Happy 2021 from 53.5° north!
I took last week off from writing as I needed time to rest, recharge, and reflect. It seems everyone else had the same thought, especially in regards to reflecting. A lot of content crossed my feeds about how crappy 2020 was, how glad we can be that it is finally over, and that better things are ahead.
I have multiple problems with those statements and the underlying attitude that creates statements like that. First of all, it is not guaranteed that 2021 will be any better and I am concerned that people are setting themselves up for a great disappointment. Second, not everything was bad in 2020 and it is important to recognize the good instead of simply bemoaning the bad.
The following text was something I sent to a person I got to know somewhat in 2020, somehow who I have followed online for a long time. The pandemic and the disruption to our lives was terrible, not mentioning the impact to human life across the world. However, I was able to take some solid positives out of the past year, and I hope this helps you reflect on your year more positively as well.
2020 was the year that I was able to connect with people from London to Toronto to Perth to Boston to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Seattle to Vancouver to Hawaii. The very fact that I needed to be in my home office allowed me to (forced me to?) reach out and connect. It was not the same people every day. It was new people and new experiences. Granted it was not traveling to meet face to face, but the only way to meet with someone seven time zones away one day and another person four time zones the other way the next was to do this virtually. 2020 gave me that opportunity and for that I am grateful.
As 2020 came to a close, news outlets, consulting groups, social media networks, independent journalists and pretty much every other organization came out with a summary of 2020, and of course the focus of many of these summaries was COVID. Two that I really enjoyed were from Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey. I featured the McKinsey charts on changing leadership behaviors from McKinsey a few weeks back. The one chart that really staggered me was the one about how many children are now learning from home. See the image below.
In other news, the cybersecurity industry was stunned by the extent of the SolarWinds breach. From a day-job point of view, I have read a lot about this and have a good understanding of what this means. I also have some information that is probably circulating in the CISO circles globally but is not public knowledge. In addition, I have a few subscription services that I could reference, but those are behind paywalls. As a result, I will stick to information in the public domain.
One consistently good source of analysis regardless of topic is Lawfare. In this post, the timeline of the attack is discussed. It is vital to understand that this is not something that was done, discovered, and remediated in a few weeks or months. This was an attack that was planned and executed years ago, and was executed with serious skill.
Thus, SolarWinds can be understood as the result of the operational success achieved three and a half years ago. --Dr. Richard J. Harknett, Lawfare
Even if we could wave our magic wands and remove the affected versions of the SolarWinds software, the scope and scale of the access this breach provided means we will be working to remediate for years. It is not hyperbole to say that we might never know the impact and cost associated with this breach. I am sure I will have more to say about this in the future.
I had a goal in 2020 to read 52 books, or one a week. I hit a terrible reading drought in September but still ended up with 48. I had to finish four of those books in the last ten days of the year, but a book read is a book read regardless of when it is read.
Book #45 for 2020 was "The Great Hunt" by Robert Jordan, the second book in the Wheel of Time series. I finished the first book in the series back in September and was really glad I read the second book. I have had issues with the length of the series and a few of the gender stereotypes but I think this read of The Great Hunt helped clarify what Jordan was trying to do with his characters. Yes, the brooding-emotionally-distant-male and feisty-but-emotional-female tropes do exist, but the characters do have depth beyond the stereotype. I am glad I re-read this and am looking forward to the third book in the series.
Book #46 was the sixth and final book in the FunJungle series, "Tyrannosaurus Wrecks". My younger daughter and I read all six books in the series in 2020, and I said in late November I was not sure that I needed to finish the series. However, the final book in the series popped up as a loan from the library and so we decided to plow through it. In the end, it was an enjoyable book, and a great series, and I am glad we read it together. But six YA books in one series in a year was a bit much.
Book #47 was the Tolstoy classic, "War and Peace". I started reading this on January 1, 2020, and finished it on December 31, 2020. I did not read a chapter a day as I suggested a year ago, but I did follow along with the Reddit book group for a large portion of the year. This was a book that made me think a lot, and I think that reflection was worth the 1224 pages and 366 days of reading. There is probably an entire long form post about War and Peace, but I am not sure I could say anything that has not already been said. Let's leave it at the fact that I am glad I read it.
Book #48 and the final book for 2020 was "Wyrd Sisters", the sixth Discworld book from Terry Pratchett. I really wanted another Rincewind book as I find him a wonderful if hapless protaganist, but the Witches were really interesting characters - funny, intelligent, completely stupid, all at the same time. I am looking forward to reading at least a couple more in this series in 2021.
And finally, we need to get into the books for 2021. Book #1 for 2021 was "K for Killer" the eleventh book in the Kinsey Millhone series by Sue Grafton. This was a really enjoyable story with a few gasp-worthy moments and a decent enough story to keep me up late two nights in a row. The elapsed time in the book was less than a week, so the story moved along quite quickly, and that kept me reading. It was not the tumultuous ending that some of the other Millhone / Grafton novels have had, but in a way that made this one more satisfying.
With that book started and finished in the first three days of the year, I am on pace to read 121 books in 2021. I probably will not get quite that many, but you never know what the year will bring.
I felt pretty good about my cycling in the last two weeks, even though I only rode for 112 km. The fact that I am getting out is part of it, but my rides are getting more challenging. It feels good to push myself up a hill, especially on a heavy, old bike with studded tires in the middle of winter.
I finished the segment to Merritt and am twenty per cent of the way to Kamloops. According to Wikipedia, Merritt has a population of about 7,000 people, with an economy focused on ranching, farming, forestry, transportation, and tourism. Being only 87 km to Kamloops and 270 km from Vancouver, it is probably close enough to other centers to have what it needs and far enough away to remain a small town and close community, but honestly on the drive to the coast, it has never been more than a pit stop for me.
Looking at this entry, it might seems like lots of new beers in the last two weeks. However, five beers in fourteen days is a new beer every 2.8 days which is only a bit faster than my pace since I started logging on Untappd. (For the record, my pace is one new beer every 2. 98 days) The five beers this fortnight were a dark ale, a strong ale, a scotch ale, a sour, and an IPA. Definitely winter beers in that selection.
Beer #706 was the Squid Ink Cascadian Dark Ale from the Olds College Brewery. Not bad, a bit bland but I think that was by design - a dark ale without the big booziness or powerful flavors of a winter stout. Decent enough to drink the four pack, and happy to support our local great agricultural college and brewmaster program. (3.25 / 5)
Beer #707 was the Hot Summer Nights IPA from SYC Brewing in Edmonton. This was a really good beer. There was a lot of juiciness, and the hops were strong but not overpowering. Easy to drink fast but watch out for the relatively high ABV for an IPA. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #708 was another 2020 Alberta Beer Week Unity brew. This one was led by Railyard Brewing out of Calgary. A decent beer with a lot of flavor. Seemed a bit flat but might have just been my can. I will look out for other beers from Railyard after this one. (3.25 / 5)
The fourth beer in the last fortnight was another Alberta brew. Beer #709 was the Haskap Aromatica Sour from Odd Company Brewing in Edmonton. I really wanted to like this one more than I did. Great color and aroma. The flavor seemed a bit off though, but that might have been because it was not cold enough. (3.0 / 5)
The last beer in the fortnight was from British Columbia. Beer #710 was the Hopraiser West Coast IPA from Howe Sound. Howe Sound is a brewery, a brewpub, and an inn in Squamish. Sounds like my kind of place. Back to the beer, the Hopraiser was not bad. It had a fair bit of hops and a fragrant aroma. Got a bit of malt in the taste but other than that, it was a bit bland. (3.25 / 5)
Lots of new words this week, partly due to all of the reading and partly due to the fact that I am catching up on all of the flagged words from War and Peace over the year.
Greetings from a slightly colder than usual 53.5° north latitude. It is not cold enough for the entire day to stay cold, but that is likely not far into the future. However, it is cold enough that bigger gloves or mitts are required for early morning rides. Riding at -5 C without good gloves or mitts is a very painful experience.
Beyond a few rides which I will give an update on below, a number of good listens and views, there was a great gaming experience this week, and two new beers. Let's jump in to the gaming story first.
If you look up role-playing on Wikipedia, the article branches into the various types of role-playing and then provides this definition for role-playing games, or RPGs:
A role-playing game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterisation, and the actions succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, they may improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games. --Wikipedia
The key concept is that the story is created collaboratively. The Game Master needs to be in charge at least to keep the game following within the prescribed rules, but the actual story that is created is the responsibility of everyone involved. As a GM, I think the key is to provide lots of options for the players and to be prepared enough to be flexible if the players do something unexpected. It is important to be prepared but to not let that preparation narrow your options. Having a series of encounters that your players must do in order at a prescribed time is a recipe for either frustrated players or for you to be unable to proceed because you are not prepared.
In our recent session this week, the party needed to travel and I had three potential encounters planned. The first one was with a travelling merchant. I knew there would be nothing exchanged beyond information, but I was hopeful that the players would engage as there was one bit of flavor and information I wanted to get across. The second encounter was completely optional and I tried to describe it in a way that they would not be forced to engage with it. They ended up doing what I hoped they would because I was able to give them a reward that will be useful. To that point in our session, we had two encounters that were engaging and I think memorable. I was struggling though because both encounters went exactly how I thought they would, and that made me feel like I was railroading them. In the parlance of the game designers I follow online, I felt like I was taking away player agency.
This concern of taking away player agency was weighing on me because the third encounter was one that regardless of how the rest of the session had gone I needed the players to have. This encounter was really like a Talking Notice Board that tells the players "You are hereby requested to go do such-and-such and then report over yonder." There is nothing wrong with this of course, as long as the players feel they can do something other than mindlessly follow the orders of the Talking Notice Board.
It might have been a reaction from the players against two encounters that they felt they had to engage with, but their reaction to the Talking Notice Board was one of sarcastic enthusiasm. "Yes, sir, right away sir." "We'll be sure to do that right away, nudge, nudge, wink, wink."
And so they did not report in. They might check in during the next session, but for this week, they completely ignored the "request". They instead went for a drink and a meal and then proceeded to find a room at the fleabag inn instead of the nice place I assumed they would stay at. This resulted in three fabulous role-playing sessions, one with each player. A new ally was found, a super reward was given to the party, and a really touching story was created.
I am really glad my first two encounters went the way they did, but I was prepared for the players to not engage with either. Our collective story would not have suffered if those encounters were ignored, but the world is more alive and the players have more knowledge about how to act and react as a result of both. However, when we look back at the game, we will see that the moments with the player agency at its most free were the ones that will have the most impact on the long-term story we are creating. That required preparation on my part, but in a much different way than the scripted set pieces I created.
The last thing I will say about our game is that in a three hour session I rolled dice exactly zero times. It was completely role-playing and I all I had to do was talk. And laugh, and smile, and have fun.
There were a few good music finds this week. The first album was Lucinda Williams' "Live @ The Fillmore", which was released in 2005, and was a recording from a 2003 concert. (It would be great to see a concert at The Fillmore!) (It would be great to see a show anywhere!). This album was 22 songs over two volumes and was filled with Williams' gravelly singing. Volume 2 was that the better of the two, in my opinion, with great versions of Atonement, Pineola, Righteously, and others. Her voice really shone on Volume 2.
Switching gears completely, the second album was Massenet's opera, Thaïs. I have switched my weekend radio listening recently, and am really enjoying getting back into "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" on CBC. Host Ben Heppner does a great job of helping listeners like me understand the story and the music.
Last up this week was a single called "Who's Gonna Stop Me". This was a collaboration between Portugal, The Man, and Weird Al Yankovich. It was a good song, but I have to admit I probably listened to it much more intently just because of Weird Al's inclusion. I am not saying that it is not a good song, but I do feel I would have given it less of a listen if Weird Al was not part of it.
The other music item this week was a great interview on Tidal with Chuck D. This might have been the first interview I have seen with Chuck D. I enjoyed his stories especially the one about how Jam Master J convinced Chuck D to become a recording artist. The best part though were two quotes that really made me think.
The first quote was Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee.
"I cannot teach you. I can only help you explore yourself." --Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee
The insight in that quote is enormous. The power to change and to grow is in you and you alone. There is no magic potion or methodology or drug or app that can teach you to grow as a person if you do not want to grow.
The second quote was even more powerful, and I think this is something that I can empathize with and work to change, but I think it is impossible for me to really understand it being a white man. All I can do is listen and support.
If you black, it's the side you on versus the side that hates you. --Chuck D
Great stuff from a musical legend.
I closed off a couple segments on the way to Campbell River on my virtual cross-Canada tour. I need to pick up my pace a bit. At this rate, it will take me four years to finish the trek.
Two new beers this week. Both were good, but neither were great. Beer #691 was the Galactic Space Dragon IPA from Odin Brewery Company. This had some good pineapple citrus juiciness, not much hops, quite hazy. Tasty but would have liked more hops. (3.5 / 5)
Beer #692 was the Earl Grey Wheat from Collective Arts. I am a big fan of Collective Arts, so this one was a bit of a disappointment. This could have been a really interesting take on witbier but it was pretty bland. It was refreshing though, just nothing spectacular. (3.0 / 5)
Happy Thanksgiving weekend from 53.5° north latitude. Fall is upon us, and the wind is blowing leaves off the trees.
Beyond the perennial topic of choice of weather, COVID is firmly entrenched into every conversation it seems, and rightfully so. Cases are rising in most jurisdictions globally, and locally outbreaks are hitting multiple schools, and therefore impacting multiple families, on a weekly basis. When we rushed home in March and hunkered down in April, it seemed easy to contemplate the change to our lives. It was temporary, after all. After a few weeks, the weather started to warm up, and the days got longer and our lives continued to improved. By May, those of us working at home were able to take calls while we walked, and lots of people started experimenting with driveway visits. The summer was even better as the kids got outside, the weather was decent, and lots of people rediscovered biking and walking through their neighborhoods.
But now what? As soon as the kids stopped socializing in a park and started getting pushed back into classrooms, we started having outbreaks. The driveway visits are much harder now because it is cold during the days, let alone the evenings. And who can legitimately take a call when the fall winding is howling?
I have worked in an around the Edmonton downtown core for 27 years now. In that time, I have walked between the various buildings via the pedway system nearly every day I was downtown. Some of that is walking from the LRT to whichever office I was working in, walking around at lunch, running errands, or just taking a call as I walked.
Assuming a maximum of 220 work days a year, minus the really cold days, the days when I had various impairments requiring crutches, days with all day meetings, holidays, travel days, and working from home days, in the time up to the start of COVID I can safely estimate that I have walked around downtown Edmonton at least 100 days each year. It is also safe to estimate that I walked at least two kilometers a day, with a lot of days at four, five, or even more kilometers. So let's say for arguments sake that in the last quarter century I have walked the width of Canada as I trotted around the downtown core. A large part of who I am as a person is connected to my peripatetic tendencies.
Now what am I going to do? I have a 1.5 km walk to get to the nearest mall, and there is very little of interest around that mall compared to the variety of downtown. Working from home is fine. It is the lack of variety and day-to-day variation that will be the problem this winter. Normally that variation was achieved through walking and so I will need to figure out a replacement. If I do not, this will be a very long WFH winter.
Lots of good news on the Kickstarter front. In the past week, I have received updates on six campaigns that I backed. Five are related to RPGs and one is an update on Cory Doctorow's audiobook version of "Attack Surface" that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Doctorow had 6,283 people back his audiobook, which is great news for him and for independence in audiobook publishing going forward.
Three of the RPG products are large publications. "Creatures" is a monster compendium that works in 5e and the publisher's Fateforge extension of 5e. I have a work-in-progress PDF version and this is a great book. "The Lost City of Gaxmoor" is a massively outlined city, complete with listings for the Outer and Inner city, crypts, sewers, and a couple dozen pages of fully fleshed out NPCs. I am interested in this one, although I think I am more interested in "Myriad, City of Tiers" than Gaxmoor. But Gaxmoor was developed in partnership with the sons of Gary Gygax, so that alone was enough to support this campaign. The third large product was the "Heckna! Carnival Horror Campaign Setting" from Hit Point Press. A horror carnival is not something I would typically be interested in, but Hit Point Press developed the Humblewood campaign setting that I picked up earlier this year. and I was really impressed with that. As a result, I figured Heckna would be a good addition to my gaming resources even if I do not run it as a full campaign.
The other two are much smaller products, but that is a big part of their appeal. Instead of hyping a product that needs months to deliver on the expanded content unlocked by the stretch goals, both "Captain Hartchild's Guide to Rare Dragons" and "Over the Next Hill" were available much sooner. OTNH was available immediately after the close of the campaign, and that is a model that will serve Morrus of EN World fame well in future campaigns.
I have backed 21 campaigns in the last year, so not quite enough for Kickstarter Super Backer status. I think I should stay away from the platform for a few weeks, just to give my bank account a break but Super Backer status would be pretty cool.
I was able to finish a couple books this week, which was a good feeling. Book #36 for 2020 was "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman who holds up the fiction throughout the book that he is merely the translator and abridger of a classic by S. Morgenstern. The book is as good as the movie that was based on it, and maybe even a bit better since it is interposes Goldman's "analysis" of the flaws and merits of Morgenstern's writing. This is a wonderful story of flawed individuals coming together and doing something wonderful.
Book #37 for 2020 was a completely different novel and genre than Princess Bride. "All Tomorrow's Parties" by William Gibson was a nice conclusion to the story in Gibson's previous novel, "Idoru". I did not realize until I finished this book though that "Virtual Light" was the first book in the "Bridge Book" trilogy, so I will have to go back and pick that one up later. The story Gibson wrote for All Tomorrow's Parties is hard to describe without spoilers, so I will just say that there are few other writers that I have come across that can extrapolate to the near future to create a plausible and recognizable world as effectively as Gibson. I will say that the denouement of the story left me slack-jawed for a few minutes as I considered the implications of what had just happened.
I made some good progress in my virtual cross-Canada cycling tour. Plus I updated my spreadsheet to do a better job of updating my progress bars.
Much like my comment in the Reading Pile section, it felt good to find some new music this week. There were a few entries in my Music Finds playlist this week. First up was the latest from Flaming Lips. I was taken aback by how depressing the lyrics were across the songs in "American Head". Musically it was good, but I was hard-pressed to find a song that I wanted to listen to again until the final song in the album, "My Religion is You".
After that were a couple throwback bands from the 90s, Semisonic and Goo Goo Dolls. Semisonic was the crafter of a single massive hit with "Closing Time", that has one of the greatest lines in pop rock.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. -- "ClosingTime", by Semisonic
The songs from Semisonic and the Goo Goo Dolls song were both released in June and are decent offerings. Maybe not "Closing Time" or "Iris", but "You're Not Alone" by Semisonic and "Just a Man" by Goo Goo Dolls are still good enough to listen to. I actually think "Just a Man" might stick as something worth listening to.
The next entry was from a fusion supergroup from 1976 that had Phil Collins on drums called Brand X. The album "Unorthodox Behavior" was fantastic, and made me wonder how I never heard of them before this week.
Finally, a favorite of mine from 2019, Future Islands, released a new album called "As Long As You Are". The songs in the early part of the album are more upbeat than the songs later in the album, but they all have good music and rhythm and are delivered with frontman Samuel T. Herring's unique vocals. Good stuff once again from Future Islands.
Three new beers this week. Making up for lost time, I suppose.
Beer #688 was the Full Time IPA from Beau's. Decent if forgettable. Lots of hops and a bit of pine, but not a lot of flavor beyond the bitterness. (3.25 / 5) Beer #689 was the Mad Trapper Czech Amber Lager from Apex Predator. This is near the top of my list for lagers as it had a lot of flavor. Nice caramel taste with a bit of burnt cocoa, and great color. (4.0 / 5) Last up this week was the Kellerbier from German brewer Hacker Pschorr. I think the unfiltered nature really helped this one as I find a lot of German lagers a bit weak. This one had some good flavor. (3.5 / 5)
I am going to start rating the coffees I buy. I do not mean the coffee I pick up in a store to drink right then, but the bags of roasted beans that I grind at home. The coffee I am brewing at home right now is Burnt Timber from Calgary Heritage Coffee Roasters. Burnt Timber is a dark roast, and it is pretty good. I do not yet have the same ability to pick out flavors in my coffee as I can with beers, but I am sure that will come with time. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the before and after process to make my daily Americano. One thing I will point out is that you can see how the espresso crema is a little thin, at least thinner than I would like.
A bit of reading this week, but neither book introduced a lot of new words. One was a repeat that did make me feel good about once I looked it up, and one was a confirmation that I should have looked up in the moment but was just too lazy to do so.
Greetings from 53.5° north. I took last week off as there was little to report. I find myself slowing escaping from the Sinkhole of Doldrums that was September. Even if it is a minor psychological shift, the start of October has me more interested in life in general, even for the more prosaic items that many people would feel are trivial, such as reading, cycling, and beer. To foreshadow the rest of this week's entry: I tried two new beers, neither were great unfortunately; I am closing in on completing a couple books; I have given myself a new goal for cycling; and, to start it all off, I have an update on the focus of my creative energies.
Gamemaster Update - Fakerun:
I have talked a few times about my interest in gaming, and in particular how I am spending a lot of time in various games as a player or gamemaster, and the vast number of Kickstarter campaigns I have supported in recent months. All of the roleplaying games I am involved in at present are Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, which I will just call 5e going forward, even if the settings are different.
The most prevalent setting in 5e is the Forgotten Realms, which is also known as Faerun. With the 5e parent company Wizards of the Coast focusing almost exclusively on Faerun content, it is easy to think that there is only one world available to players and gamemasters. I think that ultimately I would like to craft my own world, with a pantheon of gods and a creation story, and a geography and political system win which to craft my own stories. For now, however, I am happy to settle into the land of Faerun and borrow from the rich catalog of material available to engage with my characters. Having a catalog to fall back on allows me and other gamemasters a path to the gaming table that is much quicker, and is likely much more enjoyable for most people.
However, this does not mean I will play only with "official" content and storylines. My world, my own personal version of Faerun that I am calling "Fakerun", takes place on a continent with the same rivers, mountains, forests, and settlements as canon Faerun. The paths that I am taking with my Fakerun are about how we got to now, and those paths are radically different than the canon content. To do so, I am contemplating questions such as: What caused the chasm in Neverwinter? What are the politics of the large cities along the Sword Coast? I am also purposely eschewing longstanding gaming tropes, such as the they-are-evil-and-must-be-destroyed mindset towards goblins and other creatures.
The one campaign I am running right now had a session the other night, and in it I revealed a devastating impact to the land around where the story was happening. I was concerned about being overly melodramatic or creating something that the players would not care about. My concern was unwarranted though as the party druid was visibly shaken by the devastation, the party archer wanted to move out of the area to camp at night due to how "freaky" the damage was, and the party barbarian texted me the next day to say how he could not stop thinking about what caused the damage.
This is not about my amazing skills as a storyteller, as I suspect I am average at best. It does have to do with the collective desire to create something compelling. The Wizards website that I linked to above has a great quote about the power of collective storytelling (emphasis mine).
Since 1974, Dungeons & Dragons has influenced numerous writers, directors, and game designers by tapping into the innate human need to gather with your friends and tell an exciting story together. --Wizard of the Coast
A couple weeks ago, I posted how I have gone from a near-paralyzing fear of failure that delayed me starting this gaming group I am playing with, to a feeling of confidence that I can be the catalyst for a great group experience. With the experience of the game session this week, I now know I can create a compelling story that impacts the players as much as it impacts their characters in the game. That knowledge and experience is extremely empowering, and it has encouraged me to do more.
I am not sure exactly how to do what I am planning, but I want to create a new section on this page for my Fakerun version of Faerun. The purpose will be to further flesh out my backstories and characters, give me a channel for writing and other forms of creative works such as maps and handouts, and maybe even be a source of inspiration and content for other gamemasters to use in the worlds they create. Stay tuned for a new section in the title bar likely called "RPG".
Getting back to Kickstarters for a minute, I was excited to finally receive my copy of "The Koryo Hall of Adventurers", a 5e supplement and setting inspired on Koreon mythology. As much as I love the dwarves and elves of a medieval western European setting, getting my hands on something different is a pleasure. Author Aurélien Lainé comments in the book's introduction how they fell in love with and immersed themselves in Korean culture, and it shows in this book. Consider picking up your own copy if you would like to move beyond the Tolkienesque standard settings for your roleplaying game experience.
A good friend of mine started tracking his cycling trips at the start of COVID. His goal was to keep him in the saddle even while he was forced to isolate and work from home. In the six and a half months since he started, he has logged enough kilometers on his bike to virtually ride from Vancouver to Kenora, Ontario. Inspired by that, I have decided to do the same. For my trip, I will plot a route that will travel the eastern length of Vancouver Island, and then cross the mainland to Vancouver, passing through all provincial capitals. I am going to not worry about planning travel routes that would be safe, or at least safer, on a bike, and instead just looking for a road that will get me to the cities I want to virutally pedal to.
My first leg is from Port Hardy to Victoria, a distance of 508.5 km. So far this week I have cycled to Port McNeill. The next segment to Campbell River is quite a long one at 197 km so I will likely not get to there in the next week.
As I get closer to my virtual destination for Leg 1 of Victoria, I will plot out how to go east from Vancouver. I suspect I will plot a course towards Kamloops via the Coquihalla Highway, but that is not for certain at this point. For now, here is how Leg 1 looks on the map, along with my spreadsheet tracker for my distance log.
As I said in the intro, I had two new beers this week and I was not impressed with either. Beer #686 was the Red Horse Extra Strong Beer from San Miguel out of the Philippines. Not much going on. A bit of an ESB taste but nothing that I was really interested in. I went in with low expectations and this beer did not exceed even those. (2.75 / 5).
The second beer was from Alley Kat, and was one I went into with much higher expectations. Beer #687 was the SMaSH Session Ale. I did not like the taste, such as it was, and found it a confusing mix of bitter, sweet, and malt. A real disappointment since I am clearly a big fan of Alley Kat. (2.75 / 5)
There was much more reading this week than in recent weeks, but still not a lot of new words.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude after a fortnight since the last entry. Two weeks ago I said not much profound had happened, and that carried through to the following week. As a result, I decided to skip last week. Nothing wildly significant happened this week either, but I did finish one book, have one new beer to report, and a small handful of words. I think the lull in my productivity and creativity is the lingering after-effects of resigning from that Board.
But first, I came across a quote and a proverb that really struck me this last week. The quote was from Matt Colville in video #50 in his "Running The Game" series.
Cynicism is the death of wisdom. --Matt Colville
That lead me to look for more quotes about cynicism. The most interesting, at least contemporarily, were from Steven Colbert and Conan O'Brien. Note that even though both of them are satirists and provide significant social and political commentary, both are keen to highlight the toxicity of cynicism.
Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes". --Stephen Colbert
All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. --Conan O'Brien
And finally, I was told a proverb from Cameroon from a co-worker. This seems to be similar to a quote from Shakespeare and there are numerous similar quotes peppered across the Internet.
The eye that sees others, sees not itself. --Cameroonian Proverb
Regardless of the provenance, it is useful to reflect on the words. If you are constantly and solely focused on the performance and flaws of others, there is no time to focus on improving yourself. Worry about you. Free your mind, and the rest will follow.
This last week saw the completion of Book #34 for 2020, "The Steerswoman" by Rosemary Kirstein. This is the first book in the Steerswoman series, and it follows two women as they try to uncover the origins of some odd jewels that are found scattered across the continent. Rowan is a Steerswoman, the title owing to a nautical background of a ship's navigator. However, in this world, the steerswomen are seekers of knowledge who scour the world for answers. While a steerswoman is undoubtedly useful onboard a ship, the majority of the story takes place on land. The other protagonist is Bel, a barbarian who chose to leave her clan to travel with Rowan.
Note that both of the main characters are women, and the title of the book and series is clearly about women. This is not a feminist book touting the need for equality, nor does it force comment how women can do whatever a man can do. Instead, it presents a world where there are no preconceptions about what is "a man's job" or "woman's work". There is no need to highlight differences when there are really no differences to highlight. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
In addition, this book is about knowledge, science, and rationality. There is some fighting and the threat of war, plus a brewing conflict between the Academy of the steerswomen and another faction. Beneath all of this is the more important story of how one woman, embedded in a culture of learning, undertakes to solve a mystery that defies her and her colleagues' understanding of the natural world. As above, for that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
There you have it. One book with two solid selling points. I am definitely looking forward to reading the other books in the series.
I put three albums in my Music Finds playlist for the last fortnight, but really only got into one of them. That was a 2008 recording by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis entitled "Two Men with the Blues". This was a fantastic album highlighting Nelson's signing and Marsalis' playing. Covering standards such as "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Georgia on My Mind", the two seem like a natural pair which is so surprising when you think about how different their musical origins are. This is definitely worth a listen.
Beer #683 was the Nasty Trunks sour IPA from Evil Twin Brewing out of Brooklyn. There was the good hops of an IPA with a bit of of punchy but not overpowering citrus in the sour half of this beer. Fresh and a bit sweet. Nice stuff. (3.5 / 5)
As a complete aside, Evil Twin seems to produce a stunning number of beers. Doing a search on their site shows 278 beers, but for some reason the Nasty Trunks did not show up. Maybe I have the wrong Evil Twin brewery. Maybe I found the other one, you know, the twin? If you can find Nasty Trunks on their site or if I have the wrong site, please let me know.
Just five new words in the last fortnight, with one my ten year-old daughter told me.
A water-logged hello from 53.5° north latitude to you. It was a rainy week, which meant it was a pretty quiet week without a lot of time outside. But that was okay because it was a very relaxing week as a result. I did not make a lot (i.e. any progress) on my projects, but again, that is okay. It was probably the most relaxing single week vacation I have ever had.
There was a particularly dorky milestone this week. I do all of the daily challenges in the Microsoft Solitaire game every month, but for June I decided to plan it out to get my points to the even thousands from 1,000 through through to the end which ended up being slightly over 28,000. Visual proof of the achievement is below. For those who may claim that I need to get out more, I say pshaw!
And besides, I did get out this week! I decided that I was hermitizing too much so I made a few deliberate moves to get out, including river valley walks, picnics, and fishing. Plus I got my hair cut for the first time in 100+ days. Time to start living again while the weather is nice, or at least not snowy, and before any COVID second wave descends.
Beyond that, the week was filled with reading, a couple new beers, and a solid stack of new words. Without further ado, here is what happened this week.
I was able to finish two books this week, and I might actually finish a third later today (July 5) but if I do, it will be after I post the entry for this week. Assuming that I only count the two books this week, I am now on pace for 49 books this year. Finishing that third book this week would put me on pace for 51, so my goal for this year is clearly achievable.
Book #24 for 2020 was "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World" by David Epstein. I really enjoyed this book which helped me feel good about my lack of super deep skills in any one area, and reminded me of a favorite quote of mine from Robert Heinlein that "... specialization is for insects". I printed that quote back in university, so maybe 1992 or so and it has been hanging in my home office for years.
But enough about Heinlein, and back to Range. There were a number of takeaways from the book but two really stood out for me. First, was the notion that "we learn who we are only by living, and not before," which is a reminder to live and engage with the world. The second was a quote from a firefighter Epstein interviewed about the difference between making decisions and making sense.
"If I make a decision, it is a possession, I take pride in it, I tend to defend it and not listen to those who question it. If I make sense, then this is more dynamic and I listen and I can change it." --Paul Gleason, firefighter, quoted in "Range"
Book #25 for 2020 was "Poached" by Stuart Gibbs. This is the third book in the FunJungle series I have read with my younger daughter in the past four months, and it was every bit as enjoyable as the other two. (To be clear, it is the third book we have read, but it is the second book in the series.)
There is probably not a lot to say about this, but as with "Belly Up" and "Panda-monium", I recommend this if you are looking for a thrilling mystery for a young reader and something that will be enjoyable to read aloud.
Two new beers this week, with one coming from a great American brewery and the other coming from a Canadian brewery that maybe is great and maybe isn't. See below for an explanation on that.
The American beer was the Ommegang Adoration Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Thought there was too much taste at first sip, but the impact of the spices mellowed over the duration. The 10% ABV really snuck up on me, which might have caused the mellowing effect. (3.75 / 5). The Canadian beer was the Phillips DinoSour Blackberry Sour Ale. I didn't find this to be that sour at all. It had decent fruit flavor, but was pretty thin. (3.25 / 5)
I was thinking that this particular offering from was an outlier in how low I rated it. However, when I checked my ratings of the 15 Phillips beers I have checked in over the years, it came in at 3.23 so this was a pretty good indication of what I think of Phillips (Technically speaking: Arithmetic Mean = 3.23; Geometric Mean = 3.20; Median = 3.25). It is interesting how the data can show a different picture than the perception, as when I told my friends on a Zoom call the other night that I was having a beer from Phillips, we all agreed that you can't go wrong with Phillips. That seems to be true, but it also seems like there isn't a lot of standouts from them either, at least to my liking.
Although it is fair to say my mood in previous weeks was less than hospitable, this week my reading habit was untrammeled and as a result I was limned like a gaggle of serried teenaged boys finding themselves in a seraglio.
limned (past tense) · limned (past participle)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, the land of near-summer daytime temperatures, open playgrounds, and a populace inching towards showing their middle finger to the concept of social distancing.
Thanks go out this week to the Public Sector Network for inviting me to deliver a speech on building a culture of security awareness in an organization. The slides are available here, but probably won't be all that useful without my narrative to accompany the deck. If you are interested in watching the security awareness videos referenced in the presentation, the full playlist is available at this link.
Beyond preparing for and delivering that talk, it was a pretty quiet week. I was able to start and finish a Douglas Adams classic, tried a quarter dozen new beers, and learned (and relearned) and a couple new words.
Let's get on with it.
I took a break from the Patrick Rothfuss masterpiece this week because I didn't have enough mental energy to properly focus on it. I'll jump back into it this week, so it will be even later in June before I finish it.
Book #21 for 2020 in its place was a re-read of "Life, The Universe, and Everything" by Douglas Adams. This was definitely my least favorite of the Hitchhiker's series so far. It had some interesting conceptual twists but lacked the irreverant humor that made me laugh out loud while reading it that made the first two books so memorable. It might have been a better written book in some regards, and is probably more serious than the first two books. If that was intentional, I can imagine how much resistance Adams would have received in changing the style of his novels after the success of his first two books. I wonder if that was why he followed up the Hitchhiker's series with the Dirk Gently books. Maybe I should pick those up again.
The point above about authors changing their writing style reminds me of a quote I heard from Neil Gaiman about eighteen months ago. He said that everyone pushes you to write something original and new, until they like your first book, and then all they want is more of exactly what you already wrote.
Twenty-one books in twenty weeks means I should be able to hit my target of 52 books this year when you factor in the group readings of War and Peace and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Two new beers this week, with one coming from a favorite brewer and the other continuing my foray into traditional European beers.
First up was the Life In The Clouds DDH IPA from Collective Arts. Before diving into this one, I had to figure out what a DDH IPA was. Thanks to Craft Beer Joe for deciphering the acronym to mean Double Dry Hops. The DDH process definitely explains the bold hoppiness of this beer, and why there was so much pineapple and citrus flavor. It was hazy but much more filtered than some of my previous selections. This was a very tasty beer that I would happily have again. (3.75 / 5)
Second up was the Destiny IPA from Fuggles and Warlock Craftworks in Richmond, B.C. This had a ton of taste, fruit, and hops. Seven hops varieties, and I was only familiar with four of them. Good stuff. (3.5 / 5)
The third beer this week was a European Pale Lager called Tatra produced by the marcro Zywiec. This was pretty decently tasty lager with a fairly crisp and slightly bready taste. Nothing to complain about. (3.25 / 5)
Just a couple new words this week. Apparently Douglas Adams didn't have much to expand my vocabularly in his third book, especially since one was a repeat.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where spring has finally sprung and people are once again able to get outside. Let's hope they stay isolated so that our COVID cases don't spike in a couple weeks.
The week that was was long and repetitive, with double-digit meetings each work day. The reading was good, as was the guitar playing. If I thought the picture would be clear, I'd take a picture of my left fingertips to show the budding callouses.
The tl;dr for this week is: Two books finished, four beers drank (three from the previous week), a book discussion recorded and posted on YouTube, and a bunch of new words.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
It was a productive week for reading, with two books finished and a new one about one-quarter completed already.
Book #15 for 2020 was a young reader series mystery that I finished with my younger daughter. "Panda-Monium" by Stuart Gibbs is a first-person narrated story of a middle school sleuth who helps solve the mystery of a missing panda. Teddy Fitzroy is a bit like Encyclopedia Brown, but in a modern setting and in a full-length novel format. The book was really well done and had a couple absolutely hilarious scenes. If you are looking to hook a young reader on the mystery genre, this is a good choice.
Book #16 for 2020 was "Ancillary Justice" by Anne Leckie, a science fiction story revolving around a multi-millennium old AI hellbent on revenge. It was a great concept, and ultimately it came together really well, but I did lose interest for a while about two-thirds of the way through. To be fair, that might have been a symptom of mental fatigue and quarantine overload. It was definitely good enough to make me seek out the second book in the series.
Leckie wrote an excellent quote near the end of the novel that could have been equally applicable to today's world.
If you've got power and money and connections, some differences won't change anything. Or if you are resigned to dying in the near future ... It's the people without the money and the power, who desperately want to live, for those people small things aren't small at all. What you call no difference is life and death to them,
I mentioned above that I am already one-quarter through another book. That one is a historical account of some seriously interesting cyrpto work done over 200 years ago. I suspect I'll have a good summary of it done for next week's entry. In the meantime, here is a tweet related to that book.
Lastly, I have commented multiple times since mid-December about the War and Peace Reddit reading group that I am part of. I highly encourage you to read War and Peace, and if you do, a chapter-a-day reading habit is a great way to do it, especially if you augment it with Brian E. Denton's Daily Meditations on each chapter.
Denton has been actively lurking on the subreddit this year and invited myself and others to record a session where we talk about Book 1, Part 1. It was a really good discussion, and it was great to put faces to names of some of the most active contributors to the subreddit. The full video is linked below, and a few of my points are linked here [1, 2].
Four new beers for the past fortnight - I didn't feel like posting a beer update last week - and it was a fairly forgettable bunch unfortunately. It started out well with the Collective Arts Hazy State. Collective Arts do like their hazy IPAs. This one was very hazy and never did settle or clear in the slightest. There was a big waft of pine and a nice taste. (3.75 / 5). The next was also from Collective Arts, but this was a bit disappointing. It wasn't bad or poorly done, but just didn't live up to my expectations for a sour from Collective Arts. (3.25 / 5).
Next was the Wild Beer Company Millionaire Salted Caramel Chocolate Milk Stout. This had a nice boozy flavor without being overpowering, but I didn't taste much of the salted caramel or chocolate. (3.25 / 5).
Last up was the Lech Premium Pale Lager. When you are on a personal quest to drink one of every beer in the world like I am, you will eventually have to drink benign lagers from big macro breweries, and this was one of those times. This was decent, but wholly unremarkable. That's all I am going to say. (3.0 / 5)
Quite a few words this week, with a couple being repeat offenders.
[ˈnü-əl , ˈnyü- ]
There are those words that you say without thinking about, and then one day you think about them, and all you can think about is how weird that word is. "Hunker" is definitely in that category. We are definitely into the "hunker" phase of our global COVID response, in which we are, to use the North American use of the word, taking shelter in a defensive position. See the full definition in the "New Words" section at the end of this post.
With that, greetings from 53.5° north latitude, in a spot in the world where it is still solidly winter with cold temperatures, snow, and ice that can cause both the short of cycling mishaps that rip through two layers of pants and at least one layer of skin, and an intensely beautiful vistas.
The world zipped past 1,000,000 confirmed cases of COVID earlier this week, and passed 1.25 million this morning. There is a growing realization that we will be in this state of isolation until the end of June and that some form of public health measures will extend for some time beyond then.
Even with all of the news, the messages from public health officials, the pleas from celebrities, there are still people who just won't get it. The blistering editorial this week in the Thorsby Target from Thorsby Mayor Rod Raymond this past week was a welcome read. It seems Mayor Raymond does not mince words. Pin heads, indeed!
I talked about the economic impact in the last two weeks [here, and here]. The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce released some staggering survey results this week. Nearly half of Chamber members surveyed feared that their business would not survive, and a quarter surveyed do not have cash to meet their next payroll.
The world will change as a result of this. The world is changing as a result of this. It will be imperative to engage to do as much as possible to influence the changes to be positive and inclusive. If we fail to that, what we are living in now may be the real-world equivalent to the prequel to a haunting dystopian science-fiction story.
I had a good week as far as reading goes. I dove into "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" and should be caught up in the respective Reddit reading groups in a few days. Monte Cristo is revealing itself to be a beautiful book filled with evocative imagery and phrases. Below are two of my favourite from my readings this last week. The first one is strangely recursive, discussing how a heart can break and then itself causing hearts to break.
The heart breaks when it has swelled too much in the warm breath of hope, then finds itself enclosed in cold reality.
The second is darker, highlighting a fatalistic view on the world and the thoughts that maybe the world should just be burned down.
If only the sky would rain gunpowder for two days and fire for an hour, and we could have done with it all.
Beyond those two novels, I did finish another novel this week. Book #12 for 2020 was "Future Home of the Living God" by Louise Erdrich. This was a book that I thought was wonderful as I was in the act of reading it, but as I stepped away from it I reflect on a few flaws. There were a few plot points dropped in and not explored, such as the massively changed fauna (sabre-tooth cat, anyone?). I also would have liked to have the role of the theocratic church explained more, and how the monitoring and surveillance technology was a surprise and also so surprisingly effective. I still don't know with certainty which characters in the book were "good", but I suppose that is no different than real life, where every person we encounter is both wonderful and flawed.
But ignore that. You should read this book even with its flaws. The timeliness of a novel where the protagonist is locked away and isolated is certainly worth reading right now, as are the hints at how quickly and how completely our world could change for the worse. Don't take anything for granted, even those crummy gas station granola bars, and especially the rights of the individuals.
And since I am apparently big on quotes this week, here is one from this book that can hopefully remind us of all that exists that is worth fighting for.
I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful. I think it may be our strongest quality.
More reading this week, and therefore more new words as well. Plus leading off with that word that seems really weird when you really think about it.