Thursday, December 19, 2013

Toronto Snowman

Stop It by sghill
Stop It, a photo by sghill on Flickr.

Today we built a snowman!

It had been a long, long time since I last built a snowman. Balki fought us every step of the way, but we were able to distract him just enough to get it finished.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Rules of Software Development

Last year I was working at a large enterprise. Over the summer we had an intern join us, who I couldn't help but show the ropes. We managed to cover several rules of software development in just a few months. After the internship wrapped up, he was nice enough to forward the notes he took while on our team:
  1. Follow your heart
  2. Never volunteer for meetings, because then you become "The Guy"
  7. If all else fails, ask your neighbor
  9. If it's final, then it should be final
 13. Decision trees
 16. Always favor something that saves you 45 seconds
 22. Assertions should assert on something
 52. Monkey patching is for the zookeeper
 72. Always try to work in a place where there are palm trees
 82. Kernel panic is rarely good
 86. If you ever see a cool test, run!
 94. It's all slashes these days
 97. Agile doesn't work if you just hear things
186. Always use an attached keyboard
763. We were talking about splitting purchase orders, 
     they were talking about revision history, 
     now they're talking about splitting purchase orders 
     with revision history, and that's why agile works!
All the best, Michael! This advice will carry you far.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

GiftIdea! 1.1.0

After shipping GiftIdea! on the Play Store last week, we were excited. For good reason too; without any prompting, we've received three 5-star reviews from our nine users. I'm optimistic, especially considering we're only available to about 2/3 of the Androids out there.

A number of folks asked if this would run on the iPhone or if an iPhone version is coming. There aren't currently plans for that. The idea is produce a high-quality Android app, while learning and sharing all the great lessons that I'm sure will come with it.

There are a handful of things on the table for future releases, but we're starting with two small, visible changes:
  1. Recipients now show the number of active gift ideas
  2. Editing an idea has different "hint" text
Under the hood there were 28 changes from the last release.

Happy Gifting!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

GiftIdea! 1.0.0

Yesterday, I released a simple app called GiftIdea! to Google Play for Android 4.0+ phones. This is a lot more monumental than it might seem, because the vague goal of "releasing an app" has been on my radar for a while now.

For about five years I've had the goal of getting an app into the App Store. Originally that was for the iPhone, but for one reason or another, I never could actually get something in a final-enough state to call it released. There are always reasons not to do something, as it turns out.

I think the real problem is in viewing things as "finished." This release of GiftIdea! surely isn't everything an app could be; but it is a nice simple way to keep track of gift ideas for people, which is exactly what I was after. And while I tested it on a handful of phones, there are surely quirks that we can work out together over time.

I can't say thanks enough to +Ginger DePriest for early feedback and running through the feature set on several phones.

GiftIdea! 1.0.0 Icon

Monday, August 26, 2013

Idea: AutoZen

My dad cared about maintenance. Not just of his car, but just about every car he could keep tabs on. I'm the same way, and thinking about making a simple tool to make this easier.

A rough prototype of the 4 pages is below (or at gomockingbird). Any feedback is welcome, either in the comments or by email.

Landing Page

The landing page should answer the questions "Why?" and "How much?" as well as addressing the risk of putting data into a new service. If you can export the data right away, there is little risk of losing your work.

Home Page

I want the home page to give me an idea of what should be coming up, and easily let me record what I've done. The fewer clicks, the better. 

The estimate of what the service will cost is based on previous data. In my experience "How much is it?" is always the first question someone has about oil changes, and it's helpful to be able to know this right away.


Just a simple place to see the history of each car. It should be easy to print off a copy when trading-in or selling to private party. Detailed auto records often fetch much higher prices for used cars, and the system can do this for us easily.

Add a Car

Eventually, the details of the car can pull a recommended maintenance schedule, useful for creating reminders on the home page.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

MegaCorp Risk

When signing up for a service with startups, you have to decide if the risk they'll be around in a year is worth it. With MegaCorps, you have to decide if the risk they'll cost you several hours a month on the phone is worth it.

I'm on hold with Bell Canada as I write this. Fed up with the way Rogers Cable Internet seems to go out for hours a week during prime Netflix time, I walked down the street on June 17 to switch my internet provider. They promptly signed me up and sent me on my way, informing me the modem would be in the mail and someone would be out to activate my line on June 19. The line went active as planned.

The modem didn't arrive. I called in, they called back. I finally ended up with a tracking number, which said it had failed to deliver for several days in a row. Someone at Bell suggested I go to the delivery distribution center to pick up the modem -- 30 minutes away by car, and only during business hours. Terrible customer service for a place that has a retail store no more than a ten minute walk from my place.

I knew I didn't want the service anymore. I called Bell proactively to cancel and was marched through a half-dozen cycles of being put on hold and transferred to another department. Finally I was told that if I didn't use the service, I wouldn't be billed. Sounded like nonsense, but after 45 minutes on the phone I was looking for any excuse to hang up.

Another bill came. I now owed $102 for a service I had never received and didn't want in the first place. I called again, went through the same holds and transfers, and ended up talking to a sales guy who just wanted to know "what [he] had to do to keep my contract going?" Reluctantly, he agreed to cancel the service, saying it would be canceled within the week.

The next month another bill showed up. I now owed $145 for a service I didn't want, had never used, and would never use. Calmly, I picked up the phone and informed the representative I had been wrongly charged, would not be paying, and wanted no further phone calls on the matter. She responded by saying that next a collection agency would be coming for me, all while agreeing it was ridiculous I owed so much money for something I never received.

Finally, after two more transfers I landed with the first competent, helpful person in the organization. After 38 minutes on the phone this time the account was actually canceled, and the balance was returned to zero before I hung up.

I prefer small- and medium-sized businesses.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Lockport Cave

I had never actually seen a firehose attached to a hydrant until we pulled up to the Lockport Cave in Lockport, New York. Thick black smoke filled the sky and seemed to get closer with every turn Google Maps told us to take. The smoke was coming from an old building directly across the street from the caves, but we had no trouble signing up for the last tour of the day at 4:00.

15 minutes later, we got some bad news: potential arsonists had the police asking the Lockport Cave operator to refund the money for the 4:00 tour. With the structure of a nearby railroad bridge in danger, and the thread of changing winds blowing smoke into all of our faces, the last tour of the day wasn't going to happen.

We did get to take a self-guided walking tour of the locks along the Erie Canal. Balki and Ginger graciously put up with me recalling one part of Low Bridge on an almost infinite loop:
I've got a mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
While walking the enormous locks we saw Miss Jenny Lynn and another small boat go through. The wait time for a lock to fill up is long enough that I could ask the boaters a few questions. Apparently, they head out a few times a year on a season pass to get through all the locks, and you don't need to have appointments ahead of time. If you're looking to rent a boat for the weekend, a 2-day pass is also available.

We also talked to the the lock operator. He is now working 11 hours per day, typically running 15 boats through in that time. Some of the boats get up to 50 feet, but usually anything over that will run into height issues with the bridges along the canal. It's mostly tourists and vacationers now, not too many barges of iron ore these days.

As we were leaving, we noticed a cutout. We can't resist cutouts.

More on flickr.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Toronto Transit: 3 Things

I moved to Toronto half a year ago. This month, I learned some important things about the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).

1. Preorder monthly passes at a discount

TTC offers a Metropass Discount Program. If you sign up for a year in advance, you can get each monthly pass mailed to your home for $117.75 per month. The pass shows up more than a week in advance and is $10.75 less than buying it at the station.

2. Deduct the cost of a Metropass from your taxes

On the back of each card is a place for the cardholder to sign. Depending on your tax situation, it's possible you can deduct the amount of the pass. You must keep the cards from every month to do this.

3. Work may only cover part of it

Many companies have a transit benefit that is capped at a certain amount of dollars. In cities with lower cost transit, it generally covers an entire month. With Toronto's $128.50 monthly fee, only a part of it will be covered.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Michigan Should Create a Prize for a Working Animal Abuser Registry

Michigan was marching toward becoming the first state with a registry of animal abusers, much like the registry of sex offenders. Those plans are now canceled, for reasons that surprise no one.
the proposed registry has run into resistance from state police officials and others who fear it would be expensive and cumbersome
Instead, Republican Senator Rick Jones and Democratic Senator Steve Bieda are co-sponsoring a bill that requires breeders to pay $10 for Michigan-only background checks, and animal shelters to run free background checks. Why? A quote from Sen. Jones in the linked article (emphasis mine):
It's a start. Would I like it to be in law that no breeder or pet store would sell animals to someone who had been convicted? Absolutely. But we're looking for something we can get passed, and I think this is a good step,
We hear this constantly in software consulting. A good solution is identified and estimated only to discover the solution costs too much. The right next move is to find a way that gets you to the right solution for a lower cost, usually incrementally. Often, the next move is like what's quoted above -- finish something, anything, whether or not it accomplishes the goal, so we can say we finished something.

If we want a registry by the end of the year, let's put out a prize for a working registry by the end of the year. Make the prize $100,000; a reward high enough that I'd start working tonight, and lower than any piece of current government software. End the contest on November 30 and take two weeks to select the best application, in public. Every submission must be an open source web application.

By January 2014, we'll have a registry running. It worked for the railroads.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Little Things

Small, pleasant surprises are hard to come by. I think it's the small things that build loyalty.

My first car was a 1995 GMC Sonoma. This was one of the first cars with factory-installed keyless entry, and my dad had to order it from the dealer to get the option. It was a nice convenience, but unless you were close enough to hear the mechanical locks move, you had no way of knowing anything happened. The range decreased to almost nothing as the car aged, making sure you'd always be in earshot of the locks. Still, an unlock sounded almost exactly the same as a lock -- which meant one could never be confident the doors were locked without trying the handle.

There have been lots of cars floating through the family over the years. My grandfather has a Chevy Equinox, designed more than a decade after the Sonoma. My mom and sister both have Honda Civics from the 2010's. All three give a friendly beep when locking the car from the remote. But they're all missing something I never would have noticed without my car.

Now, I have a 2004 Volkswagen GTi. It was made in 2004, but the design dates back to 1997, making it almost as old as that first truck I had. It has keyless entry, too, but it gives me a reassuring beep every time I close it. The range hasn't seemed to decrease at all, despite being 9 years old. And my favorite part? I can open the hatch, hit the lock button, grab something with one arm, close the hatch with the other, and hear a reassuring beep -- it remembered my request to lock the car, and told me when it was done.

Newly understanding just how much the little things matter, I'm thinking about how to build these niceties into everything I make.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Olympia Arena Proposal

I mean, these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might [work], but... but it might work for us.

Ilitch and the Red Wings have announced plans to build a new $650MM arena in the sports and entertainment district. Over half would be privately funded, but a staggering $283MM would come from public funds.

The arguments for building the arena covered the usual areas: 
  1. 8,300 new jobs
  2. economic growth of $1B to $1.8B
  3. no new taxes
Forgetting for a moment that the state's outstanding debt actually increased over the last year and there isn't $283MM sitting around, let's dig a little deeper.


Jobs are very important; particularly in a place that has had an unemployment rate over the national average for more than the past decade. When you start throwing around 8,300 jobs in an environment like this, people are going to listen. Unfortunately, finding how anyone came to that number is a well-hidden secret.

The broader question is how do you rebuild an economy? Is it through temporary construction jobs? Is it through the retail jobs this space will provide? Or is it through creating the kind of export-worthy products and services that this kind of development could only potentially fuel through its office space?

Economic Growth

Stadiums have been built before. Lots of them. They don't perform well:

So, building a new arena doesn't seem to have any effect on a city's employment, per capita income, hotel occupancy rates, [or] taxable sales.
— Armina Ligaya quoting Victor Matheson, CBC News 

Glendale [Arizona] is...on the hook for...a $12 million annual debt payment for construction of its arena.
— Pat Garofalo and Travis Waldron, The Atlantic

Evidence that publicly financed stadiums generate significant economic development is shaky, particularly when the stadium houses an existing team rather than one new to the city.

If the state is really struggling to figure out how to spend $283MM, perhaps they should look to Chile's successful startup program. Investing $100,000 each, the state could fund a staggering 2,830 startups. Many would fail, but some businesses would be creating those export-worthy products and services that grow an economy.

The Joe

So, what then, becomes of Joe Louis? The Detroit News says its fate is unclear. Frightening words for anyone who remembers what became of the Silverdome.

The Silverdome was constructed for $238MM in 2013 dollars in 1975. Its most important tenant, the Detroit Lions, left in 2006. After the Lions departure, it cost the city of Pontiac $1.5MM in annual upkeep. The Silverdome was finally unloaded in 2010 for the rock bottom price of $583,000.


Hockey fans were excited Wednesday by what they feel is a long-overdue improvement.
— Louis Aguilar, The Detroit News

If the fans are excited, and it's actually a profitable venture, there should be plenty of private-sector financing for arena-building. As a fan who goes back to the Wings-Avs rivalry, I might even be willing to chip in. I'd do 50% over market for two tickets to a game any time in the first year.

But who knows? It didn't work for Montreal, Glendale, Bridgeview, Cincinnatti, Miami, and more, but it might work for Detroit.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Balki's First Summer

Balki is a huge fan of Winter. Two months back, we headed toward Montreal and found the last snow of the season.

Montreal Balki

Recently, we've started passing the 80°F mark. This is now a common scene in the living room —

Summer Balki

That pad he's on is just-out-of-the-freezer cold1, and the fan is spinning as fast as it can. As my Grandpa says, "That dog sure knows how to live comfortable."

  1. My girlfriend made that. You can find The SnugglePad at

Monday, April 22, 2013

Experiment 2: Button-Activated Light

More than six months after our first Arduino experiment, we're back at it with a simple light and a button. The end goal of these experiments is something like a button-activated puppy feeder. Here's the setup —

Button Light Off

It's pretty simple: hit the button and the light turns on.

Button Light On

Great! But does the button work with the puppy?

This is going to be fun.

Big Dome Push Button by sparkfun

Arduino Uno


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Balki Turns 9 Weeks!

It's been a busy couple of weeks for Balki.

He helped us unpack into a storage unit when our first apartment fell through.

Storage Unit 2

He battled deep footprints in the Toronto snow.

FootprintsClimbing Out

He learned how to do stairs on the most terrifying flight there is.

All those stairs? You must be kidding.

And he was exhausted after moving into our new place.

Wake me when the meal arrives

It's a shame the store didn't have any big bones.

All Mine

Of course there's more!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Slightly Different: Credit Cards

I've been using credit cards in the US for almost a decade now. I'm familiar with cash back cards, mileage cards, and why some people refuse to use cards. But that's not why you rang — we're not here for the pros or cons of what amounts to a personal decision. We're here to find out how credit cards are slightly different in Canada than the US.

The Smart Card

Oh sure, your US-based credit card will swipe just fine at most every store in the Greater Toronto Area, but you'll be about the only person around swiping a card. Most cards here have a smart card on them for the Interac network, and instead of being swiped, they're inserted into the bottom of the machine.

Interac PIN Terminal

Interac PIN Terminal by reinvented on flickr

The Transaction Is Yours

For years I've heard fears voiced at restaurants when a server takes a credit card to the register that "You just don't know what he or she is doing with it!" Apparently having the same distrust, but acting upon it, servers typically bring the terminal to you. Comically, the terminal comes to you in drive thrus as well, right out into the elements on a long cord.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Chancellor Ruffelstiltskin T. Balkonovich, Esq.

Great news! I've got a puppy.

Argonaut Balki

He was born on December 26th, 2012. When we got Balki a few days ago, he was almost 7 weeks old. He's a lab/shepard mix who goes by the name "Chancellor Ruffelstiltskin T. Balkonovich, Esquire" or nickname "Balki"


  • You mean like Balki from Perfect Strangers? Yes!
  • Do you like him? Yes!
  • Are you and your girlfriend in some sort of Bronson Pinchot fanclub? No, but any friend of Axel Foley is a friend of ours.
  • Is he potty trained? He's rocking it for a 7-week-old.
  • Does he like the snow? Yes!
  • What kind of food is he on? He's transitioning from Purina Puppy Chow to Blue Buffalo Puppy
  • Do you have more pictures? Yes! Lot's more on Flickr.

note This post was edited for clarity on Feb 16, 2013 12:42 AM

Monday, February 11, 2013

Righting London

A little over a month ago, my girlfriend and I made a stop in London, Ontario. We were nearly short on the bill, but promised ourselves we'd go back and tip our excellent server.

Prince Albert's Diner

Prince Albert's Diner by Slack pics on flickr

Yesterday we imported just about everything into Canada. Along the way, we made a stop at Prince Albert's Diner. I parked the U-Haul in the parking lot, walked directly into the counter and made a rare request:

  • "Hey, I was in here the week after Christmas with my girlfriend and there was a shorter guy doing just about everything — do you know who that would be?"
  • "Dark glasses?"
  • "Yah"
  • "You're probably talking about Ken. Why?"
  • "We didn't realize it was cash-only until we ordered, the ATM wouldn't take our cards, we only had $23, and the bill was $22.85"
  • "Ah, so you want to leave a tip or something now?"
  • "Yes! Would you be able to give it to him?"
  • "Definitely. I'll actually be seeing him tomorrow, so I'll just make a note with this right now."

So Ken, if by some chance you happen to read this one day, sorry about the delay!

Sunday, February 3, 2013


We can all agree balance is important, right?

For the last few years I've had some pretty lousy balance. This weekend Ginger and I took a gigantic step toward regaining some of that balance by finishing a book. It's not that I haven't read in years, but finally I finished a book that was not about Java, Ruby, MongoDB, Groovy, Spring, C#, or Ruby-on-Rails...though it was about the rails of the Central Pacific Railroad and the four people who powered it.

In fact, I was so exicited that I joined Goodreads and posted my first review as well!

Goodreads Review #1

The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created CaliforniaThe Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California by Richard Rayner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Associates is an entertaining look at one of history's most important endeavors. The book touches on the extensive corruption used to get things done. Rayner covers many of the larger-than-life battles between The Associates and Union Pacific in addition to the lengthy-but-brutal defeat of Tom Scott's Texas & Pacific Railway. We also get to see the links to other important pieces of history, such as Leland Stanford's founding of his university while mourning his son and the role he played in funding the early development of motion pictures with Eadweard Muybridge to answer the age-old question -- if all four of a horses feet left the ground at the same time while galloping.

While very enjoyable, the writing style is a bit exhausting, often crafting lengthy paragraphs out of just a few extremely long sentences.

note you can check out Ginger's review on Goodreads too!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Handyman Challenge

This is my first week working remotely with the team in San Francisco from Toronto. The three-hour time difference presents some odd working hours -- roughly 12:45pm to 9:45pm. So far before skyping in for the morning meeting I like to think I've gotten a lot done:
  • Met most of the folks at the Toronto office
  • Looked at several apartments
  • Set up a bank account with direct deposit
  • Got my Social Insurance Number
  • Filled out the benefits paperwork

 After work has been a different story, however. On Monday, I instantly fell asleep. Today held a new 10:00pm discovery on Canadian HGTV: Canada's Handyman Challenge. I had to tweet about it.

They started the show with tryouts. Contestants got a sheet of plywood and had to make something to wow the judges. We saw all kinds of things, but the two best were most certainly a penny-farthing and a geared bicycle, though maybe I'm biased.

From there, the competition heated up with a timed round. Everyone who was chosen to advance was given a door opening that was not level. The approaches varied, as did the effectiveness. The best of this round merely attempted to do things correctly -- leveling the opening, shimming, putting in door stops, etc. The worst saw their doors shattered off the hinges when a judge tried to open it.

Seven contestants were remaining at the start of the last round. Two would be eliminated, and it would prove to be difficult to determine which two were headed home. The task was to build a hammock stand out of the given wood. To make things more interesting, the hammock was much looser than anyone had anticipated -- and no one had checked the stretchiness of the hammock before building. A single hammock stand was shattered by one hand of a judge, while several others utilized designs that would surely not be safe for long. Oh, the drama!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Next Chapter: Toronto

Twitter => Toronto

Facebook => Toronto

LinkedIn => Toronto

If the social networks say it, it must be official!

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Here's a fork in the road: You've accidentally bought whole bean coffee instead of ground coffee. You do not have a grinder, and you're moving soon so it doesn't make sense to get one now. What do you do?

Some may buy the grinder anyway. Or return the coffee. Others, however, don't see their kitchen as empty of grinders, but full of possibilities. They open the bag, grab a cloth, and go to town with an ice cream scoop.

My Girlfriend is Inventive
This kind of resourcefulness doesn't come around often. Personally, I haven't seen it since the late 90's, when I witnessed carpet being trimmed with a steak knife.

As for the ice-cream-scoop-ground coffee, well, it was a little weak.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lessons of The Transporter

Recently watching The Transporter 1, 2, and 3 has left me with some learnings.

  1. When outnumbered in a fight, dip your arms in oil
  2. A pipe is the perfect answer to axes and swords
  3. Never underestimate a guy with a fire hose
  4. It's important to have a French Inspector friend
  5. Always have a numbered list of rules

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Traditional Pronunciation

I'm heavily entrenched in an embarrassing tradition: mispronouncing street and town names to locals.


It all started with the original move to Chicago. My former roommate and I were looking for places in the pouring-down rain when we stumbled into a hotel looking for Wabash Ave.

"Which way is Wah-bahsh?"
"Wah-bahsh? What? Oooh, Wah-bash! you guys aren't from around here are you?"

Little Rock

In Little Rock, Arkansas, one of the biggest roads you'll encounter is Cantrell Rd. It's not pronounced how certain Steve's might expect, either.

"So I just take Can-trell all the way to Rodney Par-ham?"
"First, it's Cantrll...and second, it's Rodney Parm"


In Toronto, the road that divides the city into east and west is Yonge St. Naturally, this went just as well.

Yonge St., NYC

Yonge St., NYC by Loozrboy on flickr

"Are we at Yong-gey Street yet?"
"I don't think that's how you say it, Steven. I think it's just Yong."
... *later, while talking to someone who knows"
"So you'll want to take Eglinton all the way down to Young and turn right."

We get it right, eventually.

note that's the only licensed picture I could find, and it was from a movie shoot where they were pretending Toronto was New York.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mississauga Bowling Championship 2012

I'm no bowling expert, but I am from the midwest. More people than you might expect have based their entire opinion of the midwest on Woody Harrelson's 1996 smash hit Kingpin. It didn't help the general bias that when a local user group did a coding exercise about bowling scoring I was the only one who knew the rules, or that I was near the top during a work outing with a steamy 119. During a recent trip to Toronto for some apartment hunting, Ginger and I stopped for three games at nearby Planet Bowl.

I lost the first game, handily.

I won the second game, handily.

The tiebreaker was a difficult one to digest. Ginger employed some deep mental strategy. "I don't have a chance" she'd say over and over again. Suddenly in the fifth frame, she picked up another ball... from there on out the throws were all pretty good.

Going into the bottom of the final frame, we were both tied at 108. All she needed was one pin.

Championship Throw
Championship Throw

Congrats to Ginger on taking the 2012 Mississauga Bowling Championship!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lunch in London

In another few weeks, I'll be making my way to the ThoughtWorks Toronto office. Having never been to the city before, the end of December seemed like a perfect time for Ginger and I to head north while visiting our families in Greater Detroit.

Since 2005, 1.8 million acres surrounding Greater Toronto have been deemed a greenbelt in an effort to prevent urban sprawl. As it happens, once you get out of that protected acreage, it's mostly farmland as well on the drive from Detroit. London, Ontario is one of the few towns along the way and felt like a good stopping point for lunch.

Just like you'd expect from a city, parking in London isn't free. It took $3, and while we nearly paid cash — I handed Ginger the $3 I had and a folded up $10 fell out of it — I went with my American Express.

The first restaurant we stepped into looked delicious, but clearly said cash only by the register. We both prefer the cashless life, and knew it'd be tight anyway, so we moved on to the diner across the street. With no clear mention of cash only, and an ATM right there, it was a safe option. Or so we thought.

Me: "I'll have the chicken tenders... and do you take credit?"
The server responded, quickly: "Okay. No, but we've got an ATM right there."
Me: "Any chance you take US cash?"
The server, quickly again: "At par, so a dollar is a dollar."

Not feeling great about our cash situation, I headed over to the corner to try the little non-bank-affiliated ATM. I wasn't concerned about fees, because Ally Bank is awesome and just reimburses them. It let me get all the way through the transaction, and then denied me as an Invalid Acquirer. I let Ginger know and she headed over to try her bank card. Same thing; those little ATMs must not like international cards.

Turbo Button ATM

We scraped at our pockets and came up with $23. Doing the math in our heads, and not knowing the tax rate in London, we knew it'd be close; closer than ever before.

Heading to the register the guy tallied the bill and came up with $22.85. Just barely made it, but only with the awful feeling of stiffing the guy who was so nice to us. We'll be back, just with a giant tip.

For more on our Canadian restaurant experience, check out Ginger's Float Me Down the River.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Electrical Tape Is All You Need

Never lend your tools to anyone, boy.

My dad had a job working for a carpet cleaning company in his early 20's. Driving a cargo van, he quickly tired of all the equipment rattling around in the back. Recognizing the problem, my dad did what was natural: headed to the local home improvement store, picked up some lumber and a circular saw and got to work on building an organizer.

Ford's answer to the A-Team

After a weekend, the organizer was a success. It took that rattling cargo van and gave everything a place. It worked so well that his boss saw it and wanted to build himself one. The boss just needed to borrow my dad's circular saw.

After an agonizing week, the boss handed back the saw. Then he handed back the power cord, separately. While sawing a 2x4, the power cord got in the way. Not to be deterred, the boss powered through...the cord. While handing it back, he offered my dad some confident advice: "some electrical tape is all you need, it'll work fine."

Just one project and one lending after purchasing, the saw was junk. It would be taped, and it would sort of work, but the bulge from the electrical tape meant that it would hang on boards and be a general disaster to use.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Mom's Kitchen Demo

In my family these days, one can simply reference "the brothers" or ask "are you going to love it or list it?" and everyone knows exactly which HGTV shows[1][2] are being referenced. We've logged a lot of hours in renovation-based entertainment, and that's a big part of why my mom's new kitchen renovation project is so exciting.

Cabinets, granite counter tops, and floors are on the way, but it all starts with a little demolition up front. Yesterday, she spent the day tearing out the 1980's tiled backsplash.

Mom's Kitchen Reno
Mom's Kitchen Reno 3
So far, so good!

  1. Property Brothers
  2. Love It or List It

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Game Night

A few days after Christmas we got a crew of six together for some board games, lots of laughs, and general good times. The guilty parties included my girlfriend, mom, sister, friend-of-the-family-for-so-long-she-is-family Rose, former roommate Ken, and myself. Here we all are in a round of Toronto's pride: Beyond Balderdash.


The classic dice game started the night, but with a twist shamelessly stolen from Ginger's family: instead of beginning with three chips, we bought in with three quarters. The winner took the pot of $6.00 as well as a Michigan Instant Lottery Ticket.

After a few rounds of LCR, we took up one of my favorite games of all time: Beyond Balderdash. Highlights included defining
  • acronym LTAB as "Love Trumps All, Baby!"
  • word tankle as everything from "a tank top for your ankle" to tinkle "... at a velocity greater than one can possibly imagine"


When all was said and done, everyone had taken at least one lottery ticket and my sister walked off with 2012's Balderdash trophy.

The Blog Welcomes 2013

Happy New Year! The blog is making a few changes for 2013.



The blog is renaming from SG Hill's Adventures in [Agile] Development to SG Hill's Adventures. It's a little overdue, as nothing has been written here on development in quite some time and SG Hill's Tidbits of Development exists.



The old system was the blogger default. Comments were reliable, but cumbersome. Earlier today I integrated disqus, a five-year-old startup company focused entirely on comments. Hopefully it's easier to use -- give it a shot!



The old theme was one of the blogger originals. This new one is a little better supported :)