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

Google Maps: New, Improved, Worse

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 28, 2015 - 12:07 PM

Google Maps has switched over to its new improved version, and you can’t go back. For a while you could return to Classic Maps, and they’d ask why you didn’t want the spiffy all-new maps they’d spent so much time creating. One of the choices was “Too Many Boxes.” If you have to include one of your new features as a pre-loaded option in your complaint form, maybe you should do something about Too Many Boxes. The new maps has a row of pictures at the bottom if you’re in Full Mode - photos of local landmarks and popular locations. There’s “Getting Around” on the left, with options like “Bicycling” and “Terrain.” There’s a drop-down menu of previous searches, which requires a click on the magnifying glass to dismiss. Some cities look like the old version, and the difference seems confined to the interface, but the new Street View for other places - most, as far as I can tell - is just awful.

The old version made you stagger along one frame at a time; you got straight-on shots of city streets, like this.

Now you get this.

(Different location, but you get the idea.)

So many locations look like bad panorama shots, with hideous distortion:

Hey wow the peyote kicked in faster than usual. I fear it’s only a matter of time before everything looks like this. For people who like to stroll around places they’ll never visit and look at the buildings, it’s a great loss. Yes, it’s better than some of the pictures of small towns, where everything looks like it was shot on corroded daguerrotype plates and filmed with a VHS camera, but - well, there’s no but. The new pictures are better than the ones they took in 2007, and yes, this is all complaining about an incredible thing that’s free. It’s still a a step back. At least for armchair travellers.

The price is free. Or $34.99.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 8, 2015 - 12:26 PM

I don’t know if it’s a generational distinction or just individual preference, but when I watch TV I want to watch it on TV. On the big set in the warm room with the comfortable furniture My daughter is platform agnostic, and would just as soon watch a show on her phone or computer. I’m not averse to either, but I don’t see the point. When I want to watch a program, I want to watch it, not glance it or pause and fiddle with Twitter or otherwise fritter away my attention span. The days of turning on the TV to see what’s on, like lowering yourself into a tepid bath for a soak, are long past. I want to watch This Thing. And last night, that thing was Louie, season 4.

Neil Justin, our TV critic, alerted me to the Season 4 reruns on FX’s website. I’d seen the first three seasons on Netflix, and the fourth was starting up tomorrow. So let’s catch up, shall we?

Step one: call up the website on my phone so I can throw the picture to the Apple TV via Airplay. Oh, clever! It’s all upside down. If you turn your phone around it goes upside down again, but then it rights itself. Because Louie’s life is like that! Problem: can’t be done. The website says I need the app. That’s great because I’m always looking for more apps to load on my phone, hog space, bug with review requests, ask for my location, and other botherations of modern life.

Downloaded the app, found the Louie Season 4. The picture is upside down! Ha ha. Wait for it to turn itself around. Click play.

Sorry! First you have to enter your service provider.  Find DirecTV in the list. Click.

It asks for your DirecTV password. Everybody who remembers your content provider’s password off the top of your head, raise your hand. Showing all fingers, please. Right. So: call up password manager on the computer, get the login credentials, enter them, go back to the Main screen, which is now devoted to nothing but Simpsons. There's no way to get out of it. No menu. Swiping hither and yon does nothing. Quitting the app does nothing. So I delete the app and download it again. Enter credentials. Find the ep - they’re all out of order - and click play.

Sorry, your package does not include this channel.

Really. So FXonDemand or FXNow or whatever it’s called is so gosh-darned special it’s in the premium tier, or the tier right between Lots of Channels and Oh Lord So Many Channels Plus Starz or something.

Well, maybe it’s on iTunes at a reasonable price. Huh: $33.99. I balk, because I’d watched 3 seasons on Netflix for the price of Netflux, and while I enjoyed the show, in retrospect I wouldn’t have paid $125 for the batch. That’s the price of all six Star Wars movies on iTunes now, in HD. The SW price is ridiculous, but the Louie show consists of a big schlumpy guy walking around New York having Situations, and there’s not one large space-battle. I’d pay $15 for the lot.

This is where some people all of a sudden say “to hell with it, I’ll torrent.” It’s thievery, of course, and the people who say “I’d pay $15 but I don’t have that option so I’ll steal it” think it's defensible or don't care one way or the other.

Gave up and went to bed. This morning I learned the show is available for streaming, free, on Amazon Prime.

So what's the cost of the show? The price of a sliver of Amazon Prime, the price of a portion of the 3rd Gold Family Plus Package that lets me see TV content on an app, the $34 Apple wants, or the infinitesimal price I will pay should it run on Netflix some day? The answer: all of the above.

It does make you nostalgic for the day when all the TV came free and you had three options and nothing repeated until July. But not really. Those days wouldn't have a show like Louie.

(PS Yes, yes, TV wasn't free. The companies baked the price of advertising into their goods and services. But you know what I mean.)

The trouble with "Bhutanese Passport."

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 27, 2015 - 12:33 PM

BOOOO-tineese passsspoat.

The wikipedia edit page has the various arguments for deletion, such as:

The sound file has become an internet meme and needs removing unless you wish to deal with the influx of edits by children and trolls who have discovered this meme.

Right. And so:

This remix appears rather new. Well, five days old, which is seven months on the internet. Here’s the thing that makes this characteristic of the conundrums of internet culture: If the "Bhutanese Passport" reading is deleted because it has become a meme and subject to ridicule, then it’s something with enough cultural significance to merit its own Wikipedia page, regardless of whether it's inadvertently distorted or intended to mock or demean. Meanwhile, the discussions are fascinating, in that endlessly anal-retentive way Wiki editors have perfected:

What if the accent is verified as Bhutan, but the speaker is putting on a humorous affect? Imagine a hypothetical british guy narrating a WW2-related article by trying to talk like an over-the-top parody of old news real? In such a hypothetical case, the accent would be legitimately British, but the overall voice would be a silly put-on.

And so on. Perhaps someone gets around to going to the user: page for the fellow who uploaded the file. He doesn't seem to be trolling. Doesn't matter; the original has been deleted, and replaced by an audio file that's odd in its own way. 

NOT REALLY Let’s overstate the matter and say that optical illusions “prove everything we know is wrong.” Of course that’s not true. For example: I know, today, that this link takes you the page that says everything I know is wrong. 

Rote internet arrogance aside, it’s a nice collection of optical illusions.

Trending on Kinja, by the way, is this headline: “Man Forced to Sell His New house Because Comcast Lied to Him.” Really? Is that possible? Well, it’s a bit more complex than that. The OP is more interesting, if you like long customer-service rants. Which I do. It’s a modern art form, like the epistolary novel.

This thing is doomed, whatever it is

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 16, 2015 - 12:11 PM

Drudge had a link - PAPER: Apple watch doomed. . .  or something like that. It sounded like a reasonable financial report, because it had PAPER: in front of it. Turns out it’s another guy who wants to wave his arms and say OVER HERE! MAN WITH NO IMAGINATION!

Apple released the much-anticipated — and much-hyped — Apple Watch last week, with CEO Tim Cook putting its best face forward. Unfortunately for Cook, he never gave us a reason to want or need the gee-whiz gadgetry.

This us you speak of. Who would that be? The people who see the device as something that boils down the smartphone interactions to something simpler that doesn’t require taking out the phone to interact? Because you know how that goes - take it out, stab here, do something, put it away. This moves that to your wrist, so you look and dismiss without hauling out the slab.

When Steve Jobs debuted the iPod, it too was not the first to turn MP3 music into gold — but he made you want that device. “The coolest thing about the iPod is that your whole music library fits in your pocket,” he said. Boom! Sold!

And everyone loved it! Everyone! Except the bleating of the tech press that insisted it had been done before and done better, and this was overpriced and Mac only and doomed, I tell you, har har, doomed like Apple itself. And then it sold a bazillion units because it was . . . easier. And better.

Last Monday, I didn’t hear that. What came to mind was another much-ballyhooed gadget.

Like the iPad? Maligned for its name (hur hur menstruation) or its size (It’s just a big iPhone why would you I can’t even) or the fact that someone else came out with a tablet that had a STYLUS, DUDE, and this is just more fanboi fodder for der sheeple. Look, I’ll be honest. I have an iPad mini, and sometimes I think I’ll never buy another iPad. Because this one is perfect. It’s small and lightweight and does everything I want. Books, web, games. Now if they made the screen eye-blindly sharp with 3d holomatrix projectors, we’re talking upgrade, but for now this is all I want in a tablet. The iPad. Which was a much-ballyhooed gadget.

Cook is trying to reinvent the watch, but Google didn’t have much luck trying to re-imagine eyeglasses.

This is like saying Henry Ford is trying to reinvent the watch, but Lucius Beaufont didn’t have much luck breeding horses with cars.

Google put a video camera with e-mail and telephony capabilities on a pair of glasses. They released the narcissist’s dream on April 15, 2013, to 8,000 hand-picked “Glass Explorers” at a price of $1,500 … plus $225 for prescription lenses.

Google’s past failures are direct and incontrovertible evidence of future Apple failures.

On May 15, 2014, Google Glass was released to the public. And on Jan. 15, 2015, Google announced that it had stopped production but remained “committed to the development” of the glasses.

(Apple Watch product team sees that timeline and shudders in anticipatory dread)

Here are a few reasons not to buy this timeless gadget. For starters, the pricing model is flawed. The opening commitment if you do not have an iPhone is just under $1,000 to replace your Timex.

The market is not people without an iPhone. The market is for people who have a recent iPhone, and people who want to upgrade. After that the market is everyone else who will be interested in switching because of the phone-watch combo. Also, your “Timex” does not display texts or play music or give turn-by-turn directions or let you send a custom doodle to your child on the other side of the planet, but details, details.

To operate the Apple Watch, you need an iPhone, which offers many of the functions of the watch, including the time.

Just as the iPhone offered many functions of a laptop, including the time, and email. So why would anyone want one of those.

A watch that can run up to $17,000 and is not called Rolex, Breitling or Patek Philippe is not a bit much, but a whole lot much. Those high-end watches tend to be good investments over time.

The basic Watch starts at $400. The high-end Apple watch is pitched at a rarified stratum of people for whom money is no object. Imagine a car company. Imagine a car company that sells affordable cool cars and amazing expensive sports cars that do 150 MPH. Imagine people judging the low-end car’s ability to get from point A to point B solely on the basis that the company sells an expensive car.

The Apple Watch is certain to be relegated to a drawer in a year or two when it’s replaced by the Apple Watch 2, with more bells and whistles.

I remember buying the first iPod, and thinking “sure glad this will never be improved, and I can use it forever without thinking any aspect will benefit from incremental improvement.”

Because it’s “cool” or super-functional doesn’t mean it’s practical.

It’s interesting how someone who said there was no reason to want or need the Watch thinks it’s super-functional. That would suggest it had functions and was super good at them. But impractical!

Look. Let me tell you about this thing. The battery life will disappoint, probably. For now. It will take some time to get used to the crown, and navigation may seem wonky at first. For now. The first commercials for the iPhone were idealized, but everything they said the device would do is what the device does.

Just remember, Google Glass was heralded as one of the best inventions of 2012.

And the iPod was heralded as one of the best inventions ever . . . years later. By people who said “well of course it turned out to be awesome. But is Apple innovating now?

I’ve said it before: you’re a parent whose child is off in college or on vacation or backpacking around, I don’t know, Vietnam. Phone buzzes. You take it out. You see the text. You thumb the button. You see the picture. You smile and text back a message.

Or: You get a tell-tale tap on your wrist, the signal it’s your child. You glance at the screen; it’s a picture of where she is. You draw an exclamation point, and a minute later on the other side of the globe it taps her wrist in a repetition of the gesture you set up.

Plus, paying for groceries by waving your hand over the terminal. Remember the days when you had to use your thumbprint? Gawd.

Here’s something by someone who’s actually used one. Compare and contrast.

Who is this?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 26, 2015 - 3:21 PM

Looking through an early 60s LOOK magazine - the Hunt’s Catsup to Life’s Heinz - I came across an ad for men’s hair dye. The copy said that grey hair made you look old, and not so virile, and not as ripe for Success as dark hair. Here’s the picture they used.

Is that who I think it is? Because silver hair didn’t exactly sink his career.

UPDATE: Well, well, well.  However did I forget the Roger Sterling-drops-acid scene from Mad Men? (Thanks to Justin via Twitter.)

BREAKING Denny’s used slang in a tweet. They said that their hashbrowns were “on fleek.” This is news. WSJ:

The message, which to teens translates to “these hashbrowns are on point (very good),” garnered almost 30,000 retweets and was seen in the advertising industry as something of a social media marketing masterstroke. Taco Bell and IHOP later sent out their own tweets using the phrase “on fleek,” looking to get in on the action.

If this makes no sense to you, imagine it’s 1973, and Perkins sent you a postcard that just said “eggs are groovy.”

For companies, these aren’t just punchlines, but a way to burnish their brands with young people by showing a working knowledge of the Web’s patois.“It’s Jay Z’s birthday,” said one of the creative specialists. “Anybody have any thoughts on what we could do?” 

Suggestions poured out, including “99 problems but lunch ain’t one” and “big shrimpin’,” both references to classic Jay Z songs.

Can we draw a connection between our menu and a famous song about a man living off the sexual exploitation of women? Anyone? C’mon, we’re losing the Millennials here.

Taco Bell’s new chief executive, Brian Niccol, told investors in December, “when we do the brand message consistently, we end up in a place where, to borrow a Millennial phrase, we’re ‘on cleek.’ ”

Mr. Niccol said he misspoke, adding that Taco Bell does an “amazing job of tapping into” the Millennial voice.

One day the Millennial voice will grow up.

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