Monday, May 27, 2019

Plantasia, Collision Conference & #a11ycamp

Weekly Update 2019-21: I had the pleasure of attending two conferences this week, at a very stark contrast to each other in their attendee experience. Plus, I was blessed by the plant spirits - just hope I don't mess it up.

Music: Mort Garson's Plantasia
Somehow by fate, I was graced with a green gift this week (to be revealed below) and at the same time found an extremely perfect soundtrack for plants. Mort Garson was a Canadian-born composer, arranger, songwriter, and pioneer of electronic music. He is best known for his albums in the 1960s and 1970s that were among the first to feature Moog synthesizers. He also co-wrote several hit songs, including "Our Day Will Come", a hit for Ruby and the Romantics. According to Allmusic, "Mort Garson boasts one of the most unique and outright bizarre resum├ęs in popular music, spanning from easy listening to occult-influenced space-age electronic pop."

I absolutely adore this entire record. Released in 1976 to a scattered audience, it was rediscovered and spread widely across the internet in 2018. It's sweet, a bit weird, simple but not at all simplistic and in some ways, is the sound of plants to me. I have been treating my plants to it all week and I think they like it too. Moog music in general reminds me of NES game soundtracks, for which I have a strong affinity. A few of these songs definitely remind me of games, especially Symphony for a Spider Plant reminding me of Kirby: Adventures in Dreamland.

Something magical happened at BrainStation on Thursday. As I was parking my bike in the staff room, I noticed there was a HUGE amount of cuttings of a plant in the sink. Not just any plant, but a Monstera, the most sacred of all Bunz houseplants! The leaves were as big as dinner plates and there were over ten of them for sure. Apparently they were cutoffs from one of the huge plants upstairs (BrainStation has lovely plants), and they were going to be thrown out. Imagine.

After ensuring it was alright to take them home, I stuffed them into my backpack, into my bike basket, and cycled slowly and very haphazardly all the way home. No casualties from the ride but now that they were all splayed out in my bathtub, I realized I was way I over my head here.

Off to Bunz I went. I enlisted for help in Bunz Planting Zone and had my call quickly answered by an angel named Pauline. She teaches vocal choir and French at the high school down the street and was able to come over and help me out the next day after school. And so we sat to cut the plant into more manageable pieces and chatted. She is super cool.

I love the Bunz community so much, this is just the latest in a series of ways it helps me to live my best life all the time.

Additionally, Sasha and I made brunch and planned our Japan trip a bit more. We have now booked two Airbnbs, but we still need to find a place to stay in Kyoto and an onsen. We also watched the last episode EVER of Game of Thrones, which was a bittersweet experience.

I love his little coffee pot.

Erika arrives this week! I'll be cleaning the apartment and getting her room ready for her to stay. And if she's coming, that means it's also Anime North weekend! Yep, I'll have to finish getting my costume together in time to paint the convention centre red in true nerd style. 

Random Thought: Collision Conference
Tech conferences are really a very interesting, if not extremely draining experience. Having come fresh out of two consecutive days milling about the Enercare Centre, I have gathered that Collision is definitely one of a kind and unlike any conference I have ever been to. Coming to Toronto for the first time after five years in Silicon Valley, this is touted to be the biggest tech conference in North America.

The sheer size of the conference was mind-boggling - spread across the four huge halls that make up the Enercare Centre and an expected audience of over 25,000 attendees across four days. A big shoutout to VentureOut Conference for giving me a ticket to this event (though Vena also purchased tickets for my department) because there was so much to see. From Justin Trudeau to Seth Rogen to Joseph Gordon Levitt, all under the original premise of Collision: global innovation in technology across all disciplines. Each talk was based on an interview format, with the interviewer/interviewee combo crossing these disciplines for interesting pairings.

Justin Trudeau was interviewed on Canada's plains to remain a vibrant hub for entrepreneurship by Shahrzad Rafati, Founder & CEO of BroadbandTV. Seth Rogen was interviewed on his startup Houseplant by Karan Wadhera, Managing Partner at Casa Verde Capital. Joseph Gordon Levitt was interviewed on HITRECORD, his amazing online creative community by Laurie Segall, Storyteller at Dot Dot Dot.

I was only able to attend two days out of the four, and by gosh the entire thing was tiring. From selecting from the seventeen tracks to actually figuring out where the entrance would be located as it changed from day to day, to actually navigating the overcrowded conference, it was a bit overwhelming to say the least.

Inspiration: #a11ycamp
In start contrast to Collision was a wonderful one-day conference that I attended on Saturday. #a11yTO, a Toronto-based meetup group about accessibility in tech and beyond, ran this special day of talks as a yearly bootcamp in all things a11y. I learned so much and wish I could have cloned myself to attend all four tracks. The five talks I did see:

Job van Achterberg paid great homage to the CAPTCHA, explaining its history and how it got to be where it is today. He explained that as quickly as developers create CAPTCHAs that humans can solve but machines can't, humans are inventing robots or scripts to fool them. Not only that, but CAPTCHAs are simply not accessible due to their nature of requiring some form of test for the user to complete. Instead, he offered that we must take initiative to understand the root of the problem; how spammers are getting into our site content, and find new ways of combatting them that don't put the onus on the user.

Thea Kurdi talked about the complete lack of attention paid to accessibility by literally every building in Canada. Our laws, guidelines and regulations for architecture, interior design and other built environments simply do not come close to meeting our human right to be able to barrier-free access to any building. I can't even imagine how hard it must be to find accessible, affordable housing in Toronto. I don't think a single place I looked to rent in Toronto was wheelchair-accessible, which is only one of many forms of barriers anyway. While it only paints a small part of the picture, I do experience it in my own way when I bike around. For example there are shockingly fewer curb cuts on sidewalks than you may think, and you'd notice if you were to limit yourself from going over them.

Steve Saylor, a popular video game streamer with a large following on YouTube, also happens to be blind. He spoke about his experience and needs while playing video games, which are so poorly met in some game designs but shockingly well-met in others. Specifically Assassin's Creed franchise made a total 180 degree turn from its first game not even containing captions in cutscenes, to Civil War being the first game Saylor could actually play all the way through, all the way to their most recent game Odyssey being one of the best games Saylor has ever played. While the gaming world is known to be particularly vicious online, I agree fully with Saylor that we must continue to bring settings to games to allow users to play them in a way that levels the playing field and makes it more enjoyable for all. I'll keep using my Game Genie codes for my dad's NES until one of the devices stops working (which I hope is never).

Alex Tait gave a very informative talk on how she started a grassroots accessibility guild in her company as well as great tips on how to do it yourself. She echoed a lot of my thoughts about planning our guild at Vena; involving everyone in the company is the only way it can work. She also explained that a facilitator should be prepared with an agenda for each meeting, but allow for others to facilitate or change the topic of needed. Be flexible and ensure everyone feels enabled to play the role they are able to play. I hope to speak with her over Twitter to chat more about her process!

Finally, Julianna Rowsell spoke about her user research with a variety of people with disabilities, her findings, and outcomes for various projects she works on with the Canadian Digital Service (digitizing fully-paper based governmental processes). One very interesting case study surrounded veterans being able to understand their

Surprisingly, my favourite part of the conference wasn't the content (though it was top-rate for sure), it was the people. Everyone was so nice and kind to each other, especially so at this event, and it made me realize how much empathy people must have to spend their Saturday here. It was literally all topics on how we can use our skills to better the lives of others, especially if they have been overlooked by the designs and products of other people. I met lots of cool people who taught me about their practices in usability testing, being environmentally friendly, knitting, eating banana pudding and writing inclusive copy.

It was also very sobering to understand that while 22% of Canadians would self-identify has having a disability (according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability), I now feel like that number is actually higher. Not only does every human age into disability because of the decaying human body (yay!), but I certainly found my experience heightened by various caring touches of the organizers that were meant to combat barriers. Specifically the speech-to-tech transcription (aka CART) of the content was very helpful to me because I do find myself a bit harder of hearing in the past couple of years. If to make content accessible is to simplify it and make it user-friendly, then accessibility should be the forefront of everything we do.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Jerry Paper, Charles Yu & My Moon My Mom

Weekly Update 2019-20: Carefree lounge pop from Jerry Paper, my trust in Charles Yu's restaurant recommendations and a weekend with my mom for mother's day.

Music: Jerry Paper
Summer weather is synonymous with watching HBO's High Maintenance. In this new third season of the show, I've noticed the composer Chris Bear has been adding a lot of Jerry Paper to the soundtrack. It fits the mood (and my own) well, a sort of carefree lounge pop with interesting sampled sounds to make up the melodies. Jerry Paper himself is pretty free as far as spirits go, experimenting with the genre of electronic music because of his personal distaste for the genre as it was. He challenged himself to create something that he liked, and it seems like he succeeded.

I especially love his collaboration with BadBadNotGood on 2016's Toon Time Raw.

In amongst all the Mother's Day activities, I managed to get some time in at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. I dragged Sasha to see Junji Ito speak in his first ever North American event. It was amazing to see his mannerisms and hear his personality through his voice (even though he doesn't speak English), it was all a bit surreal to see how normal he was considering the terrifying things he's put to paper in his most popular works. I bought his new short story collection, but I'm not ready to read it just yet. Gotta work up to it.

I managed to get a nice couple of hours of drumming time in last Tuesday before the finance and HR teams move into that area. I'm not sure if it's any better than if sales had moved in, considering HR generally stays in the office quite late. Ah well, I have come in on the weekends to play before, and I wouldn't really mind to do that once in a while. It'll just be a bit more effort to carve time out of my life for it.

This weekend I plan to attend no fewer than two conferences, one on accessibility and the other on global tech disruptors. My friend Brian is having a housewarming, and I need to do a bunch of research to plan my trip to Japan.

I'm also kind of dreading doing the planning for Collision Conference on Monday, since it's four days, like eleven tracks and about a zillion speakers. Good thing it's so close to my office so I can duck in and out a little if I want to. Apparently 25,000+ attendees are expected, which just reminds me of when I attended a Disclosure concert at the same venue when the band was in their heyday. The coatcheck broke out into bedlam and people started stealing coats. It was pretty bad.

It'll be fine! I'm stoked to see Seth Rogen talk about his new cannabis venture.

Random Thought: Charles Yu
As part of our big Mother's day extravaganza, I took my mom to a Chinese restaurant that's supposed to be the authentic mainstay for the Chinese population in Markham. It's called Maple Yip, we weren't sure if anyone spoke English to even serve us, and we knew there wouldn't be any other white people dining there. But it would all be worth it for the promised authentic food, unlike anything you'd find in the Spadina Chinatown (American-Chinese Food).

The menu includes items like fried silver thread sprats (fish?) with seasoned pepper salt, slow braised double cooked pork belly with preserved Chinese mustard greens, and some sort of wintermelon soup served in a hollowed-out melon rind. Those are just to name a few.

The payoff would be high, but how did we muster the confidence to walk into such a place, or even find out about it in the first place? It's all due to the relentless restaurant research of one Markham-based man Charles Yu. I have mentioned him before on my blog, paying homage to the food legend that he is.

His profile on Chowhound, a forum for restaurant reviews.

Through Chowhound, Yu explains how to order if you don't speak Cantonese, which season of the year to order which special, and when in the week or day to visit for the smallest crowds. "Staff are pleasant, and unlike many restaurants, extremely patient and will help you out." These are the kinds of things I like to know so that I can have the best experience! Especially because the family-owned restaurant is closing forever in June, we knew we had to go.

If you take a look at the profile photo above, I think the user experience of Chowhound is actually a big part of what makes the content of the site so good. Instead of the usual "follow" or "friend" button, it reads "+ Trust" which I think is a very strong choice of copy. Am I going to click a button that declares to the world that I trust a stranger from the internet about their food recommendations? the case of Charles Yu (and if I had an account), the answer is yes. I was equally tickled by the fact that he's been a member "since The Beginning" of Chowhound's existence. 

Back to Maple Yip...

They didn't give us the complimentary red bean dessert (either because we didn't order enough food or because they didn't think we'd like it), but I'll forgive them because the food was verrrry tasty. I want to try the Hand-Fried Chicken at Full House next.

We also went to Sky City Mall (because if you're on that side of town, that's where you go).
I love me some cheese foam tea. This one also had mango puree.

A cheese tart; you break off the crust and dip it in the middle.

Inspiration: My Moon My Mom
I treasure my mother so much, she is the best mom in the world. She cooks her special dishes for me even though she doesn't like cooking, she pretends not to like cutting my hair, and she drags me around to weird restaurants and art exhibits. We planned this past Mother's day weekend in such a fashion - Maple Yip and bubble tea and cheese tarts, the Aga Khan Museum and world grocery store and wedding dress shopping with my sister. As one does.

I really enjoyed the exhibit on the moon, I have recognized in myself some kind of affinity to the moon in the past few years. Unabashedly I do sit and stare at it through my window sometimes, especially when it's full. I feel a connection between its cycles and my own, even if there isn't really one there.

It was a good weekend :)

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Special Weekly Update: Los Angeles

Weekly Update 2019-19: A very special update from Los Angeles, California, the final stop on my stateside expedition in search of summer.

Music: Beach House
Certainly one of my first influences in the dream pop scene back in 2009, Beach House continues to reinvent their genre with each new album since. If you're looking for some melancholy music to wait out a rainy Sunday or help you through some bad times, look no further. The band is comprised of lead singer and keyboardist Victoria Legrand, along with guitarist, keyboardist, and backup vocalist Alex Scally.

Two people (plus a rotating touring drummer) may not seem like a lot, but they can sure silence a crowd in awe. I wasn't sure how they would do as the second stage's final band of the night, but they somehow managed to bring an eerie calm over a crowd of drugged and drunken Californian millennials.

I can't believe the band has no fewer than seven studio albums, but I suggest you start neatly in the middle with Teen Dream (their breakout album from 2010).

Accomplishment: We left off last time at University of California San Diego, awaiting my third bus of the day to take me along the coast to the Carlsbad Flower Fields. From there, it was a 20 minute walk with all my luggage across two highways and a set of train tracks (at least there were sidewalks for 90% of the walk!) to the fields. Luckily, the admissions person let me keep my bags with her while I walked the massive fields and gardens.

After visiting the gardens, I walked back to the bus stop (and caught it just in time) to continue the rest of the journey to Los Angeles. I took the bus to Oceanside Transit Center, where I thought I would continue on the Pacific Surfliner with Amtrak, but surprisingly the local Metrolink train (along the exact same track) was less than half the price of Amtrak and also arriving sooner.

The Metrolink ticket also gave me free transit for the remainder of the day in LA. I took a deceptively simple and quick subway ride and final bus (transit vehicles #6 and 7 in my trip respectively) that dropped me off a five-minute walk from my AirBnB. Too bad the walk was mostly up a huge flight of stairs. With all my baggage.

Somehow I made it and was inside the most beautiful AirBnB I had ever seen in my life. My friend Laura did very well in booking this place. I would greet them the next day after they arrived from a late-night flight. The next day, we would meet up with our friends Vicky and Olivia in Venice Beach.

The next day was all planned by my friend Eric, a Californian Nature Adventure consisting of a hike and climb into the mouth of a mountain cave and an exploration of rock formations at El Matador Beach.
Can't have a hike without a good breakfast!

Saturday brought the main event of our trip; we Ubered all the way down to Long Beach for Just Like Heaven Festival. More on that in the Random Thought below!

Our last day came all too soon, I tried to pack as many things into it as I could. First up, I headed to Museum Mile to visit the La Brea Tar Pits and LACMA.

A statue of an elephant drowning in tar. These pits actually bubbled because they're real tar!!

Tar pits workers excavaing fossils right in front of me (behind a gate).

LACMA is beautiful and huge.

The public art piece Urban Light was also in the area, a must-see area for art lovers.

The Automotive Museum.

I'd really love to go back and visit LACMA, I only had time to poke my head into one small area in the three huge ROM-size buildings that make up the museum. It is simply massive.

It was only a 15-minute walk from there to the Original Farmer's Market of Los Angeles.

After the market, I continued on eastward in the direction of Downtown LA, stumbling upon the most beautiful outdoor mall I had ever seen. The stores were all certainly upscale, but nothing I cared to venture into. I was mostly amazed with the architectural beauty, as well as the double-decker troller with a spiral staircase(?!) that took shoppers across the mall.

Some people waiting in line for...something?

I didn't think anything else would amaze me more than that, until I stumbled upon the LA location of Dominique Ansel's bakery. Finally, finally I could have my cookie shot that I had waited in line in New York like a fool for, only to have them sell out before I could get one. It was magnificent.

Then I grabbed yet another Uber over to DTLA to meet Eric and Laura at the Grand Public Market. Complete with more restaurants than you could ever try of all different origins and cultures, a mariachi band and all the neon my eyes could want, I was in heaven.

We tried to take a weird Gondola one street over, but it broke down just as we were about to board. Talk about bad public we took the stairs.

The beauty that my eyes saw next, I was not prepared for. As we joined the standby line to get non-reserved access to the Broad Museum of Contemporary Art, there was literally no one in line! We strode right into the museum, which was at least as beautiful as the art it contained. More on that in the inspiration section below, along with the Walt Disney Concert Hall right next door.

After a simply magical visit to the museum and concert hall, we walked down the street in an attempt to find an underground tunnel through which bootleggers used to smuggle liquor in the prohibition area. Since it was Sunday, we didn't have much chance of making it too far into the basement of the old Hall of Records. Supposedly the entrance to the tunnel is down a few floors into the basement, all while making sure no one catches you since this is definitely an act of trespassing.

We got as far as a locked double set of doors about three levels down into the basement, passing by all sorts of creepy sights (and not the slightest hint of another human). Eric, the biggest horror lover of all of us, was too frightened to even pass by the desk in front of the doors, he definitely felt some kind of ghostly presence down there. I'd really like to go back on a weekday and try again.

Next on our list was a walk south past Grand Public Market toward our last stopThe Last Bookstore in Los Angeles is housed in an old abandoned bank, and is just as topsy-turvy as you might think. Two floors of bookshelves filled with all different genres and in interesting arrangements like tunnels, labyrinth walls, and even a rainbow wall organized by spine colour.

This had been quite a long day and we had to get up at 4:00AM the next day, so that ended it off. What a fabulous trip!

This weekend brings many good spring events, one of which being the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. It's always a double-bill of fun for me to attend talks and panels of my favourite comic artist celebrities as well as visit the tables of my friends and acquaintances in the industry. A particular highlight this year will be the first ever North American event for famed horror manga artist Junji Ito. A past topic on this very blog, I am a pretty big fan and super excited to see him talk.

It's also Mother's Day weekend, so I am taking my mom (or is she taking me?) all around town to visit the Aga Khan Museum, David Dunlap Observatory for Richmond Hill's Doors Open, a special Chinese restaurant called Maple Yip, Sky City Mall for the best bubble tea, and more. She has good taste because they're all my favourite things to do, too! Or is it because we get to do them together? :)

Random Thought: Just Like Heaven
The entire reason for this trip to California started back in February, when I posted on Facebook about a festival lineup that had just been released: the very first year of Just Like Heaven. This lineup was stacked with bands from a pivotal time in my own life, when I was starting to discover my own music tastes separately from my parents, as well as finding a sense of identity and relationship with music.

Bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, MGMT, Grizzly Bear and Miike Snow were some of the first concerts I had ever attended around 2006-2008, and it was super duper special to see them all again in the same place. Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and many of the other bands all distinctly mentioned how great it was to all come together with the bands they had come up into fame with, and all the fans who had followed them as well (yes, it me).

On the flip side, seeing bands like The Faint, Passion Pit and Beach House for the first time after listening to their music for so, so long was satisfying in a completely different way. I ricoched between these two feelings all day long, until Phoenix took the stage for the final performance. They gave me a sense of nostalgia to two separate occasions, having seen them close out two festivals prior in 2013 and 2017.

As music remains a huge part of my life and surely always will be, this music festival provided me with a moment to look back on some great concerts I've seen, great music I've listened to, and awesome memories I've made surrounding music and festivals. While I am drifting farther and farther out of the mega three-day weekend music festivals I used to attend, this felt like a nice last hurrah to end off that chapter of my life.

Inspiration: DTLA Architecture
I had a sense that Los Angeles was renowned for its architecture, but I was simply dumbfounded as we approached the Broad, aka most beautiful building I had ever seen in my dang life. I immediately recognized it because it had, completely by coincidence, been my computer's desktop wallpaper of the day that morning. Everything was coming together like fate.

Totally by chance! Isn't it beautiful?!

Completely free of admission, the museum features all the pop art and contemporary art giants (literal and figurative) of the 20th century. Jeff Koons here and Andy Warhol over there and Jean Michel Basquiat on that side and Roy Lichtenstein on this side.

The museum also contains not one, but TWO Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror pieces. For the likes of these, I had to pay for a full-year membership to the AGO and wait in several lines, both physical and digital (months before attending), to finally enter.

Alas, as we ventured downstairs to see the bigger, classic mirrored room Kusama piece, we realized the queue line for the room had closed for the day. Extremely dejected, we had still seen some amazing pieces. It somehow gave Eric a push to decide to move next door to the Walk Disney Concert Hall, which proved to be great timing...

This building was equally as magnificent as the Broad, but in a totally different way. Designed by Frank Gehry, it feels like the shape some music takes when it enters my brain through my ears.

The great timing was all due to Eric's daring to go as far into the hall as we could before a staff member questioned us - and we attempted this right at the exact time that a matinee concert was letting out. Yep, we swam upstream against the crowd of bluehairs and tweeds and right into the concert hall auditorium. We even got to hear a bass clarinet do a bit of beautiful-sounding tuning, and walked around for five minutes or so before we were asked to leave so the ushers could clear the seats.

We climbed even more stairs into the adjacent garden of the hall, equally as beautiful as the building itself.

As we left the hall, I requested that we head back into the Broad one last time to see the gift shop. They had some pretty cool Yayoi Kusama enamel pins that I wanted to look at. This turned out to be another stroke of amazing timing because as we re-entered the magnificent building, we saw that the lineup for the Infinity Room had reopened! We put our names in the queue and waited almost an hour (totally worth it) before we were allowed our 45-second moment in the room.

Those two buildings, plus all the other wonder of DTLA, make it one of my new favourite places in the world.