Show Notes - Week of July 20, 2020
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude at the tail end of a week filled with work and reading but little else. There was a bike ride before 06:00 one morning that was pretty magical as it was warm, quiet, fog-filled, and through muddy trails, but it was pretty quiet beyond that.
Quiet is probably the theme of the week. Quiet leads to more time to talk and contemplate, and it allows for a more relaxing life. I had not fully internalized that point until I was able to visit my favorite coffee shop, Coffee Bureau, the other day. I asked the owner-barista how life was treating him and he said that COVID means a more relaxed lifestyle. When he said that, I realized how true that was and how much I am enjoying a more relaxed life. No more getting up and rushing around all weekend or every weeknight. Everything is still getting done but we are playing more games as a family, having longer discussions with family, friends, neighbors, and work colleagues. Instead of rushing to go somewhere to do something, we seem to be happier to find something to do close to home.
A friend and I were talking about kayaking and he said COVID has provided him the opportunity to finally paddle the various segments of the North Saskatchewan river. Over a few weekends, he is going to paddle from Devon to Highway 41 south of Elk Point. That route via roadways is 251 km, so not an insignificant distance.
This is not to say that COVID is a good thing, of course. Here in Alberta our numbers are rising fairly dramatically. We have had over 100 new cases each day for a week now, and the numbers in Central Alberta went from essentially zero to 167 in the last ten days or so. But I am trying to be a glass-half-full kind of person, so I'll take whatever good I can out of this.
Getting out is important. I understand that seeing friends and family, being outside, trying to find normalcy in our routines is important for our mental health. But gathering en masse to watch hockey does not seem to me to be a smart idea, however that is what the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) is working on. Earlier this week, CBC reported that OEG was working on building a drive-in and beer gardens for fans to watch the hockey playoffs from. In the run-up to the announcement that Edmonton would be one of the hub cities for the playoffs, Alberta was touted as a safe place because we had not hit 100 cases a day since May 2, but we now know that is not the case any longer. How many cases will it take to shut down the playoffs in Edmonton? How many cases will it take to shut down the mass gathering of jersey-wearing fans flocking to downtown Edmonton?
This week saw me finish one book, my second memoir in a row. Book #29 for 2020 was "The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss" by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. There are a couple interesting items to note about this. First, good on Cooper for building his career and life without leaning on his Vanderbilt lineage, and then explicitly calling out that even with being a Cooper that he has lived a privileged life. Second, this book originally came from an email conversation between son and mother, so throughout the book the narrative switches back and forth between perspectives. It is a very interesting way to learn about two people, especially as they learn about each other in the process.
The third and most interesting point in my mind is how messed up Vanderbilt's life was, especially in her earlier days. It would not be inappropriate to label her as hopping from bed to bed after reading how she describes her sex life. The relationships she had is studded with famous names like Howard Hughes and Frank Sinatra (but only for three weeks with Sinatra apparently). On top of this, or maybe the cause of this, was the tumultuous life and custody battles she was thrown into by her scheming family. I had no idea who Vanderbilt was outside of the recognition of her name, but now that I know her life story, it is fascinating if only in a morbid and sad way.
In order to explain herself, Vanderbilt frequently relied on quotes from famous people and authors. Early on in the book, Vanderbilt relied on quotes such as "Perhaps someday it will be pleasant to remember even this" by Virgil, but as the book progressed and her writing warmed up and she opened up, it was her own words that were the true insight into who she really is. I'll leave you with the one that sums her up for me.
I have no respect for those who harbor self-pity and I have none of it in reference to myself, but the rage is there, burning hot, deep in my core. --Gloria Vanderbilt
I added a few things to my Music Finds playlist for this week. First was an album called "Mordechai" by Khruangbin that was a mix of funk and laid back electronic sounds. Decent stuff and probably worth another listen, but not really my thing. Next up was "Xoxo" by The Jayhawks. I admit I was surprised how varied their sound could be as the album ranged from country rock to folk with a female lead vocal to a song that was reminiscent of late Beatles. Good stuff for sure.
The third album was "And It's Still Alright" by Nathaniel Rateliff. This was not new as it was released on Valentine's Day in the BeforeTime, but it was new to me. I really liked this album and will come back to it repeatedly. Last up was a single called "Racing Stripes" from Bombay Bicycle Club which was a live release. Racing Stripes came from an album they released in January, again in the BeforeTime, that I missed. I have not yet dug into that one, but will get to it in the upcoming week. I will suspend judgement on the song until next week.
Just one new beer this week. I wrote a couple weeks ago how Phillips Brewery was not that great in my experience, with their average being pretty mediocre. It would then be completely apropos that I would find a beer from Phillips that I really like. Their Oro Blanco Grapefruit Sour was really nice with lots of citrus flavor that did not overpower or get too pithy. Definitely worth trying if you are into fruit beers and sours. (3.75 / 5)
A small handful of words this week, largely from the words of Gloria Vanderbilt.
Show Notes - Week of July 13, 2020
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where the rain has subsided and the COVID numbers are starting to head back up. This week was populated with lots of reading, a bit of listening, a new beer, and a handful of new words.
I listened to two really interesting podcasts this week. The recent Longform interview with Maria Konnikova was a particular treat because I had just discovered her writing based on her endorsement for David Epstein's book "Range" that I wrote about a couple weeks ago. Being the kind of reader that takes stock in book endorsements, I had looked up Konnikova when I read her name on the cover of Range. So being a fan of Longform and having some knowledge of who she was, I was very interested in this interview.
Konnikova had some good insights in physchology, poker, luck, and human nature. My biggest takeaway though was her comment about her podcast, "The Grift". She said that she wrote 10,000 words for each episode, and at ten episodes for the series, that totals 100,000 words. According to Konnikova, that is a full book.
So a full book at 100,000 words is a good metric for an aspiring writer, or someone who would like to develop a podcast. I'll be sure to pass this learning on if I ever find someone who fits either or both of those criteria.
The other podcast episode worth mentioning this week was the "Tick Tock for TikTok" episode of Rational Security. Of particular note was the discussion about Huawei. I have written about Huawei on this site a few times (here and here).
As usual, the team at Rational Security highlight a number of issues while discussing the various and important nuances of the topic, in particular how the US has seemingly forced the UK to abandon its long-standing approval of Huawei technology through the use of sanctions. I got the impression from the discussion that this approach has the short-term win that the Trump administration is looking for but at the cost of long-term erosion of a very important relationship with the UK. Huawei and China aren't going away - we need to figure out how to address them soon.
I was able to plow through two books this week. The first for this week and Book #27 for 2020 was Eddie Izzard's autobiography, "Believe Me". I really like Izzard's comedy, especially his bit about the Death Star Canteen. Watch that here, or watch the totally clever Lego adaptation here.
This autobiography was a bit of a rambling story that almost came together to communicate Izzard's personal life vision. The description of what he went through when he first came out was gut-wrenching, and it was interesting to read about how many failures and setbacks he had in his life to get to the point where he is an internationally celebrated comic, actor, and activist. I would totally love to meet him and have a chance to chat with him, but I'm not going to recommend his autobiography.
Book #28 for 2020 was "Artificial Condition", the second book in Martha Wells' Murderbot series. The first Murderbot book was #2 for 2020, and for that I wrote that "the protagonist and narrator is an augmented human designed to be an It instead of a Person, but it has decidedly human impulses and concerns." The second Murderbot builds on that theme, having our hero explore its background while simultaneously struggling with wanting to connect with humans and detach into the void of "media", i.e bing-watching on the future equivalent of Netflix. Really good stuff with a bit of humor, some touching emotional scenes, and enough hooks to make me eager for the next book in the series.
There are two interesting finds to point out this week. First, I missed adding a song to my Music Finds playlist for last week. One of my favorite finds in 2019 was a band called Future Islands, and they released a new song on July 8. "For Sure" is another boppy and poppy song with a great backbeat and the unique vocals of lead singer Samuel T. Herring. I'm biased for sure (see what I did there?), but I liked this new song from the first listen.
I added three albums into my Music Finds - Week of 13Jul2020 playlist. I had listened to Yo La Tengo a few times and liked some of their stuff. However, their album "We Have Amnesia Sometimes" was like Emo Gregorian Chants. Hard Pass. I also gave The Chicks, fka The Dixie Chicks but they apparently thought that was a stupid name, a listen with their new album, "Gaslighter". That was pretty good, with a few songs like "Sleep at Night" and "Julianna Calm Down" to be quite catchy.
The highlight of the week though was definitely the Bluenote release of a previously unreleased studio album from Art Blakely called "Just Coolin'". Recorded in 1959, the six tracks are a rare treat. Cool era jazz previously unreleased and now available on MQA format on Tidal.
It's great living in the future, especially when you can revisit something from the past that only came out in the present.
Just one new beer this week. I was not planning on trying any new beer this week as I wanted a break, but a friend gave me this to try mainly because he found it undrinkable. The Hack Weight Imperial Stout from O.T. Brewing was decent, but it was quite boozy especially since it was only 8% ABV. I can see why someone (most people) would not enjoy it. It was pretty well done, but not my favorite in this style. (3.0 / 5)
As I mentioned above, a handful of new words, mostly from the Izzard autobiography.
Show Notes - Week of July 6, 2020
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. The week was action-packed and full of suspense and intrigue. Or at least one good book, another local nature walk, a couple good beers, and a few new words. Before we get into the regular sections of the blog, there are a couple things worth noting.
Facial recognition software has really hit the news of late, with Microsoft, IBM, and others voluntarily pausing sales in the surveillance software in light of issues raised with police violence and the death of George Floyd. This followed the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the provincial Commissioners in Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta jointly investigating Clearview AI amid concerns of personal information being collected without notice or consent. It is unclear if or how the joint investigation will proceed now that Clearview AI has completely pulled out of the Canadian market. This will be an interesting and important story to continue to follow .
The second interesting item was in the recent Freakonomics podcast, "Remembrance of Economic Crises Past". Near the end of the podcast, Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner asks his guest Christina Romer about the particular US brand of capitalism. I found that a particularly interesting phrase to use, as it admits that there are different forms of capitalism and implies that the particular version in place in America might not survive. Here is the full quote of what he asks Romer.
DUBNER: And let’s say that some of the changes that have happened thus far to travel, to live entertainment, to restaurants — basically all of them wiped down close to zero — let’s say that for a variety of reasons, they sort of stick, and that people don’t return to them, in in large numbers at least. Do you feel that the U.S. economy and our brand of capitalism is still set up to be as vibrant and nimble to adjust and for people to job-reallocate? Or do you worry that a lot of people in those industries, which employ millions of people, that they will essentially be adrift, perhaps for a long time, unable to reallocate into commensurate jobs?
I wrote a lot about capitalism in 2019, and a lot of my readings dealt with the concept of post-capitalism. In 2019, a lot of people on the outside of mainstream were struggling with the rules of the game associated with capitalism. Now in 2020, a lot of people that are solidly in the mainstream, see Dubner above, seemed to be are openly wondering if the intellectual ruminations of a year ago have actual credence. If they do, we are about to enter a very interesting period in history.
And lastly, since travel has been curtailed due to COVID, a lot of people are spending more time close to home. As a family, we have always been fairly comfortable with staycations, but this year we are definitely trying to make the most of the local nature scene.
Enter the Alberta Discover Guide. This free guide is usually something I pick up when I buy my fishing license for the year, but this year it has become a valuable source of new locations to visit. The Guide lists over 150 sites in the Edmonton area alone, and I would be surprised if we have previously visited 25 of them.
Yesterday we visited the John E. Poole Interpretative Wetland and Boardwalk. This was a great location for a quick walk to get out into nature and see a lot of birds including Barn Swallows, Coots, and Ruddy Ducks. If you live in Alberta, grab a copy of the Guide or the corresponding mobile app, and get out and explore nature in your area.
I suggested last week that I might actually finish a third book before the end of last week. Alas, that did not happen and so that book became the only book I finished this week. Book #26 for 2020 was "Sourcery" by Terry Pratchett, the fifth book in the Discworld series. This might have been my favorite book in the series so far, mainly because I have become fond of the bumbling Rincewind. Getting into any part of the plot will be difficult without this post being a total spoiler, so I will just comment that it was an enjoyable and quite funny book and that I continue to look forward to the rest of the books in the series.
I'm going to try something different for a while when it comes to music. I have been creating weekly playlists in Tidal for my "Music Finds" and it occurred to me that I could share what I found on this site as well.
My "Music Finds - Week of 06Jul2020" playlist includes new albums from Rufus Wainwright which seemed a bit to "show tunes"-y for me, one from a singer-songwriter named Margo Price that I really enjoyed, and a live album from Blossoms, which is a band that I hadn't heard of before but quite liked what I heard.
Two new beers this week, and they were both really good. First up was the Kasteel Tripel, a nice Belgian tripel. Really good stuff. Lots of flavor and aroma. The high ABV really didn't dominate the experience. (4.0 / 5) The second was a latest in the Dragon series from Alley Kat. If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a big fan of the Dragon series, and Enigma didn't disappoint. The Australian Enigma hops took a bit to get used to, but I definitely enjoyed the flavor and aroma once I did. Nice stuff once again. (4.0 / 5)
Just three new words this week. I have to admit that I'm sure the first one was some sort of pun or inside joke from Pratchett, but I did not get it if it was.
A water-logged hello from 53.5° north latitude to you. It was a rainy week, which meant it was a pretty quiet week without a lot of time outside. But that was okay because it was a very relaxing week as a result. I did not make a lot (i.e. any progress) on my projects, but again, that is okay. It was probably the most relaxing single week vacation I have ever had.
There was a particularly dorky milestone this week. I do all of the daily challenges in the Microsoft Solitaire game every month, but for June I decided to plan it out to get my points to the even thousands from 1,000 through through to the end which ended up being slightly over 28,000. Visual proof of the achievement is below. For those who may claim that I need to get out more, I say pshaw!
And besides, I did get out this week! I decided that I was hermitizing too much so I made a few deliberate moves to get out, including river valley walks, picnics, and fishing. Plus I got my hair cut for the first time in 100+ days. Time to start living again while the weather is nice, or at least not snowy, and before any COVID second wave descends.
Beyond that, the week was filled with reading, a couple new beers, and a solid stack of new words. Without further ado, here is what happened this week.
I was able to finish two books this week, and I might actually finish a third later today (July 5) but if I do, it will be after I post the entry for this week. Assuming that I only count the two books this week, I am now on pace for 49 books this year. Finishing that third book this week would put me on pace for 51, so my goal for this year is clearly achievable.
Book #24 for 2020 was "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World" by David Epstein. I really enjoyed this book which helped me feel good about my lack of super deep skills in any one area, and reminded me of a favorite quote of mine from Robert Heinlein that "... specialization is for insects". I printed that quote back in university, so maybe 1992 or so and it has been hanging in my home office for years.
But enough about Heinlein, and back to Range. There were a number of takeaways from the book but two really stood out for me. First, was the notion that "we learn who we are only by living, and not before," which is a reminder to live and engage with the world. The second was a quote from a firefighter Epstein interviewed about the difference between making decisions and making sense.
"If I make a decision, it is a possession, I take pride in it, I tend to defend it and not listen to those who question it. If I make sense, then this is more dynamic and I listen and I can change it." --Paul Gleason, firefighter, quoted in "Range"
Book #25 for 2020 was "Poached" by Stuart Gibbs. This is the third book in the FunJungle series I have read with my younger daughter in the past four months, and it was every bit as enjoyable as the other two. (To be clear, it is the third book we have read, but it is the second book in the series.)
There is probably not a lot to say about this, but as with "Belly Up" and "Panda-monium", I recommend this if you are looking for a thrilling mystery for a young reader and something that will be enjoyable to read aloud.
Two new beers this week, with one coming from a great American brewery and the other coming from a Canadian brewery that maybe is great and maybe isn't. See below for an explanation on that.
The American beer was the Ommegang Adoration Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Thought there was too much taste at first sip, but the impact of the spices mellowed over the duration. The 10% ABV really snuck up on me, which might have caused the mellowing effect. (3.75 / 5). The Canadian beer was the Phillips DinoSour Blackberry Sour Ale. I didn't find this to be that sour at all. It had decent fruit flavor, but was pretty thin. (3.25 / 5)
I was thinking that this particular offering from was an outlier in how low I rated it. However, when I checked my ratings of the 15 Phillips beers I have checked in over the years, it came in at 3.23 so this was a pretty good indication of what I think of Phillips (Technically speaking: Arithmetic Mean = 3.23; Geometric Mean = 3.20; Median = 3.25). It is interesting how the data can show a different picture than the perception, as when I told my friends on a Zoom call the other night that I was having a beer from Phillips, we all agreed that you can't go wrong with Phillips. That seems to be true, but it also seems like there isn't a lot of standouts from them either, at least to my liking.
Although it is fair to say my mood in previous weeks was less than hospitable, this week my reading habit was untrammeled and as a result I was limned like a gaggle of serried teenaged boys finding themselves in a seraglio.
limned (past tense) · limned (past participle)