The boys with a Christmas moose.
Other than the annual Grand Meetups, every team or subteam at Automattic is able to get together a few times a year to work on a project, and to solidify the the bonds between the team members. At the beginning of November, I went to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with the Jetpack Pit Crew (the developers, Tim, George, Miguel, Ben, Dave) and the Happiness Engineers that answer Jetpack support requests these days (me, Jeremy, Carolyn, Ryan, Karen and Deborah), and special guests Andrew, Nikolay and Konstantin. We worked on a couple of important projects: reworking some aspects of the modules page in everyone’s Jetpack installation, and a complete reworking of the Jetpack support pages to make it easier for people to find the information they need when they have a question about a Jetpack module.
But, no meetup is complete without some activities as well! We went to the warm-water beach every day, several times a day; it was a 30 second walk to it and it was hot and humid all week, so who can blame us! We also explored Old San Juan a bit and El Morro, went for a walk in a mountain forest and a swim in the Charco Azul (which wasn’t so Azul that day; since it had rained on and off all week, the water was freezing and filled with sediment), and on our last day there, we went snorkeling around reefs from a catamaran! I’d never been snorkeling before, and without my glasses I couldn’t see much anyway, so I ditched the snorkel and wore my prescription swimming goggles (yes, those exist!), which made the day much more enjoyable. Of course, the open bar (rum punch!) on the catamaran helped quench my thirst after swimming in all that salt water.
More pictures below!
Every year, all the employees at Automattic get together for the Grand Meetup, a week long meetup filled with projects and fun activities. Since almost everyone works from home (we don’t share an office together), this is the only opportunity that we get to see each other all at the same time. One part of the Grand Meetup that I found to be a lot of fun, and which gave everyone an opportunity to learn a bit about each other (since at least a third of the company wasn’t part of the company yet at last year’s Grand Meetup!) was that everyone, and I mean everyone (including Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of WordPress, and Toni Schneider, the CEO) has to give a 4 minute flash talk, on anything they want. This year’s talks were a heck of a lot of fun, but there were over 200 of them! Every morning and every evening, a bunch of Automatticians would give their talks in front of everyone else. Some people were really nervous; others, less so, but everyone did a fantastic job. The topics covered anything under the sun: from Topographic Maps, to reading a story someone had written, to someone giving their home-made sriracha sauce recipe. I decided that I wanted to share a little bit about Québec’s culture, so I talked about how we swear in Québec. (warning: obviously, the language is NSFW)
And here are my slides, so folks can see the ones I had to skip over:
Now, I can’t claim credit for the originality of the content; I got most of it from the following Wikipedia pages:
This video was particularly inspiring for my talk:
And this is pretty funny too:
This weekend, the family and I went to visit Brickfête Montréal, an exhibition of LEGO creations of all kinds by local LEGO fans. My boys love their LEGOS (and bicker constantly over them, as children do), and were really excited to go. Unfortunately, the exhibition space was quite small (in the lobby of the Centre Pierre-Charbonneau) so it was sometimes tough for the little ones to see everything, but they enjoyed themselves nonetheless. They loved the trains and spaceships best, and I had a blast from the past with the exhbition of old Space LEGOs from the ’70s and ’80s, like the ones I had. Some of the models were huge and really complex, so all in all, it was quite impressive.
Today, we took a quick jaunt to the Cuilcuilco pyramid, which is well within the city limits now, south of the UNAM. To get there, we went to Etiopía metro, then took the Metrobus Line 2 and then switched to Line 1. The Metrobus was absolutely packed, our poor boys were squished between people, but by the time we got to Villa Olímpica, it was a bit better and were able to get off. The Cuicuilco pyramids lies but a short walk away from that station. For anyone else planning on going, I recommend taking the Metrobus from Félix Cuevas station instead, as the new Line 12 station Insurgentes Sur is right there, so you avoid the traffic of the stations found farther north.
The Cuicuilco pyramid and surrounding complex was built sometime between 2,000 to 2,500 years ago in successive stages, and is circular in shape. There was previously another small pyramid nearby, which was demolished to make way for an office building, an unfortunate loss of Mexico’s archeological heritage. Around 1,700 years ago the nearby Xitle volcano erupted, covering a large area with lava up to 10 meters deep in places. This eruption forced the people living in the area to leave and abandon their city and pyramids, but the lava flow also served to protect and conserve the pyramids until the modern times.
Surrounding the pyramid is a nice green area with lots of cactus and other native vegetation. It made for a nice walk with the kids to discover all the rocks and insects and plants. Enjoy the pictures!
In April of the year 2002, I embarked on an adventure that would change my life. I participated in a student exchange between my Montreal’s Concordia University and the UNAM in Mexico City. I was completing a Linguistics degree, but had several optional credits left to take. I had already made a couple of trips to Latin America and my Spanish was getting decent, and I was very interested in Latin American history, politics and economics (still am!). So after filling out the paperwork, applying for bursaries, getting a new passport, and getting a Mexican Student Visa, off I went! I spent almost 6 months in Mexico City, in the Estudios Latinoamericanos program at the UNAM, improving my Spanish as I went. Memorably, the ill-fated coup in Venezuela against Chávez happened just a few days after I arrived. The faculty of Filosofía y Letras (which is where I had my classes) became very active in preparing posters and protests and information about the coup, and local Mexican media also kept close tabs on the situation. I clearly remember that CNN, however, barely mentioned it, other than to mention how the U.S. recognized the new “interim” president.
Also memorable about my semester in Mexico is that I met my wonderful wife Reina there (well, here, as I’m actually in Mexico City right now). And now, 11 years and 2 wonderful boys later, we went for a visit back to C.U. (Ciudad Universitaria or the University City), the massive campus in the south of the city. The campus is a World Heritage Site, and for good reason. We did the same walk I used to do when I went to school there: we started at Copilco metro, and then walked to the Faculty of Medicine. There were hundreds of students flowing towards the metro; classes must have just let out for the day for them. The University is one of the biggest in the world in terms of enrolment, with over 330,000 students last year. We then walked to Las Islas (the Islands), the name given to a large green space near many of the main faculties. I took some pictures of the various murals found on many of the buildings, including the impressive murals on the Faculty of Medicine and the even more impressive murals on the four sides of the main Library building. Then, we did a quick tour visit to the gates of the Estadio Olímpico, the stadium which hosted the 1968 Olympic Games. A beautiful mural by Diego Rivera covers the one side of the stadium. I saw a few fútbol matches there when I was a student, and I will forever be a Puma at heart. I even painted my face for a match, and heartily sang the team song along with thousands of other Mexicans:
¡GOYA! ¡GOYA! ¡CACHUN, CACHUN, RA, RA! ¡CACHUN, CACHUN, RA, RA! ¡GOYA! ¡¡UNIVERSIDAD!!
I had a lot of fun at the UNAM, and it was great to be able to visit again. I had planned on walking all the way back to metro Universidad to take some pictures of the large mural there as well, but the the clouds looked heavy with rain, as they are almost every evening at this time of year, so we hailed a taxi. Luckily we got one quickly, because it started pouring not more than one minute after we got in the taxi! Here are some pictures of our little tour of C.U.
Since I’m spending the summer in Mexico City visiting my wife’s family, I’ve had the occasion to eat at some good local restaurants, taquerías mostly. Today I wanted something a little bit more special, so I took the family out to a bit of a fancy place in Coyoacán, called el Corazón del Maguey.
We ate really well there, and the service was excellent. Ever since I went to Lisbon in February I love octopus, and when the waiter told me that they had octopus cooked with Mexican coffee and cocoa, I was sold, nevermind what else was on the menu. It was absolutely delicious!
I had read that this restaurant had hand-crafted Mezcal, so I asked for the drinks menu. After looking at it for a bit, the waiter came over and said “Here, try these two, they go well with the octopus”. And he was right. What a great salesman, because it didn’t take much to convince me to have a nice copa de mezcal, and, well, 1 turned into 3. The waiter really knew his Mezcal. He explained all about the different varieties and how they make them. I was very surprised by this: it turns out that one kind of mezcal is made by distilling it with fruits, and even more surprisingly, with raw chicken, turkey or pheasant breast! And thus, it is called Mezcal de Pechuga!
And now, back home after a nice walk around Coyoacán, getting soaked by rain again and escaping the rain by ducking into a nice ice cream and popsicle shop (I had Tequila ice cream, naturally), we finally made it back home. Dry, fed and tired, I am now having some Mezcal de Pechuga that my mother-in-law had kept unopened for who knows how many years. And all is right in the world.
My only regret after this very pleasant day: that I didn’t bring my Jetpack team to this restaurant when they came to town last week. One of the perks of working for Automattic is that the different teams meet up, somewhere around the world, several times a year to work on projects and to get to know one another better*. I invited them to Mexico City since I was here already, and we had a great time (a post about the meetup is in the works), but I didn’t know about this restaurant then, and unfortunately, took them to the Sanborns right next door. I know, I know, Sanborns?! Right? What was I thinking?!
In any case, today was a very good day, and I am going to bed content.
*As a distributed company, Automattic employees work everywhere around the world (my team-members live in Budapest, Uruguay, Maine, Seattle, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North Carolina and New Mexico!). Because of this, face-to-face time is important.