Monday, January 30, 2017

Derevolutions, The Struggle Bus & Kid Koala's Satellite Concert

Weekly Update 2017-05: The calming poppy sounds of the Derevolutions, the wonderful connotations of riding the struggle bus, and becoming the performer as well as the audience at Kid Koala' Satellite Concert.

It is the rare time that I allow a Pop earworm to enter my brain, but this song came onto one of my Spotify Daily Mixes and it's stuck. So of course I'd like to share it with you! The band is from Massachusetts, and their music just makes me want to dance. Beyond that, they have excellent photo-collaged album art for their songs that is definitely worth checking out. I don't know when collage went out of vogue but I want it back. It might be the visual style of the albums or the poppiness of the music itself, but this band would be a great fit for the soundtrack of a Little Big Planet game. Listen below:

I've done some work for my Chai Mitzvah class and met up with my mentor for our second meeting. She helped me narrow down my focus into the research and creation of a book that will comprise my learnings of what I consider to be the five most important Jewish holidays of the year. I'm pretty excited because this means I get to teach myself about the holidays and come out with a lovely manual to reference throughout my life. Plus, maybe it can be a portfolio piece? It's been a while since I've made a nice old-school print piece.

I've got my heart set on convincing my company to send me to DesignThinkers this May in Vancouver for a few reasons. Other than there being an excellent lineup of speakers (Chip Kidd and Timothy Goodman), I really want to visit the west coast and hang out with some friends out there.

And of COURSE it's imperative that I visit my future home of Portland to see what's been going on since I last visited. #1 to do on the list will be the same as last time: procure a Choco Taco.

My other main goal this week is to get started on the code portion of my blog redesign. I'd really like to try my hand at using flexbox for the layout, so we'll see how challenging that becomes. 

Random Thought: The Struggle Bus
My coworker dropped a load of genius on us at the lunch table today, as he discussed his recent issue with the learning curve of an iPhone game. He described his plight as “riding the struggle bus,” which I first laughed at for five minutes, and then moved straight into looking it up on Urban Dictionary. Lo and behold, it does exist outside of my coworker's brain, and I can happily say I will be using it all the time.

Not only does the phrase properly articulate a feeling we've all had from time to time, but it paints a picture of a hardship with a little lightness and humour. It also depicts that while you may be riding the struggle bus now, no busride lasts forever and it will be over soon enough.

I'd venture to say that we are all riding some kind of struggle bus with the state of things in the United States right now, and this sort of phrase is what keeps me going. 

Inspiration: Kid Koala's Satellite Concert
I went to another extremely inspirational concert last week, only two days after Cherry Glazerr. How lucky am I? This one was set by Kid Koala, a DJ I had seen open for Arcade Fire at the Air Canada Centre back in 2014. As he said to my friend and me when we spoke with him before the show, he likes to make ambient music in the winter. Since ambient music is low-key and doesn't make for a great live-concert format, he decided that he would redefine the meaning of a concert altogether.

The room he played in at the back of the Rivoli on Queen Street West was full of mini tables, each set with a turntable and three records. Each of the six sides of the records was colour-coded, and meant to be played when the Philips Hue light in the turntable shone the corresponding light. 

The whole thing was excellently analog, complete with a “chemical puppeteer” onstage making lovely images by squirting all sorts of liquids and semi-solids into a fishtank and onto a swivelling plastic surface, which were then projected onto a DIY handmade ‘satellite’ hanging from the ceiling behind the performance.

The Chemical Puppeteer

The bulk of the singing for the album was done by a woman who unfortunately could not accompany the tour, but she had recorded her voice onto these lovely old paper cards with a magnetic strip, which Kid Koala passed through a machine that read the data off the cards as they moved through. They were kind of like huge credit cards that had singing data on them. It was wild.

Watch a clip of all of us (crowd and Kid) making beautiful music together.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Feminism & Cherry Glazerr

Cherry Glazerr may be one of the most inspirational and topical bands you've never heard of, until now. I did mention them before in a post about a year ago, and was really excited to see them open for Best Coast back in early 2016.

In a similar vein to the amazing talent of Kathleen Hanna's slew of feminism-heavy noise rock bands Le Tigre, Bikini Kill and The Julie Ruin, this band has something to say and they say it LOUD.

With the state of the world as it is right now and women's rights being discussed behind locked doors by mouldy old men with too much power, thank heavens for this band. Clementine Creevy, the lead singer at a modest 19 years of age, has created some lovely and powerful songs with equally powerful lyrics to go along. With the other three members of the band Sasami Ashworth, Tabor Allen and Sean Redman, she was able to make me feel like we have some hope to make real change amongst this hellish turn of events.

It all started when I entered the venue and was immediately greeted by three huge painted cartoon vaginas, complete with glittery clitorises (how about that for a band name?). It seems like feminism is 'in style' which, while not really the point of the whole thing, definitely helps to spread the word and create positive action. So I thought it was all a good bit of tongue-in-cheek fun.

Clementine sporting a lovely Dickies jumpsuit onstage, surrounded by big cardboard vaginas.

It makes me think of how being private about our privates is actually attributing to our close-mindedness about sexuality, gender, and all sorts of other “taboo” topics that are hard to discuss. But why should they be this way? Did you know that every year the city of Kawasaki, Japan celebrates Kanamara Matsuri, aka the “Festival of the Steel Phallus”? The festival is a celebration of the penis and fertility, and maybe I'm reading too much into it but the whole thing feels like an exercise in being open about the natural processes of the human body instead of feeling ashamed (which seems to be the American flavour of the day).

At the show, I had a good view of the setlist at Clementine's feet and knew that my favourite song in the world was coming up:

Even the band name's origin reeks of topical interest. Chery Glaser (the person) is a radio host for NPR, and was so impressed that the band named themselves after her that she interviewed them. Not to mention, what a cool name. You can listen to it here:

During the live set that I was so lucky to attend on Tuesday, Clementine addressed the crowd and shared a thought: “Nowadays, women don't have to do anything they don't want to do”. While quite the obvious statement, it still made me a little teary through my big smile. While not every room is so fortunate, this one in particular was filled with nice people and respect and overall good vibes.

I was right at the front, so the moshing that mostly happened behind me was quite a spectacle to see. Most of the audience around me was made up of young women, and as they respectfully danced into each other, it made me feel a sense of pride, happiness, and satisfaction that yes, women don't have to do anything they don't want to do. And the opposite is also true. A couple of women even crowd-surfed (one of my secret bucket-list goals) into an inviting a friendly crowd. It made me feel like maybe this was my moment as well, but I still couldn't quite muster up enough courage. If this is the way the tides are turning though, my time will come sooner than later.

Check out my second favourite song, incoincidentally about grilled cheese:

Before this show, I'd recently been feeling slightly at a loss because I want to be a part of the change and a source of positivity in the world, but I missed the Women's March due to attending a hackathon. This show was special to me because it made me feel like I was right in the thick of it, surrounded by vaginas (both real and metaphorical), and showed me that I am already living my life as a feminist every day.

And I got the setlist! Thanks to Cherry Glazerr for the most fun and empowering night I've had out in a while.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

FriendCanoe & UofTHacksIV

Weekly Update 2017-04: This weekend, I attended my third hackathon. It took place at the University of Toronto, and was as insane and unique an experience as the other two that I have attended. This weekly update is a special edition all about what I did and saw this weekend.

Music: Furi Soundtrack
First of all, I was invited to the hackathon by my lovely friend Sasha. He has the developer skills more than covered, but he requested my design knowledge to round out our team of two. We have similar tastes in the right music for productivity (especially in coding), and listened a lot to the soundtrack for the game Furi (found on Steam). It doesn't have any (decipherable) lyrics, so it was perfect for getting stuff done. I don't know much about the game but if it's half as good as the soundtrack, it must be amazing.

Some of the songs sounda little Justice-inspired, very new-wave disco and synthy. Perfect for coding.

Accomplishment: FriendCanoe
What is FriendCanoe, you may ask? Well, it's our finished product for the hackathon! We spent the weekend creating an iOS app in React Native that would allow its users to keep track of friends whom they don't have a chance to see often.

Simply add a friend's name as well as the date and place you last hung out, then let the app calculate and prioritize which friends you should see next to ensure your friendships are kept healthy. The closer a friend is to the top of the screen (and the darker their row), the more pertinent it is that you should see them soon. Cobwebs indicate that it's been a long time...which means you may need to think about whether or not you can really call them a 'friend'.

You can also add your close friends if you wish, who will most likely remain closer to the bottom of the list (meaning you've seen them recently and don't need to tend to the friendship). The more activities you log with them, the more filled-out their feed of activities becomes. If you really like that feature, this can become a sort of scrapbook for your friendship together.

React Native was a completely new language for me to learn, which was both extremely challenging and extremely fun. It uses CSS, which I know how to write, but the syntax is all slightly different and made for a maddening process of replacing semicolons with commas and the like. Also, there are multiple different methods to position elements in CSS but React Native only uses a certain method called flexbox, which is fairly new to CSS. It gave me the push to really understand and learn it, and I can see why it's so useful. Mainly, flexbox is the easiest way to make a webpage responsive, so I'm sure I'll be utilizing that for some future projects.

And to top it all off, Sasha completed his goal of actually finishing a hackathon for the first time! This was his third hackathon as well (though it was our first one together), so I suppose the third time's the charm.

You can view the app if you download the Exponent App on an iPhone and then tap this link. It's a lot of work, I know, so maybe wait until it's done and then you can have it for real! :)

Some bonus images:

Preliminary whiteboard sketches. It was at this point that we found out I cannot draw a canoe.

1st day selfie!

2nd day selfies...marginally more tired.

Albeit somewhat slowly, we will both continue to work with the app. There are definitely some bugs happening in the codebase, especially after the code that was merged in the wee hours of this morning. We also didn't get to implement all of the designs I had originally mocked because we had so much trouble with flexbox.

I'd also like to move away from such extremely vibrant colours and perhaps redesign the logo and placeholder faces a little once we do a little more thinking about the brand of the app.

Random Thought: QuidditchVR by NightBlade
I was very impressed with one project by Yahya Ismail that I got to demo today. All by himself, Yahya spent his hackathon creating a fully functional Quidditch game with the HTC Vive. It was amazing to move around with the headset on, chasing and whacking at the ball to try to score points (without crashing into the people in the stands).

Imagine one joystick is the broom handle and the other is the beater stick to whack the ball with.

I could only use it for a few minutes before I made myself a little dizzy and had to take it off. Not Yahya's fault, though! Ever since my first foray into VR with the roller coaster simulator on an Oculus Rift a few years ago, I know that I am particularly sensitive to motion sickness. It'll just take a little more time and research before someone figures out the correct recipe to provide a non-dizzying experience for all kinds of people, but it's definitely getting closer!

Images of QuidditchVR belong to Yahya Ismail.

Inspiration: AngelGuards by HypeTrain
This project, by a team made up of Jason Lee, Sangeet Parashar, Edwin Finch and the mysterious "Annie", really seemed like the embodiment of how I feel a hackathon should be. The team made good use of technologies for an improved experience that many people face all over the world.

As I understand it, the product works like this. Imagine you're an event promoter or a bar owner. You're planning an event, and want to make sure the party is a safe space for everyone. You select a top-notch security team, but there's no way they can know about everything going on at a packed event, right?

So, each security person has the phone hooked up to the AngelGuards system. They become the 'angels'. At the same time, you include a special private form with your invitations. Attendees have the option to describe how they will be dressed and how they can be identified (at their own discretion).

The attendees then have access throughout the night to a button inside the app on their phone that looks like this:

If someone presses this button twice, the security 'angels' receive this type of notification to their phone's lock screen. They can find the individual quickly and easily, and have the ability to resolve the situation without too much fuss.

Unfortunately, it's a reality that people sometimes find themselves in vulnerable situations when they go out and try to have a nice time. This app gives those people a renewed ability to be able to let off some steam and not have to worry as much about the people around them or their own personal safety. Great job, HypeTrain!

Images of AngelGuards belong to the HypeTrain team.

Unrelated bonus: Here's my haul of free stuff from the hackathon.

  • 2 red fleece Google travel blankets with handles and Velcro fastenings
  • 2 pairs of striped RBC socks
  • 2 android keychains
  • 2 Google pens
  • 1 RBC slinky
  • 1 Deloitte sticker "make cool shit"
  • 1 android sticker
  • 1 gmail sticker

    Not pictured:
  • official hackathon t-shirt, name badge and drawstring bag (to keep all the swag in of course)
  • bottles of Soylent
  • a ton of food & snacks
  • all the Red Bull and Monster energy drinks to make your heart stop
  • huge bags under my eyes from running on three hours of sleep this entire weekend
The hackathon was awesome, but I have to say I'm possibly more excited that it's finally almost a regular bedtime hour so I can go to sleep. Yay!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Homeshake, Good Habits & Bunz Life

Weekly Update 2017-03: Grooving to some mellow tones from Mac DeMarco's live guitarist, feeling good about forming good habits, and reflecting on a year of Bunz trades.

The solo project of Montreal based guitarist Peter Sagar who spent much of 2013 doubling up as Mac DeMarco’s live guitarist, this guy has some talent. I'd classify it as cool, calm vibes for taking a bath or winding down for the evening. It's got elements of lo-fi, R&B, soul, and lots of other goodies. Take a listen below:

Well, I can't believe it but I have to thank my readers for the astounding 70+ views in under a week on my Minimalism post. I guess you guys like to read my ranting about how to simplify your life by taking a door off its hinges. Thanks for the support!

I also worked out my Toronto Design Offsite Festival schedule, and by that I mean I am so happy that my university program's Design Students Association put one together so I don't have to. You can check it out here. I'll be taking the tour on Thursday evening, capped off by a talk at the Gladstone Hotel with the opening of 2017's instalment of Come Up To My Room.

In other news, I went to an arcade bar called Tilt (at Bloor and Brunswick) and played pinball and old-school arcade games while drinking beer. By the end of it, I felt rather dizzy and out of sorts, so my accomplishment is that I didn't vomit. Highly recommended, perhaps sans the beer.

I've been prepping for my third Hackathon this week, and I think we're in good shape to make a cool product. I don't want to say more until next week when it's all over, but hopefully it'll make a good portfolio piece.

And finally, I've finished the mobile visual composites of my blog. I'll have a post on that coming up soon.

I'd like to figure out what's next for the ol' blog. It's possibly figuring out how to transfer all my posts safety to a new platform...but that will most likely have to wait until next week because I'll be spending my weekend at the Hackathon! So that's going to be my week.

Random Thought: The Fulfillment of Good Habits
As I have been forming better habits in the past while (including but not limited to taking on a more minimalist lifestyle), I have realized that creating good habits is extremely fulfilling. It makes me feel happy and whole to improve a part of my life, even if it's something as small as a better method for washing dishes or a cheap store to buy toilet paper. I think people lose sight of that sometimes, changing a habit can seem difficult and perhaps not even worth the effort on the closer side of things. Meanwhile, once I start examining how I am currently doing something, my mind begins to wander toward how I can improve it, often without even noticing what I'm doing. In fact, it might be my favourite pastime.

I invite you to think of a task that is inescapable yet cumbersome to complete, and try to imagine a better, more fun, more efficient way of completing that task. Obviously this can't be applied to everything, but I bet there's something in everyone's life that can be improved with a little design thinking.

Inspiration: Bunz Trading Zone (Again)
Yes, of course I am still using Bunz, like I said I would when I started using it about a year ago. Some people would, not incorrectly, call me obsessed with it. I was thinking the other day about all the ways it has improved my life that were perhaps not so intended by its developers.

Image courtesy of The Eyeopener.

  1. My memory is improving
    I am surprisingly good at remembering which people I am trading what for, and when and where. I actually remembered a whole slew of seven trades in one day and was on time for all of them. I surprised myself.
  2. I am meeting cool people
    All sorts of people use Bunz. I especially appreciate evening rush hour trades at Yonge/Bloor station because it's a popular time and place, and I can always spot the other buns. I like to ask them what they're trading and how they like the app while we wait together for our respective trading partners.
  3. Most importantly - I feel a renewed value for time
    When someone asks you what they should get you for your birthday, I am sure some frivolous (or even useful) items cross your mind. But with Bunz, after a year or so of heavy use, I feel like I have gathered everything I could want or need. So that frees me up to tell my loved ones that all I want from them is their time, which is 100% true. 

Thanks Bunz!

Hello Bavaria! - Munich Day 5

As you may have seen in my previous posts about Munich, I was lucky enough to convince the company I work at to send me to Germany for five days for a design conference called Push Conference. This post marks my final day in the beautiful country, in which I treated myself to some sightseeing and a tour of the excellent museum district, or Kunstreal.

I had been planning to check out the synagogue I had walked by on my first day. Google Maps told me there was another smaller synagogue on my walking route, but as I searched for it down a residential alley, I realized I was on private property and moved on. Ah well. Another five minute walk took me to the big beautiful synagogue I had seen earlier, which was in a sort of Jewish Square that also had a Jewish Museum and community centre. I wanted to peek inside but...I couldn't find a door! There were two huge wrought iron doors that definitely hadn't opened in a long time, so I searched around the whole building for another entrance. There was a sort of ‘secret’ door cut out of the brick, that didn't seem to have a handle.

For scale, I think my head came up to the second Hebrew letter from the bottom.

I was at a loss. I walked back to the front, and a security guard in front of the community centre waved me over. I told him that I wanted to see inside, and he said I could come back for evening services at 6:00 when the synagogue would be open. Well, at least I didn't stand around there all day looking for a door.

The outer perimeter of the Jewish Museum (next door to the synagogue). The walls were covered in Jewish perspectives on the Holocaust.

And so I began my day of museum-hopping. All the museums boast a one-euro admission on Sundays, so I aimed to see as many as I could. I started with the Munich Stadtmuseum (State Museum) which was right next to the synagogue. I knew I had a few museums to get to, so I just looked around the gift shop for a few minutes and then moved on.

Eingang means "Entrance"!

A mini model of Munich (say that five times fast)!

I walked a few minutes to Marienplatz to mail my postcards and bought a cheese pretzel - super tasty. Then I took the subway to Odeonsplatz, the closest stop to the museums. As I walked up the stairs from the subway, I was greeted by the most wonderful music floating down the stairs from some buskers. Munich has the best buskers.

Despite my best intentions, I walked in the wrong direction for a few minutes, until I corrected myself. As I walked toward the museums, I realized I was in the neighbourhood I had stayed in last time I was in Munich!

A crazy window display. Woolheads.

Ah, Die Neue Sammlung. Sammlung means collection in German. 

My second museum of the day was the Pinakothek der Moderne - an amazing museum with a large industrial design section. There was this amazing larger-than-life wall with all these designed object perched precariously inside it like the largest shadow box you've ever seen.

Note the people for scale.

Hey look! It's both the chairs my parents own, across the way from each other!

Happy record player!

A timelapse of the entire industrial design section of the museum. Yes, it was that cool.

There was also an exhibit on Murano glass that I especially liked. It was held in a circular chamber with a glass ceiling meant to echo the material. Very lovingly curated.

This was crazy. 500 Japanese steelworkers were each given a bar of chocolate and asked to mould sculptures from the silver foil wrappings after eating the chocolate.

Probably the weirdest thing was an exhibit called Himalaya Goldstein's Roomthis strange room made up to look like someone's living room, totally dark, with projections floating over all the furniture in a weird, psychedelic way. It was a bit surreal to walk around the room and sit in the furniture (as was encouraged).

After a few hours there, I moved onto the Brandhorst Museum across the street. Although slightly smaller, this museum reminded me of the AGO in the way the art was curated amongst the cedar wood floors. The basement was extremely weird but pretty cool, with all these small chambers showing experimental films. I especially loved a room that displayed all sorts of generative chance art, with a ‘painting’ by Andy Warhol (urine oxidized on a sheet of copper). The museum unfortunately did not allow photography (but I snuck some anyway).

The two museums (and others as well) share the same field. It reminded me of a university campus.

After that, I got a little cookie cake pastry and took a small detour to see the hotel I stayed in about five years ago - Hotel Antares. It looked very different from the last time, but I remembered the Thai restaurant across the street and knew I was in the right place. Some images of my stroll:

I ate my cookie cake and walked into the English Gardens. There were some kids feeding bread to the ducks. by the pond, which was nice to watch.

This pond happened to be right behind the Museum der Kunst, which was the secret goal of my trip. I had visited this museum in a haste during my last trip because we were in the middle of a city-wide scavenger hunt. The gift shop was cool and so was the art in the foyer, but I was running out of time and kind of museum-ed out by this point. I walked around the lobby for a minute and then left to go to the Eishbachwelle - this crazy little surf wave in the middle of the city where surfers go and their fans sit on the bank to watch them.

I actually remembered it from the last time I had been to the city. I sat there for a bit, and then walked to the Lehel subway stop to go to Karlsplatz because I hadn't seen it yet and felt it was the last main subway stop to see. I also got a McDonalds weisswurst sandwich (because how could I not?!) and walked along the shopping district back toward Marienplatz.


It tasted like it looks.

I checked out the east and south sides of Victualsmarket on my way back to the synagogue for 6:00 on the dot.

It was about five minutes past 6:00 when I began to wonder what was going on. These huge old doors of the synagogue were not opening, and I knew from this morning that there were no other doors. Finally, I decided to go and speak to the security guard to understand what was going on. He ushered me into the community centre, asked me a bunch of questions about why I was there, was I Jewish, how active was I in the Jewish community in Toronto, and took my driver's license. He pushed me through a metal detector, and directed me down a set of stairs.

All of a sudden, I was in a hallway filled with names, which I concluded to be the names of Holocaust Victims. I walked down the hallway and up the stairs on the other side, when it clicked. I had gone through an underground tunnel to get to the synagogue! This was incredible. I was so stupefied that I almost walked into the men's section of the temple. Big no-no. I found my way to the women's area on top and sat down in the back to watch the services. Since it was a Sunday night, the place was pretty empty...about 30 people total.

How to put on tefillin (in German!)

The place was simply beautiful. An ancient stone and brick shell, emptied out from the inside and outfitted with modern maple wood and a glass ceiling of tessellated triangles to make a million stars of David superimposed on the heavens. I was able to watch the sky change colours through the ceiling as the sun set, which in itself was an otherworldly experience.

At first I thought this was an Orthodox synagogue, but then two women came in to sit beside me who were wearing pants. So I didn't know what to think. Then, as they would not shut their mouths during the entire service, I realized they were tourists like me (only more rude).

So I moved down closer to the cantor to hear him sing better, and realized that they were singing a song I knew from my own synagogue in Toronto – Adon Olam. I sang along and it was quite nice. After services concluded and many of the men had shaken hands and left, I felt it would be alright to take a few photos of the interior (without flash of course) from my seat in the women's area. As soon as I had taken three photos, a man ran over to me and began reprimanding me for doing this. I tried to explain that I thought the synagogue was beautiful and wanted to share it with my friends in Canada, but he wouldn't listen to me. So I left. At least I didn't talk through the whole service, so I didn't count myself as terrible as those ladies.

I cooled myself off a little and walked back to Marienplatz to watch some very talented buskers, and then took the subway  one last time to Sendlinger Tor. On my friend's recommendation, I got a Bazi box (all the traditional Bavarian food inside a Chinese takeout box) and went home to pack and go to sleep.

See? So many talented buskers in this city. What a great way to end my trip.

This was a wonderful few days in Munich, and I was so happy to have the opportunity to go back and visit again. Next time though, I'll be sure to visit during Oktoberfest of course!