Gaming Thursday: GMshare 1

While I began my adventures into RPGs as a GM (some 30ish-odd years ago), I’ve actually spent much more time as a player than behind the screen. And while I consider myself a pretty able player, I’d say my skill as a GM is fair, at best.   GMing is a whole other ball of wax and I truly admire those fabulous GMs I have been privileged to play under over the years. My recent forays into being a DM/GM has taught me a lot and given me the chance to grow as a GM, and I’d like to share what has worked for me and what may be useful in your own campaigns.

Starting with something I call the ” One Pagers”. Continue reading

Happy 25 Hubble!

Thank you for the astounding things you’ve shown us, and for the reminder/parable about life: you started out your days in space a bit rough, not performing the way you’d like to. But you reached out, took some coaching, made some changes, and things came into view much clearer. You always strove to do more, trying out new things, looking beyond where you’d been before. You stayed ready to receive new instruction, to grow in new ways, willing to replace in you that which no longer worked or served you well, and even transforming things that got in your way. You grew, and with it came a lifelong of achievements and excellence. And you always reminded us that, no matter who, or where, we are, we are surrounded by beauty on all sides, and if everything is beauty, then we must be beautiful too.

Philosophy Tuesday

I assert that there is a particular way about how we talk about other people that has become prevalent in our culture. It crops up in our speech and in our interactions with each other. And I invite us to consider that it has a deleterious effect on our ability to relate to others, it disrupts possibility, it saps us of our vitality, and, if we were actually present to what we are doing, we might even be taken aback by our behaviour.

It is the trend I call “moronification”, though perhaps it is better described under the catch-phrase of “instant contempt”.

It is the way in which, when we disagree with someone or something, or not like what they’ve done, or have an experience that (perhaps) inconvenienced us, it isn’t a simple matter of having a disagreement, etc. It is the ease in which we jump straight to vilification, antagonism, and insult. It is the rapid ratcheting up of the situation to denigrate the other. We’ll talk about them (or to them!) as though they’re an idiot. It includes phrases like “that’s retarded”, implying that the only people who could have those thoughts or ideas or views or designed this product or code or rule or system must be somehow brain damaged. It is the jump to “People are so stupid!” just because we don’t see eye to eye. “You’ll never guess what my daughter did to me this morning!” is declared, as though others always have malicious intent directly towards you. Expressing “The crap I have to put up with,” implying that you are the only sane and clear headed and nice one amongst all of your fellow denizens.

It’s all blame and make wrong, loaded with contempt.

When we default to blame, condemnation, and contempt, we sever our connection to others. We put up barriers to communication, and to creating possibilities and solutions.   We create a position that we then have to occupy and defend, often beyond a point of reasonableness. We get nasty, begetting, most often, nastiness in return. We set ourselves up as a victim, at the effect of others and without agency. We cease being supportive, we cease inviting growth and education and discovery. *

In that realm of contempt, we devalue the humanity of others, leading to exploitation, violence, neglect, and harshness. **

I doubt anyone will be surprised to hear that we can disagree with someone without turning them into a villain or imbecile. I read in an article a while back the phrase “We are addicted to false outrage,” and I say that resonates with this unnecessary nastiness we’re creating. And it doesn’t have to continue like so.

Sometimes all it takes is becoming aware of the words coming out of our mouths and realizing just what we’re creating with our speaking.

Because I don’t think this is what we actually are committed to, and how we actually want to interact with each other.


* – XKCD’s “Ten Thousand” comic is an interesting side view on an offshoot of this – it’s not only people whom we disagree with, but being nasty to those who just somehow didn’t see the same media as us. I think it’s an indication of how much this “instant contempt” has crept into things.

** – At the same time, we delicately ignore our own quirks, our own views, or own ways of being that, if viewed from outside our heads, likely also seem as strange, illogical, naive, and perhaps even foolish to the an observer…

Architecture Monday

This is a very cool house.

Despite the fact it is in a merciless desert.

This is one of my favourite examples of the idea of “Designing from Intentions”, because it achieves what it sets out to do far better than most, while also being a better design than most. Many homes touted as “green” these days are rather indistinguishable from other homes, following the same basic concept and banal typology of any subdivision home found across the entire continent, regardless of the climactic condition at the site. With extra insulation, more efficient HVAC systems, and maybe a bit of PV, they achieve 20-30% better performance.

But here, this building springs from a starting point that says: if I were to build a house in a DESERT, what would I want? What would make it work? What would make it awesome to live in?

The answer crafted by architect Lloyd Russel was as simple as can be. To protect from the sun, you need shade. And so, the house sits under an independent shade structure (one that cost less than most PV systems), separated by a gap that allows for breezes to carry heat away. The house underneath sits on a thick concrete slab that acts as a giant thermal mass, absorbing any heat that comes in during the day, and sending it out as welcome warmth during the much cooler nights. With large overhangs from the shade structure, the house can manage to have huge expanses of glass, looking out onto the gorgeous landscape.

how it works

By zoning code, the house had to have an Air Conditioner included. The owners have never used it. Even in the 45~C summertime, the house inside stays around 26~C at the worst.

We have a house that, therefore, is 100% more efficient in its cooling. (And, fantastically, it works equally well in the snows of winter…)

And we have a house that is an amazing experience to live in. Imagine getting up in the morning, walking out into your kitchen, and getting a large panorama of the desert landscape ablaze in the rising sun.

It’s simplicity, its brilliance, and its mightyfine architecture, architecture that was designed from the primordial, by intent, and that treats the world and its inhabitants right.

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

Hi there. How are you doing? I’d like to have a talk about our biases. I know, it’s uncomfortable… in fact, I’m not entirely comfortable writing this post. Because in many ways we walk around mostly thinking we don’t really have many biases. That we’re operating in a free and clear manner.   That our thoughts and opinions and decisions are all based on rational information that we’ve evaluated. That only ignorant people have biases.

But that’s not accurate. And it’s important that we stand in the discomfort and confront our biases.

And, by the way, when I say we, and our, I mean me, writing this post, and when I say we I also mean you, the you that is in your underwear right now reading this. Not the you that means only the other people around you, or that one guy you know, or the “yeah, I know what you mean, some people are just so biased it’s crazy!” others. No, you, me, each of us.

Because, quite simply, if you are human, you have biases. We are all biased.

And these biases have an impact on our lives and, more importantly, the lives of those around us.

We don’t often think of ourselves as biased, or see our own biases, because they’re usually way more subtle than we’d expect. We expect biases to be big, loud, overt, playing large, with dramatic acts of violence, hatred, or discrimination: cross burnings, separate drinking fountains, failure to promote, a beating for walking down the street holding hands, vitriolic tirades. Those are “biased” people, clearly, and that’s what bias looks like. That’s what we expect.

And while those are indeed evidences of some very strong biases, they’re not the only ways in which we are biased.   We are biased in thousands of small and big ways, and they are indeed mostly hidden from our view, operating incognito, influencing and guiding us in a myriad of ways.

It’s important to note here that a bias isn’t automatically a “bad” thing. It isn’t necessarily a “good” thing either. It is just one of the many ways our brains are designed to efficiently process incoming information, leaving more energy and more brainpower for other things. It’s all part of that system that lets us drive to work in the morning without really thinking about it (and often those times where we get to work and wonder “How did I even get here? I don’t remember driving…”).

It is a thing, however, that has impact in our thoughts, our feelings, our opinions, our gut feels, and our actions. Our brains are wonderful pattern making machines. They absorb stimuli and messages from the world around us, and they form views of the world that define our reality and our experience of the world.* Sometimes – often – our brain will create views where we didn’t consciously or deliberately choose what the view would be.   It was inadvertently created from the stimuli and messages and information we see/saw around us. And then we are biased towards that view, and thus it becomes a bias. (Shankar Vedantam’s “The Hidden Brain” and Mahzarin Banaji’s “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People” provide good primers on this topic. (Also see posts about them here and here.))

It is these hidden biases that are the ones that trip us up, because we don’t even know they’re there. They’re the ones that have us act in ways that, if we were to actually see it or think about it, we may even be shocked, because they stand at odds with whom we think we are and who say we are. And that is what I’m inviting here, to unconceal our biases and to be shocked by them. To look for them, to find them, and to take ownership of them. To take the hidden and make it exposed.

Because only by realizing we have bias can we alter and free ourselves from it.

Only by realizing we have been biased can we change our bias and choose whom we want to be, and create that which we want for ourselves, for the world, and for others.


*This is an awfully abstract way to write about this, because, of course, in the midst of it we don’t experience it as a view, or our personal reality. It IS reality, it IS the world, it IS what’s happening, it IS true. How we experience the world is REAL and IMMEDIATE. It’s not a concept, or a view, it just IS. Being able to pull back for a moment and get that our views are views is what lets us examine and, ultimately, interrupt our biases, writing in new ones. So, rather than having a bias that says “all X people are inferior”, we can write a bias that says “humanity and nature are beautiful and all are capable of greatness.” That’s a much more empowering bias to have.

Architecture Monday

Fuzhen Temple

I first visited the Fuzhen Temple in 2002, during my first kung fu trip to China. We arrived in Wudang off a long 20h train ride on a super local train, passing through coal producing regions (and carried a grey pallor from the dust), and a harrowing bus trip up mountainous roads in the pitch darkness at speeds that seemed inappropriate to my mind. We arrived, however, safe and sound, and went up to our hotel rooms, washed off, ate dinner, then hung out on the patio, surrounded by darkness and buildings of some sort. We went to bed.

We awoke in a postcard.

Turns out, we were staying at not just some hotel*, but the Fuzhen Temple, and building dating back to the 15th century. (!) A complex of buildings that hugged the mountainside, beautiful plastered stonework and wood, painted red, organically following the contours of the land, surrounded by nothing but picturesque mountains. It was something.

I got to wander around the complex many times over the few days we stayed – daylight hours or night**, the place seemed to always have something new to share, especially architecturally. What got me was the intricacy of the buildings; the layering that brought complexity and richness to a steadfast repeating architectural language; the proximity and integration of the natural landscape; a processional route that used curves in the pathway, doorways, or stairs to hide and then reveal elements, culminating in a ceremonial altar hall; and the agelessness of the place. It was wonderful, and informed my development of space, hierarchy, and circulation.

It also held a structural delight: a chamber aptly named “one column, thirteen beams” where, indeed, a single column near the corner of the structure holds thirteen beams that support floors, roof, and more, famous throughout the land.

There’s a joy in visiting and being exposed to new forms, new typologies, and something done well out of your familiar time and cultural language. Clichéd as it may sounds, it really does stretch your boundaries, for the experience of something new forever changes your experience of life, and the edges of what you are now able to envision, comprehend, and embody.

I’ll always have a special place for the Fuzhen Temple. I’ve returned twice – 2005 and 2012 – and it continues to be a wonderful space for me.

For more pictures, start at image 219 here  (shown below), and the following 16 pictures are all from the Fuzhen temple:

* – Double turns out the hotel was not exactly legally sanctioned. When we returned in 2005, the temple was, once again, just a temple.

** – Including one hilarious time when I was exploring at night, walking up the stairs in this beautiful, pristine, ancient land, and our tai chi master walks out of his room, flowing white robes, serenely, nods at me.. then whips out his cellphone and starts chattering away at a high rate. Shattered the tableau I’d been inhabiting!

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

The truth will set you free.

 But first it will really piss you off.

I remember hearing for the first time that addition to the saying of old, and laughing.   Laughing not only because it was unexpected but also because it was so spot on in so many instances. “NO! That’s not possible. That’s not who I’m being. That’s not how it works. It isn’t like that. You don’t understand. If you had my life/my experiences/my situation/the people in my life/my knowledge/etc then you’d see that what you’re saying can’t be so. You, sir, are full of it.” Turns out resistance is a natural/common reaction, and the closer it got to something to my core, the more the fighting back happened.

And those areas where I would fight tooth and nail over the most were the areas that brought me some of the greatest transformations in my life.

Within our brain, a threat to our identity (wrapped up as they are in our view of the world and in survival) is pretty much treated the same as a threat to our body. It’s why we sometimes get combative over even simple things. Whenever someone or something challenges that identity or view, we can get set off. There’s so much of “us” wrapped up and invested in it. It doesn’t matter if we like the position we find ourselves in, or if the outcome we keep having is one we don’t actually want. We know we can survive it. It’s part of who we are. Up go the gloves. “Back off!”

When we stay with it, however, and listen and try it on, there comes the opportunity to see something new – something potentially liberating for us and our lives. This goes beyond just listening to judge, compare, or dismiss, it is really taking it on and living inside of it, at least briefly. To see if there’s a new “truth” to discover within. We’re not stuck with anything; if we don’t see it, we can put it aside. When we do uncover a new truth, though, then we can hold onto it.

All that pissed off dissipates, almost instantly, comically.  The freedom is what remains.

Architecture Monday

There’s something ethereal about the St Bartholomäus Church in Cologne, Germany. It’s a straightforward box, but it’s been recently converted into a mausoleum slash sacred space in a way that shows how space can be manipulated without solid walls, or a cap on it, and the great role light and transparency can play in defining space. The tall space of solid brut concrete, with a cube of bronze mesh in the middle – a square within a square – play off each other splendidly. Interestingly, as burial within a church is forbidden except for a select few in the Catholic faith, the building is mostly de-sanctified with the exception of the space within bronze mesh where funeral services are held, providing a beautiful case where form follows function, and vice versa. The darkened urn shelves and the simple concrete and brick walls make the space quiet, and while much more luminous, the bronze mesh is equally quiet in feel, lending a contemplative air. It also allows the colourful stained glass windows read true and special, especially as their light is caught by or seen through the bronze mesh.

The whole affair is simple, but not simplistic, and still yields a rich spatial quality.