Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where your humble blogger is happily officially COVID-negative (for now, at least), and is the still-proud-but-aghast father of an officially-in-her-teens-now teenager.
The past week was spent much the same as the previous weeks. A couple bike rides, some reading, some guitar, a lot of work. The news that the playgrounds were open again was definitely well-received in our house. Seeing the garbage can containing the old signs announcing the playground was closed was itself a bit of a tonic for my younger daughter, almost as good as being able to run in the park and get on the swings.
The only COVID item worth posting this week is this story about how Trump's COVID "game changer" hydroxychloroquine is worse than ineffective; it is actually deadly. The article is based on a study published in The Lancet. The most interesting quote from the article highlights the disconnect between Trump's declarations and the actual facts of this matter: "these findings provide absolutely no reason for optimism that these drugs might be useful in the prevention or treatment of covid-19."
But let's not dwell on the negative. Instead, let's focus on the sublime wit of Bike Edmonton and how they completely destroyed this monstrosity of a kid's bike.
I spent a few days plowing through about half of a short story anthology, and then picked up the absolutely amazing "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss. I'm only about one-fifth finished it so I probably won't finish it until early June. Unless the quality of the writing decreases in the upcoming chapters, this will definitely be a contender for the best book I read in 2020.
I am also a week behind in my War and Peace reading, and completely negligent in the reading of Monte Cristo. If the world is opening back up, I suspect EPL will open soon as well and that means I have to finish a few of my library finds as well, including that anthology.
But for this week, I was able to finish one book with my younger daughter. Book #20 for 2020 was "Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty!" by Polly Horvath. This was an enjoyable story to read with a younger family member and had an decent story. Unfortunately though, it started out much better than it ended. By the end, we were constantly commenting on how moronic the characters were. Their shortsightedness was actually distracting. Not that there was a real sense of verisimilitude in a story about talking rabbits interacting with a young girl and her hippy parents, but whatever immersion there was in the story was lost by repeatedly asking if the characters could do anything any more idiotic. So maybe read this to an eight year-old and not a ten year-old.
Most of my listening in recent months has been limited to artists that I already knew about and albums I already knew. However this week I turned on Track Radio in Tidal on a Foals song and was really happy to hear a track from Kurt Vile. I have been listening to his "b'lieve i'm going down..." and "Bottle It In" albums repeatedly for the last few days. Bottle It In is much more laidback and b'lieve has more enthusiastic guitar sounds, but both are solid albums with great lyrics and music.
Three new beer this week, bringing my total lifetime unique beers logged on Untappd to 658. The first was another from The Wild Beer Co. in the UK. This time it was the Jambo Imperial Stout. As you would expect with an Imperial, this had lots of flavor with dark raspberries if dark raspberries are actually a thing. Might have been too much flavor though as it took a lot to think through this one. It wasn't too boozy though, which was nice. (3.5 / 5).
The other two were both from DAB, or Dortmund Actien-Brauerei. DAB touts themselves as the "ambassador of the famous Dortmund Beer style", and while they are "only" 152 years old, they claim a much older provenance by brewing in compliance with the Purity Law of 1516. I think it is fair to call them a macro brewery, but from what I have tried, they produce decent beers.
The first was their Export lager, This was a well made beer with a nice bready malt and a bit of hops. Pretty happy with this one. (3.5 /5). The second was their Maibock, which is a style I don't have a lot of experience with. I feel this was better than most of the average beers that I rate at 3.25, but it wasn't good enough to be 3.5. I guess I will have to branch out to the bocks and maibocks and see if I can find a really good example of this style. That is the beauty of being on a lifelong quest to drink one of each beer in the world. (3.25 / 5)
Very few new words this week, even though I read a lot.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where the week that was was worse than the week that was last week. In short, I felt bad at the start of the week, felt worse as the week progressed, and have now been tested for COVID. So yeah, pretty much sucky. I won't talk about that here because I am trying my hand at a long form diary for my maybe-COVID-journey.
There were some interesting highlights from this week, a couple new beers (back earlier in the week when I didn't feel quite so bad), and a list of interesting words. Upward and onward!
First up were two interesting experiences in online media consumption. Early in the week, I watched both an opera from The Met and a concert from The National. The Met streamed "Werther", and The National released footage of a concert from last August on YouTube. To be able to watch both of those on the same day was quite remarkable. The National will continue to be one of my favourite bands so they will get money from me from albums and (hopefully one day!) concerts, but I will have to think about sending some money to The Met to support their choice to stream from their archives..
In the category of self-promotion, I was part of a webinar with three other security executives and a current Board-level moderator. Thanks to Securonix for inviting me to speak at the session which covered general info and cyber security areas, but also highlighted a few healthcare-specific topics as well.
If you are so inclined, it is available on-demand here, and here is my little behind-the-scenes look at how I set up my recording area. It was difficult to get the camera set up properly, and I am constantly struggling with how the image width changes between video conferencing tools. Skype for Business barely showed any of the bookcase behind me, but BrightTalk showed all the way out the door. I have another session on May 29, so I have a bit of time to make improvements.
One more note before we move on to the beers and words. In early- and then mid-April I mentioned a reading group pulled together by Adam Greenfield. This week we read Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto", which was more of an essay than a book so I won't count it in this year's reading list. Manifesto was thought-provoking and much easier to read than most of what we have delved into, but was still pretty dense. This was our last meeting of our reading group unfortunately, but I am definitely happy for the experience.
Early in the week when I felt decent, I tried a couple new beers. The first was the Tyskie Gronie lager out of Poland. Decent. Did the trick but nothing more than that. Then again, if that's all you ask and you get what you ask for, then that's a win in my book. (3.25 / 5) The other beer was another from Postmark. I tried out their Juicy Pale Ale a couple weeks ago, and was quite happy with it. This time it was their Westerly IPA which started out great. Nice citrus and hops but a disturbing amount of sediment. The sediment knocked the rating down a peg or two. (3.25 / 5)
A handful of new words this week, largely from the reading and discussion in Greenfield's reading group, and I am pretty sure one is a repeat.
Greetings from 53.5 ° north latitude. The week was filled with reading and guitar and little else. So really, a pretty awesome week.
We are just finishing up the nineteenth week of 2020, with the first week of the year being a few days short of the full seven. I'm doing well with my reading, clocking in at an average of one book per week. If I can keep it up and also finish War and Peace and The Count of Monte Cristo with those reading groups I have previously mentioned, I will read 54 books this year. That is a momentous number and would be a hard mark to surpass in my pre-retirement years.
Book #17 for 2020 was the audiobook version of Simon Sinek's "The Infinite Game". Sinek came to my attention during an executive education program I was enrolled in in 2013 - 2014. His TED talks about leadership related to his earlier books continue to be a popular favorite, wracking up millions of views. This latest book is short but worth the time. Sinek distills his thoughts about why an infinite mindset built with thoughts of the long-term and abundance is superior to a finite mindset built with only the short-term in mind and with a focus on scarcity. One quote that stuck with me was that "leaders are not responsible for results; they are responsible for the people that are responsible for the results." That is a good maxim to keep in mind while leading teams and organizations, as is Sinek's comment that we should "go slow now to stop problems later."
Book #18 for 2020 was "Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow. This was a book I decided to read with my older daughter, and it opened a lot of conversations about surveillance and the Internet, It was also about a teenage boy falling in love, so that kept me scanning a few lines ahead so that I could strategically avoid certain topics.
This was my least favorite of Doctorow's books that I have read so far, mainly because I already understood the lessons he was communicating, but also because of the somewhat jingoistic references to the US Declaration of Independence. I was probably a bit overly sensitized to references to the Declaration because Sinek also raved about it in his book as the ideal infinite game.
Would I recommend this book? Probably not, at least to a casual reader. Would I use it to reference the problems with surveillance technology. Sure, but something like Bruce Schneier's "Secrets and Lies" or "Data and Goliath" would be better, albeit non-fictional sources.
Book #19 for 2020 was "The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes" by Mark Urban. This was a historical account of George Scovell, the man that provided Wellington with vital intelligence in the war against Napoleon's army in Spain and Portgual. Scovell used captured communications to decipher both the Army of Portugal and grande ciphere used by the French.
Urban was able to write the entire book from journals and official war correspondence, and so it provides an interesting portrayal of Wellington, Napoleon's brother Joseph, and the French marshals in the Iberian conflict. The marshals are shown to be vapid and selfish, and completely vested in only their own wealth and position. They are clearly not in this war for the infinite game of anyone beyond themselves. Urban also highlights the cultural and societal biases of the British gentry and of Wellington in particular, and holds that up against the barbaric behavior of the common British soldier.
This was an interesting read, and especially interesting in light of the shared backdrop with War and Peace and Monte Cristo. The impact Napoleon had on Europe in the early 1800s can clearly not be overlooked. I'm glad I read this book for that reason, however, it was not as focused on George Scovell as I would have liked. I understand that Urban could only write this history from his sources, but it would have been nice to have more information about Scovell's early life or retirement years. Scovell seems like he would have been a great person to know and I would like to know more about him. This quote from Scovell definitely helped me form that opinion of him.
I think it by far the most instructive part of a campaign to know why we fail; success is in the mouth of everyone to account for. --George Scovell
Regardless, this is a good book both to get an idea of the mindset, diligence, and meticulousness of an early cryptographer, and to get another perspective on the Napoleonic era.
With all that reading, there are bound to be a lot of new words.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. This past week was a bit of downer, not gonna lie. Seven weeks of COVID work-from-home quasi-isolation is definitely straining psyches.
But let's not fool ourselves - what we are experiencing here in Canada is definitely NOT a quarantine. To get a feel for what a real quarantine is like, the Lawfare team interviewed one of their own in Beijing. Sophia Yan recently returned from Wuhan to Beijing and reported on her 14 days of quarantine. From house nannies getting alerts every time her door opens, to a full escort from airport to home to ensure she doesn't nip out for some groceries, to family members being forced to quarantine apart from their family, Yan lays out what strict enforcement really looks like.
In fact, even though we are several weeks earlier into our pandemic response than China, we are contemplating what the Kenney government has labelled our "relaunch" strategy to be in place as early as May 14. The full document has been saved here for posterity.
The Alberta government relaunch strategy is built on seven conditions to be met. They are (as copied directly from the document):
As you can see in the second bullet, one tool that various jurisdictions including Alberta are utilizing as they relaunch or reopen is some form of "contact tracing". In the early stages of an outbreak with small numbers of people infected, this can be very manual - figure out who a person met, call them, call who they talked to, and so on. This gets significantly more difficult in the mid- to late-stages of a pandemic due to the vast numbers of people who are or could be infected, and that of course sounds like something that technology can help with.
Contact tracing apps like the one that Singapore open-sourced and that Alberta has adopted sound like they could be privacy nightmares. This article out of the UK outlines how those issues could manifest into significant concerns, but the fact that they are not mandatory means the number of people potentially impacted could be small. Further to that. Brookings and Bruce Schneier both complete pan contact tracing applications, saying that they just don't work.
Assume you take the app out grocery shopping with you and it subsequently alerts you of a contact. What should you do? It's not accurate enough for you to quarantine yourself for two weeks. And without ubiquitous, cheap, fast, and accurate testing, you can't confirm the app's diagnosis. So the alert is useless.
If this is all true, then the promise of a contact tracing application freeing people from, as Brookings put it, the "terrible choice between staying home or risking exposure" is nothing but a false hope. If the only real tool we have to stay safe until we have a vaccine is full-on quarantine, then it looks like the Chinese might have the only solid plan.
China continues to come up nearly daily for me. Looking at China closely over the past two decades has evolved from a personal interest, to a hobby, an investment strategy, and now into the realm of core fact of life. Understanding what China is doing is as fascinating as it is essential, and so it was with great interest that I read this article about China and technology futures and the China Standards 2035 initiative. As the article states, while the Chinese Communist Party is "authoritarian to a fault, its machinery of innovation should not be underestimated." It closes by saying that "ultimately China’s ability to rejuvenate itself following the pandemic will likely be superior and more strategic than the rest of the planet."
I'm going to skip the Reading Pile section this week as I did not finish the Mark Urban or Simon Sinek books that I am currently reading. I should be able to review both of them next week.
As for the new beers, there were two this week and they were both quite memorable. The first was my first from Vancouver's Postmark Brewing. Their Juicy Pale Ale had a nice taste and citrus aroma, lots of citrus pith, and a long lasting foam. Good stuff. (3.5 / 5). I'll be sure to search out additional offerings from Postmark based on this first try.
The second was yet another from Collective Arts. I have been going through the Collective Arts offerings lately because (a) they are typically quite good, and (b) they are available as singles at one of the stores closest to my house. The latest was their Blueberry Sour with Cocoa Nibs and it was, in a word, purple! And in more than one word, this was a really great beer. A bit fruity, a bit chocolatey, a bit sour. A great combination that I never would have thought of, and the first beer I have rated at 4.0 / 5 in probably a couple years.
Just two new words this week. There should be a fair number next week after I finish those two books by Urban and Sinek.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where spring has finally sprung and people are once again able to get outside. Let's hope they stay isolated so that our COVID cases don't spike in a couple weeks.
The week that was was long and repetitive, with double-digit meetings each work day. The reading was good, as was the guitar playing. If I thought the picture would be clear, I'd take a picture of my left fingertips to show the budding callouses.
The tl;dr for this week is: Two books finished, four beers drank (three from the previous week), a book discussion recorded and posted on YouTube, and a bunch of new words.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
It was a productive week for reading, with two books finished and a new one about one-quarter completed already.
Book #15 for 2020 was a young reader series mystery that I finished with my younger daughter. "Panda-Monium" by Stuart Gibbs is a first-person narrated story of a middle school sleuth who helps solve the mystery of a missing panda. Teddy Fitzroy is a bit like Encyclopedia Brown, but in a modern setting and in a full-length novel format. The book was really well done and had a couple absolutely hilarious scenes. If you are looking to hook a young reader on the mystery genre, this is a good choice.
Book #16 for 2020 was "Ancillary Justice" by Anne Leckie, a science fiction story revolving around a multi-millennium old AI hellbent on revenge. It was a great concept, and ultimately it came together really well, but I did lose interest for a while about two-thirds of the way through. To be fair, that might have been a symptom of mental fatigue and quarantine overload. It was definitely good enough to make me seek out the second book in the series.
Leckie wrote an excellent quote near the end of the novel that could have been equally applicable to today's world.
If you've got power and money and connections, some differences won't change anything. Or if you are resigned to dying in the near future ... It's the people without the money and the power, who desperately want to live, for those people small things aren't small at all. What you call no difference is life and death to them,
I mentioned above that I am already one-quarter through another book. That one is a historical account of some seriously interesting cyrpto work done over 200 years ago. I suspect I'll have a good summary of it done for next week's entry. In the meantime, here is a tweet related to that book.
Lastly, I have commented multiple times since mid-December about the War and Peace Reddit reading group that I am part of. I highly encourage you to read War and Peace, and if you do, a chapter-a-day reading habit is a great way to do it, especially if you augment it with Brian E. Denton's Daily Meditations on each chapter.
Denton has been actively lurking on the subreddit this year and invited myself and others to record a session where we talk about Book 1, Part 1. It was a really good discussion, and it was great to put faces to names of some of the most active contributors to the subreddit. The full video is linked below, and a few of my points are linked here [1, 2].
Four new beers for the past fortnight - I didn't feel like posting a beer update last week - and it was a fairly forgettable bunch unfortunately. It started out well with the Collective Arts Hazy State. Collective Arts do like their hazy IPAs. This one was very hazy and never did settle or clear in the slightest. There was a big waft of pine and a nice taste. (3.75 / 5). The next was also from Collective Arts, but this was a bit disappointing. It wasn't bad or poorly done, but just didn't live up to my expectations for a sour from Collective Arts. (3.25 / 5).
Next was the Wild Beer Company Millionaire Salted Caramel Chocolate Milk Stout. This had a nice boozy flavor without being overpowering, but I didn't taste much of the salted caramel or chocolate. (3.25 / 5).
Last up was the Lech Premium Pale Lager. When you are on a personal quest to drink one of every beer in the world like I am, you will eventually have to drink benign lagers from big macro breweries, and this was one of those times. This was decent, but wholly unremarkable. That's all I am going to say. (3.0 / 5)
Quite a few words this week, with a couple being repeat offenders.
[ˈnü-əl , ˈnyü- ]
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. If my weeks had themes, this week's theme would have to be "The Triumph of the Introverts". I could see the struggle and the fatigue in the faces and hear in the voices of my friends and coworkers this last week. What seemed like a holiday a few weeks ago, a chance to hang out, try some new tech, ignore the commute, turned this last week into the slog of quarantine. The fact that we haven't hit the peak yet, that we have a significant amount of time before isolation ends, the fact that we should mentally prepare for another wave in the fall, has all taken its toll on those around me.
But not everyone is doing poorly. Some of us, the introverts especially, are faring much better. One might even argue that we were made for these times. If you have a deep-seated need to be in physical contact with someone, you are going to be in a much worse place right now than if connection via video conference is sufficient for you. Mental health issues will be paramount while and after we deal with the physical issues. I'll point out the same mental health support videos that I highlighted in last week's entry. Watch them for yourself and those close to you, and share those with others in case they might benefit as well. Even if you are doing better than most because of your innate personality and genetic makeup, it is highly unlikely that you are immune from mental health concerns. Take care of yourself.
There were a few other COVID-related items worth highlighting this week. The first was this combination sun hat and face shield. My spouse is looking seriously at getting one, but for some reason I just cannot take it seriously. The company selling these hats has various other "Health Protection" items for sale, but the main categories of their products on their web site include "Spring Fashion" and "Accessory and Beauty" so I can't help but feel that this is nothing more than a cash grab.
60 Minutes broadcast an interview with Peter Navarro, who US President Trump appointed to lead the initiative to distribute Personal Protective Equipment. Watch that interview for a quick lesson in deflection and redirection, and to see pushback in action instead of leadership. In the end though, 60 Minutes comes out on top with this interview with their mic-drop moment when they highlighted their previous reporting on pandemic response after Navarro openly challenged their role and leadership.
And speaking of a lack of leadership, take a read of this article and a look at the picture below to see what happens when poor leaders lead poorly. Note the vitriol of the Trump supporters with their MAGA hats and their "Don't Tread on Me" flags, all because of the American cellular-level need for loudly protecting personal freedoms, rekindling the "age-old U.S. debate over government regulation vs. personal liberty", fueled by a leader who just cannot lead.
There is more to life, well my life at least, than COVID, so let's talk about something else for a while, shall we?
Cybersecurity is important to everyone, and I would be remiss if I did not pass on this note about CIRA's new Internet protection service they call "Canadian Shield". CIRA touts their DNS privacy service, ransomware blocking, and pornography filtering service as "enterprise-grade protection for all Canadians". It is super easy to setup and free. If you are Canadian and don't already have access to a similar service or commercial offering, there is no reason why you shouldn't configure your home network using CIRA's Canadian Shield settings.
There was a lot of reading in my life this week, and I was able to finish one small book. Book #14 for 2020 was Susan Sontag's "Illness as Metaphor", the third book in our social science reading group hosted by Adam Greenfield. We only read excerpts of the first two books, but this week we read the whole book from Sontag. To be fair, it clocked in at a paltry 88 pages, but I will count it as a full book regardless.
There was a lot of very powerful language in this book; language that made me think about the social "value" of diseases, and how two diseases can be viewed so differently. A lot of the book is focused on tuberculosis, and early in the book, Sontag discusses how the consumption and wasting comes from TB has lead to the skinny mindset in the twentieth century.
Twentieth-century women's fashions (with their cult of thinness) are the last stronghold of the metaphors associated with the romanticizing of TB in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Sontag then contrasted the new waifish chic brought along by TB with how their male contemporaries stereotyped themselves.
Gradually, the tubercular look, which symbolized an appealing vulnerability, a superior sensitivity, became more and more the ideal look for women—while great men of the mid- and late nineteenth century grew fat, founded industrial empires, wrote hundreds of novels, made wars, and plundered continents.
I'm glad we read Sontag's book, but I couldn't help but feel it was dated. The book quotes Kafka a couple times as he ultimately died from TB in 1924. One quote from him from 1920 said that he had an illness of the mind that had moved to his body. Sontag's book was written in 1978, meaning there is a span of 58 years between his quote and Sontag's book. At present in 2020, there have been 41 years since Sontag wrote this book, which is getting close to the gap between Kafka and Sontag. Think how much has changed in collective thinking in those 41 years, and it seems that a 2020 Sontag book on the same topic would arrive at new conclusions.
It is unfortunate that Sontag passed away so many years ago, as it would be insightful to read a 2020 version with a new foreword by the author.
Lots of new words this week from a combination of War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo, Sontag's book discussed above, and a new science fiction book that I will hopefully be able to finish this week.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where it is unbelievably, and frustratingly, still winter.
This week saw the world surpass 1.8 million confirmed COVID cases, and the US going over the 20,000 mark to become the country with the most confirmed COVID-related deaths globally. Here in Alberta, we hit 40 deaths so far, but that is a far cry from the estimated range of 400 and 3,100 deaths as modeled by AHS and presented to the public by the Premier (video below). We are only 10% of the way to the best-case scenario right now, which is really staggering.
Is there a bright side to all of this? Is there something positive we can take away? I think there is, whether it be the wonderful in-home concerts we can watch, the positivity from so many people, or the companies around the world retooling so they can focus on creating life-saving equipment. Plus so many of us are finding ways to stay connected even if we are alone.
I remember back in my twenties hearing for the first time that there was a difference between being alone and being lonely. If we can stay alone or at least only together with our household while still finding ways to stay connected, we can come out of this okay. Don't get me wrong, the world will be changed, and mental health will be greatly impacted in addition to the more obvious physical issues. But that doesn't mean the world will be or has to be worse than it is now.
I am taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to do something new. The most obvious at this point is a reading group I joined hosted by author Adam Greenfield. This isn't a typical book club or even a contemporary international reading, but rather a group reading about specific theories and books in the social sciences.
Our first book was "Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly" by Judith Butler. My proviso for this is that I didn't read the whole book like the rest of the group. I thoroughly read about ten percent and then skimmed the rest. Butler's reputation of writing obtuse and hard-to-read prose is apparently well-deserved. Not that I knew about Butler's reputation, or even Butler at all, prior to the group discussion.
Our second book which we delved into this week was "The Wretched of the Earth" by Frantz Fanon. Again, never heard of him but his writing was much more consumable albeit dated. Written in 1961, Fanon wrote in the language of the day: Man this, man that, women as an object. Trying to get past that, we focused on the chapter "On Violence" which discusses the need for the colonized to stand up to the colonizer.
At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. --Franz Fanon
I am grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to different thinking, different intellectuals, and completely different discussions, but I am concerned with my ability to contribute to the ongoing discussion. That said, I did propose that we discuss the use of the "war" moniker and metaphor in our COVID responses and that received enthusiastic support. Cue up some Susan Sontag!
Switching over to the "listening pile" for a minute, I was able to find time to dive into the recent Longform interview with science writer Ed Yong. Yong had just completed a great article on COVID for The Atlantic, which is definitely worth reading in addition to or instead of the Longform interview. While the whole interview was enjoyable, my favourite part was in the first few minutes as they were getting settled and Yong compared his COVID-reality life to a combination of "Groundhog Day" and a Michael Bay movie: stunningly mind-numbing repetition followed by scare-you-out-of-your-seats moments. Yep, pretty much sums up the last month.
The last bit of non-fiction reading this week was a throwback to 1997. Back in January, I commented on the Longform interview with Kevin Kelly, former editor at Wired. This 1997 article was co-written by Kelly and comments on the soon-to-be demise of the browser and the coming wonders of push technology.
It is interesting to read something from twenty-three years ago, especially given that the Internet as we know it was barely a couple years old at the time of publication. A lot has changed, of course. Talk of T1 lines seems antiquated, even though I can remember being proud to commission my first T1 installation not long before that article came out.
We can expect a billion Web pages by 2000. Some of them will even be worth reading. -- Wired, March 1997
Where the article was most prescient was its predictions regarding technology pervasiveness and the dependency content producers would have on advertising. At one point, the authors predict that this new world of push technology, which has somewhat been replaced with notifications, will be "gentle, in-your-face, intermittent, in the background, or always on." The always-on-ness of our world these days is definitely one of our defining societal problems. See my comments from last October regarding Michael Harris's book "Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World". As for their other prediction, some form of the word "advertising" appears eight times throughout the article. Maybe the authors were afforded a crystal ball and could see their magazine's web page covered in ads from their parent company and lifestyle brand, Condé Nast.
On to fiction. First, I am continuing to read "The Count of Monte Cristo" and am thoroughly enjoying it. It holds up quite well at nearly 200 years old. One of my favourite lines so far in the book came in the penultimate paragraph of Chapter XXX, and it really sets up the revenge section of the novel.
I have taken the place of Providence to reward the good; now let the avenging God make way for me to punish the wrongdoer! --The Count of Monte Cristo, Chapter XXX
I also finished another book this week. Book #13 for 2020 was "Seraphina", by Rachel Hartman. This was a wonderful and unique Young Adult novel, that earns the YA moniker in all the best ways. The eponymous protagonist was not an orphan, which is of course the single worst trope in YA novels, plus was part of the solution but realized she could not cannot do it alone. No pushy teen sidestepping the lame-brained adults in this novel. There was a great message about the importance of family and friends and how solutions are best solved together and not alone. I'm not an expert on the middle ages, but the setting seemed to be a realistic, wealthy monarchy set in a middle ages equivalent world. Hartman was able to introduce IRL middle ages items and terms, such as houpelandde, oud, and sackbut (see the New Words section below for all three), and added to the dragon mythos with new words like saar, saarantras, and dracomachia (you will have to read the book to get definitions for these). All in all, a great novel worthy of your time and energy to read whether you are in the YA time frame or just like a good novel.
Three new beers this week from three different Canadian breweries, Collective Arts, Alley Kat, and Moosehead. The first was the Collective Arts No. 12 IPA which was a nice hazy IPA with a lot of citrus and a refreshing taste. (3.5 / 5). The second was the Alley Kat Westminster Tabby from their Back Alley Brews line. This Extra Special Bitter benefited from the authentic British malts, and according to the label Alley Kat even replicated the minerals in the water from Burton Upon Trent in the UK. It is a shame this is a limited edition beer that isn't sticking around. (3.75 / 5)
Last up was the Moosehead Pale Ale. A pale ale is by definition pale which implies not a huge amount of flavor or aroma. Moosehead's Pale Ale was a decent representation of a style that doesn't have a lot going for it, in my opinion. Decent, drinkable, but pretty forgettable. (3.25 / 5)
Lots of new words this week, partly because I caught up with all of the words from "Seraphina", but also because of the Fanon, Butler, and Monte Cristo readings.
[ab ˈōˌvō, äb]
There are those words that you say without thinking about, and then one day you think about them, and all you can think about is how weird that word is. "Hunker" is definitely in that category. We are definitely into the "hunker" phase of our global COVID response, in which we are, to use the North American use of the word, taking shelter in a defensive position. See the full definition in the "New Words" section at the end of this post.
With that, greetings from 53.5° north latitude, in a spot in the world where it is still solidly winter with cold temperatures, snow, and ice that can cause both the short of cycling mishaps that rip through two layers of pants and at least one layer of skin, and an intensely beautiful vistas.
The world zipped past 1,000,000 confirmed cases of COVID earlier this week, and passed 1.25 million this morning. There is a growing realization that we will be in this state of isolation until the end of June and that some form of public health measures will extend for some time beyond then.
Even with all of the news, the messages from public health officials, the pleas from celebrities, there are still people who just won't get it. The blistering editorial this week in the Thorsby Target from Thorsby Mayor Rod Raymond this past week was a welcome read. It seems Mayor Raymond does not mince words. Pin heads, indeed!
I talked about the economic impact in the last two weeks [here, and here]. The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce released some staggering survey results this week. Nearly half of Chamber members surveyed feared that their business would not survive, and a quarter surveyed do not have cash to meet their next payroll.
The world will change as a result of this. The world is changing as a result of this. It will be imperative to engage to do as much as possible to influence the changes to be positive and inclusive. If we fail to that, what we are living in now may be the real-world equivalent to the prequel to a haunting dystopian science-fiction story.
I had a good week as far as reading goes. I dove into "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" and should be caught up in the respective Reddit reading groups in a few days. Monte Cristo is revealing itself to be a beautiful book filled with evocative imagery and phrases. Below are two of my favourite from my readings this last week. The first one is strangely recursive, discussing how a heart can break and then itself causing hearts to break.
The heart breaks when it has swelled too much in the warm breath of hope, then finds itself enclosed in cold reality.
The second is darker, highlighting a fatalistic view on the world and the thoughts that maybe the world should just be burned down.
If only the sky would rain gunpowder for two days and fire for an hour, and we could have done with it all.
Beyond those two novels, I did finish another novel this week. Book #12 for 2020 was "Future Home of the Living God" by Louise Erdrich. This was a book that I thought was wonderful as I was in the act of reading it, but as I stepped away from it I reflect on a few flaws. There were a few plot points dropped in and not explored, such as the massively changed fauna (sabre-tooth cat, anyone?). I also would have liked to have the role of the theocratic church explained more, and how the monitoring and surveillance technology was a surprise and also so surprisingly effective. I still don't know with certainty which characters in the book were "good", but I suppose that is no different than real life, where every person we encounter is both wonderful and flawed.
But ignore that. You should read this book even with its flaws. The timeliness of a novel where the protagonist is locked away and isolated is certainly worth reading right now, as are the hints at how quickly and how completely our world could change for the worse. Don't take anything for granted, even those crummy gas station granola bars, and especially the rights of the individuals.
And since I am apparently big on quotes this week, here is one from this book that can hopefully remind us of all that exists that is worth fighting for.
I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful. I think it may be our strongest quality.
More reading this week, and therefore more new words as well. Plus leading off with that word that seems really weird when you really think about it.
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude. This was the first week of several where most of the population is working from home or otherwise isolated. My parents haven't talk to anyone in over two weeks now; our entire family spends nearly the entire day in our house; businesses are either offering curbside pickup or are completely shut down.
It is hard to believe it has only been a week, and that the week before that was the real start of the preparation. Our family seems to be handling the close proximity and change of schedule well so far, but there are several weeks of this to come.
Economy and COVID:
As I mentioned last week, the economy is reeling from the shutdown stores and businesses and the hits to the global supply chain. Of particular interest to Albertans, whose economic well-being is nearly inseparable from the oil and gas sector, the price of oil continues to fall. Take a look at the next two graphics, and see if you can tell the difference between a barrel of Western Canadian Select crude and a Starbucks Iced Cocoa Macchiato.
Now I've never tasted either but I assume the Starbucks drink is more appealing to the palate. But even more disturbing that the thought of drinking crude oil, at least in terms of the Alberta economy, is that on Friday the Starbucks Macchiato cost more than a barrel of crude oil from our province. The impact to Alberta cannot be overstated.
Common wisdom is that conventional oil in Alberta costs about $40 per barrel to produce. The provincial budget for 2020 forecast oil to be at around $58 per barrel. A fifty dollar differential is the difference between having social programs that the government is looking to radically overhaul and not having any social programs at all..
We have already seen calls from US President Trump to "restart" the US economy, citing concerns that America “cannot” let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” I am certain that there are grave economic concerns in the US, but I doubt that the combined impact of COVID and low oil prices has a bigger impact in any jurisdiction in the US than it does in Alberta. So far, Alberta politicians have not called for economic considerations to take precedence over public health considerations. So far.
With that news, I am impressed that I only had one new beer this week. I have posted about Collective Arts previously and I contend that they are one of the best breweries in Canada.
It was with this pedigree in mind that earlier this week I tried their Lunch Money American Blond. A handsome looking beer in a beautiful can, so everything started out well. Unfortunately, this beer doesn't stack up with the rest of the Collective Arts lineup and was pretty generic stuff. It wasn't poorly done, but didn't have much to keep me interested. (3.0 / 5)
On a different note, I received the "Here's To You (Level 5)" badge from Untappd, signifying five years of logging my beers on that site. In those five years, I have logged 645 unique beers or an average of one new beer every 2.84 days. Since my first post on this site one year ago, I have logged 111 new beers or an average of one every 3.35 days. My beer consumption is going down, and at this rate, I'll never meet my personal quest of drinking one of every beer in the world.
Very little reading this week, so only a single new word.
And what a week it was.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. We are still in the throes of winter with temperatures well below normal, and with lots of snow and ice on the ground. Most years that would be enough to qualify for making a bad week, but of course this year is different.
We have now finished our first week after shit-got-real, with school closures, store closures, transit service decreases, and more.
There is definitely an impact to us locally, with 226 confirmed cases in Alberta and one death. The measures we are taking will hopefully limit the spread at best and at worst will flatten the curve so that our healthcare system can get through the presumed massive numbers of people who will require hospitalization.
What we of course want to prevent is the absolute terror of the situation in Italy. As I planned this week's entry over the past few days, I wrote myself a note that said: "Italy on track to have more COVID deaths than China." That milestone was passed on Friday and now two days later, Italy has greatly surpassed China. Looking back at what I posted last week, there have been 45 deaths in China in the last week, but a staggering 3,016 deaths in Italy. To put that into perspective, there have been almost as many people die in Italy IN THE LAST WEEK than have died in China since the start of this outbreak.
As has been reported in multiple media [1, 2], Italy is a well-developed country with excellent hospitals and healthcare, but the massive volumes are crushing the system. The virus is undoubtedly deadly but the compound effects of a crippled healthcare system are even more frightening. Measures being taken here in Alberta to ensure there is capacity in the hospitals include postponing elective and scheduled surgeries and opening drive-through assessment centers, The steps we take now can hopefully shield us from what Italy is experiencing and what China experienced.
It is important to understand that Italy is not the only country in trouble right now. Reported cases are spiking in Spain and the US as you can see on the image above, and Spain is warning that the "worst is yet to come". There is an extensive lockdown in Spain right now, much more than what we are experiencing.
Even measures as strict as what Spain are instituting might not be enough though. The Washington Post opened the story that image came from with a warning from the World Health Organization saying that "such measures alone are not sufficient" and "that the disease could jump back after movement restrictions are lifted."
And then there is the impact to the economy.
All those store closures, and the impact to the global supply chain that Harvard Business Review predicted at the end of February, is killing economies around the world. The Indicator from Planet Money is only talking about COVID-related indicators and stories now, and their episode on Friday was particularly telling. The Indicator is a pretty light economics show, much more so than EconTalk or even Freakonomics so I don't expect major pronouncements or severe warnings on the show. On Friday however, co-host Cardiff Garcia said he was "terrified" of the impact to small business. His economic indicator for Friday's episode was that most small businesses only have 27 days of cash flow. After that, they have to shut down. To prolong their survival past 27 days, they could cut costs but that means more people unemployed, which means less money circulating in the economy, which means less spending, which means more impact to the economy.
The question then is to forecast how big the impact will be to the economy of a country. If the analysis from Goldman Sachs is accurate, the US economy is set to shrink by 24%. Think about that. A quarter of the economy of the United States, the largest economy in the world, will be gone. A quarter. I don't have any more words to describe this.
With all of that, with the impact to the entire world and the global economy, we humans still find a way to hate each other instead of pulling together. Some of it is overt, and some of it is more subtle, but none of it is good.
Less problematic if only because of his much smaller presence and influence was Scott Adams' use of the #WuFlu hashtag in his daily podcast updates. To be fair to Adams, he stopped using #WuFlu hashtag a week ago, and he only stopped calling it coronavirus for a few days. but for days he did paint the virus with a particular epithet that could only inflame some people and insult other.
Why come out now after weeks of coverage and call it the "Chinese Virus" or #WuFlu? What is the benefit of tagging this pandemic to a country or a people? I should listen to all of Adams's recent podcasts to see if there is a hint on why the changes were made.
I will leave you with some good news. My friend Tomas highlighted this list of organizations that are doing things to support employees, customers, and people in general, from paying hourly workers even if they are sick, to companies opening up their paywalls to offer content for free. Thanks to Scott Monty for coordinating this work.
I can imagine many of my non-existent readers remotely verbally lambasting my decision to post about the new beers I have had in the past week. The end is nigh, and this yahoo wants to talk about beer?!
I get it. My (tongue-in-cheek) personal goal to drink one of every beer in the world is trite and silly, but it was never meant to be anything more than that. I came up with what I thought was a catchy phrase and I've been using it for five years when I talk about beer. That's all it is meant to be, and that was something that was interesting and important to me in the past.
And that's why it is so important now. The world is different, but that doesn't mean we have to give up on everything. In fact I would argue that we have to hold on to what we had and still have to anchor us and get us through our isolation, our fear, and our anxiety. Recognizing what we have, being content with who we are and what we have, and living in the moment are some of the greatest goals of philosophers from ancient times to present. It is with that that I unabashedly present to you the new beers I had this week.
The first beer was the Prairie Pirate Black IPA from Ribstone Creek Brewery. It was not bad, but had a less texture and taste than I had hoped. I also thought it could have been been hoppier. It was a beautiful looking beer though. (3.25 / 5) The second beer was another Alberta Beer Week collab, this one between Town Square and Sawback out of Red Deer. The Glaze of Glory brown ale was supposed to be full of donut-y flavor, salted caramel, and bacon. I didn't get much of any of those and so was left with just another brown, which is really not a style I like that much. (3.0 / 5). Last up was the Patience Pale Ale from Legend 7. This is the last beer out of a Legend 7 sampler and it unfortunately was my least favorite of the bunch. It was a beer, yes, but wasn't memorable in any way. (3.0 /5)
The vocab muscle didn't get much exercise this past week, and I have a vague recollection of having looked up a couple of them in the past.