# Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Phèdre nó Delaunay was a woman of extraordinary beauty, born with a single flaw - a speck of red in one of her eyes. At first, society shuns Phèdre for this imperfection; but a nobleman recognizes the red moat as a sign from the fallen angel Kushiel that Phèdre was born with special talents. He buys her and begins her training to put those talents to use.

It turns out that her talents are to be really good in bed and the ability to derive sexual pleasure from pain. Her training prepares her to become a high-priced prostitute to be passed around among the court nobles. It seems a harsh fate, but in the land of Terre D'Ange, where Phèdre lives, casual sex is the norm. The people of Terre D'Ange live by the motto "Love as thou wilt" and Phèdre is devoted to her master and sees her sexual romps as a tribute to her god.

Everything is great until her master is murdered and Phèdre is captured by Vikings, who carry her off and make a sex slave of her. She is still turned on by their cruelty, but at least she feels bad about that.

Jacqueline Carey's first novel Kushiel's Dart weaves a story of political intrigue and sex. Lots of sex. Mostly S&M sex.

Carey creates a world much like early Renaissance Europe and follows the upper class of a city founded by the demigod Elua and a group of fallen angels. The current residents of Terre D'Ange are the descendants of those angels.

The story doesn't get going until the murder/kidnapping and the escape and recapture and war that follow, but it takes nearly 500 pages to get that far. Until that point, it's aristocrats flirting and spying and backstabbing and having sex.

It's supposed to be a high fantasy novel but reads more like a sex fantasy novella. Even though Terre d'Ange was founded by fallen angels and demigods, we get only a couple brief encounters with supernatural beings and those don't occur until about two-thirds of the way through the novel.

I liked the interweaving political plots of Kushiel's Dart. But I grew weary of the frequent sexual exploits. It was meant to be a High Fantasy novel, but at times reads like a sex fantasy novella. In this day and age, I can get my soft-core pornography too easily to be aroused by throwing in a bondage scene every few pages of a novel.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017 13:27:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, 27 March 2017
Monday, 27 March 2017 11:58:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, 26 March 2017

AlStewart2017I was 16 years old when I got my first real job. The day I received my first real paycheck, I drove from work to the bank to local record store and bought Al Stewart's Year of the Cat LP. I took it home and played it repeatedly, memorizing every word of every song on both sides.

Nearly 4 decades later, I finally had a chance to see Al Stewart live - Thursday evening at the City Winery. And here's the kicker: He played the entire Year of the Cat album! Every song, in the same order as on the album. It was like getting a visit from an old friend. The concert transported me back to my teen years, listening to my LP on my parent's Wi-Fi at top volume in the family basement.

In between each song, Stewart explained something about the song's meaning or told a story of its origin. He was surprised that a song about the Rhodesian civil war (On the Border) would become a top 40 hit; All airplane metaphors in Flying Sorcery are about the ending of a relationship; Broadway Hotel often inspires each audience member to attempt to seduce the attractive stranger next to him or her.

Stewart was backed by the local Chicago band Empty Pockets, which also opened the show with a short set of their own. They were joined by Marc Macisso on flute, harmonica and saxophone - most notably saxophone which he wielded with power and passion.

AlStwesart and Me The band played a few songs before and after the complete Year of the Cat set, including his other hit Time Passages. But it was the re-playing of the album that we all came to hear. And that we all enjoyed.


More photos of this concert

Sunday, 26 March 2017 17:14:35 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, 25 March 2017

KrisKristoffersonI took a chance. The show had been sold out for over a month. But I drove to the City Winery in the West Loop anyway. And I was rewarded with a ticket close to the stage. And I was not disappointed.

Kristofferson played for 2 hours with a very brief (maybe 10 minutes?) intermission. He played

He didn't bring a band. Just himself and his guitar and harmonica. It was enough.

At 80 years old, Kris Kristofferson still carries an impressive stage presence. There were a few missed notes on his guitar, and a few missed high or low notes in his vocal range, but his wit and charm more than made up for any shortcomings brought on by his age.

For Kristofferson, it has never been about his singing or his playing. It was always about his music and his storytelling. And he captivated a packed house Wednesday night on stage. He sang love songs and drinking songs and ballads and each one struck the audience as if the story were written and sang only for each of us.

My only complaint is that he apologized too much for any lapses in his musical technique. The audience didn't care. They wanted to hear him sing his stories.

And he did.

And I'm glad I was there to see and hear it.


Photos of the concert

Saturday, 25 March 2017 16:52:30 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 20 March 2017
Monday, 20 March 2017 11:32:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 13 March 2017
Monday, 13 March 2017 12:17:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, 12 March 2017

DelbertMcClintonDelbert McClinton has recorded dozens of albums over the past 45 years, but it was always his live shows that brought him the most praise.

Friday night, McClinton brought that live performance to S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston. For over 2 hours, he entertained a packed room with a mix of originals and cover songs.

McClinton has a devoted audience and all night long this crowd shouted requests and sang along to lyrics they had memorized.

Now, in his 70s, McClinton still has the powerful, gritty voice that made him the ultimate Texas roadhouse singer. What he has lost in range he makes up for with emotion.

For this show, Delbert's only instruments were his voice and his harmonicas. But he was backed by an outstanding 7-piece band, highlighted by Bob Britt on guitar, Kevin McKendree on keyboards, Dana Robbins on saxophone, and Quentin Ware on trumpet. This was a group of top-notch musicians who complemented one another very well. Instead of an intermission, Delbert stepped off the stage for 10-15 minutes in the middle of the show and allowed his band to play a trio of songs without him.

Delbert McClinton is often cited as the definitive Texas roadhouse musician. And Friday, he showed us why. Powerful vocals, a tight band, and a connection with the audience in an intimate venue made me glad I finally saw him live after listening to his recordings for years.

Sunday, 12 March 2017 19:55:56 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 09 March 2017

MarciaBallBandMarcia Ball rocks. Her songs rock. Her band rocks.

And Tuesday night in Chicago, she and her quintet rocked the City Winery in Chicago's West Loop. For over 2 hours, she played her Texas mix of stride piano, boogie-woogie, rockabilly, and the blues. Lots of blues

Ball showed off a powerful voice that could not possibly come out of his tall, slender woman. But even more impressive were her keyboard skills. When she sits at a piano, she owns it. Her band wasn't far behind, led by excellent guitarist Mike Schermer and outstanding saxophonist Eric Bernhardt. Each stepped to the front frequently for skillful solos.

MarciaAndDavid Ball sang mostly originals from throughout her long career and from her latest album – The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man; but she mixed in a few cover songs, such as Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927 and Frankie Ford's Sea Cruise.

This was the last night of a long tour before she and her band head home; but they brought energy that night and the crowd fed off it.

If you get a chance, go see Marcia Bell. You will not regret it.

Thursday, 09 March 2017 05:40:57 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Tuesday, 07 March 2017

20170304_214526In the 1960s Booker T and the MGs pioneered the Memphis Soul sound, recording numerous hit records. In the decades since, Booker T. Jones has recorded and produced countless records with the likes of Neil Young, Drive-By Truckers, Ray Charles, and Albert King.

Today, Booker T is in his 70s and still going strong.

I had the pleasure of seeing his current band at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston. Although not a long show (about 80 minutes total), he delighted the crowd with a top-notch performance by him and his band.

Of course, they played the hits of the MGs, such as Hip-Hug-Her, Hang ‘em High, Soul Limbo, and their first and biggest hit Green Onions; And they played music he is associated with, such as Born Under a Bad Sign, which he co-wrote for Albert King, and Grandma's Hands, which he produced for Bill Withers; but they also performed a number of cover songs, spanning genres from Outkast's hip-hop hit Hey Ya to Muddy Waters's blues classic Mannish Boy.

I was surprised to see Jones step out from behind his signature organ and play some songs on guitar and perform lead vocals on some.

Jones's band - a quartet of drums, guitar, bass, and organ - is highlighted by his son Ted on guitar. Ted has an engaging stage presence and is a solid musician like his father. Booker and Ted performed a moving rendition of Prince's Purple Rain together as the other 2 band members left the stage.

Booker T Jones has received numerous honors throughout his career. He has been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

And Saturday night in Evanston, I finally got to see him perform live.

Tuesday, 07 March 2017 22:25:43 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Monday, 06 March 2017
Monday, 06 March 2017 15:27:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Sunday, 05 March 2017

3/5
Today I am grateful to see Booker T. Jones in concert last night in Evanston.

3/4
Today I am grateful for a long-overdue haircut.

3/3
Today I am grateful that the worst cold in 5 years is now behind me.

3/2
Today I am grateful for all the birthday wishes yesterday - especially to those who took the time to call or send a personal message.

3/1
Today I am grateful
-to all those who braved the storm last night to hear the world premiere of my Big Data on Azure presentation
-that I made it home safely last night, avoiding tornados in the area

2/28
Today I am grateful to attend a very interesting Diversity Panel last night in Chicago.

2/27
Today I am grateful to the organizers, volunteers, student hackers, and mentors who worked so hard to made #HackIllinois excellent this past weekend.

2/26
Today I am grateful for the number of students who were inspired enough to use the technologies I showed in my workshops yesterday.

2/25
Today I am grateful for medicine to battle this cold - especially when I want to sleep.

2/24
Today I am grateful to the lady who pointed out the approaching meter maid yesterday in time for me to move my car.

2/23
Today I am grateful for dinner in Chicago last night with my team.

2/22
Today I am grateful to Mostafa for volunteering his time yesterday and providing me valuable feedback on my presentation.

2/21
Today I am grateful for coffee with Kasia yesterday.

2/20
Today I am grateful for dinner last night in Little Italy with Gary and Patricia.

2/19
Today I am grateful for dinner and a movie last night with Emilija and Larissa.

2/18
Today I am grateful for: -Lunch with Jaidev yesterday -A drink with Beckyy last night

2/17
Today I am grateful for my first time speaking at the Northwest Chicago JavaScript meetup.

2/16
Today I am grateful for a chance to finally edit some of the photos I've taken in the past few months.

2/15
Today I am grateful for a 6-course gourmet meal last night at River Valley Farmers Table.

2/14
Today I am grateful I've completed the coursework for the Xamarin certification.

2/13
Today I am grateful to discover 2 new coffee houses in my neighborhood yesterday.

2/12
Today I am grateful to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo in concert last night.

2/11
Today I am grateful to complete my passport application after numerous false starts.

2/10
Today I am grateful to people who ask me questions and to people who answer my questions.

2/9
Today I am grateful for dinner with Esteban last night.

2/8
Today I am grateful to Christina, who brought me some homemade soup yesterday.

2/7
Today I am grateful for:
-A first visit to a new gym yesterday
-A long walk in Chicago in my shorts last night. In February!

2/6
Today I am grateful to watch an exciting Super Bowl yesterday.

Sunday, 05 March 2017 16:19:27 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb is an Epic Fantasy, a Coming-of-Age story; and a story of Political intrigue.

It is the story of FitzChivalry Farseer. Fitz is the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, who is heir to the throne of the Six Duchies kingdom.

At the age of 6, the nameless boy is unceremoniously delivered to the castle of his birth father, where he is raised by the king's stablemaster.

Fitz has magical gifts - the ability to communicate telepathically with both animals and humans, which sometimes helps him and sometimes marks him for the hatred of others (along with his illegitimate birth). When his grandfather King Shrewd takes notice of the boy, he orders that he be trained as an assassin.

The climax occurs when, as a teenager, Fitz is ordered to kill the innocent prince of a neighboring kingdom. He must balance his duty to his king with his own conscience and his loyalty to those around him.

It's a complex story with many subplots and many well-developed characters. It's often difficult to tell who is loyal and who is conspiring against our hero.

Assassin's Apprentice is Book 1 of the Farseer Trilogy, which is the first of several trilogies and novels Hobb has written about Fitz and his universe. I plan to return to this series in a few months. For now, I am savoring this volume.

Sunday, 05 March 2017 01:03:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
# Thursday, 02 March 2017

JesusOnDeathRowThe story of Christianity is the story of Jesus Christ – his birth, his life, his trials, his death, his message, and his resurrection.

In Jesus on Death Row, Mark Osler walks us through the biblical story of Jesus's trial, conviction, and execution; and compares it to the criminal justice system in the United States of today.

Osler draws upon the 4 Gospels for the details of Jesus's trial; and upon his own experience as a prosecutor (he is now a law professor) for analogous stories in today's legal system.
   
The similarities are often striking.

Many practices of Jesus's time persist today. Prosecutors still rely on paid informants to bolster their case as the Pharisees famously paid 30 silver coins to Judas Iscariot; the appeal process of today, although slower, is not unlike the process that Jesus went through as he was brought before the Jewish Elders, Pontius Pilate, and Herod; Arrests today are often made when a suspect is vulnerable and unprotected, which is how Jesus was arrested at night in the garden.

There are differences, of course. Crucifixion was an extremely painful way to die and would not pass today's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

Osler discusses the last meal of prisoners, which is probably the death row event with which average people can most easily identify. He notes that Jesus's last supper the night before his execution was well documented in the gospels and is a key event in Christian history.

Jesus on Death Row leaves the reader with a sense of uneasiness about the death penalty, which is a final and irrevocable sentence - particularly as we see it applied to Jesus Christ, who was guilty of no violent crime. This undercurrent isn't surprising as Professor Osler spends part of his time fighting for the rights of inmates on death row.

I found the book fascinating. I've read the Gospels, but not with an eye toward the legal aspects and how they compare with today's law. "Jesus on Death Row" gave me a new perspective on an old and familiar topic.

Thursday, 02 March 2017 06:10:42 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)