This is How Well I’m Functioning This Morning

Had a killer time at the Shopify Christmas party. Photos forthcoming.


On High Rotation

woman with headphones

Lately, I’ve been cranking up the volume on tunes with female vocals. Here are three that have been getting a fair bit of play on my sound systems…

Dum Dum Girls: There is a Light That Never Goes Out

The final track on side two of The Smiths’ 1986 album The Queen is Dead (yes kids, once upon a time, media had sides, and you had to turn it over) is There is a Light That Never Goes Out. It’s one of the best songs in The Smiths’ ouevre, equally showcasing Morrissey’smarr trademark over-the-top emo-angsty lyrics and voice and Johnny Marr’s instrumental skills, both on guitar and keyboards. The strings in the song are Marr playing an Emulator II sampling keyboard; as the keyboard player, he’s listed in the credits as “The Hated Salford Ensemble”, a reference to the fact that they didn’t want to use a synth but couldn’t afford a real string ensemble. I wore out a couple of cassette recordings of this album, and this song takes me back to the time of big changes: from high school to university, from living at home to living away, from an awkward adolescence to a less-awkward adulthood and a very memorable romance with a hardcore Smiths fan.

The California-based indie pop group Dum Dum Girls sound like a gene-splice of The Ronettes and The Jesus and Mary Chain, and their straight-ahead indie-rock-meets-Phil-Spector cover of There is a Light Never Goes out is catchy. I’ve been enjoying this track for the past couple of weeks. You can find it on their 2011 EP He Gets Me High.

The Bilinda Butchers: Careless Teens

The Bilinda Butchers take their name from Bilinda Jayne Butcher, guitarist and vocalist with the 80s/90s shoegazer band My Bloody Valentine. (In case you’re not familiar with them, but saw Lost In Translation, the My Bloody Valentine single Sometimes is the backing music for the “cab ride home from their first night out” scene.) Like their namesake, they make lush, stare-at-your-feet-and-space-out music that’s perfect for long drives or lazy afternoons or in my case, working away at writing apps.

I’d bought their album Regret, Love, Guilt, Dreams for a ten-spot (their Bandcamp page lets you name your price for digital downloads) back in the late summer and promptly forgot all about it until my iPad’s shuffle brought up the Careless Teens track during my recent trip to Chicago. Now it’s part of my current rotation.

Deerhoof: Secret Mobilization

Satomi Matsuzaki, John Dieterich and Greg Saunier are the trio known as Deerhoof, an experimental rock band from San Francisco. Normally, the phrase “experimental rock band from San Francisco” should be considered a warning sign, but I dig the weird little musical biscuits they bake. Their current album, Deerhoof vs. Evilwhich you can download for free, legitimately! – is a joy to listen to, from the Game Theory-esque Behold a Marvel in the Darkness to the folky No One Asked to Dance to Hey I Can, where they almost channel Chromeo. It’s a delightful, oddball album.

The video above is the official video for the track Secret Mobilization, and it’s just as odd as their tunes. Enjoy!


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.


Old Office, New Office

Summer Sojourn’s End

Joey's car (Black Honda CR-V), packed to the gills, with a red bike in the rear-mounted bike rack.

My summer immersion term at Shopify ended on Friday. I’d found my niche within the company, gotten to know the team and was ready to continue working remotely. It was time to return to Accordion City.

I moved out of the furnished apartment they provided me for the summer – affectionately dubbed the “Swank Tank” – a day early because I had a business trip to Montreal and packed everything I’d brought with me and picked up over the summer into my car. I tucked my car into Edward’s driveway for the couple of days I was away, far enough out of sight of the kind of people who break into cars to help themselves to the loot inside.

Between not knowing how much kitchen stuff would be provided by the Swank Tank’s proprietors, wanting to have a good chunk of my home office material handy over the summer and just being be ready for anything, I overpacked when I left for Ottawa in May. I’d also picked up a couple of large items over the summer, including a new monitor and bike. Looking at my car, you’d think that I’d made a permanent move and not just gone somewhere else for the summer.

I decided to wait out the Labour Day Friday cottager traffic and make the five-hour road trip from Ottawa to Toronto in the evening. I had dinner at the Smoque Shack with my coworkers Liz, Julie, Nick and Brian, picked up my car at Edward’s and went into the Shopify office one more time to get the last of my stuff.

Old Office

Here’s the entrance stairway to the current office. This won’t be our current office for too much longer; we’re moving into a newer, larger space a couple of blocks down the street later this fall:

The entry stairway to the Shopify offices

Here’s the reception area and lobby, as it appeared at 9:30-ish on Friday night:

The reception desk and lobby at Shopify

Offices take on an eerie, haunted sort of vibe late at night, so I decided to snap a couple of pictures. Here’s the “Fishtank”, the glass-enclosed room where Shopify’s design team works:

The empty desks of Shopify's design team room

The Fishtank has a big glass wall that looks out onto the main “bullpen”:

The big glass wall in the Shopify Fishtank looking out onto the main office

Right across the hall from the Fishtank is the boardroom, which you may remember from the Epic Meal Time video that was shot at our offices; this is where the final tasting scene was shot:

Shopify's boardroom, with cardboard animal "trophies" hanging on the far wall

By some strange coincidence, whenever I get an assigned space at an office – something that hasn’t happened since I left Tucows in late 2007 –- I usually get the “Keanu Reeves Location”: a desk situated in the dead centre of the mass of desks (just like his character in The Matrix had). I had that spot in the Shopify office:

Two rows of empty desks in the centre aisle of Shopify's main office

Here’s my old desk, all clear and ready for the next person to occupy it. I took the Shopify standard-issue 15” MacBook Pro, Magic Mouse and wireless keyboard with me, but left the Cinema Display and Aeron chair behind. It would’ve been nice to take both back to the home office with me, if I’d had the room in the car:

A desk that is empty except for an Apple monitor

New Office

This year’s been a bit of a weird one. Between being in the hospital, several trips (two of which lasted nearly two weeks each) and being in Ottawa for the summer, home wasn’t where I lived; it had become a nice place to visit. The (not so) recent change in the domestic situation also meant a few changes in the layout of my apartment, including a chance to reclaim the home office. I got the basics done before I left and did some serious setup over the Labour Day weekend. The results are shown below.

Here’s what you see as you enter the new home office:

Carpeted apartment bedroom converted into a home office, showing a long desk with computers and a window looking out onto treetops

Here’s a closer look at the desk. I bought it at Cooper’s old Queen Street location back in 1997 for what seemed like a lot of money back then, and it’s served me well over the years. It was originally L-shaped, but over the years, I’ve reconfigured it in all sorts of ways: L-shaped, split into two desks and finally, as a single long workstation:

Joey's workstation, as seen from the left

Here’s the desk from the other side:

Joey's workstation, as seen from the right

Opposite the desk: a set of matching shelves and a lot of organizers I’ve picked up over the years. I used to have more programming books – they used to eat up shelves – but in the age of PDFs and the iPad (plus the fact that the half-life of a tech book seems to be nine months these days), most of my tech library is in electronic form now:

Bookshelves packed with books, plus photo boxes of files and many plastic bins full of wiring and other tech equipment

Here’s another view of the whole office. The window looks west out onto the courtyard behind my building, and beyond that, the tree-lined Gothic Avenue:

Joey's home office as seen from the desks, showing a windows overlooking treetops and the bookshelves and organizers

The left side is the Windows half of the desk. My main Windows machine is the Dell 15” laptop I got as one of my fabulous parting gifts from Microsoft. The monitor is one I bought as a present to myself shortly after joining The Empire just before my birthday in 1998. And hey, who wouldn’t want to have an Xbox in their office?

The left side of Joey's workstation, with a Dell 15" laptop, 25" Samsung monitor, Wacom drawing tablet, Xbox and wireless controller and office chair

On the right side of the desk: the Mac side. That’s a 15” MacBook Pro driving a 24” LED Cinema Display that I bought from my coworker Nick just before heading back home. Note the Avenue Q “The Internet is for Porn” mousepad just to the left of the keyboard.

The right side of Joey's workstation, showing a 15" Mackbook Pro, 24" Apple monitor, several organizing containers and a "The Internet is for Porn" mousepad

The New Old Routine

Today’s my first day back at my old routine as a mobile worker. I’ll get a fair bit of work done at the home office, but I’ll also be mixing it up by being on the road, plus working at some alternate locations because I don’t like being a shut-in.

The view from the front of Cafe Novo, a cafe that opens out onto Bloor Street

I’m a member of the Hacklab, which gives me 24/7 access to their Kensington Market space; it’s often empty during the day. There are also a number of work-friendly wifi-equipped cafes where I hang out, both close to home in High Park (I’ll write about them soon) as well as closer downtown. And finally, I’ve got a fair bit of travel in my future – so much that I’m getting my Nexus card next month – which means I’ll be working from hotels, cafes, airport lounges, BarCamps, other people’s offices and so on.

It’s going to be an interesting fall.

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.


My Weekend at Home, Part 1

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.


Sushi Transvestite

Sushi transvestite

I had lunch at Dream Sushi in Vancouver last week, where they keep a wall of hand-written testimonials. This one amused me the most. Here’s the text:

I am visiting from planet sweet transextual, Transalvania [sic]. I wish we had sushi like this back home. Thank you for making my stay worthwhile.

Frank’n’Furt [sic]

On the off chance that you’re too young to get the reference — or heaven forfend, never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, here’s what the writer is referring to: the musical number Sweet Transvestite:

(And yes, that’s a young Susan Saradon.)