# Saturday, May 22, 2021

When Tom Joad came home after four years in prison, his house was empty, and his family was gone. Nearly all the families in the area were gone - driven away by the drought and by poor soil management and by the bank that took their homes.

Tom found his family at the home of his uncle. With no prospects in Oklahoma, they decided to head to California, lured by a handbill's promise of plentiful jobs. The handbill lied. They expected California to be the promised land; but it is a land of broken promises.

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family across the country to California, where they face unemployment, poverty, and a system designed to keep them down.

The Joads and others like them feel helpless. They are starving and have no source of income, other than an oligarchical system of large farms that reduce wages to poverty levels. They try organizing and they are labeled Communists and beaten by police. They try helping one another, but the authorities harass them and burn their camp. They are angry but have nowhere to direct their anger. Just as the faceless bank foreclosed on their homes in Oklahoma, the faceless farms control their lives in California. There is no person to whom they can appeal or at whom they can lash out.

Steinbeck's writing is straightforward, but beautiful. He paints a very real picture of the world in which he Joads live and travel. He makes us care about an entire class of people - the working poor in this case - and about the individual characters in his story, including:

  • Pa Joad, the family patriarch, who cedes leadership to his wife.
  • Ma Joad, whose strength holds the family together.
  • Jim Casey, the ex-preacher, who has lost his faith; but finds a purpose in life after he is arrested for someone else's crime.
  • Tom Joad, who struggles to control his anger because he knows the consequences for himself and his family.

Steinbeck makes one feel the pain of oppression without ever getting preachy. Even the former preacher Casy manages to deliver his message without preaching. The endurance and resilience of the Joads and their repeated frustrations with the system makes the author's points for him. The Biblical parallels are clear, as the Joad’s exodus mirrors the trials of the one led by Moses.

This is one of the great American novels. It is a bleak story of life during the Great Depression - a story of man's inhumanity to man and of man's kindness and resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity. Sometimes the oppressed turn on one another; but more often they face greed with dignity. It is a moving story of community and family; it is a story of hope and disappointment and despair. It is a warning of concentrated power. It is a classic.

Saturday, May 22, 2021 9:15:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, May 17, 2021

Episode 661

Joel Cochran on Azure Synapse

Joel Cochran describes Azure Synapse - the next generation of Azure Data Warehouse. He discusses the advantages of its three processing engines - SQL Data Pools; Serverless SQL; and Spark.

https://pypi.org/
Monday, May 17, 2021 9:14:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# 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)