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.

Notes on the Joys of Travelling

Posted by: James Lileks under Outstate Updated: July 14, 2014 - 12:12 PM

1974 interior design brochure picture, or 2014 Paris airport waiting room?

The latter, obviously. The Seventies couldn't have carried that off without slathering the floor in brown shag. I was just there - on Bastille Day, which was completely ignored in the massive CDG terminal - and found the Paris airport an interesting comparison with our own MSP. Much more stylish, with unified colors and themes; remarkable bathrooms. But far fewer choices for eating. Granted, the food was good; you'd expect that. But in terms of selection, it reminded you of the days when MSP was run by HOST, and HOST only. Granted, I was only in two terminals, and I think there were 146 others, so don't listen to me.

In other travel-related news: The Costa Concordia is rising from its (checking maritime cliches list. . . ) watery grave today, and Giz has a livestream. At the moment I’m writing this, it seems to be a board meeting of unhappy EU technocrats, but that could change.

I was just on a cruise ship a few days ago, and was reminded that one activity approximates the panic and tumult of a sinking, and that’s the Midnight Chocolate Buffet. When you remove the “eating lots of desserts” part and insert “fear for life” it becomes really chaotic, but not by much.

Related, only because I just had a long flight that began with sitting in an unairconditioned plane for an hour breathing the same air until everyone was light-headed and beginning to hallucinate - seriously, at one point we all imagined that the flight attendant cracked the mike and told us what was going on, which never happens; they just apologize for the delay when you finally push back, and you hope they weren’t doing something like “Fixing the Engine, Which was Broke” because you really don’t want to think you’re going over the ocean on a plane that got patched up with duct tape and chewing gum by guys who shrugged and said “well, it ought to hold” - anyway, Seven Activities for Long Flights. It’s Clickhole, so it’s not real. Also, it’s not very funny, so never mind.

Instead, go read this: a New Yorker piece on the designers who invent new spaces for First Class seating in new planes. You’ll learn a lot about the steerage amenities, such as they are, and add the word “delethalize” to your vocabulary. The notes about the price of the video systems on the back of the seats is eye-opening, but there’s a reason they’re so expensive.

It’s remarkable how we get bored and dissatisfied with miracles: whereas once we were agog at a TV SCREEN! in the CHAIR! where you could watch MOVIES! now you’re dismayed if it has the resolution of 2002 ATM screen.

Related, sort of: Prodigy screenshots from 1992. It’s from this Atlantic article on rebuilding the lost interface of the long-dead service. Paleoarcheology of the early years of digital life.

From the Atlantic piece:

When any sizable online service disappears, a piece of our civilization's cultural fabric goes with it. In this case, the missing cultural repository is Prodigy, a consumer-oriented online service that launched in 1988 as a partnership between Sears and IBM . . .

Over its 11-year lifespan, a generation of Americans grew up with Prodigy as part of their shared cultural heritage. In an earlier era, we may have spoken about another common cultural experience—say, Buster Keaton films—as a cultural frame of reference for an entire generation. Everybody saw them, everybody referenced them. And while Prodigy was nowhere near as popular as Buster Keaton among the general public, hundreds of thousands of people with a computer and a modem in the early 1990s tried Prodigy at least once.

The Keaton-Prodigy ratio was probably about 1,000,000 to 1, but I see their point.

MOVIES On the plane I watched “Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” - ridiculous and fun. Turns out the Civil War was also about vampires. But this New York Times piece from last week notes something else that may have (checking martial imagery cliche list . . . ) turned the tide of war: java.

Did the fact that Union troops were near jittery from coffee, while rebels survived on impotent brown water, have an impact on the outcome of the conflict? Union soldiers certainly thought so.

Bonus points for not using “The Secret History of Coffee and the Civil War” in the headline. And now if you'll excuse me, Jet lag is about to kick zzzzzzzzzzz WHA?!?  Sorry. Never mind. Dozed off. 

Swingin' Six and the Zip Code Song

Posted by: James Lileks under Technology Updated: July 1, 2014 - 12:43 PM

Should you give stores your zip code? Forbes article says NO NEVER and tells you why. Tl;dr: marketing. I always hate the zip-code question, but the phone number is worse. “It’s for your records in case you need to return something.” Sorry. I don’t get as many requests for email addresses any more, which is interesting. Younger demographics aren’t on email as much. Anyway, if you don’t care to read the article, check the comments; the first guy goes on a preening little exposition of his privacy-securing techniques, and within five comments someone else has found an aerial picture of his house.

Anyway. It's a good excuse for this:

He’s called Mr. Zip, but he’ll always be Manic Mailman to some of us.

UGH Rolf Harris is convicted of child sex abuse, and Anorak gives you 22 ways in which he Corrupted Your Childhood. A bit overstated, you think, unless you were one of the victims, but then:

So you can see their point. Our house had a 45 of “Tie Me Kangaroo Down,” as did 72% of American households. It was the flip-side I loved. “Big Black Ball.” I can still repeat every line. It was fun to sing along with. Not any more.

ART Colossal gives us a glimpse of miniature marble spaces, carved by Matthew Simmonds:

The artist is a stonemason and sculptor, which is a good job to have these days: there can’t be too many people who can carve classical details to replace something broken on an old building.

Related, from the same site: they’re called “Blurred Cityscapes,” but they look like paperback covers from the 60s. And I say that as a good thing.

One of the world's largest cranes is here

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture, Technology Updated: June 30, 2014 - 11:57 AM

Wish I meant a bird. 

There are only 2 cranes in the world bigger than the one downtown right now. KFAN:

Piece by piece, the crane has already started arriving in town this morning, but there's no need to rush to the construction site to catch a glimpse. The crawler crane will be delivered by 70 different truck loads over the next week and a half and will take nearly 11 days to construct.

Hit the link for video on how it’s assembled. It’s like the world’s slowest Transformer. Speaking of which: did the Decepticons name themselves? That would have been unwise. It sounds like something they’re called by others who have experience with their untruthful ways. No culture calls itself the Liarbots.

HEY YOU Today’s hectoring, bossy-pants headline on an article I won’t read:

But I love this:

Thanks, totally neutral observer! From the piece:

The to-do list seems like such a necessary element of an efficient work day. Nearly everyone I know keeps a list of some sort, and those who don’t wish they did because it’s so hard to remember all that needs to be done. My heart’s in the right place, but still I constantly fail at maintaining a standard to-do list.

Am I doing something wrong? Maybe not.

Look, pal, if you don’t know if you’re doing it wrong, you’re in no position to tell me I’m doing it wrong.

It’s one of those sites with tips about improving your professional life; they range from obvious to useless. If you manage to scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll discover it’s part of a network of sites devoted to giving you tips and “news.” They get 6 million hits a year, they say.

In related news of things that are useless: "For five dollars, you get a thank-you email and a picture of a rock." Yes, it’s a Rock Simulator game. (I’d embed the vid, but it’s Biggie Smalls, so of course there’s cursing. If you can’t sing, you can always m-f your way to fame.) Looks like the game has enough funding, so let the exciting rock simulation begin!

Wonder if there’s a Death-Valley walking rock level. It would be great if it had social media built in, so you'd get a tweet that said "I unlocked the Move 1/4 inch achievement!" from someone you forgot why you followed in the first place.

ARCHITECTURE New York skyscraper-condos aren’t really for living. They’re for investing. New York mag:

20 Pine was developed at the height of the real-estate bubble. After the crash of 2008, it became an emblematic disaster, with the developers selling units in bulk at desperation prices, until opportunistic foreigners swooped in with cash offers.

”Opportunistic” sounds a bit derogatory, no? Other people who have more money who take advantage of a bargain: opportunistic. You, when you take advantage of a bargain: wise consumer. Anyway, here’s an interesting tidbit from One57’s Wikipedia page:

Entrepreneur Michael Hirtenstein and Gary Barnett, the building's developer, had a public clash regarding a unit Hirtenstein agreed to purchase in the building. Hirtenstein claims he would not spend $16 million for a unit without seeing it, and that the view from the unit he purchased was obstructed. Barnett has been strict about not permitting buyers to view apartments prior to purchase, and as Hirtenstein paid a construction worker to show him his unit, Barnett refunded Hirtenstein's funds and canceled the contract.

Good. Lord. “Can I see the unit? I’m paying $45 million, after all. And that doesn’t include the monthly condo fee, which is equal to the mortgage payment on a 10-acre Minnetonka lakefront property with a nine-car garage. Can I? Please?”


”A picture, maybe? A computerized rendering?”

”Look, I don’t have all day. There are six Russian oligarchs in the office outside waiting to sign if you don’t want to. Make up your mind.”

If no one’s actually living in these buildings, aside from a few renters or relatives staying for a week, it makes you wonder how many new structures in Manhattan will just be tall empty things. A skyline of safety deposit boxes.

BTW, not everyone’s a secretive billionaire looking to park some money; Business Journal notes there’s a Fargo ND Vitamin Tycoon.

VotD Why? Are we running out of people?

CONTAGION IS SPREADINGWhat happens when a respected source of international policy discussion gets the click-bait fever? It’s not pretty.

That’s what the conversation needs. “Mean Girls” references.

Keep Calm and Stop Making Those Posters

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 27, 2014 - 12:18 PM

It’s the 75th anniversary of a nice piece of design which was ruined by overuse. That "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster.  New Statesman:

So here we have a poster that was not even used for its original purpose during the war yet has seen mass popularity upon its rediscovery. The timeless nature of the stylistic and predominantly textual design goes some way towards explaining this. Another reason might be to do with its message of sober restraint, which chimes with expectations about the history of World War II.

Here’s the kicker: it wasn’t used during WW2. The government thought it was too “mundane.” There were two other posters in the series, which people forget about. 

They’re the Gummo and Zeppo of war posters.

SHANEISMS Stop doing that, Shane. - The Management. (Provided in case the idea breaks out into the mainstream and you have to explain it to someone. 

ART Uh huh. Right. Yep. Art. Atlantic:

On the third floor the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, if you go to the bank of windows overlooking 54th Street and then turn right, you will find some synthetic sweat. The liquid, stored in a short glass vial, mimics the perspiration of cage fighters—collected just after a bout and chemically analyzed using a technique known as gas chromatography. It is slightly viscous. It is slightly yellow. It is slightly disgusting.

Which is the point. The vial is part of Design and Violence, an installation co-produced by Jamer Hunt and Paola Antonelli, one of MoMA’s most prominent, and provocative, curators. As a physical representation of some of humanity’s most enduring features—sex, aggression, smelliness—the bottle’s manufactured contents are both entirely and not at all natural. “We wanted objects that have an ambiguous relationship with violence,” Antonelli says.


So we're back to collecting gladiator sweat, I guess. At another institution devoted to cultural relics, there’s a problem:

With more than 5 million items, it's an impressive collection. There's just one problem: Despite the best efforts of preservationists, some of them are physically decaying and in danger of being lost forever.

"Any physical artifact is just that, a physical artifact," said Mike Mashon, head of the Library of Congress' moving image section. "These things can shrink, they can fade, they can crumble to dust in less than a lifetime.”

They’re films and audio files and old TV shows. It’s difficult to get attention for these things.  A commercial for dishwashing liquid may tell us something about the mores and styles of the mid-50s, but it lacks an ambiguous relationship with violence.

Something something fish something

Posted by: James Lileks under Gripes Updated: June 26, 2014 - 12:44 PM

What do I know about fish? Not a lot, but here goes:

They live in the water.

They breathe water through gills, extracting oxygen through a process called aquatic respiration.

For the most part, locomotion in their liquid environment is accomplished by the action of a posterior blade called a “tail fin,” modified by ancillary fins that assist in precise navigation.

They vary in size from very, very small to very large; likewise, their coloration varies widely, ranging from a single color to a riot of iridescent hues.

They travel in “schools,” if their species is so inclined.

While some restaurants serve deep-fried strips of fish called “Fish Fingers,” fish have no fingers.

Chilean Sea Bass is delicious, but alas, endangered.

Perhaps you know more. Well. Bad news.

I might have read the piece if it said “interesting facts about fish” or “Think you know fish? 10 surprising new discoveries” or “Test your Fish IQ” or any other headline that would have shown up in Reader’s Digest in 1979, but this? No.

VotDThe man didn’t want to answer the reporter’s question. So:


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