Greetings from 53.5° where overnight on Saturday the ambient air temperature and the air quality index were both 10. A temperature of 10°C overnight in July is not great but it is not the end of the world. An air quality index of 10 however is as close the End Times as I want to experience, thank you very much.
The portion of the week where I was not encamped indoors to avoid the smoke was spent preparing for the new campaign I start running tomorrow, cycling, drinking a few beer, and reading a few books. In other words, status quo.
I finished two books this week, or at least I would like to take credit for two books. I finished one for sure, if the definition of book is something with an ISBN or ISSN.
Book #23 for 2021 was "The Rosewater Insurrection" by Tade Thompson. This is the second book in the Wormwood series, and I read and commented on the first book two years ago. In summary, an alien lifeform has inhabited a large area in Nigeria and the relationship with the humans and other fauna and flora is complicated. In some ways, the - let's call it terran - flora and fauna benefit greatly from the alien presence. However, there are reasons to be cautious of course, and Insurrection deals with the debate of how to live with, or exterminate, a clearly superior and uninvited guest. Thompson has created a super series with this trilogy, one that is bursting with ideas. I highly recommend picking up the first book in the series, simply titled "Rosewater" and then diving into Insurrection as well. I will try to have less time between the second and third books in the series than I did after reading the first.
The second book is called a "pamphlet" by the author, which is, I think, a deliberate nod towards the pamphlets used to spread liberal, socialist, and communist ideology. Since it was not published and cataloged formally, I was unsure if I should count it as a "book' in my reading for the year. Given the thought-provoking ideas and the list of words I had to look up, I decided that it was sufficient to classify as a "book" so I created a book manually in my LibraryThing account.
Book #24 for 2021 was the previously mentioned pamphlet, "At the end of the world, plant a tree: Considerations for the end of Human Time" by Adam Greenfield. This was something that akin to my reading of Peter Fleming's "The Worst is Yet to Come" in 2019. The pamphlet was an overview of how so many of today's trends spell an end for the interconnected and global world that has only existed for a few decades and only for a small percentage of the world's population. There is, like anything that Greenfield writes, a lot to unpack.
It is said that depressives have a clearer view on the world, something that Greenfield mentions in his pamphlet. Greenfield lays out a stark assessment of how broken our societies and global structures are and how COVID has exposed the flaws and problems, again reminding me of Fleming's argument that things are only going to get worse.
There are positive points in the pamphlet, like the power of community and skill-sharing, and the long-term selfless act of planting a tree. There is symbolism in the act of planting a tree where it is a "gesture toward a time yet to come, even when you know full well there is no future you or your survivors will inhabit or give name to".
So, get out there, plant a tree, commune with your fellow humans, share some skills. And buy the pamphlet as a fundraiser for Libreria which looks like a super cool bookstore.
I finished another segment this week, pushing past Grenfell, Saskatchewan. There is a surprising amount to say about Grenfell on Wikipedia given that it has a population of roughly 1,000 people. My personal reason for including Grenfell as the end of a segment is that two of my great-grandparents are buried there. That would be my father's mother's parents.
Here is the updated progress chart. I am going to push to complete the rest of the next segment so that I can push into Manitoba.
There were three entries on the Music Finds playlist for this week. First up was a new single from Kurt Vile, an artist that I have discovered since subscribing to Tidal. His latest, "Run Run Run" is energetic and catchy. Looking forward to the rest of the upcoming album. Next was an album by the Drug Store Romeos. I must be honest and say that I did not like this album. The songs that had promise on first listen either changed tone halfway through or dragged on too long. For example, "Building Song" starts out strong and really hooked me in, but then it seems to just repeat for four minutes.
Last up was the latest album by the Wallflowers, "Exit Wounds". I read somewhere earlier this week that "One Headlight" by the Wallflowers might be the best song from the 90s, and I think even if it is not, it is one of the best. The new album is good with "The Dive Bar in My Heart" and "I'll Let You Down (But Will Not Give You Up)" as the standouts. I think this is an album that needs a few solid listens to to really appreciate.
Over the last month, I went through my first bag of coffee from Rogue Wave, a roaster from here in Edmonton. I heard from two sources that Rogue Wave is a "passion project", where the owners are in business to continuously improve and offer products that continually innovate and evolve. With an ethos like that, I thought I would try it.
I picked up a Guatemalan been called Bendición. This started out well, with the beans being quite fragrant. The first few cups were good, maybe not what I was looking for, but definitely good. Here is a picture from one of the first espressos I brewed with it.
You can see the nice dark beans and the rich espresso. Unfortunately, the beans got worse quickly. By the end, the beans were dried out and brittle and the output was weak and lacking much flavor. I do not think I did anything wrong as the beans were stored in an airtight glass container in the fridge, exactly like every other bean I use. I will go back and try another bag from Rogue Wave and will ask them if I did something wrong. If that second bag has the same issue though, that will be as far as I get with them.
Two new beers this week, both with a bit of personal connection.
First up, Beer #780 was the Lavender Sour from Moody Ales in Port Moody, BC. This was a good sour, with a nice lemonade flavor and a wonderful aroma from the lavender. I know the owner of the farm that supplies the lavender, so that's a plus. (3.5 / 5)
Second up and coming in as Beer #781 was a beer that caught my eye since it literally has my name written all over it. I was not going to pass up the Robert wild ale from Trial and Ale, another local brewer. This is a wild ale, meaning that the yeast culture is captured from the air and not from a commercial yeast. As a result, there is definitely some wild "funk" in the taste, which is the defining characteristic of wild ales.
The naming of this beer came from the production process where the brewers were calling it "Blood Orange Brett", with Brett being short for Brettanomyces, which is the yeast. So Blood Orange Brett shortened to BOB and then was formalized for production by extending BOB to be Robert.
As for the beer, it was good. Dry and sour with some citrus. I am not sure it was worth $18 but this is an intriguing brewery, and I am definitely going to try more from them.
There were quite a few new words from the Thompson book but those are in my Kobo and I do not feel like getting them out right now. As a result, all of these words are from Greenfield's pamphlet.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. As I write this on Sunday morning, it is more than 20°C cooler than it was at the peak a few days ago. The hot weather has definitely slowed me down this week. In addition, I received my second COVID vaccine dose and it laid me out for a day and a half. With those two impacts, not much was accomplished but I did finish two books and tried two beers. Like I said, this week was definitely slower.
There was some disappointing COVID news earlier this week. In Calgary, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro and his family were verbally assaulted at a Canada Day parade.
My first point is that the behavior of the protesters was repulsive and I feel sorry for the entire Shandro family. One person said to Shandro's son "Sorry buddy but your father is a war criminal." It is a remarkable leap from instituting public health restrictions to being a war criminal, but I do not claim to understand the mindset of those individuals.
The second point is that Alberta is home to increasingly farther and farther right-wing ideas and personalities. There is no single unified right-wing group in Alberta, and maybe there has not been one since before the days of the Wildrose party. But you must think that a subset of the people that voted for Shandro in the 2019 election are now okay with the concept of verbally assaulting him and his family. I wonder how united the United Conservative Party will be in the 2023 election.
I finished two books this week, one was grabbed at random from the library and the other was a re-read with my younger daughter.
Book #21 for 2021 was "The Last Human" by Zack Jordan. I randomly picked up the book at the library and read it in four days. It is hard to describe the genre of this book. It is about a young person, but it is certainly not YA. It is set in space with myriad aliens, but I am not sure it is a space opera. It is about unanswered questions, but it is not a mystery. It is, however, completely enjoyable. The pacing shifted a few times as the plot progressed and twisted, and it twisted a couple times. I was unsure how the story would play out up to the very end, but in the end, it was very enjoyable. If you like books with big ideas and new concepts, grab a copy of "The Last Human".
Book #22 for 2021 was a re-read of "The Emerald Atlas" by John Stephens. Unlike the other book I finished this week, this is unquestionably a YA book as it features three youth between the ages of 14 and 11 as the protagonists. Most YA books are not worthy of a re-read, but I wanted to read this book with my younger daughter as I read it with my older daughter in 2017. There is a lot of emotion in this book and most of the characters are quite memorable. If you are looking for a good book to read to a tween child, "The Emerald Atlas" is a great choice.
Neither beer this week was from Alberta, which is definitely not the norm. Beer #775 was the Three Seasons Saison from Quidi Vidi Brewery in St. John's, Newfoundland. This was a straight-up saison - dry and crisp with a bit of tartness. (3.5 / 5)
Quidi Vidi is an interesting brewery. Their website logo highlights their twenty-fifth anniversary which means they have been around since well before the craft beer surge in the last decade. Kudos to them for their longevity. Their website lists upcoming live events at their brewery including a pro wrestling event. Take a look at their promotional poster. The two wrestlers in the top left look like they could beat the crap out of anybody, but the rest do not seem to be much of a threat. One guy look super stoked to see you, man, and one guy looks a bit baked. And then there is the one guy with the pose. I wonder if he used his Tinder profile picture for this poster. But to each his own and if you are into wrestling, you may as well do it with some good beer.
Come to think of it, incorporating Tinder into your pro wrestling name would be pretty cool. "The Terror from Tinder". "He knows more holds .." Okay, back to the beer.
Beer #776 was the Good Monster DIPA from Collective Arts. I have commented previously that Collective Arts is my favorite brewery outside of Alberta. I have also expressed disappointment in a couple of their beers in recent months. Good Monster was a good step in restoring my faith in Collective Arts. This had a boatload of hops and flavor in a beautiful hazy beer. I liked that the fruit tastes without it being a boozy juice box, and the level of carbonation was spot on. A beer definitely worthy of being from one of my favorite breweries. (3.75 / 5)
Greetings from the end of a beautiful week at 53.5° north latitude. We are at Day 465 of the COVID-19 pandemic and are nearing the end of the major restrictions here in Alberta. Of course, lots of places in the US are already allowing mass gatherings without masks.
I mean, Ralph Macchio, right? You have to think that he was an Isles fan back in their heyday, so semifinal hockey must be pretty sweet for him. And just a note for the make-you-feel-old file, Macchio turns 60 this November.
Life seems like it will turn back to normal this summer, and if not normal, then at least much less restricted. Several of my friends already have their second doses and the invites for get-togethers are starting to flow. I cannot say I feel comfortable with this though. I have spent so much of the past 465 days in this chair in this basement office that getting out and getting together seem alien to me. The INTP is strong in this one, unfortunately.
The summer equinox will be about thirty-five minutes after I post this entry, and the nice weather and summer mindset have slowed me down. There was a bit of reading with one book finished this week, and one segment finished on my bike, and that is it for updates.
I was able to finish one book this week. Book #20 for 2021 was the 1971 spy classic from John Le Carré, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy". I grew up on spy novels, constantly grabbing Tom Clancy or Len Deighton novels as soon as my dad finished them. Reading a spy novel set fifty years ago with antiquated technology and an adversary that has not existed for thirty years might seem to be a recipe for disaster. However, in the same vein as my comments about "High Fidelity" two weeks ago, good stories are independent of the technological era in which they exist. Rob Fleming making a mixtape or George Smiley ordering accomplishes to use a miniature camera to photograph pages from a book are just actions the characters do. The technology does define the story because the technology is intrinsic to the era the story is set in, but in neither case does it diminish the story. That is because the story is each case is so damn good.
I am not sure what to say about this book. It was really good. I enjoyed it. I am glad I finally read it. You should do the same, but if you do, focus on the relationships between the characters because that is where the real story is even if the Soviet Union and tiny cameras are fictions in their own right.
On a different note, this first copy of Tinker I bought was in about 1994. I never read it for some reason. I moved so much in those days that I packed it away and forgot about it. A couple years later I picked up another copy and eventually realized I had two copies. After that, I bought every copy I found and had six or seven at one time. I finally gave them all away except one. The image below is an homage to how many versions I have owned over the years.
I made a bit of progress on my virtual cross-Canada tour. I was able to get four rides in this week but only 68 km. That was good enough to finish the segment between Davidson and Chamberlain, Saskatchewan. It will be interesting to see if any location on the virtual tour is smaller than Chamberlain. The Wikipedia entry mentions a population of 90 people in 2016, up 2.2% from 2011, but that was down from 108 in 2005. Next stop: Moose Jaw.
Here is the updated progress chart.
Happy Valentine's Day 2021 from 53.5° north latitude. We might be twelve days past Groundhog Day for the year, but the days really feel the same. Every day. Get up. Work. Go to bed. Maybe some variety pops into the day. Hey, time to buy groceries! Hey, a package was delivered to the house! I have mentioned on this blog that I feel uniquely suited to handle life during a pandemic due to the combination of my personal situation, job, and personality, but even I would like a change.
Once it warms up; Once it is lighter outside; Once we have a vaccine; Once we can travel again. All those onces. It is important to focus on what we have in the present how we can make do with that. I will not speak for you, but I at least need to be grateful for the flexibility I have in my life.
With that out of the way, the week that was had a few interesting points to discuss, a milestone in the cross-Canada virtual tour, and one new beer. No books finished this week but I expect one for sure will be done next week and quite possibly a second as well.
Internet and e-commerce law professor Michael Geist, posted an interesting entry on his blog about an Opposition member's motion in the House of Commons to amend Bill C-10 (Broadcasting Act). Conservative MP Michael Kram rose in the House and his comment was cheeky and wonderful.
"I think we could do Canadians a lot of good by withdrawing this bill and rewriting it from scratch to ensure that everyone is included in it and to ensure we have the best legislation we can for Canadians. Therefore, I would like to move the following amendment. I move:
Replacing every word after the opening "That" means that the entire Bill would be replaced. In other words, MP Kram is of the opinion that the Bill should be thrown out. I am not a fan of biased politicking and grandstanding in the House, but in this case MP Kram makes a good case. Geist has dissected Bill C-10 going so far as to label the Bill as a "Blunder". Geist's full analysis can be read on this page. Regardless of your feelings on the actions of MP Kram in the House, his actions drew attention to a flawed bit of proposed legislation. I recommend reading both posts from Geist.
Switching gears, I have a few comments about the creative work I am doing in support of my gaming and gamemastering. In the past year and a half, I have made a few posts with updates on the games I am leading and playing in. It has been four months since my last entry about this and in that last entry, I discussed player agency. I commented specifically how "I think the key is to provide lots of options for the players and to be prepared enough to be flexible if the players do something unexpected".
I have worked on making sure my players had as much agency as possible in the last four months. One tool that I really like is the point crawl system I read about on Mike Shea aka Sly Flourish's blog last month. The essence is there are multiple paths to get from A to B, but ultimately you want your players to get to B. Maybe they have an encounter along the way or find some shortcut. Or maybe they gain or lose something along the way that helps or hurts them when they finally get to B. That something could be an item, an ally, or maybe just some health.
In one of the campaigns I am currently running, they players are planning an attack on an enemy camp. They have four possible entrances and one ultimate goal. I will let them pick how they go and how they want to proceed once in the camp. But this is a game after all and roleplaying games require dice rolls. If they do nothing other than roll dice, it will take at least three rolls to get to their destination. If they actively engage with the situation they find themselves in, they can influence the rolls. And since it is a game, their actions and poor rolls can have some fun outcomes.
For what it is worth, here is the point crawl map I created for the upcoming session. The numbers represent my suggested required dice roll results. Red arrows are bad and provide a low percent chance of being spotted. The thick black arrows represent road that traverse the camp. The dotted brown arrow in the top right is my template that I will use to track their actual route.
Call me a wimp, but I am still riding inside due to the cold weather outside. Riding indoors has very little appeal for me, but I have discovered that watching my YouTube "Watch Later" playlist while cycling can make the endeavor bearable.
I hit the saddle five times this week and logged a virtual 67 km. The important note for this week is that I finished off Leg #3 and have virtually landed in Valemount (with a U), British Columbia. Valemount has a decent entry on Wikipedia that I encourage you to read. However, I would like to regale you with a story about my first trip to Valemount.
Back when I was in university, my alma mater had an annual Engineering Week which was just an excuse to drink wrapped in a veneer of school spirit and friendly competition. One event in Eng Week was a scavenger hunt, and it was a well-known fact that a cold six-pack of Kokanee was a perennial item on the list. Back in those uncivilized times, one could only purchase beer in Alberta that was brewed in Alberta. Weird, huh?
Armed with that knowledge, me and two friends decided to drive to British Columbia and buy as much Kokanee as we could on the eve of Eng Week. We were going to drive to Fernie and go skiing, but there was a blizzard and poor driving conditions so we decided that was not going to happen. We pulled out a map - remember, this was a LONG time ago - and looked for other towns in British Columbia that we could go to. Lo and behold, Valemount appeared on our map and at 06:00 the next morning, the three of us loaded into my 1978 Mustang II and drove to Valemount (with a U), returning later that day with 7.5 flats of Kokanee. I will not go into details how only one of us was of legal drinking age in British Columbia and only one of us had a credit card. And I will not go into details about how much money we made selling that beer to people back at school. But I will say that I cannot think of Valemount without thinking of that story.
Back to the cycling update, below is an updated view of my progress chart.
You will notice that I have plotted out Leg #4, from Valemount to Edmonton. The next 492 km is a fairly scenic route with a lot of familiar stops, at least for me. The map below gives some context of the trip for those of you unfamiliar with the route.
I dove into a lot of new music this week, as you can see in the Music Finds playlist for this week. In addition, I figured out why my embedded code links to my playlist always had the same four icons. Tidal uses the album icon for the first four songs in the playlist so starting this week, I will copy songs from the albums and put them at the start of the playlist in order to mix up the art work a bit.
The first album was a 2010 offering from Daniel Langois performing as Black Dub. Check out Langois's discography sometime - it just screams late 80's, but to be fair the variety of artists he worked with is staggering. Black Dub's self-titled album was definitely solid with "Silverado: and "Canaan" as strong songs with "Ring The Alarm" being the album standout.
Next up was "Forevergreens" from Swedish alt-jazz (is that a thing?) band Tonbruket. This definitely had a different vibe to it, but for the most part I liked it. "The Missing" and "Polka Oblivion" are both really good, especially the violin on Polka Oblivion.
The third album was "THE FUTURE BITES" by British prog rocker Steven Wilson. I said last week that I was not into that type of music, but this album might make me change my mind. The songs were not massively long with most under five minutes. "MAN OF THE PEOPLE" and "KING GHOST" were really good, and "PERSONAL SHOPPER" had subtle background vocals that highlight the foibles of mass consumption and consumerization.
The fourth album was a result of my digging into Phil Collins after learning that he celebrated his seventieth birthday, as I reported last week. Seconds Out is a live album recorded in Paris in 1976. This predates my experience with Genesis which started with Abacab in 1981. There was a few songs I liked but this was another album with long, drawn out songs. I just could not get into it.
Last up was an album I was really looking forward to but was disappointed in. Hey Clockface from Elvis Costello was something I was really looking forward to. At the end of November, I mentioned "No Flag", a song with Costello and Iggy Pop. Hey Clockface had a version of that song without Iggy Pop, so that was a let down, and maybe that soured my experience. I will give it another listen, but I am not hopeful.
Three for five this week. Not bad, especially given how many good songs there were on the three good albums.
Just one new beer this week. Beer #723 was the Conspiracy IPA from Yukon Brewing. There was a lot of flavor with this one and it was quite a mouthful, with lots of hoppy bitterness and some tart citrus. Picked up a bit of pepper on the backend as well, which was somewhat off-putting. Overall still pretty decent though. (3.25 / 5)
Greetings from where the north latitude and the temperature are not that much different!
The week that was was definitely cold. There was no way I was going outside for a ride, so any and all cycling was confined to the stationary bike in the basement. In addition to saddle time, I did sample a few new beers, finished a book on the third try, and dug into some music. Before we get to the regular items, there are two items of note this week that I want to spend some time on.
The first is related to a question I posed to several people recently: which is more important, public health at the population level, or rights and freedoms at the individual level? In Canada, that can be phrased as a question between public health versus the Charter of Right and Freedoms.
I asked this exact question to several people in the last week, phrased specifically to pit the Charter against public health. The question elicited a strong response in every case. A few people were staunchly opposed to the argument that personal rights had any role in a pandemic. Others were tormented by the question and were unwilling to answer.
One friend found this blog entry for the Centre for Constitutional Studies at the University of Alberta law school. "The One vs the Many: When Public Health Conflicts with Individual Rights" highlights how hard it is to balance between the good of the many and the rights of the individual. One note from the blog that I was unaware of was how Canada was less respectful of individual rights during the 2003 SARS outbreak than either Hong Kong or Shanghai. The blog entry ends with a question that is still not answered as we close in on one full year of quarantine measures: How can the law both help protect the life of the population, and at the same time protect the individual against the powers the state takes upon itself to engage that task? How, indeed.
The second item of note is a TED Talk that I watched titled "Sleep is your superpower". Matt Walker is a sleep scientist and he made some great arguments for getting more sleep, and for getting it more regularly. The concept is not new, but there were some interesting scientific tidbits that I had not understood. Cue the opening sentence about testicles, for example. Or how the World Health Organization categorizes night shift work as a "possible carcinogen" due to the correlation between lack of regular sleep and cancer. It was a great way to spend twenty minutes, but please do not watch it late at night!
One week, one book finished. But that is not really fair. Book #5 for 2021 was "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith. This was a book that I desperately wanted to read, but I had two failed starts with it and was concerned that I would not make it through once again. The first attempt was several years ago and it was the audiobook format. I had significant trouble with the slow and overly deliberate pacing of the narration. (I think that was in the days before we had the option to listen at 1.25 times normal speed.) With a slow delivery and painstaking emphasis on the pronunciation of the protagonist's name (Mmm-mmAH RrrrrammmottssssWEY), I could not finish it.
The second attempt was on summer vacation in 2019. The rental home we stayed at had it in the shelves and I picked it up and read the first third. I did not finish it though, so I was concerned that it would never get read. I need not have been worried though as I picked it up and finished it in a few hours this week. It was entirely enjoyable and definitely worth the read. Mma Rowatswe's persistence and insight into people was nearly as great to read as was her view on how to live a fulfilling life. I am not sure if I will read the other books in the series, but I am glad I read this one. Finally.
As I mentioned in the intro, the frigid weather limited the cycling time to the stationary bike in the basement. I logged the equivalent of 62 km this week, which is definitely the upper limit for me on a stationary bike. But even though inside rides are suboptimal, it was better than being completely sedentary for the whole week.
I was able to make it through to Blue River, British Columbia on my virtual cross-Canada cycling tour. There is not much to say about Blue River. The Wikipedia entry suggests a population of 157, and the biggest highlight seems to be that the Lodgepole pine is the most common tree in the area. Onward to Valemount (with a U!)! Only 66 km to get there, which I should be able to do, even if I am stuck in the basement all week.
Two new albums in this week's Music Finds playlist. One was fantastic, and the other was not up my alley.
First up was the fantastic album. A couple weeks ago I mentioned The New Mastersounds and their album "Shake It". Back then I said that album was okay but that I heard "Tantalus" from their "Renewable Energy" album and that it was great. The whole album was really good, with "Green was Beautiful" and "Groovin' on The Groomers" as the other standouts.
The other album was "Delusion Rain" from the prog rock band Mystery. Yeah. I just am not into that type of music. Lots of high pitched male vocals, loud guitar and bass-heavy drums. Plus the songs are SOOOO long. "The Willow Tree" clocked in at 19'29", for crying out loud! To be fair, I did find myself getting into the beat on "The Last Glass of Wine" but six tracks taking over an hour is hard to get through, for me at least.
I was able to try three new beers this week, bringing my total number of check-ins on Untappd to 722.
Beer #720 was the Imperial Stout with Coffee from Blindman. I have extolled the virtues of this Lacombe-based brewery many times, and this was another solid offering. It had good flavor and aroma. Not as much coffee flavor as I expected though, but it was smooth and tasty. At 11% ABV, the 250 mL can size was a good idea. (3.5 / 5)
Beer #721 was another Alberta beer. Blind Enthusiasm did a sour based on plums aged in oak casks. The result was a very colorful and nicely tart beer that was easy to drink for a sour, but I wish it would have had more fruit flavor. It was good, but I was hoping for something more pronounced. (3.25 / 5)
Last up was a bit of a nostalgia trip for Beer #722, and the third Alberta beer of the week. We spent time at the Jasper Gates resort this past summer, which is a few steps from the Folding Mountain brewery. So in remembrance of that good time spent with some friends, I picked up their Founding MTN Lager and dropped off a few cans at our friends' house before a long Zoom call with them. This was a good lager, with a nice maltiness and a bit of spice as well. It was definitely good, but the memories and time on the call friends certainly did not hurt the rating. (3.5 / 5)
There was only one new word this week. I guess Mma Ramotswe's life lessons did not extend also into vocabulary.
Greetings from 53.5° north. Another busy week with all of the COVID support work for the day job, interspersed with a few good rides, some good beer, and good music.
While I cannot, and will not, complain about my life, it is is remarkable how much it has shrunk. I went out today to buy a few groceries and it was the farthest I had been from my house in over a week, bike rides excepted. That might not seem like a big deal, but the grocery store is 1900 m from my house. I am reaching out virtually farther from my house to connect with others than I ever have, but more and more, I am not physically reaching out. I have to wonder if I will be able to connect in person if this continues for another year.
But then again, maybe connecting in person is not something that I really want to do. There was some nasty business years in the making at the US Capitol, and close to home there were pro-Trump rallies. I really do not understand this. Trump is American and we are Canadian. What will a protest in Red Deer, Calgary, or anywhere in Canada do to help support any attempts to overturn the US election? My guess is that those protests were less about Trump directly and more about white solidarity.
I will leave that discussion for now at least and post this image. Imagine being a black police officer looking at that mob.
It was a good week in the saddle. I cycled for 72 km this week, putting my monthly total at 101 km. More importantly, at least with respect to my virtual cross-Canada tour, I finished the leg from Vancouver to Kamploops. I have now cycled 863 km since I started keeping track in pursuit of the virtual tour.
Next up is Kamloops to Valemount. Just an FYI as it was news to me that it is "Valemount" and not "Valemont". This third leg will be 322 km and only has four segments. If you have driven this stretch of highway, you know there are very few towns and settlements along the way. Lots of great scenery, but that is it.
Some fun facts about Kamloops according to Wikipedia. The population of the census metropolitan area is over 100,000 people. The word Kamploops is the anglicized version of the Shuswap word "Tk'əmlúps", meaning "meeting of the waters". Kamloops is technically in a desert, and average temperatures for this time of year are just above freezing. The regional airport in Kamploops has the airport code of YKA.
The images below are the updated chart of the legs and segments to date, and a map view of the next leg to Valemount (with a U, remember that!).
The last few weeks have really seen me get into jazz. This week that trend continues with a bit of journey into swing and R&B.
The first find in the Music Finds playlist this week was the album "HH" from Lionel Loueke. HH is short for Hang Up Your Hang Ups. I assume that at least since Hang Up Your Hang Ups is the first song on the album. Loueke is a jazz guitarist from Benin and I love his style. The HH track I mentioned above, Cantaloupe Island, Watermelon Man and more are all really good songs. I added the songs and the album to my Tidal favorite list so looking forward to seeing more from him and seeing his music influence my feed.
The second find was the album with the journey into swing and R&B. "Last Man on Earth" by Big Boss Man is a fifteen-track album with great guitar, a bright horn section, vocals from multiple guest artists, and a nice clean percussion in the background. I favorited a third of the album so I will definitely be listening to more from Big Boss Man in the future. Note that this was a 2014 recording, so new to me but not new.
Two new beers this week, both from Alley Kat. First up and coming in as Beer #711 was the latest in their Dragon Double IPA series, the Loral Dragon. This one had a striking amber color and had a nice maltiness. I found the taste had a bit too much pepper in it which took away from the malt and the hops. Still pretty good stuff. (3.5 / 5)
The second beer and coming in as Beer #712 was their 2020 Holiday beer. This year Alley Kat brewed up a Milk Stout which was a nice change. There was a nice creaminess in this as you would expect from a milk stout but it could have used a bit more flavor. I compared it to the Situation Iconic Milk Stout which I rated at 4.0 out of 5 and this was close but not as good. As with the Loral, still pretty good stuff. (3.5 / 5)
I was going to catch up on a few words I have flagged in War and Peace, but I thought it would be appropriate to only have one word this week. If there was anything good out of the US Capitol Insurrection, it was that I learned a new word watching the news reports. Many of the media reports discussed how Trump had "fomented" the rioters. Apparently you can foment or ferment discord and rebellion, but you cannot forment it (with an r) as forment is not a word.
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 and welcome. My home at 53.5° north is surrounded by icy roads and sidewalks but for the most part the weather has been fairly nice. The ice coupled with my second flat tire in a month restricted my outdoor riding this week, and the short days as we approach solstice are not helping increase a desire to get outside. But in a week the days will start getting longer once again, so the worst is almost passed.
Not much else happened this week. There was a lot of talk in Alberta about the mockdown / lockdown restrictions, and I did try out one new beer. But alas, that is all I have to report this week. Let's talk about the COVID restrictions, and what one former Albertan thinks of our plans.
"The evidence is that there's no conflict between what's right for the economy, what's right for people's health … people in hospital don't spend money." --Stephen Duckett, former CEO of Alberta Health Services, and currently one of the architects of Australia's plan to reach zero COVID cases
When Alberta Health Services announced its first CEO, my boss looked across the table at me and arched his eyebrows, visually asking me if I had any idea who this Stephen Duckett was. I of course had no idea. The short and turbulent tenure of Duckett is probably worthy of a book in itself, so I will not get into that here. What I will say is that in the limited times I was in the same room has him, it was clear he was intelligent.
CBC interviewing Duckett about what is happening in Alberta is a bit of inspired journalism and clickbait all rolled together, but there is some merit in understanding what Duckett is saying. In essence, under a plan that he co-authored, the idea was to do a substantial and complete lockdown, "done once and done well" as Duckett said. The state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne and is home to 6.4 million people has not seen a single case his the end of October. Even at the peak, Victoria only saw 700 cases a day.
Looking at the most recent COVID stats for Alberta paints a much different number. A jurisdiction with a population of 4.3 million people registered over 10,000 new cases last week, so over 1,000 cases a day. Plus our numbers are going up drastically, including our hospitalization rates. The comparison is tainted by the difference in seasons of course, as Victoria is going into summer not winter, but even with that it seems that we had the wrong approach here in Alberta.
"It's an outdated view, of course, because we now know the evidence is pretty clear that the best public health outcome is also the best economic outcome." --Stephen Duckett
The argument the Alberta government espouses is that chasing a goal for zero COVID cases is illiberal and extreme. Premier Kenney has touted supported for Charter freedoms as a rationale for not forcing a complete lockdown and for waiting for the level of lockdown that he has implemented. So instead of three months of hard lockdown, we did what we could to keep the economy open. It is hard not to think that this government values dollars over lives.
I did not make it to Hope as I, pun intended, hoped I would. As I type this on Sunday morning, I am a moderate ride away from getting there and chances are I will be able to hammer through a stationary bike session later today to get it done. But for now, I made it about half way to Hope and have my sights set on Merritt.
I mentioned last week that I was looking forward to albums by Art Blakey and Brian Eno. Those two albums were the only entries in the Music Finds playlist of this week.
Eno's album "Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks" was from 1983 and the Extended Edition featured twenty-three tracks. It took me a while to get into it, but after the first three tracks I was really enjoying it. "Silver Morning" and Deep Blue Day" on Volume 1 and "The End of a Thin Cord" on Volume 2 were real standouts for me.
"Is it True 'Bout ..." is the sixth Art Blakey album I have listened to since the summer and this was much more to my liking that the last couple. The version of "Round About Midnight" was fantastic. Plus it had the 1'40" "theme song" and after hearing that on multiple albums, I have to smile when I hear that woman trying to whip up the crowd: "Art Blakey. ART Blakely. ART BLAKEY."
Just one new beer this week, another version of the Jelly King sour from Bellwoods Brewery. As I went into Untappd to check this new beer in, I realized I made a mistake. Back in October, I checked in the Jelly King sour, but as you can see from the picture, I checked in the Pink Guava version. I was not really a fan of that one and gave it a 2.75 / 5 rating.
Beer #704 was the normal Jelly King sour, and it was better for sure, but I still don't think it was as good as my Untappd connections stated. It could be that I am not into sours right now given the colder weather, or it could be that I am bored with grapefruit flavor. Either way, I only gave this a rating of 3.25 / 5.
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)
Happy end of the week, and what a week it was. Locally here at 53.5° north latitude, nationally across Canada, and throughout the world, COVID numbers continued to rise at a frightening rate. Our family is now in close contact with at least one COVID positive case, so we have one and possibly two people needing to isolate, and then the whole family depending on the results of the test results of our family members.
The week beyond watching COVID numbers was spent doing a lot of reading and listening, but not much else. I am writing this early on Sunday morning and as of right now I have not finished a book this week and have only had one new beer, and I finished one more segment on my cross-Canada virtual cycling tour but not the two segments to complete the first leg like I hoped. However, I suspect that by the end of the day I will have another new beer to hit the 700 check-in milestone, I will finish a book, and I will go on a ride to finish the leg. But that will have to be in the update for next week.
It was a disappointing week for cycling with the outdoor rides curtailed by a flat tire and no replacement tube. Most of the distance this week was on the stationary bike in the basement, which is just not as satisfying as an outdoor ride.
I was able to finish off the segment to Duncan this week which was a nice milestone. Like I said above, I expect to finish the segment to Victoria later today as well which will see me complete the first leg in my cross-Canada virtual tour. But for now, here are some fun facts of Duncan according to Wikipedia. Duncan has only 5,000 people but it serves the 84,000 people in the Cowichan Valley; there are 44 totem poles throughout Duncan; the average temperature for this time of year is 5°C; it is the birthplace of former NHL players Geoff and Russ Courtnall; and the current President of the University of Alberta, my alma mater, David Turpin, was also born there.
Here is a look at the updated chart for Leg 1, from Port Hardy to Victoria. It will be great to see that whole block green next week.
There were three albums in the Music Finds playlist for this week. A couple weeks ago I mentioned the Azymuth JID004 album and the track "Friendship Samba". I listened to the album a few times this week and really liked its sound. "Surnamé" and "Pulando Corda" were other standouts, but I really think this album needs to be listened to in whole and not as a collection of singles. As I said a couple weeks ago, there is some serious talent on this album.
The second album was another Art Blakey. "A Christmas Soul Night" is a 3'49", 30 track collection with a mix of live and studio recordings. I have to admit that I found this to be an oppressively long list of songs. The only song I favorited was "Prince Albert" and that was the second song of the thirty. It was a slog to get through which was really disappointing after how much I liked "Flapping Wings" and "Just Coolin'".
Last up this week was "Shapeshifter" by Sean De Burca. De Burca is a finger-style guitarist who can really pull out a number of sounds and melodies from his guitar. Shapeshifter is an 18-track album, with nine acoustic guitar songs followed by the same nine songs re-recorded with an electric guitar. I listened to this album a lot this week, and liked it more each listen, and much preferred the acoustic versions. Really amazing stuff from an artist I will check out more in the future.
I started a new coffee this week, the Metta Espresso from Salt Spring Coffee. Salt Spring Island is close to Duncan, the location noted from the virtual cycling tour, and was the location of last year's summer holiday. Back to the coffee, I really wanted to like this but am struggling to get into it. I find the flavor to be very thin. I even bumped up the amount of ground beans used from 15 to 17 grams but that did little to improve the taste or the amount of crema. The picture in the far right below is the 17 g pull.
Looking at the beans, they are very dull and matte finished, which is a definite contrast to the other beans I have used recently. As I learn more, I will look for a correlation between the color and gloss of the beans and the flavor I like.
This is not a terrible coffee, but I have a lot of cups of it to go through before I can move on to a new bag.
Just one new beer this week. Beer #699 was the Super Saturation Pale Ale from Cabin Brewing out of Calgary. It is a hazy, citrusy pale ale with a bit of pepper spice coming through. It was nice to have a hazy beer without a lot of sediment, so that was a plus. I have rated three beers from Cabin on Untappd and all three have been 3.75 out of 5. Clearly a brewery to follow more closely.
Just one word this week, but it is a spicy one!