Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Arbes, Usability Heuristics & Monopoly for Millennials

Weekly Update 2018-46: Amazingly challenging drum beats from Arbes, the importance of usability heuristics in design and a board game that tries and fails to create a proper satirization of a demographic.

Is this actually a thing? Yes, yes it is.

Music: Arbes
Melbourne, Australia based three-piece Arbes is a wonder of a psych/dream pop masterpiece. I literally spent 30 straight minutes learning the drum beat to their song Key Largo on Sunday, and I've been practicing it on my knees ever since. I love the drummer Anita Agathangelou's quick, sharp drum beats against Sam Pannifex's surf-rock guitar riffs and lead singer Jess Zanoni's angelic bringing it all together. It's music so powerful and bright that it can make any day feel like summer. Take a listen:

You already know I love Key Largo, but literally every song is great.

Finally I was able to convince my handyman to come down and fix up some things in my apartment. Especially the fact that I haven't had a proper towel rack in my bathroom pretty much since moving in three years ago, it's already improved my quality of life!

I caught wind about a City of Toronto-led Community Stewardship Program for community members to take part in improving our surrounding greenspace and reversing some of the damage done to our ravine systems. There is even a specific team being assembled for the Nordheimer Ravine, pretty close to my home and a beautiful little trailway. The project won't begin until Spring 2019, but I thought I'd include a link here in case anyone is interested. I've already signed up, I'm pretty jazzed to have a Spring activity to look forward to for the winter.

It felt SO SO GOOD to bike into work this afternoon and bang on the drum kit for a couple of hours. I made it all the way through Rolling in the Deep without too many errors, but you'd be surprised how advanced Sweet Child O' Mine is for someone who hasn't touched a kit in quite some time. I've managed to get the base and snare combinations down but adding cymbals is going to be a hurdle. The song requires three more cymbals than the kit at my work even has (and it already has one more than your average kit). I also played around with a tight, fun little drum riff on Key Largo by Arbes - I had to start off at 0.5 speed, then 0.75 before I could actually make it work at full speed. It's very tight!!

I am in literal heaven.
You can see how huge and echoey this room is, though. Not suitable during work hours.

This week will involve more drumming (of course) in the format of our first company band practice! I'm interested to see how we will all play together and if we can even do justice to any of the songs. I'm sure we'll be a bit rough to start at least.

On Saturday my friend is having an escape room birthday party. My goal is to ATTEMPT to solve the room, but I am 0/2 for escape rooms so far...so I'm not holding my breath. At least there will be dinner afterwards to soften the blow if we fail.

Sunday marks the 114th annual Toronto Santa Claus Parade, which is of course a magical event all on its own. I get to add my own bit of awesomeness to it simply by living where I do - this will be my fourth instance of being able to watch the parade from my apartment window, as well as walking around all the floats in the staging area. Last year I happened to be standing in front of the community centre when all the costumed children came spilling out, it was a really magical moment.

Random Thought: Usability Heuristics
Designers have a responsibility to their users to provide all the tools necessary to complete a task. When we make too many assumptions about how the user will go about achieving their goal, we can cause undue frustration and even drive users away from our product forever.

I very rarely use the dictionary tool embedded in a right-click on every Mac, though it is occasionally useful. I was reading an article about Mozart in the Jungle recently and came across the word vérité. Of French origin (those accents are a dead giveaway), I wanted to know exactly what was meant when this word was applied to a film style. So I looked it up, and was provided with this definition:

This is decidedly not the definition of vérité as used in this context.

Basically it's the name of a female American singer, definitely not the definition of the word in a cinematic context. Why would this even be the default definition, a proper noun? In any case, Apple does not provide the user any way to find an alternate definition, resulting in the tool being utterly useless to me in this instance. This goes back to a simple yet very important usability heuristic that I happened to teach to my BrainStation UX Design class this past week.

Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors

The system should provide an option here for me to declare that this is not the correct definition of my selected word. Embarrassingly for the system, the error in question from which I'd like to recover is not even my own error. This single negative interaction with the dictionary tool has soured me against using it for the foreseeable future, because I don't trust that it will provide me with the correct definitions of words. 

I used Google's definition tool instead, and it told me exactly what vérité is: (noun) a genre of film, television, and radio programs emphasizing realism and naturalism. Now we all know!

If you're interested, you can read a short article about all ten usability heuristics. Without these rules, interfaces would be much, much more difficult for users to understand without outside help.

Inspiration: Monopoly for Millennials
While I am something of a board game enthusiast, I have admittedly never been much of a Monopoly fan. It takes forever to play a game through (though apparently that's because the game's instructions are too confusing to understand how to play correctly - still an issue), it supports capitalist ideals (for better or worse) and it's a little bit out-of-touch with modern life (circa 1935 depression era).

Credit where credit is due: the franchise did release a refreshed version of the game for which I wrote a short review in 2015. The game uses credit cards and an electronic banking device used by the banker to digitally add and subtract money from players' accounts. A quote from 2015 me:
Other than the obvious problem that no one can possibly keep track of their worth without bothering the banker and interrupting the flow of the game (which already causes so much anger and fighting between friends), I used to play Monopoly as a way to learn about money and the value of a dollar. Kids these days are already finding it hard to grasp the worth of goods in our society, and now we're condoning this terrible behaviour by starting them young in their toys.
It's arguably not the most educational toy you could buy your child. And now, Monopoly has done it again. Feast your eyes on this:

There is a LOT going on here. Gotta love the rainbow gradients, that's very millennial. 

Well, I was happy to see that real money is back, but apparently the point of the game is to blow all your money on experiences and visiting your friends. No one pays rent or buys properties (perish the thought), it's actually marketed as a chilled out version of Monopoly to play in a party setting without the added stresses of attempting to afford property (literal and/or board game based).

I already strongly dislike the idea of marketing so blatantly to a demographic that hates labels, but this game doesn't even take the risk of properly satirizing the millennial experience. Not to mention, it's already been done. Ever heard of the board game Tokaido? The object of the game is to travel around rural Japan as a tourist and earning experience points. The last one to the finish is often the winner. I own it, and it's way better than this game.

Monopoly for Millennials feels like a missed opportunity at best, and a plain old boring board game at worst. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that this happened, but I'm a little disappointed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Small Black, Reducing Waste & Silly Sir Brewing Company

Weekly Update 2018-45: Moody synth tunes from Brooklyn's Small Black, sourcing smart donations to reduce waste and the tasty brews of Silly Sir Brewing Company.

Music: Small Black
First discovered on Cafe Radio back when I worked at Starbucks, Small Black has been on light rotation in my ears for about six or seven years. Starting from a name and working backwards, the band has been hard at work developing their synth-heavy electro-pop sound since their first release in 2010. I have really enjoyed the journey, noting the band's gradual honing in on their unique sound as they self-produced all of their releases. Their echoey vocals and layered synth beats make for a moody tone that pairs well with the dreariness of turning the clocks forward.

Check out Small Black on Spotify:

My professional life has really gone from zero to sixty in the past couple of months. Now being on the other side of the opportunity to teach two classes flying solo at BrainStation the past couple of weeks, I really feel like I am getting the hang of things. I have offered to take on a lead teaching role for all ten classes in the upcoming winter semester, which will definitely be a challenge to look forward to.

Halloween being a rainy Wednesday last week, I took the opportunity to bike over to the (empty) supermarket for lasagna ingredients and scoped the cute costumes and decorations in my neighbourhood. Plus, I made a lasagna!

I also had an awesome idea to put a small space heater in my bathroom, set on a timer to start heating the bathroom a few minutes before I wake up. This has been a GAME CHANGER, it's so extremely lovely not to have to sit on a cold toilet seat (though that has admittedly been a good way to wake up)

After my first attendance in my company's band meeting today, I am going to motivate myself to go into the office on Sunday to practice a bit on the drum kit. I am going to try to prep myself ahead of time, getting some drum tabs ready and listening to some songs ahead of time. But mostly I'm really excited to finally get an opportunity to get behind a kit again. I think it's been about three years since I rented the electronic kit, and even longer since I was last at a real drum kit. Definitely not my first choice, but I will probably be practicing Guns'n'Roses' Sweet Child O'Mine, since that seems to be the only song for which the band had a consensus to perform at our holiday party in about a month.

I received something really cool in a Bunz trade - a smart plug. Basically it plugs into your electrical outlet, and then any appliance you plug into the device can be controlled remotely through a mobile app. I thought it would be helpful to be able to turn on my heating/air conditioner just before I arrive home, but I think I could find some really next-level uses for it on Reddit and the like. I know IFTTT probably has some interesting recipes for ways I could use it to improve my life in tiny ways.

I'm pretty excited to start using a green bin, of all things. Yep, this week I will be selecting a container to dedicate to my compostable food waste, and keeping it in the fridge. It's way too big a fridge for just one person, so I finally have the space to ensure my food scraps don't end up in landfill where they can't decompose properly. I know it's such a small thing, but I've honestly been looking forward to this for a long time! I have been noticing that a huge chunk of my personal garbage/waste is compostable materials, so it'll be cool to see how little garbage I produce when that's all out of the equation.

Random Thought: Reducing Waste
It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone reading this post that I love a good Bunz trade. Being able to get rid of an item you no longer need, while receiving an item you really do need (and note that this happens TWICE for each trade) is an awesome thing, but I would say one of my favourite parts is its power to reduce waste. When you want to get rid of an item, giving it to someone who can use it is infinitely better than throwing it away. Even donating to places like Value Village - a surprisingly large amount of items collected there end up in landfill anyway.

Since some of my items have been on Bunz with no interest for a while, I have started to look for creative ways to donate my items to people who can use them. All in one week, I found a shop near my home that was accepting donations of menstrual products to donate to communities in Northern Canada, and donated a bunch of leftover firewood sitting in my staircase to a community-run storytelling bonfire event (Fireside Tales). It felt SO GOOD to get rid of the items AND put them in the hands of people who needed/could use them. Double awesome.

So now I am motivated to make the effort in finding places to donate my unwanted items where they will actually be used and enjoyed. This is honestly easier said than done, but it feels like a whole new way of reducing waste and I think it's a really good use of effort and time, plus a way to give back to my community.

Inspiration: Silly Sir Brewing Company
Why even bother to keep a blog if not to humble brag about my super-talented friends? Sara and Matti have been hard at work achieving their dreams for as long as I have known them. These two entrepreneurial masterminds have, among other awesome things, begun their own boutique beer brand that is now widely available in LCBOs across Ontario. They brew at home, experimenting with ingredients and tweaking their methods to get the taste just right, in small and exclusive batches.

I had the immense pleasure to assist and experience Sara's homebrewing lecture/workshop on the weekend (held at the public library, no less - how cool), getting more of an inside look into the tools and methods they use to make their beer in their tiny 500 square-foot apartment.

It was also great to see how tightly-knit the Toronto brewing community is, with Silly Sir taking part in lots of community brew events and the like. Sara noted how much learning to brew is a collaborative task, with knowledge being passed from expert to apprentice and so on.

And did I mention how tasty their beers are? The words of the Silly Sir himself:
Inspired by our travels, our goal is to diversify the craft beer scene in Ontario by blending essential flavours from around the world into our creations. We’re really proud of our first release: Easy Tiger - a wheat beer cold-steeped with lemongrass. It took us 16 batches to uncover the perfect blend of malt, hops, yeast, and lemongrass that make it work so well.
Having tasted Easy Tiger for myself, I can say it is extremely tasty and refreshing. Plus the label design is super cute.

Here's Sara presenting a slide with Matti on it.

Check out Silly Sir's other beers on their website and find Easy Tiger in LCBO today!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Hoody, Weather-Rated Clothing & Network For Women

Weekly Update 2018-44: My friend Saeha's K-pop fave Hoody, knowing how to dress perfectly for the weather and my company's female-positive empowering Network For Women.

Music: Hoody
The first in a series of listening to my friends' music at random. My friend Saeha is a fan of smooth Korean jazzy pop (or at least that's how I'd describe the music). It's catchy and mellow at the same time, possibly good for cooking along to. Apparently I'm really late on the bandwagon because Hoody is already extremely popular in the K-pop scene. Also known as Kim Hyun-jung, this Korean singer/songwriter rose to fame in 2013 as a member of the all-female underground hip hop crew Amourette. From there, she became the first female artist to sign to the hip hop record label AOMG and her fame was set.

Saeha's take on Hoody:
Hoody is one of the few artists releasing R&B/hip-hop music in Korea. Her soothing voice on tracks with a mellow, nostalgic vibe is perfect for my chill-hop playlist.
Check out Hoody's Spotify (Saeha was listening to the song HANGANG):

I have now officially taught a class at BrainStation all by myself! Yes, last week I taught a class of 21 designer hopefuls all about the ins and outs of wireframes and rapid prototyping. I got the chance to sharpen my ad-hoc presentation skills by giving a run-through of InVision (which I use almost every day at work), and felt pretty confident answering questions. I also really appreciated the way the class opened up and shared some of their experiences with others.

On my way home from class, I made a really pleasant Bunz trade with a woman named Cala - we originally agreed to meet in Bellevue Square Park but when she made last minute plans (to go to Spelling Bae, of all things), she offered to hide the trade item somewhere in the park. I would find it, send her BTZ, and go on my way.

When I got to the park, I was greeted with this:

The trade is in the bag, plus extra free sunglasses on this statue's head.

It turned out that I also knew this Bun through some drumming circles (figurately and literally) and we had some friends in common. It just figures, I can only make friends with other nerds who think spelling is fun.

In other news, I completed a three-day product training at work (still really only the tip of the iceberg), so now I am feeling a bit more prepared to actually provide something of value to my company. Not that I haven't been able to find other ways to contribute, of course, but I really want to apply my design knowledge to bettering this product. So many people already use it to improve their lives, and I want to help them improve even more.

Random Thought: Weather-Rated Wardrobe
As the weather gets colder, I've been having a bit of trouble dressing appropriately for the weather. Global warming is shortening our neutral seasons (Spring and Fall), so I already knew I wouldn't have a big window for Fall jackets (my most favourite thing to accessorize) before I break out the Winter coat. Plus, biking in cold Fall weather presents its own challenging mixes of frosty fingertips and sweaty foreheads.

I look at weather reports, but what does 9 degrees feel like? What about 3 degrees? I've been dressing in layers, but moreso I would love to do a bunch of research through wearing my entire wardrobe in different degrees of weather and just rate everything for the perfect degree. Of course this would take forever and just not be worth the time invested, but it would be great if clothing could come with some sort of rating system on how much cold it will block. Sleeping bags do, so why not this pair of jeans? Or this dress shirt? Not only that, let's apply some formulas. I bet there's some sort of calculation that could be made on two items being layered together that would determine their combined weather rating.

This would make dressing for different kinds of weather so much easier.

Inspiration: Network For Women
I recently discovered a committee at my workplace that specializes in the growth, mentorship, and leadership of women in the workplace (especially in tech). Since joining, I've attended the monthly meeting this past Monday and I have high hopes about the future of the company with lots of happy, empowered women. Of course, we're definitely not there yet, but I have never seen such a strong initiative like this in any company I have worked at before. More on this once I experience some of the events and actions of the network.

I also shared something with the members of the network that my friend Jamie shared on Facebook - a really lovely poster on how to be an effective trans ally. I know that life is much harder for transgender people than myself and since I don't share their experiences, I sometimes don't know the best way that I can be in order to help them. Of course I also can't know if this poster is 100% accurate but I know what it means to be a good person and it rings true. Check it out for yourself (originally from the 519).