Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where the rain has subsided and the COVID numbers are starting to head back up. This week was populated with lots of reading, a bit of listening, a new beer, and a handful of new words.
I listened to two really interesting podcasts this week. The recent Longform interview with Maria Konnikova was a particular treat because I had just discovered her writing based on her endorsement for David Epstein's book "Range" that I wrote about a couple weeks ago. Being the kind of reader that takes stock in book endorsements, I had looked up Konnikova when I read her name on the cover of Range. So being a fan of Longform and having some knowledge of who she was, I was very interested in this interview.
Konnikova had some good insights in physchology, poker, luck, and human nature. My biggest takeaway though was her comment about her podcast, "The Grift". She said that she wrote 10,000 words for each episode, and at ten episodes for the series, that totals 100,000 words. According to Konnikova, that is a full book.
So a full book at 100,000 words is a good metric for an aspiring writer, or someone who would like to develop a podcast. I'll be sure to pass this learning on if I ever find someone who fits either or both of those criteria.
The other podcast episode worth mentioning this week was the "Tick Tock for TikTok" episode of Rational Security. Of particular note was the discussion about Huawei. I have written about Huawei on this site a few times (here and here).
As usual, the team at Rational Security highlight a number of issues while discussing the various and important nuances of the topic, in particular how the US has seemingly forced the UK to abandon its long-standing approval of Huawei technology through the use of sanctions. I got the impression from the discussion that this approach has the short-term win that the Trump administration is looking for but at the cost of long-term erosion of a very important relationship with the UK. Huawei and China aren't going away - we need to figure out how to address them soon.
I was able to plow through two books this week. The first for this week and Book #27 for 2020 was Eddie Izzard's autobiography, "Believe Me". I really like Izzard's comedy, especially his bit about the Death Star Canteen. Watch that here, or watch the totally clever Lego adaptation here.
This autobiography was a bit of a rambling story that almost came together to communicate Izzard's personal life vision. The description of what he went through when he first came out was gut-wrenching, and it was interesting to read about how many failures and setbacks he had in his life to get to the point where he is an internationally celebrated comic, actor, and activist. I would totally love to meet him and have a chance to chat with him, but I'm not going to recommend his autobiography.
Book #28 for 2020 was "Artificial Condition", the second book in Martha Wells' Murderbot series. The first Murderbot book was #2 for 2020, and for that I wrote that "the protagonist and narrator is an augmented human designed to be an It instead of a Person, but it has decidedly human impulses and concerns." The second Murderbot builds on that theme, having our hero explore its background while simultaneously struggling with wanting to connect with humans and detach into the void of "media", i.e bing-watching on the future equivalent of Netflix. Really good stuff with a bit of humor, some touching emotional scenes, and enough hooks to make me eager for the next book in the series.
There are two interesting finds to point out this week. First, I missed adding a song to my Music Finds playlist for last week. One of my favorite finds in 2019 was a band called Future Islands, and they released a new song on July 8. "For Sure" is another boppy and poppy song with a great backbeat and the unique vocals of lead singer Samuel T. Herring. I'm biased for sure (see what I did there?), but I liked this new song from the first listen.
I added three albums into my Music Finds - Week of 13Jul2020 playlist. I had listened to Yo La Tengo a few times and liked some of their stuff. However, their album "We Have Amnesia Sometimes" was like Emo Gregorian Chants. Hard Pass. I also gave The Chicks, fka The Dixie Chicks but they apparently thought that was a stupid name, a listen with their new album, "Gaslighter". That was pretty good, with a few songs like "Sleep at Night" and "Julianna Calm Down" to be quite catchy.
The highlight of the week though was definitely the Bluenote release of a previously unreleased studio album from Art Blakely called "Just Coolin'". Recorded in 1959, the six tracks are a rare treat. Cool era jazz previously unreleased and now available on MQA format on Tidal.
It's great living in the future, especially when you can revisit something from the past that only came out in the present.
Just one new beer this week. I was not planning on trying any new beer this week as I wanted a break, but a friend gave me this to try mainly because he found it undrinkable. The Hack Weight Imperial Stout from O.T. Brewing was decent, but it was quite boozy especially since it was only 8% ABV. I can see why someone (most people) would not enjoy it. It was pretty well done, but not my favorite in this style. (3.0 / 5)
As I mentioned above, a handful of new words, mostly from the Izzard autobiography.
I took a pause last week mainly to let the impact of coronavirus aka COVID-19 sink in. It is easy to think that there is nothing else to talk about, and that is largely true. However, I am concerned that our new single-minded focus on the urgent will distract us from the important. I wrote the following in early December:
The trouble with working incredible hours and having a single-minded focus is that there is no mental capacity for anything beyond the focus of the single-mindedness. My brother-in-law apparently sold his house and moved cities. Vague recollection. A colleague is starting the next round of chemotherapy. Ringing some bells. The new Star Wars movie opens mid-month. Yeah, I think I saw a trailer for that.
I wrote that fourteen weeks ago, a couple weeks before the first case of coronavirus was announced. At that time, the single-minded focus was the result of work and a major system deployment. Now a global pandemic is focusing our thoughts to our health and safety, to stockpiling and hunkering down..
If it is possible to think about this objectively and intellectually, it is really fascinating how COVID-19 is impacting all aspects of our lives, including the mundane and subtle. Think of the new entries into our lexicon as a result of this pandemic, like social distancing. I wonder if 1,000 people in the entire world had spoken that phrase before last month, and just last week, three major media outlets all felt obliged to define it for their readers. Social distancing is too new to make the March 2020 update to the OED, but I suspect that it will be in the June 2020 update.
A quick scan of media is a good way to gauge how much impact any topic has. My podcast feed has been dominated by COVID-19 and what-the-hell-happened-to-the-economy episodes for the last two weeks, and I expect that to continue for the foreseeable future.
The data nerd in me is fascinated by good GIS maps and useful data visualizations. The most useful map I have come across for COVID-19 info is the one published by Johns Hopkins University. The combination of geography-based reporting down to the province or state level (for China, US, Canada and Australia) and the day-by-day breakdown of infections is particularly helpful for gaining understanding of how big this really is.
But then of course someone has to prey on the chaos and fear, and decides to produce a fake JHU map that downloads malware on to computers. The Hacker News reported on this earlier this week. If you do look for the COVID map, make sure you are going to the official Johns Hopkins site. (You could trust the link I shared above, but your best course of action is to search for it yourself.)
In the words of my 12 year-old daughter, "2020 sucks so far."
The "reading" lately has all been almost exclusively podcasts. I won't do a recap on any of the recent episodes because they are all very timely and specific to COVID-19 or the economy and as such have likely very little utility in the future. .
As far as actual reading goes, I have fallen terribly behind in my reading clubs for "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo". If I don't get back into those two books soon, I fear that I won't be able to get back into a rhythm and catch up with the group. I do have a few books in progress and I hope to get back to them this week.
Last week, I finished a YA novel with my 12 year-old daughter. Book #11 for 2022 was "I, Q: Independence Hall" was a super enjoyable spy novel, full of intrigue and threats of violence, without all of the typical tropey YA garbage about how the adults can't save the world and how the kids are so much smarter than their parents. In the end, the kids are central to the plot - it wouldn't be YA if that wasn't the case - but they aren't invincible and they desperately need the adults to help in certain situations. This is a series with author Roland Smith delivering six novels in six different historically significant settings in the US. I'm not sure if I will read all six by myself, but I will certainly read at least one more with my daughter.
There were only three new beers in the past fortnight. I am rapidly closing in on my five-year anniversary on Untappd, and in that time have logged 641 unique beers. My pace is for a new beer every 2.84 days, which is down from 2.74 days as noted in my first ever post on this site.
The first beer was the Steamworks Pilsner from Steamworks Brewery in Vancover. I found it to be decent but not great, with nice lacing but a bit too much fizz. (3.25 / 5). The next was the Moosehead Grapefruit Radler. It was nice and juicy, and pretty lightweight but that's to be expected in a radler. Good stuff and definitely something to consider for hot summer days. (3.5 / 5) Last up was my second beer from Odd Company. Their Carrot and Blood Orange Sour was good, but definitely not as good as their Mulled Lambrusco that I raved about a couple weeks ago. Still, I think Odd Company is worth looking for based on the first two of their beers that I have tried. (3.25 / 5)
Not a lot of reading in the past fortnight translates into not a lot of new words.
car·a·bi·neer | \ ˌker-ə-bə-ˈnir , ˌka-rə- \
(variants: or carabinier)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. It has been a really quiet week given that I took it off. Lots of me-time, a few beers, getting ready for the new gaming group I am organizing plus some Kickstarter related gaming news, and a few small projects here and there. Lots of reading as well, with one interesting podcast listened to but no single book finished. Let's dive into the recap of the week that was.
There was a lot of good news on the gaming front this week. First, I finally received my Kickstarter rewards for the Humblewood 5e campaign setting. This is a campaign I jumped in on back in May that is set in a world of humanoids based off of woodland creatures and birds. The package arrived early this week, all 4.3 kilograms of it. Books, minis, screens, maps, dice. Everything needed to play in the setting. I'm totally looking forward to running a campaign in that world.
Next up is a Kickstarter campaign that successfully closed this week. Monsters of the City from Cawood Publishing reached the first stretch goal and will publish their third 5e resource. I own and was really impressed with Monsters of the Underworld and am planning on picking up Monsters of the Feyland on DM's Guild.
I have now supported 25 Kickstarter campaigns and I have made some observations. First, the strategy of how to stagger the stretch goals is really important. For Monsters of the City, Cawood decided to put the extra art first and the upgrade to a hardcover book second. Was that smart? I do know that the extra art will make the book better, but having a three-book set with two hardcover books followed by a soft-cover seems to be a mistake. I wonder how many people were put off by not having a hardcover as the first stretch goal or even for the initial target.
I also wonder about the value of the stretch goals or if they are just a money-grab. There have been some interesting campaigns recently with one with no stretch goals but a few upgrades for Kickstarter supporters, to another with a ton of Kickstarter Exclusives that won't be available in a retail version.
After supporting so many products, I'm comfortable saying that my preference is definitely to make the product better. Dave Kellett of Sheldon and Drive fame does this really well on his campaigns. I have supported five different campaigns of his and he does a great job in improving his books. The first four stretch goals for his most recent "Anatomy of Authors" campaign were all about making the book better (book ribbon, end papers, gloss cover, foil lettering). After that, it was extras and add-ons. I'm going to watch out for that in future campaigns I support, and I think it will impact how and what I fund.
Last item on gaming: I have scheduled our first meeting - our Session 0 - for the Casual Yet Committed campaign I have organized on Meetup. I first posted about this a month ago, but only got around to scheduling our first meeting this week. Why such a long delay, you ask? Nerves, I tell you, nerves.
It's funny to think that something as seemingly simple and benign as organizing a game of D&D would be so stressful. It was though, and I think it is because it is forcing me to extend myself creatively. Asking a group of strangers to trust you to create and coordinate an ongoing series of events to cooperatively create a story is a much different experience than boardroom presentations, project sponsorship, and developing and mentoring a team. That difference and the uncertainty it created set me back a few weeks. It took me a long time to schedule the first session because I wasn't sure exactly what to do. I was nervous about how people would respond. I was nervous about not being able to do a good job.
I think there is a major lesson in this. Years ago my spouse and I made sure we did one new thing each year to push ourselves. That was before senior positions, kids, and MBA school (her, not me), so we haven't sat down to think through a new learning goal for a number of years. However, I think this foray into being the gamemaster for a group of strangers will seriously make up for that. And hey, it should be a lot of fun as well.
I only listened to a single podcast this week, but it was a Longform interview so it was definitely time well spent. This week, they interviewed Joshua Yaffa, an American journalist living in Moscow. Yaffa was recently back in America on tour for his new book, Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia. The interview is just shy of an hour and focuses primarily on what it is like to be a foreign journalist in a country run by an authoritarian ruler, who like authoritarian rules everywhere, has control over vast portions of the country's media. I think Yaffa's book will be an important one to read to understand a perspective from Russia that is less about the extremes - Putin versus Pussy Riot, as mentioned in the interview - and more about the people in the middle who had made compromises and have rationalized their current position or opinion. A social study of a society conducted by an outsider from that society who was granted a different level of frankness due exactly because he was an outsider. Looking forward to adding that to the Reading Pile.
As I mentioned above, I didn't finish any books this week, but I should be able to knock off a couple this week. That will get me to my goal of four books for the month of February with a week or so to spare. I have a personal improvement (i.e. I can't stand categorizing it as "self-help") book that I might be able to squeeze in this month as well.
I do want to give an update on the year-long group reading effort for "War and Peace" that I am in. The end of this week marks the end of Volume I, Part II, and puts us at page 201 out of 1224. So far, it hasn't been much work at all to read the book. The writing is excellent and the story is completely engaging. Cleary this book is a classic for good reason.
However, the best part of this has to be reading it as part of a group. I mentioned in late December that I joined a War and Peace reading group on Reddit, and that has been a fantastic experience. (The graphic above is the header image on that particular subreddit.) Engaging with a dozen or so other readers on a daily basis has added greatly to my understanding of the book and to my enjoyment of reading the book. Plus the daily meditations that Brian E. Denton posted on Medium in 2017 are likewise great for building understanding. I can't imagine having to read this book for any literature class without reading it both in this manner and with Denton's chapter-by-chapter analysis.
On a related note, my experiences with the Reddit reading groups for War and Peace and "The Count of Monte Cristo" have restored some personal confidence in social media and in Internet discourse. Strip away the ugliness of a social media algorithm (see "Reading Pile" from September 9, 2019), and strip away the dangers of online addiction (see "Reading Pile" from October 14, 2019) and you are left with the promise of a connected network. People seeking out others to connect and learn from each other. It really can be a beautiful medium if not used to exploit and sell.
This is the week 44 of the Show Notes blog. In my first entry last March, I noted three new beers that week to bring my number of unique beers on Untappd at 534. I hit 631 with the entries this week, which equates to 97 beers in 44 weeks, or 2.20 new beers a week. That is about one new beer every 3.17 days, which is a bit off the pace of 2.74 days between new beers I noted when I started this blog.
The first entry this week was the Alley Kat Oatmeal Stout collaboration with Village Brewery. I have logged a lot of Alley Kat beers on this site, and they continue to be a favorite of mine. I'm not nearly as big of a fan of Village, but they have produced some good stuff for sure. In particular, their Blacksmith Dark Ale was really good, so it isn't surprising that I would like what they did with Alley Kat on this collab. This was a fine stout, and a good use of oats to soften the taste. It had a a good long-lasting foamy head, and was flavorful but without distracting tastes. A winner for sure. (3.75 / 5).
The next two weren't nearly as good. The Temptation IPA from Legend Seven. If you recall, I have had a few of their beers in the past few weeks out of a six-pack sampler I picked up. This is my least favorite so far, but it was still pretty good. Temptation wasn't hoppy enough to be an IPA, but more of a pale ale. Still pretty decent if not on point for the style. (3.25 / 5)
The next one was the Chase 2020 from Blind Enthusiasm. I find Blind Enthusiasm to be quite hit-and-miss, and this one was a definite miss. I couldn't figure out the flavors or the aroma. I'm glad I was driving and only had the 250 mL glass. (2.5 / 5) I do need to give points for Blind Enthusiasm though for their drive to constantly produce different tastes. And on top of that, the food at Biera was awesome so the overall experience was still really good.
Luckily for me, I ended this week on a high note. Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout was really good. I have had some iffy chocolate beers before so was cautious about this one, but it was really good. Mellow aroma, good but not overpowering taste. That is the third beer I have had from Samuel Smith's and all three have been very good.
Lots of new words. The vast majority of the words this week come from various tape-flagged pages from the first two major sections of War and Peace, Volume I, Parts I and II.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. It was a relatively warm week and I was able to leave work a bit early a couple days so I actually made it home before it was dark. A refreshing change from the usual.
The week was largely spent working and listening to podcasts. I finished one audio book and am plowing through a couple good books right now. Only one new beer and very few new words. The doldrums of January are in the rear-view mirror now, so it is all uphill from here. Excelsior! (Or something like that. Is that even appropriate? What does it even mean?!)
The reading pile was really the listening pile this week. Book #6 for 2020 was the audio version of "Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on it" by Chris Voss, a very interesting primer on negotiating in crisis situations, business, and everyday life. The stories were all very interesting and relevant to the topics presented, and there were many useful learnings throughout. Voss summarizes that a successful negotiation based on an "information obsessed, empathetic search for the best possible deal" can "uncover value. Period." In other words, value for both parties can be found if you focus on listening and being empathetic. My favorite quote was one Voss repeated often: "You don't rise to the occasion; you fall to your highest level." That is a very useful thing to keep in mind, whether in a negotiation or just in normal day-to-day life.
Also in the "listening pile" this week were some very interesting podcast episodes. The team at Longform interviewed Kevin Kelly who is maybe best known as a former editor of Wired, Lots of good stuff as is the norm in a Longform interview, but here are my favorites.
First, he commented that we might be seeing a "turn back to subscriber-supported publications" as a valid mechanism for publishing and finding relevant content. The massive infrastructure required for a large publication likely necessitates a paywall, but if there is value in someone's content, it doesn't have to be only published by a multinational media conglomerate. There are lots of great independent publications that I constantly read: Longform, Lawfare, Lapham's Quarterly, Neil Pasricha, Warren Ellis, The Public Domain Review, to name the most prominent in my mind.
Second, there was a great insider analysis of how Wired changed over the years. At the start, it was rebellious and spunky, and later as it grew and became owned by those large media conglomerates (currently Condé Nast), they went from the "pirate ship to flagship" and they wanted to declare that they were the "official voice" of the technology industry.
Finally, I will leave you with a brilliant quote that came near the end of the interview. It is about the future, optimism, and how to move forward if we don't like what we have today.
The solution to a bad idea is not to stop thinking, it is to have a better idea. The solution to technology that doesn't work is not to have less technology, it is to have better technology. --Kevin Kelly
I also listened to a Freakonomics rebroadcast of their episode on how the San Francisco 49ers turned their ailing franchise around with new thinking, and positive attitudes. As I type this, the 49ers just lost Superbowl LIV to the Kansas City Chiefs, but regardless, you have to admire their success this season given where they were in 2017 and 2018.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan talked about why he works so hard, and it isn't machoism or fear of looking weak. which are reasons that seem suited to a football stereotype. For him, it is about doing everything he can so his team can succeed. It is like parenting - we do everything for our children in the hopes that they can have a better life than ours, regardless of the cost to ourselves.
It’s okay if we’re tired and we barely can function. We don’t have to perform the play. It’s us wearing our brains out all week to put our players in the best opportunity possible for them to be successful. --Kyle Shanahan, Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers
Just one new beer this week. Another collaboration, this time between Medicine Hat Brewing and Travois Ale Works. This is a neat collaboration because both breweries are from Medicine Hat. Their output was a weizenbock that declared itself to be "bready, malty, satisfying". As I said on Untappd, that is some serious truth in advertising. I really like this beer, and look forward to finding out more from both breweries. (3.5 / 5)
Not a lot of new words this week. I am starting to collect a lot of flagged pages in the various books I am reading, so I should clean those up before the list of flagged words becomes unreasonably large.
flageolets (plural noun)
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 ]
Hello from 53.5° north. It was another amazingly intense week, with meetings, deliverables, and reviews conspiring to consume the days faster than I care to acknowledge as we approach the launch of our new system in November. The work is good, maybe even great to be honest, and the support I get from the organization is amazing. It's just the sheer intensity of the hours that leaves me spent by the end of the day each Friday. But as I am fond of saying, if the worst thing that happens to me any day is that I have too much work, it is still a pretty good day.
We spent most of the weekend at a family reunion. The common ancestors were my wife's mother's father's parents, so my daughter's great-great-grandparents. It wasn't a huge amount of people, 60 maybe, but it was a good time. We went to Vermilion, which I was the only one of our family that had ever been there. On the way home, we stopped to see the pysanka in Vegreville, and the ... sausage ... in Mundare. It was good to connect with a bunch of family, and it resparked a lifelong interest in genealogy. And we got to see ... the sausage. (I mean, seriously, what is up with that? ) Plus, we got some seriously good Lobby Waffles at the hotel.
This week's reading pile was focused on finishing "A Choice of Gods" by Clifford Simak. Who is Clifford Simak, you ask? If you don't know, then you are in the same situation as me. As the Wikipedia entry on Simak indicates, he was a masterful science fiction author, and was the third individual named as a Grand Master of Science Fiction after Robert Heinlein and Jack Williamson (again, who?).
Reading science fiction from 1972 caused me some trepidation because the science could have been simplistic, naive or outdated. However, this was a story about human transcendence and the meaning of our relationship with our planet. It just also happened to have some robots and deal with travel into space. It was pretty clear that Simak deserved the accolades and the title of Grand Master since this story was incredibly readable 47 years after release.
I was struck by Simak's empathy to the "Indians", as he called him. Their desire for a life connected to nature was never seen as a weakness or a sign of inferiority. Rather, it was a choice to be connected to the earth and to nature as partners and not owners. The Indians were able to reconnect with nature after the Disappearance of most of the human race, and they were clearly better off for it.
We had only a few hundred years of the white man’s way and they had been far from good years. We never fitted in, we never had a chance to. It was a relief to shuck off all of it and go back to the flowers, the trees, the clouds, the seasons and the weather, the running water, the creatures of the woods and prairies—to make them a part of us again, more a part of us than they’d ever been before. We learned something from the whites, that we can’t deny—we’d have been stupid if we hadn’t. And we used these white man’s ways to make the old way of life an even better life."
Simak also offers a subtle commentary on the human need for technology that seems like it was written for today and not 1972.
But we no longer are a technological race. We lost technology when we lost the manpower and the knowledge and the machines broke down and there was no one to start them up again and no energy to run them. We don’t mourn that lost technology, as I think you know. At one time we might have, but not any longer. It would be a bother now. We have become competent observers and we gain our satisfaction from our observations, achieving minor triumphs when we are able to reach some solid understanding. Knowing is the goal, not the using. We aren’t users. We have somehow risen above using. We can rest content to see resources lying idle; we might even think it shameful to try to use or harness them."
And later, a less subtle commentary on technology:
A technological civilization is never satisfied. It is based on profit and progress, its own brand of progress. It must expand or die. You might make promises and be sincere in the making of them; you might intend to keep them, but you wouldn’t and you couldn’t.”
Knowing is the goal. That is a pretty remarkable sentence of a mere four words.
I'm really happy I read this story, and really happy I have discovered a great author. Some of Simak's earlier works are available at Project Gutenberg, if you are so inclined. I know I am.
The Freakonomics episode "How the Supermarket Helped America Win the Cold War" was quite thought-provoking. The thread was from World War I, to the creation of the supermarket, to World War II, to industrialized meat production, to consumerism as a vital propaganda tool against the Soviets, but then with a less laudable outcome of obesity and even to the use of corn to create ethanol for vehicles. There is a great quote in the episode about the need to "make agriculture green" which is ironic, funny, and depressing all at once.
Finally, some good news on the new music front. The Tidal weekly mixes are really starting to bring in some great music, and it is easy to get down a real rabbit hole for hours on end. Last week, I came across "A Song For Our Grandfathers" by Future Islands, which is probably my favorite song of 2019. I am playing it endlessly. So much good music, so little time.
It was a busy week for new beers. I found a collaboration pack from Parallel 49 that had a number of unusual offerings. There was a habanero peach gose (a very surprising combo), a brut made with yuzu citrus that was quite good, and one brewed with gin botanicals that I wasn't really a fan of. In addition, I had the West Coast Pale Ale from Granville, which was also citrusy without being overpowering. That added two badges on Untappd - Fields of Gold (Level 4) and The Great White North (Level 85).
All of the new words this week came from "A Choice of Gods", with the exception of horchata which came from a Vampire Weekend song.
canted (past tense) · canted (past participle)
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.
The wisdom of South Park is relevant once again, this time as I resurrected the "Blame Canada" scene while listening to an episode of the Indicator podcast from Planet Money. The episode in particular was from May 23 and was titled "Canada's Tariff Hangover". The episode was about the ending of the trade war and tariffs imposed by the US on Canada and vice versa, and in particular about a small business in Ottawa that was particularly impacted by the tariffs imposed on Magic: The Gathering cards coming in from the US. Near the end of the episode, the hosts drawing the conclusion that the small business owner should be upset with the Canadian government for imposing the retaliatory tariffs. To quote from the transcript:
... the Canadian government is what ended up causing Dave all this harm, if you think about it, because it was Canada's retaliation that imposed those tariffs on Magic cards in the first place. So it kind of shows you that when a country's government retaliates, it can end up really hurting some of its own people."
Trade wars are damaging to both sides. That's why they are called trade wars, and not trade parties, or trade fun-things. And yes, there were damages to Canadian business by the increased tariffs. However, to call out the Canadian government for the particular damage to this one store conveniently omits the fact that the Canadian tariffs were retaliations, meaning of course that they were in response to the opening tariff salvo imposed on Canada by the US.
Blame Canada, indeed.
BYDTWD, or How Much Meta is Too Much Meta?:
In our weekly D&D lunch hour session this week, our PCs encountered some weird elf-spider hybrid who was clearly thousands of years old. In talking to the DM after the session, his inspiration for a lot of this setting is a riff on the drow spider queen, Lolth. However, it isn't the same Lolth that we would see in the Drizzt books or in other canon material in books, game supplements or in computer RPGs.
This is something that is hard for me to wrap my head around. How much should I read about Forgotten Realms if the DM is not going to adhere to what I have read? Sure there is a Nashkel, but it isn't exactly the same as the Nashkel I know from Baldur's Gate. Does the information I know from the game help or hinder me as a player? Am I going to make a bad decision because Quinemin the PC knows a different world from Robert the player? Understanding the world the PC is in is important so that role playing is better, and so that better decisions are made. I just don't know if I am actually going to make better decisions because my context is inconsistent with the actual environment. Or maybe the DM doesn't have the world completely figured out and therefore my knowledge will help guide the game in a good way. Or maybe I should just stop thinking so hard and just play the game.
There were a few items of note this week - Podcasts, Tidal, Pencils, Beers, and a Zombie musical.
Podcasts: Old guy syndrome hit with a vengeance this week, and I didn't cycle to work on Thursday or Friday. That has the nice plus of allowing me to listen to a podcast or two during the commute. I synced up the podcast app (79 episodes!) and listened to the Longform Podcast interview with Christie Aschwanden. People who excel at long form interviews are clearly underappreciated.
Tidal: First, I'm back on with a streaming music plan, this time with Tidal. After the disappointment of losing my playlists, songs, and recommendations after Microsoft cancelled Groove (fka Xbox Music), I spent nearly 18 months without a streaming subscription. At first, I didn't notice the loss, but over time it became obvious that I wasn't finding new music. The last true new discovery was via my friend Trent and his recommendation of the hat-wearing, Danish blues guitarist, Thorbjørn Risager. But that was well over a year ago, and I wanted to find something to give me artists like Bombay Bicycle Club, Frightened Rabbit, and Broken Records magically appearing in my stream. I wasn't keen on Spotify after hearing Allan Cross's analysis of their business model a couple years ago, and options seemed limited beyond Google and Apple.
Along comes Tidal, with an option to stream lossless FLAC level music or even MQA instead of more prosaic MP3 quality. For now, I went with a Premium (non-FLAC, non-MQA) family account and if I buy a good DAC and some better speakers for my home office, I'll probably upgrade to the HiFi (FLAC or MQA) level. Tidal Premium Family is less expensive than two yearly Groove subscriptions were, so that's a plus. The real test will be with the recommendations it gives me. After a week, it is still recommending Nicky Jam and Flume.
Pencils: Ever wondered what is the difference between an HB, a 2H, and a #2 pencil? Wonder no more.
New beers this week: Three new beers. Two local and one from Scotland. First, Old Jake's from Alley Kat. Dry from the hallertau, a fair bit of spice, and tasty. (3.75 / 5.0) Second, Saturday brunch at Situation for huevos rancheros paired with their Clean Bite DIPA. Definitely a sipper at 8.2%. (4.0 / 5.0) Finally, Gunpowder IPA from Innis & Gunn. The Scottish brewery is still my favourite outside of Alberta. (3.75 / 5.0)
Beer stats: 534 unique beers logged on Untappd, and Saturday was my fourth anniversary on Untappd. That comes out to a new beer every 2.74 days for four years.
A zombie musical?: Zombie comedies are a great movie genre. Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and Warm Bodies immediately come to mind. With those in mind, Anna and the Apocalypse seemed like a sure bet and for the most part it was. It was a bit darker than I expected it to be, but hey, it does have "apocalypse" in the title. For some added fun, listen to the upbeat song half way through the credits. Great stuff.