Coffee

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This past September, I went to Whistler, BC for a week, to participate in Automattic’s annual Grand Meetup. Since there were almost 500 of my colleagues coming together from all over the world, I decided that it would be fun to organize a coffee exchange. I brought over 2kg of Cuban coffee (in particular, the Cubita brand, which I enjoy very much as my go-to coffee). In exchange, I got coffee from all over!

Since then, I’ve been going through them; I haven’t even yet tried them all! My favorite so far though is probably the two Cervantes coffees, from Nicaragua and Vietnam. They’re from Springfield, VA. Unfortunately, I don’t remember who it was from, so whoever it was, thank you, and identify yourself in the comments!

And of course, thanks to all who participated in the exchange!

Privilege

I want to preface this by saying that I don’t have any deep thoughts, or solutions, or meaningful words of consolation, to offer to anyone reading this. But I’ve had these thoughts in my head all day, and I need to get them out.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been very, very liberal, or left-wing, or whatever label you want to give it, and proudly so. However, I’ve never given much thought to the privileged place I have in this world. Somehow, yesterday’s horrible electoral result has forced me to face that.

How am I privileged? I’m a white heterosexual male, educated, living in one of the richest and safest countries in the world: Canada. I don’t need to worry about being harassed when walking down the street, or deal with prejudice every day from people and institutions (including those in positions of power). I have relatively easy access to health and educational institutions and services, credit, employment, lodging, and everything that me and my family needs, no matter how imperfect these may be.

But what does this have to do with the election? Well, I realized today that I am very privileged indeed to be living in Canada. I have the luxury of saying that the election of that most despicable and vile man does not directly affect me, really. Of course, it likely will affect me in ways unforeseen, because of what may happen on the world stage with him and his ilk leading Canada’s neighbour, the world’s largest economy and military. Still, it doesn’t affect me directly. I won’t have a Supreme Court potentially taking away my rights. I won’t have my access to health and education taken away from me. I won’t have to explain to my children why we have an increasingly militarized police force (well, not to the same extent as in the US, anyway). If I wanted to, I could pretty much ignore everything that’s happening south of the border. And at least for the next little while, I will do just that, for my own sanity and mental well-being (dwelling on the result, and the reasons for the result, kept me awake for most of last night).

However, I have friends south of this border. Friends who are legitimately afraid of what this election will bring to them and their loved ones. Afraid of the coming policies that will undoubtedly affect them directly, and not just for the next 4 years, but for many more beyond. To all my friends who are rightfully worried and scared: I love you all dearly, and I’m sorry. Today, I was made aware that I have a privilege that they don’t: I can say, “I am not stepping foot in the US as long as that man is President.” They have to live there.

Transit maps for Giacomo

Last week, I got this message through my Mexico Metro site:

I am trying to obtain a map brochure of the train system for my autistic nephew’s birthday. He is very interested in public transportation, especially subways, and as a gift, I am collecting brochures of various transportation maps from around the world. If you could please mail a subway map brochure, it would be much appreciated. Thank you.

I’m going to look through my pile of papers and maps this weekend to see what I can find for her nephew, but I also sent her to the best person I know to get a wider audience for request: the Transit Maps blog. As I’d hoped, the great owner of that site, Cameron, came through:

He’s already gotten pledges for 17 different maps. Turns out that the nephew mentioned in the original message sent to me is a young boy named Giacomo who’s going to turn 9 soon. Let’s send him some maps! Go check out Cameron’s post to learn how you can contribute to making this little boy’s birthday a memorable one!

Water Main Woes

A couple of weeks ago, on August 13th, a major water main broke in my neighbourhood, Saint-Henri, a few blocks from where I live. We first noticed that the water pressure was low at around 11 in the morning, and when I changed the cats’ water, I noticed that the water was coming out a bit brown. Now, I’m used to this; on our stretch of Saint-Jacques, we have a couple of smaller leaks or breaks a year, it seems. Once it broke in the winter, and the street got covered in ice. They had to send big scrapers to scrape away the ice every few hours, until they could find the source of the leak and fix it. Over 900 water mains break every year in Montreal!

 

Here’s one that happened also not too far, just a month earlier.

And this one happened just a couple days later.

And another one happened just yesterday on Notre-Dame and Rose de Lima. I can’t find anything in the news about it though, I guess it wasn’t large enough, ha! Here’s a picture of the street this afternoon; they’ve finished fixing it, and I guess they’ll re-pave it tomorrow:

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Anyway, the pipe that burst on Saint-Antoine was a 76cm pipe, so, not a small one! Have a look at this gusher:

Some of the theories I read say that they were caused by some work happening elsewhere which increased the water pressure in the mains in my area, and since a lot of the pipes are so old (some are even a century old or more), they just couldn’t deal with the increase in pressure. I’m obviously no engineer, but this sounds plausible to me. When they’ve dug up the road on my street, I’ve seen how some of the pipes are just crumbling.

So, here are some pictures that I took last week, a week after the original breakage:

 

And here are some pictures I took today:

 

What a mess. Apparently it won’t even be fixed until the end of this week, as they have to do some work on some parts to get them to fit together properly. Not fun at all. School starts this week, and with school, extra traffic. Our kids’ school bus will have some long detours because of this. Can’t wait for it to be fixed!

Opening Ceremonies

A version of this article appeared on my colleague’s site

I am a really big fan of the Olympic Games, and my favourite part of them is the Opening Ceremonies. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll be stuck to the TV / Live Streams / Social Media until the Olympic cauldron is extinguished! But I really love the Opening Ceremonies, and I don’t miss them for anything. I always take vacation from work during the Olympics, and I make sure to watch it, no matter what time of day or night!

What is it about the ceremonies that gets me, though? Well, I really like the more traditional parts of it. The anticipation to see who will light the cauldron. The raising of the Olympic flag. The fact that French is always used (an homage to Pierre de Coubertin). The declaration that the Games are now open. And of course, the Parade of Nations. I love seeing the athletes from smaller delegations walk in, looking so happy to be there, representing the country and their sport.

Some of the highlights from past Opening Ceremonies for me:

  • The bow and arrow that lit the cauldron in Barcelona!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sU89ZmB71rc
  • Muhammad Ali lighting the flame in Atlanta:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmzr3tZSHxU
  • The Australian women athletes who passed the torch around, and then Cathy Freeman (an Australian Indigenous person) actually lighting the flame (even though there was a malfunction!)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWXT6VyD10M
  • East Timor joining the Games for the first time in Athens
  • North and South Korea entering under one flag in Sydney
  • Wayne Gretzky lighting the outdoor cauldron in Vancouver, and the later joke about the malfunction during the closing ceremonies:https://youtu.be/EYlCGQ628gE?t=36m14s

On the artistic side of the ceremonies, it’s always impressive to see how each country views their own history and culture, and how the choose to show it to the world. In Torino, the homage to Dante, and Pavarotti:

In Athens, the history of Greece through its art. In Beijing, the Chinese opera. Every country shows off what it considers to be the best parts of itself. I am very much looking forward to some Samba in Rio’s ceremony!

Featured image by Ian Patterson (IMG_3915) CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Madrid Metro Map

This week I got a nice surprise in the mail:

Madrid Metro Map

This came from the best HR director there is, @loriloo. Thanks Lori for being so thoughtful!!  No wonder her actual title is Happiness (w)Rangler!

Coincidentally, I saw this tweet earlier today:

A Radial version of the same official map (warning: large PDF file). Like he explains in the post, the map author was partly inspired by the radial maps of Max Roberts (I especially admire his Paris map, I find it soooo much easier to trace the path of individual lines on it compared to the official map). But back to Madrid!

I definitely agree with @transitmap‘s rating of this map, it’s really a great piece. I love, love, love how Sol station is right in the middle of the map; the Sun around which all planets (stations) revolve. I’m also particularly fascinated by the circular Line 12; how busy does Puerta del Sur get, I wonder?

I’d love to go to Madrid (and Barcelona) one day, if only to ride on their metros!

Swimming

I love swimming. My friends at Automattic call me the “Chairman of the Party Planning Committee and Chief Poolparty Officer”. I’ve always loved going to the pool, or swimming in a lake. My first time in the ocean was an unforgettable experience for me: it’s salty! It was on January 1st, 1998, San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua; a great way to start the new year. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in the ocean a few more times, each one as memorable as the last. I don’t think that the experience will ever be routine for me.

I’ve tried to pass on my love of the water to my 2 young boys, but they’ve been rather timid in the water, so this summer I put both of them in swimming lessons at the local pool. It was a breakthrough for both of them! In his last class, my youngest was able to float face down (face in the water!) for 15-20 seconds at a time, over and over, with no fear. My oldest keeps pushing himself every time he goes to the pool now, trying something new every time. Just a month ago, he never wanted to any deeper than his chin! I’ve been impressed and amazed by them, but also inspired.

See, I have a little secret (which isn’t really a secret to anyone I’ve swum with): I never learned to hold my breathe under water without holding my nose. So all these years, I’ve been swimming while holding my nose. It’s been somewhat limiting, but I’ve grown accustomed to it. But, now that my boys can do it, I decided that it was time that I figured out how to do it too. So I Googled for “unable to hold breath underwater” and came upon this site which explained that the trick is to pretend that you’re going to say the “ng” sound like in any word that ends in “ing”. A few days ago, we went to the pool. My first attempts were failures, and I felt like giving up; water going into your nose and into your windpipe is not a pleasant experience. I’d even convinced myself in the past that I must have something physically different with me, in my sinus cavities or with my velum, that kept me from being able to do it properly. But after some encouragement from my son, I tried again..  and I did it! I was able to go slowly under water, while blowing air through my nose and then somehow blocking it while underwater, and sitting there on the floor of the pool for a few seconds, then back up again. And again. And again! I found it to be quite difficult; any movement of my tongue or any loss of concentration meant that my velum would move and the pressure keeping the water out would go down, and cough, cough. But, I kept at it, getting more and more used to it. But that was about the extent of what I could do. Forget trying to move around, I was only able to sit on the bottom of the pool.

So, the past week or so, we’ve been hit with a heat wave in Montreal, which has made it pretty unpleasant. We’ve gone to the pool a couple of times, but my attempts at holding my breathe underwater just weren’t successful. Today, though… Today, I did it! I swam, first just on the surface of the water, and then, completely under water! I even was able to turn my head to the side! My son was very proud of me.🙂

I know that for most of you, this sounds like no big deal (and looking around the pool, seems to me that almost everyone knows how to do this already), but for me, it was so liberating. The more I did it, the less I had to think about it,and the more it just happened naturally! Next step, once I feel more confident: actually learning how to dive off the diving board, both hands in front of me. I’ve never done that!

Now if only I didn’t need my prescription goggles…

Photo by Jen Hooks, http://lightcandy.org/

Photo by Jen Hooks, http://lightcandy.org/