# Sunday, March 25, 2018

Ready_Player_OneThe world of 2044 kind of sucks.

Energy sources are depleted; cities are so overcrowded that people live in trailers stacked on top of other trailers; the economy is collapsing; and the police and media are controlled by a giant, evil corporation.

It's even tougher on Wade, an awkward teenage orphan living in a trailer stack in Oklahoma City. Wade, like most people in 2045, escapes harsh reality by spending most of his time in the Oasis - a virtual reality world with its own social structure and economy, created by the computer genius James Halliday. In the Oasis, Wade assumes the identity of Parzival and leaves his real-world problems behind.

When Halliday dies, his will promises his entire fortune (hundreds of billions of dollars) to the first person who can solve an elaborate scavenger hunt with clues left in the Oasis. Wade/Parzival devotes himself to finding the keys, gates, and egg in order to win the game. With so much at stake, just about everyone on Earth does the same. Including the evil multinational corporation IOI, which will stop at nothing to win.

Along his quest, Parzival is joined by friends that he knows only through their online Avatars.

Many of the game's clues are references to the pop-culture of the 1970s and 1980s that Halliday loved. As a result, the book is filled with references to books, video games, comics and movies from that era.

If you like non-stop action, you will enjoy this book. If you like, heavy-handed social commentary (unchecked greed is bad), you will like this book. If you like pop culture and nerd culture you will like this book. I got a kick out of knowing the relevant lyrics to a song before Parzival noted them as a clue to finding a key; or recognizing a Monty Python reference in the dialogue.

Ready Player One isn't perfect. Sometimes the list of nostalgia reads like product placement, rather than an attempt to build the culture or advance the story.

The book calls attention to social problems that exist today and, if left unchecked, may result in the dystopian future described therein. But it ignores the fact that the Oasis - a seeming Utopia created by the benevolent and altruistic Halliday - does nothing to address these problems. If anything, it makes the world worse by convincing everyone to spend their time in the virtual world, rather than working on re-building the real one. Halliday's contest intensifies this imbalance, leaving one to wonder if anyone is spending any time repairing roads, providing medical care, or extinguishing fires.

But, if you ignore this glaring weakness, the novel is great fun. Especially if you were a young nerd in the 1980s.

Sunday, March 25, 2018 1:17:12 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, March 19, 2018

MemoryIn Mirror Dance, Lord Miles Vorkosigan was killed (or nearly-killed) in battle; then revived through the cryogenic technology of the future universe in which he lives.

Memory – the next novel chronologically in the Vorkosigan series - opens with the consequences of that resurrection. During a rescue operation, Miles has a seizure – a side effect of his revival treatments - which results in a serious injury to the target of his rescue. Miles increases his problems by lying about the incident in his report to his superior - Simon Illyan, which results in his discharge from both the Barryaran military and the mercenary band he led covertly under his Admiral Naismith alias.

Shortly afterward, Illyan suffers a mental breakdown and Miles suspects treachery. Miles has lost his military standing but gains an appointment from the Emperor to investigate.

Then, the detective story begins.

This is one of Bujold's stronger Vorkosigan novels.

It is a transition novel for Miles, the protagonist of this series, as he copes with the shattering of his dreams and transitions into post-military life. By doing so, Bujold sets up the characters to proceed in a new direction in this and future novels.

Bujold is masterful in her description of Miles's feelings after losing his lifelong dream of being a military leader. She excels also in her description of Illyan dealing with a similar forced transformation.

She explores themes of loyalty and duty in the face of weakness. Miles's relationship with those around him is complex - he is headstrong and often clashes with authority and with those who have injured him. But he grants respect even to those with whom he clashes. And his relationship with Illyan is especially well done.

And she introduces a subplot with the Emperor seeking a bride to be his Empress.

Memory is mostly a detective story. But the human elements and the evolution of familiar characters make it much more than this.

Monday, March 19, 2018 1:09:06 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, March 13, 2018

If you are interested in learning how to use the Cognitive Services APIs, I have created a set of exercises designed to take you through the basics of calling these services.

Lab 1 focuses on the Emotion API.

These exercises are open source and available here.

I have already used these materials at two university workshops this year.

You are free to use them – either for your own education or if you are hosting a workshop. I would appreciate any feedback you have. If you are very ambitious, you may do a pull request.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 4:38:21 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, March 11, 2018

20180310_211841Although he was born and raised in Port Arthur, TX and raised on his father's Louisiana music, CJ Chenier has strong connections to Chicago. He recorded 3 albums for Chicago-based Alligator Records and he is a frequent performer at Fitzgerald's Night Club in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn.

It was in Berwyn that I saw CJ last night. The tickets were a birthday gift and one of the best I've received in a long time. Chenier played for hours, bringing the high energy I had come to know from his recordings, but had never seen in concert.

He was accompanied by drums, bass, an excellent guitarist, and someone playing the vest frottoir - a tin washboard that hangs from the chest, that was invented by CJ's legendary father Clifton and his uncle Cleveland.

The frottoir added some texture to the music; but it added more to the visuals of the concert, given its wearer's high energy dancing and playing.

CJ, of course, sang and played his signature accordion. His music kept the packed club bouncing all night. The high point came when he and 3 members of his band unplugged and wound their way through the crowd for an extended jam.

CJ photobombs DG's selfie!

He continues the Zydeco tradition of his father's band (Clifton passed away in 1987), but CJ adds a funky sound all his own. The result kept the audience energized throughout the show.

If you are reading this and wondering what to get me on my birthday next year, check the local concert calendar around March 1. Be warned: It will have to be pretty darn good to top this one.

Sunday, March 11, 2018 9:35:31 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Saturday, March 10, 2018

HitRefreshSatya Nadella became the third CEO of Microsoft in 2014 - a few months after I joined the company. There is no denying the impact he has had on Microsoft and on the tech industry since rising to CEO. He has changed the corporate culture significantly. Microsoft is more open and more agile today than it was 4 years ago.

In Hit Refresh, Nadella describes what he planned to do as leader of Microsoft, what has happened during his tenure as CEO, and his plans for the future of the company.

He begins with a short description of his life - growing up in India, moving around, his growing fascination with computers; he follows with a description of his early years at Microsoft, rising first to lead the cloud computing team; then to CEO.

But only a small part of this book is devoted to an autobiography. Mostly, this is a biography of Microsoft - the company where Nadella has spent nearly all of his adult life - and of the tech industry.

Nadella describes his vision for the future of Microsoft. He talks about its technology future (he sees AI and Mixed Reality as technologies poised to grow); about its business environment (Microsoft often partners with competitors when it makes sense for both parties), and about its ethical decisions (he discusses the importance of privacy to a global company and when it is time to fight for it).

Not all that Nadella writes is self-congratulatory. He talks about mistakes the company has made, such as the ill-fated Nokia acquisition; and mistakes he has personally made, as when he gave a poor answer to a question about women seeking equal consideration for a promotion.

This book had special meaning to me, as Satya and I work for the same company (He is my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss) and share some of the same goals for that company. The copy I read was the "Employee Edition", which highlighted some of the text and included some notes in the margin to emphasize how a paragraph was particularly relevant to a Microsoft employee.

Although Hit Refresh provides some answers, it raises even more questions about the future of Microsoft and the global tech industry. We are in a period of great transition and Nadella does not pretend to have all the answers. But his message is clear: Microsoft and its employees must embrace a growth mindset in order to achieve the goal of empowering everyone to achieve more.

Saturday, March 10, 2018 5:10:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, March 8, 2018

ShadowOfTheTorturerI finished this 4-volume set a couple weeks ago.

Since that time, I've been thinking about it and reading about it and I even listened to a podcast that analyzed each chapter of book 1.

The story takes place a million years in Earth's future. The sun is dying.

The Earth - now called "Urth" - has resorted to a medieval society, but it still retains remnants of its forgotten technology. For example, man no longer can travel between the stars, but old spaceships are repurposed as buildings and alien life forms exist on Urth.

Severian is an apprentice to the Torturers Guild, which is charged with carrying out punishment and interrogations ordered by the state. Early in volume 1, the Guild exiles Severian for the crime of showing mercy to one of the their prisoners.

This sets Severian on a long quest across Urth, to discover himself and his purpose in the world. He reveals early in his narrative that he ultimately becomes emperor of the planet.

Many of his companions meet tragic ends; but Severian ventures on.

I'm unclear if magic exists in this world or if technological advances of the previous millennia are indistinguishable from magic.
For example, Severian possesses a stone - The Claw of the Conciliator - that appears to have the power to raise the dead. But it's unclear of the risen dead were only in a long state of suspended animation and the stone has some healing attributes that won't be discovered for millennia after our time.

The story is narrated by Severian himself and, although he claims to have a perfect memory, we see enough evidence to the contrary that we begin to distrust his version of the events he relates.

Almost without exception, those who love The Book of the New Sun have read it multiple times. People who disliked the book found it confusing. And that is understandable, because it is confusing. The plot is complex and the action shifts quickly; questions arise and are not answered for hundreds of pages - sometimes without reference to the original question and sometimes not at all; many characters enter and exit the narrative and they may or may not re-appear much later in the story.

I think the tetralogy requires multiple readings to discover the nuances and symbolism of the story. I have only read it once, but I may return in a couple of years. At that time, I will also likely revisit this review.

Thursday, March 8, 2018 5:49:05 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, March 4, 2018

Today I am grateful I was able to answer most of the students' Python and Machine Learning questions yesterday - topics on which I am still learning.

Today I am grateful to participate in Mentor Night at the University of Toronto DSCIL last night.

Today I am grateful for all the birthday wishes yesterday.

Today I am grateful for 2 days in Waterloo, ON.

Today I am grateful for an upgraded hotel room.

Today I am grateful to be interviewed yesterday by Matthew D. Groves for his excellent podcast.

Today I am grateful to spend a weekend with my old team - just like old times!

Today I am grateful to start recording interviews again after a long break.

Today I am grateful for a private demo in the UIUC VR lab yesterday.

Today I am grateful to spend a day and an excellent dinner with colleagues.

Today I am grateful to meet a lot of Microsoft folks at UIUC yesterday - many of whom I only knew via email and Skype.

Today I am grateful for the hospitality and generosity of Sharon and Greg and their family, who allowed me to stay with them this week in California.

Today I am grateful for:
-Breakfast with Uncle Bill and Aunt Jean
-Lunch with my cousins Sharon, Gail, and John
-A climb up Mount Tamalpais

Today I am grateful to attend my first #TreeHacks this weekend.

Today I am grateful for coffee with Sara last night.

Today I am grateful for my first visit to Palo Alto and Stanford.

Today I am grateful to see the Sharks-Canucks game last night - my first visit to the SAP Center.

Today I am grateful for 10 days between trips, so I had time to move and unpack most of my belongings.

Today I am grateful to cook last night for the first time in a long time. (The pot roast with marinated vegetables turned out great.)

Today I am grateful for:
-Help from Benjamin with my CSS questions
-Seeing Steve Earle in concert last night

Today I am grateful to see JD Souther in concert last night.

Today I am grateful to attend a Microsoft party at the Museum of Science and Industry last night.

Today I am grateful for 2 years in my last apartment and all the good memories I carry from that place.

Today I am grateful to see the play "Blind Date" at the Goodman Theatre last night - my first time at the Goodman in about 10 years!

Today I am grateful to move all my physical possessions to my new home yesterday.

Today I am grateful for Tim's help last night.

Today I am grateful for a weekend in Ontario.

Today I am grateful to Atley and all the MSPs who helped with our #QHacks mentorship this weekend.

Sunday, March 4, 2018 2:16:23 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)