Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude. It was a quiet week, at least in terms of relevance to a weekly blog. Lots of reading but nothing finished, three new beers, and no new words.
Of more importance than anything else this week, there continues to be significant discussion about racism, injustice, and police violence. There was a really powerful op-ed in the last Saturday's LA Times written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, titled "Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge". The imagery Abdul-Jabbar evokes is staggering. The massive pain and anger caused by not just (just, that's quite the word) a single death, but of generations of systemic racism. The disproportionate impact of COVID on black communities. The concerted efforts to stop black from voting.
Because you realize it’s not just a supposed “black criminal” who is targeted, it’s the whole spectrum of black faces from Yonkers to Yale.
That op-ed is not the only commentary we are receiving. Media organizations here at home are helping communicate that this isn't an issue just for the US to deal with; we have ample problems right here.
CKUA (Disclaimer: I serve on the CKUA Board) is supporting the black and indigenous communities on air. I heard Leeroy Stagger voice his support on his weekly show on Saturday, and on Tuesday CKUA paused their "online presence for the day so that meaningful real-world conversations can take place about race, unity and healing." The commercial radio stations are also contributing to the conversation with sixty second spots highlighting the importance of standing up and confronting racism and injustice and being an ally. (One I heard was unfortunately diminished in impact as it was followed by an ad for a windshield repair firm purporting that they provide an essential services during the pandemic. But it is a start.)
Is it possible that something will finally change? Have these issues finally reached enough minds and hearts to actually affect change. I hope so and will commit to doing more to help in any way I can, even if this isn't something that keeps its momentum.
The three beers I mentioned at the start of this entry are actually a beer and a cider from Collective Arts and a beer from a collaboration of two Alberta breweries.
From Collective Arts, I had their Local Press cider and their Audio / Visual Lager. The cider was crisp and clean cider and very easy drinking. (3.75 / 5) The lager was well put-together but wasn't particularly memorable. (3.25 / 5). Even with that last comment, I want to highlight how good a brewery Collective Arts is. I bought eight singles from Collective Arts at the start of this COVID era and am now finished the lot. I had a few misses, but for the most they were all very solid offerings. My ratings for those eight averaged over 3.6 out of 5, and overall the fourteen beers I have had of theirs average 3.7 out of 5. I would have to download the stats from Untappd and do some proper analysis, but from these numbers I am confident that Collective Arts is one of my top three brewers.
The other beer I tried this week was the Beautiful Apex Hermoso Mexican Hot Chocolate Stout collab between Apex Predator and Ol' Beautiful Brewing. I just couldn't get into this one. I don't think it was badly done, but it just wasn't my thing. (3.0 / 5) I know spicy chocolate is supposed to be a thing, but I have never liked it.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. If my weeks had themes, this week's theme would have to be "The Triumph of the Introverts". I could see the struggle and the fatigue in the faces and hear in the voices of my friends and coworkers this last week. What seemed like a holiday a few weeks ago, a chance to hang out, try some new tech, ignore the commute, turned this last week into the slog of quarantine. The fact that we haven't hit the peak yet, that we have a significant amount of time before isolation ends, the fact that we should mentally prepare for another wave in the fall, has all taken its toll on those around me.
But not everyone is doing poorly. Some of us, the introverts especially, are faring much better. One might even argue that we were made for these times. If you have a deep-seated need to be in physical contact with someone, you are going to be in a much worse place right now than if connection via video conference is sufficient for you. Mental health issues will be paramount while and after we deal with the physical issues. I'll point out the same mental health support videos that I highlighted in last week's entry. Watch them for yourself and those close to you, and share those with others in case they might benefit as well. Even if you are doing better than most because of your innate personality and genetic makeup, it is highly unlikely that you are immune from mental health concerns. Take care of yourself.
There were a few other COVID-related items worth highlighting this week. The first was this combination sun hat and face shield. My spouse is looking seriously at getting one, but for some reason I just cannot take it seriously. The company selling these hats has various other "Health Protection" items for sale, but the main categories of their products on their web site include "Spring Fashion" and "Accessory and Beauty" so I can't help but feel that this is nothing more than a cash grab.
60 Minutes broadcast an interview with Peter Navarro, who US President Trump appointed to lead the initiative to distribute Personal Protective Equipment. Watch that interview for a quick lesson in deflection and redirection, and to see pushback in action instead of leadership. In the end though, 60 Minutes comes out on top with this interview with their mic-drop moment when they highlighted their previous reporting on pandemic response after Navarro openly challenged their role and leadership.
And speaking of a lack of leadership, take a read of this article and a look at the picture below to see what happens when poor leaders lead poorly. Note the vitriol of the Trump supporters with their MAGA hats and their "Don't Tread on Me" flags, all because of the American cellular-level need for loudly protecting personal freedoms, rekindling the "age-old U.S. debate over government regulation vs. personal liberty", fueled by a leader who just cannot lead.
There is more to life, well my life at least, than COVID, so let's talk about something else for a while, shall we?
Cybersecurity is important to everyone, and I would be remiss if I did not pass on this note about CIRA's new Internet protection service they call "Canadian Shield". CIRA touts their DNS privacy service, ransomware blocking, and pornography filtering service as "enterprise-grade protection for all Canadians". It is super easy to setup and free. If you are Canadian and don't already have access to a similar service or commercial offering, there is no reason why you shouldn't configure your home network using CIRA's Canadian Shield settings.
There was a lot of reading in my life this week, and I was able to finish one small book. Book #14 for 2020 was Susan Sontag's "Illness as Metaphor", the third book in our social science reading group hosted by Adam Greenfield. We only read excerpts of the first two books, but this week we read the whole book from Sontag. To be fair, it clocked in at a paltry 88 pages, but I will count it as a full book regardless.
There was a lot of very powerful language in this book; language that made me think about the social "value" of diseases, and how two diseases can be viewed so differently. A lot of the book is focused on tuberculosis, and early in the book, Sontag discusses how the consumption and wasting comes from TB has lead to the skinny mindset in the twentieth century.
Twentieth-century women's fashions (with their cult of thinness) are the last stronghold of the metaphors associated with the romanticizing of TB in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Sontag then contrasted the new waifish chic brought along by TB with how their male contemporaries stereotyped themselves.
Gradually, the tubercular look, which symbolized an appealing vulnerability, a superior sensitivity, became more and more the ideal look for women—while great men of the mid- and late nineteenth century grew fat, founded industrial empires, wrote hundreds of novels, made wars, and plundered continents.
I'm glad we read Sontag's book, but I couldn't help but feel it was dated. The book quotes Kafka a couple times as he ultimately died from TB in 1924. One quote from him from 1920 said that he had an illness of the mind that had moved to his body. Sontag's book was written in 1978, meaning there is a span of 58 years between his quote and Sontag's book. At present in 2020, there have been 41 years since Sontag wrote this book, which is getting close to the gap between Kafka and Sontag. Think how much has changed in collective thinking in those 41 years, and it seems that a 2020 Sontag book on the same topic would arrive at new conclusions.
It is unfortunate that Sontag passed away so many years ago, as it would be insightful to read a 2020 version with a new foreword by the author.
Lots of new words this week from a combination of War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo, Sontag's book discussed above, and a new science fiction book that I will hopefully be able to finish this week.
Greetings from an absolutely frigid 53.5° north latitude. We have entered into a cold weather stretch that is too cold to ride a bike in as the bike components themselves freeze. There isn't much to do but stay inside and read, which I did a lot of this week. The main accomplishment this week beyond getting back to work was to finish four books. So let's get into what I read and the other few interesting tidbits from this past week.
China's Influence on Canada:
There was a lot said in the media in 2019 about China and in particular about whether to allow Chinese made (and Chinese Communist Party-owned) Huawei telecommunications equipment into Canada. I commented in November and July on this site. The source of my commentary in July was an article from the MacDonald-Laurier Institute on some of the myths in the Huawei case, and they have continued to provide commentary in their December issue of their Inside Policy magazine. Inside Policy picks the Canadian Policymaker of the year, and this year they awarded the title to Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In the eyes of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, Xi's influence over Canadian politics in the last several years has been vast and sweeping, The article claims that Xi has forced Canada's hand in foreign policy more than any other leader, including the US President, and have caused our government to weaken our backing of international rule of law and human rights. If half of what said is true and not xenophobic fearmongering, then it is hard to ignore their claim. It is also hard to ignore the economic impact of such a large market, which is precisely why we find ourselves in this position.
If you need a more relatable analysis of the impact of Xi, the CCP, or Huawei, understand that Huawei continues to sponsor Hockey Night in Canada.
Moving on to better news, this week saw a series of books fall from the daunting heights of my Reading Pile and into the small but growing Read Pile. Four books were completed, with three of those having commenced in the waning days of 2019. Let's move on to the four.
The first book, Book #1 for 2020, was "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", by Mohsin Hamid. This was a unique book in that it portrayed one side of a conversation taking place over several hours in Lahore, Pakistan, between a Pakistani who used to live in America, and an American visiting Lahore. There was a small and ever-growing tension in the conversation cleverly built by subtle hints and comments. The reader was, or at least I was, constantly wondering what would happen between the two individuals. Would there be violence, or would the two find common ground and become if not friends, then at least companions?
I highly recommend this book if for no other reason than it challenged several stereotypes I have, some that I was conscious of, and others I was not. If you have read this novel, please reach out as I would love to discuss it with someone. I'll leave you with a wonderful quote from the novel. It wasn't particularly pertinent to the story or its underlying tension, but it struck me as I read it.
"Time only moves in one direction. Remember that. Things always change." --"The Reluctant Fundamentalist", by Mohsin Hamid
Book #2 for 2020 was "All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries" by Martha Wells. This was an extremely quick read, coming in at 140 small pages.
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. It was really enjoyable and thoroughly unique, and I definitely recommend it, especially in between larger or more emotionally demanding books.
Book #3 for 2020 was the second book in the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's series, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe". This was a second, or maybe third, reading for me, and this was one that I read with Daughter 1. Definitely funny, definitely quirky, definitely thought-provoking, but not quite as laugh-out-loud enjoyable as Hitchhiker's. Even so, well worth reading and sharing.
Last up for this week, Book #4 for 2020 was "The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library". This is one of the books up for a Young Reader's Choice Award at the local library system, and was written by one of the best Young Adult books I have read with my daughter's, that being Linda Bailey and "Seven Dead Pirates". I read Pirates before I started this site, so I unfortunately don't have anything to link to for that book, but I do suggest reading it. Anyway, back to Tiny Hero, this might seem like a trivial book to read even for Daughter 2, but it really was delightful. The characters were great, the story was believable as could be given that the tiny hero is in fact a green bug, and most importantly, the author's love for books and reading really shines through. We immediately grabbed one of the books discussed in Tiny Hero to be next in our readings - stay tuned next week to find out which one.
Just one new beer this week. Sea Change is a great local brewery and I have posted about a few of their beers in past months. This week I had The Wolf, which is their Pale Ale. It was pretty decent, but didn't have a ton of flavor. It did smell nice with a definite citrus punch to it. It wasn't up to par with some of their other offerings, but it was still good.
Surprisingly few words this week given that four books were crushed, but I suppose that it was easier reading this week than with finishing off something by Jared Diamond. Maybe more surprising is that very few of the words are from "War and Peace" or "The Count of Monte Cristo", which highlights that the hardest part of both novels is their size and not their required level of reading comprehension.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude in the land of the minority rule. It's a good thing that there was an election last week, or I would have almost nothing to write about. Lots of great things at work, but nothing that is relevant or appropriate for discussions in public.
Let's get on with it, shall we.
Fall Fundraiser 2019:
I'm proud to be on the Board for CKUA. I don't think I've mentioned my involvement with CKUA on this blog yet, which seems odd given how much work I do with the organization. CKUA is "Powered by People", which is the slogan they adopted for their fundraising efforts. That is their way of saying that they are donor-supported radio, and as a result, they rely on significant donations from listeners to keep the station on the air.
This weekend was the last two days of their 10-day Fall Fundraiser. They set a goal of $550,000 and instead of counting up towards the goal, they counted down towards $0. Over the course of the fundraiser, the announcers were saying "we have $X to go to meet our goal", and it was great to hear the numbers continually going down. I've listened to CKUA since the summer of 1989 and have been listening to their twice-a-year fundraisers for 22 years. This fundraiser was the most positive I can remember. Hats off to CKUA CEO Marc Carnes and the team at CKUA for a great fundraiser.
If you are a fan of music and want to support independent artists, give CKUA a try. If you can make it work financially, consider donating to CKUA to help keeping the station on the air.
Federal Election 2019:
The federal election finished pretty much as expected by the poll analytics site 338 Canada: a Liberal minority government, with a solid improvement from the Conservatives, and a huge jump from the Bloc.The NDP surged in the end but still ended up short of their previous results. As an aside, it is remarkable how much influence Jack Layton had on the NDP in the 2011 election. It is almost unfathomable that the NDP won 103 seats in 2011 when contrasted with their 24 seats this year.
The chart below shows how accurate 338 Canada was with their predictions. All of the parties were within the prediction range.
I was lucky to get any reading in this week, so the number of new words is understandably low.
你好, or in pinyin, nĭ hăo from 53.5° north latitude. It was a shortened work week due to the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday on Monday, but as we are fond of saying at work, that just means you have four days to get five days worth of work done. Much reading was done in spite of the busyness of work, resulting in one finished book and significant progress on another. Most other reading was related to politics, both due to the Canadian federal election tomorrow, and as a result of the impeachment discussions in the US. With all that is going on, there was only one new beer, and it was dealcoholized at that. A couple neat recipes to share from the Thanksgiving preparations, and a bunch of new words from all the reading.
Time to dig in to this week's leftovers!
I'm not going to jump in on the proceedings of the impeachment discussions south of the border with any personal diagnosis or assessment. I will however highlight articles and videos that I find interesting or helpful. I imagine there will be lots of good reading and watching in the upcoming weeks.
The video to share this week is from 60 Minutes. In it, Scott Pelley discusses covering the Clinton impeachment discussion and contrasts that to what is happening today with Trump. Being in my late 20s at the time, and given how the world reacted to women's allegations of rape, abuse, and harassment, I definitely saw what had happened with a different reaction than I would today. However, it was clear that Clinton lied under oath and there were consequences as a result. Today, perhaps, the consequences would be more severe but that is impossible to say for certain.
With Trump however, Pelley argues that this impeachment discussion is different and likely more important because while Clinton abused his power and relationship status with Monica Lewinsky, Trump appears to be manipulating global politics for his personal financial gain. Good stuff from 60 Minutes, and worth a few minutes of your time.
With just over 24 hours before the polls close on the federal election, it is shaping up to be an incredibly tight race. I reported a few times in the last several weeks about the projections coming from 338 Canada. Since July, the Liberals have seemingly gifted their rivals with the SNC-Lavalin scandal (that even has its own Wikipedia entry) and Trudeau's blackface revelations. However it seems clear that the Conservatives and NDP are unable to capitalize. The Liberals will almost certainly not have a majority government, which will be a huge - dare I say - black mark for Trudeau. But the Conservatives need to win 75 more seats this election to get a majority, and it is even more unlikely that that will happen. The trend lines for popular seat projections since August 25 are given below.
Looking at the graph, both the Liberals and Conservatives have dipped significantly. The benefactors are the NDP and Bloc. The uptick for both parties in the last three weeks is impressive, however the NDP are really only trending to be at par with their performance from 2015. One has to think that the NDP supporters want more from Jasmeet Singh than they received from Tom Mulcair.
The Bloc stand to gain two dozen seats this election, almost entirely from the Liberals, while reinforcing the message that the NDP surge in Quebec two elections ago was a forgettable blip in history.
A strong separatist party, a minority government, and a leading party plagued by scandal. This is a potent cocktail of uncertainty and drama that have many people interested, even outside of Canada. This CBC article discusses how foreign diplomats are scrambling to figure out how the NDP, Green, and Bloc could influence what a minority government would look like. Closer to home, Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote this past week that the Bloc support for a Liberal minority government would likely mean stopping development for all pipelines and halting subsidies for oil and gas. Braid suggests the Bloc's plan is "anti-Alberta" and would "ruin Alberta". It is interesting to note that Braid suggests this might be retaliation for Alberta's lectures to "Quebec over pipelines and oil imports going back to ex-premier Alison Redford". Maybe we shouldn't have been such asses to the rest of the country when things were oh-so-good here in Wild Rose Country.
Thanksgiving means a big meal with friends, and that means a lot of cooking. Tradition in our house is to cook a big turkey for Thanksgiving using the method outlined by Cook's Illustrated several years ago. but we are leery about stuffing the cavity of the bird with bread due to the opportunity to have uneven cooking and the resultant risk of food poisoning. It is a shame though because a good stuffing is fantastic to eat. Over the years we have tried various ways compensate, but for the most part we ended up with soggy bread that didn't taste like the stuffing we loved.
This year, we tried something new. Earlier in the week we had tried a easy bread recipe made with nothing but self-rising flour and yogurt of all things. That recipe was used to make some great cheese twists.
For Thanksgiving, we used the same herb paste that went on the turkey instead of the cheese - fold, twist, bake, voilà! Now we can have something that has a great taste of bread flavored with the herb in a turkey without the heaviness caused by being soaked in turkey juices, and all without being a sodden mess when cooked separately. Plus, no risk of salmonella.
The other hit this past week was a Carrot Cake Oatmeal made with shredded carrots and raisins, and topped with toasted coconut. The oatmeal hater liked it, and the oatmeal lover thought it was still pretty good. So now four people will eat oatmeal instead of three.
Over a month ago, I wrote about "Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World", by Michael Harris. I was able to finally finish it this week, and as you can see from this picture, there were several ideas worth flagging in the book.
The first idea that jumped out at me was about how hard it is be alone. Humans are social animals and society is geared to treat us as outcasts or miscreants if we want to be alone. Harris commented that people are impaired for fifteen seconds after texting while driving, "but this deadly wandering is a small price to pay to a person fleeing their own loneliness". Endangering lives as a response to crushing loneliness is a sad testament to the society we have created.
A recent theme on this blog has been online interactions and the powerful addictions that online systems can create in our minds. Harris talks about some online gamers being so addicted to being online that they are unaware that they are not in fact actually really and truly building something. The point of the system they are engaged in is, depressingly, more system. The point of being online is being online. Even if solitude and quiet contemplation is not some miracle cure for what we need as humans in 2019, being online just because is definitely not a direction I want to pursue.
Another similarity drawn from Harris's book with Lanier's book on social media is how online recommendations have significant sway in all that we do online. In the same post mentioned above, I commented:
In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
Harris asserts that this is problematic if we allow ourselves to believe that the system, the website, the algorithm can make better decisions than we can. An algorithm is unable to make a decision - it can only react to data in certain, predetermined ways. That is the exact definition of an algorithm.
a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Harris points out the danger in allowing us to believe that the machine or algorithm has a belief:
Nowhere is this creepier than the arena of taste. If we think that a computer program - so much more rational, so much better informed - believes one ting to be better than another, then the choices we make online about what books to read, what songs to listen to, what movies to watch become less independent and more manipulated. Suggestions on Netflix and iTunes and Amazon - all crowd-sourced and data-crunched - start to feel natural and neutral. If you believe a piece of technology can have a belief, then it's only a tiny step before you start to believe its belief is more important than your own.
As the book progressed, I found myself becoming depressed with some of the concepts. Harris begins to tackle how reading forces the brain to adapt and adopt and build new neural pathways that a non-reader will never have. However, he speculates that maybe solo reading is already obsolete. The fact that we are social animals as noted above might mean that reading moves from a solitary endeavor of one person locked into a book to a social exercise where we comment along the way with each other.
I find this a terrible prospect. The need for me to immerse myself in a book without distraction and without the need to interact with others is huge. Having to be with someone else and losing the ability to be alone would be a monumental loss to. Harris states that the "constant reader ... learns to hold opinions and ideas that are not their own" and that we not only discover new thoughts, but actually live them. Being constantly connected to our smartphones is "antithetical to deep reading", which is the ability to dig deep into what is being read and truly engage your brain in the material. Losing that skill would mean becoming just a another node in the hive.
There are benefits of course to the new technology. Harris points out that technology is allowing us to experiment with new types of storytelling that is impossible with the printed word. He goes on to say that "It was sixty years after Gutenberg built his printing press before anyone had the bright idea to number the page. Who know what social text innovations will be made in the decades to come?"
I highly recommend that you read this book. But don't get an ebook version. Find a nice quiet corner of the house or a park bench to sit down, by yourself, and read a physical copy of it. I think you will find the exercise well worth the time and effort.
Four new words this week. Three were from Solitude and one was from "The Silk Roads". That is proving to be a massive book to read, but with any luck I will finish it this week. Many more words have come from that book, I assure you.
moiling (present participle)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. Fall has definitely arrived and with it, the first crash of the season. Too many leaves on the ground and if you ever ride in the fall, you will know how slippery a pile of wet leaves can be. Landing on the handlebar is apparently a good way to make it bend.
Still lots of time spent at work, so still not a lot going on beyond that. One book, a remarkable political scandal with a remarkable lack of impact, two new beers, and a handful of words.
To infinity and beyond!
Finishing that book brings my annual total to 41, and sets me on pace to read 55 books this year. My tally for 2018 was 34 books, and 40 books for 2017. So sitting here at the end of September, I have already read more books than I have in any other year.
As I type this, Canada is 22 days from the Federal Election. A couple weeks ago, I commented how the polls were shaping up to disappoint all parties, with the likely answer a minority government. The Liberals had the most to lose, I said, due to "Trudeau's inability to deliver and likely highlights his constant parade of gaffes". Well, they kept on coming.
Four weeks ago, the Liberals might not have had a clear road to majority, but surely the latest Liberal scandal must have erased even their hopes of a minority government, right? Maybe not, according to 338Canada and their article in Maclean's this week. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the 338Canada analysis from four weeks ago and this week.
Looking at that comparison, people that are going to vote for the Conservatives have already self-identified. The Liberals and even the Bloc are gaining ground at the expense of the NDP, and the Greens will still get their four seats, assuming we let them round up instead of down.
Twenty-two days to go. Lots could happen of course, but if the blackface / brownface issue is not big enough to sway the polls, I can only be very afraid of what it would take to actually make a difference.
Two new beers this week. The first was Baldwin Steam from Alley Kat. If you read this site at all, you know I drink a lot of different beers from Alley Kat. That is partly because they do good work, and partly because they are the closest brewery from my house. I like Alley Kat's regular beers, but I particularly like the variety they bring with their Dragon series of DIPAs, and the small batch Back Alley Brew series. My latest BAB was the Baldwin Steam, Lots of pine and a flavor that I couldn't place. The label talks about earthiness, so maybe that is it. If I am being honest, this one didn't do as much for me as some of their others, but it was still well put together.
The second was the Farm to Table Imperial from Russell Brewing. I don't have a lot of experience with Russell, but they seem to produce a solid line up. The Farm to Table had a lot of citrus from the hops, and was a high ABV beer, but there wasn't too much booziness so it was easy to drink. Good stuff. This one earned me Middle of the Road (Level 58) and The Great White North (Level 87) on Untappd.
Nine words this week, with one I know that I looked up before, and two that I really should have known. I will leave it to the reader to determine which words fit which category.
dossing (present participle)
Hello again from 53.5° north latitude. Summer seems to have arrived but fall will be here later this week with temperatures forecasted to fall below freezing in a few days. Plus it is getting too dark to read in the car while the kids are at their various activities during the weeknights. Time to get out the winter bike.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
Podcast - Radiolab series on "G"
Radiolab is a great show, but I'm sure you know that already. Earlier this summer, they had a six-part series called G. G is the symbol for intelligence, and boy, would it be great if it was as easy to quantify and articulate a person's intelligence as a one letter moniker might imply. The six episodes did a nice job of outlining how hard intelligence is to define, let alone quantify. Here are some highlights I took away from the series. (Links to the six episodes here - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Reading Pile, aka Musings on What it Means to Have an Opinion:
I find it interesting how the reading pile organically seems to organize around themes. Earlier this year, the theme was around capitalism, captured by a half dozen or so posts referencing the topic. In the last few weeks, the themes that have surfaced are around humanism and disconnecting, I mentioned "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari above and quoted from it two weeks ago. I powered it through it on the weekend and came away with all sorts of conflicting thoughts. Are humans really the apex of life on Earth? Are we nothing more than algorithmic cogs in a machine to process information? If we admit that our human fallibility limits our ability to make the best choices, should we concede our decision-making to more advanced algorithms that are external from our bodies? In other words, should we allow some Internet behemoth to tell us what is best?
Harari's "Homo Deus" was published in 2015, so it predates the 2016 US election, and all of the revelations about Russian interference in the election. Knowing that, the following excerpt from Harari is particularly harrowing:
On a more sinister note, the same study (from Facebook) implies that in future US presidential elections Facebook could know not only the political opinions of tens of millions of Americans, but also who might be swung. Facebook could tell that in Oklahoma the race between Republicans and Democrats is particularly close, identify the 32,417 voters who still haven't made up their minds, and determine what each candidate needs to say in order to tip the balance. How could Facebook obtain this priceless political data? We provide it for free.
Humanism is founded on the idea that all humans are equally valuable and that humans should be allowed to make their own individual choices because they truly know what is best for them. Harari repeatedly mentions the notions that the voter knows best, and the consumer knows best.
If humans all have a perfect inner self that knows best, then humanism is the need to ensure that the inner self is fed and actualized. However, if that inner self is not immune to external influence, then the inner self is not perfect but malleable and corruptible. We know from Lanier's book mentioned last week, that social media uses what understanding of psychology and physiology to influence our behaviors and create addictions. We also now know from the Mueller investigation that the algorithms feeding what we see in social media are corruptible. Assuming we do have a true inner self, then we need to find a way to ensure that true inner self is free from influence. Again, see the reference to Lanier last week.
My friend Trent has the opinion that if Amazon, Tidal, Spotify or any other algorithm-driven cloud service can help him find more of what he likes, then of course he is in favor. Learn from my likes, purchases, and actions, and give me more of that. But if that is how I find my next book or music, then how much of that is because of what I already wanted, and how much of that is because of what I was told to like? Then again, what's the difference between Trent or Tidal telling me about a new band? In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
In the end, I think it comes down to trusting my ability to decide and knowing all of the influences on my decision-making process. I am beginning to think I have a much better ability to do that if I am not solely reacting to a stream of notifications and feeds, but then again, that thought is influenced by the stream of information that I am currently consuming.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Wednesday lunch hour. Boss fight. We have a plan. We draw out the boss. We attack without mercy. The foot soldiers fall. The boss gets hammered. We grab the box. Success! But wait! I am playing the rogue and I need to stealth away. No worries, I say. I have a +7 on Stealth. Easy peasy. Rolled a 1.
That is the beauty of dice rolls in an RPG. There is no reason why we shouldn't succeed based on our plan and coordination. We have the numbers and skills to overpower, plus we have the ability to trick and deceive, to intimidate and confuse. We will prevail. The failed dice roll probably won't change the ultimate outcome, but it is easy to argue that it make the outcome more memorable. If I would have said "oh hey, let's say I slip and fall 'cause that will add some serious suspense", it would not have had any impact. Contrived emotion and scripted action sounds like a bad television show. Rolling a 1 in that moment makes for a wonderfully memorable experience. The heart-dropping feeling, the laughs from my friends after my muttered f-bomb, the jokes after how the fighter, the barbarian, and the cleric all succeeded buy my rogue failed. All that makes for a much better memory.
The memories are also accentuated by the random comments that stick with the party. We dragged an NPC out from under a gelatinous cube a few sessions ago. His legs were covered by the cube, and he took some pretty significant damage (3d6). We weren't sure if he would live but we used a healing spell on him and ultimately gained an ally. He was unconscious for a while so we couldn't get a name, so there was an offhand comment about "Legless Jack". The name stuck. The DM could have had a name for him, but we as players never asked for it since he will forever be Legless Jack to us.
Here's to more memories coming from the shared storytelling medium of an RPG.
Only one new beer this week. The Surround Sound DIPA from Collective Arts was another fine beer from the brewery that is steadily becoming my favorite. (Sorry Blindman and Alley Kat!) This was a hazy, citrusy beer with a nice bit of pine, and great balance all around. Submitting that to Untappd earned me the I Believe in IPA (Level 23) badge.
A few new words this week, and one repeat offender.
[ ab-joo r, -jur ]
Hello from a foggy and chilly morning from 53.5° north latitude. As with last week, this week was consumed by work, and while that was interesting and exciting, there really isn't much from that to report here. One new beer, one article, an RPG book, a sojourn with nature, and a couple new words. Let's get on with it, shall we?
I did read a bit this week, but not nearly as much as I was earlier in the summer or the spring. I will probably have a couple books finished by next week, but nothing for this week. The reading rate has decreased in the last few weeks, but I am still on pace to finish 56 books which is by far the most I have read in a single year.
Maclean's released an article by 338Canada summarizing recent polls for the upcoming federal election. As of today there are only 50 days until the election, and there is a good possibility that voters have already decided who they are going to vote for. If that is the case, analysis of the polls at this time might be a good predictor of the result in October.
According to 338Canada's analysis, the Liberals won the most seats in 57% of their simulations with a majority in 30%. A minority result for the Liberals would have to be deeply disturbing for every party. That result for the Liberals after their big win in the last election is an indictment on Trudeau's inability to deliver and likely highlights his constant parade of gaffes. Anything other than a majority for the Conservatives would show that Scheer is less effective than Harper, especially with the gift of the SNC-Lavalin fiasco and the ethics commissioner's report that was laid on his lap, In the simulations, the NDP get hammered, with less seats even than they won under Mulcair, making supporters likely want to question Singh as their leader. I suppose the Bloc might be okay with 13 seats as at least they still have their base. The Greens are predicted to win 4 seats, and I can't imagine that number could be spun into anything positive, but you never know what May is going to say. The only scenario to make any party happy is a majority, and that looks increasingly unlikely.
Kayaking at Elk Island:
Elk Island National Park is roughly 75 km from my driveway. I can leave the house and be out there in about an hour. As I found out today, I can be on the water in a rented kayak in less than 90 minutes after I leave the house. Haskin Canoe has a rental shack right on Astotin Lake, which is super convenient. I was able to capture a couple great shots from the water of the lake islands and some waterfowl on the lake. However, the nearly ancient camera I used to take the pictures uses an SD card, and I don't have a single SD card reader in the house. Maybe I'll find some tech in the next week and will be able to salvage those pictures. In the meantime, here are pictures of a bison and a few deer I grabbed with my phone.
After several months of waiting, my copy of "Strongholds and Followers" arrived a few days ago. This is the D&D 5e supplement written by Matt Colville and produced by his company, MCDM Productions. Strongholds and Followers provides guidance on how to take a mid-level character through the process of creating a base of operations and having it populated with relevant NPCs. The idea is fantastic for people that want to explore how their characters influence their world through more than dungeon crawls and fighting. I really hope I get into a campaign where I can use this supplement.
A friend of my brother said back in the university era that Bono could fart into a microphone for 60 minutes and he would still buy the album. I am like that with Colville. I love his style and thought process for how he approaches be a better Dungeon Master, and he seems like the kind of person that would be great to hang out with. After hearing Colville talk about this project on his YouTube channel, his Kickstarter campaign raised over $2 million Canada with over 28,000 backers. That implies that it isn't just me who feels that way about Colville.
This week was pretty limited on the new beer front. There were a few beers from Common Crown in my fridge, but alas, they were not new. The only new beer was a double-hopped 8.2% ABV from Brewsters, the Mad Hops Double IPA 2019. Nice taste, not too bitter, with a high ABV without a whole lot of booziness. Good stuff from Brewsters once again (3.75 / 5). This one gave me the 2X (Level 5) badge from Untapped, for 25 beers with Double or Imperial in the name.
Not a lot of reading this week, so not a lot of words.
It was a wet and then warm weekend at 53.5° north latitude. The week was interposed with rain, wind, coordinating camp dropoffs and pickups, and all that is entailed in the first week back to work. Let's kick off this week's Show Notes with a nod to one of the most influential sources in my teen years.
The end of MAD Magazine:
Adam Greenfield's newsletter, "The Dispatch from London", alerted me to the end of new content from MAD Magazine. MAD was a constant in my teenage years, and I suspect I'm much like Greenfield in how I learned to wield cynicism and sarcasm as comedic weapons. More importantly, the constant satire from MAD convinced me to question and be skeptical when others would rather just not think about the celebrities and institutions around them. It is hard to take anyone seriously when they are being lampooned in print. But, again as Greenfield said, it would be hard to argue that the time of MAD isn't off in the past. I'm not sure if there is an archive of Greenfield's newsletter that can be referenced, but instead of rehashing his points, I'll hope that you'll be able to subscribe and fine the archive.
Lastly, I was also able to finish "The Starlit Loom" with my older daughter. "Loom" is the fourth and final novel in the Keepers series by Ted Sanders. I absolutely loved the series and the last book was very emotional, both for the characters and for the reader. Reading books with the kids is somewhat frustrating because we only read about a dozen pages a day, and probably only three or four days a weeks, so a 424 page novel like "Loom" takes a LONG time to read. Added to that is the fact that we started this series well over three years ago (with many other books in between). However, the wait, and the elapsed time, were both worth it in the end. If you do read the series yourself, and I highly suggest that you do, I do encourage you to read them faster. Thanks to Sanders for four very enjoyable books. Do check them out.
Hey, not depressed yet? Read this.
The Washington Post has an opinion piece by Max Boot entitled "What comes after Trump may be even worse". If you are interested in American politics, it is worth the read. Spoiler alert: Tucker Carlson.
Grabbed a few pics of some birds out at Elk Island this week: Red-headed Grebe; American Coot, and American Bittern. Seriously, there is a bittern in that last picture, I promise.
I haven't updated the blog with my new beers since before I went on vacation. As a result, this update has 16 beers in it. In the picture below are the following beers (and ciders, in some cases):
Most were pretty average, although I really didn't like the Granvillie Island NW Pale. The best were the Spinnakers IPA and the Alley Kat Dragon DIPA. I will say that there are a lot of good beers on our Pacific Coast.
Those 16 check-ins on Untappd gave me 12 badges, 3 new and 9 with increased levels. Reading across the image are:
mete (as in mete and proper)
1: to give out by measure : DOLE OUT
2: archaic : MEASURE