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 Outstate

The strangest sentence of the day

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 20, 2015 - 12:01 PM

If you have to shazam “Bette Davis Eyes,” this Algoma sign may stump you.

That is the strangest thing I’ve written all week, but I think I’m right. Let’s back up a bit.

Dan Koeppel is right, right, right, and also 100% right about this:

 . . . this 20-inch placard, with a pair of glowing blue swooshes that wrap around four letters in bright red — O-P-E-N — is everywhere. I’ve noticed that not just in my home town of Los Angeles, where it is a mainstay of mini-malls, massage parlors, and marijuana dispensaries, but all across the United States; on a 10,000-mile automotive journey this past summer, we saw thousands of them, many replacing aged, flickering neon on the classic two-lane highways — Route 66, Highway 50 — that define the idea of the American road. And in a small way, these newer, ugly signs represent the end of that idea.

A Wisconsin company makes them. The article quotes store owners who prefer the LEDs because Neon looks old-fashioned and out of date.

Please insert the I don’t want to live on this world anymore meme right here. As long as we’re on the subject of signage, here’s something from the Wisconsin town of Algoma. How long did it take you to figure out what this used to be?

Don’t worry. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it. There’s no in-between on this one. But there’s a nice little zing! when you get it. 

MUSIC The author tells us about, and shares, the saddest playlist of his life: songs he Shazammed.

I want this stupid Shazam playlist to tell me something. Music is the emotional medium that so much of my life is tied to: what got me through long walks across Manhattan in my sophomore year of college, what passed my first plane trip out of the country, what played on my wedding day. At one point in the last few years, I wanted to know the name of each of these songs — enough that I'd fish the phone from my pocket and hold it as close as possible to a nearby speaker — but seeing this playlist is like reading that brilliant idea I jotted down in the middle of the night, only to find it indecipherable. I know this means something, but what?

Not much. Except that it might be easy to fix someone’s age by the songs they shazam. Here are some of the songs the author didn’t recognize, and required the all-knowing computer in the sky to identify:

- “Bette Davis Eyes”

- “Goodbye Stranger”, Supertramp

- ”Sultans of Swing”, Dire Straits

I expected the comments to note the lacunae in the author’s music knowledge (It’s not that “Bette Davis Eyes” is a great song, but that clapping / slapping sound was the first time anyone sat up and paid attention to a sample. This was where pop music was headed) but the discussion devolves using Siri vs. Cortana to open Shazam. 

Why the Back to the Future remake is composed of plastic pieces

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 4, 2015 - 12:00 PM

In “Back to the Future “ news, there’s a LEGO version of the clocktower scene. While I loved the LEGO movie, these things leave me cold. You may enjoy it. As a technical accomplishment, it’s remarkable.

One of the comments notes that there’s no way the remake could be as good as the original, and that’s true. The 1985 version had a certain charm that HOLD ON WAIT, WHAT?

Googling around, the nightmare begins:

Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber will soon take on his first dramatic acting gig in a motion picture, after landing the supporting role of high school bully Biff Tannen in the 2016 remake of the classic 1985 comedy sci-fi film “Back to the Future.” The film will begin shooting in April 2015, and is aiming for a fall 2016 release date.

What? WHAT?

The reboot was written by Apatow, and is being produced by Apatow, JJ Abrams, and original trilogy co-producer Neil Canton. “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig will direct the first film in the trilogy, but hasn’t signed on for the two sequels yet.

But: clicking on the main banner takes you back to the home page, where the lead item is FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA TO PROPOSE NATIONAL HUG A MUSLIM DAY, so . . . one of those. One of those Onion-type sites that runs fake stories drained of all humor, the point of which seems to be to troll the credulous who populate the comments.

THERE IS NO BTTF SEQUEL in the works. There is no reboot in the works. There will never be either. The writer and producer said this a few years ago:

Let’s face it, we’ve seen a lot of sequels that are made years and years later and I don’t think I can name one that’s any good [or] that lives up to the originals. I don’t think you can recapture it.

You could argue that BTTF 2 and 3 were sequels that don’t live up to the original. In fact, if you want a lesson in how Hollywood changed in the 80s, note the differences between the first and second BTTF films. The first is damned near perfect, for a mass-audience action / comedy. It’s a delight. The second one turns everything up to 11, and while it’s fun, I remember thinking at the time it didn’t have the heart of the first one, and seemed to be trying too hard. The third - well. Great Scott!was funny at first, but eventually it was just something Doc had to say because the script called for him to goggle at something with his mouth open.

TECH Here’s a new robbery-enabling device from Sony; it lets you walk around big cities wearing an expensive device that reduces your peripheral vision to Zero.

Not a prototype. Sony says its available in selected countries this year. $840. Unreadable green text and a blurry view that makes you walk into trees? I'll take two!

SCIENCE! The Discover mag headline invites you to get to know Earth's other moon. 

We all know and love the moon. We’re so assured that we only have one that we don’t even give it a specific name. It is the brightest object in the night sky, and amateur astronomers take great delight in mapping its craters and seas. To date, it is the only other heavenly body with human footprints.

What you might not know is that the moon is not the Earth’s only natural satellite. As recently as 1997, we discovered that another body, 3753 Cruithne, is what’s called a quasi-orbital satellite of Earth. This simply means that Cruithne doesn’t loop around the Earth in a nice ellipse in the same way as the moon, or indeed the artificial satellites we loft into orbit.

Nerd war breaks out in the comments, where it’s noted that it isn’t really a moon at all. One says there’s no evidence it even exists. But we have a computer simulation of the orbit:

The author called it a “messy” orbit, but it has a rather drunken-spirographc charm.

Point is, the article goes from EARTH HAS A SECOND MOON to comments that note it has ne it has no such thing.

The internet in a nutshell!

Gerbil Plague

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 25, 2015 - 12:32 PM

You hope they made it. Daily Mail:

A piece of graffiti featuring the names of three young sisters who may have fallen victim to the 1515 plague has been discovered on the wall of a medieval church.

The names of Cateryn, Jane and Amee Maddyngley were found scrawled near the front door of All Saint's and St Andrew's Church in Kingston, near Cambridge, by amateur archaeologists.

The writing, which features their names and date, shows they left their mark on the village church in 1515 – as the country was hit by an outbreak of the bubonic plague.

Now some researchers suspect gerbils spread the plague, not rats. Gerbils. Anyway, take a look at the article, and tell me that “witch mark” isn’t a dead ringer for the Mac’s Command key, aka the Clover, aka the Splat.

YOU THERE For the entirely of its existence this blog has been noting, with clenched teeth, the hectoring, bullying tone of bad internet headlines that insist YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. Monday I came across a piece about “16 Things You Should Stop Buying and Make Yourself,” the first being ketchup. Twenty years ago such an article would be titled “Easy Home-made Replacements - Cheaper, and better!” and you’d want to read it. Now someone has to lean over and breathe in your face and tell you why you’re morally and intellectually inferior to the author. Here’s today’s example:

Really. Me? The description would seem to belie the headline, but perhaps the author just wanted to make everyone annoyed enough to click and complain in the comments. Well, here, in 12 succinct seconds, is my response.

ART Instant cultural literacy test, right here:

If you know what they are, you have basic cultural literacy. More here.


Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 24, 2015 - 12:37 PM

I hope the fine folks at Big Ticket will allow for a brief and piquant excerpt of Monday’s Judge Judy show (weekdays on Fox 9, 4:00 PM.) I defer to no one in my admiration for the Judge, whose ability to excoriate is unmatched, and often performs a great public service: dressing down in front of 10 million people whose towering and boundless sense of entitlement has not been challenged since they had their hand gently tapped away from a sharp object by a kindergarten teacher.

Here we have some gentlemen who did not adequately prepare for their day in court. You’ll soon see why’s relevant.

Yes, it’s been cold. No, it wouldn’t be worth that. It’s like getting yelled at by God who is also your mother.

Apple's Self-Driving Car Will Fail

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 4, 2015 - 1:31 PM

I have no idea if it will or won't; just wanted to put down a marker for saying something stupid about an Apple product that doesn't exist. FIRST! 

We don't know if they're making one,  but someone took a picture of a black car with cameras, and Apple owns it, so.   As this article notes, Apple doesn’t have the permission to test self-driving cars, but could be working with someone who does. It’s not an absurd idea, but it goes against the stupid “Apple can’t innovate” idea - unless you subscribe to the theory that Apple buying other companies is proof they can’t invent anything. (A reminder: Apple bought the company that came up with an MP3 jukebox, and released it as iTunes. Back in the day when they were innovating EVERYTHING and inventing new products every fortnight.) If they do make a self-driving car, it’ll probably come out a few years after Google’s version, and then we’ll bring the wonderful, joyous world of meaningless flame wars about operating systems to cars. But why read me on the matter when you can enjoy the Macalope? The master of the Apple-Troll Dismantlement.

BOOKS About that “To Kill a Mockingbird” sequel, Jezebel notes:

This news is not without controversy or complications. Harper Lee's sister Alice Lee, who ferociously protected Harper Lee's estate (and person) from unwanted outside attention as a lawyer and advocate for decades, passed away late last year, leaving the intensely private author (who herself is reportedly in ill health) vulnerable to people who may not have her best interests at heart.

And this matters, because:

Tonja Carter, Harper Lee's attorney since Alice Lee retired at the age of 100, acknowledges that the author—who was left forgetful and nearly blind and deaf after a stroke in 2007—often doesn't understand the contracts that she signs. "Lee has a history of signing whatever's put in front of her, apparently sometimes with Carter's advice," Gawker's Michelle Dean reported last July.

PASTTIMES Meet the guy who’s made 45,000 Wikipedia edits to change one phrase! In other words, take an amusing Onion brief, extract the humor, and voila, real life.

OR: Meet the guy who chopped off his nose and had stuff put in his head so he can look like the Red Skull, Captain America’s nemesis. Warning: you will see a guy who chopped off his nose and had stuff put in his head so he can look like the Red Skull.

OR: Meet the guy who made a model of Pompeii with 190K Lego pieces. Sorry, LEGO pieces.

OR: Catch up with the Quaids! Remember them? Key moment:

“Finally, in a bizarre conclusion, Quaid muses: 'So how do we retaliate? Well, I still have a few tricks too.’

He opens his blazer to show a Hawaiian shirt: 'This is the very same shirt that I wore in '94 when I saved the world [in Independence Day] - another act that Rupert Murdoch still hasn't thanked me for. 

As the article notes, it’s possible that Quaid thinks “Independence Day” really happened.

VOTD Happy dancing light poles.


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