David and Henry 2023Henry Winkler came to the attention of the world (and to me) when he starred as Fonzie on the hit TV show "Happy Days." Fonzie was an iconic character - a man so cool he could start a jukebox by tapping it in the right place or snap his fingers to attract beautiful women or silence a crowd with a single word.

But that character was not Henry Winkler. By his own admission, Winkler grew up the opposite of cool. He wanted desperately to be accepted by the popular kids at school. He wanted the approval of his parents, but his undiagnosed dyslexia led to low grades, which led to his parents' disdain. His German parents called him "dummer Hund," which translates to "dumb dog."

"Being Henry: The Fonz... and Beyond" is an honest story about an actor's rise to success and his challenges along the way.

Growing up, Winkler lacked self-confidence in everything except acting. He was so enthusiastic about performing that he managed to qualify for Yale drama school despite his reading issues. In his audition, he improvised much of the Shakespearean dialogue he was supposed to deliver.

After struggling for a few years following graduation, he won the role of Fonzie. Audiences loved the lovable tough guy character so much that the producers restructured the show, shifting the focus from Ron Howard's Richie Cunningham to Winkler's Fonzie, which discouraged Ron Howard. Despite this, Howard and Winkler remained close friends, and Winkler had nothing but praise for Howard in his book.

"Happy Days" ran for eleven seasons, was a top-20 rated show for eight of those seasons, and spawned multiple spin-offs, including the successful "Laverne and Shirley" and "Mork and Mindy."

When the show ended, Winkler struggled to maintain his acting career without being stereotyped as a cool greaser. He worked steadily for decades before beginning an association with Adam Sandler and appearing in a handful of Sandler's successful comedies. The two met when Winkler called Sandler after hearing his name mentioned in Sandler's Saturday Night Live performance of "The Chanukah Song." The two remained friends afterward.

Winkler's career continued to climb when Bill Hader cast him as acting teacher Gene Cousineau in his dark comedy series "Barry." This role earned Henry his first Primetime Emmy Award.

Henry Winkler has experienced success, marginal success, and mega-success throughout his five decades of acting. But not everything came easy. His dyslexia hindered much of his career, and he found relationships difficult - in large part due to the lack of support and love from his parents. Years of therapy and a strong support group helped this.

I saw and met Henry on his recent book tour, where his "Barry" co-start D'Arcy Carden, interviewed him. D'Arcy had kind things to say about him, and Henry's smile and responses reinforced his reputation as one of Hollywood's good guys.

What impresses me about Henry Winkler's life is that he was able to be successful without being spoiled by the Hollywood lifestyle. By all accounts, he remains grounded and loyal to his friends. His kindness came across in his writing. "Being Henry" tells the actor's story with honesty, vulnerability, and gratitude. So many of his anecdotes are about people who helped him along the way. Every few chapters, his wife Stacey chimes in to relate a story of their life together in her own words.

Henry is in a good place now. He is approaching 80, his career is at its strongest since his Fonzie years, he has a good family and good friends, and he has learned to accept the things in his life that held him back. Watching "Happy Days" was a part of my life as a boy, and I am happy to see Mr. Winkler remain successful. He attributes his success to talent, work, and luck. We should all be so lucky.

GCast 163:

Getting Started with GitHub [GCast 163]

Learn how to create, manage, and delete a GitHub repository

Episode 777

Ashton and Ryan Clark on TicketFalcon

Ryan and Ashton Clark talk about their online ticketing business, including the history of the business and the technical issues they needed to tackle to make it successful.


"Prequel" by Rachel Maddow

Comments [0]

Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany in the 1930s changed the course of European history. But Hitler and his Nazi Party inspired many Americans as well. These American groups nearly succeeded in their efforts to support the Nazi cause and prevent America from helping to defeat the Third Reich's efforts to take over the world.

Rachel Maddow's "Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism" explores the rise of Naziism in the United States before and during World War II. Many people contributed to this movement with a range of motivations. Some opposed American involvement in any foreign war; others advocated fascism as a superior form of government over democracy; and many embraced Hitler's Great Lie that a secret cadre of international Jews controlled the world's economy and politics.

The significant actors included politicians, businessmen, and preachers. Organizations like the Silver Shirts and the Christian Front actively advocated and trained for the violent overthrow of the United States government. Congressmen used their franking privilege to mass mail Nazi propaganda to US citizens at taxpayer expense. Others incorporated Nazi messaging into their speeches.

Most of the players were unknown to me, but too many wielded enormous power. Some congressmen and journalists pushed for the United States to join the war on the side of the Nazis. Industrialist Henry Ford was so enthusiastic in his hatred of Jews that Adolf Hitler came to admire him. Hitler quoted Ford in his book "Mein Kampf" and even hung a portrait of Ford in his office. Aviator Charles Lindbergh delivered many public speeches in favor of Hitler's government.

The racist message of these far-right groups came close to succeeding. Many American citizens and authorities viewed Communism as a more significant threat than fascism, and these hate groups pushed the narrative that most Jews were Communists. The American Fascist movement failed because of the people who dared to stand up to them. Sadly, very few of the conspirators were ever brought to justice. An attempt to bring to justice the Nazi sympathizers who sought to overthrow the government was unsuccessful. The trial dragged on so long and was so chaotic that the judge eventually died of stress. Prosecutor O. John Rogge brought back from the Nuremberg Trials evidence of direct ties between Nazi officials and US politicians. His report was suppressed by the Truman administration, which hoped to avoid a public scandal. The public ignored the report when it was finally released decades later.

History has forgotten this xenophobic movement, yet it could have had disastrous consequences for democracy in America. We mustn't forget so we can recognize the signs when others try something similar.

Boop! The Musical!Betty Boop was the most famous star in the world. She sang and acted and captivated audiences wherever she went. But her world was not the real world. It was the black and white animated world of America's jazz age. Bored with her life of celebrity and unsure of her identity, Betty borrows her grandfather's invention to transport herself to the "real world" She finds herself at a New York City Comic-Con in 2023, surrounded by a culture of escapism. Soon, she befriends bright teenager Trisha and her stepbrother Dwayne, who help her to understand her new surroundings.

Boop originally appeared in a series of shorts created by legendary cartoonist Max Fleischer.

Nearly a century later, a production team of Bob Martin (script), David Foster (music), Susan Birkenhead (lyrics), and Jerry Mitchell (director / choreographer) brought Betty's story to the stage. "Boop! The Musical" premiered at Chicago's CIBC Theatre Sunday night before a sold-out audience, where it will run until Christmas Eve before heading to Broadway. I was fortunate to attend the world premiere event.

Jasmine Amy Rogers excels as the energetic Betty and newcomer Angelica Hale steals scene after scene as young Trisha.

Foster is best known for his work as a producer and arranger for popular musical artists, but he has penned hits for Chicago, Kenny Loggins, Whitney Houston, and others. His first attempt at writing a Broadway musical is wildly successful.

Characters in the animated world act with the exaggerated body language of cartoons. The scenes between Betty and her new friends are touching and believable, despite the implausible storyline.

The audience laughed and cheered their approval throughout the show.

"Boop! The Musical" is a fun-filled fantasy for all the senses.

Episode 776

Travis Shepherd on Flying an Airplane

Travis Shepherd is a software engineer at Kin + Carta; but, he has been earning his pilot's license in his free time. He talks about many of the technical, mechanical, and mental aspects of flying an airplane.

We are bombarded by many messages every day. We retain some of them but forget most. Why? What makes a statement or story "stick" in our minds while others quickly dissipate? Brothers Dan and Chip Heath explore this topic in their 2007 book "Made to Stick."

The authors use the mnemonic "SUCCES" to express ideas that make a message more "sticky." The letters stand for Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and Stories. Each chapter covers one of these ideas.


Focus on a single idea. Trying to cover too many ideas distracts from your main point. The compactness of the message is essential.


Defy expectations to grab your listener's attention. You can open with a counterintuitive example or express an idea in an unexpected way. They tell of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant who told jokes during the pre-flight safety demonstration to hold the passengers' attention. I have been on a flight with this flight attendant.


Provide examples to convey your ideas. The authors use this technique repeatedly in the book, providing specific examples to illustrate and reinforce abstract concepts.


Make these ideas believable by relating them to something the listener understands.


The critical point here is that people will respond to stories about individuals more than general stories of groups of people. People react more strongly to a message that hits their emotions than to facts and figures.


Place your ideas within a story to keep the listener engaged. The authors describe three categories of plots for a compelling story: the Challenge Plot, the Connection Plot, and the Creativity Plot.

My Thoughts

One concept that resonated with me is the curse of knowledge. We assume that our target audience knows what we know and has the same perspective and priorities. It is difficult to put ourselves in their position, which hinders responsibility. I strive to reduce my assumptions about my audience.

This book is helpful for educators, marketers, storytellers, public speakers, and anyone who wants to convey an idea or persuade others.

The Heath brothers filled "Made to Stick" with examples and studies to illustrate their points. They used an example from the Bill Clinton campaign to demonstrate a message's Simplicity ("It's the economy, stupid") and one from the Reagan campaign to illustrate testable credibility ("Are you better off now than you were four years ago?").
The authors deliver their advice in a straightforward, conversational tone. This simplicity makes the book's ideas stick with the reader.

"The Fraud" by Zadie Smith

Comments [0]

David and ZadieI discovered author Zadie Smith through her debut novel "White Teeth," which I loved.

Her latest novel - "The Fraud," is about history. Sort of. She based the book on the true story of Roger Castro - a butcher who claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, an English nobleman believed to have drowned in a shipwreck years earlier. The Tichborne Claimant bears little resemblance to Sir Roger, but the working class rallies around him as one of their own. The Claimant's case is shaky, but two people believe him - Sir Roger's mother and Andrew Bogle, a former slave and free servant of the Tichborne family.

We experience the story primarily through the eyes of Eliza Touchet, cousin and housekeeper of once-popular author William Ainsworth.

Although Ms. Smith invented many situations and conversations in the novel, many characters were real people. Ainsworth, Tichborne, and Touchet were all real. Touchet died at an early age, so this story imagines her life had she survived for many more years. Even Charles Dickens makes an appearance.

The story touches on many themes - slavery and abolition; art versus commercial success; the role of intelligent women and black men in Victorian society; the role of the press; and the rights of the poor.

As in her excellent debut novel "White Teeth," this book explores the backstory of many of its characters, providing layers to the story and motivations of the characters.

The book covers three stories in detail: The Tichborne trial, the life of Eliza, and Bogle's journey from African landowner to Jamaican slave to English servant. Smith tells each story well, but she ties them together with less expertise than she did in the many subplots of "White Teeth."

The novel leaves many questions unanswered, not the least: To which fraud does the title refer? Is it the man claiming to be Tichborne despite lacking much of the knowledge possessed by that nobleman? Was it Ainsworth, whose novels were once popular but faded to obscurity in the last years of his life and were forgotten after his death? Or was it the British people who presumed to rid themselves of the guilt after abolishing the slave trade but allowing slavery in the colonies?

Whatever the answer, the story takes the reader on an interesting journey.

GCast 162:

Managing Azure Subscriptions [GCast 162]

Learn how to create and manage Azure Subscriptions.

Episode 775

Kristina Swanson on Microsoft Partner Programs

Partners work with Microsoft to create and sell applications and solutions on top of their technology. Partner Technology Specialist Kristina Swanson describes types of partners, programs available to them, and the benefits and requirements of those programs.

LP at the Salt Shed 2023LP does not talk a lot. At least, I did not hear much talking when I saw them in concert Friday evening at the Salt Shed.

Instead, LP launched from one song to the next with a fervor that projected a love of playing and singing.

The non-binary singer was born Laura Pergolizzi but now goes by the initials "LP" and identifies as non-binary, using "they/them" pronouns. They have released six albums and three EPs, and they drew from many of them this evening.

Their voice has the power to bring passion to their rock melodies. The backing band contributed to the energy, particularly a female guitarist who shredded song after song.

I only recently became aware of LP's music. Still, I recognized many songs from the evening, including "Burn It Down," "One Like You," and "Long Goodbye" - a passionate song that closed the set before their encore. "One Last Time" was the final song of the evening, leaving the audience energized.

On this night, LP let the music do their talking.

Steve Hackett and his band at the Copernicus Center 2023Steve Hackett first gained fame as a virtuoso guitarist when he joined the progressive rock band Genesis near the beginning of their career. Hackett has stayed true to his roots. He has continued the tradition of playing progressive rock music and still performs the Genesis music of his youth.

Thursday evening at the Copernicus Center, Mr. Hackett paid tribute to some of that music, performing Genesis's fourth studio album, "FoxTrot," in its entirety. The album was released 50 years ago last month and still holds up well.

Hackett reserved his "FoxTrot" replay for the band's second set. Their first set consisted of songs from his extensive solo career. Steve has assembled a top-notch group of musicians to accompany him: Roger King on keyboards, Jonas Reingold on bass, Craig Blundell on drums, multi-instrumentalist Jonas Reingold, and Peter Gabriel sound-alike Nad Sylvan on vocals.

Many guitarists switch instruments between songs to change the sound they wish to create. Steve Hackett keeps the same electric guitar but modifies the output electronically between - and sometimes during - each piece. The effect is the same, but the transitions are faster and smoother.

The concert reached its climax two hours into the show. Steve brought out an acoustic guitar to perform "Horizons" before the rest of the band joined him and launched into the epic "Supper's Ready" suite, which dominated most of FoxTrot's second side. It was a great send-off to the evening.

For those of us who loved Genesis and remember the days when they pioneered the progressive rock movement, this night was a journey back in time. And a pleasant one, at that.

Episode 774

Steve Andrews on A Safe Work Environment

Steve Andrews has developed a neuro-social model of emotional well-being. From this model, he developed ten dimensions for leaders to consider:

  1. i. Safety
  2. ii. Identity
  3. iii. Messages
  4. iv. Agency
  5. v. Positive Social Connection
  6. vi. Environment
  7. vii. Mission and Purpose
  8. viii. Body and Brain
  9. ix. Human Needs
  10. x. Strengths

He discusses each of these dimensions and how leaders can use them to cultivate a safe and productive work environment.


Looking for Bears

October 2023 Gratitudes

Comments [0]

Today I am grateful to meet Henry Winkler last night.

Today I am grateful to see LP in concert last night.

Today I am grateful to see Steve Hackett in concert last night

Today I am grateful to attend Nick's season-opening basketball game last night in Kalamazoo.

Today I am grateful for all the times I got to take my boys Trick-or-Treating when they were young.

Today I am grateful to see Queen in concert last night.

Today I am grateful to see all the kids Trick-or-Treating in my building yesterday and to get to know my neighbors a little better.

Today I am grateful to receive vaccines yesterday for COVID-19 and the flu.

Today I am grateful to talk with Sara yesterday for the first time in years.

Today I am grateful to be part of a career panel at the I.C. Stars event yesterday.

Today I am grateful to finally replace the motherboard in my laptop

Today I am grateful the BDPA Chicago entrepreneurship meetup last night

Today I am grateful to see Justin Hayward in concert last night.

Today I am grateful to attend Mass in person today for the first time since before the pandemic.

Today I am grateful to see the Steep Canyon Rangers in concert last night.

Today I am grateful to help with the STEAM Hack-to-Learn event yesterday.

Today I am grateful to see Rachel Maddow at UIC last night.

Today I am grateful for my first visit to the Southside Hacker Space.

Today I am grateful to Pete and Kevin for helping me configure a laptop, so I can get some work done while my work machine is repaired or replaced.

Today I am grateful for a good night's sleep.

Today I am grateful for a long bike ride yesterday to clear my head of negative energy.

Today I am grateful to carve some pumpkins this week for the first time in many years.

Today I am grateful for 10 years at Microsoft

Today I am grateful to talk with Martin yesterday for the first time in a long time.

Today I am grateful to see Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin in concert last night.

Today I am grateful to repair my bike lock.

Today I am grateful for lunch with Robert and Colette yesterday.

Today I am grateful to attend my first pickleball lesson yesterday.

Today I am grateful to attend The Moth Grand Slam last night

Today I am grateful for lunch with Tobias yesterday.

Today I am grateful to begin a brief stay-cation / long weekend.

Today I am grateful to finish writing 7 blog posts last night.

Today I am grateful for my friends

Today I am grateful to pass the Microsoft AZ-204 exam yesterday

Today I am grateful:
- to visit the Guinness Open Gate Brewery on opening weekend
- to visit a haunted house this weekend

Steve Hackett and his band, in concert 2023Steve Hackett first gained fame as a virtuoso guitarist when he joined the progressive rock band Genesis near the beginning of their career. Hackett has stayed true to his roots. He has continued the tradition of playing progressive rock music and still performs the Genesis music of his youth.

Thursday evening at the Copernicus Center, Mr. Hackett paid tribute to some of that music, performing Genesis's fourth studio album, "FoxTrot," in its entirety. The album" was released 50 years ago last month and still holds up well.

"FoxTrot" was reserved for the band's second set. Their first set consisted of songs from Hackett's extensive solo career. Steve has assembled a top-notch group of musicians to accompany him: Roger King on keyboards, Jonas Reingold on bass, Craig Blundell on drums, multi-instrumentalist Jonas Reingold, and Peter Gabriel sound-alike Nad Sylvan on vocals.

Many guitarists switch instruments between songs to change the sound they wish to create. Steve Hackett keeps the same electric guitar but modifies the output electronically between (and sometimes during) each piece. The effect is the same, but the transitions are faster and smoother.

The concert climaxed at the end. Steve brought out an acoustic guitar to perform "Horizons" before the rest of the band joined him and launched into the epic "Supper's Ready" suite that dominated most of FoxTrot's second side.

For those of us who loved Genesis and remember the days when they pioneered the progressive rock movement, this night was a journey back in time. And a pleasant one, at that.

Brian May and Adam Lambert of Queen, 2023Queen was one of the most successful rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s - both in the studio and on tour. The quartet of Freddy Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon sold out arenas worldwide. Mercury passed away in 1991, and Deacon retired shortly afterward. But May and Taylor recruited Adam Lambert a decade ago and revived the band. This year's tour brought Queen to the United Center for two nights. I attended the first show on Tuesday evening.

For an hour before the Queen concert began, the stage was blocked by a screen containing a projection of a 3-D crest, like the ones that graced the band's famous "Night at the Opera" and "Day at the Races" albums. The crest was set against an animated clockwork. As the show began, the music grew in volume, and metallic beings started to climb through the clockwork mechanisms until the screen became translucent, then transparent, then elevated to reveal the band, which launched into a medley of "Radio Ga Ga" and "Machines (Or Back to Humans)."

It was a high-energy moment, and the band maintained this energy throughout the evening, performing for over two hours in front of a sold-out arena.

Freddy Mercury was a flamboyant character with an impressive vocal range and a larger-than-life personality. Mercury's death in 1991 effectively ended the band's initial run. When the band revived in 1991, they recruited vocalist Adam Lambert. Like Mercury, Lambert is a flamboyant character with an impressive vocal range and a larger-than-life personality. He does not channel Freddy as much as he draws inspiration from him.

One comes to expect impressive light shows at an arena concert, and this was no exception. The lighting and the video images morphed impressively with the music. But we also saw many practical effects and props. Brian May performed a guitar solo as he was elevated above the stage and as astronomical images swirled about him while spheres descended from the ceiling; Adam Lambert performed "Bicycle Race" while sitting on a chrome motorcycle; Leaves falling from the ceiling augmented a giant video of an autumn tree.

The show also presented some video images of the band: 72-year-old Roger Taylor's drum solo followed a video of him performing a timpani solo in his twenties; the music video of "Bohemian Rhapsody" accompanied the band's performance of their operatic composition; And videos of Freddy Mercury performing brought the crowd to a frenzy.

But it was the music that made the show.

The band performed some deep album cuts (my favourite was Brian May accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, while singing the sci-fi folk song "39"), but they dedicated most of the set list to their hits, including "Another One Bites the Dust," "Fat Bottomed Girls," "Killer Queen," and "Don't Stop Me Now."

They could have ended the concert with "Bohemian Rhapsody" rather than ending the first set with that song. Instead, they returned to the stage for three more songs, ending with "We Are the Champions" - an anthem that carried Queen during their heyday.

This version of Queen still has the power to electrify audiences.

GCast 161:

Sorting a Microsoft Word Document by Headers [GCast 161]

Learn how to sort the contents of a Microsoft Word document by the headers in that document

Episode 773

Cameron Turner on Predictive and Generative AI

Kin + Carta Vice President Cameron Turner discusses how his company approaches Artificial Intelligence solutions for their customers. He talks about the kinds of solutions, how to use data, and ethical considerations.

I set aside my friend Paddington Bear for a year before returning to him this week when I picked up one I had not yet read.

"Paddington Takes the Air" is another charming collection of stories about the anthropomorphic bear who means well but always inadvertently causes trouble. In this book, he enters several competitions for which he is unsuited but at which he miraculously does well.

He enters a horse-riding contest and enters the ring with a professional wrestler. The final two stories tell of Paddington's invitation to a ball, his attempts to find the proper clothes and his dance contest at the event.

In other stories, the bear takes a trip to the dentist, attempts to mend the clothes of his neighbor, and attempts to solve a crime as an amateur detective.

Paddington was born in darkest Peru but now lives with the Brown family in London. His stories continue to bring a smile to my face.

Justin Hayward 2023Before I talk about Justin Hayward's performance Monday evening at Chicago's City Winery, I want to talk about Mike Dawes. Dawes performed a solo warmup act before Hayward's show. He is a guitar virtuoso who uses every bit of the instrument, moving his fingers and palms up and down the entire neck of the guitar to make his six-string sound like multiple twelve-strings. If you have a chance, he is worth seeing perform live.

Dawes was part of Justin Hayward's band during the main act, along with keyboardist Julie Ragins and flutist Karmen Gould, who all provided vocal harmonies.

Justin delighted the audience by opening his show with "Tuesday Afternoon" - a big hit for the Moody Blues. Justin was the lead vocalist and frontman for the popular progressive rock band. He played some of his solo compositions this evening, but the audience was most excited to hear the Moody Blues classics. Justin did not disappoint, performing "The Voice," "Never Comes the Day," "Your Wildest Dreams," and "Question." With each song, the crowd burst into cheers upon recognizing the opening chords.

When Hayward sang a beautiful version of the mega-hit "Nights in White Satin," we assumed that would close his show, but he remained for two more songs. He extended his set beyond two hours rather than leaving and returning for an encore.

At 77, Hayward still retains an impressive vocal range, and the music he made famous with the Moody Blues tested that voice this evening.

He impressed me and the sold-out audience.

I had a chance Friday to volunteer at the STEAM Hack-to-Learn. The event was held at the Chicago downtown Microsoft office.

The event brought in students from suburban Chicago and featured several guest speakers, as well as hands-on activities.

Jeff Gettis opened the event, describing his journey from Chicago's south side to his 20 years at Microsoft.

Jon Browning, CEO of Global Mentorship Initiatives, spoke about the importance of networking in building your career, pointing students to LinkedIn and ChatGPT as tools to help them in a job search.

Author Gayle Keller hosted a panel of industry professionals who answered questions about professional careers.

Ravi Penmetsa gave an overview of Artificial Intelligence.

The talks were all interesting, but I was most impressed by the kids' questions, which showed a genuine curiosity about a career in IT. They asked questions like "What is the most interesting part of your job?" and "What would you be doing if you were not in this field?"

After the presentations, the students broke into teams and rotated between building applications with low-code and no-code tools and learning to dance to K-pop music.

At the end of the day, each team stood at the front of the room and shared what they learned.

It was an excellent chance to experience young people learning something new.

Episode 772

Jon Skeet on Enhancing His Church's A/V System

In his spare time, Jon Skeet has been helping his church improve its Audio and Video production. He talks about the "Zoom and Enhance" and "At Your Service" applications he created to control audio and video, control cameras and displays, translate speech, and allow people to participate in the service from home.


SteepCanyonRangersNorth Carolina bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers performed two shows Saturday evening at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I attended the second show, which started promptly at 8 PM.

I was in a depressed mood when I walked into the theatre. Never mind why. But the music changed that. Beautiful melodies and tight harmonies brought me back from the precipice.

The Rangers have maintained great stability over their 23-year span. However, Aaron Burdett replaced founding member Woody Platt on guitar and vocals last year. Burdett melded with his new teammates admirably. A remarkable aspect of this six-piece band is that every member is a world-class musician. Each had a chance to shine, whether in a solo or as part of the orchestration, and I saw no flaws. 

With sixteen albums from which to choose, they selected songs like "Be Still Moses," "Afterglow," "Birds of Ohio," and "Fruits of my Labor" - all of which went over well. All their music sounded great, from high-energy to instrumentals to gospel to love songs to sorrowful ballads.

Their version of the Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Line" made me smile.

Music has the power to lift us up when we are down, and the Steep Canyon Rangers did just that.

"Be Mine" by Richard Ford

Comments [0]

I thought we had heard the last of Frank Bascombe, Richard Ford's philosophical everyman.

Ford wrote about Frank when the protagonist was in his 30s ("The Sportswriter"), 40s ("Independence Day"), 50s ("The Lay of the Land"), and 60s ("Let Me Be Frank with You"). Frank has survived two divorces, cancer, a gunshot to the chest, and the loss of a child.

Richard Ford returns to Bascombe's life in his 70s with a new novel: "Be Mine."

Frank's adult son Paul is diagnosed with terminal ALS. With little time left, Paul and his father travel to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for experimental treatment; then embark on a road trip together to visit Mount Rushmore. Paul and Frank have never been close, and this trip is their last chance to salvage their relationship. One problem is that the two are too much alike. Father and son consider themselves philosophers because they each ask questions about the world. The difference is that Frank asks most of his questions silently, while Paul tends to blurt out whatever crosses his mind. Paul is angry at his father for years of neglect, and his comments shift from unfunny jokes to obnoxious sarcasm. Ford may be challenging the reader to feel sympathy for an unlikeable character who happens to be dying; or we may be seeing Paul through the filter of Frank's perceptions as he tries to alleviate the guilt of being a poor father. Regardless, it makes for an uncomfortable dynamic.

Like the previous four volumes in this series, "Be Mine" is Frank's narration and philosophy told from inside his head as it occurs.

Ford gives a wink to the fourth wall with lines like "We think what people write down in their private moments will always reveal crucial evidence of their innermost selves. Only, what goes on in anybody's head is rarely worth knowing." It is ironic, given the stream-of-consciousness style of the novel.

Also, like the previous novels, the incidents of this novel take place over a few days around a holiday. In the past, it was Easter ("The Sportswriter"), Independence Day ("Independence Day"), Thanksgiving ("The Lay of the Land"), and Christmas ("Let Me Be Frank with You"). "Be Mine" takes place around Valentine's Day, allowing the cynical Bascombe family to voice their opinions on a sentimental holiday. And like the earlier books, the plot takes a back seat to characters and their musings.

Every decade, Richard Ford revisits his most famous protagonist, who ages at about the same rate as his creator. There is no guarantee that we have seen the last of Frank Bascombe. But, if so, this is as good a send-off as any.

I recently passed the Microsoft AI-102 exam.

This exam primarily covers Azure Cognitive Services, such as Computer Vision, Text Recognition, Speech Recognition, Language Understanding (LUIS), and the Bot Framework.

My primary study tool was the [self-study guide on Microsoft Learn](https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/credentials/certifications/exams/ai-102/). I spent about an hour a night on this for about a week. I have used most of the services already, but many I had not used in years.

Although the exam covered all areas, I received a disproportionate number of questions about the Bot Framework and LUIS.

The exam covers nothing about Open AI, ChatGPT, or Codespaces. I expect that Microsoft will soon update the exam to include these newer technologies or create a separate exam.

The exam includes about 45 questions that are either multiple-choice or drag-and-drop. The drag-and-drop questions ask you to select the required steps and sort them. As with most Microsoft exams, you can go back to review a question and change your answer if you want.

The question count displays at the top, along with the time remaining (I think I was allowed 2 hours total). But the question count is misleading. After completing the questions, a case study was displayed, followed by a series of about six questions related to that study. In this section, you are not allowed to go back to review or change an answer. You are permitted to reread the case study. The case study contains a lot of information, and not all of it is relevant to the questions, so this section is as much a reading comprehension test as anything else.

Here is my advice to prepare for the exam.

Review the training materials. Schedule time each day to study them.

Open the Azure Portal and try out each service described in the training materials. Poke around and become familiar with the various options.

Take the exam shortly after finishing the training.

Make sure you allow enough time for the case study at the end.

Get a good night’s sleep before the exam. You will need to focus your mental energies.

Good luck.

Episode 771

D'Arcy Lussier on Microsoft's OpenAI Journey and Strategy

D'Arcy Lussier discusses the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI, how we got here, what the future holds, and how you can take advantage of the technologies built from this partnership.


Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin at Cahn AuditoriumMary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin. Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I expected that one would perform as the warmup act and the other (presumably MCC) would be the headliner. But Wednesday night at Evanston's Cahn Auditorium, they took the stage together for a performance lasting over two hours.

Each lady armed herself with a guitar and a voice that remains strong in their sixth decade.

Sometimes, Mary stood in front and sang while Shawn took a seat. Sometimes, Shawn stepped forward while Mary took a break. But they were at their best when they performed together - alternating verses and harmonizing as if they had been singing together for years.

Of course, the old friends have been singing together for decades. It showed in their music, and it showed in their banter. They debated the merits of having a tuning device. They joked about their choice of clothing. And they finished each other's sentences, as old friends do.

Both women are accomplished songwriters, but this evening included their interpretations of many other songwriters. They played the music of folk singers like Steve Earle ("Someday") and Lucinda Williams ("Passionate Kisses"). And they played some surprises, including The Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" and The Beatles' "I'll Be Back". Each song was delivered with the heartfelt passion of two performers who continue to love their craft.

And their music.

Ten years ago today, I began a new journey.

October 14, 2013 was my first day working at Microsoft. My job title was Technical Evangelist. My responsibilities included teaching others about technology and engaging the US developer community. I spent a lot of time creating demos and presentations and delivering them at conferences, user groups, colleges, and code camps. I spent time at startup incubators, showing them how to use Azure to help their business. Microsoft was trying to promote their phone and Windows 8, so I quickly learned how to build applications for these platforms, and I hosted workshops to teach others what I learned.

The job required me to move to Chicago, but it took me across the country. The decision to take the job and move from Michigan was easy. My two sons had just graduated (one from high school, the other from undergraduate university) and moved out of state to continue their education. I had moved to Michigan eleven years earlier only to be closer to them, and that reason no longer existed.

To say this decision was life-changing would be an understatement. The job allowed me to work with amazing people, help others in the community, take control of my life, and get paid for things I was already doing for free.

That role lasted me about 4-5 years before Microsoft decided to eliminate the Evangelism team. It was the best job I ever had. Since then, I have worked in two other organizations at Microsoft. I have learned a great deal at each position.

Two of my favourite things are learning something new and teaching others. My time at Microsoft has allowed me to do a lot of both. I love working with smart people; this company is loaded with them. More importantly, they are almost always willing to share their knowledge with me.

Not every day was perfect. Not every year was great. I have had some great managers and some bad managers, which makes the biggest difference in my job satisfaction and performance. At one point, I came close to leaving the company because a manager actively discouraged collaboration and frequently made up and repeated falsehoods to justify his negative opinion of me. I survived that toxic environment, and I survived the recent round of layoffs.

Last year, I joined the Global Partner Solutions team as an architect, where I help our partners design solutions for their customers. I work with amazing people, and I learn something new every day!

This week, I have a new manager following the promotion of my former manager. The old and the new are good people who care about others, making me optimistic for the future.

I doubt I will stay here another ten years, but I fully expect to be here another five. I wonder if time will pass as quickly as it has since 2013.

GCast 160:

Azure Monitor Diagnostic Settings

Learn about Azure Application Insights Alerts and how to create and manage them.

Episode 770

Nisaini Rexach on AI in Education

Nisaini Rexach discusses the impact Artificial Intelligence has had on education, and how the educational system can adapt to rapidly-evolving tools.

Elizabeth Strout introduced us to Olive in her 2008 novel "Olive Kitteridge," for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

Olive returns in "Olive, Again." Like the first book, this one consists of a series of short stories - some focused on Olive and some in which she appears as a minor character or only a mention.

This volume focuses more on Olive's life and actions in the fictional small town of Crosby, Maine. She remarried after the death of her husband, Henry. As in the first novel, noteworthy events happen between chapters, such as the wedding and Henry's death.

We see Olive aging (from her 70s to her 80s). Her body deteriorates, but she grows as a person. She begins to recognize the coldness and unkindness she displayed throughout her life. She regrets this and strives to change.

My favorite story was "Helped," about Suzanne - a woman who returned to Crosby after her father's death in a fire. How Suzanne's father acquired her inheritance troubles her, and she contemplates the mistakes in her life and how to deal with them.

Not far behind is "Motherless Child." In this story, Olive witnesses her daughter-in-law publicly scolding her son and realizes she did the same to Henry throughout their marriage. A moment of epiphany sets Olive on a path of redemption.

A few characters appear from Strout's other novels - "Amy and Isabelle" and "The Burgess Boys," which made me want to read these books.

I enjoyed "Olive, Again" at least as much as its predecessor.   

A View From the Bridge

Comments [0]

The cast of A View From The BridgeEddie and Beatrice have raised their niece Catherine since she was orphaned as a little girl. Their life seems happy until they invite two illegal immigrants - brothers Rodolpho and Marco - to stay with them. Catherine has blossomed into a beautiful young woman and falls in love with Rodolpho, which infuriates Eddie. Eddie hates Rodolpho for his effeminate manners and for refusing to ask his permission before courting Catherine. He hates the loss of control of his ward. But mostly, he despises the relationship because he lusts for Catherine.

Shattered Globe Theatre's current production of "A View From the Bridge" brings Arthur Miller's 1955 play to life. The cast was excellent. Isabelle Muthiah brings out the sweetness of Catherine, while Eileen Niccolai shines as the sensible Beatrice. But Scott Aiello steals the show as Eddie. His anger is palpable. He hints at his sexual frustration in Act 1 before it explodes in Act 2. It is rare to see a successful television actor like Aiello (he has appeared as the recurring character Tommy Barkow in the Showtime series "Billions") appear in such an intimate setting as Theatre Wit.

As the second act proceeds, the story becomes more tense until it ends abruptly, with an unresolved tragedy.

We left the theatre feeling numb. Nothing was resolved. There were no heroes. There was no justice. No lessons were learned. But perhaps that was the point, as men like Eddie allowed their emotions to overtake their reason.

Peter Gabriel in concert at the United CenterPeter Gabriel was one of the driving forces in progressive rock - first as a founding member of Genesis and later as a solo artist.

At his height, he could master pop melodies, African rhythms, complex arrangements, and ethereal mood-setting pieces. He combined all these in his concert at the United Center on Saturday evening.

His latest tour included a stop at Chicago's United Center Saturday night. Despite a near-sellout, I managed to find a third-row seat the night of the show, where I could experience the performers' emotions up close. Others in the arena settled for the music and a multimedia performance, both of which were impressive. Gabriel's band was enhanced by horizontal, vertical, and round video screens projecting nature, rainfall, people, star fields, rainfalls, and videos set to the music created on stage. Dramatic lighting is a staple of a Peter Gabriel concert, and colorful laser lights often illuminated or backlit the musicians, who were all dressed in black.

The band itself was outstanding. Nine musicians - many of them multi-instrumentalists - accompanied Mr. Gabriel during his 2-hour performance. They combined to play strings, woodwinds, keyboards, and (of course) guitars. Ayanna Witter-Johnson set aside her cello on several songs to show off her angelic voice in a duet with Peter. She filled in admirably for Kate Bush on Gabriel's 1986 hit "Don't Give Up."

Gabriel used the concert to promote his upcoming "i/o" album - his first collection of new music in 21 years. He played most of the songs from the album, discussing each piece with the audience beforehand. He included some songs on which I grew up, but more than half the set consisted of recent music. He delighted the crowd with rousing renditions of "Sledgehammer" and "Solsbury Hill," in which Gabriel showed off some impressive dance moves. But he also inspired the audience with his anthems, including his closing encore, "Biko" - a tribute to South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko. Gabriel skipped some of his big hits, such as "Shock the Monkey" and "Games Without Frontiers," in favor of newer music. But by playing for over two hours, he could accommodate a variety of music.

I discovered Peter Gabriel during my high school days. I would have preferred hearing more of his music from the 1970s and 1980s, but his new album contains some quality compositions with creative arrangements. My only regret is waiting over four decades to finally see him perform live.

I had my first experience with Microsoft certification renewal process this past week.

In December 2022, I took and passed Exam SC-300: Microsoft Identity and Access Administrator. In February 2023, I took and passed Exam AZ-204: Developing Solutions for Microsoft Azure. I spent weeks studying for each of these exams, and I was stressed until the exam ended and I received a passing score.

It was a lot of work, particularly given that the exams are only valid for one year. If I want to keep any certifications associated with the exams, I must renew them before they expire.

The good news is that an exam renewal is much easier and far less stressful than the original exam.

The key parts of a renewal exam are:

  • You can take the renewal exam any time between the expiration date and six months before the expiration date.
  • Once you pass the renewal exam, it extends the expiration one year beyond the original expiration date (not one year from the date you pass, as I feared)
  • Questions on the renewal exam tend to focus on newer features.
  • Unlike the original exam, renewal exams are not proctored. You can take them at home, and you do not need to turn on your webcam.
  • Renewal exams are open book. You are free to use any materials during the exam.
  • As far as I can tell, the exams are not timed. The description for SC-300 says "45 minutes," but I took about three hours for the exam. I did not close my web browser during this time.
  • During the exam, you may not return to a previous question.
  • Renewal exams are free.

Here is the strategy I took for AZ-204. I plan to use this strategy for future renewal exams.

  • The exam recommends training materials. I went through all these materials. It took me 3-4 hours to review all the material, which is far less than the time spent studying the materials for the original exam.
  • I took the exam shortly after completing the training, while it was still fresh in my mind. I started the exam about an hour after I finished studying.
  • I opened the training materials in another browser window when taking the exam. Many of the questions were answered in these materials.
  • During the exam, I had the Azure portal open in another browser window, allowing me to test things related to some questions.
  • I double-checked each answer before moving to the next question. I verified that I read the question correctly and that my answer made sense. As stated above, you may not return to a previous question.
  • When I finished, I took a deep breath and clicked the [Submit] button. I saw my results in less than 30 seconds.

If you pass the exam, celebrate in your own way. If you fail, you may retake the test right away. I passed the first time, so I cannot say how different the questions are on subsequent attempts. According to the documentation, you must wait 24 hours if you need to take the exam a third time.

This article provides more information:

Passing the renewal exam was an effective way for me to learn something new and to refresh my knowledge. For the SC-300 exam, I did not study in advance, so I searched for many of the answers online. The exam lasted much longer, and I did not score as well on the AZ-204 exam, for which I spent a few hours studying.

Good luck!

Episode 769

Eric Leonard on Kubernetes and Platform Engineering

Architect Eric Leonard describes how to implement a set of common practices to make DevOps processes more consistent and repeatable across an enterprise.

September 2023 Gratitudes

Comments [0]

Today I am grateful to see Peter Gabriel in concert last night for the first time.

Today I am grateful:
- to see "A View From the Bridge" last night at Shattered Globe Theatre
- for a late-night Zoom call with Sean, Brian, Chad, and Gaines

Today I am grateful to present on ChatGPT at the Cleveland C# User Group last night

Today I am grateful to pass the renewal SC-300 exam last night.

Today I am grateful for Internet search engines.

Today I am grateful for my son's recent job promotion.

Today I am grateful to celebrate a significant anniversary with a significant person yesterday.

Today I am grateful I was able to do a lot of de-cluttering yesterday.

Today I am grateful that I am finally getting all the people on this project to communicate with one another.

Today I am grateful to talk with Chris yesterday for the first time in years.

Today I am grateful for a professional massage yesterday

Today I am grateful to meet author Zadie Smith last night in Lincoln Park.

Today I am grateful to speak at the Memphis Python User Group last night.

Today I am grateful for a new bike seat

Today I am grateful for pizza with my son yesterday.

Today I am grateful to talk with Gael yesterday for the first time in years.

Today I am grateful to attend the final concert of the summer at Willie Dixon Blues Heaven last night, featuring Funky Mojo Daddy.

Today I am grateful to see Chris Kattan perform his standup act last night.

Today I am grateful for dinner with my local team last night.

Today I am grateful for the imagination of Neil Gaiman.

Today I am grateful to attend my building's annual Summer Party

Today I am grateful to meet Pulitzer Prize winners Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa and Illinois Secretary of State Alexander Giannoulias at the Printers Row Lit Fest yesterday.

Today I am grateful:
- to talk with Brad yesterday for the first time in decades
- to see "The Innocence of Seduction" at the City Lit Theatre last night

Today I am grateful to talk with Douglas on YouTube live last night.

Today I am grateful for honest managers who treat their people with respect.

Today I am grateful for a relaxing 3-day weekend.

Today I am grateful to visit and go inside the Garfield Park Conservatory for the first time yesterday.

Robert Samuels, Toluse Olorunnipa, and DavidSome men are more famous for their death than for their life. George Floyd is such a man.

Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin murdered Floyd in front of a crowd of eyewitnesses. Over a dozen cameras recorded the event, and millions more watched the video recordings of Floyd's last minutes of life. Chauvin held his knee on Floyd's neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds until Floyd suffocated to death. On the recordings, we can hear Floyd begging for his life, repeatedly shouting, "I can't breathe." Many in the crowd pleaded with Chauvin to stop, but the officer's knee remained in place. George was 46 years old.

Washington Post reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa told Floyd's story in their 2022 book "His Name Is George Floyd: One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice."

The book opens with three words that Floyd spoke often. Not "I can't breathe," but "I love you," which he said to friends and family in almost every conversation.

George Floyd grew up in a housing project of Houston's Third Ward - one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. He dreamed of playing professional football. George was a good enough athlete to earn an athletic scholarship to a community college but not a good enough student to play at a major university. After leaving college, he returned to the Third Ward, where he could not find work. He turned to selling crack on street corners. Eventually, he began using the drug himself. He was arrested multiple times and sent to prison multiple times.

Floyd's life was far from perfect, but supporters and strangers have elevated him as a martyr to unchecked police violence. Derek Chauvin had a history of excessive violence, but he was seldom disciplined. The Minneapolis Police Department released a statement following Floyd's death that was absurdly far from the truth. His death sparked nationwide protests and public debates and prompted national legislation designed to hold police more accountable.

"His name" does an excellent job of humanizing a man who has become a symbol.

It explores his life, upbringing, and the events that sometimes led him to make poor decisions. Samuels and Olorunnipa even explore his family history. George's great-grandfather was a former slave who worked after the Civil War to own 500 acres but was cheated out of almost everything he owned.

The authors interviewed Floyd's friends, family, neighbors, and teachers to learn of Floyd's personality. George knew that his size (6'6" tall) often intimidated people, so he often went out of his way to project gentleness and friendliness when he met someone new.

The book's final section covers the police officers' trial, the verdict (A Minnesota court convicted Chauvin of murder and three other policemen of lesser charges,) and the aftermath. After seeing the videos, many people took to the streets across the country to protest, and politicians were inspired to pass new legislation.

George Floyd's story is not important because it is unique. It is important because it is not unique. Floyd is one of countless black men growing up in the ghettos of America, confronted with poverty, violence, and systemic racism. Politicians in both parties passed strong anti-crime legislation that disproportionately affected people of color. Texas tried solving its drug problem by focusing on harsh punishments rather than on treatment. Police routinely targeted the black neighborhood where Floyd grew up, looking for minor drug deals. Many of Floyd's friends died from drugs or the violence of the streets. Lacking adequate legal representation, Floyd accepted every plea bargain, fearing that a trial would result in a far worse punishment. His criminal record made it even more difficult to find permanent employment. Floyd spent the last three years of his life in Minneapolis, moving there to get a fresh start. However, the death of his roommate triggered a relapse into drug use.

Although he hoped to make his mark on the world with his life, George ultimately changed the world with his death. " His Name Is George Floyd" helps us understand George’s life, death, and ourselves.

GCast 159:

Building and Editing an Azure Application Insights Dashboard

Learn how to create an Application Insights Dashboard to quickly view multiple visualizations and get a view of the health of your application.

Episode 768

Israel Ekpo on Vector Databases

Partner Solution Architect Israel Ekpo describes Vector Databases and how they help us search for images, audio, and text via context.

J. Robert Oppenheimer led the Manhattan Project, which developed the Atomic Bomb that the US Military dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The Japanese surrendered less than a week later. This project alone would have cemented Oppenheimer's place in history. But his story is far more complex.

Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's 2005 biography "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer" tells this story. The book follows Oppenheimer's life, from his privileged upbringing to his rise to become one of the world's most celebrated physicists to the attacks by the FBI, which led to his downfall.

Robert Oppenheimer was a brilliant student at Harvard, excelling in every course he took. He traveled to Europe after graduation to study under Max Born and many of the most famous scientists of the day, where he picked up the nickname "Oppy." He was an awkward student but became a charismatic socialite a few years later when he founded the theoretical physics program at the University of California in Berkeley. Based on his academic reputation, the US Government asked him to lead the Manhattan Project, charged with creating an atomic bomb before Hitler's Germany could do so. His success in developing the bomb (or "the gadget," as his team often called it) brought him fame following the war.

However, with increased Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, the US Government began questioning Oppenheimer's loyalty.

While at Berkely, Oppenheimer made no secret of his leftist political leanings. Although he never joined the Communist Party, he befriended many Communists, including his brother Frank and wife Kitty. In those days, he attended meetings of organizations sympathetic to Soviet Communism. But, like many American Communists of the time, Robert became disenchanted with Soviet Communism after Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler's Germany in 1939. Although Oppy went on to express loyalty to the US and helped create a weapon to use in the war, the CIA used his pre-war associations to revoke his security clearance during the Cold War. It did not help that Oppenheimer differed publicly with the government's stance on nuclear weapon proliferation and the development of the H-Bomb. This was a time in American history when Senator Joseph McCarthy rose to power by stoking the fear of Communism in the public. An incident in which a friend asked Oppenheimer to reveal nuclear secrets to the Soviets compounded his troubles. Oppenheimer refused but misreported the incident to authorities - a mistake that would prove costly during his postwar interrogation.

Much of "American Prometheus" tells of Robert's fight to retain his reputation while the FBI and the McCarthyites tried to tear him down. The book's climax focuses on the postwar hearing designed to revoke Robert's security clearance.

Bird and Sherwin do an excellent job of relating the events that formed Oppenheimer's opinions and character and highlighting key points in his life. Oppy had his flaws but likely did not deserve the politically motivated attacks brought on by those in power after the war.

This book won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, and Christopher Nolan adapted it into the 2023 film "Oppenheimer." Oppenheimer's story is one of triumph and tragedy, and "Oppenheimer" chronicles his rise and fall.

Some stories are best told indirectly. Elizabeth Strout's 2008 novel "Olive Kitteridge" tells the story of the title character primarily through the eyes of others. The book consists of thirteen short stories, most of which take place in the small fictional town of Crosby, Maine. Olive appears in almost every tale but is seldom the main character and sometimes makes only a fleeting appearance.

Olive is abrasive, impatient, self-absorbed, and disillusioned. She sees herself as a victim and blames others for her misery. In contrast, the Crosby residents enjoy the company of her affable husband, Henry.

The stories are loosely connected and can be read independently - often restating facts made clear in earlier stories. But continuity runs through them all. Each story appears chronologically, and some contain flashbacks that reveal character motivations, and some flashbacks clarify earlier reports. The opening story hints at an affair between Olive and another teacher, who later dies in an automobile accident. In the eleventh story, we learn the details of this relationship.

"Olive Kitteridge" is a look inside the lives of those dwelling in a small town. We see their troubles, thoughts, and emotions. We see their relationships and their failed marriages. We see Olive as others see her and as she sees herself.

The stories contain sadness but also a bit of hope. And Olive begins to discover empathy as she ages. She is slightly less terrible in the last story than in the first.

The following sums up Olive's outlook:

"She didn't like to be alone. Even more, she didn't like being with people."

Episode 767

Chris Woodruff on Career and Life Advice from an Old Guy in Tech

Chris Woodruff has spent a few decades working in the technology industry. He discusses how to make yourself unique and advance your career by investing in human skills.

"Trust" by Hernan Diaz

Comments [0]

How do we know if what we hear is the truth?

In his 2023 novel "Trust," author Hernan Diaz explores this question by telling the same story from four different perspectives. On one level, it is about the ways that the powerful can manipulate money and markets. On a higher level, it is about how much we can rely on others to tell the truth.

"Trust" tells the story of Andrew Vellar and his wife Mildred. Andrew was a wealthy American businessman who became the richest man in the world - first by investing in the stock market during the economic boom of the 1920s; then by selling short just prior to the crash of 1929. Mildred was a quiet patron of the arts who focused on philanthropy. Andrew and Mildred possessed reserved personalities and their marriage was civil, but not passionate. The couple bore no children before Mildred died at a sanitarium in Switzerland. Everyone appears to agree on these facts. But many other "facts" are skewed, omitted, or falsified in the various versions.

The book begins with a novel by Harold Vanner about the life of Andrew and Mildred. He changes their names, but their identities are apparent to anyone who reads the newspapers. This telling suggests that Andrew is the cause of both the 1929 stock market crash and the death of Mildred, who lost her mind before she died.

Next, we read Andrew's unfinished autobiography, in which he persuades the reader that his financial dealings brought about the prosperity of the 1920s and softened the Depression following the 1929 crash. This version contradicts Vanner's tale but would please Ayn Rand.

Section three is told from the perspective of Ida Partenza, the ghostwriter who assisted Andrew with his autobiography. She points out the tycoon's desire to present a positive image of himself and his willingness to make up stories that support his views.

Finally, we read some of Mildred's journals, written during the final months of her life. The writing is clear, suggesting she never lost her mind; and she reveals that she suggested many of Andrew's investment strategies.

Slowly, Diaz peels away layers of the truth. But it is never clear what are facts and what is perception. Each narrator has their own biases. Vanner wants to sell books; Andrew hopes to clear his name; and Partenza is influenced by her upbringing (her father was an anarchist and a Marxist). Mildred's writing seems the most plausible, but we cannot know for sure if she is also an unreliable narrator. Each section calls into doubt the preceding chapter.

As consumers of media, we face the same dilemma. Different media outlets may report the same incident differently - sometimes by adding fabrications or editorial interpretations and sometimes by omitting relevant facts. All we can do is consider the source of the information and try to understand the biases of that source.

"Trust" is one story with four points of view, four voices, and four genres. The inconsistencies remind us that we are sometimes wise to have trust issues.

Chris Kattan 2023Many stand-up comics come prepared with lots of material and a highly polished delivery. Not Chris Kattan. The former Saturday Night Live regular stood on the City Winery stage Wednesday evening, told a few stories, chatted with the audience, and answered questions.

Kattan's show was less polished but more personal than most comics. The stories he told did not sound rehearsed but came across as spontaneous. He told of the first time he met Bill Murray, who picked him up (Chris is a petite guy) and walked away without saying a word. He told of introducing himself to Prince and how he could not understand what Prince was saying. He told a story of sliding off the back of a shirtless Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson during an SNL skit.

He slipped into his Mango personality - a popular recurring character from his SNL days and he opened with a dance to light show and music that recalled the cocky but incompetent pickup artist that was half of the "Roxbury Guys" that Kattan performed repeatedly with Will Ferrell. "If you came to see that, you can now leave," he quipped.

He also announced his engagement and pointed to his fiancé, who sat right behind me.

Occasionally, he engaged someone in the audience and started a conversation.

It was entertaining enough to hold my attention but unremarkable. When his prepared / unprepared material ended, he invited audience members to ask questions. At this point, he became personable, patient, and funny. Surprisingly, this was the best part of the show. The Q&A session contained the spontaneity of an improv show without the absurdity.

Chris Kattan struck me as the kind of person with whom I could have a cup of coffee and a long conversation. That role may suit him better than being a comic star.

Microsoft Outlook - like most email programs - manages junk mail for you. Junk mail can be unwanted messages or messages from unwelcome senders or email system or messages with "bad" content or headers.

I was frustrated because Microsoft Outlook kept sending my friend's emails into my junk mail folder. It sometimes took me days to see an email - much less respond. I knew that anything from my friend was probably not junk, but Outlook did not know this. Other friends reported the same thing sometimes happened to emails that I spent.

Outlook automatically takes care of identifying potential junk mail and moving it into a built-in "Junk" folder.

Outlook allows you to change the rules for identifying junk mail, but the solution is not intuitive.

Open Microsoft Outlook. On the "Home" ribbon, you will find the "Junk" button, as shown in Fig. 1.

Junk Button
Fig. 1

Click "Junk" button to expand the menu, as shown in Fig. 2 and select "Junk E-mail Options" to open the "Junk Email Options" dialog, as shown in Fig. 3.

Junk Mail Menu
Fig. 2

Junk Email Options Dialog
Fig. 3

The "Options" tab allows you to set how aggressive you want Outlook to be about identifying junk mail. Setting this to "Low" or "High" tells Outlook to use Machine Learning to identify junk mail. Outlook's algorithm ML will sometimes make mistakes. Setting it to "Low" may miss some junk mail. Stetting it to "High" may identify some legitimate mail as "Junk."

"No Automatic Filtering" and "Safe Lists" only options do not use Machine Learning. Rather, explicit rules determine where mail should go.

By default, Outlook moves junk mail into the "Junk email" folder, giving you the opportunity to review these items before deciding whether to delete them. But, you can opt to automatically delete any email identified as junk by checking the "Permanently delete suspected junk email" checkbox.

The "Safe Senders" tab (Fig. 4) allows you to add email addresses of people you trust.

Safe Senders Tab
Fig. 4

Emails received from these senders will not be considered junk mail, even if they contain a body or header that Outlook would otherwise identify them as junk.

The "Blocked Senders" tab (Fig. 5) is just the opposite of Safe Senders.

Blocked Senders Tab
Fig. 5

Emails received from these senders will always be considered junk mail, even if they contain a body or header that Outlook would otherwise identify them as not junk.

The "International" tab (Fig. 6) allows you to block emails from a top-level domain or containing specified character sets.

International Tab
Fig. 6

For example, if I am plagued with bogus email from Russia and I feel confident I will never receive any legitimate email from Russia, I can block all emails with with an address ending in ".ru".

Additionally, if I often get spam emails written in a Japanese character set and I do not know anyone who writes Japanese, I can choose to block all emails that contain the Japanese character set encoding.

How you configure your junk email settings is up to you and your comfort level. This article shows how to configure Junk Mail settings in Microsoft Outlook.

GCast 158:

Azure Application Insights Alerts

Learn about Azure Application Insights Alerts and how to create and manage them.

Episode 766

Mike Richter on Taking AI Apps to Production on Azure

Partner Solution Architect Mike Richter discusses deploying an AI application to production in Microsoft Azure.

The cast of The Innocence of SeductionLast year, I saw and loved Mark Pracht's "The Mark of Kane" at City Lit Theater in Lakeview. That play told the story of Bob Kane and Bill Finger's creation of the iconic Batman character and Kane's work to take all the credit. I enjoyed it enough that I did not hesitate when City Lit announced Pracht's play "The Innocence of Seduction" - the second in his promised "Four-Color Trilogy," which focuses on the history of comic books.

"Innocence" tells of the censorship of comic books in the 1950s, when US government officials were actively destroying careers and lives in the name of patriotism and decency. The play takes its title from Dr. Fredric Wertham's 1954 book "Seduction of the Innocence," which blamed juvenile delinquency on the comic book industry. According to Wertham, reading comic books caused children to become violent, rebellious, and amoral. Congress took note and turned public sentiment against comic book publishers. The issue resulted in establishing The Comics Code Authority (CCA), which approved only comics that met an arbitrary level of "decency." Because no distributors would accept comics without the code's seal, this meant the end of crime comics and horror comics. The move particularly affected William Gaines and EC Comics, which pioneered titles such as "Tales from the Crypt" and "Crime SuspenStories."

This play focuses on the rise and fall of EC and Gaines's struggle against the CCA and its demagogue leader, Judge Charles Murphy. Other real-life characters appear, such as gay, black artist Matt Baker (played by Brian Bradford) and female artist Janice Valleau (played by Megan Clarke); but it is Sean Harklerode as Gaines who steals the show. The neurotic and passionate publisher dominates every scene in which he appears. All these characters were real people affected by the events of their times. This production gave depth to those characters.

A creepy Wertham wandered in and out of scenes, casting judgment on the comic medium. Often, visuals from comic books appeared on an oversized television at the back of the set.

With 15 cast members and 22 characters, this is the largest production I have seen at City Lit. The cast nearly outnumbered the audience, which only numbered about 25 for this preview performance - small, even for this tiny theater on the second floor of a church. However, the sparse turnout did not dampen the performers' enthusiasm or the production's quality.

"The Innocence of Seduction" is filled with humor and tragedy. It deserves a larger audience.

Miles Roby grew up in Empire Falls, Maine. He has seen the place transition from a thriving textile and lumber center to a city trapped in economic despair. The factories closed years ago, and those who remain have false hope that the industries, employment, and prosperous economy will return. Miles's mother hoped he would escape when she sent him away to college, but he dropped out and returned to care for her in the weeks before she died. That was long ago, and Miles is still here.

Richard Russo's 2001 novel "Empire Falls" is mostly Miles's story. But it is also the story of a city weathered by adversity and of the people who remained.

The title refers to the location where most of the story takes place, but it may also refer to the fall of an empire. The city itself is a fallen empire, and so is its founding family - The Whitings. Dowager Francine Whiting is currently the family matriarch who still holds much of the town's depressed property. She owns almost everything in the city, which leads her to assume that she also owns its residents. Francine is one of the story's villains - manipulating those around her and making life difficult for Miles.

The town has many dark secrets. Terrible fathers raise sons who grow up to be terrible fathers and husbands, abusing their wives and instilling poor values in their children, perpetuating a cycle that has continued for generations.

Miles attempts to break this cycle, despite being surrounded by mediocrity. His father is an unkempt slacker whose greatest talent is getting others to pay for his drinks and his annual trip to Key West. Miles's wife Janine has left him and plans to marry arrogant, dishonest Walt Comeau, primarily because sex with Walt is so much better than with Miles. Miles's daughter Tick is artistic and has a good heart but suffers from the angst of trying to fit in with the popular kids at her high school - particularly her ex-boyfriend Zack Minty. Zack is a star football player and a bully who reserves his worst torments for Tick's extremely introverted friend John Voss. Zack's father, Jimmy, is Miles's other antagonist. Jimmy - Miles's former high school classmate - is currently a policeman, lacking in wit and integrity. He insists that he and Miles were once friends, but Miles wants nothing to do with him. Miles perseveres, trying his best to lead a decent life.

The book introduces a lot of characters and a lot of character backstories. But this is necessary because these characters drive the story more than the plot.

The plot tends to move slowly until an unexpectedly violent climax at the end.

Russo fills in gaps with decades-old flashbacks, revealing the history of the families and the town and answering questions raised previously. Francine's husband, Charles Whiting, rejected the ruthlessness of his family's business practices and considered escaping from a loveless marriage; but he was too weak to succeed at either. He temporarily fled to Mexico before returning to Empire Falls and taking his own life.

"Empire Falls" raises questions about how much control we have over our lives. Do we accept the fate handed to us, or do we work to forge our own path? Miles is different from most of his narrow-minded neighbors; but he suffers from the same frailty - he lacks the courage to leave a dying town and begin his life again. It is not until the violent incident at the end that he begins to examine his life options.

This book paints an unflattering picture of American backwaters. But Russo tells the story well, and it resonated with me.

Leigh Bardugo's "Crooked Kingdom" concludes the story begun in "Six of Crows," which expands on the universe she created in her "Shadow and Bone" trilogy.

"Six" ended on a cliffhanger. After Kaz Brekker and his crew broke a scientist out of a maximum security prison, evil gazillionaire Jan Van Eck reneged on his deal. Van Eck kidnaps Inja to coerce Kaz into delivering the scientist with the secret to the formula to control the mystical Grisha. Kaz sets out to rescue Inja with his remaining crew - a band of misfits, each possessing a unique talent. He also seeks revenge against those who have wronged him.

It sounds complicated because it is. Kaz is a brilliant strategist, but Van Eck keeps thwarting his well-laid plans, forcing Kez to adjust his plans, which causes Kaz to respond, and so on. It is a fun game of cat-and-mouse with many twists and turns.

I do not recommend reading this book except as a part of the duology. Bardugo introduces her characters with little explanation of who they are.

This is the strongest of the five books I have read in this series. Bardugo does an excellent job building a plot with multiple twists and turns. She keeps us guessing as the heroes and villains play a game of mental leapfrog. She creates the characters and the relationships between them, making the reader care about each of them. One by one, Bardugo tells the backstory of each main character introduced in "Six of Crows," revealing their motivation and providing a satisfying depth to each of them.

As a bonus, a few characters from the original trilogy also make an appearance.

"Crooked Kingdom" contains multiple adventures, multiple love stories, and multiple action sequences. It includes joy and danger and a single great tragedy. It is smart, and it is fun! It is a solid finish to this duology.

<< Older Posts