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 Outstate

Internet Power! (1995)

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 12, 2015 - 12:38 PM

Zero degrees right now. Or, as they call it in Oymyakon, tropical:

People here regularly consume frozen meat, keep their cars running 24/7 and must warm the ground with a bonfire for several days before burying their dead.

Pictures are here. Why do they live there? I don’t know. If every house had a FOR SALE sign, it might be the depressed property market. Another claimant for the “preposterously cold city” title is Verkhoyansk, which was in the news a few years ago: “In January 2012, the town was attacked by a pack of about 400 wolves. According to biologists, the attack was due to a mass migration caused by a shortage in the wolves' natural food sources, in particular blue hares.”

It might be cold now, but at least when we say “the wolves are bad this year” we’re talking about basketball.

Related: what’s the difference between absolute zero and absolute hot? The BBC explains.

INTERNET POWER! The early days of the internet aren’t well represented. Aside from the Wayback Machine, where can you find the early, i.e. ugly days? On VHS tapes telling people how to Internet. Andy Baio is doing good work here. Necessary work. FastCompany Design:

The tapes are artifacts of an extinct Internet, providing insights into the way we saw the web 20 years ago, and perspective on what it has grown into today.

Here’s part 1 of Internet Power! from 1995.

I haven’t watched the entire thing yet, but I hope there’s a kid with a spiky haircut who is learning how to be a CyberpunkThere was such a word, you know. Billy Idol even made an album based on the idea, even though his persona didn’t seem intelligent enough to make the distinction between the CPU and the monitor, let alone “hack” it to “gain access” to other computers. People were talking about these things before the web, before browsers. It’s an odd period. On one hand, this was futuristic . . .

On the other hand, it wasn’t futuristic at all. Everything looksd like a school brochure put together with Windows dingbats.

As you might expect, nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is kicking in:

Ironically, this "early web" aesthetic has been popping up everywhere over the past few years, adhering to the popular theory that nostalgia comes in 20 year cycles. You'll find it in fashion, music, and even homages by web designers themselves, who yearn for the simplicity of '90s web design and the anything-is-possible feeling of the pre-corporatized Internet.

The simplicity of 90s web design. True enough, in the sense that a musical composition limited to three notes is simple. Speaking of three notes:

Baio tried to recreate a common feature of the early era of personal websites: the embeddable, autoplaying MIDI file. These were extremely popular on early personal web pages.

That’s one way of putting it, yes. So were GIFs of flaming skulls and rotating “under construction” banners. Or this guy.

No one who put those up ever finished the page.

Spider-Man has a huge robot in Japan

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 9, 2015 - 12:16 PM

It’s important to nap. The science is settled. BBC:

In a study published last year, researchers found that both nocturnal and daytime sleeping improved memory consolidation for unrelated word pairs – like ‘pepper’ and ‘elbow’ – suggesting it can help if you’re trying to learn tricky-to-remember concepts.

So if someone bursts into you sleeping chamber and shouts WHERE’S THE PEPPER? you will snap awake and grab your elbow 40% faster than non-nappers. The story also says that tiny little catnaps here and there aren’t as effective as a good solid block of sleep - which should be obvious to everyone who has nodded off for a few minutes on a plane only to wake up when your chin suddenly hits your sternum. By the way, the article is called "How to Nap like a Pro." There's a secret the experts don't want you to know! Well, no. The article doesn't mention white or brown noise, which is crucial. Pink noise less so. Too hissy. 

SPACE At the Hubble’s website, anyone looking for the largest possible recent shot of Andromeda will find a Caution icon on the page and the following text: “FILE DOWNLOAD WARNING: You are attempting to access an image with an extremely high resolution. Please read on before downloading any of these images or return to other image format options.

This page is accessible only if you click the “highest quality resolution options” on the main page for the image. It’s the High-Definition Panoramic View of the Andromeda Galaxy, and contains a few sizes. This is “small.”

Hubble M31 PHAT Mosaic

Bad Astronomer has more, and if this sort of thing interests you, well, there will be goosebumps.

Avoid the comments unless you’re curious how long it takes before a discussion of distant galaxies turns into a political flame war. (Hint: not long.)

TONIGHT WE’RE GOING TO ROCK YOU TONIGHT This site has the 20 minute pitch for the Spinal Tap movie. You’re thinking that 20 minutes is too impossibly long. But it’s split into two ten-minute segments! Sorry, ten minutes is too long. Okay, how about three minutes of their first ever appearance, in 1979? It’s not a song from the movie.

What? THREE MINUTES IS TOO LONG? I understand. So, courtesy of a thread on io9 about Spiderman . . . this.

Of course Japanese Spiderman had a giant transforming robot. Not sure about the lyrics, though. Eyes sparkle with a flash of anger? How could you tell?

Griswold Lore

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: December 2, 2014 - 2:03 PM

CLAAAARK? It’s time for seasonal clickbait lists, so you’ll get “10 Creepy Santas Whose Laps We Want Nothing To Do With” and the like. (More unpleasant Santas here, by the way.) Mental Floss also has 27 facts about “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” that could have been molded into an essay, but it’s easier to bulletpoint the facts and slap a number on it. This is my favorite:

If Clark’s childhood home featured in those old movies looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same house featured on Bewitched as well as The New Gidget. Except it’s not a house at all; it’s part of the Warner Bros. back lot, located on what is known as Blondie Street. The rest of the Griswolds’ neighborhood is on a studio back lot as well.

The backlot can be toured here, and a website that lists all the movies shot at the individual houses can be found somewhere on the internet. Or so I assume. If I had the time I’d try to find it. Actually, I do have the time. I just don’t care.

It’s a funny movie, and compared to some modern comedies it seems almost leisurely and intimate. The name is peculiar, but accurate: it’s based on a story that appeared in National Lampoon, but audiences at the time just figured “National Lampoon” meant “A good Chevy Chase movie,” as opposed to the others.

It also had Brian Doyle-Murray, who always made you think of Jim Belushi, aka America’s Backup Belushi.

VRRRMM Montana might raise the speed limit to 80 MPH. If you think think is too fast and unsafe, spend some time in the middle of the state on I-94, where the average speed sometimes is, well, 94.

Seventy is too slow if conditions are good and you know what you’re doing. For fun sometimes if you have the kids along, and there’s no one around, drop down to 55 and let them know what it was like in the dark ages. You feel as if you’d get there quicker if you slapped some stamps on the car and pulled up at a mailbox.

VotD Somehow, I think this was avoidable.

GO HERE NOW Best story of the day so far: the mystery of the cryptic rubber slabs washing up on the beaches of Europe. Not so much a mystery any more, thanks to the internet. 

About last night's "Walking Dead"

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: December 1, 2014 - 12:09 PM

No spoilers. If you missed last night’s mid-season finale you aren’t reading this anyway. If you think the show is nothing more than the same plot over and over again - members of the group are separated, but eventually find their way back together - then you gave up on the show long ago, unless you have money riding on Which Character Dies in Tonight’s Shocking finale.

I’m still amusing by the idea of a mid-season finale, having grown up in a TV landscape where no show ever had a finale. They just stopped.

That said: not bad. Everyone seems to be dumping on it, but Atlanta is a nice change of pace, and much more interesting than wandering around the apparently infinite wilds of Georgia. Still, Ginger Rambo taking out the church porch seems ill-advised, but that entire sequence was problematic. Hey, the zombies are locked in the church, and we're out here without shelter. Great planning.

BAAAA If you loved Wallace and Grommit, this is for you. It’s aimed at a younger demographic, but it’s still worth it.

Shaun the Sheep, as any parent of a young child knows, was Aardman’s series of wordless shorts featuring barnyard animals, a mean and stupid dog, and a dim befuddled farmer. As with everything Aardmore does, there’s a basic decency about everything, and for a product aimed at kids it seems more grown-up than the crass, sniggering stuff marketed at “adults.” What am I thinking about, exactly? I’ve no idea. I don’t know. That one cartoon with the fish. The hip fish. Who smirked.

RECORD ART Via Coudal, a story on disco-era album art.

“I have been collecting since 1978 but I am still amazed by records I see with nice covers," he says. He identifies a few artwork trends that track the evolution of disco – and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones he has the most affection for are those that distil the disco experience into a single image.

The collection numbers over 7,000 disco albums. 2K were culled for an upcoming book celebrating the art of the disco cover.

Apparently we’re having a disco revival now, since we’re far enough away from the original culture to remember how drivelicious most of the stuff was. Any genre that ends up with “Grandma got run over by a Disco Reindeer” had trouble from the start.

LAMENT North Dakota gets good press these days: boom state. The west pumps and prospers; Fargo never slowed down during the 2008 collapse. But much of the state has withered and emptied out, as this site shows. The Ghosts of North Dakota.

Hotel fines guests for bad reviews

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: November 19, 2014 - 12:17 PM


When a couple left scathing comments on a travel review website that a hotel in northern England they had stayed at was a "filthy, dirty rotten stinking hovel," they thought no more about it.

But Tony and Jan Jenkinson were shocked later to see an extra £100 ($156) added to their credit card bill. On investigating the couple found they had been fined by Broadway Hotel in the seaside resort of Blackpool, which reportedly told them its policy was to charge guests who had left bad reviews.

Thanks to the Streisand effect, the hotel is now “Ranked #858 of 894 Blackpool B&B and Inns.” Other reviews:

This place is filthy,it really needs closing down,bedroom full of mould no heater,no hot water,beds need throwing away,couldn't bear to eat breakfast staff drinking cans of strongbow while serving breakfast,could not wait to get out of this place and get home to bath.


I would rather stay in Bates Motel than this joint.


Trrible night, bed legs broken so slept on a slant. Next morning discovered mattress was ripped and spewing vile stuffing out. Went for a shower to wash the feeling of filth away. No hot water, cold water flooding out from under shower tray


Breakfast had to ask waitress to clear table from previous diners. She moved one cup and a spoon, no attempt to clear spilled baked beans.


a carpet that didn't meet the walls, wires hanging everywhere, and stains on every inch of the carpet. The window didn't lock properly letting in the cold. The net curtain was brown in muck, the mattress was a double lump of springs - 3 days on and I still have back ache. The bathroom was the worst bathroom I have ever seen. The toilet brush made me want to be sick. Mould on every wall, wall paper peeling off.

By the way, here’s the latest controversy about “Fawlty Towers,” which really isn’t fair to mention in the same breath as the Broadway Hotel. Say what you will about it, it was clean. Polly saw to that. Anyway: the classic ep about not offending the Germans has been reedited to remove offensive words. This comment on the Daily Mail nails it:

The point is that the major is a racist old bigot, incongruous with modern society – even in the Seventies. The audience isn’t supposed to agree with him, they’re supposed to laugh at him. The whole episode is about xenophobia in various forms – it’s social satire.

But not everyone might get the joke. So out it goes.

IMD Things like this make some writers nervous. It’s difficult to know precisely how to feel and how to act, because the potential for offense is enormous. Guardian writer Michael Kimmel bravely wades in:

Today is International Men’s Day. Are you celebrating? And if so, how? Well, what exactly are we celebrating? Is it “men”, just as they are? “Men” in opposition to women, who already have their International Women’s Day on 8 March? “Men” embracing new ways to be men?

I am celebrating his right not to read Guardian articles that can’t stop asking questions. Let’s pose our own: Will he come out against IMD early in the piece? Or later? Do you think the Guardian commissioned the piece to say something nice about men? Are you going to finish those fries? What’s the wifi password?

I think the title of International Men’s Day is so laden with the possibility for such confusion – is it for or against gender equality? Inspired by feminism or opposed to it? – that it is a too much of a political minefield to be navigated easily. Maybe it needs to be rethought.

Here’s the suggestion.

Perhaps we can replace International Men’s Day with something slightly different – and tailored especially for men and boys. A friend proposed calling it International Son Day. On one Sunday, every year, fathers can invite their sons into their own homes, so that they can learn how to clean, cook, vacuum, do laundry and childcare – skills that these boys will inevitably need.

These are fine skills. You can learn to vacuum in about 45 seconds, after you’ve figured out where the switch is. “Childcare” might be more difficult, if there are no small children in the house, but perhaps father and son can use a small pliant house pet.

I’m still stuck on the line “fathers can invite their sons into their own homes.” Is the author presuming that fathers and sons live apart? And isn’t this biased against non-fathers?

I realise that International Son Day, thus conceived, might exclude the fatherless or the son-less among us. But I’m sure we can find some community activities that men can engage in to promote greater equality at home and at work. Organise a toy drive for children whose mothers are in shelters for battered women. Cook and serve food for the homeless.

Perhaps not. Perhaps too ambitious. Still, without the explicit focus of IMD to engage men to further support gender equality, at home and at work, the day feels too reactive, too amorphous, too ripe for innocent misinterpretation or deliberate manipulation. I think I’ll sit it out.

You'll be missed, chap. Here’s how Digg ran the story, with a helpful suggestion:



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