# Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Recently, I spoke with Komal Dadlani if Lab4U – an educational startup based in Chile. We talked about how they use mobile technology to bring low-cost labs to low-income schools and how they are leveraging Azure and BizSpark.

You can watch the interview at this link or below.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 13:02:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 28 November 2016
Monday, 28 November 2016 09:34:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Friday, 25 November 2016

Murphys (1)Alert readers will recall that I spent a good deal of time in 2015 exploring the coffee shops of Chicago. As I wrote in this post, I used this journey as an excuse to explore the neighborhoods of Chicago. Chicago is a big city and I was new here, so my love of good coffee gave me a reason to drive to Pilsen or Ravenswood. While sipping a latte, I had a chance to explore the neighborhood.

This year, I decided to repeat the exercising by exploring the city's famous hot dogs. If you have spent any time in Chicago, you know that the city is famous for 2 kinds of sausage: One is legendary "Chicago-Style" hot dog, which tops a regular hot dog with a variety of garnishes, including pickles, poppy seeds, onions, relish, and sport peppers. The other is the Maxwell Street Polish, which originated at Jim's Original in University Village and features spicy peppers and mustard on a polish sausage.

I used this list as a guide for my journey, which lasted several months.

ViennaBeefFactoryStore (6)

My hot dog trek took me back to some of the same neighborhoods, but also landed me in a few more, including a visit to Fat Johnnie's Red Hots - a tiny weatherworn shack on the south side in a neighborhood that looked like it might be dangerous after dark.

Boring menus and mediocre food quality caused me to wonder why Gene & Jude's and Red Hot Ranch made the list, but I suspect they were included for their historical significance. Big & Little's also seemed an odd choice - not because the dogs aren't good, but because they are better known for their other offerings, such as fish tacos and po' boys.

Some highlights of my sausage survey were:

  • The pickled tomato used by SuperDawg Drive-In
  • The extra spicy peppers on the Polish Sausage at Jim's Original
  • Chili on everything at Fat Johnnie's Red Hots.
  • The fresh-tasting toppings at Byron's, Wolfy's, Fluky's, and a few others.

I've seen a good part of Chicago now, so I plan to take a break from these culinary pilgrimages; but I may start up again in the sprint - maybe chasing the best Chicago-style pizzas...

Chubby Weiners (2)


Photos of my expedition
Friday, 25 November 2016 16:11:18 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 24 November 2016

Shards of Honor was Lois McMaster Bujold's first novel and it introduced the universe that came to host the multi-volume Verkosigan Saga. It is an interesting beginning because Miles Verkosigan, the main protragonist of that series, makes no appearance in the novel.

Shards of Honor tells the story of Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan, 2 commanders on opposite sides of an interplanetary war. Cordelia is an engineer exploring a new planet when she is captured by Aral, whose crew has just mutinied against him. Cordelia has heard stories of Aral's brutality; but he treats her with a dignity inconsistent with his reputation and she eventually discovers the stories about him are false.

Bujold shows a talent for storytelling and for creating memorable characters. The best character in Shards of Honor is Cordelia Naismith, who withstands the dangers of her crew, an attempted rape by an enemy officer, and conflicting feelings of loyalty to her home world and respect for her adversaries. Verkosigan is almost as complex. He is noble but his strong code of honor sometimes leads to killing in order to uphold that honor - even killing those on his own side. The villains of the story, such as Admiral Vorrutyer and Prince Serg are 1-dimensional and far less interesting, serving as backdrops to the relationship between Cordelia and Aral.

Shards of Honor is filled with political intrigue and action and heroics and betrayal.

And it's a love story.

And I enjoyed it.

Thursday, 24 November 2016 03:55:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, 22 November 2016

In the distant future, man has conquered the galaxy. We have not encountered any other sentient species.

But we did create one.

On a space station between planets, geneticists created a new type of humans - the "Quaddies". Quaddies have no legs; An extra pair of arms exist where one would expect legs on a human. This difference makes it easier for Quaddies to work in zero gravity, where dexterity is more important than walking. Though sentient, the Quaddies have no rights; they are enslaved by their creators, who even decide with whom they may mate. Having known only servitude, most of them aspire to nothing more.

Trouble begins when Claire and Tony - a pair of young Quaddie parents - are informed that Claire must mate with someone else for her next scheduled pregnancy. They are in love, so they try to escape to the surface of the nearest planet - an environment for which they are completely unsuited.

The lovers are recaptured, but their plight is noticed by welding instructor Leo Graf. Leo takes up the cause of the Quaddies - arguing for their "human" rights and ultimately plotting their liberation.

Falling Free is chronologically the first book in Lois McMaster Bujold's famous Verkosigan Saga, although it takes place centuries before the birth of Miles Verkosigan, the protagonist and namesake of that series.

The book tackles issues of human rights and dignity and the morality of enslaving a people who are brought up never dreaming of freedom. The rights and responsibilities of the creators - those who mastered the genetic engineering that made possible the Quaddies - are questioned and resisted.

But it is also a love story and Bujold creates some interesting characters, even though many of them lack depth (the main villain is a corporate bad guy, driven only by profits and hate).  The notable exception is Leo, who begins the book as an uninterested bureaucrat and transforms into an emancipator, willing to sacrifice his life for a people he did not even know existed a few months before.

Although it is not the first book Bujold wrote about the universe in which Verkosigan dwells, Falling Free is a good introduction to the series.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016 11:39:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 21 November 2016
Monday, 21 November 2016 08:10:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, 20 November 2016

Recently, I sat down with Charles Wright and Ian Easton of ADATA to talk about how their company migrates and integrates data across platforms. That interview is now available on channel 9. Click here or view it below.

Sunday, 20 November 2016 09:08:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Conquering Sword of Conan is the third and final volume of the complete Conan stories by Robert E. Howard.

I felt a feeling of accomplishment by completing these stories - finally experiencing the source material of this iconic pulp character after a lifetime of awareness.

Most of this volume consists of the final 5 short stories published by Howard. Much of the action takes place in Africa. Conquering Sword also includes a number of story synopses and first drafts, giving an insight into Howard's writing process. Howard wrote for pulp magazines (primarily Weird Tales) and struggled to make a living during the great depression, so he would often rewrite rejected stories and change the characters and/or locations before re-submitting them.

In the 5 completed stories Conan continues his travels around the world of the Hyborian Age, hunting for treasure and battling bad guys, sorcerers, and monsters. In Beyond the Black River and The Black Stranger, Conan has his first encounter with Native Americans (known as "Picts"), who sail to Africa from a set of islands that would eventually rise into the continent of North America after the destruction of Atlantis.

The stories do not lack for adventure and many contain a moral lesson in contrasting Conan's barbarian code of ethics and chivalry with the hypocrisy and treachery of more civilized men.

Still, there are elements of Howard's writing with which I am uncomfortable. He routinely portrays women as the spoils of war, often hypersexualizing them. Worse, there is often a direct correlation between darkness of skin and savagery.  The brown-skinned people of Conan's world tend to be the most superstitious, the least intelligence, and - in some cases - cannibals.

I'm willing to take into account that Robert Howard grew up in the American south over a century ago and that his prejudices were almost certainly influenced by his environment and his peers. Given our country's current racial division and polarizing political rhetoric, this seems a timely and relevant question to ask ourselves. Can we separate art from the artist? Can we forgive him his prejudices if he grew up in a place and time where those prejudices were the norm among his peers.
Do we vilify Thomas Jefferson because he owned slaves? Or do we forgive him because he grew up in an era when every gentleman farmer owned slaves?  Personally, I am willing to forgive Howard, acknowledging how the artist he was likely socialized. Still, I fully acknowledge my views are filtered through the lens of the life of a white male and I welcome comments of others - particularly women and people of color who have read these stories.

If you are willing to look past or forgive Howard for his racism and misogyny, the Conan stories will entertain you.

Saturday, 19 November 2016 08:30:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Friday, 18 November 2016

This week, Microsoft hosted the keynote event in New York City. Although attendees could travel to New York to attend in person, most who watched the keynote (including me) watched a live stream or recording of the keynote and breakout sessions online.

There were a number of important announcements, including Microsoft joining the Linux Foundation; the upcoming Visual Studio 2017; and Visual Studio on a Mac.

Here are the notes I took during the keynote:

VSCODE
    Support for multiple languages
    Intellisense support for hundreds of npm modules
    Docker extension (constainerize app)
   
Azure App Service now supports running on Linux

DocumentDB
    Cloud-scale document database
    Global replication
        Click on data center in map
    Configure API to be MongoDB API compatible
   
OPEN SOURCE
    Most active contributor on GitHub
    Microsoft joins Linux foundation as a Platinum member
   
XAMARIN / VISUAL STUDIO 2017
    Visual Studio for Mac preview now available
    Free with MSDN
    Community Edition will be free to everyone
    .NET Core Support
    Visual Preview of Xamarin.Forms XAML
   
DOCKER
    Visual Studio integration
        Right-click
            Create container
            Publish (dialog is specfic to containers)
            Debug in container
            Release Management / Continuous Deliver supports Containers

AZURE FUNCTIONS
    Write code that runs in response to events in Azure (or outside Azure)
    Languages PHP, Python, Powershell, C#, etc. supported
    Write Functions in Visual Studio
        1-click publish
        Debug
    Available today
   
SQL SERVER
    Gartner: SQL Server is least vulnerable database (past 6 years)
    In-memory advanced analytics
        R Language support
    SQL Server 2016 SP1 released today
    SQL Server on Linux (public preview available today)
    Advanced security
    Advanced compression
   
AZURE BOT SERVICES
    Conversational app
    Built on Azure Functions
    Integrate with Slack, Facebook, etc.
   
VISUAL STUDIO
    Install, uninstall faster
    Icons in code margin indicate failing tests, passing tests, and uncovered code
    New Exception Helper
    Style Rules enforced in editor
    Indent Guides (dotted vertical lines) match beginning & ending brackets
    Helpers at bottom of dropdowns
        Filters results in list
        CTRL+T search to activate
   
C#
    Tuples: Allow you to return multiple values

WinApp Driver
    UI Testing of Windows apps
    Doesn't care what language app is writtenin
   
.NET Core
    60% of contributions from Community
    .NET Foundation
        Many repositories
        .NET Core on Tizen OS (courtesy of Samsung)

Friday, 18 November 2016 22:58:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 14 November 2016
Monday, 14 November 2016 11:22:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)