# Saturday, July 21, 2018

HillbillyElegyJ.D. Vance was never a hillbilly. He isn't even from the hills. He was raised in the southwest Ohio city of Middletown - a rust belt town hit hard economically when a major employer left.

But his family migrated to Middletown from rural Kentucky and displays many of the attributes of the white working class of Appalachia. These people, Vance tells us, identify as "hillbillies". And in Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, Vance describes the attributes of these hillbillies - sometimes through the stories of his own family and neighbors and sometimes through statistics drawn from studies and journals.

Most of those traits are not good. The undereducated, underemployed whites with roots in Appalachia (read "hillbillies) are verbally abusive and prone to violence and share a feeling of hopelessness. They tend to believe that they are not in control of their destiny - that those who succeed were born to better circumstances or were just born smarter. To make matters worse, hillbillies are often dishonest with themselves. They are convinced that they work harder than they actually do and that they attend church more often than they really do. They distrust outsiders; they distrust the government; they distrust the press. These factors combine to keep them poor and exclude them from the American Dream.

They do profess a fierce family loyalty, but only in the sense that they will attack any outsider who insults or otherwise threatens their family. They are generally not supportive of their own family and are often treat one another with cruelty. 

Hillbilly Elegy tells Vance's story of being raised by these folks, the effect it had on him and others like him, and how he was able to escape this culture and graduate from a prestigious law school.

Vance's mother was a drug-addicted single mother, who marched through a plethora of boyfriends and husbands as he was growing up. He nearly flunked out of high school while growing up and many of his friends and neighbors got into trouble and/or made nothing of their lives.

He was largely raised by his gun-toting, foul-mouthed grandmother (aka "Mamaw") and his grandfather (aka "Papaw").

Eventually, Vance graduated high school, enlisted in the US Marine Corps, earned a bachelor’s degree and a Yale law degree.

Three things contributed to Vance's eventual success.

Mamaw succeeded in instilling in him a willingness to work hard and improve himself.

He enlisted in the US Marines right after high school, where he learned discipline and many of the life skills not taught to him growing up.

He was accepted into Yale, where he learned the art of networking to achieve success.

Hillbilly Elegy is an interesting story, about a man who overcome adversity by taking control of his life and rejecting his circumstances.

But is also a social study of an American demographic that is often overlooked - the poor, white working class of Appalachia. These are people whose lifestyle is not well suited to adapting as the economy changed and felt left behind by the rest of America. This feeling of hopelessness may explain why so many of them shifted from the Democratic to the Republican party in less than a generation.

I cannot speak to the generalizations that Vance makes about his people. My ten years living in Kentucky were mostly not spent among the very poor. But I don't doubt his personal experiences and how he was able to overcome his own expectations and his perceived destiny. And I appreciate that he made me think about a group of people in a new light.

Saturday, July 21, 2018 9:09:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Friday, July 20, 2018

I decided I needed to re-image my laptop.

After more than two years, my laptop felt slow. Installing and uninstalling applications and forgotten / unneeded service that are still running made their presence felt in sluggish performance.

I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was do this on Windows 10.

Preparation

My goal was to completely wipe out everything on my PC and start fresh, so I wanted to know what I was removing and would have to add back.

Step 1 is to back up any data or documents on your laptop. If you are using tools like OneDrive, Dropbox, and GitHub, all your data might already be backed up. This was true for most of my files, but I found a few (most notably my PST email archive) that I needed to back up manually to an external hard drive.

Step 2 is to make note of the applications you will need to re-install after you reset the computer.

Reset PC

Once everything is backed up, you can reset your machine with a clean install.

Click the START button in the bottom left and type "Reset this PC", as shown in Fig. 1.

Reset01
Fig. 1

This should bring up the "Recovery" screen, as shown in Fig. 2. (Note: If this does not work, you can go to Windows Settings and search for "Reset this PC".)

Reset02
Fig. 2

On the "Recovery" screen, click the [Get Started] button to launch the "Reset this PC" wizard. The first screen ("Choose an option") of the Wizard is shown in Fig. 3.

Reset03
Fig. 3

Click the [Remove everything] button to advance the "Do you want to clean the drives, too?" screen, as shown in Fig. 4.

Reset04
Fig. 4

On this screen, select [Remove files and clean the drive] button to advance to the "Ready to reset this PC" screen, as shown in Fig. 5.

Reset05
Fig. 5

On this final wizard screen, click the [Reset] button.

This will delete all files, re-install windows, and launch a startup wizard to ask you about things like preferred language and keyboard layout.

When finished, you will have a PC with Windows 10 installed and little else. At this point, you will want to re-install any applications you need and restore desired files from your backup. I used Chocolatey to automate re-installing my applications.

I did this for 2 different laptops. The whole process took about 90 minutes on my 2-year-old Surface Book and about 3 hours on my 4-year-old Surface Pro 3.

The most stressful part was backing up everything and hoping I did not forget an important file. My next project is to make sure everything is included in Dropbox, so I won't need to worry about this.

Friday, July 20, 2018 9:29:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, July 19, 2018

GCast 7:

Azure SQL Database

Azure MySQL Database

Thursday, July 19, 2018 8:46:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Fahrenheit451Guy Montag is a fireman. Unlike the world of today, firemen in Montag's dystopian near-future are charged with burning books. Books are illegal because books encourage free thought, which makes it difficult for the government to control its citizens.

One day, Montag meets Clarisse, a high school girl who is not afraid to think about the world and question what she sees. Montag enjoys his conversations with Clarisse and is jarred when she suddenly disappears - an apparent victim of an automobile accident. Montag begins to question his life and the morality of his job. He courts disaster when he steals a book he is supposed to burn.

Fahrenheit 451 is one of the great novels of  the twentieth century. Not only is it a compelling story; it is a warning against anti-intellectualism and those who mindlessly follow authority. It is a warning of choosing comfort and vapid entertainment over freedom; and allowing power to be too concentrated. 65 years after its publication, these issues are still relevant.

This is a book everyone should add to their reading list. It is a simple parable but packed with so much that I have read it three times.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018 11:21:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, July 16, 2018
Monday, July 16, 2018 9:07:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, July 15, 2018

TheJungleBrace yourself before reading Upton Sinclair's the The Jungle.

The Jungle tells the story of European immigrants lured to Chicago with promises of high-paying jobs in the meat packing industry. The promises of a good life turn out to be false - particularly for the family of Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus. Jurgis arrives believing that he can handle the hard work and provide for his new wife and his extended family. He is strong and hard-working, and he quickly finds a job in the local stockyards.

But they have entered a world where the entire system conspires to keep down the poor. Wages are reduced downward and workers are not paid for time lost.

Even time lost to injury or illness.

Even injury or illness caused by unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, which is the norm in Chicago's meatpacking industry.

A dishonest realtor tricks the family into buying a home with hidden costs and his entire family must go to work to make ends meet. The meat trust exploits them all by keeping them in in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Foremen, policemen, businessmen, judges, and politicians are all corrupt and use their power to prey on the powerless.

As time passes, the family falls farther into debt and deeper into despair. Some die, some are maimed, some are arrested, some are blacklisted by all the local companies, one is raped with impunity by her boss, and one disappears without a trace. Despite their best efforts, their fate seems almost inescapable. They work hard and play by society's rules but are cast aside anyway. Before long, the hope and optimism with which they arrived slips away.

Sinclair was a devout socialist and concludes the novel with a pitch for socialism as a cure for the dangers of unchecked capitalism. It's interesting to read this today over a hundred years after its publication and with the perspective of history. Socialism never took over the US and has produced mixed results in those nations where it was adopted.

But the novel did have an impact on society - mostly by calling attention to the unsanitary products sold by the meat packers. This led to increased regulation and the formation of what would become the Food and Drug Administration.

The preaching about socialism in the last few pages makes the ending feel a bit weak, but the story is a powerful one and I could not help but feel for the heartbreak experienced by Jurgis and his family. The reader feels both sympathy and outrage at the injustices they suffer.  There is a reason why this novel is considered an American classic.

Sunday, July 15, 2018 10:54:53 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, July 12, 2018

GCast 6:

Azure SQL Database

How to create an Azure SQL database in the Azure portal.

Thursday, July 12, 2018 9:16:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, July 10, 2018

I needed to convert a bunch of PDF files with pictures into image files.

I volunteered to create a slideshow for a family reunion and and one cousin sent me dozens of PDFs, which don't play nice with my editing software.

After playing around with several online converters, I settled on PDFtoPNG.

You don't need to install anything to use this tool.

Open a browser and navigate to https://pdftopng.online/

The start page shown in Fig 1 is  pretty intuitive.

P2P01-StartPage
Fig 1

Click the large green [Choose File] button to open a "File Open" dialog, as shown in Fig. 2.

P2P02-SelectPdf
Fig 2

Select a file and click [Open]. You can only convert one file at a time, but each file takes only a few seconds.

A "Converting file" message (Fig 3) displays, while the system does its thing.

P2P03-Converting
Fig 3

When the conversion process is complete, a [Download] button displays, as shown in Fig 4.

P2P04-Done
Fig 4

Click this button to save your newly-created PNG file to disc. If the PDF file contains multiple images, a ZIP file containing all the images is created.

Using this tool, I was able to quickly convert dozens of PDFs to PNG files and add them to my slideshow. It was simple, free, and I did not need to install or uninstall any software.

Photos | Tech
Tuesday, July 10, 2018 5:10:56 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, July 9, 2018
Monday, July 9, 2018 9:38:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, July 5, 2018

GCast 5:

Azure Databricks

Learn how to create a free library and Jupyter notebooks hosted in Azure.

Thursday, July 5, 2018 9:43:00 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)