Saturday, March 17, 2018

IWD: Jay Som, Allies & Ruby Taylor

Weekly Update 2018-11: In honour of International Women's Day this past week, let's celebrate some amazing women across creative ventures. Jay Som brings us lush, melodic bedroom pop to float along as we explore DevTO's IWD event, inspirational illustrations by Ruby Taylor and a new $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond.

I just couldn't contain myself until the inspiration section so check out this lovely illustration that celebrates women by Ruby Taylor.

Music: Jay Som
A native of California (which might explain the airy feel of her music), Melina Duterte's sound and lyrics feel really genuine and connectable to my life. I especially love how she can make humdrum subject matter seem beautiful and wondrous through her musical expression. I don't know if I'm even doing her justice with my words, so just listen below.

Favourite tracks include The Bus Song (yes, I also like the bus), Rush, Lipstick Stains and O.K., Meet Me Underwater (which sounds a lot like a sadder El Ten Eleven if you're into them).

As an aside, Duterte picked her musical pseudonym Jay Som from the Wu-Tang Name Generator, the same place where Donald Glover found his pseudonym Childish Gambino. If you're interested to know, I entered Chloe and got Quiet Artist. Doesn't really match 100%, but I can work with that.

This past Monday marked a really inspiring event I attended with some female coworkers for International Women's Day. The event is held every year by DevTO at the legendary Masonic Temple (which is a sight in itself), and featured four female speakers outlining their journeys and learning as women in the tech industry. Since I really find these events a little tiresome and that they take more than they give to the attendee, I was surprised and happy that it didn't feel as much like a waste of time and more about women and allies all coming together to support each other.

I also created a SoundCloud playlist on Spotify with almost all the music I had saved on the former music service. I have become increasingly annoyed with all the features of SoundCloud turning paid while their UX is simply not polished enough for me to feel confident about adding another streaming service to my bills. Spotify has become the exact opposite of that, meeting most of my music needs seamlessly and winning over my buying power. Of course, Spotify doesn't have every song (probably about 70%) but that's enough to make me happy for now. Check it out if you want:

247 songs at the time of publishing - not bad. I think I'm about 70% done.
Making the move from SoundCloud to Spotify is a true learning opportunity for me, since some of the songs I am searching for are listed as “greyed out” on Spotify. I have the option of uploading my own track to fill the gap - which I will do - but then what happens exactly? Do I get the ability to play that song from any device where my account is logged in? In other words, does that track now always exist inside Spotify for my account? I certainly hope so.

While I am streamlining my music listening game, at the same time I have been biking a lot more and would like to take another stab at listening to podcasts again during my biking time. I have a lot of The Moth episodes to catch up on, so I might try to listen to a few this week to get back into the flow.

On top of that, I'll be picking up my Jewish journey again. I am experiencing a realism that I lost the reasoning to include it in my life in the last little while. It didn't bother me because I had a lot of change happening and do feel like it's an obligation moreso than a tool to combat and understand my life. Which is to say that I want to do it, but it feels like something of a chore at this point. So, now that things feel a little steadier, I have time and motivation to pick it back up. I already made an appointment - which means I need to have something ready to discuss.

I'll have some good reflection time this weekend as I man the basement of a house wherein my father is running an estate sale. I want to use it to write a blog post that's not a weekly update, and learn a bit more about dungeons and dragons in advance of the campaign my coworker is running for us next Tuesday.

Random Thought:
There was a great turnout of women at the International Women's Day event on Monday, especially for it being such a cold and blustery evening. I was mistakenly surprised for a moment to see that there were men also in attendance; in fact the emcees personally congratulated the first ticket purchaser (a woman in the third row) and the first male ticket purchaser (toward the back of the audience). It was at this moment that I realized I had been slightly wronged yet again by the gender roles at my workplace.

One of the reasons I joined the company was for the strong women in leadership roles, and large amount of female developers. It's just unfortunately not a common occurrence in the tech-focused offices I've worked/interned in, so it was a big selling point. While I am continually in awe of my fellow female coworkers and all they achieve, I think there are certain things that still have room to improve. For example, we have a females-only slack channel inside which we discuss topics of women in tech and the like, so why not include everyone in such a discussion?

I was surprised and then slightly disappointed that we hadn't extended the invitation to our male coworkers to attend this event with us. To make a lasting impact on gender equality, it takes everyone. This is a really random thought because I can't seem to really put it clearly with my coworkers - who say they need a forum to complain about the state of the women's washroom. But it reminds me of Facebook, where everyone's opinions are sucked into an algorithmic echo chamber to reside beside others who think and feel the same way. Why not try to open it up to dissenters to gain a broader understanding?

Inspiration: Ruby Taylor and Viola Desmond
I've got two female forms of inspiration this week. The first is the wonderful, whimsical and socially responsible illustrative efforts of Ruby Taylor. Based in the United Kingdom, Taylor has developed a strong style with bold colours and even bolder statements. I love how her work reminds me of cut paper and collage, mixing different patterns together to create something really eye catching.

A post shared by Ruby Taylor (@rubyst) on
A post shared by Ruby Taylor (@rubyst) on

Check out Taylor's Instagram or website.

I was very impressed with the Canadian Mint with their new design for the ten dollar bill. It's got a lot going for it: it's beautiful, it's a new orientation (vertical instead of horizontal design) and it features a previously overlooked woman who is part of our country's history.

Interact with the bill on the website.
Viola Desmond remains an icon of the human rights and freedoms movement in Canada. A successful Nova Scotia businesswoman, she defiantly refused to leave a whites-only area of a movie theatre in 1946 and was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined. Her court case was one of the first known legal challenges against racial segregation brought forth by a Black woman in Canada. 
Learn more about Desmond's story here. And I'll give you a hint about a hidden easter egg - check out the bill on the website and click the “spin” icon several times until the page changes...

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Proux, Dowries & Bruno Lisboa

Weekly Update 2018-10: Future funk music from Mexican artist Proux, evaluating your goat-based dowry, and the amazing street-based illustrations of Portuguese artist Bruno Lisboa.

Music: Proux
I have been feeling nostalgic for my SoundCloud days lately. Macross 82-99 just put out a new future funk EP, and I subsequently fell into a very good album radio on Spotify that has lots of delicious disco-flavoured dance music. One of which is a great artist from Tijuana named Proux. I couldn't find a ton of info about the artist, but the songs are all my favourite things about disco, pop and dance music. And they really get in your head, too.

Favourite tracks include Just For Me and Grape Crush.

It's finally biking season again! I've ditched my last Metropass for the season and managed to bike to and from work all five days last week. Note to self that it may not be worthwhile to buy a February Metropass next year since it's a short month and the snow has managed to stop about halfway through. Thanks, Global Warming!

More noteworthy is the fact that I have acquired my #1 ISO (in search of) item on Bunz, basically since the beginning of my Bunz career two years ago. Yes, I have finally acquired a 1970s Lite Brite toy in perfect working condition. I feel like I should quit Bunz now, since there's nothing worthwhile left to trade for :) Just kidding.

So many possibilites!

I also attended my first Sunday drumming class in a while since I graduated to the band - now I am back again to continue sharpening my band leading skills. One of the hardest parts of leading the main band is that they have all seen me come through the ranks and don't necessarily see me as a leader. It's a bit awkward that way for me as well, so being able to drop into the Sunday classes to lead this new cohort has been a much easier transition. Especially since the leader has to be borderline aggressive in ensuring everyone sees the signs and knows what they're doing, it's somewhat of a stretch for me.

And onto my second week of consuming the super food that is chia seeds, I have learned a bit about them.
  • they can absorb 9-12 times their size in liquid, and if you don't soak them in such liquid, they'll suck it out of your body as you digest
  • about 2 tablespoons of seeds is a good serving size per day
  • therefore I've deduced that about 360ml of milk is a good ratio to add so that I don't get dehydrated after eating them
  • some people replace the milk with water to make chia gel, which is a good pre-gym food as well as a substitute for oil or eggs in some recipes
  • chia seeds contain 15% protein and 38% fibre - keeps you nice and regular!
I haven't gotten around to organizing my Facebook saved posts yet, but with all these awesome groups I have been joining, I have probably doubled my saved posts last week. So, the opposite of my original goal. Hoping to do this on Thursday night.

One of the benefits of coming back to the Sunday drumming workshop is that I can hone some of the more technical drum pieces - like this fun solo I recorded Pato playing for our Reggae beat. I'd like to practice this to have it ready for this Sunday.

I'm going to learn this on repique this week!

Random Thought: How Many Goats?
I often reflect on my luck of being born into the world I live in. Not only do I live in a prosperous first-world country with literally no real problems or needs, I somehow managed to scrape together a life with a creative job that pays me to do what I love. Many people in the world, women especially, do not get the same deal I was given. Consider the practice of a dowry, “property or money brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage” otherwise known as a sexist Bunz trade that suggests women are not worth as much as men and that the trade needs to be evened out with the ‘ttc token of yesteryear,’ goats.

So, how many goats are you worth? If you want to find out how valuable you might be to a future husband (i.e. how many goats your father will have to give him in order for him to marry you), why not take this fun quiz and find out?

I am worth nine goats, by the way...which I think is good? Bet you can't beat that.

Inspiration: Bruno Lisboa
Portuguese illustrator and designer Bruno Lisboa has a really cool style. His work has a great grungy flavour to it, which flows easily from his street murals to his more formal design and printed illustration.

Check out Lisboa's TumblrInstagram and Facebook page.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sniffle Party, Chia Seed Pudding & State of Design 2018

Weekly Update 2018-09: Sad girl dance parties with Sniffle Party, making the most delicious and easy pudding of my life, and attending a meetup worthy of my Friday night.

Music: Sniffle Party
I am no stranger to sad music, but I especially love melancholic tunes that are also danceable. The combo is somewhat odd and hard to find, but Sniffle Party scratches that itch for me. Self-classified as dreamy future witch pop, Sniffle party is a duo from Wisconsin comprised of Serena Wagner on sad-girl lyrics/vocals and Eric Christenson providing beats/production. It's like feely slow jams with a really good beat. The duo already have a musical project together called Two Castles, but I appreciate the distinction between the two sounds by separating the acts.

And on top of all that, Wagner is a graphic designer as well as musician. I really like their album art. Favourite tracks include Peach Dream and All The Snow Is Gone, but as you see they don't have many songs and they're really all great.

I can't believe these words are coming out of my mouth (keyboard): I attended a design meetup last week that was actually totally worthwhile and enriching for me - and on a Friday evening no less! Read more about it in the Inspiration section below.

Spring has sprung (yes, I'm going to jinx the weather) so I was able to bike to and from work a handful of times last week. I am starting to dream of biking to the beach again...only another month or so until I'll be biking every day again :)

I also took a cue from my wonderful roommate Erika and made myself a chia seed pudding for work today. This is literally one of the easiest, tastiest and healthiest things to make ahead, and it's really flexible to customize to your tastes and what you have in your fridge. Simply combine 2 tablespoons of chia seeds with about a cup of milk (dairy, coconut, nut, whatever), a bit of sweetness like stevia or honey, a drop of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and whatever fruit/nuts/seeds you have lying around. Then, let it soak overnight so the milk can make its way into the chia seeds and thicken the pudding. Today's additions were fresh blueberries, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate pieces and dried cranberries.

My pudding went well with wireframes and coffee in my ecentricarts mug.

On top of all that, we also went skating on Monday at Dufferin Grove. Such a lovely place to skate (even though there were a ton of kids and they all had no idea what fear was, for how fast they were shooting past me).

Erika is becoming quite the skate-lady. She just invested in her own new pair of skates.

With the changing weather, skating days are getting sketchy. I had originally hoped to skate on Nathan Phillips Square tomorrow, but the weather may prevent me from doing so. In which case, I'd like to use the evening to do something else outside!

Thursday is the first official EventMobi hangout since I left the company in the summer. While it was definitely my time to leave the company when I did, I still miss my old coworkers dearly and can't wait to hang out with the old crew.

And lastly, I'll be attending drum practice on Sunday for the first time in a long time, to practice leading the beginner band. We have a ton of festivals and shows coming up this summer, which means more opportunities for me to lead the band in bigger public settings. This means I can't mess up!

Random Thought:
One of the things I love most about Spotify is its auto-generated radio stations. Based on an album, artist, or even a single song, you can access Spotify's algorithm that generates songs which are closest to what you've selected. I find it really spot-on 90% of the time, which makes finding new bands really simple. All of that said, the algorithm can often be so good that I fall into a loop of the same 8-10 bands for a few weeks. It can start to feel like a sort of echo-chamber and I begin to feel tired of the genre. Then I have to take a break and that's no fun.

So, how can I use the algorithm to find me more obscure music of varying genre, that I will most probably enjoy? I have found the most success when starting a radio station from albums which contain cross-genre collaborations, such as Daniele Luppi's Milano that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Luppi, an Italian composer, mixes his skills with that of Parquet Courts' groovy alt-rock and The Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O's angelic yet raunchy vocals. The album radio is quite spectacular, crossing genres and really never quite the same every time I go to it. Why not try it out?

I just learned that one cannot link directly to a radio station outside of Spotify - but click the link and you can make your own which is more fun!

Inspiration: State of Design 2018
As mentioned above, I have been to many a design meetup in my time. In my experience in Toronto, I find they're generally more focused on networking than on learning and growth, which is my main goal. Don't get me wrong, it's great to network and connect with other like-minded people in my city, but these events are always after work and I'm often too tired to muster up the social levels to properly meet ten new people in ten minutes. But I always have energy to learn.

And so it was, on a Friday night (the second worst night after Monday for a meetup, IMO) about 300 designers (and a handful of other professions) gathered in the Telus building near Union Station for an evening of design talks, free food and an open bar.

Despite being on a Friday night, I really enjoyed the talks and felt like I really learned something. Between the talk by Dylan Field (cofounder of Figma) on design systems, the case study by Lori Davison and Carlos Moreno on the SickKids VS campaign, and the talk on smart home thermostats by Leanne Paura, I was very impressed with the cross-disciplinary design thinking going on. I may even try out Figma - if I can carve out some time at work.

The meetup was hosted by DesignX, a community of cross-disciplinary designers in Toronto with an active slack group. I have been part of it for some time but don't follow along too closely, so I really enjoy these in-person meetups as a way to meet other like-minded (as well as not so like-minded) people in real life.

Preet (the founder) and all the DesignX volunteers closing the show.

If you're a Toronto designer and you don't know about DesignX, join the slack group.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Crumb, Small Hands & Nas Daily

Weekly Update 2018-08: So much inspiration from Brooklyn psych-rockers Crumb and the 60-second vlog gems from NasDaily, along with the nuances of owning small hands.

Music: Crumb
Brooklyn-based four-piece Crumb delivers just what I need: a melancholic yet upbeat psych trip through a land made of clouds. In other words: sometimes it's poppy, sometimes it's jazzy, all the time it's amazing music that lets itself right into the doorway of your soul. Lead singer and guitarist Lila Ramani is a gifted songwriter who invites us into her world of emotion and funky guitar licks. Listener beware, these songs will stick to your gut like molasses.

Favourite tracks include all of them (they only have seven on Spotify/Bandcamp at the time of publishing). If you forced me to choose, Vinta and Thirty-Nine both take me on a spiritual vision quest when I close my eyes (though each of a very different sort from each other).

Catch Crumb at The Baby G in Toronto with Luna Li on April 4.

Also deserving of a shoutout is the album art from their two EP's (one of which is especially topical of the Random Thought further down the page):

2017's Locket.

2016's self titled.

This week I made pulled pork for a potluck (which is a really fun sentence to say out loud), and added to my room-collage. It's getting pretty unruly after 28 months of contribution. I also finally cleaned off my desk, so I present you with this picture in the hopes that you won't think I have gone insane.

I don't have a problem, I just like paper ephemera, okay?

I also went a little silly on the frozen edge of Lake Erie at a friend's cottage in Long Point yesterday, and attempted to vault a huge branch across the lake with the help of some friends. Of course, when the log was vaulted, it took me with it and sent me across the ice a few metres. All in a day's work – and totally worth it.

And if that weren't enough, Mondo Mascots (mentioned in last week's update) thanked me for the shoutout! Guess I'm getting a hang of this Twitter thing after all...

I've saved a lot of cool things on Facebook and Instagram, but have yet to discover a good way to actively use them when needed. There are some recipes, pieces of inspiration for the blog, articles I've yet to read, bands I've yet to truly discover - and only so much time. So I'm devoting this week to sorting and organizing them.

Random Thought: Small Hands
Certainly a topic only ever considered by owners of small hands, life can be challenging at times for such people. By no means would I classify having small hands as a disability, but it can be troublesome. I am currently the owner of a pair of small hands, and I have only ever met one person over the age of 13 with smaller hands than mine.

There are obvious things, like the fact that a bracelet will never fit my wrist properly without sliding off my hand, but I want to talk about the deep cuts like holding a mug or fork. I don't know if I should be doing some hand exercises to strengthen them, but most mugs and cutlery are simply too big for my hand to use comfortably. Handfeel of a mug is very important, especially as I already find mug handles to be largely poorly designed in the first place. Now imagine that issue exacerbated with a full cup of coffee inside it.

But the most difficult thing about having small hands in this year of 2018 is the abhorrently large size of most popular smartphones. I love to consider this charting of phone sizes throughout “history”:

Some say screens became larger when we realized we could view porn on our phones. 
Makes sense to me.

Honestly, I was really happy in the era right there in the middle (2002?) when I would borrow my dad's indestructible Nokia phone on the occasion. It fit so nicely in my hand, and I could even use it easily with one hand. Today that is just not the case - my (relatively) new iPhone SE is the only modern option for a small-sized good-spec phone, and people still ask me if it's an iPhone 4. Because of this, I often fail to reach the keyboard keys I aim for, and end up using Autocorrect to remedy this issue over a lack of spelling knowledge. Let's be real, I've rarely needed Autocorrect to actually spell a word correctly. But that's the glory of well-designed features, right? They work in different ways for different people, but are as universally useful as possible.

And hey, when that diamond tennis bracelet slips off my hand and down a sewer grate, my hands will be small enough to fit in between the grate to fish it out. What a charmed life.

As a bonus random thought concerning hands: my friend was explaining his recipe for Miso soup at a potluck yesterday. He mentioned that it required a handful of clams (about five or six in his hand, argulably three or four in mine). I liked the sound of a handful of clams, but I much preferred the sound of a clamful of hands, which was repeated throughout the evening. While playing Jackbox's Quiplash, the best thing ever happened:

This feels like a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Needless to say, the left side was the clear winner.

Inspiration: Nas Daily
I have spent the last six or eight months actively curating my Facebook feed. I realized that I had become somewhat addicted to the social media platform, but that it was leaving me feeling kind of empty and like I was wasting my time (spoiler alert: I was definitely wasting my time). I wanted to use my downtime on buses and the like for something more enriching, so I decided to try to find some better content on Facebook.

One of the enriching feeds of content is the amazing daily 60-second videos from NasDaily, or rather, a man named Nuseir Yassin, who realized life was too short to be working a job he did not love. He quit that job and every day for the past two years, he has created a 60-second video about lots of varying content involving his travels around the world and ways he connects with people from all walks of life. His message is so simple and clear that it rings really true with a wide audience. Life is too short not to love, not to choose peace, not to do something fulfilling (even on a small level) with each passing moment. On top of that, his vlogging personality is so friendly and magnetic that he just makes me want to keep watching forever. Which I almost did this afternoon.

With each video, Nas makes more friends.

I can't recommend these videos enough, and even moreso that you follow Nas on Facebook. I can't link to my favourites here because he only makes them available on Facebook (because that's where his friends are) - but I implore you to check them out. Especially useful are his tips on how to travel in countries on a small amount of money, but more importantly on how to understand the social climate and cultural nuances of these places. While not inherently political, he even touches on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a handful of the videos among many other topics. It's truly wonderful to see such a loving, honest and level-headed person give their take on parts of the world to which I have never been, displaying them as an outsider but as someone who could easily fit in anywhere and is a true citizen of the world.

Nas wears (a version of) the same shirt every day, displaying the percentage of life he's already lived (statistically based on his date of birth, sex and country of origin). He's currently 34% through his life, which he uses as a mantra to live to the fullest. You can calculate and make your own version of the shirt on his website. I made mine:

And his $1200 drone-shot footage is really spectacular as well. Check out NasDaily on Facebook and Instagram.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Charly Bliss, Evolving Products & Japanese Mascots

Weekly Update 2018-07: The twee vocals and grungy guitar of Charly Bliss, balancing changes with the needs and wants of users who rely on your digital product, and cute Japanese mascots for pretty much whatever you want from Mondo Mascots.

Music: Charly Bliss
The perfect mixture of catchy pop hooks and grungy garage rock is the essence of Charly Bliss. Lead singer and guitarist Eva Hendricks is blessed with a delightfully high-toned voice that I can't get enough of. I usually don't go for vocals that sound so close to ‘twee,’ but Hendricks' voice mixed with the minor guitar licks and smooth harmonizing from the other band members (Hendricks' brother, ex-boyfriend and BFF – all male, and three different people, of course) come together to create some earworms I just want to sing into my hairbrush until I'm late for work.

Favourite tracks off their debut album Guppy include Westermarck (about an ex-lover of Hendricks who fell for a second cousin he had never met before who came to stay with him), Black Hole and DQ (about peeing on a trampoline).

Catch Charly Bliss at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on May 19.

Finally this week at work I began the wireframing stages of the big project I'm working on. I've done visual design for other projects at work since I started, but this particular project is so large that it's been a bit slow-going. Anyway, I have a feeling this week will go pretty quick because I've laid out a really good thorough grid system in Sketch and have a good idea of what symbols and type styles I want to use. I don't think I've ever been this prepared for an interface design project before.

Literally in the middle of writing this blog post, I achieved the fastest Bunz trade in all my days. From the offer (made by the other bun) to facilitating the pickup and making the trade, about 17 minutes passed. It is truly wonderful to live in the city epicentre of Bunz. I feel like the whole West End is my closet sometimes. By the way, the trade was two of my enamelware pots for her graphic novel - which I am pretty excited to read. Apparently Time Magazine named it #1 graphic novel of its year and #8 of the decade overall.

Blankets by Craig Thompson. It's about 600 pages!

Obviously I'll be nose-deep in Illustrator this week, but that's boring to write about.

I'd also like to make a batch of pulled pork, since Facebook has been reminding me of this time last year when I made one (that I had traded for on Bunz of course), and actually get around to following some cool people on Twitter. If you have any recommendations for who to follow, I'm all ears!

Random Thought:
Should a product try to change to meet the evolving needs of people? Or should it stay in safety within the realm of the service for which it was originally designed? I think about this pretty much every time a popular app or website makes a large design/experience change. Recently, Snapchat came out with an update to their friend feed that changed the order from chronological to algorithm-based (similar to my least favourite update to Instagram).

I don't use Snapchat, but I have seen so many people angrily posting about the change on other social platforms that I decided to research to see what the change was. In my scour of Twitter, I could not find a single person who defended the change. Of course, that doesn't mean the change is bad. And the change itself does not come packaged with a requirement that the Snapchat Product team divulge their research or reasoning for making the change. Heck, if Facebook repealed every change to their Newsfeed that people immediately hated, we wouldn't even have a Newsfeed. We'd still be writing on each other's walls like savages (heh, get it?).

All of that said, I'd argue that it was brave for Snapchat to take a risk since it's one of the only platforms currently giving the big companies in Silicon Valley a run for their money. With Instagram and Facebook coldly stealing all of Snapchat's innovative ideas and throwing money at them until their experiences are better, Snapchat knows it has to stay agile to keep up. What I don't understand is why they would employ a feature that Instagram had previously implemented, which is consistently disliked even to this day. I'm interested to see how this plays out for Snapchat because even though I am too old and crotchety to use their app, I'm still rooting for that weird ghost guy.

Inspiration: Mondo Mascots
In case you want to trade Twitter account recommendations, let me open your eyes to the world of Mondo Mascots. Amongst everything else that's weird and wonderful about Japan is their abundance of cartoon characters that I want to collect and keep in my pocket. It seems like the country contains a mascot for pretty much everything - from sporting events (basic) to food products to hospitals.

By the way, all of these are from the past 48 hours. There is so much content here. Mondo's Twitter account states: “Chronicling the weird and wonderful world of Japanese mascots, from the front lines in Tokyo. ゆるキャラが大好きなイギリス人です。”

I implore you to check out the feed, or at least my favourite one of them all:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Daniele Luppi, Skating & Nelson

Weekly Update 2018-06: The amazing musical collectives created by Italian composer Daniele Luppi, braving the winter cold and my fear of ice skating, and having 100% control over your Spotify playlists.

Music: Daniele Luppi
It's no secret that I am a big fan of mashups. The intersection of genres and musicians that one normally may not find together, is such a platform for creativity that you'll always find something new. Italian composer Daniele Luppi has recruited two of my favourite musical pieces: Parquet Courts and Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O. In a wonderful album released in 2017 called Milano, the three pay tribute to the Italian city’s hedonistic 1980s heyday.

What arises is an amazing musical piece, reminiscent of Luppi's 2011 Rome collaboration with Danger Mouse, Jack White and Norah Jones. If not for any reason than to bring unexpected musical pairings together, I think Luppi is a genius.

Favourite tracks include Talisa, Flush and Pretty Prizes.

And as a “bonus track” to my selection, let me tell you that the Spotify radio for this album is probably the best I have heard in a long time. Due to the varied genres of these three musicians, the radio is also varied and really good. 

This past weekend, I attended the Richmond Hill Winter Carnival for the first time in my conscious history! It was really cool, with an area for War of 1812 re-enactors (firing off muskets every hour on the hour) and an area for Vikings re-enactors. Not to mention the Beaver Tails, chocolate covered bacon on a stick, skating, rides, live music, and so much more. It was so much to take in.

Myself and my friend Emilia posing in front of some amazing wood carvings.

I didn't get to do any skating at the Winter Carnival, but I did manage to go to the Bentway Skate Trail under the Gardiner, and boy was that ever a levelling up in skating. This was me pushing myself to do something that really scared me, to be perfectly honest. Not only is the loop quite long and narrow (which makes for quite a sharp turn at each end), but the whole thing is a giant wind tunnel that pushed me pretty far out of my comfort zone. I could pretty much glide down a whole side of the trail without having to push my feet. Which I did because I don't really know how to stop yet!

I promise it was as fun as it was cold that night.

Next skating adventure, I'd like to try the Christie Pits rink...

Speaking of Christie Pits, I finally went tobogganing this weekend. Yep, after three winters of living near the park, I finally got to sled down a few different hills around the park. I'd say it's one of the choice places to toboggan, and certainly the closest option to my house - the sunken-in park makes for great hills on all four sides.

On top of that, I made a small personal victory at work this week. I'd say only a small fraction of people in my office make a point of eating their lunch in the lunch room, opting instead to eat at their desk as they work. Of course this is their prerogative, but I am a big proponent of eating lunch away from one's desk to (1) take a breather in the middle of the day to recharge a little and (2) to spend a bit of time bonding with coworkers. It's nice to have friends/people you like at work. And so, I thought that perhaps bringing up a round of Sporcle quizzes on the big TV in the kitchen might do the trick, and indeed it did.

Long story short, we had about 12 people all gathered around a big screen, singing songs and shouting band names at the screen as we tried to match famous 90's songs to their singers. We did pretty well in the end:

I also had the honour of taking (part of) my team for pizza on Friday as part of National Pizza day!

Finally, to round out the week, I hit 300 five-star reviews on Bunz the other day! I've had more trades than that, but it's lovely to hit such a large and displayable milestone. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bunz has really changed my life.

My parents always seem to have some fish in their freezer leftover from my dad's fishing trips. I thought I might try a healthier/possibly tastier way to cook it as an alternative to the two ways my dad knows (deep frying or baking in cream and gruyere). There is a specific style of cooking it that I tried at a Nicaraguan restaurant, but with a little digging it seems like the recipe is actually Italian. More on that as it develops.

I'd also like to start using Twitter more. It feels like an untapped resource for good content I would actually consider enriching (unlike Facebook that sometimes feels like an echo chamber). So I think I will start by turning on notifications on my phone, and following some Portland design firms. Baby steps!

Random Thought:
Random thoughts are one of my favourite things to write about because of the sheer unexpected nature by which they enter into my brain. This one comes to you from my bathroom mirror, while examining my eyeliner application technique. I close one eye and use the other to see what I'm doing. Seems simple enough, but what if you only have one working eye? How do you apply eyeliner to the working eye? I suppose you could apply it with your eye open, but I just don't think it would be the same.

Inspiration: Nelson
I am continually impressed with Spotify's algorithm. I use it to help me to find new music and make amazing playlists with very little effort (as mentioned above in the music section). But for those times when you want to get reeeeeally specific about your algorithmic playlists, why not use this amazing little Spotify API-based fan-made app called Nelson? Created by Arielle Vaniderstine, it includes modifiers that I consider to be on the same control level as iTunes (or possibly even more extreme?) that you can poke and prod until you get a playlist that perfectly matches your musical needs.

You can read about the settings and their meanings on the Spotify developers blog, but I particularly enjoy this one:
Valence - A measure from 0.0 to 1.0 describing the musical positiveness conveyed by a track. Tracks with high valence sound more positive (e.g. happy, cheerful, euphoric), while tracks with low valence sound more negative (e.g. sad, depressed, angry).
Valence reminds me of how I generally classify happy, upbeat and usually high-toned vocals as “twee”, such as Matt & Kim, or most pop music. It can be appropriate at times, but I find I much prefer sadder, minor music lately. It's not a reflection of my mood, but it might have something to do with the weather.

I made a playlist based on a some fun genres like psych rock and , and with the valence meter turned down to match my emotional mood of course. So far, not bad!


Make your own playlist based on anything from Detroit Techno to Honky Tonk to Metalcore here.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Chris Bear, Colour Inversion & Ceramic Flowers

Weekly Update 2018-05: Discovering HBO's amazing show High Maintenance and its even more amazing music by Chris Bear, using colour inversion as an accessible design tool and Canadian artist Shary Boyle's new work at Sunshine Eaters.

Music: Chris Bear
After bingeing the first season of HBO's High Maintenance over the past week, there are so many things about it that I could gush over. Perhaps the best of them all is the music, originally composed and/or lovingly selected by Chris Bear. His selections of vintage and new tunes mixed with his original scores for all six episodes of the season create an alluring soundscape that I haven't yet been able to shake off.

And did I mention Bear also happens to be the drummer in indie baroque pop band Grizzly Bear? What can this musician not do? Check out the playlist for season one below.

Favourite tracks include LA Priest's Oino (featured in last week's update), Finnish musician Jaakko Eino Kalevi's Hush Down and Bear's own Gatsby Intro (music originally set to follow the main character of the episode - a dog).

I highly recommend giving the show a watch, if not for the amazing stories then of course for its sparkling soundtrack.

I don't know why I have been feeling the urge of spring cleaning, especially since we're about to have another helping of bitterly cold winter in Toronto. No matter the motivation, I have begun the process of cleaning out my drawers and rearranging some stuff in my apartment. I have a new dresser, but I promised myself that I would only use it for good (to catalyze the process of getting rid of some of the items from my other bursting drawers and to give breathing room to my more beloved objects).

I have been using a personalized version of Marie Kondo's method for decluttering, which involves holding an object in my hands and deciding how much love/happiness it inspires in my heart. The issue is that many objects fall into the middle of the scale, but then I move them into the Bunz pile. I post them to Bunz right away, and if I am lucky enough to receive a trade offer, I decide in that moment about whether I really want to keep the item. I have only ever reneged on a trade offer once, when I realized I still wanted to keep a pair of pants that I have owned for over ten years now.

Good method; still lots more to go, though. I honestly don't know how I ended up with so many USB sticks, especially useless ones that only have 1GB capacity. The jury is still out on whether this is a prime example of planned obsolescence, but I know I definitely don't need these USB sticks anymore. The process of moving the files onto my hard drive in organized folders made me feel sooooo good. I hope someone on Bunz can find use for them!

My biggest accomplishment of the week is a shared one: this was the weekend of my father's first big estate sale of the year. He has been working tirelessly for the last few months on organizing the home of this client's late father, before a relative's family will move into the house and breathe new life into it. We made a family affair of it, with everyone taking a different role in helping to make the sale run smoothly.

I bought one of the man's plants - he had a lot of greenery in his home - which has not been doing so well in my apartment. I've been moving it around to see what sort of light it prefers, and after losing about 50% of its leaves, it's finally started to sprout some new growth.

I can't believe how it grows - with all nine leaves sprouting from a stem at once.
Look at the wee baby - the diameter of leaves is about the size of my thumb.

This new growth makes me wonder if perhaps the man's spirit had to take some time to find where I moved his plant to, before he could ensure it continued to grow. It's getting happier by the window each day.

I'm going to make a concerted effort to clean through my portable hard drive this week, as it's become quite unruly. Once I do that, I can back everything up to my other hard drive and sleep a little easier knowing everything is properly archived. Not that my files are very important, but I have been enjoying looking through old favourite photos on my phone once in a while.

Also, now that I have some recent skating experience under my belt, I feel confident enough to try again. As long as the weather holds up, I'll be checking out the Bentway on Friday and Richmond Hill's winter claim to fame, the Winter Carnival at Mill Pond on Sunday. Considering I grew up in Richmond Hill but have no memories of actually attending the annual carnival, I decided it's time to right that wrong.

Random Thought: Colour Inversion
If you've ever dabbled with photo editing software, you are probably familiar with the process of inverting an image. Originally done using darkroom processes, inverting produces the opposite colour in the spectrum for a photo. I personally enjoy working with inversion because it produces a sort of "evil twin" version of a photo. Same same, but different, and without a ton of design work.

Obviously others have felt the same, as I have been noticing a trend in inverted album art. Take, for example, British indie band Bloc Party's 2005 album Silent Alarm. Other than being a great rock album, the album art is quite stark and white:

Bloc Party's Silent Alarm, released early 2005.

Interestingly, the band decided to release a remix version of the album later that same year. From Wikipedia: Bloc Party commissioned Silent Alarm Remixed to show that remixes and dance music were relevant to the band and to the rock landscape at large. The band members gave each of the original tracks to a number of musicians from different genres; Ladytron, Four Tet, and Nick Zinner were amongst those who reworked the songs. Critics often considered the record as showcasing the potential high quality of remix albums, although some reviewers treated it as disjunct and a poor marketing decision. Allow me to present the album art:

The exact same thing, just inverted (and I guess one of the remixes contains a swear)!

Bloc Party was not the only band to use inversion for their remix album - Boys Noize (a.k.a. German electronic music producer and DJ Alexander Ridha) followed up his 2007 album Oi Oi Oi with a 2008 remix album:

The original Oi Oi Oi (2007).

The remix album (2008).

Especially when used on monochrome imagery, inversion feels like a small design change with a lot of impact that still pays homage to the original design.

Colour inversion has more purpose than simply design, though. If you've ever checked out the accessibility features of an iPhone, you'll see that there is an option to invert the entire screen. 

No, this isn't to allow some users to feel "edgy" like they have a customized view of their iOS, it's actually used to help solve a variety of usability issues. Some people find it easier to read white text on a black background, especially when it comes to backlit screens, and others use this setting for "night mode" - you'll notice that Apple automatically turns off their feature Night Shift when Invert Colors is set to active. 

According to this forum, there is another notion at work here beyond contrast ratios - display polarity. A positive polar display consists of dark letters on a light background, a negative polar display consists of light letters on a dark background. Polarity by itself is independent of text-to-background contrast. At the level of the display, a change of polarity has no effect on the text-to-background contrast. If the reader's eyes are cloudy, however, the contrasts at the retinal level is decreased for positive compared to negative polarity. This is why offering negative polarity is considered an accessibility feature.

Left: my normal home screen. Right: the inverted version. I don't hate it.
Disclaimer: the 1,393 notification badge is a step counter - I'm not a monster.

I am thinking of trying this out on my device for a few days and seeing if it makes any difference to my experience. 

Inspiration: Shary Boyle
Working so close to OCAD and the AGO has been a true blessing for, and will be even moreso once the weather is nice enough to walk to the AGO after work with my shiny new membership. Being the art enthusiast that I am, I was excited to see that OCAD is launching a four-month gallery show entitled Sunshine Eaters with works from Shary Boyle (my favourite Canadian ceramicist), Nick Cave, Brian Jungen, and more. From their online brochure:
The Sunshine Eaters exhibition highlights how contemporary artists and designers look to the land, plants, flowers and trees as a means to imagine and conjure hope in the face of crises.
In conjunction with the gallery - which I still have yet to visit! - there is a captivating series of artist talks. I had the true joy of seeing Shary Boyle speak about her recent work of the past few years, much of it in conjunction with Aboriginal Canadian artists she has met in her travels. She has been making strides away from the traditional "West European" approach to art history and education, and it really shows in the way her work has made leaps and bounds since I last saw it at her Flesh and Blood show at the AGO in 2010.

Boyle spoke for an hour about working in Cape Dorset with the talented Inuit artist Shuvinai Ashoona, and of her collaboration with other Inuit sculptors in Medalta - the historic pottery district in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

Boyle's work "Home Haunter", 2015.

She also talked about her natural affinity for clay, seeing it as a natural medium that she could shape and interact with more than any man-made substance. She likened clay to skin more than once, which one can see in her works.

I have yet to visit the gallery, but after hearing her speak about the work, I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll talk about her on my blog. Meanwhile, check out Shary Boyle's work and the Sunshine Eaters website for more info on upcoming events.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

LA Priest, Biomimicry & Tsumori Chisato

Weekly Update 2018-04: Strange and wonderful tunes from Late of the Pier's LA Priest, what we can learn from nature's design systems and the loud, bright fashions of Tsumori Chisato.

Music: LA Priest
I originally found LA Priest in my SoundCloud days of 2016/2017, but the project has made a resurgence after being featured in an episode of HBO's High Maintenance. As a solo project of Late of the Pier's lead singer Samuel Eastgate, LA Priest's solitary LP Inji packs quite a punch. It's a little disco, a little love song, and a little bit of something I can't really name. Mixing strange recordings into musical sounds that blend with hypnotic lyrics, Eastgate makes music that is unique and extremely ear-catching. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Favourite songs include Oino, Lorry Park and Learning to Love.
After what was probably a ten-year hiatus from skating, I somehow convinced myself (and three friends) to check out a free concert by Bahamas at the Harbourfront ice rink this weekend. The draw of good music lured me into a false sense that my skating lessons from fifteen years ago would come back to me, which they didn't. But thanks to the friend-based support, I managed to pick up my confidence and speed to become someone who actually might...enjoy skating?! I'm as surprised as you. I still haven't made it to the Bentway to skate yet, but that's definitely next up in my skating aspirations.

It's also officially been three months since I started my new job, which means I have the glorious super power of employer-provided benefits. In celebration, I booked an eye appointment at a new optometrist down the street from my work. We've been grooming a lot of user stories for a project at work which means being able to read small text on a screen at the other end of a boardroom, so I'm definitely overdue to have my prescription changed.

As promised last week, I attended no less than five events as part of the Toronto Design Offsite Festival, each of which was better than the previous. It was definitely worthwhile to organize my schedule ahead of time, as I don't think I absorbed nearly as much culture in years previous. Highlights included the yearly stroll down Queen to see all the window displays (in the blustering snow, no less) and a studio tour of Geary Avenue that ended with a very cool chat with the architects of Partisans - a groundbreaking architectural firm making global waves.

Of course, the week would not be complete without a full rundown on my blog, so look out for a TODO post this week sometime.

In addition, I acquired a small dresser that I hope will continue my plight in life organization. The challenge is to figure out how to use it.

Random Thought:
It's no secret that I love 99% Invisible. Their collaboration with Vox Media to create teachable moment videos is really quite interesting. Especially the topic of biomimicry - the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems - is becoing increasingly important to grasp as we move into the 21st century. Check it out below:

~7 min long.

I found the idea of the food chain as nature's upcycling particularly inspiring. Designers truly have so much to learn from nature. Biomimicry tends to feel like good design because it's based on a system that is already attuned to human need (and of course the needs of the entire ecosystem beyond just needy humans). I like to think that the solutions to the world's wicked problems can be found in patterns and systems of nature. Whether it's basing the shape of a train car off that of the beak of a kingfisher or developing paint that, when dry on a wall, contains the same self-cleaning properties as lotus leaves, there's so much that nature has to offer us.

Inspiration: Tsumori Chisato
A native of Saitama, Japan, Tsumori Chisato found her fashion niche in pattern and whimsy after working for the legendary Issey Miyake. Her aesthetic focuses on prints and has a "healthy dose of manga/bohemian cuteness".

Cruise/Resort Collection 2013.

Fall 2016.

Spring 2013.

I love the bright colours and power clashing patterns of her work. 

The way I came across Chisato is almost as interesting a story as her designs themselves: I was sitting on the subway, and noticed a woman for her brightly coloured clothing. This drew me to see that she was reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which I remember as being quite an intense and magnetic book. I resolved not to bother the woman to ask about her truly gorgeous and unique coat, so as not to ruin her read, but after about two stops of staring at the coat, I cracked. She told me that the original designer was, of course, our dear Chisato (she had to say it three times slowly for me to get it right), but also intimated to me that she purchased this counterfeit version of the coat on Japanese eBay. Fashion for the masses!

Check out Tsumori Chisato's website.

Chisato herself.