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

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. 

View Larger Map

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.

Wait, he's FAMOUS?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 19, 2014 - 12:41 PM

You may want to add this to the list of questions you haven’t posed today. From Topless Robot:

Remember back when people thought Vanilla Ice was the worst famous person who could possibly be associated with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?


Nevertheless, here you are:

SPACE i09 notes something you may have missed, and which apparently missed us:

Last night, a giant asteroid was supposed to streak by the Earth, close enough for us to catch a glimpse as it zipped by. Except it never showed, and now astronomers say they have no idea just where the 900-foot asteroid has gone.

It got lost.

URBAN DESIGN The movement to tear down urban freeways has a new cause celebere: the viaduct that rips through Syracuse. Some people want it demolished. Some people who use it do not. Atlantic Cities:

The I-81 viaduct will reach the end of its functional life in 2017, and the New York State Department of Transportation has decided that it is not worth the cost of rehabilitation. One way or another, the viaduct is coming down. City leaders (snip) along with downtown developers and advocates for smart growth, would like to see I-81 rerouted around Syracuse and replaced with a landscaped boulevard. But suburban business-owners and many of the 45,000 drivers who use the highway to commute fear that any change could hurt the local economy. It's a debate that goes beyond the immediate question of how Syracuse workers will get to work — to what kind of city Syracuse will be in the 21st century.

If I had unlimited billions at my disposal I’d cover up the 35W trench and put in a long park with housing, repairing the gash that cleaved the neighborhoods. Just because the freeways made many things possible doesn’t mean it was an unalloyed good.

ARCHITORTURE Giz has a new list of beautiful buildings lost forever - and y “lost” I don’t mean “misplaced, but probably around here somewhere.” Lost as in deliberately demolished for reasons that seem appallingly short-sighted today. The Metropolitan, or the Guarantee Life, is on the list, as well as a municipal structure demolished for this:

View Larger Map

This may be the perfect image of 60s & 70s municipal architecture: a pathetic little bench under a concrete shell.

View Larger Map

LISTS City Pages has a list of 50 things to do in Minneapolis before you DIE. Such as:

27. Explain Scott Seekins to someone. The enigma that is Scott Seekins is such a fun thing to explain to out-of-towners, or any locals living under a rock. Who is Scott Seekins? Oh, just this man-about-town whose simple change from a black suit to a white suit marks the beginning of summer and brings joy to an entire city.

Funny - and true! - but I don’t think anyone on their deathbed will be scanning the list, hit #27, realize the ommision, and beg the nurse to lean close. “I need to tell you something. Listen closely.”

JFK in terrifying mask form

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 14, 2014 - 12:29 PM

The Home and Patio show has a collection of JFK memorabilia. We shot a video, which should be up soon. I wish I’d been able to wear this special mask.

Wear this and-uh people will-uh run away with-uh vigah.

PROGRESS A reminder from the Atlantic of the fight against all-numeric phone numbers:

In San Francisco, a group sprang up to battle Bell and its numbering scheme. The Anti-Digit Dialing League—consisting of thousands of members at its height, including the semanticist S.I. Hayakawa—decried Bell's version of digital transition. The all-digit dialing system was evidence of "the cult of technology,” the League argued, not to mention that cult’s "creeping numeralism." To make its point, the group published its own pamphlet—one that was aptly, if vaguely, titled Phones Are for People. "So far," it noted, "17 million of the nation's 77-million phones have lost their letters in favor of numbers. The time to reverse the trend is NOW.”

Didn’t work, obviously. The article notes how people have long-standing attachment to their area codes - replacing the emotions people once had for exchange names. Will this ever change? I grew up a 701 kid, and would be happy to be known as such today.

TRANSIT From someone who rode the streetcars and remembers them well, a plea: don’t bring them back.

PSA Call 911 to report an injured cyclist, go to jail. A story of a spiraling nightmare.

ARCHITORTURE We have learned nothing. Nothing. Here’s an imagined view of the new Apple Campus, with housing for everyone who works there.

Corbu just sat up and banged his head on the coffin lid. Yes, tall housing blocks in empty green space, unaligned with the neighborhood grid: brilliant. Leaving aside the architectural homogeneity, can you imagine living in a housing complex of 14,000 people where everyone works at the same place?

VotD The very definition of “Phone Calls Building Maintenance Did Not Want to Get.”



Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters