Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Prosthetic Reality

There’s a new hub for virtual reality in town, and it’s pretty cool. Just west of Queen and Bathurst sits a funky new spot called House of VR, featuring by-the-hour usage of their VR stations and a wide variety of games and experiences.

The walls are all modular so that the space can change to accommodate different sizes of groups, as well as open up to a big, airy space on the second floor for the current art show.

It’s called Prosthetic Reality and features 45 artists, illustrators, animators and sound designers all experimenting with the field of augmented reality.

 You may be wondering, what is the difference between AR and VR? For those who don’t know, AR or augmented reality consists of overlaying sound, image or video overtop of what you normally see in front of you. A good example of this is the forever-popular game Pokemon Go.

Pokemon appear by happenstance in the wild, which also happens to be the very sidewalk you are standing on. With the help of some sort of hardware (in this case, your phone), it seems like Pokemon are literally all around you in the real world of Earth.

VR or virtual reality will still make it seem like that Pokemon and you are standing on the same physical ground, but that physical ground is completely different from the real one you see in front of you. That’s why VR almost always requires a headset (digital goggles that enclose and cover your entire eyesight). You can’t see anything of the world around you, which is why some people (myself included) experience feelings of dizziness or nausea when using VR.

This is one of the reasons that VR is considered the “Wild West” as an industry; there are no rules or best practices for use so everyone is trying to set standards from scratch. Obviously the big players like Google are doing their part to make their research open source and accessible for small developers, but it can certainly be difficult to calibrate a fully immersive, completely fabricated world so as not to be disconcerting to users. Perhaps as we become more used to the technology, younger generations will be quicker to adopt it, much like the internet and smartphones for millennials. 

Anyway, suffice to say that AR is somewhat easier to understand and interact with for the current user (who probably doesn’t know much about the technology when they use it for the first time).

The entire second floor of the House of VR is currently covered with beautiful posters and illustrations of various kinds. Each one contains a hidden 5-10 second animation loop (complete with sound) that brings the image to life off the wall through an app on your phone called Eyejack.


The lovely Marj checking out a particularly spooky piece. The AR turns the woman's face into the lid of a giant eyeball.



You can see that the beauty of AR lies in the merging of our known, real world with an unknown fake one. The grounding in reality makes the new part more exciting to me than being dropped into a totally new place where I have no base understanding of anything. But maybe that’s my nausea talking for me. The centrepiece of the exhibit is a lovely mural of jellyfish which come to life through the augmented reality screen.


VR certainly also has its place, and will probably become the future of how we spend our leisure time and communicate with others over large geographical distances.

The exhibit also includes a VR headset with which visitors can test out Google’s Tilt Brush, a virtual reality painting program that reminds me of KidPix from way back in the day. Painting in 3D space is a lot of fun, and I can see it being used as a prototyping tool for who knows how many professions. The program does come with a built-in dressform upon which users can draw clothing. Here's a video of me doing that:


Today is the last day of the exhibition, but you can visit House of VR anytime as Queen Street is its new permanent home. They also sell an art book of all the works, which you can view with the Eyejack app on your phone. Check out House of VR’s website here.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mounties, iDays & Meow Wolf

Weekly Update 2017-33: Mounties and the magic of supergroups, how to inject innovation into your agile design process, and Meow Wolf, an alternative Disneyland for people who like things a little weird.

Music: Mounties
Supergroups are both a blessing and a curse for music lovers. This very Canadian supergroup comprised of Limblifter's Ryan Dahle, Hawksley Workman and Steve Bays of Hot Hot Heat has only put out one album so far, way back in 2014. I had the extreme pleasure of seeing them perform the album at Riot Fest in 2014 and again at Lee's Palace, but I get the feeling that this band, like many other supergroups, will never surpass the one-album norm. It seems that they find each other in interesting ways like award shows or recording with other bands at the same studios, make one amazing album, and then lose interest in favour of the original bands from whence they came. I'm bitterly thinking of the supergroup Divine Fits as I type this.

If one album is all we ever get from Mounties, I will suffice to be happy with that because three years later, I still listen to it at least once a month. Check out Guaranteed Blonde Enough and Headphones.

This week has been an exercise in fitting a month of summer activities into a quarter of the time. I went waterfall hopping in Hamilton, got naked at the nude beach on Toronto Island, went to Osheaga in Montreal, jammed with my band on a rooftop patio in Kensington, saw a great documentary about Native Americans and the history of rock music in the 1960s, and visited the Pickering Food Truck Festival.

I also decided that I would display my Arduino research as a series of blog posts, each one about a different experiment and what I've learned from each one, as I build knowledge toward my dream project of a ping pong table sensor that tells you when the table is free to play!

That said, this week I'd like to publish my first Arduino post of the series. Many people are unfamiliar with the maker community, so I'll be outlining a bit of the history and background as a primer as well. I'm also going fishing this week FINALLY so I'm keeping the goals light for now.

Random Thought: iDay
Working as a product designer, I have found that the beginning stages of the design process are always the most important. Know your user, understand their processes, needs, problems, and experiences, and find creative solutions for those problems. This all sounds easy, but how do we access the part of our brains that contains the “aha” moments? How do we foster an environment that will allow us to find the innovative solutions?

In comes a concept called the “iDay”. Short for innovation day, an iDay is a specialized, hyper-collaborative ideation session that takes places in that beginning discovery phase of the software development life cycle.

iDays are different from brainstorming sessions in a very important way: they involve different project teams, stakeholders, users, and any other involved parties. An iDay can consist of designers, researchers, developers, members of the client team, and end-users. I have always been a big proponent of the fact that anyone can be a designer, given the right scenario. Different perspectives are key factors in understanding a problem from all sides, and so designers should have constant access to the brains of everyone involved in the problem.

So you've got all these wonderful minds together in a room. What comes next? The design team should be prepared with a series of prompts to present to the room, giving everyone 2-3 minutes to jot down any blue-sky ideas they may have regarding that problem. Then, everyone is given a chance to present their ideas. Each idea is written down on a post-it note, and after a few different prompts have been run through, the collection of post-its might look something like this:

Image courtesy of InVision

This may look like a lot of post-its, but it's actually the starting point of an affinity map – something from which the designers can extract key takeaways, draw conclusions, validate assumptions, and even re-define requirements.

Innovation can sometimes seem like a black box, but these sorts of formal processes that allow more voices to be heard will in turn foster an environment of openness and collaboration, perhaps even inspiring non-designers in a company to start thinking in new ways and uncovering new ideas.

Inspiration: Meow Wolf
Formed in 2008, a group of young residents hoping to supply Santa Fe with an alternative arts and music venue have come together to provide the public with an immersive experience for all the senses.

Over 100 artists and makers came together to become Meow Wolf.

Their biggest project and the only permanent exhibition is House of Eternal Return, a huge installation housed in what used to be a bowling alley. Lovingly referred to as “Bizarro Disneyland”, this 20,000 square-foot series of rotating art installations is an amazing tourist destination in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ever open the fridge door and forget what you were looking for?

The project was funded in part by George R.R. Martin, and allows visitors to explore freely without any instructions or guidance. Simply interact with whatever you want, in whatever order, and see if you can solve the mystery.

From Meow Wolf's website:
House of Eternal Return is a unique art experience featuring an astonishing new form of non-linear storytelling that unfolds through exploration, discovery and 21st century interactivity.
The House is a 20,000 square foot art exhibit designed by the Meow Wolf collective. There are dozens of rooms, secret passages and interactive light and musical objects with which guests can play for hours or investigate the mystery of the Selig family, who disappeared one night after conducting a forbidden experiment inside their Victorian mansion. Who were the Seligs? Where did they go? and why is their home overrun by figures in white lab coats?
 I love the idea of a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure immersive experience. There's so much to do, it's like sensory overload!

Move through the glowing dinosaur skeleton into another dimension?

14 real, working arcade games straight out of the 80s.

DO NOT pee in this toilet. Visitors are invited to stick their heads in the bowl for a clue. The water is actually solid polymer...there's no toilet paper left anyway!

It's really wild. I hope to visit someday soon, but in the meantime I am really happy that such a place even exists. The fact that over 100 artists and makers from all walks of life could come together to create something so wonderful, unexpected and just plain weird is mind-boggling to me.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Death From Above, Design Thinking & Fiesta Gardens

Weekly Update 2017-32: Headbang and shake your butt at the same time to Death From Above, pinpointing what exactly is design thinking, and finding my happy place in a garden centre.

Music: Death From Above
Epic synth-rockers Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger have been making music on-and-off as DFA for the past fifteen or so years (but who's counting). I got into their music during what was thought to be a permanent “off” period, but luckily for us all they decided to make more music. And since then, I have seen this band in all sorts of strange venues from Wakestock 2013 in Collingwood to a secret show in Sonic Boom in Honest Ed's (RIP) to a free show at Nathan Phillips Square as part of Panamania 2015.

If you like fast beats, craaaaaazy bass riffs, a little bit of yelling and a really good time, you'll love this band. And they're from Toronto! Check out this amazing solo by JFK at Osheaga this year. They've still got it.

And that lighting is insane.

Well, I went to Osheaga and made it back in one piece. I'd say that's a big enough accomplishment in its own right! Between the extreme amount of rain, severely long and narrow layout (the normal festival location is currently under construction) and staying in an Airbnb boarding house in a suburb, I am happy to report I made it out alive. The festival was quite fun, but I'd definitely do it differently next time. On the plus side, I ate a delicious raclette from a food truck! I wish Toronto had these.

Eating Oka raclette on a bed of mushrooms and potatoes while watching a band called Foxygen. This was a weird mix.

This week, I'd like to combine my Arduino tests into a new portfolio piece so I can show the world (and you) what I've been working on so far. From there I'll collect my thoughts and hopefully finish the final project. It's also FriendCanoe time again, so I'll be working on that for our next meeting.

Random Thought: Design Thinking
An oft-misunderstood section of design, I've been trying to describe the profession of design thinking to my friends lately with some difficulty. To me, design thinkers are the unspoken superheroes of making things happen. They can see a problem from all angles, and have the ability to bring people together from different areas or walks of life who wouldn't normally interact but together are more capable of positive change than apart.

Design thinkers solve fuzzy problems with both sides of their brain. I found an interesting chart online that illustrates the intersection between business thinking and creative thinking (mind the typos):

Image from Pinterest.

You might think of design thinking as a problem-solving methodology that allows you to create solutions by taking into account human factor, design, technology and business.

Take an example: there are so many different kinds of chairs. Depending on the space a chair may occupy and the needs it is required to meet, its functional and aesthetic design will vary greatly. One might ask; will the chair be used in a residence? In which room? Or perhaps for commercial use in a restaurant or bar? A restaurant chair is optimized for about 45 minutes of comfy sitting, after which you might get a little uncomfortable, your back or posture might need repositioning and you start to wiggle around a bit. One must also consider who will be sitting in the chair and what action or task they will perform while using it. An office chair will be different from a waiting room chair. With all these options, it takes someone who can see the problem from all sides to determine what type of chair is best for the use case.

Inspiration: Fiesta Gardens
Whenever I am feeling down, I go for a bike ride. On such a bike ride, I usually subconsciously bike by Fiesta Gardens (the garden centre of environmentally-friendly supermarket Fiesta Farms). And if I'm biking by the garden centre, I'm going into the garden centre.

They have such lovely plants, I could walk around there forever. It's outside but well-shaded, has lovely things to look at, and even plays soft classical music on speakers throughout the store.

Plants that attract cool garden friends!

These cacti are so cute, they look plush or crocheted. But trust me, they don't like to be touched.

I must admit I was a little surprised at this Barbie-themed gardening display, which I can only presume is for girls. I don't know if we need to use Barbie as a role model to get girls (or any children) interested in gardening and plants, but whatever gets them in the door, I suppose. The Nickelodeon version (presumably for boys) is a little less inspired.

Did you know about these crazy things? They can die and come back to life forever! Plus, I didn't realize the song of the same name by Iron & Wine is probably named for this plant.

It's lovely to be around plants, and the little typed notes about caring for each one are nice to read. I especially love how closeby the centre is during bonfire season because they have lots of firewood and are pretty close to Christie Pits.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Cage The Elephant, Anti-Snapchat & Girlboss

Weekly Update 2017-31: Bluesy rock from Cage The Elephant's new live album, trying to understand the appeal of Snapchat, and whether or not Girlboss is worth watching.

Music: Cage The Elephant
Coming out of Kentucky but based in England, this band has a pretty cool sound. It's a little bluesy, a little rock & roll, and a whole lot of soul to a catchy beat. I must admit I am late to the party, discovering them long after their breakout 2012 sophomore album Thank You, Happy Birthday. But, better late than never. They're playing Osheaga next week and have just released a kickass live album (which was the perfect way for me to get into their discography).

Check out Punchin' Bag and Instant Crush. There are also some great covers of Whole Wide World (Wreckless Eric) and Golden Brown (The Stranglers).

This week has been an exercise in editing. I took myself to the library to focus on editing my portfolio pieces - I love to write, and the project pages are a little too wordy. My lovely friend Marjorie helped me out with this by sending me some thoughtful suggestions for sharpening everything up.

I also learned that the Bloor-Gladstone library is a beautiful, quiet place with lots of space for working. In some ways, it shines brighter than the Reference library (though don't tell anyone I said that).

I hope to finish the Arduino projects into a workable portfolio piece this week, even if the final project is currently unfinished. It'll be a good reflection for me to see what I've learned so far and get the creative juices of the project flowing again.

Random Thought: Snapchat
Now in its fifth year of existence, it boggles me that Snapchat continues to be so popular. Yes, the stocks probably aren't selling as quickly as the company might have hoped now they they're publicly traded, but I still see people using Snapchat and their branded Spectacles all around me.

Snapchat's Spectacles allow their wearer to record everything happening from a first-hand view for their audience.

Since I have the unpopular opinion about the product, I thought I might dig further into what it is about it that I find so...un-sticky.

We can all agree that the user interface of the app is confusing at best. At worst, I have seen new users struggle with frustration because the screens all exist as swiping gestures in relation to other screens, with zero affordance of this functionality. I have read that Snapchat designers made this decision purposefully to force users to interact more in-person by teaching each other how to navigate the interface. In other words, manuals (or onboarding) are for suckers.

Beyond the UI, I find the UX just as confusing. Honestly, I don't want to know the intimate things that happen in people's days unless I am there to experience it with them, or they tell me specifically because they want me to know. I don't understand the exhibitionist lifestyle in the 21st century, which seems to place high importance on broadcasting humdrum activities like making toast or brushing your teeth. Perhaps if I moved away from a lot of the people I know in Toronto, I would find more use in the app. Then, these boring activities might become the easiest way to keep up with people, making them more special than just the act of brushing one's teeth. It just seems like people post things in a quantity-over-quality sort of way, and I'm not about that life.

So, for now, don't send me videos of you brushing your teeth unless something REALLY interesting happens.

Inspiration: Girlboss
Continuing my quest of rating all the series on Netflix, I have just emerged from the final episode of Girlboss. I usually jump into shows without knowing anything about them (hence low expectations), and was pleasantly surprised. Though somewhat unpopular with critics and cancelled after one season, don't hold your breath for more. That said, one season was certainly adequate to tell the success story of Sophia Amoruso, female wunderkind of the early tech scene in San Francisco in the late 2010s.

If you're familiar with the world of online shopping and fashion, you may know Nasty Gal (originally an eBay store run by Amoruso out of her tiny apartment). While Amoruso has since stepped down as CEO, she really made a mark for herself and for young women in tech to break into the scene despite the despairingly commonplace ageism and sexism.

The show did receive mostly negative reviews, owing to the main character's no bullshit attitude, and selfishness-driven actions that only appear to have a feminist front. While I do agree that Sophia's character in the show (whether a real depiction or not) does seem somewhat unlikeable at first, I do know that the tech industry is extremely cutthroat and brashness is certainly a key to success. Were the character a man, maybe critics wouldn't be so unforgiving of her actions.

In any case, the show is certainly worthwhile if you like hard-won success stories and beautifully crafted outfits. I definitely do.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Whitney, KFC Ltd. & Photogenic Toronto

Weekly Update 2017-30: Lovely southern-inspired folk songs from Whitney, repping fried chicken with KFC's new apparel launch, and a new Toronto sign to grace the feeds of social media.

Music: Whitney
Hailing from Chicago but sounding like heaven, Whitney is a regrouping of the pieces of Smith Westerns' breakup in 2014. The band sounds like all the good parts of folk and soul and country, with some lovely interesting strings and an overall mellow mood. They'll be playing Toronto this Friday and at Osheaga where I'll be seeing them in a couple of weeks!

I especially like No Woman and Golden Days.

You may have noticed that my website has a whole new look! I've been hard at work adding new projects and updating the overall look. It's an ongoing process that I've left too long.

Specifically I've added two new projects (so exciting): one being a Check-in app for events, the other being FriendCanoe which you've seen on this blog before. FriendCanoe is still being developed, but the design will be displayed and updated as I work on it. Fun stuff!

I also did some preliminary logo sketching for my friends' band Slowfish and met up today to discuss the direction.

This week I'll be continuing work on my site, as well as setting up my new computer! Yay, I finally made the jump to buy a brand new MacBook.

I'll also be compiling the Arduino work I've done so far into a finished project. It'll be ongoing, but I've already learned a lot from the projects I've completed so far, so it'll be good to recap everything.

Random Thought: KFC Ltd.
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Kentucky Fried Chicken. On the one hand, it's delicious (both hot and cold leftover). On the other hand, the processing it undergoes makes it barely even food, which is why I feel so shitty after eating it. I rarely step inside a KFC anymore, which is why I found their new ad campaign extremely surprising.

They have really nice merchandise to promote brand recognition and loyalty, just when you were thinking that you'd like to rep fried chicken, now you have the perfect opportunity.

This enamel pin is so huge, it needs four backings.

I kind of want all of these items. I wonder if all of this is some sort of effort to reconnect with millenials who may have forgotten about the old Colonel? I love me some enamel pins but I don't think any of this would get me into a restaurant any faster. If you want to rep some fried chicken, visit the shop on the KFC Ltd. website.

Inspiration: The New Toronto Sign
You may have seen this Toronto sign in your instagram feed one or two or a million times:

While I do love this sign for many reasons (helps people interact with the city, global brand visibility, visual appeal), there is something about it that feels kind of corporate and too clean to really represent the city and all of its facets.

Well that sign can move aside because we've got a showstopper that just entered the scene. Artists Thelia Sanders-Shelton and Julie Ryan used washed up driftwood to create a wooden Toronto sign on the rocks in Humber Bay Park. People have already been instagramming it like crazy:

A post shared by Ashl€¥ (@ashlley_hamilton_) on

A post shared by Gagan Uppal (@gaganjoteuppal) on

I love so many things about this sign. It has a more handmade feel (because it is handmade) so it reflects the people who created it, it's made from natural materials, and it even includes the city skyline in it (since it's a little far away from the city centre, but still accessible). I feel much more pride for this sign than the one in Nathan Phillips Square, but I think the city is big enough to have more than one sign. Don't you?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Gorillaz, Time Capsules & Brandless Shopping

Weekly Update 2017-29: The hypnotic new music from virtual band Gorillaz, pinpointing specific time periods in popular culture, and a new sustainable take on the grocery shopping experience.

Music: Gorillaz
How is it that a virtual band created in 1998 still has the ability to sell out huge stadiums for shows, and even create a whole music festival almost 20 years later? The secret sauce to the amazing success and catchy tunes of Gorillaz is, of course, Damon Albarn. Music genius that he is, Albarn has released the next instalment of Gorillaz' adventure through the universe called Humanz. Like the other albums before it, Humanz is star-studded with vocals to help Albarn bring his virtual band to life including Grace Jones, De La Soul, Popcaan, Kali Uchis, Vince Staples and so many more. The album takes a more soul/funk turn than past albums, and I am personally loving the journey. How difficult would it be to make a Halloween costume of Murdoc Niccals, I wonder?

My current favourites are Strobelite, Charger and She's My Collar.

I made a little timelapse of 30 minutes of logo creation for the Check In App project, which I thought might be a nice little piece of process work to include with the project. I love the way people use social media to display their process (no matter the work they do) like painting, cooking, or even editing music, so I thought I would jump on the bandwagon myself.

I've also been working on a small redesign of my portfolio site, thinking about archiving some projects and adding new ones. I think 12 projects is probably too much so I'd like to whittle it down to six or so and treat them more as case studies with process. I'm also making a new splash screen...here's a teaser.
The face may look a little familiar to you. And I was thinking of playing around with dropdowns for my bio. Select a different option and be taken to a product page or blog post. (Right now all of the options for the last one take you to your email client...but maybe I could send people to my instagram or something too?

This week I want to start recoding the footer on my website. I can improve the grid and the responsiveness, so I'm going to start from scratch and do it right.

I also have a meeting for FriendCanoe on Tuesday, so I'll be working on that as well.

Random Thought:
I was watching Fargo (the television show) the other day, and thinking about how interesting it is that the third season is set in 2010, a time really not very long ago and yet distinctly different from the world we live in now. People were just starting to use Facebook in a widespread way to find out personal information about each other, and even use that to blackmail people and steal identities.

Dastardly stuff. To use such a recent and yet distant phenomenon as a plot device is something I find so whimsical. It's interesting to think about a show whose setting is only 7 short years ago, as a period piece. But that's what it feels like! And the clothing, like a pair of huge fur mukluk boots, seemingly so hideous now, made me remember that I also had a pair of those boots.

Perhaps it's interesting simply because it wasn't so long ago that I can't fathom it, or because I actually lived through it myself. But in any case, Fargo does it well.

Inspiration: Brandless
So it's 2017. Are you still shopping in a real store? I wrote a post a while ago about virtual stores, and it appears my prediction is correct. With the onset of Amazon Go, allowing shoppers to select their items and be charged automatically when they skip the checkout line and simply walk out the front door, why not push the idea even further and order all your food online?

Suddenly, a new competitor enters the ring: Brandless. Launched less than a week ago and based in San Francisco and Minneapolis, you can make all your grocery store purchases through this online store selling generic, high quality products with no brand. Think No Name or Great Value: cheaper prices by losing the brand, and even cheaper when removing the brick-and-mortar store from the equation.

Did I mention every single product is only $3? Affordable, accessible, and beautiful to boot. Someone knows the value of good design.

Pretty much every product is organic, recycled, environmentally conscious, all the good things in life. This way of shopping makes things much more sustainable.

Can I just take a moment to say that the lack of a brand; rendering a brand “brandless”, is inherenty a brand? Therefore this is one of the most interesting brands I have seen in a long time. Really makes you think.

Currently, Brandless is testing the waters with only packaged food and supplies, but has plans to break out into fresh food soon. Check out their website here.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Gonjasufi, Happy Cities & Christie Pits Film Festival

Weekly Update 2017-28: The hypnotic voice of psych-rapper Gonjasufi, what makes cities feel more personal, and the champion's struggle at the Christie Pits Film Festival.

Music: Gonjasufi
Otherwise known by his “real name” Sumach Ecks, Gonjasufi is an American vocalist, producer, disc jockey, actor and yoga teacher who has a hypnotic sound (beats produced by Flying Lotus), think lo-fi psychedelic beats with a low, croaky vocal tone. Ecks describes his vocal style as a product of his day job as a yoga instructor, learning to project from his belly.

It's weird, it's soulful, it's intriguing. Check out Duet and Ancestors.

I've been hard at work writing up case studies for some projects, figuring out what pieces I'm missing from other projects, and thinking about how to best present them on my website. Costing things and setting achievable weekly goals has been working well.

This week, I want to fix my portfolio's code - the layout of pieces, the pieces I display, and the footer. I've lost my grid and I need to put it back in place.

I also need to practice chanting my torah portion as we have another meeting with the cantor this week to check on progress! Fun.

Random Thought:
I keep saying I'm not using my hands enough to make crafts and do more analog processes - I wonder if I should start a stricter regimen where I set aside a day to do something with my hands, once per week. It feels good to make something and then see it in existence, which might actually be something I find missing from my job. I wonder if that's a normal thing to expect in a creative field, that you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour (in my case, digital solutions making people happy). Or is it that it's harder to see people enjoying and using my work because it's digital, wherein if my work was real and physical, I could have that sort of feedback? Something to test, for sure.

What makes a happy city? Ask 100 people and you'll get 101 answers. In my own opinion, I think it's the way a city can be designed to encourage tiny happy social occurrences more often. Things like parks, benches, patios, outdoor events, things that bring people together to share in their community.

All the fun, weird, quirky free events that bring people together for no good reason and for every good reason; those are the things I like about a city. Portland especially has lots of outdoor patios so that people can interact with each other in more meaningful ways, and a special love for cycling that in itself allows people to interact more personally in their day to day lives. I guess I'm so inspired by the inclusiveness in all senses of the word that Portland offers, and that I am noticing more and more in Toronto as well.

Take for example the Christie Pits Film Festival. Open air, PWYC, in a wheelchair and TTC accessible location, and with movies that make a statement. Plus, the event showcases food from around the city with a couple of rotating food trucks. Not to mention, their branding is so nice.

This year's theme is "the champion".

The festival will run every Sunday at 6:00pm in Christie Pits Park. Check out the website here.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Part Time, Design Slices & Glow

Weekly Update 2017-27: Grooving to 80s glam rock-inspired synth pop from Part Time, passionate slices of design, and GLOW, the 80s wrestling-inspired show that demands your attention.

Music: Part Time
What began as a side project alongside David Speck's many other musical gigs in Austin, soon picked up speed with its lo-fi synth pop vocals and cheap Casio beats. Its slightly off-kilter rhythms with a dash of 80s carried me on a cloud through the streets of Portland last week.

Check out Pussy of my Dreams, Night Drive, and Useless Information.

As promised last week, I have created somewhat of a long-term plan for landing a design job in Portland. I've outlined individual steps down to a matter of days each, which will hopefully be a small enough chunk-size to keep me motivated. I should reward myself with something small at the end of every completion as well.

This week I'll be focusing on creating a case study project out of my work on the EventMobi Check In app. Now that the project is in a completed state, including the Medium article reflection on the process, I thought it might be time to think of it as a part of my collection of work. Furthermore if I am really ambitious for the future, it might be a fun project to learn a coding language like React and see if I can build the app myself. I don't think it's too complicated from a logic perspective; its value is in its user experience.

In terms of costing, I'd like to set concrete, achievable goals for this week, taking into account activities that will take away from my free time to work. I foresee about three hours of free time this week, only because Sunday has the bulk of it and I need to devote that time to what I'll be doing for FriendCanoe. So in that three hours of time, I hope to write out an introduction and explanation of the problem, as well as refine the competitor research I did into something workable. If I get really ambitious, my stretch goal is to recode my website in a new orientation I've been thinking about.

Random Thought:
Now that I've reflected fully on all of the events that happened in Portland, I've been able to step back and do some proper thinking about my next steps (as mentioned above). One thing I know for sure is that I want to find the slice of design that I feel most passionate about. While I love user experience design, I am having a few doubts that product design is the right channel for my brain to expel its love of UX. I really like the idea of users being fully immersed in the work that I do, so much that they want to focus only on it, with no distraction. I haven't decided if that's a clue to the next direction to try, or just a vocalized emotion that everyone wishes for; to be taken notice of.

Inspiration: GLOW
In the world in which we now find ourselves, I feel more and more confused each day about people's different interpretations of feminism and the judgement that happens between women more often than it should. I know this sounds really strange but I feel like Netflix's new series GLOW actually helps in unpacking what it means to be a minority, cleverly drawing parallels between what it is to be a woman/person of colour/non-human spirit in the United States in the present day and the time in which the show is set, the early 1980s.

GLOW stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (no, I'm not joking) and the premise involves the making of a wrestling show featuring women in the 80s, which is actually based on a true story. Alison Brie of Mad Men and Community fame stars in a role both genuinely witty and profoundly sad, depending on the episode.

If not for the storyline, at least watch it for the beautiful costumes and hair styling. I love period pieces.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Keep Portland Weird vol.4

Volume 4: Last week I made my second pilgrimage to my home away from home, Portland OR. Land of the hipster, the weird, the accepting and the best artisanal/multicultural food in the United States, I hope to live there some day and took this trip to get a little more used to the place before making the jump.

Check out Volume 1Volume 2, and Volume 3 here.

Last episode, I ate the most delicious breakfast sandwich in the world, went back to N Mississippi area for some spiritual tea, tacos and the store that sells nothing but light bulbs, and saw an art exhibit involving collage and lasagna. Also, peanut butter poutine from the same place I got it in 2013!

My last full day in Portland was truly lovely. Today I didn't have a set timeframe for anything, so I could take my time and get in a full day of pretty much whatever I wanted. Since it was Saturday, I was excited to go to famous Saturday Market by the river, which I had been to last time and had really enjoyed. There was also the World Naked Bike Ride later that day, which was also going to be momentous.

I began with a stroll west on NE Alberta (though my timing was off again as nothing was open yet except some bakeries).

On someone's front yard stoop:

They left a piece of chalk out so I left a comment :)

There are so many murals on NE Alberta.

I stopped in a bakery to get an extremely delicious Blueberry Coffee Cake muffin, the likes of which I could have eaten seven more.

I had a chat with this guy about muffins. He let me take a picture of his beautiful shirt.

Blueberry coffee cake muffin. So good.

Pine State Biscuits (a restaurant I had loved last time we visited) was very close to where I was staying, and it already had a huge line at 9:30am. I made a note to come here the next day before my flight since it opened at 7am and I had to get up on the earlier side anyway.

Another weird ATM.

I grabbed a bus across the bridge to the Saturday Market. As soon as I entered, I knew I didn't have enough cash on me. Thankfully many places took credit. This was where the dreams of perfect presents for my family were MADE. I got something amazing and perfect for everyone in my family...except my dad. He's a toughie because he already has everything in terms of weird tchotchkes. Anyway more on that later.

A crazy storefront - I think this might have been an ad agency?

Some cool posters with beloved TV shows and quotes. Above - Gilmore Girls.


Fruit with that Mexican fruit spice I've seen some people put on everything.

Really extreme phone rings.

Crazy keychains.

A guy playing an accordion.

The most amazing thing - dice that allow you to select a random episode of a series to decide what to watch. Really cool idea.

And the guy who sells them!

An old machine that this guy uses to make custom jewelry.

Disney coffee sleeves! I bought Snow White for my sister.

It came with a macaron - I believe this was strawberry ginger.

The most frickin' amazing smelling soaps in the world. I literally stood there smelling the soaps for ten minutes.

This girl uses all kinds of interesting tools to make the ceramic shapes she has.

Rings made from coins!

A homemade realistic version of the game of life.

A wee sample of fruit salad cider!

This lady loves asparagus.

More cool soaps.

Bolo ties!

The guy who makes beautiful jewelry out of chain mail.

I got the most freaking amazing caprese sandwich from a lovely man named Vincent. He graciously made me a half-order sandwich (though he told me he won't do it for anyone else) which allowed me to eat my next meal only an hour later (hashtag blessed).

Cute little empanada truck <3

My next stop was Pine Street Market, which the lovely Stella Ichsan of Nucleus Portland recommended to me. The building in itself is a wonder. The building's history (from their website):
Pine Street Market, which opened in the spring of 2016, is located in downtown Portland in the historic Carriage & Baggage Building and features nine of Portland's best chefs and purveyors, in a casual, open layout. 
Built in 1886, the Carriage & Baggage Building was originally used as a livery and horse-drawn carriage storage facility until the early 1900s. With horse stalls on the second floor and four massive tanks on the roof that provided water to wash the stalls, the building was essentially a horse and carriage parking garage. 
When the automobile replaced the horse-drawn carriage, the building was used as storage and retail for Mallory Logging and Contractors Supplies for decades. From 1969 to 1981, the building was home to the original Portland’s Old Spaghetti Factory. Since the early 80’s, the ground floor housed a string of infamous Portland nightclubs. 
Listed on the National Register of Historic places, the Carriage & Baggage building is one of the few examples of a Portland livery. The massive Doug Fir timber frame structure has been retrofitted to modern seismic requirements and has retained the original skylight at the roof.
 Amongst other things, there is a Korean/Southern BBQ fusion restaurant, an experimental offshoot of Salt & Straw called Wiz Bang Bar (crazy soft serve flavours with fresh-baked pastry toppings only), a Mexican/Spanish Tapas bar, the list goes on.

But I was only there for one thing.

In my opinion, the gem of the whole place was a very, very special ramen bar. Marukin Ramen is one of Tokyo’s most distinct and popular mid-sized specialty ramen chains, open since 1994. Marukin has nine locations in Japan and brings one of its first stateside locations to Pine Street Market, that being the second in Portland, as well as the second outside Japan.

I met two lovely Japanese people, the woman visiting from Arizona and the man living in Portland. They told me they were both originally from Japan, and I asked if they'd ever been to a Marukin in Japan. They replied, “why would we? This one is so much closer.” I liked that answer. The man told me that when I moved to Portland, he would help me move. He is a pastor, and assured me he would bring lots of friends to help, too. That was nice :)

I got in the not-so-long line at Wiz Bang Bar to get a sample of their soft serve (I had learned from two days prior at the other location - they are not stingy on the samples!), which was totally worth it. Elderflower lemon soft serve ice cream. SO good. I also got a 50 cent chocolate pastry because I needed to break a bill for the bus the next day and it was small enough that I would still be hungry soonish. Yep, that was the name of the game on my trip.

From the market I decided I had enough time to go back to NW 23rd Avenue to see more of the shops around there. I bussed to the top of the street so I could mosey around and walk downhill as I went. I was on the hunt for a present for my father (though at this point I figured I would find him something at one of the cool vintage shops in SE Belmont before I visited Nucleus). I checked out a cool new-age sort of shop that carried the glass jellyfish I got for Erika for her birthday. Ideas!

I went into a store that was literally just choc-ful of stuff. Some new, some old, all kinda weird.

A most delicious pomegranate/peach iced tea with popping mango bobba. Delish.

A men's clothing store had Pin Bot in it!!!

Enamel pins.

On my way back to the bus to get to Nucleus in SE Belmont, I grabbed some Okonomiyaki Tater Tots at a ramen shop. It was really cute in there!

Probably a bit stinky for the bus, but I didn't care. So tasty.

I ate them on the bus to Nucleus, and found I had time to find my dad a good present in a vintage store...that kind of looked like his basement. It was nice. I guess if you have a good idea of what you want, the guys who work there can find it for you. Otherwise it's a mess.

I found this wonderful little wooden puzzle box that even the shopkeeper didn't know how to open. I haven't had a chance to give it to my dad yet but it's quite maddening. I actually had a dream that I opened it last night. Still no luck.

From there I walked across the street to my last design-related stop of the trip: Nucleus Portland. Stella Ichsan runs a gallery, shop, and bar out of a lovely space with a great backdrop mural by Brendan Monroe.

Apparently we were in the height of Pokemon Go fever when he painted the mural...

And they have sooooo many enamel pins for sale. I couldn't help myself about bought TWO. Stella runs weekly Drink & Draws out of the space, which is really cool because it's such a good way for creatives to hang out and network in a cool low-pressure setting. Plus, you can learn a lot about someone through the things they draw.

The lovely work on display by Maxwell McMaster.

The cute couple.

From there I continued on my bus adventure to Fernhill Park in NE to see the amazing World Naked Bike Ride. I had been hearing various opinions of the event all week during my time in Portland, ranging from “what a strange thing to do” to “have they no shame?!” to “I'll get my camera” along with all the generally positive commentary, but there seemed to be a general lack of understanding from the people who didn't want to participate. So much more than an excuse to get naked for the sake of being weird, the event is actually a deliciously wacky form of protest for real issues.

Bare As You Dare: Portland's World Naked Bike Ride from Ian McCluskey on Vimeo.

Basically, reason #1 is to rid ourselves of the horrible dependency on oil, and to create a space of acceptance of each other. The idea of this huge safe space for people to be as naked and free as they want is something I just can't resist.


A Maracatu! Like my drumming band in Toronto :)

Still clothed.

Not pictured: a man riding naked on a horse (yes the horse was also naked), a bunch of Mario Kart characters complete with three balloons each, and a man riding a bicycyle pulling a full tiki bar with a dj booth in it.

I didn't participate this year beyond taking lots of pictures and meeting lots of cool people, but the energy was magnetic enough to make me want to participate fully in years to come.

Bonus: the lost and found pile after the event was said and done:

Someone thought they'd be able to plug in a vibrator? Amazing!

After all the excitement, I walked home to pack for my flight home the next day. On the way, I grabbed a slice of pizza at a cool late-night pizza joint on NE Alberta. This was delicious.

Some guys chatting while one of them changes the marquee for the movie theater,

Aww cute sleepy pizza!

It was arugula, pecorino, some other deliciousness, crust.

The shop also had some great city culture magazines that I took home to learn more about the culture scene in Portland. And that pretty much concludes my trip in Portland! I ate at a rate of about three times my normal consumption, got the BEST gifts for my family (I am usually so crappy at that), and met so many wonderful people. I have made a pledge to myself that next time I travel to Portland, I'm staying.

Check out Volume 1Volume 2, and Volume 3 here.