All posts by Kris Johnson

Spider on My Head: Day 2

To paraphrase Henry Jones, Sr., my situation has not improved. Having survived yesterday’s encounter with an arachnid in my bed, I am somewhat dismayed to learn that certain varieties of spiders are attracted to the minty-fresh scent of AquaFresh Extra Whitening toothpaste.

Art by Natalie Metzger (AKA, The Fuzzy Slug). Click to embiggenify.

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FUN FACT: You may have heard that the average person unwittingly swallows eight spiders each year while he or she sleeps. Not only is this untrue, it was made up by PC Professional columnist Lisa Holst as an example of silly things people believe just because they read them on the Internet.

Spider on My Head: Day 1

Remember when my son was practicing for April Fool’s Day last year? Shortly after I blogged about it, I commissioned Natalie Metzger (AKA The Fuzzy Slug) to do a series of drawings featuring my worst fear: a spider on my head. Here is the first of the series, wherein I wake to an unpleasant realization.

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FUN FACT: A jumping spider spun its web on the brass headboard of my bed when I was a teenager. Every other variety of spider commonly found in the Great Lakes region creeps me right the hell out, but the jumping spider doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Even so, I probably wouldn’t react well to waking up with one on my forehead.

The Books of 2011

Here are the novels I read in 2011:

  1. The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, Book 2) by Steig Larsson. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  2. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Millennium, Book 3)by Steig Larsson. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  3. Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, Book 1) by Cherie Priest. Kindle. 

     ★★★☆☆ 

  4. The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 1) by Patrick Rothfuss. Audio, read by Nick Podehl. 

     ★★★★★ 

  5. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Hardcover. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  6. The Buntline Special: A Weird West Tale by Mike Resnick. Hardcover.

     ★★½☆☆ 

  7. Bite Me: A Love Story (San Francisco Vampires, Book 3) by Christopher Moore. Audio, read by Susan Bennett. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  8. Midnight Riot (Rivers of London, Book 1) by Ben Aaronovitch. Kindle. 

     ★★★☆☆ 

  9. Dead Until Dark (A Sookie Stackhouse Novel) by Charlaine Harris. Audio, read by Johanna Parker.

     ★★★☆☆ 

  10. Changeless (The Parasol Protectorate, Book 2) by Gail Carriger. Kindle. 

     ★★★☆☆ 

  11. Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, Book 1) by James S. A. Corey. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  12. Room by Emma Donoghue. Hardcover. 

     ★★★★★ 

  13. 007: Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver. Hardcover. 

     ★★½☆☆ 

  14. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  15. Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert. Audio, read by Edward Herrmann. 

     ★★★★★ 

  16. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore. Kindle. 

     ★★★☆☆ 

  17. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Paperback. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  18. Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay, Book 1) by Chris Wooding. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  19. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, Book 1) by Suzanne Collins. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  20. The Black Lung Captain (Tales of the Ketty Jay, Book 2) by Chris Wooding. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

  21. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Kindle. 

     ★★★½☆ 

  22. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2) by Suzanne Collins. Kindle. 

     ★★★★☆ 

Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert (cover)Best of the lot was probably Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert, thanks in no small part to Edward Herrmann’s excellent narration; Herrmann doesn’t sound like Roger Ebert, but manages to capture his voice nonetheless.

The best fiction is tough to nail down. Though I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in the last week of 2010, I think Steig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy takes the prize. If I had to choose a single book, it would be a toss-up between Room by Emma Donoghue and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Biggest disappointment? That’s a tie between The Buntline Special and 007: Carte Blanche; the former felt sketchy to me—more like an outline than a full-blown novel—while the latter was largely satisfying but I thought Deaver relied too much on cleverness by omission.

2012 has begun with a monster of a book: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, which will be followed by Mockingjay, the finale of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. I’m also listening to Under the Dome by Stephen King (another monster, clocking in at over 30 hours of audio).

What was the best book you read last year? The worst? What’s the first book you read in 2012?

The Kindle Fire: Initial Thoughts

Some thoughts on the new Kindle Fire from Amazon:

  1. The display is bright, colorful and crisp. It is also very reflective, which means the Fire isn’t going to become my primary ereader; I’ll still be using my Kindle 3 (AKA Kindle Keyboard) for that.
  2. The apps are, in general, very good. The Hulu+ and Words With Friends apps don’t adjust to different screen orientations, but that’s a fairly minor quibble. The Comixology app displays comics quite nicely, but it would be nice to be able to manually adjust/pan the zoom window.
  3. I purchased two games through the Amazon app store, ((The Kindle interface to the app store is fine, but searching the Amazon site for apps can be perilous. I’ve seen several Kindle books pretending to be games (complete with images from the actual games), clearly intended to dupe people into shelling out three dollars for a misleading product. Hopefully Amazon will bring the hammer down on this soon.)) Fruit Ninja and Plants vs. Zombies; both are brilliant examples of how to create fun, engaging games with a touchscreen interface.
  4. The Amazon Silk web browser is better than I expected.
  5. Video playback is very nice. I streamed Conan the Barbarian through Amazon’s Instant Video store and have watched a few clips on Hulu+. In both cases, the video was sharp and the audio (especially through headphones) was clear.
  6. I’m not a fan of the AC adapter. The Fire has heftier power requirements than previous Kindles, so rather than a USB cable with a snap-on AC adapter, the charger included with the Fire is a one-piece, transformer-style adapter. It’s not huge by any means, but it’s definitely more bulky than the USB cable I’ve been carrying around for my Kindle Keyboard. The Fire can be charged with the Kindle 3’s USB cable, but it appears to draw more power than the USB port provides, so the Fire must be turned off and charges at a trickle. ((I’ve seen estimates of 9 hours to fully charge from a USB port, versus about 2 hours to charge with the AC adapter. I’ve not yet determined whether the snap-on AC adapter for the Kindle 3—which is smaller than the Fire’s transformer—can be used with the Fire; I hope it can.))

Sail

These three videos all feature the song “Sail” by AWOLNATION, but I think they’ve got much more than the song in common. Have a look and meet me a little further down the page to see if you agree.

First up, wingsuit flyer Jeb Corliss grinds “The Crack,” which is apparently in Switzerland.

Next, iomedes shows off an amazing 43,000-piece LEGO model of a Venator-class Star Destroyer from Star Wars.

Finally, dancer/contortionist Arthur Cadre does…well, this:

So what is it they’ve got in common? Passion. Obsession. Maybe just a dash of insanity. These videos are all about people doing things that you and I might observe and say, “I could never do that.”

As insanely cool and amazing as I think wingsuits are, I’m scared to death of heights and there’s just no way I’m jumping off a cliff wearing one.

As much as I love LEGO and Star Wars, I don’t have the patience or the creativity (or the LEGO bricks) necessary to design and build an intricately detailed, 8-foot-long model.

And my body just can’t don’t what Arthur Cadre’s does; it can’t even do some of the things it used to do twenty years ago.

I admire these people for their passion, their creativity and their ability to do those things I’ll never do, and for loving what they do enough to want to show it to others.

Summer 2011 Roundup

It’s been a fairly busy summer here at the International House of Johnson, and much of that business (busy-ness?) is due to a five-and-a-half-year-old boy who—sometime this spring, with the help of his mother—made a List.

On the List: things to do this summer. Here’s a sample:

  • Go camping. Done. We made our annual trek to the Maumee Bay State Park in Toledo early in August. This year, we replaced our 10-year-old tent with a 10′ x 17′ Coleman Red Canyon dome tent. In theory, this three-room palace sleeps eight; I can’t attest to that, but it accommodated three with plenty of room to spare.
  • Go to the zoo. We did this a couple of weeks ago. There were polar bears and elephants at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, but no hippos. We were disappointed by the lack of hippopotami, as we parked in the “Hippo” section and were thus primed for them.
  • Go on a train ride. We crossed this one off in late July on the Ashtabula, Carson & Jefferson scenic line. If I’m honest, the scenery left a bit to be desired. Kyle and his cousin enjoyed the ride, so everybody was happy. Special guest appearance by Jay Lynn.
  • See a baseball game. Done. Lake County Captains versus the mumblety-mumble Loons. The Captains won, though Kyle couldn’t have told you that after we left the game.
  • Play mini-golf. We’re working on this one; we’ll probably go to Red Mill sometime in the next couple of weeks.

“Go to the movies with dad” wasn’t on the list, but we have seen a few together:

  • Cars 2
  • Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • The Smurfs

We’re also preparing for kindergarten, and when I say “we” I mean “mostly Laura.” She’s been purchasing school supplies and clothes and occasionally letting me know that we’ve received some manner of communication from the school. From what I understand, we’ll be putting Kyle on a bus sometime next week and—if all goes to plan—he’ll be back later in the day. Wash, rinse, repeat until educated.

That’s what’s been going on here this summer. What have you been up to?

Pseudopod 233: Association

I’ve been so busy not updating my blog that I completely neglected to mention another short story I narrated for Pseudopod, the Sound of Horror. This one is “Association,” a zombie tale by Eddie Borey. Before you rush over to listen, I would remind you that Pseudopod is intended for mature audiences and that dead things rot. A lot.

A complete list of the horrific tales I’ve narrated for Pseudopod is presented (in reverse chronological order) below.

  • “Association” by Eddie Borey (Episode 233)
  • “Is This a Horror Story?” by Scott Edelman (Episode 206)
  • “Wearing the Dead” by Alan Smale (Episode 190)
  • “The Sultan of Meat” by James B. Pepe (Episode 170)
  • “Orifice” by John F. D. Taff (Episode 147)
  • “The Duel” by James Michael MacFarland (Episode 135)
  • “In the Coils of the Serpent” by William Meikle (Episode 109)
  • “Among the Moabites” by Michael Hartford (Episode 98)
  • “Blood, Gridlock and PEZ” by Kevin Anderson (Episode 73)
  • “The Heart of Tu’a Halaita” by Tara Kolden (Episode 60)
  • “Hell’s Daycare” by D. Richard Pearce (Episode 38)

 

Dust Bunnies

It’s been a while since anything new showed up here, hasn’t it? It happens.

Every so often I remember I have a blog, but then I go back to watching Chuck or playing Portal 2 or trying to fix an ailing computer so I can watch Chuck and play Portal 2. Today I decided to actually blow the dust bunnies off my WordPress installation, so let’s see what happens next.

By the way, I’m only about halfway through Season Two of Chuck, which is currently in the midst of its fourth or fifth season, I believe—or maybe a season just ended; I don’t know. Whatever the current state of everyone’s favorite Buy More employee, I’m at least a couple of seasons behind. I mention this because I don’t know what’s happening in the current season and I don’t want to know what’s happening in the current season. Ditto for Sons of Anarchy (I’m about to start watching Season Two) and…oh, pretty much every other television series produced in the last five years.

The reason I’m so far behind is that I didn’t start watching Chuck until fairly recently. As a Johnny-come-lately fan, I’ve been watching the series on DVD, and those discs are delivered to my mailbox by a service called Netflix. You may have heard of Netflix; they also have a streaming video service that allegedly uses up most of the tube-capacity at night.. Netflix recently made a lot of people very, very angry (frothy, even) by raising their prices. To some people, this rate increase is the straw that broke the camel’s back, ((It’s a camel that watches a lot of DVDs, which isn’t natural behavior for the species as far as I can tell. Of course, this is no ordinary camel. No, it is a whiny, baby camel with an incredibly fragile spine.)) and they apparently intend to stop paying Netflix to deliver DVDs to their mailboxes. I’ve been too busy watching DVDs that are delivered right to my door to be pissed off about being asked to pay a separate, entirely reasonable price for the service.

Speaking of halfway—and I was—I think I’m a little more than halfway through Portal 2, though I can’t be sure. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but a potato just mentioned something about paradoxes that leads me to believe I’m closing in on the final showdown. It’s a great game, much like the first one was, and adding J.K. Simmons as Aperture’s Cave Johnson was a stroke of pure brilliance. Also, I guess there’s cooperative multiplayer now, so good news for gamers who aren’t misanthropes. ((Both of them.))

I’ve also been hanging around on Google+, which is kind of like Facebook without Zynga. I know, I know: what’s the point of Facebook without Zynga? Did I mention there are circles? And that you can put people in them? It’s handy for separating people you actually know from people who just seem to be popping up on all of your social networks. ((I need a circle named “People With Whom I Have A Lot of Friends in Common, But Don’t Actually Know.” I’m never sure what I should do about these people when they “friend” me. Should I try to get to know them better in case they’re someone awesome or should I try harder to win over that person we both know so they’ll like me better? I’m leaning toward Option Two, based solely on my perception of the ratio of Awesome to Not Awesome people on the Internet. You’re Awesome, though. Of course you are.)) One of the default circles is named “Friends” and another is “Acquaintances.” I have a handful of people in the former circle and an awful lot in the latter. If Facebook had circles, I’d have one named “Farmville and its Ilk” and it would be a bottomless pit into which I dropped every one of my “friends” whose sole purpose in social networking is to cajole everyone they know into sharecropping on their virtual back forty.

Incidentally, if you’re on Google+ and you’re using Google Chrome, you may want to try the G+Me browser extension, which—in my opinion—makes for a nice, clean G+ experience. You’re welcome to seek me out there, if you’re so inclined; the worst that could happen is I drop you into my “Ugh, More Damn People I Don’t Know” circle.

So that’s a bit of what I’ve been up to lately. What about you?

 

In Which My Darkest Fears Are Played Upon

What Spider?

Kyle has been practicing for April Fool’s Day all week.

“Daddy,” he told me on Tuesday, “there’s a spider on your head!”

“Daddy,” he said on Wednesday, “there’s a spider on your head!”

“Daddy,” he informed me yesterday, “there’s a spider on your head!”

Every day, a spider on my head.

This morning I come downstairs and he’s playing in the living room. I’m expecting him to tell me I have a spider on my head.

He looks at me and says…nothing.

So now I’m wondering if his April Fool’s joke is to not tell me about the spider on my head. Did he just forget? Was the lead-in—a week of premature attempts to get me to freak out about nonexistent arachnids—actually a cunning setup? Is my five-year-old son playing mind games with me?

Surely not.

The trouble is, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced there’s a spider on my head. I feel a faint tickling; the sensation of eight little legs scrabbling through my hair. It’s there…and then it’s gone…and then it’s there again. Something just brushed against my temple. I feel a definite presence on my forehead, just beneath the hairline.

I can’t check. Understand that if my hand so much as touches my hair or I look at a mirror, he wins. But as I sit here, there are phantom arachnids—please let them be figments of my overactive imagination—roaming over my scalp. And I wonder if maybe he hasn’t already won.