Designing for myself

I’ve been designing for clients ever since I graduated from college about 4 or 5 years ago. I have not been designing for myself for such a long time that I don’t even know what that would be like. It feels like I’m a member of a touring band constantly playing other people’s songs. Don’t even know what my own voice is anymore. I think I need to figure out what that is.

Ramadan

I’m not a particularly nostalgic person but there’s something about Ramadan that makes me feel a bit nostalgic. It makes me think of random memories from the past such as:

 
  • That one time in college when me and my teammates were working on a project in one of the project rooms in the library and we were really tired so two of us took a short nap under the table. It was great.
  • That time when I was living in KL and it was Ramadan and I was feeling a little homesick and miserable in general and we got a knock on the door just after Iftar. A random neighbour whom we didn’t really know had brought us a tub of ice cream. I was really moved by that. I still am actually. 
 
I hope you have a wonderful month ahead and if you observe the fasting month, Ramadan Mubarak to you :)

Breaking out of a running slump

About 6 months ago, I had my pair of running shoes with the Nike+ sensor in it stolen. I’ve always considered my neighborhood to be a safe one. I’ve left shoes outside of the apartment door for more than 10 years and never had an issue.

It was no big deal really, I guess I shouldn’t have been more cautious. Strangely enough, the incident triggered something in me to actively try other activities. Even after I got a new pair of running shoes, with running sensor and all, I just wasn’t feeling it. I went about looking for other things I could be doing other than running and here are some of the activities I’ve been trying for the past 6 months or so:

  • Kickboxing: This was a funny one. I had signed up for the lesson thinking it was a real kickboxing class. It turned out the lesson was all about using kickboxing moves in a workout routine. There was no actual kicking of the boxing bag. I was a little bit disappointed by that but I did have fun during the class, some of the moves I found to be hilarious. I attended the lessons weekly for about 6 weeks.
  • Muay Thai: I was really nervous before joining the class. For some reason I had this idea that I would get punched real bad and get all these nasty bruises. Nothing could have prepared me for the intensity the Muay Thai class was. Oh dear God. Each lesson lasted for 2 hours. During the first lesson, one of my classmates nearly fainted during the 15 minute warm-up session. The warm-up consisted of 10 minutes of skipping, followed by 5 minutes of push ups and sit ups. I had not skipped for a while and I forgot how tough it was. My trainer was also an intense person, all the moves had to be precise and delivered with power. The lessons really took a lot out of me but it was such a great learning experience. I attended one month’s worth of weekly lessons. I have mixed feelings about re-joining the class. While I like the intensity of Muay Thai because it pushes me physically and mentally, I’m not a big fan of hitting and punching. I just cannot see myself doing that to another human being. Although I know I’m learning it for self-defense purposes. For now, I’ve been practicing doing skipping (or jumping rope) on my own. It’s a great mixture of intense and fun. Skipping made me feel like a kid again.
  • Swimming: I never attended swimming lessons when I was a kid so this is one of the things I’ve always wanted to learn to do properly. The beginner’s class lasted for 3 months and I’m pleased to say that I can now swim. Not very well, but hey, I can get to the other end of the pool and back without drowning myself or choking on chlorine water and that’s the first step I guess.
  • Badminton: During my end-of-the-year holiday last year, I booked a badminton court on a whim, and played a 1-hour match with my sister. We were quite horrible at it since we had not played in like a decade. But we had so much fun smashing the shuttlecock back and forth for an hour. I love how fast the game can be and I’ve started playing badminton again with friends and family and we can get really competitive sometimes. This is definitely a much more social activity than running alone.
  • Tennis: This is another sport that I’ve always wanted to learn to play properly. I used to play tennis with my brother when I was a teenager but we stopped playing for some reason. I signed up for a beginner’s tennis class which taught all the basic groundstrokes. The class had recently ended, I made a few friends and I know I have to practice the groundstrokes before moving on to the next class.

What’s Next?

It has been interesting trying these different activities. Some really stuck with me. I have to say that swimming is my favourite of all the activities I listed above. I love being in the pool, especially after a long day at work. My aim is to get better at swimming and then learn to dive.

The next activity I’m trying out is doing pottery. I remember I had to choose between Chinese ink painting and ceramics as an elective while in college. I was torn between the two but ended up going with Chinese ink painting which was great. I’m excited to learn this thing now. I’m always slightly nervous before starting a new lesson because I usually have no idea what to expect, but it’s exactly that element which makes trying new things exciting.

What’s on my playlist: The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle, Radio Music Society, Heartthrob and The Five Ghosts

1. The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle by Missy Higgins (June 2012)

Ol+Razzle+DazzleGot into this record just a few days ago so this still feels fresh to me. I’ve heard of Missy Higgins for sometime but had not really checked out any of her music. It was the song Set Me on Fire that made me want to check out her latest record.

There are enough catchy melodies in this record that makes it enjoyable to listen to as a whole. More importantly, it’s the raw, heartfelt and honest lyrics that I’m really drawn to. I like that there is this underlying theme in the songwriting about trying to find who you are as a person, about being honest, about being lost and then finding your passion again & some observations about the irony of the modern life: “There’s 999 channels on my TV / and I still have no idea what to believe (…) Oh there is a choice / Use your voice / Cos this’ll just keep up until we make a loud noise / and the hidden ones speak up”

Clearly it’s not just another record about relationships & heartbreak. After listening to this record I feel like I want to try harder to be a better a human being. As cheesy as that may sound. There are a few tracks in there that I don’t care for that much. It would have been a much stronger record if those tracks were removed, but hey, just my opinion. Standout tracks for me: Set Me on Fire, If I’m Honest, Tricks, Everyone’s Waiting, Hello Hello & Hidden Ones.

2. Radio Music Society by Esparanza Spalding (March 2012)

Radio_Music_Society_(Esperanza_Spalding_album)_coverI went to Esparanza Spalding’s live concert recently and it was quite a learning experience for me. I don’t always listen to jazz except when I’m at coffee shops where they always play this type of music. The sheer number and variety of musical instruments on stage was interesting to see. The studio version does not have that spontaneous live element and it doesn’t help that the lyrics are kind of forgettable. Halfway through the record, the songs start to sound the same to me. A few standout tracks: I Can’t Help It, Hold On Me & Radio Song. I listen to these as sort of a palate cleanser as they are quite different from the type of music that I usually gravitate towards. It’s refreshing in that sense.

3. Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara (January 2013)

Tegan_and_Sara_-_Heartthrob_coverI was so looking forward for this record to be released. I am a fan of the band obviously. It felt like such a long painful wait. This may or may not have colored my experience listening to the record when it finally came out.

I have mixed feelings about it. Firstly, the record title is a bit off a turn off. Heartthrob? What?! Urgh. Secondly, I hate their first single Closer with the passion of a lion who hates veggies. Raaawwr. Beyond that, there are many things about this record that I like. I like that the band is trying new things in terms of production. Shock to Your System is such a standout track. Not to mention the many, many catchy songs in there which have a slightly 80s pop feel to it. What I had really hoped the most for the new record was more mature songwriting since they are in their 30s now. But really the theme is heartbreak and relationships and all that jazz. Which is fine. I guess they’ve always been writing super straight forward confessional lyrics, it’s what they do best. It’s a great breakup record if you ever need one. A few memorable lines:

“Goodbye, I don’t wanna feel the need to hear your voice / Goodbye, I don’t wanna feel the need to see your face.

“And so I go back home to be by myself / I try everything I’ve ever read / Desperate, I still can’t get you out of my head.” 

The thing about straight forward and confessional words is that they can be really embarrassing to say out loud but sometimes it’s exactly what people need to face the facts, be honest and move on to whatever they need to move on to.

Hopefully they will attempt to write about something else in future records. Despite the somewhat dark lyrics, it’s really an upbeat record to listen to. Favourite tracks: Goodbye, Goodbye, I Was a Fool, Guilty As Charged, Shock to Your System.

4. The Five Ghosts by Stars (June 2010)

Stars_FiveGhostsI grabbed this record after listening to the hauntingly beautiful song Dead Hearts.

“Tell me everything that happened / Tell me everything you saw / They had lights inside their eyes / They had lights inside their eyes (…) These were kids that I once knew / These were kids that I once knew (…) It’s hard to know that they’re out there / It’s hard to know that you still care / Dead hearts are everywhere / Dead hearts are everywhere” 

I’m so glad it’s not the only great song in there. It opens with a song that wows me and the second track is another winner. After that it drops off a bit as I’m not really a big fan of super abstract lyrics. The songs on the record that have ‘simpler’ lyrics sound more genuine. When the song Changes comes on, the record picks up a little bit and after a few more songs it loses my interest again until it ends. The overall sound has that soft melodic quality to it, helped a lot by the voice of the lead female vocalist Amy Millan. Favourite tracks: Dead Heart, Changes & Wasted Daylight.

How I got into design

I’ve always loved to paint and doodle since I was a kid. I would make my parents sign me up for art classes and art competitions until I was a teenager. During my free time I would do all these art projects like papier mache and collage and elaborate Lego projects and was always collecting materials for my projects. I think I was 14 or 15 when I decided I didn’t want to do any of those “kid stuff” anymore. I remember that my family had moved to a different house at that point and I had to decide whether I wanted to keep all of my drawings, paintings and art projects. I decided that these were silly kids stuff and that I wanted to throw them away. So I did.

After the move I became more interested in other things like reading about politics and history and current affairs and geography and languages and math and other things. It wasn’t until I was taking my A levels that I decided to go back to the weekend art class. It was a Saturday afternoon class and I remember it being my favourite day of the week because I get to go to this class and just sit still for a few hours and have uninterrupted space and time to practice my art and be tutored by artists whose work I adore. It was a breath of fresh air. I remember the first day of that Saturday art class and we were doing still life drawing and I had been sketching for a little bit. My art teacher came to my table and he said, “Have you done this before?” and I said, “Not since a long time.” At that moment, I was thinking to myself, how did he know? I thought to myself, welcome, back Meem.

After my A levels and after some months of doing boring odd jobs and not knowing what I wanted to do with my life and just being confused, it later became clear to me that I really wanted to do something that has to do with the visual arts. I attended an arts and design college and everything felt right afterwards, I was in my element, there was no question about it. Here I am now some years later, working as a designer.

Obviously it’s not as simple as doodling something like I did when I was a kid and just be done with it. There’s a huge sense of responsibility that I feel now with every piece of design work that I do, because people are going to use it and I don’t want to put out into the world designs that are not great. It’s a whole different monster to tackle and that’s for another blog post. All I can say is I still feel super excited about it and I still feel like I’m just getting started.

What’s in the oven

The oven has been a great friend lately. I’ve been trying a few different dishes using the oven and have been pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Baked Tilapia fish. Baked baby potatoes. Baked baby carrots. Baked chicken with Italian herbs. Speaking of herbs, these are some of my favourite herbs and spices that I’ve tried so far when I bake: Italian herbs, garlic powder, black pepper, red chilli powder. The basics.

One thing I love about using the oven is that it’s a less stressful way to prepare a meal. I can set the timer and just let it bake. I’m free to do other stuff while it bakes. With the pan or skillet, you always have to sort of be there all the time, keep checking the thing you’re cooking and make sure it’s not burnt. You basically have to babysit the thing the whole time. Whereas the oven is more like a good and responsible teenager, you just need to set a few boundaries and then you can leave them alone.

ImageBaked Tilapia with some veggies. 

Speaking of veggies, I have this weird thing where I try to aim for 5 different colors of vegetables in one meal. 5 different colors of vegetables in one meal is the golden goal. I’m super happy if there are 4, but 5 is hard to achieve for me so whenever that happens it feels special. I feel like something is missing if there are only 1 or 2 different colors of vegetables in there. I know I sound like an ungrateful prick for saying this, but it’s just a feeling that I can’t shake off yet.

Basically this is how I rate and generally think of my veggie mix in a meal:

  • 1 out of 5: One type of vegetable. Better than no vegetables. You need to go to the grocery store like yesterday. What are you doing?! Get it together.
  • 2 out of 5: 2 different colors of vegetables in one meal. It’s not bad. Time to go to the grocery store.
  • 3 out of 5: 3 different colors of vegetables in one meal. Acceptable. I’m pleased with this.
  • 4 out of 5: 4 different colors of vegetables in one meal. Excellent. Be really thankful.
  • 5 out of 5: 5 different colors of vegetables. Vegetable nirvana. Beyond happy. Tears of joy stream down my face.

Another thing that I have with regards to veggies is what size they come in. For non-leafy vegetables, I tend to go for baby sized vegetables. Baby potatoes, baby tomatoes, baby carrots. You get the idea. I don’t know why yet, I’m still figuring it out. When I open my refrigerator and can’t find any baby vegetables, I feel like something is wrong and I need to fix it.

Okay, I just checked my refrigerator and I’m out of baby sized vegetables right now. I need to go to the grocery store pronto. Thanks for reading!

A list of music I listened to a lot in 2012

My 7 favourite songs released in 2012:
  1. Speed the Collapse by Metric
  2. Travelin’ On by Norah Jones 
  3. Pirates by Jenny Owen Youngs 
  4. Not Fooling Around by Butterfly Boucher
  5. Easy Thief by Sombear
  6. You Guys are Going to Wake Up my Mom by Field Mouse
  7. Thread by Now, Now
My 10 favourite songs discovered in 2012:
  1. The Start of Something by Voxtrot
  2. Gimme Sympathy by Metric
  3. Call It Off by Tegan and Sara
  4. The Calculation by Regina Spektor
  5. Civilian by Wye Oak
  6. Walking With a Ghost by Tegan and Sara
  7. If There Was No You by Brandi Carlile
  8. Lost and Found by Katie Herzig
  9. I Miss You by Kimya Dawson
  10. Lucky Now by Ryan Adams

 

What’s on My Playlist: Transmitter Failure, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, Neighbours & Incredibly Still

1. Transmitter Failure by Jenny Owen Youngs

This album was released in 2009 and I’ve only bought it recently, couldn’t find it  anywhere when it first came out. I remember having to go to online myspace stream to listen to the entire album.

The theme is heartbreak (surprise, surprise!). It’s not depressing though. There are a lot of heartfelt lyrics for sure, but it is also upbeat, catchy and hopeful. I’m a fan of Jenny’s after listening to Transmitter Failure. Standout tracks for me: Led to the Sea, Here is a Heart, If I Didn’t Know, First Person, Last Person & What Beats Within.

2. What We Saw from the Cheap Seats by Regina Spektor 

So eclectic, so wonderful to listen to. Regina is so talented. What I love about this album is how imaginative it is. Whenever I listen to it, I always imagine it being part of a musical or a play, especially songs like Oh Marcello, Firewood, All the Rowboats, Ballad of a Politician, Open, The Party & Jessica.

 

3. Neighbours by Now, Now

An EP by Now, Now released in 2010. Threads is obviously their best album to date, but you can hear an earlier version of the kind of sound they have developed in Threads from this EP Neighbours. Standout tracks for me: Giants, Neighbours and the intro Rebuild.

 

 

4. Incredibly Still by Sombear

This is a solo project by Now, Now’s drummer Bradley Hale. There are two songs in the EP, Incredibly Still and Easy Thief. Two very catchy electronic pop songs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

October Reads

1. Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro

Image

Practical, straight-up advice for designers who freelance. The writing style is funny and entertaining. Even a bit inspiring if you’re a designer feeling a little jaded at this time of the year.

 

 

2. Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte

Image

Practical guide on making sites responsive on different screen sizes. It cuts to the chase, doesn’t waste your time. You can probably finish reading this in 2-3 hours and start applying what you learned the same day.

 

 

3. Design for Emotion by Aaron Walter

ImageThis book explains the elements that make a design engaging. There are some interesting case studies in there. If you attended design college you’ll be familiar with the things explained in the book and it’s a good refresher.

September Reads

1. Startup of You by Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman

In a nutshell, this book argues that a traditional career path where you spent decades at a company and when you retire you get a golden rolex watch or a sizeable pension scheme is essentially an obsolete path in the new economy. Instead, it makes much more sense to think of yourself as a startup and an entrepreneur, no matter what you do. The book argues that it doesn’t mean that you have to start companies, but you have to think like an entrepreneur. This means you have to learn to spot opportunities, make yourself nimble and find ways to always stay relevant.

If you’re already familiar with this entrepreneurial mindset, what this book espouses is nothing new. Although it does have a few practical suggestions that you can apply immediately.

2. The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac by Kris D’Agostino

This is another book listed on NPR’s summer reading list of 5 funny books with substance. Although I didn’t find it inherently funny, the premise of the book was enough to get me to read it until the end.

It is a first person narrative of a 24-year old Calvin Moretti who has recently quit grad school and has moved back to live with his parents. Other than dealing with mounting student loans and figuring out what he wants to do with his life, he is also dealing with his father who has recently been diagnosed with cancer  and a 16-year old sister who has just announced that she is pregnant. The Moretti family is on the verge of losing their house since the father is now unable to work.

From the beginning of the book I was rooting for Calvin to get it together and finally make something of his life and help his family. However, this book doesn’t try to make a hero out of Calvin, nor does it try to tie the story neatly like a typical hollywood movie would. It explores Calvin’s exasperation and self-disgust in various ways, and advances the plot in ways that I had least expected.

It was a frustrating read at times, mostly due to Calvin’s lack of resolve, but because it is so rare for me to find a book that chronicles the story of a Gen-Y who is stuck in a rut after college, it makes the read worthwhile and semi-enjoyable.

3. Bossy Pants by Tina Fey

Borrowed this from the library and finished reading this autobiographical comedy in one night. It is exactly what I had expected Tina Fey would write. Although I’m not a fan of her show, 30 Rock, she is undeniably amazing at comedy writing. Some of the highlights from the book for me is when she describes the things she had learned from improv comedy and how those lessons have served her really well in a her career.

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Gua Tempurung, Perak.

Gua Tempurung, Perak.

Gua Tempurung, Perak.

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