Monday, June 10, 2019

Mothers, Error Prevention v. Recovery & Ikea

Weekly Update 2019-23: Heartbreaking vocals from this week's badass woman Mothers, the risks in designing error prevention in interfaces and my eternal love affair with Ikea.

Music: Mothers
The second in my spotlight on Badass Women for the month of June: Mothers was originally formed in 2013 as the solo project of musician Kristine Leschper. The band has since grown some to four members, still with Leschper at the heart of it all. Her voice is heartbreakingly sweet against a backdrop of melancholy guitar riffs, and on a rainy day like today, it's everything I need.

Leschper started making music while she attended art school for printmaking in Athens, Georgia. “It’s a lot of working with chemicals that are really bad for you, that you have to be really careful around,” she says. “It was special because it was dangerous. I remember feeling that it was so badass.”

So badass, she even looks good in the rain.

Check out her first album, 2016's When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired.

We made paper flowers! Yes, I now finally understand the magic that is the Cricut machine. Larissa is already hard at work making her bridesmaid bouquets out of old book pages, and they look amazing. I especially love how quickly the machine can cut through paper (easily the most time-consuming part of paper flower making), it's super fun to watch. As an aside, this is exactly how I pictured humans and machines working together - machines assisting humans in making creative expression quicker and easier. This, my friends, is the true future.

I also spent a lovely afternoon hanging out with my dad, during a part of which, we filled in the holes we made in my bathroom wall when we removed the old towel rack brackets. He taught me how to use Polyfill to patch the holes in the drywall, and it's looking a lot better. All I have to do now is sand and paint!

I am super excited because this week finally brings Strive, a UX research conference held in Toronto. This will be the second year of the event, and it sure looks like they're gaining some traction because the tracks and speakers look AMAZING.

I'm also seeing Vampire Weekend at Echo Beach (yay, outdoor concerts!) and doing some extra band practice on the weekend to prepare for a special drumming show on Tuesday. We welcome Dandha Da Hora, all the way from Brazil (via California) to come and teach us a thing or two about Samba Reggae and the culture around Carnival.

Random Thought: Error Prevention v. Recovery
A well-designed user experience should allow users to recover from their mistakes. The simplest user interface element that exemplifies this is the back button - "I picked the wrong thing in the navigation system and now I want to go back and try another way". To err is human and it makes good sense for systems to provide feedback to allow users another chance.

While error recovery allows users to make mistakes and then fix them, error prevention in design attempts to predict user behaviour in an attempt to prevent the error from ever happening. Take this example from Gmail:

Error prevention in its current form in 2019 is pretty helpful, and will continue to be as we utilize artificial intelligence to better predict user behaviour. Take self-driving cars for example - you'd definitely want error prevention over recovery, especially if you're about to crash into a brick wall.

While error prevention is currently helpful and mostly simple, I do worry about its future in technology. As machines prevent humans from making errors, we lose our own innate ability to avoid errors and rely too heavily on technology. It's like an overbearing parent who does all your homework for you - it's fine now, but what about when you need the skills to solve a problem yourself?

If everything I've learned from science fiction comes true, I predict that error prevention will eventually cease to allow the user to opt-out. Think about the Gmail example above (scanning your email for the word attachment and then prompting you), except there is literally no way to send the email without either adding an attachment or removing the word. It sounds silly, but this is literally how singularity happens. As soon as we relinquish the ability to think for ourselves and allow machines to take over, that's it for humanity in my opinion.

Unsurprisingly, Black Mirror hits the nail on the head in a tiny detail of the first episode of their fifth season, Striking Vipers. Each of the main characters loads the dishwasher, but it refuses to turn on until they "properly" rinse their plate or turn the knives to face point-down in the cutlery rack.

If nothing else, it's an interesting non-gendered exploration of the heteronormative kitchen-nag, classically used by wives to convince their husbands to load the dishwasher properly. What an exercise in empathy as well as a glimpse into our darkening futures.

Inspiration: Ikea
This past weekend I was lucky enough to convince my sister to take me to Ikea. She got some cool matching bookshelves from the as-is section, I managed walk out without a single plant (tooooo many already), and we split a deal on a pair of Almondy chocolate pies. If you haven't tried them yet, they're reason enough on their own to visit the store. We even met up with my mom in the restaurant.

It's common knowledge that Ikea has constantly revolutionized the furniture buying experience. Low prices and good design come together to actively bring the customer into the process. Do you like this chair? Go pick up the boxes in the warehouse and build it yourself at home - it's easy and cheap and makes the customer feel like an active part of the process beyond just forking over some money.

But it's not just the process of buying furniture; there is some kind of allure to simply being in the store. Why is Ikea so pleasant an experience that many people joke about going on dates there? Personally, I think it's because the store designers have actually done the research to get as close to a perfect experience as they can.

The wayfinding in the upper level to navigate customers through the maze of staged rooms makes great use of dividing up a huge expansive space into manageable, organized boxes. It's reminiscent of the way they use small boxes to organize drawers on the micro level - everything is considered and puzzled out on a macro and micro level.

You may already know that the Ikea restaurant is designed to give customers a reason and ability to stay longer and shop more, by fulfilling one of the needs they would otherwise need to leave the store to fulfill. It was a true innovation when it was introduced to the first Ikea store in Sweden in 1958.

The brand continues to innovate today, with a particularly inspiring modular double-couch living room layout that works for the way we actually use our living rooms today.

Now, if only I actually owned a big tv to point all my furniture at.

Ikea is also introducing hyper-modular furniture for small-space living that is simply marvelous.

Instead of cramming a bunch of different furniture into a small space that you'll only use some of the time, why not combine and re-imagine how furniture can change to fit your needs throughout the day. From bed to desk to storage, it literally rolls around your room to fit whatever you need. If only I lived in a smaller apartment!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Laura Sauvage, Picking Fruit & Anime North

Weekly Update 2019-22: A kickass Anime North weekend along with Laura Sauvage, a badass singer and the best ways to pick the best fruit.

Music: Laura Sauvage (Badass Women Series)
Spotify has delivered another wonderful playlist to soothe my political unrest in these troubling times: a whole set of songs with leading vocals and guitar by badass women. It features a lot of the bands I've profiled on my blog before like Snail Mail, Jay Som and Chastity Belt along with new favourites to add to my collection. In times when laws are being repealed to take more and more control from women over their own bodies, I need this music to connect to my fellow women in our creative struggles against corrupt governments and political parties.

One particular winner from the playlist is Laura Sauvage - the sweet little solo project from Vivianne Roy of Les Hay Babies. I like how her song Everything Is In Everything straddles the line between a cute little pop song and a psychedelic banger beat...kind of off the wall, but cool. Not to mention, Sauvage is based on Montreal and from New Brunswick!

Erika returned the favour I paid in March and visited me this week! She came in for Anime North but was gracious enough to spend most of her time with me (because I'm the luckiest person ever). Among other things, we walked all the way to Chinatown on a chance to find a copy of Pokemon Heart Gold and then went for dim sum at Rol San. I hear the Raptors have been doing well in basketball lately, even celebrating at the restaurants I visit (I always knew I was a trendsetter). Check out Serge Ibaka visiting only a couple days after us!

Pooped after our first couple of days, taking a Ringolo nap.

On Monday, I took the afternoon off to explore Ontario Place together. I can't believe how much cool stuff there is behind the island on the far coast.

Five short days and then she was gone. I guess I'll be visiting her next, and maybe it won't even be Vancouver!?

This weekend will be super-crafty. Larissa got a Cricut machine and we're going to test out some paper flower templates to make her bouquets. I'm also super excited to visit Ikea because I never get to go there and I need new bedsheets and a big frame for a poster.

Random Thought: Picking Fruit
One of the things I remember about my grandfather from before he passed away was his uncanny ability to pick fruit. He was a grandmaster in picking cantaloupes. Though admittedly they're still not my favourite fruit, as mango season rolls around I find myself wondering if he would have been good at picking a ripe mango or avocado.

With age comes experience (and hopefully wisdom), so it would follow that many elderly people would possess the skill to pick fruit. This seems like a low-cost, low-effort, high impact way to give elderly people something to pass the time as they retire. Let them hang out in the fruit sections of supermarkets where it's air-conditioned and there's lots of people around, and they can pick fruit for customers if they so choose.

It's a win-win for everyone really. Who wouldn't want a grocery grandmother to pick their grapes and gooseberries for them?

Inspiration: Anime North v2.0
Yep, this was my second year braving the intense weekend that is Anime North. Squishing too many people into one small hotel room, climbing a big muddy hill to get from one place to another, making sure my cosplay was on straight, and just general silliness that happens when a bunch of adult-aged animation admirers get together to play dress-up. This year I wanted to actually create a costume, so I decided to be a female version of Waluigi, as per the gender-bending crown from the Bowsette meme. Waluigi's character was actually invented for the game Mario Tennis so that Wario could have a partner to play with (oh, lonely Wario), so I had a tennis variant as well of course.

On Sunday, we all dressed up as platelets from Cells at Work.

I even expanded my Animal Crossing Amiibo set. Can't wait to nab KK Slider next year.

After taking several days to catch up on sleep, I can now look back on the weekend with some clarity and say it was a lot of fun! Until next year...

Monday, May 27, 2019

Plantasia, Collision Conference & #a11ycamp

Weekly Update 2019-21: I had the pleasure of attending two conferences this week, at a very stark contrast to each other in their attendee experience. Plus, I was blessed by the plant spirits - just hope I don't mess it up.

Music: Mort Garson's Plantasia
Somehow by fate, I was graced with a green gift this week (to be revealed below) and at the same time found an extremely perfect soundtrack for plants. Mort Garson was a Canadian-born composer, arranger, songwriter, and pioneer of electronic music. He is best known for his albums in the 1960s and 1970s that were among the first to feature Moog synthesizers. He also co-wrote several hit songs, including "Our Day Will Come", a hit for Ruby and the Romantics. According to Allmusic, "Mort Garson boasts one of the most unique and outright bizarre resum├ęs in popular music, spanning from easy listening to occult-influenced space-age electronic pop."

I absolutely adore this entire record. Released in 1976 to a scattered audience, it was rediscovered and spread widely across the internet in 2018. It's sweet, a bit weird, simple but not at all simplistic and in some ways, is the sound of plants to me. I have been treating my plants to it all week and I think they like it too. Moog music in general reminds me of NES game soundtracks, for which I have a strong affinity. A few of these songs definitely remind me of games, especially Symphony for a Spider Plant reminding me of Kirby: Adventures in Dreamland.

Something magical happened at BrainStation on Thursday. As I was parking my bike in the staff room, I noticed there was a HUGE amount of cuttings of a plant in the sink. Not just any plant, but a Monstera, the most sacred of all Bunz houseplants! The leaves were as big as dinner plates and there were over ten of them for sure. Apparently they were cutoffs from one of the huge plants upstairs (BrainStation has lovely plants), and they were going to be thrown out. Imagine.

After ensuring it was alright to take them home, I stuffed them into my backpack, into my bike basket, and cycled slowly and very haphazardly all the way home. No casualties from the ride but now that they were all splayed out in my bathtub, I realized I was way I over my head here.

Off to Bunz I went. I enlisted for help in Bunz Planting Zone and had my call quickly answered by an angel named Pauline. She teaches vocal choir and French at the high school down the street and was able to come over and help me out the next day after school. And so we sat to cut the plant into more manageable pieces and chatted. She is super cool.

I love the Bunz community so much, this is just the latest in a series of ways it helps me to live my best life all the time.

Additionally, Sasha and I made brunch and planned our Japan trip a bit more. We have now booked two Airbnbs, but we still need to find a place to stay in Kyoto and an onsen. We also watched the last episode EVER of Game of Thrones, which was a bittersweet experience.

I love his little coffee pot.

Erika arrives this week! I'll be cleaning the apartment and getting her room ready for her to stay. And if she's coming, that means it's also Anime North weekend! Yep, I'll have to finish getting my costume together in time to paint the convention centre red in true nerd style. 

Random Thought: Collision Conference
Tech conferences are really a very interesting, if not extremely draining experience. Having come fresh out of two consecutive days milling about the Enercare Centre, I have gathered that Collision is definitely one of a kind and unlike any conference I have ever been to. Coming to Toronto for the first time after five years in Silicon Valley, this is touted to be the biggest tech conference in North America.

The sheer size of the conference was mind-boggling - spread across the four huge halls that make up the Enercare Centre and an expected audience of over 25,000 attendees across four days. A big shoutout to VentureOut Conference for giving me a ticket to this event (though Vena also purchased tickets for my department) because there was so much to see. From Justin Trudeau to Seth Rogen to Joseph Gordon Levitt, all under the original premise of Collision: global innovation in technology across all disciplines. Each talk was based on an interview format, with the interviewer/interviewee combo crossing these disciplines for interesting pairings.

Justin Trudeau was interviewed on Canada's plains to remain a vibrant hub for entrepreneurship by Shahrzad Rafati, Founder & CEO of BroadbandTV. Seth Rogen was interviewed on his startup Houseplant by Karan Wadhera, Managing Partner at Casa Verde Capital. Joseph Gordon Levitt was interviewed on HITRECORD, his amazing online creative community by Laurie Segall, Storyteller at Dot Dot Dot.

I was only able to attend two days out of the four, and by gosh the entire thing was tiring. From selecting from the seventeen tracks to actually figuring out where the entrance would be located as it changed from day to day, to actually navigating the overcrowded conference, it was a bit overwhelming to say the least.

Inspiration: #a11ycamp
In start contrast to Collision was a wonderful one-day conference that I attended on Saturday. #a11yTO, a Toronto-based meetup group about accessibility in tech and beyond, ran this special day of talks as a yearly bootcamp in all things a11y. I learned so much and wish I could have cloned myself to attend all four tracks. The five talks I did see:

Job van Achterberg paid great homage to the CAPTCHA, explaining its history and how it got to be where it is today. He explained that as quickly as developers create CAPTCHAs that humans can solve but machines can't, humans are inventing robots or scripts to fool them. Not only that, but CAPTCHAs are simply not accessible due to their nature of requiring some form of test for the user to complete. Instead, he offered that we must take initiative to understand the root of the problem; how spammers are getting into our site content, and find new ways of combatting them that don't put the onus on the user.

Thea Kurdi talked about the complete lack of attention paid to accessibility by literally every building in Canada. Our laws, guidelines and regulations for architecture, interior design and other built environments simply do not come close to meeting our human right to be able to barrier-free access to any building. I can't even imagine how hard it must be to find accessible, affordable housing in Toronto. I don't think a single place I looked to rent in Toronto was wheelchair-accessible, which is only one of many forms of barriers anyway. While it only paints a small part of the picture, I do experience it in my own way when I bike around. For example there are shockingly fewer curb cuts on sidewalks than you may think, and you'd notice if you were to limit yourself from going over them.

Steve Saylor, a popular video game streamer with a large following on YouTube, also happens to be blind. He spoke about his experience and needs while playing video games, which are so poorly met in some game designs but shockingly well-met in others. Specifically Assassin's Creed franchise made a total 180 degree turn from its first game not even containing captions in cutscenes, to Civil War being the first game Saylor could actually play all the way through, all the way to their most recent game Odyssey being one of the best games Saylor has ever played. While the gaming world is known to be particularly vicious online, I agree fully with Saylor that we must continue to bring settings to games to allow users to play them in a way that levels the playing field and makes it more enjoyable for all. I'll keep using my Game Genie codes for my dad's NES until one of the devices stops working (which I hope is never).

Alex Tait gave a very informative talk on how she started a grassroots accessibility guild in her company as well as great tips on how to do it yourself. She echoed a lot of my thoughts about planning our guild at Vena; involving everyone in the company is the only way it can work. She also explained that a facilitator should be prepared with an agenda for each meeting, but allow for others to facilitate or change the topic of needed. Be flexible and ensure everyone feels enabled to play the role they are able to play. I hope to speak with her over Twitter to chat more about her process!

Finally, Julianna Rowsell spoke about her user research with a variety of people with disabilities, her findings, and outcomes for various projects she works on with the Canadian Digital Service (digitizing fully-paper based governmental processes). One very interesting case study surrounded veterans being able to understand their

Surprisingly, my favourite part of the conference wasn't the content (though it was top-rate for sure), it was the people. Everyone was so nice and kind to each other, especially so at this event, and it made me realize how much empathy people must have to spend their Saturday here. It was literally all topics on how we can use our skills to better the lives of others, especially if they have been overlooked by the designs and products of other people. I met lots of cool people who taught me about their practices in usability testing, being environmentally friendly, knitting, eating banana pudding and writing inclusive copy.

It was also very sobering to understand that while 22% of Canadians would self-identify has having a disability (according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability), I now feel like that number is actually higher. Not only does every human age into disability because of the decaying human body (yay!), but I certainly found my experience heightened by various caring touches of the organizers that were meant to combat barriers. Specifically the speech-to-tech transcription (aka CART) of the content was very helpful to me because I do find myself a bit harder of hearing in the past couple of years. If to make content accessible is to simplify it and make it user-friendly, then accessibility should be the forefront of everything we do.