Happy holidays for all those celebrating, and for those that are not, peace and joy to you as well.
This is the second Christmas with minimal visiting and socializing, but all is not bad. Not having huge meals to prepare or large numbers of guests to provide for has made for a very relaxing holiday season. A few visits would have been nice, but I am not sure I want to go back to the mad rush of visits with dozens of people when we get out of this pandemic. I like how Neil Pasricha put it in his #pandemicedition of 1000 Awesome Things for December 25.
Regular readers of this site will notice that I missed posting last week. Since there was not a mad rush leading up to the holidays, I was confident that I would post last week. However, the week leading up to the holidays was filled with responding to the log4J vulnerability. There are numerous articles discussing what this vulnerability is and how pervasive it is, so I will not go into detail here. My December 2021 prediction is that we will still be discussing this in December 2022 due to the number of breaches this causes. log4J has been described as the worst vulnerability ever, and the timing for its release could only have been worse if it had come out while many people were on holidays, instead of one week earlier.
Beyond log4J, the last fortnight was filled with finishing two books, one milestone on the virtual tour, four new beers, and one new word. Let's jump in.
I finished two books in the past fortnight, one I had started in 2020 and my favorite murder mystery to date.
Book #42 for 2021 was "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss. I absolutely loved this book, but I did not finish it in 2020 when I first picked it up. The reason is that I saw the title of this YouTube video and without watching the video, I felt like the book was completely spoiled for me.
As a result of seeing that title, Rothfuss's book sat on my shelf sixty percent read for about seventeen months. When I finally picked it up again, I was able to immediately recall the story and the characters. I attribute that to how great the writing is. This is a great book and I am looking forward to the second and eventually the third books in the series.
Book #43 for 2021 was "Sparkling Cyanide" by Agatha Christie. As I mentioned above, this is my favorite murder mystery to date. It was not the most suspenseful and it did not have the most startling reveal, but the setup and character development was superb. In the end, I was surprised but not shocked and ultimately satisfied as the murder could have been done by anyone of the main characters. If you only read one novel from Christie, I suggest this one.
Cross-Canada Virtual Tour:
My progress toward virtually crossing Canada has been significantly hampered since early August because of the bike failure, a back injury, and then treacherous ice conditions. My bikes are fine, and I can maintain my back strength once again, but progress this week will also be limited due to the extremely cold temperatures outside.
That all said, I was able to finish the Upsala-Thunder Bay segment, which completed - finally - the Winnipeg-Thunder Bay leg. I started that leg September 6, which means that it took nearly four months to complete 723 km. Not good.
But at least progress has been made. Thunder Bay is an interesting location with a population of approximately 108,000. Thunder Bay was two cities, Port Arthur and Fort William, until January 1, 1970, which I found surprising. Wikipedia does a good job of documenting the rivalries of the two cities, plus their involvement in the fur trade, colonization, and assimilation. In keeping with my previous cataloging of airports for each stop, Thunder Bay is serviced by an international airport, with the IATA code of YQT.
Here is the updated progress chart, complete with the segments for the next leg of the virtual tour, from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie.
Four new beers this week, with two that were worth recommending. Snake Lake Miss Mermaid Pale Ale (3.75 / 5) and Juxtapose Four Winds IPA (3.5 / 5) are worth trying. The two that you should not bother with are the Leżajsk Pełne Lager out of Poland (2.5 / 5) and the Anarchist Amber from Cannery Brewing in Penticton (3.0 / 5).
Just one new word, assuming the words Rothfuss made up for his book do not count.
Welcome to November where it is definitely not November-esque weather yet. It was a pretty quiet week, with only one item of note and a lone beer to comment on.
The item of note was an interview with Yuval Noah Harari on 60 Minutes. Harari is known for his books "Sapiens", "Homo Deus", and "21 Lessons for the 21st Century". I have read Sapiens and Homo Deus and am a fan of Harari as a result. The interview certainly delves into territory consistent with those books, with statements such as "Within a century or two, Earth will be dominated by entities that are more different from us than we are different from chimpanzees", and how today's technology will allow us to "a new species of human".'
While interesting and thought-provoking, the main takeaway for me was Harari's comments on the importance of data. Harari commented that "data is worth much more than money". Interviewer Anderson Cooper's soundbite was that "data is the key". Harari raised concerns about how biometric data, data about what is going on inside our bodies. Inside of the surveillance we allow upon ourselves now - surveillance of what we read, watch, eat, date - Harari warns that we are moving to surveillance of our body and our health. To his credit, Harari does acknowledge the power of the data we have about our bodies. He says that our times are not just dystopian, but also utopian.
The interview is worth watching, whether you are a fan of Harari and have not yet discovered him.
As an aside, Cooper's "data is the key" soundbite instantly reminded me of Ben Kingsley in "Sneakers".
"There's a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think... it's all about the information!" - Ben Kingsley as Cosmos, in "Sneakers"
I am going to rewatch that movie for the first time in well over a decade. It will be interesting to see how well it holds up.
Just one new beer this week, bringing the unique check-ins on Untappd to 827. This was the Deschutes Royal Fresh Imperial IPA. 3.75
Greetings from Thanksgiving weekend from 53.5° north latitude. There was quite a bit of interesting news this week, some local but mainly news of global interest and impact.
The big news of the week was the Facebook outage. Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp were offline globally for six hours, completing removing millions of people from what they think of as the Internet. I was in an Uber on Monday afternoon and the radio station the driver was listening to was talking about the "forced social media vacation". I have a Facebook account that I never log into, had an Instagram account that I deleted, and have never used WhatsApp. There is no impact to me if Facebook applications are unavailable, however, that is clearly not the case for billions of people across the world, prompting calls for more competition in social media. There were concerns that Facebook was hacked, but a Facebook blog post blamed a botch update to a BGP router.
Beyond the outage, 60 Minutes broadcast an interview with a Facebook insider (whistleblower) the day before the outage.
The thrust of Frances Haugen's comments and her subsequent testimony to the US Congress is that the angrier and more divisive the content is that Facebook publishes and promotes, the more money Facebook makes. This is not new information, but this is the first time that the allegations are from an insider, and that are backed up by internal documentation and data and not allegations or assumptions from an outsider.
In addition, more information is surfacing about how harmful Facebook's Instagram is for teen girls in particular. The NY Times went so far this weekend to call it a "cesspool".
The combination of the whistleblower, the outage, and the revelations of how toxic the apps are made several media outlets, including CBC's Day 6 program, to call this a "very bad week for Facebook". But how bad, and for how long is the real question. If the impact to stock price is any indication, this is nothing to worry about. As shown below, the stock dropped from $330.05 to $329.22 in the past week.
In the last month, the stock has dropped for $378, so more of an appreciable decrease, but not much different than what the stock market has experienced in general.
Prediction: nothing changes, at least until 2024 and then only if the European Union or a US Democratic Senate and Congress force regulation onto Facebook.
One segment was finished in the cross-Canada virtual tour this week. I have now pushed past Dryden, Ontario. Much like many settlements in Canada, Dryden is named by a white male even though it was traditionally an Anishanaabe locations called Paawidigong ("the place of rapids" in Ojibwe). Dryden has population of 7700, and is served by the Dryden Regional Airport which has the IATA airport code of YHD. Oh yeah, and they have a big moose.
Here is the updated progress chart. With good weather and health, I can make it past Ignace this upcoming week.
The quest for a perfect cup of coffee continues. In the few weeks since I last posted about coffee, I have cleaned the screen and replaced the gasket on my espresso machine and have fixed how fine my coffee grinder will grind the beans. The difference has been very noticeable, with the espresso taking much longer to come out and the crema to be much more pronounced. This is making me rethink all the coffee I have made at home for the past several months.
The latest coffee is the Umbria Bizzarri blend. This Italian blend has been very enjoyable, but again that needs to be tempered against how many improvements I have made to my setup. Here are some action shots of the bag, richly colored beans, and the end result.
Four new beers this week, with three that were quite good.
Beer #816 was the Omnipollo MAZ Oat Pale Ale 5.6% Strong Ale. Omnipollo is a bit of a mystery. The can says it is brewed in Canada, but the company identifies as from Sweden. I assume Omnipollo has licensed their beer to someone in Canada to brew on their behalf. Whoever did produce this did a good job. This was super hazy, with low but lacy foam, and a drying taste like a grapefruit soda that has almost gone flat. There was no discernible aroma which I found weird, but overall this was good stuff. (3.5 / 5)
Beer #817 was an Edmonton beer, the Town Square Flower Child Elderflower Gose. I quite liked the tang added by the sea salt. It had a nice gose sour aroma but was not very sour tasting. The color was beautiful. Town Square has some good beers and is definitely worth seeking out when looking for something to try (3.75 / 5)
Next up was the miss for the week. Beer #818 was the High River Cruisin' West Coast IPA. This is my second beer from High River and so far I have not liked either. This did not seem like a West Coast IPA as it had more of a strong, boozy taste than you would expect from an IPA. (2.5 / 5)
Last up for Beer #819 was the Blackberry Black Berliner from Omen Brewing. A Berliner is typically a cloudy sour, but the massive amount of blackberry put into this made it a dark-purple-almost-black beer. This also had a nice creaminess from the lactobacillus that was included in the brewing. So a fruity, dark, sour, creamy beer. Great combination. (3.75 / 5)
Just one new word this week, coming from research around my younger daughter's pet frog.
(Edited 17Oct2021: added missing picture of new beers)
Greetings from the confirmed location of 53.5° north latitude. Contrary to the standard definition, this past week was at least 15 days long. It was not a bad week by any means, just long. As I mentioned last week, I was trying to sell a car on Kijiji and that was an experience that I would not wish on many people. It ended up being a successful transaction and I am happy we did not just accept the trade-in amount from the dealer, but it was a lot of work.
From a sociological perspective, we - or at least I - have self-selected a pretty narrow slice of the population to interact with. Middle-class, cycling enthusiasts, technology focused, liberal-minded. Every once in a while, our daughters will make a friend with someone that comes from a family that is on the periphery of that slice. Maybe they will be more liberal, more educated, more religious, or younger, but usually there is enough common ground to build a relationship on.
Selling something on Kijiji puts you on the outside of that slice and exposes you to the entire spectrum of people and humanity. There is no way to be insular as the act of posting that ad blows up the bubble of comfort one has with the self-selected circle of friends. Of the nearly 100 people that I interacted with during the process, I was exposed to many different types of people. Some were quite friendly. Some were less concerned about keeping appointments and obligations than I am. (Trying to be polite.) There were lots of people with writing styles and grammar that suggest recent arrivals to Edmonton. There were lots of people with writing styles and grammar I would consider lazy . There were also a lot of people that knew how to fix up cars, which is clearly not a demographic represented in my current bubble.
As I said about, the transaction was successful and I was not concerned about the deal turning ugly, but walking away from the deal with a pocket full of brown bills was a bit nerve-wracking.
Moving on, I was catching up on emails the other day and I came across a newsletter from Studio D that was really interesting (sign up here if interested). I know about Studio D from a Kickstarter that I backed a few years ago. Their Field Study Handbook is an amazing book filled with best practices and templates to successfully do field work pretty much anywhere in the world. I pull it out and flip through it often just to read about topics like In-depth Interview Stages, how to build a Pop-Up studio, and how to pitch a research project.
In the newsletter, Studio D asks the question "What skills does one need today?". At the top of the list is literacy and numeracy, which seem like obvious choices.
We live in a time when literacy is the dominant skill—learning how to write, read, and comprehend what is written, closely followed by numeracy. Given that there was a time before literacy (roughly 7,000 years ago), will we live to experience a post-literate world? For example where communication with letters and words is essentially delegated to or abstracted by technology? - Studio D, Radar Newsletter #24
They suggest that there are five other -acies that one should focus on.
Four of those five -acies are made up words, but the concept behind them and the need for them seems obvious. I am particularly intrigued by the concept of Artificialacy. Knowing when some corporate algorithm tampered with your entertainment stream is not something I considered before but is something I will look out for in the future.
As a parent, one focus I am trying to impart on my daughters is self-sufficiency. They should know the basics like how to wash laundry, how to budget and invest, how to plan and manage conflicting tasks, how to cook at least ten different meals. I am also trying to teach them the importance of having a good toolkit. In the past, this meant knowing how to use a hammer, saw, screwdriver, and maybe even a multimeter. Today though, I am expanding the definition of toolkit to include macros and commands in Excel, and coding with Python. Most of those fit into literacy and numeracy. Thinking about how to incorporate the additional -acies presented by Studio D will be an interesting parenting challenge.
I was able to finish another book this past week, and got half way through another. Book #11 for 2021 was "Lost Light", the ninth book in the Harry Bosch series from Michael Connelly. I really enjoy the Harry Bosch books, but for some reason I have not read one since 2016. In this installment, Bosch is now retired but has not given up being a detective and decides to investigate a cold case from four years prior.
I really cannot say much more as I risk giving away the plot. Suffice it to say that for this book, Bosch comes to grip with life as an ex-cop, and because he is Harry Bosch, he pisses a lot of people off. Well worth the read if you are going through the series and potentially good enough to read without reading the first the first eight books in the series.
This week was for good for cycling and my cross-Canada virtual tour, with just over 100 km in the saddle. In addition, I closed off the final two segments of the current leg between Edmonton and Lloydminster.
With that leg complete, I now move into my third province on the virtual tour. This next leg between Lloydminster and Saskatoon is a decent length of 411 km. At my current pace, I will be able to complete is by early June.
Fun facts about Vermillion and Lloydminster. Vermillion was founded in 1902 and had a population of just under 4,100 in the 2016 census. Lloydminster is a border city, with a split between Alberta and Saskatchewan. Lloydminster has a population of 31,410 according to the 2016 census, with 63% of the population living in the Alberta portion of the city. This makes sense when I first saw the numbers given the lack of a sales tax in Alberta which would seem to be an economic driver to focus living in Alberta. However, the Wikipedia article points out that the Saskatchewan side of Lloydminster is exempted from the Saskatchewan sales tax so as to not penalize Saskatchewan businesses.
Next up is North Battleford and then on to Saskatoon via Biggar and Rosetown.
There are a lot of beers to report this week, but that is because I did not report on any last week. Even so, seven beers in fourteen days is faster than my current overall pace since March 2015 of one new beer every 2.95 days.
The first beer of the fortnight and coming in as Beer #749 was the Troubled Monk If the Crown Fits Kettle Sour. A ton of pineapple and a very fresh taste. I find kettle sours are often not that sour but this one seemed too un-sour to carry that label. That said, this was very tasty and I could see this beer being a huge hit on a crowded patio some day. Hopefully. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #750 was the Pond Surfer ale from Town Square. I was expecting a more bitter taste based on the color but this was very easy-drinking. A bit of pithiness but not too much and a nice level of malt. Good stuff. (3.5 / 5)
Next up and coming in as Beer #751 was the Albertosourus from Edmonton brewery Campio. Based on recommendations from friends, I went in with high expectations but was disappointed. This one smelled more sour than it was unfortunately. It did have a beautiful color, but I found the fruit flavors were too mixed and muddled. (3.0 / 5)
Beer #752 was the Arcade Glow Pale Ale from Boombox Brewing out of Vancouver. This was a decent ale with a fair bit of hops and some nice crackery malt. I will have to look out for more from Boombox in the future. (3.5 / 5)
The next beer was a complete departure from the standard offering. Beer #753 was the Phillips Zonkey is supposed to be a Brown Ale, which is not something I typically like. For this one though, the first taste was "wow". Very fresh. Added a nice sweetness to the standard muddled brown ale. The ginger has a bit of zing to it for sure. (3.75)
Last up were two beers from Cabin Brewing out of Calgary. I have raved about Cabin of late and was really hoping for another two knockouts. Beer #754 was their Starburst ESB (labeled as a Triple on Untappd). This was very good with the freshness completely masking the high ABV (9.5%). Lots of fruits and a great aroma. Definitely one to pick up and hoard in the back of the fridge away from unappreciative guests. (4.0 / 5) And finally, Beer #755 was their Night Kitchen ('Smores) Imperial Stout. I did pick up some creaminess from the lactose, but not as much as other Imperials. (My reference beer for this style is still the Iconic Milk Stout from Situation.) Overall, this was good but a bit weird. (3.0 / 5)
Note that my numbering on this blog and on Untappd no longer match, and I am not sure why. Untappd has me at 754 beers but the numbers seem to reconcile back to Beer #700. I will dig in and see if I can figure out the issue.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude as we settle into the fourteen-day waiting game to see how much impact trick-or-treating has on our COVID numbers. The week was a good one for reading, exercise, music, and work. Plus the weather improved and we got an extra hour of sleep after the time change on the weekend, so things are looking up.
As I look through my previous blog entries to reference previous writings for this week's entry, I cannot help but notice that the average length of each entry is lower now that it was a year ago. I suppose some of that has to do with having less to do, in a purely physical sense. No concerts, no festivals, no restaurant outings, and therefore less to write about. That should be a warning to myself and to anyone reading this as we head into the colder months coupled with an increasing number of COVID cases.
It will be imperative to get out, to connect, to find a way to be outside and with others, as much as we safely can over the next several months. Going into a winter with COVID will be much harder and more depressing that going into a spring with COVID was earlier this year.
Book #39 for 2020 was "Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" by Cal Newport. I really like Newport, or at least the concept of Newport: fact-based reporting, analysis of trends, practical advice. The problem is that his books are boring. I have never been drawn to book summary services, but I honestly think my next Newport book will be consumed via a summary. (Well, technically my next-next Newport book, as I am still fighting through "Deep Work".)
Digital Minimalism was a decent book, but it summarized other books and concepts I had already reviewed. Last October I read "Solitude" by Michael Harris, and last September I read "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now" by Jaron Lanier. As a result, Newport's offering was a bit dated as I had already internalized a lot of his ideas. That said, if you have not read either Harris's or Lanier's books, then the concepts in Digital Minimalism might be fresh enough for you to get a lot out of this book.
There was a wonderful quote from Newport that I want to share. I hope it resonates with you as much as it does with me.
You cannot expect an app dreamed up in a dorm room or among the ping pong tables of a Silicon Valley incubator to successfully replace the types of rich interactions to which we have painstakingly adapted over millennia. Our sociality is simply too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages and emojis. --Cal Newport, "Digital Minimalism"
I continue to make good progress on my virtual cross-Canada trek. The power of having a goal cannot be understated. The fact that I have a target and want to make progress is getting me in the saddle more often, and for (slightly) longer rides.
Last week I closed off the leg to Campbell River, and this week I proceeded to make it forty percent of the way to Nanaimo. My goal for this week is to finish off this leg completely. The weather forecast looks great so there should be no reason why I cannot log 82 km in a week.
There was a lot of great music this week, with two albums in my Music Finds playlist for this week. Next week is looking to be a big one with a couple new albums that I have already queued up to listen to starting on Monday.
For this week, the two albums were "The Weather " from the Australian band Pond, and "New Age Norms 2" by Cold War Kids. The Pond album took a bit getting used to as it is a bit of a somber reflection on the world in 2020, but "Paint Me Silver" and the two "Edge of the World" songs make this an album definitely worth a listen.
Cold War Kids are a band I have really started to dig in the last eighteen months or so. "New Age Norms 2" looks like a solid follow up to the 2019 "New Age Norms 1" release, with "You Already Know" and "Somewhere" being the standouts on the initial listen.
Just two new words this week. I hope this is not the sign of something bad to come.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where the week that was was worse than the week that was last week. In short, I felt bad at the start of the week, felt worse as the week progressed, and have now been tested for COVID. So yeah, pretty much sucky. I won't talk about that here because I am trying my hand at a long form diary for my maybe-COVID-journey.
There were some interesting highlights from this week, a couple new beers (back earlier in the week when I didn't feel quite so bad), and a list of interesting words. Upward and onward!
First up were two interesting experiences in online media consumption. Early in the week, I watched both an opera from The Met and a concert from The National. The Met streamed "Werther", and The National released footage of a concert from last August on YouTube. To be able to watch both of those on the same day was quite remarkable. The National will continue to be one of my favourite bands so they will get money from me from albums and (hopefully one day!) concerts, but I will have to think about sending some money to The Met to support their choice to stream from their archives..
In the category of self-promotion, I was part of a webinar with three other security executives and a current Board-level moderator. Thanks to Securonix for inviting me to speak at the session which covered general info and cyber security areas, but also highlighted a few healthcare-specific topics as well.
If you are so inclined, it is available on-demand here, and here is my little behind-the-scenes look at how I set up my recording area. It was difficult to get the camera set up properly, and I am constantly struggling with how the image width changes between video conferencing tools. Skype for Business barely showed any of the bookcase behind me, but BrightTalk showed all the way out the door. I have another session on May 29, so I have a bit of time to make improvements.
One more note before we move on to the beers and words. In early- and then mid-April I mentioned a reading group pulled together by Adam Greenfield. This week we read Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto", which was more of an essay than a book so I won't count it in this year's reading list. Manifesto was thought-provoking and much easier to read than most of what we have delved into, but was still pretty dense. This was our last meeting of our reading group unfortunately, but I am definitely happy for the experience.
Early in the week when I felt decent, I tried a couple new beers. The first was the Tyskie Gronie lager out of Poland. Decent. Did the trick but nothing more than that. Then again, if that's all you ask and you get what you ask for, then that's a win in my book. (3.25 / 5) The other beer was another from Postmark. I tried out their Juicy Pale Ale a couple weeks ago, and was quite happy with it. This time it was their Westerly IPA which started out great. Nice citrus and hops but a disturbing amount of sediment. The sediment knocked the rating down a peg or two. (3.25 / 5)
A handful of new words this week, largely from the reading and discussion in Greenfield's reading group, and I am pretty sure one is a repeat.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where it is unbelievably, and frustratingly, still winter.
This week saw the world surpass 1.8 million confirmed COVID cases, and the US going over the 20,000 mark to become the country with the most confirmed COVID-related deaths globally. Here in Alberta, we hit 40 deaths so far, but that is a far cry from the estimated range of 400 and 3,100 deaths as modeled by AHS and presented to the public by the Premier (video below). We are only 10% of the way to the best-case scenario right now, which is really staggering.
Is there a bright side to all of this? Is there something positive we can take away? I think there is, whether it be the wonderful in-home concerts we can watch, the positivity from so many people, or the companies around the world retooling so they can focus on creating life-saving equipment. Plus so many of us are finding ways to stay connected even if we are alone.
I remember back in my twenties hearing for the first time that there was a difference between being alone and being lonely. If we can stay alone or at least only together with our household while still finding ways to stay connected, we can come out of this okay. Don't get me wrong, the world will be changed, and mental health will be greatly impacted in addition to the more obvious physical issues. But that doesn't mean the world will be or has to be worse than it is now.
I am taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to do something new. The most obvious at this point is a reading group I joined hosted by author Adam Greenfield. This isn't a typical book club or even a contemporary international reading, but rather a group reading about specific theories and books in the social sciences.
Our first book was "Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly" by Judith Butler. My proviso for this is that I didn't read the whole book like the rest of the group. I thoroughly read about ten percent and then skimmed the rest. Butler's reputation of writing obtuse and hard-to-read prose is apparently well-deserved. Not that I knew about Butler's reputation, or even Butler at all, prior to the group discussion.
Our second book which we delved into this week was "The Wretched of the Earth" by Frantz Fanon. Again, never heard of him but his writing was much more consumable albeit dated. Written in 1961, Fanon wrote in the language of the day: Man this, man that, women as an object. Trying to get past that, we focused on the chapter "On Violence" which discusses the need for the colonized to stand up to the colonizer.
At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. --Franz Fanon
I am grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to different thinking, different intellectuals, and completely different discussions, but I am concerned with my ability to contribute to the ongoing discussion. That said, I did propose that we discuss the use of the "war" moniker and metaphor in our COVID responses and that received enthusiastic support. Cue up some Susan Sontag!
Switching over to the "listening pile" for a minute, I was able to find time to dive into the recent Longform interview with science writer Ed Yong. Yong had just completed a great article on COVID for The Atlantic, which is definitely worth reading in addition to or instead of the Longform interview. While the whole interview was enjoyable, my favourite part was in the first few minutes as they were getting settled and Yong compared his COVID-reality life to a combination of "Groundhog Day" and a Michael Bay movie: stunningly mind-numbing repetition followed by scare-you-out-of-your-seats moments. Yep, pretty much sums up the last month.
The last bit of non-fiction reading this week was a throwback to 1997. Back in January, I commented on the Longform interview with Kevin Kelly, former editor at Wired. This 1997 article was co-written by Kelly and comments on the soon-to-be demise of the browser and the coming wonders of push technology.
It is interesting to read something from twenty-three years ago, especially given that the Internet as we know it was barely a couple years old at the time of publication. A lot has changed, of course. Talk of T1 lines seems antiquated, even though I can remember being proud to commission my first T1 installation not long before that article came out.
We can expect a billion Web pages by 2000. Some of them will even be worth reading. -- Wired, March 1997
Where the article was most prescient was its predictions regarding technology pervasiveness and the dependency content producers would have on advertising. At one point, the authors predict that this new world of push technology, which has somewhat been replaced with notifications, will be "gentle, in-your-face, intermittent, in the background, or always on." The always-on-ness of our world these days is definitely one of our defining societal problems. See my comments from last October regarding Michael Harris's book "Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World". As for their other prediction, some form of the word "advertising" appears eight times throughout the article. Maybe the authors were afforded a crystal ball and could see their magazine's web page covered in ads from their parent company and lifestyle brand, Condé Nast.
On to fiction. First, I am continuing to read "The Count of Monte Cristo" and am thoroughly enjoying it. It holds up quite well at nearly 200 years old. One of my favourite lines so far in the book came in the penultimate paragraph of Chapter XXX, and it really sets up the revenge section of the novel.
I have taken the place of Providence to reward the good; now let the avenging God make way for me to punish the wrongdoer! --The Count of Monte Cristo, Chapter XXX
I also finished another book this week. Book #13 for 2020 was "Seraphina", by Rachel Hartman. This was a wonderful and unique Young Adult novel, that earns the YA moniker in all the best ways. The eponymous protagonist was not an orphan, which is of course the single worst trope in YA novels, plus was part of the solution but realized she could not cannot do it alone. No pushy teen sidestepping the lame-brained adults in this novel. There was a great message about the importance of family and friends and how solutions are best solved together and not alone. I'm not an expert on the middle ages, but the setting seemed to be a realistic, wealthy monarchy set in a middle ages equivalent world. Hartman was able to introduce IRL middle ages items and terms, such as houpelandde, oud, and sackbut (see the New Words section below for all three), and added to the dragon mythos with new words like saar, saarantras, and dracomachia (you will have to read the book to get definitions for these). All in all, a great novel worthy of your time and energy to read whether you are in the YA time frame or just like a good novel.
Three new beers this week from three different Canadian breweries, Collective Arts, Alley Kat, and Moosehead. The first was the Collective Arts No. 12 IPA which was a nice hazy IPA with a lot of citrus and a refreshing taste. (3.5 / 5). The second was the Alley Kat Westminster Tabby from their Back Alley Brews line. This Extra Special Bitter benefited from the authentic British malts, and according to the label Alley Kat even replicated the minerals in the water from Burton Upon Trent in the UK. It is a shame this is a limited edition beer that isn't sticking around. (3.75 / 5)
Last up was the Moosehead Pale Ale. A pale ale is by definition pale which implies not a huge amount of flavor or aroma. Moosehead's Pale Ale was a decent representation of a style that doesn't have a lot going for it, in my opinion. Decent, drinkable, but pretty forgettable. (3.25 / 5)
Lots of new words this week, partly because I caught up with all of the words from "Seraphina", but also because of the Fanon, Butler, and Monte Cristo readings.
[ab ˈōˌvō, äb]
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.
As I sit at my computer to write this entry, 53.5° north latitude is a frigid -18°C. The forecast has us popping slightly above freezing this week, but it is December after all, and December is typically cold and frozen. But still.
Luckily the workload has decreased significantly without a single meeting scheduled for this weekend. Even last weekend getting better with nothing scheduled for the Sunday. With the scheduled returning to normal, we now just have to figure out which "normal" we are returning to - September 2019 or September 2017.
As some semblance of normality returns, regardless of what level it is, the reading and the personal engagement are returning, and with that a few new words as well. Still not a lot of new beers though. But with that as preamble, let's proceed.
"When you understand what is to happen and why, you are more able to accept and comply." - Gus, coworker
Gus said that in a meeting a few days ago, and it struck me how true it was. People don't like to do things they don't understand the rationale for. They still might not like what they are being asked to do, but if they understand it, they will grumble while they do it, but at least they will do it. A great reminder for those of us that have to institute process and rigor.
"You can have strong opinions, but they have to be loosely held." - Brad, coworker
Another reminder for teams implementing process and rigor. I have long told my teams that they cannot be the "pedantic application of theory people" and this is a related message to Brad's quote. Have a deep knowledge of your domain and be able to articulate the value it brings. Be able to argue the impact of not implementing your process or control. But then stop. There is no need to implement for the sake of theory. There is no value in implementing something that is not going to integrate with the rest of your business.
This is not to say you should not implement process, rigor, or controls that are not popular. Protecting corporate assets and customer data is not done to win friends around the office. I just think we need better reasons than "best practice" or "it is in the framework". Know your framework, and then go in to the conversation with an open mind.
Sacha Baron Cohen on Facebook, Free Speech, and the Internet:
A friend of mine introduced me to the WTF podcast by Marc Maron a few years ago. I don't listen to it often, usually only for the interviews with people I already find to be fascinating. The first WTF I listened to was Maron's interview with Barack Obama, and the second was his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen has created characters that are able to shine a spotlight on the absurd, rude, racist, biased, and downright awful parts of people and society. It was with that interest in the comedian that I watched Cohen's acceptance speech for the International Leadership Award from the Anti-Defamation League.
The speech was a takedown of how Cohen sees social media spreading hate and lies, going so far as to say that "this can't possibly be what the creators of the Internet had in mind". This is in reference to the lack of checks and balances governing social media, especially in contrast to traditional broadcast media. Cohen calls for a "fundamental rethink" of the governance and oversight for social media.
Cohen particularly targets Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in the speech, calling "bullshit" on Zuckerberg's arguments of free speech over regulation. Zuckerberg and other social media billionaires such as Twitter's Jack Dorsey are likened to "high tech robber barons". Cohen appeals to have societies "prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference, and experts over ignoramus".
The whole speech is well worth 24 minutes of your time. The article I read about this is here and the video is also linked directly here.
I said in the preamble that I have been able to read more regularly again after about six weeks of Reading Drought. The main focus last week was to re-borrow "Abaddon's Gate" from the library and finish it off since I only got half way through before work consumed me.
This was another good book in the Expanse series. My reading of it of course suffered by being interrupted, but it was good even with that. Since it is the third book in the series, it is difficult to discus the plot in any detail. However, there were a few great quotes from the book that are worth sharing. The first might be seen as depressing or even blasphemous to spiritual individuals, but there is a lesson in the last sentence that regardless of what we are made of, we can still make a difference.
There are no souls. ... We are bags of meat with a little electricity running through them. No ghosts, no spirits, no souls. The only thing that survives is the story people tell about you.
This quote probably needs a lot of background of the book series to really make sense, but I think this can be extrapolated to the technological society will live in, and the dangers of not fully understanding our actions.
Holden was starting to feel like they were all monkeys playing with a microwave. Push a button, a light comes on inside, so it's a light. Push a different button and stick your hand inside, it burns you, so it's a weapon. Learn to open and close the door, it's a place to hide things. Never grasping what it actually did, and maybe not even having the framework necessary to figure it out. No monkey ever reheated a frozen burrito.
These two sentences apply to natural disasters, but there is also relevance to those of us that work in disaster recovery planning for complex information systems as well.
Disaster recovery could only go two ways. Either everyone pulled together and people lived, or they kept on with their tribal differences and fears, and more people died.
Just a single new beer in the past two weeks. This was the 2019 version of Brewster's Blue Monk Bourbon Barley Wine. Barley wines can often be so high in ABV and in boozy flavor to be nearly undrinkable. I would even say that previous years of the Blue Monk suffered from those characteristics, but this year the flavor was spot on and the there wasn't the overpowering hit. Really good stuff. I should go back and buy a few bottles. This also earned me the Beer-giving 2019 badge on Untappd.
With reading comes new words. It feels good to stretch the vocabulary again.
你好, or in pinyin, nĭ hăo from 53.5° north latitude. It was a shortened work week due to the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday on Monday, but as we are fond of saying at work, that just means you have four days to get five days worth of work done. Much reading was done in spite of the busyness of work, resulting in one finished book and significant progress on another. Most other reading was related to politics, both due to the Canadian federal election tomorrow, and as a result of the impeachment discussions in the US. With all that is going on, there was only one new beer, and it was dealcoholized at that. A couple neat recipes to share from the Thanksgiving preparations, and a bunch of new words from all the reading.
Time to dig in to this week's leftovers!
I'm not going to jump in on the proceedings of the impeachment discussions south of the border with any personal diagnosis or assessment. I will however highlight articles and videos that I find interesting or helpful. I imagine there will be lots of good reading and watching in the upcoming weeks.
The video to share this week is from 60 Minutes. In it, Scott Pelley discusses covering the Clinton impeachment discussion and contrasts that to what is happening today with Trump. Being in my late 20s at the time, and given how the world reacted to women's allegations of rape, abuse, and harassment, I definitely saw what had happened with a different reaction than I would today. However, it was clear that Clinton lied under oath and there were consequences as a result. Today, perhaps, the consequences would be more severe but that is impossible to say for certain.
With Trump however, Pelley argues that this impeachment discussion is different and likely more important because while Clinton abused his power and relationship status with Monica Lewinsky, Trump appears to be manipulating global politics for his personal financial gain. Good stuff from 60 Minutes, and worth a few minutes of your time.
With just over 24 hours before the polls close on the federal election, it is shaping up to be an incredibly tight race. I reported a few times in the last several weeks about the projections coming from 338 Canada. Since July, the Liberals have seemingly gifted their rivals with the SNC-Lavalin scandal (that even has its own Wikipedia entry) and Trudeau's blackface revelations. However it seems clear that the Conservatives and NDP are unable to capitalize. The Liberals will almost certainly not have a majority government, which will be a huge - dare I say - black mark for Trudeau. But the Conservatives need to win 75 more seats this election to get a majority, and it is even more unlikely that that will happen. The trend lines for popular seat projections since August 25 are given below.
Looking at the graph, both the Liberals and Conservatives have dipped significantly. The benefactors are the NDP and Bloc. The uptick for both parties in the last three weeks is impressive, however the NDP are really only trending to be at par with their performance from 2015. One has to think that the NDP supporters want more from Jasmeet Singh than they received from Tom Mulcair.
The Bloc stand to gain two dozen seats this election, almost entirely from the Liberals, while reinforcing the message that the NDP surge in Quebec two elections ago was a forgettable blip in history.
A strong separatist party, a minority government, and a leading party plagued by scandal. This is a potent cocktail of uncertainty and drama that have many people interested, even outside of Canada. This CBC article discusses how foreign diplomats are scrambling to figure out how the NDP, Green, and Bloc could influence what a minority government would look like. Closer to home, Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote this past week that the Bloc support for a Liberal minority government would likely mean stopping development for all pipelines and halting subsidies for oil and gas. Braid suggests the Bloc's plan is "anti-Alberta" and would "ruin Alberta". It is interesting to note that Braid suggests this might be retaliation for Alberta's lectures to "Quebec over pipelines and oil imports going back to ex-premier Alison Redford". Maybe we shouldn't have been such asses to the rest of the country when things were oh-so-good here in Wild Rose Country.
Thanksgiving means a big meal with friends, and that means a lot of cooking. Tradition in our house is to cook a big turkey for Thanksgiving using the method outlined by Cook's Illustrated several years ago. but we are leery about stuffing the cavity of the bird with bread due to the opportunity to have uneven cooking and the resultant risk of food poisoning. It is a shame though because a good stuffing is fantastic to eat. Over the years we have tried various ways compensate, but for the most part we ended up with soggy bread that didn't taste like the stuffing we loved.
This year, we tried something new. Earlier in the week we had tried a easy bread recipe made with nothing but self-rising flour and yogurt of all things. That recipe was used to make some great cheese twists.
For Thanksgiving, we used the same herb paste that went on the turkey instead of the cheese - fold, twist, bake, voilà! Now we can have something that has a great taste of bread flavored with the herb in a turkey without the heaviness caused by being soaked in turkey juices, and all without being a sodden mess when cooked separately. Plus, no risk of salmonella.
The other hit this past week was a Carrot Cake Oatmeal made with shredded carrots and raisins, and topped with toasted coconut. The oatmeal hater liked it, and the oatmeal lover thought it was still pretty good. So now four people will eat oatmeal instead of three.
Over a month ago, I wrote about "Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World", by Michael Harris. I was able to finally finish it this week, and as you can see from this picture, there were several ideas worth flagging in the book.
The first idea that jumped out at me was about how hard it is be alone. Humans are social animals and society is geared to treat us as outcasts or miscreants if we want to be alone. Harris commented that people are impaired for fifteen seconds after texting while driving, "but this deadly wandering is a small price to pay to a person fleeing their own loneliness". Endangering lives as a response to crushing loneliness is a sad testament to the society we have created.
A recent theme on this blog has been online interactions and the powerful addictions that online systems can create in our minds. Harris talks about some online gamers being so addicted to being online that they are unaware that they are not in fact actually really and truly building something. The point of the system they are engaged in is, depressingly, more system. The point of being online is being online. Even if solitude and quiet contemplation is not some miracle cure for what we need as humans in 2019, being online just because is definitely not a direction I want to pursue.
Another similarity drawn from Harris's book with Lanier's book on social media is how online recommendations have significant sway in all that we do online. In the same post mentioned above, I commented:
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.
Harris asserts that this is problematic if we allow ourselves to believe that the system, the website, the algorithm can make better decisions than we can. An algorithm is unable to make a decision - it can only react to data in certain, predetermined ways. That is the exact definition of an algorithm.
a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Harris points out the danger in allowing us to believe that the machine or algorithm has a belief:
Nowhere is this creepier than the arena of taste. If we think that a computer program - so much more rational, so much better informed - believes one ting to be better than another, then the choices we make online about what books to read, what songs to listen to, what movies to watch become less independent and more manipulated. Suggestions on Netflix and iTunes and Amazon - all crowd-sourced and data-crunched - start to feel natural and neutral. If you believe a piece of technology can have a belief, then it's only a tiny step before you start to believe its belief is more important than your own.
As the book progressed, I found myself becoming depressed with some of the concepts. Harris begins to tackle how reading forces the brain to adapt and adopt and build new neural pathways that a non-reader will never have. However, he speculates that maybe solo reading is already obsolete. The fact that we are social animals as noted above might mean that reading moves from a solitary endeavor of one person locked into a book to a social exercise where we comment along the way with each other.
I find this a terrible prospect. The need for me to immerse myself in a book without distraction and without the need to interact with others is huge. Having to be with someone else and losing the ability to be alone would be a monumental loss to. Harris states that the "constant reader ... learns to hold opinions and ideas that are not their own" and that we not only discover new thoughts, but actually live them. Being constantly connected to our smartphones is "antithetical to deep reading", which is the ability to dig deep into what is being read and truly engage your brain in the material. Losing that skill would mean becoming just a another node in the hive.
There are benefits of course to the new technology. Harris points out that technology is allowing us to experiment with new types of storytelling that is impossible with the printed word. He goes on to say that "It was sixty years after Gutenberg built his printing press before anyone had the bright idea to number the page. Who know what social text innovations will be made in the decades to come?"
I highly recommend that you read this book. But don't get an ebook version. Find a nice quiet corner of the house or a park bench to sit down, by yourself, and read a physical copy of it. I think you will find the exercise well worth the time and effort.
Four new words this week. Three were from Solitude and one was from "The Silk Roads". That is proving to be a massive book to read, but with any luck I will finish it this week. Many more words have come from that book, I assure you.
moiling (present participle)