# Sunday, March 11, 2018

20180310_211841Although he was born and raised in Port Arthur, TX and raised on his father's Louisiana music, CJ Chenier has strong connections to Chicago. He recorded 3 albums for Chicago-based Alligator Records and he is a frequent performer at Fitzgerald's Night Club in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn.

It was in Berwyn that I saw CJ last night. The tickets were a birthday gift and one of the best I've received in a long time. Chenier played for hours, bringing the high energy I had come to know from his recordings, but had never seen in concert.

He was accompanied by drums, bass, an excellent guitarist, and someone playing the vest frottoir - a tin washboard that hangs from the chest, that was invented by CJ's legendary father Clifton and his uncle Cleveland.

The frottoir added some texture to the music; but it added more to the visuals of the concert, given its wearer's high energy dancing and playing.

CJ, of course, sang and played his signature accordion. His music kept the packed club bouncing all night. The high point came when he and 3 members of his band unplugged and wound their way through the crowd for an extended jam.

CJ photobombs DG's selfie!

He continues the Zydeco tradition of his father's band (Clifton passed away in 1987), but CJ adds a funky sound all his own. The result kept the audience energized throughout the show.

If you are reading this and wondering what to get me on my birthday next year, check the local concert calendar around March 1. Be warned: It will have to be pretty darn good to top this one.

Sunday, March 11, 2018 9:35:31 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Saturday, March 10, 2018

HitRefreshSatya Nadella became the third CEO of Microsoft in 2014 - a few months after I joined the company. There is no denying the impact he has had on Microsoft and on the tech industry since rising to CEO. He has changed the corporate culture significantly. Microsoft is more open and more agile today than it was 4 years ago.

In Hit Refresh, Nadella describes what he planned to do as leader of Microsoft, what has happened during his tenure as CEO, and his plans for the future of the company.

He begins with a short description of his life - growing up in India, moving around, his growing fascination with computers; he follows with a description of his early years at Microsoft, rising first to lead the cloud computing team; then to CEO.

But only a small part of this book is devoted to an autobiography. Mostly, this is a biography of Microsoft - the company where Nadella has spent nearly all of his adult life - and of the tech industry.

Nadella describes his vision for the future of Microsoft. He talks about its technology future (he sees AI and Mixed Reality as technologies poised to grow); about its business environment (Microsoft often partners with competitors when it makes sense for both parties), and about its ethical decisions (he discusses the importance of privacy to a global company and when it is time to fight for it).

Not all that Nadella writes is self-congratulatory. He talks about mistakes the company has made, such as the ill-fated Nokia acquisition; and mistakes he has personally made, as when he gave a poor answer to a question about women seeking equal consideration for a promotion.

This book had special meaning to me, as Satya and I work for the same company (He is my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss) and share some of the same goals for that company. The copy I read was the "Employee Edition", which highlighted some of the text and included some notes in the margin to emphasize how a paragraph was particularly relevant to a Microsoft employee.

Although Hit Refresh provides some answers, it raises even more questions about the future of Microsoft and the global tech industry. We are in a period of great transition and Nadella does not pretend to have all the answers. But his message is clear: Microsoft and its employees must embrace a growth mindset in order to achieve the goal of empowering everyone to achieve more.

Saturday, March 10, 2018 5:10:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, March 8, 2018

ShadowOfTheTorturerI finished this 4-volume set a couple weeks ago.

Since that time, I've been thinking about it and reading about it and I even listened to a podcast that analyzed each chapter of book 1.

The story takes place a million years in Earth's future. The sun is dying.

The Earth - now called "Urth" - has resorted to a medieval society, but it still retains remnants of its forgotten technology. For example, man no longer can travel between the stars, but old spaceships are repurposed as buildings and alien life forms exist on Urth.

Severian is an apprentice to the Torturers Guild, which is charged with carrying out punishment and interrogations ordered by the state. Early in volume 1, the Guild exiles Severian for the crime of showing mercy to one of the their prisoners.

This sets Severian on a long quest across Urth, to discover himself and his purpose in the world. He reveals early in his narrative that he ultimately becomes emperor of the planet.

Many of his companions meet tragic ends; but Severian ventures on.

I'm unclear if magic exists in this world or if technological advances of the previous millennia are indistinguishable from magic.
For example, Severian possesses a stone - The Claw of the Conciliator - that appears to have the power to raise the dead. But it's unclear of the risen dead were only in a long state of suspended animation and the stone has some healing attributes that won't be discovered for millennia after our time.

The story is narrated by Severian himself and, although he claims to have a perfect memory, we see enough evidence to the contrary that we begin to distrust his version of the events he relates.

Almost without exception, those who love The Book of the New Sun have read it multiple times. People who disliked the book found it confusing. And that is understandable, because it is confusing. The plot is complex and the action shifts quickly; questions arise and are not answered for hundreds of pages - sometimes without reference to the original question and sometimes not at all; many characters enter and exit the narrative and they may or may not re-appear much later in the story.

I think the tetralogy requires multiple readings to discover the nuances and symbolism of the story. I have only read it once, but I may return in a couple of years. At that time, I will also likely revisit this review.

Thursday, March 8, 2018 5:49:05 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, March 4, 2018

Today I am grateful I was able to answer most of the students' Python and Machine Learning questions yesterday - topics on which I am still learning.

Today I am grateful to participate in Mentor Night at the University of Toronto DSCIL last night.

Today I am grateful for all the birthday wishes yesterday.

Today I am grateful for 2 days in Waterloo, ON.

Today I am grateful for an upgraded hotel room.

Today I am grateful to be interviewed yesterday by Matthew D. Groves for his excellent podcast.

Today I am grateful to spend a weekend with my old team - just like old times!

Today I am grateful to start recording interviews again after a long break.

Today I am grateful for a private demo in the UIUC VR lab yesterday.

Today I am grateful to spend a day and an excellent dinner with colleagues.

Today I am grateful to meet a lot of Microsoft folks at UIUC yesterday - many of whom I only knew via email and Skype.

Today I am grateful for the hospitality and generosity of Sharon and Greg and their family, who allowed me to stay with them this week in California.

Today I am grateful for:
-Breakfast with Uncle Bill and Aunt Jean
-Lunch with my cousins Sharon, Gail, and John
-A climb up Mount Tamalpais

Today I am grateful to attend my first #TreeHacks this weekend.

Today I am grateful for coffee with Sara last night.

Today I am grateful for my first visit to Palo Alto and Stanford.

Today I am grateful to see the Sharks-Canucks game last night - my first visit to the SAP Center.

Today I am grateful for 10 days between trips, so I had time to move and unpack most of my belongings.

Today I am grateful to cook last night for the first time in a long time. (The pot roast with marinated vegetables turned out great.)

Today I am grateful for:
-Help from Benjamin with my CSS questions
-Seeing Steve Earle in concert last night

Today I am grateful to see JD Souther in concert last night.

Today I am grateful to attend a Microsoft party at the Museum of Science and Industry last night.

Today I am grateful for 2 years in my last apartment and all the good memories I carry from that place.

Today I am grateful to see the play "Blind Date" at the Goodman Theatre last night - my first time at the Goodman in about 10 years!

Today I am grateful to move all my physical possessions to my new home yesterday.

Today I am grateful for Tim's help last night.

Today I am grateful for a weekend in Ontario.

Today I am grateful to Atley and all the MSPs who helped with our #QHacks mentorship this weekend.

Sunday, March 4, 2018 2:16:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The-Wishsong-of-ShannaraI don't think I am the target audience for the writings of Terry Brooks.

The plot lines and characters of his Shannara stories are borrowed almost whole from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

There are elves and dwarves and men living in Brooks's world; and there are magical talismans with the power to seduce those who possess them and to identify the possessor to the dark lords who covet them; and there are quests to save the world from evil, powerful sorcerer and his army of demonic beings; and there are at least 2 creatures who talk like Gollum.

In "The Wishsong of Shannara" - the third and final book of "The Shannara Trilogy", Brin and Jair - children of the hero of "The Elfstones of Shannara" and grandchildren of the hero of "The Sword of Shannara" - travel across the Four Lands to destroy an evil book. They armed with the power of the Wishsong - the ability to generate magic and illusion with their voice; and are joined by allies of other races.

I think Brooks's books are aimed at teens and young adults who have not yet experienced Tolkien and maybe aren't ready for something as heavy as Middle Earth. Brooks is not nearly as good a writer as writer as Tolkien (who is?); but his narrative is simpler and more straightforward, making it accessible to those who are new to high fantasy. It's a good gateway into this genre.

I enjoyed this trilogy enough to complete it, but not enough to read any more books that Brooks has set in this universe. This is a good introduction to high fantasy for those who want something light and easy to read. If you are already a fan of the genre and have read some of its masters, you are likely be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 5:00:07 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Friday, February 16, 2018

Steve Earle has been writing and recording songs for over 4 decades. On Monday night, he brought those songs to the City Winery in Chicago's Fulton River district.

This was my second night in a row at the City Winery as I saw JD Souther the night before. Earle and Souther share a Texas upbringing and a talent for writing great music.

Steve Earle is as much a storyteller as he is a songwriter. Listening to his music you can hear the influences of his old friends Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. Between songs, Earle would talk about his life and his music and his romantic streak and his many failed marriages. He expressed a strong wit - in both his lyrics and his banter.

Every song was a joy to listen to as he moved effortlessly from blues to country to Irish folk songs. It was just him and his guitar or mandolin (and sometimes harmonica) but that was enough. A packed theater appreciated all he brought.

Now in his 60s, Earle continues to make music and to tour constantly.

And to make audiences happy.

Friday, February 16, 2018 7:07:00 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, February 15, 2018

JD Souther wrote the soundtrack to my youth. His songs were recorded by many of my favourite artists, including Bonnie Raitt, the Eagles, and Linda Ronstadt.

Sunday night at the City Winery I had a chance to return to those days when legendary songwriter performed. For over 2 hours, Souther sang songs he wrote and (mostly) others made famous. His tenor voice still sounds great and was accompanied only by himself playing acoustic guitar or baby grand piano.

He is mostly known for the songs he wrote and co-wrote for the Eagles and he played many of these, such as "Sad Café", "New Kid in Town", and "Best of My Love". He also played his composition "White Rhythm and Blues", one of my favourite Linda Ronstadt songs and "You're Only Lonely", the only top-40 hit recorded by Souther.

Souther spent most of the evening playing ballads, but changed it up for the encore, getting the audience clapping along to the catchy "Heartache Tonight."

The place was not full on a cold and snowy Sunday night. But Souther is a big baseball fan and announced before his last song that he planned to return to Chicago in the spring and take in a Cubs game. So you will have another chance to see him. And you should take it.

Me and JD after the show.

Thursday, February 15, 2018 4:22:13 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, February 4, 2018

Today I am grateful for coffee.

Today I am grateful for my first visit to Kingston, ON and Queen's University.

Today I am grateful for my new condo.

Today I am grateful for dinner with Esteban last night.

Today I am grateful for a chance to deliver 2 guest lectures yesterday at the University of Illinois and for all the questions during and after each lecture.

Today I am grateful to be invited to speak at Illinois Pulse Week last night and for a great audience that stayed 45 minutes late asking questions.

Today I am grateful for a gift of a new pair of shoes.

Today I am grateful that I've lost 30 pounds in the last year.

Today I am grateful for coffee with Keith yesterday.

Today I am grateful that the professors I deal with are appreciative of the work I'm doing and the programs we are offering.

Today I am grateful for dinner last night with Stephen and Angel.

Today I am grateful to attend an exciting Spurs-Cavs game last night.

Today I am grateful to see MSU play basketball at Illinois last night - probably the only game I will see in-person this year.

Today I am grateful for
-my first time attending U of T Hacks
-an upgrade on my flight home last night

Today I am grateful for my first taste of sushi burrito yesterday.

Today I am grateful to all the students who stayed at my AI workshop past 1:30AM last night.

Today I am grateful to spend yesterday with my old team.

Today I am grateful for 2 years in my current apartment.

Today I am grateful that my work takes me to so many amazing places.

Today I am grateful for dinner with Josh last night.

Today I am grateful to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who called out injustice where he saw it and advanced an important struggle that continues today.

Today I am grateful for my first visit to a Persian restaurant.

Today I am grateful to travel safely from Sandusky to Chicago to Dallas to Vancouver in less than 24 hours.

Today I am grateful for my 11th #CodeMash and all who worked hard to make it excellent.

Today I am grateful to Jennifer and Matt for answering my Machine Learning questions yesterday.

Today I am grateful to see so many old friends yesterday at #CodeMash.

Today I am grateful to attend an #MIGANG meeting last night in Michigan and drive to Ohio after with Jennifer, Ondrej, Jonathan, Gaines, and Seth.

Today I am grateful to watch Black Mirror last night with Ondrej, Desislava, Gaines, and Mary.

Today I am grateful I've made it to the gym every day I was home.

Today I am grateful for a birthday lunch yesterday with Shelly and Jason.

Today I am grateful for a good night sleep last night.

Today I am grateful for my slow cooker.

Today I am grateful to Brent for helping me with my Azure questions yesterday.

Today I am grateful for:
-a few days in California with my boys
-seeing the Chargers
-Raiders game yesterday at the StubHub Center
-An upgrade to First Class on my flight home last night

Sunday, February 4, 2018 1:02:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, January 22, 2018
Monday, January 22, 2018 3:07:48 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, January 18, 2018

ElfstonesOfShannaraThe Elfstones of Shannara is the second book of Terry Brooks’s Shannara series.

It begins years after The Sword of Shannara. The magical Ellcrys tree - created by the elves millennia earlier to imprison the evil demons - has begun to die, allowing the demons to regain their strength and attack men and elves.

Wil Ohmsford - grandson of Shea Ohmsford, hero of the first novel - is assigned the task of re-planting the Ellcrys. He needs the help of the elven princess Amberle, who is chosen to protect the magical tree, but has run away from her king and family. To protect her on his quest, he uses the power of the mystical elfstones left to him by his grandfather.

It becomes a race for Wil and Amberle to find the hidden Ellcrys seed and restore the Ellcrys before the emboldened demons attack and destroy men and elves of the Four Lands.

Terry Brooks knows how to tell a story, but it troubles me that he borrows so much from JRR Tolkien. It's not just that his world is populated with elves and dwarves. Major parts of the story are lifted directly from Tolkien. The young, reluctant hero goes on a quest to save the world from evil creatures, armed with a magical talisman that was left to him by an older relative, who went on a similar quest in an earlier book. We could easily substitute Bilbo, Frodo, and the Ring for Wil, Shea, and the Elfstones.

But, the stories are entertaining if not told with Tolkien's magic. It's a good introduction to the world of fantasy for those who want something more accessible than Lord of the Rings.

Thursday, January 18, 2018 5:06:43 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)