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

That's John Gill

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 18, 2014 - 12:28 PM

There’s no word for something that’s dorky, nerdy, and geeky all at once. We need a turducken-like word to describe nested layers of sci-fi obsessiveness. It’s geeky to know how warp speed is achieved in Star Trek; it’s nerdy to know the names of its inventor and his life story; it’s dorky to be unable to sustain human contact with other people unless they know these things.

That said, here’s some dorknerdky.

When I was a kid I drew Star Trek comic books. Couldn’t draw people, but I could draw the Enterprise, and that was sufficient. There was little else a fan could do; the show was long gone, the cartoon was off the air, the novelizations of the TV shows were just recaps of stories thrice told. Oh, there was talk of bringing it back, but we all knew it was over. Here’s lookin’ at you, Yeoman Rand. We’ll always have Rigel.

Nowadays I imagine going back to my young self, and asking what he’d like to know. I suspect Star Trek would come up. Did they ever make another show? Well, kid, yes and no. The good news: they made a movie. A movie! Was it awesome? It was . . . endurable, and we made lots of excuses at the time, but it was hard going. So that was the end of it, then. Drat. No. They made 12 more.

At which point my young self would be confused, because there weren’t two movies about the same thing, let alone 13. That’s when I’d have to elaborate. See, they brought Star Trek back, and it lasted for seven years. Then there was another Star Trek show that lasted for seven years, and while it was going on there was another Star Trek show that lasted for seven years, then one that lasted for four. There’s a quarter-century of Star Trek in your future, and for the most part you’ll like it.

The hard part would be explaining the fan movies, I think. With a dozen movies and hundreds episodes extant, there would still be such enormous hunger for the original Trek that people would spend their own money to build the sets and write the scripts and film their own versions of Star Trek, with varying degrees of artistic success. By 2014 we hadn’t returned to the moon or invented warp drive, but . . . there are consolations.

There will come a time when the tools of creation have been distributed to the audience, and the audience responds by making something that exceeds the source material. Something visually indistinguishable from the products of Hollywood, something that isn’t bound by the crack-monkey hit-the-beats dictates of a committee effort, something that channels all the raw geek fan love and brings to life the Star Trek you always knew was there, but had never seen like this.

That’s a trailer for the 20-minute finished portion of Return to Axanar, which is here. If I’d show this to my 15-year-old self without any context of what came before in the last quarter-century., I think he would have been unable to walk for a week. Yes, there are other fan-made movies and web series, and some look remarkably good. But the acting and the script often make you wince. This has actors who’ve done many things - including actual Star Trek TV shows.

Made by fans, funded by fans: it’s a Kickstarter project.

The plague of innumerable losers

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 13, 2014 - 12:50 PM

What did awful people do before the internet? Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda, has written this on her Instagram account:

I will be leaving this account for a but while I heal and decide if I'll be deleting it or not. In this difficult time, please try to be respectful of the accounts of myself, my family and my friends. Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me on the number of them is cruel and unnecessary.

The question is whether the Internet created these people by providing anonymity and celebrating a lulz culture, or whether they always existed but had nothing to do with the curdled thoughts that rattled around their empty heads. Perhaps both. Doesn’t matter. It makes you want a separate internet just for the decent.

There's a Gawker story about the matter, but, well, it's a bit difficult to see a Gawker site getting het up over trolls. Better to read her own words, here.

AD OF THE DAY This is a nice restorative pick-you-up: a TV dad who’s not a stupid oaf!

MUSIC There was a schism, and it was deep, and two camps faced each other across the great divide:

In any case, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols came out two days after my 11th birthday and that confusion ended. Instantly. If you were all “punk rock,” then you had no time for progrock bands. You hated them. They were all totally unredeemably bleep. (All of them, except for maybe King Crimson. Robert Fripp, now he was cool.)

Perhaps if you were eleven they were bleep. (Note: "bleep" not in the original.) Sure, progressive rock was reviled by the punks, but it was reviled by everyone who liked other genres. The only thing anyone could agree on was that progrock was a bloated corpse of a dinosaur in a tar pit on a planet with 10X gravity, and oh by the way jazz-rock was worse. (Phil Collins, the drummer for Genesis, brought the Force into balance by drumming for a progressive jazz-rock group, but that’s another story.)

That’s where “New Wave” came in. Same idea - strip it down, tighten it up, and for heaven’s sake dump the strings. Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, dozens more. The work holds up. Sid Vicious does not.

Anyway. New Wave influenced prog-rock, in a way; when BeBop Deluxe came out with “Drastic Plastic” in 1979, you could tell that Bill Nelson had decided less is more, and went for a stripped-down, straight-ahead sound. No more vast overlaid guitar symphonies. The very idea of the Heroic Guitar Solo seemed outdated.

This was the stuff in the margins. The main attraction on the radio was still latter-period disco and California studio rock. Punk and New Wave were co-opted and watered down soon enough - the Romantic’s “What I Like About You” was clean and fresh, but it was as much of a Kinks-era throwback as a New Wave template; the Kings’ awful “Switchin’ to Glide” was a signal that the popular version of New Wave was going to be confuse “simplicity” with stupidity. Add Loverboy, and the rise of Hair Metal ensured that bro-friendly head-bobbing RAWK was going to rule, not smart nervy works by good songwriters.

(Note: in the mid-80s, the radio stations played “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” at 5 PM on Friday, and yes, I turned it up to 11.)

ANYWAY. In the comments for the article - which is about learning to appreciate progressive rock, by the way - there’s the proggiest comment ever:

I was never vocally opposed to prog back then, but I never particularly liked Yes, something about Jon Anderson's vocals annoyed me. Other than Crimson I tended to like non-UK prog bands: Magma, Goblin, Zappa (face it, he was 'prog': what other rock band was stealing from Stravinsky in 1967?) Arguably even Can was prog, since two members studied with Stockhausen.

Yeah, and it showed. Magma! Good Lord, Magma? They sang in an invented language about some incomprehensible sci-fi story. If they’d been big and mainstream, the inevitable response wouldn’t have been Punk, boiling up from the clubs. It would have been disco. Because it was fun and had one objective: happy dancing.

Nothing since then has been about happy dancing, but that’s another rambling entry.

(via Coudal.)

Cheesy Organ Delights

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 7, 2014 - 12:01 PM

If I embedded the file you wouldn’t watch it. No one would. You’d look at the length and see “24 minutes? C’mon. Something under three minutes, if you please. This is the modern world and no one has time for that, as the saying goes." All right; how about this?

That is the swankest piece of music ever played on an organ. But electric organs are generally regarded as cheesy things, plinky-dinky kitsch machines that summed up everything horrible about middle-class taste. But their sound defined a decade and a half of popular music, if not more; they deserve respect.

They get it, right here. It’s a BBC4 radio documentary on the rise and fall of the electric organ. It’s a video, but it consists of a picture of the presenter, and his expression gets a bit unnerving after a few minutes, so just minimize the browser and listen. If nothing else you will meet the swingin’ sounds of Karl Wunderlich.

Related: Matrix fight-scene sounds replaced with 8-bit game sounds. Wonderful.

The Moon, Reconsidered

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 1, 2014 - 12:20 PM

CNN calls this “The hackers who recovered NASA's lost lunar photos.” No hacking seems to have been involved, at least in the sense of breaking into computers. More like "guys who were good at image enhancement are fixing some old pictures." Like:

Says one of the geeks:

"We're reaching back to a capability that existed but couldn't be touched back when it was created," says Keith Cowing, co-lead and founding member at LOIRP. "It's like having a DVD in 1966, you can't play it. We had resolution of the Earth of about a kilometer [per pixel]. This is an image taken a quarter of a f***king million miles away in 1966. The Beatles were warming up to play Shea Stadium at the moment it was being taken."

It's the Effing that really drives it home, doesn't it?

HAH BuzzFeed, of all places, comes out against Twitter accounts that attempt to puncture clickbait headlines.

TV “The Killing” returns to TV tonight, but it’s Netflix, not AMC. The show was excoriated for its cliffhanger first season, and while they eventually wrapped things up, no one expected a third season. But they got another chance, and it was worth it: everything grating and tiresome about the first few seasons somehow jelled in the third into a solid show. Early reviews of the fourth season - which Netflix calls the show’s Finale - are good.

Also: Gravity Falls comes back, after what AV Club called a "first season that seemed to last decades." True. Seems like it's been gone forever. It's a smart, funny show if you're 14 or 54 - the sort of program where Dad has to hit Pause and google some pictures to explain to your daughter the fleeting reference to Twin Peaks. A labor of love with none of the crass, smirky, po-mo cartoons-about-cartoons stuff you get on Adult Swim from time to time. Now, bring back "Space Ghost" and all will be right with the world.

VotD Holy Jeezum Crow: the aftermath of a gas explosion in Taiwan.

Remarkable footage: motion-stabilized drone, right? It has to be. Not something you’ll see here until the FAA changes its mind.

CCTV view of the explosion:

How to lose 8000 photos

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 31, 2014 - 12:52 PM

The cloud is not your friend. Do not depend on the cloud. Once upon a time this would’ve sounded like something you would say to friend who has developed a delusional attachment with things in the sky, but now you know what it means. Here’s a piece about how “a bug in Dropbox” accidentally deleted 8000 photos. Well, that would be bad, but those were backed up, right? No? NO? The author wrote to Dropbox: “This is an absolute disaster, I don’t have any other backup of these files, Dropbox was supposed to be the backup.”

If it’s your only copy, it’s not a backup.

YOU THERE The modern style of headline writing isn’t intended to catch your eye but punch you in the nose, because you totally deserve it. The author is better than you because the author is writing for Gawker, and you’re just reading. Basic format: Bald assertion, and preemptive accusation to deflect your objection. Today’s example:

Idiocracy Is a Cruel Movie And You Should Be Ashamed For Liking It

No, and I’m not, and good luck in your future endeavors. As one comment says:

Anyway, the movie has almost nothing to do with genetics and everything to do with culture. It's not about being born with high or low intelligence as much as it is being born into a culture that does not prioritize academics and intellect. This is what Novak gets wrong - in his haste to drum up some social-justice outrage for clicks he totally missed the point of the movie - the point being that intellectual laziness and pandering to base desires and non-contributing hedonism is harmful to society. Maybe he missed the point because he's part of the problem, on that front.

On the last point, no. He’s one of the smarter writers on the site, and constantly produces intelligent, engaging work grounded in a comprehensive grasp of 20th century technological history. Which is why it was dismaying to see his work get Gawkerized thus.

Related, from the Daily Dot: “You're tricking yourself into believing your iPhone is slow.” Didn’t know that about yourself, did you?

SCIENCE !Things like this are always exciting. Then disappointing. NPR:

Astronomers have a mystery on their hands. Two large radio telescopes, on opposite sides of the planet, have detected very brief, very powerful bursts of radio waves.

Right now, astronomers have no idea what's causing these bursts or where they're coming from. And nothing has been ruled out at the moment — not even the kind of outrageous claims you'd expect to see in tabloid headlines.

That’s such an NPR way of putting it. Why not just say “ALIENS”? That’s what we’re all thinking.

BREAKING NEWS Reet-deet-deetle-deetle reet-deet deet-deet:

A clown suffered minor injuries Monday after her clown car crashed into a utility pole in Westwood, New Jersey.

What you want to read next is “the other 25 clowns were unharmed."

The victim, according to The Record, was a 68-year-old female clown whose name was not released. Another clown, who goes by the moniker ‘Poppi T Clown’ told the paper that the accident victim was reaching for her GPS unit when she ran off the road and into the pole. In other words, she may have been juggling one too many things.

The female clown was said to have been driving home from a show at an elementary school. Several of her fellow clowns (“about 10,” the Record said) arrived on the scene quickly to assist her.

Is there a word for a quantity of clowns? A Pennywhistle, perhaps?

Votd Finally, the great lost cartoon show of the 80s has been found and restored! MIKE TYSON MYSTERIES!

(Warning: Adult Swim.)

GRIEFERS This Kotaku piece concerns the amiable sociopathy of a gamer who lured many Blue Sentinels to their deaths, and made a video compilation set to Tiny Tim music. Yes, I know, again? Again. It had a link describing what Blue Sentinels are, and if I may excerpt:

Blue Sentinels is the only covenant that can use Cracked Blue Eye Orbs, which allow them to invade the worlds of sinners and wretches. They have to be human to be able to use these orbs. A player becomes a sinner if they have gained 10 points of sin by killing other players online with invasions or by killing NPCs. They become a wretch after gaining 100 points of sin. When a Blue phantom defeats a sinner or a wretch, they will lose 1 point of sin. When using the Cracked Blue Eye Orb, Blue phantoms are unable to use healing items such as the Estus Flask, but they can heal themselves with Spells.

There are many, many other such collections of words in the entry, including helpful warnings: “Even if you are a Blue Sentinel you still can be invaded by an Arbiter Spirit (Blue Phantom).”

Consider the time required to understand all these things.

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