Road Trip Diary, Part 5: Avril Lavigne’s Hometown and My Alma Mater

Avril Lavigne’s Hometown

Tim Hortons' "Always Fresh" "Drive Thru" signs

While on the road, we sent out a tweet asking anyone who was near the route we were taking to Montreal if they’d like to catch up with us. We got a message back from our friend Todd Lamothe (who’ll be presenting at TechDays Ottawa next week), who works in Avril Lavigne’s hometown, Napanee, so we decided to catch up with him at the nearby Tim Hortons. What Canadian roadtrip doesn’t include a visit to this venerable Canadian institution?

My laptop on a table at Tim Hortons Checking the Twitter action with Seesmic while enjoying a chicken salad sandwich.

We’re taking the Ford Flex back to Toronto using the same route on Friday – Highway 401 westbound from Montreal to Toronto – so if you’re somewhere on the route and would like to join us for coffee, lunch, an accordion performance, whatever – let me know, either via email or the comments, and we’ll make arrangements!

Tim Hortons sign

The Sync has been terribly handy on the trip, functioning as phone dialer, GPS, entertainment system and ever-so-handy, rear-bumper-saving rear-view camera:

"Reverse" camera view from the Ford Flex's Sync monitor

My Alma Mater

A stone’s throw east of Napanee is Kingston, home to my alma mater, Crazy Go Nuts University (a.k.a. Queen’s University). After demonstrating Bing to a couple of students at the John Deutsch University Centre – guys from Science ‘12, who were surprised to see a guy in a Science ‘91 jacket – we made our way to Goodwin Hall, the home of the School of Computing.

I couldn’t visit without getting a shot of me beside the entrance to my former home-away-from home:

Me and my laptop, posing beside the sign at the entrance of Goodwin HallNote the Clark Hall Pub logo sketched in chalk, just right of me.
I probably spent as much time there as I did at Goodwin Hall.

When I graduated in 1994, the options for departing undergraduates were considerably more limited than they are today. Most of the jobs seemed to centre around banking or insurance. Wanting to do something that was equal parts techie and creative, I opted for something a little more creative and joined Mackerel, a multimedia company that made interactive apps for floppies and CD-ROM instead.

So when I entered Goodwin Hall and saw the poster below, I exclaimed “Why, oh why wasn’t this program available when I went here?”

"Computing and the Creative Arts": poster promoting course offered jointly by the School of Computing and various arts departments

We were there to make the first steps in getting both Microsoft and Yours Truly back in touch with the Queen’s School of Computing. A quick glance at the staff list turned out to be very surprising: a lot of the professors who taught me were still there!

This was an unplanned spontaneous thing: I made a mental notes of the professors I new and their office numbers and visited each one. It was pretty late in the afternoon and I was lucky to find two.

The first was Dr. Michael Levison, who ran the department in my final year at Crazy Go Nuts University, when I was president of the Departmental Student Council for Computer Science, whose role was to represent the students in meetings with the faculty. Dr. Levison was responsible for a number of important changes in the department’s direction and one of the department’s most trusted advisors. Of the many things I learned from him, I consider the two most important were:

  • That technology should work in the service of people, and not vice versa
  • The best teachers are great storytellers

Dr. Michael Levison and Joey deVillaDr. Michael Levison and me.

The other professor was Dr. Robin Dawes, who taught a number of courses that I took – I’m sure a good chunk of what I know about data structures is his doing – and who also dispensed some very good advice to me as both an individual student and as a student representative. Dr. Dawes has always been a favourite with the students thanks to his breezy lecturing style and his penchant for magic tricks, including the show-stopping “flaming wallet trick”.

Dr. Robin Dawes and Joey deVillaDr. Robin Dawes and me.

When I left their offices, I made sure to say “Thank you…for everything.” The lessons I learned from them about technology, its relation to people and the art of teaching technology have served me very well over the past fifteen years. I am forever in their debt.

I’d like to give back to the school that gave me so much (and yes, I send them a cheque every year already). I’d like to drop by next semester and talk to the students about my experiences as a programmer and tech evangelist, make myself available to them as an “industry resource” and reassure them that even a perma-student like myself can make good in the real world. I’d also love to grab a pint or two at good ol’ Clark Hall Pub.

I’m glad we drove to Montreal rather than flew – otherwise, I wouldn’t have had this chance to catch up with my profs!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Geek It Happened to Me

Road Trip Diary, Part 4: More Big Apple

Some more photos from the Big Apple! Here’s their pie menu:

08 pie menu

The Big Apple is an apple-shaped three-storey building with an observation deck on the roof. Here’s a shot of Damir beside the Big Apple:

10 damir big apple 1

Here’s a close-up:

11 damir big apple 2

Inside the building is an apple museum. We were all rarin’ to go inside and take photos of the various displays inside the museum, but…

12 closed

Closed! Look at the disappointment on Damir’s face:

13 damir disappointed

I was even more disappointed (look at my sad mug below). “Ain’t that just like an apple,” I said, “tantalizing promises, but you get denied the moment you get close. Now I know how iPhone developers feel.” (Remember, folks – I kid because I care.)

14 joey disappointed

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Geek It Happened to Me

Road Trip Diary, Part 3: The Big Apple

01 big apple sign

When people in Toronto and area refer to “The Big Apple”, we’re usually not talking about New York, but the Big Apple in Coburg, Ontario. It’s one of the must-visit stops on that stretch of Highway 401 that spans the Toronto-Montreal corridor: roadside rest stop, mini-amusement park, apple pie facvory, apple museum and giant apple-shaped building with a balcony on top giving a commanding view of the cars whizzing by.

02 big apple building

There’s no shortage of interesting signs on the grounds:

03 rabbits are wild

Apparently, the Big Apple is about 13,000 kilometres from the city of my birth, Manila:

04 city signs

The place is heaven for people who like pie:

05 boxes of pies

They have a mascot, but no one was running around in the giant apple costume today. Damir and I had to settle for the little statue by the counter:

06 apple mascot

We arrived in the Ford Flex just before a busload of people, which means that we didn’t have to wait for pie:

07 pie crowd

More scenes from the Big Apple to follow!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Geek It Happened to Me

Road Trip Diary, Part 2: The Blogging Rig

blogging rig

Here’s the blogging setup I’m using from within the Ford Flex as we drive to Montreal: my laptop with a Rogers stick and carte blanche to use as much bandwidth as I need to continually post from the road. Damir’s at the wheel, I’ve got my seat moved all the way back, my own set of climate controls and Raw Dog Comedy on the satellite radio. It’s a surprisingly decent work setup; I could get a fair bit done this way.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Road Trip Diary, Part 1

rt damir at the wheelDamir at the wheel, looking for an opening on the Don Valley Parkway.

I’m blogging and tweeting from the road today! My coworker Damir Bersinic (IT Pro Evangelist) and I have been loaned a Ford Flex equipped with Microsoft’s Sync and I’ve got my laptop hooked up to a Rogers internet stick. The photo above was taken just before noon, when we were on the Don Valley Parkway, right around Richmond Street.

I’ll be posting quite regularly from the road, so watch this space!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

It Happened to Me

I’m in Montreal Next Week

Ah, Montreal, city of nightlife, all-round fun and source of much of my girl trouble when I was a younger man, I’m heading your way next week…

super sexe signEvery young guy from out of town takes a picture of this Montreal landmark sign.

I’m there to help run the TechDays conference and do a presentation at Career Demo Camp. For more details, see my article at Canadian Developer Connection or Global Nerdy.


Confessions of a Public Speaker

public speaking

confessions of a public speaker

Sooner or later, unless you’re going to hide in a monastery or settle for entry-level jobs for the rest of your life, you will have to speak in front of a crowd of people. It may happen in front of a small circle of peers, a boardroom meeting, online or in front of an auditorium with thousands of people.

Whether you’re like me — I enjoy public speaking; it’s one way I get my jollies — or whether the thought of standing in front of a crowd to deliver a presentation turns your blood to ice, I think you’ll find Scott Berkun’s book, Confessions of a Public Speaker, both helpful and entertaining. I’ve been reading this book for a handful of reasons:

  • As a way to get myself fired up to take on three weeks of being a track lead at TechDays conferences in cities away from home: next week it’s Montreal, the week after that I’m in Ottawa, and finally, the week after that, Winnipeg.
  • To help crystallize my own thoughts on public speaking in order to give advice to my fellow programmers about speaking in front of crowds.
  • Because Scott Berkun’s a great writer and has some interesting (and often amusing) stories to tell.

At 240 small pages with decent-sized type and with Berkun’s storytelling style, Confessions of a Public Speaker is a pretty quick read. He provides insights, advice, tips and probably most important of all, true “road warrior” stories that come from his own 15 years of public speaking plus stories of disasters faced by other well-known public speakers. Topics covered in the book include:

  • It’s okay to get “the butterflies” before public speaking; the trick is getting them to fly in formation!
  • “Umm”, “Ahh” and other verbal placeholders that people use, and how to stop using them (I’m guilty of this one myself).
  • How to work a tough room, and why a “tough room” is often actually the fault of the room, not the audience.
  • A very important chapter titled The Science of Not Boring People
  • Why most speaker evaluations are useless (I may have to show this one to the folks at Microsoft; we use speaker evaluations all the time).
  • The little things pros do (Luckily, we do every one on the list at Microsoft!).
  • What to do if your talk sucks, what to do if things go wrong, and which of these your audience will notice.

Confessions of a Public Speaker is one of those rare books that’s both entertaining and immediately useful. I’m going to recommend it to my fellow evangelists, and I certainly recommend it to you as well! It’s available directly from O’Reilly in both paper and ebook formats (I went with the ebook, which is US$19.99 / CA$21.45 as of this writing) as well as from the usual suspects: Chapters/Indigo, and Amazon.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection and Global Nerdy.