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.
Greetings from … 37.8° north latitude. That's correct, I am not writing this from my hometown of Edmonton, but rather from San Francisco, specifically the corner of Bush and Van Ness. I am down here for the RSA Conference and more specifically the ESAF session held annually on the first Monday of the conference. It is the highlight conference for me each year and I am really glad to be attending this year after having had to skip last year. In addition to attending ESAF, coming to San Francisco affords me the opportunity to spend the day at some of my favourite places like Blue Bottle Coffee and Yuet Lee for supper. However, I have to say that I was significantly disappointed that the Jack in the Box on Geary is closed indefinitely. I absolutely look forward to a Sourdough Jack when I am here, but it appears I will be denied this year. Thwarted by building maintenance!
The week-that-was was a good one. I finished off a couple books, had a couple beers, and got together with my new D&D group. There were a few new words as well. Plus there was the last minute decision to travel to San Francisco which has certainly added to the week. So without further ado, let's dive in.
I commented last week that my Meetup D&D group was meeting for the first time. It was a great experience with five players showing up. Most of the people who showed up were absolute newbies, so there will be some learning for sure, but that's part of the experience. The age range was quite pronounced as well, with two of the players roughly my age and three between roughly 16 and 25. I will have to work to create a table that honors and respects the different ages and perspectives. No one ever said that a gamemaster was an easy job.
I finished two books this week, putting my 2020 total at nine. That is slightly over one book a week, and that reading rate makes me quite happy.
Book #8 for 2020 was "Dodger" by Terry Pratchett. This was the first non-Discworld novel from Pratchett that I have read. It was sent in Victorian England, so clearly not the fantastical setting of the Discworld novels, but Pratchett's charm and wit was evident throughout. It is a great novel about an urchin who uses his brain and strong moral compass to pull himself up from the sewer, figuratively and literally, into upper society. It was delightful reading how Dodger thought and reacted and learned so quickly. A bit racy to be reading to your 12 year-old daughter though, but still really enjoyable. (Note how the WorldCat link above notes it as a "senior high" appropriate novel. Oops.)
There is a quote early on in the novel where our young hero is thinking about his lot in life and his ability to affect change to his life. I highlighted it because I thought it was worth reflecting on.
The whole of life was a game. But if it was a game, then were you the player or were you the pawn? It seeped into his mind that maybe Dodger could be more than just Dodger, if he cared to put some effort into it. It was a call to arms; it said: Get off your arse!
Book #9 for 2020 was "Career of Evil" by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith. This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series and I am still really enjoying these novels. This is my least favourite of the three however, largely due to the forced epiphany scene near the climax. Even with that, it was still well-written and suspenseful, and the tension between the two protagonists is really well done. I picked up the fourth book in the series at a used shop a few months ago, and I imagine I will dig into that soon.
Three beers this week, with one really good, one pretty darn good, and one awful.
The first beer was the awful one. The collab between Village and New Level was really disappointing. I actually wonder if mine had gone bad. It was very astringent and undrinkable and I couldn't finish it. I'm not a huge fan of Village but they do produce solid beers, so this was not expected. (1.5 / 5)
Luckily for me, things got better after that. The second beer was the Leffe Blonde. This is a solid beer worth drinking. It was a bit sweet, but the 6.6% ABV didn't show up too much in the taste. The overall quality of this beer is even more impressive given its mass-produced status and ownership by InBev. (3.5 / 5)
My favourite beer of the week was the Mulled Lambrusco Sour from Odd Company, yet another new brewery from my hometown. Odd Company touts themselves as "chemists who started brewing as a hobby in the garage" which implies that they will be brewing some pretty unconventional beers. This sour I had was a great foray into their craft, with a crazy amount of cinnamon aroma. It smelled like those cinnamon heart candies, but the cinnamon didn't show up in the taste. (I think that's a good thing, because that much cinnamon would have hurt to drink!) It was definitely a sour though, with a mouth-puckering taste. The copper color was also really well done. I'm glad I tried this and am looking forward to having more from Odd Company. (4.0 /5)
A handful of new words this week, primarily from War and Peace and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. It has been a really quiet week given that I took it off. Lots of me-time, a few beers, getting ready for the new gaming group I am organizing plus some Kickstarter related gaming news, and a few small projects here and there. Lots of reading as well, with one interesting podcast listened to but no single book finished. Let's dive into the recap of the week that was.
There was a lot of good news on the gaming front this week. First, I finally received my Kickstarter rewards for the Humblewood 5e campaign setting. This is a campaign I jumped in on back in May that is set in a world of humanoids based off of woodland creatures and birds. The package arrived early this week, all 4.3 kilograms of it. Books, minis, screens, maps, dice. Everything needed to play in the setting. I'm totally looking forward to running a campaign in that world.
Next up is a Kickstarter campaign that successfully closed this week. Monsters of the City from Cawood Publishing reached the first stretch goal and will publish their third 5e resource. I own and was really impressed with Monsters of the Underworld and am planning on picking up Monsters of the Feyland on DM's Guild.
I have now supported 25 Kickstarter campaigns and I have made some observations. First, the strategy of how to stagger the stretch goals is really important. For Monsters of the City, Cawood decided to put the extra art first and the upgrade to a hardcover book second. Was that smart? I do know that the extra art will make the book better, but having a three-book set with two hardcover books followed by a soft-cover seems to be a mistake. I wonder how many people were put off by not having a hardcover as the first stretch goal or even for the initial target.
I also wonder about the value of the stretch goals or if they are just a money-grab. There have been some interesting campaigns recently with one with no stretch goals but a few upgrades for Kickstarter supporters, to another with a ton of Kickstarter Exclusives that won't be available in a retail version.
After supporting so many products, I'm comfortable saying that my preference is definitely to make the product better. Dave Kellett of Sheldon and Drive fame does this really well on his campaigns. I have supported five different campaigns of his and he does a great job in improving his books. The first four stretch goals for his most recent "Anatomy of Authors" campaign were all about making the book better (book ribbon, end papers, gloss cover, foil lettering). After that, it was extras and add-ons. I'm going to watch out for that in future campaigns I support, and I think it will impact how and what I fund.
Last item on gaming: I have scheduled our first meeting - our Session 0 - for the Casual Yet Committed campaign I have organized on Meetup. I first posted about this a month ago, but only got around to scheduling our first meeting this week. Why such a long delay, you ask? Nerves, I tell you, nerves.
It's funny to think that something as seemingly simple and benign as organizing a game of D&D would be so stressful. It was though, and I think it is because it is forcing me to extend myself creatively. Asking a group of strangers to trust you to create and coordinate an ongoing series of events to cooperatively create a story is a much different experience than boardroom presentations, project sponsorship, and developing and mentoring a team. That difference and the uncertainty it created set me back a few weeks. It took me a long time to schedule the first session because I wasn't sure exactly what to do. I was nervous about how people would respond. I was nervous about not being able to do a good job.
I think there is a major lesson in this. Years ago my spouse and I made sure we did one new thing each year to push ourselves. That was before senior positions, kids, and MBA school (her, not me), so we haven't sat down to think through a new learning goal for a number of years. However, I think this foray into being the gamemaster for a group of strangers will seriously make up for that. And hey, it should be a lot of fun as well.
I only listened to a single podcast this week, but it was a Longform interview so it was definitely time well spent. This week, they interviewed Joshua Yaffa, an American journalist living in Moscow. Yaffa was recently back in America on tour for his new book, Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia. The interview is just shy of an hour and focuses primarily on what it is like to be a foreign journalist in a country run by an authoritarian ruler, who like authoritarian rules everywhere, has control over vast portions of the country's media. I think Yaffa's book will be an important one to read to understand a perspective from Russia that is less about the extremes - Putin versus Pussy Riot, as mentioned in the interview - and more about the people in the middle who had made compromises and have rationalized their current position or opinion. A social study of a society conducted by an outsider from that society who was granted a different level of frankness due exactly because he was an outsider. Looking forward to adding that to the Reading Pile.
As I mentioned above, I didn't finish any books this week, but I should be able to knock off a couple this week. That will get me to my goal of four books for the month of February with a week or so to spare. I have a personal improvement (i.e. I can't stand categorizing it as "self-help") book that I might be able to squeeze in this month as well.
I do want to give an update on the year-long group reading effort for "War and Peace" that I am in. The end of this week marks the end of Volume I, Part II, and puts us at page 201 out of 1224. So far, it hasn't been much work at all to read the book. The writing is excellent and the story is completely engaging. Cleary this book is a classic for good reason.
However, the best part of this has to be reading it as part of a group. I mentioned in late December that I joined a War and Peace reading group on Reddit, and that has been a fantastic experience. (The graphic above is the header image on that particular subreddit.) Engaging with a dozen or so other readers on a daily basis has added greatly to my understanding of the book and to my enjoyment of reading the book. Plus the daily meditations that Brian E. Denton posted on Medium in 2017 are likewise great for building understanding. I can't imagine having to read this book for any literature class without reading it both in this manner and with Denton's chapter-by-chapter analysis.
On a related note, my experiences with the Reddit reading groups for War and Peace and "The Count of Monte Cristo" have restored some personal confidence in social media and in Internet discourse. Strip away the ugliness of a social media algorithm (see "Reading Pile" from September 9, 2019), and strip away the dangers of online addiction (see "Reading Pile" from October 14, 2019) and you are left with the promise of a connected network. People seeking out others to connect and learn from each other. It really can be a beautiful medium if not used to exploit and sell.
This is the week 44 of the Show Notes blog. In my first entry last March, I noted three new beers that week to bring my number of unique beers on Untappd at 534. I hit 631 with the entries this week, which equates to 97 beers in 44 weeks, or 2.20 new beers a week. That is about one new beer every 3.17 days, which is a bit off the pace of 2.74 days between new beers I noted when I started this blog.
The first entry this week was the Alley Kat Oatmeal Stout collaboration with Village Brewery. I have logged a lot of Alley Kat beers on this site, and they continue to be a favorite of mine. I'm not nearly as big of a fan of Village, but they have produced some good stuff for sure. In particular, their Blacksmith Dark Ale was really good, so it isn't surprising that I would like what they did with Alley Kat on this collab. This was a fine stout, and a good use of oats to soften the taste. It had a a good long-lasting foamy head, and was flavorful but without distracting tastes. A winner for sure. (3.75 / 5).
The next two weren't nearly as good. The Temptation IPA from Legend Seven. If you recall, I have had a few of their beers in the past few weeks out of a six-pack sampler I picked up. This is my least favorite so far, but it was still pretty good. Temptation wasn't hoppy enough to be an IPA, but more of a pale ale. Still pretty decent if not on point for the style. (3.25 / 5)
The next one was the Chase 2020 from Blind Enthusiasm. I find Blind Enthusiasm to be quite hit-and-miss, and this one was a definite miss. I couldn't figure out the flavors or the aroma. I'm glad I was driving and only had the 250 mL glass. (2.5 / 5) I do need to give points for Blind Enthusiasm though for their drive to constantly produce different tastes. And on top of that, the food at Biera was awesome so the overall experience was still really good.
Luckily for me, I ended this week on a high note. Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout was really good. I have had some iffy chocolate beers before so was cautious about this one, but it was really good. Mellow aroma, good but not overpowering taste. That is the third beer I have had from Samuel Smith's and all three have been very good.
Lots of new words. The vast majority of the words this week come from various tape-flagged pages from the first two major sections of War and Peace, Volume I, Parts I and II.
You know it has been brutally cold when you comment that -24°C doesn't feel all that bad. That was yesterday and today it is -21 and climbing. Daily highs will be over the freezing mark which will feel like nirvana, but with snow.
The last week was filled with work, reading, volunteering, a couple new beers, and a bit of a breakthrough with on the curation of my D&D group. Let's get on with it, shall we?
CKUA Annual General Meeting:
The CKUA Foundation AGM was yesterday, and I am grateful and humbled to have been reappointed to the CKUA Board for my third and final two-year term. This will be my fourth year serving as Vice Chair of the Board under and with the amazing leadership of our Chair, Cindy Andrew. The past few years have been filled with ups and downs, but happily with more ups than downs.
CKUA is 92 years old, and my time on the Board will end just after the 94th birthday. Even though I won't be formally involved after January 2022, I already look forward to being involved with the organization as it approaches its Centennial in 2027. My thoughts for the future were echoed by former CKUA CEO Ken Regan in a nice tweet at the AGM, and I was able to capture a meta moment of Ken in action.
I commented back in December that I am looking to curate a D&D group, and this week I made some significant progress in that regard. I had thought about creating a post on something like Kijiji to announce that I was looking for a group of like-minded people to play with. It occurred to me that Meetup would be a much better choice for something like that and so I created a new Edmonton-based D&D group called "Casual but Committed". Casual but Committed will be focused on story and character over rules and stats. There have already been four people join the group and I am hopeful that the personalities will mesh and we will have a good time. I honestly have no idea what will happen if we get a dozen or more players who want to join, but I suppose that is a problem for another day. Now I just need to figure out how to bring that group of people together so that we can learn and start playing.
Most of my reading these days revolves around the year-long reading projects of "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo". I did finish "Stuart Little" with the younger daughter this week, but that was the extent of my other reading. I know Stuart Little is considered a classic of children's literature, but I really could not get into it. Stuart is a bit of a knob, to be blunt. He runs off on a fool's errand, and has little to no ability to plan or control his emotions. I suppose he is just a child, but by today's standards in youth fiction Stuart is overly emotional and rash. Not exactly a role model, to the point where my daughter commented on what a "weird" story it was. So book #5 for 2020 is done and accounted for, but I was really hoping for more especially after the glowing affection showed for it by the characters in last week's book "The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library".
Three new beers this week, and two of them were pretty good. First up was the Een Paar Luilin Belgian Rye Dubbel collaboration between Common Crown and Dandy. I had a friend describe Common Crown as making really solid accessible beers, and Dandy as always pushing the envelope while being less worried about failing miserably. Pairing those two extremes in a collaboration is sure to bring out some interesting tastes in a tempered way, and that is what this beer was. Good stuff, solid flavor, nothing radical but definitely well put together. (3.5 / 5). The next one was the Before 9 Mint Chocolate Stout from Troubled Monk. That is a nice play on the After Eight mint chocolates working with the knowledge that mint and chocolate is a great pair, as is chocolate and stouts. But mint plus chocolate plus stout just did not work for me. (2.75 / 5). Last up was the Lupita Especial Kolsch brewed by Alley Kat for Tres Carnales Taqueria. This was a good beer, and while I don't think it was their Scona Gold Kolsch which I really like, it was still decent pairing with tacos. (3.25 / 5)
Quite a few new words this week given the limited amount of reading. Some of them come from some podcasts I listened to but most come from The Count of Monte Cristo or War and Peace.
limns (third person present)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. Life is returning to a normal state that allows for time for reflection, personal hobbies, and the odd beer or two. Reading has returned in force as a result, which just makes everything better.
Time for the meat of this week's entry!
Another entry in the Gaming Disappointment category, but this time caused by an error on my part, I thought I was going to be able to pick up my Ice Cream Dice today, but I apparently picked the ship-to-me option! Ice Cream Dice was a successful Kickstarter by fellow Edmontonian, Marc Schubert. I was totally looking forward to rolling the Neapolitan set when our work campaign kicks off again this Wednesday. I mean, look at those things! They are wonderful. But alas, I will have to wait until closer to New Year to get them in my hands.
Last thing about gaming for this week: I am looking to curate a group of people, hopefully local, hopefully committed to playing, with a focus on roleplaying instead of roll-playing. Characters over Stats. I'll work on my outline in a long form post on this site, so let me know if you have any comments while I'm working on it.
Life is better with books. -- me
As I look back at 2019, my single biggest accomplishment is my focus on reading. I still have 16 days to finish four books to push my total to 50 for the year, which is definitely an accomplishment, and I should be able to do that with the progress I have made on Mort, Collapse, The Sword of Shannara, and ... something else, just not sure what yet.
Book #46 on this year's reading list was Slacker, by Gordon Korman. As with the other recently-written Korman novels I have read to my daughters in the past few years (Masterminds, Ungifted), this is written in a series of alternating first-person narratives, which allows the reader the chance to see everything from multiple perspectives. The style is interesting, and allows for some fun guessing games - Who is this chapter going to be about? Slacker was a decent offering, but I think it was lacking especially in comparison to Ungifted where the protaganist was someone to actually care about. But it was still enjoyable, and gave us several nights of reading. Gordon Korman will always have a place in my reading pile, even after my daughters have grown up and moved on.
In other reading news, I have discovered some reading groups on Reddit that should be really fun to participate in. r/ayearofwarandpeace and r/AReadingOfMonteCristo are subreddits devoted to reading and discussing Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo respectively. I am super excited to read both books, and really looking forward to the discussions as well. War and Peace clocks in at 361 short chapters, so it will be a daily read-discuss cycle. Monte Cristo will have roughly three days between discussions, so there will be more time to read in between. With that sort of additional focus, I am going to set my 2020 reading goal at 52 books.
Two new beers this last week. The first was the Rinktinis lager from Volfmas Engleman. Really good stuff. I posted earlier this year about another lager from this Lithuanian brewery, and I was impressed with it as well. I'll keep searching out brews from them. This one had a good level of carbonation and had a lot of taste but was still easy to drink. (3.75 / 5).
The second was my first try from Ommegang, and it was a bit different and not too my liking. The Bigger and Better is a bière de garde, or Farmhouse Ale, so lots of hops and yeast. It was too mediciney for my taste though. My friend Dave swears by Ommegang though, so I'm sure this won't be my last from them. (3.0 / 5)
These two earned me the Middle of the Road (Level 59) and Wheel of Styles (Level 25) badges from Untappd.
Lots of new words this week. I read the first half of Collapse by Jared Diamond, and your vocabulary is significantly greater than mine if you can read something by Diamond without learning a lot of words. Same thing with Mort by Terry Pratchett, but the words from Pratchett are more likely to be turns-of-phrase and very specific British terms. I needed a break from Collapse so I started Mort. I should finish both by the end of next week. And to be honest, a number of these words this week are leftovers from The Bone Clocks that I missed posting last week.
NOUN - British, informal
a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted
NOUN - British, historical
ADJECTIVE - humorous
NOUN - medicine
Hello again from 53.5° north latitude. Summer seems to have arrived but fall will be here later this week with temperatures forecasted to fall below freezing in a few days. Plus it is getting too dark to read in the car while the kids are at their various activities during the weeknights. Time to get out the winter bike.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
Podcast - Radiolab series on "G"
Radiolab is a great show, but I'm sure you know that already. Earlier this summer, they had a six-part series called G. G is the symbol for intelligence, and boy, would it be great if it was as easy to quantify and articulate a person's intelligence as a one letter moniker might imply. The six episodes did a nice job of outlining how hard intelligence is to define, let alone quantify. Here are some highlights I took away from the series. (Links to the six episodes here - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Reading Pile, aka Musings on What it Means to Have an Opinion:
I find it interesting how the reading pile organically seems to organize around themes. Earlier this year, the theme was around capitalism, captured by a half dozen or so posts referencing the topic. In the last few weeks, the themes that have surfaced are around humanism and disconnecting, I mentioned "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari above and quoted from it two weeks ago. I powered it through it on the weekend and came away with all sorts of conflicting thoughts. Are humans really the apex of life on Earth? Are we nothing more than algorithmic cogs in a machine to process information? If we admit that our human fallibility limits our ability to make the best choices, should we concede our decision-making to more advanced algorithms that are external from our bodies? In other words, should we allow some Internet behemoth to tell us what is best?
Harari's "Homo Deus" was published in 2015, so it predates the 2016 US election, and all of the revelations about Russian interference in the election. Knowing that, the following excerpt from Harari is particularly harrowing:
On a more sinister note, the same study (from Facebook) implies that in future US presidential elections Facebook could know not only the political opinions of tens of millions of Americans, but also who might be swung. Facebook could tell that in Oklahoma the race between Republicans and Democrats is particularly close, identify the 32,417 voters who still haven't made up their minds, and determine what each candidate needs to say in order to tip the balance. How could Facebook obtain this priceless political data? We provide it for free.
Humanism is founded on the idea that all humans are equally valuable and that humans should be allowed to make their own individual choices because they truly know what is best for them. Harari repeatedly mentions the notions that the voter knows best, and the consumer knows best.
If humans all have a perfect inner self that knows best, then humanism is the need to ensure that the inner self is fed and actualized. However, if that inner self is not immune to external influence, then the inner self is not perfect but malleable and corruptible. We know from Lanier's book mentioned last week, that social media uses what understanding of psychology and physiology to influence our behaviors and create addictions. We also now know from the Mueller investigation that the algorithms feeding what we see in social media are corruptible. Assuming we do have a true inner self, then we need to find a way to ensure that true inner self is free from influence. Again, see the reference to Lanier last week.
My friend Trent has the opinion that if Amazon, Tidal, Spotify or any other algorithm-driven cloud service can help him find more of what he likes, then of course he is in favor. Learn from my likes, purchases, and actions, and give me more of that. But if that is how I find my next book or music, then how much of that is because of what I already wanted, and how much of that is because of what I was told to like? Then again, what's the difference between Trent or Tidal telling me about a new band? In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
In the end, I think it comes down to trusting my ability to decide and knowing all of the influences on my decision-making process. I am beginning to think I have a much better ability to do that if I am not solely reacting to a stream of notifications and feeds, but then again, that thought is influenced by the stream of information that I am currently consuming.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Wednesday lunch hour. Boss fight. We have a plan. We draw out the boss. We attack without mercy. The foot soldiers fall. The boss gets hammered. We grab the box. Success! But wait! I am playing the rogue and I need to stealth away. No worries, I say. I have a +7 on Stealth. Easy peasy. Rolled a 1.
That is the beauty of dice rolls in an RPG. There is no reason why we shouldn't succeed based on our plan and coordination. We have the numbers and skills to overpower, plus we have the ability to trick and deceive, to intimidate and confuse. We will prevail. The failed dice roll probably won't change the ultimate outcome, but it is easy to argue that it make the outcome more memorable. If I would have said "oh hey, let's say I slip and fall 'cause that will add some serious suspense", it would not have had any impact. Contrived emotion and scripted action sounds like a bad television show. Rolling a 1 in that moment makes for a wonderfully memorable experience. The heart-dropping feeling, the laughs from my friends after my muttered f-bomb, the jokes after how the fighter, the barbarian, and the cleric all succeeded buy my rogue failed. All that makes for a much better memory.
The memories are also accentuated by the random comments that stick with the party. We dragged an NPC out from under a gelatinous cube a few sessions ago. His legs were covered by the cube, and he took some pretty significant damage (3d6). We weren't sure if he would live but we used a healing spell on him and ultimately gained an ally. He was unconscious for a while so we couldn't get a name, so there was an offhand comment about "Legless Jack". The name stuck. The DM could have had a name for him, but we as players never asked for it since he will forever be Legless Jack to us.
Here's to more memories coming from the shared storytelling medium of an RPG.
Only one new beer this week. The Surround Sound DIPA from Collective Arts was another fine beer from the brewery that is steadily becoming my favorite. (Sorry Blindman and Alley Kat!) This was a hazy, citrusy beer with a nice bit of pine, and great balance all around. Submitting that to Untappd earned me the I Believe in IPA (Level 23) badge.
A few new words this week, and one repeat offender.
[ ab-joo r, -jur ]
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where summer has finally arrived. Other than the arrival of some nice weather, the week was largely similar to previous weeks. Still good momentum on reading, lots of intensity at work, plus a great outing with some friends. Onward.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Wednesday was our regular (to be honest, only semi-regular at present) lunch hour D&D game. We actually prepared via email over the previous few days, which was great because we were able to get right to it. Things were going pretty much as planned, and then Andrew, who is playing our extremely spiritual cleric, caught sight of the boss and hammered him with level 2 Guiding Bolt for 21 damage, which is pretty significant at third level. This was completely natural for the cleric to do, but completely unexpected, at least by me as a player. Andrew was complaining that his cleric was out of the action, and he timed his entry into the front lines of the battle perfectly.
Some people might complain that he didn't stick to the plan and now we have to improvise. That would seem to miss the point of a role-playing game though. We had a friend roleplay a character for probably 30 sessions with a consistent internal burning hatred of those who cause suffering. As the boss walked out of his tent, Andrew had the opportunity to unleash his anger and fury directly at the source of so much suffering. It was like the cleric said, "Payback time, asshole!". We now need to figure out what happens next as the lunch hour expired as the Guiding Bolt spell exploded onto the boss's back. Looking forward to Wednesday.
One last thing - one of our group pointed out that sending emails about "attack plans" on "September 11" might not have been our best move. No visits or inquiries yet at least.
Edmonton is home to many festivals and one of our favorites is Kaleido. With the summer weather we had this week, meeting up with some friends on Alberta Avenue was a great time. Alberta Avenue is a long way from our home, physically and metaphorically, which means Kaleido gives us a great opportunity to see people, cultures, and a community that we don't necessarily interact with very often.
The highlight of Kaleido this year, beyond the friends, food, and shopping was undoubtedly the performance of Circus Kalabente. These performers are insanely amazing to watch and are great people to talk to as well. Positivity, energy, athletics, music, signing. What an amazing show. Check them out if you ever get the chance. If you are in the Edmonton area, they will be at the Arden Theatre in St. Albert on April 28.
Before I get to the book I read this week, here is a picture of what I picked up at the local Find store (Find helps fund individuals and families getting furnished housing.) Pretty amazing for five bucks.
I was able to start and finish "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now" by Jaron Lanier this week. It was a timely read as I have been debating doing exactly that for a while now. Here is what I said on this site earlier this summer about my personal move from social media sites:
This blog, even if no one reads it, is my response to microblogging like Twitter or Instagram, and is based on the need to say what I want to say in a way I want to say it. If I want to write 1,000 words about the podcasts I listened to, then that's what I'll do, but not with ads inserted by some algorithm. If there is content I want others to know about, then I'll post it here. Do I need to collect entire profile data sets of everyone that reads what I write? What would I do with that? I'm not an advertising platform like Google or Facebook, so I have no need for that. I suppose at some point the need to pay for the infrastructure becomes enough of an impetus to start to look for ways to "monetize". However, maybe the old tip jar model from years gone by or the patron model that is popular these days will be enough. Even if that ever becomes the case, I still can't see what benefit either I or my readers would get from them sharing a full profile of their personal information with me.
Lanier picked up on my sentiment when he talked about how social media turns us from individuals feeling and thinking as Self and instead thinking of the Pack. Classic us versus them thinking ensues - the other must be wrong, because we are undoubtedly on the side of good and right. Lanier says:
Collective processes make the best sense when participants are acting as individuals.
What if listening to an inner voice or having a passion for ethics or beauty were to lead to more important work in the long-term, even if it measured as less successful in the moment? What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?
Finally, tying this book back to what I have written around capitalism, Lanier sums up how wrong it is that the social media giants are using data we give them to make bucket-loads of money while then forcing the gig economy and financial insecurity on to the masses.
What we call AI should never be understood as an alternative to people, but instead as a mislabeled new channel of value between real people. The business plan of (social media) is to sneakily take data from you and make money from it. ... I think companies should get rich if they make things people want, but I don't think you should be made less and less secure as part of the bargain. Capitalism isn't supposed to be a zero-sum game.
(And since I have not yet deleted my social media accounts, I couldn't help but tweet this out as I sat down to dig into the book.)
Two new beers this week. One from arguably one of the best breweries in Canada, and the other from arguably one of the best breweries in Canada. First was the Saint of Circumstance from Collective Arts. Clean taste, nice citrus. (3.75 / 5). That got me the Rising Steady (Level 57) badge on Untapped for beers with less than 5% ABV, and the Hopped Down (Level 32) badge for beers with an IBU under 20.
Second was the Five of Diamonds pilsner from Blindman. If you have ever gone fishing in Canada, chances are you used a lure from Len Thompson out of Lacombe, which is down the block from Blindman. The Five of Diamonds lure is the quintessential Len Thomspson lure, and I probably have a half dozen of them in different sizes and color combinations. In fact, I even wrote about this lure previously on this site. Blindman and Len Thompson partnered up for this pilsner to raise money for fish restocking programs. As far as the beer goes, I quite liked it, and I'm not a pilsner fan. Really good stuff once again. (4.0 / 5)
Only two words this week, and at least one is a repeat.
Hello from a foggy and chilly morning from 53.5° north latitude. As with last week, this week was consumed by work, and while that was interesting and exciting, there really isn't much from that to report here. One new beer, one article, an RPG book, a sojourn with nature, and a couple new words. Let's get on with it, shall we?
I did read a bit this week, but not nearly as much as I was earlier in the summer or the spring. I will probably have a couple books finished by next week, but nothing for this week. The reading rate has decreased in the last few weeks, but I am still on pace to finish 56 books which is by far the most I have read in a single year.
Maclean's released an article by 338Canada summarizing recent polls for the upcoming federal election. As of today there are only 50 days until the election, and there is a good possibility that voters have already decided who they are going to vote for. If that is the case, analysis of the polls at this time might be a good predictor of the result in October.
According to 338Canada's analysis, the Liberals won the most seats in 57% of their simulations with a majority in 30%. A minority result for the Liberals would have to be deeply disturbing for every party. That result for the Liberals after their big win in the last election is an indictment on Trudeau's inability to deliver and likely highlights his constant parade of gaffes. Anything other than a majority for the Conservatives would show that Scheer is less effective than Harper, especially with the gift of the SNC-Lavalin fiasco and the ethics commissioner's report that was laid on his lap, In the simulations, the NDP get hammered, with less seats even than they won under Mulcair, making supporters likely want to question Singh as their leader. I suppose the Bloc might be okay with 13 seats as at least they still have their base. The Greens are predicted to win 4 seats, and I can't imagine that number could be spun into anything positive, but you never know what May is going to say. The only scenario to make any party happy is a majority, and that looks increasingly unlikely.
Kayaking at Elk Island:
Elk Island National Park is roughly 75 km from my driveway. I can leave the house and be out there in about an hour. As I found out today, I can be on the water in a rented kayak in less than 90 minutes after I leave the house. Haskin Canoe has a rental shack right on Astotin Lake, which is super convenient. I was able to capture a couple great shots from the water of the lake islands and some waterfowl on the lake. However, the nearly ancient camera I used to take the pictures uses an SD card, and I don't have a single SD card reader in the house. Maybe I'll find some tech in the next week and will be able to salvage those pictures. In the meantime, here are pictures of a bison and a few deer I grabbed with my phone.
After several months of waiting, my copy of "Strongholds and Followers" arrived a few days ago. This is the D&D 5e supplement written by Matt Colville and produced by his company, MCDM Productions. Strongholds and Followers provides guidance on how to take a mid-level character through the process of creating a base of operations and having it populated with relevant NPCs. The idea is fantastic for people that want to explore how their characters influence their world through more than dungeon crawls and fighting. I really hope I get into a campaign where I can use this supplement.
A friend of my brother said back in the university era that Bono could fart into a microphone for 60 minutes and he would still buy the album. I am like that with Colville. I love his style and thought process for how he approaches be a better Dungeon Master, and he seems like the kind of person that would be great to hang out with. After hearing Colville talk about this project on his YouTube channel, his Kickstarter campaign raised over $2 million Canada with over 28,000 backers. That implies that it isn't just me who feels that way about Colville.
This week was pretty limited on the new beer front. There were a few beers from Common Crown in my fridge, but alas, they were not new. The only new beer was a double-hopped 8.2% ABV from Brewsters, the Mad Hops Double IPA 2019. Nice taste, not too bitter, with a high ABV without a whole lot of booziness. Good stuff from Brewsters once again (3.75 / 5). This one gave me the 2X (Level 5) badge from Untapped, for 25 beers with Double or Imperial in the name.
Not a lot of reading this week, so not a lot of words.
It was a pretty tame week at 53.5° north, at least for matters outside of work. Probably the best metric for how focused the week was on work is that there are no new words to share this week.
As of today (August 11), we are 85 days - a mere 2040 hours - until we launch the first wave of our new clinical information system. There is no time, budget, or oxygen for anything beyond that deployment. The first meeting of the day is regularly starting at 07:00, and for some of my co-workers the start of the day is 06:00. The fact that I finished anything beyond work items is a fairly significant accomplishment this week. But even so, there were still a few things worth sharing.
Three new beers this week, and three badges on Untappd. The first was a local beer, the Session Ale from Sea Change Brewing. Good stuff but seemed stronger than 4.0% ABV, which makes it hard to see as a Session. Stil, well worth searching it out if you can get it in your area. Second was a forgettable pale ale from Wildrose, the Industrial Park Ale. Quite a shame, since I really like Wild Rose and was hoping for more from this beer. Third was a collaboration between Parallel 49 and Luppolo. The We've Got it Going On saison was fermented with wine yeast, which was a new experience for me. The beer had a nice sweetness that I assume was from the wine yeast. That one gave me the Middle of the Road (Level 56), Beer Together (Level 2), and The Great White North (Level 84) badges on Untappd.
Reading Pile and Podcasts:
I didn't finish any books this week, and only listened to one podcast. That was the Planet Money episode, "Twins". The key point from that episode is understanding what can be learned from studying twins to gain a better understanding of the nature versus nurture influences which can then influence and guide public policy. However, the episode does caution about how easy it is to slip into the morally bankrupt investigation of eugenics. This episode had limited hooks into economics, but was still a good use of 22 minutes.
Movie - Blackkklansman
I watched the trailer for Blackkklansman and seriously thought it was going to be a light, easy-going move. My first hint that I was mistaken was seconds in when "A Spike Lee Joint" popped on the screen. I also didn't realize it was based on a true story (or at least based on a book that was based on a true story).
This was a serious movie, and was filled with intense scenes. The resurgence of neo-Nazi groups across the US and Canada makes this movie incredibly relevant. Violence, real and threatened, pulsed through most scenes fueled by open racism and hatred.
If I ever get a chance to talk to Spike Lee, I want to ask him about the scene near the end of the movie where Harry Belafonte relays a horrific incident from his youth that is interposed with scenes from a Klan baptism. "Black Power" chants echo from one scene, followed by chants of "White Power" in the next. I would ask Lee if he was trying to show how any group grasping for power is bad, or whether the point was to remind the viewer of how few years ago the black power chants were relegated to the fringes of society while the white power chants are becoming more common.
(Reminder: BYDTWD = Bring Your Dice To Work Day) Even though the work week is remarkably intense and getting longer each week, we still find time to play D&D over the lunch hour each Wednesday. Our DM is throwing a bevy of Gelatinous Cubes at us, which we have managed to escape so far through a combination of luck and strategy. However, some garbage-pile-looking brute (no idea what the creature it was) hammered our cleric, who promptly rolled a Natural 1 on his first death save, so we are one turn away from losing a player and our healer.
If you are so inclined, here is a link to my character, and my first attempt at creating a homebrew item on D&D Beyond. The cloak is something that our DM provided each of our characters and in order to make sure we all got the +3 AC bonus, I thought I would create and share a homebrew item.
I have to say that D&D Beyond has a lot of really great features. The homebrew items are great, as is the ability for one person to share access to resources such as the Dungeon Master's Guide or Player's Handbook. However, the PDF export functionality of the player character sheet sucks. The output is ugly, the text in the boxes is truncated, and there is no ability to customize what gets exported. Nothing is perfect, but for those of us that still want to have a paper character sheet while we play, the PDF export is a real problem.
That's it for this week. Hopefully this upcoming week will provide some opportunity for interesting notes to share.
The wisdom of South Park is relevant once again, this time as I resurrected the "Blame Canada" scene while listening to an episode of the Indicator podcast from Planet Money. The episode in particular was from May 23 and was titled "Canada's Tariff Hangover". The episode was about the ending of the trade war and tariffs imposed by the US on Canada and vice versa, and in particular about a small business in Ottawa that was particularly impacted by the tariffs imposed on Magic: The Gathering cards coming in from the US. Near the end of the episode, the hosts drawing the conclusion that the small business owner should be upset with the Canadian government for imposing the retaliatory tariffs. To quote from the transcript:
... the Canadian government is what ended up causing Dave all this harm, if you think about it, because it was Canada's retaliation that imposed those tariffs on Magic cards in the first place. So it kind of shows you that when a country's government retaliates, it can end up really hurting some of its own people."
Trade wars are damaging to both sides. That's why they are called trade wars, and not trade parties, or trade fun-things. And yes, there were damages to Canadian business by the increased tariffs. However, to call out the Canadian government for the particular damage to this one store conveniently omits the fact that the Canadian tariffs were retaliations, meaning of course that they were in response to the opening tariff salvo imposed on Canada by the US.
Blame Canada, indeed.
BYDTWD, or How Much Meta is Too Much Meta?:
In our weekly D&D lunch hour session this week, our PCs encountered some weird elf-spider hybrid who was clearly thousands of years old. In talking to the DM after the session, his inspiration for a lot of this setting is a riff on the drow spider queen, Lolth. However, it isn't the same Lolth that we would see in the Drizzt books or in other canon material in books, game supplements or in computer RPGs.
This is something that is hard for me to wrap my head around. How much should I read about Forgotten Realms if the DM is not going to adhere to what I have read? Sure there is a Nashkel, but it isn't exactly the same as the Nashkel I know from Baldur's Gate. Does the information I know from the game help or hinder me as a player? Am I going to make a bad decision because Quinemin the PC knows a different world from Robert the player? Understanding the world the PC is in is important so that role playing is better, and so that better decisions are made. I just don't know if I am actually going to make better decisions because my context is inconsistent with the actual environment. Or maybe the DM doesn't have the world completely figured out and therefore my knowledge will help guide the game in a good way. Or maybe I should just stop thinking so hard and just play the game.