Greetings once again from a laid back 53.5° north latitude. The trend of simple weeks without much to report continues, although this week was more interesting than the last few.
One thing I have not mentioned for quite a while is the groups I am in and playing the world's greatest roleplaying game. My work group sadly has only met once since COVID started, but I am running a group every two weeks that I pulled together via Meetup, and starting next week I will be playing in two groups with individuals I met through that Meetup group. I am also playing a Humblewood campaign with my daughters. I posted about the Meetup group and Humblewood back in February, and reading that post makes me realize how much I have learned in the last seven months.
I posted how the group I am now running was delayed in starting because I was nervous. I was worried about meeting with a bunch of strangers to play a game. As time progressed though, these strangers have become friends that have in turn introduced me to other people. I have pushed myself outside my comfort zone and the rewards have been immense, and the experience has reinforced how much better moving forward is over stagnating.
The pressure to do a good job is still there, but I now know I can do it. I have confidence in my ability to plan and improvise. My writing is improving weekly, and I am finding ideas that I want to express in both stories and in the game.
The other remarkable learning since February is how to use technology to interact and connect. Undoubtedly, getting together in person with the group I run will be a magical moment, if and when that can ever happen. But in the meantime, we can still meet and chat and play. The technology combination of Roll20 for displaying maps and allow for token movement with Discord for voice and video really works well. Add in a good digital character sheet either from Roll20 or with the Beyond20 Chrome extension to connect Roll20 and D&D Beyond, and this is a hobby that can work independent of physical location.
As I look back at the post from February, I notice my comments about the Kickstarter campaigns I have backed. Since February, I have backed thirteen more projects, ten of which completely successfully and three which have hit their funding goals but have not finished the campaign yet. Of the thirteen, one is a collection of board games, one is a tarot card deck that I thought would be useful as a game prop back when we were planning on playing in person, and one is an audio book. The other ten are all supplements or add-ons related to the roleplaying game of choice.
I want to mention the audio book specifically as it is important and has a chuckle-worthy story. Cory Doctorow is publishing and audio book of his latest novel, Attack Surface, and in order to combat the Amazon / Audible monopoly and their requirement to use their Digital Rights Management software on audio books they distribute, Doctorow is self-publishing the audio book. Attack Surface is the third book in the Little Brother series. If you recall back in May, Little Brother was Book #18 for 2020 and I did not recommend it to the casual reader at the time. The message around digital surveillance and the need to fight for the right of privacy and security is important though and I really want Doctorow to be successful so I happily backed this project.
The chuckle-worthy story relates to what I posted in May. There were some scenes in Little Brother that were awkward to read to my daughter and so I posted a comment on the Kickstarter page. Doctorow's response is pasted below.
My reading time continues to ebb, and I really have not dug into anything in about a month. I did finish one book though this week. Book #35 for 2020 was a re-read of "The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan. We own hard copy versions of each book in the series but I have only read the first seven of the fourteen books. I am hoping to read them all over the next year or so. I read this one with my daughter and it was a great experience, and we just started into the second book last night.
I mentioned in August 2019 that my friend Cam gave me an Advanced Reading Copy version of this book. I did not read through that version in case there were differences in the text. Regardless, it was great to read and I am now more excited to plow through the series than I ever have been.
Just one new beer this week, and once again it is from my local and much-loved brewery, Alley Kat. The latest sampled ware from Alley Kat, and beer #684 unique check-in on Untappd, is the most recent in their Dragon Double IPA series, the Southern Star. Alley Kat continues to get the DIPA series right. Great hops and citrus but without having the bitterness overpower the taste. Really enjoyable. (4.0 / 5)
Not a lot of reading, so not a lot of new words, except of course all those words that Jordan created for The Eye of the World.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. The week was action-packed and full of suspense and intrigue. Or at least one good book, another local nature walk, a couple good beers, and a few new words. Before we get into the regular sections of the blog, there are a couple things worth noting.
Facial recognition software has really hit the news of late, with Microsoft, IBM, and others voluntarily pausing sales in the surveillance software in light of issues raised with police violence and the death of George Floyd. This followed the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the provincial Commissioners in Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta jointly investigating Clearview AI amid concerns of personal information being collected without notice or consent. It is unclear if or how the joint investigation will proceed now that Clearview AI has completely pulled out of the Canadian market. This will be an interesting and important story to continue to follow .
The second interesting item was in the recent Freakonomics podcast, "Remembrance of Economic Crises Past". Near the end of the podcast, Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner asks his guest Christina Romer about the particular US brand of capitalism. I found that a particularly interesting phrase to use, as it admits that there are different forms of capitalism and implies that the particular version in place in America might not survive. Here is the full quote of what he asks Romer.
DUBNER: And let’s say that some of the changes that have happened thus far to travel, to live entertainment, to restaurants — basically all of them wiped down close to zero — let’s say that for a variety of reasons, they sort of stick, and that people don’t return to them, in in large numbers at least. Do you feel that the U.S. economy and our brand of capitalism is still set up to be as vibrant and nimble to adjust and for people to job-reallocate? Or do you worry that a lot of people in those industries, which employ millions of people, that they will essentially be adrift, perhaps for a long time, unable to reallocate into commensurate jobs?
I wrote a lot about capitalism in 2019, and a lot of my readings dealt with the concept of post-capitalism. In 2019, a lot of people on the outside of mainstream were struggling with the rules of the game associated with capitalism. Now in 2020, a lot of people that are solidly in the mainstream, see Dubner above, seemed to be are openly wondering if the intellectual ruminations of a year ago have actual credence. If they do, we are about to enter a very interesting period in history.
And lastly, since travel has been curtailed due to COVID, a lot of people are spending more time close to home. As a family, we have always been fairly comfortable with staycations, but this year we are definitely trying to make the most of the local nature scene.
Enter the Alberta Discover Guide. This free guide is usually something I pick up when I buy my fishing license for the year, but this year it has become a valuable source of new locations to visit. The Guide lists over 150 sites in the Edmonton area alone, and I would be surprised if we have previously visited 25 of them.
Yesterday we visited the John E. Poole Interpretative Wetland and Boardwalk. This was a great location for a quick walk to get out into nature and see a lot of birds including Barn Swallows, Coots, and Ruddy Ducks. If you live in Alberta, grab a copy of the Guide or the corresponding mobile app, and get out and explore nature in your area.
I suggested last week that I might actually finish a third book before the end of last week. Alas, that did not happen and so that book became the only book I finished this week. Book #26 for 2020 was "Sourcery" by Terry Pratchett, the fifth book in the Discworld series. This might have been my favorite book in the series so far, mainly because I have become fond of the bumbling Rincewind. Getting into any part of the plot will be difficult without this post being a total spoiler, so I will just comment that it was an enjoyable and quite funny book and that I continue to look forward to the rest of the books in the series.
I'm going to try something different for a while when it comes to music. I have been creating weekly playlists in Tidal for my "Music Finds" and it occurred to me that I could share what I found on this site as well.
My "Music Finds - Week of 06Jul2020" playlist includes new albums from Rufus Wainwright which seemed a bit to "show tunes"-y for me, one from a singer-songwriter named Margo Price that I really enjoyed, and a live album from Blossoms, which is a band that I hadn't heard of before but quite liked what I heard.
Two new beers this week, and they were both really good. First up was the Kasteel Tripel, a nice Belgian tripel. Really good stuff. Lots of flavor and aroma. The high ABV really didn't dominate the experience. (4.0 / 5) The second was a latest in the Dragon series from Alley Kat. If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know I'm a big fan of the Dragon series, and Enigma didn't disappoint. The Australian Enigma hops took a bit to get used to, but I definitely enjoyed the flavor and aroma once I did. Nice stuff once again. (4.0 / 5)
Just three new words this week. I have to admit that I'm sure the first one was some sort of pun or inside joke from Pratchett, but I did not get it if it was.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. This past week was a bit of downer, not gonna lie. Seven weeks of COVID work-from-home quasi-isolation is definitely straining psyches.
But let's not fool ourselves - what we are experiencing here in Canada is definitely NOT a quarantine. To get a feel for what a real quarantine is like, the Lawfare team interviewed one of their own in Beijing. Sophia Yan recently returned from Wuhan to Beijing and reported on her 14 days of quarantine. From house nannies getting alerts every time her door opens, to a full escort from airport to home to ensure she doesn't nip out for some groceries, to family members being forced to quarantine apart from their family, Yan lays out what strict enforcement really looks like.
In fact, even though we are several weeks earlier into our pandemic response than China, we are contemplating what the Kenney government has labelled our "relaunch" strategy to be in place as early as May 14. The full document has been saved here for posterity.
The Alberta government relaunch strategy is built on seven conditions to be met. They are (as copied directly from the document):
As you can see in the second bullet, one tool that various jurisdictions including Alberta are utilizing as they relaunch or reopen is some form of "contact tracing". In the early stages of an outbreak with small numbers of people infected, this can be very manual - figure out who a person met, call them, call who they talked to, and so on. This gets significantly more difficult in the mid- to late-stages of a pandemic due to the vast numbers of people who are or could be infected, and that of course sounds like something that technology can help with.
Contact tracing apps like the one that Singapore open-sourced and that Alberta has adopted sound like they could be privacy nightmares. This article out of the UK outlines how those issues could manifest into significant concerns, but the fact that they are not mandatory means the number of people potentially impacted could be small. Further to that. Brookings and Bruce Schneier both complete pan contact tracing applications, saying that they just don't work.
Assume you take the app out grocery shopping with you and it subsequently alerts you of a contact. What should you do? It's not accurate enough for you to quarantine yourself for two weeks. And without ubiquitous, cheap, fast, and accurate testing, you can't confirm the app's diagnosis. So the alert is useless.
If this is all true, then the promise of a contact tracing application freeing people from, as Brookings put it, the "terrible choice between staying home or risking exposure" is nothing but a false hope. If the only real tool we have to stay safe until we have a vaccine is full-on quarantine, then it looks like the Chinese might have the only solid plan.
China continues to come up nearly daily for me. Looking at China closely over the past two decades has evolved from a personal interest, to a hobby, an investment strategy, and now into the realm of core fact of life. Understanding what China is doing is as fascinating as it is essential, and so it was with great interest that I read this article about China and technology futures and the China Standards 2035 initiative. As the article states, while the Chinese Communist Party is "authoritarian to a fault, its machinery of innovation should not be underestimated." It closes by saying that "ultimately China’s ability to rejuvenate itself following the pandemic will likely be superior and more strategic than the rest of the planet."
I'm going to skip the Reading Pile section this week as I did not finish the Mark Urban or Simon Sinek books that I am currently reading. I should be able to review both of them next week.
As for the new beers, there were two this week and they were both quite memorable. The first was my first from Vancouver's Postmark Brewing. Their Juicy Pale Ale had a nice taste and citrus aroma, lots of citrus pith, and a long lasting foam. Good stuff. (3.5 / 5). I'll be sure to search out additional offerings from Postmark based on this first try.
The second was yet another from Collective Arts. I have been going through the Collective Arts offerings lately because (a) they are typically quite good, and (b) they are available as singles at one of the stores closest to my house. The latest was their Blueberry Sour with Cocoa Nibs and it was, in a word, purple! And in more than one word, this was a really great beer. A bit fruity, a bit chocolatey, a bit sour. A great combination that I never would have thought of, and the first beer I have rated at 4.0 / 5 in probably a couple years.
Just two new words this week. There should be a fair number next week after I finish those two books by Urban and Sinek.