Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. Fall has definitely arrived and with it, the first crash of the season. Too many leaves on the ground and if you ever ride in the fall, you will know how slippery a pile of wet leaves can be. Landing on the handlebar is apparently a good way to make it bend.
Still lots of time spent at work, so still not a lot going on beyond that. One book, a remarkable political scandal with a remarkable lack of impact, two new beers, and a handful of words.
To infinity and beyond!
Finishing that book brings my annual total to 41, and sets me on pace to read 55 books this year. My tally for 2018 was 34 books, and 40 books for 2017. So sitting here at the end of September, I have already read more books than I have in any other year.
As I type this, Canada is 22 days from the Federal Election. A couple weeks ago, I commented how the polls were shaping up to disappoint all parties, with the likely answer a minority government. The Liberals had the most to lose, I said, due to "Trudeau's inability to deliver and likely highlights his constant parade of gaffes". Well, they kept on coming.
Four weeks ago, the Liberals might not have had a clear road to majority, but surely the latest Liberal scandal must have erased even their hopes of a minority government, right? Maybe not, according to 338Canada and their article in Maclean's this week. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the 338Canada analysis from four weeks ago and this week.
Looking at that comparison, people that are going to vote for the Conservatives have already self-identified. The Liberals and even the Bloc are gaining ground at the expense of the NDP, and the Greens will still get their four seats, assuming we let them round up instead of down.
Twenty-two days to go. Lots could happen of course, but if the blackface / brownface issue is not big enough to sway the polls, I can only be very afraid of what it would take to actually make a difference.
Two new beers this week. The first was Baldwin Steam from Alley Kat. If you read this site at all, you know I drink a lot of different beers from Alley Kat. That is partly because they do good work, and partly because they are the closest brewery from my house. I like Alley Kat's regular beers, but I particularly like the variety they bring with their Dragon series of DIPAs, and the small batch Back Alley Brew series. My latest BAB was the Baldwin Steam, Lots of pine and a flavor that I couldn't place. The label talks about earthiness, so maybe that is it. If I am being honest, this one didn't do as much for me as some of their others, but it was still well put together.
The second was the Farm to Table Imperial from Russell Brewing. I don't have a lot of experience with Russell, but they seem to produce a solid line up. The Farm to Table had a lot of citrus from the hops, and was a high ABV beer, but there wasn't too much booziness so it was easy to drink. Good stuff. This one earned me Middle of the Road (Level 58) and The Great White North (Level 87) on Untappd.
Nine words this week, with one I know that I looked up before, and two that I really should have known. I will leave it to the reader to determine which words fit which category.
dossing (present participle)
Hello again from 53.5° north latitude. Summer seems to have arrived but fall will be here later this week with temperatures forecasted to fall below freezing in a few days. Plus it is getting too dark to read in the car while the kids are at their various activities during the weeknights. Time to get out the winter bike.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
Podcast - Radiolab series on "G"
Radiolab is a great show, but I'm sure you know that already. Earlier this summer, they had a six-part series called G. G is the symbol for intelligence, and boy, would it be great if it was as easy to quantify and articulate a person's intelligence as a one letter moniker might imply. The six episodes did a nice job of outlining how hard intelligence is to define, let alone quantify. Here are some highlights I took away from the series. (Links to the six episodes here - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Reading Pile, aka Musings on What it Means to Have an Opinion:
I find it interesting how the reading pile organically seems to organize around themes. Earlier this year, the theme was around capitalism, captured by a half dozen or so posts referencing the topic. In the last few weeks, the themes that have surfaced are around humanism and disconnecting, I mentioned "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari above and quoted from it two weeks ago. I powered it through it on the weekend and came away with all sorts of conflicting thoughts. Are humans really the apex of life on Earth? Are we nothing more than algorithmic cogs in a machine to process information? If we admit that our human fallibility limits our ability to make the best choices, should we concede our decision-making to more advanced algorithms that are external from our bodies? In other words, should we allow some Internet behemoth to tell us what is best?
Harari's "Homo Deus" was published in 2015, so it predates the 2016 US election, and all of the revelations about Russian interference in the election. Knowing that, the following excerpt from Harari is particularly harrowing:
On a more sinister note, the same study (from Facebook) implies that in future US presidential elections Facebook could know not only the political opinions of tens of millions of Americans, but also who might be swung. Facebook could tell that in Oklahoma the race between Republicans and Democrats is particularly close, identify the 32,417 voters who still haven't made up their minds, and determine what each candidate needs to say in order to tip the balance. How could Facebook obtain this priceless political data? We provide it for free.
Humanism is founded on the idea that all humans are equally valuable and that humans should be allowed to make their own individual choices because they truly know what is best for them. Harari repeatedly mentions the notions that the voter knows best, and the consumer knows best.
If humans all have a perfect inner self that knows best, then humanism is the need to ensure that the inner self is fed and actualized. However, if that inner self is not immune to external influence, then the inner self is not perfect but malleable and corruptible. We know from Lanier's book mentioned last week, that social media uses what understanding of psychology and physiology to influence our behaviors and create addictions. We also now know from the Mueller investigation that the algorithms feeding what we see in social media are corruptible. Assuming we do have a true inner self, then we need to find a way to ensure that true inner self is free from influence. Again, see the reference to Lanier last week.
My friend Trent has the opinion that if Amazon, Tidal, Spotify or any other algorithm-driven cloud service can help him find more of what he likes, then of course he is in favor. Learn from my likes, purchases, and actions, and give me more of that. But if that is how I find my next book or music, then how much of that is because of what I already wanted, and how much of that is because of what I was told to like? Then again, what's the difference between Trent or Tidal telling me about a new band? In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
In the end, I think it comes down to trusting my ability to decide and knowing all of the influences on my decision-making process. I am beginning to think I have a much better ability to do that if I am not solely reacting to a stream of notifications and feeds, but then again, that thought is influenced by the stream of information that I am currently consuming.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Wednesday lunch hour. Boss fight. We have a plan. We draw out the boss. We attack without mercy. The foot soldiers fall. The boss gets hammered. We grab the box. Success! But wait! I am playing the rogue and I need to stealth away. No worries, I say. I have a +7 on Stealth. Easy peasy. Rolled a 1.
That is the beauty of dice rolls in an RPG. There is no reason why we shouldn't succeed based on our plan and coordination. We have the numbers and skills to overpower, plus we have the ability to trick and deceive, to intimidate and confuse. We will prevail. The failed dice roll probably won't change the ultimate outcome, but it is easy to argue that it make the outcome more memorable. If I would have said "oh hey, let's say I slip and fall 'cause that will add some serious suspense", it would not have had any impact. Contrived emotion and scripted action sounds like a bad television show. Rolling a 1 in that moment makes for a wonderfully memorable experience. The heart-dropping feeling, the laughs from my friends after my muttered f-bomb, the jokes after how the fighter, the barbarian, and the cleric all succeeded buy my rogue failed. All that makes for a much better memory.
The memories are also accentuated by the random comments that stick with the party. We dragged an NPC out from under a gelatinous cube a few sessions ago. His legs were covered by the cube, and he took some pretty significant damage (3d6). We weren't sure if he would live but we used a healing spell on him and ultimately gained an ally. He was unconscious for a while so we couldn't get a name, so there was an offhand comment about "Legless Jack". The name stuck. The DM could have had a name for him, but we as players never asked for it since he will forever be Legless Jack to us.
Here's to more memories coming from the shared storytelling medium of an RPG.
Only one new beer this week. The Surround Sound DIPA from Collective Arts was another fine beer from the brewery that is steadily becoming my favorite. (Sorry Blindman and Alley Kat!) This was a hazy, citrusy beer with a nice bit of pine, and great balance all around. Submitting that to Untappd earned me the I Believe in IPA (Level 23) badge.
A few new words this week, and one repeat offender.
[ ab-joo r, -jur ]
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where summer has finally arrived. Other than the arrival of some nice weather, the week was largely similar to previous weeks. Still good momentum on reading, lots of intensity at work, plus a great outing with some friends. Onward.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Wednesday was our regular (to be honest, only semi-regular at present) lunch hour D&D game. We actually prepared via email over the previous few days, which was great because we were able to get right to it. Things were going pretty much as planned, and then Andrew, who is playing our extremely spiritual cleric, caught sight of the boss and hammered him with level 2 Guiding Bolt for 21 damage, which is pretty significant at third level. This was completely natural for the cleric to do, but completely unexpected, at least by me as a player. Andrew was complaining that his cleric was out of the action, and he timed his entry into the front lines of the battle perfectly.
Some people might complain that he didn't stick to the plan and now we have to improvise. That would seem to miss the point of a role-playing game though. We had a friend roleplay a character for probably 30 sessions with a consistent internal burning hatred of those who cause suffering. As the boss walked out of his tent, Andrew had the opportunity to unleash his anger and fury directly at the source of so much suffering. It was like the cleric said, "Payback time, asshole!". We now need to figure out what happens next as the lunch hour expired as the Guiding Bolt spell exploded onto the boss's back. Looking forward to Wednesday.
One last thing - one of our group pointed out that sending emails about "attack plans" on "September 11" might not have been our best move. No visits or inquiries yet at least.
Edmonton is home to many festivals and one of our favorites is Kaleido. With the summer weather we had this week, meeting up with some friends on Alberta Avenue was a great time. Alberta Avenue is a long way from our home, physically and metaphorically, which means Kaleido gives us a great opportunity to see people, cultures, and a community that we don't necessarily interact with very often.
The highlight of Kaleido this year, beyond the friends, food, and shopping was undoubtedly the performance of Circus Kalabente. These performers are insanely amazing to watch and are great people to talk to as well. Positivity, energy, athletics, music, signing. What an amazing show. Check them out if you ever get the chance. If you are in the Edmonton area, they will be at the Arden Theatre in St. Albert on April 28.
Before I get to the book I read this week, here is a picture of what I picked up at the local Find store (Find helps fund individuals and families getting furnished housing.) Pretty amazing for five bucks.
I was able to start and finish "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now" by Jaron Lanier this week. It was a timely read as I have been debating doing exactly that for a while now. Here is what I said on this site earlier this summer about my personal move from social media sites:
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.
Lanier picked up on my sentiment when he talked about how social media turns us from individuals feeling and thinking as Self and instead thinking of the Pack. Classic us versus them thinking ensues - the other must be wrong, because we are undoubtedly on the side of good and right. Lanier says:
Collective processes make the best sense when participants are acting as individuals.
What if listening to an inner voice or having a passion for ethics or beauty were to lead to more important work in the long-term, even if it measured as less successful in the moment? What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?
Finally, tying this book back to what I have written around capitalism, Lanier sums up how wrong it is that the social media giants are using data we give them to make bucket-loads of money while then forcing the gig economy and financial insecurity on to the masses.
What we call AI should never be understood as an alternative to people, but instead as a mislabeled new channel of value between real people. The business plan of (social media) is to sneakily take data from you and make money from it. ... I think companies should get rich if they make things people want, but I don't think you should be made less and less secure as part of the bargain. Capitalism isn't supposed to be a zero-sum game.
(And since I have not yet deleted my social media accounts, I couldn't help but tweet this out as I sat down to dig into the book.)
Two new beers this week. One from arguably one of the best breweries in Canada, and the other from arguably one of the best breweries in Canada. First was the Saint of Circumstance from Collective Arts. Clean taste, nice citrus. (3.75 / 5). That got me the Rising Steady (Level 57) badge on Untapped for beers with less than 5% ABV, and the Hopped Down (Level 32) badge for beers with an IBU under 20.
Second was the Five of Diamonds pilsner from Blindman. If you have ever gone fishing in Canada, chances are you used a lure from Len Thompson out of Lacombe, which is down the block from Blindman. The Five of Diamonds lure is the quintessential Len Thomspson lure, and I probably have a half dozen of them in different sizes and color combinations. In fact, I even wrote about this lure previously on this site. Blindman and Len Thompson partnered up for this pilsner to raise money for fish restocking programs. As far as the beer goes, I quite liked it, and I'm not a pilsner fan. Really good stuff once again. (4.0 / 5)
Only two words this week, and at least one is a repeat.
Hello once again from 53.5° north latitude. It is post-Sunday supper as I write this, and it is a chilly and misty evening. A week past labor day and it feels like Halloween. But alas, the weather can only bring us down if we choose to let it. There was lots of good stuff this week, so let's dive in.
Your Daily Dose of Cynicism:
Let's start off with quote from a person with a decidedly cynical view on people. The cashier at a local liquor store said that if I didn't need a bag that would be good because "these bags hold up like most people's promises". I spontaneously laughed and immediately thought I should write it down, but after I did, I felt sorry for the cashier If that is his outlook on life. I am certainly a glass-half-empty person, and have often said that sometimes it feels like my glass broke last week. However, I work hard on being as positive as possible and that conscious effort takes a lot of work. I see in him a bit of who I was not so many years ago, and I know how living with a negative outlook makes life so much harder.
I regained some of my reading momentum in the last week, which makes me feel quite good. I had to jettison a couple books because I just didn't feel compelled when I picked them up. I will invariably try to read them again in the future, but for now, I had to move on.
My week was spent reading a good portion of "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari. I am finding Homo Deus to be similar in style to "Sapiens", also by Harari, in that it is informative, thought-provoking, and incredibly accessible. The commentary about the treatment of animals stemming from our dominant monotheistic religions has really made me think about religion and even our contemporary humanism. Even his minor thought experiment and context-setting-aside about suburban lawns was thought-provoking enough for me to put the book down and think for a while. To me, that is the sign of a great book.
The premise of the book is about what humans will become based on our technology and outlook as of 2016. At the end of the second chapter, Harari talks about how we are becoming more reflective about the fate of the animals around us potentially because we are about to be left behind by the next evolution in humanity.
We are suddenly showing unprecedented interest in the fate of so-called lower life forms, perhaps because we are about to become one. If and when computer programs attain superhuman intelligence and unprecedented power, should we begin valuing these programs more than we value humans? Would it be okay, for example, for an artificial intelligence to exploit humans and even kill them to further its own needs and desires? if it should never be allowed to do that, despite it superior intelligence and power, why is it ethical for humans to exploit and kill pigs?
Also this week, I finished "Jed and the Junkyard War" with my younger daughter. I picked up a copy at the local library and noted with chagrin that it was published by Disney (technically Disney Hyperion, whoever they are). I was concerned that the book would be overly commercial and saccharine, but it was definitely not that. It was good enough for me to recommend it to you, and good enough for us to look forward to diving in to the sequel.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not Worth the Effort:
There I said it. I have now watched Endgame, and 20 other MCU movies. The only missing one is Captain Marvel, but I don't think I missed too much of the overall plot by skipping that one. I think with the investment of time it took to watch all of those movies, and in a few cases rewatch (because apparently you have to watch them in order and no one told me that until like 2014), plus all the time I spent reading plot summaries to figure out what the hell I missed from movie to movie, I feel confident that I am entitled to the opinion that I wasted my time.
I applaud the effort and moxie it took to pull all those story lines together, not to mention all of those talented actors, directors, and writers. But really, in the end, why? Cynically of course, one can point to the money. According to the IMDB link above, Endgame cost $356 million to make, but made all of that back in the first weekend in the US alone, and then went on to rake in nearly $2,8 billion since release.
But that is why the studio made the movie, not why anyone should watch it. Is it worth 50+ hours of your time, and $125 of your money, assuming you rent each movie online? I don't think it was. It was overly complicated and could really only be understood if you fully immersed yourself in it. There were a few funny scenes, and a few scenes that were even moving, but overall I just didn't feel ... satisfied. I didn't feel like cheering the heroes or lamenting the fallen. At the end, it was just ... over. And thankfully at that.
My wife thinks it is cheating to look up something in order to solve a crossword puzzle. I have a different viewpoint. I agree that looking up specific clues just to get the answer does seem a little off-putting, However, looking up "1925 trial name" and then finding out about the Scopes trial in Tennessee is different, at least in my mind. In the former case, all the search does is give one an answer without the requisite knowledge. In the latter, I can now say I understand how it was illegal to teach evolution in state-funded schools at that time in Tennessee, and how the trial was really about modernists versus fundamentalists. As the Wikipedia article liked to above notes, it was "a theological contest and a trial on whether modern science should be taught in schools". So yeah, totally not cheating.
Two new beers this week. First was the Common Crown Ploughman Hopped Wheat Ale. This was a decent beer from a quality brewer. Second was the Sea Change Irish Red Ale, which is a hazy, malty brew with a higher punch than one might think for a 5.0% ABV. That is a similar comment to what I said for Sea Change's Session Ale a couple weeks ago. I'll have to investigate further if there is something in their malt or yeast that I am consistently picking up on. The only badge this week from Untapped was The Great White North (Level 86).
The new words picked up this week as a direct result of reading Harari's book. Plus there was at least one that was checked just to make sure, and one repeat.
Hello from a foggy and chilly morning from 53.5° north latitude. As with last week, this week was consumed by work, and while that was interesting and exciting, there really isn't much from that to report here. One new beer, one article, an RPG book, a sojourn with nature, and a couple new words. Let's get on with it, shall we?
I did read a bit this week, but not nearly as much as I was earlier in the summer or the spring. I will probably have a couple books finished by next week, but nothing for this week. The reading rate has decreased in the last few weeks, but I am still on pace to finish 56 books which is by far the most I have read in a single year.
Maclean's released an article by 338Canada summarizing recent polls for the upcoming federal election. As of today there are only 50 days until the election, and there is a good possibility that voters have already decided who they are going to vote for. If that is the case, analysis of the polls at this time might be a good predictor of the result in October.
According to 338Canada's analysis, the Liberals won the most seats in 57% of their simulations with a majority in 30%. A minority result for the Liberals would have to be deeply disturbing for every party. That result for the Liberals after their big win in the last election is an indictment on Trudeau's inability to deliver and likely highlights his constant parade of gaffes. Anything other than a majority for the Conservatives would show that Scheer is less effective than Harper, especially with the gift of the SNC-Lavalin fiasco and the ethics commissioner's report that was laid on his lap, In the simulations, the NDP get hammered, with less seats even than they won under Mulcair, making supporters likely want to question Singh as their leader. I suppose the Bloc might be okay with 13 seats as at least they still have their base. The Greens are predicted to win 4 seats, and I can't imagine that number could be spun into anything positive, but you never know what May is going to say. The only scenario to make any party happy is a majority, and that looks increasingly unlikely.
Kayaking at Elk Island:
Elk Island National Park is roughly 75 km from my driveway. I can leave the house and be out there in about an hour. As I found out today, I can be on the water in a rented kayak in less than 90 minutes after I leave the house. Haskin Canoe has a rental shack right on Astotin Lake, which is super convenient. I was able to capture a couple great shots from the water of the lake islands and some waterfowl on the lake. However, the nearly ancient camera I used to take the pictures uses an SD card, and I don't have a single SD card reader in the house. Maybe I'll find some tech in the next week and will be able to salvage those pictures. In the meantime, here are pictures of a bison and a few deer I grabbed with my phone.
After several months of waiting, my copy of "Strongholds and Followers" arrived a few days ago. This is the D&D 5e supplement written by Matt Colville and produced by his company, MCDM Productions. Strongholds and Followers provides guidance on how to take a mid-level character through the process of creating a base of operations and having it populated with relevant NPCs. The idea is fantastic for people that want to explore how their characters influence their world through more than dungeon crawls and fighting. I really hope I get into a campaign where I can use this supplement.
A friend of my brother said back in the university era that Bono could fart into a microphone for 60 minutes and he would still buy the album. I am like that with Colville. I love his style and thought process for how he approaches be a better Dungeon Master, and he seems like the kind of person that would be great to hang out with. After hearing Colville talk about this project on his YouTube channel, his Kickstarter campaign raised over $2 million Canada with over 28,000 backers. That implies that it isn't just me who feels that way about Colville.
This week was pretty limited on the new beer front. There were a few beers from Common Crown in my fridge, but alas, they were not new. The only new beer was a double-hopped 8.2% ABV from Brewsters, the Mad Hops Double IPA 2019. Nice taste, not too bitter, with a high ABV without a whole lot of booziness. Good stuff from Brewsters once again (3.75 / 5). This one gave me the 2X (Level 5) badge from Untapped, for 25 beers with Double or Imperial in the name.
Not a lot of reading this week, so not a lot of words.