August 2011

Montreal Shopify Meetup: Thursday, September 1st

by Joey deVilla on August 23, 2011

Montreal shopify meetup 2011 09 01

If you build stores, apps or themes for the Shopify ecommerce platform and are in the Montreal area, you should come down to the Irish Embassy (1234 Rue Bishop) on Thursday, September 1st at 6:00 p.m. for a Shopify Meet/Drinkup! Organized by Mitch Amihod and Dave Lazar, this is your chance to talk shop, exchange tips, trick and ideas and just generally get to know the Shopifriends in Canada’s liveliest city. There may even be some Shopify swag for those who attend!

Mitch says that while RSVPing isn’t necessary, you should drop him a line on Twitter (his handle’s @meeech) or email him just so he knows how many plan to attend and can book space accordingly.

There’s also a distinct possibility that Edward or I (or the both of us) will hop in a car and make our way to Montreal to catch the event. Stay tuned!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


A Portal 2 Marriage Proposal

by Joey deVilla on August 23, 2011

How does a gamer propose marriage to another gamer? If the first gamer is well-connected, he gets a level designer, an artist and the voice actor behind GLaDOS (your cybernetic tormentor in the Portal games) to create a special set of Portal levels (and not simple ones, either) which conclude in a big church-like chamber and GLaDOS popping the question on his behalf. The video above shows gameplay from these levels.

If you have the PC or Mac version of Portal 2, you can take these levels for a spin:

  • Download them from here
  • Put the VPK in the addons directory
  • Put the bik files in the media directory
  • Open up the console and type map la_bringing_together

First the zombie-themed engagement photos and now marriage proposal videogame levels. Are these signs of a geek marriage chic trend?

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


Brandon watson

Good on Brandon Watson of the Windows Phone Team for seizing an opportunity offering free Windows Phone 7s to WebOS developers. I may occasionally complain that Microsoft has trouble trying unorthodox things or deviating from MBA-proscribed plans, but that’s rarely been the case with the Windows Phone 7 team and the Windows Phone 7 Champs (of which I was a proud member).

It looks as if Brandon’s quick thinking paid off: WPCentral reports that he’s received over 500 email responses.

He’s also fired off a quick email to greet people who responded to his offer. In the email, it includes email addresses for Windows Phone Champs in several countries. The problem is that one of the Champs listed for Canada is me, and I don’t work at Microsoft anymore.

If you’re a Canadian developer looking to get into Windows Phone 7 development, drop me a line at and I’ll connect you to the right people. I may not be in the Windows Phone Champ game, but I’m always happy to help developers out.


Salmagundi for Monday, August 22, 2011

by Joey deVilla on August 22, 2011

Welcome to another Salmagundi — a selection of some interesting techie stuff on the web!

In his article Your Code is My Hell, all-round Ruby/Rails guru Avdi Grimm warns Ruby and Rails developers about a creeping exceptionalism that has been rearing its ugly head as of late. Many Ruby/Rails developers seem to be under the impression that simply because Ruby and Rails do a lot to make programming easier, they can simply ignore things like good coding, good object design, design patterns and the SOLID principles and all those other practices and disciplines that good coders follow and exercise. Ruby’s a great programming language and Rails is a great web development framework (and I’m quite glad to return to them), but they’re not a free pass to code carelessly!

Nick Quaranto from Thoughtbot explains why he loves CoffeeScript, by way of the movie 300, in CoffeeScript: Spartan JavaScript. “Writing JavaScript properly, and in an OO manner, requires you to be verbose,” writes Quaranto. “What I like best is that CoffeeScript is simply…spartan.” He covers the good as well as the bad (but it’s mostly good). If you’d like to try it out, visit the CoffeeScript site to get started.

Here’s another one from Avdi Grimm (he’s got lots of good suggestions — you should check his blog regularly if you’re a Ruby/Rails developer): The Procedure/Function Block Convention in Ruby. He’s got a clever idea for when to use “curly bracket” blocks (he suggests to use the for functional blocks) and when to use “do…end” blocks (he says to use them for procedural ones.

And finally, if you use Git, you’ll want to read Benjamin Sandofsky’s article, Understanding the Git Workflow. “If you’re fighting Git’s defaults,” he writes, “ask yourself why.” He suggests that your workflow should be:

  1. Create a private branch off a public branch.
  2. Regularly commit your work to this private branch.
  3. Once your code is perfect, clean up its history.
  4. Merge the cleaned-up branch back into the public branch.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


It’s Whyday!

by Joey deVilla on August 19, 2011

A hand-drawn copy of a comic panel from why’s (poignant) guide to Ruby on a traffic light in Austin, Texas.

It’s August 19th, which in some circles is known as Whyday. If you’re not familiar with what this day’s about or where its name comes from, you might want to read our earlier article, Whyday is Friday. I like to think of this day as a reminder to bring a sense of whimsy, sharing, fun and wonder to your work, whether it’s programming or anything else.

Jessica Allen tweeted the photo above: an expense report in the spirit of Whyday.

Roger von Oech, who wrote one of my favourite books — A Whack on the Side of the Headmentioned Whyday in a tweet today!

I must tip my hat to the appropriately-surnamed Josep M. Bach, whose Whyday contribution is Niki, “the first stable, documented version of Niki, a ruby DSL to write songs”. Programming and music — what could be more fitting?

_why’s cartoon foxes are everywhere. This stencilled graffito was found by Janet Swisher in Barcelona, which I believe is quite far from where _why lives.

Wyatt Greene, on this blog Techiferous, is celebrating Whyday with an article about programming archetypes featuring _why-esque comic illustrations. Nicely done!

Andrew Lenards, who leads “a team of developers working on a larger scientific application” is encouraging his developers to celebrate Whyday. Well done, sir!

Andrei Volkov tweeted: “I just MUST use #whyday to promote my translation of Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby into Russian.” Keep at it, Andrei, and…spaceeba!

The RubyLearning blog is celebrating WhyDay by announcing the 8th batch of their “Ruby with Shoes” course. Shoes is a great little Ruby GUI toolkit that _why whipped up, and there’s nothing that makes learning a new programming language fun like the immediate satisfaction and feedback of a desktop app.

Gogol is a game that’s written in Ruby, minimalist and brain-teasing. This is right up _why’s alley.

As for me, I’m doing my bit to spread the word about Whyday, working on a few ideas to help people get better at programming and ecommerce (which includes making more videos like this one), mixing music with coding with the assistance of my trusty travelling accordion as well as relearning all the Ruby I’ve forgotten over the past couple of years working at the Empire and sharing what I learn along the way.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be at Shopify (I’ve been with the company a shade more than three months), away from the Fortune 50 corporate world and back in the land of startups, programming languages like Ruby and CoffeeScript, and where whimsy and the willingness to take chances and try new things is greatly appreciated. It’s been a wild and crazy year for me both personally and professionally, and it’s only increased my appreciation for bringing the spirit and sense of fun to my work in the same way that _why did. I hope Whyday does the same for you.

Happy Whyday, and happy hacking!

(If you’re doing or did something interesting for Whyday, drop me a line and I’ll mention you and your activity in an upcoming blog post!)

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


Ecommerce is Only Getting Started

by Joey deVilla on August 18, 2011

Shuttle launch

If you’ve ever kicked yourself for not “getting in on the ground floor” of a great business opportunity, here’s your chance to make it up. Ecommerce, which we’re in the business of helping you with, represented almost 48 billion dollars of retail sales in the United States…for the second quarter of 2011 alone. And that’s not even the holiday quarter, when Black Friday happens! Even more impressive is that ecommerce is just getting started, as it represents less than 5% of all retail sales in America and it’s trending upward.

Ecommerce chart 2q11

These figures come from a pretty reliable source: the U.S. Census bureau. Go ahead, read their PDF report, or if you prefer, here’s my quick summary:

  • Total retail sales in the U.S. for second quarter of 2011: $1.04 trillion
  • Increase in retail sales over first quarter of 2011: 1.2% (+/- 0.5%)
  • Ecommerce sales in the U.S. for second quarter of 2011: $47.5 billion
  • Ecommerce sales in the U.S. for second quarter of 2010: $40.4 billion
  • Increase in ecommerce sales from 2Q 2010 to 2Q 2011: 17.6% (+/- 2.5%)
  • Increase in total retail sales from 2Q 2010 to 2Q 2011: 8.1% (+/- 0.2%)
  • Fraction of total retail sales that is made by ecommerce: 4.6%

The growth in ecommerce sales was double that of total retail sales over the past year, and it’s still a small, but growing piece of the retail pie. If you’ve been waiting for that “get in on the ground floor” opportunity, it’s ecommerce, and it’s happening now.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


HackVAN’s APIses and Prizes

by Joey deVilla on August 18, 2011

HackVAN and Shopify

HackVAN, Vancouver’s big API hackday, takes place this Saturday! If you have any skill or interest in writing apps that make use of publicly available APIs or have ideas on how to turn APIs into applications, you should come down and participate! Here are the quick details:

  • When: Saturday, August 20th, 2011, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
  • Where: Mozilla’s Vancouver offices (163 West Hastings Street, Suite 200, Vancouver BC)
  • How much? A mere $10 for developers to attend.
  • Will I get fed? We’re providing breakfast and lunch.
  • How do I register? Visit the HackVAN registration site.

The APIses

The HackVAN organizers have rounded up a number of APIs that you can use at HackVAN. The idea is to write an application that uses at least one of these APIs and have it working by the end of the day. David Underwood (Developer Advocate) and Yours Truly (Joey deVilla, Platform Evangelist) will be there as representatives of Shopify and the Shopify API.

One love four verbs

If you’d like to find out more about the Shopify API, check out our API documentation. It’s a RESTful (or as I like to say, “RESTafarian”) API and quite easy to use. I also wrote a series of articles on getting started with the API:

If you want to see what’s possible with the Shopify API, take a look at our App Store, where developers who’ve built Shopify apps can sell them and where Shopify shopowners can buy and install them, extending the capabilities of their shops.

Ours isn’t the only HackVAN API. Our API buddies include:

The Prizes

Write an app that we deem worthy and you could win of these:


First prize is a MacBook Air. 11″ diagonally, really skinny, 1.6GHz dual-core Intel i5 Processor, 4 GB RAM, and 128GB mass storage. It’s an amazing and incredibly portable development machine. My friend Andrew Burke uses this as his main machine, where he does Rails and iOS development on it.


Second prize: iPad 2. The 16GB WiFi model. My iPad is my “second screen”, notetaking device, ebook reader and favorite portable gaming machine. This one’s being provided by Shopify.


Third prize: Amazon Kindle 3G. Free 3G, built-in wifi and space for 3,500 books.

And there will be more prizes, too! If you want a shot at these prizes, come on down on Saturday and participate in HackVAN — register now!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.