# Sunday, 03 December 2017

12/3
Today I am grateful to attend DataSciConf in Atlanta for the first time.

12/2
Today I am grateful for dinner last night with Shawn and Resa.

12/1
Today I am grateful to see an exciting Hawks-Cavs game with Dave at Philips Arena last night.

11/30
Today I am grateful for:
-Arriving safely in Atlanta after some delays.
-The Data Sci conference speaker dinner last night

11/29
Today I am grateful to the Greater Chicago Food Depository for letting me help yesterday.

11/28
Today I am grateful to Lisa and Betsy for taking over the Midwest Geeks call, after my 4 years facilitating it.

11/27
Today I am grateful for the public library.

11/26
Today I am grateful for a weekend in Michigan visiting friends and family.

11/25
Today I am grateful to Desi and Ondrej for a home-cooked meal and a place to stay last night.

11/24
Today I am grateful to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with family in Michigan.

11/23
Today I am grateful that most of my family lives within driving distance.

11/22
Today I am grateful to see Mark Colby in concert at the Jazz Showcase last night.

11/21
Today I am grateful for the cabinets I cleaned out last night and all the crap I threw away.

11/20
Today I am grateful for the man who watched my car at the airport terminal yesterday while I ran in to check a bag.

11/19
Today I am grateful to deliver the keynote at GangConf yesterday and to remain a part of #MIGANG after all these years.

11/18
Today I am grateful for:
-Attending a home Raptors game for the first time;
-My first visit to Canada in 10 years

11/17
Today I am grateful for:
-My first visit to the University of Toronto
-An exciting overtime NHL game at Air Canada Arena
-My first time attending a Maple Leafs home game.

11/16
Today I am grateful for my first visit to the University of Waterloo.

11/15
Today I am grateful for my first visit to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

11/14
Today I am grateful to arrive safely in Boston on a difficult travel day.

11/13
Today I am grateful for:
-a walk around downtown Princeton, NJ yesterday afternoon
-a tour of Princeton University by Mihaela Friday afternoon

11/12
Today I am grateful to get to bed early last night.

11/11
Today I am grateful for my first visit to Princeton, NJ and Princeton University.

11/10
Today I am grateful to attend an exciting Philadelphia Flyers game last night at the Wells Fargo Arena with Jeffrey.

11/9
Today I am grateful to Sarah for making me look good at UIUC yesterday.

11/8
Today I am grateful to the Uber driver who stopped by my home to drop off the lens cap I left in his car last week.

11/7
Today I am grateful to speak at PyData Chicago for the first time.

11/6
Today I am grateful that the weather here is still nice enough that I can walk to church.

Sunday, 03 December 2017 15:51:27 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 27 November 2017
Monday, 27 November 2017 10:34:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, 26 November 2017

Outlander, the first novel by American author Diana Gabaldon, was originally published in 1991. It has since inspired 7 sequels (so far), a TV series, and a graphic novel.

OutlanderThe story focuses on Claire, a World War II combat nurse. The war kept Claire and her husband Frank apart; so, when it ended, they traveled to Inverness, Scotland for a second honeymoon and to allow Frank to research his ancestors.

While in Scotland, Claire encounters an ancient Druid shrine that magically transports her to the mid-18th century. Almost immediately after entering the past, Claire is attacked by the sadistic British Captain Jack Randall. It turns out that Randall is the direct ancestor of Claire's 20th century husband. She is rescued by Scottish clansmen and caught in the struggle between the English army and the Scottish clans.

Although often classified as a science fiction novel (I first learned of Outlander on NPR's Top 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books, this book is primarily an historical romance. The time travel incident serves mostly as a MacGuffin to thrust together Claire and Jamie.

Despite Claire's 20th century marriage, she falls in love with Jamie Fraser, the handsome, rugged Scottish warrior. Their marriage is initial one of convenience (Claire can escape English arrest by becoming a Scottish citizen), but a passion soon ignites between the two and the subsequent sex scenes are frequent and racy enough to make a Scotsman blush.

Outlander is also an adventure story. Jamie and Claire are pursued across Scotland by the English army and the vengeful Captain Randall. Claire is captured and rescued, and Frank is captured and rescued, and they travel and fight the English and have sex with each other and fight each other and have sex with the English and travel some more.

Outlander is not for everyone. Some readers will take issue with the patriarchal nature of 18th century marriages - particularly a scene where Jamie beats his wife for disobeying him and Claire is quick to forgive him. Others may be turned off by a prolonged description of male-on-male rape and torture near the end of the book.

But if you can get past these, it is a pretty good story. And enough readers think so that Gabaldon continues to extend this series today.

Sunday, 26 November 2017 19:38:01 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Friday, 24 November 2017

HomelandDrizzt Do'Urden was born into the underworld of Mgnzoberranzan, home of The Drow or Dark Elves. The city is ruled by the tyrannical Matrons, who worship the malevolent spider god Lolth. Theirs is a world in which violence and treachery are praised and rewarded, while empathy and sympathy are perceived as weaknesses to be severely punished. Mgnzoberranzan is divided into Great Houses, that often clash violently with one another to improve their standing within this city's hierarchy.

Drizzt is the most gifted warrior of his people. He is trained by the great Weapon Master Zaknafein and he surpasses all his classmates at the Academy.

But Drizzt is unlucky enough to be born with a conscience in this sadistic, society. He questions the ethics of the Menzoberranzan society and their worship of the malevolent spider-god Lolth.

Drizzt joins in the drow attacks against his people's enemies. His fighting prowess increases his reputation, but he begins to see that his family and people have been dishonest about the character and motivations of their enemies.

Homeland is the first book in R. A. Salvatore's Dark Elf Trilogy, which is chronologically the first trilogy of his Legend of Drizzt series. These series and many of Salvatore's other books take place in the Forgotten Realms universe, made popular by the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy role-playing game.

The novel is an adventure story and Drizzt is never certain who (if anyone) is his ally. He hopes, but does not know if he can count on Zaknafein and the pan-dimensional panther Guenhwyvar as allies. Each of the great houses uses deception to plot against rival houses in their quest for revenge and power in this dysfunctional world.

Homeland explores the conflict between personal principles and our natural desire to belong to a family and social order. Drizzt's conflicts are extreme (he is good, and his family and people are evil), but we all suffer this same internal battle at times.

The characters don't have a lot of depth and the writing is a bit heavy handed at times. But the story is good fun. And I enjoyed it.

Friday, 24 November 2017 18:21:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 20 November 2017
Monday, 20 November 2017 09:43:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 16 November 2017
 #
 

Callie in 1998Callie's childhood was tougher than most. She was abandoned by her parents at a young age and raised by her aunt and uncle, which is when I met her. They lived next door to us and befriended my boys, who were a few years younger than her and her brother.

As an adult, she tried to help her younger brother, who was in and out of trouble much of his life and died young. She was a single mother. She was as a teacher and social worker. She had a beautiful smile.

She died last week of a brain aneurism.

She was 32 years old.

She will be buried on Saturday.

Callie in 2017

Thursday, 16 November 2017 13:43:53 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# 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)