Hello from 53.5° north latitude. Life continues to be consumed by work, which is likely the steady state reality for the next ten weeks or so. There is not really much to report on as a result, but for what it is worth, here is what happened this week.
David Foster Wallace 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech:
I was poking around on Mark Manson's site looking for something inspiring to read and I came across a post of Wallace's 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College. The text is available, in addition to an audio recording on Soundcloud. I really like the speech, and wondered if I would ever be able to write something so elegant and thought-provoking. The following excerpt really stood out for me:
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving… The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
I mentioned last week that we spent most of the weekend at a family reunion. That experience resparked my interest in genealogy, and as a result, I spent a couple hours one evening going down rabbit holes looking for traces of my relatives online. I found one fascinating individual, who isn't related to me by blood, but is still on the family tree. Specifically, Captain Charles Edward McCune is the father to the wife of my first cousin three times removed. The obituary of Cpt. McCune, which can be found here, references his prowess in navigating a ship in the stormy waters the same night as the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. I can't say I was familiar with that disaster, but the story is fascinating to read, and clearly McCune had some serious skills given the storm was a 10 or 11 on the Beaufort Scale.
Quote about spoilers:
Picked this up from Aardvacheology, which is a site I sometimes read through my Feedly feed.
Do spoilers bother you? There’s an easy cure. Quit watching / reading what everybody’s currently talking about.
Friends bearing books:
I was able to spend time with my friend Cam on the weekend. He and I go back to Grade 2, and we spent most of our childhood together. He and I also went through university together, he in mechanical engineering and I in electrical. As with a lot of relationships, we haven't seen each other much at all in the last 15 years, even though we swap emails on birthdays and other occasions. So let's just say it was mighty awesome getting to spend a handful of hours with someone that I have known since I was seven years old.
But what does this have to do with books, you ask? Well, take a look at these pictures:
Cam found an Advance Reading Copy of "Eye of the World" which of all the books I have read in my life, it probably influenced my reading more than anything. I have to say I'm not a huge fan of the series, and even though I own the whole series, I have never read past Book 7. However, Eye of the World was one of those magical finds where I picked up a random book and got totally hooked. And now nearly 30 years after picking up my first copy of the book, I now have four versions of it - mass paperback, hardcover, trade paperback, ARC (in order of acquisition). Note how the front cover is different than what went to print, and look at that back cover sans barcode. Pretty cool. Thanks, Cam!
Maybe someday I will share the story of my conversation with Robert Jordan as he signed a copy of Book 10 for me.
Two new beers this week. First was the Keeper's Point New England Ale from Ribstone. I really like that one. It was refreshing but complex enough to be interesting. Great stuff. (4.0 / 5). Next was the Salty Senorita Kettle Sour from Situation. I'm a big fan of Situation, and I'll gladly try whatever they have brewed. This was a good beer, but wasn't sour enough for my taste. If you are new to sours, this would be a good gateway for you. (3.5 / 5). The only Untappd badge this week was Middle of The Road (Level 57).
Only one new word this week, which isn't surprising given how little I read this week.
Hello from 53.5° north. It was another amazingly intense week, with meetings, deliverables, and reviews conspiring to consume the days faster than I care to acknowledge as we approach the launch of our new system in November. The work is good, maybe even great to be honest, and the support I get from the organization is amazing. It's just the sheer intensity of the hours that leaves me spent by the end of the day each Friday. But as I am fond of saying, if the worst thing that happens to me any day is that I have too much work, it is still a pretty good day.
We spent most of the weekend at a family reunion. The common ancestors were my wife's mother's father's parents, so my daughter's great-great-grandparents. It wasn't a huge amount of people, 60 maybe, but it was a good time. We went to Vermilion, which I was the only one of our family that had ever been there. On the way home, we stopped to see the pysanka in Vegreville, and the ... sausage ... in Mundare. It was good to connect with a bunch of family, and it resparked a lifelong interest in genealogy. And we got to see ... the sausage. (I mean, seriously, what is up with that? ) Plus, we got some seriously good Lobby Waffles at the hotel.
This week's reading pile was focused on finishing "A Choice of Gods" by Clifford Simak. Who is Clifford Simak, you ask? If you don't know, then you are in the same situation as me. As the Wikipedia entry on Simak indicates, he was a masterful science fiction author, and was the third individual named as a Grand Master of Science Fiction after Robert Heinlein and Jack Williamson (again, who?).
Reading science fiction from 1972 caused me some trepidation because the science could have been simplistic, naive or outdated. However, this was a story about human transcendence and the meaning of our relationship with our planet. It just also happened to have some robots and deal with travel into space. It was pretty clear that Simak deserved the accolades and the title of Grand Master since this story was incredibly readable 47 years after release.
I was struck by Simak's empathy to the "Indians", as he called him. Their desire for a life connected to nature was never seen as a weakness or a sign of inferiority. Rather, it was a choice to be connected to the earth and to nature as partners and not owners. The Indians were able to reconnect with nature after the Disappearance of most of the human race, and they were clearly better off for it.
We had only a few hundred years of the white man’s way and they had been far from good years. We never fitted in, we never had a chance to. It was a relief to shuck off all of it and go back to the flowers, the trees, the clouds, the seasons and the weather, the running water, the creatures of the woods and prairies—to make them a part of us again, more a part of us than they’d ever been before. We learned something from the whites, that we can’t deny—we’d have been stupid if we hadn’t. And we used these white man’s ways to make the old way of life an even better life."
Simak also offers a subtle commentary on the human need for technology that seems like it was written for today and not 1972.
But we no longer are a technological race. We lost technology when we lost the manpower and the knowledge and the machines broke down and there was no one to start them up again and no energy to run them. We don’t mourn that lost technology, as I think you know. At one time we might have, but not any longer. It would be a bother now. We have become competent observers and we gain our satisfaction from our observations, achieving minor triumphs when we are able to reach some solid understanding. Knowing is the goal, not the using. We aren’t users. We have somehow risen above using. We can rest content to see resources lying idle; we might even think it shameful to try to use or harness them."
And later, a less subtle commentary on technology:
A technological civilization is never satisfied. It is based on profit and progress, its own brand of progress. It must expand or die. You might make promises and be sincere in the making of them; you might intend to keep them, but you wouldn’t and you couldn’t.”
Knowing is the goal. That is a pretty remarkable sentence of a mere four words.
I'm really happy I read this story, and really happy I have discovered a great author. Some of Simak's earlier works are available at Project Gutenberg, if you are so inclined. I know I am.
The Freakonomics episode "How the Supermarket Helped America Win the Cold War" was quite thought-provoking. The thread was from World War I, to the creation of the supermarket, to World War II, to industrialized meat production, to consumerism as a vital propaganda tool against the Soviets, but then with a less laudable outcome of obesity and even to the use of corn to create ethanol for vehicles. There is a great quote in the episode about the need to "make agriculture green" which is ironic, funny, and depressing all at once.
Finally, some good news on the new music front. The Tidal weekly mixes are really starting to bring in some great music, and it is easy to get down a real rabbit hole for hours on end. Last week, I came across "A Song For Our Grandfathers" by Future Islands, which is probably my favorite song of 2019. I am playing it endlessly. So much good music, so little time.
It was a busy week for new beers. I found a collaboration pack from Parallel 49 that had a number of unusual offerings. There was a habanero peach gose (a very surprising combo), a brut made with yuzu citrus that was quite good, and one brewed with gin botanicals that I wasn't really a fan of. In addition, I had the West Coast Pale Ale from Granville, which was also citrusy without being overpowering. That added two badges on Untappd - Fields of Gold (Level 4) and The Great White North (Level 85).
All of the new words this week came from "A Choice of Gods", with the exception of horchata which came from a Vampire Weekend song.
canted (past tense) · canted (past participle)
It was a pretty tame week at 53.5° north, at least for matters outside of work. Probably the best metric for how focused the week was on work is that there are no new words to share this week.
As of today (August 11), we are 85 days - a mere 2040 hours - until we launch the first wave of our new clinical information system. There is no time, budget, or oxygen for anything beyond that deployment. The first meeting of the day is regularly starting at 07:00, and for some of my co-workers the start of the day is 06:00. The fact that I finished anything beyond work items is a fairly significant accomplishment this week. But even so, there were still a few things worth sharing.
Three new beers this week, and three badges on Untappd. The first was a local beer, the Session Ale from Sea Change Brewing. Good stuff but seemed stronger than 4.0% ABV, which makes it hard to see as a Session. Stil, well worth searching it out if you can get it in your area. Second was a forgettable pale ale from Wildrose, the Industrial Park Ale. Quite a shame, since I really like Wild Rose and was hoping for more from this beer. Third was a collaboration between Parallel 49 and Luppolo. The We've Got it Going On saison was fermented with wine yeast, which was a new experience for me. The beer had a nice sweetness that I assume was from the wine yeast. That one gave me the Middle of the Road (Level 56), Beer Together (Level 2), and The Great White North (Level 84) badges on Untappd.
Reading Pile and Podcasts:
I didn't finish any books this week, and only listened to one podcast. That was the Planet Money episode, "Twins". The key point from that episode is understanding what can be learned from studying twins to gain a better understanding of the nature versus nurture influences which can then influence and guide public policy. However, the episode does caution about how easy it is to slip into the morally bankrupt investigation of eugenics. This episode had limited hooks into economics, but was still a good use of 22 minutes.
Movie - Blackkklansman
I watched the trailer for Blackkklansman and seriously thought it was going to be a light, easy-going move. My first hint that I was mistaken was seconds in when "A Spike Lee Joint" popped on the screen. I also didn't realize it was based on a true story (or at least based on a book that was based on a true story).
This was a serious movie, and was filled with intense scenes. The resurgence of neo-Nazi groups across the US and Canada makes this movie incredibly relevant. Violence, real and threatened, pulsed through most scenes fueled by open racism and hatred.
If I ever get a chance to talk to Spike Lee, I want to ask him about the scene near the end of the movie where Harry Belafonte relays a horrific incident from his youth that is interposed with scenes from a Klan baptism. "Black Power" chants echo from one scene, followed by chants of "White Power" in the next. I would ask Lee if he was trying to show how any group grasping for power is bad, or whether the point was to remind the viewer of how few years ago the black power chants were relegated to the fringes of society while the white power chants are becoming more common.
(Reminder: BYDTWD = Bring Your Dice To Work Day) Even though the work week is remarkably intense and getting longer each week, we still find time to play D&D over the lunch hour each Wednesday. Our DM is throwing a bevy of Gelatinous Cubes at us, which we have managed to escape so far through a combination of luck and strategy. However, some garbage-pile-looking brute (no idea what the creature it was) hammered our cleric, who promptly rolled a Natural 1 on his first death save, so we are one turn away from losing a player and our healer.
If you are so inclined, here is a link to my character, and my first attempt at creating a homebrew item on D&D Beyond. The cloak is something that our DM provided each of our characters and in order to make sure we all got the +3 AC bonus, I thought I would create and share a homebrew item.
I have to say that D&D Beyond has a lot of really great features. The homebrew items are great, as is the ability for one person to share access to resources such as the Dungeon Master's Guide or Player's Handbook. However, the PDF export functionality of the player character sheet sucks. The output is ugly, the text in the boxes is truncated, and there is no ability to customize what gets exported. Nothing is perfect, but for those of us that still want to have a paper character sheet while we play, the PDF export is a real problem.
That's it for this week. Hopefully this upcoming week will provide some opportunity for interesting notes to share.
Happy long weekend from 53.5° north latitude. It is amazing how much work can fit into a five day work week. Looking back at the week, there were so many things going on, it is surprising that anything got done at all. Having the ability to focus on a single task at a time seems like such a luxury, such a foreign concept. I wonder if anybody really works like that anymore, or if they ever did. The hyper-specialization in the Industrial Revolution would be a clear example of focus, and similarly before that with a more agrarian society, but has a knowledge worker ever had the ability to focus? It is something work exploring.
I did have the ability to focus on one task most of Saturday this week, as I hauled five loads of sod and dirt to the Ecostation. Driving back and forth, burning probably close to half a tank of gas, I was able to plow through a bunch of podcasts, plus I took the train to work two days this week, so I had some time there as well. That is probably the most time I have ever devoted to podcasts in a single week, and there were lots of interesting tidbits as a result.
You can't take everything with you as you move through life" --David Letterman
That referred to the bad stuff in life, like regret, shame, and pain. It was a good reminder that you have to move on if you want to make amends with the past and be a better person in the future.
I don't know Maron he has always been this good at interviewing people, but I suppose after 1000+ interviews, you hone your skills.
The last of the great interviews was from Longform. The episode I listened to this week was an interview with David Epstein on the arguments for and against specialization at a young age and Epstein's book "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World". I really like Longform as I find the hosts are fantastic interviewers. Casual and relaxed, yet deep enough to hit the important points. As a comparator, listen to the EconTalk interview with Epstein to really see the difference a good interviewer can make.
Rounding out the podcasts was the History of Rome podcast, a monumental series that started way back in 2010, and another Freakonomics episode. I plowed through the first four episodes of History of Rome and I can totally see myself finishing all 179 episodes. Episode 2 had an interesting quote: "Might might not make right, but it will make a 1000 year civilization." The Freakonmics episode was "How to Change Your Mind" and the most interesting point was that people fail to differentiate between what they know and what others know. Following this through, there is a difference between the brain (trapped in your skull) and the mind (which is a collective and social construct of the people in your network).
The other book finished this week was "Zeroes" by Chuck Wendig. This was my first reading from Wendig after following him on Twitter for the last couple years. I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of "Daemon" by Daniel Suarez, but maybe not quite as good. Or maybe it wasn't as good since it really reminded me of a book I had read previously. Anyway, it was a good book, worth the read, and certainly good enough to continue to search out more from Wendig.
The Long and Slow Death of Google+:
I came across this article from January about how Google shuttered Google+ earlier this year. There is a good summary of the issue in the API and the decision to accelerate the shutdown as a result of that issue. However, the really interesting part of the article was the summary of why Google+ was created and a question as to whether or not Google even cares that Google+ was ultimately a failure.
Here's the thing...Google still got what they came for. More of your data.
With Google+, Google was able to understand more about you as a Google user. Your profile, address, likes, dislikes, friends, foes, etc. In 2011 maybe we thought that information about us was a fair trade for the ability to communicate with our friends. Maybe we didn't care, or maybe we didn't even think about it. But now in 2019, more of us do think about those tradeoffs, even if that number is still the vast minority of people. I wonder if I will sign up for the next big platform after Twitter. I doubt it.
This blog, even if no one reads it, is my response to microblogging like Twitter or Instagram, and is based on the need to say what I want to say in a way I want to say it. If I want to write 1,000 words about the podcasts I listened to, then that's what I'll do, but not with ads inserted by some algorithm. If there is content I want others to know about, then I'll post it here. Do I need to collect entire profile data sets of everyone that reads what I write? What would I do with that? I'm not an advertising platform like Google or Facebook, so I have no need for that. I suppose at some point the need to pay for the infrastructure becomes enough of an impetus to start to look for ways to "monetize". However, maybe the old tip jar model from years gone by or the patron model that is popular these days will be enough. Even if that ever becomes the case, I still can't see what benefit either I or my readers would get from them sharing a full profile of their personal information with me.