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 Minnesota History

Copy-protected Coffee Pods?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 24, 2014 - 1:21 PM

Yes. A coffee-maker has decided to model its next-generation devices after another piece of tech everyone loves: printers. Ars Technica on the new Keurig:

it makes sense to look at another analog product with its own rights management and interoperability issues—printer ink/toner cartridges. Each printer company jealously guards its model of cartridges, doing everything it can to make them proprietary and unrefillable, because, of course, the real money in printing is in selling the ink/toner at a large profit . . . 

When asked how Keurig might do this with a coffee pod, Stoltz speculated that the pod and the coffee machine would have to perform a handshake similar to that of Lexmark's printers and cartridges. "I imagine you could do this with the equivalent of the RFID chip they put in subway tickets," said Stoltz. "My guess is that a chip that could do this could be very small and very cheap.”

I think they’re underestimating the potential for customers to desert the brand entirely. Look for the term “massive write-off” to appear in future stories about the project.

HISTORY It’s an old page, but I found it yesterday and hence assume it’s new to everyone else in the world: a tour of Minnesota small-town movie theaters. You can spend some time on Google Street View finding contemporary images in context.


View Larger Map

That’s a Leibenberg and Kaplan, like all the great movie theaters of Minneapolis. A complete list of their work is here - Google away!

ART Many different takes on the works of Stephen King, including some icons that may take a while to figure out. Any guesses?

Langoliers, I believe. 

VotD Boom!

Don Draper is Looking at Something

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 21, 2014 - 12:42 PM

AV Club asks us all to “overanalyze another vague ‘Mad Men’ trailer.

Pete’s picking up a ticket and the sign by his head says “To Street” with an arrow! This means he’s going to be fired!

”Mad Men” resumes next month, takes a break halfway through the season, and concludes in 2017, when each episode will be shown in 5 minute servings, letting AMC draw the last season out through 2019.

Related: The world’s most INCREDIBLE abandoned airports! You’ll have to go elsewhere to read about the world’s most banal, utterly believable abandoned airports. The deserted passenger lounge in Cyprus is the best one. What do

VotD “That was an astonishing illusion. I must now consume this brand of caffeinated brown liquid.”

NERRRRRRDS Perhaps the most authoritative assembly of pictures of “white guys wearing Oculus Rift” gear.

They really do make you look odd. I want one so badly.

HISTORY The Valspar renovation has uncovered some Ghost Signs, old painted remnants of the company’s early years. Photos of its original state here. Quite amazing, really: they were painted over, and survived the removal of the murals put up decades ago. Then again, the company made paint, so they probably used the really good stuff. 

Have a grand weekend! See you here Monday.

"Incredibles 2" is ON

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 19, 2014 - 12:50 PM

Happy news:

Twitters are less impressed with more Cars, but they’re probably not the target market - i.e., boys who have Lightning McQueen bedsheets. Not to say the second one was bad; it was just . . . I don’t know. The first was a rather sweet love letter to small-town America, and you wish they’d left it there.

Oh, by the way: if this doesn’t say Easter, nothing does:

Elsewhere in entertainment:

Related: here’s the trailer for “Fargo,” the TV series. Can’t hurt. I mean, if it’s bad, it’s not as if it makes the original movie evaporate. Still wish it was set in, you know,  Fargo.

URBAN STUDIES This piece on the Nicollet Mall redesign starts thus:

When Minneapolis tried to wipe out its Depression-era skid row in the Gateway District, planners thought of downtown as the Central Business District—a serious place where men did business, women shopped at the elegant Dayton’s and Young-Quinlan Department Store, and virtually no one lived at all.

I’m not sure “Depression-era” is the right way to characterize it; most of the buildings were put up long before the 30s. Which provides us with a good excuse to run some Library of Congress photos of the old Gateway. Such as:

Unrecognizable today. There’s nothing in that picture that’s left except the fountain, and it was moved to the Rose Garden. Another shot, this time of Washington Avenue:

It all looks careworn and dusty, but who wouldn't give anything to spend a day walking around the old Gateway?

Meanwhile, this piece is going around the web today, defending New York and mocking those who have a romantic notion of the place.

Complaining is the only right you have as a New Yorker. To complain is to tell the truth. People who refuse to complain, and insist on having a positive outlook, are monsters. Their optimism is a poison. If given the chance they will sell you out.

New York will kick you in the hole, but it will never stab you in the back. It will, however, stab you multiple times right in your face. 

I’d like to read what he writes when he really starts to hate New York.

That’s it; have to go interview some people about Beagles. See you around.

The Future of GIFs

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 7, 2014 - 11:54 AM

As far as I know this is the only video of the destruction of the Merchants building. Even worse: it’s not a video but a GIF. On the other hand, they’re very compact. As videos, they weighed in at half an MB, tops; as a GIF with no compression they waddled in at 13 MB. Thanks to Gfycat, they’re down to half an MB again.

If you can see it, then it works. The Merchant building was next to the Rand Tower; there’s a parking ramp on the space today. The site also included the Thorpe Building:

Both buildings are long forgotten. If you're curious what the block looked like: 

The little bank in the middle survives as a facade on the ramp; it was the Marquette Bank, which chose an Egyptian style because people were just nuts about all things Tut at the time it was built in the 20s. Odd choice, but a nice addition to downtown. 

Anyway, GFYcat drastically compresses GIFs and saves the world untold gigs of bandwidth. It’s free and you don’t have to sign up. They not only compress your GIFs into versions that can be slowed down or paused or reversed, they host them.

What nice folks!

What's in it for them, you wonder?  

GAMING This game review makes it sound like a bowl of spinach, no? “ENCOURAGES PLAYERS TO LEARN ABOUT TYPE BY EXPLORING A WORLD OF FONTS, MARIO-STYLE.” Another review has a warning: “The game freezes if you try to read a recently captured asterisk entry while in the process of dying.” So it’s ultra-realistic! Hard to describe, really - you’re pushing two dots along a landscape made up of letters while atmospheric music lends an otherworldly air. I’ve never liked side-scrolling games that make you jump. I love this thing. You can get it here.  I got it free from a Starbucks promotion; you'll have to pay $3 or see if Starbucks still has cards left with a free code. 

In related news - art and architecture, that is - here are some buildings made to look like the work of famous artists. For some reason. This one's easy:

This one's a bit more challenging.

Many many more, here.

FOLLOW-UP Wednesday I put up that Schlitz ad to show the difference between the real thing and the one going around the Internet. I was paging through an old Life from the same era, and found another from the series that shows a guy screwing up as well. In fact, "beer as compensation for screwing up" was the point of the entire campaign. So:

See? Guys in beer ads were stupid too. 

K-Cup Coffee Kerfluffle

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 4, 2014 - 12:29 PM

The term “DRM” doesn’t really fit here, but helps explain the concept. So: will the next-generation of Keurig coffee makers forbid the use of third-party pods? And is there such a thing as a second-party pod? The story appears to originate with this site, but when I tried to copy a quote I got this:

Okay, well, then we’ll just link to someone else, then. Canada Business:

One of the things that accelerated the pod-coffee craze was the 2012 expiry of Green Mountain’s patent on the “K-Cup” design. That freed up other companies to start making generic pods that would still work in Keurig-brand coffee brewers—and those clones typically sold for 15-25% less than the brand-name pods sold by Keurig directly.

It’s been a boon for the consumer, but the company no doubt wants us to buy its machines. They look nice. They cost a lot. People like having other options, though. Different blends at cheaper prices with less plastic. But the company says the new units will be so INCREDIBLE people will be happy to give up the freedom of choice, and choose a new technology that locks them into a particular product.

Because that’s worked out well so many times in the past.

HISTORY Today’s newspaper headline, “Less Than Zero,” may mean different things to different people. The 1987 movie? IMDB’s description: “A college freshman returns to L.A. for the holidays at his ex-girlfriend's request, but discovers that his former best friend has an out-of-control drug habit.” The site also notes that “Apart from the setting and the names, the film has very little to do with Bret Easton Ellis's book by the same title on which it was based.”

Perhaps the headline made you think of the novel, then. I remember reading it when it came out, and thinking it was flat and empty. I suppose that’s the point! Flat and empty people make for flat and empty novels. Everyone was looking for another Jay McInerney, since the original item wasn’t up to the task. Anyway: perhaps the headline made you think of the Elvis Costello song from which the book takes its title. Which brings us to another bit o’ imdb “trivia”:

In a surreal twist, the sequel novel, 'Imperial Bedrooms', has the original novel's characters aware of the film version of "Less Than Zero”.

Well, now, I wouldn’t say that. Perhaps something like this would be more apt: In a surreal twist, the sequel novel, ‘Empty Donkey Melting Scream” took its name from colliding mollusks on a train that stretches to the horizon but is forever moving.” That’s surreal. Naming a sequel after another song on another album is called “continuity.”

As for Elvis Costello’s song, no doubt he played it on his first appearance in Minneapolis at the Longhorn in 1977. Where is that bar now, you ask?

Long closed.

It turned into Zoogie’s, then closed up, and reportedly it’s just parking-ramp maintenance storage now. The history is left behind is sparse, but a few handbills can be found here, along with recollections of the heyday; the Minnesota Historical Society has some ephemera as well.

 Now, let us flashback to those innocent halcyon days of 80s. Prescient moment from Robert Downey towards the end. 

ART Photog Tom Nguyen got up early to take pictures of the early hours of bone-rattling March, and we’re glad he did.

SCIENCE! Speaking of the cold, here’s great news: There was an ancient giant virus found in 30,000-year-old ice, and they brought it back to life! Resurrected viruses. I think that’s what everyone’s been clamoring for.

In what seems like a plot straight out of a low-budget science-fiction film, scientists have revived a giant virus that was buried in Siberian ice for 30,000 years — and it is still infectious. Its targets, fortunately, are amoebae, but the researchers suggest that as Earth's ice melts, this could trigger the return of other ancient viruses, with potential risks for human health.

Another researcher quoted in the piece says this is nonsense. There’s a frightening picture of the virus, which makes me think of “The Andromeda Strain” - a fine movie that still manages to terrify with the most rudimentary special effects. The moment that virus moved half the audience came out of their seats.

You have to marvel at the wy the world works: even amoebas have their own viruses. Nothing's safe from those meaningless demons. If there's something to eat, Nature will devise a way to eat it. Speaking of which: time for lunch. See you around. 

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