Monday, April 8, 2019

Interpol, Gender Representation & Kanazawa College of Art

Weekly Update 2019-15: Garage rock revival at its best with classic Interpol, examining the gender representation in my industry and the graduation ceremony at Kanawaza College of Art.

Manhattan-based band Interpol has been such a pivotal band in my life, easily one of my top ten. From their emergence in the early 2000s garage rock revival scene, having carried me through my high school years and beyond, I can never seem to get away from their haunting lyrics and yearning, slow melodies.

To know their music is to know a very specific time in my life when I discovered that music could affect me so deeply on a personal level. And I don't think I'm alone in this feeling; the alternative/garage rock scene of this time is deeply beloved and recorded in various forms online.

Please start with 2002's Turn On The Bright Lights and work forwards. I'm doing exactly that, learning every song on drums.

I have been meaning to dig my teeth into the original garage rock scene of the 90s, starting with the Breeders and working backwards. Maybe that'll be next...

I managed to get in two evenings of drumming last week, which was really nice considering I now have a visual reminder that my days of playing the kit after work are numbered. The room with the drum kit is now home to a slew of new cubicle desks, reminding me that the room will soon be filled with salespeople (who tend to work late nights). I imagine the kit will be moved somewhere else, but I can't imagine I may be coming in on weekends to play instead. With the weather changing, I'm sure I could work a visit to the beach into it somehow so it sounds like quite a nice way to spend a day.

Larissa has asked me to design her Save The Date cards, so I'll be taking a stab at that project this week. She gave me some cute examples, especially ones with a sort of diagram/infographic about the couple.

Though I think I'll stick with a simpler design. Here's my first stab. 

Teal is such a great wedding colour. I don't care if it's overdone.

This Thursday marks the start of my third semester with BrainStation. Brit and I have already worked out our teaching schedules; I'll be giving her a week to lead while I'm in California and she gets her quarterly work trip to Boston. Things are starting off a bit more synchronized this time and I hope we can continue it into the new semester.

Random Thought:
Brit and I were having patio beers (first of the season!) and discussing our experiences of the gender balance in the UX design/product industry. I have worked alongside many great female-identifying designers, notably the whiz-kid Kate at Excalibur and the talented Elysia at Tag. They're the first in a long line of talented women I know, but I haven't yet had the luck to say the same of a design manager or creative director. Having graduated from a class of 90 women and ten men, I know the tides are turning, but I just haven't seen it in the workplaces I've been.

Which just makes me realize that design management could be a real track for me. At least professionally, I feel adept at organizing people, facilitation and addressing individual needs. Most importantly, I feel more and more like I have a voice of value in my organization. I have seen female designers as well as women in general have their ideas shot down or ignored, which could be part of the reason men rise so much more easily into leadership roles. I don't want to fall into such a rut; I want to become an example for the designers who come after me.

Inspiration: Kanazawa College Of Art
Graduation celebrations are generally a drab affair, from what I'm told. All the grumblings of friends who have completed their university journeys before mine have said the same: you sit in a hot sweaty room for a few hours until your name is called, sit a few more hours, take some photos and go home.

Not to mention those terrible gowns graduates are made to wear, though the mortarboards are pretty interesting in both form and name.

In Japan, Kanazawa College of Art takes a slightly different approach to the graduation dress code - one I believe to be much more fitting as a culmination of a student's educational journey, and just plain more fun.

There's even a Waldo!

Considering this is a school of art and design, why not allow the students to continually express their creativity and personality in everything they do? Not to mention it makes the photo-taking part much more joyful to me.

I have been piecing together a cosplay for Anime North in May, and I think all the costumes and visual self-expressions are really wholesome and fun. It's also just always been a huge passion of mine to play dress-up. 

If my university had allowed this kind of thing, I would have attended graduation for SURE!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

April Fools: Discocover Weekly & Bob The Flamingo

Weekly Update 2019-14: The joys and cringes of software products trying to prank their users for April Fools including a delightful joy in Spotify's Discocover Weekly and my new hero, Bob the Flamingo.

Did you know HyperX and Nissin Cup Noodles are doing a headphone collab?

Just joking.

Music: Discocover Weekly
My experiences with April Fools pranks from tech companies have been mixed at best, but I so happened to be the butt of a joke that ended in my favour. Yes, if you're anything of a fan of Spotify's Discover Weekly playlists, you already know the joys of waiting for Monday to roll around so Spotify can give you your new musical flavour of the week. You'll also already know about the little prank Spotify pulled on April 1, regarding a small typographic change to the playlist - Discocover Weekly.

Yes, the prank was based on Spotify's assumption that its listeners are not huge fans of disco covers and covers of disco songs alike. Well, I am here to tell you Spotify was wrong. I love disco so much and never make the time to listen to some classics, so this was a lovely little gift on an otherwise drab Monday April 1.

I love this whole thing and I'm not sorry. More on this prank as a marketing tactic in the Random Thought below.

After a long, long weekend, I finally finished marking all the final projects for BrainStation. This was truly a wonderful group of students, they'll be hard to top next semester. I also turned Erika's old desk into a workstation for myself (my own desk is currently covered in plants) and it's been pretty good working in there now that the weather is a bit warmer and I don't have to pay to heat a whole extra room.

Moody at night. Daytime is good, too!

Being that I have two free Thursday nights until the next semester starts, I was finally able to attend Hack Night at work last Thursday. The Workflow team had purchased a Raspberry Pi (similar to Arduino) microcomputer to be able to cast their screens more easily to their communal TV screen, which I helped to set up (but really just watched them set up). I also gave out some free design critique on some other passion projects going around the office. Our development organization is so choc-ful of creative and intelligent people, and hack nights allow us to use our collective genius to work on non-work projects in a comfortable setting. Plus, the office provides dinner for us!

Larissa held an engagement celebration party for her friends at Storm Crow Manor, which I have been wanting to check out since it opened. The wedding train keeps on trucking, as we headed to Newmarket on Saturday for a wedding tradeshow. It was actually better than I thought it would be, and Larissa even managed to find a photographer couple that she really liked and may hire for her wedding. They've photographed other weddings at the Ontario Science Centre before, which was a big selling feature.

Tomorrow I'll be drumming at the office (my favourite way to end the workday) and preparing for another one-off UI Design Workshop taking place on Wednesday. Even when I am between semesters, I suppose they just can't keep me out of the classroom.

I'd also like to use part of this weekend to write a LinkedIn post on my teaching experiences so far.

Random Thought: April Fools in Tech
It has become a sort of vogue trend for popular tech companies to participate in April Fools pranks. While I am a big fan of a well-crafted prank, I find it ceaselessly interesting that some products choose to pull pranks in direct contradiction to good user experience principles. Google did this with Gmail in 2016. They added a glaring orange Send button beside the normal blue button, that would allow the sender to attach a gif of a minion doing a "mic drop", and then supposedly mute the entire conversation without allowing anyone to reply.

This prank was ill-advised at best, as some users accidentally hit the button and then never received expected replies, and in some cases lost their jobs because of it. Google quickly disabled the button.

Google is back at it again in 2019 with a software-based screen cleaner in their Files App, somehow automagically detecting and removing dirt and dust from your screen.

Tinder joined in on the fun by asking its users to verify their height before being allowed to continue. I think that one got a little bit of a backlash from male-identifying users...

Whether intended or not, this one spurred a lot of social unrest and definitely polarized some people on the internet. There were many petty tweets about this change by disgruntled men around how Tinder should also release a weight verification for women. Disgusting.

On the lighter side, Vena's development department put out a little lighthearted article on our supposed Office Mutiny Over Coding Syntax. It's worth a read and a chuckle.

And of course, there's my new favourite disco playlist courtesy of Spotify. While I'm sure the disco genre choice was meant to be a joke, I personally love disco and was especially pleased to see Spotify also used it as a marketing tactic to test out their new algorithmically-personalized curated playlist feature. Not only did they give me a wonderful disco playlist, but they gave me a shiny, new algorithmically-personalized disco playlist.

Let me break it down a little on how good this playlist is. It's got Scissor Sisters, The Beach Boys and Madonna, all my favourite deep cuts. The covers are maybe the best part: a weird Euro-cover of Beatles' Day Tripper, a metal cover of KC and the Sunshine Band's I'm Your Boogie Man and an indie pop cover of Earth, Wind and Fire's September. It's got an AMAZING jazz cover of Michael Jackson's Don't Stop Til You Get Enough by James Chance & The Contortions, whose lead vocals sound eerily like Keith Richards. How can an algorithm be so good, that it can pick out weird genre disco covers that I'll like?! Can this algorithm have the power to convince people to realize they love disco?! This is the future and I love it.

Inspiration: Bob The Flamingo
Perhaps my biggest accomplishment of the week was that I finally dragged my butt to the ROM to use my membership for the first time since getting it in the mail last week. Yesterday was the last day to visit their exhibit on the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, so it was pretty crowded but well worth it. One of the true standouts was a wonderful series of six photos all encompassing a flamingo named Bob.

Cleanse your mind palette because this is NOT A PRANK. 

He's my new hero.

In Curacao in the southern Caribbean, Bob is famous as a symbol of conservation of nature and wildlife. His life took a dramatic turn when he flew into a hotel window, leaving him severely concussed. He was cared for by Odette Doest, a local vet who also runs a wildlife rehabilitation centre and conservation charity – the Fundashon Dier en Onderwijs Cariben (FDOC).

Existing disabilities meant Bob couldn’t be released, but instead he became ambassador for FDOC, which educates locals about the importance of protecting the island’s wildlife. Odette drives him around to lots of different events as a spokesbird and powerful symbol for environmentally conscious practices and their effects on the ecosystem.

Odette often takes Bob to schools to meet children.

Bob, Odette and their cat at home.

These photos of Bob were captured by Curacao-based photographer Jasper Doest, and have earned Doest a commendation in the award’s photojournalist story category. I love this kind of international news story, trying to bring important issues to light and insight action through a strong symbol of peace and intended outcome. Aka, let's keep our planet clean, and let's do it for Bob!

Check out more of Bob's story on Doest's website.

Did I mention Bob loves snacks? Sounds like someone else I know...

Monday, March 25, 2019

Ministry of Sound's Mashed, Preserving Music Epochs & Rail Bikes

Weekly Update 2019-13: A very special moment in my music memory provided by Ministry of Sound, preserving such moments through Spotify mega-playlists (150+ songs) and the beauty and strength of a rail bike.

Music: Ministry Of Sound's Mashed
I've spoken before about the concept of music epochs - various chapters or eras in a person's life that define specific tastes or trends in their enjoyment of music. I've certainly gone through a few of these myself. It's no surprise that I am a sucker for nostalgia, so I have taken to the habit of recording these epochs as Spotify mega-playlists. My newest venture came from a break on Sunday afternoon between marking final projects for BrainStation. May I present to you:

This was a very special music epoch for me, let me paint the scene. The year is 2006. I had just discovered MSTRKRFT, Justice, Crystal Castles, Digitalism, Boys Noize and Simian Mobile Disco. The music was hard, it was loud, heavy on the synth, repeating lyrics, and definitely did not impress my parents. I distinctly remember trying without luck to order Toronto-based MSTRKRFTs The Looks at my local HMV, only to be returned with looks of confusion from uppity store employees. Resigned to pirating music on an old PC like the rest of the indie music fans of my time, I somehow came across Ministry of Sound's Mashed III.

Ministry of Sound's Mashed III (2006) mixed by Tonite Only and Riot In Belgium.

Ministry of Sound is a multimedia entertainment business based in London with a nightclub, shared workspace and private members club, worldwide events operation, music publishing business and fitness studio. The Compilations business was first established in 1993 with the release of Sessions Volume One, a compilation album of dance music mixed by Tony Humphries. The album was a commercial success. The business has now sold more than 55 million compilation albums worldwide.

Their Mashed compilations were my first real foray into electronic music from all over the world (especially Europe). France (of course), Sweden, Germany, the UK, Switzerland, once I had listened to the third volume about twenty times through, I went in search of the other four. I was never able to locate a ripped copy of the first volume, but I was able to immerse myself in approximately 200 tracks of Europe's finest mashup club mixes. It was like a domino effect; I would look up the bands featured, the artists who remixed their songs, and each volume of Mashed itself was curated by an electronic musician. To this day I still haven't exhausted the listening power of these songs, nor have I finished my discovery of all the featured musicians and their offshoots.

I recall that I couldn't find a version of the second or fourth volumes as anything other than a single, uncut track, so I spent hours of my teenhood working painstakingly between Audacity and Youtube to cut the tracks perfectly. I keep these files on my iPhone all the time because they're (unsurprisingly) not on Spotify.

And now, in a final painstaking tribute to these golden years of electronic music before I found SoundCloud, I am building this playlist to commemorate this music epoch. It was a doozy, and it continues to spill over into a decade later for me. It covers 2004-2009, it's really weird at times, and you may not like it but it gives me life.

Yes indeed, this marks the end of my second semester at BrainStation. I have marked all the final projects, and it has been truly amazing to see how far the students have come from the start of the semester. It also reinstates my opinion that anyone can be a user experience designer because we all want to improve the processes that hinder our daily lives. From a redesign of the process to report a pothole to the city of Toronto to an app that helps you discover new small businesses in your neighbourhood to a resource on cannabis use for seasoned and new tokers alike, I was so impressed to see the final projects.

My class took me for a beer after our final presentations.
They make me so proud!

My friend Laura was kind enough to invite me to check out a yoga studio near our workplaces in Liberty Village. I am about ten years out of practice and the studio only does hot yoga, and on top of that, we accidentally picked an advanced class. I am really proud of myself for not throwing up, it was that difficult. But I made it through, was sore for three days following, and now I know I don't like hot yoga! It did make me realize I like cool (even maybe outdoor?) yoga, especially at a beginner level, so maybe I'll look for an alternative.

Saturday was a wonderful art crawl with my parents to the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Gardiner Museum. I love pottery and china, and the Gardiner is such a gem of a place. I've spoken about it before, and you really must see Ai's exhibit there. We also checked out the beading exhibit at the Textile Museum, another absolute gem that has made it onto this blog before.

Many of the beaded works spoke openly about their heritage in Native Canadian culture.

Beading intricately covering racist depictions of Native Canadian dolls.

This is so beautiful I might die.

I especially enjoyed these beaded "Swatches" from artist Bev Koski. The left is Old Dutch potato chip bags and the right is the carpet pattern in The Shining.

And in other news, I booked a trip to San Diego and Los Angeles! I have literally no idea what I'll do in San Diego for five days, but I'm staying near the Zoo and there are no less than 25 entries for the city on Atlas Obscura, so I'm sure I'll find some ways to pass the time. Plus, I get to take the Pacific Surfliner from one city to the other, with a potential stop in a third city on the way! Who doesn't love a coastal train?

Laura and Eric have booked a swanky dig in Los Angeles with a pool, which I'm gonna jump into as soon as we get back from the music festival (the heart of our trip activities). Quick shoutout to this music festival Just Like Heaven for providing a venue for many of my favourite artists of 2007 (the epicenter of the music epoch I mentioned above).

I have three books due back soon to the library, plus another instalment of the feminist book club to prepare for, so I'd like to spend my time free from BrainStation this week to read more. The pile of books on my bedside table is becoming unmanageable, so it's time to do something about it.

I'd also like to plan my California trip a little more formally so I have more things to look forward to!

Random Thought: Preserving Music Epochs

A history of rock music (according to some guy).

I could talk all day long about my love of nostalgia, music epochs and the relationship between sound and memory. It's been a wonderful hobby of mine to create playlists that capture specific points in my music experience, and especially so to share them easily with others as Spotify offers somewhat seamlessly.

I find it difficult to describe the eras of music I am most attached to, so creating these playlists allows me to explain them to others quite easily, but more importantly Spotify's interlinking of bands within a playlist allows me to explore the epoch further from the center and into its edges in a way I could never do with Google or YouTube as I did before.

Until the next epoch arrives, I will be catalogging these epochs in my current era of Spotify. I wonder what will come next...

Inspiration: Rail Bikes
As a bicycle enthusiast, I absolutely love to see their purpose extended beyond the norm by some clever person on the internet. It has happened again, allow me to share this with your eyeballs:

Yes, it's a bicycle attachment that counterbalances on abandoned railways and allows you to take day trips through beautiful forest scenery ALL WHILE pretending you're a TRAIN!

I would love if this was the main transportation method in Toronto, it especially pulls at my heartstrings because it takes what I consider to be the scariest part of bike riding in Toronto and makes it a strength. No, I'm not talking about cars, I'm talking about streetcar tracks!

The above bike hack was created by Will, a member of the forum Read about his plight at the link above.