Month: December 2014

How To Design a Good Workspace

I have a real enthusiasm for workspaces.  I like looking at workspaces,  I like creating workspaces, and I like photos of the places where people create things.  Where and how you work says a lot about who you are.

Rob and I had been looking for a set of table and chairs to fill this nook.  After Christmas we found a place that was offering 50% off hydraulic bar stools (sold!) and a discount on hydraulic tables (sold again!). We created this great space to use for dinner and work.  Rob used a jigsaw to cut a small shelf with rounded corners to extend the window ledge for my plants.

The screensaver on my laptop is Fliqlo, a free app. It kicks in after a few minutes and reminds me of the time. It also fits the monochromatic (and kind of retro) aesthetic I was going for.

I like having a candle burning while I work. Seeing it flicker reminds me time is passing, and it also gives me something nondescript and and interesting to stare it when I’m having trouble solving a problem. Having something alive nearby helps too (Plants in this case. A cat will also do nicely).  If you do feel like leaving the house, it’s nice to work out of a coffee shop or public library for this same feeling of ambient movement and life around you.

Having a teapot on hand is imperative. The one in the photo is from David’s Tea. Usually either Japanese sencha (green tea) or Genmaicha (brown rice tea) are good workfellows for myself, although with Christmas having passed I was given a lot of fun flavours to try out too.

For a snack, I like something like a piece of citrus, or peanut butter on toast with bananas and honey. Food is essential for brainpower!  It’s also a good reward (500 words! You get a piece of chocolate. Good brain).

Clean vs. Clutter:  Everyone is different on this point.  I prefer a decluttered workspace. I’ve found that visual stimulus can easily distract me, and right now less clutter = more focus. There are plenty of famous people who have cluttered workspaces. Some have organized spaces.

Preferences can change over time. For example, check out these shots from 2010 of my room in university:

Can you spot the difference?  I had a this whole hoarders-collage aesthetic going on. Now I find that ‘stuff’ just tends to get in my way, both physically (takes up space/is a pain when you move) and mentally (too much visual noise/too much junk).

I only keep on hand materials related to projects that I’m working on. I throw out as much as I can.  Keep changing until you find something that works for you.

A  good book I recently read on this subject is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing’ by Mari Kondo. It’s literally all about tidying and the art of changing your life through cleaning.

It sounds crazy at first (who is THAT in to cleaning and organizing?) but after I read it I was like, ‘Yes! This is what I was looking for!’

One technique you can use to to create harmony is a simplified colour scheme. For example, the table, chair, laptop, and teapot are all black/white/grey. You can also try mixing one or two colours if black/white/grey isn’t your cup of tea.  Try this article for a basic primer on the science of how we react to colour.

Visual tokens inspire work.  For example, I have my Kobo in eyesight with a book I’m about to start reading. In this case, 99U’s Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Doing Business With Impact.  I wasn’t allowing myself to continue the book until l had written at least 1,000 words. Basically, the carrot and donkey technique.

Other times the token is a picture I really like, or a guidebook to a city I want to visit, or something else that focuses my energy, so whenever I look at it, I’ll be like, “Hell yeah, I want to do this, or fuck yeah, I want to go there.” and that helps keep me motivated and on track.

Working in pajamas is great.
Working in pajamas is great.

Your desktop: In this digital age, most of us have to interact with computers at some point. Chances are you probably have your own, be it laptop or desktop.  How you set up your desktop should reflect who you are the same way your physical workspace does.

Here’s my current desktop. I admit that the current background may be taking it a little too far into meta territory (usually it’s a quote, or something I found by a graphic designer I like). Clean, simple, kind of zen. Same as my physical workspace.

On my dock to the left that I’ve changed some of the regular icons from my apps to custom ones and gone with a muted colour / circle theme. Switching out the icons for your apps is really easy. Here are the instructions for Mac:

  • First, find an icon that you like. There are many sites that offer free icons. Save it.
  • Once you have it saved to your computer, double click to open it up in preview (or right-click + open with preview if your defaults are different).
  • Right-click on the image in preview and copy it.
  • Go to your applications folder and right-click on the app you want to switch the icon for, click ‘Get Info’. (Command+I is the shortcut).
  • In the upper left corner of the ‘Get Info’ pane you’ll see a small version of the current icon. Right click on that, and then use paste.
  • Done! Hurrah. You’ll probably have to restart or re-open the application to see the changes take affect on your dock.

Lighting: Do you like direct overhead light? I know I don’t. I always make sure my workspace is near a window or other natural light source. If I do have to work somewhere with artificial light, I usually try and make sure it’s from a diffused source (like a paper lamp).

My boyfriend is a lighting designer and one really important aspect for him with the furniture in our house is always, “How does it look at night?” He hid two LEDs behind each plant and now our nook looks like a fancy café. It really makes the space pop at night and makes it super inviting.

I’m looking forward to starting 2015 with good workspace mojo.  Happy New Year!

Best Bike Tour in New York City

The best choice we made on our trip to New York was to do a bike tour of the city. Biking is the best. For me it’s always been associated with foreign travel and adventures.

We went with Marc Seidenstein of Bike the Big Apple for our tour, and it was 100% awesome. He kicked ass, knew EVERYTHING (even metric conversion rates for us poor Canadians) and really made the trip. He even had one of those charming New York accents that we Canadians enjoy. Marc was very relaxed and chill in our itinerary. In fact, we called only the day before to see if we could organize a private tour (he has pre-scheduled routes, but we wanted to see some specific sights!) and he was so obliging as to let us choose exactly what we wanted to see.

  • Our route: from near Union Square over to the East Side River esplanade and piers, under the Brooklyn Bridge, on to the Financial District, the bull statue on Wall Street, the Stock Exchange, up and over the Brooklyn Bridge, the DUMBO neighbourhood (where we got some great pizza for lunch), over the Manhattan Bridge, Chinatown, Little Italy, and Union Square.
On our way to the financial district! New York was actually pretty good to bike in. It might seem intimidating at first, with so much traffic, but most people aren't going faster than 30km/hour. Great bike lanes like this one also help!
On our way to the financial district! New York was actually pretty good to bike in. It might seem intimidating at first, with so much traffic, but most people aren’t going faster than 30km/hour. Great bike lanes like this one also help!
Famous view along the east side river and over to the Brooklyn Bridge (Manhattan Bridge in the further background).
Famous view along the east side river and over to the Brooklyn Bridge (Manhattan Bridge in the further background).
The famous Brooklyn Bridge. It's big now, but imagine when it was first built! Most buildings would have been only a few stories tall at that point. It would have towered over everything.
The famous Brooklyn Bridge. It’s big now, but imagine when it was first built! Most buildings would have been only a few stories tall at that point. It would have towered over everything.
The bull on Wall Street. All decked out for Christmas. We also touched his goods, for good luck. (p.s. That's my sister on the left. She's currently single. Message me for details.) ;- )
The bull on Wall Street. All decked out for Christmas. We also touched his goods, for good luck. (p.s. That’s my sister on the left. She’s currently single. Message me for details.) ;- )
I can only imagine how crazy it must be inside. Since 9/11, they've tightened up security, so we didn't get a chance to see inside.
I can only imagine how crazy it must be inside. Since 9/11, they’ve tightened up security, so we didn’t get a chance to see inside.
You see all kind of great interactions around these classic New York Hot Dog stands.
You see all kind of great interactions around these classic New York Hot Dog stands.
Approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. Bikes to the left; pedestrians on the right!
Approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. Bikes to the left; pedestrians on the right!
So much iconic architecture.
So much iconic architecture.
It's pretty cool to see all three bridges stretching across the harbour.
It’s pretty cool to see all three bridges stretching across the harbour.
I think Mom was freezing by this point.  
I think Mom was freezing by this point.  
Halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge, we ran into some protestors coming from the opposite direction. They were protesting in response to the lack of police accountability in response to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and also Eric Garner who was a New Yorker. The protest was mostly young adults - it was inspiring to see so many people come out and demonstrate their frustration in a non-violent way. The protest was led by police, and proceeded peacefully as far as I could tell.
Halfway across the Brooklyn Bridge, we ran into some protestors coming from the opposite direction. They were protesting in response to the lack of police accountability in response to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and also Eric Garner who was a New Yorker. The protest was mostly young adults – it was inspiring to see so many people come out and demonstrate their frustration in a non-violent way. The protest was led by police, and proceeded peacefully as far as I could tell.
Under the Brooklyn Bridge.
Under the Brooklyn Bridge.
Where we stopped for lunch in the DUMBO neighbourhood. Damn delicious, authentic NY pizza. If you live in the area, I recommend checking it out. With gentrification changing DUMBO around, it may not be here forever. A tip from Marc: look for police and postal vehicles when choosing a place to eat. They can park anywhere they like, so they have first pick of restaurants. The street outside this place had four UPS trucks parked on it.
Where we stopped for lunch in the DUMBO neighbourhood. Damn delicious, authentic NY pizza. If you live in the area, I recommend checking it out. With gentrification changing DUMBO around, it may not be here forever. A tip from Marc: look for police and postal vehicles when choosing a place to eat. They can park anywhere they like, so they have first pick of restaurants. The street outside this place had four UPS trucks parked on it.
I owe Marc the heads-up for this shot. See how the Empire State Building is perfectly framed between the legs of the Manhattan Bridge? I wish I could have stuck around for different kinds of light - I bet it would look great during sunrise!
I owe Marc the heads-up for this shot. See how the Empire State Building is perfectly framed between the legs of the Manhattan Bridge? I wish I could have stuck around for different kinds of light – I bet it would look great during sunrise!
See that carousel to the left? Miraculously it sustained sustained no damage during Hurricane Sandy despite being surrounded by floodwaters five feet deep.
See that carousel to the left? Miraculously it sustained sustained no damage during Hurricane Sandy despite being surrounded by floodwaters five feet deep.
Beautiful Christmas fire escape in Little Italy.
Beautiful Christmas fire escape in Little Italy.

I’m sure we could have gotten even further if I hadn’t been stopping for photos all the time. We had a great day. There was a chill in the air, but it was sunny the whole time. I wore a shell over a zip up thermal and was great. We started out from the Union Square area around 11am, and were pulling back in around 4:30pm. 

Marc answered all our weird questions and was more than happy to take us to see whatever we desired. I think he possibly knows everything that ever happened in New York. Fun fact: did you know that a woman oversaw the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge? She took over the project once her husband (who had been the lead engineer) came down with severe decompression sickness (from going down into the base of the bridge below the riverbed and then ascending too quickly). She is credited as “the first woman field engineer” and is just generally sort of a badass. You can read more about her here

I would definitely recommend taking a bike trip to anyone who visits NYC. Not only is it a great bit of exercise, but you get to see the city like a local and visit a ton of unique neighbourhoods.

Tiny Christmas trees for sale everywhere!
Tiny Christmas trees for sale everywhere!

Christmas in New York City

Visiting New York City at Christmas is on a lot of people’s bucket lists (including mine). It was an amazing gift to get the chance to visit and photograph it and experience some of the cultural mythos surrounding it. Here are some recommendations for awesome things to check out if you’re in the large apple during the holidays.

During the daytime, you should check out Bryant Park. Not only is it close to Grant Central Station, but it’s filled with artisan vendors and the International Centre of Photography is just around the corner (the Sebastião Salgado: Genesis exhibition is going on there until January 11th and it’s amazing.  Especially if you like huge black and white film prints with National-Geographic-type content ).

New York has a passion for huge Christmas trees: 

(left to right, huge Christmas trees on Wall Street, behind NBC studios, and in Bryant Park)

The Radio City Music Hall Rockets Christmas Spectacular is something that many New York families attend together year after year. It’s quite a show, and I can see why it holds some of the quintessence of the Christmas season for so many New Yorkers.

The finale was this crazy huge on-stage nativity scene, featuring two actual camels, and sheep! I couldn’t help but wonder where these camels hang out when they’re not on stage. Just how big is the Radio City Music Hall green room, anyway?

These giant ornaments are right across the street from Radio City Music Hall.
These giant ornaments are right across the street from Radio City Music Hall.
Around the corner from Radio City Music Hall you can find this skating rink, and the NBC Christmas tree.
Around the corner from Radio City Music Hall you can find this skating rink, and the NBC Christmas tree.

On to the famous Macy’s Christmas Window Displays.

This year Macy’s had a great planets and science theme. Even Neil deGrasse Tyson was tweeting about them.  

Macy’s inside:

I commend all the parents who were standing in the Santa lineup. It was like a Midgard serpent, encircling the entire top floor. All happy faces though. Another classic New York Christmas sight. 

Truth be told, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the funds to buy tickets to fancy shows, or buy fancy things.  New York at Christmastime is best experienced by just walking the streets.  The areas around Times Square and Central Park are great places to start.  Seeing the city and interacting with people will be some of my fondest memories, and they were 100% free.  The exception is that you should definitely buy a hot dog at some point, and that’ll probably run you about $3.

Central Park is great, and if you’re into museums there’s a whole slew nearby, including the Museum of Natural History, the MOMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim (to name a few). Central Park is also home to the Strawberry Fields John Lennon memorial (go see it) and public skating rinks.  I can’t wait to come back here in the summer and see it in all its lush green glory.

Leaving Central Park, we found another great Christmas Market near the south gates (see below). It had a real Weihnachtsmarkt feel, and there were even some German guys selling glühwein and bratwurst.

There was one stall in this market with some guys selling the BEST beef jerky I have ever had. I don’t even like beef jerky, and I was reaching for seconds and thirds of the samplers. I bought one bag to bring home, but I kind of wish I had bought five.

It was a great trip and I saw some beautiful things.  I’m sure I missed some things too.  This city is huge!   You can turn down an unassuming alleyway and find yourself in a forest of artists, or a beautiful stretch of architecture.  I’m glad a finally got to experience New York; I’ll definitely be coming back here.

New York and New York – Quotes by Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion

Last week, I was in New York and forgot to schedule a quote post for Sunday. Therefore, today behold: TWO wallpaper quotes! Aptly, about New York, and featuring some street shots I took while visiting last week. As usual, click through for the full-size downloadable wallpaper.

New York is known as one of the best places in the world for street photography. I had a lot of great people moments, but here’s one where I didn’t snap the shutter.

I had just entered Macy’s with my mother and sister. I’d never been in the store before and was taken aback by all the crystal chandeliers and fancy Christmas decorations and displays. We were heading to the elevator on the first level when I passed a letter writing station – somewhere you could sit down and write a letter to Santa Claus. There was a post office box in the middle, and the table was filled with mostly kids and some of their parents. However, their was one middle-aged woman who appeared to be alone. She was dressed in clothing that had seen better days, had a weathered face and was writing very slowly. Being a nosey-pants, I peeked over to see what her postcard said. “Dear Santa, I wish for a home for my children. I wish to be better for them. I want to improve my life…”. Feeling like I was invading her privacy, I quickly continued on, but was really touched by her genuine letter.

Ah, New York! Sometimes it seems like you’re so in love with yourself, and sometimes it seems like I know why.

Successfully navigated myself to Times Square. That place is all hustle.
Successfully navigated myself to Times Square. That place is all hustle.

You Are What You Pretend to Be

Like a lot of people, I spend a fair bit of my brain power trying to figure out ‘who I am’, which is something that a lot of western philosophy lusts over. I see the warning in this quote all the time: we start out with certain ambitions for ourselves, but then do something else, or act like someone else other than who we want to be, to finance or justify the means to our ends. Think of your daily rituals – how do you eat breakfast? How do you sleep? What do you spend the day doing? How do you treat people? Who you truly are is a culmination of your daily actions (what you DO, not what you THINK or what you SAY). Our actions speak to society for us, and the age old battle within ourselves is to get our outsides to match our insides (ambitions, dreams, etc.). What we want can easily fall by the wayside of what is easy, or the path offers the least resistance. Fight the conscious battle, and choose who you want to be each day. Then, be that person with your actions.

This photo was taken with a Nikon 105mm macro lens on a D800, with a beauty dish covered in a diffuser placed slightly to my left. I had the subject sit on a stool so that I could have some leverage on them, and so my vantage point is from slightly above eye level.

Backstage at We Day Atlantic Canada

I had the privilege of being the backstage photographer for We Day in Halifax on November 29th. Thousands of school kids wearing fluorescent swarmed the Scotiabank Centre, took selfies and pumped their fists. We Day is a multi-media, presentation, educational talk and music concert hosted by the Kielburger brothers of Me to We and Free the Children that aims to teach young people about the power of social change.

Kweku Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela and Hannah Alper, 11-year old blogger, inspirational speaker and youth activist, give the We Day salute before going onstage.
Kweku Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela and Hannah Alper, 11-year old blogger, inspirational speaker and youth activist, give the We Day salute before going onstage.

It was lovely to see so many inspiring figures interacting with and supporting each other as they prepared to take the stage to talk to the thousands of youth who had come out to see them.  Backstage is all harsh overhead lighting and concrete floors, so as photographer you focus on the real moments between performers and support staff, instead of waiting for someone to step into their perfect light. 

Of course, I snuck out through the wings a couple times to capture the crowd as well.

One of the things that really struck me as I was taking pictures of the crowd was media power. Everyone had their phones or tablets out and were tweeting, tagging, instagraming, etc. Big productions like this can gather huge media inertia for free by simply telling the crowd, “Don’t forget to #MeToWe”. There’s a great marketing lesson right there. 

Overall it was a great experience, albeit exhausting. I came home afterwards and curled up for an hour-long nap before even downloading the photos onto my laptop.

If you’d like to get involved in a We Day production, you can follow this link to get more information about volunteering

There are always pros and cons with the nuanced issue of international aid, and We Day is no exception. Yes, We Day is a show developed primarily for children, but children are intelligent and there was no talk about the grey areas of international development (i.e., questions of sustainability, the tendency of relief efforts to grow colonialist overtones, poverty tourism for privileged kids, etc.).  The harder stuff. It’s easy to jump on a bandwagon when someone tells you your actions are doing unequivocal good.  Thinking about these potential issues can exhaust you to the point where you don’t know what to think any more, and can drain the enthusiasm right out of a potential donor.  

Craig Kielburger’s undergraduate degree is in social justice from University of Toronto, but he also has a Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA and a lot of corporate sponsorships. Me to We is definitely trying to sell you their brand of aid. All their marketing power and ability to sell progressive ethics would go right out the door if they started talking about all the real social, ethical and anthropological issues that foreign aid workers, politicians and academics deal with on a daily basis.  

That being said, it would be arrogant to think that nobody in the audience recognized that, and perhaps some of their futures lie in helping to figure out a way to create better solutions in lieu of large-scale, expensive celebrity-endorsed productions that teach kids to expect rewards (t-shirts, rafiki bracelets, tickets to We Day) in exchange for good deeds. It can be frustrating trying to unpack all the issues that We Day can represent.

We Day undoubtably has positive effects too – it is an exciting, eye-opening experience and does get kids excited about helping people, growing global social networks and believing that they can change the world. It’s not an issue where there’s a clear-cut right or wrong answer, and that’s what makes it so difficult for me to put my foot down on exactly how I feel about We Day. I am glad a did this one, but I don’t think I’d do it again.

The Art of Tea / The Art of Life

Don’t you love it when you think of something neat, then Google it and then find out it already exists? Earlier this week I thought “Wow. It would be great if you could become a tea sommelier.” I typed it into Google and immediately got several hits for tea sommelier courses you can take in Canada. Amazing!

I also discovered there’s such a thing as the Tea Association of Canada, and that there’s an upcoming Toronto Tea Festival (Jan 31st-Feb 1st). Exciting to discover so many tea things happening in Canada. Unfortunately there are no Halifax tea festivals yet, but I’m sure someday we’ll make it happen.

In the meantime, I’ll settle for sharing cups of tea with friends.  Today I had a friend over and we tried cinnamon chai tea with So Good soy milk eggnog in it.  Delicious.  Try it.  I also have some almond milk eggnog that would work nicely (we currently have three different kinds of eggnog in our fridge. Tis the season?) .  I think next time I’m going to try a frothed version using the steam wand on my espresso machine.  Ah, hot beverages.  Definitely one of the perks of cold weather.