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

The Fish on the Facade

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 10, 2014 - 12:22 PM

As this story reports, they’re starting to take the medallions off the front of the Strib World HQ. One comment on the story asks:

”If they don't care enough to preserve the building, why bother with the medallions and lettering?

Because . . .

. . . they’re art, that’s why. More:

”All work to remove, save and reinstall on a new building seems pointless to 99% of the people using, visiting or looking at the new building.”

Yeah, who cares.

SUCKERS Bitcoin dealer invents a game: send me bitcoins, and I will give you more bit coins later, after other people give me bitcoins. Those people were promised more bitcoins in the future, after other people were brought into the game. Sound familiar? Now the users are claiming the originator of the game stole all their money.

Punchline: the name of the game was actually called PonziCoin.

ADVERTISING Most British advertising headline of 2014: “Mr Kipling gets ready to drop 'exceedingly good cakes' slogan.”

SIGNAGE A collection of 1960s signs in Washington DC, taken by employees of a sign company, collected on this Flickr page:

The death of the big metal-and-neon signs was one of the saddest plagues to hit cities in the end of the last century. (via Coudal.)

FRIEND WANTED Where could a poor Hydropath Phrenologist go to find companionship in the 19th century? Slate looks at “The Exquisite Wistfulness of 19th-Century Vegetarian Personal Ads.”

TECH Oh great: a new disc standard!

Sony and Panasonic have announced the new Archival Disc format that will store between 300GB and 1TB per disc. The companies are bigging up the non-HDD form factor for its hardiness to temperature and humidity.

They will hold the 3D holographic 8K version of “Star Wars,” which we will all dutifully buy once more.

HEY YOU To the list of irritating YOU headlines, add this: “What You Think You Know About the Web is Wrong.” I will read it just to spare you the effort, because either you thought “no way, pal, I’ll show you that what I know about the web is completely accurate,” or “gosh, what strange misconceptions have mislead me all these years?” and clicked.

A decentralized, sprawling global network of addresses that point to sites which, in the aggregate, reflect the entirety of human civilization? That’s what I think. It’s a road - not a superhighway, but a two-lane intersecting and branching off to other two-laners, with innumerable towns along every road, with libraries and shops and homes. You never get to the end and every left or right turn takes you someplace different.

It is not a real road, so you’re not troubled by people who stand on the shoulder with a sign that says EVERYTHING YOU KNOW ABOUT HITCH-HIKERS IS WRONG AND HERE’S WHY.

Alright, here comes the wisdom.
If you’re an average reader, I’ve got your attention for 15 seconds, so here goes: We are getting a lot wrong about the web these days. We confuse what people have clicked on for what they’ve read. We mistake sharing for reading. We race towards new trends like native advertising without fixing what was wrong with the old ones and make the same mistakes all over again.

Well, none of that was what I thought about the Web. Let’s continue.

As the CEO of Chartbeat, my job is to work with the people who create content online (like and provide them with real-time data to better understand their readers. I’ve come to think that many people have got how things work online quite mixed up.
I’ll summarize: the click-based advertising model is flawed. Get this:
Myth 1: We read what we’ve clicked.

He’s serious. There are people in the business of making money on the internet who believe that people read what they click on? Or are they just telling that to clients who are too awed by Internet Geniuses to apply their own experience to other visitors?

Off to watch them work on the medallions. Glad to know they're saving the letters, too - and really curious to know where they'll go. Maybe give them to the Historical Society? But call first. Don't want to back up the truck and say "we got a donation. Where do you want them?

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. 

Why doesn't anyone target Big Ice Cream?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 27, 2014 - 12:19 PM

Sixteen below when I sent Daughter off to the bus stop. That was sufficient cause to suspend school a while ago. Today: eh. Perhaps they assume kids have been sufficiently toughened and winnowed.

TECH This Wired piece says “Today’s Apps Are Turning Us Into Sociopaths.” Uh huh.

While I am far from a Luddite who fetishizes a life without tech, we need to consider the consequences of this latest batch of apps and tools that remind us to contact significant others, boost our willpower, provide us with moral guidance, and encourage us to be civil. Taken together, we’re observing the emergence of tech that doesn’t just augment our intellect and lives — but is now beginning to automate and outsource our humanity.

He goes on to describe something called BroApp, which he admits may be a parody. It sends “automated daily text messages” to your girlfriend. This does not turn you into a sociopath; if you believed that automated canned sentiment will do the trick and save you some time, you may be one already. Or more likely just selfish and manipulativeg. Really, if you're buying something called BroApp you’re already a Bro, and the app isn’t going to infuse you with additional Bronosity. BroApp even sounds like a long ripe beer belch.

Related, maybe: Here’s something I didn’t know. The name of the Bitcoin exchange that was hacked and shuttered was Mt. Gox. right? Daily Dot:

The joke here is that the name MtGox doesn’t actually refer to a mountain. It’s an acronym for Magic: The Gathering Online Exchange; the site originally started as a place for fans of of the tabletop fantasy card game to buy and sell their cards.

Somehow that fits.

THE FUTURE The tumblr about “Beer Labels in Motion” is exactly what you think: animated beer labels. Some day they’ll actually look like this.

Related, maybe: the Morton Salt girl is updated for its 100th birthday; here’s a look at the logo’s evolution. Interesting how she looked at the customer with a cheerful expression in 1956, then looked away in 1968, as if contemplating something private. She’s never looked at us since.

DESSERT Ben & Jerry’s has some new flavors. Here’s how the site “Hello Giggle” describes the company:

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are kind of living out a childhood best friend dream come true, aren’t they? Making ice cream as a job, coming up with witty pop culture flavors when they feel like it, working together every day, and eternal fame in New England? What more could anyone want?


In April 2000, Ben & Jerry's sold the company to Anglo-Dutch multinational food giant Unilever.[12] Unilever said it hopes to carry on the tradition of engaging "in these critical, global economic and social missions". Although the founders' names are still attached to the product, they do not hold any board or management position and are not involved in day-to-day management of the company.

But other than that, yes, totally awesome in the dream-coming-true department. The new ice cream flavors sound delicious indeed, but I can’t figure out why no one ever attacks Big Ice Cream when it comes to attacking obesity and marketing. Soda, sugar, fast-food - but never ice cream. It’s almost as if it gets a pass because it’s the one thing the critics couldn’t imagine giving up.

URBAN DESIGN The Pentagon Park plan is on again. They want to tear down the ultra-50s office complex and build a half-billion dollar project. The Pentagon tower is an odd and distinctive structure, but there’s no saving it; no one will say it’s historic. Things come and go. Such as: The Richmond and Landour Hotels.

I ran across this while digitizing some old postcards, and finally found out where it was. Here:

View Larger Map

Fair trade. Some details of the site:

Cedar Lake Ice Co. was at Hidden Beach. Wikipedia:

Before 1860, Cedar Lake had a much different shape, and most of the woods surrounding Hidden Beach, particularly to the south east, were areas of water and wetland instead. In 1867 the southeast bay of Cedar Lake was filled in to create a major train yard and in 1878 a large scale ice cutting operation known as Cedar Lake Ice Company was founded on the lake’s north eastern shore, which shipped ice to places as far away as St. Louis. By 1900 Dingley’s boat house occupied the end of a thin peninsula on the eastern side of the lake, which eventually widened and became the site of today’s Hidden Beach. Despite the large railway operations going on nearby, the land surrounding Cedar Lake’s eastern shore was sold to build houses, hotels, and other such structures between 1908 and 1975. 

Elsewhere around town in teh 1940s:

Minneapolitans who know what the city used to look like can probably guess: the big rusting falling-down skid-row of Washington Avenue. It’s here:

View Larger Map

Not so good a trade.

VotD Stick ‘em up! C’mon, man, stick ‘em up! Please? Hey - hey, let go!

Urban renewal done right?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 25, 2014 - 1:49 PM

To continue yesterday’s discussion of old vs. historic: here’s the West Bank block where Washington curves into Cedar, circa 1960. Great signs and a marvelous piece of neon - yes, the cowboy’s lariat was animated - but it’s showing its age. One good shove and the whole thing might go down.

Here’s the site today.

The Sgt. Preston’s building is the same, but the two-story commercial structure next to it has been replaced with a four-story structure, an apartment building.

Let’s take a look at that complex from space. (Apologies if there's a hunk of irrelevant post for the next few paragraphs - cut and paste error, and I can't seem to purge it from the post. Yet. If you see a Google view below, NEVERMIND.)

View Larger Map

Huge. There’s no way that thing would be considered in character with the rest of the neighborhood, except that the neighborhood itself was blasted to bits by freeways and other projects. But I wonder if they could build it today, or whether the charms and historic nature of the old building would take precedence over anything else. Including an extraordinary amount of useful student housing.

As long as we’re looking the old Seven Corners, here are a few more details from 1960. The block wasn’t exactly at its best. The neighborhood was shabby, like most of the Washington Avenue corridor.

You suspect the clock hadn't worked for a year or two. 

Wildest traders in town! Yeeeee hah! The neon cowboy ended up in a bar in the Holiday Inn, called the Neon Cowboy, but was removed at some point. I've no idea where it is now. 

The Minnesota Grill: there's a bright merry cove to spend your lunch in a beer-soaked stupor. It was also, at some point, the Mixers:

The octagonal design in the windows, the glass blocks - late 30s or early 40s. The fire escape gives it a picturesque quality we associate with Real Cities. You wonder if they'd come right off the side of the wall if anyone actually tried to use them.

It's cleaner now. It's better. It's not as interesting as the messy old streetscape in the old pictures, but it's more useful. There's always a tradeoff. 

INTERNET CULTURE Did anyone still believe the Goldman Sachs Elevator Conversation twitter feed was real? Nothing that good is real. I stopped believing it was real a long time ago. NYT:

The Twitter account, @GSElevator, reports overheard remarks like, “I never give money to homeless people. I can’t reward failure in good conscience,” and “Groupon…Food stamps for the middle class.” The Twitter account, which has an audience of more than 600,000 followers, has been the subject of an internal inquiry at Goldman to find the rogue employee.

Anything that confirms your worst suspicions so effectively and consistently is a fake. Sure enough, the guy who’s supposedly been tweeting Wall Street conversation lives . . . well, I won’t spoil it.

Speaking of fake things: goodbye to 744K Bitcoins. Wired:

Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, has gone offline, apparently after losing hundreds of millions of dollars due to a years-long hacking effort that went unnoticed by the company.

Add this to the legal problems of other bit coin exchanges, and people are saying it’s the end of virtual currency. Nonsense! People are still using this stuff as a medium all over the world, right?

"Old" does not equal "historic."

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 24, 2014 - 12:33 PM

Not always. This is where the Dinkytown hotel was supposed to go. This is the building that might be “historic.”

The City Council denied the permit to build the structure until a study figures out whether the entire business district is in need of preservation. Yes and no. It seems odd to declare everything historic, and by odd I mean “makes little sense, given the diversity of buildings in the area.” The McDonald/’s? No. The Varsity? Yes. The old Bridgeman’s, now a Potbelly? No. The Old College Inn? Yes. One-story commercial structures are part of a neighborhood’s history, and they’re bulwarks against projects that change the character or density of a neighborhood. That may be a reason to keep them, but it doesn’t make the structures historic.

Is there a point at which large projects would fundamentally transform Dinkytown into something it doesn’t want to be, he asked, setting up an answer that won’t placate anyone? Yes. Once the historic survey is done, there will be guidelines, and no one will try to knock down the old Grey’s Drug. But it shouldn’t take a year to walk the blocks and make the proper distinctions. A week, maybe. Two if you can’t find parking.

Here's the Google Street View. Turns out if I put the iframe tag in the first 200 characters of the blog, it has an aneurism. 

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GOING UP The history of the elevator and the history-making demonstration of Mr. Otis may have been a bit different from what you’ve been told. Before you go to the piece, a warning: it seems to have a slight case of florid academese.

The theatricality of the demonstration (however unimpressed contemporary witnesses may have been) places this contribution to the elevator’s development above the crowd of equally important but less dramatic turning points, such as the first installation of guide rails in a factory or the first construction of a completely enclosed cab. The concentrated format of a public demonstration satisfies the yearning for a clean, unambiguous beginning, a yearning endemic to the historiography of technology. The dramaturgy of the experiment in the Crystal Palace also contributes to this outcome.

You’ve been warned, in other words. It’s still worth a read, and applause for not titling it “Everything You Know About Otis’ Historical Elevator Demonstration is Wrong” or “Another Man Named Otis Invented the Screw Elevator, and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next.”

RETRO It really isn’t, but it is. A poster that helps you choose the right dinosaur for your house. (via DesignTaxi.)

It’s cute, but the style is interesting: very high 80s, if my recollection of the era is correct. More of his work is here, and it’s unlike the poster.

Speaking of things that actually are retro, Collectors Weekly has a gallery of 28 “Cringe-worthy Vintage Product Endorsements."  As usual, the horror of the old ads is overstated. Actual cringes felt: perhaps two. Nothing that reaches this level:

(Author’s collection) There’s also an article about 40 Outrageous Vintage Ads Any Woman Would Find Offensive. Mostly BO stuff. One of the comments, eager to unfurl his bright banner of virtue, says: “Wow, it seems as if men in 1930s didn’t have any “B.O.” problem, they all must’ve smelled like fresh linen and daisies!”

Sigh. Yes. Of course.

EDUMACATION NYPost does a story on a school that lets failing students watch online videos instead of showing up for class. Students are offended by the suggestion that there not lerning and right letters to the paper. Result:

Red-faced administrators encouraged a student letter-writing campaign to attack The Post and defend its “blended learning” program. Eighteen kids e-mailed to argue that their alma mater got a bad rap. Almost every letter was filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.One student said the online system beats the classroom because “you can digest in the information at your own paste.”

They sound a little old to be eating the stuff.

SPACE What’s wrong with this piece from NASA?

Anxiously awaited follow-up observations with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed the presence of two new moons around the distant planet Pluto. The moons were first discovered by Hubble in May 2005, but the science team probed even deeper into the Pluto system last week to look for additional satellites and to characterize the orbits of the moons.

STOP PLAYING WITH US, NASA. It is or it isn’t. Of course, this NASA page tries to have it both ways, and says it’s a “dwarf planet.” But let’s be consistent. Too many people see it called “planet” and get their hopes up, like little kids who want their parents to get back together.

VotD Location: Russia. A short film called “Comin’ Through.”

That’s just the warm-up. Now, the main feature. NOTE: SKIP to 1:50.



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