# Saturday, September 28, 2019

DayOfTheLocustNathanael West's The Day of the Locust takes place in 1930s Hollywood; but it has little to do with the film industry. This even though the book opens with a parade of movie extras marching past and ends with fans rioting outside a movie premiere.

Most of the story takes place around the edges of movie life. Tod Hackett works as a set painter for a movie studio and Faye Greener is a sometimes extra, waiting for her chance to be a star.

Tod is infatuated with Faye, but Faye cares only for herself and uses Tod, along with every man who comes into his life. Some of the men she teases, some she sleeps with, and some she exploits. She particularly takes advantage of Homer Simpson (Yes. Homer Simpson), a shy, repressed Midwesterner who comes to California hoping the mild weather will heal his failing health. After the death of her father, Faye moves into Homer's house and invites her lover and his friend to move into his garage, where they host illegal cock fights. She is verbally abusive to all her suitors, but she is cruelest to Homer.

The Day of the Locust shines a light on the shallowness of Hollywood culture. As Hackett tells it, people "have come to California to die". The pleasant weather isn't enough to occupy them, and they don't have enough money or imagination to fight the inevitable boredom that overwhelms their lives. So, everyone devolves into a shallow version of themselves.

No one seemed to be working toward anything meaningful. Tod is complex ("a very complicated young man with a whole set of personalities, one inside the other like a nest of Chinese boxes); but everyone he encounters is a simple stereotype from the ill-tempered dwarf to the silent cowboy to the mother pushing her spoiled son to be a child star. It's no wonder that so many of them fall for Faye's empty charms. 

This book is satirical and depressing and filled with sexual frustration, which leads to heartbreak, which often leads to violence.

And I liked it.

Saturday, September 28, 2019 9:21:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, September 22, 2019

GoodOmensAziraphale is an angel and Crowley is a demon and both have been living on Earth for thousands of years and they have grown to like it. They even like each other. Sort of. So, they are distressed to learn that the antichrist has been born, signaling the impending end of the world.

Anathema Device is the descendent of Agnes Nutter - a 17th century soothsayer whose predictions have all come to pass. Agnes has predicted the coming Armageddon.

Newton Pulsifer and Sergeant Shadwell are incompetent witch hunters, who only know that something strange is going on, so they chase it across England, trying to avoid bad people and any monetary expenditures.

The Chattering Order of St. Beryl are a group of bumbling Satanists charged with swapping the newborn antichrist, so he is raised by a powerful political family. They accidentally place him with the wrong family, so he grows up in a small Oxfordshire village raised by middle class parents.

Years later, the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse are racing toward the 11-year-old antichrist, planning to finalize his rise to power. Horseman Pestilence retired after the discovery of penicillin, so he has been replaced by Pollution.

And then it gets weird.

These are some of the elements of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman - two of my favourite authors.

It's hard to tell which parts are Gaiman and which are Pratchett. Gaiman is better at inventing worlds and making them seem believable. Pratchett is better at laugh-out-loud humour. And there is plenty of both in this story.

Good Omens is a tale about the worth of humanity and about the relative power of nature versus nurture. But mostly it is about silliness and funny jokes. If you love Gaiman and you love Pratchett (and who doesn't?), you will enjoy this book.

Sunday, September 22, 2019 3:21:53 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, September 21, 2019

IMG_5933When my boys were young, I would regularly read to them and their classmates. One of our favourite authors was Roald Dahl, so I spent many Fridays reading chapters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda.

Saturday night, I had the chance to experience Matilda - the Musical live at London' Cambridge Theatre.

It was a delightful interpretation of a delightful book.

Matilda is the story of a young girl who loves books, but is despised, discouraged, and verbally abused by her ignorant and amoral parents. When she goes to school, she finds the other children absurdly ignorant, the older kids callous and teasing and - worst of all - the headmistress Miss Trunchbull is cruel and domineering.

Matilda is bright and mischievous and unafraid. But her life is made miserable by the adults who surround her. The one great exception is her kindly teacher Miss Honey, who cares about Matilda, but is too timid to stand up to Miss Trunchbull.

The Cambridge Theatre production made use of the entire theatre. Actors frequently entered and exited the stage up the center aisle (right next to my seat, as it turned out); and the action sometimes extended up into the balcony. In a break from tradition, the intermission ended without warning with Matilda's father stepping onstage to read a statement on the dangers of excessive reading. People hurried back to their seat when they discovered the play had resumed.

The title character was played perfectly by Tilly-Raye Bayer, a tiny girl with the cherubic face and a precocious attitude.

I saw many children in the audience enjoying the show, but many adults like me also had a great time. It took me back to a simpler time that I shared with my boys.

My second experience in London's famous West End theatre district was a delight.

Saturday, September 21, 2019 3:58:55 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, September 8, 2019

WhiteNoiseJack and Babette have an idyllic, if unconventional life. Jack is a professor at a small midwestern college, whose Hitler Studies program has proved enormously popular. The major is so popular that a colleague is building a similar curriculum around Elvis Presley in addition to a course about car crashes in movies. Babette has a successful career reading tabloid stories to blind people.

They live in a nice house near campus with four children from their numerous previous marriages. They are a little too obsessed with death, but what of that?

Things start to disrupt when Jack is exposed to toxic fumes that descend on their town - an incident that brings him closer to the death he fears.

Babette learns of a pill that claims to cure death anxiety, but the only source of this pill will only trade it for sex. She concedes and Jack takes the affair in stride when he first learns of it; but later plots violent revenge.

White Noise by Don DeLillo is a surreal book. From absurd pop-culture college majors to the unexplained "toxic cloud" to unlikely medicines to the children who seem more mature than their parents to the ex-wives with even quirkier personalities than Jack and Babette's family.

DeLillo makes it work, thanks to his gift of humor. His dialogue is often inane, but funny. And he throws the reader off by including unrelated details in many scenes, such as describing the shoes a character wears or relaying what is heard on the TV in the background.

White Noise is an enjoyable satire and a good read.

Sunday, September 8, 2019 5:44:33 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, September 7, 2019

TheirEyesWereWatchingGodUntil this week, I was unfamiliar with Zora Neale Hurston or her 1937 novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God".

But I read it and I'm glad I did.

This is the story of Janie Crawford - a black woman growing up in Florida in the early 20th century. Janie is the product of a white man raping her mother and her mother is the result of the rape of Janie's grandmother by her plantation master.

It is a full generation following the emancipation of slaves in America, but the poor, uneducated blacks of the region are still far from equal. This book reminds us that they had stories to tell and people to love and lives to lead.

As a young girl, Janie hoped for love. As a teenager, Janie's grandmother arranged her marriage to an older man, hoping to avoid the tragedies of the last two generations. This marriage fails and her second husband dies, and she marries a charming gambler, who is much younger than her. Their life seems good until a flood and a rabid dog attack disrupts it.

But these plot devices are just Hurston's ways of allowing us to see inside Janie and her neighbors. She struggles to love her husbands, even though they sometimes behave irrationally and occasionally violently. She struggles with other blacks, even though some of them have ideas that are strange to her. And she struggles to survive in a world designed by white men.

Her first two husbands treat her as a piece of property. Only her third husband gives her the love she desires. He is far from perfect, but he accepts Janie as a person.

We cannot escape the racial overtones in this novel because most of the characters are black and are living in a white-controlled society. But the book is more about gender roles and the relationship between men and women than about race. Janie searches for love but ends up being controlled by the men in her life. The black men of this story are controlled by the white men; and they take out their frustration by controlling their black women.

Hurston strives to make the dialogue authentic, including poor grammar and phonetic (mis)pronunciations, which can make this book a challenge to read. But this adds to the color of the story. And I happened to choose the audiobook, read by Ruby Dee, who did a masterful job.

"Their Eyes Were Watching God" is a story of strength and endurance by a woman seeking love and affirmation and survival. Janie is human but heroic. She asserts and defends herself while surviving in a world she does not control. Ultimately, she succeeds in living her life by her own rules.

Saturday, September 7, 2019 9:09:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, September 3, 2019

IMG_5744Glenn Tilbrook celebrated his birthday with us in Chicago.

Tilford - along with Chris Difford - are the driving force behind the band Squeeze. Squeeze began as a New Wave band in the late 1970s, but progressed to become one of the most creative bands of the early 1980s - producing some very inventive melodies, rhythms, and arrangements. Difford and Tilbrook were the founders, songwriters, and leaders of the band and they are the only two original members to remain with the group today.

Saturday night at the Chicago Theatre, they were joined by a very good backing ensemble, especially a drummer, filled with kinetic energy and a masterful keyboard player.

From the moment they walked on stage, they were focused on the music. The band played four songs before they paused to greet the audience.

Mixed in with some lesser-known album cuts, the band played many of their hits, including "Annie Get Your Gun", "Cool for Cats" (a rare Difford vocal), "Goodbye Girl", and "Up the Junction". Highlights of the evening included an acoustic version of "Tempted" and a rousing version of "Black Coffee in Bed" to close the night.

The seats at the Chicago Theatre were a little too close to allow any pogo dancing; but the audience got on their feet when they recognized a song.

IMG_5748During their heyday, Squeeze was moderately popular on American radio stations, while they enjoyed much greater success in their native UK and on my college dorm room stereo.

At the end of the show, Difford wished his friend a Happy Birthday, showed a video from back home, and led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday".

We all celebrated.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019 9:34:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, September 2, 2019

Episode 577

Lorena Mesa on the Python Software Foundation

Lorena Mesa is a GitHub data engineer and a Director of the Python Software Foundation.

She describes the mission of the Foundation and how they assist Python developers and the Python community.



Monday, September 2, 2019 9:33:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, September 1, 2019

Today I am grateful to attend the Squeeze concert last night with John.

Today I am grateful for a visit yesterday to the September 11 Memorial and Museum in lower Manhattan.

Today I am grateful for:
-My first visit to Birdland Jazz Club
-Seeing "The Phantom of the Opera" on Broadway

Today, I am grateful for my first visit to Purchase, NY.

Today I am grateful for my first visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday.

Today I am grateful that I've had a few weeks without work travel.

Today I am grateful to attend Mass at Assumption Church for the first time.

Today I am grateful for a bike ride along the lakefront in Milwaukee yesterday.

‪Today I am grateful to see Max Weinberg’s Jukebox in concert last night. ‬

Today I am grateful for dinner with John last night.

Today I am grateful for a tour of the Glessner House Museum yesterday.

Today I am grateful for a hot bath last night.

Today I am grateful for a weekend in Flagstaff with Dan.

Today I am grateful for a visit to Walnut Canyon National Monument, Grand Falls, and Winslow yesterday.

Today, I am grateful for a drive through the deserts, canyons, mountains, and plateaus of central Arizona.

Today I am grateful to attend an extra-innings Giants-Diamondbacks baseball game last night at Chase Field.

Today I am grateful for:
-the Dell technician who fixed my motherboard yesterday;
-a chance to speak at the Chicago .NET User Group last night

Today I am grateful for my longest bike ride of the year (so far)

Today I am grateful that so many electronics can be fixed by turning them off and on.

Today I am grateful that downtown Chicago becomes more bike-friendly every year.

Today I am grateful to visit the United States Pizza Museum yesterday.

Today I am grateful to see Sam Shepard's "True West" last night on my first visit to the Steppenwolf Theatre.

Today I am grateful for my new dresser.

Today I am grateful for a few days in southwest Michigan.

Today I am grateful for a walk around Saugatuck yesterday.

‪Today I am grateful to watch the sun set over Lake Michigan last night. ‬

Today I am grateful for dinner last night with Emilija and Larissa.

Today I am grateful to see Santana and the Doobie Brothers in concert last night.

Sunday, September 1, 2019 4:47:07 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, August 31, 2019

William Faulkner's Light in August opens as Lena Grove arrives in Jefferson, Mississippi after traveling hundreds of miles to Jefferson, Mississippi in search of Lucas Birch - the father of her unborn child. Lucas left Alabama, promising to send for Lena as soon as he was settled, but she never heard from him.

Lena learns that Lucas has been living in Jefferson for months under an assumed name. He has been bootlegging with a drifter named Joe Christmas.

Christmas was raised in an orphanage, then adopted by an abusive stepfather, whom he murdered. He has been on the run ever since. At the beginning of the novel, he is having a relationship with Joanna Burden - a local descendent of abolitionists, who is shunned by the whites in town because of her tolerance and kindness toward the blacks.

Each major character we meet is a misfit: an unwed mother or a defrocked preacher or a criminal or an abolitionist or an orphan. Many of them are self-destructive and all of them are interesting. When Faulkner introduces each character, he takes the time to review their backstory - explaining how they came to their troubles.

Soon, there is a murder and a manhunt and a town seeking justice for someone they never liked.

Race plays a huge role in this novel. One character looks white but is filled with self-loathing because he believes he is part black. The local white folks are quick to believe the guilt of an alleged murderer when they learn he may be part negro.

One thing the racism of the characters succeeds in doing is masking the extreme misogyny of many of the characters.

Sometimes the frequent time hops make this a difficult story to follow; but, stay with it. It is filled with tragedy and human drama and raw emotion.

Saturday, August 31, 2019 7:48:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, August 29, 2019

GCast 63:

Sentiment Analysis JavaScript Demo

In this video, I walk you through a JavaSript application that calls the Sentiment Analysis Cognitive Service.

Thursday, August 29, 2019 1:09:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)