# Saturday, 04 August 2018

TimeTravelersWifeHenry DeTamble has a genetic disorder that causes him to spontaneously be thrust backwards or forwards in time. This causes many problems. Henry often finds himself naked in unfamiliar surroundings where he must steal clothes, money and food to survive. He often returns to the same places - sometimes at a particular date and time; sometimes at varying points in time. For example, he has witnessed the death of his mother in a car crash dozens of times.

Henry is drawn repeatedly to a home near Grand Haven, MI, where he meets a little girl named Clare. Henry and Clare develop a friendship over the years as Henry appears in her life at random times and at random ages of Clare's childhood. Eventually, the two meet in real time, where they fall in love and marry.

When Henry and Clare meet in real time, it is Henry's first encounter with her; yet Clare has memories of a relationship with an older Henry that spans to her early childhood. 

The novel is written entirely in the first person, alternating between Henry and Clare's perspective - sometimes describing the same scene from each point of view. This gives us a good look at how Henry's disorder affects each of them differently and how they choose to deal with it.

The book is also written entirely in the present tense, as if they are narrating the events that are happening in their own timeline - wherever that happens to take them. This gives the story an immediacy and removes the certainty that either character will survive into old age.

Each chapter begins with the age of the characters who appear. Although Henry is 8 years older than Clare in real time, he is decades older in many of their encounters. Sometimes, Henry encounters a version of himself at different ages. The storytelling is necessarily far from linear. Often one character has memories of prior encounters that the other does not possess, which makes for an interesting dynamic.

The Time Traveler's Wife is one of the most imaginative novels I've read. In her first novel, Audrey Niffenegger has created both a science fiction story and a love story. As a time travel story, it covers the obligatory questions of free will, predestination, cause and effect, and the consequences of interacting with your own past. But those are secondary themes to the relationships of the people affected by Henry's sudden disappearances and appearances and the disruptions in their lives.

Much of the story covers how people deal with loss. Henry's father never recovers from the death of his wife; Henry deals with his disability by drowning in drugs, alcohol, and wanton sex - until he meets Clare, who inspires him to straighten himself out and live as normal a life as possible. Clare spends her life dedicated to and supporting Henry, even though he repeatedly disappears and she never knows if and when he will return.

I grew to care about this couple, who were blessed to be thrust together by destiny, but cursed by a unique affliction. Henry and Clare suffer through a relationship hampered by Henry's affliction and Clare's uncertainty; but they are held together by an honesty I found refreshing.

This was my second reading of The Time Traveler's Wife and it may not be my last.

Saturday, 04 August 2018 19:49:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

OceanAtTheEndOfTheLaneThe narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane returns to his childhood home and is surprised by the return of repressed memories. He was a sad and lonely child; He preferred books over sports and no one came to his seventh birthday party and his parents mostly ignored him; He did manage to befriend his neighbor Lettie Hempstock and her mysterious family.

The story quickly turns much darker.

A family boarder steals the family car and commits suicide in it; then a monster uses the boy's body as a means to enter this universe and terrorize the local people. The monster takes on a human form, calling herself Ursula Monkton and injects herself into the boy's family, moving into the home and seducing the father.

Lettie's family proves to be more than they seem as they battle Ursula and protect the boy from her/its threats.

I really enjoyed this novella, which began as a childhood memory and turned into a horror / monster story. The characters could have come from the dark fairy tales of Roald Dahl and the creatures and magic could have been found in the fantasy animated films of Hayao Miyazaki

I liked the moral ambiguity Gaiman presented. Ursula arrives with good intentions. She wants to give people what they want; but when she discovers that people want money, she hurls coins at them and makes money appear in their throat. Lettie summons creatures to defeat Ursula, but they are all then threatened by these powerful creatures.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is one of NeillGaiman's shortest novels, but he packs a lot into the story.

Saturday, 04 August 2018 00:47:24 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, 02 August 2018

GCast 8:

Azure Virtual Machines

What is an Azure Virtual Machine? How do I create one?

Thursday, 02 August 2018 08:19:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 30 July 2018
Monday, 30 July 2018 11:10:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Thursday, 26 July 2018

IMG_1666Hundreds of people packed the ballroom at the Four Seasons ballroom in downtown Seattle for the World Finals of the 2018 Imagine Cup competition.

Hosts Kate Yeager and Corey Sanders paused.

"And the winner is…"

The crowd leaned forward in anticipation.

They stomped their feet in a simulated drumroll.

They had met the judges; they had heard from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Olympic Gold Medalist Chloe Kim; and they had seen presentations from the three finalists.

IMG_1678Over 40,000 students from almost 200 countries around the world had signed up for this competition, but only the top 40 teams were invited to the Seattle area for the finals. These teams represented 33 different countries, and each pitched their projects - a combination of hardware, software, and business ideas - to a panel of judges. The judges culled the field to 18 semi-finalists; then to 3 finalists and these 3 delivered their final pitches on Day 3.

The 3 finalists were

  • iCry2Talk, a team from Greece that developed a system to analyze the crying of babies,  determine what triggered the crying, and communicate that to parents via text, image, and voice messages.
  • Mediated Ear, a team from Japan that developed software to help hearing-impaired people listen to a single voice in a room full of other voices and noises.
  • SmartARM, a team from Canada that built a prosthetic arm with a camera in the palm, capable of recognizing images and positioning the fingers to pick up the item correctly on a muscle flex.

And now it was time to learn the winner.

And the winner was…

"SmartArm!"

IMG_0659A cheer erupted. Confetti flew from the ceiling. Music played.

SmartArm consisted of Hamayal Choudhry and Samin Khan, students at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and the University of Toronto respectively.

I was especially pleased to see them take home the world championship. Months ago, I helped mentor them at a hackathon at the University of Toronto, where they won a prize for best use of Microsoft technology; and I've followed them as they put in countless hours of work and great ideas to advance their project to where it is today.

SmartArm took home the top prize - $85,000 cash, $50,000 Azure credits, and a mentoring session with Satya Nadella; but there were many winners beyond them and the other 2 Finalist teams. Many of the teams will return home to turn their projects into business. And many will inspire their classmates to compete next year.

It was an amazing week filled with energy and ideas.

Thursday, 26 July 2018 15:26:17 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Wednesday, 25 July 2018

TheLastEnchantmentThe Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart's concludes the Merlin Trilogy begun with The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills.

The story begins just after young Arthur's ascension to the throne of Britain. It covers Arthur's first decade as high king as he battles the Saxons and unites Britain.

But Arthur is a minor character in this novel, as Stewart focuses on Merlin, the king's cousin, mentor, advisor, prophet, and friend.

Arthur is betrayed by both his half-sisters; but we hear much more about Morgause, because she tries to poison Merlin than about Morgan, who steals the king's legendary sword.

In The Last Enchantment, as in the previous novels, Merlin's mystical abilities are never as powerful as in the familiar legend; his abilities limited to his education, his wisdom, and the ability to occasionally see visions of the present and future.  In this novel, he loses his clairvoyant power, yet retains his value to Arthur as a trusted advisor and mentor.

Despite Merlin's power and stature within the new kingdom, he shows considerable humanity. He confronts the loss of his mystical powers; He confronts his own mortality and how the kingdom will fare when he eventually passes; and he falls in love for the first time in his life. He even deals with his accidental entombment after an Morgause's assassination attempt leaves him in a deathlike state.

I loved this whole series.

I loved Stewart's ability to take a story as familiar as the Arthurian legend and make it fresh and make it her own.

I loved the way she combined the different versions  of the Arthurian legend into a coherent tale.

I loved the humanity with which she injects all her characters - even those with special abilities.

I loved the action and the politics and the romance.

I loved the relationship and loyalty between Arthur and Merlin.

I was fortunate to have discovered this series and I'm happy to have seen the trilogy through to its conclusion.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018 12:30:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A package manager is a tool to install desired software and any other components on which that software depends. They do so by reading from a pre-configured package file, which lists dependencies, required configurations, where to retrieve binaries, and the order in which each step must occur.

Many software developers are familiar with package managers, such as NuGet (for Microsoft applications), PIP (for Python) and RubyGems (for Ruby). These are used to add components to a software project.

Chocolatey is a Package Manager designed specifically for installing desktop applications onto a Windows computer, outside of any software project.

You can get started using Chocolatey by navigating to https://chocolatey.org/. Chocolatey requires Windows and PowerShell (which comes pre-installed on current versions of Windows).

Install Chocolatey by opening a Command prompt and typing

@"%SystemRoot%\System32\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\powershell.exe" -NoProfile -InputFormat None -ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Command "iex ((New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString('https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1'))" && SET "PATH=%PATH%;%ALLUSERSPROFILE%\chocolatey\bin"
  

or by opening a PowerShell prompt and typing

Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force; iex ((New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString('https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1'))
  

You will likely need to open those prompts as an Administrator. Close the prompt when you are done.

choco install openlivewriter -y choco install googlechrome -y choco install firefox -y choco install notepadplusplus -y choco install nodejs -y choco install git -y choco install putty -y choco install nodejs -y choco install visualstudiocode -y choco install paint.net -y choco install dropbox -y choco install fiddler -y choco install azure-cli -y choco install audacity -y choco install visualstudio2017enterprise -y choco install slack -y choco install filezilla -y choco install handbrake -y choco install gitkraken -y choco install camtasia -y choco install snagit -y choco install unity -y choco install azure-cli -y choco install curl -y choco install everything -y choco install spotify –y
choco install icloud -y choco install docker -y
choco install kindle –y
choco install microsoft-teams –y
choco install postman –y
choco install microsoftazurestorageexplorer -y

Once Chocolatey is installed, you can install software with the command "choco install ", followed by the name of the package. Uninstall software with the command "choco uninstall ", followed by the name of the package. You can find existing packages and their names at https://chocolatey.org/packages.

"choco install" and "choco uninstall" have a number of command line switches. I found "-y" to be the most useful, which answers "Yes" to any prompts to download or run software, saving you a lot of time and intervention.

My number 1 use case for Chocolatey is to re-install all my desktop applications after I reset a PC (delete all data and applications and re-install Windows). I have created a batch file named "ChocolateyInstallScript.bat" to install many of my favourite desktop applications.

The script is listed below:

 

I ran this script this morning after resetting my laptop. It ran for about an hour with no intervention from me. After an hour, all the apps were installed.

Below is part of the output:

Ch01

The best part is that, for what I am doing, Chocolatey is completely free!

For more information, check out the the Chocolatey documentation here or watch my interview with Chocolatey creator Rob Reynolds here.

Chocolatey provides a a simple way to install and manage desktop applications. It saved me time and energy when I rebuilt my machine.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018 16:06:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 23 July 2018
Monday, 23 July 2018 08:20:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, 22 July 2018

Azure blob storage is a good, inexpensive way to store files in the cloud.

Putting some thought into how you will use this data will save you some money.

Azure offers 3 tiers of blob storage access: Hot, Cold, and Archive. Your choice depends on how frequently you intend to access your data.

It is always free to upload data to Azure storage, but there may be a charge to retrieve data.

Hot storage and Cool storage each offers easy, quick access to your files if you want to read or download them. The difference is the price. There are 2 components of Azure storage pricing: storage and data transfer. Storage is the fee for using space on Azure hard drives. Data Transfer is the fee to access your data (for example, you may want to download a copy of a file or point to an image stored in blob storage). Hot storage has higher storage costs, but lower data access costs than cool storage. So, if you plan to access your data a lot, Hot storage makes more sense; for infrequently accessed data, cool storage is cheaper. 

There is a third Azure Storage tier called "Archive" that is designed for long-term storage data that is accessed very infrequently. Archive tier differs from the other two not only in price - but in how quickly you can access your data. The storage price is much lower, and the access price is much higher than the other two tiers. In addition, it may take hours between the time you request your data and the time you can access your data.

Hot and Cool tiers can be set at the storage account level, but Archive tier can only be set for individual blobs.

If you want to store 5TB data in Azure storage the cost per month (as of July 2018) would be:

Hot tier $104
Cool tier $76
Archive tier $10

The cost to retrieve 1 GB of data with each tier would be

Hot tier $0.00
Cool tier $0.01
Archive tier $0.02

To summarize:

Tier Monthly storage cost, 5TB Access cost / GB
Hot $104 $0.00
Cool $76 $0.01
Archive $10 $0.02

Of course, these prices can change over time. You can view the current prices at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/storage/blobs/ 

As you can see, the costs can vary significantly. Your choice depends on how frequently you plan to access your data. If you want to store images to display on your web site, the Hot Tier makes sense. If you want to store customer invoice PDFs and you expect people to only review them every month or two, Cool is probably the best choice. If you want to back up your video files just in case your local drive fails (like I did), Archive is more practical, because I might never retrieve those files.

As Azure evolves, these options become more and more driven by the demands of the customer.

Sunday, 22 July 2018 09:33:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, 21 July 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, 21 July 2018 09:09:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)