Greetings from 53.5° north latitude where it is unbelievably, and frustratingly, still winter.
This week saw the world surpass 1.8 million confirmed COVID cases, and the US going over the 20,000 mark to become the country with the most confirmed COVID-related deaths globally. Here in Alberta, we hit 40 deaths so far, but that is a far cry from the estimated range of 400 and 3,100 deaths as modeled by AHS and presented to the public by the Premier (video below). We are only 10% of the way to the best-case scenario right now, which is really staggering.
Is there a bright side to all of this? Is there something positive we can take away? I think there is, whether it be the wonderful in-home concerts we can watch, the positivity from so many people, or the companies around the world retooling so they can focus on creating life-saving equipment. Plus so many of us are finding ways to stay connected even if we are alone.
I remember back in my twenties hearing for the first time that there was a difference between being alone and being lonely. If we can stay alone or at least only together with our household while still finding ways to stay connected, we can come out of this okay. Don't get me wrong, the world will be changed, and mental health will be greatly impacted in addition to the more obvious physical issues. But that doesn't mean the world will be or has to be worse than it is now.
I am taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to do something new. The most obvious at this point is a reading group I joined hosted by author Adam Greenfield. This isn't a typical book club or even a contemporary international reading, but rather a group reading about specific theories and books in the social sciences.
Our first book was "Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly" by Judith Butler. My proviso for this is that I didn't read the whole book like the rest of the group. I thoroughly read about ten percent and then skimmed the rest. Butler's reputation of writing obtuse and hard-to-read prose is apparently well-deserved. Not that I knew about Butler's reputation, or even Butler at all, prior to the group discussion.
Our second book which we delved into this week was "The Wretched of the Earth" by Frantz Fanon. Again, never heard of him but his writing was much more consumable albeit dated. Written in 1961, Fanon wrote in the language of the day: Man this, man that, women as an object. Trying to get past that, we focused on the chapter "On Violence" which discusses the need for the colonized to stand up to the colonizer.
At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude. --Franz Fanon
I am grateful for the opportunity to be exposed to different thinking, different intellectuals, and completely different discussions, but I am concerned with my ability to contribute to the ongoing discussion. That said, I did propose that we discuss the use of the "war" moniker and metaphor in our COVID responses and that received enthusiastic support. Cue up some Susan Sontag!
Switching over to the "listening pile" for a minute, I was able to find time to dive into the recent Longform interview with science writer Ed Yong. Yong had just completed a great article on COVID for The Atlantic, which is definitely worth reading in addition to or instead of the Longform interview. While the whole interview was enjoyable, my favourite part was in the first few minutes as they were getting settled and Yong compared his COVID-reality life to a combination of "Groundhog Day" and a Michael Bay movie: stunningly mind-numbing repetition followed by scare-you-out-of-your-seats moments. Yep, pretty much sums up the last month.
The last bit of non-fiction reading this week was a throwback to 1997. Back in January, I commented on the Longform interview with Kevin Kelly, former editor at Wired. This 1997 article was co-written by Kelly and comments on the soon-to-be demise of the browser and the coming wonders of push technology.
It is interesting to read something from twenty-three years ago, especially given that the Internet as we know it was barely a couple years old at the time of publication. A lot has changed, of course. Talk of T1 lines seems antiquated, even though I can remember being proud to commission my first T1 installation not long before that article came out.
We can expect a billion Web pages by 2000. Some of them will even be worth reading. -- Wired, March 1997
Where the article was most prescient was its predictions regarding technology pervasiveness and the dependency content producers would have on advertising. At one point, the authors predict that this new world of push technology, which has somewhat been replaced with notifications, will be "gentle, in-your-face, intermittent, in the background, or always on." The always-on-ness of our world these days is definitely one of our defining societal problems. See my comments from last October regarding Michael Harris's book "Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World". As for their other prediction, some form of the word "advertising" appears eight times throughout the article. Maybe the authors were afforded a crystal ball and could see their magazine's web page covered in ads from their parent company and lifestyle brand, Condé Nast.
On to fiction. First, I am continuing to read "The Count of Monte Cristo" and am thoroughly enjoying it. It holds up quite well at nearly 200 years old. One of my favourite lines so far in the book came in the penultimate paragraph of Chapter XXX, and it really sets up the revenge section of the novel.
I have taken the place of Providence to reward the good; now let the avenging God make way for me to punish the wrongdoer! --The Count of Monte Cristo, Chapter XXX
I also finished another book this week. Book #13 for 2020 was "Seraphina", by Rachel Hartman. This was a wonderful and unique Young Adult novel, that earns the YA moniker in all the best ways. The eponymous protagonist was not an orphan, which is of course the single worst trope in YA novels, plus was part of the solution but realized she could not cannot do it alone. No pushy teen sidestepping the lame-brained adults in this novel. There was a great message about the importance of family and friends and how solutions are best solved together and not alone. I'm not an expert on the middle ages, but the setting seemed to be a realistic, wealthy monarchy set in a middle ages equivalent world. Hartman was able to introduce IRL middle ages items and terms, such as houpelandde, oud, and sackbut (see the New Words section below for all three), and added to the dragon mythos with new words like saar, saarantras, and dracomachia (you will have to read the book to get definitions for these). All in all, a great novel worthy of your time and energy to read whether you are in the YA time frame or just like a good novel.
Three new beers this week from three different Canadian breweries, Collective Arts, Alley Kat, and Moosehead. The first was the Collective Arts No. 12 IPA which was a nice hazy IPA with a lot of citrus and a refreshing taste. (3.5 / 5). The second was the Alley Kat Westminster Tabby from their Back Alley Brews line. This Extra Special Bitter benefited from the authentic British malts, and according to the label Alley Kat even replicated the minerals in the water from Burton Upon Trent in the UK. It is a shame this is a limited edition beer that isn't sticking around. (3.75 / 5)
Last up was the Moosehead Pale Ale. A pale ale is by definition pale which implies not a huge amount of flavor or aroma. Moosehead's Pale Ale was a decent representation of a style that doesn't have a lot going for it, in my opinion. Decent, drinkable, but pretty forgettable. (3.25 / 5)
Lots of new words this week, partly because I caught up with all of the words from "Seraphina", but also because of the Fanon, Butler, and Monte Cristo readings.
[ab ˈōˌvō, äb]
There are those words that you say without thinking about, and then one day you think about them, and all you can think about is how weird that word is. "Hunker" is definitely in that category. We are definitely into the "hunker" phase of our global COVID response, in which we are, to use the North American use of the word, taking shelter in a defensive position. See the full definition in the "New Words" section at the end of this post.
With that, greetings from 53.5° north latitude, in a spot in the world where it is still solidly winter with cold temperatures, snow, and ice that can cause both the short of cycling mishaps that rip through two layers of pants and at least one layer of skin, and an intensely beautiful vistas.
The world zipped past 1,000,000 confirmed cases of COVID earlier this week, and passed 1.25 million this morning. There is a growing realization that we will be in this state of isolation until the end of June and that some form of public health measures will extend for some time beyond then.
Even with all of the news, the messages from public health officials, the pleas from celebrities, there are still people who just won't get it. The blistering editorial this week in the Thorsby Target from Thorsby Mayor Rod Raymond this past week was a welcome read. It seems Mayor Raymond does not mince words. Pin heads, indeed!
I talked about the economic impact in the last two weeks [here, and here]. The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce released some staggering survey results this week. Nearly half of Chamber members surveyed feared that their business would not survive, and a quarter surveyed do not have cash to meet their next payroll.
The world will change as a result of this. The world is changing as a result of this. It will be imperative to engage to do as much as possible to influence the changes to be positive and inclusive. If we fail to that, what we are living in now may be the real-world equivalent to the prequel to a haunting dystopian science-fiction story.
I had a good week as far as reading goes. I dove into "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" and should be caught up in the respective Reddit reading groups in a few days. Monte Cristo is revealing itself to be a beautiful book filled with evocative imagery and phrases. Below are two of my favourite from my readings this last week. The first one is strangely recursive, discussing how a heart can break and then itself causing hearts to break.
The heart breaks when it has swelled too much in the warm breath of hope, then finds itself enclosed in cold reality.
The second is darker, highlighting a fatalistic view on the world and the thoughts that maybe the world should just be burned down.
If only the sky would rain gunpowder for two days and fire for an hour, and we could have done with it all.
Beyond those two novels, I did finish another novel this week. Book #12 for 2020 was "Future Home of the Living God" by Louise Erdrich. This was a book that I thought was wonderful as I was in the act of reading it, but as I stepped away from it I reflect on a few flaws. There were a few plot points dropped in and not explored, such as the massively changed fauna (sabre-tooth cat, anyone?). I also would have liked to have the role of the theocratic church explained more, and how the monitoring and surveillance technology was a surprise and also so surprisingly effective. I still don't know with certainty which characters in the book were "good", but I suppose that is no different than real life, where every person we encounter is both wonderful and flawed.
But ignore that. You should read this book even with its flaws. The timeliness of a novel where the protagonist is locked away and isolated is certainly worth reading right now, as are the hints at how quickly and how completely our world could change for the worse. Don't take anything for granted, even those crummy gas station granola bars, and especially the rights of the individuals.
And since I am apparently big on quotes this week, here is one from this book that can hopefully remind us of all that exists that is worth fighting for.
I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful. I think it may be our strongest quality.
More reading this week, and therefore more new words as well. Plus leading off with that word that seems really weird when you really think about it.
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude. This was the first week of several where most of the population is working from home or otherwise isolated. My parents haven't talk to anyone in over two weeks now; our entire family spends nearly the entire day in our house; businesses are either offering curbside pickup or are completely shut down.
It is hard to believe it has only been a week, and that the week before that was the real start of the preparation. Our family seems to be handling the close proximity and change of schedule well so far, but there are several weeks of this to come.
Economy and COVID:
As I mentioned last week, the economy is reeling from the shutdown stores and businesses and the hits to the global supply chain. Of particular interest to Albertans, whose economic well-being is nearly inseparable from the oil and gas sector, the price of oil continues to fall. Take a look at the next two graphics, and see if you can tell the difference between a barrel of Western Canadian Select crude and a Starbucks Iced Cocoa Macchiato.
Now I've never tasted either but I assume the Starbucks drink is more appealing to the palate. But even more disturbing that the thought of drinking crude oil, at least in terms of the Alberta economy, is that on Friday the Starbucks Macchiato cost more than a barrel of crude oil from our province. The impact to Alberta cannot be overstated.
Common wisdom is that conventional oil in Alberta costs about $40 per barrel to produce. The provincial budget for 2020 forecast oil to be at around $58 per barrel. A fifty dollar differential is the difference between having social programs that the government is looking to radically overhaul and not having any social programs at all..
We have already seen calls from US President Trump to "restart" the US economy, citing concerns that America “cannot” let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” I am certain that there are grave economic concerns in the US, but I doubt that the combined impact of COVID and low oil prices has a bigger impact in any jurisdiction in the US than it does in Alberta. So far, Alberta politicians have not called for economic considerations to take precedence over public health considerations. So far.
With that news, I am impressed that I only had one new beer this week. I have posted about Collective Arts previously and I contend that they are one of the best breweries in Canada.
It was with this pedigree in mind that earlier this week I tried their Lunch Money American Blond. A handsome looking beer in a beautiful can, so everything started out well. Unfortunately, this beer doesn't stack up with the rest of the Collective Arts lineup and was pretty generic stuff. It wasn't poorly done, but didn't have much to keep me interested. (3.0 / 5)
On a different note, I received the "Here's To You (Level 5)" badge from Untappd, signifying five years of logging my beers on that site. In those five years, I have logged 645 unique beers or an average of one new beer every 2.84 days. Since my first post on this site one year ago, I have logged 111 new beers or an average of one every 3.35 days. My beer consumption is going down, and at this rate, I'll never meet my personal quest of drinking one of every beer in the world.
Very little reading this week, so only a single new word.
And what a week it was.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. We are still in the throes of winter with temperatures well below normal, and with lots of snow and ice on the ground. Most years that would be enough to qualify for making a bad week, but of course this year is different.
We have now finished our first week after shit-got-real, with school closures, store closures, transit service decreases, and more.
There is definitely an impact to us locally, with 226 confirmed cases in Alberta and one death. The measures we are taking will hopefully limit the spread at best and at worst will flatten the curve so that our healthcare system can get through the presumed massive numbers of people who will require hospitalization.
What we of course want to prevent is the absolute terror of the situation in Italy. As I planned this week's entry over the past few days, I wrote myself a note that said: "Italy on track to have more COVID deaths than China." That milestone was passed on Friday and now two days later, Italy has greatly surpassed China. Looking back at what I posted last week, there have been 45 deaths in China in the last week, but a staggering 3,016 deaths in Italy. To put that into perspective, there have been almost as many people die in Italy IN THE LAST WEEK than have died in China since the start of this outbreak.
As has been reported in multiple media [1, 2], Italy is a well-developed country with excellent hospitals and healthcare, but the massive volumes are crushing the system. The virus is undoubtedly deadly but the compound effects of a crippled healthcare system are even more frightening. Measures being taken here in Alberta to ensure there is capacity in the hospitals include postponing elective and scheduled surgeries and opening drive-through assessment centers, The steps we take now can hopefully shield us from what Italy is experiencing and what China experienced.
It is important to understand that Italy is not the only country in trouble right now. Reported cases are spiking in Spain and the US as you can see on the image above, and Spain is warning that the "worst is yet to come". There is an extensive lockdown in Spain right now, much more than what we are experiencing.
Even measures as strict as what Spain are instituting might not be enough though. The Washington Post opened the story that image came from with a warning from the World Health Organization saying that "such measures alone are not sufficient" and "that the disease could jump back after movement restrictions are lifted."
And then there is the impact to the economy.
All those store closures, and the impact to the global supply chain that Harvard Business Review predicted at the end of February, is killing economies around the world. The Indicator from Planet Money is only talking about COVID-related indicators and stories now, and their episode on Friday was particularly telling. The Indicator is a pretty light economics show, much more so than EconTalk or even Freakonomics so I don't expect major pronouncements or severe warnings on the show. On Friday however, co-host Cardiff Garcia said he was "terrified" of the impact to small business. His economic indicator for Friday's episode was that most small businesses only have 27 days of cash flow. After that, they have to shut down. To prolong their survival past 27 days, they could cut costs but that means more people unemployed, which means less money circulating in the economy, which means less spending, which means more impact to the economy.
The question then is to forecast how big the impact will be to the economy of a country. If the analysis from Goldman Sachs is accurate, the US economy is set to shrink by 24%. Think about that. A quarter of the economy of the United States, the largest economy in the world, will be gone. A quarter. I don't have any more words to describe this.
With all of that, with the impact to the entire world and the global economy, we humans still find a way to hate each other instead of pulling together. Some of it is overt, and some of it is more subtle, but none of it is good.
Less problematic if only because of his much smaller presence and influence was Scott Adams' use of the #WuFlu hashtag in his daily podcast updates. To be fair to Adams, he stopped using #WuFlu hashtag a week ago, and he only stopped calling it coronavirus for a few days. but for days he did paint the virus with a particular epithet that could only inflame some people and insult other.
Why come out now after weeks of coverage and call it the "Chinese Virus" or #WuFlu? What is the benefit of tagging this pandemic to a country or a people? I should listen to all of Adams's recent podcasts to see if there is a hint on why the changes were made.
I will leave you with some good news. My friend Tomas highlighted this list of organizations that are doing things to support employees, customers, and people in general, from paying hourly workers even if they are sick, to companies opening up their paywalls to offer content for free. Thanks to Scott Monty for coordinating this work.
I can imagine many of my non-existent readers remotely verbally lambasting my decision to post about the new beers I have had in the past week. The end is nigh, and this yahoo wants to talk about beer?!
I get it. My (tongue-in-cheek) personal goal to drink one of every beer in the world is trite and silly, but it was never meant to be anything more than that. I came up with what I thought was a catchy phrase and I've been using it for five years when I talk about beer. That's all it is meant to be, and that was something that was interesting and important to me in the past.
And that's why it is so important now. The world is different, but that doesn't mean we have to give up on everything. In fact I would argue that we have to hold on to what we had and still have to anchor us and get us through our isolation, our fear, and our anxiety. Recognizing what we have, being content with who we are and what we have, and living in the moment are some of the greatest goals of philosophers from ancient times to present. It is with that that I unabashedly present to you the new beers I had this week.
The first beer was the Prairie Pirate Black IPA from Ribstone Creek Brewery. It was not bad, but had a less texture and taste than I had hoped. I also thought it could have been been hoppier. It was a beautiful looking beer though. (3.25 / 5) The second beer was another Alberta Beer Week collab, this one between Town Square and Sawback out of Red Deer. The Glaze of Glory brown ale was supposed to be full of donut-y flavor, salted caramel, and bacon. I didn't get much of any of those and so was left with just another brown, which is really not a style I like that much. (3.0 / 5). Last up was the Patience Pale Ale from Legend 7. This is the last beer out of a Legend 7 sampler and it unfortunately was my least favorite of the bunch. It was a beer, yes, but wasn't memorable in any way. (3.0 /5)
The vocab muscle didn't get much exercise this past week, and I have a vague recollection of having looked up a couple of them in the past.
I took a pause last week mainly to let the impact of coronavirus aka COVID-19 sink in. It is easy to think that there is nothing else to talk about, and that is largely true. However, I am concerned that our new single-minded focus on the urgent will distract us from the important. I wrote the following in early December:
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.
I wrote that fourteen weeks ago, a couple weeks before the first case of coronavirus was announced. At that time, the single-minded focus was the result of work and a major system deployment. Now a global pandemic is focusing our thoughts to our health and safety, to stockpiling and hunkering down..
If it is possible to think about this objectively and intellectually, it is really fascinating how COVID-19 is impacting all aspects of our lives, including the mundane and subtle. Think of the new entries into our lexicon as a result of this pandemic, like social distancing. I wonder if 1,000 people in the entire world had spoken that phrase before last month, and just last week, three major media outlets all felt obliged to define it for their readers. Social distancing is too new to make the March 2020 update to the OED, but I suspect that it will be in the June 2020 update.
A quick scan of media is a good way to gauge how much impact any topic has. My podcast feed has been dominated by COVID-19 and what-the-hell-happened-to-the-economy episodes for the last two weeks, and I expect that to continue for the foreseeable future.
The data nerd in me is fascinated by good GIS maps and useful data visualizations. The most useful map I have come across for COVID-19 info is the one published by Johns Hopkins University. The combination of geography-based reporting down to the province or state level (for China, US, Canada and Australia) and the day-by-day breakdown of infections is particularly helpful for gaining understanding of how big this really is.
But then of course someone has to prey on the chaos and fear, and decides to produce a fake JHU map that downloads malware on to computers. The Hacker News reported on this earlier this week. If you do look for the COVID map, make sure you are going to the official Johns Hopkins site. (You could trust the link I shared above, but your best course of action is to search for it yourself.)
In the words of my 12 year-old daughter, "2020 sucks so far."
The "reading" lately has all been almost exclusively podcasts. I won't do a recap on any of the recent episodes because they are all very timely and specific to COVID-19 or the economy and as such have likely very little utility in the future. .
As far as actual reading goes, I have fallen terribly behind in my reading clubs for "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo". If I don't get back into those two books soon, I fear that I won't be able to get back into a rhythm and catch up with the group. I do have a few books in progress and I hope to get back to them this week.
Last week, I finished a YA novel with my 12 year-old daughter. Book #11 for 2022 was "I, Q: Independence Hall" was a super enjoyable spy novel, full of intrigue and threats of violence, without all of the typical tropey YA garbage about how the adults can't save the world and how the kids are so much smarter than their parents. In the end, the kids are central to the plot - it wouldn't be YA if that wasn't the case - but they aren't invincible and they desperately need the adults to help in certain situations. This is a series with author Roland Smith delivering six novels in six different historically significant settings in the US. I'm not sure if I will read all six by myself, but I will certainly read at least one more with my daughter.
There were only three new beers in the past fortnight. I am rapidly closing in on my five-year anniversary on Untappd, and in that time have logged 641 unique beers. My pace is for a new beer every 2.84 days, which is down from 2.74 days as noted in my first ever post on this site.
The first beer was the Steamworks Pilsner from Steamworks Brewery in Vancover. I found it to be decent but not great, with nice lacing but a bit too much fizz. (3.25 / 5). The next was the Moosehead Grapefruit Radler. It was nice and juicy, and pretty lightweight but that's to be expected in a radler. Good stuff and definitely something to consider for hot summer days. (3.5 / 5) Last up was my second beer from Odd Company. Their Carrot and Blood Orange Sour was good, but definitely not as good as their Mulled Lambrusco that I raved about a couple weeks ago. Still, I think Odd Company is worth looking for based on the first two of their beers that I have tried. (3.25 / 5)
Not a lot of reading in the past fortnight translates into not a lot of new words.
car·a·bi·neer | \ ˌker-ə-bə-ˈnir , ˌka-rə- \
(variants: or carabinier)
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude. A few days in San Francisco was a nice change, but I am really finding each trip harder to take. The level of poverty intermingled with the monied and privileged highlights the vast differences between the haves and the havenots. Maybe it is that bad here, or maybe it is just more noticeable there because there is less physical distance between the groups. Or maybe the lack of social supports and safety nets in California and the US more broadly has pushed more and more people into a life of brutal poverty.
Beyond the philosophizing instigated by the combination of seeing poverty up close and of participating in a conference with some of the top people in my industry, I was able to finish one book, I tried four new beers, and learned a handful of new words. Let's dive in.
Book #10 for 2020 was Cal Newport's "So Good They Can't Ignore You". This book has the subtitle "Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest For Work You Love". That subtitle contains the most important lesson from the book and is repeated almost ad nauseum throughout the book. Get good at what you do, and give that quality to the world, instead of demanding that the world give you what you want because it matches what you love to do. When put that way, it really highlights how selfish the passion-driven view of life can be if unchecked.
Newport has several other lessons in this book, but they all stem from his personal realization that finding passion prior to finding competence is a recipe for failure, disappointment, and likely even financial ruin. Going the other way, from competence to opportunity and then finally to happiness will take time, which is why the pursuit of passion is so alluring. I can be happy and fulfilled tomorrow, or I can work hard, maybe for years, and then I'll be happy. It isn't surprising that Newport would run into resistance with his theory of happiness because it requires hard work, a lot of time, and the development of an expertise in your vocation.
Another point that really impacted me was Newport's focus on deliberate practice. Instead of working on something, really work on it, Push yourself, set ambitious goals, but most of all, focus. Newport argues that those who can focus on their work, art, or skills, are the people that really excel. Practice makes perfect, but deliberate practice will get you to success and ultimately happiness much sooner.
The first beer was Drake's 1500 Pale Ale. Definitely good with a fair bit of hops, but it was a stereotypical pale ale with not a lot of body or punch beyond that. (3.25 / 5) The second was a collab between two Edmonton breweries, Sea Change and Campio. I have posted about Sea Change a few times on this site, and they produce some solid beers. This was my first Campio though. Campio is the last component of the Albeerta family and that in itself is enough to support Edmonton's newest brewery. The collab in question was the Mandarin Crush Lager, which is another beer that is challenging my dislike for lagers. It is clear that done well, a lager can definitely be worth drinking. This lager in particular had a nice orange aroma but could have used a bit more orange taste. (3.5 / 5)
Rounding out the week were smaller samples of two other fruit beers. First was a Grapefruit IPA from 4 Mile Brewing in View Royal, British Columbia. (Where? Here.) Lots of fresh taste with a good pop of hops. Nice stuff. And to round out the week, the Strawberry Fruit Ale from Samuel Smith. Once again, Samuel Smith produced a very good beer. I posted about their Chocolate Stout two weeks ago. This was pretty much the exact opposite of their chocolate stout being a much lighter fruit beer. It had amazing aroma and a very nice taste. A beer that tasted like fruit juice without being syrupy and cloying. Really good stuff. (4.0 / 5)
Not a lot of new words this week, but the ones I did learn were quite varied.
Greetings from … 37.8° north latitude. That's correct, I am not writing this from my hometown of Edmonton, but rather from San Francisco, specifically the corner of Bush and Van Ness. I am down here for the RSA Conference and more specifically the ESAF session held annually on the first Monday of the conference. It is the highlight conference for me each year and I am really glad to be attending this year after having had to skip last year. In addition to attending ESAF, coming to San Francisco affords me the opportunity to spend the day at some of my favourite places like Blue Bottle Coffee and Yuet Lee for supper. However, I have to say that I was significantly disappointed that the Jack in the Box on Geary is closed indefinitely. I absolutely look forward to a Sourdough Jack when I am here, but it appears I will be denied this year. Thwarted by building maintenance!
The week-that-was was a good one. I finished off a couple books, had a couple beers, and got together with my new D&D group. There were a few new words as well. Plus there was the last minute decision to travel to San Francisco which has certainly added to the week. So without further ado, let's dive in.
I commented last week that my Meetup D&D group was meeting for the first time. It was a great experience with five players showing up. Most of the people who showed up were absolute newbies, so there will be some learning for sure, but that's part of the experience. The age range was quite pronounced as well, with two of the players roughly my age and three between roughly 16 and 25. I will have to work to create a table that honors and respects the different ages and perspectives. No one ever said that a gamemaster was an easy job.
I finished two books this week, putting my 2020 total at nine. That is slightly over one book a week, and that reading rate makes me quite happy.
Book #8 for 2020 was "Dodger" by Terry Pratchett. This was the first non-Discworld novel from Pratchett that I have read. It was sent in Victorian England, so clearly not the fantastical setting of the Discworld novels, but Pratchett's charm and wit was evident throughout. It is a great novel about an urchin who uses his brain and strong moral compass to pull himself up from the sewer, figuratively and literally, into upper society. It was delightful reading how Dodger thought and reacted and learned so quickly. A bit racy to be reading to your 12 year-old daughter though, but still really enjoyable. (Note how the WorldCat link above notes it as a "senior high" appropriate novel. Oops.)
There is a quote early on in the novel where our young hero is thinking about his lot in life and his ability to affect change to his life. I highlighted it because I thought it was worth reflecting on.
The whole of life was a game. But if it was a game, then were you the player or were you the pawn? It seeped into his mind that maybe Dodger could be more than just Dodger, if he cared to put some effort into it. It was a call to arms; it said: Get off your arse!
Book #9 for 2020 was "Career of Evil" by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith. This is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series and I am still really enjoying these novels. This is my least favourite of the three however, largely due to the forced epiphany scene near the climax. Even with that, it was still well-written and suspenseful, and the tension between the two protagonists is really well done. I picked up the fourth book in the series at a used shop a few months ago, and I imagine I will dig into that soon.
Three beers this week, with one really good, one pretty darn good, and one awful.
The first beer was the awful one. The collab between Village and New Level was really disappointing. I actually wonder if mine had gone bad. It was very astringent and undrinkable and I couldn't finish it. I'm not a huge fan of Village but they do produce solid beers, so this was not expected. (1.5 / 5)
Luckily for me, things got better after that. The second beer was the Leffe Blonde. This is a solid beer worth drinking. It was a bit sweet, but the 6.6% ABV didn't show up too much in the taste. The overall quality of this beer is even more impressive given its mass-produced status and ownership by InBev. (3.5 / 5)
My favourite beer of the week was the Mulled Lambrusco Sour from Odd Company, yet another new brewery from my hometown. Odd Company touts themselves as "chemists who started brewing as a hobby in the garage" which implies that they will be brewing some pretty unconventional beers. This sour I had was a great foray into their craft, with a crazy amount of cinnamon aroma. It smelled like those cinnamon heart candies, but the cinnamon didn't show up in the taste. (I think that's a good thing, because that much cinnamon would have hurt to drink!) It was definitely a sour though, with a mouth-puckering taste. The copper color was also really well done. I'm glad I tried this and am looking forward to having more from Odd Company. (4.0 /5)
A handful of new words this week, primarily from War and Peace and The Count of Monte Cristo.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. It has been a really quiet week given that I took it off. Lots of me-time, a few beers, getting ready for the new gaming group I am organizing plus some Kickstarter related gaming news, and a few small projects here and there. Lots of reading as well, with one interesting podcast listened to but no single book finished. Let's dive into the recap of the week that was.
There was a lot of good news on the gaming front this week. First, I finally received my Kickstarter rewards for the Humblewood 5e campaign setting. This is a campaign I jumped in on back in May that is set in a world of humanoids based off of woodland creatures and birds. The package arrived early this week, all 4.3 kilograms of it. Books, minis, screens, maps, dice. Everything needed to play in the setting. I'm totally looking forward to running a campaign in that world.
Next up is a Kickstarter campaign that successfully closed this week. Monsters of the City from Cawood Publishing reached the first stretch goal and will publish their third 5e resource. I own and was really impressed with Monsters of the Underworld and am planning on picking up Monsters of the Feyland on DM's Guild.
I have now supported 25 Kickstarter campaigns and I have made some observations. First, the strategy of how to stagger the stretch goals is really important. For Monsters of the City, Cawood decided to put the extra art first and the upgrade to a hardcover book second. Was that smart? I do know that the extra art will make the book better, but having a three-book set with two hardcover books followed by a soft-cover seems to be a mistake. I wonder how many people were put off by not having a hardcover as the first stretch goal or even for the initial target.
I also wonder about the value of the stretch goals or if they are just a money-grab. There have been some interesting campaigns recently with one with no stretch goals but a few upgrades for Kickstarter supporters, to another with a ton of Kickstarter Exclusives that won't be available in a retail version.
After supporting so many products, I'm comfortable saying that my preference is definitely to make the product better. Dave Kellett of Sheldon and Drive fame does this really well on his campaigns. I have supported five different campaigns of his and he does a great job in improving his books. The first four stretch goals for his most recent "Anatomy of Authors" campaign were all about making the book better (book ribbon, end papers, gloss cover, foil lettering). After that, it was extras and add-ons. I'm going to watch out for that in future campaigns I support, and I think it will impact how and what I fund.
Last item on gaming: I have scheduled our first meeting - our Session 0 - for the Casual Yet Committed campaign I have organized on Meetup. I first posted about this a month ago, but only got around to scheduling our first meeting this week. Why such a long delay, you ask? Nerves, I tell you, nerves.
It's funny to think that something as seemingly simple and benign as organizing a game of D&D would be so stressful. It was though, and I think it is because it is forcing me to extend myself creatively. Asking a group of strangers to trust you to create and coordinate an ongoing series of events to cooperatively create a story is a much different experience than boardroom presentations, project sponsorship, and developing and mentoring a team. That difference and the uncertainty it created set me back a few weeks. It took me a long time to schedule the first session because I wasn't sure exactly what to do. I was nervous about how people would respond. I was nervous about not being able to do a good job.
I think there is a major lesson in this. Years ago my spouse and I made sure we did one new thing each year to push ourselves. That was before senior positions, kids, and MBA school (her, not me), so we haven't sat down to think through a new learning goal for a number of years. However, I think this foray into being the gamemaster for a group of strangers will seriously make up for that. And hey, it should be a lot of fun as well.
I only listened to a single podcast this week, but it was a Longform interview so it was definitely time well spent. This week, they interviewed Joshua Yaffa, an American journalist living in Moscow. Yaffa was recently back in America on tour for his new book, Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia. The interview is just shy of an hour and focuses primarily on what it is like to be a foreign journalist in a country run by an authoritarian ruler, who like authoritarian rules everywhere, has control over vast portions of the country's media. I think Yaffa's book will be an important one to read to understand a perspective from Russia that is less about the extremes - Putin versus Pussy Riot, as mentioned in the interview - and more about the people in the middle who had made compromises and have rationalized their current position or opinion. A social study of a society conducted by an outsider from that society who was granted a different level of frankness due exactly because he was an outsider. Looking forward to adding that to the Reading Pile.
As I mentioned above, I didn't finish any books this week, but I should be able to knock off a couple this week. That will get me to my goal of four books for the month of February with a week or so to spare. I have a personal improvement (i.e. I can't stand categorizing it as "self-help") book that I might be able to squeeze in this month as well.
I do want to give an update on the year-long group reading effort for "War and Peace" that I am in. The end of this week marks the end of Volume I, Part II, and puts us at page 201 out of 1224. So far, it hasn't been much work at all to read the book. The writing is excellent and the story is completely engaging. Cleary this book is a classic for good reason.
However, the best part of this has to be reading it as part of a group. I mentioned in late December that I joined a War and Peace reading group on Reddit, and that has been a fantastic experience. (The graphic above is the header image on that particular subreddit.) Engaging with a dozen or so other readers on a daily basis has added greatly to my understanding of the book and to my enjoyment of reading the book. Plus the daily meditations that Brian E. Denton posted on Medium in 2017 are likewise great for building understanding. I can't imagine having to read this book for any literature class without reading it both in this manner and with Denton's chapter-by-chapter analysis.
On a related note, my experiences with the Reddit reading groups for War and Peace and "The Count of Monte Cristo" have restored some personal confidence in social media and in Internet discourse. Strip away the ugliness of a social media algorithm (see "Reading Pile" from September 9, 2019), and strip away the dangers of online addiction (see "Reading Pile" from October 14, 2019) and you are left with the promise of a connected network. People seeking out others to connect and learn from each other. It really can be a beautiful medium if not used to exploit and sell.
This is the week 44 of the Show Notes blog. In my first entry last March, I noted three new beers that week to bring my number of unique beers on Untappd at 534. I hit 631 with the entries this week, which equates to 97 beers in 44 weeks, or 2.20 new beers a week. That is about one new beer every 3.17 days, which is a bit off the pace of 2.74 days between new beers I noted when I started this blog.
The first entry this week was the Alley Kat Oatmeal Stout collaboration with Village Brewery. I have logged a lot of Alley Kat beers on this site, and they continue to be a favorite of mine. I'm not nearly as big of a fan of Village, but they have produced some good stuff for sure. In particular, their Blacksmith Dark Ale was really good, so it isn't surprising that I would like what they did with Alley Kat on this collab. This was a fine stout, and a good use of oats to soften the taste. It had a a good long-lasting foamy head, and was flavorful but without distracting tastes. A winner for sure. (3.75 / 5).
The next two weren't nearly as good. The Temptation IPA from Legend Seven. If you recall, I have had a few of their beers in the past few weeks out of a six-pack sampler I picked up. This is my least favorite so far, but it was still pretty good. Temptation wasn't hoppy enough to be an IPA, but more of a pale ale. Still pretty decent if not on point for the style. (3.25 / 5)
The next one was the Chase 2020 from Blind Enthusiasm. I find Blind Enthusiasm to be quite hit-and-miss, and this one was a definite miss. I couldn't figure out the flavors or the aroma. I'm glad I was driving and only had the 250 mL glass. (2.5 / 5) I do need to give points for Blind Enthusiasm though for their drive to constantly produce different tastes. And on top of that, the food at Biera was awesome so the overall experience was still really good.
Luckily for me, I ended this week on a high note. Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout was really good. I have had some iffy chocolate beers before so was cautious about this one, but it was really good. Mellow aroma, good but not overpowering taste. That is the third beer I have had from Samuel Smith's and all three have been very good.
Lots of new words. The vast majority of the words this week come from various tape-flagged pages from the first two major sections of War and Peace, Volume I, Parts I and II.
Oh, how nice it is when it starts to feel like the worst of winter is behind you. Riding home after work and it is still light outside, and we are closer to St. Patrick's Day than Christmas. Things are looking up, my friend.
A decent week all things considered. Early on is started with one of those mornings where your first thought is that it is Satur-, no way, Fri-, maybe Th, ugh, it's Tuesday. It got better from there though with successes at work and a fairly relaxing week. One book finished and another started, a great D&D session, a decent beer, and a decision to take a week off work. Moving right along, then.
Book #7 for 2020 was "The Information: a history, a theory, a flood" by James Gleick. Regardless of whatever Gleick writes in his lifetime, to me he will always be the guy that wrote "Chaos", which you'll see if you look up at Worldcat has about a gazillion different editions since the original in 1988. Chaos is probably the book that influenced me the most given how little I really understood of it. Maybe I should read it again to see if I can actually glean more out of it this time.
Information was really three books in one. The history section was a nice write-up of how language and then writing changed our brains, lives, and societies. There were stories societies from the very beginning of history - history of course only possible of course by language and writing - and of famous individuals up to the early years of the twentieth century - Newton, Leibniz, Russell, Babbage, Lovelace, Morse All giants in the own rights, some much more famous than others.
Theory was a paean to Claude Shannon, the intellectual giant who gave the world information theory, and with it, a new definition for information itself. He showed us, or at least tried to show us mere mortals, what entropy was and how it mattered. He foreshadowed electronic computation and distributed networks, and allowed for entire new branches of science like molecular biology to form. He should one of the most well-known scientists of the twentieth century, but he didn't build a bomb, make a billion dollars, or create a law or theory that was easy to state if not understand (because, seriously, how do you casually talk about logarithms?) In the end, one of the great minds was reduced and degraded by Alzheimer's. I wonder what Shannon would have thought about Alzheimer's and its effects on the entropy of the human brain.
Flood almost seemed an afterthought, something that was added because no publisher would print a history of "information" with the story of an obscure scientist responsible for a mind-numbing theoretical concept. As much as I liked this book, the last few chapters really feel flat for me. Maybe that was because the concepts were more prosaic - information overload, media saturation - or maybe it was because there was no brilliant hero to read about. Whatever the reason, the ending took away from an otherwise excellent read.
Just one new beer this week. This one was the Lost Mitten Blueberry Sour from Alley Kat. Once again, another really nice beer from Alley Kat. A good punch of sour, but not a lot of sweetness. Amazing blueberry aroma, but could have tasted fruitier. Aside from that minor complaint, this is a beer that I would definitely drink again. (3.75 / 5)
A bunch of new words this week. Most came from the History section of Shannon's book.
stelae (plural noun)
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. It was a relatively warm week and I was able to leave work a bit early a couple days so I actually made it home before it was dark. A refreshing change from the usual.
The week was largely spent working and listening to podcasts. I finished one audio book and am plowing through a couple good books right now. Only one new beer and very few new words. The doldrums of January are in the rear-view mirror now, so it is all uphill from here. Excelsior! (Or something like that. Is that even appropriate? What does it even mean?!)
The reading pile was really the listening pile this week. Book #6 for 2020 was the audio version of "Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on it" by Chris Voss, a very interesting primer on negotiating in crisis situations, business, and everyday life. The stories were all very interesting and relevant to the topics presented, and there were many useful learnings throughout. Voss summarizes that a successful negotiation based on an "information obsessed, empathetic search for the best possible deal" can "uncover value. Period." In other words, value for both parties can be found if you focus on listening and being empathetic. My favorite quote was one Voss repeated often: "You don't rise to the occasion; you fall to your highest level." That is a very useful thing to keep in mind, whether in a negotiation or just in normal day-to-day life.
Also in the "listening pile" this week were some very interesting podcast episodes. The team at Longform interviewed Kevin Kelly who is maybe best known as a former editor of Wired, Lots of good stuff as is the norm in a Longform interview, but here are my favorites.
First, he commented that we might be seeing a "turn back to subscriber-supported publications" as a valid mechanism for publishing and finding relevant content. The massive infrastructure required for a large publication likely necessitates a paywall, but if there is value in someone's content, it doesn't have to be only published by a multinational media conglomerate. There are lots of great independent publications that I constantly read: Longform, Lawfare, Lapham's Quarterly, Neil Pasricha, Warren Ellis, The Public Domain Review, to name the most prominent in my mind.
Second, there was a great insider analysis of how Wired changed over the years. At the start, it was rebellious and spunky, and later as it grew and became owned by those large media conglomerates (currently Condé Nast), they went from the "pirate ship to flagship" and they wanted to declare that they were the "official voice" of the technology industry.
Finally, I will leave you with a brilliant quote that came near the end of the interview. It is about the future, optimism, and how to move forward if we don't like what we have today.
The solution to a bad idea is not to stop thinking, it is to have a better idea. The solution to technology that doesn't work is not to have less technology, it is to have better technology. --Kevin Kelly
I also listened to a Freakonomics rebroadcast of their episode on how the San Francisco 49ers turned their ailing franchise around with new thinking, and positive attitudes. As I type this, the 49ers just lost Superbowl LIV to the Kansas City Chiefs, but regardless, you have to admire their success this season given where they were in 2017 and 2018.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan talked about why he works so hard, and it isn't machoism or fear of looking weak. which are reasons that seem suited to a football stereotype. For him, it is about doing everything he can so his team can succeed. It is like parenting - we do everything for our children in the hopes that they can have a better life than ours, regardless of the cost to ourselves.
It’s okay if we’re tired and we barely can function. We don’t have to perform the play. It’s us wearing our brains out all week to put our players in the best opportunity possible for them to be successful. --Kyle Shanahan, Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers
Just one new beer this week. Another collaboration, this time between Medicine Hat Brewing and Travois Ale Works. This is a neat collaboration because both breweries are from Medicine Hat. Their output was a weizenbock that declared itself to be "bready, malty, satisfying". As I said on Untappd, that is some serious truth in advertising. I really like this beer, and look forward to finding out more from both breweries. (3.5 / 5)
Not a lot of new words this week. I am starting to collect a lot of flagged pages in the various books I am reading, so I should clean those up before the list of flagged words becomes unreasonably large.
flageolets (plural noun)