# Sunday, October 6, 2019

Today I am grateful for phone calls yesterday from my sister Debbie and my cousin Kevin.

Today I am grateful to write some code the past couple weeks for the first time in too long.

Today I am grateful for a free annual flu shot.

Today I am grateful for a visit this week from John and Becky.

Today I am grateful for dinner last night with John and Becky.

Today I am grateful for a long-overdue haircut last night.

Today I am grateful to see the Billy Cobham Crosswinds Project featuring Randy Brecker last night at the City Winery.

Today I am grateful to cook a nice meal for someone yesterday for the first time in a long time.

Today I am grateful to see Bruce Cockburn in concert last night.

Today I am grateful for a grocery store 1 block from my home.

Today I am grateful to see Ad Astra in Lincoln Square last night. And for a 10-mile bike ride home after the movie.

Today I am grateful for the flexibility to work where I want on many days.

Today I am grateful for a birthday dinner with Tim and Natale last night at Au Cheval.

Today I am grateful for my son's new job as head basketball coach at Kalamazoo College.

Today I am grateful to attend the MSU-Northwestern football game in Evanston yesterday.

Today I am grateful for a few days in Redmond and Bellevue.

Today I am grateful:
-to attend a Train the Trainer course for a Diversity and Inclusion workshop yesterday
-for lunch yesterday with my boss's boss's boss (After months of phone conversations, we finally met in person)

Today I am grateful for my first visit to an Afghan restaurant.

Today I am grateful for dinner with John last night.

Today I am grateful for a night in my own bed.

Today I am grateful for an excellent weekend in London.

Today I am grateful for:
-a tour of Westminster Abbey
-Lunch with Peter
-my first visit to the British Museum
-seeing "Matilda" live in London's West End

‪Today I am grateful for:‬
‪-Coffee with Galiya and Gary ‬
‪-Dinner with James and Gosia ‬
‪-Seeing Rachel before she left London ‬

Today I am grateful to work with customers who are excited about what we are working on together.

Today I am grateful to work with smart people.

Today I am grateful for dinner with this team at an English Pub last night.

Sep 11, 2019, 7:29 AM

Today I am grateful for my first visit to Peterborough, England.

Today I am grateful for a week in Rome.

Today I am grateful to visit the Coliseum, the Forum, the Vatican, the Spanish Steps and other attractions in Rome yesterday with Hattan, Anders, and Robert.

Today I am grateful for a successful OpenHack in Rome this week.

Today I am grateful my camera was still there when I went back to look for it.

Today I am grateful for a hot shower following a restless night.

Today I am grateful for dinner with Hattan last night.

‪Today I am grateful for my first visit to Rome in over 30 years. ‬

Today I am grateful for my first visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Sunday, October 6, 2019 1:27:40 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, October 5, 2019

AmericanTragedyClyde Griffiths is an ambitious young man.

At the age of 21, he finds himself working for a rich uncle who owns a shirt company. He is the boss of a department filled with young ladies and, despite company rules expressly forbidding such things, begins an affair with one of them - the beautiful Roberta Alden. He is also welcomed into the social circles of the local aristocracy, where he is liked for his good looks and charm. Soon, he meets rich, beautiful Sondra and decides he loves her instead of Roberta. Unfortunately, he continues to sleep with Roberta; and, when she becomes pregnant, he is left with a dilemma: marry the girl he no longer loves or abandon her for Sondra, risking exposure for his philandering. It is at this point that Clyde contemplates murder.

Clyde sounds like a terrible person. Who would treat people like this and place his own ambitions above the very lives of others? But An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser does not begin with Clyde's entry into high society. It begins with his childhood in Kansas City, where Clyde was the eldest son of street evangelists. Poor and embarrassed, he finds work as a hotel busboy, which puts some money in his pocket. He begins spending his evenings squandering his salary on booze and prostitutes. After being exploited by the selfish gold digger Hortense Briggs, who manipulates him into buying her expensive gifts, he develops a mistrust of women. At one point, Clyde is a passenger in a stolen car that is involved in a fatal hit-and-run. Fearing arrest, Clyde flees Kansas City and changes his name. By doing so, he learns that he can avoid responsibility and punishment by running away.

Each stage of Clydes's life reinforces in him his desire for material wealth and social standing. He becomes more self-centered with each passing year - not evil, but with little empathy toward others.

The book ends with a murder trial, a thorough analysis of one of the book's central tragedies.

There are side stories: the office of the ambitious district attorney that has no qualms about manufacturing evidence; the mother who refuses to acknowledge the possibility that her son might be guilty; the virginal Roberta's agonizing choice to give herself to Clyde or risk losing him; and Sondra, whose parents disapprove of her relationship with a boy they see as lower in social ranking.

But mostly, this is Clyde's story. And the reader cannot help but sympathize with him, even though his problems are almost entirely self-inflicted. Clyde is a product of his experiences. He has been conditioned by society to want what others have, and he doesn't have the courage to question this.

Dreiser removes much ambiguity by telling the reader explicitly what is in the mind of each character as they are speaking. With Clyde, the ambiguity remains because Clyde himself does not understand his own emotions.

There are three deaths in the novel. And, although each is tragic, the real tragedy of the story is the slow descent of Clyde's conscience. He never sees himself as evil, but he falls for the material comforts, and the pretty girls, and he comes to believe that he is entitled to these things and that his desires take precedence over the needs of anyone else.

An American Tragedy is not perfect. It's longer than it needs to be, and it moves slowly at times. But it is a good crime story; a good legal drama; and a very good psychological analysis of a misguided mind growing up under the influence of American values.

Saturday, October 5, 2019 9:14:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, October 1, 2019

CobhamBrecker (2)Maybe it was the rain. Or the fact that it was a Sunday. Or because they performed 2 shows on  the same day.

But the City Winery was barely half full for the legendary drummer Billy Cobham and his Crosswinds Project, which featured his longtime collaborator trumpeter Randy Brecker.

CobhamBrecker (3)Cobham and Brecker have a long history together. They co-founded the jazz-rock fusion band Dreams in the late 1960s before launching successful careers as solo artists and collaborating with many of the jazz greats. Brecker found great success pairing with his brother Michael as The Brecker Brothers, while Cobham co-founded the Mahavishnu Orchestra with guitarist John McLaughlin.

Sunday they were together again, along with 4 other musicians (guitar, bass, keyboard, and bassoon) at the City Winery. I caught the second of two shows and the band was tight and energetic.

Named for his classic 1974 album, the Crosswinds Project played the full Spanish Moss Suite from that LP, leading in with a beautifully rendered solo keyboard version of "Savannah the Serene".

CobhamBrecker (1)It was Cobham's band and he led the way, but each of his band took turns with outstanding solo and ensemble performances. I was particularly impressed with keyboardist Osam Elelwy, who brought both energy and emotion to the evening's performance.

At 75 years young, Billy Cobham is celebrating his legacy and still sharing continuing to pour himself into his music. It will be tough to match the influence he has had on musicians in the past, but he is still inspiring audiences.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019 9:32:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, September 30, 2019

Episode 578

Raj Krishnan on Azure Data Explorer

Raj Krishnan describes Azure Data Explorer - a highly-scalable, very fast in-memory data store formerly known as Kusto.

Monday, September 30, 2019 9:29:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, September 29, 2019

BruceCockburn-60Bruce Cockburn sat outside Maurer Hall at Lincoln Square's Old Town School of Folk Music, smiling, chatting, and signing autographs. His sold-out concert had ended almost an hour before, but he patiently waited for each photo request and each expression of gratitude - gratitude for the evening's music and for four decades of recordings. He did not show his 74 years at all. Until he stood up and one noticed a curve in his back that kept him bent over a bit too much and forced him to use a cane beyond a few steps.

Any age-related frailties were conspicuously absent during his nearly 3-hour performance. He sat while playing and singing, but he left his seat between songs to change instruments (he brought four guitars plus a charango - a small South American stringed instrument). But the thing that mostly defies Cockburn's years is his voice, which remains the rich baritone that made him semi-famous half a lifetime ago.

BruceCockburn-71 Cockburn seemed to get stronger as the show progressed. During the first half of his show, he softened up the audience - lulling them into a feeling of comfort; but, after intermission, one could feel the energy increase. From the anger of protest songs like "Call it Democracy" and environmental anthems like "If a Tree Falls" to the uplifting and upbeat "wondering Where the Lions Are" (my favourite Cockburn song), the septuagenarian singer-songwriter kept the energy high.

He was accompanied on stage by a young man that I assume was his son (Bruce introduced him as someone with the same last name), who alternated between guitar and accordion. This helped fill in some of the songs, but one gets the feeling that the elder Cockburn could have carried the show himself.

It was a rare treat to see a legendary performer like Bruce Cockburn, who is still going strong.


Sunday, September 29, 2019 9:31:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# 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)