Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Frankie Cosmos, Healing Wounds & Honest Ed's

Weekly Update 2017-09: The beautiful angelic voice of Frankie Cosmos, thinking about how time heals all wounds, and saying farewell to Honest Ed's. For the last time.

Music: Frankie Cosmos
AKA Greta Kline, Frankie Cosmos has a new place in heart as the sweetest little female singer/songwriter with an angelic voice. I could coast on her music for hours at a time. It's kind of garagey, poppy, do-wop, you could hear it blasting from the speakers of Pop's Chok-lit shoppe on an episode of Riverdale. Take a listen below:

I can't wait to see her live, opening for Real Estate in May at the Danforth Music Hall :)

This past Sunday, I was waiting for my instructor to finish setting up his drums before the band could start playing. To my surprise, he asked me to lead the band until he was ready! What an amazing opportunity. I know the beats really well now, after about a year of playing, so I was able to do it without much difficulty. Even the rest of the band was impressed! I'm happy to mark this as a milestone in my career with the band, going from nothing to leading in only a short year.

On top of that, the beginner class, who's only been playing together since September, will be playing a real show, marching in the Easter Parade this year! I can't believe that I'll finally be performing with my repique in only a few weeks.

This week I'll still be focusing on FriendCanoe, and organizing my photos.

Random Thought: Time Heals All Wounds
I did something embarrassing this weekend. I'd rather not even say what it was. But the whole ordeal, which seemed like a big deal at the time, honestly seems like nothing only three days later. I started to think about why this change in my mood had happened.

I am naturally an analyst of all sorts of things, I like to turn ideas and thoughts over and over in my mind until I understand them from all angles. So when I think about how time heals all wounds, I feel like any situation can be understood or at least accepted with time and analysis.

I wasn't always like that, though. I used to try to avoid bad feelings by shutting those sorts of thoughts out of my mind. Instead of thinking about why a bad situation happened or what I could do to avoid making the same mistakes, I would try to forget about it completely and hope that it wouldn't repeat itself. I suppose you could say that time healing all wounds applies to this situation as well. Humans have the divine gift of being able to forget about situations that make us feel uncomfortable, which can be healing.

It seems obvious to me now that while either approach to getting over grief/loss will be somewhat effective, it's definitely better to fully embrace my feelings while they are fresh, understand, take note, and move on. We are rarely afforded the opportunity to change our actions, but we can always use mistakes as opportunities to grow. And I feel like I am starting to master this idea. Even if it's in a small way.

Inspiration: A Farewell to Honest Ed's
This weekend was the grand finale party for the closing of a neighbourhood landmark that has held a special place in my heart since I was young. Honest Ed's was the most wonderful department store, filled as much with whimsy as it was filled with affordable goods for the middle and lower classes of Toronto. Many immigrants to the city would shop there because it carried almost everything you could need, and the prices were always kept competitive. Over many visits, I have purchased my favourite 3-pack of tube socks, the tube of toothpaste I am currently using, my first Christmas tree, and even held a Secret Santa scavenger hunt with friends in 2015.

This weekend was extremely cathartic for me, starting off with a free hour-long ukulele lesson held by the talented K-Funk and Lady Ree. There were sooooo many people there to learn Rent's Seasons of Love together, probably over 300. So many people in fact, that they all couldn't fit into the room. After the lesson, we all met together in the alley way to play together in a huge crowd.

Hey, I'm in this photo!

After that, I returned with my roommate to check out the art maze. What an excellent use of the building! Not only did many of the unsold items in the store make it into their own creative art pieces, but the administrative offices were also opened up to visitors (which I had never been inside before). The whole thing was delicious eye candy, and we definitely got lost more than once.

I'll miss you, Honest Ed's. Ever since I started going downtown on my own, I have always loved the vibe of the Annex. And what's more annex-oriented than Honest Ed's? There'll never be another one like you.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Boring Designer

Once in a while, I stop to think about all the products I'm using on a daily basis and which of them provide the best experience to me. Why are they so pleasurable to use? What makes them that way? Over and over, it's the same reason: they're simple. In the same way that visual design has become minimal and stripped of everything that is not essential, so too have the best products and apps become something immediately easy to understand and use, and that's what makes them so successful.

How do these sorts of products come into creation? What sort of designer might think about making a product such as this? A product so simple that some people may wonder at its existence, but to a percentage of the population its use is as natural as breathing.

This designer is someone who cares more for function than form, and is a constant believer in killing one's darlings. This designer does not stubbornly clasp to their ideas at the cost of the overall experience, nor do they try to reinvent the wheel.

This designer understands that the user needs their product to function and they need it to function well. It should get a specific job done quickly and efficiently. It should do one thing, and do it well. This type of designer is someone we might venture to call ‘boring’.

I read an amazing article by Cap Watkins about the importance of the boring designer. He puts it brilliantly; a designer should:
  • Choose obvious over clever
    Don't show off, always go with the simplest and easiest solution to universally understand
  • Rarely stand their ground
    Try every idea, as the right one may be disguised in a suggestion that seems strange
  • Be practical
    Prioritize, understand your limitations of time, budget, etc.
  • Value laziness
    Be efficient, set yourself up for success by doing things right the first time. Measure ten times, cut once.
  • Lead the team
    These traits may not seem like those of a leader, but they are actually the stuff of a designer who is trusted over and over again to put the user first.
Quite an excellent read for young product designers, especially when designing for places like Dribbble, where visuals of product design are often prized over real solutions to problems.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Keyboard Meetups, Memory & Randy Cano

Weekly Update 2017-08: Attending a mechanical keyboard meetup in the basement of a craft beer bar near my house, an amazing tofu sandwich, and the unbelievable work of Randy Cano.

Music: Cigarettes After Sex
Quite a provocative name you've got for a band there. Well, I suppose it sort of works, as this band produces a sound that is consistently calming and perfect for listening to on grey, rainy days when you don't want to leave your house. Which actually was not the case for me on this lovely, sunny Family Day weekend, though their sound is excellent nonetheless.

Classified as ambient pop out of Brooklyn, I suppose the draw of the music is that it seems really genuine to me. I feel like I can imagine the people that the songs are written for, and they are people who deserve to have songs written about them. Anyway, before I jump off a huge tangent, take a listen.

I'm so happy to get the FriendCanoe project up and running again. I met up with Sasha last week to discuss our next steps, and I'll be digging back into it this week.

I spent this long weekend exploring not one but two abandoned buildings on a whim, which led to a rather nice set of images in a cold, empty community pool changing room. Some real hipster stuff right there.

I also ate an amazing tofu sandwich while brunching with a friend at Bloomer's on Bloor, which is noteworthy because I would like to eat many, many more of them. I might be becoming a tofu fiend.

On a different sort of whim, I also attended a mechanical keyboard meetup in the basement of Wenona Craft Beer Lodge, which was quite an experience. Imagine a small room filled with nerds (meant only in the most loving of ways of course), showing off their homemade DIY keyboards outfitted with RGB LEDs, custom 3D printed key caps with all sorts of lovely textures and shapes on them, and weird angled keys that are supposedly more ergonomic. It was quite a display. More on that in a future post, as it was quite a time. Here's a teaser:

I also worked on cleaning my hard drive so I can be a real human with good skills. The simple task of organizing all my photos has taken quite a while, but at least they're all in the same place now.

This week I'll be working on a better, less extreme colour scheme for FriendCanoe, and finishing the organization of all of my photos. I'd say there's about another hour of work to do there (the pictures from my China trip are a mess).

Random Thought:
I've been feeling rather low on memory fuel lately. It's been happening a lot, so I started to think about memory and memory loss. I realized that old people like to tell stories because it shows that they're still with it and their brains still work. It's a mini brag accomplishment.

Maybe that's why I like to tell stories? I know for sure that I am a nostalgia addict so perhaps the two are connected somehow.

Inspiration: Randy Cano
I honestly can't even remember how I found this amazing motion designer on Instagram, but you MUST follow him.

A post shared by Randy Cano (@randy.cano) on

Weird, sometimes a little scary, and always wiggly, the works of Randy Cano are the epitome of surprise and delight. They seem like they're real, but really everything is made digitally. Which somehow makes it even more weird? Check out more:

A post shared by Randy Cano (@randy.cano) on

A post shared by Randy Cano (@randy.cano) on

And what's more, his website has even more awesome stuff on it. Specifically, a sort of vending machine for Essie nail polish is quite lovely. And I could definitely see it being used at an airport. The perfect place to try out a new colour while you wait for your plane, and then you have the bottle for touch-ups when you reach your sunny destination.

Genius! Follow him on Instagram.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Vallens, Fidgety Hands & Diana Scherer

Weekly Update 2017-07: Let the powerful sounds of Vallens take you on a journey while I muse over the advent of fidget toys and the beautiful plant-root art of Diana Scherer.

Music: Vallens
It's that time of year again: the Wavelength Series is coming back to town, celebrating its 17th year. I love these events, especially because they feature some awesome indie bands you've never heard of, and also because tickets run as cheap as $3. It's a wonder.

Playing alongside one of my favourite bands TOPS tomorrow night at the Garrison is an excellent dreamy shoegaze garage rock piece called Vallens. Lots of rock explosion and looming bass rhythms on this one, and a healthy dose of strong female vocals from lead singer Robyn Phillips reminds me of acts like Braids, The Julie Ruin, and even Portishead at times. This music is more of what the world needs right now, and I am so stoked to see them live tomorrow.

I have begun prepping notes on my Chai Mitzvah research on Passover (since that's the next big Jewish holiday). During my meeting with my mentor at the synagogue, a member asked us if we would join the evening services to make minion, which I have never really been part of before. That was kinda cool.

I also had a meeting with my Friend Canoe partner, and we will be getting the wheels turning on that project in the coming weeks.

I've also been practicing my repique skills like crazy, so much so that my instructor actually complimented me in class on Sunday! The pride.

I'd like to continue my work on my blog this weekend, and join the city in celebrating the closing of Honest Ed's. I'll be going to a ukulele workshop there on Saturday morning, and exploring a maze in the skeleton of the store in the afternoon.

Random Thought:
On the subject of designing one's life and moving through a process of trial-and-error until the perfect processes to match one's needs are discovered, I have done it again.

Let's rewind to about five years ago: I was sitting on the subway and feeling rather fidgety. I noticed something out of the corner of my eye: a man was playing with what appeared to be a baby toy, all colourful and plastic. At first it seemed strange, but then I realized that it would be perfect for my fidgety hands. I also have an annoying habit of picking at my cuticles when I am stressed, so I thought it might help with that as well.

After some research, I found that the item is called a Tangle Toy and eventually procured my own.

Mine is a little less baby-looking as it is made of a shiny silverish metal. This makes it heavier than the plastic version, and so I was faced with another problem: remembering to take it with me and feeling like the value it provides is worth the weight it possesses. Every ounce matters when you've got a history of back problems.

I can honestly say it took me five years to reach the perfect solution: I realized the other day that I could simply loop it onto the strap of my purse so it would be out of the way but always accessible, look like a cool keychain, and not feel too much heavier than the weight of my purse alone. I know this is a small win, but I'm going to celebrate it anyway.

On the subject of toys for fidgety hands, there is definitely a growing market. A very successful Kickstarter launched recently for the Fidget Cube, which is a similar idea in the form of (you guessed it) a cube. Each side has a different arrangement of buttons, switches, rotators and the like to keep your hands busy. Personally, I am a simple human so I prefer the tangle toy, but to each their own.

Inspiration: Interwoven by Diana Scherer
Every week, I try to find something both scientific and joyful to post to Facebook. It's the kind of content that can break someone free of the monotony of bad news we've been experiencing lately, and it's just plain fun to discuss interesting things that are not political.

Diana Scherer is an Amsterdam-based German artist, currently exploring how the sensitive roots of plants can be molded and shaped into intricate, man-made forms. Some of them are particularly breathtaking.

An entire rug made out of grass roots. I can't imagine how cool this would feel on my toes.

I like the idea of shaping natural processes to better show off the beauty that already exists in them. All it takes is another perspective to uncover the delights in life. We could all use a bit more delight.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Blog Redesign: Visual Composites

After a lengthy post relating to the treatment of the typography in my blog redesign, I got to work on breathing some life into the original wireframe designs. There were many things to consider, even down to the treatment of the drop-cap (or alternative styling) in the first line of each post.

Twelve options here, and these were only the ones I screenshotted!

As for specific typefaces, I decided to go with Montserrat for my headings. It's clean and bold, with just the right amount of personality not to be overbearing. And to be honest, the ampersand grew on me. For the body copy, I'm still torn between Vollkorn and Domine. Check them out:

1) Homepage

The real defining factor here is the navigation. The first thing you see at the top of the page is the most recent posts of all topics, but how do you filter by topic? On the left, you can select a topics from the dropdown menu while on the right side, you select a topic along the nav bar. This will get messy if there are more than five topics or on a smaller screen, so the dropdown seems better. Under that, the right side actually has a featured little area for topics, which is arguably unnecessary.

The other difference is the treatment of the archive. The right side depicts your normal archive separated by month, but the left side is more of a timeline format in order to see the frequency and topics of posts over time. I'll obviously be going with this method if I can get the coding to work properly.

And lastly, I was experimenting with a word cloud of all my posts at the bottom of the homepage, to determine how often a word is used. This can give users a snapshot into what the blog is generally about. Again, I need to see if this is actually technologically possible for me to code.

2) Post Page

As I mentioned before, the drop cap caused me some issues, but I think I've got it mostly sorted out now. Also, I need to figure out some jQuery for some simple interaction on the post page, such as a photo selector, photo viewer, and sharing to Facebook or Twitter with preloaded content, as well as a commenting section. 

A friend mentioned that he doesn't feel comments are necessary on a blog these days, with the advent of social media. There really are better ways to get in touch with me than through a barren comments section at the bottom of a post, but on the other hand it lacks the forum in which readers may interact with each other. Though that has rarely happened in the lifetime of my blog. Perhaps I should disable commenting altogether? I haven't decided yet.

In our next episode: we discuss the perils of coding this bad boy and making everything functional.

Pacosan, Coding & The Red Turtle

Weekly Update 2017-06: Buying a record based on the album art, the gradual degradation of quality of work over a night of coding, and watching the new Studio Ghibli movie at the TIFF Lightbox.

Music: Pacosan
I was strolling the aisles of Sonic Boom this weekend and actually ended up buying a record. This is pretty surprising because I don't own a record player, but I liked the album art so much that $4.00 was worth the price of whatever this thing might sound like. I have since downloaded the album from Spotify, and it's pretty good. All I need is a 12" square record frame to display it in.

Pretty dreamy, right?

The process of coding my blog has begun! I have completed the component for home page posts, which was pretty easy (though it did take some time to get started). I also added SCSS to my portfolio, but haven't actually moved my existing stylesheets yet. That'll be a task in itself.

I also finally got a shoe organizer for my closet door. It is the MOST organized. Here's a picture of it.

I haven't yet begun my report for my company to send me to Vancouver, so that'll be happening this week.

I also have some free time this weekend so I'll be continuing the code for my blog.

Random Thought: Coding
As I was working on my blog code last week, I realized that over time, your brain slowly begins to shut down. It takes a varying amount of time depending on the person and the project, but every once in a while when I would take a break, I noticed how intensely tired it was making me.

Coding often feels like a naturally fluctuating process: you take an hour to figure something out which almost always seems obvious from the other side. Then you spend 15 minutes tweaking it to be exactly what you want. Rinse and repeat. The process is somewhat gruelling.

I wonder if there's a way to counteract this somehow. I know that it's important to stand up and walk around at regular intervals during desk-based work, but that only really helps with the physical problems. What about my poor strained mind?

Inspiration: The Red Turtle
A new release from Studio Ghibli, I came across the listings for this movie by chance while perusing the TIFF website. It's quite a different sort of movie from the likes of Spirited Away or Kiki's Delivery Service.

First of all, the animation style is a departure from the classic Ghibli style to which I am accustomed. Ink-dot eyes and subtle noses bring to mind the works of Tintin. The film actually begins with a Studio Ghibli logo against a bright and rosy red background instead of the usual sky-blue – signalling the film is not part of the Ghibli canon, but a co-production. In fact, this is the first ever co-production of the studio, commissioned after Father and Daughter by the London-based Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit (who is also the director of The Red Turtle)

While quite the departure from the usual Ghibli classic, this movie did not disappoint in the true Ghibli way of storytelling through subtle visuals. The film is actually devoid of any verbal language at all, apart from the rare exclamation. This allows for the unspoken story to truly shine along with the beautifully crafted backdrops of gem-blue ocean, bright green forests and hazy grey skies.

This film is absolutely worth seeing on a big screen to envelop oneself in the world created by Dudok de Wit, a tiny tropical island upon which a man has become shipwrecked. I really don't want to tell you any more than that except to go and experience it yourself.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

MailChimp: Did You Mean...

As I have mentioned before, I am a big fan of MailChimp. They take a seemingly boring product (email marketing) and breathe life into it with a lovely tone of voice in their copy, empty states, success messages, and more. Just check out their awesome confirmation state for the moment before you send your campaign out into the world:

The sweaty monkey hand understands that this is a big step for you and acknowledges that.

I first noticed an ad for something called “Fail Chips” on my instagram feed yesterday, and while I do love me some potato chips, I didn't think much of it because I try to block out the advertisements that sneak into my vision.

Then today, Fail Chips hit me again on Designer News, when someone posted about its site design (which is actually amazing). 

Fail Chips are actually the little chip crumbs at the bottom of the bag that you slide into your mouth by angling the bag over your face. So now, you simply cut a little hole in the bag and it becomes a no-mess, one-handed snack! Amazing.

Did you note that little monkey printed on the chip at the bottom of the screenshot? I sure did. It was at this moment that I realized Fail Chips are actually a marketing ploy from MailChimp to promote its new marketing system. Seriously, amazing.

If you head over to MailChimp's main marketing page for the new product, you'll see lots of different ‘alternative spellings’ of the brand, including MailShrimp, NailChamp, MaleCrimp and more. Each of these is an actual website with some sort of fun product like short films, a weekly contest for rating the best fingernail designs, and a site dedicated to men who crimp their hair like it's the early 2000s.




“Looking for FailChips, WhaleSynth, MaleCrimp, MailShrimp, VeilHymn, KaleLimp, or JailBlimp? Officially, we're MailChimp, but you can call us whatever.”

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, MailChimp.

I am amazed at how this company consistently succeeds to surprise and delight in everything they do. I urge you to check out the rest of the ad campaigns, which are extremely hilarious. See them here.