Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ty Segall, Not Vomiting & Blackout Block Party

Weekly Update 2018-34: Heavy power chords from Ty Segall set the tone of summer as I contemplate mind over matter when I feel motion sick (it's a superpower) and closing off Bloor Street for the 15th anniversary of Toronto's massive 2003 blackout.

Music: Ty Segall
Another one to add to the bucket of garage rock revivalist bands is Ty Segall's raw, power chords. It's slow, drenched in reverb, and has that true Californian sounds I've been digging so much in Thee Oh Sees. I'm really pleased to see this melancholic heavy rock making a return, because it seems to match my summer so well. Check out his 2012 release with his touring band:

I really enjoyed Wave Goodbye.

This was truly a magical week where I didn't have band practice on Wednesday, so I was able to join Toronto Cruisers for an evening bike ride of no less than 43km! I have some lovely bruises on both butt cheeks from my bike seat sliding backward into my basket, but it was definitely worthwhile to not have to carry my stuff on my back for that entire ride. 

We also made some really cool pitstops at not one but TWO skate parks and a secret bonfire area somewhere in the Don Valley that can only be reached by a series of secret bridges?!

I ended off the week with a lovely weekend at a friend's cottage on a super cute little lake. In my opinion it was the perfect size - no motorized boats allowed and I was able to kayak the whole perimeter of the lake in about an hour, which showed me that there are actually no above-ground connections to other bodies of water so it may perhaps be classified as a pond.

Yes, the magical weekend has come where I get to go camping! It has become a yearly tradition to go camping at Presqu'ile Provincial Park with my drumming family. We might be a smaller group this year than our 30 people last year, but we are loud so I'm sure we will comfortably fill our 75-person camping space with only ten people. I can't wait to test my tent-setting skills and eat some delicious Brazilian food made by our band leader on the campfire.

I was finally able to procure a back brace that is meant to help me fix my posture and weak back issues. It's both a stretching and strengthening device as well as a brace, and comes with an 8-week plan to improve my posture. It looks like this:

A friend told me I should accessorize it with some gun holsters.

Random Thought: Not Vomiting
It's pretty crappy, lately that I haven't been able to stomach long car rides anymore. I have always had trouble with motion sickness but since using a bicycle as my main mode of transportation, I really can't stomach much time in the car at all.

I was battling a really bad bout of motion sickness the other day and actually managed to hold off vomiting for much longer than I used to, with sheer will of mind. I think that if I had more practice, I might be able to will myself out of motion sickness, especially when being able to see the road. I have realized that it's really the turning and backing up that causes it, much more so than driving straight on the highway. When I have knowledge of turns before they happen, my brain is able to catch up to what's happening and I don't feel as sick.

But of course, maybe this is just a mechanism reminding me to do my best to banish all cars in favour of ecologically-friendly transportation. If everything ran on tracks like streetcars, I'd be so much happier. Plus, if you know a bus route well enough, you'll know where every turn is going to be.

Inspiration: Blackout Party
I pride myself on knowing about all the cool events going on in Toronto...and last Tuesday was no exception. Yes, on a Tuesday evening, the citizens of Toronto held a celebratory block party for the 15th anniversary of the 2003 GTA blackout. I still remember it and how it affected pretty much everyone I knew at the time. And why not celebrate the fact that we survived it?

Yes, I always know about these events, but sometimes it can be hard to find the energy to actually attend. And such was the case for this event, after I had a particularly long couple of days. But I got my butt out to Christie Pits Park (yes, it really was that close to me) to see what all the hubbub was about.

The park hosted an open-air concert of lots of different buskers, which was followed by a subway (if walking) or bike rave (if cool) to a secret location that led us through Yorkville to the intersection of Bloor and Avenue, right in front of the ROM. It was truly amazing to see so many people there to take over the road from drivers for a few hours. I think roads are a huge waste of space just for drivers, so being able to take back the space is such a lovely gesture.

We moved from there to the west side of the ROM, which holds one of my favourite walkways in the city - Philosopher's Walk. It's a lush green meandering walkway that connects Bloor to Hoskin, mostly used by U of T students, tourists and ROM staff on break (I guess I have sort of been all of those people in one way or another). So I was delighted to find that this was our final stop, lined literally all the way down the walk with various performers, buskers, musicians, singers and dancers, all lit by candlelight against the night. It was a wonderful time.

So, yes, the FOMO was legitimate in this case, since I was extremely happy to have attended this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Perhaps my favourite part was when two separate people asked me what the event was for. When I mentioned the blackout, neither of them knew of it since they had immigrated to Canada after 2003. That was fine with me, since I am proud of our city being so multicultural.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Deerhunter, Designer Goods and Toronto Botanical Gardens

Weekly Update 2018-33: Cross-genre tunes from Deerhunter, what exactly makes a handbag "designer" and the beauty and sculpture found in Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Music: Deerhunter
A classic from my childhood days of borrowing CDs from my local library, Atlanta's Deerhunter continues to create melancholy tunes that are at once simple and extremely intriguing. The band describes their music as "ambient punk", though I also hear tones of rock and even pop at times. That's one of the things that makes their music so interesting, is that it borrows from genres that are really different from each other.

Even the list of bands they've toured with speaks volumes in the span of genres: Nine Inch Nails, TV on the Radio, Project Pat, Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Spoon, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Fiery Furnaces, Lower Dens, Ex Models, Battles, and Kings of Leon.

Their third album, 2008's Microcastle was how I found Deerhunter, so it would seem a fitting place for you to start as well.

It's been a busy week. I was able to finish a first draft of the general flow for my associate appointment booking app, so this week will be about refinements and user testing.

I also played a bonus little drumming show with my band this week, at a children's day camp festival in Grange Park. I thought our set went really well, though naturally we were upstaged by the Reptilia man who had a live boa constrictor wrapped around his neck. It's ok, my ego is hardly tarnished.

A shoutout must be made regarding the amazing Dim Sum breakfast that my dad's coworkers threw for fun, to which I was very graciously invited as well. It was enough food to feed thirty people easily, and I tried some weird new things I'd never had before. It's amazing to eat at restaurants with people who know what to order. All the food was so extremely tasty.

A mango pudding in the shape of a fish.

As intended, I also biked to my friend Philip's party through Richmond Hill - which I so rarely get to bike around. There are not a ton of bike lanes and you wouldn't catch me on a main road by any means, but I know the side streets and neighbourhoods pretty well so it wasn't terrible. Too bad Richmond Hill isn't just a name though - it was all uphill on the way there.

Last week I finally completed a Kijiji sale, purchasing a device that's meant to be a stretching and strengthening workout band as well as a back brace. All this time spent sitting at a desk with bad posture to begin with has been causing my spine to curve - so I thought it was time to try something that has a regimented plan. I'll be starting the treatment this week, which lasts 8 weeks of stretches and time wearing the brace.

I'll be spending all my free time this week working on the presentation and refinements for the associate app, hopefully coming to a good place by the end of Thursday since I'll be up at my friend's cottage this weekend. Lucky me!

Random Thought: Designer Goods
Having spent some time these past few weeks on the insides of malls and department stores, I have seen the word “designer” being thrown around a lot. Designer handbags, designer shoes, etc. I take this to mean that the handbag or shoes were made by a high-end designer, but I just find the term a bit hilarious in its generalization, as if to say that since this is a designer handbag, handbags that are not "designer" are not designed. But of course they are! Literally everything we come into contact with on a daily basis that isn't from right out of the ground has been designed by someone.

I actually find that thought endlessly amusing as I move through my day. I am constantly thinking about the person who decided to make the handle on my mug or select the pattern on my shirt. I get the impression most people don't think about the items they use, but as I am able to add more well-designed items to my life I find more gratitude in myself for those designers. So perhaps we might change the term "designer handbag" to "well-designed handbag", though the two current definitions are certainly not always found in the same item.

Inspiration: Toronto Botanical Gardens
The good summer months bring about a lovely scene in the parks around Toronto, perhaps none quite as beautiful as Edward Gardens and the Toronto Botanical Gardens. I took a trip there this weekend after quite some time since my last visit, and it was even more beautiful than I remembered.

Not only are all the flowers in beautiful bloom, but there is a wonderful exhibit on right now with literally dozens of stone sculptures by Zimbabwean artists. I honestly couldn't tell you whether the sculptures or flowers were more beautiful.

There were a couple of artists there as well, having come all the way from Africa to discuss their work and showcase how they do their carvings.

And on top of all that, I got to try out the Gardens' new mobile app, which uses beacons and geolocation to take you on a tour through the gardens. As you access each new part of the garden, more information is revealed to you about the plants and landscaping surrounding you. It was a lovely addition and contrast to such a natural and organic experience, not too overbearing.

The app is called GrowIt, and it's actually used for plant identification anywhere you happen to be looking at beautiful plants, not just at one of its official locations like the TBG. Check out the app here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Vundabar, Personal Stylists & Museum of Failure

Weekly Update 2018-32: Singing along to Vundabar, interviewing personal stylists for an associate app project and visiting the Harbourfront's Museum of Failure.

Music: Vundabar
Boston-based Vundabar pelts their listeners with moody powerchords, drums-forward tracking, and repeated chamber vocals that just beg us to sing along. It's the teen garage pop I never knew I needed. I imagine their lyrics are somewhat sad, but I appreciate the ambiguity and the cathartic nature of being able to sing along without fully knowing all the words. It's a mood, okay?

Check out Holy Toledo and their entire 2015 album Gawk.

I'm working on a portfolio piece that is making quite the interesting challenge from a user interface perspective. It's an associate app for a fashion brand that will allow salespeople to book and manage personal appointments with clients, allowing clients to request specific items in advance before coming in to try them on in person. When they arrive at the store, the items are waiting for the client in a fitting room, and the associate can upsell, communicate and even checkout the client all through the app.

I spent a few hours wandering around Eaton Centre speaking with people in various roles, asking about how they manage their client appointments. More on that below!

Now that my roommate is leaving quite soon, I am cherishing our last days together. We went to the Christie Pits Sunday movie this week to see Amelie (such a cute film I had somehow missed) and for a hike in a small Ontario town called Limehouse. The hiking trail there contains ruins of an old set of kilns (that used to produce limestone blocks for buildings - which were exported to Melbourne), and a sort of rocky heights that are cracked in places, so you can go down a set of wooden ladders to explore down between the two sides. A very cool place.

Erika and Ari in his party bandana.

I'm hoping to get the upfront research on this app all done so I can work on perfecting the InVision prototype all through the week.

I'm also finally able to join my father with his coworkers on their occasional Dim Sum adventure (always very early in the morning, when the Dim Sum is sleepy and easier to catch). On top of that, I'm taking my roommate to a Blue Jays Game - her first (and last) one before she leaves Ontario. The goal there is not to get hit in the head with a ball. Saturday marks my friend Phillip's goodbye party before he moves permanently to Europe, and I'm hoping to bike there as I did for one of his parties when I was just learning to ride a bike. I'd also like to make time to visit the Gardiner Museum on Sunday for the final day of an interesting exhibit they have called Reclaiming Artifacts.

Random Thought:
For my associate app project, I took to the streets this week. By that I mean that I went to Eaton Centre and interviewed as many personal shoppers, stylists, salespeople and makeup artists as I could about how they manage their appointments. You'd be surprised to know how much of these tasks end up being done manually, with no technology beyond a phone call or perhaps email in some cases.

With an apparent gap between customer need and the available products, I did find it quite interesting to note all the workarounds and interesting ways that personal shoppers (especially at Hudson's Bay's The Room) use the tools and services they already have to do their jobs. One personal stylist even showed me his contact list on WeChat (extremely popular in the personal styling business in China) and some of the conversations he has with ongoing clients. He simply uses WeChat as a one-stop-service for sharing pictures and links of clothing, booking appointments, and providing fashion advice to his clients.

My favourite example, though, is the way one salon professional used an appointment booking product while working at a salon. She showed her coworkers that they could repurpose an unused field in any client's profile to set all sorts of notes regarding upselling and helpful hints for the next appointment. All of this really inspires me to make an app that will improve their experience beyond what it is now. I definitely see the potential to do so.

Inspiration: Museum of Failure
During my mother's and my seasonal jaunt about Harbourfront Centre and Powerplant Gallery to see the current instalment of art and design, we came across quite an interesting little shadowbox display of objects of all kinds - the sad physical history of failures in products sold all over the world. From purple ketchup to overcomplicated and underperforming musical equipment to the Virtual Boy - the only Nintendo product ever to be declared a failure by the company - it was an array of wonder at how anyone could have come up with such silly products.

The 1957 Ford Edsel was a total failure from a business perspective, but without it we would never have had the Ford Mustang.

The Museum of Failure's founder, psychologist Samuel West, has high praise for his collection. He says, "The point of having the museum is that we can learn from these failures. I want us to start to admit our failures as companies, as individuals, so we can learn from it."

When you think about it, it really rings true that most examples of success in life are the end result of a lot of failure. Failure is a useful tool in building the bridge to success, as can be seen with something as frivolous as the Virtual Boy. It was truly ahead of its time as a step toward the futuristic world of virtual reality, which we are teetering on the edge of now.