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 once again from 53.5⁰ north latitude. Technically speaking, most of this week's post was written at 53.1⁰ north and 117.⁰ west. How do I know that, you ask? Well, I spent the weekend in a log cabin at Jasper Gates, which is right next to the Folding Mountain Brewery, and they have merch with their coordinates on it. No need to Google or use a GPS if you are lost. Just point to your shirt and have the driver take you there!
It was a guys’ weekend trip to the mountains with my friend Craig, coordinated by our friend Mike. I’ll briefly touch on that trip, including some thoughts about the mountains and a few personal reflections. Other than that, we are on countdown mode for our system launch in four weeks, there was one book read, a surprisingly low number of new beers given the trip to the mountains, and a handful of new words.
The size and beauty of the mountains are really amazing. The scenery is breath-taking.
It is amazing how much I take the mountains for granted. From Edmonton, we are less than three hours from the mountains so it isn’t really a day-trip distance, but it is absolutely accessible for a weekend. I don’t think I am ever blasé about seeing the mountains, but I don’t think I appreciate how lucky we are to be so close. This hit home when we were soaking in the pools at Miette Hot Springs and hearing all of the foreign languages and accents in the crowds around us. People travel from Europe and Asia to come soak in the same pool that I could be at every weekend if I chose.
Mike and Craig convinced me to go into the cold pools at Miette. Imagine sitting in the 38°C pool, trudging across the cold tile deck and jumping in a pool that is 10°C. The imagine patting yourself down to make sure that you didn't suffer from cardiac arrest, and going straight back into the hot pool. The feeling of the intense pins-and-needles across the body is really quite remarkable. It took me a lot of convincing to get me to go in the first time, but after that, it was much easier.
I can't say I enjoyed jumping into the cold water as it was just far too shocking to the system, but I am glad I did it. I certainly was in a positive mental state from doing something outside my comfort zone, but I would be hard-pressed to quantify any increase in a physiological sense. Mike promised to share some research about the physiological benefits that I am looking forward to reading - something about positive outcomes for the visceral fat surrounding the organs. Even without being able to quantify a benefit, the mental boost was definitely worth it
I finished one book this week and made a good dent in another. Neil Degrasse Tyson’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” was a quick read that left some solid impressions. Early in the book, Tyson explains the difference between the laws of nature and the social, legal, and moral creations of humankind.
The power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them. In other words, after the laws of physics, everything else is opinion.
Tyson is clearly a smart individual, and I am not qualified to judge where he ranks within the echelons of the world’s brightest scientists. His true gift though, in my opinion, is how accessible he is, and how accessible he makes the topics of the cosmos and the universe. There is a great multi-line sequence where Tyson describes the creation of the universe through to the scientific discoveries over the last several hundred years through to Einstein’s theories and finally to recent empirical findings that corroborate what Einstein predicted, all to be summed up with the statement: “Einstein was a badass”. Yep, pretty accessible.
The last chapter in the book was about taking all of what we know and understanding how we fit into the world, the galaxy, and even the universe. Tyson calls this the “cosmic perspective”. I’ll leave you with one more quote from the book that I think is truly worth reflecting on.
The cosmic perspective opens our eyes to the universe, not as a benevolent cradle designed to nurture life but as a cold, lonely, hazardous place, forcing us to reassess the value of all humans to one another.
The first from Folding Mountain was their Three Seasons Honey Wheat, which was good but not great. (3.25 / 5) The second was their Ridgeline Imperial IPA, which was much more my kind of beer. A bit boozy due to the 9.5% ABV, but not so much to be overpowering. Lots of flavor and a great aroma. (3.75 / 5)
After that was Coors Banquet. Yes, you read that correctly. Coors. My profile on Untappd says "On a personal quest to drink one of every beer in the world." and Coors Banquet therefore needed to be tried. Like all Coors beers, it is mass-produced and is targeted to a market that wants consistency and an easy taste. With that in mind, it is well done. Certainly better than Bud or Bud Light or Molson Canadian, but that doesn't mean it was good. It didn't even come close to the Three Seasons from Folding Mountain, and I wasn't really fond of that one. I rated it at 2.25 / 5 on Untappd, and that might even be a bit generous.
Last on the list for this week was the Jasper Brewing 6060 Stout. I have liked the beers from Jasper Brewing so far, and this was my favourite. Easy drinking, good flavor, smooth taste. It could have been better with a bit more chocolate, but that's probably getting too picky to be honest. (3.75 / 5.0) On top of that, I had probably the best bowl of ramen I have ever had. I might still have been basking in the endorphin rush after the Miette pools, but it was great. In fact, it was so great, I think I am going to have to start tracking and rating the ramen I eat to see how they stack up against this one.
The 6060 was my unique check-in Number 600 on Untappd. I'm still averaging a new beer every 2.5 or 3 days or so - more exactly, every 2.76 days as of today. But with all of those beers and the 600th check-in, no badges from Untappd this week.
There were only a few new words from Tyson’s book, but I am now reading “The Silk Roads” by Peter Frankopan, and that added the rest.
Happy long weekend from 53.5° north latitude. It is amazing how much work can fit into a five day work week. Looking back at the week, there were so many things going on, it is surprising that anything got done at all. Having the ability to focus on a single task at a time seems like such a luxury, such a foreign concept. I wonder if anybody really works like that anymore, or if they ever did. The hyper-specialization in the Industrial Revolution would be a clear example of focus, and similarly before that with a more agrarian society, but has a knowledge worker ever had the ability to focus? It is something work exploring.
I did have the ability to focus on one task most of Saturday this week, as I hauled five loads of sod and dirt to the Ecostation. Driving back and forth, burning probably close to half a tank of gas, I was able to plow through a bunch of podcasts, plus I took the train to work two days this week, so I had some time there as well. That is probably the most time I have ever devoted to podcasts in a single week, and there were lots of interesting tidbits as a result.
You can't take everything with you as you move through life" --David Letterman
That referred to the bad stuff in life, like regret, shame, and pain. It was a good reminder that you have to move on if you want to make amends with the past and be a better person in the future.
I don't know Maron he has always been this good at interviewing people, but I suppose after 1000+ interviews, you hone your skills.
The last of the great interviews was from Longform. The episode I listened to this week was an interview with David Epstein on the arguments for and against specialization at a young age and Epstein's book "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World". I really like Longform as I find the hosts are fantastic interviewers. Casual and relaxed, yet deep enough to hit the important points. As a comparator, listen to the EconTalk interview with Epstein to really see the difference a good interviewer can make.
Rounding out the podcasts was the History of Rome podcast, a monumental series that started way back in 2010, and another Freakonomics episode. I plowed through the first four episodes of History of Rome and I can totally see myself finishing all 179 episodes. Episode 2 had an interesting quote: "Might might not make right, but it will make a 1000 year civilization." The Freakonmics episode was "How to Change Your Mind" and the most interesting point was that people fail to differentiate between what they know and what others know. Following this through, there is a difference between the brain (trapped in your skull) and the mind (which is a collective and social construct of the people in your network).
The other book finished this week was "Zeroes" by Chuck Wendig. This was my first reading from Wendig after following him on Twitter for the last couple years. I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of "Daemon" by Daniel Suarez, but maybe not quite as good. Or maybe it wasn't as good since it really reminded me of a book I had read previously. Anyway, it was a good book, worth the read, and certainly good enough to continue to search out more from Wendig.
The Long and Slow Death of Google+:
I came across this article from January about how Google shuttered Google+ earlier this year. There is a good summary of the issue in the API and the decision to accelerate the shutdown as a result of that issue. However, the really interesting part of the article was the summary of why Google+ was created and a question as to whether or not Google even cares that Google+ was ultimately a failure.
Here's the thing...Google still got what they came for. More of your data.
With Google+, Google was able to understand more about you as a Google user. Your profile, address, likes, dislikes, friends, foes, etc. In 2011 maybe we thought that information about us was a fair trade for the ability to communicate with our friends. Maybe we didn't care, or maybe we didn't even think about it. But now in 2019, more of us do think about those tradeoffs, even if that number is still the vast minority of people. I wonder if I will sign up for the next big platform after Twitter. I doubt it.
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.