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.

About that "Mad Men" ep

Posted by: James Lileks under Praise Updated: April 27, 2015 - 12:19 PM

It’s always surprising when something actually happens, in the sense of “large events above and beyond the inner lives of the static characters.” Usually the action consists of a small but telling event that means nothing at the time but gets put under the electron microscope by the people who like to tease meaning out of everything. It’s possible, for example, that the red wine stain on Don’s floor is just a red wine stain, not a metaphor, not a call-back, not a sign that Megan was really killed by the Manson Family and this is a dream Don is having while drunk at the funeral.

Some fans were complaining that the show wasn’t wrapping up enough. Wasn’t spending its last moments right. We need closure on everyone! But the point of the show, it’s seemed to me for years, isn’t closure or growth, to use two tired words fiction is required to provide. It’s the absence of both. Megan’s story got closure, but she didn’t. Sally Draper may get one more knowing look of disgust, but she’s not going to grow anything but up. (She is, as Don informed her with the certainty of a bad medical diagnosis, like her parents.) Roger Sterling will float along until a vein in his head pops like a balloon.

Anyway, something happened, and it was startling, if soapy, and led to that tidy, almost poignant last shot: the partners have convened to calm everyone’s fears, and the staff simply gets up and walks out, leaving them standing in a row, like rocks in an ice floe after everything melted away. The line-up of the partners is a hallmark shot, from the first time they stood in the new offices to the shot in the McCann boardroom.

The move gives the last two episodes something to do, and gives us the ending the show seemed unwilling to provide. The firm is done. Don, far from falling to his literal or metaphorical death, lands on his feet with a Coke in his hand, the winner of the most American prize he could imagine. That’ll do.

Oh, by the way, I found this imagine in an old mid-60s New Yorker ad. Wonder if it was the inspiration. If anyone wants to do a story about advertising in the 1890s, it would fit.

VotD You’re probably wondering if the Chilean volcano eruption was observed by UFOs. Of course! Here’s proof.

This goes along with the UFO interesting in Chile’s copper mines.

Kitty Litter, cars, and intellectual property

Posted by: James Lileks under Technology Updated: April 22, 2015 - 12:54 PM

Jalopnik has a piece about your car’s software, and what it means for your ownership. To be specific, whether it means you really own your car at all. Here’s the thesis:

We all know that working on and tinkering with a modern car is a very different undertaking than it has been previously. It’s no longer just about putting on a new manifold and dual carbs, modern cars involve many, many computers, and working on your car usually means working with and talking to the computers embedded in the car.

. . . because so much of how modern cars work involves computers and software code, cars can now fall under the aegis of bills like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and automakers can use this act to try and restrict what an owner can do to the car that they bought.

The Automaker’s Alliance responds at the end of the piece, and the author snags his sleeve on the same sentence that gave me problems. The AA says:

The real issue of concern here is that the sophisticated computers in vehicles are so intertwined that they shouldn’t (for security and safety and environmental reasons) be allowed to be tinkered with.

Read the rest. For environmental reasons you should not be allowed to tinker with your car. To say nothing of the possibility that you will hack your John Deere tractor so you can use it to download music illegally. Gizmodo, quoting the EFF:

John Deere even argued that letting people modify car computer systems will result in them pirating music through the on-board entertainment system, which would be one of the more convoluted ways to copy media (and the exemption process doesn’t authorize copyright infringement, anyway).

A Wired opinion piece takes a big whack at John Deere here, and the author notes that DRM even prevents people from hacking their kitty-litter cleaners. The author links to his own site’s grumblings about pirate-proof cat-poop sifters, and here I’m less sympathetic. If something requires a particular part to keep working, and you don’t want to buy that particular part, don’t buy it.

The site also hammers Keurig for its DRM coffeepods, which still seems like an utterly bizarre and self-defeating idea. Amazon reviews have not been kind. At least no one has hooked up a cracked Keurig to a tractor to download code for bypassing the kitty-litter cleaner. YET.

Electrocute your way to robust health

Posted by: James Lileks under Minnesota History, Technology Updated: April 21, 2015 - 12:23 PM

Someone should do a survey to see if sales at the liquor stores tick upward when the phrase “Wintry Mix” is spoken by broadcasters in April. Well, don’t despair. You know how some people mitigate the depressing effect of prolonged spring rains by saying “it’s good for the crops”? This weather, MPR instructs us, is good for the lakes. 

Nice to know! Also, absolutely no consolation whatsoever.

HISTORY For no particular reason, some more ads from the 1933 Simpsons Methodist cookbook. Behold a series of unfamiliar medical treatments:

Diathermy heats you up. The Morse Wave Generator is explained here:

Quackery. The Kromeyer Lamp is described here. More quackery.

Another ad reminds you it might be time for your COUNTER-ACTION FACIAL:

The Barnum Building? As far as I can tell, it was named for a local trunk manufacturer. All long gone.

SCAMS Atlantic has a story on door-to-door magazine salesmen. You may not be surprised to find they are not exactly on the level. They used the word “trapped” to describe the participants. They weren’t dragooned or gang-pressed into the job, but it sounds like the worst of indentured servitude without the job security. Ever had a run-in with these crews? I had one guy yell at me for not even wanting to talk about magazines. Not the best sales technique.

Key pull-quote: “When companies parade as something they are not, sell goods that never arrive, and don’t refund the money, it all leads to suspicion of fraud.” That’s getting waaaaay out there, but you know, it could be so.

Oh, great: dog flu

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture, Praise Updated: April 20, 2015 - 12:23 PM

You think they’re safe from such things, but then this comes along: dog flu.

"The dog population here has never seen this strain before," said Dr. Keith Poulsen, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The canine sickness causes symptoms similar to those of the human flu, such as coughing, nasal discharge, fever and loss of appetite, though a small percentage of dogs can be carriers of the virus without showing symptoms, Poulsen said.

A cough. That’s the strange part. Every dog sneezes from time to time, but I’ve never heard a dog cough. There’s a vaccine en route in case the current dog-flu vaccine is ineffective.

TURN IT OFF. It's anti-social-media week. Digg says:

In partnership with Showtime and HAPPYish, Digg presents Anti Social Media Week, a five-day exploration of the relationship between technology and happiness. Looking to science, philosophy, religion, technology, and just about everything else, we've found tips, tricks, and hacks that make us happy, or at least happy-ish. And before you send us a million emails decrying hypocrisy, yes, we appreciate the absurdity of using the Internet to tell people to unplug and take a break. But honestly, how else do you expect us to get get your attention? We've already lost too many carrier pigeons.

The article links to the sponsored video for Steve Coogan's new series. I am a big Coogan fan. This left me cold. As for not participating in social media, if that means not looking at Twitter, fine. If it means not checking texts, no. 

ARCHITORTURE  The New York Times reviews the new Whitney Museum, and the article itself is one of those Snowfall-type fancy things. The building itself looks like most modern museums, inasmuch as you can’t imagine a private company wanting to pay for something that ugly. The article also has nice things to say for the previous Whitney, which was hated by everyone until they just got used to the damned thing.

VotD Oh my. He doesn’t grab the wall, and the angle on the pizza joint is wrong, but otherwise this is perfect.

Tweets in Spaaaaace

Posted by: James Lileks under Praise, Technology Updated: April 17, 2015 - 12:14 PM

Twitter has grabbed a small gardening spade and waded into the Augean stables. AFP:

Twitter said Thursday that it is cracking down on mean, hateful or menacing tweets that cross the red line from free speech into abuse.
Twitter is overhauling its safety policy and beefing up the team responsible for enforcing it, along with investing "heavily" in ways to detect and limit the reach of abusive content, general counsel Vijaya Gadde said in an column published by the Washington Post.

Good luck. In related news, here’s why I like Louis C.K.: He realized he was being a jerk on Twitter, apologized personally to the object of some stupid and infantile tweets, and realized that whatever you write while stoned is probably junk:

While he had planned to take a year-long break between season four and five, a pot-smoking session triggered an idea for a plot arc involving the return of Doug Stanhope’s suicidal comic Eddie, wherein he and Louie would open a comedy club together. He called up FX and at the last-minute they were able to cobble together a deal for an eight-episode season.
He woke up the next morning feeling like he’d made a huge mistake. “I woke up and I looked at all the *#$@ I wrote when I was high, and I was like, ‘This is terrible stuff!’ I didn’t use a single idea. I had 10 pages written, 10 stoned pages,” he said. “It was just so stupid. I made a huge decision that had impacts on my, and a lot of peoples’ lives — cause a lot of people work for me — and I was stoned at the time!”

I’m still on season 4 As for those who think Twitter is useless nonsense, well, your opinion is nonsense, and useless. It’s all who you follow. The coolest tweet of the week:

If someone had told my 12-year-old self that I would be seeing messages like this on my pocket global communication device, I would have been very happy: so it’s true! The future is going to be just as cool as I hoped!

Well, no moon base. But then there are sentences like this, which is absolutely true: As one of our spacecraft approaches Pluto, our probe around Mercury is reaching the end of its life.

On April 30 MESSENGER will impact Mercury, falling down to its Sun-baked surface and colliding at a velocity of 3.9 kilometers per second, or about 8,700 mph. The 508-kilogram spacecraft will create a new crater on Mercury about 16 meters across. The impact is estimated to occur at 19:25 UTC, which will be 3:25 p.m. at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, where the MESSENGER operations team is located. Because the spacecraft will be on the opposite side of Mercury as seen from Earth the impact site will not be in view.

There’s a countdown here at Messenger’s home page. By the way, MESSENGER is all caps because it’s a long way to Earth so it has to shout. Actually, no. It’s this: “MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging.” Which happened to spell Messenger.

It's done great work.

VotD A round-up of action movie cliches, complete with Sly Stallone, gathered together for the noble purpose of selling bread.

SIZZLEREveryone’s trying really hard to let everyone else know they have seen the Sizzler promotional film, and that they have the proper opinion about it. That was Wednesday and Thursday on the internet. Friday the Sizzler story reaches the Neutron Star phase of its life, which is the GIF. So:

We can now forget about Sizzler until it enters the Black Hole phase, which is even shorter GIFs in Kinja comment sections at year’s end.

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