Montreal women in tech – a much longer history than The Gazette suggests

14 Apr

Saturday’s Montreal Gazette has an interesting story about women in Montreal’s tech community.

But while I’m thrilled to see a focus on the hard work of Montreal Girl Geeks organizers Liesl Barrell and Sandy Sidhu and an acknowledgement of the important role women are taking in Montreal’s tech scene, I feel taken aback by one of the article’s assertions:

A decade ago, it was unfathomable for such an organization to exist; now, women are flocking to Montreal Girl Geeks for events and resources, thanks in large part to its high level of engagement on social media. One needn’t look any further for an answer to the oft-asked question, “Where are all the women in tech?”

  • Studio XX, a bilingual feminist artist-run centre for technological exploration, was founded in 1996. I remember having trouble getting a spot in their HTML classes and attending a crowded celebration for Art’s Birthday. They’re still very much alive and active.
  • I was a part of Webgrrls Montreal when Joya Balfour officially founded it in 1997. I remember going to Webgrrls meetings in 1995 and 1996. The room booked for Webgrrls meetings was always packed.
  • Adele McAlear co-founded DigitalEve, a non-profit group for women in new media and digital technology, in 1999. I don’t know much about DigitalEve but I understand it’s been popular and successful.

Those are just a few of the organizations that I know about firsthand or have heard about. I moved away from Montreal for nearly six years and came back in 1995, so my reference points come from what I know. But I’m willing to bet there have been other many organizations supporting women in tech, even before 1996. It’s frustrating to see the efforts women have made to improve the situation for other women go unnoticed.

As well, in recent years Montreal women have launched Montreal All-Girl Hack Night and a Ladies Learning Code chapter here. Those are just two groups.

A move and a newish beginning

9 Apr

I haven’t posted in a while.

Those housing problems I had last fall became much, much worse. Things got so bad I had to make a quick and difficult decision. After more than 15 years living in the same apartment, I had to move. I had no real choice.

Mould I’d cleaned months before returned to the walls of our master bedroom and cracks in the ceiling of the master bedroom worsened. In early January I called a tenants’ rights organization and they said cancelling my lease through the rental board (Régie du logement) would take months. My son was living with my parents for a while because the mould in our apartment was triggering his asthma. But I was getting sick too.

The woman who answered at the tenants’ rights hotline suggested I ask my landlord to let me out of the lease early. The lease was to end in June but I wanted to leave by the end of January. I phoned my landlord and to my surprise, he said yes, with no hesitation. Just in case, I prepared a letter for him to sign. On Jan. 3 he said we could move out by the end of the month and he put this in writing. He and his wife would have preferred that we stayed on till the end of February but we wanted out.

Just after I negotiated leaving our old apartment, our toilet started to leak. When I mentioned this to our landlord, he told me he would not be replacing it since we were moving and he planned to renovate after we left. Not long after that water dripped into the kitchen cupboards and hallway ceilings. This had happened before, in 2010 or 2011 and we had just finally managed to get the landlord to fix the water damage. It felt like a case of déjà vu all over again. In both instances water dripped into the kitchen cupboards and through the hallway ceiling and the leaks  happened right after a series of snowfalls that were followed by thawing and freezing weather and heavy rain. Even though our apartment was on the third floor of a four-storey building, I always suspected the water leaks had something to do with the roof, but my landlord dismissed my concerns.

The previous time it happened I told my landlord and janitor and we checked the apartment above me. It was bone dry. When the latest water leaks happened I asked the janitor (a new janitor) to check the apartment upstairs. Sure enough, it was completely dry

I felt the new leaks and the leaky toilet were signals to leave as soon as possible. I know my old landlord is benefiting greatly from our departure, because he can renovate to his heart’s content and raise the rent. He started renovating before I finished packing. Just after I reported the water leaks he came by, not to check whether I was okay or the apartment was okay but to have a guy from a Bain Magique-type of organization measure the bathroom to order a new tub surround. I yelled at my landlord to leave, told him he could renovate after I was gone and he had no business being in the apartment unless he was fixing things related to my tenancy. I realize fighting him was unproductive and when I think about it now, a lot of stress in my life was related to having a landlord who didn’t listen and who didn’t keep our apartment in good repair.

So January 2014 was a blur of searching for a new apartment, clearing out stuff we wouldn’t need, trying to pack while I was sick with the flu. Landlords seemed desperate, then non-committal. I suffered asthma symptoms every time I tried to pack boxes or clear clutter.

I finally found a place and signed a lease to move in on Jan. 17. We had trouble finding movers (I finally had movers take the furniture only since I was sick and taking a long time to pack the rest). I don’t drive and my boyfriend, friend, my sister and her boyfriend, and my mother did most of the work of loading and unloading their compact cars and taking five or six boxes and bags (sometimes more) at a time to our new digs. But even this move was delayed.

The new place wasn’t ready on Jan. 17. We couldn’t even get a key that day. Then we saw the state of the apartment. It was still being painted and the workers had taken the place apart to paint. Nearly every doorknob was removed, even a doorknob on a balcony door when the temperature outside was far below zero degrees Celsius. This meant cold air was coming in the apartment. The living room’s balcony door window was busted. There was paint all over the floor everywhere, even inside closets. The light fixtures were askew. Kitchen cupboard doors were lying on the floor of the living room. Plates for many electric sockets and light switches were missing. The fridge and stove were in the living room. And when I finally got a good look at the bathroom, I discovered the grout and tiles were covered in mildew and mould and there was mould growing on a wall. There was no shower head and the hot water tap for the bathtub was missing. Someone had taken down the bathroom’s mirrored medicine cabinet and started painting it but left it dusty and unfinished.

Not so welcoming: painters' drop cloths, garbage and a paint bucket on our new back balcony

Not so welcoming: painters’ drop cloths, garbage and a paint bucket on our back balcony

The toilet was being used as an ashtray and drop cloths has been tossed on the balcony where they were snowed on and froze. We found a tub of mouldy joint compound in the master bedroom. The bathroom’s bathtub drain was full of paint, there were dirty rags lying about and half-filled garbage bags left open. It was gross and depressing, not the new start I was expecting after the problems at our old place.

Then I discovered the apartment had no phone wiring – at all. It seems a previous worker (not these workers) had decided the phone wiring was in bad shape, so he took all of it out, along with the phone jacks. Weeks later when the Bell technician came by to check the DSL line he didn’t believe this was possible, until he saw for himself the wiring was gone.

We asked our new landlord to tell the workers to leave. I didn’t want to pay rent for my old apartment any longer and we had already paid rent at the new place for part of January and all of February.

Our new landlord credited what we paid for January to our March rent. I’m still finishing painting the kitchen and bathroom, refinishing kitchen cabinets and installing doorknobs but our place is taking shape. The hot water tap for our shower is fixed and I bought a nice eco shower head. Our landlord agreed to replace the toilet, bathroom sink and vanity and faucet and had competent workers do the plumbing. Our kitchen faucet now works properly.  I replaced the horrible blackened grout in the bathroom with fresh grout. I learned how to use a caulking gun and caulk the areas around the bathroom window where I’d removed mildewed and blackened caulking. My mom and sister moved the fridge and stove into the kitchen, a great help to me.

I’m still making strange discoveries – for instance, why would anyone paint over drops of grease on a kitchen wall or paint over dust or caulk a patch of blue ink that stained a hardwood floor? Why is a spackled section of a wall becoming mildewed and why wasn’t that section of the wall painted? Why are there painters’ drop clothes on the back balcony at all? I’m getting paint off the floors, counters, cupboard doors and fixtures little by little. We’ve learned our walls are ridiculously thin and cigarette smoke migrates from one apartment to another but thankfully there are fixes for this. I am caulking the places where the walls meet the floors and buying plants that clean the air and when I find a box fan I will turn it into an air purifier by attaching an air filter or furnace filter to the front. Once I finally refinish them I will learn how to put back those kitchen cupboard doors.

The situation is not perfect. It’s been stressful but I am glad we live in a bigger place, with no cracks in the ceilings and walls.I have a working kitchen. Between the kitchen ceiling collapsing in my old place and the fight to have it replaced and then water leaks in the kitchen cupboards I hadn’t cooked normally in months. Sure I like my Crock Pot but it’s a relief to have a working stove once again.

Problems are getting resolved, slowly but surely.

I miss my old neighbourhood and the conveniences I had living near grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies and postal outlets. I wish the rents in my old area weren’t so insane.

I am looking for the positives in this new experience.

Today’s not-to-be missed Montreal (free) open data event

30 Nov

I apologize for not posting this earlier. Problems with my apartment and landlord have been taking up a lot of time (will post more about that and more about transparency and open data later).

If you care about open data and want to learn more about how to access government information using Access to Information requests, there’s a very cool free event happening this afternoon (Nov. 30). You need to at least understand French to participate. If you’re making Access to Information requests in Montreal you will probably need to file them in French, since French is the City of Montreal’s official language so it’s not a bad idea to learn how to do this in French.

As Montréal Ouvert explains on their Web site (in French):

Au Royaume-Uni, l’organisation MySociety a développé le site WhatDoTheyKnow.com, un portail de demande d’accès à l’information en ligne a fait transité plus de 150 000 demandes  depuis son ouverture en 2008 et a permis de rendre public des dizaines de milliers de documents.

S’inspirant de cette expérience, Nord Ouvert a mis en place JeVeuxSavoir, un portail web de demande d’accès à l’information. Ce projet a obtenu le support financier du Ministre responsable des institutions démoncratiques, Bernard Drainville. L’objectif de JeVeuxSavoir est de faciliter l’accès à l’information gouvernementale, d’augmenter la quantité d’information rendue publique et de documenter les réponses des organisation gouvernementales aux différentes demandes.

The JeVeuxSavoir.org Infothon includes a talk and a workshop in French with how-to tips and tricks on filing successful Access to Information requests. This is especially important for journalists, activists, open data enthusiasts and anyone who cares about ensuring public information is truly available to the public.

Register here.

When: 1-4 p.m. today (Nov.30)

Where: Station C, 5605 ave de Gaspé, suite 204 – call 514-712-0637 to get into the building.

A visit to Montreal’s Nutcracker Market

29 Nov

A little while ago an artist I know who has a booth at Montreal’s Nutcracker Market (Marché Casse-Noisette) told me she had arranged for me to attend their media evening. I missed last year’s media/guest evening and was curious so I dropped by on Wednesday  even though as a freelance journalist I don’t usually write about food, wine or fashion.

This is the fourth year Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, the ballet company that performs The Nutcracker at Place des Arts every year around Christmas, is organizing  a philanthropic market. Ten per cent of the exhibitors’ proceeds and all the proceeds from the Grands Ballets’ booth at the market go to the Nutcracker Fund for Children, created by Les Grands Ballets to make it possible for underprivileged children to see a free performance of The Nutcracker.

The market opened officially yesterday at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal. If you’re looking for unique Christmas and holiday gifts I would certainly recommend it. Many exhibitors are small businesses, often family run. You meet people who are passionate about what they’re selling, even if they don’t always make a lot of money from pursuing their dreams.

There was, of course, my connection, Claudia B. of Bijoutia. I won’t go into much detail here because I plan to write a story, but her jewellery and creations, made from recycled materials, including computer parts, bank cards, programs from last year’s Nutcracker Market event and silver cutlery, are stunning. She has colourful and fun belt buckles made from motherboards that have messages such as “NYC” for a black, NYC-themed one or “Sexy” or even “Help,”  necklaces and earrings made from computer keyboard keys, rings in orange and black with the words Canon or Nikon, clocks made from computer motherboards and parts, and clips and cuff-links with the Nutcracker theme. I love the silver elephant and whale necklaces and how she uses bits from vinyl records as a backdrop for some of the earrings.

Claudia B. at Casse-Noisette

Claudia B stands inside her stall at this year’s Nutcracker Market
Photo: Courtesy of Claudia’s Facebook page

The media evening allowed me a chance to try a number of different wines on sale at the market. It surprised me to discover that one of the wines, called Omerto, is made in the Charlevoix region from organic, heirloom tomatoes. Had I not been told this, I would think it was just a very good white wine that’s enjoyable with appetizers such as fruit or cheese.

Grand Esprit from Domaine du Kildare, is made from pure maple syrup but you would never guess this right away. I didn’t try everything but I believe there was also a wine made from honey. The market offers a lot of choice if you’re looking for local ciders, wines and other alcoholic beverages.

The market has 76 stalls and while I did a quick tour, I didn’t have time to visit all of them. There were some I avoided as well. For instance, I don’t eat foie gras so there was no point in tasting one exhibitor’s specialty foods.  I was happily surprised when a rep from Chocolaterie Douce Soeur offered a sample of their chocolate. I recognized the salty chocolate/caramel flavour as the chocolate my boyfriend had bought me for a special occasion. I learned the name Douce Soeur translates as Sweet Sister and the two women owners are sisters who are using a family recipe and making chocolates that you just won’t find anywhere else. One of the sisters lives out West and runs the business as Sweet Sister, while the other sister runs Douce Soeur here in Montreal.

I enjoyed a chocolate truffle sample from CAO. But I’m such a chocoholic I would never refuse chocolate.

It thrilled me to see my favourite place in Montreal for macarons, La Maison du Macaron, has a booth at the market. The couple who own the business are chefs from France and their macarons are the real and delicious deal.

Manga Thé was an interesting discovery. I liked their bento boxes (Japanese lunch boxes) and tea accessories but found it interesting that they sell them alongside mangas. The guy I spoke with apologized that the mangas were available only in French.

I wasn’t sure what to make of It Works, a company whose products include body contouring wraps, defining gels, nutritional greens and skin care products. But I enjoyed a chat with the sales rep (her name might have been Shelley Mackenzie)  and hearing her talk about how she and her husband had especially benefited from the products.

As I was heading out, a woman stopped me. She said the $16 nail files at her booth last a lifetime. She asked to work on my nails and then used another one of their products to buff one fingernail, explaining that she was improving my health and the health of my nail in doing so. I’m hardly a girly girl type and not much into nail care products and I’m often skeptical but her enthusiasm impressed me. I can’t remember the name of that booth except to say that the Cosmitty’s products are colourful and the packaging for the nail files makes them look as though they’re sitting in test tubes.

The Nutcracker Market runs from Thursday November 28 to Sunday Dec. 8, 2013

Opening Hours

Monday to Wednesday 11 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Thursdays & Fridays 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

NDG card store mascot – kidnapped?

23 Nov

Arlyle Waring, owner of Cartes Etc. (she calls her store CARTES), says George, the store’s human-sized (fake) orangutan mascot, has been “kidnapped” from his chair in front of the store on Sherbrooke St. in NDG.

It’s unclear whether the thief/kidnapper left a ransom note.

If you spot George or know where he is, get in touch with Waring (deets on how to reach her appear on the poster below).

Kidnapped - George wanted poster


Report #1, Camping at Mr. C’s The Fridge Arrived!

22 Nov

My landlord said the fridge would arrive Saturday (tomorrow) or Monday. This morning I heard grunting in the stairwell heading for my third-floor apartment and thought, maybe it’s the fridge.

There was a knock on my door and my landlord, the concierge and another man hauled a big white fridge into the apartment, eventually wheeling it into the kitchen.

The little fridge on the left is our old fridge, next to the new(ish) fridge on the right.

two white fridges, one small, one large, side by side

And here is a photo of the kitchen ceiling as it looks today. My landlord is talking about replacing the floor but if I were him I’d set my sights on the ceiling (sorry, the stress of the situation is bringing out bad puns).

unfinished kitchen ceiling with exposed light bulb

Battle Hymn of My Apartment

22 Nov

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