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.

Posts about Architecture

Debunking the Hypnotizing Cereal Study

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 7, 2014 - 12:42 PM

No, the Trix Rabbit is not trying to mesmerize your children. General Foods responded to the “absurd” cereal study that showed how cartoon mascots were trying to “hypnotize” kids. The story went all around the web. I did my part last week, but thought it was silly. Here’s General Food's blog: 

For example, the study supposedly found that the average shelf placement was 23 inches, and the average height of the supposedly downward looking gaze would therefore be 20.21 inches. Their data.

So we looked up –on Google – the average age that a child walks. Did you know three out of four children walk at around 13 months? We didn’t. We then looked up the average height of a 13-month old.  It’s around 30 inches tall.

If this research was in any way meaningful – which it’s not – these supposedly downward looking characters would be looking below eye level of the youngest kids possible.

Unless mom is dragging the kid on the floor. Or the kid is duck-walking.

The study’s author responds in the blog credits. I don’t doubt that there’s marketing psychology involved in the design of cereal boxes, but the idea that there’s something deeeevious and subliminally manipulative about it? No.

Final spanking:

P.S. Take one more look at the Cornell graphic.  Mr. T cereal disappeared, I think, in the early 1980s. That guy on the bottom shelf? It may be C3PO. Now that’s cutting edge research.


Speaking of which:

SCIENCE! ASA released some video of a solar flare and it’s beautiful. Absolutely deadly, but beautiful.

And that would seem to be enough; how can the experience be altered or improved or made worse? 

1. Google added a pop-up ad for cheesecake over the explosions on the sun, which you had to click to dismiss;

2. AP added a pop-up ad - technically, a slide-in ad - that recommended I watch someone skydive off a Dubai skyscraper, because 22 seconds into the video I was probably getting itchy, wondering WHAT NEXT, OH INTERNET, HELP ME PLEASE;

3. Buzzfeed reduced it to a several-second GIF in case the prospect of 43 seconds worth of video made you twitchy and impatient. Then they added another GiF of some guy saying “Science.”

URBAN STUDIES Heartening and not-so-good: ten years after two photographers canvased Gotham looking for venerable signage, they return to the scene to see how things changed. I have the original book, and it's fascinating. Anyway: Here’s one example, from 22 words:

Here’s the Google Street View image as of today:

Was it ravaged between the time the Google camera drove past, and the photographers took their picture? Wikipedia:

In 2012, a rent increase threatened to shutter the establishment.[4] In December 2012, it was announced that it would close at the end of the year.[5] However in January 2013 Reed said he was reopening at 333 Lenox Avenue and that it would have its iconic neon sign there.[6] Richard Notar, who owned the Nobu Restaurant chain and who took over the lease on the original 288 Lenox location, said he would maintain the decor of the original 288 lounge which does not yet have a name.

Here’s the current website for the Lenox Lounge. And by “current” I meant 2014. I'm confused. 

ICK I’ve always wondered about things like this. Consider this Atlas Obscura tale about severed limbs.

According to an old European belief, a candle made out of the dried, severed hand of a criminal who had been hanged — known as the Hand of Glory — had supernatural powers. Traditionally, a Hand of Glory was the “pickled” right hand of a felon, cut off while the body still hung from the gallows. It was used by burglars to send the sleeping victims in a house into a coma from which they were unable to wake.

Except, of course, that it didn’t, which anyone who tried it would have known. But they never had the chance to talk to anyone, since they were caught and hung. In old movies it’s always a sign you’re about to hear secret wisdom: “it is said.” It is said that if a man of pure heart places his hand on the Stone of Kali on the first midnight of the year, the passage shall open.A nd so it happens!

If you’re Indiana Jones.

While we wait for the snow . . .

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 3, 2014 - 12:09 PM

A bit of Minneapolis history revealed: let’s all goggle at an old exposed brick wall!

It’s part of this 510 Marquette, which suffered the worst modernization of any building in Minneapolis.

It’s the interior wall, not the old exterior. All the classical details were scraped off and disposed here and there; two of the columns ended up at the MoZaic’s art park. Where they were before I can’t possibly imagine.

It was a Cass Gilbert building, the first Federal Reserve. Even before they plopped a tower atop the building, it was a forbidding thing.

From the newspaper the week it opened: Not even the Beagle Boys dared crack it!

Can’t find any pictures of what it’ll look like when it’s finished. It can’t be worse.

BTW: A commenter on the UrbanMSP forum makes an interesting suggestion:

If the Strib moved in, they could re-clad the first few floors of this with the exterior of the old Strib Building. I think it would actually match up fairly well.

That would be . . . unnerving.

MOVIES About that painting in “Grand Budapest Hotel”: there’s a reason art history majors were scratching their heads. From The Week:

In reality, "Boy with Apple" isn't a centuries-old masterpiece by a Czech painter. It was created just two years ago by the acclaimed English painter Michael Taylor. Fortunately, the real-life origin story of "Boy with Apple" is just as interesting as the one presented in The Grand Budapest Hotel. To get the full story on "Boy with Apple," The Week reached out to Michael Taylor and Ed Munro, the boy who served as the model for the painting.

The painter said Wes Anderson provided “a lot of input — particularly paintings by Bronzino, Holbein, Cranach; all sorts of stuff.” You can see the Cranach in the kid’s hand.

Related: Another lost silent film turns up in a closet. It’s this:

That was 91 years ago. The movie is “Love, life and Laughter, starring Betty Balfour, and it’s one of the British Film Institute’s 75 missing films. Well, 74 to go.

The article also has a complete copy of the movie’s ad campaign booklet, which ultra-20 images such as this: Betty did a comedy for that noted master of hilarity, Alfred Hitchcock. The entire film survives, and the print quality is remarkably good. Here’s half a minute from 1928. Even in a comedy he made the audience jump.

WRAPPED IN PLASTIC AV Club reports that Laura Palmer’s parting words are coming true:.

When Laura Palmer cryptically told Agent Dale Cooper “I’ll see you again in 25 years” in the final episode of Twin Peaks, she wasn’t talking about Twitter. Or was she? As of March 25, “1989,” a group of Twitter users operating under the banner of Enter The Lodge have taken it upon themselves to give Twin Peaks a third season.

More here.

VotD The page says “Flour Power,” but knowing Russia, it’s probably asbestos.

Walking Dead and Morton Salt

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 31, 2014 - 2:45 PM

"The Walking Dead Finale was Brutal, Shocking and Heartbreaking," says i09. Agreed for the most part; not sure about “heartbreaking.” You have to feel bad for the gang; things would have worked out better, you suspect, if they weren’t in a TV show that needed a season finale. Comment that may be a spoiler at the absolute end of this piece, below the video. So you’ve been warned.

MPLS From the Strib archives, an old view of a bygone Minneapolis corner. Can you identify it? Don’t worry. It’s an obscure and forgotten building.

Can you find it in this picture?

Lower left-hand side. The building was the National, which was torn down for the two-tower skyscraper first known as the Pillsbury Building. Note the absence of electronics on top of the Northwestern Bell building, and the utter filth begriming City Hall. Now let’s look at the billboards:

The great age of conspicuous whiskey ads. Kentucky Tavern. Still made. Can you identify the other ads? Computer, enhance!

Both brands are still around, too. Now, in the background:

A national brand: this ran in Life magazine, at the peak of the company’s popularity:

For a while, the largest supplier of blankets in the country. The factory moved away and the building sat empty for decades, but it’s lofts now. The sign must have been a landmark for a while, lit at nigh. We need more of those. 

Speaking of ancient civilizations: Here are 10 that history forgot. The Zapotec structure is particularly surprising: huge and intact. Then there’s this: “Europe’s biggest prehistoric civilization, the Vinca, existed for nearly 1,500 years. Beginning in the 55th century B.C., they occupied land throughout Serbia and Romania.”

55th century BC. There’s bygones, and there’s bygones.

In more recent history: technological advances in uncovering Roman graffiti.

More than 1,600 years after the Romans fled this cold, damp island for the warm south, their secrets are still emerging, thanks to a new technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging, or RTI. By firing a flash gun at worn-away ancient graffiti from dozens of different angles and photographing it, suddenly the ancient world comes to life. It's a related technique to seeing inscriptions just before sunset, when the letters fall into shadow. Thanks to RTI, new Latin inscriptions have emerged at Hadrian's Wall, and Greek ones on Athenian pots.

Don’t miss the Latin-based pedantry in the comments; smart and amusing.

In related news: “Assyrian stele containing ancient curse will not be reunited with its other half.” Not until Ghostbusters 3, anyway. Which isn’t going to happen. Anyway, here's the curse:

Whoever discards this image from the presence of Salmanu puts it into another place, whether he throws it into water or covers it with earth or brings and places it into a taboo house where it is inaccessible, may the god Salmanu, the great lord, overthrow his sovereignty; may his name and his seed disappear in the land; may he live in a contingent together with the slave women of his land.”

So says the curse. More here, if you’re wondering where the two halves are and why they won’t be joined together again. Who was Salmanu? Wikipedia will tell you:

Salmanu was king of Moab during the reign of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III (ruled 745–727 BCE). He is mentioned in a clay inscription found in Nimrud as a vassal of Assyria. Eberhard Schrader theorized that he might be identical with the Shalman who waged war on Israel and sacked Beth-arbel (Hosea x. 14); though other scholars identify Shalman with one of the Assyrian kings named Shalmaneser.

It’s amazing we know these things, really. It makes you marvel at the amount of likewise information we’ll never know.

HMM Redditor spotted a map of Minnesota on the map of Minnesota. The Google one, that is:

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Votd Tired of car dashcams? Let’s look at a Tramcam.

Now, for no reason, Weird Al has a problem with his hotel door chain.


1. Terminus is creepy because it has things written on the wall in a room full of candles. It seemed like a lot of candles, no? At some point I think the point's been made, and it seems like quite a lot of work. Maybe they all do it together and sing a song. If you're creepy and you know it light a match!

2. It takes a steely, determined leader to find himself stripped of weapons, heavily outnumbered, chased by sniper fire and locked in a hot train car to say "they're screwing with the wrong people." Or one who's completely delusional. At least we have a new bad guy who, we can be assured, will be gutted and brain-spiked at some point in season 5. 

Always something to look forward to on this show. 

Unbuilt Minneapolis: the Horrors

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 25, 2014 - 12:23 PM

You’re not a hoarder. You’re an archivist! That’s why some people don’t throw away those old Do you have VHS and Betamax tapes in the basement They may be the only copy of an old cable-access show or a 1985 commercial or a news anchor’s brief appearance filling in for the top dog. You could digitize them yourself, which of course you won’t, or donate them to an organization that will. The Internet Archive is uploading 40,000 tapes to the Internet - and it’s one person’s collection. Fast Company:

When Trevor von Stein first heard the story of a woman named Marion Stokes who spent decades recording television news, tape-by-tape, in her home, something resonated with him. "I just sort of tingled," he says. "I understood this woman a little bit." Von Stein also had something akin to a hoarding impulse, though most of what he kept--a large music library, his photos--was digital. And he believed in Stokes’s mission. “From one kindred spirit to another," he says, "I thought we had to do it justice.”

Soon after he learned about Stokes, von Stein became a volunteer at the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization that plans to digitize and make public the 40,000 tapes Stokes left behind when she passed away in 2012.

More here.

COOL Says io9: “We love staring at posters for our favorite movies for hours and hours. And you know what makes it even better? When those posters move." Agreed. Some of these you might have seen before, and not all are animated GIFs; some on this page are in Flash form, so don't bother if you're on an iPad or iPhone. 

Here’s one you haven’t seen, because I just made it:

(In case you’re curious: 15 frame grabs, with the right side of the poster pasted on each with the layer set to “lighten,” then compiled in GIFbrewery.)

URBANISM Another piece on unbuilt cities - in this case LA, which attracted so many utopian schemes. But Minneapolis had its share of unrealized projects as well, and in each case we are very, very lucky they didn’t follow through. The soulless complex originally pitched for the Government Center:

Instant Big Downtown, I guess, but deadly dull. That wasn’t the only scheme for the idea: there was something called the Short Megaplan, which would have built a massive complex between 3rd and 4th avenue South, from City Hall to the freeway. Good Lord:

For perspective: that’s the Foshay.

It would have brought the barren and brutal concrete aesthetic of Cedar Square to downtown.

Say hello to this brute, which would have stood where the Opus Towers on 5th rise gracefully today:

That’s how it looks in the drawing: ready to fall over.

Not all the plans were bad: there's no denying the beauty of the 1917 Plan, even though it was generic French-City style. 

Should they have made the entire downtown look like that? No. A few blocks? Yes.

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AAAEEEEIIIII Bruce Wayne nods approvingly: Andrew Rossig, Marco Markovich, and Kyle Hartwell B.A.S.E. jumped off the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower in September 2013, landed safely, and escaped capture. They also filmed it. That they did. B.A.S.E., btw, stands for Buildings, Antennae, Span, and Earth.

Wikipedia notes that this pastime has a long history: n 1912, Franz Reichelt, tailor, jumped from the first deck of the Eiffel Tower testing his invention, the coat parachute. He died.

There’s film of that, too.

VotD This is going around the internet like a brush fire today; everyone’s linking to it. Who am I to be different? The ultimate Generic Brand Video. (Has a cuss word.)

This Is a Generic Brand Video from Dissolve on Vimeo.

Copy-protected Coffee Pods?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 24, 2014 - 1:21 PM

Yes. A coffee-maker has decided to model its next-generation devices after another piece of tech everyone loves: printers. Ars Technica on the new Keurig:

it makes sense to look at another analog product with its own rights management and interoperability issues—printer ink/toner cartridges. Each printer company jealously guards its model of cartridges, doing everything it can to make them proprietary and unrefillable, because, of course, the real money in printing is in selling the ink/toner at a large profit . . . 

When asked how Keurig might do this with a coffee pod, Stoltz speculated that the pod and the coffee machine would have to perform a handshake similar to that of Lexmark's printers and cartridges. "I imagine you could do this with the equivalent of the RFID chip they put in subway tickets," said Stoltz. "My guess is that a chip that could do this could be very small and very cheap.”

I think they’re underestimating the potential for customers to desert the brand entirely. Look for the term “massive write-off” to appear in future stories about the project.

HISTORY It’s an old page, but I found it yesterday and hence assume it’s new to everyone else in the world: a tour of Minnesota small-town movie theaters. You can spend some time on Google Street View finding contemporary images in context.

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That’s a Leibenberg and Kaplan, like all the great movie theaters of Minneapolis. A complete list of their work is here - Google away!

ART Many different takes on the works of Stephen King, including some icons that may take a while to figure out. Any guesses?

Langoliers, I believe. 

VotD Boom!



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