Hello from a foggy and chilly morning from 53.5° north latitude. As with last week, this week was consumed by work, and while that was interesting and exciting, there really isn't much from that to report here. One new beer, one article, an RPG book, a sojourn with nature, and a couple new words. Let's get on with it, shall we?
I did read a bit this week, but not nearly as much as I was earlier in the summer or the spring. I will probably have a couple books finished by next week, but nothing for this week. The reading rate has decreased in the last few weeks, but I am still on pace to finish 56 books which is by far the most I have read in a single year.
Maclean's released an article by 338Canada summarizing recent polls for the upcoming federal election. As of today there are only 50 days until the election, and there is a good possibility that voters have already decided who they are going to vote for. If that is the case, analysis of the polls at this time might be a good predictor of the result in October.
According to 338Canada's analysis, the Liberals won the most seats in 57% of their simulations with a majority in 30%. A minority result for the Liberals would have to be deeply disturbing for every party. That result for the Liberals after their big win in the last election is an indictment on Trudeau's inability to deliver and likely highlights his constant parade of gaffes. Anything other than a majority for the Conservatives would show that Scheer is less effective than Harper, especially with the gift of the SNC-Lavalin fiasco and the ethics commissioner's report that was laid on his lap, In the simulations, the NDP get hammered, with less seats even than they won under Mulcair, making supporters likely want to question Singh as their leader. I suppose the Bloc might be okay with 13 seats as at least they still have their base. The Greens are predicted to win 4 seats, and I can't imagine that number could be spun into anything positive, but you never know what May is going to say. The only scenario to make any party happy is a majority, and that looks increasingly unlikely.
Kayaking at Elk Island:
Elk Island National Park is roughly 75 km from my driveway. I can leave the house and be out there in about an hour. As I found out today, I can be on the water in a rented kayak in less than 90 minutes after I leave the house. Haskin Canoe has a rental shack right on Astotin Lake, which is super convenient. I was able to capture a couple great shots from the water of the lake islands and some waterfowl on the lake. However, the nearly ancient camera I used to take the pictures uses an SD card, and I don't have a single SD card reader in the house. Maybe I'll find some tech in the next week and will be able to salvage those pictures. In the meantime, here are pictures of a bison and a few deer I grabbed with my phone.
After several months of waiting, my copy of "Strongholds and Followers" arrived a few days ago. This is the D&D 5e supplement written by Matt Colville and produced by his company, MCDM Productions. Strongholds and Followers provides guidance on how to take a mid-level character through the process of creating a base of operations and having it populated with relevant NPCs. The idea is fantastic for people that want to explore how their characters influence their world through more than dungeon crawls and fighting. I really hope I get into a campaign where I can use this supplement.
A friend of my brother said back in the university era that Bono could fart into a microphone for 60 minutes and he would still buy the album. I am like that with Colville. I love his style and thought process for how he approaches be a better Dungeon Master, and he seems like the kind of person that would be great to hang out with. After hearing Colville talk about this project on his YouTube channel, his Kickstarter campaign raised over $2 million Canada with over 28,000 backers. That implies that it isn't just me who feels that way about Colville.
This week was pretty limited on the new beer front. There were a few beers from Common Crown in my fridge, but alas, they were not new. The only new beer was a double-hopped 8.2% ABV from Brewsters, the Mad Hops Double IPA 2019. Nice taste, not too bitter, with a high ABV without a whole lot of booziness. Good stuff from Brewsters once again (3.75 / 5). This one gave me the 2X (Level 5) badge from Untapped, for 25 beers with Double or Imperial in the name.
Not a lot of reading this week, so not a lot of words.
Hello from 53.5° north latitude. Life continues to be consumed by work, which is likely the steady state reality for the next ten weeks or so. There is not really much to report on as a result, but for what it is worth, here is what happened this week.
David Foster Wallace 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech:
I was poking around on Mark Manson's site looking for something inspiring to read and I came across a post of Wallace's 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College. The text is available, in addition to an audio recording on Soundcloud. I really like the speech, and wondered if I would ever be able to write something so elegant and thought-provoking. The following excerpt really stood out for me:
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving… The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
I mentioned last week that we spent most of the weekend at a family reunion. That experience resparked my interest in genealogy, and as a result, I spent a couple hours one evening going down rabbit holes looking for traces of my relatives online. I found one fascinating individual, who isn't related to me by blood, but is still on the family tree. Specifically, Captain Charles Edward McCune is the father to the wife of my first cousin three times removed. The obituary of Cpt. McCune, which can be found here, references his prowess in navigating a ship in the stormy waters the same night as the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. I can't say I was familiar with that disaster, but the story is fascinating to read, and clearly McCune had some serious skills given the storm was a 10 or 11 on the Beaufort Scale.
Quote about spoilers:
Picked this up from Aardvacheology, which is a site I sometimes read through my Feedly feed.
Do spoilers bother you? There’s an easy cure. Quit watching / reading what everybody’s currently talking about.
Friends bearing books:
I was able to spend time with my friend Cam on the weekend. He and I go back to Grade 2, and we spent most of our childhood together. He and I also went through university together, he in mechanical engineering and I in electrical. As with a lot of relationships, we haven't seen each other much at all in the last 15 years, even though we swap emails on birthdays and other occasions. So let's just say it was mighty awesome getting to spend a handful of hours with someone that I have known since I was seven years old.
But what does this have to do with books, you ask? Well, take a look at these pictures:
Cam found an Advance Reading Copy of "Eye of the World" which of all the books I have read in my life, it probably influenced my reading more than anything. I have to say I'm not a huge fan of the series, and even though I own the whole series, I have never read past Book 7. However, Eye of the World was one of those magical finds where I picked up a random book and got totally hooked. And now nearly 30 years after picking up my first copy of the book, I now have four versions of it - mass paperback, hardcover, trade paperback, ARC (in order of acquisition). Note how the front cover is different than what went to print, and look at that back cover sans barcode. Pretty cool. Thanks, Cam!
Maybe someday I will share the story of my conversation with Robert Jordan as he signed a copy of Book 10 for me.
Two new beers this week. First was the Keeper's Point New England Ale from Ribstone. I really like that one. It was refreshing but complex enough to be interesting. Great stuff. (4.0 / 5). Next was the Salty Senorita Kettle Sour from Situation. I'm a big fan of Situation, and I'll gladly try whatever they have brewed. This was a good beer, but wasn't sour enough for my taste. If you are new to sours, this would be a good gateway for you. (3.5 / 5). The only Untappd badge this week was Middle of The Road (Level 57).
Only one new word this week, which isn't surprising given how little I read this week.
Hello from 53.5° north. It was another amazingly intense week, with meetings, deliverables, and reviews conspiring to consume the days faster than I care to acknowledge as we approach the launch of our new system in November. The work is good, maybe even great to be honest, and the support I get from the organization is amazing. It's just the sheer intensity of the hours that leaves me spent by the end of the day each Friday. But as I am fond of saying, if the worst thing that happens to me any day is that I have too much work, it is still a pretty good day.
We spent most of the weekend at a family reunion. The common ancestors were my wife's mother's father's parents, so my daughter's great-great-grandparents. It wasn't a huge amount of people, 60 maybe, but it was a good time. We went to Vermilion, which I was the only one of our family that had ever been there. On the way home, we stopped to see the pysanka in Vegreville, and the ... sausage ... in Mundare. It was good to connect with a bunch of family, and it resparked a lifelong interest in genealogy. And we got to see ... the sausage. (I mean, seriously, what is up with that? ) Plus, we got some seriously good Lobby Waffles at the hotel.
This week's reading pile was focused on finishing "A Choice of Gods" by Clifford Simak. Who is Clifford Simak, you ask? If you don't know, then you are in the same situation as me. As the Wikipedia entry on Simak indicates, he was a masterful science fiction author, and was the third individual named as a Grand Master of Science Fiction after Robert Heinlein and Jack Williamson (again, who?).
Reading science fiction from 1972 caused me some trepidation because the science could have been simplistic, naive or outdated. However, this was a story about human transcendence and the meaning of our relationship with our planet. It just also happened to have some robots and deal with travel into space. It was pretty clear that Simak deserved the accolades and the title of Grand Master since this story was incredibly readable 47 years after release.
I was struck by Simak's empathy to the "Indians", as he called him. Their desire for a life connected to nature was never seen as a weakness or a sign of inferiority. Rather, it was a choice to be connected to the earth and to nature as partners and not owners. The Indians were able to reconnect with nature after the Disappearance of most of the human race, and they were clearly better off for it.
We had only a few hundred years of the white man’s way and they had been far from good years. We never fitted in, we never had a chance to. It was a relief to shuck off all of it and go back to the flowers, the trees, the clouds, the seasons and the weather, the running water, the creatures of the woods and prairies—to make them a part of us again, more a part of us than they’d ever been before. We learned something from the whites, that we can’t deny—we’d have been stupid if we hadn’t. And we used these white man’s ways to make the old way of life an even better life."
Simak also offers a subtle commentary on the human need for technology that seems like it was written for today and not 1972.
But we no longer are a technological race. We lost technology when we lost the manpower and the knowledge and the machines broke down and there was no one to start them up again and no energy to run them. We don’t mourn that lost technology, as I think you know. At one time we might have, but not any longer. It would be a bother now. We have become competent observers and we gain our satisfaction from our observations, achieving minor triumphs when we are able to reach some solid understanding. Knowing is the goal, not the using. We aren’t users. We have somehow risen above using. We can rest content to see resources lying idle; we might even think it shameful to try to use or harness them."
And later, a less subtle commentary on technology:
A technological civilization is never satisfied. It is based on profit and progress, its own brand of progress. It must expand or die. You might make promises and be sincere in the making of them; you might intend to keep them, but you wouldn’t and you couldn’t.”
Knowing is the goal. That is a pretty remarkable sentence of a mere four words.
I'm really happy I read this story, and really happy I have discovered a great author. Some of Simak's earlier works are available at Project Gutenberg, if you are so inclined. I know I am.
The Freakonomics episode "How the Supermarket Helped America Win the Cold War" was quite thought-provoking. The thread was from World War I, to the creation of the supermarket, to World War II, to industrialized meat production, to consumerism as a vital propaganda tool against the Soviets, but then with a less laudable outcome of obesity and even to the use of corn to create ethanol for vehicles. There is a great quote in the episode about the need to "make agriculture green" which is ironic, funny, and depressing all at once.
Finally, some good news on the new music front. The Tidal weekly mixes are really starting to bring in some great music, and it is easy to get down a real rabbit hole for hours on end. Last week, I came across "A Song For Our Grandfathers" by Future Islands, which is probably my favorite song of 2019. I am playing it endlessly. So much good music, so little time.
It was a busy week for new beers. I found a collaboration pack from Parallel 49 that had a number of unusual offerings. There was a habanero peach gose (a very surprising combo), a brut made with yuzu citrus that was quite good, and one brewed with gin botanicals that I wasn't really a fan of. In addition, I had the West Coast Pale Ale from Granville, which was also citrusy without being overpowering. That added two badges on Untappd - Fields of Gold (Level 4) and The Great White North (Level 85).
All of the new words this week came from "A Choice of Gods", with the exception of horchata which came from a Vampire Weekend song.
canted (past tense) · canted (past participle)
Happy long weekend from 53.5° north latitude. It is amazing how much work can fit into a five day work week. Looking back at the week, there were so many things going on, it is surprising that anything got done at all. Having the ability to focus on a single task at a time seems like such a luxury, such a foreign concept. I wonder if anybody really works like that anymore, or if they ever did. The hyper-specialization in the Industrial Revolution would be a clear example of focus, and similarly before that with a more agrarian society, but has a knowledge worker ever had the ability to focus? It is something work exploring.
I did have the ability to focus on one task most of Saturday this week, as I hauled five loads of sod and dirt to the Ecostation. Driving back and forth, burning probably close to half a tank of gas, I was able to plow through a bunch of podcasts, plus I took the train to work two days this week, so I had some time there as well. That is probably the most time I have ever devoted to podcasts in a single week, and there were lots of interesting tidbits as a result.
You can't take everything with you as you move through life" --David Letterman
That referred to the bad stuff in life, like regret, shame, and pain. It was a good reminder that you have to move on if you want to make amends with the past and be a better person in the future.
I don't know Maron he has always been this good at interviewing people, but I suppose after 1000+ interviews, you hone your skills.
The last of the great interviews was from Longform. The episode I listened to this week was an interview with David Epstein on the arguments for and against specialization at a young age and Epstein's book "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World". I really like Longform as I find the hosts are fantastic interviewers. Casual and relaxed, yet deep enough to hit the important points. As a comparator, listen to the EconTalk interview with Epstein to really see the difference a good interviewer can make.
Rounding out the podcasts was the History of Rome podcast, a monumental series that started way back in 2010, and another Freakonomics episode. I plowed through the first four episodes of History of Rome and I can totally see myself finishing all 179 episodes. Episode 2 had an interesting quote: "Might might not make right, but it will make a 1000 year civilization." The Freakonmics episode was "How to Change Your Mind" and the most interesting point was that people fail to differentiate between what they know and what others know. Following this through, there is a difference between the brain (trapped in your skull) and the mind (which is a collective and social construct of the people in your network).
The other book finished this week was "Zeroes" by Chuck Wendig. This was my first reading from Wendig after following him on Twitter for the last couple years. I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of "Daemon" by Daniel Suarez, but maybe not quite as good. Or maybe it wasn't as good since it really reminded me of a book I had read previously. Anyway, it was a good book, worth the read, and certainly good enough to continue to search out more from Wendig.
The Long and Slow Death of Google+:
I came across this article from January about how Google shuttered Google+ earlier this year. There is a good summary of the issue in the API and the decision to accelerate the shutdown as a result of that issue. However, the really interesting part of the article was the summary of why Google+ was created and a question as to whether or not Google even cares that Google+ was ultimately a failure.
Here's the thing...Google still got what they came for. More of your data.
With Google+, Google was able to understand more about you as a Google user. Your profile, address, likes, dislikes, friends, foes, etc. In 2011 maybe we thought that information about us was a fair trade for the ability to communicate with our friends. Maybe we didn't care, or maybe we didn't even think about it. But now in 2019, more of us do think about those tradeoffs, even if that number is still the vast minority of people. I wonder if I will sign up for the next big platform after Twitter. I doubt it.
This blog, even if no one reads it, is my response to microblogging like Twitter or Instagram, and is based on the need to say what I want to say in a way I want to say it. If I want to write 1,000 words about the podcasts I listened to, then that's what I'll do, but not with ads inserted by some algorithm. If there is content I want others to know about, then I'll post it here. Do I need to collect entire profile data sets of everyone that reads what I write? What would I do with that? I'm not an advertising platform like Google or Facebook, so I have no need for that. I suppose at some point the need to pay for the infrastructure becomes enough of an impetus to start to look for ways to "monetize". However, maybe the old tip jar model from years gone by or the patron model that is popular these days will be enough. Even if that ever becomes the case, I still can't see what benefit either I or my readers would get from them sharing a full profile of their personal information with me.
It was a wet and then warm weekend at 53.5° north latitude. The week was interposed with rain, wind, coordinating camp dropoffs and pickups, and all that is entailed in the first week back to work. Let's kick off this week's Show Notes with a nod to one of the most influential sources in my teen years.
The end of MAD Magazine:
Adam Greenfield's newsletter, "The Dispatch from London", alerted me to the end of new content from MAD Magazine. MAD was a constant in my teenage years, and I suspect I'm much like Greenfield in how I learned to wield cynicism and sarcasm as comedic weapons. More importantly, the constant satire from MAD convinced me to question and be skeptical when others would rather just not think about the celebrities and institutions around them. It is hard to take anyone seriously when they are being lampooned in print. But, again as Greenfield said, it would be hard to argue that the time of MAD isn't off in the past. I'm not sure if there is an archive of Greenfield's newsletter that can be referenced, but instead of rehashing his points, I'll hope that you'll be able to subscribe and fine the archive.
Lastly, I was also able to finish "The Starlit Loom" with my older daughter. "Loom" is the fourth and final novel in the Keepers series by Ted Sanders. I absolutely loved the series and the last book was very emotional, both for the characters and for the reader. Reading books with the kids is somewhat frustrating because we only read about a dozen pages a day, and probably only three or four days a weeks, so a 424 page novel like "Loom" takes a LONG time to read. Added to that is the fact that we started this series well over three years ago (with many other books in between). However, the wait, and the elapsed time, were both worth it in the end. If you do read the series yourself, and I highly suggest that you do, I do encourage you to read them faster. Thanks to Sanders for four very enjoyable books. Do check them out.
Hey, not depressed yet? Read this.
The Washington Post has an opinion piece by Max Boot entitled "What comes after Trump may be even worse". If you are interested in American politics, it is worth the read. Spoiler alert: Tucker Carlson.
Grabbed a few pics of some birds out at Elk Island this week: Red-headed Grebe; American Coot, and American Bittern. Seriously, there is a bittern in that last picture, I promise.
I haven't updated the blog with my new beers since before I went on vacation. As a result, this update has 16 beers in it. In the picture below are the following beers (and ciders, in some cases):
Most were pretty average, although I really didn't like the Granvillie Island NW Pale. The best were the Spinnakers IPA and the Alley Kat Dragon DIPA. I will say that there are a lot of good beers on our Pacific Coast.
Those 16 check-ins on Untappd gave me 12 badges, 3 new and 9 with increased levels. Reading across the image are:
mete (as in mete and proper)
1: to give out by measure : DOLE OUT
2: archaic : MEASURE
It was a good week. Went fishing with the family and we caught a walleye (note: singular), and then the next day saw the world's biggest fishing lure. Then we visited the Ellis Bird Farm and I stood up in front of a sign that displayed the wingspans of various common birds. It turns out my wingspan is roughly the same as a Bald Eagle. Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something.
This week's reading was consumed almost exclusively with finishing up "Command and Control" by Eric Schlosser. This was a history of an explosion at a Titan II missile facility in Arkansas in 1980, interspersed with an exhaustively documented account of the near misses with nuclear weapons from a few days before the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, through to 1980. The book's subtitle is "Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety". Schlosser admits to being struck as he researched and wrote this book as to how lucky we have been to have never had a major nuclear accident. I wholeheartedly agree.
It was a long book clocking it at 485 pages, and then with a staggering 147 pages of acknowledgements, notes, bibliography, and and index. I found it well written, but I suspect one has to be interested in the subjects of nuclear weapons history or safety engineering to enjoy this book. I like both, but there are few people I would recommend this to. My good friend Chris recommended it to me, and he listened to it as an audiobook. I'm not sure how much that would work for me since it would be hard (impossible?) to pop between the current section, the List of Characters, and the Notes.
I mentioned last week that I enjoyed the Expanse short story, "Gods of Risk", at least in part because the story revolved around a young man, but really it was about his aunt, Gunny Draper, who readers met in the previous Expanse novel. "Command and Control" had a similar feel in that it was about the main players of nuclear weapons since 1947 - Oppenheimer, Teller, Einstein, Kennedy, Kruschev, LeMay, McNamara, Kissinger - but one central character in America at least was Bob Peurifoy, a Texas engineer who worked his entire career at the Sandia Labs. Schlosser introduces him early in the retrospective portion of the book since Peurifoy joined Sandia in 1952. The index lists 19 entries for Peurifoy, meaning that he appears every 25 pages or so. To compare, JFK has 14 entries, Kruschev has 11, and Kissinger has 7.
Back to Peurifoy, how often he comes up in the story is a testament to his role in nuclear weapons safety over nearly a half century. He would be an interesting cat to have a conversation with.
Lastly, there was an interesting quote in the book that struck me about the science of missiles beyond the nuclear physics required to make the devastating explosions.
Ballistic missiles were extraordinarily complex machines, symbols of the space age featuring thousands of moving parts, and yet their guidance systems were based on seventeenth-century physics and Isaac Newton's laws of motion. The principles that determined the trajectory of a warhead were the same as those that guides a rock thrown at a window."
Maclean's had an interesting article this week on the impact mosquitoes have had on humans. The article estimates that 108 billion people have lived on Earth in all of the time that there have been humans. Fascinatingly, the article estimates that 52 billion humans have died from mosquito-borne disease. That is 48% of people. Ever. I had no idea the impact was that great, and that explains the Gates Foundation's focus on malaria.
The article also described efforts to use CRISPR gene-editing technology "to exterminate captive malaria-bearing mosquitoes in seven generations". CRISPR is amazing technology, with potentially catastrophic consequences. The ethics of species annihilation, even one with such a toll on humanity, is something that needs significant debate and discourse, but the articles states that the genetically engineered mosquitoes could be in the wild in five years.
CRISPR Gone Bad:
Speaking of CRISPR, I watched "Rampage" last night. It was a great romp, with a few dazzling one-liners delivered by Dwayne Johnson. The movie justifies the existence of huge, savage monsters wreaking havoc on downtown Chicago with a backstory consisting of a brilliant scientist using CRISPR to inject gene sequences of several species into the DNA of a patient. This then naturally led to the weaponizing the technology, ultimately resulting in the creation of the super beasts out of a hapless wolf, a crocodile, and an amicable gorilla. The movie is fiction of course and there is no known way to do what the movie proposes at the present time, as this article summarizes nicely. It was a pretty good movie though, especially on the last real night of vacation.
Quote - Why TV Typically Sucks:
This quote is from David Simon, lead writer of "The Wire" from an article in August 2007. So like, forever ago. Thanks again to Warren Ellis's weekly newsletter, which is how I found this article.
Most smart people cannot watch most TV, because it has generally been a condescending medium, explaining everything immediately, offering no ambiguities, and using dialogue that simplifies and mitigates against the idiosyncratic ways in which people in different worlds actually communicate. It eventually requires that characters from different places talk the same way as the viewer. This, of course, sucks."
Imputed rent is the economic theory of imputation applied to real estate: that the value of a good is more a matter of what the buyer is willing to pay than the cost the seller incurs to create it. In this case, market rents are used to estimate the value to the property owner.
A vernier thruster is a rocket engine used on a spacecraft for fine adjustments to the attitude or velocity of a spacecraft. Depending on the design of a craft's maneuvering and stability systems, it may simply be a smaller thruster complementing the main propulsion system, or it may complement larger attitude control thrusters, or may be a part of the reaction control system. The name is derived from vernier calipers (named after Pierre Vernier) which have a primary scale for gross measurements, and a secondary scale for fine measurements.
Hello again from 53.5° north latitude. If anyone is in fact reading this, or ever will read this in the future, it will be obvious that this entry is for a two-week period. That is because our family was on the coast for a week, including last Sunday, which is when I typically post these blog entries. To give you an idea of what our vacation was like, the picture below was taken from the north shore of Salt Spring Island, one evening close to sunset.
Salt Spring Island and Edmonton are both in Canada, but in some ways are so far removed from each other to be foreign nations. The Saturday market in Ganges on Salt Spring is quite similar to a Saturday market here, but there are more people selling "natural" remedies that "harness the power of nature", with sellers making statements like "rose resonates with the natural harmonies of love". If the use of quotation marks doesn't make it obvious, these are not ideas that I personally give much credence to. However, there are many people on the island and in streets and shops in Victoria that are more removed from the necessities of commerce and action than myself or the people I typically interact with, while still remaining grounded in a world that I can relate to. One was a metal worker at an outdoor market on Bastion Square in Victoria. We talked to him for quite a while and bought one sculpture and would have purchased several others if the budget would have allowed it. On the back of his business card, he has a quote that I quite liked, and will use it as an anchor in my own life.
The nature of life is a circle. You define the circumference; the centre defines you." -- Mead Simon
Somewhat contrary to expectations, the amount of reading done in the week-long vacation was much lower than usual. I read one novel, finished a short story, and completed a book on philosophy that I started weeks ago.
First off, I finished "On Basilisk Station", which I mentioned in the last entry. It was good, but I remembered too much of it for this re-reading to be special. I originally rated it a 4.0 / 5, but this reading had it at maybe a 3.0 or 3.5 tops. I wonder if my tastes in books has changed in the 15+ years since I read this the first time. If I don't really like the second book in the series, I suspect that is the case.
The short story was "Gods of Risk", which is the second short story in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. This was was a lot longer than "The Butcher of Anderson Station", the Expanse short story that I mentioned in the last post, and it probably wasn't as good but was still enjoyable. The best part was how the story wasn't about Gunny Draper, but really it was. Read it to find out what I am. As with "Butcher" it is hard to rate short stories, but I'll say 3.5 / 5, but a stronger 3.5 than "Basilisk".
The greater the scientist, the more he realizes that his laws and labels, descriptions and definitions, are the products of his own thought. They help him to use the world for purposes of his own devising rather than to understand and explain it."
He also rails against the constant need to change, for improving, and going faster. This is probably where the references to the contemporary smart phone era came from. Instead of focusing on how to make the current better, why not focus on the current as it is?
How long have the planets been circling the sun? Are they getting anywhere, and do they go faster and faster in order to arrive? How often has the spring returned to the earth? Does it comes faster and fancier every year, to be sure to be better than last spring, and to hurry on its way to the spring that shall out-spring all springs?"
The journey Watts takes the reader on also addresses human emotion, connection, and love. Love for others, Watts says, can only come when the person understands that it is impossible to love oneself, because to use the words of Watts, there is no "I", there is no separation from "I" and the self.
Everyone has love, but it can only come out when he is convinced of the impossibility and the frustration of trying to love himself. This conviction will not come through condemnations, through hating oneself, through calling self-love all the bad names in the universe. It only comes in the awareness that one has no self to love.
This is a book that will probably gain from occasional re-reads and reflection. I encourage you to read it.
The Huawei Threat:
There is a lot of interest in Huawei around the world, and in my industry it is something that needs to be understood. If equipment from Huawei is in fact being used to capture information and relay it back to China, there is no way it can be trusted to transmit our sensitive information.
There are large national security issues, and there are many political issues that arise from the Huawei situation. It is difficult to wade through the stories to get to a common understanding without facts and without dispelling myths and rumors. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has written an article and produced an accompanying infographic to help with that.
It is important to do your own research on Huawei and come to your own conclusions if there really is an issue to be concerned with. If you think this won't impact you personally, realize that your next smart phone service will likely be 5G and there is a good chance that it will run at least in part on Huawei equipment. And on a more consumer level, walk by any mobile provider kiosk in your local mall, and see how many of the new phones on display are in fact from Huawei.
On a Lighter Note - Murder Mystery:
"Murder Mystery", the latest Adam Sandler film on Netflix, was pretty enjoyable. It spoofed the classic mystery genre - obviously hated individual is murdered, locked room, everyone with a motive - and added in a classic Sandler sad-sack character, and even threw in a pretty great car chase. Enjoyable stuff if you have 90 minutes and a Netflix subscription.
Only four new words this week, with one being a word I just can't seem to ever grasp.
Hello from 53.5° north latitude. It was a fairly quiet week with most of the effort this week channeled towards preparing for a bit of time off work.
A new arms race is underway, bringing with it the threat of a new Cold War. This article in the New York Times describes what the US is doing to develop a hypersonic missile system. Hypersonic is apparently defined at any speed over Mach 5, with some of the systems described in the article operating at Mach 10, 15, even 20. The weapons travel at "mile-per-second" velocity and are largely unstoppable. They operate too low for one defense system, too high for another, and could take out missile bunkers, seats of power, individual leaders, or even the US aircraft carriers.
This technology is not limited in scope to the American or Russian militaries. The Chinese, Indians, French, Japanese, EU, and Australians are also investing in the technology, according to the article. Interesting, scary, fascinating, and unbelievable, all rolled into one topic.
Roosevelt quote on "The Man in the Arena":
I came across this quote in a meeting this week. It is from Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." --Theodore Roosevelt
Reading this week was focused one book, "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson. This was the easiest Gibson novel I have read to date, with fairly limited new concepts to have to assimilate. It was also his first novel after 9/11, and so I found it interesting to read a novel written a year after 9/11 depicting a time a decade or so after the fact, and how the characters processed and were still affected by what happened. Clearly the events of September 11, 2001 were fresh in Gibson's mind as he wrote the novel.
As far as a story goes, it was good. Not great though. I was hoping for some sort of Wintermute meets Putin meets Versace-clone, but that didn't happen. It did have some memorable characters, but not ones that were memorable enough to feature in other interrelated stories. I suppose that might be too much to expect again from his novels, but I would love to see it.
On a lighter note, Gibson penned a new acronym that I love: LOMBARD - lots of money but a real dick.
Other reading started at the end of the week: the aforementioned "Command and Control" and a re-read of "On Basilisk Station" by David Weber.
Only one new beer this week, and that was the Ebony Dragon from Alley Kat. I didn't really like it too much but I wasn't sure why. I read a few reviews on Untappd and "resin" came up a few times. I wonder if that is indicative from the Denali hops. Something to explore. (3.25 / 5)
I also unlocked Level 14 of the Beer Explorer badge on Untapped. I don't know what is the difference between the 25 countries unlocked last week and the 70 regions unlocked this week, and unfortunately the stats in Untappd are a bit lacking. I am contemplating becoming a Supporter again to figure out if I can parse that sort of detail out of the stats provided to Supporters.
Speaking of stats, I hit 600 beers with 563 unique entries since March 23, 2015, which means a net new beer every 2.77 days.
Hello from 53.5° north latitude as I sit in my basement on a 20°C day. Many times I feel that being outdoors is essential, and absolutely needed. Other days, like today, I'm happy to be in front of my monitor listening to the new album by The Raconteurs on Tidal. But I am getting ahead of myself.
There have been several disasters in my lifetime that were so significant to have singular names: 9/11 of course; Challenger; Columbia, Air India, Columbine. MH370, the lost Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared in March, 2014 is also on that list. As that mystery unfolded, I was stunned by how little I knew about that part of the world. For example, that India was totally north of the equator, and just how unimaginably vast the Indian Ocean is.
Reading the article on MH370 released on The Atlantic this week brought back a lot of those thoughts. No wonder authorities didn't know where to look. And no wonder they didn't find any debris for years. But I also had little appreciation for the level of cover-up and incompetence on the investigation. Bitchy flight attendants and extra charges for checking luggage on North American domestic carriers don't seem so bad all of a sudden.
Getting back to MH370, the article supports the theory that the senior pilot acted alone and killed all souls on board with apparent ease before plunging the aircraft into the ocean. The fact that a single actor, a trusted actor at that, could doom all of those people is frightening and it is easy to see how calls might be made for computer overrides or remote interactions. However, thinking about the computerized corrections made on the flight trajectory on the Boeing 737 Max aircraft quickly highlights how reliance on a single control is not feasible. Checks and balances are important. If the pilot was depressed and was harboring suicidal thoughts, the checks and balances in the system needed to identify the risk and get the pilot help before being allowed to fly again. But it appears that the system was flawed, and the culture in Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government stifles any willingness or ability to learn from that mistake to prevent future similar disasters.
The article is a long read, but it worth the time.
More on Capitalism:
The reading pile has contained much on capitalism lately. To be more accurate, the general thesis seems to be that capitalism can and could be a force for good across the world, but that neoliberalism is a failed idea that needs to be replaced. Click on "capitalism" in the Categories section of this blog for the full reading list.
The most recent read on this theme was "The Future of Capitalism" by Paul Collier. Keeping with the idea that neoliberalism was flawed, Collier highlighted point solutions that have had limited or local success. I suppose these were ideas that the reader was supposed to derive inspiration from. However, the book was not particularly giving of solutions, and certainly didn't provide a blueprint for going forward and these point solutions were not presented as an actionable whole.
The book did have merit though. One idea that really struck with me were the two scenarios to describe the concept of agglomeration (see definition below). Collier provided two thought experiments - one in which the people in a metropolis have different skills and different needs for housing, and a second where there is a metropolis that needs to rule of law. The punchline is that in both cases there are people that are wholly convinced they uniquely deserve their status and wealth. However, Collier's argument is that everyone, including the most productive, benefit greatly from agglomeration, i.e. the benefits of the critical mass provided to the whole. This might be the largest scale dismantling of the self-made man fallacy.
Collier also proposed that shared reciprocity is the key to a civilized world. We do not need Economic Man, Collier posits, but a form of maternal concern for others. Specifically, he says "shared identity becomes the foundation for farsighted reciprocity".
There are of course detractors and opposition. A quick search shows this article that calls Collier's ideas as "wrong" and "perplexing" and calls for more capitalism and even less of a role for the state in the market, and that there is a "false promise" of centrism. There are that many voices in the business community that act as a powerful lobby to demand unfettered access to the market. Collier tried to show how some state intervention is good and necessary. This is not the nanny state paternalism we have today, but again the maternal intervention borne out of a common desire to see everyone get the help they need.
Collier's book wasn't great; in fact, it was a fairly tedious read. I do think though that it was an important read, and coupled with voices such as Ray Dalio who commented on the need to reform capitalism on 60 Minutes, and Bill Gates who recommended Collier's book on his Summer 2019 Reading list, it will be interesting to see if the voices promoting something other than raw capitalism will gain any momentum with their ideas. (3.0 / 5)
Speaking of capitalism ...
One of the books I read this week was actually one I started in 2007. How do I know that? Well, I was using the receipt for the book as a bookmark.
Simon Winchester's "A Crack in the Edge of the World" was a great read on the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco. Or maybe more appropriately, the 1906 San Francisco Fire, which some people in the day were trying to promote as the true menace. This was an attempt to tell the world that San Francisco would be fine in the future, because the devastation was due to human carelessness and poor planning which caused the fire to spread so far and fast. This was a direct attempt to make the earthquake - the natural and completely unknowable element - a minor triviality. If the earthquake was only a minor element in the destruction of San Francisco, that meant that people could plan for fire fighting and building codes and quality construction, and voilà, money and people would continue to flow into the great city.
What does this have to do with capitalism? As fate would have it, there was a presentation for a grand urban plan prepared and presented to San Francisco City Council literally the day before the earthquake. The plan called for fountains, and parks, and places to live and meet. As San Francisco regrouped and turned its focus on rebuilding, the businessmen, who were quite literally called the Downtown Business Men's Association, decried the plan, calling for "business" and not "parks and boulevards" to spark the city's rebirth. Who needs niceties and places for leisure? Business is all we need! Et cetera.
This was a good enough book to keep it in the personal library. 4.5 / 5
As an added bonus, the book had a great graphic outlining the various geological eras in the last 545 million years.
I finished three other books in this last week. The first was "Infinite Detail" by Tim Maughan. This was a book about the end of the Internet era as we know it and what comes after. I really enjoyed this story, and was particularly impressed by how Maughan weaved between the Before and After story lines, and then how he ultimately brought them together. I think this is one of those books that are worth re-reading. 4.0 / 5
The next book finished this week was the third book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, "Equal Rites". This was an enjoyable and easy read, but wasn't quite as enjoyable for me as the first two in the series. Maybe that was because Luggage didn't make an appearance in this book. (3.0 / 5)
The other "book" I read this week was "The Butcher of Anderson Station", the first short story of the Expanse series. Good stuff. Really short. It provided some nice background of who Fred Anderson is and how he came to the OPA. Really short stories like this are hard to rate, as their re-readability is pretty limited, but let's give it a 4.0 / 5.
Total for the year is now 27 books, which for the first time in my life brings my forecast for the year to be over 50. That would be quite an accomplishment. Let's see how the rest of the year goes and if I can keep up the pace.
The best Star Wars movie ever:
Darth Vader always had the potential to be the scariest villain of all time. However, he seems more frustrated and conflicted than truly evil in the movies. That is absolutely not the case in the recently released unofficial short scene of the battle between Vader and Obi-Wan. The hatred and evil from Vader is palpable, and his power with the force makes the entire concept of Vader to be truly terrifying.
In the intro, I mentioned the new album by The Raconteurs called "Help Us Stranger". This is a pretty good album, with the sort-of title track "Help Me Stranger" being quite awesome. I've listened to it a few times and I think it will grow on me.
Big week for beer with four new brews this week. Well, technically three new with the fourth actually imbibed last Sunday after last week's post was posted.
The beer from last week was the Volfas Engelman Premium Pilsner out of Lithuania. I quite enjoyed this one. (3.75 / 5) Then I had two beers from Banded Peak out of Calgary. The Mt. Crushmore pilsner was pretty good, but not as good as the pilsner from Volfas Engelman. (3.25 / 5). Their Plainsbreaker Hopped Wheat Ale was much better and was one of my favorite beers in the last few months. (4.0 / 5) Last on the list was the Lazy Days sour from Alley Kat. This one was made with passionfruit so it was somewhat sweet as well as quite sour. Good stuff again from Alley Kat. (3.75 / 5)
A noteworthy stat from Untappd is the achievement I received for hitting Level 5 on Beer Connoiseur, meaning that I have logged in beers from 25 different countries. That means there are still have 171 countries that I have not had a beer from.
It's good to have goals.
Lots of reading this week, and therefore lots of new words.
BRITISH, informal, dated
The wisdom of South Park is relevant once again, this time as I resurrected the "Blame Canada" scene while listening to an episode of the Indicator podcast from Planet Money. The episode in particular was from May 23 and was titled "Canada's Tariff Hangover". The episode was about the ending of the trade war and tariffs imposed by the US on Canada and vice versa, and in particular about a small business in Ottawa that was particularly impacted by the tariffs imposed on Magic: The Gathering cards coming in from the US. Near the end of the episode, the hosts drawing the conclusion that the small business owner should be upset with the Canadian government for imposing the retaliatory tariffs. To quote from the transcript:
... the Canadian government is what ended up causing Dave all this harm, if you think about it, because it was Canada's retaliation that imposed those tariffs on Magic cards in the first place. So it kind of shows you that when a country's government retaliates, it can end up really hurting some of its own people."
Trade wars are damaging to both sides. That's why they are called trade wars, and not trade parties, or trade fun-things. And yes, there were damages to Canadian business by the increased tariffs. However, to call out the Canadian government for the particular damage to this one store conveniently omits the fact that the Canadian tariffs were retaliations, meaning of course that they were in response to the opening tariff salvo imposed on Canada by the US.
Blame Canada, indeed.
BYDTWD, or How Much Meta is Too Much Meta?:
In our weekly D&D lunch hour session this week, our PCs encountered some weird elf-spider hybrid who was clearly thousands of years old. In talking to the DM after the session, his inspiration for a lot of this setting is a riff on the drow spider queen, Lolth. However, it isn't the same Lolth that we would see in the Drizzt books or in other canon material in books, game supplements or in computer RPGs.
This is something that is hard for me to wrap my head around. How much should I read about Forgotten Realms if the DM is not going to adhere to what I have read? Sure there is a Nashkel, but it isn't exactly the same as the Nashkel I know from Baldur's Gate. Does the information I know from the game help or hinder me as a player? Am I going to make a bad decision because Quinemin the PC knows a different world from Robert the player? Understanding the world the PC is in is important so that role playing is better, and so that better decisions are made. I just don't know if I am actually going to make better decisions because my context is inconsistent with the actual environment. Or maybe the DM doesn't have the world completely figured out and therefore my knowledge will help guide the game in a good way. Or maybe I should just stop thinking so hard and just play the game.