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

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.


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. 

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 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.

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.

Million-dollar rot

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 26, 2014 - 12:39 PM

Remember this?

No? It’s the Million-dollar homepage. Matt of Mefi asked someone to see which links were still live, and this Quartz story says that 22% of the links are dead,. Random clicking around leads to lots of parked domains. Looks more like 50% are 404d for all practical purposes. Some of the URLs make you wonder what someone was thinking:

We’ll take your word for it. The Quartz piece examines the problem of link rot, which I suspect will be less of a problem once every link to GeoCities pages finally goes offline. 

TWENTY PERCENT Says this story: Tips go up if there’s an option in the app, or the merchant’s Square payment screen has a tip option. This leads to a “digital tip trap,” in which individual judgment and personal choice are wiped out by relentless mind-control beams streaming out of the electronic device, or something.

Wasn’t that an annoying sentence? I’m disappointed I wrote it. But that’s how you disagree with something without taking the arguments on their merits and refuting them one-by-one: mischaracterize with exaggeration, then say “or something” to indicate you kinda nailed it. Lazy 

So you should read the story. I tip at the coffee shop, but I don’t tip when I pick up the pizza. Delivery, yes. Handing it to me from the hot shelf? No. But there’s a line on the receipt that says TIP and I always feel a twinge of guilt when I leave nothing. It’s not a digital trap, but it nudges you, and for many that’s all it takes.

MEANWHILE IN ITALY I learned today that the Venetian Independence movement is not following me on Twitter. That’s always something of a letdown, isn’t it? You call up a twitter account and the app informs you right off the start that they’re not following you. Then again, if the Venetian Independence movement was following me, I’d be concerned. Why? What did I do to merit their attention? Anyway, Venice wants to secede from Italy, if you believe the recent non-binding plebiscite. They also want to join NATO. Well, perhaps they could be used to practice marine landings. Made you wonder what Google Street View looks like for a city with streams for roads:

Just kidding. The Atlantic article reminds you that . . .

The Most Serene Republic of Venice, as it was officially known, dominated the Mediterranean Sea during its thousand-year lifespan between the seventh and eighteenth centuries. At its height, the state's traders and merchants sailed from the lagoons of the northern Adriatic Sea to the shores of Syria and Lebanon, carrying spices and silks from Asia to Western markets.

It’s always spices with these guys. And silks. Seems like that was the bulk of economic activity for hundreds of years: moving pepper and saffron around. Well, no, not just spices. Rugs. The Wall Street Journal has a review of a new show in New York that looks at Oriental rugs in European paintings. “From Rugs to Riches.

This illustrates a poignant feature of the exhibition, a clash of civilizations: The paintings are eloquent of individual, identifiable lives, while the carpets stand mute, abstract, narrative-free.

I like narrative-free carpets, but that’s just me.

The WSJ also has a look at the new film about Vivian Maier, the incredible photographer who worked as a nanny for decades, never showed anyone her work - even when she worked for Phil Donahue. A fellow bought a box of her negatives at a flea market a few years ago, and brought her work to light. The film raises the question of whether it’s right to show the work of someone who obviously didn’t want anyone to see it - and apparently the answer is yes, since interest in her work hasn’t abated since it was discovered. This line was remarkable:

Buying up and cataloging the messy contents of her life, he found trunks full of negatives as well as undeveloped rolls of film. Unable to elicit interest from museums, he has paid to have her film developed and negatives scanned. He has previously sponsored two splendid books of her photographs and numerous exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad.

What curator in his or her right mind would turn this down? In favor of what?

Votd On-the-spot payback for grafitti, Brazilian-style. The original poster says it translates thus:

“Say sorry”

"Sorry sir, I will never paint the base of police again”

"Now get out before i change my idea."

You suspect the crime was not spraying graffiti, but spraying it on something related to the police.

Finally, here's something that's almost impossible to resist!

It's such a pity they ran out of time and couldn't tell us what the story was about! Amost makes you want to click and see the rest of the story.

If you do, let me know. I boycott these things. Lottery tickets pay off more often than these teasers.

"Old" does not equal "historic."

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 24, 2014 - 12:33 PM

Not always. This is where the Dinkytown hotel was supposed to go. This is the building that might be “historic.”

The City Council denied the permit to build the structure until a study figures out whether the entire business district is in need of preservation. Yes and no. It seems odd to declare everything historic, and by odd I mean “makes little sense, given the diversity of buildings in the area.” The McDonald/’s? No. The Varsity? Yes. The old Bridgeman’s, now a Potbelly? No. The Old College Inn? Yes. One-story commercial structures are part of a neighborhood’s history, and they’re bulwarks against projects that change the character or density of a neighborhood. That may be a reason to keep them, but it doesn’t make the structures historic.

Is there a point at which large projects would fundamentally transform Dinkytown into something it doesn’t want to be, he asked, setting up an answer that won’t placate anyone? Yes. Once the historic survey is done, there will be guidelines, and no one will try to knock down the old Grey’s Drug. But it shouldn’t take a year to walk the blocks and make the proper distinctions. A week, maybe. Two if you can’t find parking.

Here's the Google Street View. Turns out if I put the iframe tag in the first 200 characters of the blog, it has an aneurism. 

View Larger Map

GOING UP The history of the elevator and the history-making demonstration of Mr. Otis may have been a bit different from what you’ve been told. Before you go to the piece, a warning: it seems to have a slight case of florid academese.

The theatricality of the demonstration (however unimpressed contemporary witnesses may have been) places this contribution to the elevator’s development above the crowd of equally important but less dramatic turning points, such as the first installation of guide rails in a factory or the first construction of a completely enclosed cab. The concentrated format of a public demonstration satisfies the yearning for a clean, unambiguous beginning, a yearning endemic to the historiography of technology. The dramaturgy of the experiment in the Crystal Palace also contributes to this outcome.

You’ve been warned, in other words. It’s still worth a read, and applause for not titling it “Everything You Know About Otis’ Historical Elevator Demonstration is Wrong” or “Another Man Named Otis Invented the Screw Elevator, and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.”

RETRO It really isn’t, but it is. A poster that helps you choose the right dinosaur for your house. (via DesignTaxi.)

It’s cute, but the style is interesting: very high 80s, if my recollection of the era is correct. More of his work is here, and it’s unlike the poster.

Speaking of things that actually are retro, Collectors Weekly has a gallery of 28 “Cringe-worthy Vintage Product Endorsements."  As usual, the horror of the old ads is overstated. Actual cringes felt: perhaps two. Nothing that reaches this level:

(Author’s collection) There’s also an article about 40 Outrageous Vintage Ads Any Woman Would Find Offensive. Mostly BO stuff. One of the comments, eager to unfurl his bright banner of virtue, says: “Wow, it seems as if men in 1930s didn’t have any “B.O.” problem, they all must’ve smelled like fresh linen and daisies!”

Sigh. Yes. Of course.

EDUMACATION NYPost does a story on a school that lets failing students watch online videos instead of showing up for class. Students are offended by the suggestion that there not lerning and right letters to the paper. Result:

Red-faced administrators encouraged a student letter-writing campaign to attack The Post and defend its “blended learning” program. Eighteen kids e-mailed to argue that their alma mater got a bad rap. Almost every letter was filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.One student said the online system beats the classroom because “you can digest in the information at your own paste.”

They sound a little old to be eating the stuff.

SPACE What’s wrong with this piece from NASA?

Anxiously awaited follow-up observations with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed the presence of two new moons around the distant planet Pluto. The moons were first discovered by Hubble in May 2005, but the science team probed even deeper into the Pluto system last week to look for additional satellites and to characterize the orbits of the moons.

STOP PLAYING WITH US, NASA. It is or it isn’t. Of course, this NASA page tries to have it both ways, and says it’s a “dwarf planet.” But let’s be consistent. Too many people see it called “planet” and get their hopes up, like little kids who want their parents to get back together.

VotD Location: Russia. A short film called “Comin’ Through.”

That’s just the warm-up. Now, the main feature. NOTE: SKIP to 1:50.

How we almost blew up Jupiter

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

There’s another deal in Ukraine; we’ll see how that goes. Reddit has a before-and-after picture of Kiev’s Independence Square. A detail:

The BBC has more before-and-after shots here.

WINTER On a lighter note, here’s a shot of my backyard yesterday morning, and today.

The chair is like the Sphinx, which was buried up to its head for hundreds of years.

TECH Only 12 iPod chargers left! After that you’ll have to look elsewhere for things that pop, sizzle, and burst into flames. A sample review:

This is a cheap imitation copy received just two days after the airing of a BBC documentary following trading standards where people's houses were nearly burned down by such items. This is not something that is a rip off and makes no effort to disguise the fact, this is a completely fake product with the exact same design and copied part numbers, CE logo etc from the genuine article.

More quotes: “Our youngest son plugged one in on the day they arrived. The plug exploded in the socket and blew all our electricity.” And: “Had the product for just over a year and it exploded, with black soot all round the socket.” And: “t is totally unsafe. It blew up in my face the first time I tried to use threw the charging cable across the floor.” You can understand if the thing was made by CDCK, or Cheap Dangerous Chinese Knockoff Ltd., but the Amazon page says it’s from Apple. Which it isn’t.

There’s also the mater of melty power supplies, Daily Dot takes a look at the situation, and asks why Amazon allows these things to be sold. Caveat Emptor doesn’t seem to capture it.

ART You could call it the rise and fall of Dutch Industrial Safety Posters. Via Coudal, which titled their link “Don’t Spit on a Nun!”

This is one of the least horrifying ones.

Not to hoover up all their links, but here’s another: “The Museum of the City of New York and Queens Museum have embarked on an 18-month project to make their collections from the 1939/40 and 1964/65 New York World’s Fairs accessible.” Every other site about the World’s Fair might as well close their doors; this sounds like the motherlode collection.

Reminder: bookmark Coudal so you don’t need anyone else to remind you how much cool stuff they have.

SPACE Hair-raising historical note of the day:

There were a small group of people concerned that crashing Galileo into Jupiter, with its Plutonium thermal reactor, might cause a cascade reaction that would ignite Jupiter into a second star in the Solar System.

Yipes. Not a situation where you wanted to say “I told you so.”

Elsewhere in speculative news: Did an orbital probe relay a message from a civilization living on the sixth planet in a binary star system, and communicate important message to a man via a pink beam that came out of a woman’s necklace?

No. Then again, is it really that much of a stretch to say the probe may have influenced one of the greatest sci-fi writers of the 20th century?

Yes. But it’s a fun read. The Black Knight Bracewell Probe, the decoded message, and Philip K. Dick.

But a Vulcan visiting the Star Wars universe? That totally happened.

EULA There’s a new genre in online legalese: casual, friendly, and comprehensible. Imagine that. I got an email from Dropbox: “We’re adding an arbitration section to our updated Terms of Service. Arbitration is a quick and efficient way to resolve disputes, and it provides an alternative to things like state or federal courts where the process could take months or even years.” Interesting. It had a link to the new terms, and wondering if it was as breezy and helpful as Tumblr’s Terms & Conditions, I actually read it. You have to admit you don’t see things like this often:

Sharing Your Stuff

Our Services let you share Your Stuff with others, so please think carefully about what you share.

It’s the word “stuff” that stuck out. Apparently that passed muster with the lawyers. Lest your think that everything’s totally cool, there’s this:

No Refunds. You may cancel your Dropbox Paid Account at any time but you won't be issued a refund.

Good luck taking that one to arbitration.



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