Greetings from a snowed-in 53.5° north latitude. The snow fell hard on Friday night and then through Saturday. It was not a snowfall of record amounts, but the amount raised the question of whether or not it was a blizzard. A quick search on The Weather Network came up with this handy mnemonic of the 4-4-4 Rule. Winds over 40 km/hr, visibility less than 400 m, lasting for 4 or more hours. So yeah, we had our first blizzard of the season.
The other big news, arguably way bigger than a simple blizzard, was the US election. After waiting for votes to be counted in Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Nevada, the election was finally called for Joe Biden. Now Biden might not be your guy, just as Trump might not be your guy. But regardless of who won, there are some really interesting and important concepts being discussed this week because of the election.
The first came on election night on the 538 election live blog. 538 contributor Julie Azari commented on how much energy was being expended in discussing the shortcomings and nuances of the US electoral college system, and how little was being discussed about the actual issues.
The other point that really stuck with me was the post from 538 Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver about the average voter versus the average reader of 538.
With a caution about stereotyping, I think the guy in the "BBQ, Beer, Freedom" shirt in this news clip pretty much sums up average. Don't believe me? Remember that in this election Donald Trump became just the second presidential candidate to receive over 70 million votes. Barack Obama won 69.5 million in 2008 which was the record until this year.
I have to say how much I admire the man in the purple polo shirt. Joe Gloria, the election registrar for Clark County, was holding a press conference when the "BBQ, Beer, Freedom" guy interrupted by yelling how Biden was stealing the election. Gloria calmly let the man yell, waited for him to leave, and then turned back to the reporters and said, "Where were we? What was the last question?" That is a real pro doing his job.
Switching gears, I had never heard of Eddie S. Glaude Jr. before election day, but this 2'58" speech from 2019 was in the feed of several people on Twitter during election day. Glaude's speech was so powerful and so passionate that I immediately proceeded to buy his latest book. Watch the whole clip and feel the pain in Glaude's words. That hatred that causes that level of pain is what Trump released in America.
There was not much else happening this week beyond some cycling, great music, and some new beers. I did a lot of reading, including Glaude's newest book mentioned above, but did not finish any books.
It was a pretty good week for cycling. I had three solid rides including one after work on Friday that beat the blizzard by a couple hours. I might hop on the stationary bike in the basement and crank out a couple more segments, but the image below charts my progress as of the time of writing (just after noon on Sunday).
I really enjoyed a number of songs I put into my latest Music Finds playlist. The latest album called "Arm in Arm" by Steep Canyon Rangers was enjoyable, with Sunny Days, A Body Like Yours, and Afterglow being really solid listens. I do not think it was as good as their 2015 album "Radio", but still worth a listen.
"Azymuth JID004" (JID standing for Jazz is Dead) has a song called "Friendship Samba" that popped up in my Tidal feed that I really enjoyed. I need to put the whole album in my playlist for next week. This album is an collaboration between a Brazilian jazz band nearly as old as me (Azymuth), A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Adrian Younge, who is a composer, producer, and (wait for it) law professor. Some serious talent on this album.
I also gave "Existential Reckoning" a listen on a recommendation from a friend. Maynard James Keenan, front for Tool, put together Puscifer to explore his 'darker and more personal musings" according the artist bio on Tidal. I did not find the album to be my style, although I do admit "Apocalyptical" was pretty catchy, so maybe the entire album will grow on me after another listen through.
The best find for this week almost went to a cover of Leonard Cohen's "There is a War", done by Nathaniel Rateliff, Kevin Morby, and Sam Cohen (apparently no relation to Leonard). This cover has it all, from a great opening guitar note, scratchy solo vocals, and retro vocal harmonics in the chorus. Really great stuff, and easily my favorite single in recent weeks. With this single and his February 2020 release that I mentioned back in July, Rateliff might be my favorite artist of the year.
But even better than that was another release from Art Blakey. Earlier this week, I thought I should play that new release of material from 1959 that I also mentioned in July. I typed in "Art Blakey" into the search field in Tidal because I could not remember the name of the album (Just Coolin', as it turns out) and was excited and shocked to see five (FIVE!) more releases this year since "Just Coolin'" was released in July. I only had time to listen to to "Flapping Wings" but I will get to the rest later. Flapping Wings was great, and solidified Blakey in my mind as one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time.
I will not admit to day drinking due to the US election, but I will let you draw your own conclusions based on your experiences in the last week. Three news beers, and I was pretty happy with all three.
Beer #695 was the Leisure Lagoon Hazy Pale Ale from Coronado Brewing. A whole lotta grapefruit and pith. More translucent than hazy, as in not a lot of suspended particles. Very nice. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #696 was the Black Tusk Ale from Whistler Brewing Company. Whistler is pretty hit-and-miss for me, and actually more miss than hit. The first seven beers I checked in average slightly over 3.1 out of 5, which is significantly lower than my average of 3.2-ish. It was therefore a pleasant surprise that I liked the Black Tusk as much as I did. It was dark and malty, with a bit of bitterness in a good way. I might have rated it higher because I was excited to get back into the dark, heavy beers of winter, but this was still good even with that bias. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #697 and the final check-in for the week was the Pater Dubbel / Abbey Brown Ale from Corsendonk out of Belgium. This had big brown foam, with a bit of booziness in a good way. and a bit of caramel. Smooth and easy to drink even at that ABV. Good stuff. (3.75 / 5)
I am closing in on 700 check-ins on Untappd. As that is a fairly significant milestone, I think I will throw them a few bucks again to get the updated stats. It would be interesting to see how my average rating has fluctuated over the past five and a half years. My guess is that it has gone down, with my ranking of lagers going up over that same period. We will see how well that holds up under detailed scrutiny.
Just two new words this week. But after this week, I can tell you I am begging for a break from the news and politics in Canada and the US so that I can get back to reading more, and therefore finding more new words.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude as we settle into the fourteen-day waiting game to see how much impact trick-or-treating has on our COVID numbers. The week was a good one for reading, exercise, music, and work. Plus the weather improved and we got an extra hour of sleep after the time change on the weekend, so things are looking up.
As I look through my previous blog entries to reference previous writings for this week's entry, I cannot help but notice that the average length of each entry is lower now that it was a year ago. I suppose some of that has to do with having less to do, in a purely physical sense. No concerts, no festivals, no restaurant outings, and therefore less to write about. That should be a warning to myself and to anyone reading this as we head into the colder months coupled with an increasing number of COVID cases.
It will be imperative to get out, to connect, to find a way to be outside and with others, as much as we safely can over the next several months. Going into a winter with COVID will be much harder and more depressing that going into a spring with COVID was earlier this year.
Book #39 for 2020 was "Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World" by Cal Newport. I really like Newport, or at least the concept of Newport: fact-based reporting, analysis of trends, practical advice. The problem is that his books are boring. I have never been drawn to book summary services, but I honestly think my next Newport book will be consumed via a summary. (Well, technically my next-next Newport book, as I am still fighting through "Deep Work".)
Digital Minimalism was a decent book, but it summarized other books and concepts I had already reviewed. Last October I read "Solitude" by Michael Harris, and last September I read "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now" by Jaron Lanier. As a result, Newport's offering was a bit dated as I had already internalized a lot of his ideas. That said, if you have not read either Harris's or Lanier's books, then the concepts in Digital Minimalism might be fresh enough for you to get a lot out of this book.
There was a wonderful quote from Newport that I want to share. I hope it resonates with you as much as it does with me.
You cannot expect an app dreamed up in a dorm room or among the ping pong tables of a Silicon Valley incubator to successfully replace the types of rich interactions to which we have painstakingly adapted over millennia. Our sociality is simply too complex to be outsourced to a social network or reduced to instant messages and emojis. --Cal Newport, "Digital Minimalism"
I continue to make good progress on my virtual cross-Canada trek. The power of having a goal cannot be understated. The fact that I have a target and want to make progress is getting me in the saddle more often, and for (slightly) longer rides.
Last week I closed off the leg to Campbell River, and this week I proceeded to make it forty percent of the way to Nanaimo. My goal for this week is to finish off this leg completely. The weather forecast looks great so there should be no reason why I cannot log 82 km in a week.
There was a lot of great music this week, with two albums in my Music Finds playlist for this week. Next week is looking to be a big one with a couple new albums that I have already queued up to listen to starting on Monday.
For this week, the two albums were "The Weather " from the Australian band Pond, and "New Age Norms 2" by Cold War Kids. The Pond album took a bit getting used to as it is a bit of a somber reflection on the world in 2020, but "Paint Me Silver" and the two "Edge of the World" songs make this an album definitely worth a listen.
Cold War Kids are a band I have really started to dig in the last eighteen months or so. "New Age Norms 2" looks like a solid follow up to the 2019 "New Age Norms 1" release, with "You Already Know" and "Somewhere" being the standouts on the initial listen.
Just two new words this week. I hope this is not the sign of something bad to come.
Greeting from 53.5° north. Hopefully you are warmer wherever you are reading this. It was an unseasonably cold week. Life was filled with a number of work related successes, a couple new beers and another coffee to report on, a completed segment in my virtual cycling tour, plus a couple new words. I nearly finished two more books this week, but the summaries for both will have to wait until next week after they are fully completed.
The work success mainly revolve around the launch of our second wave of the Connect Care tool. Connect Care will eventually be deployed across the entire province, but for now it is focused on the Edmonton zone, with the addition of the suburban Edmonton hospitals launching this weekend. Most of the functionality in this wave is the same as in Wave 1 last November, with the addition of labor and delivery. And of course, there was a baby born right after the system went live. This tweet from the official AHS account says it best: the first baby born in Alberta with a fully digital medical record. It is a good feeling to be part of something like this.
There were two near beers this week. Beer #693 was the Guinness Hop House lager. Decent stuff, especially for a lager. Nice malty flavor, coloring, and aroma. (3.25 / 5) Beer #694 was a real let down and am riding against the popular opinion on the Jelly King from Bellwoods Brewery. I found it overly sour, with the sourness being the only discernible taste. I was really looking forward to this one based on the reviews of my connections on Untappd. (2.75 / 5)
At this point in my five and a half years (2043 days, to be specific) of logging beers on Untappd, I am averaging logging a new beer every 2.94 days. When I started writing on this site, I was averaging a new beer every 2.74 days so I am slowing down. Maybe that is a good thing? I'll have to think about that, maybe over a beer ...
This is my second coffee I have written about, but it is one I have drank several times before. 49th Parallel is out of Vancouver and is the coffee served at Square One, the local coffee shop just a few blocks from home. Their Old School Espresso is a wonderful smelling bean that creates a nice crema. The taste is lighter, with just a hint of chocolate.
You can see that these beans are much less glossy than the Burnt Timber beans I wrote about a few weeks ago. As I write more about coffee, I am going to figure out what those different characteristics mean - at the most mundane, the ground coffee is much less greasy before going into the machine.
I had to ride indoors three times this week. My winter bike is not yet ready and the roads were covered with snow for most of the week. I only tallied 57 km this week, but I did get in the saddle five different times which was a nice accomplishment. In my virtual cross-Canada tour, I got all the way to Campbell River and will start the trek to Nanaimo and am now about 45% of the way to Victoria.
Fun facts about Campbell River: it has been long touted as the Salmon Capital of the World, and its Indigenous name is Wiwek̓a̱m. The average high for October is 13° C, and its airport code is YBL.
Just two new words this week, which does not seem like a lot but at least this list gets to the point quickly.
Greetings from a slightly colder than usual 53.5° north latitude. It is not cold enough for the entire day to stay cold, but that is likely not far into the future. However, it is cold enough that bigger gloves or mitts are required for early morning rides. Riding at -5 C without good gloves or mitts is a very painful experience.
Beyond a few rides which I will give an update on below, a number of good listens and views, there was a great gaming experience this week, and two new beers. Let's jump in to the gaming story first.
If you look up role-playing on Wikipedia, the article branches into the various types of role-playing and then provides this definition for role-playing games, or RPGs:
A role-playing game is a game in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories. Participants determine the actions of their characters based on their characterisation, and the actions succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines. Within the rules, they may improvise freely; their choices shape the direction and outcome of the games. --Wikipedia
The key concept is that the story is created collaboratively. The Game Master needs to be in charge at least to keep the game following within the prescribed rules, but the actual story that is created is the responsibility of everyone involved. As a GM, I think the key is to provide lots of options for the players and to be prepared enough to be flexible if the players do something unexpected. It is important to be prepared but to not let that preparation narrow your options. Having a series of encounters that your players must do in order at a prescribed time is a recipe for either frustrated players or for you to be unable to proceed because you are not prepared.
In our recent session this week, the party needed to travel and I had three potential encounters planned. The first one was with a travelling merchant. I knew there would be nothing exchanged beyond information, but I was hopeful that the players would engage as there was one bit of flavor and information I wanted to get across. The second encounter was completely optional and I tried to describe it in a way that they would not be forced to engage with it. They ended up doing what I hoped they would because I was able to give them a reward that will be useful. To that point in our session, we had two encounters that were engaging and I think memorable. I was struggling though because both encounters went exactly how I thought they would, and that made me feel like I was railroading them. In the parlance of the game designers I follow online, I felt like I was taking away player agency.
This concern of taking away player agency was weighing on me because the third encounter was one that regardless of how the rest of the session had gone I needed the players to have. This encounter was really like a Talking Notice Board that tells the players "You are hereby requested to go do such-and-such and then report over yonder." There is nothing wrong with this of course, as long as the players feel they can do something other than mindlessly follow the orders of the Talking Notice Board.
It might have been a reaction from the players against two encounters that they felt they had to engage with, but their reaction to the Talking Notice Board was one of sarcastic enthusiasm. "Yes, sir, right away sir." "We'll be sure to do that right away, nudge, nudge, wink, wink."
And so they did not report in. They might check in during the next session, but for this week, they completely ignored the "request". They instead went for a drink and a meal and then proceeded to find a room at the fleabag inn instead of the nice place I assumed they would stay at. This resulted in three fabulous role-playing sessions, one with each player. A new ally was found, a super reward was given to the party, and a really touching story was created.
I am really glad my first two encounters went the way they did, but I was prepared for the players to not engage with either. Our collective story would not have suffered if those encounters were ignored, but the world is more alive and the players have more knowledge about how to act and react as a result of both. However, when we look back at the game, we will see that the moments with the player agency at its most free were the ones that will have the most impact on the long-term story we are creating. That required preparation on my part, but in a much different way than the scripted set pieces I created.
The last thing I will say about our game is that in a three hour session I rolled dice exactly zero times. It was completely role-playing and I all I had to do was talk. And laugh, and smile, and have fun.
There were a few good music finds this week. The first album was Lucinda Williams' "Live @ The Fillmore", which was released in 2005, and was a recording from a 2003 concert. (It would be great to see a concert at The Fillmore!) (It would be great to see a show anywhere!). This album was 22 songs over two volumes and was filled with Williams' gravelly singing. Volume 2 was that the better of the two, in my opinion, with great versions of Atonement, Pineola, Righteously, and others. Her voice really shone on Volume 2.
Switching gears completely, the second album was Massenet's opera, Thaïs. I have switched my weekend radio listening recently, and am really enjoying getting back into "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" on CBC. Host Ben Heppner does a great job of helping listeners like me understand the story and the music.
Last up this week was a single called "Who's Gonna Stop Me". This was a collaboration between Portugal, The Man, and Weird Al Yankovich. It was a good song, but I have to admit I probably listened to it much more intently just because of Weird Al's inclusion. I am not saying that it is not a good song, but I do feel I would have given it less of a listen if Weird Al was not part of it.
The other music item this week was a great interview on Tidal with Chuck D. This might have been the first interview I have seen with Chuck D. I enjoyed his stories especially the one about how Jam Master J convinced Chuck D to become a recording artist. The best part though were two quotes that really made me think.
The first quote was Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee.
"I cannot teach you. I can only help you explore yourself." --Chuck D quoting Bruce Lee
The insight in that quote is enormous. The power to change and to grow is in you and you alone. There is no magic potion or methodology or drug or app that can teach you to grow as a person if you do not want to grow.
The second quote was even more powerful, and I think this is something that I can empathize with and work to change, but I think it is impossible for me to really understand it being a white man. All I can do is listen and support.
If you black, it's the side you on versus the side that hates you. --Chuck D
Great stuff from a musical legend.
I closed off a couple segments on the way to Campbell River on my virtual cross-Canada tour. I need to pick up my pace a bit. At this rate, it will take me four years to finish the trek.
Two new beers this week. Both were good, but neither were great. Beer #691 was the Galactic Space Dragon IPA from Odin Brewery Company. This had some good pineapple citrus juiciness, not much hops, quite hazy. Tasty but would have liked more hops. (3.5 / 5)
Beer #692 was the Earl Grey Wheat from Collective Arts. I am a big fan of Collective Arts, so this one was a bit of a disappointment. This could have been a really interesting take on witbier but it was pretty bland. It was refreshing though, just nothing spectacular. (3.0 / 5)
Happy Thanksgiving weekend from 53.5° north latitude. Fall is upon us, and the wind is blowing leaves off the trees.
Beyond the perennial topic of choice of weather, COVID is firmly entrenched into every conversation it seems, and rightfully so. Cases are rising in most jurisdictions globally, and locally outbreaks are hitting multiple schools, and therefore impacting multiple families, on a weekly basis. When we rushed home in March and hunkered down in April, it seemed easy to contemplate the change to our lives. It was temporary, after all. After a few weeks, the weather started to warm up, and the days got longer and our lives continued to improved. By May, those of us working at home were able to take calls while we walked, and lots of people started experimenting with driveway visits. The summer was even better as the kids got outside, the weather was decent, and lots of people rediscovered biking and walking through their neighborhoods.
But now what? As soon as the kids stopped socializing in a park and started getting pushed back into classrooms, we started having outbreaks. The driveway visits are much harder now because it is cold during the days, let alone the evenings. And who can legitimately take a call when the fall winding is howling?
I have worked in an around the Edmonton downtown core for 27 years now. In that time, I have walked between the various buildings via the pedway system nearly every day I was downtown. Some of that is walking from the LRT to whichever office I was working in, walking around at lunch, running errands, or just taking a call as I walked.
Assuming a maximum of 220 work days a year, minus the really cold days, the days when I had various impairments requiring crutches, days with all day meetings, holidays, travel days, and working from home days, in the time up to the start of COVID I can safely estimate that I have walked around downtown Edmonton at least 100 days each year. It is also safe to estimate that I walked at least two kilometers a day, with a lot of days at four, five, or even more kilometers. So let's say for arguments sake that in the last quarter century I have walked the width of Canada as I trotted around the downtown core. A large part of who I am as a person is connected to my peripatetic tendencies.
Now what am I going to do? I have a 1.5 km walk to get to the nearest mall, and there is very little of interest around that mall compared to the variety of downtown. Working from home is fine. It is the lack of variety and day-to-day variation that will be the problem this winter. Normally that variation was achieved through walking and so I will need to figure out a replacement. If I do not, this will be a very long WFH winter.
Lots of good news on the Kickstarter front. In the past week, I have received updates on six campaigns that I backed. Five are related to RPGs and one is an update on Cory Doctorow's audiobook version of "Attack Surface" that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Doctorow had 6,283 people back his audiobook, which is great news for him and for independence in audiobook publishing going forward.
Three of the RPG products are large publications. "Creatures" is a monster compendium that works in 5e and the publisher's Fateforge extension of 5e. I have a work-in-progress PDF version and this is a great book. "The Lost City of Gaxmoor" is a massively outlined city, complete with listings for the Outer and Inner city, crypts, sewers, and a couple dozen pages of fully fleshed out NPCs. I am interested in this one, although I think I am more interested in "Myriad, City of Tiers" than Gaxmoor. But Gaxmoor was developed in partnership with the sons of Gary Gygax, so that alone was enough to support this campaign. The third large product was the "Heckna! Carnival Horror Campaign Setting" from Hit Point Press. A horror carnival is not something I would typically be interested in, but Hit Point Press developed the Humblewood campaign setting that I picked up earlier this year. and I was really impressed with that. As a result, I figured Heckna would be a good addition to my gaming resources even if I do not run it as a full campaign.
The other two are much smaller products, but that is a big part of their appeal. Instead of hyping a product that needs months to deliver on the expanded content unlocked by the stretch goals, both "Captain Hartchild's Guide to Rare Dragons" and "Over the Next Hill" were available much sooner. OTNH was available immediately after the close of the campaign, and that is a model that will serve Morrus of EN World fame well in future campaigns.
I have backed 21 campaigns in the last year, so not quite enough for Kickstarter Super Backer status. I think I should stay away from the platform for a few weeks, just to give my bank account a break but Super Backer status would be pretty cool.
I was able to finish a couple books this week, which was a good feeling. Book #36 for 2020 was "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman who holds up the fiction throughout the book that he is merely the translator and abridger of a classic by S. Morgenstern. The book is as good as the movie that was based on it, and maybe even a bit better since it is interposes Goldman's "analysis" of the flaws and merits of Morgenstern's writing. This is a wonderful story of flawed individuals coming together and doing something wonderful.
Book #37 for 2020 was a completely different novel and genre than Princess Bride. "All Tomorrow's Parties" by William Gibson was a nice conclusion to the story in Gibson's previous novel, "Idoru". I did not realize until I finished this book though that "Virtual Light" was the first book in the "Bridge Book" trilogy, so I will have to go back and pick that one up later. The story Gibson wrote for All Tomorrow's Parties is hard to describe without spoilers, so I will just say that there are few other writers that I have come across that can extrapolate to the near future to create a plausible and recognizable world as effectively as Gibson. I will say that the denouement of the story left me slack-jawed for a few minutes as I considered the implications of what had just happened.
I made some good progress in my virtual cross-Canada cycling tour. Plus I updated my spreadsheet to do a better job of updating my progress bars.
Much like my comment in the Reading Pile section, it felt good to find some new music this week. There were a few entries in my Music Finds playlist this week. First up was the latest from Flaming Lips. I was taken aback by how depressing the lyrics were across the songs in "American Head". Musically it was good, but I was hard-pressed to find a song that I wanted to listen to again until the final song in the album, "My Religion is You".
After that were a couple throwback bands from the 90s, Semisonic and Goo Goo Dolls. Semisonic was the crafter of a single massive hit with "Closing Time", that has one of the greatest lines in pop rock.
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. -- "ClosingTime", by Semisonic
The songs from Semisonic and the Goo Goo Dolls song were both released in June and are decent offerings. Maybe not "Closing Time" or "Iris", but "You're Not Alone" by Semisonic and "Just a Man" by Goo Goo Dolls are still good enough to listen to. I actually think "Just a Man" might stick as something worth listening to.
The next entry was from a fusion supergroup from 1976 that had Phil Collins on drums called Brand X. The album "Unorthodox Behavior" was fantastic, and made me wonder how I never heard of them before this week.
Finally, a favorite of mine from 2019, Future Islands, released a new album called "As Long As You Are". The songs in the early part of the album are more upbeat than the songs later in the album, but they all have good music and rhythm and are delivered with frontman Samuel T. Herring's unique vocals. Good stuff once again from Future Islands.
Three new beers this week. Making up for lost time, I suppose.
Beer #688 was the Full Time IPA from Beau's. Decent if forgettable. Lots of hops and a bit of pine, but not a lot of flavor beyond the bitterness. (3.25 / 5) Beer #689 was the Mad Trapper Czech Amber Lager from Apex Predator. This is near the top of my list for lagers as it had a lot of flavor. Nice caramel taste with a bit of burnt cocoa, and great color. (4.0 / 5) Last up this week was the Kellerbier from German brewer Hacker Pschorr. I think the unfiltered nature really helped this one as I find a lot of German lagers a bit weak. This one had some good flavor. (3.5 / 5)
I am going to start rating the coffees I buy. I do not mean the coffee I pick up in a store to drink right then, but the bags of roasted beans that I grind at home. The coffee I am brewing at home right now is Burnt Timber from Calgary Heritage Coffee Roasters. Burnt Timber is a dark roast, and it is pretty good. I do not yet have the same ability to pick out flavors in my coffee as I can with beers, but I am sure that will come with time. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of the before and after process to make my daily Americano. One thing I will point out is that you can see how the espresso crema is a little thin, at least thinner than I would like.
A bit of reading this week, but neither book introduced a lot of new words. One was a repeat that did make me feel good about once I looked it up, and one was a confirmation that I should have looked up in the moment but was just too lazy to do so.
Greetings from 53.5° north. I took last week off as there was little to report. I find myself slowing escaping from the Sinkhole of Doldrums that was September. Even if it is a minor psychological shift, the start of October has me more interested in life in general, even for the more prosaic items that many people would feel are trivial, such as reading, cycling, and beer. To foreshadow the rest of this week's entry: I tried two new beers, neither were great unfortunately; I am closing in on completing a couple books; I have given myself a new goal for cycling; and, to start it all off, I have an update on the focus of my creative energies.
Gamemaster Update - Fakerun:
I have talked a few times about my interest in gaming, and in particular how I am spending a lot of time in various games as a player or gamemaster, and the vast number of Kickstarter campaigns I have supported in recent months. All of the roleplaying games I am involved in at present are Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, which I will just call 5e going forward, even if the settings are different.
The most prevalent setting in 5e is the Forgotten Realms, which is also known as Faerun. With the 5e parent company Wizards of the Coast focusing almost exclusively on Faerun content, it is easy to think that there is only one world available to players and gamemasters. I think that ultimately I would like to craft my own world, with a pantheon of gods and a creation story, and a geography and political system win which to craft my own stories. For now, however, I am happy to settle into the land of Faerun and borrow from the rich catalog of material available to engage with my characters. Having a catalog to fall back on allows me and other gamemasters a path to the gaming table that is much quicker, and is likely much more enjoyable for most people.
However, this does not mean I will play only with "official" content and storylines. My world, my own personal version of Faerun that I am calling "Fakerun", takes place on a continent with the same rivers, mountains, forests, and settlements as canon Faerun. The paths that I am taking with my Fakerun are about how we got to now, and those paths are radically different than the canon content. To do so, I am contemplating questions such as: What caused the chasm in Neverwinter? What are the politics of the large cities along the Sword Coast? I am also purposely eschewing longstanding gaming tropes, such as the they-are-evil-and-must-be-destroyed mindset towards goblins and other creatures.
The one campaign I am running right now had a session the other night, and in it I revealed a devastating impact to the land around where the story was happening. I was concerned about being overly melodramatic or creating something that the players would not care about. My concern was unwarranted though as the party druid was visibly shaken by the devastation, the party archer wanted to move out of the area to camp at night due to how "freaky" the damage was, and the party barbarian texted me the next day to say how he could not stop thinking about what caused the damage.
This is not about my amazing skills as a storyteller, as I suspect I am average at best. It does have to do with the collective desire to create something compelling. The Wizards website that I linked to above has a great quote about the power of collective storytelling (emphasis mine).
Since 1974, Dungeons & Dragons has influenced numerous writers, directors, and game designers by tapping into the innate human need to gather with your friends and tell an exciting story together. --Wizard of the Coast
A couple weeks ago, I posted how I have gone from a near-paralyzing fear of failure that delayed me starting this gaming group I am playing with, to a feeling of confidence that I can be the catalyst for a great group experience. With the experience of the game session this week, I now know I can create a compelling story that impacts the players as much as it impacts their characters in the game. That knowledge and experience is extremely empowering, and it has encouraged me to do more.
I am not sure exactly how to do what I am planning, but I want to create a new section on this page for my Fakerun version of Faerun. The purpose will be to further flesh out my backstories and characters, give me a channel for writing and other forms of creative works such as maps and handouts, and maybe even be a source of inspiration and content for other gamemasters to use in the worlds they create. Stay tuned for a new section in the title bar likely called "RPG".
Getting back to Kickstarters for a minute, I was excited to finally receive my copy of "The Koryo Hall of Adventurers", a 5e supplement and setting inspired on Koreon mythology. As much as I love the dwarves and elves of a medieval western European setting, getting my hands on something different is a pleasure. Author Aurélien Lainé comments in the book's introduction how they fell in love with and immersed themselves in Korean culture, and it shows in this book. Consider picking up your own copy if you would like to move beyond the Tolkienesque standard settings for your roleplaying game experience.
A good friend of mine started tracking his cycling trips at the start of COVID. His goal was to keep him in the saddle even while he was forced to isolate and work from home. In the six and a half months since he started, he has logged enough kilometers on his bike to virtually ride from Vancouver to Kenora, Ontario. Inspired by that, I have decided to do the same. For my trip, I will plot a route that will travel the eastern length of Vancouver Island, and then cross the mainland to Vancouver, passing through all provincial capitals. I am going to not worry about planning travel routes that would be safe, or at least safer, on a bike, and instead just looking for a road that will get me to the cities I want to virutally pedal to.
My first leg is from Port Hardy to Victoria, a distance of 508.5 km. So far this week I have cycled to Port McNeill. The next segment to Campbell River is quite a long one at 197 km so I will likely not get to there in the next week.
As I get closer to my virtual destination for Leg 1 of Victoria, I will plot out how to go east from Vancouver. I suspect I will plot a course towards Kamloops via the Coquihalla Highway, but that is not for certain at this point. For now, here is how Leg 1 looks on the map, along with my spreadsheet tracker for my distance log.
As I said in the intro, I had two new beers this week and I was not impressed with either. Beer #686 was the Red Horse Extra Strong Beer from San Miguel out of the Philippines. Not much going on. A bit of an ESB taste but nothing that I was really interested in. I went in with low expectations and this beer did not exceed even those. (2.75 / 5).
The second beer was from Alley Kat, and was one I went into with much higher expectations. Beer #687 was the SMaSH Session Ale. I did not like the taste, such as it was, and found it a confusing mix of bitter, sweet, and malt. A real disappointment since I am clearly a big fan of Alley Kat. (2.75 / 5)
There was much more reading this week than in recent weeks, but still not a lot of new words.
Greetings from 53.5° north. Another very laid back week, one in which I jokingly told a friend that I did so little I barely kept a pulse. It was good to do essentially nothing for a week though beyond a little cooking as I am heading into fall with a very centered perspective on what is important to me and what I want to do. More on that in future weeks.
One interesting point of note regarding tea. I had run out of oolong tea and decided to head to a close-by David's Tea to pick up some of their tie kwan yin. The first shock was that the location was closed. The second shock was that David's Tea has effectively shuttered 90% of their bricks-and-mortar locations including the three that I visited. The catalyst for this seems to be COVID but I suspect they were in a weak financial situation going in to have made such a drastic move.
As sad as that made me, I thought that I would be able to at least shop online. But then the third shock was that David's is discontinuing their tie kwan yin oolong tea! I did some research to see how long oolong tea can be stored, and was happy to get confirmation that it ages well. Maybe not as long as the bricks of pu'erh tea that can be aged for a century, but this article on Tea How states oolong can last up to 40 years. Emboldened by that, I ordered 500 grams of tie kwan yin. I figure that might be able to drink that tie kwan yin for the rest of my life.
That of course really hit home - I just bought tea that might outlast me. Mortality is not something I spend time brooding over, but having entered my second half-century this week, it is definitely on my mind this week. Of course, I could die tomorrow and then of course my tea purchase will outlast me, but I could reasonably expect to live into my eighties which is now thirty to forty years into the future.
I can now imagine my elderly self finishing my last cup of tie kwan yin, thinking fondly back across the years of my life, and settling contentedly into my chair or bed to fall asleep one last time, smiling at how I at least lasted longer than my tea.
The only new beer this week was actually a mead. Check-in #685 was Mr. Pink from Fallentimber Meadery. I have quite liked their other meads, although I just realized I have not checked in their Meadjito on my Untappd profile. (Spoiler alert: 4.0 / 5.) This one was pretty good, but it was not as good as their Meadjito or Honey Buck. I think it needed more cinnamon flavor to give it more of a kick, but it did have a very nice aroma and color. (3.25 / 5)
Very little reading this week - reading would have distracted me from focusing on maintaining a pulse - so once again, very few new words. One I thought I knew but only had half right.
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 after a fortnight since the last entry. Two weeks ago I said not much profound had happened, and that carried through to the following week. As a result, I decided to skip last week. Nothing wildly significant happened this week either, but I did finish one book, have one new beer to report, and a small handful of words. I think the lull in my productivity and creativity is the lingering after-effects of resigning from that Board.
But first, I came across a quote and a proverb that really struck me this last week. The quote was from Matt Colville in video #50 in his "Running The Game" series.
Cynicism is the death of wisdom. --Matt Colville
That lead me to look for more quotes about cynicism. The most interesting, at least contemporarily, were from Steven Colbert and Conan O'Brien. Note that even though both of them are satirists and provide significant social and political commentary, both are keen to highlight the toxicity of cynicism.
Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes". --Stephen Colbert
All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism, for the record, it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. --Conan O'Brien
And finally, I was told a proverb from Cameroon from a co-worker. This seems to be similar to a quote from Shakespeare and there are numerous similar quotes peppered across the Internet.
The eye that sees others, sees not itself. --Cameroonian Proverb
Regardless of the provenance, it is useful to reflect on the words. If you are constantly and solely focused on the performance and flaws of others, there is no time to focus on improving yourself. Worry about you. Free your mind, and the rest will follow.
This last week saw the completion of Book #34 for 2020, "The Steerswoman" by Rosemary Kirstein. This is the first book in the Steerswoman series, and it follows two women as they try to uncover the origins of some odd jewels that are found scattered across the continent. Rowan is a Steerswoman, the title owing to a nautical background of a ship's navigator. However, in this world, the steerswomen are seekers of knowledge who scour the world for answers. While a steerswoman is undoubtedly useful onboard a ship, the majority of the story takes place on land. The other protagonist is Bel, a barbarian who chose to leave her clan to travel with Rowan.
Note that both of the main characters are women, and the title of the book and series is clearly about women. This is not a feminist book touting the need for equality, nor does it force comment how women can do whatever a man can do. Instead, it presents a world where there are no preconceptions about what is "a man's job" or "woman's work". There is no need to highlight differences when there are really no differences to highlight. For that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
In addition, this book is about knowledge, science, and rationality. There is some fighting and the threat of war, plus a brewing conflict between the Academy of the steerswomen and another faction. Beneath all of this is the more important story of how one woman, embedded in a culture of learning, undertakes to solve a mystery that defies her and her colleagues' understanding of the natural world. As above, for that reason alone, this book is worth reading.
There you have it. One book with two solid selling points. I am definitely looking forward to reading the other books in the series.
I put three albums in my Music Finds playlist for the last fortnight, but really only got into one of them. That was a 2008 recording by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis entitled "Two Men with the Blues". This was a fantastic album highlighting Nelson's signing and Marsalis' playing. Covering standards such as "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Georgia on My Mind", the two seem like a natural pair which is so surprising when you think about how different their musical origins are. This is definitely worth a listen.
Beer #683 was the Nasty Trunks sour IPA from Evil Twin Brewing out of Brooklyn. There was the good hops of an IPA with a bit of of punchy but not overpowering citrus in the sour half of this beer. Fresh and a bit sweet. Nice stuff. (3.5 / 5)
As a complete aside, Evil Twin seems to produce a stunning number of beers. Doing a search on their site shows 278 beers, but for some reason the Nasty Trunks did not show up. Maybe I have the wrong Evil Twin brewery. Maybe I found the other one, you know, the twin? If you can find Nasty Trunks on their site or if I have the wrong site, please let me know.
Just five new words in the last fortnight, with one my ten year-old daughter told me.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude once again. This was a week with a return to work so there was very little profound to note. A couple books were read, a couple beers were drank, much music was enjoyed, and there were a number of words to look up.
Let's get on with it.
I was able to finish two books this week. One was a dark mystery about a serial killer, and the other was another in a favorite YA mystery series that I am reading with my younger daughter.
Book #32 for 2020 was "The Darwin Affair" by Tim Mason. This was a highly enjoyable serial killer mystery novel. Four pages in, I commented to my spouse that this was going to be another "DaVinci Code"; in other words, a fast-paced, easy to read novel that kept me up until the wee hours. It did not quite live up to that prediction unfortunately. There were times when I found myself losing interest, and times where I felt like the often brilliant detective became a little too human. I lost verisimilitude in the world that Mason created as a result of those lapses. In the end, however, it was still enjoyable and worthy of a read.
Mason's novel reminded me of "Dodger" by Terry Pratchett which was Book #8 for 2020. This is clearly because of the same time period and the involvement of certain real life characters such as Charles Dickens. I did not realize before Dodger and The Darwin Affair that Dickens was such an activist for the poor. Mason hints at some failings of Dickens in the author's notes at the end of the book, but even with that Dickens does seem to have been a major influence on making nineteenth century London a bit better for everyone, and that must have trickled out across the rest of the world.
Book #33 for 2020 was the third novel in Stuart Gibbs's FunJungle Series, "Big Game". Since my daughter and I are reading these somewhat out of order, this is the fourth book in the series that we have read. I have to say it takes a bit away from the books when you can guess who the bad guy is because you know they do not appear in the next book in the series. There was a nice twist in this story, and it was as enjoyable and suspenseful as the others. As I have said before, this is a great series to hook a young reader into the mystery genre.
Looking at my reading pace for the year, we are 64% of the way through 2020 and I have read 33 books. That puts me on pace to read just over 51 books this year. That is a nice number, and it is good to know I have a chance to read a book a week on average this year.
I did not find any new music to add to a Music Finds playlist this week. However, I did watch through Ken Micallef video "20 Records to Build a Jazz Vinyl Collection" and created a playlist from that.
Some of the music in that list is mind-blowingly good. I had heard of some of the artists - Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie - but some of the others like Hank Mobley and Bud Shank were completely new to me. Same thing with the artists; "Porgy and Bess" was not new, but the soundtrack to "Alfie" was, and that was definitely my favorite on this list. The Alfie in question was the 1966 Michael Caine version and not the 2004 Jude Law version, in case you were wondering.
A lot of these albums are completely inaccessible outside of hunting through record stores and antique malls. This is why something like a subscription to Tidal or similar service is so valuable. Every one of the albums on Micallef's list were on Tidal, and some were remastered MQA versions. Check out the video from Micallef and if you are on Tidal, here is a link to the playlist I created.
There were two new beers again this week, bringing my unique check-ins on Untappd to 682.
Beer #681 was Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado. With a name like that and with that can design, I went in with low expectations. Never judge a beer by its label, as the old saying goes, and that was the case this time. This had a nice amber color, very good foam, and a very drinkable silky maltiness. It seemed slightly acidic to me though, which dropped the ranking a bit but it was still a winner. (3.75 / 5)
Beer #682 was the Green Fields sour from Bench. I was surprised to realize that I this was my first check-in with a Bench beer. I suspect I have had others from Bench but forgot to check them in. This was not a beer that would have me seeking out more from them though, so hopefully my experience with this beer is not indicative of what I can expect. This was a sour, but a very weak sour which defeats the point of this genre. The flavor seemed musty, with the sourness at the front of mouth not the back, if that makes any sense. I was disappointed but will give Bench another try soon. (3.0 / 5)
There were a number of new words this week, plus one word that is not a word apparently.