Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sniffle Party, Chia Seed Pudding & State of Design 2018

Weekly Update 2018-09: Sad girl dance parties with Sniffle Party, making the most delicious and easy pudding of my life, and attending a meetup worthy of my Friday night.

Music: Sniffle Party
I am no stranger to sad music, but I especially love melancholic tunes that are also danceable. The combo is somewhat odd and hard to find, but Sniffle Party scratches that itch for me. Self-classified as dreamy future witch pop, Sniffle party is a duo from Wisconsin comprised of Serena Wagner on sad-girl lyrics/vocals and Eric Christenson providing beats/production. It's like feely slow jams with a really good beat. The duo already have a musical project together called Two Castles, but I appreciate the distinction between the two sounds by separating the acts.

And on top of all that, Wagner is a graphic designer as well as musician. I really like their album art. Favourite tracks include Peach Dream and All The Snow Is Gone, but as you see they don't have many songs and they're really all great.

I can't believe these words are coming out of my mouth (keyboard): I attended a design meetup last week that was actually totally worthwhile and enriching for me - and on a Friday evening no less! Read more about it in the Inspiration section below.

Spring has sprung (yes, I'm going to jinx the weather) so I was able to bike to and from work a handful of times last week. I am starting to dream of biking to the beach again...only another month or so until I'll be biking every day again :)

I also took a cue from my wonderful roommate Erika and made myself a chia seed pudding for work today. This is literally one of the easiest, tastiest and healthiest things to make ahead, and it's really flexible to customize to your tastes and what you have in your fridge. Simply combine 2 tablespoons of chia seeds with about a cup of milk (dairy, coconut, nut, whatever), a bit of sweetness like stevia or honey, a drop of vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, and whatever fruit/nuts/seeds you have lying around. Then, let it soak overnight so the milk can make its way into the chia seeds and thicken the pudding. Today's additions were fresh blueberries, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate pieces and dried cranberries.

My pudding went well with wireframes and coffee in my ecentricarts mug.

On top of all that, we also went skating on Monday at Dufferin Grove. Such a lovely place to skate (even though there were a ton of kids and they all had no idea what fear was, for how fast they were shooting past me).

Erika is becoming quite the skate-lady. She just invested in her own new pair of skates.

With the changing weather, skating days are getting sketchy. I had originally hoped to skate on Nathan Phillips Square tomorrow, but the weather may prevent me from doing so. In which case, I'd like to use the evening to do something else outside!

Thursday is the first official EventMobi hangout since I left the company in the summer. While it was definitely my time to leave the company when I did, I still miss my old coworkers dearly and can't wait to hang out with the old crew.

And lastly, I'll be attending drum practice on Sunday for the first time in a long time, to practice leading the beginner band. We have a ton of festivals and shows coming up this summer, which means more opportunities for me to lead the band in bigger public settings. This means I can't mess up!

Random Thought:
One of the things I love most about Spotify is its auto-generated radio stations. Based on an album, artist, or even a single song, you can access Spotify's algorithm that generates songs which are closest to what you've selected. I find it really spot-on 90% of the time, which makes finding new bands really simple. All of that said, the algorithm can often be so good that I fall into a loop of the same 8-10 bands for a few weeks. It can start to feel like a sort of echo-chamber and I begin to feel tired of the genre. Then I have to take a break and that's no fun.

So, how can I use the algorithm to find me more obscure music of varying genre, that I will most probably enjoy? I have found the most success when starting a radio station from albums which contain cross-genre collaborations, such as Daniele Luppi's Milano that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Luppi, an Italian composer, mixes his skills with that of Parquet Courts' groovy alt-rock and The Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O's angelic yet raunchy vocals. The album radio is quite spectacular, crossing genres and really never quite the same every time I go to it. Why not try it out?

I just learned that one cannot link directly to a radio station outside of Spotify - but click the link and you can make your own which is more fun!

Inspiration: State of Design 2018
As mentioned above, I have been to many a design meetup in my time. In my experience in Toronto, I find they're generally more focused on networking than on learning and growth, which is my main goal. Don't get me wrong, it's great to network and connect with other like-minded people in my city, but these events are always after work and I'm often too tired to muster up the social levels to properly meet ten new people in ten minutes. But I always have energy to learn.

And so it was, on a Friday night (the second worst night after Monday for a meetup, IMO) about 300 designers (and a handful of other professions) gathered in the Telus building near Union Station for an evening of design talks, free food and an open bar.

Despite being on a Friday night, I really enjoyed the talks and felt like I really learned something. Between the talk by Dylan Field (cofounder of Figma) on design systems, the case study by Lori Davison and Carlos Moreno on the SickKids VS campaign, and the talk on smart home thermostats by Leanne Paura, I was very impressed with the cross-disciplinary design thinking going on. I may even try out Figma - if I can carve out some time at work.

The meetup was hosted by DesignX, a community of cross-disciplinary designers in Toronto with an active slack group. I have been part of it for some time but don't follow along too closely, so I really enjoy these in-person meetups as a way to meet other like-minded (as well as not so like-minded) people in real life.

Preet (the founder) and all the DesignX volunteers closing the show.

If you're a Toronto designer and you don't know about DesignX, join the slack group.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Crumb, Small Hands & Nas Daily

Weekly Update 2018-08: So much inspiration from Brooklyn psych-rockers Crumb and the 60-second vlog gems from NasDaily, along with the nuances of owning small hands.

Music: Crumb
Brooklyn-based four-piece Crumb delivers just what I need: a melancholic yet upbeat psych trip through a land made of clouds. In other words: sometimes it's poppy, sometimes it's jazzy, all the time it's amazing music that lets itself right into the doorway of your soul. Lead singer and guitarist Lila Ramani is a gifted songwriter who invites us into her world of emotion and funky guitar licks. Listener beware, these songs will stick to your gut like molasses.

Favourite tracks include all of them (they only have seven on Spotify/Bandcamp at the time of publishing). If you forced me to choose, Vinta and Thirty-Nine both take me on a spiritual vision quest when I close my eyes (though each of a very different sort from each other).

Catch Crumb at The Baby G in Toronto with Luna Li on April 4.

Also deserving of a shoutout is the album art from their two EP's (one of which is especially topical of the Random Thought further down the page):

2017's Locket.

2016's self titled.

This week I made pulled pork for a potluck (which is a really fun sentence to say out loud), and added to my room-collage. It's getting pretty unruly after 28 months of contribution. I also finally cleaned off my desk, so I present you with this picture in the hopes that you won't think I have gone insane.

I don't have a problem, I just like paper ephemera, okay?

I also went a little silly on the frozen edge of Lake Erie at a friend's cottage in Long Point yesterday, and attempted to vault a huge branch across the lake with the help of some friends. Of course, when the log was vaulted, it took me with it and sent me across the ice a few metres. All in a day's work – and totally worth it.

And if that weren't enough, Mondo Mascots (mentioned in last week's update) thanked me for the shoutout! Guess I'm getting a hang of this Twitter thing after all...

I've saved a lot of cool things on Facebook and Instagram, but have yet to discover a good way to actively use them when needed. There are some recipes, pieces of inspiration for the blog, articles I've yet to read, bands I've yet to truly discover - and only so much time. So I'm devoting this week to sorting and organizing them.

Random Thought: Small Hands
Certainly a topic only ever considered by owners of small hands, life can be challenging at times for such people. By no means would I classify having small hands as a disability, but it can be troublesome. I am currently the owner of a pair of small hands, and I have only ever met one person over the age of 13 with smaller hands than mine.

There are obvious things, like the fact that a bracelet will never fit my wrist properly without sliding off my hand, but I want to talk about the deep cuts like holding a mug or fork. I don't know if I should be doing some hand exercises to strengthen them, but most mugs and cutlery are simply too big for my hand to use comfortably. Handfeel of a mug is very important, especially as I already find mug handles to be largely poorly designed in the first place. Now imagine that issue exacerbated with a full cup of coffee inside it.

But the most difficult thing about having small hands in this year of 2018 is the abhorrently large size of most popular smartphones. I love to consider this charting of phone sizes throughout “history”:

Some say screens became larger when we realized we could view porn on our phones. 
Makes sense to me.

Honestly, I was really happy in the era right there in the middle (2002?) when I would borrow my dad's indestructible Nokia phone on the occasion. It fit so nicely in my hand, and I could even use it easily with one hand. Today that is just not the case - my (relatively) new iPhone SE is the only modern option for a small-sized good-spec phone, and people still ask me if it's an iPhone 4. Because of this, I often fail to reach the keyboard keys I aim for, and end up using Autocorrect to remedy this issue over a lack of spelling knowledge. Let's be real, I've rarely needed Autocorrect to actually spell a word correctly. But that's the glory of well-designed features, right? They work in different ways for different people, but are as universally useful as possible.

And hey, when that diamond tennis bracelet slips off my hand and down a sewer grate, my hands will be small enough to fit in between the grate to fish it out. What a charmed life.

As a bonus random thought concerning hands: my friend was explaining his recipe for Miso soup at a potluck yesterday. He mentioned that it required a handful of clams (about five or six in his hand, argulably three or four in mine). I liked the sound of a handful of clams, but I much preferred the sound of a clamful of hands, which was repeated throughout the evening. While playing Jackbox's Quiplash, the best thing ever happened:

This feels like a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Needless to say, the left side was the clear winner.

Inspiration: Nas Daily
I have spent the last six or eight months actively curating my Facebook feed. I realized that I had become somewhat addicted to the social media platform, but that it was leaving me feeling kind of empty and like I was wasting my time (spoiler alert: I was definitely wasting my time). I wanted to use my downtime on buses and the like for something more enriching, so I decided to try to find some better content on Facebook.

One of the enriching feeds of content is the amazing daily 60-second videos from NasDaily, or rather, a man named Nuseir Yassin, who realized life was too short to be working a job he did not love. He quit that job and every day for the past two years, he has created a 60-second video about lots of varying content involving his travels around the world and ways he connects with people from all walks of life. His message is so simple and clear that it rings really true with a wide audience. Life is too short not to love, not to choose peace, not to do something fulfilling (even on a small level) with each passing moment. On top of that, his vlogging personality is so friendly and magnetic that he just makes me want to keep watching forever. Which I almost did this afternoon.

With each video, Nas makes more friends.

I can't recommend these videos enough, and even moreso that you follow Nas on Facebook. I can't link to my favourites here because he only makes them available on Facebook (because that's where his friends are) - but I implore you to check them out. Especially useful are his tips on how to travel in countries on a small amount of money, but more importantly on how to understand the social climate and cultural nuances of these places. While not inherently political, he even touches on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in a handful of the videos among many other topics. It's truly wonderful to see such a loving, honest and level-headed person give their take on parts of the world to which I have never been, displaying them as an outsider but as someone who could easily fit in anywhere and is a true citizen of the world.

Nas wears (a version of) the same shirt every day, displaying the percentage of life he's already lived (statistically based on his date of birth, sex and country of origin). He's currently 34% through his life, which he uses as a mantra to live to the fullest. You can calculate and make your own version of the shirt on his website. I made mine:

And his $1200 drone-shot footage is really spectacular as well. Check out NasDaily on Facebook and Instagram.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Charly Bliss, Evolving Products & Japanese Mascots

Weekly Update 2018-07: The twee vocals and grungy guitar of Charly Bliss, balancing changes with the needs and wants of users who rely on your digital product, and cute Japanese mascots for pretty much whatever you want from Mondo Mascots.

Music: Charly Bliss
The perfect mixture of catchy pop hooks and grungy garage rock is the essence of Charly Bliss. Lead singer and guitarist Eva Hendricks is blessed with a delightfully high-toned voice that I can't get enough of. I usually don't go for vocals that sound so close to ‘twee,’ but Hendricks' voice mixed with the minor guitar licks and smooth harmonizing from the other band members (Hendricks' brother, ex-boyfriend and BFF – all male, and three different people, of course) come together to create some earworms I just want to sing into my hairbrush until I'm late for work.

Favourite tracks off their debut album Guppy include Westermarck (about an ex-lover of Hendricks who fell for a second cousin he had never met before who came to stay with him), Black Hole and DQ (about peeing on a trampoline).

Catch Charly Bliss at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto on May 19.

Finally this week at work I began the wireframing stages of the big project I'm working on. I've done visual design for other projects at work since I started, but this particular project is so large that it's been a bit slow-going. Anyway, I have a feeling this week will go pretty quick because I've laid out a really good thorough grid system in Sketch and have a good idea of what symbols and type styles I want to use. I don't think I've ever been this prepared for an interface design project before.

Literally in the middle of writing this blog post, I achieved the fastest Bunz trade in all my days. From the offer (made by the other bun) to facilitating the pickup and making the trade, about 17 minutes passed. It is truly wonderful to live in the city epicentre of Bunz. I feel like the whole West End is my closet sometimes. By the way, the trade was two of my enamelware pots for her graphic novel - which I am pretty excited to read. Apparently Time Magazine named it #1 graphic novel of its year and #8 of the decade overall.

Blankets by Craig Thompson. It's about 600 pages!

Obviously I'll be nose-deep in Illustrator this week, but that's boring to write about.

I'd also like to make a batch of pulled pork, since Facebook has been reminding me of this time last year when I made one (that I had traded for on Bunz of course), and actually get around to following some cool people on Twitter. If you have any recommendations for who to follow, I'm all ears!

Random Thought:
Should a product try to change to meet the evolving needs of people? Or should it stay in safety within the realm of the service for which it was originally designed? I think about this pretty much every time a popular app or website makes a large design/experience change. Recently, Snapchat came out with an update to their friend feed that changed the order from chronological to algorithm-based (similar to my least favourite update to Instagram).

I don't use Snapchat, but I have seen so many people angrily posting about the change on other social platforms that I decided to research to see what the change was. In my scour of Twitter, I could not find a single person who defended the change. Of course, that doesn't mean the change is bad. And the change itself does not come packaged with a requirement that the Snapchat Product team divulge their research or reasoning for making the change. Heck, if Facebook repealed every change to their Newsfeed that people immediately hated, we wouldn't even have a Newsfeed. We'd still be writing on each other's walls like savages (heh, get it?).

All of that said, I'd argue that it was brave for Snapchat to take a risk since it's one of the only platforms currently giving the big companies in Silicon Valley a run for their money. With Instagram and Facebook coldly stealing all of Snapchat's innovative ideas and throwing money at them until their experiences are better, Snapchat knows it has to stay agile to keep up. What I don't understand is why they would employ a feature that Instagram had previously implemented, which is consistently disliked even to this day. I'm interested to see how this plays out for Snapchat because even though I am too old and crotchety to use their app, I'm still rooting for that weird ghost guy.

Inspiration: Mondo Mascots
In case you want to trade Twitter account recommendations, let me open your eyes to the world of Mondo Mascots. Amongst everything else that's weird and wonderful about Japan is their abundance of cartoon characters that I want to collect and keep in my pocket. It seems like the country contains a mascot for pretty much everything - from sporting events (basic) to food products to hospitals.

By the way, all of these are from the past 48 hours. There is so much content here. Mondo's Twitter account states: “Chronicling the weird and wonderful world of Japanese mascots, from the front lines in Tokyo. ゆるキャラが大好きなイギリス人です。”

I implore you to check out the feed, or at least my favourite one of them all:

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Daniele Luppi, Skating & Nelson

Weekly Update 2018-06: The amazing musical collectives created by Italian composer Daniele Luppi, braving the winter cold and my fear of ice skating, and having 100% control over your Spotify playlists.

Music: Daniele Luppi
It's no secret that I am a big fan of mashups. The intersection of genres and musicians that one normally may not find together, is such a platform for creativity that you'll always find something new. Italian composer Daniele Luppi has recruited two of my favourite musical pieces: Parquet Courts and Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O. In a wonderful album released in 2017 called Milano, the three pay tribute to the Italian city’s hedonistic 1980s heyday.

What arises is an amazing musical piece, reminiscent of Luppi's 2011 Rome collaboration with Danger Mouse, Jack White and Norah Jones. If not for any reason than to bring unexpected musical pairings together, I think Luppi is a genius.

Favourite tracks include Talisa, Flush and Pretty Prizes.

And as a “bonus track” to my selection, let me tell you that the Spotify radio for this album is probably the best I have heard in a long time. Due to the varied genres of these three musicians, the radio is also varied and really good. 

This past weekend, I attended the Richmond Hill Winter Carnival for the first time in my conscious history! It was really cool, with an area for War of 1812 re-enactors (firing off muskets every hour on the hour) and an area for Vikings re-enactors. Not to mention the Beaver Tails, chocolate covered bacon on a stick, skating, rides, live music, and so much more. It was so much to take in.

Myself and my friend Emilia posing in front of some amazing wood carvings.

I didn't get to do any skating at the Winter Carnival, but I did manage to go to the Bentway Skate Trail under the Gardiner, and boy was that ever a levelling up in skating. This was me pushing myself to do something that really scared me, to be perfectly honest. Not only is the loop quite long and narrow (which makes for quite a sharp turn at each end), but the whole thing is a giant wind tunnel that pushed me pretty far out of my comfort zone. I could pretty much glide down a whole side of the trail without having to push my feet. Which I did because I don't really know how to stop yet!

I promise it was as fun as it was cold that night.

Next skating adventure, I'd like to try the Christie Pits rink...

Speaking of Christie Pits, I finally went tobogganing this weekend. Yep, after three winters of living near the park, I finally got to sled down a few different hills around the park. I'd say it's one of the choice places to toboggan, and certainly the closest option to my house - the sunken-in park makes for great hills on all four sides.

On top of that, I made a small personal victory at work this week. I'd say only a small fraction of people in my office make a point of eating their lunch in the lunch room, opting instead to eat at their desk as they work. Of course this is their prerogative, but I am a big proponent of eating lunch away from one's desk to (1) take a breather in the middle of the day to recharge a little and (2) to spend a bit of time bonding with coworkers. It's nice to have friends/people you like at work. And so, I thought that perhaps bringing up a round of Sporcle quizzes on the big TV in the kitchen might do the trick, and indeed it did.

Long story short, we had about 12 people all gathered around a big screen, singing songs and shouting band names at the screen as we tried to match famous 90's songs to their singers. We did pretty well in the end:

I also had the honour of taking (part of) my team for pizza on Friday as part of National Pizza day!

Finally, to round out the week, I hit 300 five-star reviews on Bunz the other day! I've had more trades than that, but it's lovely to hit such a large and displayable milestone. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bunz has really changed my life.

My parents always seem to have some fish in their freezer leftover from my dad's fishing trips. I thought I might try a healthier/possibly tastier way to cook it as an alternative to the two ways my dad knows (deep frying or baking in cream and gruyere). There is a specific style of cooking it that I tried at a Nicaraguan restaurant, but with a little digging it seems like the recipe is actually Italian. More on that as it develops.

I'd also like to start using Twitter more. It feels like an untapped resource for good content I would actually consider enriching (unlike Facebook that sometimes feels like an echo chamber). So I think I will start by turning on notifications on my phone, and following some Portland design firms. Baby steps!

Random Thought:
Random thoughts are one of my favourite things to write about because of the sheer unexpected nature by which they enter into my brain. This one comes to you from my bathroom mirror, while examining my eyeliner application technique. I close one eye and use the other to see what I'm doing. Seems simple enough, but what if you only have one working eye? How do you apply eyeliner to the working eye? I suppose you could apply it with your eye open, but I just don't think it would be the same.

Inspiration: Nelson
I am continually impressed with Spotify's algorithm. I use it to help me to find new music and make amazing playlists with very little effort (as mentioned above in the music section). But for those times when you want to get reeeeeally specific about your algorithmic playlists, why not use this amazing little Spotify API-based fan-made app called Nelson? Created by Arielle Vaniderstine, it includes modifiers that I consider to be on the same control level as iTunes (or possibly even more extreme?) that you can poke and prod until you get a playlist that perfectly matches your musical needs.

You can read about the settings and their meanings on the Spotify developers blog, but I particularly enjoy this one:
Valence - A measure from 0.0 to 1.0 describing the musical positiveness conveyed by a track. Tracks with high valence sound more positive (e.g. happy, cheerful, euphoric), while tracks with low valence sound more negative (e.g. sad, depressed, angry).
Valence reminds me of how I generally classify happy, upbeat and usually high-toned vocals as “twee”, such as Matt & Kim, or most pop music. It can be appropriate at times, but I find I much prefer sadder, minor music lately. It's not a reflection of my mood, but it might have something to do with the weather.

I made a playlist based on a some fun genres like psych rock and , and with the valence meter turned down to match my emotional mood of course. So far, not bad!


Make your own playlist based on anything from Detroit Techno to Honky Tonk to Metalcore here.