Monday, December 25, 2017

Final Update for 2017!

Weekly Update 2017-52: I can't believe it's been three whole years of updates. Get ready for my annual best-of post!

Music: Disc Van
One of the pivotal events of my year was definitely my summer trip to Portland. I have a sneaking suspicion that Spotify is somehow tracking my Facebook posts because it happened to produce one of my all-time favourite playlists as the Discover Weekly for the week of my trip. I saved it as "Discover Vancouver" - or Disc Van for short, to sound edgy and include Portland (since I was visiting both cities, and Portland is known for small-space kooky living, such as in a van). Pretty lame, but the music remains really good. I occasionally add to it, but generally come back to it every month or so to reminisce about the cool people and food of that trip. Check it out and relive with me:

Featuring the bands of my summer: Ought, Part Time, Boris, Gonjasufi, Whitney and Preoccupations.

This year, I got a lot of things done. I did a number of things that really scared me like biking in the winter (and taking a fall like a champion), switching jobs (while taking a break in between), and making a lot of changes that I never really had the nerve to do before. I'd say the scariest thing was probably giving myself permission to take a break when I was pretty burnt out earlier this year. I focused on enjoying the summer and regaining my creative spark, and did a lot of other stuff:
  • Went to Osheaga in Montreal
  • Went fishing with my dad
  • Went camping with TDot Batu
  • Went to the nude beach on Toronto island
  • Took a class on communication skills with Erika (How To Talk To People About Things)
  • Wrote my D’var Torah, learned to chant Torah, and had my Bat Mitzvah
  • Celebrated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the synagogue with my family
  • Went to the Guillermo Del Toro exhibit at the AGO with my mom
  • Attended a bunch of design meetups
  • Had coffee chats with design people that I met at meetups
  • Visited a bunch of cool offices for interviews
  • Honed my interview skills (a lot)
  • Attended EDIT
  • Went to New York for Open House New York
While I still believe 2017 was a dumpster fire on a global scale, my year was pretty fulfilling and I have high hopes for 2018. I also cooked a lot of stuff, which I hope to continue next year!

Yes, it's an enamel pin by Hella Cool Kids :)

On a smaller scale, this week I have been cleaning the apartment like crazy for Erika's arrival back home (tonight). I've been organizing with some new systems and cooking too. I made a meat pie with a potato crust (it came to me in a dream):

My food pictures never turn out very well but this tasted amaaaazing.

Thinking about next year, I'd like to do a Trampoline Hall talk in 2018. Since I began attending the monthly event in 2016, I've always wanted to. I have been hesitant to ask Misha if he can pull some strings but since we're Facebook friends now, maybe it isn't such a big deal to ask. I think more public speaking ventures would be good for me in terms of honing my communication skills, not to mention the thought of doing it scares me. This means I know it would be a good growing experience.

This week, I'll be updating the typography and user experience of my blog, as much as I can anyway. In terms of the big blog redesign project, I am going to stick with the author-based interface I have for the moment. I don't have the patience or time at the moment to give that up in favour of a better reader-based experience. I would like to eventually tackle the bigger issue, but I'm thinking small and manageable for now.

I'm also going to make a lasagna! Because I make one every six months or so and it's just that time of year again. And yes, hearts of palm are definitely going on top again. Yum yum!

Random Thought:
I generated a word cloud for my most used words in Facebook stati (statuses?) this year. Considering I share all my blog titles as Facebook posts, it's an interesting look into the things I thought and wrote about this year.

This could make a good poem, just reading the words aloud in any random order.

Inspiration: The Art of Crowdsourcing Data
This has become increasingly true as time goes on: using data from real users of a product to influence and enhance its features and capabilities. Sort of like a chicken-and-egg theory, it's always best to use information gathered from users to make product-based decisions. Since it can be difficult to obtain this information via testing and interview procedures for various reasons, I have always loved the way some companies bake the user testing and monitoring into their products. Two birds with one stone: monitor product usage to understand behaviours.

And why do all of this? Because incorporating user data into meaningful product decisions is the difference between a good product and a great product.

Sometimes user data can do what other sources of information can't do with current infrastructure. Take the Transit App for example: inviting users to share their transit journey in real time with other riders so they know when the bus is coming.

And much like Nicolas Felton's annual reports, I'm attempting to catalog my life. I don't have a ton of personal data, but I do use the Moves app to log my cycling time this summer. I biked all the way from April 1 deep into December, pretty much until the first permanent snowfall. After downloading the .CSV files for 2017, I found that I burned 44,110 calories biking this year! And not one bit of it felt like work.

Well, it's been a sort of bumpy year but I think it turned out really nicely in the end. Here's to another year of weekly updates and thanks to you, the reader, for reading!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Manami Matsumae, Keener Critters & Junji Ito's Uzumaki

Weekly Update 2017-51: The penultimate update of the year brings the music of Manami Matsumae, delightfully Canadian messenger stickers and Uzumaki, the horrifically wonderful work of Junji Ito.

Music: Manami Matsumae
It's not very often that I come across a gem like this. Legendary producer of the original soundtrack for Mega Man and many video games following, the Tokyo-based composer has released an album showcasing her illustrious career so far. The title Three Movements encompasses the concept for the album: three separate sets of songs that are purposefully ordered in a way that showcases her career. The album as a whole is simply a masterpiece, with such contrasting styles of music flowing into each other so easily. Check it out below. And I really have to give a shoutout to the album art, which is equally beautiful (and contains three fields of colour to mimic the title!

I've got a serious list of food to make over the holiday, and I'm going to be meal prepping like crazy so that I don't have to prepare any food for the whole month of January. Okay, that's a bit insane, but it could happen.

I also took my bike in to get fixed, which wasn't as terrible an experience as I thought it might be. I was able to bike home from the shop, which was nice considering I haven't been able to bike in this darn weather since last Monday.

I'm hoping to bike to work one day this week, but that will really depend on the weather so it's more like a hope than a goal.

I'd also like to take out Anna Karenina from the library this week, to attempt to read as one of my Holiday goals.

Random Thought: Canadian Slang
I came across these cute and super Canadian Facebook stickers designed by Deshi Deng:

A puffin from Newfoundland that says Whaddya at b'y? What will they think of next?!

I have never been able to truly express myself through the medium of Facebook Messenger, until now. All of these are so Canadian. I especially like how there was some confusion over exactly what the Loon was holding/throwing out like chedda'. Read below:

Inspiration: Junji Ito
Through some slightly unnerving means, I have come into the temporary possession of a copy of Junji Ito's Uzumaki (Japanese for Spiral), a horror manga that is apparently quite horrific in both story and illustration style. Ito is a master of drawing imagery that unnerves the viewer, horrific looks on people's faces when they come to a realization that something terrible is happening to them and there is nothing they can do but accept it.

His work is very well received, but at the same time this book is so horrific and terrifying that it has made a friend of mine very upset to look at spirals.

I'll admit the scariness of this page isn't quite as strong in gif form (or on its own without context), but I did that on purpose. You're welcome.

I find the idea of horror very attractive but do not handle it well myself, so I try my best to avoid it. Being home alone with the book has only drawn me closer to it, though I promised myself that I would only read one chapter per day so as not to melt my brain into a puddle of fear.

Let's hope I don't become like mister eye-roller up there when I'm done.

Monday, December 11, 2017

2017 Wrapped, Smart Playlists & Benjamin Lory

Weekly Update 2017-50: Reviewing a year of music with Spotify's 2017 Wrapped, reminiscing about Smart Playlists, and the wonderful typography of Benjamin Lory.

Music: Spotify's 2017 Wrapped
In a similar fashion to 2016's year in review, Spotify has produced yet another interactive web experience for its users. People love to learn about their own habits (it's a form of narcissism, of course), and so the experience makes for an interesting trip down memory lane and a look at my year in music.

None of this is surprising.

I really do love Spoon. They've remained one of my favourite bands for a really long time, ever since I first heard I Turn My Camera On on an episode of Veronica Mars on CTV (Canada got the new episodes three days after the CW aired the premieres in the United States).

It's pretty cool that anyone with a Spotify account (free or paid) can access their own version of this experience chronicled from personalized data, I can see how it seems almost magical. It reminds me of how I used to make Smart Playlists in iTunes back in the day when I still used it. This is becoming more of a random thought, so read more on that below.

This weekend marked the fifth anniversary of my drumming band (which fell just before my personal second anniversary with the band). We played an amazing show in our rehearsal space, and honestly it might have been the best show I have ever performed. We sounded so incredibly good with our backup band, I played a huge cowbell-type instrument called a gonguĂȘ during Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel, we even played Salsa Percussiva without too many mistakes. On top of all that, I even got a great picture of me playing:

Occasionally my drumming face isn't terrible.

I had my first bike ride through a mild snowfall tonight, which was both scary and beautiful. I thought I would be clear to ride home before the streets became covered but it was too late. Good to know I can do it at least! Riding through Trinity Bellwoods was especially beautiful as the snow softly drifted onto my eyeballs and melted. Haha, sorry to be gross but honestly I got used to the feeling and it started to feel good after a few snowflakes. There may be something wrong with me.

I've been collecting ideas of things I want to accomplish during my week of winter holidays, and I'm hoping it'll be a productive week. I'd like to cook something fun, but I haven't come across the right recipe yet. I'll be on the hunt for some good recipes this week and collecting a list to go grocery shopping.

Random Thought: Smart Playlists
It's interesting to compare some of the exciting features of Spotify (my current music subscription service of choice) with the features of iTunes back in the day when I used it exclusively.

The current incarnation, Apple Music, doesn't produce the year-in-review feature for its users, but I find it interesting that its desktop app offers a much more robust system of analyzing and categorizing music and related habits than Spotify's desktop app.

Apple Music offers the Smart Playlist feature that will automatically create a playlist for you based on pretty much any detail or combination of details of your choosing, such as all songs with the word "love" in the title and released before 1975, or everything you listened to between 2:00AM and 7:30AM on every Friday between July of last year and today. Spotify curates the experience, but Apple Music offers more control to make your own experience. Based on Apple's product mantras for operating systems (like OSX or iOS) you'd think the role would be reversed.

Inspiration: Benjamin Lory
I have mentioned Trampoline Hall before on this blog, but if you haven't heard of it, don't get your hopes too high because it has nothing to do with trampolines. Instead of exercising your legs, you can exercise your brain at this monthly lecture series featuring three guest lecturers who speak about topics in which they are not professionals. Along with controversial Q&A periods that last as long as the lectures themselves, it makes for a good night out.

Alongside the sparkling and creative lectures are a different stage design and a different ticket design each month. The tickets are the first taste of what the event will be like, since they must be picked up from Soundscapes on College a few days before the event. They're always very interesting, and December's cohort was no exception.

Designed by Benjamin Lory, these seemingly random typographic arrangements are actually excerpts from the MC Misha Glouberman's introductory speech, which he strives to make "more and more the same" with each event. While I am a sucker for a good avant-garde (and slightly Dada) typographic composition, I was especially enamoured with these designs in the way they capture Misha's speaking style. He has an extremely toned way of addressing a crowd, the kind of tone that makes me laugh at the same joke every month for years.

Originally from France, Lory has immersed himself in the Toronto design community, especially with a wonderful project archiving and recreating street posters he found in Kensington Market. Lory posted the recreations around Kensington Market as a comment on the social fabric of the community. Called 100 Kensington Posters, check out some of the images below:

The original posters: Lory's inspiration for the project.

You can see something of a similarity between the Trampoline Hall tickets and this project. I like the roughness and stark communication style they both share. 100 Kensington Posters is really striking, I urge you to check it out on his website.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Quitters, Bluetooth Woes & Personal Kanban

Weekly Update 2017-49: Kathleen Edwards leaves us with a lovely album as she moves from music to coffee, the woes of a bad relationship with Bluetooth, and true inspiration from my friend's personal Kanban board.

Music: Kathleen Edwards
Not usually one for the Americana genre, this Ottawa-born folk singer caught my ear after reading a very interesting bit of entertainment news (another thing to which I don't usually subscribe). Edwards happened to strike up a relationship with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame after ending a five-year marriage with her former husband. She spent a number of months recording 2012's Voyageur at Vernon's studio in Wisconsin, only to break up after it was released. That doesn't take away from the strength of emotion that comes out of each song, though: some of loss, some of love, some of regret and joy. I think the sheer honesty is what draws me to it the most.

I especially like A Soft Place To Land, Mint and Change The Sheets.

This album is the newest musical release from Edwards yet it is almost six years old, as she has moved on from the musical life to open a coffee shop in Stittsville, Ontario (just outside of Ottawa). She named it Quitters Coffee, which I absolutely adore. Sometimes people change direction and it's okay to quit something if it's not right for you anymore. I think we've all experienced that at some point in our lives.

Kathleen Edwards sitting intensely on a table at her coffee shop Quitters Coffee.

Next time I'm in the Ottawa area, I'll definitely be checking out this coffee shop. Read more about Quitters Coffee in this Toronto Star article

I found a template for FriendCanoe emails but it has some issues with Outlook (no surprise there) so I'll be using it until I find something better. This week also marks seven weeks since I started my new job, which means I am more than halfway to health benefits and getting an eye exam. Ah, the things that make me excited as an adult are becoming really boring.

Well, here's a more fun thing - I attended the Christmas version of the Bunz flea this weekend and got some really amazing items:
  • A screenprinted bag and tea towel featuring my favourite moon (Earth's!)
  • Adventure Time Season 1 on DVD
  • a Jake plushie from the same show
  • two lovely handmade pins (one featuring an alpaca and the other a secret because it's a present for my sister)
  • ceramic T-Rex with a circular spot in its back for a candle
The ceramic T-Rex was a great trade because it originally belonged to a young boy (no older than eight years old?) who traded it to me for a pack of fat crayons that used to belong to my mother when she was a student. It was a really heartwarming moment.

Jake has also fit nicely into our home at the Noodle; he's already nestled comfortably into our Christmas tree.

This week, I'd like to wrap up all the gifts I've been collecting and dole them out. It seems a bit early in the season but this appears to be the weekend upon which gifts are exchanged between friends. And so it shall be!

I'd also like to find time to find a better email template, if such time exists on my calendar. I'll also be taking a first stab at a personal kanban board, probably on Thursday night. More on exactly what a kanban board is - found below in the Inspiration section.

Random Thought: Bluetooth Relationships
I have always had moderate trouble dealing with Bluetooth. I could never get my Bose Soundlink Mini to pair with my computer or phone without several attempts, turning things on and off, and even hard-resetting the speaker sometimes.

It was a big leap for me to buy Bluetooth earbuds, generally because I was really fed up with the cord of my headphones getting caught on things (especially TTC turnstiles and my scarf) and because I had a $90 Apple store gift card burning a hole in my pocket. And so I landed somehow on Beats Earbuds. After so much shit-talking of this brand (some of which out of my own mouth), they seemed like the best option at $180 or so (before gift card) and came with a lot of accessories to attempt to fit my weirdly-shaped ear canals.

And since buying them, it seems like my Bluetooth woes are somehow over. The Earbuds pair almost effortlessly with my phone and work computer, reconnecting in a matter of seconds, and it even somehow seems like my Soundlink Mini has fewer issues pairing with my phone and personal computer. I don't know how any of this happened, but it feels like my relationship with Bluetooth has gone from hatred to mutual respect and understanding. This is a really random thought but it feels as though my decision to change my outlook on Bluetooth with little or no solid reasoning behind it, was the catalyst to make Bluetooth finally work for me. This all to say, I wonder if Bluetooth can sense my emotions and respond, like a human-to-human relationship.

Inspiration: The Personal Kanban Board
If you work in the tech industry, you may be familiar with the Agile methodology. Its mantra is to work quickly and efficiently, estimate the resources that tasks will eat, prioritize tasks, and be willing to change direction when change is necessary (a similar theme to Kathleen Edwards' way of life, mentioned above).

One way of working with Agile is to manage a Kanban board, upon which you label, cost and categorize all your upcoming tasks or to-dos. Many of the methodologies in my workplace can certainly be applied to personal life (which I have mentioned before on this blog), though it never occurred to me to make a Kanban board for my personal goals and tasks. I had been a listmaker when I had a nice large whiteboard in my room, but I think the prioritization of tasks was what was missing in terms of inspiring a mentality for getting things done.

I am proud to have friends who are smarter than me, especially one of them who made his own kanban board in his apartment to keep track of personal life tasks.

A personal Kanban board taped up to my friend's closet door for easy daily access (and self-imposed guilt, I suppose).

Each post-it could be something as simple as "buy kitchen chairs" or as difficult as "find new mealprep recipes", depending on your point of view. The point is that you make a habit of moving post-its from the left side (backlog) through the middle (doing) and on to the right side (done) at a realistic, measured pace.

I don't think I have space for this sort of thing in my apartment, but I can definitely begin a digital one in Trello and I believe I will start that this week!