# Monday, January 9, 2017
Monday, January 9, 2017 1:12:00 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Friday, January 6, 2017

The Illustrated Man despised the tattoos that covered his body. In the daytime, they were beautiful works of art; but at night, they came to life and told stories that predicted the future. And they always predicted a bleak future.

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury is a collection of the stories told by the pictures on the circus refugee's body - 18 dark tales of science fiction and horror.

Bradbury frames the collection by narrating an encounter with the Illustrated Man along a deserted road and relaying the stories acted out by the animated tattoos.

Some of the stories take place on Mars - the site of Bradbury's most famous short story collection - but do not necessarily share continuity with his "Martian Chronicles" stories.

The stories have no common thread, but they are all dark and many explore how man's psyche deals with his place in the universe.

In "Kaleidoscope", the doomed crew of a crippled space ship reflects on their lives as they float to their deaths. The last survivor laments that there is no way he can perform a good act to make up for his "terrible and empty life".

In "The Other Foot", a future Mars is colonized entirely by black people. When Earth is destroyed by nuclear war, spaceships filled with white people arrive, asking to be allowed on Mars, acknowledging the oppression they perpetuated that caused the blacks to flee in the first place.

"Marionettes, Inc" could be a Twilight Zone script. A company will sell you a robotic replica of yourself, so you can escape your responsibilities without your family knowing. Predictably, it all goes horribly wrong for the customers.

The edition I read included the origin story of The Illustrated Man (some editions omit this story), which is the tragic tale of a carnival worker who tries to salvage his marriage and his job by accepting an offer to be completely tattooed by an old witch.

This collection is a good introduction to Ray Bradbury and a good read for those who already enjoy his writings.

Friday, January 6, 2017 4:18:27 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Will and Jim were 13 years old when the circus marched into their small town in the middle of an October night.

But there is something wrong with this circus and its creepy proprietor, the tattooed Mr. Dark. The Merry-Go-Round has the power to change a rider's age: The rider ages if they ride it in the forward direction and becomes younger if they ride it backwards. One catch: Riding the merry-go-round binds the rider to Mr. Dark's servitude forever.

Both boys are anxious to grow up and are tempted to take the magical ride. Adventurous Jim insists on trying, but cautious Will holds him back. When Mr. Dark learns that they know his secret, he and his minions attempt to capture the boys and their families.

What ensues is a battle of good against evil in a dark horror fantasy novel. Will's father - tempted to ride the merry-go-round backward - joins with the boys to battle the evil carny. The 3 of them battle for their souls and the souls of the townsfolk.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is a coming of age story in small-town America; It is a classic horror fantasy novel; and it is an adventure story. 

I loved it.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017 1:01:47 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, January 2, 2017
Monday, January 2, 2017 9:02:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, January 1, 2017

Today I am grateful to all those who touched my life in 2016. Yes, all of them.

Today I am grateful for an amazing 2016!

Today I am grateful for my new electric toothbrush.

Today I am grateful for all the fresh food that is now in my refrigerator.

Today I am grateful
-to spend a few days with my family in Michigan
-for my first visit to the Four Winds Casino last night.

Today I am grateful for:
-The hospitality of Diane and Pat this week
-Dinner last night with Ken -A drink from Paul at The New Parthenon
-Visits yesterday to the homes of my brother, my sister, and my mother

Today I am grateful to spend Christmas Day with my family.

Today I am grateful for an excellent dinner last night at a Turkish restaurant in Roscoe Village.

Today I am grateful that last week's painfully cold weather has abated.

Today I am grateful to spend much of yesterday afternoon with Nick and to see the SIUE - Marquette basketball game last night.

Today I am grateful for
-a basketball game at UIC last night
-my second sleep study and my new cpap machine

Today I am grateful for Christmas presents from Emilija.

Today I am grateful I get to watch TV shows after they already aired.

Today I am grateful to see a performance of Stomp last night at the Broadway Playhouse Theater.

Today I am grateful for free, self-paced, online courses.

Today I am grateful that I still get to give away stuff that other people paid for.

Today I am grateful to deliver my final technical presentation of 2016 last night.

Today I am grateful for 2 user groups in1 day, including a chance to speak at a new one.

Today I am grateful that I can learn so much, sitting at my laptop in my living room.

Today I am grateful for my new winter coat.

Today I am grateful for pad thai last night in Lincoln Square.

Today I am grateful to see Stanley Clarke in concert last night.

Today I am grateful for the soreness in my upper body, thanks to yesterday's training session.

Today I am grateful to attend the Chicago User Group Holiday Party last night.

Today I am grateful that, after attending for years, I was finally the featured speaker at the Chicago JavaScript meetup last night.

Today I am grateful that I finished my final work trip of 2016 yesterday.

Today I am grateful to J. Tower for returning my socks to me.

Sunday, January 1, 2017 8:16:00 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Saturday, December 31, 2016

Aral and Corelia Verkosigan have just married and returned to Aral's home planet of Barrayar. They are looking forward to Aral's retirement and to raising a family. But the Emperor is dying and Aral is forced back into service as Imperial Regent until the heir to the throne - 5-year-old Gregor - comes of age.

They quickly find themselves trapped in the political machinations of the Barrayaran Empire and of those scheming to gain power vacated by the dying Emperor.

Shortly after Aral's appointment as Regent, a failed assassination attempt leaves Cordelia's unborn child severely injured and in danger of dying.

And then, a group of Barrayaran noblemen attempt a coup.

Barrayar is Lois McMaster Bujold's sequel to her first novel - Shards of Honor. It concludes the story of Cordelia - former adversary and now wife of Aral Verkosigan. At the end of the story, Miles Verkosigan is born. Miles is the character upon which much of this series of books revolves.

But for now, we focus on Miles's mother Cordelia - a woman caught in a revolution that she did not plan for. She is the strong female hero often lacking in science fiction stories. And Bujold builds her character well - from her distress at her new environment to her fight to save the life of her unborn handicapped son to her role in battling the traitors trying to usurp power for themselves. We see her as a full person complete with weaknesses to soften her and the strength to overcome those weaknesses.

But the novel isn't just about character development. A Civil War, multiple assassination attempts, and a quest to rescue a princess provide plenty of action.

Barrayar is an excellent follow-up to Shards of Honor.

Saturday, December 31, 2016 4:02:58 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, December 26, 2016
Monday, December 26, 2016 10:48:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A friend recently emailed me to say he accepted a job leading the Microsoft practice of a consulting company that doesn’t work much with Microsoft technologies. As part of his job, he is expected to evangelize the practice and technologies. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone do this, so I’m sharing my response below.

Congratulations on the new job! It sounds like you are on the right track.

User groups are a great way to connect with the local developer community. They are good for finding customers, but better for recruiting talent. Consider sponsoring. Also, encourage your team to speak at user groups and code camps. This builds credibility and name recognition.

The lunchtime sessions to teach technology sound great. Consider having a long session once a month and inviting the public.

You are smart to focus on Azure. Azure is a big part of Microsoft’s future and, because Azure supports so many open source and competing technologies, it will fit in well with existing projects and existing customers. Key parts of Azure that appeal to non-Microsoft technologists are:

  • Web Apps that support Java, node, Python, and other languages
  • Mobile Apps provide a back-end for Android or iPhone apps
  • Linux VMs on Azure (about a third of all Azure VMs run Linux)
  • HD Insight Big Data Analysis based on Hadoop open source supports any data type (and you can code in Python)
  • Azure Machine Learning supports any data type (and you can code in Python)

There are others, but this is a good start.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 3:03:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, December 19, 2016
Monday, December 19, 2016 6:37:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# 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)