Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, and welcome to the last entry for the year. One of my goals in 2020 will be to start to publicize my writing, so maybe someone will actually read what I lay down. Even if no one does though, I do enjoy the ritual of writing and so I do see this continuing regardless. I am also looking forward to my first long form single-topic entry which will be a summary of my reading for 2019. If I get a few hours in the next few days while I am still on holidays, I will even do some analysis of words read, favorite genre, et cetera.
The last eight days have been time off for me, and I have been busy doing nothing much at all. Reading, skating, a bit of cycling, some cooking, some visiting, but above all, just relaxing. This week's entry reflects that with just a few books, no big topics, and a bunch of beer.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
First stop this week will be on the three books I finished in the past fortnight. The first was "The Sword of Shannara" by Terry Brooks. I read the "Elfstones of Shannara" way back in junior high, and it had a lasting impression on me, at least as far as character names go. I have named nearly every video game character Balinor (or Balinore in instances where there was a naming conflict, as is the case for my World of Warcraft gnome rogue on the Perenolde realm) I have created in the past thirty-five years. Beyond the impact of that one character's name, having fast forwarded through the years has left me with a far less favorable impression on Brooks's writing. Between his endless stream of overly long sentences, to his habit of picking adjectives to overuse for particular chapters, the book was a serious slog to get through. The only reason I finished it was that I really wanted to re-read Elfstones, but I am definitely doubting the logic of that move. I might add Elfstones to my list for 2020, but if I do, it will be late in the year to allow me time to forget how punishing Sword was to read.
The next stop was "Mort", the fourth Discworld novel from Terry Pratchett, and the third one I read in 2019. Mort was quite enjoyable, with a number of chuckle-worthy moments. It reminded me more of "The Light Fantastic" which was funny but also interesting, where "The Color of Magic" was just funny, and "Equal Rites" was more serious than funny. The Discworld novels are proving to be a great way to fit in a book after a particularly deep or long read. That isn't meant to imply that they are not worth the time to read at all. I just find them to be great books to pop into the reading pile every few months to allow for some enjoyable reading, instead of reading something that is meant to be more serious, or instead of something non-fiction.
The third stop this fortnight was another enjoyable read. "The Quiche of Death" by M. C. Beaton is a British cozy mystery and something I discovered as it was displayed as a staff pick at my local library branch. It was a great find, and fit the mood I was in at the end of a long and very busy year.. The cantakerous-turned-almost-lovable protagonist transforms into a someone the local rural denizens can love, someone the reader can feel empathetic for, and an amateur detective all in a couple hundred pages. The fact that Agatha Raisin, and yes, that is the protagonist's name, will do all of this is pretty clear about a third of the way through the novel, but that's fine. Understanding and experiencing how the journey and the transformation would unfold was undoubtedly a large part of the charm of the story. I can see myself reading more novels in the Agatha Raisin series in the future.
Those three books bring my total for 2019 to 49. I am closing in on 50 and should be able to finish "Collapse" by Jared Diamond in the next ... 54 hours. I said in my post two weeks ago that I am going to set my reading goal for 2020 to be 52 books. Included in that goal will be to finish up all of the books that I have started but not finished, including the books that I need to keep getting on holds from the library, like "The Silk Roads" and "Off Armageddon Reef".
One other point of note for this week. I have decided to move my book links from Amazon to WorldCat. I wasn't familiar with WorldCat before reading Maria Popova's wonderful "Brain Pickings" weekly emails, but I now know that it is "is the world's largest library catalog". Popova has a supernatural ability to compile "interesting and inspiring articles across art, science, philosophy, creativity, children's books, and other strands of our search for truth, beauty, and meaning". I am in awe of what she produces on a weekly basis, and if links to WorldCat are good enough for Popova, they are certainly good enough for me.
Happy holidays and good cheer to everyone, especially in the form of numerous and varied beers! In the past couple of weeks, I have been able to check in seven new beers, and with it, have accumulated seven new badges on Untappd.
First was a Peroni, the classic Italian lager, which was definitely better than I expected, but I did go in with low expectations (3.0 / 5). Next was the Goose Island Midway IPA. I went into my third offering from Goose Island hoping for something really good, but the Midway was my third disappointment in a row from them. I must be missing something, as a lot of people speak highly of the Chicago brewery. (3.0 / 5). Things got better after that. The 999 Spiced Wit collab from Blindman, Grain Bin, and Hell's Basement was a decent wit. (3.25 / 5), and the Mazarine Dragon from Alley Kat was a solid, fruity Double IPA. (3.75 / 5). Stay Golden is a Belgian Blonde from SYC Brewing, another local microbrewery. This was crisp and clean and well crafted. (3.75 / 5). Rounding out the beers were two more collaborations, the first between Banded Peak and Cabin, and the second between Snake Lake and Folding Mountain. The Abbott Dubbel and the Maple Imperial Stout were really well crafted, and both had enough flavor and character to avoid getting overpowered by the high alcohol levels. (3.75 / 5 for both)
From this six+one pack of beers came the Hoppy Hanukkah 2019, Better Together (Level 3), I Believe in IPA! (Level 24), The Great White North (Level 89), Middle of the Road (Level 60) 2x (Level 6), and Beyond a Shadow of a Stout (Level 6) badges on Untappd.
The list of new words this fortnight is deceptively small. I have only four words this time around, but if you look at the side of my copy of "Collapse", you'll notice the fore edge is forested with stickies of words to look up (and to be fair, other items to reference or quote). The New Words section of the next entry should be much longer.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. Life is returning to a normal state that allows for time for reflection, personal hobbies, and the odd beer or two. Reading has returned in force as a result, which just makes everything better.
Time for the meat of this week's entry!
Another entry in the Gaming Disappointment category, but this time caused by an error on my part, I thought I was going to be able to pick up my Ice Cream Dice today, but I apparently picked the ship-to-me option! Ice Cream Dice was a successful Kickstarter by fellow Edmontonian, Marc Schubert. I was totally looking forward to rolling the Neapolitan set when our work campaign kicks off again this Wednesday. I mean, look at those things! They are wonderful. But alas, I will have to wait until closer to New Year to get them in my hands.
Last thing about gaming for this week: I am looking to curate a group of people, hopefully local, hopefully committed to playing, with a focus on roleplaying instead of roll-playing. Characters over Stats. I'll work on my outline in a long form post on this site, so let me know if you have any comments while I'm working on it.
Life is better with books. -- me
As I look back at 2019, my single biggest accomplishment is my focus on reading. I still have 16 days to finish four books to push my total to 50 for the year, which is definitely an accomplishment, and I should be able to do that with the progress I have made on Mort, Collapse, The Sword of Shannara, and ... something else, just not sure what yet.
Book #46 on this year's reading list was Slacker, by Gordon Korman. As with the other recently-written Korman novels I have read to my daughters in the past few years (Masterminds, Ungifted), this is written in a series of alternating first-person narratives, which allows the reader the chance to see everything from multiple perspectives. The style is interesting, and allows for some fun guessing games - Who is this chapter going to be about? Slacker was a decent offering, but I think it was lacking especially in comparison to Ungifted where the protaganist was someone to actually care about. But it was still enjoyable, and gave us several nights of reading. Gordon Korman will always have a place in my reading pile, even after my daughters have grown up and moved on.
In other reading news, I have discovered some reading groups on Reddit that should be really fun to participate in. r/ayearofwarandpeace and r/AReadingOfMonteCristo are subreddits devoted to reading and discussing Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo respectively. I am super excited to read both books, and really looking forward to the discussions as well. War and Peace clocks in at 361 short chapters, so it will be a daily read-discuss cycle. Monte Cristo will have roughly three days between discussions, so there will be more time to read in between. With that sort of additional focus, I am going to set my 2020 reading goal at 52 books.
Two new beers this last week. The first was the Rinktinis lager from Volfmas Engleman. Really good stuff. I posted earlier this year about another lager from this Lithuanian brewery, and I was impressed with it as well. I'll keep searching out brews from them. This one had a good level of carbonation and had a lot of taste but was still easy to drink. (3.75 / 5).
The second was my first try from Ommegang, and it was a bit different and not too my liking. The Bigger and Better is a bière de garde, or Farmhouse Ale, so lots of hops and yeast. It was too mediciney for my taste though. My friend Dave swears by Ommegang though, so I'm sure this won't be my last from them. (3.0 / 5)
These two earned me the Middle of the Road (Level 59) and Wheel of Styles (Level 25) badges from Untappd.
Lots of new words this week. I read the first half of Collapse by Jared Diamond, and your vocabulary is significantly greater than mine if you can read something by Diamond without learning a lot of words. Same thing with Mort by Terry Pratchett, but the words from Pratchett are more likely to be turns-of-phrase and very specific British terms. I needed a break from Collapse so I started Mort. I should finish both by the end of next week. And to be honest, a number of these words this week are leftovers from The Bone Clocks that I missed posting last week.
NOUN - British, informal
a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted
NOUN - British, historical
ADJECTIVE - humorous
NOUN - medicine
December already?!?! Hardly over a fortnight until Christmas? And 10 working days before the holiday break?! Where did the time go?
The trouble with working incredible hours and having a single-minded focus is that there is no mental capacity for anything beyond the focus of the single-mindedness. My brother-in-law apparently sold his house and moved cities. Vague recollection. A colleague is starting the next round of chemotherapy. Ringing some bells. The new Star Wars movie opens mid-month. Yeah, I think I saw a trailer for that.
Without focus, nothing big would ever be accomplished. But with focus, the non-urgent bleeds out while lying in the fringes, unattended and ignored.
Balance then is the key to unlock the magical gift of focus and resultant progress with the ability to enjoy life for itself. Flipping through a half-year of this mostly-weekly log of what has transpired in my life shows the medium-term effect of focus and the lack of balance that has resulted. The end of the year is timely as my biggest project for the month of December is making sure I recapture that balance and learning from the recent months with an eye to 2020 and beyond.
You know a book is good when you are 25 pages in and you start thinking about calling in sick to work. That was my experience as I dug into "The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell, a story revolving around six decades of the protagonist's life, written in five different first-person points-of-view. Having also read "Cloud Atlas" bv MItchell, I can say that the author has a talent for taking a complex storyline and making it seamless and wonderful and captivating.
The first section / chapter / novella comes to an end and I flip to the next section to be crushed when I realize that it isn't a direct continuation of the previous story. This isn't right! I want to know what happens, dammit! But wait, maybe it is related. Ah ha, there is the hook!. And then the third section switches again and I am once again crushed but then eagerly anticipating how the three will intertwine. So it goes on to the end, where I am crushed by the thought of the story ending. Just one more section, Mr. Mitchell. Please, can I have some more?
The Bone Clocks is definitely a book I will re-read. I have five more books of his to read in the meantime.
Update on yearly reading: The Bone Clocks is the forty-fifth book I have read this year. I am hoping to hit 50, and was on pace early this fall for 56, but I will be lucky to hit 48. Again, laser-beam focus cuts into the ability to have a well-rounded life.
With a book like The Bone Clocks from an author like Mitchell, it is no surprise that there are so many new words this week.
tumuli (plural noun)
an ancient burial mound; a barrow.
a compact group of mountains, especially one that is separate from other groups.
(medicine) blow (air, gas, or powder) into a cavity of the body.
(theology) blow or breathe on (someone) to symbolize spiritual influence.
trepanning (present participle)
perforate (a person's skull) with a trepan
1. multiply or spread prolifically or rapidly.
2. be full of or teeming with.
ole·ag·i·nous | \ ˌō-lē-ˈa-jə-nəs \
1: resembling or having the properties of oil
2: marked by an offensively ingratiating manner or quality
done or taken before dinner or lunch.
1. making or characterized by a hissing sound.
2. (of a speech sound) sounded with a hissing effect, for example s, sh.
relating to or characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral.
inclined to cause or undergo division into separate parts or groups.
enter forcibly or suddenly.
(botany) a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, such as the numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids growing on tree trunks in tropical rainforests.
a seabird related to the shearwaters, typically flying far from land.
a port, city, or other center to which goods are brought for import and export, and for collection and distribution.
the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages.
(of a gem, especially when cut en cabochon) showing a band of bright reflected light caused by aligned inclusions in the stone.
(of leaves, wind, etc.) make a whispering or rustling sound.
As I sit at my computer to write this entry, 53.5° north latitude is a frigid -18°C. The forecast has us popping slightly above freezing this week, but it is December after all, and December is typically cold and frozen. But still.
Luckily the workload has decreased significantly without a single meeting scheduled for this weekend. Even last weekend getting better with nothing scheduled for the Sunday. With the scheduled returning to normal, we now just have to figure out which "normal" we are returning to - September 2019 or September 2017.
As some semblance of normality returns, regardless of what level it is, the reading and the personal engagement are returning, and with that a few new words as well. Still not a lot of new beers though. But with that as preamble, let's proceed.
"When you understand what is to happen and why, you are more able to accept and comply." - Gus, coworker
Gus said that in a meeting a few days ago, and it struck me how true it was. People don't like to do things they don't understand the rationale for. They still might not like what they are being asked to do, but if they understand it, they will grumble while they do it, but at least they will do it. A great reminder for those of us that have to institute process and rigor.
"You can have strong opinions, but they have to be loosely held." - Brad, coworker
Another reminder for teams implementing process and rigor. I have long told my teams that they cannot be the "pedantic application of theory people" and this is a related message to Brad's quote. Have a deep knowledge of your domain and be able to articulate the value it brings. Be able to argue the impact of not implementing your process or control. But then stop. There is no need to implement for the sake of theory. There is no value in implementing something that is not going to integrate with the rest of your business.
This is not to say you should not implement process, rigor, or controls that are not popular. Protecting corporate assets and customer data is not done to win friends around the office. I just think we need better reasons than "best practice" or "it is in the framework". Know your framework, and then go in to the conversation with an open mind.
Sacha Baron Cohen on Facebook, Free Speech, and the Internet:
A friend of mine introduced me to the WTF podcast by Marc Maron a few years ago. I don't listen to it often, usually only for the interviews with people I already find to be fascinating. The first WTF I listened to was Maron's interview with Barack Obama, and the second was his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen has created characters that are able to shine a spotlight on the absurd, rude, racist, biased, and downright awful parts of people and society. It was with that interest in the comedian that I watched Cohen's acceptance speech for the International Leadership Award from the Anti-Defamation League.
The speech was a takedown of how Cohen sees social media spreading hate and lies, going so far as to say that "this can't possibly be what the creators of the Internet had in mind". This is in reference to the lack of checks and balances governing social media, especially in contrast to traditional broadcast media. Cohen calls for a "fundamental rethink" of the governance and oversight for social media.
Cohen particularly targets Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in the speech, calling "bullshit" on Zuckerberg's arguments of free speech over regulation. Zuckerberg and other social media billionaires such as Twitter's Jack Dorsey are likened to "high tech robber barons". Cohen appeals to have societies "prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference, and experts over ignoramus".
The whole speech is well worth 24 minutes of your time. The article I read about this is here and the video is also linked directly here.
I said in the preamble that I have been able to read more regularly again after about six weeks of Reading Drought. The main focus last week was to re-borrow "Abaddon's Gate" from the library and finish it off since I only got half way through before work consumed me.
This was another good book in the Expanse series. My reading of it of course suffered by being interrupted, but it was good even with that. Since it is the third book in the series, it is difficult to discus the plot in any detail. However, there were a few great quotes from the book that are worth sharing. The first might be seen as depressing or even blasphemous to spiritual individuals, but there is a lesson in the last sentence that regardless of what we are made of, we can still make a difference.
There are no souls. ... We are bags of meat with a little electricity running through them. No ghosts, no spirits, no souls. The only thing that survives is the story people tell about you.
This quote probably needs a lot of background of the book series to really make sense, but I think this can be extrapolated to the technological society will live in, and the dangers of not fully understanding our actions.
Holden was starting to feel like they were all monkeys playing with a microwave. Push a button, a light comes on inside, so it's a light. Push a different button and stick your hand inside, it burns you, so it's a weapon. Learn to open and close the door, it's a place to hide things. Never grasping what it actually did, and maybe not even having the framework necessary to figure it out. No monkey ever reheated a frozen burrito.
These two sentences apply to natural disasters, but there is also relevance to those of us that work in disaster recovery planning for complex information systems as well.
Disaster recovery could only go two ways. Either everyone pulled together and people lived, or they kept on with their tribal differences and fears, and more people died.
Just a single new beer in the past two weeks. This was the 2019 version of Brewster's Blue Monk Bourbon Barley Wine. Barley wines can often be so high in ABV and in boozy flavor to be nearly undrinkable. I would even say that previous years of the Blue Monk suffered from those characteristics, but this year the flavor was spot on and the there wasn't the overpowering hit. Really good stuff. I should go back and buy a few bottles. This also earned me the Beer-giving 2019 badge on Untappd.
With reading comes new words. It feels good to stretch the vocabulary again.