This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

Another web idea that must perish

Posted by: James Lileks under Praise Updated: September 29, 2014 - 12:28 PM

Another website, another list of things to do in Minneapolis! It’s advice for travelers. Number 8 is shocking.

Okay okay I’m sorry I did that, but I was making a point. The people who write those click-bait headlines that say “#3 is adorable” or “We can’t believe #7” should be removed from their desk and taken down to the conference room, where a certified physician injects novocaine into their hands so they can’t type for several hours. I know what you’re saying, trying to suppress your horror at my penalty: could a nurse do it? Sure. Any sort of certify physician’s assistance, I guess. As long as the offender realizes that they should never do this again.

If it’s the boss who’s insisting on this type of headline, then the boss is probably the sort of person whose existence is inevitably its own punishment.

Also, one of the things to do in Minneapolis is “Como Park Zoo,” so you know you’re dealing with someone who really turned the town inside-out looking for good ideas.

NEWS This seems rather parochial:

That’s the Digg link for the Vox story,  as of noon. Here’s Quartz:

Most Hong Kong protesters aren’t purposefully mimicking “hands up, don’t shoot,”as some have suggested. Instead, the gesture is a result of training and instructions from protest leaders, who have told demonstrators to raise their hands with palms forward to signal their peaceful intentions to police.

And so on at considerable length. Back to the Vox piece’s conclusion:

It's fascinating to see a symbol of the fight against racism and police violence in America become a symbol of democracy and freedom halfway around the world, however it got there.

This is like saying it’s fascinating to see the V for Victory sign used as a gesture of peace in the 60s, however it got there.

At the bottom of the piece: “This post has been updated to reflect Quartz's reporting on the topic.” And by “reflect” they mean “add a scant disclaimer that contradicts the headline, story, and Quartz’ reporting.”

VotD Disney animation has a new trailer for “Big Hero 6.” Go to work, animation nerds! Find everything wrong! Hate the song! Nitpick the female character! Insist Walt wouldn’t have done this! Lament the end of 2D animation! Get on record before it makes $327 million, proving your point.

I think it’ll be fun.

HISTORYIt’s the 2,000th anniversary of the death of Augustus, who was either poisoned by a rival, poisoned by his wife, or just ate something bad. To commemorate the event, his house is open for visitors for the first time in centuries.

PIctures here. You get a good sense of the claustrophobic, dark private rooms of the era. If he’s not your favorite emperor, well, the Baths of Diocletian are open again, and “restored.” Obviously not restored to their original state, but with a little work you could get the place hopping again. If you’re wondering why the Romans still exert such a pull on some people’s imagination, the Guardian takes on the matter, at least as it pertains to the Brits.

Ello? Is this thing on?

Posted by: James Lileks under Technology Updated: September 26, 2014 - 12:12 PM

Yes, we called it, but it was obvious to all: Crankshaft’s implausible mower-mishap went “viral.”

The real question is how a video could go viral in the Crankshaft timeline, which takes place in the past, because its parent strip, Funky Winkerbean, takes place in the present, where Ed is a doddering resident of a nursing home wearing an expression of permanent horror. Wikipedia might help, if you care.

WHERE’S KIM? The littlest tyrant may be suffering from an excess of uric acid in his blood. Or an excess of blood in his uric acid.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is suffering from “discomfort“, a state media report has said in the first official acknowledgement of ill-health after a prolonged period out of the public eye.

Kim, 31, who is frequently the centrepiece of the isolated country’s propaganda, has not been photographed by state media since appearing at a concert alongside his wife on 3 September, fuellng speculation he is suffering from bad health.

“Based on his gait, it appears he has gout – something [due to] diet and genetic predisposition that has affected other members of the Kim family,” said Michael Madden, an expert on the North Korean leadership and contributor to the 38 North website.

It used to be known as “the king’s disease” or “rich man’s disease,” according to Wikipedia, since they thought you got it from the foods only the uppermost classes could secure. Anyone planning a coup could probably put him out of action by stepping on his toe.

OH GREAT Another new social network.

It’s called Ello, and If you were lucky enough to snag an invite (don’t buy them on eBay, please) before Ello froze them due to high demand, you probably hit your invite link, logged in, and then paused.

Now what?

Ello is a very different network than Facebook, and not just because you can choose whatever name you want, post porn GIFs to your loin's content, and use it without seeing a single ad. It’s a different design than we’re used to: minimal, tiny, maybe even unintuitive. But it’s really, really pretty. Pretty, and sort of broken. Not to be cliche, but Ello is a bit of a beautiful mess.

Or it’s dull and ugly and has confusing UI. You decide. I think it’s too minimal. From the featured members on the main page it seems to attract people who work in lofts and want a Tumblr that isn’t tainted by the existence of a huge teen base.

This person thinks it’s better than the alternatives:

Right now the three biggest places on the net to socialize are Facebook, Twitter, and the Chinese network Qzone. None of these are socially or politically acceptable companies.

Oh. Okay. (Logging off of Tumblr, canceling account) But rest assured, an Ello post is already anticipating the day when Ello will be ruined.

My point is, for what little it might be worth: it doesn't seem that we are going to find the one resilient network that stands the test of time. We're never going to re-invent and preserve that one moment when everything seemed like it was going to be perfect for ever. At the risk of cascading waves of nostalgia for networked bliss that echo the non-existent generation of the golden age of newspapers, novels, radio, paintings, or whatever, we must reject this Christian utopianism.

I’ve no idea what that means. But at the risk of cascading additional waves, there were golden ages of various media, inasmuch as they had a unique role in society, attracted great talent, formed the basis for common conversations, and so on. They weren’t social networks, though. “Social networks” in the bygone eras were family, extended family, friends, and community. What we call “social networks” now largely consist of personas developed on public platforms, reinterpreted on the other end by strangers.
Unless the person on Facebook is a friend or Mom, of course. If you’re talking about social networks with friends, then the platform matters little, and people will abandon it in a second if something faster, better, and shinier comes along. The social network is not software. It’s friendship. It can be ported to whatever software you wish.

Votd The crack-and-chip windshield replacement industry is going to hate the Rage virus.

Crankshaft is implausible

Posted by: James Lileks under Gripes Updated: September 25, 2014 - 12:46 PM

Crankshaft, a comic strip about a bus driver that contains less bus-driving action than “The Honeymooners,” has had a strange story this week. It began thus:

As you may know, comics are supposed to be funny, even though most aren’t and we accept that fact and read on in the hopes that one day they will be. Some you hate-read just to feel better about yourself, because you didn’t laugh. Hah! Take that, artist. This one is not funny, and seems to presume we will eagerly await the result of Ed's cognitation. Also, at first I read that as "sucker" in the "one born every minute" sobriquet, instead of the moisture-leech sense.  

The next two days:

This is impossible. Even if the lawn mower is self-propelled, it cannot climb a tree, because the wheels disengage when you let go of the dead-man’s handle. Even if this feature is disabled, it cannot climb a tree, because the wheels are not touching anything; the rotation of the blade will not cause the mower to go up a tree, let alone stay there.


Surely it’s setting us up for a boffo Friday where the video goes Viral, as they say, and . . . hilarity ensues, I guess, in the sense that Ed is humiliated nationwide. But note that the young woman is delivering the paper - literally, The Paper - and it’s obviously an afternoon edition.

That’s the sort of thing that really makes it hard to suspend disbelief.

Sit right down and you'll hear a tale

Posted by: James Lileks under Minnesota History Updated: September 24, 2014 - 12:13 PM

A tale of a fateful . . . menu. Yes, I will get as many blog entries out of that NYC Library menu site as possible. Today it’s the North West, a steamship from the Northwest Company line. (It operated in the North Central region.) It’s an example of a forgotten part of Minnesota history: the passenger steamships that plied the Great Lakes, brought to you by a consortium that included - of course - James J. Hill. Details from the front of the menu:

The menu begins thus:

Seems like a lot of money for celery.

As for the ship, it had a grim end. Lots of passenger ships had sad endings; makes you wonder what will become of the enormous liners that sail the seas today, providing they don’t have a skipper who runs them into a rock. The North West had a fire, which the crew of any liner will always tell you is the worst-case scenario. I suppose so, but it always seems a bit counterintuitive, since the ships are surrounded by fire’s greatest enemy. It’s not as if you can run out of water to extinguish it. (Yes, yes, I know that’s stupid. But still.)

From a page about the ship and the Northern Steamship Company:

An explosion of oils in the paint room of the Northern Steamship liner, "North West," lying in her winter quarters in the Blackwell Canal,n orth of Tifft Street, early this morning started a fire that completely destroyed the upper works and interior of the big steel steamer.

Her sister ship, the "North Land," moored alongside the "North West," received a bad scorching but was dragged out of the path of the flames by the Fireboats Potter and Grattan.

Officials of the company who were early summoned to the fire estimated the total loss approximately at about $600,000. Ample insurance, they say, covers it.

Both the 'North West" and the "North Land" were scheduled to be placed in commission on June 21st, and outside the commissary departments both ships were fully stocked and ready for the coming season's business.

The fire started shortly before 4 o'clock. Four watchmen were employed on the ships and each of them made hourly rounds. One of the watchmen passing along the upper decks heard a muffled report below and peering over the rail he saw a pointed jet of flame dart from one of the port holes of the paint room. He called to the other watchmen and then jumped down to the runway alongside the ship and made all haste to the big flour house of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, a full 100 feet to the north. There he said an alarm was sent to Fire Headquarters through the railroad company's private box.

After that? Here’s another page on the ship:

Burned to a shell 1911. Cut in two to transit to the St. Lawrence in 1918; forward half lost in transit. Aft end united with new bow and renamed Maplecourt. Returned to the Lakes after WWI but taken out again and during WWII torpedoed with all hands February 6, 1941.

It looked quite different by then, as this page shows, along with the details of its death:

At 17.52 hours on 6 Feb 1941 the unescorted Maplecourt (), a straggler from station #84 in convoy SC-20, was hit just aft of the engine room by one stern torpedo from U-107 and sank rapidly by the stern about 120 miles west of Rockall. The U-boat had chased the ship for about eight hours and missed with one torpedo during a first submerged attack at 

13.53 hours. The Germans observed how the survivors managed to abandon ship in two lifeboats, but they were never seen again: the master, 35 crew members and three gunner were lost.

Here’s the man who sank it: Captain Gunter Hessler. He sunk 19 ships. He survived the war, and ended up working for the Royal Navy, writing the definitive account of U-boat warfare. More on him here.

None of which anyone could possibly predict when they sat down, opened up the menu, and thought “That’s a lot of money for just some celery,” and settled in for a nice, uneventful cruise.

Great Moments in Urban Renewal

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture, Minnesota History Updated: September 23, 2014 - 12:33 PM

A neighbor gave me a box of records last night. Included was the estate-sale catalog, and as it turns out the records were from the Hart Collection. Long story short: guy closes his St. Paul record store, keeps all the stock, and half a century later, 200,000 records are auctioned off to astonished collectors. A 1997 MPR story is here.

The cover of the catalog:

Here’s a detail.

Let's look at one of  the records in the window -

I have that record now. Anyway: I mention this because one of the records had a sales slip, which gave the store's address. Keeping in mind that fine bright storefront you saw at the top, let's see what they built when it was time to Improve the town:

Great job there. Nice work. 

Related, sort of, in the archeology sense: The BBC reports on the incredible new find in Greece.

The discovery of an enormous tomb in northern Greece, dating to the time of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, has enthused Greeks, distracting them from a dire economic crisis.

Yes, that’s exactly how it works. People are sitting around in cafes feeling glum about the economic crisis, and then a newsboy runs in waving a paper: big new archeological discovery! Everyone brightens: finally! Something that will push this ongoing economic crisis out of our minds. I’ll take two, boy.

Inside the tomb, archaeologists discovered two magnificent caryatids. Each of the sculpted female figures has one arm outstretched, presumably to discourage intruders from entering the tomb's main chamber.

Here’s a story on the caryatids. It really is a remarkable find. But who’s buried there?

For the few hundred inhabitants of modern-day Amfipoli and Mesolakkia, the two villages closest to the burial site, there is no doubt: interred inside the marble-walled tomb unearthed near their homes is none other than Alexander the Great.

"Only Alexander merits such a monument," says farmer Antonis Papadopoulos, 61, as he enjoys his morning coffee with fellow villagers in a taverna opposite the Amfipoli archaeological museum.

"The magnitude and opulence of this tomb is unique. Common sense says he is the one buried inside.”

Probably not. He was buried in Egypt, experts say. And a rogue group of archeologists suggest the body was mistaken for St. Mark and taken to Venice in a basket, but that's another story. In related news:

Mounted on a helicopter criss-crossing the countryside, the team's lidar device fired a million laser beams every four seconds through the jungle canopy, recording minute variations in ground surface topography.

The findings were staggering.

The lidar survey of the hills revealed ghostly outlines on the forest floor of unknown temples and an elaborate and utterly unexpected grid of ceremonial boulevards, dykes and man-made ponds - a lost city, found.

Where? Angor Wat. Why was it abandoned? how much remains to be revealed? The Beeb has a documentary coming up on the site and the new discoveries; no idea when it will air on BBC America. Unless it features Dr. Who, possibly never.


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