Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Moi Je, Skeuomorphism & Tinkering

Weekly Update 2018-13: French House from Moi Je fills the scene as we examine a step backward in time: the analog desktop model as an interface system theory and bringing a digital musical experience back into the tactile realm.

Music: Moi Je
The rediscoveries from my SoundCloud playlist continue into this week. Moi Je is an electronic nudisco funk four-piece from Lyon, France, and they have some real bangers. I have never been a fan of twee/happy music over moody/sad music, but this is one of the rare happy-toned bands that I am really digging at the moment. It feels like really good Spring music, flowery and bright.

A little background on the band's use of the French language - obviously they would use a French name since they're from Lyon. Moi Je translates to “Personally, I...” which has a delightfully psychedelic feel to me as an incomplete phrase. And what's weirder is that most of their songs contain French names but have English lyrics. So I am led to wonder who their actual target audience is.

Check out Fais Rien, Respire and Commence.

The band's Instagram is pretty cool too. Check out a motion graphic for their music video below:

Last Thursday I visited one of my happy places (The Paper Place on Queen) for an envelope making workshop. It's actually super easy (only takes about five minutes to make an envelope with lining) and the results are really dear. Check out the finished product of myself and my friend who joined as well:

I paired this envelope with a vintage postcard as a birthday card for my friend.

Of course we finished off the evening at NadΓ¨ge Patisserie across the street for some decadent French pastries.

I also went to Snakes and Lattes for the first time in forever and we played a bunch of great games! Which is what I always think will happen and then we never get through more than two. This time was something like five or six! Including a weird wooden rolling wheel called Hamsterrolle.

Quite a long period of time after buying tickets, my day to see Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrors at Toronto's AGO came to pass. I had originally planned to go with my roommate, but our viewing times were an hour apart. In the end, it was great to discuss it afterward and for both of us to take part in the “singles line” - saving about 40 minutes of waiting in line because we were alone and accepted to be paired with strangers in viewing of Kusama's six mirrored rooms.

I'm in space!

Kusama in the 1960's.

I especially liked the way they connected the staircase between the two floors of the show - it's the little things.

The experience was quite unique and wondrous, but I think it was hyped up a bit too much. While I was very careful not to look at reviews of the show before I visited, the experience was still slightly precursed by knowing what was ahead. Which just goes to show that the exhibition is certainly not to be missed on a global scale, if you're into that sort of thing.

I visited my synagogue on Sunday to have a chat with Cantor Oringel about my next steps on my Jewish journey - lots of goals this week below. It was really nice to pay another visit (it's been a while since I last attended the physical building). It still smells the same.

After the spiritual connection came the familial; I then went to visit my parents with my sister and we together spent about five hours systematically cleaning our house of all the items we don't need. The eventual goal is to have a garage sale, but I think some of the items might see some trade action on Bunz first (because it's fun and might gain more traction than the sale - but what do I know). So I posted about 75 items to Bunz on Sunday - probably a personal best and a great annoyance to my followers to be sure. I hope they weren't too cross with me. If you want to see what I posted, check out my Bunz Profile. Make me an offer!

To cap things off on this busy, busy week, I read some feminist literature by Simone de Beauvoir on the weekend in preparation for the first gathering of my friend's book club last night. We spoke about the (somewhat involved) introduction of de Beauvoir's highly acclaimed book The Second Sex, as well as our own experiences and questions about the nature of being female. It was lovely to speak with so many intelligent women (crossing two to three generations), not to mention my friend the host who is actually a treasured coworker of mine. What bonus to be around such lovely people and speak about topics for which I didn't really have a forum before.

Esme is holding a wooden frog that she uses as a gavel to retain order among the outspoken ladies.

This week is Passover (my favourite Jewish holiday) so I'll be focusing on ensuring I get the right amount of holiday spirit/enrichment and really soak it all in. I am also thankful that it doesn't fall on my birthday this year because that would mean I can't eat cake or beer! What a birthday that would be (and often is, about a quarter of the time). In 2019, my birthday is actually the first night of Passover...I hope I do something big!

This year, I'll be making an effort to discuss the meaning and feeling of Passover with my family. I'm attending three types of seders this year, so there's lots to compare and consider there. I'm also making a potato kugel for the first time, which I'm pretty excited for. It took a lot of reaching on the very bottom shelf at the supermarket to find the right kind of Manischevitz box mix for kugel, but I am ready.

I also have four freelance projects on the go right now (how did that even happen?) so I'd like to devote some time to that.

Most importantly, I'll be hanging out with a friend I haven't seen in a long time and I'd like to take the opportunity to do something with a healthy dose of outdoors. It's finally staying above zero degrees (yes, I probably jinxed it) and I've been feeling deficient of Vitamin D.

Random Thought: Skeuomorphism's Reprisal
Remember when iPhones first came out and screen interfaces were all bubbly, shadowed and resembling of real-life objects? Even Instagram's first logo (RIP) was trying to pop out of my screen and print me a polaroid photo.

Instagram's old and new logos.

This design trend made a lot of sense when it was at its height of popularity; people weren't familiar with the nuances and patterns of interactive touchscreens and smartphones themselves, so interfaces were made to resemble something familiar to provide a sense of trust and understanding in users. This is the essence of the word skeuomorphism.

We've since abandoned this visual style in favour of a flat design that features simple shapes and bold colours or gradients, which I try to see as more than a trend because of its favourable clarity and essentiality that declutters and streamlines the experience for the user. But the basic idea of skeuomorphism still intrigues me, especially in instances that are less visual and more theoretical. Why not base experiences, tasks and flows upon patterns and systems that humans already understand? One example that constantly comes to mind for me is the desktop model. We still refer to the “homezone” of our computer's stored information as our “desktop” - which is a skeuomorphic idea derived from a physical desk with a top. In case you've never heard of such a thing, perhaps I should note that a digital trash bin, folder and file are all constructs derived from the physical desktop of which I speak.

How do files work? Well, you start with a new/blank file and enter information onto it. You then decide whether to keep it (by putting it into a folder) or throw it away into the trash bin. Drafts and archiving mirror the analog experience as well. I know this may seem rudimentary, but we often take this construct for granted without realizing that a connection had to be made between the two in order for the digital system to become commonplace.

Inspiration: RFID Smart Jukebox
Just as we feel comfort and familiarity with skeuomorphism, so too can we experience joy in adding an analog or tactile element to our increasingly digital worlds. I believe this is why conversational interfaces are becoming so popular - since speaking is such a natural method of communicating for humans. But on the other hand, we also love nostalgia and sometimes pine for a long-abandoned experience even if the replacing experience is more successful in achieving a goal. An example of this is the resurgence of vinyl and record players over digitized music. A physical collection, the relationship you experience with music when going through the motions of playing a record, are simply not present in the digital experience. The RFID Smart Jukebox is a marriage of analog and digital practices in listening to music.

I do love a good tinkering project, especially when people use a deeper-than-average understanding of technology (hardware and code) to build something that intentionally makes a digitized process more analog. As is the case with a Github user @hoveeman, who just published a rather cool project.

I guess this guy got tired of speaking his music requests to his Google Home, so he built an RFID card system to communicate with the device via a series of custom made music album cards.

Tap a card ($40 for 50 programmable cards) on a reader ($10) and it will play the corresponding album for you. It's so utterly useless and frivolous that I love it to bits. Recalling days when I would ask Google Home to play BADBADNOTGOOD and she would respond by spelling out all the letters, I think I could see the reasoning behind this project and wanting to move away from the voice-based music commands.

The tactile nature of tapping and collecting and holding the cards, the visual cues to remember to play your favourite albums, the cute display wall I would probably make for it...this project is right up my alley. And the creator used a Raspberry Pi Zero for the microcomputer, which is similar to an Arduino. Yay for music, tinkering and open-source code!

Check out @hoveeman on GitHub.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

DUCKY, Dungeons and Dragons & Daria Skrybchenko

Weekly Update 2018-12: This week was a hard one. Between getting a nail in my bike tire, dealing with some tiring clients, and spending the weekend working an estate sale, I'm spent in every sense. 

Bright, dynamic music by DUCKY, a healthy dose of Dungeons & Dragons and the illustration of Daria Skrybchenko got me through. 

A post shared by AWFUL BABY (@awful_baby) on

Above image by Awful Baby, an illustrator I found via a mural I saw in Portland last summer.

Music: DUCKY
Moving my SoundCloud music to Spotify was literally the best decision I ever made. Not only is everything nice, neat and saved for if/when SoundCloud goes under and/or denies me free access, I now have a place to revisit all the songs I originally fell in love with. There are definitely a few overlooked ones, especially the music of Los Angeles-based producer DUCKY.

DUCKY classifies herself as the first lady of brostep. Her music is that of clouded visions of dancefloors at 2AM and ranges from soft and intimate to full-on hardcore in a moment. I think the emotion behind her music is what draws me to it, even for synthesized sounds coming out of a computer, it seems truly genuine.

Favourite tracks include Hey, Winter Song and You Don't Really Know.

I have been looking for ways to get back into podcasts to accompany my more frequent bike rides as the weather warms up. Someone must have heard me because my acquaintance Nadia Halim has just launched a podcast called Opposite of Lonely that is basically exactly what I am looking for. I haven't listened to the first episode yet (will do this week) but it sounds very promising: interviews with Dylan Reid (co-founder of Spacing Magazine) and Wendy Banks (librarian at Toronto Public Library), and a general tone of how to connect socially in a big city.

After another hour of work, I finally have a somewhat-complete SoundCloud playlist on Spotify. I realized that greyed out songs are available in Spotify but not in my country, so that's out. And adding songs from one's own library doesn't give me the expected results either - they don't save to the Spotify Music Cloud. So that's pretty much that. 288 songs in the playlist with another 151 unavailable on SoundCloud. All that's left is to find track listings from the big list of DJ mixes, import those into the playlist, and it's done.

My father's estate sale this weekend ran pretty smoothly. This is the first time I have been available to help for both days of the weekend (plus the extra day the previous week) so I got to experience everything: keeping people from stealing items, answering questions, upselling, packing, cashier, lugging items to people's cars, taking deposits on larger items to be picked up after the sale, and a mailbox Bunz trade between Saturday and Sunday to the sale house itself (dental floss for iced tea - which came in handy). I was so happy to see all these items get saved from landfill and find a new home with someone who will cherish them. As I have said since forever, it is a great thing that our possessions can be used and loved long after we die. Our memories can live on in that way. Personally, I got a cool set of ombre lowball glasses and a button-down collared shirt.

I really like the way my dad labels items. I took home the "Yes! Wow!" glasses.

The sign goes up in the window to tell people they've found the right place.

But they don't really need the signs - this picture was taken at 7:15am on Saturday - many of our customers beat us to the sale (so they could get in first at 8:00am).

I had committed to a Dungeons and Dragons campaign at work a couple weeks ago but regarding the emotional drain on my life lately from multiple sources, when the day rolled around yesterday I was feeling like skipping it. In the end, I forced myself to attend, and I'm really glad I did. I managed to scrape together a pretty cool backstory and feel like this particular group of people will be really fun to play a campaign with. One of us is getting on a little in years, which is to say that he's been playing D&D since it came out. On top of that, it's always been a challenge to get some of our meeker coworkers to participate in social events, but this one seems to have brought some of us out of our shells which is great to see.

This being my third campaign (third time's the charm), I am a wood elf ranger, aged 248 (similar to my age in human years). I grew up in the woods with my family, having a pretty normal childhood. I don't remember much of my elven family, except that they were a tribe of marauders who all perished tragically during a raid gone wrong. I was the only one left of my whole tribe, and didn't know my way home at such a young age. As I wandered through the woods, a dragon found me and took me back to its cave. It didn't eat me (obviously) presumably because it wanted me to grow a bit to make a better meal. In the meantime, I was set free when a wandering group of adventurers vanquished the dragon. I was afraid of them as well so I ran away without giving them thanks.

I still didn't know much about fending for myself so a pack of wolves took pity on me and took me in. They raised me and taught me everything I know about the woods. Now, I protect the forest creatures from harm by slaying beasts with my bow and arrows. I have 20 dexterity (which is the highest you can have) and 6 charisma (very, very low) so I have trouble relating to others and prefer to keep to myself.

We've got a merry band of six players (most of us new to the game and world) so our dungeon master (the game operator) suggested that we try a tactic for new players - try to make up a backstory of how our characters might know each other. We are:

  • Taleisin Quingeiros, a wood elf ranger (me)
  • Callon, a high elf knight (Danielle)
  • Scheherazade Skarsgard, a dragonborn soldier (Nadia)
  • Vishrala, a dark elf bard of sailor origin (Esme)
  • Luxitor, a human sorceror (Lars)
  • Tiethan, a half-human warlock (Robert)
  • and Corey, the DM!

I have a meeting with my mentor at my synagogue on Sunday, so I'd like to sort through my notes and research and decide how to move forward. I think I'll have time for this on Saturday morning before I go to see Infinity Mirrors at the AGO! How exciting.

I'd also like to listen to the first podcast episode of Opposite of Lonely, probably on the way to synagogue since it's so far. And after that, I'll be heading back to my parents house to help them prepare for their very own sale - a garage sale in the early summer to get rid of a bunch of their stuff.

Random Thought:
I've been noticing that meal prep services are all the rage lately, cheaper than a restaurant meal but more expensive than buying ingredients yourself at the supermarket since they're delivered to your door and pre-measured. I suppose the true profit in it is that these services buy the ingredients in bulk (perhaps from the Toronto Food Terminal?) and reap the savings as they charge you for the small portion you need.

I watched a video about a woman who hosts “salad parties” once a month in her home - everyone brings five mason jars and some amount of money - and she preps all the ingredients ahead to allow them to fill their jars and reap the benefits of purchasing ingredients in bulk. There's something we can learn from that process. So here's my idea:

As part of a home economics/cooking/life skills class, elementary schools could build their own meal prep services. Teachers would help the students to create/source the recipes, have the ingredients delivered in bulk (or even grow some of them themselves in a school garden), and the students could individually package and box the meal prep to bring home to their parents. The learning continues at home when they cook together, and a meal is made. Since this is already a lucrative business, schools could undercut the cost of a normal service while still fundraising the excess profit for better school supplies. Seems like a win-win-win situation to me. Patent pending.

Inspiration: Daria Skrybchenko
Illustration is often a mirror into the soul of the artist. This seems especially true of Daria Skrybchenko, a Ukrainian editorial illustrator specializing in advertising and game art. Before I show you her work, I'd like to point out that in her bio, she states that she enjoys “chasing cute fluffs on streets and documenting their secret urban life.” So now you know that.

Find more of Skrybchenko's work on her website.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

IWD: Jay Som, Allies & Ruby Taylor

Weekly Update 2018-11: In honour of International Women's Day this past week, let's celebrate some amazing women across creative ventures. Jay Som brings us lush, melodic bedroom pop to float along as we explore DevTO's IWD event, inspirational illustrations by Ruby Taylor and a new $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond.

I just couldn't contain myself until the inspiration section so check out this lovely illustration that celebrates women by Ruby Taylor.

Music: Jay Som
A native of California (which might explain the airy feel of her music), Melina Duterte's sound and lyrics feel really genuine and connectable to my life. I especially love how she can make humdrum subject matter seem beautiful and wondrous through her musical expression. I don't know if I'm even doing her justice with my words, so just listen below.

Favourite tracks include The Bus Song (yes, I also like the bus), Rush, Lipstick Stains and O.K., Meet Me Underwater (which sounds a lot like a sadder El Ten Eleven if you're into them).

As an aside, Duterte picked her musical pseudonym Jay Som from the Wu-Tang Name Generator, the same place where Donald Glover found his pseudonym Childish Gambino. If you're interested to know, I entered Chloe and got Quiet Artist. Doesn't really match 100%, but I can work with that.

This past Monday marked a really inspiring event I attended with some female coworkers for International Women's Day. The event is held every year by DevTO at the legendary Masonic Temple (which is a sight in itself), and featured four female speakers outlining their journeys and learning as women in the tech industry. Since I really find these events a little tiresome and that they take more than they give to the attendee, I was surprised and happy that it didn't feel as much like a waste of time and more about women and allies all coming together to support each other.

I also created a SoundCloud playlist on Spotify with almost all the music I had saved on the former music service. I have become increasingly annoyed with all the features of SoundCloud turning paid while their UX is simply not polished enough for me to feel confident about adding another streaming service to my bills. Spotify has become the exact opposite of that, meeting most of my music needs seamlessly and winning over my buying power. Of course, Spotify doesn't have every song (probably about 70%) but that's enough to make me happy for now. Check it out if you want:

247 songs at the time of publishing - not bad. I think I'm about 70% done.
Making the move from SoundCloud to Spotify is a true learning opportunity for me, since some of the songs I am searching for are listed as “greyed out” on Spotify. I have the option of uploading my own track to fill the gap - which I will do - but then what happens exactly? Do I get the ability to play that song from any device where my account is logged in? In other words, does that track now always exist inside Spotify for my account? I certainly hope so.

While I am streamlining my music listening game, at the same time I have been biking a lot more and would like to take another stab at listening to podcasts again during my biking time. I have a lot of The Moth episodes to catch up on, so I might try to listen to a few this week to get back into the flow.

On top of that, I'll be picking up my Jewish journey again. I am experiencing a realism that I lost the reasoning to include it in my life in the last little while. It didn't bother me because I had a lot of change happening and do feel like it's an obligation moreso than a tool to combat and understand my life. Which is to say that I want to do it, but it feels like something of a chore at this point. So, now that things feel a little steadier, I have time and motivation to pick it back up. I already made an appointment - which means I need to have something ready to discuss.

I'll have some good reflection time this weekend as I man the basement of a house wherein my father is running an estate sale. I want to use it to write a blog post that's not a weekly update, and learn a bit more about dungeons and dragons in advance of the campaign my coworker is running for us next Tuesday.

Random Thought:
There was a great turnout of women at the International Women's Day event on Monday, especially for it being such a cold and blustery evening. I was mistakenly surprised for a moment to see that there were men also in attendance; in fact the emcees personally congratulated the first ticket purchaser (a woman in the third row) and the first male ticket purchaser (toward the back of the audience). It was at this moment that I realized I had been slightly wronged yet again by the gender roles at my workplace.

One of the reasons I joined the company was for the strong women in leadership roles, and large amount of female developers. It's just unfortunately not a common occurrence in the tech-focused offices I've worked/interned in, so it was a big selling point. While I am continually in awe of my fellow female coworkers and all they achieve, I think there are certain things that still have room to improve. For example, we have a females-only slack channel inside which we discuss topics of women in tech and the like, so why not include everyone in such a discussion?

I was surprised and then slightly disappointed that we hadn't extended the invitation to our male coworkers to attend this event with us. To make a lasting impact on gender equality, it takes everyone. This is a really random thought because I can't seem to really put it clearly with my coworkers - who say they need a forum to complain about the state of the women's washroom. But it reminds me of Facebook, where everyone's opinions are sucked into an algorithmic echo chamber to reside beside others who think and feel the same way. Why not try to open it up to dissenters to gain a broader understanding?

Inspiration: Ruby Taylor and Viola Desmond
I've got two female forms of inspiration this week. The first is the wonderful, whimsical and socially responsible illustrative efforts of Ruby Taylor. Based in the United Kingdom, Taylor has developed a strong style with bold colours and even bolder statements. I love how her work reminds me of cut paper and collage, mixing different patterns together to create something really eye catching.

A post shared by Ruby Taylor (@rubyst) on
A post shared by Ruby Taylor (@rubyst) on

Check out Taylor's Instagram or website.

I was very impressed with the Canadian Mint with their new design for the ten dollar bill. It's got a lot going for it: it's beautiful, it's a new orientation (vertical instead of horizontal design) and it features a previously overlooked woman who is part of our country's history.

Interact with the bill on the website.
Viola Desmond remains an icon of the human rights and freedoms movement in Canada. A successful Nova Scotia businesswoman, she defiantly refused to leave a whites-only area of a movie theatre in 1946 and was subsequently jailed, convicted and fined. Her court case was one of the first known legal challenges against racial segregation brought forth by a Black woman in Canada. 
Learn more about Desmond's story here. And I'll give you a hint about a hidden easter egg - check out the bill on the website and click the “spin” icon several times until the page changes...

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Proux, Dowries & Bruno Lisboa

Weekly Update 2018-10: Future funk music from Mexican artist Proux, evaluating your goat-based dowry, and the amazing street-based illustrations of Portuguese artist Bruno Lisboa.

Music: Proux
I have been feeling nostalgic for my SoundCloud days lately. Macross 82-99 just put out a new future funk EP, and I subsequently fell into a very good album radio on Spotify that has lots of delicious disco-flavoured dance music. One of which is a great artist from Tijuana named Proux. I couldn't find a ton of info about the artist, but the songs are all my favourite things about disco, pop and dance music. And they really get in your head, too.

Favourite tracks include Just For Me and Grape Crush.

It's finally biking season again! I've ditched my last Metropass for the season and managed to bike to and from work all five days last week. Note to self that it may not be worthwhile to buy a February Metropass next year since it's a short month and the snow has managed to stop about halfway through. Thanks, Global Warming!

More noteworthy is the fact that I have acquired my #1 ISO (in search of) item on Bunz, basically since the beginning of my Bunz career two years ago. Yes, I have finally acquired a 1970s Lite Brite toy in perfect working condition. I feel like I should quit Bunz now, since there's nothing worthwhile left to trade for :) Just kidding.

So many possibilites!

I also attended my first Sunday drumming class in a while since I graduated to the band - now I am back again to continue sharpening my band leading skills. One of the hardest parts of leading the main band is that they have all seen me come through the ranks and don't necessarily see me as a leader. It's a bit awkward that way for me as well, so being able to drop into the Sunday classes to lead this new cohort has been a much easier transition. Especially since the leader has to be borderline aggressive in ensuring everyone sees the signs and knows what they're doing, it's somewhat of a stretch for me.

And onto my second week of consuming the super food that is chia seeds, I have learned a bit about them.
  • they can absorb 9-12 times their size in liquid, and if you don't soak them in such liquid, they'll suck it out of your body as you digest
  • about 2 tablespoons of seeds is a good serving size per day
  • therefore I've deduced that about 360ml of milk is a good ratio to add so that I don't get dehydrated after eating them
  • some people replace the milk with water to make chia gel, which is a good pre-gym food as well as a substitute for oil or eggs in some recipes
  • chia seeds contain 15% protein and 38% fibre - keeps you nice and regular!
I haven't gotten around to organizing my Facebook saved posts yet, but with all these awesome groups I have been joining, I have probably doubled my saved posts last week. So, the opposite of my original goal. Hoping to do this on Thursday night.

One of the benefits of coming back to the Sunday drumming workshop is that I can hone some of the more technical drum pieces - like this fun solo I recorded Pato playing for our Reggae beat. I'd like to practice this to have it ready for this Sunday.

I'm going to learn this on repique this week!

Random Thought: How Many Goats?
I often reflect on my luck of being born into the world I live in. Not only do I live in a prosperous first-world country with literally no real problems or needs, I somehow managed to scrape together a life with a creative job that pays me to do what I love. Many people in the world, women especially, do not get the same deal I was given. Consider the practice of a dowry, “property or money brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage” otherwise known as a sexist Bunz trade that suggests women are not worth as much as men and that the trade needs to be evened out with the ‘ttc token of yesteryear,’ goats.

So, how many goats are you worth? If you want to find out how valuable you might be to a future husband (i.e. how many goats your father will have to give him in order for him to marry you), why not take this fun quiz and find out?

I am worth nine goats, by the way...which I think is good? Bet you can't beat that.

Inspiration: Bruno Lisboa
Portuguese illustrator and designer Bruno Lisboa has a really cool style. His work has a great grungy flavour to it, which flows easily from his street murals to his more formal design and printed illustration.

Check out Lisboa's TumblrInstagram and Facebook page.