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!
Week 45 for 2020 is done and already at the curb waiting for the trash man to come haul it away. What happened for Yours Truly and His Cohort in the last week? There was very little profound to report on, but I have come to realize not all weeks need something earth-shattering or mind-blowing or any other hyphenated-adjective. It can still be a good week without it needing to be memorable. I certainly did not need another election week after last week, and so a week where reading and cycling were the most dramatic moments of the week was just fine by me. Let's dive in.
I had a good week in the saddle with 56.9 km made in my cross-Canada virtual tour. That is not a lot of distance, but I got out twice despite the ice and snow, and hit the stationary bike twice, which is even less desirable than riding on ice. In addition, I finished on the segment to Nanaimo while setting myself up to finish both the Duncan and Victoria segments in the upcoming week.
Fun facts about Nanaimo, courtesy of Wikipedia: over 90,000 people live there; the original population of the area was the Snuneymuxw First Nation and only 25 people today speak their native language fluently; the average high for this time of year is 9.3° C; and, the airport code is YCD.
Here is a look at the progress bar so far. Hopefully all of this will show green in next week's update and I can start on the second leg from Vancouver to Kamloops.
There were two albums in the Music Finds playlist for this week. The first was an operatic vocal offering from Deutsche Grammophon (DG) featuring the Latvian mezzo-soprano, Elīna Garanča. She sings Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben song cycle and a selection of Brahms Lieder. Now before you go and think that I know what I am talking about, please note that I just copied all of that text from the DG site for this recording. I know very little about opera and classical vocals, but as I mentioned in mid-October, I am learning a lot from listening to Ben Heppner on CBC's "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera". It would have been nice to listen to Heppner explain the story behind what Garanča was singing, but for now I will be satisfied with simply listening and enjoying.
The second album as another release from Art Blakey. I mentioned last week that I was excited and shocked to see a number of "new" releases from Blakey available on Tidal. I dove into another this week, the "April 1957 Sessions". This was a good album, and the drum solo intro on the first track "A Night in Tunisia" was amazing, but overall this album did not hold my attention nearly as much as "Flapping Wings". It is still worth a listen, especially that drum solo. I have the next Blakey release, "A Christmas Soul Night" queued up for next week.
Hey, look! I am not sure if I missed this or if it is a new feature of Tidal, but now I can embed HTML code instead of just copying a link to the playlist.
Just one new beer this week, unfortunately. I really want to crack the 700 check-in mark on Untappd. I have a couple new beers in the fridge so maybe the update next week will be able to celebrate that milestone.
Beer #698 was the Estrella Damm lager. I was pretty happy with this as I went in with low expectations given that it was under four bucks for a big can and was clearly an international macro. I was pleasantly surprised and got a bit of pepper in it and overall enjoyed the taste. Could have had more flavor and malt, but still worth a try if you have not had it before. (3.25 / 5)
Four new words this week. On a completely random tangent, I absolutely hate how some people think that people of different races should not be allowed to love each other. I wish we could come together and understand how love is more important than a misguided notion of color, even if just for brunch. (Seriously, even though I just made up a sentence to get the definitions in, that is something I really cannot stand.)
Greetings from a snowed-in 53.5° north latitude. The snow fell hard on Friday night and then through Saturday. It was not a snowfall of record amounts, but the amount raised the question of whether or not it was a blizzard. A quick search on The Weather Network came up with this handy mnemonic of the 4-4-4 Rule. Winds over 40 km/hr, visibility less than 400 m, lasting for 4 or more hours. So yeah, we had our first blizzard of the season.
The other big news, arguably way bigger than a simple blizzard, was the US election. After waiting for votes to be counted in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada, the election was finally called for Joe Biden. Now Biden might not be your guy, just as Trump might not be your guy. But regardless of who won, there are some really interesting and important concepts being discussed this week because of the election.
The first came on election night on the 538 election live blog. 538 contributor Julie Azari commented on how much energy was being expended in discussing the shortcomings and nuances of the US electoral college system, and how little was being discussed about the actual issues.
The other point that really stuck with me was the post from 538 Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver about the average voter versus the average reader of 538.
With a caution about stereotyping, I think the guy in the "BBQ, Beer, Freedom" shirt in this news clip pretty much sums up average. Don't believe me? Remember that in this election Donald Trump became just the second presidential candidate to receive over 70 million votes. Barack Obama won 69.5 million in 2008 which was the record until this year.
I have to say how much I admire the man in the purple polo shirt. Joe Gloria, the election registrar for Clark County, was holding a press conference when the "BBQ, Beer, Freedom" guy interrupted by yelling how Biden was stealing the election. Gloria calmly let the man yell, waited for him to leave, and then turned back to the reporters and said, "Where were we? What was the last question?" That is a real pro doing his job.
Switching gears, I had never heard of Eddie S. Glaude Jr. before election day, but this 2'58" speech from 2019 was in the feed of several people on Twitter during election day. Glaude's speech was so powerful and so passionate that I immediately proceeded to buy his latest book. Watch the whole clip and feel the pain in Glaude's words. That hatred that causes that level of pain is what Trump released in America.
There was not much else happening this week beyond some cycling, great music, and some new beers. I did a lot of reading, including Glaude's newest book mentioned above, but did not finish any books.
It was a pretty good week for cycling. I had three solid rides including one after work on Friday that beat the blizzard by a couple hours. I might hop on the stationary bike in the basement and crank out a couple more segments, but the image below charts my progress as of the time of writing (just after noon on Sunday).
I really enjoyed a number of songs I put into my latest Music Finds playlist. The latest album called "Arm in Arm" by Steep Canyon Rangers was enjoyable, with Sunny Days, A Body Like Yours, and Afterglow being really solid listens. I do not think it was as good as their 2015 album "Radio", but still worth a listen.
"Azymuth JID004" (JID standing for Jazz is Dead) has a song called "Friendship Samba" that popped up in my Tidal feed that I really enjoyed. I need to put the whole album in my playlist for next week. This album is an collaboration between a Brazilian jazz band nearly as old as me (Azymuth), A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Adrian Younge, who is a composer, producer, and (wait for it) law professor. Some serious talent on this album.
I also gave "Existential Reckoning" a listen on a recommendation from a friend. Maynard James Keenan, front for Tool, put together Puscifer to explore his 'darker and more personal musings" according the artist bio on Tidal. I did not find the album to be my style, although I do admit "Apocalyptical" was pretty catchy, so maybe the entire album will grow on me after another listen through.
The best find for this week almost went to a cover of Leonard Cohen's "There is a War", done by Nathaniel Rateliff, Kevin Morby, and Sam Cohen (apparently no relation to Leonard). This cover has it all, from a great opening guitar note, scratchy solo vocals, and retro vocal harmonics in the chorus. Really great stuff, and easily my favorite single in recent weeks. With this single and his February 2020 release that I mentioned back in July, Rateliff might be my favorite artist of the year.
But even better than that was another release from Art Blakey. Earlier this week, I thought I should play that new release of material from 1959 that I also mentioned in July. I typed in "Art Blakey" into the search field in Tidal because I could not remember the name of the album (Just Coolin', as it turns out) and was excited and shocked to see five (FIVE!) more releases this year since "Just Coolin'" was released in July. I only had time to listen to to "Flapping Wings" but I will get to the rest later. Flapping Wings was great, and solidified Blakey in my mind as one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time.
I will not admit to day drinking due to the US election, but I will let you draw your own conclusions based on your experiences in the last week. Three news beers, and I was pretty happy with all three.
Beer #695 was the Leisure Lagoon Hazy Pale Ale from Coronado Brewing. A whole lotta grapefruit and pith. More translucent than hazy, as in not a lot of suspended particles. Very nice. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #696 was the Black Tusk Ale from Whistler Brewing Company. Whistler is pretty hit-and-miss for me, and actually more miss than hit. The first seven beers I checked in average slightly over 3.1 out of 5, which is significantly lower than my average of 3.2-ish. It was therefore a pleasant surprise that I liked the Black Tusk as much as I did. It was dark and malty, with a bit of bitterness in a good way. I might have rated it higher because I was excited to get back into the dark, heavy beers of winter, but this was still good even with that bias. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #697 and the final check-in for the week was the Pater Dubbel / Abbey Brown Ale from Corsendonk out of Belgium. This had big brown foam, with a bit of booziness in a good way. and a bit of caramel. Smooth and easy to drink even at that ABV. Good stuff. (3.75 / 5)
I am closing in on 700 check-ins on Untappd. As that is a fairly significant milestone, I think I will throw them a few bucks again to get the updated stats. It would be interesting to see how my average rating has fluctuated over the past five and a half years. My guess is that it has gone down, with my ranking of lagers going up over that same period. We will see how well that holds up under detailed scrutiny.
Just two new words this week. But after this week, I can tell you I am begging for a break from the news and politics in Canada and the US so that I can get back to reading more, and therefore finding more new words.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude as we settle into the fourteen-day waiting game to see how much impact trick-or-treating has on our COVID numbers. The week was a good one for reading, exercise, music, and work. Plus the weather improved and we got an extra hour of sleep after the time change on the weekend, so things are looking up.
As I look through my previous blog entries to reference previous writings for this week's entry, I cannot help but notice that the average length of each entry is lower now that it was a year ago. I suppose some of that has to do with having less to do, in a purely physical sense. No concerts, no festivals, no restaurant outings, and therefore less to write about. That should be a warning to myself and to anyone reading this as we head into the colder months coupled with an increasing number of COVID cases.
It will be imperative to get out, to connect, to find a way to be outside and with others, as much as we safely can over the next several months. Going into a winter with COVID will be much harder and more depressing that going into a spring with COVID was earlier this year.
Book #39 for 2020 was "Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" by Cal Newport. I really like Newport, or at least the concept of Newport: fact-based reporting, analysis of trends, practical advice. The problem is that his books are boring. I have never been drawn to book summary services, but I honestly think my next Newport book will be consumed via a summary. (Well, technically my next-next Newport book, as I am still fighting through "Deep Work".)
Digital Minimalism was a decent book, but it summarized other books and concepts I had already reviewed. Last October I read "Solitude" by Michael Harris, and last September I read "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now" by Jaron Lanier. As a result, Newport's offering was a bit dated as I had already internalized a lot of his ideas. That said, if you have not read either Harris's or Lanier's books, then the concepts in Digital Minimalism might be fresh enough for you to get a lot out of this book.
There was a wonderful quote from Newport that I want to share. I hope it resonates with you as much as it does with me.
You cannot expect an app dreamed up in a dorm room or among the ping pong tables of a Silicon Valley incubator to successfully replace the types of rich interactions to which we have painstakingly adapted over millennia. Our sociality is simply too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages and emojis. --Cal Newport, "Digital Minimalism"
I continue to make good progress on my virtual cross-Canada trek. The power of having a goal cannot be understated. The fact that I have a target and want to make progress is getting me in the saddle more often, and for (slightly) longer rides.
Last week I closed off the leg to Campbell River, and this week I proceeded to make it forty percent of the way to Nanaimo. My goal for this week is to finish off this leg completely. The weather forecast looks great so there should be no reason why I cannot log 82 km in a week.
There was a lot of great music this week, with two albums in my Music Finds playlist for this week. Next week is looking to be a big one with a couple new albums that I have already queued up to listen to starting on Monday.
For this week, the two albums were "The Weather " from the Australian band Pond, and "New Age Norms 2" by Cold War Kids. The Pond album took a bit getting used to as it is a bit of a somber reflection on the world in 2020, but "Paint Me Silver" and the two "Edge of the World" songs make this an album definitely worth a listen.
Cold War Kids are a band I have really started to dig in the last eighteen months or so. "New Age Norms 2" looks like a solid follow up to the 2019 "New Age Norms 1" release, with "You Already Know" and "Somewhere" being the standouts on the initial listen.
Just two new words this week. I hope this is not the sign of something bad to come.
Greetings from a slightly colder than usual 53.5° north latitude. It is not cold enough for the entire day to stay cold, but that is likely not far into the future. However, it is cold enough that bigger gloves or mitts are required for early morning rides. Riding at -5 C without good gloves or mitts is a very painful experience.
Beyond a few rides which I will give an update on below, a number of good listens and views, there was a great gaming experience this week, and two new beers. Let's jump in to the gaming story first.
If you look up role-playing on Wikipedia, the article branches into the various types of role-playing and then provides this definition for role-playing games, or RPGs:
A role-playing game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterisation, and the actions succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, they may improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games. --Wikipedia
The key concept is that the story is created collaboratively. The Game Master needs to be in charge at least to keep the game following within the prescribed rules, but the actual story that is created is the responsibility of everyone involved. As a GM, 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. It is important to be prepared but to not let that preparation narrow your options. Having a series of encounters that your players must do in order at a prescribed time is a recipe for either frustrated players or for you to be unable to proceed because you are not prepared.
In our recent session this week, the party needed to travel and I had three potential encounters planned. The first one was with a travelling merchant. I knew there would be nothing exchanged beyond information, but I was hopeful that the players would engage as there was one bit of flavor and information I wanted to get across. The second encounter was completely optional and I tried to describe it in a way that they would not be forced to engage with it. They ended up doing what I hoped they would because I was able to give them a reward that will be useful. To that point in our session, we had two encounters that were engaging and I think memorable. I was struggling though because both encounters went exactly how I thought they would, and that made me feel like I was railroading them. In the parlance of the game designers I follow online, I felt like I was taking away player agency.
This concern of taking away player agency was weighing on me because the third encounter was one that regardless of how the rest of the session had gone I needed the players to have. This encounter was really like a Talking Notice Board that tells the players "You are hereby requested to go do such-and-such and then report over yonder." There is nothing wrong with this of course, as long as the players feel they can do something other than mindlessly follow the orders of the Talking Notice Board.
It might have been a reaction from the players against two encounters that they felt they had to engage with, but their reaction to the Talking Notice Board was one of sarcastic enthusiasm. "Yes, sir, right away sir." "We'll be sure to do that right away, nudge, nudge, wink, wink."
And so they did not report in. They might check in during the next session, but for this week, they completely ignored the "request". They instead went for a drink and a meal and then proceeded to find a room at the fleabag inn instead of the nice place I assumed they would stay at. This resulted in three fabulous role-playing sessions, one with each player. A new ally was found, a super reward was given to the party, and a really touching story was created.
I am really glad my first two encounters went the way they did, but I was prepared for the players to not engage with either. Our collective story would not have suffered if those encounters were ignored, but the world is more alive and the players have more knowledge about how to act and react as a result of both. However, when we look back at the game, we will see that the moments with the player agency at its most free were the ones that will have the most impact on the long-term story we are creating. That required preparation on my part, but in a much different way than the scripted set pieces I created.
The last thing I will say about our game is that in a three hour session I rolled dice exactly zero times. It was completely role-playing and I all I had to do was talk. And laugh, and smile, and have fun.
There were a few good music finds this week. The first album was Lucinda Williams' "Live @ The Fillmore", which was released in 2005, and was a recording from a 2003 concert. (It would be great to see a concert at The Fillmore!) (It would be great to see a show anywhere!). This album was 22 songs over two volumes and was filled with Williams' gravelly singing. Volume 2 was that the better of the two, in my opinion, with great versions of Atonement, Pineola, Righteously, and others. Her voice really shone on Volume 2.
Switching gears completely, the second album was Massenet's opera, Thaïs. I have switched my weekend radio listening recently, and am really enjoying getting back into "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" on CBC. Host Ben Heppner does a great job of helping listeners like me understand the story and the music.
Last up this week was a single called "Who's Gonna Stop Me". This was a collaboration between Portugal, The Man, and Weird Al Yankovich. It was a good song, but I have to admit I probably listened to it much more intently just because of Weird Al's inclusion. I am not saying that it is not a good song, but I do feel I would have given it less of a listen if Weird Al was not part of it.
The other music item this week was a great interview on Tidal with Chuck D. This might have been the first interview I have seen with Chuck D. I enjoyed his stories especially the one about how Jam Master J convinced Chuck D to become a recording artist. The best part though were two quotes that really made me think.
The first quote was Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee.
"I cannot teach you. I can only help you explore yourself." --Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee
The insight in that quote is enormous. The power to change and to grow is in you and you alone. There is no magic potion or methodology or drug or app that can teach you to grow as a person if you do not want to grow.
The second quote was even more powerful, and I think this is something that I can empathize with and work to change, but I think it is impossible for me to really understand it being a white man. All I can do is listen and support.
If you black, it's the side you on versus the side that hates you. --Chuck D
Great stuff from a musical legend.
I closed off a couple segments on the way to Campbell River on my virtual cross-Canada tour. I need to pick up my pace a bit. At this rate, it will take me four years to finish the trek.
Two new beers this week. Both were good, but neither were great. Beer #691 was the Galactic Space Dragon IPA from Odin Brewery Company. This had some good pineapple citrus juiciness, not much hops, quite hazy. Tasty but would have liked more hops. (3.5 / 5)
Beer #692 was the Earl Grey Wheat from Collective Arts. I am a big fan of Collective Arts, so this one was a bit of a disappointment. This could have been a really interesting take on witbier but it was pretty bland. It was refreshing though, just nothing spectacular. (3.0 / 5)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude after a fortnight since the last entry. Two weeks ago I said not much profound had happened, and that carried through to the following week. As a result, I decided to skip last week. Nothing wildly significant happened this week either, but I did finish one book, have one new beer to report, and a small handful of words. I think the lull in my productivity and creativity is the lingering after-effects of resigning from that Board.
But first, I came across a quote and a proverb that really struck me this last week. The quote was from Matt Colville in video #50 in his "Running The Game" series.
Cynicism is the death of wisdom. --Matt Colville
That lead me to look for more quotes about cynicism. The most interesting, at least contemporarily, were from Steven Colbert and Conan O'Brien. Note that even though both of them are satirists and provide significant social and political commentary, both are keen to highlight the toxicity of cynicism.
Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes". --Stephen Colbert
All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. --Conan O'Brien
And finally, I was told a proverb from Cameroon from a co-worker. This seems to be similar to a quote from Shakespeare and there are numerous similar quotes peppered across the Internet.
The eye that sees others, sees not itself. --Cameroonian Proverb
Regardless of the provenance, it is useful to reflect on the words. If you are constantly and solely focused on the performance and flaws of others, there is no time to focus on improving yourself. Worry about you. Free your mind, and the rest will follow.
This last week saw the completion of Book #34 for 2020, "The Steerswoman" by Rosemary Kirstein. This is the first book in the Steerswoman series, and it follows two women as they try to uncover the origins of some odd jewels that are found scattered across the continent. Rowan is a Steerswoman, the title owing to a nautical background of a ship's navigator. However, in this world, the steerswomen are seekers of knowledge who scour the world for answers. While a steerswoman is undoubtedly useful onboard a ship, the majority of the story takes place on land. The other protagonist is Bel, a barbarian who chose to leave her clan to travel with Rowan.
Note that both of the main characters are women, and the title of the book and series is clearly about women. This is not a feminist book touting the need for equality, nor does it force comment how women can do whatever a man can do. Instead, it presents a world where there are no preconceptions about what is "a man's job" or "woman's work". There is no need to highlight differences when there are really no differences to highlight. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
In addition, this book is about knowledge, science, and rationality. There is some fighting and the threat of war, plus a brewing conflict between the Academy of the steerswomen and another faction. Beneath all of this is the more important story of how one woman, embedded in a culture of learning, undertakes to solve a mystery that defies her and her colleagues' understanding of the natural world. As above, for that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
There you have it. One book with two solid selling points. I am definitely looking forward to reading the other books in the series.
I put three albums in my Music Finds playlist for the last fortnight, but really only got into one of them. That was a 2008 recording by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis entitled "Two Men with the Blues". This was a fantastic album highlighting Nelson's signing and Marsalis' playing. Covering standards such as "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Georgia on My Mind", the two seem like a natural pair which is so surprising when you think about how different their musical origins are. This is definitely worth a listen.
Beer #683 was the Nasty Trunks sour IPA from Evil Twin Brewing out of Brooklyn. There was the good hops of an IPA with a bit of of punchy but not overpowering citrus in the sour half of this beer. Fresh and a bit sweet. Nice stuff. (3.5 / 5)
As a complete aside, Evil Twin seems to produce a stunning number of beers. Doing a search on their site shows 278 beers, but for some reason the Nasty Trunks did not show up. Maybe I have the wrong Evil Twin brewery. Maybe I found the other one, you know, the twin? If you can find Nasty Trunks on their site or if I have the wrong site, please let me know.
Just five new words in the last fortnight, with one my ten year-old daughter told me.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude once again. This was a week with a return to work so there was very little profound to note. A couple books were read, a couple beers were drank, much music was enjoyed, and there were a number of words to look up.
Let's get on with it.
I was able to finish two books this week. One was a dark mystery about a serial killer, and the other was another in a favorite YA mystery series that I am reading with my younger daughter.
Book #32 for 2020 was "The Darwin Affair" by Tim Mason. This was a highly enjoyable serial killer mystery novel. Four pages in, I commented to my spouse that this was going to be another "DaVinci Code"; in other words, a fast-paced, easy to read novel that kept me up until the wee hours. It did not quite live up to that prediction unfortunately. There were times when I found myself losing interest, and times where I felt like the often brilliant detective became a little too human. I lost verisimilitude in the world that Mason created as a result of those lapses. In the end, however, it was still enjoyable and worthy of a read.
Mason's novel reminded me of "Dodger" by Terry Pratchett which was Book #8 for 2020. This is clearly because of the same time period and the involvement of certain real life characters such as Charles Dickens. I did not realize before Dodger and The Darwin Affair that Dickens was such an activist for the poor. Mason hints at some failings of Dickens in the author's notes at the end of the book, but even with that Dickens does seem to have been a major influence on making nineteenth century London a bit better for everyone, and that must have trickled out across the rest of the world.
Book #33 for 2020 was the third novel in Stuart Gibbs's FunJungle Series, "Big Game". Since my daughter and I are reading these somewhat out of order, this is the fourth book in the series that we have read. I have to say it takes a bit away from the books when you can guess who the bad guy is because you know they do not appear in the next book in the series. There was a nice twist in this story, and it was as enjoyable and suspenseful as the others. As I have said before, this is a great series to hook a young reader into the mystery genre.
Looking at my reading pace for the year, we are 64% of the way through 2020 and I have read 33 books. That puts me on pace to read just over 51 books this year. That is a nice number, and it is good to know I have a chance to read a book a week on average this year.
I did not find any new music to add to a Music Finds playlist this week. However, I did watch through Ken Micallef video "20 Records to Build a Jazz Vinyl Collection" and created a playlist from that.
Some of the music in that list is mind-blowingly good. I had heard of some of the artists - Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie - but some of the others like Hank Mobley and Bud Shank were completely new to me. Same thing with the artists; "Porgy and Bess" was not new, but the soundtrack to "Alfie" was, and that was definitely my favorite on this list. The Alfie in question was the 1966 Michael Caine version and not the 2004 Jude Law version, in case you were wondering.
A lot of these albums are completely inaccessible outside of hunting through record stores and antique malls. This is why something like a subscription to Tidal or similar service is so valuable. Every one of the albums on Micallef's list were on Tidal, and some were remastered MQA versions. Check out the video from Micallef and if you are on Tidal, here is a link to the playlist I created.
There were two new beers again this week, bringing my unique check-ins on Untappd to 682.
Beer #681 was Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado. With a name like that and with that can design, I went in with low expectations. Never judge a beer by its label, as the old saying goes, and that was the case this time. This had a nice amber color, very good foam, and a very drinkable silky maltiness. It seemed slightly acidic to me though, which dropped the ranking a bit but it was still a winner. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #682 was the Green Fields sour from Bench. I was surprised to realize that I this was my first check-in with a Bench beer. I suspect I have had others from Bench but forgot to check them in. This was not a beer that would have me seeking out more from them though, so hopefully my experience with this beer is not indicative of what I can expect. This was a sour, but a very weak sour which defeats the point of this genre. The flavor seemed musty, with the sourness at the front of mouth not the back, if that makes any sense. I was disappointed but will give Bench another try soon. (3.0 / 5)
There were a number of new words this week, plus one word that is not a word apparently.
Welcome from 53.5° north latitude, where I wasn't for the majority of the week. We were fortunate to be able to escape to the mountains for a few days. Being out in nature was a great refresher, and the weather was fantastic which made it even better.
Back in March, I posted an article about the Goldman Sachs prediction that the US economy would decrease by 24%. I was thinking about that post as I listened to the Planet Money episode from July 30, entitled "GDP -32.9%???!!!" (emphasis theirs). As it turns out, the 24 % / 32% decreases are a bit misleading. The Planet Money episode describes how the GDP prediction is how much the economy would shrink if the current performance was extrapolated out for four consecutive quarters.
In fact, the US economy shrunk by 9.5% in the last quarter. Seeing a decrease of 9.5% is far less dramatic than seeing -32.9%, but it is still most likely the worst quarter in US history so the impact should not be overlooked. One economist on the podcast speculated that a lot of that decrease would come back once restaurants, bar, sporting events, and other social events return to previous levels.
However, I still question how soon that will be. Bill Gates was quoted in a recent Wired article that he suspects we still have between 18 and 30 months before we have a consistent semblance of pre-COVID normalcy in our societies.
And that makes me feel like, for the rich world, we should largely be able to end this thing by the end of 2021, and for the world at large by the end of 2022. --Bill Gates
If Gates' prediction is accurate, then the temporary nature of the GDP decrease starts to become much more permanent.
In other readings about the impact of COVID on society and industry, the New York Times had an interesting long article on how COVID crushed the fashion industry, and interestingly how it was already imploding over the last few years. I had not realized how much venture capital influenced the fashion industry, but apparently the toxic mindset of needing quick profits and immediate results was a crushing blow to several small fashion houses. Added to this was the collapse of traditional retail channels, and the fashion industry was ripe for failure just as COVID came along. It is an interesting article as much about bubble economies as COVID.
I highlighted the band Dead Horses in last week's entry, and mentioned that I was looking forward to checking out their February release of the EP entitled "Birds". After a few listens through, I definitely enjoy the album but I do not find the personal connection that I did with "My Mother The Moon". Still, they are a good duo with good music.
That is it for new music this week. So much time was spent outside that I did not have much time to dig into anything new.
Even though I was on holidays and even though the weather was super warm for most of the week, I only had two beers. The first was a great hot weather beer, and the other was unfortunately something that would have been better in cooler weather.
The first beer was the hot weather hit, the Big Chutes Lager from Freehold Brewing in Calgary. This is a very good lager, which is a style I tend to dismiss fairly consistently. Big Chutes was clean and very drinkable and is definitely worth keeping around the house, even on less than blisteringly warm days. (3.75 / 5)
The second beer was the Parkway Porter from Folding Mountain Brewing. I was sitting 200 m from the brewery and taproom when I drank this, which is always a nice way to enjoy a beer. It was really hot when I drank it, and a porter is not really a great beer for the heat. I will have to have it again when it is cooler to check my rating. (3.25 / 5)
I picked up a few new words this week, and as you can see, they are all words that are outdated or archaic, which speaks to the setting in the story I was reading at the time.
Greetings from 53.5° north once again. It was a hot one this week, with temperatures far above my preferred range.
As far as blog-worthy commentary goes, this week was pretty thin. This is likely due to the push to wrap things up before I take some holiday time. Even with that however, I was still able to finish one book accompanied by a nice handful of words, found some new music worth commenting on, and had one new beer .
Let's get on with it, shall we?
I read a fair bit this week, and finished one book. Book #30 for 2020 was "The Secret World of Og", by Pierre Berton. Labeling this book a Canadian classic seems a bit of a stretch. It was definitely on the plus side of good, but it was hardly a classic. It was written by Berton though, who is of course one of the great Canadians, so maybe it is a classic just because of the author. One definite redeeming feature was the art in the edition I have was done by one of Berton's daughters, and clearly done at a young age.
Looking at the stats for the year, I am now on pace to finish 51 books in 2020. That pace makes me pretty happy. For my upcoming reads, I want to do a lot of reading in August as the month will hopefully be pretty laid back. I certainly have a lot of books to read right now; unfortunately, all of my holds from the library started arriving this week so I have nearly 1300 pages of books sitting on my desk, plus two ebooks clocking it at probably another 500 pages total. I will need a can-do attitude to get all of that done before I have to return everything.
I added a couple good albums to my Music Finds playlist for this week. All three came from this week's episode of Acoustic Tuesday with Tony Polecastro. Polecastro discussed ten albums that changed his life. The first one of his ten that I added to my playlist was "Fork in the Road" by The Infamous Stringdusters. My experience with this album was not the same as what he experienced. It was definitely okay and the playing was quite good, but I did not find myself really getting into it.
Luckily the other two albums had much more impact. "Evening Machines" by Gregory Alan Isakov was a solid album, and I really enjoyed "Bullet Holes" and "Dark, Dark, Dark". The real highlight of the three though was "My Mother the Moon" by Dead Horses. I was already familiar with Dead Horses as their song "American Poor" appeared in my feed a few months ago. Added to that were "A Petal Here, a Petal There" and "On and On" as real standouts. I really find that singer Sarah Vos sounds like Carole King on "Tapestry", and that is pretty good company. I'm looking forward to digging into the album Dead Horses released in February in the upcoming week.
When I was in high school, our school sports teams played against other schools from around Central Alberta, including the small town (as in even smaller than my hometown of Stettler) of Rimbey. Being 16 and in a competitive situation on the basketball court, we were quick with the insults to the town, the school, the girls, and pretty much anything else related to Rimbey.
In the three-plus decades since, I have certainly moved beyond name calling for towns like Rimbey, but that is due to my maturity and not because something changed or improved. But now there has been a change in the town of Rimbey that I can be excited about, as the town is the proud home of Hawk Tail Brewery.
I was excited to grab a couple of their Amber Ale this week. The beer did not hold up to my level of excitement unfortunately. I thought the maltiness was pretty good, but I picked up too much burnt taste from the caramel. That does not mean this is bad brewery of course, and so I will check out others from Hawk Tail in the near future.
Rimbey, where the men are men, and the .. men are now brewing beer.
Quite a number of words this week, with some coming from Berton's Og but mainly from the other in-progress books.
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.