As I sit at my computer to write this entry, 53.5° north latitude is a frigid -18°C. The forecast has us popping slightly above freezing this week, but it is December after all, and December is typically cold and frozen. But still.
Luckily the workload has decreased significantly without a single meeting scheduled for this weekend. Even last weekend getting better with nothing scheduled for the Sunday. With the scheduled returning to normal, we now just have to figure out which "normal" we are returning to - September 2019 or September 2017.
As some semblance of normality returns, regardless of what level it is, the reading and the personal engagement are returning, and with that a few new words as well. Still not a lot of new beers though. But with that as preamble, let's proceed.
"When you understand what is to happen and why, you are more able to accept and comply." - Gus, coworker
Gus said that in a meeting a few days ago, and it struck me how true it was. People don't like to do things they don't understand the rationale for. They still might not like what they are being asked to do, but if they understand it, they will grumble while they do it, but at least they will do it. A great reminder for those of us that have to institute process and rigor.
"You can have strong opinions, but they have to be loosely held." - Brad, coworker
Another reminder for teams implementing process and rigor. I have long told my teams that they cannot be the "pedantic application of theory people" and this is a related message to Brad's quote. Have a deep knowledge of your domain and be able to articulate the value it brings. Be able to argue the impact of not implementing your process or control. But then stop. There is no need to implement for the sake of theory. There is no value in implementing something that is not going to integrate with the rest of your business.
This is not to say you should not implement process, rigor, or controls that are not popular. Protecting corporate assets and customer data is not done to win friends around the office. I just think we need better reasons than "best practice" or "it is in the framework". Know your framework, and then go in to the conversation with an open mind.
Sacha Baron Cohen on Facebook, Free Speech, and the Internet:
A friend of mine introduced me to the WTF podcast by Marc Maron a few years ago. I don't listen to it often, usually only for the interviews with people I already find to be fascinating. The first WTF I listened to was Maron's interview with Barack Obama, and the second was his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen has created characters that are able to shine a spotlight on the absurd, rude, racist, biased, and downright awful parts of people and society. It was with that interest in the comedian that I watched Cohen's acceptance speech for the International Leadership Award from the Anti-Defamation League.
The speech was a takedown of how Cohen sees social media spreading hate and lies, going so far as to say that "this can't possibly be what the creators of the Internet had in mind". This is in reference to the lack of checks and balances governing social media, especially in contrast to traditional broadcast media. Cohen calls for a "fundamental rethink" of the governance and oversight for social media.
Cohen particularly targets Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in the speech, calling "bullshit" on Zuckerberg's arguments of free speech over regulation. Zuckerberg and other social media billionaires such as Twitter's Jack Dorsey are likened to "high tech robber barons". Cohen appeals to have societies "prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference, and experts over ignoramus".
The whole speech is well worth 24 minutes of your time. The article I read about this is here and the video is also linked directly here.
I said in the preamble that I have been able to read more regularly again after about six weeks of Reading Drought. The main focus last week was to re-borrow "Abaddon's Gate" from the library and finish it off since I only got half way through before work consumed me.
This was another good book in the Expanse series. My reading of it of course suffered by being interrupted, but it was good even with that. Since it is the third book in the series, it is difficult to discus the plot in any detail. However, there were a few great quotes from the book that are worth sharing. The first might be seen as depressing or even blasphemous to spiritual individuals, but there is a lesson in the last sentence that regardless of what we are made of, we can still make a difference.
There are no souls. ... We are bags of meat with a little electricity running through them. No ghosts, no spirits, no souls. The only thing that survives is the story people tell about you.
This quote probably needs a lot of background of the book series to really make sense, but I think this can be extrapolated to the technological society will live in, and the dangers of not fully understanding our actions.
Holden was starting to feel like they were all monkeys playing with a microwave. Push a button, a light comes on inside, so it's a light. Push a different button and stick your hand inside, it burns you, so it's a weapon. Learn to open and close the door, it's a place to hide things. Never grasping what it actually did, and maybe not even having the framework necessary to figure it out. No monkey ever reheated a frozen burrito.
These two sentences apply to natural disasters, but there is also relevance to those of us that work in disaster recovery planning for complex information systems as well.
Disaster recovery could only go two ways. Either everyone pulled together and people lived, or they kept on with their tribal differences and fears, and more people died.
Just a single new beer in the past two weeks. This was the 2019 version of Brewster's Blue Monk Bourbon Barley Wine. Barley wines can often be so high in ABV and in boozy flavor to be nearly undrinkable. I would even say that previous years of the Blue Monk suffered from those characteristics, but this year the flavor was spot on and the there wasn't the overpowering hit. Really good stuff. I should go back and buy a few bottles. This also earned me the Beer-giving 2019 badge on Untappd.
With reading comes new words. It feels good to stretch the vocabulary again.
Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving from 53.5° north latitude. This week's post will be remarkably short unfortunately, mainly as a result of our relentless push toward launch of our new system in three weeks. Only one solid idea worth sharing, hardly any reading, one beer, and one new word.
I kinda feel like I'm living in a Three Dog Night song this week.
I participated in a meeting this week where one person was providing commentary on what to expect at the launch of our system. He made a comment about how to provide feedback in a stressful time that I quite liked:
If you don't have anything nice to say, at least be specific.
In other words, if you have feedback but cannot put it nicely or politely, at least make the feedback succinct and detailed enough that the recipient can do something with it.
Just one new beer this week. Beau's All Natural Brewing Company is a brewery that I had not
This section has evolved over the six months that I have been writing on this site to be called "New Words". However, this week is really should be called "New Word", since there is only one word to share. Old habits die hard, even if they are less than six months old.
Hello once again from 53.5° north latitude. It is post-Sunday supper as I write this, and it is a chilly and misty evening. A week past labor day and it feels like Halloween. But alas, the weather can only bring us down if we choose to let it. There was lots of good stuff this week, so let's dive in.
Your Daily Dose of Cynicism:
Let's start off with quote from a person with a decidedly cynical view on people. The cashier at a local liquor store said that if I didn't need a bag that would be good because "these bags hold up like most people's promises". I spontaneously laughed and immediately thought I should write it down, but after I did, I felt sorry for the cashier If that is his outlook on life. I am certainly a glass-half-empty person, and have often said that sometimes it feels like my glass broke last week. However, I work hard on being as positive as possible and that conscious effort takes a lot of work. I see in him a bit of who I was not so many years ago, and I know how living with a negative outlook makes life so much harder.
I regained some of my reading momentum in the last week, which makes me feel quite good. I had to jettison a couple books because I just didn't feel compelled when I picked them up. I will invariably try to read them again in the future, but for now, I had to move on.
My week was spent reading a good portion of "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari. I am finding Homo Deus to be similar in style to "Sapiens", also by Harari, in that it is informative, thought-provoking, and incredibly accessible. The commentary about the treatment of animals stemming from our dominant monotheistic religions has really made me think about religion and even our contemporary humanism. Even his minor thought experiment and context-setting-aside about suburban lawns was thought-provoking enough for me to put the book down and think for a while. To me, that is the sign of a great book.
The premise of the book is about what humans will become based on our technology and outlook as of 2016. At the end of the second chapter, Harari talks about how we are becoming more reflective about the fate of the animals around us potentially because we are about to be left behind by the next evolution in humanity.
We are suddenly showing unprecedented interest in the fate of so-called lower life forms, perhaps because we are about to become one. If and when computer programs attain superhuman intelligence and unprecedented power, should we begin valuing these programs more than we value humans? Would it be okay, for example, for an artificial intelligence to exploit humans and even kill them to further its own needs and desires? if it should never be allowed to do that, despite it superior intelligence and power, why is it ethical for humans to exploit and kill pigs?
Also this week, I finished "Jed and the Junkyard War" with my younger daughter. I picked up a copy at the local library and noted with chagrin that it was published by Disney (technically Disney Hyperion, whoever they are). I was concerned that the book would be overly commercial and saccharine, but it was definitely not that. It was good enough for me to recommend it to you, and good enough for us to look forward to diving in to the sequel.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not Worth the Effort:
There I said it. I have now watched Endgame, and 20 other MCU movies. The only missing one is Captain Marvel, but I don't think I missed too much of the overall plot by skipping that one. I think with the investment of time it took to watch all of those movies, and in a few cases rewatch (because apparently you have to watch them in order and no one told me that until like 2014), plus all the time I spent reading plot summaries to figure out what the hell I missed from movie to movie, I feel confident that I am entitled to the opinion that I wasted my time.
I applaud the effort and moxie it took to pull all those story lines together, not to mention all of those talented actors, directors, and writers. But really, in the end, why? Cynically of course, one can point to the money. According to the IMDB link above, Endgame cost $356 million to make, but made all of that back in the first weekend in the US alone, and then went on to rake in nearly $2,8 billion since release.
But that is why the studio made the movie, not why anyone should watch it. Is it worth 50+ hours of your time, and $125 of your money, assuming you rent each movie online? I don't think it was. It was overly complicated and could really only be understood if you fully immersed yourself in it. There were a few funny scenes, and a few scenes that were even moving, but overall I just didn't feel ... satisfied. I didn't feel like cheering the heroes or lamenting the fallen. At the end, it was just ... over. And thankfully at that.
My wife thinks it is cheating to look up something in order to solve a crossword puzzle. I have a different viewpoint. I agree that looking up specific clues just to get the answer does seem a little off-putting, However, looking up "1925 trial name" and then finding out about the Scopes trial in Tennessee is different, at least in my mind. In the former case, all the search does is give one an answer without the requisite knowledge. In the latter, I can now say I understand how it was illegal to teach evolution in state-funded schools at that time in Tennessee, and how the trial was really about modernists versus fundamentalists. As the Wikipedia article liked to above notes, it was "a theological contest and a trial on whether modern science should be taught in schools". So yeah, totally not cheating.
Two new beers this week. First was the Common Crown Ploughman Hopped Wheat Ale. This was a decent beer from a quality brewer. Second was the Sea Change Irish Red Ale, which is a hazy, malty brew with a higher punch than one might think for a 5.0% ABV. That is a similar comment to what I said for Sea Change's Session Ale a couple weeks ago. I'll have to investigate further if there is something in their malt or yeast that I am consistently picking up on. The only badge this week from Untapped was The Great White North (Level 86).
The new words picked up this week as a direct result of reading Harari's book. Plus there was at least one that was checked just to make sure, and one repeat.
Hello from 53.5° north latitude. Life continues to be consumed by work, which is likely the steady state reality for the next ten weeks or so. There is not really much to report on as a result, but for what it is worth, here is what happened this week.
David Foster Wallace 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech:
I was poking around on Mark Manson's site looking for something inspiring to read and I came across a post of Wallace's 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College. The text is available, in addition to an audio recording on Soundcloud. I really like the speech, and wondered if I would ever be able to write something so elegant and thought-provoking. The following excerpt really stood out for me:
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving… The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
I mentioned last week that we spent most of the weekend at a family reunion. That experience resparked my interest in genealogy, and as a result, I spent a couple hours one evening going down rabbit holes looking for traces of my relatives online. I found one fascinating individual, who isn't related to me by blood, but is still on the family tree. Specifically, Captain Charles Edward McCune is the father to the wife of my first cousin three times removed. The obituary of Cpt. McCune, which can be found here, references his prowess in navigating a ship in the stormy waters the same night as the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. I can't say I was familiar with that disaster, but the story is fascinating to read, and clearly McCune had some serious skills given the storm was a 10 or 11 on the Beaufort Scale.
Quote about spoilers:
Picked this up from Aardvacheology, which is a site I sometimes read through my Feedly feed.
Do spoilers bother you? There’s an easy cure. Quit watching / reading what everybody’s currently talking about.
Friends bearing books:
I was able to spend time with my friend Cam on the weekend. He and I go back to Grade 2, and we spent most of our childhood together. He and I also went through university together, he in mechanical engineering and I in electrical. As with a lot of relationships, we haven't seen each other much at all in the last 15 years, even though we swap emails on birthdays and other occasions. So let's just say it was mighty awesome getting to spend a handful of hours with someone that I have known since I was seven years old.
But what does this have to do with books, you ask? Well, take a look at these pictures:
Cam found an Advance Reading Copy of "Eye of the World" which of all the books I have read in my life, it probably influenced my reading more than anything. I have to say I'm not a huge fan of the series, and even though I own the whole series, I have never read past Book 7. However, Eye of the World was one of those magical finds where I picked up a random book and got totally hooked. And now nearly 30 years after picking up my first copy of the book, I now have four versions of it - mass paperback, hardcover, trade paperback, ARC (in order of acquisition). Note how the front cover is different than what went to print, and look at that back cover sans barcode. Pretty cool. Thanks, Cam!
Maybe someday I will share the story of my conversation with Robert Jordan as he signed a copy of Book 10 for me.
Two new beers this week. First was the Keeper's Point New England Ale from Ribstone. I really like that one. It was refreshing but complex enough to be interesting. Great stuff. (4.0 / 5). Next was the Salty Senorita Kettle Sour from Situation. I'm a big fan of Situation, and I'll gladly try whatever they have brewed. This was a good beer, but wasn't sour enough for my taste. If you are new to sours, this would be a good gateway for you. (3.5 / 5). The only Untappd badge this week was Middle of The Road (Level 57).
Only one new word this week, which isn't surprising given how little I read this week.
Hello again from 53.5° north latitude. If anyone is in fact reading this, or ever will read this in the future, it will be obvious that this entry is for a two-week period. That is because our family was on the coast for a week, including last Sunday, which is when I typically post these blog entries. To give you an idea of what our vacation was like, the picture below was taken from the north shore of Salt Spring Island, one evening close to sunset.
Salt Spring Island and Edmonton are both in Canada, but in some ways are so far removed from each other to be foreign nations. The Saturday market in Ganges on Salt Spring is quite similar to a Saturday market here, but there are more people selling "natural" remedies that "harness the power of nature", with sellers making statements like "rose resonates with the natural harmonies of love". If the use of quotation marks doesn't make it obvious, these are not ideas that I personally give much credence to. However, there are many people on the island and in streets and shops in Victoria that are more removed from the necessities of commerce and action than myself or the people I typically interact with, while still remaining grounded in a world that I can relate to. One was a metal worker at an outdoor market on Bastion Square in Victoria. We talked to him for quite a while and bought one sculpture and would have purchased several others if the budget would have allowed it. On the back of his business card, he has a quote that I quite liked, and will use it as an anchor in my own life.
The nature of life is a circle. You define the circumference; the centre defines you." -- Mead Simon
Somewhat contrary to expectations, the amount of reading done in the week-long vacation was much lower than usual. I read one novel, finished a short story, and completed a book on philosophy that I started weeks ago.
First off, I finished "On Basilisk Station", which I mentioned in the last entry. It was good, but I remembered too much of it for this re-reading to be special. I originally rated it a 4.0 / 5, but this reading had it at maybe a 3.0 or 3.5 tops. I wonder if my tastes in books has changed in the 15+ years since I read this the first time. If I don't really like the second book in the series, I suspect that is the case.
The short story was "Gods of Risk", which is the second short story in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. This was was a lot longer than "The Butcher of Anderson Station", the Expanse short story that I mentioned in the last post, and it probably wasn't as good but was still enjoyable. The best part was how the story wasn't about Gunny Draper, but really it was. Read it to find out what I am. As with "Butcher" it is hard to rate short stories, but I'll say 3.5 / 5, but a stronger 3.5 than "Basilisk".
The greater the scientist, the more he realizes that his laws and labels, descriptions and definitions, are the products of his own thought. They help him to use the world for purposes of his own devising rather than to understand and explain it."
He also rails against the constant need to change, for improving, and going faster. This is probably where the references to the contemporary smart phone era came from. Instead of focusing on how to make the current better, why not focus on the current as it is?
How long have the planets been circling the sun? Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster in order to arrive? How often has the spring returned to the earth? Does it comes faster and fancier every year, to be sure to be better than last spring, and to hurry on its way to the spring that shall out-spring all springs?"
The journey Watts takes the reader on also addresses human emotion, connection, and love. Love for others, Watts says, can only come when the person understands that it is impossible to love oneself, because to use the words of Watts, there is no "I", there is no separation from "I" and the self.
Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself. This conviction will not come through condemnations, through hating oneself, through calling self-love all the bad names in the universe. It only comes in the awareness that one has no self to love.
This is a book that will probably gain from occasional re-reads and reflection. I encourage you to read it.
The Huawei Threat:
There is a lot of interest in Huawei around the world, and in my industry it is something that needs to be understood. If equipment from Huawei is in fact being used to capture information and relay it back to China, there is no way it can be trusted to transmit our sensitive information.
There are large national security issues, and there are many political issues that arise from the Huawei situation. It is difficult to wade through the stories to get to a common understanding without facts and without dispelling myths and rumors. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has written an article and produced an accompanying infographic to help with that.
It is important to do your own research on Huawei and come to your own conclusions if there really is an issue to be concerned with. If you think this won't impact you personally, realize that your next smart phone service will likely be 5G and there is a good chance that it will run at least in part on Huawei equipment. And on a more consumer level, walk by any mobile provider kiosk in your local mall, and see how many of the new phones on display are in fact from Huawei.
On a Lighter Note - Murder Mystery:
"Murder Mystery", the latest Adam Sandler film on Netflix, was pretty enjoyable. It spoofed the classic mystery genre - obviously hated individual is murdered, locked room, everyone with a motive - and added in a classic Sandler sad-sack character, and even threw in a pretty great car chase. Enjoyable stuff if you have 90 minutes and a Netflix subscription.
Only four new words this week, with one being a word I just can't seem to ever grasp.
Hello from 53.5° north latitude. It was a fairly quiet week with most of the effort this week channeled towards preparing for a bit of time off work.
A new arms race is underway, bringing with it the threat of a new Cold War. This article in the New York Times describes what the US is doing to develop a hypersonic missile system. Hypersonic is apparently defined at any speed over Mach 5, with some of the systems described in the article operating at Mach 10, 15, even 20. The weapons travel at "mile-per-second" velocity and are largely unstoppable. They operate too low for one defense system, too high for another, and could take out missile bunkers, seats of power, individual leaders, or even the US aircraft carriers.
This technology is not limited in scope to the American or Russian militaries. The Chinese, Indians, French, Japanese, EU, and Australians are also investing in the technology, according to the article. Interesting, scary, fascinating, and unbelievable, all rolled into one topic.
Roosevelt quote on "The Man in the Arena":
I came across this quote in a meeting this week. It is from Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." --Theodore Roosevelt
Reading this week was focused one book, "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson. This was the easiest Gibson novel I have read to date, with fairly limited new concepts to have to assimilate. It was also his first novel after 9/11, and so I found it interesting to read a novel written a year after 9/11 depicting a time a decade or so after the fact, and how the characters processed and were still affected by what happened. Clearly the events of September 11, 2001 were fresh in Gibson's mind as he wrote the novel.
As far as a story goes, it was good. Not great though. I was hoping for some sort of Wintermute meets Putin meets Versace-clone, but that didn't happen. It did have some memorable characters, but not ones that were memorable enough to feature in other interrelated stories. I suppose that might be too much to expect again from his novels, but I would love to see it.
On a lighter note, Gibson penned a new acronym that I love: LOMBARD - lots of money but a real dick.
Other reading started at the end of the week: the aforementioned "Command and Control" and a re-read of "On Basilisk Station" by David Weber.
Only one new beer this week, and that was the Ebony Dragon from Alley Kat. I didn't really like it too much but I wasn't sure why. I read a few reviews on Untappd and "resin" came up a few times. I wonder if that is indicative from the Denali hops. Something to explore. (3.25 / 5)
I also unlocked Level 14 of the Beer Explorer badge on Untapped. I don't know what is the difference between the 25 countries unlocked last week and the 70 regions unlocked this week, and unfortunately the stats in Untappd are a bit lacking. I am contemplating becoming a Supporter again to figure out if I can parse that sort of detail out of the stats provided to Supporters.
Speaking of stats, I hit 600 beers with 563 unique entries since March 23, 2015, which means a net new beer every 2.77 days.
Related to "Lemon Juice":
Following up on my comment two weeks ago about opinion, entitlement, and how some people are unskilled and unaware of that fact, here is a quote from "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson.
They knew many things but had no idea why. And strangely this made them more, rather than less, certain they were right."
Quote about Inspiration and Motivation:
This came from Freakanomics, specifically the third episode in their series on creativity:
And there is a quote from Chuck Close that I’ve heard many people quote, which is “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.” And I think that that’s really true. You sort of have to just be ready so that when you kind of encounter that magic moment, you’ve got the muscle memory and the experience and the instincts to let you grab that opportunity."
A disappointing week for new beers. I had two from the latest Big Rock sampler. Their "craft" lager was void of anything craft, as far as I could tell (2.25 / 5). Their Jackrabbit light American ale was better, but that's not saying much (2.5 / 5). Finally, I had the collaboration between Blindman and Troubled Monk, but I think the keg at the Wine and Beyond was flat. Quite disappointing. (2.75 / 5).
sans-culottes (plural noun)
[kalˈsednē, CHalˈsednē, ˈkalsəˌdōnē, ˈCHalsəˌdōnē]
Books, books, and more books:
I have been reading a lot lately, which is directly related to my mental and emotional inability to force myself to work in the evenings anymore. What was previously part of my daily routine is now just beyond comprehension. Eight to nine hours during the work day is so draining that I have nothing left to give in the evening.
My evenings are now spent with a good book. Or a so-so book as I'll explain shortly. Life is better with books, even the so-so ones.
"Here, There Be Dragons" by James Owen was the first book completed this week. I read this with my older daughter, so this book was not read all in one week. This was an enjoyable story set in the later days of The Great War (WWI) that weaves together many of the literary myths of Western culture. The central artifact that binds the myths is a book called the Imaginarium Geographica which has been handed down through the centuries from some of the greatest figures in Western history. Losing the book means losing the world, and our trio of heroes do exactly that.
There have been other books that taught me history while I have read them, such as The Baroque Cycle, but this was probably the first one that was consumable by a teen / Young Adult audience. Definitely worth a read, and definitely worth reading the second in the series.
The next book completed this week was Petroski's "The Evolution of Useful Things" that I quoted from last week. This was a disappointment overall, and I'm not sure I would recommend it. The history of the paper clip and the stapler were interesting, and the first discussions on the US patent system were interesting, but repeated quotes from patent applications throughout the 20th century did little but bore me. However, there were two more quotes that are worth sharing. The first is an informal definition of engineering:
… it is rather the art of not constructing: or, to define it rudely, but not inaptly, it is the art of doing well with one dollar, which any bungler can do with two after a fashion."
The second quote from Petroski comes from the final pages, and is a good summary of one of the book's key points, namely, that perfection is a myth, and any assumption of perfection is completely subjective and strictly time limited. The real or perceived failings of product or process in the mind of a particular inventor are the genesis of the next idea or evolution of the current idea.
What constitutes failure and what improvement is not totally objective, for in the final analysis a considerable list of criteria, ranging from the functional to the aesthetic, from the economic to the moral, can come into play."
Moving on, the next book was "The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home" by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger Henderson. This book was full of interesting tidbits and things to try, from a two sentence description of how to make homemade gnocchi, to a detailed description of sewing various articles of clothing. Plus, I learned that vinegar is really just sour wine, which in French is vin aigre. Mind. Blown.
Finally, I read "The Worst is Yet to Come: A Post-Capitalist Survival Guide" by Peter Fleming. This was a quick read, clocking in at a bit over 100 pages, with fairly small pages at that. Fleming has nothing good to say about neoliberalism, but his "Survival Tips" at the end of each section are more summations than actual action steps. For example, saying that Donald Trump eating hamburgers naked in bed might be the antithesis of the path forward, but he does not provide any way of getting beyond that image. If Fleming is to be believed, the next generation is in for a historically oppressive shitshow, meaning that any preparation coming out of this book would be for the long game.
Happy Birthday. Your gift is a messed up world heading for oblivion:
The house was filled with pre-teens one afternoon this week in celebration of our older daughter's birthday. The collection of strong, confident, and intelligent young people coincided with me reading Fleming's dire predictions for the future. I could have, maybe even should have, been depressed for their future, and wallowed in my guilt over the waste of potential and promise. But one of the themes in Fleming's book stuck was the need to prepare, to find alternatives while we still can, and that stuck in my head as I watched the next generation laugh and interact.
All of a sudden my job, my role, my reason for being became obvious. I need to do everything I can to hold on to the world and the values that we hold true so that we can hand them as much of a contiguous whole as we can. We have to hand them our values, our mistakes and learning, our histories, and our dreams for the future, along with the tools and supports they need so they can unfuck the world when they are ready. My generation isn't capable of unfucking anything, but maybe we can help our children's generation become the saviors we need.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day (BYDTWD):
My last day of guest DM'ing for our weekly at work lunch hour D&D session was this week. Matt Colville talks about how D&D is the perfect hobby because no matter what your creative impulse is, you can express it in the game. Writing. Crafting. Drawing. Hell, probably even knitting for that matter. For me, it is the writing and the acting.
My thoughts now move on to curating my own group. Age, gender, background are all irrelevant for the group, but mindset is essential. More RP than min-max. Combat is only a part of the game. Ability to commit to email sessions, and long sessions preferably in person. Consistent play times. Supportive of others. Interested in the story more than the loot. But how do I find these people? Advertise on Kijiji? This is something that will need more thinking.
I suppose I brought it on myself to an extent. I don't change into crappy jeans and a t-shirt if I have to go to a place like the Lawnmower Hospital. I understand that I don't fit it there, but I needed a mulching blade for our mower and they don't sell those at the bookstores, comic shops, Henry Singer, Eddie Bauer, or anywhere else I typically shop. So excuse me all to hell for buying such a lightweight blade, which really should be excuse me all to hell for buying an electric mower in the first place. But really, did that guy need to mutter "Idiot" to me as I walked by?
I can handle the comment, as I can ignore small-minded people. My concern is whether or not the comment was directed at me because he felt empowered to do so with the current political climate. If a white, middle-aged male can get trash talked, imagine the abuse an immigrant, a women, a person of color, a gay person, will have to endure as we hurtle into the abyss.
She was friendly, fun to be with, energetic. Pretty, if I was being honest. I liked her and whenever our shifts matched up, I contrived to leave the fulfillment center with her. We would walk to the bus stop and wait in the dusk for our buses. 46 for her, and then the 95 ten minutes later for me. Sometimes we would skip the first buses that came by just so we could talk longer. After, I would sit on the bus and think about her all the way home. On the days I got to spend those precious few minutes with her, I wouldn't even notice the grime in my flat or smell the piss-filled alley it emptied onto. The world was just better on those days.
That all changed the day she became a liability. It was clear that it was her third strike, but I never knew what exactly it was. Maybe too long in the bathroom. Maybe she broke something. Maybe they just didn't like how she hummed while she compiled the boxes of useless shit that the customers ordered. Whatever it was, she hit her third strike, and there was nothing we could do but watch. Third strikers were a liability to everyone around them, and I couldn't afford to have her take me down as well.
They always made us watch when a third striker was escorted out. The hysteria, the crying, the near epileptic fits of panic. We saw it all. We knew what it meant. When the only job you could find was in a fulfillment center, losing that job probably meant you were going to be homeless. Or dead. Or worse.
I looked into her eyes as she was pushed past the gathered crowd. Past me. Out the door. When she looked at me, I saw the pain and fear, but I also saw an understanding. She didn't blame me for not reaching out or helping her. She knew there was no point in me condemning myself as well. I had never felt so hollow, so pathetic.
That night after work, I watched the 46 come and go. The 95 came and took me home. I noticed the grime and smell much more clearly that night.
Five new beers this week, after none last week. First was Screaming Viking Lager from Odin Brewing in Tukwila, Washington. I liked it a lot, which says a lot since it is a lager. (3.5 / 5) Second was Odin's Gift Red, another offering from Odin. Good stuff again in a style I don't typically like. I'll have to search out more from Odin. (3.5 / 5) Third was the Millionaire Stout from Wild Beer Co. in Somerset, England. Really nice stuff, with the dense brown foam that I am fond of in this style. (3.75 / 5). Fourth was Fish Bone New England IPA from Alley Kay, a surprisingly high IBU beer without a huge amount of hops. (3.75 / 5). Finally, the Oldman Watershed Collective benefit brew from Phillips. That was a surprising kolsch variant with a lot of haziness. (3.75 / 5). All in all, a good week for new beers.
Lots of new words this week, but that is to be expected when reading a book by a UK professor and another by Neal Stephenson.
n ɪ ʃ t ə m əl aɪ ˈ z eɪ ʃ ən
a process for the preparation of maize (corn), or other grain, in which the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater (but sometimes wood ash lye), washed, and then hulled.
[ˌintər ˈālēə, ˌintər ˈälēə]
Starting off this week's entry with two great quotes:
"I can resist anything but temptation."
Everything in moderation, including moderation."
Useful guidelines for self-improvement goals:
By now, I assume that everyone who has been in a white-collar job for over five years will know about SMART Goals. SMART goals would be helpful in any self-improvement exercise, but even more useful are the following five guidelines I came across in a web course this week. The guidelines come out of the Immunity To Change method developed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey (1, 2).
Why nothing can ever be perfect, and why that's okay:
I'm continuing to read through my Pile of Shame in my office, and I decided to tackle "The Evolution of Useful Things" by Henry Petroski. I was hoping for more of a Bill Bryson-esque read, something like what Bryson did in "At Home", but it is still interesting. The underlying thesis in Petroski's book seems to be failure is the mother of invention, not necessity or even inspiration.
Since nothing is perfect, and, indeed, since even our ideas of perfection are not static, everything is subject to change over time. There can be no such thing as a "perfected" artifact; the future perfect can only be a tense, not a thing.
No, you’re not entitled to your opinion:
So leads a 2012 article from the website, The Conversation. The particular article refers to an interview where a Wollongong station quoted a known antivaxxer in a story about a measles outbreak. The question the article poses is whether the antivaxxer should be given any chance to enter into the conversation if in fact her contribution to the conversation will not be based in fact. The central quote in the article is as follows:
The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.
While this seems intellectually sound when entering into a debate with someone whose idea of research and rigor is little more than Facebook, the question is how to get your point across when the other side just doesn't want to listen. This makes me think of the intro to "Civil War" by Guns N' Roses (i.e. "What we've got here is failure to communicate.
Some men you just can't reach...) and a 1990 paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called "Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments." This is unfortunately now behind a paywall, but it is worth a read just for the lemon juice anecdote. (No spoilers here.)
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Last week I posted a map of the area I was planning on taking my players through in our weekly Wednesday D&D lunch hour game. I realized later that one of the players might read this blog and therefore get advanced intel on what lays ahead in the game. This is of course pure hubris, because that requires this blog to have actual readers in the first place. But getting past that issue, I have decided instead to copy text here post facto from the campaign diary I write up. I particularly liked this excerpt, even if it has a heavy metagaming requirement to be understood.
Movie - I Kill Giants:
Spoilers suck, so I won't spill anything about the movie "I Kill Giants" other than to suggest that you watch it. And then read the graphic novel that it was based on (caveat: I haven't read it yet, but it must have been decent since it was developed into a movie).
Book - Cuckoo's Calling:
Hey, this was a good read. I stayed up late a couple nights in a row to finish it off, and I'm glad I did. I do like detective novels, especially if the protagonist has solved the case before the answer is revealed in the story. There are a few more stories in the series that I'll be sure to read.
Not nearly as many new words this week. Apparently the J. K. Rowling detective novel wasn't as erudite as Rosewater.
NOUN, plural in form but singular or plural in construction
1. dishes served in addition to the main course of a meal
TL;DR - Lots of reading, not a lot of beer, or much else for that matter.
Book - Rosewater:
During one of my walk-around-while-on-a-call sessions a few weeks ago, I stopped by the downtown Coles and saw an intriguing book called "Rosewater" by Tade Thompson. I picked up a copy from EPL a few days later, and was hooked immediately. First-person, timeline shifting, science fantasy, with interesting characters. Really good stuff.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had supported a number of Kickstarter initiatives. One of them was an Afro-centric role-playing supplement called Swordsfall, which stands out in stark contrast to the typical medieval Euro-centric campaigns. With that in my thoughts as I read Rosewater, which is set in Nigeria, I realized how little African references I have. The names, places, idioms, and references were foreign to me. This was a good reminder of the need to push oneself to gain different perspectives and opinions.
Which brings me to my next point:
A solid percentage of the items that show up in this blog come from Warren Ellis and his weekly newsletter. This quote came from that newsletter:
I've said this to you before, and I'll say it again: always be checking your practice. Times change and so do you.
New music - Contemporary Protest Music:
Again from the files of a certain Warren Ellis, the four tracks linked here come from one of Ellis's weekly newsletters. This is not background music to chill to. These four songs are made to motivate and inspire, and to push the listener to action. The long version of the track names leave no doubt as to the artist's political position. For example, "The greatest trick the Tories ever pulled was convincing working class British voters, who feel left behind, to blame the EU & immigrants for their troubles while also convincing them to continue voting for the very party actually responsible."
The uselessness of precedents in the face of radical change:
In my endless pile of books with the "Currently Reading" status is "A World Lit Only By Fire" by William Manchester, a book I purchased in the mid 90s and am only now reading. It covers the history and shift in focus as Europe moved from medieval times to the Renaissance.
Early in the book, Manchester provides a quote that perfectly captures the issues with using the past as a guide for the future in the face of enormous change:
Even the wisest of them were at a hopeless disadvantage, for their only guide in sorting it all out - the only guide anyone ever has - was the past, and precedents are worse than useless when facing something entirely new.
Interlude, courtesy of "Cuckoo's Calling":
Wisdom from the Dojang:
The fine folks at Elite Taekwondo provide this valuable advice in their most recent newsletter.
Lots of reading this week, so lots of new words as a result. (I sometimes feel so illiterate. I should have known many of these, since they weren't really "new".)