# Sunday, May 16, 2021

Neil Gaiman's The Sleeper and the Spindle is a short fable that combines the legends of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.

The book is beautifully illustrated with ink drawings by Chris Riddell - mostly black and white with a few splashes of gold.

Gaiman's gift for storytelling keeps one engaged, even with a familiar story; and his imagination provides a twist at the end which turns on its head our concept of villain and victim.

Although the story is a bit dark, the length of the book and the familiar topic make it a good book for children; but I found myself captivated by the magic in the book and in the telling.

Sunday, May 16, 2021 9:09:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, May 15, 2021

"War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner."

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Mexican government hired John Joel Glanton and his group of mercenaries to hunt Apache warriors, who had been attacking citizens. They paid Glanton for each Apache scalp he brought them. After realizing that the government could not distinguish the origin of the scalps, the gang began a murderous rampage, killing women, children, and anyone in their path.

In 1985, Cormac McCarthy published Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West - a novelization of the exploits of the Glanton Gang.

The book follows "The Kid" - a violent youth who flees Tennessee to the Texas-Mexico border and joins with Glanton's crew. The Kid participates in the gang's violence, but mostly serves as an observer to the other characters and the action of the novel.

The most intriguing character is Judge Holden, a giant hairless albino, who serves as Glanton's second in command, but is the one in control of the company. Holden is a huge character - physically and metaphorically. He is a philosopher, who believes that war is man's ultimate occupation, and he is a charismatic manipulator, who serves his own moral purposes. The Judge is a memorable villain - a pedophile and a liar and a murderer and a sadist. He may even be Satan himself and the wastelands of northern Mexico and the southwester US may be the Hell over which he reigns.

The Kid is left to fight for his life as well as ponder the morality of what he is a part of. He is the only gang member and one of the few characters in the novel who shows anything close to mercy or any contrition for the atrocities committed.

The story becomes more savage, brutal, and bleak as it progresses. Eventually, the violence seems inevitable, as do the consequences - both to the victims and the perpetrators.

This book does not romanticize the Old West as so many western novels do. It exposes some of the racism and destruction rationalized by a belief in Manifest Destiny. It shows the dehumanization of Blacks and Native Americans by the white conquerors and it reveals the lack of humanity by those conquerors.

Blood Meridian has no protagonist, no plot, and almost no character development. But it does have raw emotion. And it brought difficult questions to my mind: Is man fundamentally good? Does war have a place in society? Who is the sinner in a conflict where everyone is committing atrocities?

If you are looking for a Western story of cowboys and Indians and heroes and bad guys, this is not for you. If you are looking for a grim statement on man's nature, brace yourself and dive into this novel.

Saturday, May 15, 2021 8:30:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, May 14, 2021
# Thursday, May 13, 2021

GCast 109:

Using the Video Indexer AI Tool

Video Indexer is a tool from Microsoft that uses Azure Media Services and Cognitive Services to analyze video and audio file. It can use AI to determine a transcription, facial recognition, emotion and sentiment analysis, scene changes, and other useful information. This video shows how to use this tool.

Thursday, May 13, 2021 9:43:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, May 10, 2021

Episode 660

Dani Diaz on IoT and Azure Percept

Dani Diaz describes some of the practical applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing and the tools that make it easier and more powerful.

Links:

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/azure-percept/
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/azure-percept/overview-azure-percept

Monday, May 10, 2021 9:43:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, May 9, 2021

KurtEllingThe City Winery was only about two-thirds full for the Friday afternoon performance - a small crowd, considering they removed at least half the seats to maintain social distancing. But jazz singer Kurt Elling and his band still brought full energy to their performance.

Elling, who has released 15 albums and won 2 Grammy Awards, performed for 90 minutes, showing off his vocal range for a small, but enthusiastic crowd.

It was the day before Mother's Day, and he talked about mothers, and he talked about the pandemic, and he talked about how this was his "first proper weekend" performing after a long layoff. But mostly he sang, and he sang well!

Elling is primarily an interpreter of the songs of others, but he brings an impressive ability to make each song his own. It may be the vocalizing on "I'm Satisfied" or the tonal range on "Come Fly with Me". Speaking of range, he and the band moved seamlessly between different styles of jazz from swing to ballads to improvisation.

His backing band consisted of piano, drums, and standup bass. They were talented and understated -impressing with their playing without drawing undue attention to themselves. After about an hour Elling - a Rockford, IL native - invited Chicagoan Lenard Simpson onto stage to accompany him on saxophone. This was a treat as I know Simpson's work after seeing him at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival last September.

It was a delightful evening that must have been a treat for the mothers in the audience.

Sunday, May 9, 2021 6:53:37 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, May 8, 2021

Can a book be both horrible and beautiful?

Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel Lolita tells the story of Humbert Humbert, an intelligent, educated, charming man with one terrible flaw - He is obsessed with pre-pubescent girls, which he refers to as "nymphets". When Humbert encounters 12-year-old Dolores Haze (whom he dubs "Lolita"), he becomes so infatuated that he marries her mother to be with her. After the mother's death, he kidnaps the girl and takes her across the country for two years, violating her repeatedly.

This book disturbed me much more on this reading than on my first encounter 35 years ago. Maybe it was because I didn't have children at that time; or maybe it was because Nabokov did such a good job making me feel Humbert's panic and guilt; or maybe because I was naive enough back then to swallow Humbert's rationalizations. But on this more mature reading, it is clear to me that Humbert is a monster. Through begging, bribes, and bluffs, he coerces his stepdaughter into sexual relations. He terrorizes Lolita into believing she will be institutionalized if their secret is ever revealed. With no family and no support system, Lo has no choice but to acquiesce to her stepfather's pedophilia.

You may be seduced into thinking this is a love story; and you may be lured into believing it is an erotic novel. It is neither. Most of the sex is not related directly or in detail, reducing any possible eroticism; and this is, above all else, the story of systematic child abuse and exploitation. Humbert the sexual predator steals the childhood of a young girl.

Ironically, it is also a beautifully told story, thanks to Nabokov's gift for wordplay and linguistics.

Humbert's obsession stems from an incident in his boyhood when he fell in love with young Annabel Leigh, who died before they could consummate their passion. Their seaside rendezvous mirrors Edgar Allen Poe's tragic poem "Annabel Lee”, and the first-person prose repeatedly returns to echo Poe's words.

Why is it a classic? Because Nabokov persuades the reader to feel some of Humbert's pain and shame and panic and guilt and regret; he humanizes the monster without excusing him. His seduction of the reader is almost as complete as his seduction of his stepdaughter.

We experience his scheming to control this girl he should be protecting. We see Lolita only through the eyes of Humbert, but we know that she cries herself to sleep every night. There is neither love nor tenderness in Humbert's actions; only sexual objectification and a feeling of ownership.

There is a murder at the end. But this is far less shocking than the exploitation throughout the novel.

Lolita endures because it grabs our emotions – both positive and negative. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021 9:00:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, May 3, 2021

Episode 659

Danielle Walker on Technology Startups

Danielle Walker assists entrepreneurs in starting technology companies. She discusses some of the things that they can do to launch a more successful product.

Monday, May 3, 2021 9:33:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, May 2, 2021

5/2
Today I am grateful that my refrigerator and freezer are finally working for the first time in over a month.

5/1
Today I am grateful to attend the wedding of Laurent and Vanch yesterday.
 
4/30
Today I am grateful for coffee with Steve yesterday.

4/29
Today I am grateful for the convenience of online shopping.

4/28
Today I am grateful for a 15-mile night ride yesterday through downtown Chicago with the Streets Calling Bike Club.

4/27
Today I am grateful to celebrate Ronald's life with his family yesterday.

4/26
Today I am grateful for new sweatpants

4/25
Today I am grateful for those who responded when I asked for advice and counseling.

4/24
Today I am grateful to visit my son's new home for the first time.

4/22
Today I am grateful to own a reliable car.

4/21
Today I am grateful that the criminal justice system sometimes works correctly.

4/20
Today I am grateful that I continue to learn new skills.

4/19
Today I am grateful for a freshly-washed car.

4/18
Today I am grateful for a long walk around East Lansing and Michigan State University yesterday afternoon.

4/17
Today I am grateful to celebrate Joe's life with my family yesterday.

4/16
Today I am grateful I have at least 1 right glove and 1 left glove remaining at the end of winter.

4/15
Today I am grateful to have 2 light switches now working properly after being defective for a long time.

4/14
Today I am grateful to interrupt a bike ride for a taco dinner in Little Village last night.

4/13
Today I am grateful I was able to return $80 worth of clothes that did not fit me properly.

4/12
Today I am grateful for my new kitchen faucet.

4/11
Today I am grateful for a hot bath after a long walk and ride in the rain yesterday.

4/10
Today I am grateful to attend my first concert of 2021 last night - Ivy Ford at Rosa's Lounge!

4/9
Today I am grateful to Shahed, who called to see how I was doing yesterday.

4/8
Today I am grateful for my first time biking to Midway airport.

4/7
Today I am grateful for the Chicago Nature Boardwalk.

4/6
Today I am grateful for my new sweater.

4/5
Today I am grateful to spend Easter weekend with my boys.

Sunday, May 2, 2021 2:20:18 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, May 1, 2021

It was World War II and Captain Yossarian was panicking because everyone was trying to kill him. He served as a US Army bombardier and each mission he flew brought the deadly anti-aircraft fire from the Germans. In addition, his commanding officers repeatedly raised the required number of missions before Yossarian could go home.

So Yossarian approached Doc Daneeka to seek a discharge by reason of insanity. This was allowed, but there was a catch: Catch-22. Catch-22 states that recognizing the dangers of war is the act of a rational mind, so requesting to leave the war was proof of sanity and made one ineligible for discharge on those grounds.

From Joseph Heller's 1961 novel Catch-22:

"Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to."

This is the first of many absurd rules enforced and defended by the military bureaucracy. The soldiers are illogical, the orders are nonsensical, the officers are incompetent, and the rules are meaningless but must be followed.

"Catch-22" recounts these absurd incidents, rules, and conversations - often with laugh-out-loud hilarity. The logic presented is often circular and usually contradictory. The most common spoken phrases are "Are you crazy?" and "You're crazy!" and in many cases, they are crazy. Virtually every character suffers from some degree of neurosis or psychosis.

Heller introduces some of the most memorable characters in literature, including:

- Milo Minderbinder, an unchecked capitalist who is so greedy, he accepts contracts from the German to bomb his own air base and to help them shoot down American fighter planes.

- Major Major Major Major, who will never agree to see anyone in his office until after he leaves his office.

- Doc Daneeka, who dismisses the complaints of his patients because they don't compare to the agony of his being drafted and having to give up a lucrative practice.

This is not an easy novel to read. Dozens of characters come and go, and each has an interesting story, and many have a disturbing backstory. In addition, the story is told non-chronologically, often looping back on the same events, providing more detail with each pass. I found it nearly impossible to determine the actual order of events. Multiple readings help understand the details of the story, but re-reading is not necessary to enjoy Heller's language and the overall messages he strives to convey. These situations are absurd because war is absurd. And you would be crazy to think otherwise. Individual scenes could stand on their own as a short story; but together they weave a classic as each of the numerous threads come together.

After three readings, Catch-22 remains one of my favourite novels of all time. I found myself teetering between Heller's hilarious dialogue and the poignantly tragic circumstances he portrays.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.”

Catch-22 is an anti-war novel, written before anti-war novels were cool. It succeeds brilliantly.

Saturday, May 1, 2021 9:12:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)