HoHoTO 2015: be a sponsor, or just come for the party

HoHoTO is a fundraiser event put on each year by Toronto’s digital community: a great party with dancing, raffles and a chance to catch up with your friends (at the top of your lungs to be heard over the dance tunes). Since its inception in 2008, HoHoTO has raised over $350,000 for the Daily Bread Food Bank – an awesome organization that helps to feed people in our community – but this year, HoHoTO has turned its eye to supporting “the next generation of founders, funders and tech professionals”. In particular, the focus will be on organizations that help to bring more women and minorities into technology and digital businesses. The event is on December 11 at the Mod Club, and early bird tickets are on sale here.

The primary focus is on the YWCA Toronto’s Girl’s Centre, with a 3-year goal to completely fund the Girls’ Centre and push for the opening of another one. This centre provides programs for girls from 9-18 to allow them to try activities and develop skills, including “Miss Media” for designing online media such as blogs and websites. It’s located in Scarborough, the easternmost 1/3 of Toronto, serving a community that has upwards of 65% visible minorities (and the best ethnic food in the world, according to one economist), meaning that it is a great match with HoHoTO’s focus on promoting women and minorities in business and technology from an early age. HoHoTO is also bringing together professional women as mentors, including me.

The HoHoTO event, run by unpaid volunteers, is raising money through tickets and sponsorships. If you or your organization recognizes the value of diversity in business, and wants to support the success of women and minorities in digital and technology fields, consider becoming a sponsor of the event. Details are here, and most of your contribution is eligible for a tax receipt. You’ll get recognition on HoHoTO’s site and at the event, other promotional opportunities throughout the year, a handful of event and drink tickets to bring your team out to enjoy the evening, and a nice warm feeling in your heart.

Cloud 9

I was on Cloud 9 on Saturday night…or rather, I was *at* Cloud 9 (A Comedy of Multiple Organisms), Caryl Churchill’s 1978 two-act play dealing with preconceptions of gender and sexuality. Act I and II are 25 years apart based on the characters’ ages, but in a wonderful twist, the first act is set in colonial Africa as an allegory of the repressive attitudes of the 1950s, and the second act is set in the late 1970s, which was current day at the time that the play was written (although the dialog was pretty timeless, and could be today). Furthermore, the same seven actors play different characters in each of the two acts, regardless of gender or race: the character of Betty, for example, is played by Evan Buliung in the first act (he was magnificent in the white dress and garters) and by Ann-Marie MacDonald in the second act. Add to this that two of the actors – Megan Follows and Ann-Marie MacDonald – are well known even to me, a cultural cretin who has to be invited to events like this by my more artsy friends.

The interesting thing about this Toronto production of Cloud 9 is how they’ve made the production transparent through the use of social media. CBC’s Spark podcast had a clip on this (starting at around 40 minutes into the January 24th/26th podcast) featuring the director, Alisa Palmer, discussing how they put information about the play, casting, characters, staging, rehearsals and behind-the-scenes comments online before the play ever opened: something rare in the somewhat secretive world of pre-opening-night theatre. Rose Plotek, the assistant director, wrote many of the blogs posts on the main site (cross-posted to their Facebook page), but there are also very candid contributions from actors Blair Williams and Ann-Marie MacDonald, as well as video clips of rehearsals and interviews:

Cloud 9 is playing at the Panasonic Theatre until February 21st. Great script, excellent actors and fabulous costumes make for a fun night out.

GNO with Pat, Gail, Julie & Julia

Last night was a GNO – Girls’ Night Out – with my friends Pat and Gail. We had plenty to celebrate: Gail’s birthday was just past, Pat’s divorce just came through, and we realized that we all met on a day just about 30 years ago when we lived in the same university residence.

We started the evening with the early show of the film Julie & Julia, which is really wonderful. Not just a chick flick, it’s a foodie flick that had me salivating at every turn, and a peek into the love story that was Julia and Paul Child’s marriage. Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci were inspired as the Childs, and the twin story lines of the Childs in post-war Paris and the modern-day Julie Powell cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking were nicely balanced. It’s a fun and engaging film, definitely worth seeing.

As the credits rolled, I realized that I was starving after two hours of watching all that cooking: even the popcorn was starting to smell edible. However, a table at Veritas awaited. The place was surprisingly empty for a Friday evening; not sure if they get most of their business at lunch from all of the offices around there, or if we were just too late for the dinner crowd. We started with a round of dry gin martinis with olives and settled in to peruse the menu. Veritas sources many of their ingredients locally, organic where possible, and the menu presented some very difficult choices. Pat and I both started with the Peking duck on scallion pancakes, and Gail had the smoked trout with sweet and sour onions. Both plates were beautifully presented, and the duck was delicious although a bit salty.

By this time, I think that there was only one other table occupied in the restaurant, although there may have been more on the back patio, and the chef came out to chat with us about what we liked, and to hear about Julie & Julia. We moved on to a bottle of the 2007 Thirty Bench Red, a blend with which I’m familiar because I belong to the Number 30 Club and Thirty Bench ships me a case of wine per quarter, complete with the winemaker’s tasting notes.

For mains, I had the grilled Berkshire pork loin with a forest mushroom gratin: absolutely delicious. Berkshire pork is so much more flavourful than the usual insipid stuff that we get in the grocery stores; I didn’t really appreciate how good pork could taste until a trip to eastern Croatia a few years ago, where pork is a staple and the pigs range free in the forests, and Berkshire pork is certainly a step in the right direction. The mushroom gratin was great, but the pork was the true star of the meal. I don’t even recall what else was on the plate, although I’m sure that there was a veg or two. Pat had the roast chicken with chorizo bread pudding and browned beurre beets; she pointed out that she never orders chicken in a restaurant, but was glad that she made an exception. Gail had the rhubarb glazed rack of lamb with braised shallots and wild rice (which had been my second choice), and it looked amazing.

We finished with a glass of port (I think) for Pat, a baked apple dessert for Gail, and crème brulée for me. I’m quite sure that I didn’t need to eat dessert, but it was good.

Quite a foodie evening, between the film and the dinner. Today, I headed over to the library website and reserved a copy of Julia Child’s My Life in France and Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia , since these were the two books on which the movie was based. I also looked up the original Julie/Julia Project blog that Julie Powell wrote, as seen in the movie and on which her book is based. Although the fairytale transition from a blog to a book and movie deal isn’t something that many of us would expect to ever experience, it does show that sometimes if you just get started, things happen.

Some things never change…

I missed the CASCON conference this year, but just found some notes from last year’s conference, which included a session on barriers to women in technology/business. In addition to some dismal numbers on the percentage of women on corporate boards (14.7% in the US, 11.2% in Canada), I jotted down a brilliant quote from the speaker:

When a man fails, no one ever wonders if it was because he is a man.

Not sure if this was hers originally or if she’s quoting someone else, but it’s brilliant nonetheless.

I also noted a source for stats on women receiving degrees in Computer Science, which shows not exactly stellar numbers: women took 15% of the undergraduate degrees in 2004/5, 25% of the Masters’ degrees, and 15% of the Ph.D.’s.

A speaker from the University of Waterloo (where I graduated Engineering) stated that we have to be honest when speaking with girls considering going into computer science, and tell them that they may be the only girl in their high school or even university computer science class: I was shocked that this is still the case.

Eat, drink and do your part for breast cancer

Willow, a breast cancer support group, is hosting their annual Eat to the Beat event on September 25th:

Willow’s Eat to the Beat is the only event of its kind in North America that features delicacies and delectables prepared by over 60 of the finest women chefs including famed television host, Chef Anna Olson.

Now in its 12th year, the event brings together high profile women chefs from across Canada for an “all-out feast of the senses”. Guests can stroll through an eclectic array of food stations while sipping on a selection of fine wines, spirits and beers from around the world.

Women in technology

O’Reilly is running a Women in Technology series of articles. I suspect that this will be primarily a series on women in American technology, which is a significantly different experience from those of us in other countries (speaking from the point of view of having worked in tech in both Canada and the US, and traveled on business to about 20 other countries), but it’s a start.

And for all the independent women out there, a lovely little fairy tale sent to me by a friend today:

Once upon a time
in a land far away,
a beautiful, independent,
self-assured princess
happened upon a frog as she sat
contemplating ecological issues
on the shores of an unpolluted pond
in a verdant meadow near her castle.

The frog hopped into the princess’ lap
and said: “Elegant Lady,
I was once a handsome prince,
until an evil witch cast a spell upon me.
One kiss from you, however,
and I will turn back
into the dapper, young prince that I am
and then, my sweet, we can marry
and set up housekeeping in your castle
with my mother,
where you can prepare my meals,
clean my clothes, bear my children,
and forever feel
grateful and happy doing so.”

That night,
as the princess dined sumptuously
on lightly sautéed frog legs
seasoned in a white wine
and onion cream sauce,
she chuckled and thought to herself:
I don’t fuckin think so

The continuing saga of being a woman on the internet

I haven’t been posting my Skype Scumbags recently, but one popped up today that really pissed me off. I was working away and a Skype request to share details (that is, add to my friends list) came in from a “nick desanctis”.

My Skype profile clearly states “Please be specific in your contact requests. I do not accept blind contacts, especially from idiots who think that because my profile says ‘female’, it means ‘skype me'”, but I meet a lot of people in business and don’t remember all the names, so I always check the person’s profile to see if they might be someone that I’ve met rather than a garden-variety stalker. This guy was from Montreal, where I visited a few weeks ago on business, and it was a vanilla “please share your details with me” request, so I sent him a message:

[7:02:50 PM] Sandy says: do i know you? i use skype primarily for business and do not welcome unsolicited personal invitations

As soon as he responded, I realized that he was just another Skype stalker, the likes of which I see at least once a week, sometimes several times in one day:

[7:07:10 PM] nick desanctis says: hi
[7:07:43 PM] nick desanctis says: you don’t want to talk to me
[7:08:14 PM] nick desanctis says: do you have hotmail
[7:10:05 PM] nick desanctis says: so why did you talk to me

Skype stalker

The thing that really pissed me off was his last line (“so why did you talk to me”) because it implies that because I responded to a blind invitation that could have been a valid business connection, I’m somehow “asking for it”. This is right up there with guys who think that women are asking to be sexually assaulted because they wear a short skirt or walk on the street alone at night.

I’m not the only one who gets these; a female friend of mine who says that she tends to see invitations from the “spiritual weirdos” recently received the following invitation on Skype:

Feel free to connect with me via email or [phone number] and/or via “heart subspace” (too late to unconnect there – I am already locked-on to your heart I am afraid).

“Heart subspace”??!! I don’t know whether to laugh or barf.

Women in the kitchen, renovating

Finding a home renovator in Toronto is difficult, but finding one owned and operated by women that also mentors women in construction trades borders on impossible. Enter Wo-Built, whose CEO Martina Ernst I met at the first Toronto Girl Geek Dinner last month; she and her partner have decades of experience in design, project management, building and construction. What I really like is that they offer pre-apprenticeship training and job shadowing for women considering a trade but not sure which one that they might choose, as well as having a commitment to hiring women already skilled in trades to work on their projects.

Trades have, in my opinion, been given short shrift in the past 20 years with every boomer wanting their kids to go to university even if they were more suited to being a plumber (which probably makes them more money than that sociology degree, too). The result is a lack of skilled tradespeople and a glut of people leaving university with no real idea of what they want to do with that degree that their parents paid for; I’m not saying that everyone is in that position, just that I’ve seen some examples first-hand. Martina’s offering a chance for something different for young women.

Where are all the TorCamp men?

Last night, we had the first Toronto Girl Geek dinner, which drew about 40 people with only one brave male soul amongst us. The rules of attending a Girl Geek dinner are simple: if you are male, you must bring a female with you or be brought by a female. You don’t have to be invited. You don’t have to be a girl. You don’t even have to be a geek.

One of the questions that came up was how to get more women integrated into the Toronto tech community, and I suggested that the *Camp events were a great place to start: they’re more casual, it’s easy to gain some experience and confidence with public speaking by heading up a session, and the male attendees are not the usual chest-beating alpha males that you find at some technology events. How disappointing, as I looked around the room, to realize that not a single TorCamp man was in attendance to show his support for women in the Toronto tech community.

The next dinner is planned for September 19th, hope to see more of you then.