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

The Insanely Boggling Impalas

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 21, 2014 - 12:39 PM

Obvious headline: These Upworthy Titles Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity. But You Won’t Believe What Happens NextArticle:

Clickbait is bad. Clickbait is ruining journalism. Everyone knows this. Everyone hates the formulaic success that BuzzFeed has generated with endless listicles about animals, the 90s, and animals in the 90s. Upworthy inspires a slightly more complex disdain: it claims to engage in advocacy by “raising awareness” through viral videos about “issues” instead of cats and the quizzes. Most of the more political friends I know HATE this “clicktivism,” since it gives “readers” a sense of political involvement because they watched a video about a kid who stood up to bullies. And traditional media don’t seem too happy with Upworthy either; responses range from indignation to smirking analysis to truly depressing defeatism.

The article goes on to describe the grammar and style of click bait headlines.

A quick perusal of today’s Upworthy page shows sundry examples of this construction, which range from the accusatory:

There’s A World War Happening Online Right Now. And You Might Be A Mercenary In It.

to the empowering:

If You Could Press A Button And Murder Every Mosquito, Would You? Because That’s Kinda Possible.

No, it’s not. And sit up straight. Stop using words like Kinda in headlines. Here are some upworthy-style headlines I noticed over the weekend. Didn’t click on one.

What, they found it ten miles away, with its hair tousled? NEXT

"Insanely powerful" should be reserved for stories on Idi Amin. NEXT

I love how this article had the keyword "Impala," in case I want to store it for more boggling revelations about the inscrutible reasons for impala movement. NEXT

Unless it's "stop reading clickbait," I'm not interested.

AWWWW  LiveScience: Ancient Puppy Paw Prints Found on Roman Tiles - from 2000 years ago, in England. BuzzFeed version, up tomorrow: You Can't Stop Looking at these Adorable Indentations

TECH Why didn’t videophones catch on? This Mashable piece takes a look at the difficult history of the device everyone thought was the next inevitable step. What took so long? It has the answers.

I’m not convinced people want to be seen when they make a call. They like to see the other person, but it’s not necessary to be seen.

URBANISM Can Paradise Be Planned? asks this NYT article on Garden Suburbs, as the author joints the ranks of people struggling to understand why people live in places the author does not like. I mean, listen to what a futurist says about a collection of aerial photographs of suburbs:

“It is an encounter in the most literal sense,” writes the futurist Geoff Manaugh in Gielen’s jarring yet utterly mesmerizing new book, “Ciphers.” “A forensic confrontation with something all but impossible to comprehend.”

The dreamless law of Cthulul? No, a picture of an Arizona subdivision.That said, the aforementioned futurist is Gizmodo’s editor-in-chief, and has an interesting architecture / urban blog. Speaking of which: when a Giz writer looked at New Urbanism, she had to ask: why is it “so gosh darn creepy?” In the example she cites, the evidence suggests an obvious answer: because it’s pre-fab gimcrack historicism plopped in place all at once.

When done right, though, it provides a model of urban design some people prefer to the classic suburb with a rambler and a garage. It’s not for everyone. No model is. So let the developers build what they think the market will bear. I’d rather learn from what people choose than listen to this NYT commenter:

I think most people might choke on #4.

TV In case you haven’t bookmarked it, a reminder to hit Vulture on Monday for Matt Zoller Seitz’ “Mad Man” recap. Haven't read the comments yet, but I'm sure everyone is praising Sally. I can't stand that kid. 

What IS that thing

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 18, 2014 - 12:24 PM

Well, what aren’t we reading today? Daily Beast: “Are Atheists the New Mormons?” No. Description: “Atheists are holding their annual convention in Salt Lake City, but things have been surprisingly cordial. Maybe these uniquely American religions have more in common than they think.” Except for holding absolutely opposite belief systems, sure. Moving on, here’s a BuzzFeed piece asking whether it’s “time for us to take Astrology seriously.” Because:

Even the celebrity astrologer Steven Forrest has acknowledged his field’s dubious image. “I am often embarrassed to say what I do… Astrology has a terrible public relations problem,” he wrote in an essay for Astrology News Service.

But then there was this sense — suddenly, on the street — that astrology had credence. A 2013 New York magazine story claimed that “plenty of New Yorkers wouldn’t buy an apartment or accept a new job without an astral okay.”

The question is whether it’s time to stop taking New Yorkers seriously.

Here’s another piece whose headline made me move along without a click:

Chances are you didn’t mean to sound like a jerk, but you did.

After we have shamed YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG headline writers into finding something new, let us all agree that ads like these must be ignored by everyone until they figure out why people aren’t clicking:

I suppose they think you’ll click to find out what that thing is, but that’s the very reason I didn’t.

WEB Will Chinese company Tencent make a splash in the US? FastCo took a look at the company’s relationship to the state:

News that's embarrassing to the government, such as a 2011 train crash that killed dozens of people, now spreads across China in a way never known before.

To counter this, according to the official press, Beijing has enlisted some 2 million people across China to monitor the Internet and search for banned words. Chinese Internet companies, Tencent included, employ hundreds if not thousands of their own censors, whose job is to block illegal, anti-government posts.

The government last summer issued tough new regulations: Internet users who make defamatory comments that are visited by 5,000 users or reposted more than 500 times can face up to three years in prison. The new rules have been devastating to Twitter-like microblogging sites (for which Sina had been the dominant player); users dropped by 9% last year. But this appears to have helped boost Tencent's Weixin, which is based on private conversations among closed circles of friends, and is thus seen as a safer space.

But is it? Probably not.

And this company wants to be a player in the West. Good luck People expect the NSA to snoop on everything we do online, but China too? You have to draw the line somewhere. .

APPS Idiot-proofing smartphone videos:

If only it made the phone vibrate so much the video was even more unwatchable, but people would just think it was broken.

RANDOM Gospel Family Album Covers of the Seventies. From Anorak.

SPORTS This long read from Deadspin is titled “Why I Fixed Fights,” and it will shock people who believe in the sanctity and truth of professional boxing. It’s a great piece. In related news: Live Science reports on ancient wrestling match:

Researchers have deciphered a Greek document that shows an ancient wrestling match was fixed. The document, which has a date on it that corresponds to the year A.D. 267, is a contract between two teenagers who had reached the final bout of a prestigious series of games in Egypt.

This is the first time that a written contract between two athletes to fix a match has been found from the ancient world. 

No mention of a promotor named Don Ceasar, alas. 

Poor Wally, Taco Lover

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 15, 2014 - 12:24 PM

This day in Minnesota History:

The schoolchildren of St. Paul select the city's official flower, the sweet pea, in an election sponsored by the city's women's clubs. Other choices included the coreopsis, marigold, petunia, and aster. News of their selection is overshadowed by reports of the Titanic's sinking

Astor corpse vs aster corepsis, I guess.

Sorry.

COMICS This has been bothering me since Sunday. Last panel of the “Stone Soup” comic:

What do they need to talk about? His infidelity? The cache of Boeing 777 pr0n she found on his laptop? The fact that he takes her car and never fills it up, not once, ever? Something gave her pause.

Here’s the strip. She says they need to talk because his willingness to go to the hardware store is a result of the taco cart parked nearby. He has not been honest about the taco cart. He has not mentioned the taco cart. Keep in mind that she’s sent him to the hardware store three times over the weekend, because she can’t fix anything herself. He’s still in trouble. They need to have a talk. After which he drives towards the hardware store and considers driving past and just driving as far as he can until he can sort out how his life came to be like this.

TECH The Time mag article says that the cover “explains why we’re so bad at tech predictions.”

We tend to think that new products will be a lot like the ones we know. We shoehorn existing concepts where they don’t belong. Oftentimes, we don’t dream big enough.

Well, speak for yourself. I wrote a book 20 years ago that had Google Glass, more or less, with the controls embedded in contact lens sensors. It seemed both obvious and currently impossible, and hence futuristic. Anyway:

Here we are in the 21st century. The tech industry has lately made progress on this smartwatch idea, but it’s still not a problem that anyone’s completely solved, which is why it still isn’t part of everyday life.

That’s because it isn’t a problem at all. There’s nothing to solve. There’s no gaping watch-sized hole in our lives, and there won’t be until someone invents something that seems completely new and utterly indispensable. A watch that vibrates when you have a text isn’t it.

Related: Google Glass Will Never Become a Thing. Four reasons, which can be summed up as “kludgy and useless.” Plus, people who aren’t wearing them will hate you for wearing one, because they don’t know if you’re filming them, and because just wearing them makes you That Guy. Who says phrases like "this is a thing." Of COURSE IT'S A THING. 

THE BURDEN OF FAME Harrison Ford had a Shatneresque “Get a Life” moment the other day, when asked about Greedo and the Catina scene:

One Redditor thought Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” with Ford this past Sunday was the perfect chance to get a straight answer about who shot first, but, unfortunately, Ford wasn’t willing to give a stance on it. “I don’t know and I don’t care,” he wrote. Thanks for the helpful input, Ford!

Even if you don’t care a whit about old roles that made you a star, and even if you’re sick to death of being connected with major pop-cultural franchises that stretch across decades and every imaginable media platform, would it kill you to play along? Would it just kill you? (via EW.)

Votd He never went outside again without his “lucky umbrella.”

REMINDER: tonight.

I like the Hamms-Beer vibe on that. Neil Justin's review is here, if you missed it. 

"Mad Men" returns

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 14, 2014 - 2:07 PM

They're always underwhelming. They're like the last episodes of the "Soprano" seasons, which never lived up to what you expected. The episode had one great visual sequence: the airport. I thought BuzzFeed would have sliced that up into 10 GIFs by now, but it doesn’t have anything on the show. Which is telling. A the show leaves behind the Jet-era midcentury swank, those who came for cocktails and interior decor may have peeled off.

It felt as if the enthusiasm and spirit was leaking out of everything, a deliberately weary show that’s setting us up for . . . oh, I don’t lnow. I don’t think the show is leading to anything except January First, 1970 and a slow fade, leaving everyone to carry on. Life only has one conclusion.

The best recap, as usual, is Matt Zoller Seitz’ at Vulture.

VotD A reminder that you’re either delighted by the sound of shouting massed children’s voices, or not:

Odd they can’t figure it out.

I don’t lament the end of cassette tapes, and a slender iPod is superior to hauling around those brick-heavy Walkmen. (By comparison, anyway.) But there were moving parts, and those are instructive. There were the spindles, which transported the tape, and there was the magnetic-head reader assembly, or whatever it was called. Even if you didn’t understand how sound was stored on tape, you could see the relationship between the parts and the result. Now everything just happens when you touch a point on a piece of glass.

The less we understand how things work, the dumber we get. 

Ugliest house in Canada

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 11, 2014 - 12:32 PM

Or not; depends on your attitude towards smothering everything with crawly wallpaper. I bring this up because "Mad Men" returns this weekend, and mid-century enthusiasts may be disappointed; the show has moved beyond the narrow-tie-and-lapel era of swank into the pestilence of purple shag. Which brings us to this time-capsule home described thus:

A gem like you've never seen! A 96-year-old Toronto resident is selling what we at HGTV.ca could only call a tour de force: her home of 72 years, lovingly and impeccably decorated wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, in the 1950s and '60s. For the record, we wouldn't change a thing!

Hardly any 50s. Mostly it’s this:

This is better.

Tiny house with zero curb appeal; $700K Canadian. The whole tour is here. Yikes.

CURRENT AFFAIRS You may have heard that Hillary Clinton had a shoe thrown at her, providing material for innumerable GIFs:

Buzzfeed put it like this:

Security officials later ushered the woman who said she threw the shoe out of the event.

She was then arrested, but it remains unclear why she targeted the former first lady.

Research is hard! AP yesterday said the woman was carrying a “classified” document about the “Cynthia” project in Bolivia. Google that, and you’ll find references to the CIA’s presence in Bolivia in 1967, and how they assisted the government’s hunt for Che Guevara. The shoe-thrower is probably hears voices, alas.

GEEK CULTURE You are suffering from a moral panic. A healer will prescribe time and perspective. BBC:

Egbert later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1980. Despite the evidence regarding his mental health problems, some activists believed Egbert's suicide was caused by D&D.

In 1982, high school student Irving Lee Pulling died after shooting himself in the chest. Despite an article in the Washington Post at the time commenting "how [Pulling] had trouble 'fitting in'", mother Patricia Pulling believed her son's suicide was caused by him playing D&D.

The piece concerns the Dungeons & Dragons freakout which almost included worries that kids would choke on the oddly-shaped dice. The 80s had other strange panics, such as the destructive nonsense about ritual Satanic child abuse. I’m sure in 30 years they’ll say it was misplaced anxiety over something else, just as the giant-bug movies were sublimated anxiety about the atom bomb. Perhaps they were really about scaring people with enormous ants.

SCIENCE! The other day I said that apocalyptic predictions based on planetary alignment seems to have subsided. Wrong. Space.com:

There has been a lot of interest recently in an upcoming series of lunar eclipses that begins April 15. These are usually described as "four blood moons" and taken by some to prophesy upcoming disasters.

The total lunar eclipse of April 15 will begin a so-called tetrad series of eclipses that is making the rounds online as a potential harbinger of doom, due in part to a recent book on the four blood moons that makes the dubious claim.

Book? Books. Search for “four blood moons” on Amazaon, and you get several returns, including one by that old doomsday author, Hal Lindsey, who wrote about the moons in 1996 in novel form.No one ever reissues the books with a correction on the first page. “NOTE: The events predicted in this book did not come to pass.” They just move on to the next prediction.

VotD Inflection: lives depend on it.

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