Greetings once again from a laid back 53.5° north latitude. The trend of simple weeks without much to report continues, although this week was more interesting than the last few.
One thing I have not mentioned for quite a while is the groups I am in and playing the world's greatest roleplaying game. My work group sadly has only met once since COVID started, but I am running a group every two weeks that I pulled together via Meetup, and starting next week I will be playing in two groups with individuals I met through that Meetup group. I am also playing a Humblewood campaign with my daughters. I posted about the Meetup group and Humblewood back in February, and reading that post makes me realize how much I have learned in the last seven months.
I posted how the group I am now running was delayed in starting because I was nervous. I was worried about meeting with a bunch of strangers to play a game. As time progressed though, these strangers have become friends that have in turn introduced me to other people. I have pushed myself outside my comfort zone and the rewards have been immense, and the experience has reinforced how much better moving forward is over stagnating.
The pressure to do a good job is still there, but I now know I can do it. I have confidence in my ability to plan and improvise. My writing is improving weekly, and I am finding ideas that I want to express in both stories and in the game.
The other remarkable learning since February is how to use technology to interact and connect. Undoubtedly, getting together in person with the group I run will be a magical moment, if and when that can ever happen. But in the meantime, we can still meet and chat and play. The technology combination of Roll20 for displaying maps and allow for token movement with Discord for voice and video really works well. Add in a good digital character sheet either from Roll20 or with the Beyond20 Chrome extension to connect Roll20 and D&D Beyond, and this is a hobby that can work independent of physical location.
As I look back at the post from February, I notice my comments about the Kickstarter campaigns I have backed. Since February, I have backed thirteen more projects, ten of which completely successfully and three which have hit their funding goals but have not finished the campaign yet. Of the thirteen, one is a collection of board games, one is a tarot card deck that I thought would be useful as a game prop back when we were planning on playing in person, and one is an audio book. The other ten are all supplements or add-ons related to the roleplaying game of choice.
I want to mention the audio book specifically as it is important and has a chuckle-worthy story. Cory Doctorow is publishing and audio book of his latest novel, Attack Surface, and in order to combat the Amazon / Audible monopoly and their requirement to use their Digital Rights Management software on audio books they distribute, Doctorow is self-publishing the audio book. Attack Surface is the third book in the Little Brother series. If you recall back in May, Little Brother was Book #18 for 2020 and I did not recommend it to the casual reader at the time. The message around digital surveillance and the need to fight for the right of privacy and security is important though and I really want Doctorow to be successful so I happily backed this project.
The chuckle-worthy story relates to what I posted in May. There were some scenes in Little Brother that were awkward to read to my daughter and so I posted a comment on the Kickstarter page. Doctorow's response is pasted below.
My reading time continues to ebb, and I really have not dug into anything in about a month. I did finish one book though this week. Book #35 for 2020 was a re-read of "The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan. We own hard copy versions of each book in the series but I have only read the first seven of the fourteen books. I am hoping to read them all over the next year or so. I read this one with my daughter and it was a great experience, and we just started into the second book last night.
I mentioned in August 2019 that my friend Cam gave me an Advanced Reading Copy version of this book. I did not read through that version in case there were differences in the text. Regardless, it was great to read and I am now more excited to plow through the series than I ever have been.
Just one new beer this week, and once again it is from my local and much-loved brewery, Alley Kat. The latest sampled ware from Alley Kat, and beer #684 unique check-in on Untappd, is the most recent in their Dragon Double IPA series, the Southern Star. Alley Kat continues to get the DIPA series right. Great hops and citrus but without having the bitterness overpower the taste. Really enjoyable. (4.0 / 5)
Not a lot of reading, so not a lot of new words, except of course all those words that Jordan created for The Eye of the World.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, the 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 the week that was was worse than the week that was last week. In short, I felt bad at the start of the week, felt worse as the week progressed, and have now been tested for COVID. So yeah, pretty much sucky. I won't talk about that here because I am trying my hand at a long form diary for my maybe-COVID-journey.
There were some interesting highlights from this week, a couple new beers (back earlier in the week when I didn't feel quite so bad), and a list of interesting words. Upward and onward!
First up were two interesting experiences in online media consumption. Early in the week, I watched both an opera from The Met and a concert from The National. The Met streamed "Werther", and The National released footage of a concert from last August on YouTube. To be able to watch both of those on the same day was quite remarkable. The National will continue to be one of my favourite bands so they will get money from me from albums and (hopefully one day!) concerts, but I will have to think about sending some money to The Met to support their choice to stream from their archives..
In the category of self-promotion, I was part of a webinar with three other security executives and a current Board-level moderator. Thanks to Securonix for inviting me to speak at the session which covered general info and cyber security areas, but also highlighted a few healthcare-specific topics as well.
If you are so inclined, it is available on-demand here, and here is my little behind-the-scenes look at how I set up my recording area. It was difficult to get the camera set up properly, and I am constantly struggling with how the image width changes between video conferencing tools. Skype for Business barely showed any of the bookcase behind me, but BrightTalk showed all the way out the door. I have another session on May 29, so I have a bit of time to make improvements.
One more note before we move on to the beers and words. In early- and then mid-April I mentioned a reading group pulled together by Adam Greenfield. This week we read Donna Haraway's "A Cyborg Manifesto", which was more of an essay than a book so I won't count it in this year's reading list. Manifesto was thought-provoking and much easier to read than most of what we have delved into, but was still pretty dense. This was our last meeting of our reading group unfortunately, but I am definitely happy for the experience.
Early in the week when I felt decent, I tried a couple new beers. The first was the Tyskie Gronie lager out of Poland. Decent. Did the trick but nothing more than that. Then again, if that's all you ask and you get what you ask for, then that's a win in my book. (3.25 / 5) The other beer was another from Postmark. I tried out their Juicy Pale Ale a couple weeks ago, and was quite happy with it. This time it was their Westerly IPA which started out great. Nice citrus and hops but a disturbing amount of sediment. The sediment knocked the rating down a peg or two. (3.25 / 5)
A handful of new words this week, largely from the reading and discussion in Greenfield's reading group, and I am pretty sure one is a repeat.
Greetings from 53.5 ° north latitude. The week was filled with reading and guitar and little else. So really, a pretty awesome week.
We are just finishing up the nineteenth week of 2020, with the first week of the year being a few days short of the full seven. I'm doing well with my reading, clocking in at an average of one book per week. If I can keep it up and also finish War and Peace and The Count of Monte Cristo with those reading groups I have previously mentioned, I will read 54 books this year. That is a momentous number and would be a hard mark to surpass in my pre-retirement years.
Book #17 for 2020 was the audiobook version of Simon Sinek's "The Infinite Game". Sinek came to my attention during an executive education program I was enrolled in in 2013 - 2014. His TED talks about leadership related to his earlier books continue to be a popular favorite, wracking up millions of views. This latest book is short but worth the time. Sinek distills his thoughts about why an infinite mindset built with thoughts of the long-term and abundance is superior to a finite mindset built with only the short-term in mind and with a focus on scarcity. One quote that stuck with me was that "leaders are not responsible for results; they are responsible for the people that are responsible for the results." That is a good maxim to keep in mind while leading teams and organizations, as is Sinek's comment that we should "go slow now to stop problems later."
Book #18 for 2020 was "Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow. This was a book I decided to read with my older daughter, and it opened a lot of conversations about surveillance and the Internet, It was also about a teenage boy falling in love, so that kept me scanning a few lines ahead so that I could strategically avoid certain topics.
This was my least favorite of Doctorow's books that I have read so far, mainly because I already understood the lessons he was communicating, but also because of the somewhat jingoistic references to the US Declaration of Independence. I was probably a bit overly sensitized to references to the Declaration because Sinek also raved about it in his book as the ideal infinite game.
Would I recommend this book? Probably not, at least to a casual reader. Would I use it to reference the problems with surveillance technology. Sure, but something like Bruce Schneier's "Secrets and Lies" or "Data and Goliath" would be better, albeit non-fictional sources.
Book #19 for 2020 was "The Man Who Broke Napoleon's Codes" by Mark Urban. This was a historical account of George Scovell, the man that provided Wellington with vital intelligence in the war against Napoleon's army in Spain and Portgual. Scovell used captured communications to decipher both the Army of Portugal and grande ciphere used by the French.
Urban was able to write the entire book from journals and official war correspondence, and so it provides an interesting portrayal of Wellington, Napoleon's brother Joseph, and the French marshals in the Iberian conflict. The marshals are shown to be vapid and selfish, and completely vested in only their own wealth and position. They are clearly not in this war for the infinite game of anyone beyond themselves. Urban also highlights the cultural and societal biases of the British gentry and of Wellington in particular, and holds that up against the barbaric behavior of the common British soldier.
This was an interesting read, and especially interesting in light of the shared backdrop with War and Peace and Monte Cristo. The impact Napoleon had on Europe in the early 1800s can clearly not be overlooked. I'm glad I read this book for that reason, however, it was not as focused on George Scovell as I would have liked. I understand that Urban could only write this history from his sources, but it would have been nice to have more information about Scovell's early life or retirement years. Scovell seems like he would have been a great person to know and I would like to know more about him. This quote from Scovell definitely helped me form that opinion of him.
I think it by far the most instructive part of a campaign to know why we fail; success is in the mouth of everyone to account for. --George Scovell
Regardless, this is a good book both to get an idea of the mindset, diligence, and meticulousness of an early cryptographer, and to get another perspective on the Napoleonic era.
With all that reading, there are bound to be a lot of new words.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. If my weeks had themes, this week's theme would have to be "The Triumph of the Introverts". I could see the struggle and the fatigue in the faces and hear in the voices of my friends and coworkers this last week. What seemed like a holiday a few weeks ago, a chance to hang out, try some new tech, ignore the commute, turned this last week into the slog of quarantine. The fact that we haven't hit the peak yet, that we have a significant amount of time before isolation ends, the fact that we should mentally prepare for another wave in the fall, has all taken its toll on those around me.
But not everyone is doing poorly. Some of us, the introverts especially, are faring much better. One might even argue that we were made for these times. If you have a deep-seated need to be in physical contact with someone, you are going to be in a much worse place right now than if connection via video conference is sufficient for you. Mental health issues will be paramount while and after we deal with the physical issues. I'll point out the same mental health support videos that I highlighted in last week's entry. Watch them for yourself and those close to you, and share those with others in case they might benefit as well. Even if you are doing better than most because of your innate personality and genetic makeup, it is highly unlikely that you are immune from mental health concerns. Take care of yourself.
There were a few other COVID-related items worth highlighting this week. The first was this combination sun hat and face shield. My spouse is looking seriously at getting one, but for some reason I just cannot take it seriously. The company selling these hats has various other "Health Protection" items for sale, but the main categories of their products on their web site include "Spring Fashion" and "Accessory and Beauty" so I can't help but feel that this is nothing more than a cash grab.
60 Minutes broadcast an interview with Peter Navarro, who US President Trump appointed to lead the initiative to distribute Personal Protective Equipment. Watch that interview for a quick lesson in deflection and redirection, and to see pushback in action instead of leadership. In the end though, 60 Minutes comes out on top with this interview with their mic-drop moment when they highlighted their previous reporting on pandemic response after Navarro openly challenged their role and leadership.
And speaking of a lack of leadership, take a read of this article and a look at the picture below to see what happens when poor leaders lead poorly. Note the vitriol of the Trump supporters with their MAGA hats and their "Don't Tread on Me" flags, all because of the American cellular-level need for loudly protecting personal freedoms, rekindling the "age-old U.S. debate over government regulation vs. personal liberty", fueled by a leader who just cannot lead.
There is more to life, well my life at least, than COVID, so let's talk about something else for a while, shall we?
Cybersecurity is important to everyone, and I would be remiss if I did not pass on this note about CIRA's new Internet protection service they call "Canadian Shield". CIRA touts their DNS privacy service, ransomware blocking, and pornography filtering service as "enterprise-grade protection for all Canadians". It is super easy to setup and free. If you are Canadian and don't already have access to a similar service or commercial offering, there is no reason why you shouldn't configure your home network using CIRA's Canadian Shield settings.
There was a lot of reading in my life this week, and I was able to finish one small book. Book #14 for 2020 was Susan Sontag's "Illness as Metaphor", the third book in our social science reading group hosted by Adam Greenfield. We only read excerpts of the first two books, but this week we read the whole book from Sontag. To be fair, it clocked in at a paltry 88 pages, but I will count it as a full book regardless.
There was a lot of very powerful language in this book; language that made me think about the social "value" of diseases, and how two diseases can be viewed so differently. A lot of the book is focused on tuberculosis, and early in the book, Sontag discusses how the consumption and wasting comes from TB has lead to the skinny mindset in the twentieth century.
Twentieth-century women's fashions (with their cult of thinness) are the last stronghold of the metaphors associated with the romanticizing of TB in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Sontag then contrasted the new waifish chic brought along by TB with how their male contemporaries stereotyped themselves.
Gradually, the tubercular look, which symbolized an appealing vulnerability, a superior sensitivity, became more and more the ideal look for women—while great men of the mid- and late nineteenth century grew fat, founded industrial empires, wrote hundreds of novels, made wars, and plundered continents.
I'm glad we read Sontag's book, but I couldn't help but feel it was dated. The book quotes Kafka a couple times as he ultimately died from TB in 1924. One quote from him from 1920 said that he had an illness of the mind that had moved to his body. Sontag's book was written in 1978, meaning there is a span of 58 years between his quote and Sontag's book. At present in 2020, there have been 41 years since Sontag wrote this book, which is getting close to the gap between Kafka and Sontag. Think how much has changed in collective thinking in those 41 years, and it seems that a 2020 Sontag book on the same topic would arrive at new conclusions.
It is unfortunate that Sontag passed away so many years ago, as it would be insightful to read a 2020 version with a new foreword by the author.
Lots of new words this week from a combination of War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo, Sontag's book discussed above, and a new science fiction book that I will hopefully be able to finish this week.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where it was well above freezing today, but of course all that means is that the puddles will freeze overnight. Still very little to show for the week now that I have worked 28 straight days without a break. The fatigue is really becoming a factor. Only a couple articles of note, and a couple beers. Hopefully there is more to report in the upcoming week.
More on Capitalism:
HBR published this article entitled "Is the Business Roundtable Statement Just Empty Rhetoric?" back in August, but it only came to my attention in the last week. I have written about capitalism a number of times on this site. This article highlights a potentially important shift in the ultimate purpose of a corporation. Shareholders have been touted as the primary concern for organizations for nearly fifty years. Shareholder primacy is the cornerstone of neoliberal economics. But now the Business Roundtable is shifting away from shareholder primacy to creating value for all stakeholders. Their one sentence mission statement states the promotion of the (American) economy "through sound public policies".
This would be a significant shift for companies as it would require moving from a short-term to a long-term outlook. A move to focusing on results through sound public policies would force companies to do more than just make money. It would put them on equal footing with society, which of course they are a part of, in finding solutions to today's big issues.
... the world faces enormous, thorny challenges that business is feeling: climate change, growing inequality (and awareness that these CEOs make hundreds of times more than their employees), water and resource scarcity, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity, and more. These issues require systemic efforts, cooperation, and pricing of those “externalities” (like pollution and carbon emissions) that business has been able to push off to society. The current shareholder-obsessed system is not fit for this purpose. Individual profit-maximizing businesses will not be incentivized to tackle shared global challenges.
I'll keep reading more from the Business Roundtable group and will see if they have other information worth reporting.
More on Huawei:
Back in July, I commented on the security threat posed by Huawei and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute's push to socialize that threat. Last week there was an article in the Globe and Mail outlining how Canadian intelligence agencies could not agree on whether to ban Huawei equipment in the upcoming 5G communications networks. The article is unfortunately behind the Globe's paywall,
The article highlights how CSIS wants to ban Huawei while the CSE says "robust testing and monitoring of Huawei's 5G equipment could mitigate potential security risks". Security is not easy. It is a constant battle of detect, respond, change, and repeat. The foes on the Internet are constantly forcing us to adapt and react. Forcing security teams to focus on testing the network infrastructure in addition to all the work that is required to testing what is running on the network is ludicrous. We don't have enough resources to do the work we need to do now. Adding to the workload is a bad idea. I am fully behind the position that CSIS is taking: ban Huawei now.
Two new beers this week. The first was the Sunset Summer Ale from Smithers Brewery. I had their Hudson Bay ISA last week and this ale wasn't quite as good as that one. It had a bit of caramel nuttiness, low carbonation, and a high ABV at 5.5% for an ale. It was good all around but not exceptional.(3.25 / 5) The second was another Backalley Brew from Alley Kat. This was nice and light., with a little zip from some tangy carbonation. Tasty without screaming "pay attention to me". (3.5 / 5) No badges from Untappd 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.