01 September 2014

Car Stuff: A Cluster of Saturns

It's time for another installment in my "cluster" observations. These are cars that I don't think are especially noteworthy or collectible, that merit a mention primarily because I've noticed them around in significant numbers.
General Motors created the Saturn division in the mid-1980s to try a different approach to building and selling cars. The first models went on sale as 1991 models; after GM's bankruptcy they eliminated several divisions including Saturn, and the last cars were sold as 2010 models. Today I'm focusing on the S-series, which was the first model Saturn offered. Its plastic side body panels were intended to save weight, be resistant to minor dings, and be easier to replace if necessary.
Initially Saturn was marketed as a homegrown alternative to Honda and Toyota, and for a while they were reasonably competitive. Some people were attracted to the styling, which was different enough from that of other imported small cars to be distinctive. The second-generation S-series, in particular, was attractively sleek while the Civic and Corolla were wearing rather bland styling. (The Mrs. owned a second-gen SL2 for a few years.)
GM's first big mistake with Saturn, in my opinion, was letting the second generation of the S-series stay around too long. The first generation had lasted five model years, which is more or less the standard the auto industry follows with product life cycles, but in a cost-saving measure GM opted to keep the second-gen S-series going for seven model years. As the car aged, its competitors introduced updated models.
Then, and worse, when they did finally replace the car for 2003, the new car offered none of the improvements in refinement and quality that typically come with a new generation of a car, plus its styling was exceedingly ugly. GM made other questionable decisions, like giving in to the brief trend of mounting the instrument panel in the center of the dashboard, instead of in front of the driver. Many faithful Saturn owners who had been waiting for the updated model rejected it in disappointment.
When I started taking these pictures back in the winter, I was focused on the second-generation cars like this white one and the two above it, which are approaching 20 years since their introduction. (The wagon on Franklin Street downtown was a nice find, as I always liked those.) But I also noticed a couple of first-gen cars around (the silver and teal cars at the top of the post), some of which are approaching 25 years old.
This red car is frequently parked near where we get our haircuts in Somerville. It's very similar to the one the Mrs. owned—the same rear spoiler, the same alloy wheels—other than the fact that hers was dark green.

30 August 2014

Difficult Wisdom

One of the hardest things I've had to learn in my whole life, in terms of discipline, is how to eat half of a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

29 August 2014

Nearly Assembled

Back in May I wrote about the MBTA's new Orange Line station adjacent to the Assembly Square Marketplace and new Assembly Row development. (Any similarity to the name of this blog is entirely coincidental.) About a month ago trains started using the new track alignment, with southbound trains passing the west side of the new station's platform, and the T was estimating a "fall" time frame for opening the station.

Earlier this week boston dot com was reporting that the station would open next Wednesday, September 3rd, but this morning I got a T-Alert email from the T saying it will open on Tuesday. To my mind it might possibly have been a better strategy to "soft open" the station during the long weekend, but I don't work for the T (and perhaps they'll do that anyway).

I can say definitively that the new station will make it much easier for those shoppers and store employees who don't drive to get to and from the complex. For many years there have been two bus routes serving it, the 90 and 92; neither runs especially frequently, and the 92 only goes there between roughly 9 am and 4 pm (the rest of the time, it terminates at Sullivan station, roughly 3/4 of a mile away).

I went over there one day a few weeks ago to check out a couple of stores, and I was fortunate to make the connection from the bus I take from my house into Wellington station to the 90 bus that goes from there through Assembly Row with about a minute to spare. If the first bus had been running late, or had to stop for another traffic light, there's a good chance I might have missed the 90, and would have had to wait 40 minutes for the next one.

Will the addition of another station to the Orange Line affect commuting time? Probably not by more than a minute or two at most. Trains have been running at reduced speeds through the area for at least a year while construction proceeded, so running at normal speed and stopping at the station will likely end up taking the same amount of time, plus I don't think there will be many people waiting to get on there in the mornings, at least not initially. (Eventually there is supposed to be 2100 units of housing added to the complex; I believe there are apartments for rent now, but I have no idea how many.)

I want to believe that the 90 and 92 routes will be adjusted so that they connect at the new station on their way through the Assembly Row property, but this is the MBTA we're talking about, so no assumptions can be made. (I'm not even sure why the 90 would need to continue going to Wellington, since it makes no additional stops between there and Assembly Row, but you can still buy a buses-only T pass, so it may be that this piece of the route exists for the benefit of those riders who only use the system's buses.)

But Assembly station itself is ready to open, and possibly ahead of schedule, so let's be fair and give credit for that.

28 August 2014

Ones That Got Away

I have an unfortunate tendency to stumble across items of clothing or footwear that I like that are no longer available in my size. Part of this is the result of not having mainstream tastes, and part is just bad timing.
These Converse sneakers are the latest example. They're part of the long-running Jack Purcell line, which reaches back to the 1930s and is one of the plainest, simplest, most classic and tasteful canvas sneakers you can buy (see also: the Vans Authentic). The "Jack" is not as well-known as its big brother the Chuck Taylor All-Star, but people who know shoes know that All-Stars are notoriously uncomfortable, and their thick rubber soles make them heavy on the feet. So for many people "Chucks" are a phase to be grown out of, and often the next step is a pair of Jack Purcells.

The standard Jack Purcell is made of canvas, but these are different: this model is part of what I suppose someone in Converse's marketing department would call an "elevated" line, rendering their classic styles in nicer materials and special colorways. This shoe is leather, and everything is monochromatic, including the "smile" on the rubber toe cap that is usually navy blue and the brand tag on the heel. These nicer models get a cork footbed, which is great for comfort. Also, Jack Purcells don't usually have gum soles, and I think they look great on this shoe.

The color is called "egret" but I call it off-white or cream; it's also available in "french roast" and navy, both with the off-white trim, but this is by far the best-looking. The standard Jack Purcell is offered in leather in white or black, but it lacks the pizazz of this version. Also, I just think off-white sneakers look better than bright white ones.

For weeks these have been taunting me from Converse's website, available only in men's size 7. Generally I'm glad I don't have small feet, but small sizes tend to sell in smaller numbers and it can be easier to find unusual shoe styles in such sizes. The 11.5 was available for a while, but I know how these fit and they would be too big for me. Recently scattered sizes have begun to reappear in the various colors; I don't think Converse is going to produce another full run of this shoe (which would be ideal), but just as of this morning the size 12 is again available, so I'm not giving up hope yet on finding a pair in my size.

26 August 2014

That's No Baby...

I went out to run a quick errand today, and when I got on the bus there was a woman sitting in the side-facing seats just behind the driver with a baby carriage in front of her. I happened to sit in the first forward-facing seat directly behind them. After I sat down I looked up and saw a tan-and-black pug staring at me from the carriage. (In describing it, I realize now that I should have taken a picture of it.)

It didn't exactly surprise me, since people do weird stuff all the time, but it did catch me by surprise a bit. I didn't think non-service animals were allowed on T trains and buses, but a look at their website shows that I'm wrong, though it does say it's at the discretion of the operator. I don't know if that dog gets chauffeured around in that baby carriage all the time, or if it's just used for T trips.

25 August 2014

Car Stuff: Almost Got It

Sometimes I spot old cars when we're out driving around, or when I'm on the bus. I hurry to pull out my phone, hoping to get a picture or two in time. There are times when I'm just a bit too late, or even a little too early, and sometimes other cars get in the way.
As you can see I was a bit early on this one, but if I'd taken the shot a second later, I think the red Honda would have completely blocked the black car. It's an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, either a 1976 or '77 (I'd have to have gotten a better view of the grille to tell you which). This car was in really good overall condition and the day I saw it was maybe three months ago; it think the owner may have had it out for its first drive of the season.

24 August 2014

This Week in Awesome (8/23/14)

More stuff than usual this week, which maybe sorta makes up for the weeks when I don't have as much as I'd like...?

Get ready for Monday's Emmys with a pint-sized take on the best drama nominees. (Mashable via TV Tattle)

The prevalence of air conditioning has unquestionably changed our lives and our society. (Salon)

I don't know how Frank Lloyd Wright felt about air conditioning, but I know his work continues to influence subsequent generations of architects. (Vulture)

If you want to find out what's going on at this website, you'll need to keep an eye on the time. (Yahoo Tech)

Few men are better at conveying wisdom than Nick Offerman, regardless of its source. (Mashable)

And finally this week, whether or not you're familiar with the group Broken Bells or even like their music, this online jukebox with 100 of their favorite albums (plus their own two) is an awesome sampler of the past half-century of pop and rock music that you can listen to—and win. (Dappered)

23 August 2014

Retro Video Unit (8/22/14)

Inspiration can arrive from unexpected sources: a couple of days ago I was walking to catch a bus to do an errand in Medford Square. I passed a house that was having its front porches rebuilt, the workmen had a radio going, and this song was playing.

Brotherhood was a pretty big album for New Order in 1986, and "Bizarre Love Triangle" got a lot of airplay on WFNX and other alternative stations, but it had been a long, long time since I'd seen this clip.


22 August 2014

Friday Afternoon Laugh

I could have saved this for the weekend, but I liked it too much: a Funny or Die skit featuring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass, co-starring in the new movie The One I Love, along with Ted Danson (who also appears in the movie). And it's only a couple of minutes long.

21 August 2014

Weekend Watch

FXX began its Simpsons marathon today, all 552 episodes plus the 2007 movie running nonstop, in order, through September 1st—truly an accurate definition of a marathon, at least in the TV sense of the word.

But maybe you don't care for The Simpsons, or don't have the inclination to watch more than a few episodes, but you're still looking for something good to watch this weekend. If you have Netflix streaming, I have a suggestion for you: Happy Valley, a BBC police drama which started streaming yesterday.

The six-episode series is centered on Catherine Cawood, a sergeant in Yorkshire, so this isn't Prime Suspect or Luther: the main character is a patrol officer and not a detective, and the action isn't in London. (Not that those other shows are bad; it's just nice to have things changed up a bit from the standard Brit-cop procedural. Now that I think about it, DCI Banks also takes place in Yorkshire.)

British TV shows tend to be produced in much shorter seasons than American shows, which makes them perfect for a weekend binge. On the other hand, the wait for subsequent seasons often ends up being much longer, but sometimes that's the price of entertainment.

20 August 2014

Coming Around Again

Fall clothes are starting to show up, and I have noticed a couple of items going through a cyclical revival. Bomber jackets started appearing about a year ago, but now there are a lot more of them, and in a wide variety of materials (cotton, nylon, wool, suede).

I don't personally care for this style, primarily because of my realization a few years back that I prefer my outerwear with collars. I do like the uncluttered appearance of a bomber-style jacket, with only a zipper and two slash pockets for your hands. It's a nice casual look, one that has been around in various forms for many decades going back to the varsity jacket, and less fussy people than me will certainly enjoy it.

I've also noticed a couple of brands offering band-collar shirts. This is another throwback; these had a moment in the late 1970s, when I was in high school, and I had a couple of them. It's a style that tries to pop up every couple of decades; the latest versions I've seen are in oxford cloth, which strikes me as just a bit too incongruous. But that's what designers do: mine the past, remixing styles in different fabrics.

I would suggest avoiding wearing a band-collar shirt with a bomber jacket, because a collarless shirt with a collarless jacket could make one look like someone suffering from an avoidance issue or a bizarre phobia of some sort. It's the same impulse that is supposed to prevent people from wearing denim jackets with jeans, but it doesn't always function as it should.

18 August 2014

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #10

I've been trying to add variety so that I'm not just alternating between Random Sighting and Fantasy Garage weeks, but it is time for another FG installment.

Looking back at the cars I've covered so far, it seems like I overlooked something pretty obvious. I have a late-1960s Plymouth Barracuda and a 1967-68 Mercury Cougar, but no General Motors ponycar counterpart from the same time period. I've talked about the first-generation Camaro and Firebird, and I think that one of them should be represented.

It may not come as a big surprise that I prefer the Firebird to the Camaro. Both cars are attractive and had a wide variety of engines available. The Camaro would be the more obvious choice, which is part of the reason I'd choose a Firebird. The cars shared major body panels, so many of the differences are in the details, and those are the rest of the reasons.
The Firebirds had dual headlights and a grille split by the middle of the front bumper, which I think looks better than the Camaro's front end (though hidden headlights were optional on the Camaro, which earns it back a couple of points). Likewise, the Firebird's thin horizontal tail lights, borrowed from its bigger brother the GTO, are also more attractive than the plain square-block lights on the Camaro. And there are small fake louvers stamped into the sides behind the doors; it's just a little thing, but they add another touch of visual interest to the sides of the car.

The first-gen Camaro/Firebird ran from 1967-69. The 1969 models got updated sheet metal that is not as well-liked by many people, and though it looks fine to me I do feel it isn't quite as appealing as the first two years, so I would want either a '67 or '68 Firebird. The only visual differences between the '67 and '68 cars are the addition of side marker lights and the removal of the vent windows. Really I'd be fine with either, but since this is "Fantasy" Garage I might as well go for a first-year model.
I don't even feel all that picky about whether I'd prefer a convertible or a hardtop. I do know I'd want the 326 V8 because it was a good motor and I like small V8s in general. That hood-mounted tachometer is pretty cool, so let's throw in one of those. And the color? GM had two great shades of turquoise that year, a bright one and a deep one; either of those would work, and there was a turquoise interior that matched the lighter exterior color for the full '60s color-coordinated look. Growing up, a neighbor had a '67 Camaro in a deep maroon with a parchment (off-white) interior, and I think the parchment would also look good with the turquoise.

(Images from Old Car Brochures)

17 August 2014

This Week in Awesome (8/16/14)

Busy all day yesterday and a good part of today, but better late than not at all...

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has someone in charge of making sure all their clocks keep accurate time, and she's been on the job for four decades. (The Wall Street Journal via Hodinkee)

When a piece of retail property changes hands, the new occupants are not always interested in putting a lot of effort into cosmetic storefront makeovers. (reddit via Consumerist)

Consumer goods can be bland, but they can also be interesting. (Esquire UK via Valet)

And finally this week, an intriguing look back at the making of Jaws from a movie critic who visited the set during filming. (The Daily Beast)

15 August 2014

Stopped Time

Yesterday morning around 5 AM, our kitchen clock fell off the wall. We have no idea why it happened, other than the possibility that the screw it was resting on worked itself far enough out of the wall over time, due to vibration from vehicles passing by outside, that the clock finally slipped off.

What's more strange is that neither of us heard it hit the floor. The fans add white noise and if both of us were deeply enough asleep then I guess we might not hear a crash two rooms away. The Mrs. discovered the aftermath when the dog woke her to go out.

We also now know that the lens covering the clock's face was made of glass, not plastic, which seems like an odd choice for something that could potentially fall and be smashed. However, it does appear to have been a safety glass like what's used in car windows, because the broken pieces were small and not jagged like you get when you drop a drinking glass.

I cleaned up the mess and replaced the battery, which had been dislodged in the fall (which is how I knew what time it had happened), and the clock started running again just fine, as it has for the past dozen years or however long we've had it. It no longer has a lens covering the face, but so what? It's still keeping time.

13 August 2014

Birthday Dog

Today is our dog London's birthday; she's 13. We adopted her right before she turned five. She's in good health for an elderly dog, though she's had some issues over the past few months. She had a UTI which was taken care of with antibiotics. At the vet's suggestion we started giving her pain medication for arthritis in her hips. She was also a few pounds underweight, mainly because she had less of an appetite and wasn't eating her usual amount of food.
So we made some changes to her diet, starting with switching to the senior-dog version of the dry food we've been feeding her since we got her. That was already getting chicken broth added to it, but the Mrs. did some research into older dogs' nutritional needs and decided to supplement the dog food with "people food." Now her kibble gets mixed with chicken, sweet potato, rice, and broccoli that was cooked in a slow cooker, with the broth and a dollop of ricotta cheese plopped on top.

She's been eating this new regimen very enthusiastically for about three weeks now, with some tweaking of the amounts, and seems to have put back a couple of pounds (not that you'd be able to tell from the picture). I've also been adding milk to the "snack" I give her in the morning, which makes her gobble that right up most days, where before she used to ignore it all day. Overall she's perky again and seems much more like her old self. She's happy and comfortable, and that's what we want for her.

12 August 2014

Summer Shoes

In the summer I like wearing simple canvas or leather sneakers, but sometimes one needs other shoes. I like the general look of boat shoes, but one thing I don't like, that almost all of them have, is the white soles. Once in a while you'll see a pair with black or dark brown soles, but ideally I'd prefer something more neutral.
A few years back J. Crew offered these Sperry Top-Siders with three sets of eyelets instead of two (which I also prefer) and tan soles, in a very nice medium brown leather (the color shows more accurately in the picture below).
When they hit the sale section most sizes were gone. I was on a waiting list but my order was eventually canceled; months later they abruptly reappeared in my size and actually shipped after I ordered them (most J. Crew online shoppers are probably familiar with phantom orders). I haven't even worn them all that much, but that's okay because they'll stay nice-looking longer.

11 August 2014

Car Stuff: Spotted in Traffic

In addition to shooting pictures of parked cars, I've accumulated a small selection of shots I managed to get while on the road. Some of them get partly cut off (though I may use them anyway), while others show the whole car but only from one angle or side.
I took this shot on Mother's Day as we were on our way to RI (with apologies for the windshield reflection). This is on 93 southbound, just before it passes under East Milton Square. The car is a second-generation (E28) BMW 5-Series from the 1980s (1981-88, to be specific).

I thought that may have been an M5 badge on the trunk, which would have been a very rare sighting—according to Wikipedia, only 2191 were produced, and that number includes versions for Europe as well as the right-hand-drive UK version. I don't know how many of them were sent to the US, but I'd bet it's probably no more than 25% of them, since it wasn't a very well-known car yet. But all M5s had blacked-out trim around the windows and tail lights and were only available in black, plus the M5 badge had angled blue and red stripes to the left of the letter M.

Even so, spotting a "regular" 5-Series of this vintage is unusual. I've never been as excited by BMW's cars as many other people are, but I have always liked this generation of the 5-Series a lot. It's probably because back when this car was new, a BMW was still a car for serious drivers rather than the signifier of status that they have become.

09 August 2014

This Week in Awesome (8/9/14)

It seems like I was a bit more on top of things in general this week. It's frightening that I find this surprising. Regardless, TWiA is making its first Saturday appearance in a couple of months...

Everyone has probably seen this already, but if you haven't it should give you a chuckle.

Apple was a very different company back in the '80s. Can't imagine this happening now. (Fast Company via Boy Genius Report)

This week's crypto-techy-nerdy rabbit hole: numbers stations. (Wikipedia via The A.V. Club)

And how about a good historical-sociocultural piece? (The Atlantic via Yahoo Tech)

And finally this week, some thoughts on growing up in a time when children were not monitored so closely by parents. (Feedly via Dappered)

08 August 2014

Retro Video Unit (8/8/14)

I have a queue of videos to use, but sometimes I look at the list and feel they aren't quite right, and as I was doing that just now another song title popped into my head, so tonight it's "Don't Worry Baby" by Los Lobos.

I've seen them live a couple of times, including an acoustic set at the old Borders downtown. They are a phenomenal band and I believe they've never gotten enough credit for their talents. They absorbed decades of musical and cultural influences from the American and Mexican/Latino realms, and combined them into something completely original. Their music is the best kind of roots music.


07 August 2014

Under the Chair, Over the Carpet

I spend a lot of time at my computer. I still have a desktop setup; I don't like typing on laptops, I prefer a large screen, and I just find it more comfortable overall to use a traditional setup at my desk rather than hunch over a laptop, or sit with one on the couch as the Mrs. does.

Back in June I mentioned that I had worn a hole in the plastic chair mat where I sit, mainly from having my weight press on a certain spot. (I have to have a mat because the room is carpeted.) We went to look for a replacement, and liked the ones made of strips of bamboo wood mounted to a flexible backing. They are far more attractive than the plastic alternative, and the Mrs. had a Staples gift card so I only had to pay the difference.

Some people have said that the bamboo can get scratched depending on what kind of chair you use and what kind of wheels it has, but it's still going to be far more durable than a plastic mat and will likely still be more attractive.

Now, Staples sells two brands of these mats, their own and another that is far more expensive. But the Staples-brand mats are not online, so you have to go to a store to get one. They come in two sizes and two finishes, "natural" (which resembles hardwood flooring and goes nicely with our bookcases and my desk) and a darker, browner finish that I think is called "cherry."

06 August 2014

We Can Rebuild Him

Holy crap, we got some new channel I've never heard of added to our cable package, and they're showing reruns of The Six Million Dollar Man. That's almost as cheesetastic as T.J. Hooker.

Edit: I've had time to think about it, and watch part of an episode, and I definitely think it's better/worse than T.J. Hooker.

04 August 2014

Car Stuff: Random Sighting #29

In stalking sometimes elusive vintage cars, I have learned that when I see something interesting, it's better not to procrastinate about getting pictures of it. (I'm planning a return visit to last week's featured garage to see what new stuff has rolled in.) I spotted today's specimen, parked in front of another repair garage, about five minutes after photographing the beige Matador, but I didn't want to make the Mrs. stop again, so I went back on my own a couple of days later. I was in the same area within the past two weeks and the car was gone, so I'm glad I shot it when I did.
There was no way I could miss a car painted this color, and at first I assumed that it had to be a repaint, but another quick visit to PaintRef confirmed that Monarch Yellow was indeed a factory Pontiac offering in 1972 for this car, a Grand Prix, and other models. Then again, friends of our family had a '72 Pontiac LeMans station wagon in Quezal Gold (this color), so I shouldn't have been surprised by the yellow; it was the '70s, after all. I'm not a fan of yellow in general, but it does look good with the white vinyl top and white interior.
The Grand Prix first appeared in 1962 as a specialty model of the full-size Pontiac line. Sales declined in the second half of the 1960s due to the popularity of smaller sporty cars like the Mustang and Camaro, so for the '69 model year the car was moved to the mid-size platform but given an extended wheelbase to ride on, and the longest hood ever fitted to a Pontiac. (For 1970 Chevrolet also got to build its own version of this car, the first Monte Carlo.)

This car helped bring the personal-luxury idea down from Thunderbird and Riviera territory to a more accessible price, and in the '70s this segment exploded with cars like the Grand Prix, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and the Chrysler Cordoba racking up hundreds of thousands of sales per model year.
The 1969 and '70 Grand Prixs had quad headlights, which I think look much better than these single units, which appeared with a '71 restyle and are a bit too baroque for my taste. The rear also got busier that year with an angled center section, but I couldn't get a shot of this car's back end due to how it was parked, so you can see how it looked over here. The choice of wheels is very unfortunate, but easy enough to change. I think the driver's door has been repainted; it looks a bit brighter than the rest of the car.
This car has lots of cool little details like a wraparound instrument panel, a console angled toward the driver, pop-out door handles, and rear side windows that retract horizontally instead of dropping down like most windows. Leather seats were also available, which was unusual on non-luxury brand cars at the time.

About 25 years ago I had a ride in a Grand Prix of this vintage, and it was a lot of fun. They're very cool cars, and if you're looking for something a bit unusual in a vintage car that will provide fun summer cruising (with voluminous fuel consumption), a 1969-72 GP would be an interesting choice.

03 August 2014

This Week in Awesome (8/2/14)

Ooh, two hours to spare...

This will be of interest primarily to those who were fans of the early '90s TV series Twin Peaks, but may be of interest to fans of the Muppets as well. I'll let you figure it out. (Digital Spy via TV Tattle)

Everything (probably) you ever wanted to know about the fake currency used in movies and TV shows. (Priceonomics via the A.V. Club)

If you like whiskey, you probably know that there's been a huge increase in small-batch and boutique-brand offerings over the past few years (particularly rye), but not all of it is what it seems to be. (The Daily Beast via Dappered)

And finally this week: the '80s. Some of us lived through it and had a great time; others would prefer to forget everything that happened. Los Angeles magazine has amassed a compendium of material related to the decade—music, fashion, movies, TV, art, food... It's the kind of thing you may want to bookmark and refer back to later.

01 August 2014

Hideous Shoes Unit: Clearance Edition

I was poking through the sale section of the Urban Outfitters website in the hope of finding some interesting Vans when I came across these two offerings. I think it's clear why they are on clearance: because no one would want them.
You could still get a month or two of use out of these Sperry Top-Siders in a back-to-front ombre fade design. These aren't leather but canvas, and they're marked down from $85 to $60.
These Florsheim saddle shoes (it doesn't say so, but they must be from the Duckie Brown collection) are a much more advanced style move, so you'd better have your game in order. No reviews yet? Guess you'll have to be the trailblazer. Originally $335, now only $100—that's 70% off! Only sizes 8 and 9 are left, though. Really?

31 July 2014

Someone's at the Door

When our doorbell rings and I'm not expecting takeout, I almost never answer the door, because it generally turns out to be either religious folks, political folks, or salespeople. I have a small advantage in that one of the windows in our living room looks directly onto the front porch and I can peek out and see whoever is standing there without them noticing me.

I figure it's easier for the caller to get no answer than for me to have to tell them I'm not interested in whatever has brought them to our door. Sometimes I wonder how successful any of these ventures are; the people hawking Verizon FIOS don't actually work for Verizon, but are subcontractors that add layers of complication to the process, and if I'm going to switch TV and internet providers I'll just go online and deal directly with the company.

Likewise, if I happened to be casting around for a new religion, would I really make that decision based on someone coming to my house? (Well, depending on my spirituality I suppose I might in fact consider it a sign of some sort.) As for political types, if it was a candidate going door to door to meet potential constituents, I might be interested in a conversation, but more typically it's just someone passing out literature that can be left for us to look at later.

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

Outage

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

Excuses

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.