Hello from 53.5° north latitude as I sit in my basement on a 20°C day. Many times I feel that being outdoors is essential, and absolutely needed. Other days, like today, I'm happy to be in front of my monitor listening to the new album by The Raconteurs on Tidal. But I am getting ahead of myself.
There have been several disasters in my lifetime that were so significant to have singular names: 9/11 of course; Challenger; Columbia, Air India, Columbine. MH370, the lost Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared in March, 2014 is also on that list. As that mystery unfolded, I was stunned by how little I knew about that part of the world. For example, that India was totally north of the equator, and just how unimaginably vast the Indian Ocean is.
Reading the article on MH370 released on The Atlantic this week brought back a lot of those thoughts. No wonder authorities didn't know where to look. And no wonder they didn't find any debris for years. But I also had little appreciation for the level of cover-up and incompetence on the investigation. Bitchy flight attendants and extra charges for checking luggage on North American domestic carriers don't seem so bad all of a sudden.
Getting back to MH370, the article supports the theory that the senior pilot acted alone and killed all souls on board with apparent ease before plunging the aircraft into the ocean. The fact that a single actor, a trusted actor at that, could doom all of those people is frightening and it is easy to see how calls might be made for computer overrides or remote interactions. However, thinking about the computerized corrections made on the flight trajectory on the Boeing 737 Max aircraft quickly highlights how reliance on a single control is not feasible. Checks and balances are important. If the pilot was depressed and was harboring suicidal thoughts, the checks and balances in the system needed to identify the risk and get the pilot help before being allowed to fly again. But it appears that the system was flawed, and the culture in Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government stifles any willingness or ability to learn from that mistake to prevent future similar disasters.
The article is a long read, but it worth the time.
More on Capitalism:
The reading pile has contained much on capitalism lately. To be more accurate, the general thesis seems to be that capitalism can and could be a force for good across the world, but that neoliberalism is a failed idea that needs to be replaced. Click on "capitalism" in the Categories section of this blog for the full reading list.
The most recent read on this theme was "The Future of Capitalism" by Paul Collier. Keeping with the idea that neoliberalism was flawed, Collier highlighted point solutions that have had limited or local success. I suppose these were ideas that the reader was supposed to derive inspiration from. However, the book was not particularly giving of solutions, and certainly didn't provide a blueprint for going forward and these point solutions were not presented as an actionable whole.
The book did have merit though. One idea that really struck with me were the two scenarios to describe the concept of agglomeration (see definition below). Collier provided two thought experiments - one in which the people in a metropolis have different skills and different needs for housing, and a second where there is a metropolis that needs to rule of law. The punchline is that in both cases there are people that are wholly convinced they uniquely deserve their status and wealth. However, Collier's argument is that everyone, including the most productive, benefit greatly from agglomeration, i.e. the benefits of the critical mass provided to the whole. This might be the largest scale dismantling of the self-made man fallacy.
Collier also proposed that shared reciprocity is the key to a civilized world. We do not need Economic Man, Collier posits, but a form of maternal concern for others. Specifically, he says "shared identity becomes the foundation for farsighted reciprocity".
There are of course detractors and opposition. A quick search shows this article that calls Collier's ideas as "wrong" and "perplexing" and calls for more capitalism and even less of a role for the state in the market, and that there is a "false promise" of centrism. There are that many voices in the business community that act as a powerful lobby to demand unfettered access to the market. Collier tried to show how some state intervention is good and necessary. This is not the nanny state paternalism we have today, but again the maternal intervention borne out of a common desire to see everyone get the help they need.
Collier's book wasn't great; in fact, it was a fairly tedious read. I do think though that it was an important read, and coupled with voices such as Ray Dalio who commented on the need to reform capitalism on 60 Minutes, and Bill Gates who recommended Collier's book on his Summer 2019 Reading list, it will be interesting to see if the voices promoting something other than raw capitalism will gain any momentum with their ideas. (3.0 / 5)
Speaking of capitalism ...
One of the books I read this week was actually one I started in 2007. How do I know that? Well, I was using the receipt for the book as a bookmark.
Simon Winchester's "A Crack in the Edge of the World" was a great read on the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco. Or maybe more appropriately, the 1906 San Francisco Fire, which some people in the day were trying to promote as the true menace. This was an attempt to tell the world that San Francisco would be fine in the future, because the devastation was due to human carelessness and poor planning which caused the fire to spread so far and fast. This was a direct attempt to make the earthquake - the natural and completely unknowable element - a minor triviality. If the earthquake was only a minor element in the destruction of San Francisco, that meant that people could plan for fire fighting and building codes and quality construction, and voilà, money and people would continue to flow into the great city.
What does this have to do with capitalism? As fate would have it, there was a presentation for a grand urban plan prepared and presented to San Francisco City Council literally the day before the earthquake. The plan called for fountains, and parks, and places to live and meet. As San Francisco regrouped and turned its focus on rebuilding, the businessmen, who were quite literally called the Downtown Business Men's Association, decried the plan, calling for "business" and not "parks and boulevards" to spark the city's rebirth. Who needs niceties and places for leisure? Business is all we need! Et cetera.
This was a good enough book to keep it in the personal library. 4.5 / 5
As an added bonus, the book had a great graphic outlining the various geological eras in the last 545 million years.
I finished three other books in this last week. The first was "Infinite Detail" by Tim Maughan. This was a book about the end of the Internet era as we know it and what comes after. I really enjoyed this story, and was particularly impressed by how Maughan weaved between the Before and After story lines, and then how he ultimately brought them together. I think this is one of those books that are worth re-reading. 4.0 / 5
The next book finished this week was the third book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, "Equal Rites". This was an enjoyable and easy read, but wasn't quite as enjoyable for me as the first two in the series. Maybe that was because Luggage didn't make an appearance in this book. (3.0 / 5)
The other "book" I read this week was "The Butcher of Anderson Station", the first short story of the Expanse series. Good stuff. Really short. It provided some nice background of who Fred Anderson is and how he came to the OPA. Really short stories like this are hard to rate, as their re-readability is pretty limited, but let's give it a 4.0 / 5.
Total for the year is now 27 books, which for the first time in my life brings my forecast for the year to be over 50. That would be quite an accomplishment. Let's see how the rest of the year goes and if I can keep up the pace.
The best Star Wars movie ever:
Darth Vader always had the potential to be the scariest villain of all time. However, he seems more frustrated and conflicted than truly evil in the movies. That is absolutely not the case in the recently released unofficial short scene of the battle between Vader and Obi-Wan. The hatred and evil from Vader is palpable, and his power with the force makes the entire concept of Vader to be truly terrifying.
In the intro, I mentioned the new album by The Raconteurs called "Help Us Stranger". This is a pretty good album, with the sort-of title track "Help Me Stranger" being quite awesome. I've listened to it a few times and I think it will grow on me.
Big week for beer with four new brews this week. Well, technically three new with the fourth actually imbibed last Sunday after last week's post was posted.
The beer from last week was the Volfas Engelman Premium Pilsner out of Lithuania. I quite enjoyed this one. (3.75 / 5) Then I had two beers from Banded Peak out of Calgary. The Mt. Crushmore pilsner was pretty good, but not as good as the pilsner from Volfas Engelman. (3.25 / 5). Their Plainsbreaker Hopped Wheat Ale was much better and was one of my favorite beers in the last few months. (4.0 / 5) Last on the list was the Lazy Days sour from Alley Kat. This one was made with passionfruit so it was somewhat sweet as well as quite sour. Good stuff again from Alley Kat. (3.75 / 5)
A noteworthy stat from Untappd is the achievement I received for hitting Level 5 on Beer Connoiseur, meaning that I have logged in beers from 25 different countries. That means there are still have 171 countries that I have not had a beer from.
It's good to have goals.
Lots of reading this week, and therefore lots of new words.
BRITISH, informal, dated
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.
TL;DR - Lots of reading, not a lot of beer, or much else for that matter.
Book - Rosewater:
During one of my walk-around-while-on-a-call sessions a few weeks ago, I stopped by the downtown Coles and saw an intriguing book called "Rosewater" by Tade Thompson. I picked up a copy from EPL a few days later, and was hooked immediately. First-person, timeline shifting, science fantasy, with interesting characters. Really good stuff.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had supported a number of Kickstarter initiatives. One of them was an Afro-centric role-playing supplement called Swordsfall, which stands out in stark contrast to the typical medieval Euro-centric campaigns. With that in my thoughts as I read Rosewater, which is set in Nigeria, I realized how little African references I have. The names, places, idioms, and references were foreign to me. This was a good reminder of the need to push oneself to gain different perspectives and opinions.
Which brings me to my next point:
A solid percentage of the items that show up in this blog come from Warren Ellis and his weekly newsletter. This quote came from that newsletter:
I've said this to you before, and I'll say it again: always be checking your practice. Times change and so do you.
New music - Contemporary Protest Music:
Again from the files of a certain Warren Ellis, the four tracks linked here come from one of Ellis's weekly newsletters. This is not background music to chill to. These four songs are made to motivate and inspire, and to push the listener to action. The long version of the track names leave no doubt as to the artist's political position. For example, "The greatest trick the Tories ever pulled was convincing working class British voters, who feel left behind, to blame the EU & immigrants for their troubles while also convincing them to continue voting for the very party actually responsible."
The uselessness of precedents in the face of radical change:
In my endless pile of books with the "Currently Reading" status is "A World Lit Only By Fire" by William Manchester, a book I purchased in the mid 90s and am only now reading. It covers the history and shift in focus as Europe moved from medieval times to the Renaissance.
Early in the book, Manchester provides a quote that perfectly captures the issues with using the past as a guide for the future in the face of enormous change:
Even the wisest of them were at a hopeless disadvantage, for their only guide in sorting it all out - the only guide anyone ever has - was the past, and precedents are worse than useless when facing something entirely new.
Interlude, courtesy of "Cuckoo's Calling":
Wisdom from the Dojang:
The fine folks at Elite Taekwondo provide this valuable advice in their most recent newsletter.
Lots of reading this week, so lots of new words as a result. (I sometimes feel so illiterate. I should have known many of these, since they weren't really "new".)
And by long, I mean long, as in a musical composition able to last an entire millennium. Longplayer has created exactly that, with a composition that will last through the entire 2xxx's. From their overview on longplayer.org:
Longplayer is a one thousand year long musical composition. It began playing at midnight on the 31st of December 1999, and will continue to play without repetition until the last moment of 2999, at which point it will complete its cycle and begin again.
Accenture sued over website redesign so bad it Hertz:
Not my line, but I wish it was. Hat tip to The Register for the bon mot for their coverage of how badly Accenture performed on a website redesign for Hertz.
The article quotes from the lawsuit Hertz filed, noting ignored specs, ignored standards, and ignored best practices. But let's face it, the best part of the article was the headline.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
The latest section of the dungeon crawl that I am guest DM-ing in our weekly Wednesday lunch hour D&D session has a lot for the players to encounter:
It was a quiet week on the beer front with only one entry. Buzzsaw Mead from Tamarack Jack's was good, but not quite as good as their Sawyer Hopped Mead that I had last week. (3.5 / 5)
There were a few items of note this week - Podcasts, Tidal, Pencils, Beers, and a Zombie musical.
Podcasts: Old guy syndrome hit with a vengeance this week, and I didn't cycle to work on Thursday or Friday. That has the nice plus of allowing me to listen to a podcast or two during the commute. I synced up the podcast app (79 episodes!) and listened to the Longform Podcast interview with Christie Aschwanden. People who excel at long form interviews are clearly underappreciated.
Tidal: First, I'm back on with a streaming music plan, this time with Tidal. After the disappointment of losing my playlists, songs, and recommendations after Microsoft cancelled Groove (fka Xbox Music), I spent nearly 18 months without a streaming subscription. At first, I didn't notice the loss, but over time it became obvious that I wasn't finding new music. The last true new discovery was via my friend Trent and his recommendation of the hat-wearing, Danish blues guitarist, Thorbjørn Risager. But that was well over a year ago, and I wanted to find something to give me artists like Bombay Bicycle Club, Frightened Rabbit, and Broken Records magically appearing in my stream. I wasn't keen on Spotify after hearing Allan Cross's analysis of their business model a couple years ago, and options seemed limited beyond Google and Apple.
Along comes Tidal, with an option to stream lossless FLAC level music or even MQA instead of more prosaic MP3 quality. For now, I went with a Premium (non-FLAC, non-MQA) family account and if I buy a good DAC and some better speakers for my home office, I'll probably upgrade to the HiFi (FLAC or MQA) level. Tidal Premium Family is less expensive than two yearly Groove subscriptions were, so that's a plus. The real test will be with the recommendations it gives me. After a week, it is still recommending Nicky Jam and Flume.
Pencils: Ever wondered what is the difference between an HB, a 2H, and a #2 pencil? Wonder no more.
New beers this week: Three new beers. Two local and one from Scotland. First, Old Jake's from Alley Kat. Dry from the hallertau, a fair bit of spice, and tasty. (3.75 / 5.0) Second, Saturday brunch at Situation for huevos rancheros paired with their Clean Bite DIPA. Definitely a sipper at 8.2%. (4.0 / 5.0) Finally, Gunpowder IPA from Innis & Gunn. The Scottish brewery is still my favourite outside of Alberta. (3.75 / 5.0)
Beer stats: 534 unique beers logged on Untappd, and Saturday was my fourth anniversary on Untappd. That comes out to a new beer every 2.74 days for four years.
A zombie musical?: Zombie comedies are a great movie genre. Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and Warm Bodies immediately come to mind. With those in mind, Anna and the Apocalypse seemed like a sure bet and for the most part it was. It was a bit darker than I expected it to be, but hey, it does have "apocalypse" in the title. For some added fun, listen to the upbeat song half way through the credits. Great stuff.