May 2006

Happy Memorial Day / Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Day!

by Joey deVilla on May 29, 2006

Today is a holiday in both America, where’s it Memorial Day, and Fiji, where it’s Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Day. Have a good one!

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Journo

by Joey deVilla on May 29, 2006

Exterior shot of the 'Journo' cafe/magazine store.

While wandering around downtown Accordion City on Sunday afternoon, Wendy and I looked for a place to grab a quick lunch and ended up at Journo on King Street West and Widmer Street. It’s part-magazine store, part cafe and although I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why it seemed that way, it felt more like a Montreal establishment than a Toronto one (the big signs for their Van Houtte coffee certainly made it seem more Montreal-ish.)

It was a warm day, so went opted for a light lunch: a chicken salad sandwich and a pasta salad. The sandwich was merely okay, but the pasta salad was pretty good. In addition to salads and sandwiches, the coffee bar half of the store also has a large selection of cookies and pastries as well as Van Houtte coffees, both brewed and espresso machine-based.

Interior shot of the 'Journo' cafe/magazine store.

The magazine section of Journo is devoted to what you’d expect to find in a decent magazine store: racks of magazines covering all sorts of interests, a selection of local, national and international newspapers and a small but interesting selection of bestselling paperbacks. It seems like a funkier version of stores like Great Canadian News and its sister in Francophone regions, Maison de la Presse. There’s a reason for this, which I’ll cover later on.

Journo also has some offerings that remind you that we’re living in the 21st century. There’s a section devoted to prepaid phone cards, but more interesting is the kiosk where you can download ringtones for your mobile phone and MP3s for your iPod. You can print photos from your camera’s memory chip, too. If you have a Rogers WiFi account (or sign up for one), you can access their hotspot.

The front section of Journo has about six or eight tables. Most of these tables were located indoors, but a couple were on its small street-facing patio, on the other side of a retractable wall. I didn’t check for power outlets near the tables, so I can’t report on their availability.

Detail of the interior of the 'Journo' cafe/magazine store.

I did a little Googling and found that Journo is one of three stores being given a trial run by their owner, HDS Retail North America, a branch of Hachette Distribution Services which in turn is owned by the French media and high-tech group Lagardere. HDS Retail owns the Great Canadian News and Maison de la Presse magazine store chains. (Call me a business nerd if you must, but I sometimes find playing the “who owns whom” game interesting.)

According to this Globe and Mail article, Journo is an experiment. If these gene-splices of HDS’ core magazine store business with a cafe and a download kiosk prove to be successful, the plan is to open 100 Journos in Canada and expand into the United States.

Of note is the fact that the anti-smoking movement and smoking bans played a role in Journo’s creation. The article states that tobacco sales used to be the bread and butter of newsstands and that these merchants are now looking for “alternative revenue streams”, which is bafflegab used by suits that simply means “something else to sell”. In this case, it’s a switch of addictions: from tobacco to coffee.

If managed right, these guys could have a winning formula. In my opinion, the coffee they serve at Journo — Van Houtte — can easily go toe-to-toe against the brewed coffees at Starbucks or The Second Cup. Journo’s food selection has is at least as extensive as Starbucks or Second Cup’s, if not more so, and neither of those chains has a pop fridge for those who don’t want coffee, tea or overpriced designer juice. Books, magazines and newspapers are a natural match for cafes, and like its sister stores Great Canadian News and Maison de la Presse, Journo’s selection is pretty eclectic, especially considering that it’s a chain. On weekdays, Journo closes at 10 (which is comparable with most Starbucks and Second Cups), but on weekends it closes at midnight, well after most other coffee shops and magazine stores have turned out the lights.

They could probably do away with the download kiosk. Phones and MP3 players are too different and change too rapidly for it to be compatible with more than just a handful of models. I think they’d get a bigger bang for the buck by switching to free WiFi and capitalizing off the people who like taking their laptops to cafes; the maintenance costs would be cheaper, and when’s the last time you went to a cafe when there wasn’t at least one person with their laptop pulled out?

They might also do well to get rid of the flat-screen TVs hanging from the ceiling, which show the Pulse24 channel constantly (although with the sound turned down). They detract from the atmosphere, do nothing to lure in customers and are a waste of money.


Next: More thoughts on Journo, Starbucks and its malcontents, “third places” and “cafe coding”.

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Wendy and I picked up Douglas Coupland’s latest book, JPod, at Chapters last week for a song. It was front-and-centre at the Bloor and Runnymede branch, with a “30% off” sticker on it, knocking it down to about 25 bucks, which is pretty decent for a hardcover.

Wendy ploughed through it last weekend. Her one-line on-the-spot review: “Wicked realistic: you’d live in JPod too if you let your true personality shine.”

Now it’s my turn. So far, so good, and yes, like Microserfs, it paints a pretty believable picture of life in a geek workplace. Yes, the dialogue is a little too Gilmore Girls-precious and pop-culture-metaphor-rich to be realistic, but that’s what I read Coupland for.

Here’s an excerpt from the start of the book, courtesy of NeverHappened.org:

Never Mess with the Subway Diet

"Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel."

"That asshole."

"Who does he think he is?"

"Come on, guys, focus. We’ve got a major problem on our hands." The six of us were silent, but for our footsteps. The main corridor’s muted plasma TVs blipped out the news and sports, while co-workers in long-sleeved blue and black T-shirts oompah-loompahed in and out of laminate-access doors, elevated walkways, staircases and elevators, their missions inscrutable and squirrelly. It was a rare sunny day. Freakishly articulated sunbeams highlighted specks of mica in the hallway’s designer granite. They looked like randomized particle events.

Mark said, "I can’t even think about what just happened in there."

John Doe said, "I’d like to do whatever it is people statistically do when confronted by a jolt of large and bad news."

I suggested he ingest five milligrams of Valium and three shots of hard liquor or four glasses of domestic wine.

"Really?"

"Don’t ask me, John. Google it."

"And so I shall."

Cowboy had a Jones for cough syrup, while Bree fished through one of her many pink vinyl Japanese handbags for lip gloss—phase one of her well-established pattern of pursuing sexual conquest to silence her inner pain.

The only quiet member of our group of six was Kaitlin, new to our work area as of the day before. She was walking with us mostly because she didn’t yet know how to get from the meeting room to our cubicles. We’re not sure if Kaitlin is boring or if she’s resistant to bonding, but then again none of us have really cranked up our charm.

We passed Warren from the motion capture studio. "Yo! jPodsters! A turtle! All right" He flashed a thumbs-up.

"Thank you, Warren. We can all feel the love in the room." Clearly, via the gift of text messaging, Warren and pretty much everyone in the company now knew of our plight, which is this: during today’s marketing meeting we learned we now have to retroactively insert a charismatic cuddly turtle character into our skateboard game, which is already nearly one-third of the way through its production cycle. Yes, you read that correctly, a turtle character—in a skateboard game.

The three-hour meeting had taken place in a two-hundred-seat room nicknamed the air-conditioned rectum. I tried to make the event go faster by pretending to have superpower vision: I could see the carbon dioxide pumping in and out of everyone’s nose and mouth—it was purple. It made me think of that urban legend about the chemical they put in swimming pools that reveals when somebody pees. Then I wondered if Leonardo da Vinci had ever inhaled any of the oxygen molecules I was breathing, or if he ever had to sit through a marketing meeting. What would that have been like? "Leo, thanks for your input, but our studies indicate that when they see Lisa smile, they want a sexy, flirty smile, not that grim little slit she has now. Also, I don’t know what that closet case Michelangelo is thinking with that naked David guy, but Jesus, clamp a diaper onto him pronto. Next item on the agenda: Perspective—Passing Fad or Opportunity to Win? But first, Katie here is going to tell us about this Friday’s Jeans Day, to be followed by a ten-minute muffin break."

But the word "turtle" pulled me out of my reverie, uttered by Fearless Leader—our new head of marketing, Steve. I put up my hand and quite reasonably asked, "Sorry, Steve, did you say a turtle?"

Christine, a senior development director, said, "No need to be sarcastic, Ethan. Steve here took Toblerone chocolate and turned it around inside of two years."

"No," Steve protested. "I appreciate an open dialogue. All I’m really saying is that, at home, my son, Carter, plays SimQuest4 and can’t get enough of its turtle character, and if my Carter likes turtle characters, then a turtle character is a winner, and thus, this skateboard game needs a turtle."

John Doe BlackBerried me: I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS

And so the order was issued to make our new turtle character "accessible" and "fun" and the buzzword is so horrible I have to spell it out in ASCII: "{101, 100, 103, 121}"

Although I am a programmer, I haven’t memorized the ASCII table with the exception of uppercase “A” (65) and the space character (32). This may be the first non-tech book I’ve read that sent me scurrying to ol’ PowerBook to try something out. I threw together this Ruby one-liner to find out what the buzzword was:


  [101, 100, 103, 121].each {|x| print x.chr}

  

So as not to spoil it for you, I won’t give away the buzzword in plain sight, but link to it here.

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My Take on the Whole O’Reilly "Web 2.0" Thing

by Joey deVilla on May 26, 2006

If the image above is too obscure, see these blog entries by:

For reference, here’s Tim O’Reilly’s essay from last year, What is Web 2.0?. Note that nowhere in this essay does it say “And it’s my buzzword! Miiiiiine!

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This Weekend in Accordion City

by Joey deVilla on May 26, 2006

It’s that time of the year again: Doors Open Toronto takes place this weekend. 140 buildings of architectural, historic or cultural significance will open their doors to the public for free so that you can explore! It’s a great way to get to know the city and you’ll be surprised at the treasures we’ve got. For more details, see the Doors Open Toronto site and this Torontoist article. Maria’s got a plan, too.

The first of this summer’s car-free “Pedestrian Sundays” in Kensington Market takes place this weekend.

If the weather forecast is correct, Saturday and Sunday should give us some sun and warmth (Sunday’s high is supposed to be 27 degrees C), so you might want to head to the Annex and get some ice cream from Sweet Fantasies, which carries regular, dairy-free, low-fat and now organic ice cream.

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On "How to Be Silicon Valley", Part 2

by Joey deVilla on May 26, 2006


Me outside Fry’s Electronics in Silicon Valley, circa 2000.

Time is short today, so I’m going to be brief with this “Silicon Valley” post…

Nearly a hundred comments so far: Paul Graham’s using the site reddit.com as the comments section for his How to Be Silicon Valley essay, and he’s getting comments aplenty.

Ethan considers Canadian cities with a notable tech presence in the comments of this blog.

Memer suggests that “the one major missing piece (besides, potentially, cost of living) is the [lack of] perception of Toronto as a hip, liberal place to be.” I think this can and will happen — consider that in the 1950’s, you’d get arrested for playing a pick-up game of football on a Sunday. Nobody said a having a WASP heritage didn’t have a down-side.

An anonymous commenter says “I might be out of the loop, but I’m not really currently aware of any contending or ramping up Toronto start-ups that are generating buzz.” Of course, if this were the case, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. What we do have are most, if not all, of the elements in place. In terms of the evolution of life on earth, we’ve got the “chemical soup” and there are thunderclaps nearby.

And finally, ideas we can steal from other Canadian cities with a strong tech presence in order to make Toronto a better tech hub:

  • Vancouver: London Drugs (late-night drug stores that are practically grocery stores and computer stores) and late-night coffee places.
  • Montreal: Night life, cafe culture and perhaps a little architecture.
  • Edmonton: Never been there, so I have no idea. I do know that they can put away a lot of beer.

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What Driving Down Highway 101 Was Like

by Joey deVilla on May 25, 2006

Speaking of Silicon Valley, here’s a photo that captures the spirit of the San Francisco – San Jose drives that Cory Doctorow and I used to make:

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