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.

Federal Unicorns

Posted by: James Lileks under Photos, Technology 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.

Elvis Wept

Posted by: James Lileks under Praise Updated: March 17, 2015 - 3:05 PM

Yes, a very late lunch. Was in St. Paul at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the only such event that stops and backs up because people come up to the paraders to chat. Present was the one and only . . .

Actually, that doesn’t seem to be the case. There is another Irish Elvis on the internet and possibly dozens more. Well, this is ours, and he has the moves. And the glasses. The crowd loved him. There is also a Swedish Elvis, in case you're curious: Eilert Pilarm. His page says “Sweden's and probably the world's most original interpreter of songs made famous by Elvis Presley, Eilert Pilarm has stunned and entertained the public in equal doses for a couple of years now."

I think the ratio of “stunned” to “entertained” may not be as equal as they think.

This thing is doomed, whatever it is

Posted by: James Lileks under Gripes, Technology Updated: March 16, 2015 - 12:11 PM

Drudge had a link - PAPER: Apple watch doomed. . .  or something like that. It sounded like a reasonable financial report, because it had PAPER: in front of it. Turns out it’s another guy who wants to wave his arms and say OVER HERE! MAN WITH NO IMAGINATION!

Apple released the much-anticipated — and much-hyped — Apple Watch last week, with CEO Tim Cook putting its best face forward. Unfortunately for Cook, he never gave us a reason to want or need the gee-whiz gadgetry.

This us you speak of. Who would that be? The people who see the device as something that boils down the smartphone interactions to something simpler that doesn’t require taking out the phone to interact? Because you know how that goes - take it out, stab here, do something, put it away. This moves that to your wrist, so you look and dismiss without hauling out the slab.

When Steve Jobs debuted the iPod, it too was not the first to turn MP3 music into gold — but he made you want that device. “The coolest thing about the iPod is that your whole music library fits in your pocket,” he said. Boom! Sold!

And everyone loved it! Everyone! Except the bleating of the tech press that insisted it had been done before and done better, and this was overpriced and Mac only and doomed, I tell you, har har, doomed like Apple itself. And then it sold a bazillion units because it was . . . easier. And better.

Last Monday, I didn’t hear that. What came to mind was another much-ballyhooed gadget.

Like the iPad? Maligned for its name (hur hur menstruation) or its size (It’s just a big iPhone why would you I can’t even) or the fact that someone else came out with a tablet that had a STYLUS, DUDE, and this is just more fanboi fodder for der sheeple. Look, I’ll be honest. I have an iPad mini, and sometimes I think I’ll never buy another iPad. Because this one is perfect. It’s small and lightweight and does everything I want. Books, web, games. Now if they made the screen eye-blindly sharp with 3d holomatrix projectors, we’re talking upgrade, but for now this is all I want in a tablet. The iPad. Which was a much-ballyhooed gadget.

Cook is trying to reinvent the watch, but Google didn’t have much luck trying to re-imagine eyeglasses.

This is like saying Henry Ford is trying to reinvent the watch, but Lucius Beaufont didn’t have much luck breeding horses with cars.

Google put a video camera with e-mail and telephony capabilities on a pair of glasses. They released the narcissist’s dream on April 15, 2013, to 8,000 hand-picked “Glass Explorers” at a price of $1,500 … plus $225 for prescription lenses.

Google’s past failures are direct and incontrovertible evidence of future Apple failures.

On May 15, 2014, Google Glass was released to the public. And on Jan. 15, 2015, Google announced that it had stopped production but remained “committed to the development” of the glasses.

(Apple Watch product team sees that timeline and shudders in anticipatory dread)

Here are a few reasons not to buy this timeless gadget. For starters, the pricing model is flawed. The opening commitment if you do not have an iPhone is just under $1,000 to replace your Timex.

The market is not people without an iPhone. The market is for people who have a recent iPhone, and people who want to upgrade. After that the market is everyone else who will be interested in switching because of the phone-watch combo. Also, your “Timex” does not display texts or play music or give turn-by-turn directions or let you send a custom doodle to your child on the other side of the planet, but details, details.

To operate the Apple Watch, you need an iPhone, which offers many of the functions of the watch, including the time.

Just as the iPhone offered many functions of a laptop, including the time, and email. So why would anyone want one of those.

A watch that can run up to $17,000 and is not called Rolex, Breitling or Patek Philippe is not a bit much, but a whole lot much. Those high-end watches tend to be good investments over time.

The basic Watch starts at $400. The high-end Apple watch is pitched at a rarified stratum of people for whom money is no object. Imagine a car company. Imagine a car company that sells affordable cool cars and amazing expensive sports cars that do 150 MPH. Imagine people judging the low-end car’s ability to get from point A to point B solely on the basis that the company sells an expensive car.

The Apple Watch is certain to be relegated to a drawer in a year or two when it’s replaced by the Apple Watch 2, with more bells and whistles.

I remember buying the first iPod, and thinking “sure glad this will never be improved, and I can use it forever without thinking any aspect will benefit from incremental improvement.”

Because it’s “cool” or super-functional doesn’t mean it’s practical.

It’s interesting how someone who said there was no reason to want or need the Watch thinks it’s super-functional. That would suggest it had functions and was super good at them. But impractical!

Look. Let me tell you about this thing. The battery life will disappoint, probably. For now. It will take some time to get used to the crown, and navigation may seem wonky at first. For now. The first commercials for the iPhone were idealized, but everything they said the device would do is what the device does.

Just remember, Google Glass was heralded as one of the best inventions of 2012.

And the iPod was heralded as one of the best inventions ever . . . years later. By people who said “well of course it turned out to be awesome. But is Apple innovating now?

I’ve said it before: you’re a parent whose child is off in college or on vacation or backpacking around, I don’t know, Vietnam. Phone buzzes. You take it out. You see the text. You thumb the button. You see the picture. You smile and text back a message.

Or: You get a tell-tale tap on your wrist, the signal it’s your child. You glance at the screen; it’s a picture of where she is. You draw an exclamation point, and a minute later on the other side of the globe it taps her wrist in a repetition of the gesture you set up.

Plus, paying for groceries by waving your hand over the terminal. Remember the days when you had to use your thumbprint? Gawd.

Here’s something by someone who’s actually used one. Compare and contrast.

"House of Cards" found a Minnesota relic

Posted by: James Lileks under Minnesota History Updated: March 13, 2015 - 12:40 PM

Eagle-eyed viewers who watched the season finale of “House of Cards” may have noticed a small scurrying mouse, because that’s what an eagle would be looking for. A human being with a sense of retail history might have been surprised to see this:

That's the original Gambles logo. But - but they’re gone. Aren’t they? Yes, they are - as a chain, anyway. As Wikipedia puts it:

In 1980, Gamble-Skogmo was sold to the Wickes Corporation of California. The purchase was highly leveraged, the combined companies struggled, and in 1982 Wickes filed for bankruptcy. In the subsequent reorganization, the Gamble-Skogmo empire was sold off in pieces or, in the case of Aldens, closed. In 1986, Bert Gamble died. Tempo and Buckeye Mart stores in Ohio and Michigan were sold to Fisher's Big Wheel in the late 1970s, with the remaining Tempo stores transferred to the Rasco Variety Store Division.

Bonus: in ’68 they bought Red Owl. For a while, the company operated out of this building in downtown Minneapolis:

Anyway, they didn’t slap an old brand on an empty store. It’s a real place, and it’s in Vegas.


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VotD If you could bring to life a character many kids know only as a meme, that’d be great.

It’s a wise move, but I don’t think it’ll stop anyone from moving to Slack. Because Slack has “buzz” and Hipchat has a stupid name.

Skogmo, though: that was fun to say, once upon a time.

Looking for ghosts

Posted by: James Lileks under Architecture, Minnesota History Updated: March 11, 2015 - 12:10 PM

But first, some movie remake news.

 Tim Burton will do a live-action Dumbo. Expect Johnny Depp as a quirky, strange clown who purses his lips and looks out of the corner of his eyes a lot.

You too can get spun up over unnecessarily gendered Ghostbuster franchises! Here’s how. Share with like-minded friends who’ve run short of things to be incensed about.

Big Hero 6 sequel: in the works, it seems. Good. The first was charming, even if it did lean on the Evil Mr. Business trope a bit.

The Alien 5 news is all over the road; first everyone was excited because Neil Blomkamp said he wanted to forget 3 and 4 ever happened, and then he said no, that’s not it exactly. The Mary Sue:

Blomkamp won’t be “undoing” Alien 3 or Alien: Resurrection, but all signs do point to him bringing back at least one character from their untimely demise. At Pensacola Comic Con last weekend, Michael Biehn was allegedly asked by a Reddit user if he planned to join the Alien 5 cast, “to which he replied, ‘Looks like it!’ and smiled.”

Which would be great, because the start of “Alien 3” was stupid and cruel. Nothing like ruining everything you took away from the end of the previous movie.

STREET ART Via Coudal, a site devoted to old urban sign typography gleaned from Shorpy posts. 

Did Minneapolis once look that rich? Sure. But an aerial view of the city hall district shows how much the city had been scrubbed by the 50s. The billboards provide the only color. Here's a detail:

Logo literacy test: what's the one in the middle on the bottom row?

Another detail:

That one can be glimpsed today, if you use your imagination:


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Let's boost the contrast and see how much remains:

Every city is full of ghosts.

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