Author Archives: GeekTaz
We live in a terrifying world. Since the days man walked the earth with monster-sized beasts bent on devouring us, something has always lurked in the dark corners and shadows of our minds reminding us of our mortality and the fragility of life. For children, those monsters usually hide under their beds or in their closets at night. But in the daylight, public places filled with people and the protection of policemen – those places are safe.
Then, in the middle of a favorite TV show, a sour-faced news anchor breaks in and lets us know that one of the three casualties of the bombs in Boston was an eight-year-old boy. The monster is out of the closet and staring at us in 65 inches of 1080p high contrast color. HD images of people scattering, smoke billowing, and bloody limbs on gurneys suddenly supply vivid detail to what the monster is capable of doing. And, by the way, if it is a terrorist, the monster could be visiting your town next week when the next big athletic event in the U.S. kicks off just around the corner.
Naturally, my eight-year-old was suddenly very concerned, and asking questions no child should ever have to ask. What’s a terrorist? Why would someone want to blow up trash cans? Are we safe?
It would be so easy to tell her that Boston is a long, long way away and nothing like that could ever happen here. But she’s a smart kid and would figure out soon enough that the “breaking news” about how security was being beefed up around the country and was likely to be tight for the kick off of the MS 150 coming up meant this was possible close to home. Instead, we talked truthfully, though carefully, about how some people in this world seek attention by hurting others. And that’s wrong.
She asked if anything like that ever happened here in Texas. “No, honey, I don’t remember anything like that ever happening here.”
“Maybe that’s because Texans would never let someone do something like that,” she offered.
“Maybe. The good thing about Texans is that our culture is to be kind and to help each other.” It is true that Texans are notorious for being in everyone’s business and are significantly more likely to get involved if they see someone doing something wrong. That is one thing I adore about the culture of the good ol’ South. (You’d be an idiot to try anything too stupid in Texas. Just ask Santa Anna.) And the good people of Boston proved once again yesterday that the capacity to help each other in a crisis isn’t limited to the states bordering the Gulf Coast.
In the midst of the attention-mongering talking heads who repeatedly interrupted our regularly scheduled programming over the past 24 hours to tell us no one knows anything yet, the real story our kids need to hear went largely untold. When your kids ask about the bombing, the best thing to talk about is not just how frightening this tragic event is, but how blessed we are to live in a country that repeatedly rises above. My Texas princess was quick to explain how, if she saw someone putting something weird in a trash can or even trying to steal a purse from an old lady on the street, that she’d go ninja on them and then take them to the police. While I nixed her first plan, I was happy to gush over what a brilliant idea it was to tell the authorities when she saw someone doing anything suspicious.
Although it may not prevent all crime, I guarantee if we all pay a little more attention to what’s going on around us and show just enough bravery to take appropriate action when we see something we know is wrong, we’ll breathe a little bit easier than most of us were on the morning of April 15th.
Tuesday I had the privilege of participating in the annual DigiGirlz Day at the Microsoft Store in the Houston Galleria. Every year, about 50 high school girls, educators, volunteers and Microsoft employees get together to promote the advantages of young women pursuing STEM college degrees and future careers. The girls are from a variety of backgrounds and schools around Houston, some privileged, others from low income areas. This year, we were blessed to have Texas DARS send a talented, visually-impaired young lady who injected so much energy and excitement into the event one would never have guessed she was anything but an average high school girl.
I was lucky enough to join a panel with six other successful women who were primarily IT leaders and one educator/author. They each shared insights into their early lives, their educational and career journeys, and their secrets to happiness and success. The girls were an outstanding audience, peppering the panel with creative and relevant questions that really inspired not only their peers, but the women who had come to do the inspiring.
Lately, I’ve suffered some moments of self-pity, lamenting the setbacks in my life that make things…complicated. As I sat on that stool in front of those young, eager faces, (okay, some were yawning), and shared my life’s journey from poor minority kid to full scholarship college student, NASA nerd and finally computer geek, it dawned on me that I’ve already lived such a full and privileged life. Sure, I had to work hard to get there and took some pretty tough knocks along the way, but nothing I’ve ever had to face holds a candle to what some of these young girls have already gone through. And yet, there they were: bright-eyed and full of hope for the future, eager to hear what those of us who had made our way before them had to say.
My self-pity dissipated as I later talked one-on-one with the girl who was born blind in one and eye and with tunnel vision in the other. Instead of letting her circumstances get the better of her, she had thrown herself full force into music, learning on her own to create her own mixes and ready to move on to writing her own music, and she was so excited to hear how I’d blended my geek life with my passion for music. We spent some time talking about how far Windows Phone technology has come in terms of accessibility for the visually impaired, and explored some of the music apps in the Windows Store, excitedly exchanging ideas about how she can prepare herself for a future audition with my alma mater, U.T. – Austin.
I know the big software vendors are sweating the transformation of the digital world from one of proprietary, expensive software suites to a proliferation of low-cost, simplified applications – “apps” – that do everything from entertaining you with highly popular games to teaching you how to read music or play piano and still manage your budget with a few pokes of the touch screen. The big vendors may still own the enterprise, but the average consumer can now do much of what they need (short of the top productivity applications) for less than $10. If your income is dependent on those high profit, proprietary software sales, this is a scary, scary time. But for people like the girls I met this week, the new digital landscape opens the door to whole new worlds for the underprivileged who once had no chance to compete with their upper-middle class peers when it came to breaking into top colleges and careers. Why? Because for $6.99 kids in the ‘hood can take piano lessons from a pro, or for less than $3 sharpen their math and engineering skills.
Sure, many of the girls I met this week had never seen nor touched an iPad, let alone a high-end machine like the Surface Pro or Sony’s Vaio Duo before walking into the Microsoft store that day. But as more and more schools dedicate budget to issuing tablets to students, and as the price of these devices begins to drop, there is great hope for the future for these bright young women. With technology becoming so accessible to all, I can’t wait to see what this next generation of young women can accomplish!
Recommended: Check out Developer Junior to learn how to program your own web sites, video games and apps.
The sight of Tom Hardy taking a shot to the groin with a giant yellow paint ball in the televised trailer was enough to elicit a belly laugh from the blond mini-me who often accompanies me to the local Cinemark. I even momentarily considered letting her come along to check this one out, having decided based on that same trailer that the premise of Fox’s This Means War was a unique enough twist on the usual love triangle comedy to get my attention. I’m glad I didn’t. Not that I didn’t find the film enjoyable – I laughed often and hard from beginning to end, and I loved every semi-predictable minute of it. No, it’s because it definitely more than earned it’s PG-13 rating with humor that certainly would’ve made my dead grandmother blush and left me with a lot of explaining to do over topics not exactly appropriate for second graders. And quite frankly, I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed myself as much if I were worried about having to squirm out of all that explaining. (FYI – This film was originally rated R and only changed to PG-13 at the last minute thanks to the taming of Chelsea Handler’s character.)
So why use “semi-predictable” earlier? Let’s face it, we all know the boys are going to fight over the girl. We all know the spies are going to fight the bad guy and at some point the girl will be in peril and require rescue. We all know the girl is going to struggle with choosing which guy she wants, and we all know there’ll be a happy ending. It’s what Dowling and Kinberg fill in between the predictable parts that makes this movie so much fun. No, I’m not going to tell you because it will ruin the movie for you by removing the shock value that makes most of the funnier moments worthwhile. Suffice to say, watch for some uncomfortably hilarious moments involving Chelsea Handler as, Trish, (Lauren’s BFF) Cheetos, wine and a chubby hubby. Any of us who have ever spent much time as a single female can likely claim to have a friend like Trish, and our lives are certainly much more interesting as result.
I have no doubts about why the critics hate this movie. It’s a little too obvious that nice guy Tuck (Tom Hardy) will, well, play nice and eventually find love, and that FDR (Chris Pine) will do what self-absorbed, cocky womanizing jerks do just to prove they can. And, of course, Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), will wrestle with the guilt of dating two men like any self-respecting professional, single-quirky-good-girl looking for “the one” would. We can all agree that, though the cast carries their characters off perfectly and hits every comedic mark, no one will be winning any Oscars for this one. And, as usual, the critics scoff at the low-brow humor because it offends their refined sensibility of what the art of film should be. But for the rest of us, that low brow humor is just what the doctor ordered on a rainy afternoon and certainly enough to repeatedly crack up the entire theater, which was amazingly full for such a widely proclaimed terrible film. (Sorry, just quoting the professional movie watchers on that one.) I for one am not ashamed to admit that I found this movie entertaining partly because I certainly wouldn’t be heartbroken to find myself the reason two super-hot men were locked in an epic battle, even if the whole scenario is so completely unrealistic as to be ridiculous. I also dream about owning a burnt orange Lamborghini Aventador. I think both have an equal chance of happening. But I digress.
I think what I loved most about this movie was that the characters weren’t perfect. I loved that Lauren and Trish conjure memories of conversations with similar friends as they discuss the flaws of both suitors. I love that, like any other man I’ve ever met, the two eavesdropping guys make no bones about using those declared flaws to throw each other off balance in pursuit of the girl. Of course it’s a stretch of the imagination that these two highly trained, very eligible spies would put their careers and their lives at risk for a woman who does marketing analysis on everything from home appliances to military parachutes for a living but can’t figure out which of these two distinctly different men is more appealing to her. (It’s an even bigger stretch to think any woman outside of Hollywood would be lucky enough to meet two interesting men who look like that in the same day and find her worth fighting over.) But this film is all about fantasy and taps into some of the hidden daydreams most single women have harbored at least once in their lives while suffering through yet another boring date with your average [insert dull profession here]. Sure, in reality if two guys were acting the way these two bozos do, we’d declare them psychotic and change our phone numbers. In the movie world, though, it’s almost flattering for a man to use our country’s multi-million dollar satellite system to gather intel that will help them figure out how to win the girl. And I’m good with that as long as it makes me laugh.
So you tell me, are the critics right to pan McG‘s latest Valentine’s Day effort, or did you laugh enough to buy the Blu-Ray later on? I look forward to seeing your comments.
Let’s face it, the only thing “mysterious” about this cutesy sequel to 2008’s $100M+ adventure to the center of the Earth is the near total failure to explain the absence of “Uncle Trevor” (Brendan Fraser) – short of a one-liner about too many people bailing out on young Sean Anderson, reprised by Josh Hutcherson (RV, Bridge to Terabithia). Okay, and how did Liz Anderson, young Sean’s mom, suddenly transform from blue-eyed blond-haired Jane Wheeler into brown-eyed brunette Kristin Davis of Sex and the City fame? And what happened to all that money young Sean and Uncle Trevor returned with from their first Journey? (Did Uncle Trev split with the dough?) Liz and her new honey, Hank (Dwayne Johnson, more Toothfairy than Walking Tall here), are living in a terribly small Ohio home for a couple with access to the giant diamonds Sean stuffed into his backpack a few years before.
Of course, none of that really mattered to the 7-year-old perched on an unnecessary booster seat next to me as she stuffed her face with popcorn and Welches’ Fruit Snacks. This PG fantasy about giant butterflies, bee rides and miniature sharks was right up her alley. And I must admit that I laughed right along with her at the ludicrous sight of Luis Guzman, (who plays the hapless helicopter-pilot/doting father, Gabato), trying to pick up a multi-ton hunk of gold he’d somehow managed to dig out of volcanic soil with his bare hands in less than an hour. Michael Caine in the role of Sean’s long-lost grandfather, Alexander, was good for the occasional laugh as well.
All in all, this sequel, though completely banal and predictable, is exactly what the elementary school set is looking for in a 3D adventure: some not-too-scary thrills and a whole lot of goo and poop jokes. Seven is about as young as I’d recommend, but if you need to get the kids out of the house and it’s too cold or wet outside for the park, this film is an acceptable alternative…IF you catch the matinee. Honestly, I’d rather have gone with the 3D re-release of Star Wars Episode I, Jar Jar and all, but the kid’s still talking about it so I guess my $17 wasn’t completely wasted.
Everyone knows that Disney’s Beauty & the Beast is a classic. It’s one of the last great films animated the old fashioned way, and even in 3D the amazing artwork shines through. In fact, I’ve got to say the beginning sequence is absolutely breathtaking on the giant digital screen, with almost an Avatar-like immersion experience. Goodness knows the 7 year-old princess parked next to me in the theater was completely drawn in from that first musical note, and the intermittent screams of fear and delight coming from her pint-sized peers in the room certainly indicates she was not alone in that experience.
The only negative I saw was a bit of jitter when the main characters were moving quickly, likely due to the automated layering methods failing to fully separate those characters from the background. These moments were few and far between, but if you’re the queasy type, I recommend you hit the john during Gaston’s big self-titled musical number. Otherwise, the translation to modern tech for this old classic was smooth and worth a matinee ticket. It should be even more fun when Finding Nemo hits the third dimension later this year.
One other downside is worth noting: not 30 seconds after Cinemark kindly and quite loudly reminded audience members that texting during the movie is an eviction-worthy offense , the bonehead in front of me whipped out her Droid and proceeded to answer every little beep it uttered. That is, until I tapped her on the shoulder and politely reminded her it cost me twenty bucks to sit there and read her bright pink, black and white conversations. Now if I can just figure out how to effectively deal with the wiggleworms who invariably kick the back of my seat during the best part of the film.
Yeah, I finally decided to set up a real blog. You know, something more than the diminished drivel one is able to post on Facebook. Hopefully you will find what I write interesting, though I can’t guarantee what might spew from this slightly warped, never silent brain of mine on any given day. Nor can I guarantee when I might lose interest or simply forget that I have a blog, though I hope I don’t given the amount of patience it requires to actually set this thing up. However, life happens and sometimes your true priorities preclude piddling time away at the keyboard.
Your fair warning: first the professionals who tested me back in my school days swore I had a high IQ, put me in “TAG” (talented & gifted), then called me “different” and finally slapped me with the “ADHD” label before all was said and done. Although I’m guessing they just didn’t know what to do with someone like me, I’m good with being called all of those things. Just thought you should know that the sum of their assessment means I’ll probably never be on the same subject for very long since pretty much everything piques my interest, even if it’s just for a short time. My sense of humor tends to range from immature and twisted to dry and mordant, and everything in between. I am an equal opportunity offender when it comes to leveraging that oddball sense of humor to express my opinion, though I promise I will never intentionally be cruel or hurtful toward another human being.
Oh, one more fair warning: I will likely shamelessly use this space to brag about my child (the prerogative of any single mom), gush about my company’s products (I wouldn’t work there if I didn’t like them), or share my artistic endeavors. If that offends you, well, sorry; read something else and you’ll likely feel better later.