Hanging Out With Elephants

elephant eating grasses
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While I’ve never had a particular fascination with elephants, when I found myself in Chiang Mai, Thailand, last month, I felt compelled to take the opportunity to see Asian elephants up close. After doing some research, we booked a trip with the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We got up super early to meet our vehicle, an open-air truck fitting eight people in the back, alongside dozens upon dozens of bananas, aka soon-to-be elephant fodder. As we hurtled down the highway, I tried to think happy elephant thoughts – and not to focus on the lack of seat belts, or even doors. Then we turned off the paved road and the really nerve-wracking part started, as we drove extremely slowly down an incredibly steep and narrow trail into the jungle.

But it was all worth it, because that day we got to feed elephants bananas and grasses, frolic with them in a mud bath, look into their brown eyes, and watch them hang out as we ate lunch – none of which I’d ever imagined being able to say. But I have photographic evidence, so I guess it really happened.

A couple of days later, we saw elephants again, this time in a much sadder context, at the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital. A private institution, they look out for elephant welfare in Thailand, while taking in and rehabilitating elephants needing special care. I’m grateful for their incredible – but heartbreaking work – which includes helping elephants injured by landmines, which they fit with unique prosthetic limbs.

 

Vistas

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About a week into my recent vacation to Thailand and Myanmar, I started to wonder if I’d remember how to do my job when I returned to work. It was my first trip to Asia, and the world of web development and WordPress – along with the rest of my usual daily life – felt utterly far away. I guess that’s what vacations are supposed to do, right?

I’m still processing my experience, and I have a ton of photos to sift through. Instead of waiting, I thought I’d start by posting some of my favourite panoramas to give you a taste of where I’ve been.

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar

Hmong Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hmong Village, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

Sukhothai, Thailand

Sukhothai, Thailand

GM The Sixth

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A preamble (starting at the end)

Waiting to board the plane from Vancouver to Montreal – on my way home from this year’s Automattic Grand Meetup (GM) – my colleague told me how much he appreciated what I do to welcome fellow Canadians to Automattic. “It might not be said often, but it’s always appreciated.” An older man also waiting to get on the plane turned to me and asked, with a smile, “Your boss?” I was confused at first. Why would he assume he was my boss? Maybe because he was a man? Or maybe it’s just uncommon for colleagues – without a hierarchical boss/employee relationship – to show overt appreciation for each others’ work. In any case, I found it interesting, and it made me think.

***

Last week, nearly 600 of my co-workers and I gathered again in Whistler, British Columbia, to spend time with each other at our annual all-company get-together. For the first time, I decided to teach a class (CSS: Basics and Beyond) instead of attending one myself or doing a project. While it was a lot of work to put together three days of material for the workshop, I had a ton of help from three wonderful colleagues, and it was a gratifying experience to help boost the CSS coding skills of our co-workers.

Other highlights include an attempt to see the aurora borealis (we didn’t – but the clear sky and endless stars were still breathtaking), a hike to Brandywine Falls with some of my theme-team colleagues, and a nice walk to Alta Lake.

It was a low-key GM for me this year – full of reflections on how it could possibly be my sixth one, how quickly the time passes, what the future holds for me, and how much I appreciate my friends and colleagues at Automattic. People who appreciate me in turn.

Want to see more from Automatticians about this year’s Grand Meetup? Check out the #a8cgm tag on WordPress.com or Instagram.

SB20

Cast & crew photo - can you spot me?
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It has come to my attention that this year is the 20th anniversary of a TV show called Student Bodies.

This makes me feel really old. You see, Student Bodies is one of the last projects I worked on back when I made my living in film & TV production. I served as production coordinator on its first season, a few years before I entered the tech world and left behind everything I hated about the entertainment business.

Working on the show was… an interesting experience. I wasn’t bad at being a production coordinator — my detail-oriented brain was well suited to it — but I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t enjoy it. The role was stressful. I worked ridiculously long hours. There was always too much work, or someone demanding something of me. (For some reason, that didn’t stop me from being a production coordinator again on another show the following year — what was I thinking?) Thankfully, within a few years I made the permanent switch to Web-related work and never looked back.

I never really watched the show, but apparently it has somewhat of a cult following of people who remember seeing it as a kid, which is kind of cool. Some of the cast will be reuniting at a convention in Toronto this fall.

In a fit of nostalgia, I went back to take a dip in my files from that era. Being a bit of a packrat, there was lots to choose from. Here are just a few I’d like to share. Paperwork, mostly. Once a production coordinator, always a production coordinator, maybe.

Cast & crew photo - can you spot me?

Cast & crew photo at The Station – the show’s student hangout spot. Can you find me?

memo about garbage

I’m not sure what bothers me more about this memo. Its crookedness, the fact that we wastefully printed out thousands of pieces of paper, or THE FACT THAT’S ENTIRELY IN COMIC SANS, WTF? This was our official production font, apparently.

memo about Student Bodies website

It’s a fax – also sent via E-mail (sic). We’re going on the Interwebs! Note the username for the password-protected site.

congrats for 65 episodes from the producers

The late Robin Spry – one of the show’s producers – was such a class act.

call sheet

My first “call sheet”: shooting day 1. It was my job to put these together: a zillion small pieces of information to get exactly right, every day. We filmed at a real school.

Microburst

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Microburst: a word I’d never heard before this week — but now that I’ve seen what one can do, a word I’ll remember. The Montreal Gazette calls it “an intense, rain-fuelled downdraft of air from a severe thunderstorm that slams hammer-like into the ground.” Within minutes on Tuesday, its 120 km/hour winds brought down trees and power poles across my neighbourhood, leaving us without electricity. We were very fortunate not to suffer any damage; some of our neighbours weren’t as lucky. Nothing like a reminder from Mother Nature to put things in perspective.

Five

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Five years ago today, I started working full-time at Automattic. It’s the longest I’ve ever worked for someone besides myself.

Thanks to Automattic, I’ve eaten pastéis de nata in Lisbon, tucked into tapas in Barcelona, devoured croissants in Paris, and savoured street art in London. I’ve travelled all over the US and Canada, developing a burrito fixation that haunts me.

I have colleagues and friends spread out on six continents.

I’ve answered more questions about WordPress than I could have ever imagined – and (amazingly?) I’m still not tired of it.

I have skills I didn’t when I started – responsive design, child theming – and got comfortable enough to teach them to others.

My imposter syndrome is still a part of me, but it doesn’t consume me like it once did, and I share tips with others on how to tame it.

Thank you, Automattic, for giving me opportunities to learn, stretch, and share over the last five years. You’re still my people.

Trapped: A Story

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I find myself trapped a lot. Too often for my liking, really.

And I’m not talking metaphorically.

There was that time I unexpectedly rode an elevator up and down nonstop for 45 minutes at a hotel in San Francisco. (Did I mention I’m very susceptible to motion sickness? You do the math.)

There was the memorable experience of getting locked in a housing project in London, England, after being given the wrong address where I was to meet people. That one was really interesting, since I didn’t have a local SIM card, so no way to reach anyone to let them know I was trapped. How the heck would I get out of the locked gate — who locks an exit gate, anyway? — and how the heck would I find the people I was supposed to meet? (Thankfully, my colleagues sent out a search party to find me, and when I finally escaped the compound, they miraculously ran into me wandering the streets.)

This afternoon I was trying to exit an underground parking lot, but could not get the garage door to open. A note on my receipt said the exit code was 1245, but there was nowhere to enter said code. With my car parked at the exit booth and hazard lights flashing, I meandered (well, lurched, semi panic-stricken, is probably more accurate) around the lot, looking for an attendant, to no avail. I picked up several serious-looking red “emergency” phones and waited for a security guard to answer, but got no response.

The lot was eerily quiet. Not a soul was around. I called the toll-free number near the booth. “You’ve reached ParkSafe. We’re not available, but please call back in 10 minutes.”

When these things happen to me, I sometimes have a brief flash that this will later make for an amusing story.

You’re reading this now, so it means I finally made it out of the garage. While I was having dinner with my friend, I got this brief text from Mark at ParkSafe:

Hi it's Mark from ParkSafe I just missed your call you can reach me on my cell at [redacted] - Ha thanks! I was trapped in a lot but made it out, whew!

It was cool that Mark got back to me. He seemed nice.