16.4.14

Welcome to wherever you are.



The Halifax Regional Municipality rolled out its new branding today: they want to be bold, they want to just be known as "Halifax", and they've got a new logo for the city. The full explanation is at halifaxdefined.ca, but here's the important part.

This is the old logo:


And here's the new one:



Personally, I like it. It's simpler, it's bolder, and it's really, really new. I've seen a lot of welcome signs on a lot of cities, and many are charming, and some are clever, and a few are even modern and dynamic... but "simple and bold" is a bit of a rarity.

Let's go on a tour, shall we?

It's a V, it's pretty, and it's water-related. It certainly covers the main points - and as a bonus, the blue and white stripes echo the provincial flag, as is fitting for a capital.


Flowers! And also, this is the colour scheme of the 2010 Olympics - surely not a coincidence.

I never would have expected Calgary to have the classiest traditional logo, but here it is. And actually, it's pretty great. You've got a bull, a horse, and a beaver, with a banner reading "Onward!" A cynic might say that Calgary's trying to act more important than it is by giving itself a fancy crest, but a) it IS an important city, and b) fancy crests are a Canadian tradition.



Hm. How old do you think this logo is? I'd wager it dates from the SCTV era, at the earliest. There's a certain boldness in keeping a logo around that long, I suppose...


Wow! This is a surprise - it's colourful, and it sort of looks like a Moëbius strip, making "Infinite Horizons" a bit more profound than just a joke about the landscape. Well done!



Uh-oh. Sorry, Saskatoon, this logo looks like a budget hotel. I can see what you're getting at, though: it's as plain as day to me that this is a picture of the Saskatchewan River. It's a good idea - it just looks a bit boring, that's all.

...maybe I don't know Winnipeg as well as I should, because aside from a "let's all hug" swirl, I have no idea what significant things are being represented here.


T-Bay isn't really in the Top 10 list, but I love this logo. The thunderbird is eye-catching, and the slogan sounds pompous until you realise that it's on the shore of Lake Superior, which makes it surprisingly literal.



This logo reminds me of a magazine ad for a Commodore 64.


Much like Saskatoon, this logo also looks like a hotel sign - albeit a nicer one. Apparently, they're very proud of their High Level Bridge - or perhaps it's more to do with their pride in engineering and construction. Not bad, actually.

Another set of logos designed to look like they want to hug you. 
It's a subtle touch in the Ottawa logo, how there's a maple leaf in the O. 

Unfortunately, it makes the leaf looks like it's swirling down the drain...


Is that crest supposed to be a bunch of Ms shaped like hearts? Or is it a reference to the highway cloverleafs in the city?

Or maybe it's just something strange and beautiful that Montréal decided to run with, because that's how they do things. It looks like it dates back to the days of the Expos, but it still works.
This one's interesting, because of how very similar it is in theme to the old Halifax logo.


Uh-oh. Winnipeg, Montréal, and now Saint John's - I'm not as well-versed in Canadian cities as I thought I was, because this arch in the O has me stumped!

On the other hand, I'm not sure even residents of Moncton know what this is supposed to be. I do like the Moncton slogan, though: "Our Tide Is Rising". It's a reference to the Bay of Fundy, and of their hopeful recovery from some rough years, but it's also delightfully ominous. Sort of like the Maritime version of "Winter Is Coming".


And last but not least, Charlottetown. That's a weird design they're using - it could be a river, or an island, or the Confederation Bridge, or even just a "C" (don't tell them I said this, but I think it's kind of cute that they call themselves C-town). Regardless of the mysterious swoosh, though, it's a pretty generic message - although yes, great things *do* happen there.

So, there you are - a quick tour through the logos of Canada! They're not too bad, and Edmonton's proves that even the bad ones become good over time, as they get accepted and even acquire a bit of "retro" appeal. So perhaps it's not necessary to get too worked up over a new logo. 

But that being said, the new Halifax logo is definitely distinct from all the others here. It's not a direction anyone expected them to take - and maybe that's a good thing.

9.3.14

El Pingüino versus The Malspiel!

A moonlit night on a frozen pond. Torches stuck into the ice offer temporary light. Occasionally, a flame will sputter and hiss as it melts the ground, which make EMILY, HANNAH, and SIMON nervous. Still, they need the light -- otherwise, they wouldn't be able to see the curling rink painted onto the surface.

HANNAH: Are you sure we have to do this? It's dark - maybe we could escape and get help.

EMILY: We can't run from our debts, though, and the Baron's promised to erase them if we beat him tonight. This is the best chance we have to save our home... and James.

JAMES is off to the side of the rink, unconscious and chained to a dozen curling rocks. Torches burn all around him. BARON VON HAMMER smiles as he watches the distress upon the remaining three members of the opposing team, and warms his hands upon the fire, which leap up to meet him. He seems not to mind, and watches HANNAH take her shot.

She makes her delivery, and the weight looks good. The rock slows down as it crosses the hog line, and it's going to rest in the house behind a guard. The BARON frowns.

BARON: Marco! Get ready to watch it "curl"!

MARCO, the BARON'S gigantic vice-skip, grunts, and puts all of his weight into the ice. There's a crack, and the entire sheet of ice lurches and tilts. The three young curlers all slip and fall, and the rock bumps into them as it changes direction. The BARON laughs, and MARCO takes the weight off the ice, restoring it to normal.

BARON: And here I was nervous about all these flames... but it seems as though you were the first to burn a rock! Hahahaha!

EMILY: You villain!

Furious, she charges the BARON, 

BARON: Now, now... that's not very sporting, is it?

He snaps his fingers, and the brutish lead and second restrain her, and drag her into JAMES' deathtrap. The BARON turns back to HANNAH and SIMON.

BARON: It seems that you're short a few players... such a shame. Forfeit is such an ugly way to win.

MYSTERIOUS VOICE: Then perhaps I'll show you a beautiful way to lose, Von Hammer!

BARON: That voice... No! Could it be...?

HANNAH (to SIMON): He came! He got my message! It's... El Pingüino!

EL PINGÜINO enters the scene. His amazing pants are scuffed, and his jacket is torn... but behind the mask, his eyes are blazing with purpose.

EL PINGÜINO: I've finally caught up with you, Baron - your mockery of the Roaring Game comes to its final end tonight! (turns to HANNAH) Do you have room on your team?

HANNAH: Of course! Thank you, El Pingüino - with you skipping, we'll be sure to win!

EL PINGÜINO: Ah, but I won't be skipping... my job is to protect and support the innocent, and as lead, I'll guard your rocks from takeouts just as I'll guard you from injustice! (He flashes the biggest smile he can from behind his mask.) And besides, you might need my help sweeping!

SIMON: So, who'll be skipping, then?

EL PINGÜINO: I brought in a friend of mine! I first confronted her in the Scottish lochs of Sterling, but once that crisis was resolved, I could see the nobility of her character. And... (He glares at the BARON) who better to skip on an unstable sheet, than someone who learned how to curl hanging upside-down in her icy caves? Come out, my friend! Lend us your immortal wisdom!

BRIER MacCRIMMON appears. She is tall and gaunt, and almost perfectly concealed in her black cape. When the wind catches it, though, her highland tartans underneath are visible. Her hair is almost as black as her cloak, making her forehead seem as pale as snow against her widow's peak. Above all else, though, nothing is more arresting in her appearance than the gleam of her fangs in the moonlight.

BARON: What? No! You can't let her on your team - she's a Dracula!

EL PINGÜINO: What? There's no rule against letting a Dracula curl - any more than letting a Frankenstein play!

Everyone turns to look at MARCO, who grunts.

EL PINGÜINO: Enough talk! Your time is up, Von Hammer! Tonight, El Pingüino curls...







FOR JUSTICE!

27.2.14

Stay awhile, and listen.

(This post is about more than just videogames - please bear with me for just a few paragraphs.)

As I write this, my computer is thrashing about madly, trying to download a gigantic, "game-changing" update for Diablo 3, by Blizzard Software. This is also the first time I've thought about Diablo 3 since June of 2012, or one month since its release.

That's actually pretty astounding to me. I'd played Diablo 2 right up until OS X removed the ability to play software designed on PowerPC processors. I thought that the newer and better sequel would be able to hold my interest for ages! But no, I forgot about it after a nice walk outdoors, a good movie, and a long contemplation on the nature of a protagonist. And that's all it took.

At first glance, a review of Diablo's "story" seems worse than pointless. Even its biggest fans will admit that the purpose is simply to fight an endless horde of monsters, enjoy the graphics, and collect treasure. Blizzard attempted to atone for this by going "epic" -- by stretching the battles across distant continents, and by creating demons of incredible power, woven into a mythology which raised the stakes of the game to a battle for creation itself.

But rather than pull the character's story up with this narrative, it only tore it apart.

Here's what Mark Waid listed as the six qualities of a hero:
  • Competent
  • Brave
  • Moral
  • Selfless
  • Relevant
  • Successful
"Relevant". That usually doesn't come up often. Usually, it's a simple matter, because the presence of a villain is almost shorthand for relevance. But once you start to think about the overpowered world of Diablo, it starts to become apparent that the player actually doesn't do a whole lot.

Act 2 is a great example. Let's ignore the charming set pieces for a moment, and look at the situation before and after the hero journeys through.

Before:
  1. City under martial law
  2. undead wizard not in any position to harm people
  3. sorceress trapped and tortured in the sewers
After:
  1. City in anarchy, is bombarded by a meteor storm
  2. undead wizard revived and then killed again
  3. sorceress rescued, so that she can betray heaven and summon the greatest evil in existence
I love freedom and hate despotism as much as the next person, but let us put platitudes aside for a moment: had the hero never entered the city, fewer people would have died, and the entire world would have been safe for generations, until the sorceress escaped on her own.

But the hero did call out the demon, and the city burned. That's what makes it "epic", and "dark", and "badass". If innocent bystanders perish, then that makes the villain even more evil. It makes the hero look stronger, because they survive when so many others failed. Diablo takes this idea to such a ridiculous extreme that I couldn't help but feel complicit in all the deaths around me. And so, here's Denton's Corollary to the previous six rules:

The more "badass" a character is, the less relevant they are.

Such characters are defined by the system they rebel against, after all, and the more powerful they are, the more powerful the system must be to oppose them. Thus, the great "film noir" stories are intimate in scope - as their patron saint once said, the problems of two people don't amount to a hill of beans in their world. They're not relevant, but they never tried to be. Their conflicts are within the system, but not against it.

And I think that's a problem in a lot of my own writing - my characters tend towards irrelevance as well, but because I never make them rebellious enough. Maybe now that I have a better handle on what makes "edginess" so distasteful to me, I can start to incorporate that into my writing and know where to draw the line.

Preferably before my character shatters the Worldstone which binds all realities together.

18.2.14

This is probably how Scientology started.

I've always loved the occult. That's not to say I *believe* in it -- but there's something fascinating about the rules and connections interwoven into that material. It simultaneously makes the world more straightforward, and more convoluted. If you believe in magic, it makes the world easier to control, but it still allows a greater sense of accomplishment for those who can control it. In some ways, it's the same feeling that a new gadget gives you... I suppose Arthur C. Clarke's maxim about "sufficiently advanced technology" applies to the user as well as the audience!

And with that in mind, I've often wondered about other ways to merge the modern world with the arcane. I've developed zodiacs based on Top 40 hits, and I've written exorcism rituals for scientific equipment. But now, I think I've got a new favourite project:

A tarot deck based on quantum mechanics.


Specifically, I'm working with the above chart - this is the "Standard Model", an organisation of all the categories of indivisible particles in the universe. This will make a deck of 17 cards, and I'll add one more for the Graviton - not only is it still a great mystery, but it'll translate nicely into "the great unknown" when I'm assigning themes and characteristics to each card.

Photon: a massless particle of light, it carries its message to the ends of the universe. It signifies communication and distance, and indicates upcoming travel.

Top Quark: At 173 GeV/c2, this is the heaviest of all particles. Paradoxically, the mass which makes it too short-lived to bond with other quarks also allows it to be viewed independently with relative ease. This suits its other name, Truth, quite well. It signifies judgement and independence, and indicates a challenge in the future.

There's also the means of divination to consider here... I think it'll be based upon drawing the cards in threes, since that's how many quarks fit into a hadron (e.g. proton). Oh, and then, maybe to differentiate this system from Tarot decks a bit more, I'll replace one card with another to symbolise decay... except, of course, that I'll make it known that decay is part of the natural cycle of life and cosmic existence, and it can be a force for renewal as well as destruction, and so on.

I think this is going to be a lot of fun. Thanks for reading this, and stay tuned for updates!

25.1.14

The modern remake: 2 North 4 Northwest.

My friend Joe from On The Stick (fine podcasts there, check them out) did the impossible, and found a Facebook game which was both fun AND didn't stink up the Facebook pages of all my friends. Incredible. My contribution to the game is a simple one... find a poster of my Alfred Hitchcock film.

After an hour of crying over having to pick just one, I finally settled on North By Northwest. Possibly not his artistic triumph, but it's one I can watch again and again. You see, when I was just started to discover the classics, I hesitated to explore Hitchcock's library, because his reputation as a "master of suspense" led me to think that I wouldn't be able to handle such intensity.

Of course, I soon learned a suspense film might put the viewer's heart in a vice for ninety minutes -- but a master of suspense speaks to the brain, not the heart. Hitchcock's films are great because they draw you in - you're trying to figure things out, and keep track of the plot, and you want to know how it turns out. That's suspense I can handle!

I still don't have the nerves of my shock-loving friends, though, so that means I have a fondness for the slightly "playful" suspense of North By Northwest, compared to Rear Window or Vertigo.

Next, the surprisingly challenging step of finding a NBNW poster! Not because they're rare, but because they're common. It seems like every graphic designer with a DVD collection has tried their hand at redesigning this poster...

The details are obscured here, which
conveys the panic and confusion of the movie.
 I love how the footprints here actually show
Roger seeing the plane, and turning to run.
It's hard to avoid playing up Hitchcock's legend,
but this is a bit much, isn't it?
In the 2-player mode, one person is the plane.
You don't have to use the arrows,
but if you do... could they not point east? 
It's pretty, but why is the plane going
in the opposite direction?























You may have noticed that all these designers hit upon the same problems:

1) The cropduster scene was pretty cool, but it was a single moment, and mostly unrelated to everything else in the movie. It certainly demonstrates that "Cary Grant gets chased", but it's not actually a defining moment of the film...

2) ...but on the other hand, the film doesn't have many other defining moments to work with, since it ricochets from place to place too quickly. Well, except for the finale, but why would you put that on a poster?

3) North By Northwest is a direction - how can you not include that in the image somewhere? It's just too bad the movie itself never explains the title.

Then again, not only does this official poster do the exact same thing, but it even includes the finale I mentioned!


Only Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock ever gave you so much suspense in so many directions!


I will, however, express my fondness for that tagline - and the cheek required to include Hitchcock as the fifth head of Mount Rushmore!

But sometimes it really is the best idea just to keep it vague, and play it safe with star appeal. And so, here's my favourite North By Northwest poster:


"This movie is made by Alfred Hitchcock, and stars Cary Grant, who is shot at by a lady, but also kisses a lady."

I'm sold. Let's get the popcorn started.



14.1.14

The city by the sea with the heart of a mountain.

Some cities are like mansions: magnificent and stately, instantly recognizable and influential. For those with power, living in these cities are a reward for their success, and they like to add to their city's grandeur, as though it were a trophy room. But such cities can also be prisons: imposing and exclusive, a constant reminder of all the things you'll never have.

Other cities are vehicles: sleek and powerful, always charging forward. People can improve them and polish them, and some can develop a deep understanding with their city, which gives them the competitive edge they crave. But even so, should they reach their goal, or find a better way to get there, the city will have hit the end of its usefulness to them.

But Halifax is neither of these... it's an environment. It's more than a city to explore, it's a city which needs exploration. It's a track upon which people race, and an understanding of their city helps them to improve their times. It's a gigantic playground, home to whatever adventure your imagination can find. It's a mountain full of alpine trails, designed so that beginners and experts alike can challenge themselves while enjoying the beauty. Halifax is not something to ride -- it's something to be ridden.

Like a wave.




3.12.12

People Of Canada!


For the past week, I was the curator of the @PeopleOfCanada Twitter account. I got to share a bunch of stories, and meet some interesting people, and comment on Canadian culture. Such fun! Right near the end, though, there was one exchange in particular which I liked...

I posed the question, "How can you tell if someone's from Newfoundland?"


"First, here's a picture of me jumping off a staircase into the Arctic Ocean. Pretty crazy, right?"

"Now, here's a picture of someone jumping off the top deck of a ship into the Arctic Ocean, carrying a hockey stick with the Newfoundland flag on it."



"If someone does the latter, it's a safe bet they're from Newfoundland."

I thought it was a cute little inversion of the "newfie joke," and a fun picture, too. And then I got an honest, well-meaning tweet from a fellow in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

"Maybe I'm missing something," he asked, "but wouldn't it be unlikely for other people from Canada to jump into the ocean with a flag of Newfoundland?"

I explained to him that part of the joke was that newfies were loud and proud when it came to identifying with their province - someone from Ontario, for example, would be unlikely to *own* a full-size flag of Ontario, let alone take it along for a jump into the ocean.

He thought about this before replying. "Oh! So Newfoundlanders are nice."

...perhaps Portuguese is a more nuanced and complex language than I thought. Because I'm pretty confident it would take more than four letters to describe Newfoundlanders in English.

"Yes," I answered, not sure what else to say.

You owe me one, Newfoundland.

About The Author

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.