Sunday, December 1, 2019

Moe Shop, Weird Secondhand Finds & Adam Wallacavage

Weekly Update 2019-48: Future funk disco from Moe Shop, the joy of sharing the weird things one finds at secondhand stores and the beautiful light sculptures of Adam Wallacavage.

Music: Moe Shop
What could be better than a mix of two of my favourite kinds of electronic music? Future funk overlaid with anime soundclips from Japan combines with disco/house electro from France to make this fresh electronic sound from Moe Shop. He himself is French, though you wouldn't be able to tell considering the album art, song names and lyrics all looking super cute and anime.

A Google Image Search for Moe Shop reveals lots of pretty anime girls.

I first noticed my friend Sasha listening to Moe Shop on Spotify, so thanks to him for bringing the music to my notice. Sasha likes the tonal differences between songs, a little experimentation in electronic music gives Moe Shop the ability to make his mark in the genre. Plus, collaborations with great vocalists always add to the range - especially on the track Lovesick featuring maisou.

Vena always seems to be hosting some sort of event after hours to get our brand a bit more integrated into the Toronto tech scene. We're nicely located near the Go Train and have a pretty cool office/building space, so it provides for some good opportunities. This past Tuesday Vena hosted WomenHack for a networking and speed-interviewing event. I volunteered to give tours of our office and answer any questions from design/tech candidates.

Setting up for the night!

It was great to meet so many inspirational young people, and as a bonus my friend and past associate instructor Brit surprised me with her attendance. I had just been thinking of reaching out to see how she was doing, and here she materialized right inside my office building. It was a really great evening.

While I don't really celebrate Christmas, I know there are some present-giving occasions coming up soon like Michelle and Sam's wedding, my friend group Secret Santa and Larissa's birthday. My goal is to get all of their presents together this week so I don't have to worry about them arriving late - especially the Secret Santa gift.

This week also brings the second-last week of class for the semester, which is the final lesson-based class. Week 10 is devoted completely to final presentations, and I'm thankful for the three volunteers who will be presenting this week. We'll have enough trouble getting people to stay on time as it is, and there are always technical difficulties as well.

Random Thought: Weird Secondhand Finds
Another in my series of devotion to a niche set of Facebook groups: Weird Secondhand Finds That Just Need To Be Shared. This one contains exactly what its title promises - the weird and wacky (but mostly tacky) finds of various secondhand and thrift stores across the world. They are most situated in the suburbs of America, which is fair due to their love of tacky kitsch and collecting it to the point of absurdity at that.

A beautiful corgi dish

Posts of members trying on their finds are awarded special praise.

Some finds are a bit creepy or haunted...

These are all winners, let's be clear about that. But what I am finding really special is the DIY nature that occasionally pops its head up. Yes, the young millennials are taking to the thrift stores to reduce their carbon footprint and save a buck or two. The results of this additional layer of society to the tacky suburban ephemera gives us a stunner like you see below:

Image may contain: one or more people and indoor

Just to be crystal clear about what you're seeing above: it was originally a kitschy wooden wall handing with some cute (yet arguably square) geese, welcoming you to what would presumably be one's kitchen. Someone most likely donated it to a thrift store in its original inoffensive condition, only to have another person buy it and re-imagine the visage you see above. The geese have seen some things in that kitchen over the years and are now hardened. It's fantastic.

What's great is that the group has 1.4 million members at the time of posting this post, and I've definitely seen people I know in real life lurking around the posts. Geese of a feather flock together, I suppose!

Inspiration: Adam Wallacavage
I do have a penchant for sea creatures, but these lighted works by American-born Adam Wallacavage are simply beautiful.

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A post shared by Adam Wallacavage (@octopus_chandeliers) on

Wallacavage's octopus theme as transposed onto light fixtures makes natural sense as all the tentacles make great chandelier arms. He pushes the concept even further and somehow reinvents it with each piece, spanning styles from kooky to chic.

I love the playfulness of the concept, and how it brings nature into the home in an interesting way. Check out more on his Instagram.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Surf Curse, Low Tier Connections & Making It

Weekly Update 2019-47: Bright, beachy tunes from Surf Curse, testing digital products with low-speed internet connections and everything that's great about reality television in NBC's crafting competition show Making It.

Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman are back at it - hosting a reality competition show?

Music: Surf Curse
Sunset was as early as 4:50 or something terrible this week, and it's only getting earlier for a few more weeks. In alignment with my seasonal affective disorder, I need happy, summery music to lift my spirits a little. Surf Curse's sound isn't necessarily happy per se, but it feels like that good California rock associated with the beach and summer rays.

Their 2019 album Heaven Surrounds You is full of bright sounds, references to cult films of the two bandmates' youth, and a lust for life that floats the listener through December and into April (I hope).

I've been switching back and forth between two bikes because the weather can't make up its mind. It's nice to have options to continue biking safely through the gross months of the year, this is now making me feel like I should invest in a fatbike and never have to take days off biking. It's really not the cold that's the problem, just the snow on the ground compacting into slippery bumps in the road. Skinny tires definitely don't like it.

I also made a tuna casserole as a quick pinch dinner food (every ingredient can be stored in a pantry) and when I was heating some up at work, a coworker I didn't know made a point of complimenting it. This made me reflect on how much I've developed my cooking skills since I moved into this apartment four years ago. Tuna casserole is one of the easiest, "cop-out" meals I can make but someone thought it looked so good (three days later, stuffed into a tupperware) that they made a point to say so! :) It's the little things.

I can't believe it's mid-November, which means I get to plan out my DesignTO schedule. Yes, it's true the event is at the end of January but the schedule is always released around now and I get to plan my own series of events over the course of my favourite week in winter. I'm especially excited to see what events are happening in Liberty Village this year - there aren't too many but I can always count on one or two to visit after work on a random day. Who knows, maybe there will be an event IN my building?!

Speaking of my work building, Women in Tech Toronto will be using our big open space to host a women-centric networking and job search event, so I volunteered to help set stuff up and give tours of our office. Maybe someone will drop by who's interested in design as well.

Random Thought: Low Tier Connections
I was poking around in Chrome's Developer Tools the other day, as one does. As a rule of thumb it's always best to test digital work on a variety of real devices to ensure the experience is the same, but I do appreciate Developer Tools' built-in device toolbar in a pinch.

Readers using a desktop Chrome browser can open Developer Tools with these shortcuts:
Mac: cmnd + alt + I (then cmnd + shift + M to open the device toolbar)
Windows: ctrl + shift + I (then ctrl + shift + M to open the device toolbar)

That's all well and good, but I noticed something new in the device toolbar that really excited me...

Test with a low-tier internet connection?!

I personally haven't seen such a testing concept so easily provided before - designers and developers can test their digital products with mid-tier and low-tier internet connections. I find this absolutely revolutionary. It's actually a practice of inclusive design to take the time to provide a good experience for those who may not have access to 4G/LTE service. Whether you're in a spotty service area or have no data left in your plan, it is truly responsible of digital creators to take into account that not everyone will be able to load those fancy hi-res animations or videos (or even simple images).

Since I am a designer and not a developer, I recognize that there are most likely already products that do this sort of testing. Alongside practices of providing alternative, lower-size assets for those with limited internet speeds, I'm sure any developer worth their salt will be testing to ensure experiences are as optimized as possible.

But the magic of having this tool inside Chrome is that it's available more readily and easily to anyone with Chrome installed (most of my readers, from what I gather) and can provide a healthy dose of empathy with only one use.

That said - I dare you to try loading a favourite website on the mid-tier or low-tier speed. You'll be amazed with how little time goes by before you get frustrated that the page is "taking too long to load" - we're talking fractions of seconds here.

This feature puts things into a bit of perspective as well, perhaps we don't need everything to happen instantly, getting into the habit of waiting an extra half a second for a page to load might even be a good thing.

Inspiration: Making It
Reality television is mostly garbage in my eyes (I think its fans might actually agree with me), but every so often I find an exception to the rule. True magic can be found in some creativity-based competition shows, though the amazing completed works are often undercut with a negativity in working against one's fellow artisans.

Somehow, one competition show has at once removed that dark undercut of negativity toward one's competitors and created some of the most inspirational works I have ever seen. And did I mention it's hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman? Yep, the amazing duo from Parks and Rec fame are back at it.

I suppose this confirms my sneaking opinion that they were just playing their real personalities on the 2009-2015 sitcom. The duo treat the contestants with love and admiration as they share their project ideas. In between shots of the crafters, Poehler and Offerman go head-to-head in pun battles and other un-scripted banter.

The design of the challenges is also extremely dear. For example, the prize for each one is a unique handcrafted patch that the contestants can attach to their working aprons.

Contestants are challenged to work with reclaimed materials, and applauded when they craft ideas that viewers at home could easily recreate. Most notably was a wonderful children's playspace by contestant and interior designer Joanna Gick.

The rainbow is made of pool noodles wrapped in felt, which slide on and off a set of wooden dowels to be easy to put away when playtime is done.

There are so many things I like about this show, but the #1 lesson it teaches me is that competition shows don't need to be cutthroat. This show features contestants who share their allotted materials, who help to brainstorm ideas communally as they work, contestants who often finish their projects early and volunteer to help their opponents finish their projects in time. The atmosphere is one of love, and it feels extremely genuine.

Season one is available today, with season two airing on December 2 (Christmas comes early this year!)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Strange Ranger, NES Mouse & Do Not Touch

Weekly Update 2019-46: Saccharine, melodic appetizers from Strange Ranger, the beauty of 8BitDo's NES Mouse and an epic music video from Studio Moniker that's a joy to watch.

Tell the music video where you're from with your cursor!

Music: Strange Ranger
I got to see one of my favourite bands on Saturday - all-girl sad-rock band Chastity Belt. Their opener, an almost all-male outfit called Strange Ranger, was a saccharine, melodic appetizer. Leaving their earlier aggressive post-rock days behind in favour of a softer, melancholic mood, their sound reminds me of growing up in the suburbs (in their case, Midwestern America) and simpler days gone by. Sometimes, all you need is something simple and uncomplicated.

I attended an extremely inspirational meetup last week hosted by VentureOut - all about Employee Resource Groups. I learned so much about how companies are championing their employees in leading the charge toward acceptance and understanding of all people and all demographics. Intelex, where the event was held, boasts nine resource groups to date. Amongst their groups for women, people of colour and so on, they also champion a group specifically dedicated to allies of all groups. I hope we can fill shoes as big as theirs someday.

Dr. Sarah Saska, founder of Feminuity, was especially inspirational in her principles that ERG leaders should have time carved out of their workday to focus on these initiatives. I sometimes struggle running the accessibility team at Vena in relation to my normal workload, and I do most of the work with the hope in mind that eventually, more people at the company will understand why accessibility is important to their work (and their lives). It's true.

IBM has over 250 ERGs globally.

What a good ERG should provide its members

Shopify has seven ERGs currently. 
Vena has only one official ERG - our Network for Women.

I had a really lovely hangout with Christine, an old coworker at EventMobi. We also included Sasha in the mix as they hadn't seen each other in over a year (and it was his birthday). We got to hear all about his new girlfriend from Japan (my favourite thing ever) and for some reason he got me a little gift (reverse birthday). Christine told us about her engagement to Josh(!) and I took them on a tour of my office.

I noted that it's going to snow something fierce overnight on Monday so I took my last chance on Sunday to bike over to High Park. It rained a little, but the fall tree colours were still in season and all the animals were out at the zoo. Such a lovely ride up and around the paved paths, though I do wish the non-paved trails were a little smoother to bike on. My bike is definitely not suited to them. And so, the trails in the northeast corner of the park still remain a mystery to me.

As a twofer, I visited a Bun to try on a dress she is attempting to trade away. It was simply beautiful but simply did not fit me in the chest. A girl can dream.

With winter fast approaching, I really want to take my thicker-wheeled bicycle in for a tune up to start riding it after the first big snowfall.

My friend Niki is hosting a Murder Mystery party set loosely in the 1920s so I have to put an outfit together in advance of that. I thought I might find something cool on Bunz but it did let me down a little this time. Luckily I have a formal dress in the back of my closet that I've never worn, so it's time to put it on double duty for the multiple parties I have coming up. I believe it was $5 from Value Village a few years ago, so it'll be easy to get good mileage out of it.

Random Thought: NES Mouse
Never in all my days did I think I would see this kind of tech mashup. 8BitDo, a super cool gaming tech company, has somehow taken all the cool things about the original NES controller and turned them into a fully functioning, aesthetically pleasing computer mouse.

The D-pad has been moved over to the side to become a webpage operator (back and forth, page up and down) which makes perfect sense. Beyond that, the black space between the two iconic circular red buttons is actually touch-sensitive, allowing for vertical scroll. So elegantly hidden inside the experience of the mouse, I can't get over how cool this design is.

The design is the brainchild of Swedish industrial designer Daniel Jansson, whose original foam model was covered breathlessly by tech blogs way back in 2009. Ten years later, 8BitDo partnered with Jansson to bring it to life.

What I find so magnetizing about this design is its ingenuity in combining function and form, old and new. I suppose part of that comes from the simplicity in the original NES controller design, using simple shapes and only the necessary elements for easy-to-learn gameplay. A D-pad and four buttons were all that was needed to enjoy a true plethora of games.

8BitDo's N30 mouse aptly captures those memories of hours spent in front of the tube TV trying to beat that super hard level, while at the same time providing a mouse that works seamlessly with the web surfer's needs and habits. It's the best of both worlds, in a compact little thing that just fits so nicely in your hand. I might be in love.

Inspiration: Do Not Touch
I occasionally remember that music videos still exist and even more occasionally actually watch one. It's most often by chance, such as the case with this video for the song Kilo by a band called Light Light. The video is completely computer-interactive in such an interesting way. Check it out here (and then come back!).

Note the video starts with a fake tube TV frame around it.

What a cool way to bring the audience into the experience. The webpage records your cursor position while you watch the music video, and then proceeds to provide cheeky directions that you can choose to follow or not. All while you watch, a bunch of other previous visitors' cursors are also present on the screen. It gives a sort of view to the makeup of society through their actions as related to the scenes in the video itself, playing in the background of the cursors.

What a simple, yet intriguing way to utilize simple technology and allow visitors to become part of the experience. It reminds me of past projects by Arcade Fire for We Used To Wait and Real Estate for Stained Glass. I imagine I'm not alone in my lack of contact with music videos these days now that cable television is a thing of the boomer past, so it would make sense that some bands would want to push their experiences to the internet. In doing so, experience designers have so much more creative possibility with the power of code added to the artistic format of time-based media. What a cool artform!

The music video for Kilo was made by Amsterdam based interactive design studio Moniker - who have made some other equally cool projects I may include in a future post.