Milwaukee Travel Diary, Part 1: Deep-Fried Cheese Curds

View from an airplane window, looking at a United Airlines jet at O'Hare

It’s tempting to go with the same-old, same-old when travelling on business. You typically end up in a hotel somewhere near downtown, and these places are typically near the same chains no matter where you are: Starbucks, Subway and so on. While it’s nice to have the familiar within easy reach – and hey, the coffee and sandwich options were far worse before Starbucks and Subway – if you’re going to have the exact same things while away, why go at all?

My terribly early Friday morning flight to Milwaukee by way of O’Hare put me in my hotel shortly after ten. I had a lot of work to do before meeting with customers that afternoon, and the area I was in was all hotels, office buildings and malls, so lunch meant a run to some nearby food court to see if there was anything that was either:

  1. Local and tasty (if a little less healthy)
  2. Chain-based and healthy (if a little same-old, same-old)

That’s when I ran into this:

Culver's logo: "Culvers / Frozen Custard / Butterburgers"

I’d only heard of frozen custard thanks to Alton Brown’s show, Feasting on Asphalt. As for “Butterburger”, something with a name like that had to be good. Here’s what I ended up ordering:

Diet Coke, deep-fried cheese curds, ButterBurger

In the photo above, the thing to the left is the ever-recognizable Diet Coke. (Do you know why people drink Diet Coke? Because they’re fat and thirsty.)

On the right, a swiss-and-mushroom ButterBurger. It’s pretty good, a cut above your McDonald’s/Burger King/Wendy’s burger and the bread’s pretty nice. They say that they “lightly butter” the bun, but perhaps “lightly” means something different in Wisconsin. No matter: I love butter.

As for my side, those things in the middle are deep-friend cheese curds. That’s right: cheese curds, just like the ones we put on top of poutine, breaded and deep-fried. They were delicious, and we need to get some place to start serving them here.

Here’s an even crazier idea that came to me while enjoying my lunch: what if we made poutine with these babies instead of uncooked cheese curds? C’mon, Smoke’s, I know you can do this!

For dessert, I had the frozen custard flavour of the day: turtle, which was vanilla frozen custard with chocolate and caramel sauces and pecans. Frozen custard is a little richer-tasting because it’s made with eggs, and its texture is thicker since it has less air whipped into it than ice cream does. It’s good stuff, and I want more.


Hello from Florida! (Part 1)

Hello from florida

I’m in Tampa, Florida as I write this (and as you read this, I’m back). I’m here on business: to visit Shopify customers and partners, as well as to represent Shopify at BarCamp Tampa Bay, where we’re one of the sponsors that makes the BarCamp Tour.


This trip makes my fifteenth round-trip flight this year. All but one have been business trips, with 4 on behalf of Microsoft and 10 on behalf of Shopify. Here’s a quick run-down of where I went and why:

Destination For whom Notes
Early/mid February

The Trip of Much Weirdness. Gave one of my best presentations at a Microsoft employees-only conference, got perp-walked into a “bad doggie” meeting with a CTO, went on a “non-date” that didn’t end well but will make a high-larious blog entry some day.

This one was rather lengthy: 11 days in total!

This was the trip that got me thinking “You know, as nice as the pay at Microsoft is, I’ve got enough juice to write my own ticket. What are my other options?”


A week after the previous trip to Seattle


A mere week after a 10-day trip to Seattle, I return for a 5-day trip, this time for the MVP Summit, where I hang out with Microsoft Most Valued Professionals from Canada and around the world, jam with a band at Safeco Field and partake in hijinks that while fun, are best left unblogged.


Early March (flew in and out same day)


Now it can be told: a one-day, fly-there-in-the-morning, fly-back-same-evening secret trip to do an interview with Shopify.



Another 11-day trip, this time to attend South by Southwest Interactive, where Microsoft was launching IE9. I helped out Carter Rabasa and the IE9 team at the launch party, helped at the Microsoft booth (Dare Obasanjo tweeted I was as much as attraction as the Kinect) and generally did IE9 and Windows Phone-promoting stuff.

I also signed my contract with Shopify while there, and filed my resignation from the cowboy bar at Austin’s airport.


Early April

In Friday and out Sunday to attend BarCamp Boston as an unofficial representative of Shopify (still a Microsoft employee at that point), along with Shopify developer James MacAulay.

The event is at a Microsoft building, which means my blue badge lets me open doors the other attendees can’t; I can walk around as if I owned the place. Sometimes, it’s nice to have the bathroom all to yourself, especially if you’re “dropping a noisy one”.


Las Vegas
Early April (flew to Vegas on the same day I arrived from Boston)

My last trip as a Microsoft employee. I flew to Vegas for the MIX conference to perform my final Windows Phone Champ duties, take a tour of Zappos (where I’d entertain their employees on accordion and participate in a corporate culture consultation) and drink Australian quantities of free booze. This trip was about six days.


Early May

My first official trip as a “Shopifolk”. I was there for three days to represent Shopify at MinneBar as part of the BarCamp Tour. Also a good chance to hang out with my friends Luke and Jenny.



A weekend flight from Ottawa (where I lived for the summer) to Toronto where I spent Friday hosting an internal workshop for Microsoft employees. It was strange coming back as a non-employee; I’m certain a number of managers were feeling a strange disturbance in The Force.


Portland / Seattle
Late May

Five days! I first flew to Portland for BarCamp, then took a train up to Seattle to spend May 2-4 weekend in a mountain cabin. Flew home from Seattle.




A four-day trip to attend BarCamp Seattle, hang out with my longtime friends (since Crazy Go Nuts University) George and Leesh, tour a distillery, go to the zoo and partake in some other hijinks.


New Orleans
Mid-late July

A four-day trip and my first business trip with friend and coworker Edward Ocampo-Gooding to BarCamp New Orleans. This one featured an airboat tour of the swamp, much silliness in the French Quarter, becoming the accidental leader of a Bastille Day Parade for a glorious ten minutes and being taken about town by some of the nicest and prettiest ladies in the south.


Late August

A five-day trip, this time with friend and coworker David Underwood to help out at HackVan, a Vancouver hackfest. We also gatecrashed the GROW conference and hung out with my old workmates from Microsoft, David Crow and Mark Relph. I also got to catch up with my friends Adam, Nancy and Chris.


Late August

A weekend trip, flown on my own dime (or more accurately, some Porter credits I had left over). Caught up with family, got to hang out with Jim Munroe, go to Fake Prom 2011, attend my friend Keith’s 40th birthday and get some Brenda time before she leaves for Lake Louise for a whole year.


Early September

Another BarCamp weekend trip, this time to BarCamp in Buffett Country (Warren, not Jimmy)! I also used this trip to talk to some Shopify customers.



Just got back from this one! A nice long weekend trip to BarCamp Tampa Bay, where I got to walk about Ybor, get some shopping in, interview customers and get shown about town by Anitra, who is a most excellent tour guide.


This coming weekend

BarCamp in the land of “boo-yah”, beer and cheese. There’s also the Harley-Davidson Museum!



It’s a crying shame that I don’t have my NEXUS pass interview until October 13th. It probably would’ve saved me a grand total of ten or so hours of waiting in line. Mind you, if I had a NEXUS pass, I ‘d have missed my opportunity to make some news at the crazy customs line back in March.


Vancouver Bound

Air canada

I’m off to Vancouver! I’ll be there from Wednesday afternoon to Monday afternoon, primarily to catch HackVAN. Want to catch up? Drop me a line or tweet!


In Transit

Me holding an Air Canada safety booklet and the Shopify Employee booklet

I’ve been travelling quite a bit this week. On Monday, I moved to Ottawa for the summer, spending the better part of the day on the road in miserable weather. My first week at Shopify was a short one, running only from Tuesday through Thursday because I spent all of today in transit, flying from Ottawa to Minneapolis by way of Toronto. I took the above photo earlier today on the Ottawa-Toronto leg. (I will have to write about the Shopify new employee handbook sometime; I’ve never seen anything like it at any of my other workplaces, or at any of my friends’ workplaces.)

As I write this, I’m in Minneapolis, getting ready to go to the MinneBar pre-party to catch up with my fellow BarCamp Tour representatives as well as a number of Minneapolis-based friends. The actual MinneBar event takes place tomorrow at Best Buy Headquarters, after which I’m sure some form of mayhem will ensue. I’ve been shooting pictures like mad on my new camera (a Canon PowerShopt ELPH 300 HS, and it’s a pocket dynamo) and along with the photos will a lot of blog entries.

Speaking of blog entries, my article That’s Not OCD, You’re Just a Slacker racked up 79,000 hits on Global Nerdy yesterday and 47,000 today thanks to StumbleUpon. The comments have been quite interesting — the photo on which the article is based might as well be a sort of Rorschach test based on the variety of responses.

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.


Road Trip

On Monday, I packed the last of my stuff into the car…

The back of my car, packed with stuff

…which included a couple of accordions: the travel-sized Silvetta, which fits in just about every airplane’s overhead compartment, and the full-sized, full-sounding Crucianelli:

Front passenger seat of my car, with two accordions strapped in with the seatbelt.

If you’ve been following this blog for the past little while, you already know my destination: Ottawa, where I’ll be living for the summer to immerse myself in my new job as tech evangelist for the startup Shopify. The trip takes about five hours and is pretty simple — east on Highway 401, the north on Highway 416.

Map showing the route from Toronto to Ottawa

I like listening to audiobooks on long car trips. My selection for this one was Tina Fey’s Bossypants, read by Ms. Fey herself. It’s quite funny and entertaining, and it made the long, rain-soaked drive seem like a quick run around the block:

My Zune HD showing Tina Fey's Audiobook

Yup, that’s a Zune HD — I’m a former Microsoftie, after all — and that’s what I used to play Bossypants. It’s my highest-capacity portable MP3 device, so it’s the one I use for long trips. It’s the best media player you’ll never buy.

I arrived in Ottawa in the late afternoon. I don’t really know my way around the city other than bits of downtown and the Market. I’m going to be rather reliant on the Garmin when driving and on my phone while cycling or walking about. The only other time I make such heavy use of a GPS is when I’m playing Grand Theft Auto IV:

Arriving in Ottawa, as seen from the driver's seat

That’s the Garmin, which is suction-cupped to the windshield, and below it is the satellite radio. I switched to it when I pulled into town, just in time to catch a Beastie Boys special on Alt Nation — the perfect welcome to my new, if temporary, home.

My final destination was the furnished apartment where Shopify is housing me during my stay. It’s right on Sparks Street, and I’d have taken a picture if the weather wasn’t so miserable. Here’s what the area around my front door would look like if we were having a more typical spring:

Sparks street

Next: The Swank Tank.


Where to Stay in Minneapolis (May 6th–8th)?

minneapolisCreative Commons photo courtesy of Sri Dhanush.

I’m helping out with BarCamp Minneapolis, a.k.a. MinneBar, which takes place on May 7th. The event takes place at Best Buy’s headquarters out in Richfield, and we out-of-towner helper-outers are staying downtown. If you know any good and reasonably-priced hotels in an interesting but not sketchy part of downtown, please let me know in the comments or drop me an email!

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.


In Vancouver September 11 – 16


I’ll be in Vancouver starting this afternoon and staying there until around noon on Thursday. I’m there to help run Microsoft’s TechDays conference, and with a little luck, catch up with some friends. See you there!