29 July 2014

Car Stuff: Repair Shop Lot

I tend to be on watch for individual vehicles, but one day we were driving through Arlington and I spotted a repair shop with all sorts of old stuff parked in front of it. By the time I made my way back there on my own, at least one of the cars I'd seen that day was gone, but it was still worth the trip.
This 1977 Oldsmobile 98 sedan was parked facing a side street. It's is an interesting car to come across, as it's the first year of the greatly downsized full-size GM cars, and the improvements in efficiency with equivalent interior space were significant achievements at the time. This one is in outstanding condition and appears complete, though maybe it needs some mechanical attention. (Growing up I had a friend whose mother had one of these, in dark blue with a light blue vinyl top and matching light blue velour interior.)
This very rough Ford Econoline window van could be anywhere from a 1961 to a '67; there were no exterior changes during its run.
This Cadillac Sedan deVille, a 1966, was so big and had cars parked so close all around it that I could not get a shot with the whole car in the frame, plus it was further back into the lot and I didn't want to risk angering anyone. Behind it you can just make out the unmistakable shape of an AMC Pacer.
A 1980s Chevrolet Caprice appears to be someone's daily driver, since it has license plates and is parked on the street.
Here's a Dodge Coronet police car, either a 1975 or '76. It's still wearing official plates, which could mean it's being kept by the Boston Police Department. Behind the cruiser is a 1960s Dodge pickup.
That's a 1975 Chevrolet Malibu Classic coupe that looks like it needs only some wheel covers to hit the road.
And here's an early-'90s Ford Crown Victoria being moved, with another Caprice behind it in the lot. Seeing these cars, particularly the Olds 98, Malibu, and Coronet police car, got me wondering if any of them were in the process of being prepared for use in Black Mass, the Bulger film being shot around the area this summer. We'll have to wait until it comes out next year to find out.

28 July 2014

Last Week in Awesome (7/26/14)

You probably thought I wasn't doing it again this weekend, but I just forgot...

The New York Times has a tumblr that delves into their vast photography archives. (Cult of Mac)

Apparently some people still customize vans. (Hemmings)

I don't know how many people have wondered about the geography of Gotham City, but naturally there are maps. (Smithsonian via Transit Maps)

And finally last week, it can be a blessing and a curse: autocorrect. (Wired via Kempt)

26 July 2014

Retro Video Unit (7/25/14)

Sorry about that, yesterday was occupied by non-blog stuff.

Checking out all the new videos from Weird Al Yankovic over the past couple of weeks inevitably led to some of his older ones (and there was a good piece on Vulture last week where he talked about a bunch of them), which then led me to one of the original songs Al parodied, "Jeopardy" by the Greg Kihn Band:

23 July 2014

Grooming Garage: 3 to 5

For a long time I have maintained that there was no point in using a razor with more than three blades, so it's with some surprise that I find I'm now using five-blade razors.

It happened by accident: I ran out of blade cartridges for my Schick Hydro 3 handle. I went through my toiletry stuff to see what I might have that I could use that day, and found an unopened Hydro 5 razor that I think I'd gotten as a free bonus item in a shipment from drugstore.com. I used it and felt like it was an improvement over the three-blade version, and after two subsequent shaves I was still feeling that way. Since I had to buy more cartridges anyway it seemed like I might as well switch.

Then I found out that Schick offers a sensitive-skin version of the Hydro 5 cartridge. I guess the lotion is different or something, but for me it's even more comfortable than the regular version. The sensitive cartridges do cost a bit more than the regular ones, but for me it's worth it, and there are coupons for Schick products in the Sunday paper about once a month.

One other nice feature of both kinds of Hydro 5 cartridges that isn't offered on the Hydro 3 (or any other razor cartridge that I'm aware of) is the top part of the cartridge, the part above the blades that holds the lotion, flips back for trimming smaller areas like under my nose. The large head size was always one of my main issues with multi-blade cartridges, so that's no longer an issue.

22 July 2014

Back Seat Rider

Last week I needed to use Uber, and my ride turned out to be a previous-generation Audi A4. I have a friend who has one (actually it's an S4, the sportier version, but it's the same car) but I'd never been in the back seat of his car. A couple of months ago I used Uber and my ride was driving a previous-generation BMW 3-Series sedan, a car I'd never been in before.

Both of these cars are often bought by image-conscious people. Neither car is particularly large, but when I use UberX the front passenger seat is usually moved all the way forward to maximize rear seat room for a single passenger. I found the BMW's back seat to be much more cramped and much less comfortable overall than the Audi's. This isn't exactly a surprise, but it was interesting for me to be able to confirm it personally.

I also wonder how the newer generations of these cars compare to each other. I don't think anyone buys either car because of its rear-seat room, but even if people aren't driving for Uber, they must have passengers in their back seats sometimes.

21 July 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #9

It's time for another Fantasy Garage already? Well, recently I've written about moderately-sized personal cars like the Cougar and Barracuda, and I'd like to throw the Firebird into that discussion, but I'm going to hold off for now and swing back to something large and luxurious, because as I mentioned in my Matador article last week, that's still where the heart of the US car market was in the late 1960s (though a shift was underway).

I've already established that I have a thing for big four-door hardtops, which reached their style peak around the mid-to-late '60s before starting a slow fade from popularity. Among such cars, one of my favorites is the 1968 Chrysler 300. The "non-letter" 300 series was introduced in 1962 as a way to expand the expensive, limited production letter cars (like the 300F I started this series with) and bring some of their cachet to a broader, lower-priced lineup of models.
By 1966 the enormous 440 cubic-inch V8, the largest engine Chrysler Corporation produced, was standard on the 300 and other Chrysler models. (In later years many of these cars became engine donors for swaps into other Plymouth and Dodge models.) The 300 was the middle line, below the New Yorker but above the Newport Custom and Newport; its intent was to combine luxury with sportiness, which is part of why it appeals to me.

Another reason, probably the main one, is because it's one of the only four-door hardtops I'm aware of that came with standard bucket seats and an optional console at a time when four-door cars almost exclusively came with bench seats. (I believe this setup was also available on the Buick Wildcat, very much a GM counterpart to the 300, but it may be the only other one I know of; I've always been somewhat surprised that Pontiac didn't try offering a four-door hardtop version of the Grand Prix during the '60s.)
So why would I specifically choose a '68 300 (or "Three Hundred," as it appeared on the side of the car)? The final model years of 1969-'71 are nearly as appealing with their "fuselage" styling, and I'd probably be just as happy with one of those, but as is often the case, it's in the details. The body panels are identical to those of the '67, but the front end gained hidden headlights (always a bonus for me) with a red-trimmed grille dividing bar, and horizontal tail lights which I prefer to the vertical ones on the '67.

The sides of the car are fairly plain, but if you view the front end of the car from above it's heavily sculpted, with bladelike fender ends and a center peak; these are the sort of body details that started to get sanded away shortly afterward as car companies looked to reduce their engineering, design, and assembly costs. To me this car represents that period of transition at Chrysler and stands as a reminder of everything that had led up to it.

(Images from Old Car Brochures, as usual.)

20 July 2014

This Week in Awesome (7/19/14)

Right, let's take care of this weekend thing...

The Awkward Family Photos, um, family has grown since I last checked in. Of course, the original site is always worth a look, but maybe not after you've eaten.

Did you know some of the drones that regular folks can buy come equipped with cameras? (Yahoo Tech via Dronestagram & National Geographic)

And finally this week, a couple of articles about one of my favorite childhood toys: die-cast cars. (Hemmings blog; The Truth About Cars)

Too Quiet

Oh hi. So yeah, things were a little quiet and sparse around here the past few days. Life happens, you know? I'll be back later with TWiA.

17 July 2014

Facing Front

Look what I finally found backed into its driveway: the neighbor's red 1968 Camaro.
This car arrives each spring, presumably from storage, but is never, ever parked on the street (perfectly understandable) and is almost always pulled into the driveway front end first. Now it's been parked in this spot for a couple of days, which has me wondering if it's in need of repair.

It's also worth noting that this is not a Super Sport or Rally Sport model, but just a "basic" Camaro. The wheels and tires are not standard, and I have no idea what sort of engine is motivating it, but it's still nice to see an old muscle/pony car with a mostly original appearance.

15 July 2014


Yesterday the city installed a new utility pole adjacent to our driveway, next to the old one. Today the bucket trucks were back along with a blocked street and a police officer to guide motorists around the block. The officer told me yesterday that the utility companies needed to come to switch over the wires.

A little after 10 am the doorbell rang, and I figured it was related to the work. A worker was on the porch and informed me that the power would be shut off in about 20 minutes so the wire carrying electricity could be moved to the new pole, which could take up to 90 minutes. I hurriedly finished my breakfast so I would not have to open the refrigerator while the power was off, and shut off the air conditioners and my computer.

It took a while longer than the estimate before the shutoff occurred. I sat in the coolest room and read the newspaper and a book. It didn't get as warm inside as I'd expected, and power came back on after only about an hour. Fortunately it was not nearly as much of an inconvenience as it might have been on a day as humid as this one was.

14 July 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #28

Cars keep appearing for me to feature in this series. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of a car in passing and make my way back, hoping it's still there. So far I've had about 50% success in those situations. A couple of months ago we were driving down Mystic Avenue in Medford and I spotted something old and beige sitting in an empty lot. A month or so later we were in the same area and the car was still there, so the Mrs. kindly turned around and went back so I could get these pictures.
American Motors Corporation was formed in 1954 when the companies that made the Nash and Hudson brand cars merged. Within three years both those makes were dead and the company focused on Nash's compact Rambler, expanding the brand to a line of compact and midsize cars as a deliberate strategy against the excesses of most other American carmakers in the late 1950s. During the mid- to late 1960s the Rambler name was gradually replaced by AMC as each model line was redesigned.

During this period AMC made respectable efforts to market cars that matched other companies' offerings. For 1968 the Javelin was introduced as a competitor to the Mustang, Camaro/Firebird, and Barracuda. For 1970 they fielded the Hornet, an attractive compact alternative to the Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant, Chevrolet Nova, and Ford's new Maverick. Later that year, a shortened variant of the Hornet became the infamous Gremlin.
But in the early 1970s, the heart of the American car market was still (for the time being) large and midsized cars, which brings us to this 1973 AMC Matador sedan. Why it's been left in the corner of this property, which is going to be the future new home of a Volkswagen dealer moving from about half a mile down the street, we can only speculate. I'm not sure what used to be on this piece of land, but maybe this car had been stored there and had to be moved so a building could be demolished.

The Matador began as the AMC Rebel, which replaced the Rambler Classic for 1967. It was a very attractive car, but for 1970 the Rebel got a questionable restyle that, at least in the case of the four-door sedan, looked like the back half of a different car had been grafted to a Rebel's front half. (Compare it to this brochure pic of a '68 Rebel and you'll see what I mean.) For reasons I don't understand, the station wagons retained the rear doors that had also been used on the '67-'69 Rebel sedans, and thus ended up remaining the best-looking Matador model for the rest of its production run. (Here's a '74 Matador wagon to illustrate my point.)
For more reasons I don't understand (which is a phrase that comes up frequently when discussing AMC), the 1970 Rebel became the 1971 Matador with some minor changes to the front end that made it vaguely less disjointed-looking. It would have made far more sense to rename the car for '70 along with the redesign, but it didn't happen that way. The Matador would see one more restyling for '74 (mainly to meet the federal bumper requirements) and would hang around through the '78 model year before finally being taken out behind the barn and put out of its misery.

AMC had almost as many lives as a cat, but there was no happy ending, except for Jeep, which AMC had purchased in 1970. Chrysler Corporation, a company that also knew a few things about second and third acts, purchased all of AMC's stock in 1987 for the bargain-basement price of $1.5 billion, mainly to obtain the Jeep brand and products, which worked out pretty well for Chrysler.

13 July 2014

This Week in Awesome (7/12/14)

Well, the sun hasn't gone down yet... it was a busier than normal weekend.

The YouTube channel Music Vault has thousands of concert performances available to watch. (Boy Genius Report)

Vintage Boston subway maps are always worth looking at. (Transit Maps)

Ever see a poster for a movie and feel like it looks really familiar? You're not wrong. (Mentorless via The A.V. Club)

And finally this week, an interesting article on the state of crossword puzzles in the age of apps. (The Atlantic)

11 July 2014

Retro Video Unit (7/11/14)

I heard this while ordering food this afternoon, and sometimes that's how they get chosen, nothing more to it: Echo and the Bunnymen, "Lips Like Sugar."

(Housekeeping edit: how do people feel about this new default size for YouTube videos?)

10 July 2014

New Clothing Shouldn't Smell Weird

I just realized I never relayed this weird incident: I've been trying not to buy things, but a couple of months ago I found something I've been after for a long time: a dark gray chambray shirt that's not a work shirt but styled like a casual shirt with a button-down collar and a single pocket. It was at Old Navy and was only $16, so I bought it online, along with another item from Gap.

When the shirt arrived, I immediately noticed it had a weird smell, not necessarily a bad smell, but something you shouldn't smell from a new garment. It was a chemical smell, or possibly petroleum-based; I could never pin it down definitively. The Mrs. said to her it smelled like mildew, but my nose wasn't getting that, and there was no visible evidence to support either conclusion. I ran it through the wash and hung it up to dry. I went downstairs the next day to get it, and the smell was still there, so a couple of days later I washed it again with no change.

I left it hanging in the basement for a while and periodically checked it, but the smell remained. I thought perhaps our scent-free detergent was not strong enough to eradicate the smell, so a couple of weeks later I took a walk to a nearby laundromat and bought a single-load package of Tide from the vending machine. Tide's scent is so strong I figured it could take care of anything. Same process, same result: as the Tide smell faded away, I could tell the original smell was still there, though it did seem like it may have been a little less noticeable.

I had used only about half of the Tide, so I ran more water in the washing machine, added the detergent, and let the shirt soak for several hours before running another wash cycle. When I hung it up all I could smell was Tide. I stayed away from it for a couple of days, but by then the Tide had faded away again, and there was no change in the shirt's smell. I reasoned that it had to be a component of the dye, or some other aspect of the production process.

This was much more effort than I had ever had to make to remove a smell from clothing, and I decided I had done enough. As much as I wanted to keep the shirt, I had no choice but to return it. Curiously, it had disappeared from the Old Navy site around the time my order arrived, so I was unable to return it for an exchange. At the store a clerk checked the inventory and found two in the same size, but in New York state somewhere. It wasn't worth it to me to pursue another one. I think I just wasn't meant to have that particular shirt, and so the search continues...

Monday, 7/14: After I got a comment on this post, I realized that I had left out part of the story. Two people suggested soaking the shirt in a baking soda and water mixture, so after all the washings did not help, I did soak the shirt, but unfortunately that effort did not help either.

08 July 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #8

In my previous Fantasy Garage post I touched on the enormous success of the Mustang as it related to the Mercury Cougar. I've never found Mustangs all that exciting and probably wouldn't want to own one, but I do find some of the Mustang's competition appealing. It took GM more than two years after the introduction of the Mustang to get its response, the Camaro and Firebird, to market, but in the spring of 1964 Chrysler had a small, sporty car on sale a few weeks before the debut of the Mustang.

The Plymouth Barracuda wasn't nearly as successful as the Mustang, largely because from the waist down it was still a lowly compact Valiant; a fastback roofline with a large, curved rear window were the only visual differences between it and a Valiant two-door hardtop. It was still a good move, but compared to a Mustang it wasn't going to excite anyone. (I was looking for sales figures but couldn't find them readily.)
Both the Valiant and Barracuda were redesigned for 1967, and Plymouth wisely gave the Barracuda its own sheet metal, though one look at the dashboard made it clear it was still Valiant-based. Also new for '67 were coupe and convertible body styles along with the fastback, just like Mustang offered. Consequently, Valiant lost its hardtop and convertible models, while its Dodge cousin the Dart retained them; for '70, Dodge got the Challenger, its own variant of the Barracuda, and a year later Plymouth regained a Valiant hardtop, the Scamp.

Most people are into the beefier and more muscle-oriented 1970-74 Barracudas, but I'm not most people; I'd much rather have a 1967-'69 model, in particular a convertible. The '67-'69 styling is much more appealing to me. It's clean and trim, with none of the bloat that was coming to define the entire industry by the early 1970s.
I spotted this one in traffic a couple of months ago while we were out on a nice Sunday in the spring, but it was partially blocked by other vehicles so not much of it is visible. From the rear styling I think it's a '67. (Those wheels and side moldings are not original.)

Several of Chrysler's big V8 engines were available (some only in special packages), but I'd prefer my hypothetical car to have the plain old 318, which for '68 replaced the 273 as the smallest V8 available. It's capable of providing more than enough power for a car of this size without the penalty of horrific gas mileage. Whether for a modestly trimmed Barracuda intended for everyday driving when new or for present-day weekend cruising, the 318 would be a much more sensible engine choice.
Identifying the specific model year is tricky, as the grille and tail light changes were very minor, so the easiest thing to do, as noted previously, is look for side marker lights, or the lack of them. Small, round side marker lights? It's a '68. Rectangular ones? '69. None? '67.

One other cool note: in '69 Dodge and Plymouth offered an appearance package on certain models, including the Barracuda coupe, called Mod Top, which featured vinyl tops in floral patterns and matching fabric on the seats and door panels. These are quite rare but very groovy-looking.

(Top image from Wikipedia; bottom from The Truth About Cars.)

07 July 2014


My brain is still in holiday-weekend mode.
We had a bit of serious weather around here this evening (no damage or anything).
I'm immersed in a good book.

All of which are alternate ways of saying: there will be a new Car Stuff entry, but I won't get to it until tomorrow.

06 July 2014

This Week in Awesome (7/5/14)

This is another one that kind of stretches back to last week, but I hadn't found enough interesting stuff yet...

I don't know if anyone will care enough to follow these rules, but I like that someone made the effort to express them. (Wired)

I've often wondered how the American accent diverged from the British accent, but the answer was not what I was expecting. (Live Science via Dappered)

I managed to miss the whole Trapper Keeper thing, but regardless of your age, you can now get a facsimile of one to cover your tablet. (Esquire Style Blog)

The US Geological Survey created an online map exploration tool that's pretty neat. (boston dot com)

And finally this week, another map, but this one is of an imaginary land known as "where all movies take place." (Electric Literature via The A.V. Club)

03 July 2014

Awareness Is Important

I don't want to bum anyone out as we head into a long holiday weekend, but sometimes serious things need to be considered. As so often happens online, I was looking at something that led me to something else, which is how I became aware of a smartphone app called Cruelty Cutter. Scan a product's bar code and the app tells you whether or not the company tests on animals.

I admit this is a concern that has not been on my radar. I try to be aware of companies' ethical policies and environmental records, but I hadn't given any thought to animal testing, and as a dog owner I definitely should be. We rescued a dog that was raced, but thousands of other dogs suffer more unpleasant conditions for the benefit of corporate profits.

The app's web page has a graphic showing over 60 companies that do test on animals. Unsurprisingly, some of the largest consumer-product companies in the world are listed; chances are there's something in your house that was tested on animals. There are a couple of surprises here: I always thought of Neutrogena as a company with higher principles. And I certainly raised an eyebrow at Iams, a PET FOOD company, but then I learned it's part of Procter & Gamble, which made it less surprising.

Naturally this prompted a review of the products we buy and use. We have Arm & Hammer laundry detergent and toothpaste, and Lysol cleaning products; I use Old Spice antiperspirant and shower soap and Listerine breath strips. In some cases I buy the generic equivalent of a product (Target's mouthwash is less than half the price of Listerine), but I don't yet know if it's cruelty-free or not. Sometimes generics are manufactured in the same factories as the branded products using the same ingredients.

With most of these products, we can make or already have made a substitution. The main issue from a consumer point of view is that in most cases it ends up costing more. Target carries Seventh Generation products at much better prices than Whole Foods or anywhere else I've seen them. A few months ago we decided to try 7G's dish soap because we had a coupon. It lasts just as long and works just as well as whatever we were buying before, so we have continued to buy it. Trader Joe's now has its own-brand equivalent to Tom's toothpaste that is cheaper.

We have a large quantity of Arm & Hammer laundry detergent because it's frequently on sale; recently, by using a coupon during a sale at Stop & Shop, I was able to get two bottles of it for $1. But there will come a point when we need to buy more, and there are options: Seventh Generation and Method, though both of those are more costly. Costco's Kirkland line is much more economical, but I'll need to check it with the app.

I also need to find substitutes for my soap and antiperspirant. For a long time Tom's offered only deodorants, but now they have an antiperspirant, and it's available unscented, so I will be trying that soon. I've bought Target's shower soap many times, but again I will need to check it with the app. Zest is another possibility. Oh, and there's also the Listerine breath strips, which I find much more convenient to carry than mints. There are generic equivalents, but they taste terrible.

There are a couple of important takeaways here: marketing is both pervasive and insidious, and companies are not going to make consumers aware of information that they would rather we not know; it's up to us to find out. I'm not trying to make anyone feel guilty about the products you buy and use, but I sincerely hope you will give this issue some thought.

Addendum: I should note that the Cruelty Cutter app is $2.99, but purchasing it helps fund the not-for-profit Beagle Freedom Project.

01 July 2014

Community Lives!

One of my favorite TV shows, the NBC comedy Community, got canceled in May, at the end of its fifth season. A joke made during season two, when a character expressed a desire for "six seasons and a movie" (the show was quite meta and self-referential, and this particular character seemed to know he was a character on a TV show) had become a rallying cry for fans, who believed the show would make it to six seasons.

The show's primary production company pledged to try to find another outlet to keep it going, and for a while it looked like Hulu was going to sign on to show new episodes, but no deal was reached. I had given up, and thus was very surprised when I heard yesterday that Yahoo had agreed to stream a sixth season online. It was pretty close to the wire, because if a deal had not been completed by yesterday the cast would have been released from their contracts, and when they start lining up other jobs it's much more difficult to bring them all back together again.

The deal also ensures that the show's creator, Dan Harmon, will be on board as showrunner. Yahoo says it plans to start streaming the new season (which will be 13 episodes, just like its last two on NBC) some time this fall, which means the writers are going to have to get to work pretty quickly. But even though the episodes will stream online, production is likely to proceed in a manner like that of a show produced for a broadcast network or cable channel, with new episodes appearing weekly rather than the all-at-once approach of Netflix.

I'm excited, because I was not ready to let go of Community yet. Now, about that movie...

30 June 2014

Car Stuff: A Cluster of Geos

From the mid-1980s until the early '00s, General Motors and Toyota had a joint venture building cars together in a plant in California. The Toyotas were Corollas, while the Chevrolets were first called Novas, later given the brand Geo and the model name Prizm, and still later changed back to Chevrolet but still called the Prizm.
Sometimes the cars used the same sheet metal; other times they looked slightly different. It's unlikely I'd be writing anything about a mid-'90s Geo if I hadn't noticed three of them around the corner from me during the winter, all on the same block.
These cars are all from the 1993-97 generation; the corresponding Toyota Corolla had somewhat straighter lines and was also available as a station wagon. That was the last Corolla wagon available in the US; I have no idea if Toyota still offers one, but I would guess not.
Oddly, there was a nicer-trim version of the Prizm available that came with leather seats, but I have no idea if any of these cars are that model.
As you can see, all of these cars are commuting road warriors that have seen their share of hard use. One day they were all parked on the street fairly close to each other, and I couldn't resist taking a group shot.
A couple of months later I spotted another Prizm in the Stop & Shop parking lot. I'm pretty sure it isn't one of the neighboring cars because this one had one wheel cover on its right side. (These cars don't seem to hold onto their wheel covers very well.)

28 June 2014

The Other Side of Summer

I don't like summer. I never have, and I hate being the person who says that and feels that way, but it's who I am. I've spent my whole life in New England, where people have the distinct combination of a stoic acceptance of winter with the tendency to go batshit when a snowstorm is approaching. They rush to the grocery store to ensure a supply of staple foods, as though they’re expecting to be snowed in for two weeks or more.

So after enduring the winter, people around here tend to be excited about summer. They want to get outside, go to beaches, sit on outdoor patios and drink. I approach summer in terms of how little time I can manage to spend outside. I mean, look at me. I've already had one basal cell carcinoma removed from my forehead. I have to treat the sun as something that's trying to kill me.

I’ve reached the point where I have to wear a hat whenever I’m outside. My summer hat is made of some sort of synthetic that has UV protection built in. But I still need to cover my arms with long sleeves or cover them in sunscreen, which is a less unpleasant experience than it was when I was a child (when it was like wearing paste) but is still messy and gross: either stuff sticks to your skin, or your clothes get stained, or both.

I was always the proverbial indoor kid. Growing up, we had a pool, which was great. (An aboveground pool, because we were a working-class family.) But I didn't like playing outside. If I wasn't swimming in the pool, I was back in the house, usually either reading or down in the basement, where it was cooler than the rest of the house, working on model cars. To me, the most horrifying words anyone can say are “Let’s go to the beach!” or "wanna go camping?"

Getting to work is especially fun in the summer. If you're lucky, you go from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car, then walk across a parking lot to an air-conditioned office building, and you aren’t spending time outside in the heat and humidity unless you choose to. But if you're commuting on public transit, you walk to the bus stop and wait for a bus, then ride to a train station where you don't really know for sure how long you'll have to wait for a train, then when a train does come you hope there's enough room for you to get on.

If you do make it on then it's probably packed pretty full of people and you better hope the air-conditioning is working, and that it's strong enough to keep you and all your fellow riders comfortable, and that the other passengers on the train believe in practicing good hygiene and have bathed some time in the last 12 hours or so, and hopefully there isn't someone standing next to you who decided it would be a good idea to run the three miles to the train station that morning. And then when you reach your stop, you probably have to walk at least a short distance to your office. Some days, I feel like I already need another shower by the time I get to work.

I used to work in an office where a number of my coworkers thought the air conditioning was too cold. (They were female, but I don’t think I’m being sexist by saying that women tend to be colder than men.) But it got to the point where several of them asked for, and received, small heaters to keep under their desks.

But the thing about that was, if you have three or four people sitting near each other who are all running these heaters, it makes that area of the office warmer. Meanwhile, I was stuck sitting near them, in the part of the office that ended up five or six degrees warmer than the rest because their heaters are running all day. And guess what? The sensors tell the AC to kick on to compensate for that pocket of warmth, and the cycle never ends… Would it have been so terrible for people to just keep sweaters in their desks, or maybe even some slippers?

And let’s not forget the delicate aroma of decomposing garbage that wafts through the air every week when the trash goes out. Around where I live, people have a tendency to put out their trash a full day ahead of schedule, which ensures it gets nice and ripe before it gets picked up.

Summer? No thanks. The extra daylight is nice, I guess, but you can only remove so many layers of clothing and still end up sticky and uncomfortable, or you could just be like me and hide indoors.

Retro Video Unit (6/27/14)

Quickly tonight, because I need to get some sleep: I know that when this video came out in 1986 there were people who were bothered by it, but I always thought they were missing the point: it was a goof, it was making fun of some of the tropes of music videos that had already become cliched after only a few years of MTV. Here's Robert Palmer doing "Addicted to Love."

Sadly, Palmer died of a heart attack in September 2003 at age 54, way too young. He had a really interesting, distinctive singing voice, and he deployed it successfully across a range of styles. He was a very talented guy.

25 June 2014

Watch Wednesday Upgrade Update: Another Strap Change

Over a decade ago I acquired a Tudor Ranger watch from the 1960s, which I've featured here. I bought a black strap for it because the dial is black and black is always kind of my default choice for straps.

Then a couple of months ago Tudor, which has been raiding its archives for reissues, introduced a new version of the Ranger. The case is somewhat larger, but its look maintains clearly linked to my older version of the watch.

The new watch is available on a metal bracelet or a couple of different leather straps (which you can see here—scroll down to the second photo), and when I saw the photos from the watch's introduction I realized that it looked really good on a brown leather strap, and my watch probably would as well.

The catch with older Tudor (and Rolex) watches is, the case lug width is 19 millimeters, which is a hard size to find straps for. And some of them taper down to a 16 mm buckle, which makes the ends of the strap look too narrow. I couldn't find one with contrast stitching like the new Rangers come with, and ultimately I ended up purchasing the same brand and style of strap as I already had on the watch, just in brown instead of black, but that's okay.
Once again I think my camera isn't doing a good job of capturing the strap's color, which is a slightly richer shade of brown that is not coming through here, but it was a good reminder for me that I shouldn't automatically choose black straps for all my watches.

24 June 2014

Random Gripes

I have a cold. That's a lousy thing to suffer in the last week of June.

I've worn a hole in the plastic mat under my desk chair. Apparently they come in different grades and thicknesses of plastic. With wall to wall carpeting a mat is a necessity, and this one is now breaking off in pieces from the hole and generally making life trickier with its sharp edges.

Speaking of wall to wall carpeting, our landlord is planning on removing the carpet from the upstairs apartment, which will have a sonic impact on us.

With all the fuss about the upcoming iPhone 6, I'm wishing I hadn't bothered getting a 5s and had waited instead, but that's 100% on me.

Some idiot in our neighborhood has already been lighting some REALLY LOUD fireworks at night for the better part of a week. Seriously, just grow up.

23 June 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #27

I've had a run of good luck lately with some nice older cars that found their way in front of my camera. I suppose the weather could have something to do with it, and in some cases I've happened upon daily or occasional drivers.

Today we've got a 1969 Dodge Coronet 500 convertible in what my paint-code sleuthing suggests is Bright Turquoise Metallic (merely a coincidence after the Avanti). The location is the back lot of an auto parts and repair place that I pass on the way to Stop & Shop. I first saw it back in April, after the snow was gone, and repeated sightings have led me to believe it belongs to one of the garage's employees.
At that time the car was behind a closed fence, and it wasn't until a couple of weeks later that I found it parked near the open gate. But then I had to wait about another month to get the rear shot, on a day when it happened to be parked in front instead of in back; on many days I walked to the store as an excuse to check for the car.

This generation of mid-sized Dodges was introduced for 1968 and ran through 1970 with yearly changes, along with its Plymouth Satellite cousins. Back in the early 1970s, my elementary school parking lot featured a number of these cars (even then I paid attention to what sorts of cars the teachers and staff drove). I've always thought these were outstandingly good-looking cars, and I prefer "regular" Coronets and Satellites to the more muscle-oriented Chargers, Super Bees, Road Runners, and GTXs.
From its appearance I would venture that this car has benefited from some degree of restoration—everything about it just looks too new and nice, and I was surprised to see that someone would use a classic in such nice condition as a daily driver. The wheels are not stock, though Dodge did offer some nice-looking wheels as options. On the other hand, I can see variation in the paint on the left side, so maybe the car is about to have more work done.

Likewise, the black stripe around the rear of the car mimics the one that was available on the higher-performance R/T and Super Bee models, but was not offered on this model. I suspect it was added simply for aesthetic reasons. The black-painted lower body was part of the 500 trim level and enhances the car's Coke-bottle shape.
The standard engine on the '69 Coronet 500 was the venerable 318-cubic-inch V8, and for more motivation the equally venerable 383 was available. I'd like to think this car has a 383, because it just feels like it should. Of course, its original engine could have been swapped for any number of replacements over the course of its 45 years in existence.

For additional images, check out this 1969 Coronet brochure; and the 1969 Dodge full-line brochure at Old Car Brochures.

22 June 2014

This Week in Awesome (6/21/14)

Yep, another late Sunday night pretending to be any time on Saturday...

If you're feeling stressed about online privacy, you may want to have a look at this article about making your online activity anonymous. Digest version: it takes a lot of effort. (Wired)

The inmates on Orange Is the New Black have a lot of free time, so they read a lot. Some of the books are easy to recognize, others less so. (Vulture)

If you're in the mood to fall into an interweb rabbit hole, a legendary New York public access talent show called Stairway to Stardom has posted its archives on YouTube.

And finally this week, we're all familiar with misheard song lyrics, but these are songs whose meanings are more widely misunderstood (with videos included for some added nostalgia). (Mental Floss)

20 June 2014

Finding the Grind

A few months ago I had to replace my coffee maker, which also necessitated getting a new, separate coffee grinder. It took only a short while to decide which brewer I wanted, but choosing the grinder took a couple of weeks. Often with household products that we use regularly, it takes a couple of months of daily use to fully know how satisfied we are with them, so this seemed like a good time to evaluate the purchases.

It was easy to narrow down which coffee makers to consider since I require one that uses cone filters. These produce better coffee than the more mass-market kind that use basket filters. (Sorry, Mom.) This time around, I also opted for a machine with an insulated stainless steel pot. It keeps the coffee hot enough for a couple of hours, without the need for a heating element in the unit's base. This probably saves a few cents a month in electricity use, but more importantly the coffee tastes better when it's not being "cooked" for two hours after brewing.

I knew I wanted a burr-style grinder, but what I didn't know until I started comparing models is that there are two types of burr grinders. My dearly departed Krups all-in-one unit had the lesser kind, and while my enjoyment of the coffee it made wouldn't have changed had I been aware of this difference earlier, once I did know the idea was stuck in my brain, and I had to get a conical burr grinder this time.

I read a lot of reviews and gradually narrowed down the units I was considering. Anyone who has read online product reviews knows that people are much more likely to post a review if they have something negative to say, and it's also commonly known that many positive reviews are in fact barely disguised shilling paid for by manufacturers, so all reviews have to be weighed accordingly. (It's also possible to spend an absolutely silly amount of money on a coffee grinder; there are units that perform on par with ones intended for commercial use, and they are priced accordingly.)

Complaints about coffee grinders tend to focus on one aspect of their performance, such as "too noisy" or "makes a big mess of ground coffee." These are not necessarily reflective of performance as much as they are of user expectations. Another common one is "does not grind fine enough for espresso." That's a valid concern, but I'm not making espresso so it doesn't matter to me. I was more concerned about things like "broke after two months; replacement unit broke after three months."

Eventually I landed on the line of grinders by Capresso. I was not familiar with the brand when I started, but their products seemed to have far fewer negative reviews and many positive reviews that read as genuine to me. I felt like in this instance it would be worth it to spend a bit more, and since I was using gift money I was inclined to spend more anyway. I was still somewhat disappointed that the model with the stainless-steel housing was about $40 more than an otherwise identical unit with a plastic housing, but I concluded that the machine's inner workings were more important than its "skin." (Some websites confuse these models, since they look very similar.)

The grinder has performed flawlessly since I got it. It is a bit quieter than my previous one, which was not a major concern for me but is still appreciated. It even handles beans that are somewhat oily, which used to cause problems in my old unit. Emptying the remaining grounds from the chute is a bit messy, but I quickly learned that catching them in a plate or bowl is much easier than trying to shake them into the small plastic bin that comes with the unit.

19 June 2014

Price Difference

I had never purchased Pepcid, the acid-control medication, until our vet suggested that it can function as an appetite stimulant in some dogs. It does seem to be working, at least mildly, so we'll keep giving it to the dog.

We finished the box of 30 tablets we bought a month ago, so today I went to get more. I discovered that the CVS-brand generic equivalent costs $8.79 for 30 10-milligram tablets, while the Target-brand generic equivalent costs $3.44 for the same amount and size of tablets. Why? That's roughly two and a half times as much, an outsized price difference.

It was worth it for me to leave CVS and get on the bus, then switch to a different bus to get to Target. CVS is putting so much effort into refashioning its stores into would-be walk-in clinics that maybe they aren't paying as much attention to their competition. I buy a lot less of my personal-car items there than I used to, because they are almost always cheaper at Target.

18 June 2014

Pocket Problem

Summer means wearing fewer layers, which always presents me with a dilemma: when I'm going out I need to carry my sunglasses (in a hard case), my phone, and usually a bandanna. But if I'm not going to work, I often don't need to carry my messenger bag, and without a jacket I need to put those items somewhere.

The answer that presented itself over a decade ago is cargo shorts, but I never liked the styles with the big, bellowy pockets and all the flaps and pleats and whatnot. Eventually I landed on a discontinued Polo style with button-through back pockets and plain, flapped side pockets with no pleats. They were the most minimal cargo shorts I could find, and still are. I scoured eBay and eventually ended up with half a dozen pairs.

But now cargo shorts are considered out of style. Of course, people still wear them, but it seems they aren't being seen quite as much. I've never been one to worry about what's in or out of style, but I'm still conscious of this when I wear my cargo shorts. I've tried getting by with regular flat-front shorts, and the slimmer iPhone 5S in a slimmer leather sleeve case definitely helps, but I still need to carry the eyeglass case; if I put it in a front pocket while wearing regular shorts, it's bulky and awkward and I have to remove it if I want to sit down.

I've also tried just carrying the glasses in my shirt pocket without the case. This gets mixed results depending on the shirt I'm wearing and how roomy the pockets are, and if the pocket can't be buttoned there's a risk that the glasses will fall out. I suppose I could try another pair of Transitions lenses, which I understand get darker now than when I had them in the late '90s, but I still prefer two separate pairs of glasses, if only to have some differentiation between regular and sun. I've also tried to find clip-ons that will fit my frames, but so far it's been a fruitless search.

These things don't keep me awake at night, but I still find myself thinking about them more than I probably should. For now, I'm stuck with my cargos.

16 June 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #7

Ford Motor Company launched the Mercury brand in 1939 as an attempt to offer its customers a car that was more upscale than its standard Ford models but not as expensive as Lincoln. They were mimicking General Motors and its long-established its hierarchy of brands that we've discussed before. Ford saw Mercury as its answer to Oldsmobile or Buick. (Later they tried to split the difference too finely with Edsel, but with four model series in two basic bodies it was unclear whether Edsel was intended to be between Ford and Mercury, between Mercury and Lincoln, or both, and the market rejected it.)

In the late 1950s Mercury was allowed to build cars on a longer wheelbase with body styling that was completely different from contemporary Fords, with no shared exterior panels. This lasted for about a decade, until cost-cutting started becoming a larger concern to auto makers, and it was probably Mercury's most successful period. (Note that this is just my opinion and I'm not backing it up with any hard data.)

With the enormous success of the Mustang (talk about tapping into the zeitgeist), Mercury understandably wanted a piece of the action. For 1967, when the Mustang received its first restyling since its introduction in the spring of 1964, they got their counterpart: the original Cougar. The Cougar shared the Mustang's basic chassis structure, but rode on a wheelbase that was three inches longer and had more sound insulation, resulting in a more refined yet still sporty package.
From the side a Cougar looked sort of like a Mustang with smoother flanks, but its front and rear styling was much more distinctive. It featured a split grille with vertical "fins" and hidden headlights. The rear contained large horizontal tail lights that were decorated with vertical chromed ribs to match the grille, plus what is quite possibly the coolest feature ever put on a car: sequential turn signals, borrowed from Ford's Thunderbird. Here's a demonstration:

According to other videos on YouTube, some people think these lights activate too slowly and replace them with LED units, but I can't see doing that to one of these. All Cougars came standard with a 289 cubic-inch V8, bucket seats (would anyone have wanted a bench seat?), and a floor-mounted three-speed stick shift.

The 1968 models were virtually identical except for different badges and the addition of federally-mandated side marker lights. The redesign for 1969 followed the Mustang's, getting larger and heavier, and while the 1969-70 Cougar is still an attractive car, it feels less special than the first version.

Unlike the Mustang, the 1967-68 Cougar was available only as a two-door hardtop; a convertible was added for 1969. I have always thought that the first Cougar would have looked great as a convertible, and figured someone out there would have had the same thought along with the means to make it happen. But given the amount of work involved, I'd settle for a hardtop.

Coincidentally, over the weekend as I was thinking about writing this piece, the Autos section of the New York Times ran an article about Kevin Marti, who offers documentation services on Ford Motor Company products. His first car was a '67 Cougar, and he did to the car just what I hoped someone would do: cut off the roof. Of course, it isn't that easy to turn a car into a convertible (and if you follow the link and read that article, you'll get more details), but eventually Marti was able to get his Cougar properly squared away using parts salvaged from Mustang convertibles:
(Image credits: Old Car Brochures (top); The New York Times (bottom).

15 June 2014

This Week in Awesome (6/14/14)

Happy Father's Day to any dads that may be reading...

Yeah, this: the Seattle Symphony invited Sir Mix-a-Lot (a Seattle native) to perform with them, and he in turn invited members of the audience (well, the females) to join him. Someone deserves a raise for this idea. (Vulture)

I'm very much in agreement with the sentiments expressed here. Even notwithstanding how I feel about social media, I maintain a high "filter" to avoid absorbing information about the more obnoxious parts of our society. (Yahoo Tech)

Those of you who have been watching Orange Is the New Black may not know (I didn't) that Annie Golden, the woman who plays Norma (the silent one) has an interesting past as a rock and pop singer. (The Wire via TV Tattle)

In recognition of the World Cup, this article enlightened me about the origin of the word "soccer." (The Atlantic)

And finally this week, writers for the Canadian auto site Driving remember their fathers' cars.

14 June 2014

Retro Video Unit (6/13/14)

We're way overdue for a look at Talking Heads in this feature. I was first exposed to the band on a 1979 Saturday Night Live performance that had a profound impact on my musical interests. They were lauded by critics and produced a series of creatively ambitious, boundary-pushing albums from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, but I have often wondered how popular the band would have been if not for MTV.

Millions of kids and teens got their first exposure to the band through the videos for "Burning Down the House" and the other songs from 1983's Speaking in Tongues. But MTV also showed clips from the 1980 album Remain in Light, which for me stands as their greatest achievement. Most people 40 and over will remember this clip, for "Once in a Lifetime." Now, it appears that the original, official music video has not been approved for posting online, so this is the best we've got:

Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime (1980/ 2013... by MadFranko008

13 June 2014

Pop of Color

White bucks are a traditional summer shoe that have had a resurgence in popularity thanks to menswear's general tendency to look backward for inspiration in the present. I don't think I could see myself wearing them (I have gray bucks with red soles, which are more suited to the way I dress), but they do have an undeniable old-school panache that works well with warmer-weather clothing.

Yesterday I was doing some errands at a strip mall near home. There is a shoe store there that I don't generally pay any attention to, but I happened to be walking past it to get from one store to another and decided to go in and have a quick look around. I spotted a pair of Bass white bucks with red shoelaces instead of the usual white ones. I had no interest in buying them, but I thought this was a clever way to make a fairly plain-looking shoe more interesting, particularly since the red laces were intended to play off the shoes' red rubber soles.

It occurs to me that for someone who already owns white bucks, this would be a very easy and inexpensive way to give one's shoes a more distinctive look, and you wouldn't necessarily have to go with red for the laces. Colored laces are now available in a rainbow of colors for as little as $3 a pair if you do a little searching online, but don't pay more than $5 or so; that's just a ripoff and not worth it. (I think Allen Edmonds has them on their website and possibly in their stores as well.)

If you really wanted to get carried away, you could swap the laces the way some people swap out their nylon watch straps depending on what else they are wearing on a given day. At the very least, it would add a small touch of coordination to a summer wedding outfit.

12 June 2014


This past weekend, it was time to bring up our air conditioners from the basement and get them set up. Both of us used to have to carry three units up, one by one, with someone getting stuck doing the awkward backwards walk up the six steps from the basement out the side door, then around to the front of the house and up seven more steps.

A couple of years ago I happened to discover that my next-door neighbor had a hand truck with pneumatic tires, something I didn't know existed until then. I borrowed it and was able to bring up the ACs by myself; the larger diameter of the wheels and tires allows them to traverse steps much more easily, and the air-filled tires eliminate the banging from step to step that happens with regular wheels.

Last year the tires were not filled and it made the task somewhat more difficult. A few weeks ago I saw my neighbor, and he mentioned to me that the tires were flat. I remembered that I had a floor pump for filling bicycle tires (something that had totally slipped my mind last year) and I asked if the hand truck's tires could be filled that way. He said yes, and I offered to bring over the pump. On Sunday when I was going to do this (so I could then borrow the hand truck), he was not around.

The Mrs. had twisted her ankle earlier in the week and I didn't think she would be able to help me, so I decided maybe it was worth it to get our own hand truck. There is a store down the street from us called Harbor Freight that sells tools and equipment. Several of their hand trucks were on sale, and there was a coupon in the Sunday paper for an additional 20% off, so we went down there and got one for $30.

Additionally, we had the ramp made for the dog back during the winter, and I reasoned that I could make use of it for this task. Getting each unit up the ramp on the hand truck was more difficult than I would have thought, but it was still easier than pulling the load up the steps one at a time.

We were going to see if we could put off needing the ACs, and it hasn't been that warm yet, but the plasma TV throws off quite a lot of heat in a small room, and after a certain point it becomes too warm to watch TV for more than 15 or 20 minutes. And there's our dog's comfort to consider as well. So we've only needed them a couple of nights since we put them in, but they are ready for when it gets really warm and humid.

10 June 2014

Random Zero

The neighbor's 1968 Camaro has returned from storage for the summer. I saw it yesterday while walking the dog, and realized that when I posted it over two years ago, even though I didn't know it at the time, it was technically the first Random Sighting I ever did.

I'm still hoping to find it parked somewhere other than its driveway because I'd like to get more pictures of it, but the owner is understandably very cautious with it.

09 June 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #26

Most of the cars I encounter for this feature are either in traffic or parked somewhere; this one was in a museum. Back in late March the Mrs. and I went to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem (where a friend we've known for a long time runs the gift shop) to see an exhibit on California design, and this beautiful car was parked in the lobby. It's a 1964 Studebaker Avanti, and you may remember the Avanti II that I spotted at a car show last summer; this one is the real thing.
The California connection comes from the car's genesis: in 1961 Sherwood Egbert, the man running the company at the time, asked Raymond Loewy, a noted designer who had done other car designs for Studebaker, to come up with a design for a "halo car" that would attract attention to the brand. He was told to assemble a team of other designers he wanted to work with and they were set up in a rented house in Palm Springs, and given six weeks to produce a design.
And it's a wonderful design, unlike anything else being offered by American car companies at the time. It was extremely unusual for a car of this period to have no grille; even the dramatically styled 1963 Corvette Sting Ray, with its sharply edged, hidden-headlight front end, had a pair of small decorative grilles down below its twin "bumperettes." (The Avanti does have an air intake below its front bumper.) The asymmetrical "power bulge" in the Avanti's hood was also uncommon, and it's made all the more interesting when you notice that its general shape carries through to the inside of the car to the instrument panel housing.
As conceived, the Avanti was intended to split the difference between a two-seat sports car like the Corvette and a personal-luxury model like a Thunderbird. Its appointments were luxurious for the time, but it had much more of a sporting character thanks to its engine, which could be had with a supercharger, and like the Corvette its body panels are made of fiberglass. I think it looks especially attractive in this particular light turquoise shade.
The original 1963 cars had round headlight bezels, which I've always thought looked better with the lights than the rectangular surrounds seen on this '64. I wish I'd been able to get close enough to get a good shot of the interior, but you can read more about the Avanti and see more photos in this feature on Curbside Classic.

08 June 2014

This Week in Awesome (6/714)

Hey, it's still technically the weekend...

Are you interested in the World Cup but don't follow soccer? You might want to look at this chart to help you decide which team to root for, plus a little deeper digging into those answers. (New York Times)

Tumblrs to know about: one for engagement photos (is that a thing? we never had one of those); one for stock photography. (Note: some of the images on those could be nightmare-inducing, depending on your sensibilities.) (Comedy Central's @Midnight)

Interested in binge-watching a TV show but don't want to commit to the full series? I don't agree with this approach, and it's highly subjective, but this site is offering advice about which episodes you can skip. (TV Tattle)

John Oliver's piece about net neutrality has been around all week, but if you haven't seen it yet, it's absolutely worth your time.

And finally this week, Netflix has an animated show coming out later this summer, and the early marketing campaign is intentionally awful in the best ways. (Adweek)

06 June 2014


It hasn't reached full summer here yet, but it has been nice enough to have the windows open for a while (with the exception of a few cold days and nights during the past couple of weeks). In this transitional period, sleeping is more challenging.

Our street is a main artery into and through an entire neighborhood, and it intersects with s busy, major non-highway road at a traffic signal about 350 feet east of our house. During the morning and evening rush hours, cars waiting at the light are lined up, in front of and sometimes further past our house. Also, in this area the houses were built pretty close to the curb, with shallow front yards maybe 20 feet from curb to building, maximum. So whenever the windows are open, especially in the living room, which faces the street, noise is an issue. There are what I think is an abnormally high number of unmuffled motorcycles that pass through at all hours of the day and night.

There's also a bird nest under the roof of our front porch. I think it has been there three or four summers now, and the birds start chirping very, very early each morning. This tends to wake the dog, whose bed is against the front wall of the house right next to the porch. For about a month each spring, she wakes up around 5:15 to 5:30, and wants to be taken out. It ends up messing up her walk schedule for the rest of the day, until the sun starts to rise later again.

And of course, there are neighbors. The homes are only 10 to 12 feet apart, and with the windows open noise tends to flow freely between houses. This morning I was awakened by music in the house next door. It wasn't especially loud, and it was a slow song; when it woke me, I thought it was my own clock radio until I realized that I'd already turned that off.

I like open windows and fresh air when the weather is comfortable, but air conditioning has benefits beyond temperature comfort: it helps us deal with noise, too.

(PB: I know things are much worse for you. Remember, everything is relative.)

05 June 2014


Our elderly dog (she'll be 13 in a couple of months) got a passing grade after her course of antibiotics last month. When we were at the vet we talked about her waning appetite and what is most likely arthritis in her hindquarters, both common in older dogs.

The vet told us that the acid-reducing medication Pepcid can sometimes have an appetite-stimulating effect in dogs, and the pills are inexpensive (a box of 30 was around $4 at Target) so we started her on those, one pill per day, and we have seen moderate results. She still isn't eating as much as we think she should be, but she has added back about a pound and a half so far.

For the arthritis she prescribed tramadol, a pain medication that is also given to humans. It's also inexpensive; 28 pills were around $12, and she's getting half a pill twice a day, so those will also last about a month. Of course, this means we have to get her to take three pills per day, so as I mentioned before we are using chicken salad as an enticement.

I figured tuna would work as well and buying it canned is a good bit less expensive. But after about a week she started to express a lack of excitement for the pill-packed blobs of tuna. It seemed to be because the tuna was slightly "wetter" and did not stick together quite as well, but that's a variation that I should be able to alter with another batch. She could just be expressing a legitimate preference, or just really likes chicken salad a lot more than tuna. Spoiled much?

04 June 2014

Elusive Classics

I've been out roaming around the past couple of days on car-spotting runs, gathering material for future Random Sightings. While out in the car I had spotted a couple of places with vehicles parked on the property but couldn't stop at the time, so I made my way back to them and in both cases it was worth it.

But weirdly, while I was out doing this I saw other old cars on the road that I couldn't get pictures of in time, and in one case my shot was blocked by another car passing between me and my intended subject (I ended up with a partial that I'll probably still post at some point).

Maybe the presence of these vehicles is just due to coincidence and the onset of summer (or maybe my endeavors are stirring up some cosmic force?), but it's still disappointing to miss out on good photo subjects. As I make my way around town I'll be looking for these missed cars, hoping for another chance.

02 June 2014

Car Stuff: Clusters

I know my efforts on this feature have been a bit erratic lately; last week I kind of just blew it off, because I'd planned on writing something about the recently concluded half-season of Mad Men (and I might still do that). Next week I'll have another Random Sighting of a genuine classic, but today I want to try something a bit different.

In walking around my neighborhood, whether with the dog, running errands, or just generally wandering, I've been lucky to spot some interesting old cars, primarily ones from the 1980s. But there's another category that I haven't paid much attention to: the daily driver that's approximately 20 years old, not yet old enough to be considered a classic or antique by any standard measure, and probably at the low point of its monetary value due to high mileage and resulting wear.

There are quite a few such cars where I live, and I started to notice that certain cars were particularly plentiful, and fell into groups of models or "generations" of a model (by which I mean the range of years in which a specific design of a particular model was produced). Today I'm going to talk about one of these, the third-generation (1992-96) Toyota Camry.
There are at least four Camrys of this generation in my immediate vicinity, and I've seen several others in parking lots and driving around locally. These cars sold quite well when new, from almost 285,000 in 1992 to more than 357,000 in '96. (Chances are you or someone in your family owned one; in my case my brother did, and he drove it for more than 200,000 miles.) It certainly didn't hurt that the car resembled its uptown cousins that wore Lexus badges and cost at least 50% more.

There's a very simple reason that so many of these cars are still in daily use: they were absurdly over-engineered, vault-solid, and put together very well (many in the gigantic Toyota plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, which I have toured). Some of these cars were probably passed from parents to children, and some were likely purchased from craigslist ads and are being used as commuter cars.

In fact, such serious engineering proved to be a major expense for Toyota, and when they were designing the next generation of the Camry they deliberately looked for ways to reduce costs, which unfortunately resulted in a product that was lower in quality in noticeable ways.
There were also wagon and coupe versions of this car, as with its competitor the Honda Accord, and as with that car finding either a coupe or a wagon is a lot harder, since they sold in much smaller numbers than the sedans.

The condition of the cars near me varies; the green one (with a gold badge package that was pretty popular for a while in the '90s) lives directly across the street from us, but has been parked in its driveway, unmoving and without license plates, for at least six months, strongly implying engine issues.
The other cars around me get driven frequently. Here's a pair that belong to the same household. They are almost always parked together in front of their owner's house, though sometimes they switch places. (You can tell from the snow in these pictures that I've had this idea for several months.)
By chance, while I was noticing and taking pictures of these cars, I found one of the second-generation models; even though it's in much rougher condition, it's still driven regularly.

31 May 2014

Retro Video Unit (5/30/14)

As I've mentioned before, sometimes videos don't exist on YouTube when I first look for them, so from time to time I will go back and try looking for things again after some time has passed, and this is another instance of that paying off.

After R.E.M. broke through in 1983 with Murmur, record companies courted other bands from their home town of Athens, GA, a college town about 50 miles east-northeast of Atlanta. Guadalcanal Diary (named for a World War II memoir) was from Marietta, a northwest suburb of Atlanta, but played frequently in Athens and got pegged as being from there.

Their sound had definite similarities to that of early R.E.M., which probably got them a few listens from curious fans, but they remained much more of an under the radar band throughout their existence. They released four studio albums during the mid to late 1980s and somehow I caught onto them quite early, probably from college radio.

This song, "Watusi Rodeo," actually goes back to the band's first recording, a four-song EP of the same name released in 1983. The song was also included on their first full-length album, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, which came out the following year. The video, which epitomizes the lo-fi aesthetic, was made by the band with help from some friends, and was shown on MTV's "Basement Tapes" show.

The audio source used with the video is from a 1983 live show in Atlanta. For an extra bit of flavor, this version (which has inferior audio quality) includes original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood introducing the clip:

30 May 2014

Better Late...

I was heading into Boston today, so I decided to try to get some pictures of the new Assembly station as I passed it on the train. It helped that the train was practically empty and I was able to stand at one of the doors and take multiple photos without any obstructions:
Here's the new section of southbound track I mentioned, just north of the station.
A bit further along, just before moving into the station itself.
This will be the platform, viewed from what will eventually be the northbound side.
A stairway under construction.
The southern end of the platform.

29 May 2014

MBTA Happenings

I don't write as much about the MBTA as I used to, probably because I'm not commuting every day. But whenever I head into the city I get an up-close look at one of the T's big projects.

A new station is being added on the Orange Line between Wellington and Sullivan Square stations to serve the Assembly Row complex (no relation), which is in the process of a phased opening. Currently there's outlet shopping and entertainment and, when fully built out in a few more years, there will also be housing, office space, and a hotel. Since the station is being built right along the existing track, it's easy to see the progress.

What isn't easy is to capture any of that progress with my camera. I've tried a couple of times, and even when on a slow-moving train it's extremely difficult to get any good shots. So you'll have to take my word for it, or go take a ride out there to see it for yourself. (The current projection for the station's opening is some time this fall.)

In the area where the new station is being built, the northbound and southbound tracks are side by side, too close together to allow a station with a center-platform design; there are also commuter rail tracks just east of the Orange Line tracks, so there was no space to build a separate platform on the northbound side, and as I witnessed the work on the station I wondered how this would be addressed. The station is being built just west of the existing southbound tracks, but over the past few weeks I've seen new track being laid on the far side of the station that will carry southbound trains when complete, and northbound trains will shift over to what is now the southbound track to serve the new station when it opens.

Except for the Silver Line stations along the waterfront, Assembly Square is the first completely new station to be added to the MBTA system since the realigned southern portion of the Orange Line opened in 1987. (The following year, Columbia station was renamed JFK/UMass, and was redesigned so that the Braintree branch of the Red Line, which used to split off north of the station, also served it.)

Meanwhile, the reconstruction project at Government Center station has been underway for about two months (the T has posted some illustrations and diagrams of what the station will look like when finished in 2016). While construction is underway, trains are passing through the station without stopping. I happened to pass through earlier this week, but unfortunately there are fences with opaque sheeting blocking any view of the work. Up at street level, the bunker-like "wart" that served as the station's entrance has already been removed, and if you're curious, there is a Twitter account belonging to someone with a view of the work area.

28 May 2014

The Pothole That Ate Medford?

Over the weekend I spotted this pylon at the end of Harvard Street in Medford, where it hits Mystic Avenue.
It looks like it was left to mark a hole so motorists (or maybe bicyclists/motorcyclists?) would not hit it. But it also looks like the hole got worse after the pylon was placed, and now it's being consumed by the hole, or something. Either way, be careful over there...

26 May 2014

Long Weekend in Awesome (5/24/14)

Is it really Monday? It feels like time slowed down the past couple of days. Oh well...

The just-concluded half-season of Mad Men has featured the firm working to land the account of Burger Chef, a real chain that at the time was larger than Burger King. I'm old enough to remember visits to Burger Chef restaurants from my childhood (visits to any sort fast-food place were fairly rare events when I was growing up), though I don't have any recollection of them fading away.

Adding a little extra flavor to the story, the location used to film the final scene of "The Strategy," in which Peggy takes Don and Pete to a Burger Chef to show them why her idea for the campaign will work, was filmed at an actual former Burger Chef location (and is coincidentally just a few miles from where the Mrs. grew up). (Franklin Avenue) And if you haven't seen it, this article about that episode is excellent. (Vulture)

And finally this week, these two articles presented themselves to me within a few hours of each other, and after reading both I realized that I should share them with you together: the first will make you angry (or, at least, should make you angry), and it's telling that it's from a Canadian magazine; the second is, in some ways, an answer to the first. (Maclean's via Dappered; CNN)

23 May 2014

The Grays

About a decade ago I had something of an infatuation with retro sneakers, fueled primarily by my dislike of the bloated, garish spaceships that many people choose to wear on their feet. I'd already been through the all-black sneaker period, and found that was just a bit too dull. I was not ready to give up and start wearing Rockport "walking shoes," and as much as I'd like to support New Balance's efforts at manufacturing athletic shoes in the USA, their styles just don't appeal to me.

I bought several styles of adidas Originals on eBay, but I found many of them to be not especially comfortable, so most of those ended up getting resold. (The biggest disappointment for me there was and remains the Gazelle, which was pretty easy to wear but had an oversize, plasticized tongue that was just horrible.) I tried Puma, which in my mind was slightly more aligned with street style but also offered some lower-key styles. I had a nice pair of Puma Romas that I wore for several years, and a pair of "the Suede" that never quite worked for me.

Eventually I landed on Onitsuka Tiger, which is the retro brand of ASICS. The exterior styling was a bit busier than either adidas or Puma, but their shoes were often offered in multiple color choices (making ti more likely there would be one I liked), and after deciding to try a pair I also found that they are more comfortable than they look like they'll be.
The style on the left in this picture is called the Ultimate 81 LE in "gnumetal," and it's the second pair I've had. I got them about two years ago, after the first pair maybe four or five years back. I still have that pair, which is in a lighter gray with black stripes and orange accents, but they have different internal construction and this pair is a lot better for walking. The perforated leather upper is also nicer than the standard nylon.
The pair on the right is called the Tokuten in "charcoal," and I bought them last fall. I had not heard of this style until I saw them on the Nordstrom website, in four or five colorways. I was first drawn to a pale gray, but then I saw these; I've never been too enthusiastic about the look of gum soles, but the combination of the suede uppers and the red accents just clicked for me. Another element of these designs that I like a lot is the use of off-white or "birch" for the stripes and trim instead of plain white.
For warm weather I tend to keep it simple and stick to white sneakers like Vans, but for the parts of the year when it's nice enough for sneakers but not so warm that I want to wear shorts and go sockless, I prefer these gray sneakers.