Monday, September 24, 2018

Palm, Recipes & Art Spin

Weekly Update 2018-38: Experimental math rock from Palm busts through the speakers alongside deciphering an internet of recipes and a truly inspirational bike ride around Toronto Island as summer winds down.

Music: Palm
This Philadelphia-based art rock four-piece is a band that demands your attention. With unorthodox changes in time signature and unexpected bursts of guitar noise, I really never know what is going to happen in a Palm song. That's not something that can be said of a lot of music I hear today. Their music feels like a playful experiment in heavy math rock that continues to build upon itself.

I really enjoyed 2015's Trading Basics, an erratic conversation between two guitars that takes the listener on a journey of epic proportions.

Catch Palm at The Baby G on Tuesday September 24 - hey, that's tomorrow!

Last Saturday I had the immense pleasure of attending the 3rd annual Kensington Market Jazz Festival with some friends. I was honestly blown away by the festival as a whole, immediately regretting that I hadn't attended before. While Kensington is arguably always a street party, it was still energizing to see people performing and dancing in the streets, spilling from patios and restaurants that had been makeshifted to include stages for this special weekend.

I had discovered the existence of this young Jazz Fest through a special Saturday event - the first ever live performance of the original soundtrack for the video game Cuphead. Composed by the amazingly talented Kristofer Maddigan, a 15+ piece brass band graced a temporary stage in the laneway behind El Gordo Empanadas to belt out one of my favourite video game soundtracks of all time. The show was amazing, AND I got to meet Kristofer as well as Tina, one of the original artists for the game.

After Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) always follows the most challenging holiday of the year...Yom Kippur. Yes, I did manage to fast a whole day (which really isn't a long time in the scope of things). And while I did this, I found nothing better to do with my time but do an extreme cleaning of my apartment. Yes, now that Erika has flown the coop, I figured it might be time to clean pretty much every surface. I've also managed to get rid of a bunch of stuff so that I was able to use one of my many closets as a walk-in pantry. It left some room in my kitchen to display some lovely plants under the skylight. Things are looking pretty good!

I haven't decided what to do with Flanders...though his current position doesn't make a lot of sense anymore. TBD.

And, best of all, my Sukkot Snapchat Geofilter goes live this week! I've sent it off to Snapchat which was a pretty cool process - if anyone needs a custom filter, just let me know!

Yes, this weekend marks a very special one: our family garage sale! It was a great excuse to get a bunch of random stuff out of my apartment so that we could sell it for dirt cheap on our driveway in the sun - together as a family! I am looking forward to divesting of a bunch of stuff, and also spending time with my family all together again.

Random Thought: Online Recipes
There's no doubt that online recipes have surely overtaken the physical cookbook. I honestly consider cookbooks a waste of space and paper for most people (some truly do enjoy them and that's fine). But anything you want to cook, you can easily and quickly find on the internet. If you've ever carried out such a search, you'll know that most recipe blogs do require you to scroll down past all the incessant storytelling and a million photos of the finished product before you can see the method or ingredients. As a little tip, I like to use my browser's search function to locate all instances of the word "ingredients" to quickly jump down to the recipe - usually, the only instance is at the bottom - the recipe itself.

What still annoys me, though, is the uncalculated preparation time involved in many recipes. When an ingredient list calls for "4 medium onions, diced", how exactly did those onions become diced? As far as I know, you can't buy them that way, so most likely you'll be doing the dicing yourself. If so, why shouldn't the dicing be added to the prep time and as a step in the recipe itself?

The occasional recipe is written in such a way that it allows for time for chopping things while other things simmer or bake. I absolutely love those recipes, because they respect the sous time involved. Since I am definitely my own sous chef, that part of my cooking role becomes much more enjoyable.

This isn't even the longest one!

Regardless, it seems like every recipe takes on a new formatting style, and there isn't much in the way of a set recipe format for everyone to follow. Which is why I usually copy a recipe into my master google doc of recipes, and edit it into my own formatting to allow time for chopping and dicing. All my notes are inline in the steps because you need that note information when you're completing a step, not after the cooking has been completed. It just makes more sense to me that way.

After so many millions of years since cavemen mastered fire and the first recipe was born, I can't believe that we haven't developed the recipe format into the best possible user experience. What a shame.

Inspiration: Art Spin
As September rolls around, I always try to squeeze out as much from the last days of summer as I can. My one venture to Toronto Island so far sadly ended in a downpour, so I was eager to check out the annual Art Spin: a bike tour/art installation/giant party on the island.

I have been so lucky to finally find others in Toronto who share my bike-related values, and this tour was simply an extension of that. Over 200 cyclists showed up to Ward's Island to experience six performance art pieces all around the island in secret nooks and crannies. We cycled as a big bike rave to each of the locations, accompanied by DJ General Eclectic on his speaker-bike.

Over 200 cyclists showed up for this bike ride!

All of the performance pieces worked beautifully with their surroundings, interacting with the water in different ways. The one that struck me the most was an amazing performance piece in a huge pirate ship. A dancer moved gracefully around the deck of the ship while it also moved back and forth, the water a stage in front of us on dry land. As he danced and moved, he pulled water into the boat with a bucket on a string, only to have it pour back into the stream again. It was so extremely mesmerizing, with live percussion music performed from the upper deck of the boat. I don't think I will ever experience anything like it again, it was so beautiful and moving to me.

After the bike tour, we ended with a party at Artscape Gibraltor Point (which I have blogged about before). We were treated to performances by Brazilian dancer/musician Bruno Capinan and Toronto indie darlings Ice Cream. 

And as a special bonus treat, we were allowed to tour the Island Lighthouse - Toronto's second oldest building. I was told they don't open it for tours very often, so I felt honoured. Even this was an art installation, with a violinist playing a very sad song at the top. You can't hear it at the bottom, but as you climb the many, many stairs up to the top, you begin to hear it gradually. A really cool effect.

There is truly nothing I love more than good live music, biking, nature and art. All rolled into one, this was surely one of the highlights of my summer.

Shoutout to Flakah and Leon for sharing the day with me!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The 1990s, Truck Beeps & Patswerk

Weekly Update 2018-37: SEO-nightmare-named band the 1990s remind us of the happiness in cheeky music, the true purpose of truck backup beeps & a love of the sea by Dutch Design Agency Patswerk.

This is Erika's and Ario's last week in Toronto!

Music: The 1990s
I can't easily list any bands that make me feel as uncompromisingly happy as when I hear a song by Glasgow band the 1990s. Their music is catchy, upbeat, cheeky, and just plain fun. According to the band, they play music "like a blonde gets out of a car" (lyrics from the song See You At The Lights). Their music also reminds me of earlier-days Arctic Monkeys when they focused on teenage dancehalls and alleyway fistfights. In all fairness, two of the three members of the band met while doing drugs in a tree at a party.

It's a shame they only have two albums (2007's Cookies and 2009's Kicks) because they're both great. Honestly, pick any song and jump in.

It was my due pleasure to finally experience the annual Toronto Bike Rave this year. While it was a little colder and shorter than previous group bike rides I had attended this summer, the magic of the ride was definitely in full force.

After riding 22km (not really that much!) into the hours of 2AM, I woke up bright and early the next afternoon to get to Cabbagetown for their annual street festival. TDot Batu also plays this festival pretty much every year, this being my third year playing it.

I really loved the part of the festival that I explored for the first time this year: a street-wide garage sale all the way down Carlton from Parliament (where the main festival is) to Riverdale Park, housing a glorious array of craft and art booths. Not to mention the amazing food and free coffee, my soul was super-duper satisfied.

This past couple of days marked the Jewish New Year, aka Rosh Hashanah. I really cherish the time I get to spend with my family for these holidays, as well as my mother's delicious brisket roast. I know she doesn't really like to cook, so I figured out a new tradition that seems to work well for us: we go grocery shopping together and then I made a couple of dishes in her kitchen. She does the eating and cleaning (and a bit of prep work - thanks for grating those carrots!) and I think it works pretty well for us! Plus, more quality time is always nice.

This week, my roommate Erika leaves the Noodle. Yep, she is off back to British Columbia to chase her dreams of motion design and animation. So my goal is to hang out with her and her dog Ario as much as we can before she leaves. We're hopefully going to the Island Nude Beach one last time if the weather cooperates, and then I take her to the airport on Saturday morning and that's it for a whole year. It's truly the end of an era.

This gives me great impetus to get my life a little less cluttered. I recognize in myself that I enjoy clutter to an extent in certain situations, like my wall collage. But it's just kind of tiresome to have so many things always sitting around. So I'll be preparing for a garage sale at my parents' house in Richmond Hill where we will hopefully be able to find new homes for a lot of our unused items. Bunz has been amazing for that, especially in terms of regained value, but some items have been sitting around forever and need to get out of my life.

I also want to scour the many, many, many Richmond Hill Buy/Sell Facebook groups to post adverts about our sale. There will even be an advert on my blog next week - scandalous!

Random Thought: Truck Beeps
In these tech-heavy times we live, it seems everyone wants a digital assistant that they can speak commands to and converse with. The idea carries a futuristic sort of feeling, making strides toward a true artificial intelligence, but at the end of the day these assistants are built to understand human language and provide audio feedback while they complete simple tasks.

My apartment happens to back onto a laneway where a small parking lot holds a few cars. One of these cars is a silver pickup truck that must slowly back into its spot in the puzzlework of cars. This spot is right outside my window, so I always know when this truck is arriving home because the car beeps incessantly while the truck is in reverse. I think this is built into the car, because it happens late at night and early in the morning when I really must imagine the driver can't possibly want the sound to be on.

Since this sound woke me up most recently a few nights ago in a daze, I had a random thought about it: is a backup beep on a truck victim-blaming? Should the driver not ensure 100% through their own means that there is no one in danger of them reversing their car? Why should the car set a loud beep, whether there is danger or not, and leave it up to others to get out of the way? I know it sounds really dramatic, but I feel that this sort of sensibility is less-serious-but-similar to asking women not to wear revealing clothing if they don't want to be assaulted.

Inspiration: Patswerk
Sometime I come across a piece of design that is really magnetic.

This is a composition by Dutch Graphic Design Agency Patswerk, a double-page spread illustration for a chapter in a book on sea preservation. I absolutely love the colour scheme - which they attribute to a constant inversion of colour while selecting a palette. Not only do I love that Patswerk actually discussed their process on Dribbble (which almost never happens), but this particular process is one I find really intriguing.

I have discussed before about my mesmerization with the fact that other animals can see a wider spectrum of colour than humans. Colour inversion feels like a super power that allows humans to perceive what that might be like for these animals. Especially deep down at the bottom of the ocean where it's too dark for many fish to see, there are still animals down there that perceive the darkness around them in a totally different way.

Not to mention that the typography (the simple stretched out E) is reminiscent of looking at type through a watery lens: everything becomes wavy and distorted. The overall texture of the image is very intriguing in how it graphically depicts the textures of the sea.

Patswerk is a Dutch Graphic Design/Illustration Agency with a knack for using interesting colours, clean lines, and sneaking moustaches into their work. I wonder if there's a moustache floating around in the sea above! Check out more of their work on their website.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Digitalism, Understanding Users & Artist Alley

Weekly Update 2018-36: Space-travel electronic beats from Digitalism, reflecting on what I've learned about user experience this year, and OCAD's Artist Alley.

Music: Digitalism
Hamburg-based Jens "Jence" Moelle and İsmail "Isi" Tüfekçi are the duo that make up the electronic sound of Digitalism. Moelle and Tüfekçi met at a record store in Hamburg and became friends. Later, the store's owner asked them to DJ a party, and they then began mixing and recording. It's exactly the brand of silly electronic dance music (circa the 2004-2010 era) that got me into electronic music in the first place. Especially their 2007 LP Idealism is a musical journey to say the least. It feels like the club-based equivalent of space travel, and I still love it.

This one's an obscure reach into the time capsule, but I think you'll really like it.

This week I made a pilgrimage to a very special place. Sky City Mall at Finch and Midland is a magical place with amazing snack food.

Yes, I made a custom map. I take these things super seriously!

I love to try new food, and yesterday was an exercise in gluttony. My two favourites were the peach cloudy ice cream slush, made with real peach and creamy vanilla ice cream. There were even peach bobas at the bottom of the cup! Truly unlike any other bubble tea I've ever tried.

And to top that, I tried a savoury Hong Kong bubble waffle that had cheddar cheese melting out of each of the pockets. It was crunchy, gooey, fluffy, hot, and totally mind-blowing.

Like a grilled cheese, but way, way better.

Upon my return from the final fishing trip of the summer, I realized that Fall is around the corner, and with it comes Sukkot. The holiday is part of the Jewish Pilgrimage Festival, and celebrates the end of the harvest. It is customary for people to build little wooden structures in their backyards or on balconies, reminiscent of the structures that farmers would make in their fields to live in while they conducted the harvest.

My synagogue has asked me to create some Snapchat Geofilters for their celebrations, which I think is a great use of technology to connect us back to the roots of the holiday. It was a lovely chance for me to refresh my knowledge of the holiday and learn about its unique symbols.

The etrog (a lemon-looking citrus fruit) and the lulav (a bunching of reeds and fronds) are the two main symbols of the holiday. As is the case with much of the teachings of Judaism, there are multiple supposed meanings of these symbols. I picked out my favourite one to share:
The etrog, which has a good taste and a good smell, is like those who know the Torah and do good deeds. While the lulav which has a good taste, but no smell, is like a person with knowledge, but who does no good deeds. The myrtle, which has a good smell and no taste, is like a simple person who has no knowledge and learning, but is innately kind and caring. Lowest on the rung of human values is the willow, which has neither taste nor fragrance, and symbolizes those people with no interest in gaining knowledge and no innate sense of responsibility towards others and no feeling of the need to help others.
Here are some early versions of my Geofilters. I really like to illustrate natural things like leaves and fruit.

I was also quite fortunate to find someone to trade me 10,000BTZ on Bunz for a $50 Amazon Gift Card, which I turned around and spent on books within about ten minutes. It wasn't really a snap decision but it had the carefree nature of a splurge purchase, which I don't do very often.

This week I'd like to finish and send the geofilter off to Snapchat, assuming they have some sort of approval process and need turnaround time before the holiday begins!

It's also a wonderful time of year because I finally get to participate in the annual Toronto Bike Rave, which I've missed out on every year since I moved to the city. I don't know why I love group bike rides so much, but I really really do.

I'd also like to try out a new recipe for a chicken enchilada casserole - I've really been pining for some Mexican-inspired flavours and of course casseroles are perfect for Fall.

Random Thought: Understanding Users
I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how great it's been to make strides toward user experience in my design practice. It's been about a year since I began to test this theory about myself, of wanting to understand more of the theory behind design and the big "whys". The part of it that I enjoy most is the understanding of how and why people go about achieving their goals. Not only is this understanding required for me to improve processes, but I genuinely find it interesting.

The methods used to obtain user goals and processes can vary. Of course, one straightforward way is to interview users, though of course people like to feel at ease before they are willing to speak so openly about their behaviours and habits. Herein lies the crux.

I like to begin by asking interviewees about what they've been up to so far that day, before we get into the real stuff. Usually their answer will provide at least one detail of how they felt or acted upon something that happened. I pick that out and ask them directly about their motive for the outcome. When done properly, asking this second question can instil a level of trust and understanding between us, which will provide a sense of ease for future questions. But more importantly, the structure of the question gets them to think critically about their actions and why they do what they do.

Basically, it's all about setting the stage for good outcomes. Even if the answer about their day so far is challenging, like "I didn't really do anything", there is lots to read into such as their body language or tone of voice. Maybe I can dig into whether they were trying to accomplish something but were blocked by an outside force. This will help to frame their answers to the more complicated questions.

Inspiration: Artist Alley
These days I'll take any excuse to bike over to the beautifully reconstructed Grange Park, a lovely green space that both the AGO and OCAD back onto. It's such an awesome spot that lots of people like to congregate inside. This past Wednesday was no exception, hosting OCAD's Artist Alley as part of the students' frosh week. Alumni and students had tables set up selling all sorts of artwork from pottery to clothing to art prints to enamel pins and zines.

It was awesome to see some cool work, talk to some cool people, and to see that the university promotes its students to make a living off what they love to do.

Check out the vendors and get announcements for the next installement on their Instagram.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Crowleys, Cottage Mood & Influences

Weekly Update 2018-35: Psychedelic reminiscings of summer from The Crowleys, enjoying the camraderie of the cottage mood, and a new way to discover old music.

Music: The Crowleys
From Hamilton, Ontario comes and quartet of four dudes with their own modern take on sunny psychedelic music. From their Bandcamp page: "The Crowleys are four good boys that enjoy looking for an Old Milwaukee Ice sponsorship, playing D&D in the van between gigs, and writing love songs." I don't know why Autumn always feels like the right time to listen to psychedelic music, perhaps because the mood reminds us to cherish the last warm days before Winter.

The Crowleys will open for Sugar Candy Mountain tomorrow night at the Baby G as a sampling of late-September's Night Owl Music Festival - an exploration into all things psychedelic and musical.

So ends the fishing season (at least for me). I was lucky to get two weeks of great fishing in this year, including what may have been my best fishing day ever. I caught three smallmouth bass within about an hour, each of which at least 2.5 pounds. Made for some good eatin', let me tell you. There truly is nothing like eating fresh fish that you caught the same day.

My drumming band was invited to play at a wedding this weekend, which I thought was really nice. I will take any excuse to celebrate love, even amongst people I don't know. So it was really cute to listen to all of the family's stories about how the couple met and so on, plus I think they really enjoyed our performance.

My favourite part was when the capoeira dancer thought he could make a running jump over the bride and groom while they kneeled on the dancefloor, which ended in him needing to volley off the groom's back and kicking the bride in the face. She managed to laugh it off, though. I don't know if I could have!

You may recall my earlier blog post about Kintsugi, the ancient Japanese process of mending broken pottery with gold. On top of the beautiful results it produces, the process also brings note to the added beauty in objects that are broken. I am obsessed with the ceaselessly interesting visual appeal of such pieces. The Gardiner Museum actually has a modern-day Kintsugi sculpture created by none other than esteemed Canadian ceramicist Shary Boyle, and I hope to check it out while biking to and fro through the city this week.

I've also really got to get a first-draft sketch done for this Geofilter project!

Random Thought: The Cottage Mood
Having freshly returned from my second fishing trip of the summer (lucky me!), I noticed something really heartwarming about the Muskoka area in general. Of course, it does provide a calming atmosphere just through the sheer beauty and quiet of the area. Sitting in a boat on a quiet lake and listening to birds really provides a meditative mood. I do think this is true for others as well, since it seems like everyone I interact with also seems very chilled out and friendly. My favourite depiction is found when two boats pass each other on a body of water. There is an unwritten rule in the camaraderie of waving to someone and having them wave back.

It happens almost every time and it's really nice. You just don't see that kind of thing on roads (even amongst cyclists sadly). Maybe I should try to popularize it in the city and see if it catches on...

Inspiration: Influences
I've really been trying to keep up with my weekly release radar of new music, but it always hits me with a pang of guilt that I don't actively search out old music (that is new to me). If a song doesn't interact with my ears by the time it's a year old, does that mean it's no longer worth discovering? Surely not.

But how to find old music? That's where a pretty cool app with an unfortunate name comes in. Called Inflooenz, you can enter in the name of any band and get a list of their influences so explore some of their musical history. I think this is cool for a bunch of reasons!

The lead singer of Tame Impala, Kevin Parker, is known to be an amazing musician with a vast music collection. Since I love his music, I'd love to know more about his influences and the bands he listens to. So I type the band name in, and find a bunch of new-to-me old music that is custom-selected for what I already like.

This is a form of understanding our favourite music on a historical level beyond the surface sounds we hear.