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 Technology

This post will gradually get quieter

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 15, 2014 - 12:28 PM

Slate describes the decline and evaporation of the Musical Fadeout:

The once-ubiquitous, but tragically under-appreciated fade-out in music appears to be near its end. And like a classic example of itself, the decline has been long, gradual, and barely noticed.

It’s a fine historical review of the subject, in case you’re wondering how it got started and how it because an artistic expression. (Because of the Beatles.) It took me a while to figure out why some bands could end songs, and why some couldn’t: the more they played live, the more the songs ended. When they became creatures of the studio, they got used to the board man pulling down the sliders, and that was that. Playing in a bar you have to end a song. In the studio, you don’t.

This led to the greatest lie of music television. Before MTV, artists with a hot single showed up on talk shows, often without a band at all. I remember watching Merv Griffin to see Gerry Rafferty play “Baker Street” - no band, just Gerry and a sax player, who may or may not have been Raphael Ravenscroft. The song faded out, as it did on the record, and they did what they always did: bring up the applause, as though the audience was so overcome with gratitude they couldn’t wait for the song to end before they started cheering. And then eventually the musicians stopped pretending they were singing and playing. It’s not easy to do. Takes perfect timing. Still looks completely fake.

Says one comment: “Composers should be inventive enough to come up with an actual ending. Fade outs are a cop out. For instance, it's never been used in classical music.”

BZZZZT. Sorry, that’s wrong.

ART The Flux Machine animates LOC GIFs for effects that are surreal, amusing, haunting, or all three together.

The artist has also put together a reasonable brief for renaming the Washington football team the Breadskins. His logic is impeccable. If you’re wondering whether this might alienate those who have difficulty with gluten, he addresses the matter.

COMICS It may seem from the outside like a bastion of solidity, but the Family Circus drops the mask today and reveals a world of paralyzing insecurity and misinformation:

Is Mom taking away the kid because the other one’s tableau of robots and airplanes holds some peril neither child can foresee?

VotD Let’s go bungee jumping! It’ll be fun. C’mon, these guys are professionals; what are you worried about?”

What took so long?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 11, 2014 - 12:40 PM

Oreos are getting in on the game, but there are some issues that need clarification. Slate:

That Pumpkin Spice Oreos do not have any pumpkin in them is the least of their problems. This is par for the course for pumpkin-spice-flavored things: In an odd yet pervasive lexical leap, “pumpkin spice” typically refers not to pumpkin itself but to the spices typically found in pumpkin pie: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, sometimes allspice or cloves. But Pumpkin Spice Oreos don’t contain any of those, either.

Other than that, though, pumpkin spice all the way. I think the reason Oreo made these was obvious: something to fill the fortnight before Halloween Oreos appear. There’s a big gap in seasonal Oreo line-up; after the Fourth, with red / white / blue cream, there’s really nothing until Halloween. Usually you can tell what month it is by looking at the Oreo department and subtracting four weeks, but this falls apart in late summer.

INSERT SMILEY HERE  From Neatorama, first lines of famous novels in emoji form. The first two are easy.

This one you may get instantaneously, which tells you how we can read emojis as a sentence.

OMG Teens react to a NES machine! Just as you’d expect, they chose thoughtful, interesting kids with a sense of history, and they say things like “I don’t recognize it, but it appears to be a game console. Interesting graphics, given the limitations of the era.” Just kidding.

Why are these “teens express ignorance at things that preceded their existence” things fascinating to some?

ART + MUSIC This is fun. Let it load and play. Click around.  That's one way to rethink the music video. There is no proper combination; it’s all rather Gilliamesque, but short and unique. (Via.)

The Apple Watch: questions answered

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 9, 2014 - 2:44 PM

How much? $350.

Coolest trick? Sending taps to other people. You can tap them on the wrist remotely. This will allow parents to bug their kids like never before. The same technology gives you tactile hints fro turn-by-turn directions, which is a reminder that this is the 21st century.

Most needless aspect? Facebook notifications, if you hate Facebook. If you live on Facebook this will ruin your life, but only if you let it.

Whoa, wireless charging? Sort of. Not really. It’s not as if you can put it on the nightstand and it’ll soak up energy from the ether. You attach a device that looks like a stethoscope, and it charges.

Will it work with my iPhone 4? No. Sorry. 5s, yes.

Most underrated feature that will be ordinary one day but intermittently cool and frustrating right now? Using the watch to pay for something just by tapping the credit-card terminal - providing it’s so equipped. Many are. Walgreen’s uses them. I wonder if there’s a security feature built in, because otherwise what’s to stop someone from stealing your watch and going on a shopping spree?

Why doesn’t it look like the mockups that had a sleek piece of curved glass that fits over your wrist? It will, some day. This is version 1. It will get thinner, faster, more powerful, smarter, and everything else except cheaper.

Will it stream music to my Bluetooth device? I don’t know. It can control music from the “Glance” screen, but that might connect to iTunes or AppleTV. If it’s not in this version, it will be in the next. While that’s a cool feature, it would mean one more device to sync with your library, and right now I have a phone with some songs, a classic iPad with all the songs, an iPod mini that has 1/4th the library and is inadequately synced because my daughter uses it all the time because she dropped Mom’s and the screen shattered. She only listens to the radio, which reminds you that they didn’t put a radio in the thing. That would be nice in the next version.

Will it cause great gnashing of teeth on tech sites where people complain about Apple cultists and how their Android device did this a year ago? Will cause? It began the moment the slide went up on the screen.

Time for the Next Thing

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 9, 2014 - 11:56 AM

The internet will collapse soon when the Apple Event begins, so let’s get this up fast. I’m curious about the so-called iWatch; I’ve no idea why I would need one. I was trained by the smartphone revolution not to look at my wrist to tell the time, but to take out my phone like a 19th century man pulling a timepiece out of a vest pocket. And now we’re supposed to go back to watches, albeit watches that can pay for something at the checkout counter by beaming your credit card numbers at the terminal.

If that’s the case, then an entirely new series of gestures will arise. Do you form a fist when you beam? Hold your hand straight out like some Roman oath of allegiance? Back-hand the terminal? Wave?

What if it’s not a watch at all, but something else?

I do know that whatever they release, the naysaying is going to be loud, it will be an affront to Steve Jobs for some reason, it will be called too expensive, Android watches did that last year, and it will sell a ton. And next year when they bring out a new version with incremental improements, there will be articles about how Apple no longer innovates. 

URBANISM The Guardian takes a look at the new World Trade Center, and asks:

When Ground Zero was finally cleared after the fall of the twin towers, New Yorkers trusted that thoughtful, ambitious urban design could make the city whole again. Why have they been so badly let down?

Because they chose the wrong architect and approved the wrong project? My antennae started to quiver early in the piece, because the author describes 4 WTC as "sublime." Looks like the Campell-Methun Tower to me, albeit better proportioned.

VotDThis is an excellent metaphor for any human endeavor that begins with everyone united in purpose and strategy:

Letting Strangers Wake You Up

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 8, 2014 - 12:29 PM

And I don't mean being kicked as you slump in a doorway, sleeping off a binge. Meet Wakie, the app that lets strangers call you and tell you it's time to get out of bed. NextWeb:

To use Wakie, you have to be prepared to sign in using your phone number. Wakie promises that your number will remain ‘safe and anonymous’.

Wakie’s community consists of Wakies (callers) and Sleepyheads (yup). If you want an alarm call, you just set an alarm time through the app, and when the wake-up time arrives, you’ll be connected to a Wakie of a similar age and the opposite gender. With that condition enforced, Wakie suddenly meanders on a slightly different trajectory, but we digress.

No, can’t see any opportunity for mischief there. Screenshot from The Next Web:

It got $1 million in the latest fundraising round. As one of the comments notes, apps are turning into concept art.

LITERATURE This Guardian piece is . . . beautiful. 

Seemingly unembarrassed by the incongruity of mounting a vehement defence of a detective story in which all the characters are teddy bears, Harper initially penned a series of comments (many of them over a single night between 1am and 4am) in which he quoted passages from the book, hoping to persuade Cohen that his criticisms of its "workmanlike" prose or "juvenile" plot were unjustified.

The author, in his defense, quotes his book extensively, insisting it has the lyricism of Keats and Fitzgerald. The thread - which is seven miles long - ends with the site’s editor closing comments because he said the author drew in details about people in (the critic’s) personal life.” Over an ebook. About detectives. Who are stuffed animals.

YOU HOGS You should not go to Food Festivals and you are a boorish drunk glutton if you do. Slate

Looking down from the relative safety of a balcony at the L.A. House of Blues, where I was researching a blog post for L.A. Weekly last year, I was reminded of the end of Nathanael West’s short 1939 novel The Day of the Locust, in which a horde of spiritually famished L.A. grotesques, urged on by a gleeful barker, turns violent and destructive at a movie premiere. A celebration of eating turns strange and a little horrific when the overeaters-next-door are so caught up in their pursuit of porky goodness that they eschew manners and propriety, stirred by a barker’s exhortations and emboldened by their anonymity.

Except that there wasn’t a riot at the food festival, and the “Locust” riot was caused when a character stomps on a child, and then everyone turns on the killer, but on the other hand, the character was named Homer Simpson, and Homer liked pork, so it almost fits.

Related fit of disapproval: NYT reports that a town turned into itself a setting for an ad.

Workers have been busy in this bucolic, out-of-the-way ski town: The streets have been painted blue, as have the light poles. Blue props and fencing have been hauled in, rendering the place almost unrecognizable. And as final preparations take place for a three-day party, many residents are fuming, cursing the town for approving a clandestine deal to let a giant beer company turn it into a living advertisement in exchange for $500,000.

“This is a mistake,” said David Rothman, 55, who moved to Crested Butte 20 years ago, of the decision to let Anheuser-Busch take over the town to film a beer commercial. “Frankly, it’s vulgar and it’s cheap.”

Probably. It’s also temporary. A half-million dollars to be a backdrop for an ad seems like a lot of money. The situation was described thus in the Paris Review:

If you’re looking to become productively, righteously, vindictively angry, read this piece in the Times about Crested Butte, Colorado, a town that will become, this weekend, an advertisement for Bud Light.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Save your productive righteous vindictive anger for something that contains actual harm.

One can react only with scorn, and then one must trot out that shopworn but ever more vital statement of Philip Roth’s, from 1961:

No, one mustn’t. One might, and one probably will.

“The American writer … has his hands full in trying to understand, describe and then make credible much of American reality … It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents.”

They painted a town for a commercial and then they cleaned it up and went away. If it had been for something other than a beer ad - say, if the town had been gussied up to look like a Library, or sold for a festival whose objectives and philosophy matched or flattered the town’s self-image - there would be no hysterics. No Roth quotes.

NO SIGNAL Here’s a novel idea.

While being glued to a mobile device has become a dangerously common part of 2014 life, a couple in Vermont has reaped financial rewards by rejecting 21st-century technology at their bakery, August First.

Wife-and-husband team Jodi Whalen and Phil Merrick banned laptops and tablets from their Burlington-based bakery earlier this year, after determining that laptop patrons spent much more time, and much less money, at the eatery than the average customer.

The fun begins in the comments, where some people believe that they have a claim on a restaurant’s table that exceeds the needs of the owner to cover the costs of doing business.

HISTORY If you’re unfamiliar with the nomenclature or history of the Danish Kings of England, this is a good places to start: ancient Ring Fort discovered.

. . . some historians contend the fortresses were constructed by his son Sweyn Forkbeard, the first Danish King of England, as a military training camp or barracks from which to launch his invasions of England. Sweyn Forkbeard seized London in 1013 and was declared King of England on Christmas Day of that year.

Didn’t last long, alas. Forkbeard is an interesting name, but his father had one that was more enduring. Yes, it’s named after him. But what did it mean?

Wikipedia has this:

Harald's nickname "Bluetooth" first documented appearance is in the Chronicon Roskildense from 1140.[13] The usual explanation is that Harold must have had a conspicuous bad tooth that has been "blue" (i.e. black, as "blue" meant dark).

Another explanation, is that he was called Thegn in England (corrupted to "tan" when the name came back into Old Norse) — in England, Thane meant chief. Since blue meant "dark", his nickname was really "dark chieftain.”

A third theory, according to curator at the Royal Jelling Hans Ole Mathiesen, was that Harald went about clothed in blue. The blue color was in fact the most expensive, so by walking in blue Harald underlined his royal dignity.

The icon for Bluetooth, by the way, are the runes for HB. And now you know. 

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