Road Trip Diary, Part 4: More Big Apple

Some more photos from the Big Apple! Here’s their pie menu:

08 pie menu

The Big Apple is an apple-shaped three-storey building with an observation deck on the roof. Here’s a shot of Damir beside the Big Apple:

10 damir big apple 1

Here’s a close-up:

11 damir big apple 2

Inside the building is an apple museum. We were all rarin’ to go inside and take photos of the various displays inside the museum, but…

12 closed

Closed! Look at the disappointment on Damir’s face:

13 damir disappointed

I was even more disappointed (look at my sad mug below). “Ain’t that just like an apple,” I said, “tantalizing promises, but you get denied the moment you get close. Now I know how iPhone developers feel.” (Remember, folks – I kid because I care.)

14 joey disappointed

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Road Trip Diary, Part 3: The Big Apple

01 big apple sign

When people in Toronto and area refer to “The Big Apple”, we’re usually not talking about New York, but the Big Apple in Coburg, Ontario. It’s one of the must-visit stops on that stretch of Highway 401 that spans the Toronto-Montreal corridor: roadside rest stop, mini-amusement park, apple pie facvory, apple museum and giant apple-shaped building with a balcony on top giving a commanding view of the cars whizzing by.

02 big apple building

There’s no shortage of interesting signs on the grounds:

03 rabbits are wild

Apparently, the Big Apple is about 13,000 kilometres from the city of my birth, Manila:

04 city signs

The place is heaven for people who like pie:

05 boxes of pies

They have a mascot, but no one was running around in the giant apple costume today. Damir and I had to settle for the little statue by the counter:

06 apple mascot

We arrived in the Ford Flex just before a busload of people, which means that we didn’t have to wait for pie:

07 pie crowd

More scenes from the Big Apple to follow!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Road Trip Diary, Part 2: The Blogging Rig

blogging rig

Here’s the blogging setup I’m using from within the Ford Flex as we drive to Montreal: my laptop with a Rogers stick and carte blanche to use as much bandwidth as I need to continually post from the road. Damir’s at the wheel, I’ve got my seat moved all the way back, my own set of climate controls and Raw Dog Comedy on the satellite radio. It’s a surprisingly decent work setup; I could get a fair bit done this way.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


Road Trip Diary, Part 1

rt damir at the wheelDamir at the wheel, looking for an opening on the Don Valley Parkway.

I’m blogging and tweeting from the road today! My coworker Damir Bersinic (IT Pro Evangelist) and I have been loaned a Ford Flex equipped with Microsoft’s Sync and I’ve got my laptop hooked up to a Rogers internet stick. The photo above was taken just before noon, when we were on the Don Valley Parkway, right around Richmond Street.

I’ll be posting quite regularly from the road, so watch this space!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


The Power of Positive Deviance

Family photo with everyone in the Sunday best, except for a son wearing metal/biker gear.

The words “deviant” and “deviance”, which refer to someone or something that departs from the norm, carries such negative baggage that it was necessary to coin the term “positive deviance”. Many social and cultural norms are the result of experience, some of which dates back thousands of years; they’re considered to be “best practices”. However, there are times when deviating from the norm has positive outcomes: when this happens, it’s called positive deviance.

The Tale of the Crab

Crab vs baby food

According to The Power of Positive Deviants, and article in yesterday’s Boston Globe, the story behind the concept of positive deviance is about outliers who thrive (this should immediately bring Malcolm Gladwell to mind). Inspired by Positive Deviance in Child Nutrition, a book written by Tufts University professor Marian Zeitlin, Monique and Jerry Sternin decided its ideas to real-world use.

In the early 1990s, the Sternins worked with Save the Children to combat child malnutrition in rural Vietnam. They noticed that in uniformly poor towns, where most children were showing the signs of not getting enough nutrition, there were children who somehow managed to be well-nourished. The Sternins took note of these “outlier” children and interviewed their families and looked around their homes.

The answer came when Monique Sternin, while interviewing a family with inexplicably healthy children in a house that didn’t even have full walls, noticed a crab crawling out of a basket. She deduced that the children were being fed crab and asked the family. The parents were at first reluctant to admit it, but they eventually confessed: the father of the family admitted that he scavenged for shrimp and crab while working in the rice paddies.

Even though crab and shrimp are rich in protein – a scientist in the Boston Globe article calls them “protein bombs” – there was a social stigma attached to feeding them to your children. It seemed low class (young people might say it was “ghetto”) next to what was the “proper” food: commercial baby food in a jar, which was considerably far more expensive, yet lower in protein. The father of the family was a positive deviant.

The Sternins catalogued a number of positive deviant behaviours and encouraged the people who practiced them to share them with their neighbours. Once the deviant behaviours were adopted, severe malnutrition dropped in the villages in which they were practiced.

The Trick that Became a Best Practice

Hands in hospital latex gloves

Jasper Palmer, a patient transporter at Albert Einstein hospital, had no idea that his technique for disposing of hospital gowns and gloves after use would be institutionalized. After he was done wearing a gown and gloves, he would remove the gown (with his gloves still on) and crumple it into a small ball. He would then remove a glove, turning it inside-out as his did so, and then use it as a disposal bag for the gown, handling it with the hand that was still gloved.

To him, it was just a clever trick, but it had an unexpected positive side-effect: it turned out to be a very effective way of minimizing contact with germs. The technique is now referred to as the “Palmer Method” and is standard practice in a number of hospitals.

The Qualities of Positive Deviance

Detour sign As I wrote earlier, “deviance” is typically used to an intentional departure from the norms established by a group, organization or culture that has negative results and threatens the well-being and stability of that group, organization or culture. Incivility and theft are considered to be common forms of deviance.

Positive deviance is intentional behaviour from norms in beneficial and even honourable ways. It includes those outlying cases of excellence where someone in a group, organization or culture broke free of “the ways things are always done” and came up with something that positively transformed their group, organization or culture.

According to the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, a behaviour has to have these three qualities to be considered positive deviance:

  • It must be voluntary
  • It must depart significantly from the established norms for the group
  • The intentions behind the behaviour must be honourable

Other notable qualities of positive deviance are:

  • Even though the behaviour is deviant, it’s often just “a little thing” – but it yields a disproportionately large positive effect.
  • Positive deviants are often unaware of the benefits of their behaviour. It’s just something that “worked for them”.
  • They are often ashamed of or at least reluctant to talk about their behaviour because it violates social norms and might bring about the disapproval of the group.
  • Positive deviance seems to come up with solutions for hard problems for which other solutions have been tried and found wanting. This may be because the group has a big incentive to solve the problem – big enough that individuals might try solutions that would be seen as too radical or distasteful.
  • One reason positive deviant behaviour endures is because of a sense of ownership. People don’t dismiss their own creations easily.
  • Positive deviance develops and then spreads through a “show, don’t tell” approach. The Sternins have a motto: “It’s easier to act your way into a new way thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”

Positive Deviance and The Empire

Joey deVilla wearing chaps at Toronto CodeCamp 2009 One of the downsides of working within the Microsoft world, which dominates a number of areas in technology, is that there is a tendency be insular and ignore or discount things that exist outside that world. This insularity was harmless ten years ago, when desktop apps ruled the earth, always-on connectivity was for early adopters and walking down the street while having a conversation on a mobile phone was considered a little weird. Today, in a world where web apps and services are increasingly prevalent and the iPhone is redefining the smartphone experience (smartphones were arena where Windows Mobile was once dominant but complacent), such insularity has the potential to make one a dinosaur among smaller, more agile mammals.

I think the Microsoft world could stand a little positive deviance, and I don’t think I’m alone in that belief:

Consider the existence of CodePlex, the Open Source Lab at Microsoft and the OSI-approved Microsoft Public Licence. There was a time when such endeavours – even the idea of such endeavours – would’ve been considered deviant, if not outright anathema, but what started as a set of small independent counter-cultural efforts (at least at Microsoft) has grown into a collection of officially-sanctioned parts of The Empire. I’ve met some of the higher-up folks at the Open Source Lab and they’re quite genuine in their belief in the power of open source and that it and Microsoft are not mutually exclusive. They’ve worked very hard towards the goal of making sure that PHP runs just as well on Windows as it does on Linux, and they’ve spoken at a number of open source conferences. They, like I, believe that Microsoft can benefit from and contribute to open source software and that we should compete against other companies, not styles of developing software.

Another example of positive deviance at Microsoft is ASP.NET MVC. It started as a little idea implemented by Scott Guthrie on an airplane and goes against the mainline Microsoft philosophy that all development should be like desktop app development as well as their “not invented here” syndrome. At every presentation where it’s been demonstrated to .NET developers, there’s always a developer who sees its deviation away from the desktop programming metaphor as a step backwards. If you’re accustomed to the way things are done in ASP.NET, its MVC cousin seems at first glance like a throwback to the days of classic ASP, but having come from the world of Rails, Django and CakePHP, I believe that the power, control and maintainability offered by ASP.NET MVC far outweighs the benefits of ASP.NET’s disguising web programming to appear like desktop programming.

An interesting example of positive deviance from two cultures’ norms was the cooperation between Microsoft and WordPress. I was really surprised to see WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg along with the chief tech of the I Can Has Cheezburger blog empire onstage at PDC, talking about how a number of WordPress-based blogs are running on Azure (one of which is the amusing Here are guys building an open source blogging platform using an open source programming language, talking about deploying their wares to Microsoft’s cloud platform at Microsoft’s premier developer conference to great applause from Microsoft developers. I can see hard-liners from both cultures frowning upon this, but I also think it’s a positive deviance that will benefit all parties concerned.

My approach to developer evangelism: I already toot my own horn a fair bit on both Canadian Developer Connection and especially Global Nerdy (my personal tech blog), so I’ll keep this short. I am unorthodox in my approach to evangelism, I’ve caught some flak for deviating from “the way things have always been done”, and the Twitter discussion surrounding the incident with the chaps led to a couple of companies signing a half-million dollar development deal.

(Besides, if you ask my co-workers, most of them will say I’m a deviant of some kind.)

Are You a Positive Deviant?

Cat with shocked, mouth-agape expression

Perhaps you too are a positive deviant. There might be some practice, behaviour or habit that “breaks the rules” in one way or another that is also beneficial. It probably started as an answer to a “what if?” question when you were trying to solve a problem and became part of your routine over time. You probably didn’t even make the conscious choice to adopt that practice, behaviour or habit – as the Sternins like to say, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”

The point behind this is to encourage you to not be afraid or fall victim to peer pressure either when trying something that “breaks the rules” or when you see someone doing the same. Give it a second look — if the intent is honourable and the effects are beneficial, you might be witnessing the power of positive deviance.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


DemoCamp in Ottawa: Wednesday, December 9th

democamp ottawa

Mark Wednesday, December 9th on your calendars: that’s when Ottawa’s having it’s next DemoCamp! This one’s a special edition, with the space provided by Microsoft (it’s the venue for the Techdays Ottawa conference, which isn’t being used in the evening) and the presentations gathered by both Ottawa IT and Startup Ottawa.

This DemoCamp will take place at the Hampton Inn and Conference Centre (100 Coventry Road) on Wednesday, December 9th at 7:00 p.m. and running until around 8:30. Attendance is free-as-in-beer, and there are plans to do some holiday celebrating once the demos have finished.

There will be two kinds of presentations at this DemoCamp:

  • Demos: These are straight-up, five-minute demonstrations of the presenters’ current projects. The only thing you’re allowed to show on the big screen is your project in action – no slides allowed! The idea is for the audience to see working products explained by the people who helped build them, not pitches by marketers.
  • Ignite Presentations: When something won’t work as a demo – say, an explanation about a specific technology or idea – it’s time for an Ignite presentation. These are slide-assisted presentations with a twist: you;re allowed only 20 slides, and they must auto-advance every 15 seconds for a grand total of 5 minutes. It’s a test of your knowledge of the topic and your presentation skills!

I’ll post more details about the presentation once I get all the details – watch this space!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


TechDays Montreal: Next Week!

montreal elm de maisonneuve

TechDays Canada, Microsoft’s cross-country conference covering how developers and IT pros can best make use of current Microsoft tools and technologies, hits Montreal next week. As with TechDays Halifax, which took place earlier this month, Techdays Montreal is completely sold out – there aren’t any tickets left to be had for love or money.

fleur-de-lisTechDays Montreal will feature some interesting Quebec twists, one of which is that all the presentations in the developer tracks – that’s Developing for the Microsoft-Based Platform and Developer Fundamentals and Best Practices – will be done in French. If you’re an Anglophone, worry not: there will be a translation service to help you out. We’re happy to be able to do our presentations in our freres’ and souers’ mother tongue.

career demo camp montreal

On the evening of the first day of TechDays Montreal, we’ll be loaning out our conference space to the fine folks at PHP Quebec and ConFoo so they can hold Career Demo Camp Montreal, a gathering that combines a career advice workshop with a DemoCamp-style event (I’ll be doing a presentation about boosting your career through blogging). Admission to this event is free-as-in-beer, and no, you don;t have to be a TechDays attendee to get in. For more details about Career DemoCamp Montreal, see their sign-up page.


And finally, there’s the matter of how we’ll get there. My coworker Damir Bersinic and I will be hopping in his van and drive from Toronto to Montreal. The usual sort of hilarity is likely to ensue, and we’ll take pictures and shoot some video and post tweets (he’s @DamirB on Twitter, I’m @AccordionGuy) along the way.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.