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

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

A Glitch in the (Netflix) Matrix

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 21, 2014 - 12:11 PM

This is not a movie, but it should be:

Come with me if you want to chew:

From Summarybug, which posts oddly mangled movie summations. 

VINTAGE You may have finished watching Sunday’s “Mad Men” and thought “interesting fast-food restaurant interior; what did it look like before they dressed the set?” I did. Not right away. Later. It didn't seem likely they found a real Burger Chef. But then I went to bed and gave it no more thought  - until this story popped up in a feed: the original location of the Burger Chef used in the closing scene. It was a Burger Chef, albeit a decommissioned one. Yelp has a picture of the interior before it was re-spiffified, here.

It has one vote for being “Very Helpful.”

LASAGNA WAS EVERYWHERE Lasagna was everywhere! Lasagna was everywhere. (via lasagnawaseverywhere)

NO ESCAPE Ugh, no. 9to5Mac:

Those who expressed concern about Google’s acquisition of Nest may have have been right: the company has told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it may choose to serve ads on “refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, glasses, and watches, to name just a few possibilities.”

There might be some backlash to this. Imagine the conversation in the store:

“This is the latest Nest model; it learns your habits and sets the temperature accordingly.

Great. Nice. But does it have ads?

”There’s an content-supply system built into the main display.”

So that’s a yes. What kind of ads?

”This model integrates into your Google account, so, if you’ve been looking for gazebo roof replacements, it’ll alert you to new deals posted since your last search.”

How? With a chime?

”That’s customizable. You can silence it from any device logged into your Google account.”

Why do I want my thermostat to alert me to a lower price on gazebo root replacements?

”You can opt out any time. But it’s part of the integrated information package - if your fridge is Google-aware, you can transfer the alerts to the front-panel display. Or your phone. Or your TV through your Chrome dongle."

What do I look like, a Sorayama drawing? I don’t have a Chrome dongle. How can you honestly say I want ads on my thermostat?

”Well, the fact that you’re here in the store instead of buying online tells me you’re not particularly tech-savvy, and we’re hoping you just install it and get used to the ads and never figure out how to turn it off. You’ll get used to having interesting, useful ads piped to your house on every device, but if you like, I can teach you one weird trick for making the ads reduce in frequency and duration.”

HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY Update on that roundly reviled McDonald’s mascot: it’s been in the works for years. Daily Dot found a 2012 page that shows Happy in many guises, and some of them made me realize what’s irksome about the character. The eyes, those teeth - tt's like an Aardman character without the soul.

Votd Hmm. Well.

Only possible response:

Does that need explaining? Sigh. Okay

Unnerving Happy Thing

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 20, 2014 - 12:38 PM

This is not an improvement on a clown. Bloomberg:

McDonald’s today introduced “Happy,” a new animated Happy Meal character that brings fun and excitement to kids’ meals while also serving as an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating. Happy will be introduced nationwide May 23, and will encourage kids to enjoy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice.


It looks like you can’t pick him up without putting your fingers into the back of his eyeballs. His big, firm, squishy eyeballs. The Verge says the Memes Have Just Begun.

ART The creations of WW2 US airmen need saving:

They drew cartoons, graffiti, murals, glamour "pinups", combat scenes, mission records and maps. US servicemen at bomber and fighter bases in central and eastern England between 1942 and 1945 created a huge but largely unrecorded body of wartime artwork, some of which has survived more than 70 years in collapsing and overlooked buildings.

As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaches, a "last chance" search is under way to find and record the scattered vestiges and fading memories of the largest air armada ever assembled – before decay, demolition and redevelopment remove the final traces.

It’s the Guardian, so you steel yourself for the anti-American comments. Let’s see . . . Yep! First:

To be fair, the rest of the comments are supportive of the effort to defeat Nazism, and seem comfortable doing so without five minutes of apologetic preambles. That’s a relief.

ELSEWHERE Finally, a good practical use for Google Glass: taking pictures of North Korea while your minders aren’t paying attention. It looks like the minders knew exactly what was going on, though - everything seems Approved. Still interesting. From the comments:

Head on over and enjoy, then.

At the other end of the Planned Community spectrum, there’s this amazing document uploaded by BoingBoing: the original Disneyland prospectus.

Walt's vision for what the company at one point called "merchantainment" (!) was more ambitious than anything yet realized inside the berm. Page one boasts of a "mail order catalogue" that will offer everything for sale at Disneyland (a kind of super-duper version of today's Disneyland Delivears). This catalogue was to feature actual livestock, including "a real pony or a miniature donkey thirty inches high.”

You could bring one of those to Lilliputian Land:

There are four comments, two of which are anti-Disney on general principle. It is very important when someone sees something about Disney to remind everyone how much they hate it and its influences and products and behavior, and so on. You should hate it too and will be judged if you don’t.

MUSIC Kraftwerk would approve. And if you’re one of those people who grouses that pushing buttons isn’t the same as playing an instrument . . . just wait.

If only the original ringtones included a cowbell.

HISTORY The headline is a bit click-baity: “‘Bysantine iPad’ Found in Ancient Shipwreck.” But it is cool:

Probably belonging to the ship's captain, the wooden object, whose cover is finely carved with decorations, is the size of a modern seven-inch tablet, but it's much thicker.

It consists of a set of five overlaid rectangular panels carved with frames and covered with wax. Notes could be taken on those panels, as shown by writing in Greek which is still visible on the wax.

A primitive "app" is hidden on the bottom panel: a sliding lid revealing a hidden plate with carved spaces.

"When you draw the sliding part, there are small weights used as an assay balance," Ufuk Kocabaş, director of Istanbul University’s department of marine archeology and the Yenikapi Shipwrecks Project, told Hurriyet Daily News.

Elsewhere in the past: the German Stonehenge. It was discovered last year, but now they're releasing the details.

Schlosser is convinced the site was constructed for the observation of astronomical phenomena such as the movements of the sun, moon and stars, and for keeping track of time. These celestial cycles would have been important for the sowing and harvesting of crops in the early civilization.

But, Goseck isn’t merely a "calendar construction," Schlosser explains, "but rather is clearly a sacred building." Archeologists have found plenty of evidence to prove that Goseck was a place of prehistoric cult worship. The arrangement of human bones, for instance, is atypical of burial sites, and telltale cut marks on them indicate that human sacrifice was practiced at the site.

Typical. At least we’ve progressed; in millennia to come, if they ever unearth the ruins of 20th century observatories, they won’t find bones in the closet, suggesting that scientists had sacrificed a few locals before searching for quasars.

Votd Well, two ds ago, but it’s still cool. A supercell in Wyoming. The sort of thing the ancients probably believed they could ward off if they reallypicked up the pace on the human sacrifices.

Meet the Plastics!

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 16, 2014 - 12:25 PM

A Daily Dot article about Extreme Online Personas brought up something you may have missed. It may have been kept from your attention by a kind friend who didn’t want to let you know it exists. I am not that friend.

A new group of young wannabes is hoping a YouTube video can catapult them to international stardom too. Their hook, however, isn’t even as original as you “gotta get down on Friday.” In fact, they’ve decided to stick entirely with what’s worked before. The three members of The Plastics have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to look like their favorite stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Justin Bieber, and some kind of Internet fairy godmother, Madonna.

Yes indeed. 443 likes! Nine thousand dislikes. Doctor made my dreams come true, now I look like Justin too!

It’s almost unlistenable. You know your singing career faces an uphill climb when even your auto tuned moments are out of tune.

Comments are disabled for the video.

DESSERT The rise and fall of everything continues: Yesterday it was the End of Memes, and today it’s the end of frozen yogurt.

"I used to go out for fro-yo like five times a week," said a co-worker at Grub Street HQ recently, with a sigh. "But I can't remember the last time I visited 16 Handles." It wasn't the first time I'd heard this kind of comment recently. A friend who runs a bar in midtown used to stop in for fro-yo a few times a week, but his appetite has cooled. "It's been a while, even though I have enough loyalty points to buy a Maybach." The toppings bars in the shops are still full of colorful gummy bears and rosy diced strawberries, but New York's fro-yo boom has hit dark times.

So it’s over in New York. Well, if it’s over in the center of the observable universe, it’ll be over here soon enough. Or will it? The article cites the reasons fro-yo is stumbling in Gotham: Too many stores, faded novelty, excess rent.

Don’t think we’ve hit Peak Yogurt here yet.

ART I love this Tumblr: tiny Pantone matches, by Inka Matthew. (via Coudal.)

ARCHITECTURE China keeps building big: a new 560-meter skyscraper. I wondered: what’s that in American? The Empire State Building is 381 meters, without the tip. No, I'm not going to do Banana-for-scale.

The flared base is reminiscent of some 70s American buildings. Unfortunately.

The second-tallest building in the world is in Shanghai, under construction: it’s 632 meters high, 121 stories.

I wish we still built lots of tall buildings, but the more I see of these things, the less it bothers me. 

HISTORY The mystery of Dante’s dust, from Atlas Obscura:

Things took a turn for the strange in 1865, when workers were repairing buildings around the tomb in honor of the sixth centennial of Dante’s birth. While removing part of a wall a few yards away from the tomb, the workers found a dilapidated wooden chest hidden inside the wall. When they lifted it up, one of its rotten planks clattered to the floor, revealing a human skeleton inside. An inscription atop the chest, and another inside, said the remains were “Dantis Ossa”—Dante’s bones. 

Feeling justifiably confused, the officials opened Dante’s tomb. It was empty.

And now dust from his tomb has turned up in Florence. Dan Brown, there’s your next one.


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