December already?!?! Hardly over a fortnight until Christmas? And 10 working days before the holiday break?! Where did the time go?
The trouble with working incredible hours and having a single-minded focus is that there is no mental capacity for anything beyond the focus of the single-mindedness. My brother-in-law apparently sold his house and moved cities. Vague recollection. A colleague is starting the next round of chemotherapy. Ringing some bells. The new Star Wars movie opens mid-month. Yeah, I think I saw a trailer for that.
Without focus, nothing big would ever be accomplished. But with focus, the non-urgent bleeds out while lying in the fringes, unattended and ignored.
Balance then is the key to unlock the magical gift of focus and resultant progress with the ability to enjoy life for itself. Flipping through a half-year of this mostly-weekly log of what has transpired in my life shows the medium-term effect of focus and the lack of balance that has resulted. The end of the year is timely as my biggest project for the month of December is making sure I recapture that balance and learning from the recent months with an eye to 2020 and beyond.
You know a book is good when you are 25 pages in and you start thinking about calling in sick to work. That was my experience as I dug into "The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell, a story revolving around six decades of the protagonist's life, written in five different first-person points-of-view. Having also read "Cloud Atlas" bv MItchell, I can say that the author has a talent for taking a complex storyline and making it seamless and wonderful and captivating.
The first section / chapter / novella comes to an end and I flip to the next section to be crushed when I realize that it isn't a direct continuation of the previous story. This isn't right! I want to know what happens, dammit! But wait, maybe it is related. Ah ha, there is the hook!. And then the third section switches again and I am once again crushed but then eagerly anticipating how the three will intertwine. So it goes on to the end, where I am crushed by the thought of the story ending. Just one more section, Mr. Mitchell. Please, can I have some more?
The Bone Clocks is definitely a book I will re-read. I have five more books of his to read in the meantime.
Update on yearly reading: The Bone Clocks is the forty-fifth book I have read this year. I am hoping to hit 50, and was on pace early this fall for 56, but I will be lucky to hit 48. Again, laser-beam focus cuts into the ability to have a well-rounded life.
With a book like The Bone Clocks from an author like Mitchell, it is no surprise that there are so many new words this week.
tumuli (plural noun)
an ancient burial mound; a barrow.
a compact group of mountains, especially one that is separate from other groups.
(medicine) blow (air, gas, or powder) into a cavity of the body.
(theology) blow or breathe on (someone) to symbolize spiritual influence.
trepanning (present participle)
perforate (a person's skull) with a trepan
1. multiply or spread prolifically or rapidly.
2. be full of or teeming with.
ole·ag·i·nous | \ ˌō-lē-ˈa-jə-nəs \
1: resembling or having the properties of oil
2: marked by an offensively ingratiating manner or quality
done or taken before dinner or lunch.
1. making or characterized by a hissing sound.
2. (of a speech sound) sounded with a hissing effect, for example s, sh.
relating to or characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral.
inclined to cause or undergo division into separate parts or groups.
enter forcibly or suddenly.
(botany) a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, such as the numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids growing on tree trunks in tropical rainforests.
a seabird related to the shearwaters, typically flying far from land.
a port, city, or other center to which goods are brought for import and export, and for collection and distribution.
the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages.
(of a gem, especially when cut en cabochon) showing a band of bright reflected light caused by aligned inclusions in the stone.
(of leaves, wind, etc.) make a whispering or rustling sound.
As I sit at my computer to write this entry, 53.5° north latitude is a frigid -18°C. The forecast has us popping slightly above freezing this week, but it is December after all, and December is typically cold and frozen. But still.
Luckily the workload has decreased significantly without a single meeting scheduled for this weekend. Even last weekend getting better with nothing scheduled for the Sunday. With the scheduled returning to normal, we now just have to figure out which "normal" we are returning to - September 2019 or September 2017.
As some semblance of normality returns, regardless of what level it is, the reading and the personal engagement are returning, and with that a few new words as well. Still not a lot of new beers though. But with that as preamble, let's proceed.
"When you understand what is to happen and why, you are more able to accept and comply." - Gus, coworker
Gus said that in a meeting a few days ago, and it struck me how true it was. People don't like to do things they don't understand the rationale for. They still might not like what they are being asked to do, but if they understand it, they will grumble while they do it, but at least they will do it. A great reminder for those of us that have to institute process and rigor.
"You can have strong opinions, but they have to be loosely held." - Brad, coworker
Another reminder for teams implementing process and rigor. I have long told my teams that they cannot be the "pedantic application of theory people" and this is a related message to Brad's quote. Have a deep knowledge of your domain and be able to articulate the value it brings. Be able to argue the impact of not implementing your process or control. But then stop. There is no need to implement for the sake of theory. There is no value in implementing something that is not going to integrate with the rest of your business.
This is not to say you should not implement process, rigor, or controls that are not popular. Protecting corporate assets and customer data is not done to win friends around the office. I just think we need better reasons than "best practice" or "it is in the framework". Know your framework, and then go in to the conversation with an open mind.
Sacha Baron Cohen on Facebook, Free Speech, and the Internet:
A friend of mine introduced me to the WTF podcast by Marc Maron a few years ago. I don't listen to it often, usually only for the interviews with people I already find to be fascinating. The first WTF I listened to was Maron's interview with Barack Obama, and the second was his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen has created characters that are able to shine a spotlight on the absurd, rude, racist, biased, and downright awful parts of people and society. It was with that interest in the comedian that I watched Cohen's acceptance speech for the International Leadership Award from the Anti-Defamation League.
The speech was a takedown of how Cohen sees social media spreading hate and lies, going so far as to say that "this can't possibly be what the creators of the Internet had in mind". This is in reference to the lack of checks and balances governing social media, especially in contrast to traditional broadcast media. Cohen calls for a "fundamental rethink" of the governance and oversight for social media.
Cohen particularly targets Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in the speech, calling "bullshit" on Zuckerberg's arguments of free speech over regulation. Zuckerberg and other social media billionaires such as Twitter's Jack Dorsey are likened to "high tech robber barons". Cohen appeals to have societies "prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference, and experts over ignoramus".
The whole speech is well worth 24 minutes of your time. The article I read about this is here and the video is also linked directly here.
I said in the preamble that I have been able to read more regularly again after about six weeks of Reading Drought. The main focus last week was to re-borrow "Abaddon's Gate" from the library and finish it off since I only got half way through before work consumed me.
This was another good book in the Expanse series. My reading of it of course suffered by being interrupted, but it was good even with that. Since it is the third book in the series, it is difficult to discus the plot in any detail. However, there were a few great quotes from the book that are worth sharing. The first might be seen as depressing or even blasphemous to spiritual individuals, but there is a lesson in the last sentence that regardless of what we are made of, we can still make a difference.
There are no souls. ... We are bags of meat with a little electricity running through them. No ghosts, no spirits, no souls. The only thing that survives is the story people tell about you.
This quote probably needs a lot of background of the book series to really make sense, but I think this can be extrapolated to the technological society will live in, and the dangers of not fully understanding our actions.
Holden was starting to feel like they were all monkeys playing with a microwave. Push a button, a light comes on inside, so it's a light. Push a different button and stick your hand inside, it burns you, so it's a weapon. Learn to open and close the door, it's a place to hide things. Never grasping what it actually did, and maybe not even having the framework necessary to figure it out. No monkey ever reheated a frozen burrito.
These two sentences apply to natural disasters, but there is also relevance to those of us that work in disaster recovery planning for complex information systems as well.
Disaster recovery could only go two ways. Either everyone pulled together and people lived, or they kept on with their tribal differences and fears, and more people died.
Just a single new beer in the past two weeks. This was the 2019 version of Brewster's Blue Monk Bourbon Barley Wine. Barley wines can often be so high in ABV and in boozy flavor to be nearly undrinkable. I would even say that previous years of the Blue Monk suffered from those characteristics, but this year the flavor was spot on and the there wasn't the overpowering hit. Really good stuff. I should go back and buy a few bottles. This also earned me the Beer-giving 2019 badge on Untappd.
With reading comes new words. It feels good to stretch the vocabulary again.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where it was well above freezing today, but of course all that means is that the puddles will freeze overnight. Still very little to show for the week now that I have worked 28 straight days without a break. The fatigue is really becoming a factor. Only a couple articles of note, and a couple beers. Hopefully there is more to report in the upcoming week.
More on Capitalism:
HBR published this article entitled "Is the Business Roundtable Statement Just Empty Rhetoric?" back in August, but it only came to my attention in the last week. I have written about capitalism a number of times on this site. This article highlights a potentially important shift in the ultimate purpose of a corporation. Shareholders have been touted as the primary concern for organizations for nearly fifty years. Shareholder primacy is the cornerstone of neoliberal economics. But now the Business Roundtable is shifting away from shareholder primacy to creating value for all stakeholders. Their one sentence mission statement states the promotion of the (American) economy "through sound public policies".
This would be a significant shift for companies as it would require moving from a short-term to a long-term outlook. A move to focusing on results through sound public policies would force companies to do more than just make money. It would put them on equal footing with society, which of course they are a part of, in finding solutions to today's big issues.
... the world faces enormous, thorny challenges that business is feeling: climate change, growing inequality (and awareness that these CEOs make hundreds of times more than their employees), water and resource scarcity, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity, and more. These issues require systemic efforts, cooperation, and pricing of those “externalities” (like pollution and carbon emissions) that business has been able to push off to society. The current shareholder-obsessed system is not fit for this purpose. Individual profit-maximizing businesses will not be incentivized to tackle shared global challenges.
I'll keep reading more from the Business Roundtable group and will see if they have other information worth reporting.
More on Huawei:
Back in July, I commented on the security threat posed by Huawei and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's push to socialize that threat. Last week there was an article in the Globe and Mail outlining how Canadian intelligence agencies could not agree on whether to ban Huawei equipment in the upcoming 5G communications networks. The article is unfortunately behind the Globe's paywall,
The article highlights how CSIS wants to ban Huawei while the CSE says "robust testing and monitoring of Huawei's 5G equipment could mitigate potential security risks". Security is not easy. It is a constant battle of detect, respond, change, and repeat. The foes on the Internet are constantly forcing us to adapt and react. Forcing security teams to focus on testing the network infrastructure in addition to all the work that is required to testing what is running on the network is ludicrous. We don't have enough resources to do the work we need to do now. Adding to the workload is a bad idea. I am fully behind the position that CSIS is taking: ban Huawei now.
Two new beers this week. The first was the Sunset Summer Ale from Smithers Brewery. I had their Hudson Bay ISA last week and this ale wasn't quite as good as that one. It had a bit of caramel nuttiness, low carbonation, and a high ABV at 5.5% for an ale. It was good all around but not exceptional.(3.25 / 5) The second was another Backalley Brew from Alley Kat. This was nice and light., with a little zip from some tangy carbonation. Tasty without screaming "pay attention to me". (3.5 / 5) No badges from Untappd this week.
Hello from a snowy and icy 53.5° north latitude. It seems like each year we get freezing rain and snow early in the winter which means we end up suffering through icy, bumpy sidewalks all winter. Let's just say that 2019 did not ditch that trend and as a result, I should have had my studded tires on for the ride in to work on Friday.
You will notice that there was no post last week. This was due to the overwhelming crush of work for the launch of our new system. More on that below. Beyond that, there wasn't much to report so sit back, relax, and enjoy a few paragraphs on what has consumed most of my waking hours in the last several weeks, and most of my working hours for the last three years.
3, 2, 1, ...
For the past three years, my team has been preparing for the launch of the new clinical information system (CIS) at Alberta Health Services along with several other teams from across the organization. We wanted to make sure that every process we ran, every report that we produced, every requirement we had, was built into the CIS. We also said that if we didn't do something for CIS, then we didn't need to do it for anything else and we would therefore drop it from our workload.
The CIS vendor selected was Epic and the clinical transformation program built around the Epic platform became branded as Connect Care. We are a large organization and as a result what we launched last Sunday at 04:00 was just the first of a nine wave launch. As this story summarizes, Wave 1 is primarily concentrated in Edmonton’s Walter C. McKenzie health campus and laboratories, which includes the University of Alberta Hospital, Stollery Children’s Hospital and Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute, among others.
The launch was not without drama though. The nurses union expressed "grave concerns" about the level of training and education received in advance of launch. Then a few days after launch, issues with delivery of lab results were noticed, and one physician alerted the media about the issue. Nothing is perfect of course, but I am proud of what we did to get to this point. Next week I plan to start a multi-week review of what my team did to prepare for Connect Care in the last three years. For now, congratulations to all of my colleagues who were involved in the successful launch!.
Just two new beers this past fortnight. The first was the Hudson Bay ISA from Smithers Brewery. Lots of grapefruit pith to add some dryness, with a nice hazy look, and a faint citrus aroma. Good stuff. (3.75 / 5) That got me the Veteran's Day (2019) and Pale as the Moon (Level 11) badges on Untappd. The second beer was the Wonder Star Botanical Lager from Flying Monkeys. I really liked this one since it had so much flavor. Smelled like Wine Gums, tasted like Red Lifesavers. (4.0 / 5). That one got me the Brewery Pioneer (Level 44) and The Great White North (Level 88) badges on Untappd.
Here is a picture of the Bernard Snell Hall in the University of Alberta Hospital. We have spent a lot of hours in this auditorium leading up to launch of the system, and even more in the last week as it hosts two of our bigger daily meetings. This picture was taken last Saturday afternoon before launch, and the quiet and emptiness of the room was haunting as I stood there.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude in the land of the minority rule. It's a good thing that there was an election last week, or I would have almost nothing to write about. Lots of great things at work, but nothing that is relevant or appropriate for discussions in public.
Let's get on with it, shall we.
Fall Fundraiser 2019:
I'm proud to be on the Board for CKUA. I don't think I've mentioned my involvement with CKUA on this blog yet, which seems odd given how much work I do with the organization. CKUA is "Powered by People", which is the slogan they adopted for their fundraising efforts. That is their way of saying that they are donor-supported radio, and as a result, they rely on significant donations from listeners to keep the station on the air.
This weekend was the last two days of their 10-day Fall Fundraiser. They set a goal of $550,000 and instead of counting up towards the goal, they counted down towards $0. Over the course of the fundraiser, the announcers were saying "we have $X to go to meet our goal", and it was great to hear the numbers continually going down. I've listened to CKUA since the summer of 1989 and have been listening to their twice-a-year fundraisers for 22 years. This fundraiser was the most positive I can remember. Hats off to CKUA CEO Marc Carnes and the team at CKUA for a great fundraiser.
If you are a fan of music and want to support independent artists, give CKUA a try. If you can make it work financially, consider donating to CKUA to help keeping the station on the air.
Federal Election 2019:
The federal election finished pretty much as expected by the poll analytics site 338 Canada: a Liberal minority government, with a solid improvement from the Conservatives, and a huge jump from the Bloc.The NDP surged in the end but still ended up short of their previous results. As an aside, it is remarkable how much influence Jack Layton had on the NDP in the 2011 election. It is almost unfathomable that the NDP won 103 seats in 2011 when contrasted with their 24 seats this year.
The chart below shows how accurate 338 Canada was with their predictions. All of the parties were within the prediction range.
I was lucky to get any reading in this week, so the number of new words is understandably low.
你好, or in pinyin, nĭ hăo from 53.5° north latitude. It was a shortened work week due to the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday on Monday, but as we are fond of saying at work, that just means you have four days to get five days worth of work done. Much reading was done in spite of the busyness of work, resulting in one finished book and significant progress on another. Most other reading was related to politics, both due to the Canadian federal election tomorrow, and as a result of the impeachment discussions in the US. With all that is going on, there was only one new beer, and it was dealcoholized at that. A couple neat recipes to share from the Thanksgiving preparations, and a bunch of new words from all the reading.
Time to dig in to this week's leftovers!
I'm not going to jump in on the proceedings of the impeachment discussions south of the border with any personal diagnosis or assessment. I will however highlight articles and videos that I find interesting or helpful. I imagine there will be lots of good reading and watching in the upcoming weeks.
The video to share this week is from 60 Minutes. In it, Scott Pelley discusses covering the Clinton impeachment discussion and contrasts that to what is happening today with Trump. Being in my late 20s at the time, and given how the world reacted to women's allegations of rape, abuse, and harassment, I definitely saw what had happened with a different reaction than I would today. However, it was clear that Clinton lied under oath and there were consequences as a result. Today, perhaps, the consequences would be more severe but that is impossible to say for certain.
With Trump however, Pelley argues that this impeachment discussion is different and likely more important because while Clinton abused his power and relationship status with Monica Lewinsky, Trump appears to be manipulating global politics for his personal financial gain. Good stuff from 60 Minutes, and worth a few minutes of your time.
With just over 24 hours before the polls close on the federal election, it is shaping up to be an incredibly tight race. I reported a few times in the last several weeks about the projections coming from 338 Canada. Since July, the Liberals have seemingly gifted their rivals with the SNC-Lavalin scandal (that even has its own Wikipedia entry) and Trudeau's blackface revelations. However it seems clear that the Conservatives and NDP are unable to capitalize. The Liberals will almost certainly not have a majority government, which will be a huge - dare I say - black mark for Trudeau. But the Conservatives need to win 75 more seats this election to get a majority, and it is even more unlikely that that will happen. The trend lines for popular seat projections since August 25 are given below.
Looking at the graph, both the Liberals and Conservatives have dipped significantly. The benefactors are the NDP and Bloc. The uptick for both parties in the last three weeks is impressive, however the NDP are really only trending to be at par with their performance from 2015. One has to think that the NDP supporters want more from Jasmeet Singh than they received from Tom Mulcair.
The Bloc stand to gain two dozen seats this election, almost entirely from the Liberals, while reinforcing the message that the NDP surge in Quebec two elections ago was a forgettable blip in history.
A strong separatist party, a minority government, and a leading party plagued by scandal. This is a potent cocktail of uncertainty and drama that have many people interested, even outside of Canada. This CBC article discusses how foreign diplomats are scrambling to figure out how the NDP, Green, and Bloc could influence what a minority government would look like. Closer to home, Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote this past week that the Bloc support for a Liberal minority government would likely mean stopping development for all pipelines and halting subsidies for oil and gas. Braid suggests the Bloc's plan is "anti-Alberta" and would "ruin Alberta". It is interesting to note that Braid suggests this might be retaliation for Alberta's lectures to "Quebec over pipelines and oil imports going back to ex-premier Alison Redford". Maybe we shouldn't have been such asses to the rest of the country when things were oh-so-good here in Wild Rose Country.
Thanksgiving means a big meal with friends, and that means a lot of cooking. Tradition in our house is to cook a big turkey for Thanksgiving using the method outlined by Cook's Illustrated several years ago. but we are leery about stuffing the cavity of the bird with bread due to the opportunity to have uneven cooking and the resultant risk of food poisoning. It is a shame though because a good stuffing is fantastic to eat. Over the years we have tried various ways compensate, but for the most part we ended up with soggy bread that didn't taste like the stuffing we loved.
This year, we tried something new. Earlier in the week we had tried a easy bread recipe made with nothing but self-rising flour and yogurt of all things. That recipe was used to make some great cheese twists.
For Thanksgiving, we used the same herb paste that went on the turkey instead of the cheese - fold, twist, bake, voilà! Now we can have something that has a great taste of bread flavored with the herb in a turkey without the heaviness caused by being soaked in turkey juices, and all without being a sodden mess when cooked separately. Plus, no risk of salmonella.
The other hit this past week was a Carrot Cake Oatmeal made with shredded carrots and raisins, and topped with toasted coconut. The oatmeal hater liked it, and the oatmeal lover thought it was still pretty good. So now four people will eat oatmeal instead of three.
Over a month ago, I wrote about "Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World", by Michael Harris. I was able to finally finish it this week, and as you can see from this picture, there were several ideas worth flagging in the book.
The first idea that jumped out at me was about how hard it is be alone. Humans are social animals and society is geared to treat us as outcasts or miscreants if we want to be alone. Harris commented that people are impaired for fifteen seconds after texting while driving, "but this deadly wandering is a small price to pay to a person fleeing their own loneliness". Endangering lives as a response to crushing loneliness is a sad testament to the society we have created.
A recent theme on this blog has been online interactions and the powerful addictions that online systems can create in our minds. Harris talks about some online gamers being so addicted to being online that they are unaware that they are not in fact actually really and truly building something. The point of the system they are engaged in is, depressingly, more system. The point of being online is being online. Even if solitude and quiet contemplation is not some miracle cure for what we need as humans in 2019, being online just because is definitely not a direction I want to pursue.
Another similarity drawn from Harris's book with Lanier's book on social media is how online recommendations have significant sway in all that we do online. In the same post mentioned above, I commented:
In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
Harris asserts that this is problematic if we allow ourselves to believe that the system, the website, the algorithm can make better decisions than we can. An algorithm is unable to make a decision - it can only react to data in certain, predetermined ways. That is the exact definition of an algorithm.
a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Harris points out the danger in allowing us to believe that the machine or algorithm has a belief:
Nowhere is this creepier than the arena of taste. If we think that a computer program - so much more rational, so much better informed - believes one ting to be better than another, then the choices we make online about what books to read, what songs to listen to, what movies to watch become less independent and more manipulated. Suggestions on Netflix and iTunes and Amazon - all crowd-sourced and data-crunched - start to feel natural and neutral. If you believe a piece of technology can have a belief, then it's only a tiny step before you start to believe its belief is more important than your own.
As the book progressed, I found myself becoming depressed with some of the concepts. Harris begins to tackle how reading forces the brain to adapt and adopt and build new neural pathways that a non-reader will never have. However, he speculates that maybe solo reading is already obsolete. The fact that we are social animals as noted above might mean that reading moves from a solitary endeavor of one person locked into a book to a social exercise where we comment along the way with each other.
I find this a terrible prospect. The need for me to immerse myself in a book without distraction and without the need to interact with others is huge. Having to be with someone else and losing the ability to be alone would be a monumental loss to. Harris states that the "constant reader ... learns to hold opinions and ideas that are not their own" and that we not only discover new thoughts, but actually live them. Being constantly connected to our smartphones is "antithetical to deep reading", which is the ability to dig deep into what is being read and truly engage your brain in the material. Losing that skill would mean becoming just a another node in the hive.
There are benefits of course to the new technology. Harris points out that technology is allowing us to experiment with new types of storytelling that is impossible with the printed word. He goes on to say that "It was sixty years after Gutenberg built his printing press before anyone had the bright idea to number the page. Who know what social text innovations will be made in the decades to come?"
I highly recommend that you read this book. But don't get an ebook version. Find a nice quiet corner of the house or a park bench to sit down, by yourself, and read a physical copy of it. I think you will find the exercise well worth the time and effort.
Four new words this week. Three were from Solitude and one was from "The Silk Roads". That is proving to be a massive book to read, but with any luck I will finish it this week. Many more words have come from that book, I assure you.
moiling (present participle)
Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving from 53.5° north latitude. This week's post will be remarkably short unfortunately, mainly as a result of our relentless push toward launch of our new system in three weeks. Only one solid idea worth sharing, hardly any reading, one beer, and one new word.
I kinda feel like I'm living in a Three Dog Night song this week.
I participated in a meeting this week where one person was providing commentary on what to expect at the launch of our system. He made a comment about how to provide feedback in a stressful time that I quite liked:
If you don't have anything nice to say, at least be specific.
In other words, if you have feedback but cannot put it nicely or politely, at least make the feedback succinct and detailed enough that the recipient can do something with it.
Just one new beer this week. Beau's All Natural Brewing Company is a brewery that I had not
This section has evolved over the six months that I have been writing on this site to be called "New Words". However, this week is really should be called "New Word", since there is only one word to share. Old habits die hard, even if they are less than six months old.
Greetings once again from 53.5⁰ north latitude. Technically speaking, most of this week's post was written at 53.1⁰ north and 117.⁰ west. How do I know that, you ask? Well, I spent the weekend in a log cabin at Jasper Gates, which is right next to the Folding Mountain Brewery, and they have merch with their coordinates on it. No need to Google or use a GPS if you are lost. Just point to your shirt and have the driver take you there!
It was a guys’ weekend trip to the mountains with my friend Craig, coordinated by our friend Mike. I’ll briefly touch on that trip, including some thoughts about the mountains and a few personal reflections. Other than that, we are on countdown mode for our system launch in four weeks, there was one book read, a surprisingly low number of new beers given the trip to the mountains, and a handful of new words.
The size and beauty of the mountains are really amazing. The scenery is breath-taking.
It is amazing how much I take the mountains for granted. From Edmonton, we are less than three hours from the mountains so it isn’t really a day-trip distance, but it is absolutely accessible for a weekend. I don’t think I am ever blasé about seeing the mountains, but I don’t think I appreciate how lucky we are to be so close. This hit home when we were soaking in the pools at Miette Hot Springs and hearing all of the foreign languages and accents in the crowds around us. People travel from Europe and Asia to come soak in the same pool that I could be at every weekend if I chose.
Mike and Craig convinced me to go into the cold pools at Miette. Imagine sitting in the 38°C pool, trudging across the cold tile deck and jumping in a pool that is 10°C. The imagine patting yourself down to make sure that you didn't suffer from cardiac arrest, and going straight back into the hot pool. The feeling of the intense pins-and-needles across the body is really quite remarkable. It took me a lot of convincing to get me to go in the first time, but after that, it was much easier.
I can't say I enjoyed jumping into the cold water as it was just far too shocking to the system, but I am glad I did it. I certainly was in a positive mental state from doing something outside my comfort zone, but I would be hard-pressed to quantify any increase in a physiological sense. Mike promised to share some research about the physiological benefits that I am looking forward to reading - something about positive outcomes for the visceral fat surrounding the organs. Even without being able to quantify a benefit, the mental boost was definitely worth it
I finished one book this week and made a good dent in another. Neil Degrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” was a quick read that left some solid impressions. Early in the book, Tyson explains the difference between the laws of nature and the social, legal, and moral creations of humankind.
The power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them. In other words, after the laws of physics, everything else is opinion.
Tyson is clearly a smart individual, and I am not qualified to judge where he ranks within the echelons of the world’s brightest scientists. His true gift though, in my opinion, is how accessible he is, and how accessible he makes the topics of the cosmos and the universe. There is a great multi-line sequence where Tyson describes the creation of the universe through to the scientific discoveries over the last several hundred years through to Einstein’s theories and finally to recent empirical findings that corroborate what Einstein predicted, all to be summed up with the statement: “Einstein was a badass”. Yep, pretty accessible.
The last chapter in the book was about taking all of what we know and understanding how we fit into the world, the galaxy, and even the universe. Tyson calls this the “cosmic perspective”. I’ll leave you with one more quote from the book that I think is truly worth reflecting on.
The cosmic perspective opens our eyes to the universe, not as a benevolent cradle designed to nurture life but as a cold, lonely, hazardous place, forcing us to reassess the value of all humans to one another.
The first from Folding Mountain was their Three Seasons Honey Wheat, which was good but not great. (3.25 / 5) The second was their Ridgeline Imperial IPA, which was much more my kind of beer. A bit boozy due to the 9.5% ABV, but not so much to be overpowering. Lots of flavor and a great aroma. (3.75 / 5)
After that was Coors Banquet. Yes, you read that correctly. Coors. My profile on Untappd says "On a personal quest to drink one of every beer in the world." and Coors Banquet therefore needed to be tried. Like all Coors beers, it is mass-produced and is targeted to a market that wants consistency and an easy taste. With that in mind, it is well done. Certainly better than Bud or Bud Light or Molson Canadian, but that doesn't mean it was good. It didn't even come close to the Three Seasons from Folding Mountain, and I wasn't really fond of that one. I rated it at 2.25 / 5 on Untappd, and that might even be a bit generous.
Last on the list for this week was the Jasper Brewing 6060 Stout. I have liked the beers from Jasper Brewing so far, and this was my favourite. Easy drinking, good flavor, smooth taste. It could have been better with a bit more chocolate, but that's probably getting too picky to be honest. (3.75 / 5.0) On top of that, I had probably the best bowl of ramen I have ever had. I might still have been basking in the endorphin rush after the Miette pools, but it was great. In fact, it was so great, I think I am going to have to start tracking and rating the ramen I eat to see how they stack up against this one.
The 6060 was my unique check-in Number 600 on Untappd. I'm still averaging a new beer every 2.5 or 3 days or so - more exactly, every 2.76 days as of today. But with all of those beers and the 600th check-in, no badges from Untappd this week.
There were only a few new words from Tyson’s book, but I am now reading “The Silk Roads” by Peter Frankopan, and that added the rest.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. Fall has definitely arrived and with it, the first crash of the season. Too many leaves on the ground and if you ever ride in the fall, you will know how slippery a pile of wet leaves can be. Landing on the handlebar is apparently a good way to make it bend.
Still lots of time spent at work, so still not a lot going on beyond that. One book, a remarkable political scandal with a remarkable lack of impact, two new beers, and a handful of words.
To infinity and beyond!
Finishing that book brings my annual total to 41, and sets me on pace to read 55 books this year. My tally for 2018 was 34 books, and 40 books for 2017. So sitting here at the end of September, I have already read more books than I have in any other year.
As I type this, Canada is 22 days from the Federal Election. A couple weeks ago, I commented how the polls were shaping up to disappoint all parties, with the likely answer a minority government. The Liberals had the most to lose, I said, due to "Trudeau's inability to deliver and likely highlights his constant parade of gaffes". Well, they kept on coming.
Four weeks ago, the Liberals might not have had a clear road to majority, but surely the latest Liberal scandal must have erased even their hopes of a minority government, right? Maybe not, according to 338Canada and their article in Maclean's this week. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the 338Canada analysis from four weeks ago and this week.
Looking at that comparison, people that are going to vote for the Conservatives have already self-identified. The Liberals and even the Bloc are gaining ground at the expense of the NDP, and the Greens will still get their four seats, assuming we let them round up instead of down.
Twenty-two days to go. Lots could happen of course, but if the blackface / brownface issue is not big enough to sway the polls, I can only be very afraid of what it would take to actually make a difference.
Two new beers this week. The first was Baldwin Steam from Alley Kat. If you read this site at all, you know I drink a lot of different beers from Alley Kat. That is partly because they do good work, and partly because they are the closest brewery from my house. I like Alley Kat's regular beers, but I particularly like the variety they bring with their Dragon series of DIPAs, and the small batch Back Alley Brew series. My latest BAB was the Baldwin Steam, Lots of pine and a flavor that I couldn't place. The label talks about earthiness, so maybe that is it. If I am being honest, this one didn't do as much for me as some of their others, but it was still well put together.
The second was the Farm to Table Imperial from Russell Brewing. I don't have a lot of experience with Russell, but they seem to produce a solid line up. The Farm to Table had a lot of citrus from the hops, and was a high ABV beer, but there wasn't too much booziness so it was easy to drink. Good stuff. This one earned me Middle of the Road (Level 58) and The Great White North (Level 87) on Untappd.
Nine words this week, with one I know that I looked up before, and two that I really should have known. I will leave it to the reader to determine which words fit which category.
dossing (present participle)
Hello again from 53.5° north latitude. Summer seems to have arrived but fall will be here later this week with temperatures forecasted to fall below freezing in a few days. Plus it is getting too dark to read in the car while the kids are at their various activities during the weeknights. Time to get out the winter bike.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
Podcast - Radiolab series on "G"
Radiolab is a great show, but I'm sure you know that already. Earlier this summer, they had a six-part series called G. G is the symbol for intelligence, and boy, would it be great if it was as easy to quantify and articulate a person's intelligence as a one letter moniker might imply. The six episodes did a nice job of outlining how hard intelligence is to define, let alone quantify. Here are some highlights I took away from the series. (Links to the six episodes here - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Reading Pile, aka Musings on What it Means to Have an Opinion:
I find it interesting how the reading pile organically seems to organize around themes. Earlier this year, the theme was around capitalism, captured by a half dozen or so posts referencing the topic. In the last few weeks, the themes that have surfaced are around humanism and disconnecting, I mentioned "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari above and quoted from it two weeks ago. I powered it through it on the weekend and came away with all sorts of conflicting thoughts. Are humans really the apex of life on Earth? Are we nothing more than algorithmic cogs in a machine to process information? If we admit that our human fallibility limits our ability to make the best choices, should we concede our decision-making to more advanced algorithms that are external from our bodies? In other words, should we allow some Internet behemoth to tell us what is best?
Harari's "Homo Deus" was published in 2015, so it predates the 2016 US election, and all of the revelations about Russian interference in the election. Knowing that, the following excerpt from Harari is particularly harrowing:
On a more sinister note, the same study (from Facebook) implies that in future US presidential elections Facebook could know not only the political opinions of tens of millions of Americans, but also who might be swung. Facebook could tell that in Oklahoma the race between Republicans and Democrats is particularly close, identify the 32,417 voters who still haven't made up their minds, and determine what each candidate needs to say in order to tip the balance. How could Facebook obtain this priceless political data? We provide it for free.
Humanism is founded on the idea that all humans are equally valuable and that humans should be allowed to make their own individual choices because they truly know what is best for them. Harari repeatedly mentions the notions that the voter knows best, and the consumer knows best.
If humans all have a perfect inner self that knows best, then humanism is the need to ensure that the inner self is fed and actualized. However, if that inner self is not immune to external influence, then the inner self is not perfect but malleable and corruptible. We know from Lanier's book mentioned last week, that social media uses what understanding of psychology and physiology to influence our behaviors and create addictions. We also now know from the Mueller investigation that the algorithms feeding what we see in social media are corruptible. Assuming we do have a true inner self, then we need to find a way to ensure that true inner self is free from influence. Again, see the reference to Lanier last week.
My friend Trent has the opinion that if Amazon, Tidal, Spotify or any other algorithm-driven cloud service can help him find more of what he likes, then of course he is in favor. Learn from my likes, purchases, and actions, and give me more of that. But if that is how I find my next book or music, then how much of that is because of what I already wanted, and how much of that is because of what I was told to like? Then again, what's the difference between Trent or Tidal telling me about a new band? In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
In the end, I think it comes down to trusting my ability to decide and knowing all of the influences on my decision-making process. I am beginning to think I have a much better ability to do that if I am not solely reacting to a stream of notifications and feeds, but then again, that thought is influenced by the stream of information that I am currently consuming.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Wednesday lunch hour. Boss fight. We have a plan. We draw out the boss. We attack without mercy. The foot soldiers fall. The boss gets hammered. We grab the box. Success! But wait! I am playing the rogue and I need to stealth away. No worries, I say. I have a +7 on Stealth. Easy peasy. Rolled a 1.
That is the beauty of dice rolls in an RPG. There is no reason why we shouldn't succeed based on our plan and coordination. We have the numbers and skills to overpower, plus we have the ability to trick and deceive, to intimidate and confuse. We will prevail. The failed dice roll probably won't change the ultimate outcome, but it is easy to argue that it make the outcome more memorable. If I would have said "oh hey, let's say I slip and fall 'cause that will add some serious suspense", it would not have had any impact. Contrived emotion and scripted action sounds like a bad television show. Rolling a 1 in that moment makes for a wonderfully memorable experience. The heart-dropping feeling, the laughs from my friends after my muttered f-bomb, the jokes after how the fighter, the barbarian, and the cleric all succeeded buy my rogue failed. All that makes for a much better memory.
The memories are also accentuated by the random comments that stick with the party. We dragged an NPC out from under a gelatinous cube a few sessions ago. His legs were covered by the cube, and he took some pretty significant damage (3d6). We weren't sure if he would live but we used a healing spell on him and ultimately gained an ally. He was unconscious for a while so we couldn't get a name, so there was an offhand comment about "Legless Jack". The name stuck. The DM could have had a name for him, but we as players never asked for it since he will forever be Legless Jack to us.
Here's to more memories coming from the shared storytelling medium of an RPG.
Only one new beer this week. The Surround Sound DIPA from Collective Arts was another fine beer from the brewery that is steadily becoming my favorite. (Sorry Blindman and Alley Kat!) This was a hazy, citrusy beer with a nice bit of pine, and great balance all around. Submitting that to Untappd earned me the I Believe in IPA (Level 23) badge.
A few new words this week, and one repeat offender.
[ ab-joo r, -jur ]