And what a week it was.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. We are still in the throes of winter with temperatures well below normal, and with lots of snow and ice on the ground. Most years that would be enough to qualify for making a bad week, but of course this year is different.
We have now finished our first week after shit-got-real, with school closures, store closures, transit service decreases, and more.
There is definitely an impact to us locally, with 226 confirmed cases in Alberta and one death. The measures we are taking will hopefully limit the spread at best and at worst will flatten the curve so that our healthcare system can get through the presumed massive numbers of people who will require hospitalization.
What we of course want to prevent is the absolute terror of the situation in Italy. As I planned this week's entry over the past few days, I wrote myself a note that said: "Italy on track to have more COVID deaths than China." That milestone was passed on Friday and now two days later, Italy has greatly surpassed China. Looking back at what I posted last week, there have been 45 deaths in China in the last week, but a staggering 3,016 deaths in Italy. To put that into perspective, there have been almost as many people die in Italy IN THE LAST WEEK than have died in China since the start of this outbreak.
As has been reported in multiple media [1, 2], Italy is a well-developed country with excellent hospitals and healthcare, but the massive volumes are crushing the system. The virus is undoubtedly deadly but the compound effects of a crippled healthcare system are even more frightening. Measures being taken here in Alberta to ensure there is capacity in the hospitals include postponing elective and scheduled surgeries and opening drive-through assessment centers, The steps we take now can hopefully shield us from what Italy is experiencing and what China experienced.
It is important to understand that Italy is not the only country in trouble right now. Reported cases are spiking in Spain and the US as you can see on the image above, and Spain is warning that the "worst is yet to come". There is an extensive lockdown in Spain right now, much more than what we are experiencing.
Even measures as strict as what Spain are instituting might not be enough though. The Washington Post opened the story that image came from with a warning from the World Health Organization saying that "such measures alone are not sufficient" and "that the disease could jump back after movement restrictions are lifted."
And then there is the impact to the economy.
All those store closures, and the impact to the global supply chain that Harvard Business Review predicted at the end of February, is killing economies around the world. The Indicator from Planet Money is only talking about COVID-related indicators and stories now, and their episode on Friday was particularly telling. The Indicator is a pretty light economics show, much more so than EconTalk or even Freakonomics so I don't expect major pronouncements or severe warnings on the show. On Friday however, co-host Cardiff Garcia said he was "terrified" of the impact to small business. His economic indicator for Friday's episode was that most small businesses only have 27 days of cash flow. After that, they have to shut down. To prolong their survival past 27 days, they could cut costs but that means more people unemployed, which means less money circulating in the economy, which means less spending, which means more impact to the economy.
The question then is to forecast how big the impact will be to the economy of a country. If the analysis from Goldman Sachs is accurate, the US economy is set to shrink by 24%. Think about that. A quarter of the economy of the United States, the largest economy in the world, will be gone. A quarter. I don't have any more words to describe this.
With all of that, with the impact to the entire world and the global economy, we humans still find a way to hate each other instead of pulling together. Some of it is overt, and some of it is more subtle, but none of it is good.
Less problematic if only because of his much smaller presence and influence was Scott Adams' use of the #WuFlu hashtag in his daily podcast updates. To be fair to Adams, he stopped using #WuFlu hashtag a week ago, and he only stopped calling it coronavirus for a few days. but for days he did paint the virus with a particular epithet that could only inflame some people and insult other.
Why come out now after weeks of coverage and call it the "Chinese Virus" or #WuFlu? What is the benefit of tagging this pandemic to a country or a people? I should listen to all of Adams's recent podcasts to see if there is a hint on why the changes were made.
I will leave you with some good news. My friend Tomas highlighted this list of organizations that are doing things to support employees, customers, and people in general, from paying hourly workers even if they are sick, to companies opening up their paywalls to offer content for free. Thanks to Scott Monty for coordinating this work.
I can imagine many of my non-existent readers remotely verbally lambasting my decision to post about the new beers I have had in the past week. The end is nigh, and this yahoo wants to talk about beer?!
I get it. My (tongue-in-cheek) personal goal to drink one of every beer in the world is trite and silly, but it was never meant to be anything more than that. I came up with what I thought was a catchy phrase and I've been using it for five years when I talk about beer. That's all it is meant to be, and that was something that was interesting and important to me in the past.
And that's why it is so important now. The world is different, but that doesn't mean we have to give up on everything. In fact I would argue that we have to hold on to what we had and still have to anchor us and get us through our isolation, our fear, and our anxiety. Recognizing what we have, being content with who we are and what we have, and living in the moment are some of the greatest goals of philosophers from ancient times to present. It is with that that I unabashedly present to you the new beers I had this week.
The first beer was the Prairie Pirate Black IPA from Ribstone Creek Brewery. It was not bad, but had a less texture and taste than I had hoped. I also thought it could have been been hoppier. It was a beautiful looking beer though. (3.25 / 5) The second beer was another Alberta Beer Week collab, this one between Town Square and Sawback out of Red Deer. The Glaze of Glory brown ale was supposed to be full of donut-y flavor, salted caramel, and bacon. I didn't get much of any of those and so was left with just another brown, which is really not a style I like that much. (3.0 / 5). Last up was the Patience Pale Ale from Legend 7. This is the last beer out of a Legend 7 sampler and it unfortunately was my least favorite of the bunch. It was a beer, yes, but wasn't memorable in any way. (3.0 /5)
The vocab muscle didn't get much exercise this past week, and I have a vague recollection of having looked up a couple of them in the past.
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude. A few days in San Francisco was a nice change, but I am really finding each trip harder to take. The level of poverty intermingled with the monied and privileged highlights the vast differences between the haves and the havenots. Maybe it is that bad here, or maybe it is just more noticeable there because there is less physical distance between the groups. Or maybe the lack of social supports and safety nets in California and the US more broadly has pushed more and more people into a life of brutal poverty.
Beyond the philosophizing instigated by the combination of seeing poverty up close and of participating in a conference with some of the top people in my industry, I was able to finish one book, I tried four new beers, and learned a handful of new words. Let's dive in.
Book #10 for 2020 was Cal Newport's "So Good They Can't Ignore You". This book has the subtitle "Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest For Work You Love". That subtitle contains the most important lesson from the book and is repeated almost ad nauseum throughout the book. Get good at what you do, and give that quality to the world, instead of demanding that the world give you what you want because it matches what you love to do. When put that way, it really highlights how selfish the passion-driven view of life can be if unchecked.
Newport has several other lessons in this book, but they all stem from his personal realization that finding passion prior to finding competence is a recipe for failure, disappointment, and likely even financial ruin. Going the other way, from competence to opportunity and then finally to happiness will take time, which is why the pursuit of passion is so alluring. I can be happy and fulfilled tomorrow, or I can work hard, maybe for years, and then I'll be happy. It isn't surprising that Newport would run into resistance with his theory of happiness because it requires hard work, a lot of time, and the development of an expertise in your vocation.
Another point that really impacted me was Newport's focus on deliberate practice. Instead of working on something, really work on it, Push yourself, set ambitious goals, but most of all, focus. Newport argues that those who can focus on their work, art, or skills, are the people that really excel. Practice makes perfect, but deliberate practice will get you to success and ultimately happiness much sooner.
The first beer was Drake's 1500 Pale Ale. Definitely good with a fair bit of hops, but it was a stereotypical pale ale with not a lot of body or punch beyond that. (3.25 / 5) The second was a collab between two Edmonton breweries, Sea Change and Campio. I have posted about Sea Change a few times on this site, and they produce some solid beers. This was my first Campio though. Campio is the last component of the Albeerta family and that in itself is enough to support Edmonton's newest brewery. The collab in question was the Mandarin Crush Lager, which is another beer that is challenging my dislike for lagers. It is clear that done well, a lager can definitely be worth drinking. This lager in particular had a nice orange aroma but could have used a bit more orange taste. (3.5 / 5)
Rounding out the week were smaller samples of two other fruit beers. First was a Grapefruit IPA from 4 Mile Brewing in View Royal, British Columbia. (Where? Here.) Lots of fresh taste with a good pop of hops. Nice stuff. And to round out the week, the Strawberry Fruit Ale from Samuel Smith. Once again, Samuel Smith produced a very good beer. I posted about their Chocolate Stout two weeks ago. This was pretty much the exact opposite of their chocolate stout being a much lighter fruit beer. It had amazing aroma and a very nice taste. A beer that tasted like fruit juice without being syrupy and cloying. Really good stuff. (4.0 / 5)
Not a lot of new words this week, but the ones I did learn were quite varied.
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.
Hello again from 53.5° north latitude. If anyone is in fact reading this, or ever will read this in the future, it will be obvious that this entry is for a two-week period. That is because our family was on the coast for a week, including last Sunday, which is when I typically post these blog entries. To give you an idea of what our vacation was like, the picture below was taken from the north shore of Salt Spring Island, one evening close to sunset.
Salt Spring Island and Edmonton are both in Canada, but in some ways are so far removed from each other to be foreign nations. The Saturday market in Ganges on Salt Spring is quite similar to a Saturday market here, but there are more people selling "natural" remedies that "harness the power of nature", with sellers making statements like "rose resonates with the natural harmonies of love". If the use of quotation marks doesn't make it obvious, these are not ideas that I personally give much credence to. However, there are many people on the island and in streets and shops in Victoria that are more removed from the necessities of commerce and action than myself or the people I typically interact with, while still remaining grounded in a world that I can relate to. One was a metal worker at an outdoor market on Bastion Square in Victoria. We talked to him for quite a while and bought one sculpture and would have purchased several others if the budget would have allowed it. On the back of his business card, he has a quote that I quite liked, and will use it as an anchor in my own life.
The nature of life is a circle. You define the circumference; the centre defines you." -- Mead Simon
Somewhat contrary to expectations, the amount of reading done in the week-long vacation was much lower than usual. I read one novel, finished a short story, and completed a book on philosophy that I started weeks ago.
First off, I finished "On Basilisk Station", which I mentioned in the last entry. It was good, but I remembered too much of it for this re-reading to be special. I originally rated it a 4.0 / 5, but this reading had it at maybe a 3.0 or 3.5 tops. I wonder if my tastes in books has changed in the 15+ years since I read this the first time. If I don't really like the second book in the series, I suspect that is the case.
The short story was "Gods of Risk", which is the second short story in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. This was was a lot longer than "The Butcher of Anderson Station", the Expanse short story that I mentioned in the last post, and it probably wasn't as good but was still enjoyable. The best part was how the story wasn't about Gunny Draper, but really it was. Read it to find out what I am. As with "Butcher" it is hard to rate short stories, but I'll say 3.5 / 5, but a stronger 3.5 than "Basilisk".
The greater the scientist, the more he realizes that his laws and labels, descriptions and definitions, are the products of his own thought. They help him to use the world for purposes of his own devising rather than to understand and explain it."
He also rails against the constant need to change, for improving, and going faster. This is probably where the references to the contemporary smart phone era came from. Instead of focusing on how to make the current better, why not focus on the current as it is?
How long have the planets been circling the sun? Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster in order to arrive? How often has the spring returned to the earth? Does it comes faster and fancier every year, to be sure to be better than last spring, and to hurry on its way to the spring that shall out-spring all springs?"
The journey Watts takes the reader on also addresses human emotion, connection, and love. Love for others, Watts says, can only come when the person understands that it is impossible to love oneself, because to use the words of Watts, there is no "I", there is no separation from "I" and the self.
Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself. This conviction will not come through condemnations, through hating oneself, through calling self-love all the bad names in the universe. It only comes in the awareness that one has no self to love.
This is a book that will probably gain from occasional re-reads and reflection. I encourage you to read it.
The Huawei Threat:
There is a lot of interest in Huawei around the world, and in my industry it is something that needs to be understood. If equipment from Huawei is in fact being used to capture information and relay it back to China, there is no way it can be trusted to transmit our sensitive information.
There are large national security issues, and there are many political issues that arise from the Huawei situation. It is difficult to wade through the stories to get to a common understanding without facts and without dispelling myths and rumors. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has written an article and produced an accompanying infographic to help with that.
It is important to do your own research on Huawei and come to your own conclusions if there really is an issue to be concerned with. If you think this won't impact you personally, realize that your next smart phone service will likely be 5G and there is a good chance that it will run at least in part on Huawei equipment. And on a more consumer level, walk by any mobile provider kiosk in your local mall, and see how many of the new phones on display are in fact from Huawei.
On a Lighter Note - Murder Mystery:
"Murder Mystery", the latest Adam Sandler film on Netflix, was pretty enjoyable. It spoofed the classic mystery genre - obviously hated individual is murdered, locked room, everyone with a motive - and added in a classic Sandler sad-sack character, and even threw in a pretty great car chase. Enjoyable stuff if you have 90 minutes and a Netflix subscription.
Only four new words this week, with one being a word I just can't seem to ever grasp.
Starting off this week's entry with two great quotes:
"I can resist anything but temptation."
Everything in moderation, including moderation."
Useful guidelines for self-improvement goals:
By now, I assume that everyone who has been in a white-collar job for over five years will know about SMART Goals. SMART goals would be helpful in any self-improvement exercise, but even more useful are the following five guidelines I came across in a web course this week. The guidelines come out of the Immunity To Change method developed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey (1, 2).
Why nothing can ever be perfect, and why that's okay:
I'm continuing to read through my Pile of Shame in my office, and I decided to tackle "The Evolution of Useful Things" by Henry Petroski. I was hoping for more of a Bill Bryson-esque read, something like what Bryson did in "At Home", but it is still interesting. The underlying thesis in Petroski's book seems to be failure is the mother of invention, not necessity or even inspiration.
Since nothing is perfect, and, indeed, since even our ideas of perfection are not static, everything is subject to change over time. There can be no such thing as a "perfected" artifact; the future perfect can only be a tense, not a thing.
No, you’re not entitled to your opinion:
So leads a 2012 article from the website, The Conversation. The particular article refers to an interview where a Wollongong station quoted a known antivaxxer in a story about a measles outbreak. The question the article poses is whether the antivaxxer should be given any chance to enter into the conversation if in fact her contribution to the conversation will not be based in fact. The central quote in the article is as follows:
The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.
While this seems intellectually sound when entering into a debate with someone whose idea of research and rigor is little more than Facebook, the question is how to get your point across when the other side just doesn't want to listen. This makes me think of the intro to "Civil War" by Guns N' Roses (i.e. "What we've got here is failure to communicate.
Some men you just can't reach...) and a 1990 paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called "Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments." This is unfortunately now behind a paywall, but it is worth a read just for the lemon juice anecdote. (No spoilers here.)
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Last week I posted a map of the area I was planning on taking my players through in our weekly Wednesday D&D lunch hour game. I realized later that one of the players might read this blog and therefore get advanced intel on what lays ahead in the game. This is of course pure hubris, because that requires this blog to have actual readers in the first place. But getting past that issue, I have decided instead to copy text here post facto from the campaign diary I write up. I particularly liked this excerpt, even if it has a heavy metagaming requirement to be understood.
Movie - I Kill Giants:
Spoilers suck, so I won't spill anything about the movie "I Kill Giants" other than to suggest that you watch it. And then read the graphic novel that it was based on (caveat: I haven't read it yet, but it must have been decent since it was developed into a movie).
Book - Cuckoo's Calling:
Hey, this was a good read. I stayed up late a couple nights in a row to finish it off, and I'm glad I did. I do like detective novels, especially if the protagonist has solved the case before the answer is revealed in the story. There are a few more stories in the series that I'll be sure to read.
Not nearly as many new words this week. Apparently the J. K. Rowling detective novel wasn't as erudite as Rosewater.
NOUN, plural in form but singular or plural in construction
1. dishes served in addition to the main course of a meal