As I sit at my computer to write this entry, 53.5° north latitude is a frigid -18°C. The forecast has us popping slightly above freezing this week, but it is December after all, and December is typically cold and frozen. But still.
Luckily the workload has decreased significantly without a single meeting scheduled for this weekend. Even last weekend getting better with nothing scheduled for the Sunday. With the scheduled returning to normal, we now just have to figure out which "normal" we are returning to - September 2019 or September 2017.
As some semblance of normality returns, regardless of what level it is, the reading and the personal engagement are returning, and with that a few new words as well. Still not a lot of new beers though. But with that as preamble, let's proceed.
"When you understand what is to happen and why, you are more able to accept and comply." - Gus, coworker
Gus said that in a meeting a few days ago, and it struck me how true it was. People don't like to do things they don't understand the rationale for. They still might not like what they are being asked to do, but if they understand it, they will grumble while they do it, but at least they will do it. A great reminder for those of us that have to institute process and rigor.
"You can have strong opinions, but they have to be loosely held." - Brad, coworker
Another reminder for teams implementing process and rigor. I have long told my teams that they cannot be the "pedantic application of theory people" and this is a related message to Brad's quote. Have a deep knowledge of your domain and be able to articulate the value it brings. Be able to argue the impact of not implementing your process or control. But then stop. There is no need to implement for the sake of theory. There is no value in implementing something that is not going to integrate with the rest of your business.
This is not to say you should not implement process, rigor, or controls that are not popular. Protecting corporate assets and customer data is not done to win friends around the office. I just think we need better reasons than "best practice" or "it is in the framework". Know your framework, and then go in to the conversation with an open mind.
Sacha Baron Cohen on Facebook, Free Speech, and the Internet:
A friend of mine introduced me to the WTF podcast by Marc Maron a few years ago. I don't listen to it often, usually only for the interviews with people I already find to be fascinating. The first WTF I listened to was Maron's interview with Barack Obama, and the second was his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen has created characters that are able to shine a spotlight on the absurd, rude, racist, biased, and downright awful parts of people and society. It was with that interest in the comedian that I watched Cohen's acceptance speech for the International Leadership Award from the Anti-Defamation League.
The speech was a takedown of how Cohen sees social media spreading hate and lies, going so far as to say that "this can't possibly be what the creators of the Internet had in mind". This is in reference to the lack of checks and balances governing social media, especially in contrast to traditional broadcast media. Cohen calls for a "fundamental rethink" of the governance and oversight for social media.
Cohen particularly targets Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in the speech, calling "bullshit" on Zuckerberg's arguments of free speech over regulation. Zuckerberg and other social media billionaires such as Twitter's Jack Dorsey are likened to "high tech robber barons". Cohen appeals to have societies "prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference, and experts over ignoramus".
The whole speech is well worth 24 minutes of your time. The article I read about this is here and the video is also linked directly here.
I said in the preamble that I have been able to read more regularly again after about six weeks of Reading Drought. The main focus last week was to re-borrow "Abaddon's Gate" from the library and finish it off since I only got half way through before work consumed me.
This was another good book in the Expanse series. My reading of it of course suffered by being interrupted, but it was good even with that. Since it is the third book in the series, it is difficult to discus the plot in any detail. However, there were a few great quotes from the book that are worth sharing. The first might be seen as depressing or even blasphemous to spiritual individuals, but there is a lesson in the last sentence that regardless of what we are made of, we can still make a difference.
There are no souls. ... We are bags of meat with a little electricity running through them. No ghosts, no spirits, no souls. The only thing that survives is the story people tell about you.
This quote probably needs a lot of background of the book series to really make sense, but I think this can be extrapolated to the technological society will live in, and the dangers of not fully understanding our actions.
Holden was starting to feel like they were all monkeys playing with a microwave. Push a button, a light comes on inside, so it's a light. Push a different button and stick your hand inside, it burns you, so it's a weapon. Learn to open and close the door, it's a place to hide things. Never grasping what it actually did, and maybe not even having the framework necessary to figure it out. No monkey ever reheated a frozen burrito.
These two sentences apply to natural disasters, but there is also relevance to those of us that work in disaster recovery planning for complex information systems as well.
Disaster recovery could only go two ways. Either everyone pulled together and people lived, or they kept on with their tribal differences and fears, and more people died.
Just a single new beer in the past two weeks. This was the 2019 version of Brewster's Blue Monk Bourbon Barley Wine. Barley wines can often be so high in ABV and in boozy flavor to be nearly undrinkable. I would even say that previous years of the Blue Monk suffered from those characteristics, but this year the flavor was spot on and the there wasn't the overpowering hit. Really good stuff. I should go back and buy a few bottles. This also earned me the Beer-giving 2019 badge on Untappd.
With reading comes new words. It feels good to stretch the vocabulary again.
你好, or in pinyin, nĭ hăo from 53.5° north latitude. It was a shortened work week due to the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday on Monday, but as we are fond of saying at work, that just means you have four days to get five days worth of work done. Much reading was done in spite of the busyness of work, resulting in one finished book and significant progress on another. Most other reading was related to politics, both due to the Canadian federal election tomorrow, and as a result of the impeachment discussions in the US. With all that is going on, there was only one new beer, and it was dealcoholized at that. A couple neat recipes to share from the Thanksgiving preparations, and a bunch of new words from all the reading.
Time to dig in to this week's leftovers!
I'm not going to jump in on the proceedings of the impeachment discussions south of the border with any personal diagnosis or assessment. I will however highlight articles and videos that I find interesting or helpful. I imagine there will be lots of good reading and watching in the upcoming weeks.
The video to share this week is from 60 Minutes. In it, Scott Pelley discusses covering the Clinton impeachment discussion and contrasts that to what is happening today with Trump. Being in my late 20s at the time, and given how the world reacted to women's allegations of rape, abuse, and harassment, I definitely saw what had happened with a different reaction than I would today. However, it was clear that Clinton lied under oath and there were consequences as a result. Today, perhaps, the consequences would be more severe but that is impossible to say for certain.
With Trump however, Pelley argues that this impeachment discussion is different and likely more important because while Clinton abused his power and relationship status with Monica Lewinsky, Trump appears to be manipulating global politics for his personal financial gain. Good stuff from 60 Minutes, and worth a few minutes of your time.
With just over 24 hours before the polls close on the federal election, it is shaping up to be an incredibly tight race. I reported a few times in the last several weeks about the projections coming from 338 Canada. Since July, the Liberals have seemingly gifted their rivals with the SNC-Lavalin scandal (that even has its own Wikipedia entry) and Trudeau's blackface revelations. However it seems clear that the Conservatives and NDP are unable to capitalize. The Liberals will almost certainly not have a majority government, which will be a huge - dare I say - black mark for Trudeau. But the Conservatives need to win 75 more seats this election to get a majority, and it is even more unlikely that that will happen. The trend lines for popular seat projections since August 25 are given below.
Looking at the graph, both the Liberals and Conservatives have dipped significantly. The benefactors are the NDP and Bloc. The uptick for both parties in the last three weeks is impressive, however the NDP are really only trending to be at par with their performance from 2015. One has to think that the NDP supporters want more from Jasmeet Singh than they received from Tom Mulcair.
The Bloc stand to gain two dozen seats this election, almost entirely from the Liberals, while reinforcing the message that the NDP surge in Quebec two elections ago was a forgettable blip in history.
A strong separatist party, a minority government, and a leading party plagued by scandal. This is a potent cocktail of uncertainty and drama that have many people interested, even outside of Canada. This CBC article discusses how foreign diplomats are scrambling to figure out how the NDP, Green, and Bloc could influence what a minority government would look like. Closer to home, Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote this past week that the Bloc support for a Liberal minority government would likely mean stopping development for all pipelines and halting subsidies for oil and gas. Braid suggests the Bloc's plan is "anti-Alberta" and would "ruin Alberta". It is interesting to note that Braid suggests this might be retaliation for Alberta's lectures to "Quebec over pipelines and oil imports going back to ex-premier Alison Redford". Maybe we shouldn't have been such asses to the rest of the country when things were oh-so-good here in Wild Rose Country.
Thanksgiving means a big meal with friends, and that means a lot of cooking. Tradition in our house is to cook a big turkey for Thanksgiving using the method outlined by Cook's Illustrated several years ago. but we are leery about stuffing the cavity of the bird with bread due to the opportunity to have uneven cooking and the resultant risk of food poisoning. It is a shame though because a good stuffing is fantastic to eat. Over the years we have tried various ways compensate, but for the most part we ended up with soggy bread that didn't taste like the stuffing we loved.
This year, we tried something new. Earlier in the week we had tried a easy bread recipe made with nothing but self-rising flour and yogurt of all things. That recipe was used to make some great cheese twists.
For Thanksgiving, we used the same herb paste that went on the turkey instead of the cheese - fold, twist, bake, voilà! Now we can have something that has a great taste of bread flavored with the herb in a turkey without the heaviness caused by being soaked in turkey juices, and all without being a sodden mess when cooked separately. Plus, no risk of salmonella.
The other hit this past week was a Carrot Cake Oatmeal made with shredded carrots and raisins, and topped with toasted coconut. The oatmeal hater liked it, and the oatmeal lover thought it was still pretty good. So now four people will eat oatmeal instead of three.
Over a month ago, I wrote about "Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World", by Michael Harris. I was able to finally finish it this week, and as you can see from this picture, there were several ideas worth flagging in the book.
The first idea that jumped out at me was about how hard it is be alone. Humans are social animals and society is geared to treat us as outcasts or miscreants if we want to be alone. Harris commented that people are impaired for fifteen seconds after texting while driving, "but this deadly wandering is a small price to pay to a person fleeing their own loneliness". Endangering lives as a response to crushing loneliness is a sad testament to the society we have created.
A recent theme on this blog has been online interactions and the powerful addictions that online systems can create in our minds. Harris talks about some online gamers being so addicted to being online that they are unaware that they are not in fact actually really and truly building something. The point of the system they are engaged in is, depressingly, more system. The point of being online is being online. Even if solitude and quiet contemplation is not some miracle cure for what we need as humans in 2019, being online just because is definitely not a direction I want to pursue.
Another similarity drawn from Harris's book with Lanier's book on social media is how online recommendations have significant sway in all that we do online. In the same post mentioned above, I commented:
In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
Harris asserts that this is problematic if we allow ourselves to believe that the system, the website, the algorithm can make better decisions than we can. An algorithm is unable to make a decision - it can only react to data in certain, predetermined ways. That is the exact definition of an algorithm.
a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Harris points out the danger in allowing us to believe that the machine or algorithm has a belief:
Nowhere is this creepier than the arena of taste. If we think that a computer program - so much more rational, so much better informed - believes one ting to be better than another, then the choices we make online about what books to read, what songs to listen to, what movies to watch become less independent and more manipulated. Suggestions on Netflix and iTunes and Amazon - all crowd-sourced and data-crunched - start to feel natural and neutral. If you believe a piece of technology can have a belief, then it's only a tiny step before you start to believe its belief is more important than your own.
As the book progressed, I found myself becoming depressed with some of the concepts. Harris begins to tackle how reading forces the brain to adapt and adopt and build new neural pathways that a non-reader will never have. However, he speculates that maybe solo reading is already obsolete. The fact that we are social animals as noted above might mean that reading moves from a solitary endeavor of one person locked into a book to a social exercise where we comment along the way with each other.
I find this a terrible prospect. The need for me to immerse myself in a book without distraction and without the need to interact with others is huge. Having to be with someone else and losing the ability to be alone would be a monumental loss to. Harris states that the "constant reader ... learns to hold opinions and ideas that are not their own" and that we not only discover new thoughts, but actually live them. Being constantly connected to our smartphones is "antithetical to deep reading", which is the ability to dig deep into what is being read and truly engage your brain in the material. Losing that skill would mean becoming just a another node in the hive.
There are benefits of course to the new technology. Harris points out that technology is allowing us to experiment with new types of storytelling that is impossible with the printed word. He goes on to say that "It was sixty years after Gutenberg built his printing press before anyone had the bright idea to number the page. Who know what social text innovations will be made in the decades to come?"
I highly recommend that you read this book. But don't get an ebook version. Find a nice quiet corner of the house or a park bench to sit down, by yourself, and read a physical copy of it. I think you will find the exercise well worth the time and effort.
Four new words this week. Three were from Solitude and one was from "The Silk Roads". That is proving to be a massive book to read, but with any luck I will finish it this week. Many more words have come from that book, I assure you.
moiling (present participle)
Hello again from 53.5° north latitude. Summer seems to have arrived but fall will be here later this week with temperatures forecasted to fall below freezing in a few days. Plus it is getting too dark to read in the car while the kids are at their various activities during the weeknights. Time to get out the winter bike.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
Podcast - Radiolab series on "G"
Radiolab is a great show, but I'm sure you know that already. Earlier this summer, they had a six-part series called G. G is the symbol for intelligence, and boy, would it be great if it was as easy to quantify and articulate a person's intelligence as a one letter moniker might imply. The six episodes did a nice job of outlining how hard intelligence is to define, let alone quantify. Here are some highlights I took away from the series. (Links to the six episodes here - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Reading Pile, aka Musings on What it Means to Have an Opinion:
I find it interesting how the reading pile organically seems to organize around themes. Earlier this year, the theme was around capitalism, captured by a half dozen or so posts referencing the topic. In the last few weeks, the themes that have surfaced are around humanism and disconnecting, I mentioned "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari above and quoted from it two weeks ago. I powered it through it on the weekend and came away with all sorts of conflicting thoughts. Are humans really the apex of life on Earth? Are we nothing more than algorithmic cogs in a machine to process information? If we admit that our human fallibility limits our ability to make the best choices, should we concede our decision-making to more advanced algorithms that are external from our bodies? In other words, should we allow some Internet behemoth to tell us what is best?
Harari's "Homo Deus" was published in 2015, so it predates the 2016 US election, and all of the revelations about Russian interference in the election. Knowing that, the following excerpt from Harari is particularly harrowing:
On a more sinister note, the same study (from Facebook) implies that in future US presidential elections Facebook could know not only the political opinions of tens of millions of Americans, but also who might be swung. Facebook could tell that in Oklahoma the race between Republicans and Democrats is particularly close, identify the 32,417 voters who still haven't made up their minds, and determine what each candidate needs to say in order to tip the balance. How could Facebook obtain this priceless political data? We provide it for free.
Humanism is founded on the idea that all humans are equally valuable and that humans should be allowed to make their own individual choices because they truly know what is best for them. Harari repeatedly mentions the notions that the voter knows best, and the consumer knows best.
If humans all have a perfect inner self that knows best, then humanism is the need to ensure that the inner self is fed and actualized. However, if that inner self is not immune to external influence, then the inner self is not perfect but malleable and corruptible. We know from Lanier's book mentioned last week, that social media uses what understanding of psychology and physiology to influence our behaviors and create addictions. We also now know from the Mueller investigation that the algorithms feeding what we see in social media are corruptible. Assuming we do have a true inner self, then we need to find a way to ensure that true inner self is free from influence. Again, see the reference to Lanier last week.
My friend Trent has the opinion that if Amazon, Tidal, Spotify or any other algorithm-driven cloud service can help him find more of what he likes, then of course he is in favor. Learn from my likes, purchases, and actions, and give me more of that. But if that is how I find my next book or music, then how much of that is because of what I already wanted, and how much of that is because of what I was told to like? Then again, what's the difference between Trent or Tidal telling me about a new band? In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
In the end, I think it comes down to trusting my ability to decide and knowing all of the influences on my decision-making process. I am beginning to think I have a much better ability to do that if I am not solely reacting to a stream of notifications and feeds, but then again, that thought is influenced by the stream of information that I am currently consuming.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Wednesday lunch hour. Boss fight. We have a plan. We draw out the boss. We attack without mercy. The foot soldiers fall. The boss gets hammered. We grab the box. Success! But wait! I am playing the rogue and I need to stealth away. No worries, I say. I have a +7 on Stealth. Easy peasy. Rolled a 1.
That is the beauty of dice rolls in an RPG. There is no reason why we shouldn't succeed based on our plan and coordination. We have the numbers and skills to overpower, plus we have the ability to trick and deceive, to intimidate and confuse. We will prevail. The failed dice roll probably won't change the ultimate outcome, but it is easy to argue that it make the outcome more memorable. If I would have said "oh hey, let's say I slip and fall 'cause that will add some serious suspense", it would not have had any impact. Contrived emotion and scripted action sounds like a bad television show. Rolling a 1 in that moment makes for a wonderfully memorable experience. The heart-dropping feeling, the laughs from my friends after my muttered f-bomb, the jokes after how the fighter, the barbarian, and the cleric all succeeded buy my rogue failed. All that makes for a much better memory.
The memories are also accentuated by the random comments that stick with the party. We dragged an NPC out from under a gelatinous cube a few sessions ago. His legs were covered by the cube, and he took some pretty significant damage (3d6). We weren't sure if he would live but we used a healing spell on him and ultimately gained an ally. He was unconscious for a while so we couldn't get a name, so there was an offhand comment about "Legless Jack". The name stuck. The DM could have had a name for him, but we as players never asked for it since he will forever be Legless Jack to us.
Here's to more memories coming from the shared storytelling medium of an RPG.
Only one new beer this week. The Surround Sound DIPA from Collective Arts was another fine beer from the brewery that is steadily becoming my favorite. (Sorry Blindman and Alley Kat!) This was a hazy, citrusy beer with a nice bit of pine, and great balance all around. Submitting that to Untappd earned me the I Believe in IPA (Level 23) badge.
A few new words this week, and one repeat offender.
[ ab-joo r, -jur ]
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.