Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Late of the Pier, Coding Keyboards & Stained Glass Video

Weekly Update 2020-07: I'm late to the game on electronic musicians Late of the Pier, an examination into why there aren't more designed keyboards specifically for coding, and a wonderful interactive music video for a Real Estate song.

More below!

Music: Late of the Pier
Quite possibly one of my missed discoveries from the electronica era of 2007, Late Of The Pier from Castle Donington, England was certainly a staple of the scene with delightful, tongue-in-cheek synth melodies that I just can't get out of my head...only thirteen years later.

Upon further inspection I remembered that the band's lead singer Sam Eastgate is none other than LA Priest (previously blogged here). So I have certainly gone backwards in my listening to this musical metamorphosis, but I can definitely see the relation between two high-energy, if different, sets of music.

And yet, Late of the Pier only produced one LP, 2008's Fantasy Black Channel, which you can listen to in all its glory below.

I finished marking all the briefs (with the help of my associate Tamira), this class is running quite smoothly so far I must say. All the students also handed in their assignments properly, on time (except one student who was 2 minutes late - can I round down?), and it was such a joy to see. Another reminder that I could never handle myself in a classroom full of unruly children.

I also managed to pack everything I think I'll need for my trip, all into one carry-on suitcase. Now as long as they don't weigh it (or possibly even measure the depth), I'm good.

I've got half a class to teach on Thursday night and then I head straight to airport from Union on the UP Express. It seems crazy that I'm dragging a suitcase all the way downtown but this seems to make the most sense and might be the most straightforward journey to the airport that I've taken. I won't be sorry to wave goodbye to the snow and welcome the blazing, blazing sun into my life for the next two weeks.

My goal is to do my darnedest not to get overwhelmed on this trip. I don't think I'll have enough signal (or wherewithal) to write posts so I'll see you next on February 28 when I'm back!

Random Thought:
I was typing out some HTML the other day as I do from time to time, and thinking that the standard QWERTY keyboard is simply awkward for typing out code. Now perhaps it's because I am out of practice in typing out an HTML "sentence" in the same way I am used to typing an English sentence, but this keyboard design just doesn't seem optimized for that job. And yet I don't think I've ever met a developer who used an alternative to the QWERTY keyboard. This seems quite strange to me, especially as there have even been advancements beyond QWERTY for English keyboardists. Since developers tend to be an industrious bunch (by nature of their job), I am really surprised this hasn't been further investigated.

At the very least, I could attest that longer fingers would certainly make one's coding tasks a lot easier. Even keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys are a further modification to improve one's speed and accuracy, but still nothing has really been done to the keyboard itself. Is it that programming languages have such varying syntaxes that no single keyboard design would suit them all, or even a majority of them?

A quick google search revealed the keyboard above as the top ergonomic choice for developers, and yet upon close inspection you can see it's still a variation on QWERTY, but with a separation of left-side keys from right. 

Inspiration: Stained Glass Video
This one's been in the blog backlog pretty much since it came out, but I just remembered in the other day as I was marking a particularly interesting student brief on a sound production online portfolio. My BrainStation students have the choice between three things for their term project: a new app/website idea to fulfill a need, an improvement to an existing one, or the design of their own online portfolio. I usually lead students toward the first two and away from the portfolio since they need to produce work before they can build a showcase for it, but here I got this cool curveball of an idea.

This student wants to build an online portfolio for his design work as well as his sound projects, which excites me on a few levels. There are so many cool visualizations one can treat overtop sound, plus I find sound to add such a level of immersion to projects that visuals alone cannot compare to. Of course auto-play controls are a big accessibility no-no, but allowing the user enough control to meet those needs, while also curating a path of discovery, can be so cool.

So, I've been sitting on this wonderful piece of interactive design since a certain song came out in 2017:

Real Estate released Stained Glass in 2017, I even saw them when they toured Toronto. And yet the project holds up pretty well over time. I have been noticing some pretty cool interactive music videos, though few and far between, are really impressing me with interesting interactions mixed with great music.

Especially when considering that the music video format has died down a little with the death of cable television, this seems like the right way to go for appealing to this online audience who may never have heard of this band before. Plus, it's just so fun to colour in the band members while they play me a little tune. Thanks, Real Estate!

The project was created by Wieden + Kennedy group creative director Craig Allen, alongside MediaMonks.

I can't wait to see what my student comes up with for his project.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Grizzly Bear, Bidirectional Mentorship & Najah Raya's Ephemeral

Weekly Update 2020-06: Baroque pop coming in dreamy waves from Grizzly Bear, the joys and upsides of bidirectional mentorship and Najah Raya's dreamlike 2019 thesis collection of wearable art.

A hint of Raya's work - see more below.

Music: Grizzly Bear
What can I say about this band, except that they roped me in with their 2009 release Veckatimest and never let me go. Each band member's extreme precision and craft in sound making is unparalleled in their chosen genre of Baroque Pop, lest they bleed the edges of any genre around them and create music perhaps even more beautiful.

One of the true cores of my music tastes is this Brooklyn-spun band, formed in the shape of lead signer Edward Droste producing music in his bedroom. He soon teamed up with one of my perhaps favourite musicians Christopher Bear, who provided extra instrumentation and vocals. Soon Chris Taylor and Daniel Rossen joined, with Rossen eventually contributing more to the songwriting and lyrics. This is the juicy part, around 2009's Veckatimest, when Rossen and Droste began experimenting with layering their vocals together on songs instead of assigning separate songs to each other. Very Wolf Parade, a la 2007.

I do of course suggest starting with Veckatimest, then move any direction that suits you.

I attended another Spelling Bae this week, this time with Eric who enjoyed it more than Matt did when I managed to drag him along. He did well! I managed to make it to the fourth round until I was amazed to realize that yes, the band Led Zeppelin had indeed spelled the word Zeppelin correctly. The UI handoff tool Zeplin certainly led me astray. If only I had blogged about either band earlier...

Vena sponsored ElleHacks at York University again this year - I only had time to visit on the Friday night of the full-weekend all-female hackathon, but it was still really enriching. I got to hear first-night pitches, talk about my experiences as a designer out of school, and hang out with the final cohort of YSDN students, 2022 graduates. One of them really amazed me - when I asked her what her favourite class was, she responded the way I would have, looking deep into my heart: third year Materials and Methods with Angela Iarocci (yes, several years later she is still teaching the same course). The student even showed me her project, so COOL:

I took a little zip up to the fourth floor to visit my old classrooms and labs, nothing's changed and everything's changed.

Sunday was our fundraising show, which was really quite lovely actually. Shoutout to Maracatu Mar Aberto and Batucada Carioca for playing alongside us, as well as Cibelle Iglesias for bringing her beautiful voice to accompany our rhythms. I finally convinced some friends to come, namely Kaylin (who helped to sell food) and Eric (who filmed some of the show). Not one of our biggest shows but very lovely indeed. The capoeira was awesome and they even started a group dance which reminded me a little of a bat mitzvah.

This weekend my sister has entered us into a puzzle competition hosted by a games store in Fairview Mall (second year in a row!), though she knows she could just do it alone and probably win...I'm just there to fill a seat and sort through piles she gives me. It was pretty fun last year, and every team goes home with a free puzzle, so we're all winners

In more exciting news, I found a great beater drum kit through Kijiji from a nice man in High Park - he even delivered it to my office in Liberty Village, all for $175. I'll have to replace some of the heads...the snare is looking particularly beat up, but I think it was still a great deal. Just having the kit in the office is a wonderful mental state for me, even if I don't have time to play it (or really, understand what needs to be fixed) yet. I do eventually plan to watch a bunch more YouTube videos on how to tune it and set it up properly, and then probably take a bunch of photos to show the drum people at Long and McQuade so they can help me figure out what skins to replace and such.

I could have purchased a more expensive kit in better shape, but I think the skins will really fix this right up and it'll give me a chance to learn more about tuning and maintaining kits. Not to mention that there's a Long and McQuade on my way home from work - so it'll be really easy!

I'll upload a better photo once it's in playable shape.

Something to look forward to when I come back from Brazil - if I'm not totally sick of drumming by then.

Random Thought: Bidirectional Mentorship
I am really into the idea of mentorship in my workplace lately, the ability to share ideas and pay forward all the skills that have been passed down to me in my career so far. Peer mentoring has been sitting especially pleasantly with me, in scenarios where I can sit with peers and exchange knowledge (especially across disciplines or across skills within a discipline). Such instances between two developers is coined as "pair programming", aka two developers sitting at one computer with one mouse and keyboard. One "drives", using the keyboard and mouse, while the other "navigates" using their words to guide the other's actions. In such a method the learning is unidirectional from navigator to driver, though the navigator can benefit in some ways as well.

It reminds me of the old silly game with two people - one is blindfolded and holding a pen and paper while the other directs them in drawing something with only they voice.

Pictured: my sister directing her friend Adam to draw a fruit bowl while blindfolded.

I really like running brainstorming sessions and workshops where attendees can discuss concepts and experiment as a group rather than just two people. It's similar energy but presented in a way that's less unidirectional. I wonder if pair programming works at a level beyond two people, or even in alternate configurations like one person using the keyboard and the other using the mouse.

Inspiration: Najah Raya's Ephemeral
I came across one of the most beautiful collections of wearables I have even seen today. Shared in a random Facebook group by the artist Najah Raya is a collection called Ephemeral, her thesis project for fashion design. Just take a look, I'll meet you at the bottom.

I am simply in love with the mixture of soft and harsh textures, the colour palette that balances fresh and electric with something perhaps blank and empty...it stands alone as a striking collection that gives each piece a chance to shine in its own right.

Upon learning more about the piece, she likens her treatment of the fabrics in multiple ways to the service of hospice care, especially so the Home Hospice Organization of Lebanon. Part of the artist's statement below:
Hospice care is a form of medical care that provides pain-relieving assistance by way of medical, psychological and social care to terminally ill patients - thus focusing on the symptoms rather than a cure - and making their last days with their loved ones as calm, dignified and meaningful as possible. Having witnessed the bittersweet beauty of hospice care up close through her work with SANAD, The Home Hospice Organization of Lebanon (which is the first NGO to deliver this type of care in Lebanon without charges) Najah Raya was inspired to shine a light on living with a terminal illness, the life sheltered in those final precious moments, the certainty of our mortality and how we can make our final moments both beautiful and memorable.
Thus, Najah presents a collection that showcases the ironic dualities that preside at the end of life; bold but delicate, busy yet calm, hopeful but accepting and vibrant yet minimal. Ultimately, she chose to express how these moments are somber, but beautiful.
Conveyed through edgy structures on one hand, and draping with romantic silhouettes on the other, the aspects of this duality are evident throughout.
See more of Raya's work here.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Thin Mind, Active Listening & DesignTO: Week 2

Weekly Update 2020-05: A new album from an old favourite Wolf Parade, thinking about how best to display listening skills and my final victory lap for DesignTO.

Music: Thin Mind
It's not every day I get to talk about a new album from one of my all-time favourite bands, Canadian indie post-punk revival rock band Wolf Parade. My boys Spencer Krug, Dan Boeckner and Arlen Thompson are at it again with another absolute gem of a record Thin Mind. Now let's be real and say that it can't knock Expo '86 off the top for my favourite album, but it's every bit of what I love about the band. Both Spencer's and Dan's vocals are extremely weird and unique in their own way, and they keep reinventing ways to mix their sounds within songs as they began experimenting with in sophomore album At Mount Zoomer.

Songs like Julia, Take Your Man Home and Forest Green are instant hits to me, and it's pretty cool that I got to hear them live at the Danforth Music Hall before they were released. It's another winner for me! If nothing else in 2020 can be good, let it be the new music that brings us joy.

First class of the semester is complete! This class is a little smaller than the last one, plus we're on the fourth floor this time which, while definitely getting me out of breath on all those crooked wooden stairs, is giving me really good feels with its unique plain white wall where there are bricks on other floors. I'm really digging it. Plus, this class seems pretty cool, always a great mix of professions and backgrounds of people to meet.

I got some quality time with Ashleigh, my friend from Bike Raves, to wander around the Japanese neighbourhood at Dundas and Bay and sample some of the famous asian pastries and savouries. My personal favourite was the Yuzu Sencha Matcha hot green tea, which made me think I probably would enjoy hot bubble tea, if only cold bubble tea ever became less alluring. Probably not gonna happen though.

DesignTO has come to a close for another year - though the exhibit in my work building will stay around until after I leave for Brazil which is nice. Read about my last week of exploring below.

My Brazil trip is really creeping up now and I'm freaking out juuuuuuust a little. I might have more time to freak out if work weren't killing me. So I only have time to focus on the positives:
  1. My parents helped me figure out the logistical issue of transporting a drum home (yay, thank you!) and my dad shows again that he is a master packer of all items and instances
  2. I had a small glimpse of pure sunshine on a bike ride the other day (it felt like this Portlandia sketch) and realized that I am feeling extremely sun deprived right now - can't wait for that sun. I can't wait to be so hot that I want to come back to snow.
  3. I found a cool bug spray with icaridin that's supposed to be the most effective according to the Bloodsuckers exhibit I visited with Sasha back in December! Here's a photo of the exhibit that I found on Google Photos while inside Shoppers Drug Mart, and then located a nifty 100mL bottle of it! 

This week I'm going to check out Spelling Bae in its new venue at Pennies on Strachan, it's been a while since the last one I attended!

Vena is sponsoring ElleHacks at York again this year, I don't have as much time to visit but I am stoked to meet the cool young hackers of Gen Z and all their cool ideas. It's also in my old school building at York this year, which is going to be a trip. I always end up going back there to visit for some reason or another. Maybe next time I'll go see how Scott Library has changed...I've been curious about that!

Sunday is my band's fundraiser show at Lula Lounge - I keep joking that there is only a small overlap between fans of Brazilian percussion and fans of the Superbowl - and that overlap is all my friends and family. Still, I've got two confirmed people: Kaylin and Eric are in for a treat!

Random Thought:
This week is a doozy - I've got four interviews for our new designer position. Among the more important aspects of evaluation, I'm taking it as an opportunity to better myself as well. Honestly, I find so much communication comes through body language, and I want to practice my listening face. I noticed in this video of AOC from MLK Day that her counterpart in the interview produced a few too many sounds of solidarity ("mhmm", "yeah") and it detracted slightly from AOC's message. I vow not to be this person:

Wonderful speech, as always from AOC, on how Billionaires can only take from others.

I think a simple nod every now and then is more than sufficient, focusing on what the other person is saying rather than putting too much effort into portraying listening visual cues. We'll see how it goes, since I'll get the chance to try it out over 6 working hours of interviews this week.

Inspiration: DesignTO Week 2
The second of my two weeks of DesignTO was simply lovely. On Tuesday I went to a talk on Canadian furniture design in the hip EQ3 Liberty Village - which allowed me to bask a little further in the joy of working in a neighbourhood that pays homage to the festival.

The talk was somewhat interesting, dissecting the meaning of Canadian design in a multicultural and cross-pollinated world, but honestly I found people in the crowd to have bigger personalities than the panel. An exuberant gentlemen in a fancy suit and interesting eyeglasses seemed to feel the Q&A questions weren't hard hitting enough and threw one out from left field on the panel speakers, which they scrambled gleefully to answer. One woman in the crowd went on a very long diatribe (regrettably as the final question of the Q&A) about urbanism and the overall crumbling of our society, and the poor moderator didn't have the heart to interrupt her, until the previous fancy suited-man actually did so with a large "excuse me" and that ended the evening. Hilarious.

More soul filling than humourous was my Saturday walk along the curve of Dundas toward Roncesvalles. This crawl is my hip new yearly addition to DesignTO since last year's walk, following a visit to Stamen and Pistil Botanicals to make a Kokedama as a gift from Erika. That year was memorably extremely snowy, though I definitely made it out there and even all the way over to MOCCA into their delightfully SAD-curing white-light room.

This year was certainly easier to navigate with much less snow on the ground, and less of a biting cold. I truly enjoyed the exhibit at the shop Easy Tiger Goods near the start of my crawl. The window was filled with the window display - three items for "purchase" for when the world's supply of oxygen becomes too depleted. A mask to cover one's face (we all know what that's for - though this was pre-coronavirus!), a mouth instrument that blocks air to train the lungs to be able to work harder, and a perfume that smells like oxygen (because it will become such a luxury).

The store also had a simply wonderful array of funky objects, from blobby, brightly coloured candles to weird-shaped pipes and smoking glassware to handmade pottery. I had a nice chat with the owner about her particularly inspsired collection of items as well as the store decoration itself. Check out that radiator!

After that it was a zig zag across Dundas all the way to Roncesvalles, and down to a hip little shop called 313 Design Market to see a window display and exhibition made out of lego bricks. It was at once so fun and so serious in the way the blocks were laid out in different colours. The artist suggests that all the supposed "perfect cities" of our history have failed because they lacked one thing - a sense of playfulness. That is definitely showcased here!

The store itself sells a curated collection all kinds of cool, high-end designer goods for kitchen and home.