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.

That's John Gill

Posted by: James Lileks under Praise, Technology Updated: August 18, 2014 - 12:28 PM

There’s no word for something that’s dorky, nerdy, and geeky all at once. We need a turducken-like word to describe nested layers of sci-fi obsessiveness. It’s geeky to know how warp speed is achieved in Star Trek; it’s nerdy to know the names of its inventor and his life story; it’s dorky to be unable to sustain human contact with other people unless they know these things.

That said, here’s some dorknerdky.

When I was a kid I drew Star Trek comic books. Couldn’t draw people, but I could draw the Enterprise, and that was sufficient. There was little else a fan could do; the show was long gone, the cartoon was off the air, the novelizations of the TV shows were just recaps of stories thrice told. Oh, there was talk of bringing it back, but we all knew it was over. Here’s lookin’ at you, Yeoman Rand. We’ll always have Rigel.

Nowadays I imagine going back to my young self, and asking what he’d like to know. I suspect Star Trek would come up. Did they ever make another show? Well, kid, yes and no. The good news: they made a movie. A movie! Was it awesome? It was . . . endurable, and we made lots of excuses at the time, but it was hard going. So that was the end of it, then. Drat. No. They made 12 more.

At which point my young self would be confused, because there weren’t two movies about the same thing, let alone 13. That’s when I’d have to elaborate. See, they brought Star Trek back, and it lasted for seven years. Then there was another Star Trek show that lasted for seven years, and while it was going on there was another Star Trek show that lasted for seven years, then one that lasted for four. There’s a quarter-century of Star Trek in your future, and for the most part you’ll like it.

The hard part would be explaining the fan movies, I think. With a dozen movies and hundreds episodes extant, there would still be such enormous hunger for the original Trek that people would spend their own money to build the sets and write the scripts and film their own versions of Star Trek, with varying degrees of artistic success. By 2014 we hadn’t returned to the moon or invented warp drive, but . . . there are consolations.

There will come a time when the tools of creation have been distributed to the audience, and the audience responds by making something that exceeds the source material. Something visually indistinguishable from the products of Hollywood, something that isn’t bound by the crack-monkey hit-the-beats dictates of a committee effort, something that channels all the raw geek fan love and brings to life the Star Trek you always knew was there, but had never seen like this.

That’s a trailer for the 20-minute finished portion of Return to Axanar, which is here. If I’d show this to my 15-year-old self without any context of what came before in the last quarter-century., I think he would have been unable to walk for a week. Yes, there are other fan-made movies and web series, and some look remarkably good. But the acting and the script often make you wince. This has actors who’ve done many things - including actual Star Trek TV shows.

Made by fans, funded by fans: it’s a Kickstarter project.

Re: re: re: re: re: re:

Posted by: James Lileks under Outstate, Technology Updated: August 15, 2014 - 12:44 PM

A stirring defense of email? Yes. It is indeed a “tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built,” as Alexis Madrigal says at the Atlantic. It’s also becoming the equivalent of snail mail, inasmuch as the personal communications come via other channels. Phones killed the letter; email killed letters; texting killed email; and so on. So this is heresy! Or is it?

It's worth noting that spam, which once threatened to overrun our inboxes, has been made invisible by more sophisticated email filtering. I received hundreds of spam emails yesterday, and yet I didn't see a single one because Gmail and my Atlantic email filtered them all neatly out of my main inbox. At the same time, the culture of botty spam spread to every other corner of the Internet. I see spam comments on every website and spam Facebook pages and spam Twitter accounts every day. 

That’s true. But texts on your phone are easier, no?

This isn't something the originators of email ever could have imagined, but: Email does mobile really well.

While the mobile web is a rusting scrapheap of unreadable text, broken advertisements, and janky layouts, normal emails look great on phones! They are super lightweight, so they download quickly over any kind of connection, and the tools to forward or otherwise deal with them are built expertly and natively into our mobile devices. 

That’s true as well. Hmm. Well, here’s the problem. Email as a means of personal communication works fine, and allows for more greater length, if people in the future will still be capable of such things. But it will be mostly associated with work, which for millions means it is simply a nag that tells you what you haven’t done yet.

Good article; give it a read.

SCIENCE! Another big rock heading our way. Panic. Slowly. The Independent serves up some quality science writing:

They were studying asteroid 1950 DA, which has a one in 300 chance of hitting the planet on 16 March, 2880 Although the odds seem small, it is the most likely asteroid to collide with Earth and the odds are higher than being shot dead in the US.

Sigh. That’s a meaningless statistic. Where in the US? Chicago? The Alaskan tundra?  Let’s keep reading:

The University of Tennessee researchers said 1950 DA is rotating so quickly it “defies gravity” and is held together by cohesive forces, called van der Waals, never before detected on an asteroid.

From the comments:

Van der Waals force is the name for the intermolecular electromagnetic forces that keep your desk together and the screen you are reading this on. Every solid body is kept in one piece by them, including asteroids, big and small.

Moving right along:

The findings, published in the science journal Nature, could prompt a change in tactics defending our planet.

The chance of contemporary tactics changing to anticipate an event in 2880 seem small. It’s difficult to change tactics to anticipate something we know for certain will happen in 2015. Moving right along:

Previous research has shown that asteroids are loose piles of rubble held together by gravity and friction but by calculating 1950 DA’s thermal inertia and bulk density, the team detected the action of cohesive forces that stop it breaking up.

Ben Rozitis, a postdoctoral researcher, said if only gravity were holding it together, the spinning would cause it to fly apart.

The rotation is so fast that at its equator, 1950 DA effectively experiences negative gravity and if an astronaut were to attempt to stand on the surface, he or she would be thrown off into space.

Which sounds like nonsense. But speaking of being flung into space:

Votd Surely there’s a point where you’re fleeing the cops and you have one on your hood banging his helmet on your windshield where you think This cannot possibly end well.

The plague of innumerable losers

Posted by: James Lileks under Gripes, Praise Updated: August 13, 2014 - 12:50 PM

What did awful people do before the internet? Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda, has written this on her Instagram account:

I will be leaving this account for a but while I heal and decide if I'll be deleting it or not. In this difficult time, please try to be respectful of the accounts of myself, my family and my friends. Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me on the number of them is cruel and unnecessary.

The question is whether the Internet created these people by providing anonymity and celebrating a lulz culture, or whether they always existed but had nothing to do with the curdled thoughts that rattled around their empty heads. Perhaps both. Doesn’t matter. It makes you want a separate internet just for the decent.

There's a Gawker story about the matter, but, well, it's a bit difficult to see a Gawker site getting het up over trolls. Better to read her own words, here.

AD OF THE DAY This is a nice restorative pick-you-up: a TV dad who’s not a stupid oaf!

MUSIC There was a schism, and it was deep, and two camps faced each other across the great divide:

In any case, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols came out two days after my 11th birthday and that confusion ended. Instantly. If you were all “punk rock,” then you had no time for progrock bands. You hated them. They were all totally unredeemably bleep. (All of them, except for maybe King Crimson. Robert Fripp, now he was cool.)

Perhaps if you were eleven they were bleep. (Note: "bleep" not in the original.) Sure, progressive rock was reviled by the punks, but it was reviled by everyone who liked other genres. The only thing anyone could agree on was that progrock was a bloated corpse of a dinosaur in a tar pit on a planet with 10X gravity, and oh by the way jazz-rock was worse. (Phil Collins, the drummer for Genesis, brought the Force into balance by drumming for a progressive jazz-rock group, but that’s another story.)

That’s where “New Wave” came in. Same idea - strip it down, tighten it up, and for heaven’s sake dump the strings. Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, dozens more. The work holds up. Sid Vicious does not.

Anyway. New Wave influenced prog-rock, in a way; when BeBop Deluxe came out with “Drastic Plastic” in 1979, you could tell that Bill Nelson had decided less is more, and went for a stripped-down, straight-ahead sound. No more vast overlaid guitar symphonies. The very idea of the Heroic Guitar Solo seemed outdated.

This was the stuff in the margins. The main attraction on the radio was still latter-period disco and California studio rock. Punk and New Wave were co-opted and watered down soon enough - the Romantic’s “What I Like About You” was clean and fresh, but it was as much of a Kinks-era throwback as a New Wave template; the Kings’ awful “Switchin’ to Glide” was a signal that the popular version of New Wave was going to be confuse “simplicity” with stupidity. Add Loverboy, and the rise of Hair Metal ensured that bro-friendly head-bobbing RAWK was going to rule, not smart nervy works by good songwriters.

(Note: in the mid-80s, the radio stations played “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” at 5 PM on Friday, and yes, I turned it up to 11.)

ANYWAY. In the comments for the article - which is about learning to appreciate progressive rock, by the way - there’s the proggiest comment ever:

I was never vocally opposed to prog back then, but I never particularly liked Yes, something about Jon Anderson's vocals annoyed me. Other than Crimson I tended to like non-UK prog bands: Magma, Goblin, Zappa (face it, he was 'prog': what other rock band was stealing from Stravinsky in 1967?) Arguably even Can was prog, since two members studied with Stockhausen.

Yeah, and it showed. Magma! Good Lord, Magma? They sang in an invented language about some incomprehensible sci-fi story. If they’d been big and mainstream, the inevitable response wouldn’t have been Punk, boiling up from the clubs. It would have been disco. Because it was fun and had one objective: happy dancing.

Nothing since then has been about happy dancing, but that’s another rambling entry.

(via Coudal.)

When Dogs Fly

Posted by: James Lileks under Technology Updated: August 12, 2014 - 12:46 PM

How much does a dog enjoy jumping off a tall mountain on the back of an enormous green bird? It’s hard to say. Depends on the temperament of the animal, of course, but if you had to bet money you’d say the spectrum of enjoyment went from “paralyzing fear” to “uncomprehending acceptance.”

If winching the dog down to the rock made you flinch from fear of heights, the sight of the guy going down the rope as if it was a bannister may have convinced you that this is a pastime you will never explore.

TECH A Nest thermostat was hacked. Everyone panic:

“If I were a bad guy, I would tunnel all of your traffic through me, sniffing for any kind of credentials like credit cards,” Buentello said. “That’s horrible because if you have a computer, it crashes and you take it to Best Buy. How the hell will you know your thermostat is infected? You won’t.”

True. In this case, however, the hackers had physical access to the device, and could insert some malware via a USB stick. Defenders note that if they’re in your house for nefarious purposes, they’ll probably go for the jewelry. True, but it doesn’t mean some Bond-villain minions couldn’t install some eavesdropping programs in the thing, and it doesn’t mean these devices will be forever protected from a network attack. I can do without my thermostat talking to Google. I can live without getting a Google Alert because the device’s motion detector said there was someone in the house, when I know it’s the dog. It is the dog, isn’t it? Right. Has to be the dog! Sigh: fire up the webcam on the stove, see if there’s anyone in the kitchen . . . hmm, doesn’t work. Or maybe it’s smeared with grease and smoke. Let’s try the motion sensors on the dishwasher . . . odd; there’s text on the screen. It’s an URL for pills. Arrgh; forgot to update the anti-virus.

Those are the fears, but I suspect the reality will be less perilous. There will always be evil little twerps who spend their time figuring out how to load malware on your Android to reprogram your freezer, but it’s not exactly a high-value target.

GAMES John Romero is going to make you a twitch, to paraphrase an infamous ad campaign. He’s making a new first-person shooter, PCWorld says. Took 14 years to recover from Daikatana, apparently. A clip from the interminable Wikipedia entry on the plot:

Hiro storms the Mishima's headquarters, where he rescues Mikiko as well as Superfly Johnson, the Mishima's head of security who rebelled when he grew sick of the Mishima's brutal and totalitarian practices. Mikiko and Superfly join Hiro in his quest and they steal the Daikatana. The Mishima encounters the trio as the trio steal the sword, wielding a second Daikatana. The Mishima sends the trio back in time to Ancient Greece. Hiro and Mikiko defeat the Medusa, recharging the Daikatana as it absorbs Medusa's power. The three time jump once more, only to encounter the Mishima again and be sent through time to the Dark Ages, stranded as the Daikatana has run out of power.

The group finds a sorcerer named Musilde who offers to recharge the Daikatana if Hiro, Superfly, and Mikiko can save his village from the black plague. To do this, the group must defeat the Necromancer Nharre, reassemble a magical sword called the Purifier and use it to restore the sanity of King Gharroth so that he may use the sword to end the plague. When King Gharroth recharges the Daikatana Hiro and friends time jump again, finally ending up in the year 2020, where -

Nevermind. Here’s what it looked like.

In 2000, compared to Quake 3, that was laughable. You can watch a fellow wisecracking his way through the last level here, and if you can get past the occasional nasal snort, you’ll see the SHOCKING REVELATION of the plot.

Kodachrome Minnesota

Posted by: James Lileks under Minnesota History, Photos, Technology Updated: August 11, 2014 - 12:30 PM

A box of old slides yields some Minnesota history over at Shorpy; it’s remarkable what details the old pictures had - and what people uncovered once they started sleuthing. This, for example:

That would be Jerry Adler, a virtuoso harmonica player whose work was heard by millions.

Adler focused on popular music as his career developed, and he soloed in numerous film soundtracks from the 1940s to the 1960s, including Shane, High Noon, Mary Poppins, and My Fair Lady. He also taught actors how to pretend to play the instrument convincingly where their on-screen performances required.

We are well past the days of popular harmonica players.

That’s the easiest detail to run down. The ashtray matchbooks were a bit trickier.

URBAN STUDIES A speculative property venture hasn’t succeeded yet, and may never be occupied. Let’s spin the wheel . . . ah, it handed on Ireland. Here’s some pictures of empty places, followed by the usual comments. One person sniffs at the sameness of the houses, and another notes that the row houses of the cities of the Scepter’d Isle aren’t exactly noted for their stylistic diversity. True. I remember taking the train from DC to New York, and seeing endless expanses of row houses, all exactly the same, distinguished by the occasional attempt to customize. But the suburbs are bland and interchangeable. Right.

MUSIC It’s Weird Al’s moment, Vulture notes, and good for him. Sign of the times: the guy who had the #1 record in America doesn’t have a record contract. In a few years the #1 book in the country will be written by someone who went around the publishing houses and did an ebook on his or her own. TV will be next.

TECH The Man who Liked Everything on Facebook: sounds like an Oliver Sachs essay.

I tried counting how much stuff I’d liked by looking in my activity log, but it was too overwhelming. I’d added more than a thousand things to my Likes page—most of which were loathsome or at best banal. By liking everything, I turned Facebook into a place where there was nothing I liked.

For some people, it’s that already, and you don’t have to click on a thing. Article is notable for some Andy Warhol BS in the opening; why his remarks are still regarded as oracular pronouncements is mystifying.

Also in tech: why are remotes so ridiculous? I have the same problem with my DVD remote, which is replete with buttons that do nothing, or do something I can’t undo. There’s a button that says PRE-CH, which might trigger the TV to enter a state before all the major TV channels were established, and I’d just see a picture of Felix the Cat.

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