Thursday, August 22, 2019

Dion, Nostalgia & Eric Prydz's Holosphere

Weekly Update 2019-31: Late 50s doo-wop from Dion, the emotional power of nostalgia and the amazing live concert that is Eric Prydz's Holosphere.

Music: Dion
A strange turn in my music listening habits brings the late 50s doo-wop styles of Dion, an original star of the bridge between the late 50s rock and the British Invasion. He gained some stardom with his band The Belmonts, but eventually found most of his fame (and musical groove) striking out with solo work from the early 60s forward. His voice because more bluesy with his growing use and dependence on heroin, for which he had developed a habit as a teenager. In any case, it's a lovely era of music.


Accomplishment:
I made a very silly presentation about myself for my coworkers last week. It was really fun to go back in time and look at my life so far...maybe I'll keep adding to the story as it unfolds.

More of an accomplishment for my sister's man of honour Daniel, we drove to Sudbury very late on Friday night to be there for her engagement party (the first of two). It was really great to spend the weekend with Ryan's family (all of whom are so kind). His father Brian lives on a beautiful lake and was a wonderful host for the party. He even let me take his seadoo out for a ride around the lake!


Blueberry picking with my dad and Diane (who took the photo)!

I feel so lucky (even by proxy) for my sister to have met someone with such a lovely family. Especially to have Daniel, who not only drove me up there but also took me to the Nickel for a photo opportunity.


I am definitely not done with Sudbury and honestly can't wait to go back and see more touristy things.

Goal:
This week is a busy one: I am running a departmental lunch and learn on the component library work with my superstar workmate Umar on Wednesday, and then a journey mapping workshop with people across many departments on Friday. I've done a 15-minute version of this hour-long lunch and learn before, so I'm not worried about that one. However, I am sweating literal buckets about the Friday workshop. I've never run one of these before, and it involves some attendees who don't know me very well. Not to mention, it's looking like my co-designer Jackie won't be around to help out. These meetings always require a facilitator and notetaker, so I'll have to try to do both or recruit someone.

I also just really want to take down the wall of collage items I've been collecting in my bedroom for the past four years. It's time to stop and put them away. I have decided to keep them all in a little book, photograph the wall, and call it a day. I have a cool framed poster to put up anyway.

Monday is Laura's birthday party, I am meeting with Saeha and Troy for tempura, and then Matt and I will hit the beach on Sunday. I'm pretty stoked to keep working on my tan.

Random Thought: Nostalgia
As we get older, we have more experiences and memories to look back on. It's a pleasant thing to do, especially when we see something that reminds us of olden days. Listening to a song or eating a certain type of food or seeing a specific colour pairing can remind us of a completely unrelated thing that happened a long time before.

Lately, I've been feeling like things used to be so much brighter and happier than they are now. Not so much personally, but on a global scale with climate change and the current state of politics. Not all of our past can have been better than the current day, can it? Isn't it human nature to look back on things in a happier light than they truly were? I try to keep it in perspective, though some days it does seem like we're in the darkest timeline and things used to be a lot simpler and carefree.

Of course, there's the flipside of nostalgia as well, remembering moments of shame or pain. Just as I was thinking about nostalgia, I thought that perhaps the opposite experience might be memories that haunt us. And then this comic popped into my Facebook newsfeed.


Memories sometimes feel a bit similar to dreams in that they are hazy and distant, but more interestingly that they show us our true emotions (especially if we're trying to ignore those emotions). This comic expresses that point really well. Also, cats are such butts sometimes.

I have been to quite a few concerts in my life, approximately 340 according to Setlist.fm. The ones that stick out most in my memory as amazing experiences fall into one (or both) of two categories: (1) sublime instrumentation/musical performance and (2) unforgettable visuals/live show. Now, I can't say I've ever been a fan of Eric Prydz, but his 2004 hit Call On Me is inescapable so I vaguely know of his nu-disco electronic music.

What's really breathtaking about his current projects is his live shows. For a set at Tomorrowland in July 2019, he unveiled a two-year project in never-before-seen technology of light display. A huge, 3-D spherical cage surrounds Prydz through his set, with strips of LED all around it to animate in ways I've never seen before.Watch the mini-documentary below, it's about 7 minutes long.


The part in the middle when the animation designer compares the work to his many logged hours watching YouTube videos of motorcyclists in spherical cages really inspired me. The way one has to shape their mind to think in dimensions beyond our perceived 3-D is literally mind-boggling to me. 

Musicians who pay attention to their live performances (in whatever way works for their style) will always be my favourites. It's one thing to make amazing music, but to put the same amount of care and craft into the experience that musicians share on such a personal level with their fans, is truly special. There is no closer connection between a musician and their fan than a live performance, so why not craft it to be as unforgettable as Eric Prydz's team does? 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

PUP, Bike Uglification & The User Is Drunk

Weekly Update 2019-30: Toronto-based punk band PUP, trashing the visual quality of your bicycle to prevent theft and trying to use a website while under the influence of alcohol.

Music: PUP
Toronto-based punk band PUP is taking the world by storm. Originally named Topanga after the character on Boy Meets World, the band changed their name to PUP when they found that the show and character would be getting a 2014 spinoff. PUP stands for Pathetic Use of Potential, possibly aimed at the actor who played Topanga. While a little bit targeted and unnecessarily rude toward the actor, their renaming fits their style well. PUP is comprised of four young Torontonian dudes with a charming wit in their songwriting and an endless amount of homegrown energy. They can make any show of any size seem like a living room, hanging out with a few thousand of one's closest friends.


PUP's 2019 release Morbid Stuff has seen huge reach (I saw its release posters all around Los Angeles in May) and showcases the band's growth and maturity in its more polished sound.



Accomplishment:
This week was the magical one wherein Natalie came back to visit from the UK! She had one of her many events at a family friend-owned gin distillery in the east end (which I rarely visit) called Reid's Distillery. Their gin-based drinks are really good and the lounge feels like a family living room, complete with heirlooms of the Reid family lining the shelves on the walls.

Of course Natalie's friends were all really awesome and it was great to hang out with everyone. Natalie's sparkling personality draws people from the far corners of the earth. I even got to snap a cute selfie of us before she whisked back across the pond.


This weekend was also the 20th Muhtadi drumming festival. I had never played it with the band before, so it was cool to see all the other drumming bands who play this huge festival. There was also a whole alleyway of Vegan Caribbean food, with some delicious skewers of tofu meat and veggies.

It was a long day including helping my friend Christin to construct her kitchen cabinets in her new house. She and her husband are from Germany so it felt really special to support them in their decision to put down roots in Toronto. They'll be here for a while longer, at least!

Finally, on Sunday Matt and I made our annual trip to Toronto Island. Much of it is underwater because of the water levels being so high this year, but there was still some beach for us to hang out on. I've gotten so many nice hot days to work on my tan this year :D After the beach, I biked over to work to take a quick shower (so lucky my work has a shower!) and headed across the bridge to Echo Beach to see Pup with Eric. As we discussed ahead of time, we hung out for the show during the openers, and then he disappeared into the crowd to mosh for Pup's tour home-opener performance. I admire their true fans (the ones who go into the mosh pit), they have so much energy!

Goal:
Speaking of summer bucket list items, this week will be my annual Blue Jays game with my family. Other than my dad, none of us are huge sports fans but we all get in the spirit of the game. I traded for a Blue Jays jersey on Bunz at the end of last season and I finally have an opportunity to wear it.

It's my turn at work to make a small slideshow presentation about myself for my teammates. I don't think I've ever done such a complete retelling into the story so far, so it'll be fun to go through all the old photos of my family and recall some good memories.

This weekend I'll be headed to Sudbury for the first time ever. The first of my sister's two engagement parties will be there so that her fiance's family can celebrate with us. I keep hearing that Sudbury has lots of interesting stuff to do, plus it's some good quality time to hang out with my new family by association.

Random Thought: Bike Uglification
In the latest round of victim-blaming in my life, I came across a huge series of YouTube videos on a very specific topic. If you buy a nice bike and don't want it to get stolen, simply follow these easy steps to make your bike look like a rusted-out piece of crap so that no one will want to steal it.

Turning a beautiful Masi frame into a rusted pile of scrap metal.

How sad is it that we feel we have to deface our own property in order to cut down bicycle theft in Toronto and around the world. I know people are starting to have the mentality that in order to counteract theft, they need to make their bike look less appealing than the one that's locked up next to it. Such a backwards notion, why put the onus on the bike owner instead of the people who actually commit the theft!

In a word, this is why we can't have nice things.

Unfortunately, I have dealt with my own little slice of bike theft (only as the victim) two or three times, not to mention hearing about countless stories in the Toronto cycling community. It would seem that no matter what visual state or true condition one's bike is in, it will inevitably eventually be stolen. Due to police apathy toward the situation, thieves know they can run rampant without repercussion. This is why I own three bike locks. Depending what part of town I am visiting and how long I'll be there, I may use all three. Each lock buys me time, not security. With angle grinders making quick work of most U-locks, no bike is truly safe from theft unless it's locked up inside one's living space. And even then, anything can happen.

Inspiration: The User Is Drunk
For better or worse, I live and breathe user experience. Once you understand what makes bad design, you'll see it everywhere even if you aren't looking. Certainly there are lots of people who get drunk and then make questionable purchases on shopping websites, but I found a service that takes it to the next level.

Richard is a user experience designer and developer offering a unique service - for a small fee, he will get drunk and assess the user experience of your website of choice for 20 minutes. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone else offering this service, which would put him in pretty high demand if you can get past the absurdity of the situation.


There are lots of ways to stress-test a website for usability, you can have someone try to use it on mobile versus desktop, with a slow internet connection, with only one hand, or perhaps with very little previous digital experience to help them (such as your grandma!) so it makes sense that testing a website while drunk would fall in the same vein.

If your website is simple enough that someone can use it while drunk, odds are that they'll have no problems using it in any situation. I mentioned stress cases last week, and being drunk definitely falls within that realm. It may seem slightly jokey (which it is!) but there are indeed some apps that have to be so simple that they can be used while drunk, like Uber or Lyft.

Heck, even the McDonalds kiosk needs to be idiot-proof (which it definitely isn't - ask someone who lives near a 24-hour McDonalds at a busy downtown intersection).


While googling to see how McDonalds meets the needs of its more intoxicated customers at is self-service kiosks, I found a humorous satirical article about it. Profanity warning, but laughs will ensue.

So, next time you're drunk, I dare you to see if the design of your favourite apps stand up to the test. Just try not to drunk-dial any ex-lovers.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Arthur Brown, Stress Cases & Twins

Weekly Update 2019-29: Fire! The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, designing for stress cases and that feel when you see some good asymmetrical design.

Music: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
There is a new classic to add to the fishing soundtrack this year. My dad has a wonderful old iPod Classic filled with all his old Limewire downloads of classic rock songs, and it is the main soundtrack of our fishing trips because it doesn't require internet. A very special song came on, one I had never heard before but is so catchy that we just kept playing it on repeat.

Arthur Brown's hit Fire is a lovely stroll back into 60s psychedelic rock, complete with weirdo lyrics and even weirder theatrics: during live performances and in the black and white promotional television clip, Brown performed the song wearing a burning helmet. The helmet was improvised with a leather skull cap onto which was bolted a metal dish that held lighter fluid or petrol. As the cap was not insulated, the heat from the burning fuel quickly conducted through the fixing bolt to the top of Brown's head, causing him considerable pain.

Check it out:



Accomplishment:
Twas quite a fishing week that has now drawn to a close. As I hoped, all the kids came up to visit at some time throughout the week, though sadly not all at the same time. In any case, it made for a nice bit of variation: we went swimming at a waterfall with natural whirlpools and I even got to check out my dad's old notebook of fishing histories. I loved trying to decipher his shorthand - and even noticed a few guest appearances of myself in the later pages.

I managed to make it back to the city in time for the final day of the member preview of Sci-Fi and Horror movie posters at the ROM. This was Sasha's and my second trip to the ROM since we got memberships, and I hope to go at least a couple more times.





Sorry mom, but this is the coolest poster for Rosemary's Baby ever.

I also finally got another chance to practice drumming in the office, though the kit has been moved back into the main kitchen area. Therein whenever anyone might come into the office, they'd see and hear me quite well. At least I got some private practice time to sharpen my skills at the start of this venture!

Another exciting activity I hadn't done in a while was to participate in a group bike party on Saturday night. What a lovely group of people, it only makes me wish even more that they'd move their usual day off from Wednesday...but I imagine they never will.




Goal:
This week, my friend Natalie comes back to Toronto from London, England to visit for her birthday. She always books a million activities to choose from and has excellent taste in friends, so there will be some good times happening this week.

Next weekend is jam-packed as well: my band is playing the 20th annual Muhtadi drumming festival and (regrettably) the same day, our bandmate Christin has asked us to help set up her Ikea shelving units before their contractor will install them in their new (to them) house. Lots of work to be done!

Finally, I'll be making my annual trip to Toronto Island with Matt, hoping that some of the beaches are not completely underwater.

Random Thought: Stress Cases
I promised myself I would start reading my newly won design research books on my fishing trip. The first of the lot, Design For Real Life goes over several examples of tactics for the designer to better  understand the true gamut of their user base. We can't speak to every user in the world, so we'd better make sure we pick the ones who count in order to give us a clear picture of every use case.


Meyer and Wachter-Boettcher outline a specific concept that I really enjoyed. We talk a lot in my workplace about "edge cases" - those instances or experiences of users who usually (1) have the most trouble completing tasks for whatever reason and (2) are the minority within the user base.

Sadly, we tend to design for the "normal" case that covers the majority of users, promising that we'll get back to the edge cases "later on" - how long later? We never know. So, instead we can choose to focus on the "stress cases" first and foremost. We select the users who will have the most potential struggle and design the system for their needs. In doing this, we make a broad sweep over the normal cases anyway, and all is well with the world.

Inspiration: Twins
I have been seeing a lot of almost-double lately. First, my coworker flashed his almost-matching sock pairing the other day. It had a cute squiggly blue line motif, but the base colour of one was orange, the other pink. Slightly asymmetrical designs seem to be popping up all over, and I'm really digging it.

Check out the Camper Twins line, a series of asymmetrical colourways (and occasionally physical details) in a variety of shoe styles. I'm in love with all of these!


Asymmetrical designs provide some kind of interest that is so magnetizing, I can't quite articulate why. Though I always think about Abbi from Broad City saying that her eyebrows were actually sisters, indeed not twins, due to their unpluckably asymmetrical form.


Asymmertrical beauty is everywhere I look. Take my friend Eric's dog Theo for example - he's got one floppy ear and I love it so much. I can't believe pet owners try to train their dogs' ears away from this cuteness.


The human body is naturally asymmetrical and should be celebrated as such. It brings such interest into an otherwise uniform (and boring) world.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Heavy Meta, Kim Kardashian's Sink & Schitt's Creek

Weekly Update 2019-28: The new Mounties album completely snuck up on me, the design of Kim Kardashian's bathroom and some witty Canadiana comedy from Schitt's Creek.

Music: Heavy Meta
I don't know how I could have missed it, but my favourite band released a full album a few months ago right under my nose. I only discovered it the other day, and I'm ecstatic (if a little late). Heavy Meta is the second studio album of the Canadian supergroup Mounties (aka one of my top ten favourite bands ever). I have already paid homage to them but this new album brings a new reason to celebrate (and hit the drums). Parker Bossley has officially joined the band, bringing a more psychedelic feel to the music and taking it in a new, freaky direction. Dig it.

I desperately hope they bring this to Toronto on tour.

Accomplishment:
Ruth-Ann had my mother and me over for tea last week before I left for the fishing trip. It was a birthday gift and especially lovely of her to host us with all her beautiful trimmings and finger sandwiches. She even bought bake-at-home scones from Kitten and the Bear - simply divine. She also got me a really thoughtful birthday gift: Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland with artwork by Yayoi Kusama. All the polka dots! I can't wait to relish the typography of every page.


After a beautiful evening in fancy finery, my dad whisked me off to Moon River to begin our week of fishing. We were a delightful trio with his best friend and fellow fisherperson Mr Smith, who is doing very well and took large part in our TWO sets of triple-headers. That makes six fish!! Which isn't even close to the total amount we caught, but amazing in its own right.




Goal:
My goal is to relax the rest of the week. My dad made mention that this is their 40th anniversary fishing weekend, and there seems to be some sort of notebook that he has been keeping of his adventures. I can't wait for him to rip that one out.

When we get back on Saturday, I have a full day packed to have some massage therapy to fix my back, visit the ROM for a special exhibit, and round off the day with my first bike rave of the summer (finally).

Random Thought: Bougie Bathrooms
I am forever late to the Kardashian party but an instagram post from Kim recently made it through my filters...apparently the world is obsessed with her bathroom sink design.







A post shared by Kim Kardashian Snapchat 🍑 (@kimkardashiansnap) on


It is quite lovely, and somewhat interesting to know that Kanye designed them, but what I'm really focused on is how far the mirrors are from the sinks. There is like, a foot of space between them. My first reaction to this was that it would be so impractical to have to walk around the sink to perform close-up self-care tasks like makeup and hair. I would get so tired doing that, without even the skink to lean on!

But then I realized that these tasks probably take Kim (and Kanye) hours and hours to complete (way longer than I would take), so they're not doing them standing in front of the bathroom sink like I would. Of course they have a vanity area somewhere else for those kinds of things. How silly of me.

Inspiration: Schitt's Creek
After the campy Canadian comedy Corner Gas finally ended, I never thought I would be able to open my heart to another Canadian show of the same flavour. Could one even truly be made? Letterkenny truly broke through that glass ceiling for me, providing an even fresher take on what it is to live in Canada in the modern day. Yes, American sitcoms do work on some levels, but Letterkenny was something we could call our own. And I never thought it could happen a third time. But it did.

After noting my parents watching Schitt's Creek for several seasons on end, I finally decided to ignore my reservations about the dumb title of the show and give it a try. Several weeks later, I am fully caught up to present day. It's so funny and such a wonderful slice of vaguely-Canadian comedy. Not to mention, the weird and wacky humour brought by the 1970s classic SCTV returns with the re-pairing of Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara as two of the four main characters. O'Hara specifically shines as a washed-up soap opera star down on her luck but unabashedly refusing to give up a shred of vapid dignity of her former life.


The show has all the charm of Corner Gas and Letterkenny with that same dad-humour flavour of jokes and plot devices. For a modern-day 30-minute sitcom, it's such a darling that I can't turn my back to the bandwagon any longer. Not to mention, the next season will be its last so there's not much bandwagon time left.

The first four seasons are on Netflix, and the full series to date is on CBC Gem if you happen to live in Canada (yay!). Watch here.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Jackie Davis, Business Cards & User Inyerface

Weekly Update 2019-27: Unexpected discovery of 1950s lounge jazz, the power of business cards and a look at why user experience is so important with an anti-example.

Music: Jackie Davis
I am pretty darn excited because I have uncovered a new genre on Spotify that I am really digging. Lounge music from the 50s and 60s is really making this summer happen for me and I want to share this new gem with all y'all. Jackie Davis was one of the earliest jazz organists from the era, being born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1920. It's such calm, nice music that I am finding so carefree and pleasant to bop along to. The drum beats are repetitive and syncopated, which keeps things interesting against the old-style synth-sounding pipe organ. Man, I love organs.



Accomplishment:
I attended a really cool Pride-themed meetup at the Connected office downtown. It's around the corner from ecentricarts where I used to work, which was a nice blast from the past. I had also met some Connected staff previously at VentureOut Conference, and was happy to connect with them again.

The talks were a real knockout, three people from different backgrounds in tech spoke about how to promote diversity in the workplace. All of the talks were choc-ful of examples and actionable ways to build and promote a diverse working culture. The keynote by Stefan Kollenberg really went the extra mile; he prepared a full online article on how to prepare a business case for more diversity in your workplace. Check it out here.

I spent a blistering hot Saturday postering around the neighbourhood for my band's upcoming Block Party show next Sunday. Pato wore his big straw hat which was perfect for blocking the sun and getting people's attention. Strangers kept stopping him to ask about the show (which was great!)

I'm so mad you can't see the hat but it was great.

Speaking of heat, I was finding it hard to cook or even eat hot foods lately so I made a bunch of salads this weekend. I have a new favourite recipe for a cucumber quinoa salad with basil, red onion and feta. It has a delicious lemony vinaigrette that's super easy to make and even easier to eat. Between the quinoa and the feta, I figure I'm getting enough protein. Check out the recipe.

Nom nom nom.

We ended off the weekend with a lovely BBQ down at Sunnyside beach. We did a bit of drumming performances in between lying in the sun and eating meat that Pato brought to BBQ. He put out a hat to pay for the meat he grilled, and it all came out really nicely. Here's a photo of Christin - total fluke that she flipped her hair so beautifully. She does have beautiful hair, anyway.


Goal:
I am super excited to go fishing with my dad next week. I've started to prioritize taking the whole week to spend, because it really is a very relaxing and nice time. No other vacation slows the brain quite like this trip, so I can really relax for a week with my dad. Plus, it's looking like all the kids (my sister as well as my dad's friend's kids) will be returning for at least a portion of this trip. It's the first time that's happened since something like 2006.

I'm also going to start reading through some of the books I won from A List Apart. Though they're part of a huge 40+ book multi-topic series, there does seem to be some sense in reading them chronologically by publising date, so I'll start with the first: Design For Real Life by Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher.


Random Thought: The Power of Business Cards
In my younger, more carefree days, I thought it would be a good idea to purchase 1000 business cards. I was slightly headstrong in my confidence in the design (though I do still like it) and 1000 was only $10 more than 50 after all. But it has left me with a surplus of cards that I end up handing out on random occasions - usually to looks of surprise that anyone even still has business cards. It's great.

But lately I've noticed that business cards still carry some power. Take Joe Rockheads for example: it's a rock climbing gym smack-dab in the middle of a mini tech hub of offices, and my office is directly across the street from it. Naturally, they offer a discount to neighbourhood offices (mine included), but all they require as proof of employ is a business card. It would be so easy to make a business card that I can't understand why they don't simply require a pay stub. I mean, maybe it's the graphic designer in me who would think anyone could possibly bother to do such a labour-intensive thing just for a discount.

I have seen it on con-men style tv shows so often, people are convinced by well-design business cards that people really are their falsified alter-identities and it works 100% of the time. Of course this is made-up, but it stands to reason that business cards are the last unspoken realm of paper-based truth (or perceived that way).

Inspiration: User Inyerface
A cute play on the term "User Interface", this website challenges one's perception of what good user experience is and decidedly is not. Test your wits against the most counter-intuitive user interface ever, truly just a mess of experiences that brings your mental models down to their knees. Sounds like fun, right?


I can't even. Look at that big NO button. In any case, I do love these sorts of tests because they serve to showcase the need for good user experience design and everything I do in my job. I dare you to see how fast you can beat the test - and I refuse to replace any punched-through computer monitors.