27 August 2015

Concert (Ticket) Vault: April Fool

I have not done one of these in a while, so let's jump in the time machine and head back to 1988...

Robyn Hitchcock was beloved by music critics in the late 1980s (and probably still is). The distinctive points of view and odd lyrics of his songs resonated with a certain type of person, and I definitely wanted to see him live. This tour was extra special because he brought along Peter Buck of R.E.M. to play guitar.
The week leading up to this show I was pretty ill, and I wasn't sure I would be able to go, but I managed to get well enough in time. In addition to being April Fool's Day, April 1 happened to be Good Friday that year, and there was also a full moon that night. Hitchcock ticked off all these points at the start of the show, then remarked, "I'd say that's quite an auspicious start to things, wouldn't you?" Yep.

(The ticket price index is at $8.50 here. Today, in some bars and clubs you can barely get a beer for $8.50.)

25 August 2015

Getting Home

Last Friday afternoon I was on my way home. I took the bus from Harvard Square to Sullivan, and when I came down the stairs to the platform, the clock said 5:37 pm. It also said that a train would not be coming for nine minutes. That's an unusually long interval between trains during rush hour when no delays or problems have been announced, but I was not worried because I only needed to get two stops to Wellington in time to catch the 6:00 bus, and most afternoons it takes about five minutes to get from Sullivan to Wellington, with a stop in between at Assembly.

I didn't make the bus. I don't know why, other than that the train did not arrive until 5:54. As I watched the sign, the interval went form nine to 10 minutes and stayed there for four or five minutes. No announcement was made about a delay. Then the clock started to count down. When it got to one minute, the PA did the "the next Orange Line train is now approaching" thing, followed by "the next Orange Line train is now arriving." It did that three more times, but no train appeared.

Eventually a train did arrive, but by the time I got to Wellington, I had of course missed the bus. In fact, I was close enough to see it pulling away when I got outside. I didn't feel like waiting around in the heat for 20 minutes, so I decided maybe I'd see if an Uber driver was nearby. One happened to be over at Station Landing, only a couple of minutes away by car. Then I noticed a cab at the curb. I've been kind of down on cabs since alternatives like Uber and Lyft (which I have not used) arrived in the area. I thought I'd give a cab driver a break, and save myself the two minutes that I'd have to wait for the Uber ride.

I walked closer to the cab and saw that the driver was not inside, but he saw me and came running over. I told him my destination and he replied that I would have to tell him how to get there because he was new to the area. Of course, all the windows had been left open and he did not give me any indication that he was going to put on the air conditioning. I let it go, knowing I'd be in the car only a few minutes.

I have not taken a cab ride for a while, and I'd never taken one from Wellington to my house (it's only the past year or so that I've noticed cabs even waiting at Wellington, now that they have more competition). I figured it couldn't be more than about eight dollars, and I knew I had a five and five ones in my pocket. But the total for the ride turned out to be $10.10. I also had twenties, having been to the ATM that day, so I gave one to the driver. He told me he had only fives for change. I didn't know if this was some sort of a scam or just a newbie driver not having his shit together, so I took a five from him.

But me being me, I couldn't quite leave it alone, so as I was getting out of the cab I said, "You know, this is exactly why people use Uber." That hit a nerve. He started waving another five at me, saying, "Take it, ten dollars is enough." I turned back and replied, "No, you deserve a tip, but I should be able to decide how much of a tip I want to give you. I'm going inside now."

Out of curiosity I went to Uber's site and looked up the fare for the route I'd traveled. The estimate is six to eight dollars (it's not a long ride). And had I taken Uber, I would not have had to worry about whether or not I even had any cash on me.

24 August 2015

Car Stuff: Oh, a Fiero

I feel like I'm slipping further behind with these posts, and I have some good stuff I'm eager to share. I's hard to get motivated to work on them at the end of a long day, but I'm trying.
Back in the spring, this well-worn Pontiac Fiero showed up in the parking lot of the apartment building on the corner where our street meets the Fellsway. If the owner had happened to have one of the spaces down in the back of the lot, it's unlikely I would have been aware of it, since I used to walk the dog back there but we have not ventured through that area in some time.
The Fiero was General Motors's attempt to create a moderately-priced, mid-engine, two-seat sports car in the vein of the Porsche 914. It was sold from 1984-88, and this car is the rarer fastback body style that was available in the final three years of production—about 40,000 cars, or 25% of total Fiero production over those three years.
The Fiero's biggest problem was that it was kind of a beta version of the car Pontiac originally intended to build. Forced to compromise to cut costs, the car was saddled with a weak four-cylinder engine and suspension components from GM's economy cars, leading to disappointed buyers. Eventually a V6 engine became optional, and the suspension was improved for '88, but it was too late.

23 August 2015

Retro Video Unit (8/21/15)

I've been a week behind on these since, oh, late June. So this is my attempt, however feeble, to get back to my previously established timetable.

About a month ago I happened to catch the 1985 movie To Live and Die in L.A. on TV. Directed by William Friedkin, it's an underrated, gritty crime movie starring William Petersen in an early lead role as a Secret Service agent on the trail of a suave, cocky counterfeiter (a fascinating performance by William Dafoe). I've seen it a number of times, and if you have not had the opportunity, I do recommend it.

I mention it here because the soundtrack was done by the band Wang Chung, whom Friedkin specifically sought out to do the music. As a result I've had the band's songs in my brain on and off since, and I think it's time to feature a song here.



"Everybody Have Fun Tonight" was not used in the movie (it would have been wildly out of place with the film's dark tone), but it's kind of the band's signature song. Be warned, though: the video might make you dizzy, or give you a headache, if you are sensitive to rapidly changing imagery.

(There's a story about this song and a live show by The dB's that I saw way back in 1987 with Just Bud Fox, but it's kind of a "you had to be there" thing.)

19 August 2015

Car Stuff: Sometimes They Get Away

About a month ago the Mrs. and I were returning from a late-afternoon wedding reception and were driving through Revere, a few miles northeast of where we live. In the next lane over I spotted something red with a general shape that suggested it might be older. Eventually we got close enough that I could recognize it as a Dodge Lancer, a four-door hatchback introduced in 1985.

Oh, but wait a minute. When I got a better look I realized this car was in fact a Shelby Lancer, a limited-production, higher-performance version of the Lancer produced for Dodge by Shelby Automobiles, an aftermarket tuning house that had been responsible for a series of high-performance Mustangs in the 1960s that are now worth ridiculous amounts of money.
These things are rare: they were produced for only a few model years, at only a few hundred cars per year. We were driving along next to it and I had my phone out, but I don't like people to see when I'm taking photos of their cars, especially while they're moving, because I worry that it might distract the other driver. So unfortunately this was the only usable shot I was able to get.

Conveniently, someone else took pics of this car last year and posted them to the Curbside Classic Cohort, and one of the CC writers did a piece on it. (I know it's the same car because the license plate matched.) I'm glad to see that the car is very well kept, but I'm also glad to see it's being driven and enjoyed.

18 August 2015

Tuning the Routine

I wasn't too happy about last week's steamy bus incident. And the next morning when I was again waiting at Sullivan, I saw the same bus rolling up, again with all its windows open. I stepped aside and again waited for a different bus; that one went to Central, so I had to jump on the Red Line to get the rest of the way to work.

The margin of error in my commute is already precarious, and I hate the idea of being late due to not wanting to ride on a bus without air conditioning. Over the past couple of weeks I'd been assessing my morning routine, trying to see if I could tighten it up enough to leave the house earlier. When I started this assignment, leaving later was working better for me, but that has ceased to be true. And I was finding that I would almost be ready to leave when the earlier bus came—I was off by maybe three minutes. (The buses run every 20 minutes in the mornings, so I have to aim for a specific time to be ready to leave.)

I came to the conclusion that I needed to start getting up earlier. Not by much, but if I wanted my mornings to go more smoothly, I needed a bit more time. Last Friday I happened to be ready early enough to catch that earlier bus, and I arrived at work 15 minutes earlier than I'd been getting there. That also meant I could leave earlier, which is just a bonus. So Sunday night I backed up my alarm by 10 minutes, and that seems to be the difference I needed. Yesterday and today my routine has worked better and I've been able to leave the house in time to catch that earlier bus. And I'm avoiding the no-AC bus as well.

(No hitting the snooze bar either; when the music comes on, I get up. It's disorienting for the first few minutes, but it gets easier. Now I have to work on getting to sleep earlier...)

16 August 2015

Retro Video Unit (8/14/15)

Apparently there's no longer a schedule governing any of this... the brain just doesn't cooperate the way it used to.

Real quick, then: "Kiss Me Deadly" by Generation X, featuring Billy Idol on lead vocals. This clip seems to be from some sort of documentary, but it's the best one available.


13 August 2015

Summer Color

I'm not really into the whole outfit-pic/what-I-wore-today thing, but I can't say I'm above a small amount of selective preening, and I like the way these items went together yesterday.
The watch I've featured before; it's my Submariner "homage" from Alpha Watch of Hong Kong. It's really a damn good watch, rugged and dependable with a Japanese Miyota movement, and I wear it pretty regularly in the summer with my various nylon straps. I found mine on eBay, but currently they are going for around $125 new direct from Alpha (slightly more on a metal bracelet). It's almost certainly a better choice than its Invicta counterpart.

The blue strap is a cheapo Timex that I found in Target; I like it because it's about the length of a regular watch strap and doesn't need to be folded over and tucked into the metal keeper bar, which always pop out with my other, longer straps.

The shirt is a relatively recent addition. It's from Orvis and is 100% linen. I really like the main color, which is called "weathered red," but I also like the pop of aqua quite a lot. I like wearing bright colors in summer, and of the three colorways available this one was the best.

12 August 2015

Feeling the Heat

Is it 2015 or 1995? My iPhone suggests the former, but my 86 bus this morning did not have working air conditioning, which is what made me think I may have time-warped. It was one of the older GMC buses still in service, but my experience has been that most of those still have functioning AC. Lucky me, I caught one that didn't.

It turned out to be an unlucky commute in general: not only did I swelter, but I got to do it at low speed because of some traffic mess or other, all the way from Sullivan to McGrath. At that point I decided to get off the bus and wait for the next one, which took about 20 minutes to arrive.

I don't know how we used to do it. I know our bodies are more resilient when we're younger, and I know I lived and commuted without the benefit of air conditioning for quite a long time, but looking back it seems unbearable.

11 August 2015

Overheard: Golf and Indigestion Edition

Yesterday two dude-bros sitting behind me on the bus were expounding at length on their golf game, which I won't bore you with. But then things got strange, and interesting:

Dude-Bro #1: "I think that's the first time I've thrown up in a bar and it wasn't from drinking too much."
Dude-Bro #2: "Yeah, we never should have ordered that roast beef. It was like the last item on the menu."
Dude-Bro #1: "Why did we even eat there?"
Dude-Bro #2: "Because they took credit cards."

(I was extremely disappointed that I did not catch the name of the particular establishment they were talking about.)

10 August 2015

Car Stuff: A Cluster of Benzes

I haven't done one of these in a while, because I didn't have any new material for one. Then I started seeing these various 1980s vintage Mercedes-Benz E-Class models around. Most of them were diesels, and they were built to last, so it's not surprising they're still running around.
This one was the first one I saw, a couple of months ago at the traffic lights at Wellington Circle. I thought this one was the brown that a lot of them were, but it looks more like burgundy.
I spotted this station wagon after I'd been working in Harvard Square just a few days. The black paint is a little less common, and it looks like it's had window tint added on as well. I don't remember if this one was in fact a diesel, but it probably was. Yeah, there's a little dent on top of the fender, but it's still a sweet ride.
These cars do need service sometimes, and this one sits in front of a garage on Washington Street in Somerville. I passed it on the bus a couple of times before thinking ahead enough to get a seat on the correct side to take a pic as the bus passed it. (Just this morning I saw a fourth one, on College Avenue in Somerville, but we passed it too quickly.)

These cars weren't status symbols like Mercedes-Benz cars are today; in fact, the diesel E-Class was sort of an anti-status symbol. It's true that they were more expensive than many comparable cars, but people bought them willingly at those higher prices, because they understood that they were making an investment in a car that would run for decades. These pictures are proof of their wisdom.

(I can't say with certainty that the second and third cars were in fact diesels, but they were more common than their gasoline-powered siblings.) Update, 8/23: I saw the black wagon again two days ago, parked in the same spot, and it's a turbodiesel!

09 August 2015

Checking In

Wait, what day is it? Sunday? Yikes. Well, I don't really know what to say about that... there were errands Friday night, and yesterday was largely occupied by stuff related to elderly dog care, then we zipped out last night for a quick meal at Border Cafe. And I guess I've been trying to spend less time at the computer on weekends (with varying levels of success).

To some degree, I also let inspiration guide me. That is, I try to have specific ideas before I start to write posts. If nothing bubbles up for a couple of days, I get a little worried about my brain, like maybe I'm losing my ability to observe and report. Maybe the well is running dry?

How about this? I can tell you that I'm reading a very enjoyable book about television called The Revolution Was Televised. It's written by Alan Sepinwall, the TV critic for HitFix whose opinions I have come to respect greatly. (Alan is the reason I decided to check out unREAL on Lifetime this summer, and I am so glad I did. He was also the inspiration for my attempts to write weekly thoughts about Mad Men episodes.)

The book is about the current golden age of TV we are living in, and the most significant shows of the past 15 to 20 years that led the way. (It's a few years old, and I understand that a new edition of the book is coming out this fall, with additional material on the ends of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, so maybe it's worth waiting until then to check it out.)

05 August 2015

Snapshot

There are times when I see people who are so distinctive in appearance that I would like to take a photo, but that isn't always practical on, say, a jammed subway car, and some people would not want that image to be published online without their consent. But I can certainly offer a description.

Due to the recent traffic issues (which are now gone, thankfully), on a few mornings I found it easier, or at least less of a headache, to take the Orange Line into downtown and switch to the Red Line to get to Harvard Square. I don't attempt to read on trains and buses unless I'm able to get a seat, because it requires a fair amount of effort to avoid falling down and to be ready to move out of the way of those exiting and entering, so I amuse myself by observing people.

One morning I was watching people get off the train at State Street and getting ready to get out at the next stop. As people on the platform started getting on the train, I saw a flash of hair that I thought was red, but then a moment later I saw it was in fact orange, like really orange. As the person entered the train I saw it was a woman, well-dressed and with very carefully applied makeup. She stood near me for a moment but then moved into the car to take an empty seat.

The color and cut of her hair were obviously taken directly from Annie Lennox circa the first Eurythmics album. She was also wearing glasses that reminded me of the Matsuda frames that were popular among sophisticated, well-to-do types in the early 1980s. They could have been vintage, or just of a similar shape and material. She was pale, but had on bright lipstick that stood out on her face.

She was wearing a skirt suit that had the distinct look of being homemade. I don't mean that in a negative way; I suspect the woman had made it herself, because it was unusual and she had the look of someone who would prefer a very specific style, one not readily available in a store. The fabric was cream and there was a small repeating pattern in burgundy, like small paisleys, spaced about two inches apart. (I wasn't close enough to get a clear look.) The jacket was cut like a man's tail coat but without the tails; the skirt was straight and above the knee. She wore some sort of white blouse with a ruffled collar, white stockings, and bright orange pumps that were clearly meant to play off her hair color.

I would have loved a chance to talk with this woman, just because she was so distinctive looking. She had obviously put great care into her appearance, and on a midsummer day it's unusual to see anyone on the T, male or female, kitted out so elaborately.

03 August 2015

Car Stuff: Green Bird

I feel like I need to post something car-related. I'm sure I'm overdue for a Fantasy Garage installment, but that isn't going to happen on my current schedule. I'll probably have to spend the time to prepare it over a weekend. So meanwhile I looked through the photos on my phone and have something to share...
I was running an errand in Brookline about two months ago and spotted this car just as I got off the trolley on Beacon Street. It's a 1979 Ford Thunderbird, the final year of a very successful three-year run of the first downsized 'Bird. As I've mentioned previously, personal luxury was the big car trend of the '70s, which happened to coincide well with the need to make cars at least a little smaller.

This car was considered a stylish ride when new, and this particular one has some nice options: the jade green paint and interior, the wire wheel covers, and look, those are T-tops! Not common on T-birds, that's for sure. (It is a little odd that the rear half of the roof isn't covered in vinyl.) I only wish I'd been able to get a shot with the entire car in it. The car was in the left-turn lane, so I turned to my left and waited for it to make the turn so I could attempt more shots, but it never turned. I have no idea where it went. Maybe it wasn't even real...
As a partial consolation, here's what the front end looks like.

01 August 2015

Retro Viedo Unit (7/31/15)

I'm surprised I didn't think of this song earlier, but it popped up on the soundtrack of an episode of AMC's Halt and Catch Fire (which, by the way, is so, so much better in its second season that it's like a completely different show that happens to feature the same characters), a show that has done a really good job of choosing music from the early to mid 1980s to feature.



"Boy" by Book of Love is a synthpop confection from '85 that became a hit on the strength of a catchy melody and the use of uncommon (in pop and rock, anyway) tubular bells, which have a very distinctive sound.

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (7/31/15)

I know, I said I would post these on the last Friday of the month. Well, I forgot. The Mrs. and I went out for a meal last night, and when we got back I kind of fell into a post-food stupor, and even went to bed relatively early for me and for a Friday night. But hey, here I am now, and this is a good one...



This is the live performance that Portishead recorded with a group of string instrument players at the Roseland Ballroom in New York in 1997. It's a great show, and the people who were there to see it are really lucky. This is a band I wish we'd hear more from.

29 July 2015

Well-Intentioned

This morning I got on the T and stood in front of a young woman, roughly college age, who asked me if I wanted to sit down. I didn't think I was looking particularly old today, but I didn't want to shoot down her intended good deed, so I thanked her, said it wasn't necessary, and that I was only going two stops to Sullivan. But it didn't exactly make me feel young...

28 July 2015

Retro Tech

I have car things to share, but I haven't had the time to prep them. Meanwhile, I saw this person on a bus last week, sporting a vintage Walkman radio headset:
That thing has to be at least 20 years old, right? My recollection is that the yellow-and-gray "sports" style Walkman stuff was popular in the mid-'90s. It's kind of impressive that it still works. And props to her for keeping it solidly retro.

(Note: I didn't obscure her face because she was already turned away from me and is not, in my opinion, readily identifiable.)

25 July 2015

Ice Cream Monday

As a public transit rider, I see pretty much the entire spectrum of human behavior. After more than three decades I'm not often surprised by something I see, but it still happens.

This past Monday I was coming home from work via Davis Square. It's not my usual route, but I'd chosen not to wait around for my usual bus, which was running behind. As I was standing outside the station, I noticed a sound like that of a spoon clinking on glass.

I looked around, trying not to be too obvious, and eventually discerned a woman sitting on a bench, eating ice cream from a glass bowl. As I watched, she finished, wrapped the dish and spoon in a cloth, and put them into her backpack.

I considered the possibilities and came up with: either she's an extremely zealous environmentalist who can't abide the waste of a cup for her ice cream (in that case, why not just get a cone?), or she had swiped the dish from the nearby JP Licks. I kind of prefer the second option.

22 July 2015

Angles

Now that I've ridden on the T's newest buses for a while, I have one small complaint: the seats are not as comfortable as the ones on the older buses. It might seem a bit silly so declare a slab of hard plastic less comfortable than a different slab of hard plastic, but there is a bit more nuance to my argument. They've messed with the geometry.

The angle of the seatback is tilted slightly further back. I didn't check them with a protractor, but I can feel the difference. But worse, the seat bottom is angled slightly downward from back to front, which was not how the older bus seats were shaped. Combined with the back angle, this causes a feeling that you are going to slide down and off the seat altogether.

I don't need the bus seat to encourage my body to slouch; I can handle that by myself if I feel like it.

21 July 2015

Going Underground

Every day when I leave work, I walk past the entrance to the tunnel in Harvard Square that the MBTA buses use, and every day I have to resist the urge to walk down it instead of going around the corner and walking one more short block to the proper entrance that pedestrians use.

I did walk in the tunnel once, a long time ago, but I walked out of it after getting off a bus, when I knew there were no other buses coming up behind me. Obviously pedestrians are not supposed to do this; there are signs posted saying not to. What can I say, I have moments where I get bored easily and think of doing something spontaneously. I didn't do it to defy the sign, I did it just because I was curious. It doesn't happen as much as it used to, which is probably better for my longevity.

When I get to the bus boarding area in the tunnel, I watch the buses come through and stack up, waiting for the first bus to finish boarding, and I wonder how the tunnel never got widened enough so that buses might be able to get around each other. Am I the only one who thinks about such things?

18 July 2015

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #39

We were going to have a car this week, weren't we? Right, I have something for that, once again courtesy of A Proper Bostonian.
PB spotted this 1970 Buick Riviera several weeks ago on Beacon Hill. It definitely has some rough edges (the bumper is supposed to follow the pointed contour of the trunk lid), but it's possible this is someone's daily driver. I have always preferred this generation of Riviera without a vinyl top, but I have to admit this blue and white combination looks really good.
1970 was the final year of the second-generation Riviera design, which stretched back to 1966. That original car is one of my favorite General Motors cars, and one of my favorite car designs from the 1960s, and I have reserved a spot for one in my Fantasy Garage. As the end of the decade neared, GM tried to adapt the Riviera from more of a gentleman's sporty car to the growing trend of 'personal-luxury" cars, gradually adding more visual bulk to its styling.
I think this profile shot offers some clues as to the direction Buick would take the Riviera's styling with the 1971 redesign (the controversial "boattail" that we will discuss at some point). This is still a nice-looking car, but I prefer any of the earlier years of this design, even the 1968-69 models with their more awkward front end.

17 July 2015

Retro Video Unit (7/17/15)

I completely forgot that this was supposed to run last week, and since no one bothered to point that out to me, you got nothing...

I enjoy posting videos by obscure bands because I've always been attracted to what's below the radar and out of the mainstream. To some degree the music video era blew up my spot, so to speak, because any kid who happened to be sitting at home watching MTV (or, heavens help us, VH1) on a Friday night might have seen clips like this one dozens of times, and even might have liked a song enough to go buy an album by a semi-obscure band like The House of Love. Still, that probably didn't happen much.

I liked the band enough to buy a couple of their albums (and I still have them). The video's all right, but what I really like about this song, what I've always liked about it, is the production. That may be approaching a High Fidelity level of music-nerdiness, but that's how my brain works, and I'm way past the age where I might have apologized for it. So, please enjoy "I Don't Know Why I Love You" by The House of Love...



Hey, how about a bonus clip to make up for not posting this last week? Here's another good song by these guys, "Shine On."


Adventures in Mass Transit: Detours and Poor Decisions

This week I've had some rough commutes to work. Things haven't been too bad since I started commuting again, but at the beginning of this week Webster Avenue, the primary route between Union Square and Central Square, was closed for repair work, and traffic was being detoured along Washington Street in Somerville to Beacon Street near the Cambridge line (and then through Inman Square). The 86 bus run is already pretty slow in the morning, and all the additional traffic made it much worse.

I had no idea how long the detour was going to be in place, so on Tuesday I went the same way and had another abysmal ride. On Wednesday morning I checked Google Maps for traffic conditions before leaving the house and ended up taking a different route, catching a bus to Medford Square where I switched to the 96, which runs through Davis and Porter and all the way into Harvard Square. But I had to wait at least 15 minutes for that bus, so my overall time didn't improve.

Yesterday I went back to the 86. The driver warned us before leaving Sullivan that the traffic was terrible, and gave people the chance to get off and go catch an Orange Line train; I opted to stay where I was, in a seat on an air-conditioned vehicle (a more pleasant prospect than a jammed train). About halfway between Sullivan and Union Square, a group of about two dozen children boarded the bus (with adult supervision). I'd estimate they were around eight years old, going on some sort of outing. They were reasonably well behaved, but the bus was still pretty noisy; I had to put away my book because I couldn't concentrate.

Also, a man behind me was on his phone, describing loudly to someone in great, specific detail how to get from somewhere in the middle of Somerville to Summit Avenue, which is near the top of Prospect Hill. He went through the directions three times and then asked, "Are you sure you want Summit Avenue and not Summit Street? Because that's at the other end of town, near Davis." He then went on to describe loudly and in great, specific detail how to get to Summit Street, also three times.

By that point I found myself feeling somewhat disappointed that I wouldn't get to find out how the Summit situation would be resolved, but a couple of minutes later he took another call and proceeded to reiterate the directions to Summit Avenue one more time, loudly and in great, specific detail. (Trivia/conicidence: a long, long time ago I lived on Summit Avenue.) Then he got off the bus.

I did eventually arrive at work, but late enough that I could take only a 15-minute "lunch" break. Today I thought I would make a smarter choice. I considered the option of taking the subway into downtown and switching to the Red Line, but it just seems silly to me to cover so much extra distance, and I'm always a bit wary of a breakdown underground, and taking this route would double the chance of something happening.

As it happened, I ended up making a different but equally unfavorable choice. I went to Sullivan and caught a CT2, which makes limited stops but stops at Kendall (where I could connect to the Red Line) on its way across the river. Unfortunately I didn't think too carefully about it, and after we were underway I remembered that the CT2 normally takes Webster Avenue. I tried to figure out what sort of detour the driver would take, thinking perhaps we might run down Medford Street behind Twin City Plaza and connect with Cardinal Medeiros Avenue to get into Kendall Square.

Nope, it went straight up Washington Street. There wasn't as much traffic today, but we still slowed to a crawl before reaching Beacon Street. I thought I could hop out at Beacon and either catch an 86 or just walk the rest of the way, but the driver would not make any stops or let anyone off the bus, since (presumably) it was not running on its usual route and there are almost certainly rules about these things. So I sat there while the bus crawled its way through Inman and continued along Cambridge Street, to the point where it was able to rejoin the bus's regular route into Kendall. All that took an extra 30 minutes.

Allegedly the road closure is supposed to last only through next week, but that means I still need to find a better, faster route to work for another five weekdays.

15 July 2015

Vertical Ride

I'm working on the top floor of a building with six floors. For whatever reason, there is no exit access from the stairways to any floor except the ground floor and the garage sublevel. You can enter a stairway from any floor, but you can't go between floors, nor can you walk up if you happen to work on the second floor. So the elevators get a healthy workout each day.

As a result, a lot of people have to ride up to the second and third floors, and I think some of them feel at least a little guilty that they are slowing down the rides of those who work on higher floors. People are very eager to push my floor button for me when I'm boarding an elevator, and when they get off on a lower floor, they say, "Have a good day" as they are leaving. I've never seen anything like it.

There are three elevators, and one of them is frequently in use by maintenance and HVAC people. It's draped with heavy blankets to protect the walls inside. Unfortunately, the blankets are quite smelly. I don't like riding in this elevator, which I have dubbed the Smellevator. But when I push the call button, I don't know which elevator is coming (only the lobby shows the floor locations of the elevator cars), and it seems silly to wait for a different one.

13 July 2015

Adventures in Consumer Electronics, Part 3: Untangling the Cords

When my TiVo failed, I lived a non-DVR existence by default for three weeks or so, like we all did back before these things existed. (Well, of course there was the VCR, but I doubt anyone is longing to go back to the days of that medium, recording shows on tape and trying to make sure you didn't accidentally record over something you hadn't watched yet.)

At that point I considered the idea of giving up cable TV and having only internet service. The phrase "cord-cutter" has been popularized by the media, but it's inaccurate because even if you choose to watch TV programming solely via a computer, you still needs internet access, and that is usually supplied by the same provider as your TV service.

You can get an Apple TV and use it in conjunction with your iTunes account, buying season passes to only the shows you want to watch. You can also use an iPad or iPhone with AirPlay and an Apple TV to send content from a web browser (like current TV shows on Hulu or one of the networks' own sites) to a larger screen, like your TV.

But the availability of that type of content online is still frustratingly inconsistent, and access to a lot of it still requires logging in to verify that you have a cable subscription. It's complicated, even to watch a show on your computer that you missed or want to catch up on. And I'm not even the sort of person who puts on the TV and flips around to see what's on. Eventually I realized that I'm just much too accustomed to and entrenched in the habit of using a DVR to record, store, and keep track of what I want to watch.

The key piece that's missing is having web access built into the TV itself. It's surprising that Apple has not yet offered an Apple TV with a built-in browser. (I know it's possible to hack an Apple TV to add a browser, but that's not a mainstream solution.) Why hasn't this happened? It's right there, just out of reach. As I said to a friend, it seems very hard to believe that we're 20 years into the internet era and there is still no genuine, legitimate convergence between the web and TV, something that was being promised almost from the birth of the web? That feels like a huge missed opportunity.

I've also been hoping that the advent of solid state hard drives would enable companies like TiVo to be able to build and offer a next generation of DVRs that don't need traditional spinning hard drives, which would likely enable such devices to last much, much longer. In the absence of a converged TV (or attachment like Apple TV) with a web browser built in, a DVR with an SSD seems like a decent consolation prize.

12 July 2015

Something Slipped My Mind

Seems I forgot to finish something... I had forgotten how important weekends are when you work all week. We were busy most of yesterday getting ready for and then attending an event, and today I just turned off my brain. I will get to part 3 soon (tomorrow I hope), and there will also be a new Car Stuff soon, probably Tuesday or Wednesday.

09 July 2015

Adventures in Consumer Electronics, Part 2: We Can Rebuild It

The TiVo model I have came out in 2009, so there was a reasonable argument for upgrading to the newest model, which has four tuners (I can't imagine needing to record that many shows at the same time, but you might be recording two shows and still want to watch something else) and much more standard storage capacity. At the moment TiVo is selling that model starting at $200 for the device, plus you then have to purchase service for the device from TiVo (pretty clever business model), which costs $15 a month if you choose to pay for it monthly, $150 annually, or $500 for "product lifetime service" which covers the life of the device. There are also some current deals on refurbished products; you can get the basic model DVR (which is perfectly well feature-filled for most people) with the same one-year warranty as a new model for $50, and product lifetime service for $350.

$400 is still a chunk of money, and since I've only just gone back to work, I didn't want to have to spend that much if I didn't have to, so I decided to look into getting a new drive. A google search led me to Fix my TiVo, which has lots of troubleshooting information (sometimes the units can be revived) and links to companies that sell replacement hard drives. One of these sites has its hard drive replacement instructions online, and a look at those convinced me I could handle the swap. (For those who are not comfortable undertaking such projects, that company also offers replacement service: you box up your unit and ship it to them, and for an additional $50 they install the new drive for you and ship the unit back.)

I purchased a 1-terabyte drive (much more capacity than I had previously) and it arrived in two days via Priority Mail. A printed instruction sheet was included, along with the two Torx (hex-shape) wrenches needed to open the unit and remove the hard drive bracket. The whole process took me about half an hour total, and I was moving slowly to make sure I got it right and didn't damage anything in the process. There's no soldering required, because the wires attach to the drive via a small connector that snaps into the back.

The whole procedure was very easy, and required only the ability to follow directions, a modicum of dexterity (one of the screws is a bit tricky to get back into its hole), and enough common sense to avoid touching things that shouldn't be touched (the power supply). Total cost to me was less than $150. A smaller drive is available (500 gigabytes) though it's only $20 less, but if you're really trying to do the swap as cheaply as possible, that would be the way to go. Drives are also available for other TiVo models, and some of those cost slightly less.

The key thing to know about doing a TiVo hard drive swap is that it does not affect a device's product lifetime service status. When you reconnect the unit after replacing the drive, you have to go through the setup process as if you had a new device, but as far as TiVo is concerned it's the same unit you've had. So my revived TiVo is not their latest and greatest model, but it suits my needs, and if it lasts me another four or five years I will consider that a pretty good value. By then I'm hoping we won't need DVRs anymore; tomorrow I'll have a few more things to say about other TV-accessing devices and the state of TV services.

A Generous Fellow Passenger

This week I had what I consider a very unusual T experience. I was on my way home, making my connection to the Orange Line at Sullivan for the short ride to Wellington. There was a train coming into the station that would get me there in plenty of time to catch my final bus leg, which runs only every 20 minutes. There was another train seven minutes behind, which would get me to Wellington too late.

There were a few other people waiting near the front, and I suspected the train would be full, as it often is. I wondered if I'd be able to squeeze on. I try to board at the front of the train, because at Wellington there is only one exit and it's at the front. Sometimes, the seconds saved not having to walk half the length of the platform from a few cars back can make the difference between making the bus and missing the bus.

The train rolled in and a couple of people onboard moved out so a couple of people further inside could make their way out. As I waited, one of the other people waiting moved up next to me and closer to the doors. When the riders rearranged themselves, there was only enough room for one more person, and the person waiting moved into that space. I looked down the side of the train to see if maybe there was still a space at one of the other doors in the first car, resigned to missing my bus.

Then the person who had gotten on stepped back out and looked at me, gesturing to take his space. I was genuinely surprised; in more than 30 years of living here and riding the T, I honestly can't recall that ever happening before. I thanked him and got on the train. And I made my bus home. So thank you, sir, for your gesture of unselfishness.

08 July 2015

Adventures in Consumer Electronics, Part 1: It's Dead. Again.

I recently endured another TiVo failure, though this time it was much more of a drawn-out process rather than a single catastrophic event. The most common problem with DVRs is hard drive failure, since the drive is working pretty much all the time, even if you are watching live TV and not recording anything else, and even, to an extent, when the DVR is "turned off."

So the drive failed, but in this instance I knew it was coming for months, because we were having random problems with recordings. The image would freeze, and then sometimes pixelate as the DVR tried to move past the problem spot. At first these were minor issues, and in some cases we could escape from them by fast-forwarding a little.

But as the weeks went by the instances got more frequent and more serious, to the point where the TiVo would have to restart itself, a process which takes at least five minutes. Also, if a show we were watching got "stuck" while we were recording another show, the recording in progress would also be ruined. Eventually we could not even watch live TV for more than 10 minutes or so before the bad hard drive caused shows to stutter and then freeze, leading to an eventual reboot. We even had to unplug it in order to keep it from continuously trying to reboot itself. Needless to say, the unwatched recordings on the drive were lost to us.

When the hard drive fails, there are two options: get a new unit, or replace the drive in the existing unit. Tomorrow I will explore those in more detail.

06 July 2015

Car Stuff: A Flash of Red

Didn't get to do this last week, but I'm trying to get back to some sort of rhythm regarding posts. Some interesting vehicles have appeared lately, and I have been able to get pictures of most of them. However, the quality varies.

This shot was taken while we were driving, which explains why it's somewhat blurry. There's a part of McGrath Highway in Somerville that is sort of like Comm. Ave. in Allston, with a parallel strip of roadway for parking, and that's where I spotted this red Chevy.
It's a 1969 Impala Custom Coupe, which means it's an Impala with the top-trim Caprice's more formal roofline. (There was also an Impala Sport Coupe.) This model had arrived the previous year and proved quite popular. As I've written about before, by the late 1960s sportiness had largely migrated from full-size cars to midsize and "pony car" offerings, and it was being replaced by a more commodified version of luxury.

If this car wasn't red I probably would not have noticed it in time to get a photo. It looks pretty good, with the available rally wheels and white top (which I think was painted, and not vinyl), and what appear to be dual exhausts. We passed through the same area a few days later and I had my phone ready to get more pictures, but the car wasn't there. I'm still hoping to see it again.

05 July 2015

Adjustments

I've been back in a full-time work situation for two weeks (not counting the day off for the holiday), and I am still getting used to many things.

First I had to figure out my commute. Getting almost anywhere from where we live requires taking a bus into Wellington on the Orange Line. That bus is pretty predictable most of the time, and the Orange Line runs pretty frequently in the morning. In this instance I'm going to Harvard Square, so I decided my best option was taking the subway two stops to Sullivan and catching the 86 bus. That has worked fairly well, though the 86 is a crawl in the mornings due to the volume of ridership, traffic congestion, the large number of traffic lights, narrow streets, road construction, etc. On average it took 35 to 40 minutes to go the 2.5 miles from Sullivan to Harvard Square.

By accident I left the house a bit later one day last week, and I found that the trip was somewhat less painful overall; the 86 was slightly less crowded, there was a little less traffic, and the trip took about 25 minutes. I did my trips that way this past week and it was basically the same each morning, so I will probably keep doing it that way regularly. Evening trips on the 86 from Harvard to Sullivan are also somewhat easier.

Getting up early enough to make it out of the house on time has been probably the biggest challenge. I've never had a problem getting up when I need to, but I have a hard time adjusting at the other end of the day, to get to bed early enough to get a decent amount of sleep. I'm used to staying up until 1 am or so, so trying to warp up and get into bed by 11:30 or thereabouts, and to fall asleep, is not easy. Eventually I will get tired enough that the routine will take.

My work environment is perfectly pleasant, with a lot of natural light and infrequent need for the dreaded overhead fluorescent lights. My one real issue is that the kitchen/lounge area does not have comfortable seating for eating. There is a counter, but it's on the low side, and there are no stools or chairs to use with it. There are couches and chairs, and a couple of coffee tables, but these are too low to eat on comfortably.

At my old job I was used to eating at my desk so that I could blog, read websites, and do whatever other personal pursuits I wanted during that hour. The people in my little area do not seem to eat at their desks, and as a newcomer and a temp I feel it might be overstepping for me to do so; also I try to be sensitive to the fact that food smells sometimes bother others. I would like to think that someday I might have an office of my own, but who knows if that will ever happen.

I'm scheduled to be on this assignment until some time in September. I was supposed to be starting on a work-at-home assignment, but I have essentially been "borrowed" from that until this one ends. This meant we also had to arrange for a dog walker on short notice. Our dog-caring neighbor now runs a day-care business in Somerville, so she is not available during the day, but fortunately she was able to recommend another walker who was able to step in. The dog has not been so thrilled at this change in routine, and has been somewhat less than cooperative when taken out. Due to the Mrs.' schedule, we only need a walker three weekdays, so we are all adjusting.

04 July 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (7/3/15)

I'm a bit behind with this one—a week behind, to be precise. Anyway, the German Rockpalast series that gave us the earlier Pretenders concert provides us with today's selection, The Police from January 1980.



While it's something of a cliche to say of any given band, "I think their early stuff was better," I would say this video makes that argument rather well.

02 July 2015

Where Have I Been?

Oh, hi there. It's been a while. Like I said, I wasn't sure what things would be like. Almost every evening this week I have come home from work with the intention of posting something, but every night I got sidetracked, and before I knew it, it was time for bed (and that's earlier, since I need to get up earlier to get ready).

In the "old days" I was salaried, and no one really monitored my daily work activities. As long as I met my deadlines I could afford to take 20 minutes out of my workday to write a post. As a temp I'm paid by the hour, and my work area is part of an open space that I share with three other people. Whether they care what I'm doing or not, it wouldn't look good for me to be meandering from my main task, which has intermediate deadlines.

With a holiday weekend upon us, I'm not working tomorrow (Friday), and while I have some other things I'm going to try to get done, I should also be able to do a couple of make-up posts.

27 June 2015

Retro Video Unit (6/26/15)

The '80s stopped by today and left this one for us: "This Corrosion" by The Sisters of Mercy.



It does not get much more ridiculous or over the top than this video, but regardless this is an excellent song and absolutely of its time. When I watched this now, I found myself wondering where these people are and what they're doing; Wikipedia informs me that while no new recordings have been released in over two decades, the band is active in touring and performing live.

(Trivia: this song was produced by Jim Steinman, who was largely responsible, as producer and songwriter, for the success of the Meat Loaf album Bat Out of Hell in the late 1970s.)

25 June 2015

Car Stuff: A Mystery

This one didn't quite get away from me, but we were never able to get close enough to get a better look at it, so I have to make a guess at what it is:
It looks sort of like a '55 Chevy with an added-on Continental kit. But truthfully, it could be one of many cars from the early to mid-1950s. I might see it around town again; that sometimes happens...

22 June 2015

Change in Status

So about a month ago I got attached to a long-term temp project. The catch was there was no definite start date. It's a very large corporation, and corporations move slowly. It still hasn't started yet, and it's looking like it won't get going until after the holiday weekend, at the earliest.

Meanwhile, in addition to the short-term projects I have worked on, just last week I unexpectedly got offered a three-month onsite assignment, starting today. The other one was going to be working at home, which was feeling more my speed these days. The agency arranged so that I could do this assignment, then rejoin the other one when this one ends.

We had to scramble to find someone who could come and walk the dog, but fortunately that worked out. Then I had to deal with the abrupt adjustment of going back to work on five days' notice, and figuring out my daily commute, and figuring out what to wear, and everything else that goes along with working a regular job. That is a work in progress.

Posting may be... I don't know. Erratic? Nonexistent? We'll see.

20 June 2015

Random Outfit Critique

I saw this guy on the T on Thursday and had intended to post this picture that day or yesterday. He's fully outfitted for summer professional work. I like seeing a pink shirt with a khaki suit; it works quite well and is a far less obvious choice than a blue or white shirt. I also like that the shirt and tie are not solids, but subtle patterns/textures. So what if the suit's from Express? Everyone has to start an adult wardrobe somewhere.
My only objection to his outfit is the green tie, or maybe it's more accurate to say the pairing of the green tie with the pink shirt. It's possible he fancies himself a devotee of The Original Preppy Handbook, but if that's the case it's supposed to be pink and kelly green. I think I would have been bothered less by that, even if it came off looking more costume-y. When I see this shade of green, all I can think of is the jacket the winner of the Masters tournament gets, and I find it singularly unappealing.

But however you feel about this shade of green, the pocket square that appears to be the very same shade as the tie is just a bit too much. He could have put a paper napkin in his breast pocket and it would look better than this thing. Points for effort, but docked for execution. (I don't remember noticing his shoes, which means they were probably fine.)

Status Report

Sorry for the relative silence this week. In addition to the short-term work thing I did, I've been working on trying to do some cleaning, organizing, and general de-cluttering of our living space, so I've been spending less time in front of the computer or the TV.

I also got, without much advance notice, a three-month, onsite temp assignment that starts this coming Monday. That means posting is probably going to be less frequent, but I'll be doing my best to keep up and maintain at least a nominal presence during the week.

17 June 2015

Not Quite

I'm working on another short-term temp project. This one involves checking transcripts against audio recordings. I just came across an amusing instance of auto-correct: "user info" on the audio became "urine foe" in the text file. Hmm...

15 June 2015

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #38

I've been sitting on this one since October. I just never found the right week to feature it, but after talking about the mid-1970s GM A-body cars a couple of weeks ago, an opportune moment has presented itself.
I was standing at the bus stop near home when this 1977 Buick Regal pulled up to the light. It was in the left turn lane, so I thought it might be making a U-turn (the road is divided and drivers often have to double back) and I'd have a chance to get some closer shots as it came around.

That is what happened, but because it was cloudy and raining that day, and I was standing under a tree, the closer shot is kind of dark. Conveniently, the Photos app on my computer has some basic photo editing tools and I was able to lighten the picture somewhat.
The color combo is accurate for this year: "orange" (that's all it was called) was available for this year only; for '78 it was replaced by "saffron." The vinyl top is "buckskin." Totally seventies.

14 June 2015

This Week in Awesome (6/13/15)

I only have three items for this week (I typically try to have at least four), but I don't feel like holding onto them for another week, so I'd rather just do a post with what I have.

The very funny comedian Aziz Ansari has written a book on dating and romance in the age of smartphone apps. It hits stores this week, so you'll be hearing more about it, and he's doing a book tour as well (stopping in Cambridge on July 10th). Meanwhile you can read an excerpt here. (Time)

One of my favorite movies turns 20 later this year. This will give you an idea of why I like it. (The A.V. Club)

And finally this (abbreviated) round, I know this is making the rounds on the 'book, but I found it the "right" way: through a men's style site. (EatLiver via Dappered)

12 June 2015

Retro Video Unit (6/12/15)

I was originally thinking of going with a different video, but then this one popped up in the right column when I was browsing YouTube. Most people remember The Romantics from 1983's "Talking in Your Sleep," but four years earlier they'd released their first album, with the single "What I Like About You."



It's certainly not a deep song, but it's catchy and upbeat, which is often enough. I first saw this video long before MTV existed, on a late-night syndicated show that I've mentioned before: it was called Rock World, and it introduced me to many bands I might otherwise not have heard of at all, or at least not until much later.

Two things about this video and song are worth noting: the presence of a Rickenbacker guitar, probably the first one I saw in a music video, and the first one I'd seen anywhere since Tom Petty's on the cover of Damn the Torpedoes and John Lennon's in early Beatles footage (The Jam got played on Rock World a short time later, confirming the association between Rickenbackers and coolness); and the fact that the drummer sings the lead vocal on this song, something I'd never seen before. (Tangentially, I'd never seen guys wearing leather suits before either, but I was 16 when this came out and hadn't seen much of the world yet.)

Overheard: Verbal Schooling

One day last week I was on my way home on the Orange Line. I had gotten a seat a few spots away from the doors, so I was reading a book and not paying attention to the goings-on in the train car. At some point I noticed a verbal skirmish going on nearby, as the voices of the two people involved had gotten louder. I wish I had heard more of it, because the brief snippet I caught was pretty entertaining.

I was able to discern that a middle-aged woman standing by the door was trying to lean against the bulkhead at the end of the row of seats, and the metal bar that's positioned a couple of inches above it. Another woman, quite a bit older, was sitting in the end seat, resting her left arm on the edge of the bulkhead,  and holding a travel mug. The standing woman wanted the seated woman to move her arm off the edge, and the seated woman would not yield because she wanted both to rest her arm and hold her beverage at a convenient position for sipping. (This is a lot of setup, I know, but trust me it's worth it.)

They traded some snappish remarks with each other, the standing woman eventually resorting to the tried-and-true Bostonian solution of flinging assorted curses at the seated woman. The older woman then proceeded to mock the younger woman because she wasn't clever enough to come up with anything more clever than calling her a selfish bitch, or along those lines. At this point I was smiling to myself, impressed by the older woman's resolve and wit.

I missed a couple of lines, but eventually the standing woman, knowing she was losing, already embarrassed by the seated woman's cutting remarks, and getting a bit desperate, said something along like, "why can't you just let me lean here?" The response was, "I don't want your butt on my arm. I don't know where that behind has been."

I started to laugh out loud at that one, then quickly clapped my hand over my mouth and turned my  noise into a fake throat-clearing, because I did not want to betray evidence that I had been listening. But that was the final blow; the standing woman gave up with a sigh. Had this been happening on a TV show, the older woman would have done an imaginary mic drop, and for once that overused gesture would have been entirely earned and appropriate.

11 June 2015

Concert (Ticket) Vault: An Opening Act Surprise

There are certain musicians whose names always make the eyes of guitar aficionados sparkle. The presence of Adrian Belew in his late-1980s band The Bears was enough of a draw for a friend and I to attend this show, especially since I had missed seeing him during his first stint with King Crimson a few years prior.
But truthfully, the most memorable thing about this show was the opening act, a group of guys from New York called Living Colour, who had just released their debut album Vivid. Vernon Reid's name has since come to be perhaps even more revered than Belew's for guitar virtuosity, and Corey Glover was a powerful and charismatic vocalist. They came out and simply blew away the whole audience, most of whom (us included) had never heard of them.

I'm happy to report that Living Colour is still around, and I saw the band play about two years ago, also at the Paradise. They sounded as good as ever, and the band members have local connections so playing in Boston is especially meaningful for them.

Other notes: the concert ticket price index registered at $9.50 for a general admission show in 1988; this show was on a Tuesday night, but I was only 24 at the time so going out on a weeknight was no big deal, even though I had an office job I needed to be at by 9 the next morning.

09 June 2015

Car Stuff: Mustang in the Wild

Ford Mustangs from the 1960s have survived in relatively large numbers because millions of them were built to begin with. It's possible some people held onto their cars hoping they would appreciate as investments, but they're also fun cars to drive even today. Even so, it's not so common to see one out on the road except maybe during the summer; you're more likely to come upon one at a car show.
About a month ago I spotted this 1968 Mustang convertible on a Saturday afternoon. (Apologies for the streaky car window.) It was sitting in a nearly empty parking lot, which made me wonder if perhaps it had broken down. The only reason I noticed this car and was able to get my phone up in time to get a shot was because of the color. If it had been a less vibrant color, I probably wouldn't have registered what the car was in enough time.

That said, I didn't think this was an original color, but a look at paint information for that year showed that in addition to the 16 standard color choices, there were almost two dozen limited-availability or special-order colors offered, and from just eyeballing some images online, it looks like this car is painted in a special color called "beatnik blue" (I know, awful).

08 June 2015

Last Week in Awesome (6/6/15)

Yes, there was supposed to be a TWiA over the weekend. No, it didn't happen. No, I don't have a reasonable excuse for why it didn't...

Word nerds, this way please. Can't say I've heard any of these in use, but that doesn't make the subject any less interesting to me. (NPR via Dappered)

Some thoughts worth reading on not only the future of the music business, but on songs themselves and songwriting, and how those things relate to each other. (Medium's Cuepoint via Kempt)

I don't know that anyone was asking for a website that maps old photos to the specific locations in New York where they were taken, but it now exists. (New York Times City Room blog)

And finally this round, a piece of automotive (and urban) history that car people have probably at least heard of, but may not know the story behind. (The Truth About Cars)

05 June 2015

Stamp It with Jimi

I don't get too excited about stamps. I don't use them much anymore, but I still have to buy them a couple of times a year. Every now and then, though, the Postal Service outdoes itself.
I got these Jimi Hendrix stamps about a month ago, and I think they're outstanding. The design is cool and the colors are great, but they went the extra step of arranging the stamps so that they form a trippy pattern. Notice also that the border around the stamps has been made to look like it's the sleeve of a 45 rpm record, with the little sliver of vinyl peeking out at the top; the finished size of the sheet is in fact 7" x 7".
Here's the reverse side, with a psychedelic illustration of Jimi. The Music Icons series has been excellent; prior to these, I had Ray Charles and Johnny Cash stamps, which I think are still available; there's also one for Janis Joplin.

03 June 2015

Overheared: All About the Context Edition

On Saturday evening we were at a bar/restaurant in Malden where there were two TVs showing one of the NHL playoff games. A woman at the adjacent table was engaged in a lively conversation with her friend and rarely looked in the direction of the TV, but at one point she looked up at it for a couple of moments, then said, "I thought that was a hug, but it's a fight."

02 June 2015

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #19, Continued

If I did have to choose just one car to represent all 1973-77 A-bodies in my Fantasy Garage, it would be a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am. It's a bit out of the mainstream, but I have good reasons. In the morass of 1970s bloat, the Grand Am was a legitimate attempt by Pontiac to create a "driver's car," something a bit more athletic, a more sophisticated blend of GTO performance and Grand Prix comfort and luxury, and clearly influenced by European cars of the period.

The Grand Am used the same body as the LeMans, but with its own distinctive front end made of Endura, a flexible urethane that matched the car's body color. The suspension was beefed up, and the interior used the Grand Prix's dashboard (full array of gauges, trimmed in genuine mahogany!) and had bucket seats and a console in both the two-door and four-door models. We don't think of this as unusual now, but at the time bucket seats were almost unheard of in a four-door car, and just to make things a bit more interesting, the Grand Am's reclined, had lumbar support, and were upholstered in a wide-wale corduroy fabric.

If you were so inclined, you could order your Grand Am with a four-speed manual transmission to go with the standard 400-cubic-inch V-8 (the base LeMans engine was a lowly six-cylinder, but most people probably opted for the 350 V-8), or upgrade to Pontiac's 455.
1973 Pontiac Grand Am two-door and four-door. (Image borrowed from Hans Tore Tangerud/Love to Accelerate)
It probably doesn't come as a surprise that this sort of vehicle was not what most buyers were looking for in 1973. The Grand Am was never popular, and sales grew even worse in '74 and '75, after which it was dropped. Curiously, when the GM intermediates were downsized for 1978, Pontiac brought back the Grand Am; it again sold poorly and lasted for three model years, though in its final one, 1980, it was only available as a coupe.

So why is my FG Grand Am a '73? As usual, it's in the details. I prefer the grille design used on the '74 and '75 models to the one used in '73, but I much more strongly prefer the horizontal tail lights and overall rear design of the '73 to the vertical design of '74 and '75. (If I wanted to cheat a bit, I suppose I could swap a '74-'75 nose piece.) A white interior was available on the '74 Grand Am, but the genuine mahogany dash was gone (the console still had real mahogany trim). And mine needs to be a four-door, since such an overall package was much more uncommon at the time.

And more broadly, my general feeling about the '73-'77 A-bodies is that, regardless of brand or model, the first year of the design was the best, and in each successive year it got a bit more cluttered and overdone. (Of course there are exceptions; I strongly prefer the quad rectangular headlights of the '76-'77 Grand Prix to the single round lights used on the previous three years.)

01 June 2015

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #19

It's been a while since we visited the Fantasy Garage. I was stalling a bit because I wasn't sure which car from my list of potentials I wanted to feature next, but just this morning I figured out how I want to tackle this next one.

The 1973 model year was a big one for General Motors. Besides federally-mandated 5-mph front bumpers appearing across all the company's lines, the company's midsize "A-body" cars were all new, with dramatically different, more formal "colonnade" styling (frameless door glass on all models, thicker roof pillars, no more pillarless hardtops), and a special two-door personal-luxury model for each division (Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme/Salon, Buick Regal) with a roofline that differed from the other two-door offerings.

These models were borrowed some of the cachet of big luxury cars like the Cadillac Eldorado and Lincoln Mark IV and brought it to a more practical (relative) size at a price accessible to hundreds of thousands of potential customers who would never be able to afford a Cadillac or Lincoln, or who would never want such a large car. It worked brilliantly, and the cars were hugely popular; Ford and Chrysler rushed to bring their own such models to market.

These cars made a big impression on me when they were new. I was nine when they were introduced in the fall of 1972, and to my young mind they felt more significant than either the subcompact Chevy Vega, which had been introduced two years earlier, or the redesigned full-size GM cars that had arrived at around the same time as the Vega. The intermediates were in fact supposed to be launched as 1972 models, but due to strikes the company decided to hold over the existing design and delay the new designs' introduction by one model year.

The colonnade design lasted for five model years and millions were sold during that period. Not everyone feels warmly toward these cars, though. They were still big, heavy, inefficient, and had mediocre interior space considering their size. But I happen to think they were one of the things GM got mostly right in the '70s. They were cars quintessentially of and for the period. Now, it would be impossible for me to choose just one vehicle to represent four brands and five model years, so I'm going to devote several installments of this feature to mid-'70s A-body cars... starting tomorrow.

31 May 2015

Retro Video Unit, Concert Edition (5/29/15)

Yes, it's a couple of days late, but I have a good excuse: I was working for much of this week, including yesterday, so my attention was required elsewhere.



Anyway, I've known since I started this offshoot of RVU that I wanted to feature a David Bowie concert. If I need to explain why to you, then you probably need to go back and do some remedial work in "pop and rock music of the mid-to-late 20th century." The first legitimate rock album I ever bought was ChangesOne, which I think came out in 1975. Bowie's music marked the point where I first understood fully that there was deeper meaning being conveyed within and through a song, and to this day his work is among the most significant and meaningful to me in music.

I chose a concert from this specific tour because it's so highly theatrical, with an elaborate stage design. Sometimes that sort of thing can backfire or overshadow a performer, but here it's part of the appeal.

30 May 2015

Earworms


I had to laugh when I saw this cartoon in The New Yorker, because a few days ago while in a store I was subjected to the heinous "We Built This City." Often when I'm in stores I don't notice the music, or at least it doesn't register in my consciousness, but that has a lot to do with the volume at which it's being played. In this instance it was louder than it ought to have been, which meant I was hearing it inside my head later that evening.

Frequently songs, even ones such as this one that I loathe, can get stuck in my brain for days if I hear only a few bars. Sometimes it's fun, like having an iPod set on shuffle in my head; other times, not so much. There have been instances where the mere mention of the title of a song, without hearing any of the actual song being played, was enough to induce an earworm.

I read an article recently about a study that suggested chewing gum can help dislodge an earworm from one's brain, because the repetitive muscle movement required to chew gum somehow interferes with the part of the brain where songs get stuck, or something like that. I haven't tried that yet on myself, because typically I don't have the same song stuck in my head for more than a couple of days before it gets replaced by something else, voluntarily or not. This week, I noticed that a couple of days after the original infestation, "WBTC" had been replaced by the opening-credits theme music from House of Cards, shortly after we had watched a couple of episodes.

[Tangentially: I seem to remember Spin magazine crowning "WBTC" as the worst song ever, or at least the worst song of the rock era. I always agreed with that ranking, but I think if someone attempted to compile an updated version of that list, last year's "All About That Bass" would be a strong contender for the number one spot.]

29 May 2015

Retro Video Unit (5/29/15)

(The biweekly video clip and the monthly concert happen to fall on the same day this time around, so I thought I'd post this one early.)

I've mainly stuck to the 1970s and '80s for my video selections because that's when I was watching music videos and paying attention to them. In the late '80s and early '90s MTV had a weekly show called "120 Minutes" that featured clips by alternative artists. I usually recorded it on my VCR (!) so I could see videos by bands I liked, and occasionally get introduced to bands I hadn't heard of.

By the time his album Brick by Brick came out in 1990, Iggy Pop had already been performing and recording for about a quarter-century, but the album got quite a bit of airplay on alternative radio and raised his profile quite a bit higher than it had been for some time.

I've never been a huge fan of his work, but I have enjoyed most of it, and I appreciate his status as a progenitor of punk, a spiritual godfather to thousands of performers and bands, and a collaborator with other musicians like David Bowie.



The song "Candy," featuring Kate Pierson of The B-52's, stands out to me from the rest of the album. I haven't heard it in a long time, but it popped into my head a couple of days ago for no reason, which I took as a sign that I should feature it this time.

(Side note: Iggy has always rocked those bleached-out jeans, which seem to be back in fashion.)

27 May 2015

Car Stuff: The Getaway

Damn, it happened again. I was working on ideas for a Car Stuff post in my mind, then some time yesterday afternoon all thoughts of such left my mind and did not return. Most peculiar...

I'm getting a little better at capturing quick shots when I spot cars on the move, but there's always some luck involved in the timing. A couple of weeks ago we pulled into a parking space and I realized what was parked in front of us, so I got out my phone and prepared to take pictures after we got out of the car. But right at that moment I noticed that the car was occupied and the driver was about to pull away, so I just pushed the button to get whatever shots I could.
This sighting was a Chrysler LeBaron convertible from the 1980s. You may remember that after the Cordoba went out of production, Chrysler kept Ricardo Montalban on the payroll to do ads for their other cars, including this one. The LeBaron was one of the finest examples in the history of the auto industry of making a silk purse from a sow's ear, the ear in this case being the lowly Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant that I've mentioned before. Conveniently, I can identify this one as a 1986, because it's the only year that this body style had the center-mounted brake light before getting a redesign.

The LeBaron was dressed up outside and inside, not enough to hide its origins but enough to make it a much more pleasant environment than the source vehicle. The convertibles were available with a Mark Cross leather interior, and also with fake woodgrain paneling that evoked the Town & Country convertibles of the 1940s. Sometimes they also had a trunk-mounted luggage rack, which always looks silly regardless of what car it's on.
The second shot reveals more clearly that this car is showing its age, but it's still running after almost 30 years, and these are such a rare sight now that I'm very glad I spotted it, and got these pics in time.

25 May 2015

Long Weekend in Awesome (5/25/15)

Apologies for the lack of posting the past few days. No reason, really; just this and that, and not paying attention to the passage of hours and days...

This is a recycling/environment issue I never gave any thought to until I followed the link to the article, but I think it's a fantastic idea. (National Geographic via Dappered)

Think of these as sort of crowdsourced time-lapse movies. (The Verge)

Interesting piece here about visual effects in movies. For me it depends on the movie and the story it's attempting to tell. (Vice via Engadget)

And finally this... whenever: some news on the Twin Peaks revival set for next year on Showtime (Welcome to Twin Peaks via The A.V. Club); and one last piece about Mad Men (Vulture).

21 May 2015

Stashed Cash

I was at my local liquor store this evening, because I knew the Mrs. was coming home with burritos and I really wanted a cold beer to enjoy with mine. There was a guy in front of me in line who looked to be at least 40, with a woman of a similar age.

Long ago I worked in the gift shop of a local cultural institution that received a lot of visits from school groups, and camp groups during the summer. The kids had a tendency to keep their money stashed in their shoes, and I watched in amazement as the guy in line ahead of me bent his leg up, reached into his shoe, and pulled out cash. He was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, so I suppose he may not have had any pockets, and apparently he doesn't carry a wallet either.

20 May 2015

Some Final Mad Men Thoughts

After having thought about it for a few days, I have a few thoughts on the end (and ending) of Mad Men.

Initially I was disappointed, for a couple of reasons. I had really wanted to see Don return to New York, if not necessarily to return to work (I didn't want to see him submit to McCann). I didn't need to see Stephanie again, and I felt that the whole retreat thing was a long, slow diversion from the events I hoped to see, even if Don's time there did provide a couple of genuinely wonderful moments. And I though the whole Coke thing was a little too pat and a fairly cynical move even for this show. (I have never cared for Coke, and I admit this may be coloring my opinion somewhat.) But as I turned everything over in my mind, I eventually reconciled with all of it.

I didn't want Don and Peggy's last interaction of the series to be over the phone, but in reflecting on it, I now realize that the separation, the physical distance between them at that moment, is symbolic of what Don had been struggling with and what caused him to walk out of that meeting and go off wandering. It also occurred to me that, since the show chronicled how society changed during the 1960s, it's a nod to how the pace of life had begun to accelerate by the point in time at which the show ends. Outside of the business world, long-distance phone calls were a luxury for a long time for many people, but that changed along with almost every other aspect of our lives. And Peggy's concern for Don's well-being at that point, her saying to him "you can come home," spoke to the length and depth of their personal connection.

The fictional idea that the experience at the retreat could lead Don to come up with the Coke ad was admittedly clever, and the bit of foreshadowing with the Coke machine in the previous episode enhanced it. We didn't get to see Don back in New York, but we are given an indication that it did happen and are left to fill in the blanks ourselves. I happen to think that series finales tend to benefit from some degree of ambiguity, and that's true here.

Elsewhere, I did not need to see the reunited Campbell family boarding a LearJet for Wichita, but I didn't mind either. For a brief moment I had the awful thought, "Oh no, are they going to die in a plane crash?" but I dismissed it just as quickly. Likewise, I was not in the camp of those fans who had been wishing that Peggy and Stan would get together, but I felt the show had been aiming them at each other for some time, lining them up for an eventual pairing, and I like the idea of them becoming some sort of Madison Avenue power couple.

Joan? Joan is going to rule the world, or at least the industrial film industry. Richard wasn't good enough for her, and I'm glad she didn't have to invest a lot of years in the relationship to learn that. After what she went through I really wanted to see a bright future for her, and I was very happy with where her story was left. I don't know if things will work out with Roger and Marie, but she's definitely a better match for him than Jane was.

I mentioned to a friend that I had to chuckle a bit when we got the shot of Betty sitting in the kitchen smoking, because my own grandfather had lung cancer at around the same time period (a couple of years earlier, but close) and he too continued smoking during his illness; the doctor said there wasn't any point to making him stop. I doubt that attitude prevails today, but I also imagine that the survival rate is higher today than 45 years ago.

My main issues with the final half-season were that I didn't like seeing the agency cease to exist, but the reality is that such things happen all the time, and I definitely had no objections to how the stories were conveyed. Mad Men will always be a special experience to me, and I'm sure I will revisit it down the road.

18 May 2015

Car Stuff: Paulie?

This 1990s Cadillac Eldorado appeared recently in a neighbor's driveway. It's very similar to the car Paulie drove on The Sopranos, but one night I was out with the dog and saw a guy come out and get into it who looked to be about the age of the kid who Paulie had as sort of an apprentice for a while (name escapes me, it's been a while since I saw the show).
Whoever he is, I'll be friendly to him, just in case.

15 May 2015

Retro Video Unit (5/15/15)

I didn't forget but I am pretty tired, so I'm just going to drop this off here and be on my way...

I recently read a piece (can't remember where) about the album Forever Changes by the 1960s band Love. My introduction to that band was through this cover of "Alone Again Or" by The Damned from 1987—but, I'd never seen this video. Both bands' music is worth seeking out.


This Is the Modern World

A few months back I finally got around to downloading my bank's iPhone app. It was nice to be able to check my balance while I was out of the house and away from my computer, and there were a couple of times where I needed to transfer money from one account into another, and I appreciated the convenience of being able to do that on the go.

Today I needed to deposit a check, and I was supposed to be going downtown this morning so I intended to take care of that then, but my appointment got rescheduled pretty last-minute. I was thinking about which bank branch I should go to instead to make the deposit, and at what point during the day it would be most convenient, when I remembered that I can make deposits through the app. You just use your phone to take photos of the front and back of the check, fill out a digital deposit slip of sorts, and that's it.

I don't mind going to the bank to make deposits in person, but there are times when it's not especially convenient if I'm not already out doing other things. This is incredibly convenient, and I can't believe I didn't start taking advantage of it sooner. I'm definitely living in the 21st century now...

13 May 2015

A TV Highlight

Last week's episode of Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer was the most brilliant thing I've seen on TV this year (and yes, that includes Mad Men). It's a deft parody of the classic movie 12 Angry Men where the jurors are debating whether or not Amy is, essentially, hot enough to have a TV show. The jurors are played by several familiar faces: Jeff Goldblum, Paul Giamatti, Nick Di Paolo, Chris Gethard, Vincent Kartheiser, John Hawkes, and a few others; the judge is played by Dennis Quaid, making his second guest appearance this season.

You can watch the episode here if you have a TV provider, or in the Comedy Central app. (I'm sure there are other ways to find it, but you aren't going to hear about them from me...)

12 May 2015

Stops and Starts

The MBTA started adding some new buses to its fleet a while back. I don't think any of them are operating on the route I use most frequently, but they are running on the 101 so I've gotten to ride them several times on that route.

The most obvious and most pleasant thing about new buses is that they're clean. Buses see such heavy use that they lose their luster pretty quickly even when they are cleaned and maintained, so it's nice to be able to enjoy them at the start of their life cycle. The seats are made of a textured plastic that holds riders in place a bit better than the older buses' smooth seats. It also seems they decided to bring back the tinted glass.

I also noticed that the motors have a stop-start function, which probably helps save a little fuel. In theory these systems are great, but in usage it's a bit rough. When idling at traffic lights, the motor shuts down after a period of time, and the bus gives a big shudder. When the driver pushes the accelerator the motor restarts, and that part is a bit smoother than the shutdown but it's still slightly jarring.

It's entirely possible that implementing such a system on a vehicle as large as a bus is more difficult than adding it to a car, and I don't want to sound like I'm complaining about it. I'm not. I commend the T for choosing vehicles that will consume less fuel. The system just takes some getting used to as a passenger.