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.

No comments:

Post a Comment