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Scenes from RubyFringe, Part 1

by Joey deVilla on July 19, 2008

It’s been a while that we’ve had a slide as controversial as David Heinemeier Hansson’s infamous one from the Canada on Rails conference, so I thought I’d make one, and this one’s a good deal friendlier too:


Photo by Libin Pan.

Here’s the crowd at FAILCamp, the gathering that Hampton Catlin and I hosted, where people shared their stores of personal and professional failure — and sometimes even the lessons learned. This was taken early in FAILCamp; later on, the room was packed quite nicely:

After FAILCamp came the kickoff party at the open space on the upper floor of the Amsterdam Brewing Company. Here’s the RubyFringe logo projected against the back wall:

The opening act was Katie Crown, who had a charmingly oddball stand-up routine, which included her taking song suggestions from the audience and turned them into slightly-different version that were in the public domain (for example, she turned Who Let the Dogs Out into Who Released the Canines) and even invited me to join in with the accordion and help her out. We ended up creating public domain versions of Welcome to the Jungle and Gigantic:

Here’s the crowd at the Amsterdam taking in Katie’s routine:

The second act were We Take Lovers, who put on a great show with their indie-rock sound. They’re shopping around for accordions, so I was pleased to “talk shop” with them.

Today is day one of the conference; tonight we’re off to West Queen West to descend on the Drake and Camera!

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RubyFringe Guide: The Unofficial IRC Back Channel

by Joey deVilla on July 18, 2008

Joey\'s Unofficial Ruby Fringe Guide to Toronto - Small logoIn case you were looking for the IRC back channel for the RubyFringe conference, there’s one on irc.freenode.net at #rubyfringe. Check it out, and see you there!

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RubyFringe Guide: The Lay of the Land, Part 2

by Joey deVilla on July 17, 2008

Joey\'s Unofficial Ruby Fringe Guide to Toronto - Small logoThis is article number eight in Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto, my guide to Accordion City for attendees of the RubyFringe conference, as well as anyone else who’s interested in our fair city.

In case you missed them, here are the other articles in this series:

  1. Where Did All the Cigarettes Go?
  2. Getting from the Airport to the Hotel
  3. Boozin’ in Accordion City
  4. The Lay of the Land, Part 1
  5. FAILCamp
  6. The Best Damn Cookie in Town
  7. Active Surplus, a.k.a. Hardware Nerdvana

In The Lay of the Land, Part 1, I covered some areas close to the hotel. In this article, I’m going to go over some of the interesting areas to the west: Chinatown, Kensington Market and Queen Street West.

Chinatown

The interesting neighbourhood that’s closest to the Metropolitan Hotel is Chinatown. From the hotel, all you have to do is walk to Dundas Street and hang a left and starting walking westward along Dundas. Things will start out a bit sparse, but as you cross University Avenue, there’ll be more to see. Continue westward and the concentration of Chinese restaurants and shops will increase until you reach the corner of Dundas and Spadina, the heart of Chinatown. Chinatown stretches north to about College Street, south to Sullivan, and west to about Denison.

As you might expect, Chinatown is lined with a lot of Chinese restaurants, although you’ll also find a lot of Vietnamese places, with a little Thai and Japanese thrown in for good measure. You’ll also find a lot of grocery stores with sidewalk stalls carrying fruits and vegetables. There are also some cheap clothes in the mix: if you need some plain T-shirts, there are plenty of places that carry them in many colours, 4 or 5 for a mere $10.

If you find yourself with the late-night munchies, Chinatown is the solution to your problem. A good number of the restaurants cater to the late-night crowd; many close as late as 5 a.m. on the weekends, and at least a couple of the Vietnamese places run 24 hours.

Kensington Market

Getting to Kensington Market is easy: just walk west on Dundas from the hotel for about ten minutes and go one block past Spadina, then turn up Kensington. You’ll be in Kensington Market, an area that blends alternative and counter-culture stores, traditional food markets, international restaurants and offbeat bars. Here’s a map of the area:

If you’re looking for stuff that you’re not going to find at the mall, this is the place to go.

For more about Kensington Market, see its Wikipedia entry and this Globe and Mail story (with video) of Dr. Richard “Creative Class” Florida paying a visit to the Market.

You can also take a little photo tour of the Market through the slideshow below:


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Queen Street West

Check out this map: it shows the way from the hotel to the corner of Queen Street West and University Avenue, followed by a long stretch west. If you’ve got the time, it’s a very interesting walk — about 4 kilometres (two and a half miles) of one of the more interesting streets in the city. Things will start off a little more gentrified and no more edgy than the Hot Topic store in your local mall, but as you progress westward, the stores, bars and restaurants get quirkier, and you’ll see the “creative class” types who make Queen West their home. If you don’t feel like walking, you can always check out the scenery via streetcar.

Once again, I direct you to Wikipedia for a description of Queen Street West and its OurFaves page for some locals’ recommendations.

And There’s More!

I haven’t yet told you about Little Italy on College West, the Annex, that stretch of Baldwin Street with all the restaurants, the Beach(es), Mink Mile, Greektown, Koreatown, Roncesvalles, High Park and a lot of other places, but I hope that I’ve given you a good start. If you’re at the conference and have any questions about the city, feel free to ask me or any of the other locals — we’ll be happy to help!

See you at the conference!

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Joey\'s Unofficial Ruby Fringe Guide to Toronto - Small logoWelcome to installment number seven of Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto, my guide to Accordion City for attendees of the RubyFringe conference or for anyone who’s wondering about interesting stuff in Toronto.

The previous articles in this series are:

  1. Where Did All the Cigarettes Go?
  2. Getting from the Airport to the Hotel
  3. Boozin’ in Accordion City
  4. The Lay of the Land, Part 1
  5. FAILCamp
  6. The Best Damn Cookie in Town

This article will cover Active Surplus, a long-time resident of Queen Street West and a surplus electronics-and-gear store like no other. It’s a short walk away from the Metropolitan Hotel and well worth a visit.

If you’re a mad scientist, electronic hobbyist, artist, looking to get your stereo hooked up or even getting stuff for your wedding, I recommend taking a look around Active Surplus on a regular basis. A fixture of Queen Street West since my high-school days (the early 1980s!), Active Surplus is a warehouse filled with bins of all sorts of gadgets, gears, cables, adapters, speakers and all sorts of electronic and mechanical stuff that you’re just not going to find at Best Buy or Radio Shack, especially at their prices.

Active Surplus is located at 347 Queen Street Westhere’s a Google Map showing you the way there from the Metropolitan Hotel.

Here’s what it looks like once you climb up the stairs leading into the store:

They’ve got all sorts of cables: audio, video, computer…

…and there are power strips and extension cords aplenty, all going dirt cheap:

They’ve got a row of interface peripherals — mice, trackpads and keyboards, including this water-resistant flexible USB keyboard:

…and there are all sorts of electric motors and pumps, from those for small aquariums to those for light industrial purposes:

You can unleash your inner security officer with one of these surveillance cameras:

Or perhaps it’s your inner meter maid you want to unleash with these assemblies from decomissioned electronic parking meters:

They’ve got a section of bin devoted to digital camera and card goodies. They’ve got all kind of card readers going for very low prices:

If RubyFringe turns into that kind of party, you’ll know where to buy electric trimmers:

Active Surplus has a good stock of pens, for those of you who like taking notes by hand:

They have a few bins of sunglasses as well as 3-D glasses:

Need to cordon off an area so that you can do CSI-style investigations? They’ve got police barrier tape:

They have a seemingly endless supply of stickers and adhesive-backed mini-mirrors:

I have no idea what this glass thing was originally for (bedpan?), but I’m sure all of you who listen to jam bands saw this and thought “bong!”:

Here’s a portable toilet, suitable for camping. I love that they felt it was necessary to say that you’re not supposed to try the in the store:

And last but not least, they’ve got “Baby Legs”, which are described as “young padawan parts, thanks to Darth Vader.”

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RubyFringe Guide: Best Damn Cookie in Town

by Joey deVilla on July 17, 2008


Photo courtesy of SpotlightToronto.com.

Joey\'s Unofficial Ruby Fringe Guide to Toronto - Small logoThis is the sixth installment of Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto, my guide to Accordion City for attendees of the RubyFringe conference as well as people just curious about this place.

In case you missed the earlier articles in this series, they are…

  1. Where Did All the Cigarettes Go?
  2. Getting from the Airport to the Hotel
  3. Boozin’ in Accordion City
  4. The Lay of the Land, Part 1
  5. FAILCamp

In this article, I’m going to talk about a little detour you might want to make for an extremely delicious cookie (and other snacks).


If you’ve ever gone walking around Paris looking for a quick bite to eat, Le Gourmand will give you a sense of deja vu. It’s a cafe that doubles as a somewhat pricey mini-grocery that carries gourmet food. They make excellent coffee and hot chocolate (you even get a choice of two of French chocolate mixes), delicious sandwiches, a nice bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with fruit, but most importantly, cookies to die for. Hell, they’re cookies to kill for.

The chocolate chip cookie (pictured at the top of this article) is a nice and large, which makes it crispy at the edges and soft and chewy in the center. The dough is rich, flavourful and packed with very good chocolate chips. I might actually keep my bike right by the conference to do a cookie run during the mid-afternoon lull.


Photo courtesy of SpotlightToronto.com.

If brownies are more your speed, Le Gourmand also has the Nookie Cookie, which is a brownie-like drop cookie dusted in icing sugar. It’s enough to make Dr. Atkins spin in his grave, but it’s throwing off your low-carb regime for this treat. Pair this with one of their black coffees, and you’ve got a nice civilised mid-afternoon snack.

The nearest Le Gourmand branch is at 152 Spadina, a little under a block south of Queen Street, not far from the Unspace office. Here’s a Google Map showing the way to Le Gourmand from the Metropolitan Hotel.

If you’re going to exploring around town beyond the general area of RubyFringe, there’s another branch of Le Gourmand at 20 Bloor Street East, just east of Yonge. If you’re going to be looking around the Yorkville area of town, be sure to pass by.

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Joey\'s Unofficial Ruby Fringe Guide to Toronto - Small logoWelcome to the fifth installment of Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto, my guide to Accordion City for attendees of the RubyFringe conference as well as people just curious about this place.

In case you missed the earlier articles in this series, I’ll list them here:

  1. Where Did All the Cigarettes Go?
  2. Getting from the Airport to the Hotel
  3. Boozin’ in Accordion City
  4. The Lay of the Land, Part 1

In this article, I’m going to cover FAILCamp.


The first event of RubyFringe is the only one that’s open to anyone, whether or not they’re attending the conference itself. It’s FAILCamp, a gathering where we’ll share stories about and lessons from failure. It will take place at The Rhino Bar and Grill (1249 Queen Street West, just west of Dufferin) and runs from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.. Once again, you don’t have to be a RubyFringe attendee to catch this one. Admission is free, but you’ll have to buy your own beer.

Here’s a quick description of the event, as written by its originators, Amy “Slash7” Hoy and Thomas “Scriptaculous” Fuchs:

We believe that it’s time to give our personal fail some tough love and talk it out over beer!

Join us for a brief, rousing introduction followed by camaraderie, beer, and show-and-tell. We’ll present a little about failure through the ages, mining your personal suck, maybe some science, pithy quotes from people you may or may not respect, and share some failure stories of our own.

Then it’ll be your turn. If all goes to plan, you may even win in our friendly “race to the bottom” for the most public, most expensive, or most ridiculous Story of Fail.

I believe that the original plan was for Amy and Thomas to host the event as a dry run for a much larger FAILCamp event taking place on the 26th in Philadelphia. Circumstances have arisen and they will be unable to make it to Accordion City this weekend. While this fits with the theme of FAILCamp, it hasn’t stopped it — instead, two new hosts have stepped up to fill in for them:

  • Hampton “HAML” Catlin, who very well might be the best Ruby hacker in town, and
  • Yours Truly, who very well might be the worst Ruby hacker in town.

Hampton’s going to provide a lot of insight and programming know-how to FAILCamp. Me? I’m going to be responsible for innuendo-laden stories of personal and professional failure peppered with gratuitous Zardoz references.

As for the Rhino itself, it is truly pub with a “neighbourhoody” feel. Where many places are content to be mere endpoints in the Anheuser-Busch/Molson-Coors supply chain, the Rhino is what some sociologists call a “third place”, a neighbourhood gathering point for all kinds of people, from the locals who’ve been in the Parkdale area since it was a more rough-and-tumble place to the artsy and musician types who moved into the neighbourhood to the geeks who use it as the venue for the monthly Rails Pub Nites and Ajax Pub Nites. Even though the neighbourhood is gentrifying in a manner similar to New York’s Lower East Side or certain parts of Brooklyn, The Rhino has managed to remain pretty much douchebag-free and inexpensive, unlike a number of the other pubs in the area.

The only way in which The Rhino gets fancy is with their beer menu. There are about 200 beers on the menu hailing from a few dozen countries, and they’re generally well-stocked and priced in the 5 to 7 dollar per pint/bottle range. Be sure to try the locals: their own lager, as well as Mill Street, Wellington and Creemore Springs.

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RubyFringe Guide: The Lay of the Land, Part 1

by Joey deVilla on July 4, 2008

Joey\'s Unofficial Ruby Fringe Guide to Toronto - Small logoWelcome to the fourth installment in Joey’s Unofficial RubyFringe Guide to Toronto, a series of offbeat articles to acquaint attendees of the upcoming RubyFringe conference with Accordion City.

There’ve been three articles in the series so far:

  1. Where Did All the Cigarettes Go?
  2. Getting from the Airport to the Hotel
  3. Boozin’ in Accordion City

When I visit a city that’s new to me, I try to get a sense of “the lay of the land”. What sort of areas are around where I’m staying? Which zones come alive at what times of the day? If I started walking in this direction, what sort of neighbourhood would I end up in? Where can I see some interesting stuff, and where will I end up running into something I could easily get at home? These are the sorts of questions that I’ll try to answer for Toronto in these “Lay of the Land” articles. In this article, I’ll look at what’s within a couple of blocks of the conference hotel.

What’s Near the Conference Hotel?

The map below covers the area that’s within about a ten-minute walk of RubyFringe’s conference hotel, the Metropolitan Toronto. The Metropolitan is represented by the red marker with the letter “A” (it’s very Hester Prynne, isnt it?). I’ve added some annotations to give you a general idea of the sorts of neighbourhoods that surround the Metropolitan.

Annotated map of areas around Metropolitan Hotel Toronto

A City of Neighbourhoods, A Pocket of Boring

Accordion City can best be described as a city of neighbourhoods put together like a patchwork quilt, each patch having its own character and offerings. This is good news: it makes life pretty interesting for the locals, and it should be doubly so if you’re visiting.

There’s bad news, I’m afraid: the neighbourhood in which the Metropolitan is located is a pocket of boring. How boring? So boring that this is the most interesting view on the street where the hotel is located:

Chestnut Street, Toronto
The curved backside of New City Hall, as seen from a few paces south of the hotel.

Yup, the immediate area is that boring.

It’s a zone of nondescript office and hospital buildings surrounding Dundas Street, which used to be downtown Chinatown’s main drag back in the 1970s when I was a slip of a lad.

(I say downtown Chinatown because we’ve got three Chinatowns here. I’ll elaborate in a later article.)

Downtown Chinatown moved west towards Spadina Avenue, and the offices rushed in to fill the void. There are still remnants of the old Chinatown that still dot this part of Dundas, but for the real Chinatown action — the restaurants, the shops, the lively street stalls that will gladly sell you a big-ass, smelly-as-ass durian, the “holy crap, Blade Runner came true” Chinatown, you’ll have to walk about ten minutes westward.

The Metropolitan Hotel and Chinese Food

Lai Wah Heen restaurant
Lai Wah Heen Restaurant.

The Metropolitan Hotel is the biggest testament to the fact that the area was once the heart of downtown Chinatown. Most hotels in North America have a primary restaurant that serves your generic “North American” cuisine; the Metropolitan’s all about the Chinese food. Their main dining room, Lai Wah Heen, is a Chinese restaurant that serves some very good food — so good that it’s one of the few hotel restaurants where you’ll see at least as many locals as guests. I’ve been to a Chinese wedding reception in this hotel and it was some of the best wedding reception food I’ve tasted. I’m looking forward to the dim sum conference lunch scheduled for Sunday, July 20th.

Across the street from the Metropolitan is a building that looks like a hotel, but missing the hotel markings. That’s because it used to be the Colonnade Hotel, which used to be the Chinese hotel until the Metropolitan took over (it’s deVilla family tradition to have Chinese food for our wedding rehearsal dinners, and my sister’s was there). It’s now a University of Toronto student residence.

Just East of the Hotel – Yonge and Dundas: The Seething Pit of the Main Drag

Yonge and Dundas Streets, Toronto
Yonge Street, looking north towards the corner of Yonge and Dundas.

Yonge Street (pronounced “young”) is the city’s main north-south street; it divides Accordion City into its east and west halves. The corner of Yonge and Dundas — a very short walk east of the Metropolitan — is pretty much in the geographic centre of the downtown core. You should think of it as the local equivalent of New York City’s Times Square: major retail shopping, “grey market” electronics stores, billboards and lights, bored teenagers, tourists and pizza, pizza, pizza.

Eaton Centre at night
The Eaton Centre, as seen from across the street.

I’ve been to nerd conferences where I’ve wished that there was a computer store handy because I needed something like a cable or a USB key. That’s not going to be a problem at RubyFringe, as there’s both a Best Buy on the southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas and a Future Shop (a Canadian electronics/computer big-box store) on the northeast corner.

(There’s a far more interesting electronics store — Active Surplus — not too far from the hotel. I’ll cover it in a later article.)

If you go south on Yonge, you’ll hit the Eaton Centre, the major downtown shopping mall. It’s got the sort of shops you’d expect at a mall; the only surprise for American visitors is that Sears in Canada isn’t as ghetto as it is in the U.S. (that’s because Sears in Canada took over the Eaton’s chain of department stores after they went under).

Eaton Centre interior
Interior of the Eaton Centre.

It’s tempting to dismiss the Eaton Centre as just another shopping mall, but for a lot of Torontonians, it’s also one of the most-used and useful pedestrian routes in town. Spanning the distance between two subway stations on Toronto’s busiest line, the mall remains open even after its stores are closed (it closes when the subway closes), making it effectively a covered sidewalk for Yonge Street between Dundas and Queen Streets. (Urban planning nerds should see this article for more.)

Just South of the Hotel: Nathan Phillips Square: Wasn’t it Blown Up in Resident Evil 2?

Toronto\'s City Hall
Toronto’s City Hall.

You may have seen Toronto’s City Hall in Resident Evil 2, or perhaps you caught a glimpse of it in either the original series or Next Generation version of Star Trek. It’s architect Viljo Revell’s modernist masterpiece and one of the more distinctive features of our city. It’s worth the short walk over from the hotel, and if you’re into taking pictures, it makes a pretty good subject.

If you walk into City Hall’s lobby and turn to the right, you’ll see this:

City Hall Wall Mural

It’s a wall mural made of thousands of nails. There’s a local tradition: take a penny and drop it into the mural, among the larger nails on the left or right side of the mural. It’s descend, pachinko-like, making a musical noise along the way. Here’s a video:

Just North of the Hotel: Nothing, Really

Well, I wouldn’t say nothing — there are a number of hospital buildings, including some world-class institutions of healing like “Sick Kids” (a.k.a. the Hospital for Sick Children, where Pablum was invented) and the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

Atrium of the Sick Kids hospital
The atrium at Sick Kids.

If you’re an architecture nerd, you might find a visit to the atrium of Sick Kids worth a visit — it’s so bright and airy that it’s easy to forget that you’re in a hospital. Having said that, my guess is that the last place you want to end up during your visit to Toronto is a hospital.

Toronto Bus Terminal
Toronto Bus Terminal.

The other place just north of the hotel is the Toronto Bus Terminal. It’s nowhere near as scuzzy as a lot of other big city bus terminals, but the usual parade of off-their-rockers and off-their-meds are often milling about.

Just this evening, while the Ginger Ninja and I were walking past the station, a large woman in a motorized wheelchair started a conversation with us.

“I gotta go to the hospital tomorrow,” she said, as she took a sip from her large frappucino. “I got the diabetes.”

“Sorry to hear that,” we said.

“It’s not funny! I’m goin’ fuckin’ blind from the goddamn diabetes!” She took another sip and poured on the speed, disappearing down the street to stew in her own juices, which I assume are made of high-fructose corn syrup and bad life choices.

There are a couple of conveniences to the north: a Starbucks and a convenience store, both at the corner of Dundas and Elizabeth, a block away from the hotel.

Next Time…

I’ll cover what’s west of the hotel, which is where things get interesting. For starters, there’s this:

OCAD\'s Sharp Centre Building
OCAD’s Sharp Centre Building.

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