Greetings once again from a laid back 53.5° north latitude. The trend of simple weeks without much to report continues, although this week was more interesting than the last few.
One thing I have not mentioned for quite a while is the groups I am in and playing the world's greatest roleplaying game. My work group sadly has only met once since COVID started, but I am running a group every two weeks that I pulled together via Meetup, and starting next week I will be playing in two groups with individuals I met through that Meetup group. I am also playing a Humblewood campaign with my daughters. I posted about the Meetup group and Humblewood back in February, and reading that post makes me realize how much I have learned in the last seven months.
I posted how the group I am now running was delayed in starting because I was nervous. I was worried about meeting with a bunch of strangers to play a game. As time progressed though, these strangers have become friends that have in turn introduced me to other people. I have pushed myself outside my comfort zone and the rewards have been immense, and the experience has reinforced how much better moving forward is over stagnating.
The pressure to do a good job is still there, but I now know I can do it. I have confidence in my ability to plan and improvise. My writing is improving weekly, and I am finding ideas that I want to express in both stories and in the game.
The other remarkable learning since February is how to use technology to interact and connect. Undoubtedly, getting together in person with the group I run will be a magical moment, if and when that can ever happen. But in the meantime, we can still meet and chat and play. The technology combination of Roll20 for displaying maps and allow for token movement with Discord for voice and video really works well. Add in a good digital character sheet either from Roll20 or with the Beyond20 Chrome extension to connect Roll20 and D&D Beyond, and this is a hobby that can work independent of physical location.
As I look back at the post from February, I notice my comments about the Kickstarter campaigns I have backed. Since February, I have backed thirteen more projects, ten of which completely successfully and three which have hit their funding goals but have not finished the campaign yet. Of the thirteen, one is a collection of board games, one is a tarot card deck that I thought would be useful as a game prop back when we were planning on playing in person, and one is an audio book. The other ten are all supplements or add-ons related to the roleplaying game of choice.
I want to mention the audio book specifically as it is important and has a chuckle-worthy story. Cory Doctorow is publishing and audio book of his latest novel, Attack Surface, and in order to combat the Amazon / Audible monopoly and their requirement to use their Digital Rights Management software on audio books they distribute, Doctorow is self-publishing the audio book. Attack Surface is the third book in the Little Brother series. If you recall back in May, Little Brother was Book #18 for 2020 and I did not recommend it to the casual reader at the time. The message around digital surveillance and the need to fight for the right of privacy and security is important though and I really want Doctorow to be successful so I happily backed this project.
The chuckle-worthy story relates to what I posted in May. There were some scenes in Little Brother that were awkward to read to my daughter and so I posted a comment on the Kickstarter page. Doctorow's response is pasted below.
My reading time continues to ebb, and I really have not dug into anything in about a month. I did finish one book though this week. Book #35 for 2020 was a re-read of "The Wheel of Time" by Robert Jordan. We own hard copy versions of each book in the series but I have only read the first seven of the fourteen books. I am hoping to read them all over the next year or so. I read this one with my daughter and it was a great experience, and we just started into the second book last night.
I mentioned in August 2019 that my friend Cam gave me an Advanced Reading Copy version of this book. I did not read through that version in case there were differences in the text. Regardless, it was great to read and I am now more excited to plow through the series than I ever have been.
Just one new beer this week, and once again it is from my local and much-loved brewery, Alley Kat. The latest sampled ware from Alley Kat, and beer #684 unique check-in on Untappd, is the most recent in their Dragon Double IPA series, the Southern Star. Alley Kat continues to get the DIPA series right. Great hops and citrus but without having the bitterness overpower the taste. Really enjoyable. (4.0 / 5)
Not a lot of reading, so not a lot of new words, except of course all those words that Jordan created for The Eye of the World.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude, where the rain has subsided and the COVID numbers are starting to head back up. This week was populated with lots of reading, a bit of listening, a new beer, and a handful of new words.
I listened to two really interesting podcasts this week. The recent Longform interview with Maria Konnikova was a particular treat because I had just discovered her writing based on her endorsement for David Epstein's book "Range" that I wrote about a couple weeks ago. Being the kind of reader that takes stock in book endorsements, I had looked up Konnikova when I read her name on the cover of Range. So being a fan of Longform and having some knowledge of who she was, I was very interested in this interview.
Konnikova had some good insights in physchology, poker, luck, and human nature. My biggest takeaway though was her comment about her podcast, "The Grift". She said that she wrote 10,000 words for each episode, and at ten episodes for the series, that totals 100,000 words. According to Konnikova, that is a full book.
So a full book at 100,000 words is a good metric for an aspiring writer, or someone who would like to develop a podcast. I'll be sure to pass this learning on if I ever find someone who fits either or both of those criteria.
The other podcast episode worth mentioning this week was the "Tick Tock for TikTok" episode of Rational Security. Of particular note was the discussion about Huawei. I have written about Huawei on this site a few times (here and here).
As usual, the team at Rational Security highlight a number of issues while discussing the various and important nuances of the topic, in particular how the US has seemingly forced the UK to abandon its long-standing approval of Huawei technology through the use of sanctions. I got the impression from the discussion that this approach has the short-term win that the Trump administration is looking for but at the cost of long-term erosion of a very important relationship with the UK. Huawei and China aren't going away - we need to figure out how to address them soon.
I was able to plow through two books this week. The first for this week and Book #27 for 2020 was Eddie Izzard's autobiography, "Believe Me". I really like Izzard's comedy, especially his bit about the Death Star Canteen. Watch that here, or watch the totally clever Lego adaptation here.
This autobiography was a bit of a rambling story that almost came together to communicate Izzard's personal life vision. The description of what he went through when he first came out was gut-wrenching, and it was interesting to read about how many failures and setbacks he had in his life to get to the point where he is an internationally celebrated comic, actor, and activist. I would totally love to meet him and have a chance to chat with him, but I'm not going to recommend his autobiography.
Book #28 for 2020 was "Artificial Condition", the second book in Martha Wells' Murderbot series. The first Murderbot book was #2 for 2020, and for that I wrote that "the protagonist and narrator is an augmented human designed to be an It instead of a Person, but it has decidedly human impulses and concerns." The second Murderbot builds on that theme, having our hero explore its background while simultaneously struggling with wanting to connect with humans and detach into the void of "media", i.e bing-watching on the future equivalent of Netflix. Really good stuff with a bit of humor, some touching emotional scenes, and enough hooks to make me eager for the next book in the series.
There are two interesting finds to point out this week. First, I missed adding a song to my Music Finds playlist for last week. One of my favorite finds in 2019 was a band called Future Islands, and they released a new song on July 8. "For Sure" is another boppy and poppy song with a great backbeat and the unique vocals of lead singer Samuel T. Herring. I'm biased for sure (see what I did there?), but I liked this new song from the first listen.
I added three albums into my Music Finds - Week of 13Jul2020 playlist. I had listened to Yo La Tengo a few times and liked some of their stuff. However, their album "We Have Amnesia Sometimes" was like Emo Gregorian Chants. Hard Pass. I also gave The Chicks, fka The Dixie Chicks but they apparently thought that was a stupid name, a listen with their new album, "Gaslighter". That was pretty good, with a few songs like "Sleep at Night" and "Julianna Calm Down" to be quite catchy.
The highlight of the week though was definitely the Bluenote release of a previously unreleased studio album from Art Blakely called "Just Coolin'". Recorded in 1959, the six tracks are a rare treat. Cool era jazz previously unreleased and now available on MQA format on Tidal.
It's great living in the future, especially when you can revisit something from the past that only came out in the present.
Just one new beer this week. I was not planning on trying any new beer this week as I wanted a break, but a friend gave me this to try mainly because he found it undrinkable. The Hack Weight Imperial Stout from O.T. Brewing was decent, but it was quite boozy especially since it was only 8% ABV. I can see why someone (most people) would not enjoy it. It was pretty well done, but not my favorite in this style. (3.0 / 5)
As I mentioned above, a handful of new words, mostly from the Izzard autobiography.
Books, books, and more books:
I have been reading a lot lately, which is directly related to my mental and emotional inability to force myself to work in the evenings anymore. What was previously part of my daily routine is now just beyond comprehension. Eight to nine hours during the work day is so draining that I have nothing left to give in the evening.
My evenings are now spent with a good book. Or a so-so book as I'll explain shortly. Life is better with books, even the so-so ones.
"Here, There Be Dragons" by James Owen was the first book completed this week. I read this with my older daughter, so this book was not read all in one week. This was an enjoyable story set in the later days of The Great War (WWI) that weaves together many of the literary myths of Western culture. The central artifact that binds the myths is a book called the Imaginarium Geographica which has been handed down through the centuries from some of the greatest figures in Western history. Losing the book means losing the world, and our trio of heroes do exactly that.
There have been other books that taught me history while I have read them, such as The Baroque Cycle, but this was probably the first one that was consumable by a teen / Young Adult audience. Definitely worth a read, and definitely worth reading the second in the series.
The next book completed this week was Petroski's "The Evolution of Useful Things" that I quoted from last week. This was a disappointment overall, and I'm not sure I would recommend it. The history of the paper clip and the stapler were interesting, and the first discussions on the US patent system were interesting, but repeated quotes from patent applications throughout the 20th century did little but bore me. However, there were two more quotes that are worth sharing. The first is an informal definition of engineering:
… it is rather the art of not constructing: or, to define it rudely, but not inaptly, it is the art of doing well with one dollar, which any bungler can do with two after a fashion."
The second quote from Petroski comes from the final pages, and is a good summary of one of the book's key points, namely, that perfection is a myth, and any assumption of perfection is completely subjective and strictly time limited. The real or perceived failings of product or process in the mind of a particular inventor are the genesis of the next idea or evolution of the current idea.
What constitutes failure and what improvement is not totally objective, for in the final analysis a considerable list of criteria, ranging from the functional to the aesthetic, from the economic to the moral, can come into play."
Moving on, the next book was "The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home" by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafziger Henderson. This book was full of interesting tidbits and things to try, from a two sentence description of how to make homemade gnocchi, to a detailed description of sewing various articles of clothing. Plus, I learned that vinegar is really just sour wine, which in French is vin aigre. Mind. Blown.
Finally, I read "The Worst is Yet to Come: A Post-Capitalist Survival Guide" by Peter Fleming. This was a quick read, clocking in at a bit over 100 pages, with fairly small pages at that. Fleming has nothing good to say about neoliberalism, but his "Survival Tips" at the end of each section are more summations than actual action steps. For example, saying that Donald Trump eating hamburgers naked in bed might be the antithesis of the path forward, but he does not provide any way of getting beyond that image. If Fleming is to be believed, the next generation is in for a historically oppressive shitshow, meaning that any preparation coming out of this book would be for the long game.
Happy Birthday. Your gift is a messed up world heading for oblivion:
The house was filled with pre-teens one afternoon this week in celebration of our older daughter's birthday. The collection of strong, confident, and intelligent young people coincided with me reading Fleming's dire predictions for the future. I could have, maybe even should have, been depressed for their future, and wallowed in my guilt over the waste of potential and promise. But one of the themes in Fleming's book stuck was the need to prepare, to find alternatives while we still can, and that stuck in my head as I watched the next generation laugh and interact.
All of a sudden my job, my role, my reason for being became obvious. I need to do everything I can to hold on to the world and the values that we hold true so that we can hand them as much of a contiguous whole as we can. We have to hand them our values, our mistakes and learning, our histories, and our dreams for the future, along with the tools and supports they need so they can unfuck the world when they are ready. My generation isn't capable of unfucking anything, but maybe we can help our children's generation become the saviors we need.
Bring Your Dice To Work Day (BYDTWD):
My last day of guest DM'ing for our weekly at work lunch hour D&D session was this week. Matt Colville talks about how D&D is the perfect hobby because no matter what your creative impulse is, you can express it in the game. Writing. Crafting. Drawing. Hell, probably even knitting for that matter. For me, it is the writing and the acting.
My thoughts now move on to curating my own group. Age, gender, background are all irrelevant for the group, but mindset is essential. More RP than min-max. Combat is only a part of the game. Ability to commit to email sessions, and long sessions preferably in person. Consistent play times. Supportive of others. Interested in the story more than the loot. But how do I find these people? Advertise on Kijiji? This is something that will need more thinking.
I suppose I brought it on myself to an extent. I don't change into crappy jeans and a t-shirt if I have to go to a place like the Lawnmower Hospital. I understand that I don't fit it there, but I needed a mulching blade for our mower and they don't sell those at the bookstores, comic shops, Henry Singer, Eddie Bauer, or anywhere else I typically shop. So excuse me all to hell for buying such a lightweight blade, which really should be excuse me all to hell for buying an electric mower in the first place. But really, did that guy need to mutter "Idiot" to me as I walked by?
I can handle the comment, as I can ignore small-minded people. My concern is whether or not the comment was directed at me because he felt empowered to do so with the current political climate. If a white, middle-aged male can get trash talked, imagine the abuse an immigrant, a women, a person of color, a gay person, will have to endure as we hurtle into the abyss.
She was friendly, fun to be with, energetic. Pretty, if I was being honest. I liked her and whenever our shifts matched up, I contrived to leave the fulfillment center with her. We would walk to the bus stop and wait in the dusk for our buses. 46 for her, and then the 95 ten minutes later for me. Sometimes we would skip the first buses that came by just so we could talk longer. After, I would sit on the bus and think about her all the way home. On the days I got to spend those precious few minutes with her, I wouldn't even notice the grime in my flat or smell the piss-filled alley it emptied onto. The world was just better on those days.
That all changed the day she became a liability. It was clear that it was her third strike, but I never knew what exactly it was. Maybe too long in the bathroom. Maybe she broke something. Maybe they just didn't like how she hummed while she compiled the boxes of useless shit that the customers ordered. Whatever it was, she hit her third strike, and there was nothing we could do but watch. Third strikers were a liability to everyone around them, and I couldn't afford to have her take me down as well.
They always made us watch when a third striker was escorted out. The hysteria, the crying, the near epileptic fits of panic. We saw it all. We knew what it meant. When the only job you could find was in a fulfillment center, losing that job probably meant you were going to be homeless. Or dead. Or worse.
I looked into her eyes as she was pushed past the gathered crowd. Past me. Out the door. When she looked at me, I saw the pain and fear, but I also saw an understanding. She didn't blame me for not reaching out or helping her. She knew there was no point in me condemning myself as well. I had never felt so hollow, so pathetic.
That night after work, I watched the 46 come and go. The 95 came and took me home. I noticed the grime and smell much more clearly that night.
Five new beers this week, after none last week. First was Screaming Viking Lager from Odin Brewing in Tukwila, Washington. I liked it a lot, which says a lot since it is a lager. (3.5 / 5) Second was Odin's Gift Red, another offering from Odin. Good stuff again in a style I don't typically like. I'll have to search out more from Odin. (3.5 / 5) Third was the Millionaire Stout from Wild Beer Co. in Somerset, England. Really nice stuff, with the dense brown foam that I am fond of in this style. (3.75 / 5). Fourth was Fish Bone New England IPA from Alley Kay, a surprisingly high IBU beer without a huge amount of hops. (3.75 / 5). Finally, the Oldman Watershed Collective benefit brew from Phillips. That was a surprising kolsch variant with a lot of haziness. (3.75 / 5). All in all, a good week for new beers.
Lots of new words this week, but that is to be expected when reading a book by a UK professor and another by Neal Stephenson.
n ɪ ʃ t ə m əl aɪ ˈ z eɪ ʃ ən
a process for the preparation of maize (corn), or other grain, in which the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater (but sometimes wood ash lye), washed, and then hulled.
[ˌintər ˈālēə, ˌintər ˈälēə]
Starting off this week's entry with two great quotes:
"I can resist anything but temptation."
Everything in moderation, including moderation."
Useful guidelines for self-improvement goals:
By now, I assume that everyone who has been in a white-collar job for over five years will know about SMART Goals. SMART goals would be helpful in any self-improvement exercise, but even more useful are the following five guidelines I came across in a web course this week. The guidelines come out of the Immunity To Change method developed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey (1, 2).
Why nothing can ever be perfect, and why that's okay:
I'm continuing to read through my Pile of Shame in my office, and I decided to tackle "The Evolution of Useful Things" by Henry Petroski. I was hoping for more of a Bill Bryson-esque read, something like what Bryson did in "At Home", but it is still interesting. The underlying thesis in Petroski's book seems to be failure is the mother of invention, not necessity or even inspiration.
Since nothing is perfect, and, indeed, since even our ideas of perfection are not static, everything is subject to change over time. There can be no such thing as a "perfected" artifact; the future perfect can only be a tense, not a thing.
No, you’re not entitled to your opinion:
So leads a 2012 article from the website, The Conversation. The particular article refers to an interview where a Wollongong station quoted a known antivaxxer in a story about a measles outbreak. The question the article poses is whether the antivaxxer should be given any chance to enter into the conversation if in fact her contribution to the conversation will not be based in fact. The central quote in the article is as follows:
The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.
While this seems intellectually sound when entering into a debate with someone whose idea of research and rigor is little more than Facebook, the question is how to get your point across when the other side just doesn't want to listen. This makes me think of the intro to "Civil War" by Guns N' Roses (i.e. "What we've got here is failure to communicate.
Some men you just can't reach...) and a 1990 paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called "Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments." This is unfortunately now behind a paywall, but it is worth a read just for the lemon juice anecdote. (No spoilers here.)
Bring Your Dice To Work Day:
Last week I posted a map of the area I was planning on taking my players through in our weekly Wednesday D&D lunch hour game. I realized later that one of the players might read this blog and therefore get advanced intel on what lays ahead in the game. This is of course pure hubris, because that requires this blog to have actual readers in the first place. But getting past that issue, I have decided instead to copy text here post facto from the campaign diary I write up. I particularly liked this excerpt, even if it has a heavy metagaming requirement to be understood.
Movie - I Kill Giants:
Spoilers suck, so I won't spill anything about the movie "I Kill Giants" other than to suggest that you watch it. And then read the graphic novel that it was based on (caveat: I haven't read it yet, but it must have been decent since it was developed into a movie).
Book - Cuckoo's Calling:
Hey, this was a good read. I stayed up late a couple nights in a row to finish it off, and I'm glad I did. I do like detective novels, especially if the protagonist has solved the case before the answer is revealed in the story. There are a few more stories in the series that I'll be sure to read.
Not nearly as many new words this week. Apparently the J. K. Rowling detective novel wasn't as erudite as Rosewater.
NOUN, plural in form but singular or plural in construction
1. dishes served in addition to the main course of a meal