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

Notes on the Joys of Travelling

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

1974 interior design brochure picture, or 2014 Paris airport waiting room?

The latter, obviously. The Seventies couldn't have carried that off without slathering the floor in brown shag. I was just there - on Bastille Day, which was completely ignored in the massive CDG terminal - and found the Paris airport an interesting comparison with our own MSP. Much more stylish, with unified colors and themes; remarkable bathrooms. But far fewer choices for eating. Granted, the food was good; you'd expect that. But in terms of selection, it reminded you of the days when MSP was run by HOST, and HOST only. Granted, I was only in two terminals, and I think there were 146 others, so don't listen to me.

In other travel-related news: The Costa Concordia is rising from its (checking maritime cliches list. . . ) watery grave today, and Giz has a livestream. At the moment I’m writing this, it seems to be a board meeting of unhappy EU technocrats, but that could change.

I was just on a cruise ship a few days ago, and was reminded that one activity approximates the panic and tumult of a sinking, and that’s the Midnight Chocolate Buffet. When you remove the “eating lots of desserts” part and insert “fear for life” it becomes really chaotic, but not by much.

Related, only because I just had a long flight that began with sitting in an unairconditioned plane for an hour breathing the same air until everyone was light-headed and beginning to hallucinate - seriously, at one point we all imagined that the flight attendant cracked the mike and told us what was going on, which never happens; they just apologize for the delay when you finally push back, and you hope they weren’t doing something like “Fixing the Engine, Which was Broke” because you really don’t want to think you’re going over the ocean on a plane that got patched up with duct tape and chewing gum by guys who shrugged and said “well, it ought to hold” - anyway, Seven Activities for Long Flights. It’s Clickhole, so it’s not real. Also, it’s not very funny, so never mind.

Instead, go read this: a New Yorker piece on the designers who invent new spaces for First Class seating in new planes. You’ll learn a lot about the steerage amenities, such as they are, and add the word “delethalize” to your vocabulary. The notes about the price of the video systems on the back of the seats is eye-opening, but there’s a reason they’re so expensive.

It’s remarkable how we get bored and dissatisfied with miracles: whereas once we were agog at a TV SCREEN! in the CHAIR! where you could watch MOVIES! now you’re dismayed if it has the resolution of 2002 ATM screen.

Related, sort of: Prodigy screenshots from 1992. It’s from this Atlantic article on rebuilding the lost interface of the long-dead service. Paleoarcheology of the early years of digital life.

From the Atlantic piece:

When any sizable online service disappears, a piece of our civilization's cultural fabric goes with it. In this case, the missing cultural repository is Prodigy, a consumer-oriented online service that launched in 1988 as a partnership between Sears and IBM . . .

Over its 11-year lifespan, a generation of Americans grew up with Prodigy as part of their shared cultural heritage. In an earlier era, we may have spoken about another common cultural experience—say, Buster Keaton films—as a cultural frame of reference for an entire generation. Everybody saw them, everybody referenced them. And while Prodigy was nowhere near as popular as Buster Keaton among the general public, hundreds of thousands of people with a computer and a modem in the early 1990s tried Prodigy at least once.

The Keaton-Prodigy ratio was probably about 1,000,000 to 1, but I see their point.

MOVIES On the plane I watched “Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” - ridiculous and fun. Turns out the Civil War was also about vampires. But this New York Times piece from last week notes something else that may have (checking martial imagery cliche list . . . ) turned the tide of war: java.

Did the fact that Union troops were near jittery from coffee, while rebels survived on impotent brown water, have an impact on the outcome of the conflict? Union soldiers certainly thought so.

Bonus points for not using “The Secret History of Coffee and the Civil War” in the headline. And now if you'll excuse me, Jet lag is about to kick zzzzzzzzzzz WHA?!?  Sorry. Never mind. Dozed off. 

How Not to be Trampled

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 23, 2014 - 12:38 PM

Chances are no World Cup game will end like this:

On an evening in January A.D. 532, pandemonium broke out in the Constantinople Hippodrome, a U-shaped chariot racetrack surrounded by stadium stands. Two factions, the Greens and Blues—the predecessors of today’s soccer hooligans—broke into a fight. When the rest of the spectators dashed to escape, many became trapped by the rushing crowd, couldn’t reach the exits, and were trampled and killed. That incident was the start of the Nika riots that almost ended the rule of Eastern Roman emperor Justinian the Great.

The article discusses what humans might learn from ants when it comes to not dying in a stampede, but i was struck by the reference to the Greens and the Blues. There were two others. From Roman Mysteries:

There were four major teams called "factiones": the greens ("prasini"), the reds ("Russata"), the whites ("Alba" or "Albata") and the sky/sea blues ("Veneti" or "Veneta"). Roman writers suggest that the colours were inspired by the colours of the four seasons of the year.

This tradition went back to the Republic, if I recall correctly - and that means that the names of the factions of a major sport were unchanged for over half a millenium. Which is like opening the newsfeed in 2514 and reading about the Vikings.

The New Republic notes that the great Argentinian writer Borges hated soccer; many Romans hated the chariot races, for the same reasons. PBS:

. . . not everyone was such a fan. Like the gladiators, chariot races were popular sports for the Roman masses, not the social elites, who disliked the mob behavior of the fans and found the sport unremarkable and childish.

One exception was the Emperor Nero. He was passionate about horses and even drove his own chariot. Nero’s enthusiasm for such a lowly sport scandalized Rome's elite, but endeared him to the masses. The historian, Tacitus, sneered at the mob for this: "For such is a crowd — eager for excitement and thrilled if the emperor shares their tastes."

Typical Nero. He also scandalized the upper classes by appearing in theatrical productions, which simply was not done, and some later historians suggest that the reason he has such a mad-man reputation has to do with his conspicuous enjoyment of plebeian diversions. It was immoral and low.

Well, that, and the whole murdering-his-mother business. And burning Christians in baskets. But we’re talking about post-Augustus emperors, who didn’t exactly follow an upwards trajectory in terms of acumen and quality.

ART Gorgeous little video game based on 30s cartoons:

If this does well, it would be great to see Cuphead in other cartoon eras as well, right through the ultra-cheap Hanna-Barbera era. Even as a very small kid I noticed that when Fred Flintstone ran through the house the same table and chair repeated behind him about six times. So either Fred’s house was very long - something belied by the exterior shots - and he has spaced identical pieces of furniture down the long corridor, or they were just reusing the pictures.

In related news of the era, sort of: (well, not really), AVClub asks “A Century Later, Why Does Chaplin Still Matter?”

The article doesn’t really answer the question. Another question comes to mind: does he? The comments immediately get into the Chaplin vs. Keaton struggle, with the inevitable minority opinion for Lloyd. All were great, and each were different; no need to compare. Except that Keaton and Lloyd never really came up with anything like the ending of “City Lights,” which has been scientifically proven to melt stone. Although Chaplin never had a thrill like the last sequence of “Safety Last,” and -

Oh, never mind. Here’s some Harry Langdon.

Thrill comedy: a genre in need of revival.

SPACE There are four possible reasons the “Magic Island” has appeared on Titan.

Northern hemisphere winds may be kicking up and forming waves on Ligeia Mare. The radar imaging system might see the waves as a kind of “ghost” island.

Gases may push out from the sea floor of Ligeia Mare, rising to the surface as bubbles.

Sunken solids formed by a wintry freeze could become buoyant with the onset of the late Titan spring warmer temperatures.

Ligeia Mare has suspended solids, which are neither sunken nor floating, but act like silt in a terrestrial delta.

It looks like this.

Won’t we be surprised some day if Titan launches a rocket to explore Europa.

FUN Boston Globe: How the Amusement Park Hijacks your Brain. Warning: it doesn’t to anything like that at all. Let’s try another way of putting it: amusement parts are “perfectly engineered to push psychological buttons you didn’t even know you had. Here’s how.” Bottom line: did you know that a lot of thought and effort goes into amusement park design? It’s true!

Related: did Disneyland inspire better downtown architecture? I'd say no, because cities kept mauling downtowns for decades after it was opened. But it's a nice thought. 

VotD Close-call compilation. Yikes.

How not to kick a trash can

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 5, 2014 - 12:42 PM

Want to be grossed out? Ear you go:

A model of Vincent van Gogh’s left ear — you know, the ear — is on display at a German museum, with plans to eventually bring it to New York.

Created using 3D printers and genetic material from a living relative of van Gogh, the Dutch painter, it was shaped to be the exact size of his ear and is kept alive in a nourishing liquid.

I’ve had an adverse reaction to the words “nourishing liquid” since the Star Trek episode, “The Cage.” This doesn’t help.

Speaking of nourishing:How do you get your own opinion into a news story, right up front? Here’s an example from Quartz:

Processed meat is of notoriously questionable nutritional value, but that hasn’t stopped a bidding war from breaking out over a major producer of hot dogs, sausages and lunch-meats.

Not just questionable, but notoriously so. Even though the hot dogs are notoriously questionable, some companies are competing to own a larger part of the market. Imagine that. There’s some stuff about the deal itself, then more of the author’s reminder that some people are terribly concerned about what other people are eating:

Despite repeated links between processed meat and health risks in recent years, Americans still consumed $20.8 billion worth of “chilled processed meats” (processed meats sold in the self-service shelves of retail outlets, including ham, bacon, and sausages) last year, according to Euromonitor. In volume terms, this is 3.37 million tonnes, up 2.5% from 2012 —maybe it’s something to do with bacon—but practically unchanged from where it was in 2003.

Got that? Despited REPEATED LINKS, Americans are eating the same overall amount of processed means as we ate 11 years ago, even though the population has risen - which would mean we’re eating less.

OOPS TIFO, which stands for Today I Found Out, discusses an oh-crap moment in oil exploration:

On November 20, 1980, crews on the oil rig in the lake ran into a problem. At just over 1,200 feet, their drill seized up. Not a major problem normally, they worked to get it loose. In the process, they heard several loud pops then the oil rig tilted like it was going to collapse. The men got off the rig and to shore as quickly as possible.  Not a moment too soon. Just 19 minutes after their drill had seized up, they watched from the shore as the huge platform (150 feet tall) overturn and sunk into the 10 foot deep lake…

Next, the astounded drillers watched as a whirlpool slowly formed, soon reaching a quarter mile wide and centered over the site of the oil drilling.  Whoopsadoodle.

Result? a ten-foot-deep freshwater lake turned into a 1,300-foot-deep saltwater lake. Whoopsadoodle indeed, and you don’t often get the chance to say that.

Votd Hope this isn’t a summation of your day so far:

It bears rewatching, if only for its hypnotic rhythm: cha-cha-cha-chonk / muffled ohh!

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.


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