Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Review: "Every Heart a Doorway" by Seanan McGuire

Nancy is a teen that found a door in her cellar that lead to the Halls of the Dead.  She was there until the Lord of the Dead told her she had to return to the world of the living until she was sure.  Her parents were quite upset that she wasn't the girl they remembered so they sent her to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children in the hope they could get her back.  What they didn't know is that Eleanor West's Home is a boarding school for the children who wandered into portal worlds and want to go back to those worlds.

This is an interesting little story set in an intriguing world.  The plot is the weakest part of the story, basically a series of murders that drive the character interactions.  The characters, on the other hand, are interesting and complicated.  Each one reflects the world they travelled to.  The interactions between the characters are enjoyable.  The universe is also quite complicated with each portal world classified on several dimensions.  The main two are Nonsense/Logic and Virtue/Wicked.  As mentioned all of the students want to return to their world, which adds an interesting tension to the conversations since they all know how unlikely it is they can return.

Overall I do recommend reading it.  Just bear in mind that it isn't your usual fantasy novel.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Book Review: "The Angel's Command" by Brian Jacques

This is a story about a boy, Ben, and his dog, Ned.  They were saved from the Flying Dutchman by the angel who cursed that ship to sail forever.  In the process Ben and Ned were enchanted so they don't age and can communicate telepathically.  They are required to travel the world helping the people they meet.

This novel is split into two books.  The first book, La Petite Marie, tells how Ben and Ned take ship with a pirate crew in Brazil following the angel's instructions.  They go through a number of trials as the pirate captain guides his ship to France where he intends to retire.  The second book, The Razan, picks up at the end of the first.  It takes Ben and Ned along the French Pyrenees joining a teenage thief girl and a young male portraitist with the magic power that his portraits always show people as they really are.  The trio is promptly recruited by an old comte to attempt the rescue of his nephew from a band of particularly evil brigands.

The novel shows most of the good features that can be found in the Redwall stories.  The characters and settings are vivid.  The bad guys are clearly evil and deserve their misfortune.  The good guys are clearly good, though they are sometimes playfully tricky.  The main things this story doesn't have that the Redwall series has are riddles and character driven plots.

Overall this novel isn't as good as any of the stories set in Redwall that I've read.  Still it is a decent, straightforward story and might be good to read with a kid.

Friday, December 9, 2016

News 12/9/2016

Well, I'm in the Honolulu airport again. I'll be visiting with Mom, Paupau, and Mary for the weekend.

I know it has been a while since I last posted. The weeks have a tendency to blend into each other. The weather is the usual. Occasionally it gets cold enough at night that I'll get out a heavy blanket. Sometimes it also gets silly hot for the islands. In the upper 80s usually with no trades so it is humid, too. Recently the temps have been great and I've seen rain every night and often during the day. I've even seen a couple of days that were completely overcast.

Over the summer I know folks saw reports of the time we had two hurricanes pass by the islands in one week. They caused trouble on the Big Island, but both were far enough away that they only made Honolulu hot and humid. We had a storm earlier in the year, Tropical Storm Darcy Darby, that caused the first thunderstorm I've noticed in the islands. Then it headed out to sea and turned into a tropical depression.

Work continues to go well. The projects are interesting though the requirements and design processes take longer than I'd like. We've just finished a larger project that had all five of the C# developers on it. It was mostly a SQL/SSIS project but it did include some interesting automated integration testing. Now we're working on housekeeping, bug fixes, and small enhancements.

I'm working on bug fixes for one of our earlier projects. One great thing is that I've been able to go through and refactor the code. Bringing it closer to current standards, applying some good practices highlighted by Microsoft's static code analysis, and making it easier to understand what the code is doing.

The plan for Christmas is that I'm flying back to Chicago. I'll get in the Friday before and spend Christmas weekend in Indy. Then I'll be back in Chicago until I fly out that Thursday.

Friday, April 29, 2016


I'm at the airport again. I'm on my way to Kona for the weekend. Mom has the timeshare and Aunt Judy is with her so I'm flying over to visit.

Work has been going well. We finally got the design signed off, which is good since we're only a week and a half from finishing the development work. It looks like we'll finish on schedule.

Outside of work things have mostly been quiet. Last weekend Mom, Paupau, and Mary flew in. I took Friday off and we went up to the Pali Lookout and Kaneohe. It's an area Mom hadn't explored, so we had a good time. We spent the rest of the weekend at the Hilton there in Waikiki.

I tried a standup paddleboard on Sunday. I fell into the lagoon a couple of times and never did get properly standing. Still I had fun and will try it again sometime. Perhaps when I'm able to get a lesson or at least some pointers. That hour also reminded me how much I enjoyed kayaking last time I had the chance.

I'm still getting out about every other weekend. On the downside I'm way behind my goal for the month, so I'm not going to make it to 10k words.

Saturday, April 9, 2016


It has been about three weeks since I wrote my last news post.  Life has mostly been fairly quiet for me.

At work the application we deployed is working well and the performance is acceptable to the users, though I would like it to be faster.  They like the app well enough that the next project adds a feature to it.  We've got six weeks to do all of the development and unit test the new feature.  Then it will go into system test for two weeks.

Camp NaNo is running this month.  I saw a set of prompts shortly before the first and decided I'd like to write a bunch of short pieces using them.  I'll call it a success if I can write 10k words, but I'd like to finish all 100 prompts.  Doing that will take a little more than 25k words.  The writer's group I connected with in November isn't running write in's this month, which I know will make it a more challenging month than last November.  I'm a couple hundred words behind for the 10k at the moment and I'll try to catch up tonight and tomorrow.

I've been getting out every other weekend.  The writer's group usually gets together at a cafe on second Saturdays.  This Saturday was a miss, but I went and did some writing.  When I left the cafe I passed a used book and games store.  The book section wasn't well organized, but I found several good books at a really good value.  After lunch I heard the sound of bagpipes coming from the park.

It turns out the 35th Annual Hawaiian Scottish Festival and Highland Games is today and tomorrow.  I saw a hammer throw and a caber toss.  The caber toss is the event where they toss a log end over end.  It turns out the log only needs to go end over end once and then the toss is scored based on how straight the log is after it lands compared to the direction it was tossed.

News - delayed post from ~3/14

I'm about to go do laundry and put together a news post.  Then I discovered that I hadn't posted this news when I put it together about three weeks ago.  I'm off to watch the laundry and I intend to publish whatever I write while waiting later this evening.


Since I last wrote I’ve mostly been doing well.  There was a weekend when I caught a nasty cold.  I came down with it on a Friday.  The same Friday the project we were working on was scheduled to go live.  Between my going home sick at lunch and some unexpected security questions that afternoon it was a rough rollout.  Since then the app is getting positive reviews from the users and we haven’t had any bug reports.  We have seen a question about an enhancement and one action is just slow enough that we might be asked to look into optimizing it.  This would be a little tricky since we already know that a major contributor are 3rd party webservices.

The weather here in Honolulu is as pleasant as ever.  We have had two cold fronts come through.  The firsts was a month or two ago.  It pushed the temperature down into the mid 60s for most of a week.  Then last week the second pushed the temperature down into the low 70s.  It is slowly returning to the normal low to mid 80s.

A couple of weeks ago I commented on Facebook that the Eddie was on.  This is a surf contest that is only held when the waves in Waimea Bay come in clean and consistently 40ft tall or more.  I heard that the tallest wave was something like 55ft tall.  For those that have seen Ecolab’s Naperville building, imagine a wave about as tall as the building with lifeguards on jet skis coming in ahead of it telling everyone to move away from the beach and the stream.  It is a competition that hasn’t been held since 2009, so a bunch of people took the day off from work to go up to the North Shore to see it.  It is probably just as well.  The city had lane closures on the North Shore on account of the surf coming over the highway.

That reminds me, one thing I hadn’t noticed before moving to Hawaii is that Honolulu has a consolidated city/county government like Indianapolis.  The entire island of Oahu is Honolulu but, like Indy, the neighborhoods all have their own names.  I live in Makiki.  The office is in Ala Moana.  Manoa is just over the ridge from where I live.  Downtown and Chinatown are both west of me.  Ala Moana and at least the part of Makiki I live in are both part of the old Korea moku, think Korea town.  Each of the neighborhoods has its own personality.  The neighborhoods don’t necessarily have their own unique climates, but it varies considerably in a short distance.

In the year I’ve lived here it seems that Makiki doesn’t get much in the way of rain.  There have been a handful of times I’ve wanted an umbrella and only once have I wanted a car on account of the weather.  Manoa is only a mile or two from where I live and I’ve noticed that Manoa gets rain much more regularly.  When Makiki gets rain Ala Moana generally seems to get at least some of the rain, though it is often lighter.  The other nice thing about the weather is that unless the wind is from the south it is basically always sunny even when it rains and the rain seldom lasts long.  The sun and rain mix means I’ve seen dozens of rainbows.  Twice, I even saw rainbows that looked like they came down to the ground near me.  Once the end of the rainbow was just up the street at a corner.  The other time it came down in the local park where people often walk their dogs.

For the New Year’s resolutions, writing daily isn’t happening and writing weekly has been a struggle.  The key challenge is taking the computer where I will want to write rather than leave it on the desk where I play video games.  Getting out on the weekends has gone better.  Last weekend I joined a writer’s group that meets monthly to socialize.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Pu'u 'Ualaka'a State Park

This is a lovely small park on a cinder cone with a nice overlook.

Near the entrance is the trail head for the 'Ualaka'a Trail.

If you follow the road up the mountain you come to a large parking lot with a restroom and several shelters and picnic tables.  From here you can continue to follow the road or park and walk past the restrooms on a short grassy path to the overlook, where there is a small parking lot.  Both times I've been here it hasn't been particularly crowded.

You can get a pretty good view of Diamond Head from the overlook.

As well as a good view of downtown Honolulu.

Here's a great view of Manoa Valley.

There are two ways to get here, which I'll cover in a there and back again post later.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Book Review: "Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance" by Ada Palmer

"Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance" is a scholarly history.  It explores how ordinary scholars read Lucretius's 'De Rerum Natura' in the two centuries after it was rediscovered in 1417.  Ada Palmer has done this by examining the marginalia from many different copies of 'De Rerum Natura' from the renaissance.

I found the book interesting and recommend you read it if you're interested in history.  The writing is clear and very readable.  The supporting evidence is provided with the conclusions.  If you don't know if this sort of thing would be interesting I suggest starting with Ada Palmer's blog,

The first chapter provides a quick overview of Epicureanism, the atheism it was often accused of, atomism and skepticism, which sometimes supported atheistic arguments.  This chapter is separable from the rest of the work and is the most like the essays Ada Palmer posts on her blog.  There are several interesting tidbits in this chapter.  One of which is that atheism in the Renaissance functioned differently from modern atheism.  At the time anything that might lead people to doubt the existence of God counted, including actions that brought the church into disrepute.  Luther, Calvin, and basically all the Popes of the period made the lists of famous atheists.

The second chapter includes a discussion of the methodology used in the rest of the book along with a description of what conclusions Ada drew from the data.  The data here is the marginalia in 52 manuscripts.  She lays out some cautions that are worth bearing in mind.  After going through the methodology the chapter describes the different sorts of marginalia and what conclusions Ada draws from them.

The third and fourth chapters deal with the ancient references and biographies that were added to manuscripts.  She goes through the material added and then discusses what they tell us about the editor's concerns.  Over time they changed in very obvious ways.  Initially, the focus seems to be on showing that Lucretius is part of the Roman canon and a virtuous man. There are several interesting approaches here.  Ranging from treating the errors as obvious and the poem as an example of difficult Latin, to Lucretius as divinely inspired, to Lucretius as a source of ancient scientific theories.

The fifth chapter contains a detailed discussion of the print editions before 1600 and the marginalia through the first few decades of the 1600s.  There are plenty of interesting points here.  Like the fighting between Lambin and Gifanius over Gifanius putting out an edition that was suspiciously similar to the Lambin edition.  Another section addresses the way De Rerum Natura was used by philosophical skeptics of the period.

Monday, January 11, 2016

News Update

I know it has been a couple of months since I last posted.  I could try blaming it on being busy or say that it feels like nothing much noteworthy has been happening.  Neither would really be true.  The truth is when I get home and sit down at my computer I generally start reading or playing computer games rather than write a post.

Since my last post I've done a number of things.  On my trip to the big island I ended up going to Volcano twice.  Once at night and then again the next day.  We also went to the vanilla farm and a chocolate farm as I recall.

After that things picked up with a startup that I'd been talking to.  The concept was to provide a platform for individuals and companies to provide scholarships so that when a student put in an application they would be available to all the registered scholarships.  This helped resolve the problem many small scholarships have with getting applicants.  By the end of September it was clear that it wasn't going to fly.  It turns out students in Hawaii mostly go through their high school college and career councilors.  The councilors each have their own "common" application which they send out to whichever scholarships they think the students qualify for.  They viewed our common application as a threat and insisted on conditions that meant we wouldn't be able to pay salaries for two years and would need to put in 40+ hours a week of developer time.

As some of you know I traveled back to Chicago the first week of October for my brother's wedding.  I had a good time visiting with family.  I was also able to take an evening to visit with Pat and the Naperville folks.  We had a good time at the sushi restaurant.  I was surprised at how much I remembered of the Ecosure applications when I was able to answer a question Pat had about the McD playground app.

Work has been going well.  We finished the project I was on and rolled it out successfully.  We're most of the way through a second website and working on requirements for another project.  This project is fairly complicated since it needs to provide a consolidated interface for three independent systems.  It will also need to be able to take a single command from the user and update each of those systems appropriately.  This will manage the contracts associated with providers in the Medicare, Medicaid, and private business systems.  I had fun drawing out the basic architecture for the application already.  I presented it at a meeting with the architect for the project and he is willing for us to go down this path.

I went to a hackathon focused on the Uber API.  Initially none of the pitches caught my attention and the API is properly focused on hailing and managing an Uber ride so I didn't have any ideas of my own.  I ended up on a team that was trying to put together an app that would allow users to setup a series of "waypoints" so that a tourist could easily setup an itinerary ahead of time and call an Uber ride from one place to the next.

A couple of weeks ago I went to another Startup Weekend - Honolulu.  I pitched a piece of one of my crazy ideas.  I call the full project "Project Encyclopedia" and the idea is to create a system that can provide a good education to anyone, anywhere, on any topic without using grad students or professors to teach or grade the work.  This goes beyond what MOOCs provide now.  They can provide static quiz's and lectures.  So far, they can't respond to the students without using people. The piece I pitched was the basic application.  I didn't end up attracting enough votes to start a team, but I wasn't expecting to since the idea is much too big to get done in a weekend.

I ended up joining a team that was also working on an education project.  It was on the edge of being permissible since the leader of the team has been working on the idea for the last 15 or 16 years.  She has created a line of educational songs and music videos that teachers can use to teach kids from kindergarten through third or fourth grade.  The ideas we hit on to make it work were games and an independent distribution system.  On that basis we won third place.  The leader decided she didn't want to continue after the weekend.  The rest of the team did want to continue, at least to participate in Global Startup Battle.  We quickly learned that the reason she had chosen not to continue was because she had come to Startup Weekend looking for potential employees rather than looking for possible partners.  Apparently it hurt her feelings that the rest of the team preferred joining a startup as partners over becoming regular employees.  The drama from that worked itself out over the course of a week or two.

Also in November, I participated in NaNoWriMo.  For those that don't know what that is, it is a challenge to see whether you can write a set amount of words in November.  You can get the details at  I signed up thinking it was like the Camp NaNoWriMo I'd checked out earlier in the year in that I could pick my target.  I learned that in November the target is set at 50k words for everyone.  After a little thinking I decided to participate anyway and just aim at an unofficial 10k word count.  I managed to hit my goal by attending almost all of the write-ins and struggling outside of those to get myself to write.  I did pass my goal on the 30th.  By the end of the month I learned one trick that worked.  Take the laptop away from the desk.  When I'm at the desk in my apartment I quickly get distracted either with the internet or with games.

December was busy at work.  We got a complicated project two weeks before Christmas.  The users want a way to pull data about providers from all five of the systems that hold providers.  This will allow them to more quickly research where applications of some sort need to go for processing.

Christmas was quiet and rainy so I stayed in for the long weekend.  I got some books from Dad, Leibniz, Locke, and Spinoza.  I've started on the Leibniz book already and I'm enjoying it.  One thing that hadn't registered with me before is that all three are contemporaries.  The introduction of the Leibniz book mentions that he cancelled the publication of a work responding to Locke when Locke died and the first work by in the book includes an aside responding to one of Spinoza's arguments.

On New Years Eve I stayed in and had pizza delivered.  I stayed up and played on the computer until midnight, which was just as well.  Some of my neighbors set off strings of firecrackers in the 45 minutes leading up to midnight.

With the new year I decided to set two goals for the year.  I want to go out on the weekend more than the once a month I was doing.  I also want to create a habit of doing at least a little writing each day.  It is too soon to say how the first is going to go, but it is clear that the second is going to be quite difficult.