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

Kitty Litter, cars, and intellectual property

Posted by: James Lileks 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 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.

Tweets in Spaaaaace

Posted by: James Lileks 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.

The Chicken-Staring App

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 15, 2015 - 1:39 PM

How long can you gaze into the maddeningly oblique soul of a chicken? The Egotist describes the poultry-gazing app:

Mithun’s effort for Popeyes, which promotes the brand's new $3.99 Red Stick Chicken, features what's being touted as an industry-first mobile app dubbed the "Red Stick Staredown Contest.”

The technology enables an antagonizing chicken to challenge the player to a staring contest and get them to flinch by distracting them. The longer a player can hold a stare with the chicken, the more “perfect peppers” they collect.

This is your enemy.

I lasted 117 seconds, because I got bored.

Likewise, I got 67 letters as a Pony Express rider yesterday, and then I gave up because it was 11:50 PM and I realized I had spent the last fifteen minutes running into cactuses.

MEDIA Hope everyone on Periscope enjoyed watching Ame of Thron. Daily Dot:

HBO is none too pleased with users of Twitter-owned streaming app Periscope, following the debut of the fifth season of the hit show Game of Thrones and subsequent unauthorized livestreams of the show’s season premiere. Questionable video and sound quality aside, many of the streams were entirely watchable, which obviously didn’t sit too well with HBO.

Of course not, but if you’re willing to watch grainy shaky hand-held portrait-view picture-phone images instead of shelling out for HD widescreen, you’re probably not the people to whom they wish to sell the show. Movies are next, of course. People who can’t get into the first showing of the new Star Wars movie will sit in their cars in the parking lot and watch it on Periscope.

SCIENCE Lots of interesting things going on out in the inky depths. There’s the mystery of Ceres’ Two Dots, and the mysterious Fast Radio Bursts, which could be an alien signal. And now we have color pictures of Pluto! BBC:

"The spacecraft is in perfect health; it's full of fuel; and it's carrying a scientific arsenal of seven instruments that are - combined - the most powerful suite of instruments ever brought to bear on the first reconnaissance of a new planet,” enthused Alan Stern, New Horizons' principal investigator.
"Nothing like this has been done in a quarter of a century and nothing like this is being planned again by any space agency.”

"This is a real moment in time for you to watch us turn a point of light into a planet.”

Or we would, if it hadn’t been demoted. Anyway, we'll have to take their word for it, and assume this is indeed poor Pluto:

They'll get better as the ship gets closer. Takes a while to send the info back to Earth. It's like sending "War and Peace" via Morse Code with a second between each tap of the key.

Was Daredevil a Shark or a Jet?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 14, 2015 - 12:30 PM

Some art for your sunny spring noon. Absolutely fascinating gallery of illustrations from Krokodil, the defunct Soviet satire mag. There’s the usual Bosch-like depiction of capitalism . . .

. . . but also some nasty jabs at the realities of Soviet life. Aside from the alcoholism, sexism, and child abuse, truly a worker's paradise.

Also in Art: This is almost, almost sort-of true. 

Being a “geek” isn’t such a terrible thing in 2015. In fact, obsessively collecting vinyl records or amassing absurd amounts of useless knowledge about superheroes is kinda cool now. Now, German artist Uwe De Witt has found a way to combine his love of music and comics in a way that’s sure to please geeks everywhere.

Sorry; amassing absurd amounts of superhero lore isn’t kinda cool. Imagine some classic manifestation of cool. Say, Miles Davis. Now imagine that person saying “”Actually, in the fourth alternate universe series where Superman was vulnerable to Puce Kryptonite, Jack Kirby did some backgrounds” in a peevish tone because someone was MISTAKEN about that. Anyway: the illustrations are worth a look. Probably not safe for work on account of Nicki Manaj. 

Speaking of which: I've seen one episode of the new Netflix series, and liked it. Rather dim, though. Fits the subject matter, but it makes the lighting in the "X-Files" look like the set of "Laugh-in."

Related: via Coudal, some French pulp covers. Not as good as Yank versions, but you may enjoy. Warning: there’s a warning. Blogger pops up with this hand-waving message: “Some readers of this blog have contacted Google because they believe this blog's content is objectionable.”

Hard to see why, unless it’s the rote objectification one would find in cheap-book covers of books from the early half of the previous century. Is that it? Really? History is objectionable! Avert your eyes!

VotD Manhole skeet shooting would look a lot like this:

TECH Looking for poorly argued clickbait? Here’s a piece from Bloomberg called “Apple Watch Demand: Sizzle or Fizzle?” Because those are the only two options.

Anyone skimming the news today would think the Apple Watch, which officially goes on sale April 24, is a runaway hit. “Apple Watch (nearly) sold out in 30 minutes,” wrote Fortune. “All models of the Apple Watch appear to be sold out,” reported the Washington Post. Every model, at every price point, was snapped up by eager shoppers and shipping dates were pushed out well beyond April 24 into May and even June. But if you poke beneath the numbers, a different story emerges. My Bloomberg colleague Tim Higgins notes that customers were able to try on the watch in select Apple stores today, yet they didn’t line up in droves to get their hands on the product.

Apple sold out on the first day, moving a million watches.

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