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 Photos

Beatnik Repair

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 26, 2015 - 11:53 AM

For some reason this was unearthed and passed around the internet yesterday, so whom am I to buck a trend. It’s a quick Pathe doc on the means by which oily beatniks were scrubbed down and converted into civilized women again. As the narrator says: “It’s all part of the deception of a modern woman’s life.” Well, when you put it like that, who could refuse? Especially filthy Beatnik girls.

Amusing comment on the YouTube page: “We’re the beatniks looked down upon?” It’s as if people think that “counterculture” was admired and revered in its time. No.

The Pathe archives are an astonishing resource, and they’ve even put up outtakes. Here’s some screen grabs from a short about things you can do to your head that make you look ludicrous forty years later. There's the dead bird look:

And then there's the other dead bird look. Literally:

The whole thing's here. 

SCIENCE! In honor of the X-Files returning, here's Inquistr, just throwing out nonsense:

UFOlogists have proposed that the moon, believed to be a natural satellite of Earth, is, in fact, a huge spaceship, a gigantic UFO, parked in orbit around the Earth by an advanced technological civilization.

The proposal that the moon is an artificial satellite of Earth, specifically an alien spaceship, a massive UFO, parked in orbit around the Earth, is known as the Spaceship Moon Theory, Artificial Moon Theory, or Alien Moon Theory.

Oh! Well. If the proposal is known as a theory, then we must take it seriously.

Speaking of the X-Files: wouldn’t it be nice if they explained everything left up in the air after the movie? The bees? The black oil? The Supersoldiers? The whole fight-the-future alien takeover business? All that hugger-mugger people obsessed about for half a decade?

Federal Unicorns

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 18, 2015 - 12:00 PM

Worried about Hippos suddenly running at you full-tilt? Here’s a book that should help. Summary:

Two ways: by charging understand HipposIf you hunt hippos Few people realize how dangerous hippos can. They are like the peace clumsy beasts grazing on the grass or just peace floating in the water. But in reality hippos have very sharp teeth and run surprisingly fast, can reach speeds of 25 mph! In Africa, hippos live, they have claimed thousands of lives, even more than the lion.

It’s from Kindle Cover disasters, where you can lose the rest of the day if you wish. (via Coudal.) Or you could go to the source and find your own examples. Here’s an intriguing set-up:

Vanity is an FBI agent, and, in the words of her friend, “a damn good one.”

That’s because she’s a Changer; specifically, she’s a unicorn in human form.

Which would seem to make her . . . not a unicorn? O ye of little imagination.

As a unicorn Changer, Vanity wields her unicorn magic as part of her calling as a Federal agent. She was one of the lucky few who were imbued with magic on that fateful day in July almost three years ago when magic suddenly appeared in the world.

Is it almost three years ago? That’s a key detail.

But while she and the other Changers Changed, they didn’t really change: they remained exactly what they were, only with magic, on both sides of the law and all points in between.

Yes, the Changers changed, but they didn’t really Change.

The cover:

Elsewhere in graphic design: here’s the Apple home page for the original iMac. If that whets your appetite for the old days, take a look at this page on the Jaguar interface. It looks . . . archaic. It’s a mess, really. Pinstripe side by side with brushed metal. All those Aqua bubbles. It makes you wonder when today’s interfaces will start to look different, and what will replace them.

Did Color Ruin Movies?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 3, 2015 - 12:19 PM

Of course not. But before we get to that: guess the year this movie was made.

1929. This may confuse a few people who thought color came ten years later. When I was a kid we thought “Wizard of Oz” was the first color movie, and the revelation of Munchkinland when Dorothy opened the door of her Murder Shack made audiences gasp. Color! What sorcery is this?

They had color before; it was just expensive. This article discusses how some thought color would ruin movies, just as they thought sound would be its downfall. The latter point you can understand; silent films had their own vocabulary, if you will, and were quite sophisticated in every way but dialogue. When sound came in movies got bad, fast, but they learned quickly. But how could anyone not see the advantages of color?

Looking through old issues of Film Daily from the 30s, you’re struck by a couple of thing: 1. the ads. These weren’t the posters that went up in the theater lobby, but the ads meant to sell the pictures to distributors and gin up excitement. They’re remarkable.

2. Most of these movies aren’t seen any more. Even some of the biggest are probably not hot items on Netflix these days:

It is available on Netflix DVD, by the way. Ditto the Coogan flick.

3. There was one guy who moved into color, and moved early. But he was always a technologically savvy guy, eager to try out the next new thing.

As for the Atlantic article, it ends on a curious note:

The colorizing processes that followed built on this supersaturated aesthetic—so much so that people now associate richly colored films and photographs with nostalgia for the past. The Instagram filter "1977," for example, is explicitly named for the moment in film technology it mirrors.

Really? I just took a shot with 1977 to see if I remembered it correctly - never use it - and it made everything brown and yellow, as if it was a shot taken in 1977 that had faded over the years.  The pictures we took in '77 were much more vivid. 

Makes you wonder if people in the future will think we had a strange solar flare in the 2010s, when it's just the HDR filters.

You're not cool enough for This.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 29, 2015 - 12:26 PM

Sometimes you learn things about history that tear apart all your old assumptions. For example: the Twitter account @History_Pics tweeted out this amazing photo, with the caption “The battleship Missouri second before being struck by a kamikaze in 1945.”

You might wonder why they didn’t react quicker. That’s because they are toys.

I had no idea we drafted plastic toys to fight in WW2. As it turns out, though, we didn’t. Wikipedia:

On 11 April, a low-flying kamikaze, although fired on, crashed on Missouri ' s starboard side, just below her main deck level. The starboard wing of the plane was thrown far forward, starting a gasoline fire at Gun Mount No. 3. The battleship suffered only superficial damage, and the fire was brought quickly under control.[5The remains of the pilot were recovered on board the ship just aft of one of the 40 mm gun tubs. Captain Callaghan decided that the young Japanese pilot had done his job to the best of his ability, and with honor, so he should be given a military funeral. The following day he was buried at sea with military honors.

The entry has the following picture:

THIS Here’s another hot social network you’re not on because you’re not cool enough. You can post one link a day. That’s it. NYT:

Currently, the platform is available only to those who receive an invitation from one of the nearly 4,500 users. As more journalists and media insiders become aware of it, they are jockeying for the exclusive invitations. “Someone get me an invite to @THISdotcm already,” tweeted Jessica Reed, the features editor at Guardian US, who punctuated her message with four cigarette emojis to signify her impatience, as she later explained it.

It’s a fine idea; the next thing should be THAT, which points people to the worst thing on the web that day, then THE OTHER THING, which consists of one link to the most irrelevant thing. The three sites will eventually form PronounMedia, which will raise $350 million in its first round, hire a bunch of people to grow the brand, spend $65 million on an app, get bought by, which then shutters THAT and THE OTHER THING in order to “concentrate on core strengths.”

Speaking of which, remember ello? Everyone wanted to be on it because only a few people could be on it. Then they let more people in, and the people who wanted to be in had forgotten about it. I got my invite last week, and shrugged: oh, right, that. Go to the home page. They have a nifty effect. And by “nifty” I mean it’s quite possible you will feel your stomach turn. It’s the most polarizing thing I’ve ever seen; everyone to whom I’ve shown the effect rears back a bit, as if they’ve just seen someone cheerfully bend his forearm or pull his earlobe down four inches like a Command adhesive tab.

SPQR Rome’s Flavian Amphitheater is being cleaned and repaired, and they’re finding interesting details:

Traces of red painted numbers have been found on the arches of Rome’s Colosseum during the ongoing $33 million restoration work aimed at repairing damage suffered by the 2,000-year-old monument since the Middle Ages.

More here. The numbers were used for sections, aisles, and seats, just like today. But did they drink Gatorade? No:

Roman gladiators drank an energy drink of vinegar and ash, according to an anthropological investigation of arena fighter bones.”

Maybe the Vikes should give it a try.

Pieces of Moment

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 5, 2015 - 12:21 PM

If you don’t mind, I’d like to state several obvious things and pass it off as “useful tips” in case you have nothing better to do this evening. But first: at Motherboard, a contemplation about the early days of digital photography and storage.

The pictures these cameras took are, and will forever be terrible. And we saved them on our desktop behemoths with Pentium II processors and burned them onto CD-Rs that we bought from CVS in spindles of 50 or 100 for a couple nickels a pop. What were we thinking?

That we were saving the images for future reference? It’s possible.

I was recently going through some old things, and I came across damaged CD-R after damaged CD-R—many without even a sharpie-marked label, but many more with things like “PHOTOS-NEW YORK TRIP” written on it. Problem is, unlike the film photos I found laying around—from the early 90s, the 80s, some of them from my parents from even before that—I have no idea what these photos even look like. I don’t have a CD-drive anymore.

At the risk of sounding like a passive-aggressive adult who tries to sound civil like saying “at the risk of sounding like,” go buy one. They’re cheap, and handy in case you need to install something from the dim dark era of the mid 2000s. And then you can transfer the pictures to your hard drive or back them up in the cloud. I know, I know, I’m getting too technical here, but stick with me. By putting them in the cloud they’re immune from archaic storage formats. You just smote yourself in the forehead with the palm of your hand, surprised you hadn’t thought of this before, right? We continue:

Obviously, I’m overstating the problem a bit. Lots of people shot digital and film and backed up their things responsibly. Not everyone was a dumb high schooler who thought every little thing could be tossed onto a CD-R, and then, into a shoebox for safekeeping.


And we’ll just leave it there. The “but” is the justification for writing the piece in the first place, which is: tech changes, so, how will we preserve our memories if we store them on things that might go out of style?

You could print them.

Of course that has occurred to you, but there’s more. At the end of the year I go through all the photos for the past twelve months and make sure they have descriptive names like “Last Day of School 01.jpg”, and then I compress them into an archive and store it on DVD, on another hard drive, and in the cloud. Then I winnow out the best and sent them to a place that prints them into a book. The chances of anyone ever going through 1000 photos are slim; the chances someone in the family will page through the book some day - next year, ten years away - are high. Or fat, if you want to keep the figures of speech consistent.

Since it’s a pain to do it all at the end of the year, I’ve decided that this year I will do it every day, so I’m always on top of the gargantuan data-wad of dog pictures, nature shots, building-site progress, and so on. So far so good; all the photos are in order, and the duds already winnowed out.

It’s like the resolution people make to take a picture every day, which always peters out around February.

I expect I’ll abandon this resolution around then as well, and wish I wasn’t A) compelled to take a picture of everything, and B) such a packrat when it came to computer files. Makes me envious of my daughter, who takes Polaroids and puts them in a book called PIECES OF MOMENT.

Made in China, where perhaps the creative team didn’t run the name past a native English speaker. 


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