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 Architecture

Reinventing newspaper comics

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 16, 2014 - 12:48 PM

They’re mostly awful, except for that one you like. The trouble is, everyone likes a different one. I think we can be done with Peanuts, but no. The Peanuts people probably hate Mr. Boffo, which is the only strip that makes me laugh. I read other strips and have an internal reaction that approximates indulgent mirth, but that’s rare. Dennis the Menace? No. Beetle Bailey? No. After half a century it might be time to give the strips a gentle pat and say farewell.

Can the genre be saved? Well, Chris Ware is going to try.

Chris Ware, the artist behind the multiple Harvey- and Eisner-award winning Acme Novelty Library and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth, has teamed with The Guardian paper to demonstrate what a world-class artist can do with a whole lot of newsprint over the fall. His new graphic novella, The Last Saturday, is being published serially in the paper's pages over the fall, and the first installment was released over the weekend.

I wish it wasn’t this.

Those little-pictures-connected-by-lines are so much work. And the payoff, in this instance, is so slight. Before you scoff and shout PHILISTINE and tar me as someone who doesn’t get Ware, I have Acme Novelty Library #2, which came out in 1996, and every volume since. You want to debate whether the Rusty Brown sequence is better than Jimmy Corrigan, let’s go. You want to argue Big Tex vs. Rocket Sam: you're on. (Big Tex was better, and had that multi-panel homage to the old Sunday "Gasoline Alley," which told the story through a shifting prism of seasons; after all the hardy-har indignities Tex suffered at the hands of Paw, it was a sign of how Ware could nail you right in the heart without even showing a single character.) But I was dismayed by a lot of Building Stories, which seemed inert, laborious, and self-consciously packaged to celebrate Print in a way that couldn’t compensate for the morose, colorless main character, but just ladled on the Sad with a trowel.

That said, it’s bookmarked. I just hope he hasn’t given up on Rusty Brown.

ARCHITECTURE Who's up for some ruins? The remains of Borscht Belt resort hotels. The Homowack bowling alley shot is almost painful. As for the Homowack itself - oh, stop snickering, this isn’t 7th grade - here’s a postcard I have from its glory days.

When was the last time you saw a hotel with a bowling alley?

Letting Strangers Wake You Up

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 8, 2014 - 12:29 PM

And I don't mean being kicked as you slump in a doorway, sleeping off a binge. Meet Wakie, the app that lets strangers call you and tell you it's time to get out of bed. NextWeb:

To use Wakie, you have to be prepared to sign in using your phone number. Wakie promises that your number will remain ‘safe and anonymous’.

Wakie’s community consists of Wakies (callers) and Sleepyheads (yup). If you want an alarm call, you just set an alarm time through the app, and when the wake-up time arrives, you’ll be connected to a Wakie of a similar age and the opposite gender. With that condition enforced, Wakie suddenly meanders on a slightly different trajectory, but we digress.

No, can’t see any opportunity for mischief there. Screenshot from The Next Web:

It got $1 million in the latest fundraising round. As one of the comments notes, apps are turning into concept art.

LITERATURE This Guardian piece is . . . beautiful. 

Seemingly unembarrassed by the incongruity of mounting a vehement defence of a detective story in which all the characters are teddy bears, Harper initially penned a series of comments (many of them over a single night between 1am and 4am) in which he quoted passages from the book, hoping to persuade Cohen that his criticisms of its "workmanlike" prose or "juvenile" plot were unjustified.

The author, in his defense, quotes his book extensively, insisting it has the lyricism of Keats and Fitzgerald. The thread - which is seven miles long - ends with the site’s editor closing comments because he said the author drew in details about people in (the critic’s) personal life.” Over an ebook. About detectives. Who are stuffed animals.

YOU HOGS You should not go to Food Festivals and you are a boorish drunk glutton if you do. Slate

Looking down from the relative safety of a balcony at the L.A. House of Blues, where I was researching a blog post for L.A. Weekly last year, I was reminded of the end of Nathanael West’s short 1939 novel The Day of the Locust, in which a horde of spiritually famished L.A. grotesques, urged on by a gleeful barker, turns violent and destructive at a movie premiere. A celebration of eating turns strange and a little horrific when the overeaters-next-door are so caught up in their pursuit of porky goodness that they eschew manners and propriety, stirred by a barker’s exhortations and emboldened by their anonymity.

Except that there wasn’t a riot at the food festival, and the “Locust” riot was caused when a character stomps on a child, and then everyone turns on the killer, but on the other hand, the character was named Homer Simpson, and Homer liked pork, so it almost fits.

Related fit of disapproval: NYT reports that a town turned into itself a setting for an ad.

Workers have been busy in this bucolic, out-of-the-way ski town: The streets have been painted blue, as have the light poles. Blue props and fencing have been hauled in, rendering the place almost unrecognizable. And as final preparations take place for a three-day party, many residents are fuming, cursing the town for approving a clandestine deal to let a giant beer company turn it into a living advertisement in exchange for $500,000.

“This is a mistake,” said David Rothman, 55, who moved to Crested Butte 20 years ago, of the decision to let Anheuser-Busch take over the town to film a beer commercial. “Frankly, it’s vulgar and it’s cheap.”

Probably. It’s also temporary. A half-million dollars to be a backdrop for an ad seems like a lot of money. The situation was described thus in the Paris Review:

If you’re looking to become productively, righteously, vindictively angry, read this piece in the Times about Crested Butte, Colorado, a town that will become, this weekend, an advertisement for Bud Light.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Save your productive righteous vindictive anger for something that contains actual harm.

One can react only with scorn, and then one must trot out that shopworn but ever more vital statement of Philip Roth’s, from 1961:

No, one mustn’t. One might, and one probably will.

“The American writer … has his hands full in trying to understand, describe and then make credible much of American reality … It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents.”

They painted a town for a commercial and then they cleaned it up and went away. If it had been for something other than a beer ad - say, if the town had been gussied up to look like a Library, or sold for a festival whose objectives and philosophy matched or flattered the town’s self-image - there would be no hysterics. No Roth quotes.

NO SIGNAL Here’s a novel idea.

While being glued to a mobile device has become a dangerously common part of 2014 life, a couple in Vermont has reaped financial rewards by rejecting 21st-century technology at their bakery, August First.

Wife-and-husband team Jodi Whalen and Phil Merrick banned laptops and tablets from their Burlington-based bakery earlier this year, after determining that laptop patrons spent much more time, and much less money, at the eatery than the average customer.

The fun begins in the comments, where some people believe that they have a claim on a restaurant’s table that exceeds the needs of the owner to cover the costs of doing business.

HISTORY If you’re unfamiliar with the nomenclature or history of the Danish Kings of England, this is a good places to start: ancient Ring Fort discovered.

. . . some historians contend the fortresses were constructed by his son Sweyn Forkbeard, the first Danish King of England, as a military training camp or barracks from which to launch his invasions of England. Sweyn Forkbeard seized London in 1013 and was declared King of England on Christmas Day of that year.

Didn’t last long, alas. Forkbeard is an interesting name, but his father had one that was more enduring. Yes, it’s named after him. But what did it mean?

Wikipedia has this:

Harald's nickname "Bluetooth" first documented appearance is in the Chronicon Roskildense from 1140.[13] The usual explanation is that Harold must have had a conspicuous bad tooth that has been "blue" (i.e. black, as "blue" meant dark).

Another explanation, is that he was called Thegn in England (corrupted to "tan" when the name came back into Old Norse) — in England, Thane meant chief. Since blue meant "dark", his nickname was really "dark chieftain.”

A third theory, according to curator at the Royal Jelling Hans Ole Mathiesen, was that Harald went about clothed in blue. The blue color was in fact the most expensive, so by walking in blue Harald underlined his royal dignity.

The icon for Bluetooth, by the way, are the runes for HB. And now you know. 

What's our Official State Dessert?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 4, 2014 - 12:37 PM

Any ideas what it should be? Slate nails it.

UH OH Who’s behind the “mysterious phony cell towers” that are hijacking phones? You say: What mysterious phony cell towers?” They're not towers, really, but the story is still a head-scratcher. There cannot possibly be anything good to come out of this. Popular Science explains.

But does not reassure.

ART Oh that scamp. Cult of Mac: 

 Banksy, the U.K. street artist who doesn’t shy from making commentary on social and technology issues with his graffiti street art, published a new sketch with a terrifying reminder that your iPhone has basically become a parasitic extension.”

Such terror. The page also has a sketch that has corporate logos exploding from someone’s brain, because we are all unwitting, helpless consumers. Because you have no choice and free will. Of course, Banksy does, and people who applaud him do, but everyone else is pretty much a fool. My favorite recent Banksy story, here; apparently when he draws on your property, some people think it’s not yours anymore.

URBANISM Is the U of M area a model for the entire city, or an example of the best way to organize particular areas of the city that have unique populations and functions? The former, says this piece.

. . . the campus has everything you might want to see in our cities more generally. In general (disastrous bits aside), the experience of biking, walking, driving, and taking transit at the around the main campus of the University of Minnesota is what I would like to see in downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

It’s certainly walkable, and that makes sense: no one who lives six blocks from their class is going to drive to school. Most people who go to the U would prefer to live there, because it’s easier, and this has resulted in huge new dense apartment complexes that serve a specific population. The author’s main objective is not just making biking and walking easier, but making it more difficult to drive downtown - and, you suspect, everywhere in the core cities. (The suburbs are a lost cause, it seems, so never mind.) First objective of city planning: “It should be a pain in the [you know where] to park and drive in downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul.” Well, it already is.

Look, not everyone can bike or walk to work. The author’s dream for a downtown where the parking lots are replaced by five-to-six-story buildings is certainly preferable to the acres of emptiness left by urban renewal, but if your plans for a dream city are fueled by animus for people who drive, expect no allies from those who would otherwise support a walkable, multi-purpose downtown.

Votd It’s called the “Russian Dash Cam Video to top all RDCV,” and you hope it’s true. I have my doubts.

Adolf Slept Here

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 5, 2014 - 12:41 PM

Concerning yesterday’s entry about the hotel that charges half a grand for bad reviews: Here's HuffPo.

Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York pulled a written rule off its website on Monday that charged newlyweds if their guests posted a negative review of the hotel on Yelp or another review website. Then, after claiming the rule was all a joke on its Facebook page, the hotel deleted that comment as well.

An absolute PR disaster. The Yelp reviews continue to pour in:

Mein stay here vas actually very nice. I kame here vis a open mind it vas actually really quite nice. Ze owners ver lovely. I love to meet people who sink ze same as I do. Zey agreed with me on all my ideas! Overall it vas a nice stay and I loved ze decorations; ze red and black vurked so well, I sink I might use it for a project I have planned!

I just vish I'd not brought mein Gestapo buddies. Zey were up all night partying and marching vis ze owners all night! It vas a crazy time, ja!

Or:

got married here in 2013 but I didn't read the fine print carefully. Apparently the Hotel Manager had the right of "Prima Nocta" and was legally allowed to sleep with the bride on the first night. Needless to say this lead to serious issues with the marriage. I'm fairly sure he impregnated my wife- the DNA test says the baby isn't mine.

On the other hand they did leave a chocolate on the pillow, so it wasn't all bad- they deserve an extra star for that.

It’s turning into community-generated open-source improvisational theater. The owners, no doubt, are just keeping their heads down and waiting for it all to blow over. I mean, no one can take seriously a bad review from Adolf H, can they?

REAL ESTATE Walt Disney’s house is for sale. Sounds historic:

The home, owned by the Disney family in the 1950s and '60s, is where Disney hosted A-list stars including Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, offering trips on the zip line Disney had installed on the property. The home also still features the ceiling fan system in the main living area that was seen in the movie “Casablanca.”

One bedroom, 2 baths. Surprisingly cheap: $535K? In Palm Desert? Well, head to the comments for enlightenment, where people dispute whether Walt ever lived there, complain about the color of the kitchen, complain about people who complain about color, and generally tear each other to shreds with bilious hatred.

CULTURE The NYT discovers “Middlebrow” every so often, and out comes an essay that defends it, or explains it, or tries to give it its due without too much endorsement. Here’s the latest, discussing middlebrow’s most fiercest critics.

Among the most famous of these came from Dwight Macdonald in a long Partisan Review essay from 1960 called “Masscult and Midcult.” A political leftist and an aesthetic snob, Macdonald surveyed the abundance of postwar America with a skeptical eye. He was astute enough to identify the economic and political sources of that abundance: higher wages, more leisure, increased access to higher education, foundation- and government-supported arts organizations. He even approved of these developments and some of their effects. Great works of literature were widely available in inexpensive but nonetheless authoritative paperback editions; people were buying almost as many classical as rock ’n’ roll records; cinematic art house and community theaters were thriving.

But it wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be, in part because “the great cultures of the past have all been elite affairs, centering in small, upper-class communities which had certain standards in common.” Macdonald was too much of a democrat to wish for a return to such a state of affairs. But he did register the sense that something — variously called sophistication, authenticity, seriousness or just art — was being lost as the old, unbudging, quasi-feudal hierarchy of upper and lower was replaced by the hectic scrum of mass and middle.

Boo and/or hoo. Also, he was right - but the “elite affairs” that had “certain standards in common” had abandoned the old standards out of the sheer joy of demolishing the representative tradition, and art was unmoored from its history. when the Middlebrows went for the longhair stuff, it was more likely to be a classical symphony than a screeching atonal slab of Berg.

Here's an update of the old Life magazine illustrated chart of various Brow preferences. 

PRO TIP Do not speed in Virginia. In Virginia? Do not speed. Thinking of speeding? Not in Virginia.

The best plea deal I got was a fine of about $400 with court costs, a 10-day suspension of my license in Virginia, and three days in jail. The judge has an option of giving one day in jail for every mile an hour over 90 mph, and he would exercise it here.


A Jalopnik writer tells what happens when he tested an impossibly fast car on the backroads of VA. He got a ticket. And he went to jail.

GEEK Finally, after years in the vault! The very first Star Wars “Empire” trailer to show live footage!
It’s awful!

That font at the end: oy. The voice-over reminds you that Harrison Ford isn’t the most dynamic line-reader of his generation. You really don’t get the sense of the movie’s sweep and scope, but that didn’t matter. All we needed to know was that it was en route, and that was enough. The article also has the deleted scenes restored, and if you want to see Luke and Leia have a more . . . meaningful kiss than the final cut showed, well, there you go. Knowing what we know, though: no. And it reminds you that Lucas was just making it up as he went along, and ran out of ideas quite quickly. The brother-sister reveal was just one of the reasons “Jedi” was disappointing. Another familial relationship: surprise! We’re going to blow up another Death Star: surprise! Not really.

(Via Slashgear, whcih has much more.

An unanswerable question

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 28, 2014 - 12:32 PM

Wonder how long this sign will stay like this.

(Portland and 494.)

AHOY The final voyage of the Concordia - a 200 mile voyage. Lots of photos here as well, as well as news on the Captain. What, news of his life behind bars, you ask? No, he’s showing up with a nice tan for a party. Which has led to something of a Clameroso.

YOU BE THE JUDGE The question What really happened at the Comic-Con Zombie Hit and Run episode won’t be one of those mysteries that devils restless minds in the future. No, they’ll keep making fools of themselves over the JFK murder. But this Daily Dot story gives you an idea what not to do when engaging in dress-up play.

ARCHITORTURE This proposed building would replace this . . . thing in Edina. Look at this building. Just look at it.

I drive past that dullard once a week and I have no memory of it. That’s how nondescript it is. No loss.

SCIENCE Dinosaurs had a run of bad luck, says a new theory. This is the theory. Ahem! This is this theory, which is theirs. The next thing that is to come is the theory. Ahh-hem! Ahhh-hem! Now, a theory of Dinosaurs which is theirs, by Jennifer Viegas, brackets-Miss-brackets.

Tectonic events, such as mountain formation, also led to the disappearance of a large seaway that had covered much of the interior of North America during most of the Cretaceous.

All of these changes impacted dinosaur populations, with large plant-eating dinosaurs that were at the base of the food chain particularly experiencing a dramatic drop in number. This, in turn, would have weakened the entire dino ecosystem.

The article also notes:

“A lot of dinosaurs really looked and behaved like birds," he said. "If we were standing around in the Cretaceous, I don't think we would have made a distinction between a Velociraptor-type dinosaur and a true bird, and that is true of these feathered dinosaurs: these things were basically birds, and the line between them and birds is an arbitrary one.”

Aside from the leaping-on-you-with-talons-and-ripping-you-to-pieces part.

Okay, if you didn’t get the reference at the start of the entry:

Votd Jeez, another guy tweeted about a boarding-gate agent and got taken off the plane:

Actual details here.

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