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.

One spout, 400 brands

Posted by: James Lileks under Outstate, Technology Updated: July 29, 2014 - 2:03 PM

All the fancy artisanal hand-crafted bourbon with the well-designed label and premium price points? Probably comes from the same spigot, says the Daily Beast. The article links to this page, which compiles all the brands and notes who really makes who. I had no idea Four Roses made Bulleit. Next we’ll learn that many beers are made by the same enormous distilleries. You can’t trust anything anymore!

SCIENCE! Another day, another skull - but this time it has a bonus feature. Ancient brains.

Archaeologists in Norway made an extremely rare discovery when they found an ancient skull believed to date back 8,000 years at a dig site in Stokke, southwest of Oslo. According to a news report in The Local, the skull was found to contain a grey, clay-like substance inside it, which is thought to be the preserved remains of the individual’s brain.

If analyses confirm this to be the case, it will constitute one of the oldest brains ever found. Being able to study a preserved brain enables scientists to piece together the individual’s last hours and may also reveal any diseases or pathological conditions such as tumours and haemorrhaging.

Scientists can piece together the brain-inhabitant’s last hours? No. I mean, it’s not as if they’re hooking it up to a Dreamscape recorder and downloading the memories. I don’t know what that means. So let’s go to the original story in the Local.

For the past two months archaeologists have been digging at the Stokke site, believed to be two separate Stone Age settlements.

The human skull containing brain matter is among many findings unearthed at the dig.

It is hoped the skull can tell something about how it was to be a Stone Age human in Norway. It is not yet known whether the skull belongs to an animal or a child.

I didn’t think many human skulls belonged to animals, but I’m not a paleontologist.

HMMM Questions that don’t seem as provocative as they might:

Related, inasmuch as it's a teaster on the internet:

No. Don’t.

TIOT That’s the Internet of Things, the nebulous and infantile name for the imminent future of interconnected machines. Some people think it’ll be overkill. Like this.

You wake up to a jazzy MIDI version of the “Happy Birthday” song. Your smart thermostat and smoke detector are singing in harmony because today is your day. Your fitness tracker is vibrating in an unfamiliar Morse Code. Searching the internet, you come across a question in the support forums about it, explaining it is the preprogrammed birthday greeting silent alarm that you can disable after pairing the device again and updating your settings. Your bathroom scale, toilet, and garage door also welcome you with birthday wishes. Open up the refrigerator to another friendly jingle. Tropicana, Fage, and Sabra Hummus all wish you happy birthday. Now there’s an incoming message. It is the “birthday selfie” it snapped when you reached for the orange juice

If you don’t think this is likely, check your email for all the letters you get and don’t want but haven’t bothered to unsubscribe from. I don't want to unsubscribe from my orange-juice camera.

TRAVEL TIPS From Michael Totten, freelance globe-trotter:

I was advised to check out Le Mat on the outskirts of the city. There you will find the Snake Village where you can pull up a bar stool and order some snake wine. The bartender will kill a cobra, pour its blood into rice wine, and drop the snake’s still-beating heart into the shot glass.

If you don’t want to drink blood, you can have it with bile instead.

I refused. Why make my stomach churn and possibly heave just so I can write about it? The description of the drink itself is enough. I went to Iraq seven times during the war, but drinking snake wine is over the line. I don’t care whether or not that makes sense. 

Where he went, and what he saw, make for a fascinating read. Here you go.

An unanswerable question

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture, Photos Updated: July 28, 2014 - 12:32 PM

Wonder how long this sign will stay like this.

(Portland and 494.)

AHOY The final voyage of the Concordia - a 200 mile voyage. Lots of photos here as well, as well as news on the Captain. What, news of his life behind bars, you ask? No, he’s showing up with a nice tan for a party. Which has led to something of a Clameroso.

YOU BE THE JUDGE The question What really happened at the Comic-Con Zombie Hit and Run episode won’t be one of those mysteries that devils restless minds in the future. No, they’ll keep making fools of themselves over the JFK murder. But this Daily Dot story gives you an idea what not to do when engaging in dress-up play.

ARCHITORTURE This proposed building would replace this . . . thing in Edina. Look at this building. Just look at it.

I drive past that dullard once a week and I have no memory of it. That’s how nondescript it is. No loss.

SCIENCE Dinosaurs had a run of bad luck, says a new theory. This is the theory. Ahem! This is this theory, which is theirs. The next thing that is to come is the theory. Ahh-hem! Ahhh-hem! Now, a theory of Dinosaurs which is theirs, by Jennifer Viegas, brackets-Miss-brackets.

Tectonic events, such as mountain formation, also led to the disappearance of a large seaway that had covered much of the interior of North America during most of the Cretaceous.

All of these changes impacted dinosaur populations, with large plant-eating dinosaurs that were at the base of the food chain particularly experiencing a dramatic drop in number. This, in turn, would have weakened the entire dino ecosystem.

The article also notes:

“A lot of dinosaurs really looked and behaved like birds," he said. "If we were standing around in the Cretaceous, I don't think we would have made a distinction between a Velociraptor-type dinosaur and a true bird, and that is true of these feathered dinosaurs: these things were basically birds, and the line between them and birds is an arbitrary one.”

Aside from the leaping-on-you-with-talons-and-ripping-you-to-pieces part.

Okay, if you didn’t get the reference at the start of the entry:

Votd Jeez, another guy tweeted about a boarding-gate agent and got taken off the plane:

Actual details here.

What advertisers thought MN looked like in '47

Posted by: James Lileks under Minnesota History Updated: July 25, 2014 - 12:38 PM

Prince Albert’s 1940s ad campaign went to Minnesota, for some reason. It’s notable for the first panel, which presents what people apparently thought the state was like. For heaven's sake, did that diver have FAA clearance?

These people just can't shut up about Prince Albert. Also interesting that they're taking a canoe from Red Lake to Cass Lake, which is about 60 miles away. Well, maybe the water levels were high that year.

Finally, they reach Cass Lake:

They have to describe Paul, and yet they don't say "That Saxe-Colbert nobleman who married Queen Elizabeth, Prince Albert." It's as if they're not talking like real people at all.

MODERN TIMES This Newsweek story is lightly sourced, but for good reason. It's a look at the daily life of Putin, based on lots of conversations with people who don't want their words attributed to them, lest they get the jab in the shin. One fellow is brave enough to say this:

“. . . he knows he has failed to rule Russia in anything else but a feudal way. And the moment his grip falters... it will all come crashing down and he will go to jail... and Moscow will burn like Kiev.”

Worth reading. 

Sioux Falls, North Dakota

Posted by: James Lileks under Outstate, Technology Updated: July 23, 2014 - 12:39 PM

More on the second series of "Fargo" on FX. Hmm:

Executive Producer Noah Hawley told a TV Critics' panel that season two will be set primarily in North Dakota in 1979 with a younger version of the Lou Solverson character (played by Keith Carradine in season one.) His daughter, Molly, who Allison Tolman portrayed, is just 4 years old.

From another piece:

In the first season, cop-turned-diner owner Lou Solverson (Keith Carradine) often mysteriously referred to a major incident that occurred back in Sioux Falls. At the time, he was 33-years-old and recently back from the Vietnam War.

Which saw the withdrawal of combat troops in 1973. Other than that, though, good news.

ANIMATION In which grown men complain about a movie about self-aware planes that can talk and have developed a complex industrial infrastructure despite the lack of opposable digits: Cartoon Brew on the recent “Planes” movie. 

A prevailing argument seems to be the belief, if not the horrible certainty, that the existence of “Planes” is intended to spur the purchase of toys intended for small boys. Also, it was better in the old days of hand-drawn cartoons, when masterpieces appeared in the theater every two months. I remember growing up in those days. Animated movies were rare. Continents drew closer by inches between the releases.

DUH HuffPo on why Smart People don’t buy brand-name aspirin:

The researchers reached the conclusion that informed consumers are more likely to buy a generic product after analyzing Nielsen data from more than 77 million shopping trips by 124,114 households. They also conducted two surveys with more than 160,000 individuals.

That seems like a lot of research for people to do on their own.

There’s a difference when it comes to flavored stuff. Brand-name goods generally taste better. Store brands have a taste that seems to say “if you deserved something that didn’t taste like Mr. Creosote’s sweat, you’d be able to afford it.”

TECH Reviews for Amazon’s new Fire phone are coming in. The Verge is thorough, fair, and not impressed.

Firefly can recognize lots of things, but it’s incredibly, hilariously inconsistent. It figured out the type of Jelly Beans I was shopping for, but only offered them to me in massive bulk. It identified my Dove deodorant as the wrong scent; it turned green tea into citrus; it logged the wrong kind of Trident gum. It identified Michael Lewis’ The New New Thing by its large, title-driven cover, but couldn’t figure out the small type and barren green cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It couldn’t identify my keyboard or mouse or speakers or shoes, despite the fact that I bought them all on Amazon.

Do you want to stand in a store and take pictures of Jelly Beans to see if you can buy them cheaper on Amazon? Only if they get approval for same-hour drone delivery, and even then, why? There are Jelly Beans. Right there. In the store. For 24 cents more, granted, but you can eat them in the car, now. I love Amazon, but the idea of turning every retail establishment in town into a showroom for something you buy elsewhere is not the best idea I’ve heard in a long time.

AHOY The Costa Concordia is floating again. Remarkable. The Blue Peter flag has been hoisted, the article notes, as if you know what that means. Might be a good time to acquaint yourself with Nautical Flags.

VOTD Nice dog made nicer by editing and a soundtrack that drowns out the commands. Otherwise, totally legit:

Feeling good? Have a nice warm feeling in your heart? Let’s go to the comments:

Some days you read about the plague in China and think: can’t make it here fast enough.

Thomas the Tank Engine: Unjust and Immoral

Posted by: James Lileks under Outstate Updated: July 22, 2014 - 12:43 PM

She’s kidding. Right? A Guardian columnist looks at the subtext of Thomas the Tank Engine:

. . .if you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages.

For one, these trains perform tasks dictated by their imperious, little white boss, Sir Topham Hatt (also known as The Fat Controller), whose attire of a top hat, tuxedo and big round belly is just a little too obvious. Basically, he's the Monopoly dictator of their funky little island. Hatt orders the trains to do everything from hauling freight to carrying passengers to running whatever random errand he wants done, whenever he wants it done – regardless of their pre-existing schedules.

Yes, she’s kidding. Has to be.  Every parent does this: analyzes their kids’ shows to death for fun, because you’re stuck at home watching something inane. Everyone has that “hmm: this is a show about slavery, in a way.” It also lacks class consciousness:

Inevitably, the trains get in a fight with or pick on one another (or generally mess up whatever job they are supposed to be doing) until Hatt has to scold one of them about being a "really useful engine", because their sole utility in life is their ability to satisfy his whims. Yeah, because I want to teach my kid to admire a controlling autocrat.

Well, it’s Guardian writer, so yes, she does, but the proper kind.

BYE-BYE Roundy’s is leaving the Twin Cities. Some of the Rainbow stores will turn into Byerly’s, which is a head-snapping transition; others will become CUB stores, which isn’t too much of a change. From Roundy’s house brands to Everyday Essential, which is Cub’s boringly designed house brands. I stopped going to Rainbow for two reasons: the handles on the bags. They always broke. The glue used to affix the handles was actually spit, I think.

Also because the stores were depressing. One day I overheard - not that it was difficult - two bakery workers laughing about an enormous mess a co-worker had left in the break room lavatory, and that was the end of that.

UH-OH Plague in China. Bubonic Plague, the richest kind.

A Chinese town has been sealed off and 151 people placed in quarantine since last week after a man died of bubonic plague, state media said Tuesday.

The 30,000 people living in Yumen in the northwestern province of Gansu are not being allowed to leave, and police at roadblocks on its perimeter are telling motorists to find alternative routes, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said.

And how did the fellow get sick?

Other reports said that earlier this month the 38-year-old victim had found a dead marmot, a small furry animal which lives on grasslands and is related to the squirrel. He chopped it up to feed his dog but developed a fever the same day. He was taken to hospital after his condition worsened and died last Wednesday.

Somewhere someone is using a meme generator that has Yoda saying Begun, the Marmot Plague Has. Do I need to search for it and post it? No. We’re reaching the point where it’s sufficient simply to imagine them, knowing they exist.

SOUND AND FURY The Awl (no link, cuss word in URL because the author is full of RAGE and swearing proves it) says:

Last week, Amazon informed us that for ten dollars per month, Kindle users can have unlimited access to over six hundred thousand books in its library. But it shouldn't cost a thing to borrow a book, Amazon, you foul, horrible, profiteering enemies of civilization.

The author points out that there are free alternatives. Thanks!

Wonder if they have this one.

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