Monday, September 30, 2019

Dirty Art Club, Late Adopters & Keiko Matsumoto

Weekly Update 2019-36: Weird, nostalgia-inducing sounds from Dirty Art Club, power in the perspective of late adopters of technology and the intersection of art and craft found in the ceramic works of Keiko Matsumoto.

Keiko Matsumoto's stunning work.

Music: Dirty Art Club
Not sure how this particular duo from North Carolina found its way to my ears, but they're weird and I really dig their style. Dirty Art Club is made up of producers Matt Cagle and Madwreck, sampling all sorts of weird things (I think I heard the theme song of The Shining and a voiceover from a cartoon I just can't place from my early childhood). While their sound journey takes unexpected turns and certainly doesn't shy away from experimentation, they still seem to make some very chilled out beats that are as calming and pleasurable as they are intriguing.

Tell me what samples you can pick out of the song Hexes, but start anywhere after that.

I really made use of my ability to go to the CNE at lunch during work, made possible by the mix of my office location being so closeby and the relaxed work hours. It made for a really nice heart-to-heart with my friends the alpacas in the farm building. They had a slightly larger fanbase this year due to the rise in alpacas as a "cute animal" - people are finally catching on that they're the best.

This is a chicken sandwich with funnel cakes for the buns. It was delicious.

My friend Nadia hosts some excellent homegrown events all over the city, some of them guided walks through specific neighbourhoods in order to understand them better. This past weekend she brought some friends and colleagues together to stroll semi-aimlessly through the Portlands area along Lake Ontario as a chance to make a sort of "before picture" of the scenery before it's overtaken and redeveloped by what will probably be Google's Sidewalk Labs.

We saw some cool things, met a Toronto Biennial artist by chance as he worked on his immersive sculpture piece, and I got some unexpected hangout time with my neighbour who also knows Nadia - she's very well connected!

This week marked the last official Toronto Cruisers bike ride. Bittersweet, but our fearless leader Natalie decided to give it a Hawaiian theme for a brighter mood. Even better, the ride went right past my house on its final leg to rest in Trinity Bellwoods, so I was able to break off and save myself some sleep. Lots to do in the next few days...

This weekend I have to do some mental gymnastics, planning and packing for two trips at once. I'm headed up north for a weekend at an adult overnight camp as Larissa's bachelorette party. It's a cute idea and I'm excited to squeeze the last drops out of summer but I do have to leave for Japan the next day. I'm really trying to pack as little as possible since I'll have a hiking backpack. I hope my back can handle it.

Speaking of which, I also need to make time to hang out with Sara this week to borrow her backpack and get any last Japan tips from her. Her backpack has already been to Japan so it'll know what to do, too.

Random Thought: Late Adopters
In creating experiences for other people, I feel a sense of responsibility as a designer to keep on top of the trends in app design and beyond. How can one be a good designer if they don't know or understand the current experiences of their subjects?

But at the same time, too close a look into trends can be detrimental to the design process. Standing too close to the problem denies us the ability to innovate beyond it, so I wonder if being a late adopter can actually be beneficial and bring a unique perspective to creating solutions to life's problems.

Being able to see the problem from the outside is usually the best way to understand how it works, especially when certain norms are taken for granted by people who have been stuck in their ways for a long time. If true innovation means going off the well-travelled path in search of something new, I think it stands to reason that this could be found equally in an early innovator or a late adopter.

Inspiration: Keiko Matsumoto
I am a sucker for a good ceramicist. I love pottery's juxtaposition of strength and fragility, and the amazing things one can make with it that vary in shape, texture, colour, size and so much more. I hope to see some cool pottery in Japan but for now, I will satisfy myself gazing at the works of Keiko Matsumoto.

I especially love the way she mashes up different tropes within the media - the octopus curling over a Ming-style vase to transfer the classic pattern to the piece feels like a weird remix of something your grandmother might be collecting in her time-capsule apartment.

In a similar way, the above piece fills in the blanks by completing a print of a Japanese pagoda on a plate with a sculpted 3-D pagoda behind it. It's as much optical illusion as it is fine art.

The first time Japanese art was exposed to the West was at the 1873 World Expo in Vienna. This Japanese art mainly consisted  of pottery, craft and ukiyo-e. There wasn’t really any contemporary art in Japan at the time, and in fact there wasn’t even a word for “art” until 1873. After the expo, influences of Western art began to show in Japan, and art was taught at universities there.

Read more about Matsumoto here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Oddfish, Accessible Peripherals & Patriot Act

Weekly Update 2019-35: Mysterious chillhop from South Korea, a look into why accessible keyboards and mice are good for everyone and my new favourite Netflix black-comedy political talkshow.

Music: Oddfish
Chillhop is back into the trendlist of 2019 playlists, which is great because I didn't know it actually went out of style after its 2016 arrival. My friend Emilia created a pretty good chillhop playlist featuring South Korea's Oddfish, something of a mysterious soul with only two songs on Spotify and a two-line bio with a personal gmail account written in it. Highly unorthodox, but I like the music. It relaxes me immediately and gives me the feeling of taking a nap in the sun on a tropical island.

Sorry, this is all you get for now:

This was a busy week. Rachel Lissner and some Young Urbanist's League colleagues all joined together to sit in the grass of Christie Pits to discuss Dave Meslin's new book Teardown and our personal experiences with politics in general. With the oncoming federal election, I have been feeling a sense of hopelessness lately and looking for ways to turn that around.

One thing that does give me hope and motivation is working with my awesome coworker Sheri on a company lunch and learn on how to incorporate more accessibility and inclusiveness in content creation in our workplace. It will be law in 2021 but we definitely need the lead time to plan and honestly get buy-in from the rest of the company. So, we ran a lunch and learn to try to build some clout around the subject. The turnout was around 80 people (about a quarter of the full staff) so I guess I can't be too disappointed.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend two very cool events. The first was Taiwanfest at Harbourfront Centre, a lively celebration of Taiwanese food, dance, fashion, music and more. We overheard from another festival attendee while waiting in a food line that there would be a special percussion performance later in the night, so we had to stick around. Ju Percussion, a mixed gender troupe of drummers and percussionists, played a wonderful set filled with a display of different moods, rhythms and instruments of percussion. It was art in the truest form that I know.

The next day I visited the Brian Jungen exhibit at the AGO, and was double-excited to see that I would have time to check out the newly permanently acquired Infinity Room (a Yayoi Kusama classic). Being in there reminded me of when Erika and I got memberships to get advance admission to her exhibit in 2017.

Jungen's exhibit was exhilarating in a totally different way, with his intriguing and skilful dismantling of everyday objects and reassembling them into works of art. From hockey jerseys to Nike Air Jordans to jerry cans and more, Jungen makes a striking statement about our relationship to our belongings and the material value we hold so high.

I hope to make good use of the CNE being so close to my office next week, and get some delicious fried food as one does at a carnival. I'm also meeting with Sasha to keep planning our Japan trip - thee are so many details to work out now that we have our city locations planned. Good thing I like to plan trips.

Random Thought: Accessibility
My coworker Sheri and I finally presented our lunch and learn at work, and I wanted to share some of my favourite things from it.

Motor functions are varied amongst different people, which sometimes means it's difficult to use a conventional keyboard or mouse. There are so many different types of peripherals like keyboards and mice with various designs to meet the needs of all users. This notion really speaks to me because I often wonder if ergonomics was considered at all with some conventional (read - inaccessible) peripheral device designs.

Good ergonomics relate to being able to complete work (in this case, at a computer) in conditions that are comfortable and shaped to fit the user, rather than the other way around. This allows users to work longer, feel fewer effects of pain or fatigue, and generally be more efficient and happy in their work.

This is just one example of the way designing for accessibility can help all kinds of people, not just those who may require differently designed peripherals. Sometimes, the "normal" way doesn't actually suit anyone's needs.

Inspiration: Patriot Act
Now that politics has become a common conversation...pretty much everywhere, I have been trying to learn more about world events from alternative voices and sources. One particularly entertaining method is through a new Netflix comedy web television talk show hosted by Hasan Minhaj. I appreciate Minhaj's revelatory candor on his one-man show, picking on corrupt world leaders with dark jokes. But his show is more than entertaining; he puts an interesting and investigative spin on many corrupt processes in the US and around the world that are obscured from public view.

I particularly enjoyed the episode on drug pricing in the US, wherein four separate corporate parties are working together to drive up drug prices, especially the case with insulin for diabetic patients. The cost of insulin in the US has shot up so high beyond the average price in any other country, that people are literally dying because they can't afford the medicine they need.

The show reminds me of Penn and Teller's Bullsh*t of the early 2000s for its willingness to poke around in issues that may be provocative. Minhaj has even come under pressure from his episodes regarding the political ongoings of Saudi Arabia's corrupt crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. After the prince's request to have one of the episodes regarding his actions removed from Netflix, Minhaj recorded a new episode explaining the absurdity of this "request" to his audiences. It does prove the point that the show is making waves.

Of course, you can't believe everything you see, even this show. I have noticed that Netflix seems quite relaxed with allowing Minhaj to rip on pretty much any topic (even Netflix itself) which he has done so many times that it makes me more skeptical that they may be censoring him from speaking about some topics. This is total conspiracy talk, but wouldn't Netflix allow him to "talk shit" about them as a rouse to make the rest of his topics more credible?

In any case, I'm learning at least one side (if not a fully rounded picture) of many world events I wouldn't have otherwise known about, and finding it super entertaining. Some of his jokes nail the point in a step too deeply, but Minhaj's style and charisma have actually given me a talkshow to enjoy (possibly a first, ever for me). Check it out on Netflix.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Boys Noize, Dark Mode & Starbucks Brand Guide

Weekly Update 2019-34: Hard electronica from Boys Noize, the usability of dark mode in UI design and Starbucks's new digital brand guide.

A new font from Starbucks called Lander.

Music: Boys Noize
I honestly can't believe I haven't written about this awesome electronic music yet. Alexander Ridha is the mastermind behind an act that sounds like much more than just one person. Extremely heavy beats, computer-generated robot vocals and an overall rather industrial sound make Ridha's music immediately recognizable. I first heard of Ridha's work through a particularly groovy electronic coverr of Feist's My Moon My Man and honestly, never took 2007's Oi Oi Oi off my phone since. I suggest starting there and working your way forward.

This was quite a week of events. Game Grumps Live started the week off with my first seated show at the Danforth Music Hall - complete with a live audience playing of Mario Party. Arin and Dan put on a great show, inviting members of the audience to the stage to take turns playing with them. It was a really nice lighthearted night out.

Wednesday marked the 16th anniversary of the 2003 Blackout, with an amazing party rolling through the streets. There's always some kind of group bike ride as part of the event, but this year falling on a Wednesday meant we got to collide with a real Cruising event. Or rather, I began the night bike cruising and we eventually collided with the Blackout party. The various groups of cyclists, pedestrians, musicians, dancers, stilt-walkers, artists and professional streetlight deactivators merged together along Yonge Street.

Ran into some drumming friends!

From there, we walked together and eventually took over the intersection of College and University, quite an achievement compared with the arguably less busy intersection from last year (Bloor and Avenue). While I did really enjoy the various art displays down Philosopher's Walk last year, this year I decided to continue the Toronto Cruisers ride and we took a lovely ride ending at the Toronto Music Garden.

I got to see Wolf Parade on Friday for the sixth time, sadly now missing Dante Decaro from their ongoing lineup. While I did miss him, the show was still awesome. Four new songs (all sounding really good), really cool home-movie style film effects as a backdrop and honestly, I am sort of into this simpler setup of my three favourite boys. Spencer, Dan and Arlen are still killin' it.

This weekend brought a wonderful bout of room-style karaoke in Koreatown. Can you believe I've lived in Koreatown for four years and never done room karaoke before?! It was also somehow a pretty special three-minute walk to the karaoke bar - I left my apartment with a road beer just as a group of people (also public drinking) were walking by. I ended up tagging along since we all happened to be going to the same karaoke bar, it made quite an entrance.

Something I had been waiting for for a while: our yearly pilgrimage to the Art Gallery of Hamilton. My whole family trekked out, with the added bonus of our friends Mel (who lives in Hamilton) and Mike. There is an amazing collection of dresses and couture from the Hamilton-based fashion house Milli, a wonderful full-floor exhibit on comics and zines, and of course a visit to the gallery's very own Bruegel-Bosch Bus.

As a bonus, we finally made it to the Gage Park Greenhouse to see all the beautiful plants. I can't believe the size of some of the leaves, literally bigger than my whole body. And grown in Canada! I highly suggest visiting if you're in the area - it's free to visit, open seven days a week from 9-5.

This week brings a book club hosted by the lovely Rachel Lissner of Young Urbanists League on a non-fiction political book called Teardown by Dave Meslin. I sadly haven't had a chance to read the book in full yet, but I am excited to sit down for a few hours in Christie Pits and chat about ways we can make democracy more accessible and actionable.

Tuesday is trivia night at Stormcrow Manor, and although I don't do so well in the realm of pop culture, I hope my wittiness and overall charm will be enough to contribute to a win for my team.

Logan's birthday fun continues into Wednesday for a classic drinking night at his favourite bar from university days - The Lab. He has good taste in friends so I'm sure it'll be a fun time.

On Friday I am running a company-wide lunch and learn on accessibility with my coworker Sheri. This has been a long time in the works and I'm excited to finally give my coworkers some of the tools to make their work more accessible and usable by everyone.

And if that wasn't enough, the weekend brings Harbourfront's Taiwan Festival and a trip to the AGO to see the Brian Jungen exhibit (and maybe an infinity room).

Random Thought: Dark Mode
So many apps and devices are adding a feature for "dark mode" - opting for a darker interface over a lighter one that has been the style for many years.

I think Google Maps has been doing this really well for a while - automatically switching your navigation map to a dark version when the sun goes down in your location. Not only does this help drivers to better see where they're going, but it actually uses less battery life on your device (fewer pixels needed to brighten to screen) and less straining on the eyes when the interface matches the user's natural surroundings.

But that right there is the issue. Most apps that include a dark mode or theme, require the user to turn it on manually. I understand some users will want a constant mode of either light or dark, but wouldn't the overwhelming majority of users want it to update automatically based on timezone, a-la Google Maps? Dark mode is great, but why should I have to manually activate it twice a day with the movements of the sun on the horizon? Are we living in the stone ages?

Inspiration: Starbucks Brand Guide
There's nothing I like more than a well-designed brand guide. It's such a delightfully meta activity to sit down and design an experience for other designers to continue your set rules of voice and tone, in a way that is both easy and joyful to use.

Starbucks has just released their online brand guide, an interactive experience and delightfully simple catalog of fonts, colours, logo usage, illustration and more.

There's no reason for a brand guide to be drab or boring to read - any little bit of fun can be added if it aligns with the brand. I especially love the subtle animations and ability for users to type a phrase into their typography page to try out the fonts.

Having worked at Starbucks for four years, I did always admire their good design in advertisements, menu boards and merchandise. Their design team does a good job of injecting fun and playfulness into very simple designs without any unnecessary clutter. I particularly enjoy their font Lander, which appears to be custom made for the brand. It feels very reminiscent of the coffee-drinking experience - comfortable, yet a little bit sharp.

Check it out here.