Books, books, and more books:
I have been reading a lot lately, which is directly related to my mental and emotional inability to force myself to work in the evenings anymore. What was previously part of my daily routine is now just beyond comprehension. Eight to nine hours during the work day is so draining that I have nothing left to give in the evening.
My evenings are now spent with a good book. Or a so-so book as I'll explain shortly. Life is better with books, even the so-so ones.
"Here, There Be Dragons" by James Owen was the first book completed this week. I read this with my older daughter, so this book was not read all in one week. This was an enjoyable story set in the later days of The Great War (WWI) that weaves together many of the literary myths of Western culture. The central artifact that binds the myths is a book called the Imaginarium Geographica which has been handed down through the centuries from some of the greatest figures in Western history. Losing the book means losing the world, and our trio of heroes do exactly that.
There have been other books that taught me history while I have read them, such as The Baroque Cycle, but this was probably the first one that was consumable by a teen / Young Adult audience. Definitely worth a read, and definitely worth reading the second in the series.
The next book completed this week was Petroski's "The Evolution of Useful Things" that I quoted from last week. This was a disappointment overall, and I'm not sure I would recommend it. The history of the paper clip and the stapler were interesting, and the first discussions on the US patent system were interesting, but repeated quotes from patent applications throughout the 20th century did little but bore me. However, there were two more quotes that are worth sharing. The first is an informal definition of engineering:
… it is rather the art of not constructing: or, to define it rudely, but not inaptly, it is the art of doing well with one dollar, which any bungler can do with two after a fashion."
The second quote from Petroski comes from the final pages, and is a good summary of one of the book's key points, namely, that perfection is a myth, and any assumption of perfection is completely subjective and strictly time limited. The real or perceived failings of product or process in the mind of a particular inventor are the genesis of the next idea or evolution of the current idea.
What constitutes failure and what improvement is not totally objective, for in the final analysis a considerable list of criteria, ranging from the functional to the aesthetic, from the economic to the moral, can come into play."
Moving on, the next book was "The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home" by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger Henderson. This book was full of interesting tidbits and things to try, from a two sentence description of how to make homemade gnocchi, to a detailed description of sewing various articles of clothing. Plus, I learned that vinegar is really just sour wine, which in French is vin aigre. Mind. Blown.
Finally, I read "The Worst is Yet to Come: A Post-Capitalist Survival Guide" by Peter Fleming. This was a quick read, clocking in at a bit over 100 pages, with fairly small pages at that. Fleming has nothing good to say about neoliberalism, but his "Survival Tips" at the end of each section are more summations than actual action steps. For example, saying that Donald Trump eating hamburgers naked in bed might be the antithesis of the path forward, but he does not provide any way of getting beyond that image. If Fleming is to be believed, the next generation is in for a historically oppressive shitshow, meaning that any preparation coming out of this book would be for the long game.
Happy Birthday. Your gift is a messed up world heading for oblivion:
The house was filled with pre-teens one afternoon this week in celebration of our older daughter's birthday. The collection of strong, confident, and intelligent young people coincided with me reading Fleming's dire predictions for the future. I could have, maybe even should have, been depressed for their future, and wallowed in my guilt over the waste of potential and promise. But one of the themes in Fleming's book stuck was the need to prepare, to find alternatives while we still can, and that stuck in my head as I watched the next generation laugh and interact.
All of a sudden my job, my role, my reason for being became obvious. I need to do everything I can to hold on to the world and the values that we hold true so that we can hand them as much of a contiguous whole as we can. We have to hand them our values, our mistakes and learning, our histories, and our dreams for the future, along with the tools and supports they need so they can unfuck the world when they are ready. My generation isn't capable of unfucking anything, but maybe we can help our children's generation become the saviors we need.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day (BYDTWD):
My last day of guest DM'ing for our weekly at work lunch hour D&D session was this week. Matt Colville talks about how D&D is the perfect hobby because no matter what your creative impulse is, you can express it in the game. Writing. Crafting. Drawing. Hell, probably even knitting for that matter. For me, it is the writing and the acting.
My thoughts now move on to curating my own group. Age, gender, background are all irrelevant for the group, but mindset is essential. More RP than min-max. Combat is only a part of the game. Ability to commit to email sessions, and long sessions preferably in person. Consistent play times. Supportive of others. Interested in the story more than the loot. But how do I find these people? Advertise on Kijiji? This is something that will need more thinking.
I suppose I brought it on myself to an extent. I don't change into crappy jeans and a t-shirt if I have to go to a place like the Lawnmower Hospital. I understand that I don't fit it there, but I needed a mulching blade for our mower and they don't sell those at the bookstores, comic shops, Henry Singer, Eddie Bauer, or anywhere else I typically shop. So excuse me all to hell for buying such a lightweight blade, which really should be excuse me all to hell for buying an electric mower in the first place. But really, did that guy need to mutter "Idiot" to me as I walked by?
I can handle the comment, as I can ignore small-minded people. My concern is whether or not the comment was directed at me because he felt empowered to do so with the current political climate. If a white, middle-aged male can get trash talked, imagine the abuse an immigrant, a women, a person of color, a gay person, will have to endure as we hurtle into the abyss.
She was friendly, fun to be with, energetic. Pretty, if I was being honest. I liked her and whenever our shifts matched up, I contrived to leave the fulfillment center with her. We would walk to the bus stop and wait in the dusk for our buses. 46 for her, and then the 95 ten minutes later for me. Sometimes we would skip the first buses that came by just so we could talk longer. After, I would sit on the bus and think about her all the way home. On the days I got to spend those precious few minutes with her, I wouldn't even notice the grime in my flat or smell the piss-filled alley it emptied onto. The world was just better on those days.
That all changed the day she became a liability. It was clear that it was her third strike, but I never knew what exactly it was. Maybe too long in the bathroom. Maybe she broke something. Maybe they just didn't like how she hummed while she compiled the boxes of useless shit that the customers ordered. Whatever it was, she hit her third strike, and there was nothing we could do but watch. Third strikers were a liability to everyone around them, and I couldn't afford to have her take me down as well.
They always made us watch when a third striker was escorted out. The hysteria, the crying, the near epileptic fits of panic. We saw it all. We knew what it meant. When the only job you could find was in a fulfillment center, losing that job probably meant you were going to be homeless. Or dead. Or worse.
I looked into her eyes as she was pushed past the gathered crowd. Past me. Out the door. When she looked at me, I saw the pain and fear, but I also saw an understanding. She didn't blame me for not reaching out or helping her. She knew there was no point in me condemning myself as well. I had never felt so hollow, so pathetic.
That night after work, I watched the 46 come and go. The 95 came and took me home. I noticed the grime and smell much more clearly that night.
Five new beers this week, after none last week. First was Screaming Viking Lager from Odin Brewing in Tukwila, Washington. I liked it a lot, which says a lot since it is a lager. (3.5 / 5) Second was Odin's Gift Red, another offering from Odin. Good stuff again in a style I don't typically like. I'll have to search out more from Odin. (3.5 / 5) Third was the Millionaire Stout from Wild Beer Co. in Somerset, England. Really nice stuff, with the dense brown foam that I am fond of in this style. (3.75 / 5). Fourth was Fish Bone New England IPA from Alley Kay, a surprisingly high IBU beer without a huge amount of hops. (3.75 / 5). Finally, the Oldman Watershed Collective benefit brew from Phillips. That was a surprising kolsch variant with a lot of haziness. (3.75 / 5). All in all, a good week for new beers.
Lots of new words this week, but that is to be expected when reading a book by a UK professor and another by Neal Stephenson.
n ɪ ʃ t ə m əl aɪ ˈ z eɪ ʃ ən
a process for the preparation of maize (corn), or other grain, in which the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater (but sometimes wood ash lye), washed, and then hulled.
[ˌintər ˈālēə, ˌintər ˈälēə]
Starting off this week's entry with two great quotes:
"I can resist anything but temptation."
Everything in moderation, including moderation."
Useful guidelines for self-improvement goals:
By now, I assume that everyone who has been in a white-collar job for over five years will know about SMART Goals. SMART goals would be helpful in any self-improvement exercise, but even more useful are the following five guidelines I came across in a web course this week. The guidelines come out of the Immunity To Change method developed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey (1, 2).
Why nothing can ever be perfect, and why that's okay:
I'm continuing to read through my Pile of Shame in my office, and I decided to tackle "The Evolution of Useful Things" by Henry Petroski. I was hoping for more of a Bill Bryson-esque read, something like what Bryson did in "At Home", but it is still interesting. The underlying thesis in Petroski's book seems to be failure is the mother of invention, not necessity or even inspiration.
Since nothing is perfect, and, indeed, since even our ideas of perfection are not static, everything is subject to change over time. There can be no such thing as a "perfected" artifact; the future perfect can only be a tense, not a thing.
No, you’re not entitled to your opinion:
So leads a 2012 article from the website, The Conversation. The particular article refers to an interview where a Wollongong station quoted a known antivaxxer in a story about a measles outbreak. The question the article poses is whether the antivaxxer should be given any chance to enter into the conversation if in fact her contribution to the conversation will not be based in fact. The central quote in the article is as follows:
The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.
While this seems intellectually sound when entering into a debate with someone whose idea of research and rigor is little more than Facebook, the question is how to get your point across when the other side just doesn't want to listen. This makes me think of the intro to "Civil War" by Guns N' Roses (i.e. "What we've got here is failure to communicate.
Some men you just can't reach...) and a 1990 paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called "Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments." This is unfortunately now behind a paywall, but it is worth a read just for the lemon juice anecdote. (No spoilers here.)
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Last week I posted a map of the area I was planning on taking my players through in our weekly Wednesday D&D lunch hour game. I realized later that one of the players might read this blog and therefore get advanced intel on what lays ahead in the game. This is of course pure hubris, because that requires this blog to have actual readers in the first place. But getting past that issue, I have decided instead to copy text here post facto from the campaign diary I write up. I particularly liked this excerpt, even if it has a heavy metagaming requirement to be understood.
Movie - I Kill Giants:
Spoilers suck, so I won't spill anything about the movie "I Kill Giants" other than to suggest that you watch it. And then read the graphic novel that it was based on (caveat: I haven't read it yet, but it must have been decent since it was developed into a movie).
Book - Cuckoo's Calling:
Hey, this was a good read. I stayed up late a couple nights in a row to finish it off, and I'm glad I did. I do like detective novels, especially if the protagonist has solved the case before the answer is revealed in the story. There are a few more stories in the series that I'll be sure to read.
Not nearly as many new words this week. Apparently the J. K. Rowling detective novel wasn't as erudite as Rosewater.
NOUN, plural in form but singular or plural in construction
1. dishes served in addition to the main course of a meal
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".)
People I know. In a commercial:
ATB has a series of 90 second commercials that highlight how they helped a family, an individual, or a business in Alberta. They are a decent enough series that I didn't give much thought to until I saw this one featuring a family I know from the taekwondo and jiujitsu crowd at Elite, and featured the ATB Arts & Culture Branch located in the CKUA building. That was enough for me take the whole series more seriously.
Two more interesting pieces this week on the ails of capitalism. The first was from a 60 Minutes interview with hedge-fund billionaire Ray Dalio. The first quote is more optimistic or at least more favourable for capitalism than many others of late.
Capitalism needs to be reformed. It doesn't need to be abandoned. (12' 23")
The second quote specifically regarding American capitalism is much less optimistic, and more in line with other sentiments.
"I don't think it is sustainable."
That's pretty heady stuff coming from a hedge-fund manager worth $18 billion.
The other source of negative sentiment towards capitalism was from the preface to the latest edition of Lapham's Quarterly. This issue is focused on Trade. The quarterly magazine is usually riddled with great articles, but typically my favorite part is Lewis Lapham's preface, and that was the case again in this issue.
Creativity as a Goal, not just as a way to make money:
There is more value to creativity and talent than just padding ones wallet. Or at least that is one of the central theses from the Freakonomics series on Creativity. The second part of the series featured some wonderful quotes from Wynton Marsalis. The best were two pieces of solid advice he received from his father (22' 50" and 25' 55"):
"All of everybody never does anything.”
"Don't adopt my prejudices, develop your own."
In other words, challenge those you make generalized statements, and experience the world for yourself before you decide what you like and don't like.
Stellar writing about a Black Hole:
Lots was said and tweeted about the composite photographic image released this week of the black hole. The best summary I read of the significance of the event was in The Atlantic by Marina Koren. The article, titled "An Extraordinary Image of the Black Hole at a Galaxy’s Heart" was filled with lots of facts - like the fact that this particular black hole at its center has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun - but it was extremely readable and it was easy to follow. Plus, checking out her Twitter profile revealed a great quote:
"Views expressed here are like black holes: they don't reflect anything."
Science humor for the win!
venerable (a word I had thought just meant "old")
cf. (as in the notation used in literary publications)
from Latin confer ‘compare’.
Kickstarters and fundraising for NFPs:
I have been gung-ho into role-playing games lately, and I backed four successful Kickstarter campaigns in the last month - Witch+Craft, Snowhaven, Welcome to Tikor, and Humblewood. Humblewood was by far the most successful, raising just over $1,000,000 USD. Being immersed in Kickstarter project updates for the last several weeks, I am intrigued by the direct-to-supporter model and level of engagement in a Kickstarter. If I have a few bucks to spare but cannot decide between a traditional fundraising campaign for a foundation or not-for-profit ("Call in now and have your credit card handy!") and a cool project where I will help unlock new content and will be able to engage with the creators, I can't see any reason to send my limited money to a traditional campaign.
Not-for-profits need to figure this out if they want to engage with potential supporters. A small company selling an add-on for an RPG can raise a million bucks, and that pile o' cash is cash and every other similar pile o' cash is money that the NFPs will never have access to if they maintain a dial-for-dollars mindset.
New beers this week:
The current tally is now up to 542 unique beers with the two additions this week. First, another new beer at Biera. The BRO is a brown ale, and I liked it more than most browns. Maybe a bit too much burnt nib taste, but it had a nice aroma and a great foamy head. (3.75 / 5) The only other new beer was the Hard Day IPA from Red Truck Beer. It had a lot of citrus, but I was distracted and didn't pay much attention, so it might have been better than I rated it. (3.25 / 5)
NATO Phonetic Alphabet:
For some reason, our family is often spelling things out with the "airplane alphabet", and we usually can't remember what U is (spoiler alert: Uniform). So here for reference and posterity, is the full NATO Phonetic Alphabet, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Ron's Hockey Night in AHS:
Ron Faryna is a neighbor and a co-worker who has sat about 50 paces from me since May of last year. He came up with the idea of playing ball hockey as part of the AHS 10 year anniversary celebration, which in itself is a great idea. Then he was diagnosed with cancer, and the great people at AHS pulled together a super fun event. Here are a couple tweets from the event.
I'm not crying, you're crying.