# Tuesday, 07 August 2018

WatchmenWho watches the Watchmen?

I remember reading Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons 30 years ago, when it was originally released as a 12-issue series. I waited for each issue and it took me a year to get through the entire story. But this week, I read the complete saga as a single volume and I think this is how Moore and Gibbons intended it. The story is complex enough that mysteries are introduced in one chapter and resolved several chapters later.

Although published by DC Comics, the story takes place outside the DC superhero continuity.

The main difference from the DC universe is the impact that superheroes had on their world, since first appearing on the scene in the 1930s. Originally, they were a group of costumed people with excellent athletic abilities and desire to fight crime. But things changed when Dr. Manhattan appeared on the scene. Dr. Manhattan was a physicist caught in an atomic experiment that gave him nearly godlike powers of strength, invulnerability, the ability to transport himself and other people and objects; and the ability to see forward and backward in time.

Dr. Manhattan working for the U.S. government greatly shifted the balance of power during the Cold War. In this world, the U.S. won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon remained president for decades (Woodward and Bernstein's bodies were found in a parking garage and the Watergate scandal never came to light).

Costumed heroes eventually lose favor among the general public, which distrusts their great power; and by the police, who are frustrated by them operating outside the law as vigilantes.

The story follows a number of costumed heroes and former heroes:

  • The aforementioned Dr. Manhattan
  • The cynical and amoral Comedian, who works for the government or whoever will pay him the most
  • Retired hero Nite Owl - the second of that name
  • Ozymandias, who hung up his costume to start a business and become a billionaire
  • Rorschach, a psychopath with a strong moral compass that justifies him murdering criminals.
  • The Silk Spectre, who inherited that name from her mother, who pressured her into the superhero business.

It's a fascinating story, made better by all the little details - the graffiti on the wall in the background; the minor subplots (Rorschach’s psychiatrist is so troubled by his interactions with the hero that his marriage begins to crumble); the easter eggs (The pages of Chapter 5 are symmetrical, such that the last page mirrors the first, page 2 mirrors the second last, and so on); and stories within stories (a minor character reads a pirate comic throughout the series, which tells a morality play, not dissimilar to the one acted out by the major characters). One gets the feeling that multiple readings would reveal even more layers to the story.

But the strength of Watchmen is in the conflicting morals of each of the characters and the conflict this causes among the group. Some, like Ozymandias and Rorschach are absolutely convinced of their moral high ground; Dr. Manhattan loses his connection with the human race as he loses his humanity, and this affects his morality; The Comedian and the first Silk Spectre are in the superhero business for the fun of it; while others, such as Nite Owl and the second Silk Spectre, wrestle with questions of right and wrong and how to respond to evil.

The reader is confronted with moral questions, most of which go unanswered:

  • Do the ends justify the means?
  • Is nuclear deterrent (or superhuman deterrent) enough to preserve peace?
  • Does the universe need humans? Is it better with or without them?
  • What obligations do the powerful have to protect the powerless?

It is the last question that drives this story forward.

Watchmen changed the perceptions many had about comic books and graphic novels in the 1980s. Its dark themes and complex plots and characters were more than other titles at the time. As a result, the entire industry was challenged to produce at least some more titles that were heavier and higher quality than their normal super hero fare.

3 decades later Watchmen still stands up - not just as a graphic novel, but as a novel.

Tuesday, 07 August 2018 09:18:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 06 August 2018
Monday, 06 August 2018 08:14:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, 05 August 2018

8/5
Today I am grateful to visit the American Writers Museum for the first time.

8/4
Today I am grateful to tour the Clarke House Museum yesterday.

8/3
Today I am grateful for my first visit to Rosa's Lounge for the Thursday night blues jam.

8/2
Today I am grateful for my first visit to Door County, WI.

8/1
Today I am grateful for a bike ride around Sturgeon Bay, WI yesterday.

7/31
Today I am grateful for my first visit to a Wisconsin Supper Club.

7/30
Today I am grateful for lunch yesterday with Tim, Natale, and Emilija.

7/29
Today I am grateful for the summer party at my condo building yesterday.

7/28
Today I am grateful for breakfast yesterday with Kevin and Dustin.

7/27
Today I am grateful for dinner last night with Brent, Carl, and Michael.

7/26
Today I am grateful for:
-an amazing week at the Imagine Cup World Finals
-Lunch with Becky at the Microsoft expo
-Coffee with Steve

7/25
Today I am grateful for dinner with Nino last night in Seattle.

7/24
Today I am grateful to chat with a couple members of my new team.

7/23
Today I am grateful for a party last night at the University of Washington.

7/22
Today I am grateful for my first Kindle.

7/21
Today I am grateful for a walk through the natural area of Winnemac Park last night.

7/20
Today I am grateful to have had Dan and Rowena and their family visit this week.

7/19
Today I am grateful to successfully rebuild my 2 laptops yesterday and for Sergiy's help with this.

7/18
Today I am grateful for a walk around Chinatown last night with Rowena.

7/17
Today I am grateful to Dan for cooking me a steak dinner last night.

7/16
Today I am grateful to go to B.L.U.E.S. Chicago last night with Nick, Tim, and Natale.

7/15
Today I am grateful for my first visit to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

7/14
‪Today I am grateful to spend the past 2 days with Dan and Rowena and their family. ‬

7/13
Today I am grateful for my first visit to Mackinac Island. .

7/12
Today I am grateful for dinner last night in Pellston, MI at the home of Patrick and Susan.

7/11
Today I am grateful to have Nick at my place last night and to Tim for picking us up and taking us to dinner last night.

7/10
Today I am grateful to work with some top Chicago high schools students yesterday through Northwestern Academy.

7/9
Today I am grateful for
-a visit to the National Museum of American History yesterday
-a weekend in Maryland and Washington, DC

7/8
Today I am grateful to attend a family reunion this weekend and re-connect with so many of my extended family.

7/7
Today I am grateful for a visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore yesterday.

7/6
Today I am grateful for:
-a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
-my first visit to Nationals Park, where I saw the larges comeback in franchise history yesterday

7/5
Today I am grateful I managed to get these family photos organized before the reunion.

7/4
Today I am grateful to live in the United States of America.

7/3
Today I am grateful for:
-a tour of Southern Illinois University
-a drive through Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge

7/2
Today I am grateful for my first visit to Carbondale, IL.

Sunday, 05 August 2018 11:11:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# 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)