Lighting the Forest

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A couple of hours east of Montreal lies a natural phenomenon called the Coaticook River Gorge. During the day, hikers cross its spectacular 169-metre suspension footbridge and picnic by the rushing river, itself a memorable treat. This time, we saw the area in a new light — or rather, dark. Foresta Lumina is a nighttime experience introduced to the forest by multimedia entertainment company Moment Factory, which used sound, video, and light to transform an already magnificent environment into something uniquely immersive. Here’s a taste.

Hands-on Child Theming

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A few months ago, the WordCamp Ottawa organizers asked if I’d turn my half-hour WordPress child-theming talk into a longer practical workshop. Always eager to spread the word about child themes, I agreed.

I wasn’t sure how the workshop would go, since there were a lot of unknowns: from how many people would show up and what their skill levels would be, to whether the Wifi would hold up and if I’d have too much material (or not enough) for the two-hour slot.

Fortunately it all worked out quite well, and with the help of a few excellent TAs (thank you again Shanta, Jonathan, and Rick!), a roomful of eager participants learned how to create a WordPress child theme last Sunday afternoon.

If you’re interested in exploring the world of child themes yourself, check out the theory behind them and learn when child themes are useful — then get your feet wet with the hands-on exercises.

Happy child theming!

Hey, LA

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I’ve been to Los Angeles a couple of times, but the most recent trip was over 20 years ago. On this visit, what struck me most was the disparity between rich and poor, highly privileged and not at all. Homeless people sleeping outside in a neighbourhood of multimillion-dollar beach homes. Expressive, colourful street art vs. sedate European treasures at the Getty Museum. Kids arriving at the art centre in a black smoke-spewing school bus that looked like something from the 1950s lining up alongside their preppy uniform-clad counterparts from a private school.

My recent trip was full of many contrasts like these, but since I’m usually too shy to take photos of strangers, all the images I have to offer are of inanimate objects. Here you go.

Hack Day? Yay!

Screenshot after remake
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A couple of times a year at Automattic we have a “Hack Day,” during which some of us work on a project that might not be part of our regular day or duties.

This year I rather spontaneously decided to join my teammates David Kennedy and Laurel Fulford — with input from a couple of our colleagues — in working on a remake of ThemeShaper.com, our team’s public blog devoted to WordPress theming.

It was loads of fun, and I love the result. We plan to keep iterating, as they say, but I’m pretty pleased with what we were able to do in about a day and a half. Hooray for Hack Day!

Before

before screenshot - ThemeShaper.com

After

after screenshot - ThemeShaper.com

Sugaring Off

tire sur la neige
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As thousands of my fellow Montrealers descended on downtown decked out in all things green for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, I headed out to the countryside with a group of friends for a different ritual: one involving far less alcohol, a lot more sugar, and nary a shamrock in sight.

Our destination was Mont St-Grégoire, east of Montreal, and we were going sugaring off. The springtime celebration also known as going to a sugar shack or cabane à sucre in French involves a usually-gigantic, always maple syrup-laden meal at one of Quebec’s many maple syrup producers that gears up for visitors as the sap starts to run in the province’s abundant maple-tree forests. (We produce 71% of the world’s supply of maple syrup — not bragging, just saying.😉 )

There are a couple of decadent homegrown rituals I usually save for when I’m with people new to Montreal or who are visiting — indulging in poutine is one of them; sugaring off is another. Today’s group brought together lifelong Montrealers with newcomers from the UK, France, Italy, and the United States.

As the all-you-can-eat feast began, I gave a heads-up to my end of the table that this was only the savoury start to the meal — the sweets were still to come, so be sure to save room. We worked our way through tureens of split-pea soup and platters of fluffy omelettes, sausages, roasted potatoes, baked beans, thick-sliced ham, pork ribs, and tourtière hand pies — pastry pockets filled with seasoned ground pork and beef. We liberally poured carafes of maple syurp over just about everything. In case that wasn’t enough, there were also fresh rolls, cretons (a seasoned pork spread), coleslaw, pickles, beets, and a chutney-like homemade ketchup. And let’s not forget the oreilles de crisse — a deep-fried pork jowl concoction someone once decided to name after Jesus Christ’s ears, I’m never quite sure why. The table groaned, and I think a few of us did too.

Next up: the desserts. Baskets of fluffy apple doughnuts arrived, with little pots of warm caramel sauce to pour over them, because what’s better than fresh-from-the-fryer doughnuts than doughnuts drenched in warm caramel sauce. Platters of pets de soeurs appeared, little swirls of rich pastry filled with brown sugar. When we explained to the out-of-towners that these meant “nun’s farts” there may have been a few giggles — I can’t quite remember, as the sugar coma was starting to set in by then. The tarte au sucre (sugar pie) was a creamy thing of beauty, and I was told the pancakes were ethereal, but I couldn’t manage any. There are a few other sweet maple treats that weren’t served at this cabane — each has its specialties — we missed pouding chomeur (poor man’s pudding — a maple-syrup drenched white cake) and les grands-pères au sirop (grandfathers in syrup — dumplings boiled in maple syrup), but really, who would have had room?

After the repast it was time for one last indulgence. We hopped on the tractor and crossed the apple orchard — this farm does double duty — to the steamy maple shack where sap from the trees is boiled down. We stood in line and braved the final sweet tidbit: taffy on the snow, aka tire sur la neige, thickened maple syrup ladeled out on clean snow and twirled around popsicle sticks to make a maple lollipop like no other.

And with that final sublime taste of maple on our lips, we all headed home. To a nap for most of us, I suspect.

Theam in Vancouver

Theam in a Frame
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My team at Automattic is the Theme Team, and I love that we’re more commonly known by our portmanteau, Theam. We got together in British Columbia this month for our team meetup, and it was great to hang out in person with the people I chat with every day online.

We collaborated on the next iteration of the exciting Components starter-theme generator project and didn’t let the mostly grey, wet weather stop us from enjoying some of Vancouver’s nature, food, and cultural highlights.

We took advantage of a break in the weather to brave heights at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. While I’ve been here several times and it’s admittedly touristy, I always love coming with new people and seeing their faces when they first catch sight of the narrow, wiggly bridge — and then the Cliffwalk!

One of the things I love about working at Automattic is that my colleagues are also my friends. I’m so glad I got to spend some time with you in person, my friends, and in my own country to boot. I hope Canada treated you well. Sorry about the weather, eh?

Five Years of Facebook

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I encountered this unassuming little anniversary reminder on Facebook today:

 Facebook screenshot: January 11, 2011 - on this day 5 years ago, you became friends on Facebook with 30 people

As you can see by the date, I was not a Facebook early adopter. In fact, for years, I called myself a Facebook Resister, and wore my defiance as a badge of pride. It didn’t bother me that others were on Facebook, it was just Not For Me. Twitter was more my thing, and as far as I was concerned, it would stay that way for as long as possible.

Here’s what I wrote in my then-company newsletter back in 2007:

My dear old friend (and Zoonini client) Victoria Stanton coined a term recently that made me howl – and she’s kindly allowed me to share it with ZooNews readers. Facebook fascism describes an increasing number of people’s irritating assumption that everyone who matters to them is signed onto Facebook and is therefore privy to their invitations, news, and other day-to-day information. As Victoria says, “Maybe that’s an extreme way of putting it, but there have been a few occasions lately where people have just assumed I’m registered and will be able to read some post they’ve made for an art event, birthday party, etc. I got an email from (my friend) and her partner who invited me to join so that I can ‘keep up with their news’. So if I don’t join, then I don’t get to know what’s going on with them?”

I have no problem with people using Facebook as a channel to disseminate information, but please folks, don’t make it the exclusive channel. It can’t be just Victoria and I who are resisting joining the Facebook throngs. We don’t want another online addiction, but we don’t want to be completely shut out of the loop!

And then one day, I relented and changed my mind about joining. (Coincidentally, so did Victoria, around the same time as me.) I realized I needed to experience Facebook for myself if I was to help my clients with social media at the time — and frankly, I was tired of feeling left out.

I remember the exact moment I finally gave in and entered the Zuckerverse. If I recall, my heart was pounding a tad. I hit Submit on the signup form — submitting in the other sense as well — and then it was done. Suddenly, I was on the inside.

Featured image (viewable when sharing on, um, Facebook) (cc) by Sam Michel