It was a wet and then warm weekend at 53.5° north latitude. The week was interposed with rain, wind, coordinating camp dropoffs and pickups, and all that is entailed in the first week back to work. Let's kick off this week's Show Notes with a nod to one of the most influential sources in my teen years.
The end of MAD Magazine:
Adam Greenfield's newsletter, "The Dispatch from London", alerted me to the end of new content from MAD Magazine. MAD was a constant in my teenage years, and I suspect I'm much like Greenfield in how I learned to wield cynicism and sarcasm as comedic weapons. More importantly, the constant satire from MAD convinced me to question and be skeptical when others would rather just not think about the celebrities and institutions around them. It is hard to take anyone seriously when But, again as Greenfield said, it would be hard to argue that the time of MAD isn't off in the past. I'm not sure if there is an archive of Greenfield's newsletter that can be referenced, but instead of rehashing his points, I'll hope that you'll be able to subscribe and fine the archive.
Lastly, I was also able to finish "The Starlit Loom" with my older daughter. "Loom" is the fourth and final novel in the Keepers series by Ted Sanders. I absolutely loved the series and the last book was very emotional, both for the characters and for the reader. Reading books with the kids is somewhat frustrating because we only read about a dozen pages a day, and probably only three or four days a weeks, so a 424 page novel like "Loom" takes a LONG time to read. Added to that is the fact that we started this series well over three years ago (with many other books in between). However, the wait, and the elapsed time, were both worth it in the end. If you do read the series yourself, and I highly suggest that you do, I do encourage you to read them faster. Thanks to Sanders for four very enjoyable books. Do check them out.
Hey, not depressed yet? Read this.
The Washington Post has an opinion piece by Max Boot entitled "What comes after Trump may be even worse". If you are interested in American politics, it is worth the read. Spoiler alert: Tucker Carlson.
Grabbed a few pics of some birds out at Elk Island this week: Red-headed Grebe; American Coot, and American Bittern. Seriously, there is a bittern in that last picture, I promise.
I haven't updated the blog with my new beers since before I went on vacation. As a result, this update has 16 beers in it. In the picture below are the following beers (and ciders, in some cases):
Most were pretty average, although I really didn't like the Granvillie Island NW Pale. The best were the Spinnakers IPA and the Alley Kat Dragon DIPA. I will say that there are a lot of good beers on our Pacific Coast.
Those 16 check-ins on Untappd gave me 12 badges, 3 new and 9 with increased levels. Reading across the image are:
mete (as in mete and proper)
1: to give out by measure : DOLE OUT
2: archaic : MEASURE
It was a good week. Went fishing with the family and we caught a walleye (note: singular), and then the next day saw the world's biggest fishing lure. Then we visited the Ellis Bird Farm and I stood up in front of a sign that displayed the wingspans of various common birds. It turns out my wingspan is roughly the same as a Bald Eagle. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something.
This week's reading was consumed almost exclusively with finishing up "Command and Control" by Eric Schlosser. This was a history of an explosion at a Titan II missile facility in Arkansas in 1980, interspersed with an exhaustively documented account of the near misses with nuclear weapons from a few days before the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, through to 1980. The book's subtitle is "Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety". Schlosser admits to being struck as he researched and wrote this book as to how lucky we have been to have never had a major nuclear accident. I wholeheartedly agree.
It was a long book clocking it at 485 pages, and then with a staggering 147 pages of acknowledgements, notes, bibliography, and and index. I found it well written, but I suspect one has to be interested in the subjects of nuclear weapons history or safety engineering to enjoy this book. I like both, but there are few people I would recommend this to. My good friend Chris recommended it to me, and he listened to it as an audiobook. I'm not sure how much that would work for me since it would be hard (impossible?) to pop between the current section, the List of Characters, and the Notes.
I mentioned last week that I enjoyed the Expanse short story, "Gods of Risk", at least in part because the story revolved around a young man, but really it was about his aunt, Gunny Draper, who readers met in the previous Expanse novel. "Command and Control" had a similar feel in that it was about the main players of nuclear weapons since 1947 - Oppenheimer, Teller, Einstein, Kennedy, Kruschev, LeMay, McNamara, Kissinger - but one central character in America at least was Bob Peurifoy, a Texas engineer who worked his entire career at the Sandia Labs. Schlosser introduces him early in the retrospective portion of the book since Peurifoy joined Sandia in 1952. The index lists 19 entries for Peurifoy, meaning that he appears every 25 pages or so. To compare, JFK has 14 entries, Kruschev has 11, and Kissinger has 7.
Back to Peurifoy, how often he comes up in the story is a testament to his role in nuclear weapons safety over nearly a half century. He would be an interesting cat to have a conversation with.
Lastly, there was an interesting quote in the book that struck me about the science of missiles beyond the nuclear physics required to make the devastating explosions.
Ballistic missiles were extraordinarily complex machines, symbols of the space age featuring thousands of moving parts, and yet their guidance systems were based on seventeenth-century physics and Isaac Newton's laws of motion. The principles that determined the trajectory of a warhead were the same as those that guides a rock thrown at a window."
Maclean's had an interesting article this week on the impact mosquitoes have had on humans. The article estimates that 108 billion people have lived on Earth in all of the time that there have been humans. Fascinatingly, the article estimates that 52 billion humans have died from mosquito-borne disease. That is 48% of people. Ever. I had no idea the impact was that great, and that explains the Gates Foundation's focus on malaria.
The article also described efforts to use CRISPR gene-editing technology "to exterminate captive malaria-bearing mosquitoes in seven generations". CRISPR is amazing technology, with potentially catastrophic consequences. The ethics of species annihilation, even one with such a toll on humanity, is something that needs significant debate and discourse, but the articles states that the genetically engineered mosquitoes could be in the wild in five years.
CRISPR Gone Bad:
Speaking of CRISPR, I watched "Rampage" last night. It was a great romp, with a few dazzling one-liners delivered by Dwayne Johnson. The movie justifies the existence of huge, savage monsters wreaking havoc on downtown Chicago with a backstory consisting of a brilliant scientist using CRISPR to inject gene sequences of several species into the DNA of a patient. This then naturally led to the weaponizing the technology, ultimately resulting in the creation of the super beasts out of a hapless wolf, a crocodile, and an amicable gorilla. The movie is fiction of course and there is no known way to do what the movie proposes at the present time, as this article summarizes nicely. It was a pretty good movie though, especially on the last real night of vacation.
Quote - Why TV Typically Sucks:
This quote is from David Simon, lead writer of "The Wire" from an article in August 2007. So like, forever ago. Thanks again to Warren Ellis's weekly newsletter, which is how I found this article.
Most smart people cannot watch most TV, because it has generally been a condescending medium, explaining everything immediately, offering no ambiguities, and using dialogue that simplifies and mitigates against the idiosyncratic ways in which people in different worlds actually communicate. It eventually requires that characters from different places talk the same way as the viewer. This, of course, sucks."
Imputed rent is the economic theory of imputation applied to real estate: that the value of a good is more a matter of what the buyer is willing to pay than the cost the seller incurs to create it. In this case, market rents are used to estimate the value to the property owner.
A vernier thruster is a rocket engine used on a spacecraft for fine adjustments to the attitude or velocity of a spacecraft. Depending on the design of a craft's maneuvering and stability systems, it may simply be a smaller thruster complementing the main propulsion system, or it may complement larger attitude control thrusters, or may be a part of the reaction control system. The name is derived from vernier calipers (named after Pierre Vernier) which have a primary scale for gross measurements, and a secondary scale for fine measurements.
Hello again from 53.5° north latitude. If anyone is in fact reading this, or ever will read this in the future, it will be obvious that this entry is for a two-week period. That is because our family was on the coast for a week, including last Sunday, which is when I typically post these blog entries. To give you an idea of what our vacation was like, the picture below was taken from the north shore of Salt Spring Island, one evening close to sunset.
Salt Spring Island and Edmonton are both in Canada, but in some ways are so far removed from each other to be foreign nations. The Saturday market in Ganges on Salt Spring is quite similar to a Saturday market here, but there are more people selling "natural" remedies that "harness the power of nature", with sellers making statements like "rose resonates with the natural harmonies of love". If the use of quotation marks doesn't make it obvious, these are not ideas that I personally give much credence to. However, there are many people on the island and in streets and shops in Victoria that are more removed from the necessities of commerce and action than myself or the people I typically interact with, while still remaining grounded in a world that I can relate to. One was a metal worker at an outdoor market on Bastion Square in Victoria. We talked to him for quite a while and bought one sculpture and would have purchased several others if the budget would have allowed it. On the back of his business card, he has a quote that I quite liked, and will use it as an anchor in my own life.
The nature of life is a circle. You define the circumference; the centre defines you." -- Mead Simon
Somewhat contrary to expectations, the amount of reading done in the week-long vacation was much lower than usual. I read one novel, finished a short story, and completed a book on philosophy that I started weeks ago.
First off, I finished "On Basilisk Station", which I mentioned in the last entry. It was good, but I remembered too much of it for this re-reading to be special. I originally rated it a 4.0 / 5, but this reading had it at maybe a 3.0 or 3.5 tops. I wonder if my tastes in books has changed in the 15+ years since I read this the first time. If I don't really like the second book in the series, I suspect that is the case.
The short story was "Gods of Risk", which is the second short story in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. This was was a lot longer than "The Butcher of Anderson Station", the Expanse short story that I mentioned in the last post, and it probably wasn't as good but was still enjoyable. The best part was how the story wasn't about Gunny Draper, but really it was. Read it to find out what I am. As with "Butcher" it is hard to rate short stories, but I'll say 3.5 / 5, but a stronger 3.5 than "Basilisk".
The greater the scientist, the more he realizes that his laws and labels, descriptions and definitions, are the products of his own thought. They help him to use the world for purposes of his own devising rather than to understand and explain it."
He also rails against the constant need to change, for improving, and going faster. This is probably where the references to the contemporary smart phone era came from. Instead of focusing on how to make the current better, why not focus on the current as it is?
How long have the planets been circling the sun? Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster in order to arrive? How often has the spring returned to the earth? Does it comes faster and fancier every year, to be sure to be better than last spring, and to hurry on its way to the spring that shall out-spring all springs?"
The journey Watts takes the reader on also addresses human emotion, connection, and love. Love for others, Watts says, can only come when the person understands that it is impossible to love oneself, because to use the words of Watts, there is no "I", there is no separation from "I" and the self.
Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself. This conviction will not come through condemnations, through hating oneself, through calling self-love all the bad names in the universe. It only comes in the awareness that one has no self to love.
This is a book that will probably gain from occasional re-reads and reflection. I encourage you to read it.
The Huawei Threat:
There is a lot of interest in Huawei around the world, and in my industry it is something that needs to be understood. If equipment from Huawei is in fact being used to capture information and relay it back to China, there is no way it can be trusted to transmit our sensitive information.
There are large national security issues, and there are many political issues that arise from the Huawei situation. It is difficult to wade through the stories to get to a common understanding without facts and without dispelling myths and rumors. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has written an article and produced an accompanying infographic to help with that.
It is important to do your own research on Huawei and come to your own conclusions if there really is an issue to be concerned with. If you think this won't impact you personally, realize that your next smart phone service will likely be 5G and there is a good chance that it will run at least in part on Huawei equipment. And on a more consumer level, walk by any mobile provider kiosk in your local mall, and see how many of the new phones on display are in fact from Huawei.
On a Lighter Note - Murder Mystery:
"Murder Mystery", the latest Adam Sandler film on Netflix, was pretty enjoyable. It spoofed the classic mystery genre - obviously hated individual is murdered, locked room, everyone with a motive - and added in a classic Sandler sad-sack character, and even threw in a pretty great car chase. Enjoyable stuff if you have 90 minutes and a Netflix subscription.
Only four new words this week, with one being a word I just can't seem to ever grasp.