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 Gripes

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. 

Worst restaurant idea in the history of mankind

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 8, 2014 - 12:05 PM

Headline: PETA wants to turn Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood home into a vegan restaurant.

Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, sent a letter dated Friday to the realty agent who has listed the Bath Township house for sale. In the letter, she asked about the listing and proposed making the house a vegan restaurant “to respond to the past with something positive.

Newkirk likened the way animals are slaughtered, processed and consumed to the way Dahmer treated his victims.

Menu items would include chipotle barbecue tofu kebabs and vegan creamy chicken casserole, made from mock chicken and dairy-free sour cream.

Lubinski, the listing agent, raised concerns about the zoning but said he’s willing to discuss a possible transaction with PETA.

The phrase “bad taste” comes to mind.

COMICS The ongoing revision of Archie has been an interesting project; I have no idea whether it expanded the audience, shrunk it down to a dozen, interested old fans, or made converts. I don’t know if the world was crying out for a socially relevant Archie. But now he’s going to DIE. CNN has the details. And only CNN! Exclusive!

Since 1941, comic book fans have followed the exploits of teenaged Archie Andrews and his friends. This July, they'll find out how he dies.

"Life With Archie" #36 hits stores on July 16, and CNN can reveal exclusively that it tells the story of how Archie sacrifices himself to save a friend.

Few details are known, but it seems fitting that Archie would go out a hero. The 37th issue one week later will end the series.

If you’re thinking “aww, that’s just an alternate timeline story. He’s not really going to die,” you’re correct. I remember the days when someone died in a comic, they stayed dead. They never came back. Dock Ock dumps a ton of bricks on Captain Stacy, and he’s not popping up six issues later explaining that was really his clone doiuble.

By the way, don't tell me Archie wasn't relevant in the past:

RIGHT ON, says Miss Grundy, fists balled! Fight the power! Or be the power! 

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON BEDBUGS Kids today are injecting crushed bed bugs. I repeat: Kids today are injecting crushed bed bugs.

SCIENCE! A rare sign in the sky. If you define the word to mean “almost commonplace.” USA TODAY:

Skywatchers will get a rare treat Tuesday night, when Mars, Earth and the sun will be arranged in a nearly-straight line.

Every two years, Mars reaches a point in its orbit called "opposition," when the planet lies directly opposite the sun in Earth's sky, according to Astronomy magazine.

This won’t happen again until 2016. Whoa! Question: if this happens every two years, then it happened in 2012, the year the world was supposed to end. I don’t remember Mars alignment being part of that nonsense; it’s possible that the alignment-apocalypse guys have been discredited and demoralized by all those grand line-ups that failed to rip the earth from its orbit or send the moon spinning off into the sun, or whatever they predicted.

WEB Controversy over an upcoming indie game, Luftrausers. Here’s the developers' response.

Earlier this week, several people on Twitter voiced their discomfort with what they perceived as Nazi imagery in LUFTRAUSERS, and the belief that you play as a Nazi pilot in our 2D dogfighting game.

We do have to accept that our game could make some people uncomfortable. We’re extremely sad about that, and we sincerely apologise for that discomfort.

The fact is that no interpretation of a game is ‘wrong’. When you create something, you leave certain implications of what you’re making. We can leave our idea of what it is in there, and for us, the game is about superweapons. We think everybody who plays LUFTRAUSERS can feel that.

Well, if you’re piloting an aircraft with the Stars and Stripes on the side, shooting down planes that bear swastikas, there’s not a lot of interpretation availalble, is there? It concludes:

We wouldn’t dare to fault people for finding the atrocities of the Second World War important. It is important. We agree it’s important, and there are important lessons for us in what happened. We need to remember what happened, we need to commemorate the victims and we need to ensure nothing even remotely like it occurs ever again.

Having been born and raised in the Netherlands, we are extremely aware of the awful things that happened, and we want to apologise to anybody who, through our game, is reminded of the cruelties that occurred during the war.

It looks like this. I’m not getting much of a pro-Nazi vibe here.

This site examines the developer’s explanation, and makes a point that really makes you despair, because it seems so bleeping obvious.

From there, Ismail goes on to explain why he disagrees with Dubbin and Simins, even while acknowledging their opinion is a valid interpretation. That line is so critically important to having a reasonable, nuanced dialogue about difficult subjects, and it’s the part we often miss out on.

It often feels people confuse “criticism” with “censorship” in a way that is never intended when those speaking up are explaining their views. 

Because the internet has degraded people's social skills and made the culture of constant outrage more likely to thin one's skin? I don’t know. But I can’t help wonder how they would have reacted to SWOTL.:

You got to play as a Luftwaffe pilot, IIRC. At the time I thought it was morally problematic, but this was the minority opinion.

VotD It’s beautiful, but as one of the comments says, it’s too short to be poignant.

Bibo from Anton Chistiakov on Vimeo.

Question: why does a robot need a wood fireplace? Another question: when you realize what’s going on, does it strike you as an idea that’s actually been fleshed out, so to speak, at great length elsewhere?

Also, why is 8 AM ice-cream time?

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.

Why Spock Looked At You

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 4, 2014 - 12:23 PM

C'mon. It always snows in April. We think it shouldn't, but it does. It'll be gone soon. We need the moisture. It's good for the crops. Also, kill me now. 

SUGAR PSYCH There’s a reason cereal boxes look like they do, and are placed where they’re placed:

Cereal makers aren't throwing mascots on their boxes for fun. It's to create a psychological connection between a shopper and that box of dehydrated fruits and wheat flakes. But in the case of children's cereals, this four-foot stare is actually aimed at a much lower focal point. Cornell's researchers found that the eyes of spokescharacters on cereal boxes marketed to kids were aimed downward at a 9.6 degree angle; characters on adult boxes tended, on the other hand, to look straight ahead.

Because they make eye contact with kids, tots want them. However: kids have no money, and can’t buy them. They can only ask, and learn the meaning of “no.” As in “No matter how much you beg. No.”

Article title: “How cereal boxes are designed to hypnotize you.” By “you” they mean someone else, and by “hypnotize” they mean “make a commercial pitch to which you may, or may not, respond.” Otherwise it’s utterly accurate. This article concludes:

Creating spokes-characters who make eye contact with a product’s target audience (child or adult) is a package design that can be used as an advertising tool that influences people to buy and develop brand loyalty. (A) key take-away from this study are:

If you are a parent who does not want your kids to go “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” avoid taking them down the cereal aisle.

Thanks; that first one wouldn’t have occurred to anyone. Makes sense now when you think about it, though. The articles seem to suggest there's something nefarious about all this, but imagine what they'd right if all the mascots were looking away from you into the distance with neutral expressions. WHAT EXISTENTIAL DREAD  IS LUCKY THE LEPRECHAUN SEEING THAT WE CANNOT? and that sort of thing. 

SCIENCE! Nothing to fear except fear itself, and the explosion of the sun: Here are 150 things top scientists are worried about.

That we will continue to uphold taboos on bad words. –Benhamin Bergen, Associate Professor of Cognitive Science, UCS

Cultural extinction, and the fact that the works of an obscure writer from the Caribbean may not get enough attention. –Hans Ulrich Obrist. curator, Serptine Gallery

So a really smart guy is concerned that the F word may not appear on billboards. Okay. I worry about the sentient life under the ocean discovered under Endeladus. Unless it’s really cute. If it’s cute then people will demand we send humans with cameras because totes adorbs. to use words Gawker has now banned.

PASS GO Update on the call for new Monopoly rules: here are the top five.

The winning house rule for landing on Go means players get 400 Monopoly dollars instead of the official 200. As for Free Parking, official rules call for absolutely nothing to happen when a player lands there. Under the house rule, any taxes and fees collected are thrown into the middle for a lucky someone who lands on that corner square.

Rounding out the five winners are players must travel around the board one full time before they can begin buying properties, and collecting 500 bucks for rolling double ones.

That’s four.

You have to read elsewhere in the piece to discover the fifth: you can’t collect rent while you’re in jail. You know, 

Amusing comment on the Strib site:

I was surprised to see one house rule not make the cut. . . One player declares moratorium and no houses can be built on another players property. The are variations to the rule; no mixed use of hotels and houses, no unequal amounts of houses on adjoining properties, etc. . . I guess that rule is only popular in certain geographic regions.


VotD Do you think this is real? 

Daily Dot says: "It’s so perfect, it makes me suspect that what happens here is not purely an accident. Actually, it’s almost definitely a fake.” Well. The title might be the clue; an ad popped for ADT Security Systems while I was watching, but that could be SEO Google-fu. As for the account: New channel made yesterday; one video; no avatar.

Give it a week and we'll find it's "viral marketing" by a security firm. 

73 minutes of rotating chicken carcass

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 1, 2014 - 12:20 PM

This year’s online prank-crop seems a bit thin. Fine. Liked this one, though.

A round up of other pranks and things that are not true and hence perhaps are funny, can be found here.

LISTICLE They might as well call this “67 CONSECUTIVE SENTENCES YOU WIL SKIM."   Do you have time for this?

Can you imagine caring what #59 might be? No? I’ll take a look. But first, here’s how it starts:

1. There is no way I am going to survive today without Starbucks.

2. I’ll leave for work a little early, that way I can grab a cup of coffee.

3. I pass, like, six Starbucks on my way to the office, but I’ll go to the one I always go to.

Yes, add this one to that other listicle, “15,443 Times a Buzzfeed Writer Failed to Capture your imagination. Here’s #59:

59. Ugh, they did not put in enough milk. I guess I’ll have to put my own in.

The same page also has “67 Thoughts Everyone Has While Doing Yoga.” Same thing. Banal observations illustrated by GIFs. Here’s #59:

59. Why was I so against nap time as a kid? This is brilliant!

Eventually BuzzFeed will have 67 examples of “67 Things” and then we can mix them all up into something that’s both obvious and incomprehensible.

0401 Couldn’t embed this at the top, because the iframe tag gives the blog platform an aneurism. For April Fool’s Day, Netflix is playing a movie that consists entirely of a roasting chicken.



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