Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Cake, Trend Spotting & Kensington Winter Solstice

Weekly Update 2018-52: The last update of the year! Music provided by Cake, required skills to be a trend spotter and Kensington Market's 29th Annual Winter Solstice Parade.

Music: Cake
A band I have loved forever, but never seemed to move past their 2001 album Comfort Eagle, Cake is a band with which I am going to start my 2019. Literally every song on Comfort Eagle is extremely catchy and I never tire of hearing it, so why not try out the rest? Lead singer John McCrea's sarcastic lyrics and monotone vocals are the signature Cake sound against their wide-ranging musical influences including country music, Mariachi, rock, funk, Iranian folk music and hip hop.

I've seen them play at TURF in 2015 and with a new album on the way for 2019 (the first in eight years), I'm gonna be ready when they tour Toronto.

I recommend you start with Comfort Eagle, and then go wherever you want - I'm gonna listen on full artist shuffle.

As a sort of ritual, I created a personal Google Map for all the awesome DesignTO Festival events going on. The fest runs from January 18-27 and the schedule has been released. I am planning to visit four neighbourhoods across four days (and I still won't be able to see it all). You can check out my map here.

After Bunz trading for a few Larabars of different flavours, I have become obsessed and decided to make my own. They're a fruit and nut bar whose main ingredient is dates - it makes for a wonderful firm-yet-mooshy texture with crushed nuts and dried fruit mixed throughout. I've never used a food processor so much in my whole life.

They definitely have that "homemade" look but they taste awesome.

I took my free afternoon on Monday and went skating at Sid Smith Arena again. It was much busier than last time (I forgot the kids are off school!) but it was nice to get some alternative exercise.

Amidst the holiday chaos, I received my contract from BrainStation and will be teaching my very own class come January 17! I guess it's time to edit my LinkedIn profile again...

I've been brewing some thoughts around using my Smart Plug - setting the heater to turn on based on outside temperature and proximity to my phone.

IF outside temperature < 0 degrees
AND Chloe's phone < 10m away
THEN turn Smart Plug on

Now I just have to redownload IFTTT and write a recipe to do it.

I also want to make a little plant ladder for my Hoya based on this idea I saw online. I think it'll give it some vertical appeal.

I want to make time this week to see Interstellar in IMAX at the Cinesphere. I've seen it before but I'd relish the opportunity to see it in IMAX for a second time - it's the perfect movie for it. Plus the venue is so iconic and I don't think I've ever been there (before or after its reopening). If I really wanted to be an overachiever I would bring my skates to the rink there as well, but that might be too much excitement for one day.

Random Thought: Trend Spotting
When I used to have the time and inclination, I often felt that I was good at spotting trends before they became mainstream. I found my talent specifically in the two creative fields I consider hobbies: music and fashion. Unlike other predictive measures or the difficult task of actually setting trends, spotting them early is really not very difficult. All you need to be is passionate and detail-oriented.

For the fashion example, I like making mental notes on interesting fashion trends as I walk down the street or browse an online store. The detail-orientation is the secret sauce: being good at googling things, recreating looks, noting when trends are starting to move toward a specific style or colour palette. I sometimes wish I worked in a company where I could make more edgy fashion choices in my daily wardrobe, but I do still dress somewhat expressively within reason to match this.

When it comes to music, it's easier to be ahead of the curve when you’re naturally detail oriented. I always have Shazam open and love to discuss new music with friends (and strangers). I remember once hearing a song at a corporate holiday party and walking across the room to ask the DJ what it was. That was the first time I heard Little Dragon, maybe 2012 or 2013.

Of course, there are lots of misfires in my guesses. I imagine it's similar for tastemakers - fire off a bunch of ideas and see what sticks. It feels a bit like a numbers game; the more details I make note of, the bigger a sample size I have from which to carry a trend into popularity. Well, now you know my secrets, so go spot your own trends!

Inspiration: Kensington Winter Solstice
An event I have been meaning to finally attend, Friday December 21 marked the 29th annual Kensington Market Winter Solstice Parade. In true Kensington fashion, freak flags were flown amidst the crowded streets of costumed people and papier-mâché lanterns of ever-increasing craftsmanship and detail. I was extremely lucky to have Zack Fridlyand as my personal photographer for the evening so that I could take it all in and report back here.

Run by Red Pepper Spectacle Arts, it was a true party in the streets that culminated in a huge performance of round dancers, fire breathers and a huge burning effigy of an open hand.

On top of the beauty and community atmosphere, I especially appreciated a non-denominational way to celebrate the season. Christmas is really rammed down everyone's throats these days (which I don't have any big problem with) but it doesn't leave much space for varied celebrations. Many cultures and people came together to celebrate in a highly inclusive way.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Ratatat, One-Line Drawings & 306 Hollywood

Weekly Update 2018-51: Driven, perky riffs from Ratatat, the utilitarianism of one-line drawings and a look at the life of a woman through the objects she left behind in 306 Hollywood.

Music: Ratatat
It's wonderful to watch a band develop over the years, while still remaining true to their branded sound. For Ratatat, it's driven, perky guitar riffs against wonked-out synth lines. Brooklyn-hailing electronic duo Evan Mast and Mike Stroud are the creators behind this fun, upbeat and bubbly music that feels like it should be part of next year's best breakout indie video game.

Their discography is seamless; listen in any order you please. I started with 2015's Magnifique and worked backwards.

Well, it was something of a stressful time to find the right gift for my Secret Santa this year. Mine was the person who is arguably the most difficult to shop for in our entire friend group, but I think I did ok. Enjoy your fish flask, Adrian!

Finally, this week was it! After weeks of practice, I managed not to make too much of a fool of myself while drumming in the band at our office holiday party. It was a surefire way to get everyone in a 250-person company to know my name.

And to top it all off, I finally went skating at the rink near my house. It's a cute little rink without too many people on a Tuesday evening, so it was the perfect place to pick up my skating skills a little. I can't believe how much my attitude toward skating has changed in the past two years, many thanks to my friends who decided skating was cool because of the television show Yuri on Ice.

The Sid Smith Artificial Ice Rink in Christie Pits Park.

I'm trying to get all my winter activities in while it's still unseasonably warm. I know the perma-snow is on the way and my biking days are numbered (though I've already passed my 2017 record of December 15). So on Friday December 21 I will be attending the Kensington Market Winter Solstice Parade (with three pairs of socks on). There will be all the fun things about Kensington Market street festivals plus a cool burning effigy and a non-denominational ritual to welcome the winter season and celebrate the longest night of the year.

I am also coming up on a lot of free time around the holidays. It's great to hang out with friends I don't see often but realistically a lot of people are away and I want to use the time productively. I have a few activities/things planned and some cooking to do! I realized I also have some vouchers for TIFF that expire at the end of the year (next week). 

Random Thought: One Line Drawings
I have noticed a really lovely art style popping up in the past while - drawing a face or figure without picking up your pen.

Work by Toronto Graffiti Artist Anser.

Now, of course everything old becomes new again, and I know I have seen this technique in Picasso's work.

Head of a Woman from the War and Peace series (1950s).

Line drawing is definitely making a resurgence in this sort of portraiture style. I've been seeing it graffitied on walls as I walk down the street, in jewelry, and even as a brand for English electronic music duo Disclosure.

There are so many of these on Etsy and AliExpress alike.

Not quite a one-liner, but close.

I think this visual style is beautiful and intriguing, a visual sum of its parts. But the most interesting aspect of it isn't the visual output, it's the process. Spray-paint graffiti is generally easier to do in one fell stroke, since stopping and starting in the same position and distance is more challenging than with pen and paper. And so, this one-line style is well-suited to the process of spray paint, and it becomes prevalent in the graffiti scene. Same goes for making earrings from bent wire - no welding is necessary and waste is reduced. 

The one-liner style is utilitarianism at its finest, and its intriguing visual style is the cherry on top.

Inspiration: 306 Hollywood
Bloor Cinema literally always has an interesting story to tell, and their December 2018 run of 306 Hollywood was no exception. A short synopsis from the movie's website:
When siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarín undertake an archaeological excavation of their late grandmother's house, they embark on a magical-realist journey in search of what life remains in the objects we leave behind. 306 HOLLYWOOD transforms the dusty fragments of an unassuming life into an epic metaphor for the nature of memory, time, and history. 
I have always been a fan of the stories we tell about our lives through the possessions we collect, and this film did exactly that. Especially for a person who's lived a very long life, the possessions found in the house of a recently-deceased loved one cannot be thrown aside. They are the only remains of that person's life, their actions and experiences. I see this firsthand when my father runs estate sales for his friends' passed parents.

The film does a great job of exploring the story of a woman from the time period beginning just after her death. From the quantitative side of things, Elan and Johnathan organized their late grandparents' belongings in artful and meticulous layouts, shown below.

Why does one person own so many toothbrushes?

Qualitatively, the film gradually breaks from its grounding in reality and toward something of a dreamlike state of genre: magical realism. I truly appreciated the contrast in tone and pacing from the start to the end, and felt it reflected something of the human approach to death: mysterious, unsettled, ethereal.

Check out the trailer below and go see the movie if you can.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Lower Dens, Urbanist Laundromats & Typeset In The Future

Weekly Update 2018-50: Soulful shoegaze from Baltimore's Lower Dens, what you can tell about a neighbourhood from its laundromats and the typography that shapes our perception of the future.

Music: Lower Dens
Formed in 2010 by Jana Hunter, Geoff Graham, Abram Sanders and Will Adams, Lower Dens is an exploration into shoegaze from Baltimore, Maryland. Hunter, who had been growing sick of the solo touring life, brought together a backing band along with her realization that she wasn't enjoying touring alone. The backing band stuck around and Lower Dens was formed.

According to bassist Geoff Graham, the band's creative process starts with Hunter creating "song sketches" which the band finishes together: "Every song is different but we do try to make decisions democratically, and try every idea and then decide by majority what choices we make." Check them out below.

I love their 80s new wave style, especially brought forth by Hunter's soulful voice. Favourite tracks include Real Thing and Ondine.

I visited the home of a fellow bun last week in the hopes of taking on a ten-day job to water her HUGE collection of plants. Sadly it didn't work out in the end as she found a friend to help take care of her flora babies, but it was pretty cool to nose into someone's life for an hour and see how she's decided to fill her 2-bedroom condo with so many plants and a very old cat. It's made me wonder if I should start to offer my services on Bunz - house sitting for the holidays. I really enjoyed doing it a couple weekends ago, and I think I'm pretty good at it too.

I also managed to get out to Kitchener (thanks Wayne and Leona) to visit my friend Kaylin for her very special Hannukah dinner on Friday night. Exactly how she managed to fit 17 people and two large dogs into her tiny apartment is still beyond me, but it totally worked.

I am always torn about the years when Hannukah comes so early, since it can be hard to schedule celebrations around the early part of December when we are expected to be in the office (and the end of the month feels equally empty, working when everyone else has left). But this year we even managed to squeeze in a family gathering at my aunt's house on the last day of Hannukah, right when my parents and sister got back from a vacation. So it all worked out perfectly, though it's December 11 and the festivities are largely complete for me. Which is a feeling I feel in strong contrast with the 20-foot Christmas tree propped up in front of my desk at work.

Office chair for scale. It's huge.

My office holiday party is this Friday! No less than three band practices will fill my week, culminating in the annual Tarragona Secret Santa. I feel like I really had my work cut out for me this year, but I think my recipient will really like their presents. Plus I wrapped them all spooky for Christmas...I also realized that I really like to wrap presents.

My tiny 3-foot tree.

On Sunday I will finally do my mother the honour of visiting and making Shakshuka for her - she's only ever had it leftover when I've made extra in my own home, so I think this will be a special treat for her. I can't believe how obsessed I've become with tomatoes...I feel like they're in every dish I make.

Random Thought: The New Urbanist Laundromat
The residential rental market in Toronto is pretty brutal right now, and it should be no surprise that renters will have to settle on one thing or another in finding a place to live. You'd have to be pretty lucky to find a place with on-site laundry, parking, an outdoor space, close to a subway station, etc. I think it's an unarguable fact that access to clean clothing is a human right, and yet not all apartments contain washing machines (mine included). I will accept the argument that it's not sustainable to own one's own machine, and the sharing economy is much better for the environment when it comes to high-cost/low-use household appliances.

Granted, I own enough clothing and linens not to have to do laundry more than once or twice a month (not the case for everyone) and I happen to live 30 seconds away from the closest laundromat (also not the case for everyone). I take for granted the fact that I can return to my apartment while the machine runs through its 30 minute cycle, and do chores or whatever else I need to do that isn't wasting time sitting in the laundromat watching the machine spin.

From sheer observation and the open-source data in Google Maps, I can ascertain a lot about a neighbourhood through its laundromats (or lack thereof). If we can all agree that access to clean clothes is a human right, but that landlords are no required to provide machines with rental units, then the brunt of the need fulfillment falls on the laundromats. It's not really fair, but it's how it is. And if laundromats are so few and far-between that their users would rather sit and wait for the 30 minute cycle to complete than go home and return (i.e. more than a 15-minute walk away), the current accessibility of laundromats is not up to my standard for meeting the human need.

There are more possible solutions than simply adding more laundromats to a neighbourhood (though that would certainly get the job done); why not rethink the concept of the laundromat completely? Make it a destination for something beyond clean clothes, use it to provide a new opportunity for a sense of community and belonging.

Some people have already heeded this call: take Spin Laundry Lounge in Portland, Oregon for example. Boasting a huge array of machines (all at one, manageable height I should add), a cafe, an arcade, movie nights and events, this is a cultural hub that also happens to run laundry machines. And this is the change I want to see in the world. You can read more about Spin in my earlier blog post.

Want another example? In Munich, Germany, a chain called Wash & Coffee is exactly that - a cafe and laundromat together at last. Featured in an earlier blog post as well, these two are both great examples of how we can use the access to a human need in positive ways to bring communities together.

Inspiration: Typeset In The Future
Typography is such an expressive medium for communication; while delivering the message through letterforms, the actual style of each individual letterform can deliver its own separate message as well. One such expression is the way typography can evoke feelings of futurism. Some typefaces have become so ingrained with the future through their use in pop culture that they would seem laughable when used in any other function.

The person documenting all of these futuristic fonts is the lead blogger for Typeset In The Future Dave Addey. He explains the userbase of his website and its contents through a lovely venn diagram:

Before you ask, yes, the circles are both uppercase O's set in Gill Sans.

Take for example the font Eurostile Bold Extended, which has been used in many Science Fiction films to give a futuristic feel. In fact, they have been used so often that the presence of these fonts in the credits or set design now actually helps viewers to quickly understand the setting of the scene.

Addey's blog is full of examples of futuristic typography found in popular culture and media. I found his piece researching the typography used in Disney/Pixar's 2008 animated film WALL·E to be quite inspired. From the use of an interpunct between the WALL and E (not a hyphen or bullet) to the subtle correlation of the fictional Buy'N'Large company to the real-world Costco Wholesale brand.

Check out Typeset In The Future for all your sci-fi/typography wants and needs.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Mild High Club, The Thankless Job & Happy Lists

Weekly Update 2018-49: All things happiness. Mild High Club provides soothing tones as I contemplate the feeling of contentment that design provides me and creating a Happy List for these dark times.

Happiness by Meroo Seth on Dribbble.

Music: Mild High Club
Talk about some feel-good music, you'll find it in Mild High Club. This easy, grooving, synthy yet also acoustic psych pop from Los Angeles is the work of Chicago-native Alexander Brettin. The music has such an effortless laidback appeal though of course much attention is truly paid to detail. If this music were a tactile sensation, it would be a hand gently caressing your cheek. Both of the band's LPs have been featured in a handful of television shows over the past while, so you may recognize some tunes. Give them a listen:

What a week! I went from band practice to band practice, to my final class of this BrainStation semester. It's been awesome to see the projects develop over ten weeks, so much so that it was a joy to mark their final projects. I hope to enjoy it as much when I do it all again in January.

This weekend marked my first 72 hours taking care of Theo the puppy. Almost as much as hanging out with an awesome dog, I also thoroughly enjoyed house sitting for Eric and Laura. The change of scenery (and routine) gave me an excuse to focus on some projects. I also got it pretty close to perfect planning on my first run: ordering a meal kit box delivery straight to their address and providing myself adequate snackage (only two leftover granola bars). Theo and I cuddled, I got a lot of work done, and it was fun living in someone else's home (especially as nice a place as Eric and Laura's apartment), kind of like a vacation.

This week I hope to visit the home of Dani - a woman I met on Bunz who needs her home sat (read: 100 plants watered and a 21yo cat and three fish fed) for ten days at the end of the month. You can't make this stuff up. I feel up to the challenge, and definitely learned that you need at least two people and a yard to care properly for a dog (while being able to have a life), I don't think the bar is as high for a cat. So I'm considering getting one. Maybe.

More drumming is on the menu of course, as our Holiday party is next week. Now that my Thursdays are no longer consumed by BrainStation, I can start to devote them to drumming.

I'm also making a mad dash to get all my holiday shopping done this week before the craziness sets in for the last-minute shoppers.

Random Thought: The Thankless Job Of Design
It's always been a rule of thumb in my design education that good design should not be noticed at all, it should allow users to complete their tasks with so little effort that they don't even think about the "design" of the experience; it should feel so natural that they don't even think about the design.

For non-designers, this is truly the way of life. You may never notice how easy it is to open a door until a badly-designed handle reminds you that some doors are much more difficult than others. The same goes for a toothbrush or an alarm clock.

I can accept this behaviour to some extent, reminding myself that ease of use is pretty much my life's goal - but there's no question that this results in some thankless work. That is to say, if I design something to such an extent that no user ever encounters an issue while using it, they'll surely never think about the fact that it was designed in the first place, and therein never realize that someone was behind its creation. If you're thinking of going into the field of design for the sweet taste of gratitude, you may want to rethink some life choices.

Inspiration: Happy Lists
It's no surprise to anyone that we're currently living in the darkest timeline. Most of the news events are quite sadness-inducing, and the world needs something to combat that. Everyone has a list of things that make them happy, but few people ever take that list to pen and paper. I think this is such a shame, since the things that truly make us happy don't come up in daily life as often as we'd like. So why not start recording and taking a look at the list when you really need it?

All credit for this wonderful idea goes to Kaylin, whose ongoing iPhone note of her favouritest things is lovingly screenshotted below:

The list is much longer than this screenshot shows, but I'll leave the rest to mystery.

Favourite smells, words, places, sounds, activities, the list can go on as long as you'd like it to. While it's definitely a great thing to have a personalized list of things to put a smile on your face, there's actually an added bonus of creating and updating this sort of list by challenging yourself to think about the things that make you happy and why they make you happy. Each person's list will be unique and telling about the way they live their life, which can be a good continual exercise in understanding more about oneself.

So go make your own happy list! Feel free to share yours in the comments to spread your happiness!