Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Sleigh Bells, The Uber Logo & Joe Sulsenti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 23, 2018

El Ten Eleven, The Flat Lay & Bike Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circles are another prevalent theme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Toronto Cruisers to join the next one!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

New Young Pony Club, Power Users & Outsiders Pizza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looks soooo good.

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

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

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Zero 7, Sketch Plugins & Torture Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 8, 2018

José González, Nutrition Facts & Beast

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

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

I especially adore his 2007 album In Our Nature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The movie is also stunning visually.

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

Check out Beast at the Lightbox every day until Thursday.