Getting lost at York University

I was meaning to get to York University for a talk this morning. My being late aside (I missed almost the entire talk and only caught some concluding remarks and the Q&A at the end), when I finally got to York, I spent who-knows-how-much-time on finding the correct building.

Which, clearly, was not something I expected. Somehow, I thought OCAD’s wayfinding system was bad, and all the other schools’ systems are better. This is clearly not true, since this is the second time in three weeks I got completely lost in a university campus that is not OCAD U.

This probably shows a couple of things: First, the existence of campus maps outside buildings is not enough; the placement of maps are also important. (U of T has an entire section devoid of campus maps; at York it took me more than 15 minutes after getting off the bus to finally find a map.) Of course, at OCAD campus maps do not even exist except inside buildings, so their existence is still a problem that needs to be solved.

Also, the wayfinding system at York shows that directional signs without an accompanying map are useless unless you are already fairly familiar with the place. A signpost wouldn’t show you where to get to all building (unless, perhaps, we are talking about a small campus like OCAD’s), so directional signs need to be complemented by campus maps.

Curious elevator button

While I was getting out of the Lassonde building I took a closer look at the elevator buttons and saw this:

Photograph of elevator buttons found in the Lassounde building at York University. The embossed type on button for the ground floor (upper right) says ☆G but the braille says “main”.

What caught my attention was the braille. I’ve seen buttons with star signs before, and what I’d been seeing had been having the star sign “translated” to the letter S—odd to me, but if this is an actual convention then actual blind people probably aren’t going to get confused. However, the first letter for the “ground floor” button was clearly not an S.

So what is it? I took some time trying to decipher it and found that it read “main”. So to a blind person, the building doesn’t have a “ground floor,” but a “main floor.”

I don’t know how others feel, but I think this is an inconsistency.

Muji

I finally went into Muji yesterday to take a look. My first impression: Things aren’t so cheap, in general anyway, but no one would be mistaken that a store in The Atrium on Bay should be able to price things low.

But I did notice something: A few stacks of small bowls in crackled glazes, priced at $25 each. I looked at them and somehow they looked thrown. Then I went to the other side and found more bowls, priced at about $7 or thereabouts; they were white and smooth, obviously slipcast.

This is important context.

The Supercollider kickdrum sound in timbre.js

So it looks like while timbre.js has some documentation, the documentation is really much sparser than I’d like it to be. But at least the examples work so it’s possible to figure things out.

The first example I tried to translate was the kickdrum sound from Rumble-san’s Drum Sounds in SuperCollider (Part 1). Basing off an example in timbre.js’s documentation on T("env"), I managed to come up with this translation (which is almost identical to one of the examples for T("env")):

T("env", {table:[1, [0, 1000]]}, T("sin", {freq:60})).on("ended", function() {
    this.pause();
}).bang().play();

There are some obvious questions here: Why is env used this way? What exactly is the syntax for the table parameter? What exactly is the purpose of the bang() message? We can sort of deduce the syntax of the table paramter from the code, but the existing documentation does not seem to provide any answers.

tuna.js

While I was trying to figure out how to use timbre.js I ran into Tuna. It looked like a much simpler library that might solve some immediate problems, so I spent some time trying to get it to work.

The odd thing is that even though people have been talking about the library, there is practically no documentation. I couldn’t figure out how to use it.

So back to timbre.js. I’ve also found the Git repository for subcollider.js (a library related to and tightly coupled with timbre.js) that looks like it will be immensely useful.

coming full circle, back to SuperCollider

I was wondering if there’s a way to do timbre in WebAudioAPI (actually, in retrospect I now remember there’s a way) and what did Google find? It found mohayonao’s timbre.js.

What’s bizarre about this piece of code is that to use it, you use a syntax that’s clearly derived from SuperCollider.

I won’t have enough time to learn to use this right away, but I’m now seeing myself make what’s essentially a U-turn, back to what I explored a year and a half ago.

OCADU deploys new identification system for its buildings — but it’s STILL a weird system

I just read an announcement on Facebook that OCAD has just started deploying a new system for identifying buildings on campus. Gone is the old, weird building-numbers-encoded-into-room-numbers system; replacing it is a system based on short alphabetic building codes, just like you would expect to see on any other Canadian university campus.

What makes this new system bizarre, however, is that instead of basing the codes off the buildings’ names, it’s basing the codes off the names of the streets the buildings are on. So instead of *MSC (a hypothetical code for “Main building and Sharp Centre”) you get MCA (for “buildng 1 on McCaul”), or instead of *RSP (hypothetically a perfectly good code for the “Rosalie Sharp Pavilion”) you get the impossible-to-remember MCD (for “building 4 on McCaul”).

Instead of less than ten building numbers to memorize, we now have to memorize 13 random-looking three-letter codes.

This is just one problem. For the Annex building we also get two separate codes, SPA (“building 1 on St. Patrick”) for the first floor and MCC (“building 3 on McCaul”) for the upper floors. Technically the Learning Zone isn’t in the Annex building, but experientially it is. This is the same experiential situation as the Main Building vs the Sharp Centre, where both buildings get only one code because experientially they are one; so by analogy SPA and MCC should also be merged into a single code — and of course that code should be abbreviated from the name “Annex Building” and should not be “building 1 on so-and-so” or “building 3 on so-and-so.”

The new system is still a much-needed change: It is still vastly superior to the old system, where even students get confused. (Just last September I was in what was until last week building 7 and a new student missed her floor because she thought her floor was the 7th floor — despite the fact that an explanation of the room numbers was posted right beside the elevator.)

The new system is, however, still a weird, counter-intuitive system that requires students to memorize random-looking codes. Not a good design.

And why do this kind of work mid-February, around midterms, instead of doing it at the end of the semester, after finals? No one said it but I bet it has to do with getting ready early for Grad Ex. In other words this is probably marketing work. But if we’re still getting a weird system people are still going to feel we don’t know how to design wayfinding systems. The feeling wouldn’t be as strong as before, but it would still be there. Not good marketing.

Which really begs the question: Who designed this bizarre system? Don’t tell me again that such an important system hasn’t been designed by a designer.

Yes, this year’s Grad Ex is my Grad Ex

I was surprised when I actually got a reply to my question after only an hour:

Dear Ambrose, It includes those who have already graduated in the fall. I hope you'll consider participating. Sincerely, Brian Desrosiers-Tam

So this is for me. But do I still want to do it when I no longer have the work with me? Should I do it?

Because we are talking about ceramics, the mere fact that I’m not sure means I need to re-create my work, like now.

GradEx?

I just received this year’s call for participation in the GradEx. Details are sketchy for now but last year’s insistence on having “constraints of space” has been replaced by their asking us to “participate in large number”.

So the question is: Is this call directed to me too? As much I wanted to be part of Grad Ex last year, things have already fallen too much apart this semester; and as well, all my thesis work is now either in the hands of random strangers or inside storage in a museum. I still have maybe half of my trial run pieces…

So I guess ultimately I what I want to know is: Should I re-create the work that’s no longer with me?

Web accessibility is straightforward, or is it?

One of the two things I needed to do in the past week was to post some information on an existing web site. Pretty straightforward information really, but how do you mark it up? Here is the copy, in disguised form of course:

Aardvark New Year Dinner
Saturday, February 21
New Aardvarkia Banquet Hall
Cost: $38 (VAT included)

6:30pm: reception
7:00pm to 9:30pm: dinner and speaker presentation

Join us in celebrating the Year of the Aardvark! Noted author Tia Aardvarka will be present to talk about her recent work, Attack of the Zombie Blue Aardvarks and the Re-emergence of Totalitarianism.

The copy was to be posted in a Drupal-based system that deletes HTML5 semantic tags and aggressively strips away most attributes (including even language and ARIA attributes). The CSS stylesheet is locked down so you can’t create new styles. Most of the existing styles seem to be UI-related and not much is useful for styling content. So how do you mark this up, especially the top two blocks?

The first line is easy: It’s an h2.

The usual lazy way to mark the rest of the first block up would be to treat it as a list and style the bullets out, but you can’t, because you can’t change the stylesheet. You could treat it as a single paragraph with br tags but this will sound awful with a screen reader. Or maybe you could do multiple divs, which sort of makes sense but then you can’t create the space between the various blocks.

The second block is obviously true tabular data, but if you styled it as a table there’d be an odd-looking space on the first row because the first cell on the second row contains so much text. So do you treat it as a table, or do you not? If you don’t, you get into the same situation as the first block.

So even this seemingly straightforward copy is creating a lot of problems. How do you handle such situations in a locked-down environment?

Perhaps, perhaps we should start by doing some experiments so that we can know how to rank our options?

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