Monday, March 18, 2019

Vampire Weekend, Revisiting Old Lyrics & Amelia Earhart's Prenup

Weekly Update 2019-12: Consistently stellar music from indie pop darlings Vampire Weekend, recycling old lyrics into new songs and the very modern prenuptial agreement between Amelia Earhart and her fiance.

Music: Vampire Weekend
A band I've been following since their 2008 self-titled debut album, Vampire Weekend remains on my heavy rotation over ten years later. Formed by lead vocalist and guitarist Ezra Koenig, multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, drummer Chris Tomson, and bassist Chris Baio, all four of these musicians are at the top of their game. What results is a series of three absolutely stellar albums with the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal and Jerry Seinfeld gracing their music videos. The band's fourth album Father of the Bride will release on May 3.

Start anywhere, though you may want to work chronologically if you've never heard them before.

My bandmate Leon and I led the band this past week of band practice, the last practice until our leader Pato returns from Brazil. I hear he has made some solid plans for the whole band to go there next year - which I can't wait to do! All his photos and videos look so colourful, and what's better than going to Carnavale, but actually participating in Carnavale!

Vena sent me to VentureOut, a wonderful conference on improving diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. I loved everything about the conference, from the pronoun stickers given out with each nametag lanyard to the keynote with rookz, Canadian music executive to the touching land acknowledgement to the uplifting and informative content across many difficult subjects. There was even a session on making your design voice heard - something I often struggle with in my daily role.

My friend Nadia led an art crawl along this year's installment of Winter Stations on Sunday. We had a bit of sun to break the cold lake wind as we checked out the sculptural scenes against the beachy backdrop. The installations themselves were interesting, though I think I preferred last year's version a little more. All that to say, I relish the opportunity to hang out with a bunch of strangers, and it was really nice to meet a bunch of new people that Nadia knows. She seems to be quite the people-connector, and (self-proclaimed) very good at networking.


Tonight I'll be trying something I haven't done in a long time - yoga. My friend Laura invited me to try a class of hot yoga, which leads me to believe I'll be getting a little sweaty.

Spring has sprung (for me at least), and I've been biking every day in earnest. It's time to fertilize and repot some of my plants, which I'd like to do on Wednesday.

I'm giving over my Saturday afternoon to lots of artistic ventures: Ai Weiwei at the Gardiner Museum, a beading exhibition at the Textile Museum, and a stroll through Ryerson's Photography exhibit. These three art hubs are some of my favourites in Toronto, and Saturday will be a packed day!

The rest of my free time this week will be dedicated to marking - Thursday marks the last class of my second semester teaching at BrainStation. Another goal (though not for next week) is to start crafting a blog post abut my experiences as an instructor. It'll be good content for myself and for LinkedIn. I've never taken much stock in LinkedIn, but several different sources have been telling me to apply a bit more attention to it. But I'm still not downloading the app to my phone. I definitely don't need another social media app to get addicted to.

Random Thought: Lyric Callbacks
It's no secret that I love listening to music. I dare you to follow me on Spotify because I will always be at the top of your feed. This naturally means I have a lot of lyrics memorized. Upwards of 20,000 songs, maybe more. It's a hard thing to count. But at any rate, I have certainly noticed a small trend of musicians calling back to old lyrics from their past albums.

Britt Daniel of Spoon first sang about Jonathon Fisk on the band's 2002 album Kill The Moonlight. Fisk makes a reappearance on 2014's They Want My Soul (title track), twelve years later. Daniel has said in interviews that the 2002 song is based on his own experience being bullied in middle school. The bully later became a Spoon fan who attended, in Daniel’s words, “all of [Spoon’s] shows for about two or three years.” I like to believe this callback is a way of Daniel proclaiming his truce with Fisk "irl" as the kids say, and shows a little human kindness.

Vampire Weekend (hey, they sound familiar...) have done a similar trick. Lead singer Ezra Koenig sang those weighted lyrics "I don't wanna live like this, but I don't wanna die" back in 2013 on their Grammy-winning Modern Vampires of the City, though what could have made for a biting chorus was saved for the final 30 seconds of the song Finger Back. Now, six years later, Vampire Weekend is back and Koenig repeats his fated lyric on Harmony Hall

And a bonus; I've been on quite a Justice kick lately. I never gave their third album Woman Worldwide a proper spin, and my newfound appreciation for it brought me to their 2018 live album WWW. Justice's three live albums are, each in their own way, a true masterpiece in reworking of art into new art. As they add a new studio album to each live album, they mix and remix their own songs together, across albums and across their roomy expanse over the electronic genre-scape. And I love it. I know that with every new studio album will come a delicious new live album, in which they'll give new life to my favourite older hits as they mix with newer releases.

Inspiration: Amelia Earhart's Prenup
We all remember Amelia Earhart from our days in history class: the female pilot ahead of her time, what with her passion for aviation and wearing pants (both unheard of for women in the 1930s). Now, I learn a new layer of her true sense of modernity.

In the one-page letter written by Earhart to her fiance, book publisher George Putnam, Earhart admits that she is "reluctant" to marry, fearing marriage will "shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me." She then suggests an open relationship of sorts.

"On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly," Earhart writes.

In the end, Earhart asks Putnam to make her one promise -- that he will "let her go" in one year if they are not happy. The letter is featured in Purdue University's online Amelia Earhart exhibition.

Putnam himself also held pretty modern views on marriage. In an essay published in 1932 (one year after he and Earhart married), he wrote that he had few objections to Earhart's career and that he didn't "let" her fly, but rather encouraged it.

"Women who earn their salt are entitled to have what they want to put the salt on!" he writes.

Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and mysteriously vanished during an attempted flight around the world in 1937. But she continues to be revered as a feminist icon, and with a prenup like this, it's easy to see why.

I've been realizing lately that with our current political climate being as charged as it is, it's more important now than ever to recall on history to remind us how to move forward.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Kurt Vile, Vancouver & Toolkit for Equality

Weekly Update 2019-11: Content warning for a LOT of Vancouver tourism photos. Twangy banjo rock from Kurt Vile, the proper timing of notifications for the best user experience and Pansy Lee's amazing gender equality toolkit. 

Erika and I went to Whistler!

Music: Kurt Vile
More of a twang than I usually swing with, Kurt Vile has been providing me the melancholy lo-fi folk rock tunes for my trip out West last week. He just has a real penchant for writing songs, really coming more into his own since his departure from his past band The War On Drugs.
At the age of fourteen, Kurt Vile was given a banjo by his father, with Vile noting, "I kind of wished [it] was a guitar. So I'd kind of just play it like a guitar anyway. I was really into writing pretty primitive tunes, and really into recording. I pretty much knew I was going to do music [with my life] then.
Such a prominent moment in his life, when he realized he knew what his calling would be. I find Vile's music sad, but still upbeat and joyous at times, and always in a different sort of way. Check out my favourite of the discography, his 2013 album Wakin On A Pretty Daze.

I made it to Vancouver and back in under a week with minimal damage, I do so reckon. I was sent by Vena to represent the Product Development department for some of our esteemed Vancouver clients on Thursday, which left the weekend for me to do some heavy tourism with my friends who have fled Toronto for the West Coast.

We ended off our workday with a delicious steak dinner - I don't think I've ever been that full in my life.



The sides.

Mac & cheese baked into a waffle. I would come here just to eat this.

Crazy desserts. The left one was maple cotton candy!

We topped off the evening with a stretch limousine ride for a ten minute journey back to our hotel - so unnecessary but so amazing.

The next day, I made a morning pitstop in the downtown core to visit the Vancouver Brainstation office. They happened to be taking a photo for International Women's Day, and graciously invited me to be a part of it. What a great moment!

After that, I fled across the water on the Seabus and into Erika's arms. She showed me around the Think Tank building where she goes to school, and then we hopped in a car with her classmate and friends northward to Whistler via Squamish. It was a lovely drive and a lovely place.

It's a mountain, alright!

Back to the city for Erika's evening class, and I was back across the SeaBus to the south side to meet Mia and Simon for dinner. We went to a super cool sushi restaurant with weird toy sculptures hanging from the ceiling...sort of like a spin on a hunting lodge? Really eccentric decor and amazing maki rolls.

I don't even know what this sculpture was.

One more SeaBus ride for good measure back to Erika's school, and we spent the night at her apartment near the school. She had class again the next morning (it never ends) so I explored North Van a bit on my own. Lonsdale Quay and The Polygon Gallery were both right beside Erika's school, and I wandered into a costume shop for fun too.

The Polygon Gallery lights up beautifully with diagonal lights at night.

The boardwalk.

I'm not sure what this was.

After Erika's class, her brother Kurt picked us up and whisked us to Surrey to see Erika's family and especially my nephew Ario Speedwagon aka the furry scarf-boy. He ran up to me and jumped all over me so I think he remembered me. Still as cute as ever.

What a furry goober. 

It was Erika's dad Karl's birthday, so I got to see her mom Deb's parents Karen and Bill as well. Almost the whole family except Alan, who's on a Eurotrip right now.

And that's it! I literally could not have fit anything more into such a short span of time. I also win the award for travelling eastbound on the worst day of the year - Daylight Savings time, when a three-hour jetlag magically becomes a four-hour jetlag. Bye Vancouver, hope to see you soon.

I get the distinct impression I will be required to lead band practice on Wednesday, which is always a barrel of anxiety...but I haven't done it in a while and I have enough time to prepare mentally, so I have no excuse not to do it. Plus, very regrettably I haven't attended in four weeks or so. Shameful.

Double up the drumming this week in repentence, as I'll be staying late tonight for some more kit practice. I can't wait to try out a B Boys song called Sound Frequency I've been listening to on repeat lately.

This Thursday is the penultimate class of the semester, and Friday marks the VentureOut Conference (another delegation for Vena), a very cool tech conference in celebration of LGBTQ and intersectionality. I've got to pick my tracks for Friday - which is hilarious since the conference has chosen EventMobi for their event app.

On Saturday I'll visit my parents and do a little Spring cleaning there, and Sunday will be another trip to Woodbine Beach for a guided walk of Winter Stations.

Random Thought: Well Timed Notifications
I've been designing a user activation experience for new users to be welcomed into the Vena platform. Between that and everything I've learned from the onboarding teardowns of esteemed Samuel Hulick, I can tell you that one of the most important things is well timed notifications.

Never send a verification email to your users right at the moment they sign up. Odds are at that point that they'll be exploring your app, and if you drag them into their inbox to verify their email, they're going to get distracted and not return to your app. Maybe ever!

A lot of notification user experiences are quite broken, so much that it was painfully easy for me to capture two issues in one screen last night.

What do you see here?

I see that it's 12:16am and I'm checking my phone one last time before bed as I set my alarm. I see a bunch of notifications and feel slightly annoyed at the "work" I have to do now before bed. But then I realize the first notification is just a reminder that Do Nut Disturb is on, and that I won't be bothered by any notifications...except this one? This feature is new in iOS 12 by the way, and it can't be turned off.

The second notification is a message from Stepz (don't laugh), an app that keeps track of my daily step goal. It's reminding me that I am close to my daily goal before the day is over. 600 more steps to go, and two minutes left to complete them. First of all, that was straight up not gonna happen as the kids say, as I am bed-ready and not about to leave to walk 600 more steps around the block in the cold night. 

Furthermore, this notification was from 18 minutes ago. I can't achieve that goal now, even if I wanted to. It's an extremely final situation, if you think about it. So why doesn't that notification just clear itself out at the end of the day? Don't shame me when there's nothing I can do. It has an expiry date.

Time is a huge factor in user experience and must be regarded in kind. Take time and strides to understand your users' feelings and attitudes when they enter your experience. And the entry may be earlier than you currently identify - long before they're online on your actual product.

Inspiration: Tech Needs More Men: Toolkit
I mentioned Pansy Lee last week and her inspirational talk about how men can be better allies in our strides toward gender equality. I have seen this over and over again as a barrier to this goal, interacting with men who are not being their best selves or helping to advance us all toward equality.

Pansy's toolkit for men to better arm themselves with knowledge and understanding of the facts about feminism and gender equality is an amazing approach to solving this issue. She brought up a very common problem through a now-famous scene from HBO's Silicon Valley:

The issue is that men, and especially white North American men, aged 18-50, have very little or more likely no concept of what it means to live without privilege or even that they have privilege themselves. Because of this, they are generally poorly armed with understanding or capability to identify or make strides to change the inequality. They don't experience it personally, so they don't know how to deal with it.

I love that this toolkit (created by Pansy, a woman) makes strides to understand and empathize with this group of privileged people, understanding that in a dark, twisted way, having so much privilege that you're blind to a lack of it, is in itself a lack of privilege. 

Take a look at the guide and see if any part of it can't help you to understand a little more about your fellow humans, no matter how you identify. Check it out here.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

B Boys, Taking Risks & International Women's Day 2019

Weekly Update 2019-10: All about boldness: slapping chords from Brooklyn's B Boys, living a life of boldness favoured by fortune and #DevTO's annual IWDTO event.

Music: B Boys
Not to be confused with the British male vocal/instrumental pop group of the same name, or even the title of the same name that refers to a person devoted to breaking and hip-hop culture. Nope, this is indie power rock out of Brooklyn, New York with a very confusing name and a penchant for slapping chords and rough drum beats. It's the definitely the song with the most power on my otherwise very chill playlist Sunday Shoegaze, but it somehow fits. Check out their 2016 EP No Worry No Mind.

Last week marked the end of my first full quarter with Vena. We named it the Falcon Release, and of course there is an illustration to go with it. I even posted it to Dribbble.


All fifty of us in the development and product departments went axe-throwing (more fun than I thought it would be) and did some escape rooms. I really love these celebrations; they definitely make me feel valued as a part of the team but even moreso, I really like the Vena development team and I only get to work closely with about half of them. So it's a great way to hang with the people I don't usually talk to as much as I'd like to.

Gotta wear plaid to throw axes!

We won our escape room!

If that wasn't all, my amazing coworker Carrie enlisted each team to make a logo, which would then be turned into a sticker that they could give out and collect for the next quarter. I designed the stickers for my two teams without knowing, and now I'm so stoked that they'll be made into stickers too!

The Apps and Integrations Team (they transform data)

The Workflow & Collaboration Team (they love Subway).

Work trips can be a lot of fun, especially to access a different physical setting to help promote more creative and versatile thinking. Vena sends staff to our clients' locations all over the world to promote Vena, complete onsite training and setup, and run Customer Exchanges to allow our clients in different cities to connect with each other. Unfortunately, the designer (at our company and many others) is rarely as necessary on these sorts of trips.

This weekend is different - I am going to a Customer Exchange in beautiful Vancouver! Yes, I volunteered to be the face of our Product Team for some pretty cool clients out on the other side of the country - including banks, silver and gold mining companies, a really cool animation company called Bardel (notably behind Rick & Morty), and the Vancouver Whitecaps FC! I'm excited to learn about their pain points and hopes for our product, and to connect with them for future user interviews and the like.

Luckily the work is only one day (Thursday) so I have a couple days after that to hang out with all my friends who fled Toronto for Vancouver in the past couple years. Notably Erika and Ario Speedwagon have been gone for six months and it'll be great to see them both again. I really hope Ari remembers me.

Random Thought: Fortune Favours The Bold
As someone who loves to plan and gather all the information before making decisions, I have been trying something new lately. Having all the information can be a great way to make a decision but when it's impossible to obtain, I don't want to keep falling into a spiral of indecision. So I've been practicing making some decisions based on gut and intuition, trying to take more risks when the stakes of failing are low enough not to matter too much.

Travelling to Vancouver is definitely a great example of how this has started to work in my favour. As soon as I heard that someone from my team would be sent there, I knew it would be a good way to push myself into a new experience and take a low-cost risk. After only five months with Vena, I wasn't sure if I would be ready to talk to customers about our entire product portfolio – it's highly technical and involves more than four times the subject matter I cover in my daily work. But the risk of failure is pretty low, and I gave myself lots of prep time. Mixed with the support from my team in Toronto, I knew this would be a great opportunity.

This mentality is something I want to continue. The phrase "Fortune Favours The Bold" comes to mind; when there isn't time or opportunity to make an educated decision, I'm going to start moving toward the riskier choice. On a lower scale, I've been doing this for a while with various kinds of events in Toronto. It's so easy to flake on plans and stay home, especially during winter, but I've made a mental note that every time I force myself out of the house, I have never regretted it.

For all of us type-A people who suffer from analysis paralysis, I really suggest trying this out. I'm making strides to move away from overthinking, and not being so cautious when the stakes of failure are so low. Of course, the trick is to recognize when the stakes are low in order to seize the opportunity. Life is too short to worry as much as I have done in the past, and I am resolving to remember all of the success I've had in practicing boldness for my future decisions.

Not to mention, nothing is bolder than the mighty falcon. I need to remember that this quarter at work.

Inspiration: IWDTO 2019

Friday March 8 marks the annual International Women's Day, which is a big topic in the tech industry. Many roles in tech (including design) are still overly male-dominated, so I relish any opportunity to hear women, non-binary folk and their allies speak about their experiences in tech and feel a sense of solidarity and community. Vena sent ten of us to a wonderful annual event held by #DevTO: a day we celebrate and set a stage for Women in Tech to gather, speak and cheer with their allies.

Specifically, I was really impressed with Pansy Lee and her toolkit to support gender equality from a refreshing lens - focusing on how men can be better allies. Toxic masculinity is a huge problem and focusing only on women to provide the solution for gender equality is simply not a full-picture view. I can't wait to check out the toolkit with my boss Andrew next week. We always have great chats about gender equality in our past experiences and how they relate to the representation of women in our workforce at Vena.

Sarah Stockdale was also a stunner, speaking out against women's inner voice telling them they're not good enough. She brought more light to a fact with which I am already all too familiar: women often don't apply for roles above their self-perceived skill level, while men of the same skillset and experience wouldn't blink an eye about applying for a role above their qualifications.

Despite the technical difficulties, it was an awesome event. I am not a big fan of networking but I make a point of it at events like these. It was a joy to catch up with many an old coworker from my two most recent roles, and meet some new people as well. International Women's Day is a cause for celebration as well as recognition that we're on a journey that's nowhere near its end.