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 Outstate

One spout, 400 brands

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 29, 2014 - 2:03 PM

All the fancy artisanal hand-crafted bourbon with the well-designed label and premium price points? Probably comes from the same spigot, says the Daily Beast. The article links to this page, which compiles all the brands and notes who really makes who. I had no idea Four Roses made Bulleit. Next we’ll learn that many beers are made by the same enormous distilleries. You can’t trust anything anymore!

SCIENCE! Another day, another skull - but this time it has a bonus feature. Ancient brains.

Archaeologists in Norway made an extremely rare discovery when they found an ancient skull believed to date back 8,000 years at a dig site in Stokke, southwest of Oslo. According to a news report in The Local, the skull was found to contain a grey, clay-like substance inside it, which is thought to be the preserved remains of the individual’s brain.

If analyses confirm this to be the case, it will constitute one of the oldest brains ever found. Being able to study a preserved brain enables scientists to piece together the individual’s last hours and may also reveal any diseases or pathological conditions such as tumours and haemorrhaging.

Scientists can piece together the brain-inhabitant’s last hours? No. I mean, it’s not as if they’re hooking it up to a Dreamscape recorder and downloading the memories. I don’t know what that means. So let’s go to the original story in the Local.

For the past two months archaeologists have been digging at the Stokke site, believed to be two separate Stone Age settlements.

The human skull containing brain matter is among many findings unearthed at the dig.

It is hoped the skull can tell something about how it was to be a Stone Age human in Norway. It is not yet known whether the skull belongs to an animal or a child.

I didn’t think many human skulls belonged to animals, but I’m not a paleontologist.

HMMM Questions that don’t seem as provocative as they might:

Related, inasmuch as it's a teaster on the internet:

No. Don’t.

TIOT That’s the Internet of Things, the nebulous and infantile name for the imminent future of interconnected machines. Some people think it’ll be overkill. Like this.

You wake up to a jazzy MIDI version of the “Happy Birthday” song. Your smart thermostat and smoke detector are singing in harmony because today is your day. Your fitness tracker is vibrating in an unfamiliar Morse Code. Searching the internet, you come across a question in the support forums about it, explaining it is the preprogrammed birthday greeting silent alarm that you can disable after pairing the device again and updating your settings. Your bathroom scale, toilet, and garage door also welcome you with birthday wishes. Open up the refrigerator to another friendly jingle. Tropicana, Fage, and Sabra Hummus all wish you happy birthday. Now there’s an incoming message. It is the “birthday selfie” it snapped when you reached for the orange juice

If you don’t think this is likely, check your email for all the letters you get and don’t want but haven’t bothered to unsubscribe from. I don't want to unsubscribe from my orange-juice camera.

TRAVEL TIPS From Michael Totten, freelance globe-trotter:

I was advised to check out Le Mat on the outskirts of the city. There you will find the Snake Village where you can pull up a bar stool and order some snake wine. The bartender will kill a cobra, pour its blood into rice wine, and drop the snake’s still-beating heart into the shot glass.

If you don’t want to drink blood, you can have it with bile instead.

I refused. Why make my stomach churn and possibly heave just so I can write about it? The description of the drink itself is enough. I went to Iraq seven times during the war, but drinking snake wine is over the line. I don’t care whether or not that makes sense. 

Where he went, and what he saw, make for a fascinating read. Here you go.

Sioux Falls, North Dakota

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 23, 2014 - 12:39 PM

More on the second series of "Fargo" on FX. Hmm:

Executive Producer Noah Hawley told a TV Critics' panel that season two will be set primarily in North Dakota in 1979 with a younger version of the Lou Solverson character (played by Keith Carradine in season one.) His daughter, Molly, who Allison Tolman portrayed, is just 4 years old.

From another piece:

In the first season, cop-turned-diner owner Lou Solverson (Keith Carradine) often mysteriously referred to a major incident that occurred back in Sioux Falls. At the time, he was 33-years-old and recently back from the Vietnam War.

Which saw the withdrawal of combat troops in 1973. Other than that, though, good news.

ANIMATION In which grown men complain about a movie about self-aware planes that can talk and have developed a complex industrial infrastructure despite the lack of opposable digits: Cartoon Brew on the recent “Planes” movie. 

A prevailing argument seems to be the belief, if not the horrible certainty, that the existence of “Planes” is intended to spur the purchase of toys intended for small boys. Also, it was better in the old days of hand-drawn cartoons, when masterpieces appeared in the theater every two months. I remember growing up in those days. Animated movies were rare. Continents drew closer by inches between the releases.

DUH HuffPo on why Smart People don’t buy brand-name aspirin:

The researchers reached the conclusion that informed consumers are more likely to buy a generic product after analyzing Nielsen data from more than 77 million shopping trips by 124,114 households. They also conducted two surveys with more than 160,000 individuals.

That seems like a lot of research for people to do on their own.

There’s a difference when it comes to flavored stuff. Brand-name goods generally taste better. Store brands have a taste that seems to say “if you deserved something that didn’t taste like Mr. Creosote’s sweat, you’d be able to afford it.”

TECH Reviews for Amazon’s new Fire phone are coming in. The Verge is thorough, fair, and not impressed.

Firefly can recognize lots of things, but it’s incredibly, hilariously inconsistent. It figured out the type of Jelly Beans I was shopping for, but only offered them to me in massive bulk. It identified my Dove deodorant as the wrong scent; it turned green tea into citrus; it logged the wrong kind of Trident gum. It identified Michael Lewis’ The New New Thing by its large, title-driven cover, but couldn’t figure out the small type and barren green cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It couldn’t identify my keyboard or mouse or speakers or shoes, despite the fact that I bought them all on Amazon.

Do you want to stand in a store and take pictures of Jelly Beans to see if you can buy them cheaper on Amazon? Only if they get approval for same-hour drone delivery, and even then, why? There are Jelly Beans. Right there. In the store. For 24 cents more, granted, but you can eat them in the car, now. I love Amazon, but the idea of turning every retail establishment in town into a showroom for something you buy elsewhere is not the best idea I’ve heard in a long time.

AHOY The Costa Concordia is floating again. Remarkable. The Blue Peter flag has been hoisted, the article notes, as if you know what that means. Might be a good time to acquaint yourself with Nautical Flags.

VOTD Nice dog made nicer by editing and a soundtrack that drowns out the commands. Otherwise, totally legit:

Feeling good? Have a nice warm feeling in your heart? Let’s go to the comments:

Some days you read about the plague in China and think: can’t make it here fast enough.

Thomas the Tank Engine: Unjust and Immoral

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 22, 2014 - 12:43 PM

She’s kidding. Right? A Guardian columnist looks at the subtext of Thomas the Tank Engine:

. . .if you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages.

For one, these trains perform tasks dictated by their imperious, little white boss, Sir Topham Hatt (also known as The Fat Controller), whose attire of a top hat, tuxedo and big round belly is just a little too obvious. Basically, he's the Monopoly dictator of their funky little island. Hatt orders the trains to do everything from hauling freight to carrying passengers to running whatever random errand he wants done, whenever he wants it done – regardless of their pre-existing schedules.

Yes, she’s kidding. Has to be.  Every parent does this: analyzes their kids’ shows to death for fun, because you’re stuck at home watching something inane. Everyone has that “hmm: this is a show about slavery, in a way.” It also lacks class consciousness:

Inevitably, the trains get in a fight with or pick on one another (or generally mess up whatever job they are supposed to be doing) until Hatt has to scold one of them about being a "really useful engine", because their sole utility in life is their ability to satisfy his whims. Yeah, because I want to teach my kid to admire a controlling autocrat.

Well, it’s Guardian writer, so yes, she does, but the proper kind.

BYE-BYE Roundy’s is leaving the Twin Cities. Some of the Rainbow stores will turn into Byerly’s, which is a head-snapping transition; others will become CUB stores, which isn’t too much of a change. From Roundy’s house brands to Everyday Essential, which is Cub’s boringly designed house brands. I stopped going to Rainbow for two reasons: the handles on the bags. They always broke. The glue used to affix the handles was actually spit, I think.

Also because the stores were depressing. One day I overheard - not that it was difficult - two bakery workers laughing about an enormous mess a co-worker had left in the break room lavatory, and that was the end of that.

UH-OH Plague in China. Bubonic Plague, the richest kind.

A Chinese town has been sealed off and 151 people placed in quarantine since last week after a man died of bubonic plague, state media said Tuesday.

The 30,000 people living in Yumen in the northwestern province of Gansu are not being allowed to leave, and police at roadblocks on its perimeter are telling motorists to find alternative routes, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said.

And how did the fellow get sick?

Other reports said that earlier this month the 38-year-old victim had found a dead marmot, a small furry animal which lives on grasslands and is related to the squirrel. He chopped it up to feed his dog but developed a fever the same day. He was taken to hospital after his condition worsened and died last Wednesday.

Somewhere someone is using a meme generator that has Yoda saying Begun, the Marmot Plague Has. Do I need to search for it and post it? No. We’re reaching the point where it’s sufficient simply to imagine them, knowing they exist.

SOUND AND FURY The Awl (no link, cuss word in URL because the author is full of RAGE and swearing proves it) says:

Last week, Amazon informed us that for ten dollars per month, Kindle users can have unlimited access to over six hundred thousand books in its library. But it shouldn't cost a thing to borrow a book, Amazon, you foul, horrible, profiteering enemies of civilization.

The author points out that there are free alternatives. Thanks!

Wonder if they have this one.

"Fargo" is renewed

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 21, 2014 - 12:27 PM

So says AV Club. Wonder what the plot will be. More Marge? Actual Fargo? Almost wish they hadn't; there's no way they can top Malvo as a bad guy. 

LIT Sad piece on Harper Lee, the “Mockingbird” author who decided it was one-and-done. The only other thing I’ve read by her was an essay in Life magazine, preceding the publication of “Mockingbird,” describing a Christmas gift that allowed her to write without having to worry about rent. This was before anyone knew who she was. From the Vulture article:

If our country had a formalized process for anointing literary saints, Harper Lee might be first in line, and one of the miracles held up as proof would be her choice to live out her final years in the small town that became the blueprint for our collective ideal of the Small Town. But at 88, the author finds her life and legacy in disarray, a sad state of litigious chaos brought on by ill health and, in no small part, the very community she always believed, for all its flaws, would ultimately protect her. Maycomb was a town where love and neighborly decency could overcome prejudice. To the woman who immortalized it and retreated to it for stability and safety, Monroeville is something very different: suffocating, predatory, and treacherous.

Most eye-raising line about her sister:

Alice, who retired two years ago at the age of 100, had inherited her partnership in the family firm from their father

Yeah, you’re looking at 99, you might want to slow down. (Book Jacket from this Buzzfeed piece about how book jackets have changed over the years.) Related: Do you have a novel in you? Could be gas. Here are seven reasons not to write a novel - and one reason you should. (It’s not money.) 

TYPEFACES Font geeks will enjoy this piece about the typography of “Grand Budapest Hotel,” and how it helped create the bygone world of Zubrowka. A note about the little things you never saw:

I was talking to Ralph Fiennes one night and he was really appreciative of graphics work in film - he particularly liked the personalised notebook we'd made for his character to keep in his pocket. When we were developing it, he had asked that the pages be lined, rather than blank, as he felt that was more in keeping with Gustave's style. It's that kind of small detail that the camera is just never going to pick up on directly, but goes some small way in helping the scene, for example, in which Ralph is striding through the hotel lobby taking his notes. Every department pays the same amount of attention to detail - costume, set dec, make-up, props - and it all adds up.

And that’s why the movie is so convincing.

ARCHITECTURE Atlas Obscura looks at some statues rescued from a demolished New York skyscraper. The wikipedia page on the St. Paul building is rather cruel:

The St. Paul Building was a skyscraper in New York City built in 1898 to designs by George B. Post that repeated the same Ionic order for each floor, to little cumulative effect. At 315 feet (96 m) it was one of the tallest skyscrapers of its era. The building was 26 stories tall. It was demolished without public expression of regret in 1958 in order to make way for the Western Electric Building.

Bonus: the statues were the work of Karl Bitter, who did the Thomas Lowry memorial in Minneapolis.

NORKS The world’s most thin-skinned tyrant is not happy over this, and is demanding that China do something.

Note: that is not really Osama Bin Laden gamboling through a field. At least we hope not.

WEB CULTURE Our long national nightmare is over.

Notes on the Joys of Travelling

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 14, 2014 - 12:12 PM

1974 interior design brochure picture, or 2014 Paris airport waiting room?

The latter, obviously. The Seventies couldn't have carried that off without slathering the floor in brown shag. I was just there - on Bastille Day, which was completely ignored in the massive CDG terminal - and found the Paris airport an interesting comparison with our own MSP. Much more stylish, with unified colors and themes; remarkable bathrooms. But far fewer choices for eating. Granted, the food was good; you'd expect that. But in terms of selection, it reminded you of the days when MSP was run by HOST, and HOST only. Granted, I was only in two terminals, and I think there were 146 others, so don't listen to me.

In other travel-related news: The Costa Concordia is rising from its (checking maritime cliches list. . . ) watery grave today, and Giz has a livestream. At the moment I’m writing this, it seems to be a board meeting of unhappy EU technocrats, but that could change.

I was just on a cruise ship a few days ago, and was reminded that one activity approximates the panic and tumult of a sinking, and that’s the Midnight Chocolate Buffet. When you remove the “eating lots of desserts” part and insert “fear for life” it becomes really chaotic, but not by much.

Related, only because I just had a long flight that began with sitting in an unairconditioned plane for an hour breathing the same air until everyone was light-headed and beginning to hallucinate - seriously, at one point we all imagined that the flight attendant cracked the mike and told us what was going on, which never happens; they just apologize for the delay when you finally push back, and you hope they weren’t doing something like “Fixing the Engine, Which was Broke” because you really don’t want to think you’re going over the ocean on a plane that got patched up with duct tape and chewing gum by guys who shrugged and said “well, it ought to hold” - anyway, Seven Activities for Long Flights. It’s Clickhole, so it’s not real. Also, it’s not very funny, so never mind.

Instead, go read this: a New Yorker piece on the designers who invent new spaces for First Class seating in new planes. You’ll learn a lot about the steerage amenities, such as they are, and add the word “delethalize” to your vocabulary. The notes about the price of the video systems on the back of the seats is eye-opening, but there’s a reason they’re so expensive.

It’s remarkable how we get bored and dissatisfied with miracles: whereas once we were agog at a TV SCREEN! in the CHAIR! where you could watch MOVIES! now you’re dismayed if it has the resolution of 2002 ATM screen.

Related, sort of: Prodigy screenshots from 1992. It’s from this Atlantic article on rebuilding the lost interface of the long-dead service. Paleoarcheology of the early years of digital life.

From the Atlantic piece:

When any sizable online service disappears, a piece of our civilization's cultural fabric goes with it. In this case, the missing cultural repository is Prodigy, a consumer-oriented online service that launched in 1988 as a partnership between Sears and IBM . . .

Over its 11-year lifespan, a generation of Americans grew up with Prodigy as part of their shared cultural heritage. In an earlier era, we may have spoken about another common cultural experience—say, Buster Keaton films—as a cultural frame of reference for an entire generation. Everybody saw them, everybody referenced them. And while Prodigy was nowhere near as popular as Buster Keaton among the general public, hundreds of thousands of people with a computer and a modem in the early 1990s tried Prodigy at least once.

The Keaton-Prodigy ratio was probably about 1,000,000 to 1, but I see their point.

MOVIES On the plane I watched “Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” - ridiculous and fun. Turns out the Civil War was also about vampires. But this New York Times piece from last week notes something else that may have (checking martial imagery cliche list . . . ) turned the tide of war: java.

Did the fact that Union troops were near jittery from coffee, while rebels survived on impotent brown water, have an impact on the outcome of the conflict? Union soldiers certainly thought so.

Bonus points for not using “The Secret History of Coffee and the Civil War” in the headline. And now if you'll excuse me, Jet lag is about to kick zzzzzzzzzzz WHA?!?  Sorry. Never mind. Dozed off. 

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