# Saturday, July 10, 2021

It is not easy to make a pizza delivery exciting. But when the delivery takes place in a dystopian future and the pizza franchise is owned by the Mafia and the punishment for late delivery is severe, it can get your pulse racing. And Neal Stephenson makes this happen in the opening scene of "Snow Crash".

Hiro Protagonist is the hero and protagonist of this novel. He is a deliverer of pizzas, a hacker, a music promoter, and an expert swordfighter, who fights most of his battles inside the Metaverse - a virtual reality world with its own rules and laws.

The United States government has collapsed, and hyperinflation has devalued its currency a trillion-fold. In California, each suburb is now its own autonomous nation. Hiro helped create the Metaverse, where he discovers a new virus that infects both computers and people. After some research, he realizes that the virus is an ancient one - predating computers by thousands of years and that it attacks the human brain in the same way a computer virus attacks the files and memory of a machine. This virus is so ancient that it may have inspired the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel.

Hiro encounters a religious cult, artificial intelligences, crime lords from various factions and nations, a rebellious teenager, and a psychotic Aleut.

I loved the way that Stephenson combined linguistics, history, cybercrime, and characters. He tells the entire story in the present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy. Stephenson includes satire of commercialism and capitalism. Most of the suburb-states are controlled by corporations. The church exists for the personal financial benefit of its founder and is bankrolled by a telecommunications tycoon. And he includes a hilarious description of the bureaucratic regulations on the use of toilet paper.

The book is not without its faults. After an exciting start, it fails to maintain that same energy throughout the novel and the ending felt a bit rushed. Some of the characters could use a bit more development. Y.T. and Juanita - the most important female characters - were at least as intriguing as Hiro, but we did not get to know them as well as I would have liked.

A potential flaw is that this book contains several extended scenes in which Hiro or an Artificial Intelligence explain world history and background information in great detail. Usually, I prefer to learn things in a novel as the action unfolds, rather than having someone explain it to me; but I found their lectures interesting and illuminating - especially as they compared and contrasted the stories from various religions. And the author offsets these monologues/soliloquies with many scenes of intense action. Hiro and Raven the Aleut are the two badassest people on the planet - Hiro with his sword and Raven with his harpoon, so their battles tend to be epic.

This was not the first cyberpunk novel published, but it established Stephenson as a master of the genre.

Saturday, July 10, 2021 9:03:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, July 9, 2021

The recent pandemic forced the Drive-By Truckers to cancel their tour and take a hiatus from touring that lasted more than a year. They are scheduled to resume their tour in August; but lead singer/co-founder Patterson Hood could not wait. So, he grabbed his guitar and hit the road in June. He opened his tour Wednesday evening at the City Winery in Chicago. I already had tickets to the Truckers' show in Evanston, IL September 3; but I also could not wait. So, I headed for the Winery to hear what Patterson had to offer.

He offered a lot. For 90+ minutes, he delighted a full room with just his voice and his guitar. Drive-By Truckers celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first recording session just a few days prior to this show and Hood drew liberally from the band's catalog of thirteen studio albums.

"I play in a band", he confided to the audience, although we already knew this.

Hood opened the show with the emotional "Sandwiches from the Road" off of DBT's debut album "Gangstabilly". "Nothing can hurt you but yourself", the singer advised from the chorus.

Many of his songs tell stories and Hood interspersed the songs with some stories of his own. "Road Cases" was an ode to the Atlanta Rhythm Section - a band that experienced a meteoric rise in the 1970s leading them to purchase a plethora of equipment and cases. Cases with the band's logo appeared in many secondhand stores after their popularity declined so that many Georgia bands ended up with cases stenciled with the ARS logo.

After playing for about 90 minutes, Patterson did not go through the traditional charade of leaving the stage and allowing the audience to call him back. Instead, he stood up, announced the set was over, and asked if we wanted to hear some encore tunes. Of course, we did and of course, he obliged, delighting us with three more songs.

It was clear listening to Patterson Hood that he enjoyed his time back on the stage and he managed to transfer that enjoyment to the audience.

more photos

Friday, July 9, 2021 4:36:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, July 5, 2021

Episode 668

Michael Dowden on Firebase

Firebase is an application development platform that includes databases, serverless functions, static hosting, push notifications, analytics, and other features. Michael Dowden discusses these tools and how he uses them to build applications and products.


Monday, July 5, 2021 9:22:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, July 4, 2021

Today I am grateful for the United States of America.

Today I am grateful that my son's birthday present finally arrived after a long delay.

Today I am grateful for a new table for my balcony.

Today I am grateful for new beginnings.

Today I am grateful for lunch with Josh yesterday.

Today I am grateful for a weekend with Nick

Today I am grateful to share a dinner, some drinks, and a basketball game with my sons last night.

Today I am grateful to attend my first Chicago Fire FC game last night with Nick

Today I am grateful for lunch with Daniel yesterday.

Today I am grateful for no bad news from my dentist.

Today I am grateful for a new electric toothbrush.

Today I am grateful for dinner in New Buffalo last night with J.

Today I am grateful for a box of nuts and candy sent to me by my employer.

Today I am grateful for an excellent Father's Day dinner with my son Tim yesterday.

Today I am grateful for the privilege of being a father.

Today I am grateful to attend the Zafiro Flamenco Festival last night in Skokie, IL.

Today I am grateful to speak at the Chicago .NET User Group last night for the first time in years.

Today I am grateful to see Patterson Hood in concert last night.

Today I am grateful for folk music.

Today I am grateful for the gift of a new electric razor

Today I am grateful to explore the Midway Plaisance and the Fountain of Time yesterday.

Today I am grateful for a ride along the North Branch Trail yesterday.

Today I am grateful to see "In the Heights" at the Music Box Theatre last night.

Today I am grateful for a nighttime ride with the Streets Calling Bike Club last night.

Today I am grateful for many kind words of support from friends the last couple days.

Today I am grateful for coffee with Pete yesterday.

Today I am grateful to try a trainer at a new gym this morning.

Today I am grateful that June is starting out so much better than a very difficult April and May.

Sunday, July 4, 2021 3:18:29 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, July 3, 2021

C.S. Lewis's 7-volume Chronicles of Narnia is a beloved series, known for its memorable characters, exciting adventures, and Christian themes.

Michael Ward always loved these stories, but he had questions. Why did some of the books contain clear allegories of Biblical stories, while others were less obvious? Why is Christmas mentioned so frequently in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when no person named Christ existed in that universe? (Why wasn't there an Aslanmas holiday, instead?) Does any unifying theme other than Christianity tie together all the novels?

In The Narnia Code, Ward concludes that Lewis's novels each focus on one of the seven planets recognized by astronomers of the Middle Ages. These astronomers believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and defined planets as bodies that moved across the skies (as opposed to stars, which were fixed in their positions). They recognized Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, the Sun, and the Moon as planets. The ancients often referred to the spheres in which these planets rotated as "The Seven Heavens".

According to Ward, each of the seven novels reflects the properties of one of these planets or of the beings for which it is named. More specifically, it represents attributes of Jesus that are similar to those beings.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, for example, focuses on Aslan as Jupiter - a jovial being who led all heavenly creatures; while the battles of Prince Caspian reflect the warlike powers of Mars.

The author shows that Lewis had a fascination with the planets, as shown in many of his other writings. He even wrote a space trilogy that took the reader to Venus, Mars, and the Moon.

Ward argues that Lewis never explicitly stated these themes because he loved a mystery and wanted his readers to discover the connection themselves.

C.S. Lewis is long gone so we cannot ask him if Ward is correct. In fact, Ward never had the chance to ask Lewis himself, as he was born 5 years after Lewis's death; but Ward has spent years studying the life and works of C.S. Lewis and his hypotheses presented here are plausible. This book is interesting and entertaining, and it increased my appreciation for Lewis's Chronicles.

Saturday, July 3, 2021 9:38:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, July 1, 2021

GCast 113:

Passing parameters to xUnit net tests with the ClassData attribute

The [ClassData] attribute of xUnit.net allows you to store a collection of data parameters in a single class and pass that class to a single test method, allowing it to run multiple tests with different values.

You can find the source  code at https://github.com/DavidGiard/XUnitDemo

Thursday, July 1, 2021 4:13:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Last week, Microsoft announced Windows 11, the upcoming version of its popular operating system. You can watch the official announcement here.

Here are some of the new features:

  • Tighter integration with Microsoft Teams, allowing you to chat and connect with others right from your desktop.
  • Snap Layouts allow you to customize how you want apps to appear on your screen.
  • Multiple monitors. Minimize all windows on a second monitor when you disconnect. Restore them when you plug another monitor back in.
  • A wide variety of Widgets exist that slide into view to provide bits of information.
  • Android Apps will be supported and will be available through the Windows App Store.
  • There are a few aesthetic changes. Icons are more rounded - a UI feature that has been advocated for years by many design experts. The start menu now displays in the middle of the screen, instead of the left, allowing you to see more apps at the same times.
  • There are enhancements for gaming, such as better graphic support for older games.
  • A new Game Development Kit will make game development easier.

The most relevant feature to me was tighter integration with Teams. I spend a lot of time in Teams, so it helps if it is available quickly, rather than in a separate application.

The release date has not been announced, but I've seen speculation that it will be available in 2022.

I am hopeful that Windows 11 will be available as an Azure Virtual Machine, allowing me to try it before committing to installing it on my desktop. Of course, many PCs will be sold with this OS pre-installed.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021 9:22:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, June 28, 2021

Episode 667

Gavin Bauman on SonarQube

Gavin Bauman discusses how he uses SonarQube to catch potential errors and ensure quality code for his team's software projects.

Monday, June 28, 2021 1:19:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, June 27, 2021

Albert Einstein was a genius, who understood the universe in ways that I will never completely grasp. In his book Relativity, he tried to explain his theories of relativity in a way that might make sense to mere mortals like me.

Einstein begins by discussing the concepts of relative position and velocity. The example to which he returns repeatedly is the person on a speeding train and a person on the ground next to the tracks. An object moving forward on the train would have a different velocity relative to each person. The math for this is relatively straightforward. Velocity is distance divided by time, and you can add or subtract vectors when determining relative velocities. However, Einstein posited that the velocity of light is constant (at least in a vacuum), so we must adjust our concept of relative velocities when dealing with light. In the example above, the perceived velocity of light is the same for both persons. To make the math work, we must modify either distance or time or both. This change in distance and time is negligible when dealing with most objects, but it becomes significant when objects approach the speed of light. This is the basis for Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity. A basic principle of this theory is that nothing can exceed the speed of light.

In the second section of the book, Einstein discusses his General Theory of Relativity, which builds on top of Special Relativity. This theory takes into account the effects of fields - particularly gravitational fields. Strong gravitational forces can actually bend the space-time continuum and may explain the physical limits of the universe. The math becomes more complex here and is significant only on a more macro scale.

Einstein concludes by discussing the structure of space itself. The universe appears to be expanding, to have no end, that there is a finite amount of mass and energy in the universe, and to be of approximately the same density everywhere. These three things seem to be inconsistent unless we consider the idea that space is curved on itself, much as a circle is curved on itself in 2 dimensions and a sphere curves on itself in 3 dimensions.  This would allow the universe to be both limitless and unbounded.

Although the book contains a lot of math, it does not include any calculus; so, if you are familiar with algebra and geometry, you can (mostly) follow the mathematics. Einstein builds on the work of scientists who preceded him, such as Newton and Lorentz, so it is helpful to be familiar with their ideas.

Some of the ideas presented herein sound like fudge factors to make the math work; however, a number of experiments were performed shortly after the Special Theory's publication and those experiments supported the theory. Experiments on General Relativity were difficult to perform at that time, but experiments since that time have supported this theory, as well.

This book was written in 1916, well before Albert Einstein became a worldwide household name. Despite its short length, this is not a simple book. But it is far simpler than reading academic papers and mathematical proofs on these topics. And it is a good introduction to ideas that shape our understanding of the universe.

Sunday, June 27, 2021 9:06:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, June 26, 2021

"All this happened, more or less."

Kurt Vonnegut begins his novel Slaughterhouse-Five with an autobiographical description of the effect that World War II had on him. He witnessed the carpet bombing of Dresden, Germany while he was held there as a prisoner of war. He reflects on how he struggled to describe his wartime experiences and to relate to his friends who had gone through these struggles with him. In the end, he wrote this book about Billy Pilgrim.

"Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time”.

Billy was a soldier, but he wasn't much of a soldier. He was skinny and weak and he had trouble focusing and he was captured by the Germans before he was even issued a gun or boots. Occasionally, Billy became unstuck in time - traveling to the past or the future to experience different periods of his life before returning to the moment when he left.

On one journey to the future, Billy was kidnapped by aliens and transported to the planet Tralfamador, where he was placed in a zoo for the study and entertainment of the local inhabitants. The Tralfamadorians see the universe in four dimensions, which gives them the ability to perceive every moment of the past and present simultaneously. Because of this, they have developed a philosophy that all that has happened or will happen is unchangeable. They accept as their destiny what they are powerless to affect, and they respond with the simple - almost flippant - phrase: "and so it goes." This phrase follows nearly every mention of death in the book.

This is a science fiction story about aliens and distant planets and time travel. But it is also a war story, chronicling the 1945 Allied bombing of Dresden - a campaign that was successful, but yielded no significant advantage to the Allies. Thousands of civilians were killed in a pointless display of force. More correctly, this is an anti-war story, demonstrating the absurdity of armed conflict.

It is possible that Billy's travels between times and between planets occur only in his imagination - a result of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, brought on by the horrors of the war; but it does not matter whether or not Billy dreams it all - at least not to the reader and maybe not to Billy. Viewing and living his life nonsequentially helps him to perceive the universe as the aliens do and to adapt some of their fatalistic views and better accept death and tragedy.

The book's non-linear narrative and almost complete lack of a plot might be perceived as a weakness. But Vonnegut takes us through a series of episodes that tie together and he does so with a sparse, informal style that makes for a pleasant journey.

Ultimately, the novel is about fate and inevitability and acceptance of the unavoidable. The Tralfamadorians understood the future and accepted their inability to change it. Billy comes to do the same. Even the horrors of war seem predestined. Those fighting the battles have no control over the events that affect their lives, and the Dresden civilians had no reason to suspect they were a target.

And so it goes.

Saturday, June 26, 2021 9:23:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)