Join the “Windows Phone Canada” LinkedIn Group

windows phone canadaIf you’re on LinkedIn (and really, you should be) and are interested in developing for Windows Phone 7, you should join the Windows Phone Canada LinkedIn group! It’s a place for Canadian WP7 developers, enthusiasts and users to connect, share news, links to articles, exchange ideas, look for work and projects and get to know each other. You’ll also be able to start your own discussions, ask questions and point people to your WP7-related projects.

Those of you who know me well know I keep saying it over and over again: community and connections is an important and underappreciated element of your career. Join Windows Phone Canada, start some discussions and make those connections!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


WhyDay: Today, August 19th

Cartoon foxes from "why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby" yelling "Chunky Bacon!"Today, August 19th, is WhyDay, a day held in honour of the Ruby world’s most enigmatic character, a guy known to most only by a nickname, why the lucky stiff.

_why (as he’s often called) is probably best known for his quirky programming book, why’s (Poignant) Guide to Ruby, quite possibly the most weird and whimsical tutorial written since Carlton Egremont III’s books Mr. Bunny’s Big Cup O’ Java and Mr. Bunny’s Guide to ActiveX. Although he never finished the book, it’s still a great (and greatly amusing) intro to the Ruby programming language from simple one-liners, all the way up to metaprogramming, peppered with his crazy comics which include two cartoon foxes whose catchphrase/battle cry is “chunky bacon!”.

Comic from "why's (Poignant) Guide to Ruby"

_why also wrote a number of libraries and applications, many of which have either become part of the Ruby programmer’s toolkit or have become the basis of current apps and libraries. He was also a big proponent of making programming environments to teach kids programming, so he created Shoes, a UI toolkit for making web-like desktop apps and Hackety Hack, a programming mini-IDE built on top of Shoes for kids to make their own programs.

"why the lucky stiff" presenting at RailsConf 2006

He didn’t stop at writing and coding; he was also a musician and performer. If you were at the first RailsConf in 2006 in Chicago, you were treated to his keynote, a psychedelic multimedia rock opera which began with him exhorting the audience to “Put you best practices away!” and filled with great music and geeky jokes (including one about exception handling that I found particularly amusing).

"why the lucky stiff" playing banjo with a violin bow at SXSW

_why has always been a bit of a privacy nut, to the point that very few people actually know his real name or even what he does for a living. On this day last year – August 19th, 2009 – he decided that he no longer wanted to be in the spotlight and quietly disappeared from the Ruby scene, removing all traces of his sites and projects. John Resig, they guy behind jQuery, wrote a nice elegy for him (even though _why didn’t pass away, but went into J.D. Salinger mode).

His stuff lives on because it was all either open-sourced or licenced under Creative Commons, and is now curated (and even expanded upon) by fans of his work.

A number of people are celebrating WhyDay by remembering his greatest gift to the Ruby and larger programming world: a spirit of whimsy, creativity, freedom and experimentation. Yes, programming is serious work and probably one of the hardest things that humans do, but without finding joy in what you do, what’s the point? The people who’ve declared today as WhyDay suggest:

  • See how far you can push some weird corner of Ruby (or some other language).
  • Choose a tight constraint (for example, 4 kilobytes of source code) and see what you can do with it.
  • Try that wild idea you’ve been sitting on because it’s too crazy.
  • You can work to maintain some of the software Why left us (although Why is more about creating beautiful new things than polishing old things).
  • On the other hand, Why is passionate about teaching programming to children. So improvements to Hackety Hack would be welcome.
  • Or take direct action along those lines, and teach Ruby to a child.

I’d be a bad Microsoft evangelist if I didn’t tell you that:

  • Yes, Ruby works like a charm on Windows. For a lot of quick computation, I keep an irb window handy on my Windows 7 box much of the time.
  • You should take _why’s spirit and apply it to .NET! The .NET 4.0 framework incorporates a lot of great stuff that Ruby developers would find familiar, from powerful collections to dynamic typing to functional programming features, whether you do it in C# and want to go hardcore with F#.
  • Inspiration and community are part of programming. _why inspired a lot of programmers to go out their and try their crazy ideas, and in the process, they got to know and work with their fellow geeks. Get out there, build something beautiful and share it!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


David Crow Answers 5 Questions and Visits Vancouver

Who is David Crow?

David Crow

David Crow is probably the most recognizable face in the Toronto startup tech scene, and rightfully so. Without the effort he’s put into events like DemoCamp and other gatherings where techies, entrepreneurs, social media types and anyone else who wants to build “World 2.0”, we wouldn’t have anywhere near as active or as interesting a tech scene as we do (and not just in Toronto, but across Canada as well).

Collage of DemoCamp photos: "Without David, none of this would've happened."

My current job at Microsoft, as well as the previous two, grew out of opportunities created by David’s hard work, either directly or indirectly. I suppose I owe him a couple of drinks!

5 Questions

TechVibes logoDavid is my coworker at Microsoft Canada’s Developer and Platform Evangelism team and also one of the Windows Phone 7 Champs. Karim Kanji caught up with him and did a quick “5 Questions” interview, featuring these questions:

  1. What motivates you to do what you do on a daily basis?
  2. Do you have any success start-up tips for people wanting to create a name for themselves in your industry?
  3. In your opinion why is Toronto a hotbed for cool tech start-ups?
  4. What’s your favourite tech toy and social media site and why?
  5. Who would you say are Toronto’s social media/tech stars and why?

Check out the article at TechVibes!

David’s in Vancouver This Coming Week

Vancouver: Downtown Vancouver as seen from the Granville Street Bridge

grow2010-logoDavid’s going to be in Vancouver from Monday, August 16th, through Friday, August 20th to attend the Grow Conference on Thursday and Friday, which is aimed at startup techies, entrepreneurs, idea people and investors. “If you’re a startup, an investor or a service provider in Canada,” wrote David, “you should be at this event.”

bootup labsHe’s going to be in the downtown area and available to meet up in the earlier part of the week. If you want to find out more about BizSpark, pick his brain about startups and product/market fit, you can catch up with him at Bootup Labs (where he’ll be working from). To find out more his trip to Vancouver and how to catch up with him, check out this blog entry.

Vancouver photo taken by JamesZ_Flickr and licenced under Creative Commons.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.


The “employment.nil?” Ruby Job Fair


One of the pillars of the Toronto developer scene is the Ruby/Rails community. They’re an active, engaged, hard-working bunch who work without the direct benefit of a large organization like The Empire or its resources (they do, through people like Yours Truly and Nik Garkusha, Microsoft Canada’s open source go-to guy, get some indirect support). They – through the efforts of people like Pete Forde and the Ruby local heroes at Unspace – know how to maximize grassroots organization and harness them into industry-leading events like last year’s RubyFringe and the upcoming FutureRuby conference.


It should therefore not be a surprise that when Pete and company got the idea to help out their fellow Ruby developers during the econopocalypse with a job fair – employment.nil? — they’d take the standard techie job fair formula, turn it upside down and make it their very own. They chose the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto’s hip West Queen West neighbourhood, which is better known as a venue for karaoke, rock bands and burlesque (in fact, I’ve performed in all three kinds of shows there) than for computer and IT-related employment fairs.


This was not your typical job fair. It didn’t have any of the fancy display stands that you normally see on the exhibition floor at tech conferences. Instead, both job-seekers and small companies were told to build poster board displays, a la high school science fairs.


Another rule: no computers allowed! Even iPhone apps were considered “cheating”. The closest you were allowed to get was using whiteboards or pen and paper for “live coding”. This wasn’t about staring at computer screens, but people talking to other people – people who were passionate about the Ruby programming language and its associated frameworks, libraries and communities.


An excerpt from the sign-up page for employment.nil?:

Let’s face it: it’s better to be a Ruby developer than a car manufacturer in 2009, but things have definitely slowed down — for everyone. And yet, there are solid reasons why this is an excellent time to start new projects, launch companies, and create new markets. By definition, Ruby has been adopted by creative individuals that grew frustrated with risk averse bureaucracies.

We believe that there are huge number of opportunities to be found during this economic downturn, both for freelance developers and aspiring entrepreneurs alike. As with most tragic historical near-misses, there are just a huge number of connections that aren’t made even in our own collective back yard.


More from the job fair’s site:

That said, we also believe that Ruby people are determined self-starters that aren’t afraid to self-promote. Anything worth doing in life requires hard work and sacrifice. Sadly, while many developers are patient and willing to think orthogonally, we rarely get an opportunity to practice the other more social skills which make us desirable as team members, project managers, and co-founders. Unless we overcome our shyness and learn to speak eloquently about our experience and skill sets, we have nobody to blame for our work prospects but ourselves.

Our solution is to gather students, developers, development companies, and of course project leaders and company founders for a good old-fashioned career fair.

As you can see from the photos, there were different kinds of booths set up. There were those for companies looking to hire some Ruby developers…


and those deidicated to showcasing some interesting application of Ruby, such as lojacking iPhones:


…or HacklabTO’s own Jed Smith showing how we harness Ruby to drive our laser (yes, we’ve got a laser etcher/cutter!):


And some booths were set up by Ruby programmers showcasing their own work and who were looking for a job:




The event wasn’t just noticed by the Ruby community, who filled the room throughout the 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. course of the event. Late in the afternoon, Ontario’s Minister of Small Business and Consumer Services, Harinder S. Takhar, paid a visit to the job fair.


Pete, ever the gracious event curator, took Mr. Takhar to several booths, introducing him to their owners, who were only too happy to show the Minister their Ruby-related work. Here’s Andrew Burke of Shindig, showing him the projects he’s taking on in his independent software consultancy:


Here’s Kieran Huggins showing Mr. Takhar his work in


I’m sure that grassroots high-tech events with a strong “indie” aesthetic are outside the Minister’s everyday experience, but he seemed pretty impressed with the event: a dedicated group of nerds building software and careers using only laptops, stuff you can download for free and their brain cells.


Here’s Pete explaining the local Ruby developer scene and the concept of open source software to Mr. Takhar:


And here’s Mr. Takhar presenting Pete with an award of recognition for Unspace for putting the event together. At that point, I broke out the accordion and played For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, partly for the Minister for showing up on a Saturday afternoon, but partly for Pete for putting the event together.


Here’s a close-up of the award:


It reads:

Award of Recognition

On behalf of the Government of Ontario,
I am delight to extend my congratulations on the
First Toronto Ruby Job Fair

Unspace Interactive Inc.

Our government recognizes the importance of new and creative opportunities for
business. Building a business requires vision and dedication. I applaud your work and
success in web consulting through your team of industry-leading developers and
designers under one roof.

Please accept my best wishes for continued success.

Harinder S. Takhar
Minister of Small Business and Consumer Services
June 06, 2009

Congratulations to Pete, Meghann Millard, all the folks from Unspace and the Toronto Ruby community on a job well done!

The Photo Gallery

I took a lot of photos at employment.nil? and shared them in a Flickr photoset, which you can also view in the slideshow below:

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.


Guelph Coffee and Code Tonight!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Albion Hotel, GuelphIf it’s Tuesday, it must be time for Guelph Coffee and Code. The Guelph edition of this gathering of developers over coffee — or any other beverage of their choice — is hosted by Cory “SyntaxC4” Fowler and takes place every Tuesday in Guelph at the Albion Hotel (49 Norfolk Street, Guelph ON) from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m..

Tonight, our own John Oxley, Director Audience Marketing and Community Evangelism at Microsoft Canada, will be joining in. He’ll be there to get your input about what his team – which includes Yours Truly – can do for the technical community. If you have an idea that you think will help Microsoft help developers, especially at the local levels, come on down and let John know! If you don’t have any such ideas, you can brainstorm with John and come up with some new ones.


Joel Spolsky: Learning from

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Just in case there’s nothing good on TV and you’re having a “lazy Sunday”, here’s a video of Joel Spolsky’s recent presentation at Google, Learning from, in which he talks about the design decisions that went into and the lessons learned from the Stack Overflow site. It runs for about 52 minutes, so you might want to get yourself a nice beverage before you watch it:


Terminated, Part 2: How I’ll Ride Out the Layoff and the Credit Crunch: Friends

[This article was also published in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.]

Friends: "Amber's being immature again, isn't she?"

Technology, media and pop culture writer Douglas Rushkoff, who’s got a guest writing slot at the uber-blog Boing Boing, points to an essay titled Riding Out the Credit Collapse. Published in the spring 2008 edition of Arthur magazine, it:

  • Provides a layperson-friendly, non-drowsy explanation of how the credit crisis came about
  • Suggests the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your interests during the credit crisis (and in fact, any crisis, including being laid off during a credit crisis)

Don’t let the article’s apparent length scare you off — read it! Yes, it’s ten screens, but it’s set in a narrow column. If you’re still skittish about reading that much, shame on you, and here’s the part on which I want to focus:

Whatever the case, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your interests is to make friends. The more we are willing to do for each other on our own terms and for compensation that doesn’t necessarily involve the until-recently-almighty dollar, the less vulnerable we are to the movements of markets that, quite frankly, have nothing to do with us.

If you’re sourcing your garlic from your neighbor over the hill instead of the Big Ag conglomerate over the ocean, then shifts in the exchange rate won’t matter much. If you’re using a local currency to pay your mechanic to adjust your brakes, or your chiropractor to adjust your back, then a global liquidity crisis won’t affect your ability to pay for either. If you move to a place because you’re looking for smart people instead of a smart real estate investment, you’re less likely to be suckered by high costs of a “hot” city or neighborhood, and more likely to find the kinds of people willing to serve as a social network, if for no other reason than they’re less busy servicing their mortgages.

I think Rushkoff’s got the right idea, and I’d like to torque it a little further. Forget for a moment the more fanciful ideas of printing your own “Canadian Tire Money”; when he says “local currency”, I want you think of these things:

  • Reputation,
  • Goodwill,
  • and most importantly, Luck.

Among the many things that I’m churning in my brain right now — along with updating the resume, finding a place to put all the stuff that I used to keep at the office and getting that eye appointment with Dr. Heeney before my work-provided insurance coverage expires — is real-world testing an idea and writing about it here. That idea rests on two principles, namely:

  1. Having friends and being friendly makes you lucky. I’ve always suspected it, and Marc Myers wrote a book on the topic.
  2. I’d rather be lucky than smart. It’s the mantra of my all-time favourite financial planner, whom I shall refer to as “P. Kizzy”. If I get even a tenth of P. Kizzy’s business acumen, I will be a very happy man.

Watch this space, ’cause I’m going to expand on those ideas!