Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where it is 27°C warmer today than it was a week ago, and 37° warmer than it was two weeks ago. Last week I lamented that my cycling was limited to the stationary bike in the basement. With the increased temperatures this week, three of my four rides this week were outside.
Beyond cycling outside, I had a pretty quiet week. The entry this week will be limited to one gaming update, a bit of music news, and four new beers.
This week was a big one for my RPG gaming group. Thursday was the 52 week anniversary of our group getting together after posting for players on Meetup. 52 weeks ago we got together (in person!) and rolled some characters and talked about what we wanted out of the game, what a lot of people will call a Session 0. There were six of us including me, and those six plus one more played again March 12, which was the eve of the pandemic madness. Three of that group plus me started playing online and the session on Thursday was number 23 and the end of what could be considered Chapter 1 of the story.
The text below is what I read out to the group 49 weeks ago as we got into our first real session. (Any references to official Forgotten Realms content is made under the Open Gaming License.)
It is a period of civil unrest. The so-called "dominant" races of humans and dwarves make up the majority of the population in the larger cities, and the larger cities control the economy of the Sword Coast. The economy is particularly strong in the centers of Luskan, Neverwinter, Waterdeep, and Baldur's Gate. Smaller centers directly on the High Road between the four centers are benefiting from increased trade along the High Road, but the true economic wealth is being concentrated in the major centers. Any spillover wealth along the High Road is a fraction at best, and this is leading to many public and private conversations about wealth inequality and the need for a different social contract.
The smaller centers along the High Road are able to experience the vast differences in wealth first hand as the nobles and merchants travel along the High Road in their expensive coaches accompanied by extensive support teams. However, there is even more dramatic differences immediately off the High Road. Settlements such as Lloreth, Mirabar, or Athkatla are experiencing almost zero economic growth. Smaller centers like Nashkel are faring even worse. They are bleeding people to the larger centers and are increasingly unable to protect themselves from bandits, thugs, and opportunistic humanoid races that have long felt themselves to be ignored by the humans and dwarves. The goblins of the Sword Mountains caverns have started to push into the foothill settlements into small villages such as Needlebush.
Needlebush is largely populated by a human population that historically welcomed settlers from all lands. However, the brash moves of the goblins have begun to change opinions and Needlebush has begun to openly distrust all visitors. After the most recent goblin raid two nights ago, all non-human races have been forcibly moved to a Safety Camp in the village center. This Safety Camp is a walled area with one locked and guarded entrance. The guards at the entrance and the roving guards throughout the village are part of the newly formed "Needlebush First" militia.
As the "Needlebush First" militia rounded up all of the non-humans, all weapons and magic items were confiscated from the non-humans. Needlebushians are still polite though, and you were given a numbered tag to ensure you get your belongings back when you leave the Safety Camp.
You and about fifteen other individuals have spent the last day and a half outside, exposed to the elements, with meagre rations provided. Earlier today, a loud, large half-orc became aggressive towards the guards and was beaten unconscious as a result. The beaten and bloodied half-orc lies off to the side, untended and probably dying.
That's where you find yourself now.
There were two items of note regarding in the Music Finds playlist this last week, but neither were really new. The first was that I discovered a live version of the Boxer album from The National. Boxer is one of my favorite albums of all time and definitely one of my Desert Island Albums. I have been listening to a few live albums yesterday, so Boxer live from Brussels popped into my Tidal feed. As with the studio release, the live album was fantastic and definitely worth listening to.
The other artist I added to the Music Finds playlist this week was Chick Corea, who unfortunately passed away on February 9. Corea recorded many albums as a soloist or member of a group in his half-century career, way more than I could ever completely dig in to. But there were some amazing albums and the one I think of when I think of Corea has to be "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" from 1967. As a result, that was the other album I added to Music Finds for this week. If you are interested in some videos on Corea, Rick Beato has a nice stream up on YouTube, and there is an NPR recording of a live concert, also on YouTube. RIP, Chick.
Four new beers this week, which seems like a lot when I think about it, but I suppose four beers in seven days is not that big of a deal.
Beer #724 was the Prairie Fairy Wheat Ale from Sea Change. I am a fan of Sea Change but this was a miss for me. It was fruity but without much intensity. Also it might have been over-carbonated. (3.0 / 5)
Beer #725 was the 2018 version of Alley Kat's Olde Deuteronomy barleywine. I always liked the Olde Deuteronomy barleywines every year, and I miss them now that they are no longer in production. I was happy to find this at the brewpub / head office. This had a nice boozy flavor without an alcohol burn and a nice taste to go with the beautiful caramel color. I wish I could buy more, but was happy to find a bottle in the Alley Kat brewpub / head office. (3.75 / 5)
I am a fan of vanilla flavors in stouts and porters, but I find they can be a bit sweet. In fact, Beer #1 back on March 22, 2015 on Untappd was the Mill St. Vanilla Porter and I commented that it was "a bit on the sweet side". Beer #726 was the Seaport Vanilla Stout from Lighthouse Brewing in Victoria. This was a winner as it had just a hint of sweetness and the vanilla was more smelled than tasted. It had a bit too much of an alcohol burn, but it was still really good, especially as it did not suffer from being too sweet. (3.75 / 5)
Last up for this week and Beer #727 was the Tumbling Goat Belgian Pale Ale from Endeavour Brewing in St. Albert. I am not a big fan of intense spices in beers like pepper or cloves. This one had a bit of a burn to it and I was not really a fan as result. The color and aroma were fine though, and it created a wonderfully foamy head. It was just the spiciness that turned me off it. (3.0 / 5)
Happy Valentine's Day 2021 from 53.5° north latitude. We might be twelve days past Groundhog Day for the year, but the days really feel the same. Every day. Get up. Work. Go to bed. Maybe some variety pops into the day. Hey, time to buy groceries! Hey, a package was delivered to the house! I have mentioned on this blog that I feel uniquely suited to handle life during a pandemic due to the combination of my personal situation, job, and personality, but even I would like a change.
Once it warms up; Once it is lighter outside; Once we have a vaccine; Once we can travel again. All those onces. It is important to focus on what we have in the present how we can make do with that. I will not speak for you, but I at least need to be grateful for the flexibility I have in my life.
With that out of the way, the week that was had a few interesting points to discuss, a milestone in the cross-Canada virtual tour, and one new beer. No books finished this week but I expect one for sure will be done next week and quite possibly a second as well.
Internet and e-commerce law professor Michael Geist, posted an interesting entry on his blog about an Opposition member's motion in the House of Commons to amend Bill C-10 (Broadcasting Act). Conservative MP Michael Kram rose in the House and his comment was cheeky and wonderful.
"I think we could do Canadians a lot of good by withdrawing this bill and rewriting it from scratch to ensure that everyone is included in it and to ensure we have the best legislation we can for Canadians. Therefore, I would like to move the following amendment. I move:
Replacing every word after the opening "That" means that the entire Bill would be replaced. In other words, MP Kram is of the opinion that the Bill should be thrown out. I am not a fan of biased politicking and grandstanding in the House, but in this case MP Kram makes a good case. Geist has dissected Bill C-10 going so far as to label the Bill as a "Blunder". Geist's full analysis can be read on this page. Regardless of your feelings on the actions of MP Kram in the House, his actions drew attention to a flawed bit of proposed legislation. I recommend reading both posts from Geist.
Switching gears, I have a few comments about the creative work I am doing in support of my gaming and gamemastering. In the past year and a half, I have made a few posts with updates on the games I am leading and playing in. It has been four months since my last entry about this and in that last entry, I discussed player agency. I commented specifically how "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".
I have worked on making sure my players had as much agency as possible in the last four months. One tool that I really like is the point crawl system I read about on Mike Shea aka Sly Flourish's blog last month. The essence is there are multiple paths to get from A to B, but ultimately you want your players to get to B. Maybe they have an encounter along the way or find some shortcut. Or maybe they gain or lose something along the way that helps or hurts them when they finally get to B. That something could be an item, an ally, or maybe just some health.
In one of the campaigns I am currently running, they players are planning an attack on an enemy camp. They have four possible entrances and one ultimate goal. I will let them pick how they go and how they want to proceed once in the camp. But this is a game after all and roleplaying games require dice rolls. If they do nothing other than roll dice, it will take at least three rolls to get to their destination. If they actively engage with the situation they find themselves in, they can influence the rolls. And since it is a game, their actions and poor rolls can have some fun outcomes.
For what it is worth, here is the point crawl map I created for the upcoming session. The numbers represent my suggested required dice roll results. Red arrows are bad and provide a low percent chance of being spotted. The thick black arrows represent road that traverse the camp. The dotted brown arrow in the top right is my template that I will use to track their actual route.
Call me a wimp, but I am still riding inside due to the cold weather outside. Riding indoors has very little appeal for me, but I have discovered that watching my YouTube "Watch Later" playlist while cycling can make the endeavor bearable.
I hit the saddle five times this week and logged a virtual 67 km. The important note for this week is that I finished off Leg #3 and have virtually landed in Valemount (with a U), British Columbia. Valemount has a decent entry on Wikipedia that I encourage you to read. However, I would like to regale you with a story about my first trip to Valemount.
Back when I was in university, my alma mater had an annual Engineering Week which was just an excuse to drink wrapped in a veneer of school spirit and friendly competition. One event in Eng Week was a scavenger hunt, and it was a well-known fact that a cold six-pack of Kokanee was a perennial item on the list. Back in those uncivilized times, one could only purchase beer in Alberta that was brewed in Alberta. Weird, huh?
Armed with that knowledge, me and two friends decided to drive to British Columbia and buy as much Kokanee as we could on the eve of Eng Week. We were going to drive to Fernie and go skiing, but there was a blizzard and poor driving conditions so we decided that was not going to happen. We pulled out a map - remember, this was a LONG time ago - and looked for other towns in British Columbia that we could go to. Lo and behold, Valemount appeared on our map and at 06:00 the next morning, the three of us loaded into my 1978 Mustang II and drove to Valemount (with a U), returning later that day with 7.5 flats of Kokanee. I will not go into details how only one of us was of legal drinking age in British Columbia and only one of us had a credit card. And I will not go into details about how much money we made selling that beer to people back at school. But I will say that I cannot think of Valemount without thinking of that story.
Back to the cycling update, below is an updated view of my progress chart.
You will notice that I have plotted out Leg #4, from Valemount to Edmonton. The next 492 km is a fairly scenic route with a lot of familiar stops, at least for me. The map below gives some context of the trip for those of you unfamiliar with the route.
I dove into a lot of new music this week, as you can see in the Music Finds playlist for this week. In addition, I figured out why my embedded code links to my playlist always had the same four icons. Tidal uses the album icon for the first four songs in the playlist so starting this week, I will copy songs from the albums and put them at the start of the playlist in order to mix up the art work a bit.
The first album was a 2010 offering from Daniel Langois performing as Black Dub. Check out Langois's discography sometime - it just screams late 80's, but to be fair the variety of artists he worked with is staggering. Black Dub's self-titled album was definitely solid with "Silverado: and "Canaan" as strong songs with "Ring The Alarm" being the album standout.
Next up was "Forevergreens" from Swedish alt-jazz (is that a thing?) band Tonbruket. This definitely had a different vibe to it, but for the most part I liked it. "The Missing" and "Polka Oblivion" are both really good, especially the violin on Polka Oblivion.
The third album was "THE FUTURE BITES" by British prog rocker Steven Wilson. I said last week that I was not into that type of music, but this album might make me change my mind. The songs were not massively long with most under five minutes. "MAN OF THE PEOPLE" and "KING GHOST" were really good, and "PERSONAL SHOPPER" had subtle background vocals that highlight the foibles of mass consumption and consumerization.
The fourth album was a result of my digging into Phil Collins after learning that he celebrated his seventieth birthday, as I reported last week. Seconds Out is a live album recorded in Paris in 1976. This predates my experience with Genesis which started with Abacab in 1981. There was a few songs I liked but this was another album with long, drawn out songs. I just could not get into it.
Last up was an album I was really looking forward to but was disappointed in. Hey Clockface from Elvis Costello was something I was really looking forward to. At the end of November, I mentioned "No Flag", a song with Costello and Iggy Pop. Hey Clockface had a version of that song without Iggy Pop, so that was a let down, and maybe that soured my experience. I will give it another listen, but I am not hopeful.
Three for five this week. Not bad, especially given how many good songs there were on the three good albums.
Just one new beer this week. Beer #723 was the Conspiracy IPA from Yukon Brewing. There was a lot of flavor with this one and it was quite a mouthful, with lots of hoppy bitterness and some tart citrus. Picked up a bit of pepper on the backend as well, which was somewhat off-putting. Overall still pretty decent though. (3.25 / 5)
Greetings from where the north latitude and the temperature are not that much different!
The week that was was definitely cold. There was no way I was going outside for a ride, so any and all cycling was confined to the stationary bike in the basement. In addition to saddle time, I did sample a few new beers, finished a book on the third try, and dug into some music. Before we get to the regular items, there are two items of note this week that I want to spend some time on.
The first is related to a question I posed to several people recently: which is more important, public health at the population level, or rights and freedoms at the individual level? In Canada, that can be phrased as a question between public health versus the Charter of Right and Freedoms.
I asked this exact question to several people in the last week, phrased specifically to pit the Charter against public health. The question elicited a strong response in every case. A few people were staunchly opposed to the argument that personal rights had any role in a pandemic. Others were tormented by the question and were unwilling to answer.
One friend found this blog entry for the Centre for Constitutional Studies at the University of Alberta law school. "The One vs the Many: When Public Health Conflicts with Individual Rights" highlights how hard it is to balance between the good of the many and the rights of the individual. One note from the blog that I was unaware of was how Canada was less respectful of individual rights during the 2003 SARS outbreak than either Hong Kong or Shanghai. The blog entry ends with a question that is still not answered as we close in on one full year of quarantine measures: How can the law both help protect the life of the population, and at the same time protect the individual against the powers the state takes upon itself to engage that task? How, indeed.
The second item of note is a TED Talk that I watched titled "Sleep is your superpower". Matt Walker is a sleep scientist and he made some great arguments for getting more sleep, and for getting it more regularly. The concept is not new, but there were some interesting scientific tidbits that I had not understood. Cue the opening sentence about testicles, for example. Or how the World Health Organization categorizes night shift work as a "possible carcinogen" due to the correlation between lack of regular sleep and cancer. It was a great way to spend twenty minutes, but please do not watch it late at night!
One week, one book finished. But that is not really fair. Book #5 for 2021 was "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith. This was a book that I desperately wanted to read, but I had two failed starts with it and was concerned that I would not make it through once again. The first attempt was several years ago and it was the audiobook format. I had significant trouble with the slow and overly deliberate pacing of the narration. (I think that was in the days before we had the option to listen at 1.25 times normal speed.) With a slow delivery and painstaking emphasis on the pronunciation of the protagonist's name (Mmm-mmAH RrrrrammmottssssWEY), I could not finish it.
The second attempt was on summer vacation in 2019. The rental home we stayed at had it in the shelves and I picked it up and read the first third. I did not finish it though, so I was concerned that it would never get read. I need not have been worried though as I picked it up and finished it in a few hours this week. It was entirely enjoyable and definitely worth the read. Mma Rowatswe's persistence and insight into people was nearly as great to read as was her view on how to live a fulfilling life. I am not sure if I will read the other books in the series, but I am glad I read this one. Finally.
As I mentioned in the intro, the frigid weather limited the cycling time to the stationary bike in the basement. I logged the equivalent of 62 km this week, which is definitely the upper limit for me on a stationary bike. But even though inside rides are suboptimal, it was better than being completely sedentary for the whole week.
I was able to make it through to Blue River, British Columbia on my virtual cross-Canada cycling tour. There is not much to say about Blue River. The Wikipedia entry suggests a population of 157, and the biggest highlight seems to be that the Lodgepole pine is the most common tree in the area. Onward to Valemount (with a U!)! Only 66 km to get there, which I should be able to do, even if I am stuck in the basement all week.
Two new albums in this week's Music Finds playlist. One was fantastic, and the other was not up my alley.
First up was the fantastic album. A couple weeks ago I mentioned The New Mastersounds and their album "Shake It". Back then I said that album was okay but that I heard "Tantalus" from their "Renewable Energy" album and that it was great. The whole album was really good, with "Green was Beautiful" and "Groovin' on The Groomers" as the other standouts.
The other album was "Delusion Rain" from the prog rock band Mystery. Yeah. I just am not into that type of music. Lots of high pitched male vocals, loud guitar and bass-heavy drums. Plus the songs are SOOOO long. "The Willow Tree" clocked in at 19'29", for crying out loud! To be fair, I did find myself getting into the beat on "The Last Glass of Wine" but six tracks taking over an hour is hard to get through, for me at least.
I was able to try three new beers this week, bringing my total number of check-ins on Untappd to 722.
Beer #720 was the Imperial Stout with Coffee from Blindman. I have extolled the virtues of this Lacombe-based brewery many times, and this was another solid offering. It had good flavor and aroma. Not as much coffee flavor as I expected though, but it was smooth and tasty. At 11% ABV, the 250 mL can size was a good idea. (3.5 / 5)
Beer #721 was another Alberta beer. Blind Enthusiasm did a sour based on plums aged in oak casks. The result was a very colorful and nicely tart beer that was easy to drink for a sour, but I wish it would have had more fruit flavor. It was good, but I was hoping for something more pronounced. (3.25 / 5)
Last up was a bit of a nostalgia trip for Beer #722, and the third Alberta beer of the week. We spent time at the Jasper Gates resort this past summer, which is a few steps from the Folding Mountain brewery. So in remembrance of that good time spent with some friends, I picked up their Founding MTN Lager and dropped off a few cans at our friends' house before a long Zoom call with them. This was a good lager, with a nice maltiness and a bit of spice as well. It was definitely good, but the memories and time on the call friends certainly did not hurt the rating. (3.5 / 5)
There was only one new word this week. I guess Mma Ramotswe's life lessons did not extend also into vocabulary.