21 Jul 2014

Pleasure Island

Where I come from, they would have tarred and feathered him. After all, former Montréal mayor Jean Drapeau had famously proclaimed that "The Olympics can no more lose money than a man can have a baby" when pitching the 1976 summer games to his electorate. In the event, the city was left with debt of over $1bn, which it took tax payers over 30 years to pay off. While they did so, the city's infrastructure fell into disrepair and big business moved to Toronto. Not exactly a stellar track-record for Montréal's last emperor.

Far from holding a grudge, however, Montréalers think of fun and relaxation when they hear the name Jean Drapeau. And that's because today, the name primarily stands for the island getaway which adds so much to the city's quality of living during these summer days.

Parc Jean-Drapeau is the name given to the vast recreation space on Ile Ste-Hélène and Ile Notre-Dame, which sit in the St. Lawrence River off the city's Old Port. They make Montréalers the envy of other urbanites, as we can claim to have spent our weekends on "an island getaway". 

No private jets or yachts are needed - a trip on the métro or a Bixi will take you to the islands in no time. In these long summer days, I've even ventured to the park's beautiful outdoor pool for a few laps straight after work.

More often though, it is on leisurely days off that I enjoy island life. It may be just psychological, but being away from the city, surrounded by water and greenery, really adds a special je-ne-sais-quoi to the park. Whether I swim, read a book by the sandy beach, stroll in the gardens, run a half-marathon or even go dragon boating, I tend to quickly forget that I have not, in fact, left town.

Naturally, I am not the only resident to have discovered the islands' charm. With a wide variety of events, from Formula One to ethnic food days, the park attracts different crowds every week. Fortunately, they quickly disperse in the vast grounds and a tranquil spot can always be found. And when the sun sets and the mosquitoes start to bite, it's just a short way home.

Sweet redemption, then, for the spendthrift mayor. He certainly fared a lot better than other disgraced francophone emperors. They did not have islands named after them - they got exiled to them.

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1 Jul 2014

Cloud Computing

This is not the first blog post I write on an airplane. But it is the first one that I actually publish from an airplane, thanks to the free broadband internet connection available on my transatlantic flight today. Cruising some 11'000m above Iceland at a cool 950km/h, I type these lines in the comfort of a cushy seat, with my feet resting, appropriately enough given the airline, on an ottoman. 

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, not only am I connected to the world wide web, there is also live TV available on the screen in front of me. Which must come as a relief to those of my fellow passengers who take an interest in 22 people (just over 2 rows of economy class seating, come to think of it) running after some ball on a pitch in Brazil right now.

The technology nerd in me, not to mention the occasional business traveller, is obviously inspired by the possibilities. I am catching up on personal email left unanswered during my vacation in Switzerland. I check the weather forecast for my return to Montréal. I can even track my flight in real time, including its rather significant delay, and explore possible alternative connections from Toronto should I miss my Rapidair flight.

So far, so good. But is this ever more ubiquitous connectivity really for the better? As the flight drags on, the temptation grows to start looking at work email - never mind I'm only returning to it tomorrow. And although it is supposed to be blocked, I am sure there is a way to use the broadband link to make VOIP phone calls - the prospect of which I dread more than that of a crying baby in the row behind me.

For without wi-fi, what would I do right now? Yes, I could possibly still write this blog entry for a later posting (power plugs on planes are not that new). More likely though, I'd do what I had planned to do prior to discovering the wi-fi sticker on the bulkhead: Sit back, order some Turkish coffee, and read the book I'd been meaning to devour for months now. It's bad enough that I don't find time for that on the ground, now I don't even do so above the clouds. Perhaps, then, the much talked-about move of computing to the cloud is not so blissful after all? Without it, even the news of my team's overtime loss on said pitch would not have reached me for another 3357km. 

Time to unplug, then. I can still get a few chapters in. And some more of that Turkish coffee, too.

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