The Great Canadian Flash Talk, Eh?

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At the 2016 Automattic Grand Meetup (GM) in Whistler, British Columbia, I did a joint flash talk for the first time, with my awesome colleague Laurel Fulford. Since we were hosting 500+ colleagues in our own country, we used the opportunity to share eight minutes of Canadiana with our co-workers. And now we’re sharing it with you!

Transcript

We’re really excited to be hosting everyone here for the GM this year and we wanted to take the opportunity to tell you a little bit about Canada. I’m Laurel and this is Kathryn, and we’re both members of the Theme Team. [Audience cheers.] Woo! And we’re both Canadians, or Canucks. I’m from just west of here on Vancouver Island, and Kathryn’s from 5000 kilometres east in Montréal, Québec.

To start, there are some stereotypes about Canada that you probably are familiar with – and some of them are even a little bit true. But it’s a big country, and even the ones that are true are not true everywhere. With that in mind, let’s go.

Metric Mixup, or How to measure up to Canadians!

Let’s talk a little bit about the Metric system. In 1970, Prime Minister Trudeau began a process called “Metrication,” which attempted to convert Canada over to the metric system.

But by 1985, we’d only gone about half-way, so the government kind of gave up.

As a result, we use a total mix of metric and imperial measurements, in a very Canadian sort of compromise.

We can tell you the temperature in Celsius – but don’t ask us how tall we are in metres, or how many kilos we weigh, cause we can only tell you that in feet and pounds.

Gas and milk are sold by the litre – but we still talk about mileage.

Canada in Writing, or Use your “U”s, love your “L”s

Similar to the whole metric/imperial thing, we also mix up our spelling. Like the UK, we love our U’s! So we use them as much as humanly possible. We also share some other spellings with the UK. But to make it confusing, we follow the US, as well. And as you can tell, our accents are closer to our American neighbours than not.

Canadian Food, or Friendly refreshments to eat or drink

Looking at food, Canada has some unique food items, with some pretty passionate advocates.

One you might have heard of is poutine – a concoction of fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Delicious or disgusting? You be the judge! [Delicious!]

We’re not the only country with Kraft Dinner (or KD) but the we do tend to use the term interchangeably with any macaroni-and-cheese product.

And what about satisfying our sweet tooth. We’ve got butter tarts, which are little sweet, gooey pies. We also have Nanaimo bars, which are chocolate, custard, and coconut – named after a town on Vancouver Island.

How about some uniquely Canadian booze terminology? Here we have a Caesar, which is kind of like a Bloody Mary… but with clam juice! We also have the term Mickey – which doesn’t refer to this guy – but it’s what we call 375ml of alcohol.

Now let’s say you pick up a case of 24 cans of beer – that’s called a two-four. And let’s say you happen to pick up that beer on the national Victoria Day holiday weekend in May – that makes it a May Two-Four.

Getting away from the booze, in parts of Canada – not here – you can buy your milk in a bag. And if you’re looking for whole milk, we don’t actually call it that. It tends to be called homogenized milk.

Canada is a little bit obsessed with Tim Hortons – you might have stopped off there on the way from the airport. It’s our national doughnut chain named after who else, but a hockey player.

We’ve got Timbits, which are little doughnut holes, similar to munchkins from Dunkin Donuts. A coffee with two creams and two sugars at Tim Hortons is a double-double. And don’t forget to “roll up the rim to win”! Also, this is real, you can get a Tim Horton’s Double Double credit card.

Canadian Money, or Canuck Bucks

Let’s look a little bit at Canadian money. It also has some unique characteristics.

We used to have one-dollar and two-dollar bills, but we got rid of them and replaced them with coins. So now we’ve got loonies – because look at the loon on the front! And then a couple of years later, we came out with the toonie… because it rhymes with loonie. We also got rid of our pennies fairly recently. So don’t be surprised if your change gets rounded up or down if you’re paying for something with cash.

We still haven’t gotten rid of the five-dollar bill, but take a look in your wallet, you might find a “Spocked” five if you’re lucky.

If you happen see one of these things, this is called Canadian Tire Money, which was an early loyalty program from our beloved national hardware, auto parts, and sporting goods chain. You used to get “cash back” in the form of this little funny money, but they got rid of that too, and now they use a refillable card like everyone else.

Canadian Words, or Creative Canadianisms

There are some words Canadians use that tend to make other English-speakers raise an eyebrow.

The first one, we’re kind of infamous for – it’s the toque, instead of a wool hat.

We don’t get into the queue or line, we join a lineup. Look at this long lineup! (Even if we’re not being accused of committing a crime.)

Instead of parking in a parking garage, we use a parkade.

Look at this kid, what a keener! He’s doing his homework during recess. Keener. Not even sure that word even has an equivalent.

I’m not sure you’ve noticed here, instead of restroom or toilet, we tend to label it as a washroom.

And the pièce de résistance. This is not a garbage disposal, at least that’s not what we call it. We call it a garburator. I’m not making this up! This is what we call it, not a joke!

Canadian Music, or Rocking out to “Oh Canada”

Canadian artists have produced a lot of great music over the years, you might be familiar with some of it, from Neil Young to Joni Mitchell to Arcade Fire.

But if you listen to the radio, you may notice a lot of Canadian music. That’s because of a regulation called Cancon, which tries to protect and promote Canadian culture. Commercial radio stations must play at least 35% Canadian content every weekday from 6am to 6pm. Because of this, every Canadian here can probably sing you any top-40 song by a Canadian artist from the past 30 years. [That’s Bryan Adams, by the way.]

Canadian Sports, or Competitive apologizing

Most people associate two sports with Canada: hockey and curling.

But actually, our national sport until quite recently was lacrosse, which is an aboriginal sport that’s been around – at least documented – for almost 1000 years.

In 1994, hockey was added as our national sport of winter, but our national sport of summer is still lacrosse.

Sorry about that, Eh?, or The True North, Strong and Apologetic

Some of the most well known Canadian stereotypes, true or otherwise, can be summed up in three words. The first one…

Canadians apologize a lot. We’re really sorry about that. We can’t help it, it’s compulsive, as soon as we have the opportunity, even if we’re not at fault, we bust out the “S” word.

“Eh” is a handy little multipurpose syllable and we use in many different ways. So let’s look at some of them.

Statement of opinion – La Banquise has the best poutine in Montreal, eh?

Statements of fact – P2 or it didn’t happen, eh?

Questions – Not an awesome idea to deploy on Friday at 5pm, eh?

Exclamation – Best meetup ever, eh!

In fixed expressions – I know, eh?

Telling a story [the narrative eh] – So I deployed this big commit, eh? And it brought down all of WordPress.com, eh? And we had to this really big revert, eh?

So, now we come to about.

No, we don’t really say “a boot”

But there are areas of Canada that pronounce “out” a little differently than your ear might be used to, and it even varies across the country.

So we conducted a highly scientific study, looking at a cross-section of our fellow Canadians to see how they say “About.” Based on the results we are confident in our conclusion that “Peak About” is located in none other than Winnipeg, Manitoba, where the vowel sound is most pronounced.


We hope this gave you a good intro to some of the things that make Canada unique. And if you have any questions, you can ask any of these Canuckamatticians and they’ll be happy to answer for you.

A GM in Canada

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This year I got to experience an Automattic Grand Meetup in my homeland for the first time. Granted, it took place in Whistler, British Columbia, 5000 km away from where I live, but it was still Canada! It was fun to watch nearly 500 of my colleagues encountering everything from poutine to the stunning Coast mountain range for the first time. They were even struck by small things I take for granted, like the ubiquitous Canuck politeness, in the form of “sorry” and “please” on signage.

The week was jam-packed, even more so than my last four Grand Meetups. (Has it really been five already? Seems impossible!) Highlights of the week include a class on WordPress plugin development taught by code wrangler Jennifer (I made something! And it’s on GitHub!); icebreakers and brainstorming with my theme division-mates; organizing an afternoon of painting for my colleagues, who blew me away with their creativity!); spotting a black bear (OMG!) munching on foliage by the side of the highway; swooping across mountaintops in the spectacular Peak to Peak gondola; and attending a thought-provoking workshop about diversity and inclusion by an outstanding facilitator, Y-Vonne Hutchison. And of course, countless chats with friends/co-workers from all over the world and a lot of good food. Oh, and I invented a cocktail that was one of three chosen to to be served at the closing party. (Automojitto! It was blue and yummy!)

As we’re a company full of bloggers, many of my colleagues have posted accounts of their week in Whistler as well. You can check out some of them under the #a8cgm tag on WordPress.com.

This year’s company photo was the most epic yet – check out my colleague Donncha’s account of how he pulled it off!

company-photo-sm

Hairstory: a father-daughter tale

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Every year at the Automattic all-company Grand Meetup, we each have to give a short presentation in front of our colleagues. This “flash talk” can be about anything at all – and it can be in any format we like, whether a more traditional talk with slides, a song, video, or interpretive dance: pretty much anything goes.

This year was my fourth Grand Meetup flash talk, and I decided I was finally ready to do something more personal. My past flash talks had been about growing garlic, the peculiarities of Quebec English, and foods from Quebec that everyone should try at least once… but this time would be different — it would be a story about me, my dad, and our hair.

I hope you like it.

Transcript

Last year, my flash talk was on growing garlic. This year, I’m going to talk about growing hair.

Even before my birth, the subject of hair in my family was fraught with anxiety. You see, my dad Bob had an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata. By age six he’d already lost much of his hair.

He wore a hat constantly from 6 to 13 so the other kids wouldn’t bully him. They bullied him anyway; they knew what the hat must be hiding.

By 14 he began wearing a wig.

A pretty bad wig.

What had started out as alopecia areata was becoming alopecia universalis – as in hair loss everywhere. Eyebrows, eyelashes, leg hair, my dad was losing it all.

By his early twenties when he married my mom Ellie, he’d ditched the wig, and was attempting to pencil in the missing patches on his head instead.

Doctors didn’t know very much about alopecia back then – they don’t know much more today – but they thought there MIGHT be a genetic component, so my parents were understandably concerned this condition might be passed on to their kids.

So when their firstborn – me – came out with a small little head of dark hair, my folks were pretty relieved that I appeared to take after my mother in the hair department.

Still, my parents held their breath a bit as I grew older. Watching. Waiting.

The hair grew. And grew.

My dad stopped penciling in his head every day and eventually shaved off the last stubborn locks. They never grew back.

By the time I got to elementary school, it was clear that my thick, curly, unruly, hair was here to stay. My parents were very happy.

Ironically, I decided around that point I hated my frizz and wished I could just have straight hair, like the rest of my friends. My mom would blow-dry it for me in a vain attempt to turn tight curls into the straight hair I’d never have.

After certain really terrible haircuts – by hairdressers who hadn’t the faintest idea how to cut curly hair – I would go home feeling like I looked like Little Orphan Annie – but with MUCH less optimism.

After one particularly horrific haircut I professed to my mother quite earnestly that I needed to become a nun so I could hide my hair every day. Never mind that we were Jewish, that was just a detail. The Catholics needed nuns, surely something could be worked out.

When I got into acting, my hair took on a leading role.

Hair got big.

Hair got short.

I went through my own hat phase.

My yearbook photo was a big disappointment. I detested it so much I covered it up with a retake. This time, with a hat.

I went prematurely grey the summer I was 17. But it was just for a play.

As I got older, I gradually began to hate my hair less and less. Adolescent angst turned to adult apathy. It just didn’t matter so much anymore.

After meeting a cartoonist named Shane, he took a stab at drawing me. My hair had made an impact. You can see how he was trying to get it just right.

Five years later when we got married… he made this for our wedding cake

These days, my dad & I are both pretty accepting of our heads and our hair.

As I get older, grey hairs have come along. Real ones this time. I used to pull them out as they appeared, but in the wise words of a former hairdresser, “That’s probably not a good coping strategy.”

Will I dye my hair? Time will tell.

A few years back, a relative shared this picture of my great-grandmother Rose. I wouldn’t mind rocking the grey frizzy look as well as her someday.

It Was Grand

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Nearly 400 Automatticians descended on Park City, Utah, earlier this month for our annual Grand Meetup (GM). The intense in-person time together helps forge new bonds and reinforces personal connections that stay with us through our daily remote work after returning home. Here are a few highlights of my week.

Practical Development

I spent the first few days of the Grand Meetup immersed a programming class taught by Code Wrangler Jennifer. I refreshed my PHP coding skills and flexed brain muscles that haven’t had quite such a workout in some time. Jennifer possesses a rare gift – she’s not just a highly skilled developer, but she also has the ability to share that knowledge with others in an accessible way. I was lucky to be part of her group.

Collect Them All

My fellow Happiness Engineer Karen put together a set of colourful badges to represent the different teams and aspects of tech support we’ve each worked on. Some are just for fun; +t+d stands for “totes def” and somehow became a common abbreviation internally at one point. They remind me of the Red Cross swimming badges I used to get as a kid. Now to decide where best to show them off.

Happiness Badges

Yarn Party

Any Automattician can organize an activity or workshop for their colleagues at the Grand Meetup. As someone who’s never moved beyond knitting a rectangular scarf, my ears perked up when I heard that Andrea was planning a yarn party, where people could learn how to knit or crochet, or get help with a project. Sensing an opportunity, I picked up some beautiful soft blue and grey wool from my local knitting store, packed up my supplies in a wine bag (a delightful discovery), and during the knitting circle somehow convinced experienced knitter Shawna to help me get started. OK, so it’s still another scarf, but this one is tapered and multicoloured – look how cute!

The Paint Mixer

To counter some of the more adrenaline-heavy GM activities (Paintball! Go-karting! Alpine slides!), I brought in a local company to run a painting activity for anyone wanting to get creative. I was pleased to see everyone from Theme Wranglers and UI Designers to Happiness Engineers and Code Wranglers – many of whom had never painted before – take pride in their finished artwork.

Photos courtesy of The Paint Mixer

Picture Not So Perfect

One evening my colleague Marcus shared his passion for night photography and his handy exposure calculator. While I’d brought a tripod all the way from Montreal, it turned out my mighty little camera was not quite robust enough to capture shots of the stars, and every frame looked pretty much like this:

night photography

Fortunately, all was not lost in the photography department. Later in the week, Happiness Engineer Jen organized a photo tour with local pro David Schultz, who taught me how to use the manual settings on my camera – and happily didn’t make me feel inadequate for not having fancier gear. David guided us through some local nature trails and wildlife preserves and while we didn’t encounter any exotic animals – the most exciting creature I saw was a squirrel – the stunning fall scenery made it worth the huffing and puffing through high altitudes.

♦ ♦ ♦

The week featured many other memorable moments: a fun trip into town with my fellow theme-team members; an incredible closing party with performances by talented musician/singer Automatticians, a relaxing hot-tub hangout at the end of a long day; a workshop on how we can foster a more inclusive and diverse company; a cozy hot chocolate-fuelled knit-fest in my suite; and many good chats with colleagues I’d only previously talked with online.

Until we meet again next year, my dear Automatticians.

Growing Garlic Redux

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While we’re contending with frigid temperatures here in Montreal (“feels like” -27C / -17F tonight!), next year’s crop of 101 garlic bulbs happily hibernates beneath the ground in my backyard.

Some of you may remember that my flash talk at last fall’s Automattic all-company Grand Meetup revolved around garlic gardening, and back in September I posted a garlic-growing guide based on the talk. The video of my talk is now available – if you’re intrigued about growing garlic and have four minutes to spare, check it out:

The original slides are here in case you’d like to watch them alongside the video:

Let’s Talk About How to Grow Garlic

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Do you love garlic?

Fortuitously spotted at the Park Silly Sunday Market in Park City, Utah

At this year’s annual Automattic all-company Grand Meetup, the four-minute flash talk I gave my colleagues was a crash course in growing garlic.

Many folks later told me they were inspired to try growing garlic in their own backyards, so I thought I’d expand on the presentation, which was just an overview. (Four minutes is very short!)

The tips on garlic-growing were gleaned from a workshop by farmer Dan Brisebois, one of the organizers of the Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue Garlic Festival. Some of the specifics are geared to climates like mine – plant hardiness zone 5a – where the ground freezes during the winter.

Preamble

I readily admit that I’m far from a gardening expert. I’m also a lazy gardener who can never remember to water what needs to be watered, trim back what needs trimming back, or otherwise pay close attention to my poor little garden.

I’ve also discovered that local squirrels very much enjoy consuming the fruits of our garden labours, without even so much as a thank-you, or note of appreciation.

The good news? Garlic. It’s easy to plant, requires almost no maintenance, and the squirrels could care less about it.

Allow me to share my yearly ritual:

Planting

garlic stock

  • Plant your garlic in the late fall, as you would with flower bulbs like tulips. I usually plant mine in late October.
  • Garlic needs to grow in well-drained, sandy or clay soil. It doesn’t like to sit in wet soil. You can add some compost or composted manure to your soil before planting.
  • Get some good garlic with large – but not gigantic – cloves and split them up. Make sure each clove still has a little of the “basal plate” attached, which is where the roots will grow. Dig small holes about 2-4 inches deep and place one clove in each hole. Plant smaller cloves shallower, larger cloves deeper. Space your plantings in rows 4-6 inches apart, root-side down. Leave 12-15 inches between rows. Plant in full sun.
  • Cover the soil with a thick layer of dead leaves, hay, or even cardboard. Do not use cedar mulch, as it’s too acidic. Mulching helps keep the ground fully frozen throughout the winter so the bulbs survive and don’t rot.
  • Rotate your garlic – don’t grow it in the same spot every year. Dan recommended ideally reusing the same plot only after 4-5 years.

Spring

spring garlic shoots

  • By mid-spring, you should see green shoots starting to poke up out of the ground, through your mulch. If you don’t see anything coming up, move the mulch away to warm up the ground a bit more. Once the shoots start coming up, push the mulch back around the plants.
  • Mulch also helps with weed control and keeping moisture in the ground. You can water your garlic once a week if it’s a particularly dry year, but if your soil is well-mulched, you may not need to water your garlic at all – I’ve never done it.
  • After June, do not water so the bulbs start to dry out gradually, once the leaves have stopped growing.

Scapes

garlic scape

  • Certain types of garlic form gorgeous, delicious, scapes. Snap them off once they’ve curled up to direct growing energy back into the plant’s bulb underground.
  • Garlic scapes are tasty in everything from omelettes to pesto. Store them loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in your fridge’s crisper drawer.

Harvest!

garlic just out of the ground

  • Your garlic is ready to harvest when there are about 5-6 green leaves left on the plant. Each leaf corresponds to one layer of skin around the bulb. Don’t let all the leaves die down or you’ll be harvesting individual cloves and not bulbs.
  • My garlic harvest usually takes place in late July or early August.
  • Very carefully loosen the soil around each bulb with a small trowel or shovel. The garlic is extremely delicate at this stage and it’s super easy to damage a bulb when you’re pulling it out, so be careful with your fragile crop!
  • Pull out each bulb, leaving on most of the dirt. Removing heavy chunks of clay is fine.

Curing

garlic curinggarlic in bowl
  • Bring all your cloves inside, to a cool, dry, dark place where they will cure for a few weeks. The 2-3 week curing process ensures that each stem dries and closes completely, so you can store your garlic for many months afterwards.
  • Lay out or hang up each plant in a way that air can circulate around it, so it dries evenly. I usually lay out my garlic in the basement, on a dryer rack sitting in a laundry basket, or some other type of makeshift structure. Don’t place it in direct sunlight.
  • After a few weeks, take one plant and completely cut the stem about a few inches above the bulb. If the stem is completely white, with no green still showing, it means the garlic is cured and ready to store.
  • Trim up the roots on each bulb (not too close of a shave!) and wipe off the dirt. You can also remove one or two layers of outer skin if you like.
  • Once it’s cured, don’t ever wash the garlic or place it near water.
  • Your cured garlic should last 6-8 months in a cool, dark, dry place, depending on the type of garlic you’ve grown.
  • If you find the willpower – I  never have – save some of the bigger cloves to plant next year.

I hope you enjoy growing garlic as much as I do!

All photos by me except slides 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 34 via iStockphoto