Toronto

The official Rob Ford graphic: Peter Griffin in a suit, with the caption "I'm the mayor / Deal with it"Mayor Griffin”

Those of you not familiar with Accordion City’s politics may not have heard our mayor, Rob Ford, who’s best summed up as a voting experiment gone terribly, terribly wrong. Riding in on a Tea Party-esque campaign based on the single issue of cutting costs and voted in mostly by the suburbs as a right-of-centre reaction to the previous left-of-centre mayor David Miller, he’s been taking a richly-deserved beating in the opinion polls for his toxic combination of a pig-headed inability to compromise, willful ignorance of reality and a lack of tact second only to the cartoon character Peter Griffin. It is this last quality (along with the characteristics of his mayoral rivals) that led me to compare the players in Toronto’s last mayoral election to the characters in Family Guy.

The Toronto alt-weekly paper formerly known as Eye Weekly (they’re now The Grid) did a pretty good job of summarizing what the city would be like under “Mayor Griffin”, and one year later, it seems mostly spot-on:

Wait, you say the mayoral frontrunner is an uncouth, simple-minded loudmouth with a notoriously bad temper and a penchant for saying absolutely the wrong thing? And he wants to rip up streetcar tracks, slash city spending and dismantle service infrastructure? And to top it all off, he has a demonstrated inability to get anyone on council to work with him? Where do we sign up? Seriously, though: the best-case scenario with Ford is that he can’t accomplish anything. Worst-case, he ruins the city entirely.

The only thing that this article missed is that Ford would be pure comedy gold.

Peter Griffin Meets Marg: Princess Warrior

"This Hour Has 22 Minutes" cast and logo

This Hour Has 22 Minutes is a Canadian television “fake news” show in the spirit of SNL’s Weekend Update, the BBC’s Not the Nine O’ Clock News, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. One of their long-running segments is Marg: Princess Warrior, which features castmember Mary Walsh’s east-coast housewife character Marg Delahunty dressing up in a Xena: Warrior Princess-like outfit and surprise-interviewing Canadian politicians.

Mary Walsh dressed in her "Marg Princess Warrior" costume

The Marg: Princess Warrior interviews are the stuff of legend in Canadian political circles, and even the most humour-impaired of politicians have angled to get ambushed by her simply because she’s good publicity – at least with that part of the Canadian public that likes the CBC. The CBC is unpopular with Canadian conservatives for the same reason that PBS and NPR are unpopular with their American counterparts: publicly funded, not pandering to the lowest common denominator, (mostly) smart and trying to pass on some smarts to the audience. With the notable exception of Hockey Night in Canada, Rob isn’t likely to watch the CBC and isn’t likely to have seen This Hour Has 22 Minutes nor the Marg: Princess Warrior segments. So he can be excused for being a bit concerned when he got a surprise interview from them earlier this week.

On Monday morning, a This Hour Has 22 Minutes crew, along with Mary Walsh in her full Marg: Princess Warrior outfit showed up at the end of Rob Ford’s driveway to do the interview. Ford is reported to have gone along with it at the beginning, but either sensing that he might become the object of ridicule or getting confused because things were happening more quickly than he could process, got huffy, ran inside his house and called 911, which is what we’ve all been taught to do in the case of a life-threatening emergency. And what’s more life-threatening to a socio-politico-fiscal conservative than the CBC?

Your Worship (yes, that’s how formally address the mayor in Toronto, even if he’s Rob Ford), if the sight of a middle-aged woman in costume sends you running for the cops, you’re really not going to like this little celebration that’s happening this weekend called Hallowe’en:

Editorial cartoon featuring Rob Ford being visited by trick-or-treaters, yelling "Call 911!"

It Gets Better (or: The 911 Call of the Year)

Photo of Rob Ford: "I'm Rick James...er...Rob Ford, bitch!"

The only thing of greater comedic value than the fact that Rob Ford placed a 911 call in response to a camera crew and a woman dressed up like Xena is what he’s alleged to have done during said call. When he didn’t get the kind of response he was hoping for – Two police cruisers arriving within seconds? An entire anti-CBC SWAT team? The Christian Bale version of Batman? – he is said to have cussed out the dispatcher:

“You bitches! Don’t you fucking know? I’m Rob fucking Ford, the mayor of this city!”

This isn’t the first outburst of this type to emanate from His Worship. A few years back, Ford got into an altercation with fellow fans at a Leafs/Sens game after they asked him to dial down his obnoxiousness. He responded with “Who the fuck do you think you are? Are some kind of right wing Commie bastard [sic]? Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?

The news reports say recordings of this call have “spread like wildfire through the police service”. If real, this recording may become as legendary as this complaint call to the Quebec-based cable-and-internet provider Videotron [576KB MP3, swearing in French], which is the perfect tutorial for swearing in Quebecois French.

This story’s been getting a lot of play in the local media. Even the right-leaning National Post have been wavering in their “ideology first, things like actions, character and ideas can wait” support for Ford as of late, and even more so in light of this latest gaffe. (They still scold the CBC in the article, because hey, they’re the CBC. Scolding them is what the Post does.)

What now remains to be seen is how Team Ford handles the situation. In the meantime, it looks as though Team Photoshop is going to have a field day:

Photoshopped campaign sign on a lawn: "Re-elect Rob Fucking Ford for mayor of this city, you bitches"

{ 20 comments }

Scenes from Today’s Toronto Techie Dim Sum

by Joey deVilla on September 21, 2011

Toronto techie dim sum 1

The return of the Toronto Techie Dim Sum lunch took place earlier today, and it went off even better than I’d hoped! It had been a while since we’ve had one of these events, so I wasn’t expecting a turnout larger than a single table at Sky Dragon (their larger tables will easily accommodate 8 or 9 people), but we ended up being sixteen people in total.

There were a number of dim sum “alumni” who showed up, including Andrew Burke, who wins the Phileas Fogg award for greatest distance travelled to attend — he’s visiting from Halifax. We also had some people who’d never been to one of these events before, including my cousin Saturn, making it an event with not only figurative, but literal family! As always, it was one of those wonderful things that happens when good people meet over good food and make good conversation. I bounced between tables, either meeting people for the first time or catching up with old friend. And it was pretty inexpensive too — it worked out to about eight bucks a person, and we all ate our fill.

Toronto techie dim sum 2

I plan to organize these on a monthly basis, typically in the middle of the week in the middle of the month. Sky Dragon are great people and are only too happy to have our business. They’ll even give us a room all to ourselves if we end up with three or more tables’ worth of people, which I’d love to see in October.

Thanks to everyone who came, and if you couldn’t make it today: see you next month!

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.

{ 0 comments }

My Weekend at Home, Part 1

by Joey deVilla on August 30, 2011

It’s Only Painful if You Run After It (Friday, around 1:00 p.m.)

Window seat view

“We’re getting a warning light that we can’t put out,” announced the pilot, who had a distinctive brogue. This was on my plane, a Porter Airlines flight perched on the edge of the runway at Ottawa’s airport, moments away from taking off on the forty-nine minute flight to Accordion City. “We’re going to go back to the terminal and see if the mechanics and assorted wizards can’t work it out.”

A few stifled groans sounded through the cabin, none of which came from me. I had no pressing appointments that afternoon, and all I had that evening were options, not commitments. The advice that Nassim Nicholas Taleb gave near the end of The Black Swan was right: Missing a train is only painful if you run after it.

The plane made its way back to the gate and docked with the jetway to let a technician on board. Meanwhile, a couple of jumpsuited mechanics walked ritual circles around the plane.

“We need to see if rebooting the systems will clear the problem,” said the pilot after a few minutes. Apparently the “turn it off, then turn it on again” fix that seems to work for 99% of computer problems also works for airplanes. “Unfortunately, this requires shutting off the electricity, so we’ll all be plunged into darkness for a few moments, but don’t be alarmed.” Our captain had a flair for the dramatic.

A few minutes later, he made another announcement. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but we just can’t resolve this indicator light problem. We’ll have to ask you to deplane and check with the desk. They’ll assign you to one of the flights leaving for Toronto this afternoon and don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of them.”

Although you can get very far with a car with a warning light on the dashboard that won’t go off (when money was short, I managed to ignore the ABS warning light, and look ma, not dead), I’m glad that people in the aviation industry sweat these details.

The Comforts of Home (Friday, 5:30 p.m.)

Home sweet home

I finally got to Toronto around 5:00 p.m., three hours later than scheduled, and the cab had me at my building’s front door by 5:30.

I’d lent my apartment to a friend for the month of July. She needed a place to stay while her place was being renovated, and I figured that I might need to do a little cleaning when I got back. I was wrong — the place was as neat as a pin. Nice!

I did a quick tour of every room: kitchen, the dining room that once functioned as my office (and is now a dining room again), living room, balcony (an unusually large one, suitable for dinner parties), foyer, hallway, small bedroom (once the ex’s office, now mine) and master bedroom. I wasn’t checking to see if my friend had made off with the silverware or some personal item she could turn into a voodoo doll; I was getting a feel for the place that I haven’t really called “home” in months.

This place, I thought as I looked about, it’s not half bad.

I remember thinking around the start of May, when I left for Ottawa, that it would be good to get away from it for a while. It had been our home from the summer of 2005 until just after Christmas last year, and it just felt — I’m having trouble coming up with le mot juste for it — off since she left. It felt heavy with memory. I’d even started looking around for new places to live before the Shopify job offer came around and I moved to Ottawa for the summer.

Looking at the place now, after a whole season away, it seemed different. With a little less furniture (which is all mine, and once again, it matches) and in comparison to the Swank Tank, the apartment is nice and roomy. The windows face westward, providing afternoon and evening light as well as a view of the treetops over Gothic Avenue. My couch and love seat are more comfy than their counterparts in the Swank Tank, to say nothing of the comparison between my king bed at home versus the not-quite-queen I’ve been crashing on in Ottawa. My home office has as much space as is allotted to me and my teammates Edward and David at Shopify headquarters, and it has a window! As I did the tour, I found delights in every room. I hadn’t expected that.

That’s when I decided that I’d keep the apartment.

Evening Options (6:30 p.m.)

Earlier that week, I’d put out the word that I was up for catching up with friends as part of getting back into the Toronto swing of things. I got a reply from someone quite unexpected: Jim Munroe, a super-talented local who’s written a fistful of well-received novels and graphic novels (Flyboy Action Hero Comes with Gasmask, Angry Young Spaceman, Everyone in Silico, An Opening Act of Unspeakable Evil, Therefore Repent! and Sword of My Mouth), coded some interesting videogames, founded the Perpetual Motion Roadshow and the Hand Eye Society and is generally one of those people who keeps Toronto punching above its weight class in cool. I gave Jim a call and was surprised to learn than he and his family had moved quite close by, a short bike ride away. I gave him a call.

“Yeah, I’m free and you can come over once I’ve put the kid to bed, say around 8:30,” he said. “I’ll understand if you have more exciting plans tonight…”

As much as I like a good crowded party, I also like having one-on-one conversations with interesting people, especially if I haven’t seen them in ages. It might’ve been years.

“No, don’t worry,” I said. “I have some options, not plans, and they’re for much later. I’ll bring some beer. See you soon!”

I searched around my closets looking for my flight suit, which I’d need later, without success. I took out an old tuxedo — Plan B — and laid it out for later. Then I hopped into the shower.

The Old Ride (7:00 p.m.)

Joeys old bike
My old bike.

I didn’t take my bike to Ottawa, since I figured I was due for a new one and would buy it there. The old bike, a Raleigh cruiser I bought in 2003 to commute to my then-new job at Tucows, was exactly where I’d left it: in the bike storage room in the garage. A quick poke at the tires confirmed my suspicions: a season of disuse had left the tires Twinkie-soft. I didn’t have an tire pump thought I’d have to hustle it down to the gas station at Bloor and Keele when I remembered reading a notice in the elevator that the building had installed an air compressor a week after I left for Ottawa. If only I could remember where they’d put it…

I found it after a couple of minutes of searching the garage, and moments later, I was flying out of the garage on two freshly-inflated tires.

I’d been riding on my new bike all summer, a deVinci Stockholm hybrid, which has a much sportier feel than my old bike. While the new bike is sleeker, lighter and speedier, the old one also has its charms, which I rediscovered as I rode it. The higher handlebars keep you more upright and the big hydraulically-cushioned seat loves your butt more than that guy from Deliverance. It would lose in a race against my new bike, but its fat ballon-y tires offer a much smoother ride; if my new bike is a BMW, my old one is a 1970s Lincoln Town Car, meant for smooth, majestic, I’m-the-king-of-town rides.

Just like the apartment, I’m thinking of keeping the old bike.

{ 3 comments }

There and Back Again: Returning to Toronto

by Joey deVilla on August 29, 2011

View from island airport

I’ve been in Ottawa for the summer, getting immersed in my new company, Shopify, and taking advantage of its location to get a much-needed change of scenery. I’ve fit myself in nicely with the new job, things in general are going swimmingly and I’ve even managed to get in a fair bit of travel — for those of you who like to keep score: Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, Seattle, New Orleans, Vancouver. It’s all been nothing but good for me.

I thought that I might have to stay in Ottawa a little longer, but between my being fully settled in at Shopify and my Ottawa apartment’s (The Swank Tank) being booked by somebody else for September 1st, I will be returning to Accordion City this weekend. I’ve enjoyed my time and had a lot of fun here, but it’s time to return and resume life at home.

Roy thomson hall and cn tower

I’ll continue as Shopify’s Platform Evangelist, but operating most of the time from Toronto. It makes sense for the company: it’s Canada’s economic capital, and there are a gazillion flights to cities in the U.S. (where the bulk of Shopify’s customers and potential customers are) from both its airports. I’ve got the home office, Hacklab and a couple of other spaces to work from, but my work style will be the one to which I’ve become accustomed: have laptop, will travel.

It’ll be good to be back — I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

{ 1 comment }

BarCamp Seattle

seattle barcamp

This weekend, I’ll be in Seattle for BarCamp as part of the BarCamp tour, a cross-North-America sponsorship put together by five startups: Batchblue, Grasshopper, MailChimp, Wufoo and the company for whom I am representative, Shopify.

BarCamp is an unconference – a gathering that turns the traditional notion of a “conference” upside-down. Rather than the content being determined by its organizers, it’s determined by the attendees. At the start of the conference, any attendee can propose a session topic, and if it’s accepted by the group, that session gets put on the schedule grid and assigned a time slot and a room. Sessions themselves are somewhat different from sessions at a traditional conference: while there’s still roles akin to a “presenter” or “presenters” and an “audience”, the line between the two is considerably more fuzzy. They’re closer in spirit to open discussions rather than lectures.

barcamp-tour-logo

BarCamp Tour are not your typical sponsors. Just as BarCamp is an unconference that turns the notion of a conference upside-down, you might say that we’re “unsponsors” doing the same to what is traditionally viewed as sponsorship. Yes, we provide funding to various BarCamps, but we do something that most sponsors don’t do: we show up and participate. We help out the organizers with everything from putting together parties to helping move furniture and clean up. We take part in the sessions, sometimes as participants in the “audience”, sometimes as “presenters”. While we do promote our companies, it’s not in a hard-sell way, and often, we do it by listening to and learning from the people there – after all, they’re potential customers, partners and even hires.

BarCamp Seattle takes place this weekend on Saturday, June 24th and Sunday June 25th at the Adobe Conference Center in Seattle’s Fremont neighbourhood (801 N 34th Street). Saturday is a full day with check-in starting at 8:00 a.m. and the unconference kicking into full swing at 9:00 a.m.; Sunday is a half day with check-in starting around 8:00 a.m. (emphasis on around; there’s a party on Saturday night) and the unconference resuming at 9:00 a.m..

BarCamp Seattle, like all BarCamps, is free but you need to register. To register, visit BarCamp Seattle’s EventBrite page.

BarCamp New Orleans

barcamp new orleans

My next BarCamp will be BarCamp New Orleans, also known as BarCamp NOLA. I’m rather looking forward to this one for a few reasons:

BarCamp New Orleans takes place on Saturday, July 16th and Sunday, July 17th at the Launch Pad coworking/startup space (643 Magazine Street, Suite 102). Registration on the Saturday is at a very civilized 9:30 a.m. with the unconference getting into full swing at 10:00 a.m. and running until 5:00 p.m.. Sunday is a “Hack Day” with registration at 9:30 a.m., start at 10:00 a.m. and running until 5:00 p.m..

Like all BarCamps, BarCamp New Orleans is free but you need to register. You should register soon – only 76 spaces remain as of this writing!

BarCamp Toronto

barcamp-toronto-anyone

A couple of weeks ago, I put out the call for help in getting together a BarCamp in Accordion City. We haven’t had one in four years and I think it’s about time! The other folks on the BarCamp Tour, most notably Jonathan Kay of Grasshopper who absolutely loves “Toe-RON-toe”, have expressed interest in having one in Canada and are willing to be a sponsor.

A great collection of people have stepped forward and volunteered to help. I’ll be meeting with them online very shortly (I’m in Ottawa for the summer, but I return to Accordion City in the fall) to discuss what happens next, but know this: the first step toward bringing BarCamp back to Toronto has been made.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

{ 0 comments }

Meanwhile, in Toronto…

by Joey deVilla on May 13, 2011

My friend Maria snapped this photo of a guy in a squid suit on Bathurst Street by the Amsterdam Brewery:

Squid on bathurst

I’m reminded of this fella:

Zoidberg

{ 2 comments }

There, Even When I’m Not

by Joey deVilla on May 11, 2011

Photo of Joey deVilla on the cover of Jason Rolland's karaoke songbook

I may be in Ottawa (Alternate Accordion City) for the summer, but I maintain a presence in Toronto (Original Accordion City) thanks to Jason Rolland. He’s the host of many popular karaoke nights, including the one informally known as Loser Karaoke — the Thursday night session at Tequila Sunrise frequented by Toronto’s social media types and their friends. Jason’s just redone the covers of the big binders containing his song lists, and Yours Truly is on the cover. My friend Rayanne Langdon pointed it out to me last night. Thanks for putting me on the cover, Jason, and thanks for the heads-up, Rayanne!

If you want to see where Jason’s playing next or what songs he has, make sure you check out his site.

{ 0 comments }