You know it has been brutally cold when you comment that -24°C doesn't feel all that bad. That was yesterday and today it is -21 and climbing. Daily highs will be over the freezing mark which will feel like nirvana, but with snow.
The last week was filled with work, reading, volunteering, a couple new beers, and a bit of a breakthrough with on the curation of my D&D group. Let's get on with it, shall we?
CKUA Annual General Meeting:
The CKUA Foundation AGM was yesterday, and I am grateful and humbled to have been reappointed to the CKUA Board for my third and final two-year term. This will be my fourth year serving as Vice Chair of the Board under and with the amazing leadership of our Chair, Cindy Andrew. The past few years have been filled with ups and downs, but happily with more ups than downs.
CKUA is 92 years old, and my time on the Board will end just after the 94th birthday. Even though I won't be formally involved after January 2022, I already look forward to being involved with the organization as it approaches its Centennial in 2027. My thoughts for the future were echoed by former CKUA CEO Ken Regan in a nice tweet at the AGM, and I was able to capture a meta moment of Ken in action.
I commented back in December that I am looking to curate a D&D group, and this week I made some significant progress in that regard. I had thought about creating a post on something like Kijiji to announce that I was looking for a group of like-minded people to play with. It occurred to me that Meetup would be a much better choice for something like that and so I created a new Edmonton-based D&D group called "Casual but Committed". Casual but Committed will be focused on story and character over rules and stats. There have already been four people join the group and I am hopeful that the personalities will mesh and we will have a good time. I honestly have no idea what will happen if we get a dozen or more players who want to join, but I suppose that is a problem for another day. Now I just need to figure out how to bring that group of people together so that we can learn and start playing.
Most of my reading these days revolves around the year-long reading projects of "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo". I did finish "Stuart Little" with the younger daughter this week, but that was the extent of my other reading. I know Stuart Little is considered a classic of children's literature, but I really could not get into it. Stuart is a bit of a knob, to be blunt. He runs off on a fool's errand, and has little to no ability to plan or control his emotions. I suppose he is just a child, but by today's standards in youth fiction Stuart is overly emotional and rash. Not exactly a role model, to the point where my daughter commented on what a "weird" story it was. So book #5 for 2020 is done and accounted for, but I was really hoping for more especially after the glowing affection showed for it by the characters in last week's book "The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library".
Three new beers this week, and two of them were pretty good. First up was the Een Paar Luilin Belgian Rye Dubbel collaboration between Common Crown and Dandy. I had a friend describe Common Crown as making really solid accessible beers, and Dandy as always pushing the envelope while being less worried about failing miserably. Pairing those two extremes in a collaboration is sure to bring out some interesting tastes in a tempered way, and that is what this beer was. Good stuff, solid flavor, nothing radical but definitely well put together. (3.5 / 5). The next one was the Before 9 Mint Chocolate Stout from Troubled Monk. That is a nice play on the After Eight mint chocolates working with the knowledge that mint and chocolate is a great pair, as is chocolate and stouts. But mint plus chocolate plus stout just did not work for me. (2.75 / 5). Last up was the Lupita Especial Kolsch brewed by Alley Kat for Tres Carnales Taqueria. This was a good beer, and while I don't think it was their Scona Gold Kolsch which I really like, it was still decent pairing with tacos. (3.25 / 5)
Quite a few new words this week given the limited amount of reading. Some of them come from some podcasts I listened to but most come from The Count of Monte Cristo or War and Peace.
limns (third person present)
Greetings from an absolutely frigid 53.5° north latitude. We have entered into a cold weather stretch that is too cold to ride a bike in as the bike components themselves freeze. There isn't much to do but stay inside and read, which I did a lot of this week. The main accomplishment this week beyond getting back to work was to finish four books. So let's get into what I read and the other few interesting tidbits from this past week.
China's Influence on Canada:
There was a lot said in the media in 2019 about China and in particular about whether to allow Chinese made (and Chinese Communist Party-owned) Huawei telecommunications equipment into Canada. I commented in November and July on this site. The source of my commentary in July was an article from the MacDonald-Laurier Institute on some of the myths in the Huawei case, and they have continued to provide commentary in their December issue of their Inside Policy magazine. Inside Policy picks the Canadian Policymaker of the year, and this year they awarded the title to Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In the eyes of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute, Xi's influence over Canadian politics in the last several years has been vast and sweeping, The article claims that Xi has forced Canada's hand in foreign policy more than any other leader, including the US President, and have caused our government to weaken our backing of international rule of law and human rights. If half of what said is true and not xenophobic fearmongering, then it is hard to ignore their claim. It is also hard to ignore the economic impact of such a large market, which is precisely why we find ourselves in this position.
If you need a more relatable analysis of the impact of Xi, the CCP, or Huawei, understand that Huawei continues to sponsor Hockey Night in Canada.
Moving on to better news, this week saw a series of books fall from the daunting heights of my Reading Pile and into the small but growing Read Pile. Four books were completed, with three of those having commenced in the waning days of 2019. Let's move on to the four.
The first book, Book #1 for 2020, was "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", by Mohsin Hamid. This was a unique book in that it portrayed one side of a conversation taking place over several hours in Lahore, Pakistan, between a Pakistani who used to live in America, and an American visiting Lahore. There was a small and ever-growing tension in the conversation cleverly built by subtle hints and comments. The reader was, or at least I was, constantly wondering what would happen between the two individuals. Would there be violence, or would the two find common ground and become if not friends, then at least companions?
I highly recommend this book if for no other reason than it challenged several stereotypes I have, some that I was conscious of, and others I was not. If you have read this novel, please reach out as I would love to discuss it with someone. I'll leave you with a wonderful quote from the novel. It wasn't particularly pertinent to the story or its underlying tension, but it struck me as I read it.
"Time only moves in one direction. Remember that. Things always change." --"The Reluctant Fundamentalist", by Mohsin Hamid
Book #2 for 2020 was "All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries" by Martha Wells. This was an extremely quick read, coming in at 140 small pages.
The protagonist and narrator is an augmented human designed to be an It instead of a Person, but it has decidedly human impulses and concerns. It was really enjoyable and thoroughly unique, and I definitely recommend it, especially in between larger or more emotionally demanding books.
Book #3 for 2020 was the second book in the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's series, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe". This was a second, or maybe third, reading for me, and this was one that I read with Daughter 1. Definitely funny, definitely quirky, definitely thought-provoking, but not quite as laugh-out-loud enjoyable as Hitchhiker's. Even so, well worth reading and sharing.
Last up for this week, Book #4 for 2020 was "The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library". This is one of the books up for a Young Reader's Choice Award at the local library system, and was written by one of the best Young Adult books I have read with my daughter's, that being Linda Bailey and "Seven Dead Pirates". I read Pirates before I started this site, so I unfortunately don't have anything to link to for that book, but I do suggest reading it. Anyway, back to Tiny Hero, this might seem like a trivial book to read even for Daughter 2, but it really was delightful. The characters were great, the story was believable as could be given that the tiny hero is in fact a green bug, and most importantly, the author's love for books and reading really shines through. We immediately grabbed one of the books discussed in Tiny Hero to be next in our readings - stay tuned next week to find out which one.
Just one new beer this week. Sea Change is a great local brewery and I have posted about a few of their beers in past months. This week I had The Wolf, which is their Pale Ale. It was pretty decent, but didn't have a ton of flavor. It did smell nice with a definite citrus punch to it. It wasn't up to par with some of their other offerings, but it was still good.
Surprisingly few words this week given that four books were crushed, but I suppose that it was easier reading this week than with finishing off something by Jared Diamond. Maybe more surprising is that very few of the words are from "War and Peace" or "The Count of Monte Cristo", which highlights that the hardest part of both novels is their size and not their required level of reading comprehension.
Welcome to the first entry for 2020, still from 53.5° north latitude, still reading, still finding new beers to drink. So what's the big deal with the new year then?
I hit 50 books read for 2019 with under 15 hours left in the year. I finished the last 57 pages of "Collapse" by Jared Diamond in the morning of New Year's Eve. This was a book that I started with great enthusiasm, but ended with relief. The second section on the history of past societies such as Maya, the Vikings, and Japan were great. I was genuinely interested and learned a lot, and I could see how Diamond was using history to teach us about the present. The third section was decent, but was hard to get through, maybe because I have heard a lot about China and Rwanda in particular in the years since Collapse was released (2005). The fourth section, titled "Practical Lessons" and structured to be the follow-up to the history lesson Diamond presented in the second section was a hundred pages of tedium. When I said I finished the last 57 pages, I probably only read the equivalent of 10 full pages. The rest was just skimmed through.
I think Collapse is an important book in that it is filled with science and research on the impacts of societal decisions that lead to environmental disasters that then cause those societies to fail. However, I do not know how relevant Collapse is anymore. If you staunchly do not believe in the need to make different ecological decisions, this book will not likely sway you. If you already believe, there is not much point in this book other than as a reference. Maybe this will be a useful tool to sway the rest of the population that does not fit into either camp, but I suspect that camp is rather small at this point.
I'll leave this section off with a quote from Collapse that seemed directly pertinent for the current political and economic climate here at home.
Yes, environmental problems do constrain human societies, but the societies' responses also make a difference. So, too, for better or for worse, do the actions and inactions of their leaders.
joined two reading groups on Reddit this month to help further my reading goals around big classic novels. The "War and Peace" (r/ayearofwarandpeace) and "The Count of Monte Cristo" (r/AReadingofMonteCristo) groups have so far been very engaging and interesting to participate in. War and Peace comes in at 361 chapters, so we will be reading and discussing a chapter pretty much every day this year. That will be an interesting way to read a book. Monte Cristo has an equally daunting thickness but with less chapters, meaning that we will only hold discussion threads every third day or so on that subreddit.
Wish me luck on having the stamina to read and follow along with both reading groups this year.
With a couple weeks off came a small handful of new beers. Three came in one sitting at Brewsters, and two were pickups from various stores, four were Albertan, and all were Canadian. The locale unfortunately did not translate into really good beers though. The list started off positively with the Howitzer Strong Winter Ale from Brewsters (3.75 / 5), but after that everything was at best average. The first taste of Brewster's Civic Pride Watermelon Ale was shockingly tangy but only got marginally better after the initial taste (3.0 / 5). The final offering from Brewsters was their Cappucino Stout and I couldn't finish it. The coffee flavor seemed like it was brewed by someone that didn't know how to brew coffee (2.25 / 5). After that, I had the Serpens Pilsner from Legend Seven Brewing in Calgary. That was decent (3.25 / 5), but I have to say the labels on the Legend Seven beers are fantastic pieces of art. Lastly, fading back into the land of disappointment, the 78 Kolsch from Philips was uniformly underwhelming - not a lot of flavor, not really that crisp, no aroma. (2.75 / 5)
With those five beers in the last fortnight comes four new badges from Untappd: Winter Wonderland (Level 2), The Great White North (Level 90), Rising Steady (Level 59), and Hopped Down (Level 33). Regarding the Untappd badges, when I initially starting logging my beers, adding the Untappd badges added some interesting visuals to the page, but I don't get anything out of them and really don't care. As a result, this is the last time I am going to post anything about the Untappd badges.
I do like the statistics that can come from Untappd however, so I think I will export my statistics from time to time and then work on my graphing and data manipulation skills to post something of value. For now, my total as of today is 621 unique beers since joining Untappd, which means a new beer every 2.82 days. I had the 78 Kolsch was Saturday night during supper, so I suppose I should schedule my next new beer early afternoon on Tuesday.
Quite a few new words this week, in fact this must be the longest list I have yet to compile. The vast majority are coming from the technical descriptions in Diamond's Collapse, but a few come from the Tolstoy and Dumas readings.
vicissitudes (plural noun)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, and welcome to the last entry for the year. One of my goals in 2020 will be to start to publicize my writing, so maybe someone will actually read what I lay down. Even if no one does though, I do enjoy the ritual of writing and so I do see this continuing regardless. I am also looking forward to my first long form single-topic entry which will be a summary of my reading for 2019. If I get a few hours in the next few days while I am still on holidays, I will even do some analysis of words read, favorite genre, et cetera.
The last eight days have been time off for me, and I have been busy doing nothing much at all. Reading, skating, a bit of cycling, some cooking, some visiting, but above all, just relaxing. This week's entry reflects that with just a few books, no big topics, and a bunch of beer.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
First stop this week will be on the three books I finished in the past fortnight. The first was "The Sword of Shannara" by Terry Brooks. I read the "Elfstones of Shannara" way back in junior high, and it had a lasting impression on me, at least as far as character names go. I have named nearly every video game character Balinor (or Balinore in instances where there was a naming conflict, as is the case for my World of Warcraft gnome rogue on the Perenolde realm) I have created in the past thirty-five years. Beyond the impact of that one character's name, having fast forwarded through the years has left me with a far less favorable impression on Brooks's writing. Between his endless stream of overly long sentences, to his habit of picking adjectives to overuse for particular chapters, the book was a serious slog to get through. The only reason I finished it was that I really wanted to re-read Elfstones, but I am definitely doubting the logic of that move. I might add Elfstones to my list for 2020, but if I do, it will be late in the year to allow me time to forget how punishing Sword was to read.
The next stop was "Mort", the fourth Discworld novel from Terry Pratchett, and the third one I read in 2019. Mort was quite enjoyable, with a number of chuckle-worthy moments. It reminded me more of "The Light Fantastic" which was funny but also interesting, where "The Color of Magic" was just funny, and "Equal Rites" was more serious than funny. The Discworld novels are proving to be a great way to fit in a book after a particularly deep or long read. That isn't meant to imply that they are not worth the time to read at all. I just find them to be great books to pop into the reading pile every few months to allow for some enjoyable reading, instead of reading something that is meant to be more serious, or instead of something non-fiction.
The third stop this fortnight was another enjoyable read. "The Quiche of Death" by M. C. Beaton is a British cozy mystery and something I discovered as it was displayed as a staff pick at my local library branch. It was a great find, and fit the mood I was in at the end of a long and very busy year.. The cantakerous-turned-almost-lovable protagonist transforms into a someone the local rural denizens can love, someone the reader can feel empathetic for, and an amateur detective all in a couple hundred pages. The fact that Agatha Raisin, and yes, that is the protagonist's name, will do all of this is pretty clear about a third of the way through the novel, but that's fine. Understanding and experiencing how the journey and the transformation would unfold was undoubtedly a large part of the charm of the story. I can see myself reading more novels in the Agatha Raisin series in the future.
Those three books bring my total for 2019 to 49. I am closing in on 50 and should be able to finish "Collapse" by Jared Diamond in the next ... 54 hours. I said in my post two weeks ago that I am going to set my reading goal for 2020 to be 52 books. Included in that goal will be to finish up all of the books that I have started but not finished, including the books that I need to keep getting on holds from the library, like "The Silk Roads" and "Off Armageddon Reef".
One other point of note for this week. I have decided to move my book links from Amazon to WorldCat. I wasn't familiar with WorldCat before reading Maria Popova's wonderful "Brain Pickings" weekly emails, but I now know that it is "is the world's largest library catalog". Popova has a supernatural ability to compile "interesting and inspiring articles across art, science, philosophy, creativity, children's books, and other strands of our search for truth, beauty, and meaning". I am in awe of what she produces on a weekly basis, and if links to WorldCat are good enough for Popova, they are certainly good enough for me.
Happy holidays and good cheer to everyone, especially in the form of numerous and varied beers! In the past couple of weeks, I have been able to check in seven new beers, and with it, have accumulated seven new badges on Untappd.
First was a Peroni, the classic Italian lager, which was definitely better than I expected, but I did go in with low expectations (3.0 / 5). Next was the Goose Island Midway IPA. I went into my third offering from Goose Island hoping for something really good, but the Midway was my third disappointment in a row from them. I must be missing something, as a lot of people speak highly of the Chicago brewery. (3.0 / 5). Things got better after that. The 999 Spiced Wit collab from Blindman, Grain Bin, and Hell's Basement was a decent wit. (3.25 / 5), and the Mazarine Dragon from Alley Kat was a solid, fruity Double IPA. (3.75 / 5). Stay Golden is a Belgian Blonde from SYC Brewing, another local microbrewery. This was crisp and clean and well crafted. (3.75 / 5). Rounding out the beers were two more collaborations, the first between Banded Peak and Cabin, and the second between Snake Lake and Folding Mountain. The Abbott Dubbel and the Maple Imperial Stout were really well crafted, and both had enough flavor and character to avoid getting overpowered by the high alcohol levels. (3.75 / 5 for both)
From this six+one pack of beers came the Hoppy Hanukkah 2019, Better Together (Level 3), I Believe in IPA! (Level 24), The Great White North (Level 89), Middle of the Road (Level 60) 2x (Level 6), and Beyond a Shadow of a Stout (Level 6) badges on Untappd.
The list of new words this fortnight is deceptively small. I have only four words this time around, but if you look at the side of my copy of "Collapse", you'll notice the fore edge is forested with stickies of words to look up (and to be fair, other items to reference or quote). The New Words section of the next entry should be much longer.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. Life is returning to a normal state that allows for time for reflection, personal hobbies, and the odd beer or two. Reading has returned in force as a result, which just makes everything better.
Time for the meat of this week's entry!
Another entry in the Gaming Disappointment category, but this time caused by an error on my part, I thought I was going to be able to pick up my Ice Cream Dice today, but I apparently picked the ship-to-me option! Ice Cream Dice was a successful Kickstarter by fellow Edmontonian, Marc Schubert. I was totally looking forward to rolling the Neapolitan set when our work campaign kicks off again this Wednesday. I mean, look at those things! They are wonderful. But alas, I will have to wait until closer to New Year to get them in my hands.
Last thing about gaming for this week: I am looking to curate a group of people, hopefully local, hopefully committed to playing, with a focus on roleplaying instead of roll-playing. Characters over Stats. I'll work on my outline in a long form post on this site, so let me know if you have any comments while I'm working on it.
Life is better with books. -- me
As I look back at 2019, my single biggest accomplishment is my focus on reading. I still have 16 days to finish four books to push my total to 50 for the year, which is definitely an accomplishment, and I should be able to do that with the progress I have made on Mort, Collapse, The Sword of Shannara, and ... something else, just not sure what yet.
Book #46 on this year's reading list was Slacker, by Gordon Korman. As with the other recently-written Korman novels I have read to my daughters in the past few years (Masterminds, Ungifted), this is written in a series of alternating first-person narratives, which allows the reader the chance to see everything from multiple perspectives. The style is interesting, and allows for some fun guessing games - Who is this chapter going to be about? Slacker was a decent offering, but I think it was lacking especially in comparison to Ungifted where the protaganist was someone to actually care about. But it was still enjoyable, and gave us several nights of reading. Gordon Korman will always have a place in my reading pile, even after my daughters have grown up and moved on.
In other reading news, I have discovered some reading groups on Reddit that should be really fun to participate in. r/ayearofwarandpeace and r/AReadingOfMonteCristo are subreddits devoted to reading and discussing Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo respectively. I am super excited to read both books, and really looking forward to the discussions as well. War and Peace clocks in at 361 short chapters, so it will be a daily read-discuss cycle. Monte Cristo will have roughly three days between discussions, so there will be more time to read in between. With that sort of additional focus, I am going to set my 2020 reading goal at 52 books.
Two new beers this last week. The first was the Rinktinis lager from Volfmas Engleman. Really good stuff. I posted earlier this year about another lager from this Lithuanian brewery, and I was impressed with it as well. I'll keep searching out brews from them. This one had a good level of carbonation and had a lot of taste but was still easy to drink. (3.75 / 5).
The second was my first try from Ommegang, and it was a bit different and not too my liking. The Bigger and Better is a bière de garde, or Farmhouse Ale, so lots of hops and yeast. It was too mediciney for my taste though. My friend Dave swears by Ommegang though, so I'm sure this won't be my last from them. (3.0 / 5)
These two earned me the Middle of the Road (Level 59) and Wheel of Styles (Level 25) badges from Untappd.
Lots of new words this week. I read the first half of Collapse by Jared Diamond, and your vocabulary is significantly greater than mine if you can read something by Diamond without learning a lot of words. Same thing with Mort by Terry Pratchett, but the words from Pratchett are more likely to be turns-of-phrase and very specific British terms. I needed a break from Collapse so I started Mort. I should finish both by the end of next week. And to be honest, a number of these words this week are leftovers from The Bone Clocks that I missed posting last week.
NOUN - British, informal
a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted
NOUN - British, historical
ADJECTIVE - humorous
NOUN - medicine
December already?!?! Hardly over a fortnight until Christmas? And 10 working days before the holiday break?! Where did the time go?
The trouble with working incredible hours and having a single-minded focus is that there is no mental capacity for anything beyond the focus of the single-mindedness. My brother-in-law apparently sold his house and moved cities. Vague recollection. A colleague is starting the next round of chemotherapy. Ringing some bells. The new Star Wars movie opens mid-month. Yeah, I think I saw a trailer for that.
Without focus, nothing big would ever be accomplished. But with focus, the non-urgent bleeds out while lying in the fringes, unattended and ignored.
Balance then is the key to unlock the magical gift of focus and resultant progress with the ability to enjoy life for itself. Flipping through a half-year of this mostly-weekly log of what has transpired in my life shows the medium-term effect of focus and the lack of balance that has resulted. The end of the year is timely as my biggest project for the month of December is making sure I recapture that balance and learning from the recent months with an eye to 2020 and beyond.
You know a book is good when you are 25 pages in and you start thinking about calling in sick to work. That was my experience as I dug into "The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell, a story revolving around six decades of the protagonist's life, written in five different first-person points-of-view. Having also read "Cloud Atlas" bv MItchell, I can say that the author has a talent for taking a complex storyline and making it seamless and wonderful and captivating.
The first section / chapter / novella comes to an end and I flip to the next section to be crushed when I realize that it isn't a direct continuation of the previous story. This isn't right! I want to know what happens, dammit! But wait, maybe it is related. Ah ha, there is the hook!. And then the third section switches again and I am once again crushed but then eagerly anticipating how the three will intertwine. So it goes on to the end, where I am crushed by the thought of the story ending. Just one more section, Mr. Mitchell. Please, can I have some more?
The Bone Clocks is definitely a book I will re-read. I have five more books of his to read in the meantime.
Update on yearly reading: The Bone Clocks is the forty-fifth book I have read this year. I am hoping to hit 50, and was on pace early this fall for 56, but I will be lucky to hit 48. Again, laser-beam focus cuts into the ability to have a well-rounded life.
With a book like The Bone Clocks from an author like Mitchell, it is no surprise that there are so many new words this week.
tumuli (plural noun)
an ancient burial mound; a barrow.
a compact group of mountains, especially one that is separate from other groups.
(medicine) blow (air, gas, or powder) into a cavity of the body.
(theology) blow or breathe on (someone) to symbolize spiritual influence.
trepanning (present participle)
perforate (a person's skull) with a trepan
1. multiply or spread prolifically or rapidly.
2. be full of or teeming with.
ole·ag·i·nous | \ ˌō-lē-ˈa-jə-nəs \
1: resembling or having the properties of oil
2: marked by an offensively ingratiating manner or quality
done or taken before dinner or lunch.
1. making or characterized by a hissing sound.
2. (of a speech sound) sounded with a hissing effect, for example s, sh.
relating to or characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral.
inclined to cause or undergo division into separate parts or groups.
enter forcibly or suddenly.
(botany) a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, such as the numerous ferns, bromeliads, air plants, and orchids growing on tree trunks in tropical rainforests.
a seabird related to the shearwaters, typically flying far from land.
a port, city, or other center to which goods are brought for import and export, and for collection and distribution.
the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages.
(of a gem, especially when cut en cabochon) showing a band of bright reflected light caused by aligned inclusions in the stone.
(of leaves, wind, etc.) make a whispering or rustling sound.
As I sit at my computer to write this entry, 53.5° north latitude is a frigid -18°C. The forecast has us popping slightly above freezing this week, but it is December after all, and December is typically cold and frozen. But still.
Luckily the workload has decreased significantly without a single meeting scheduled for this weekend. Even last weekend getting better with nothing scheduled for the Sunday. With the scheduled returning to normal, we now just have to figure out which "normal" we are returning to - September 2019 or September 2017.
As some semblance of normality returns, regardless of what level it is, the reading and the personal engagement are returning, and with that a few new words as well. Still not a lot of new beers though. But with that as preamble, let's proceed.
"When you understand what is to happen and why, you are more able to accept and comply." - Gus, coworker
Gus said that in a meeting a few days ago, and it struck me how true it was. People don't like to do things they don't understand the rationale for. They still might not like what they are being asked to do, but if they understand it, they will grumble while they do it, but at least they will do it. A great reminder for those of us that have to institute process and rigor.
"You can have strong opinions, but they have to be loosely held." - Brad, coworker
Another reminder for teams implementing process and rigor. I have long told my teams that they cannot be the "pedantic application of theory people" and this is a related message to Brad's quote. Have a deep knowledge of your domain and be able to articulate the value it brings. Be able to argue the impact of not implementing your process or control. But then stop. There is no need to implement for the sake of theory. There is no value in implementing something that is not going to integrate with the rest of your business.
This is not to say you should not implement process, rigor, or controls that are not popular. Protecting corporate assets and customer data is not done to win friends around the office. I just think we need better reasons than "best practice" or "it is in the framework". Know your framework, and then go in to the conversation with an open mind.
Sacha Baron Cohen on Facebook, Free Speech, and the Internet:
A friend of mine introduced me to the WTF podcast by Marc Maron a few years ago. I don't listen to it often, usually only for the interviews with people I already find to be fascinating. The first WTF I listened to was Maron's interview with Barack Obama, and the second was his interview with Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen has created characters that are able to shine a spotlight on the absurd, rude, racist, biased, and downright awful parts of people and society. It was with that interest in the comedian that I watched Cohen's acceptance speech for the International Leadership Award from the Anti-Defamation League.
The speech was a takedown of how Cohen sees social media spreading hate and lies, going so far as to say that "this can't possibly be what the creators of the Internet had in mind". This is in reference to the lack of checks and balances governing social media, especially in contrast to traditional broadcast media. Cohen calls for a "fundamental rethink" of the governance and oversight for social media.
Cohen particularly targets Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in the speech, calling "bullshit" on Zuckerberg's arguments of free speech over regulation. Zuckerberg and other social media billionaires such as Twitter's Jack Dorsey are likened to "high tech robber barons". Cohen appeals to have societies "prioritize truth over lies, tolerance over prejudice, empathy over indifference, and experts over ignoramus".
The whole speech is well worth 24 minutes of your time. The article I read about this is here and the video is also linked directly here.
I said in the preamble that I have been able to read more regularly again after about six weeks of Reading Drought. The main focus last week was to re-borrow "Abaddon's Gate" from the library and finish it off since I only got half way through before work consumed me.
This was another good book in the Expanse series. My reading of it of course suffered by being interrupted, but it was good even with that. Since it is the third book in the series, it is difficult to discus the plot in any detail. However, there were a few great quotes from the book that are worth sharing. The first might be seen as depressing or even blasphemous to spiritual individuals, but there is a lesson in the last sentence that regardless of what we are made of, we can still make a difference.
There are no souls. ... We are bags of meat with a little electricity running through them. No ghosts, no spirits, no souls. The only thing that survives is the story people tell about you.
This quote probably needs a lot of background of the book series to really make sense, but I think this can be extrapolated to the technological society will live in, and the dangers of not fully understanding our actions.
Holden was starting to feel like they were all monkeys playing with a microwave. Push a button, a light comes on inside, so it's a light. Push a different button and stick your hand inside, it burns you, so it's a weapon. Learn to open and close the door, it's a place to hide things. Never grasping what it actually did, and maybe not even having the framework necessary to figure it out. No monkey ever reheated a frozen burrito.
These two sentences apply to natural disasters, but there is also relevance to those of us that work in disaster recovery planning for complex information systems as well.
Disaster recovery could only go two ways. Either everyone pulled together and people lived, or they kept on with their tribal differences and fears, and more people died.
Just a single new beer in the past two weeks. This was the 2019 version of Brewster's Blue Monk Bourbon Barley Wine. Barley wines can often be so high in ABV and in boozy flavor to be nearly undrinkable. I would even say that previous years of the Blue Monk suffered from those characteristics, but this year the flavor was spot on and the there wasn't the overpowering hit. Really good stuff. I should go back and buy a few bottles. This also earned me the Beer-giving 2019 badge on Untappd.
With reading comes new words. It feels good to stretch the vocabulary again.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude in the land of the minority rule. It's a good thing that there was an election last week, or I would have almost nothing to write about. Lots of great things at work, but nothing that is relevant or appropriate for discussions in public.
Let's get on with it, shall we.
Fall Fundraiser 2019:
I'm proud to be on the Board for CKUA. I don't think I've mentioned my involvement with CKUA on this blog yet, which seems odd given how much work I do with the organization. CKUA is "Powered by People", which is the slogan they adopted for their fundraising efforts. That is their way of saying that they are donor-supported radio, and as a result, they rely on significant donations from listeners to keep the station on the air.
This weekend was the last two days of their 10-day Fall Fundraiser. They set a goal of $550,000 and instead of counting up towards the goal, they counted down towards $0. Over the course of the fundraiser, the announcers were saying "we have $X to go to meet our goal", and it was great to hear the numbers continually going down. I've listened to CKUA since the summer of 1989 and have been listening to their twice-a-year fundraisers for 22 years. This fundraiser was the most positive I can remember. Hats off to CKUA CEO Marc Carnes and the team at CKUA for a great fundraiser.
If you are a fan of music and want to support independent artists, give CKUA a try. If you can make it work financially, consider donating to CKUA to help keeping the station on the air.
Federal Election 2019:
The federal election finished pretty much as expected by the poll analytics site 338 Canada: a Liberal minority government, with a solid improvement from the Conservatives, and a huge jump from the Bloc.The NDP surged in the end but still ended up short of their previous results. As an aside, it is remarkable how much influence Jack Layton had on the NDP in the 2011 election. It is almost unfathomable that the NDP won 103 seats in 2011 when contrasted with their 24 seats this year.
The chart below shows how accurate 338 Canada was with their predictions. All of the parties were within the prediction range.
I was lucky to get any reading in this week, so the number of new words is understandably low.
你好, or in pinyin, nĭ hăo from 53.5° north latitude. It was a shortened work week due to the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday on Monday, but as we are fond of saying at work, that just means you have four days to get five days worth of work done. Much reading was done in spite of the busyness of work, resulting in one finished book and significant progress on another. Most other reading was related to politics, both due to the Canadian federal election tomorrow, and as a result of the impeachment discussions in the US. With all that is going on, there was only one new beer, and it was dealcoholized at that. A couple neat recipes to share from the Thanksgiving preparations, and a bunch of new words from all the reading.
Time to dig in to this week's leftovers!
I'm not going to jump in on the proceedings of the impeachment discussions south of the border with any personal diagnosis or assessment. I will however highlight articles and videos that I find interesting or helpful. I imagine there will be lots of good reading and watching in the upcoming weeks.
The video to share this week is from 60 Minutes. In it, Scott Pelley discusses covering the Clinton impeachment discussion and contrasts that to what is happening today with Trump. Being in my late 20s at the time, and given how the world reacted to women's allegations of rape, abuse, and harassment, I definitely saw what had happened with a different reaction than I would today. However, it was clear that Clinton lied under oath and there were consequences as a result. Today, perhaps, the consequences would be more severe but that is impossible to say for certain.
With Trump however, Pelley argues that this impeachment discussion is different and likely more important because while Clinton abused his power and relationship status with Monica Lewinsky, Trump appears to be manipulating global politics for his personal financial gain. Good stuff from 60 Minutes, and worth a few minutes of your time.
With just over 24 hours before the polls close on the federal election, it is shaping up to be an incredibly tight race. I reported a few times in the last several weeks about the projections coming from 338 Canada. Since July, the Liberals have seemingly gifted their rivals with the SNC-Lavalin scandal (that even has its own Wikipedia entry) and Trudeau's blackface revelations. However it seems clear that the Conservatives and NDP are unable to capitalize. The Liberals will almost certainly not have a majority government, which will be a huge - dare I say - black mark for Trudeau. But the Conservatives need to win 75 more seats this election to get a majority, and it is even more unlikely that that will happen. The trend lines for popular seat projections since August 25 are given below.
Looking at the graph, both the Liberals and Conservatives have dipped significantly. The benefactors are the NDP and Bloc. The uptick for both parties in the last three weeks is impressive, however the NDP are really only trending to be at par with their performance from 2015. One has to think that the NDP supporters want more from Jasmeet Singh than they received from Tom Mulcair.
The Bloc stand to gain two dozen seats this election, almost entirely from the Liberals, while reinforcing the message that the NDP surge in Quebec two elections ago was a forgettable blip in history.
A strong separatist party, a minority government, and a leading party plagued by scandal. This is a potent cocktail of uncertainty and drama that have many people interested, even outside of Canada. This CBC article discusses how foreign diplomats are scrambling to figure out how the NDP, Green, and Bloc could influence what a minority government would look like. Closer to home, Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid wrote this past week that the Bloc support for a Liberal minority government would likely mean stopping development for all pipelines and halting subsidies for oil and gas. Braid suggests the Bloc's plan is "anti-Alberta" and would "ruin Alberta". It is interesting to note that Braid suggests this might be retaliation for Alberta's lectures to "Quebec over pipelines and oil imports going back to ex-premier Alison Redford". Maybe we shouldn't have been such asses to the rest of the country when things were oh-so-good here in Wild Rose Country.
Thanksgiving means a big meal with friends, and that means a lot of cooking. Tradition in our house is to cook a big turkey for Thanksgiving using the method outlined by Cook's Illustrated several years ago. but we are leery about stuffing the cavity of the bird with bread due to the opportunity to have uneven cooking and the resultant risk of food poisoning. It is a shame though because a good stuffing is fantastic to eat. Over the years we have tried various ways compensate, but for the most part we ended up with soggy bread that didn't taste like the stuffing we loved.
This year, we tried something new. Earlier in the week we had tried a easy bread recipe made with nothing but self-rising flour and yogurt of all things. That recipe was used to make some great cheese twists.
For Thanksgiving, we used the same herb paste that went on the turkey instead of the cheese - fold, twist, bake, voilà! Now we can have something that has a great taste of bread flavored with the herb in a turkey without the heaviness caused by being soaked in turkey juices, and all without being a sodden mess when cooked separately. Plus, no risk of salmonella.
The other hit this past week was a Carrot Cake Oatmeal made with shredded carrots and raisins, and topped with toasted coconut. The oatmeal hater liked it, and the oatmeal lover thought it was still pretty good. So now four people will eat oatmeal instead of three.
Over a month ago, I wrote about "Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World", by Michael Harris. I was able to finally finish it this week, and as you can see from this picture, there were several ideas worth flagging in the book.
The first idea that jumped out at me was about how hard it is be alone. Humans are social animals and society is geared to treat us as outcasts or miscreants if we want to be alone. Harris commented that people are impaired for fifteen seconds after texting while driving, "but this deadly wandering is a small price to pay to a person fleeing their own loneliness". Endangering lives as a response to crushing loneliness is a sad testament to the society we have created.
A recent theme on this blog has been online interactions and the powerful addictions that online systems can create in our minds. Harris talks about some online gamers being so addicted to being online that they are unaware that they are not in fact actually really and truly building something. The point of the system they are engaged in is, depressingly, more system. The point of being online is being online. Even if solitude and quiet contemplation is not some miracle cure for what we need as humans in 2019, being online just because is definitely not a direction I want to pursue.
Another similarity drawn from Harris's book with Lanier's book on social media is how online recommendations have significant sway in all that we do online. In the same post mentioned above, I commented:
In one case, there are a million voices steering me toward something. In the other, there is only a single voice, but even that single voice is itself influenced by millions of other voices.
Harris asserts that this is problematic if we allow ourselves to believe that the system, the website, the algorithm can make better decisions than we can. An algorithm is unable to make a decision - it can only react to data in certain, predetermined ways. That is the exact definition of an algorithm.
a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.
Harris points out the danger in allowing us to believe that the machine or algorithm has a belief:
Nowhere is this creepier than the arena of taste. If we think that a computer program - so much more rational, so much better informed - believes one ting to be better than another, then the choices we make online about what books to read, what songs to listen to, what movies to watch become less independent and more manipulated. Suggestions on Netflix and iTunes and Amazon - all crowd-sourced and data-crunched - start to feel natural and neutral. If you believe a piece of technology can have a belief, then it's only a tiny step before you start to believe its belief is more important than your own.
As the book progressed, I found myself becoming depressed with some of the concepts. Harris begins to tackle how reading forces the brain to adapt and adopt and build new neural pathways that a non-reader will never have. However, he speculates that maybe solo reading is already obsolete. The fact that we are social animals as noted above might mean that reading moves from a solitary endeavor of one person locked into a book to a social exercise where we comment along the way with each other.
I find this a terrible prospect. The need for me to immerse myself in a book without distraction and without the need to interact with others is huge. Having to be with someone else and losing the ability to be alone would be a monumental loss to. Harris states that the "constant reader ... learns to hold opinions and ideas that are not their own" and that we not only discover new thoughts, but actually live them. Being constantly connected to our smartphones is "antithetical to deep reading", which is the ability to dig deep into what is being read and truly engage your brain in the material. Losing that skill would mean becoming just a another node in the hive.
There are benefits of course to the new technology. Harris points out that technology is allowing us to experiment with new types of storytelling that is impossible with the printed word. He goes on to say that "It was sixty years after Gutenberg built his printing press before anyone had the bright idea to number the page. Who know what social text innovations will be made in the decades to come?"
I highly recommend that you read this book. But don't get an ebook version. Find a nice quiet corner of the house or a park bench to sit down, by yourself, and read a physical copy of it. I think you will find the exercise well worth the time and effort.
Four new words this week. Three were from Solitude and one was from "The Silk Roads". That is proving to be a massive book to read, but with any luck I will finish it this week. Many more words have come from that book, I assure you.
moiling (present participle)
Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving from 53.5° north latitude. This week's post will be remarkably short unfortunately, mainly as a result of our relentless push toward launch of our new system in three weeks. Only one solid idea worth sharing, hardly any reading, one beer, and one new word.
I kinda feel like I'm living in a Three Dog Night song this week.
I participated in a meeting this week where one person was providing commentary on what to expect at the launch of our system. He made a comment about how to provide feedback in a stressful time that I quite liked:
If you don't have anything nice to say, at least be specific.
In other words, if you have feedback but cannot put it nicely or politely, at least make the feedback succinct and detailed enough that the recipient can do something with it.
Just one new beer this week. Beau's All Natural Brewing Company is a brewery that I had not
This section has evolved over the six months that I have been writing on this site to be called "New Words". However, this week is really should be called "New Word", since there is only one word to share. Old habits die hard, even if they are less than six months old.