden?) right outside our door (well, by the corner we're near) and the area is very, very quiet. The place we're in had been recently renovated and is 85 sq meters with a 2 bedrooms, a balcony and a rooftop terrace. It's the sort of delightful place you probably won't find through estate agents, but once you've been an expat in a while long enough, you start to make contacts and have opportunities you would not ordinarily have had.

Saturday was spending the day at Ikea and today was spent building nine bookshelves (5 sections of a corner unit and four sections of a wall unit). After moving and hauling everything up and down two flights of stairs and then building a bunch of bookshelves, I'm pretty wiped out.

Meanwhile, here's a Google Street View of the canal by our new place.

View Larger Map

We're still struggling to unpack everything before we take off to France on Wednesday. I'm not sure we're going to get it all done.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


You may have noticed I've not posted in a couple of days. On Monday we through a going away party for ourselves and invited all of our neighbors over. As it was the Fourth of July (a US holiday), we had a proper barbecue with burgers, fajitas and the works. For last night, we were invited to a friend's birthday party and had a blast but I'm again exhausted.

Crater Lake
My wife and I at Crater Lake, Oregon

This is a shame because last month was my highest traffic ever (aside from December of last year but that had a huge Reddit spike for my five part series on "how to get a work permit", so I don't count that).

Tomorrow we move into our new flat near Erasmuspark here in Amsterdam, so I will continue to be just dead tired.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Does Portland want to be Amsterdam?

As you may recall, our niece, Kia, is staying with us for a month as an au pair. She lives in Portland, Oregon and she's written to her Facebook friends 10 reasons why she thinks Portland is trying to be Amsterdam (shared with her permission). What follows are her 10 reasons.

I've come to the conclusion that Portland tries very very hard to be Amsterdam, but falls short in all areas. Portland is like Amsterdam's kid brother... that likely very few people in Amsterdam have actually heard of.

My niece in Haarlem, Netherlands
Today's author, Kia
(Note: this photo is actually in Haarlem a town close to Amsterdam)

  1. There are birds EVERYWHERE. Pigeons, ducks, and seagulls by the hundred decorate any given place. In Portland, we have to PUT birds on everything. Because they don't just flock there naturally.
  2. The weather is very similar, but Portland can't keep itself from reaching high temperatures come summer, whereas it has yet to be more than 23 C since I got here. Also, the Dutch do not fear umbrellas the way Oregonians do.
  3. Portland is lauded as the USA's most bike-friendly city. Amsterdam, however, makes Portland look like the kind of place you'd have to be stupid to ride your bike in... even if, on average, each bike in Amsterdam is stolen twice a year.
  4. In Portland, pot is "everywhere", but illegal, while in Amsterdam it's EVERYWHERE, and legal.
  5. Also, Portland is "defined" by it's waterfront. So is Amsterdam, Amsterdam just has a LOT more waterfront, what with all those canals.
  6. Portland has a lot of coffeeshops. So does Amsterdam, except in Amsterdam "coffeeshop" means "you can smoke pot here".
  7. Portland boasts about its superior public transit. Amsterdam doesn't need to boast (though I haven't been on any other country's transit, maybe Amsterdam is just average, but it's still more efficient than Portland).
  8. Portland is so weird that at this point anyone who lives there can't be surprised by anything. In Amsterdam, everything is about ten times weirder (more perverted, more stoned, etc)... and the locals barely even notice anymore.
  9. It is often said that Portlanders are friendly and outgoing. It is often said the Dutch are not. The second sentence is very very false.
  10. I remember when I was a kid, there were cow statues in Portland that had been painted. Apparently that's a regular kind of "thing" in Amsterdam. The only cow I know is still in Portland is in the children's section of the Multnomah County Library on 10th... assuming the cow is still there.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Day off in Bermuda

Not having the time to write a proper post today, here are a few (cheap camera) photos from my cruise to Bermuda.

A bay near the dock.

The next morning.



Can I have something brown to drink, please?

Lil aggresively takes Annabelle's photo.
A couple of good friends, Lil and Annabelle