Sunday, January 31, 2016

My Year of 2015, Summarized

Chronology is for chumps. Themes are keen.

Music
I took three months of guitar lessons from Michael McKenzie at Red House Music Academy. He did all he could, but my lead guitar skills remain meh. Still, I managed to learn the solos for Touch Me I’m Sick (Mudhoney) and School (Nirvana).

My old drummer Stefan was kind enough to create a GeoCities CyberPage for my cover band SubPox. We played our first show (a house party) in September before Mark Cluett, bass player extraordinaire, moved to Glasgow.

I also caught a few great concerts: Weaves at the AGO, Metz at Lee’s Palace and Dilly Dally at the Horseshoe. And after convincing myself that Ride would never reunite, I was beyond ecstatic to see them at the Danforth Music Hall in June.

Bike Tourist
I’ve finally realized that my favourite part of travelling is being on a bike. I see more of a city, at the right pace, when I’m on a bike. And I’m in control: no waiting for subways, buses or taxis. I love to walk, but it doesn’t always do the job.

In September I biked across the Golden Gate Bridge. The next day I rented a bike from Mission Bicycle Co. and did The Wiggle to Golden Gate Park and kept going until I reached the ocean. Then I did the reverse and managed, thanks to Google Maps, to reach City Lights Bookstore with a minimum of pushing the bike up hills.
My Airbnb in Portland came with a bike, and I rode the hell out of that thing, covering a lot of ground on both sides of the bridges in two days. It was very difficult to return to Toronto after experiencing bike utopia.

I also discovered that Seattle now has Bixi, although I would dissuade most people from using one to get to Capitol Hill.

Art Tourist
The other big reason I like to travel is to see stuff framed on walls. I was mesmerized by Rebirth of the World, an enormous triptych video installation by Chiho Asoshima at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. It was narratively and visually dense, packed with surreal, beautiful and otherworldly landscapes and characters. I watched it three times.

In May I attended a performance of Nyloid at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art. The first 10 minutes were mesmerizing and awe inducing, even a touch scary. Then the giant triffid stopped working, and the spell it had cast broke along with it.

The Art Institute of Chicago is enormous, serene and heated – all important qualities when you visit that city in February. The security guard at the Seattle Art Museum showed me a new route to the ticket desk with so much enthusiasm that it set the tone for my entire visit.

The Portland Art Museum seems small but isn’t – a whole bunch of modest rooms eventually added up to a lot of art. Similar phenomenon at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

Traditional Tourist
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Newseum in Washington, D.C, and without trying, I spent almost three hours there. Also glad that the nasty-windy walk to the Chicago Museum of History from the “L” was worth it.

I went to Alcatraz and yes, the audio tour is great, and yes, my neighbour Matt was right to tell me to buy tickets way in advance because it sells out. Without a doubt the most touristy thing I did this year, except for taking the Seattle Great Wheel, which was whee!-ly fun.

I also had lunch at the Facebook campus. It was delicious and free. I “liked” it.

Other Art
I hate writing sentences like this, but the best exhibit I saw in 2015 was “The Flesh of the World” at University of Toronto Art Centre. I liked it so much I created a tagline for the show to help promote it. It was difficult to determine the theme of the show based on the marketing materials the gallery produced. I lost track of how many people I told to see that show, but I fear my enthusiasm might have had the opposite effect.

I attended three art lectures this fall, something I’ve never done before. They were all great, each in very different ways, and I’m grateful for the insights from Hito Steyerl, Janice Kerbel and Taryn Simon.

Technology
I heard Micah Elizabeth Scott talk twice this year – the first time at a poorly promoted free talk at TIFF in early March about how she created Forest for digiPlaySpace at TIFF. The second talk, a month later, was a not free talk at FITC. To my surprise, the FITC talk was far more personal and revealing, despite her speaking to a larger audience.

This year’s Maker Faire at the Toronto Reference Library was fun and offered an affordable, well-organized option to solder your very own blinking LED rocket ship pendant. I admire well-planned, large-scale experiences, because I know how difficult it is to make them function smoothly.

I’m not sure if visiting a bunch of 8-bit arcade bars counts as technology, but this year I went to both Chicago locations of Emporium, Ground Kontrol in Portland, and Shorty’s in Seattle. (I also went to Brewcade in San Francisco, which was a pale imitation of the real thing – that being Barcade.) And, of course, relatively frequent trips to Toronto’s Get Well.

I went to Startup Open House again this year, and enjoyed it, although maybe a little less than last year. The Varagesale offices were something to behold, however.

And I attended a handful of Civic Tech Toronto hack nights before I became too overwhelmed with full-time work. A shame, because I heard some amazing guest speakers, including Iris Ko and Kevin Branigan.

Misc.
I did a fair amount of volunteer work with Story Planet in 2015. Their Alpha Workshops (now called Storymaker Workshops) are where I seem to add the most value. That’s a weird thing to say, but being an effective volunteer means figuring out what you’re good at.

I took my best friend’s son to Vancouver’s Science World in June and again in December He’s 8.5 years old, which meant the outing required zero heroics from me, but I was inordinately proud that we had lots of fun and that I brought him back home in one piece both times.

I made a t-shirt for my annual street party, and it’s awesome. I wrote an article about dive bars, and it’s also awesome.

Food and Drink
I travelled solo through Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle. I’d like to extend special thanks to the waiter at The Publican (Chicago) for treating me exactly like anyone else in the restaurant. And extra special thanks to Colyn, the bartender at Tasty n Sons in Portland, who gave me three great suggestions – Kennedy School, Pip’s Doughnuts and Sen Yai.

I spent many hours at Propeller Coffee during the first part of 2015. Great coffee, great space, cool baristas. Based on my receipts, The 47 is my favourite local spot. I also had a great Saturday in July on the patio of The Gaslight, enjoying a BBQ sausage dog with potato chips and all the fixings.

In terms of local craft beer, I spent quality time at Wisebar and Wenona. The best beer I had this year was Allagash Curieux (aged in Jim Bean barrels) at Mikkeller in San Francisco. The best cocktail of 2015 was a Glasgow Smile at Barlow Bar in Portland. (Scotch, smoked rosemary, honey, dandelion-burdock bitters, barlow cube.) The second best was a Dead Something [I forgot the rest of the name] at The Matchbox in Chicago.
Summary of 2015 in a tweet
Beer, bourbon and bikes in seven different cities. Art, 90s tunes and old video games back home.

Monday, September 07, 2015

The real mapped against the unreal

I was in my favourite copy shop the other day, makin’ copies, and just as I finished, a man walked towards the exit singing (with confidence and melody): “My curiosity arose / I telephoned the service lady.”

For a moment we made eye contact. Then he pushed open the door and disappeared. And right at that instant, all I could think was, “If this was a video game, then that was a major clue. In fact, maybe I should follow him.”

Immediately after that, as I reflected on why I transposed a weird, random, meaningless moment into something of value in a different medium, I thought that if the same moment occurred in a film, singing guy would reappear, because while incidental, he was still somehow important to the overall narrative. Or, to be more accurate, he appeared for a reason, but the audience would only be allowed to discover why at a later point in the film.

When I got home, I did some Google work, even trying “My curiosity aroused / I telephoned the circus lady.” But I couldn’t find anything. Nice work, mystery melody man.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

SubPox is now part of the information superhighway

Designing a GeoCities CyberPage for my 90s cover band SubPox was a lot of fun. I was incredibly fortunate to have a great developer offer to build the site in his spare time. It's responsive and short and to the point.

Are there animated gifs? Yes, there are many of them. Those took a moderate amount of work. Creating an ASCII version of our Mudhoney cover was a real pain in the ass. But it's done. I urge you to check out the magic at SubPox.com

SubPox rehearsal footage shot in ASCII-VISION

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Flesh of The World Needs a Tagline

I went to see The Flesh of the World, an amazing collection of contemporary art last Saturday at the University of Toronto Art Centre. I could pontificate about the art, but it boils down to this: it's free and incredible and a must-see.

That said, I'm a bit sad about the lack of promotion. Part of the challenge is that it's split across three galleries (two locations at U of T downtown and the remainder at U of T Scarborough). The other challenge is that their website lacks a tagline or any other form of simple description to help people understand what the exhibit is all about.

And so, since I love the show so much, I tried to fix the problem. I settled on trying to convey two things:

- the show provokes a wide range of strong emotions
- the show includes diverse, inclusive artwork


There are a bunch of other small improvements the current website could integrate, starting with more images of the art itself. But a tagline, or equivalent entry point for potential viewers, seems like the right first step. Because they can then use the tagline to better promote the show through social media and other channels.

Why did I do this? Not because I'm a marketing genius, a copywriting wizard, or a crackerjack designer looking for a reason to show off. I did this because I was genuinely moved by the artwork I saw. I did this because I'm proud of our city for supporting a collection of art related to the Pan Am & Parapan games that avoided being a room filled with watered down, up-with-people, mush. And I did this because I saw a constructive way of solving a small part of their promotional challenge, instead of just complaining.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Words if necessary, but not necessarily a wordy manifesto

Last week I had a pretty decent idea for a personal creative project. I’m not going to give much away, but when I shifted from light bulb to capturing the project on paper, I found myself doing something unusual: I didn’t just puke a bunch of words onto the page. I love using words as a cheap way to prototype an idea, but taglines and paragraphs aren’t always the best approach.

This time out, what felt most natural and appropriate for my web-based creative project was a script for a 60-second video. Understand, however, that I’m not doing a Kickstarter or a MegaGogo campaign. Having an explanatory video for my creative project certainly isn’t a bad idea, but it wasn’t an obvious first choice either.


The reason I mention my script-first approach is that I tend to overlook video due to my print journalism background. Despite all the digital copywriting and content strategy work I’ve done over the past five years, my default definition of content is still words, with the occasional nod to icons and infographics. In my defence, video can be expensive and time-consuming if you don’t want it to look like garbage.

I really enjoyed writing the script, especially because it quickly turned into something playful and fun, rather than yet another mini-manifesto. The script also helped me visually define the tone and style of the project – something that might inform the look and feel of the site design down the road. There’s also an energy and pace to the video that would be very difficult to convey through any other format.

Although it’s far from exhaustive, the script offers a concise project definition: here’s what I decided to do, and why. And, finally, I can take the key messages from the video and use them to develop headlines and body copy. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a 130 word script.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sexist Chumbox

Good news everyone! Conclusive proof that chumboxes are devoid of meaningful content and sexist to boot!



Hot court reporter? That's your file name? Really?




Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Junction Triangle t-shirt featuring the serpentine streets of Symington and Sterling

I woke up this morning and discovered a tweet of mine was getting some attention.
I have no interest in getting into the hyper-local, non-lucrative, t-shirt business, so here is the jpeg I used to make my shirt. I bought my shirt at H&M and went to Toronto Tees to get it printed.




Saturday, May 23, 2015

Baby Favela

At first we barely noticed the baby hobos. Their encampment on the edges of our suburb was unruly, yes, but small. Tins of Enfalac heated over small fire pits, the occasional odour of amateur s’mores wafting into our cul-de-sac.

But strength in numbers should never be underestimated, and the babies eventually reached critical mass. They migrated south, from Markham down to North York and then still further, until the toddler tribe alighted upon the Danforth. By then they were hungry for all that they had been previously denied. They squatted on patios, in dive bars. The moment they saw weakness, they would bully or intimidate.

(Inspired by a photo from Rob Elliott).