The denizens of 53.5° north latitude welcome you to the weekly blog. Or at least, I welcome you. It was a quiet week, with two new beers and one book finished. There was a lot of music listened to, but I want to get through it all one more time before I make any comments, so we will leave that for next week.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
Racism is ugly, dehumanizing, terrible. Reading about racism is difficult. Owning up to racist comments or actions is gut-wrenching. But talking about racism is absolutely necessary.
It is easy for us Canadians to talk about how terrible things are in the US, with their overtly racist President who presided over them for four years, and how many of their policies and actions are specifically designed to demean black people. So when I read this week's book, Book #3 for 2021, Professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr.'s "Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and its Urgent Lessons for our Own", I tried to reflect on what his book about America says about how Canada has historically, and presently, treats the Indigenous people.
Glaude talks about how the insistence of whites to be included in the future is ridiculous, given that they have never been EXcluded before. The insistence of expecting gratitude for providing rights and freedoms to black Americans is revolting, given that the black people should never have had those right and freedoms stripped from them in the first place. In Canada, this is reflected in how we have parceled out tiny bits of land for the Indigenous peoples and expected them to be happy that we gave them anything at all.
Glaude also talks about the need for truth and reconciliation, but how important it is that we know and speak the truth before we can reconcile. I was in my mid-thirties before I even HEARD the term "residential school", but at least in Canada we have started to speak the truth to what we have done. "Begin Again" highlights the lie and illusion of The American Dream and The Promised Land, both of which hide the truth of the racism in America.
The cries of "what about us" and "all lives matter" from whites underscores how distorted the racist view is. It is not that ONLY black lives matter, it is that THEY NEVER HAVE MATTERED in the eyes of so many people. The same could be true about how Indigenous people are viewed in Canada. As Glaude puts it:
... as if talking about a living wage and healthcare as a right, or affordable education, or equal pay for women, or equal rights for the LGBTQ community, or a fair criminal justice system, somehow excludes working-class white people.
Later in the book, Glaude discusses how Trump fits in to today's conversation about race and equality. The important point is that Trump "and his ideas are not exceptional." In other words, admit that America is racist. Admit that this hatred and demeaning of an entire population is a founding principle of America. Trump and "the people who support him are just the latest examples of the country's ongoing betrayal" of the promise of a true and equal democracy.
In Canada, the discussion a few years ago about what to do with the statues of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, pointed out the brutality and cruelty of pretty much every white person in the mid 1800's. This article highlights some of the amazing and awful things done in the name of progress in Canada's earliest days. We are not much better than our neighbors to the south.
I encourage you to read this book, whether you are an American looking to understand your country, a Canadian looking to understand yours, or just someone trying to understand the world in order to start the work in building a better world.
Baldwin's words that Glaude used to title his book are the signal we need. It is not about looking in the past to demonize or glorify, but rather to look to the future and to Begin Again.
It was a decent week for riding. The time in the saddle is increasing, even as the distances decrease. Colder weather means slower speeds. Earlier this morning I went out for a one-hour ride in the -19° C weather and only averaged 15.7 km/hr due to the cold temperature. However, getting out a few times in the cold is more psychologically bolstering than it is a cardio boost.
I was able to complete the segment to Clearwater, B.C. Looking up interesting information on Wikipedia did not reveal too much, which is not surprising given the municipality only became official in 2007 and there are just over 2,000 people there. The one fact of note is that the hospital is named after John Sebastian Helmcken, a physician and politician that was key to negotiating British Columbia's entry into the Dominion of Canada in 1871.
Below is the updated image of my progress. I am unlikely to make it all the way to Blue River in this upcoming week, but Valemount (with a U) beckons in the distance.
Two new beers this week, one a pleasant surprise and one a disappointment. I will highlight the pleasant surprise first.
Beer #717 was the Lemon Lavender Radler from Yukon Brewing. Yukon is a brewery that I should pay more attention to. This radler was fantastic and I really, really liked it. It was sweet but not cloying, had nice citrus without the pith, and a smooth taste that was very refreshing. It was the highest rated beer in a long time. (4.0 / 5)
If I were asked to bet last week which beer I would like more before trying these, I would have swapped things around. Lemon and lavender does not sound that appealing to be honest, and the previous drinks from Fallentimber were all really good. Beer #718 was their Hopped Mead. I thought it tasted a bit burnt, and was not nearly as good as their other meads. I also realized that I have never checked in their Meadjito which is superb, so I will buy that again to grab a photo and a checkin. Not every product from a brewery, or in this case a meadery, is going to be perfect of course. One low rating should not take away from how good the rest of their product is. (3.0 / 5)
I will close out this week's entry with a few new words, most of which are from my ongoing catch-up of the words I flagged in 2020 as I read "War and Peace".
Happy 2021 from 53.5° north!
I took last week off from writing as I needed time to rest, recharge, and reflect. It seems everyone else had the same thought, especially in regards to reflecting. A lot of content crossed my feeds about how crappy 2020 was, how glad we can be that it is finally over, and that better things are ahead.
I have multiple problems with those statements and the underlying attitude that creates statements like that. First of all, it is not guaranteed that 2021 will be any better and I am concerned that people are setting themselves up for a great disappointment. Second, not everything was bad in 2020 and it is important to recognize the good instead of simply bemoaning the bad.
The following text was something I sent to a person I got to know somewhat in 2020, somehow who I have followed online for a long time. The pandemic and the disruption to our lives was terrible, not mentioning the impact to human life across the world. However, I was able to take some solid positives out of the past year, and I hope this helps you reflect on your year more positively as well.
2020 was the year that I was able to connect with people from London to Toronto to Perth to Boston to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Seattle to Vancouver to Hawaii. The very fact that I needed to be in my home office allowed me to (forced me to?) reach out and connect. It was not the same people every day. It was new people and new experiences. Granted it was not traveling to meet face to face, but the only way to meet with someone seven time zones away one day and another person four time zones the other way the next was to do this virtually. 2020 gave me that opportunity and for that I am grateful.
As 2020 came to a close, news outlets, consulting groups, social media networks, independent journalists and pretty much every other organization came out with a summary of 2020, and of course the focus of many of these summaries was COVID. Two that I really enjoyed were from Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey. I featured the McKinsey charts on changing leadership behaviors from McKinsey a few weeks back. The one chart that really staggered me was the one about how many children are now learning from home. See the image below.
In other news, the cybersecurity industry was stunned by the extent of the SolarWinds breach. From a day-job point of view, I have read a lot about this and have a good understanding of what this means. I also have some information that is probably circulating in the CISO circles globally but is not public knowledge. In addition, I have a few subscription services that I could reference, but those are behind paywalls. As a result, I will stick to information in the public domain.
One consistently good source of analysis regardless of topic is Lawfare. In this post, the timeline of the attack is discussed. It is vital to understand that this is not something that was done, discovered, and remediated in a few weeks or months. This was an attack that was planned and executed years ago, and was executed with serious skill.
Thus, SolarWinds can be understood as the result of the operational success achieved three and a half years ago. --Dr. Richard J. Harknett, Lawfare
Even if we could wave our magic wands and remove the affected versions of the SolarWinds software, the scope and scale of the access this breach provided means we will be working to remediate for years. It is not hyperbole to say that we might never know the impact and cost associated with this breach. I am sure I will have more to say about this in the future.
I had a goal in 2020 to read 52 books, or one a week. I hit a terrible reading drought in September but still ended up with 48. I had to finish four of those books in the last ten days of the year, but a book read is a book read regardless of when it is read.
Book #45 for 2020 was "The Great Hunt" by Robert Jordan, the second book in the Wheel of Time series. I finished the first book in the series back in September and was really glad I read the second book. I have had issues with the length of the series and a few of the gender stereotypes but I think this read of The Great Hunt helped clarify what Jordan was trying to do with his characters. Yes, the brooding-emotionally-distant-male and feisty-but-emotional-female tropes do exist, but the characters do have depth beyond the stereotype. I am glad I re-read this and am looking forward to the third book in the series.
Book #46 was the sixth and final book in the FunJungle series, "Tyrannosaurus Wrecks". My younger daughter and I read all six books in the series in 2020, and I said in late November I was not sure that I needed to finish the series. However, the final book in the series popped up as a loan from the library and so we decided to plow through it. In the end, it was an enjoyable book, and a great series, and I am glad we read it together. But six YA books in one series in a year was a bit much.
Book #47 was the Tolstoy classic, "War and Peace". I started reading this on January 1, 2020, and finished it on December 31, 2020. I did not read a chapter a day as I suggested a year ago, but I did follow along with the Reddit book group for a large portion of the year. This was a book that made me think a lot, and I think that reflection was worth the 1224 pages and 366 days of reading. There is probably an entire long form post about War and Peace, but I am not sure I could say anything that has not already been said. Let's leave it at the fact that I am glad I read it.
Book #48 and the final book for 2020 was "Wyrd Sisters", the sixth Discworld book from Terry Pratchett. I really wanted another Rincewind book as I find him a wonderful if hapless protaganist, but the Witches were really interesting characters - funny, intelligent, completely stupid, all at the same time. I am looking forward to reading at least a couple more in this series in 2021.
And finally, we need to get into the books for 2021. Book #1 for 2021 was "K for Killer" the eleventh book in the Kinsey Millhone series by Sue Grafton. This was a really enjoyable story with a few gasp-worthy moments and a decent enough story to keep me up late two nights in a row. The elapsed time in the book was less than a week, so the story moved along quite quickly, and that kept me reading. It was not the tumultuous ending that some of the other Millhone / Grafton novels have had, but in a way that made this one more satisfying.
With that book started and finished in the first three days of the year, I am on pace to read 121 books in 2021. I probably will not get quite that many, but you never know what the year will bring.
I felt pretty good about my cycling in the last two weeks, even though I only rode for 112 km. The fact that I am getting out is part of it, but my rides are getting more challenging. It feels good to push myself up a hill, especially on a heavy, old bike with studded tires in the middle of winter.
I finished the segment to Merritt and am twenty per cent of the way to Kamloops. According to Wikipedia, Merritt has a population of about 7,000 people, with an economy focused on ranching, farming, forestry, transportation, and tourism. Being only 87 km to Kamloops and 270 km from Vancouver, it is probably close enough to other centers to have what it needs and far enough away to remain a small town and close community, but honestly on the drive to the coast, it has never been more than a pit stop for me.
Looking at this entry, it might seems like lots of new beers in the last two weeks. However, five beers in fourteen days is a new beer every 2.8 days which is only a bit faster than my pace since I started logging on Untappd. (For the record, my pace is one new beer every 2. 98 days) The five beers this fortnight were a dark ale, a strong ale, a scotch ale, a sour, and an IPA. Definitely winter beers in that selection.
Beer #706 was the Squid Ink Cascadian Dark Ale from the Olds College Brewery. Not bad, a bit bland but I think that was by design - a dark ale without the big booziness or powerful flavors of a winter stout. Decent enough to drink the four pack, and happy to support our local great agricultural college and brewmaster program. (3.25 / 5)
Beer #707 was the Hot Summer Nights IPA from SYC Brewing in Edmonton. This was a really good beer. There was a lot of juiciness, and the hops were strong but not overpowering. Easy to drink fast but watch out for the relatively high ABV for an IPA. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #708 was another 2020 Alberta Beer Week Unity brew. This one was led by Railyard Brewing out of Calgary. A decent beer with a lot of flavor. Seemed a bit flat but might have just been my can. I will look out for other beers from Railyard after this one. (3.25 / 5)
The fourth beer in the last fortnight was another Alberta brew. Beer #709 was the Haskap Aromatica Sour from Odd Company Brewing in Edmonton. I really wanted to like this one more than I did. Great color and aroma. The flavor seemed a bit off though, but that might have been because it was not cold enough. (3.0 / 5)
The last beer in the fortnight was from British Columbia. Beer #710 was the Hopraiser West Coast IPA from Howe Sound. Howe Sound is a brewery, a brewpub, and an inn in Squamish. Sounds like my kind of place. Back to the beer, the Hopraiser was not bad. It had a fair bit of hops and a fragrant aroma. Got a bit of malt in the taste but other than that, it was a bit bland. (3.25 / 5)
Lots of new words this week, partly due to all of the reading and partly due to the fact that I am catching up on all of the flagged words from War and Peace over the year.
Greetings from 53.5° once again. What's new, you ask? I suppose anything that will get registered here is less new and more of an extension of previous weeks. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the country is in pandemic lock-down.
In addition, it is holiday time right now, or at least holiday-lite time. There is so much going on at work that I will get some time off, but certainly not the next two full weeks as I had hoped. While the amount of work is overwhelming, it is important work and keeping that in mind helps me get through the intense hours and multiple competing priorities.
Before I get into the regular sections, I want to highlight a podcast that helped me with understanding the appeal of Trump. The November 20 episode of On The Media from WNYC had a segment titled "The Ancient Heresy That Helps Us Understand QAnon". Having a roommate in university and a friend for the last twenty-five years who both studied religion in university gave me some awareness of Gnosticism. At a very high levels, gnostics value their own personal experience over the authority of experts and institutions.
You could listen to that segment, but it is likely that last sentence perfectly explains for you Trump and Trump's followers. My summary: Do not trust the experts (deep state) because only I (Trump) have the real knowledge. Search for the knowledge yourself and come to your own conclusions (flat earth, QAnon, etc.)
Call me a pessimist, but after listening to the segment and in particular the quote from the segment below, I do not think there is an easy path forward.
... when you take the red pill and you see the true nature of reality past the institutions and so on, that's an epiphany. I think, for those who really been red pilled, who have been born again into this Trumpian Gnosticism, there is no reason to let go. And anything that we would suggest as proof will become to them proof of our deception. And that makes for a dangerous situation that the best case scenario is going to simmer and simmer for a long time if it doesn't boil over. --Jeff Sharlet
With under a fortnight to go in 2020, I am doing what I can to get my reading total for the year over 50. I am confident I will hit 48 for sure, and 49 is looking pretty good. 50 or more will be tough though, especially if I have to work more than a day or two before New Year's.
Book #44 for 2020 was "The Better Mousetrap" by Tom Holt. Holt was an author I had no visibility on until this last year and we bought three or four of his books at used books stores and EPL book sales. The Better Mousetrap was an interesting book about two people drawn to each other, a magical world living out of view of most of the world, time travel, and insurance. It would be hard to give any sort of plot synopsis in under 250 words that would not spoil the book so I will not even try. I will just say that it was a good book and I am looking forward to diving into Holt's other books.
The weather was pretty good this week which allowed for some longer rides and faster times on those rides. I am still nowhere near the weekly distance of the most dedicated cyclists I know, but most of them these days are spending their saddle time indoors on Zwift and I am hammering out the kilometers through the snow and ice. I suppose I can claim a modicum of moral superiority for that fact, even though I know their fitness levels are way above mine.
I did make it to Hope in my cross-Canada virtual tour. According to Wikipedia, Hope is the easternmost point on what is called the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, which accounts for the average temperature this time of year being 3.5°C. It is also a meeting point, being the confluence of the Fraser and Coquihalla rivers, and the Coquihalla and Crowsnest highways. The Stó:lō First Nations peoples settled in that area between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, and were nearly wiped-out by smallpox in 1782.
Here is an update of my progress chart for the virtual tour.
Work got in the way of diving into the Art Blakey album I had queued up in the Music Finds playlist for this week, but I did give the new album by Kid Cudi a few listens this week. It is pretty clear that "Man on the Moon III: The Chosen" is not my typical music. The picture on the home page of my Tidal app caught my attention and after reading Kid Cudi's bio, I thought I would give it a listen. There were a few songs that I did not like of course, but that is the same as on any album I listen to. Of the eighteen tracks, most were good and "Else's Baby Boy (flashback)" and "The Void" were particularly good. Some of the other songs were musically great even if I could not get into the lyrics. Standouts in that category include "Rockstar Knights" and "Sad People".
I am glad I dug into this album. I will seek out more albums by Kid Cudi and maybe the likes on the songs on this album will help suggest new albums and artists that are out of my regular rotation.
Just one new beer this week, although you could reasonably expect that I would have had more based on my last Visa bill.
Beer #705 was the Dandy Lager from Dandy Brewing out of Calgary. Dandy is a great brewery that has interesting and unique beers. I have checked in three from them so those are the only ones I have evidence for, but looking at their beer list it is clear I have had others that I have not checked in.
The Dandy lager was a bit hazier than expected for a lager, but quite good. A bit of citrus. Nice and crisp. Definitely worth having again. (3.75 / 5)
I dug into a new coffee this week, happily moving past the Salt Spring Metta Espresso that was thin and bland. The Cliff Hanger Espresso from Kicking Horse has a glossy, black bean and much more taste than the Metta. I am not super happy with the flavor though. The packaging mentions cocoa and fruit flavors and I think it is the cocoa that I am not fond of. A couple months ago, I mentioned the Old School Espresso from 49th Parallel and I indicated that I liked the cocoa flavor, so maybe it is not cocoa that is the problem, but the amount of cocoa in the flavor.
Also of note are the gloss on the beans. Like the 49th Parallel beans, the Cliff Hanger beans from Kicking Horse are quite glossy as compared to the matte finish of the Metta from Salt Spring. In addition, 16 grams of these beans completely fills my espresso portafilter and it took 18 grams with the Metta. I need to play with the amount of beans to grind because the Kicking Horse site suggests using 18 to 21 grams.
I will keep track of the next few coffees but I think I am settling on glossy beans with a bit of cocoa as components of the winning formula.
Two new words this week. I think we should all celebrate the winter solstice (tomorrow) but am willing to debate that suggestion.
[sab·bat | \ ˈsa-bət]
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. The week was crazy busy, but I managed to find time to read, ride, listen, and sample a few new beers. So all in all, a good week. Let's dive right in.
I was able to finish three books this week. I think that will be the strategy for the rest of the month - finish up all of the books I have started. That is the only way I am going to hit 50+ books this year, plus it will be a mentally liberating feeling to have that shelf cleared off.
Book #41 for 2020 was "Talk to the Hand" by Lynn Truss, of "Eats Shoots and Leaves" fame. This second book from Truss about manners and kindness was nowhere near as memorable as her book about punctuation, which is a phrase that feels very weird to type. Talk to the Hand was okay, but did not really hold me. On a personal note, it was a book I borrowed last fall from a co-worker who has since retired and now the book is mine since we felt it would be too hard to meet up right now. Bill, thanks for the book!
Book #42 for 2020 was "Deep Work" by Cal Newport. This was my third book by Newport in 2020 and as I have reported previously, I really do not like his books. To be clear, I think his ideas are fantastic and are remarkably important, but the concepts are so much better suited to an HBR or Medium article and not a full book. Deep Work, So Good They Can't Ignore You, and Digital Minimalism are likely still worth reading even so, but be warned as you dive into them.
And finally for this section, Book #43 for 2020 was "Lion Down" by Stuart Gibbs. While writing the last paragraph, I thought it was remarkable that I read three books by one author in 2020, but topping that is the five books I read by Gibbs. Lion Down is the fifth book in the FunJungle series and is another book I read to my younger daughter. This was not my favorite of the series, but it was still enjoyable enough to read. I suspect it must get pretty hard to find interesting story ideas to write about when your protagonist lives at a zoo. I imagine we will still read the sixth and I think final book in the FunJungle series just to wrap up the series. I do recommend this series for the young readers in your life, but you might not want to read five of them in under a year. (Well, that might work for you if you are 10, but maybe not if you are 50.)
It was a good week in the saddle. Distance-wise it was just shy of 60 km, but in the snow and on the ice I feel that is equivalent to 90 km at least. For the second leg of my cross-Canada virtual tour, I passed Abbotsford and ended up 2.0 km outside of Chilliwack. I will obviously get to Chilliwack by next week, but not sure if I will get to Hope as well. Another week like this one will get me there, and the weather forecast looks like it will be another good week for riding.
Fun facts about Abbotsford, courtesy of Wikipedia: It has 141,000 people, making it the largest municipality in British Columbia outside of Metro Vancouver. Abbotsford has its own international airport, with an airport code of YXX. The airport hosts a world-class annual airshow, which was designated as Canada's National Airshow by then-Prime Minister Trudeau the First.
Here is a look at the progress chart after this week. These small segments are nice as it keeps things interesting since it is so easy to get to a new destination each week.
There were three entries in the Music Finds playlist for this week. Technically it is named the "Music Finds - Week of 23Nov2020" playlist since I created it two weeks ago but did not listen to it until this past week.
First up was "Tunnel of Love" by Art Blakey. I liked this one better than "A Christmas Soul Night" perhaps since it was one-sixth as long. Prince Albert was a good track, but I was not really keen on the rest of the album. I have listened to a lot of Blakey lately, and I thought there were three more albums released in 2020 covering his catalogue. Of those remaining, I am really looking forward to two of them ("Is it True ...? and an album with Thelonious Monk). In addition, there were two more released in the last two weeks. So much Blakey, so little time.
Next was a jazz piano album recommended by my friend Trent. Aaron Parks "Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man" was a fantastic album with three standouts. Here and Friendo were really good, but the title track was superb. I am definitely going to seek out more albums from Parks.
Last up was my favorite for the week, a live album from Arctic Monkeys. "Live at the Royal Albert Hall" really blew me away. Their live performances are amazing and definitely made me want to see them live, if that is ever possible in the future.
All in all, a really good week for music. Looking forward to digging into a 1983 Brian Eno release, and another Art Blakey. Plus I think I will listen to the new song from Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop. What a combo that is!
Three new beers this week, bringing my unique check-ins up to 703.
Beer #701 was the 2017 Russian Imperial Stout from Brewsters. This was a good version of a Russian Stout, and was boozy without masking the flavor of the beer. I would really like to see a 2020 version of this beer. (3.25 / 5)
Beer #702 was my second beer from Corsendonk. I had their Pater Dubbel a few weeks ago, and I liked that one quite a bit. The Grand Hops (2020) was another high alcohol beer and it did not taste like 6.9%. It had a good taste but I did not really gets much hops taste from it. (3.25 / 5) While a bit of a disappointment after the 3.75 rating for the Pater Dubbel, this was still good and the average for the two beers from Corsendonk is 3.5, so I will definitely look for others from them.
Finally, Beer #703 was yet another high ABV and this was my favorite of the week. Part of Alberta Beer Week for 2020, SYC Brewing from here in Edmonton created a Unity Brew Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. Great color and taste, nice foam. A wee heavy that did not lose the flavor due to the ABV. Nice stuff from a local brewery. (3.5 / 5)
Two words this week. Note that I did not say new words, since I am sure that one was a repeat. Forgetting these words makes me feel like a pox on society, and I sometimes wish I could find someone who could supply me with what I need to travel back in time to make it so I learn these words the first time.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, at the end of a week consumed by COVID-related news and work. Here in Alberta, the government is now openly calling COVID a public health emergency. Not sure why it took so long to place that moniker on the pandemic, but clearly the satiric news site The Beaverton has their opinion on the matter.
In other COVID news, the consulting and research organization, McKinsey, released a report on the future of organization models. (Note that this article was released in August, but I just read it this week). In the report, McKinsey suggests that organizations can take advantage of the changes COVID forced to adopt and adapt to a better and more resilient structure. Part of the "next normal" as they call it is based on gig workers and contractors (read: people the organization does not have to pay benefits to), but the really interesting part was the leadership behavior changes exhibited by the most successful leaders. The chart below is taken from the article and shows which behaviors have risen and fallen in importance since the start of COVID.
Using "Challenging others and being provocative to inspire" as a baseline, it is interesting to see how "Being supportive and caring" has risen in importance nearly as much as "Using consultative leadership" has decreased. I can personally understand how authoritative leadership and internal competition have decreased, but consultative leadership was a surprise to me. I wonder if that means that some employees are part of a rapid decision-making process while others are just provided the outcome of the decision. Or perhaps the increased focus on empowerment and delegation means that less group consultation is required.
The other striking item from that chart is how much more the "rising" items went up in relation to how much the "falling" items went down. Nine falling items went down a total of 103 points, while the eight rising items when up a total of 128 points. The takeaway from that point for me is that it is way more important to focus on the rising items than it is to focus on the falling items.
Beyond COVID, there was little else of note this week. I finished one book, had one beer, and got in some cycling. There was some new music, but I only got through one listen this week so I will defer comments until next time.
Let's get through the recap and head into next week with hopefully more to speak about when all is said and done.
Good news this week. I was able to finish off the first leg of my cross-Canada virtual tour and made good progress on the first segment of the second leg. Here is what the chart looks like after the week.
It is nice to see the solid block of green for the first leg. The second leg is much shorter than the first, so I anticipate getting through it quicker. In the 60 days since I started logging my rides, I have averaged 8.8 km per day so I should be able to finish the Vancouver to Kamloops segment by the first week of January.
Putting the Port Hardy to Victoria leg to bed, here are some fun facts about Victoria according to Wikipedia. The greater Victoria area has a population of just over 367,000, the airport code is YYJ, it calls itself the Garden City, and it has the highest rate of bicycle commuting to work of any census metropolitan area in Canada as per the 2011 and 2016 census. (As a side note, my Starbucks mug from Victoria touts the city as the Cycling Capital of Canada.)
One might think that my reading would have been significantly increased this year due to COVID, but I am not sure I will equal my reading for 2019 at the rate I am going. I am in the middle of two books with the daughters, I have one more that I will probably finish tonight, and five that have been "in progress" for a long time that I should be able to finish by the end of December. Whether I will be able to finish an additional five books in the next month is pretty unlikely, so my 2020 total will probably be in the high-4o's.
Book #40 for 2020 was "Invictus" by Ryan Gaudin. This was a decent book with a quite interesting time travel premise. It is next to impossible to discuss the premise without spoiling the book, so I will not do that here. Gaudin seems like a solid writer and I will seek out other books of hers in the future, but I did feel like the premise in Invictus would have been better served by a more seasoned sci-fi writer. I think Invictus would be a good basis for a Hollywood screenplay as well.
Only one new beer this week, but it was check-in #700, so it was a bit of milestone. The Florida Weisse from Blindman was a fruit sour with "lemons, limes, and clementines". I did get a bit of citrus and a little pith while tasting it but I could not differentiate between the citruses unfortunately. It was clean and tasty, but was not superb. (3.25 / 5)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude as we settle into the fourteen-day waiting game to see how much impact trick-or-treating has on our COVID numbers. The week was a good one for reading, exercise, music, and work. Plus the weather improved and we got an extra hour of sleep after the time change on the weekend, so things are looking up.
As I look through my previous blog entries to reference previous writings for this week's entry, I cannot help but notice that the average length of each entry is lower now that it was a year ago. I suppose some of that has to do with having less to do, in a purely physical sense. No concerts, no festivals, no restaurant outings, and therefore less to write about. That should be a warning to myself and to anyone reading this as we head into the colder months coupled with an increasing number of COVID cases.
It will be imperative to get out, to connect, to find a way to be outside and with others, as much as we safely can over the next several months. Going into a winter with COVID will be much harder and more depressing that going into a spring with COVID was earlier this year.
Book #39 for 2020 was "Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" by Cal Newport. I really like Newport, or at least the concept of Newport: fact-based reporting, analysis of trends, practical advice. The problem is that his books are boring. I have never been drawn to book summary services, but I honestly think my next Newport book will be consumed via a summary. (Well, technically my next-next Newport book, as I am still fighting through "Deep Work".)
Digital Minimalism was a decent book, but it summarized other books and concepts I had already reviewed. Last October I read "Solitude" by Michael Harris, and last September I read "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now" by Jaron Lanier. As a result, Newport's offering was a bit dated as I had already internalized a lot of his ideas. That said, if you have not read either Harris's or Lanier's books, then the concepts in Digital Minimalism might be fresh enough for you to get a lot out of this book.
There was a wonderful quote from Newport that I want to share. I hope it resonates with you as much as it does with me.
You cannot expect an app dreamed up in a dorm room or among the ping pong tables of a Silicon Valley incubator to successfully replace the types of rich interactions to which we have painstakingly adapted over millennia. Our sociality is simply too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages and emojis. --Cal Newport, "Digital Minimalism"
I continue to make good progress on my virtual cross-Canada trek. The power of having a goal cannot be understated. The fact that I have a target and want to make progress is getting me in the saddle more often, and for (slightly) longer rides.
Last week I closed off the leg to Campbell River, and this week I proceeded to make it forty percent of the way to Nanaimo. My goal for this week is to finish off this leg completely. The weather forecast looks great so there should be no reason why I cannot log 82 km in a week.
There was a lot of great music this week, with two albums in my Music Finds playlist for this week. Next week is looking to be a big one with a couple new albums that I have already queued up to listen to starting on Monday.
For this week, the two albums were "The Weather " from the Australian band Pond, and "New Age Norms 2" by Cold War Kids. The Pond album took a bit getting used to as it is a bit of a somber reflection on the world in 2020, but "Paint Me Silver" and the two "Edge of the World" songs make this an album definitely worth a listen.
Cold War Kids are a band I have really started to dig in the last eighteen months or so. "New Age Norms 2" looks like a solid follow up to the 2019 "New Age Norms 1" release, with "You Already Know" and "Somewhere" being the standouts on the initial listen.
Just two new words this week. I hope this is not the sign of something bad to come.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend from 53.5° north latitude. Fall is upon us, and the wind is blowing leaves off the trees.
Beyond the perennial topic of choice of weather, COVID is firmly entrenched into every conversation it seems, and rightfully so. Cases are rising in most jurisdictions globally, and locally outbreaks are hitting multiple schools, and therefore impacting multiple families, on a weekly basis. When we rushed home in March and hunkered down in April, it seemed easy to contemplate the change to our lives. It was temporary, after all. After a few weeks, the weather started to warm up, and the days got longer and our lives continued to improved. By May, those of us working at home were able to take calls while we walked, and lots of people started experimenting with driveway visits. The summer was even better as the kids got outside, the weather was decent, and lots of people rediscovered biking and walking through their neighborhoods.
But now what? As soon as the kids stopped socializing in a park and started getting pushed back into classrooms, we started having outbreaks. The driveway visits are much harder now because it is cold during the days, let alone the evenings. And who can legitimately take a call when the fall winding is howling?
I have worked in an around the Edmonton downtown core for 27 years now. In that time, I have walked between the various buildings via the pedway system nearly every day I was downtown. Some of that is walking from the LRT to whichever office I was working in, walking around at lunch, running errands, or just taking a call as I walked.
Assuming a maximum of 220 work days a year, minus the really cold days, the days when I had various impairments requiring crutches, days with all day meetings, holidays, travel days, and working from home days, in the time up to the start of COVID I can safely estimate that I have walked around downtown Edmonton at least 100 days each year. It is also safe to estimate that I walked at least two kilometers a day, with a lot of days at four, five, or even more kilometers. So let's say for arguments sake that in the last quarter century I have walked the width of Canada as I trotted around the downtown core. A large part of who I am as a person is connected to my peripatetic tendencies.
Now what am I going to do? I have a 1.5 km walk to get to the nearest mall, and there is very little of interest around that mall compared to the variety of downtown. Working from home is fine. It is the lack of variety and day-to-day variation that will be the problem this winter. Normally that variation was achieved through walking and so I will need to figure out a replacement. If I do not, this will be a very long WFH winter.
Lots of good news on the Kickstarter front. In the past week, I have received updates on six campaigns that I backed. Five are related to RPGs and one is an update on Cory Doctorow's audiobook version of "Attack Surface" that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Doctorow had 6,283 people back his audiobook, which is great news for him and for independence in audiobook publishing going forward.
Three of the RPG products are large publications. "Creatures" is a monster compendium that works in 5e and the publisher's Fateforge extension of 5e. I have a work-in-progress PDF version and this is a great book. "The Lost City of Gaxmoor" is a massively outlined city, complete with listings for the Outer and Inner city, crypts, sewers, and a couple dozen pages of fully fleshed out NPCs. I am interested in this one, although I think I am more interested in "Myriad, City of Tiers" than Gaxmoor. But Gaxmoor was developed in partnership with the sons of Gary Gygax, so that alone was enough to support this campaign. The third large product was the "Heckna! Carnival Horror Campaign Setting" from Hit Point Press. A horror carnival is not something I would typically be interested in, but Hit Point Press developed the Humblewood campaign setting that I picked up earlier this year. and I was really impressed with that. As a result, I figured Heckna would be a good addition to my gaming resources even if I do not run it as a full campaign.
The other two are much smaller products, but that is a big part of their appeal. Instead of hyping a product that needs months to deliver on the expanded content unlocked by the stretch goals, both "Captain Hartchild's Guide to Rare Dragons" and "Over the Next Hill" were available much sooner. OTNH was available immediately after the close of the campaign, and that is a model that will serve Morrus of EN World fame well in future campaigns.
I have backed 21 campaigns in the last year, so not quite enough for Kickstarter Super Backer status. I think I should stay away from the platform for a few weeks, just to give my bank account a break but Super Backer status would be pretty cool.
I was able to finish a couple books this week, which was a good feeling. Book #36 for 2020 was "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman who holds up the fiction throughout the book that he is merely the translator and abridger of a classic by S. Morgenstern. The book is as good as the movie that was based on it, and maybe even a bit better since it is interposes Goldman's "analysis" of the flaws and merits of Morgenstern's writing. This is a wonderful story of flawed individuals coming together and doing something wonderful.
Book #37 for 2020 was a completely different novel and genre than Princess Bride. "All Tomorrow's Parties" by William Gibson was a nice conclusion to the story in Gibson's previous novel, "Idoru". I did not realize until I finished this book though that "Virtual Light" was the first book in the "Bridge Book" trilogy, so I will have to go back and pick that one up later. The story Gibson wrote for All Tomorrow's Parties is hard to describe without spoilers, so I will just say that there are few other writers that I have come across that can extrapolate to the near future to create a plausible and recognizable world as effectively as Gibson. I will say that the denouement of the story left me slack-jawed for a few minutes as I considered the implications of what had just happened.
I made some good progress in my virtual cross-Canada cycling tour. Plus I updated my spreadsheet to do a better job of updating my progress bars.
Much like my comment in the Reading Pile section, it felt good to find some new music this week. There were a few entries in my Music Finds playlist this week. First up was the latest from Flaming Lips. I was taken aback by how depressing the lyrics were across the songs in "American Head". Musically it was good, but I was hard-pressed to find a song that I wanted to listen to again until the final song in the album, "My Religion is You".
After that were a couple throwback bands from the 90s, Semisonic and Goo Goo Dolls. Semisonic was the crafter of a single massive hit with "Closing Time", that has one of the greatest lines in pop rock.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. -- "ClosingTime", by Semisonic
The songs from Semisonic and the Goo Goo Dolls song were both released in June and are decent offerings. Maybe not "Closing Time" or "Iris", but "You're Not Alone" by Semisonic and "Just a Man" by Goo Goo Dolls are still good enough to listen to. I actually think "Just a Man" might stick as something worth listening to.
The next entry was from a fusion supergroup from 1976 that had Phil Collins on drums called Brand X. The album "Unorthodox Behavior" was fantastic, and made me wonder how I never heard of them before this week.
Finally, a favorite of mine from 2019, Future Islands, released a new album called "As Long As You Are". The songs in the early part of the album are more upbeat than the songs later in the album, but they all have good music and rhythm and are delivered with frontman Samuel T. Herring's unique vocals. Good stuff once again from Future Islands.
Three new beers this week. Making up for lost time, I suppose.
Beer #688 was the Full Time IPA from Beau's. Decent if forgettable. Lots of hops and a bit of pine, but not a lot of flavor beyond the bitterness. (3.25 / 5) Beer #689 was the Mad Trapper Czech Amber Lager from Apex Predator. This is near the top of my list for lagers as it had a lot of flavor. Nice caramel taste with a bit of burnt cocoa, and great color. (4.0 / 5) Last up this week was the Kellerbier from German brewer Hacker Pschorr. I think the unfiltered nature really helped this one as I find a lot of German lagers a bit weak. This one had some good flavor. (3.5 / 5)
I am going to start rating the coffees I buy. I do not mean the coffee I pick up in a store to drink right then, but the bags of roasted beans that I grind at home. The coffee I am brewing at home right now is Burnt Timber from Calgary Heritage Coffee Roasters. Burnt Timber is a dark roast, and it is pretty good. I do not yet have the same ability to pick out flavors in my coffee as I can with beers, but I am sure that will come with time. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the before and after process to make my daily Americano. One thing I will point out is that you can see how the espresso crema is a little thin, at least thinner than I would like.
A bit of reading this week, but neither book introduced a lot of new words. One was a repeat that did make me feel good about once I looked it up, and one was a confirmation that I should have looked up in the moment but was just too lazy to do so.
Greetings once again from a laid back 53.5° north latitude. The trend of simple weeks without much to report continues, although this week was more interesting than the last few.
One thing I have not mentioned for quite a while is the groups I am in and playing the world's greatest roleplaying game. My work group sadly has only met once since COVID started, but I am running a group every two weeks that I pulled together via Meetup, and starting next week I will be playing in two groups with individuals I met through that Meetup group. I am also playing a Humblewood campaign with my daughters. I posted about the Meetup group and Humblewood back in February, and reading that post makes me realize how much I have learned in the last seven months.
I posted how the group I am now running was delayed in starting because I was nervous. I was worried about meeting with a bunch of strangers to play a game. As time progressed though, these strangers have become friends that have in turn introduced me to other people. I have pushed myself outside my comfort zone and the rewards have been immense, and the experience has reinforced how much better moving forward is over stagnating.
The pressure to do a good job is still there, but I now know I can do it. I have confidence in my ability to plan and improvise. My writing is improving weekly, and I am finding ideas that I want to express in both stories and in the game.
The other remarkable learning since February is how to use technology to interact and connect. Undoubtedly, getting together in person with the group I run will be a magical moment, if and when that can ever happen. But in the meantime, we can still meet and chat and play. The technology combination of Roll20 for displaying maps and allow for token movement with Discord for voice and video really works well. Add in a good digital character sheet either from Roll20 or with the Beyond20 Chrome extension to connect Roll20 and D&D Beyond, and this is a hobby that can work independent of physical location.
As I look back at the post from February, I notice my comments about the Kickstarter campaigns I have backed. Since February, I have backed thirteen more projects, ten of which completely successfully and three which have hit their funding goals but have not finished the campaign yet. Of the thirteen, one is a collection of board games, one is a tarot card deck that I thought would be useful as a game prop back when we were planning on playing in person, and one is an audio book. The other ten are all supplements or add-ons related to the roleplaying game of choice.
I want to mention the audio book specifically as it is important and has a chuckle-worthy story. Cory Doctorow is publishing and audio book of his latest novel, Attack Surface, and in order to combat the Amazon / Audible monopoly and their requirement to use their Digital Rights Management software on audio books they distribute, Doctorow is self-publishing the audio book. Attack Surface is the third book in the Little Brother series. If you recall back in May, Little Brother was Book #18 for 2020 and I did not recommend it to the casual reader at the time. The message around digital surveillance and the need to fight for the right of privacy and security is important though and I really want Doctorow to be successful so I happily backed this project.
The chuckle-worthy story relates to what I posted in May. There were some scenes in Little Brother that were awkward to read to my daughter and so I posted a comment on the Kickstarter page. Doctorow's response is pasted below.
My reading time continues to ebb, and I really have not dug into anything in about a month. I did finish one book though this week. Book #35 for 2020 was a re-read of "The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan. We own hard copy versions of each book in the series but I have only read the first seven of the fourteen books. I am hoping to read them all over the next year or so. I read this one with my daughter and it was a great experience, and we just started into the second book last night.
I mentioned in August 2019 that my friend Cam gave me an Advanced Reading Copy version of this book. I did not read through that version in case there were differences in the text. Regardless, it was great to read and I am now more excited to plow through the series than I ever have been.
Just one new beer this week, and once again it is from my local and much-loved brewery, Alley Kat. The latest sampled ware from Alley Kat, and beer #684 unique check-in on Untappd, is the most recent in their Dragon Double IPA series, the Southern Star. Alley Kat continues to get the DIPA series right. Great hops and citrus but without having the bitterness overpower the taste. Really enjoyable. (4.0 / 5)
Not a lot of reading, so not a lot of new words, except of course all those words that Jordan created for The Eye of the World.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude after a fortnight since the last entry. Two weeks ago I said not much profound had happened, and that carried through to the following week. As a result, I decided to skip last week. Nothing wildly significant happened this week either, but I did finish one book, have one new beer to report, and a small handful of words. I think the lull in my productivity and creativity is the lingering after-effects of resigning from that Board.
But first, I came across a quote and a proverb that really struck me this last week. The quote was from Matt Colville in video #50 in his "Running The Game" series.
Cynicism is the death of wisdom. --Matt Colville
That lead me to look for more quotes about cynicism. The most interesting, at least contemporarily, were from Steven Colbert and Conan O'Brien. Note that even though both of them are satirists and provide significant social and political commentary, both are keen to highlight the toxicity of cynicism.
Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes". --Stephen Colbert
All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. --Conan O'Brien
And finally, I was told a proverb from Cameroon from a co-worker. This seems to be similar to a quote from Shakespeare and there are numerous similar quotes peppered across the Internet.
The eye that sees others, sees not itself. --Cameroonian Proverb
Regardless of the provenance, it is useful to reflect on the words. If you are constantly and solely focused on the performance and flaws of others, there is no time to focus on improving yourself. Worry about you. Free your mind, and the rest will follow.
This last week saw the completion of Book #34 for 2020, "The Steerswoman" by Rosemary Kirstein. This is the first book in the Steerswoman series, and it follows two women as they try to uncover the origins of some odd jewels that are found scattered across the continent. Rowan is a Steerswoman, the title owing to a nautical background of a ship's navigator. However, in this world, the steerswomen are seekers of knowledge who scour the world for answers. While a steerswoman is undoubtedly useful onboard a ship, the majority of the story takes place on land. The other protagonist is Bel, a barbarian who chose to leave her clan to travel with Rowan.
Note that both of the main characters are women, and the title of the book and series is clearly about women. This is not a feminist book touting the need for equality, nor does it force comment how women can do whatever a man can do. Instead, it presents a world where there are no preconceptions about what is "a man's job" or "woman's work". There is no need to highlight differences when there are really no differences to highlight. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
In addition, this book is about knowledge, science, and rationality. There is some fighting and the threat of war, plus a brewing conflict between the Academy of the steerswomen and another faction. Beneath all of this is the more important story of how one woman, embedded in a culture of learning, undertakes to solve a mystery that defies her and her colleagues' understanding of the natural world. As above, for that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
There you have it. One book with two solid selling points. I am definitely looking forward to reading the other books in the series.
I put three albums in my Music Finds playlist for the last fortnight, but really only got into one of them. That was a 2008 recording by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis entitled "Two Men with the Blues". This was a fantastic album highlighting Nelson's signing and Marsalis' playing. Covering standards such as "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Georgia on My Mind", the two seem like a natural pair which is so surprising when you think about how different their musical origins are. This is definitely worth a listen.
Beer #683 was the Nasty Trunks sour IPA from Evil Twin Brewing out of Brooklyn. There was the good hops of an IPA with a bit of of punchy but not overpowering citrus in the sour half of this beer. Fresh and a bit sweet. Nice stuff. (3.5 / 5)
As a complete aside, Evil Twin seems to produce a stunning number of beers. Doing a search on their site shows 278 beers, but for some reason the Nasty Trunks did not show up. Maybe I have the wrong Evil Twin brewery. Maybe I found the other one, you know, the twin? If you can find Nasty Trunks on their site or if I have the wrong site, please let me know.
Just five new words in the last fortnight, with one my ten year-old daughter told me.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude once again. This was a week with a return to work so there was very little profound to note. A couple books were read, a couple beers were drank, much music was enjoyed, and there were a number of words to look up.
Let's get on with it.
I was able to finish two books this week. One was a dark mystery about a serial killer, and the other was another in a favorite YA mystery series that I am reading with my younger daughter.
Book #32 for 2020 was "The Darwin Affair" by Tim Mason. This was a highly enjoyable serial killer mystery novel. Four pages in, I commented to my spouse that this was going to be another "DaVinci Code"; in other words, a fast-paced, easy to read novel that kept me up until the wee hours. It did not quite live up to that prediction unfortunately. There were times when I found myself losing interest, and times where I felt like the often brilliant detective became a little too human. I lost verisimilitude in the world that Mason created as a result of those lapses. In the end, however, it was still enjoyable and worthy of a read.
Mason's novel reminded me of "Dodger" by Terry Pratchett which was Book #8 for 2020. This is clearly because of the same time period and the involvement of certain real life characters such as Charles Dickens. I did not realize before Dodger and The Darwin Affair that Dickens was such an activist for the poor. Mason hints at some failings of Dickens in the author's notes at the end of the book, but even with that Dickens does seem to have been a major influence on making nineteenth century London a bit better for everyone, and that must have trickled out across the rest of the world.
Book #33 for 2020 was the third novel in Stuart Gibbs's FunJungle Series, "Big Game". Since my daughter and I are reading these somewhat out of order, this is the fourth book in the series that we have read. I have to say it takes a bit away from the books when you can guess who the bad guy is because you know they do not appear in the next book in the series. There was a nice twist in this story, and it was as enjoyable and suspenseful as the others. As I have said before, this is a great series to hook a young reader into the mystery genre.
Looking at my reading pace for the year, we are 64% of the way through 2020 and I have read 33 books. That puts me on pace to read just over 51 books this year. That is a nice number, and it is good to know I have a chance to read a book a week on average this year.
I did not find any new music to add to a Music Finds playlist this week. However, I did watch through Ken Micallef video "20 Records to Build a Jazz Vinyl Collection" and created a playlist from that.
Some of the music in that list is mind-blowingly good. I had heard of some of the artists - Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie - but some of the others like Hank Mobley and Bud Shank were completely new to me. Same thing with the artists; "Porgy and Bess" was not new, but the soundtrack to "Alfie" was, and that was definitely my favorite on this list. The Alfie in question was the 1966 Michael Caine version and not the 2004 Jude Law version, in case you were wondering.
A lot of these albums are completely inaccessible outside of hunting through record stores and antique malls. This is why something like a subscription to Tidal or similar service is so valuable. Every one of the albums on Micallef's list were on Tidal, and some were remastered MQA versions. Check out the video from Micallef and if you are on Tidal, here is a link to the playlist I created.
There were two new beers again this week, bringing my unique check-ins on Untappd to 682.
Beer #681 was Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado. With a name like that and with that can design, I went in with low expectations. Never judge a beer by its label, as the old saying goes, and that was the case this time. This had a nice amber color, very good foam, and a very drinkable silky maltiness. It seemed slightly acidic to me though, which dropped the ranking a bit but it was still a winner. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #682 was the Green Fields sour from Bench. I was surprised to realize that I this was my first check-in with a Bench beer. I suspect I have had others from Bench but forgot to check them in. This was not a beer that would have me seeking out more from them though, so hopefully my experience with this beer is not indicative of what I can expect. This was a sour, but a very weak sour which defeats the point of this genre. The flavor seemed musty, with the sourness at the front of mouth not the back, if that makes any sense. I was disappointed but will give Bench another try soon. (3.0 / 5)
There were a number of new words this week, plus one word that is not a word apparently.