Archive for June 2003
Katharine Hepburn died yesterday, at the age of 96. This is headline news around the world, and for good reason. It’s not quite correct, in my opinion, to call her a Hollywood legend. She didn’t really seem part of it, not bothering with the usual Hollywood vices (drink, drugs, big houses, plastic surgery etc.).
- “Acting is the most minor of gifts and not a very high-class way to earn a living. After all, Shirley Temple could do it at the age of four.”
She used the “star system” to her advantage, and is still the only actress to hold four “Best Actress” Oscars. As well as the cover page of the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), the BBC have a good story.
- “I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done, as long as I enjoyed it at the time.”
The American Film Institute ranks her as the greatest actress of all time, and I can’t say I disagree. We can expect the raft of DVD re-releases to mark this event, but Bringing Up Baby is scheduled for an airing here this coming Friday, and that will be a very good way to remember her. Not that I’m likely to forget.
I had the pleasure, last night, of re-watching the last-but-one episode in the most recent series of E.R., titled When Night Meets Day. It’s the 200th episode they made, and I get the impression that this is the one the producers see as a prime Emmy candidate, since everything about it is not only superior to the rest of the series, it’s superior to most things on TV at the moment.
I won’t describe the storyline, except it’s partly from the point of view of Dr. Carter, who is at this point in real danger of losing it, and the timeline is deliberately warped and non-contiguous to illustrate this. We have aftershocks from the gang warfare of previous days, his beloved grandmother’s funeral was disrupted, the same restaurant appears to catch fire twice, and he treats a Buddhist nun in her last hours, causing him to question everything about his job. By the end of a torrid couple of days he’s ready to drop everything and head off to the Congo civil war to treat patients who really need his help.
By contrast, Dr. Pratt is having a great time, saving patients and having fun, coming into his own as a doctor. He actually gets an appointment elsewhere, but refuses it at the last minute, preferring to stay where he is. Everyone thinks he’s mad, but this is his Day, and Carter’s Night.
It’s technically an excellent production, with jarring shifts in time and perception throwing Carter and us off-balance, and there’s one particular combination of crane tracking shots, cleverly edited together, that had me admiring the kind of technical expertise that you just don’t find in British productions. Even though it’s a TV show, it’s shot on film and benefits from many of the film world’s production values. Well worth watching.
Where the hell has this month gone? It feels like just a couple of days ago that I was in England at that customer’s data centre at 5AM. Now there’s just over a week to go before my holiday, and I honestly can’t wait.
The same customer called in yesterday, about a situation on a different machine to the one I had worked on earlier and had little knowledge of. They scheduled a conference call with Microsoft and ourselves to discuss it, for 3PM. We found out about this at 2PM, at which point I had only heard vague comments about the system: it took another half hour to get some logs from the machine sent to me, leaving me half an hour to try to analyze the situation, nowhere near enough. The conference call was short, and another was scheduled for an hour later, in which I had some more information to offer. No-one was really happy with what I said: it pointed straight back at the customer’s inability to follow the instructions they had asked for and been given.
What really ticked me off was the way the whole affair was managed: it was hardly a new situation, and there was no actual emergency at the time: the situation had been improved by suggestions I made last week, and they were actually implementing suggestions made by Microsoft and ourselves to fix the damage. No, this was a combination of hand-holding and post-mortem; so why was I forced into BAF*1 mode? I didn’t lose it, but I came damned close. A whole afternoon lost to management incompetence?
Then, to add insult to injury, the account manager called me at about 5PM, asking what after-hours support I was going to offer them. The thing is: while the customer is treating these systems as “business critical”, the systems in question aren’t sold as such, they have a standard warranty. They haven’t bought a support contract for these systems either, but they’ve managed to get special treatment, such as my site visit, through a combination of whining and vague threats about future business.
So I wasn’t having any: the account manager’s request fell on deaf ears, despite ten minutes of badgering by phone. If the customer had bought the support contract, they would have people to call, but they didn’t, so they’re on their own. I got the impression he was going to ask for my home phone number; he didn’t, perhaps because I stomped on that idea before it started. Or was I supposed to somehow authorize special support measures and give the customer a back door, bypassing the contract validation process? I don’t know if that can be done; if it can, I don’t care to know how.
I followed it up with a strongly-worded email that got me into an argument with my boss this morning. I managed to placate him, but I think he got the message too; in any case, he had already left by the time the phone call came through last night, and missed all the fun.
I don’t think that I would have had the self-confidence, a few years ago, to put my foot down the way I did. I just have to watch that I don’t go too far in the opposite direction, to the point of arrogance. I’m sure that the account manager thinks I’m a prima donna, but the customer doesn’t. They got all the time I could give them last week, but the situation was under control yesterday, it’s just management incompetence on both sides that led to this artificial emergency. Fine: the customer is carrying the costs, after all, whether it’s the inflated prices we charge – because all this support costs money – or in work lost due to system outages because they can’t RTFM.
*1 BAF = Blue-Arsed Fly. Do I need a holiday, or what?
I may have forgotten to mention, in all the dashing around last week, that my trip to Germany is off: we have new travel restrictions in place for cost reasons, and this trip hardly qualified as essential. Besides, my involvement with Vmware seems to be declining, because of the renewed Storage focus in our department. We knew this was coming, but it’s been arriving in fits and starts, then with a bang, as I found out last week.
I’ll spend the first week of my holiday just pottering around at home, recharging my batteries and catching up on the film backlog that’s built up. Not only do I have several DVDs that I have bought in the last six months and never watched, such as The Big Sleep, I have films such as Cookie’s Fortune and Citizen Kane that I recorded from TV and have put aside for months.
It looks as if I won’t be getting the K5000S synthesizer until I arrive in Scotland in the second week of July. The COD delivery is turning out to be problematic, and I’ve discovered it will be possible to meet up with the seller in Stirling the day before I head up to the Highlands. If I buy it – highly likely, as long as it’s in working order – I’ll take it with me, even if I don’t get a chance to play with it much. It’s quite heavy (15kg), but not too much for my baggage allowance when I return, and I’ll save on carriage costs.
It’s now the height of Summer Time, and it’s not getting dark before 11PM. This is playing havoc with sleep patterns, and I’ve been awake until well after 1AM every night since last week. This happens whether or not I got up for work at 4AM (last Wednesday) or 7AM, or could lie in till 10AM at the weekend. As a result I’m slightly zonked out as I write this, despite stealing an extra half-hour this morning and being a little late for work.
My job does not require clockwatching, but that’s a disadvantage in some ways: I’m not penalized if I arrive late, but neither am I rewarded if I need to stay late, which is far more common. I was working late last night, but that’s not going to happen tonight. No way.
In the next week or so I should be taking delivery of a Kawai K5000S synthesiser. I’ve never owned a proper synthesiser before, the closest I’ve come before was a Casio home keyboard that had some synthesiser-type control over waveforms and a filter. More recently, I’ve been working with virtual synthesisers, mostly two programs from Native Instruments:
- FM7 starts as a digital recreation of the Yamaha DX7, which can use original DX7 programs, but it then goes much further. Some additional features were not possible with 80′s technology, e.g. total flexibility in modulation, or not considered suitable for a digital synth, such as the distortion and the analogue-type filter.
- Reaktor is effectively a synth construction kit, allowing me to put together any combination of components that will get me the sound I want. This is the platform on which I built the whippet synthesizer.
With both these synths, real-time control will be a real help, since moving things on screen with a mouse takes too long and is too clumsy for live use. While it is possible to buy a separate MIDI controller box with knobs on it, all the models I’ve looked at seem to be lacking in some way or too expensive for what they do. The K5000S has some excellent real-time control facilities, including a 16-knob control bank and a much better quality keyboard than the cheap “master” keyboard I have currently. This is all in addition to the primary reason for buying a K5000S: its Additive Synthesis engine, which will need a little explaining.
Additive synthesis is a way of constructing sound by building it up from its fundamental harmonic elements, i.e. sine waves of different frequencies and amplitudes. A Hammond organ, believe it or not, is a primitive additive synthesiser since, by manipulating its drawbars, you are adding tones together to build up a complex waveform. The K5000 series uses digital signal processors to do this, but with far more precision and detail than any organ or analogue synthesiser could ever manage.
This is the opposite of the subtractive synthesis found in most synthesisers, in which the filter is a primary influence on the final sound. Whatever the sound source is used there, the filter selectively boosts or cuts frequency ranges. The SOS review (see below) of the K5000W, the first in the K5000 family, describes the differences by analogy with the visual arts: sampling as photography, subtractive synthesis as sculpture, while additive synthesis, by the same analogy, is like oil painting. Painting with sound: where have I heard that phrase before?
All synthesised sound can sound boring if the method used to produce the sound is “static” over time, unchanging. A Hammond organ is rarely seen without a huge rotating “Leslie” speaker attached, or electronic simulation thereof, to add some life to the results. My own attempts at additive synthesis by calculation, over the years, weren’t very interesting because of this, but the K5000 engine has been designed with the modulation facilities to get around this. It isn’t the most fashionable of instruments – they were only made for a while during 1996-7 – but they have a cult following, and are only going to get more expensive as time goes by.
Sound On Sound magazine have two useful reviews: the K5000W is a different model in the same family, but the review includes a good explanation of the Additive Synthesis engine common to all models. The K5000S review covers the model I’m buying, with more on performance features such as the excellent Arpeggiator. The SonicState page for the K5000S has mostly positive user reviews, some quite comprehensive, a few of the “it rocks | sucks” school of (un)thought.
Kawai were to Additive as Moog were to analogue synthesis and Yamaha were to FM synthesis; the pioneer in practical applications for a technology that would otherwise have stayed academic, unusable in a live musical setting. What I’ve heard of the K5000S so far sounds very lively, while more recent reviews I’ve seen have friendly warnings about potential speaker damage, while extolling its benefits as a creative instrument. I don’t mind admitting it also appeals to the math geek in me, but there’s no shame in spending hours playing with sounds, as long as I get to use them live or on record too. We’ll see.
The days are getting longer. I don’t just mean the daylight – we have the Summer Solstice on Sunday, I believe – but my working days are too long too. Another major case is following close on the heels of the last one – which isn’t actually over yet, since more testing needs to be done, but it’s looking a lot better. I’ve given them a lot to think about, and they haven’t bothered me for the last two days.
The other case is looking equally stupid, of course. When I was asked for my opinion earlier today, by someone in the same company, the response that came back was something like “I’m wary of accepting your advice”. OK, be wary – that’s understandable – but don’t expect me to give you guarantees.
In this new case, the problem lies somewhere between the servers and the storage, which are linked together by hardware from four different manufacturers – a combination I have no first-hand experience with, and have a snowball’s chance in hell of replicating here.
They’re looking for complications where there aren’t any. I like complications – they can make life interesting – but this is business, not life, and business complications are an expense both we and the customer could happily do without. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
The following is from a Jabber conversation with a colleague from Moscow a few minutes ago:
- [17:41]<comrade> Hello, is (manager) left completely?
- [17:41]<me> Yes, he’s completely left.
- [17:42]<me> He must be left, because he is never right.
- [17:42]<comrade> not good to tell it about manager…. he’s always right )
- [17:43]<me> Oh. Now you tell me…
- [17:43]<comrade> this is my opinion
- [17:43]<comrade> ))
- [17:43]<me> Left or right, he’ll be back tomorrow.
- [17:43]<comrade> agree
- [17:43]<me> He might be front tomorrow, too.
I can’t say I’m losing it: that would imply that I actually had it in the first place.
Well, I was wrong about the problem, because what they were doing is a workable setup, though not one I would choose to implement. I had the chance to clear that up before I went near the customer, so my blushes were mostly spared. The trip can be called a success, from a technical perspective; not only did I get the specific system going, I also got to the bottom of an intermittent problem that had plagued the customer for over a year. That it took this long to get this kind of result does not auger well, and gives the problem a political aspect which I can thankfully surf over, not having been involved until now.
I didn’t see much of the hotel, since I checked in at 20:00 and was out by 04:30, with barely time for a shower and a room service pizza-and-beer combo before sleep. What the pizza lacked in quality, it more than made up in quantity – a good thing, since I had nothing but coffee for the next 21 hours, 12 of which were spent holding the customer’s hand (figuratively) while they went through the instructions they already had. We followed the procedure carefully, and it all worked.
The document is the kind I dislike: it gives the customer step-by-step instructions, but it doesn’t explain why they’re taking some of the steps, and it is not clear enough on a couple of crucial points. It didn’t bother me – I’m used to a more, um, flexible approach to these things – but I’m probably going to have to fix the document myself. In one place, where the document was unclear, they could have just read the instructions on the screen in plain English. I worked in that kind of environment years ago, and it’s now even clearer why I didn’t fit in.
So there I was, in a huge shed in the middle of nowhere that happens to be filled with computers and storage, which they call the second-largest data centre in Europe. At 5AM it’s still deafening, between the computers and the cold air blasting up from the floor. I had to organize things around that time, the start of a one hour window during which the running server could be taken down.
Then later, the political meeting, in which an angry manager tried to get me to explain all the problems they’ve had in the past year. Sorry, miss, my name’s not Hairy Pothead, I can’t turn the clock back. This is what you get for skimping on costs and not using your heads, frankly. The fact that this product is sold as as a “turnkey” solution is part of the problem – but it’s only turnkey when it’s doing its own thing. If you attach it to a huge external storage system, as they did, it will react differently, much as a car will handle differently if you attach a huge trailer to the bumper.
By 18:00 today, when I got on the plane back to Dublin, I’d been up for fourteen hours, most of them hot, and I got a few strange looks and wrinkled noses from other passengers. Tough. (No deodorant could survive a day like that, no matter what the commercials say.) I’m off to bed next, and don’t think I’ll have much trouble sleeping.
One more thing: we have a new travel ban imposed, for cost reasons, so my trip to Germany at the end of this month has been cancelled. Never mind, I still have two weeks off, which are not negotiable.
At the airport this morning I had a little time to go over the reports sent to me yesterday, by the customer I’m visiting today. So, there I was, about to get on a plane, and I think I found the answer to the problem, making the trip unnecessary. Never mind, I’m currently writing this from Warrington, near Manchester.
It’s nice to get out of the office, and I have a night in a four star hotel, all courtesy of the company. Even if we resolve the problem today, I’ll still use all the time, perhaps on “proactive” work or even giving informal training. Gotta go…
Have you ever confused a dream with life? Or stolen something when you have the cash? Have you ever been blue? Or thought your train moving was sitting still? Maybe I was just crazy.
– Girl, Interrupted: the first words of Winona Ryder’s voiceover. Hmmmm…
One of Winona Ryder’s better recent films, but Girl, Interrupted was better known for Angelina Jolie’s Oscar-winning performance as the disturbed ringleader in the girl’s ward of the sanatorium. A “chick flick”, of course, and none of the girls are really crazy, at least no crazier than the rest of us. I won’t finish it.
I watched a different film on BBC last night, and I was thrown off by the absence of commercial breaks, which I’m used to by now. They’re the reason I record films more often than not, and fast-forward through the commercials (and, occasionally, parts of the film). I’ve become quite good at not watching commercials, judging when to stop by the patterns of colour in the corner of my eye. I have a funny feeling that the producers of commercials test the effectiveness of their message at high speeds, but fast-forward does mean I’m not exposed to corrosive jingles.
Who produces the most offensive marketing? Here are some names that bug me in particular:
Danone are a European consortium who are best known for their dairy products, although that it is not all that they do now. They first came to my attention as purveyors of “active” yoghurts – a marketing category which somehow led to these tiny “active” health drinks. You have probably seen these on the supermarket shelves, little watered-down yoghurts that are promoted with claims of improved digestion, increased energy, and increased immunity to diseases.
Danone’s marketing tactics for these products have been so aggressive that I am constantly amazed that they get away with it. First we have the annoying vocal “hook” designed to get under your skin. The bacteria in the drink have been given a vaguely healthy name – “essensis” or such – which is totally arbitrary, of course. Then we have the commercials targeted at mothers, implying that they are leaving their children unnecessarily exposed to illness, unless they are fed an “active” drink every day. The general commercials portray ordinary working people as walking disease machines who need to drink one every day just to stay on their feet.
“What next?” I wondered, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they created cartoon superheroes, who get their super powers from the product!” Well, that’s exactly what they did, I had just missed it because I hadn’t watched any children’s TV. Danone have spent a huge amount of money portraying their active yoghurt drinks as a panacea for all people, and even had marketers at train stations and traffic junctions during a product launch last year, giving away free samples. Not bad for watered-down yoghurt, a product category that did not exist a decade ago.
I’m aware of the need for bacterial activity in one’s digestive systems, and this is a natural state of affairs. The bacteria breed naturally, so why would they need to be topped up from the outside (assuming the new batch survives your stomach)? The only reason I can think of is the overuse of antibiotics, both directly, through over-prescription, and indirectly, since antibiotics are used to increase growth in animals heading for the butcher. Another story entirely.
I find Vodafone offensive for two main reasons. The first is the sheer volume and pervasiveness of the marketing. When they took over Eircell, the former Eircom (Irish Government) cell phone subsidiary, they painted Ireland red, taking over trains, planes, and automobiles, the airwaves, and whole sides of buildings. They even had “marketing teams” invading offices such as mine, pushing their wares.
They sponsor the Ferrari Formula One team, which costs them hundreds of millions of dollars a year. They have also spent billions on “3G” licenses. And you wonder why your mobile phone costs are so high? I have never used Vodafone, though I used their competitor’s (Digifone / O2) service previously. (I stopped using even that, over a year ago, my handset now lies in a drawer.) They didn’t try to compete with Vodafone on price – why should they? The two companies have the UK and Ireland markets sewn up.
Vodafone’s greatest insult is in their attempt to hijack the phrase “how are you” for their advertising. I imagine some marketing lawyer came up with this idea, since it’s a common phrase which can’t be the subject of copyright or trademark protection. Eventually, whenever someone asks you how you are, you will think of Vodafone. What a marketing coup! They need to be careful, since this, combined with the expense, raises the possibility of a customer backlash. I can’t wait.
Two recent commercials have featured stars from Friends – a frankly perplexing development. One has Jennifer Aniston looking shocked when some other guy grabs the Heinekens that were out of her reach; the other has Courtney Cox-Arquette hogging the Coca-Cola for herself, rather than share it with her husband David Arquette. Come on, people – as if $1 million per episode isn’t enough?
Is it any surprise that these are all multinational corporations? I have read books such as Naomi Klein’s No Logo and Michael Moore’s Downsize This, and others, so I’m familiar with the concept of Globalization and its consequences, but I’m wary of classifying all Globalization as evil. (By the end of No Logo, Klein appears to be advocating a socialist world government to “level the playing field”.) Globalization seems, to me, to be a natural consequence of relaxed trade barriers and the increasing availability of international travel and shipping. I can recommend those books, even though I don’t find myself agreeing with the authors’ conclusions in all respects.
The prime mover behind globalization, we all agree, is the high cost of people. Not just salaries, the additional costs include taxes, pensions, facilities, even transport. The costs involved can far outweigh the costs of obtaining and transporting the materials in the products, and so the manufacturers naturally go where the costs are lowest and the profits are largest. This is obligatory, especially in the USA, where failure to maximize profits can lead to a class action lawsuit by shareholders and a SEC investigation.
The infamous maquiladora system, of Mexican sweatshops producing products for the American market, is a good example. Most maquiladoras are close to the border, so the lower cost of labour is the prime economic reason for their existence. Is it exploitation? The Mexican government, which is supposed to protect the interests of the workers, doesn’t think so: the companies enjoy tax breaks, in the interests of keeping the factories, and the jobs, in Mexico.
The process needs to be managed, of course, and the corporations involved need to be aware of the effect they’re having on people and economies, but (unlike Klein and Moore) I don’t think government regulation will help here. If individual countries can be taken advantage of in this way, what does that say about the countries? In a democracy, people can make informed choices about the kind of work and the conditions they do it under, and I’m not at all surprised that the victims of Globalization are workers under harsh or incompetent regimes.
What effect will international labour regulations have on the dictatorships behind the exploitation? Very little; at best, the employers will just stay away. This is what happened in the USA, prompting the exporting of the jobs in the first place. If there was nowhere to run to, the multinationals might just learn to live with the needs of their workers.
My presence here in Ireland is the result of Globalization, since the former Compaq opened up a EMEA-wide support centre to take advantage of Ireland’s relatively high education level and low wages. Others, such as HP, Dell and EMC, went even further, opening up manufacturing plants too. EMC may not be a widely-known name, but their Storage products once dominated the market. (I work in that field for HP, which was largely responsible for cutting EMC down to size.) EMC’s contribution, to the Cork area in particular, was recognized by the appointment of EMC founder Richard Egan as US Ambassador to Ireland a few years ago, though he has since retired.
As time went by, and the workforce became more accustomed to higher living standards, inflation kicked in. Ireland has had the highest inflation rates in Europe for several years now, particularly in house prices, which are quite insane in the Dublin area. Because the infrastructure is so poor, houses near public transport are vastly overpriced, and the roads are clogged. The confusion caused by the Euro currency change was used by retail businesses as a cover for inflation-busting price increases, despite government regulations to the contrary.
This why I don’t view my stay here in Ireland as permanent: the same corporation that brought me here could just as easily leave, since the business is slowly falling out of profitability. I will probably go back to England, though we also have offices in the Netherlands that are a possible destination for me. In general, though, there are two main destinations for work that is uneconomical in the USA or Western Europe. I will use the musical instrument industry as an example of what is happening to manufacturing:
- The Fender corporation started making guitars near Los Angeles in the 1940s, and this was the primary centre until the 80′s. They introduced the “Squier” range in the 80′s for cheap instruments manufactured in Japan and Korea. The Squier range is still made in Korea (I believe), but instruments made in Japan have increased in quality and now carry the Fender label. We now see mention of Japanese Stratocasters, Mexican Telecasters, and the USA range is the most expensive.
- Japan itself has come on in leaps and bounds, with Yamaha and Ibanez in particular enjoying success with their original instrument designs. (I would still like a Yamaha SG2000 some day.)
- The Czech Republic is an increasingly popular destination for smaller instrument manufacturers such as Spector and Ernie Ball Musicman, and more will surely follow to other parts of Eastern Europe.
- Only the smallest custom shops are still in their native countries. Carvin might look like an exception, since they’re USA-based, but they assemble guitars from parts manufactured elsewhere. Even Peavey, whose founder Hartley Peavey was once outspoken against the exporting of musical instrument manufacturing, has succumbed to economic realities.
Scotland also enjoyed some of the benefits of the Celtic Tiger – but these are vanishing. Compaq closed its PC assembly facility in Erskine and sent the business to the Czech Republic. IBM manufactured hard drives there, but they have now pulled out of the hard drive business altogether. Eastern Europe now appears to offer the same advantages that Ireland offered less than a decade ago: educated people who can manufacture decent products at a low price.
The same can not be said of “information worker” jobs such as mine, though, since English is not widely spoken in Eastern Europe. India is the destination of choice, since its post-Colonial school system produces large numbers of English-speakers, even though higher education is still rare. Call centres are compared by cost per call, and programming projects by cost per line of code, both of which mean that India is getting a lot of work. Quality, or lack of, is a hidden cost that does not factor into such calculations until it is too late, but I don’t think it’s an accident that we have Indian visitors in our building at the moment. It’s all heading up the Ganges.
Earlier this evening I composed a strongly-worded yet businesslike letter to my credit card bank, about the anomalous transactions on my account. They seem to have reacted selectively to my phone call two weeks ago: they quickly changed the account number and issued me a new card, yet the forms they promised have not arrived. The transactions are still on my account, and I’m paying interest and insurance on them. OK, it’s time to go on the offensive. The letter will be printed out and sent in the morning, and I’m lining up my guns in case they are uncooperative.
I’m something of a fan of The West Wing, so much so that it’s noticeable to others and I’ve even been asked to record episodes. The quality of the drama writing is up there with the best I’ve ever seen in film or TV, and I would think so even if it hadn’t dominated the Emmys since its inception. I’ve just finished watching the last episode in the latest series – only four weeks behind the USA, since this is a flagship series for RTÉ.
To describe it as a double-edged cliff-hanger would hardly do it justice. Not only has the President’s daughter been kidnapped, but he then invokes the 25th Amendment, temporarily handing over power to the Speaker of the House – since the Vice-President had just resigned and had not been replaced. The latter may not sound bad, but the Speaker is the political enemy of the President and his staff, and is played by John Goodman, who hits the White House like a wrecking ball and has the other staff shrinking in their shoes within minutes of coming through the door. Cliff-hanger might not be the right term, the final scenes may better be described as Holy Crap moments.
The text of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, from 1967, covers what is to be done in the event the President is unable to discharge his or her duties. If we look up the text, we get an idea of what might happen next. Once this current crisis is resolved, he will declare that he is fit to resume office. The problem is that the language is vague and open to interpretation, political or dramatic.
It’s conceivable that the Speaker might try to lock the President out of office, if he can get Congress to declare the President unfit – which is a possibility, since a) this fictional President suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and b) the opposition are the majority in Congress.
As an aside, the presence of Goodman gives some idea of the future of The West Wing – Goodman may be best known for comedy roles such as The Flintstones or Blues Brothers 2000, but no-one’s laughing now. He’d simply be too big (literally and dramatically) for the Oval Office on a full time basis, I think, so The West Wing may not carry on after the current administration departs.