August 2007

  • If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got a lengthy list of things that you’re planning to get around to doing someday. My own list consists of everything from “get in shape” and “write a novel” to “learn to play the guitar”, “teach my young apprentice how to whistle” and “watch The Sound of Music with Laura”.

    I’m here to tell you that it’s time to get cracking on that list. Why? Because mankind’s days as the dominant species on the planet Earth are numbered.

    It’s not the end of the world; far from it. The world will continue to careen merrily through space long after we’re gone, none the worse for our absence. The world will, however, be a very different place.

    It will be covered with webs.

    Yes, webs; sticky silken strands spun by hideous, creepy, octolimbal 1Not a real word. octocular, 2Ditto. venom-fanged, wall-crawling, skittering-around-to-the-sound-of-plucked-violin-strings arachnids for the purpose of ensnaring their hapless prey.

    The common belief is that the majority of this prey consists of unsuspecting insects, and that’s where things have started to take a shocking—not to mention species-threatening—turn. According to a Newsvine article, a massive, sprawling web apparently constructed by “social cobweb spiders” engulfs a 200-yard section of wilderness trail in a North Texas park.
    Social Spider WebThere is no photo of this monstrous web included with the article—I can only assume that the editor did not wish the sight of such a horrific construct to completely shatter the reader’s sanity—but an irresponsible commentor has seen fit to link to an article on the Texas Entomology website that contains just such a photo. I include a thumbnail of that photograph here, as well as links to both the Social Spider article and the full-sized photograph. The thumbnail does not show sufficient detail to damage the psyche and I trust that my readers—having been adequately forewarned and being possessed of exceptional strength of will and psychological fortitude—can judge for themselves whether the horror of this spectacle will be sufficient to unhinge them.

    Lest the reader adopt the mistaken belief that this phenomenon is limited to Texas, a state in which “bigger” has transcended mere adjectivity 3Faced with the complete extinction of homo sapiens I have allowed myself some leeway with the English language. I do this without apology or regret. and become a full-fledged religion, I must disclose that I have witnessed similiar phenomena (albeit to a somewhat lesser degree) right here in northeast Ohio. Just last week I marveled (and was concurrently revulsed by) a silken structure that stretched from the railing of my deck to the eave of my house, a distance of perhaps fifteen feet. More recently, one or more spiders—moving with the stealth and speed of tiny, eight-legged ninja—made several attempts to ensnare me in my own kitchen, stringing their invisible death ropes across the room in multiple locations so as to bind my head.

    Fortunately, I have survived these attempts on my life, which I can only assume were as pre-emptive as they were inadequate. The arachnids may be working together, but—at least here in Ohio—their organizational skills are not yet sufficient to mount a full-scale assault on humanity.

    There are approximately 40,000 species of spiders spinning their webs across all regions of the globe, including the Arctic. There is nowhere to run; nowhere to hide. Should the behavior of the spiders in Texas spread to the rest of the world, the human race is doomed.

    1 Not a real word.
    2 Ditto.
    3 Faced with the complete extinction of homo sapiens I have allowed myself some leeway with the English language. I do this without apology or regret.
  • Podcast: Volcanicast for week ending 25 August 2007


    If you’re curious about what people have been searching for on the Google, you should visit Google’s hot trends website. If you want to hear three guys talking about what people have been searching for, you should listen to Volcanicast. It’s just that simple.

    This week: (Donkey) Kong, the 8,328th Wonder of the World; yes, we call this archaeology; Lifetime, Television for Women; supermersibles and Weekend at Fidel’s.

    Volcanicast is intended for mature audiences. Because diplomacy is what we wrap our bombs in.

  • Writing: Untitled Turf War Story


    “Where do you think you’re going?”

    Aw, crap, I think. I don’t need this right now.

    There are three of them, all dressed alike. Gang colors. I’m on the edge of Deuce territory.

    “Maybe you didn’t hear me,” the leader says.

    “Look,” I say, my voice firm but non-threatening. I don’t want this to escalate; the last thing we need is a turf war. “I just want to use the restroom.”

    “You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?” The leader smiles and I realize I’ve never seen him before. That explains a lot.

    “Back off,” I say, letting a hint of aggression creep into my tone. “This is neutral territory, or didn’t your Deuce buddies tell you that?”

    The leader glances back at his cronies; they just shrug. They’re all new, and the guy I’m staring down may be the big dog of the three but he’s clearly just another flunky trying to make an impression. More than likely the next guy up on the food chain sent him out here as a joke.

    While they’re trying to figure out their next move, I give them a once over: all khakis and cornflower polo shirts and some kind of bargain bin loafers; all wearing their badges with the ID photos turned in so I can’t see their names; all with last year’s cell phone hanging from their belts right next to their equally-outdated pagers. Strictly minor league. They may outnumber me, but I can take them without breaking a sweat.

    The leader straightens to his full height. He’s got maybe a half an inch and easily thirty pounds on me. “Just turn around and get out of here,” he says, his bravado wearing a little thin around the edges. “Go use your own restroom.”

    “Third floor restroom’s closed,” I say, narrowing my eyes. “But you already knew that didn’t you?”

    They all flinch as I reach for my hip. They may be younger, but I’m faster; I’ve got my cell out before any of them can clear their bulky holsters.

    “What you apparently don’t know,” I say, tapping the stylus rapidly on the screen, “is that according to the Interfloor Facilities Closure Treaty of 1999, all washrooms in the building are neutral territory and no one can be refused entry to any restroom while their home facilities are closed for cleaning and/or remodeling.”

    I flip the screen around so they can see the document I’ve pulled off the corporate network. They all stare, slack-jawed, and I know they’re less interested in the Treaty than they are in my shiny smartphone. After a moment they back off, retreating wordlessly to their cubicles.

    I holster my cell and push through the door into the second floor mens room. The confrontation was annoying, but something else is nagging at the back of my mind. The ambush was a little too convenient to be coincidence. How did those three know the third floor washroom was closed for cleaning? Two possibilities occur to me, both equally unpleasant: either the Deuces have an inside man in the facilities crew or someone on the third floor is feeding them information.

    Washing my hands, I mull over both possibilities. A Deuce in the facilities crew would be bad news for all the Treys, myself included; but a mole inside the Treys would be much, much worse.

    The hand-dryer is still whirring as I leave the washroom. I need to make a few phone calls and call in some favors. One way or another, I’ve got a war to stop.

  • Coffeestuff: Sweet and Creamy


    I ordered two coffees from Dunkin Donuts this morning: a large and an extra-large, both with double cream and double sugar. I watched the girl behind the counter pour a quarter-cup of half-and-half into both cups, then put eight heaping teaspoons of sugar into the large.

    Wow, I thought. That’s a lot of sugar.

    Then she put ten heaping teaspoons of sugar into the extra-large cup.

    The extra-large, of course, was mine. Yes, there was still room for coffee in the cup, but a comment from a co-worker who likened my beverage to a “coffee milkshake” got me wondering if I could convince the Dunkin Donuts/Baskin-Robbins down the street to put three scoops of vanilla ice cream into an extra-large cup and then top it off with coffee.

    Or I could just stop drinking coffee altogether.

  • Podcast: Volcanicast for week ending 17 August 2007


    Due to an unfortunate technical snag, there is no evidence that Wesley, Bob, Chris and I gathered in Planet Retcon Radio Studio 1C for three long, arduous and, yes, heartbreaking hours last night to discuss the volcanic Google searches for the past week.

    It might have been (with the aid of extensive editing and a Sherpa guide) the best episode of Volcanicast ever almost committed to ones and zeros. Alas, the world will never know.

    On the bright side, we probably won’t be sued by PURE.This week.

    I think it’s safe to say that a valuable lesson has been learned.

    Just not by me.

  • Writing: I Am Such a PC Geek


    Lacking anything particularly interesting to talk about today, I present a villanelle I wrote way back in January of 2002; it was the result of an at-work discussion of structured poetry (haiku, sonnets and villanelles in particular).

    I Am Such a PC Geek

    I am such a PC geek
    There’s no bigger geek than me 1This is just as big a lie today as it was in 2002, but I allowed myself some creative leeway in terms of the magnitude of my geekery.
    Quite fluent in computer speak

    All my conversations reek
    of SCSI, RAID and IDE 2Pronounced “scuzzy, raid and eye-dee-ee”, of course.
    I am such a PC geek

    Let me take a little peek
    at your root directory
    (quite fluent in computer speak)

    I can plug that mem’ry 3Originally “memory”, but as I was typing it out today I realized I could improve the meter by borrowing a tricky from heav’nly hymns. leak
    and degauss your CRT 4This one (along with SCSI) makes me realize how dated the poem is. Flatscreen LCD monitors have come into prevalence over cathode ray tubes (and SCSI seems to have largely fallen by the wayside). … Continue reading
    I am such a PC geek

    Install, configure, patch and tweak
    and transfer files by FTP 5I’m not especially fond of this line because the previous line ends with “and tweak” and this one begins with “and”. It could stand a bit of tweaking (har!), but I … Continue reading
    (quite fluent in computer speak)

    If you can’t find the any key
    don’t bother trying to talk to me
    I am such a PC geek
    quite fluent in computer speak

    1 This is just as big a lie today as it was in 2002, but I allowed myself some creative leeway in terms of the magnitude of my geekery.
    2 Pronounced “scuzzy, raid and eye-dee-ee”, of course.
    3 Originally “memory”, but as I was typing it out today I realized I could improve the meter by borrowing a tricky from heav’nly hymns.
    4 This one (along with SCSI) makes me realize how dated the poem is. Flatscreen LCD monitors have come into prevalence over cathode ray tubes (and SCSI seems to have largely fallen by the wayside). Perhaps the entire poem should be rewritten every five years or so to integrate new acronyms and initialisms. Even better, perhaps I should make it a series of poems, with this version being 1.1 and pentennial (which should mean “five years”, even if it doesn’t) rewrites incrementing the version number.
    5 I’m not especially fond of this line because the previous line ends with “and tweak” and this one begins with “and”. It could stand a bit of tweaking (har!), but I don’t want to lose the “FTP”.
  • Volcanicast is a weekly roundup of the search terms Google ranks “Volcanic” on their trends site. We don’t guarantee that our discussion of the search terms will be informative, insightful or even intelligent, but we do guarantee that we’ll at least mention each of the “Volcanic” terms on a given day.

    If you haven’t checked out last week’s episode (because I forgot to announce it), there’s a download link below. Chris Miller and I were unable to co-host, but Bob and Wesley brought in a very special guest host: Alaska senator Ted “A series of tubes” Stevens! Topics covered included Winnie Cooper, the unfortunate passing of radio host Tom Snyder, ice cubes you won’t find in your freezer, and the usual roundup of song lyric game shows and other natural disasters.

    In this week’s show, we’re at full power again. That’s right, the Fantastic Four are back in front of the microphones with seven days of scintillating search terms! On deck this week: 50-foot free falls, Denzel Washington, pin-up girls, pharmaceutically-assisted home runs, teachers in space and four grown men drooling over Anne Hathaway.

    Volcanicast is intended for mature audiences. Because mommy and daddy use bad language when they fight.

  • Podcast Stuff: The 2007 Parsec Awards


    I can only assume that some clerical error has led to The NanoMonkeys being one of the finalists for the 2007 “Best Writing-related Podcast” Parsec Award.

    The NanoMonkeys, which ran all through November of 2006, was a series of short tips and tricks to help NaNoWriMo participants write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. The series featured episodes from Mur Lafferty, Chris Miller, P.G. Holyfield and me.

    There’s a full list of categories and nominees at the Parsec site, but here’s the list of nominees for “Best Writing-related Podcast”, so you can see what we’re up against.

    • The NanoMonkeys. That’s us.
    • DragonHearth. Tracy and Laura Hickman. Between them, Tracy and Laura have authored or co-authored something in the neighborhood of 40 fantasy and science-fiction novels. That we’re on the same list with them simply blows my mind.
    • The Secrets Podcast for Writers. Michael A. Stackpole. Another name that makes me wonder how we could possibly be in the running for this award. Mike has written more than 35 novels, including several Star Wars novels that made The New York Times Bestsellers list.
    • I Should Be Writing. Mur Lafferty. Yes, Mur is nominated for two podcasts in the same category. She’s also got two of the three nominations in the “Best Speculative Fiction (Novella Form)” category and a nomination in the “Best Speculative Fiction (Short Form)” category. She’s been busy.
    • Whispers at the Edge. Phillippa Ballantine. New Zealand native Phillippa Ballantine is the author of Chasing the Bard, a tale of faeries in Elizabethan England, where only a young William Shakespeare can prevent the destruction of the World of the Fey.
  • Bookstuff: Room to Read


    The International House of Johnson, despite its impressive moniker, is not a grand palatial estate. It is, in fact, a three-bedroom, one-and-three-quarter bath, split-level ranch with approximately 1,100 square feet of living spaceI think. My recollection of the months leading up to and immediately following April 2001, when the International House of Johnson was purchased, is somewhat hazy; it is entirely improbable that our Realtor drugged or hypnotized me, but I have no other (interesting) explanation of my inability to dredge up the particulars of the sale from the nigh-infallible storage system that is my memory.. Laura and I have claimed the master bedroom and the second doubles as both Kyle’s room and our guest room. The third bedroom has been converted into an office, as has the family room; the former is used by Laura, the latter by me and the catsRosie and Gil, to the best of my knowledge, don’t perform any clerical work in the office we share. Rather, it is the site of their food and water dishes as well as their litter boxes. My office is their cafeteria and restroom..

    In most respects, the International House of Johnson is the perfect size for two adults, one toddler and two cats. When I want to read, however, the compactness presents something of a problem. There are really only five places within the walls that I can comfortably read: the master bedroom, the living room, my office, and…well, I’ll get to the other two in a bit, but first I want to explain why I don’t do all of my reading in the other three locations.

    The Master Bedroom

    The master bedroom at the International House of Johnson is gloriously appointed with a queen-sized Select Comfort bedMy Sleep Number tends to be in the area of 55 to 65., two night tables, two dressers, two laundry hampers, and no chairs.

    The lack of chairs doesn’t present a problem for bedtime reading, but I’m not particularly fond of lying down while reading during the day, so the master bedroom—while great for sleeping and other nocturnal activities—isn’t the ideal location for daytime or early evening reading.

    The Living Room

    One of the first things we did upon moving into the International House of Johnson was…well, that’s beside the point, but eventually we purchased two new sofas, both of which feature a recliner on each end. Laura and I sit at opposite ends of the north-south sofa when we watch television, while the east-west sofa is generally only used when we have guests.

    My southside recliner is a very nice place to read; just yesterday, while my young apprentice napped and Laura was out shopping, I finished Robert R. McCammon’s The Wolf’s Hour there while sipping Lipton Instant Raspberry Iced Tea.

    Unfortunately, if the television is on, I can’t read in my southside recliner. Whether the television is tuned to The Backyardigans, CSI or Eureka, I am almost entirely incapable of the maintaining focus necessary to ignore the boob tube and concentrate on the printed words marching across the page of a novel. The television is not only a distraction when it is on, but the twenty-plus hours of pre-recorded shows and movies on the TiVo are a temptation even when the idiot box is turned off (not to mention the siren call of the Xbox).

    The Office

    Formerly the family room, my office features a fireplace in one corner and a large, three-paned window that looks out on Laura’s rose garden. It should be a cozy den to which I can retreat for some peaceful solitude when I want to read. Should be, and would be but for a few minor drawbacks:

    1. First and foremost, I share the room with the cats. Take a cozy office family room, add a bowl of cat food, a watering dish and two litter boxes (not to mention two cats) and it becomes something entirely different. The fact that there’s nowhere in the room one can sit and be more than four feet from a litter box is a problem in and of itself; the carpeted floor onto which the cats scatter or track the litter (and food) is another issue all together.
    2. Second, my office is adjacent to the laundry room. The very small laundry room. Laura does a very good job with space management inside the laundry room, but there’s just no room to set up an ironing board in there. Sometimes, the ironing board gets hauled into the living room when it’s needed, but more often than not it is set up in my office.
    3. Finally, there is the matter of the crawlspace. The crawlspace is accessed through the laundry room, which is accessed through my office. Thanks to Laura’s space management in the laundry room, it can be a bit of a chore to get to the crawlspace on a regular basis. Thus, my office serves as a sort of storage purgatory; a place where Christmas decorations and baby clothes linger in cardboard boxes and Rubbermaid containers until I get off my ass, shuffle around the contents of the laundry room so I can get to the crawlspace, and put it all away. This, as you may have gathered, is my own damn fault; more a product of laziness than any true necessity.

    Reading Rooms

    If a man can’t read in his living room, his office or his bedroom, where can he go? That’s where those other two rooms enter into the picture: the master and guest bathrooms.

    Now, I understand that there’s a certain amount of ickiness associated with reading in the bathroom (not that it’s ever hurt the publishers of the Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader series), but I’ve been in plenty of bathrooms that are furnished with a magazine rack, and I often find a copy of The Plain Dealer in the restroom at work, so clearly the practice is not entirely outside the realm of social acceptability.

    That said, I do have my own personal rules as to what I will and will not read in the bathroom:

    1. Books I own. If I purchased it, chances are I’ll read at least part of it in the bathroom. I don’t generally disclose this when loaning my books to other people, but perhaps I should in the future.
    2. Books I’ve borrowed. Under no circumstances do I read borrowed books in the bathroom. This is one reason it takes me so long to read borrowed books.
    3. Library books. I waffled on this one for quite a while, but with the due date for The Wolf’s Hour looming and several hundred pages yet to read, I decided that I would allow myself to read library books in the bathroom. I have a feeling that being read in my bathroom is fairly mild compared to the unpleasant things that have been done to most library books.

    Reading in the bathroom is not without its difficulties. Aside from the obvious desire to maintain a certain degree of hygiene, there is also the problem of blood vessels: after about twenty minutes of reading with my elbows firmly planted just above my knees, both of my feet fall asleep, resulting in a few minutes of post-bathroom pins and needles and the need to “walk it off”.

    Perhaps one day I will devise an alternative solution to sharing my office with Rosie and Gil, enabling me to reclaim the space and make it truly my own again. Until (and probably well beyond) that day, the Reading Rooms will remain open.

    Essay Questions

    1. Where do you do most of your reading?
    2. Do you have a special place set aside just for reading? What type of environment makes for a relaxing, satisfying reading experience?
    3. Do you read in the bathroom? If so, what are your personal bathroom reading rules?
  • Movie Preview: The Last Legion


    The Last Legion

    “Oh!” Laura said as the trailer for The Last Legion came on halfway through another Thursday night rerun of CSI. “Watch this!” I was a little surprised that she’d be interested in yet another retelling of the Arthurian legend1Actually, it’s pre-Arthurian legend. The Last Legion, based on the novel by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, apparently tells the origin story of the sword Excalibur in the last days of the Roman … Continue reading, but three quick flashes revealed the source of her excitement: Colin Firth.

    It’s an interesting change for Mr. Firth, who is often seen in period pieces of an entirely different nature (Pride & Prejudice) or in romantic comedies (Love Actually); the closest he’s come to an action role that I’ve seen is kicking Hugh Grant’s ass in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

    “He should be a bigger star than he is,” Laura says. I tend to agree, but in my case it’s not because the sight of him makes me weak in the knees; he’s just a damn fine actor and it’ll be good to see how he does in a more rough-and-tumble role for a change. Plus, I’m a sucker for movies that explore Arthurian legend. The only one in recent memory that I haven’t seen is First Knight, and only because The Connery Factor wasn’t quite enough to overcome The Gere Factor.

    The Last Legion opens on Friday, 17 August, and I suspect Laura will soon be making arrangements for a sitter.

    1 Actually, it’s pre-Arthurian legend. The Last Legion, based on the novel by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, apparently tells the origin story of the sword Excalibur in the last days of the Roman Empire.