# Monday, 13 November 2017
Monday, 13 November 2017 16:40:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 09 November 2017

Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold is a collection of 3 previously published novellas: Mountains of Mourning, Labyrinth, and The Borders of Infinity. All 3 feature Bujold's hero Miles Vorkosigan, the handicapped royal soldier from the planet Barayar.

In Mountains of Mourning, Miles travels to the back country of Barayar to investigate the murder of a baby, who was killed because she was born with a cleft pallet.

In Labyrinth, Miles attempts to recruit a geneticist to the Barayaran cause, but ends up bonding with a genetically-engineered female super soldier.

In The Borders of Infinity, Miles is taken prisoner by the Cetagandans. He hopes to rescue a prisoner, but ends up planning a massive prison break.

When I read the first 2 stories, I was optimistic that they would be joined by a common theme - Miles's protection of others who were punished for being handicapped at birth. But the third story did not continue this theme. So, the 3 stories are tied together only by a brief narration in which Miles relates his activity to a superior officer.

As a result, this is little more than an omnibus of loosely related stories, each of which is good, but not great.

Thursday, 09 November 2017 11:01:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Wednesday, 08 November 2017

TheLasrtUnicorn

At first, the unicorn was happy, living alone in a magical wood. Her magic kept her eternally young and kept the wood eternally in spring.

But one day, she overheard 2 hunters saying that all unicorns had gone from this world. Fearing she might be the last, the unicorn set out on a journey to find others of her kind.

Along the way, she is captured by a witch for display in her circus; then, rescued by a third-rate wizard, who accompanies her on her journey.

Ultimately, she makes her way to a kingdom guarded by the mystical Red Bull, that is rumoured to have captured all the other unicorns.

With The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle weaves a wonderful fairy tale about the adventures of a unicorn on a quest to find others and to find herself. It is a story of adventure and it is a story of companionship and loyalty.

But mostly, it is the telling of the story that sets it apart. Beagle's prose is almost like poetry. The beauty of the unicorn is reflected in the beauty of his words.

This book was a joy to read - from start to finish.

Wednesday, 08 November 2017 10:00:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, 07 November 2017

PerdidoStreetStationPerdido Street Station is an enormous train station in the city of New Crobuzon in the world of Bas-Lag. It is also the title of China Miéville's novel about the the station, the city, and the world.

The problems of industrialized societies in our world are magnified a hundred times in the city state of New Crobuzon: Pollution, Poverty, Political corruption, an Inequitable distribution of wealth and power, and Racial division make this place a miserable home for nearly all who dwell in it.

The races of Bas-Lag are not simply people of different skin tones and nose shapes; they are a bizarre assortment of creatures - mostly humanoid, but some not. We see bird-men (Garuda), intelligent plants (Cactacae), aquatic humanoids (Grindylow), parasites shaped like disembodied hands that grasp the throats of their victims (Handlingers), humans with the head of a beetle (Khepri), and sentient machines (Constructs), among others.

A common form of punishment in New Crobuzon is to surgically alter people by attaching mechanical or organic body parts to their bodies, creating a separate race of "Remades" and further increasing the collection of creatures found in this world.

Creatures from other dimensions also sometimes visit Bas-Lag, such as The Weaver a giant spider-like creature, who seeks to add his own version of order to the world. In this novel, Hell is a tangible place that sends an official Ambassador to New Crobuzon.

Isaac is a scientist living and working in New Crobuzon. He is in love with the Lin - a Khepri artist who is estranged from her own people. One day the Garuda Yagharek approaches Isaac asking him to restore to him the power of flight. Yagharek's wings were removed by his tribe as punishment for an unidentified crime. Isaac accepts and begins by studying the biology of hundreds of flying creatures. His studies inadvertently unleash the Slake-Moths - deadly, interdimensional creatures with the power to hypnotize their prey before devouring their consciousness.

The slake-moths terrorize the city, leaving behind mindless shells of people wherever they attack. The government and numerous vigilante groups are unable to stop the slake-moths, so Isaac - feeling responsible - organizes a group of warriors to hunt them down and destroy them.

This world is powered by magic and by technology. But it's an old technology. Blimps are the most common form of air transportation and computers are programmed via punch cards. These punch-card-programs are powerful enough to make some computers self-aware.

I loved the moral ambiguity of this story. Our heroes often must make difficult choices - such as sacrificing the lives of innocent bystanders - in an effort to stop the monsters terrorizing the city.

I loved the complexity of the plot. Most storylines are not resolved until the very end and many are not happy resolutions.

I loved Miéville's attention to detail. We can see the massive bulk of the weaver as he fades into our dimension; we feel the terror inspired by the slake-moths.

The reader experiences the feeling of dread that hangs over the protagonists. Miéville gives us a real sense of the despair felt by so many in this awful world he created. Citizens live in a police state, controlled by a secret militia, controlled by the mayor and a few powerful businessmen.

Perdido Street Station is a fantasy story, a steampunk story, a horror story, a monster story, an adventure story, a detective story, a cyberpunk story, and a love story. Some have described it as Weird Fantasy in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft and some of the pulp writers of the 1930s.

However, you choose to classify it, Perdido Street Station is one of the most imaginative stories I've read in years.

Tuesday, 07 November 2017 11:02:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 06 November 2017
# Sunday, 05 November 2017

11/5
Today I am grateful to see my nephew Dylan play ice hockey in Glenview, IL yesterday.

11/4
Today I am grateful that so many people traveled so far to come to the Community Connections event yesterday.

11/3
Today I am grateful to visit the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry yesterday with Ondrej and Gaines.

11/2
Today I am grateful that I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish yesterday.

11/1
Today I am grateful that I actually lost weight while in Uruguay, despite all the beef that I ate.

10/31
Today I am grateful for my first visit to South America, to Fabian for inviting me, and to Rachel for recommending me.

10/30
Today I am grateful for my first visit to Buenos Aires.

10/29
Today I am grateful for a private tour around Montevideo by the #NETConfUY organizers.

10/28
Today I am grateful to attend and speak at .NET Conf UY for the first time.

10/27
Today I am grateful for the speaker dinner last night, featuring carne asada.

10/26
Today I am grateful for a late-night walk along the Rio de la Plata last night.

10/25
Today I am grateful for a walk around downtown Montevideo last night.

10/24
Today I am grateful to arrive safely in Uruguay.

10/23
Today I am grateful for a good day at the gym yesterday.

10/22
Today I am grateful to attend my first Chicago Wolves hockey game last night.

10/21
Today I am grateful I was able to consolidate my Azure web apps and delete a bunch of costly resources yesterday.

10/20
Today I am grateful for good news from the doctor yesterday.

10/19
Today I am grateful to hang out in downtown St. Louis yesterday with Ondrej, Brian, Gaines, and Mary.

10/18
Today I am grateful to speak again at the #DevUp conference.

10/17
Today I am grateful to attend the Red Shirt Tour in Chicago yesterday and learn more about Azure.

10/16
Today I am grateful
-to see an exciting Falcons-Dolphins game yesterday at my first visit to Mercedes Benz Stadium;
-to Tim for picking me up at the airport last night.

10/15
Today I am grateful to help Jason and Claire celebrate their wedding yesterday.

10/14
Today I am grateful for 4 years at Microsoft and all that I have learned here and all the people I've met and all the places I've gone because of this job.

10/13
Today I am grateful to David for a ticket to see Paul Weller in concert last night at the House of Blues.

10/12
Today I am grateful I was able to recover data from my laptop after it died yesterday.

10/11
Today I am grateful for a chance to teach at DePaul last night.

10/10
Today I am grateful for dinner last night with my new teammate Christine while she was in Chicago.

10/9
Today I am grateful for dinner with Emilija and Larissa last night.

10/8
Today I am grateful for
-spending the day with my son, helping him move;
-the 8th football victory over um in the last 10 years.

10/7
Today I am grateful for:
-A chance to work with Julie for the first time since our days on the INETA board.
-Seeing The Church in concert last night at Park West.

10/6
Today I am grateful to hang out with J. yesterday.

10/5
Today I am grateful to stream music online.

10/4
Today I am grateful to the Building Maintenance staff for fixing a bunch of stuff in my apartment yesterday.

10/3
Today I am grateful to those who find what I do useful and tell me so.

10/2
Today I am grateful for:
-the company of Tim these past few months
-the opportunity to try 2 new cuisines for the first time yesterday.

Sunday, 05 November 2017 12:08:12 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, 31 October 2017

I always like to prepare for a trip to a new country, so when I was invited to speak at .NET Conf UY in Montevideo, Uruguay, I decided I should learn some Spanish. I taught myself how to say "Buenos Dias" and "Adios". Unfortunately, I neglected to learn the many things I should talk about between these two phrases. But it worked out. Most of the Uruguayans with whom I interacted spoke at least some English and the conference provided real-time translation of all presentations, so that I could understand the Spanish speakers, and the audience could understand me.

Arrival

I arrived Tuesday morning 2 days early. Originally, I thought I might deliver a workshop, but my first session was not scheduled until Thursday afternoon. It was an all-night flight from Miami to Montevideo. Fabian - one of the conference organizers - picked me up at the airport. He recognized me from my photograph, despite my disheveled appearance. Exhausted from the flight, I checked into the hotel and slept for a few hours; then spent a few hours catching up on work for my day job.

I20171025_161849_HDRn the evening, I walked around the hotel neighborhood. I hoped to find some dinner, but I discovered that Uruguayans eat later than Americans and most restaurants do not serve dinner until at least 7PM. I settled for a salad in a nearby hotel restaurant.

I passed the Uruguayan World Trade Center - a cluster of office and retail buildings, tallest of which is about 40 stories. Then I made my way to the Río de la Plata - at 120km, the widest river in the world.

I did not realize until Wednesday morning, that 2 hotel reservations had been made for me - one by me and one by the conference organizers. I went to the Sheraton to cancel my reservation. They allowed me to cancel the week, but charged me for 2 (expensive) nights, so I decided to spend Wednesday night at the Sheraton. It was a nicer hotel, and I had already paid for it.

In the afternoon and evening, I walked around a different neighborhood and a different part of the river, exploring parks and side streets and beaches. Nearly the entire riverfront of Montevideo is public space, featuring beaches and parks, so one can walk for miles along the shore. I had heard of the fondness South Americans have for beef, so I ordered a filet in a nice restaurant.

Late at night, I stopped at a beachside tavern to try a Uruguayan wine. The waitress spoke no English, and I speak almost no Spanish, but she managed to recommend a good local wine as we typed our conversation into my phone and let Google translate for us.

.NET Conf UY

20171027_103507_HDRThe breakout sessions of .NET Conf UY took place Thursday and Friday. I delivered 2 sessions - "Adding Image and Voice Intelligence to Your Apps with Microsoft Cognitive Services" and "Big Data Solutions in Azure". The first presentation went very well, and many attendees approached me afterward with session. A demo failed in my second presentation, but I managed to recover.

I met many new people at this conference. My teammate Shahed flew down from Virginia and I had corresponded briefly with Fabian, but I knew no other speaker, organizer or attendee before I arrived.

I recorded 2 interviews for my show, including one with keynote speaker Carolina Banales. The conference hired a video crew, and they interviewed me on camera.

20171026_210522_HDRThursday evening, Kiezen - one of the conference's main sponsors - hosted a speaker dinner at their new offices. A brick grill graces the roof of this office and we were treated to Uruguayan asade, which is meat grilled over a wood fire. I ate too much.

Friday evening featured an attendee party high above downtown Montevideo. This gave me the opportunity to get to know a lot of new people. The language barrier sometimes slowed communication, but I found everyone I met to be very engaging.

Tour of Montevideo

The day after the conference, the organizers reserved a bus and took us around Montevideo to show some of the major sites. Highlights included:

Estadio Centenario, where the first World Cup tournament was held (and won by Uruguay)

20171028_221708The Montevideo sign, that spells the city name in letters 5 feet tall. The sign overlooks one of the city's harbors and is a favourite spot for photographs.

The Fortezza General Artigas, which sits atop a hill overlooking the city from across Montevideo Bay. The fort is primarily dedicated to General Jose Artigas, who led the Uruguayans in their battle for independence in the early 19th century; but it is also a museum of military history. As a bonus, it offers a spectacular view of the Montevideo skyline.

We finished with an asade lunch at an outdoor cafe in the Old City. A Brazilian band stopped by to serenade us while we ate. From there, we went to the Independence Plaza, where a parade was about to start.

Buenos Aries

20171029_131243I spent Sunday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is only 200 km from Montevideo. There are several ways to make this journey. I chose to travel by bus from Montevideo to Colonia, Uruguay to see some of the Uruguayan countryside, which is mostly flat farmland with a few rivers and isolated woodlands. Buenos Aires is a short ferry ride from Colonia.

I was only in Buenos Aires for a few hours, but I managed to visit Casa Rosado, where Eva Perrone famously addressed her people from a balcony; Iglesia de St. Ignatius, the oldest church in the city; and the towering Obelisca de Buenos Aires that commemorates the city's 400th birthday. Lunch at Cafe Tortoni - the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires - was very good. In between, I walked through numerous public parks, side streets, and riverfronts.

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. The architecture reminds me of a modern European city. I hope to return when I have more time.

Final Day

20171026_111236My flight home was scheduled for Monday evening and I made no plans on Monday. After sleeping in, I enjoyed a leisurely lunch and checked out of my hotel. There is a small zoo just 2 blocks from my hotel, so I decided to spend some time there. Sadly, the zoo is closed on Mondays, as was the planetarium next door. Instead, I walked to a section of the riverfront I had not yet visited, took some photos, and stopped at a small cafe for a cappuccino and a light dinner.

Fabian was kind enough to pick me up and drive me to the airport.

A Few Facts

Here are some things I learned about Montevideo and Uruguay this past week.

  • Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America.
  • Over half the country's population lives in the Montevideo area.
  • There are no giant skyscrapers in Montevideo. The tallest building is 35 stories - not much bigger than my apartment building in Chicago.
  • I cannot verify this, but I was told that Montevideo comes from the following words:
         "Monte", meaning "small hill"
         "VI" for the Roman Numeral
         "deo", which is short for "de Este a Ouest", which means "From East to West"
    In other words, the city sits on the sixth hill from east to west.
  • Many of the city's sidewalks are made of bricks, which is probably why so many Montevideo sidewalks are broken.
  • Uber is available in Uruguay. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes and never paid more than $7US for a ride.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to come to South America and see the sights and meet so many kind people.  I enjoyed the experience, and I hope to return. And I even learned a few extra Spanish words.

Gracias, Montevideo.

Hasta la vista.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017 20:14:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 30 October 2017
Monday, 30 October 2017 09:21:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 23 October 2017
Monday, 23 October 2017 11:15:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, 19 October 2017

Ethan of Athos is one of the few books set in Lois McMaster Bujold’s universe of Miles Vorkosigan that does not feature an appearance by Miles or any member of his family.

The story begins on Athos - a planet populated solely by males, because they banned females generations ago. The men of Athos reproduce by importing ovaries and cultivating babies in birth chambers. Dr. Ethan Urquhart examines a new shipment of ovaries and discovers that they are useless - some damaged and some from animals.

Much to Ethan's chagrin, the Athos government assigns him to travel off planet and find out what happened to their original shipment. This distresses Ethan, who has been conditioned all his life to be repulsed at the thought of women.

Of course, Ethan finds himself the target of a murder attempt and he is rescued by a female assassin - Elli Quinn. Together, Ethan and Quinn track down the reason the shipment was stolen and replaced.

The story has action and intrigue, but also some messages about culture. Athos holds deep prejudices against women; and others in the galaxy hold prejudices against Athos for their homosexual lifestyles. To succeed, Ethan must overcome his prejudices and work with Quinn.

While not one of Bujold's best novels, I still enjoyed Ethan of Athos.

Thursday, 19 October 2017 18:40:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)