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 Praise

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. 

"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. 

Spanking in Minnesota

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 9, 2014 - 12:39 PM

I'm tempted to drive to Calhoun to see if anyone's on the beach today. It's only 57 now, but we're promised 70. Then it's back in the 40s next week, because life is cruel. Is this worse than last year? Well: last year, April 15: high of 37. April 15, 2012: High of 61. 2011: 43 at noon. 2010: 66. As you see, it goes back and forth with big swings. Let’s check 1986: 45 at noon. 1985: 62 at noon.

All this data comes from the Time Machine feature of Plug in any date. You’ll see wide variances, but a mean emerges. Imagine that.

DISENGAGE Captain Janeway says she was tricked into voicing the geocentricism documentary. AVClub:

Seeming to offer explanation for why the vessel of Star Trek: Voyager became so irrevocably stranded, Kate Mulgrew—best known as that show’s Captain Janeway—has lent her familiar voice to The Principle, an upcoming documentary about the belief that the Earth is the center of the universe. The film has been in the works for a while, though it’s mostly been as ignored as those who have propagated the theory of Geocentrism past the 17th century.

But that’s all changed with the release of a trailer that finds Mulgrew’s familiar voice intoning, “Everything we think we know about our universe is wrong,” before a montage of physicists offers vaguely articulated assessments of how unique our planet is, seemingly in support of the idea that everything must therefore revolve around it. Some of them stand before whiteboards with calculations written on them. The evidence is compelling.

She says - well, read the article; they did the heavy lifting, I didn’t. I figured she was just taking a paycheck. Just because Orson Welles did the voiceover for frozen peas didn’t mean he ate them.

WEB CULTURE You never know which gaping hole in our culture exists until someone plugs it. This is one of those: man recreates bathroom fight from “World’s End” in Minecraft. Whew.

Via AV Club.

ART Beautiful cinemagraphs by Rebecca Mock.

They’re all available at one page, and I could point you there - but then they’d get the traffic instead of the artist, and you wouldn’t see the rest of her portfolio. I know, I know, who appointed me Link Cop today.

BAD ROBOT Let’s check in with our favorite gibberish blog, automatically compiled to snag search results. It’s written by “Leonard,” and it’s called “Minnesota / A blog about minnesota from a graduate student.” Today’s title: “Spanking in Minnesota.”

Under Minnesota state and local law enforcement agencies have implemented an aggressive approach to curbing driving under the spanking in minnesota a great place to move. There are also fun family activities and various cultural showcases held in this state should spend a night at the spanking in minnesota an old historical landmark which has both a park and an area of a home in the spanking in minnesota that takes cruises in this modern arena. The large and beautiful state with a criminal offense. In fact, the spanking in minnesota, which is nice. There are several people who visit the spanking in minnesota during the spanking in minnesota can go on kayaking or canoeing trips.

No link, because that’s what they want. SAYS I, LINK COP.

VotD From Blastr, a story about the original design for the Predator.

Before it landed on the iconic beast we all know and love, the 1980s action hit Predator featured a very different look for its namesake hunter -- and Van Damme, was it terrible.

Before the studio mercifully turned to FX legend Stan Winston to redesign the creature, they originally hired Jean Claude Van Damme to play the Predator, wearing a weird red suit that would be changed in post-production as part of the cloaking effects.

The recollection of Van Damme’s fury is priceless.

Wait a minute, says Link Cop. What’s this in the comments?

I love how you idiots are always stealing headlines from Bloody-Disgusting. Don't think I don't notice. This site should be taken down

Well, let’s see how Bloody-Disgusting titled the piece: “Hilarious Story About Jean-Claude Van Damme In ‘Predator’!! Okay. Blastr: “Awesome, long-lost 1980s footage of Van Damme's hilariously bad Predator.” No, different headline. And better. And they link back to as the original story.

So Link Cop will let them go on their way, and detain the commenter for a while to issue a warning against making spurious accusations.

Finally: yesterday's discussion of Archie dying - and by that we mean "dying in an alternate timeline to goose sales" led to someone tweeting out the cover of Life with Archie #37 by comics legend Alex Ross. Oy:

Can you possibly imagine a situation where this would be your perspective, and something really awful wasn't about to happen? There are actually many different covers, and you can see the whole batch here. You may not care a whit about Archie, but the comic is an American archetype, and it's interesting to see what different artists do with the concept of Riverdale's redhead taking the big sleep.

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.



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