Now online — Toronto Life’s article on my sister: “Eileen deVilla is Not Freaking Out”

Last week, I wrote about Toronto Life’s profile of my sister Eileen, who’s the Medical Officer for Health for the City of Toronto, which means she’s in charge of the COVID-19 response for Canada’s largest city and economic capital. It wasn’t online then, but it’s online now. Go check it out — Eileen deVilla is Not Freaking Out.


Eileen’s “Toronto Life” article: “Eileen deVilla is Not Freaking Out”

Tap the photo to see it at full size.

Toronto Life’s June 2020 issue features a story on my sister titled Eileen de Villa Is Not Freaking Out. Regular readers of this blog will know that my sister Eileen is Toronto’s Medical Officer for Health, which means she oversees the public health agency for Canada’s largest city and economic capital.

FYI: For this of you who aren’t from Toronto, Toronto Life is a “city news and culture” magazine of the sort that all large cities have. Think of it as the Toronto analog of New York Magazine.

My brother-in-law Richard send me a scan of the article in this morning’s wee hours, and Toronto Life hasn’t published it online yet. I think it does a great job of explaining who she is and what she does. Author Katrina Onstad interviewed not just Eileen but a number of her friends and family, including me — in fact, as you’ll see later in this post, I may have contributed to the article’s title.

I’ll link to the Toronto Life article when it goes online, but in the meantime, here are a couple of snippets that I’ve transcribed for your reading pleasure.

During lockdown, I’ve found myself oddly compelled by de Villa’s daily press conferences. Perhaps it’s the scarf that rotated reliably every day. Perhaps it’s the unflinching scientific explanation of calamitous news, the soothing way she delivers her sensible pleas to physically distance and shelter at home, like a patient teacher leaving a pause for each student to mentally translate… before… moving… on. That nerdy, radiant patience is not just a counterintuitive response to the chaos, but something inborn.

De Villa took the top position at Toronto Public Health three years ago. It’s a gig that’s equal parts extremely important and extremely unglamorous. Her job is to persuade us that our lives are worth saving. Before COVID-19, she was in non-stop PSA mode, imparting the dangers of smoking, the need for vaccinations, the scourge of opioid-related deaths. Her drumbeat was steady: health status has little to do with health care and more to do with social determinants like education, housing, poverty. Councillor Joe Cressy, chair of the city’s board of health, describes her as a rock. “But a human rock,” he clarifies. “Calm, steady, deeply compassionate. That said, science is what drives her policy recommendations.” But years of proselytizing isn’t what got her name on a T-shirt. Her 2018 TEDx talk on opioids (titled, now ironically, “The Defining Health Crisis of Our Time”) has only 4,300 views on YouTube.

Her low profile ended when the pandemic hit. She’s appeared on our screens almost daily, seated behind a blue-skirted table next to [Toronto Mayor John] Tory, in front of a row of flags, delivering alarming numbers about how many Torontonians are sick and dying. After reciting the numbers, she gently — very gently — asks us to do better, to be personally vigilant for the greater good. Clarity is her brand. Fine. We’ll take it. The calm is comforting; we hope that it’s infectious. The calm is why it’s charming and incongruous to see her doing live FaceTime chats with [Toronto Raptors player] Serge Ibaka, or starring in a mystery Twitter account called “Dr. de Villa’s Scarf” that tracks her daily scarf habit (@de_scarf).

Big point of information: Eileen was doing the scarf thing well before Dr. Deborah Birx.

My favorite part of the article is the one from which it gets its title:

…To someone whose feet tend to stop in a crisis, who seethes at injustice when put on hold for more than 10 minutes, de Villa’s constant unflappability is both admirable and perplexing. Refusing high drama is a family trait, according to de Villa’s brother. “There’s no freaking out,” Joey says. “I get annoyed when people lose their minds in a tough situation without trying to collect themselves first. She feels the same way. Any time she’s faced with a problem, she first takes everything in and goes, ‘What do we know about this? Let’s get another perspective on the situation.’”

He is describing the professional approach of both a good doctor and a good bureaucrat — which is, in effect, the job of the medical officer of health.

Nicely done, sis!


Ruby Job Fair in Toronto Tonight!

Ruby Job Fair Poster

Don’t forget: the Ruby Job Fair takes place tonight at Unspace headquarters (342 Queen Street West; it’s the door just to the right of Lululemon)! If you’re looking for work that involves Ruby programming or if you’re an employer looking for Ruby developers, you’ll want to be at this event, which is more cocktail social than career fair. Yes, there will be a bar.

The event takes place from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.. DO NOT show up early! They’ll either be wrapping up the day’s work (remember, Unspace is a development shop) or prepping for the event. If you plan to show up fashionably late, please note that the employers are doing their three-minute “soapbox” spiels starting at 6:30.

There’s a small registration fee to help cover the costs of holding this event: it’s $5 for people looking for a job; $15 for employers looking for Ruby developers. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck at this event. Click here to register for the event, and do it before the tickets run out!

Shopify logo

If you’re looking for Ruby work at one of the most successful startups around, you might want to consider Shopify. I’ll be there tonight as Shopify’s representative – find me (I’ll be the guy with the accordion) and we’ll talk.

If you’re looking to find out more about Ruby Job Fair, check out the Ruby Job Fair site as well as my earlier article on the Fair.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


The Toronto Sun: The “Human Centipede” of Local Media

"Human Centipede" diagram with Toronto mayor Rob Ford at the front, Ford's former press secretary and Sun Editor Adrienne Batra in the middle and at the very end, Sun columnist and annoying Rob Ford cheerleader Sue-Anne Levy.

"I'm the Mayor. Deal with It." Picture of Family Guy's Peter Griffin in a suit.Ah, the Toronto Sun. I’ve seen better paper after wiping my ass. Once upon a time, it served a purpose; there was the SUNshine girl, Bloom County and countless ads for electronics. It’s the only paper here that sasses back at letters to the editor. These days, we can do all that and even better on the internet.

This graphic nicely captures the Sun’s true nature: a “human centipede” (here’s the Wikipedia entry, but be warned; it’s a really gross movie) of news, mindlessly and slavishly loyal to Rob Ford, mayor and general embarrassment of Toronto. Toronto people, share this one around widely!

Thanks to Chris Charabaruk for finding this for me!


Toronto’s Got an Ultimate Tazer Ball Team!

Every year, we get closer to having a TV show like The Running Man. The latest sign in this progression is Ultimate Tazer Ball, which looks like a sport that the guys behind Jackass would’ve dreamed up: rugby (itself supposedly a game born in a moment of frustration) with a medicine ball…and tasers! Add uniforms with electroluminescent wire – to remind you that there’s actual electricity in this game – and you’ve got something that I might just have to see live…at least once.

As you might expect, UTB’s real draw is the addition of tasers. In a moment of Buddha-like insight, player Jason Bornstein says in the promo video (see above), “It hurts, man. It doesn’t feel good. It’s why the cops use ‘em.”

toronto terror

Best of all, Accordion City has a team! It’s the Toronto Terror, and the logo is cleverly to designed to remind you of the fact that this team plays with live current. The other teams in the league are the San Diego Spartans, the L.A. Nightlight and, in what must be an homage to the Springfield Isotopes, the Philly Killawatts, all of whom use some kind of jagged lines in their logos to say “Electricity! Dude! TASERS!”

Monster trucks and mixed martial arts no longer bring me the inner peace and joy they once did; perhaps Ultimate Tazer Ball will. When they schedule the first match in Toronto, I’m definitely going! Who’s with me?


My Night at Canada Suites on Bay Street


Last Wednesday, I stayed at the Canada Suites located right in the heart of downtown Accordion City at 736 Bay Street, just south of College. They maintain a number of condos here, which they rent out as executive suites to visitors to Toronto or locals from the burbs who want to have a weekend downtown. They’ve been wanting to get the word out about their offerings, so they contacted Danielle “that PR thing” Iversen, who in turn contacted me.


I’ve been living a somewhat itinerant life ever since The Great Reset a year ago, having spent about half the year waking up and seeing strange ceilings. My longest such stay was at the Swank Tank, my nickname for the 126 Sparks executive suite in Ottawa, located on Sparks Street and right around the corner from the Parliament buildings. I lived there from May Day to Labour Day as I immersed myself in my new job at Shopify. I figured that I could offer an expert opinion on Canada Suites.


Kevin Murphy, who helps manage the suites, greeted me in the lobby of 736 Bay. It’s a condo building where Canada Suites owns about a dozen or so of the units. Kevin typically meets guests in the lobby, gets the relevant paperwork signed, takes them up to their unit, gives them the nickel tour and depending on their familiarity with the city, tells them about what’s in the area. He’s a young, friendly guy; in our conversation, I found him to be helpful and happy to answer my questions about the place.


The unit I stayed in was on the very top floor of the building – the 31st – a one-bedroom, one-bath affair with a combined living room/dining area and a kitchen that looked onto it. Tucked away near the entrance was a closet with a washer and dryer, and both the entrance hallway and bedroom had sliding-door closets.


Once Kevin left me to my own devices, I snapped photos of the unit. All the photos in this article were taken by me.


Most long-term stay places tend to be decorated in neutral colours in order to appeal (or at least not offend) the widest possible array of guests. Not this place: whoever decorated the living and dining rooms went for an Asian-ish theme in red, white and black with a bit of gold here and there. Red and gold are colours that symbolize prosperity and luck in Chinese and Japanese cultures, and they were into black lacquer before it was cool. It seems as if they were trying to attract taipans, and it’s a nice change from the typical, intentionally-bland hotel suites that I’ve been in all year.

The couches were comfortable and far less squeaky than they look, and the overall living room setup would work just fine either for meetings or social visits.


Although I didn’t try it out, Kevin told me that one of the couches folded out into a bed so that people could also sleep in the living room. He said that a number of their clients were people from the outer burbs or a few hours’ drive away who wanted to do a “boys weekend” or “girls’ nights out” and rented the unit as a group. It’s a good way for a group coming into town to stretch their dollar, especially if they take advantage of the kitchen and nearby groceries (there’s a Sobey’s in College Park across the street, and the big new Loblaws at the old Maple Leaf Gardens is just a short walk away).

The living room had a TV connected to a DVD player (the convenience store downstairs rents movies) set atop a fake fireplace (an electric heater, but it did give off a nice glow at night). Beside it was a computer desk with an iPod/iPhone dock; it’s a decent enough size for a laptop, but it might be a bit small if you’re working with paper or reference material on the side.

The suite comes with free wireless internet. It’s not all that fast (about 700 kbps both up and down according to’s speed test), but enough for you to get most kinds of work done.


Other clients who’ve stayed in the unit include the usual people travelling to Toronto on business, as well as people from out of town/province/country who are interviewing for jobs or who’ve landed a job in Toronto and need a “base of operations” while they look for a place to live. There have also been clients who’ve come into town to visit relatives on a longer-term basis.


In my opinion, the nicest feature of the place was the bedroom. It was nicely appointed, had a comfy bed (more comfortable than those in some hotels I’ve stayed in this year) with nice sheets, big closet, TV and fake fireplace (like the one in the living room) and its window was actually a glass door leading to a balcony overlooking downtown. It felt considerably more like staying in someone’s guest room than yet another cookie-cutter, could-be-near-any-airport hotel room.

If you’re sensitive to noise, you should note that there’s a constant hum that you can hear at night; it sounds like an HVAC unit on the roof (the suite’s on the top floor of the building, so the unit is just above). It didn’t bother me, but I was woken up by a helicopter ambulance coming in for a landing at one of the nearby hospitals. This is downtown in a city of three million, so you should expect that sort of thing.


Here’s a view from the balcony, which faces south towards downtown and the majority of the skyline buildings. That’s a fine mesh net you’re seeing; I have no idea of what its purpose is.


I liked the parquet flooring. It’s far less of a bedbug/dust/spill trap than carpeting is. The Swank Tank (the executive suite in Ottawa where I lived this summer) was carpeted and had a fair number of red wine stains. The wood floors at the Canada Suites suite were much nicer. They were well-swept; whoever they’ve got cleaning up after guests is doing a pretty good job.

The suite is a little more hotel-like in that not only do they provide towels in the bathroom, but there are also toiletries.The bathroom’s a decent size, with tub/shower, and was very clean; as with the bedroom, it felt more like the guest bathroom in a nice house than a hotel bathroom.


Being in a condo building, the kitchen doesn’t have windows facing outside, but it makes up for this by being extremely well-lit. There is a central light, a ring of fluorescents around the perimeter and even more lights for the counters. It’s a fully-functional you-could-live-here kind of kitchen with stove and oven, fridge, microwave and dishwasher.


There are enough cookware, utensils and dishes to make some decent meals, and as is typical for such places, they haven’t been used much. The pots and pans are bachelor-sized and aren’t going to be sufficient to make a Thanksgiving feast, but they will do for cooking meals for one to two people with the occasional couple coming over for dinner. Between the kitchen and the two nearby full-service groceries, you could really stretch your visiting dollar by cooking meals in the suite.


Here’s a view of the living and dining rooms from the kitchen:


All in all, I enjoyed my stay. The accommodations were far better than many of the hotels I’ve stayed at this year, and the suite is in a prime location: the middle of downtown, near transit, near shopping and a short walk away from the financial district, with Chinatown and the Entertainment District also within reasonable striking distance. The living room and work area were good, the bedroom was excellent, the bathroom was clean and Kevin, the one staffer with whom I interacted, was helpful. If you’ve got the money – the fee varies with how you make arrangements, whether directly through Canada Suites or via one of the discount hotel search engines – I’d recommend staying here.



HoHoTO is Happening This Thursday!

An overhead view of the packed dance floor at HoHoTO

hohoto logoHoHoTO began three years ago as a Twitter conversation among Toronto’s tech and social media crowd and turned into the Toronto Christmas fundraising event. This Thursday, December 15th, marks the fourth HoHoTO party, and tickets are still available. Since the very first HoHoTO party, the event has raised over $200,000 for the Daily Bread Food Bank (making them one of the largest donors) and this year’s goal is to raise $65,000. The unofficial slogan of HoHoTO is “You party for a night; they eat for a week”. Good times, good cause, what’s not to like?

If you’re in town and want to enjoy an amazing party with great music, dancing, drinks and other fun goings-on with some of the people who make Accordion City the special place that it is, you’ll want to buy a ticket now.

If you can’t make it to HoHoTO – or like me, you’re not in town that night (I’m in Ottawa for the week) – you can still do good by making a donation (visit the HoHoTO site and click the “Donate” button). With a million Toronto-area people having had to make a visit to a food bank in the past year, your help is needed, and there’s nothing more in the spirit of the holidays than giving.

If you’d like to find out more about HoHoTO, check out this Canada Newswire piece: HoHoTO Feeds Hungry Torontonians for the Fourth Year Running.