Monday, April 22, 2019

Roy Irwin, Gladstone's Grow Op & Sean Mendoza

Weekly Update 2019-17: Sombre 80s-inspired slow jams from Roy Irwin, visiting my happy place at the Gladstone Grow Op and remembering a lost friend, Sean Mendoza.

You will never be forgotten, Sean.

Music: Roy Irwin
A true throwback to 80s slow jams, Roy Irwin is a solo artist out of New Zealand. I've been feeling sad and this fits the bill. Irwin's music is soft, flowing tones that repeat and layer over each other in interesting ways, drawing me into a calm state. It's good to have comforting music when you need it.

Birthdays are sometimes a challenge for me; I especially get a bit overwhelmed every third or fourth year when mine falls on Passover. This year was very bittersweet for me, but I did manage to make a really tasty birthday "cake" that met my requirements for the holiday.

It involved three layers, one of which being a sort of "jello salad" aka an aspic. Of course I am in a Facebook group called Show Me Your Aspics, and of course I had to share my results with the group (to some positive reviews):

I also managed to nab two tickets to see Junji Ito at TCAF, which I'm super stoked about. I think tickets sold out in about 15 minutes - I noted there were only 450 in total! You may remember Ito's work from my earlier post on Uzumaki. I actually don't own any of his works, so I'm excited to buy a couple of his books and get his signature on them...only a few days after I return from California!

Tomorrow marks Vena's celebration of Earth Day, and while we clean out our desks I'll be giving a little talk about Bunz. My hope is that people may want to trade each other for the items they clean out of their desks, and people are welcome to bring items from home as well.

After work tomorrow I have a coffee chat with another designer - a hackathon contestant I met at ElleHacks. She's just finished third year in the IXD program at Sheridan, so it'll be cool to chat about our past experiences and see if I can help to demystify anything for her. After that, I am spending tomorrow evening packing for my trip as I have two BrainStation classes and drumming practice, and then I leave on my trip. So tomorrow's the only day. Starting Friday, it's truly time for a vacation.

Inspiration: Gladstone's Grow Op
This weekend marked Gladstone Hotel's annual Grow Op plant-based art exhibit, along with a wonderful clothing swap and repair cafe. I was able to drop off some old clothes, find some new ones, and meet a wonderful woman named Wendy who fixed my leggings for me.

Grow Op itself was a miraculous wonder, same as every year I've attended in its seven-year-run. Some real stunners were as follows:

I walked into a blacked-out hotel room, divided into two by a net, on the other side of which was a huge, growing mushroom (mycelium). It was connected to a piece of equipment that emitted MIDI sounds, literally the sounds of the organism. Visitors were invited to enter the other side of the net and touch copper plates that were also connected to the mycelium. Immediately upon touch of the copper plates, the MIDI sounds changed and swayed with a new addition of the user's own life pulses. This intimate experience was provided by Tosca Teran (aka Nanotopia).

Tosca Teran's Primordia.

I was mesmerized by a 20 minute film by Peter Mettler on how our landscape is slowly, gradually changed through nature. The camera follows sheets of lava flowing over land for long, luxuriously slow shots. It was impossible to look away from.

Finally, the cover art of the exhibition was a beautiful design called Microbial Feast by Noni Kaur. Her practice explores how personal culture and materials are adapted or transformed in different spaces and environments. She carefully coloured and set out a vibrant design of a woman's uterus, in dessicated coconut, on the floor of a room. It looked and smelled amazing.

And finally, I got to take another visit in my favourite room in the world; on display from January 2019 to January 2020. It is a second floor communal meeting room in the hotel, especially visible from the outside through both west and south facing windows, glimmering for the iridescent film covering the windows, with a beautiful silver sculpture behind the windows to help out with the job.

It is my happy place. I also make note of how the windows change colour based on the time of day and angle of the sun, and bike past it twice a day in all lighting conditions to make not of its changes.

I might be's a selfie of me in the room.

It was blue at the moment, but it can be all colours.

And above all else, the ticket collector for the show was none other than my neighbour and Young Urbanists League Admin Rachel Lissner! We caught up a bit on life (I haven't seen her in over a year!) and she told me about her updates to the modern seder plate she uses for her Passover dinners. It's pretty spectacular:

The lollipop hit me most hard: in America, where drills are run in schools to prepare for gun attacks, children are given candy to pacify them so they won't make sound. It's horrifying.

Random Thought: Sean Mendoza
Amongst everything else, it was a really difficult weekend as I received terrible news on Friday. After not answering his phone for two days, it was finally discovered that my dear friend and bandmate Sean had passed away. This being a huge surprise to everyone in the band, I was in shock. I really don't know how we will carry on, as Sean was such an integral part of TDot Batu.

As the principal double-surdo player in the band, Sean was the figurative and literal heartbeat of our band. Both in instrumentation and in genuine spirit, Sean was someone you could rely on for a smile and a joke.

Sean was a gentle soul and just one of the best people I knew.

I'm hoping to hear about funeral plans from his family before I leave for my trip. Meanwhile, I think the band will put together a memorial ceremony of some kind during practice on Wednesday.

It's so strange to lose someone so quickly, and without any warning at all. I still can't really believe it, to be honest. It'll definitely be weird not to have him there. Even at our last practice on Wednesday, when we were putting the drums away, Pato said, "Be careful putting the drums away, since Sean is not here to do it". Though if I am sure of anything, I know some form of his spirit will watch over the band. I don't know if I believe in that sort of thing exactly, but some sort of energy will still remain from his memory...and the hole he left.

Sean actually art-directed this Instagram photo with me before practice a month ago...

It'll be a while before I stop thinking about it all the time.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

SALES, Neon Type & Red Chef Revival

Weekly Update 2019-16: Sunny and sad music from Sales, the allure of a good, cheeky neon sign and a discovery of Aboriginal Canadian cuisine through all the senses.

Music: SALES
Say hello to a super-cute American guitar-based pop band from Orlando, Florida. SALES is Lauren Morgan and Jordan Shih, accompanied on drums by Malcolm Martin. Morgan's slow, melancholic lyrics and interesting note-jumping take a strong forefront against background licks from Shih and a simple drum machine beat. Sad, yet sunny and perfect for Sundays.

Start anywhere. I started with the songs Talk A Lot and Big Sis.

I have officially begun my third semester at BrainStation, one class under my belt. With that hurdle over and done, I can now settle in, attempt to learn some new student names, and check out the briefs of students who've chosen to bring their own idea to their semester project.

Oh boy, did I ever plan the crap out of San Diego for my trip next week. I've got all the places I want to go in a mega Google Map, same goes for Los Angeles. In San Diego I plan to attend no fewer than three farmer's markets, an outdoor organ concert and a haunted cave, and expect to eat at least one Mexican meal per day. This will be my homage for being too chicken-shit to cross the border on a day trip to Tijuana. Next time!

This weekend brings quite a lot: Easter, Passover and my birthday. Yes, the beautiful opportunity to have a Friday night birthday has been somewhat thwarted, but it'll be nice to spend time with my family and force everyone to be together for some reason or another.

I have some time this weekend to start packing for my trip, along with some looking over of early student briefs for BrainStation. Thanks to my mom, I've been using a really helpful trip planning website called Tripsavvy that gives users a weather profile of each month in many major cities. There's a whole article on things to do in San Diego in April, for example, including average temperatures and weather patterns.

Even with the rain, I am still very excited for Saturday, when I'll be headed to the Gladstone Hotel for their annual plant-based art show Grow Op, as well as a clothing swap and repair cafe. Other than January's Come Up To My Room, this is my favourite Gladstone event.

Random Thought: Neon Type
This past weekend, I had the pleasure to visit a pop-up gallery filled with one of my favourite art forms: neon signs. Some old, some new, some reclaimed or remixed and therefore both old and new. I simply adore the moody glow of neon; there's something very specific about it that no other light source can provide in the same way.

This one is three different signs all composed by the artist into one new sign.

The DRUGS sign in the bottom corner used to hang on the Drake Hotel!

This translates to "This is Chinese".

The old Hard Rock sign from Dundas Square - they also had the huge guitar...

Chloe for scale.

Enjoying a cup of tea.

Especially when used as a medium for typography, I find neon especially effective. It lends itself to cursive well, and overall draws the eye's attention in a strong way without being too overbearing. You can (and should, but not for too long) stare straight into neon and almost see the charge running through it. It's delicate and powerful at the same time, and just plain looks cool.

In another life, I would have been a glass blower.

Inspiration: Red Chef Revival
The Hot Docs Cinema never ceases to amaze me in its thoughtful and provocative programming. Tonight my family attended a screening of a new docuseries called Red Chef Revival, documenting the processes and motivations of three Aboriginal Canadian chefs and pairing them with Aboriginal communities in the West coast to collaborate and cook dishes steeped in ancestral heritage.

Six Nations Chef and Top Chef finalist Rich Francis explored the Osoyoos reserve along the border of British Columbia and Washington State, noting the uncommon way the people of Osoyoos have managed to conserve their culture while also integrating into our society. He plans to open a restaurant in Saskatoon called Seventh Fire: Indigenous Cuisine. He is unapologetic about his need to conserve his own heritage, through his chosen method of modern cuisine.

Chopped Canada finalist Shane Chartrand didn’t discover his Enoch Cree heritage until his late 20s, taking a trip to Prince Rupert, British Columbia to cook alongside the elders and immigrants from Japan and China. His was a story of pain, loss and gain at the same time, made all the more intriguing through his encounter with residents of Prince Rupert to make fusion food that represents a multitude of cultures and heritage that all come from the soul.

Possibly even more amazing was the travel of Marie-Cecile Kakgoosh Nottaway-Wawatie, aka Cezin Nottaway, from her Quebec home to the Native reserve alongside Fort McMurray in Alberta. She is a self-described bush cook, specializing in creating cuisine from sources found no more than fifty feet away. Now, that's true local cooking. She uses her learned methods of hunting, gathering and preparing to front a catering business that promotes the (literal) fruits of her heritage.

Cezin and Rich were present at the screening, not only to answer questions in genuine and truly open ways, but also to prepare a very interesting three-course meal with cocktail pairing for the audience. I couldn't believe how well Hot Docs managed to pull off this event.

Check out the trailer for the docuseries:

Monday, April 8, 2019

Interpol, Gender Representation & Kanazawa College of Art

Weekly Update 2019-15: Garage rock revival at its best with classic Interpol, examining the gender representation in my industry and the graduation ceremony at Kanawaza College of Art.

Manhattan-based band Interpol has been such a pivotal band in my life, easily one of my top ten. From their emergence in the early 2000s garage rock revival scene, having carried me through my high school years and beyond, I can never seem to get away from their haunting lyrics and yearning, slow melodies.

To know their music is to know a very specific time in my life when I discovered that music could affect me so deeply on a personal level. And I don't think I'm alone in this feeling; the alternative/garage rock scene of this time is deeply beloved and recorded in various forms online.

Please start with 2002's Turn On The Bright Lights and work forwards. I'm doing exactly that, learning every song on drums.

I have been meaning to dig my teeth into the original garage rock scene of the 90s, starting with the Breeders and working backwards. Maybe that'll be next...

I managed to get in two evenings of drumming last week, which was really nice considering I now have a visual reminder that my days of playing the kit after work are numbered. The room with the drum kit is now home to a slew of new cubicle desks, reminding me that the room will soon be filled with salespeople (who tend to work late nights). I imagine the kit will be moved somewhere else, but I can't imagine I may be coming in on weekends to play instead. With the weather changing, I'm sure I could work a visit to the beach into it somehow so it sounds like quite a nice way to spend a day.

Larissa has asked me to design her Save The Date cards, so I'll be taking a stab at that project this week. She gave me some cute examples, especially ones with a sort of diagram/infographic about the couple.

Though I think I'll stick with a simpler design. Here's my first stab. 

Teal is such a great wedding colour. I don't care if it's overdone.

This Thursday marks the start of my third semester with BrainStation. Brit and I have already worked out our teaching schedules; I'll be giving her a week to lead while I'm in California and she gets her quarterly work trip to Boston. Things are starting off a bit more synchronized this time and I hope we can continue it into the new semester.

Random Thought:
Brit and I were having patio beers (first of the season!) and discussing our experiences of the gender balance in the UX design/product industry. I have worked alongside many great female-identifying designers, notably the whiz-kid Kate at Excalibur and the talented Elysia at Tag. They're the first in a long line of talented women I know, but I haven't yet had the luck to say the same of a design manager or creative director. Having graduated from a class of 90 women and ten men, I know the tides are turning, but I just haven't seen it in the workplaces I've been.

Which just makes me realize that design management could be a real track for me. At least professionally, I feel adept at organizing people, facilitation and addressing individual needs. Most importantly, I feel more and more like I have a voice of value in my organization. I have seen female designers as well as women in general have their ideas shot down or ignored, which could be part of the reason men rise so much more easily into leadership roles. I don't want to fall into such a rut; I want to become an example for the designers who come after me.

Inspiration: Kanazawa College Of Art
Graduation celebrations are generally a drab affair, from what I'm told. All the grumblings of friends who have completed their university journeys before mine have said the same: you sit in a hot sweaty room for a few hours until your name is called, sit a few more hours, take some photos and go home.

Not to mention those terrible gowns graduates are made to wear, though the mortarboards are pretty interesting in both form and name.

In Japan, Kanazawa College of Art takes a slightly different approach to the graduation dress code - one I believe to be much more fitting as a culmination of a student's educational journey, and just plain more fun.

There's even a Waldo!

Considering this is a school of art and design, why not allow the students to continually express their creativity and personality in everything they do? Not to mention it makes the photo-taking part much more joyful to me.

I have been piecing together a cosplay for Anime North in May, and I think all the costumes and visual self-expressions are really wholesome and fun. It's also just always been a huge passion of mine to play dress-up. 

If my university had allowed this kind of thing, I would have attended graduation for SURE!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

April Fools: Discocover Weekly & Bob The Flamingo

Weekly Update 2019-14: The joys and cringes of software products trying to prank their users for April Fools including a delightful joy in Spotify's Discocover Weekly and my new hero, Bob the Flamingo.

Did you know HyperX and Nissin Cup Noodles are doing a headphone collab?

Just joking.

Music: Discocover Weekly
My experiences with April Fools pranks from tech companies have been mixed at best, but I so happened to be the butt of a joke that ended in my favour. Yes, if you're anything of a fan of Spotify's Discover Weekly playlists, you already know the joys of waiting for Monday to roll around so Spotify can give you your new musical flavour of the week. You'll also already know about the little prank Spotify pulled on April 1, regarding a small typographic change to the playlist - Discocover Weekly.

Yes, the prank was based on Spotify's assumption that its listeners are not huge fans of disco covers and covers of disco songs alike. Well, I am here to tell you Spotify was wrong. I love disco so much and never make the time to listen to some classics, so this was a lovely little gift on an otherwise drab Monday April 1.

I love this whole thing and I'm not sorry. More on this prank as a marketing tactic in the Random Thought below.

After a long, long weekend, I finally finished marking all the final projects for BrainStation. This was truly a wonderful group of students, they'll be hard to top next semester. I also turned Erika's old desk into a workstation for myself (my own desk is currently covered in plants) and it's been pretty good working in there now that the weather is a bit warmer and I don't have to pay to heat a whole extra room.

Moody at night. Daytime is good, too!

Being that I have two free Thursday nights until the next semester starts, I was finally able to attend Hack Night at work last Thursday. The Workflow team had purchased a Raspberry Pi (similar to Arduino) microcomputer to be able to cast their screens more easily to their communal TV screen, which I helped to set up (but really just watched them set up). I also gave out some free design critique on some other passion projects going around the office. Our development organization is so choc-ful of creative and intelligent people, and hack nights allow us to use our collective genius to work on non-work projects in a comfortable setting. Plus, the office provides dinner for us!

Larissa held an engagement celebration party for her friends at Storm Crow Manor, which I have been wanting to check out since it opened. The wedding train keeps on trucking, as we headed to Newmarket on Saturday for a wedding tradeshow. It was actually better than I thought it would be, and Larissa even managed to find a photographer couple that she really liked and may hire for her wedding. They've photographed other weddings at the Ontario Science Centre before, which was a big selling feature.

Tomorrow I'll be drumming at the office (my favourite way to end the workday) and preparing for another one-off UI Design Workshop taking place on Wednesday. Even when I am between semesters, I suppose they just can't keep me out of the classroom.

I'd also like to use part of this weekend to write a LinkedIn post on my teaching experiences so far.

Random Thought: April Fools in Tech
It has become a sort of vogue trend for popular tech companies to participate in April Fools pranks. While I am a big fan of a well-crafted prank, I find it ceaselessly interesting that some products choose to pull pranks in direct contradiction to good user experience principles. Google did this with Gmail in 2016. They added a glaring orange Send button beside the normal blue button, that would allow the sender to attach a gif of a minion doing a "mic drop", and then supposedly mute the entire conversation without allowing anyone to reply.

This prank was ill-advised at best, as some users accidentally hit the button and then never received expected replies, and in some cases lost their jobs because of it. Google quickly disabled the button.

Google is back at it again in 2019 with a software-based screen cleaner in their Files App, somehow automagically detecting and removing dirt and dust from your screen.

Tinder joined in on the fun by asking its users to verify their height before being allowed to continue. I think that one got a little bit of a backlash from male-identifying users...

Whether intended or not, this one spurred a lot of social unrest and definitely polarized some people on the internet. There were many petty tweets about this change by disgruntled men around how Tinder should also release a weight verification for women. Disgusting.

On the lighter side, Vena's development department put out a little lighthearted article on our supposed Office Mutiny Over Coding Syntax. It's worth a read and a chuckle.

And of course, there's my new favourite disco playlist courtesy of Spotify. While I'm sure the disco genre choice was meant to be a joke, I personally love disco and was especially pleased to see Spotify also used it as a marketing tactic to test out their new algorithmically-personalized curated playlist feature. Not only did they give me a wonderful disco playlist, but they gave me a shiny, new algorithmically-personalized disco playlist.

Let me break it down a little on how good this playlist is. It's got Scissor Sisters, The Beach Boys and Madonna, all my favourite deep cuts. The covers are maybe the best part: a weird Euro-cover of Beatles' Day Tripper, a metal cover of KC and the Sunshine Band's I'm Your Boogie Man and an indie pop cover of Earth, Wind and Fire's September. It's got an AMAZING jazz cover of Michael Jackson's Don't Stop Til You Get Enough by James Chance & The Contortions, whose lead vocals sound eerily like Keith Richards. How can an algorithm be so good, that it can pick out weird genre disco covers that I'll like?! Can this algorithm have the power to convince people to realize they love disco?! This is the future and I love it.

Inspiration: Bob The Flamingo
Perhaps my biggest accomplishment of the week was that I finally dragged my butt to the ROM to use my membership for the first time since getting it in the mail last week. Yesterday was the last day to visit their exhibit on the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, so it was pretty crowded but well worth it. One of the true standouts was a wonderful series of six photos all encompassing a flamingo named Bob.

Cleanse your mind palette because this is NOT A PRANK. 

He's my new hero.

In Curacao in the southern Caribbean, Bob is famous as a symbol of conservation of nature and wildlife. His life took a dramatic turn when he flew into a hotel window, leaving him severely concussed. He was cared for by Odette Doest, a local vet who also runs a wildlife rehabilitation centre and conservation charity – the Fundashon Dier en Onderwijs Cariben (FDOC).

Existing disabilities meant Bob couldn’t be released, but instead he became ambassador for FDOC, which educates locals about the importance of protecting the island’s wildlife. Odette drives him around to lots of different events as a spokesbird and powerful symbol for environmentally conscious practices and their effects on the ecosystem.

Odette often takes Bob to schools to meet children.

Bob, Odette and their cat at home.

These photos of Bob were captured by Curacao-based photographer Jasper Doest, and have earned Doest a commendation in the award’s photojournalist story category. I love this kind of international news story, trying to bring important issues to light and insight action through a strong symbol of peace and intended outcome. Aka, let's keep our planet clean, and let's do it for Bob!

Check out more of Bob's story on Doest's website.

Did I mention Bob loves snacks? Sounds like someone else I know...