Architecture Monday

February 19, 2018

This is a project close to my hometown, in Toronto, a new Student Learning Centre for Ryerson University, designed by Zeidler Partnership and (one of my favs) Snøhetta.

While the outside is all angular and kinda sculptural and opens to the street and creates access to lower level retail and has a nifty patterned glass enclosure, it’s the interior where the real meat of the design happens.

And it starts with, as this section shows, a decided avoiding of having every single floor be exactly the same height, or even be level at all.  Some floors are tall, some are more squat, and sometimes a level dips down or angles upward to encroach into the spaces above/below.  In this way, each floor – each given their own evocative name such as Garden, Sun, Beach, or Sky – is molded to what is needed to support its use.

The building really sings in the vertical, with levels and spaces opening into each other to create connections and a sense of connectedness, while stairs, hallways, and atriums serve dual purpose with impromptu meeting areas and amphitheatre seating.

Easily both my favourite as well as that of the students, the Beach level exemplifies this with flair.  Starting at a wood “deck”, a series of ramps (that double as seating) slope down beach-like towards a blue carpeted “pool” nestled against copious amounts of the fritted glass.  And, of course, there is plenty of beach furniture to be had, and to be re-arranged as the students would like and need to study, to collaborate, or just chill in the midst of their day.  (A far cry better than the rough and tumble tile-lined box with harsh steel furniture we had in our university centre…)

The other floors follow in various fashions.  The Garden and Sun levels seem only to match their colour scheme to their names, but the Sky level culminates with a roofline that soars upwards, casting views and light towards the, well, sky.

All in all, an nifty design.  If anyone goes to Ryerson please ping me, I’d really enjoy checking it out next time I’m back home.

The Ryerson University Student Learning Centre by Zeidler Partnership and Snøhetta.



First Draft: Complete

February 18, 2018

And with a last bit of typing, the first draft of the next book is complete!  Considering how long it took for the previous book to get to this stage, I call this quite the improvement…

Onward to round two and editing, expounding, clarifying, cleaning up, and wordsmithifiying!


Wonder Wednesday

February 14, 2018

Oooo, I like this poster design!

Nicely abstract and evocative…

by Can Sanalan


Philosophy Tuesday

February 13, 2018

“In most of our human relationships,

we spend much of our time reassuring one another

that our costumes of identity are on straight.”

– Ram Dass

(I like this quote for that reminder of how easy it is not only for us to get caught up into the world of our own identities, but also into that of others… and how much that social construct and social contract (both between individuals but also the wider view of what’s “normal” within a society) invades into our interactions.  A reminder of how quickly we can become puppets playing out the typical game.  We project out into the world an identity, and then, once it gets accepted by the world/others, we need to spend all our time protecting, living up to, and maintaining that image of identity.  At the same time, others behave towards us based on that projected identity, keeping us further locked in (and, of course, we do the same in reverse — relating to others based on their identity costume).  Without specifically agreeing to it, we’ve decided to relate to each other as that (seemingly fixed) identity.  And then we get kinda trapped…)

(I also like this for it shines a light on just how much energy (one reason we can be so darn tired at the end of the day… it’s exhausting to protect something all day!) and creative juice this consumes.  The productivity it eliminates.  We’re less capable of self-expression not only because we’ve tied ourselves to our constructed identities, but also because there’s no time (or brain power) left to explore.  And it speaks to the excitement and expansiveness of what’s possible when we (collectively) let that go…)


Architecture Monday

February 12, 2018

This is a cool project, both because of the (rather wild!) result, but also where its expressive forms came from.  The client had access to a gaggle of century old douglas fir beams, all milled from a single tree, and all different lengths and overall sizes.  Rather than cut or otherwise finish any of those beams, the architect chose to use them as-is, warping the geometries of the house to accommodate them all.

And what a wonderful warped set of geometries it is, allowing for an expansive and hyper expressive set of rooms and spaces.  With its abundance of angular forms, it’s quite the playground where light and shadow can dance, both from the generous amounts of windows, but also from the suspended globes of light that create floating constellations of light at night.  An effect that is also carried through by piercing similarly random holes through doors and shutters.

I love how the kitchen counter becomes a table becomes a vertical library becomes a set of stairs that becomes the floor into the upper parts of the house.  There’s a plethora of little built-in touches like this throughout the house, and it, along with the unifying theme of those “hanging stars”, help provide a sense of unity and continuity inside what could otherwise seem like an arbitrary jumble of forms.

I think this is pretty rad, a super fun home to live in.  Very nicely done.

The 23.2 house by Omer Arbel Office

Bonus image!


Gaming Thursday: Tasks, Difficulties, and Aspects

February 8, 2018

We’ve just started playing the new Star Trek Adventures (aka STA), and there’s a few mechanics in there that has spurred me to think about task difficulty levels, and even more specifically, about how to set those difficulty levels.  It isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking, but it does have me looking at it in a new way that both seems to make it more intuitive to me as well as offering up something that could provide extra excitement and options in play.

It all has to do with leveraging the notion of an “aspect” or “trait”.  Both FATE* as well as STA use this concept.  Roughly speaking, an aspect/trait is a phrase or descriptor that denotes something specific and/or out of the ordinary about the thing it’s attached to.  So, for example, a scene could have an aspect of “Dark and Stormy” attached to it, a thing could have the aspect of “super hardened steel” attached to it, and a person can have aspects such as “Earnest Mecha Knight” or “Broken Arm” attached to them.

The key for my mini-epiphany here is that they are denoting things out of the ordinary.  Most game systems will have a table denoting difficulties and a target number or similar that the character must achieve using the combination of their attributes/skills/etc and the die roll.  Usually there’s a progression such as Easy, Medium, Hard, Very Hard, or more poetic such as Routine, Skilled, Challenging, Difficult, Insane.  The question, as a GM, is in coming up with what level a task should fall in… we can get good at it over time, intuitively grasping both the world we’re supposed to be simulating as well as the meta-analysis of a character’s ability and the player’s frustration tolerance.   But as we developing that sensitivity is pretty nebulous, and can lead to some whipsawing of difficulty levels all over the place.  And even with experience, sometimes it can still feel all a little to arbitrary, and there are still times when the answer might stymie us.

After all that setup, here’s the grand idea/procedure:  Pick a base difficulty level, whatever’s appropriate for the game system.**  For example, let’s pick 1.  Then, adjust from there by adding/introducing aspects.  Hindrances add to the difficulty, niceties subtract.

Where I think this really can help is in using a trio of “generic adjective” aspects :  Extra, Extremely, Insanely***.  For example, a lock could be Extra Complex, a door could be Extremely Sturdy, a navigation plot could be Insanely Complex, a puzzle could be Extremely Tricky.  (Of course, the puzzle could also just be bog standard Tricky – which wouldn’t warrant an aspect).  These adjectives respectively add +1/+2/+3 to the difficulty.

This seems a lot like the typical ladder of difficulties (Easy, Medium, Hard, etc…), but this combo aspect of adjectives feels more graspable than the abstract nature of Easy/Medium/Hard as it focuses the attention to the actual thing at hand in relation only to itself, rather than that more abstract sense.  Plus, it then combines nicely with other aspects that can be placed on the scene, which themselves could receive the trio of adjectives to further specify how affecting they are.

So, to use a Star Trek example, Bones and Kirk beam over to Chancellor Gorkon’s ship.  The Chancellor has been shot.  “Jim, I don’t even know his anatomy…” says Bones as he tries to save the Chancellor.  Task time!  The base difficulty is 1.  The Chancellor took some hits and is hurt pretty bad… he’s extremely wounded.  Our difficulty is now 3.  Their standing in the lounge of the ship… not exactly a hospital environment, and Bones only has his little medical bag with him.  The aspect “Rudimentary Supplies” adds an additional 1, for 4.  Plus, Gorkon is a, and has the aspect of, Klingon.  That counts poorly here given Bones’ lack of their anatomy.  So we’re at a difficulty of 5.  And, worst of all, this is a major diplomatic incident.  The aspect of “Tense Situation” accounts for the factor that everyone is seriously on edge.  Boom, difficulty of 6.

Fortunately, Bones has an aspect of Xenobiology (could also be something fanciful like “Doctor to the Stars”) to represent he’s seen and studied a lot of  different alien species over the years.  He may not know Klingons specifically, but it helps him make good guesses.  So that brings the difficulty back down to 5.  Unfortunately, that is all he has to bring to the situation;  he’s got good skill and could potentially roll well, but it’s still difficult.  Doubly unfortunately, he rolls poorly, and he and Kirk are arrested.

To use another example, a party is trying to close a magical portal while under attack from beasts that are emerging from the portal.  The portal is a pretty simple one, and has no descriptor on it.  But, the “Howling Windstorm” that accompanies it, along with “Frenzied Combat”  make things much more difficult, as does the fact the group’s magic expert is nursing a “Ringing Headache” from being hit in the head by a tire iron earlier (long story).  Still everyone came prepared… the “Norstrormorororos Texts” they brought along gives them access to a lot of knowledge and tricks, and they are “Covered in Thyme”, a known beastie deterrent.  With their magic expert noted as someone who “I eat rituals for breakfast” the difficulty returns to 1, and the roll is easily made, and the portal closes.

Again, this could all be done with a simple accounting by the GM, but I think there’s something more satisfying and fun in calcing it all out like this.  For one, it lets the players know exactly where this is coming from, and also highlights how their preparation or the special aspects of their characters are helping in the situation (making them feel more epic).  Even better I think is that in listing all the aspects, they’re left out in the open and can lead to players coming up with more interesting and varied solutions by using them in clever ways, and perhaps even turning the tables into something wildly memorable. Even if not, many aspects will both aid and hinder – the Extra Windy condition may hamper communication and lock picking, but also gives the characters protection against ranged attacks, narrowing the attack options of their opponents.

Overall I think this could be really cool.  I’m going to try it out when next I run a game (squeezing it in even if the game system doesn’t intrinsically use something like aspects).  And this gives me something more to add to my stack of ideas for that RPG system totally honestly no really I am still (slowly) building


*  FATE uses the idea of aspects very broadly, where an aspect on a person (which itself can represent special training, or a characteristic, or a philosophy, or…) is similar to an aspect on a scene, is similar to an aspect on an object.  STA, on the other hand, has Traits for scenes and objects, but on a person, usually only their species is a trait, whereas there’s a different mechanic (Values) for philosophies and mental states, and a third mechanic (Focus) for specialized training…

** My own favoured spot to start from would be to pick the level that requires a competently skilled character to succeed at the majority of the time.

*** I would also include some adjectives to denote easier tasks, such as:  Elementary, Trivial


Wonder Wednesday

February 7, 2018

How could it not be about the Falcon Heavy?  Especially when this shot is so insanely wicked:

And this one is so darn pretty:

And these ones are equally epic:

And, of course, a bit of cruising music as you head out into the stars…

Truth be told, I’m still pretty giddy about that launch.  One amazing experience to witness live. (via livestream…)

(first photo by Brady Kenniston, the rest by SpaceX)