Happy Thanksgiving weekend from 53.5° north latitude. Fall is upon us, and the wind is blowing leaves off the trees.
Beyond the perennial topic of choice of weather, COVID is firmly entrenched into every conversation it seems, and rightfully so. Cases are rising in most jurisdictions globally, and locally outbreaks are hitting multiple schools, and therefore impacting multiple families, on a weekly basis. When we rushed home in March and hunkered down in April, it seemed easy to contemplate the change to our lives. It was temporary, after all. After a few weeks, the weather started to warm up, and the days got longer and our lives continued to improved. By May, those of us working at home were able to take calls while we walked, and lots of people started experimenting with driveway visits. The summer was even better as the kids got outside, the weather was decent, and lots of people rediscovered biking and walking through their neighborhoods.
But now what? As soon as the kids stopped socializing in a park and started getting pushed back into classrooms, we started having outbreaks. The driveway visits are much harder now because it is cold during the days, let alone the evenings. And who can legitimately take a call when the fall winding is howling?
I have worked in an around the Edmonton downtown core for 27 years now. In that time, I have walked between the various buildings via the pedway system nearly every day I was downtown. Some of that is walking from the LRT to whichever office I was working in, walking around at lunch, running errands, or just taking a call as I walked.
Assuming a maximum of 220 work days a year, minus the really cold days, the days when I had various impairments requiring crutches, days with all day meetings, holidays, travel days, and working from home days, in the time up to the start of COVID I can safely estimate that I have walked around downtown Edmonton at least 100 days each year. It is also safe to estimate that I walked at least two kilometers a day, with a lot of days at four, five, or even more kilometers. So let's say for arguments sake that in the last quarter century I have walked the width of Canada as I trotted around the downtown core. A large part of who I am as a person is connected to my peripatetic tendencies.
Now what am I going to do? I have a 1.5 km walk to get to the nearest mall, and there is very little of interest around that mall compared to the variety of downtown. Working from home is fine. It is the lack of variety and day-to-day variation that will be the problem this winter. Normally that variation was achieved through walking and so I will need to figure out a replacement. If I do not, this will be a very long WFH winter.
Lots of good news on the Kickstarter front. In the past week, I have received updates on six campaigns that I backed. Five are related to RPGs and one is an update on Cory Doctorow's audiobook version of "Attack Surface" that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Doctorow had 6,283 people back his audiobook, which is great news for him and for independence in audiobook publishing going forward.
Three of the RPG products are large publications. "Creatures" is a monster compendium that works in 5e and the publisher's Fateforge extension of 5e. I have a work-in-progress PDF version and this is a great book. "The Lost City of Gaxmoor" is a massively outlined city, complete with listings for the Outer and Inner city, crypts, sewers, and a couple dozen pages of fully fleshed out NPCs. I am interested in this one, although I think I am more interested in "Myriad, City of Tiers" than Gaxmoor. But Gaxmoor was developed in partnership with the sons of Gary Gygax, so that alone was enough to support this campaign. The third large product was the "Heckna! Carnival Horror Campaign Setting" from Hit Point Press. A horror carnival is not something I would typically be interested in, but Hit Point Press developed the Humblewood campaign setting that I picked up earlier this year. and I was really impressed with that. As a result, I figured Heckna would be a good addition to my gaming resources even if I do not run it as a full campaign.
The other two are much smaller products, but that is a big part of their appeal. Instead of hyping a product that needs months to deliver on the expanded content unlocked by the stretch goals, both "Captain Hartchild's Guide to Rare Dragons" and "Over the Next Hill" were available much sooner. OTNH was available immediately after the close of the campaign, and that is a model that will serve Morrus of EN World fame well in future campaigns.
I have backed 21 campaigns in the last year, so not quite enough for Kickstarter Super Backer status. I think I should stay away from the platform for a few weeks, just to give my bank account a break but Super Backer status would be pretty cool.
I was able to finish a couple books this week, which was a good feeling. Book #36 for 2020 was "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman who holds up the fiction throughout the book that he is merely the translator and abridger of a classic by S. Morgenstern. The book is as good as the movie that was based on it, and maybe even a bit better since it is interposes Goldman's "analysis" of the flaws and merits of Morgenstern's writing. This is a wonderful story of flawed individuals coming together and doing something wonderful.
Book #37 for 2020 was a completely different novel and genre than Princess Bride. "All Tomorrow's Parties" by William Gibson was a nice conclusion to the story in Gibson's previous novel, "Idoru". I did not realize until I finished this book though that "Virtual Light" was the first book in the "Bridge Book" trilogy, so I will have to go back and pick that one up later. The story Gibson wrote for All Tomorrow's Parties is hard to describe without spoilers, so I will just say that there are few other writers that I have come across that can extrapolate to the near future to create a plausible and recognizable world as effectively as Gibson. I will say that the denouement of the story left me slack-jawed for a few minutes as I considered the implications of what had just happened.
I made some good progress in my virtual cross-Canada cycling tour. Plus I updated my spreadsheet to do a better job of updating my progress bars.
Much like my comment in the Reading Pile section, it felt good to find some new music this week. There were a few entries in my Music Finds playlist this week. First up was the latest from Flaming Lips. I was taken aback by how depressing the lyrics were across the songs in "American Head". Musically it was good, but I was hard-pressed to find a song that I wanted to listen to again until the final song in the album, "My Religion is You".
After that were a couple throwback bands from the 90s, Semisonic and Goo Goo Dolls. Semisonic was the crafter of a single massive hit with "Closing Time", that has one of the greatest lines in pop rock.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. -- "ClosingTime", by Semisonic
The songs from Semisonic and the Goo Goo Dolls song were both released in June and are decent offerings. Maybe not "Closing Time" or "Iris", but "You're Not Alone" by Semisonic and "Just a Man" by Goo Goo Dolls are still good enough to listen to. I actually think "Just a Man" might stick as something worth listening to.
The next entry was from a fusion supergroup from 1976 that had Phil Collins on drums called Brand X. The album "Unorthodox Behavior" was fantastic, and made me wonder how I never heard of them before this week.
Finally, a favorite of mine from 2019, Future Islands, released a new album called "As Long As You Are". The songs in the early part of the album are more upbeat than the songs later in the album, but they all have good music and rhythm and are delivered with frontman Samuel T. Herring's unique vocals. Good stuff once again from Future Islands.
Three new beers this week. Making up for lost time, I suppose.
Beer #688 was the Full Time IPA from Beau's. Decent if forgettable. Lots of hops and a bit of pine, but not a lot of flavor beyond the bitterness. (3.25 / 5) Beer #689 was the Mad Trapper Czech Amber Lager from Apex Predator. This is near the top of my list for lagers as it had a lot of flavor. Nice caramel taste with a bit of burnt cocoa, and great color. (4.0 / 5) Last up this week was the Kellerbier from German brewer Hacker Pschorr. I think the unfiltered nature really helped this one as I find a lot of German lagers a bit weak. This one had some good flavor. (3.5 / 5)
I am going to start rating the coffees I buy. I do not mean the coffee I pick up in a store to drink right then, but the bags of roasted beans that I grind at home. The coffee I am brewing at home right now is Burnt Timber from Calgary Heritage Coffee Roasters. Burnt Timber is a dark roast, and it is pretty good. I do not yet have the same ability to pick out flavors in my coffee as I can with beers, but I am sure that will come with time. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the before and after process to make my daily Americano. One thing I will point out is that you can see how the espresso crema is a little thin, at least thinner than I would like.
A bit of reading this week, but neither book introduced a lot of new words. One was a repeat that did make me feel good about once I looked it up, and one was a confirmation that I should have looked up in the moment but was just too lazy to do so.
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude at the tail end of a week filled with work and reading but little else. There was a bike ride before 06:00 one morning that was pretty magical as it was warm, quiet, fog-filled, and through muddy trails, but it was pretty quiet beyond that.
Quiet is probably the theme of the week. Quiet leads to more time to talk and contemplate, and it allows for a more relaxing life. I had not fully internalized that point until I was able to visit my favorite coffee shop, Coffee Bureau, the other day. I asked the owner-barista how life was treating him and he said that COVID means a more relaxed lifestyle. When he said that, I realized how true that was and how much I am enjoying a more relaxed life. No more getting up and rushing around all weekend or every weeknight. Everything is still getting done but we are playing more games as a family, having longer discussions with family, friends, neighbors, and work colleagues. Instead of rushing to go somewhere to do something, we seem to be happier to find something to do close to home.
A friend and I were talking about kayaking and he said COVID has provided him the opportunity to finally paddle the various segments of the North Saskatchewan river. Over a few weekends, he is going to paddle from Devon to Highway 41 south of Elk Point. That route via roadways is 251 km, so not an insignificant distance.
This is not to say that COVID is a good thing, of course. Here in Alberta our numbers are rising fairly dramatically. We have had over 100 new cases each day for a week now, and the numbers in Central Alberta went from essentially zero to 167 in the last ten days or so. But I am trying to be a glass-half-full kind of person, so I'll take whatever good I can out of this.
Getting out is important. I understand that seeing friends and family, being outside, trying to find normalcy in our routines is important for our mental health. But gathering en masse to watch hockey does not seem to me to be a smart idea, however that is what the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) is working on. Earlier this week, CBC reported that OEG was working on building a drive-in and beer gardens for fans to watch the hockey playoffs from. In the run-up to the announcement that Edmonton would be one of the hub cities for the playoffs, Alberta was touted as a safe place because we had not hit 100 cases a day since May 2, but we now know that is not the case any longer. How many cases will it take to shut down the playoffs in Edmonton? How many cases will it take to shut down the mass gathering of jersey-wearing fans flocking to downtown Edmonton?
This week saw me finish one book, my second memoir in a row. Book #29 for 2020 was "The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss" by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. There are a couple interesting items to note about this. First, good on Cooper for building his career and life without leaning on his Vanderbilt lineage, and then explicitly calling out that even with being a Cooper that he has lived a privileged life. Second, this book originally came from an email conversation between son and mother, so throughout the book the narrative switches back and forth between perspectives. It is a very interesting way to learn about two people, especially as they learn about each other in the process.
The third and most interesting point in my mind is how messed up Vanderbilt's life was, especially in her earlier days. It would not be inappropriate to label her as hopping from bed to bed after reading how she describes her sex life. The relationships she had is studded with famous names like Howard Hughes and Frank Sinatra (but only for three weeks with Sinatra apparently). On top of this, or maybe the cause of this, was the tumultuous life and custody battles she was thrown into by her scheming family. I had no idea who Vanderbilt was outside of the recognition of her name, but now that I know her life story, it is fascinating if only in a morbid and sad way.
In order to explain herself, Vanderbilt frequently relied on quotes from famous people and authors. Early on in the book, Vanderbilt relied on quotes such as "Perhaps someday it will be pleasant to remember even this" by Virgil, but as the book progressed and her writing warmed up and she opened up, it was her own words that were the true insight into who she really is. I'll leave you with the one that sums her up for me.
I have no respect for those who harbor self-pity and I have none of it in reference to myself, but the rage is there, burning hot, deep in my core. --Gloria Vanderbilt
I added a few things to my Music Finds playlist for this week. First was an album called "Mordechai" by Khruangbin that was a mix of funk and laid back electronic sounds. Decent stuff and probably worth another listen, but not really my thing. Next up was "Xoxo" by The Jayhawks. I admit I was surprised how varied their sound could be as the album ranged from country rock to folk with a female lead vocal to a song that was reminiscent of late Beatles. Good stuff for sure.
The third album was "And It's Still Alright" by Nathaniel Rateliff. This was not new as it was released on Valentine's Day in the BeforeTime, but it was new to me. I really liked this album and will come back to it repeatedly. Last up was a single called "Racing Stripes" from Bombay Bicycle Club which was a live release. Racing Stripes came from an album they released in January, again in the BeforeTime, that I missed. I have not yet dug into that one, but will get to it in the upcoming week. I will suspend judgement on the song until next week.
Just one new beer this week. I wrote a couple weeks ago how Phillips Brewery was not that great in my experience, with their average being pretty mediocre. It would then be completely apropos that I would find a beer from Phillips that I really like. Their Oro Blanco Grapefruit Sour was really nice with lots of citrus flavor that did not overpower or get too pithy. Definitely worth trying if you are into fruit beers and sours. (3.75 / 5)
A small handful of words this week, largely from the words of Gloria Vanderbilt.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. Life is returning to a normal state that allows for time for reflection, personal hobbies, and the odd beer or two. Reading has returned in force as a result, which just makes everything better.
Time for the meat of this week's entry!
Another entry in the Gaming Disappointment category, but this time caused by an error on my part, I thought I was going to be able to pick up my Ice Cream Dice today, but I apparently picked the ship-to-me option! Ice Cream Dice was a successful Kickstarter by fellow Edmontonian, Marc Schubert. I was totally looking forward to rolling the Neapolitan set when our work campaign kicks off again this Wednesday. I mean, look at those things! They are wonderful. But alas, I will have to wait until closer to New Year to get them in my hands.
Last thing about gaming for this week: I am looking to curate a group of people, hopefully local, hopefully committed to playing, with a focus on roleplaying instead of roll-playing. Characters over Stats. I'll work on my outline in a long form post on this site, so let me know if you have any comments while I'm working on it.
Life is better with books. -- me
As I look back at 2019, my single biggest accomplishment is my focus on reading. I still have 16 days to finish four books to push my total to 50 for the year, which is definitely an accomplishment, and I should be able to do that with the progress I have made on Mort, Collapse, The Sword of Shannara, and ... something else, just not sure what yet.
Book #46 on this year's reading list was Slacker, by Gordon Korman. As with the other recently-written Korman novels I have read to my daughters in the past few years (Masterminds, Ungifted), this is written in a series of alternating first-person narratives, which allows the reader the chance to see everything from multiple perspectives. The style is interesting, and allows for some fun guessing games - Who is this chapter going to be about? Slacker was a decent offering, but I think it was lacking especially in comparison to Ungifted where the protaganist was someone to actually care about. But it was still enjoyable, and gave us several nights of reading. Gordon Korman will always have a place in my reading pile, even after my daughters have grown up and moved on.
In other reading news, I have discovered some reading groups on Reddit that should be really fun to participate in. r/ayearofwarandpeace and r/AReadingOfMonteCristo are subreddits devoted to reading and discussing Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo respectively. I am super excited to read both books, and really looking forward to the discussions as well. War and Peace clocks in at 361 short chapters, so it will be a daily read-discuss cycle. Monte Cristo will have roughly three days between discussions, so there will be more time to read in between. With that sort of additional focus, I am going to set my 2020 reading goal at 52 books.
Two new beers this last week. The first was the Rinktinis lager from Volfmas Engleman. Really good stuff. I posted earlier this year about another lager from this Lithuanian brewery, and I was impressed with it as well. I'll keep searching out brews from them. This one had a good level of carbonation and had a lot of taste but was still easy to drink. (3.75 / 5).
The second was my first try from Ommegang, and it was a bit different and not too my liking. The Bigger and Better is a bière de garde, or Farmhouse Ale, so lots of hops and yeast. It was too mediciney for my taste though. My friend Dave swears by Ommegang though, so I'm sure this won't be my last from them. (3.0 / 5)
These two earned me the Middle of the Road (Level 59) and Wheel of Styles (Level 25) badges from Untappd.
Lots of new words this week. I read the first half of Collapse by Jared Diamond, and your vocabulary is significantly greater than mine if you can read something by Diamond without learning a lot of words. Same thing with Mort by Terry Pratchett, but the words from Pratchett are more likely to be turns-of-phrase and very specific British terms. I needed a break from Collapse so I started Mort. I should finish both by the end of next week. And to be honest, a number of these words this week are leftovers from The Bone Clocks that I missed posting last week.
NOUN - British, informal
a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted
NOUN - British, historical
ADJECTIVE - humorous
NOUN - medicine
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.