Monday, September 25, 2017

Giraffatitan, Brockmire & Patagonia's Worn Wear

Weekly Update 2017-39: Psychedelic sounds from Toronto-based Giraffatitan, the cross-viewership of IFC's Brockmire, and Patagonia's stance on bringing new life to old clothing.

Music: Giraffatitan
From the band's website, "Music from the Late Jurassic Period". Literally meaning "giant giraffe", this band is not to be missed. If you like stoner psychedelia that picks you up and takes you on a magic ride of sound, look no further. And they're based in Toronto, which is even cooler. Take a listen below:

I have been lucky enough to see this band play before, and their live show is really nice. Wish you could see them tonight? Well, you can! They're playing as part of a public birthday party-turned-concert at the Smiling Buddha tonight. Details here.

After a summer of back-to-back shows, tons of hours of practices and a team-bonding camping trip, my drumming band TDot Batu has won the award for best Afro-Brazilian Drumming band in the 2017 Caribbean Music Awards! It's so wonderful to see that other people love what we do as much as we do. I really put my heart and soul into playing with the band and this is just the cherry on top of a glorious summer spent having fun with a group of amazing people I call friends.

It's getting closer and closer to the date of my bat mitzvah! I'm currently hard at work writing my D'Var Torah, the speech I will present that relates to my learnings of the torah portion and my year of study. It's coming along well, but I am happy to have an appointment at the synagogue tomorrow to work further on it.

The communication workshop How To Talk To People About Things is also going well after two classes. I've started to use some of the lessons I learned in the class in real life, especially about being forward about what you want. I tend to focus more on maintaining a good relationship with the other person, and as a result I can cheat myself out of getting what I want because I don't want to cause issues. Here's what happened:

I very rarely use Uber, but I needed one very early in the morning last week. As soon as I opened the door, the driver exclaimed a loud and cheery good morning to me. I understand he was probably up much earlier than me and really jacked on coffee, but how can someone expect others to appreciate this kind of behaviour so early in the morning? The radio was also blasting rather loudly, so I considered a possible way that I might get to nap during the ride as I originally intended. I took the most direct approach possible, and stated, "It's still pretty early for me, I'm going to take a nap. I know you'll pick the best route, that's all you, man!" The driver was very nice and immediately turned off the radio completely, even though I didn't mention the radio at all.

The "compromise" - letting the driver be in charge of his route - was partially also related to a sketch I saw recently on Portlandia about how to get a five-star Uber rating, so big shoutout to that show for helping as well. Success!

I've been sitting on a couple of simple app ideas for a while, that could be a simple day-long exercise for me to practice working out ideas quickly and efficiently in a set timeframe. This week I'll be writing out the brief for such an exercise, and completing the exercise on Thursday. I think I've narrowed down the idea to either a travel packing app, or a data manager for iOS 11 (since Android has such a wonderful one ALREADY BUILT IN).

I'd also really like to get something together to enter into the 4th Annual Swash & Serif exhibition, which focuses on typographic pieces. I check out the work every year and since I have some creative time on my hands, why not put it into something with a high profile? I have about three weeks to make something really good, so let's see what I can come up with.

Random Thought: Brockmire
Always a champion of the underdog (when it comes to television, anyways), I have found my new favourite show. Starring Hank Azaria (master-level voice actor of The Simpsons fame) and Amanda Peet, the show is fast-paced, witty enough to be watched at least twice through, and pokes dark fun at many complex problems faced by lower-class Americans today.

Jim Brockmire (Azaria) is a disgraced major league baseball announcer, ten years later trying to remake his former glory by announcing for a minor league team owned by Jules James (Peet). James is a resourceful, quirky and charming woman who is surprisingly able to hold her own against Brockmire's stinging witticisms and drunken bouts of depression as they try to bring the hicktown Morristown Frackers (yep, that's their team name) out of the minor leagues and into the homes and hearts of America.

Much as I really don't care at all about baseball, I think the real beauty of the show is its ability to provide something for a diverse cross-section of viewers. The baseball content is accurate and smart (from what I'm told), and there is some slapstick/f-bomb-dropping humour, but the balance of smart and dumb comedy with dark themes and the inner struggles of each of the main characters is what draws me in and keeps me hooked. And if you know anything about Hank Azaria's voice and delivery, you know you'll be rolling on the floor laughing. Especially the season finale (no spoilers ahead) had me laughing out loud almost through the whole thing, and left me on such a cliffhanger that I won't be satisfied until the next season comes out next year.

Inspiration: Worn Wear by Patagonia
As I approach 250 five-star reviews on the Bunz Trading Zone app, it's no secret that I am a big fan of  the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra. I am excited to see that larger companies are also taking part in the effort to reduce waste and lower our carbon footprint. Patagonia has launched a program called Worn Wear wherein customers can exchange their used Patagonia merchandise for a credit towards something new (or new-to-them) from the store.

This donated clothing is then cleaned and restored to better-than-new condition and resold at a lower price by Patagonia on their Worn Wear online store. This cycle is one that all clothing companies should follow, and I think Patagonia executed it quite well. They discuss the idea of sharing stories and memories associated with each item, and that giving the pieces new life allows their stories to continue.

Of course, if your item breaks or tears and you don't want to let it go, Patagonia also provides extensive care and repair instructions on their website. They even sell a cute little sewing kit for fixes on-the-go!

Learn more about the program here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Thee Oh Sees, Selfie Sticks & How To Talk To People About Things

Weekly Update 2017-38: Nostalgic garage psych-rock from California's Thee Oh Sees, a better use for selfie sticks, and Misha Glouberman's How To Talk To People About Things.

Music: Thee Oh Sees
This band is a weird one. The only consistent thing about Thee Oh Sees is the frontman John Dwyer, constantly changing the name with his mood. Originally called OCS during the post-millenium psych/rock/garage resurgence, the band has since seen many names such as Orinoka Crash Suite, Orange County Sound, and more. The constant band names seem to match their erratic sound and thrashing guitar licks. Somehow it all comes together into a style of music that's great for heandbanging or chopping vegetables to.

Check out Carrion Crawler/The Dream, my favourite release of theirs.

And a bonus: I guess Wikipedia generates these cool little charts representing all the changes of the band's members. I especially appreciate the fact that the band consistently employs two drummers at once now. Gotta have a strong percussive presence.

Last week I applied for the Emerging Designer Competition held by the Design Exchange, and started planning my experience for the Exhibition for Design, Information and Technology coming up at the end of the month. I'm really excited about all the cool stuff that the Design Exchange is doing at the moment.

I also finally joined the Slack group for DesignX, Toronto's newest (and seemingly most communicative) design-related group. It's nice to have a place to share ideas, get feedback, and chat with other designers. You can find more about DesignX and join the Slack group here.

This week, I'm going to attempt to begin the process of setting up a file to 3D print. I'll be checking out the Fort York Library on Wednesday, so hopefully I'll be able to get some guidance there if I run into any issues.

Random Thought: Selfie Sticks
Ever since my first encounter with a selfie stick, I have constantly thought that they were basically useless beyond being a symbol of the vapid turn that first-world society has become.

Then, I noticed some kids skateboarding in the park with selfie sticks to record their tricks. After watching one of those videos, I think there is a hidden potential that we haven't yet uncovered. Much in the same way that GoPros provide an interesting new first-person POV for viewers of film, so too does the selfie stick. Take this video for example:

The angle that is produced by a skateboarder holding a selfie stick while they skate around, provides the perfect way to understand how a body must move to retain balance and perform tricks. This view is much more helpful for me to understand how to actually balance on a skateboard, than say, another person filming it from a few feet away. 

I wonder what other activities could benefit from selfie-stick filming to better understand how they're done. 

Inspiration: How To Talk To People About Things
You may have read my ramblings about Trampoline Hall on this blog before. The host, a very exuberant and charismatic Misha Glouberman, glides around the stage with feet and words, moderating and attending to questions and keeping the room somewhat under control. He is very, very good at this job, so I jumped at the chance to be a part of his own lecture series/workshop on effective communication, cheekily entitled How To Talk To People About Things.

I've attended one class so far out of the total six, and it's shaping up to be a very interesting class. I especially admire the diversity of the people in attendance, mostly women but from completely different backgrounds and walks of life beyond that. Further, within only one class, we have become comfortable enough with each other to promise a certain level of openness that I think will be the only way to ensure we all meet the goals we want to achieve for the class.

Beyond that, it's kind of nice to come back to a classroom setting after being out of school for so long. Call me crazy but when fall hits the trees, I find myself sometimes longing for a pencil and an uncomfortable school desk. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Preoccupations, Company Parties & Rick and Morty

Weekly Update 2017-37: Calgary-based Preoccupations rep the Canadian post-punk scene, how to sense the cultural climate of a company in a short amount of time, and finally falling victim to the awesomeness of Rick & Morty.

Music: Preoccupations
This band ran into some political trouble earlier in their career when they were denied shows because of their original band name as Viet Cong. The four-piece post-punk outfit from Calgary, Alberta has earned some mixed notoriety since their 2014 creation. All that aside, I think their music is extremely intricate, moreso with each listen. It's layered, it's textured, and one of their songs was featured in a dream I had last night. Literally not joking.

Check out the dream song Continental Shelf along with Bunker Buster, my original favourite and the first song I heard from the band.

Two big things this week – I'm starting the first class in the series called “How To Talk To People About Things” tomorrow night, and I couldn't be more excited. I've already completed the homework due next week because I am a keener. This series is a six-class workshop on better communication, taught by Misha Glouberman, the host of my favourite lecture series Trampoline Hall. I have always admired the way he fills a stage, makes a bashful yet pleasantly familiar stage character (though maybe that's how he is in real life?), and connects on a genuine level with guest speakers. I suppose the other accomplishment here is that I was accepted into the class, which must be difficult considering this was my second try for a spot. Luckily, my roommate was also accepted into the class and will be taking it with me.

The other thing is that I'm almost ready for my bat mitzvah! I've been studying my torah portion, as well as preparing my speech for the big day. The other two ladies and myself have the first of three rehearsals before we “perform” on October 11, so it's really getting close!

As mentioned above, I have a busy day tomorrow with the first in a series of instruction for both the communication workshop and my bat mitzvah, as well as further prep throughout the week.

I'm also going to check out Fort York library on Thursday, so maybe I can look into the 3D Printing facilities before then. That'll be ambitious, though.

Random Thought:
It can be difficult to sense the emotional/social climate of a company during a short visit. I've been meeting for coffee with various other designers in similar industries to mine, and taking note of the culture and cultural nuances of their offices. I would assume this to be helpful in sensing the cultural fit of an interview candidate with a team, so it's a good skill to have. It's sort of like reading people, but on a larger scale.

With startups and creative spaces, I've been noticing that cultural feel of a company often relates most reliably to its size, much like a house party. With only a few employees, the company is controlled, comfortable, everyone is on a first-name basis. Once a company passes the 100-employee mark, you may not even know what the party is being thrown for, or almost anyone there. You could bring a friend and no one would even notice.

Inspiration: Rick & Morty
After over two years of resistance, I got hooked on Rick & Morty this weekend. I feel like there are so many people still in the boat I just jumped out of, those who might say the show is too provocative or there's too much yelling and burping and farting. But this wacky cartoon on Adult Swim about a crazy, sadistic, super intelligent scientist and his jelly-spined grandson is much more than meets the eye.

Once you get three episodes in, you'll realize that under all the burps and fart jokes lies a few brilliant features of an extremely smart television show.

1) The art style is familiar, yet fresh
There's definitely a Simpsons/Futurama vibe here, but the attention to detail in some of the episodes is really insane. Especially character design, such as in the episode Total Rickall in which about 50 or so new characters are created, all with backstories of varying plausability:

There's also an amazing sequence created by 22 animators that showcases the two main characters in all sorts of situations on an LSD trip. It's bananas.

Check out the whole video below, and more about the project here.

2) The science of each episode is (somewhat) realistic
Yep, much of the science of the show, while extremely far-fetched most of the time, can usually be explained by some real scientific theory. From the way Pickle Rick was able to manipulate a cockroach's brain to which type of ant made up the superhero Million Ants, the show actually teaches us lessons about singularity, the universe, physics, chemistry, and the odd really obscure comedy reference as well.

Heck even this Comic Con special featuring the show's writers on the science of the show taught me a bunch of new things:

3) Character development
Yep, even with all the new and glorious worlds we can explore through Rick's spaceship, we still get to see how his dysfunctional family deals with his sadistic personality and each other. I honestly haven't seen such beautiful (and at times profoundly dark) character-driven storytelling in many other television shows, much less a cartoon show with so much gratuitous burping. There are lots of great articles around the internet attempting to explain the complex personalities of the show's main characters, including pity-inducing fail-father Jerry and ego-stricken, abandonment issues-riddled Beth.

With all that, not to mention the dark side of the internet I darenot go, where the Rick & Morty fandom is incredibly strong, this show is really going where no other show has gone before. I can't believe how addicted I've become!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Photay, Mobile-First Design & The 10 And 3

Weekly Update 2017-36: Interesting and eclectic beats from NY-based Photay, the benefits of mobile-first design, and Canadian data-driven stories from the 10 and 3.

Music: Photay
It's been a while since I've been impressed enough with an opening act that I blog about them. Photay opened for Bonobo last week at the Danforth Music Hall and I am still stuck playing his music on repeat. It's a lovely mix of (mostly) electronic beats with some great instrumentals mixed in. And another bonus - hardly any lyrics make for great concentration music.

Check out Reconstruct, Illusion of Seclusion and No Sass.

Another successful weekend of camping! Main accomplishments include pitching a tent that didn't fall over or leak during a windy rainstorm on Saturday night (shoutout to my friends who had a tent fall on them in the middle of the night during the storm) and helping to construct a beautiful tent-shanty to protect our food and cooking from the rain. It made for a wonderful food-hall that reminded me of a mix between a farmer's market and a beer tent at Oktoberfest. We apparently had such a great party scene that people from a bunch of other campsites came to see our tent and party with us.

Over the weekend, it grew to about three times this size! It was truly a labour of love against the wind.

I also attended my second round of TODO Designer Drinks - though I do usually detest meetups, this one gave me a reason to bike over to the east side of town (across a bridge over the Don Valley!) and meet with some cool design people – including the lovely Stefanie and Rondie of Crrumb Design.

This week I'll be aiming to get another Arduino post out into the world, and making some updates to FriendCanoe before the next meeting.

I met a coordinator for Design Exchange at the meetup last night as well, and she told me about the extended deadline for the 2017 Emerging Designer Competition, which is free to enter. So I will probably apply to that as well.

Random Thought: Mobile-First Design
In many areas of design, it's common practice to design an experience for mobile before setting to work on the desktop version. These days it's quite common for people to use their phones as a primary source to view content on the internet, surpassing desktop experiences by more and more every day.

I believe that a good designer should embrace constraints, and what could be more constraining than fitting a ton of content into a tiny screen scarcely larger than a playing card? But if we can agree that any web-based experience should be clear and have a direct purpose, then I'd argue that a smaller screen is actually better suited to that purpose.

Fitting all the vast content from a desktop-based site into the tiny experience on a mobile version is nearly impossible, and probably not a great idea anyway. The restriction of the tiny amount of real estate can actually work positively to force the designer to strip away anything that isn't absolutely necessary. This challenge is the great task of design, and when done correctly, always improves the experience for the user. So why bother with all the extra features in "desktop versions" in the first place? Why not simply provide the exact same, simple, streamlined flow for both and do away with all those extra settings that no one ever touches anyway?

Inspiration: The 10 And 3
It's no secret that I love data. Infographics, data visualizations, using facts to make decisions and understand complex problems. I find data comforting. Especially when data is used to tell interesting and surprising stories.

The 10 And 3 is a website that does just that. Their mission is to tell compelling and unusual stories about Canada through maps, interactive charts and other interesting visualizations. Have you ever wanted to know about the various dialects and slang word usage across Canada? Or how about which Canadian movie stars make the most money? Or why strip clubs are taking a downturn into unpopularity in Canada in the last few years? This website covers all of it.

Having just traveled to Montreal, I can attest to the fact that many people refer to convenience stores (the usual slang here in Toronto) as depanneurs. It seems like the GTA is a constant outlier from the rest of Ontario in terms of slang, usually siding with mid-western Canada. It's interesting to look at maps like this and wonder about the cultural and geographical differences between places in such a vast country.

If you're a data nerd like me, check out more stories on their website.