Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Cuthead, Time Dilation & Band in China

Weekly Update 2019-42: Genre-mashing hip-hop influenced beats from Cuthead, a look into time dilation (aka the real length of a microwave minute) and the South Park episode that was banned in China.

What's the real length of a microwave minute?

Music: Cuthead
Out of Germany comes Cuthead, a producer with old-school Hip Hop roots that show through under his genre-hopping, more electronic focused new work. Real name: Robert Arnold. Genre: Why pick one? Wonky, Dub, Dubstep, Techno, House and IDM/ Electronica are all at home in his music. All of that, mixed with interesting samples of vocals from musical eras past and present makes for an interesting soundtrack that works for a surprising amount of situations. I think it works pretty well as study music, too.

Oktoberfest is Wunderbar! Yes, my third season of Oktoberfest with Kaylin and Will has come and gone. We got to see the Thanksgiving Parade and attend two days of festivities.


And of course, no visit is complete without a trip to the Value Village to see if they have any vintage Oktoberfest pins. Kaylin found an absolute stunner of a two-piece:

Horse AND carriage?!

I made a lot of home improvements this week, notably finally cleaning my bathroom, repainting the wall where my collage mural used to be (it's really hard to get sticky tac oil off the wall) and repotted one of my monstera clippings. I'm a little worried I waited too long out of summer and into fall to pot this boy, but if it can make it through this winter it'll be a hardy Canadian plant!

Since my wall collage is down off the wall, I was finally able to hang this poster that I (finally) framed on the wall.

All that clean, blank wall around it :)

I bought this poster in 2016, and only framed it a couple months ago. This was a slow burn.

What an excellent weekend I have ahead of me, straight up marking BrainStation student project briefs from morning til eve. I have this cool idea that I'll get to work outside on the patio at my work (where it's quiet and nice) on Sunday afternoon and then play some drums as a reward. I haven't had any kit time in quite a while...the itches are happening for sure.

I am also testing out my Halloween costume at my friend Yuni's birthday/halloween party this weekend. I'm lucky enough to have three weekends of Halloween parties this year (the appropriate amount) so I'll get lots of mileage. Which means I can afford not to wear my costume while I have to teach UI Design on Halloween night.

Random Thought: Time Dilation
I learned something new about myself recently. One of the strangest side effects of fear is time dilation: the apparent slowing-down of time. It's a common trope in movies and TV, like the memorable scene from The Matrix in which time slows down so dramatically that bullets fired at Keanu Reeves' character seem to move at a walking pace.

That's all good, but did you know that people who live with anxiety can experience time dilation at a higher rate? Someone mentioned this to me in passing and it really rang true with me. When I feel anxious, I definitely notice time either slowing or speeding up, depending on the trigger. I am often able to feel the sense of time passing even when it dilates, and I can often guess the time within 3-5 minutes of accuracy. But when I am really off in my guess, that's sometimes a tell of a strong trigger for anxiety.

I do find time dilation really interesting in general. We all know that a microwave minute does not equal a minute of watching TV. A jogging minute definitely isn't equal to a minute of eating, and a minute in traffic is nothing like a minute spent on a roller coaster. That's specifically why I love the term "microwave minute" - once used in late 1940s-early 1950s advertisements for microwaveable food products. "Ready in only three microwave minutes!"

This was once a marvel of efficiency; to have a (somewhat) square meal, piping hot and ready in only three minutes. These days, I don't have three minutes to spend staring at a spinning block of ice in a box - I want my processed food now! Ah, the microwave minute. A perfect example of time dilation...over time.

Inspiration: South Park's Band in China episode
While I can admit that I had quite a heavy South Park phase in high school (as many do), I have since grown out of it and don't really make time for the show these days. When it appeared in one of my news feeds that the show's controversial topics were to include censorship in China in its newest season, my curiosity was piqued.

After watching the episode in question (season 23 episode 2) entitled Band in China, I must say the show is still taking some pretty interesting risks in the name of free speech and political justice. Specifically this episode tackles the absurdity of the Chinese government's censorship practices, and the growing power and influence they have over American popular culture (especially Disney) due to the massive buying power of their billion plus citizens.

One billion Chinese citizens only have access to whatever their government deems "suitable" for them, and American media companies are bending over backwards to the whims of Xi Jinping, China's brand new shiny dictator. Xi seeks to abolish term limits for presidency, effectively staying in his reign of power forever.

The South Park episode pokes at the fact that Xi has banned figures like Peppa Pig (a children's tv character) for associating with ideas of "mobsters" and even Winnie the Pooh himself because some people on the internet claimed Xi looks like him. Yep, some real dictator stuff.

In the end, the episode of the show was banned in China (no shocker there). Show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker stand by their work, airing a fake apology to China in their next episode (lucky #300) after the story blew up on the internet. I was happy to see that the episode was still screened (illegally) on a busy Hong Kong street in Sham Shui Po district for all to see.

Highly topical, as China has since banned music producer Zedd for simply liking a tweet about South Park's 300th episode. And he's not the only one, the entire NBA is up in arms about Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeting in support of protests in Hong Kong. A week later, LeBron James criticized the pro-Hong Kong protest tweet sent by Morey. The NBA called Morey’s tweets “regrettable” and Morey later apologized for offending China.

Gone are the days when we as individual citizens can choose to be "not interested in politics". Not caring about politics is a luxury that only those with privilege can achieve, and it seems the price is a lot higher these days than it used to be. If you won't inform yourself, it'll come for you eventually.

Monday, October 28, 2019

CPR Playlist, Secondhand Clothes & Nuit Blanche

Weekly Update 2019-41: Songs to do CPR to, how to successfully acquire the best secondhand wardrobe ever and the joys of cycling during Nuit Blanche this year.

Music: CPR Playlist
This playlist might just save your life.

New York Presbyterian Hospital regularly updates a Spotify Playlist with songs all at 100BPM, aka the exact speed you need to perform CPR at to save someone's life. That's obviously the best use case, but a playlist filled with very different genres of music, all at the same speed, is going to end up sounding eerily like it flows together really well (yes, even going from Lady Gaga to The Doors Kris King to Gloria Gaynor). I dare you to check and see if you already have any songs favourited from the list. I had three!

After a semester off, I taught my first class of the new semester at BrainStation this past week. Everything is kind of the same, yet also different. It's the same day and time, but one floor down. The curriculum is different (like, it needs a lot of work) but the classroom and activities feel familiar. I also have a new TA - David. Bring it on, something new and exciting with a familiar twist sounds like just the right challenge right now.

My family ran another estate sale for a family friend this past weekend. This one was interesting because the two residents of the house were downsizing and taking most of their stuff with them. The sale was contained to the basement of the house, and visitors came in through the garage. Lots of vintage Lego (shoutout to my dad for sorting through so much of it to weed out the non-Lego pieces!) and toy cars amongst the usual dinnerware and books.

Nuit Blanche was yet again a wondrous joy this year with Toronto Cruisers - we saw lots of cool art and, in many case we were the art. Light-up bikes and skeleton face-paint made for a spooky-looking crew roaming the streets of an unseasonably warm Fall evening. I especially enjoyed the numerous pieces around Fort York (including the shiny new Garrison Crossing Bridge) - the isolated area gave me similar vibes to my earlier years of attendance at the festival (circa 2008-09). Check it out in the inspiration section below.

I haven't really had a chance to clean my apartment since Adriana left last week, so I'm going to relish in the opportunity to reset my kitchen and bathroom. It'll be nice to start a new semester of BrainStation with a clean place since my time tends to get taken up by teaching and things like cleaning sometimes get put on hold.

Ah yes, it's federal election season. I'm voting in the advance polls and using a special ballot since I can't get up to Richmond Hill to vote in my assigned riding. I do feel younger voices and votes are more needed in Richmond Hill than where I live now, so I never bothered to change it.

Oktoberfest season is ALSO upon us, so I'm headed to Kitchener this weekend to visit Kaylin and drink some beer. Hopefully we will run into Uncle Hans, though I haven't been able to catch him yet.

Random Thought: Secondhand Clothes
After almost four years trading anything and everything on Bunz Trading Zone, a healthy majority of my wardrobe is secondhand. I love to trade instead of buying new for several reasons that I have mentioned before, but I hadn't really thought about the ecological impact until my friend Niki mentioned it.

Niki had been having trouble trying to find fashion brands that use green practices for sourcing their materials and manufacturing their garments. Many of the ones she'd come across were either prohibitively expensive or only produced small variations on linen sacks for clothing (or both). But then she realized that buying secondhand clothing is truly the best way to reduce clothing waste. Either through secondhand stores, garage and content sales, or through trading on Bunz and at clothing swaps.

Niki asked me to take her thrift shopping to refresh her wardrobe and also in the hopes of finding something with a 1920s look for her Murder Mystery birthday party coming up in a few weeks. So I thought I'd verbalize my process for her and you!

These processes definitely involve a little more effort than clicking around on Forever 21's website, but if you love the thrill of the hunt and know some basic things about what kinds of clothing flatter you, you can do it too!
  1. Know your flattering colour palette and season
    Your skin and hair colour will work better with specific colours and patterns. Identify these and start to shift your wardrobe toward these colours. An added benefit is that all your clothing will match each other as well as you!
  2. Know the cuts/fits for your body type
    Find styles that emphasize your best features and minimize anything that distracts. Many of these styles have keywords that will make it easier to find if you're using Bunz like "a line skirt" or "boat neck". While you're at it, take your measurements every once in a while to ensure you're searching for the right size. An added benefit here is that your clothes will feel more comfortable and suited to your body.
  3. Take a mental inventory of your closet
    This one can be challenging - but when you are searching through racks of clothing in a thrift store or scrolling down a feed of images on Bunz, you'll want to keep in mind how you might pair your newfound items with pieces you already own. In order for something to make it into my closet, it has to work in an outfit with at least three pieces I already own.
  4. Be patient
    Learn to enjoy the experience of searching. After four years on Bunz and even longer spent in the aisles of every Value Village in town, I love the way clothing can express the era it was created in. Graphics, fabric patterns, cuts and even stitching techniques all speak for the garment, and I've learned a lot about fashion on my hunt. And since thrift shopping and Bunz are so low-cost, you can afford to try things out. If they don't work, just trade them away to someone who's better suited to them.
There is a great strip of Bloor St. W between Lansdowne and Dufferin that includes a bunch of great thrift stores as well as a Value Village. If I can't find a specific item of clothing on Bunz, I know I can find it in one of those stores. Good luck!

Inspiration: Nuit Blanche
This past weekend marked the 14th annual Nuit Blanche festival in Toronto, and my second year cycling the festival with Toronto Cruisers. Last year was definitely an improvement over walking the festival, but it was cold and rainy, and I almost had my bike stolen by some drunk dude in Trinity Bellwoods while we were taking a group photo near the Dog Bowl rave. So I was ready for a glow up and perhaps even to break my record of 3:00am from last year.

Regrettably I had woken up too early that day and needed a nap while some of the group dressed up like spooky skeletons - but they certainly drew a crowd without my contribution.

I especially enjoyed all the art around Fort York - put on by one of my favourite collectives Art Spin. Art Spin curators Layne Hinton and Rui Pimenta transformed several sites with temporary public art projects, from Fort York and The Bentway, to a decommissioned abattoir and a garbage incineration plant. Their nine curated projects were selected and created site-specifically to respond to each space and its unique relationship to the theme of Creation : Destruction.

Art Spin did a great job of bringing the "small-time mysteries of the night" vibe back to Nuit Blanche this year, one that I haven't felt in a long time.

Toronto Cruisers is my weekly weird bike-fueled art project, and in instances when we came across art that was not as inspired, we became the art. I imagine we made some people's night's more exciting with our lights and spooky faces. These guerilla art projects are as fun as the sanctioned art itself.

And as I biked home through Trinity Bellwoods, I noticed yet another rave in the Dog Bowl. Been there, done that.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Teebs, User Research & Thanks For Sharing

Weekly Update 2019-40: Beautiful streams of sound from Teebs, asking the right questions in user research and that feel when interfaces give gratitude to their users.

Tis the season for apple picking!

Music: Teebs
Another beautiful stream of sound off Flying Lotus's label Brainfeeder comes in the form of Mtendre Mandowa, aka Teebs. Multi-channel artist of music, production, painting and more, his experimental choices in instrumentation and timbre make for a journey of sound unlike so much other music that I hear lately. I imagine what makes it sound so different is his production style: sometimes referred to as "beat music", in which he records, layers, alters and organizes several sounds including harps, shakers, drum taps and even tape peeling. Check it out:

Adriana Portela has come and gone. Even through the language barrier, she was such a lovely guest to have. Best moments include

  • us speaking to each other through Google Translate on my phone (all our conversations are saved forever!)
  • she went out to get a beer, the liquor store was closed, and she came back with potato chips (my kind of person)
  • she asked me how to turn off the light in the kitchen, only to laugh and realize it was a skylight
Though we didn't have the opportunity to speak to each other in the same language, I had a great time hosting her and learning her drumming style. She taught us dance moves as well as rhythms, and took us through stretching exercises which I really appreciate. I always stretch but I can never get anyone else to do it with me.

See you in Brazil next year, Adriana!

Fall marks a fresh new year of Judaism but more importantly, hanging out with family and eating my aunt's superb honey cake. This year she put some black magic in there because it was simply the best I've tasted since my grandmother's last honey cake. I really appreciate that she and my mother carry on my grandmother's amazing recipes.

Rosh Hashanah also means we go apple picking - a Larissa and Chloe classic.

Lots to do this week, I'll be prepping to teach my first instance of the User Interface class at BrainStation, and hosting an estate sale with my family in North York on the weekend.

If that weren't enough, I'll be braving the night at this year's Nuit Blanche with the Toronto Cruisers crew. I am especially excited to see what's been cooking in the Bentway and Fort York area, with the brand new Garrison Crossing bridge having just opened. It may even feel more like a throwback to older years of the event when it was smaller and more soulful.

Random Thought: User Research
I'm trying to tackle a big project at work, starting with a lot of research. One of the great things I learned from UXRConf earlier this year was to identify all of the unknowns about the project, and things a designer would need to know in order to build a solution. Then, apply methods for obtaining that information in order to provide the correct user experience.

So in order to find answers, we have to start with the questions:

  • When in their cycle do users enjoy our product the most?
  • Does that correlate with when they need it the most?
  • How often do they use it in their daily work time?
  • Do they recommend it to their colleagues? 
  • Does the addition of our product cause them more work or give them more free time?
  • What changes would they like to see in the product to better suit their needs?

I can't say whether these questions fit every type of digital product, but they're a start. Let these be a jumping off point to more specific questions about use cases, and then apply methods for discovering the answers like interviews, user tests, observation, etc. Then the real fun begins!

Inspiration: Thanks For Sharing
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Spotify. What it does happen to lack in social media experience, it makes up for in small gestures that surprise and delight me to no end. It's not a bad thing that there is minimal social media within Spotify since the point is obviously to listen to music. But when I do share a song with a friend, I absolutely love that Spotify thanks me for doing so.

Spotify actually recognizes that its users are performing a labour that mostly benefits the product when they share music, drawing more users into its content with each click. I personally love sharing music with others for the sake of sharing music, but I appreciate seeing this little note every time I do so. It sparks a sort of relationship between the user and the product, by communicating with the user directly (and making them feel good, too).

Now, if only Facebook would thank me when I give it the final vestiges of my soul. It's only common courtesy!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Special Weekly Update: Kyoto

Weekly Update 2019-39: Upbeat rhythms travel across the globe to us from Superorganism, how to lay out a room for the best job interview experience and the magic of runny eggs. Be warned: lots of Kyoto photos from my trip.

Music: Superorganism
The benefit of having so much time on planes is that I get to watch movies - this is really one of the only times I can sit myself down to watch something for an hour and a half straight, so I finally watched Lego Movie 2. Putting aside the fact that this movie and its predecessor are both marvels of modern animation styles, I really dug the movie soundtrack. Big shoutout to The Lonely Island for producing the most entertaining and catchy end credits song ever, but I really want to draw attention to a little band called Superorganism.

Their sound began as an online recording project, with members spread over three continents. Lead singer Orono Noguchi was on summer vacation in Japan when she met four other members touring in Japan with their previous band from the UK. She had since been living in Maine but had just graduated high school and deigned to move to Europe to live with the other six members in a work/live/24-hour recording studio.

All eight members of the band met through mutual friends, in passing, or on the internet. They're like the synth-pop version of Brockhampton. Nowadays, the only member of the band living there is their background vocalist Soul, who lives in Australia. It's even more complicated than that, but I love their sweet, innocent style of music that matches the Lego Movie really well. Maybe it's something to do with their weird, wacky, multi-national family dynamic.

The song in the movie is called Hello Me & You.

The last major leg of my trip has drawn to a close - my stay in Kyoto was very spiritual in a few ways. Being the spiritual capital of Japan, the city is covered in shrines to explore and enjoy the nature held within tiny pockets between the buildings. Kiyomizudera Shrine is quite famous for its views of Kyoto from up on a hill. It was lovely walking around and enjoying the ancient pagodas.

We stayed at a bike hostel, which was pretty handy for biking around except that I didn't realize how steep of a climb up the hill it was to get to the shrine. Mixed with being the most humid time of day made for a sweaty pair of people. More photos of stuff...

Pumpkin ice cream!

Special grapes at Nishiki Market

I won a crane game somehow??!!

Capsule toys that are capsule machines o_O

The many gates of Toji Shrine.

This naan was bigger than my hand.

He was alive, just sleeping!

Arashiyama was like a dream. Ancient bamboo forest at one end, mountain inhabited by monkeys at the other, a beautiful lake dividing the two in the middle.

I'm in the cage, not the monkey ;)

Feeding time!

The alpha monkey gets the stump where a large portion of the food is dumped.

We visited the Botanical Gardens, which I think no one under the age of 70 ever visits, but we made friends with the ticket taker and he made sure we knew where all the cool spots on the map of the Gardens were.

One of my favourite things of the trip was walking through Yokai Street where all the stores have statues themed like their stores. There was a mattress monster garding the mattress store, a yarn monster for the yarn store, and so on.

This was mall food court food. Yummmm.

The perfect capsule toy for my mother.

Mochi donut from Mister Donut. Soooo good.

Caramel waffle, freshly made.

After only three short days, I said my goodbyes to Kyoto (and Sasha) and took a train to Osaka for my final night in Japan. I had a reservation in a capsule hotel - which fit the bill perfectly since I needed one last sleep without amenities before an early flight home. But I was still surprised; for $30CAD the stay included use of a hot spa and sauna, which was lovely after carrying my backpack all over the place.

I got to do a lot of last minute shopping for presents, bought a cute pair of shoes at Uniqlo, and rode the ferris wheel at Don Quijote. Why not, it was raining and I thought I would get a nice view of the city at night. I feel like I saw so little of Osaka on my trip.

My lunch to eat on the train - only $3 Canadian for all this!

The slot machines in the capsule hotel.

Comic book room.

None of these were in English.

The kimono rental - there were rubber geisha wigs so I felt this was sort of inappropriate?

Boba hojicha and caramel sundae

More kushikatsu!

On the ferris wheel of Don Quijote.

The view from the top!

The bathroom of the capsule hotel - they lend you cool pajamas.

In my capsule.

When I got back, my dad helped me put up a shelf in my room. He did a great job and it looks awesome.

We also put together a shelf I had brought home from work in pieces.
I saved it from the trash and gave it a new purpose as a vertica garden :)

I'm back in town from Japan, and immediately have a guest staying with me for the next eleven days. Adriana Portela of Banda Dida fame is coming to stay with me while she teaches drumming workshops with TDot Batu. We also have an all-female show to play with her - which may be a bit challenging due to my back being really messed up from using the travel backpack and the jet lag.

I want to try planting one of my monsteras in soil, especially since it's growing roots way out of its jar. I was worried I'd have to break the jar to get the roots out, but it looks like I have just enough time to squish it out of the jar and into a pot with soil! Wish me luck.

Random Thought: Seats at the Table
I have been sitting in a lot of interviews at work to hire our upcoming design manager as well as a new product manager. It's made me think a lot about the structure of the room for these meetings and how that plays into the experience (for both interviewer and interviewee). Of course we know the classic situation is to sit directly across from the candidate, which creates a physical divide of the table between the two parties.

I don't really have an adversarial bone in my body, not even a fake one for interviews (call me the Good Cop Extraordinaire), so I've been experimenting with different alternatives to sitting directly across from the candidate. Especially since our interviews usually involve at least one of my colleagues as well as myself and the candidate, this provides a lot of choice for how things could play out.

I find that sitting at a right angle (at two sides of the same corner) seems to give good results for the conversation to feel a bit more natural and cuts the pressure a bit. But my coworker made me realize - the best layout always involves a circular table. This is the least adversarial style of table, which is probably why it feels the most comfortable. No corners, only one smooth edge. Technically, everyone is sitting at the same side of this table, no matter where they sit. You'd have to work hard to be adversarial...perhaps by sitting on top of the table?

It's too bad there aren't more circular tables in the world.

Inspiration: Runny Eggs
Since I came back from my trip, I've been a bit obsessed with runny eggs. Specifically putting them on top of food as a garnish adds so much rich flavour, as well as their own delicious sauce and texture of the yolk and white. I have never liked runny eggs on their own, but as a topper they're insanely delicious.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find a sustainable source of protein, or even just to eat less meat, so an egg topper feels really useful as a topper for lots of different types of food.

I didn't get a chance to try the Japanese fast food chain Yoshinoya, but was delighted to see they were the meal on the flight back home! Their signature beef bowls come with an egg sauce that appears to be literally creamed egg yolk, and made the beef and rice taste extra rich and delicious.

Plus, I guess they're pretty aesthetically pleasing. Just ask Gudetama:

I really wanted to buy something Gudetama related.
This was the only thing I considered and I still didn't buy it. No more useless stuff ;)

Studio Ghibli always showcases runny eggs so deliciously:

Eggs are already a kitchen staple in North America, but I appreciate the more versatile ways they're used in Japanese cooking that just didn't really translate over to this side of the world.