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

Unnerving Happy Thing

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: May 20, 2014 - 12:38 PM

This is not an improvement on a clown. Bloomberg:

McDonald’s today introduced “Happy,” a new animated Happy Meal character that brings fun and excitement to kids’ meals while also serving as an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating. Happy will be introduced nationwide May 23, and will encourage kids to enjoy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice.


It looks like you can’t pick him up without putting your fingers into the back of his eyeballs. His big, firm, squishy eyeballs. The Verge says the Memes Have Just Begun.

ART The creations of WW2 US airmen need saving:

They drew cartoons, graffiti, murals, glamour "pinups", combat scenes, mission records and maps. US servicemen at bomber and fighter bases in central and eastern England between 1942 and 1945 created a huge but largely unrecorded body of wartime artwork, some of which has survived more than 70 years in collapsing and overlooked buildings.

As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaches, a "last chance" search is under way to find and record the scattered vestiges and fading memories of the largest air armada ever assembled – before decay, demolition and redevelopment remove the final traces.

It’s the Guardian, so you steel yourself for the anti-American comments. Let’s see . . . Yep! First:

To be fair, the rest of the comments are supportive of the effort to defeat Nazism, and seem comfortable doing so without five minutes of apologetic preambles. That’s a relief.

ELSEWHERE Finally, a good practical use for Google Glass: taking pictures of North Korea while your minders aren’t paying attention. It looks like the minders knew exactly what was going on, though - everything seems Approved. Still interesting. From the comments:

Head on over and enjoy, then.

At the other end of the Planned Community spectrum, there’s this amazing document uploaded by BoingBoing: the original Disneyland prospectus.

Walt's vision for what the company at one point called "merchantainment" (!) was more ambitious than anything yet realized inside the berm. Page one boasts of a "mail order catalogue" that will offer everything for sale at Disneyland (a kind of super-duper version of today's Disneyland Delivears). This catalogue was to feature actual livestock, including "a real pony or a miniature donkey thirty inches high.”

You could bring one of those to Lilliputian Land:

There are four comments, two of which are anti-Disney on general principle. It is very important when someone sees something about Disney to remind everyone how much they hate it and its influences and products and behavior, and so on. You should hate it too and will be judged if you don’t.

MUSIC Kraftwerk would approve. And if you’re one of those people who grouses that pushing buttons isn’t the same as playing an instrument . . . just wait.

If only the original ringtones included a cowbell.

HISTORY The headline is a bit click-baity: “‘Bysantine iPad’ Found in Ancient Shipwreck.” But it is cool:

Probably belonging to the ship's captain, the wooden object, whose cover is finely carved with decorations, is the size of a modern seven-inch tablet, but it's much thicker.

It consists of a set of five overlaid rectangular panels carved with frames and covered with wax. Notes could be taken on those panels, as shown by writing in Greek which is still visible on the wax.

A primitive "app" is hidden on the bottom panel: a sliding lid revealing a hidden plate with carved spaces.

"When you draw the sliding part, there are small weights used as an assay balance," Ufuk Kocabaş, director of Istanbul University’s department of marine archeology and the Yenikapi Shipwrecks Project, told Hurriyet Daily News.

Elsewhere in the past: the German Stonehenge. It was discovered last year, but now they're releasing the details.

Schlosser is convinced the site was constructed for the observation of astronomical phenomena such as the movements of the sun, moon and stars, and for keeping track of time. These celestial cycles would have been important for the sowing and harvesting of crops in the early civilization.

But, Goseck isn’t merely a "calendar construction," Schlosser explains, "but rather is clearly a sacred building." Archeologists have found plenty of evidence to prove that Goseck was a place of prehistoric cult worship. The arrangement of human bones, for instance, is atypical of burial sites, and telltale cut marks on them indicate that human sacrifice was practiced at the site.

Typical. At least we’ve progressed; in millennia to come, if they ever unearth the ruins of 20th century observatories, they won’t find bones in the closet, suggesting that scientists had sacrificed a few locals before searching for quasars.

Votd Well, two ds ago, but it’s still cool. A supercell in Wyoming. The sort of thing the ancients probably believed they could ward off if they reallypicked up the pace on the human sacrifices.

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.


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. 


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