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Lileks @ Lunch

James Lileks writes about everything - except sports and gardening

Would you buy a robot dog?

A round-up of various things on the great, bounteous, generous sprawl of the internet. A lot of these come from aggregator sites. I’m beginning to wish there was an aggregator of aggregator sites.

SCIENCE! Tiny Hay-specks in the Swiss Cheese / Make the gas holes / Make them round

The mystery of swiss cheese holes has been solved!

CRIME LA mag headline: A Popular West Hollywood Aesthetician Was Arrested for Trying to Murder Her Rival. Was She the Perpetrator—or the Victim?

Any headline that asks a question is usually answered NO, according to the old rule. Judge for yourself if that’s the case here. The subject’s name is pure LA, and makes you wonder if her parents chose it and were later horrified, or if she chose it to remind people of a genial plump comedic actor, and leach off a few joules of celebrity power. Her name: Dawn DaLuise. (The answer is revealed soon enough; no professional author would leave that detail unexplained.) Good read for the lunchtime hour.

RISE OF THE ROBOT CHEETAHS Yes, it’s creepy, and you wish they had heads; they look a bit too much like houndeyes. But the science is remarkable.

Even though they’re modeled on cheetah behavior, you can’t help but think they’ll use this tech to build robot dogs. How many years until you can buy a programmable robot dog? How many owners would bring them to the dog parks anyway, just to pretend?

RETAIL TPM on Wal-Mart’s rise as the new town square. The author notes:

A few years ago, when I lived in Baltimore, I lackadaisically participated in the movement to prevent a proposed Wal-Mart from being built in my neighborhood. I could never imagine myself shopping there; to me, the store just symbolized more traffic and exploited workers. (Thanks in part to community pressure, the Wal-Mart plans have since been scrapped.)

Later she comes to appreciate, with reservations, what the store provides for small, isolated towns. It’s a mixed blessing. A mixed curse. I spend a lot of time on Google Street View looking at small towns - it’s a personal project detailing the grim state of the tiny burgs withering on the capillaries of the plains. A lot of those towns never had the variety of goods Wal-Mart brought, and from the looks of them, the rot and decline set in during the Carter years and never really healed. They hit their peak in the 50s, and it’s been a long slow slide ever since.

GOOGLE, WHAT IS 2+2? ANSWER: 5 Description of a product roll-out: “The demo was simple, elegant, and enough to make me forget, at least for a moment, about my right buttcheek.” It’s a Buzzfeed piece about the new Google photo ecosystem. They’ll host everything. For free. Forever. What’s the catch? C’mon, it’s Google.

The price is your data — and, by proxy, your privacy. Want to be able to find that picture of your second cousin you took six years ago? Let us look at and analyze the faces in every single one of your photos to figure it out. Want to know Skrillex’s full name? Let us see what’s in your headphones right now. Need that reminder to call your college roommate? Let us know where you are now and where you’re going to be next week and yeah, we should probably have your address book handy, too. You haven’t booked the trip yet? Don’t worry, we’ve got your search history right here so we figured you’d be booking the trip soon. Let us know everything about you. We promise it’ll be worth your while.

This fellow is not happy about that. (Warning: some cussing.)

You do not have to be afraid of CCTV anymore, not of all the camera’s that are in public spaces or stores. People filming you on the streets? Not really an issue anymore. Those were actions that took place in public spaces anyway. No, you now have to be afraid of those close to your that have Android devices. The seemingly normal action of taking a picture at a private party is now Google’s own private CCTV network in action. Photos will be uploaded automatically to Google’s cloud, analysed and categorised. Even if you choose not to use any of their services, they will be able to build a profile of you, based on photos and videos your friends take of you. Because they have facial recognition software running on their servers that is better at recognising people than you are. Welcome to 2015, it is now 1984. Your most private moments are officially non-existent. Google Photos was the final piece of the puzzle, the final move in a chess play designed to index all of the world’s data. All of it. Even your most intimate moments. Big G is always watching.

Unless you tell people in your private situations to turn off their phones, but that will soon seem like paranoid lunacy.

Begin the countdown: how long will it take before Google’s vast database is regarded as “metadata” and gets used accordingly as a national security tool? It’s amusing to see how Orwell got one detail wrong: Big Brother wasn’t imposed on society. People volunteered. People invited him in.

But that’s a tad alarmist. I find the offer tempting, as most proffered fruit in the Garden is, but wonder what happens when you are locked out of your Google account for whatever reason. All your life might be hosted there for free, but if you can’t get in, what then?

That was my dad, he said paternally

Here’s a look at the undying machine behind teen serialized novels. Atlantic:

Eighty-five years have passed since readers first encountered both the Hardy Boys and their teen-detective counterpart, Nancy Drew, yet new books continue to be released several times a year. The novels bear the same pseudonyms as the originals: Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene.

Hey, let’s not forget Victor Appleton. That was the name of the guy who wrote the Tom Swift books. Victor Appleton II was the name they slapped on Tom Junior’s series, and I remember those well.

Tom Swift, Jr.'s Cold War-era adventures and inventions are often motivated by patriotism, as Tom repeatedly defeats the evil agents of the fictional "Kranjovia" and "Brungaria", the latter a place that critic Francis Molson describes as "a vaguely Eastern European country, which is strongly opposed to the Swifts and the U.S. Hence, the Swifts' opposition to and competition with the Brungarians is both personal and patriotic.

When I was a kid I couldn’t figure out why they used fictional countries. Same with “Mission: Impossible.” The USSR would be insulted? Who cared? Anyway, the wikipedia article says “The Tom Swift books have been credited with laying the foundations for success of American science fiction and with establishing the edisonade (stories focusing on brilliant scientists and inventors) as a basic cultural myth.” Well . . . no. They may have reinforced the idea, but Tom Swift came along in 1910, decades after Frank Reade. You know, the inventor of this thing:

He was literally the father of the genre: after a while they started a Frank Reade Jr. series, and steam-powered men and horses gave way to electrical miracles. Tom Swift grew out of those books.

HELL ON EARTH Conor Friesdorf has a great piece in the Atlantic about the moral quandaries of uploading consciousness to computers. Would we punish Hitler for 6 million years? Or:

Ghengis Khan, who perpetrated all manner of atrocity less than a millenia ago, would inspire some sympathy, I think, if it were discovered that his contemporaries had imprisoned his consciousness upon his death as punishment for mass murder. Were he discovered in mental chains after eight centuries of suffering, there would be demands for his release and debates about applying morality across time. And utilitarians would debate the consequences of his military victories across the centuries. Perhaps he’d be freed due to his unfathomably long punishment and the fact that his victims seem so remote to us. Or maybe he’d be forgotten in prison, as is done to so many individuals in our existing system. These are wild thought experiments, but with them I only mean to illustrate a narrow point: Radical life extension would so scramble and confound our normal notions of justice that there’s no telling how future Americans would react to the new reality.

It’s like consigning Zod to the Phantom Zone.

ART This has bothered me for a long time. There are some old games I’d love to play again, but you just can’t. Do companies feel any obligation to keep their stories and plays from vanishing forever, with only a few YouTube clips and screenshots as evidence they ever existed? You know the answer to that. The vast, unplayable history of video games, on BoingBoing.