Toy Story 3

If I had a vote with the Academy I would nominate this for Best Picture. Not Best Animated, Best Picture.

So many movies today are bout the technology (e.g. 3D and/or computer enhanced action scenes) or about stars. Most of these movies forget the basics of a great  script, interesting characters you care about, and the right combination of storytelling combined with acting and cinematography.

Toy Story 3 has all the good and none of the bad movie stuff. By bad stuff I mean wacky or stupid characters put in for an attempt at a few laughs unconnected to the main story, at best one or two good lines, a few weak themes repeated throughout the movie, characters that bore you to tears and a plot that is totally unbelievable and not in a Sci-Fi.

I just watched a story about the secret life of toys and the plot was soooo much more believable than that of “Management” with Jennifer Aniston that we rented last night! This was a movie with a “star” but had all of the bad movie stuff referred to above.

Toy Story makes you laugh; provides action, suspense and excitement;, has multidimensional characters; pulls at your heartstrings; demonstrates values and just plain makes you feel good. The characters (toys remember) face problems with courage and cleverness, good triumphed over evil and all was right with world at the end. This was a great movie that was modestly enhanced by 3D, not a movie that succeeds because of the technology.

Unlike other late entries in movie  series,  TS3  improved upon while paying homage to the first two. The characters added new facets (you MUST see Spanish mode Buzz Lightyear). It provided a clean ending to the series without shouting to the world that there would be no more unlike another animated series.

It was such a sharp contrast to Management which we had just watched the night before as well as so many movies that have made in the past several years.

The ultimate tribute to this movie is that my 19-year-old son went with us. It was his second time in less than a week.

Toy Story 3, you got a friend in me.

Stormy Weather

“Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather…its raining all the time.”

Remember that old saying that April showers bring May flowers? This year April was warm like June, May was cold and June has been Storm Month. Don’t know if this is due to global warming or just one of those years but it has been bizarre.

This past Wednesday night was the second major storm in the Chicago are in less than a week. In fact, Wednesday had two distinct storms. In the morning I was heading in earlier than usual. The sky’s were overcast when I left the house at 6:15.  30 minutes later I have 2 miles to go on the highway before my exit the sky turns black and sheets of rain pour down. I can barely see the road and cars are going 60-70 miles an hour.

Later that evening a second front rolled through that made the morning seem sunny. High winds, a funnel cloud touched down just west of the city and more sheets of rain. This went on for hours. I was supposed to meet a friend for birthday drinks but the commuter trains all came to a stop for over an hour due to the weather. Large branches, eve several trees were down in some areas. Stories abounded about how the worst of the winds had blown lawn furniture down the block and had even taken off a few roofs.

So how was my drive in the next morning? It was a beautiful morning. Bright blue, cloudless sky. Temps in the low 80’s. It was a gorgeous.  If you had slept through Wednesday there is no way one could be living this day and had any idea that the gods had been angry 24 hours earlier.

Now it is Sunday morning. It was darker than normal from the moment I awoke. Then the sound of thunder came…well thundering down. Moments later form nothing came more sheets of rain. I just stared at it through the window. It was glorious in its own way. Just as I thought it could not rain any harder, it did. Twice I could hear the sound of the rain change and become more intense.

This went on for 30 minutes. Then gone. There is still a river of water running through the street outside my home so I know it happened. The sky looks as if it will happen again.

Nothing left to do but listen to the sultry sounds of Lena Horne.

Government Bureaucracy Purgatory

It was time to renew my driver’s license. In fact I went last Monday, four days before it would expire.  I was going to be out-of-town for two of those days.  Now it was urgent. I had to take time away from work despite the pile of work that needed to get done before the end of the day.

Oh, and I had to take the written test. I needed to know the rules of the road. The Illinois rules of the road pamphlet is over 100 pages long. There are some items that I agree everyone should know and a refresher every few years is a good idea.  First one needs to know a myriad of distances by which you must take action, such as how far in advance of a corner to signal a turn (in a residential area or country road – the answers are different), stopping before a railroad crossing, etc. Then you need to know all of the signs. These fall into the “you should know this” category. But then there are the things I do not need to know about, such as where it is permitted to have car seats for infants (mine is 19), things about motorcycles (which I do not drive) and other arcane pieces of information. I had no time to have to take this test a second time. I studied for a couple of hours and prayed my memory would hold out.

So in I walk. I am stressed about the time this will take and  whether I will pass the test. I go to one of the suburban Department Of  Motor Vehicles locations because from experience and urban legend I know that doing this at a  Chicago one would take much longer. Still I am not prepared for a process that mirrors an old factory assembly line. A gauntlet of five stations must be run in order to obtain a license.

First is the line to get in. There is a triage station. A sleepy middle age to old man takes your forms and directs you to the next counter. You get a slip with a letter and three numbers. I am not sure why but for a few people in the line before me this process takes several minutes.

Then wait in some hard plastic chairs to be called by one of ten people manning the next station. After several more minutes I give my number and forms to the guy who looks up my name on the computer. I answer “no” to questions for which a yes answer would presumably bring my quest to a dead stop. Do I take any drugs or have any diseases  that would hinder my ability to drive? (No, I can drive while quite high thank you. Does anyone ever answer Yes to these questions?) I also take a visual exam at this station. At least something useful to weed out those that should not be driving.

On to the cashier. Like in a bad movie, the cashier needs to pause and count money and file some forms just as it becomes my turn in line. More waiting. I  pay and  get my exam. 20 multiple choice questions and I need to identify fifteen signs (No, the words are not written on the pictures of the signs. That would make it too easy to know which is the “Stop” sign.)

Bottom line is that I pass. Fortunately one only needs to answer 80% of the questions correctly.

On to the picture-taking. First step. Wait. Next step have picture taken. Third step. Wait. Last step take your license and run.

Total time, one hour twenty minutes that I did not have that day. Could have been worse. Purgatory, not hell.

Sights Worth Seeing

My wife is traveling through some of the most beautiful parts of Italy this week. i am city and suburb bound. Still there is much to see if you choose to look.

Walking in the park on a sunny day. Coming towards us are two woman. The first is very tall, slim and quite elderly, at least in her late 70s more likely 80s. She is dressed in that “I don’t care how I look and I certainly don’t care about what you think about how I dress” manner that only the elderly can pull off well. She has on a lime green hat with an extra wide brim that is pushing skyward as she walks into the wind. She holds one had to her head to keep the hat from flying away. The other hand holds the hand of her friend. A short, hunched-over woman who looks as old as one can be. She shuffles more than walks. the tall one supporting her companion. As they pass they show the manners that seem to be lost in more recent generations. They smile and greet us warmly as we pass by.

In the locker room at my gym there is a father with his six-year-old son. They are dressing to go swimming. As the boy pulls his suit on he must have scratched himself and he begins to softly cry. Many dads at this point would have told there sons to be tough and not give in to the hurt. This dad bent over, said something softly into the ear of his son, so softly that though I was less than a foot away I could not hear his words. He gave his son a kiss on the cheek. This tenderness, now passed down into the next generation, calmed the boy and his crying ceased.

I landed just outside a small town in Tennessee. After being picked up at the airport by a client that had become a friend over the past years we headed for lunch. Time was short so the options were limited. McDs, Wendy’s or the little place we had eaten at once before. I opted for the latter. A place that still sold Moon pies. It was small but the food was good and fresh. The owner took orders at a counter. you sat at wood tables, not plastic, and they brought the food to you when it was ready. I observed a customer chatting up the owner for quite a while and a few families enjoying a summertime meal together. It seemed like small town country. Better than McDonald’s? silly question.

At the place where you get your driver’s license a newly minted driver was handed his first ever license. He asked the woman if he needed his permit back. No, the woman replied, now you have a license. Oh, was the response. Now I’m scared, said the woman.

Tonight I got off the commuter train. It was 8:30 PM and I was just getting home. I was drooping. Barely able to move. Getting off at the same stop was a woman in her sixties. She was all light and lightness. A big smile on her face and a light step as she bounded past me and headed down the stairs. She was long and slender and had on a pretty summer dress. Far more youthful than I.

So much to see worth seeing.

Technology Yin Yang

This is a story about the yin yang (not yin AND yang as most boorish Americans call it) of technology. Tech provides both vast opportunities to create and the equally vast power to destroy great craftsmanship. But first I must set the stage for this philosophical debate. It all started with Robert.

Robert is a quiet guy but thoughtful. He and I see each other now and then at parties and events because our wives belong to the same social club.

I had probably never had more than a two-minute conversation with Robert. Yet here we were at a party and he knows a lot about something I care about but know very little. Photography. Robert is a professional photographer. I, on the other hand, gave up even my minor amateur status when film died as the preferred medium for pictures. (I have a very nice Nikon I’d sell if anyone still wants to shoot film).

For a bit over two years I have limited myself to a point and shoot digital picture-taking devise that fits in my pocket. No changing lenses, no focusing, no worrying about the light. So I ask Robert, “What advice can you give to me about starting to get into digital photography?” This leads to the discussion about how digital has taken much of the craftsmanship out of photography. I will do my best to capture his points though I admit to you now I may not be doing justice to them or him.

He started with the technical and then moved on to the philosophical. Technically he tells me that digital cameras, and these are SLRs a professional would use, do not provide consistent shots the way film cameras do. Something in the technology of the camera or the software leads to different readings and pictures in identical lighting situations despite improvements in built-in light metering and other technological improvements. He spends far more time making adjustments than when he shot with comparable film cameras.

That was the tip of the iceberg. His next point was that looking at the small screen on the back of the camera was the wrong way to visualize a great photo opportunity. The artist/photographer should be looking directly at the subject checking the nuances of the lighting, the composition, the shapes, the colors, the shadows.

Additionally from a commercial side says Robert,  having sooo many pictures available to download devalues all pictures. Users no longer discern between the great and the not-so-great. Will this phenomena dishearten the skilled craftsman who can no longer make a living at his craft? According to Robert, the photographers that survive and thrive are the better business people not the better shooters.

As I was listening to his point of view I began to wonder if this is true for writers as well. Bogging, tweeting and Facebook posting has opened the door for written expression to millions who would never have done it or at least never had shared it. For every 100 no talent blogs there is the special one by someone with so much to say and that beautiful way of telling a story.

Yet has this hurt the truly great writer starting out. Can very many writers make a living at their craft. Do people take the time to create things longer than a post? Will the art of short stories, novellas, novels and well written nonfiction disappear, the light blocked out by the shadows from a million free three paragraph posts?

Only time will tell whether all of this technology brings greater creative force and beauty or just more stuff. Or maybe both. Yin Yang.

Naps Boost Brain Power

See Honey. I am doing something important all of those times I am snoring away on the couch instead of doing whatever it is that you were hoping I would do.

Read the story here.

See the story….after you take your nap.

Something I Can Identify With…At least A Little

“I hate my job. Can I retire early?”

I read the site almost every workday. I find interesting business stories, current business news, stock market news and oh yeah a link to Sports Illustrated .com. The other day I found the above quote as the title to a story on the site.

I didn’t even bother to read the story. Nothing could improve on the title.

I know several people who like what they do to earn a living. It challenges them, is interesting, provides income at levels they are happy with and they work with great people. I also know far more people who identify with the headline quote.

So where do I stand? (All work colleagues who have accidentally come across this site and the few customers that read it, STOP READING NOW!)

I have been doing the same type of work for almost 30 years. (Insert standard joke here, “I was 7 when I started” , wait for the roaring laughter to dissipate). Along the way I have learned, grown, been fascinated by different aspects of the work and always interested by the characters I meet. Clearly much good along the way.

And yet… long hours, much pressure and far, far too often not enough good people to work with. The one thing I have taken away from my 30 years or this work, now that I am 37,   is that the people you spend every day with make work life either great or something far less.

It just so happened that on the day I saw the headline, I felt that way too. Not every day but definitely that day.

#2 = Failure?

The Northwestern University Woman’s Lacrosse team recently finished second in the national championship. This broke a string of 5 straight national championships. Is this a team of losers? They may think so since they have filed a protest regarding the officiating. This was not pro sports. Why complain?

There are some areas, mostly sports where winner take all seems to be the case. People often say that no one remembers who finished second in any of the major championships. My Blackhawks just won the Stanley Cup. By next year will anyone remember that they beat the Philadelphia Flyers? Gosh, I hope so.

And I hope the Flyers feel great about the extraordinary playoff run they had. until the goal that won it for the Hawks in overtime of the sixth game, no one was writing off the Flyers.

More importantly, other than pro sports what should we think of the person or team that finishes second. O.K. In my line of work I bid for new work. There are often 5 – 10 competitors for each bid. Recently I finished second two weeks in a row. To different competitors for different reasons –in one case it sounded as if they flipped a coin. I get no monetary value from being #2. And yet, I beat out 9 competitors in one case and 3 in the other. Good people from good companies. Not too shabby. If these were the last two pieces of work in the world, I would have been a loser. But they aren’t. I will compete again and win more than my fair share.

How bad can it be to be the second smartest person in the world or the second richest or the second funniest? And what about all the others who finish behind #2? Fortunately this is a big world and a large life allowing the opportunity for  success for many people, in many forms and on many levels. Fortunately literally billions of people in this world are successful without being the best, just by being very good.

I am not sure if it is a U.S. thing or a Western culture thing but I am tired of only having celebrations for one. I am tired, not of the competition to be the best because I find that competition breeds “better” in many, but of the scoring that is done to determine #1. Top grossing movie of the week (not best movie which is what we should be applauding), top salesperson (regardless of how many of his/her own colleagues  were elbowed out-of-the-way), or winner of the Scripps Spelling Bee (O.K. Maybe I let that one go).

I would rather celebrate many people doing good things and continually improving. I am going to adopt this approach today in all facets of my life starting at home.

Congratulations to Northwestern’s Woman’s Lacrosse team for an excellent year this year to add to the five previous ones. Well done.

Hawks Win! Hawks Win!

I was 5 years old the last time the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. I was too young to care and not a hockey fan. They won tonight for the first time since then.

They have been a fun team to watch during the playoffs and the Philly Flyers were a great finals opponent.

I have several friends in Philly and all I can say is