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 Technology

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.

Please, no second season

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 4, 2014 - 12:40 PM

“Halt and Catch Fire,” AMC's "Mad Men" replacement, is over, and many of us are feeling great relief. It was supposed to be about computers and the early 80s, and it might have been better if it had more about computers and the early 80s. It turned into the type of show where you see the “Hero” looking at a truckload of computers ready to ship, and you think “I’ll bet he gets out some gasoline and sets them all on fire,” and that’s exactly what he does. Why? Because they’re not enough. Because of what they represent. But more important, because this is the kind of show whose protagonist does things like that. Then he backpacks up to a hilltop observatory in search of stars and/or mother, and we know it’s a quest because he has a wise conversation with A Homespun Local who runs the kind of gas station you need on a backroads quest: the kind with faded signs, indicating you have found True America.

And what of our Seething Brainiac guy with the period facial hair? Why, he’s made it to the top, shed his nerd-fears along with his beard, and he’s sitting at the boardroom table - yet it all seems strangely empty now, doesn’t it. How empty? Well, the camera sinks down and the boardroom table engulfs him in its flat monolithic blankness, which COULD BE METAPHORICAL.

What about Spunky Hacker Gal With Issues? She has a start-up of geeks and you can tell they’re serious about changing paradigms because the company name is written on the wall in spray paint. Radical! She’s trying to invent something that won’t turn into CompuServe or AOL, just as the rest of the season was about inventing something that wasn’t the Mac.

The finale got a few good reviews - sorry, garnered a few good reviews; that's the prefered cliche. (The only time you ever see "garners" is next to "reviews.")  But even the critics who liked the show admit that the finale was as dramatically inert and inorganic as its predecessors. I hope there’s not a second season. Because I would have to watch it in case it got better.

See also, “The Killing." Which did. 

Okay, second season, then. Sigh.

NO SUCH THING? Do not taunt happy fun ball, or the internet. Verge notes that a hotel charges people half a grand if they slam the place on Yelp.

"If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here," the site reads. "Therefore: If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event.”

The story links to the hotel’s FAQ, which appears to have been modified to remove the charge.

Too late. BTW, a user submitted this picture of the “Honor Bar.” Funky! Iconoclastic! The fish statue makes that quite obvious.

VotD More from the Taiwan gas-leak explosion.

Don’t say “it looks like a Michael Bay movie!” It would have 17 cuts in 24 seconds if it was.

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.

One spout, 400 brands

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 29, 2014 - 2:03 PM

All the fancy artisanal hand-crafted bourbon with the well-designed label and premium price points? Probably comes from the same spigot, says the Daily Beast. The article links to this page, which compiles all the brands and notes who really makes who. I had no idea Four Roses made Bulleit. Next we’ll learn that many beers are made by the same enormous distilleries. You can’t trust anything anymore!

SCIENCE! Another day, another skull - but this time it has a bonus feature. Ancient brains.

Archaeologists in Norway made an extremely rare discovery when they found an ancient skull believed to date back 8,000 years at a dig site in Stokke, southwest of Oslo. According to a news report in The Local, the skull was found to contain a grey, clay-like substance inside it, which is thought to be the preserved remains of the individual’s brain.

If analyses confirm this to be the case, it will constitute one of the oldest brains ever found. Being able to study a preserved brain enables scientists to piece together the individual’s last hours and may also reveal any diseases or pathological conditions such as tumours and haemorrhaging.

Scientists can piece together the brain-inhabitant’s last hours? No. I mean, it’s not as if they’re hooking it up to a Dreamscape recorder and downloading the memories. I don’t know what that means. So let’s go to the original story in the Local.

For the past two months archaeologists have been digging at the Stokke site, believed to be two separate Stone Age settlements.

The human skull containing brain matter is among many findings unearthed at the dig.

It is hoped the skull can tell something about how it was to be a Stone Age human in Norway. It is not yet known whether the skull belongs to an animal or a child.

I didn’t think many human skulls belonged to animals, but I’m not a paleontologist.

HMMM Questions that don’t seem as provocative as they might:

Related, inasmuch as it's a teaster on the internet:

No. Don’t.

TIOT That’s the Internet of Things, the nebulous and infantile name for the imminent future of interconnected machines. Some people think it’ll be overkill. Like this.

You wake up to a jazzy MIDI version of the “Happy Birthday” song. Your smart thermostat and smoke detector are singing in harmony because today is your day. Your fitness tracker is vibrating in an unfamiliar Morse Code. Searching the internet, you come across a question in the support forums about it, explaining it is the preprogrammed birthday greeting silent alarm that you can disable after pairing the device again and updating your settings. Your bathroom scale, toilet, and garage door also welcome you with birthday wishes. Open up the refrigerator to another friendly jingle. Tropicana, Fage, and Sabra Hummus all wish you happy birthday. Now there’s an incoming message. It is the “birthday selfie” it snapped when you reached for the orange juice

If you don’t think this is likely, check your email for all the letters you get and don’t want but haven’t bothered to unsubscribe from. I don't want to unsubscribe from my orange-juice camera.

TRAVEL TIPS From Michael Totten, freelance globe-trotter:

I was advised to check out Le Mat on the outskirts of the city. There you will find the Snake Village where you can pull up a bar stool and order some snake wine. The bartender will kill a cobra, pour its blood into rice wine, and drop the snake’s still-beating heart into the shot glass.

If you don’t want to drink blood, you can have it with bile instead.

I refused. Why make my stomach churn and possibly heave just so I can write about it? The description of the drink itself is enough. I went to Iraq seven times during the war, but drinking snake wine is over the line. I don’t care whether or not that makes sense. 

Where he went, and what he saw, make for a fascinating read. Here you go.

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