Dune – “etymological” riddle solved?

I recently re-read Dune for something like the 5th time. I love the book; I find that I always look at water in a different way for months after I’ve read it.

On reading it this time, I came across this word in the text and the glossary:

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As a native French-speaker, I immediately saw what it must be: Écoutez! For the non-French-speakers among you, that translates to Listen!

I searched on Google for any other mentions of ikhut-eigh and écoutez or écouter, and found nothing. So I’m possibly the first one to have seen this connection. It wouldn’t be completely strange, either. There are several words in the glossary that have clear French roots: verite, proces verbal, and of course, melange, the spice itself. So I’m convinced that this little mystery is solved. Unless Frank Herbert completely made it up, of course.

Playa del Carmen with the family

As many of my friends know, I am spending most of the summer in Mexico City, visiting my wife’s family. I have a few posts to write about some of the things I’ve done, so keep reading my blog later this week for more!

So far, most of the summer has been spent with me working, and small evening or weekend outings (you can see some pictures of those on my other site). For the first time in all the times we’ve come here, this year I decided to take the family on a jaunt elsewhere, away from Mexico City. Back in April of this year, and again in 2014, I went to Playa del Carmen in the Yucatán for a team meetup, so I thought that it would be fun to go back with the family, so my boys could see the beach and the Mayan ruins that I knew well. At the same time, I didn’t want to have to deal with “where are we going to eat” every day, so for the first time ever, we went to a relatively cheap all-inclusive hotel. It ended up working out pretty well!

Our first night there, we got there just in time for supper, and the pool was already closed, so we just hung out on the beach for a while after eating, enjoying the sound of the surf, and the starlit sky. Then, on our first full day there, we spent it on the beach and in the pool, with the occasional break for some food or a drink. It was pretty nice to have a full day of “nothing to worry about but food”. I don’t know if it was because of the particular day (Monday), or because of the risk of rain (we saw lots of rainclouds over the sea, out near Cozumel island, and rain too, but it didn’t end up coming our way), or whatever the reason was, it was pretty quiet that day. I was even able to take pictures of the beach and beach chairs, with hardly anyone around:


The next day was our adventure day! In April, we had done a private tour with Mayans’ Explorers, and it went really well for us, so I contacted them again to ask them for a tour for just us. It was easier this way than signing up with large groups of 20 or 30 people, and much more enjoyable and flexible.

We started at about 7am from the hotel, in one of the typical little tour vans of the area.  First on the agenda: a visit to Tulum. I had wanted to go to Tulum for as long as I could remember. The images of the ruins with the ocean right below the cliff always impressed me. However, it was already STUPID hot and humid by the time we got there around 8am, and and unfortunately, the access to the beach was closed. Oh well. My kids can come back on their own when they’re older. In any case, there was a lot of sargassum seaweed (the whole Mayan Riviera coast is suffering from an excess of it this year, as you may have spotted in some of my photos), so it wouldn’t have been all that great.

After we left the ruins, soaked in sweat, we went to a nearby beach for some snorkelling. We had hoped to see some turtles, but none were around. However, we saw lots of other fish, as well as some rays, and what looked like a barracuda. The boys enjoyed it a lot! I don’t have any photos of the scuba diving though, since we left our phones on dry land!

After scuba diving, we went to the Cobá ruins. It was super-hot again. However, our driver said “It looks like it might rain, do you want umbrellas?”..  No, no need, a bit of rain doesn’t hurt…

So we visited the first pyramid in Cobá, and the first “juego de pelota” (the classic Mayan ballgame court). Then, we rented bikes to go to the second pyramid, which is very steep but that you can climb all the way to the top. I went to the top in 2014. However, this time, my youngest son went up maybe 10 steps and said “Nope, nope, I’m going back down”, so I went down with him. That’s when a few drops started. “Just a few drops, not a big deal.” As you can imagine, those few drops became more and more, until it was really a downpour. My older son, meanwhile, had climbed all the way to the top with our guide; he got a good view, at least! Everyone climbed down; they were the last ones to reach the bottom. We all ran to a nearby small shelter, and waited out the rain. Except the rain didn’t stop. Soon the water started running in rivulets, and then streams, everywhere. Some tourists, with their blue plastic rain ponchos, were still going to the pyramid though; I guess they figured they had paid for it so they might as well go! I don’t any of them dared to climb it, however.

After waiting a while, our guide said “I don’t think this will stop any time soon”, so off we went to our bikes, water up to our ankles. It was a good 10 minute bike ride back to the entrance; what an adventure! Biking along in basically a river, under driving rain. I won’t forget it!


After we made it back to our van, soaked, we headed out to a local cenote, Multum Ha. We had to go deep underground to reach the water. The water was cool, refreshing, and crystal-clear. I loved the experience of swimming in it!

And that was the end of our adventure day in Playa del Carmen!


Transit Mapping Symposium

Last June, I went to Paris for WordCamp Europe. There, I met up with Jug Cerovič, an amazing transit map maker, whose maps are truly works of art. We talked about his book and his work, and during our conversation, I said that it would be absolutely fantastic to be able to gather all the people who work in this admittedly niche world of transit mapping, and to share ideas and thoughts on all aspects of it. Jug told me, “Let’s do it!” At first I thought it was a pipe dream, how could we possibly pull it off? But after thinking for a bit, I realized that it wasn’t that far-fetched! Since I knew that I had a 3-month sabbatical coming up this summer (thanks to my employer, Automattic; every employee gets 3 months off after 5 years of service), I had already decided that I wasn’t going to organize another WordCamp, so I knew that I would have the time available to fill the hole in my heart; I really like organizing things! And, I have the skills and experience in event organizing that would make putting a much smaller conference together relatively easy. From Jug’s side, he has the contacts in the field, as well as his own clearly-articulated vision of how transit mapping should progress in this age of apps and smartphones. Lacking both of those things, I needed him to put this gathering together, just as much as he needed me to handle the organizing and logistics. And thus, the Transit Mapping Symposium was born!

After several months of contacting different potential participants, Jug was able to put together a great list of speakers:

  • Sam Vermette, from Montreal’s own Transit app (which I love!)
  • Joey Reid, representing the very influential Human Transit, founded by Jarrett Walker
  • René-Claude Bouchard and Francis Brisebois from the STM
  • Peter Lloyd, author of a book on the Vignelli NYC subway map
  • Representatives from Naver, South Korea’s biggest search engine and web destination
  • Kickmap’s very own Eddie Jabbour
  • Anton Dubrau, a key blogger on Montreal transit
  • Representatives from Apple Transit
  • Jens Unger, a representative from Here.com
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Eddie Jabbour from Kickmap

Quite the lineup! We unfortunately had a couple of speaker cancellations due to circumstances outside of our control. However, as luck would have it, one of our attendees had flown all the way from Singapore to show us the work on mapping and signage that he’s doing in their transit system, and he agreed to prepare a presentation for us. It was a great way to finish the Symposium; Samuel Lim’s presentation was expertly done, funny, and informative. Thanks Samuel, and thank you to all of the other speakers who attended!


Drinks at the pub after the Symposium ended (photo by Samuel Lim)


So, now the Symposium is over….  for this year! After the success of the event, Jug and I have agreed that we have to do it again. This year it was in Montreal, so next year, we’re going to do it in Paris! See you then!

Projet Montréal

Tomorrow is election day in Montreal. Last time around, we elected Denis Coderre, ex-immigration minister, and ex-MP from Montreal North, where I grew up. I didn’t like him back then as immigration minister, and I did not vote him as Mayor. I disagree with many of the things he has done or wants to do:

So he’s definitely not getting my vote this election either.

Today I had the pleasure of briefly meeting who I hope will be elected mayor today, Valérie Plante.

When she first won the leadership of the oppostion party, Projet Montréal, almost a year ago, I didn’t have much of an opinion of her. However, that has changed over the past few months, and especially over the spanse of the electoral campaign. The most important aspect which made her and Project Montréal win my vote, is the audacious idea of a new metro line for Montreal, the Pink Line (la Ligne Rose). The idea of this line is to relieve pressure on the eastern half of the Orange line (and Berri-UQAM station) which are operating at or above capacity during rush hour in particular, and also to serve poorer, dense neighbuorhoods that currently are far from any metro station and which cause long commute times for their residents; in particular, Montreal North!


The Pink Line; opening in 2025?

Here are some fascinating articles about this Pink Line and what it would entail:

I look forward to casting my vote tomorrow, and to the future of transit in Montreal!

POSTSCRIPT:  She won!!

Excited about the future of transit in our fair city!!!!!!

Learning Dutch: Beginnings

Back in August, I attended a conference in Montreal which was all about polyglots and languages: Langfest. So many attendees at the conference had name-tags that said which languages they spoke or were learning to speak. Most people had 3 or more; several were even on their 7th or 8th language! While I was there, I started thinking on what my next language would be. Italian or Portuguese are obvious choices since they are so close to French and Spanish; they’d likely be relatively easier to learn. But they don’t inspire in me a strong desire to learn them right now. Then there was a quick presentation on Icelandic, which seems interesting! It’d be quite a challenge to learn it, though. So, I left the conference without a chosen language, and decided to think on it for a little bit.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Automattic’s Grand Meetup, where all of my colleagues from around the world gather for 1 week of work and socializing. You can see some of my friend’s posts here: Lisa, Stephen, Kathryn, Ryan. While I was there, I chatted a bit with Ines, a colleague from the Netherlands. And that’s when it hit me: Dutch!

So I’ve started looking for Dutch courses in Montreal. I’m not finding any, though. I asked on Twitter for help, and another one of my colleagues, Mark, said this:

Great question, Mark! Here’s why I’ve settled on Dutch:

  1. I want to learn a 4th language as a personal challenge, but I also don’t want something TOO hard so that I don’t get discouraged along the way; I can try a hard one for my 5th. 🙂
  2. Dutch is close to English in many ways (written and spoken) which might make learning it a bit easier, but different enough that it will still require a lot of work and practice to get right. It feels like a good balance.
  3. I love flying KLM and have been through AMS-Schiphol airport a few times; maybe one day I’ll actually get to visit Amsterdam too! It’d be great to have at least a fair grasp of the language if I do.
  4. I’d like Automattic’s Grand Meetup to be in Europe one year, and Amsterdam would be a GREAT location for flights. Look at this!
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From http://www.flightconnections.com/ ; all the direct flights to AMS!

So, those are the reasons! My motivation doesn’t have any deep meaning behind it or anything; I just want to see if I can do it!

So, my first step is to get some books & CDs from the library. I will also watch videos online. For example, I’ve started watching these:


They’re good, but I need more structure to learn.I’d love to be in a class and learn along with other people. To that end, I signed up on a site called Multilingual Cafe, and hope that a class will open at some point. If you’re in Montreal and also want to learn Dutch, sign up for a group session! (Thanks to Isabelle for the link!)

Once I have a book or two, I’m going to try to do at least 30 minutes a day of practicing, reading, and watching videos. It isn’t much, but since I don’t have anyone I can practice *with*, it will have to do for now. I will try to find a conversation group once I have the basics, later. If you have any leads for me for a group in Montreal, let me know!

So that’s it! I’ll update my progress here in a month or so.

WordCamp Montreal

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Great photo of this year’s gang: Jennifer, me, Carl, Andrea, and Alex. Photo by Jer Clarke: http://jerclarke.org/

In 2010, I went to my very first WordCamp. It was my first time going to an event like that: a conference on a subject which, at the time, I was just starting to delve into. I really enjoyed my experience that weekend; I met some great people, and learned a lot! The local community was just full of friendly and knowledgeable people, who were always enthusiastic about sharing their thoughts and ideas. At the time, most of the monhtly meetups were on topics that were pretty much over my head, but I enjoyed going to them anyways because I always ended up learning something, and the other people who came to them were also very nice and friendly.

So, I kept going to the events. I also went to WordCamp Montreal 2011, and also 2012. Now, for those who know me, I like organizing things. I really like organizing things. By things, I mean events, or outings, or get-togethers; I don’t mean my desk (I won’t show you a picture of it). At the afterparty in 2012, I had the great idea of approaching Jer, one of the organizers, and saying “Hey, I’d like to help with anything you need me for next year!”, and before I knew it, I was in! I’ve been on the organizing team for WordCamp Montreal since 2013 now (here’s 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017). I’ve also been part of the team that organizes our local meetups too (here’s where you can sign up to find out about future WordPress Montreal events, on Meetup.com). And being part of the organizing team brought me, indirectly, to my current job at Automattic (the folks behind WordPress.com); being at the events, and helping where I could, got me noticed, and it certainly helped having it on my CV.

But, after 5 years of doing it, I decided earlier this year that I need a break. Running WordCamp, as well as the local WordPress community events, is a lot of work! We have a great team of organizers, but it’s still a lot that needs to be done. We actually start the preliminary booking for the WordCamp venue in November or so, as well as the hunt for sponsors. A lot of time and effort goes into our events, and I was starting to feel tired of always having to think of things for the meetups or WordCamp itself, and occasionally annoyed at minor details. So, before I found myself becoming bitter or burnt out, I decided that this year’s edition, 2017, would be my last as a WordCamp and Meetup organizer, for a year or two. We’ll see if I come back afterwards; I do like organizing things, so it might be hard to stay away for too long! However, it will also be nice to be able to go to WordCamp next summer as a pure attendee (though I may volunteer for a few hours). Not having that responsibility anymore just feels nice right now.

I was going to add some pictures from past WordCamps, but, I’m bad at taking pictures, so I only have some from 2013. So instead, go and have a look at some great ones that other people have taken:


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Passing on the torch, ha! Another great picture by Jer Clarke: http://jerclarke.org/


Oh, and remember how I mentioned that I really like organizing things? Well, I’m in the early, preliminary planning stages of organizing another conference on something near and dear to my heart, and not WordPress-related, either! I’ll reveal the secret as soon as I’m ready to announce it. 🙂


A couple of weeks ago, there was a freak windstorm in Montreal. Winds reached speeds as high as 110km/h in short bursts in some parts of the city (mostly in NDG, but also in St-Henri and a few other parts). These high winds managed to bring down dozens of trees; one large park in NDG was practically ripped apart by the winds. You can see some pictures in this Montreal Gazette story, and in this CBC News story.

Luckily, no-one was hurt anywhere as far as I’m aware. Unluckily, the trees behind my building were some of the ones that took a beating. A mature silver maple broke in half: it’s top half cracked off and ended up precariously balanced against our back staircase. Another tree, which was already leaning a bit beforehand, toppled over completely, but for one thin trunk that stayed put. Other branches from other nearby trees also were broken and fell into the back yard. It created quite a mess.

When the landlord came and took a look, he decided that it was too dangerous to leave the maple trunk just balanced against the staircase, so with the help of a nieghbour, we pushed it down to the ground.

The next day, the tree pruners came to clean up the mess. All that greenery, gone.

Now, we no longer see a wall of green when out on our back balcony; instead, I can see all the neighbours. It’s also much sunnier (and hotter) on the balcony. It’s sad, but such is life. Maybe next summer we’ll plant a tree in the corner to replace the fallen one.