Three Hundy

Me @ 300lbs I’ve been overweight for a good portion of my life.

I was teased as a kid for being fat. High school I did play some sports, but I was still the heavy kid. I’d trim down over the summers as a camp counsellor, but gain a little more back every year. My weight kept creeping up every winter. University saw some highs and lows as far as weight, but I managed to keep my weight to a certain level thoughout those years, but again – it was always over where I wanted to be.

It wasn’t until I went travelling for a year after graduation that I actually got down close to my ideal weight. After six months of backpacking, I was leaner and stronger than I’d ever been. After six months of working construction abroad, I was actually pretty fit. A little soft around the edges still, but I could actually say that I had ‘guns’. Coming back to Canada after travelling saw me balloon up. And I’ve been yo-yoing constantly upwards since.

When I met Heather, the love of my life, I was at my heaviest. I had hit my ceiling. 305 lbs.

I had kept 300lbs in my head as my breaking point. That number symbolized something awful in my mind. That to me was the tipping point for a downward spiral into extreme morbid obesity. The kind of thing that landed you either on The Biggest Loser, or as a page 8 story about how emergency services had to remove a wall and use a crane to take you to the hospital.

For the last three years, both Heather and I have struggled with our weight. There have been brief attempts at eating healthier, changing our diet, and some failed attempts at getting an exercise routine going. But when my doctor started recommending cholesterol drugs and diagnosed me with hypertension, I think the seriousness of the situation finally hit home. It wasn’t enough to keep balancing on that precipice. The way we were living was going to kill me.

About six weeks ago, Heather and I came to a decision to re-commit to getting healthy. After doing some research and looking at what we wanted to change, we decided on a course of action.

We first decided to adopt the Paleo Diet – something that Heather and I have both glommed on to as ‘making sense.’ I’ve done the Atkins Diet, I’ve done the ‘South Beach Diet’ – but this made sense to us in an actually ‘changing the way we eat’. It’s not about altering recipies, or just introducing a few different foods and dropping some unhealthy options for a few months – the Paleo diet is meant to replace the way we think about and use food.

The next step was to get active. After tossing around the ideas of Kickboxing, Dance lessons, and bootcamps (which we’ve previously done and did not enjoy), We found out about CrossFit and decided to join that and The Running Room’s Learn to Run Clinic. For three months, it’ll be six days a week of physical activities every evening.

There is a question that has come up multiple times that I wanted to really put forth my honest answers about. Our trainers, friends interested in the journey, they’ve all keyed in on this one question.

“What are your goals?”

My inevitable response is “Weight Loss” – and that pretty much encompasses my reasons for wanting to lose weight. But it’s not the reason. It’s just the most polite heading I can put my multitude of desires of this process – shallow or otherwise – under.

  • I’d like to my clothes to look as good as they do on the mannequin. Clothes shopping can be one of the most frustrating experiences when you see something you like, try it on, and it looks like an over inflated water balloon.
  • I’d like to run with my brothers in an adventure race. Both of my younger brothers are fit as a fiddle, and I’m jealous of the things that they can tackle physically that have become nearly impossible for me to do.
  • I want to be able to wear belt buckles. Frankly, I’d just like to have my belt matter. At this point in time, it just holds up my pants – and being that my waist is bigger than my hips, it doesn’t even do that well.
  • I want to look good naked. Who doesn’t?
  • I want to be strong enough to pull off this move. Make fun of me if you like, but there’s more to it than just re-enacting Dirty Dancing scene by scene. Not that a Dirty Dancing re-enactment is what I’m going for – but you know, if it comes up, I’d like to be able to rock it like a champ.
  • I want to stop snoring.
  • I’d like to spend less time on ‘sweat management’.
  • I want my girlfriend to ogle me the way I ogle her.
  • I really want to be able to buy clothing off of the internet. Its incredibly frustrating to find an awesome t-shirt, and know that either it won’t fit and will be ridiculously sad because it promises awesome that the wearer can’t deliver.
  • When I get in an argument with someone on the street, I want them to default to calling me an ‘asshole’ instead of ‘fat ass’. My weight bears no relevance to me condescendingly calling out others shortcomings or misbehaviors. It’s a low hanging fruit that I want to yank away from future antagonists.

I just don’t want to be fat anymore. The photo at the top has been run through some instagram-like filters, but that’s me, at 295lbs, at the start of our CrossFit program. I’m embarrassed. But, I think I need to face that image and keep it in mind to motivate me to make the changes in my life that are going to make me healthy and happy. So there it is.

Criticism of the Critics of #KONY2012

I’m going to start off with: I think this is an amazing idea.

Not because I particularly care about Joseph Kony. He’s a Warlord with a horrifying track record of abuse and the deplorable tactics of using children as sex slaves and soldier under a pseudo-religious guise known as the Lords Revolutionary Army. I feel my sense of injustice with a bit of detachment afforded to me by my distance from his activities. I’m in Canada – he’s somewhere in Central Africa. His crimes go as far back as two decades. It’s sort of a lot to feel riled up about, and at the same time a little detached.

What has me excited is the viral response. In a matter of days, this thing has come to the forefront of everyones mind. This is the kind of protesting we need to see in the modern world. If KONY2012 works, then perhaps we can start changing other things in this world – bigger issues like oil consumption, global warming, and political accountability. We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and finally the promise of the potential of social media is on a cusp.

But with every supportive post, comes a link to some poorly thought out criticisms of this movement. All of them are prefaced with “Kony is a bad dude, but…”

Invisible Children’s Response is here. It’s far more polite than I am.

I’d like to respond to each and every one of those criticisms, but it’s tiresome, so I’m going to do my best to collect up the main buckets here and respond. I’m not well informed about the situation on the ground in Uganda. I’ve never been there. I don’t know anyone from Uganda – so feel free to stop reading here and dismiss my comments about the critics if you wish. My issue is with several logical fallacies that have been put forth as ‘criticism’ of this movement.

Criticism Buckets:

Financials

One of the first arguments that seemed spark scrutiny of Invisible Children was the accounting skills of a second year political science student, Grant Oyston of Acadia University in Nova Scotia. I take particular exception to his site, which you can read towards the bottom.

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee. But it goes way deeper than that.

Visible Children

Putting aside from Gary’s inflammatory tone (‘[…]condemned time and again[…]’), his accounting perspective and math is essentially wrong. While he’s right that ‘only’ a third of the money that IC has spent has gone to on-the-ground direct action (Education Programs, the Early Warning System, Vocational Training, Literacy Training, and mental health support for LRA victims), he discounts the other two thirds that is spent on awarness (film making, distribution, transport for film, merchandise, etc) and advocacy (Lobbying, travel for lobbying, lectures, etc), despite the fact that those things are a part of IC’s program mandate. Dismissing these things doesn’t make them extraneous spending. That’s the fallacy with this argument. When you include all of those functions and their spending as charitable actions, as it is IC’s approach, then the numbers change drastically. Now over 80% of their money is going directly to their mandate of stopping Joseph Kony and the LRA.

Let’s put this argument in another context: “Coca-Cola has a budget of [X] amount of dollars. But they only spend [Y] amount of dollars on actually making Coca-Cola! The other [Z] amount is spent on advertising and packaging! Egads!”

This argument is null and void simply because the understanding of where the money is going is flat out wrong.

Charity Navigator says they’re shady!

Another one of the focuses of the criticisms is based on Charity Navigators rating of them – citing that they only have two stars out of four, and that they lacked an independent third party audit of their finances.

That’s not the full story. Charity Navigator has them at 3 out of four stars, not two as is being reported in the blogosphere. Their financials have been reviewed by an outside auditor according to IC, though Charity Navigator hasn’t been able to verify that yet. Does it mean it’s not true? No.

Charity Navigator is a decent tool for getting a financial picture of reporting charities, but that’s not going to tell you the full story. Basing an argument about the transparency of a site that doesn’t have a sound reputation themselves. On top of that, who is to say whether or not Charity Navigator had bothered to investigate that verification over the last few years, considering the sheer number of charities they are tracking?

Things that Charity Navigator can’t tell you: Effectiveness of the programs in place, efficiencies in overhead, or really anything about the charity other than how much cash it has on hand from year to year. It’s not an in-depth assessment.

The only ‘black mark’ that I can really see according to this is they’re missing one voting member of the board, a problem IC reports they are in the process of rectifying themselves. I don’t know enough about charities to know why that’s important, but being that their Programs gets the full four stars, it seems like a relatively unimportant factor.

Underpants Gnome Planning!

I’ve seen a few posts where Invisible Children is being criticized for not having a plan laid out on how precisely they intend to capture Joseph Kony and his commanders. IC never claimed to be in the business of military strategy.

The co-founders of IC have stated explicitly that their mandate is one to use advocacy and awareness to bring a peaceful resolution to the activities of the LRA. The video itself states the broad strokes of the plan:

  • Use Advocacy and Awareness to pressure the US government to send technology and training support to the UPDF
  • Given the tactics, training and tech from more sophisticated counter-terrorism experts from the US, then the UPDF can hopefully actually find Kony.
  • Arrest Kony.

I’m not sure what exactly the bloggers that use this as a criticism are hoping to hear. Are they hoping that IC is going to reveal US counter-terrorism tactics? Are these bloggers particularly well versed in counter-guerrilla tactics and war criminal arrest strategies?

Look, you’re not going to get a guy who has been using children as sex slaves and soldiers to stop with some immaculate handwriting, three dollar words and a lobster dinner. And by the same token, the only people who need to know the details of the military intervention plans are the UPDF and the US soldiers on the ground.

This as a counterpoint to IC’s message is incredibly naïve.

The UPDF does terrible things too

This to me, is part of another rebuttal involving the complexity of issues that affect African nations. But several articles have nonchalantly compared the depravity of the LRA’s modus operandi with the actions of small contingents and individuals within the Ugandan Army, so I’m pulling this out out to address specifically.

This is an incomplete comparison. Joseph Kony and his officers operate in a manner that subjugates, abducts and abuses people into his service. Independent sources corroborate this.

The Ugandan Army is part of the recognized government, and the allegations at the point are anecdotal and sporadic reports that combine a mishmash of events into a narrative that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is true throughout the whole of the UPDF. I’m well aware that the majority of these accusations are probably true – but what we’re talking about here is pockets of corruption, not the entire mandate of the military.

This is also in an area of the world where equality and individual rights and civil behaviors aren’t on par with our own ideals. But I think to judge the entire Ugandan army by a fractional abuse record and attempt to compare it to an organization that’s foundation is human rights abuses is a bit of a stretch.

Judging the entire force by the actions of some of its is a sweeping logical fallacy.

Let’s not kid ourselves – the situation over there isn’t perfect, I’m not sure what this criticism is hoping for in place of that. Rainbows and Singalongs? Are you hoping for US to just send it’s troops in and sort it out for everyone?

Because you know, American soldiers kick Puppies. All of them. All the time. It’s part of their training. I heard. From somewhere. Also, that worked out really well for Iraq.

See below about addressing issue complexities below.

The LRA hasn’t been active in Uganda since 2006/Their activities are winding down

Some of the articles that have come from better informed critics who have been to Uganda (I haven’t) talk about how in Uganda, they are enjoying their longest period of peace. Or that Joseph Kony left Uganda six years ago. This need to ‘fact correct’ seems to be stemming from the confusion that Invisible Children didn’t tell us that already, and confusing the need to use the UPDF to capture Kony and Uganda rehabilitation efforts.

While Joseph Kony isn’t active in Uganda, he’s still active. He’s been active for two decades, and while it’s unfortunate that Facebook wasn’t around or as prolific as Kony was in 1999 – 2004 when he was at the height of his violent career in Uganda, this movement is here now. It might be too late to stop the violence for Uganda then, but we can help the Sudan, CAR and the Congo now. That’s the point. This isn’t about Uganda or recovery. It’s about stopping a still active warlord.

IC didn’t say he was still there:

“As the LRA began to move into other countries, Jacob [one of the children filmed in Northern Uganda in 2003] and other Ugandans came to the US to speak on behalf of all people suffering because of Kony. Even though Uganda was relatively safe they felt compelled to tell the world that Kony was still out there and had to be stopped.”

But there were already two attempts, and they failed.

This is the argument that usually forces me to dismiss the authors critical views of KONY2012 out of hand. Why? Because if there’s something important to accomplish, like stopping Warlords, then you don’t just give up. What kind of attitude is that?

Firstly – No Western force was involved in ‘Iron Fist‘.

Secondly – Operation Lightning Thunder had some planning help and a few satellite phones from AFRICOM, and involved a haphazard co-ordinated effort between nations that ended abruptly.

I can’t really speak to why previous efforts have failed, but frankly, if that’s your reason for not wanting this man to face trial – “It’s tooooo Haaard!” – well, I bet your Momma is real proud. That’s a real go getter attitude.

Theatrics/Message Simplification

This is the core of most of the criticisms of IC’s KONY2012 video and campaign. And probably the weakest argument to foundation dismissal of this growing movement.

saccharine, MTV-esque 30 minute-long video replete with fist-pumping and peace signs is manipulative, ill-informed and overly simplistic.

Marc Ellison

I can’t bring myself to watch the video. I found all of their previous efforts to be emotionally manipulative, and all the things I try as a journalist not to be. After the peace talks in 2008, they put out another video, and I saw the footage used in these videos blending archival footage with LRA and SPLA and videos of them goofing off. It was the most irresponsible act of image-making that I’d seen in a long time. They conflated the SPLA with the LRA. The SPLA is a government army, holding weapons given by the government, and yet they did not create any division between them and LRA. That’s terrible.

– Glenna Gordon

“Invisible Children asked viewers to seek the engagement of American policymakers and celebrities, but – and this is a major red flag – it didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora. It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration.”

– Musa Okwonga

The problem I have with this argument is that it lumps a whole lot of responsibility on 30 minutes of film on this one group. The questions about them weren’t raised until they got attention, and now the complaints start. ‘Not enough background’! ‘What about X and Y!’ – these things are irrelevant to this one thing. Why not ask them to fight cancer too? Or perhaps they should take up the plight of the panda? That’s not their mandate. That’s not the promise that started IC – the promise to Jacob to bring a halt to the LRA eight years ago.

As the video states: ‘We had to start somewhere.’

This is not about Uganda. They are not journalists. This is not about building schools, or ending corruption of the current Ugandan government. It’s not about the 2008 financial meltdown either. It’s not about animal abuse.

It’s about stopping a terrorist organization, and bringing it to justice.

That the message wasn’t chalk full of tourism facts about Uganda, or isn’t somber and rife with Ugandans talking with hard to read subtitles isn’t a failure to recognize issues. It is proving a success in pandering to the current social media generation of the west. The point of this film isn’t to wholly educate everyone. It’s to get them riled up. It’s to get them involved. Getting mad that it’s not a dry attempt to get people to feel responsible in lending help to the less fortunate with a measured scholastic approach, or a christian pity party about feeding the starving kids is really a side point about branding and marketing tactics.

Perhaps the production value is a little too good. Perhaps the story is a little glossed over. But commenting on the slickness on the video is an even shallower counter-point to IC production value. It’s akin to dismissing someone because they dress like a hipster.

I’ve read more about Uganda in the past 24 hours than I have in the whole of my life previous to seeing this video. So.. everyone is getting what they wanted. This video is hopefully going to not only bring the end of the LRA through international co-operation and support, but it’s going to put the whole of Uganda and it’s neighbours under the world scrutiny. Use that attention. Warchild is.

Holding the KONY2012 campaign responsible for educating the masses about the whole history of the conflict and the current state of these countries now is losing sight of what’s got people riled up. That information is available on the web. They have a page on their website about the history of the conflict. But that’s not what they’re asking of everyone for this singular, laser focused tactic. They’re asking for justice, with a defineable goal.

Why not ask the Heart and Stroke foundation why it’s not doing more to prevent people from eating at McDonalds? It’s a misdirection tactic to dismiss the cry for justice because it ignores the multitude of other issues affecting the region.

What is killing Joesph Kony really going to accomplish?

The ‘What next’ argument is absurd.

The theory, from what I can gather from the various materials I’ve read is several fold.

  • By removing the threat of Joseph Kony and his top commanders, the hope is that the LRA will dismantle itself – cut the head off the snake, and it dies. By removing this threat that answers to no one but himself, perhaps the level of violence and fear in these regions can be reduced drastically. By removing the overall threat of violence and ending a 20+ year conflict, perhaps government focus can turn on putting their money into more development and education.
  • Reading a bit between the lines, I’m seeing some faint hope that if the military powers of these regions combined can work in concert, hopefully there will be more peaceful interactions by these nations to help raise the level of safety and education in the regions.
  • If the UPDF and co-operating forces can finish dealing with Kony, then they can then turn their attentions to other matters like Somalia.
  • With the scrutiny on Africa, there is also the longview hope that governments in these war torn regions will run out of excuses for the massive amounts of corruption in their regimes. If IC can put international pressure on the region to remove this one criminal, than perhaps they can keep that pressure up in other areas that need attention. You know that the UPDF is on the ICC’s list too, right?

And the bottom line of it is: It will bring a Warlord to justice. It will send a message that the world is not going to sit idly by any longer and allow men of violence to rule and ruin the lives of people who just want to go to school and make a living.

It might make things worse.

Jack McDonald’s slippery slope speculation about the unintended consequences of dropping next level military tech into the hands of people who may not be equipped with the same moral compass we’ve come to have while developing said next level tech warrants a second look.

As well, a few articles have pointed out that each time a military action has been committed against him, he’s responded with more violence and activity. That’s a legitimate concern. People might die in a conflict where people are already dying. This might seem callous, but I’m trying to be realistic here. You’re trying to stop a warlord that uses child soldiers. You’re going to get mud on you.

But the alternative is to do nothing. Uganda might be at peace right now, but there are three other countries that are now ‘benefitting’ of the LRA’s presence now that they’ve been chased out of Uganda.

This guy, making an argument about acting on global warming, pretty much makes the argument I would make. Do nothing, or Do something. Which will have the higher cost?

White Man’s Burdern

The argument of neo-colonialism and ‘White Man’s Burden’ is, in essence a rationalization for ineffective actions. There have been NGO’s on the ground for decades in Africa – so I fail to see how their efforts to bring clean drinking water are any different than this, when it comes to this argument. ANY intervention by outside nations could be chalked up to this – so again, you’re left with a sour grapes style counter-point.

Visible Children

I take the Visible Children blog out as a particular example, mainly because of it’s disingenuousness. And the fact that world wides news sites and blogs feel this is a credible source.

Grant Oyston is a second year political science student at Acadian University in Nova Scotia. Despite the fact that grievous errors with his understanding of the finances, the situation or the organization have all been pointed out, he still maintains his positions of criticism. He turned on his “the audience for this post was originally a group of approximately 30 friends whom it was emailed to originally” to “This is precisely the sort of information I was hoping they would be more up-front with” in a matter of hours.

Basically this kid is still grasping the subtleties of talking out of both sides of your mouth, and backpedaling without apologizing. Pretty much the defining characteristic that I deplore in Political Science scholars and politicians alike. He has little understanding of the situation, and while I applaud his skepticism, I find his ability to research and analyze data lacking in competence or wisdom.

Conclusions:

Stop trying to come up with excuses not to save the world. Start saving it.

Regardless of whether or not Joseph Kony deserves this kind of attention at this given moment in time, or if KONY2012 wasn’t 100% accurate on subjective perspective propoganda, that’s not the real thing to be cognizant of here. What’s important is the globalization of social consciousness. This video has touched off the hearts and minds of people everywhere, and as long as the mission is accomplished, I think that will help put the power back in the hands of the people. I’m not critical of the criticisms for being critical – I’m critical of them for mistaking actual criticisms with sour grapes opinions and their lack of context or misdirection and subversion. I totally encourage a global discussion, but the ‘critical’ rhetoric adds up to nothing more than an excuse not to join the global community in changing the way we think about the global community.

Those that are looking to these articles and using out of context quotes as support for criticism for an altruistic charity that is attempting to start somewhere in changing the discussion in the war torn regions of Africa aren’t proffering alternative solutions.

SOPA/PIPA were stopped. Wikileaks happened. We helped identify hundreds of rioters in Vancouver. We can help bring War criminals to justice. We can make this a better world to live in. Start somewhere.

(╯°□°)╯ ︵ ┻━┻

Dungeons and Dragons

Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks.

On January 9th, Wizards of the Coast announced the development of D&D 5th Edition. I find this a little alarming, considering that 4th edition was released less that 4 years ago, which to my understanding, makes it the shortest edition cycle to date – that is unless they are intending a 5+ year development cycle, which would put me more at ease if thats the case.

Being that I am like most of the nerds out there, and have developed a host of opinions that nobody will really listen to, I want to write down my thoughts and put them out there – seed them, if you will – in the hopes that my overall ideation on organization might penetrate into the depths of R&D over at Wizards. I’ll respond to what comments may come, but I’m not expecting many in my lonely little corner of the internet. I don’t have class or rule specific complaints or praise – I think the minutia of the game, where problematic, is symptomatic of root problems in marketing, organization, and framework as opposed to a specific difficulty with a feat or ability.

For what it’s worth, here it is:

Openly Embrace Crowdsource and OGL

Jan21 I applaud the effort of posting a media release about ‘getting player feedback’ and creating a forum for it. However, it’s essentially an effort to mire yourself in home-brew errata and a litany of mechanical issues for the next decade. Feedback is one thing – productive involvement is entirely another.

The idea behind Open Source isn’t using an existing community fan-base as free Quality Assurance – if anything, that’s a corporately dickish move, and it will go badly for Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast if that’s the case. Open Source is about taking the work, and putting it out there in a manner in which invested users, developers, players can pick it up, use it, play with it, and figure out how it could be implemented. In the crowdsourced world, a huge measure of control needs to be released.

The Open Gaming License was TSR’s version of Open Source is what brought D&D back to the table (pun intended) after floundering with 2nd Edition with a minor market share (the largest, but less than majority). OGL, and Open Source feedback systems is what Pazio is using to bring Pathfinder to the forefront as an aggressive competitor. So how can a company with the clout of Hasbro behind it utilize the Open Source Movement properly?

  • Build a tool plugin repository
    Automattic’s WordPress Plugin Repository is the best example I can think of. WordPress is a stellar CMS, and though far from being bare bones, it has a modular approach that allows for any interested third party to come up with free or paid (not endorsed) plugins to enhance or extend the capabilities of the WordPress framework. There are guidelines and rules on how to build, but beyond that, it’s an open playing field. By giving the D&D fan-base a place to tinker and play, Wizards only runs the risk of ending up with better and more diverse tools than they already have. It’s one of the best ways to get the open source idea to involve the community to help build their offerings for free, and keep them invested. As an example, there used to be places where one could compile a 3.5 spellbook based on character options. They only have take down notices from Wizards up there, and have politely complied. There is zero benefit to D&D by doing this.
  • Make the framework transparent
    Microsoft, much to everyone’s surprise, allowed everyone to access the guts of the Kinect. In that move, they created industries of people that were suddenly coming up with new ways to use the tools, fantastic ways to enhance performance. That level of involvement and interaction created huge opportunities for Microsoft, and did little to damage bottom lines. In fact, Sales of this device have gone beyond expectations. While no one is going to build functioning artificial intelligence off of the framework of D&D, opening up data in a standardized format might encourage some creativity that we can’t see right now. There’s a wealth of potential in what invested players with technical skills or other companies with creative skews might come up with in their own basement.
  • When in doubt, Reward
    Too many times I’ve followed a link from a D&D forum to some tool that would have made my life easier (i.e. an online spellbook generator) and found some kind of take down notice that cites a request from Wizards of the Coast, and compliance from a well-meaning fan. All of these individuals never intended to make a dime off of their little pet projects. Their interest was purely altruistic in the hope of augmenting their own gaming experience and then wanting to share it. Punishing these players is the absolute worst move in the world. It plays back to the two earlier points – Encourage initiative by giving fans a Developers Toolkit and letting them play like legomaniacs.
  • Let them generate your content
    When I want information about a specific game setting, I don’t go to the Wizards site. Why? Some of the most detailed sites are the independent fan-run Wiki’s out there. If the wiki software was on the D&D site, and Wizards encouraged the progenitors of those independent sites to become official world-wiki curators, there would be an astonishing amount of informative content that could explain what the heck is going on. I’m still in Eberron – what is the Scar thing?

The bottom line is, the D&D community is a resourceful and dedicated group. The amount of errata and home brew floating around out there is staggering evidence of the sheer ingenuity of players worldwide, and that should be encouraged.

Stop calling it a Core, Reinvent the Framework

Dungeons & Dragons Every time a new edition has come out, it has divided the community. I wasn’t into D&D when 3.5 arrived, and I actually played 4th first. I like both editions, but they each have their own merits. The difficulty here is, that 4th was built in a way that makes it easier to play for a younger and newer audience, and almost spits on the veteren players of the older editions. The play style is very different – and having played both, I can tell that one is geared for a video game generation. I think that was a smart move – in so far as attracting new players. But the failure, I feel is in the proverbial ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’.

Mechanical issues with gameplay are always going to arise – there are literally millions of ways to combine feats, weapons, race and class characteristics to help power up a character in one way or another. There are always players who will play to min/max (for those not versed in RPG play, that’s minimizing weaknesses and maximizing strengths), metagame, or seek out other avenues to ‘break the game’. In a sandbox environment, that’s a risk you run. And it’s not to say that makes the game glitchy. And frankly, I have yet to come across a so-called ‘game breaker’ that can just be chalked to a creative player out maneuvering a Dungeon Master. Conversely, you have a ton of people that will play to the flavour of the game, and even then may discover a perceived flaw in the game – which of course is a matter of perception of the flaw. Something that may seem limiting or too powerful in some circumstance is only as useable as the person running the game allows it to be.

D&D is largely a data game. It’s numbers. X vs Y. A vs B. STR vs AC, INT vs REF, etc etc. I feel like there’s a smarter approach to the foundation of the game that can inform multiple aspects of the game without creating huge mechanical issues. Google has an ever evolving search algorithm – a secret bit of code that they are able to refine from time to time that is the basic structure for every search.

I think if Dungeons & Dragons took the same approach with their game framework, you can create a fantastic Open Source foundation that could possibly do a series of things:

  • Create tiered play styles
    As I’ve said before, the abandonment of 3.5 play was a bit of a spit in the face of vetern players. I can tell you from my play experience, 3.5 style play is a fantastic version of the game that I feel has a ton of room for creativity in role play.

    D&D 4th is ‘Basic D&D’ – or cynically, ‘Beginners D&D’. The play style is easier, simpler and genrally faster than that of 3.5. In the 2nd Edition era, the dropping of regular D&D and maintaining an ‘Advanced D&D’ became a semantical problem that became a huge barrier for beginner players. The idea that there was an easier version out there to start with led a lot of people away from D&D.

    I’d bring that back, and using an algorithm in the basics foundations, show how to calculate race/class stats between ‘Basic’ (4th) and ‘Advanced’ (3.5). Because if you can establish that in a set of core game books, you can essentially create two levels of play in one stroke.

  • Calculate Balance instead of Min/Max
    This is where the idea of the framework algorithm goes a little further. What impressed me about D&D is the effort putting into placing value and worth over race abilities and using that to guess at the characters balance. I think there’s opportunity in there to study the mechanical structure of character building and build a law of averages into the character building system to even out how the players fill their roles in a party. In attempting to find a way to ensure players are balanced by calculating positive effects vs consequences, there’s the possibility that you can create a framework for spells, feats and bonuses that might make the ability to create a game with less perceived ‘game breaking’ possible. I’m no mathematician, but I’m betting there’s a way to structure the bonus system to ensure that the overall power variance of individual characters is all within a marginal difference of the party average.
  • Generate More Content, not Errata
    I think the problem recognition that led to the creation of D&D Encounters was sound thinking and observation, but the solution itself leaves much to be desired in my mind. The idea that older players had less time to devote to play shouldn’t have meant that there was an entirely different version of the game created – it just means that adventure arcs needed to be broken down into smaller chunks. I know a few vetern players that were interested in the idea of Encounters – the ability to play a few encounters on a weekly basis without a huge commitment of time every time you go to play. But that shouldn’t have excluded people who wanted to continue to play 3.5, and people who wanted to play 4th.

Generate Content Systematically

Character Generation One of the greatest features of Dungeons and Dragons, and at the same time it’s most overwhelming feature is for the vast amount of Playable content is generated for the template of the game. Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, Ravenloft etc, etc. For a new player, or one who is used to playing in a particular realm, moving into new content can be intimidating. Especially given how difficult it can be to find definitive information about a particular campaign setting. The main website seems to almost dismiss other campaign settings as soon as they’ve begun focusing on a new setting.

This is where all of the previous suggestions start to come together. If you’ve built a framework, with an algorithmic guideline for structuring races, classes, feats, bonuses and spells, created an area where users can provide open sourced tools for the community to use at large, then all you have left is content. And now that content has a template structure that could be manipulated and built upon in a variety of ways.

Combine that need for content with wiki and content areas specific for each campaign setting available, and you can essentially create an engine that could churn out new campaign settings on a near annual basis, while simultaneously supporting and creating new content for existing campaign settings ad infinitum.

Does that make sense? No?

One other feature of the Open Source ideas that I haven’t touched on yet is the idea of ‘DLC’ content, or the E-books model of Amazon.com. The idea of ‘if you build it, they will come’ exists in full force in the idea of self-publishing. There’s complete opportunity for D&D to constantly be generating new adventures and campaigns for older settings by simply providing a licensing and editorial curating services.

There are probably more than a few enthused fans out there capable of generating fascinating campaign material for existing settings, and would do so for little more than the approval and a few royalty bucks off of purchase and download. No need to print adventure guides – pdfs or application specific documentation that is capable of being downloaded on the fly at a fractional cost would mean millions more in revenue, less risk in stock, and might reveal a few geniuses that just needed the right venue in which to build their little adventures or test out their ideas.

Without having to put a ton of R&D effort into designing a few polished campaign paths (which I would encourage the continued practice of), D&D could literally sit back and enjoy while their fans generated extra content for them, while D&D focuses on creating exciting new campaign settings and temptable support material.

All in all, I love the D&D experience. I play regularly with a set of veterns of 3.5, and enjoy the variety of homebrew content that we play on that system immensely. I’m also in the midst of trying to maintain a game of 4th edition players, and as a new DM, I find the structure of 4th edition way less intimidating to attempt to run. I think they key to finding success in any edition, in any campaign setting is keeping in mind it’s a game, and the point of the game is to have fun with people you enjoy spending time with.

Keep Calm & Carry On

In the beginning of January, news slipped out into the netting of the world wide web concerning a new trademark filing on behalf of DC Comics and DC Entertainment.

And the fans responded – cheering could be heard in the streets, supportive comments about the evolution of brand and informed opinions about contextual design abounded. People who had been reading comics for years agreed to renew old subscriptions and purchase everything that DC had to offer. It was handshakes and back slaps all around.

Just kidding. The initial reaction was much the same as any nerd-centric announced change to the status quo; like Facebook introducing Timeline or changing how pages work, the casting change of Dr. Who, or perhaps, god forbid, a new Star Trek movie – a viscous and vehement outcry akin to having ones eyes burned out with hot pokers.

Brands, however, cannot remain to stagnate forever. Every brand goes through changes over the course of it’s life – sometimes it’s to update with the times, sometimes it subtle changes to improve visual iconography, and sometimes it’s because of a shift in business. Some are disastrous fails, like the Gap’s venture last year into uninspiring Powerpoint-referencing blandness.

I’ll forgive the fans for some of their criticisms of the visuals of this logo, and hope they were made when they only saw the template, because that’s all it was – a template. The basics. The foundation of something much larger. I’m not the only one that recognized there’s a lot more to this branding excercise.

“It doesn’t say superhero!” you might’ve been the one to whine, clutching your flash t-shirt as though your heart were ripping out of your chest.

Guess what? DC comics publishes more than just superhero comics. A lot more. By and large the core of their business is built around the characters in the Justice League, but even I know (and my nerd cred is far from fanaticsim) that DC houses a lot more than just a bunch of self-righteous sociopaths in tights. And it needs to, if they’re going to survive another 75 years.

However, for such a dramatic shift in branding, DC’s logo promises quite a bit. If one waits for the depth and breadth of this rebrand to sink in. The interesting thing about trademark filings is that it’s usually a barebones template – usually black & white, colors only if you’re going to narrow your brand down to a few pantones. Generally shape and layout are what matters here. What we have here is a logo loaded with potential. It doesn’t look that way at first, but wait for it.

For starters, it’s clever. That clever touch is what a majority of logotype designers strive for in their work – incorporating iconography and verbiage in a way that conveys a memorable pictogram that represents not just the company name, but what it’s about, or what it means, or where it comes from. There are layers (pun that I will dickishly explain in the next paragraph, intended) of meaning and symbolism built into this template – intentionally or not, there’s an incredible amount of depth to this logo.

Firstly, DC’s explanation of the D peeling back over the C “symbolizing the duality of the iconic characters that are present within DC Entertainment’s portfolio” (link), is a perfectly adequate explanation of the symbolism. I don’t really need to say much more about that, unless you’ve forgotten that under Batman’s serious crime fighting visage is the playboy billionaire Bruce Wayne. That Duality.

Secondly, Let’s not forget that ‘DC’ also stands for ‘Detective Comics’, a moniker they don’t really use anymore, but it’s what it stands for. That was actually my initial interpretation – a throwback reference to the idea of detectives ‘peeling back the layers to discover the truth’. Which in itself is a tip of the hat to the 75 years of publishing history under the moniker of ‘DC’. It’s a departure from where the brand has been evolving from for three quarters of a century, and that progression is pretty clearly readable when you look at the summation of it.

And in paying that homage, we hit the third bit of symbolism I pulled out of it – as DC is shedding its past anchored solely in superhero iconography and is moving into new realms based on the creations of it’s book publishing business, there’s a nice little nod to the ‘page-turning’ of comics, and of their companies next chapter as they begin to manoever into the digital age. The internet has changed how the game is played not only in comics publishing, but music, film, television, books and news (along with everything else). To me, this brand says they are stepping forward into a new realm as they are expanding their brand to incorporate more media outlets.

“It’s boring!” You growl, indignant at my refusal to endorse your opinion on this matter. “I liked the ‘Spin’ logo better! It’s eye catching!”

First of all – you didn’t like ‘Spin’ logo. People had this exact same reaction in 2005 when Brainchild released the Josh Beatman’s ‘Spin’ logo, the modernization and dimensioning of the 1976 ‘Bullet’ designed by Milton Glaser. And although you may have come to embrace the spin as the newest icon, let’s not retcon the fact that everyone got up in arms over what was tantamount to cleaning up just another chest emblem. ‘Spin’ was a modernization of ‘Bullet’. Bullet was a development over 40 years that is a clear evolution as branding began to matter more and more. Slap them on to the torso of a masked crime-fighter, and you’re done. ‘Bullet’ was a classic look that lasted nearly 30 years, and that’s an admirable run but a-typical for the life of a logotype. The ‘Spin’ was a needed change.

Clearly, there’s nothing wrong with the ‘Spin’ logo. Although in comparison to ‘Peel’, it feels rather uninspired. If the rumors are true about some legal foul-ups on behalf of DC Entertainment and a GFY move from DC shoes, then they had to get rid of it. In a business that’s changing as dramatically as print publishing and digital media consumption are, paying someone else annually for the ability to continue using your because of a legal snafu is as dumb as using glasses and a stutter to cover for the fact you are the most powerful being on the planet. And if it continued because the fandom was so attached to that logo, it could’ve meant the end of certain titles, or that great works might never see the light of day because of funding issues.

Perhaps the template logo doesn’t scream ‘SUPERHEROES’ anymore. It shouldn’t. You’ve got a litany of other logos that carry that burdern – Superman’s “S”, Green Lantern’s lantern, Batman’s stylized bat silhouette.

The new logo so much more than that. It’s subtler, smarter. And before you start shaking your head look up the definition of dynamic and then look at all of the suggested usages that Landor Associates came up with to exemplify the power and versatility of this logo. And that’s where I’d like to point out that not only are versions of this logo more eye catching, they’re on fire.

 

Which is the point where we really see this logo shine.

Seeing the variety of ways they were intending to customize and blend the logo with their array of titles that I realized that there was finally another major brand out there that was going to fully embrace the flexibility and variety that our digital age offers. So far, I can only think of Google whom has capitalized on the instant and variable opportunities of the digital age with their ‘Doodles’.

One of the myths around branding is the idea of ‘locking down’ a logotype with brand colors, contexts, proper spacing around the logo – having guidelines a mile long that basically give you three or four different ways to use the logo. Personally and professionally, I think that if a logo can’t be recognized when it’s been blended into new areas and unforseen contexts, then that is a design fail. Google has displayed their name as an interactive guitar, paintings, muppets and so much more – and you’d never be confused about being on the Google page – that’s strength in branding. Branding isn’t a locked down design in a vacuum. It requires support, integration and flexibility.

“But they have some of the best artists in the world working over there – they can’t possibly be happy about this! …Because I’m not!” You rally for one final rebuke.

In the same vein, DC has given their designers a template that they can adapt with few restrictions to the comic they are publishing, the movie they are making or the apps they are developing. Here we’ve seen at least four different types of adaptation with the C taking on characteristics that are relatable to characters, the peel taking on colors that relate to character branding, the peel being used as consistent brand placement tool, and using the C as clipping mask for other imagery.

Not only have they shown examples of it’s ability to cross media borders, but character and story borders – and that’s where this logo really shines. Not only are they able to merge more iconography for characters, novels or story themes in there (as seen in the examples) – but everything remains identifiable as relating to the company and the character, and nothing is sacrificed.

Think about it – before, the artists couldn’t touch the logo. They were stuck with trying to fit that blue swoosh and wonky star in, no matter the kind of publication the were working on, or whatever the cover art might be. It might work, it might not. But now, with this peel, there’s opportunity. To blend it in. To fit it in – to play with it. If anything, this logotype actually answers the criticism of involving the talent in the branding. I bet there are not a few current DC artists that are looking forward to sinking their teeth into doing a ‘version’ of the logo for their comic.

From a design perspective, this logo is brilliantly constructed. It’s striking enough to stand on it’s own two feet. It’s cleanly built. It has defined lines and has clever design elements. Most importantly, its forward thinking, flexible and open, a perfect example of an umbrella brand that houses so many other brands.

My only criticism of it is the use of the new ‘Helvetica’ – Hoefler & Frere-Jones’s Gotham. It’s not that it’s a bad font. It’s a great font. It’s just the seventh or eighth company I’m aware of that’s adopted it into it’s brand standards. But even I’m willing to dismiss my own criticism in the face of what I deem to be a cutting edge rebranding of a very old brand.