Greetings from a slightly colder than usual 53.5° north latitude. It is not cold enough for the entire day to stay cold, but that is likely not far into the future. However, it is cold enough that bigger gloves or mitts are required for early morning rides. Riding at -5 C without good gloves or mitts is a very painful experience.
Beyond a few rides which I will give an update on below, a number of good listens and views, there was a great gaming experience this week, and two new beers. Let's jump in to the gaming story first.
If you look up role-playing on Wikipedia, the article branches into the various types of role-playing and then provides this definition for role-playing games, or RPGs:
A role-playing game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterisation, and the actions succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, they may improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games. --Wikipedia
The key concept is that the story is created collaboratively. The Game Master needs to be in charge at least to keep the game following within the prescribed rules, but the actual story that is created is the responsibility of everyone involved. As a GM, I think the key is to provide lots of options for the players and to be prepared enough to be flexible if the players do something unexpected. It is important to be prepared but to not let that preparation narrow your options. Having a series of encounters that your players must do in order at a prescribed time is a recipe for either frustrated players or for you to be unable to proceed because you are not prepared.
In our recent session this week, the party needed to travel and I had three potential encounters planned. The first one was with a travelling merchant. I knew there would be nothing exchanged beyond information, but I was hopeful that the players would engage as there was one bit of flavor and information I wanted to get across. The second encounter was completely optional and I tried to describe it in a way that they would not be forced to engage with it. They ended up doing what I hoped they would because I was able to give them a reward that will be useful. To that point in our session, we had two encounters that were engaging and I think memorable. I was struggling though because both encounters went exactly how I thought they would, and that made me feel like I was railroading them. In the parlance of the game designers I follow online, I felt like I was taking away player agency.
This concern of taking away player agency was weighing on me because the third encounter was one that regardless of how the rest of the session had gone I needed the players to have. This encounter was really like a Talking Notice Board that tells the players "You are hereby requested to go do such-and-such and then report over yonder." There is nothing wrong with this of course, as long as the players feel they can do something other than mindlessly follow the orders of the Talking Notice Board.
It might have been a reaction from the players against two encounters that they felt they had to engage with, but their reaction to the Talking Notice Board was one of sarcastic enthusiasm. "Yes, sir, right away sir." "We'll be sure to do that right away, nudge, nudge, wink, wink."
And so they did not report in. They might check in during the next session, but for this week, they completely ignored the "request". They instead went for a drink and a meal and then proceeded to find a room at the fleabag inn instead of the nice place I assumed they would stay at. This resulted in three fabulous role-playing sessions, one with each player. A new ally was found, a super reward was given to the party, and a really touching story was created.
I am really glad my first two encounters went the way they did, but I was prepared for the players to not engage with either. Our collective story would not have suffered if those encounters were ignored, but the world is more alive and the players have more knowledge about how to act and react as a result of both. However, when we look back at the game, we will see that the moments with the player agency at its most free were the ones that will have the most impact on the long-term story we are creating. That required preparation on my part, but in a much different way than the scripted set pieces I created.
The last thing I will say about our game is that in a three hour session I rolled dice exactly zero times. It was completely role-playing and I all I had to do was talk. And laugh, and smile, and have fun.
There were a few good music finds this week. The first album was Lucinda Williams' "Live @ The Fillmore", which was released in 2005, and was a recording from a 2003 concert. (It would be great to see a concert at The Fillmore!) (It would be great to see a show anywhere!). This album was 22 songs over two volumes and was filled with Williams' gravelly singing. Volume 2 was that the better of the two, in my opinion, with great versions of Atonement, Pineola, Righteously, and others. Her voice really shone on Volume 2.
Switching gears completely, the second album was Massenet's opera, Thaïs. I have switched my weekend radio listening recently, and am really enjoying getting back into "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" on CBC. Host Ben Heppner does a great job of helping listeners like me understand the story and the music.
Last up this week was a single called "Who's Gonna Stop Me". This was a collaboration between Portugal, The Man, and Weird Al Yankovich. It was a good song, but I have to admit I probably listened to it much more intently just because of Weird Al's inclusion. I am not saying that it is not a good song, but I do feel I would have given it less of a listen if Weird Al was not part of it.
The other music item this week was a great interview on Tidal with Chuck D. This might have been the first interview I have seen with Chuck D. I enjoyed his stories especially the one about how Jam Master J convinced Chuck D to become a recording artist. The best part though were two quotes that really made me think.
The first quote was Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee.
"I cannot teach you. I can only help you explore yourself." --Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee
The insight in that quote is enormous. The power to change and to grow is in you and you alone. There is no magic potion or methodology or drug or app that can teach you to grow as a person if you do not want to grow.
The second quote was even more powerful, and I think this is something that I can empathize with and work to change, but I think it is impossible for me to really understand it being a white man. All I can do is listen and support.
If you black, it's the side you on versus the side that hates you. --Chuck D
Great stuff from a musical legend.
I closed off a couple segments on the way to Campbell River on my virtual cross-Canada tour. I need to pick up my pace a bit. At this rate, it will take me four years to finish the trek.
Two new beers this week. Both were good, but neither were great. Beer #691 was the Galactic Space Dragon IPA from Odin Brewery Company. This had some good pineapple citrus juiciness, not much hops, quite hazy. Tasty but would have liked more hops. (3.5 / 5)
Beer #692 was the Earl Grey Wheat from Collective Arts. I am a big fan of Collective Arts, so this one was a bit of a disappointment. This could have been a really interesting take on witbier but it was pretty bland. It was refreshing though, just nothing spectacular. (3.0 / 5)
Happy Thanksgiving weekend from 53.5° north latitude. Fall is upon us, and the wind is blowing leaves off the trees.
Beyond the perennial topic of choice of weather, COVID is firmly entrenched into every conversation it seems, and rightfully so. Cases are rising in most jurisdictions globally, and locally outbreaks are hitting multiple schools, and therefore impacting multiple families, on a weekly basis. When we rushed home in March and hunkered down in April, it seemed easy to contemplate the change to our lives. It was temporary, after all. After a few weeks, the weather started to warm up, and the days got longer and our lives continued to improved. By May, those of us working at home were able to take calls while we walked, and lots of people started experimenting with driveway visits. The summer was even better as the kids got outside, the weather was decent, and lots of people rediscovered biking and walking through their neighborhoods.
But now what? As soon as the kids stopped socializing in a park and started getting pushed back into classrooms, we started having outbreaks. The driveway visits are much harder now because it is cold during the days, let alone the evenings. And who can legitimately take a call when the fall winding is howling?
I have worked in an around the Edmonton downtown core for 27 years now. In that time, I have walked between the various buildings via the pedway system nearly every day I was downtown. Some of that is walking from the LRT to whichever office I was working in, walking around at lunch, running errands, or just taking a call as I walked.
Assuming a maximum of 220 work days a year, minus the really cold days, the days when I had various impairments requiring crutches, days with all day meetings, holidays, travel days, and working from home days, in the time up to the start of COVID I can safely estimate that I have walked around downtown Edmonton at least 100 days each year. It is also safe to estimate that I walked at least two kilometers a day, with a lot of days at four, five, or even more kilometers. So let's say for arguments sake that in the last quarter century I have walked the width of Canada as I trotted around the downtown core. A large part of who I am as a person is connected to my peripatetic tendencies.
Now what am I going to do? I have a 1.5 km walk to get to the nearest mall, and there is very little of interest around that mall compared to the variety of downtown. Working from home is fine. It is the lack of variety and day-to-day variation that will be the problem this winter. Normally that variation was achieved through walking and so I will need to figure out a replacement. If I do not, this will be a very long WFH winter.
Lots of good news on the Kickstarter front. In the past week, I have received updates on six campaigns that I backed. Five are related to RPGs and one is an update on Cory Doctorow's audiobook version of "Attack Surface" that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Doctorow had 6,283 people back his audiobook, which is great news for him and for independence in audiobook publishing going forward.
Three of the RPG products are large publications. "Creatures" is a monster compendium that works in 5e and the publisher's Fateforge extension of 5e. I have a work-in-progress PDF version and this is a great book. "The Lost City of Gaxmoor" is a massively outlined city, complete with listings for the Outer and Inner city, crypts, sewers, and a couple dozen pages of fully fleshed out NPCs. I am interested in this one, although I think I am more interested in "Myriad, City of Tiers" than Gaxmoor. But Gaxmoor was developed in partnership with the sons of Gary Gygax, so that alone was enough to support this campaign. The third large product was the "Heckna! Carnival Horror Campaign Setting" from Hit Point Press. A horror carnival is not something I would typically be interested in, but Hit Point Press developed the Humblewood campaign setting that I picked up earlier this year. and I was really impressed with that. As a result, I figured Heckna would be a good addition to my gaming resources even if I do not run it as a full campaign.
The other two are much smaller products, but that is a big part of their appeal. Instead of hyping a product that needs months to deliver on the expanded content unlocked by the stretch goals, both "Captain Hartchild's Guide to Rare Dragons" and "Over the Next Hill" were available much sooner. OTNH was available immediately after the close of the campaign, and that is a model that will serve Morrus of EN World fame well in future campaigns.
I have backed 21 campaigns in the last year, so not quite enough for Kickstarter Super Backer status. I think I should stay away from the platform for a few weeks, just to give my bank account a break but Super Backer status would be pretty cool.
I was able to finish a couple books this week, which was a good feeling. Book #36 for 2020 was "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman who holds up the fiction throughout the book that he is merely the translator and abridger of a classic by S. Morgenstern. The book is as good as the movie that was based on it, and maybe even a bit better since it is interposes Goldman's "analysis" of the flaws and merits of Morgenstern's writing. This is a wonderful story of flawed individuals coming together and doing something wonderful.
Book #37 for 2020 was a completely different novel and genre than Princess Bride. "All Tomorrow's Parties" by William Gibson was a nice conclusion to the story in Gibson's previous novel, "Idoru". I did not realize until I finished this book though that "Virtual Light" was the first book in the "Bridge Book" trilogy, so I will have to go back and pick that one up later. The story Gibson wrote for All Tomorrow's Parties is hard to describe without spoilers, so I will just say that there are few other writers that I have come across that can extrapolate to the near future to create a plausible and recognizable world as effectively as Gibson. I will say that the denouement of the story left me slack-jawed for a few minutes as I considered the implications of what had just happened.
I made some good progress in my virtual cross-Canada cycling tour. Plus I updated my spreadsheet to do a better job of updating my progress bars.
Much like my comment in the Reading Pile section, it felt good to find some new music this week. There were a few entries in my Music Finds playlist this week. First up was the latest from Flaming Lips. I was taken aback by how depressing the lyrics were across the songs in "American Head". Musically it was good, but I was hard-pressed to find a song that I wanted to listen to again until the final song in the album, "My Religion is You".
After that were a couple throwback bands from the 90s, Semisonic and Goo Goo Dolls. Semisonic was the crafter of a single massive hit with "Closing Time", that has one of the greatest lines in pop rock.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. -- "ClosingTime", by Semisonic
The songs from Semisonic and the Goo Goo Dolls song were both released in June and are decent offerings. Maybe not "Closing Time" or "Iris", but "You're Not Alone" by Semisonic and "Just a Man" by Goo Goo Dolls are still good enough to listen to. I actually think "Just a Man" might stick as something worth listening to.
The next entry was from a fusion supergroup from 1976 that had Phil Collins on drums called Brand X. The album "Unorthodox Behavior" was fantastic, and made me wonder how I never heard of them before this week.
Finally, a favorite of mine from 2019, Future Islands, released a new album called "As Long As You Are". The songs in the early part of the album are more upbeat than the songs later in the album, but they all have good music and rhythm and are delivered with frontman Samuel T. Herring's unique vocals. Good stuff once again from Future Islands.
Three new beers this week. Making up for lost time, I suppose.
Beer #688 was the Full Time IPA from Beau's. Decent if forgettable. Lots of hops and a bit of pine, but not a lot of flavor beyond the bitterness. (3.25 / 5) Beer #689 was the Mad Trapper Czech Amber Lager from Apex Predator. This is near the top of my list for lagers as it had a lot of flavor. Nice caramel taste with a bit of burnt cocoa, and great color. (4.0 / 5) Last up this week was the Kellerbier from German brewer Hacker Pschorr. I think the unfiltered nature really helped this one as I find a lot of German lagers a bit weak. This one had some good flavor. (3.5 / 5)
I am going to start rating the coffees I buy. I do not mean the coffee I pick up in a store to drink right then, but the bags of roasted beans that I grind at home. The coffee I am brewing at home right now is Burnt Timber from Calgary Heritage Coffee Roasters. Burnt Timber is a dark roast, and it is pretty good. I do not yet have the same ability to pick out flavors in my coffee as I can with beers, but I am sure that will come with time. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the before and after process to make my daily Americano. One thing I will point out is that you can see how the espresso crema is a little thin, at least thinner than I would like.
A bit of reading this week, but neither book introduced a lot of new words. One was a repeat that did make me feel good about once I looked it up, and one was a confirmation that I should have looked up in the moment but was just too lazy to do so.
Greetings from 53.5° north. I took last week off as there was little to report. I find myself slowing escaping from the Sinkhole of Doldrums that was September. Even if it is a minor psychological shift, the start of October has me more interested in life in general, even for the more prosaic items that many people would feel are trivial, such as reading, cycling, and beer. To foreshadow the rest of this week's entry: I tried two new beers, neither were great unfortunately; I am closing in on completing a couple books; I have given myself a new goal for cycling; and, to start it all off, I have an update on the focus of my creative energies.
Gamemaster Update - Fakerun:
I have talked a few times about my interest in gaming, and in particular how I am spending a lot of time in various games as a player or gamemaster, and the vast number of Kickstarter campaigns I have supported in recent months. All of the roleplaying games I am involved in at present are Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, which I will just call 5e going forward, even if the settings are different.
The most prevalent setting in 5e is the Forgotten Realms, which is also known as Faerun. With the 5e parent company Wizards of the Coast focusing almost exclusively on Faerun content, it is easy to think that there is only one world available to players and gamemasters. I think that ultimately I would like to craft my own world, with a pantheon of gods and a creation story, and a geography and political system win which to craft my own stories. For now, however, I am happy to settle into the land of Faerun and borrow from the rich catalog of material available to engage with my characters. Having a catalog to fall back on allows me and other gamemasters a path to the gaming table that is much quicker, and is likely much more enjoyable for most people.
However, this does not mean I will play only with "official" content and storylines. My world, my own personal version of Faerun that I am calling "Fakerun", takes place on a continent with the same rivers, mountains, forests, and settlements as canon Faerun. The paths that I am taking with my Fakerun are about how we got to now, and those paths are radically different than the canon content. To do so, I am contemplating questions such as: What caused the chasm in Neverwinter? What are the politics of the large cities along the Sword Coast? I am also purposely eschewing longstanding gaming tropes, such as the they-are-evil-and-must-be-destroyed mindset towards goblins and other creatures.
The one campaign I am running right now had a session the other night, and in it I revealed a devastating impact to the land around where the story was happening. I was concerned about being overly melodramatic or creating something that the players would not care about. My concern was unwarranted though as the party druid was visibly shaken by the devastation, the party archer wanted to move out of the area to camp at night due to how "freaky" the damage was, and the party barbarian texted me the next day to say how he could not stop thinking about what caused the damage.
This is not about my amazing skills as a storyteller, as I suspect I am average at best. It does have to do with the collective desire to create something compelling. The Wizards website that I linked to above has a great quote about the power of collective storytelling (emphasis mine).
Since 1974, Dungeons & Dragons has influenced numerous writers, directors, and game designers by tapping into the innate human need to gather with your friends and tell an exciting story together. --Wizard of the Coast
A couple weeks ago, I posted how I have gone from a near-paralyzing fear of failure that delayed me starting this gaming group I am playing with, to a feeling of confidence that I can be the catalyst for a great group experience. With the experience of the game session this week, I now know I can create a compelling story that impacts the players as much as it impacts their characters in the game. That knowledge and experience is extremely empowering, and it has encouraged me to do more.
I am not sure exactly how to do what I am planning, but I want to create a new section on this page for my Fakerun version of Faerun. The purpose will be to further flesh out my backstories and characters, give me a channel for writing and other forms of creative works such as maps and handouts, and maybe even be a source of inspiration and content for other gamemasters to use in the worlds they create. Stay tuned for a new section in the title bar likely called "RPG".
Getting back to Kickstarters for a minute, I was excited to finally receive my copy of "The Koryo Hall of Adventurers", a 5e supplement and setting inspired on Koreon mythology. As much as I love the dwarves and elves of a medieval western European setting, getting my hands on something different is a pleasure. Author Aurélien Lainé comments in the book's introduction how they fell in love with and immersed themselves in Korean culture, and it shows in this book. Consider picking up your own copy if you would like to move beyond the Tolkienesque standard settings for your roleplaying game experience.
A good friend of mine started tracking his cycling trips at the start of COVID. His goal was to keep him in the saddle even while he was forced to isolate and work from home. In the six and a half months since he started, he has logged enough kilometers on his bike to virtually ride from Vancouver to Kenora, Ontario. Inspired by that, I have decided to do the same. For my trip, I will plot a route that will travel the eastern length of Vancouver Island, and then cross the mainland to Vancouver, passing through all provincial capitals. I am going to not worry about planning travel routes that would be safe, or at least safer, on a bike, and instead just looking for a road that will get me to the cities I want to virutally pedal to.
My first leg is from Port Hardy to Victoria, a distance of 508.5 km. So far this week I have cycled to Port McNeill. The next segment to Campbell River is quite a long one at 197 km so I will likely not get to there in the next week.
As I get closer to my virtual destination for Leg 1 of Victoria, I will plot out how to go east from Vancouver. I suspect I will plot a course towards Kamloops via the Coquihalla Highway, but that is not for certain at this point. For now, here is how Leg 1 looks on the map, along with my spreadsheet tracker for my distance log.
As I said in the intro, I had two new beers this week and I was not impressed with either. Beer #686 was the Red Horse Extra Strong Beer from San Miguel out of the Philippines. Not much going on. A bit of an ESB taste but nothing that I was really interested in. I went in with low expectations and this beer did not exceed even those. (2.75 / 5).
The second beer was from Alley Kat, and was one I went into with much higher expectations. Beer #687 was the SMaSH Session Ale. I did not like the taste, such as it was, and found it a confusing mix of bitter, sweet, and malt. A real disappointment since I am clearly a big fan of Alley Kat. (2.75 / 5)
There was much more reading this week than in recent weeks, but still not a lot of new words.
Greetings from 53.5° north. Another very laid back week, one in which I jokingly told a friend that I did so little I barely kept a pulse. It was good to do essentially nothing for a week though beyond a little cooking as I am heading into fall with a very centered perspective on what is important to me and what I want to do. More on that in future weeks.
One interesting point of note regarding tea. I had run out of oolong tea and decided to head to a close-by David's Tea to pick up some of their tie kwan yin. The first shock was that the location was closed. The second shock was that David's Tea has effectively shuttered 90% of their bricks-and-mortar locations including the three that I visited. The catalyst for this seems to be COVID but I suspect they were in a weak financial situation going in to have made such a drastic move.
As sad as that made me, I thought that I would be able to at least shop online. But then the third shock was that David's is discontinuing their tie kwan yin oolong tea! I did some research to see how long oolong tea can be stored, and was happy to get confirmation that it ages well. Maybe not as long as the bricks of pu'erh tea that can be aged for a century, but this article on Tea How states oolong can last up to 40 years. Emboldened by that, I ordered 500 grams of tie kwan yin. I figure that might be able to drink that tie kwan yin for the rest of my life.
That of course really hit home - I just bought tea that might outlast me. Mortality is not something I spend time brooding over, but having entered my second half-century this week, it is definitely on my mind this week. Of course, I could die tomorrow and then of course my tea purchase will outlast me, but I could reasonably expect to live into my eighties which is now thirty to forty years into the future.
I can now imagine my elderly self finishing my last cup of tie kwan yin, thinking fondly back across the years of my life, and settling contentedly into my chair or bed to fall asleep one last time, smiling at how I at least lasted longer than my tea.
The only new beer this week was actually a mead. Check-in #685 was Mr. Pink from Fallentimber Meadery. I have quite liked their other meads, although I just realized I have not checked in their Meadjito on my Untappd profile. (Spoiler alert: 4.0 / 5.) This one was pretty good, but it was not as good as their Meadjito or Honey Buck. I think it needed more cinnamon flavor to give it more of a kick, but it did have a very nice aroma and color. (3.25 / 5)
Very little reading this week - reading would have distracted me from focusing on maintaining a pulse - so once again, very few new words. One I thought I knew but only had half right.
Greetings once again from a laid back 53.5° north latitude. The trend of simple weeks without much to report continues, although this week was more interesting than the last few.
One thing I have not mentioned for quite a while is the groups I am in and playing the world's greatest roleplaying game. My work group sadly has only met once since COVID started, but I am running a group every two weeks that I pulled together via Meetup, and starting next week I will be playing in two groups with individuals I met through that Meetup group. I am also playing a Humblewood campaign with my daughters. I posted about the Meetup group and Humblewood back in February, and reading that post makes me realize how much I have learned in the last seven months.
I posted how the group I am now running was delayed in starting because I was nervous. I was worried about meeting with a bunch of strangers to play a game. As time progressed though, these strangers have become friends that have in turn introduced me to other people. I have pushed myself outside my comfort zone and the rewards have been immense, and the experience has reinforced how much better moving forward is over stagnating.
The pressure to do a good job is still there, but I now know I can do it. I have confidence in my ability to plan and improvise. My writing is improving weekly, and I am finding ideas that I want to express in both stories and in the game.
The other remarkable learning since February is how to use technology to interact and connect. Undoubtedly, getting together in person with the group I run will be a magical moment, if and when that can ever happen. But in the meantime, we can still meet and chat and play. The technology combination of Roll20 for displaying maps and allow for token movement with Discord for voice and video really works well. Add in a good digital character sheet either from Roll20 or with the Beyond20 Chrome extension to connect Roll20 and D&D Beyond, and this is a hobby that can work independent of physical location.
As I look back at the post from February, I notice my comments about the Kickstarter campaigns I have backed. Since February, I have backed thirteen more projects, ten of which completely successfully and three which have hit their funding goals but have not finished the campaign yet. Of the thirteen, one is a collection of board games, one is a tarot card deck that I thought would be useful as a game prop back when we were planning on playing in person, and one is an audio book. The other ten are all supplements or add-ons related to the roleplaying game of choice.
I want to mention the audio book specifically as it is important and has a chuckle-worthy story. Cory Doctorow is publishing and audio book of his latest novel, Attack Surface, and in order to combat the Amazon / Audible monopoly and their requirement to use their Digital Rights Management software on audio books they distribute, Doctorow is self-publishing the audio book. Attack Surface is the third book in the Little Brother series. If you recall back in May, Little Brother was Book #18 for 2020 and I did not recommend it to the casual reader at the time. The message around digital surveillance and the need to fight for the right of privacy and security is important though and I really want Doctorow to be successful so I happily backed this project.
The chuckle-worthy story relates to what I posted in May. There were some scenes in Little Brother that were awkward to read to my daughter and so I posted a comment on the Kickstarter page. Doctorow's response is pasted below.
My reading time continues to ebb, and I really have not dug into anything in about a month. I did finish one book though this week. Book #35 for 2020 was a re-read of "The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan. We own hard copy versions of each book in the series but I have only read the first seven of the fourteen books. I am hoping to read them all over the next year or so. I read this one with my daughter and it was a great experience, and we just started into the second book last night.
I mentioned in August 2019 that my friend Cam gave me an Advanced Reading Copy version of this book. I did not read through that version in case there were differences in the text. Regardless, it was great to read and I am now more excited to plow through the series than I ever have been.
Just one new beer this week, and once again it is from my local and much-loved brewery, Alley Kat. The latest sampled ware from Alley Kat, and beer #684 unique check-in on Untappd, is the most recent in their Dragon Double IPA series, the Southern Star. Alley Kat continues to get the DIPA series right. Great hops and citrus but without having the bitterness overpower the taste. Really enjoyable. (4.0 / 5)
Not a lot of reading, so not a lot of new words, except of course all those words that Jordan created for The Eye of the World.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude after a fortnight since the last entry. Two weeks ago I said not much profound had happened, and that carried through to the following week. As a result, I decided to skip last week. Nothing wildly significant happened this week either, but I did finish one book, have one new beer to report, and a small handful of words. I think the lull in my productivity and creativity is the lingering after-effects of resigning from that Board.
But first, I came across a quote and a proverb that really struck me this last week. The quote was from Matt Colville in video #50 in his "Running The Game" series.
Cynicism is the death of wisdom. --Matt Colville
That lead me to look for more quotes about cynicism. The most interesting, at least contemporarily, were from Steven Colbert and Conan O'Brien. Note that even though both of them are satirists and provide significant social and political commentary, both are keen to highlight the toxicity of cynicism.
Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes". --Stephen Colbert
All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. --Conan O'Brien
And finally, I was told a proverb from Cameroon from a co-worker. This seems to be similar to a quote from Shakespeare and there are numerous similar quotes peppered across the Internet.
The eye that sees others, sees not itself. --Cameroonian Proverb
Regardless of the provenance, it is useful to reflect on the words. If you are constantly and solely focused on the performance and flaws of others, there is no time to focus on improving yourself. Worry about you. Free your mind, and the rest will follow.
This last week saw the completion of Book #34 for 2020, "The Steerswoman" by Rosemary Kirstein. This is the first book in the Steerswoman series, and it follows two women as they try to uncover the origins of some odd jewels that are found scattered across the continent. Rowan is a Steerswoman, the title owing to a nautical background of a ship's navigator. However, in this world, the steerswomen are seekers of knowledge who scour the world for answers. While a steerswoman is undoubtedly useful onboard a ship, the majority of the story takes place on land. The other protagonist is Bel, a barbarian who chose to leave her clan to travel with Rowan.
Note that both of the main characters are women, and the title of the book and series is clearly about women. This is not a feminist book touting the need for equality, nor does it force comment how women can do whatever a man can do. Instead, it presents a world where there are no preconceptions about what is "a man's job" or "woman's work". There is no need to highlight differences when there are really no differences to highlight. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
In addition, this book is about knowledge, science, and rationality. There is some fighting and the threat of war, plus a brewing conflict between the Academy of the steerswomen and another faction. Beneath all of this is the more important story of how one woman, embedded in a culture of learning, undertakes to solve a mystery that defies her and her colleagues' understanding of the natural world. As above, for that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
There you have it. One book with two solid selling points. I am definitely looking forward to reading the other books in the series.
I put three albums in my Music Finds playlist for the last fortnight, but really only got into one of them. That was a 2008 recording by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis entitled "Two Men with the Blues". This was a fantastic album highlighting Nelson's signing and Marsalis' playing. Covering standards such as "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Georgia on My Mind", the two seem like a natural pair which is so surprising when you think about how different their musical origins are. This is definitely worth a listen.
Beer #683 was the Nasty Trunks sour IPA from Evil Twin Brewing out of Brooklyn. There was the good hops of an IPA with a bit of of punchy but not overpowering citrus in the sour half of this beer. Fresh and a bit sweet. Nice stuff. (3.5 / 5)
As a complete aside, Evil Twin seems to produce a stunning number of beers. Doing a search on their site shows 278 beers, but for some reason the Nasty Trunks did not show up. Maybe I have the wrong Evil Twin brewery. Maybe I found the other one, you know, the twin? If you can find Nasty Trunks on their site or if I have the wrong site, please let me know.
Just five new words in the last fortnight, with one my ten year-old daughter told me.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude once again. This was a week with a return to work so there was very little profound to note. A couple books were read, a couple beers were drank, much music was enjoyed, and there were a number of words to look up.
Let's get on with it.
I was able to finish two books this week. One was a dark mystery about a serial killer, and the other was another in a favorite YA mystery series that I am reading with my younger daughter.
Book #32 for 2020 was "The Darwin Affair" by Tim Mason. This was a highly enjoyable serial killer mystery novel. Four pages in, I commented to my spouse that this was going to be another "DaVinci Code"; in other words, a fast-paced, easy to read novel that kept me up until the wee hours. It did not quite live up to that prediction unfortunately. There were times when I found myself losing interest, and times where I felt like the often brilliant detective became a little too human. I lost verisimilitude in the world that Mason created as a result of those lapses. In the end, however, it was still enjoyable and worthy of a read.
Mason's novel reminded me of "Dodger" by Terry Pratchett which was Book #8 for 2020. This is clearly because of the same time period and the involvement of certain real life characters such as Charles Dickens. I did not realize before Dodger and The Darwin Affair that Dickens was such an activist for the poor. Mason hints at some failings of Dickens in the author's notes at the end of the book, but even with that Dickens does seem to have been a major influence on making nineteenth century London a bit better for everyone, and that must have trickled out across the rest of the world.
Book #33 for 2020 was the third novel in Stuart Gibbs's FunJungle Series, "Big Game". Since my daughter and I are reading these somewhat out of order, this is the fourth book in the series that we have read. I have to say it takes a bit away from the books when you can guess who the bad guy is because you know they do not appear in the next book in the series. There was a nice twist in this story, and it was as enjoyable and suspenseful as the others. As I have said before, this is a great series to hook a young reader into the mystery genre.
Looking at my reading pace for the year, we are 64% of the way through 2020 and I have read 33 books. That puts me on pace to read just over 51 books this year. That is a nice number, and it is good to know I have a chance to read a book a week on average this year.
I did not find any new music to add to a Music Finds playlist this week. However, I did watch through Ken Micallef video "20 Records to Build a Jazz Vinyl Collection" and created a playlist from that.
Some of the music in that list is mind-blowingly good. I had heard of some of the artists - Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie - but some of the others like Hank Mobley and Bud Shank were completely new to me. Same thing with the artists; "Porgy and Bess" was not new, but the soundtrack to "Alfie" was, and that was definitely my favorite on this list. The Alfie in question was the 1966 Michael Caine version and not the 2004 Jude Law version, in case you were wondering.
A lot of these albums are completely inaccessible outside of hunting through record stores and antique malls. This is why something like a subscription to Tidal or similar service is so valuable. Every one of the albums on Micallef's list were on Tidal, and some were remastered MQA versions. Check out the video from Micallef and if you are on Tidal, here is a link to the playlist I created.
There were two new beers again this week, bringing my unique check-ins on Untappd to 682.
Beer #681 was Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado. With a name like that and with that can design, I went in with low expectations. Never judge a beer by its label, as the old saying goes, and that was the case this time. This had a nice amber color, very good foam, and a very drinkable silky maltiness. It seemed slightly acidic to me though, which dropped the ranking a bit but it was still a winner. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #682 was the Green Fields sour from Bench. I was surprised to realize that I this was my first check-in with a Bench beer. I suspect I have had others from Bench but forgot to check them in. This was not a beer that would have me seeking out more from them though, so hopefully my experience with this beer is not indicative of what I can expect. This was a sour, but a very weak sour which defeats the point of this genre. The flavor seemed musty, with the sourness at the front of mouth not the back, if that makes any sense. I was disappointed but will give Bench another try soon. (3.0 / 5)
There were a number of new words this week, plus one word that is not a word apparently.
Greetings. It was a weird week personally for me, with turmoil and angst that turned to clarity and finally relief.
Turmoil to Angst to Clarity to Relief
It was about this time in 2015 that I was interviewing for a volunteer position on the CKUA Board. The whole process took months, with the Board approving my nomination in October and then the CKUA Foundation ratifying that decision at the Annual General Meeting in January 2016.
The little more than four-and-a-half years I spent on that Board have certainly taught me a lot. I understand financials better. I understand not-for-profits better. I have learned more about human motivations, both mine and for others. The most significant learning however has been about entitlement. My time on the CKUA Board came to an end this last week because I did not fully understand how much of a reaction our actions would cause to a small handful of entitled individuals. Do not get me wrong - we made mistakes, most notably in our communications to the Foundation members. But those mistakes could have been overcome with a more reasonably-minded and less entitled set of stakeholders. We executed a decision in June that was wildly unpopular with those stakeholders, and so began the turmoil. As we worked an unreasonable amount of hours to satisfy the stakeholders requests, the angst grew as it became clear we would never make them happy.
In the end, my time on the Board came to an end as we realized on Wednesday what we had to do, and then resigned en masse on Thursday. The clarity turned to relief on Thursday as I hit send on the email to the Foundation members that included our resignation note. The relief was solely because we knew that we would no longer have to face those entitled stakeholders and hear their misleading comments.
I am going to post a long form article on entitlement. I drafted most of it in late July at near the peak of the turmoil that I and the rest of the Board was going through. I will come back and edit this entry with a link once it is up.
I found myself with more time this week than expected. Funny how that worked out. I finished one book that nearly was done in time for last week, read about one-third of a non-fiction book and about half of a murder mystery.
Book #31 for 2020 was "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman. I came to this novel as a result of seeing it on my older daughter's bookshelf and then realizing that the HBO series "His Dark Materials" was based on the trilogy that Compass is the start of.
I can definitely see why this novel would be an interesting basis for a television series. It has evocative characters with lots of imagery, wildly interesting twists on technology and magic, and a plot that twists and turns without becoming confusing or muddled. I am looking forward to watching the series, but I think I will read the next two books in the series first.
If I had a opportunity to provide feedback to the book publishers, I would definitely suggest they update the cover art on the books. What I saw on the book cover and what I read are two different things. I knew it was a YA book, but the cover art made me think it was another "Polar Express", admittedly a fine book in its own right, but not a dark tale at all. Compare the book art with the publicity material for the television series and I think you will agree.
Regardless of that bit of personal preference, I definitely recommend this book.
It was a quiet week for new music, pun definitely intended. The only album that I added to my Music Finds playlist for this week was "Pleased to Meet Me" by The Replacements. The friend that recommended this album said that The Replacements were one of his "favorite snotty rock bands ever". You can tell my friend is a music fan based on how he can classify his favorites into sub-specialties as focused as that.
I did enjoy the album and as I read a short bio for the band I noticed that lead singer Paul Westerberg had two songs on the soundtrack for "Singles". Singles was a huge movie and soundtrack for me in 1992 as I got ready to leave university and not be, you know, single. So while that soundtrack was not a music find for me this week, it was a nice nostalgia trip to get reacquainted with it from a link to a new-to-me artist and album.
There were a couple new beers this week, bringing my unique check-ins on Untappd up to 680.
Check-in #679 was the Irish Red from Hell's Basement. Admittedly, I am not a fan of reds, but this one seemed to have a too-harsh taste to it. The Red was my fifth check-in from Hell's Basement and this is right at their average of 3.0 out of 5. My overall average across my check-ins is around 3.3 so I have some definite evidence to indicate Hell's Basement is not a brewery I should personally seek out.
Being on a personal quest to drink one of every beer in the world will eventually land you at a table in front of this beer. Check-in #680 was the River Valley Golden Lager from Big Rock and it scored the same as the Red at 3.0 out of 5. However, it was a pleasant surprise instead of a disappointment, especially since - or maybe as a direct result of - it was $1.75 a can. Nothing super mind you, but I have spent more on worse beers.
A lot of new words this week. My readings are really disparate lately with a general theme of British influence, in particular Victorian-era Britain and technology.
Welcome from 53.5° north latitude, where I wasn't for the majority of the week. We were fortunate to be able to escape to the mountains for a few days. Being out in nature was a great refresher, and the weather was fantastic which made it even better.
Back in March, I posted an article about the Goldman Sachs prediction that the US economy would decrease by 24%. I was thinking about that post as I listened to the Planet Money episode from July 30, entitled "GDP -32.9%???!!!" (emphasis theirs). As it turns out, the 24 % / 32% decreases are a bit misleading. The Planet Money episode describes how the GDP prediction is how much the economy would shrink if the current performance was extrapolated out for four consecutive quarters.
In fact, the US economy shrunk by 9.5% in the last quarter. Seeing a decrease of 9.5% is far less dramatic than seeing -32.9%, but it is still most likely the worst quarter in US history so the impact should not be overlooked. One economist on the podcast speculated that a lot of that decrease would come back once restaurants, bar, sporting events, and other social events return to previous levels.
However, I still question how soon that will be. Bill Gates was quoted in a recent Wired article that he suspects we still have between 18 and 30 months before we have a consistent semblance of pre-COVID normalcy in our societies.
And that makes me feel like, for the rich world, we should largely be able to end this thing by the end of 2021, and for the world at large by the end of 2022. --Bill Gates
If Gates' prediction is accurate, then the temporary nature of the GDP decrease starts to become much more permanent.
In other readings about the impact of COVID on society and industry, the New York Times had an interesting long article on how COVID crushed the fashion industry, and interestingly how it was already imploding over the last few years. I had not realized how much venture capital influenced the fashion industry, but apparently the toxic mindset of needing quick profits and immediate results was a crushing blow to several small fashion houses. Added to this was the collapse of traditional retail channels, and the fashion industry was ripe for failure just as COVID came along. It is an interesting article as much about bubble economies as COVID.
I highlighted the band Dead Horses in last week's entry, and mentioned that I was looking forward to checking out their February release of the EP entitled "Birds". After a few listens through, I definitely enjoy the album but I do not find the personal connection that I did with "My Mother The Moon". Still, they are a good duo with good music.
That is it for new music this week. So much time was spent outside that I did not have much time to dig into anything new.
Even though I was on holidays and even though the weather was super warm for most of the week, I only had two beers. The first was a great hot weather beer, and the other was unfortunately something that would have been better in cooler weather.
The first beer was the hot weather hit, the Big Chutes Lager from Freehold Brewing in Calgary. This is a very good lager, which is a style I tend to dismiss fairly consistently. Big Chutes was clean and very drinkable and is definitely worth keeping around the house, even on less than blisteringly warm days. (3.75 / 5)
The second beer was the Parkway Porter from Folding Mountain Brewing. I was sitting 200 m from the brewery and taproom when I drank this, which is always a nice way to enjoy a beer. It was really hot when I drank it, and a porter is not really a great beer for the heat. I will have to have it again when it is cooler to check my rating. (3.25 / 5)
I picked up a few new words this week, and as you can see, they are all words that are outdated or archaic, which speaks to the setting in the story I was reading at the time.
Greetings from 53.5° north once again. It was a hot one this week, with temperatures far above my preferred range.
As far as blog-worthy commentary goes, this week was pretty thin. This is likely due to the push to wrap things up before I take some holiday time. Even with that however, I was still able to finish one book accompanied by a nice handful of words, found some new music worth commenting on, and had one new beer .
Let's get on with it, shall we?
I read a fair bit this week, and finished one book. Book #30 for 2020 was "The Secret World of Og", by Pierre Berton. Labeling this book a Canadian classic seems a bit of a stretch. It was definitely on the plus side of good, but it was hardly a classic. It was written by Berton though, who is of course one of the great Canadians, so maybe it is a classic just because of the author. One definite redeeming feature was the art in the edition I have was done by one of Berton's daughters, and clearly done at a young age.
Looking at the stats for the year, I am now on pace to finish 51 books in 2020. That pace makes me pretty happy. For my upcoming reads, I want to do a lot of reading in August as the month will hopefully be pretty laid back. I certainly have a lot of books to read right now; unfortunately, all of my holds from the library started arriving this week so I have nearly 1300 pages of books sitting on my desk, plus two ebooks clocking it at probably another 500 pages total. I will need a can-do attitude to get all of that done before I have to return everything.
I added a couple good albums to my Music Finds playlist for this week. All three came from this week's episode of Acoustic Tuesday with Tony Polecastro. Polecastro discussed ten albums that changed his life. The first one of his ten that I added to my playlist was "Fork in the Road" by The Infamous Stringdusters. My experience with this album was not the same as what he experienced. It was definitely okay and the playing was quite good, but I did not find myself really getting into it.
Luckily the other two albums had much more impact. "Evening Machines" by Gregory Alan Isakov was a solid album, and I really enjoyed "Bullet Holes" and "Dark, Dark, Dark". The real highlight of the three though was "My Mother the Moon" by Dead Horses. I was already familiar with Dead Horses as their song "American Poor" appeared in my feed a few months ago. Added to that were "A Petal Here, a Petal There" and "On and On" as real standouts. I really find that singer Sarah Vos sounds like Carole King on "Tapestry", and that is pretty good company. I'm looking forward to digging into the album Dead Horses released in February in the upcoming week.
When I was in high school, our school sports teams played against other schools from around Central Alberta, including the small town (as in even smaller than my hometown of Stettler) of Rimbey. Being 16 and in a competitive situation on the basketball court, we were quick with the insults to the town, the school, the girls, and pretty much anything else related to Rimbey.
In the three-plus decades since, I have certainly moved beyond name calling for towns like Rimbey, but that is due to my maturity and not because something changed or improved. But now there has been a change in the town of Rimbey that I can be excited about, as the town is the proud home of Hawk Tail Brewery.
I was excited to grab a couple of their Amber Ale this week. The beer did not hold up to my level of excitement unfortunately. I thought the maltiness was pretty good, but I picked up too much burnt taste from the caramel. That does not mean this is bad brewery of course, and so I will check out others from Hawk Tail in the near future.
Rimbey, where the men are men, and the .. men are now brewing beer.
Quite a number of words this week, with some coming from Berton's Og but mainly from the other in-progress books.