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.
Oh, how nice it is when it starts to feel like the worst of winter is behind you. Riding home after work and it is still light outside, and we are closer to St. Patrick's Day than Christmas. Things are looking up, my friend.
A decent week all things considered. Early on is started with one of those mornings where your first thought is that it is Satur-, no way, Fri-, maybe Th, ugh, it's Tuesday. It got better from there though with successes at work and a fairly relaxing week. One book finished and another started, a great D&D session, a decent beer, and a decision to take a week off work. Moving right along, then.
Book #7 for 2020 was "The Information: a history, a theory, a flood" by James Gleick. Regardless of whatever Gleick writes in his lifetime, to me he will always be the guy that wrote "Chaos", which you'll see if you look up at Worldcat has about a gazillion different editions since the original in 1988. Chaos is probably the book that influenced me the most given how little I really understood of it. Maybe I should read it again to see if I can actually glean more out of it this time.
Information was really three books in one. The history section was a nice write-up of how language and then writing changed our brains, lives, and societies. There were stories societies from the very beginning of history - history of course only possible of course by language and writing - and of famous individuals up to the early years of the twentieth century - Newton, Leibniz, Russell, Babbage, Lovelace, Morse All giants in the own rights, some much more famous than others.
Theory was a paean to Claude Shannon, the intellectual giant who gave the world information theory, and with it, a new definition for information itself. He showed us, or at least tried to show us mere mortals, what entropy was and how it mattered. He foreshadowed electronic computation and distributed networks, and allowed for entire new branches of science like molecular biology to form. He should one of the most well-known scientists of the twentieth century, but he didn't build a bomb, make a billion dollars, or create a law or theory that was easy to state if not understand (because, seriously, how do you casually talk about logarithms?) In the end, one of the great minds was reduced and degraded by Alzheimer's. I wonder what Shannon would have thought about Alzheimer's and its effects on the entropy of the human brain.
Flood almost seemed an afterthought, something that was added because no publisher would print a history of "information" with the story of an obscure scientist responsible for a mind-numbing theoretical concept. As much as I liked this book, the last few chapters really feel flat for me. Maybe that was because the concepts were more prosaic - information overload, media saturation - or maybe it was because there was no brilliant hero to read about. Whatever the reason, the ending took away from an otherwise excellent read.
Just one new beer this week. This one was the Lost Mitten Blueberry Sour from Alley Kat. Once again, another really nice beer from Alley Kat. A good punch of sour, but not a lot of sweetness. Amazing blueberry aroma, but could have tasted fruitier. Aside from that minor complaint, this is a beer that I would definitely drink again. (3.75 / 5)
A bunch of new words this week. Most came from the History section of Shannon's book.
stelae (plural noun)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. It was a relatively warm week and I was able to leave work a bit early a couple days so I actually made it home before it was dark. A refreshing change from the usual.
The week was largely spent working and listening to podcasts. I finished one audio book and am plowing through a couple good books right now. Only one new beer and very few new words. The doldrums of January are in the rear-view mirror now, so it is all uphill from here. Excelsior! (Or something like that. Is that even appropriate? What does it even mean?!)
The reading pile was really the listening pile this week. Book #6 for 2020 was the audio version of "Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on it" by Chris Voss, a very interesting primer on negotiating in crisis situations, business, and everyday life. The stories were all very interesting and relevant to the topics presented, and there were many useful learnings throughout. Voss summarizes that a successful negotiation based on an "information obsessed, empathetic search for the best possible deal" can "uncover value. Period." In other words, value for both parties can be found if you focus on listening and being empathetic. My favorite quote was one Voss repeated often: "You don't rise to the occasion; you fall to your highest level." That is a very useful thing to keep in mind, whether in a negotiation or just in normal day-to-day life.
Also in the "listening pile" this week were some very interesting podcast episodes. The team at Longform interviewed Kevin Kelly who is maybe best known as a former editor of Wired, Lots of good stuff as is the norm in a Longform interview, but here are my favorites.
First, he commented that we might be seeing a "turn back to subscriber-supported publications" as a valid mechanism for publishing and finding relevant content. The massive infrastructure required for a large publication likely necessitates a paywall, but if there is value in someone's content, it doesn't have to be only published by a multinational media conglomerate. There are lots of great independent publications that I constantly read: Longform, Lawfare, Lapham's Quarterly, Neil Pasricha, Warren Ellis, The Public Domain Review, to name the most prominent in my mind.
Second, there was a great insider analysis of how Wired changed over the years. At the start, it was rebellious and spunky, and later as it grew and became owned by those large media conglomerates (currently Condé Nast), they went from the "pirate ship to flagship" and they wanted to declare that they were the "official voice" of the technology industry.
Finally, I will leave you with a brilliant quote that came near the end of the interview. It is about the future, optimism, and how to move forward if we don't like what we have today.
The solution to a bad idea is not to stop thinking, it is to have a better idea. The solution to technology that doesn't work is not to have less technology, it is to have better technology. --Kevin Kelly
I also listened to a Freakonomics rebroadcast of their episode on how the San Francisco 49ers turned their ailing franchise around with new thinking, and positive attitudes. As I type this, the 49ers just lost Superbowl LIV to the Kansas City Chiefs, but regardless, you have to admire their success this season given where they were in 2017 and 2018.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan talked about why he works so hard, and it isn't machoism or fear of looking weak. which are reasons that seem suited to a football stereotype. For him, it is about doing everything he can so his team can succeed. It is like parenting - we do everything for our children in the hopes that they can have a better life than ours, regardless of the cost to ourselves.
It’s okay if we’re tired and we barely can function. We don’t have to perform the play. It’s us wearing our brains out all week to put our players in the best opportunity possible for them to be successful. --Kyle Shanahan, Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers
Just one new beer this week. Another collaboration, this time between Medicine Hat Brewing and Travois Ale Works. This is a neat collaboration because both breweries are from Medicine Hat. Their output was a weizenbock that declared itself to be "bready, malty, satisfying". As I said on Untappd, that is some serious truth in advertising. I really like this beer, and look forward to finding out more from both breweries. (3.5 / 5)
Not a lot of new words this week. I am starting to collect a lot of flagged pages in the various books I am reading, so I should clean those up before the list of flagged words becomes unreasonably large.
flageolets (plural noun)