Sunday, November 17, 2019

Night Music, Nunchi & Double King

Weekly Update 2019-45: Relaxing with the severely underrated soundtracks of the Animal Crossing series, practicing the art of a quick nunchi and the years of toil it takes to make something as cool as Felix Colgrave's Double King.

A still from Double King.

Music: Relaxing Animal Crossing Night Music
Oh yeah, it's time for a YouTube compilation. Amongst the world's best and most accessible collection of Chillhop lies a series of Animal Crossing-themed mixes for calm evenings at home. So many aspects of the game series are amazing, but its music is truly in a class of its own. Each building the characters visit has its own theme song along with different seasons, holidays and even times of day or weather all taking part in shaping the audio soundscape of the game. The simple nature of the tunes, alongside the nostalgia for the game, provides a calming experience that is simply unmatched for me.

This one is a particular mix of relaxing night music overlaid with ambient nature sounds (like being at a campfire) but there are lots of other Animal Crossing Chillhop mixes to pick from.

Halloween round 3 is complete, and I have now worn out my wings as a Halloween costume. They're good for one more photo, though. I especially love the pumpkins in the background.

I attended a movie night at my friend Phil's place after a long hiatus from the semi-annual event. The group has been carrying on well without me, expanding in both audience members and involving a food aspect. His roommate is a graduate of George Brown for culinary arts, and made the most delicious chilli and cornbread. It really inspired me to make a cornbread chilli casserole soon. Tis the season for casseroles.

Ruth-Ann and I had a lovely spot of tea at Kitten and the Bear over the weekend, and I picked out an Apricot, White Cherry and Amaretto jam to take home. I can see whole apricots poking through to the wall of the jar, it's gonna be a good time.

She surprised me as well by having Pop Tarts pre-ordered as an extra treat. Anything made with K&B jam is just 1000x better.

I finally got to do some stuff around the house that always makes me feel more balanced and calm. I installed some insulation film on my window to keep out some of the draft this winter, put away summer clothes, and brought out some heaters. I try to use smart timers and such to auto-control heaters in different parts of the apartment without wasting too much energy. Having a heater auto-start in the bathroom five minutes before my alarm in the mornings is key - no one wants to sit on a cold toilet seat.

This is possibly the most excited I have ever been for a meetup. VentureOut is back with a night of talks surrounding Employee Resource Groups. I would probably attend any event hosted by VentureOut, I really like the topics they focus around, and the other attendees that are attracted to their events all seem like cool, smart and empathetic people.

Employee Resource Groups are voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives. Other benefits include the development of future leaders, increased employee engagement, and expanded marketplace reach. Vena has one - our Network for Women, and I am motivated to keep that number rising. Specifically, I want to know what other companies are doing and how we can create an ERG for accessibility concerns.

Another EventMobi reunion is planned for this weekend: I get to hang out with Christine and Sasha (first time seeing him since he returned from Japan). It's been almost a year since I last saw Christine, even though our offices are so closeby that we've recently switched a few employees between the two companies. That's tech in Toronto for you. It's also Sasha's big 30 birthday so we've got to make some kind of commemoration.

Random Thought: Nunchi
A friend turned me onto the idea of nunchi, a Korean "secret to happiness and success" that has been practiced for quite some time. As per the New York Times article linked above, the author recalls being scolded as a child by her strict Korean parents, "Why don't you have any nunchi?"
There is a Korean expression, “Half of social life is nunchi.” You need nunchi to get along with people, to get what you want out of people in a purely pragmatic sense and to protect yourself from danger. Nunchi emphasizes speed — if you are a skilled nunchi practitioner, Koreans don’t say you have “good” nunchi, they say you have “quick” nunchi.
To me, nunchi feels like a mix of mindfulness, common sense and spatial empathy. Being able to read a room is a big part of this; from walking into a party that has already started to deciding how to present ideas to a room full of C-level executives who look bored or annoyed.

It can be hard to practice nunchi in today's world full of distractions. It requires a quiet mind in order to open up to the information being presented from the outside. Nunchi feels similar to being a sponge - if you're all filled up with your own thoughts then you won't be able to absorb anything external.

Before I read about nunchi, I had been practicing improving my listening skills. It's so easy to fall into passive listening, focusing on what we want to say next instead of actively listening to our conversation partner. I think nunchi aligns well with focusing on the information others can offer us (through speaking, body language, room position, facial expression) so that we can make more informed choices about our actions.

I definitely recommend taking a bit of your Sunday to read the full article on nunchi.

Inspiration: Double King
It had been so long since I had attended Phil's movie nights that a new addition had been added to the playlist. After two vaguely Sci-Fi-genred film features from the same director, we now enjoy a palette cleanser in the form of audience-sourced YouTube videos. Our friend Alexis suggested a nine-minute animated story by Australian animator Felix Colgrave entited Double King. Check it out below:

Lovingly, painstakingly hand-animated over two years by Colgrave alone, the piece is an animation marvel of its time. From character design to backgrounds and landscapes to the fluid motion of the characters themselves, there is so much to see here. I had to watch it twice in a row the first time I watched it.

Perhaps what I enjoy most about Double King is the cheeky flitting around in the tone of the story from surreal to humorous to extremely dark, perhaps a little tear-jerking at times. Colgrave's dedication to cover so many moods in nine short minutes pays homage to his knack for storytelling, rivalling his excellent illustration and animation skills.

Colgrave has been influenced by animations from a young age, his earliest works found on YouTube date back to when he was only 15 years old. More recently, Colgrave has created animated videos for various musicians such as Nicki Minaj, Fever The Ghost, and DJ Mustard. These music-videos helped Colgrave expand in the community. In 2017, Colgrave released the legendary animation Double King, which sits at 30 million views as of the writing of this post.

Reiterating that such a thing of beauty takes a long time and lots of hard work to bring into reality. This nine minute animation took two years to finish, not including the years and years that Colgrave spent honing his craft before embarking in this project.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Drool, Patch Notes & a11yTOConf

Weekly Update 2019-44: Catchy music from interdisciplinary duo Drool, a rap-king who isn't too big to fix his own mistakes and many lessons learned from this year's big conference on accessibility in Toronto.

Music: Drool
Something a little different this week: interdisciplinary artist Cara Stricker and musician John Kirby collaborate for the second time to bring you a beautifully catchy song and its very own music video for their song End Girl.

It's so rare that I take the time to watch music videos these days, so I figured that a video made specifically with its song rather than being an afterthought would be a good place to break back in. All filmed as a one-shot in California, I found it similar to walking dazed through a weird house party, trying to find a spot to get lit.

Warning: NSFW due to nudity.

Since Drool is a special project with only two songs, they've gotten themselves lumped together in Spotify with what appears to be TWO other bands of the same name (one is thrash metal, the other experimental noise electronica). Keep in mind I can only endorse this song and Down.

I have now learned that class 4 of the UI semester is basically a real-life YouTube tutorial for Sketch. While it certainly is useful to the students' learning, there are so, so many recorded YouTube tutorials that already offer the same information for free. I told this class on day one that they should check out Pablo Stanley's wonderful Sketch Together tutorials, because they're easy, free, and effective. It's how I learned to use Sketch and I have never gone back to Adobe since.

Of course there are benefits for the students; they'll stop me and ask to go over something again or I might let them pick the examples I use to show the skills so it becomes more relevant to them. Like showing them how to create a symbol component, but they choose which component I make. A student did mention to me that my style of tutorial allowed her to finally stick with Sketch after she didn't click with it during previous sessions. What a nice compliment!

I was very lucky to have my work foot the bill for me to attend two days of #a11yTOConf - an amazing lineup of speakers on all things accessibility. More on that below.

After a whirlwind week, I took my mother out on the town to check out a special exhibit on the Masters of Modern furniture design. Works by Mies Van Der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and Florence Knoll, alongside the wondersome textiles of Anni Albers, warmly filled the first-floor meeting areas of the Toronto-Dominion Centre (also architected by Van Der Rohe).

Some of Anni Albers's textile strips.

Foreground: installation furniture.
Background: cheap knockoff(?) downstairs for everyday use.

Some of the Nuit Blanche sculptures from the MaRS building were also hanging out.

Their attention to form and function together as a joint problem to be solved is forever inspirational to me. If we can provide satisfaction in having a product work as expected, why not do the same for its aesthetic appeal? The two aspects forever enhance each other, and just make for a very comfortable chair to sit in. Others agreed, because the exhibit furniture was being used by various business people as we explored through all the iconic pieces.

After that, we walked over to a restaurant called Chotto Matte - a feast for the eyes as much as the mouth. They specialize in Nikkei, the combination of Japanese and Peruvian foods. Of course, both cultures have the staple of fresh raw fish, but the magic is in the mixture of Japan's complex-yet-subtle flavours with Peru's bright spices and prized starches of corn, yucca and potato.

The restaurant didn't look too bad, either. It had a really cool layout with a second-floor bathroom beyond a corridor filled with blacklight abstract art.

The weekend was equally filled: attending a church sale with Larissa and then helping her with her annual Halloween party. The next day I took Emilia and Jess around Kensington for the last Pedestrian Sunday of the year.

In the spirit of cleaning and refreshing with the seasons, I decided to rearrange my furniture a bit again ... and I found a mouse. Having to dispose of it was probably the scariest thing I've had to do in a while, I had to psyche myself up to it for a few minutes so I'll call that an accomplishment, too.

Next weekend Ruth-Ann is taking me back to Kitten and the Bear for another lovely round of afternoon tea. This will be my first visit to the new, bigger location. I can't wait to pick a jar off their wall of jams...all their new flavours always make my mouth water.

Yes, the seasons are changing and I have stuff to do around the house. I want to apply some window insulation film to a window as a test, put away my summer clothes and fish the space heater out of the closet. I still aim not to turn it on in earnest until it gets colder out, but I've already had one weirdly cool October night trying to sleep with a cold nose...not my favourite thing to do.

Random Thought: Patch Notes
Within twelve hours of releasing his ninth album, Kanye West's producers are releasing fixes and patch notes to Apple Music. For an artist who declared himself "the greatest human artist to ever exist," I gotta respect the creative will to strive forever toward an unattainable perfection.

This isn't the first time Kanye has released fixes to his music post-release, which I guess is a thing musicians can do now in the age of streaming music that can't be physically owned by fans. If someone had purchased a physical copy of this release, it would have those mistakes on it forever. I hate to mention Tr*mp on this blog for the piece of crap that he is, but it looks like he got the one with the mistakes...

Maybe you can ask your friend Kanye for a refund on your presidential vinyl record.

Inspiration: #a11yTOConf
There were so many good talks at this year's Toronto-grown accessibility conference. I appreciated the variance in subject matter from applying accessibility to design and development to problem solving, accessibility and government, politics, and so much more.

Tatiana Mac gave a particularly impactful talk on the importance of understanding the power we wield as content creators, building small pieces that combine up into overarching systems - these systems often unwittingly force us to comply for the benefit of the modern-day emperors and kings (the tech CEO makes an average of 287x their worker's salary). We can make choices in our work not to comply with rules set by people who will never experience the negative outcomes of their haphazardly-made decisions. Check out her slides here.

Tatiana's slide showing how exclusionary societies and ecosystems are cyclical in nature - we must break free of the positive feedback loop.

Chancey Fleet's talk contained a total of zero slides - as a person with sight loss herself, she wanted to provide a bit of immediate understanding from the audience about the importance of alternatives to sight-based drawing tools for creativity. All humans need the outlet of creation (the way many of us are taught to draw at a young age) in order to grasp concepts and apply them to new ideas. Chancey explained some really wonderful advancements in technology that aim to bridge this gap, like the Swellform machine that can sense where ink exists on a page, automatically raising it up to give texture and understanding through touch as well as sight.

Chancey onstage with her support dog, as well as a sign language interpreter.

Shell Little gave a Dungeons & Dragons-themed presentation on the underrepresentation of accessibility guidelines surrounding people who are neurodiverse (a range of cognitive disabilities). I tend to find trouble reading through content on a webpage filled with flashing ads or filling out a form when I can see a blinking timer ticking down. Many of Shell's examples felt like underserved areas of user experience design, and gave me further hope that accessibility and usability can be achieved together.

Shell showing us the D&D Roadmap for her presentation.

Shell also discussed the Spoon Theory, the idea that we each only have a certain amount of energy (or spoons) at the start of any day. Various tasks will take away a certain amount of one's spoons until they are left with none. One cannot complete any more tasks until one's spoons are replenished through rest. Yet another reminder that design should be as simple as possible so as not to require any more spoons from the user than what are absolutely required to get the job done.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Juice B Crypts, Nice Design Feels & Menhera Kei

Weekly Update 2019-43: An electrifying, jiggly new album from Battles, how to get those nice design feels for users with a variety of needs and the fashion of bringing visibility to mental health in Japan and globally.

The art of pulling off the perfect cute..."sick makeup"?

Music: Juice B Crypts
Though I have already dedicated a blog post to prog rock kings of the 2010s Battles, their new album got me so excited that I figured it was time to bring them back into the mix again. Their 2019 release Juice B Crypts brings back everything I love about their sound: methodical layering of sounds, weird offbeat drum patterns, irregular time signatures and really cool collaborations with vocalists. Their fourth studio album brings fresh pairings with indie-pop weirdo Tune-Yards, Yes's Jon Anderson, Sub Pop hip-hop Shabazz Palaces and talented wordsmith Sal Principato.

Every song is a banger. I already have my ticket to see them in December at Lee's Palace, in the same venue just over four years since they last toured Toronto. Maybe I'll find a cool band shirt this time.

Ah, the second-longest week of my BrainStation semester is completed. I marked through my students' project briefs and got a feel for their app ideas. Reading through them is always interesting, but it can get a little tiresome to go through them all in such a short time. I compromised with myself and spent my Last Nice Weekend™ marking the briefs on the sunny patio at work. Since no one is around the office on Sundays, I got the chance to play on the drum kit as a little reward.

On the festive side, I got to create my halloween costume for Yuni's annual halloween birthday party this weekend. It was so nice to see all my old friends from working at the newspaper at York back in the day.

This week brings the accessibility conference a11yTOConf, two enriching days of learning to care for the needs of our users as content creators. I'm excited to meet some people, watch some inspirational talks, and bring back some useful content for the accessibility team at work.

Next weekend, Larissa is hosting her annual halloween dinner party. We're going to check out a church sale in the morning and then I'll help her to cook some spooky foods for dinner.

On Sunday, Emilia and Jessica and I will check out the final Kensington Market Pedestrian Sunday of the year. Even without the drumming, I'm sure there will still be some cool things going on.

Random Thought: Nice Design Feels
With a11yTO coming up this week, I've been thinking about my goals for accessibility in the things I design. In my work and the products I interact with as a user, I find the best experiences come from interfaces that are designed in a way that fits the user as closely as possible. This can be achieved by gaining understanding of the problem by testing with multiple perspectives in user research, and then achieving a design that either works for all those perspectives, or can be customized to work for any of them.

And how will you know when you're successful? Ask people and do more testing. To me, designing things to be accessible is akin to the internal sigh you feel when something is just designed nicely, cleanly, and in a way that fits users. It's often subconscious (I've mentioned before that design is a thankless job) but it's the best thing ever when you get it right - for the designer and their users.

Inspiration: Menhera Kei
Fashion moves so fast these days; a lot of stuff passes me by. I just found out about a Japanese based fashion steeped in sickly sweet colours and a love of...mental health? Yep, Menhera (メンヘラ) is Japanese slang for mental health and this has somehow become a fashion trend. I know that when anything from Japan enters the mainstream in North America, it's probably old by now, so cut me some slack if you're already in the know.

Menhera was started to revealed to reveal the 'mask' people use when surrounding mental illness and sickness. I think the stigma we feel around mental illness around the world definitely makes people feel like they have to put on a mask every day to hide their pain or feelings of "otherness" amongst "normal" people. As a sufferer of chronic mental illness, I am starting to see that it is not as uncommon as society tries to convey and this fashion movement makes attempts to normalize it through a "kawaii" lens.

Especially as mental illness is invisible, the use of medical-related imagery and "sick makeup" allows people to visually express how they feel on the inside for others to better understand them. Much as the movement might seem frivolous with cute characters and pastel colours, I think it's an interesting representation of the fact that life is a mix of good and bad. Sometimes we have to take the pleasant pink clouds with the giant, sparkly syringes.