Hey! she said. Something changed in my fort!

Of course something changed. Disassembling the thing and restoring it twice tends to dislodge some of the loose items arrayed on the flat slippery surfaces. Contents may settle during shipment.

But I simply said: when something is in the way, it gets bumped-into. And this, my dear, is in the way.

If I take it down tonight without reconstructing it, there will be grim hard looks tomorrow morning. But since tomorrow is a Chuck E. Fargin’ day, the promise of skeeball and pizza will probably overwhelm any agita caused by the fort’s demolition.

Went to the office. Had a few moments that will either be bathed in the warm bath of fiction, should I choose to write a newspaper novel, or end up in my memoirs. Nothing bad, just . . . revealing. I drove home listening to the 3rd season of the Pilkington / Merchant / Gervais podcasts, and laughing out loud in the car. As I drove past the local Russian art museum, I realized they had a new show. Well, then: in we go.

The theme is “Realism,” but that’s not meant in the sense of “realism,” but rather scenes from actual Russian and Soviet life, as opposed to Joe Stalin riding a tractor into the dawn. I always wish they displayed a bit more Soviet Kitsch – it has a strange power both horrifying and hilarious, dead and alive, and for some reason it doesn’t have the same lurking evil you find in official Nazi art. The evil is stillborn and inert; it’s sleeping it off. Anyway: many fine 19th century paintings from a group called “The Itinerants,” according to the program. (Subsequent research revealed that some translated the term as "the Wanderers," which is different, and less shiftless.) They went hither & yon painting the Common Person as he or she went about their noble little lives; then the painters returned to the big city to sit in cafes knocking back vodka and smoking and having interminable conversation about who was more honestly honest to the Soul of the Soil, and all the rest of the fictions artists conjure up to buttress the prevailing fashion. There were the inevitable portraits of the artist’s wife, which are the pictoral equivalent of the house a modern architect builds for his mother when there are no other commissions (to borrow from Tom Wolfe) – the wives never seem particularly happy about anything, and you can’t quite see what the artist sees in her; you can detect the nagging, the disapproval, the bitter requests that he do something useful, and stop bringing those smelly men around to make noise all night when the baby’s trying to sleep. They rarely painted their mistresses, it seemed. They had better things to do with her.

But those were only a small fraction of the exhibition. They had lovely character studies, Heroic New Soviet Men (this painting is enormous), stout Russian women shoveling symbolic Lenin pollen, and many nifty 50s work that wouldn’t be out of place as an illustration for a Look magazine article. I was particularly smitten, to use a pretentious self-flattering term, by a painting of Young Lovers – angular and blue, yet somehow fluid and happy. You stood there looking at them, wondering what happened, and you could probably guess: a small flat, cabbage smells in the hallway, alcoholism, the quick work and the hard slap. Then you turned around to head to the gift shop for some tea, and you saw what they put on the other side of the room: an equal-sized painting of a couple in their 60s, side by side, stolid and drained of passion, dressed in their May Day best.

I suppose it helps to know a little about the culture; there’s a charming picture of a second-grade girl about to go to school, books and flowers in hand. She stands at the door, alert, smart, lovely. She has a red scarf around her neck – it’s the emblem of the Young Pioneers, and that changes the painting.

Afterwards I left with that nice little lilt you get from a good museum, and drove home to set up the Xbox HD player. I mention this only because I took a small amount of flak yesterday for linking to the Zune-installation page. I should have noted that it wasn’t so much the problems encountered, but the overall sense of Lame that flowed off those screengrabs. Well, in all fairness, let me relate the tale of setting up the HD player. First of all, it’s relatively cheap. Most of the HD players cost about 5 bills; the Xbox player is $199. (Of course, you need an Xbox.) The box is small. The instructions are the first thing you see:

But is this the proper orientation? Not really, since the Xbox screens look like this:

And that’s the problem the designers faced: since you can orient the Xbox parallel or perpendicular, how do you design the instructions? Well, you come up with something like this:

 . . . which manages to be wrong and right for everyone, as well as right and wrong. Now: if you have your Xbox parallel to the ground, as I suspect most do, the illustration showing where you plug in the USB cord is upside down – but of course the position of the controller tells you it’s upside down. Then again, the position of the install-disc sleeve (the faint outline by the disc drawer) orients your eye to the parallel position. It didn’t take me long to figure it out, but I discovered I had to remove the Xbox wireless dongle to hook up the HD. Great. I assume it’ll to in the back of the HD drive, but there’s nothing to suggest that’s the case.

Look! It balances on one end!

What else is wrong with this picture? We’ll get to that in a second. So you’re going to connect the cables, as per the instruction. You get out the cable, only to find it has a special sleeve over one end telling you to run the installation disc before you plug it in. First we’ve heard about that, but fine. In goes the disc. It says it has to install an update; okay? Whatever. (The provided remote, which is quite nice, has A-B-Y-X buttons for screen navigation.) Then it asks you to attach the cord. Then it hangs. Then you restart. Then it asks to install again. Fine. You unplug the cord and plug it in again, and it recognizes the drive. Then it says it has to install an update. Again? Fine. It only takes a second, and then you’re in business: pop in the free “King Kong” HD movie, and enjoy!

The picture is pretty good, and now I’m ruined for normal DVDs. But what’s odd about the add-on player? It doesn’t match the Xbox. I repeat: it does not match the Xbox. The Xbox has a white face; the HD player has a grey face. 

Why? I mean, there had to be a meeting about this: do we make the HD unit look like the device to which it is irrevocably bound? Nah – why would we want to do that? Well, because white is nice, and the Xbox is white, and it’s an Xbox accessory, and all the other accessories are white, and –

Well, it’s white on the sides.

But not on the front. Why not go all the way?

Well, the cord’s white.

No, it’s not. It’s white in the set-up instructions, but it’s actually grey.

So it matches the front of the drive, then!


A small thing, I know, but that’s what I notice with Microsoft products, time and again: if they can get a telling small aesthetic detail wrong, they will.

Anyway. Who cares. Much work yet to do tonight; thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you tomorrow. Those who’ve signed up for the Diner: it’ll be delivered today. It was done last week, which is why I don’t mention the passing of someone I quote. Enjoy!

Oh: nine new pages of Brazilian money for your perusal as well.







c. j lileks. email may be sent to first name at last name dot com.