Monday, July 16, 2018

Zero 7, Sketch Plugins & Torture Art

Weekly Update 2018-28: Good vibes from the music of Zero 7, giving thanks for sketch plugins and looking at how modern art can be weaponized as a torture device.

Music: Zero 7
Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker are the English duo that make up Zero 7. I have been on an instrumental music kick lately, and recalled that their earlier work contained a lot of really good lyric-free tunes. Since then, they've grown into their own sound with guest vocals from all sorts of talented musicians like Sia, Sophie Barker and Eska. It's just good vibes music all around, and great for concentration.

I have a soft spot in my heart for 2006 album The Garden, so why not start with that?

This past weekend was another estate sale run by my father for his little side hobby. While the family themselves didn't have much of anything that I found particularly interesting (my favourite thing to do while I help to organize and run the sales), it was still really nice to meet all the people who came into the sale. There really are so many things to enjoy about this hobby of my father's, especially the way we've begun to help him and do this as a family. I'm not too dumb to realize what a lucky opportunity I have to spend with my family these days and how we've started to get along a little better.

I've been trucking along with adding the real estate redesign project to my website. I've got all of the case study writing finished, as well as about half of the design changes and assets I need to make for the visual part. I'm actually getting pretty excited about posting the project next week. It took about ten months from start to finish so it was a pretty big project.

I also managed to be a good patient through a restructuring of some old cavities at the dentist a few days ago. Having cavities re-done is so much worse than having them done in the first place - what with the extra drilling and scraping of having the filling removed. Glad that one's over.

Finally, I took the plunge and had my iPhone battery replaced at the Apple Store. I was lucky enough to get it back only three hours later (I always prepare for the worst with the Apple Store - it could have been a week!). It was really weird to be without a phone for three hours, especially since I had to go and meet someone in the intervening time. It was the first time in a long time that I felt regret for not wearing a watch.

While I was without a watch this week, I actually quite enjoyed not having my phone with me. While I realize it is a slight security risk not to keep one's phone on them, it felt really freeing not to have it. So I brought an old-school charger downtown and decided that I'll charge up my old iPod (watch AND music) this week for a bit of nostalgia and phone-free time.

Plus, let's be honest, my iPod Nano 3rd Gen still looks hella fly (circa 2007).

I've got some work ahead of me this week, hoping to finish posting the new project to my website and send a quote to a potential new freelance client. My main goal is to be in a good place to focus on the freelance project by next week, if it goes through. If not, I can figure out what personal project to pick back up and do some file organization.

Random Thought: Sketch Plugins
Using Sketch more and more over Adobe products these days, one of the things I find most attractive about Sketch is the open-source nature of it all. The product isn't perfect and everyone has their own missing featureset to gripe about, but that's where they allow third-party developers to create their own custom features in the form of downloadable and (generally) free plugins. So if you're missing something from your experience in Sketch, and you can't live without it, you can make it. As far as I know, Adobe has no plans to implement anything remotely close to this type of thing.

An incomplete list of plugins I can't do without:
  • Sketch Runner - The omniscient plugin that's a workhorse - download plugins directly inside Sketch (no, Sketch can't do this out-of-the-box!), insert symbols in seconds using their names instead of the clumsy dropdown list stacks, quickly jump to pages or artboards, and so much more. It's like Mac Spotlight for Sketch, but it doesn't suck. In fact, much the opposite.
  • Paddy by David Williames - Auto-magically aligns all your layers as you specify, simply by adding specific characters to the end of your filenames. Also allows you to create symbols that expand and shrink depending on dynamic type. This should be built into Sketch, but it isn't. Thanks David!
  • Stark bCat NooneMichael Fouquet, and Benedikt Lehnert - Provides lots of colour-related accessibility checkers right inside Sketch (it's really never too early to test colour pairings for accessibility). 
It's amazing that we live in a time when we as users have the power and tools to shape our software the way we want it. To find a tool that does the job is good (and necessary) but to be able to shape or even create the tool to custom-fit the job is wondrous.

Inspiration: Torture Art
Art is so subjective, and that's one of the things I really love about it. Two people can look at the same painting and feel completely different emotions depending on their experiences and personal tastes. Optical Illusionist Art, or Op Art, seems to be one of those especially polarizing movements, causing ceaseless intrigue for some and discomfort to the point of nausea for others. Trigger warning, Op Art below.

As is the theme of humanity, if we discover something that makes us uncomfortable, we use it to torture others. I'm not condoning this type of behaviour of course, but I do find its weaponization unprecedented and interesting at the very least.

As was such with the Spanish Civil War.  "A Spanish art historian has found evidence that suggests some Civil War jail cells were built like 3-D modern art paintings in order to torture prisoners," reports BBC News. "The cells were built in 1938 for the republican forces fighting General Franco's Fascist Nationalist army, who eventually won power."

Beds were set at a 20 degree angle so that it was nearly impossible to sleep.

These cells also contained flashing lights to heighten the experience. The creator of the concept, Alphonse Laurencic, admitted in his 1939 Francoist military court trial that he was inspired by modern artists, such as surrealist Salvador Dali and Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky.

Can something be both horrific and beautiful at the same time? I'd mark this one under that category.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

José González, Nutrition Facts & Beast

Weekly Update 2018-27: José González's guitar strums provide a calming atmosphere amongst the secrets hidden in nutrition facts and Michael Pearce's debut feature film Beast.

Music: José González
Regrettably, I didn't have time to make a fishing-themed playlist for my trip last week. In any case, internet signals up in Georgian Bay are spotty at best, so Spotify probably wouldn't have worked. Which means that I fell back to whatever music I still have on my phone. And so I rediscovered a musical gem in the form of José González. Of Swedish/Argentinian origin, the folk singer/songwriter's soothing voice and delightful acoustic guitar pickings always make me feel calmer.

I especially adore his 2007 album In Our Nature.

I had my bike stolen early this morning. Someone cut through a very thick metal chain, breaking a link clear in half in the process, and took it from the sidewalk outside my apartment. Of course this isn't the accomplishment, but I did want to make a note of how I felt about it.

I received this bike about a month ago, and it was a much-needed replacement for the bike I had been using before. I was very careful to keep this bike inside when I would be away for a while, and to lock it up with the heavy lock through the wheels and such. I took care of it. I couldn't have avoided the malicious intent obviously on display here. While it was definitely an improvement to my life in many ways, it had its own issues and I might find a bike that's an even better fit for me. I received the bike for free, which was really lovely gesture that perhaps I can pay forward into the world, hoping that the person who stole it really needs it.

I have the means to find another bike for myself, so it's not the end of the world. I'm happy to note that it didn't take me a really long time to arrive at this line of thinking, so that's some personal growth right there. Bikes are relatively inexpensive and I'm sure I'll be able to solve my problem soon.

On a happier note, I had a wonderful and well-deserved week fishing with my family. We caught a bunch of fish, some of which we cooked and ate in the same day as catching (which is the best taste), and got to spend some quality time all together. We even tried a new recipe for the fish, which I'll discuss below.

This week I will be pretty busy, helping my dad with his upcoming estate sale and finally getting that big project I completed up on my website. I'd like to set a goal of this weekend for that, really focusing on getting it to completion within a set timeframe. I'll be creating a schedule for all the tasks and costing them, which should hopefully allow me to spread out the work and stay goal-oriented.

Random Thought: Nutrition Facts
I am really proud of my dad for his recent attempts to eat more healthily. I got to see some of this firsthand on the trip. While it's easy to love my dad's fish fry (everything tastes good when it's fried), I wanted to try a healthier grilled recipe with fresh dill. Not only was it a hit, but I think I got my dad addicted to dill. I convinced him to add dill to almost every meal we ate, from salads to sandwiches to hummus dip, to potato chips. And it tasted really good on everything.

Maybe it doesn't look like much but it was super delicious.

My dad also mentioned that he has started to read the nutrition facts label on all the packaged food he eats. I think this is a really important thing to do - one should know what they are putting in their body. Whether or not the ingredients are good for you is another discussion, but at least understand and know what choice you are making. For example, I was reading the ingredients of a "healthier" sweet potato-based tortilla chip, only to find that the first ingredient is still corn, and that added sugar and honey are the actual sweetness-inducing flavours. Much better to make your own oven-baked chips from real sweet potatoes.

They still taste great, but they're not healthier.

Inspiration: Beast
I was lucky enough to acquire a voucher for the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Bunz and treated myself to a showing of Michael Pearce's new psychological thriller movie Beast last week. Starring Johnny Flynn of Netflix's Lovesick, the movie centers around a young woman named Moll (Jessie Buckley) who falls in love with Pascal (Flynn) who may or may not be responsible for the serial murders of four young women in the neighbourhood. Certainly outside of the comfort zone I usually live in regarding movies, but definitely worth the watch (in a nice, air conditioned movie theater to boot).

The movie is also stunning visually.

Set in British suburbia on the island of Jersey, the film boasts a handful of lovely shots of cliffs and beaches, jewel blue sea tones contrast against yellow sand and green grass. Plus, Flynn is not hard on the eyes either. It's lovely to see him in a role so contrasted against his lackadaisical tone in Lovesick. While he carries his facial scars (who doesn't like an interesting facial scar) in both productions, his character is completely different between the two. I'd love to see him in more television in the future.

Check out Beast at the Lightbox every day until Thursday.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Chastity Belt, Learn/Grow/Repeat & Design Canada

Weekly Update 2018-26: Chastity Belt soothes my mind as I reflect on my ability to handle adversity, and the amazing documentary showcasing Canadian graphic design.

Music: Chastity Belt
Straight outta Walla Walla, Washington comes the all-female indie rock four-piece Chastity Belt. Their music is so good and wholesome, inspired by the politics of the riot grrrl scene and early-90s Pacific Northwestern moody guitar riffs, it just feels like the right thing to me.

In between the mellow melodies weaves the angelic voice of lead singer Julia Shapiro, singing witty and often cutting lyrics. For their 2015 song Drone, she belts out a bridge I think most women can identify with:
He was just another man, tryn'a teach me something...
I especially love their 2017 album I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone, recorded in the summer of 2016 in Portland, Oregon.

On Monday, I checked out an amazing documentary about design's role in shaping Canada's identity through the latter half of the 20th century. It was really inspiring, so much so that I've saved it for the Inspiration section below.

Just a few of the amazing logos that make up Canada.

I had every intention of attending a female-centric bike ride last Thursday, and I even managed to withstand the dirty looks that are reserved only for those who drag their bikes onto the subway in rush hour (for 11 stops, mind you) AND the bus driver going past my stop even though I had requested the stop. When I got to the meeting place for the ride, I was met with a very nice woman who explained that she would not allow me to join the ride. Apparently my hybrid road bike is not good enough for the rides she holds, even though the event was listed as beginner level (when it comes to biking in the city, I am far beyond beginner).

And so, I turned a bad thing into an opportunity and conducted a more road bike-friendly solo ride all the way down the Lower Don Trail from Pottery Road to the water, continuing west for a wide stretch of the Martin Goodman Trail and up north to get home. It was a sweaty ~20km, and a really nice sightseeing journey of the don trail I had been wanting to explore for some time now. My ride map:

I took some wrong turns, so it was actually more distance!

The whole experience was a big motivator for me to plan some mid-length rides (more than my usual 4km to work). I'd really love to bike east from the river along the Martin Goodman Trail where it gets less busy, and also the peninsula of Tommy Thompson Park (which is a nice 12km and open on weekends). I didn't think Rebel/Sound Academy or Cherry Beach was a bikeable distance from my house, but it really isn't bad at just under 10km.

I also picked up a library book (that in itself was a kerfuffle!) called Come As You Are, a modern guide to understanding how sexuality varies from person to person, and how to understand one's own sexuality. I'm about halfway through the book, and it's very good.

The rain kept us from attending a garden tour in Uxbridge, but I was happy to spend the entire weekend with my family (literally everyone in my extended family at one point or another), and especially some quality time with my immediate family helping to organize a home for my dad's upcoming estate sale.

And finally, I attended a new meetup yesterday at the new location of Tilt. The arcade bar has moved from its original Annex location to Dundas, and boasts a larger space now so I don't have to brush past sweaty people to get around the bar. And if that weren't enough, the gods knew I would attend because my favourite pinball machine of all time was there to greet me. Yes, Pin-Bot is currently living at Tilt if you want to pay her a visit. She was good to me last night.

This week I'll be prepping for my fishing trip at the end of the week! I can't convey my level of excitement - this is a very special trip that I get to spend with my whole family (my mom doesn't usually come) and it's just basically the time of year when I feel most Canadian and proud of the beautiful nature that we are so lucky to have in our country. Not to mention that catching, prepping and cooking your own dinner is a really rewarding experience.

I'd also like to continue reading my library book (I only have three weeks to finish it and by gosh I will do that!).

Random Thought: Learn/Grow/Repeat
I've had a series of pretty bad things happen to me lately, and I've been dealing with everything pretty well. I like to think I'm growing more in tune with my emotions as I get older, and that I've developed healthy ways of dealing with all the shit that life throws at me. When faced with adversity, we sometimes say, it's all about perspective. This has always held a tinge of bullshit for me since it seems to suggest that all we need to do is be unrealistically positive and ignore our problems. But lately, I've been forcing myself to see the good as well as the bad. It can be tricky, but it feels more sincere to ensure I stay neutral instead of ignoring the good.

We learn from our mistakes and problems to ensure we do our best not to repeat them, but we also reward ourselves with positive outcomes (even though they don't counterbalance the negative outcomes). Learn, grow, repeat.

Inspiration: Design Canada
Bloor Cinema is currently running a week of a very interesting documentary by Greg Durrell. Design Canada is a journey through the history of Canada as seen through the lens of design, and how design has shaped the country's identity into what it is today.

The trailer.

In the 1960s, Canada was fast approaching is centennial year and somehow did not have a flag of its own. As I have mentioned on this blog before, I have quite the soft spot for flags and their (ideally) simple designs that anyone can reproduce in an act of patriotism and inclusion. After a national contest to find a flag that was truly reflective of the Canadian experience, the final design was actually selected by a committee (how in the heck did they find success through such a broken process?) and remains a classic design that holds up today.

Designed by George Stanley.

The Canadian National Railway Company commissioned Allan Fleming for its now classic logo and brand system in 1960. Fleming was a young and highly regarded Canadian graphic designer, and took a risk in simplifying down what was a quite detailed logo into something very stark, totally radical for the time.

A sketch by Fleming with a note for a final revision.

Legendary designer Massimo Vignelli simply gushed over this logo in the documentary - he noted that lines are all one thickness which allows the logo to be timeless. This notion seems to be a key to good design, I had never thought of it that way before. He also noted that the logo is accessible to many people because of its simplicity in moving between a "railroad track" shape to a "C + N".

The final logo in situ.

The documentary's executive producer is none other than Gary Hustwit, modern classic design documentary director. I can see his style of talking head layout shining through Durrell's work, as well as the directional storytelling and the way the mini-stories weave together to create a larger message. Documentaries in and of themselves are such an interesting medium, this one certainly being no exception. Not to mention (my humblebrag alert), I personally knew four of the interviewees in the doc. Does that make me a celebrity by proxy? (No.)

The movie poster.

Vintage Canadian design has always held a special place in my heart, its amazing simplicity and ability to say so much with so little speaks to the unity and power of a nation of which I am proud to be a part.

Check out the documentary at Bloor Cinema or its equally very cool website.