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 :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Black Moth Super Rainbow, Remote Controls &

Weekly Update 2018-23: I can't get the vocoder from Black Moth Super Rainbow out of my head as I wonder why air conditioning units have features that are only accessible through their remotes, and take a trip down memory lane as I review my own personal concert history on

Music: Black Moth Super Rainbow
If you like psychedelic revival and heavy use of vocoder, look no further than Black Moth Super Rainbow to fulfill all your sunny day flower child music cravings. Originally from Pittsburgh, the band is currently composed of frontman, singer, and songwriter Tobacco whose vocals are altered via a vocoder; keyboardist The Seven Fields of Aphelion, who often performs with a classic monosynth; drummer Iffernaut; guitarist Ryan Graveface; and bassist Pony Driver. If that doesn't explain their music enough, suffice to say it will take you on an acid-induced trip through an omni-coloured labyrinth of candy and daydreams. It's also just really good music for hanging out outside.

Their album art and concert merchandise also visually matches their sound, which makes me happy.

Their new album Panic Blooms came out a month ago, and I highly recommend it.

I didn't get a chance to attend a bike meetup last week because I was lucky enough to attend three concerts! All three of which were phenomenal. I was able to mosh in the pit at Parquet Courts on Sunday without getting hurt (though someone did spill beer on me), saw a gigantic floating whale "swim" above the crowd during The Mariner's Revenge Song at The Decemberists, and even won free tickets to see Death From Above (instead of the bike meetup). The bike meetups happen every week, so hopefully next week I can make up for it.

I did manage to trade away my old air conditioning unit on Bunz, which was an ordeal in itself considering the high volume of offers. This last week was quite a heat wave, so people are pretty desperate for a unit. One of which (though not the winner of the item) happened to be an app designer for Bunz (Melanie), which was super cool. We ended up meeting for coffee, and she let me talk her ear off about design and working for Bunz.

This weekend was a big one for T.Dot Batu - we headlined Dundas West Fest with the amazing Mestre Memeu, and played to a packed audience of thousands. It was amazing. I couldnt believe how many people showed up - I literally could not see the end of the crowd from the stage. It was so cool to see everyone dancing to our music, and to be a part of such a big event in general. But most of all, the true accomplishment goes to Pato, our leader, for spending so many years building the band to become what it is today. We're the only band in Toronto to play the Samba Reggae music of Bahia (his hometown), and we bring the multiculturalism to the people from Brazil, but also in the way that the band members are from different places all over the world.

Mestre Memeu is with us in Toronto until Thursday, so we've got two more practices with him before he leaves. Beyond that, Melanie from Bunz has given me 20,000 Bunz BTZ to spend as part of an internal contest, so I'l be attempting to burn through the BTZ for something cool within the next two weeks. One of the merchants who accept BTZ is the Drake General Store - and there's no shortage of cool stuff to buy there.

Random Thought:
Upon trading my old air conditioning unit, I definitely upgraded with this new unit that my dad gave me. Possibly its best feature is the remote control it comes with, so I don't have to reach out to press the buttons on the machine itself (which are also really hard to press). I noticed that there are actually a couple of features on the remote that are not even accessible from the unit itself, which is also the case for my roommate's air conditioning unit. Something about this just didn't sit right with me, so I started to muse.

What happens if you lose or break the remote? In some cases, such as that of my roommate's unit, the unit becomes useless. Luckily, my own unit's remote only provides one feature that is missing from the unit itself. My old unit that I just traded also had a remote, but I didn't even know that until I looked up the model to provide information in the Bunz listing. None of the features (or at least, the ones I ever needed) were only accessible through its remote, which is why I didn't even know it originally had a remote.

Suffice to say, making software or features exclusive to specific hardware is extremely limiting to user experience and just plain lazy design. It reminds me of the scramble to move from graceful

Only being able to access certain features from the remote is similar to designing different things for different devices - don't exclude people who don't have the hardware, from accessing the software.

An interesting parallel to this situation is when the interface designer world switched from graceful degradation to progressive enhancement. In a nutshell, this states to design the best experience for the smallest screen, and build up from there. It is outdated and simply incorrect to design a full experience for a desktop machine and a "lite" version for mobile that does not contain all of the desktop features. No one should be punished for having a small phone instead of a desktop computer, especially in this day and age. On the same vein, no one should be punished for losing or breaking their air conditioner remote. It happens! Hopefully not to me, but you never know. I'm pretty clumsy.

And as a bonus, I simply cannot believe that this exact topic came up in one of my Facebook groups last night (after I had written the above section but before publishing).

So it would seem this is a common problem that I'd argue could easily be fixed at the source. By all means, keep making air conditioning units with remotes, but don't make their features only accessible through the remotes!

I have spoken about the power of crowdsourcing before on my blog, from Spotify giving me awesome music recommendations to Google telling me how long it will take to bike to work, to Kickstarter helping me find small-run products and projects to support.

You may know that I attend a lot of concerts (freakishly even for me, three in the past week), so it should be no surprise that I am currently building a lifelong love affair with Who knew there was a website dedicated to being a setlist catalog of almost every concert I've ever attended? And for the ones that aren't there, I can add them easily. After painstakingly adding every concert I can remember, plus all the ticket stubs I've collected since 2008, my personal concert attendance is almost fully recorded on the site. It spits out cool stats back at me, like which bands I've seen the most times and which festivals I've attended.

I think Joel Plaskett actually wins here with around seven/eight concerts - too bad he has two different bands so his classification is split.

Much as I do love to collect concert tickets and paper setlists (I have a few very special ones), I think this website will be much richer and helpful in being the main source for my concert-going history. I do wish it had a bit more of a social tie-in to help me find friends who have similar music tastes and the like, but it certainly does its basic job very well. Check out my profile and make your own!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Amherst, Anime North and Aggretsuko

Weekly Update 2018-22: Amherst's thoughtful take on future funk raises the bar for the genre, I attend Anime North as a voyeur-extreme and binged an entire television show about an anthropomorphic red panda who sings death metal karaoke.

Music: Amherst
Ohio-based producer Amherst is making tracks that may seem like your average future funk, but are truly so much more. Beyond the usual vinyl-digging for disco-based samples (which he does a very good job of, to be sure), Amherst manages to run the gamut of emotion through his discography. One such example is that of 2015 album Heat.wav, in which he demonstrates knowingly that happiness can't be expressed without a comedown. I know I've toted a lot of future funk this year, but Amherst is certainly not one to be missed.

Check out Heat.wav:

Earlier last week I attended a design meetup - one of the better ones I have been to lately. Biography Design has just moved into a fresh new office on the "Geary strip" - the posh new up-and-coming area adjacent to Geary Avenue that includes a pinball bar, brewery, world-renowned architecture and design firm, custom designer eyeglasses warehouse, and much more.

If Type Could Talk: a seminar on typography in 2018 by Dalton Maag.

Biography welcomed us to their new office with a special presentation by Dalton Maag's creative directors Eleni Beveratou and Tom Foley, having travelled all the way from England to teach us about the ins and outs of typography design in 2018. I had no idea how stringent end user license agreements (EULAs) for fonts were.

One quote from Tom Foley really stuck with me: typography and letterform design can be seen as a "system of space". The negative space created around the letters is as important to legibility as the letterforms themselves.

I have to make a shoutout to the sold out crowd, amazing food, free beer and awesome swag bags at this event. Of course the best part is the learnings and Q&A period, but free stuff never hurts :) I was also really curious to see Biography's new office, such a lovely space and right around the corner from my band's practice space.

On Thursday I attended yet another meetup - my first in-person meeting for my beloved Young Urbanists League Facebook Group. I was particularly excited for any reason to attend a bonfire in Dufferin Grove Park (such a lovely space to hang out in) and to meet Rachel Lissner, Toronto's resident New Urbanism leader in my opinion. The greatest thing about the event was that the bonfire had been accidentally double-booked for the Bunz Wilderness Zone Facebook Group, of which I was not a member before the bonfire. But heck yes, I am a member now. I absolutely love the community atmosphere of Bunz, and also love the outdoors, so this was a natural move for me. Bunz Wilderness Zone holds hikes and other events throughout the year, you can become a member and get updates on their happenings.

And if that wasn't enough, I attended Anime North this weekend as well. My first real fan festival, I really enjoyed the home-grown nature of the whole thing. It was pretty well organized and run for over 35,000 attendees, but still felt small and friendly. Many panels were run by fans with no real fame or following, but who simply loved the shows or movies they discussed, and wanted others to feel their passion. And did I mention the HORDES of amazing cosplayers, each better than the last? I literally could not stop turning my neck back and forth for three straight days. More on that below.

After three days and two nights of running around with very little sleep, I retrieved my new bike from the bike shop and rode it to the Phoenix to catch Parquet Courts last night. I normally steer clear of Sunday night shows, especially after a weekend festival, but the call of this band is too strong. Somehow the show wasn't sold out but the room was PACKED to the gills. There was so much energy that I somehow ended up in the mosh pit and soon covered in other people's beer and sweat, so I'll call that a success. I've mentioned my love of this band before but after finally seeing them live, I simply cannot sing their praises loud enough.

Tha boys rockin' it out.

Keeping the momentum going - I want to find and follow all of the talented artists I met at Anime North. I am also finally ready to sell my old Bumblebee bike off to the next rider - hopefully it can find new love after three years in my stead. On top of that, I also hope to sell my old air conditioner now that I have a spiffy new one. If I am really lucky, I'll also be able to find a bike rack for my new bike on Bunz so I can stop loading a backpack and killing my back.

Now that my bike has been tuned up and is ready to hit the streets, I am hoping to attend one of the community bike rides this week in honour of May being Bike Month. Thursday actually has two rides (that I know of), one at Evergreen Brickworks and one on the Don Valley Bike Trails (which are very close to each other - maybe they'll combine into one super-bike ride).

Coming up into the summer means tons of drumming shows, and this week is a big one for my band. Our music, Samba Reggae style from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, was made immensely popular by a band called Olodum. Olodum is headed up by a man named Mestre Memeu, and our band leader Pato has sponsored his travel to Toronto this week to play some shows and do some workshops with our band. This is a large honour for us and a big step forward for our band. We spent a whole summer practicing one of his original songs to play for our fans in Toronto, and I am pleased to see that Pato is moving our performance music away from "drum-added" North American/European music in favour of true, traditional songs written for the genre. Here's Memeu leading Olodum through their original Salsa Percussiva, which our band plays in Toronto.

Catch Memeu playing with TDot Batu at Dundas West Fest this Saturday June 2!

This weekend I'd like to spend some time adding more accessibility-friendly features to my website, and look into adding some to my blog as well. Apparently Google just changed a bunch of features of Blogger, so I may have to check that out to see if my blog was affected negatively at all. If you see anything new and/or weird, let me know!

Random Thought: A Festival for the Fans
My roommate has been religiously attending Anime North (Toronto's very own fan convention) for a number of years, and I decided that this would be the year I see it for myself. I have been a continual attendee of lots of music festivals, so I was interested to see how this would compare.

The first and best thing I noticed as soon as we hit the convention centre was that this truly was a festival of, for and by fans. Anime North is proudly not for profit, and the homegrown nature definitely shines through. From Artist's Alley (where artists sell their lovingly ripped-off fan art to other fans) to the various panels run by fans on all the knowledge they've gathered on their favourite shows, to Friday night's Nominoichi - a Bunz-style marketplace to buy and trade used fan merchandise, cosplay accessories, games, DVDs, and tons more. You can haggle and get stuff much more cheaply than retail price, and even a poseur like me was able to find a new prized possession:

My new Nintendo Amiibo of Reese the alpaca from Animal Crossing. She has RFID powers that I don't have access to, so I was happy to buy her for only $3 and keep her on my bedside table :)

Honestly, one of my favourite parts of the convention was rubbernecking and seeing all the amazing costumes people had put together. Each one was more wonderful than the last. I do love a good piece of craftsmanship.


Colonel Sanders...maybe this is from an Anime?

A bush (Erika) and Maverick from Top Gun (me).

A bunch of characters and someone's super-cute service dog!

My friend Mike dressed as the main character from Ancient Magus Bride (and a random person dressed as his character's counterpart).

My friend Nathan dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog (and a random person dressed as Tails).

One man dressed as both Finn and Jake from Adventure Time.

Some of the more amazing costumes (including Mike's above) were very popular and their wearers couldn't move more than three streps through a building without being asked to take a picture. Mike explained that this is a choice that cosplayers make. It seems like they make the effort to become part of the sights of the convention, and don't get the opportunity to see and do everything because of it. It seems to me like attendees are almost choosing whether to be an exhibitionist or a voyeur, depending on whether they wear a cosplay. Needless to say, my cosplay was (1) not from an anime and (2) pretty low-key, so no one asked for my picture :)

Inspiration: Aggretsuko
With much reluctance, I have mostly grown out of my childhood Hello Kitty phase. There's something really appealing to me about those bold lines and flat colours, especially when they're drawn in detailed scenes. I would always look forward to the new Sanrio calendar each year, especially ones with detailed themes like dogs or fashion through the ages (seriously, it was a think in 2009).

I was scrolling through Netflix the other day looking for something to watch, when I came across something I couldn't quite understand. A new anime, co-produced by Netflix and Sanrio? What exactly am I looking at that a red panda??

This was a very surprising title card to find in my Netflix menu.

Aggretsuko is the story of a 25-year-old anthropomorphic red panda named Retsuko who works in the accounting department of a Japanese trading firm. Facing constant frustration every day from pushy superiors and annoying co-workers, Retsuko lets out her emotions by going to a karaoke bar every night and singing death metal. The character first appeared in a series of animated shorts by Fanworks which aired on TBS Television between April 2016 and March 2018. And now, Retsuko finds herself famous in a full animated series that was released on Netflix in April 2018.

The show is super duper cute.

But not only that, Retsuko's character is scarily relatable, from her ongoing torment from an abusive chauvinist boss to her friends' pressure on her to find a relationship. Throughout the series, Retsuko struggles with feminism and the unfair roles placed on her in her typical Asian workplace setting. The Verge has a really great article on the show, from which I lifted a great user comment:

The show is only ten episodes (so far) at about 15 minutes each, so it makes for a nice, light watch. Check out the trailer:

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Hives, Inanimate Feedback & Fake Plants

Weekly Update 2018-21: Working out excessive energy with Swedish rock band The Hives, building a relationship through feedback with inanimate objects (did that sound as weird to you as it did to me?) and fake plants trying to pass as real.

Music: The Hives
I have been listening to this Sweden-based rock outfit since the mid-2000s, and I still have yet to grow sick of them. The Hives produce music that is consistently strong, danceable, well-produced, and just makes me feel good. If you like to shake your empowerment around through music, this is the band for you. From the soul-punching beats to the shout-sung lyrics of frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, their songs are all very, very special to me. I liken the feeling of listening to a Hives song to that of sitting down for a rest at a school dance, only to hear your jam and force your body to shake every last bit of energy you have. The Hives are my jam. And the lyrics are catchy enough to memorize after only a couple of listens. So go ahead:

I recommend literally any song. But Tyrannosauras Hives (their 2003 album) is my favourite.

The Hives are also a large staple of my new Spotify playlist Pop Rock Hammer. More on that below.

This was quite a week of accomplishments! First off, I completed my accessibility audit of my website, and even managed to implement some changes to the homepage to make it fully accessible. I taught myself how to code a skip-to-main-content link so that users with screen readers or limited use of the mouse will be able to skip to the main content of any page without having to tab through the navigation every time. I also added alternative text to all the images, which is great for visually impaired users but also for users who need more context for an image, and also for search engine optimization (so robots know what's in the images, too). I love how inter-related the ideas and principles of accessibility and SEO are.

I also created a new Spotify playlist that I'm pretty proud of already: all the amazing early 2000s indie rock that is simply amazing for expending pent-up energy. Of course my most recommended method for listening and expending is biking - no surprise there. While creating the playlist, I noticed that there seems to be a resurgence in this style of music (fast, loud beats with strong lyrics that verge on yelling but not screamo), so I added some more modern examples as well as some earlier 90s grunge rock to round it out. And of course, it includes a healthy dose of The Hives (which is also a great choice for karaoke, in case you were wondering).

The playlist contains over 150 songs, so there's no shortage if you dig the sounds!

Last Thursday I attended a clothing swap at a co-working space in my neighbourhood called Shecosystem. I was excited to refresh my wardrobe, donate some clothing to people in need, and contribute my admission fee to charity, but I was also interested to check out Shecosystem and get a feel for their impact on the neighbourhood. The space is really cute and they host lots of cool events - I'll be visiting again soon.

On Saturday I attended my first meetup - a hike from Old Mill along the Humber River. It was nice to find an excuse to get outside but my accompanying friend and I agreed that we didn't really think there was anyone we made a connection with. I might try a couple more of the hikes provided by this meetup group, if only for a reason to explore more hiking trails in the city. The weather is so lovely this time of year! It was so lovely in fact that on Sunday, I checked out Sibbald Point beach with some friends. What a lovely beach, only an hour's drive from the city.

And last but opposite of least, I got a new bike!! I am beyond stoked on this and eternally grateful to my father for making this happen for me. Good ol' Bumblebee (my black and yellow early 90s Raleigh Portage) took a spill on that really windy day a couple weeks ago, and has since ridden really strangely and slowly - well, it's because I bent the wheel.

Oh hey - I took the above photo almost exactly a year ago!

With that and the brakes issue and gosh knows what else going wrong with it, we realized that one of the bikes my dad has been collecting from estate and garage sales is actually in perfectly rideable condition. It's super light, has amazing gears and road tires (so I can go much faster), and after riding it around today, I can tell you it rides over streetcar tracks and potholes like a dream. It's actually a Specialized Roadhopper (according to the crossbar), and runs from midnight indigo to plum purple ombré. Check out my aubergine beauty below:

My dad suggested I offer to trade Bumblebee to my local bike shop in exchange for a tune-up on yet-to-be-named [Midnight Plum]. If the bike isn't even worth a tune, I may end up donating it to Bike Pirates (a Queen West bike shop who will use it as a classroom tool to teach people how to fix their own bikes - maybe myself included). 

My goal this week is to accomplish even half the amount of things I did last week. Here goes:

I have another meetup tonight that I am pretty jazzed about. This one is being held at the new location of Biography Design on the hip Geary stretch, and the two creative directors of Dalton Maag (a type foundry in England) are coming to talk about typography use for designers in the modern era.

And of course, this coming weekend marks my first attendance of Anime North, Canada's largest not-for-profit fan festival. I want to check out the schedule and figure out my weekend so I get to see everything I can! I think this weekend is going to take a lot out of me (similar or possibly moreso than a music festival) so I'm going to prepare as such. I also just can't talk myself out of seeing Parquet Courts at the Phoenix on Sunday night (they're currently one of my favourite bands) so it's going to be a tough one.

All I know is there is a panel about my current favourite anime Pop Team Epic so I hope I don't miss that one.

I can't really explain the show so just read this description.

Random Thought: Inanimate Feedback
As mentioned above, I had the amazing fortune to acquire a new bike just as my old bike was reaching its last legs (wheels). Since a bicycle is something I use almost every day and depend on in numerous ways, I have grown an attachment to my old bike. I'd like to build the same relationship with this new bike, which is already proving quite easy in these first 24 hours.

Perhaps best of all, it's so light that I can carry it up the two flights of stairs to my apartment without breaking a sweat. This meant that I would walk by it (and admire it) every time I walked between rooms in my apartment last night. Each time I did this, I had a strange urge to ring its bell. This seemed kind of odd considering I wasn't riding the bike and there was no one to signal to inside my apartment, so I analyzed this feeling.

I think I was looking for a way to begin building a relationship with this inanimate object that I will be depending on for the next long while. We don't know each other very well, so maybe my subconscious wanted to get some open dialogue going. I know this sounds super crazy, but it seems true!

Thinking back to when I spent a couple hours cleaning the bike yesterday, it was a great joy to explore the features and quirks of the bike as I cleaned it. I wonder if the feeling of comfort/attachment caused by familiarizing oneself with an inanimate object is a global one (or just my crazy brain). The act of providing feedback (by ringing the bell or some other form) makes me feel like the bike is communicating back to me, and strengthening the bond.

In user experience design, feedback is meant to do this exact thing: provide comfort in the user by communicating understanding/confirmation of the user's action. One might even go so far as to call feedback design the act of personifying an object or interface; making it more recognizable to a human as a counterpart in the completion of a goal.

I hope this bike marks the start of a beautiful journey together, especially now that the weather is amazing and bike meetups are springing up all over the place.

Inspiration: Fake Plants
Some people have a green thumb and can grow the most beautiful houseplants, my mother and roommate included in such group. I have some real plants of my own that I have managed not to kill, but I am also drawn to the allure of fake plants. I want to be enveloped in greenery, and if some of the foliage is fake (but most of it is real), who will be able to tell?

Am I real or fake?

While I do love fake plants, I find you have to hang them in high places so people can't see them up close to find that they're fake. Otherwise it's pretty easy to tell. 

Actually, the above plant, aptly named The Two Week Vacation, is actually fake. I suppose one way to tell that a fake plant is indeed fake, is to notice its unnatural perfection and lush green colour. Real plants have imperfections (just like real women). 

The story of three men who created a business for slightly browning fake plants that you can buy and fool your friends with:

Slightly imperfect plants are real and remind me of my nature and humanity. It's an amusing juxtaposition that we would try to impersonate this detail in plants that are, at the end of the day, still fake. But why not! There are worse things to spend your money on, surely. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sugar Candy Mountain, Toronto's Harbourfront & Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Weekly Update 2018-20: Sugar Candy Mountain complimented the sunshine as I took my mother on a galavanting expedition of the cultural wonders of Toronto's Harbourfront, and then to see a truly inspirational documentary on the honourable Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Music: Sugar Candy Mountain
This music has a big mood. One of my favourite emerging genres of the late 2010's is the new wave of 1960s psychedelic revival music. When I listen to it, I feel transported to some loungey 1960s spy movie. It's smart, suave, smart and precise, yet at the same time feels effortless like everything floats into place, which is really calming to me. I love this genre. I suppose it's also my feeling of FOMO for the 1960s, when the political mood was pretty charged but there were also notions of peace and freedom.

Anyway, out of Oakland, California emerges Sugar Candy Mountain, a modern four-piece playing music that will transport you back in time (even if you were born after the 60s ended). From the band themselves:
If Brian Wilson had dropped acid on the beach in Brazil and decided to record an album with Os Mutantes and The Flaming Lips, it would sound like this.
Well, there you have it. Favourite songs include this whole album, front to back. But you can start with Windows and 666. Listen below:

I must say, my mother and I had an epic mother's day extravaganza on Sunday. We started off with an amazing walking tour of the Harbourfront, including a trip behind the old Malting silos to Ireland Park - hidden behind the coast. What an amazing place. I'd really like to make the trip back along there in warmer weather, between that, the Toronto Music Garden and the sandy "fake beach", there's literally tons of awesome things to do.

The Toronto Music Garden is simply gorgeous - I can't wait to come and read a book here.

An overhead view.

After that, we checked out the Power Plant Art Gallery. It's a pretty small place, only three exhibits this season, but it always packs a punch with us. Kader Attia's first solo exhibition in Canada, The Field of Emotion explores the shame, repentance and healing felt by both oppressor and oppressed in great trauma. Specifically regarding World War I, Attia's motion within the various installations of the exhibit were that to repair one's wounds is akin to erasing the trauma from history. We must bask in our broken states and take the damage into ourselves to fully understand and accept what had happened.

There was specifically a room, quite large, completely empty but for a very subtle installation. The concrete flooring, complete with cracks that had been naturally created from use and wear, was covered in small metal brackets, representatively "holding" the cracks of the floor together. They were barely noticeable at first, but extremely striking and resonated with me on a level I don't fully understand even now. But it reminds me of Japanese vases that are broken and then put back together with gold in between the cracks, their damage and repair now an intrinsic part of their value.

The term for this type of repair is Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi).

I gathered up all of the hard work and assets I created for the big project that just finished at work - there's quite a lot. It'll be a project in itself to figure out how best to display the work on my site. More on that below.

I also started the accessibility audit for my own site. Here's my list so far:
  • many images are missing alt tags (I'm going to write really good ones!)
  • no discernible H1 on project pages (oops!)
  • no skip-to-content link (I have to learn how to do this)
  • the navigation does not contain a selected state (this is pretty dumb of me to have missed)
  • non-live text on the archive page (I may not bother to fix this since I don't want people to visit the archive anyway!)
A lot of these pieces will improve the experience for users with screen readers, which may not be many visitors, but improving accessibility of a site also directly improves SEO and indirectly, user experience (see the navigation selected state problem), so I'm sure this will all be for the overall good of the site. Plus, these changes aren't super technical (except maybe the skip-to-content link) so I could get them all done pretty quickly.

I'd like to finish my accessibility audit, and then actually implement the changes to my site. I think I can do all of this between Thursday and Friday night. It would be amazing to get it done on Thursday or at least write a little blog post on my report, in honour of Thursday being Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

I'd also like to continue on writing my reflection of the big work project, to be done on Saturday afternoon (maybe in the park if the weather is nice). I'm hoping to attend a clothing swap in Trinity Bellwoods on Saturday as well, so maybe it'll be a two-for-one!

I've also been noticing that people have started following my playlists on Spotify, which is super exciting. I'm getting a bit bored of what I have now, and decided that I'd like to add a psychedelic chillout playlist and a hard rock hammer playlist. Look out for those if you're one of my playlist followers - since Spotify doesn't tell me who is following my playlists >:D.

Random Thought:
I have a dumb corner of my home that I hate - it's the Bunz corner. All the stuff I have on my profile, fresh and available for trade, except not super fresh because a lot of it has been sitting there for a while. My family is having a garage sale soon, so I hope some of the older items will get cleaned out.
While this corner is full of stuff I don't really need, every once in a while I pick something out of the pile and find a great new use for it. This use is often a totally new idea that the item wasn't originally designed for. This is probably one of the biggest highs that I chase, being able to renew and utilize items that were seemingly useless and improve my life while I save something from a landfill.

Some examples:
  • cutting an old wine bottle crate in half (horizontally) to make a drawer organizer
  • planting aloe babies in old tarnished mugs (tarnished is so on trend right now)
  • using an over-the-door shoe rack as extra closet space for clothes (I don't have a big closet, sadly)
So when I can find uses for some of these items that actually improve my life, it's really a great thing. Perhaps to offset the guilt of my habit of collecting, I wonder if there's a correlation between the collecting of seemingly useless stuff, and the ability/resourcefulness to find extra uses in this stuff.

Or maybe I should stop collecting so many things, and learn to be resourceful with fewer items in general. Probably that.

Inspiration: The Notorious RBG

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a force to be reckoned with, even at 85 years young.

Without Ruth Bader Ginsburg, women's rights would simply not be as advanced as they are today. I cannot believe the amount of change one woman could enact, though of course she did have help and support from colleagues and friends. One of only four female justices of the Supreme Court's history, her tenacity and undying thirst for gender and racial equality make her a strong contender for my personal hero. On top of all that, her octogenarian brain is as sharp as it ever was, and she embraces modernism - even the moniker of "RBG" comparing her to the rapper Notorious BIG.

The movie poster.

I didn't know much about her before I saw a wonderful documentary on her life and times. I was fortunately able to see this documentary as the closing film of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, it also being my first venture into the programming of the TJFF. I was surprised and somewhat satisfied to see that her conservative Jewish upbringing was not brought into the forefront at any moment during the movie. The subtle way in which her religion was noted through its shaping of her beliefs in justice and equality was very interesting and spoke volumes to me about the way she saw Judaism as an intersectional lens through which to examine equality for all humans.

The film's trailer.

The documentary RBG is created by Magnolia Pictures, check out more info on the official movie website. Enjoy!