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

You're not cool enough for This.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 29, 2015 - 12:26 PM

Sometimes you learn things about history that tear apart all your old assumptions. For example: the Twitter account @History_Pics tweeted out this amazing photo, with the caption “The battleship Missouri second before being struck by a kamikaze in 1945.”

You might wonder why they didn’t react quicker. That’s because they are toys.

I had no idea we drafted plastic toys to fight in WW2. As it turns out, though, we didn’t. Wikipedia:

On 11 April, a low-flying kamikaze, although fired on, crashed on Missouri ' s starboard side, just below her main deck level. The starboard wing of the plane was thrown far forward, starting a gasoline fire at Gun Mount No. 3. The battleship suffered only superficial damage, and the fire was brought quickly under control.[5The remains of the pilot were recovered on board the ship just aft of one of the 40 mm gun tubs. Captain Callaghan decided that the young Japanese pilot had done his job to the best of his ability, and with honor, so he should be given a military funeral. The following day he was buried at sea with military honors.

The entry has the following picture:

THIS Here’s another hot social network you’re not on because you’re not cool enough. You can post one link a day. That’s it. NYT:

Currently, the platform is available only to those who receive an invitation from one of the nearly 4,500 users. As more journalists and media insiders become aware of it, they are jockeying for the exclusive invitations. “Someone get me an invite to @THISdotcm already,” tweeted Jessica Reed, the features editor at Guardian US, who punctuated her message with four cigarette emojis to signify her impatience, as she later explained it.

It’s a fine idea; the next thing should be THAT, which points people to the worst thing on the web that day, then THE OTHER THING, which consists of one link to the most irrelevant thing. The three sites will eventually form PronounMedia, which will raise $350 million in its first round, hire a bunch of people to grow the brand, spend $65 million on an app, get bought by, which then shutters THAT and THE OTHER THING in order to “concentrate on core strengths.”

Speaking of which, remember ello? Everyone wanted to be on it because only a few people could be on it. Then they let more people in, and the people who wanted to be in had forgotten about it. I got my invite last week, and shrugged: oh, right, that. Go to the home page. They have a nifty effect. And by “nifty” I mean it’s quite possible you will feel your stomach turn. It’s the most polarizing thing I’ve ever seen; everyone to whom I’ve shown the effect rears back a bit, as if they’ve just seen someone cheerfully bend his forearm or pull his earlobe down four inches like a Command adhesive tab.

SPQR Rome’s Flavian Amphitheater is being cleaned and repaired, and they’re finding interesting details:

Traces of red painted numbers have been found on the arches of Rome’s Colosseum during the ongoing $33 million restoration work aimed at repairing damage suffered by the 2,000-year-old monument since the Middle Ages.

More here. The numbers were used for sections, aisles, and seats, just like today. But did they drink Gatorade? No:

Roman gladiators drank an energy drink of vinegar and ash, according to an anthropological investigation of arena fighter bones.”

Maybe the Vikes should give it a try.

Worst new word of the day

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 23, 2015 - 12:27 PM

Should a house be saved because someone famous lived there? Moot question for Ray Bradbury’s house. LA Times:

The house that Ray Bradbury lived in for 50 years in Los Angeles' Cheviot Hills neighborhood was torn down this month by "starchictect" Thom Mayne, who bought it for $1.765 million and plans to build a new house on the lot.

What happened? Why did fans of the author of "The Martian Chronicles," "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Fahrenheit 451" not get a chance to make their case that the house be saved?

Because . . . they didn’t own it? You can’t make the heirs sit on the property forever because Ray wrote books in one of the rooms.

Yes, the article said “starchictect”, which I presume is a portmanteau of Starchitect and Chic. Ugh.

Related: While researching a matchbook from Seattle - yes, I know, a blogger’s life as thrilling as all the rumors suggest - I got lost in one of those review sites where tales of bad visits can provide epic accounts of hotel horrors. Most people liked the Max, formerly the Vance, but a few guests thought the rooms were a bit small. The manager responds.

Thanks for staying with us and for taking the time to let others know about your experience via Google+. We are stoked to hear that you loved our location and our amazing beds! They are heavenly.

Stoked? When did the Responsible Adult Community turn into Spicoli?

Additionally, you are right about our rooms. They're smaller that what you'd find at a branded hotel but we rather like it that way. It makes us different and gives us an opportunity to share our history and story. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it as much as others.

Well, you can’t please everyone. Most of the reviews are positive, but another fellow notes you can stand in the middle of the bathroom and touch all the walls. The manager - and I’ll give these guys credit for weighing in to answer kudos and complaints - doesn’t drop some boilerplate, but revises the response a bit.

Now things get snippy.

thanks for staying with us and for taking the time to share your thoughts. Our rooms are definitely on the smaller side. Our building was constructed in 1926 so the funky room sizes and layouts tell you a lot about our history. Ultimately, we rather prefer it that way. I'm sorry our story, history and focus on supporting our local vendors didn't resonate with you. Again, thanks for giving us a chance and we wish you safe and adventurous travels in the future.

The Funky Room Sizes and Layouts don’t tell much about the history, aside from its construction date. I avoid staying in old hotels unless I know the bed does not take up 70% of the room. Because when there’s no room and the bathroom has no counter space, you rarely think “it’s tiny, but the way the support local vendors is resonating so hard right now I can’t think of anything else.”

Anyway, some people like these hotels, especially when they’ve been made Hip and Modern, and renovation is preferable to knocking it down the way Minneapolis trashed all its old grand hotels. Your taste may vary. I stayed in a Klimpton in DC a few months ago - a former apartment building, I think, and a post-war one at that. It was Hip and Modern, which in this case meant the room had a big picture of a young guy with black glasses smiling smugly as he played the piano, and I think it’s only a matter of time before someone punches it. He was just so pleased with himself.

VINTAGE The Flyer Arcade, courtesy of Coudal. Old arcade machines and pinball as well. It has no Gorgar. though. Needs more Gorgar.

Lois rebukes Hi at 6 AM

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 21, 2015 - 12:13 PM

In today's comics, which are "comic" in name only, this exchange:

Are we to believe that Hi and Lois were having a conversation about the value of Twitter the previous night? Her expression is so self-contented that it seems as if she regards this development as the coup de grace. Unfortunately, Hi is hungover, and probably won't remember.

THE INTERNET IS TOO BIG J. C. Penney is bringing back the catalog. You might think it’s because they can’t think of new ways to lose money fast enough, but no: they’re “a strong, proactive tap on the shoulder.” At least that’s what the trade associations for catalogs says. The NPR article quotes the head fof “"The Internet has gotten so big that you can't find anything on it," Hagood says, "even on the J.C. Penney website." Hagood says a good print catalog can help customers cut through the clutter of the Internet.

Well, not exactly, but you know what she means. Maybe. Does she mean that the internet is too daunting for some? Or that you can find so much that it feels as if you can’t choose?

On second thought, I don’t know what she means. But flipping through a catalog is a different experience than clicking NEXT on a webpage, and a catalog that arrives in the mail is different from a pop-up box that requires your dismissal. Catalogs don’t stand in the doorway and forbid you to pass until you dog-ear the cover.

AHOY ABC news discovers a retiree living on a cruise ship, and some people are surprised. Some people applaud her decision. Some people are angry that you’re not angry she can afford it. Well, it makes more sense than a retirement home, if you like to travel, and she’s not alone; I’ve met another lady of a certain age who had retired to live on a cruise ship. Like the ABC story subject, she chose a smaller vessel that’s all-inclusive, and that’s what I find odd. I’ve been on the Crystal Serenity, and after 11 days I was delighted to leave. It’s lovely but small. I’d want the biggest cruise ship in the world, even if it meant paying three bucks extra for lunch - except that they just bob around the Caribbean over and over again, and the 47th time you looked out the window and said “Virgin Islands? Again? My, how this week flew past” you might yearn for something new.

REBOOT This stuff makes my head hurt.

"The Ultimate Universe and the Marvel Universe are going to smash together," editor-in-chief Axel Alonso explained. "Imagine there's two pizzas. They're going to smash together. You're going to have all-new toppings. Some toppings are going to drop off. You're going to yell about some that are missing. You're going to love the new ones that are there. That's the new Marvel universe moving forward.”

I’m old-fashioned, and prefer one universe, with one Spider-Man, and not a kaleidoscopic cosmos with 14 Spidermen, one of whom is Capt. Stacy in an exoskeleton. In related news, science has devised a way to read charcoal logs:

The contents of hundreds of papyrus scrolls that were turned into charcoal in the eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD - one of the great natural disasters of antiquity - have long remained a mystery. That soon may change.

Scientists said on Tuesday a sophisticated form of X-ray technology has enabled them to decipher some of the writing in the charred scrolls from a library once housed in a sumptuous villa in ancient Herculaneum, a city that overlooked the Bay of Naples.

Imagine what lost texts might be on those pages. Lost Pliny, for example. Granted, he was wrong about so many things - amber being compressed fox urine, for example - but it’s still tantalizing to consider

VotD Passing a truck by going into the opposing lane with no view of what’s coming: brilliant move.


Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 20, 2015 - 12:29 PM

Modern life: I wanted to get a screen grab of something I saw last night on Netflix. I could take a picture of the TV with my phone, or call it up in a browser and use the imprecise controls to get where I needed to go.

Except . . . that the latest build of Safari on Yosemite doesn’t like Netflix, and tells you that your monitor isn’t compatible. Why does it have to be compatible? New anti-piracy safeguards that prevent people from recording streaming content. If you point a video camera at the screen while it’s playing protected content, a bolt of electricity shoots out and stops your heart. Or something. Anyway. Since Safari wasn’t working, I tried Chrome, well aware that I did not have the latest build. I have 39.0.2171.98, and I think they’re up to 39.0.2171.99 now.

I had to lot in to Netflix, since I hadn’t logged in using Chrome before. Mind you, I’ve logged in to Chromecast to use the daughter’s phone to stream Netflix to the TV, but that’s completely different. Since I have complex passwords to prevent criminals from hijacking my account and filling the RECENTLY PLAYED with episodes of Sailor Moon just to make me look ridiculous, I had to open the password manager app, which of course has its own password.

Sure enough, it wouldn’t play. A helpful screen said I should go to “chrome://components, locate the WidevineCdm component, and click the ‘Check for update’ button.” Which I did. At this point it would have been easier to take a picture with a Kodak Instamatic and send it off to the lab to be developed, but in the end I got the screengrab. I thought I’d seen a particular book on a shelf. I was wrong.

Point is, I hate passwords. We all do. Most of all I hate this:


This is the default password for everything, right? Because no matter what you type, that’s what you see. This is because invisible hackers are standing right behind you taking notes, so they can get into your Pinterest account and unfollow your niece, which will cause all sorts of problems the next time the family gets together.

Which brings us to predictions for 2015, from VentureBeat:

Consumer wearables will disappoint in 2015 (including the Apple Watch). These devices are highly-priced toys and don’t add significant value. Of course, there are some Apple crazy fans who will buy every new product. However, I predict the company will not sell enough to impact either Apple shareholders or the wearable market in general.

Based on an unreleased product whose feature set is most speculative. Well, give it a few years, and you’ll be filling in passwords by saying your special password to your watch, which will match your voice and beam the logon instructions to the browser via Bluetooth. If you don’t have retinal-scan enabled, that is.

Can’t wait.

WHO KNOWS Profile of the guy who might be the next Greek prime minister. The article notes that he is a Marxist who named his son after Che, and speculates how he might govern. Yes, it’s surely a mystery.


Or, as some have said, AIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

The last one is the best, or worst, depending on your point of view. If nothing else, a testament to pilots and planes, and the flight attendants who had to swab up the cabin afterwards.

Best shopping app: your head

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 14, 2015 - 12:37 PM

We'll get to that in a bit. First: Did people have the flu in ancient Rome? Doesn’t seem so. Smithsonian:

The first flu pandemic is thought to have begun in the summer of 1510 and to have affected people in Africa and Europe before moving east through the Baltic States. This first flu didn't inflict a particularly high mortality rate, but fifty years later, the outbreak of 1557 was significantly more deadly. This round, the flu caused pleurisy and pneumonia-like symptoms in people from China to Europe; it's believed to have persisted for more than two years.

Seven other major pandemics—plus a rash of smaller epidemics confined to single cities, regions or countries—are thought to have occured prior to 1918, too. The peak of one pandemic that began in 1781 saw two-thirds of Rome’s population falling ill and over 30,000 new cases each day in St. Petersburg.

Thirty-thousand? Did everyone immediate stick their fingers up their noses after touching doorknobs or shaking hands?

NEW POTATOES Science marches on, crafting the perfect spud. NPR:

On the face of it, the new potato varieties called "Innate" seem attractive. If you peel the brown skin off their white flesh, you won't find many unsightly black spots. And when you fry them, you'll probably get a much smaller dose of a potentially harmful chemical.

But here's the catch: Some of the biggest potato buyers in the country, such as Frito-Lay and McDonald's, seem afraid to touch these potatoes. Others don't even want to talk about them because they are genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

That has nothing to do with the safety of the taters, you suspect, but everything to do with marketing, since many people do not want their organisms in modified form.

In related news, I read a piece the other day about kale, and how it was invented by manipulating the mustard plant. Turns out that broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower were all artificially derived from mustard. Can’t stand any of them, but I love mustard, so I can’t blame it.

GTD Following up on yesterday’s piece about the confusing terminology of Getting Things Done strategies, here’s another one from FastCompany about finding the right app to assist with organization. We pick the story up after several apps have failed to simplify the author’s life. 

I was back at square one, feeling like I was wasting loads of time and energy. Far from the organized Real Simple working mother of my dreams, I was exhausted, irritable, and mad at myself for not being able to find the right system or app to make it all easier (or better yet: go away.) Maybe I needed to try InstaCart.

Don’t get your hopes up, Minnesotans:

Back to the article:

Even for people who are already organized, that idea that there is something better out there can cause anxiety. "I've tried a ton of things: apps for meal planning, apps for family organization, paper planners, online planners, and white boards," says Lauren Exnicios, a Seattle attorney and mother of two, who has been frustrated by the amount time it often takes to invest in these "time-saving" systems. "I found things like Gathered Table and Cozi are both great ideas, but the buy-in is too high. I don't have time to upload all my recipes or standard meals. Right now, writing it on the back of an envelope 10 minutes before I run to the store works.”

Yes. Sorry, forgot it was the internet. Meant to say THIS. I do all the grocery shopping and food prep, so I know what I need, and don’t want to bother entering it into an app. Say you’re low on peanut butter, and you tell the app to put Jif on the list. It hears you correctly but enters “gif,” because it thinks that’s how the word is pronounced. It’s not. I don’t care what the inventors of the thing say, it’s a hard G because it stands for a word that begins with a hard G.

Which reminds me: the apps are bad for people who are easily distracted. From the comments, a dissent:

I love the app "myShopi" categorizes everything, I can use at any store and even gives you turn by turn directions inside the store!

Turn by turn directions in the store. Because it’s hard to find where the produce is. And the milk? Forget about it. I took a look at myShopi, and was amused by the rating: 12+ for “Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References.” Because it has a category for wine and cold medicine. I was tempted, so I downloaded it. At first: meh. Pictures of items like “bananas.” Tap and add to your list. But there’s a barcode reader, and I tested it on several products. It correctly identified Market Pantry 2% milk, so if it recognizes Target house brands it’s got a good database. If I scan things when they’re empty and thrown away - sorry, sorry, recycled - then I’ll always know what I need the next time I go, and won’t forget to replentish the stocks.

Not that I’ve ever forgotten to get milk or bread. Or anything else. But it could happen.

On the other hand, it’s one more thing to look at, keep updated, check before I leave on errands, and fuss over. Never mind. Will delete.

Suddenly life just got simpler.


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