Monday, August 13, 2018

Deerhunter, Designer Goods and Toronto Botanical Gardens

Weekly Update 2018-33: Cross-genre tunes from Deerhunter, what exactly makes a handbag "designer" and the beauty and sculpture found in Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Music: Deerhunter
A classic from my childhood days of borrowing CDs from my local library, Atlanta's Deerhunter continues to create melancholy tunes that are at once simple and extremely intriguing. The band describes their music as "ambient punk", though I also hear tones of rock and even pop at times. That's one of the things that makes their music so interesting, is that it borrows from genres that are really different from each other.

Even the list of bands they've toured with speaks volumes in the span of genres: Nine Inch Nails, TV on the Radio, Project Pat, Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Spoon, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Fiery Furnaces, Lower Dens, Ex Models, Battles, and Kings of Leon.

Their third album, 2008's Microcastle was how I found Deerhunter, so it would seem a fitting place for you to start as well.

It's been a busy week. I was able to finish a first draft of the general flow for my associate appointment booking app, so this week will be about refinements and user testing.

I also played a bonus little drumming show with my band this week, at a children's day camp festival in Grange Park. I thought our set went really well, though naturally we were upstaged by the Reptilia man who had a live boa constrictor wrapped around his neck. It's ok, my ego is hardly tarnished.

A shoutout must be made regarding the amazing Dim Sum breakfast that my dad's coworkers threw for fun, to which I was very graciously invited as well. It was enough food to feed thirty people easily, and I tried some weird new things I'd never had before. It's amazing to eat at restaurants with people who know what to order. All the food was so extremely tasty.

A mango pudding in the shape of a fish.

As intended, I also biked to my friend Philip's party through Richmond Hill - which I so rarely get to bike around. There are not a ton of bike lanes and you wouldn't catch me on a main road by any means, but I know the side streets and neighbourhoods pretty well so it wasn't terrible. Too bad Richmond Hill isn't just a name though - it was all uphill on the way there.

Last week I finally completed a Kijiji sale, purchasing a device that's meant to be a stretching and strengthening workout band as well as a back brace. All this time spent sitting at a desk with bad posture to begin with has been causing my spine to curve - so I thought it was time to try something that has a regimented plan. I'll be starting the treatment this week, which lasts 8 weeks of stretches and time wearing the brace.

I'll be spending all my free time this week working on the presentation and refinements for the associate app, hopefully coming to a good place by the end of Thursday since I'll be up at my friend's cottage this weekend. Lucky me!

Random Thought: Designer Goods
Having spent some time these past few weeks on the insides of malls and department stores, I have seen the word “designer” being thrown around a lot. Designer handbags, designer shoes, etc. I take this to mean that the handbag or shoes were made by a high-end designer, but I just find the term a bit hilarious in its generalization, as if to say that since this is a designer handbag, handbags that are not "designer" are not designed. But of course they are! Literally everything we come into contact with on a daily basis that isn't from right out of the ground has been designed by someone.

I actually find that thought endlessly amusing as I move through my day. I am constantly thinking about the person who decided to make the handle on my mug or select the pattern on my shirt. I get the impression most people don't think about the items they use, but as I am able to add more well-designed items to my life I find more gratitude in myself for those designers. So perhaps we might change the term "designer handbag" to "well-designed handbag", though the two current definitions are certainly not always found in the same item.

Inspiration: Toronto Botanical Gardens
The good summer months bring about a lovely scene in the parks around Toronto, perhaps none quite as beautiful as Edward Gardens and the Toronto Botanical Gardens. I took a trip there this weekend after quite some time since my last visit, and it was even more beautiful than I remembered.

Not only are all the flowers in beautiful bloom, but there is a wonderful exhibit on right now with literally dozens of stone sculptures by Zimbabwean artists. I honestly couldn't tell you whether the sculptures or flowers were more beautiful.

There were a couple of artists there as well, having come all the way from Africa to discuss their work and showcase how they do their carvings.

And on top of all that, I got to try out the Gardens' new mobile app, which uses beacons and geolocation to take you on a tour through the gardens. As you access each new part of the garden, more information is revealed to you about the plants and landscaping surrounding you. It was a lovely addition and contrast to such a natural and organic experience, not too overbearing.

The app is called GrowIt, and it's actually used for plant identification anywhere you happen to be looking at beautiful plants, not just at one of its official locations like the TBG. Check out the app here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Vundabar, Personal Stylists & Museum of Failure

Weekly Update 2018-32: Singing along to Vundabar, interviewing personal stylists for an associate app project and visiting the Harbourfront's Museum of Failure.

Music: Vundabar
Boston-based Vundabar pelts their listeners with moody powerchords, drums-forward tracking, and repeated chamber vocals that just beg us to sing along. It's the teen garage pop I never knew I needed. I imagine their lyrics are somewhat sad, but I appreciate the ambiguity and the cathartic nature of being able to sing along without fully knowing all the words. It's a mood, okay?

Check out Holy Toledo and their entire 2015 album Gawk.

I'm working on a portfolio piece that is making quite the interesting challenge from a user interface perspective. It's an associate app for a fashion brand that will allow salespeople to book and manage personal appointments with clients, allowing clients to request specific items in advance before coming in to try them on in person. When they arrive at the store, the items are waiting for the client in a fitting room, and the associate can upsell, communicate and even checkout the client all through the app.

I spent a few hours wandering around Eaton Centre speaking with people in various roles, asking about how they manage their client appointments. More on that below!

Now that my roommate is leaving quite soon, I am cherishing our last days together. We went to the Christie Pits Sunday movie this week to see Amelie (such a cute film I had somehow missed) and for a hike in a small Ontario town called Limehouse. The hiking trail there contains ruins of an old set of kilns (that used to produce limestone blocks for buildings - which were exported to Melbourne), and a sort of rocky heights that are cracked in places, so you can go down a set of wooden ladders to explore down between the two sides. A very cool place.

Erika and Ari in his party bandana.

I'm hoping to get the upfront research on this app all done so I can work on perfecting the InVision prototype all through the week.

I'm also finally able to join my father with his coworkers on their occasional Dim Sum adventure (always very early in the morning, when the Dim Sum is sleepy and easier to catch). On top of that, I'm taking my roommate to a Blue Jays Game - her first (and last) one before she leaves Ontario. The goal there is not to get hit in the head with a ball. Saturday marks my friend Phillip's goodbye party before he moves permanently to Europe, and I'm hoping to bike there as I did for one of his parties when I was just learning to ride a bike. I'd also like to make time to visit the Gardiner Museum on Sunday for the final day of an interesting exhibit they have called Reclaiming Artifacts.

Random Thought:
For my associate app project, I took to the streets this week. By that I mean that I went to Eaton Centre and interviewed as many personal shoppers, stylists, salespeople and makeup artists as I could about how they manage their appointments. You'd be surprised to know how much of these tasks end up being done manually, with no technology beyond a phone call or perhaps email in some cases.

With an apparent gap between customer need and the available products, I did find it quite interesting to note all the workarounds and interesting ways that personal shoppers (especially at Hudson's Bay's The Room) use the tools and services they already have to do their jobs. One personal stylist even showed me his contact list on WeChat (extremely popular in the personal styling business in China) and some of the conversations he has with ongoing clients. He simply uses WeChat as a one-stop-service for sharing pictures and links of clothing, booking appointments, and providing fashion advice to his clients.

My favourite example, though, is the way one salon professional used an appointment booking product while working at a salon. She showed her coworkers that they could repurpose an unused field in any client's profile to set all sorts of notes regarding upselling and helpful hints for the next appointment. All of this really inspires me to make an app that will improve their experience beyond what it is now. I definitely see the potential to do so.

Inspiration: Museum of Failure
During my mother's and my seasonal jaunt about Harbourfront Centre and Powerplant Gallery to see the current instalment of art and design, we came across quite an interesting little shadowbox display of objects of all kinds - the sad physical history of failures in products sold all over the world. From purple ketchup to overcomplicated and underperforming musical equipment to the Virtual Boy - the only Nintendo product ever to be declared a failure by the company - it was an array of wonder at how anyone could have come up with such silly products.

The 1957 Ford Edsel was a total failure from a business perspective, but without it we would never have had the Ford Mustang.

The Museum of Failure's founder, psychologist Samuel West, has high praise for his collection. He says, "The point of having the museum is that we can learn from these failures. I want us to start to admit our failures as companies, as individuals, so we can learn from it."

When you think about it, it really rings true that most examples of success in life are the end result of a lot of failure. Failure is a useful tool in building the bridge to success, as can be seen with something as frivolous as the Virtual Boy. It was truly ahead of its time as a step toward the futuristic world of virtual reality, which we are teetering on the edge of now.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Sleigh Bells, The Uber Logo & Joe Sulsenti

Weekly Update 2018-31: Delightfully contrasting soft lyrics and heavy guitar riffs make up Sleigh Bells, wondering why the Uber logo is always placed incorrectly on car windshields, and the cheeky animations of Joe Sulsenti.

Music: Sleigh Bells
Alexis Krauss and Derek Edward Miller have been making powerful noise pop since 2008 under the moniker of Sleigh Bells. Not only is their lo-fi music super catchy, but they mix Alexis' dreamy soft voice with Derek's screaming guitar riffs which make for a delightful contrast that I can't get enough of. And what's more special is that my dad is a huge fan of this band - maybe even more than me. They're definitely one of the catalysts for the two of us to attend more live concerts together which is something I really treasure.

I still listen to their first album quite often (though the new stuff is also great). Check out 2010's Treats below.

As promised, I made it to the other side of three intense days of drumming for the Beaches Jazz Festival. So many happy, shiny faces in the crowd made it all worthwhile by Saturday night. Just like last year, these shows were a major bonding experience for my band. I'm so proud of us.

I also surprised myself with my ability to complete a freelance project for a client, apparently redirecting hosting and duplicating an entire Wordpress site isn't as difficult as I thought it would be. It's the small wins that put a smile on my face.

I heard about a really cool exhibition going on at the Gardiner Museum, which I'll be checking out on Friday.

I am also going to make a trip to the west side beach this week, and visit the Toronto Tool Library in Parkdale while I'm in the area. I don't need to borrow anything but I do want to see how it works and check out the space. I think the idea is really cool. Plus it's near Craig's Cookies, which I really want to check out as well.

Random Thought: The Uber Logo
I don't think I know anyone who actually understands the redesigned Uber logo, circa February 2016. The case study on the brand as a whole is actually quite compelling and interesting in some areas, but the App Icon and logo itself are somewhat unintelligible past the point of abstraction.

I know this sounds like opinion but I state it as fact due to a problem I see in its application almost every day. We've all been on the lookout for the car we've hailed from the app, trying to spot the Uber logo sticker in the car's windshield. And while drivers do somehow manage to place the sticker in the right area, so very few of them manage to set the sticker in the right orientation. As compared with Lyft's logo (pictured below), the wordmark is a very easy one to understand in terms of its top and bottom. Uber on the other hand, has no discernible top or bottom. It's an abstract circle with a line.

A laminated card from AliExpress doesn't allow room for error in application.
But so few Uber drivers own this!

Some people do know that the thinner line from the outside to the center should be horizontal on the left (this is how the logo is meant to be displayed), but I see many more instances of the sticker being placed upside down or some other orientation that isn't correct. You'd think the designers would have considered this as a possible application result, and yet here we are. 

Inspiration: Joe Sulsenti
I first found Joe Sulsenti's work through New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens. We've all had that feeling where we see someone attractive on the subway and try to get them to notice us as we get off the train. It's just a funny little slice of life that Sulsenti captured hilariously well in this short animation:

I love his style, so cheeky and fun. Sulsenti is currently studying and working in animation in New York. On his website, he states:
I think animation is the strongest medium to convey ideas. It has the power to move, touch, and tingle people of any age group anywhere around the world.
Character design for a Merman.

Frame from Sulsenti's comic Draw My Bunz, showcasing his experiences being a nude figure model for artists.

Check out more of Sulsenti's work on his website.

Monday, July 23, 2018

El Ten Eleven, The Flat Lay & Bike Party

Weekly Update 2018-30: The instrumental awesomeness of El Ten Eleven, exploring the meaning behind the flat lay and attending a Toronto Cruisers Bike Party.

Music: El Ten Eleven
I believe I first heard the music of El Ten Eleven through Gary Hustwit's 2007 film Helvetica, the first in a three-part docuseries on design. The LA-based postrock duo make music that sounds like there are many more musicians behind it, layering all sorts of sounds for something full and enveloping. I also like that their music is largely instrumental, making it suitable for all sorts of concentration-based tasks.

I remember the last time the band toured Toronto was on my birthday in 2014, which I regrettably missed. They are releasing some new music, so perhaps I'll have another chance soon.

El Ten Eleven is featured on my No Words playlist, featuring music without vocals.

Last week was full of fun summer activities, I am slowly working down my bucket list for the hot months. I went to a classical music concert at Koerner Hall on Thursday, saw a Drive-In movie on Friday and rode in a Bike Rave on Saturday.

I also took a bit of time today to sit in Ireland Park and watch the boats on the water. It was super peaceful and breezy.

This week is the Beaches Jazz Fest, which means lots of crowded and high-energy drumming shows this weekend. The Street Festival part is actually a pretty cool spot, quite a lengthy walk down Queen St E, which I never otherwise go to. Check out the lineup and see my band TDot Batu!

Random Thought: The Flat Lay
Say what you will about Instagram, but it cannot be contested that the platform brings about new and interesting trends in photography every once in a while. Take the now-classic flat lay for example. Lay out some everyday objects in a haphazard arrangement on a single-colour table background, preferably beside a window. Position your iPhone parallel above the table, you'll probably have to stand on a chair. Bonus points if you can get someone's hands in the shot. Soften the shadows in Photoshop, and voila:

Circles are another prevalent theme.

Technically, you'd need two iPhones for this one.

A post shared by Chloe Silver (@chloesil) on
I even made one - valentines from my coworkers last year.

Other than the pleasantly round shapes and soft colours, I wondered exactly what was so alluring about these photos, both to arrange and capture and to view. I think it's because they tell such a strong narrative, and it immediately envelops the viewer in the first person. The items are arranged to suggest a narrative like sitting in a coffee shop or having breakfast or costructing a flower crown, and they're arranged at an angle that suggests that the viewer of the photo is the one at the center of the narrative. It's really quite an intriguing thought, when applied while gazing on a photo.

That aspect of the photography style lends itself well to tutorials, such as the ever-popular Buzzfeed Tasty video series on Facebook. Watching someone prepare and cook food in first person view gives a sort of fake feeling of accomplishment to the viewer, imagining that they are the one who made the food. Gosh knows I've saved enough of those videos on Facebook only to have them collect dust in a digital folder in a dark corner of the internet somewhere.

Inspiration: Bike Party
After coming so close on so many occasions, I was finally able to attend my first bike party in Toronto. 50 or so people and their bright light-adorned bikes showed up to Christie Pits Park on Saturday night to ride all over the city. We biked 30km and I truly felt that we were able to overtake the roads in ways I could never do on my own. It was very empowering. Riding in a pack certainly has its advantages.

The event was completely free, and boasted nothing more than a good old time biking around at night with some pretty lights. Simplicity at its best.

Follow Toronto Cruisers to join the next one!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

New Young Pony Club, Power Users & Outsiders Pizza

Weekly Update 2018-29: A strong sense of identity and power comes through in the music of New Young Pony Club, watching other people use their phones and Zeus Jones' brand for Outsiders Pizza.

Music: New Young Pony Club
For such a light-sounding band name, this London five-piece packs quite the auditory punch. Band founders Tahita Bulmer and Andy Spence mix catchy vocals with heavy synths and hypnotic drum beats to create music that is powerful and really sticks to you. I consider their 2007 album Fantastic Playroom one of the most important albums to my formative music growth, finding something real and true that would never be played on MuchMusic in my high school days. And of all places, I discovered the band through a webplayer on the clothing site for Paul Frank. Surprisingly, they had some truly choice music selections that I still listen to today.

Check out Fantastic Playroom and see how it easily slides into different moods as the album progresses. Truly fantastic.

My real estate project is live and running on my website. It was quite the process to write the case study, organize and update all the assets, and then finally code everything into a working, responsive webpage. I even found a bug in InVision that auto-redirects a page with an embed directly to the website, which is no bueno for me because the pages are designed as case studies and have much more content than just the final piece. Luckily, the InVision support team was quite responsive and I got the issue fixed within 24 hours.

My dad was throwing out his old BBQ, so I managed to sell it for $20 on Facebook so that it wouldn't go into a landfill. It still works really well, so it felt like a major accomplishment to save a huge appliance from being thrown out.

I also finally got to treat my family to a dinner. This may not seem like a big deal, but we hang out a lot and my parents try to pay for everything. I understand why, but sometimes it's gotta be my turn. We all went out for specialty new-age Bi Bim Bap, which is a dish everyone in my family enjoys. It's weird how long we've all eaten Korean food, I have fond memories of our old favourite Korean restaurant Walker Hill on Highway 7, I can't have been more than 4 or 5 the first time we visited.

I'd actually really like to know what happened to Walker Hill, perhaps Charles Yu can answer that question on Chowhound. So my first goal of the week will be to make an account and create my first post.

I have a couple of freelance projects on the go, including digging through a complicated custom-made backend of a Wordpress site, and creating a Geofilter for an upcoming Jewish holiday.

Perhaps most importantly, I will finally be able to participate in a neon bike party this Saturday. Yes, Toronto Cruisers are finally throwing a bike party not on a Wednesday (drumming practice) or day that I am out of town (annual Labour Day camping trip). I have been collecting glowsticks for over a year and by George, I am ready for this. See more about the event here.

Random Thought: Power Users
We've all been in that old situation, where you're bored on the rush-hour bus or waiting in a crowded bar for your date to return from the bathroom, when your eyes wander to the phone screen of a stranger beside you. The curiosity and boredom are simply too strong a mix, often exacerbated by the high contrast of the bright phone screen against a dark background. Plus, other people's phone activity is always much more interesting - especially if you've ever gotten drunken permission from a friend to commandeer their Tinder account for a few sloppy minutes.

I happened to be in this exact situation (waiting for a subway train) and my eyes wandered to the phone of the woman beside me. She was using an app that I also use, and that I didn't think many other people even knew about. Not only was this already quite interesting, but then I happened to notice her using a feature that I didn't realize even existed. She inadvertently taught me a power feature without even realizing it.

So I wondered if there could be a YouTube channel where power users of apps take users through a complicated workflow that they've got down to a science. Bunz comes to mind - I have a lot of saved text replacements in my phone because I'm always responding to people with a version of the same three kinds of responses.

Studying the behaviours of others is a great way to learn new things, but I find our society dictates that whatever we do on our phones should be kept to ourselves...and this is probably correct to some extent, but why not try a little mobile pair programming? Who knows what you might learn...

Inspiration: Zeus Jones
If ever you need an agency to create a frozen pizza brand that is outstanding and unique in this day and age, look no further than the Minneapolis-based creative collective of Zeus Jones. Yes, they drew me in with pizza.

It looks soooo good.

I guess pizza may be an easy sell to yours truly, but I appreciate how the story behind the flavours comes into play, making it a personal and connected decision to try this particular pie over another. I also really appreciate the notion of a "party cut" - square slices are pretty good.

It's funny how we take some design styles for granted, like the fact that I have never seen an inspirational frozen pizza box design in my grocery store. Using clear packaging to show the pizza itself is also unpopular with other pizzas, which shows the fresh and earnest ingredients instead of hiding the processing.

But then, maybe I'm just hungry. Check out the Outsiders Pizza project, or Zeus Jones themselves.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Zero 7, Sketch Plugins & Torture Art

Weekly Update 2018-28: Good vibes from the music of Zero 7, giving thanks for sketch plugins and looking at how modern art can be weaponized as a torture device.

Music: Zero 7
Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker are the English duo that make up Zero 7. I have been on an instrumental music kick lately, and recalled that their earlier work contained a lot of really good lyric-free tunes. Since then, they've grown into their own sound with guest vocals from all sorts of talented musicians like Sia, Sophie Barker and Eska. It's just good vibes music all around, and great for concentration.

I have a soft spot in my heart for 2006 album The Garden, so why not start with that?

This past weekend was another estate sale run by my father for his little side hobby. While the family themselves didn't have much of anything that I found particularly interesting (my favourite thing to do while I help to organize and run the sales), it was still really nice to meet all the people who came into the sale. There really are so many things to enjoy about this hobby of my father's, especially the way we've begun to help him and do this as a family. I'm not too dumb to realize what a lucky opportunity I have to spend with my family these days and how we've started to get along a little better.

I've been trucking along with adding the real estate redesign project to my website. I've got all of the case study writing finished, as well as about half of the design changes and assets I need to make for the visual part. I'm actually getting pretty excited about posting the project next week. It took about ten months from start to finish so it was a pretty big project.

I also managed to be a good patient through a restructuring of some old cavities at the dentist a few days ago. Having cavities re-done is so much worse than having them done in the first place - what with the extra drilling and scraping of having the filling removed. Glad that one's over.

Finally, I took the plunge and had my iPhone battery replaced at the Apple Store. I was lucky enough to get it back only three hours later (I always prepare for the worst with the Apple Store - it could have been a week!). It was really weird to be without a phone for three hours, especially since I had to go and meet someone in the intervening time. It was the first time in a long time that I felt regret for not wearing a watch.

While I was without a watch this week, I actually quite enjoyed not having my phone with me. While I realize it is a slight security risk not to keep one's phone on them, it felt really freeing not to have it. So I brought an old-school charger downtown and decided that I'll charge up my old iPod (watch AND music) this week for a bit of nostalgia and phone-free time.

Plus, let's be honest, my iPod Nano 3rd Gen still looks hella fly (circa 2007).

I've got some work ahead of me this week, hoping to finish posting the new project to my website and send a quote to a potential new freelance client. My main goal is to be in a good place to focus on the freelance project by next week, if it goes through. If not, I can figure out what personal project to pick back up and do some file organization.

Random Thought: Sketch Plugins
Using Sketch more and more over Adobe products these days, one of the things I find most attractive about Sketch is the open-source nature of it all. The product isn't perfect and everyone has their own missing featureset to gripe about, but that's where they allow third-party developers to create their own custom features in the form of downloadable and (generally) free plugins. So if you're missing something from your experience in Sketch, and you can't live without it, you can make it. As far as I know, Adobe has no plans to implement anything remotely close to this type of thing.

An incomplete list of plugins I can't do without:
  • Sketch Runner - The omniscient plugin that's a workhorse - download plugins directly inside Sketch (no, Sketch can't do this out-of-the-box!), insert symbols in seconds using their names instead of the clumsy dropdown list stacks, quickly jump to pages or artboards, and so much more. It's like Mac Spotlight for Sketch, but it doesn't suck. In fact, much the opposite.
  • Paddy by David Williames - Auto-magically aligns all your layers as you specify, simply by adding specific characters to the end of your filenames. Also allows you to create symbols that expand and shrink depending on dynamic type. This should be built into Sketch, but it isn't. Thanks David!
  • Stark bCat NooneMichael Fouquet, and Benedikt Lehnert - Provides lots of colour-related accessibility checkers right inside Sketch (it's really never too early to test colour pairings for accessibility). 
It's amazing that we live in a time when we as users have the power and tools to shape our software the way we want it. To find a tool that does the job is good (and necessary) but to be able to shape or even create the tool to custom-fit the job is wondrous.

Inspiration: Torture Art
Art is so subjective, and that's one of the things I really love about it. Two people can look at the same painting and feel completely different emotions depending on their experiences and personal tastes. Optical Illusionist Art, or Op Art, seems to be one of those especially polarizing movements, causing ceaseless intrigue for some and discomfort to the point of nausea for others. Trigger warning, Op Art below.

As is the theme of humanity, if we discover something that makes us uncomfortable, we use it to torture others. I'm not condoning this type of behaviour of course, but I do find its weaponization unprecedented and interesting at the very least.

As was such with the Spanish Civil War.  "A Spanish art historian has found evidence that suggests some Civil War jail cells were built like 3-D modern art paintings in order to torture prisoners," reports BBC News. "The cells were built in 1938 for the republican forces fighting General Franco's Fascist Nationalist army, who eventually won power."

Beds were set at a 20 degree angle so that it was nearly impossible to sleep.

These cells also contained flashing lights to heighten the experience. The creator of the concept, Alphonse Laurencic, admitted in his 1939 Francoist military court trial that he was inspired by modern artists, such as surrealist Salvador Dali and Bauhaus artist Wassily Kandinsky.

Can something be both horrific and beautiful at the same time? I'd mark this one under that category.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

José Gonzålez, Nutrition Facts & Beast

Weekly Update 2018-27: José Gonzålez's guitar strums provide a calming atmosphere amongst the secrets hidden in nutrition facts and Michael Pearce's debut feature film Beast.

Music: JosĂ© GonzĂĄlez
Regrettably, I didn't have time to make a fishing-themed playlist for my trip last week. In any case, internet signals up in Georgian Bay are spotty at best, so Spotify probably wouldn't have worked. Which means that I fell back to whatever music I still have on my phone. And so I rediscovered a musical gem in the form of JosĂ© GonzĂĄlez. Of Swedish/Argentinian origin, the folk singer/songwriter's soothing voice and delightful acoustic guitar pickings always make me feel calmer.

I especially adore his 2007 album In Our Nature.

I had my bike stolen early this morning. Someone cut through a very thick metal chain, breaking a link clear in half in the process, and took it from the sidewalk outside my apartment. Of course this isn't the accomplishment, but I did want to make a note of how I felt about it.

I received this bike about a month ago, and it was a much-needed replacement for the bike I had been using before. I was very careful to keep this bike inside when I would be away for a while, and to lock it up with the heavy lock through the wheels and such. I took care of it. I couldn't have avoided the malicious intent obviously on display here. While it was definitely an improvement to my life in many ways, it had its own issues and I might find a bike that's an even better fit for me. I received the bike for free, which was really lovely gesture that perhaps I can pay forward into the world, hoping that the person who stole it really needs it.

I have the means to find another bike for myself, so it's not the end of the world. I'm happy to note that it didn't take me a really long time to arrive at this line of thinking, so that's some personal growth right there. Bikes are relatively inexpensive and I'm sure I'll be able to solve my problem soon.

On a happier note, I had a wonderful and well-deserved week fishing with my family. We caught a bunch of fish, some of which we cooked and ate in the same day as catching (which is the best taste), and got to spend some quality time all together. We even tried a new recipe for the fish, which I'll discuss below.

This week I will be pretty busy, helping my dad with his upcoming estate sale and finally getting that big project I completed up on my website. I'd like to set a goal of this weekend for that, really focusing on getting it to completion within a set timeframe. I'll be creating a schedule for all the tasks and costing them, which should hopefully allow me to spread out the work and stay goal-oriented.

Random Thought: Nutrition Facts
I am really proud of my dad for his recent attempts to eat more healthily. I got to see some of this firsthand on the trip. While it's easy to love my dad's fish fry (everything tastes good when it's fried), I wanted to try a healthier grilled recipe with fresh dill. Not only was it a hit, but I think I got my dad addicted to dill. I convinced him to add dill to almost every meal we ate, from salads to sandwiches to hummus dip, to potato chips. And it tasted really good on everything.

Maybe it doesn't look like much but it was super delicious.

My dad also mentioned that he has started to read the nutrition facts label on all the packaged food he eats. I think this is a really important thing to do - one should know what they are putting in their body. Whether or not the ingredients are good for you is another discussion, but at least understand and know what choice you are making. For example, I was reading the ingredients of a "healthier" sweet potato-based tortilla chip, only to find that the first ingredient is still corn, and that added sugar and honey are the actual sweetness-inducing flavours. Much better to make your own oven-baked chips from real sweet potatoes.

They still taste great, but they're not healthier.

Inspiration: Beast
I was lucky enough to acquire a voucher for the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Bunz and treated myself to a showing of Michael Pearce's new psychological thriller movie Beast last week. Starring Johnny Flynn of Netflix's Lovesick, the movie centers around a young woman named Moll (Jessie Buckley) who falls in love with Pascal (Flynn) who may or may not be responsible for the serial murders of four young women in the neighbourhood. Certainly outside of the comfort zone I usually live in regarding movies, but definitely worth the watch (in a nice, air conditioned movie theater to boot).

The movie is also stunning visually.

Set in British suburbia on the island of Jersey, the film boasts a handful of lovely shots of cliffs and beaches, jewel blue sea tones contrast against yellow sand and green grass. Plus, Flynn is not hard on the eyes either. It's lovely to see him in a role so contrasted against his lackadaisical tone in Lovesick. While he carries his facial scars (who doesn't like an interesting facial scar) in both productions, his character is completely different between the two. I'd love to see him in more television in the future.

Check out Beast at the Lightbox every day until Thursday.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Chastity Belt, Learn/Grow/Repeat & Design Canada

Weekly Update 2018-26: Chastity Belt soothes my mind as I reflect on my ability to handle adversity, and the amazing documentary showcasing Canadian graphic design.

Music: Chastity Belt
Straight outta Walla Walla, Washington comes the all-female indie rock four-piece Chastity Belt. Their music is so good and wholesome, inspired by the politics of the riot grrrl scene and early-90s Pacific Northwestern moody guitar riffs, it just feels like the right thing to me.

In between the mellow melodies weaves the angelic voice of lead singer Julia Shapiro, singing witty and often cutting lyrics. For their 2015 song Drone, she belts out a bridge I think most women can identify with:
He was just another man, tryn'a teach me something...
I especially love their 2017 album I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone, recorded in the summer of 2016 in Portland, Oregon.

On Monday, I checked out an amazing documentary about design's role in shaping Canada's identity through the latter half of the 20th century. It was really inspiring, so much so that I've saved it for the Inspiration section below.

Just a few of the amazing logos that make up Canada.

I had every intention of attending a female-centric bike ride last Thursday, and I even managed to withstand the dirty looks that are reserved only for those who drag their bikes onto the subway in rush hour (for 11 stops, mind you) AND the bus driver going past my stop even though I had requested the stop. When I got to the meeting place for the ride, I was met with a very nice woman who explained that she would not allow me to join the ride. Apparently my hybrid road bike is not good enough for the rides she holds, even though the event was listed as beginner level (when it comes to biking in the city, I am far beyond beginner).

And so, I turned a bad thing into an opportunity and conducted a more road bike-friendly solo ride all the way down the Lower Don Trail from Pottery Road to the water, continuing west for a wide stretch of the Martin Goodman Trail and up north to get home. It was a sweaty ~20km, and a really nice sightseeing journey of the don trail I had been wanting to explore for some time now. My ride map:

I took some wrong turns, so it was actually more distance!

The whole experience was a big motivator for me to plan some mid-length rides (more than my usual 4km to work). I'd really love to bike east from the river along the Martin Goodman Trail where it gets less busy, and also the peninsula of Tommy Thompson Park (which is a nice 12km and open on weekends). I didn't think Rebel/Sound Academy or Cherry Beach was a bikeable distance from my house, but it really isn't bad at just under 10km.

I also picked up a library book (that in itself was a kerfuffle!) called Come As You Are, a modern guide to understanding how sexuality varies from person to person, and how to understand one's own sexuality. I'm about halfway through the book, and it's very good.

The rain kept us from attending a garden tour in Uxbridge, but I was happy to spend the entire weekend with my family (literally everyone in my extended family at one point or another), and especially some quality time with my immediate family helping to organize a home for my dad's upcoming estate sale.

And finally, I attended a new meetup yesterday at the new location of Tilt. The arcade bar has moved from its original Annex location to Dundas, and boasts a larger space now so I don't have to brush past sweaty people to get around the bar. And if that weren't enough, the gods knew I would attend because my favourite pinball machine of all time was there to greet me. Yes, Pin-Bot is currently living at Tilt if you want to pay her a visit. She was good to me last night.

This week I'll be prepping for my fishing trip at the end of the week! I can't convey my level of excitement - this is a very special trip that I get to spend with my whole family (my mom doesn't usually come) and it's just basically the time of year when I feel most Canadian and proud of the beautiful nature that we are so lucky to have in our country. Not to mention that catching, prepping and cooking your own dinner is a really rewarding experience.

I'd also like to continue reading my library book (I only have three weeks to finish it and by gosh I will do that!).

Random Thought: Learn/Grow/Repeat
I've had a series of pretty bad things happen to me lately, and I've been dealing with everything pretty well. I like to think I'm growing more in tune with my emotions as I get older, and that I've developed healthy ways of dealing with all the shit that life throws at me. When faced with adversity, we sometimes say, it's all about perspective. This has always held a tinge of bullshit for me since it seems to suggest that all we need to do is be unrealistically positive and ignore our problems. But lately, I've been forcing myself to see the good as well as the bad. It can be tricky, but it feels more sincere to ensure I stay neutral instead of ignoring the good.

We learn from our mistakes and problems to ensure we do our best not to repeat them, but we also reward ourselves with positive outcomes (even though they don't counterbalance the negative outcomes). Learn, grow, repeat.

Inspiration: Design Canada
Bloor Cinema is currently running a week of a very interesting documentary by Greg Durrell. Design Canada is a journey through the history of Canada as seen through the lens of design, and how design has shaped the country's identity into what it is today.

The trailer.

In the 1960s, Canada was fast approaching is centennial year and somehow did not have a flag of its own. As I have mentioned on this blog before, I have quite the soft spot for flags and their (ideally) simple designs that anyone can reproduce in an act of patriotism and inclusion. After a national contest to find a flag that was truly reflective of the Canadian experience, the final design was actually selected by a committee (how in the heck did they find success through such a broken process?) and remains a classic design that holds up today.

Designed by George Stanley.

The Canadian National Railway Company commissioned Allan Fleming for its now classic logo and brand system in 1960. Fleming was a young and highly regarded Canadian graphic designer, and took a risk in simplifying down what was a quite detailed logo into something very stark, totally radical for the time.

A sketch by Fleming with a note for a final revision.

Legendary designer Massimo Vignelli simply gushed over this logo in the documentary - he noted that lines are all one thickness which allows the logo to be timeless. This notion seems to be a key to good design, I had never thought of it that way before. He also noted that the logo is accessible to many people because of its simplicity in moving between a "railroad track" shape to a "C + N".

The final logo in situ.

The documentary's executive producer is none other than Gary Hustwit, modern classic design documentary director. I can see his style of talking head layout shining through Durrell's work, as well as the directional storytelling and the way the mini-stories weave together to create a larger message. Documentaries in and of themselves are such an interesting medium, this one certainly being no exception. Not to mention (my humblebrag alert), I personally knew four of the interviewees in the doc. Does that make me a celebrity by proxy? (No.)

The movie poster.

Vintage Canadian design has always held a special place in my heart, its amazing simplicity and ability to say so much with so little speaks to the unity and power of a nation of which I am proud to be a part.

Check out the documentary at Bloor Cinema or its equally very cool website.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Car Seat Headrest, Crying & Chowhound

Weekly Update 2018-25: Everything you wanted to know about emotional release. Car Seat Headrest belts out emotional lyrics as we explore the changing the stigma of public crying and eating your feelings using recommendations from Chowhound.

Music: Car Seat Headrest
If you ever wanted to shout some lyrics over really powerful guitar licks, look no further than Seattle-based indie power rock quartet Car Seat Headrest. There's something magnetic about their music, filled with catchy rhythms and the melodic, ambitious vocals of Will Toledo (the sole creator of the band). Their moody and introspective lo-fi pop tunes are at once melancholic and uplifting, which is sort of what this week's update is about.

My favourite track is definitely Destroyed By Hippie Powers (I've been listening to it on repeat for a couple of weeks now), but they have a bunch of awesome tracks.

The band is touring a 2018 re-release of their 2011 album Twin Fantasy in Toronto on September 11.

Along another note of emotional release, my feminist book club met earlier this week to discuss our latest read, Jessica Bennett's Feminist Fight Club. The book acts as a manual for women to navigate workplaces (specifically offices) that are controlled by men. In a setting where women are forced to work twice as hard as men to achieve the same goals, the book is a great tool for anyone to read for better understanding of how and why misogyny strikes in the workplace.

It was truly enlightening to hear some of my comrades speak about their experiences working in law (incredibly sexist environments for two women specifically). Unsurprisingly I have come across my share of sexism in the workplace, but nothing on the level of what these two women discussed. It reminded me that there are still paths to be carved, and the women carving them deserved to be championed and supported in any way we can.

As we wind down Bike Month, I am going to try to get one more group ride in tomorrow. It's a female-focused ride down the Don Valley Bike Path which I've always wanted to explore, so why not with a bunch of new friends?

Bloor Cinema is also offering a free small popcorn for anyone who bikes to the theatre to watch a movie, so I will try to check out Design Canada early next week.

This weekend is the Uxbridge Garden Tour, a.k.a. my mother's favourite event of the year. So we'll be visiting the gardens of strangers and judging their green thumbs.

Random Thought: Crying in Public
The act of shedding a tear or two has certainly been held in a vice grip by stigma for many generations, especially so for men. Many consider crying to be a display of weakness or something reserved for children who don't yet have an emotional handle on on their maturity.

This is all rather unfortunately backwards, as Jessica Bennett states in her book Feminist Fight Club. Crying can be extremely cathartic, steadying, and even sensible in some situations. Bennett suggests that there is no inappropriate place for a little public crying.

While I do agree with this sentiment and have certainly indulged in a good cry (yes, even in a public place), I probably don't cry nearly enough. It would seem that others agree, since the Tumblr Crying New York exists. If you ever need a good suggestion for a place to publicly cry in New York, this guide is for you.

And that's not all, my favourite Facebook Group New Urbanist Memes for Transit-Oriented Teens agrees as well. Public transit is not only a great place for a public cry, but it's pretty efficient because you can do it while you're on your way to somewhere.

Names have been blurred to preserve the owners' dignity, though I'm sure they would be proud to tell you they cry in public.

Inspiration: Chowhound
This past week marks a very special Father's Day for my dad. Between a couple of our favourite Chinese food restaurants closing down (after 60+ years in business) and our recent-ish trips to China leaving something to be desired in the authentic food category (I suspect we were treated as non-adventurous eaters on these tours), I knew my dad was searching for a new restaurant to fill the big hole in his heart.

After much trial and error of asking friends, colleagues, Lyft drivers (I met a very nice one in Toronto who was born in one of the Chinese cities I visited) and walking into restaurants by chance, I finally found the right answer. Somewhere in Richmond Hill, there lives a man named Charles Yu. Born in China, having travelled the world of Michelin stars, he has now settled down in the suburbs of Toronto as the GTA resident advisor on all things Chinese gastronomy.

Yu's realm is a wonderful website called Chowhound that allows users to post questions, opinions and pictures of restaurants, supermarkets and everything in between. Yu can be found in many of the forum posts regarding Chinese food in any of the GTA's seven Chinatowns. And so, in honour of Father's Day 2018, I chronicled every recommendation that Yu has listed on the site into a custom Google Map.

Not only can it be extremely challenging to find good, authentic restaurants (which usually look like holes in the wall - so do the bad ones), but once you're face to face with a menu, what the heck do you order? Many of these places offer hundreds of dishes. So, my map includes over 40 of the best Chinese restaurants in three Chinatowns, along with recommendations of what dishes to order in each.

We used the map to do a restaurant hop around the downtown Chinatown this weekend, and I think my dad really enjoyed it. Amongst all of this, I consider myself really lucky to live in such a multicultural city that can provide something even more authentic than the meals I ate in the country of China.

And a bonus for you: if you got all the way to the end of this blog post, breathe a cleansing sigh of release with me and check out the map.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bonny Doon, Naked Bodies & Iris Van Herpen

Weekly Update 2018-24: Bonny Doon croons their alternative country into my ear as I attend the Toronto chapter of the World Naked Bike Ride and the Iris Van Herpen exhibit at the ROM. It was quite a weekend, from no clothes to ALL the clothes.

This illustration from Portland-based illustrator Lisa Congdon feels like looking in a mirror.

Music: Bonny Doon
This Detroit four-piece took a somewhat-cliche trip to a secluded cabin in the woods to record their sophomore album Longwave and the outcome is a perfect soundtrack for my summer. It's easygoing, bright, and carries just enough of an alternative country vibe to be folky without going overboard. I also appreciate the ways they strip down their sound to seem really simple, though of course it only appears that way.

Check out the new album, released only a few months ago:

Bonny Doon will open for Snail Mail at the Velvet Underground this Thursday.

Our new Brazilian friend Mestre Memeu has now departed Canada, but not before we had another six hours of band practice with him last week. Not only did he teach us some amazing new beats and breaks (look out, streets of Toronto) but he managed to do it all without speaking any English (or, perhaps without me knowing any of the Portuguese he was saying). And as a bonus, after the last three-hour practice last Wednesday, I dragged myself up to Richmond Hill to be able to vote the next morning with my dad. It was a nice experience and I made sure my voice was heard through my vote, though of course none of that really mattered because of the final outcome. But I am not going to bring any more politics than that into my blog. So here's a shoutout from Mestre to our band, straight from the Brazilian birthplace of Samba Reggae: Pelourinho.

What a beautiful place. I'd love to go here to drum on the cobblestones.

I also managed to spend a bunch of Bunz BTZ at the Drake General Store - splurging on another neon lamp (because you can never have too many) as well as some cute provincial flower socks. Who knew Trilliums could make my feet look this good?

It's always Pride month in my room, I guess! I love how the rainbow colours mix together to provide a warm white light - this is a practical lamp for sure.

Thanks for the free socks, Bunz!

This weekend I had planned to join a bike meetup regarding the best and worst biking paths of Wards 19 and 20 (sort of a ward-based showdown). I signed up on Eventbrite and was on my way over to the Harbourfront meeting point along the Waterfront Trail - when I happened to notice a huge group of bikes and naked people. Not something you see every day, and this was definitely not the ward showdown meetup! It occurred to me that this was the Toronto edition of the World Naked Bike Ride, an annual event that celebrates the intersection of freedom through nudity and a less oil-dependent civilization propelled by “ass, not gas”. I had attended my first WNBR in 2017 in Portland (also somewhat by chance), so I made a quick decision to skip the ward showdown in favour of this bike ride instead. They just happened to be starting at the same time and in similar locations - too bad we couldn't join them together somehow!

 Disclaimer: I don't know any of these people or their lovely bodies and I doubt anyone who knows them will read my dumb blog but if you do, and you want your photo removed, please contact me by clicking "About" above!!

We biked quite a circuit from Coronation Park to Trinity Bellwoods to Kensington to Yorkville to Queen's Park to Dundas Square to Nathan Philips Square to Harbourfront and back to Coronation Park, with lots of chanting and bell-ringing along the way. I really appreciate the other participants' urge to bare all skin to feel free, though my heart leans much more toward the less gas-dependent living than the nudity part. I actually enjoy the wearing of clothing (especially when biking in the hot sun). This did not keep me from chanting and riding along with my 1,000 new naked friends of course.

I'll admit I skipped out of the ride at Nathan Philips Square.

Only a few hours after my 24km bike ride, it was time to schlep up to Yorkdale area to play laser tag for a friend's birthday. I suppose this might seem more like fun than an accomplishment, but I have more than a handful of un-fun memories of laser tag birthdays including a recent one with some overly-competitive coworkers at my last job. I'm happy I was able to get over that, because this time was actually fun! And I wasn't even in last place either, I landed right in the middle of the scoreboard for both rounds. For someone who doesn't have an athletic bone in their body, I'll mark this one down as a personal win.

Tomorrow marks an interesting event where left-wing voters will discuss how the new Conservative government will affect our lives for the next four years. It's called How To Fight Ford and I'm hoping it will help to fill in the pit of despair I've been feeling in my soul since the election results were announced.

This weekend I'd like to give my dad his father's day present, pick some cantrips to go with my levelling up in my D&D campaign, and hopefully check out the street festival down the street on College. Almost every weekend is a street festival this time of year :)

Random Thought: Human Bodies
Watching so many naked bodies flop around on the Naked Bike Ride on Saturday got me thinking. I actually love the feeling of being protected. One might even go so far as to call it contained, or perhaps curled up and tucked in. While it brought me joy to see so many people feeling so free (at once of both cares and clothes), I did not feel that way for myself. I like to wear clothing.

I also wondered whether I felt this way because of some internalized misogyny around assuming that I should be modest as a woman, but I couldn't really separate my own feelings about being naked from those that I feel others might impose upon me as a woman. That's probably not worth unpacking in this day and age, since I don't think that feeling will change in my lifetime.

Finally, one last thought about the wearing of clothing is that it does invariably separate our minds from our physical bodies. Clothing does this by the sheer fact that it hides the view of our bodies from ourselves. Not only are we less mindful of the subtle physical changes of our bodies, but we spiritually separate our minds and bodies in the process of applying a layer between them. They become more foreign to us, the more clothing we wear. It's sort of like an elongated version of a pregnant woman not being able to see her toes.

Inspiration: Iris Van Herpen
Always a happy consumer of arts and culture in the city, I took my mother to see the Iris Van Herpen exhibit at the ROM this weekend.

Hailing from the Netherlands, the young designer is considered a pioneer in using new technologies in creating her runway designs, with a particular focus on 3D printing. Her pieces certainly revolutionize the meaning of a garment of clothing, pushing boundaries of how we might augment the human body with new textiles and ways of producing wear. From the designer herself:
I don’t think of fashion as being clothes, or a discipline. I think of it being much more. I see fashion as a dialogue between our inside and our outside.
For me fashion is a form of art that is close related to me and my body. I see it as a very personal expression of identity combined with desire, mood and culture.
I was very impressed with the exhibit at the ROM, spanning across the two special exhibition rooms of the Crystal. One room explores Van Herpen's works from 2012 to 2015 and experimentation with repurposed objects as well as machine-manufactured and 3D printed materials. For one collection, Van Herpen repurposed hundreds of umbrella ribs to create a sort of cage-type pattern for collars and structural elements.

The shadows alone are incredible (the mannequin's left arm).

Another collection explored how we might create the appearance of flowing water, looking as though stopped in time.

Note the "waterfall" effect on the skirt.

I was also particularly enthralled with these shoes - I really wanted to see them on a person!

What even are these?! (The shoe heel is sticking out of the bottom right, and the top of the curves are meant to touch your knee).

I really enjoyed that Van Herpen had supplied some extra fabrics and materials from her works, pinned down to tables that you could touch, squeeze and hold in your hands. This really gave life to her collections, since their materials and weights are so related to their unique nature. It was also interesting to see how these materials moves and interacts with the model wearing them. We were encouraged to blow air onto the pieces to observe how they move, accompanied by video displays of models walking the pieces down a runway.

This material felt like plasticky rubber - maybe the texture of a toy dinosaur?

The second room was certainly my favourite, showcasing Van Herpen's artistic partnership with Canadian designer/architect Philip Beesley, whose amazing sculpture Astrocyte I discovered at the Exposition for Design, Innovation and Technology last September. Beesley's penchant for 3D printing and obsession with the intersection of natural and artificial seem to work seamlessly with the wondrous couture created by Van Herpen. The two designers have collaborated on numerous collections between 2015-now, many of which are displayed alongside a collection of Beesley's sculptures, similar to the one I had seen at EDIT.

One of Beesley's sculptures contained sensors that would react to someone standing underneath certain parts of the piece - robotic “hummingbirds” would raise and lower their wings as they “sipped” from liquid tubes above their heads. Apparently this liquid is actually a compound that can be used to self-heal certain kinds of materials in building structures, paving the way to a new construction method that is resilient over harsh conditions and long periods of time.

My mom looking at one of the Beesley sculptures.

I highly enjoyed the exhibit. If you do check it out, be sure to see the easily-missed documentary on Van Herpen and Beesley's creative process in building the exhibit (hang a hard left in the second room to enjoy it).

3D printing is definitely the future of art in some ways. As a final bonus thought, I received what may be my coolest Bunz trade to date - a custom-made statue of David's head as a planter for my spider plant. Check it out! 3D printing is super cool, both in its seemingly limitless possibilities but also in the way it brings the cost of manufacturing down enough for a single person to be able to make pretty much whatever they want!

His pupils are little hearts also :)