Greetings from 53.5° once again. What's new, you ask? I suppose anything that will get registered here is less new and more of an extension of previous weeks. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the country is in pandemic lock-down.
In addition, it is holiday time right now, or at least holiday-lite time. There is so much going on at work that I will get some time off, but certainly not the next two full weeks as I had hoped. While the amount of work is overwhelming, it is important work and keeping that in mind helps me get through the intense hours and multiple competing priorities.
Before I get into the regular sections, I want to highlight a podcast that helped me with understanding the appeal of Trump. The November 20 episode of On The Media from WNYC had a segment titled "The Ancient Heresy That Helps Us Understand QAnon". Having a roommate in university and a friend for the last twenty-five years who both studied religion in university gave me some awareness of Gnosticism. At a very high levels, gnostics value their own personal experience over the authority of experts and institutions.
You could listen to that segment, but it is likely that last sentence perfectly explains for you Trump and Trump's followers. My summary: Do not trust the experts (deep state) because only I (Trump) have the real knowledge. Search for the knowledge yourself and come to your own conclusions (flat earth, QAnon, etc.)
Call me a pessimist, but after listening to the segment and in particular the quote from the segment below, I do not think there is an easy path forward.
... when you take the red pill and you see the true nature of reality past the institutions and so on, that's an epiphany. I think, for those who really been red pilled, who have been born again into this Trumpian Gnosticism, there is no reason to let go. And anything that we would suggest as proof will become to them proof of our deception. And that makes for a dangerous situation that the best case scenario is going to simmer and simmer for a long time if it doesn't boil over. --Jeff Sharlet
With under a fortnight to go in 2020, I am doing what I can to get my reading total for the year over 50. I am confident I will hit 48 for sure, and 49 is looking pretty good. 50 or more will be tough though, especially if I have to work more than a day or two before New Year's.
Book #44 for 2020 was "The Better Mousetrap" by Tom Holt. Holt was an author I had no visibility on until this last year and we bought three or four of his books at used books stores and EPL book sales. The Better Mousetrap was an interesting book about two people drawn to each other, a magical world living out of view of most of the world, time travel, and insurance. It would be hard to give any sort of plot synopsis in under 250 words that would not spoil the book so I will not even try. I will just say that it was a good book and I am looking forward to diving into Holt's other books.
The weather was pretty good this week which allowed for some longer rides and faster times on those rides. I am still nowhere near the weekly distance of the most dedicated cyclists I know, but most of them these days are spending their saddle time indoors on Zwift and I am hammering out the kilometers through the snow and ice. I suppose I can claim a modicum of moral superiority for that fact, even though I know their fitness levels are way above mine.
I did make it to Hope in my cross-Canada virtual tour. According to Wikipedia, Hope is the easternmost point on what is called the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, which accounts for the average temperature this time of year being 3.5°C. It is also a meeting point, being the confluence of the Fraser and Coquihalla rivers, and the Coquihalla and Crowsnest highways. The Stó:lō First Nations peoples settled in that area between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, and were nearly wiped-out by smallpox in 1782.
Here is an update of my progress chart for the virtual tour.
Work got in the way of diving into the Art Blakey album I had queued up in the Music Finds playlist for this week, but I did give the new album by Kid Cudi a few listens this week. It is pretty clear that "Man on the Moon III: The Chosen" is not my typical music. The picture on the home page of my Tidal app caught my attention and after reading Kid Cudi's bio, I thought I would give it a listen. There were a few songs that I did not like of course, but that is the same as on any album I listen to. Of the eighteen tracks, most were good and "Else's Baby Boy (flashback)" and "The Void" were particularly good. Some of the other songs were musically great even if I could not get into the lyrics. Standouts in that category include "Rockstar Knights" and "Sad People".
I am glad I dug into this album. I will seek out more albums by Kid Cudi and maybe the likes on the songs on this album will help suggest new albums and artists that are out of my regular rotation.
Just one new beer this week, although you could reasonably expect that I would have had more based on my last Visa bill.
Beer #705 was the Dandy Lager from Dandy Brewing out of Calgary. Dandy is a great brewery that has interesting and unique beers. I have checked in three from them so those are the only ones I have evidence for, but looking at their beer list it is clear I have had others that I have not checked in.
The Dandy lager was a bit hazier than expected for a lager, but quite good. A bit of citrus. Nice and crisp. Definitely worth having again. (3.75 / 5)
I dug into a new coffee this week, happily moving past the Salt Spring Metta Espresso that was thin and bland. The Cliff Hanger Espresso from Kicking Horse has a glossy, black bean and much more taste than the Metta. I am not super happy with the flavor though. The packaging mentions cocoa and fruit flavors and I think it is the cocoa that I am not fond of. A couple months ago, I mentioned the Old School Espresso from 49th Parallel and I indicated that I liked the cocoa flavor, so maybe it is not cocoa that is the problem, but the amount of cocoa in the flavor.
Also of note are the gloss on the beans. Like the 49th Parallel beans, the Cliff Hanger beans from Kicking Horse are quite glossy as compared to the matte finish of the Metta from Salt Spring. In addition, 16 grams of these beans completely fills my espresso portafilter and it took 18 grams with the Metta. I need to play with the amount of beans to grind because the Kicking Horse site suggests using 18 to 21 grams.
I will keep track of the next few coffees but I think I am settling on glossy beans with a bit of cocoa as components of the winning formula.
Two new words this week. I think we should all celebrate the winter solstice (tomorrow) but am willing to debate that suggestion.
[sab·bat | \ ˈsa-bət]
Happy long weekend from 53.5° north latitude. It is amazing how much work can fit into a five day work week. Looking back at the week, there were so many things going on, it is surprising that anything got done at all. Having the ability to focus on a single task at a time seems like such a luxury, such a foreign concept. I wonder if anybody really works like that anymore, or if they ever did. The hyper-specialization in the Industrial Revolution would be a clear example of focus, and similarly before that with a more agrarian society, but has a knowledge worker ever had the ability to focus? It is something work exploring.
I did have the ability to focus on one task most of Saturday this week, as I hauled five loads of sod and dirt to the Ecostation. Driving back and forth, burning probably close to half a tank of gas, I was able to plow through a bunch of podcasts, plus I took the train to work two days this week, so I had some time there as well. That is probably the most time I have ever devoted to podcasts in a single week, and there were lots of interesting tidbits as a result.
You can't take everything with you as you move through life" --David Letterman
That referred to the bad stuff in life, like regret, shame, and pain. It was a good reminder that you have to move on if you want to make amends with the past and be a better person in the future.
I don't know Maron he has always been this good at interviewing people, but I suppose after 1000+ interviews, you hone your skills.
The last of the great interviews was from Longform. The episode I listened to this week was an interview with David Epstein on the arguments for and against specialization at a young age and Epstein's book "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World". I really like Longform as I find the hosts are fantastic interviewers. Casual and relaxed, yet deep enough to hit the important points. As a comparator, listen to the EconTalk interview with Epstein to really see the difference a good interviewer can make.
Rounding out the podcasts was the History of Rome podcast, a monumental series that started way back in 2010, and another Freakonomics episode. I plowed through the first four episodes of History of Rome and I can totally see myself finishing all 179 episodes. Episode 2 had an interesting quote: "Might might not make right, but it will make a 1000 year civilization." The Freakonmics episode was "How to Change Your Mind" and the most interesting point was that people fail to differentiate between what they know and what others know. Following this through, there is a difference between the brain (trapped in your skull) and the mind (which is a collective and social construct of the people in your network).
The other book finished this week was "Zeroes" by Chuck Wendig. This was my first reading from Wendig after following him on Twitter for the last couple years. I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of "Daemon" by Daniel Suarez, but maybe not quite as good. Or maybe it wasn't as good since it really reminded me of a book I had read previously. Anyway, it was a good book, worth the read, and certainly good enough to continue to search out more from Wendig.
The Long and Slow Death of Google+:
I came across this article from January about how Google shuttered Google+ earlier this year. There is a good summary of the issue in the API and the decision to accelerate the shutdown as a result of that issue. However, the really interesting part of the article was the summary of why Google+ was created and a question as to whether or not Google even cares that Google+ was ultimately a failure.
Here's the thing...Google still got what they came for. More of your data.
With Google+, Google was able to understand more about you as a Google user. Your profile, address, likes, dislikes, friends, foes, etc. In 2011 maybe we thought that information about us was a fair trade for the ability to communicate with our friends. Maybe we didn't care, or maybe we didn't even think about it. But now in 2019, more of us do think about those tradeoffs, even if that number is still the vast minority of people. I wonder if I will sign up for the next big platform after Twitter. I doubt it.
This blog, even if no one reads it, is my response to microblogging like Twitter or Instagram, and is based on the need to say what I want to say in a way I want to say it. If I want to write 1,000 words about the podcasts I listened to, then that's what I'll do, but not with ads inserted by some algorithm. If there is content I want others to know about, then I'll post it here. Do I need to collect entire profile data sets of everyone that reads what I write? What would I do with that? I'm not an advertising platform like Google or Facebook, so I have no need for that. I suppose at some point the need to pay for the infrastructure becomes enough of an impetus to start to look for ways to "monetize". However, maybe the old tip jar model from years gone by or the patron model that is popular these days will be enough. Even if that ever becomes the case, I still can't see what benefit either I or my readers would get from them sharing a full profile of their personal information with me.
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.