Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Cage The Elephant, Dropdown v. Radio Button & Stitch by Stitch

Weekly Update 2019-33: Kickin' alt rock from Cage The Elephant, the eternal struggle of choosing the right interface element and a breathtaking cross-stitch project at the Textile Museum.

Music: Cage The Elephant
Straight outta Kentucky comes this kickin' alt rock band, headed by the endless energy ball that is Matt Shultz. His vocals are so catchy and unique that I can't seem to get enough of their music. After seeing them back in 2017 at Osheaga, I knew they give as much to their live shows as they did to making their awesome music. That must be why their live album is so good. And after seeing them play another show this past weekend, I can confirm they are still amazing. More on that below.

Start anywhere, but I really dig their new album Social Cues. The lyrics definitely ring true with raw power and emotion of Shultz's recent divorce.

Larissa's second (and final) engagement party has come to an end, and I am pretty exhausted from it. The drumming performance and so much social interaction at once was quite a lot to handle, but it all turned out really well. My parents especially did a really good job planning the party and making the backyard look absolutely spectacular. In any case, I'm looking forward to a lower key weekend next weekend.

August 11 has come and gone, along with one of my favourite concert experiences. I took my dad to see Spoon, Beck and Cage The Elephant at Budweiser Stage and it was such an energy-packed performance. I can't believe what a performer Matt Shultz of Cage The Elephant is, he went into the crowd for several lengthy moments, and even surprised the lawn area by popping up there at the end of their set. Not to mention his many, many varied costume changes throughout the set, most of which occurring onstage while he performed. It was so weird but so cool!

I was lucky enough to be awarded the chance to dogsit Theo again for a couple of nights at Eric and Laura's place. He's such a good boy and he even let me take a few choice photos.

Look at that coat!

This weekend brings a bunch of live performance and show-spectacles: Tuesday is Game Grumps: Live, Wednesday is the annual Blackout Party (coinciding with Toronto Cruisers) and Friday I get to see my beloved Wolf Parade for the sixth time.

Saturday night is karaoke for Logan's birthday, and Sunday is a trip to the Art Gallery of Hamilton to see their excellent summer exhibitions and my personal favourite the permanent fixture Bruegel-Bosch Bus.

Random Thought: Dropdown v. Radio Button
Ah, the eternal user interface struggle. When a user is meant to select one single option from a list of two or more in an online form, both the dropdown and radio button components can do the job. And yet, they are different and serve different experiences to the user.

Radio button set on the left, dropdown on the right.

The above image suggests that a choice between red, green or blue should be specified with a radio button set rather than a dropdown. But why? A few reasons come to mind:

  1. There are less than five options, so the trade-off between how much space a dropdown saves versus the click it requires to reveal its options weighs toward showing everything upfront.
  2. There is no default or recommended answer, therein the user should probably read them all even if an option is pre-selected as in the example above.
I found a really handy decision tree created for an article on Appway's website that breaks down the technical side. I tested it with a set of field questions I was creating for a form at work, and it confirmed all my choices for UI treatment.

The devil is in the details, especially with something as boring and remedial to the user as filling out a form. Anything I can do to make the experience more comfortable with the right interface choices will help me (and the user) sleep better at night.

Inspiration: Stitch By Stitch
I visited the Textile Museum again and what a treat it was again to visit such a lovely place. All of their exhibits have been consistently top-notch in my eight or so past visits, and the size of the museum is just right for maximum impact of 3-4 projects.

A special project drew my family to visit The Torah: Stitch by Stitch for different reasons. The simply massive project is all cross-stitched in recreating first five books of the Bible as well as selections from the Scriptures and Qur’an, reflecting on the theme of creation. The project spread through the world by mail, bringing in works from almost 1500 participants from the far reaches to come together in Toronto on display.

Photos taken by my father - thanks, dad!

Everyone in my family has a penchant for craft (especially my sister, who taught herself to cross-stitch), and we do happen to be of the Jewish faith so these stories and letterforms are somewhat familiar to us. But what I saw more reflected in the project was the sense of community that Judaism provides in many forms, and in my experience of reform Judaism, an extension of that community to anyone who wishes for and accepts it.

Simply stunning. All cross-stitched by hand!

Therein this project's near-1500 contributors came from many faiths and backgrounds, and included passages that are common to the beginnings of many faiths beyond only Judaism.

If you haven't been to the museum yet, it is simply a treat. Between 5 and 8 pm on Wednesday evenings, the Museum offers pay-what-you-can admission. Check out their website.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Dog Blood, Birthdate Fields & Flower Flashes

Weekly Update 2019-32: The most unlikely electronic music pairing Dog Blood, how to better utilize birthdate fields online and the beautiful flower flashes of Lewis Miller.

Music: Dog Blood
The most unlikely pairing produced a booty-shaking smash EP only a few short months ago - Boys Noize And Skrillex have partnered on a 4-song playlist that's a really freaky, wild 16 minutes of electronic beats. It reminds me of 2012 era electronic, when Skrillex actually blew several blocks of power in the residential area surrounding Bluesfest, and which was also coincidentally the year that the pair first teamed up. I am happy they found each other again, only seven years later. We're all a little wiser now.

Finally today, I took down all the little papers and notes I had been collecting on my wall. It took forever to get all the dried-up sticky tac off, but it's so nice and blank now. I have a framed poster for the wall but I have to find time to hang it.

Laura's birthday was really nice, I especially enjoyed eating ice cream and having park hangs. Laura even gave me a cool riddle to share the next day at a party.

"A person leaves home. They take three lefts, and then return home. When they get home, there are two people waiting there for them. Who are those people?"

Post your answer in the comments if you like. I'll share the answer next week.

I met up with Saeha and Troy at a new tempura restaurant downtown (just another preparation for my Japan trip) which was a welcome end to a very long week. I ran a Lunch & Learn on component libraries for my work's development department, as well as a journeymapping session on the experience of one of our personas. Having two big projects to work toward in one week is really draining.

So it was the perfect time to go to the beach with some friends on the weekend. Larissa, Emilia, Kaylin and I all ventured out to the beach in Pickering, which was pretty closeby and quite lovely. Don't tell anyone though, because it was somehow not very crowded!

This being a long weekend, I'll have time to check out the Textile Museum for a very special project. The Torah: Stitch by Stitch is a huge undertaking of using painstaking cross-stitch in recreating first five books of the Bible as well as selections from the Scriptures and Qur’an, reflecting on the theme of creation. The project spread through the world by mail, bringing in works from the far reaches to come together in Toronto on display.

After that, I'm dogsitting Theo (Eric and Laura's dog) for two nights. He's such a good boy, I can't wait to cuddle his furry little face.

Larissa's engagement party (Volume 2: Richmond Hill) is next weekend, and my parents have asked my band to play. I'm sort of stressed about it, but it'll definitely be different (and memorable).

Random Thought: Birthdate Fields
Ever had to enter your date of birth on a website? Of course you have. Many signup forms include birthday as a required field, and some websites sit behind an age authenticator to ensure their users are above a certain age. Our very own online Ontario Cannabis Store requires users to enter their age to ensure they don't sell to underage users.

I understand that it was probably best to leave these fields set on literally "Select", an empty state that requires input from the user for legal reasons. But many forms already pre-fill their birthday fields, often to January 1, [current year]. Even with examples like OCS, when I click into the year dropdown, it begins with the current year which is the least probable answer that anyone could give. Someone born less than a year ago couldn't control a computer!

So, when legalities don't limit the choices, why not auto-fill the birthday (or at least the year) field to the most common birth year of the product's target audience? It would ensure that some users wouldn't have to scroll so far to get to their actual birth year...although I don't think anyone takes birthdays in online forms seriously in the first place. Maybe this is all moot!

Inspiration: Trash Can Flowers
Since the world is basically a dumpster fire anyway, why not decorate literal garbage recepticles with something beautiful? That's exactly what New York's Lewis Miller has been doing with trash cans on the streets of the Big Apple.

He calls them Flower Flashes. “Gifting flowers to New Yorkers is a simple idea that I have been thinking about for years,” Lewis explains on the Lewis Miller Design website. “I am in the business of fantasy and flowers, and it’s my job to transform key moments in my clients’ lives into joyful, everlasting memories. I wanted to recreate a similar feeling for the everyday city-dwellers and tourists of New York City.”

I just love how Miller takes the grimy streets of a relatively dirty city and makes them feel inviting, beautiful, and invigorating. That's something I think we all can use a bit more of.

You can see more Flower Flashes here.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Dion, Nostalgia & Eric Prydz's Holosphere

Weekly Update 2019-31: Late 50s doo-wop from Dion, the emotional power of nostalgia and the amazing live concert that is Eric Prydz's Holosphere.

Music: Dion
A strange turn in my music listening habits brings the late 50s doo-wop styles of Dion, an original star of the bridge between the late 50s rock and the British Invasion. He gained some stardom with his band The Belmonts, but eventually found most of his fame (and musical groove) striking out with solo work from the early 60s forward. His voice because more bluesy with his growing use and dependence on heroin, for which he had developed a habit as a teenager. In any case, it's a lovely era of music.

I made a very silly presentation about myself for my coworkers last week. It was really fun to go back in time and look at my life so far...maybe I'll keep adding to the story as it unfolds.

More of an accomplishment for my sister's man of honour Daniel, we drove to Sudbury very late on Friday night to be there for her engagement party (the first of two). It was really great to spend the weekend with Ryan's family (all of whom are so kind). His father Brian lives on a beautiful lake and was a wonderful host for the party. He even let me take his seadoo out for a ride around the lake!

Blueberry picking with my dad and Diane (who took the photo)!

I feel so lucky (even by proxy) for my sister to have met someone with such a lovely family. Especially to have Daniel, who not only drove me up there but also took me to the Nickel for a photo opportunity.

I am definitely not done with Sudbury and honestly can't wait to go back and see more touristy things.

This week is a busy one: I am running a departmental lunch and learn on the component library work with my superstar workmate Umar on Wednesday, and then a journey mapping workshop with people across many departments on Friday. I've done a 15-minute version of this hour-long lunch and learn before, so I'm not worried about that one. However, I am sweating literal buckets about the Friday workshop. I've never run one of these before, and it involves some attendees who don't know me very well. Not to mention, it's looking like my co-designer Jackie won't be around to help out. These meetings always require a facilitator and notetaker, so I'll have to try to do both or recruit someone.

I also just really want to take down the wall of collage items I've been collecting in my bedroom for the past four years. It's time to stop and put them away. I have decided to keep them all in a little book, photograph the wall, and call it a day. I have a cool framed poster to put up anyway.

Monday is Laura's birthday party, I am meeting with Saeha and Troy for tempura, and then Matt and I will hit the beach on Sunday. I'm pretty stoked to keep working on my tan.

Random Thought: Nostalgia
As we get older, we have more experiences and memories to look back on. It's a pleasant thing to do, especially when we see something that reminds us of olden days. Listening to a song or eating a certain type of food or seeing a specific colour pairing can remind us of a completely unrelated thing that happened a long time before.

Lately, I've been feeling like things used to be so much brighter and happier than they are now. Not so much personally, but on a global scale with climate change and the current state of politics. Not all of our past can have been better than the current day, can it? Isn't it human nature to look back on things in a happier light than they truly were? I try to keep it in perspective, though some days it does seem like we're in the darkest timeline and things used to be a lot simpler and carefree.

Of course, there's the flipside of nostalgia as well, remembering moments of shame or pain. Just as I was thinking about nostalgia, I thought that perhaps the opposite experience might be memories that haunt us. And then this comic popped into my Facebook newsfeed.

Memories sometimes feel a bit similar to dreams in that they are hazy and distant, but more interestingly that they show us our true emotions (especially if we're trying to ignore those emotions). This comic expresses that point really well. Also, cats are such butts sometimes.

I have been to quite a few concerts in my life, approximately 340 according to The ones that stick out most in my memory as amazing experiences fall into one (or both) of two categories: (1) sublime instrumentation/musical performance and (2) unforgettable visuals/live show. Now, I can't say I've ever been a fan of Eric Prydz, but his 2004 hit Call On Me is inescapable so I vaguely know of his nu-disco electronic music.

What's really breathtaking about his current projects is his live shows. For a set at Tomorrowland in July 2019, he unveiled a two-year project in never-before-seen technology of light display. A huge, 3-D spherical cage surrounds Prydz through his set, with strips of LED all around it to animate in ways I've never seen before.Watch the mini-documentary below, it's about 7 minutes long.

The part in the middle when the animation designer compares the work to his many logged hours watching YouTube videos of motorcyclists in spherical cages really inspired me. The way one has to shape their mind to think in dimensions beyond our perceived 3-D is literally mind-boggling to me. 

Musicians who pay attention to their live performances (in whatever way works for their style) will always be my favourites. It's one thing to make amazing music, but to put the same amount of care and craft into the experience that musicians share on such a personal level with their fans, is truly special. There is no closer connection between a musician and their fan than a live performance, so why not craft it to be as unforgettable as Eric Prydz's team does?