All posts by Kris Johnson

Grounds for Immediate Dismissal

While listening to music at work, I keep my iPod in the left breast pocket of my shirt to avoid pulling it off my desk and onto the floor when I move around. If you can’t imagine what it looks like when I adjust the volume, you clearly don’t know enough about the iPod. If you can imagine what it looks like, and you’re imagining me doing that, I apologize and suggest sipping some water or coffee to remove the taste of vomit from the back of your throat.

New Claws for the Tiger

Okay, so comparing the MVoD to a tiger is probably a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, after having driven for more than 43,000 miles without rotating the tires once, I discovered that the front tires were nearing bald, while the back tires were still in pretty reasonable shape. It’s all about the tread, you understand. It’s measured in thirty-seconds of an inch, and when you can count those fractions on one hand, it’s time for some new tires.

We had something of a reprieve from the Hideous Hand of Old Man Winter last week, when temperatures soared into the 60’s. Most snow in the area that was not piled up into hideous, filth-and-trash-encrusted mounds in the parking lot of Target had melted. Previous experience with slippery roads and driveways had kept the need for new tires fresh in my mind, though, so I visited an establishment whose very business is the vending and installation of round rubber.

Alas, the fellow I talked to on Monday assured that the only tire in stock compatible with the MVoD was some sort of bleeding edge über tire, and that other tires could be ordered, but would take three to five days to arrive. When he attempted to order tires that weren’t sent back from the future to destroy my bank account, his efforts were thwarted by the fact that the Office of Tire Ordering was closed for the holidays. On the third of January.

The Old Man turned his attention back to us once more yesterday, and it snowed pretty much all day, making driving conditions rather hazardous. Last night, as I inched my way along a very slippery and unpleasant 271 North, I watched a vehicle behind me suddenly veer to the left, spin out of control, slide across three lanes of traffic and come to a stop in the snow-covered grassy knoll separating the express lanes from something resembling sanity. Über tires it shall be, I thought, and (slowly) returned to the vendor and installer of the same.

I was met by a different fellow, who assured me that not only were the über tires not in stock, but every other tire of size P215/70R15 was. Amazing. In two days, the stock had completely inverted. I picked out a very nice pair of Michelin Symmetry radials. They have a slightly lower DEX than the über tires, but are comparable in both STR and CON. They are also about a double sawbuck cheaper per tire. With new claws installed (in about thirty minutes), my tiger definitely has a better grip on the road, and I’m less likely to be the next guy making an unscheduled stop in a snowbank.

Five paragraphs about getting new tires installed. Why would anyone still be reading at this point? Why am I still writing at this point?

And another thing…

Two or three other things, actually. My trip to the Great Lakes Mall Monday night was pretty fruitful. The “It’s a Puzzle!” store was selling all their stuff at deep discounts, so their inventory was pretty sparse. They were all out of puzzle glue and their selection of puzzles was fairly sad. They did have a few in the 9,000-to-18,000 piece range that looked very interesting, in a “there’s no way in Hell I could possibly finish that” kind of way.

There was, however, a game kiosk that had puzzle glue as well as a Disney Photomosaics Winnie the Pooh puzzle. Our guest bedroom has a combination Winnie the Pooh/Aquarium theme going on, so I thought that it’d make a good addition. Plus, it look suitably difficult without being frustratingly so.

When she found out that I was going to the mall, Laura asked me to pick up a copy of Yourself! Fitness for the Xbox. Oh, not for her. No, no, no. For me. So, I can now use my Xbox as a personal trainer and dietitian. I have yet to pop the disc in the drive, as I’m afraid of what Maya will instruct me to do. Perhaps Saturday I’ll bite that particular bullet.

I also snagged a used copy of Syberia for the Xbox, a game that I’ve wanted for some time now. I believe the genre is technically adventure game, but it could probably be called a story-driven puzzle game, too. It’s very pretty.

That is all!

I’m Free!

My LiveJournal paid account expired yesterday, and despite multiple attempts to pay for another year, I was unsuccessful. When I tried via Firefox, the payment page wouldn’t load. When I tried via Internet Explorer, there were issues with accepting my credit and debit cards. I don’t know if the payments page is broken or if my money is broken. Either, way, I’m wallowing in the land of unpaid accounts today.

In other news, there are rumors that LiveJournal will soon be purchased by Six Apart, the same company that owns TypePad and Moveable Type (the latter of which I installed on my website, but have since abandoned in favor of WordPress).

I installed WordPress yesterday, and I’m quite pleased with it so far. I even imported a couple of LiveJournal entries (though there was some tweaking involved to get the formatting right). That’s right, for no reason other than curiosity, I’ve begun maintaining two blogs. My dork is definitely showing.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

This post serves almost no purpose, save that I want to see how WordPress handles multiple posts in a single day. I’m also messing with the timestamp because I can. So there!

Or can I? There doesn’t seem to be a way to mess with the timestamp, even with Advanced Editing options turned on. Must be an admin-only thing…

[Edit: Yep, it’s an admin-only thing.]

…looming like a shadow over everything we’ve built here.

With the final casualty toll of the Boxing Day tsunamis still undetermined, scientists have begun to take a closer look at how future geophysical events might affect various regions of the world. Seismologists, geologists and other experts have uncovered a number of scenarios that could spell disaster for millions of people.

Catastrophe experts have warned that a 12-mile long shelf of rock weighing approximately five hundred million tons might fall into the ocean when the Cumbre Vieja volcano on the island of La Palma next erupts. This would result in gigantic tsunamis that could potentially lay waste to the eastern seaboard of the United States. One northeast Ohio man, however, thinks there is danger much, much closer to home.

“It could happen right here in Ohio,” says Elyria resident Leonard Dalton. Elyria, a suburb of Cleveland, is one of many towns the would be utterly destroyed by a Lake Erie tsunami, according to Dalton.

“There is a fault line running right under Lake Ontario,” Dalton told reporters at a press conference on Monday. “If a volcano erupted there, all of southeastern Ontario would fall into Lake Erie, creating a massive tsunami that would obliterate everything on the southern coast.”

Ontario
Ontario: Our deadly northern neighbor.

That includes all of northern Ohio as well as parts of Pennsylvania and New York. “Yes, there is a fault line under Lake Ontario,” confirmed Dr. Alan Meadows of Ohio’s Division of Geological Survey. Dr. Meadows spoke from the division’s laboratory at Alum Creek State Park, north of Columbus—well away from the potential danger zone. “This fault line is very stable, and there is no indication that future earthquakes of significant intensity will occur along the line. Additionally, there is no volcano on that line.”

Dr. Meadows also pointed out that Ontario and La Palma are very different. “The situation in the Canary Islands is unique,” he said. “On La Palma, you’ve got an unstable slab of rock that could very feasibly slide into the ocean. Ontario isn’t an island, and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that any part of it could break away, even in the event of a catastrophe of the type Mister Dalton describes.”

Leonard Dalton disagrees. “It’s easy for the bureaucrats and the white coats to dismiss this,” he said. “They’re all sitting warm and cozy in Columbus. They could care less if Cleveland, Toledo and Buffalo were under fifty feet of water.”

Dalton’s seismological background consists largely of watching films like Earthquake, released in 1974, and Volcano and Dante’s Peak, both released in 1997. “I’ve seen what happens when we ignore the signs,” Dalton warned a group of reporters and passersby outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which is located near the Lake Erie shore. “No one conceived of a volcano in downtown Los Angeles, either.”

Ontario could not be reached for comment.

The Naughties: Now Starting Their Fifth Fabulous Year!

Potpourri
New Years Eve dinner was at a fondue restaurant called Potpourri. Everything was quite yummy, and we all smelled like we’d been deep-fried when we left. Laura polished off most of a bottle of Chloe Sevigny Cabernet Sauvignon by herself, and was a wee bit on the tipsy side. Her condition was upgraded to Downright Drunk after we got home and she drank a strawberry daiquiri. There was a bit of channel surfing and we wound up watching part of an episode of South Park before switching to the ball drop. Afterward, I was very tired, and there was a lot of talking going on, so I didn’t really absorb much of Jabberwocky. I’ll have to watch it sometime this week.

Buried Blueprints: Camelot
It’s a puzzle I’ve had for probably six years, and quite possibly even longer. My every attempt to assemble this puzzle has been thwarted in some way until very early Sunday morning. Taking advantage of my new roll-up puzzle caddy, Laura and I began assembling the puzzle on Saturday afternoon. When it came time to leave for the movie, we rolled the thing up so the cats couldn’t get into it. After the movie and dinner, we came back home and finished assembling the thing. It took rather a long time, and we didn’t get to bed until nearly 5:00am. Methinks I’ll swing by the Great Lakes Mall to see if the puzzle place is still there. I need puzzle glue and a new puzzle.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
I own and have read the first two books (The Bad Beginning and The Reptile Room) upon which the movie is based. I have yet to pick up the third (The Wide Window), but will likely do so very soon. The books are incredibly, horrifically funny. The movie adaptation is a reasonable effort, but doesn’t quite capture the feel of the books. It’s not a problem with the cast (good performances all around) or visuals (very pretty), but rather with the script and editing. Overall, the movie tripped over itself in the process of cramming three (admittedly short) stories into 108 minutes. On more than one occasion, characters casually mentioned some name or event in such a manner that it seemed the audience ought to have heard about it before.

1,023 Songs
I’m using roughly 20% of the capacity of my iPod. I’d guess that roughly one-fifth of that is Christmas music. I’m thinking about deleting all of the holiday tunes, though. Not because I’m worried about disk space, but because I don’t want “O Tannenbaum” coming up when I use the Shuffle Songs mode in July. I have more than enough music at home to fill up the iPod, but my computer time is torn between ripping CDs and playing City of Heroes.

Every (Work)Day
“If I check your [blog] every day, I’m going to expect you to write in it every day.” That’s what Laura said. So, I’m going to try to update once a day, Monday through Friday, whether I have anything to say or not (call it a New Years Resolution, if you must). And, honestly, not having anything to say has never stopped me from posting before.

Hellboy Revisited

Hellboy - Director’s CutThe day after I bought a used copy of Hellboy from Blockbuster, the three-disc uberhyperultramegaspecial platinum tiger edition was released. Naturally. This new edition contains added scenes, new commentaries, additional special features and is hand-delivered by Ron Perlman, Mike Mignola and Guillermo del Toro, who sit on your couch, drink beer, and trade amusing anecdotes as you watch the director’s cut of the movie, the running time of which is nearly eleven hours.The interviews and commentaries contained on this DVD are for entertainment purposes only. The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the individual speakers, and do not necessarily reflect those of Revolution Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment or any of their affiliates.

Sounds like the perfect Christmas gift for me, doesn’t it? Boy, howdy, it sure does! Well, don’t reach for your wallet just yet, ’cause I already got it as part of a gift exchange. I am, as the Beat Farmers would surely assert, a happy boy. I watched the movie (again) over the weekend (or perhaps it was Monday night). I’m pleased to report that the added scenes flow quite nicely, and nicely flesh out some aspects of the story. I have yet to watch any of the commentaries, but Hellboy is one of those rare movies that I could watch three or four times in the space of a month without worrying that I’ll grow tired of it. It is simply fun to watch.

X Marks the Games

Despite having never played I through XII, I picked up a used copy of XIII for the Xbox yesterday. This is a cel-shaded first-person shooter in which the main character (voiced by David Duchovny) appears to have assassinated the President. I rented XIII when it was first released, and it appeared to be a fairly decent game, so grabbing it for thirteen bucks seemed fairly reasonable to me.

I also picked up a used copy of Hunter the Reckoning: Redeemer, but when I got home I discovered that there had been an accidental switcheroo and I’d received a copy of Hunter the Reckoning (if the title sounds White Wolfish, there’s good reason) instead. I’ve already played the original all the way through, and I couldn’t see any value in owning two copies, so I went back to Funcoland and they corrected the error.

Other sequels on the shelves: Spider-Man 2 (which greatly improves upon its predecessor), Prince of Persia Warrior Within and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: There’s Probably A Sub-Sub-Title. While I’d like to buy all of these, I own the first title in each series and have yet to finish them. [EDIT: Prince of Persia The Sands of Time isn’t actually the first title in the series, but it’s the first released on the Xbox. It is also one of the few games I own that tells you how much of the game you’ve completed. When I last checked, I was something like 80% of the way through it.] With KOTOR especially, that is enough to keep me from either plunking my money down on the counter or putting it on my wishlist.

Also on the shelves is Dead or Alive Ultimate. I own (and have completed) Dead or Alive 3, so I guess I’m justified in wanting this one, which is technically not a sequel, but upgraded versions of both Dead or Alive (which was originally released on the SEGA Saturn) and Dead or Alive 2 (which was not released on the Xbox). This one should really be on my wishlist, as I enjoy watching scantily-clad, impossibly-proportioned animated women kick each other’s shapely asses (though not enough to buy Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball).

Oh, and then there’s HALO 2. You guessed it, I own HALO but haven’t completed the game yet. Miscellaneous G™ and I are working on this one at the rate of an hour or two every couple of weeks. Still, I’ve played the sequel (my brother bought it while I was in Upper Michigan) and I’m not in a rush to pick it up just yet. Maybe my tune will change when (if) I get Xbox Live!I swear that the exclamation point used to be a part of the service name. I used to feel that I was was conveying a false sense of excitement whenever I mentioned the online service, but always included the exclamation point for the sake of correctness. Looking at current references to Live on the official Xbox website, I find no exclamation points at all. Were they ever really there?

Other sequels on the way:

  • MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf – Yes, I own the original, no I haven’t completed it. Lots of fun, though.
  • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory – This will be the third installment in the series. I’ve got (but have not completed) both predecessors and they both rock.
  • Crimson Skies: The Unnamed Sequel – Okay, this one is wishful thinking on my part. I’m actually on what I believe is the final mission of Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, and I would love to hear that a sequel to this excellent game is in the works.

Hero (Ying xiong) (2002)

HeroHero (2002)

Starring Jet Li, Ziyi Zhang, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and Daoming Chen

Directed by Yimou Zhang

Hero is a very pretty movie. Pretty, pretty, pretty. The sets and costumes are lavish and colorful, the locations vibrant and lustrous or vast and desolate (whichever the story calls for at the time). Visually, it has all the polish of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the movie with which it shall ever be compared.

The problem with making such a comparison is that I expected Hero to live up to it on levels beyond The Pretty. I expected an engaging story, competent acting, characters I cared about, and breathtaking martial arts sequences. On at least one of those points, I should have known better. Hero stars Jet Li, after all.

Jet Li moves like some sort of jungle cat crossed with a bird of prey. His physical capabilities range from simply impressive to absolutely mind-numbing. Unfortunately, physical prowess and acting ability do not seem to be directly related. Being able to kick twenty-eight cubic yards of ass per second does not grant one the ability to emote. Jet Li, sadly, is not much of an actor. As a result, my emotional investment in the nameless hero was nil. Jet Li is perfect for an action-oriented film such as The One (which doesn’t mean I particularly liked that movie, either), where emotion doesn’t need to get in the way of ass-kicking. For Hero to be in the same dramatic arena as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, though, I need to empathize with the protagonist.

As it turns out, there are decent actors in this film. Most of the other characters, including – and perhaps especially – the king of Qin (Daoming Chen), are played very well. Whether we like or dislike them (and our feelings toward them can and do change during the course of the story), at least it’s possible to feel something.

The story through which the characters progress is an interesting one, if somewhat shoddily realized. Nameless (Jet Li) has come before the king of Qin after disposing of three assassins (Broken Sword, Sky and Flying Snow, played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Donnie Yen and Maggie Cheung, respectively). How Nameless managed to accomplish this is told through a series of flashbacks that ultimately lead up to the final conflict of the film.

Every flashback contains one or more color-coordinated battles. In each case, everyone involved wears the same color clothing: red in one fight, green in another, white in a third. Visually, this is an interesting device. It does begin to wear thin after a while, though.

The fights themselves are largely anticlimactic. Some sequences are impressive, but most fall flat. The filmmakers rely too heavily on the computer-generated aspects of the battles. In one fight, the combatants are often hidden in clouds of swirling leaves; in another, billowing green draperies serve to obscure the action rather than accent it. Unfortunately, these CG elements often scream special effect, rather than being truly special.

Another problem with the action sequences is how they are edited. One battle, which takes place on a beautiful lake, is thrown together so ham-handedly that it is impossible to determine what the fighters are doing. Too much focus is given to shots of sword tips skimming the surface of the water, and not enough to building a linear and comprehensible action sequence. It is an unfortunate instance of The Pretty superseding everything else.

Hero borrows one more element from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Ziyi Zhang. Unfortunately, her character (Moon) is little more than window dressing, and has only one scene in which she gets appreciable screen time and attention. Still, Zhang is very easy to watch.

In the end, Hero doesn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle. Beautiful locations, sets and costumes (the soundtrack is suitably elegant, as well) cannot disguise the fundamental shortcomings, which means that Hero won’t find a place next to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in my DVD collection.

One final note: I don’t know what the hell “Quentin Tarantino Presents” means with respect to this movie. Why Tarantino’s name is attached to this film is beyond me. To the best of my knowledge, he had no hand in the production of Hero. If the special features of the DVD explain the association, then it is my fault for not watching them. However, I generally don’t make a habit of watching special features for films I didn’t particularly enjoy. [Edit: Tarantino is the film’s American distributor.]