Tag Archives: Vancouver

Next Music from Tokyo 2014: Photos from Vancouver J-Rock Show

Japanese indie rock invades Vancouver

Japan grabbed me in a way I had not experienced for many years. Since visiting last autumn, I’ve been aching to go back.

However, last night Japan came to me.

Next Music from Tokyo is the brainchild of  Toronto anaesthesiologist Steven Tanaka, who puts together this microfestival by himself.  This is the sixth year of the cross-Canada tour, and my first. I cannot recommend Next Music from Tokyo enough, even though I understood less than 1% of the lyrics.  The musicianship was superb, and the energy electric.

My photos from the show weren’t all that great: all I had to shoot with was my duct-taped Nexus 4. However, I shoot photos the way that Nate Dogg suggested smoking weed, i.e. every day. So here are a few images.

Here’s Emi Ohki, vocalist and bassist of 宇宙コンビニ (Uchu Conbini). She is so awesome.

Emi Ohki

Here’s Sato, guitarist and vocalist of きのこ帝国 (Kinoko Teikoku), showing Vancouverites how it’s done across the Pacific.


Here’s Shigeaki Taniguchi, bassist of きのこ帝国 (Kinoko Teikoku), doing a last-minute tune before facing the crowd.

Shigeaki Taniguchi

A perhaps-too-artsy image of Jizue in action.

Penguins, Frogs, and Bears: Why Transit Systems Need Faces

Last week I spoke at ProductYVR on the need for building friendliness and empathy into transit systems. I compared Vancouver’s own network with the systems found in Tokyo, Melbourne, London, and San Francisco.

Here is a video of the presentation, titled “My Penguin Friend: The Faces of Cities and Systems”. Yeah, I kind of dress like a substitute teacher, but a cool substitute teacher. The kind who sits on the edge of his desk and lets you call him by his first name.

The audience then divided into teams for a round of ultra-fast brainstorming, and they came up with some delightful new faces that could/should one day be spotted in Vancouver.

Fromo the Frog: The mascot that TransLink desperately needs. The #HopOn hashtag is brilliant in its simplicity.

Fairy Ferry is a sea otter who’d represent BC Ferries. The team behind Fairy Ferry also imagined a new website for frequent passengers.

Chase the Shark: The grinning-yet-deadly face of the VPD’s bait car program. Steal a car, and you’ll get caught by a shark with a badge.

Rapido Velo is the notional face of Vancouver’s still-unnamed bike share program (provided the program ever comes to fruition).

Rev the Raccoon: This team took on the big job of envisioning a face for Vancouver itself.

I adapted the presentation into a local-centric essay for the Vancouver Observer, as Vancouver has long struggled with its own identity at many different levels:

Why isn’t Quatchi the year-round mascot for Vancouver? If we want to boost civic pride, we could start with something as basic as giving our transit system a face. TransLink missed the boat on BearFare, but it can still win over a still-bemused public.

Then we can move forward, putting a face to a city whose identity has long been fractured.

Humanity and Urbanity: What can a city be?

Big City Dreams

The Holon Group‘s ProductYVR is establishing a tradition of intimate, thought-provoking talks in Vancouver. Last time it was the simplest of mobile phones, this time it’s the complicated issue of how we engage with public space.

Nik Badminton of designculturemind opened by discussing how skateboarders reimagined previously-static streetscapes into city-sized playgrounds.

From there, Badminton explored acts of urban engagement such as parkour, place hacking (just another term for urban exploration), yarn-bombing, and public art.

Turns out we can learn a lot from our skater neighbors, not in terms of relating to our neighbors, but in terms of how we relate to the city itself. How we can take back the city, make it ours.

Talk to me, like lampposts do

Two of my favorite examples are part of what you’d call the internet of things: objects to which we are networked, and which communicate in the real world.

First is the Fühl-o-meter (feel-o-meter), an installation by Julius von Bismarck in Lindau, Germany. Using digital cameras to record the faces of passersby, the Fehl-o-meter analyzes the expressions of Lindau’s citizens, determining whether or not the city is happy as a whole. This is reflected by a giant smiley face mounted on a lighthouse: it goes from 🙂 to 😐 to 🙁 depending on what the cameras see.

Second is the Hello Lamppost project, launched this summer in Bristol. Hello Lamppost gamifies your daily routine by encouraging you to talk to inanimate objects via SMS.

(The project takes its name from the Simon & Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)“.

After the talk, Nik broke the audience into three groups, tasking each with reimagining a Vancouver neighbourhood. Turns out we have lots of hostility towards our public spaces, in that we’re impatient with how plain and vanilla they are.

The proposed upgrades ran from the radical (monkey bars for crossing Robson Street, underground pop-up shop arcades) to the easily-doable (messages on Gastown cobblestones to entertain those navigating them with high heels).

Reimagining Gastown's cobblestones

I may or may not have referred to Robson Street as “bullshit”. Okay, I did. But it’s nothing a few monkey bars couldn’t fix.

Reimagining Robson Street

This is a city full of curious and clever minds, just waiting to get off the leash.

If you care about what it means to be human in the 21st Century, or if you’d like to care, keep an eye on The Holon Group.

[Update: Nik Badminton has added his own recap of ProductYVR: Humanity and Urbanity, featuring the audience section. Watch me and my fellow attendees storify on the fly.]


How a Dumb-Phone Made the Smartphone Smarter: Finding Humanity in Product Design

ProductYVR: Ghost in the Machine

ProductYVR’s inaugural gathering saw a presentation by Kharis O’Connell, Director of User Experience at Global Mechanic and Creative Design Lead for Nokia. Kharis was here to talk to us about how a very small product with a very small feature set created a very large disruption within a very large company.

Pull Tomorrow from Yesterday

During O’Connell’s tenure, Nokia was at a crossroads. The ultrageeky N900 had failed to oust the iPhone from its place in customers’ hearts. Indeed, it was perhaps-patronizingly deemed too complicated for the American market, which probably says more about the phone than the market. Why would you produce something that you’d then turn around and deem “too complicated”?

Kharis and his colleagues reckoned the problem wasn’t the feature set of the phone, but how it was presented. How could the creative team strip away those layers of obfuscation to reconnect person to person, getting back to the entire point of a mobile phone?

Kharis turned to an unlikely inspiration: John’s Phone, easily the most stripped-down mobile phone imaginable. No touchscreen. No front-facing screen at all, in fact. No voicemail, no text messaging, no apps, no nothing; nothing except a keypad and the person on the other end of the call.

John's Phone: Beautifully simple.
Yeah, that’s it. Beautifully simple.

John’s Phone looks like a cross between a pager and a garage-door opener. The buttons go *click*. The slim screen at the top tells you which numbers you punched in, but not the number of the incoming call. You’re suddenly back in the early Eighties. You get an address book. A paper address book, with a few paper-based games thrown in. Don’t worry, though, because John’s Phone comes with a little pen. There’s a message section: tear out a page with a hand-scribbled note and pass it to a lover or friend.

Beauty is in the Eye…

We found ourselves marveling at this device, curious at how we’d feel if were sent back to a mode of communication last seen during our adolescence.

After a month of using only John’s Phone, Kharis and his colleagues came back to the table with a new outlook on how a smartphone fits into our lives. It’s not a showcase of raw computing power, but a tool to help us stay close to people that matter.

The result was the Nokia N9: the same guts as its predecessor, with a much more people-friendly interface.

The Object Lesson

After Kharis’ presentation, we split into groups to discuss the pros and cons of a simple handset like John’s phone. Unsurprisingly, many of the same features were perceived as both pro and con, depending on who was looking at it. We judge a product first with our feelings, and then with our brains.

Kharis O’Connell left us with this message before we all headed down the road for a nightcap: Nokia is no longer making phones… but John’s Phone still is.

ProductYVR was presented by the Holon Group, and held at the Railtown offices of domain7.  If you’re interested in the humanity in technology (and the technology in humanity), keep an eye on the Holon Group’s Twitter feed.

Bear Paws: Vancouver Designer Provides Perfect Winter Gift

Vancouver Designer Solved Your Christmas Shopping Problem with Stellar Knitted Goods

Your holiday shopping dilemma is now a thing of the past, thanks to Larry Designs. Friend and Vancouver designer Terri Potratz opened her studio to show off her latest creations, and they’re truly unique. D0 you like knitted wool and alpaca (supernaturally warm on a cold winter’s day)? Do you like Lykke Li videos? Do you like Labyrinth?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then you’ll love what Terri’s cooking up. As you can see below, she’s bringing some serious chunkiness and texture, as well as some stellar shapes.

You will not find anything like this in a department store, and you’ll be surprised by how affordable Larry’s wares are; especially considering that these creations are spawned right here in Vancouver, and all by hand.

Wear Bear Paws!

Glad I attended the Larry Mistletoe Mixer… I walked away with my very own set of bear paws. They’ll look really cool with a sportcoat, and are much warmer than my old pair of fingerless gloves. Classier-lookin’, too.

The wearer can dig his or her fingers into the knitted knots of wool to warm up (or to relieve stress, like making fists with your feet in deep carpet).

I Got Bear Paws

Simon and Simon

Larry Designs, Vancouver



Vancouver Contemporary Art: Instant Coffee at Western Front

Feeling So Much Yet Doing So Little: Instant Coffee’s Prospective Retrospective

Western Front is hosting a “prospective retrospective” for Instant Coffee, a collective of contemporary artists who focus on service-oriented art.

FRom February 17-April 7, 2012, check out Western Front to see what Instant Coffee has brewing (sorry):

About Instant Coffee:

As any good collective would, in 2005 the members of Instant Coffee drafted a “manifesto” of sorts. In it, they define themselves and their objectives in terms of their caffeinated namesake: Instant Coffee “mimics the real thing without the pretense of being better. It isn’t that much easier to make, but that much is reason enough to justify its particularities.”

The idea is that the real difference between instant and regular coffee is taste, and tastes change. After all, both deliver caffeine, but instant coffee is just a bit faster and easier to make: it’s cheap but effective.

I’m not going to try to describe the work- it’s better to just show you some of my photos, along with the video provided by Instant Coffee. As the artists say, “it doesn’t have to be good to be meaningful”. Enjoy.

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Feeling So Much Yet Doing So Little from Instant Coffee on Vimeo.

… And Carry a Big Stick (Beach Dog Photo)

Real Dog at Kits Beach

This dog at Kits Beach lets his actions do the talking. To all the dogs who swim and retrieve, we salute you.

In a neighborhood so full of toy dogs that travel by handbag, it’s good to see a real dog doing real dog stuff: swimming, grabbing sticks, and shaking water from its fur onto anyone within five feet.

At the Vancouver Night Market

Night Market Noodles

A styrofoam takeaway container filled with chow mein noodles and fried vegetables: that’s good eatin’.

I was told that they had artificial cats at the night market: fake cats that are curled up asleep. I didn’t see any. Maybe later in the summer. Lots of food on sticks, though, which is the best kind of food.

Vancouver Night Market: Keefer St at Main St. May 20-September 11, 2011. 6pm-11pm Fri/Sat/Sun (Map)

Vancouver Photos from 1/1/11

2011 Begins: Some New Photos

I dis Vancouver rather often, but, as 2011 begins, I’m making an effort to see the city with new eyes: I want to get excited about this place again. It’s not easy, but I’m working on it. The plan was to avoid any landmark or vista photos, mainly because I’m bored of getting the same mountains-with-buildings-in-the-foreground shots.

Let’s get into it…

The Dominion Building Staircase

Spiral Stairs

Okay, that was a bit of a cheat- taken yesterday. For real, now… let’s get started.

Texture: Wall on Fir Street

Wall Texture

Outside the Lamborghini Dealership

Orange Lamborghini

Alleyway Graffiti

Hard to Tell Sometimes