January 2009

Developer Lunch at Sky Dragon in Toronto Today!

by Joey deVilla on January 27, 2009

Wooden steamers and plates full of dim sum dishes

Once again, it’s time for another Developer Lunch here in Accordion City! This is going to be the ninth in the series of lunches organized by Kristan "Krispy" Uccello, and it will be held at the usual location, Sky Dragon restaurant (on the 5th floor of Dragon City mall at the corner of Spadina and Dundas).

These lunches give Toronto-area developers and other techie types to get together for some delicious dim sum and conversation. I’ve been to several of these, and they’ve always been fun. The bill gets split on a per-table basis, and it’s typically worked out to about $12 a person, and everyone leaves full.

If you’re a developer – and that means anyone who practices or is interested in programming – you should come on over to Sky Dragon and join us for lunch! I’ll be there, and you’ can ask me about anything, whether it’s development, Microsoft, accordions, whatever!

The Developer Lunch takes place today (Tuesday, January 27th) at noon and runs until about 1:30 p.m.. Just look for the tables with the geeks!

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Gnu’s Night Out

by Joey deVilla on January 27, 2009

Suppose you’re a plush Free Software Foundation animal and you’ve just arrived in Montreal and “gnu” in town. What do you do? You hang out the with speakers and university delegates from the CUSEC conference for a night on the town!

For dinner, we went to L’Academie on Crescent Street, a restaurant where the food is prepared by student chefs training to work in three- and four-star restaurants. Here’s the gnu enjoying some Masi:

My plush gnu with a glass of red wine

Afterwards, it was off to Brutopia for an evening of fun and drinking games:

My plush gnu with a glass of oatmeal stout

Brutopia make a wonderful oatmeal stout. I think the gnu’s glad he joined the Dark Beer Side!

My plush gnu with a glass of oatmeal stout

I’m going to take the gnu on my trip to Seattle next week, where I’ll be attending Microsoft’s Techready internal conference (after searching him for FSF listening devices, of course). Watch this blog for photos of the gnu’s tour of the city, and maybe even the offices in Redmond!

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Kung Hey Fat Choy! (Happy Chinese New Year!)

by Joey deVilla on January 26, 2009

Before I forget, let me wish you all a happy Chinese New Year! This year, it’s the Year of the Ox, so it’s only fitting that I post a picture of him:

Black and white photo of Jon "The Ox" Enwistle of the Who in their earlier days
Jon "The Ox" Entwistle, bassist for The Who.

For more on the Year of the Ox and Chinese astrology, this article at SFGate.com should help get you started.

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The Gnu IS a Real Creature

by Joey deVilla on January 26, 2009

After winning the auction for the Free Software Foundation plush gnu, I hung out in the hotel lobby, checking my email. I talked with some passers-by, and occasionally Richard Stallman, who sat at the couch across from me, cracked the occasional (and very painful) pun.

In these conversations, I was approached by no less than three people who asked me if the gnu – the animal mascot of the Free Software Foundation — was a real creature or a mythical one.

Doesn’t anyone watch Animal Planet, nature shows or The Great Space Coaster (starring Gary Gnu) anymore?

A gnu running through the veldt

They’re real. Here’s the first line of their Wikipedia entry:

The wildebeest (plural wildebeest or wildebeests), also called the gnu (/gəˈnuː/ or /ˈnjuː/), is an antelope of the genus Connochaetes. It is a hooved (ungulate) mammal.

Maybe it’s time to organize a bus trip of geeks so that we can all go to the zoo.

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A glass of beer and a book
Beer and science have always gone together!

nature-networkI’m going to speaking at tonight’s Nature Network Pub Night here in Toronto on the topic of blogs, how they’ve helped me both do and find work, and how people in the sciences can make use of them.

The pub night is being held at Fionn MacCool’s at University and Adelaide (the full address is 181 University). People will start assembling there for dinner, drinks and conversation at 6:00 p.m. with the presentations starting at 7:00 p.m..

If you’re interested in getting to know your fellow science-types in town or want to catch up with me and talk about blogging, programming, science, accordion playing or anything else, please drop by tonight!

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Winning the Gnu

by Joey deVilla on January 26, 2009

The CUSEC convention’s last keynote speech was Richard Stallman’s presentation titled Copyright vs. Community in the Age of Computer Networks. It’s similar to the one he gave at the University of Toronto in the summer of 2007; you can see my detailed notes on that presentation here.

At the end of his keynote, he declared an auction, the proceeds of which would go to the Free Software Foundation (I heard a couple of people say “Yeah, right” behind me). The first item up for auction was a hardcover copy of his book Free Software, Free Society. I already own an autographed edition, so I wasn’t interested in bidding.

He started the bidding at CAD$40; someone from the audience yelled out “we’re students!”. Oblivious to the remark, the bidding continued and the book sold for somewhere close to a hundred dollars.

With the book sold, he then showed the audience the next item for auction: a plush gnu, the mascot of the Free Software Foundation:

stallman_showing_gnu
Stallman shows off the plush gnu for auction.
Photo by Matthew Gallant.

“You should totally bid for that!” someone behind me said. I’d been thinking the same thing.

As with the book, the bidding started at student-unfriendly 40 dollars. When the price hit $60, I threw my hat in the ring.

“Sixty-five!”

The room burst out in laughter. They’d seen my presentation yesterday and knew I worked for Microsoft, long a major figure in the Free Software Foundation’s demonology.

“You should know that he’s with Microsoft!” someone in the audience said to Stallman.

“There are anti-animal cruelty laws,” said Stallman, facing in my direction.

“You have The Empire’s assurance that no harm will come to him,” I replied.

The bids continued. For every bid that came in, I immediately countered with one that was $5 higher.

“Seventy!”

“Seventy-five!”

“Eighty!”

“Eighty-five!”

By this point, the room was really getting into the bidding war. Would the Microsoftie actually win the auction for the symbol of the organization that views it as The Great Satan?

And up the bids went until I said “One hundred.” Just to underscore my intent on getting that gnu, I bid again. “One hundred five.”

“Going once…” said Stallman, “…twice…SOLD! For one hundred and five dollars.”

I walked up to the stage to loud applause.

Richard Stallman, Joey deVilla and the plush gnu at CUSEC 2009
I go onstage to claim my prize.
Photo by Andrew Louis.

Stallman seemed a tiny bit confused as to why someone from Microsoft would even want a gnu, never mind pay that much money for one.

“You do promise to obey anti-animal cruelty laws?” he asked again, as if it were a real flesh-and-blood gnu.

“I won’t harm a hair on its head. I do come from the Free Software world,” I replied, being careful not to call it the “Open Source” world. I didn’t want to give him any reason to cancel the sale.

Richard Stallman and Joey deVilla onstage at CUSEC 2009
I give Stallman my word that no harm will come to the GNU.
Photo by Andrew Louis.

I pulled out my Microsoft corporate credit card. I held it up and asked the audience: “D’you think I should pay with this?”

Joey deVilla showing his Microsoft corporate credit card to Richard Stallman
“Can I pay for it with my Microsoft corporate credit card?”

Joey deVilla showing the Microsoft credit card to the CUSEC 2009 audience
Asking the audience if I should pay with my Microsoft corporate credit card.
Photo by Andrew Louis.

That got a good laugh from the audience.

(In the end, since I was buying the gnu for myself and not Microsoft, I paid for it in cash. But as long as I was up there, why not milk the event for all it was worth? Microsoft liked the idea so much they let me expense it anyway.)

Joey deVilla and the Microsoft credit card
“The Microsoft corporate card. Don’t culture-jam the FSF without it.”
Photo by Andrew Louis.

Using my best Darth Vader impression, I extended my hand out to Stallman and said “Join me, Stallman, and together we shall bring order to the galaxy!”, which got a good laugh.

Me inviting Stallman to join the Dark Side
“Join the Dark Side, Stallman, and together we shall bring order to the galaxy!”

At the end of the conference, I walked up to Stallman, who was selling Free Software Foundation paraphernalia at the registration table. I asked him for his autograph, which he gladly provided on the plush gnu’s tag. “Happy hacking! Richard Stallman,” it read.

Joey deVilla gets Richard Stallman to autograph the gnu's tag
Getting Stallman’s autograph after the keynote.
Photo by Andrew Louis.

I did it all in the name of fun and also to show that Microsoft people have a sense of humour. I was also more than happy to hand over some money to the Free Software Foundation as a way of saying thanks for all the things they’ve done for developers – myself included – over the years.

As for the gnu, I plan to take it out from time to time, posing it for photographs just as the travelling garden gnome is.

I’ll close with a couple of close-up shots of the gnu:

Plush gnu on top of my travelling accordion

Plush gnu on top of my accordion

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Slide: "Programming is a big world. You have choices."

Slide: "Q: How is a brain surgeon a kind of artist? A: Why would I want to be an artist? I'm a fucking brain surgeon." 

Slide: "Live some of your life outside of the nerd ghetto."

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