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

Re: re: re: re: re: re:

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 15, 2014 - 12:44 PM

A stirring defense of email? Yes. It is indeed a “tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built,” as Alexis Madrigal says at the Atlantic. It’s also becoming the equivalent of snail mail, inasmuch as the personal communications come via other channels. Phones killed the letter; email killed letters; texting killed email; and so on. So this is heresy! Or is it?

It's worth noting that spam, which once threatened to overrun our inboxes, has been made invisible by more sophisticated email filtering. I received hundreds of spam emails yesterday, and yet I didn't see a single one because Gmail and my Atlantic email filtered them all neatly out of my main inbox. At the same time, the culture of botty spam spread to every other corner of the Internet. I see spam comments on every website and spam Facebook pages and spam Twitter accounts every day. 

That’s true. But texts on your phone are easier, no?

This isn't something the originators of email ever could have imagined, but: Email does mobile really well.

While the mobile web is a rusting scrapheap of unreadable text, broken advertisements, and janky layouts, normal emails look great on phones! They are super lightweight, so they download quickly over any kind of connection, and the tools to forward or otherwise deal with them are built expertly and natively into our mobile devices. 

That’s true as well. Hmm. Well, here’s the problem. Email as a means of personal communication works fine, and allows for more greater length, if people in the future will still be capable of such things. But it will be mostly associated with work, which for millions means it is simply a nag that tells you what you haven’t done yet.

Good article; give it a read.

SCIENCE! Another big rock heading our way. Panic. Slowly. The Independent serves up some quality science writing:

They were studying asteroid 1950 DA, which has a one in 300 chance of hitting the planet on 16 March, 2880 Although the odds seem small, it is the most likely asteroid to collide with Earth and the odds are higher than being shot dead in the US.

Sigh. That’s a meaningless statistic. Where in the US? Chicago? The Alaskan tundra?  Let’s keep reading:

The University of Tennessee researchers said 1950 DA is rotating so quickly it “defies gravity” and is held together by cohesive forces, called van der Waals, never before detected on an asteroid.

From the comments:

Van der Waals force is the name for the intermolecular electromagnetic forces that keep your desk together and the screen you are reading this on. Every solid body is kept in one piece by them, including asteroids, big and small.

Moving right along:

The findings, published in the science journal Nature, could prompt a change in tactics defending our planet.

The chance of contemporary tactics changing to anticipate an event in 2880 seem small. It’s difficult to change tactics to anticipate something we know for certain will happen in 2015. Moving right along:

Previous research has shown that asteroids are loose piles of rubble held together by gravity and friction but by calculating 1950 DA’s thermal inertia and bulk density, the team detected the action of cohesive forces that stop it breaking up.

Ben Rozitis, a postdoctoral researcher, said if only gravity were holding it together, the spinning would cause it to fly apart.

The rotation is so fast that at its equator, 1950 DA effectively experiences negative gravity and if an astronaut were to attempt to stand on the surface, he or she would be thrown off into space.

Which sounds like nonsense. But speaking of being flung into space:

Votd Surely there’s a point where you’re fleeing the cops and you have one on your hood banging his helmet on your windshield where you think This cannot possibly end well.

When Dogs Fly

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 12, 2014 - 12:46 PM

How much does a dog enjoy jumping off a tall mountain on the back of an enormous green bird? It’s hard to say. Depends on the temperament of the animal, of course, but if you had to bet money you’d say the spectrum of enjoyment went from “paralyzing fear” to “uncomprehending acceptance.”

If winching the dog down to the rock made you flinch from fear of heights, the sight of the guy going down the rope as if it was a bannister may have convinced you that this is a pastime you will never explore.

TECH A Nest thermostat was hacked. Everyone panic:

“If I were a bad guy, I would tunnel all of your traffic through me, sniffing for any kind of credentials like credit cards,” Buentello said. “That’s horrible because if you have a computer, it crashes and you take it to Best Buy. How the hell will you know your thermostat is infected? You won’t.”

True. In this case, however, the hackers had physical access to the device, and could insert some malware via a USB stick. Defenders note that if they’re in your house for nefarious purposes, they’ll probably go for the jewelry. True, but it doesn’t mean some Bond-villain minions couldn’t install some eavesdropping programs in the thing, and it doesn’t mean these devices will be forever protected from a network attack. I can do without my thermostat talking to Google. I can live without getting a Google Alert because the device’s motion detector said there was someone in the house, when I know it’s the dog. It is the dog, isn’t it? Right. Has to be the dog! Sigh: fire up the webcam on the stove, see if there’s anyone in the kitchen . . . hmm, doesn’t work. Or maybe it’s smeared with grease and smoke. Let’s try the motion sensors on the dishwasher . . . odd; there’s text on the screen. It’s an URL for pills. Arrgh; forgot to update the anti-virus.

Those are the fears, but I suspect the reality will be less perilous. There will always be evil little twerps who spend their time figuring out how to load malware on your Android to reprogram your freezer, but it’s not exactly a high-value target.

GAMES John Romero is going to make you a twitch, to paraphrase an infamous ad campaign. He’s making a new first-person shooter, PCWorld says. Took 14 years to recover from Daikatana, apparently. A clip from the interminable Wikipedia entry on the plot:

Hiro storms the Mishima's headquarters, where he rescues Mikiko as well as Superfly Johnson, the Mishima's head of security who rebelled when he grew sick of the Mishima's brutal and totalitarian practices. Mikiko and Superfly join Hiro in his quest and they steal the Daikatana. The Mishima encounters the trio as the trio steal the sword, wielding a second Daikatana. The Mishima sends the trio back in time to Ancient Greece. Hiro and Mikiko defeat the Medusa, recharging the Daikatana as it absorbs Medusa's power. The three time jump once more, only to encounter the Mishima again and be sent through time to the Dark Ages, stranded as the Daikatana has run out of power.

The group finds a sorcerer named Musilde who offers to recharge the Daikatana if Hiro, Superfly, and Mikiko can save his village from the black plague. To do this, the group must defeat the Necromancer Nharre, reassemble a magical sword called the Purifier and use it to restore the sanity of King Gharroth so that he may use the sword to end the plague. When King Gharroth recharges the Daikatana Hiro and friends time jump again, finally ending up in the year 2020, where -

Nevermind. Here’s what it looked like.

In 2000, compared to Quake 3, that was laughable. You can watch a fellow wisecracking his way through the last level here, and if you can get past the occasional nasal snort, you’ll see the SHOCKING REVELATION of the plot.

Kodachrome Minnesota

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 11, 2014 - 12:30 PM

A box of old slides yields some Minnesota history over at Shorpy; it’s remarkable what details the old pictures had - and what people uncovered once they started sleuthing. This, for example:

That would be Jerry Adler, a virtuoso harmonica player whose work was heard by millions.

Adler focused on popular music as his career developed, and he soloed in numerous film soundtracks from the 1940s to the 1960s, including Shane, High Noon, Mary Poppins, and My Fair Lady. He also taught actors how to pretend to play the instrument convincingly where their on-screen performances required.

We are well past the days of popular harmonica players.

That’s the easiest detail to run down. The ashtray matchbooks were a bit trickier.

URBAN STUDIES A speculative property venture hasn’t succeeded yet, and may never be occupied. Let’s spin the wheel . . . ah, it handed on Ireland. Here’s some pictures of empty places, followed by the usual comments. One person sniffs at the sameness of the houses, and another notes that the row houses of the cities of the Scepter’d Isle aren’t exactly noted for their stylistic diversity. True. I remember taking the train from DC to New York, and seeing endless expanses of row houses, all exactly the same, distinguished by the occasional attempt to customize. But the suburbs are bland and interchangeable. Right.

MUSIC It’s Weird Al’s moment, Vulture notes, and good for him. Sign of the times: the guy who had the #1 record in America doesn’t have a record contract. In a few years the #1 book in the country will be written by someone who went around the publishing houses and did an ebook on his or her own. TV will be next.

TECH The Man who Liked Everything on Facebook: sounds like an Oliver Sachs essay.

I tried counting how much stuff I’d liked by looking in my activity log, but it was too overwhelming. I’d added more than a thousand things to my Likes page—most of which were loathsome or at best banal. By liking everything, I turned Facebook into a place where there was nothing I liked.

For some people, it’s that already, and you don’t have to click on a thing. Article is notable for some Andy Warhol BS in the opening; why his remarks are still regarded as oracular pronouncements is mystifying.

Also in tech: why are remotes so ridiculous? I have the same problem with my DVD remote, which is replete with buttons that do nothing, or do something I can’t undo. There’s a button that says PRE-CH, which might trigger the TV to enter a state before all the major TV channels were established, and I’d just see a picture of Felix the Cat.

Cheesy Organ Delights

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: August 7, 2014 - 12:01 PM

If I embedded the file you wouldn’t watch it. No one would. You’d look at the length and see “24 minutes? C’mon. Something under three minutes, if you please. This is the modern world and no one has time for that, as the saying goes." All right; how about this?

That is the swankest piece of music ever played on an organ. But electric organs are generally regarded as cheesy things, plinky-dinky kitsch machines that summed up everything horrible about middle-class taste. But their sound defined a decade and a half of popular music, if not more; they deserve respect.

They get it, right here. It’s a BBC4 radio documentary on the rise and fall of the electric organ. It’s a video, but it consists of a picture of the presenter, and his expression gets a bit unnerving after a few minutes, so just minimize the browser and listen. If nothing else you will meet the swingin’ sounds of Karl Wunderlich.

Related: Matrix fight-scene sounds replaced with 8-bit game sounds. Wonderful.

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.

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