Show Notes - Week of November 16, 2020
Happy end of the week, and what a week it was. Locally here at 53.5° north latitude, nationally across Canada, and throughout the world, COVID numbers continued to rise at a frightening rate. Our family is now in close contact with at least one COVID positive case, so we have one and possibly two people needing to isolate, and then the whole family depending on the results of the test results of our family members.
The week beyond watching COVID numbers was spent doing a lot of reading and listening, but not much else. I am writing this early on Sunday morning and as of right now I have not finished a book this week and have only had one new beer, and I finished one more segment on my cross-Canada virtual cycling tour but not the two segments to complete the first leg like I hoped. However, I suspect that by the end of the day I will have another new beer to hit the 700 check-in milestone, I will finish a book, and I will go on a ride to finish the leg. But that will have to be in the update for next week.
It was a disappointing week for cycling with the outdoor rides curtailed by a flat tire and no replacement tube. Most of the distance this week was on the stationary bike in the basement, which is just not as satisfying as an outdoor ride.
I was able to finish off the segment to Duncan this week which was a nice milestone. Like I said above, I expect to finish the segment to Victoria later today as well which will see me complete the first leg in my cross-Canada virtual tour. But for now, here are some fun facts of Duncan according to Wikipedia. Duncan has only 5,000 people but it serves the 84,000 people in the Cowichan Valley; there are 44 totem poles throughout Duncan; the average temperature for this time of year is 5°C; it is the birthplace of former NHL players Geoff and Russ Courtnall; and the current President of the University of Alberta, my alma mater, David Turpin, was also born there.
Here is a look at the updated chart for Leg 1, from Port Hardy to Victoria. It will be great to see that whole block green next week.
There were three albums in the Music Finds playlist for this week. A couple weeks ago I mentioned the Azymuth JID004 album and the track "Friendship Samba". I listened to the album a few times this week and really liked its sound. "Surnamé" and "Pulando Corda" were other standouts, but I really think this album needs to be listened to in whole and not as a collection of singles. As I said a couple weeks ago, there is some serious talent on this album.
The second album was another Art Blakey. "A Christmas Soul Night" is a 3'49", 30 track collection with a mix of live and studio recordings. I have to admit that I found this to be an oppressively long list of songs. The only song I favorited was "Prince Albert" and that was the second song of the thirty. It was a slog to get through which was really disappointing after how much I liked "Flapping Wings" and "Just Coolin'".
Last up this week was "Shapeshifter" by Sean De Burca. De Burca is a finger-style guitarist who can really pull out a number of sounds and melodies from his guitar. Shapeshifter is an 18-track album, with nine acoustic guitar songs followed by the same nine songs re-recorded with an electric guitar. I listened to this album a lot this week, and liked it more each listen, and much preferred the acoustic versions. Really amazing stuff from an artist I will check out more in the future.
I started a new coffee this week, the Metta Espresso from Salt Spring Coffee. Salt Spring Island is close to Duncan, the location noted from the virtual cycling tour, and was the location of last year's summer holiday. Back to the coffee, I really wanted to like this but am struggling to get into it. I find the flavor to be very thin. I even bumped up the amount of ground beans used from 15 to 17 grams but that did little to improve the taste or the amount of crema. The picture in the far right below is the 17 g pull.
Looking at the beans, they are very dull and matte finished, which is a definite contrast to the other beans I have used recently. As I learn more, I will look for a correlation between the color and gloss of the beans and the flavor I like.
This is not a terrible coffee, but I have a lot of cups of it to go through before I can move on to a new bag.
Just one new beer this week. Beer #699 was the Super Saturation Pale Ale from Cabin Brewing out of Calgary. It is a hazy, citrusy pale ale with a bit of pepper spice coming through. It was nice to have a hazy beer without a lot of sediment, so that was a plus. I have rated three beers from Cabin on Untappd and all three have been 3.75 out of 5. Clearly a brewery to follow more closely.
Just one word this week, but it is a spicy one!
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude as we settle into the fourteen-day waiting game to see how much impact trick-or-treating has on our COVID numbers. The week was a good one for reading, exercise, music, and work. Plus the weather improved and we got an extra hour of sleep after the time change on the weekend, so things are looking up.
As I look through my previous blog entries to reference previous writings for this week's entry, I cannot help but notice that the average length of each entry is lower now that it was a year ago. I suppose some of that has to do with having less to do, in a purely physical sense. No concerts, no festivals, no restaurant outings, and therefore less to write about. That should be a warning to myself and to anyone reading this as we head into the colder months coupled with an increasing number of COVID cases.
It will be imperative to get out, to connect, to find a way to be outside and with others, as much as we safely can over the next several months. Going into a winter with COVID will be much harder and more depressing that going into a spring with COVID was earlier this year.
Book #39 for 2020 was "Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" by Cal Newport. I really like Newport, or at least the concept of Newport: fact-based reporting, analysis of trends, practical advice. The problem is that his books are boring. I have never been drawn to book summary services, but I honestly think my next Newport book will be consumed via a summary. (Well, technically my next-next Newport book, as I am still fighting through "Deep Work".)
Digital Minimalism was a decent book, but it summarized other books and concepts I had already reviewed. Last October I read "Solitude" by Michael Harris, and last September I read "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now" by Jaron Lanier. As a result, Newport's offering was a bit dated as I had already internalized a lot of his ideas. That said, if you have not read either Harris's or Lanier's books, then the concepts in Digital Minimalism might be fresh enough for you to get a lot out of this book.
There was a wonderful quote from Newport that I want to share. I hope it resonates with you as much as it does with me.
You cannot expect an app dreamed up in a dorm room or among the ping pong tables of a Silicon Valley incubator to successfully replace the types of rich interactions to which we have painstakingly adapted over millennia. Our sociality is simply too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages and emojis. --Cal Newport, "Digital Minimalism"
I continue to make good progress on my virtual cross-Canada trek. The power of having a goal cannot be understated. The fact that I have a target and want to make progress is getting me in the saddle more often, and for (slightly) longer rides.
Last week I closed off the leg to Campbell River, and this week I proceeded to make it forty percent of the way to Nanaimo. My goal for this week is to finish off this leg completely. The weather forecast looks great so there should be no reason why I cannot log 82 km in a week.
There was a lot of great music this week, with two albums in my Music Finds playlist for this week. Next week is looking to be a big one with a couple new albums that I have already queued up to listen to starting on Monday.
For this week, the two albums were "The Weather " from the Australian band Pond, and "New Age Norms 2" by Cold War Kids. The Pond album took a bit getting used to as it is a bit of a somber reflection on the world in 2020, but "Paint Me Silver" and the two "Edge of the World" songs make this an album definitely worth a listen.
Cold War Kids are a band I have really started to dig in the last eighteen months or so. "New Age Norms 2" looks like a solid follow up to the 2019 "New Age Norms 1" release, with "You Already Know" and "Somewhere" being the standouts on the initial listen.
Just two new words this week. I hope this is not the sign of something bad to come.
Show Notes - Week of October 5, 2020
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.
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.
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)
Greetings from 53.5° north. I did not post an entry last week to allow for some down time, but also because there just wasn't much new to talk about. This week wasn't much more exiting to be honest, but I wanted to make sure I posted something this week to not allow the habit of writing to atrophy.
First of, I was negligent in my last post in not retracting a previous comment. In my entry for the week of May 18, I commented that there was clear evidence that hydroxychloroquine "is worse than ineffective; it is actually deadly." I felt confident in amplifying that message because it came from a reputable source, The Washington Post. Even more than that, the WaPo article referenced a study in The Lancet, which is a publication that I would never have questioned, but now maybe I should.
As the controversy increased around what was being called #LancetGate, a friend forwarded this article from Peter Ellis, an Australian statistician and data scientist. Ellis dissects the study in The Lancet stating the unequivocal conclusion that there was a "very high probability the data behind that high profile, high consequence Lancet study are completely fabricated". Soon after this article and other pieces of high-profile analysis were released in media across the world. The Lancet retracted the study.
In the end, it was a win that the global community could still out a fraud and ensure that the integrity of the scientific process is intact. But it was also a loss because an institution as highly regarded as The Lancet failed so miserably. I can only wince in anticipation of the blow this is to science and the scientific process, and to those who will use this as fodder for the fake news campaign pushed by Trump and his media handlers.
But regardless of all of that, I quoted something that turned out to be incorrect and I needed to address that point.
Book #22 for 2020 was "Belly Up" by Stuart Gibbs. This is the first book in the Young Adult FunJungle series, but the second book in the series that I have read with my younger daughter. As I said a few weeks ago when reviewing the previous book, the first-person narrator and protagonist is twelve year-old Teddy Fitzroy, a modern version of Encyclopedia Brown. This is definitely a good series to pull the younger readers into the mystery genre. It is also important to note YA series like this that are not filled with the tropes of stupid and incompetent adults. Belly Up delivers on this again, and offers some genuinely funny scenes while dealing with difficult concepts such as lying, fraud, and murder maturely and seriously. I have now read two of the FunJungle series and look forward to reading the rest with my younger daughter.
With 22 books read in 25 weeks, I am falling behind the pace required to read 50 books in 2020. My general lack of energy and enthusiasm of late has leaked over to my reading. I made zero progress with "The Name of the Wind" last week, I haven't touched the "Rogues" fantasy anthology in three weeks, and I have completely fallen off the wagon for both of my reading groups for "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo". I need to rejuvenate and refresh my outlook, but what will come first? - the chicken (reading more) or the egg (the energy to read more).
Fourteen days, five new beers or about one new beer every 2.8 days. That is close to but a bit lower than my pace for the past six years. The five new beers puts me at 669 unique beers checked into Untappd.
The first of the fortnight was the Sierra Nevada Tropical Torpedo. This could have been great but had a bit of chalky or astringent aftertaste that took away from it. I really liked the hops and citrus flavor though. (3.5 / 5) The second was Bob's Your Dunkel from Alley Kat. Really good stuff. Nice caramel flavor with a great malty base. Quite enjoyable, and a shame this is not a permanent offering. (4.0 /5) The third beer for the fortnight was the Bent Stick Electric Boogaloo IPA. It was pretty good. It suffered a bit following the Bob's Your Dunkel, but I would have this again. (3.25 / 5)
Unfortunately the next beer I had was a total disappointment. The Final Test Batch for Blindman's Kettle Sour before they finalize on a recipe was nearly undrinkable. It was chalky and bitter and I didn't really think it was sour at all. Too bad as I was really looking forward to this. (2.5 / 5). The last beer was better though. The Waltz Pilsner from 2 Crows out of Halifax seemed more bitter than 22 IBU, and had a nice peppery taste. I'll seek out more beers from 2 Crows going forward based on this one. (3.5 / 5)
Only a few new words over the past fortnight, which is of course a clear indication of how little I have read recently. One for sure is a repeat, and a very recent repeat at that.