Greetings from ... somewhere?
For quite some time, I have opened this weekly blog with something in the vein of "Greetings from 53.5° north latitude". However, this week I became concerned that maybe I am not actually at 53.5°. Take a look at these different results.
These first two come from a Bing search of "latitude of Edmonton". The image below comes from the same search term on Google.
Which is the correct answer? One might be able to account for the difference between Bing and Google because, I don't know, Microsoft versus Google? That seems like a bad reason of course, but doing the math it becomes obvious the difference between 53.5461° on Google and 53.54624° on Bing is small enough to be ignored. (Assuming an average of 111 km as the distance between lines of latitude, this comes out to about 15 m of difference.) Both are clearly well within the city limits of Edmonton and the difference between the two is likely which side of the street you define the center of the city to be.
To further confound the problem though, the reason I noticed this was because I launched Google Earth for the first time in quite a while and I noticed that 53.5° is nowhere near "Edmonton" when viewed via the lens of Google Earth. The image below is snapped from Google Earth with the latitude line layer overlaid for easy reference.
Next I checked the Wikipedia page for Edmonton and from there linked to me to this page which linked various different references for the geographic location of Edmonton and has this handy image and table of information.
Looking at this page, I realized my problem - I had mixed my units when comparing the various sources. The Google Earth image is shown in Degrees / Minutes / Seconds, or DMS. You can see from the image above that Edmonton is centered at 53° 32' as that latitude runs right through the downtown core. In Decimal notation, 53° 32' translates to 52.53°.
So. Problem solved and lesson learned. Without further ado, greetings, and welcome from a confirmed 53.5° north latitude. This week's entry will be a bit shorter than it could be, mainly because I am writing this late on Sunday after having spent most of the weekend trying to sell a car via Kijiji. I will focus on the one book I finished, my cycling update, and the new words. The four new beers this week and writeups about skills, COVID, and cryptocurrencies will be carried over to next week.
I was able to finish one book this week, this one being the second book I have read by food writer and journalist, Michael Pollan. Book #10 for 2021 was "The Omnivore's Dilemmna: A Natural History of Four Meals". This was a book that terrified me with its descriptions of industrial food production. It was not descriptions of what happens in industrial scale slaughterhouses that terrified me, as terrible as that is, and neither was it the descriptions of the dietary impacts of cheap corn, as harmful as they are.
No, it was the fear of the monoculture that modern agriculture supports that really scared me. If you have ever flown across the prairies in recent years, most of the farmland one can see at any point in a journey is of a single plant. In most cases around Edmonton, it is canola. In others it is soy and corn, with industrial corn production being the focus of much of Pollan's book.
Concerns about monoculture were not new to me, but Pollan really highlighted the importance of the issue. The vicious cycle of a single crop that requires lots of fertilizer, with no ability for the soil to regenerate and no animals or insects to aerate, fertilize, and nurture it and help it thrive. In addition, modern agriculture is a volume game, so bigger seems better, meaning annoyance like hills and trees need to be removed, and there resulting barren landscape exposes the soil which becomes more vulnerable to wind erosion. Modern industrial agriculture, as pointed out by Pollan, will say this is fine because we can make the soil more viable by pumping more fertilizer into it. However, to use a word Pollan used several times, that is a reductive way of looking at the problem because fertilizer production requires lots of fossil fuels and therefore produces lots of greenhouse gases.
While reading Pollan's critique of industrial corn, I kept thinking about what we are doing to the planet and the image that kept coming was the farm scenes at the start of "Interstellar", and how Matthew McConaughey had to wear a mask to go outside due to the awful dust storms. Are we creating that inevitability of a dying planet that can only be saved by the sudden appearance of a wormhole, all because of a capitalist need for profits and a consumeristic need to constantly pay less for everything? We want more and we want it cheaper, and that is all that matters? (See this link for other entries about capitalism.)
Pollan highlights one solution that might be an answer if not the answer, but it is radical in the extreme at least by what we think of today as conventional wisdom driven by capitalism. I will leave it to you as a reader to read about and analyze that potential solution yourself, as even if I had the time and space to summarize it here, I doubt I could do it as eloquently as Pollan did in his book. Suffice it to say that I think we should give the alternatives to industrial agriculture a significant amount of focus and brain power. Even if the current solutions are not globally scalable, they should be able to provide inspiration for ideas that may be.
Pollan also wades into the ethics of eating meat. In my mind, eat meat or not, that is your choice. But I think his words in the following quote (page 405 from the paperback version of the book) are an interesting take on the subject.
If there is any shame in that destruction (my note: of killing an animal), only we humans seem to feel it, and then only on occasion. But cooking doesn't only distance us from our destructiveness, turning the pile of blood and guts into a savory salami, it also symbolically redeems it, making good our karmic debts: Look what good, what beauty, cam come of this! Putting a great dish on the table is our way of celebrating the wonders of form we humans can create from this matter - this quantity of sacrificed life - just before the body takes its first destructive bite.
This was a really good week for cycling, and I did not even get a ride in on the weekend end. I hit 80 km by Friday in three rides and explored parts of the city that I may never have been to, and certainly have not been to since I moved here officially after university.
I made it to Vegreville on my virtual cross-Canada cycling tour this week. Vegreville is a nice town, one that I spent a lot of time in when I was an independent consultant as I had multiple clients there. In the years since I stopped consulting, I have only been back two or three times, and with younger kids at the time, each visit to Vegreville required a stop by the pysanka. As per the Wikipedia entry, a pysanka is a decorated Ukrainian Easter egg decorated with Ukranian folk designs. Pysanka can be beautiful objects, and we have several in our house. An image search of Vegreville comes up with mainly images of the massive pysanka erected in Vegreville.
Next up on the cross-Canada tour is Vermilion. I probably would have made it there this week if not for the Kijiji focus all weekend. I doubt I will make it all the way to Lloydminster this week, but that might happen if I can get four good rides in.
The updated progress chart is shown below.
Just one new word this week, that being the first one. The rest are the last tranche of words from "The Splendid and The Vile" that I finished a handful of weeks ago.
chaffing (present participle)
[im·pe·ti·go | \ ˌim-pə-ˈtē-(ˌ)gō , -ˈtī- \]
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. The week was action-packed and full of suspense and intrigue. Or at least one good book, another local nature walk, a couple good beers, and a few new words. Before we get into the regular sections of the blog, there are a couple things worth noting.
Facial recognition software has really hit the news of late, with Microsoft, IBM, and others voluntarily pausing sales in the surveillance software in light of issues raised with police violence and the death of George Floyd. This followed the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the provincial Commissioners in Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta jointly investigating Clearview AI amid concerns of personal information being collected without notice or consent. It is unclear if or how the joint investigation will proceed now that Clearview AI has completely pulled out of the Canadian market. This will be an interesting and important story to continue to follow .
The second interesting item was in the recent Freakonomics podcast, "Remembrance of Economic Crises Past". Near the end of the podcast, Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner asks his guest Christina Romer about the particular US brand of capitalism. I found that a particularly interesting phrase to use, as it admits that there are different forms of capitalism and implies that the particular version in place in America might not survive. Here is the full quote of what he asks Romer.
DUBNER: And let’s say that some of the changes that have happened thus far to travel, to live entertainment, to restaurants — basically all of them wiped down close to zero — let’s say that for a variety of reasons, they sort of stick, and that people don’t return to them, in in large numbers at least. Do you feel that the U.S. economy and our brand of capitalism is still set up to be as vibrant and nimble to adjust and for people to job-reallocate? Or do you worry that a lot of people in those industries, which employ millions of people, that they will essentially be adrift, perhaps for a long time, unable to reallocate into commensurate jobs?
I wrote a lot about capitalism in 2019, and a lot of my readings dealt with the concept of post-capitalism. In 2019, a lot of people on the outside of mainstream were struggling with the rules of the game associated with capitalism. Now in 2020, a lot of people that are solidly in the mainstream, see Dubner above, seemed to be are openly wondering if the intellectual ruminations of a year ago have actual credence. If they do, we are about to enter a very interesting period in history.
And lastly, since travel has been curtailed due to COVID, a lot of people are spending more time close to home. As a family, we have always been fairly comfortable with staycations, but this year we are definitely trying to make the most of the local nature scene.
Enter the Alberta Discover Guide. This free guide is usually something I pick up when I buy my fishing license for the year, but this year it has become a valuable source of new locations to visit. The Guide lists over 150 sites in the Edmonton area alone, and I would be surprised if we have previously visited 25 of them.
Yesterday we visited the John E. Poole Interpretative Wetland and Boardwalk. This was a great location for a quick walk to get out into nature and see a lot of birds including Barn Swallows, Coots, and Ruddy Ducks. If you live in Alberta, grab a copy of the Guide or the corresponding mobile app, and get out and explore nature in your area.
I suggested last week that I might actually finish a third book before the end of last week. Alas, that did not happen and so that book became the only book I finished this week. Book #26 for 2020 was "Sourcery" by Terry Pratchett, the fifth book in the Discworld series. This might have been my favorite book in the series so far, mainly because I have become fond of the bumbling Rincewind. Getting into any part of the plot will be difficult without this post being a total spoiler, so I will just comment that it was an enjoyable and quite funny book and that I continue to look forward to the rest of the books in the series.
I'm going to try something different for a while when it comes to music. I have been creating weekly playlists in Tidal for my "Music Finds" and it occurred to me that I could share what I found on this site as well.
My "Music Finds - Week of 06Jul2020" playlist includes new albums from Rufus Wainwright which seemed a bit to "show tunes"-y for me, one from a singer-songwriter named Margo Price that I really enjoyed, and a live album from Blossoms, which is a band that I hadn't heard of before but quite liked what I heard.
Two new beers this week, and they were both really good. First up was the Kasteel Tripel, a nice Belgian tripel. Really good stuff. Lots of flavor and aroma. The high ABV really didn't dominate the experience. (4.0 / 5) The second was a latest in the Dragon series from Alley Kat. If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a big fan of the Dragon series, and Enigma didn't disappoint. The Australian Enigma hops took a bit to get used to, but I definitely enjoyed the flavor and aroma once I did. Nice stuff once again. (4.0 / 5)
Just three new words this week. I have to admit that I'm sure the first one was some sort of pun or inside joke from Pratchett, but I did not get it if it was.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where it was well above freezing today, but of course all that means is that the puddles will freeze overnight. Still very little to show for the week now that I have worked 28 straight days without a break. The fatigue is really becoming a factor. Only a couple articles of note, and a couple beers. Hopefully there is more to report in the upcoming week.
More on Capitalism:
HBR published this article entitled "Is the Business Roundtable Statement Just Empty Rhetoric?" back in August, but it only came to my attention in the last week. I have written about capitalism a number of times on this site. This article highlights a potentially important shift in the ultimate purpose of a corporation. Shareholders have been touted as the primary concern for organizations for nearly fifty years. Shareholder primacy is the cornerstone of neoliberal economics. But now the Business Roundtable is shifting away from shareholder primacy to creating value for all stakeholders. Their one sentence mission statement states the promotion of the (American) economy "through sound public policies".
This would be a significant shift for companies as it would require moving from a short-term to a long-term outlook. A move to focusing on results through sound public policies would force companies to do more than just make money. It would put them on equal footing with society, which of course they are a part of, in finding solutions to today's big issues.
... the world faces enormous, thorny challenges that business is feeling: climate change, growing inequality (and awareness that these CEOs make hundreds of times more than their employees), water and resource scarcity, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity, and more. These issues require systemic efforts, cooperation, and pricing of those “externalities” (like pollution and carbon emissions) that business has been able to push off to society. The current shareholder-obsessed system is not fit for this purpose. Individual profit-maximizing businesses will not be incentivized to tackle shared global challenges.
I'll keep reading more from the Business Roundtable group and will see if they have other information worth reporting.
More on Huawei:
Back in July, I commented on the security threat posed by Huawei and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's push to socialize that threat. Last week there was an article in the Globe and Mail outlining how Canadian intelligence agencies could not agree on whether to ban Huawei equipment in the upcoming 5G communications networks. The article is unfortunately behind the Globe's paywall,
The article highlights how CSIS wants to ban Huawei while the CSE says "robust testing and monitoring of Huawei's 5G equipment could mitigate potential security risks". Security is not easy. It is a constant battle of detect, respond, change, and repeat. The foes on the Internet are constantly forcing us to adapt and react. Forcing security teams to focus on testing the network infrastructure in addition to all the work that is required to testing what is running on the network is ludicrous. We don't have enough resources to do the work we need to do now. Adding to the workload is a bad idea. I am fully behind the position that CSIS is taking: ban Huawei now.
Two new beers this week. The first was the Sunset Summer Ale from Smithers Brewery. I had their Hudson Bay ISA last week and this ale wasn't quite as good as that one. It had a bit of caramel nuttiness, low carbonation, and a high ABV at 5.5% for an ale. It was good all around but not exceptional.(3.25 / 5) The second was another Backalley Brew from Alley Kat. This was nice and light., with a little zip from some tangy carbonation. Tasty without screaming "pay attention to me". (3.5 / 5) No badges from Untappd this week.
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 from 53.5° north latitude as I sit in my basement on a 20°C day. Many times I feel that being outdoors is essential, and absolutely needed. Other days, like today, I'm happy to be in front of my monitor listening to the new album by The Raconteurs on Tidal. But I am getting ahead of myself.
There have been several disasters in my lifetime that were so significant to have singular names: 9/11 of course; Challenger; Columbia, Air India, Columbine. MH370, the lost Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared in March, 2014 is also on that list. As that mystery unfolded, I was stunned by how little I knew about that part of the world. For example, that India was totally north of the equator, and just how unimaginably vast the Indian Ocean is.
Reading the article on MH370 released on The Atlantic this week brought back a lot of those thoughts. No wonder authorities didn't know where to look. And no wonder they didn't find any debris for years. But I also had little appreciation for the level of cover-up and incompetence on the investigation. Bitchy flight attendants and extra charges for checking luggage on North American domestic carriers don't seem so bad all of a sudden.
Getting back to MH370, the article supports the theory that the senior pilot acted alone and killed all souls on board with apparent ease before plunging the aircraft into the ocean. The fact that a single actor, a trusted actor at that, could doom all of those people is frightening and it is easy to see how calls might be made for computer overrides or remote interactions. However, thinking about the computerized corrections made on the flight trajectory on the Boeing 737 Max aircraft quickly highlights how reliance on a single control is not feasible. Checks and balances are important. If the pilot was depressed and was harboring suicidal thoughts, the checks and balances in the system needed to identify the risk and get the pilot help before being allowed to fly again. But it appears that the system was flawed, and the culture in Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government stifles any willingness or ability to learn from that mistake to prevent future similar disasters.
The article is a long read, but it worth the time.
More on Capitalism:
The reading pile has contained much on capitalism lately. To be more accurate, the general thesis seems to be that capitalism can and could be a force for good across the world, but that neoliberalism is a failed idea that needs to be replaced. Click on "capitalism" in the Categories section of this blog for the full reading list.
The most recent read on this theme was "The Future of Capitalism" by Paul Collier. Keeping with the idea that neoliberalism was flawed, Collier highlighted point solutions that have had limited or local success. I suppose these were ideas that the reader was supposed to derive inspiration from. However, the book was not particularly giving of solutions, and certainly didn't provide a blueprint for going forward and these point solutions were not presented as an actionable whole.
The book did have merit though. One idea that really struck with me were the two scenarios to describe the concept of agglomeration (see definition below). Collier provided two thought experiments - one in which the people in a metropolis have different skills and different needs for housing, and a second where there is a metropolis that needs to rule of law. The punchline is that in both cases there are people that are wholly convinced they uniquely deserve their status and wealth. However, Collier's argument is that everyone, including the most productive, benefit greatly from agglomeration, i.e. the benefits of the critical mass provided to the whole. This might be the largest scale dismantling of the self-made man fallacy.
Collier also proposed that shared reciprocity is the key to a civilized world. We do not need Economic Man, Collier posits, but a form of maternal concern for others. Specifically, he says "shared identity becomes the foundation for farsighted reciprocity".
There are of course detractors and opposition. A quick search shows this article that calls Collier's ideas as "wrong" and "perplexing" and calls for more capitalism and even less of a role for the state in the market, and that there is a "false promise" of centrism. There are that many voices in the business community that act as a powerful lobby to demand unfettered access to the market. Collier tried to show how some state intervention is good and necessary. This is not the nanny state paternalism we have today, but again the maternal intervention borne out of a common desire to see everyone get the help they need.
Collier's book wasn't great; in fact, it was a fairly tedious read. I do think though that it was an important read, and coupled with voices such as Ray Dalio who commented on the need to reform capitalism on 60 Minutes, and Bill Gates who recommended Collier's book on his Summer 2019 Reading list, it will be interesting to see if the voices promoting something other than raw capitalism will gain any momentum with their ideas. (3.0 / 5)
Speaking of capitalism ...
One of the books I read this week was actually one I started in 2007. How do I know that? Well, I was using the receipt for the book as a bookmark.
Simon Winchester's "A Crack in the Edge of the World" was a great read on the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco. Or maybe more appropriately, the 1906 San Francisco Fire, which some people in the day were trying to promote as the true menace. This was an attempt to tell the world that San Francisco would be fine in the future, because the devastation was due to human carelessness and poor planning which caused the fire to spread so far and fast. This was a direct attempt to make the earthquake - the natural and completely unknowable element - a minor triviality. If the earthquake was only a minor element in the destruction of San Francisco, that meant that people could plan for fire fighting and building codes and quality construction, and voilà, money and people would continue to flow into the great city.
What does this have to do with capitalism? As fate would have it, there was a presentation for a grand urban plan prepared and presented to San Francisco City Council literally the day before the earthquake. The plan called for fountains, and parks, and places to live and meet. As San Francisco regrouped and turned its focus on rebuilding, the businessmen, who were quite literally called the Downtown Business Men's Association, decried the plan, calling for "business" and not "parks and boulevards" to spark the city's rebirth. Who needs niceties and places for leisure? Business is all we need! Et cetera.
This was a good enough book to keep it in the personal library. 4.5 / 5
As an added bonus, the book had a great graphic outlining the various geological eras in the last 545 million years.
I finished three other books in this last week. The first was "Infinite Detail" by Tim Maughan. This was a book about the end of the Internet era as we know it and what comes after. I really enjoyed this story, and was particularly impressed by how Maughan weaved between the Before and After story lines, and then how he ultimately brought them together. I think this is one of those books that are worth re-reading. 4.0 / 5
The next book finished this week was the third book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, "Equal Rites". This was an enjoyable and easy read, but wasn't quite as enjoyable for me as the first two in the series. Maybe that was because Luggage didn't make an appearance in this book. (3.0 / 5)
The other "book" I read this week was "The Butcher of Anderson Station", the first short story of the Expanse series. Good stuff. Really short. It provided some nice background of who Fred Anderson is and how he came to the OPA. Really short stories like this are hard to rate, as their re-readability is pretty limited, but let's give it a 4.0 / 5.
Total for the year is now 27 books, which for the first time in my life brings my forecast for the year to be over 50. That would be quite an accomplishment. Let's see how the rest of the year goes and if I can keep up the pace.
The best Star Wars movie ever:
Darth Vader always had the potential to be the scariest villain of all time. However, he seems more frustrated and conflicted than truly evil in the movies. That is absolutely not the case in the recently released unofficial short scene of the battle between Vader and Obi-Wan. The hatred and evil from Vader is palpable, and his power with the force makes the entire concept of Vader to be truly terrifying.
In the intro, I mentioned the new album by The Raconteurs called "Help Us Stranger". This is a pretty good album, with the sort-of title track "Help Me Stranger" being quite awesome. I've listened to it a few times and I think it will grow on me.
Big week for beer with four new brews this week. Well, technically three new with the fourth actually imbibed last Sunday after last week's post was posted.
The beer from last week was the Volfas Engelman Premium Pilsner out of Lithuania. I quite enjoyed this one. (3.75 / 5) Then I had two beers from Banded Peak out of Calgary. The Mt. Crushmore pilsner was pretty good, but not as good as the pilsner from Volfas Engelman. (3.25 / 5). Their Plainsbreaker Hopped Wheat Ale was much better and was one of my favorite beers in the last few months. (4.0 / 5) Last on the list was the Lazy Days sour from Alley Kat. This one was made with passionfruit so it was somewhat sweet as well as quite sour. Good stuff again from Alley Kat. (3.75 / 5)
A noteworthy stat from Untappd is the achievement I received for hitting Level 5 on Beer Connoiseur, meaning that I have logged in beers from 25 different countries. That means there are still have 171 countries that I have not had a beer from.
It's good to have goals.
Lots of reading this week, and therefore lots of new words.
BRITISH, informal, dated
More on Capitalism:
It seems most everything I read lately has to do with the failures of capitalism and what might and should replace it. When I mentioned that to my friend Mark, he sent me a link to a Boing Boing article quoting Joe Stiglitz calling neoliberalism a "failed ideology". This analysis is similar to my recent readings from Lapham, Fleming, and the 60 Minutes episode, as well as the Paul Collier book I am currently reading (more on that next week). Select the "Capitalism" category to find those articles. Stiglitz has an impressive number of books in his bibliography, if his message resonates.
Speaking of Wealth:
At a casual dinner this week for a retiring co-worker, he commented that the luxury of time to explore new ideas on one's own time frame is true wealth. Sage words.
The U.S. Has a Fleet of 300 Electric Buses. China Has 421,000:
Is there much else to be said after a stat like that? Well maybe that the rest of the world combined has a total of 4,000 electric buses, so less than 1% of China. Crazy. The stats are from a May article in Bloomberg that I just read this week. On a local scale, ETS is in the process of purchasing up to 50 electric buses, which makes transit in Edmonton a player on the world stage if you exclude China.
My consumption of books continues, with two more finished this week, and one I forgot to mention last week.
First up on the list is "Red Queen" by Victoria Ayeyard, a fairly involved young adult-fantasy-adults are evil-only I can save the world novel. I started reading it to the younger daughter, but she lost interest, so after a number of weeks, I picked it up again and finished it off. Completely enjoyable, somewhat novel in concept, and good enough to read the next one in the series (because don't all of these type of books come in a series?).
Second is Michio Kaku's "The Future of Humanity". Kaku is clearly intelligent and is able to convey complex ideas fairly simply. I guess I was hoping for more from this book given his pedigree. This book was interesting in parts, and it did present some suggestions on how humans could move from Earth to Mars and beyond, but there was little in the way of enthralling narrative or vision. The best part of this book was Kaku's description of a T. Rex as a walking mouth.
Third is "Drive: Volume 2" by Dave Kellett. I love Kellet's work, and especially with Drive which allows his to tell a complex and interesting story and intersperse it with his oddball humor. I picked up Volume 1 and 2 via two of his Kickstarters, and am looking forward to Volume 3. The entire Drive comic can be read online on Kellet's site.
Surprisingly few new words this week, even though I read a ton.
Books, books, and more books:
I have been reading a lot lately, which is directly related to my mental and emotional inability to force myself to work in the evenings anymore. What was previously part of my daily routine is now just beyond comprehension. Eight to nine hours during the work day is so draining that I have nothing left to give in the evening.
My evenings are now spent with a good book. Or a so-so book as I'll explain shortly. Life is better with books, even the so-so ones.
"Here, There Be Dragons" by James Owen was the first book completed this week. I read this with my older daughter, so this book was not read all in one week. This was an enjoyable story set in the later days of The Great War (WWI) that weaves together many of the literary myths of Western culture. The central artifact that binds the myths is a book called the Imaginarium Geographica which has been handed down through the centuries from some of the greatest figures in Western history. Losing the book means losing the world, and our trio of heroes do exactly that.
There have been other books that taught me history while I have read them, such as The Baroque Cycle, but this was probably the first one that was consumable by a teen / Young Adult audience. Definitely worth a read, and definitely worth reading the second in the series.
The next book completed this week was Petroski's "The Evolution of Useful Things" that I quoted from last week. This was a disappointment overall, and I'm not sure I would recommend it. The history of the paper clip and the stapler were interesting, and the first discussions on the US patent system were interesting, but repeated quotes from patent applications throughout the 20th century did little but bore me. However, there were two more quotes that are worth sharing. The first is an informal definition of engineering:
… it is rather the art of not constructing: or, to define it rudely, but not inaptly, it is the art of doing well with one dollar, which any bungler can do with two after a fashion."
The second quote from Petroski comes from the final pages, and is a good summary of one of the book's key points, namely, that perfection is a myth, and any assumption of perfection is completely subjective and strictly time limited. The real or perceived failings of product or process in the mind of a particular inventor are the genesis of the next idea or evolution of the current idea.
What constitutes failure and what improvement is not totally objective, for in the final analysis a considerable list of criteria, ranging from the functional to the aesthetic, from the economic to the moral, can come into play."
Moving on, the next book was "The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home" by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger Henderson. This book was full of interesting tidbits and things to try, from a two sentence description of how to make homemade gnocchi, to a detailed description of sewing various articles of clothing. Plus, I learned that vinegar is really just sour wine, which in French is vin aigre. Mind. Blown.
Finally, I read "The Worst is Yet to Come: A Post-Capitalist Survival Guide" by Peter Fleming. This was a quick read, clocking in at a bit over 100 pages, with fairly small pages at that. Fleming has nothing good to say about neoliberalism, but his "Survival Tips" at the end of each section are more summations than actual action steps. For example, saying that Donald Trump eating hamburgers naked in bed might be the antithesis of the path forward, but he does not provide any way of getting beyond that image. If Fleming is to be believed, the next generation is in for a historically oppressive shitshow, meaning that any preparation coming out of this book would be for the long game.
Happy Birthday. Your gift is a messed up world heading for oblivion:
The house was filled with pre-teens one afternoon this week in celebration of our older daughter's birthday. The collection of strong, confident, and intelligent young people coincided with me reading Fleming's dire predictions for the future. I could have, maybe even should have, been depressed for their future, and wallowed in my guilt over the waste of potential and promise. But one of the themes in Fleming's book stuck was the need to prepare, to find alternatives while we still can, and that stuck in my head as I watched the next generation laugh and interact.
All of a sudden my job, my role, my reason for being became obvious. I need to do everything I can to hold on to the world and the values that we hold true so that we can hand them as much of a contiguous whole as we can. We have to hand them our values, our mistakes and learning, our histories, and our dreams for the future, along with the tools and supports they need so they can unfuck the world when they are ready. My generation isn't capable of unfucking anything, but maybe we can help our children's generation become the saviors we need.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day (BYDTWD):
My last day of guest DM'ing for our weekly at work lunch hour D&D session was this week. Matt Colville talks about how D&D is the perfect hobby because no matter what your creative impulse is, you can express it in the game. Writing. Crafting. Drawing. Hell, probably even knitting for that matter. For me, it is the writing and the acting.
My thoughts now move on to curating my own group. Age, gender, background are all irrelevant for the group, but mindset is essential. More RP than min-max. Combat is only a part of the game. Ability to commit to email sessions, and long sessions preferably in person. Consistent play times. Supportive of others. Interested in the story more than the loot. But how do I find these people? Advertise on Kijiji? This is something that will need more thinking.
I suppose I brought it on myself to an extent. I don't change into crappy jeans and a t-shirt if I have to go to a place like the Lawnmower Hospital. I understand that I don't fit it there, but I needed a mulching blade for our mower and they don't sell those at the bookstores, comic shops, Henry Singer, Eddie Bauer, or anywhere else I typically shop. So excuse me all to hell for buying such a lightweight blade, which really should be excuse me all to hell for buying an electric mower in the first place. But really, did that guy need to mutter "Idiot" to me as I walked by?
I can handle the comment, as I can ignore small-minded people. My concern is whether or not the comment was directed at me because he felt empowered to do so with the current political climate. If a white, middle-aged male can get trash talked, imagine the abuse an immigrant, a women, a person of color, a gay person, will have to endure as we hurtle into the abyss.
She was friendly, fun to be with, energetic. Pretty, if I was being honest. I liked her and whenever our shifts matched up, I contrived to leave the fulfillment center with her. We would walk to the bus stop and wait in the dusk for our buses. 46 for her, and then the 95 ten minutes later for me. Sometimes we would skip the first buses that came by just so we could talk longer. After, I would sit on the bus and think about her all the way home. On the days I got to spend those precious few minutes with her, I wouldn't even notice the grime in my flat or smell the piss-filled alley it emptied onto. The world was just better on those days.
That all changed the day she became a liability. It was clear that it was her third strike, but I never knew what exactly it was. Maybe too long in the bathroom. Maybe she broke something. Maybe they just didn't like how she hummed while she compiled the boxes of useless shit that the customers ordered. Whatever it was, she hit her third strike, and there was nothing we could do but watch. Third strikers were a liability to everyone around them, and I couldn't afford to have her take me down as well.
They always made us watch when a third striker was escorted out. The hysteria, the crying, the near epileptic fits of panic. We saw it all. We knew what it meant. When the only job you could find was in a fulfillment center, losing that job probably meant you were going to be homeless. Or dead. Or worse.
I looked into her eyes as she was pushed past the gathered crowd. Past me. Out the door. When she looked at me, I saw the pain and fear, but I also saw an understanding. She didn't blame me for not reaching out or helping her. She knew there was no point in me condemning myself as well. I had never felt so hollow, so pathetic.
That night after work, I watched the 46 come and go. The 95 came and took me home. I noticed the grime and smell much more clearly that night.
Five new beers this week, after none last week. First was Screaming Viking Lager from Odin Brewing in Tukwila, Washington. I liked it a lot, which says a lot since it is a lager. (3.5 / 5) Second was Odin's Gift Red, another offering from Odin. Good stuff again in a style I don't typically like. I'll have to search out more from Odin. (3.5 / 5) Third was the Millionaire Stout from Wild Beer Co. in Somerset, England. Really nice stuff, with the dense brown foam that I am fond of in this style. (3.75 / 5). Fourth was Fish Bone New England IPA from Alley Kay, a surprisingly high IBU beer without a huge amount of hops. (3.75 / 5). Finally, the Oldman Watershed Collective benefit brew from Phillips. That was a surprising kolsch variant with a lot of haziness. (3.75 / 5). All in all, a good week for new beers.
Lots of new words this week, but that is to be expected when reading a book by a UK professor and another by Neal Stephenson.
n ɪ ʃ t ə m əl aɪ ˈ z eɪ ʃ ən
a process for the preparation of maize (corn), or other grain, in which the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater (but sometimes wood ash lye), washed, and then hulled.
[ˌintər ˈālēə, ˌintər ˈälēə]
People I know. In a commercial:
ATB has a series of 90 second commercials that highlight how they helped a family, an individual, or a business in Alberta. They are a decent enough series that I didn't give much thought to until I saw this one featuring a family I know from the taekwondo and jiujitsu crowd at Elite, and featured the ATB Arts & Culture Branch located in the CKUA building. That was enough for me take the whole series more seriously.
Two more interesting pieces this week on the ails of capitalism. The first was from a 60 Minutes interview with hedge-fund billionaire Ray Dalio. The first quote is more optimistic or at least more favourable for capitalism than many others of late.
Capitalism needs to be reformed. It doesn't need to be abandoned. (12' 23")
The second quote specifically regarding American capitalism is much less optimistic, and more in line with other sentiments.
"I don't think it is sustainable."
That's pretty heady stuff coming from a hedge-fund manager worth $18 billion.
The other source of negative sentiment towards capitalism was from the preface to the latest edition of Lapham's Quarterly. This issue is focused on Trade. The quarterly magazine is usually riddled with great articles, but typically my favorite part is Lewis Lapham's preface, and that was the case again in this issue.
Creativity as a Goal, not just as a way to make money:
There is more value to creativity and talent than just padding ones wallet. Or at least that is one of the central theses from the Freakonomics series on Creativity. The second part of the series featured some wonderful quotes from Wynton Marsalis. The best were two pieces of solid advice he received from his father (22' 50" and 25' 55"):
"All of everybody never does anything.”
"Don't adopt my prejudices, develop your own."
In other words, challenge those you make generalized statements, and experience the world for yourself before you decide what you like and don't like.
Stellar writing about a Black Hole:
Lots was said and tweeted about the composite photographic image released this week of the black hole. The best summary I read of the significance of the event was in The Atlantic by Marina Koren. The article, titled "An Extraordinary Image of the Black Hole at a Galaxy’s Heart" was filled with lots of facts - like the fact that this particular black hole at its center has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the sun - but it was extremely readable and it was easy to follow. Plus, checking out her Twitter profile revealed a great quote:
"Views expressed here are like black holes: they don't reflect anything."
Science humor for the win!
venerable (a word I had thought just meant "old")
cf. (as in the notation used in literary publications)
from Latin confer ‘compare’.
Kickstarters and fundraising for NFPs:
I have been gung-ho into role-playing games lately, and I backed four successful Kickstarter campaigns in the last month - Witch+Craft, Snowhaven, Welcome to Tikor, and Humblewood. Humblewood was by far the most successful, raising just over $1,000,000 USD. Being immersed in Kickstarter project updates for the last several weeks, I am intrigued by the direct-to-supporter model and level of engagement in a Kickstarter. If I have a few bucks to spare but cannot decide between a traditional fundraising campaign for a foundation or not-for-profit ("Call in now and have your credit card handy!") and a cool project where I will help unlock new content and will be able to engage with the creators, I can't see any reason to send my limited money to a traditional campaign.
Not-for-profits need to figure this out if they want to engage with potential supporters. A small company selling an add-on for an RPG can raise a million bucks, and that pile o' cash is cash and every other similar pile o' cash is money that the NFPs will never have access to if they maintain a dial-for-dollars mindset.
New beers this week:
The current tally is now up to 542 unique beers with the two additions this week. First, another new beer at Biera. The BRO is a brown ale, and I liked it more than most browns. Maybe a bit too much burnt nib taste, but it had a nice aroma and a great foamy head. (3.75 / 5) The only other new beer was the Hard Day IPA from Red Truck Beer. It had a lot of citrus, but I was distracted and didn't pay much attention, so it might have been better than I rated it. (3.25 / 5)
NATO Phonetic Alphabet:
For some reason, our family is often spelling things out with the "airplane alphabet", and we usually can't remember what U is (spoiler alert: Uniform). So here for reference and posterity, is the full NATO Phonetic Alphabet, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Ron's Hockey Night in AHS:
Ron Faryna is a neighbor and a co-worker who has sat about 50 paces from me since May of last year. He came up with the idea of playing ball hockey as part of the AHS 10 year anniversary celebration, which in itself is a great idea. Then he was diagnosed with cancer, and the great people at AHS pulled together a super fun event. Here are a couple tweets from the event.
I'm not crying, you're crying.