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.

Accomplishment:
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.

Goal:
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.

Accomplishment:
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.

Goal:
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 & Setlist.fm

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 Setlist.fm.

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.


Accomplishment:
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.



Goal:
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!

Inspiration: Setlist.fm
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 Setlist.fm. 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!