Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. It has been a really quiet week given that I took it off. Lots of me-time, a few beers, getting ready for the new gaming group I am organizing plus some Kickstarter related gaming news, and a few small projects here and there. Lots of reading as well, with one interesting podcast listened to but no single book finished. Let's dive into the recap of the week that was.
There was a lot of good news on the gaming front this week. First, I finally received my Kickstarter rewards for the Humblewood 5e campaign setting. This is a campaign I jumped in on back in May that is set in a world of humanoids based off of woodland creatures and birds. The package arrived early this week, all 4.3 kilograms of it. Books, minis, screens, maps, dice. Everything needed to play in the setting. I'm totally looking forward to running a campaign in that world.
Next up is a Kickstarter campaign that successfully closed this week. Monsters of the City from Cawood Publishing reached the first stretch goal and will publish their third 5e resource. I own and was really impressed with Monsters of the Underworld and am planning on picking up Monsters of the Feyland on DM's Guild.
I have now supported 25 Kickstarter campaigns and I have made some observations. First, the strategy of how to stagger the stretch goals is really important. For Monsters of the City, Cawood decided to put the extra art first and the upgrade to a hardcover book second. Was that smart? I do know that the extra art will make the book better, but having a three-book set with two hardcover books followed by a soft-cover seems to be a mistake. I wonder how many people were put off by not having a hardcover as the first stretch goal or even for the initial target.
I also wonder about the value of the stretch goals or if they are just a money-grab. There have been some interesting campaigns recently with one with no stretch goals but a few upgrades for Kickstarter supporters, to another with a ton of Kickstarter Exclusives that won't be available in a retail version.
After supporting so many products, I'm comfortable saying that my preference is definitely to make the product better. Dave Kellett of Sheldon and Drive fame does this really well on his campaigns. I have supported five different campaigns of his and he does a great job in improving his books. The first four stretch goals for his most recent "Anatomy of Authors" campaign were all about making the book better (book ribbon, end papers, gloss cover, foil lettering). After that, it was extras and add-ons. I'm going to watch out for that in future campaigns I support, and I think it will impact how and what I fund.
Last item on gaming: I have scheduled our first meeting - our Session 0 - for the Casual Yet Committed campaign I have organized on Meetup. I first posted about this a month ago, but only got around to scheduling our first meeting this week. Why such a long delay, you ask? Nerves, I tell you, nerves.
It's funny to think that something as seemingly simple and benign as organizing a game of D&D would be so stressful. It was though, and I think it is because it is forcing me to extend myself creatively. Asking a group of strangers to trust you to create and coordinate an ongoing series of events to cooperatively create a story is a much different experience than boardroom presentations, project sponsorship, and developing and mentoring a team. That difference and the uncertainty it created set me back a few weeks. It took me a long time to schedule the first session because I wasn't sure exactly what to do. I was nervous about how people would respond. I was nervous about not being able to do a good job.
I think there is a major lesson in this. Years ago my spouse and I made sure we did one new thing each year to push ourselves. That was before senior positions, kids, and MBA school (her, not me), so we haven't sat down to think through a new learning goal for a number of years. However, I think this foray into being the gamemaster for a group of strangers will seriously make up for that. And hey, it should be a lot of fun as well.
I only listened to a single podcast this week, but it was a Longform interview so it was definitely time well spent. This week, they interviewed Joshua Yaffa, an American journalist living in Moscow. Yaffa was recently back in America on tour for his new book, Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia. The interview is just shy of an hour and focuses primarily on what it is like to be a foreign journalist in a country run by an authoritarian ruler, who like authoritarian rules everywhere, has control over vast portions of the country's media. I think Yaffa's book will be an important one to read to understand a perspective from Russia that is less about the extremes - Putin versus Pussy Riot, as mentioned in the interview - and more about the people in the middle who had made compromises and have rationalized their current position or opinion. A social study of a society conducted by an outsider from that society who was granted a different level of frankness due exactly because he was an outsider. Looking forward to adding that to the Reading Pile.
As I mentioned above, I didn't finish any books this week, but I should be able to knock off a couple this week. That will get me to my goal of four books for the month of February with a week or so to spare. I have a personal improvement (i.e. I can't stand categorizing it as "self-help") book that I might be able to squeeze in this month as well.
I do want to give an update on the year-long group reading effort for "War and Peace" that I am in. The end of this week marks the end of Volume I, Part II, and puts us at page 201 out of 1224. So far, it hasn't been much work at all to read the book. The writing is excellent and the story is completely engaging. Cleary this book is a classic for good reason.
However, the best part of this has to be reading it as part of a group. I mentioned in late December that I joined a War and Peace reading group on Reddit, and that has been a fantastic experience. (The graphic above is the header image on that particular subreddit.) Engaging with a dozen or so other readers on a daily basis has added greatly to my understanding of the book and to my enjoyment of reading the book. Plus the daily meditations that Brian E. Denton posted on Medium in 2017 are likewise great for building understanding. I can't imagine having to read this book for any literature class without reading it both in this manner and with Denton's chapter-by-chapter analysis.
On a related note, my experiences with the Reddit reading groups for War and Peace and "The Count of Monte Cristo" have restored some personal confidence in social media and in Internet discourse. Strip away the ugliness of a social media algorithm (see "Reading Pile" from September 9, 2019), and strip away the dangers of online addiction (see "Reading Pile" from October 14, 2019) and you are left with the promise of a connected network. People seeking out others to connect and learn from each other. It really can be a beautiful medium if not used to exploit and sell.
This is the week 44 of the Show Notes blog. In my first entry last March, I noted three new beers that week to bring my number of unique beers on Untappd at 534. I hit 631 with the entries this week, which equates to 97 beers in 44 weeks, or 2.20 new beers a week. That is about one new beer every 3.17 days, which is a bit off the pace of 2.74 days between new beers I noted when I started this blog.
The first entry this week was the Alley Kat Oatmeal Stout collaboration with Village Brewery. I have logged a lot of Alley Kat beers on this site, and they continue to be a favorite of mine. I'm not nearly as big of a fan of Village, but they have produced some good stuff for sure. In particular, their Blacksmith Dark Ale was really good, so it isn't surprising that I would like what they did with Alley Kat on this collab. This was a fine stout, and a good use of oats to soften the taste. It had a a good long-lasting foamy head, and was flavorful but without distracting tastes. A winner for sure. (3.75 / 5).
The next two weren't nearly as good. The Temptation IPA from Legend Seven. If you recall, I have had a few of their beers in the past few weeks out of a six-pack sampler I picked up. This is my least favorite so far, but it was still pretty good. Temptation wasn't hoppy enough to be an IPA, but more of a pale ale. Still pretty decent if not on point for the style. (3.25 / 5)
The next one was the Chase 2020 from Blind Enthusiasm. I find Blind Enthusiasm to be quite hit-and-miss, and this one was a definite miss. I couldn't figure out the flavors or the aroma. I'm glad I was driving and only had the 250 mL glass. (2.5 / 5) I do need to give points for Blind Enthusiasm though for their drive to constantly produce different tastes. And on top of that, the food at Biera was awesome so the overall experience was still really good.
Luckily for me, I ended this week on a high note. Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout was really good. I have had some iffy chocolate beers before so was cautious about this one, but it was really good. Mellow aroma, good but not overpowering taste. That is the third beer I have had from Samuel Smith's and all three have been very good.
Lots of new words. The vast majority of the words this week come from various tape-flagged pages from the first two major sections of War and Peace, Volume I, Parts I and II.
Oh, how nice it is when it starts to feel like the worst of winter is behind you. Riding home after work and it is still light outside, and we are closer to St. Patrick's Day than Christmas. Things are looking up, my friend.
A decent week all things considered. Early on is started with one of those mornings where your first thought is that it is Satur-, no way, Fri-, maybe Th, ugh, it's Tuesday. It got better from there though with successes at work and a fairly relaxing week. One book finished and another started, a great D&D session, a decent beer, and a decision to take a week off work. Moving right along, then.
Book #7 for 2020 was "The Information: a history, a theory, a flood" by James Gleick. Regardless of whatever Gleick writes in his lifetime, to me he will always be the guy that wrote "Chaos", which you'll see if you look up at Worldcat has about a gazillion different editions since the original in 1988. Chaos is probably the book that influenced me the most given how little I really understood of it. Maybe I should read it again to see if I can actually glean more out of it this time.
Information was really three books in one. The history section was a nice write-up of how language and then writing changed our brains, lives, and societies. There were stories societies from the very beginning of history - history of course only possible of course by language and writing - and of famous individuals up to the early years of the twentieth century - Newton, Leibniz, Russell, Babbage, Lovelace, Morse All giants in the own rights, some much more famous than others.
Theory was a paean to Claude Shannon, the intellectual giant who gave the world information theory, and with it, a new definition for information itself. He showed us, or at least tried to show us mere mortals, what entropy was and how it mattered. He foreshadowed electronic computation and distributed networks, and allowed for entire new branches of science like molecular biology to form. He should one of the most well-known scientists of the twentieth century, but he didn't build a bomb, make a billion dollars, or create a law or theory that was easy to state if not understand (because, seriously, how do you casually talk about logarithms?) In the end, one of the great minds was reduced and degraded by Alzheimer's. I wonder what Shannon would have thought about Alzheimer's and its effects on the entropy of the human brain.
Flood almost seemed an afterthought, something that was added because no publisher would print a history of "information" with the story of an obscure scientist responsible for a mind-numbing theoretical concept. As much as I liked this book, the last few chapters really feel flat for me. Maybe that was because the concepts were more prosaic - information overload, media saturation - or maybe it was because there was no brilliant hero to read about. Whatever the reason, the ending took away from an otherwise excellent read.
Just one new beer this week. This one was the Lost Mitten Blueberry Sour from Alley Kat. Once again, another really nice beer from Alley Kat. A good punch of sour, but not a lot of sweetness. Amazing blueberry aroma, but could have tasted fruitier. Aside from that minor complaint, this is a beer that I would definitely drink again. (3.75 / 5)
A bunch of new words this week. Most came from the History section of Shannon's book.
stelae (plural noun)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. It was a relatively warm week and I was able to leave work a bit early a couple days so I actually made it home before it was dark. A refreshing change from the usual.
The week was largely spent working and listening to podcasts. I finished one audio book and am plowing through a couple good books right now. Only one new beer and very few new words. The doldrums of January are in the rear-view mirror now, so it is all uphill from here. Excelsior! (Or something like that. Is that even appropriate? What does it even mean?!)
The reading pile was really the listening pile this week. Book #6 for 2020 was the audio version of "Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on it" by Chris Voss, a very interesting primer on negotiating in crisis situations, business, and everyday life. The stories were all very interesting and relevant to the topics presented, and there were many useful learnings throughout. Voss summarizes that a successful negotiation based on an "information obsessed, empathetic search for the best possible deal" can "uncover value. Period." In other words, value for both parties can be found if you focus on listening and being empathetic. My favorite quote was one Voss repeated often: "You don't rise to the occasion; you fall to your highest level." That is a very useful thing to keep in mind, whether in a negotiation or just in normal day-to-day life.
Also in the "listening pile" this week were some very interesting podcast episodes. The team at Longform interviewed Kevin Kelly who is maybe best known as a former editor of Wired, Lots of good stuff as is the norm in a Longform interview, but here are my favorites.
First, he commented that we might be seeing a "turn back to subscriber-supported publications" as a valid mechanism for publishing and finding relevant content. The massive infrastructure required for a large publication likely necessitates a paywall, but if there is value in someone's content, it doesn't have to be only published by a multinational media conglomerate. There are lots of great independent publications that I constantly read: Longform, Lawfare, Lapham's Quarterly, Neil Pasricha, Warren Ellis, The Public Domain Review, to name the most prominent in my mind.
Second, there was a great insider analysis of how Wired changed over the years. At the start, it was rebellious and spunky, and later as it grew and became owned by those large media conglomerates (currently Condé Nast), they went from the "pirate ship to flagship" and they wanted to declare that they were the "official voice" of the technology industry.
Finally, I will leave you with a brilliant quote that came near the end of the interview. It is about the future, optimism, and how to move forward if we don't like what we have today.
The solution to a bad idea is not to stop thinking, it is to have a better idea. The solution to technology that doesn't work is not to have less technology, it is to have better technology. --Kevin Kelly
I also listened to a Freakonomics rebroadcast of their episode on how the San Francisco 49ers turned their ailing franchise around with new thinking, and positive attitudes. As I type this, the 49ers just lost Superbowl LIV to the Kansas City Chiefs, but regardless, you have to admire their success this season given where they were in 2017 and 2018.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan talked about why he works so hard, and it isn't machoism or fear of looking weak. which are reasons that seem suited to a football stereotype. For him, it is about doing everything he can so his team can succeed. It is like parenting - we do everything for our children in the hopes that they can have a better life than ours, regardless of the cost to ourselves.
It’s okay if we’re tired and we barely can function. We don’t have to perform the play. It’s us wearing our brains out all week to put our players in the best opportunity possible for them to be successful. --Kyle Shanahan, Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers
Just one new beer this week. Another collaboration, this time between Medicine Hat Brewing and Travois Ale Works. This is a neat collaboration because both breweries are from Medicine Hat. Their output was a weizenbock that declared itself to be "bready, malty, satisfying". As I said on Untappd, that is some serious truth in advertising. I really like this beer, and look forward to finding out more from both breweries. (3.5 / 5)
Not a lot of new words this week. I am starting to collect a lot of flagged pages in the various books I am reading, so I should clean those up before the list of flagged words becomes unreasonably large.
flageolets (plural noun)
It was a slow week, but at least it was warm enough to ride again. Nothing really profound to report, not a lot of reading, a couple of beers, and a few words. I probably could have deferred the post until next week, but I would like to reinforce the habit of regular writing. So for what it is worth, let's do this thing.
The first new beer this week was the Retrospectrum Pale Ale from Cabin Brewing. Cabin was co-founded by Haydon Dewes, a former co-worker. It is great to see someone move into a drastically different industry and be successful right from the start. This was my second beer from Cabin, and they have both been really good, and you can definitely see Haydon's attention to detail in their offerings. Retrospectrum was just a bit citrusy, and a bit malty, and had a nice flavor. Plus the can was super cool. (3.75 / 5)
The second was the Dark Gate porter from Legend 7. I had a Legend 7 a couple weeks back and commented on the great label art. This one had great art as well, plus it was a really well constructed porter. Too many times in recent years porters have been weighed down with chocolate or coffee, but this was just a nice, straight up porter. (3.75 / 5)
A small handful of words this week. I have been flagging a lot of words in my readings of "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo". I should enter those soon, or my entry for the last week of December when I finish both books will be enormously long.
You know it has been brutally cold when you comment that -24°C doesn't feel all that bad. That was yesterday and today it is -21 and climbing. Daily highs will be over the freezing mark which will feel like nirvana, but with snow.
The last week was filled with work, reading, volunteering, a couple new beers, and a bit of a breakthrough with on the curation of my D&D group. Let's get on with it, shall we?
CKUA Annual General Meeting:
The CKUA Foundation AGM was yesterday, and I am grateful and humbled to have been reappointed to the CKUA Board for my third and final two-year term. This will be my fourth year serving as Vice Chair of the Board under and with the amazing leadership of our Chair, Cindy Andrew. The past few years have been filled with ups and downs, but happily with more ups than downs.
CKUA is 92 years old, and my time on the Board will end just after the 94th birthday. Even though I won't be formally involved after January 2022, I already look forward to being involved with the organization as it approaches its Centennial in 2027. My thoughts for the future were echoed by former CKUA CEO Ken Regan in a nice tweet at the AGM, and I was able to capture a meta moment of Ken in action.
I commented back in December that I am looking to curate a D&D group, and this week I made some significant progress in that regard. I had thought about creating a post on something like Kijiji to announce that I was looking for a group of like-minded people to play with. It occurred to me that Meetup would be a much better choice for something like that and so I created a new Edmonton-based D&D group called "Casual but Committed". Casual but Committed will be focused on story and character over rules and stats. There have already been four people join the group and I am hopeful that the personalities will mesh and we will have a good time. I honestly have no idea what will happen if we get a dozen or more players who want to join, but I suppose that is a problem for another day. Now I just need to figure out how to bring that group of people together so that we can learn and start playing.
Most of my reading these days revolves around the year-long reading projects of "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo". I did finish "Stuart Little" with the younger daughter this week, but that was the extent of my other reading. I know Stuart Little is considered a classic of children's literature, but I really could not get into it. Stuart is a bit of a knob, to be blunt. He runs off on a fool's errand, and has little to no ability to plan or control his emotions. I suppose he is just a child, but by today's standards in youth fiction Stuart is overly emotional and rash. Not exactly a role model, to the point where my daughter commented on what a "weird" story it was. So book #5 for 2020 is done and accounted for, but I was really hoping for more especially after the glowing affection showed for it by the characters in last week's book "The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library".
Three new beers this week, and two of them were pretty good. First up was the Een Paar Luilin Belgian Rye Dubbel collaboration between Common Crown and Dandy. I had a friend describe Common Crown as making really solid accessible beers, and Dandy as always pushing the envelope while being less worried about failing miserably. Pairing those two extremes in a collaboration is sure to bring out some interesting tastes in a tempered way, and that is what this beer was. Good stuff, solid flavor, nothing radical but definitely well put together. (3.5 / 5). The next one was the Before 9 Mint Chocolate Stout from Troubled Monk. That is a nice play on the After Eight mint chocolates working with the knowledge that mint and chocolate is a great pair, as is chocolate and stouts. But mint plus chocolate plus stout just did not work for me. (2.75 / 5). Last up was the Lupita Especial Kolsch brewed by Alley Kat for Tres Carnales Taqueria. This was a good beer, and while I don't think it was their Scona Gold Kolsch which I really like, it was still decent pairing with tacos. (3.25 / 5)
Quite a few new words this week given the limited amount of reading. Some of them come from some podcasts I listened to but most come from The Count of Monte Cristo or War and Peace.
limns (third person present)
Greetings from an absolutely frigid 53.5° north latitude. We have entered into a cold weather stretch that is too cold to ride a bike in as the bike components themselves freeze. There isn't much to do but stay inside and read, which I did a lot of this week. The main accomplishment this week beyond getting back to work was to finish four books. So let's get into what I read and the other few interesting tidbits from this past week.
China's Influence on Canada:
There was a lot said in the media in 2019 about China and in particular about whether to allow Chinese made (and Chinese Communist Party-owned) Huawei telecommunications equipment into Canada. I commented in November and July on this site. The source of my commentary in July was an article from the MacDonald-Laurier Institute on some of the myths in the Huawei case, and they have continued to provide commentary in their December issue of their Inside Policy magazine. Inside Policy picks the Canadian Policymaker of the year, and this year they awarded the title to Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In the eyes of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, Xi's influence over Canadian politics in the last several years has been vast and sweeping, The article claims that Xi has forced Canada's hand in foreign policy more than any other leader, including the US President, and have caused our government to weaken our backing of international rule of law and human rights. If half of what said is true and not xenophobic fearmongering, then it is hard to ignore their claim. It is also hard to ignore the economic impact of such a large market, which is precisely why we find ourselves in this position.
If you need a more relatable analysis of the impact of Xi, the CCP, or Huawei, understand that Huawei continues to sponsor Hockey Night in Canada.
Moving on to better news, this week saw a series of books fall from the daunting heights of my Reading Pile and into the small but growing Read Pile. Four books were completed, with three of those having commenced in the waning days of 2019. Let's move on to the four.
The first book, Book #1 for 2020, was "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", by Mohsin Hamid. This was a unique book in that it portrayed one side of a conversation taking place over several hours in Lahore, Pakistan, between a Pakistani who used to live in America, and an American visiting Lahore. There was a small and ever-growing tension in the conversation cleverly built by subtle hints and comments. The reader was, or at least I was, constantly wondering what would happen between the two individuals. Would there be violence, or would the two find common ground and become if not friends, then at least companions?
I highly recommend this book if for no other reason than it challenged several stereotypes I have, some that I was conscious of, and others I was not. If you have read this novel, please reach out as I would love to discuss it with someone. I'll leave you with a wonderful quote from the novel. It wasn't particularly pertinent to the story or its underlying tension, but it struck me as I read it.
"Time only moves in one direction. Remember that. Things always change." --"The Reluctant Fundamentalist", by Mohsin Hamid
Book #2 for 2020 was "All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries" by Martha Wells. This was an extremely quick read, coming in at 140 small pages.
The protagonist and narrator is an augmented human designed to be an It instead of a Person, but it has decidedly human impulses and concerns. It was really enjoyable and thoroughly unique, and I definitely recommend it, especially in between larger or more emotionally demanding books.
Book #3 for 2020 was the second book in the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's series, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe". This was a second, or maybe third, reading for me, and this was one that I read with Daughter 1. Definitely funny, definitely quirky, definitely thought-provoking, but not quite as laugh-out-loud enjoyable as Hitchhiker's. Even so, well worth reading and sharing.
Last up for this week, Book #4 for 2020 was "The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library". This is one of the books up for a Young Reader's Choice Award at the local library system, and was written by one of the best Young Adult books I have read with my daughter's, that being Linda Bailey and "Seven Dead Pirates". I read Pirates before I started this site, so I unfortunately don't have anything to link to for that book, but I do suggest reading it. Anyway, back to Tiny Hero, this might seem like a trivial book to read even for Daughter 2, but it really was delightful. The characters were great, the story was believable as could be given that the tiny hero is in fact a green bug, and most importantly, the author's love for books and reading really shines through. We immediately grabbed one of the books discussed in Tiny Hero to be next in our readings - stay tuned next week to find out which one.
Just one new beer this week. Sea Change is a great local brewery and I have posted about a few of their beers in past months. This week I had The Wolf, which is their Pale Ale. It was pretty decent, but didn't have a ton of flavor. It did smell nice with a definite citrus punch to it. It wasn't up to par with some of their other offerings, but it was still good.
Surprisingly few words this week given that four books were crushed, but I suppose that it was easier reading this week than with finishing off something by Jared Diamond. Maybe more surprising is that very few of the words are from "War and Peace" or "The Count of Monte Cristo", which highlights that the hardest part of both novels is their size and not their required level of reading comprehension.
Welcome to the first entry for 2020, still from 53.5° north latitude, still reading, still finding new beers to drink. So what's the big deal with the new year then?
I hit 50 books read for 2019 with under 15 hours left in the year. I finished the last 57 pages of "Collapse" by Jared Diamond in the morning of New Year's Eve. This was a book that I started with great enthusiasm, but ended with relief. The second section on the history of past societies such as Maya, the Vikings, and Japan were great. I was genuinely interested and learned a lot, and I could see how Diamond was using history to teach us about the present. The third section was decent, but was hard to get through, maybe because I have heard a lot about China and Rwanda in particular in the years since Collapse was released (2005). The fourth section, titled "Practical Lessons" and structured to be the follow-up to the history lesson Diamond presented in the second section was a hundred pages of tedium. When I said I finished the last 57 pages, I probably only read the equivalent of 10 full pages. The rest was just skimmed through.
I think Collapse is an important book in that it is filled with science and research on the impacts of societal decisions that lead to environmental disasters that then cause those societies to fail. However, I do not know how relevant Collapse is anymore. If you staunchly do not believe in the need to make different ecological decisions, this book will not likely sway you. If you already believe, there is not much point in this book other than as a reference. Maybe this will be a useful tool to sway the rest of the population that does not fit into either camp, but I suspect that camp is rather small at this point.
I'll leave this section off with a quote from Collapse that seemed directly pertinent for the current political and economic climate here at home.
Yes, environmental problems do constrain human societies, but the societies' responses also make a difference. So, too, for better or for worse, do the actions and inactions of their leaders.
joined two reading groups on Reddit this month to help further my reading goals around big classic novels. The "War and Peace" (r/ayearofwarandpeace) and "The Count of Monte Cristo" (r/AReadingofMonteCristo) groups have so far been very engaging and interesting to participate in. War and Peace comes in at 361 chapters, so we will be reading and discussing a chapter pretty much every day this year. That will be an interesting way to read a book. Monte Cristo has an equally daunting thickness but with less chapters, meaning that we will only hold discussion threads every third day or so on that subreddit.
Wish me luck on having the stamina to read and follow along with both reading groups this year.
With a couple weeks off came a small handful of new beers. Three came in one sitting at Brewsters, and two were pickups from various stores, four were Albertan, and all were Canadian. The locale unfortunately did not translate into really good beers though. The list started off positively with the Howitzer Strong Winter Ale from Brewsters (3.75 / 5), but after that everything was at best average. The first taste of Brewster's Civic Pride Watermelon Ale was shockingly tangy but only got marginally better after the initial taste (3.0 / 5). The final offering from Brewsters was their Cappucino Stout and I couldn't finish it. The coffee flavor seemed like it was brewed by someone that didn't know how to brew coffee (2.25 / 5). After that, I had the Serpens Pilsner from Legend Seven Brewing in Calgary. That was decent (3.25 / 5), but I have to say the labels on the Legend Seven beers are fantastic pieces of art. Lastly, fading back into the land of disappointment, the 78 Kolsch from Philips was uniformly underwhelming - not a lot of flavor, not really that crisp, no aroma. (2.75 / 5)
With those five beers in the last fortnight comes four new badges from Untappd: Winter Wonderland (Level 2), The Great White North (Level 90), Rising Steady (Level 59), and Hopped Down (Level 33). Regarding the Untappd badges, when I initially starting logging my beers, adding the Untappd badges added some interesting visuals to the page, but I don't get anything out of them and really don't care. As a result, this is the last time I am going to post anything about the Untappd badges.
I do like the statistics that can come from Untappd however, so I think I will export my statistics from time to time and then work on my graphing and data manipulation skills to post something of value. For now, my total as of today is 621 unique beers since joining Untappd, which means a new beer every 2.82 days. I had the 78 Kolsch was Saturday night during supper, so I suppose I should schedule my next new beer early afternoon on Tuesday.
Quite a few new words this week, in fact this must be the longest list I have yet to compile. The vast majority are coming from the technical descriptions in Diamond's Collapse, but a few come from the Tolstoy and Dumas readings.
vicissitudes (plural noun)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, and welcome to the last entry for the year. One of my goals in 2020 will be to start to publicize my writing, so maybe someone will actually read what I lay down. Even if no one does though, I do enjoy the ritual of writing and so I do see this continuing regardless. I am also looking forward to my first long form single-topic entry which will be a summary of my reading for 2019. If I get a few hours in the next few days while I am still on holidays, I will even do some analysis of words read, favorite genre, et cetera.
The last eight days have been time off for me, and I have been busy doing nothing much at all. Reading, skating, a bit of cycling, some cooking, some visiting, but above all, just relaxing. This week's entry reflects that with just a few books, no big topics, and a bunch of beer.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
First stop this week will be on the three books I finished in the past fortnight. The first was "The Sword of Shannara" by Terry Brooks. I read the "Elfstones of Shannara" way back in junior high, and it had a lasting impression on me, at least as far as character names go. I have named nearly every video game character Balinor (or Balinore in instances where there was a naming conflict, as is the case for my World of Warcraft gnome rogue on the Perenolde realm) I have created in the past thirty-five years. Beyond the impact of that one character's name, having fast forwarded through the years has left me with a far less favorable impression on Brooks's writing. Between his endless stream of overly long sentences, to his habit of picking adjectives to overuse for particular chapters, the book was a serious slog to get through. The only reason I finished it was that I really wanted to re-read Elfstones, but I am definitely doubting the logic of that move. I might add Elfstones to my list for 2020, but if I do, it will be late in the year to allow me time to forget how punishing Sword was to read.
The next stop was "Mort", the fourth Discworld novel from Terry Pratchett, and the third one I read in 2019. Mort was quite enjoyable, with a number of chuckle-worthy moments. It reminded me more of "The Light Fantastic" which was funny but also interesting, where "The Color of Magic" was just funny, and "Equal Rites" was more serious than funny. The Discworld novels are proving to be a great way to fit in a book after a particularly deep or long read. That isn't meant to imply that they are not worth the time to read at all. I just find them to be great books to pop into the reading pile every few months to allow for some enjoyable reading, instead of reading something that is meant to be more serious, or instead of something non-fiction.
The third stop this fortnight was another enjoyable read. "The Quiche of Death" by M. C. Beaton is a British cozy mystery and something I discovered as it was displayed as a staff pick at my local library branch. It was a great find, and fit the mood I was in at the end of a long and very busy year.. The cantakerous-turned-almost-lovable protagonist transforms into a someone the local rural denizens can love, someone the reader can feel empathetic for, and an amateur detective all in a couple hundred pages. The fact that Agatha Raisin, and yes, that is the protagonist's name, will do all of this is pretty clear about a third of the way through the novel, but that's fine. Understanding and experiencing how the journey and the transformation would unfold was undoubtedly a large part of the charm of the story. I can see myself reading more novels in the Agatha Raisin series in the future.
Those three books bring my total for 2019 to 49. I am closing in on 50 and should be able to finish "Collapse" by Jared Diamond in the next ... 54 hours. I said in my post two weeks ago that I am going to set my reading goal for 2020 to be 52 books. Included in that goal will be to finish up all of the books that I have started but not finished, including the books that I need to keep getting on holds from the library, like "The Silk Roads" and "Off Armageddon Reef".
One other point of note for this week. I have decided to move my book links from Amazon to WorldCat. I wasn't familiar with WorldCat before reading Maria Popova's wonderful "Brain Pickings" weekly emails, but I now know that it is "is the world's largest library catalog". Popova has a supernatural ability to compile "interesting and inspiring articles across art, science, philosophy, creativity, children's books, and other strands of our search for truth, beauty, and meaning". I am in awe of what she produces on a weekly basis, and if links to WorldCat are good enough for Popova, they are certainly good enough for me.
Happy holidays and good cheer to everyone, especially in the form of numerous and varied beers! In the past couple of weeks, I have been able to check in seven new beers, and with it, have accumulated seven new badges on Untappd.
First was a Peroni, the classic Italian lager, which was definitely better than I expected, but I did go in with low expectations (3.0 / 5). Next was the Goose Island Midway IPA. I went into my third offering from Goose Island hoping for something really good, but the Midway was my third disappointment in a row from them. I must be missing something, as a lot of people speak highly of the Chicago brewery. (3.0 / 5). Things got better after that. The 999 Spiced Wit collab from Blindman, Grain Bin, and Hell's Basement was a decent wit. (3.25 / 5), and the Mazarine Dragon from Alley Kat was a solid, fruity Double IPA. (3.75 / 5). Stay Golden is a Belgian Blonde from SYC Brewing, another local microbrewery. This was crisp and clean and well crafted. (3.75 / 5). Rounding out the beers were two more collaborations, the first between Banded Peak and Cabin, and the second between Snake Lake and Folding Mountain. The Abbott Dubbel and the Maple Imperial Stout were really well crafted, and both had enough flavor and character to avoid getting overpowered by the high alcohol levels. (3.75 / 5 for both)
From this six+one pack of beers came the Hoppy Hanukkah 2019, Better Together (Level 3), I Believe in IPA! (Level 24), The Great White North (Level 89), Middle of the Road (Level 60) 2x (Level 6), and Beyond a Shadow of a Stout (Level 6) badges on Untappd.
The list of new words this fortnight is deceptively small. I have only four words this time around, but if you look at the side of my copy of "Collapse", you'll notice the fore edge is forested with stickies of words to look up (and to be fair, other items to reference or quote). The New Words section of the next entry should be much longer.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. Life is returning to a normal state that allows for time for reflection, personal hobbies, and the odd beer or two. Reading has returned in force as a result, which just makes everything better.
Time for the meat of this week's entry!
Another entry in the Gaming Disappointment category, but this time caused by an error on my part, I thought I was going to be able to pick up my Ice Cream Dice today, but I apparently picked the ship-to-me option! Ice Cream Dice was a successful Kickstarter by fellow Edmontonian, Marc Schubert. I was totally looking forward to rolling the Neapolitan set when our work campaign kicks off again this Wednesday. I mean, look at those things! They are wonderful. But alas, I will have to wait until closer to New Year to get them in my hands.
Last thing about gaming for this week: I am looking to curate a group of people, hopefully local, hopefully committed to playing, with a focus on roleplaying instead of roll-playing. Characters over Stats. I'll work on my outline in a long form post on this site, so let me know if you have any comments while I'm working on it.
Life is better with books. -- me
As I look back at 2019, my single biggest accomplishment is my focus on reading. I still have 16 days to finish four books to push my total to 50 for the year, which is definitely an accomplishment, and I should be able to do that with the progress I have made on Mort, Collapse, The Sword of Shannara, and ... something else, just not sure what yet.
Book #46 on this year's reading list was Slacker, by Gordon Korman. As with the other recently-written Korman novels I have read to my daughters in the past few years (Masterminds, Ungifted), this is written in a series of alternating first-person narratives, which allows the reader the chance to see everything from multiple perspectives. The style is interesting, and allows for some fun guessing games - Who is this chapter going to be about? Slacker was a decent offering, but I think it was lacking especially in comparison to Ungifted where the protaganist was someone to actually care about. But it was still enjoyable, and gave us several nights of reading. Gordon Korman will always have a place in my reading pile, even after my daughters have grown up and moved on.
In other reading news, I have discovered some reading groups on Reddit that should be really fun to participate in. r/ayearofwarandpeace and r/AReadingOfMonteCristo are subreddits devoted to reading and discussing Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo respectively. I am super excited to read both books, and really looking forward to the discussions as well. War and Peace clocks in at 361 short chapters, so it will be a daily read-discuss cycle. Monte Cristo will have roughly three days between discussions, so there will be more time to read in between. With that sort of additional focus, I am going to set my 2020 reading goal at 52 books.
Two new beers this last week. The first was the Rinktinis lager from Volfmas Engleman. Really good stuff. I posted earlier this year about another lager from this Lithuanian brewery, and I was impressed with it as well. I'll keep searching out brews from them. This one had a good level of carbonation and had a lot of taste but was still easy to drink. (3.75 / 5).
The second was my first try from Ommegang, and it was a bit different and not too my liking. The Bigger and Better is a bière de garde, or Farmhouse Ale, so lots of hops and yeast. It was too mediciney for my taste though. My friend Dave swears by Ommegang though, so I'm sure this won't be my last from them. (3.0 / 5)
These two earned me the Middle of the Road (Level 59) and Wheel of Styles (Level 25) badges from Untappd.
Lots of new words this week. I read the first half of Collapse by Jared Diamond, and your vocabulary is significantly greater than mine if you can read something by Diamond without learning a lot of words. Same thing with Mort by Terry Pratchett, but the words from Pratchett are more likely to be turns-of-phrase and very specific British terms. I needed a break from Collapse so I started Mort. I should finish both by the end of next week. And to be honest, a number of these words this week are leftovers from The Bone Clocks that I missed posting last week.
NOUN - British, informal
a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted
NOUN - British, historical
ADJECTIVE - humorous
NOUN - medicine
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.