It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

That’s a Little TOO Neighbourly for Me!

While biking down to the Hacklab (which I use as a day-to-day workspace) on Dundas Street West this morning, I noticed this ad at the Landsdowne bus stop’s shelter:

Bus shelter featuring the ad "My Neighbour Jerks My Chicken"

“My Neighbour Jerks My Chicken” might sound like the sort of situation that would make for a pleasant freshman year in a dorm, but in this case it refers to the Jamaican style of cooking in which you dry-rub meat with jerk spice. It’s pretty tasty, and I recommend trying it if you’ve got a Jamaican restaurant in your neighbourhood.

Speaking of restaurants in your neighbourhood, that’s what these posters are all about: encouraging you to support your local businesses. There are plenty of great ones around my place – Sweet Flour, My Place, Bloor Meat Market and Crema Coffee come to mind – and I’m sure that there are plenty of businesses in your ‘hood that deserve your business.

If you look closely at the bottom of the poster, you’ll notice that they were sponsored in part by Tabia, the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas:

Closeup of the "My Neighbour Jerks My Chicken" poster

A little farther east on Dundas, I stopped to take a picture of a less racy poster in the series:

Another poster: "My Neighbour Saved My Marriage"


The 10th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos

Insane Clown Posse

Every now and again, I get an email or a phone call from someone doing a story on technical evangelism, community-building or some other Tipping Point-y matter. I’m always happy to answer their questions, and they usually take my answers seriously until they ask me for examples of people, organizations or groups that have been successful at community building. When I mention Insane Clown Posse, they think I’m pulling their leg.

If you take a couple of guys who started out holding wrestling matches in their back yards, put them in clown make-up, have them rap while backed by a metal band, all the while giving a GWAR-like performance, you get the rap-and-wrestling act Insane Clown Posse. They know how to put on a good show (yup, I’ve been to one), and they know how to reach out to their fans, who are referred to as Juggalos (which comes from the name of one of their numbers, The Juggla). Juggalos are a very loyal and tightly-knit group, which comes from their being outside the mainstream. They appear in droves at Insane Clown Posse’s shows, host gatherings for other Juggalos and evangelize Insane Clown Posse to people who don’t listen to them. They are true believers, the sort of audience that any band, author, performer or even brand would kill to have.

(Okay, I’ll admit it. In my collection of mix CD’s and my MP3 collection, you’ll find mixed CDs and playlists for long car trips, and in those playlists, you’ll find a selection of Insane Clown Posse songs. There’s something about a combination of carnival barker-style hip-hop combined with circus music, wailing guitars and shotgun blasts that I find enjoyable when behind the wheel. There. I said it. Commence your mockery.)

The 10th Annual Gathering of the Juggalos

One of the ways Insane Clown Posse reach out to the Juggalos is through the Annual Gathering of the Juggalos, a big camping event with a carnival atmosphere. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Gathering of the Juggalos, and they’re doing it up in grand style. Check out the promo video for this year’s Gathering:

I have to admit that I’m intrigued by:

  • The wrestling: I have to admit that I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.
  • The music acts: Ice Cube, Vanilla Ice and GWAR, all on the same ticket?! I’d like to see that.
  • The comedy acts: What’s Pauly Shore doing there? Jimmy Walker, “J.J.” from Good Times? And Rowdy Roddy Piper, former wrestler and star of the eighties cult classic film, They Live?
  • Hey, helicopter rides!

I’ve already booked a trip for the weekend of the Gathering of the Juggalos, and even if I hadn’t, it would be impossible to sell this idea to The Missus. I did mention it to my friend Pete Forde, and it piqued his interest. Were I single, I think I could’ve convinced him and a couple of other people to make a road trip down to wherever Cave-In-Rock, Illinois (population 346) is and spend a weekend in the mosh post drenched in Faygo.

Geek It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

The “employment.nil?” Ruby Job Fair

This article also appears in my personal tech blog, Global Nerdy. Although the topic is about a job fair for Ruby programmers, I thought it would be good to post it here, as it’s a great example of grassroots community action.


One of the pillars of the Toronto developer scene is the Ruby/Rails community. They’re an active, engaged, hard-working bunch who work without the direct benefit of a large organization like The Empire or its resources (they do, through people like Yours Truly and Nik Garkusha, Microsoft Canada’s open source go-to guy, get some indirect support). They – through the efforts of people like Pete Forde and the Ruby local heroes at Unspace – know how to maximize grassroots organization and harness them into industry-leading events like last year’s RubyFringe and the upcoming FutureRuby conference.


It should therefore not be a surprise that when Pete and company got the idea to help out their fellow Ruby developers during the econopocalypse with a job fair – employment.nil? — they’d take the standard techie job fair formula, turn it upside down and make it their very own. They chose the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto’s hip West Queen West neighbourhood, which is better known as a venue for karaoke, rock bands and burlesque (in fact, I’ve performed in all three kinds of shows there) than for computer and IT-related employment fairs.


This was not your typical job fair. It didn’t have any of the fancy display stands that you normally see on the exhibition floor at tech conferences. Instead, both job-seekers and small companies were told to build poster board displays, a la high school science fairs.


Another rule: no computers allowed! Even iPhone apps were considered “cheating”. The closest you were allowed to get was using whiteboards or pen and paper for “live coding”. This wasn’t about staring at computer screens, but people talking to other people – people who were passionate about the Ruby programming language and its associated frameworks, libraries and communities.


An excerpt from the sign-up page for employment.nil?:

Let’s face it: it’s better to be a Ruby developer than a car manufacturer in 2009, but things have definitely slowed down — for everyone. And yet, there are solid reasons why this is an excellent time to start new projects, launch companies, and create new markets. By definition, Ruby has been adopted by creative individuals that grew frustrated with risk averse bureaucracies.

We believe that there are huge number of opportunities to be found during this economic downturn, both for freelance developers and aspiring entrepreneurs alike. As with most tragic historical near-misses, there are just a huge number of connections that aren’t made even in our own collective back yard.


More from the job fair’s site:

That said, we also believe that Ruby people are determined self-starters that aren’t afraid to self-promote. Anything worth doing in life requires hard work and sacrifice. Sadly, while many developers are patient and willing to think orthogonally, we rarely get an opportunity to practice the other more social skills which make us desirable as team members, project managers, and co-founders. Unless we overcome our shyness and learn to speak eloquently about our experience and skill sets, we have nobody to blame for our work prospects but ourselves.

Our solution is to gather students, developers, development companies, and of course project leaders and company founders for a good old-fashioned career fair.

As you can see from the photos, there were different kinds of booths set up. There were those for companies looking to hire some Ruby developers…


and those deidicated to showcasing some interesting application of Ruby, such as lojacking iPhones:


…or HacklabTO’s own Jed Smith showing how we harness Ruby to drive our laser (yes, we’ve got a laser etcher/cutter!):


And some booths were set up by Ruby programmers showcasing their own work and who were looking for a job:




The event wasn’t just noticed by the Ruby community, who filled the room throughout the 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. course of the event. Late in the afternoon, Ontario’s Minister of Small Business and Consumer Services, Harinder S. Takhar, paid a visit to the job fair.


Pete, ever the gracious event curator, took Mr. Takhar to several booths, introducing him to their owners, who were only too happy to show the Minister their Ruby-related work. Here’s Andrew Burke of Shindig, showing him the projects he’s taking on in his independent software consultancy:


Here’s Kieran Huggins showing Mr. Takhar his work in


I’m sure that grassroots high-tech events with a strong “indie” aesthetic are outside the Minister’s everyday experience, but he seemed pretty impressed with the event: a dedicated group of nerds building software and careers using only laptops, stuff you can download for free and their brain cells.


Here’s Pete explaining the local Ruby developer scene and the concept of open source software to Mr. Takhar:


And here’s Mr. Takhar presenting Pete with an award of recognition for Unspace for putting the event together. At that point, I broke out the accordion and played For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, partly for the Minister for showing up on a Saturday afternoon, but partly for Pete for putting the event together.


Here’s a close-up of the award:


It reads:

Award of Recognition

On behalf of the Government of Ontario,
I am delight to extend my congratulations on the
First Toronto Ruby Job Fair

Unspace Interactive Inc.

Our government recognizes the importance of new and creative opportunities for
business. Building a business requires vision and dedication. I applaud your work and
success in web consulting through your team of industry-leading developers and
designers under one roof.

Please accept my best wishes for continued success.

Harinder S. Takhar
Minister of Small Business and Consumer Services
June 06, 2009

Congratulations to Pete, Meghann Millard, all the folks from Unspace and the Toronto Ruby community on a job well done!

The Photo Gallery

I took a lot of photos at employment.nil? and shared them in a Flickr photoset, which you can also view in the slideshow below:

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

It Happened to Me

Terminated, Part 2: How I’ll Ride Out the Layoff and the Credit Crunch: Friends

[This article was also published in Global Nerdy.]

Friends: "Amber's being immature again, isn't she?"

Technology, media and pop culture writer Douglas Rushkoff, who’s got a guest writing slot at the uber-blog Boing Boing, points to an essay titled Riding Out the Credit Collapse. Published in the spring 2008 edition of Arthur magazine, it:

  • Provides a layperson-friendly, non-drowsy explanation of how the credit crisis came about
  • Suggests the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your interests during the credit crisis (and in fact, any crisis, including being laid off during a credit crisis)

Don’t let the article’s apparent length scare you off — read it! Yes, it’s ten screens, but it’s set in a narrow column. If you’re still skittish about reading that much, shame on you, and here’s the part on which I want to focus:

Whatever the case, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your interests is to make friends. The more we are willing to do for each other on our own terms and for compensation that doesn’t necessarily involve the until-recently-almighty dollar, the less vulnerable we are to the movements of markets that, quite frankly, have nothing to do with us.

If you’re sourcing your garlic from your neighbor over the hill instead of the Big Ag conglomerate over the ocean, then shifts in the exchange rate won’t matter much. If you’re using a local currency to pay your mechanic to adjust your brakes, or your chiropractor to adjust your back, then a global liquidity crisis won’t affect your ability to pay for either. If you move to a place because you’re looking for smart people instead of a smart real estate investment, you’re less likely to be suckered by high costs of a “hot” city or neighborhood, and more likely to find the kinds of people willing to serve as a social network, if for no other reason than they’re less busy servicing their mortgages.

I think Rushkoff’s got the right idea, and I’d like to torque it a little further. Forget for a moment the more fanciful ideas of printing your own “Canadian Tire Money”; when he says “local currency”, I want you think of these things:

  • Reputation,
  • Goodwill,
  • and most importantly, Luck.

Among the many things that I’m churning in my brain right now — along with updating the resume, finding a place to put all the stuff that I used to keep at the office and getting that eye appointment with Dr. Heeney before my work-provided insurance coverage expires — is real-world testing an idea and writing about it here. That idea rests on two principles, namely:

  1. Having friends and being friendly makes you lucky. I’ve always suspected it, and Marc Myers wrote a book on the topic.
  2. I’d rather be lucky than smart. It’s the mantra of my all-time favourite financial planner, whom I shall refer to as “P. Kizzy”. If I get even a tenth of P. Kizzy’s business acumen, I will be a very happy man.

Watch this space, ’cause I’m going to expand on those ideas!