March 2012

If you haven’t yet listened to episode 460 of This American Life, Retraction, you should. It’s the one in which they retract the content of episode 454, Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory, in which Mike Daisey relates his experiences of a visit to China to see the factory where iPhones and iPads are made. Daisey tells stories of meeting with underage and injured workers, armed guards at the factory and secret union meetings at Starbucks — stories which turned out to be fabrications when investigated further.

Mike Daisey, weasel

Daisey was invited back to NPR’s studios to explain himself, and in the episode, he’s a total weasel. He does apologise for presenting his piece as journalism, but he insists that it’s theatre, which gives him some artistic license in telling what is essentially a true story. He refuses to acknowledge that he lied or attempted to cover up the truth, even when confronted with evidence that he did so.

Instead of being a grown-up and owning up to his mistakes, when questioned, he hedges, he makes lame excuses, but most damningly, he just sits there and says nothing. There are long periods of silence after he’s asked questions that would clearly expose his fabrications, and they’re rather painful to listen to.

Michael Sippey’s done something clever: he’s taken those questions and the following silences and turned them into a single piece titled The Silence of Mike Daisey, which you can listen to using the audio player above. It’s all of Daisey’s weaselling, all in one go.

Found via Jason Kottke. Thanks, dude!

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

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HackDays and Shopify logos

HackDays, the cross-Canada API hackathon, returns this Saturday, March 24th at the offices of A Thinking Ape and Shopify will be there. HackDays hackathons are all-day gatherings where developers of all manner of platforms and skill levels to take APIs from providers like Shopify and other sponsors like iQmetrix, YellowAPI, FreshBooks and TinEye and build some cool apps by using one or more of them. It’s a great way to put your coding and app design skills to the test, discover new APIs, meet other developers in your community and even win great prizes!

A hakcer at HackVan 2011 presenting his app: "1. Take pictures. 2. Create scavenger chest. 3. ???? 4. PROFIT!!!"

The “Scavenger Chest” app being presented at HackVan, August 2011.

At the start of the day, you’ll gather your team — you can either bring them with you or find people to work with there — and come up with an idea. Ideas must use at least one of the sponsored APIs, and we’d really love it if you used the Shopify API!

You’ll spend a handful of hours putting together the app…

Developer ducks below the project as she makes a presentation

Ducking out of the way of the projector while making a presentation at HackVan, August 2011.

…and at the end of the day, each team will present their apps. A panel of distinguished judges will review the presentations and pick the best apps to receive prizes.

The HackVan attendees watching the presentations

The hackers watch the presentations at HackVan, August 2011.

If you’re looking for a fun, mentally challenging, rewarding and unusual Saturday in Vancouver, come to HackVan this Saturday!

The Details

The HackVan Main Event (Saturday, March 24th): Register here for $10.00 — the money shows you’re serious about attending, but it goes a long way. You’ll get breakfast, lunch, and a free invitation to the Friday pre-HackVan mixer!

The Friday pre-HackVan Mixer (Friday, March 23rd): Register here for $10.00 — if you can’t make it on Saturday or won’t be coding, come to the pre-HackVan mixer and meet and network with everyone!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

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Learning and Having Fun with Git and GitHub

by Joey deVilla on March 16, 2012

Guy wearing a giant Octocat head standing in the middle of Austin's 6th street during South by Southwest

Octocat looks a little lost. I snapped this photo of a guy wearing a giant Octocat head while posing for photos on Austin’s 6th Street during South by Southwest 2012.

There are still many developers out there who seem a bit uncomfortable with Git and GitHub. If you’re one of them, these tips and tutorials mights help you learn and have fun along the way.

Githug: “Git your game on!” is this project’s motto, and it’s an accurate description. It’s a game where your objective is to get to the next level, and the way to do that is to use git commands.

Git Immersion: A guided tour created by the people at EdgeCase. It’s “learning by doing”; as the site explains, it’s inspired by the premise that to know a thing is to do it.

The Git Community Book: An online, collaboratively-written book creating by members of the Git community. A pretty thorough book on Git that’s also kept up-to-date. You should bookmark this one.

Mark Dominus’ Git Habits: Mark’s a serious long-timer on the ‘net: he’s been hacking on Perl since forever, founded  Kibology (anyone remember that?) and wrote Higher-Order Perl. He’s sharing the way he uses Git, and it’s probably a good idea to steal a few tricks from him.

Getting the Hang of GitHub: Once you’ve gotten good with Git, the next step is to get good with GitHub, the hosted Git service, which lets you  share your Git-versioned projects.

Let’s Suck at GitHub Together: My friend and fellow BarCamp Tour member Chris Coyier (the guy behind CSS-Tricks) has a great screencast on learning GitHub.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

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"PayPal Here" reader deviceThere’ve been rumors about PayPal putting together some kind of competitor to Square for some time, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when they announced PayPal Here earlier today. As with Square, it’s a small reader device or “dongle” that plugs into the audio jack of your smartphone (and presumably your tablet device) and allows you to accept card payments. It also includes an app that will let you to scan in cards and checks using your phone’s camera (according to The Verge, if you use the camera to scan in a card rather than the dongle, you’ll have to manually enter the card’s CVV code and the zip code associated with the card into the app).

PayPal’s entry into the “accept credit card payments with your smartphone” game is a sign of things to come. It “validates the market”, to use a phrase in the startup vernacular, moving it from a relatively fringe idea to something you’re going to see more often in the coming months. Shopify’s biz dev dynamo Brennan Loh observed at a recent conference for retailers that there seemed to be two schools of thought about what cash registers should be: the old school vendors with their old-style anchored-to-the-checkout-counter cash registers and the new school vendors, who cash registers were either phones or tablets, a la the Apple Store.

Shopify’s Edward Ocampo-Gooding watches as “Cajun” the pedicab driver charges his credit card with his mobile phone.

I’ve made mobile payments indoors a number of times, at a couple of small shops where there just wasn’t room for a traditional cash register. It wasn’t until a couple of days ago when I got the “fully mobile payment experience”. My coworker Edward and I were at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival and took a pedicab — a bicycle-powered cab that can take two passengers — when we realized we were both short cash.

“No problem,” said “Cajun”, our driver. “I got Square.” When we got to our destination, he took his iPhone out of his pocket, stuck the Square dongle into the headphone port and swiped Edward’s card, a transaction that would’ve been impossible only a couple of years ago. And now, there are at least two big providers of such a service.

It’s an interesting new arena, and as a techie in the ecommerce and mobile businesses, one I’ll definitely keeping an eye on.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

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shopify party

Shopify is going to be at South by Southwest, and we’re throwing a little warm-up party on Saturday afternoon for our customers and friends! Join us at Stephen F’s Bar and Terrace at the Intercontinental Hotel (a.k.a. the Stephen F. Austin Hotel – 701 Congress Avenue, at 7th Street) this Saturday, March 10th between 3 and 6 p.m. for drinks and finger food on us!

The Shopifolks who’ll be in Austin are:

  • Cody Fauser (@codyfauser), Chief Technical Officer
  • Daniel Weinand (@danielweinand), Chief Design Officer
  • Edward Ocampo-Gooding (@edwardog), Developer Advocate
  • Harley Finkelstein (@hfizzle), Chief Platform Officer
  • Mark Hayes (@allsop8184), Marketing and PR Guy
  • Tobias Lutke (@tobi), Chief Executive Officer
  • …and Yours Truly, Joey deVilla (@accordionguy), Platform Evangelist

We purposely picked that time and place so it wasn’t too far from the Convention Centre and wouldn’t happen at the same time as all the big parties. Think of it as a way of warming up for the crazy Saturday night bashes. We’d love to see you there!

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

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ConFoo: A Most Excellent Web Techno Conference!

by Joey deVilla on March 5, 2012

Shopify and ConFoo logos

A few of my coworkers from Shopify and I spent most of last week at ConFoo, the annual “web techno conference” in Montreal. With 600 attendees from Canada, the United States and Europe, 100 of whom were speakers, it may very well be the largest web and mobile developer conference in the area (eastern Canada and northeastern U.S.) that takes place this time of year.

David Underwood presenting at "Mo' Money, Less Problems with ActiveMerchant"

Shopify’s David Underwood talks about ActiveMerchant, the open source payment gateway module that powers Shopify.

We presented at two sessions: Ruby as She is Spoke on Thursday and Mo’ Money, Less Problems with ActiveMerchant on Friday, attended a number of interesting presentations, mingled with developers who came to the conference from far and wide and had a great time while doing so.

Joey deVilla holding up "Feature" and "Bug" cards in front of his laptop.

Playing the “feature or bug?” game at the Back Alleys of Ruby Session.

Confoo’s organizers don’t lack for ambition. The conference schedule featured 10 simultaneous tracks with 20 broad topics covering languages like Java, JavaScript, PHP, Python and Ruby, as well as topics ranging from Accessibility to the cloud, to data persistence to project management/agile to security to social netowrking to systems administration to testing.

Fred Harper in a ninja balaclava and wielding daggers, striking a ninja pose at the Make Web Not War ninja photo booth.

Microsoft’s Frederic Harper strikes his best “code ninja” pose at Make Web Not War’s ninja photo booth.

In addition to the sessions were a handful of booths where some local development shops were doing recruiting and the Make Web Not War Lounge sponsored by Microsoft and friends. The Microsofties had an Xbox and Kinect set up so that people who wanted to take a break could play Fruit Ninja, as well as a photo booth where you could strike your best ninja pose. Also present were ExoPC, who were showing off their touch applications on a tabletop touchscreen.

Lunch at Confoo in the big main room.

Lunch at ConFoo. Better conference food than the usual, especially for a developer conference.

ConFoo has been held at the Hilton Bonaventure since its inception, and it’s a good, solid conference venue. Located right downtown, a stone’s throw from the central train station, a short walk from Montreal’s “main drag” of Ste-Catherine street and a quick cab ride away from all manner of interesting neighborhoods, from Old Montreal to the Latin Quarter to Chinatown to Mont-Royal and more. The place was more than able to accommodate all 600 of us in ten tracks, and still leave plenty of room in which to hang out. The Hilton’s rooms were quite good, and the food was also better than your typical conference fare, especially developer conference fare.

YouPorn slide: "YP first launched Aug 2006 / 1 million daily visitors Apr 2007 / 100,000 uploads Dec 2007 / 100 million daily pageviews Feb 2008 / Acquired by Manwin Apr 2011"

A slide from Eric Pickup’s keynote on how ManWin rebuilt YouPorn.

The opening day’s keynote presentation took place at the end of the day rather than the beginning, and it was a fascinating one. Eric Pickup from Manwin talked about his most recent project: an ambitious effort to re-code their flagship website, YouPorn [here’s a link to YouPorn’s Wikipedia entry], from the ground up, in a matter of months, without the users even noticing.

Joey deVilla's MacBook Pro displaying Ruby code. A pint glass of Rickard's Red is beside it.

My natural habitat: working on Ruby demos in a bar, with a nice dark beer.

The conference wifi was quite good, allowing many of us to stay in touch with work, as well as make last-minute tweaks to our presentations.

The ConFoo cocktail party.

The ConFoo cocktail party.

The ConFoo cocktail party took place Thursday evening, and it was a great way for all 600 attendees as well as interested non-attendees to get together, share ideas over drinks and just plain network.

The Hilton Bonaventure's rooftop outdoor pool in winter, with steam rising from the water.

The Hilton Bonaventure’s heated rooftop pool at night. If you attend ConFoo, bring a bathing suit!

The rooftop outdoor heated pool was one of the most interesting diversions offered by the hotel. Even though it was –4 degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit) outside and snow was falling, the pool was maintained at a constant 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). It was great for either exercising and socializing with our fellow attendees.

Joey deVilla playing accordion onstage with the pirates at Le Cabaret du Roy.

Jamming with the pirates at Le Cabaret du Roy.

The closing party took place at Le Cabaret du Roy, a restaurant with a 17th-century pirate theme serving rustic food – old-school brown bread, pemmican, ox cheeks, deer ribs and duck legs – with entertainment in the form of gambling and jigs and reels sung by the waitstaff and entertainers. They invited me onstage to join them on accordion for a couple of jigs and reels including that classic, What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?

A PHP stuffed elephant by the outdoor rooftop pool at the Hilton Bonaventure

Even the PHP mascot checked out the pool!

Would I attend next year’s ConFoo? Most definitely. There’s usually not much in the way of conferences around that time of year (late February/early March), and conferences that combine high-stuff/low-fluff technical depth with a broad range of topics and platforms are especially rare these days. The speakers they invite are great, the people who attend are a bright, enthusiastic international crowd, and the conference’s size is large enough to make it interesting, yet small enough that it feels more like a temporary community than just a random meetup. Put that all together and set it in a lively city like Montreal, with its culture, nightlife and oh-so-many things to do, and you’ve got a must-attend conference. I’m looking forward to attending ConFoo 2013, and you can bet that I’ll submit talks when their call for presentations come out later this year!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

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Toronto Techie Dim Sum - Wednesday, March 7th at noon: photo of chopsticks picking dumplings

It’s been too long since we’ve had a Toronto Techie Dim Sum – since November, in factso I’m declaring one for this Wednesday, March 7th at noon at good ol’ Sky Dragon (Dragon City Mall, top floor, southwest corner of Spadina and Dundas)!

Joey deVillaThese are casual, informal lunchtime get-togethers for that broad category of people that I call “The Toronto Techie Community”. It includes programmers, designers and “suits” who work in the web and software industries or anyone interested in hanging out with such people for interesting conversation that isn’t always about technology, as well as cheap, cheerful and delicious Chinese food. If even the notion of attending a lunchtime gathering appeals to you, you’re the sort of person we’d like to see there!

Once again, Toronto Techie Dim Sum happens this Wednesday, March 7th at noon at Sky Dragon. We should be an easy group to spot – look for the table with me (see the photo, inset on the right).

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

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