Joining Transit!

After more than 7 years as a Happiness Engineer / Happiness Rocketeer at Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com, the Jetpack plugin, the Akismet service, and many more), I am moving on to a new role as Project Manager at Transit!

At Automattic, I have been privileged to be part of the mission of Democratizing Publishing; I was also lucky to travel the world. One thing that I always tried to do every time I could (Paris, Buenos Aires, Madrid, etc) was to take public transportation (especially metros!). And my love of public transportation eventually led me to creating the Transit Mapping Symposium (I’m still sad that we had to cancel this year’s edition, but we’ll try again at a later date). So, it seemed only natural that my next move is to something related to that passion. Hence, Transit! It’s the best app out there for trip planning on public transit and other mobility modes around the world.

Even though I’ve been working from home during my time at Automattic, I’ve still used Transit every chance I got. I’ve been a fan of the app ever since I read this 2016 post on how they generate their maps. I try to use their GO function as often as I can; I hope to improve my standings with time!

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My GO stats

Transit’s co-founder, Sam Vermette, was kind enough to be our opening speaker in the inaugural edition of the Symposium, and I’ve been in touch with the people there ever since. I guess it was only a matter of time before something like this would happen!

I’ve made some very dear friends at Automattic, but the great thing about working for a company that’s distributed around the world is that now, I’ll have people to visit, no matter where my new role takes me!

I’ll miss my friends in the global WordPress community, but greater and better public transportation and active transportation (also known as active mobility) are sorely needed to fight against climate change; I’m very happy that I’ll be doing my bit to make the experience better and to help encourage people to use those modes of transportation more.

And now, with the crisis and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 virus (see here the drastic drops in app usage everywhere, a proxy for ridership), I’m even more eager to pitch in and help in any way I can.

 

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.

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!

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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!

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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.

Trees

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.