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

Crankshaft is implausible

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 25, 2014 - 12:46 PM

Crankshaft, a comic strip about a bus driver that contains less bus-driving action than “The Honeymooners,” has had a strange story this week. It began thus:

As you may know, comics are supposed to be funny, even though most aren’t and we accept that fact and read on in the hopes that one day they will be. Some you hate-read just to feel better about yourself, because you didn’t laugh. Hah! Take that, artist. This one is not funny, and seems to presume we will eagerly await the result of Ed's cognitation. Also, at first I read that as "sucker" in the "one born every minute" sobriquet, instead of the moisture-leech sense.  

The next two days:

This is impossible. Even if the lawn mower is self-propelled, it cannot climb a tree, because the wheels disengage when you let go of the dead-man’s handle. Even if this feature is disabled, it cannot climb a tree, because the wheels are not touching anything; the rotation of the blade will not cause the mower to go up a tree, let alone stay there.


Surely it’s setting us up for a boffo Friday where the video goes Viral, as they say, and . . . hilarity ensues, I guess, in the sense that Ed is humiliated nationwide. But note that the young woman is delivering the paper - literally, The Paper - and it’s obviously an afternoon edition.

That’s the sort of thing that really makes it hard to suspend disbelief.

The plague of innumerable losers

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 13, 2014 - 12:50 PM

What did awful people do before the internet? Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda, has written this on her Instagram account:

I will be leaving this account for a but while I heal and decide if I'll be deleting it or not. In this difficult time, please try to be respectful of the accounts of myself, my family and my friends. Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me on the number of them is cruel and unnecessary.

The question is whether the Internet created these people by providing anonymity and celebrating a lulz culture, or whether they always existed but had nothing to do with the curdled thoughts that rattled around their empty heads. Perhaps both. Doesn’t matter. It makes you want a separate internet just for the decent.

There's a Gawker story about the matter, but, well, it's a bit difficult to see a Gawker site getting het up over trolls. Better to read her own words, here.

AD OF THE DAY This is a nice restorative pick-you-up: a TV dad who’s not a stupid oaf!

MUSIC There was a schism, and it was deep, and two camps faced each other across the great divide:

In any case, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols came out two days after my 11th birthday and that confusion ended. Instantly. If you were all “punk rock,” then you had no time for progrock bands. You hated them. They were all totally unredeemably bleep. (All of them, except for maybe King Crimson. Robert Fripp, now he was cool.)

Perhaps if you were eleven they were bleep. (Note: "bleep" not in the original.) Sure, progressive rock was reviled by the punks, but it was reviled by everyone who liked other genres. The only thing anyone could agree on was that progrock was a bloated corpse of a dinosaur in a tar pit on a planet with 10X gravity, and oh by the way jazz-rock was worse. (Phil Collins, the drummer for Genesis, brought the Force into balance by drumming for a progressive jazz-rock group, but that’s another story.)

That’s where “New Wave” came in. Same idea - strip it down, tighten it up, and for heaven’s sake dump the strings. Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, dozens more. The work holds up. Sid Vicious does not.

Anyway. New Wave influenced prog-rock, in a way; when BeBop Deluxe came out with “Drastic Plastic” in 1979, you could tell that Bill Nelson had decided less is more, and went for a stripped-down, straight-ahead sound. No more vast overlaid guitar symphonies. The very idea of the Heroic Guitar Solo seemed outdated.

This was the stuff in the margins. The main attraction on the radio was still latter-period disco and California studio rock. Punk and New Wave were co-opted and watered down soon enough - the Romantic’s “What I Like About You” was clean and fresh, but it was as much of a Kinks-era throwback as a New Wave template; the Kings’ awful “Switchin’ to Glide” was a signal that the popular version of New Wave was going to be confuse “simplicity” with stupidity. Add Loverboy, and the rise of Hair Metal ensured that bro-friendly head-bobbing RAWK was going to rule, not smart nervy works by good songwriters.

(Note: in the mid-80s, the radio stations played “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” at 5 PM on Friday, and yes, I turned it up to 11.)

ANYWAY. In the comments for the article - which is about learning to appreciate progressive rock, by the way - there’s the proggiest comment ever:

I was never vocally opposed to prog back then, but I never particularly liked Yes, something about Jon Anderson's vocals annoyed me. Other than Crimson I tended to like non-UK prog bands: Magma, Goblin, Zappa (face it, he was 'prog': what other rock band was stealing from Stravinsky in 1967?) Arguably even Can was prog, since two members studied with Stockhausen.

Yeah, and it showed. Magma! Good Lord, Magma? They sang in an invented language about some incomprehensible sci-fi story. If they’d been big and mainstream, the inevitable response wouldn’t have been Punk, boiling up from the clubs. It would have been disco. Because it was fun and had one objective: happy dancing.

Nothing since then has been about happy dancing, but that’s another rambling entry.

(via Coudal.)

Please, no second season

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 4, 2014 - 12:40 PM

“Halt and Catch Fire,” AMC's "Mad Men" replacement, is over, and many of us are feeling great relief. It was supposed to be about computers and the early 80s, and it might have been better if it had more about computers and the early 80s. It turned into the type of show where you see the “Hero” looking at a truckload of computers ready to ship, and you think “I’ll bet he gets out some gasoline and sets them all on fire,” and that’s exactly what he does. Why? Because they’re not enough. Because of what they represent. But more important, because this is the kind of show whose protagonist does things like that. Then he backpacks up to a hilltop observatory in search of stars and/or mother, and we know it’s a quest because he has a wise conversation with A Homespun Local who runs the kind of gas station you need on a backroads quest: the kind with faded signs, indicating you have found True America.

And what of our Seething Brainiac guy with the period facial hair? Why, he’s made it to the top, shed his nerd-fears along with his beard, and he’s sitting at the boardroom table - yet it all seems strangely empty now, doesn’t it. How empty? Well, the camera sinks down and the boardroom table engulfs him in its flat monolithic blankness, which COULD BE METAPHORICAL.

What about Spunky Hacker Gal With Issues? She has a start-up of geeks and you can tell they’re serious about changing paradigms because the company name is written on the wall in spray paint. Radical! She’s trying to invent something that won’t turn into CompuServe or AOL, just as the rest of the season was about inventing something that wasn’t the Mac.

The finale got a few good reviews - sorry, garnered a few good reviews; that's the prefered cliche. (The only time you ever see "garners" is next to "reviews.")  But even the critics who liked the show admit that the finale was as dramatically inert and inorganic as its predecessors. I hope there’s not a second season. Because I would have to watch it in case it got better.

See also, “The Killing." Which did. 

Okay, second season, then. Sigh.

NO SUCH THING? Do not taunt happy fun ball, or the internet. Verge notes that a hotel charges people half a grand if they slam the place on Yelp.

"If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here," the site reads. "Therefore: If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event.”

The story links to the hotel’s FAQ, which appears to have been modified to remove the charge.

Too late. BTW, a user submitted this picture of the “Honor Bar.” Funky! Iconoclastic! The fish statue makes that quite obvious.

VotD More from the Taiwan gas-leak explosion.

Don’t say “it looks like a Michael Bay movie!” It would have 17 cuts in 24 seconds if it was.

Brrrrrrrr: explained

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 15, 2014 - 12:17 PM

No, it’s not a Polar Vortex.

Typhoon Neoguri, which battered southern Japan with strong wind and rains last week, likely set off the wacky weather pattern that is interfering with the jet stream over the Midwest.

Wacky? What’s next, zany tornados? Madcap thunderstorms?

Strictly speaking, the cold front is not a polar vortex, according to experts. The impending cold front is called a "high meridional event," but there are some similarities.

"It's the same general circulation pattern, but the effects are extremely different," Bob Oravec, a senior forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) Weather Prediction Center, told Live Science. "In the summer, if you go outside in 20 degrees (Fahrenheit) below normal weather, you won't really care, but in the winter, the effects were significantly different because it was already so cold.”

Ahem. We care. We really do. We just get a little summer. Seems cruel to add fall so early. Then again, well:

I was there yesterday. Deserted. For some peculiar reason people aren’t just stocking up on glue pens yet.

I know that glue pens will be on the list of supplies; they always are. Sent daughter to school last year with a package of three. At the end of the year they were unopened. I don’t know where they are now; I do know I will buy three more in a month or so. They will be Elmer brand, because I like Elmer the Borden Bull. In the old 1940s ads he’s a blustering, hectoring, ill-tempered, impulsive fellow, constantly sputtering dismay over his wife Elsie’s monomaniacal shilling for Borden products, but I think there was some underlying tension over her high public profile. Elmer worked in an office - we know this because he was frequently depicted leaving the house with a briefcase, and while it’s possible he wandered the streets, alarming people - a bull, standing erect, wearing a hat, walking around as if he had to get in early to work on the Johnson Contract would be unnerving - but perhaps he knew that Elsie brought in the cream, so to speak. I don’t know if she set him up in the glue business, or if he started it himself after the calves were out of the house and she divorced him.

PLEASE DON’T GO The most astonishing customer assistance call ever recorded for future generations to understand how you can combine cheerfulness, anonymity and Kafkaesque bureaucracy. It’s a Mobius strip. Embedding isn't working for some reason, so here it is. It's mortifying.

“Why do you want to do this?”

“Because that’s what we want to do.”


“That’s none of your business.”

“But why do you want to leave?”

After four minutes you suspect it’s a hoax, because the the caller is too calm, and the Comcast rep isn’t just indifference to the customer, he becomes the needy, whiny partner you can’t break up with easily, but must endure several conversations. NO ONE ELSE WILL LOVE YOU LIKE I DO!

The OP describes the backstory:

This recording picks up roughly 10 minutes into the call, whereby she and I have already played along and given a myriad of reasons and explanations as to why we are canceling (which is why I simply stopped answering the rep's repeated question -- it was clear the only sufficient answer was "Okay, please don't disconnect our service after all.”).

In the comments he is described as the Mother Theresa of Comcast Disconnect Requestors, and that’s about right.

Then again, the Awl has some sympathy for the fellow doing the begging.

. . . overnight my sympathies shifted: If you understand this call as a desperate interaction between two people, rather than a business transaction between a customer and a company, the pain is mutual. The customer service rep is trapped in an impossible position, in which any cancellation, even one he can't control, will reflect poorly on his performance. By the time news of this lost customer reaches his supervisor, it will be data—it will be the wrong data, and it will likely be factored into a score, or a record, that is either directly or indirectly tied to his compensation or continued employment. It's bad, very bad, for this rep to record a cancellation with no reason, or with a reason the script should theoretically be able to answer.

True. The guy could have made up a reason - say, “knobby-fleshed demons are streaming from my modem, praising Baal and making my Bibles burst into flames,” but he didn't have to, and if he wanted to go all Bartleby on the guy, that’s that.

Comcast seems to know this is a PR disaster: here’s their statement.

We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize.  The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action.  While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.

Picture the service rep standing in the middle of the office as his commanding manager ripped off his service patches. Well, there’s nothing left for him but personal appearances in bars that have D-list media celebrities. Bad news; David Brent cancelled. We’ll have to go with the Comcast rep.

VotD Made in Minnesota: the great bands of the 80s revisited, with trips back to the old locales.

Something something fish something

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 26, 2014 - 12:44 PM

What do I know about fish? Not a lot, but here goes:

They live in the water.

They breathe water through gills, extracting oxygen through a process called aquatic respiration.

For the most part, locomotion in their liquid environment is accomplished by the action of a posterior blade called a “tail fin,” modified by ancillary fins that assist in precise navigation.

They vary in size from very, very small to very large; likewise, their coloration varies widely, ranging from a single color to a riot of iridescent hues.

They travel in “schools,” if their species is so inclined.

While some restaurants serve deep-fried strips of fish called “Fish Fingers,” fish have no fingers.

Chilean Sea Bass is delicious, but alas, endangered.

Perhaps you know more. Well. Bad news.

I might have read the piece if it said “interesting facts about fish” or “Think you know fish? 10 surprising new discoveries” or “Test your Fish IQ” or any other headline that would have shown up in Reader’s Digest in 1979, but this? No.

VotDThe man didn’t want to answer the reporter’s question. So:


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