Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, the land of near-summer daytime temperatures, open playgrounds, and a populace inching towards showing their middle finger to the concept of social distancing.
Thanks go out this week to the Public Sector Network for inviting me to deliver a speech on building a culture of security awareness in an organization. The slides are available here, but probably won't be all that useful without my narrative to accompany the deck. If you are interested in watching the security awareness videos referenced in the presentation, the full playlist is available at this link.
Beyond preparing for and delivering that talk, it was a pretty quiet week. I was able to start and finish a Douglas Adams classic, tried a quarter dozen new beers, and learned (and relearned) and a couple new words.
Let's get on with it.
I took a break from the Patrick Rothfuss masterpiece this week because I didn't have enough mental energy to properly focus on it. I'll jump back into it this week, so it will be even later in June before I finish it.
Book #21 for 2020 in its place was a re-read of "Life, The Universe, and Everything" by Douglas Adams. This was definitely my least favorite of the Hitchhiker's series so far. It had some interesting conceptual twists but lacked the irreverant humor that made me laugh out loud while reading it that made the first two books so memorable. It might have been a better written book in some regards, and is probably more serious than the first two books. If that was intentional, I can imagine how much resistance Adams would have received in changing the style of his novels after the success of his first two books. I wonder if that was why he followed up the Hitchhiker's series with the Dirk Gently books. Maybe I should pick those up again.
The point above about authors changing their writing style reminds me of a quote I heard from Neil Gaiman about eighteen months ago. He said that everyone pushes you to write something original and new, until they like your first book, and then all they want is more of exactly what you already wrote.
Twenty-one books in twenty weeks means I should be able to hit my target of 52 books this year when you factor in the group readings of War and Peace and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Two new beers this week, with one coming from a favorite brewer and the other continuing my foray into traditional European beers.
First up was the Life In The Clouds DDH IPA from Collective Arts. Before diving into this one, I had to figure out what a DDH IPA was. Thanks to Craft Beer Joe for deciphering the acronym to mean Double Dry Hops. The DDH process definitely explains the bold hoppiness of this beer, and why there was so much pineapple and citrus flavor. It was hazy but much more filtered than some of my previous selections. This was a very tasty beer that I would happily have again. (3.75 / 5)
Second up was the Destiny IPA from Fuggles and Warlock Craftworks in Richmond, B.C. This had a ton of taste, fruit, and hops. Seven hops varieties, and I was only familiar with four of them. Good stuff. (3.5 / 5)
The third beer this week was a European Pale Lager called Tatra produced by the marcro Zywiec. This was pretty decently tasty lager with a fairly crisp and slightly bready taste. Nothing to complain about. (3.25 / 5)
Just a couple new words this week. Apparently Douglas Adams didn't have much to expand my vocabularly in his third book, especially since one was a repeat.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where your humble blogger is happily officially COVID-negative (for now, at least), and is the still-proud-but-aghast father of an officially-in-her-teens-now teenager.
The past week was spent much the same as the previous weeks. A couple bike rides, some reading, some guitar, a lot of work. The news that the playgrounds were open again was definitely well-received in our house. Seeing the garbage can containing the old signs announcing the playground was closed was itself a bit of a tonic for my younger daughter, almost as good as being able to run in the park and get on the swings.
The only COVID item worth posting this week is this story about how Trump's COVID "game changer" hydroxychloroquine is worse than ineffective; it is actually deadly. The article is based on a study published in The Lancet. The most interesting quote from the article highlights the disconnect between Trump's declarations and the actual facts of this matter: "these findings provide absolutely no reason for optimism that these drugs might be useful in the prevention or treatment of covid-19."
But let's not dwell on the negative. Instead, let's focus on the sublime wit of Bike Edmonton and how they completely destroyed this monstrosity of a kid's bike.
I spent a few days plowing through about half of a short story anthology, and then picked up the absolutely amazing "The Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss. I'm only about one-fifth finished it so I probably won't finish it until early June. Unless the quality of the writing decreases in the upcoming chapters, this will definitely be a contender for the best book I read in 2020.
I am also a week behind in my War and Peace reading, and completely negligent in the reading of Monte Cristo. If the world is opening back up, I suspect EPL will open soon as well and that means I have to finish a few of my library finds as well, including that anthology.
But for this week, I was able to finish one book with my younger daughter. Book #20 for 2020 was "Lord and Lady Bunny - Almost Royalty!" by Polly Horvath. This was an enjoyable story to read with a younger family member and had an decent story. Unfortunately though, it started out much better than it ended. By the end, we were constantly commenting on how moronic the characters were. Their shortsightedness was actually distracting. Not that there was a real sense of verisimilitude in a story about talking rabbits interacting with a young girl and her hippy parents, but whatever immersion there was in the story was lost by repeatedly asking if the characters could do anything any more idiotic. So maybe read this to an eight year-old and not a ten year-old.
Most of my listening in recent months has been limited to artists that I already knew about and albums I already knew. However this week I turned on Track Radio in Tidal on a Foals song and was really happy to hear a track from Kurt Vile. I have been listening to his "b'lieve i'm going down..." and "Bottle It In" albums repeatedly for the last few days. Bottle It In is much more laidback and b'lieve has more enthusiastic guitar sounds, but both are solid albums with great lyrics and music.
Three new beer this week, bringing my total lifetime unique beers logged on Untappd to 658. The first was another from The Wild Beer Co. in the UK. This time it was the Jambo Imperial Stout. As you would expect with an Imperial, this had lots of flavor with dark raspberries if dark raspberries are actually a thing. Might have been too much flavor though as it took a lot to think through this one. It wasn't too boozy though, which was nice. (3.5 / 5).
The other two were both from DAB, or Dortmund Actien-Brauerei. DAB touts themselves as the "ambassador of the famous Dortmund Beer style", and while they are "only" 152 years old, they claim a much older provenance by brewing in compliance with the Purity Law of 1516. I think it is fair to call them a macro brewery, but from what I have tried, they produce decent beers.
The first was their Export lager, This was a well made beer with a nice bready malt and a bit of hops. Pretty happy with this one. (3.5 /5). The second was their Maibock, which is a style I don't have a lot of experience with. I feel this was better than most of the average beers that I rate at 3.25, but it wasn't good enough to be 3.5. I guess I will have to branch out to the bocks and maibocks and see if I can find a really good example of this style. That is the beauty of being on a lifelong quest to drink one of each beer in the world. (3.25 / 5)
Very few new words this week, even though I read a lot.
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. The week was filled with reading and guitar and little else. So really, a pretty awesome week.
We are just finishing up the nineteenth week of 2020, with the first week of the year being a few days short of the full seven. I'm doing well with my reading, clocking in at an average of one book per week. If I can keep it up and also finish War and Peace and The Count of Monte Cristo with those reading groups I have previously mentioned, I will read 54 books this year. That is a momentous number and would be a hard mark to surpass in my pre-retirement years.
Book #17 for 2020 was the audiobook version of Simon Sinek's "The Infinite Game". Sinek came to my attention during an executive education program I was enrolled in in 2013 - 2014. His TED talks about leadership related to his earlier books continue to be a popular favorite, wracking up millions of views. This latest book is short but worth the time. Sinek distills his thoughts about why an infinite mindset built with thoughts of the long-term and abundance is superior to a finite mindset built with only the short-term in mind and with a focus on scarcity. One quote that stuck with me was that "leaders are not responsible for results; they are responsible for the people that are responsible for the results." That is a good maxim to keep in mind while leading teams and organizations, as is Sinek's comment that we should "go slow now to stop problems later."
Book #18 for 2020 was "Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow. This was a book I decided to read with my older daughter, and it opened a lot of conversations about surveillance and the Internet, It was also about a teenage boy falling in love, so that kept me scanning a few lines ahead so that I could strategically avoid certain topics.
This was my least favorite of Doctorow's books that I have read so far, mainly because I already understood the lessons he was communicating, but also because of the somewhat jingoistic references to the US Declaration of Independence. I was probably a bit overly sensitized to references to the Declaration because Sinek also raved about it in his book as the ideal infinite game.
Would I recommend this book? Probably not, at least to a casual reader. Would I use it to reference the problems with surveillance technology. Sure, but something like Bruce Schneier's "Secrets and Lies" or "Data and Goliath" would be better, albeit non-fictional sources.
Book #19 for 2020 was "The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes" by Mark Urban. This was a historical account of George Scovell, the man that provided Wellington with vital intelligence in the war against Napoleon's army in Spain and Portgual. Scovell used captured communications to decipher both the Army of Portugal and grande ciphere used by the French.
Urban was able to write the entire book from journals and official war correspondence, and so it provides an interesting portrayal of Wellington, Napoleon's brother Joseph, and the French marshals in the Iberian conflict. The marshals are shown to be vapid and selfish, and completely vested in only their own wealth and position. They are clearly not in this war for the infinite game of anyone beyond themselves. Urban also highlights the cultural and societal biases of the British gentry and of Wellington in particular, and holds that up against the barbaric behavior of the common British soldier.
This was an interesting read, and especially interesting in light of the shared backdrop with War and Peace and Monte Cristo. The impact Napoleon had on Europe in the early 1800s can clearly not be overlooked. I'm glad I read this book for that reason, however, it was not as focused on George Scovell as I would have liked. I understand that Urban could only write this history from his sources, but it would have been nice to have more information about Scovell's early life or retirement years. Scovell seems like he would have been a great person to know and I would like to know more about him. This quote from Scovell definitely helped me form that opinion of him.
I think it by far the most instructive part of a campaign to know why we fail; success is in the mouth of everyone to account for. --George Scovell
Regardless, this is a good book both to get an idea of the mindset, diligence, and meticulousness of an early cryptographer, and to get another perspective on the Napoleonic era.
With all that reading, there are bound to be a lot of new words.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. This past week was a bit of downer, not gonna lie. Seven weeks of COVID work-from-home quasi-isolation is definitely straining psyches.
But let's not fool ourselves - what we are experiencing here in Canada is definitely NOT a quarantine. To get a feel for what a real quarantine is like, the Lawfare team interviewed one of their own in Beijing. Sophia Yan recently returned from Wuhan to Beijing and reported on her 14 days of quarantine. From house nannies getting alerts every time her door opens, to a full escort from airport to home to ensure she doesn't nip out for some groceries, to family members being forced to quarantine apart from their family, Yan lays out what strict enforcement really looks like.
In fact, even though we are several weeks earlier into our pandemic response than China, we are contemplating what the Kenney government has labelled our "relaunch" strategy to be in place as early as May 14. The full document has been saved here for posterity.
The Alberta government relaunch strategy is built on seven conditions to be met. They are (as copied directly from the document):
As you can see in the second bullet, one tool that various jurisdictions including Alberta are utilizing as they relaunch or reopen is some form of "contact tracing". In the early stages of an outbreak with small numbers of people infected, this can be very manual - figure out who a person met, call them, call who they talked to, and so on. This gets significantly more difficult in the mid- to late-stages of a pandemic due to the vast numbers of people who are or could be infected, and that of course sounds like something that technology can help with.
Contact tracing apps like the one that Singapore open-sourced and that Alberta has adopted sound like they could be privacy nightmares. This article out of the UK outlines how those issues could manifest into significant concerns, but the fact that they are not mandatory means the number of people potentially impacted could be small. Further to that. Brookings and Bruce Schneier both complete pan contact tracing applications, saying that they just don't work.
Assume you take the app out grocery shopping with you and it subsequently alerts you of a contact. What should you do? It's not accurate enough for you to quarantine yourself for two weeks. And without ubiquitous, cheap, fast, and accurate testing, you can't confirm the app's diagnosis. So the alert is useless.
If this is all true, then the promise of a contact tracing application freeing people from, as Brookings put it, the "terrible choice between staying home or risking exposure" is nothing but a false hope. If the only real tool we have to stay safe until we have a vaccine is full-on quarantine, then it looks like the Chinese might have the only solid plan.
China continues to come up nearly daily for me. Looking at China closely over the past two decades has evolved from a personal interest, to a hobby, an investment strategy, and now into the realm of core fact of life. Understanding what China is doing is as fascinating as it is essential, and so it was with great interest that I read this article about China and technology futures and the China Standards 2035 initiative. As the article states, while the Chinese Communist Party is "authoritarian to a fault, its machinery of innovation should not be underestimated." It closes by saying that "ultimately China’s ability to rejuvenate itself following the pandemic will likely be superior and more strategic than the rest of the planet."
I'm going to skip the Reading Pile section this week as I did not finish the Mark Urban or Simon Sinek books that I am currently reading. I should be able to review both of them next week.
As for the new beers, there were two this week and they were both quite memorable. The first was my first from Vancouver's Postmark Brewing. Their Juicy Pale Ale had a nice taste and citrus aroma, lots of citrus pith, and a long lasting foam. Good stuff. (3.5 / 5). I'll be sure to search out additional offerings from Postmark based on this first try.
The second was yet another from Collective Arts. I have been going through the Collective Arts offerings lately because (a) they are typically quite good, and (b) they are available as singles at one of the stores closest to my house. The latest was their Blueberry Sour with Cocoa Nibs and it was, in a word, purple! And in more than one word, this was a really great beer. A bit fruity, a bit chocolatey, a bit sour. A great combination that I never would have thought of, and the first beer I have rated at 4.0 / 5 in probably a couple years.
Just two new words this week. There should be a fair number next week after I finish those two books by Urban and Sinek.