Monday, October 15, 2018

Oktoberfest 2018: Walter Ostanek, Miesbacher Hats & Altes Muenchen Haus

Weekly Update 2018-42: Oktoberfest ist wunderbar! I visited Kitchener over the weekend for their annual Oktoberfest: Polka King Walter Ostanek, Miesbacher Hats and the beautiful Altes Muenchen Haus.

Music: Walter Ostanek
If there's one kind of music that is severely underrated, it's Polka. Never have I witnessed such consistently happy music as the genre of Polka, it just makes you want to dance. And on top of that, the style is quite forgiving, even perhaps demanding, of silly dance moves. While Polka music has its roots in 19th century Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic), Canada has its very own Polka King Ladislav John "Walter" Ostanek. I have seen him play once before at Beau's Oktoberfest in 2014, and I was delighted to see him again at the Altes Muenchen Haus in Kitchener on Saturday night.

I've never had so much fun doing the chicken dance in my whole life. Check out Ostanek's wide discography on Spotify.

While Kitchener is just over an hour's drive away from Toronto, my car-less lifestyle meant I would be taking the GO train on Friday night. I didn't realize that the train would be packed from having just passed through Union station at rush hour, but I managed to find a seat anyway (possibly the last one in the train car). Unfortunately I didn't get over to the Railpath this summer to bike along the trail, but I got to see some of the awesome graffiti on the train ride. I don't know why spray-painted tags on train lines are so beautiful and interesting to look at, but they just are.

Over a two-hour train ride (that slowly emptied until I was the last one in the train car), I managed to write a blog post, eat a full dinner, watch an episode of Ozark, and do one of my physiotherapy stretches. The other passenger in the car during my stretch seemed confused as to what exactly I was doing. It probably looked pretty weird.

And of course, Oktoberfest was the main goal of the weekend, which I think we accomplished pretty well! Kaylin did an amazing job of picking two equally cool events - one modern at a shiny new event space and one classic at an old skating rink with wooden rafters. It was an amazing weekend, and we even spotted Uncle Hans at the Friday event! In case you didn't know, he is a huge orange mascot man that we kept missing last year - he moves from event to event very quickly for a man of his age and size!

Hans onstage at Oktoberfest Haus, helping to tap the keg.

And on top of that, we also visited a squash farm! There were so many cool kinds of squash, a corn maze, a bunch of animals to pet and fawn over, and even tractor rides. Here's Kaylin looking extremely cute.

Kaylin looking cute with her various squashes.

So many kinds!

This week I want to make an enchilada casserole from a recipe I found a couple of months ago. I always feel like Fall is the perfect time to eat casseroles.

I'm also hoping to check out another project by Art Spin (creators of the Toronto Island Bike Art Crawl this summer). This one, called Holding Patterns, takes place in a bunch of storage lockers at Dundas and Dupont, all sorts of weird and wonderful mini-exhibitions. I can't wait to check it out.

Random Thought: Miesbacher Hats
A wonderful tradition of Oktoberfest is the alpine or Miesbacher hat. This is a traditional German hat worn for the holiday, usually adorned with a feather (the bigger, the better) and a pin collection that displays the wearer's past Oktoberfests, hobbies, favourite breweries, etc. It was really awesome to check out other people's hats and see their collection of pins - especially so since many of them are my beloved enamel pins.

I was able to find some awesome pins, both at the Altes Muenchen Haus and at a cool thrift store in Kitchener called Talize. Yes, if you can't make it, why not fake it? Check out the cool vintage pins from Oktoberfests that happened before I was born (now at home on my friend Kaylin's hat):

I love that the town lives and breathes Oktoberfest, even outside of festival time. There's so much wonderful German heritage to be found in the town, and it's been there so long that you can find pieces of it in thrift stores. The newer pins are certainly lovely, but the vintage ones are charming on a whole different level.

Inspiration: Altes Muenchen Haus
I was so lucky to be able to attend two Oktoberfest events this year. Friday night at the Oktoberfest Haus boasted a shiny new event venue made out of an old warehouse, complete with a visit from Uncle Hans himself and a traditional keg-tapping demonstration in front of a huge, drunken crowd.

It was definitely fun but Saturday night at the Altes Muenchen Haus was the shiny star of the show. It really reminded me of rural Ontario agricultural fairs on de-iced hockey rinks. Which is exactly what Altes Muenchen Haus was - in an old hockey arena. I loved the vibe of the whole thing - from the colour-coded sports lines painted on the floor to the old banners for the different states of Germany...or whatever they were.

I especially loved this banner of Uncle Hans and his wife Frieda from the earlier days of Kitchener Oktoberfest. It's so kitschy and wonderful.

In addition to Walter Ostanek gracing us with his whimsical Polka all night, I managed to scarf down a huge plate of schnitzel and cabbage rolls. It was a lovely evening.

Schnitzel always tastes better at Oktoberfest.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Joel Plaskett Emergency, Shirt Buttons & Sad Houseplants

Weekly Update 2018-41: Once again Joel Plaskett graces my blog with his folky tunes, shirt buttons on the right/wrong side and the saddest houseplant in the world.

Music: Joel Plaskett Emergency
This weekend marks a very special ritual I get to enact with my very good friend Kaylin: the wonderful drunkenness that can only be provided by Kitchener/Waterloo's Oktoberfest. The very first one we attended together in 2014 included a performance by our favourite Canadian musician Joel Plaskett with his band The Emergency. So yes, I have mentioned Joel in a previous post, but he deserves another one for the band itself. After Plaskett's first band Thrush Hermit disbanded, Plaskett found his commercial voice with The Emergency, which he developed alongside his more personal solo work. I absolutely love all of his discography, but the first Emergency release Down At The Khyber is truly one of the albums of my youth. It has a raw feeling of youth to it that I have certainly felt growing up in Canadian nature, but with a proud poppy tune that's a bit more mainstream than Plaskett's solo work.

Check out 2001's Down At The Khyber below.

I did indeed attend the Bunz Flea #8, and had some success to varying degree in trading my items. The bright side was that I made a new friend in one of the people I had set up a trade with ahead of time, so that's exciting. Honestly, overall it was a little disappointing because the open trade area was set to such a small part of the room that I didn't feel that anyone really saw my items. This motivates me to perhaps run a trade event of my own...

I am facing you from the other side of my first week of work at my new job, which is something of an accomplishment in itself. I have already tested out a great bike route, though I must admit it is something of a challenge on the way home, all the way up a big hill without many flat spaces in between. I did a little preliminary exploration around Parkdale (mostly because Ritual was offering free food all week in Parkdale), but I still have more to see for sure.

As mentioned above, I'm headed out to Kitchener to visit my friend Kaylin and celebrate Oktoberfest for the weekend. This is our third Oktoberfest together, and I've even got my alpine hat all ready to go.

Shoutout to Toronto Brewing for their super-cute Hops pin.

Random Thought: Shirt Buttons
If you wear what society deems as “women's” clothes, especially button-up shirts and zippered hoodies, you'll immediately know when you're wearing a unisex or men's version because the buttons or zipper will be on the opposite side. I personally don't believe in gendered clothing, but I did wonder how this phenomenon came to be. It's not as though women are left-handed and men are the opposite, I certainly am not left handed. All the same, I've become pretty used to buttoning up my own shirts.

I did have a pretty random thought about the possible origin of this, which was that heteronormative relationships were certainly the norm when this button system was developed (even now we're globally not quite at the point where all types of gendered relationships are considered normative), and so perhaps gendered clothing was reversed so that partners in a relationship could assist each other in buttoning up their own shirts. If a woman is used to buttoning up her left-side buttoned women's shirts, then to assist her husband to button his shirt, from the outside view, would be the same experience for her. Obviously the reverse is also true.

Though, of course, who even wears button-up shirts anymore? Maybe this entire notion is completely outdated.

Inspiration: Sad Houseplants
I was astounded to learn that one of the most common houseplants, the pothos, leads quite the sad life. Apparently pothos have lost the ability to bloom and flower. While sad from an aesthetic perspective, this is also somewhat creepy because it means no more pothos can be grown. Seeds from flowers are how the plant propogates, which means all "new" pothos come from cuttings of previous pothos - no true new plants can ever be created again.

1962 was the last year anyone saw a pothos flower.

While this information is shocking, I actually included it as inspiration because I absolutely love the way it's designed. I have never seen an online article laid out on a webpage like this, with such interesting rhythm and flow. 

I'm obsessed with using the web as a medium for new ways of storytelling (though admittedly you don't see much of it from my own blog), but I really enjoyed the way each tidbit of information is broken into its own card for easily digestible content. I think next week's inspiration may be about the creators of this'll just have to wait and see, though.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Dark Was The Night, Calendar Icons & Vivian Maier

Weekly Update 2018-40: Early 21st century folk music finds a home in Dark Was The Night, why dynamic calendar app icons are the expected standard and the self-reflective early street photography of Vivian Maier.

Music: Dark Was The Night
This one takes me way back. Not so much a band as a special compilation released to benefit HIV/AIDS research, this 2009 double-CD album packs in no less than 31 tracks by some of my absolute favourite folk rock artists. The title is derived from the Blind Willie Johnson song "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground", which is covered on this collection by the Kronos Quartet.

The album is a beautiful and thoughtful attempt to capture a musical renaissance, which may not have the cultural impact of grunge or punk, but is equally significant from a cultural and creative standpoint. These artists are not fringe or marginal: Feist, Grizzly Bear, The National, Sharon Jones, Kevin Drew, Arcade Fire, I could literally name anyone on the tracklist.

Take a listen and be transported to a moody, rainy Sunday back at the end of the last decade when things were a bit simpler.

I have been trying to get out to Hamilton pretty much this entire summer, and finally made the journey last week. We got some amazing food on Locke Street including a delicious blueberry honey donut from Donut Monster and some delightfully fall-inspired parsnip and pear soup. The main event of the day, though, was to visit the Art Gallery of Hamilton to see the only Canadian stop of a tour of Vivian Maier's impressive collection of photography. More on that in the inspiration section below!

Since one art gallery wasn't enough, I managed to get myself to the AGO two days later to see Edward Burtynsky's Anthropocene exhibition of photographs depicting the ways humans are using technology to reshape our planet on a massive scale. My eyes were opened to many practices I had not previously known about, such as massive deforestation in Borneo for the farming and production of the world's supply of palm oil (found in almost every man-made product) to the burning of confiscated elephant tusks in Kenya (actually a statement against the poaching of animals for their ivory). The exhibition is on until January 2019 so you still have lots of time to see it for yourself.

Burtynsky's photo of lithium ponds in Chile - with the growing need for rechargeable batteries as we move away from fossil fuels, lithium may become the most in-demand resource of this century.

Last but not least, I voted! Yes, I was able to drag myself up to Richmond Hill for an advance poll this weekend. I always make a point to vote, but in addition I sat down with my family to do some research on the candidates and make an informed decision about who we want to act as mayor over the town. Now, more than ever, being an informed citizen on the socio-political landscape is one of the only ways we can have our voices heard about the powers that control many aspects of our lives. I do urge you to vote on Monday October 22.

This week brings much change! I start a new job on Tuesday, and I am going to treat myself to a visit to the Bunz Flea after work to do what I do best: trade all my stuff away. I have lots of trades already pre-set for the event, but it's always fun to see what I might possibly be able to trade with vendors on the day of. It's really one of my favourite events of the year. Hope to see you there too!

The Bunz Flea is happening on Tuesday October 9 from 7-11pm at the Gladstone Hotel.

Random Thought: Google Calendar Icon
Having been a heavy user of Google Calendar on multiple devices for the past four years or so, I am in constant disbelief that the app doesn't automatically update its app icon to reflect today's date (like the native Apple Calendar does). It's such a small detail but something that would improve the user experience so, so much.

One calendar icon is useful, while the other...isn't.

Upon doing a bit of sleuthing, it appears that Apple's API for app development does not provide the ability for apps to change their icons in any non-manual way. Of course, the Apple Calendar and Clock apps are the exception since they were made by Apple. How dastardly! And what does Apple even do with all that power? They certainly didn't waste it on the Weather app icon, which could surely have benefitted from the same treatment.

I think the idea is a good one, and if Apple obviously sees the potential, I feel it is their duty to allow these sorts of updates to their app developers. Oh well, as they always say, a broken app icon is still correct seven days a year.

Inspiration: Vivian Maier
Dubbed the “secret nanny-photographer”, Vivian Maier (1926-2009) always had a Rolleiflex camera around her neck, yet zealously hid the resulting photographs from others. Her work included more than 2,000 rolls of film, 3,000 prints, and more than 100,000 negatives, yet she remained unknown until her street and travel photography was discovered at a Chicago auction house in 2007, when the contents of one of her storage lockers was sold off to cover delinquent payments.

In the ~100 selected pieces of her body of work on display at the AGH, her talented eye for layout and composition in photography is immediately apparent. I personally enjoyed her earlier black and white works, but in later years she also showed a talent for colour imagery.

To have been a street photographer in the earlier part of the 20th century must have been something of a wonder in itself, Maier's ability to capture momentous candid shots of strangers seems at least in part due to the fact that her subjects may not have been familiar with photography and her camera, which she held at chest height as she snapped her shots.

September 18th, 1962.

Self portrait in the reflection of a store window. October 18th, 1953, New York, NY.

Untitled, Chicago, IL, August 1976.

The exhibition is on until January 2019, alongside many other very interesting works at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. And while you're in the city, why not get a delicious donut as well? It's a great day out.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Bahamas, TLDR & Sharing Economy

Weekly Update 2018-39: The smooth voice of Bahamas, wondering why we must shorten the long-form writing style and tapping into Toronto's sharing economy for a fall cleaning.

Music: Bahamas
Afie Jurvanen, a musician from Barrie, Ontario, is quite a wonder. He is self-taught on guitar, has a voice like soft velvet, and is an amazing songwriter. He makes the perfect wind-down music, it's really calm and satisfying. Bahamas is also extremely solid as a live performer; I have really nice memories of seeing him on a sunny WayHome field while playing under a giant parachute, and a free show on an ice rink by the lake last winter. It just works for all occasions!

Honestly, start anywhere. You'll fall in love, just like I did.

We had our family Garage sale last weekend, selling off about 40% of the items which was pretty good considering the sheer volume. It was a lovely weekend with family, and a hobby whose process I think we all really enjoy.

The true accomplishment (and #1 goal for me) was to get these items in the hands of people who will use and enjoy them, so in donating most of the remainder I hope they will get some further use. Some of the items went back into the sharing economy with the help of Bunz, clothing swaps, and flea markets. See the inspiration below for specifics!

Autumn is definitely a time for change because I have not one, but two new jobs. Yep, I've already started a new part-time position as an associate instructor at BrainStation in their user experience design department. Honestly, after only one class, I am really enjoying the position. The staff are all really helpful and friendly, and the students all actually want to be there and participate. It's really great. I hope we can keep up the enthusiasm for the next 9 weeks!

A personal best for me, I managed to stay awake until 4:00am this past Saturday for Nuit Blanche, the annual art-based sunset-to-sunrise city takeover. To avoid lines, crowds of people and the cold of the night, I decided to tag along with Toronto Cruisers and check out the city by bike. Not to mention that biking in groups is always the best way to get around a crowded city. We all dressed up as skeletons and looked very spooky on our glowing bikes.

Ashleigh looking very spooky with a crow on her handlebars.

Apparently the Sukkot Geofilter has been somewhat popular and I got a referral from it! Yes, apparently weddings are also a popular place for a custom Geofilter, so I'll be working on that this week.

I also managed to squeeze one more free special exhibit admission out of my year-long AGO membership, so I'll be seeing Edward Burtynsky's Anthropocene this Friday. It involves some sort of augmented reality exhibit, which I'm pretty excited to see.

Random Thought: TLDR
In this technological age where we prize instant gratification over delayed and refuse to choose the right way over the easy way, a colloquial term has arisen to poke fun at this behavioural turn: TLDR. Short for "too long, didn't read", this term depicts the flippant way in which many people refuse to put the hard work in for a meaningful outcome.

I see it most commonly stated in regards to long-form articles, since people generally prefer to absorb (or at least scroll through) information at the quickest possible rate. Move down past the whole article and at the bottom, a miniscule TLDR warmly greets you in the glow of its glazed-over synopsis of the carefully worded and structured article above.

Why bother writing (or reading) the original article at all if you'll simply finish off with a TLDR? I choose to write long-form (though arguably this is more like medium-form) because I use the method of writing to decipher thoughts and feelings. The TLDR would totally miss the point of what I actually do with my writing.

I suppose I find the reduction of ideas into a summary allows the reader to be lazy, and doesn't offer the whole picture of how an idea was reached. It's just like design, where the process and journey are just as important as the outcome.

All of that said, we can do our best to write succinctly and in a way that invites the reader to enjoy the journey. These are user experience choices we make in our authorship, such as the choice Medium makes to display the reading time at the top of an article. We prime our readers on the length before they invest too much, so that they know what to expect.

Readers can decide if they want to spend 6 minutes on me before they begin reading.

I suggest that instead of providing an easy, cheap alternative to the challenging route, we learn to celebrate the journey of growth by priming our users and helping them along the less-trodden path.

Inspiration: The Sharing Economy
Living in a mid-sized city, I am constant delight of the way my fellow citizens reduce their carbon footprint every day. As you know, I hosted a garage sale last weekend in an attempt to give some of my overlooked possessions a new lease on life with someone who will use them. Having sold only 40% of the items, I managed to find quite a few outlets for the remaining items.

1) Our family garage sale in Richmond Hill
- generally older people, looking for a deal
- housewares and kitchen stuff was popular
- not much clothing sold - even at $3 per item
- a nice way to spend time with family and get rid of stuff that doesn't go anywhere else

2) Trinity Bellwoods Clothing Swap on Saturday hosted by Anne Boucher
- exchanged some of my nicer pieces of unwanted clothing
- limited myself to exchanging for half the amount I dropped off
- some very cool finds, possibly even some star pieces added to my wardrobe
- if I had stayed longer, I could have been even more selective and found some awesome things

3) Stop Shopping Clothing Swap on Sunday hosted by Don't Waste Your Genius
- exchanged the items I had picked up the previous day that didn't fit
- the organizer told me she is not collecting any items for her wardrobe for one full year, not by buying or trading or receiving
- what an inspiration
- kind of hard to see the true colours of the clothes in the basement of a dimly lit bar, but the makeshift changerooms were a nice touch

4) Secondhand Sunday in numerous neighbourhoods and happening twice annually!
- you can find quality used items by literally walking down your street (depending where you live)
- alternatively, this is the day to leave your unwanted items out on your lawn for people to come and take
- the social media was pretty good, with the organizers cruising around and taking photos of the items on lawns with a short description

5) UPCOMING Bunz Flea #8 at the Gladstone Hotel - Tuesday October 9!
- this is the most fun I can have in one evening
- pre-organize trades to meet at the flea or simply take a bunch of stuff with you and offer it for things you like
- there are vendors selling/trading their lovely wares, and an open trade table for anyone to come and bring their stuff
- if you attend this event, you will see me in my best form
- Pro tip: I like to take a picture of my items laid out before I pack my bag so I can just show the picture to people when I want something of theirs

For some sick, sad reason, we often become tired of clothing (and other items) long before it has worn out its purpose. Therefore the sharing economy is perfect for trading these items and resetting their "new, to me" value. Not to mention, it's amazingly good for the environment, allowing us to use up some of the excessively made manufactured goods we have just sitting around. It's one step closer to a happier, healthier world. Imagine if we could all choose to live on the items we already own, without acquiring a new item (beyond food and consumables) for a whole year.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Palm, Recipes & Art Spin

Weekly Update 2018-38: Experimental math rock from Palm busts through the speakers alongside deciphering an internet of recipes and a truly inspirational bike ride around Toronto Island as summer winds down.

Music: Palm
This Philadelphia-based art rock four-piece is a band that demands your attention. With unorthodox changes in time signature and unexpected bursts of guitar noise, I really never know what is going to happen in a Palm song. That's not something that can be said of a lot of music I hear today. Their music feels like a playful experiment in heavy math rock that continues to build upon itself.

I really enjoyed 2015's Trading Basics, an erratic conversation between two guitars that takes the listener on a journey of epic proportions.

Catch Palm at The Baby G on Tuesday September 24 - hey, that's tomorrow!

Last Saturday I had the immense pleasure of attending the 3rd annual Kensington Market Jazz Festival with some friends. I was honestly blown away by the festival as a whole, immediately regretting that I hadn't attended before. While Kensington is arguably always a street party, it was still energizing to see people performing and dancing in the streets, spilling from patios and restaurants that had been makeshifted to include stages for this special weekend.

I had discovered the existence of this young Jazz Fest through a special Saturday event - the first ever live performance of the original soundtrack for the video game Cuphead. Composed by the amazingly talented Kristofer Maddigan, a 15+ piece brass band graced a temporary stage in the laneway behind El Gordo Empanadas to belt out one of my favourite video game soundtracks of all time. The show was amazing, AND I got to meet Kristofer as well as Tina, one of the original artists for the game.

After Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) always follows the most challenging holiday of the year...Yom Kippur. Yes, I did manage to fast a whole day (which really isn't a long time in the scope of things). And while I did this, I found nothing better to do with my time but do an extreme cleaning of my apartment. Yes, now that Erika has flown the coop, I figured it might be time to clean pretty much every surface. I've also managed to get rid of a bunch of stuff so that I was able to use one of my many closets as a walk-in pantry. It left some room in my kitchen to display some lovely plants under the skylight. Things are looking pretty good!

I haven't decided what to do with Flanders...though his current position doesn't make a lot of sense anymore. TBD.

And, best of all, my Sukkot Snapchat Geofilter goes live this week! I've sent it off to Snapchat which was a pretty cool process - if anyone needs a custom filter, just let me know!

Yes, this weekend marks a very special one: our family garage sale! It was a great excuse to get a bunch of random stuff out of my apartment so that we could sell it for dirt cheap on our driveway in the sun - together as a family! I am looking forward to divesting of a bunch of stuff, and also spending time with my family all together again.

Random Thought: Online Recipes
There's no doubt that online recipes have surely overtaken the physical cookbook. I honestly consider cookbooks a waste of space and paper for most people (some truly do enjoy them and that's fine). But anything you want to cook, you can easily and quickly find on the internet. If you've ever carried out such a search, you'll know that most recipe blogs do require you to scroll down past all the incessant storytelling and a million photos of the finished product before you can see the method or ingredients. As a little tip, I like to use my browser's search function to locate all instances of the word "ingredients" to quickly jump down to the recipe - usually, the only instance is at the bottom - the recipe itself.

What still annoys me, though, is the uncalculated preparation time involved in many recipes. When an ingredient list calls for "4 medium onions, diced", how exactly did those onions become diced? As far as I know, you can't buy them that way, so most likely you'll be doing the dicing yourself. If so, why shouldn't the dicing be added to the prep time and as a step in the recipe itself?

The occasional recipe is written in such a way that it allows for time for chopping things while other things simmer or bake. I absolutely love those recipes, because they respect the sous time involved. Since I am definitely my own sous chef, that part of my cooking role becomes much more enjoyable.

This isn't even the longest one!

Regardless, it seems like every recipe takes on a new formatting style, and there isn't much in the way of a set recipe format for everyone to follow. Which is why I usually copy a recipe into my master google doc of recipes, and edit it into my own formatting to allow time for chopping and dicing. All my notes are inline in the steps because you need that note information when you're completing a step, not after the cooking has been completed. It just makes more sense to me that way.

After so many millions of years since cavemen mastered fire and the first recipe was born, I can't believe that we haven't developed the recipe format into the best possible user experience. What a shame.

Inspiration: Art Spin
As September rolls around, I always try to squeeze out as much from the last days of summer as I can. My one venture to Toronto Island so far sadly ended in a downpour, so I was eager to check out the annual Art Spin: a bike tour/art installation/giant party on the island.

I have been so lucky to finally find others in Toronto who share my bike-related values, and this tour was simply an extension of that. Over 200 cyclists showed up to Ward's Island to experience six performance art pieces all around the island in secret nooks and crannies. We cycled as a big bike rave to each of the locations, accompanied by DJ General Eclectic on his speaker-bike.

Over 200 cyclists showed up for this bike ride!

All of the performance pieces worked beautifully with their surroundings, interacting with the water in different ways. The one that struck me the most was an amazing performance piece in a huge pirate ship. A dancer moved gracefully around the deck of the ship while it also moved back and forth, the water a stage in front of us on dry land. As he danced and moved, he pulled water into the boat with a bucket on a string, only to have it pour back into the stream again. It was so extremely mesmerizing, with live percussion music performed from the upper deck of the boat. I don't think I will ever experience anything like it again, it was so beautiful and moving to me.

After the bike tour, we ended with a party at Artscape Gibraltor Point (which I have blogged about before). We were treated to performances by Brazilian dancer/musician Bruno Capinan and Toronto indie darlings Ice Cream. 

And as a special bonus treat, we were allowed to tour the Island Lighthouse - Toronto's second oldest building. I was told they don't open it for tours very often, so I felt honoured. Even this was an art installation, with a violinist playing a very sad song at the top. You can't hear it at the bottom, but as you climb the many, many stairs up to the top, you begin to hear it gradually. A really cool effect.

There is truly nothing I love more than good live music, biking, nature and art. All rolled into one, this was surely one of the highlights of my summer.

Shoutout to Flakah and Leon for sharing the day with me!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The 1990s, Truck Beeps & Patswerk

Weekly Update 2018-37: SEO-nightmare-named band the 1990s remind us of the happiness in cheeky music, the true purpose of truck backup beeps & a love of the sea by Dutch Design Agency Patswerk.

This is Erika's and Ario's last week in Toronto!

Music: The 1990s
I can't easily list any bands that make me feel as uncompromisingly happy as when I hear a song by Glasgow band the 1990s. Their music is catchy, upbeat, cheeky, and just plain fun. According to the band, they play music "like a blonde gets out of a car" (lyrics from the song See You At The Lights). Their music also reminds me of earlier-days Arctic Monkeys when they focused on teenage dancehalls and alleyway fistfights. In all fairness, two of the three members of the band met while doing drugs in a tree at a party.

It's a shame they only have two albums (2007's Cookies and 2009's Kicks) because they're both great. Honestly, pick any song and jump in.

It was my due pleasure to finally experience the annual Toronto Bike Rave this year. While it was a little colder and shorter than previous group bike rides I had attended this summer, the magic of the ride was definitely in full force.

After riding 22km (not really that much!) into the hours of 2AM, I woke up bright and early the next afternoon to get to Cabbagetown for their annual street festival. TDot Batu also plays this festival pretty much every year, this being my third year playing it.

I really loved the part of the festival that I explored for the first time this year: a street-wide garage sale all the way down Carlton from Parliament (where the main festival is) to Riverdale Park, housing a glorious array of craft and art booths. Not to mention the amazing food and free coffee, my soul was super-duper satisfied.

This past couple of days marked the Jewish New Year, aka Rosh Hashanah. I really cherish the time I get to spend with my family for these holidays, as well as my mother's delicious brisket roast. I know she doesn't really like to cook, so I figured out a new tradition that seems to work well for us: we go grocery shopping together and then I made a couple of dishes in her kitchen. She does the eating and cleaning (and a bit of prep work - thanks for grating those carrots!) and I think it works pretty well for us! Plus, more quality time is always nice.

This week, my roommate Erika leaves the Noodle. Yep, she is off back to British Columbia to chase her dreams of motion design and animation. So my goal is to hang out with her and her dog Ario as much as we can before she leaves. We're hopefully going to the Island Nude Beach one last time if the weather cooperates, and then I take her to the airport on Saturday morning and that's it for a whole year. It's truly the end of an era.

This gives me great impetus to get my life a little less cluttered. I recognize in myself that I enjoy clutter to an extent in certain situations, like my wall collage. But it's just kind of tiresome to have so many things always sitting around. So I'll be preparing for a garage sale at my parents' house in Richmond Hill where we will hopefully be able to find new homes for a lot of our unused items. Bunz has been amazing for that, especially in terms of regained value, but some items have been sitting around forever and need to get out of my life.

I also want to scour the many, many, many Richmond Hill Buy/Sell Facebook groups to post adverts about our sale. There will even be an advert on my blog next week - scandalous!

Random Thought: Truck Beeps
In these tech-heavy times we live, it seems everyone wants a digital assistant that they can speak commands to and converse with. The idea carries a futuristic sort of feeling, making strides toward a true artificial intelligence, but at the end of the day these assistants are built to understand human language and provide audio feedback while they complete simple tasks.

My apartment happens to back onto a laneway where a small parking lot holds a few cars. One of these cars is a silver pickup truck that must slowly back into its spot in the puzzlework of cars. This spot is right outside my window, so I always know when this truck is arriving home because the car beeps incessantly while the truck is in reverse. I think this is built into the car, because it happens late at night and early in the morning when I really must imagine the driver can't possibly want the sound to be on.

Since this sound woke me up most recently a few nights ago in a daze, I had a random thought about it: is a backup beep on a truck victim-blaming? Should the driver not ensure 100% through their own means that there is no one in danger of them reversing their car? Why should the car set a loud beep, whether there is danger or not, and leave it up to others to get out of the way? I know it sounds really dramatic, but I feel that this sort of sensibility is less-serious-but-similar to asking women not to wear revealing clothing if they don't want to be assaulted.

Inspiration: Patswerk
Sometime I come across a piece of design that is really magnetic.

This is a composition by Dutch Graphic Design Agency Patswerk, a double-page spread illustration for a chapter in a book on sea preservation. I absolutely love the colour scheme - which they attribute to a constant inversion of colour while selecting a palette. Not only do I love that Patswerk actually discussed their process on Dribbble (which almost never happens), but this particular process is one I find really intriguing.

I have discussed before about my mesmerization with the fact that other animals can see a wider spectrum of colour than humans. Colour inversion feels like a super power that allows humans to perceive what that might be like for these animals. Especially deep down at the bottom of the ocean where it's too dark for many fish to see, there are still animals down there that perceive the darkness around them in a totally different way.

Not to mention that the typography (the simple stretched out E) is reminiscent of looking at type through a watery lens: everything becomes wavy and distorted. The overall texture of the image is very intriguing in how it graphically depicts the textures of the sea.

Patswerk is a Dutch Graphic Design/Illustration Agency with a knack for using interesting colours, clean lines, and sneaking moustaches into their work. I wonder if there's a moustache floating around in the sea above! Check out more of their work on their website.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Digitalism, Understanding Users & Artist Alley

Weekly Update 2018-36: Space-travel electronic beats from Digitalism, reflecting on what I've learned about user experience this year, and OCAD's Artist Alley.

Music: Digitalism
Hamburg-based Jens "Jence" Moelle and İsmail "Isi" Tüfekçi are the duo that make up the electronic sound of Digitalism. Moelle and Tüfekçi met at a record store in Hamburg and became friends. Later, the store's owner asked them to DJ a party, and they then began mixing and recording. It's exactly the brand of silly electronic dance music (circa the 2004-2010 era) that got me into electronic music in the first place. Especially their 2007 LP Idealism is a musical journey to say the least. It feels like the club-based equivalent of space travel, and I still love it.

This one's an obscure reach into the time capsule, but I think you'll really like it.

This week I made a pilgrimage to a very special place. Sky City Mall at Finch and Midland is a magical place with amazing snack food.

Yes, I made a custom map. I take these things super seriously!

I love to try new food, and yesterday was an exercise in gluttony. My two favourites were the peach cloudy ice cream slush, made with real peach and creamy vanilla ice cream. There were even peach bobas at the bottom of the cup! Truly unlike any other bubble tea I've ever tried.

And to top that, I tried a savoury Hong Kong bubble waffle that had cheddar cheese melting out of each of the pockets. It was crunchy, gooey, fluffy, hot, and totally mind-blowing.

Like a grilled cheese, but way, way better.

Upon my return from the final fishing trip of the summer, I realized that Fall is around the corner, and with it comes Sukkot. The holiday is part of the Jewish Pilgrimage Festival, and celebrates the end of the harvest. It is customary for people to build little wooden structures in their backyards or on balconies, reminiscent of the structures that farmers would make in their fields to live in while they conducted the harvest.

My synagogue has asked me to create some Snapchat Geofilters for their celebrations, which I think is a great use of technology to connect us back to the roots of the holiday. It was a lovely chance for me to refresh my knowledge of the holiday and learn about its unique symbols.

The etrog (a lemon-looking citrus fruit) and the lulav (a bunching of reeds and fronds) are the two main symbols of the holiday. As is the case with much of the teachings of Judaism, there are multiple supposed meanings of these symbols. I picked out my favourite one to share:
The etrog, which has a good taste and a good smell, is like those who know the Torah and do good deeds. While the lulav which has a good taste, but no smell, is like a person with knowledge, but who does no good deeds. The myrtle, which has a good smell and no taste, is like a simple person who has no knowledge and learning, but is innately kind and caring. Lowest on the rung of human values is the willow, which has neither taste nor fragrance, and symbolizes those people with no interest in gaining knowledge and no innate sense of responsibility towards others and no feeling of the need to help others.
Here are some early versions of my Geofilters. I really like to illustrate natural things like leaves and fruit.

I was also quite fortunate to find someone to trade me 10,000BTZ on Bunz for a $50 Amazon Gift Card, which I turned around and spent on books within about ten minutes. It wasn't really a snap decision but it had the carefree nature of a splurge purchase, which I don't do very often.

This week I'd like to finish and send the geofilter off to Snapchat, assuming they have some sort of approval process and need turnaround time before the holiday begins!

It's also a wonderful time of year because I finally get to participate in the annual Toronto Bike Rave, which I've missed out on every year since I moved to the city. I don't know why I love group bike rides so much, but I really really do.

I'd also like to try out a new recipe for a chicken enchilada casserole - I've really been pining for some Mexican-inspired flavours and of course casseroles are perfect for Fall.

Random Thought: Understanding Users
I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how great it's been to make strides toward user experience in my design practice. It's been about a year since I began to test this theory about myself, of wanting to understand more of the theory behind design and the big "whys". The part of it that I enjoy most is the understanding of how and why people go about achieving their goals. Not only is this understanding required for me to improve processes, but I genuinely find it interesting.

The methods used to obtain user goals and processes can vary. Of course, one straightforward way is to interview users, though of course people like to feel at ease before they are willing to speak so openly about their behaviours and habits. Herein lies the crux.

I like to begin by asking interviewees about what they've been up to so far that day, before we get into the real stuff. Usually their answer will provide at least one detail of how they felt or acted upon something that happened. I pick that out and ask them directly about their motive for the outcome. When done properly, asking this second question can instil a level of trust and understanding between us, which will provide a sense of ease for future questions. But more importantly, the structure of the question gets them to think critically about their actions and why they do what they do.

Basically, it's all about setting the stage for good outcomes. Even if the answer about their day so far is challenging, like "I didn't really do anything", there is lots to read into such as their body language or tone of voice. Maybe I can dig into whether they were trying to accomplish something but were blocked by an outside force. This will help to frame their answers to the more complicated questions.

Inspiration: Artist Alley
These days I'll take any excuse to bike over to the beautifully reconstructed Grange Park, a lovely green space that both the AGO and OCAD back onto. It's such an awesome spot that lots of people like to congregate inside. This past Wednesday was no exception, hosting OCAD's Artist Alley as part of the students' frosh week. Alumni and students had tables set up selling all sorts of artwork from pottery to clothing to art prints to enamel pins and zines.

It was awesome to see some cool work, talk to some cool people, and to see that the university promotes its students to make a living off what they love to do.

Check out the vendors and get announcements for the next installement on their Instagram.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Crowleys, Cottage Mood & Influences

Weekly Update 2018-35: Psychedelic reminiscings of summer from The Crowleys, enjoying the camraderie of the cottage mood, and a new way to discover old music.

Music: The Crowleys
From Hamilton, Ontario comes and quartet of four dudes with their own modern take on sunny psychedelic music. From their Bandcamp page: "The Crowleys are four good boys that enjoy looking for an Old Milwaukee Ice sponsorship, playing D&D in the van between gigs, and writing love songs." I don't know why Autumn always feels like the right time to listen to psychedelic music, perhaps because the mood reminds us to cherish the last warm days before Winter.

The Crowleys will open for Sugar Candy Mountain tomorrow night at the Baby G as a sampling of late-September's Night Owl Music Festival - an exploration into all things psychedelic and musical.

So ends the fishing season (at least for me). I was lucky to get two weeks of great fishing in this year, including what may have been my best fishing day ever. I caught three smallmouth bass within about an hour, each of which at least 2.5 pounds. Made for some good eatin', let me tell you. There truly is nothing like eating fresh fish that you caught the same day.

My drumming band was invited to play at a wedding this weekend, which I thought was really nice. I will take any excuse to celebrate love, even amongst people I don't know. So it was really cute to listen to all of the family's stories about how the couple met and so on, plus I think they really enjoyed our performance.

My favourite part was when the capoeira dancer thought he could make a running jump over the bride and groom while they kneeled on the dancefloor, which ended in him needing to volley off the groom's back and kicking the bride in the face. She managed to laugh it off, though. I don't know if I could have!

You may recall my earlier blog post about Kintsugi, the ancient Japanese process of mending broken pottery with gold. On top of the beautiful results it produces, the process also brings note to the added beauty in objects that are broken. I am obsessed with the ceaselessly interesting visual appeal of such pieces. The Gardiner Museum actually has a modern-day Kintsugi sculpture created by none other than esteemed Canadian ceramicist Shary Boyle, and I hope to check it out while biking to and fro through the city this week.

I've also really got to get a first-draft sketch done for this Geofilter project!

Random Thought: The Cottage Mood
Having freshly returned from my second fishing trip of the summer (lucky me!), I noticed something really heartwarming about the Muskoka area in general. Of course, it does provide a calming atmosphere just through the sheer beauty and quiet of the area. Sitting in a boat on a quiet lake and listening to birds really provides a meditative mood. I do think this is true for others as well, since it seems like everyone I interact with also seems very chilled out and friendly. My favourite depiction is found when two boats pass each other on a body of water. There is an unwritten rule in the camaraderie of waving to someone and having them wave back.

It happens almost every time and it's really nice. You just don't see that kind of thing on roads (even amongst cyclists sadly). Maybe I should try to popularize it in the city and see if it catches on...

Inspiration: Influences
I've really been trying to keep up with my weekly release radar of new music, but it always hits me with a pang of guilt that I don't actively search out old music (that is new to me). If a song doesn't interact with my ears by the time it's a year old, does that mean it's no longer worth discovering? Surely not.

But how to find old music? That's where a pretty cool app with an unfortunate name comes in. Called Inflooenz, you can enter in the name of any band and get a list of their influences so explore some of their musical history. I think this is cool for a bunch of reasons!

The lead singer of Tame Impala, Kevin Parker, is known to be an amazing musician with a vast music collection. Since I love his music, I'd love to know more about his influences and the bands he listens to. So I type the band name in, and find a bunch of new-to-me old music that is custom-selected for what I already like.

This is a form of understanding our favourite music on a historical level beyond the surface sounds we hear.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ty Segall, Not Vomiting & Blackout Block Party

Weekly Update 2018-34: Heavy power chords from Ty Segall set the tone of summer as I contemplate mind over matter when I feel motion sick (it's a superpower) and closing off Bloor Street for the 15th anniversary of Toronto's massive 2003 blackout.

Music: Ty Segall
Another one to add to the bucket of garage rock revivalist bands is Ty Segall's raw, power chords. It's slow, drenched in reverb, and has that true Californian sounds I've been digging so much in Thee Oh Sees. I'm really pleased to see this melancholic heavy rock making a return, because it seems to match my summer so well. Check out his 2012 release with his touring band:

I really enjoyed Wave Goodbye.

This was truly a magical week where I didn't have band practice on Wednesday, so I was able to join Toronto Cruisers for an evening bike ride of no less than 43km! I have some lovely bruises on both butt cheeks from my bike seat sliding backward into my basket, but it was definitely worthwhile to not have to carry my stuff on my back for that entire ride. 

We also made some really cool pitstops at not one but TWO skate parks and a secret bonfire area somewhere in the Don Valley that can only be reached by a series of secret bridges?!

I ended off the week with a lovely weekend at a friend's cottage on a super cute little lake. In my opinion it was the perfect size - no motorized boats allowed and I was able to kayak the whole perimeter of the lake in about an hour, which showed me that there are actually no above-ground connections to other bodies of water so it may perhaps be classified as a pond.

Yes, the magical weekend has come where I get to go camping! It has become a yearly tradition to go camping at Presqu'ile Provincial Park with my drumming family. We might be a smaller group this year than our 30 people last year, but we are loud so I'm sure we will comfortably fill our 75-person camping space with only ten people. I can't wait to test my tent-setting skills and eat some delicious Brazilian food made by our band leader on the campfire.

I was finally able to procure a back brace that is meant to help me fix my posture and weak back issues. It's both a stretching and strengthening device as well as a brace, and comes with an 8-week plan to improve my posture. It looks like this:

A friend told me I should accessorize it with some gun holsters.

Random Thought: Not Vomiting
It's pretty crappy, lately that I haven't been able to stomach long car rides anymore. I have always had trouble with motion sickness but since using a bicycle as my main mode of transportation, I really can't stomach much time in the car at all.

I was battling a really bad bout of motion sickness the other day and actually managed to hold off vomiting for much longer than I used to, with sheer will of mind. I think that if I had more practice, I might be able to will myself out of motion sickness, especially when being able to see the road. I have realized that it's really the turning and backing up that causes it, much more so than driving straight on the highway. When I have knowledge of turns before they happen, my brain is able to catch up to what's happening and I don't feel as sick.

But of course, maybe this is just a mechanism reminding me to do my best to banish all cars in favour of ecologically-friendly transportation. If everything ran on tracks like streetcars, I'd be so much happier. Plus, if you know a bus route well enough, you'll know where every turn is going to be.

Inspiration: Blackout Party
I pride myself on knowing about all the cool events going on in Toronto...and last Tuesday was no exception. Yes, on a Tuesday evening, the citizens of Toronto held a celebratory block party for the 15th anniversary of the 2003 GTA blackout. I still remember it and how it affected pretty much everyone I knew at the time. And why not celebrate the fact that we survived it?

Yes, I always know about these events, but sometimes it can be hard to find the energy to actually attend. And such was the case for this event, after I had a particularly long couple of days. But I got my butt out to Christie Pits Park (yes, it really was that close to me) to see what all the hubbub was about.

The park hosted an open-air concert of lots of different buskers, which was followed by a subway (if walking) or bike rave (if cool) to a secret location that led us through Yorkville to the intersection of Bloor and Avenue, right in front of the ROM. It was truly amazing to see so many people there to take over the road from drivers for a few hours. I think roads are a huge waste of space just for drivers, so being able to take back the space is such a lovely gesture.

We moved from there to the west side of the ROM, which holds one of my favourite walkways in the city - Philosopher's Walk. It's a lush green meandering walkway that connects Bloor to Hoskin, mostly used by U of T students, tourists and ROM staff on break (I guess I have sort of been all of those people in one way or another). So I was delighted to find that this was our final stop, lined literally all the way down the walk with various performers, buskers, musicians, singers and dancers, all lit by candlelight against the night. It was a wonderful time.

So, yes, the FOMO was legitimate in this case, since I was extremely happy to have attended this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Perhaps my favourite part was when two separate people asked me what the event was for. When I mentioned the blackout, neither of them knew of it since they had immigrated to Canada after 2003. That was fine with me, since I am proud of our city being so multicultural.