Montréal Business Notes

How I moved from the west coast to the east coast

Occasionally I get questions from friends who are planning to move. How should I approach this? My answer is nearly always the same: just do it.

My move was planned out for years but I did not have a detailed logistical plan. My partner and I had been planning to move together for a few years but my initial plan to move was even years before that. When I finally made the decision to move none of that really mattered.

What you need to bring is minimal, so give yourself enough time and/or a storage locker to get all of your furniture out of your home. Beyond this, the rest is easy.

  • Find a friend in your destination city. Stay with them awhile. If they have an available room, even better! Might also be possible for them to look at places for you.
  • If you have pets, get a carrier for the flight. Check your airline for pet blackout dates.
  • On the pets topic, get a *large* carrier to store up to two pets while in transit.
  • Buy your plane ticket! Be sure to pay any pet cargo fees after you buy.
  • Get a postal redirect to your new/temporary address.
  • Buy "bankers boxes" for things you wish to bring with you. I would suggest 8 of them.

On that last point, the "bankers box" format is perfect because you can load it up with books and/or heavy dishes and still meet postal regulations.

Yup, you're going to send these by post! It is the cheapest method for few items. Greyhound is ok too, but requires you to drop off and pickup the items. In Canada, you can send things by "expedited mail" (faster than standard, slower than express). By doing so, you can opt for insurance and for a signature on delivery. The boxes will come right to your door if you are home. Each box cost me about $50 on the high end to send (I think probably $35 on the low end). Be sure to check the maximum dimensions for the post and also the maximum weight. I also purchased some 2'x2' cubes (4 square feet) from Budget rent-a-car. They are perfectly postal + airline size compliant however it is very easy to overload them. Send the boxes a day or two before you leave.

Pack your angry cats and go! Transport Canada will ask you to remove the pets from the carrier so they can swab it for potential cuteness explosions. An airline attendant helped me hold the cats as they do *not* like being in an airport. Fortunately they were both too scared to run amok at the airport.

When you arrive you'll remember everything you forgot. So go buy those things at a local shop. Get ready to replace a lot of stuff. I highly recommend checking the classified sites like Kijiji and Craigslist for those items.

An amazing year as part of Montréal's software community

As 2011 wraps up I look back in awe at all that has changed. A year ago I moved my business from Vancouver to Montréal and things have been steadily changing since I arrived. Really good things. When I arrived last year I knew only a few people in Montréal. One thing Montréal is great for is meetups. There are tons of software meetups, every night of the week! So I put my hiking shoes on and started going to a lot of events.

I took to the streets

For awhile I got involved with DevLab and for a few weeks I did Blitzweekend events. The former was great French practice for me, I learned all about git, and then I took that knowledge to Blitzweekend where I coded my first code release Drupal projects. Then I became an approved maintainer on Drupal.org. Progress!

I also connected with Montréal's Drupal association. The association has grown over the years and 2011 marks the start of the group as a registered society under Québec's non-profit system. We also planned out a Drupal Camp (and I learned a lot - not having done this sort of thing before). Some of us are discussing running an "actual camping" event in the summer. Would you like to help? Let me know.

A new company was born

This was also the year that I channeled all of this good energy into rebranding my company. From 2008-2010 I had run under the name "Granola Systems" which was registered in British Columbia. It is a suitably apt name for a company out west, but doesn't carry the same meaning in eastern North America. For much of 2011 I reverted back to billing as Ryan Weal until our incorporation documents were complete.

In the fourth quarter of 2011 I officially relaunched as Kafei Interactive Inc. / Kafei Interactif Inc. We're registered nationally, so as long as we're based in Canada we will always have the same name. In case you're wondering, kāfēi is how you say the word "coffee" ( 咖啡 ) in Chinese. We drink a lot of coffee at our studio.

We scaled up a bit

As I launched Kafei Interactive, the new business opened up to include many more people in our production process. It was really a huge step up that has been needing to happen for awhile.

This year we brought in many more people to our nimble shop. We had one person loading content on a couple projects, a translator, at least three types of designers, a database guru, a support guy. The list goes on. In total, there are probably about ten different people we work with now.

New invoicing system

To handle the increased capacity this year we opted for a new banking and invoicing arrangement. We now invoice with our time tracking system and clients can pay online. For clients who pay by credit card, you can now collect travel points with your card. We also started accepting Interac e-Transfers.

These changes reduced the number of trips to the bank and also has the advantage of taking the post man out of the equation for collecting payments. Canada Post was on strike for a few months this year. It was a frustrating experience.

We also began a new effort to quote more accurately on our projects. This one is tough, and it has certainly taken a bite from our paycheques in the past. Estimating software is hard to do is a pretty accurate statement. In the new year we will be linking our work orders with our invoices so clients will have a complete overview of all account activities.

Lastly on the infrastructure front, we maintained a brick and mortar office for most of the year. Though looking back it seems counter to all of the "virtualization" of our business practices. At the end of the year we decided to consolidate our shared apartment situation and our office into one private studio in the heart of Montréal. We're now located in central Villeray!

Our business has changed

This one was planned but it is always interesting to see how it plays out in real life. We took on a lot more coding this year. In fact, most of what we do now is strictly programming.

We also do brochure websites, theming, and internationalization of websites.

That is a pretty wide variety of stuff, which is why we use a narrow set of tools to get things done. The coding stuff is really enjoyable and we hope to be doing more and more of it in the future.

The great give

While taking on additional coding projects we started to release our work on drupal.org. This week I finally published a variety of modules which have been in development at different points in the year.

Unfortunately our module work has been focused on Drupal 6 because that is the API we were really "steeped" in and it had the body of supporting modules we needed for our clients. We plan on releasing D7 versions of anything we post on drupal.org, but much of it will come in the new year.

What's next for Kafei Interactive

The new year is all about Drupal 7 for us. We're full time coders, so if there is anything lacking in D7 we're equipped to take on those little bits and pieces. While we're at it we're going to push ourselves closer to the current development of Drupal... that is to say, we're also going to be chasing Drupal 8 but we will be using Drupal 7 for all projects until it is declared stable and meets our needs.

Announcing Kafei Interactive Inc.

Today I am pleased to announce the formation of my new company, Kafei Interactive Inc.. The new company continues the work that I was doing as Granola Systems (BC) and takes on some of my work for Groupe Rutagi (NS/QC). I look forward to continuing my work with the Drupal community under this new banner from my new office in Montréal.

Comparing Canadian mobile Internet offerings

This week I finally bit the bullet and purchased a high-speed internet connection in USB form so I can work outdoors with my laptop this summer. I have done much research and had many questions along the way so this article hopes to resolve some of those frequent and common questions.

Does it work on Linux?

Yes. It does. All of the "Internet Sticks" or "USB Internet keys" currently sold in Canada support Linux.

In Debian 6 the device will be detected within about a minute and will then appear in your Network Manager menu. Don't click the connection yet - you have to configure a couple things first. You should open your network connections, click the tab where your "modem" should be and select "add provider". This will ask you what country and provider you are using. Do that! It has the 'dialup' info for your carrier ready to go for you.

The other thing it will need to know is a PIN number if you are on Telus. I put that in the PIN field and the password field. I put my wireless number into the username fields as some forums recommended. Apparently does not like that field to be blank.

What is the coverage like? Which network?

All of the Canadian offerings are currently on the same network technology, HSPA+, which is a variant of GSM. Those familiar with wireless will recognize that Bell and Telus are jumping over to the GSM side of the spectrum. Because of this, I considered all operators equally.

Telus and Bell have roaming agreements with the prairie telecoms and I plan to do some traveling though that region regularly... so they win in this case. I have Rogers network access already with my cellphone but they only really have coverage in Manitoba and some parts of Alberta.

For those new to this, Rogers runs it's own network, while Telus and Bell roam with each other's networks. They all use the same technology, but there are effectively two big networks in Canada.

Fortunately, I checked in on Sasktel's LTE/HSPA+ rollout and the places I'm traveling to are already running on the "new" network Telus/Bell/Sasktel network. So from now on I should always have a connection while I'm in the country, having the new Internet stick and my existing Rogers phone to rely on.

What is the pricing like? How much data?

Even though I am a web developer I use very little amounts data each month. Seriously. My work is all done on the server, so I connect to that and all the dirty work is done there. No uploading/downloading/uploading process in my world. I also do not watch a lot of video or listen to music online.

Having monitored my laptop bandwidth for a few months I can say I use about 5gb of data on wifi, where I assume no limitations, and about 0.5gb on my wireless account if I use it a lot (full time for 10 days will do it). I plan on using about 3x more data on the new wireless connection than my old one, so 1.5gb should be about right.

All of the network operators in Canada basically offer the same plan. Due to the potential for going wildly over budget I recommend the "flexi" plan (it is roughly $5 more but automatically adjusts to the next level if you go over).

Again, all major operators have this on offer:

$35 starter rate (500mb or so)
$55-60 midrange (up to 2gb on most or 3gb on Bell)
$70ish high/fulltime (5gb)

Anything over that will cost you about $50/gig and in my case Telus is going to stop the card from functioning at the 10gb mark. Probably a good idea since that would mean an extra $250 on top of my monthly bill.

Which Card is Best?

Telus offers two cards, Bell one, and Rogers two.

The best one on Telus is the Sierra series, so sayeth the forums. Construction of the card is better?

The best one on Rogers is the MTE variety. It seems to get higher speeds.

The best one on Bell is... well who cares about Bell.

I ended up with the lower option of the two Sierra cards Telus had on offer, the Sierra 306. I chose this one for a few reasons:

  • It only required a 1 year contract
  • It supported the same network(s) as the higher end model
  • The difference between high speed and ultra high speed is irrelevant (it is just reason to use more data)
  • The pricing for the higher end model is dumber than dumb. The outright cost is $29 more than the lower one, but you pay $79 up front on contract vs. $0... why so much more? Dumb.
  • Currently the bulk of users on the Telus/Bell network are using the older network technology, so there should be no harm in choosing a mid-range card on the new network... the network has few users thus lots of bandwidth.
    • Final Thoughts / Observations

      The stick is much faster than I expected. It is amazing to use.

      As I had been warned by some friends who have used these things, the USB sticks get hot really fast. It is okay though. They are tested to run that hot.

      On a busy day my bandwidth usage is about 65-70mb. Primarily using SSH to connect to servers and a lot of page reloads while I'm developing.

First Drupal code release - Node Tasklist

Yesterday marks my first public foray into developing contrib modules for the Drupal project. I applied for project maintainer status for my new module, Node Tasklist.

From the description of the project:

Each time you visit the page or block created by this module you are presented with the edit form of the most recent node of that content type. When you save your changes, you are returned to the same page so you can perform another update to the node.

Read the description of Node Tasklist in my Drupal.org sandbox.

I made a demo of the module at the end of Montréal's Blitzweekend, where I put the final touches on the code.  You can see the module in action here: http://weal.ca/tl/blitz

I really love doing work that has a time component.  I have in the past written shell scripts and scheduling systems.  I also have a time tracker I developed in-house with Drupal and much more.  I hope to release all three of those as community projects once the Node Tasklist module is fully polished.

Moved to Montréal

I am pleased to formally announce my relocation to Montréal! I have been planning a move here for about five years and slowly everything started coming together in late 2010.

For my Vancouver clients there is minimal change. I am available by phone and I have a "conference room" setup online that we can use to demo new software.

If you are in Montréal - good news! I'm in town most of the time so I am free to meet to discuss potential projects in person at a café near you.

This is the start of my "national" web development practice. In 2011 I will be visiting Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Québec and Victoria unless I have any amazingly interesting gigs in other Canadian towns and cities.

There is more to come. I will be relaunching the business as a bilingual practice and many services I offer are being reworked and improved for that launch. Exciting times ahead!

Second annual trip to Ontario & Quebec

Vancouver is starting to get mighty cold and wet so I'm taking a step out to go to places that are colder and wetter than here: Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

Having taken the same trip last year at this time I will be traveling to the cities in reverse order, suggesting that I may stay in Ontario longer than planned. What are my plans when I'm there? Largely the same as what I do here: lots of reading, coffee and writing emails. Catching up with things I haven't had the time to do in Vancouver lately.

Another component of the trip will include interviews with people in the communication and journalism circles of the region. Networking in Vancouver is limited to a few industry associations and the eastern markets offer some commentary you just won't get at the local gigs.

Though technically this is my vacation I'm holding steady on a commitment to travel east to get a feel for the culture of other Canadian cities. The hope is to develop a network of contacts that will support the work I do on the coast.