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

Today's Internet Hoax is . . .

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 24, 2014 - 2:23 PM

. . . not surprising at all. It was Upworthy-ready: this little girl was ostracized in a KFC because she had facial scars, and what happened next will warm your heart-cockles, or something.

Well, no. The Laurel Leader-Call:

The heart-wrenching story of a badly disfigured 3-year-old child being asked to leave a Jackson KFC because her appearance was scaring other customers was a story generated out of whole cloth and resulted in the family bilking the public and professionals for more than $135,000 in cash, as well as gifts and free surgeries, sources with deep knowledge of the investigation said exclusively to the Laurel Leader-Call.

Says the family's  “Victoria’s Victories” website today:

I promise its not a hoax, I never thought any of this would blow up the way it has. The article circling the web calling this a hoax is untrue. The article it self say the investigation is not complete. It is not over until KFC releases a statement. The media outlet running this story is not connected with KFC. The family has not asked for anything, a attorney is handling all the media publicity for the family pro bono. Please do not believe untrue media. I have personally watched this family go without to provide for Victoria. They have not and would not do anything to hurt Victoria in any way.

Over 4,500 comments on that one so far. Read 'em all! A pattern does tend to emerge.

The newspaper article notes that the local KFCs have surveillance video of the days in question - although they don’t have video for the store the child’s aunt says they visited. Ah hah! you say. How convenient! Well:

The family initially told KFC the incident happened at the location on State and High streets, a claim backed by a Facebook post by Victoria’s Victories, a page run by Teri Rials Bates, the girl’s aunt that read: “Thank you for your support for Victoria. If you would like to file a complaint its the KFC on State Street in Jackson MS.” That store is not in operation and has been closed for several years.

The family retracted that claim after that was pointed out, insisting that the event did happen, but it was somewhere else.

The newspaper article, by the way, is not a model of objective reporting.

Mullins welcomed television cameras from Jackson while peddling the tale of deceit in an effort to bilk a public who lapped up the story with little regard to its validity. By the time those TV interviews had aired, the story had taken on a life of its own.

National and world media such as CNN, Nancy Grace, Huffington Post and The Today Show jumped on the story, lambasting the employees, KFC and YUM! Brands, KFC’s corporate owners.

“What, did they walk over to the table and say ‘hey, you’re ugly, you have to leave.’ What happened Dave?” wailed Grace, the (Headline News) hysterical talk show host, which was answered by little-known talk radio host Dave Maxson.

“No, Nancy, it was even worse than that. It wasn’t ‘you’re ugly.’ It was ‘you are scaring people. You must leave.’”

Wailing and hysterical are rather subjective. Accurate, but still.

Since the story went “viral,” people have been throwing sodas through the drive-through window and yelling at employees. Even though the original story seemed “fishy” in the sense that a trawler coming back to the docks after a week of dragging the ocean with enormous nets is “fishy.” An employee would ask a seriously injured little girl to leave because she was scaring customers? Does that really seem likely?

Speaking of social media: The WSJ yesterday had a piece about companies rethinking their social media strategies, a subject of almost boundless boredom to consider, but interesting in a cruel, cold way. It turns out that LIKES mean nothing. Who knew. It turns out that people don’t go on Twitter to learn about brands: the feather, it lays me low. It seems that most people go on Twitter to natter about things they did or ate or heard about second-hand through the usual uninformed sources.

Not to say it’s not a great news source; I check it constantly. But when you enter the parallel world of Twitter, where people who cannot spell and have the sense of history that makes a fish’s experience look like the recollections of Methuselah, you know that it’s not an inherently wise medium. Which one is? Right.

Survey says: 94% use social media to connect with friends and family. Twenty-nine percent use it to “follow trends / find product reviews and information.” That last one conflates two different objectives. Same with the next one: Twenty percent use social media “to comment on what’s hot or new / to write reviews of products.” But the big one: 62% say that social media has NO INFLUENCE AT ALL on their purchasing decisions. Millions upon millions spent to insert ads in your timelines, and while you may follow Campbell’s Soup, and may have signed up to get the “What’s Soup?” update email (I made that up) and might have liked the post about Andy Warhol’s birthday, the end result is diddly and/or squat compared to television ads. They’re more impressive because they have moving pictures and catchy songs and pretty people.

Compared to which, a social-media entry is a postcard. I nod and feel a cruel smile spread across my face, because I don’t like Facebook. I use it to post links to real work. Same with Google Plus, but every day I go to Google Plus to add the link, I have the same thought: oh, right. Google Plus. And this is something I use every day. I practically forget about while I’m there. Facebook is a many-headed hydra with a firehose in every mouth. But I don’t disengage from Twitter or the news, because I want to know what’s going on. Depending on who you follow, and who you learn to trust or respect, you can get a sense of events from Twitter stream if you treat it like Professor X using Cerebro

This Leon Wiseltier piece, written by an admitted non-Tweeter, sums up the perils of disengagement.

When the shower gets a virus

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 13, 2014 - 1:50 PM

 . . . because you didn't enable the firewall. The problem with the Internet of Things is its vague, infantile name. The other problem would be this, as Wired imagines:

I wake up at four to some old-timey dubstep spewing from my pillows. The lights are flashing. My alarm clock is blasting Skrillex or Deadmau5 or something, I don’t know. I never listened to dubstep, and in fact the entire genre is on my banned list. You see, my house has a virus again.

Technically it’s malware. But there’s no patch yet, and pretty much everyone’s got it. Homes up and down the block are lit up, even at this early hour. Thankfully this one is fairly benign. It sets off the alarm with music I blacklisted decades ago on Pandora. It takes a picture of me as I get out of the shower every morning and uploads it to Facebook. No big deal.

This is the future, so the “Facebook” reference may look like a “Blade Runner” Atari sign in a few years, but the author’s point will probably seem prescient by 2030. His main problem seems to be using Android, though; a patchwork of apps, malware, uncoordinated OS versions, and so on.

ART Here are 30,000 artworks you’ve probably never seen. I hate headlines like that, but it’s probably true, because they’re all in New Zealand. Like this:

”Achilles Frantic At the Loss of Patroclus, Rejecting the Consolation of Thetis.” Now online in high-res view. 30K works of art. Bless you, internet.

TREK Someone’s gathering the money to make a movie about the war between the Federation and the Klingons. Why? Because J. J. Abrams didn’t. Speaking of which, I really need to rematch “Into Darkness,” because apparently I was wrong when I enjoyed it. I’m supposed to dislike it and be mad.

In other news, here’s another of those fan movies that nail every detail. Never figured out why Paramount didn’t sue them into oblivion. It’s as if they’re so stunned by the breadth of intellectual-property theft they don’t know where to start.

Mind you, I’m glad Paramount doesn’t sue. It’s possible they understand that these are labors of love that enhance the property and keep it alive.

WUT Behold: literature-inspired sneakers from New Balance.

The result is an earthy set that channels a library-like aesthetic of leather bound books and the sort of tweed clad folks behind them. The group will be split into three parts – the “Bespoke Authors” collection featuring Horween lathered 997s in similar limited numbers, and then the “Distinct Authors” and “Connoisseur Authors” collections with a wider range of models.

Don’t miss the Chuck Bukowskis, which are splattered with heave.

VotD Escalator hijinx.

That's it for this week; have a fine weekend.

Obviously, Eugene is a robot.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 10, 2014 - 12:01 PM

C’mon. No. New Scientist:

Two years ago, I met Eugene Goostman, a guinea pig-owning, 13-year-old boy living in Odessa, Ukraine. Now this quirky character – in fact a software chatbot – is making headlines with the claim that on Saturday, he became the first piece of software to pass the Turing test, the most famous test of machine intelligence.

Eugene, created by Vladimir Veselov, who was born in Russia and now lives in the US, and Ukrainian-born Eugene Demchenko who now lives in Russia, is certainly a clever, not to mention funny, piece of software. And it did fool 33 per cent of the people he chatted with into thinking Eugene was human. But here are a few reasons why the result may not be the milestone it seems to be.

It’s ridiculous.  I could tell it was a bot in three questions. I asked it a question about Odessa, which it had mentioned in the first response, and it claimed ignorance of Odessa in the third reply. This might be characteristic of a 13-year-old who isn’t listening because he’s playing Watch Dogs, but A) that’s not an impressive demonstration of AI, and B) he shouldn’t be playing Watch Dogs at that age. Try it yourself.

Elsewhere, corporate Twitter accounts are being scrutinized because they are . . . unnerving. By which the author means “they give the illusion of familiarity but lack the ability to personally comfort you in times of need. Really.

In 2014, high-profile corporate voices on Twitter can be as casual, playful, and sometimes intimate as an individual user’s — and often more so. “~draw me like one of your French toasts~” the chain restaurant Denny’s coos from its Twitter account, raking in thousands of faves and retweets. The tweet is funny, a kind of Twitter humor tour de force that remixes a relevant social-media meme with a comforting Denny’s menu item.

And that’s that, right? There’s nothing more to be said. Well-played, Denny’s; aside from the people in the comments who will no doubt insist the company is run by the Klan, we can move along - hold on, no, there’s more.

At the same time, upon reading perfectly casual and on-meme corporate tweets like these in my Twitter timeline, I’ve begun to feel discomfited. To be perfectly honest, I feel unsettled, even usurped or displaced, by corporations’ perfectly on-point social-media voice.

Because Denny’s made a “Titanic” joke.

It isn’t enough for Denny’s to own the diners, it wants in on our alienation from power, capital, and adulthood too. While we giggle at corporate #weirdtwitter tweets, the corporate invulnerability that makes them easy to follow is also what makes their assumption of a human, familiar voice feel, despite our laughter and faves, cold and a bit pathological.

It’s a Denny’s Twitter account. For that matter, it’s a Twitter account. Expect nothing of it.

URBANISM   View all 467 replies! Gizmodo uses the Google Time Machine to show how San Francisco is changing, and people are arguing about turning old, abandoned neighborhoods into shiny, stable, residential neighborhoods where condos and apartments replace empty lots. If you want a local version, check out the comments on this building. It’s one thing to criticize the building’s style, but there are folks who are just . . . angry at the presumption that people want to live downtown. As for the style:

It doesn't have any. Although the article says: "The building will have some unique design features, including an above-grade parking garage that will be wrapped in a shimmering double layer of perforated metal screen."

If it shimmers, thanks to embedded motors that cause the facade to undulate gently like sails in the breeze, great, but I doubt that’s the case.

It’s good to see the block filled; beats a parking lot. Perhaps the economics of the site meant it had to fill out the space entirely with no setbacks, and it’s possible the lower-level parking ramp’s lack of windows will impart a sense of urban compression to the street, and WHO AM I KIDDING? I’m making excuses for what appears to be a dull tower that wandered in from an LA suburb c. 1967. Better than nothing - but it seems like another missed opportunity. 

Inert spacecraft is revived, starts Tweeting

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 30, 2014 - 12:08 PM

Amazing news from the cold void of space. io9:

ISEE 3 is a spacecraft from the 1970s currently creeping back up on Earth orbit. NASA abandoned it, but after a crowdfunding campaign, team of citizen-scientists visited Arecibo with homebrew-hardware and made first-contact. Communications are re-established, and everything looks good to recover the craft!

If it starts heading towards earth with a stated desire to sterilize the carbon units, though, we might want to have a kill switch in place.

It's tweeting here.

GAMES Wired has one of those well-designed “Snow Fall”-type stories on a fellow who built an retro gaming arcade in his bedroom, a testament to a bygone age. It’s a Manhattan apartment, so there’s room for six machines. As arcades go, it’s rather small, but you suspect the Wire story is about something else.

Back in 1996 he bought the first Transformer figure for a collection that is now worth $15,000. All that stuff was stored in his bachelor pad uptown. “The Transformers collection, all the things I really loved, were just boxed away and off to the side,” he says. “My lifestyle was so devoid of all the things that I grew up with.”

One of the things that characterizes adulthood is being “devoid of Transformers,” although the movies are permitted. But at least he had the social wherewithal to form important bonds:

He thought he was sparing her, getting all his geeky thoughts off his chest online so she didn’t have to listen to him blabber on about it. “If you come home every night and want to talk to your girlfriend about arcade or pinball machines, that relationship is going to end really fast,” he says. Instead, he realized too late, by not including her he was cutting her out of his life. “The arcade drove a wedge. It made clear everything that was wrong,” he says.

That’s hard enough, but even the hobby started to curdle:

His online friendships were souring, too. On KLOV, the haters outnumbered the supporters. They were certainly more vehement anyway. Some people hated his carpet.

That is the internet: people on message boards about rebuilding classic arcade games ripped him for his carpet choices. I bring this up for one reason. This guy has all the classics, including Fix-It Feix Jr.

To which you might say: What? Yes:

From Wreck-It Ralph, of course. It actually exists, although there's fewer than a dozen of them. 

URBAN STUDIES A look at Detroit’s decline - from 2009 to 2013. You might have thought there was sufficient damage done before 2009, but it seems they were just working up to the final act.

You can start here and wander around. It’s remarkable.


View Larger Map

b>Votd In Russia you can get a great deal at Mikhal Bay Motors:

The name of the site is Goobing Detroit, a portmanteau based on Google Street Views and Bing Street Views. Yes, the latter does exist. There’s also the Apple Maps views of the streets. How many complete records of American streets do we have? Ten years ago, nothing. Now we’re irritated if the street view is fuzzy.

Speaking of which: the site uses Hyperlapse; I made one for Minneapolis. (Works best in Chrome.)

BLEEBLEE BEE BEE Smithsonian asks: Is this whale trying to speak to humans? Don’t miss the comments, where someone slows it down. Haunting - and sad, if he’s trying, and we can’t understand.

How to spot an email scam

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 22, 2014 - 12:44 PM

"Look at it" would be the first step. There is no second step necessary.

Just in case you can't see it:

Quality work there, guys.

MUSIC The “strange world” of library music gets its due at Pitchfork:

Typically relegated to crate-digger curiosities for their role as sample fodder, library music records of the 1960s and '70s tend to hinge more on utilitarian mood-setting than distinct personality. Composers could labor under multiple pseudonyms, artist names were frequently relegated to the back sleeve, and some labels—particularly London's KPM, which released almost every single one of their LPs in the same olive-green sleeve—thrived while putting their own brand over a musician's particular identity.

Call it the other side of poptimism: Just as the super producers, TV talent-show alumni, and focus-grouped songwriters of the Hot 100 are capable of making transcendent songs from their so-called “assembly lines,” so too were the under-attributed composers and studio orchestras of previous eras, whose biggest hope was for their work to find its way into the score of a low-budget sci-fi film or a two-season cop thriller.

Nothing on the vast CBS EZ cue library, as I believe it was called; it was used extensively in old radio shows, and as I far as I can tell there’s no compilation available online, only snippets.  

DIRK MUST DIE Wonderful account of the dying days of the arcade, with attention paid to the most difficult and expensive game of all time: Dragon’s Lair.

Like everyone else, I wasted a lot of my parents’ quarters playing Dragon’s Lair and lasting for about 2 minutes before losing all five lives. Fortunately, the local grocery store had a Dragon’s Lair cabinet, as well as a couple of other games, so I got many occasions to practice.

One day I was sitting in our apartment reading a video game magazine (nerd!), and in the back was a little section of classified ads. My eye was caught immediately by the words “Beat Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair!” For a few bucks, you could send away for this random guy’s strategy guide, which listed all the moves and when to make them.

Please realize there was no residential internet. We had a computer, but no modem. There was no just going to Google for an FAQ or walkthrough. If you didn’t know the moves, you just didn’t know them, unless you knew someone else who knew them, which of course you didn’t.

Short read; worth your time.

Votd Oh, come on, that’s really not dash-cam highlight reel material, is it? I mean, it’s sort of funny, the sound the guy makes, but HOLY MOTHER OF INTERNETS

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