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

Binge or Feast?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 15, 2014 - 12:23 PM

We’ll get to that in a second. First:

SCIENCE!  You see, the problem with the multiverse model is the number of disembodied consciousness brains it will inevitably produce. Right? That’s nagged me for a while. As is often the case with quantum physics, someone’s come up with an explanation. Too bad the model also requires the inevitable destruction of the entire multiverse. At least that's what the New Scientist suggests. 

The good news is that this might not happen; scientists are working on a paper to explain it, although it might involve a new theoretical particle, like “explanitons.” In the meantime, we have more immediate worries: an inter-dimensional gateway has opened in the sun.

Explanation here. I think.

THE END OF ENDS The end of cereal? Probably not. The end of memes? Probably not. But here’s a Daily Dot  argument for the “Bleak Future” of memes. It has an interesting observation:

The end of memes was first predicted by technologist Andy Baio and blogger Chris Menning in 2012. Baio argues that the rise of the mobile Web is bringing an end to remix culture. Menning noticed that the world’s fascination with Anonymous was fading, and so was the interest in 4chan-based art.

In other words, the old cultural signifiers are all dried up, and we’ve lost the incentive to create new ones. Who could have seen that happening? After a decade of popping the seed corn in the microwave, the fields are barren. There’s nothing left to remix, unless you want to put Doge Head on Socially Awkward Penguin.

The article says there’s hope - Banana For Scale, for example, although that's more an insider nod, not something that will break out to a wider audience. But of course memes will propagate as ever.  It’s like saying “have we reached peak slang?” because no one’s using YOLO anymore.

YOU THERE The least important story on BuzzFeed at the moment is, as you might expect, hectoring and bossy.

It’s simply not possible to write a headline that says “Now Your Grilled Cheese Sandwiches Will Be Even Better!” or “17 Tips to Grilled Cheese Sandwiches I Can’t Even.” No, they have to yell at you.

VotD As the shooter said: “I was so focused on getting a good shot of the car, that I didn't notice the wheel coming towards me in about 70 km/t.”

Nice to have friends on hand who can see you’re not hurt, and laugh at you.

ADVERTISING New frontiers in web ads: if you make them fascinating and detailed, people will carve out time to explore them. Here’s what Netflix and Wired did. Binging or Feasting? They have an answer.

Blantantly Secretive

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 2, 2014 - 12:28 PM

There’s a line in the newspaper today that makes my head feel oddly twisted.

“He walked through the puddles when there was a perfectly good road he could have walked on,” she said. “It just didn’t seem right to me because we see people come and go with their trucks, and they don’t come on foot and cut through people’s back yards. It was like he was blatantly trying not to be seen. That’s why I thought it was odd.”

I cannot get my mind around the idea of blatantly trying not to be seen.

ART You should stop taking pictures. Here’s the first part of the argument:

. . . there are two big problems associated with taking pictures. Firstly, we’re likely to be so busy taking the pictures, we forget to look at the world whose beauty and interest prompted us to take a photograph in the first place. And secondly, because we feel the pictures are safely stored on our phones, we never get around to looking at them, so sure are we that we’ll get around to it one day.

Well. I take the pictures off my phone every day, toss the duds, and file the keepers with names that reflect what they show. So I don’t have a wad of files with names like IMG_938439345434.jpg. Yes, you have to take yourself out of the moment to take a picture, but it’s not as if reality is such a hard thing to reenter. Hold on, don’t talk to me! I’m trying to reacclimatize myself to the actual world! We continue:

. . . there’s one thing we should do and that is attempt to draw the interesting things we see, irrespective of whether we happen to have any talent for doing so.

That’s right: stop taking pictures, and start drawing. Because of Ruskin. It’s complicated, so perhaps you should read the piece. But this is advice I have no intention of taking, because when I’m walking through another city with wife and child, they tend to get impatient when I fall behind to shoot an architectural detail; shouting “Hold up, I need to sharpen my pencil” would not go over well.

MEANWHILE IN ENGLAND The BBC is usually above stories like this, aren’t they?

A man has had thousands of pounds worth of music equipment seized after continuously blasting out Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On.

The man, from Hone Street, Strood, breached a noise abatement notice six times, and made his neighbours' lives a misery, Medway Council said.

He was also caught playing James Brown's Love Machine and the theme tune to Toy Story.

Seems more like a Daily Mail story. Hold on, what’s this in the “Related Stories” sidebar?

Televisions, a hi-fi, speakers and DVD players have been seized from a family in Gloucestershire.

The family members, who live in Quedgeley, were served with a noise abatement order three weeks ago and have broken it three times since.

A "significant amount of 'kit' capable of making a noise" was removed on Thursday by police and Gloucester City Council officers.

It’s an epidemic.

VotD Right place, right time, 2 million hits:

The YouTube comments, inasmuch as a theme can be discerned, seem to be debating whether or not the screaming lady was justified nor annoying. I mean forreals smh, lady.

Did Furby spy on your family?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 29, 2014 - 12:36 PM

 More to the point, was Furby spying a thing? No. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

WEB A piece about web design trends that need to be dropped included a link to the Hipster Logo Design Guide, which is marvelous. In a just world it would have killed that trend graveyard-dead, but there are still clients who want them. You know, these:

One of the trends the author doesn’t like was the Long Shadow trend. Was that ever a thing? You know, a thingThe use of the word “Thing” to indicate manifestation or popularity made me believe this headline wasn’t a typo:

Surely this was the next generation of slang. Man, that’s so thing.

This funky-monkey site  site also has an iWatch roundup, giving you the latest news of something that does not exist and for all we know will never exist. It’s like the Apple TV, except a bit less vaporous. The Apple TV was the item industry analysts said the company had to make, because it A) gave them something to write about, and B) let them opine about how the lack on AppleTV meant the company no longer innovated, even though there was nothing innovative about an Apple TV. Also, there is an Apple TV, and it’s called the AppleTV.

Anyway, here’s a new concept by Mark Bell, as seen on Behance:

It's pretty, but good luck hitting those icons. 

There are some things the device could do well - time, for example. It’s amusing how millions of people stopped wearing watches because their phones had the time on the lockscreeen, and you could take it out like a pocket watch. (I’m still amazed no one sold vests and iPhone chains so you could complete the 19th-century cliche.) The device could also tell you the weather and display texts, which will lead to more fractured conversations: if your phone gives a twitch or a buzz in your pocket while you’re talking to someone, you can ignore it, but if your wrist tingles in the middle of a conversation it will be impossible not to look at it. Take someone from 1958 and drop them in a hip cafe in 2016 after everyone’s wearing a smart watch, and he’d wonder why everyone is looking at their watch every few minutes. Is everyone bored and impatient with the person to whom they’re talking?

But it’s this that makes me laugh.

I saw that movie on iMax 3D. Never once wished I could see it again at the 3/8” X 1/12” aspect ratio.

HISTORY Have researchers discovered the lost tomb of Alexander the Great?

A team of archaeologists and historians from the Polish Center of Archaeology, that were conducting some research in the crypt of an ancient christian church, have revealed a mausoleum made of marble and gold that could well be the long lost tomb of Alexander III of Macedon,  who went down in history as Alexander the Great.

Before you raise your hand and say “it doesn’t matter, the tomb would be empty, the body having been moved to Venice centuries ago,” let us consider another story from the site:

There’s also a story about Ghandi’s loincloth selling for millions of dollars at an auction.

(shudder)

Related, at least in the sense of being about ancient history, and also spurious: “The Roman Republic fell because of the use of concrete as a building material, a leading academic has claimed."


Dr Penelope Davies, a historian with the University of Texas believes that the rise of concrete as a building material may have weakened ancient Rome's entire political system as Consul Pompey and Julius Caesar began "thinking like kings”.

When they learned they could make large-scale permanent buildings, they adopted a monarchical mindset similar to the Egyptians who built pyramids. Originally, the story said this:

The real reason behind the downfall of the Roman Empire might not have been lead contaminating in the water, which is the most popular theory, but the use of concrete as a building material.

Which of course is nonsense. The article was rewritten to replace “Empire” with “Republic,” but no note was made of the change, leading to confused comments wondering how a scholar could possibly think Rome was brought low by concrete.

Even after the correction, it’s still nonsense. Egyptian Pyramids and temples were for a small stratum of the population; Roman bridges and aqueducts were for everyone, and the great civic buildings of Rome were for public functions - ceremonial, bureaucratic, commercial. Rome rose because of concrete.

Votd Some people have a deplorable definition of “prank.”

Worst Supermarkets in America

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 25, 2014 - 12:30 PM

We'll get to that in a second. It's the headline because no one's going to click to see fuzzy images of distant glories. So:

SCIENCE! A look at the latest awe-inspiring Hubble photo of a tiny corner of the universe, courtesy of Slate's Bad Astronomer:

. . . even the nearest galaxies you can see in this image are hundreds of millions of light years away! Some are billions; the most distant object in this shot are at least 9 billion light years distant. That’s a million times farther away than any star in the picture.

When the light we see here left those galaxies, the Sun hadn’t yet formed. When the Earth itself was coalescing from countless specks of dust, that light still had half its journey here ahead of it.

Zoom in, and the quantity of galaxies is astonishing. Not stars: galaxies.

Speaking of galaxies far, far away, Slashfilm says:

Several Star Wars websites reported Disney that Lucasfilm executives had an ultra-secret breakfast to discuss the franchise. Whether or not this meeting actually happened is already in question, which should paint this rumor in even a dimmer light. But one site is reporting much of the conversation centered on everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett.

Why is Boba Fett a bad guy, necessarily? Because he transported Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt? It was just a job. I guess we know he was BAD because he stuck around at Boba’s for the party, but that seems uncharacteristic; who wants to spend much time with bitt & his sycophants? That place must have smelled horrible. Well, he went screaming into a Sarlac maw, so there’s no suspense in a movie. Whatever happens, we’d know he survived, because we saw him die later.

He was interesting because we couldn’t see his face, and his few lines were delivered with menace. His suit was banged up - part of the battered, inhabited world that made “Star Wars” look different from previous sci-fi.

Wait, you say: he didn’t get eaten by the Sarlacc! Wookiepedia:

 . . .during the Battle of the Great Pit of Carkoon, Fett fought against the group of Rebel rescuers. However, he was inadvertently knocked into the mouth of the Sarlacc by Solo. Though no one in recorded history had ever escaped from the Sarlacc, Fett was able to escape, though not unscathed. Thanks to his iron will and Mandalorian armor, he was able to fight his way out of the beast's belly, and later killed the Sarlacc. Back in action, he resumed his work as a bounty hunter.

C’mon. And Greedo shot first. Right.

RETAIL The 13 Worst Supermarkets in America. Not one is aRound Your neighborhood, to my surprise. 

URBANISM No one will miss this:

Except that we will, when they’re all gone. Another large project - huge, really - is slated for Dinkytown, and while it’s a good sign, there’s a point at which the nature of Dinkytown is changed for good. You may say: blocks and blocks of new housing replacing tumbledown carved-up houses is progress, and for the most part I agree - but I hope the end result is the improvement of the century-old housing stock, not its abolition.

It’s just amazing to see these blocks rise one after the other, each more luxurious than the last; when I lived in Dtown everyone lived in rooms in sad old houses, cut up into tiny rooms with dented drywall.

VotD Your Russian dash-cam video for Friday. Wait for it.

Enjoy your Friday; see you on the other side of the weekend. 

Architecture & Morality

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: April 23, 2014 - 12:16 PM

Not just an 80s electro-pop album title. It’s the old dilemma: can you enjoy art once you learn the artist’s opinions, or discover what an utter cad he was? Let’s say an architect wrote this in 1938:

"The decline in fertility, so far as scientists have been able to discover, is unique in the history of the white race. In short, the United States of America is committing race suicide.”

And let’s say that architect’s name s on the IDS center, because it is.

Matt Novak pointed out Philip Johnson’s Nazi past at Paleofuture:

Johnson visited Germany in the 1930s at the invitation of the government's Propaganda Ministry. He wrote numerous articles for far right publications. He started a fascist organization called the Gray Shirts in the United States. He was with the Nazis when they invaded Poland and wrote about how it wasn't as bad as the American press was making it out to be. He was an ardent supporter of the notoriously anti-semitic Father Coughlin. And he was so in the tank for the Nazis that the FBI even suspected him of being a spy.

"You simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it," Johnson would tell an interviewer about attending a 1932 Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany. "...by the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing, as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd.”

Hilarity did not result in the comments, but it's a good summary of the arguments for keeping these facts in mind as well as setting them aside. 

Here’s how the IDS Center’s biography of Johnson puts it:

During the Great Depression, Johnson resigned his post at MoMA to try his hand at journalism and agrarian populist politics. His enthusiasm centered on the critique of the liberal welfare state, whose “failure” seemed to be much in evidence during the 1930s. As a correspondent, Johnson observed the Nuremberg Rallies in Germany and covered the invasion of Poland in 1939. The invasion proved the breaking point in Johnson’s interest in journalism or politics – he returned to enlist in the US Army.

The subject of Johnson’s past usually leads to a festival of loathing for his architecture, which has many detractors. Johnson committed the sin of being successful and pliable; instead of sticking to one style and marching through life with the steely gaze of the Olympian Genius, descending to the mortal plane every few years to deliver something brilliant and pure, he designed a lot of stuff that strikes some people today as a kitschy or ridiculous. But anyone who remembers skyscraper architecture in the early 80s recalls how dreadful tall buildings had become, and how the addition of new shapes, ornamentation, and historical references made for interesting additions to the American skyline. How much of it was Johnson, and how much of it was the work of his associates, I’ve no idea. I suspect he drew a few things on paper and let the rest of them sort it out. In any case, there’s no particular morality attached to architecture itself, OMD notwithstanding; we associate the architecture of Nazi Germany with evil because of the actions of the people who inhabited the buildings, not the stones themselves.

JUSTICE Your honor, we would like to instruct the jury to disregard the defendant’s neck:

A murder suspect who has the word "murder" tattooed on his neck is hoping to have the tattoo removed as he fears it will prejudice him in front of a jury.

WEB This Daily Dot piece on “the Reddit Power user who helped bring down r/technology” has a graf that reminds you of things one might want left out of an obituary:

By 2011, Maxwellhill’s diligence paid off. He was proclaimed one of the most viral people of 2011 by Gizmodo and was the first redditor to collect more than one million karma points through Reddit’s gamified voting system, which rewards users for providing the community with popular content and which is completely useless in the real world.

Also on the world of personal accomplishments, from Vice: THIS GUY IS TRYING TO COLLECT EVERY SINGLE CPY OF THE MOVIE ‘SPEED’ ON VHS.”

Ryan Beitz owns over 500 copies of the movie Speed on VHS. He also owns 26 laser discs of the film, but those aren’t part of the collection. He just holds onto them so he can use them as bargaining chips to get more on VHS. His goal is a simple one: To collect every copy of Speed on VHS ever made. His other goal? To trick out his 15-passenger van to look just like the bus in the movie.

So you’d say the World Speed Project is awesome?

I think the World Speed Project is awesome in the truest sense of the word. It's larger than life. Imagine all of them in one place! It’s uncompromising.

Yeah, it’s like a radical dedication to uselessness.

Totally. I don’t give a (bleep) whether what I do is practical or not; I just don’t want to perpetuate society’s (bleepy) capitalism forever. If you see everything needs a use or an instrumental value as like part of a capitalistic worldview, then the World Speed Project is anti-that.

Now go out there and not see things as needing an instrumental value. But only after you watch this:

VotD Your Russian dashcam footage of the day gives us a motorist who decides to do something about a drunk driver.

The driver appears to freeze, like some small creature that plays dead to escape predation.

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