# Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Before Neil Gaiman became a famous novelist, he was a famous comic book author. And one of his most famous comic book creations was The Sandman.

The Sandman debuted in his own DC Comics title in 1989 and was moved to DC's Vertigo brand a few years later. Gaiman penned the first 75 issues over a 5-year span.

The story begins in 19th century England as a group of amateur sorcerers attempt to trap Death, but mistakenly capture Dream instead. After a century of imprisonment, Dream manages to escape and return to his dominion.

SandmanDream (a.k.a.. Morpheus, a.k.a. The Sandman) is one of The Endless - a family of god-like beings, each with control over a specific dominion. His siblings include Death, Destiny, Delirium, Despair, Desire, and Destruction. Dream is as much human as god and shows many of the weaknesses of a human, similar to the pagan deities of ancient Greece or Rome.

Although we saw very little of the DC superheroes in the pages of The Sandman, many character's from the horror and macabre titles of that universe were featured. Cain and Abel of The House of Mystery and The  House of Secrets respectively made frequent appearances.

Gaiman introduces us to a host of new characters that populate and interact with the Dream World. But he also sets the series firmly in the DC universe by brining in established characters. Mainstream super heroes, such as Batman and Superman make brief cameos; but we see much more of the alternative and macabre DC personas. For example, we learn that the House of Mystery and the House of Secrets (and their caretakers - Cain and Abel, respectively) are located in the Dream World. And Dream's brother Destiny is the same Destiny who narrated Weird Mystery Tales and Secrets of Haunted House. Other pre-existing characters in this series include Etrigan the Demon, John Constantine, Doctor Destiny, Mister Miracle, and The Fury. We also get brief appearances by Golden Age Sandman Wesley Dodds and the bizarre Jack Kirby Sandman of the '70's. Even a teenage US President named Prez - an obscure character from a 4-issue run in the mid-1970s is referenced in the story.

The stories are dark, but entertaining. They require more focus than most comics, given the complexity. Storylines may take a year or more to resolve, while other subplots unfold.

Some might be turned off by the artwork, which tends toward more abstract and sketchy; but this fits the dark mood of the series.

A few years ago, DC released a set of 10 paperbacks that include Sandman #1-75. Rather than making each volume of equal length, DC chose to keep related stories together, so that subplots are introduced and resolved in the same volume. This is how I read the series and I would recommend others do the same.

I loved the mythology of the story and I loved the humanness of it. We see Gaiman evolve as a writer over the course of the 5 years he wrote the series. If you are a Neil Gaiman fan or a fan of dark fantasy comics, I recommend this series.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 8:14:42 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, December 13, 2016

StanleyClarke (7)This is not the Stanley Clarke I remember. I remember Stanley Clarke in the 1970s and 1980s recording Jazz-Rock fusion and collaborating with the giants of the day, such as Chick Corea, Al Dimeola, and George Duke. He was all that was new and modern with his electric bass and his giant afro and his talking guitar.  The albums he recorded with Return to Forever are among the best of the genre.

Friday night at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston, IL, Clarke began as the electric jazz hero. Now in his mid-60s, he no longer sports the afro, but he retains the energy of his early days.

StanleyClarke (32)Clarke began the show, electric bass in hand, playing songs reminiscent of his fusion heyday. But halfway through his set, he swapped the electric bass guitar for an upright bass. One song later, his keyboardist slid from an electric keyboard set to a baby grand and suddenly the jazz was more straight ahead. And more sweet. The music ranged from fusion to funk to bee bop, including a few bars of Coltrane's classic "A Love Supreme".

His quartet consisted of 2 keyboardists, a drummer, and Stanley himself. The 3 others were between a third and a half Clarke's age, but they blended really well and Clarke still brings the energy of his own youth.

Clarke ended with an frenetic encore that included a call and response with the crowd.

His drummer - Mike Mitchell, aka "Blaque Dynamite" - was especially impressive.

Based on the energy and enthusiasm I saw Friday night, I expect Stanley Clarke will be entertaining audiences for a long time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 10:33:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, December 12, 2016
Monday, December 12, 2016 5:54:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, December 5, 2016
Monday, December 5, 2016 12:54:37 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, December 4, 2016

Today I am grateful for the first snow of the winter.

Today I am grateful for a week in New York City and all that I learned there while coding with smart people.

Today I am grateful to see a Nets game at the Barclay Center last night.

Today I am grateful to see "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway last night.

Today I am grateful for a walk around Times Square last night.

Today I am grateful for my first visit to New York City in over 3 years.

Today I am grateful to relax and watch the NFL on a Sunday afternoon.

Today I am grateful for a dinner party at Emilija's last night.

Today I am grateful for a few days in Michigan.

Today I am grateful for Thanksgiving dinner yesterday with my siblings and their families.

Today I am grateful for an afternoon in St. Joseph yesterday.

Today I am grateful for my first visit to New Buffalo, MI.

Today I am grateful for those who said they were inspired by me in the same way I was inspired by others.

Today I am grateful there is a gym inside the building where I live.

Today I am grateful that I still live in a country where freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Today I am grateful for: -an after-work drink with Jon -the Flatlanders concert last night at the Old Time School of Folk Music

Today I am grateful for my first-ever sleep study last night.

Today I am grateful to David, who made me look good this week.

Today I am grateful to meet one of my work goals for the current half-year with 6 weeks to spare.

Today I am grateful to get a new laptop set this morning up after mine died yesterday.

Today I am grateful to eat lunch on my balcony in mid-November. In Chicago!

Today I am grateful for extra sleep last night.

Today I am grateful to see Dr. Strange during a rare visit to a movie theater yesterday.

Today I am grateful to our nation's veterans, especially my late father Lt Cmdr E. Normand Giard, US Navy.

Today I am grateful for dinner with Kevin last night.

Today I am grateful for a Personal Trainer session yesterday for the first time in months.

Today I am grateful for: -a visit from Randy the past few days -a chance to cast a vote for elected officials

Today I am grateful for a walk through the Linne Woods Forest Preserve yesterday morning.

Sunday, December 4, 2016 11:36:52 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, November 29, 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, November 29, 2016 1:02:00 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, November 28, 2016
Monday, November 28, 2016 9:34:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Friday, November 25, 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, November 25, 2016 4:11:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, November 24, 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, November 24, 2016 3:55:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, November 22, 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, November 22, 2016 11:39:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)