We’ll miss you, Jack.

I wrote this last year on the day Jack Layton passed away. When I found out, I was sitting on a subway heading north to Wilson station. The last few stops were above ground. I was playing Spider and the game was interrupted by a text message from my father with the news.

I’ve lived in Toronto-Danforth for four years. Jack meant a lot to us.

I published this and then un-published it again, not sure what to do with it. Today is the anniversary of his passing, and so here it is, unedited.


Federal NDP leader Jack Layton died yesterday morning in his home in Toronto. He was 61.

It’s been almost 36 hours since I found out and I still don’t believe it. RIP Jack Layton doesn’t make sense; Jack Layton dead doesn’t make sense; a man so alive and passionate silenced doesn’t make sense. I’m trying to understand it.

Reading his farewell letter was a thoroughly emotional experience, to say the least, made more difficult by the fresh scent of NDP success — Layton led his party to a historic 103 seats in the last election and became the official Leader of the Opposition. The New Democrats have never been so successful as they were under Layton, and it stings even worse that just as his vision was becoming a reality, his life no longer was.

I regret never meeting him, and wish I had been in town for the huge NDP election party on May 2nd, when the seat numbers just climbed and climbed. There were five party leaders in that election. Two were booted from Parliament, one was voted in, and one will never again return to Stornoway. It was historic for so many reasons. The elation coming out of the NDP party was an incredible sight, however, and watching the numbers climb and climb to dizzying heights was something I won’t soon forget. Jack’s joyful election speech is the way I’d like us, and Canada, to remember him — at the height of his successes, passionate and optimistic about the future of the country, and ready to take everything on. Everything; the Conservatives, leading the Opposition, or cancer.

His swift departure from our lives and the reaction it has spawned brings home the highly positive image that everyone had of this remarkable man, even after his worrying press conference in July when he announced his leave of absence. No one expected him not to be back in September; even though we should have expected the worst, it never crossed our minds. Jack never loses a fight, we thought. Maybe compromises, but doesn’t lose.

This was his last fight, and he fought well.

Goodbye, Jack; thanks for everything.

Torontoist has a beautiful piece about him.

Hello baseball fans.

Wow — I have no idea what I said, but there are so many of you coming over here from Drunk Jays Fans (well, DJF now to be more family-friendly) game threads and so on. Hi everybody! Thanks for stopping by.

In very related news, I’ve started a baseball-specific blog called Double Switching, so you should go check that out! It’s run on Tumblr, so please do follow if you are so inclined. Things will be virtually baseball-free over here from now on.

Yeah!

Thank you, Levon.

It’s Friday, April 20th, 2012. Nearby, a coworker just put on The Last Waltz, the remastered edition, and the waltz theme is floating around the room. Obits, remembrances and videos are making their rounds of the internet. Today is the world’s first day without Levon Helm, and we are all feeling it.

Levon Helm was one of my favourite musicians of all time. This sounds like the kind of thing people just say, a common hyperbole used only to emphasize the fact that they’re really into this guy right now, just really into him — but Levon’s the real deal.

I had the pleasure of witnessing his live show twice at Massey Hall, both within the past few years. His throat cancer had progressed pretty severely and the last time I saw him, he almost couldn’t speak. His daughter Amy held him up by singing his songs with him, and he never stopped smiling, even through all his coughing and rasping. His neat buttoned shirt looked boxy over his alarmingly small shoulders, but his time was impeccable and the joy coming from him was unmistakeable. Levon Helm was a man that drew you in, his love for the music radiating from behind the kit–the first time I saw him I was mesmerized by the way he held together a (ridiculously huge) lineup of amazing musicians having the time of their lives. It was the “Midnight Ramble” on tour, full of guitars and horns and voices, and I remember standing at the back of the main floor at Massey thinking to myself that if there was one gig I’d want, one job I’d love to have as a sax player, playing alongside Levon Helm would have to be it.

When his family posted a notice on Wednesday afternoon saying Levon was “in the final stages of his battle with cancer”, it felt like a punch in the gut. We knew it was coming, of course, but we didn’t really want to know or believe that we’d have to live without him one day. And only a handful of hours later, on Thursday afternoon, he passed away quietly (surrounded by friends and family, at least). The number of articles in celebration and memory of him before he passed on was really remarkable–I am glad that tributes were paid to him before he passed, because even if he never got the chance to see or read them, it feels right. People like this should be celebrated while we still have them, too.

There will be many screenings of The Last Waltz this weekend, I’m sure, and many listens to Dirt Farmer and The Band and Music From Big Pink. I hope that years from now we will continue to remember Levon as the legendary honey-voiced drummer that he was, and that we can continue to pay tribute to the indelible effect he had on us — on people like me, who will never be able to get enough of those songs. Thank you for all the joy and love and great times, Levon. Thank you for reminding us that being a musician is an inherently wonderful thing, and showing us just how wonderful it was. There will never be another like you. Rest in peace.

Three games in …

Jays fans are really experiencing the gamut of emotions here and it’s only three games into the season. 159 crazy days and nights to go (and more, if all goes according to plan … but it’s too early for that!).

We’ve played three games, and they’ve lasted the duration of four games plus an inning. Thirty-seven innings of baseball down at Progressive Field, and all of them with their fair share of high drama.

The first, a sixteen-inning marathon on Opening Day, looked like it was headed firmly and speedily downhill with Ricky Romero’s 43-pitch, four-run second inning. Joey Bats’ first homer of the season put the Jays on the board, but that was it until the ninth, when Toronto exploded to score three runs and tie it. It wouldn’t be resolved until the top of the sixteenth — J.P. Arencibia, with two runners on, thought he saw a bunt sign that wasn’t there, fouled off the bunt, and then crushed a home run to seal it 7-4 after five and a quarter hours. On the first day!

We expected nine innings in Game 2 (how naive); Morrow and Jimenez had a couple of perfect game bids going and then things blew apart in a hurry. JPA’s throwing error ended up allowing Kipnis to smack a two-run tater, and Jimenez ruined his bid by walking Johnson and Lind; Lawrie cashed in right away to tie the game. A lead, a blown save, some more extra innings, and the Jays took it with the same score the second game in a row.

Last night, of course, ended with the highest of dramas: down a run in the ninth inning, two outs, bases loaded, Jose Bautista at the plate. Unfortunately for wildly hopeful Jays fans (and very fortunately for Cleveland closers), he popped out, and the game ended in nine instead of stretching onward, with the Jays losing their first of the season.

TONIGHT: what will surely be a wild and crazy home opener at the ‘Dome versus the (hilariously) 0-3 Boston Red Sox, fresh off an extra-innings loss to the Detroit Tigers last night. Young Henderson Alvarez takes the mound for the Jays to face Boston’s Félix Doubront at 7:30. It’s gonna be loud!

BASEBALL

Ladies and gentlemen: the 2012 MLB season has arrived.

(photo by Bobcatnorth on Flickr)

For some reason I agreed to join my coworker’s fantasy league this season, even though I have no idea how to play fantasy baseball–if any of you have great tips, I’m all ears.

Tonight, a ridiculous start to the season (who’s counting those A’s/Marlins games in Japan? NO ONE): Kyle Lohse has a no-hit bid through six innings, and Jose Reyes — glad I drafted him — broke it up in the seventh. At Marlins Park. Those poor fans.

In “this doesn’t mean anything but I hope it totally means something” news, though, the Toronto Blue Jays finished off the preseason at a disgusting 24-7-1. That is a .774 record in spring training, destroying the Grapefruits and leading all of the Major Leagues. I know it’s spring training, but look at how awesome this is:

The Jays win the AL.

Note that St. Louis, who led the National League, finished at .640. Our rotation had better hold strong (happy thoughts, Drabek, happy thoughts), because it’s gonna be a good year. Also note the positions of New York and Boston. God, so wishful.

TOMORROW: The Blue Jays open the season at Progressive Field with Romero vs. Masterson, 3:05 PM ET! FINALLY!

Ladies Learning Code: JavaScript

A couple of weekends ago I helped out at Ladies Learning Code‘s Intro to JavaScript workshop. I was a ‘mentor’, one of the large group of devs who volunteered to hang out with some eager learners all day and help them decipher programming in JavaScript. It was pretty awesome, and I can say with absolute confidence that I’ve never felt better about being a programmer than I did (and do) after that workshop.

The previous weeks had been completely insane at work and we were on deadlines that were sometimes physically painful to think about. I had lost an entire day of productivity (one I couldn’t afford to have lost) to trying to decipher an OO JavaScript framework another coworker had built, one that was full of gigantic nested object literals and confusing (for me) references, and I felt pretty terrible about my skills at that point. I strongly considered cancelling on the workshop at least five times and only barely managed to convince myself the night before that it would be fine.

It was, of course, fine.

That’s us before any of the participants got there–just organizers and mentors (note: all photos thanks to the fantastic Peter Newhook!). Yeah, there were a bucketload of us giving up a Sunday to show up at CSI Annex and talk code all day. At this point I was still mildly terrified that I would just somehow forget everything I knew about JavaScript (the thing I do for a living, all day, every day). I sometimes wonder how I don’t explode in a ball of worry.

And there’s everyone (photograph by Breanna Hughes)! I know. So much enthusiasm.

Pearl Chen and Christina Truong led us through a pile of beginner JavaScript and covered a surprising amount of ground in one day, including really great explanations of objects, some jQuery, and some fun demos. After the first exercise I finally relaxed a bit and remembered that yeah, I’m okay at this stuff. Go figure.

There’s nothing like helping someone work out the kinks in their understanding of something and watching them experience a huge epiphany. It’s ridiculously rewarding, and I got to do it for not one but four great ladies!

(Check out my almost-six-year-old Dell in the foreground. Keep on truckin’, old buddy.)

Pauline, Emma, Laura, Shetu–thanks for sticking with it and being so damn excited about learning new stuff. You guys made it one of the best times I’ve had in a while, and reminded me why I love writing code all day–we make cool stuff happen. And thanks to Ladies Learning Code for doing something amazing: making people excited to learn code, excited to say they’re learning code, excited to hang out with other people who do too. It’s a great community. I’m glad to be a part of it.

(Side note: Shetu, the lovely learner on the far right in that photo, actually interviewed me for this Globe & Mail feature after the Ruby workshop last fall! SMALL WORLD.)

Twenty-three.

It’s my 23rd birthday.

Twenty-three is a prime number. It’s the jersey number once (or currently!) sported by Carlos Peña, LeBron James, Don Mattingly, current Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, former Leafs coach Pat Quinn, Paul Reinhart, Adrian Gonzalez, Michael Jordan, and my man the Eliminator, Martin Gélinas.

Julius Caesar was stabbed twenty-three times. Human sex cells have 23 chromosomes. John Forbes Nash (who inspired A Beautiful Mind) was obsessed with the number 23, and in Star Wars: Episode IV, Luke, Han and Chewy sneak into detention block AA23 to rescue Princess Leia.

The 23 enigma “refers to the belief that most incidents and events are directly connected to the number 23, some modification of the number 23, or a number related to the number 23″.

There’s even a film called The Number 23.

Besides being the day after the Ides of March, March 16 is also the birthday of Bernardo Bertolucci, Nancy Wilson, Curtis Granderson, Brian Wilson (the baseball one), John Darnielle, and Flavor Flav. (I’m wearing my little clock necklace in tribute.)

On this day in 1926, Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Mass, and in 1995 Mississippi finally ratified the Thirteenth Amendment and became the last state to abolish slavery. (1995, guys. Official ratification was in 1865, two years before Canada became Canada).

22 was a pretty sweet year. Here’s to an even better one.

(thanks for all the cool trivia, Wikipedia)

Edit: My sister, ladies and gentlemen.

The Wishlist

In a fit of self-improvement I just wrote out a bunch of goals for myself on a fluorescent yellow Post-It (closest thing to me at the time, don’t judge) and stuck them on my desk.

There are eight, because that’s how much room I had.

  1. Get in shape.
  2. Manage my money.
  3. Watch more movies.
  4. Get through a few seasons of The Simpsons.
  5. Become a JavaScript whiz.
  6. Stop sucking at cooking.
  7. Learn to sew.
  8. Dress like you really want to.

Some clarification.

  1. I’m healthy, but not fit. I eat pretty well (I think?), but I sit at a computer all day, and then I come home tired and unmotivated and don’t want to go back outside to run or whatever. It’s slowly getting better, but I need a lot of forcing, I think.
  2. I’m not a wild and crazy spender, but I just want to keep better track of things. Seems like a smart idea, right?!
  3. If you ask me if I’ve seen a movie 9/10 times the answer is no. Now I have free time. Time to fix.
  4. I’ve got this grand plan to watch all of The Simpsons from S1 to present. There is a lot of junk in there but also a lot of awesome, awesome stuff. I just want to watch them in chronological order, for fun, and to catch all the hundreds that I missed when I didn’t watch TV as a kid (or undergrad), like, ever.
  5. I write code for a living. I want to write awesome code for a living.
  6. Okay, I really don’t actually suck. It just feels like I suck because I’m unimaginative. I’m fine at following recipes, but I want to actually be able to cook. Improvising something interesting out of spare ingredients = something I can do reasonably well musically, but not so well culinarily.
  7. I want to make stuff … and not make things look ridiculous when I mend them (see: my middle coat button, somewhat off-kilter).
  8. I dress like a university student because those are the clothes I have, but I want to dress like, well, not one. Wardrobe fixing is a slow process. Ideas appreciated!

Total time it took to write impulsive list: roughly 1 minute.

It’s almost my birthday; fresh start, right? Let’s see what happens.

Edit: Upon further reflection, there definitely should be a number 9, even though the Post-It is full: Finish my damn website & blog layout! Jeez.

It’s about people.

I am writing this post on my brand new 24″ widescreen external monitor — it’s a TV, doubling as a GIANT computer screen, and it’s awesome. Last night I watched the Oscars on it, in all their boring glory–when did they stop being fun? (Answer: when Hugh Jackman was not hosting them every year after 2009.)

I’m amused to say it was my absolute worst showing ever, though: 9/24! I did make all my picks as the opening theme was starting, though, and I saw a grand total of two nominated films this year — The Help and Moneyball. The former had its problems, of course, but I cannot deny Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis’ amazing performances (although that standing ovation for Spencer seemed … slightly misplaced?). But nothing for Moneyball? Nothing? That hurts. I know, a sports film, a business film even–but Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the crazy passion and anger and dreams, that rugged determination–I thought he was fantastic. At least he was nominated.

If you have yet to see the film and you have any interest in baseball, read the book first. Michael Lewis is a master of making boring events into teeth-grinding page-turning ones (including the MLB draft, which is basically just a bunch of GMs phoning each other into the wee hours; not exactly made for novelization). And then watch the film, and revel in Chris Pratt’s adorable portrayal of Scott Hatteberg. I’d like to have coffee with the real Hatty, I think, if I could.

On a different note: today the brilliant Maria Popova posted a great little list of insights called How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love. It sounds a little self-helpy, I know, but trust me: interesting, candid, and worth it. Among my favourite affirmations are the following two:

First, from Robert Krulwich’s commencement address (full text):

If you can… fall in love, with the work, with people you work with, with your dreams and their dreams.

And from The Holstee Manifesto, which you’ve probably seen a hundred times before:

Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them.

Emphasis is often made on going out and finding your inspiration and focusing on you and allowing yourself to do what you need to do–but I think there needs to be more of a reminder that it’s the people you surround yourself with that have the most effect. Since I started at my current job five months ago (!) all I’ve been thinking about is how much everyone around me knows, and how interesting the stories they have must be. I’d almost just like to take everybody out to lunch individually, one by one, and let them talk. (Maybe I will!)

Surround yourself with interesting people. It’s a surefire way to make you do more, all the time.