December 2001

Duly noted!

by Joey deVilla on December 16, 2001

I’ve been working pretty long hours every day for the past two weeks, what with the company gearing up to get a test version of our software ready for the investors to try. We finished in the wee hours of Friday morning, and I haven’t touched a computer until now. I thought I’d make a quick posting in the blog, and saw this on the Blogger front page:


Thanks, Ev (the guy behind Blogger)!


A Spammer Needs Help from a Time Traveller!

by Joey deVilla on December 13, 2001

I just got the strangest mass-mailing I’ve ever seen:

Time Travelers PLEASE HELP !

message: If you are a time traveler or alien disguised as human and or have the technology to travel physically through time I need your help!

My life has been severely tampered with and cursed!!

I have suffered tremendously and am now dying!

I need to be able to:

Travel back in time.

Rewind my life including my age.

Be able to remember what I know now so that I can prevent my life from being tampered with again after I go back.

I am in very great danger and need this immediately!

I am aware that there are many types of time travel and that humans do not do well through certain types.

I need as close to temporal reversion as possible, as safely as possible. To be able to rewind the hands of time in such a way that the universe of now will cease to exist. I know that there are some very powerful people out there with alien or government equipment capable of doing just that.

If you can help me I will pay for your teleport or trip down here, Along with hotel stay, food and all expenses. I will pay top dollar for the equipment. Proof must be provided.

Only if you have this technology and can help me please send me a (SEPARATE) email to:


I’m thinking about using this as a reply:

Well, here were are again. You have no idea who I am, don’t you?

Not only am I capable of helping you, but I’ve done so twice already.

I can meet all your requirements except one — the one where you retain your memories of everything’s that happened to you up until now. Normally, it would be possible for you to remember the present (and all events leading up to it) when you go back into the past, but you kept insisting that you also want your aging to be reversed. I can only do that by reverting you to your past state, which means that events leading up to what you call “the present” wouldn’t have happened. Which means you’d have nothing to remember. See the problem?

I was willing to let things slide when things went horribly wrong the first time. Initially, it looked as though you were going to live a long and happy life: you had a successful business, you were in the best shape of your life, and you had just married one of the supporting actresses from American Pie. However, you blew it big time when during your honeymoon in Honduras, you caught a butterfly. That butterfly’s wings were supposed to trigger a hurricane that would have devastated the coastline of El Salvador, including the coastal village of La Libertad. Instead, the village was never destroyed, and as a result, a troubled and overindulged little boy grew up to become the Hitler of the 21st century. He managed to turn the eastern seaboard and much of Europe into the world’s largest smouldering graveyards before he was finally stopped. I managed to retrieve you from that timeline — you were under a pile of rubble and half-mad. I decided to try and send you back in time again.

While the course of your life has not been so catastrophic for the rest of the world this time around, you have still managed to make a mess of it for yourself. And this time, you’re resorting to spamming in order to find a time traveller like me. That’s really low.

The biggest shame of it all (and more so because you don’t remember) is that your life wasn’t as bad as you thought when you first came to me for help. You said you wanted to undo your so-called “terrible, terrible mistake“. In retrospect, I should never have honoured your request. Yes, it was an embarassing situation, but “the incident”, as you liked to call it, would have been forgotten soon enough. It’s nothing that a public apology and a little plastic surgery couldn’t have fixed. Besides, while that kind of thing was taboo once, it would have become socially acceptable a few short years later.

I am truly sorry, but I feel that you’re one of those people who will do the same kind of thing over and over, no matter what kind of circumstances they find themselves in. Please do not contact me anymore. If you see me on the street, please do not approach me or speak to me. I will claim not to know you. I cannot be bribed; you will not be able to buy your way into the past again.

In closing, all I can do is offer you some advice:

1. Please try to think before you act.

2. If you don’t do something about that haircut, you and many innocent people will regret it. It may seem trivial, but believe me, I know better.

— Joey


Square Footage, Part 2

by Joey deVilla on December 12, 2001

It just occurred to me that in this year alone, I have referred to four different buildings as “the office” and three different bedrooms as “mine”. I’m surprised that I don’t get lost more often.

I’ve already mentioned the current office and the one that came before it; both are located in Toronto. I went to the other two offices during my stint in San Francisco, earlier this year.

Late last summer, the company was flush with good press, and it was decided that we should have an office “where the action is”. One of the founders, Cory, went to San Francisco in September to open the American office, which would largely house the P.R. and business development teams while most of the development would still take place in Toronto. I remember saying something along the lines of “Wouldn’t it be neat to get transferred to the San Francisco office?”, not realizing that I would get the offer about six weeks later.

The first office space was a classic dot-com office: a converted warehouse at the edge of the seedier part of town (San Francisco has these seedy parts in good supply). There wasn’t really a front door — you entered through the loading dock. The entire third floor was being leased by an e-commerce company that specialized in buying stuff in bulk quantities. That company had just laid off people in bulk quantities and were only too happy to sublet half their space to us in exchange for dollars in bulk quantities (the equivalent of taking an Audi TT and losing it in some some teenage rite-of-passage ritual every month).

In a space that could’ve handled 40 people, we were four: general manager Michelle, office manager Robyn, chief evangelist Cory and yours truly as the director of developer relations. My title was just fancy talk for “programmer with ENTP personality profile” (studies have shown that 80% of programmers are INTP). Along with programming, it was my job to take my accordion to developer events, talk to other developers and jump in front of any news cameras. And to think that my Mom once told me that “no one will pay you to be popular.”

The office space was made up of two large areas: the front office, which had the kitchen, and the back office, which had the meeting rooms. The place had high ceilings, tall windows, office-grade wall-to-wall carpeting, exposed pipes and ductwork hanging from the ceilings and a nice (if somewhat out of place with the rest of the industrial look) kitchen. The desks weren’t really desks, but unfinished doors placed on “Burro Brand” sawhorses (the e-commerce company sold them to us for almost nothing). Cory and Robyn were both Disneyphiles and provided some of the decor in the form of Disney theme park memorabilia. A lot of my stuff hadn’t arrived yet, but at least I had my religious clock — a clock that showed a picture of either Jesus or Mary, depending on the angle of the viewer. All of us worked on laptops and listened to music on computer speakers. The neighbourhood was a little rough, so we always took our bikes inside the office, preferring to do it using the freight elevator. Most of the space was unoccupied, and we took advantage of it by either letting the EFF use the space while their offices were getting fumigated or using it as a makeshift velodrome. Simply put, it was the kind of hipster doofus office you’d read about in every new-ecomomy-porn article in Fast Company.

I took the northwest corner of the office. Nobody wanted it because it was too far from the door and the kitchen, but it put me close to two windows, one facing downtown, and the other facing the highway. It also put me a safe distance from Cory’s speakers, which constantly played Disney theme ride music or 1940’s novelty numbers (“goddamned clown music,” my co-worker John called it). The plan was to fill the remainder of the space with business development types, PR flacks and “local talent” — that is, programmers from the Bay Area who didn’t want to move to the Toronto office.

I remember sitting at my desk and surveying the area, thinking Not bad, Mr. deVilla. Not bad at all. I’m going to like it here.

We were out of there two weeks later.


Mr. Brown’s Gotta Code

by Joey deVilla on December 11, 2001

…and that’s why this entry’s a little late. Right now, I’m a little too short of free time.

We are in serious crunch mode. Everybody at the company is in early and leaves late. I’ve heard tell that if we don’t deliver by the deadline, Terrible Things Will Happen.

See you folks in a little while.


Square Footage, Part 1

by Joey deVilla on December 10, 2001

The office used to be in the downtown area of Toronto, near the intersection of Bloor (the major east-west street) and Yonge (the major north-south) streets. From my house, it was a twenty-minute bike ride that went through diverse neighbourhoods: first Chinatown, then the University of Toronto campus and finally, a chi-chi stretch that used to be known as the “Mink Mile” in the ’50’s. While the office building in which we worked was an unremarkable glass-and-steel box, it was located near interesting places. Working late wasn’t so bad because home was close by and it was possible to run all kinds of errands while you were there. When we were close to a deadline, I’d call it a day at 11:30 or midnight and still be able to hop in a cab and meet my friends at a club or bar ten minutes later. It was possible to work start-up hours (hopefull, only near deadlines — most of the time, the hours were sane) and still have a life.

That changed in September. Along with the company’s meltdown came some nastiness from the building management. Before the company was a P2P software development shop, it was an advertising agency. The lease for the office space was under the agency’s name, not the software shop’s name. The building management said that technically, we didn’t have a contract with them; some advertising agency — which was shut down so that the founders could focus on software — did.The company was presented with a new, unaffordable lease. We had no choice but to find new digs.

Given our money woes, I can appreciate the need to find a cheap place, and I knew that might mean moving out of the downtown core. What I can’t understand is why “cheap” had to imply “the most remote, desolate, out-of-the-way, inaccessible-by-real-public-transport, characterless office park hell straight out of Office Space.” Silicon Valley without the benefit of being hyped up. “Cheap” also implied “close to the most of management’s burbclaves.”

The new office is on a street named after the first company to build an office there, off Highway 7, an east-west road north of the Toronto city limits. A good chunk of the area is still open space punctuated by billboards announcing future housing developments, office complexes or outlet malls and warehouse-sized stores. The remainder is filled by — you guessed it — housing developments, office complexes, outlet malls and warehouse-sized stores. They all look identical. The houses, in an attempt to maximize interior square footage, have been built so that they take up as much of their lots as possible, creating the kind of apartment-like crowding that most of the homeowners were trying to escape in the first place. The office buildings are boxes devoid of character, glum IT castles with moats full of Civics, bimbo boxes and asphalt. The area is so dull that my co-worker John’s GPS software can list only three nearby places of interest within a ten kilometre radius, one of which is a franchised theme restaurant.

The one bright spot in this dismal neighbourhood is a bone of contention for the locals: the Chinese community. In the early ’90’s, as the British lease on Hong Kong was running out, there was a mass exodus of Hong Kong Chinese (the HK’s, as they were known) to cities like Vangroovy and Toronto. They followed standard immigrant procedure: if you’re poor, you live in the inner city; if you’re rich, you live in the ‘burbs. As the HKs came in, so did businesses that geared towards them. Chinese restaurants, stores, movie houses and malls. There’s Chinese signage and Hondas everywhere. While this cultural invasion seems to have gotten some people’s dander up, I think it’s the only bit of character in this bland, franchiseheavy desert.

It’s not a nice place to work, and I’m glad as hell I don’t live there.


Waiting to Compile

by Joey deVilla on December 7, 2001

It’s crunch time down on de software plan-tay-shon, so I’m often spending time waiting for the computer to compile the latest build of the app we’re building. Might as well get a little blogging done…

The Library of Babel

…by Jorge Luis Borges. The world is an infinitely large library with an infinite number of books. In an infinity of books, you’d be able to find anything:

…the Library is total and that its shelves register all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographical symbols (a number which, though extremely vast, is not infinite): Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.

It’s one of my favourite short stories.

The One True Brace Style Isn’t
Warning: moderate geek content!

Last night, my co-workers John and Mohamed were debating the merits of brace styles. The argument is old enough and widespread enough to have its own entry in the Jargon File. Johnny’s a firm believer in the so-called “One True Brace Style” (a.k.a. “kernel style” or “K&R style” after Kernighan and Ritchie, the guys behind C and UNIX), but then again, he inhaled a lot of paint thinner, glue and no-stick Pam in his youth and exacerbated the situation by learning Perl. Mohamed and the rest of us follow the “Allman style” (a.k.a. “BSD style” since he wrote a lot of BSD utilities), a more readable style that makes it easier to ensure that brace pairs match. Don’t be fooled by self-proclaimed self-deluded arbiters of style. There are also two other styles — GNU and Whitesmiths — that are used by the maladjusted and unbathed.

Gestures around the world

In case you didn’t know:

There are two well-known insulting gestures in the United States. Both are recognized in all parts of America. They are:

Why fights always happen at the KFC in Lebanon:

If you lick your little finger and then brush it across your eyebrow, you are signaling that someone is a homosexual.

“Autralian Etiquette” — the biggest oxymoron since “Happily Married”:

When drinking in some Australian pubs, you can signal that you can win a fight with anyone in the bar simply by finishing your drink, turning the glass upside down and placing the glass squarely on the bar.

Want to know more? Check out Foreign Fingers and the Gestures pages on Web of Culture.

And one more thing…



Your Thursday Roughage

by Joey deVilla on December 6, 2001

My John Ashcroft Conspiracy Theory

In 1992, John Ashcroft’s nephew was caught growing 60 cannabis plants. Normally, growing this many plants would be tried in federal court and Ashcroft’s nephew would most likely have served a prison term, especially in light of then-governor Ashcroft’s “tough on drugs” stance. However, Ashcroft’s nephew was tried in a state court and got put on probation.

Today, Ashcroft is now the U.S. attorney general and it has recently been discovered that he has a great brownie recipe. That’s right, brownies. The recipe is so slacker-simple because the main ingredient is brownie mix. So simple that you could follow it could follow it even while high.

Coincidence? I think not.

KPMG again

The KPMG linking controversy continues in Wired News’ story, Big Stink Over a Simple Link. They have an interview with one of the KPMG spokedroids who has this to say:

George Ledwith, a KPMG spokesman, insisted the company wasn’t trying to harass anyone, and was just “protecting its brand.”

Asked if he was aware of the weblog backlash, he answered: “What we are aware of is that individuals and others link to our site without an agreement, and we have a Web policy clearly outlined.”

The policy he refers to — posted on the company’s website — states, “KPMG is obligated to protect its reputation and trademarks and KPMG reserves the right to request removal of any link to our website.”

He said that this was not a new policy, nor was it unusual. “We easily sent hundreds of these letters over the past year,” he said. Indeed, he wondered why this was considered newsworthy at all, as “many organizations do this.”

Our Vision of Global Strategy

Oh, dear sweet Baal, this is the worst easy-listening dreck I have heard in a very long time.

I’m referring to the KPMG corporate anthem, Our Vision of Global Strategy. The lyrics are standard PR boilerplate…


We’re strong as can be

A dream of power and energy

We go for the goal

Together we hold

On to our vision of global strategy

…and the music is has 80’s easy listening ballad-with-a-cause written all over it, right down to the cliched electric piano. My guess is that it was meant to be used with a corporate video (“I can see a helicopter shot with rolling green vistas,” said Mike Skeet, my co-worker, tech writer supreme, author, movie reviewer for the CBC and all-around Renaissance Man).

If your curiosity’s been piqued, you can listen to the MP3 and experience the evil for yourself.

That does it — I have to do an accordion version.