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 Architecture

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. 

The super-hero movie we supposedly don't want

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 4, 2014 - 12:40 PM

This site says no one wants an Ant-Man movie. Really? More interesting than another normal-sized guy with excessive abilities who attracts some type of megalomaniacal villainy that demolishes half the city. It’s been a while since we had a miniaturization movie. But it seems no director wants to do it. Blastr:

After Edgar Wright’s hasty exit from the project he’s been shepherding for the better part of a decade due to alleged rewrites, Marvel has gone into triage mode to try and salvage the film’s fast-approaching July 17, 2015, release date. With Wright out, the studio moved on to Adam McKay (Anchorman), who briefly flirted before removing himself from the running.

More from Grantland:

On May 22, Grantland published this story. In it, Mark Harris suggests (among other things) that if Marvel Studios and its competitors don’t stop making superhero projects that super-serve their nerdcore base while befuddling and alienating casual viewers, the whole comic-book movie economy could collapse.

Well, it looks like they won’t nerd-core super-serve, if Wright’s out. I’m not unhappy Wright isn’t doing it; the Cornetto Trilogy seemed to offer diminishing returns as it went on, but that’s just my opinion. Wright has big nerd cred, and would have turned out a comedy / mystery with limited appeal - the sort of thing that gets murdered by word-of-mouth by people who don’t like the director’s style or rhythm. Hard to get a studio to commit to spending lots of money on niche products whose audience consists of registered members of AICN forums.

I’d have seen it anyway, as a rental. But it wouldn’t be a BIG TENT-POLE EVENT and all our superhero movies have to be BTPEs these days. Which brings us to Dr. Strange: it's a go.

Of course he has to fight Dormammu; of course the plot has to involve Mordo, the Loser Magician, and course the story ends with the big battle where Dr. Strange comes to Dormammu’s aid to fight the Nameless Ones. Annnd you’re thinking:

Yes, Nerds. But it would be a different kind of superhero movie. Name another one where the hero joins the bad guy for the right reason. Plus, Dormammu’s head is on fire, which is cool.

But please, no Johnny Depp for Strange. Robert Downey Jr. might actually have worked, long ago, before he decided to wink and prance through every movie.

Finally: Seth MacFarlane’s Western was a flop, they say. Why? Perhaps everyone figured they saw all the jokes in the trailer.

CRIME The Google Street View Axe Murder has been solved. Whew.

EVERYONE LOVES A LOG Whatever became of the man who invented the Slinky? TIFO says:

In 1960, Richard James left his struggling company, which was deeply in debt, and moved to Bolivia where he became a missionary.  When Betty refused to go with him, he told her she could have the company and he didn’t care what she did with it.  Betty then took over the company and proved to be a much better business person than her ex-husband. The company expanded greatly under her leadership and to date has sold over 300 million Slinkies.

She also named the product. I remember two things about Slinkies: how they were ruined for good if they ever got tangled, and the metallic aroma they left on your hands after a while. It was a pleasant smell. Not up there with Ditto fluid, but still good.

VotD This stretch of Brazilian road has been listed as “troublesome” by the National Association of Top-Heavy Lead-foots:

ARCHITECTURE Finally: a look at the forbidding Masonic Temple of Detroit. Incredible. There’s an incredible city there waiting for rebirth. You fear it’ll never quite happen, and it’ll turn into a place where people pretend they’re in Rapture in Bioshock. At least on rainy days.

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.

What the NYT got wrong about Minneapolis

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 28, 2014 - 12:25 PM

Isn’t it great that Downtown East is providing a ray of hope for our tired, shuttered, depopulated, aging, tumbledown urban core? The New York Times thinks so. Downtown East is placed in Context straight away, one of those big projects the little cities out in provinces hope will turn around their fortunes.

The blueprint for a bustling downtown stands in stark contrast to the status quo: crumbling asphalt parking lots, tired buildings and limited housing.

The status quo for where, exactly? I’ve rarely seen a parking lot that could be described as crumbling. Tired buildings? You mean the refurbished low-income transitional housing here, or the rehabbed warehouse that’s now residential here, or the adjacent office building that looks as good as it’s ever looked? StarTribune World HQ may be tired on the inside here and there, but outside it’s still stark and clean, and the Armory, while in need of an overhaul, isn’t exactly a weary pile awaiting the sweet release of the wrecking ball. The Juvie center and the adjacent office structure are hardly old. There’s one Tired Building in the area, and it’s a nondescript old industrial building. The Haaf Ramp? Not tired. The jail? Not tired. The Freeman Building? Not tired; dead and gone, and hooray for that.

Limited housing? I’ll admit you have to walk an entire block to get to the rows and rows of condos on Washington, and the journey may deplete one so much the rest of the residential renaissance of downtown must wait for another day. If you knew nothing of Minneapolis, you’d conclude it was a barren expanse where the only residents were rummies in SROs working on a pint of Sno-Shoe.


Emily Dussault, an actor and city resident, welcomes the redevelopment. “When people visit, they anticipate a really exciting and fun place, and we’re like, ‘No, let’s go somewhere else,’ ” she said. Ms. Dussault said she steered out-of-town friends to the more artsy neighborhoods of Uptown and Northeast.

Because there’s nothing to do downtown. If only it had restaurants and bars.

Note that the person quoted “welcomes the redevelopment,” which has nothing in the way of an entertainment quotient.

Many cities have tried to generate urban renewal around a big project like a new stadium with mixed success over the years. It is often hard to persuade those who left for the suburbs to return.

Which is not the point of the project. At all. I don’t remember the part where they unveiled the twin towers of the Wells Fargo project and said “this, and the hotel, will be the spur that brings people to live downtown. We anticipate demand so strong armed guards will be required to restore order after the announcement that the units have been sold.” Downtown East is not meant to revitalize downtown. It is meant to revitalize the few blocks known as Downtown East, thereby complimenting the substantial development that’s taken place nearby.

For Governor Dayton, reviving the downtown means making good on a childhood lesson. “My father and his brothers were retailers, and they preached the downtown,” he said. “If left to its own, development goes to greenfield sites on the outlying areas and you end up with a doughnut hole. Once you get behind the eight ball with a downtown in decay, it’s very, very difficult to turn that around.”

He’s absolutely right. This would be the point where the New York Times mentions exactly what sort of retailers his relatives were, and what happened to the store, and how this kicky little thing called “Target” came out of it, but TMI, I guess.

Then there’s some recaps about the nature of the deal and some rah-rah booster quotes, and this:

Mr. Collins recalled 18 “intense” months of negotiations, culminating in a four-day, Diet-Coke-infused stretch that involved 30 conference calls, 10 law firms and 59 documents and ended with the closing of the Star Tribune property.

Fifty-nine documents! People stop me on the street and ask how many documents were involved in the sale, and which soft drink infused the proceedings. Always felt bad I had to shrug and plead ignorance.

Many local residents express cautious optimism about the redevelopment, dimmed by the protracted battle over financing of the new Vikings stadium, which passed by a 7-6 City Council vote.

I hate it when optimism of the cautious variety is subjected to dimming, but I really don’t think anyone watching the project arise finds their heart snag on the Protruding Nail of Recollected Financing Battles. No one who looks at the renderings of the park puts a hand on their sternum, and thinks oh what unalloyed joy I would feel had not the process been so lengthy or contentious.

It’s in the cutline of the photo, too: “Battles over its financing have dimmed many residents’ optimism about the redevelopment project.” They may have affected how people view the project, inasmuch as some people were opposed to any public participation, but this was baked into the project, and it’s not as if a great blaring blast of optimism has been sullied because people remember the financing battles they had willed themselves to forget.

It’s almost as if a narrative is being imposed on the situation, but c’mon, how likely is that.

The story needed conflict, I guess, because “healthy downtown that never really hit rock bottom revels in a burst of activity” doesn’t have the right worried tone. Will the Downtown East revitalize downtown Minneapolis? One must look to Cleveland in 1973. No, one musn’t. From the sound of the article, Minneapolis has staked everything on one big development, when it’s a culmination of disparate projects that made Downtown East not the savior of the city, but the latest thing.

World's Worst Waiter

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 27, 2014 - 12:31 PM

Sounds like a great night out. From Pricenomics:

Unless you were a VIP, your meal would be over the second your spoon hit the bottom of the bowl: Edsel would come by with a broom and literally sweep you out. Only one diner -- who bought him a “weekly ration of free X-rated movie passes” -- was permitted to enjoy a post-meal cup of “Edsel’s Special Tea” (pure ginseng extract). When another customer saw the drink and curiously inquired about it, he was kicked out. This wasn’t unusual: often, Edsel would forcibly remove seated patrons in the middle of a meal, “just to remind them who was running the show.”

He had busy hands, too.

Edsel was also known for his crass “flirtation:” an entire wall at Sam Wo was dedicated to Polaroid photos of the waiter in various degrees of groping unsuspecting young females. “A charming first date destination if you never want to see your date again,” wrote one reviewer in the late 70s. “My ex-wife ended up on the wall. The groping part was the only time I ever saw Edsel smile. She was not amused.” (The pictures we’ve included in this article confirm Edsel's perennial smile in the presence of ladies -- we don't condone his behavior.)

Of course not! Oh, it was just his madcap charm, as another patron notes. Why, he kissed everyone.

He sounds like a horrible person. It sounds as if people tolerated it to show how they understood the rules of the place - unlike outsiders or first-timers, who’d be appalled and surprised. Oh, not you! Why, Edsel’s been yelling at me for years. We go way back.

See also, Carnegie Deli. They’re notoriously cranky. This is supposed to be part of the charm and experience. Eh.

URBANISM In the future, everyone will live in 100-square-foot apartments.

With the world population expected to rise from 7.2 billion to 9.6 billion by 2050, living space is becoming more and more of an issue. A student at Parsons has a vision of our future homes that is both clever and disquieting. Bernando Schorr's "Mixed Reality Living Spaces" project highlights how augmented reality can be used to make windowless 100-square-foot apartments hospitable. The video on his website shows projections on the walls changing to accommodate the different configurations of the environment's only furniture, a trio of modular white boxes. The results are depressingly spartan but functional.

There's a selling point.

Whether you will be forced to listen to the music is another matter.

WHARGARBLE Let’s check on our favorite gibberish robot, putting out pages to game the search engines. I have no idea how this is supposed to work to the author’s advantage; the pages all redirect to a standard Blogger template, with no links or ads. Anyway, today’s subject is Jordan Minnesota Newspaper.

Licensed Minnesota claims adjuster, you will not be affected if you fail an alcohol test or if you refuse to submit to the jordan minnesota newspaper. It also provides for substitute services for you in Minnesota but it is important to note, however, that having a limited drivers license in Minnesota are growing, whether you are running low on time and money. You will reimbursed for the jordan minnesota newspaper between the jordan minnesota newspaper or your car insurance state. This means that home buyers must test for radon levels in the jordan minnesota newspaper who have bought properties in Minnesota and other state colleges, there is an abundance of character and charm. Finding fun, variety, value and making lasting memories with a perfect single person for you.

Whoa! Tell me more.

To help and guide potential investors, many large real estate can also be a good news or a culture vulture with a number of abandoned properties across the jordan minnesota newspaper is the jordan minnesota newspaper for the jordan minnesota newspaper of Minnesota and there appears to be completed as well.

Wise words. Take heed.

YOU THERE Buzzfeed, coasting again:

I would submit that it is unlikely that the person in question destroyed anyone’s childhood, let alone utterly destroyed it, but even if such a thing were possible, the idea that one’s childhood could be utterly destroyed 33 times suggests that childhood is capable of almost limitless regeneration.

HIGHER ED By all means, go into debt for this: college courses on Miley Cyrus and Beyonce. Daily News:

In a career of less than a decade, Miss Miley has already proved herself “a useful primary document” for discussions of sex and power in media, teacher Carolyn Chernoff says.

Cyrus went from squeaky clean Disney star to dirty-minded diva strutting her stuff in every concert. She sparked debates about slut shaming, overt sexuality and the privileges of white stars — as when she borrowed twerking from hip-hop culture and brought it to last year’s Video Music Awards.

“She’s a really interesting case study for how someone can represent sex and gender while maturing in the public eye,” says Chernoff, a visiting assistant professor at Skidmore. “Miley is a work in progress, but you can already see such a complex narrative of how people talk about her unbridled sexuality.”

So that’s what we were doing when discussing how stupid she looked with her tongue hanging out. That was a complex narrative. A complex ongoing narrative, for that matter. Debate was sparked, too. Says another prof:

“Miley Cyrus is a delivery device for themes of American life,” he adds. “When you say, ‘Miley Cyrus? Who cares about her?’ you shut down the very purpose of sociology.”

Thanks for the tip, then.

SPRING CLEANING Don’t think of it as “decluttering.” It’s not enough to start throwing stuff away. You need to have a complex narrative. From Salon:

As far as I can tell, decluttering alone is sort of a farce, a trend promulgated on daytime TV and in trite magazine stories like “67 Ways to Declutter a Messy Home.” What we’re not told is that decluttering by itself doesn’t solve the problem, not long term anyway. Discussing how to get rid of our stuff answers only the what side of the equation, but not the why; the action, but not the purpose; the how-to, but not the significantly more important why-to. In other words, the what is relatively easy. We all know instinctually how to declutter—how to get “organized.” But that’s just one part of the larger issue. Instead of “get organized,” I’ve decided I need to start thinking of organizing as a dirty word, a sneaky little profanity which keeps us from really simplifying our lives.

Somehow I think the thesis could have been . . . less cluttered.


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