Greeting from 53.5° north latitude on Valentine's Day Eve. I am sure Valentine's Day Eve is a thing, but if it is not, I assert my copyright to that phrase and the abbreviated version of VDE in accordance with all applicable Canadian and international laws.
It was a good week. I finished one book that I really enjoyed. I started another really good one and will likely finish it and another this upcoming week. There was some interesting news about state censorship in China and I posted an updated on the Gaming page. Beyond that, there were four new beers and one new coffee to report on, and after many weeks, a completed segment in the cross-Canada virtual tour.
First up is the update on the Gaming page. In the past two years, I have backed several Kickstarter campaigns and have achieved Superbacker status. (I am not sure that title gets me much other than potentially a bit more attention when I post something about a campaign on the Kickstarter site.) In the past, I have written about the Kickstarter campaigns I backed, but the last two updates were July 2021 and October 2020. So many campaigns have been delivered since then, and I thought I should write them up.
With that in mind, there is an entry on Gaming about exactly that. As you can see in the entry, most of the campaigns I back are related to gaming. Some of the campaigns I back are not, but I purchased as props and supplements for gaming regardless. Hop over to the article on Gaming for that update.
Next is an article from BBC about censorship in China. From what I read, censorship by the Chinese government is a given, but I did not have much context for how it manifested in day-to-day life. Apparently it is more than a lack of books or magazines that speak of topics inconsistent with what the Chinese government promotes. The BBC article highlighted how movies can be changed for release in China. Note: significant spoilers ahead.
The movie in particular was "Fight Club", the 1999 classic with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. In the ending of the uncensored version I, and likely anyone who reads this, watched, Norton kills Pitt and blows a bunch of stuff up. In the censored version, the ending is replaced with some text.
"Through the clue provided by Tyler, the police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding."
I mean, come on! I am not a fan of censorship, but if you are going to censor something, just make the material unavailable. Allowing them to watch the whole movie and then cut to a textual ending that completely changes the story is inane. It is no wonder this act "ignited intense debate about cinematic censorship in China". More surprisingly, after the debate, the original ending was restored but one minute with nudity was not.
The world is weird right now, maybe weirder than it ever was. I am afraid it will get weirder still, and with that, more dangerous.
Book #6 for 2022 was "Moon of the Crusted Snow" by Waubgeshig Rice. There was a quote on the front cover that said, "Chilling in the best way possible". That quote concerned me as I am not a huge fan of thrillers and I do not like knowing that something bad is about to happen. That is probably why I do not like horror films.
Anyway, back to this book. It was an interesting story and the buildup of suspense was much less hard for me to read through than I feared. Once I picked it up in earnest, I read most of it in one evening. The bad guy was obvious, and the resolution was mostly satisfactory. I have one unanswered question but that is not a result of poor writing. I will refrain from posting the question here as it deals with the closing chapter and is a big spoiler. (If I ever meet Waubgeshig Rice, I am totally asking him my question!).
While I have read more eloquent writing, I am still glad I read this book. The best part (is best the correct word to use in this situation?) was the conversation with the Elder who explained how the end of the world is subjective depending on your perspective.
As a note, when I originally posted this update on my LibraryThing Club Read 2022 thread, I was informed that there is a sequel in the works. I am really looking forward to reading that, and to reading more from Rice.
Cross-Canada Virtual Tour:
After many weeks of rehabilitation from a back injury, brutally cold temperatures, and then insanely icy roads, I finally finished another segment in the cross-Canada virtual tour. This was the first segment in the Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie leg. I am now past Nipigon and am rolling toward Terrace Bay.
Maybe this is my white-guy bias showing, but I thought with a name like Nipigon, I would find more connection to Indigenous history than I did. Wikipedia does reference how the Ojibwe people formally ceded the watershed draining into Lake Superior, which included this area, to the Province of Canada in 1850, but that is on the Lake Nipigon page, not the Nipigon page. The Wikipedia page for Nipigon does not reference any nearby airports, but it does state that it was the birthplace of famous Canadian curler, Al Hackner.
Here is the updated progress chart.
Four new beers were consumed in my personal quest to drink one of every beer in the world. My unique check-ins now sit at 865. None of the beers this week were remarkable, but only one of the four was not worthy of a recommendation.
The four beers were the Analog Fandango Horchata Porter (3.25); Rochester Mills Imperial Milkshake Stout dropped 0.25 on the rating due to sediment and late-can bitterness (3.25); Hopworks Blood Orange Ferocious Citrus IPA had lots of off-putting floaties (2.75); and, Bent Stick Four-Thirty PM Late Afternoon Stout (3.5)
On the coffee front, I finished off a bag of beans from Umbria, their Gusto Crema. I was excited about this coffee since I had one other bag from them that I really enjoyed. The reviews for Gusto Crema are quite good as long as you can get fresh beans. I am pretty sure the bag I purchased had sat on the shelf for a while as the beans appeared dried out. To give it a fair review, I ordered a bag directly from Umbria. Here is what the beans I bought produced for comparison later. In the meantime, I am back to Ace No. 1.
(Note that I forgot to post this on Sunday, so it is a couple days late.)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. The weather has drastically improved, and the days are getting noticeably longer. Technically it is still deep winter, but at least the worst seems to be behind us.
This past week was filled with the posting of two game summaries, finishing one book, a six-pack of new beers, and two new words. I will not comment on the "freedom convoy" protests that hit most cities in the country other than to say they happened. Beyond that, there was nothing really profound to report on.
I continue to spend a considerable portion of my discretionary time on gaming pursuits. I find gaming in all forms to be very enjoyable and the time I spend preparing satisfies my desire to create and be creative. In the past week, I summarized two of the sessions we had in the biggest campaign I currently run.
The two sessions I recapped took place in the last week of August and the first week of September. Clearly, I am behind in posting about the game, but there is some value in that much time separation due to the objectivity that time provides. I hope to post at least two updates a week going forward, meaning that the gap between session dates and posting the recaps decreases each week. It will be interesting to see how I handle the session recaps as the gap decreases and the objectivity is potentially replaced with more emotional reactions.
The posts for both sections are in the Gaming section of this site. Session 6 - Heading to Fort Beluarian - Mirtul 16 - 20 and Session 7 - Dinner with the Fist - Mirtul 20 -24 are now available if you are interested. If you do read them, I would appreciate feedback on the format I have settled on with the in-game recaps followed by a first-person section where I discuss my design process for the session.
I finished one book this past week. Book #5 for 2022 was "Mortality" by Christopher Hitchens. This is a collection of Hitchens's essays on his last year-and-a-half after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. This was on my radar for the last year or so and showed up as a library hold from our public library's "recommend me a book" suggestion program. Mortality is a waif of a book, more like a long article from Atlantic or Foreign Policy. My father died last February from esophageal cancer like Hitchens so I thought the commentary about his experiences as a patient would hit me harder. Knowing a bit more about Hitchens now from reading this book, it makes sense that his essays would not be overly emotional even thought it would make me think and reflect. However, the afterword from his wife did hit me harder than expected. A good book, and worth reading.
Last week was either stressful based on how much I drank, or really relaxing, again based on how much I drank. I averaged almost one new beer a week, which is significantly higher than the normal output (input?) of one beer every three-or-so days (2.74 was the correct number I reported last week).
Even better than the quantity was the quality of the beers consumed. Three of the six were fantastic, and two of the less-than-stellar ones were decent. In order, the beers consumed were the Blind Enthusiasm Testo made with pizza dough yeast (4.25 / 5); New Level Pumpkin Porter (3.75); Born Colorado Autumn Amber (3.5); Cabin Brewing Amaaaaazing Sour (4.0); Growlery Belgian White IPA (3.0); and Eighty Eight Brewing Wet Bandits Triple IPA (4.0)
That brings my total unique check-ins to 861. As always, my full profile and reviews are available on Untappd. Once you login, search for my username, robertwmartin.
Two new words this week. One is courtesy of one of my RPG games and the other is a word my mother used in her Wordle game the other day. I have no idea where she learned it, or if she knows it is not a nice word.
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude. It was a quiet week with the focus on work items and little time for extracurricular activities. There were no books finished, or even read this week, so no Reading Pile or New Words updates to provide. Physical ailments limited exercise to walking so there is no Cycling Update to give. The new coffee and beer updates can wait until next week.
That leaves two items of note, one work and one personal.
The work item is a video that we recorded this week with AHS CEO Verna Yiu around cybersecurity. October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, and we continued our increased focus on security messaging in October again this year for at least the fifth year in a row. For the message, I was joined by Victoria Lane, our Chief Privacy Officer for our discussion about why "Cybersecurity is Everyone’s Responsibility".
The personal item is that Campaign 3 for Critical Role launched this week. If you are not familiar with Critical Role, it is a stream of "nerdy ass voice actors sitting around and playing Dungeons and Dragons", that wording taken directly from the show. If that seems weird to you, think of it as a long-running television show built around a fantasy setting and a game mechanic. So yes, one could say it a bunch of people rolling dice, but it really is unscripted improvisational acting with story elements driven by choices from the actors more so than by the dice rolls.
I started watching Critical Role Campaign 2 about 30 weeks after it started and never did catch up. In fact, I still have not finished Campaign 2 which completed this summer. The story is great, and the actor-players are amazing, but I never watched all the episodes due to the extent of the backlog that I had to work through. I always find it very daunting to catch up on any shows that have a season or two already released. The calculation of how much time I will have to spend to catch up usually turns me off, regardless of the show. With each episode of Critical Role averaging well over three hours, being 30 episodes behind means at least 80 hours of viewing time while watching at 1.25x normal speed.
Anyway, why is that important you ask. Well, for Campaign 3, I am going to try and stay current with the show instead of having to catch up later. I am not certain I will be able to do so, even if the story is great. Time will tell.
If this interests you at all, there is a good primer of Critical Role here, the Twitch stream is here, and the video-on-demand stream is posted on YouTube on Mondays. Finally, if I keep up with it and find interesting items to talk about, I will post them on the Gaming section of this site. Do note though that I consider Critical Role to be NSFW and not something you watch with your younger children.
Greetings once again. I hope this post finds you well. The last two weeks have been focused on writing, but in other areas than this blog. The main output of writing was a lengthy post I made on the Gaming portion of this site, detailing the design choices and in-game highlights for a game I am running for five friends. There was also one other output that I will potentially dive into in future weeks.
The lesson learned in the past two weeks is that it is hard to write a few thousand words, edit another thousand, and hold down a full-time job. If I want to continue with this blog, and the gaming updates, and the other writing I want to do, all while being otherwise full-time employed, it will take much more discipline and rigor than I currently have.
But that is okay and is the type of challenge that I look forward to. My goal for this upcoming week is to have a comprehensive Show Notes entry that will cover the weeks of August 23, August 30, and September 6, plus a follow-up post on the Gaming site. As I mentioned, that will require discipline and structure to pull off.
For now, I will leave you with this link to my post on the game I am running for my friends.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, a part of the world straddling alternate dimensions of eternal spring and eternal winter. Hey, it's nice! Hey, it's snowing! Where did that wind come from?
Beyond suffering through the vagaries of weather, the week was pretty quiet. I have decided to run a game of Tomb of Annihilation for the group of friends I am currently playing Curse of Strahd with. I am contemplating creating a blog with a series of prep session notes for Tomb. If I do, I will post a link here.
On top of the prep work for Tomb, I finished one book, hit the century mark for rides in my cross-Canada virtual trip, and tried two new beers from my favorite brewery. Let's dive in.
Book #8 for 2021 is a re-read of the fifth Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix". This was something my younger daughter and I started reading on January 1 and I am pretty impressed that we ploughed through 764 pages in eighty-five days.
If you have read the series, you will know this is the longest of the seven books and it is definitely the darkest book so far in the series. The lamentable Harry Potter does not have much true hope for the first 7644 pages but I felt pretty good for him at then end.
It is hard to do much of a review of the fifth book in any series without going into significant detail that would spoil the other books in the series. Suffice it to say that this was an emotional rollercoaster. It is also the last Harry Potter book that I have read (or listened to) multiple times. Later this year we will dig into the next book in the series, and I will do so with relatively fresh eyes having not read it for about fifteen years.
I made really good distance this week on my bike, including a ride with my summer bike on Saturday that ended up being a fairly snowy affair after about half way through the ride. No segments or legs were completed this week, but I should be able to finish off the Edson - Edmonton portion next week.
I was comparing cycling notes with my friend Bryan earlier this week and I realized that I was at 100 rides since I started tracking my cross-Canada virtual trip. As you can see in the image, as of earlier this week I had tracked 100 rides for 1535 km. My average ride is over 15 km and I am averaging 8.83 km per day overall. At about 11,000 km if I cover a virtual route to every provincial or territorial capital, I am about 15% done. At the current pace, my entire trip should take me almost exactly two full years.
There were two new beers this week, both from Alley Kat. First up, coming is as check-in #741 was a tribute to Alley Kat founder, Neil Herbst. Neil's Smoked Porter had nice malts and a rich color. There was a bit of smoke without the smoke being overpowering. Slightly more foam would have improved it, IMO. All in all nicely done and a great tribute to the Alley Kat founder and legend. (3.5 / 5)
Second up was the Sabro Dragon, another solid beer in their Dragon Double IPA series. The hop combination had a slightly metallic note, but the aroma and foam were good. The copper color was beautiful. This probably had more obvious hops taste than any recent Dragon. (3.25 / 5)
I thought it was appropriate that I also earned the Untappd "One Billionth Check-in" badge drinking a beer from my favorite brewery.
The new words below are all from my reading of "The Splendid and the Vile", the book that I finished and wrote about last week.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where it is 27°C warmer today than it was a week ago, and 37° warmer than it was two weeks ago. Last week I lamented that my cycling was limited to the stationary bike in the basement. With the increased temperatures this week, three of my four rides this week were outside.
Beyond cycling outside, I had a pretty quiet week. The entry this week will be limited to one gaming update, a bit of music news, and four new beers.
This week was a big one for my RPG gaming group. Thursday was the 52 week anniversary of our group getting together after posting for players on Meetup. 52 weeks ago we got together (in person!) and rolled some characters and talked about what we wanted out of the game, what a lot of people will call a Session 0. There were six of us including me, and those six plus one more played again March 12, which was the eve of the pandemic madness. Three of that group plus me started playing online and the session on Thursday was number 23 and the end of what could be considered Chapter 1 of the story.
The text below is what I read out to the group 49 weeks ago as we got into our first real session. (Any references to official Forgotten Realms content is made under the Open Gaming License.)
It is a period of civil unrest. The so-called "dominant" races of humans and dwarves make up the majority of the population in the larger cities, and the larger cities control the economy of the Sword Coast. The economy is particularly strong in the centers of Luskan, Neverwinter, Waterdeep, and Baldur's Gate. Smaller centers directly on the High Road between the four centers are benefiting from increased trade along the High Road, but the true economic wealth is being concentrated in the major centers. Any spillover wealth along the High Road is a fraction at best, and this is leading to many public and private conversations about wealth inequality and the need for a different social contract.
The smaller centers along the High Road are able to experience the vast differences in wealth first hand as the nobles and merchants travel along the High Road in their expensive coaches accompanied by extensive support teams. However, there is even more dramatic differences immediately off the High Road. Settlements such as Lloreth, Mirabar, or Athkatla are experiencing almost zero economic growth. Smaller centers like Nashkel are faring even worse. They are bleeding people to the larger centers and are increasingly unable to protect themselves from bandits, thugs, and opportunistic humanoid races that have long felt themselves to be ignored by the humans and dwarves. The goblins of the Sword Mountains caverns have started to push into the foothill settlements into small villages such as Needlebush.
Needlebush is largely populated by a human population that historically welcomed settlers from all lands. However, the brash moves of the goblins have begun to change opinions and Needlebush has begun to openly distrust all visitors. After the most recent goblin raid two nights ago, all non-human races have been forcibly moved to a Safety Camp in the village center. This Safety Camp is a walled area with one locked and guarded entrance. The guards at the entrance and the roving guards throughout the village are part of the newly formed "Needlebush First" militia.
As the "Needlebush First" militia rounded up all of the non-humans, all weapons and magic items were confiscated from the non-humans. Needlebushians are still polite though, and you were given a numbered tag to ensure you get your belongings back when you leave the Safety Camp.
You and about fifteen other individuals have spent the last day and a half outside, exposed to the elements, with meagre rations provided. Earlier today, a loud, large half-orc became aggressive towards the guards and was beaten unconscious as a result. The beaten and bloodied half-orc lies off to the side, untended and probably dying.
That's where you find yourself now.
There were two items of note regarding in the Music Finds playlist this last week, but neither were really new. The first was that I discovered a live version of the Boxer album from The National. Boxer is one of my favorite albums of all time and definitely one of my Desert Island Albums. I have been listening to a few live albums yesterday, so Boxer live from Brussels popped into my Tidal feed. As with the studio release, the live album was fantastic and definitely worth listening to.
The other artist I added to the Music Finds playlist this week was Chick Corea, who unfortunately passed away on February 9. Corea recorded many albums as a soloist or member of a group in his half-century career, way more than I could ever completely dig in to. But there were some amazing albums and the one I think of when I think of Corea has to be "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" from 1967. As a result, that was the other album I added to Music Finds for this week. If you are interested in some videos on Corea, Rick Beato has a nice stream up on YouTube, and there is an NPR recording of a live concert, also on YouTube. RIP, Chick.
Four new beers this week, which seems like a lot when I think about it, but I suppose four beers in seven days is not that big of a deal.
Beer #724 was the Prairie Fairy Wheat Ale from Sea Change. I am a fan of Sea Change but this was a miss for me. It was fruity but without much intensity. Also it might have been over-carbonated. (3.0 / 5)
Beer #725 was the 2018 version of Alley Kat's Olde Deuteronomy barleywine. I always liked the Olde Deuteronomy barleywines every year, and I miss them now that they are no longer in production. I was happy to find this at the brewpub / head office. This had a nice boozy flavor without an alcohol burn and a nice taste to go with the beautiful caramel color. I wish I could buy more, but was happy to find a bottle in the Alley Kat brewpub / head office. (3.75 / 5)
I am a fan of vanilla flavors in stouts and porters, but I find they can be a bit sweet. In fact, Beer #1 back on March 22, 2015 on Untappd was the Mill St. Vanilla Porter and I commented that it was "a bit on the sweet side". Beer #726 was the Seaport Vanilla Stout from Lighthouse Brewing in Victoria. This was a winner as it had just a hint of sweetness and the vanilla was more smelled than tasted. It had a bit too much of an alcohol burn, but it was still really good, especially as it did not suffer from being too sweet. (3.75 / 5)
Last up for this week and Beer #727 was the Tumbling Goat Belgian Pale Ale from Endeavour Brewing in St. Albert. I am not a big fan of intense spices in beers like pepper or cloves. This one had a bit of a burn to it and I was not really a fan as result. The color and aroma were fine though, and it created a wonderfully foamy head. It was just the spiciness that turned me off it. (3.0 / 5)
Happy Valentine's Day 2021 from 53.5° north latitude. We might be twelve days past Groundhog Day for the year, but the days really feel the same. Every day. Get up. Work. Go to bed. Maybe some variety pops into the day. Hey, time to buy groceries! Hey, a package was delivered to the house! I have mentioned on this blog that I feel uniquely suited to handle life during a pandemic due to the combination of my personal situation, job, and personality, but even I would like a change.
Once it warms up; Once it is lighter outside; Once we have a vaccine; Once we can travel again. All those onces. It is important to focus on what we have in the present how we can make do with that. I will not speak for you, but I at least need to be grateful for the flexibility I have in my life.
With that out of the way, the week that was had a few interesting points to discuss, a milestone in the cross-Canada virtual tour, and one new beer. No books finished this week but I expect one for sure will be done next week and quite possibly a second as well.
Internet and e-commerce law professor Michael Geist, posted an interesting entry on his blog about an Opposition member's motion in the House of Commons to amend Bill C-10 (Broadcasting Act). Conservative MP Michael Kram rose in the House and his comment was cheeky and wonderful.
"I think we could do Canadians a lot of good by withdrawing this bill and rewriting it from scratch to ensure that everyone is included in it and to ensure we have the best legislation we can for Canadians. Therefore, I would like to move the following amendment. I move:
Replacing every word after the opening "That" means that the entire Bill would be replaced. In other words, MP Kram is of the opinion that the Bill should be thrown out. I am not a fan of biased politicking and grandstanding in the House, but in this case MP Kram makes a good case. Geist has dissected Bill C-10 going so far as to label the Bill as a "Blunder". Geist's full analysis can be read on this page. Regardless of your feelings on the actions of MP Kram in the House, his actions drew attention to a flawed bit of proposed legislation. I recommend reading both posts from Geist.
Switching gears, I have a few comments about the creative work I am doing in support of my gaming and gamemastering. In the past year and a half, I have made a few posts with updates on the games I am leading and playing in. It has been four months since my last entry about this and in that last entry, I discussed player agency. I commented specifically how "I think the key is to provide lots of options for the players and to be prepared enough to be flexible if the players do something unexpected".
I have worked on making sure my players had as much agency as possible in the last four months. One tool that I really like is the point crawl system I read about on Mike Shea aka Sly Flourish's blog last month. The essence is there are multiple paths to get from A to B, but ultimately you want your players to get to B. Maybe they have an encounter along the way or find some shortcut. Or maybe they gain or lose something along the way that helps or hurts them when they finally get to B. That something could be an item, an ally, or maybe just some health.
In one of the campaigns I am currently running, they players are planning an attack on an enemy camp. They have four possible entrances and one ultimate goal. I will let them pick how they go and how they want to proceed once in the camp. But this is a game after all and roleplaying games require dice rolls. If they do nothing other than roll dice, it will take at least three rolls to get to their destination. If they actively engage with the situation they find themselves in, they can influence the rolls. And since it is a game, their actions and poor rolls can have some fun outcomes.
For what it is worth, here is the point crawl map I created for the upcoming session. The numbers represent my suggested required dice roll results. Red arrows are bad and provide a low percent chance of being spotted. The thick black arrows represent road that traverse the camp. The dotted brown arrow in the top right is my template that I will use to track their actual route.
Call me a wimp, but I am still riding inside due to the cold weather outside. Riding indoors has very little appeal for me, but I have discovered that watching my YouTube "Watch Later" playlist while cycling can make the endeavor bearable.
I hit the saddle five times this week and logged a virtual 67 km. The important note for this week is that I finished off Leg #3 and have virtually landed in Valemount (with a U), British Columbia. Valemount has a decent entry on Wikipedia that I encourage you to read. However, I would like to regale you with a story about my first trip to Valemount.
Back when I was in university, my alma mater had an annual Engineering Week which was just an excuse to drink wrapped in a veneer of school spirit and friendly competition. One event in Eng Week was a scavenger hunt, and it was a well-known fact that a cold six-pack of Kokanee was a perennial item on the list. Back in those uncivilized times, one could only purchase beer in Alberta that was brewed in Alberta. Weird, huh?
Armed with that knowledge, me and two friends decided to drive to British Columbia and buy as much Kokanee as we could on the eve of Eng Week. We were going to drive to Fernie and go skiing, but there was a blizzard and poor driving conditions so we decided that was not going to happen. We pulled out a map - remember, this was a LONG time ago - and looked for other towns in British Columbia that we could go to. Lo and behold, Valemount appeared on our map and at 06:00 the next morning, the three of us loaded into my 1978 Mustang II and drove to Valemount (with a U), returning later that day with 7.5 flats of Kokanee. I will not go into details how only one of us was of legal drinking age in British Columbia and only one of us had a credit card. And I will not go into details about how much money we made selling that beer to people back at school. But I will say that I cannot think of Valemount without thinking of that story.
Back to the cycling update, below is an updated view of my progress chart.
You will notice that I have plotted out Leg #4, from Valemount to Edmonton. The next 492 km is a fairly scenic route with a lot of familiar stops, at least for me. The map below gives some context of the trip for those of you unfamiliar with the route.
I dove into a lot of new music this week, as you can see in the Music Finds playlist for this week. In addition, I figured out why my embedded code links to my playlist always had the same four icons. Tidal uses the album icon for the first four songs in the playlist so starting this week, I will copy songs from the albums and put them at the start of the playlist in order to mix up the art work a bit.
The first album was a 2010 offering from Daniel Langois performing as Black Dub. Check out Langois's discography sometime - it just screams late 80's, but to be fair the variety of artists he worked with is staggering. Black Dub's self-titled album was definitely solid with "Silverado: and "Canaan" as strong songs with "Ring The Alarm" being the album standout.
Next up was "Forevergreens" from Swedish alt-jazz (is that a thing?) band Tonbruket. This definitely had a different vibe to it, but for the most part I liked it. "The Missing" and "Polka Oblivion" are both really good, especially the violin on Polka Oblivion.
The third album was "THE FUTURE BITES" by British prog rocker Steven Wilson. I said last week that I was not into that type of music, but this album might make me change my mind. The songs were not massively long with most under five minutes. "MAN OF THE PEOPLE" and "KING GHOST" were really good, and "PERSONAL SHOPPER" had subtle background vocals that highlight the foibles of mass consumption and consumerization.
The fourth album was a result of my digging into Phil Collins after learning that he celebrated his seventieth birthday, as I reported last week. Seconds Out is a live album recorded in Paris in 1976. This predates my experience with Genesis which started with Abacab in 1981. There was a few songs I liked but this was another album with long, drawn out songs. I just could not get into it.
Last up was an album I was really looking forward to but was disappointed in. Hey Clockface from Elvis Costello was something I was really looking forward to. At the end of November, I mentioned "No Flag", a song with Costello and Iggy Pop. Hey Clockface had a version of that song without Iggy Pop, so that was a let down, and maybe that soured my experience. I will give it another listen, but I am not hopeful.
Three for five this week. Not bad, especially given how many good songs there were on the three good albums.
Just one new beer this week. Beer #723 was the Conspiracy IPA from Yukon Brewing. There was a lot of flavor with this one and it was quite a mouthful, with lots of hoppy bitterness and some tart citrus. Picked up a bit of pepper on the backend as well, which was somewhat off-putting. Overall still pretty decent though. (3.25 / 5)
Greetings from a slightly colder than usual 53.5° north latitude. It is not cold enough for the entire day to stay cold, but that is likely not far into the future. However, it is cold enough that bigger gloves or mitts are required for early morning rides. Riding at -5 C without good gloves or mitts is a very painful experience.
Beyond a few rides which I will give an update on below, a number of good listens and views, there was a great gaming experience this week, and two new beers. Let's jump in to the gaming story first.
If you look up role-playing on Wikipedia, the article branches into the various types of role-playing and then provides this definition for role-playing games, or RPGs:
A role-playing game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterisation, and the actions succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, they may improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games. --Wikipedia
The key concept is that the story is created collaboratively. The Game Master needs to be in charge at least to keep the game following within the prescribed rules, but the actual story that is created is the responsibility of everyone involved. As a GM, I think the key is to provide lots of options for the players and to be prepared enough to be flexible if the players do something unexpected. It is important to be prepared but to not let that preparation narrow your options. Having a series of encounters that your players must do in order at a prescribed time is a recipe for either frustrated players or for you to be unable to proceed because you are not prepared.
In our recent session this week, the party needed to travel and I had three potential encounters planned. The first one was with a travelling merchant. I knew there would be nothing exchanged beyond information, but I was hopeful that the players would engage as there was one bit of flavor and information I wanted to get across. The second encounter was completely optional and I tried to describe it in a way that they would not be forced to engage with it. They ended up doing what I hoped they would because I was able to give them a reward that will be useful. To that point in our session, we had two encounters that were engaging and I think memorable. I was struggling though because both encounters went exactly how I thought they would, and that made me feel like I was railroading them. In the parlance of the game designers I follow online, I felt like I was taking away player agency.
This concern of taking away player agency was weighing on me because the third encounter was one that regardless of how the rest of the session had gone I needed the players to have. This encounter was really like a Talking Notice Board that tells the players "You are hereby requested to go do such-and-such and then report over yonder." There is nothing wrong with this of course, as long as the players feel they can do something other than mindlessly follow the orders of the Talking Notice Board.
It might have been a reaction from the players against two encounters that they felt they had to engage with, but their reaction to the Talking Notice Board was one of sarcastic enthusiasm. "Yes, sir, right away sir." "We'll be sure to do that right away, nudge, nudge, wink, wink."
And so they did not report in. They might check in during the next session, but for this week, they completely ignored the "request". They instead went for a drink and a meal and then proceeded to find a room at the fleabag inn instead of the nice place I assumed they would stay at. This resulted in three fabulous role-playing sessions, one with each player. A new ally was found, a super reward was given to the party, and a really touching story was created.
I am really glad my first two encounters went the way they did, but I was prepared for the players to not engage with either. Our collective story would not have suffered if those encounters were ignored, but the world is more alive and the players have more knowledge about how to act and react as a result of both. However, when we look back at the game, we will see that the moments with the player agency at its most free were the ones that will have the most impact on the long-term story we are creating. That required preparation on my part, but in a much different way than the scripted set pieces I created.
The last thing I will say about our game is that in a three hour session I rolled dice exactly zero times. It was completely role-playing and I all I had to do was talk. And laugh, and smile, and have fun.
There were a few good music finds this week. The first album was Lucinda Williams' "Live @ The Fillmore", which was released in 2005, and was a recording from a 2003 concert. (It would be great to see a concert at The Fillmore!) (It would be great to see a show anywhere!). This album was 22 songs over two volumes and was filled with Williams' gravelly singing. Volume 2 was that the better of the two, in my opinion, with great versions of Atonement, Pineola, Righteously, and others. Her voice really shone on Volume 2.
Switching gears completely, the second album was Massenet's opera, Thaïs. I have switched my weekend radio listening recently, and am really enjoying getting back into "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" on CBC. Host Ben Heppner does a great job of helping listeners like me understand the story and the music.
Last up this week was a single called "Who's Gonna Stop Me". This was a collaboration between Portugal, The Man, and Weird Al Yankovich. It was a good song, but I have to admit I probably listened to it much more intently just because of Weird Al's inclusion. I am not saying that it is not a good song, but I do feel I would have given it less of a listen if Weird Al was not part of it.
The other music item this week was a great interview on Tidal with Chuck D. This might have been the first interview I have seen with Chuck D. I enjoyed his stories especially the one about how Jam Master J convinced Chuck D to become a recording artist. The best part though were two quotes that really made me think.
The first quote was Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee.
"I cannot teach you. I can only help you explore yourself." --Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee
The insight in that quote is enormous. The power to change and to grow is in you and you alone. There is no magic potion or methodology or drug or app that can teach you to grow as a person if you do not want to grow.
The second quote was even more powerful, and I think this is something that I can empathize with and work to change, but I think it is impossible for me to really understand it being a white man. All I can do is listen and support.
If you black, it's the side you on versus the side that hates you. --Chuck D
Great stuff from a musical legend.
I closed off a couple segments on the way to Campbell River on my virtual cross-Canada tour. I need to pick up my pace a bit. At this rate, it will take me four years to finish the trek.
Two new beers this week. Both were good, but neither were great. Beer #691 was the Galactic Space Dragon IPA from Odin Brewery Company. This had some good pineapple citrus juiciness, not much hops, quite hazy. Tasty but would have liked more hops. (3.5 / 5)
Beer #692 was the Earl Grey Wheat from Collective Arts. I am a big fan of Collective Arts, so this one was a bit of a disappointment. This could have been a really interesting take on witbier but it was pretty bland. It was refreshing though, just nothing spectacular. (3.0 / 5)
Happy Thanksgiving weekend from 53.5° north latitude. Fall is upon us, and the wind is blowing leaves off the trees.
Beyond the perennial topic of choice of weather, COVID is firmly entrenched into every conversation it seems, and rightfully so. Cases are rising in most jurisdictions globally, and locally outbreaks are hitting multiple schools, and therefore impacting multiple families, on a weekly basis. When we rushed home in March and hunkered down in April, it seemed easy to contemplate the change to our lives. It was temporary, after all. After a few weeks, the weather started to warm up, and the days got longer and our lives continued to improved. By May, those of us working at home were able to take calls while we walked, and lots of people started experimenting with driveway visits. The summer was even better as the kids got outside, the weather was decent, and lots of people rediscovered biking and walking through their neighborhoods.
But now what? As soon as the kids stopped socializing in a park and started getting pushed back into classrooms, we started having outbreaks. The driveway visits are much harder now because it is cold during the days, let alone the evenings. And who can legitimately take a call when the fall winding is howling?
I have worked in an around the Edmonton downtown core for 27 years now. In that time, I have walked between the various buildings via the pedway system nearly every day I was downtown. Some of that is walking from the LRT to whichever office I was working in, walking around at lunch, running errands, or just taking a call as I walked.
Assuming a maximum of 220 work days a year, minus the really cold days, the days when I had various impairments requiring crutches, days with all day meetings, holidays, travel days, and working from home days, in the time up to the start of COVID I can safely estimate that I have walked around downtown Edmonton at least 100 days each year. It is also safe to estimate that I walked at least two kilometers a day, with a lot of days at four, five, or even more kilometers. So let's say for arguments sake that in the last quarter century I have walked the width of Canada as I trotted around the downtown core. A large part of who I am as a person is connected to my peripatetic tendencies.
Now what am I going to do? I have a 1.5 km walk to get to the nearest mall, and there is very little of interest around that mall compared to the variety of downtown. Working from home is fine. It is the lack of variety and day-to-day variation that will be the problem this winter. Normally that variation was achieved through walking and so I will need to figure out a replacement. If I do not, this will be a very long WFH winter.
Lots of good news on the Kickstarter front. In the past week, I have received updates on six campaigns that I backed. Five are related to RPGs and one is an update on Cory Doctorow's audiobook version of "Attack Surface" that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Doctorow had 6,283 people back his audiobook, which is great news for him and for independence in audiobook publishing going forward.
Three of the RPG products are large publications. "Creatures" is a monster compendium that works in 5e and the publisher's Fateforge extension of 5e. I have a work-in-progress PDF version and this is a great book. "The Lost City of Gaxmoor" is a massively outlined city, complete with listings for the Outer and Inner city, crypts, sewers, and a couple dozen pages of fully fleshed out NPCs. I am interested in this one, although I think I am more interested in "Myriad, City of Tiers" than Gaxmoor. But Gaxmoor was developed in partnership with the sons of Gary Gygax, so that alone was enough to support this campaign. The third large product was the "Heckna! Carnival Horror Campaign Setting" from Hit Point Press. A horror carnival is not something I would typically be interested in, but Hit Point Press developed the Humblewood campaign setting that I picked up earlier this year. and I was really impressed with that. As a result, I figured Heckna would be a good addition to my gaming resources even if I do not run it as a full campaign.
The other two are much smaller products, but that is a big part of their appeal. Instead of hyping a product that needs months to deliver on the expanded content unlocked by the stretch goals, both "Captain Hartchild's Guide to Rare Dragons" and "Over the Next Hill" were available much sooner. OTNH was available immediately after the close of the campaign, and that is a model that will serve Morrus of EN World fame well in future campaigns.
I have backed 21 campaigns in the last year, so not quite enough for Kickstarter Super Backer status. I think I should stay away from the platform for a few weeks, just to give my bank account a break but Super Backer status would be pretty cool.
I was able to finish a couple books this week, which was a good feeling. Book #36 for 2020 was "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman who holds up the fiction throughout the book that he is merely the translator and abridger of a classic by S. Morgenstern. The book is as good as the movie that was based on it, and maybe even a bit better since it is interposes Goldman's "analysis" of the flaws and merits of Morgenstern's writing. This is a wonderful story of flawed individuals coming together and doing something wonderful.
Book #37 for 2020 was a completely different novel and genre than Princess Bride. "All Tomorrow's Parties" by William Gibson was a nice conclusion to the story in Gibson's previous novel, "Idoru". I did not realize until I finished this book though that "Virtual Light" was the first book in the "Bridge Book" trilogy, so I will have to go back and pick that one up later. The story Gibson wrote for All Tomorrow's Parties is hard to describe without spoilers, so I will just say that there are few other writers that I have come across that can extrapolate to the near future to create a plausible and recognizable world as effectively as Gibson. I will say that the denouement of the story left me slack-jawed for a few minutes as I considered the implications of what had just happened.
I made some good progress in my virtual cross-Canada cycling tour. Plus I updated my spreadsheet to do a better job of updating my progress bars.
Much like my comment in the Reading Pile section, it felt good to find some new music this week. There were a few entries in my Music Finds playlist this week. First up was the latest from Flaming Lips. I was taken aback by how depressing the lyrics were across the songs in "American Head". Musically it was good, but I was hard-pressed to find a song that I wanted to listen to again until the final song in the album, "My Religion is You".
After that were a couple throwback bands from the 90s, Semisonic and Goo Goo Dolls. Semisonic was the crafter of a single massive hit with "Closing Time", that has one of the greatest lines in pop rock.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. -- "ClosingTime", by Semisonic
The songs from Semisonic and the Goo Goo Dolls song were both released in June and are decent offerings. Maybe not "Closing Time" or "Iris", but "You're Not Alone" by Semisonic and "Just a Man" by Goo Goo Dolls are still good enough to listen to. I actually think "Just a Man" might stick as something worth listening to.
The next entry was from a fusion supergroup from 1976 that had Phil Collins on drums called Brand X. The album "Unorthodox Behavior" was fantastic, and made me wonder how I never heard of them before this week.
Finally, a favorite of mine from 2019, Future Islands, released a new album called "As Long As You Are". The songs in the early part of the album are more upbeat than the songs later in the album, but they all have good music and rhythm and are delivered with frontman Samuel T. Herring's unique vocals. Good stuff once again from Future Islands.
Three new beers this week. Making up for lost time, I suppose.
Beer #688 was the Full Time IPA from Beau's. Decent if forgettable. Lots of hops and a bit of pine, but not a lot of flavor beyond the bitterness. (3.25 / 5) Beer #689 was the Mad Trapper Czech Amber Lager from Apex Predator. This is near the top of my list for lagers as it had a lot of flavor. Nice caramel taste with a bit of burnt cocoa, and great color. (4.0 / 5) Last up this week was the Kellerbier from German brewer Hacker Pschorr. I think the unfiltered nature really helped this one as I find a lot of German lagers a bit weak. This one had some good flavor. (3.5 / 5)
I am going to start rating the coffees I buy. I do not mean the coffee I pick up in a store to drink right then, but the bags of roasted beans that I grind at home. The coffee I am brewing at home right now is Burnt Timber from Calgary Heritage Coffee Roasters. Burnt Timber is a dark roast, and it is pretty good. I do not yet have the same ability to pick out flavors in my coffee as I can with beers, but I am sure that will come with time. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the before and after process to make my daily Americano. One thing I will point out is that you can see how the espresso crema is a little thin, at least thinner than I would like.
A bit of reading this week, but neither book introduced a lot of new words. One was a repeat that did make me feel good about once I looked it up, and one was a confirmation that I should have looked up in the moment but was just too lazy to do so.
Greetings from 53.5° north. I took last week off as there was little to report. I find myself slowing escaping from the Sinkhole of Doldrums that was September. Even if it is a minor psychological shift, the start of October has me more interested in life in general, even for the more prosaic items that many people would feel are trivial, such as reading, cycling, and beer. To foreshadow the rest of this week's entry: I tried two new beers, neither were great unfortunately; I am closing in on completing a couple books; I have given myself a new goal for cycling; and, to start it all off, I have an update on the focus of my creative energies.
Gamemaster Update - Fakerun:
I have talked a few times about my interest in gaming, and in particular how I am spending a lot of time in various games as a player or gamemaster, and the vast number of Kickstarter campaigns I have supported in recent months. All of the roleplaying games I am involved in at present are Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, which I will just call 5e going forward, even if the settings are different.
The most prevalent setting in 5e is the Forgotten Realms, which is also known as Faerun. With the 5e parent company Wizards of the Coast focusing almost exclusively on Faerun content, it is easy to think that there is only one world available to players and gamemasters. I think that ultimately I would like to craft my own world, with a pantheon of gods and a creation story, and a geography and political system win which to craft my own stories. For now, however, I am happy to settle into the land of Faerun and borrow from the rich catalog of material available to engage with my characters. Having a catalog to fall back on allows me and other gamemasters a path to the gaming table that is much quicker, and is likely much more enjoyable for most people.
However, this does not mean I will play only with "official" content and storylines. My world, my own personal version of Faerun that I am calling "Fakerun", takes place on a continent with the same rivers, mountains, forests, and settlements as canon Faerun. The paths that I am taking with my Fakerun are about how we got to now, and those paths are radically different than the canon content. To do so, I am contemplating questions such as: What caused the chasm in Neverwinter? What are the politics of the large cities along the Sword Coast? I am also purposely eschewing longstanding gaming tropes, such as the they-are-evil-and-must-be-destroyed mindset towards goblins and other creatures.
The one campaign I am running right now had a session the other night, and in it I revealed a devastating impact to the land around where the story was happening. I was concerned about being overly melodramatic or creating something that the players would not care about. My concern was unwarranted though as the party druid was visibly shaken by the devastation, the party archer wanted to move out of the area to camp at night due to how "freaky" the damage was, and the party barbarian texted me the next day to say how he could not stop thinking about what caused the damage.
This is not about my amazing skills as a storyteller, as I suspect I am average at best. It does have to do with the collective desire to create something compelling. The Wizards website that I linked to above has a great quote about the power of collective storytelling (emphasis mine).
Since 1974, Dungeons & Dragons has influenced numerous writers, directors, and game designers by tapping into the innate human need to gather with your friends and tell an exciting story together. --Wizard of the Coast
A couple weeks ago, I posted how I have gone from a near-paralyzing fear of failure that delayed me starting this gaming group I am playing with, to a feeling of confidence that I can be the catalyst for a great group experience. With the experience of the game session this week, I now know I can create a compelling story that impacts the players as much as it impacts their characters in the game. That knowledge and experience is extremely empowering, and it has encouraged me to do more.
I am not sure exactly how to do what I am planning, but I want to create a new section on this page for my Fakerun version of Faerun. The purpose will be to further flesh out my backstories and characters, give me a channel for writing and other forms of creative works such as maps and handouts, and maybe even be a source of inspiration and content for other gamemasters to use in the worlds they create. Stay tuned for a new section in the title bar likely called "RPG".
Getting back to Kickstarters for a minute, I was excited to finally receive my copy of "The Koryo Hall of Adventurers", a 5e supplement and setting inspired on Koreon mythology. As much as I love the dwarves and elves of a medieval western European setting, getting my hands on something different is a pleasure. Author Aurélien Lainé comments in the book's introduction how they fell in love with and immersed themselves in Korean culture, and it shows in this book. Consider picking up your own copy if you would like to move beyond the Tolkienesque standard settings for your roleplaying game experience.
A good friend of mine started tracking his cycling trips at the start of COVID. His goal was to keep him in the saddle even while he was forced to isolate and work from home. In the six and a half months since he started, he has logged enough kilometers on his bike to virtually ride from Vancouver to Kenora, Ontario. Inspired by that, I have decided to do the same. For my trip, I will plot a route that will travel the eastern length of Vancouver Island, and then cross the mainland to Vancouver, passing through all provincial capitals. I am going to not worry about planning travel routes that would be safe, or at least safer, on a bike, and instead just looking for a road that will get me to the cities I want to virutally pedal to.
My first leg is from Port Hardy to Victoria, a distance of 508.5 km. So far this week I have cycled to Port McNeill. The next segment to Campbell River is quite a long one at 197 km so I will likely not get to there in the next week.
As I get closer to my virtual destination for Leg 1 of Victoria, I will plot out how to go east from Vancouver. I suspect I will plot a course towards Kamloops via the Coquihalla Highway, but that is not for certain at this point. For now, here is how Leg 1 looks on the map, along with my spreadsheet tracker for my distance log.
As I said in the intro, I had two new beers this week and I was not impressed with either. Beer #686 was the Red Horse Extra Strong Beer from San Miguel out of the Philippines. Not much going on. A bit of an ESB taste but nothing that I was really interested in. I went in with low expectations and this beer did not exceed even those. (2.75 / 5).
The second beer was from Alley Kat, and was one I went into with much higher expectations. Beer #687 was the SMaSH Session Ale. I did not like the taste, such as it was, and found it a confusing mix of bitter, sweet, and malt. A real disappointment since I am clearly a big fan of Alley Kat. (2.75 / 5)
There was much more reading this week than in recent weeks, but still not a lot of new words.