Friday, April 28, 2006

Termination


The vast majority of the time, working in Info Technology is great. It's what I love to do, I work with great people, and I generally get all the cool toys before anyone else. I get to play with many programs across many systems, troubleshoot elusive software issues, and deal with broken Microsoft patches.
But the one thing I hate is terminations. I work with these people, make friends with them, usually know spouses and children by name. There is nothing worse than getting the phone call "I need you to terminate Joe's account NOW and lock his email NOW and forward me anything he might have sent today".
Not fun.
I've had users want to come over the desk at me to get thier "personal data" off of thier laptop. Somehow, the admonishment to remember firm policy regarding data on laptops doesn't seem to sway them.
Again, not fun.
I've had employees come to me three months later and ask "Can I look at the files on Joe's laptop?", which is usually about two months after I've re-imaged it and given it to someone else.
Yet again, not fun.
So what do I want? Not sure. How about a "magic packet" to send down the wire to the workstation, causing to to completly shut down? Nah, too hackable.
I'd rather just have fellow employees who don't screw up and get fired.
As if.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

For Leo


I freely admit to being a crier. Sappy movies, sad animal stories, hallmark commercials... all are sufficient triggers to bring on the waterworks. Well, last night I cried for Leo.

All of us who love The West Wing knew exactly what was going to happen. John Spencer died of a real life heart attack on December 16, 2005. Ironically enough, it was a follow up to his on screen attack of last year. The shows producers say that, had they a hint of his real-life condition, the on-air attack would never have happened. Since that day we've known Leo's fate.

But to watch last week as Leo was found unconscious in his hotel room, and watch last night the ensemble's reaction -- I was much reminded of the M*A*S*H episode where Henry Blake died.

If Josh was the brains of the show, then Leo was it's gruff and curmudgeonly heart, Leo with his secret AA meetings and his addictive past and his soft center.

It was Leo that handed then governor Bartlett the napkin with "Bartlett for America" written on it. It was Leo that fired Bartlett's first staff, early in the run during the first campaign, and brought in Josh and Toby and the gang. It was Leo in the situation room, urging the President to make the right choice. It was Leo, coming back from his first heart attack, reminding everyone why they were there in the first place.

Watching the actors react to news of Leo's death, it was pretty clear to me that they were drawing on their emotions over the death of John Spencer. Annabeth looked positively distraught. CJ was in shock. And Josh took it worst of all. We never see Josh's father in the show, that I can recall, or hear much about him. Remember Josh's fierce defense of Leo when the addiction scandal hit? In Leo, Josh lost a father figure writ large on his life.

It was a bittersweet ending, with Mathew Santos taking the podium for his acceptance speech, and Josh back in the war room, staring vacantly at the whiteboard. I know what he's thinking. He's thinking about the one that really got him there, the man that has been his mentor and his rudder, and wondering what's next, without him.

In December of last year, America lost a great actor. Last night, West Wing fans lost a good friend. On screen it was a heart attack. In our minds, it was the final end to a terminal illness.

Last night I cried for Leo.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Book Fair


The book fair came through my son's grade school last week. Book Fair week was always my favorite week of school. I devoured books like they were my only means of sustenence. And maybe they were. A new book, fresh off the presses, was like a rare jewel I had never seen and couldn't wait to lay my hands on. They were things to be touched and felt and absorbed, my tickets out of my ho-hum existence.
I wanted to be ten again, looking at all of the titles. I wanted to buy and read almost all of them. Today's covers and titles are so intriguing in ways that they weren't when I was in school. Charlie Bone and Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter and Julie Moon.
My son is in second grade, too young for the books I wanted. But I ended up with Peter and the Starcatchers anyway, which was of course "for him" when he gets old enough to read it. Maybe this summer, or next year.
I devoured it over the weekend. This prequel to Peter Pan is a wonderful romp by the unlikely duo of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It is long on action and wild characters, wonderful twists and turns, and funny bits here and there. It is also a nearly perfect bedtime reading novel, with short chapters and cliffhangers throughout.
We get to learn where Peter met Captain Hook, and where captain Hook met the Crocodile, and how TinkerBell came to be, why Peter never grows up and can fly... all wonderfully and plausibly spelled out for us. As Peter and his friends jump from adventure to adventure we are effortlessly sucked in, hooked, if you will.
While I certainly enjoyed it and recommend it, what struck me is that I kept viewing the book from an adult's eye, thinking what the kids would think. They'll like this bit, they'll find that funny, I wonder if they will get this bit. I was never really to hoist up my disbelief and just react to the book.
That could be because Peter and the Starcatchers is exactly the kind of book I wish I'd written. I want to give back to the world what was given to me: good escapist books for kids, particularly boys. I"m trying something in the vein of Three Investigators / Brains Benton / Danny Dunn meets some fantastical thing, but not really having much success. I read the book as a writer.
But at the end I found myself wishing I was ten again, so I could run outside with my wooden sword, playing Peter to some friends Black Stash. I could do that today, but a trip to the psychiatrist would probably be the end result.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Lazy Town


Call me crazy, but my kids and I are hooked on Lazy Town.

On what, you ask? Lazy who?

Lazy Town is a Saturday morning live action series. It's an action – adventure – musical – feel good – do good – eat right and exercise kind of Saturday morning show.

A who? Exactly. It's entirely unlike anything you've seen on Saturdays.

I'll try.

Lazy Town centers on the adventures of Stephanie, a quirky eight – year – old (with pink hair and invariable pink clothes) who has come to Lazy Town to stay with her uncle. Everyone in Lazy Town is, well, lazy. Together with Sporticus, the hyperactive superhero, they set about to get the town off of it's colelctive butt and out into the air. Robby Rotten is the evil bad guy who just wants to lay around, and tries to thwart their plans.

To let the folks over at Nick Jr. tell it:

Stephanie, an optimistic 8-year-old with bright pink hair, comes to live in LazyTown and meets a zany mix of townspeople including the world’s laziest super-villain, Robbie Rotten. Fortunately for Stephanie, LazyTown is also under the watchful eye of Sportacus, an athletic, super-fit, slightly-above-average super hero, who runs, jumps, flips and flies in his incredibly futuristic Airship to help the inhabitants of LazyTown battle Robbie’s latest lazy schemes.
LazyTown aims to INSPIRE and MOTIVATE kids to get them to make healthy choices in their lives.

And the show's creator says:

Really, when you get down to it, LazyTown is a state of mind. We've all been to LazyTown. When we decide to go "veg-out" on the couch, you could say you're "in LazyTown." Even me. It's a place we all go.

In a funny way, LazyTown reflects characteristics that you see in yourself or in people around you. These characteristics are universal: It's that dynamic of opposites.

For instance, in the show, Sportacus is a driving force. He's fit, agile, and an amazing athlete who's patient, kind, and understanding. He encourages kids through example. He doesn't take the low road. Conversely, his adversary, Robbie Rotten, is all about easy solutions and pulling the group down to his level. Then there's Stephanie, the lead kid character, a wide-eyed optimist who believes she can make a real difference; while Pixel, a boy character, can conquer every video game, but when the situations are real, he has a harder time.

Just like in real life, nobody's perfect and LazyTowners are constantly trying to find ways to understand and improve themselves. I guess that you could say that LazyTown explores the opposing forces that we encounter in our own daily lives.

With a combination of green screen special effects, puppets, live action and hopped up mid-nineties techno bop, Lazy Town manages to entertain and energize. The best thing about is that my kids cannot sit still and watch it. They're up dancing, doing jumping jacks and sit-ups and stretches and running and trying to do handstands: it's a joy to watch them watch the show.

The acting by the human characters is wonderfully over the top, with Stephanie mugging for the back rows and Robby Rotten absolutely stealing the show with his solid mane of jet black hair and enormous (prosthetic) chin. Robbie's chin and Sportacus's needle spring mustache must be seen to be believed.

It's pretty clear that the main characters have had training, and Stephanie and Robbie especially shine. They've both done stage work in the past. Robbie takes his mugging straight from the Jim Carrey School of Flexible Faces, and then takes it up a couple of notches. Stephanie is constantly cute and adorable, and they both manage to sing well enough.

Lazy Town just announced the filming up eighteen more episodes. If I had Tivo, this is the one the kids would make me record. And I'd probably record it anyway, for myself. Too much fun.